Tag Archives: Gratitude

From the Woods to the Sea

A Tapestry Weaving Retreat with Joan Baxter

With my travel sketchbook and camera in tow, I wandered down the old dirt road to the sea.  The autumn sun was casting a soft amber light upon the trees as it made it’s journey below the horizon.  The woods suddenly parted and I found myself in a private secluded bay with little waves gently crashing upon the sand.  I climbed up onto the old crumbling jetty and sat on a rock, watching the golden sky fade to dusk.  An overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe washed over me.  I was here in this place of beauty and tranquility, where the woods meet the sea, and about to enjoy five whole days of everything tapestry weaving with one of my most favorite tapestry artists, Joan Baxter.

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From the time I met Joan, I felt as though she were a familiar friend, like perhaps maybe she was one of my beloved faculty members from college. She greeted me warmly as she laid out a dazzling spectrum of her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.  The room we would be using was dark and cozy, surrounded by forests and near to the retreat center’s chapel.  It was in this room, with my fellow tapestry weavers, covered with yarn, books, looms, and bobbins, and fueled by Joan’s tutorials and evening talks, that my imagination sprang to life.

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How do the places and landscapes we hold dear to our hearts change with the passage of time?  This was the question Joan Baxter asked us to ponder over the months leading up to our workshop.  Compiling sketches and photos of our favorite place at different times of the day, we were asked to do some color studies.  Using our own yarn, and some of Joan’s, we played with colors of different values and hues.  We also had some of her samples to inspire us.  Joan is a magician when it comes to playing with and mixing colors…

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A sampling of Joan’s beautiful samples…

 

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And here’s mine!

During the day, she gave tutorials to small groups of us on how to create dots, flecks, and color blends. She really inspired me to become more bold with my weft colors, and to understand how to carry consistent colors from one area to another, like with a reflection on water or creating transparency.

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A tutorial on weaving dots.  Joan enjoys simple weaving equipment like wooden frame looms and pipe looms…

 

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More dots and flecks (and check out that beautiful bobbin!)

For this theme of the passage of time, I chose to visit a small lake by my parent’s house.  I visited many times over the summer, always drawn to the sparkle of sunlight across the water and the forest that surrounded it’s shore.  It wasn’t until the fall, right before the retreat, that I noticed a lone tree that stood out from the others.  It had transformed into a brilliant golden yellow, and I had an a-ha moment: This tree would be the focal point of my composition…

 

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I thought I could weave an entire tapestry in five days! I must have been crazy.  The only tapestry I ever wove in five days is the size of a small photograph! Joan encouraged us to not weave for more than four to five hours a day, so as to not strain our eyes. So we went for walks, mingled and chatted with each other about our ideas, shared books and tips, were treated to several of Joan’s inspiring slideshows, and were fed three meals a day by the retreat staff.  The food was simple and nourishing and I loved that.  I found the simplicity and humbleness of our accommodations to be the perfect backdrop to focus on my art and my time with my new weaving friends.

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The view from my bedroom window…

And I noticed my idea for my tapestry was beginning to change and be shaped by the beauty of the retreat center grounds.  I was particulary inspired by Joan to think differently about how to weave water.  I’ve always woven flat, mirror-like reflections, but Joan encouraged me to think about time transpiring and how I could create that.  I began going down to the little bay to observe how ocean waves would rise and fall.  Sometimes I’d go down to the pond and throw pebbles to watch the ripples fan out.  I realized I wanted to capture the multi-dimensional appearance of those ripples moving across the water.  This was my sample of that idea…

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This sample was meant to try the techniques of carrying one consistent color throughout the water, capturing the light and shadow of a water ripple, the lines of a labyrinth underneath, and one of my trees golden yellow leaves (which ended up looking like carpet from the 1970s)

I’ve always been drawn to labyrinths as a symbol for personal and spiritual journeys.  I was so excited to see the retreat center had a lovely and simple one created from mowed grass and some shrubby trees.  I also knew I wanted to incorporate this symbol into my final design as well, perhaps underneath the water’s surface…

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So after a few days of observing and sketching, I had a pretty solid idea for my Time inspired tapestry.  When the last day of the retreat came, I was sad and yet also eager to get back home to try some of my new ideas and techniques I had learned.  I also had a new appreciation for myself as an artist, and the endlessly inspiring life we artists can live if we just open up to it.  It was an unforgettable experience to learn from Joan, and also it was the first time meeting some of my fellow members of the tapestry group TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) who hosted this event.  While I still haven’t started the piece inspired by this workshop (I know! I know! I’m getting to it!), I’ve noticed how my design ideas have shifted and finalized in my mind.  I feel ready to at least do some sketching and get the loom warped, and I guess I need to do a few more samples, too!

