Last fall a fantastic chef named Joel Serra out of Barcelona discovered my art through an Instagram post. (Those #hashtags actually work!) Joel’s company Papalosophy “combines food, art, technology and nature to create the new and unexpected.” Papalosophy also “launches chef brands and collaborates with food creatives to produce spectacular gourmet content and events.” The result was a unique and fun food/art collab that gave me the opportunity to paint an octopus, pomegranates, carrots and even sketch a portrait of Joel’s penchant for unique neckwear! I hope you’ll check out the recipe and accompanying illustrations currently featured here on his blog!
The sun blazes down. I don’t realize it, but the pale skin on the top of my feet is turning bright red even beneath the cool water of the Green River. I don’t feel the sting yet. It’s still early in the day. I lie back and gaze up at immense canyons looming over our little caravan. I am quiet. The sound of the oars creates a rhythm that lulls me into closing my eyes.
It’s my very first rafting trip. I have been invited to spend six days and five nights away. Away from the pinging of text messaging, the traffic and noise. Away from the hustle and striving. I drift into another world. I lounge on the front of the raft, head back, eyes closed. I draw and I eat and I let my shoulders turn brown under the hot June sun.
I was invited on this trip by my friend Randy. When he found out I had never been rafting, he suggested that I join him on this adventure down the Green River. The threat of an epic mosquito hatching almost kept me away, but in the end I decided to buy a seriously unattractive but functional mosquito net hat and hope for the best. Our four-person boat consists of the two of us, Randy’s brother Craig, and his college roommate Mark. I know no one but Randy, but the closeness of living in the outdoors quickly removes the carefully constructed veneers of city life.
I am one of only two women on this trip. Jen and I are both river rookies, so it’s nice to not be the only one stumbling over rafting lingo and fumbling with cam straps (for other river rookies, these are the straps used to tie everything to the boat in case it flips). Besides sixteen-year-old Ezra, the rest of the men have varying levels of rafting experience ranging from occasional to passionate. All of them, however, are kind and inclusive and generous with their words and encouragement. I write the following in my journal the first evening on the river:
Green River… riding in Kelsey’s boat through Desolation Canyon.
Hot sun. Water washes over the Paco Pads on the front of the craft.
Craig, Mark Randy and me…luke-warm beer in our hands.
A glorious day.
It’s like we are the first people to ever float through
this majestic, Roman ruin-turreted-sci-fi wilderness.
I am a guest… privileged to be along for the ride.
Steak and biscuits and roasted potatoes.
Shiraz and …no mosquitos!
Cool breezes. It will be a lovely night.
Our party of four boats and one SUP (stand up paddle board) make our way through rock spires juxtaposed against the azure blue of the sky. Burnt orange cliffs, the green of the Cottonwood trees, and never-ending shades of brown surround us; dwarf us. To use the simple word brown robs this landscape of its artistry. Raw umber, Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Carmel are more appropriate names on this desert color palette. Everything shifts depending on the light and the position of the sun as it moves through the day. Randy propels us through waves and rapids with ease and eloquence, ever the teacher, pointing out history and geology around each turn. We unpack the boats and sit on camp chairs, waiting for the evening meal. We have been divided up into teams, each preparing a dinner and a breakfast. I look forward to the conversations around these amazing gourmet meals that have been cooked in the pop-up kitchen that magically emerges from ammunition cans and dry bags every evening. We leave our tents in their bags and sleep under the sky almost every night, our eyes awash with stars.
This trip carries with it undercurrents of deep joy and deep sorrow, flowing with us as as we curve and glide through Utah. Kelsey, Randy’s beautiful 25-year-old daughter, died tragically in a skiing accident in December of 2015 while I was traveling in Europe. I never got to meet her, but her vibrant spirit is tangible and palpable on the river. I can tell from her pictures that I would have liked her; laughed with her. Memories pour out of Randy, evoking equal amounts of delight and grief as he shares stories from the past, some distant, others as vivid as if they just occurred a few weeks ago. Randy imbued Kelsey with a love of skiing and rafting, and they shared a reverence for the beauty and sacredness of nature and of being outdoors. Yes, the raft that we float on was Kelsey’s. Now, it sports a white flag with a large purple K emblazoned on it, summoning her memory on this and every river it will travel on. Kelsey’s passion was protecting rivers and her family donated to AmericanRivers.org in her memory after she died. American Rivers’ motto is that ‘rivers connect us.’ I cannot help but feel that this is never more true than for Randy and Kelsey.
