The Art of Seeing Simplicity

Photo courtesy of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge 

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a world-renowned marine biologist, author, and environmentalist who served as an aquatic biologist and editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She has been credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening the concern of Americans for the environment.

The Art of Seeing Simplicity

SIMPLICITY has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals a complex world. What does simple mean to you? For me, simple is a clean minimal workspace in which to create and write, several uninterrupted quiet hours, a straightforward plan, sharpened pencils, a hot cup of tea, cloth napkins, a warm slice of peanut butter toast, and to invigorate my creative thinking a cold winter’s walk crunchy with frost underneath my boots. 

With the hustle and bustle of life, for me, there is a peace that comes with simplifying. Even my hobbies, where I often turn to for solace, can be overwhelming, especially when pressures to keep up with what others are doing. When that overflow begins to take shape there is often a call for me to simplify, in whichever way this word takes form, be it in my writing, the meals I prepare, the walks that I take each day. The respite comes for me when I take that deep breath, calm my buzzing thoughts, look around me, and know that I am at my best when I can celebrate basic forms, colors, textures, and silhouettes. This celebration arrives in many different ways, through my writing, knitting, sewing, drawing, or cooking. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. Still, others are simple only in appearance and interestingly enough require more of my attention and skill to create. 

I am filled with immense gratitude each and every day; especially for places like the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. http://fms.gov/rachel_carson

The soft sand where trails wind along the edge of the marsh, the spongy moss trails that guide my walks, and the coastal sky so blue that it often takes my breath away all combine to create a natural interlude that always allows me to breathe new life, perspective, and joy into my everyday creative world. 

 

 

We Are All Better When We Stand Together

WORDS & IMAGES

Writing as a Creative Tool

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE ARE ALL BETTER WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER & USE WRITING AS A CREATIVE TOOL, just as my son, Eric, used a creative tool to split wood. No splitting maul was available to him, so he checked out what he had in the shed and voila – a pickaxe.

As I grow as a writer, I understand more and more that it’s not about words. I am always chasing the magic of an image. Words for me are a translation of the source of the story – and for me, this exists in and through an image. Just like these photos; A woodpile. A pickaxe. A family. A father who’s a hero to his children. I try to embody my scenes, which means landing in the presence of a world in action, exploring it with my five senses, and trying to get those details down. When it works, language can be a conduit, so the experience of the scene moves through my body and into the body of you, the reader.

We are trained to write reports, fill in forms correctly, and communicate clearly in an email. We also think, because we’ve been doing this for so long, that this is what ‘writing’ feels like. If you are used to writing creatively you might believe that words are buckled into their fixed meanings. Anyone can learn a few creative writing skills, and learn how to unfasten that buckle. Then a delicious space opens between word and meaning. 

We all get to play with this because we all use language. Learning how to imbue a word with emotion can be incredibly liberating and healing. At the same time an empty canvas or a blank page, that oftentimes scary writing thing called white space can be down-right terrifying, and debilitating. But it can also be used to provide balance to a work of art or a page layout. A good amount of white space keeps things from feeling cluttered. And, many times, I’ve seen non-writers laugh with joy, their eyes lit up with surprise from something they discovered on their own writing journey, even while experiencing the dreaded white space that so many of us feel compelled to fill.

Along with this, I love the questions that come out when looking at images. I love the stories that emerge and sometimes they even surprise me. My words and images are company for each other. Sometimes they are thick and tight and sometimes they are sharing the same real estate. One way or another, they have decided they belong together, and very often I agree.

 

 

My Missy Cat

 

My Missy Cat

Earlier this summer I picked up a small relatively thin book titled, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot. It originally caught my eye because of the word ‘possum’ and since publishing a book last year about an opossum I thought I’d like to add this to my collection. However, as most of you know, this is not a book about an opossum but a well-known collection of poems about cats which in turn became Cats a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot

Upon reading this charming collection of poems I was attracted to a short selection titled,

“The Naming of Cats”.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games; you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter when I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

And, yes, my Missy Cat has three different names. The first one is the one the family uses daily; Missy. A sensible every day often used cat name, according to our vet. Missy’s fancier name came 18 years ago when she was hand-delivered to us in a soft pink blanket. She was named Miss Clavell, after the teaching nun, in Ludwig Bemelmans; Madeline book series. And, very quickly, due to my 3-year-old son’s ease at making things quicker and easier to say, nicknamed her Miss. C. which quickly became Missy. The name the family uses almost as often as Missy Cat.

A recent photo of Missy was taken on a hot summer day in mid-July. The outside temperature was 96 degrees with no interior air conditioning. Missy cruised the house trying to find that perfect location in which to ‘chill’. I watched as she entered the bathroom, looked up, and then jumped into the bowl of the stone sink. Ahh. Cool at last! She turned twice, purring loudly and then promptly wrapped herself around the bowl to engage in what T.S. Elliot wrote as “profound meditation, her mind engaged in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought, of the thought, of her name.”

