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I went quiet when I finished my six months of daily leaves and got COVID the same week. It took me a while to get my energy back, and a while longer to settle into my new practice. It has finally taken its form for the rest of the year: to do art first thing in the day, over a cup of tea, for five minutes.

“First thing” for several reasons. One is that I feel terrific when I start my day this way. At best, like today, I spend the rest of the day humming with ideas, and at worst, when no inspiration comes in the art room, at least I have checked it off. Also, I hate to say this because people judge you, but I’m a morning person. And finally, on those days when something intrudes, such as I left something important undone on the previous day’s work to-do list and have to get to it right away, or my daughter misses the city bus, I still have the whole day ahead of me. Planning an art session for after dinner does not allow for this wiggle room.

“Over a cup of tea” because so much that I’ve read about creating habits says to attach the hoped-for habit to a trigger. I like starting my day with tea, so it’s nice to brew a cup, bring it down to the art room, and sip while I work. Also, it takes about five minutes to drink a cup of tea.

“Five minutes” because a very small amount of time helps me to overcome resistance. I’ve discovered this over and over with the garden. If I look out there and see it could really use an hour of weeding, forget it. That’s daunting. Even half an hour feels like a chore. But if I just go out and weed for a few minutes, I get into the groove and don’t want to stop, and often I do spend an hour or more in the garden, and I enjoy it, too. Some days that happens with art and sometimes I’m glad that five minutes have elapsed and I can go do something else. But I have still done five minutes. And today was a perfect example of what happens when I keep doing that. For the past few days I’ve spent minimal time and felt uninspired. But they seem to have sat on a shelf in my mind the way a pot of lentil soup sits in the fridge overnight, with the flavors blending and enriching each other, so that it tastes much better heated up as leftovers. Today, the things I’d been playing with in this desultory way connected with an old project that has roots 30 years deep, and now I feel the little sparks going pop pop poppoppop pop. I love that feeling, and I love what I’m learning from the confluence of these two projects.

Maybe I’ll share more about them soon. However, something I added to the practice after talking to my spiritual director was an intention, in general, not to post photos of what I make, because I am trying to open up space to play and explore and not worry about outcomes. I impose enough judgments on myself about outcomes, without seeking out others’, positive or negative. So I’ll mostly just write about them (and haven’t done even that for the past couple of months). However, a couple of weeks ago a preoccupation with labyrinths met a question I was wrestling with, and together they inspired this. And I did stay playful. And I (mostly) don’t care if anyone else likes it.

Diptych: Judgment, Curiosity. Graphite and colored pencil, approx. 12 x 18″. (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern, August/September 2022

“As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.” — Albrecht Dürer

Dürer, Adam and Eve, copper engraving, 1504. From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public domain.

I came upon this quote courtesy of the acrostic puzzles I frequently solve online. I shy away from any absolutes such as “the greatest,” but Dürer’s thought is a good companion for this particular project of drawing a different leaf every day. Immersion in natural beauty is definitely good for my spirit as well as my relationship with other living things. Whether it is simplicity that I’m encountering, I’m not sure. Leaves are stunningly complex, and the complexity is one source of their beauty. But one could also say truly that there is something very simple about them, and there is definitely a simplicity to an art practice that seeks only to reflect what is in nature.



Have I been doing art every day? Yes, but this piece is so slow, and my time with it so short each day, that it’s only half done. I’m really liking it, though.

“Clearing,” work in progress, pencil on paper, 6×9

This sweet face greeted us from the counter at my in-laws’ house this weekend. It also chimed, “Draw me!”

Colored pencil on paper, 6×9″

What caused the blotch on this leaf? I’m pretty sure that whatever it was, it was just pursuing its own nutrition or some other such necessity, not setting out to create beauty. But it is beautiful.

I knew I’d be waiting for an hour or more for a car repair today, so I brought this work-in-progress along. I took a walk and then stopped at a cafe to draw; it is now closed, and I am hoping the car will be ready before they tell me I have to leave.

Both sides are decorated. And the tongue does indeed say “Can we not do the running thing?” in Gallifreyan, thanks to my talented and generous daughter, who wrote it out for me to copy.

As with Klingon, devoted fans took scraps of an on-screen language and developed them. With Doctor Who, someone created a cipher Gallifreyan alphabet; i.e., it corresponds letter to letter with ours.

I’m taking suggestions about what the other tongue might say. Maybe just “Allons-y”, to balance out the spirit of first one?

Day 19, #100days of art.

I’ve been working on this piece for a few days, since it is small (13×17 cm) but at 10-20 minutes a day, this is what I can do. The final version is in ink marker.

I rather like it just in pencil (below) but I didn’t think the pencil on kraft paper had enough contrast. Funny how the color is completely gone from the photo I took of the pencil version.

My friend J. gave me the beautiful little sketchbook I’m currently using, so I often think of her as I draw in it, and that was the case all during this drawing, which I began on her birthday.

I’ve been doing these off and on for a couple of years, knowing that the spaces at the intersections were important, but not examining why. (“Why” can take me rapidly into left-brained thinking, and part of art for me is getting out of it.) So I think I will explore the why not by thinking, but by drawing. On the next one of these nets, the lines will go right through the intersections, and I’ll see what difference that makes.

Day 6 of #100days of making art

I was flipping through my last bullet journal and saw my hundred-day tracker. “Did I really do art every day for 100 days straight?” I marveled. Pretty much, yep.

Since these mind games seem to be the most effective way to get myself to do the things I really want to do, I’m doing it again. Art every day, if only for ten minutes. Preferably as the first thing I do, during or immediately after breakfast. I hunted around for an interesting shape, and lit on the shadows on this grocery bag.

And it was a very good way to start the day.

I retrieved this collage from the pieces-in-progress box, where I had filed it just the other day in the course of going through some piles in our home office. (The Onion, as usual, is sardonically accurate; after two weeks of the coronavirus shutdown, our house task list is noticeably whittled down.) I began it, a few years ago, with some playful, purposeless clipping of an old Thomas guide, which I had bought when I moved here in 2003 and which was rendered redundant within a few years, when I got my first smartphone. Redundant for navigation, but a gem in the collage-materials collection.

As soon as I started playing, the similarities between map features like freeways and anatomical drawings of veins and arteries appeared. Also, I kept noticing places that had a strong emotional tug: hospitals where many of our congregation members have been patients, a cemetery where some have been interred, and, snaking their way down page upon page of the book of maps, the railroad tracks where two have died. And just like that, it became a portrait: of a place, of tender moments from a shared history, and of relationships.

It’s complicated. Many of the moments have been sad, even heartbreaking ones. There’s a tremor of trauma running through this landscape. But joy runs through it too, and sometimes in the same places. Finishing this collage helped me integrate them.

Any ideas for a title about the body, loss, place, lives and deaths, finding one’s way . . . ?

As I was tracing, my brilliant daughter asked me why I didn’t just print out the photo.

!?

Because then I could just sandwich carbon paper between the printed version and the linoleum in order to transfer it. No need to trace it and turn it over, as I’d planned.

?!

As long as I didn’t mind the image being reversed, my brilliant wife added.

!!

The printout is fine, and I don’t mind the image being reversed. I am set to show up tomorrow and transfer it to the lino. The tracing was fun and not difficult, but yeesh. It’s a good thing I have people around to point out the obvious.

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