The Life of an Artist

My husband, Rick Stockdell, needed a sample interview for the Podcasting class he teaches at the University of Arkansas and used me as a test subject. If you’d like to hear the short interview, click here.

A Mermaid’s Tale

As Editor of the Folk Harp Journal I was sent the exquisite book by Marianne McShane, Rónán and the Mermaid: A Tale of Old Ireland. (You should go get it!) We worked together to incorporate a story about her book into the Fall 2020 issue of the FHJ.

The bulk of the work happened in July and my community book challenge theme for this month was SEA. My favorite topic.

While I was working with her I realized I had a lot of mermaid imagery in my life. However, in her tale it is the boy and not the mermaid that plays the harp. But in my world all mermaids play the harp. She just didn’t mention that truism in her story. All of this led me to think about making a book to honor her book. And she has been generous appreciating all the liberties I took with her beautiful book.

Since I started with so many diverse source materials, I decided to turn all the images B&W and color them using felt markers and water on thick handmade paper since I didn’t have any watercolors. And, as always, plans were made, lessons were learned, and I received further evidence about where I am in the artist-engineer spectrum.

Thanks to Sam Divinia and Grace Divinia who gave me a birthday card I treasure that was used in his project. I also used sketches by great harpists, Sue Richards and Becky Szymenski. Thank you!

To see a video of the book in action, click here(Youtube Link). Lastly, I added the title on the spine A Mermaid’s Tale (no photo but it needed that last finishing touch).

Here are a couple images from Marianne’s original book…. again, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The tale is wonderful and the beautiful illustrations are by Jodi Solano.

A Celtic Gala Event

After the emotion of the concert two-weeks ago, I decided that we needed a Celtic Gala of comfort food music. I picked an assortment of some of my favorite classic Celtic songs including “Sheebeg Sheemore,” “Eleanor Plunkett,” and “Fanny Powers” by Turlough O’Carolan. Carolan was a blind harpist in Ireland from 1670-1738. He is considered the patron saint of Celtic harpers and we play a lot of his music today. I had a few Scottish songs including a pipe tune call “Cho Chin t-Saile” and one of my favorite’s “Crossing to Ireland.”

Also, a mash-up song that I created for my CD called “A Gaelic Lass.” As well as a song called “Fires at Midnight” by Wendy Stewart who is a leading Scottish harper. I said she was Welsh in the video and I apologize to her.

We rounded out the evening with a request by my friend, Jo Ann, for Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” I hope you enjoy the 20-minute video (link below).

A highlight for me was the greatest compliment a musician can receive. My four-year old neighbor said during the concert, “That was the best song ever.” Possibly several times. Ok, she thinks I play a guitar so she needs to develop her musical appreciation skills. But she is obsessed with wanting to play the guitar so clearly she has a musical soul. I’m honored by her faith and will do all I can to foster her love of music. We had a lovely time with our friends and neighbors at the Celtic Gala Event. For me, music and seeing everyone is the best medicine for our troubled times.

The shade in the driveway created the perfect atmosphere.

Driveway Peace Concert June 2, 2020

My last blog post (Healing Harp) was about the new world order but the world feels more like chaos every day. On May 23rd, with just a two-hour notice I did a little driveway concert for a few friends. Being able to SEE everyone was wonderful and lifted my spirits tremendously. Hopefully, it did for others as well. Actually, I know the music did help a few people beyond those I saw in my driveway because a few days later I received an anonymous note from a neighbor that they had heard and enjoyed the concert so much. What a kindness that they sent the note.

Last week, on June 2, 2020, there were many peace rallies going on across the nation for Black Lives Matter. This was a tough week. So my small contribution was to have a harp concert for peace and love in my driveway. Although most of my friends were down at our local rally a few neighbors and friends came to watch. I had carefully crafted the set list to specifically talk about what I was feeling through the use music. The night proved to be emotional for many of us. We had music from Bob Dylan, the Beatles, several hymns and gospel songs, as well as a patriotic tribute and some mood lifters. You can’t see it but my shirt says LOVE! While the video skills of my main grip might need perfecting I do plan to keep him on staff for many more years. (You might see an actual professional videographer in the crowd, but he’s not mine, so we’ll have to wait to see what comes of that tape.)

I hope you enjoy a small excerpt from the concert. Video link below.

Harpist Beth A. Stockdell giving a driveway concert on June 2, 2020.
Wide view of the driveway concert on June 2, 2020.
View from the rocks.

Healing Harp

My last blog post was about the weird world of a harpist in the midst of a pandemic. Here is a little more about this new reality.