Day Lily Calm

DAY LILY CALM

A Poem 

by Ocean Rose

Nature awakens, stirs from the blanket of sleep, branches

stretch out, flower buds promise us of spring.

She asks of us to tread lighter than we have, take care, 

for she is one, our home.

Misty-eyed, dewdrops wrap around the delicate air.

The earth beneath us gently sighs, sprouts vibrate in unison.

Space for time to combine in these magical moments,

oh what courage.

To rise again when you’ve given your all.

The sun simply shines.

I have come to learn that simplicity has many forms. What at first might appear simple, when observed more closely, reveals complexity? For me, simple is a clean and minimal workplace, a quiet hour – or two! – a straightforward plan, a glass of ice tea, cloth napkins, and a pair of handknit socks. With the hustle and bustle of life, especially in this time of a virus run-a-muck, moments of peace and tranquility bring the act of simplifying. Even in my hobbies, where I often look for solace can be overwhelming when the burden of excess is in our way – too many projects and oftentimes the pressure to keep up with what others are doing. Lately, I have felt the call to simplify, in whichever way it takes shape – in my home, my writing, drawing, knitting, or in the meals I cook. I am celebrating the basics; colors, textures, and shapes. Some of my projects are simple in structure, while others are simple in style. And, still others, like my written stories for young children are simple only in appearance and require more attention and skill to create. I am filled with immense gratitude for every moment of blue sky, the vibrant sea breezes that blow through my living room windows, and the intense yellows, blues, and greens that are my gardens of daylilies and blueberry bushes. They are the beautiful backdrop for my moments of creative simplicity as I breathe fresh life, each day, into all of my new makings.

 

A Creative Path

 

A CREATIVE PATH

When I was very young, I was not aware of anyone who identified as an artist, except for my Aunt Sally, my mother’s younger sister. My life was filled with busy, beautiful parents and relatives all who worked at various jobs; teachers, corporate business executives, nurses, farmers, and a minister who all did not imagine that they had the luxury to be artists. As I think more about these people it was my mother who taught me many things; to sew, knit, and create colorful cubby tags from construction paper and glue for her kindergarten classrooms. My Aunt Sally who often showed me her paintings; most often done on repurposed furniture and my grandmother who showed me how to take teeny tiny quilting stitches and how to embroider with rainbow-colored wool yarn. My other grandmother taught me about gardening and how to grow certain plants in different locations in the yard in order to get the best sunlight at any particular time of day. She also showed me how to roll out a pie crust and have it taste like a buttery-flaky cloud of goodness. My dad was a busy father who worked long days in NYCity as an executive in the business world, but he taught me how to drive a car, and to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be. He wasn’t particularly creative in the sense of the art world but he always provided me with direct and informative feedback on anything I attempted to do or created.

My friendships while growing up always included those who loved to build things using blocks or natural materials while we constructed outdoor forts or houses from leaf piles. I also had friends who loved to draw and we would all create colorfully crafted stationery where we would then swap home-made notes to one another.

I did attend art school for three years; illustration and design but then veered right to explore the mysteries of historical textiles and eventually owning a sewing/knitting business to eventually furthering my education and graduating with additional degrees in education and literacy. It’s funny how the world works. I think throughout my life, I have always been artistic. 

My observational eye for detail was crafted at a very young age and only developed further as time went on. I have my family to thank for that training! Unfortunately, I never took myself as an artist seriously, instead wanting to veer right then left then right again to sample all of the creativity that my family offered to me while growing up. Learning from the many people in my life who took the time and had the patience to sit with me for a few hours at a time, over my lifetime, has shaped my entire creative life. And, for that, I am grateful.

Bits and Pieces

BITS & PIECES & Snippets & Slices

I am a big believer that creativity is a muscle – the more you use it, the better you get at it. Recently, my school year ended for the summer. A welcome respite from the many hours of remote learning and having what I thought as a result of the many teaching hours was an empty creative well. I truly had not been able to write, draw, or imagine during the three months of teaching from home. However, given only a few days following that shift of school to summer, it seemed all that I needed was an inspirational mindset, something that needed to be exercised again. 

So, I decided to stop worrying about whether I had an idea or was what I created going to be good enough. Instead, I picked up my colored & graphite pencils, and along with my Moleskine sketchbook found the more I draw, write, cut, glue, paint, and create, the more confidence I have in myself and the more willing I am to try absolutely anything. Sometimes, the hardest thing is stepping out of your comfort zone. 

So, with all of these thoughts, my memories took me back to a place two summers ago when I attended a bookmaking class with author Gregory Christie.

https://gas-art.com/about-r-gregory-christie

The workshop was sponsored by Illustration Institute and held out on Peaks Island. I knew only a handful of people there. Many of them very talented artists. I asked myself what I was doing there. Well, my answer didn’t come immediately however, now I can honestly say that I was exercising my creative muscle and reinforcing my belief that no piece of paper is too small to have an impact! 

