Friday, July 13, 2018


In the middle of hot July, in the middle of Watercolor Month, I remind myself of the decree: paint one watercolor a day for a month. A good challenge, but easy to become overwhelmed if I try too hard to "make a painting." I remind myself that I have done the same practice for a year with calligraphy. I set aside a half hour each day to work on the Chancery Cursive alphabet. I've followed Julia Cameron's advice from The Artist's Way to write morning pages each day. In both cases, practice worked for me. I think I'm better at writing and calligraphy now. I just have to set aside a half hour a day and  also my own expections of what I will produce.

Various palettes
 using both Kuretake
 and Prang pan watercolors

In the middle of hot July, in the middle of Watercolor Month, I decided to experiment with a collection of Kuretake pan watercolors. I'm used to painting with watercolors from tubes, but I have three trays of Kuretake just waiting to try. The paint is creamier than most pan watercolors, but it still takes practice to learn how much paint and water to pick up in my brush. I found some of the colors, especially the blues and violets, to be quite staining, which means I had to work fast around the edges to soften them.

The violet in the background hills dried too quickly

I started by making several palettes of places following Mimi Robinson's guiding idea from her book, Local Color. There are several good books including Robinson's that showcase palettes of color. They are beautiful to look at and a way to see how one color can change completely when mixed with another.

Then I graduated to simple landscapes on small paper using ideas from Huntley Baldwin's book, Local Color: Jackson Hole in Words & Watercolor.

All of these practices are similar to meditation: taking time to focus, being in the moment, and listening to the quiet. None of these paintings will see the light of day in a gallery or book. They are practice only. They are a way to center myself without expending too much energy. They are a way to let go of my inner critic and play.

I have heard from so many people, "Watercolor is hard," and it can be. But these small paintings and palettes are a good way to take the first step. Sometimes I end up cutting them up and repositioning the pieces into another picture to remind myself they are just practice.

Check out Mimi Robinson's website and her book, Local Color:

Two other good watercolor palette books that I found at Barnes & Noble. They tend to go in and out of stock at both B&N and Amazon:

600 Watercolor Mixes by Sharon Finemark:  at Amazon,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Watercolor Painters Pocket Palette By M. Clinch

Kuretake watercolors are manufactured in Japan. They also make Zig markers and other calligraphy supplies. Check them out:

Friday, July 6, 2018


At the Voss Folkemuseum in Voss, Norway
Thirteen cousins and spouses stood in a small dark room. The chimney overhead was the only light. The room, 30 feet by 30 feet at most, was the home of two Norwegian farming families in the 1300s. Fifteen to twenty people shared the room as well as the tasks to keep the farm on a steep hill running.

Fast forward, after the Black Plague that killed half the population, to the 1800s where Norwegian farmers' children had less and less land to divide between them. The United States offered them another chance to prosper. Over a period of 100 years, 800,000 Norwegians, out of a population of 2 million, went across the Atlantic, first to Canada, then mostly to Minnesota, and acquired homesteads to start a new life. My grandfather was one of those people. At 15 he traveled to meet his older brother Olaf who had given up his rights to the family farm to pursue a career as a Lutheran pastor.

Peter Heimdahl family

Olaf Heimdahl (Olsen)

It is hard to imagine what life would have been like living in the dark farm house in the 1300s. Just as hard to understand how someone could leave everything they knew to come to a strange country with little or no contact with family back home.

My grandfather never went back to Norway. His children returned once to meet distant relatives. Now the grandchildren repeated the journey to reconnect with Norwegian cousins. The tour include something for everyone: closer relationships with cousins who have spread out all over the U.S., hiking trails for some, stacks of photos and documents about our ancestors, samplings of Norwegian food (as well as hamburgers), a stop at a railroad museum for antique engine buffs, photographic moments for Bill, and enough travel misadventures for me to collect for future stories.

One of our stops, Sletta, a small town on the western side of Norway, made us realize again how important America and its fundamental values are to other people all over the world. At the invitation of people from North Dakota, a group of people from Sletta traveled to Brampton in 1997. They disassembled several emgriant-built structures, nail by nail, packed them in crates, and shipped them back to Norway to assemble them again on the farmland slopes where the emigrants came from.

Buildings returned to Sletta from North Dakota built by Norwegian emigrants 

We listened to Asbjorn Ystebo, the man most responsible for the Western Norway Emigration Center. He was passionate about the importance of American inspiration, ingenuity, and values. He talked of the people who started on homesteads, became farmers, doctors and lawyers and prospered, contributing so much to our country. Ystebo spent college time in the U.S. and truly loves what America means. His talk was a good reminder of our American ideals. His talk is a good reminder how people in other countries hold America in such high esteem. We could all benefit from listening to his lesson.
Want to know more about the Black Plague:
or a more scholary essay:

Updates:  The Lafayette Library is requesting postcards from everywhere you travel this summer. You can send them to Lafayette Library, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA 94549

FB rock group: I just found out that whole communities on Facebook are abandoning rocks with the intention that the rocks will be picked up, redecorated, and left in a new place for someone else to find. Paint a rock and post it to Facebook! But one request: leave them in inhabited areas not in wild places. 