After one of my busiest holiday seasons ever I was pretty burnt out on my harp. So I took a break. January is a magazine month and February was catchup time, travel for my husband’s work, and I was sick for a while. Just when I was trying to psych myself into getting ready for wedding season everything started to crash. So I wasn’t actually too disappointed as I glided into April and another magazine month. Now that I’ve had a little recovery time I’m feeling surprisingly motivated towards my harp. We are getting along quite well and the break seems to have been a good plan.

There have been so many musicians doing livestreaming concerts, neighborhood concerts, and good deeds with their music. I have felt bad that I wasn’t out there doing my part to lift spirits and spread joy by playing the harp for people. But sometimes self-care comes first and I needed my break. However, now I’m energized and ready to get to work. Better late to the party than never! Next week I have a surprise planned at one of my favorite locations to thank the incredible people there who have worked tirelessly through this tough time. I’m working on this for a couple other locations too. There are going to be a few pop-up concerts announced which we will try to livestream and/or a few dedicated livestream concerts as well. Stay tuned.

We appear to be in this changed world for the long term so maybe being late to the party isn’t so bad after all. As this new reality continues to impact our lives, I believe music will continue to be one of the things that lifts us up and keeps us going. The harp is very healing, especially for burnt out harpists.  

A Harpy in the time of Corona

Below is my calendar for May. See an ocean of blank. Not the picture a few months ago when the calendar was full of wedding gigs and travel. My calendar has NEVER been this blank—and I’m a low-key homebody! My calendar is always busier than my husband would prefer but pretty quiet by many people’s standards. But since I already work at home, and we live outside a major metro area, my life hasn’t changed as much as it has for many people.

In March several important gigs were cancelled so I took the opportunity for some guiltless time in my art studio and made things to mail to family members. In April I generally spend most of the month doing 10-hour days in front of my computer working on the Folk Harp Journal. So life was almost completely normal for me except that several weddings were postponed or cancelled. Now May will be different. Normally, by early March I would have added several new weddings for the summer. That certainly didn’t happen. A nice trip we had planned for May has been cancelled and we obviously don’t know yet when we can re-schedule. The biggest disappointment is that our late July-August trip to Wales for the World Harp Congress has been postponed until 2021. I’ve been waiting 18 years to go to that conference! The conference is every three years in locations around the world and ever since I started playing the harp, I’ve sworn I’ll attend. I promise myself, next year.

My husband has the good fortune to be on his first sabbatical EVER after teaching at the university for 40 years. He was actually still going up to his office most days but stopped when campus shut down mid-March. Therefore he luckily didn’t have to pivot his classes to online teaching but is starting to wonder about the status for fall classes. But we never have, and never will, get tired of being together so his being home isn’t a problem.

I am incredibly blessed. I get to devote my life to art, music, and books, and I never take that gift for granted. Although my income is normally about 50/50 between the Folk Harp Journal and harp gigs, because of my husband, we have a stable income. And, as I like to say, as long as the mortgage is paid and the kids aren’t starving, we’re good. Luckily, our “kids” are both lovely, functional, happy adults and we don’t have to worry about them… much. Of course, we still worry. Within my family circle, we have nurses, teachers, a news producer, a corporate event planner, several in the high-risk category, a mother-in-law that fell and broke her hip the day the world shut down, some personal health problems, someone who had the virus before we even knew there was a virus, and other fears. Each has had their issues and trials, but, overall, we know we will weather the storm.

Today, I sent the Summer issue of the Folk Harp Journal to the printer. Last I heard they were running on schedule and I hope this is still true. On Thursday, I’m thrilled to be taking part in a virtual event of “40 Women Artists of Arkansas.” I made as many new books and gifts for the sale as I could sneak in around my FHJ work. Not sure how sale this will work but fingers crossed. I have a very cool (hopefully) book planned for my monthly #areyoubookenough challenge using the headlight from my Grandfather’s 1920s Model T.

And now, on to May, and the blank page. There has been a lot of talk and little action lately on my long rumored new CD, Beneath the Starry Moonlight. I plan to work on that this month and maybe livestream a driveway concert (stay tuned for alerts!). If I can figure out how to do that… I’m sure there will be more time in my art studio and I’ll tackle a few household projects.

Most musicians look back on their earliest CDs and cringe. Musicians hope and want to move forward and always improve so looking back can be painful and I thought about this as I released my first CD. But I do cringe now, some, even though I swore I wouldn’t. Also, at the time, I needed the CD to serve too many purposes at once. And I think I can safely say I’ve progressed and evolved quite a bit as a harpist since the CD was released. Someone received this CD this past week and sent me the kindest note about how moved they were by the music. As I thought about it, I realized that usually in May I’m complaining (mostly good naturedly) about all the pop music that I have to learn for weddings, staying up-to-date with trends, and requests. Now I can put that off until mid-June… hopefully. But truly, if I’m going to sit down and play for myself, going back to those early songs is like comfort food. And that is nice. So, I’ll learn a few new pop songs, and work on my favorite love songs for the new CD, but I’ll probably spend some time with those wonderful tunes from the old CD. Because we all need some comfort right about now, don’t we.

