Sketching as Prayer Retreat January 30, 2021

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

While we aren’t plucking blackberries at this time of year, many of us are sitting around, either because it’s winter and we’re not outside as much, or because we’re sticking close to home due the the pandemic raging around us. And despite social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, earth is still “crammed with heaven,” with every common bush “afire with God.” So, too, every aspect of creation bears marks of its Creator, signs pointing to the ongoing presence, stability and love of God, who is still watching over and sustaining this world through all the turmoil of this present time.

While most of us would like to be mindful of God’s presence, it is often difficult to notice that which is quiet and subtle, especially when so much else clamors for our attention. God more often whispers than shouts and leaves fingerprints for us to seek rather than neon lights flashing in our faces. Sketching can be a pathway to being present here and now, seeing those fingerprints in the world around us, and becoming aware of God’s presence. And in the process we are drawn into prayer, either with words or in silent communion with and worship of the Master Artist.

In this retreat we will open our sketchbooks, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation. We will cover some basics of simple sketching to capture the essence of a subject, whether person, animal, or landscape and look with eyes of faith into the world to see God’s touch all around us, as we enter into prayer through the pages of a sketchbook.

January 30, 2021
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Zoom Online Retreat
We will alternate brief presentations via Zoom with periods of silence for meditation, prayer, and sketching, followed by a time to share thoughts, observations, and sketches.

Artistic experience isn’t necessary, and there’s no fee, but you will need a few supplies. Email Melissa Fischer ( for more details and to register.

Sketch from January 2020 retreat– (click image to enlarge)

Holidays in Ink– Final Sketches

I was going to entitle this post, “Holidays in Ink Week 6 Sketches,” but since it took me almost three weeks to finish, I decided “Final Sketches” was more appropriate. The home stretch of this project took longer since it included our four day drive back to New York from Texas, and then settling in and catching up on many details. My interest in drawing and writing with my enticing variety of pens and inks actually increased, but I just wasn’t able to focus as I wanted to. That seems to generally be the case for me after a long drive, and I’m learning to expect that and spend extra time walking and puttering in ways that help me get back on track. Also, as a side effect of the Holidays in Ink project, I have become more interested in working on my calligraphy skills and handwriting in general, so I’ve spent a significant amount of time doodling and writing out the alphabet on scrap paper in the weeks since returning home.

The sketch I first did on this page was a disaster, so I did a watercolor and ink sunrise on a separate piece of paper and glued it in. Wouldn’t it be nice if all mistakes in life had such a simple do-over solution? I am thankful I can at least take the pressure off of my sketching practice so easily.

I really enjoyed this page! I laid down a watercolor wash, and after it was dry I did 3 minute sketches based on photos from

The next day I did more 3 minute sketches from the same site, but chose to do portrait practice instead. I am planning to keep working on my ability to capture a likeness quickly, as I love the idea of quickly sketching a person’s portrait and then giving it to them. My father did well over 10,000 caricatures of children all around the world, often of complete strangers he only saw on a train or in some other brief encounter, and our family has been hearing how meaningful those sketches were to many people. Just recently someone contacted me from Germany to say that his son, now grown, still treasures a caricature that my father did of him on a plane many years ago. I remember eating lunch with my father in Chinatown and watching him draw a child at a nearby table, then he rolled up the drawing after showing it to the child, secured it with a rubber band, and gave it to him. I’d love to be able to give someone such delight by doing something similar.

On New Year’s Day I found two prayers I thought appropriate for the start of a new year and copied them as calligraphy practice. I also tried my hand at calligraphy flourishes in the corners– I need a lot more practice with that.

Back home in my studio, I was eager to play with my Chinese ink stick and stone, and my Anhinga photos from Florida were a perfect subject for that style. Painting them brought back wonderful memories of watching all sorts of beautiful birds when visiting a friend there.

After we got back to New York we had to quarantine, as per the state Covid-19 protocol, and when a friend brought us groceries, she also gave us a bunch of beautiful daffodils. I tried painting them with watercolor on Yupo, and the result definitely did not do justice to the stunning flowers, so I wiped all the paint into a yellow background, then sketched a Cheetah on it with ink. I was much happier with that!

Next I decided to try blowing ink to create a dynamic effect, as I have often done with watercolor. That was indeed dynamic, in a way that my studio will reflect for quite some time! It turns out that ink blows much farther than watercolor! I had fun doing this rooster, though, using ink and gouache, and then I wrote up the story of the rooster named “United States of America” that we had when our children were little.

And finally, as is often the case, my last entry in my sketchbook was actually the front page, which I nearly always leave blank until my book is finished.

My sketchbook is full and Holidays in Ink has come to a close, but my enthusiasm for working with ink is greater than ever, and I am looking forward to continuing to play, experiment, learn, and share ideas back and forth with friends. Many thanks again to my friend Jamie Grossman, who came up with the idea of Holidays in Ink. She is always overflowing with creative ideas and inspires me with her suggestions and her generous sharing of what she is learning, as well as with her beautiful artwork.