Friday, June 21, 2019


Sometimes when I sit down to write my post for the week, I have three or four ideas already in bloom. Often a question comes up that demands a definitive answer. As I respond, my remarks may start out well on the page and then peter out, my words no longer moving in an insightful direction or I can't find the right way to express my deepest thoughts. Some of ideas are not suitable for this blog. Usually while I write these beginnings, something else starts to horn in and becomes the post for the week. To give you a clue about my thought process, here are some of the snippets that I could have turned into posts this year.

#1 If you have traveled in another country, what cultural differences stood out to you?
When we lived in Japan and rode the subways, we noticed, if the train was not too crowded, that most people closed their eyes and sat in silence, not touching the people next to them, aware of their surroundings, but not engaged with each other. The eye closing pulled them into a quiet space away from the very crowded city of 22 million people. Cell phones have changed that custom....

A. Japanese subway rider      B. Me with songs stuck in my head

#2  Do you have a song that sticks in your head?
We watched the original Mary Poppins recently and the song, "A Spoonful of Sugar," has been spinning in my brain for the last couple of weeks. Just fragments, not the entire song, not annoying yet. But then it intermingles with a song from the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which is a strange story to turn into a musical. "Scrooge," the movie, became more heartwarming and hopeful with the addition of music. When Scrooge starts singing, "I love life," how can you not sing along with that?...

Two art workshop attendees.

#3  What do postal workers and local news outlets have in common?
Local news outlets, either paper versions or online, report local politics and local events that you don't receive any other way. They keep you informed of what is happening in your town or city. Isn't that where government really begins? Postal workers bring mail and news to everyone in every part of the country. They bring news and mail to people who may not have access to broadband or any cellphone coverage (hard to believe if you live in or near a majoy city) and who don't receive verifiable information in any other way. Both the post office and local journalism are essential parts of democracy....

At the end of each of these paragraphs, I'd ask myself, "Where do I go from there?" No answer, so I would tuck these paragraphs into a file and proceed to write on that one idea that cropped up while I was flexing my writing muscles, the one idea that became that week's post.

Attendees at John Muir Laws monthly drawing demo at the Lafayette Library

I am always sketching, either with words or by drawing. These sketches give me a chance to explore ideas. What means do you use to help you think through your concerns? Do you talk with others, sketch, write in a journal, or post a blog?

Next month is World Watercolor Month. Join me in painting one painting a day. Some of them may be flops, others will turn out just fine, and any can be the next cut-and-paste collage you put together.

Postcard size flowers that I am turning into a bouquet

Friday, June 14, 2019


Here's to all the fathers out there who support, encourage, joke,
play ball with us and love us.

a rough draft of a drawing by Ralph C. Heimdahl while working in his studio

My dad is long gone, but he is remembered for his sense of humor, sense of honor, and humility. He was a highly skilled traditional artist, though he made his living drawing comic strip characters.

 He left behind many of his drawings. He had most fun drawing animals, 
but he could even imbue a robot with a personality.

Sketches by Ralph C. Heimdahl made in the late 1940s for a robot used
 in the Bugs Bunny comic strip

With a few quick brush strokes with his Winsor Newton #7 round, he made each character come alive.  He would work 8-to-10 days creating daily comic strips and the Sunday for Bugs Bunny. He spent his spare time drawing his own characters from the countryside and woodlands that he loved. He always hoped he could publish his own comic strip while he worked on the Warner Brothers characters  each day. He also shared his knowledge with his family. When he built his studio in our backyard, he included a long low shelf and stools for us where we could draw and paint and learn to type.

Character development by Ralph C. Heimdahl

Ollie the Otter, the main character of a comic strip that he hoped to publish.

He made sure he drew as many expressions for each character as he could.

My dad had several anatomy books, which my sisters and I scoured to understand what was underneath our skin. He knew body structure so well that he could capture a horse mid-air. He showed us the magic that paper, pen or pencil can create.

Sketch from real life by Ralph C. Heimdahl

For all you dads out there, I hope your day is full of laughter, hugs, and the understanding that you have many gifts to pass on to your children.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 7, 2019


I painted 20 small watercolors of the same scene. They were sketches to practice various techniques, not meant to be shown to anyone. They cluttered up one box of sketches. Rather than throw them out,  I brushed white gesso over them, let that dry, then cut them up into either 1-inch strips or 1-inch squares.

I spread the strips out on a large piece of 140 pound cold press watercolor paper which I had washed with cerulean blue. By cutting the pieces so small, I couldn't see, therefore I couldn't remember, the spots in the originals that just didn't work well. I tinkered with the placement of the strips until I came up with a version I liked. Laid out this way, the pieces became almost musical. They have a rhythm and joy that can't be found in the originals.

I know so many people who have their stacks of work hidden under beds or in closets or in boxes (I have all three). Just hanging around. After a while, they become one more thing to deal with so they either get tossed out, stay hidden in the same places in hopes they will magically disappear, or better yet, they become a new source for a project.

One good thing about practicing a lot, I end up with a lot of lemons that make good lemonade.