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My favorite weft blend, I love admiring it just on the bobbin…

 

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A postcard of Joan Baxter’s weavings showing her use of dots

If you get the chance I highly recommend taking a workshop or retreat.  It’s a fantastic way to meet and be inspired by other artists, form amazing connections, and learn a new thing or two!

Keep creating!

~Laura

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Tributary

So I had been planning on starting over on this piece you might recall from a couple months ago.  I was really excited to make this weaving bigger and better than it was before.  And then, everything came to a stop.  One of my closest friends passed away.  Even though I knew she wasn’t doing well, the suddenness of her passing knocked me to my knees.

I have never experienced a loss quite like this before.  My friend was a witness to my journey as a young woman, who offered me courage and wisdom, who saw my beauty and flaws, and loved me for all of it.  She never let me settle or deny myself all of the goodness that life has to offer.  She saw my true essence, my creativity, my soul’s calling, and always supported me in pursuing my dreams.  She was also hilarious and witty and we shared a similar sense of humor that would put us both into fits of laughter that would make my stomach hurt.  She was my rock.  And I miss her.  I miss her every single day.

When she died, a part of me died, too.  I stopped playing piano.  I had no desire to create ANYTHING.  I didn’t want to pick up a pencil or open a sketchbook.  I didn’t want to sit at my loom.  I was lucky if I even thought about coloring in my coloring book.  I wondered when and how I’d ever want to create again, and what would that look like.  The odd thing is that my beloved friend was an incredibly creative person.  A huge admirer of Van Gogh’s work, she was a self-taught painter who had an amazing ability to capture light and shadows, and her colors radiated off the canvas.  During a time when it felt like I should be creating something as a tribute to her, I found that I was just completely empty.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

And life kept moving forward.  I had to continue to go to work and keep myself together.  I still had bills to pay, I had to feed myself, get enough sleep, and most importantly I had to make time to be with the uncomfortable and, for me, unfamiliar feelings of grief.  We don’t really get enough time to mourn and process our grief these days.  There’s this expectation from society that we get about three days to mourn and then we have to be back on our game.  But from my experiences with grief, both mine and that of friends, is that it’s always cyclical and it has its own timeline.  It comes and goes like the tide and the seasons.  Sometimes it just sits there quietly like a dull ache and other times it feels like a vast and painful emptiness.  But I turn towards the grief and honor it, and in that same way I’m honoring the love I have for my friend.

I’ve been listening to a talk by Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman, on grief and praise and how both come from the same place.  To paraphrase a line from his inspiring talk: “You gotta love the thing you lost just like you gotta love the thing you’ve got.”   I grieve for my beloved friend, and I praise the beautiful gift that was her coming into my life and sharing in my journey. I’ve used this time as an incredibly humbling and deepening experience.  I’ve never felt so raw or so totally human before.  It’s given me fresh eyes to look at how I’m living my life, how much love I’m giving to myself, how much praise I have for life and all of the beauty that it offers.  And loss, even profound loss, is part of that beauty.

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

So here is my tribute to my friend, one of the many I will create as a way of celebrating her life and her love.  One of her favorite places to be was at the river, soaking in the sun and swimming in the cool clear water.  Like a tributary, her life and her beauty flows into the hearts of her loved ones who carry her spirit onward.  I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, being in the woods and recently hiking to some frozen waterfalls.  Spring has arrived and these once giant frozen icicles are flowing again, and I feel the same sensation of thawing out, melting into water, the soft flow of a river in my soul.   Nature has always been my creative inspiration, so I’m going back to what I know.  I also have plans to create a piece honoring my friend and the beauty she brought to my life.  I’ll let you know how my new journey goes!

Can you find me?

Can you find me?

The Journey of Saying Yes

For several years I’ve wondered what home is, where it is, and what it looks like.  Is it an old farmhouse like what I grew up in, with vibrantly colorful gardens and a little brook?  Or is it a sunny bungalow with a big front porch?  Is it here or there, near or far?  Who lives in that home with me?  A loving partner, a giggling bunch of kiddos, a dog, a cat, a chameleon?  Who comes to visit?  Mary Jane’s Farm magazine contributor, Rebekah Teal, said it best in the January 2015 issue:

“I believe “home” might be a special combination of unique things, things that are different for each person.  When those things come together at exactly the right place and the right moment in time, something fabulous and comforting and almost magical happens.  That something is called “home”.”