On the last night on the river, Randy invites Mark, Craig and me to hike a short distance to spread some of Kelsey’s ashes above the rapids below the camp. He tells us he will carry her ashes on every river trip he takes. He will bring a part of the daughter he loves so much to the places that she loved the best.
I am honored to be part of this ceremony.
I painted this scene to capture this moment.
I think Kelsey would have liked it.
When I lived in the bothy on Iona, I woke up every morning to this stunning view. I could see the blue of the sea stretching out underneath the Dutchman’s cap and a small path that curved down a rocky slope that would lead me to the hostel. It was a profound pleasure to wake up in my own private retreat tucked away from the world. The bothy was very simple, with just a few pieces of furniture, but it was beautiful and cozy, and it had everything I needed.
If you told me 2 years ago that I would start construction of a tiny house this week, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. My sister has always been the tiny house advocate and I, the supportive sibling. Living in the bothy and other small unique spaces, however, changed my thinking. Traveling for 15 months with nothing but the clothes that could fit into a 55 liter backpack also changed my thinking. I started to look at things as weight. If I bought something, I would have to carry it. My things became literal weight and emotional weight. Every item I carried was known, useful and required. I can’t tell you how freeing this was. I began to imagine how I could continue this type of life back home. I mentally started to walk down the road towards minimalism, and I haven’t looked back.
Last Tuesday I delivered my trailer to the site where I will build my tiny house. I have hired a contractor to do the structural framing in the next few days and then hope to do most of the labor myself as I definitely have more time than money. My dad, who practiced architecture for 30 years, has designed an elegant and intricate floor plan and I am so grateful for his expertise. It has been a pleasure to design and dream together.
The last three weeks have been as busy as ever as I researched windows and siding and composting toilets and ALL THE THINGS. It is quite overwhelming because even though the total living space will be just under 200 square feet, I still have to make the same amount of decisions that any house builder would make. People ask me how long it will take. Having a 3 1/2 year remodel in my past, I plead the 5th. It will be finished when it is completed.
Even though I was my ex-husband’s girl Friday throughout the aforementioned remodel, I am still just an illustrator who feels a bit like I jumped into the deep end of the pool without my water wings. I am having to learn and make decisions about a bevy of things completely outside my comfort zone. I was feeling quite a bit of stress until I realized I could either live with anxiety for the next 6 months or decide that this project is an opportunity for wonder and delight.
So…I have decided. A tall girl and her tiny house. This is my next Great Adventure.
It’s been three weeks since my last blog and although I tend to post every two weeks, my head has been buried in the details of finishing my Iona book. The past few days brought forth the official title and I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to put a name to this work that I’ve been pouring into for the past five months. I want so much to share it with you, but I have yet to enter it into the official master system that catalogs ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD, so I feel I should wait and reveal it to you when it is officially released. Just know that when I finally figured it out I did a little happy dance. Ok, a BIG one! It felt like the last puzzle piece snapped into its proper place forming the final image in my love letter to Iona.
The shape and style of the book will feel familiar to those who have read “The Art of Walking,” but the imagery, colors, and stories I share are quite different and, of course, unique to Iona. My main venue for selling the book will be through a store on the island itself, and hopefully some additional stores in Oban, which is the gateway to Iona from the mainland of Scotland. And yes, like “The Art of Walking,” the book will be available worldwide on Amazon.