Friday, June 29, 2018


by Michelle at

Are you packing up for a vacation? Are you dreaming about hiking mountains, swimming in cool waters, savoring tasty meals with friends and family?  If you are traveling, don't forget to send a postcard home.  I have one friend who writes done his travel adventures each day on a postcard and sends it to himself. Great idea! I've joined several groups of artists and writers who share postcards with each other even when we don't travel. Here are two recent ones that I've received.

Created by Andrea from Vienna

from Christine after a visit to the Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library

When postcards were first published in the mid-1800s, some people objected to them. They thought that postcards would do away with the long-time practice of thoughtful letters. They asked, "What ideas could possibly fit on a postcard?" (Perhaps just 280 characters?) Postcards, they thought, could never express the true nature of an experience. Now today, you could ask yourself, "When was the last time I received a postcard?"  They have been supplanted by email and text, Instagram and Facebook. We can go right along with travelers on their adventures. But isn't it fun to open your mailbox and find a postcard inside?

While I was in San Francisco recently, I went to the 6th floor of the Main Library on Larkin to drop off a piece of hand lettering to be included in Kalligraphica, the Friends of Calligraphy triennial event.   I wandered through a small exhibit of postcards from the early 20th century celebrating Poissons d'Avril in France, which is the French version of April Fool's Day. On that day, you may be tagged with a paper fish on your back if you are walking about, but you could have also received one of the postcards on display. Each has a fish somewhere in the picture.  It's not often you see a fish next to a bouquet of flowers!

Send a postcard to a friend this summer. 
Let them dream along with you on your travels.
And you will help continue the practice of good handwriting too.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


This past Spring I've caught my face and Bill's on camera at the Rauschenberg and Magritte exhibits at the MOMA in San Francisco. What fun it is to visualize a different reality.

Do you see Bill in my iPhone?

Inspired by what I saw at the MOMA, I decided to to paint a series of faces using mixed media.

Watercolor done in my watercolor class

Acrylic paints, stamps, stencils, paper scraps, and gesso

created with found pieces of paper, acrylic paints, General's Sketch & Wash pencil, gesso and a stick

Can you find all the symbols in this mixed media piece?

"Shadows" by M Slavin

Just as I was collecting my faces to publish here, we watched a documentary called Faces, Places (Visages, Villages) which is a gentle, humorous movie about JR, a photographer in his 30s, and his relationship with New Wave director, Agnes Varda, an 89-year old woman with white hair fringed with a band of red. The movie follows them as they travel the French countryside, take pictures of people they encounter and plaster the enormous photos on the walls of buildings, water towers, and shipping containers. The story is at once sweet and heart-felt as it follows the path of a younger Agnes from her earlier movie-making career. The movie will restore your spirit.

Please visit three exhibits this summer. I have a piece in each one. Click on my Gallery button for a sneak preview

Kalligraphica at the Main Library on Larkin St. in San Francisco, June 16 through Aug. 27

The 2nd Half -- 50 and Older Show, Las Laguna Gallery, 577 S. Coast Highway, A-1 Laguna Beach, CA, June 9 through the 30th

Mix It Up, Danville Village Theater Art Gallery, 233 Front St, Danville, CA, June 29 to August 28

Friday, June 15, 2018


A lovely day around a pool in a shady backyard.

A group of women, including a great aunt in her late 80's still full of vim and vigor and a squirmy 3-year old toddler, sat together around tables as a friend's daughter opened wedding shower presents. A gentle breeze wafted the ribbons on the packages. I hadn't been to a wedding shower in a long time, but two wedding invitations arrived in the mail for friends' grown-up children.

The couples are in their early thirties, they work at labor-intensive jobs, and have already set up a households together. The invitations took me back to my own wedding preparations. I made my dress, my mother sewed the beads on the bodice, I silk screened the wedding invitations, and the two of us spent the morning of the wedding making bite-sized sandwiches for wedding guests. Like the young couple today, Bill and I knew each other since college days. We waited to marry till we settled into our careers: Bill as a management consultant and I as a teacher. We had a simple ceremony with a reception in my parents' backyard.

