Friday, June 16, 2017


One morning on our deck as I was reading the paper with all its glum news, I felt something land on my shoulder. I reached up to brush it off. My hand briefly clutched a feather-weight clump of softness -- full of life and air beyond my normal expectation. It was one of the finches that populate our yard. Luckily, my touch didn't hurt it and it quickly flew away.

Looking beyond our deck, we have a brief show of flowers every year. They last just long enough for us to enjoy their bounty before the deer arrive to feast.

photo by Bill Slavin 

I'm not mad at the deer. They were here first, we get to savor our flowers long enough, and the deer, like the finch on my shoulder, bring us unexpected joy. Each year fawn scamper through the yard following their families. Their bright spots and funny antics as they chase each other up the hill and jump ridiculously high over our low wall bring us to laughter.

This year we have a new wild animal: a family of jackrabbits has made a burrow somewhere near us. The male jack has been a resident of our neighborhood for a couple of summers. I've watched him fly across neighbors' lawns and sit comfortably on our front grass in the shade. This year we watched a baby make its first moves away from the nest. It skittered out from a bush for a couple feet, doubled back, then came out a little further. In a couple of days, it too, found a spot on the front lawn to graze and sit. Now occasionally at dusk, we see the almost grown jackrabbit jump from behind a bush and scramble up the hill.

At John Muir Law's lecture about drawing mammals, he showed us fluoroscopic images of rabbits in motion. Their spines are far more flexible than ours. Just by looking at the curled-up skeleton, you can see how easy it is for them to jump.

Jackrabbit Skeleton

As I finish typing this post, I am watching a deer cross our front lawn -- in pursuit of the last daisies, I'm sure. I thought how lucky I am to be able to spend the day watching wildlife rather than obsessing over every piece of glum news in the paper.

I hope you have a chance to find some joy outside this weekend. 

photo by Bill Slavin

Now that it is almost summer do you have your summer reading picked out?  Several friends recommend Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow. Another good read:  Jenny Forrester's memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky.

Check out Amy Hamilton's website for some beautiful wildlife illustrations:

Friday, June 9, 2017


The first time I began to understand the power of a women's group, I was sitting in a classroom taking a quilting class. We were all working on our own squares, piecing together our own patterns. I listened to the conversation rise and fall, surprised by the lack of competitiveness and of ego. I was young and that moment opened my eyes to an experience that I seek often. I've joined women's reading groups, political action groups, writing and craft groups. Within those groups, I discovered how a group can encourage and support each member to be more than themselves.

Quilters have a long tradition of quilting with others or for others. I remember the power of the AID/HIV Memorial Quilt Project with many quilts stretched across the public spaces of Washington, D.C. I think of the Gee's Bend quilts and the other quilters who will piece together t-shirts and other clothing items to make a memory quilt.

My aunt Ella Mae produced many quilts and belonged to a group who shared fabric and challenged each other with different themes. My friend Mary has a studio in her home that she devotes to quilting. She makes beautiful quilts for friends, family and as auction items each year.

A section of the quilt that Mary made for me.

Appliqued pieces around the edges of the quilt

When the tragic events occurred in Orlando a couple of years ago, Jill, another quilting friend, created a quilt using squares made by my craft group. When the quilt was finished, there were several leftover squares, which another friend, Marcia, and I sewed to make another quilt. This quilt, when finished, will go to one of the charities that sends quilts to a person in need.

Craft Day quilt completed

Second quilt from Craft Day pieces

Teresa, another prodigious quilter, explained how she put together this beautiful blue and white quilt.

Finished quilt in a blue bedroom

"The blue and white quilt that I made was actually created by a 'modern' quilting bee, one of many that exist internationally between people who may never have met. Each woman in the group of 10 is assigned a month. In her month, she can make the distribution as flexible or specific as she likes. She can mail fabric or just give guidelines and let people chose their own fabrics. The blocks are returned to her within that month (hopefully!) and she assembles them into a quilt adding whatever else she needs.

"For the blue and white quilt, I gave each person two white triangles, many strips of different-colored blues, and a foundation paper pattern. They sewed the blues together in the order that they chose onto the foundation paper. (Foundation paper is thin and gets ripped off once the block is complete.) This technique is called foundation piecing and ensures that the blue strip, while sewn in wonky seams, ended up the right size. Then they added the white triangles. I made these oversized and squared up each block myself after the pieces were returned.

One square from Teresa's 'many hands' quilt
"After getting the blues-only blocks back, I decided the quilt needed a little 'zing' color. The blocks with green (and all but 10 of the blue ones) were made by me. I asked each person to sign her block, too. It's a nice memory. Most of the women used a permanent fabric marker. One woman embroidered her name."

Quilting is one way to connect with other people, sometimes across the globe. What begins as a small effort can touch all parts of our world. The quilts are made with love and friendship, with many hands touching the fabric, and end up wrapping someone else in love.

