In between

Nothing is finished
liminal space between worlds
waiting, watching, still

Oh the places you’ll go!

Summer passed in a blur of heat, activity, travel. From Vancouver to Rome, Syracuse to Portland, I pontificated, sketched and calligraphed my way in and out of classrooms, lingering in Austin only for days at a time to catch my breath.  Six months have passed  and it has taken until now to savor, reflect upon and write about the highlights of this extraordinary time.  Vancouver at Spring’s end is the perfect place to be, with pleasantly mild sun days punctuated with the drama of moody rain clouds. Want sushi? Or how about pie in a quaint coffee shop? Maybe a stroll through a flower studded neighborhood which skirts the spectacularly green, wooded University of BC campus, a view of the harbor in the distance?  How could I call this work, this trip to Vancouver where I was treated like royalty by my dear friends and hosts, Carol and Cooper Walls. Their lovingly custom-designed home reveals a rare combination of vision, talent, hard work and exquisite taste. Cool mornings on the deck looking out over the harbor towards the mountains provided soul-nourishing meditative moments for sketching or being still,  the full, wordless silence a testimony to a comfortable friendship.  The journal was the destination for the Vancouver West Coast Calligraphy group, a willing and talented group of artists who humbled me with the journals they created.

Next stop?  My home calligraphy guild in Austin, Texas, where members of which were willing participants in my new class, “Calligraphy on the Go.”  Inspired by a personal quest of learning to successfully combine sketching with text, handwriting, calligraphy, I cooked up a weekend experience which included exercises in composition, modifying handwriting, working with “on the go” tools, like calligraphy and visa vis markers, in blank books.  The pure or blind contour drawings seemed most popular, energizing some of the participants with confidence who might otherwise have shied away from drawing something in a “realistic” way. Fast forward a week to the International Calligraphy Conference at Reed College where in the midst of my class, Developing Your Own Script, I offered a similar exercise in pure contour drawing. The resulting enthusiasm prompted me to remind students  that drawing is about SEEING. What appears on one’s page, wonky or sophisticated, will either be authentic or not depending on one’s willingness is  to look and record what is actually there.

Rainy, tree-studded Portland, Oregon was indeed a welcome respite from the Texas heat, but there was little time to swelter at home until I was headed for the other side of the continent to teach for the first time at Wells College.  Holding court in a tiny town of historical homes and quaint shops all situated along a spectacular lake, this small liberal arts college is located somewhere between Syracuse and Rochester, New York. As part of the summers’ Book Arts Intstitute, I was welcomed by a small, eager class of calligraphy students, including the director of the program. Was I dreaming or was it really the case that our classroom was nothing short of perfect? The reality of a space fitted with a sink, individual drafting tables and lamps, extra tables, large windows and room to move allowed us to experiment freely with a variety of tools and materials with room to spare. It was divine. Meeting award winning designers and bookbinders was another boon at Wells, and I can say it was one of the most all around, enjoyable teaching experiences I have had to date.

Although catching a six a.m. flight out of Syracuse to JFK was no fun, I was amused to find myself sitting behind a larger than life kind of gal with the visage of a mafia princess, accompanied by a man who looked like Tony Soprano’s bodyguard. Lo and behold, turns out my musings were fairly accurate. Upon landing in New York, I spied a magazine with the lady in question’s photograph on the front with a caption that read something like “one of the stars of the hit show Mafia Housewives.”

Next up–La Romita, Umbria, Italy……to be continued.

Dance, dance wherever you may be

Feathers, drums, silver heels, swingin’ rhythm, move your hips: it’s Carnaval!  Days and evenings of rehearsals brings the Austin Samba School closer to the grand production in February. No winter blues in this crowd; there isn’t time to get down, except to Samba Reggae. Drummers and dancers alike meet every Wednesday evening at the Austin State Hospital gymnasium to learn Samba drum rhythms and dance steps.  In September all (volunteer) participants are asked to make a serious time-commitment to a grueling rehearsal schedule necessary to create a tight, spectacular carnaval show. I made the commitment and am now in the midst of eating, breathing–living samba. Cautious at first, but curious, I started attending the Wednesday night dance sessions last Summer. Clark has been drumming with the Samba School for several years during which time he has repeatedly encouraged me to join the group.  Me? A 52 year old woman with only minimal dance experience? Oh yes–why not! I am in good company for I have discovered a rich, varied community of women, all ages, shapes, backgrounds, who like me took the samba plunge. In fact, it is astounding what an eclectic bunch makes up the whole Samba School. Our roster includes doctors, lawyers, nurses, counselors, artists, students, musicians, the whole gamut.  It is furthermore interesting how quickly we bonded over the immediate task of learning basic samba steps–and then the challenging choreography for the carnaval show. Considering that the whole operation is a volunteer effort, it is amazing that the school pulls off such stunning, crowd-pleasing performances.  Or is it?  The most infectious, irresistible part of the Samba school is that it is FUN. For those of us serious types, schooled in the Protestant work ethic which regards anything other than work suspect, the fun aspect is a challenge. Questions quickly arise, like: “shouldn’t I spend what precious time I have available volunteering for a more serious cause, one which helps people?” or “shouldn’t I use any extra time I have to work on my art?”

