Wonder and Awe in Nature and Watercolors

Have you ever captured wonder? Ever been (lovingly) slapped in the face with awe?

I have.

This day it was the wonder of this sky.

I’ve driven this dirt road many times. Sometimes I notice the dust and unevenness of the road. But today I was present to this. Or perhaps more accurately this was present to me — calling me to look, to see, to breathe, and to be open to the wonder of the ordinary. I snapped a picture in my mind, and with my camera.

My brother and I hiked, chatted, and pointed out various things to each other. I’m blessed to have him as my hiking partner. No matter how many leaves I notice, or how many times I say “Oh, look at that!” he never tells me “You know we just saw that last week.” or “You said the exact same thing 5 minutes ago.” He, too, is open to being in the moment, present to the wonder, joy, blessing, and amazingness of nature.

We walked and noticed new paths, and different vistas. And we sat. Exploration is super. Hiking is a joy. But sitting, sitting is absolutely necessary! It reminds me of Savasana in yoga. It’s a few moments, intentionally taken, to allow ourselves to experience who we are in the moment, to notice what our practice, our hike, our noticing, our awe, has produced in our bodies, minds, and spirits. It’s a time to rest.

We always find at least one lovely spot to sit. Sometimes we chat. Sometimes we photograph or paint. Sometimes we just rest in the awe of the present moment.

Ginny Graves wrote — in A Healthier Life (Real Simple Special Edition 10/21)

Positive emotions, like awe, love, and gratitude, suffuse your body with an uplifting sensation that can make you feel more at peace with yourself and at one with the world.

Mindfulness might help you train your brain to be less worried and more buoyant.

I love the idea and believe it to be true. Another day I’ll find the science to share with you. For now, I just share my experience.

My brother and I practice mindfulness as we hike. Sometimes it’s in mindful walking, sometimes it’s being present to the sights, sounds, and smells that surround us as we move. Other times it is the discovery of something we hadn’t yet seen. And always, it’s the sitting, and soaking in the space.

Look at all the shades of green. The plethora of plants. The amazing reflections in the water. This was a day for breathing and allowing the awe that I felt, and the almost magical bigness of the space and moment hold me. It’s funny to speak of it in that way. But that is the experience. It is being in the presence of something greater than me, of being surrounded by beauty. As I sit there I don’t know how to describe it other than being held, supported, with space to just breathe and be.

Another day at the same spot, I captured my wonder by looking deeply and using watercolor to capture a tiny bit of nature in my mini hiking journal. It’s funny because watercolor is something else that fills me with wonder and awe, and draws me deeply into a place of mindfulness. After painting I captured the moment to keep with me.

This is, for me, the image of an day well spent. Hiking shoes off. My feet in the green bed of clover at the bottom of the step on which I’m sitting. My view captured on the mini watercolor journal I carry with me. Looking at this image brings me back to that moment. I feel the joy I felt as I looked at all this in front of me. I see the brilliant green that stretches out in front of me, and I hear the water gurgling over the rocks. Amazing the wonder that can be held in an image, on the page, and in my heart and mind.

I couldn’t get out to hike the next day. Instead I brewed a big cup of matcha and sat in the quiet coolness of morning. I flipped through some photos from previous hikes. I took them with the intention of having watercoloring inspiration.

I decided to use this image of a small patch of flowers. The wildness of overlapping leaves, a plethora of different plants, and flowers popping out all over drew me. I liked the wildness — somehow it seemed like sweet cacophony of beauty. Is it possible for a cacophony to be sweet and beautiful?

As I sipped my tea, and zoomed in on the various areas of the photo, I was brought back to that moment in nature. I revisited the many different shades of green in the leaves, the darkness of the shadows and the soil, the textures, and the pops of color. I played with the paint and water mixtures, noticing how it moved on the page. As I did, I felt my breath and my spirit ease a bit. I painted and sipped tea in joy-filled silence.

