Noticing

It seems to me that one of the chief benefits of drawing is to allow us to really notice what’s right in front of us. I’ve been walking the sidewalks of our neighborhood, almost daily, for the past 17 years and I discover new things all the time.

There are certainly days when I’m hunkered down, either due to the weather or to so much going on in my head, and I’m speed walking through the circuitous path of cement ribbons. On most days I’m able to look around, to marvel at the seasons changing and all that this evolving miracle brings.

This spring, I’ve noticed the trees more acutely. Drawing does this…particularly when one has narrowed their focus to a certain subject to draw for an entire year, one notices more than usual. Or perhaps it is noticing what one knew to be true but had forgotten one knew it.😂

As Spring blazes through the neighborhood, I cannot help but notice the Cherry trees! Gorgeous, pom-pom shaped blooms hanging from limbs everywhere! I feel as if I’m walking through a fireworks display…explosions of color everywhere, some shooting out in every direction, some swirling in twists and curves (the red buds!) , and others cascading down, as if blooms were tossed up in the air and then fall to the ground. And on windy days…the most delectable kind of snowfall, pale petals floating down, gathering along street edges, begging to be walked through.

By the end of my walk I can scarcely contain myself…it’s as if joy came showering down on me as I walked! I feel refreshed and renewed even in the midst of this strange time. It reminds me of a quote by playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht—

“Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.”

This daily practice of drawing, is my way of noticing the happiness that is right under my feet. Whether I’m drawing what I’ve seen on a walk, or something out of my imagination, happiness fills the page in front of me, claps two hands on my face and kisses my cheek, saying, “All will be well!”

I suppose there is a way to notice without drawing. Most of the time I only realize the fullness of what is at my heels as I draw. Something to do with seeing and putting pen to paper. I imagine writers and poets have this sight too, as they craft words to show us what they see.

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I draw primarily so that I myself can see. In sharing with you what I’m seeing at my heels, I hope that you too might sketch a bit in order to really see what happiness may be right there at your feet, despite how upside down the world seems right now. To encourage you in this wondrous practice of daily drawing what is at your feet, consider my ebook of twelve lessons filled with instruction and encouragement! For the price of just a few cups of coffee, you may just stumble upon a new way of seeing beauty in your life!🙏💖

Rooted

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted, they travel about as far as we do.” – John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist.

Though I may be hard pressed to say that every tree I see and draw is completely content (as of course, we embue them with having feelings:) … I do have a sense that no matter their state, the trees exude a rootedness, dare I say confidence, in where they are and what they have endured.

Same tree as above…but this is its good side.

Even the tree at the entrance to our neighborhood stands tall and proud, waving the beautifully brittle leaves of last year which have hung on through the winter. This tree has a large open wound on one side that makes you wince. But from the other side, you would never know this wound is there. Perhaps this lack of discontent, as Muir notes, is due precisely to the gripped rootedness which pulls its life force from the earth and refuses to give up no matter what it has lost.

I see so many trees in and around our neighborhood which have suffered loss and yet still thrive. If you’ve been following my 365 day journey of drawing a tree a day, you will have seen numerous trees in various states of injury. There are many more to draw and I think this is becoming a fascination…the compelling reality that no matter how trimmed, cut off, torn in two or broken a tree is, there is still life pulsing through its veins and proclaiming, “I am here!”

What we do not see, and therefore I do not draw, is the extensive root system of any given tree. To be sure, I often see and draw the one or two roots which erosion has exposed. But beneath the soil, reaching far deeper and wider than we fathom, a massive subway system grounds the tree in its place and brings it the energy and nutrients it needs to survive and flourish.

I often fail to recognize this rootedness in my own life. But when I see it, I marvel at the connectedness to so many people, to a community, a church family, creative friends, and to my own immediate and extended family. I am filled with gratitude for the rich soil of faith which upholds it all and gives vitality and strength no matter the evident brokenness above ground.

Today as I draw, I’ll sink into my own roots a bit more, and lift up branch-like arms and hands in gratitude for all that holds me fast. 💖

Poems

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

-Khalil Gibran

I am finding this to be true. Each and every tree…no matter how trimmed, blighted, hacked off, or allowed to grow free…speaks in verse or rhyme a tale of life and love, beauty and grace.

