I draw therefore I see–Italy

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Drawing and painting  give us an opportunity to participate in our surroundings in a personal and deeply felt way.  When we stop to draw, we begin to see what is before us as if for the first time. The cracks and crevices of a stone wall become lines  to be explored, its variegated palette of grey, purple, brown and ochre an invitation to experiment with paint.  Our keen engagement allows fear and worry to turn to  awe and gratitude as we feel more connection with what we paint and draw in the villages, cities and landscapes of Umbria.

As guests at La Romita, we have a unique opportunity to cultivate mindfulness and wonder in an ancient setting with modern comforts.

Without leaving our monastic home, we enjoy art-making at a leisurely pace in the former chapel studio. With background music playing quietly, we scribe words in the journals before us, unique  personal manuscripts  honoring our experience of the place.  Faded frescoes on the wall, a mosaic pattern on the stone floor,  a humble olive branch are enough to captivate our attention with paint brush, pencil and pen, and we need not be concerned with the mundane details of preparing food or cleaning house. When the cow bell rings, we walk the few steps to share breakfast, lunch and dinner with fellow artists, and are nourished by the healthy locally sourced food that is prepared especially for our  group.  It is hard not to think of the monks who came before us, similarly breaking bread together in communal fashion, tending to their inner as well as outer lives.  As it has for centuries, La Romita offers the rare gifts of sanctuary and community;  and t is a place for personal transformation. Here art becomes a way of experiencing a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.

Island Adventure MISA style! May 19-23, 2014

Layne Kennedy-LEAP_LCK1208 (2)Madeline Island School of Art

When I was invited to teach in Wisconsin, images that came to mind were rolling hills, dairy farms and plains, not an island!  What a treat to learn of this gem of a place, the  Madeline Island School of Art , which is indeed a former dairy farm with woods all around.  It is the perfect artist retreat opportunity. Surrounded by Lake Superior, the school offers the rare experience  of making art in nature undisturbed by the usual distractions of 21st century living.  Given the focus of the class I will teach–art journaling—the location is perfect.  There will be space in the classroom for joyful collaboration, time for field trips to surrounding wooded areas and the beach, as well as opportunities for working in solitude, alone or surrounded by fellow artists.  Indeed, the purpose of the class is first and foremost about cultivating connection: with one’s self and one’s surroundings.

Art journaling may not fully describe the class I will be facilitating on this Island retreat. It is really about learning to accept where one is,  and  to enjoy exploring  the  myriad possibilities of artistic expression.  The only prerequisite for the course is curiosity and a willingness to discover new things.  Integrating writing, handwriting or calligraphy, gestural marks, simple sketching, painting, collage will provide the opportunity to learn about basic design and composition.  Contour and gestural drawing exercises will teach us to learn how to see.  Rhythm and writing exercises will show us that “beautiful writing” can be our own handwriting, and can be viewed as texture, line and image. The main focus, however,  will be on getting comfortable with greeting the blank page with  less fear and trepidation, and more wonder and curiosity.

Whatever one’s experience, it is common to fear the blank page–particularly the ones in hand bound books.  We wait for the time to be “good enough” to put something in these precious items, and that time never arrives. “I’ don’t have the right skills!” or “I will ruin it!” we say to ourselves convincingly, and the book remains empty and forlorn, a pretty “air-head” object on a shelf.  The time is now to fill that book with life in a unique setting surrounded by like-minded fellow artists.

Because the class includes exercises in drawing and calligraphy, it might seem to require a certain set of skills.  Not so! All levels of experience are welcome, In fact everyone will come away with a unique, hand-made journal filled with interesting images, lines, words, marks, as well as a sketchbook filled with new ideas for further development.  Authenticity trumps skill, in this case, and you will be surprised at how much you connect with what you create.

I look forward to exploring the new (to me) world of Madeline Island and teaching in such an inviting location.  Watch for me on the ferry to the island. I will be the one with the sketchbook in my hands!

Drawing In: The Spirit of Assissi

La Romita Sketches: Assissi for La Romita

La Romita Sketches: Assissi for La Romita

The strong aroma of coffee teases my nostrils as I walk on the cobbled street through the city’s gate.  Perched high on a hill,  its view of the Umbrian landscape below is no less spectacular than the impressive stone church which greets one immediately on the left of the entrance..  As they have for centuries,  the  two saints respectively buried beneath this church and the larger edifice on the either end of the city, continue to draw crowds.

I am one of a stream of  pilgrims & tourists who begin to fill the main street of Assissi. Moving past those who stop at the Church of St. Claire, I press onward to find the coffee I smell, and discover a pleasant fountain at the center of a piazza. Alighting here with my art materials, I go to the nearest cafe, order a cappuccino, and return to my stone seat.  Basking in the morning sun, I am mesmerized by the sound of the flowing water and the  crescendo of voices as people gather in the surrounding cafes.