Lately I haven’t felt at home in a lot of ways.  I certainly have a fantastic network of friends who give me a sense of home, but my soul is yearning for something else, some other missing piece of the puzzle.  I’ve certainly never been a city girl, but this place has it’s perks.  I can’t think of any other store like The Playful Needle that sells hundreds of colors of Appleton Crewel wool that I use for my tapestries.  Or how about the seemingly endless options for health food stores so that I don’t have to eat another donut from all of the seemingly endless donut shops that keep opening up?  And then there’s the nature and the temperate weather… it’s all kept me here for so long, satisfied and secure.

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And then last month, I realized what my soul needs right now is a return to my roots, to my soil, the part of the earth I grew up on.  I don’t know what I’ll find back there in between the foothills of the rugged White Mountains and the soothing tides of the Atlantic.  Maybe it will be the place I call home, maybe it will offer me some healing, but I know it will definitely give me the space for peace and quiet reflection.  As I’ve put the pressure on myself to find this “home” sooner rather than later, I’ve realized how defining and narrow this goal is.  I’m looking for a place to call home, but more importantly I’m looking for all of the things I can say yes to.

It’s been a heartbreaking past several weeks as more and more friends and co-workers learn of my leaving.  Unfortunately saying yes sometimes means saying good-bye to loved ones as they see you off on your next adventure.  I’ve done this before when I moved here, with no clue how I was going to make it in a place I had never lived before.  And now I can look back with gratitude and awe at how far I’ve come, and the gift the journey has been.  I’ve felt so much gratitude for my job, my boss, my team, my benefits, my amazing friends, discovering my calling as a tapestry artist, the abundance of nature, I almost can’t believe I would ever dream of leaving it.  I actually look forward to going to work because I’ll get to see my friends and nerd out on supplements.  Sure, I’d also really like to nerd out on art and tapestry weaving, but I’ve always felt extremely appreciative of this job I worked so hard to get.  So why am I leaving?  Please don’t ask me, because I’m running out of tissues.

2015-03-05 14.54.56I’m finally back into my meditation routine after several weeks of feeling like I should be spending that special time packing and crying – that was my sign I should have been meditating in the first place.  I’m working on taking things one day at a time.  Instead of dreading my last day of work, saying my final farewells, and that moment when I step onto the plane with a one-way ticket, I’m looking up at the trees displaying their fireworks of blossoms against the bright blue sky.  This spring has come early and with such vibrancy and energy I’ve wondered if it’s just trying to remind me of why I love it here so that I’ll stay.

2015-03-05 14.52.48I’ve been really enjoying my spring cleaning as well, getting rid of so much stuff I thought was valuable to me, but really isn’t.  It’s a wonderful feeling to only own the things that bring me joy, instead of drowning in all of the crap I could… potentially… maybe (never) use someday.  Angel food cake pan?  Haven’t used that in over five years.  The ugly mug I’ve never used?  Gone.  It makes me wonder why I haven’t done this sooner!  It feels so cathartic and freeing, a release of the past so I can step into the new unencumbered and ready to receive the blessings and gifts that life has to offer me.  I’m ready to say yes to this beautiful, sometimes bittersweet, but always inspiring life of mine.

A Looming Deadline

compass_wip1Almost done!  I’ve set my own deadline to finish this tapestry by January 30th, because sometimes all it takes is a looming deadline (ha, get it?) to get me to sit on the weaving bench.  I think I’ve got about an inch left, then I’ll weave the hem, and then it’s off the loom!   I’ve been breezing through this weaving with a renewed feeling of passion and enthusiasm, and I know the boxing classes have a big part to play in this.  I’m building new muscle skills, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and creatively as well.  I go to class feeling terrified of what insane workout I’ll push my way through today, and leave feeling so much appreciation for my coaches, my courage, and my strength.  I carry this feeling of resilience, this deep appreciation for how strong I am, courageous I am, for everything I know I can do, to my art practice and the rest of my life.  Boxing is teaching me to go deeper, to push harder, to love myself, my creativity, and my life more than I ever have before.