Evening sky behind treeline…

The limbs are like pens, writing in the sky, waving words through line and shape. We are nearing the end of the season where I can see the tips of these pens. In a month or so, most of the trees will have blossomed and leaved, hiding the pens themselves, but showing off their colorful raiment, sharing a new stanza to their poetic life.

Neighborhood tree in Oil Pastel.

It has already begun here in the piedmont of North Carolina. Everyone is marveling (and perhaps a bit skeptical) over the early Spring activity. Daffodils, pear trees, forsythia and irises may all be blanketed in snow once or twice more before spring temperatures are here to stay. No one is complaining. Bring on the glorious display! My pen is ready to draw the transformation!

This week of tree drawings marks a shift not only in seasons, but also in sketchbooks. The last four days have been drawn in a slightly larger book which is probably intended more for writing than for drawing. There are tiny pale dots everywhere which I quite like along with the thick smooth paper. There are so many pages, I’m thinking it will last me a looooong time! We shall see!

Pear tree blooming in neighbor’s yard. Oil pastel with fat marker.

There is also a slight shift afoot in media choice. I have always been seasonally affected when it comes to what I choose to draw or paint with. The last two drawings in my sketchbook contain more oil pastel and hence more color on the page than in my previous sketchbook. I love it all! I welcome the shifts and try not to talk myself out of them. 😃

I was delighted to hear from several of you after my last post and that you are indeed receiving notifications now in your email boxes! Hoorah! I appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to read these posts. My hope is always to bring you a spot of delight in your day and perhaps inspiration to draw or make something yourself!

Be on the lookout for tree poems! My eyes are peeled…💖

Drawings Beget Drawings


Perhaps it’s a law of Physics…but it is a reality I’ve noticed time and time again, that when you set your pen to paper and make a drawing, three others are begging to be drawn!

You draw the tree and in doing so you notice daffodils are blooming a full month early! And one must, simply MUST draw the daffodils too.

Or you imagine a large Oak tree and in drawing it, mice show up busily making a merry life all around while a friendly Owl watches over them.

On and on each drawing woos and entices you to keep drawing and even to draw the space around you or the people sitting nearby.

This is just the way it is. When you draw, there will be more to draw. And you’ll find yourself so in love with drawing your world, whether real or imagined, that you fall asleep thinking of tomorrow’s tree, or whether you’ll have time for a few more drawings than just the one daily tree drawing.

Like Frost’s poem about swinging on birches…I too would like to go…perhaps by climbing it…but preferably by drawing the  birch tree…

…draw the black branches up the snow-white trunk that leads my gaze toward heaven as I keep drawing until my page can bear no more…💕

One could do worse than be a draw-er of trees. It will lead to all kinds of adventures in a sketchbook.😃

 

The Space Between


There is a delicious space between one’s head and the page. Sometimes I am not so aware of it as I begin to draw. But several drawings of late have me pondering this place where connections are made, lines speak like words, life informs lines, and vice versa.

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Trees & Me

It really shouldn’t surprise me. Drawing has always been so much more than simply lines on a page. I forget this phenomenon of conversation between hands and heart, of lines bold and thin drawing out what I need to see or acknowledge. Of course I thought, when I set about to draw a tree a day, that I would simply draw them as I see them out in the yard or neighborhood or elsewhere. But trees have long been a favorite subject of mine for pen and paint. Not only because of their incredible structure and shapes, but because they embody so much meaning, so much life, so much wisdom for living.

Indeed they have lived through so much. The plum tree in our front yard enchanted me the day we moved into our home 17 years ago. But I have watched (through numerous drawings) it’s trunk twist and lean in a direction that I now wonder if it will fall over one day. The front steps’ view from which I drew it’s portrait the other day doesn’t show much of the leaning. I shall draw that another day. Weather, age, and a towering pear tree beside it have forced a reach for the sun and a twist in the trunk like fibers on a spindle.

