A ship sails into shore, a rusty well pulley moans
A blue plume of smoke on the rosy horizon
The image of a crane’s broken wing
Armies of swallows await to welcome the brave
Bare arms raised with anchors tattooed in the armpits
And a distant church bell saturates the sky with indigo
Amorgos, by Nikos Gatsos, 1943*
I’m glad I’ve been keeping sketchbooks. I wish I had painted more of these, but I am never going to wish I’d painted fewer. Some were done in cheap children’s water colours, some in fancy W&N. They are mostly from summers in the Aegean, and some from Cyprus. Here’s hoping the marine theme will get me in holiday mood. Two more days of school, for us teachers! Unwinding is a long process…
The translation of the poem (fragment) by Gatsos is my own. It’s from the rather long poem Amorgos. I couldn’t find the lines I wanted to quote online, so I translated as it suited me. Some of the vignettes here are scenes from Amorgos, the island. The cubist villages, geometric pigeon coops and stark whitewash around cobblestones,
…the eyes of the seaweed are turned to the sea
Big black sea with so many pebbles around your neck, so many gems in your hair*
We are all born talented.
I am not even going to qualify the above statement: I don’t care how talented, or whether there’s some hierarchy; creativity is part of human nature, some might say our most defining trait. We are not born skilled, this is why education is needed.
I am having these thoughts as I watch my students take their last exams. With one eye on the blue Mediterranean — 27°C today and the beach just a stroll away!— and the other on their concentrating faces, if I could distill an essence, it would be this: Stay Original!
Art education helps in this, when it instills the things it’s supposed to:
- Refusal to accept the first solution as the best solution. This is the quintessence of a creative life. To approach the same problem from another angle, and another, and another. Not just the opposite of Learning by Rote – it’s very annihilation! Amen.
- Organisation of projects and of self, understanding that creating is a process, and planning it out– what a life skill! I know many adults who will never grasp this. Courage in self-presentation and therefore accountability: if you are going to show your work and/or speak about it, you need to be able to justify your process. The rewards of accepting good or bad criticism are invaluable to a person’s emotional intelligence and growth.
- Eschew the Copy-Paste Mentality. It’s almost embarassing to repeat this, because it really should be covered by the other two points, but we live in a world where access online is practically a human right, and we need to understand the responsibilities that follow. The internet is a tool; we are the craftsman. We cannot blame it, disclaim it, or abuse it. Everyone goes online for help, verification, inspiration. We are still responsible for how we present to the world!
Graduates! Though they may try to stifle you, mislead you by example, swamp you with questionable facts and methods: Stay true, stay original, stay creative!
What an intense month it’s been (obviously not in my blogging activity, as you may have noticed)! I know I should be blogging about summer, and the beach, but soon enough. I’ll get to it!
With a distance of a number of decades, here’s my tribute! One is something I made in kindergarten. The other, considerably more recent…
A good fortnight of clear skies and sunshine has just ended, and winter is back! Halcyon days, they were, but now they’re over. Today is going to be the coldest, or so they say. Already I’m hearing about snow on the outskirts of Nicosia, which doesn’t happen every day!
Thank god it’s Friday! Thank god for sketchbooks, too: this is a watercolour sketch, made from life many summers ago, on the island of Ios. This was the most amazing little break on an unexpectedly dazzling little Aegean island. Good friends, coffee and backgammon on the beach after dark, cross legged under a thatched awning. Food everywhere was spectacular, as I recall.
Sketchbooking is a practice I never stop trying to cultivate in my students. Not just because it provides an illustrated sort of diary full of vivid memories for a rainy day, but mainly because it is steady input into our visual data base. Observation and cultivating skills are the best way to stay creative and inspired.
There’s a first time for everything. This is my first illustration on a iPad using a stylus. My latest toy is Pencil by 53, and it’s fabulous! Still have a lot to learn, but that’s how I like it! I made this in Adobe Draw and Pencil works great in it. I am a little aghast that it took me this long to discover how much I love this stuff, but hopefully I’ll make up for it in due course.
It’s also the first “selfie” I’ve posted, inspired by a recent visit to this splendid Venetian bridge in the middle of cypriot nowhere. Kelefos Bridge is near the village of Ayios Nikolaos, technically in the Paphos district, but actually in a tight corner between Nicosia, Paphos and Limassol, on the south side of the Troodos mountains. Hidden in thick woods of pines and great big plane trees, this is one of many stone Venetian bridges built in the 1600’s. There’s a trail you can walk, all the way up to Kykkos (17 km but otherwise easy going, from what I’m told) that links at least three of these stone wonders. Known as the Venetian Bridges Nature Trail, you can read about it here http://www.visitpafos.org.cy/enetika_gefyria_trail.aspx
This second sketch is from a previous visit to the same spot, with my Djembe teacher, Annika – https://web.facebook.com/Drum4Joy/ – and a group of friends and their percussive instruments, just over a year ago, back in the day of watercolours and ordinary pencils! Which one do you like?
Praza Cervantes, Santiago de Compostella, 13 July
Three months ago, I reached Santiago de Compostella. I had been there before, but this was the first time as a pilgrim. Under the beautiful honey-gold sandstone arcade around Cervantes Square, I sat watching pilgrims come and go, enjoying my celebratory Estrella Galicia – this sketch is the fruit of that labour.
While walking the Camino, I barely drew anything, though I took hundreds of photos. Twenty to twenty seven km days really take a lot out of you! Next time I’ll know to pace myself better. Galicia is so beautiful; fairy-tale gorgeous, even! I like to think I internalised some of that beauty, and truth be told I made a lot of sketches after that, throughout the summer. Just one of the many ways the Camino keeps on giving forth its gifts. I can’t wait to go back there…