12/18/17: Nothing Left to Want

Earlier this fall I took some time to draw at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. As my notes in the top image say, a bodhisattva is a Buddhist deity who has attained enlightenment but delays entering paradise in order to aid other earthly beings. As I drew, I noticed how adorned with finery (jewels, fine robes) these figures were...in contrast to the simple robe of standing Buddha on the far right of the spread (see the second image below). The exhibit notes mentioned that standing Buddhas icons were created to make the Buddha more human and to emphasize that he was concerned about the everyday person.

I added the scene of the Minneapolis high-rises in the background, which I saw out the large window near these statues -- perhaps a reminder that Buddhist ideas live on beyond these statues created centuries ago. For example, here's a a thought mentioned in a recent dharma talk by Andrea Martin at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center on Sunday, 12/17/17: "When we realize that everything is already part of our life, there is nothing left to want." 

November 6, 2017: Working for Change While Appreciating the What-Is

There are so many other political issues that I could get wrapped up in these days, but I might not get anything else done. After all, there's the daily work to do, family members and friends from various places to stay connected with, leaves to rake, a life to live...

That’s why when it comes to politics, I am focusing on what I think is one of the major issues faced by humanity: climate change. I belong to the local chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. Our informational meetings, held the second Saturday of each month, help me write informed letters to our representatives. For example, this week I’ll be encouraging our House rep to join the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus – a group in the U.S. House of Representatives that explores policy options to address the challenges of climate change. There are currently 60 members – half Democrat and half Republican, with membership kept even between the two groups.

Even as I work through the CCL toward “what could be,” I also make time for other activities that fill me with appreciation of the “what is.”

Thus my time spent painting yesterday. Here's another sketch from the #housesinthehood series. This time, it’s our house. I drew some light pencil lines, then used gouache paint for the colors, then black and grey soft brush pens for the darker lines. The hour spent on the sketch helped give me fuel for the week ahead.

And for contacting Mr. Steve King about the Climate Solutions Caucus. Stranger things have happened...right?

October 30, 2017: Making time for play with #Housesinthehood

When my paying work as a freelance writer feels more like day job than creative enterprise, I try to carve out at least a half-hour a day to write or draw just for fun. If I can hook my creative time into a new learning curve, all the better. 

Here’s what I’ve been up to “in the cracks” over the last couple of weeks: Inspired by artist/teacher Marc Taro Holmes, whose course “Travel Sketching in Mixed Media” I am taking from Craftsy.com, I’ve been using Holmes’s technique of laying down some lines in permanent ink, and then adding the watercolors – all in very loose, sketchy fashion.

I decided to draw a few houses from my neighborhood. My first sketch (left) was the house directly across from ours. The owners recently painted their steps and shutters pink, making for a nice visual contrast. I found, though, that as I sketched, the tree wanted the most attention and the steps and shutters became the supporting cast.

Next up: a little blue-gray bungalow just around the corner. It too has an oak out front, as do many homes in our ‘hood, but this time the sidewalk color and texture attracted my attention the most: 

On to another house, a lovely two-story brick that the owners have been bringing to life, inside and out. What I like about this little sketch is the warm palette of tans, yellows, pinks, and browns — with just a little cooler contrast of blue in the windows and along the wrought-iron railing: 

Next, just around the corner, a Tudor with a bright red door and, again, a lovely oak: 

Then a full-spread sketch of another house with a red door but in colonial style. I tried to capture the purple ash (upper left) in all its glory, with its translucent peaches, plums, corals, and lime greens. (Purple ashes are my favorites of the fall trees in Iowa — all the more so these days as the emerald ash borer threatens this species.) 

But a cropping of this sketch reveals the true main characters: once again, the signature oak, this time with two trunks. (Sorry, purple ash. I will try again next year, so you stay healthy.) 

When I sketch I try to use the same techniques I would if I were meditating: I bring a compassionate, non-judgmental, present-moment awareness to the process. Even as a budding artist I can tell there’s plenty wrong with these sketches, but I prefer to celebrate and share what I like about them. 

I’ll continue with my #housesinthehood series, I am sure. Taking taking time to “make stuff” nearly every day is part of my well-being and genetic make-up – plus it helps me maintain the energy I need when in day-job mode as a freelancer.  

9/28/17: Trading Security for Intensity

“The uncertainty of a freelance writing career,” Lori Erickson told me once, “is that it tends to keep you at the top of your game. You can’t relax in the same way as with a regular job. There’s a hunting mentality to it. You have to be alert, but there’s a kind of adrenaline that is exciting. That’s what you get in exchange for lack of security.”

Lori is a good friend. She has also been a valuable and generous mentor to me over the years as I have pursued my own freelancing career. Lori has published over a thousand articles in national and regional publications; she also authors a popular spiritual/travel blog at Patheos called “Holy Rover.”
Now, her biggest game to date: Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. This delightful, thought-provoking, and inspiring memoir of faith and travel has been named by Amazon as the #1 Release in Literary and Religious Travel Guides.

I’m so glad Lori’s years of work at developing her sharp hunting skills have led her to bagging this beautiful book. May her wisdom and faith inspire all of us to follow our own passions, choose uncertainty over security, and become the best hunter/gathers that we can, each in our own way.

(You can order your copy of Lori’s book here.  Click here to listen to Lori talk about her book with Charity Nebbe on “Talk of Iowa.”)

9/25/17: Bingo

Years ago a talented artist told me he tends to like only one out of ten paintings. I try to keep that in mind when I'm experimenting with drawing and painting. 

Over the weekend I watched a few instructional videos by Marc Taro Holmes that I found on the Craftsy web site, and I practiced a few of his techniques. His teaching style really speaks to me. I made several sketches but was frustrated by my limited skills...and then, bingo, I came up with the one above, and it made me smile. 

When one out of ten happens, I'm quite sure it releases joy into the atmosphere. 

9/22/17: Overachievers?

It has to be one of the overachievers of the plant world, doesn't it? All that work, all summer long, to develop those big green leaves, and then finally, finally that colorful flower that is so small in proportion to all the rest. I love cannas for their earnestness. 

9/22/17: Lucky Root, Lucky Us

"No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor -- to anchor an embryo and forever end its mobile phrase, however passive that mobility was. Once the first root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope (however feeble) of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous....The tiny rootlet has only one chance to guess what the future years, decades -- even centuries -- will bring to the patch of soil where it sits. It assesses the light and humidity of the moment, refers to its programming, and quite literally takes the plunge." (from Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren)

Wow. Just wow. This makes me appreciate all the trees in our 'hood even more.