One of my discoveries during my travels was a renewed love of poetry. Mary Oliver and Hafiz are my current favorites. Mary Oliver, one of the most celebrated American poets, is known for her incredible poems about nature. She inspired me during my time on Iona, and I couldn’t help but write descriptive prose that captured the scenes I was painting. The above image is of a beach called the Boundary Strand (Traigh na Criche) that is directly north of the hostel. To those of us living there, it felt like ‘our’ beach, and I will always feel a bit possessive towards it after my stay there. I wrote this in my journal next to the sketch and it is included in my book:
stack one upon another
still afternoons with shades of silver distilled to white where sky bleeds into sea
the horizon line is the palest thread out in the distance
other islands lost in heavy wet mist that blankets Iona this afternoon
I always marvel at the ivory sand on this, the north side of the island
somehow it sparkles, despite the lack of light and sun
the sea is calm as well
turquoise shallows moving to darker sapphire depths
I imagine this beach has always been this way
untouched and empty
only my silent feet to tread the sand
I hope that the glimpses I’ve given you of Iona have intrigued you; perhaps they have enticed you to travel there yourself one day. That would be the ultimate success for me… that my art and writing would inspire you to experience this magical place for yourself. I hope my next post about my book will be the official announcement of its release! Send good proofing thoughts my way!
Sometimes it’s really important to get a bird’s eye view of things. To climb up out of the place where the trees feel a bit thick in order to get some perspective on where you are, and where you want to go.
These past few months have been very challenging as I try to chart my next steps as an artist pursuing a creative life. This was not unexpected, but the knowing doesn’t make it any easier. I am trying to navigate through a space that, for me, is totally unmapped and many days I feel isolated and unsure of what to do next. I still struggle with my daily focus and how to spend my energy. When I do choose what I will spend time on, I can second guess myself which leads to feeling even more untethered and distracted; as if the first strong wind I encounter will carry me away.
Sometimes the work we do as creatives seems to be flowing into a giant black hole. We keep creating and making and moving even if our surroundings appear to indicate we’ve made little to no progress. This is when we need a fresh perspective; we need to be actually pulled up above the tree line. I had some objective voices speak into my art and my creative pursuits this week that were audible even through my self induced doubt-haze. They were words of imperative and essential encouragement:
Keep going! You’re on the right path! The work you’ve done up to this moment has been preparing you for what’s next!
This is especially meaningful when that voice is from a person farther down a similar path and has the experience to speak with authority. The most important thing I think an artist can hear in those moments is:
I believe in you.
I believe in the work you’re doing.
You have something important to share.
The painting above is from the book and is one of my favorite larger pieces. I was sitting on Cnoc Mor, which is a hill directly above the town, facing south toward Columba’s Bay. When you find yourself on a high point on Iona, the views are always incredible because Iona is a tiny island surrounded by the sea. The world is spread below you like a painting in a storybook, and you feel that you are part of, and separate from everything at the same time.
Perhaps this is how I need to be in my creative life. Immersed, yet maintaining a healthy distance. I do know that I crave those moments when I am able to perch above the path, finding reassurance in a new and welcome perspective. As I work on wrapping up my Iona Book (as yet to be named) and move towards finishing this project, I am so grateful for these heartening voices.
Some of you saw on Instagram that I was interviewed by Portland author Amy Maroney on her blog about the Camino, my art, and the artists who inspire me. Check it out and also make sure to check out her wonderful book The Girl from Oto!
Spring feels like it’s arrived in Portland! Ok, at least it does on the oh so occasional sunny afternoon in between Oregon’s version of monsoon rains. Cherry blossoms float through the air, and if you are lucky enough to walk down the right street, a delicate smell of jasmine will drift over you, forcing you to stop and retrace your steps to find the source. Even as we celebrate the birth of a new season, winter feels like it hasn’t been informed to loosen its grip. Most everyone I know has been under the weather with a horrible bug that’s been gripping the city bringing an endless litany of coughing and nose blowing. I got smacked down twice as I also somehow acquired strep throat. One of the lovely things about being self-employed is that I could continue to work on my book in between naps, even though my throat looked like the latest version of the movie Aliens. Stretchy pants and hot tea were imperatives, so I thought I’d share my take on tea in the UK which will be featured in my book about Iona:
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, I was always a coffee girl. I had no idea how much power tea has in the UK. A cup of tea (a cuppa) seems to be the solution to every problem in Great Britain.