On my daily walks now I pay more attention to the trees that I have walked beside for so many years and which I have drawn on so many occasions. They are aging even as I am aging. I notice the cut off limbs, the bulbous way a tree grows around a lopping-off, the recent trimmings, the hack jobs where it seems no care has been taken to remove a tree…just severed in half, leaving still a significant portion of the trunk to continue “living”, if it can be called living.


I also notice small trees, the little Charlie Brown ones, the skinny spindly ones that may grow tallish but seem twig-like against their beefier neighbors. One such tree is in our back yard. It is actually a hybrid willow/cherry tree. It really isn’t able to get enough sun being dwarfed by the neighbor’s cypress trees just feet away. Under this sweet little tree we buried our cat Lucy. A rock marks her grave and we imagine her delight in being outdoors resting peacefully beneath a blossomed bower.

Winter trees have always enchanted me with their exposed limbs and revealed structures. You really get to see their shape, asymmetrical Limb patterns, bird nests and other ephemera lodged in their web of branches. No two trees are the same. Each tree is a unique being, much like humans. Their scarred and marred trunks tell stories of life and loss. I need to listen to these stories as they echo my own. Somehow, in drawing trees daily for not even a week yet, I receive comfort and solace for the unfolding stories in my life.

I’m headed out the door now to walk amongst them, to listen and to draw sustenance for the day.

Focus

It is a truth, which I’ve experienced numerous times, that when help is needed, help is offered. This happens in a variety of ways, on so many levels in both my personal life and my creative life, which I see more and more are intricately entwined and cannot be separated from one another.

For months now I’ve felt an ever increasing sense of scattered-ness. I have held this open-heartedly as I move through numerous difficulties in life. I even know on some level that the scattered feeling in what I create with my hands is likely due to all that life is granting me to walk through. Here. There. Everywhere. Knit. Spin. Draw. Weave, crochet, embroider. Sketch, tapestry, design. Many mediums, lots of exploration, all of it I adore. The problem is that I do NOT adore feeling stretched thin. I do not like feeling as if it somehow doesn’t add up to anything . I’m not talking about sales. I’m not after notoriety.

All along there has been this tiny little voice saying…things were simpler when you Just Drew. Now to be honest,  there has never been a time when the only thing I made were drawings. I have always knitted and crocheted (I’ve added spinning and weaving to the mix) but there have been long stretches of time where sketching and drawing were my Main Squeeze if you will.  Spinning wool rivals the act of drawing for processing life. Yet there is an added element of the drawings themselves becoming my teacher in a way that hanks of freshly spun wool doesn’t quite reach. Today’s drawing is an example.

This tree is drawn entirely out of my head. An imagined scene where I started out only wanting to draw a tree (my new daily focus for the next year), then begs to have someone in it, myself, doing what I love to do under the limbs and next to the trunk of a beautiful winter tree. I’m drawing in my daily black and white sketchbook, choosing my thick and thin markers at will, enjoying the process, absorbed in the moment. (Ignore the odd brown stripe there…just the shadow cast by trying it take photos in the early morning dark.🙄)

When all is done, I sit back and look at what I’ve drawn. A whispered, oh my, quietly escapes as I ponder what I’m seeing on the lined pages. The tree has such energy, such vitality and movement within. I stand there, nearly ghost-like in comparison, spinning fibers which have the same energy and twist as the tree. And it is this reality of making drawings and how they teach me that I’m in need of daily. I need to be able to see that there is a beautiful pulsing energy at work in everything. Even in leafless trees.

So I’m committing to drawing a tree every day. I have always loved trees, loved painting and drawing them, love sitting with them, wishing I could hear them speak, and sometimes imagining that I actually can. I’ll post my tree sketches on Instagram and write about the process every now and then here. Join me if you can. And maybe commit to a focus like this as well. This doesn’t feel like pressure to me. It actually feels like freedom…to have one focus, even in the midst of making and doing so much else.