Ok. We are now under a tornado watch. Really, that’s too much. So I need to post this but I think it is also beer-thirty. Corona, anyone?

Beneath the Starry Moonlight

Normally, I don’t make big announcements about what is coming up in my harp world. But for my second CD project, I’ve been talking about it quite a bit. One, sharing helps keep me motivated and, two, I’m just excited about the project! My second CD will be called “Beneath the Starry Moonlight” and will feature love songs with a star and/or moon theme. And maybe a few oddballs. Somehow brought together by the harp.

If you have roamed my website or seen my social media feeds you will know I’m crazy into making books. I’m involved in a book making community that has a friendly monthly challenge and the theme for March was Flight. Of course, one of the songs on the list for my new CD is “Fly me to the Moon.” So I decided to make a little book to honor the project. And once I finished the book a friend wanted to buy it as a wedding present for a relative that is getting married on the full moon this month! Since this was going out as a present, I made a custom box for the book. There is also a video below so you can see the pop-up elements of the book.

Family Postcards

In November 2018, my father sent me a box of postcards. The box contained two sets of cards. One set was a group of cards that were sent to my Grandmother between 1910-1920 when she was a young girl. The second set is unsent cards from about 1930 that give a great tour of the highlights of Oregon. From these cards I ended up making four books. For the three books that include the actual cards, I created pages with windows so that you can see both the front and the back of each card. The postmarks, text, and postcard descriptions are all priceless, so we had to be able to see everything!

For the set of cards sent to my Grandmother I split the cards and made one book for my cousin’s daughter, Natalie, and one for myself (nearly identical on the outside except for the binding thread). Natalie is the youngest female in our family so I thought she might appreciate the cards. For her book I created a letter that tells her about the cards and includes a little family history. We seem to be losing more and more of those tales over the years.

For the Oregon cards, there was one oddball card which actually turns out to be a key piece of our families Oregon history. This turned into a great opportunity to have my Dad write up a few of those tales that we are on the brink of missing out on forever. Dad spent some time at the Oregon State Insane Asylum… as a doctor. I made one book for myself with the actual cards and then a second book for my brother with scans of the cards. I know he will appreciate the family history too. You can read the intro letter.

Being an Artist

(Lindsborg – Part Two)


Being an artist is hard. Mentally, emotionally, physically, financially… all of those issues are hurdles an artist must address in one way or another. And do you really have a choice? Basically, no. If you are an artist —painter, writer, maker, musician, whatever your medium of choice — that is who you are to the core. Being an artist is who you are and what you do. And probably the biggest hurdle for most artists is that we are the worst at self-promotion. You hate to brag and put yourself out there for criticism but if you don’t, who sees your work? Is your work only art if someone sees the final product, approves of what you made, and then they call your creation art? When do you start to call yourself an artist?

All artists struggle with this balance of self, self-promotion, self-awareness, and self-preservation. We work at finding that balance of caring too much or not caring at all about having our artwork appreciated. And then there is the big elephant of creation versus sales. Do sales determine the value of your work? And, therefore, your worth?

For the first third of my life I considered myself a photographer above all else. I struggled between wanting to only do “art” and real life and ended up doing mostly weddings, portraits, and corporate work. Still, work that I was proud to share. I did stained glass for many years. I tried hard to elevate my creations to the status of “art,” although almost everyone else thought of it as “just a craft.” Not a lot of respect or support but still a satisfying and creative outlet for me.

For a big section of my life I went corporate. Maybe some art here and there but work and school and life got in the way. When I decided all of those other things had infringed for far too long, I became a musician. Life got significantly better. Add a few other things to the mix and… a much better life!

For the last several years, with the help of an extraordinarily benevolent spouse, I have been a full time musician. Along the way, I did a few random art projects, added an editor hat, and somehow all of this led to my current (and terminal) obsession of making books and pop-ups. Is this craft or art? Who decides?