I’m also currently building the next online tapestry exhibit for the American Tapestry Alliance.  The curator picked some magnificent pieces and it’s been so fun to see so many incredible artworks.  I’m sorry I can’t give you any details, but I’ll post a link on here when the show goes live for those who are interested!

A New Year’s List for a New Journey

On New Years Eve, I wanted to write something uplifting and hopeful and inspiring to start the transition into 2015.  I wanted to give you, my dear reader, a message to help kick-start your year on the right path, to help you accomplish your dreams and goals.  But lately I’ve felt like I didn’t have it in me, that there was no way I could write something with that kind of positive energy.  Lately I’ve felt angry and frustrated, and not with anything or anyone in particular.  One day I’ll be angry and agitated, the next I’ll be crying.  My close friends who have done a lot of personal healing know what I’m talking about, some of them call it “deep work”.  If you’ve ever been there yourself, then you know what I’m talking about, and I’m sure you know how frustrating it can feel.   But I was reminded of a saying I once read, “the medicine is in the wound”, and that is where I found the inspiration for this post.

I don’t do anger well.  To me, and most other people, its an emotion that feels dark, heavy, and negative.  Who wants to be angry when you could be happy?  Well, I’m sure we’d all agree if we could be happy all the time we would, but then we would have nothing to compare our joy to.  Instead we’d probably just feel apathetic or indifferent.  I’ve always felt that anger was a volatile emotion, that feeling it would turn me into some crazy, out-of-control, violent person.  So I’ve been stuffing it since I was a kid, and I think now it’s finally caught up to me.  I haven’t been able to work on my weaving much because the anger and frustration doesn’t translate well to delicate and detailed work.  So while I’ve been taking a break from my tapestry, I’ve been finding new tools and ideas to help me work through these darker emotions.

In the dark is where the first stage of new life happens, where the seed first cracks it’s hard, protective shell, and tender leaves reach up towards the light.  It’s where we rest, where dream-time brings us insights, where ideas grow, and new life takes shape.  The time in the dark is never hurried; everything that is preparing for growth needs time and care to be ready to be born.  There is vitality hidden in the dark.  And life is very cyclical, we all go through phases of blooming in the garden, soaking up the sun’s rays while others admire us.  Sometimes the weeds choke us and threaten to take us down.  And there usually always comes a time when we retreat back into the restorative cocoon of the darkness, back into our roots to rest and prepare to be reborn again come our next springtime.

During our time in this fertile soil, its important to actually do our personal work, mend what’s been broken, and remember that the darkness isn’t forever.  We will eventually be called back into the light, and to carry with us the gifts we have uncovered from our sacred wounds.

While I’ve been taking a break from weaving, I’ve been discovering new tools and ideas to help me work through these shadow emotions.  I’ve put together this list to serve anyone who is also feeling overwhelmed, stressed, stuck, or wanting change, now or in the future.

1. Gratitude ListsIf you’ve read anything about living a more positive life or how to manifest your deepest wishes, one of the suggestions you’ll find is writing a gratitude list.  But I use it not to just get what I want, I use it to change my perspective.  Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, grumpy, angry, or just plain ungrateful, I write a gratitude list.  It always, ALWAYS changes my  outlook.  On New Years Eve I wrote a gratitude list for everything that happened to me in 2014.  While it was several pages long, it was also filled with simple things.  Like #12: “All of the magical hikes I’ve been on out here.”  Or #15: “Practicing patience.”  #24: “Learning how resilient I am.”  And #30, my favorite: “All of the chocolate I’ve eaten.”

The little things really add up, and they’re not that hard to find, trust me.  Even finding just one thing to be grateful for, like a kind person’s smile, can start to shift your perspective.  Now imagine finding those little things everyday for 30 days.  Imagine a whole year.

2. When energy gets stuck and needs to be released, it can’t always come out as art, even ugly, dirty, messy art, or beautiful, light, and inspiring art.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Occasionally it needs a physical outlet in order to be set free.  The mornings are usually when I get fresh hits of inspiration, and the other day as I got out of bed and felt the angry energy rise up in me, I saw myself in a boxing class.  I never thought of myself as someone who would ever want to try boxing, but there I was in a safe environment, able to release my emotions.  I signed up for a no contact, women’s only boxing class.  Thankfully we wont be fighting each other.  I may want to punch a punching bag, but I have absolutely no interest in punching someone else or getting punched in the face!