So what was it that helped me? As numerous friends are sending up prayers on my behalf, I take it as no small thing that I came home yesterday from teaching to grab lunch before heading off again. As I ate, I opened You Tube (yes, prayers CAN lead us to You Tube!😂) and I saw a Recommended for You video titled The Drawing Advice That Changed My Life. I’m a skeptic with hyperbole but wanted to see what this was all about. I watched it three times. Took notes. Wrote in my journal for half an hour before leaving for an appointment. Focus. I long for it. I’ve been feeling dehydrated for want of hay and water and not knowing which one to go for next. Donkey brain no more (you’ll have to watch the video to understand this😃). I’m off to draw a tree.

New Year Eyes

”There are eyes in pencils and pens.”

This quote by John Piper, found in a book I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time, echoes down a long hallway of years of drawing and writing. I know this to be true…how I see so much better when I’m wearing my pens. A bic pen for writing daily pages of whatnot, the same pen for sketching random doodles, a fine Sharpie and a bold brush pen for drawing, fat markers and dual-ended colors, and a splash of watercolor here and there all help me see the world more clearly and true-ly.

Today, the last day of 2019, feels like any other day, except for a small flicker of  re-kindled hope. Not a hope that things will improve in the New Year, for so many of the difficulties and burdens of 2019 will go with me into 2020, and may even worsen.  It is rather a hope much like a faint far off sound that tickles my ear to turn towards it.  A sweet note (or is it a voice?) that I’ve heard before so many times…

…count them…draw them…put pen to paper…

…and in doing so, pin them to your heart and mind. So many gifts lay strewn at your feet, all around you, as you walk along the way, no matter how difficult or heavy the course. You need, Jen, to wield your pen in order to see the gifts.

Ok. I will. And what shall I pen and pin down with laser focus? What shall I count and list and name and draw into my heart?

Gifts. “Not gifts I want, but gifts I already have.”

-Ann Voskamp. 1,000 Gifts. Pg. 45.

I know this. Yet I forget what I already know…that gifts abound all around me every single day. This past year has brought gifts that I’d rather not have received, the painful difficult kind that has a way of overshadowing the lovely and joyful gifts.

As 2020 rolls in, I want to light a candle in those shadows, to peer down the end of my pens and see the gifts lovingly placed along  parched paths. There will be too many gifts to name them all, much less draw them all. But I will catch as many as I’m able, whispering thank you for each of them.

Ann Voskamp speaks of having her “hunt pen in hand”. I am holding mine firmly as I close out 2019 and jump into 2020. This pen with eyes may also have wings…I will need both for the year ahead!

Attention

In the middle of November I started to draw what was happening in my head. Well, it wasn’t only in my head. Some of the ideas that flutter around in my head come through my hands, or at least get started to see if they want to be fully birthed. Not all of the ideas mind you. My brain is a veritable factory of creative ideas which one person cannot possibly bring into being. I must be choosy.

I do love to have the time to sit and ponder each of them, like rolling a river pebble over in my fingers gazing at all sides and wondering if I have what that particular idea requires, or whether it should wait a while or perhaps be tossed back into the vast idea pond. Spinning wool is a lovely place to ponder and mull and work through the idea backlog.

The difficulty is that I’m forever attaching a weighty criteria to the ideas. Is this meaningful enough? Does it have an artistic flair? Is it original? Or is it someone else’s idea that I think I can do my version of? Will I have to purchase other tools or items to make this? How much time will be involved? Is it do-able within the framework of my life? Will I have to leave hearth and home for a week in order to see this idea come to fruition?

The heaviest weight I put on creating something is that big word Art with a capital A. I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with this word and for many years have preferred to remove the consideration of whether I’m producing Art, off the table. I really just want to be delighted, and if what I’m making delights me, then it shouldn’t matter whether it is deemed Art by me or by anyone else.

So I sit there at my wheel, or stand twirling a spindle, enrapt in delight as I do so, and I’m thinking of all these other things I “should” be devoting my time to.  I kept drawing the little illustrations off and on over the past few weeks in hopes of getting somewhere. It dawned on me recently, as it has done numerous times before, that what I’m holding in my hands is more often than not, THE THING I’m to be doing. Whew. Such freedom and Joy! Just look at the final drawing in my little story and that happy smile on the idea bulb’s face! “Finally! She’s got it!”