Feeling cold? How about a cuppa? Feeling tired? A cuppa will perk you right up! Bad breakup? A cuppa will make you feel better. Bored? Make a cuppa… at least then you will have something to do. And if you’re making one, make me one too.
When I was on Iona in February, not one single hotel or cafe was open. When I returned in November the Argyll Hotel on the waterfront offered lunch and tea from 10- 2, Wednesday through Saturday. All of us at the hostel would plan our days around ‘going into town’ and lunching at the Argyll. The real treat, however, was when one ordered a scone and tea. Thick clotted cream and jam were served with a buttery, flaky scone the size of a fist. It is a true test of character not to gobble the whole thing down while you wait for your tea to steep. I am a fan of rich black, Scottish tea with cream and honey added. The afternoons that I treated myself to the full spread were few, but etched in my mind. Even now that I’m back in the states, I still prefer a cuppa in the morning. A big mug of Earl Grey creamy with almond milk is my favorite. I turn on the electric kettle if I’m feeling cold, or tired, or heartbroken or even bored. Nothing but a cuppa will do.
It’s been a busy few weeks! Wait. It’s been a busy THREE weeks! My dear friend Frederikke from Denmark was in town for the past seven days and I got the honor of showing her Portland ‘s essential attractions: its bounty of delicious food, gorgeous verdant landscapes and waterfalls, and of course, what it’s like to karaoke at the Alibi. Essentials. It’s been so fun to play and explore with Frede, but now that she has left, it’s time to get back to work.
I now have a date to finish the writing for my Iona book. May 1st. Yes, I know that seems a bit near. A BIT (cue hyperventilating sounds). I emailed the editor I worked with on my Camino book and told him I would be done writing by the end of April. It felt slightly crazy to be SO BOLD, but if I don’t give myself an external deadline, I tend to move sloth-like through my days. So… BOOM. A deadline.
Below you will find a new vignette from the latest writings. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the things that you learn when you travel, is not to judge a book by its cover. Everyone has a story, and that story will unfold as you step into a friendship. Sometimes the chapters and events in that story will surprise you. The hippie you met in the hostel might actually be a CEO. The woman that annoyed you when you met on the ferry might, in fact, become a kindred spirit.
When I first contacted John, I was emailing him about becoming an artist in residence at his hostel. All I really knew about him is that he ran the hostel and had a herd of black sheep. The first night, I arrived on the last ferry from Mull and he picked me up in his car and drove through the blackness to the North end of the island. As he deposited me and my backpack at the door of the hostel, he invited me and the volunteers that worked there up to his house for a movie night. I gladly agreed, eager to meet the people that would be my community for the following four weeks.
When I entered John’s house, and specifically his living room, I was stunned. This room, which I deemed the blue room, was magical. I felt that I had just entered a tiny, well curated museum. The walls were painted a deep, rich sapphire, with accents of jade green and shimmering gold. Each piece exhibited, from the couch and the coffee table, to the extensive paintings and art was clearly carefully chosen and lit. The artistry in the presentation and selection of pieces was masterful, yet the room still felt cozy and comfortable. As I sunk down into the pillows on the far side of the sofa eagerly taking in each color and shape, I felt honored to be invited to enter into this space. John poured some wine and put in the movie and we all settled in for a spell. As the light dimmed, I knew that I wanted to paint this space. I wanted to capture this creative expression of who John was and is.
It’s not that often that you find a shepherd who is also an interior designer, but I am less surprised by these things now. Travel does that to you- it opens you up; you learn to place judgement aside and allow the person to share who they are bit by bit, piece by piece. Sometimes you are lucky enough to get invited into a blue room.
It’s been two months since I arrived back in Portland. I seem to find myself always marking time. Not only in the realization of what time has passed, but in reflecting back to where I was a year ago. Prior to my trip, this would have been almost impossible because months would fly by (as these past 2 have) and I could barely remember how I had filled my days. The beauty of travel is that it usually brings the gift of vibrant intentionality; the desire to be purposeful with one’s every moment. This can sometimes bring with it a hectic need to ‘check things off’ one’s to do or see list. I was a lucky girl and had no return ticket or specific plans, so there was an lovely organic and spontaneous nature to my intentionality.