Read more about inspiring quilts and places to donate quilts:

Friday, June 2, 2017


We live next to a country club with golf courses, which have man-made ponds at some of the greens. The largest pond is on the 18th hole. Any golfer coming in to finish a round must hit the ball across the pond onto a small island. Many of the balls land in the pond instead.

With all the national turmoil in the news, especially in the last few weeks, I needed a good laugh. I opened an email yesterday to find:

A Message from the Country Club:

"Reminder to all Residents -- Fishing in the Club's lakes is not allowed and can be very hazardous. Many times, golfers are still playing the course and people are fishing in the lakes, this is a significant safety issue. We ask that you respect the rights of the Club and their property."

Just think if your fishing hook caught a golf ball. Do you throw it back?

How did the fish get into the ponds in the first place? There are no natural inlets to let fish swim into the ponds. Did bird or animals drop them into the water in hopes of a ready supply of food? Or more likely, one of the people who like to fish dumped a bucket of fish in the pond?

These drawings of fish are not representative of what you could catch if you fished the Country Club ponds. I drew these because I'm part of John Muir Laws' Nature Journaling group and fish were one of his exercises. He demonstrates sketching animals and birds at various locations in the Bay Area, but not at the Country Club's ponds.

Check out John Muir Law's blog:

Friday, May 26, 2017


"Fearless Flowers," the watercolor class with Birgit O'Connor, offered me the chance to step out of my comfort zone with color. I tend to use three colors in my artwork: Burnt Sienna, Cerulean blue, and yellow ochre. During the class, we followed the traditional art class practice of copying the instructor's work so we could learn Birgit's techniques with large washes of color.

When I took a botanical illustration class several years ago, the instructor claimed that white was the hardest color to paint. Not to me, white was easy compared to red. Red can overwhelm or get muddy easily.

I inwardly cringed when Birgit showed us her painting of red lilies. But after working all day with loose washes, here is my result: my still unfinished version of her painting. Maybe red isn't so hard after all. Now, purple is another story.

Since the class, I've been looking for red. 
Join me in this challenge:  RED, RED, RED. 
Show me your photos or paintings with red, not just flowers, as the dominant color.

Take a look at these reds that my Kuretake watercolor set produce. Dense and rich.

Check out Birgit O'Connor's website:  You'll be glad you did.

Click on Kuretake's website to see their watercolor sets:

Friday, May 19, 2017


Quilt-making is intensive, often community-building, and a labor of love. Quilts can be complicated like this quilt made by the moms at Nishimachi International School in Japan or simple. Each one is made to provide a hug and warmth. Joan Stevenson, a fellow Wednesday Writer, contributed this quilt-making story today. I hope you enjoy her tale.

Piecing It Together
by Joan Stevenson

More than fifty years ago, I accepted a month-long position in a dental office with the intent that the paycheck I received would be enough to purchase the sewing machine in the window at the mall that I had my eye on. I cashed the check right after work and went directly to the mall, cash in hand. The store had closed early and there was a metal gate across the opening. Not to be deterred, I rattled the bars like a prisoner until I had the manager's attention. My tears moved him to re-open the store and sell me the Singer sewing machine in the window.

It was a workhorse, completing little girls' outfits and mine, hems, curtains, coats, Christmas gifts, and more than a few outfits for weddings. When I went back to work full time, the machine sat idle for many years. Recently, I had a new project in mind and took the machine in for a tune-up.

At the repair shop, I was told that Singer doesn't make replacement parts for this model anymore. I walked out the door with a new sewing machine. I brought it home, delighted that it was very light to carry. I practiced threading and filling the bobbin. I quickly learned that thread should have a "used-by-date" because my decades-old thread shredded. I purchased all new thread and I was ready to begin my new project.

My plan involved being a participant in our church quilt project. Each year I have looked forward to "Quilt Sunday" at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The sanctuary overflows with a riot of color. Every pew, altar, lectern, organ, and piano is covered with a quilt -- 162 of them. I wanted to be a part of the creation. The quilts begin with the scraps of fabric that are contributed from the tailings of a Halloween costume, the end of a Christmas project, a discontinued dress or simply cloth that caught someone's eye but never went on to a life of its own. Scraps. Nothing but scraps.

The process of making the quilt is divided into steps. The first team cuts the fabric into twelve-inch squares. That task, cutting the squares, is critical. The cuts must be accurate in order for the corners to come together. Let's see,, that is 7,776 squares cut by hand.

The next team lays out the design for each row. The rows are numbered, pinned together and placed in bags. As one of the sewers, I was the next step in the process. I picked up my first bag from the cupboard at church with the contents to make two quilt covers. I opened my bag and found red, pink and blue fabrics pinned together.  My new machine hummed along with Row 1. I was careful to make the seams the prescribed 3/8 inch. The afternoon flew by and I beamed when I realized I had completed six rows. Now I had the challenge of sewing the long rows together and to make sure that my corners came together cleanly.

With both of my covers finished, I returned them to the bag they came in and placed the bag back in the church cupboard ready for the next set of hands to attach the batting and backing to the quilt. Now the final touch, the ties in each corner of each square. Here a few seasoned men added their efforts to the team. The quilt, once tied, is then ready for show time: Quilt Sunday.

