Listening - watching
taking a moment
drawing the world
finding the way to connection
again and again.

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Saturday, December 9, 2023

In the Middle School

I spent the last three days as an Artist-in-Residency at Union Vale Middle School working with over one hundred 7th graders in five classes and forty-five minute sessions.

Christopher Rifenburg is the art teacher who has brought me in to work with his classes for many years. This time we had to follow a very distilled timing and work with larger numbers.

I poured out the deep and direct 1 - 2 - 3 teachings based on my True Nature book exercises. I guided the students in the uncertain and alive line of blind contour drawing. I demonstrated choosing three objects, drawing them in relation to each other on the page, adding words that revealed simple insights and then dropped in some watercolor. I had about ten minutes in each class to bring it all forth with the students gathered around me, then sent them off to dive in for themselves.

I have a deep respect and appreciation for what Chris and all Middle School teachers are working with these post-pandemic days. 

Who knows what landed in their young souls. 

Trusting the goodness of the offering.

Here is the freshness that showed up . . . 

zoom in to catch the lively details.


After my residency was over Chris worked with the students to bring their drawings, watercolor and words together on the page. Here are some of the results. There is a lot of care and affection in these drawings and the words are direct and true. 

Seeds were planted and something observant, attentive and wonderful came forth.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Tree & Serpent

I traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City last week, sketchbook in hand. It was the first time I'd been since the pandemic. 

I was there to see the Tree & Serpent show of Early Buddhist Art.

I wandered past sculptures of trees and plants carved in stone in intertwining patterns. These were the forms of the alive natural world that Buddhism had emerged from. There were also many male and female nature spirits, yakshas and yakshis, and empty thrones and footprints of the Buddha expressing his presence through absence.  In the last room the fully formed Buddhas were radiating. .

After I'd looked at everything I returned to the first room and opened the sketchbook, always a brave and vulnerable act. What will happen ? Can I meet the aliveness of the object and bring something forth ? The uncertainty is crucial to the encounter and uncomfortable. 

I worked in pencil and added watercolor later, including words that placed the piece in time and location and spoke of my struggle and perseverance. -


Then this male yaksha beckoned me. He was one of the nature spirits that had made the leap into the new buddhist faith that was emerging out of a world full of complex forces. This new religion needed guardians. Buddhism was building on and incorporating what was there, the magic and dark mystery of the world. 

I dropped in with him, shaping his face gradually with pencil, We gazed at each other. His presence settled and opened me.


At the end I was drawn towards the full Buddha, so elegant, quiet, serene. It seemed a perfect place to abide. But there was a struggle ahead. . .                    

I jumped with confidence onto the page and the awkward shape that emerged was painful. I turned the page and started again. Then I gave up and walked away.    

I had not noticed the animals supporting from below . . .

The process of completing these images stretched over some days. 

During this time I understood in new ways how these encounters in the sketchbook and with the world give me insight into myself and spark my curiosity about everything.

I offer it all here as a further completion, another step on the path.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Playing in the Creative Music World

This past July I joined the Creative Music Workshop faculty in Halifax, Nova Scotia for part of their weeklong exploration diving into jazz improvisation. 

CMW is the legacy of Jerry Granelli who founded it over twenty-five years ago as the educational ground of the Halifax Jazz Festival. 

Jerry and I had collaborated and performed together for many years but I'd never dropped into this part of his world. After Jerry died in 2021 his son J. Anthony Granelli stepped in to guide CMW, along with a host of delightful faculty that Jerry had mentored over the years. 

On my first day I guided the fifty students in the Big Brush practice, all of us making our mark, creating something from nothing, improvising with the moment. Held by the ancient principles of Heaven, Earth and Human we brought forth what was inside with a big gesture that landed on the page. Then we folded it up and let it go. 

The next day we moved into duets, beginning with hands moving, touching the paper, then picking up the pastels and letting the relationship mark, express and interweave. 

Walking around and seeing what had landed . . .

The third day we created duets on the wall, standing at the ends of a length of paper and moving towards the center, following that moving, sensing line. 

 Finding a way to cross over and through . . . heading to the other end . . .

Then another duet was layered on top, and another and another, a vast tapestries emerging. 

After all this energy we dropped into a free write with the prompt "When I make a line . . ." 

We read them to each other and then asked for eight lines from the group and I wrote them out on the spot.

It was an invitation for connection

So long sustained

The magnet in my body

I waited for that first kiss

From me to you & you to me

Experience the presence of it in fullness

Lines make other lines into shape

This will be huge - it is not my normal way.  


I joined the CMW Faculty Concert at the Halifax Public Library in the evening, spreading out a great length of paper on the floor and moving back and forth with brush and paint and pastels and charcoal in response to the music and the movement happening all around me. It was one of those alive exchanges in life. 

Here is what was left behind at the end.

And the link to the whole concert -

Afterwards I rolled up the paper and let it go . . .

 Here is that fun CMW faculty - 

Doug Cameron, Michael Blake, J.Anthony Granelli, Andrew Mackelvie, Ross Burns, Nick MacLean, Nick Dourado, Susanne Chui, Nicole Rampersaud, Erin Donovan and Kelvin Mansaray. 

And me becoming something different ! 


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Watching Sandhill Cranes

I traveled to Kearney, Nebraska recently to see the multitude of Sandhill Cranes inhabiting the lacework waters of the Platte River. The birds arrived each evening at dusk, flying in from the nearby corn fields to stand in the shallow and safe waters. Then they took off in the morning to feed again, preparing for their big flight north. 

We were there just before they really took off, flying up to Canada and Alaska (and Siberia ! ) to nest, hatch their eggs and raise their young. 

We stood in the viewing blinds with others, watching in silence for hours - wide eyes - wide eared - following the movement of the big wings and listening to the many voices of connection - warbling, squeaking, clicking, trilling . . .


Sun setting - night approaching (zoom in on the images ) 


Returning before dawn we could just make out the birds standing in long lines in the dark. Some birds were quiet with their heads tucked under their wings. Others were restless, stirring. Along the edges we could see birds displaying and dancing. There was a murmuring and clacking which grew stronger as the light increased.



We watched them take off - holding our breath - and then exhaled together.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Walking Life

I recently read the book Wanderlust : A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. 

On the last page she spoke about walking as a constellation within the starry sky of human culture, the path we keep exploring that connects the body - the imagination - and the wide open world. 

This three part image lived in me, moving around inside. I felt each element and their relationship to each other. I began to create . . . 

(expand the images with the cursor and your fingers) 



A contour drawing of my hand, not looking at the page so that my eye could follow the shapes and the pencil on the page could follow my eye, touching, sensing, breathing, feeling. 



I have been drawing circles in my sketchbook these days and letting images emerge in response to this perfect form. I also like to work in threes. I drew lines curving below, then moving up and sparks rising beyond the circle. I added color - no Photoshop going on here - the touch of pencil and pen and brush on paper. Something arising - releasing. . .



Hill lines brushed in a moment. 


All three together - 


The Constellation. 

Human life as a starry sky. We make meaning of these stars and our lives by walking the connections again and again. 

 Thank you Rebecca Solnit for activating this exploration.