The Woods and the River

The cool air kisses our cheeks
welcoming us back 
to the beauty and joy 
of the woods and the river

We pause 
to capture photographs
of leaves suspended above the ground
by trees that didn’t hold them in life

We stop
to free a witch hazel
trapped beneath a massive birch
felled by a recent storm

We walk
deep into the woods
through pockets of coolness
and dappled areas of sunlight

At the river’s edge
I breathe the air
with every fiber of my being
and remember a Nhat Hanh mantra

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
What a wonderful moment.

Smiling
I sit
and slide my unshod feet 
into the cold, rushing water of the river

I exist
in the epitome of mindfulness
body and mind together
in the woods by the river

I relish this time and space
so ordinary 
and yet 
so very extraordinary

The sights and sounds
of woods and river
flow over me
like water over the rocks

My jagged edges are smoothed
and the disquieting din of life
is drowned by the pleasantly deafening 
song of the river

Refreshed
and renewed
We walk again
amidst the trees

The moon greets us as we
emerge from the canopy of green
even now planning our return
to walk in the woods and sit by the river

Water is the Upside Down Sky

Hiking always refreshes, and challenges my watercolor practice. I love looking and gazing and wondering how I might adequately capture with watercolor, what I see with my eyes.

This year I was super curious and delighted by the sky and water. If you have a moment, give the sky and water around you more of your attention. They are amazing gifts.

Here they are in three different, yet equally beautiful scenarios. (Just looking at the photos transports me back, and makes my breath deepen and lengthen. Sigh.)

Then, and now, as I look at them, and endeavor to paint them, I realize my brother is right.

“Water is just the upside down sky!”

It’s Going to Be a Fantabulous Year!

I was hiking a few weeks ago, and ended up hiking out fairly late. With a few miles to go the sun was setting. Far before I reached the end, it was dark and I was tired. The darkness and the tiredness made me a bit fearful, not particularly joyful, and interestingly enough, a bit more tired.

Realizing my plight, I chose a few positive thoughts to repeat to myself as I walked. “I am strong. I am fierce. I am brave.” As it got darker, and I got more tired, I upped my positivity game. “I am strong and getting stronger. I am fierce and getting fiercer. I am brave and getting braver.” (And yes I realize fiercer is not really a word, but it worked for me.)

Thankfully I wasn’t hiking out alone, and we had flashlights. The lights were small but still enabled us to search for the blaze, and then illuminate the path a few steps ahead. We relied on the blaze we had just seen, our assessment of the ground before us, our ability to traverse rocky and root filled paths, and our memory. My brother occasionally reminded me “One step at a time.” With the camaraderie, the light, and the positive thinking — inside and outside of my own brain — we made it back to the car without incident.

As we drove home, I thought about the new school year, and the hike I had just finished. The hike seemed the perfect metaphor for the school year. As educators we start the year with grand ideas, wonderful plans, and a good bit of exuberance. At some point, or hey, at many points, we end up tired and in darkness (literally and figuratively). Often we can only see the blaze right before us.

That’s OK. No worries! It’s at those moments — even more than usual — that we have to rely on each other. And, alone or together, we must trust our thinking, our assessment of the situation, and our ability to move — even in the dark.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves of the tools we have — even if they aren’t the tools we wish we had — and use our big beautiful creative brains to elevate their usefulness. I usually have a headlamp when I hike. Unfortunately I forgot to pack it this hike, so I only had a very small flashlight. It was tough to hold it and use my hiking poles at the same time.

At some point, I realized I could make a headlamp. I was wearing a fleece hat, and my sunglasses were perched on top of it. I stopped for a moment, positioned the flashlight under my hat, and secured it with my sunglasses. It worked fantabulously!

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The success and enjoyment of my hikes, and my school year depends on my preparation,  my language, my breath, the people I surround myself with, and the story I tell myself. Just like when I hike it’s all about one step at a time. And if I can only see that one step ahead, I need to take it and move in the direction that seems right. At some point it will either be confirmed and I will continue, or I will realize I’ve made a wrong turn, back track a bit, and start again. It’s all good. It’s all growth. It’s all fascinating.