What do I draw when faced with a myriad of possibilities, including the aforementioned church, the broad plains of the Umbrian valley below, the fountain itself ?  In the spirit of St. Francis, I focus my attention on  a humble (but lovely), ordinary stone wall  with shuttered windows and a plant-lined patio.   It seems ancient, having beautifully weathered the passage of time with a patina of muted rusts, browns and grays. Choosing a simple sepia waterproof ink pen, I begin to sketch the wall, placing the drawing over a few watercolor rectangles I had painted on the page with a flat brush prior to this visit. The palette I  have chosen is one I see repeated in the Italian landscapes, cities and sites we visit: neutral grays, greens, blues, browns.

Engrossed in the wall before me, I am visited by several curious passersby, first among them  a woman from Eastern Europe who mistakes me for a German tourist (perhaps because of my Birkenstocks?.)  She is intrigued by my activity as much as by the drawing itself, and tries to converse with me in broken English. ” You artist, yes? Is very good!”  Nodding & smiling, I  continue sketching as she bids me a pleasant goodbye. The local Italians who pause to converse with me are similarly complimentary and enthusiastic.  They seem pleased that an American tourist would take time to draw something in their city, rather than rush around taking photographs  in the usual manner.

Later I am told I  missed a lot of “must see” things in Assissi that day, including St. Claire’s resting place.  By the time I finish my  sketch, I have just enough time to walk to the other end of the city to see some of the remarkable interior and exterior of the stunning Church of St. Francis. Upon leaving, however, I am not bothered by what I have missed, but am content with what I have Seen.  Sitting still  by that fountain for an hour, mindful of the scene before me, and the surrounding sounds and smells, I drew in a full-bodied breath of Assissi. It’s Spirit remains in a simple sketch.

When Life Gives you Scraps

piecing together sections cut from larger painted images

piecing together sections cut from larger painted images

Make a quilt!

My Mother is a fine quilter who persists in her craft, even as her eyes fail.  She just finished a quilt for Maeve; one which is not meant to be an heirloom, but for keeping warm on cold nights in her Palo Alto dorm room.  Mom used scraps  and left over pieces of fabric from her sewing room, and the quilt is sure to be a hit with her granddaughter. I too have dabbled in quilting, and am actually quite good (according to my Mother) at the fine hand-stitching part. However, being so consumed by my passion for drawing, calligraphy and painting, I never pursued the craft in a serious way.  Today  I found myself rummaging through my flat files and picking out scraps I had cut from larger pieces of art and connecting them.  Like my Mother in her quest for using the scraps she had to make Maeve’s quilt, I became obsessed with collaging  these bits that on their own seemed lacking, but pieced  together made something organic, harmonious and pleasing.  This is not the first time I have dabbled with piecing  old scraps together.   Several years ago I was visiting  a wonderful local artist (Judy Paul) and was captivated by her collaged paintings.  Inspired, I came home and started pulling bits and pieces of practice calligraphy out, gluing them onto canvas with Matte Medium. What did I know? What did I care? Having never done this before, it was exhilarating to plunge in with uninhibited child-like enthusiasm. Was this collage? I think so. The process was also reminiscent of my brush with quilting. However, with no training in collage–with no idea of a set of rules to temper or guide my effort, I was free to do as I pleased.  Interestingly,the result was a collaged painting that has been accepted in two juried art shows and was recently purchased by a student and friend.

If there is a moral to this story, it is this: !  You have all you need right now to make a piece of art.   You don’t have to know what you are doing or where you are going. “When Life Gives You Scraps, Make A Quilt!”

Having trusted my own intuition and dabbling, doodling. tinkering instinct, my new piece “the Wild Life of Radishes” was birthed.  And  it just got sold!

Absence of Bloom

How can we bear the absence of her bloom?

How can we bear the absence of her bloom?

Art saves the world. Art saves me.  When Maeve went to college last fall, I knew it would be a time of reckoning and re-shuffling. My priorities were shifted and I was left to ponder empty spaces.  Vowing to remain mindful, I experienced fully the grief, the relief, the excitement, the longing. Once again, art was my refuge and my solace.  The first line of this poem came to me when I was teaching a multi-media class called “What’s My Line?”  We were responding to flowers, objects, vegetables, with sticks and unusual tools dipped in Sumi, and then working over the images with acrylics, gesso, walnut ink. The resulting pieces (for me) were in response to a dying sunflower. Captivated by its wilting, bent head, it made me cry. The beauty of its dying reminded me of my own grief, and inspired hope. I know that the Sunflower seeds will bring new flowerings. My daughter’s departure will also result in blossoming and blooming in myriad ways.

Leaving empty spaces in her wake
while fading from our view
How can we bear the absence of her bloom?

we  take the empty vase away,
wishing for her return
in sunshine, seed and sunflower
A vision for longing eyes,
laughing, blooming
pure joy

untethered by expectation or fear,
living, growing,
while we plant new seeds alone.