Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fostering a Puppy, Drawing Her Toys

Occasionally I foster a puppy, either for a rescue organization or a breeder friend of mine who does a lot of work with service and working dogs.   As I've mentioned before, I really want to learn to sketch dogs--especially my own dogs--, but I still just can't pull it off.  My pages are a mess (maybe I'll show one of those disasters here some day) and my dogs look more like creatures from the Black Lagoon than loving companions!

Anyhow, for the last two weeks I fostered a delightful little female German Shepherd who has now gone off to her permanent home.  I wanted to scribble a little something to remember her by and since I have a hang-up about dog drawing (which I know I have to work on...but I'm sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly here), well, I decided to draw her favorite toys.

So, if you are one of those people who really wants to draw a special pet or a special person but you find yourself always disappointed with what you do, why not try drawing some of his or her favorite things?   I thought a lot about the puppy's personality and the great time I had playing with her as I draw these toys--a lovely meditation that brought me great delight!

And, of course, keep practicing drawing the people and the pets!  We will get better at it if we keep practicing!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Drawing Wild Roosters

I started learning to draw about fifteen or so years ago because I wanted to be able to do sketches of my dogs.  I wasn't even trying to do good sketches of them.  Just little scribbles to capture their postures and moods and so on--the things I love most about them.

I still have a heck of a time drawing my dogs.  But I do practice with other animals.

On a recent trip to St. John, USVI, I learned that my favorite beach at Haulover Bay has become the territory of wild roosters.  Rather aggressive wild roosters, who have no qualms about hanging around and staring at you, mentally suggesting you should turn over your potato chips immediately.

All this posturing and staring made the roosters great subjects for sketching!  I thought I'd share a few of the sketches I did sitting right there on the beach.  You can read some of my on-the-spot journaling too!

Of course, the fun of the drawing above was trying to capture some of the uppity attitude, both in my verbal recording of the experience of these birds, but also in the scribbly painting.  I had terrific fun slopping around a wet splashy brush to capture his feathers and flashiness.

Next, I did very fast pen and ink sketches.  I scribbled all of the little pictures you see below in less than a total of two minutes--he was moving fast and I wanted to try capturing the animal in motion, a skill I really need to practice much more!

It was particularly fun to do these quick drawings and then to paint them more slowly.  I felt like I was really getting to know the animal more just because I spent so much time really paying close attention to him.  I liked him a lot more than I did when I started!

Eventually, the rooster roosted, assuming a position and barely moving for a few minutes, which gave me a little more time to really watch him.

As you can see from my handwritten comments above, I couldn't get the rooster's head and face "right" on the page for love nor money.  Very frustrating.  I did snap some photos too... and I hope that I can try again from the still image, just to capture what I could not from the moving animal.

If you want to learn more about drawing animals (and many many other wonderful things related to art journaling), I recommend the blog of Roz Stendahl.  I discovered her through Sketchbook Skool, and have learned much from reading her posts.

I hope this inspires you to go find an animal and do some scribbling!  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sidewalk Flowers: The Value of Paying Attention

Many thanks to the wonderful service provided by Brain Pickings and curator Maria Popova.  She provides constant exposure to fascinating materials and if you are not subscribed to her website and newsletter, I highly recommend it!

She recently highlighted a lovely book entitled Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith, which just became available yesterday, March 17, 2015.


I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet, but Popova's article so intrigued me that I looked further on the internet and found this delightful book trailer on YouTube.

Though this is a wordless book about a young girl and her father which is about the value of paying attention.  The images and trailer indicate that much beauty inhabits the world around us--beauty which can bring more delight and meaning to our lives and to the lives of others, if we only notice it. This is a theme near and dear to my heart.  I can't wait to get my hands on this book.

Plus, the art (much of which can be seen in the trailer, which for some reason I cannot embed here), is delightful.

School Library Journal called it an "emotionally moving, visually delightful ode to the simply powers of observation and empathy."

Just wanted to call it to your attention!  I'd love to hear if anyone has a copy yet.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lectio: Parker Palmer on New Life

I believe that any practice that helps us to escape the monkey business going on inside our over-stimulated brains and helps us to pay more quiet, close attention to the world right in front of us, the brings more meaning to life.  Writing and drawing do this for me and many others.

Here is an example of a quick watercolor sketch I did while traveling on St. John, USVI.  I did it standing at the side of a road, looking down over the bay where I was staying.

It doesn't matter at all to me if this is "Art."  What matters to me is that when I look at this I can feel the experience of painting it in my body--the sun, the flowers, the heat, the breeze, the smell of tropical hyper-oxygenated air.  The glorious abundance--in February, no less!--that exists in our world even when, in the middle of a frigid upper midwest winter, I can't see it and might forget about it.

Sometimes, though, I'm not traveling through a land of spectacular beauty.  Sometimes I don't feel all super vacationy and positive about life.  And then, I'm not always sure what to write or draw about.   So I have an exercise I do based on the ancient practice of lectio divinia.  You can find out more about it here.  It translates to "divine reading."  Basically it is a Benedictine practice of reading scripture, meditation, prayer, and contemplation with the goal of communion with God.

I love the idea that reading can serve as the basis for connection with the divine (I am an English professor, after all!).  I also think anyone of any belief tradition--or no belief tradition--can benefit from this basic reading and contemplation practice.

When I practice this, I modify it.  First, I read from any text which I consider wise or insightful.  I select a short passage, sit quietly with it, and then, depending on my mood, create a piece of art or look through my journals for a sketch which seems to resonate with the reading.  I consider this interaction with the word and the art a potential act of prayer--again, it's all about my mood.  Then, I carry the artist experience with me into further contemplation that could last a few minutes or resonate for days.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my lectio experiences with you.  As prompts.  As examples.  As encouragements.

This morning, I chose this quote from a book I am re-reading, Parker Palmer's wonderful Let Your Life Speak.
My anxiety about way not opening, the anxiety that kept me pounding on closed doors, almost prevented me from seeing the secret hidden in plain sight:  I was already standing on the ground of my new life, ready to take the next step on my journey, if only I would turn around and see the landscape that lay before me (page 55).
I've carried it around in my mind for a while or so and then I knew exactly which piece of art I wanted to use to think more about what this means: the sketch I included above.  I went straight to my journal and found it.

As I mentioned, I created it standing at the side of a road.  This in itself is a small miracle because I am not someone who STOPS along the sides of roads.  Not even when there is a scenic overlook.  I'm the person in the car who yells, "Oh, cool! A scenic overlook!" but never stops.  It's like, I know there are excellent things out there to see and explore, but I'm on the road, man.  I'm headed somewhere.  Don't stop me now.

It's a stupid way to live, really.  I mean, sure, we all need to get to work on time, but overall, we should occasionally stop at the scenic overlooks.

I need to stop at one now.  I'm thinking about a lot of potential changes to my life and how I live it and I'm not sure how to make the transitions.  It feels like I can't see the way forward.  I've been down about it off and on for months.  How to make the changes?  What changes to make?  What should I do??

But this quote and this little painted sketch and the experience it brings back to me--that sun, that air, that lush and amazing fertility--have me really contemplating.  "Already standing on the ground of my new life..." am I?  If I assume I am, what do I see in the landscape around me now?  Later today I have a bit of time and I intend to write about it as well.

It's only been about two hours and I've seen several amazing possibilities that were there before, but I just didn't see them.  I have a lot to consider, thanks to this practice.

Give it a try!

I look forward to sharing more lectio experiences with you in the future.