So, my educator peeps. Get your headlamps ready. Gather your friends. Breathe deep. Be positive. Be fierce. Be brave.

It’s going to be a fantabulous new school year.

Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity

Amazing how much past learning, reading and conversation is coming to mind and  informing this post.  Thinking of a title for the post I considered Creative Arts or the Art of Creativity. Almost immediately, Uri Alon’s TEDtalk, and his use of the phrase “Yes, and …” popped into my mind. Nope, can’t be or, must be and. Hence the blog post title —  Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity. Both are valuable and important, and I don’t want to suggest anything different in my title.

Will Burns wrote an article entitled Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity? I loved his conversation with his son about creativity.

Just this morning I asked my son who just graduated high school to name the most creative person in his class and why he thought so. He thought about it and said, “I think it would be Cassidy Davis (changed name) because she is incredibly good at drawing people’s faces.” My son seemed to equate “creativity” with a talent. But, interestingly, he went on to say, “Yeah, she does these drawings of people but then puts them into these scenes that are totally trippy and surreal.” (Will Burns, Forbes, August 7, 2017 @ 01:26 PM)

Burns exclaimed “Now that is creativity.”

I chuckled when I read that. I agree, that does sound creative. Cassidy moved beyond her talent to produce “good drawings” and interjected some creativity — placing the expertly drawn faces in fantastical scenes, created in her imagination and translated onto the page through her fingers.

Considering the definition of creativity, and whether or not something was creative, brings me back to the many awesome conversations with Karl during and after my MA Creative Thinking work at UCLan.

What exactly is creativity? Is it the same as talent? Is it connected to talent? Can we teach it? How? (And, a zillion other questions.) For now, the important conversation centers on the definition of creativity.

Creativity is new and useful or appropriate. So yes, when I read Burn’s son’s description I thought “Wow, that sounds creative, and quite cool.” But, if Cassidy’s drawings were not appropriate to the task at hand, they would not be creative. Talented and unique, perhaps, but not creative. Interesting, right?

I thought of this the other day as I did some plein air painting in the Adirondacks.

After hiking in, I settled myself, and my watercolors, on rocks in the river. I love this spot on the Ausable River, and I wanted to enjoy the river, the air and the moment. My artistic/creative goal was to capture the movement and spirit of the water, while incorporating a bit of the color mixing I had done at home.

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As I sat — breathing and thinking in this great space — I was splashed repeatedly by the river as it flowed by me. Through those splashes, I felt the river asking for my attention, gently nudging me to capture its essence by actually using it in my painting.

I put aside my waterbrush and began gathering water from the river. Slowly, splashes, drips, and then rivers of water, formed on my paper. Grabbing my brush, I wet my paints with the river water. The many colors of nature began to form on the page as the paints moved through the water. Sometimes they glided past one another without mixing, and other times they crashed into one another, swirling into ribbons and pools of new colors.

It was a fascinating and enjoyable process. I noticed the many things I could, and could not control in the process. Much like I must do when walking on the river, I accepted and relaxed – respecting the power but not fearing it.

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I am not sure anyone would consider me a great watercolor talent after seeing this painting. I am growing in my knowledge, skill, understanding and talent. But, a great talent? Not yet.

But, is it creative? Yes — it is a new idea that is appropriate to my task and goal.

I wasn’t sure I had achieved the essence of the river until I tried to photograph the painting. It looked best when it sat amidst the rocks. Just like the water around it, it gathered strength, grace, beauty and meaning from the rocks.

Back to one of my original questions. Is creativity the same as talent? No.

Is it then, completely different, completely removed from creativity? Again, no.

Thesaurus.com includes ability as a synonym for talent. They define it as “natural or acquired power” in something.