As I came into the church, I felt an air of closeness in the room and a sense of purpose. Each quilt has a small white envelope pinned on it to fund the cost of mailing. For a donation of $2.25, each quilt is sent to Lutheran Social Services.We shared a tender moment when we placed our hands on the quilts and prayed them on their way.

The quilts are distributed to first responders and to people in need. They provide a hug in times of crisis and shield someone against the cold and rain. Their versatility makes these quilts useful as simple tents, bedding, floor coverings, or as a wrap to hold a baby on a mother's back. In addition, each graduating senior in our church family receives a quilt with their name embroidered on it.

One more volunteer carts the rolled, packed quilts to the post office. I wondered who would receive them and where they would go -- Africa or Oakland? I can't quite let go of the kinship I felt for my quilt covers. Will a baby be cuddled in the soft pink one? Might the red one be the ground cover for a woman selling her wares at market? Or perhaps one of them will cover an old woman at a shelter. I hope they will know that my stitches come with love and hope.

Friday, May 12, 2017


photos by Bill Slavin

Bill and I perched on stools at the bar at the Rite Spot Cafe in San Francisco. We were hungry, but the cafe wasn't open. The old bar and cafe in the industrial part of the City was closed for a fundraiser. Ear plugs came with our entry at the door. We munched on potato chips and drank beer while we waited eagerly for our son's band The Brankas to perform. The rest of the room filled up with young kids from a rock band school and their parents who came to raise money to send several of their bands to a band competition in Idaho.

Our son has performed in bands since sixth grade. First, in Japan, then Paris, through high school and college at home. Sitting in this small bar brought back memories of spending late nights at Blake's in Berkeley, in dark bars in Alameda and San Jose, and at rock band competitions at the Metro in Oakland and the Red House in Walnut Creek, where we came to watch Theo's various bands perform. We usually were the only ones over 40 in a room filled with rock fans. We dressed in black to fade into the background. Bill took photos while I sat sipping a drink during the shows.

In high school, Theo attended several rock band camps during summer vacations and performed in front of large, appreciative audiences. Now, as a working adult, his two-man band plays locally on weekends and travels occasionally around California to play at other venues.

After the first band finished, the Brankas came on stage. Theo grabbed the microphone and welcomed the crowd, encouraged the young musicians to work hard, and thanked the parents for their support of their kids. He said to a round of applause, "I'm glad to see you here to support your kids in following their dreams. In fact, over there at the bar, my parents are here to support me too." He waved a hand, "A shout-out to them: thanks for coming today. I really appreciate your being here." The Brankas began to play and the crowd erupted with wild enthusiasm for their music.

As Mother's Day approaches, memories like these come back to remind me what an incredible experience parenthood can be. We never imagined that Theo would be in a rock band. When he asked to join the school rock band in Tokyo, the instructor wanted to know what instrument he played. He told him, "I don't play an instrument. I want to sing." Later he learned to play the guitar and work guitar pedals. His music has sustained him through much of the ups and downs of his teenage years and into adulthood. We are proud of him and glad that we have been able to share these moments with him. 

What better place to be than an old, crowded bar on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms! 
As Theo once said, "We should celebrate Mother's Day every day."

Friday, May 5, 2017


Torrential rain all winter, a week or two of glorious spring weather, and this past week, hot days in the 90's. Weather. Something we don't always notice in California. But an early heat wave reminded me of summer and postcards.

Last weekend I sat next to a woman on the plane who laughed when I pulled out my stack of postcards. She said, "I haven't sent postcards in years." I thought of the numerous postcards I've mailed since January, which has allowed me to let go of the stress of watching someone with the stroke of a pen negate much of what I believe. I continue to write postcards.

Recently I've reaped some beautiful postcards from other artists who participate in postcard exchanges with me. I wanted to share their work with you.

Julia Jacques makes collages from small scraps
and then reproduces them as postcards. 
Lovely shades of blue!

Julia Jacques

Paula Bogdan loves to photograph old, neglected things.  
She quotes Elliot Erwitt, 
"Photography is an art of observation. 
It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

Paula Bogdan
 Kat Sloma is the sponsor of Liberate Your Art Swap each year. She makes digital paintings and photography. She encourages everyone to experiment, play and create.

Kat Sloma

Lisa Murphy creates mixed media pieces. Her card used a quote from Maya Angelou. 
"This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before."

Lisa Murphy

 Lynda Fishbourne is a prolific artist with many thoughtful, inspiring pieces to share. On this card, she said, "It's time to begin. Let the mystery unfold. Listen carefully. Breathe deeply. Notice the little things. Live your dream. Share your passion. Sending sunshine and stardust."

Lynda Fishbourne

Lynda Fishbourne

Lynda Fishbourne

 Send some postcards. 
Your friends will love receiving something in the mail from you!

My Sketchbook Project sketchbook that I sent to the Brooklyn Art Library has now been digitized and can be seen with many other fantastic sketchbooks at this link!