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Warning:  This is a long post …..

Mike’s Wall Frog made me smile and brought me joy each day of my visit.

The Wall Frog

The Wall Frog

The creature Nicole made for me makes me smile and brings me joy each day.

Nicole's Creature

Nicole’s Creature

Alexis’s self portrait makes me smile and bring me joy each day.

Bust of Alexis, Sculpture, Self-Portrait

Bust of Alexis, Sculpture, Self-Portrait

My study of the brain began in October of 2007 when my sister sent me a copy of The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness written by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.  I quote from the front flap of the cover:

“In this groundbreaking work, world-renowned Buddhist teach Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche invites us to join him in unlocking the secrets behind the practice of meditation.  Working with neuroscientists at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, Yongey Mingyur provides clear insights into modern research indicating that systematic training in meditation can enhance activity in areas of the brain associated with happiness and compassion.”

At the time, I practiced yoga daily, both at home and at a nearby yoga center.  On Sunday mornings I painted the yoga students during the early morning Ashtanga class.  For me, live painting is a form of meditation.  Drawing and painting, whether en plein air, in the studio or at a performance is always a form of meditation.  I thought that by combining yoga and breathing exercises with simple visual creativity exercises I might unlock the door to the joy of living in a world of creativity for those who convince themselves that they are not creative.  It is my belief that everyone can live a creative life, experiencing joy every day without quitting a job to become an artist, a musician or a poet.  Being an artist, my path is mostly through the forest of the visual arts.  That is the path I’m able to share with others.  For about a year I offered Creativity Workshops at the Yoga Center,  at an art gallery and in my home.  At the end of the year I stopped.  I had not successfully communicated my message, perhaps because I had not stated what that message really was…..

If I don’t exercise, nurture and challenge my brain, each and every day, it will lose its ability to perform the tasks I need it to perform.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that even if I exercise, nurture and challenge my brain, I might be one of the many unlucky individuals whose brain stops serving them well in spite of Herculean efforts.  My father is one of those unlucky ones.  Into his mid eighties he walked seven miles a day.  He read hundreds of books, wrote poetry on a daily basis, danced four nights a week, played (and won) at card games and board games to say nothing of being the neighborhood Croquet Champion.  He volunteered in his community, served as a business arbitrator and stayed involved with the activities of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My father suffers dementia, perhaps Alzheimer’s.

Two years ago we moved my father out of the house he and my mother built with their own hands.  He now lives in an assisted living facility, a forty minute drive from my home.  Thursday is our day together.  For the first year and a half, we walked together exploring the parks, trails, gardens and forests in the area.  We stopped to rest on benches, rocks and tree stumps.  My father wrote poetry and I sketched.  Dad never remembered where we had been, nor that I had been to see him.  The only evidence of our adventures is his green notebook, my sketchbook and the weekly blog posts on our family site, Walks With Dad.  I tried to present the day with truth and humor while, at the same time, letting my siblings know how my father was doing.  Our adventurous walks have now become quite tame due to my father’s quickly debilitating condition.

Dad was an electrical engineer.  One might say that he was extremely left-brained.  Abstract art was a total mystery to him.  A building drawn without being in perfect perspective was simply bad art.  His poetry had to rhyme. He thought, because I often painted abstractly, I painted that way because I hadn’t learned to draw well enough to create real art.  About the same time that we noticed his memory slipping, I noticed that he spent more time looking at abstract art than representational art when he attended my exhibits.  At one gallery, he made the comment, “I think I finally understand why you might want to paint like that.”  I was stunned.

A year ago it became increasingly difficult to inspire my dad to write poetry.  He couldn’t find words, any words.  Rather than frustrate him, I taught him how to do contour drawings.  He became focused, drawing until I told him he could stop.  After drawing, he started using adjectives again in his speech.  If I asked him to write a poem, he did so without resistance, often writing expressively rather than in forced rhyme.

Around this time I stumbled upon Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee.  The brain is remarkably adaptable.  When one area is injured, another area steps in to fill the void when possible.  I believe my father’s right side of the brain has compensated, a bit, for loss in the left side of his brain.  He can now identify the subject of abstract drawings of objects, whereas he could not do so before.

In spite of Dad’s total loss of short term memory at this point, he can still follow the calls at a square dance and he can still win at games, even Bridge!  I am hoping that my habit of drawing and painting every day will serve me as well.  When I can’t remember who I am I hope I will still be drawing and painting.

This brings me full circle.  Though it might be futile, I am breathing new life into my Creativity Workshops, dedicated to presenting brain exercises through creativity.  Using the vocabulary of art: Line, Shape, Value, Texture and Color,  The Creativity Workshop introduces simple games that can be played daily with common items such as paperclips, string and toothpicks.  I want to teach these classes during lunch breaks at corporations as stress relievers and brain teasers.  I want to present them at Centers for Healing, in schools, hospitals, prisons and summer camps.

Seeing the smile on my father’s face when I hand him his green notebook, now almost filled with his poetry, reminds me of the importance of not giving up on him, and not giving up on anyone else, either.  My father turns 90 on February 24th, 2013.

Dad drawing cherries before writing a poem after a picnic at Feltville, NJ

Dad drawing cherries before writing a poem after a picnic at Feltville, NJ

Sketchbook drawings:  Top – Wall Frog – Ink and waterbrush.  All the others are drawn first in ink with a fountain pen, followed by watercolor.

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It’s 10 degrees in New Jersey.  I’m happy to be heading to warmer weather.