3.  Faith, and I’m not just talking church or George Michael.  When we find ourselves feeling like we’re drowning in sudden changes, forces beyond our control, shadow emotions, and feeling unable to get our heads above water for long, having faith in something is what can get us through.  I have what I refer to as “a spiritual posse”, a collection of various spirits, teachers, and guides I’ve chosen that I turn to when I need help.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a saint, an angel, the woods, or your cat, just start with having faith that you will get through, and you will get through.

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4.  Have patience.  Sometimes when we’re looking to create change in our lives, or to get through a storm, or to reach our goals, we can lose patience.  Keep in mind that we’re all on different paths.  Keep an open heart to what personal success looks like for you.  Sometimes when I feel like I don’t have what I want, I do step 1 above and I discover that I have everything I need.  What you want will come, just keep an open heart and give it time.

5.  Be easy on yourself.  This isn’t a competition, no ones’ perfect even if they appear that way.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens

6.  Take inspiration from the success of others.  Seeing someone climb the ladder of their dreams and accomplish big goals can make anyone feel jealous, and wonder when it will be their time to shine.  I used to feel jealous of others’ success stories, but now I use them as a great source of inspiration to follow my own dreams.  Hearing about anyone making a living doing what they love and bringing positive change to the world fills me with so much joy, hope, and motivation.  Someone living their life through the gifts they bring to the world is also a gift for those of us wanting to do the same; it shows us that with unwavering dedication, patience, and a pure passion for what we do, we can also accomplish incredible things.  Usually after hearing or reading such good news, I’ll sit down at my loom and work away, feeling pure inspiration for what it is I do.  I simply love these stories.  Because if they can do it I can too, and so can you.

7.  Have funI don’t wait until the storm passes or things to get better to go forth and make the most of life.  I don’t sit around thinking that because I’m in a funk, I have to stay there and wait for it to be over.  Whenever I’m feeling grumpy, I watch youtube videos of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, or clips from Louis CK’s stand-up performances.  I often find myself laughing so hard I’m crying, and I’ve totally forgotten about my grumpiness.  Like gratitude lists, laughter has a profound ability to drastically change our outlook, even if for a few minutes.  And that’s all it takes to ride the waves to smoother sailing.

8.  Do something nice for others, and something nice for you.  It doesn’t have to cost you a penny.  It can be offering an ear to listen, a compliment (as long as it’s sincere!), or bringing food to an ill friend.  Last night, I decided to do something nice for myself that I know I’ve needed to do to help me grow as a professional artist.  I bought the domain name for this blog! 

One thing I do know is that crossing that threshold from the darkness and into the next stage of life will make me feel more confident, with a deeper sense of faith and trust in the work that I do and the life I live.   And that although there will be more hard days to come, having practiced these steps will give me the strength to keep weaving through the storms with serenity and grace.

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon from this past summer.  My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon this past summer. My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

Happy 2015 to you all!  I wish you great happiness, success, and opportunities to heal and let go of whatever is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams!

A Celebration of Life’s Bounty

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Ah, Thanksgiving, a holiday that I once thought of as a day off from school and an opportunity to eat too much mashed potatoes.  This time of year is different for me now, as I live thousands of miles away from my family.  I usually don’t know what I’m doing until a week before the holiday, when I get invited to some sort of Orphans’ Thanksgiving.  Every holiday for the past eight years has been different, some with old or new friends, strange or traditional dishes, simple or extravagant parties.  This time of year is always exciting, but it’s also taken on a new meaning to me personally.

The end of the year is a celebration of life’s bounty, and not just in terms of the food we gather around the table to enjoy with our loved ones.   Whether spent socially or introspectively, it is a day of expressing gratitude for all of the blessings that have graced our lives, big or small, simple or grand.  Today I’m grateful for my good health, a good job, the art I create and the opportunities to share it with the world.  I have love from many friends and family, however far away they might be.  I have warm clothes, a warm bed, and a solid roof over my head.  I have easy access to healthy food and clean drinking water.  I have also grown a lot in the past year, just by showing up to learn the lessons of personal healing and growth.  The difference between the gratitude I feel this year compared to years past is that now I feel it all around me and within me.  Gratitude for the physical and spiritual; for what can be seen, and what can be felt.

Happy day of gratitude to you and yours.  However you spend the day, I hope you can include a few minutes of giving thanks for all of the blessings in your life.

Parting of the Mists

My recently finished piece “Parting of the Mists”