I was also very purposeful to take the time to record the passing of my days. I have 5 journals filled with writing and drawings, and completed 64 blog posts that document my entire journey. Yes, some days this documentation was easy, and the creativity flowed, sweet and effortless. Other days, however, it was challenging to put pen to paper at all. My writing is a way for me to process not only what I am seeing and doing, but my emotional journey as well. Some days, understandably, I wanted to escape this process and lose myself in the distraction of the moment. I do find myself trapped in my head frequently, so I learned to give myself grace in those moments and just LET GO. Except for the work I did surrounding my exhibitions, I had no external deadlines, so I was able to let my work ebb and flow in a comfortable and undemanding rhythm.
I’ll be honest. In the past two months I haven’t really done any significant creative work. Yes, I have done the occasional blog post and drawing, but nothing with any serious intentionality. This week is sort of momentous for me. I have literally scheduled 20 hours of creative work into my calendar. Yes, it’s only 20 hours, but it is 20 hours more than I did last week. Even with my new desire to curb my barrage of social activities, I have found these interactions filling up week after week. I would look back on a Sunday afternoon and realize that I had marched through 7 days without one moment focused on my art-making. One of the wonderful things about not being employed by anyone is the ability to make your own schedule AND to be spontaneous. I want to do both, but I have been seriously remiss in scheduling in the projects that need my attention if I am going to make any forward movement in the world of illustration.
I painted the above scene on my last full day on Iona. This beach, called the White Strand of the Monks, feels virtually untouched. (If you are interested in the gory back story on the beach’s name, feel free to read this.) I would always be startled to find the occasional tourist walking in amongst the striated rocks and piles of seaweed. Usually I was alone and the shore was pristine, allowing my feet to be the first to sink into the sparkling white sand. The waters directly off the beach are a deep rich turquoise, but on my last day, the sea was glinting completely silver in the afternoon sunshine. As the winter sun made its way towards the horizon, it turned the distant hills a rosy pink, their blush a deep contrast to the indigo of the Berg of Mull. As I sat on a large flat rock and sketched, I was very careful to write out what I was sensing and feeling as well as make the necessary pen marks to capture the landscape. I was very deliberatly marking this moment in time. It was the essence of intentionality.
This whole ‘I’m my own boss’ thing is very exciting and a bit terrifying. I work best when there are external deadlines, so I am pondering how to create that impetus in a situation where I don’t necessarily have other people providing that motivation. I absolutely need to make this shift in my thinking if I have a chance at living in this new and unfamiliar land of self-employment. I want to find a new ebb and flow that works for my new life here in Portland and I would welcome the wisdom from those of you that have been walking this road long before me. If any of you have any tips or tricks for me that have helped you during a similar transition, please do share. Yes, now. Share now. The comment window is easy to use. I will be intentional and write you a nice thank you back.
The last few weeks in Portland we have been besieged by winter storms. P-town is unaccustomed to long stretches of cold temperatures and the entire city shuts down when our usual rain turns to layers of snow and ice. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the gift of a winter wonderland. It is utterly magical to hike though the stillness of a forest, watching light reflect off the cloak of white weighing down trees with quiet. The morning after it snowed, I decided to walk from my home into downtown and back, which is about 9 miles round trip. People are different when it snows. Everyone moves slower; they are more careful where they place their feet and how they move through space. They stop often, and look around rather then staring down at their phones. The rote becomes wonderfully strange when everything is covered in white. If you are not having to anxiously grip your steering wheel while commuting to a job, then a snow day is just about the best thing out there.
It is just about the best thing until you lose your focus while walking into a parking lot and slip. It is the worst thing when you fall and slam your knee into a sheet of ice with all your weight behind it. I did this last Friday after a glorious two hour walk with my friend Tom. Luckily there was Uber to carry me back to my car, and ice and whisky to ease the pain. My knee, although bathed in a plethora of magenta and green shades, is doing much better now, and it gave me an iron-clad excuse to watch the entire first season of the Tudors on Netflix.
