I had a rather thrilling experience as I was flipping through my phone’s photos to find the reference photo for this drawing. I saw a photo I had taken of the half-finished drawing and thought for a few moments that it was the original. Hyperrealism is seldom, if ever, my goal, but to have successfully conveyed something so elusive is deeply satisfying. I have learned a lot about water through this process.

This was what I worked on on Wednesday and Thursday, and it is now finished.

Ocean 2, ink pen (Pilot Precise V5) on paper, approx 8″ x 5″

One more day’s drawing and it will be done, I think. From a photograph of the ocean section of Biosphere 2, outside Tucson, AZ.

I started this several years ago and put it away, not to rediscover it until Saturday, when my daughter planned an alebrije-painting session for the family as a Christmas present. I did the patterns on the tongue, top fangs, and right cheek then. I want to complete it and hang it on the wall, instead of consigning it to a drawer of half-painted and unpainted critters, so this evening I started painting the sides of the face. Even using acrylic markers, I can’t get the precision and intricate detail of Oaxacan artists, but they are my beacon.

To paint alebrijes is to be back in Oaxaca: sitting around tables with a dozen other norteamericanos in the upper terrace of the Oaxaca Lending Library. Painting my very first one (a sea turtle) in the town square of San Martín Tilcajete during a festival dedicated to this, the town’s signature art form. Sitting at home (home for our six-month sabbatical), at the table we had bought in the huge market, Abastos, strewn with the evidence of our various projects, such as the long huizache pod I had picked up from under a tree in the neighborhood, captivated by the geometry patterning its surface also.

In progress: Ocean 2, Ink pen on paper

So what did I learn last year?

That I can stick to a daily art practice for six months or more.

That expecting myself to share what I’ve worked on that day is crucial to keeping the practice going.

So it’s a fresh new year, and my plan is to make art every day, and to share it here (allowing myself an exception when privacy seems to demand one).

I went to Tucson last week, and took some photos of the “ocean” in Biosphere 2, fascinated by the interplay between the strict grid of the ceiling and the water that reflected it. This is two days’ worth of drawing, and I figure it will take another day or two to complete it.

Colkage, 5.5″ x 2.5″
Collage, 5.5″ x 5.5″

Looking at these gives me the same feeling in my gut as the feeling I’m trying to express. That tells me I’m going in the direction I want to go.

I said I wasn’t going to post most of the art I was doing because I didn’t want the performance pressure. It turns out that the lure of publishing works-in-progress is important. It keeps me accountable to someone besides myself, without which I can go weeks without making art.

So I’ll start posting daily again, as with the leaves I drew from January to June. And as with the leaves, if on a particular day I don’t want to share what I made, fine, I won’t.

But today, because and (sigh) only because I intended to post here, I honored the promise I made to myself several months ago and brought my tea down to the art room, where I blissfully cut, arranged, and pasted until the tea was cold and forgotten. I’m going to do some more in this vein. I already have some ideas for tomorrow’s experiment.

Collage, 6.5″ x 4″

I would be interested to hear what thoughts and feelings these (this and the ones to follow) bring up in viewers, so I think I won’t title them or say what they are about for me, yet.

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

I found the loveliest reference photo for my last leaf drawing, but got only about 1/20 of the way through actually drawing it before I had to go to sleep, and in the subsequent two days I haven’t had any more energy for that or the new daily project of some other kind of art: I have COVID. It seems like a mild enough case, and I hope it will remain so, but it is still sapping all my oomph.

Righteous rage, and the fervent wish that no one else endure what my family did, will power me through tomorrow’s service, which is on the real connection between guns and freedom. Of course I will be preaching via Zoom. Then I can return to pampering myself until I am energetic enough for the few days of work I’d planned for this week.

Art will return when it returns, and I’ll post it here when it does.

After spending so much time with willows and learning how many kinds there are, I now realize that I see them around me all the time. Walking in and around the Point Reyes National Seashore, for example, as I’ve been doing for the past few days. Willows, willows, everywhere, and I never recognized them before because I didn’t realize they are so often large shrubs, with silhouettes that don’t resemble those of weeping willows at all. If I hazarded a guess about what these shrubs were at all, I would have said something related to olives (going purely by a glance at the leaves), but olives and willows aren’t even in the same order.

I can’t identify which willow species grow here around Point Reyes, but I’m pretty sure there are some trees of genus Salix, anyway. Maybe tomorrow I will remember to snap a few photos and check them in a field guide or iNaturalist.

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