The photograph above is of the two tiny books that I created on that hot breezy summer day; one measures 2×2” and the accordion book measures 3×4”. Creating something from tiny pieces of paper, glue, sticky tape, and a group conversation wasn’t fancy but it sure was humbling. Thinking back to that day on Peaks Island; looking at, and touching, the varieties of paper and supplies transported me. The focus, the joy, the colors, the decision making all filled me with experience and creative association of a moment in time amongst innovative and clever people.

 

Memory Mittens

MEMORY MITTENS

One of my earliest memories is time spent with my mother as she patiently taught me to knit and to sew simple straight seams on a garment. I often didn’t have the patience and would quickly beg to end the ‘lesson’ to either read a book or go outside and ride my bike. My mother would often sigh and agree, setting me free to explore with friends or more likely immerse myself in a good Nancy Drew mystery. However as time went on I soon discovered that knitting brought relaxation, a sense of peace, and spoke to my creative heart as small loops of yarn could soon become mittens, socks, or sweaters. This interest soon led me to co-own my own yarn and sewing business and then to eventually buy a small farm in CT where my husband, son, and I raised six sheep. Every spring the shearer would arrive to shear the ‘girls’ then the wooly pelts would be shipped out to be cleaned and spun into knitting yarn. When the yarn arrived back on my doorstep I very often sent hanks of it to my mother who quickly knit each of us a new pair of mittens for the upcoming winter. Many of these mittens had intricate designs and patterns and her knitting gauge was always true to size. I envied her ability to do that! Well, time passes for all of us and with it my mother, who died eight years ago. While sorting through her closets and drawers I came across several piles of handknit and purchased sweaters. For some reason, I found I couldn’t part with these pieces that so represented who my mother was; a knitter, a seamstress, and a clothes horse! So, I brought them all home with me. Slipped them into a box thinking someday I would do ‘something’ with them. Well, last winter that someday arrived when I came across an advertisement for a small company in York, Maine called Jack & Mary Designs. https://jackandmarydesigns.com

The company, I learned, would take a person’s old beloved sweaters, or other woolen garments and craft a pair of mittens to be worn while remembering that special someone. I loved the idea and called the company and then shipped to them my mother’s sweaters. A month later a big box arrived in the mail filled with 10 pairs of beautiful handcrafted and stitched mittens. Each pair is unique to a sweater my mother often wore. Wanting my siblings, father, son, and his family along with several cousins to enjoy this memory project I carefully wrapped each set of mittens and sent them off to NH, RI, ME, and NY. Shortly, afterward, my phone began to ring. Messages of heartfelt joy, conversations filled with laughter and tears all centered around the memories of my mother wearing each of these sweaters that had become mittens. For me, one thing is certain – the pull of memories and love for a mother, aunt, wife, sister, and grandmother is as strong for all of us as anything we could fully describe.

 

How to Catch an Idea

 

How to Catch an Idea

This photo of my grand-daughter Natalie was taken on Valentine’s Day. Her Pre-K teacher had come up with the idea that each child would have a personal ‘bag’ in which to collect and hold their Valentine cards. When I first saw this wonderful idea, I thought to myself,” How cute! Where did she ever come up with this idea?”

For those of us enchanted by the thought of creating something out of nothing, a new idea is key. We tend to covet ideas but the interesting thing is that ‘ideas’ are all around us. They float in our homes, inside our minds, behind doors-sleeping until we decide to wake them. I’ve learned that good ideas aren’t impossible, they just lay in wait for recognition. I am a writer, a knitter, a painter, and I must cultivate the ability to see – and then catch – my own ideas. And, that’s not always an easy thing to do!

One way I catch ideas is to take a walk. I am fortunate to live close to the beach so heading outside for that salty refreshing breath of air works every time. It forces my heart to beat faster, pushes more blood and oxygen to my brain – essentially energizing it – and therefore priming it for fresh ideas. 

Another way of catching ideas is to value them. My ideas hold worth and when I believe that they do, I find I have more of them. Sometimes even a simple spark of encouragement or external praise can provide value to my creative voice. Which in turn gives me the confidence to explore them more fully. And, who knows? It might lead me to my greatest work yet!

Doodles with an Artist’s Heart

 

NATALIE

Doodles with an Artist’s Heart

The nostalgia I feel about my childhood comes through in watching my grand-daughter at play.

She’s five and has a younger brother. She’s growing up knowing how to be passionate and speak up for what she believes in. Her drawings reflect her interest in animals; especially Maine wildlife. Natalie has an artist’s heart.

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. As the oldest child, I enjoyed playing with my siblings and neighborhood friends, but I’ve always valued time spent alone, to explore and create worlds of my own. I feel a closeness to animals that I write about whether they’re communicating with each other, nature, or as a pet with a person. In my writing, an idealized sense of home and place shows up in much of my work. I grew up in NY, NJ, and CT in homes that had access to natural habitats; big backyards, a barn, plenty of places to run, walk, and ride my bike. These suburban locations tend to show up in my writing, however, I prefer to write about seaside cottages by the ocean or shingled homes in the forest that feature members of my family and some of Maine’s notable wildlife. I think I am continually creating a world that is safe, kind, and calm and plan to deliver it to Natalie as she continues to doodle, scribble, and make note of her natural world.