I have also been reading through all my journals from this past year in the last few weeks and it is so very interesting to revisit each one. It is fun to discover drawings such as the one above, which harken back to late summer days of brilliant sun and sparkling water. This sketch is from Mljet, an island that Lissa and I visited off the coast of Croatia. We stayed for 3 days in tiny Okuklje Bay at the beginning of September, and it was perfect. Well, except for Lissa’s flu, it was perfect. As Lissa slept and recovered in our apartment, I had all day to paint. I sat on the dock in the thick heat and watched sailboats anchor under the Mediterranean pines. The first drawing, which is shown below, went off the rails due to a misjudged angle and so I decided to draw the whole thing again. The drawing above is my second attempt. It felt more difficult the second time, but I’m glad I persisted.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to leave a drawing I don’t like in my journal. As a result, this is actually the first unfinished drawing that I have kept in 3 years. To be honest, if I don’t like a piece, I usually just sabotage it with too much water so the paper actually rips right out on its own. My Aunt Cheryl, a fellow journal artist and kindred spirit, has reminded me that every drawing is just a mirror of where we are in the moment, physically and emotionally, and that each piece has a purpose in reflecting our journey. The perfectionist in me grows distressed at this notion, and when I page through my journals, I can feel the resistance to these less than ideal pieces. It’s a symptom of something that I am working hard to excise in myself, but it is deeply planted. It will take some time to get to the roots.
What I am most intrigued by as I read through these journals are the patterns that emerge in my writing and my thoughts. I have realized that even though my travels just ended a month ago, I was already idealizing it in my mind. As I try to create and build the loose structure of my life here in Portland, my mind wants to flee and take my body with it. I say to myself – “I could go anywhere right now…” and the reality is that I actually could. I realize, however, that all the feelings I am experiencing are also documented in the pages of my journals. I have all the same anxiety, fear, and doubt; it’s just in a place I have known for thirty years, rather than a European city with a cathedral. The old adage that we take ourselves with us wherever we go is terribly and undeniably true.
I do see a difference, however. While I traveled, I learned how to address these feelings in myself and speak truth to them and over them, rather than just wallow in them. I have written many times of my process of learning how to exercise my ‘trust’ muscle as I began to practice surrender and letting go of expectations. Now, I must remember to use this ‘trust’ again and not let the old muscle memory take over. It is an understatement to say that this is hard. I have spent my entire adult life in Portland living in a different way. I like having control and I like the appearance of having it even more. I am mapping out a new way of being, and I have to constantly remind myself it is going to take some time.
This old picture of who I was is also deeply planted. Never a plant person, I find myself comically awash in gardening metaphors. I seem to find myself constantly digging around in the dirt of my heart and mind in regards to all areas of my life; art, faith, vocation – just the general act of being, really. Just everything.
But I will keep digging; fingernails blackened, the musty smell of rot and new life thick in the air. When I get to the roots, I know I will have created space to plant some new seeds. Spring is coming in a few months. Perhaps there are already seeds I have planted that will bloom unexpectedly. That would be the best thing. Perhaps even better than a snow day.
Sometimes there is a blank page inserted in novels before a new and prominent section starts. These past 15 months have been this page in my story. I needed this time for reflection, this space for exploration, before I could move to the next chapter. Now, with only 1 day before my flight home, I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips. It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. Friends and family continue to ask me if I’m ready. I think I am as ready as I can be. I gave myself 6 weeks on Iona to prepare for ‘the return.’
[Cue ominous music fading out to silence]
In truth, I have spent the last 6 weeks doing very little, but I have also spent the last 6 weeks doing enormously profound things. I have been sketching and painting and journaling and walking. I have ambled down Iona’s only road every other day to the village in order to buy the essentials for my island life (veggies and hobnobs). I have baked and I have cooked and I have brewed cups and cups and cups of tea. I have sat for hours on the sofa in the hostel living room staring out at the ocean. I have watched the landscape transform amidst constantly shifting clouds and sun, and I have marvelled at this endless theatre of color and light and shadow. I have read some radical life-changing books, and I have allowed myself to rest and relax and try to process the past year and a half. I have thought a lot about what I want my life to look like when I return to Portland. Even more importantly, I have thought a lot about the kind of person I want to be as I live this life.