I sat watching the young women around the tables and listened to their own wedding preparation experiences as they sipped glasses of champagne. I was glad to hear how much hands-on work young brides-to-be still do to make their day special. One talked of spending a day with friends making paper flowers, which became her bouquet as well as table decorations. Another explained how she designed and printed her wedding invitations. On her lap sat her 7-month old daughter. Another child played with her mother on the grass.

Towards the end of the shower, several young men arrived to pick up their wives and young children. The gifts were collected and loaded into the car. The group of women, young and old, slowly dispersed after a lovely day in a shady backyard.

After I came home from the shower, I searched for our wedding album because I was curious how many gifts from our wedding we still had. I was surprised to find that there were several that I still used: a large wooden salad bowl to serve family and friends, a small set of Pyrex cookware, and a set of salad tongs that many people admire because of the hinge that connects both utensils.  I thought of the gifts from the shower and realized that they also included a salad bowl, a set of Pyrex with colorful lids, and salad tongs that are connected together. I thought of the invitations that I silk screened and my mother's help with wedding preparations. As I looked back on the day I thought some things never go out of style.

Friday, June 8, 2018


Walking along the Iron Horse Trail, I never know what I will find. 
A bird nest, which had fallen from a tree. 
The bird had found a stash of blue stuffing paper
 and decorated the outside of its nest. 

I always see leaves, twigs, rocks, and other natural objects.

Today, the last day of school, I was surprised by a rock nestled in the straw. Someone (a last project from the art class?) had placed painted rocks along the trail, to be discovered only if I looked down. The rocks couldn't help but bring a smile to my face.


And then back to the natural things along the trail.

Have a good summer full of surprises and pleasures. Look down as well as up! See you next week.

Friday, June 1, 2018


The word adventure conjures up climbing the Himalayas, slogging through the rain forests, or hiking across a desert. I'm all for small adventures around the area I live. During the school year, I drive to a middle school in Berkeley to participate with Writer Coach Connection as a coach for students.  My drive starts in Danville, a suburban town with soccer and baseball fields, goes through the Berkeley Hills tunnel to arrive in a different place altogether. The temperature can be 10 degrees different, and Berkeley/Oakland are big cities, diverse and always changing. Some areas of the cities look pretty grim like all cities can. I get off the freeway at Telegraph Avenue and find myself on a route that is filled with colorful murals instead.

all photos by Bill Slavin

Last week Bill and I traced my route with his camera. Our first stop was Radasheen Ethiopian Market run by two brothers. Graffiti that proliferates in any big city covers a side door. Step back and the walls are covered with vibrant murals.

Martha talking with the market owner

The two brothers worked outside as Bill took pictures. They invited us inside to see their market. We saw stacks of large bags of teff, a gluten-free flour, the main ingredient of Injera, the traditional Ethiopian flatbread, which they sell to restaurants in the area. Injera is often served with Doro Wat, a spicy chicken stew.* The brothers also sell bags of lentils and the spices that are added to Ethiopian dishes. They hope to turn part of the market into an Ethiopian restaurant.

Teff ready to eat

Across the street from Radasheen, we saw another set of murals on a liquor store.

Back in the car, we turned left on to Alcatraz Avenue. Just before the Shattuck Avenue interchange, we passed a fierce cat guarding a utility box in front of the Korean Souel (sic) BBQ.

At the corner of Alcatraz and Adeline, another mural competes with a billboard for the salon and beauty supply store inside.

In the same block, a community art center has covered its building's walls with monumental paintings promoting healthy eating.

Directly across the street, we found a tribute to music and music makers.

We drove by the Alcatraz Market.

Even trucks are colorful.

We turned on to Sacramento Street, almost to our destination. Again, buildings are covered with imaginative murals along the way.

As we turned back towards home, the last mural we saw was a faded one at the entrance to the freeway on Telegraph Avenue.

We had had an adventure, an art adventure on city streets.

Back home as I looked at the photos that Bill had taken, I noticed that one of the murals had a small decal at the bottom announcing the Bay Area Mural Festival. I shook my head in disbelieve that I didn't know about the festival. We had missed it by a few days. Next year in May, we will go to the annual festival to watch the muralists paint their images on buildings.

Check out the festival at bay area mural festival and put it on your calendar for next year.

Thanks to Tena G. for information about Walldogs, a group of artists who come to towns to paint murals. They have some extraordinary samples on their website.
Check it out!

There are other street art festivals in the Bay Area in the summer. Don't miss out on an art adventure.

San Francisco North Beach Festival:  June 16-17

San Rafael Street Painting Festival:  June 23-24

Redwood City Chalk Full of Fun:  July 3-4

Palo Alto Festival of the Arts:  August 25-26

Sacramento Chalk It Up Festival:  September 1-3

San Jose Luna Park Chalk Festival:  September 15

*Link to recipe for Doro Wat: