Monthly Archives: February 2011

What art materials can I carry?

Can we take our entire studios with us when we travel? Not unless we are staying for extended periods of time, and want to be burdened with “Mt. Baggage”! This is an actual drawing from my journal on my first art trip to Europe when I took an oil workshop. I had a wooden French half easel, oil paints, brushes, canvas, stretcher bars, paper towels, a staple gun, etc. It was ridiculous!

Just my carry on load made me feel like a beast of burden. You know how it goes….you just HAVE to have this color, then maybe you can’t live with out this one, and what about that new favorite? It just escalates until the little Italian cab driver tries to lift your suitcase and cries out “MAMMA MIA!” as he grabs his back.

So what can we do? Oils are too bulky and dry too slow, plus transporting the solvents is impossible. Acrylics dry OK, and clean up with water, but are still bulky. Watercolors are too fragile. If they get damp or spilled on they can be ruined. This pretty much leaves us with drawing: either in a separate sketchbook or in an illustrated journal.

So, do you take a separate sketchbook or combine your drawings with a written journal? I know drawing is a focus every day for me. However, if you are traveling with non-artists or you know that you will not specifically dedicate drawing time each day, there is a lot to be said for a small journal/sketchbook combination that you can stick in your purse or pocket. It allows you to spontaneously record a written or drawn impression throughout the course of the day when the feeling is fresh.


Drawings as Etchings

The Camino de Santiago has been walked for 1200 years as a Christian Pilgrimage route. It is alive and well today, pulsing with energy as over 100,000 people from around the globe walked it in 2010, considered a holy year. As I made this journey, I often felt as if I were walking through history in the footsteps of those who had traveled this route for centuries. Many places along the way have changed. But there are often places that seem to be much as they might have been hundreds of years ago.

I decided to use pen and ink drawings to illustrate selected places along the way, mainly because that would be more practical on a two month-long trek. I drew everyday, and even if I was unable to finish the drawing, I executed several thumbnail sketches. Often many hours were required to complete the detailed images. Creating art was an integral and very compelling part of my journey. I drew in meadows at the top of mountains, in cafes, sitting on my bunk bed while storms raged outside, standing in the middle of the road, and perched on city benches.

As my series of drawings began to take shape, I found them reminiscent of etchings from an earlier period. The Camino de Santiago thrived during the Middle Ages when etching was an art form used to document and portray imagery in an era before photography existed. Thoughtful design, a sensitive touch with line and texture to create beautiful half tones, and an attention to detail were necessary to create these extraordinary works of art. When my drawings emerged in a more complete form, I saw that they could readily bring past and present together using a classic style with a contemporary flavor. My intent was to communicate to the viewer my deeply felt-sense of mystery and mood, within the context of a realistic image. Drawing by hand bridges the past to the present with these humble materials of pen, ink and paper.

Trail Markings: Finding your Way

The trails on all branches of the Camino are well-marked by volunteers with either a yellow arrow or by a scallop shell, which is the symbol of the Way. Scallops are plentiful on the coast of Galicia near Santiago de Compostela, and are associated with a miracle tied to St. James. Interestingly enough, the scallop shell is also linked to the pagan Goddess Venus who represents rebirth and regeneration. Both of these meanings are certainly relevant, as it is a place of great spiritual renewal and well as a pathway of every day miracles.

You really cannot get lost on the Camino. Some of the markings are a bit more obscure (Notice that Tannis is standing directly on top of the yellow arrow), while others are more obvious. However, there is always a sign if you look hard enough. Just in case you do get lost, there are always fellow Pilgrims and friendly local people who will help you find your way.

Why Draw while traveling?

When we travel, we experience things so differently than when we are at home. This is a little time capsule, or treasure, that we can think about, revisit and enjoy for the rest of our lives. The trouble is, we begin to forget the details almost immediately. I make myself write in my journal every night without fail, no matter how tired I am, when I am traveling. So much happens in a day that sometimes I think, “Was that only THIS MORNING??!!”

Why should we keep a journal and fill it with drawings? It is really the details of visually rich buildings and landscapes we see, how we feel touched, and thought provoking  conversations that we have had that make up our total experience. When we think hard enough to put those ideas in written or drawn form, we solidify that imagery. We own it forever. But just in case we do forget years down the road, when we look at our drawings we are right back there! In an instant we can smell the hot chocolate, feel the awe of looking up at a cathedral, laugh at our follies and wonder that we actually survived sometimes. We can successfully draw and write the narrative for all sorts of things: events, places or landscapes, ideas, feelings as we imagine or remember them, fragments and details of art and architecture, art or sculpture, moments in time, animals, people, and anything else that your imagination conjures up.

You may not think you can draw, but you might be surprised how fun it can be and how much more a drawing can evoke a feeling of place or emotion than a photograph. What do you have to lose? You don’t have to show your drawings to anyone. Just do it for yourself, and for the fun of it!

The Perfumed Pilgrim sweats for the first time

Feeling as fit as I had been for quite some time, I set out on my first epic adventure. I was immediately appalled to discover that my body was capable of sweating. How could this be? What is a girl to do in such an unfamiliar and revolting situation?

Here is an excerpt from The Artist’s Journey: The Perfumed Pilgrim Tackles the Camino de Santiago:

We saddled up, filled our water bottles from the fountain outside of the red door of our Hostel, and headed down the Rue de la Citadelle. Crossing the River Nive, we passed through the Port d’Espagne like thousands of pilgrims before us and left lovely St. Jean behind us.

We began walking up the route Napoleon, the hard way. Napoleon was insane! Like the Romans before him, in his invasion of Spain, Napoleon chose the high route over the top of the mountains because its openness discouraged sneak attacks by the enemy. We walked about fifty feet then pretended to look at the stone walls, when in reality we were embarrassed to admit that we could not breathe. Our hearts were pounding, and we were beginning to sweat in the cold morning fog. At the next stop twenty feet further up the road, we abandoned all pretense of pride as we stood leaning on our trekking poles and gasping for breath. Another thirty feet and we had to strip off our coats. It is amazing the heat you can generate in rain gear with twenty-seven extra pounds on your back, not to mention the extra twenty on my butt. Looking back to survey our progress, we found ourselves barely out of town! Our spiritual journey consisted of praying we would not keel over and die on the spot.

We pushed onward, pausing every hundred feet to rest. The green hills dropped steeply away into the mists and rain. Stone and whitewashed houses with red tile roofs punctuate the verdant pastures with stone walls snaking over the steep contours. The tidy barns were filled with fat, content-looking animals. Yellow Scotch broom and a carpet of tiny wildflowers accentuated ancient, contorted, dark trees still bare of their leaves. Miniscule birds sang in the hedges, and the church bells tolled at noon, drifting on the clouds from St. Jean. The higher we climbed the rockier and steeper it became, rugged and mysterious
in the swirling fog.

We saw a herd of sheep sporting dreadlocks, their bells ringing melodically. We continued past herds of plump cattle and sturdy looking horses. Soon we were completely encased in fog, and just when we thought it could not get any steeper, it did. Visibility was down to zero, and we noticed that by now even the sheep were wearing oxygen masks.

With every leaden step, we fantasized what we could ditch out of our packs. Finally, we came around a bend, and there was our goal, Orisson Refugio. We had traveled only six miles, but the path had climbed straight up, and we felt proud we had made it.

“Mists Rising” oil painting on canvas

Getting Strong and Fit: You go Girl

When I walked the Camino in 2008 I thought I was pretty fit. They say that 99% of the people who decide to walk the Camino vow to get fit but only about 2% actually do. Training on the trail is a bad idea, and can lead to injury, misery and maybe even not being able to finish the trek. The better shape you are in, the more fun you will have. You will be able to appreciate the wildflowers and the sunrises, and somewhere along the way you realize that you should have done this years ago because you feel so good. Despite the sore feet, never in my life have I felt so well spiritually, mentally and physically as when I was walking long distances day after day.

My fitness program includes cross-country and downhill skiing, walking, and working out at the gym.

I joined a 24 Hour Fitness near me and purchased 3 sessions with a personal trainer to get me started. She is a former Marine and really kicked my behind! I am going to die! Well, maybe just throw up, but it did make me realize that I was not conditioned as well as I thought. She has me cross training with routines that build strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity. Every day I am doing 20 minutes on the elliptical machine, stair climber, rowing machine or treadmill to get my heart rate up. This is combined with a routine using light weights, lunges, steps, etc. I have 4 of these 1-hour routines comprised of different exercises, which I alternate. Every third day I lap swim, using the crawl stroke for 50 to 60 minutes continuously. When I began lap swimming I thought I was going to drown after a couple of laps, but it is amazing how quickly I was able to improve.

I am being careful to train sensibly and not injure myself before I even set out. It is important to load your pack with everything that you think you need and walk a few miles with it every day in the weeks just before you depart. I am just beginning that phase now in addition to my time at the gym and on the slopes.

Stay tuned for an excerpt from The Artist’s Journey: The Perfumed Pilgrim Tackles the Camino de Santiago concerning  discoveries we made about our fitness the first day on the trail!

My Gift

My gift in life has been to encourage others, especially women, to believe in themselves. That is a message that I would love to share exponentially. It is good for me, for the people the message touches, for their friends and families, and for the Universe in general. I have known for some time that this was my gift on a one to one level, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to cast a wider net? I absolutely adore it when people like you come along for the ride with me!

My love of travel and my passion for drawing are taking me to new places. I am so pleased to be able to have people follow along with me as armchair travelers if they are unable to physically make the journey. I hope that they will enjoy  feeling that they have traveled each step of the way with me not only through my words, but through my art. Other times I get very lucky and some adventuresome soul actually follows in my footsteps!

I cried when one of my friends said she was going to walk the Camino because of my book. I was so completely humbled. And she took my book with her…I can not tell you how much that touched my heart. I thought of her each day and I prayed for her, not because I was scared that she could not do it, but because I knew she could. I just wanted her to get the messages she was supposed to get, and I was cheering her along from the sidelines. I think in some way she heard me, and I do not mean just through the emails I sent her that said,  “Keep going, you are dong great!”

My intent is to inspire women. I think the best form of self-help is just to metaphorically lace up your boots and go do it. The best way to grow is by leaping into the unknown and finding out that you can do it! A sense of humor and adventure is key. Finding your passion one step at a time is essential.

Who is Ethel?

I really struggle with my weight, just like so many others. Two things have happened to my body over the years, which I continue to fight. The first was being told that the more weight I gained when I was pregnant the healthier baby I would have, and the weight would just fall off of me later if I nursed. So untrue! I gained 40 pounds on a 5’4” frame, and lost about 8 pounds with the birth of my son. I tried many things in vain, and the remaining 30 pounds was not going anywhere. I finally went to Jenny Craig to loose the baby fat. Sometimes we just need someone else to feed us for a while. I finally got it off, but had to continually monitor my eating habits, quantity of food, alcohol intake, and make exercise routines part of my daily life.

This worked for about 15 years, then I met Ethel. One day I just woke up and said, “Who is this whole extra person pasted to my mid-section? Holy Crap!” The hormonal change had arrived, bringing with it 25 pounds in a very short period of time. I upped my exercise and cut my food intake, but was not successful in getting rid of the extra tonnage. I decided to name her Ethel since she was obviously staying, even though we are not friends. (I am pretty sure her twin sister Esther lives with another friend.)

I went back to Jenny Craig and it took me 2 years to loose it, but that enabled me to get fit enough to walk the Camino. It is a fantastic feeling when you know you look and feel your best. I left almost all of Ethel on the Camino in Spain, but she is so persistent. She keeps coming back to visit. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I really would prefer that she live somewhere else… and that does not include on my thighs!

A Proverb to live by

Travel lightly,
You are not traveling for people to see you.
Travel expectantly,
Every place you visit is like a surprise package to be opened;
Untie the strings with an expectation of high adventure.
Travel humbly,
Visit people and places with reverence and respect for their traditions and way of life.
Travel with an open mind,
Leave your prejudices at home.
Travel with curiosity,
It is not how far you go,
But how deeply you go that mines the gold of experience.

~Old Spanish Proverb

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A Day At The Track

It was one of those bright, sunny days approaching 50* that we sometimes get in February. My friend and I walked to the neighborhood park to calibrate the pedometers that we will wear on our Spanish walk-about. We had both measured our individual strides and set the pedometers to what we believed to be accurate. However, after a couple of miles around the track, it was interesting to note that mine was measuring longer distance that I was actually walking, while hers was measuring less distance consistently. I reset the stride length by increasing it just 2 inches per stride. After 2 more miles I was within 20 feet of the exact distance walked. It is amazing how consistent your stride is, and how consistent a pedometer can be in letting you know how many miles you have walked each day.

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