When I first was the Artist in Residence at the hostel last February, I became enchanted with Iona. You can read more about that starting here. I came away with a body of work of about 25 paintings that had been created in just under four weeks. During my stay, I was encouraged by some of the locals to use this art for a second book. I loved the idea of returning and carried this idea with me when I headed off to Spain to exhibit my work in Santiago de Compostela. As the months passed, I realised that I did, indeed, need to return to Iona. At the beginning of July, I emailed John to let him know I wanted to head back to the island. I decided to give myself a bit longer this second time. I knew I would use these weeks not only to sketch and paint, but to prepare my heart and my mind for heading home.
Consequently, in late October, I found myself nestled amongst a hostel full of creatives from all over the world. The community John has fostered on this wee island in the inner Hebrides is quite unique; I would even venture to say it’s magical. These past 6 weeks I have been surrounded by beautiful, inspirational women who shared their art and their lives with me. We talked about fledgling projects and our hardest challenges, past and present. We peered into the future, sharing tentative hopes buoyed by encouraging words and kindness. Within this community, I started to flesh out the idea of a second book, but I still had no idea what the underlying story would be. The text in my book about the Camino de Santiago had been pulled directly from my journals and pieced together with a small amount of additional writing. I knew this book would be different, but I wasn’t sure where to start. There are a myriad of books written about the history of Iona and its famous Abbey, and I had no intention or desire to delve into something that had already been covered so thoroughly. I basically had a collection of drawings but no narrative. So I prayed for guidance.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably have noticed that I use a main painting to tell a story. I start with an image that speaks to me, and then I build from there, weaving my words around the metaphor of my painting. Traditional illustration tends to work the other way around, with art that is created to enhance the written word, but I always like start with the visual piece first. As I thought about my writing process, I realized that the imagery I had been painting on Iona could tell the story of my journey this year; not just where I had gone and what I had seen, but what had transformed and changed in me along the way.
This painting above is of a piece of the ancient Nunnery on the island. The wall I decided to draw is set sharply against the blue of the sky, with crumbling rock creating a vivid contrast to the stark angles jutting heavenward. I like these ruins a lot, perhaps even more than the abbey. They feel more approachable somehow. The ladies at the hostel would laugh and joke that we were all from the nunnery; all of us single, cloistered together on this holy isle. The outside surface of this building looks smooth and flat, but from my viewpoint one could see the vast amounts of rock that were used to construct each wall. It is hard to believe that when such varied stones are placed just so, they can be used to build a magnificent structure.
I hope that my stories will be like these stones; I think that I can use each one, stacking them just so, to create a narrative that will share my journey during this time of travel. We’ll see how things progress when I get back to Portland, but I am setting a goal to have the book finished by the spring of next year. It is a bit ambitious, I’ll admit. I have quite a lot of stone stacking to do.
Friday was my final day on Iona and although my mind was swimming with the excitement of heading home, I wanted to be wholly present. I wanted to breathe in the richness of the island one last time. The weather was unseasonably warm and so I decided to do the very best thing to ensure I would remember the fullness of the afternoon. I headed out to sketch on the beach.
Afterwards, I wrote the following in my journal:
Eucharisteo. The silver sea. Rose tinted hills in the far distance. The ache of my back as I perch on this rock. Waves gently settling onto white sand at the water’s edge. Clouds, great sculptures, wild and puffy stacks of cotton over Mull softening as they move out over the Atlantic. Mild air and virtually no wind. A November day spilling over with grace. My heart is full of gratitude. Iona, thank you for rest and respite before I return. Thank you for holding me.
So, it’s time to turn the page. As I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips, I hope that you’ll come with me. This next section is unwritten… I’ll need company along the way.