Ed's Pipe Bender

Ed’s Pipe Bender

Fortunately, first thing Monday morning, Ed solved the problem I was having with my K-car.  It barely made it up any incline and had no oomph when merging from the left onto a highway into speeding traffic.  The exhaust system was clogged.  My mechanic treats me like a queen.  Maybe it’s the oatmeal raisin cookies I bring him, or maybe he just loves working on my old junkers.  Being in a panic, hoping I could make it to his shop without having to call to get the car towed, I left my backpack behind.  Ed gave me paper and pen and I settled in to drawing the Pipe Bender I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years now.  Ed finished up with my car before I finished the drawing.  What service!

Why do I mention this while waiting for my plane to take off?  Because Tom’s car broke down in the driveway at 2 am when we were leaving for the airport.  A quick switch over to the K-car and we were on our way again.  It took an hour for the car to warm up, but at least it works!

I hope to see some of you in a few days in Santa Rosa, California!  I’ll be at Village Art Supply.  There will be a free demo on Thursday evening, an art appreciation session on Friday evening and full-day workshops on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday!  It’s not too late to sign up.

Line Drawing:  Pipe Bender – Proformer II, drawn on printer paper with a bic pen.

To travel and paint ….. to paint and travel.  To pass along the various methods I’ve learned or discovered to express the life I awaken to each morning …. To make connections, on a daily basis, with new people from all walks of life  and to add, in a positive way, to the rhythm of the Universe …. Those have always been my goals.

On the Road to Asheville, NC

On the Road to Asheville, NC

As those goals become reality, other aspects of daily life require adjusting.  There are only twenty four hours in each day.  I had filled those hours completely before needing to upgrade my online presence, before needing to plan for days lost to airports and cars, travel logistics, packing everything into manageable suitcases.  It’s challenging and totally worth every frustration that crosses my path.

Developing new approaches to teaching the basics drives me along paths I might not have explored.  I discover techniques I had forgotten and I stumble across techniques I haven’t tried before.  My own work grows when I share my painting experiences with others.

Sketchbook travel drawing:  Drawn first with ink using a fountain pen, followed by watercolor using a waterbrush. Drawn from the passenger seat, en route to Asheville, NC where my friend, Pete, filmed the first of a series of online painting demos.

Hangar One at Moffett Field is one of the world’s largest freestanding structures, covering 8 acres (3.2 ha)

Hangar One at Moffett Field, California

Mike works five blocks from Hangar One.  It was dark when I first saw it looming above me like a giant space station.  Today, I spent the entire afternoon drawing Hangar One.  Vieira da Silva would have loved this structure.

Hangar One, No. 1

Hangar One, No. 2

Hangar One abstractions

As the sun set, the structure began to glow.

Hangar One at sunset

I kept drawing ….

Hangar One, No. 3

To be continued …….

Sketchbook ink drawings: Drawn en plein air with sheaffer fountain pen using a Sheaffer cartridge filled with black ink on BFK Rives paper.

If you love drawing with fountain pens and a splash of color, don’t throw away old file folders!  I love the smooth surface and the off-white, ochre color.  They feel similar in weight to 80 lb cover stock.  Light washes of watercolor or gouache don’t cause ripples. The nib of the fountain pen glides across the surface.

Oak tree behind the cabin at Carolina Landing

Overall, I’m pleased with the photos of sketchbook drawings taken with my iphone during the road trip.  The image above was shot on the back porch of the cabin under gray, morning light before we packed the car and headed to the Outer Banks.  The pale ochre tone of the file folder paper was lost in translation.

Starting my day on a porch (either my own or someone else’s), pen in hand, coffee within reach, my sense of sight and smell tuning in to the vibes of the dawning day is as crucial to me as eating and sleeping …. in fact, I am more willing to skip eating and sleeping than I am drawing and painting.

sketchbook drawing: drawn en plein air on file folder paper, first with ink using a fountain pen, followed by watercolor wash.

Tom and I took a test run yesterday, preparing for our upcoming road trip.

First Stop … Old Turnpike Road

It’s amazing that there are still roads near home that we have not explored.  Tom sat in the passenger seat and acted as timer.  I drove. I attempted, and succeeded, to find roads we have not traveled before.  After driving for fifteen minutes I searched for a safe place to pull over, park the car and pull out the two chairs from the trunk.  For the next fifteen minutes I worked in my sketchbook as Tom wrote a quick horror story.  Then we moved on.

Second Stop … Jane Chapel Road

The second stop was a wide spot in the road beside the ruins of a curved-roof barn and a silo buried in vines and hidden by trees and brambles.

City Street …. Hackettstown

Our last stop found us on the Main Street of Hackettstown.  I think the timer was hungry and thirsty.  It appeared to me that it was a very short fifteen minutes of sketchbook time.

We ended the trip with a stop on the other side of the mountain at the Long Valley Brewery Pub with a pint and a platter of food…. a successful trial run for the road trip.

Sketchbook drawings – drawn with a fountain pen in a sketchbook made from rejected watercolor paintings.  I applied watercolor using a waterbrush and my half pans stored in the Altoid tin.  Not enough time to apply color to the last sketch.

 

 

Phil whisked me away to her cottage at Chapman Lake to review the experience of the first Color Scheme Game Workshop.

Forks, Fountain Pens and Friendship

We spent twenty four hours walking, talking, knitting, drawing and eating ice cream.  Standing in a meadow late at night, we gazed up at the Milky Way.  The autumn colors are beginning to show on the trees surrounding the lake.  The cottage has been in her family for decades.  It will soon belong to a new family who will create their own memories and history of summers and weekends swimming, boating and eating ice cream.  Though most of the furniture remains with the house.  The forks will stay with Phil.

Sketchbook drawing: Drawn with a vintage, Sheaffer Fountain Pen, later painted with waterbrush and peerless watercolor papers. Link to the painted version on my Creative Color Blog.

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