Late last year I got to go off to Kansas to be an artist-in-residence. (If you missed the how/why, catch up here.) I had the best time! We had a blizzard. The blizzard was bad because we didn’t get to have the harp concert we planned but the storm was beautiful and impressive to watch from the safety of my warm room. I taught a class on bookbinding and worked with some enthusiastic students. Left to my own devises (without a hubby to provide needed balance and sanity) I spent crazy long hours working in the studio. I played my harp a TON. I went into the residency with a clear plan for my harp but not for the art work that I wanted to do. I hoped to find a direction in the place and it did indeed provide a phenomenal amount of inspiration and a bountiful trove of bits and pieces to scavenge for further creation. I barely left the studio but I still met a lot of wonderful people in this small arty town. The morning of December 2nd, we had a breakfast party. Among the twelve people in the group, we had six people with Sagittarius birthdays—December 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12th. Seriously. SERIOUSLY! Mine is the 8th, by the way, so is it any wonder I felt right at home? No.

Over the many past years, I’ve done a lot of things, called myself many things, and had a lot of titles. Right now, I sport a few different titles. For a while I’ve known that I’m in the right place, doing the right things. I have luxuries in my life that I do sincerely acknowledge and appreciate. But the luxury that I have never allowed myself to fully embrace is to just call myself an artist and not qualify that in some way. Or apologize. Or minimize. Or… So did I make any art work in Lindsborg that will change the world? No. But I was changed. Even though as I look back I think my core has been pretty unwavering and determined through the whole process, waiting for me to catch up. What all this means to me going forward is yet to be determined. But for now, I can simply say, I am an artist. And that is enough.


The inside of the Dala horse card that I made in Lindsborg. The Dala horse is the Swedish mascot of the town.
This is a Jacob’s Ladder that I made from a couple of posters of Raymond Lester’s work. He loved acrobats and harlequins so they were just crying out to be doing something active and mobile!
My harp felt loved by all the other creatures in the studio space.

Harps in a Star Book

This summer a group of ten bookmakers embarked on a miniature book exchange challenge. Led by our excellent teacher and fearless leader, Lesha Shaver (LittleMountainBindery.com), we set out to give ourselves a creative push. For this challenge each bookmaker makes ten copies (at least) of their book and we exchange at the end so everyone receives a full complement of books. One specification is the books are miniature which means they are less than 3” max at each dimension. The Miniature Book Society (I am a member — mbs.org) allows that presentation boxes can be slightly larger but we decided to stay under the 3” guideline. Another requirement is that the books have content — probably complementary to the construction.  

I took my first class with Lesha almost two years ago and to say I’ve been swept up in the bookmaking process would be an understatement.  The creative energy that Lesha has shared with us has been a joy. Apart from the actual bookmaking, the best part of this journey has been participating in the classes with groups of like-minded creative people. Working with this talented group was the main reason I wanted to join the book exchange class.

Watching everyone’s project come alive over the summer, and now into fall, has been a treat! I know we have all pushed ourselves and learned quite a bit. First, you would think that smaller books are easier to make than larger books. No. Also, production runs of handmade books are a growth experience, for sure.

For my project I decided to use a series of my harp photos to tackle a couple techniques I had wanted to experiment with and use creatively. My book is a layered star book in a presentation box. I used five different photos which each have a foreground, middle layer with the harp, and background. When glued together the images give a dimensional tunnel view of the harps and the book opens up in a circle which is tied with a bow. I started off doing a lot of Photoshop work to each of the photos which later I ended up having to mostly undo. I was trying to limit the amount of ink my printer would use but the harsh borders ended up adding difficultly when cutting the images. I chose to make 14 books — 14 books x 3-layers for each book ended up being a lot of detailed cutting! Additionally, you have to take into account the tunnel effect of the layers so each layer is a different size. I have a much clearer vision now of things that I should have done to make the process easier and more consistent. Art is an ever evolving education!

Also, I learned a lot from the challenge in making a run of presentation boxes. I used old sheet music paper to cover the boxes and the book covers. The paper turned out to more fragile than I expected and that caused some hurdles. I had also planned to layer over the sheet music with some textured paper to add a little depth and an additional antique quality to the overall look. In the end I ran out of time and patience to cover everything again but I think the final outcome looks nice.

Another key to this puzzle for me was creating a new logo for my book. I wanted to create a stamp to use with one of Lesha’s foiling machines but it didn’t work out. The metal stamp wasn’t quite right to leave the impression I wanted. However, I love the final logo and I’m working it in to other things. A while ago I bought a rubber stamp with a beautifully stylized B which I had scanned and was using as part of my logo for cards and books. For this project I ended up combining the B with the outline of my harp and I think it is a great graphic representation of me and my work. I ended up printing the logo on to some of the old sheet music and cutting the shape out to apply to the books and boxes.  

So, I finally finished all of my boxes and books! Just before we were about to have our final meeting. We had to postpone but we look forward to meeting on November 11th to exchange our books and oh and ah over all the masterpieces.

While working on my books… along the way errors were made, lessons were learned, curses might have been said, delightful things were discovered, and overall I’m proud of how the project came out and I hope the group will enjoy the books as well.