I am, for the first time, having this insight about talent and creativity. Perhaps talent and creativity are related just the way talent and playing the piano, talent and doing math, or talent and fencing are related. As my skills grow, my talent grows. As my understanding grows, my talent grows. As I practice, try, fail, learn, succeed — my talent grows. The talent can be in relationship to a plethora of different things — including creativity.

And, as my creativity grows – as a thinker in general, or in a specific arena – my talent, so to speak, always grows. Think of jazz musicians, scientists developing life saving drugs, mathematicians proposing or solving incredible problems, poets writing exquisite poems — their talent feeds their creativity, which in turn feeds their talent! It is a beautiful feedback loop.

Neither talent nor creativity are fixed abilities. We all have the ability to be talented and creative. Some may be more innately talented or creative, and levels of talent and creativity vary.  But, and this is an incredibly important thing for everyone — perhaps especially, parents, teachers and young people — to hear, with learning and practice, everyone can grow in talent and creativity.

This leads me back to Mr. Burn’s article Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity?  and back to my “Yes, and …” from the beginning of this post. I love Burn’s thoughts in his article about the importance of creativity, and of a teacher with an MA Creative Thinking to help others navigate. However, I lean towards Uri Alon’s idea — Yes, and.

Yes, creative arts, AND, yes, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY the art of creativity.

I think, perhaps, Mr. Burn’s would agree with that statement. But, that’s for another post!

Hiking Art – Part 2 – Using the Wind

14114866_1464197210263831_6637948970428154399_oOur final hiking day in NY included a jaunt into the Ausable River across from Copperas Pond, and then a rather lovely hike to Cobble Lookout. I found a nice seat – lightly shaded, good view – and broke out the paints and paper. Much like other days, the wind was gloriously present.

I’d done art with my Kindergarteners were we supplied the breath to move the paint around the page. Inspired by that, I decided to see if I could let the rushing wind move my paint.

Much like the leaf painting, it was more difficult than I imagined. The wind was gusting at times, but seemed unable to combat the inertia in the domes of watercolor that sat on my page. I was surprised!

I tried more water in the paint, but the small domes still seemed impervious to the wind. Very interesting!

I thought it was a combination of inertia, and the small surface area of the paint. Even though the wind seemed very powerful on my skin, it didn’t push strongly on the drops of water and paint.

So, I stopped trying to control how the wind impacted the paint and paper. I did my best to give the wind full rein. I placed the watery paint onto the page, and lifted the page into the wind. Thankfully, my grasp was firm, because the wind whipped the page about like a kite! The wind won the inertia war (if that is what it truly was) and the paint moved about the page – small bits splashing onto my hands and legs.

I quickly ran out of water in my brush reservoir – as clearly I was using the brush in a much different way than anticipated! I filled it with water from my water bottle, but ended up spilling more than I got in the pen. Providentially, the water fell into a perfectly formed indentation on the rock where I sat. A natural water holder! I was able to wash my brush, and get enough water to make the paint wet and moveable.

Using that indentation in the rock really added to my experience.

  • It made me feel more immersed in, and connected to, nature.
  • It opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround me – sometimes within reach – that may go unnoticed.
  • It encouraged me to embrace “what is.” There was some very fine gravel at the bottom of the indentation which transferred to my paper. The first time it happened, I gasped! Then I remembered something I had read, or heard, about Jackson Pollock. Bits of things sometimes ended up as parts of his work. That made me chuckle and helped me breathe as I thought “Oh! No worries! It’s just like Jackson Pollock!”

After letting the wind do quite a bit of work. I sat with the piece and watched it as it dried. I looked out at the view and noticed the grey rock, the green trees and the blue sky. I decided to fill in the unpainted areas with grey, green and blue – in that order – as I saw them sitting there.

When I got home I set about finishing this piece. I wanted to add some sort of detail, and words. I had been thinking of using parts of a John Muir quote that had been in my mind for days.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir)

I loved how much the painting reminded me of a map, or the view you might see from the summit of a mountain. I hesitated about adding the words, fearing I might wreck the work I had already done.