Here in the midst of our busy holiday making, I hope you can find some time to be delighted. It doesn’t matter if you are making world-changing Art, or just spinning some fluff into string. Stay in the de-Light as long as you can, eschewing those pesky thoughts that you should surely be doing something else more weighty and monumental. Pay attention to what you find yourself paying attention to (Jessica Abel’s thoughts here).

Deep dive into what’s right there in your hands to make and bring to life. It is likely the Big Idea 💡 you’ve been after all along.❤️

Notice & Observe

Here we are…again…at the starting gate of a New Year! All the hopes and fears of all the years (or at least those of 2018) seem to gather together in a clump as we look ahead, hoping the New Year brings less difficulty than the one before, and fearing that it might not. The temptation for me is to rally all my best efforts to keep things running smoothly, without wrinkle or wrench. I know by now this is an exercise in futility. Life brings to us each day a panoply of blessings and challenges…both of which I want to be in a position to notice and observe.

The lovely thing about a New Year is this turning of the number, or page, on a new vista of days, weeks and months. It can feel fresh and clean, unfettered by previous months’ busyness, waiting with anticipation for us to walk through it, holding promise and positive outcomes almost as carrots to lure us into the days ahead. I love this fresh feeling and the excitement of good things to come. Yet I also know that 2019 may very well hold some difficult, painful and confusing things for me as well. I neither want to blindly march into the year with a pasted grin on my face, nor do I want to wallow in future castastrophising (dreaming up all manner of trials and tribulations that may or may not happen). It would seem that “Que sera sera” might be a good tack to take…whatever will be, will be. Though helpful in some ways, this forward thinking version of “It is what it is”, doesn’t carry me through a New Year in the way I wish to experience it.

What I need this coming year, and what I intend to uphold as often as I am able to do so (no goal setting or resolution here), is to meet the New Year moment by moment by Noticing and Observing. To Notice is to say “oh look here at this little (or big)  thing”. To Observe is to pick it up and to ask questions like “I wonder how it got here?” or “look at the colors within” or “see how the shape is so lovely” or “does it have a purpose or is it simply a gift to enjoy?” and so on. Though I have had a good many years of Noticing and Observing, I still need this practice of meeting each new day with space to consider the small moments of my life. A sketchbook is a wonderful tool for Noticing and Observing.

On the 20th of December 2018, I began a new sketchbook which was given to me by a dear friend. To be sure I had not finished the 2 or 3 other sketchbooks I have going, but I had been wanting a book of days, one without a spiral in the middle, one in which to drawcument the days as I notice and observe them. It was also to be an anchor for me as I faced the craziness of the holidays. It has indeed been that anchor.

It is perhaps not a proper watercolor sketchbook, as in having the precise paper on which watercolor shines. But I love the almost cloth-like feel of this paper, and the handmade look of it with fabric cover and twine stitching. It is made by Anthropologie and I do hope they are still making these when I finish this one. Another will surely be in order. The very best thing is that my favorite markers, both fat and thin ones, do not bleed through the other side, thus allowing me to draw on all sides of the woven pages.

To Notice & Observe, is like dancing in puddles. When life gives us rainy days, as it has in abundance here in central North Carolina, it is best to notice where the puddles are and dance in them. Drawing and painting are perfect puddle activities, as are any other creative endeavors. Knitting, spinning, weaving and the like are all beautiful ways to notice what’s going on in your life and to observe it from a place of beauty. Writing is also excellent…I write every morning all the noticings and observations of both my interior and exterior worlds.

There is something amazing that happens when we Notice & Observe. Somehow, our hearts are lightened a bit. Perhaps it is in the lines and colors of pen, paint and wool that weaves into our eyes a renewed palette for the day. We also receive insight when we Notice & Observe. There is a direct connection between the lines on the page,  the strands of yarn and wool, to our minds and hearts. We receive hope, clarity, lessened anxiety and so much more in the act of making something with our hands. I look forward to this blessing today and on through the New Year. I wish it for you as well.

Happy New Year to you!

May it be filled with many moments to Notice & Observe!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer