As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am working on a piece of art involving the Florida Scrub Jay. For me, the process of art making follows a method that is not dissimilar to the scientific method. I set a problem – in this case “Where have all the scrub-jays gone that lived in the Cedar Key State Reserve in 2004?”. Then, I begin to collect data and make careful observations. These observations may include journey daybook pages that are related to the problem. The remainder of my process includes attempting to draw conclusions as I attempt to solve the problem. The piece of art that I make may develop anywhere along this chain of steps. I never know when inspiration will occur or how my art will develop: this is the Great Surprise! For now, I am very early in the data collection phase.
But, last Friday afternoon, I had a huge gift – the first sighting of a scrub-jay in Cedar Key along the county road that passes through the state land! This bird, easy to recognize and identify, was siting on a power line. I pulled my car off the road and made the attached page. I photographed the bird with my cell phone and marked the spot on my map so that the sighting could be documented in the Scrub Jay Watch. My present plan is to return to the same spot both early and late in the day looking for more birds of this colony. Yesterday morning’s trip yielded no “real” birds – just an image of the scrub and more observations. I never know what I will see: this is the mystery and the fun of the process. (Click on the page to enlarge and read.)
This week I bought myself a pair of birdwatching binoculars to use for my study of the Florida Scrub-Jay in Cedar Key. In an attempt to become adept at drawing while looking through these new optical devices, I have been searching out wildlife subjects around my home. The other day as I was scanning the huge live oak in my backyard, I noticed a swarm of monarchs that were obviously feeding themselves from the blossoms of the loquat tree in preparation for their long migration south. I quickly drew this scene using ballpoint and watercolor.
There is so much migration preparation proceeding right now in our area. For me, it is just a matter of noticing this activity.
For several years I have studied, drawn, and painted scrub jays because a small colony or family resides near me in the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve. In 2004 I spent several days with this group of birds but the jay territory has now changed and, sadly, the birds are more difficult to find. This summer I visited the reserve many times and I sighted a few of them. I drew and painted the environment but I have yet to find the family of birds, which is probably deeper than I was able to hike. Now, during hunting season, I decided to go to safer Florida locations where colonies are known to exist.
On Sunday, 19 November I drove to Marion County with my trike and a little trailer to carry our chairs, sketching supplies, and a light brunch. This is the closest known site with confirmed scrub jays. The I met Eva Squires, a Journey Daybook alum who is also interested in the Florida Scrub Jay. We hiked and pedaled a few miles to the scrub site on the Marjorie Carr Cross-Florida Greenway where we found a very active colony of these beautiful birds. You can read my notes on this journey daybook page and also visit Eva’s Facebook page for her excellent
Three days ago I arrived home after a thrilling week-long pilgrimage to Mexico City. I have yearned for a deeper Catholic spiritual experience and I decided last spring to embark on a tour of religious sites in and around the Mexican capital of both government, culture, and religion so that I could experience the resonance of these holy sites. I was also interested to view and study the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
My practice is to make journey daybooks during my travel experiences. This process became more inspirational this time because I was able to use this beautiful fawn leather journey daybook hand bound by Allison Lebaron: a gift from this artist friend and Journey Daybook alum from Gainesville, FL. I filled two of the five signatures (24 pages) with drawing, paintings, collage, and writing. Thanks to our generous Mexican 206 Tour Guide, Javier Garcia, I was able to draw and sometimes even paint during the course our daily activities. On three occasions, I was given an hour of time for my own solitary work when the group climbed or walked to a remote destination. I brought along my travel cart containing minimal art supplies and two folding stools especially for this purpose. On the final day of our 206 Tour, a fellow pilgrim friend, Charlene Carson from Connecticut, made this photo to record me working in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I tried to keep up with my journey daybook each day so that I could demonstrate my honest, intimate, and immediate experiences. On the last (7th day), I was given my own private tour of works by Rivera and Kahlo by another excellent guide, Alberto Morales for which I was also very grateful. Below, I am posting the 23 pages of the journey daybook that I made last week. If you want to see larger images, simply click on these thumbnail pictures.
I recently returned from a productive week – a road trip to North Carolina for the purpose of studying with one of my painting idols, Robert Johnson, who held a workshop at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. You can see more of Robert’s work on the Blue Spiral Gallery site. The 4-day workshop was very comprehensive with students who were beginners to watercolor journaling as well as others of us who have been making journal pages for years. There was much to be learned for me. Robert has a unique method of making value and color “short-hand” notes in the field that make it easy and accurate to match colors that may be painted in journal pages at a later time. He does not rely on or make photographs. We learned how to make a simple system of color mixing charts that correspond to the simple palettes he gave us. For me, Robert’s process enables making a journey daybook page much faster, more accurately, and helps me to identify large color and value areas and to avoid copying endless visual details that often confuse me as I view the landscape in front of me.
In North Carolina, I worked with the class applying the “color shorthand” to a page made on a mountain road near the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the rainy day after the workshop, I returned to the parkway and made a second page that shows mostly the clouds that block the mountain view. After I got home, I made my own color chart that corresponds to my personal palette, and I have made a few pages at a park site near here where the endangered Scrub Jay has been sighted.
As is often the case, it will take time and much regular, repetitive work in order to process what Robert Johnson taught me. I am sure that I will discard some of this new method of working as I adopt other parts of the protocol. Already, a big change that has occurred is my translation of the landscape into a simpler view. I am not striving so much to copy as I learned to do in my medical illustration life many years ago. I think that there may have been a subtle brain shift in the way I now “see.” After all, as Frederick Franck said many years ago, drawing is really about seeing.
I had the very decadent experience of eating very well in my week in Asheville. The city is known as the Santa Fe of the east because of its focus on art and good food. Each evening of my week in Asheville I enjoyed gourmet meals at five new, trendy restaurants with my friend and Journey Daybook alum, Lois, with whom I studied, We walked. We visited galleries. We experienced a very gentle time of restful work.
I made the following journey daybook page on my last day in Asheville from a scenic mountain view turn-off on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Obviously, it was raining and there were only clouds to view.
Like many people, I am harboring a host of conflicted feelings on this day. My niece, Liz Pulis Mora, made a Facebook post yesterday that moved me and you can read it here. Last night I was with friends for dinner, discussing the potential difficulties that women friends may encounter as they travel to march in Washington over the weekend. I am daunted by such considerations. So, on this quiet overcast morning I sit on my deck, trying to compose my feelings into the written form –
THE MAGIC TREE
that reaches so wide and spreads so low.
It’s newest bough grows toward me
and covers my table,
giving cooling shade and calming comfort.
On this disruptive day I sit under my bough.
Peace is brought through the host of inhabitant animals
silently coursing through branches, bringing inherent gifts
of abundant energy, sacred purpose, and secret wisdom.
I feel thankful for my Godly protection.
For several years I have drawn in church. Because I carry my journey daybook with me most of the time, it is simple to pull it out from my purse to make random notes, recording thoughts or ideas now or then. Sometimes, I am inspired to draw when there is time before mass when the church is quiet and especially inspiring to me. I often draw during the homily. At the vigil last Saturday I made such a journey daybook page, recording the liturgical changes that mark the beginning of Lent and the special visit by our Bishop.