But, I decided they had to be added! I love that quote. It blesses me each time I recall it when I am out in nature. It increases my breath and my ease. Plus the wind’s freshness had actually created the painting! How could I not acknowledge it?

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” Climb mountains … peace flows … like sunshine …winds blow freshness and storms energy … cares drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir, as per me)

 

 

Hiking Art

I bought a travel watercolor set to have with me in my pack on my hikes this week. It’s a nice Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box. I got it in an awesome little bookstore on the main drag of Lake Placid that has an amazingly nice art section! It was an impulse buy on a rainy day walk into town.

I’m not a trained painter so I looked for creative ways to translate the nature and inspiration I experienced on our hikes, using  watercolors.

We did a short hike out to Moose Pond. It’s a beautiful spot to sit, breathe, pray, eat, and relax. The water inspired me that day. I thought about wetting the entire page with pond water, but wasn’t sure what I would do next. So, I did nothing! I sat, looked, and just experienced the place. I noticed irises growing between the cracks in a rock on the water’s edge. That sparked an idea! If I used one of the leaves to put the pond water on the page, I might be able to mirror the feeling of the water – movement, sunlight, colors, and flow.

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Baxter Mountain was our next hike. The wind at the top was sensational. It was my inspiration that day. But, how to show it?

The sound and force of the wind is hard to miss. It almost constantly moves the leaves and  actually changes the way tree branches grow. I love the sound and force of the wind, and the shaking of the leaves was a visual cue, so I knew I wanted to capture that … somehow.

It’s remarkable how awe inspiring, and moving (pun intended lol) the wind is to me. I absolutely love it. So, instead of of painting, I found several spots to sit, do yoga, eat, pray, and just let the wind buffet me. I collected a few leaves before we hit the trail off the summit, stuffing them in my pack to use when I got home.

Here’s my first leaf inspired piece.

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It took form as I worked. I wasn’t happy with it at first. But, I ignored my displeasure with the product, and kept going, enjoying the process. As I did, ideas came to me. I remembered a bubble art project I did with my Kindergarteners, and let that direct me.

I really like the abstract nature of the finished piece. And, I love the accessibilty and transferability of the method! I’m contemplating how to incorporate it into my class this year. It has nice potential as an art-science integration.

Rain has interrupted my hikes but not my art. Today I worked on getting watercolor paint to adhere to the leaves I gathered yesterday. My plan was to make leaf prints.

This is much harder than it seems. Close your eyes and imagine rain hitting the leaves. What does it do? Yup, it beads up! So guess what the watercolor paint does … beads up! Ugh! But, with a bit of stubborn persistence – wearing down the leaf it seemed, and getting the paint to the right consistency – it worked. The paint stuck to the water resistant leaf!

I am super happy with the result. The colors remind me of the leaves, sky and sun. The one in the middle is that one brilliantly colored red leaf we always come upon on our hikes. The black is the large rocks that encourage thousands of nature-filled step ups and downs on our hikes, as well as the small stones that sometime weigh down my pack. Next time I may put the black around the entire edge. We’ll see. It’s a process, and I’m loving it!

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Speaking of process, clearly my process involves mess! It never feels like mess while I’m working. It feels like (and is) immersion, beauty, intentness and art!

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But, yeah, my process is messy, and I’m good with that!

 

 

 

 

Hiking boot canvases

I found a pair of Asolo hiking boots. Loved the fit, but the color? Not so much … red. I was conflicted. A good feeling boot is hard to pass up, but whew, red? Definitely not my thing.

I walked around the store for a good long time trying to decide what I’d do. Then It hit me – tangle them! If that worked, they would rock! The black sharpie would soften the red, and the tangles would create a functional piece of art.

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It worked! (Don’t you think?) Turns out they were a fantastic canvas for tangling.

hiking shoes 2 Now I can’t imagine hiking in anything else.

I am the rockin’, creative, hiking girl in the fabulous, one-of-a kind boots.