Regarding the first question, samba DOES help people. On a physical level, it gets participants in shape! It also brings me and my fellow participants great joy–and it infects everyone around us with joy. In a world continually traumatized by disturbing events, experiencing joy seems vital, necessary for our survival. Furthermore, Samba is inclusive: everyone is welcome regardless of level of experience, background, race, color, size, age. Any feeling of self-consciousness is quickly replaced by one of belonging and solidarity–that we are all in this together.  For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitude, the community aspect of Samba is most welcome. And, regarding my concern about samba vs. time for artmaking, I can say that my samba experience invigorates me, helps me feel alive, and  has inspired a multitude of  ideas for new art projects. Perhaps most importantly, joining the samba school has given me the valuable experience of being a beginner. When my own students express fear and doubt about the blank page, I can empathize, my blank page being the dance floor. And like my students, if I am willing to keep moving, the fear turns to fun, and the joy of feeling alive is worth the risk of whatever mistakes we make in the process of learning something new.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

I sat down to write about the post Christmas quiet and its accompanying melancholy when RED flashed in front of me.  My heart skipped a beat as I watched a cardinal alight on the deck railing outside of my studio, a surprise visitor on a gray, dreary afternoon. He was not alone, but  joined by what I imagined to be his family–male and female–all skittering around the slick, leaf-covered deck foraging for food.  Delighted, I stepped outside to take a picture, when as if on cue, they all flew away. Of course I knew better! Magical moments like these must be savored, experienced, not captured, neatly snapped up in a photograph.
Cardinals are not uncommon in Austin, but it is rare to see one in our yard.  “It must be a sign” I thought, that this extraordinarily ordinary visitor appeared exactly when I needed such a boon. Earlier this morning I had been “seeing red” in another way, angry over some hurtful comments someone made about me. It is my “cardinal sin” to ruminate and obsess over such things, about which I have no control.  The cardinals are gone now, flown off to some other yard in the neighborhood, but red is on my mind. Not the angry kind, but that which is associated with passion, life-force, the blood of creation.

As an artist I stay alert for inspiration and it usually comes in unpredictable, surprising ways, like the sight of a cardinal on the deck on a winter’s morning.

Flashes of red flutter away,
the rain washed deck bears witness to the scene,
sodden leaves mingled with sticks and acorns,
a welcome feast for unexpected visitors.

Something Old, Something New

The year begins:  resolutions made, Christmas decorations packed, a deep breath taken, one moment flowing into the next. Typically, I wax nostalgic on the eve of a new year, noting in my journal progress made, things accomplished, dreams lived or un-lived.  Sitting at Starbucks on New Years’ Eve I noted highlights of the 2012 list: Swim a lot–check, get better at African Dance–check; join Austin Samba School to dance–check; Lead Sketch trip to Italy-check; sell more art—check; Make more art–check; Start writing a book–Check.
Finish writing a book…..

That’s where a new list begins.  A Book. Seems large, ominous, out of reach, something others do, what one sees in stores, hard-bound, serious, sitting in rows on shelves. Being in the process of writing one is a no-man’s land of ambivalence, doubt, fear, cautious hope, procrastination, grandiosity and audacity.  It involves hours of doing, hours of thinking and not doing, hours of thinking I should be doing, picking up where I left off a month ago.  A book. Of. Mine.  At the beginning of such an undertaking, there is the realization that it began a long time ago, conceived in the act of making art and teaching it, gestating through countless journal entries and ruminations, nudging me in waking moments and showing up in dreams. Questions remain: will I abort it before it has time to fully develop? Or, despite all my efforts, will it be stillborn? Or, will I give birth to something full, whole, complete that I can proudly present to the world?

It is difficult to be in the middle of anything.

And so on I plod, writing, writing, writing as the new year unfolds, writing for my life.