Cappuccino in Narni
The sense of local, of what is particular to a place, along with the absence of chains, of Starbucks, in itself is a delight In these small Umbrian towns. Back home, I am longing for my coffee to taste like it does in Italy- and to have the sense of history, art and time that is embedded in stone here.
In Scheggino we went to the truffle museum where they had all kinds of culinary delights including white chocolate flavored with truffles, summer and winter truffles, dried porcini mushrooms- and me wondering how much I can fit in my carry on.
One of my favorite places is Tarquinia, as it combines being by the sea with the pre-Christian, ancient art of the Etruscans and then close by- the contemporary sculpture garden of Niki de Saint Phalle. Imagine my delight in the discovery of a Tarot garden! All of the major arcana represented here - she lived inside the Empress, every wall covered in small bits of mirror- and from here Niki de Saint Phalle designed the rest of the sculptures.
This sculpture of The Chariot is inside The Empress, where she worked in her studio. She had the symbol for manifesting her vision- the Chariot- life size in her space. It took her 15 years to complete this project. The background wall you see is covered in small bits of mirror. The surfaces are curved and feminine.
From the photos one could easily wonder when we got any work done! But we managed to find time to sit and sketch. The skills required to capture what one sees in the moment- when weather and time often intervene -are different than working from the studio, or from a photograph. There is an immediate response required, what one of the students, Bryan Erdmann, named "lines without regret". (This came from a drawing he did, and from our practice of writing haikus).
Every way you turn there is a door, a gate, a path, an entry into another world. Spoleto was one of our favorite towns, along with Stroncone where we got to handle choir books stored at the city hall from the 1300's.
Most afternoons we returned to our studio at the monastery to go over our quick sketches from town, practice drawing and watercolor techniques, or write. Each student had his or her own focus. Returning to blind contour drawing and using odd tools is a practice I find invaluable for seeing, for getting out of our own way. Anyone can learn to draw - as long as there is the desire to learn and practice.
The struggles that we have as makers, writers, drawers and painters are often self-imposed. We think we are in a contest, that we need to come up with something spectacular- instead of embracing the powerful notion of beginning right where we are, with something ordinary and authentic. The idea of having a gentler approach, of seeing our work itself as a doorway, brings to mind Mary Oliver's poem:
It doesn't have to be the blue iris, it could be the weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones;
just pay attention,
then patch a few words together and don't try to make them elaborate, this isn't a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
Praying by Mary Oliver
I'd love to hear from you, and your thoughts on beginning from wherever you are-