Wind Blown by Martha Slavin

Jazz by Martha Slavin

 Sometimes it isn't the watercolor that I painted but another problem that caused me to experiment (or make lemonade).

Melted Colors by Martha Slavin

I bought a set of Nicholson's Peerless Transparent Watercolors, which comes in tablet form with the watercolors impregnated into each paper.

Add a little water with your brush to the colored papers and they can be used just like any watercolor. I thought they would be great for traveling. What I didn't do:  I didn't separate my water bottle in the same tote bag as the paint packet. I didn't close the top of the water bottle completely so I ended up with a messy, colorful tote bag with the pages of watercolors pretty much spent. The papers were still beautiful, so I cut some of them up to make a collage. Lemonade, for sure. I called the piece Melted Colors for a good reason.

Friday, May 31, 2019


Barn at Tao House by Chuck Dorsett
Cars jammed the streets of Danville today. Kids crowded together, stared at phones, laughed and grabbed each other playfully, waved goodbye to each other, and crossed streets oblivious to the traffic around them. Today: the last day of school for them. Soon my watercolor class will end for a short break too.

As each session ends, my watercolor group shows the work they have done during the 8-week period. Many of the people return session after session while they try to better grasp techniques of watercolor painting. This last fall during the class reveal, I looked at a remarkable leap in progress for everyone in the class. The class, taught by Leslie Wilson and run by the Walnut Community Arts Department, is so popular that on registration day at 9 A.M. I sit at my computer ready to press the button to register. If I wait 5 minutes, all 20 places for Wednesday are gone.

On the critique day at the end of each session, I've noticed that Chuck Dorsett, who is over 90 years old and a longtime member of the class, makes a point of talking about being in the class. He stresses how important it is to be out in the community and to try new things. We've grown to expect these pieces of advice from Chuck. I realized last time though, his words are more than advice. It is his way of saying goodbye at the end of each session, hoping to leave some imprint of himself on us, if he doesn't return to class.

Chuck is a former architect and actor who belonged to the Screen Actors Guild. Because of his architectural training, he knows how to draw, to use perspective so that buildings look structurally correct in their environment. The pencil underdrawings he does before he paints make his final paintings fresh and believable.  A good example of his work is the barn at Tao House, part of Eugene O'Neill's ranch in Danville. Chuck says about our watercolor class, "It's important to remember that this is really a drawing class."


Chuck Dorsett passed away early this Spring. His class mates all miss him, but remember his thoughtful words of encouragement and his joyful paintings.

Friday, May 24, 2019


 It's not often I get to turn around from a workshop and use the lessons I've gained from the class right away, but our trip to Italy gave me the chance to create a sketchbook of places we visited.

Since I would need to lug my art supplies around with me, I tried to be compact with what I brought. I decided not to carry watercolors, brushes, or water containers. Instead, I opted for two small boxes of watercolor crayons: one set of Staedler primary colors and another made by Caran D'Arche, containing color hues such as burnt siena and yellow ochre that match the Tuscan landscape. I brought a water brush along with a set of Staedler markers. I packed a stack of watercolor sheets rather than a sketchbook. I could lay these flat on a clipboard without being annoyed by the folds of a sketchbook. I forgot to tape an inch at the end of each page, which means I'm going to have be inventive in connecting these pages together.

I also decided not to sketch while we visited sites. Instead I took lots of photos that I hoped would give me something to draw later back at our home base. It was fun to work this way since it gave me a second chance to visit the places we had been soon after we left them.

Our first hill town, Cortona, on a rainy day


Two pages of Florence, a wonder to walk through

Assisi and Fiumicino, our last stops 

Since we came home, I'm trying to keep up my sketchbook practice. Two creative friends and I plan to meet every couple of weeks to enjoy sitting in a garden and observing the world around us.

If you'd like to learn more about sketchbook drawing, try these classes:

Brenda Swenson,
Kristin Meuser,

or come draw with us on our sketchbook days!

Friday, May 17, 2019


After a long plane trip home, I opened our front door, called out to our kitty (officially named Tangier, but called Buzzer Baby for her tendency to jump on our bed early in the morning and meow us awake). We returned from our week and half long trip to Italy, our longest extended period away from home since the death of our oldest cat last November. Buzzer Baby, her 16-year old daughter, still resides with us. She was taken care of by a neighbor, who came to feed and sat with her twice a day while we were gone. In response to my call to Buzzer Baby, I heard a tentative "Mew Mew." As Buzzer Baby rounded the corner to the front hallway, she stopped, looked at me, then as she ran towards me, she burst into a full-throated meow. I let Buzzer Baby come to me before I reached out to her. She looked up at me and started to purr while I stroked her sides. Cats are often considered stand-offish, but you know cat love after you've been away.

Since our return, she has woken me up at 4 AM each morning by butting her head against me. I ignore her and go back to sleep, but she is there when I get up and follows me into the bathroom, meowing all the way. While I do my morning stretches, she lies down alongside my head, and nestles up against my hair. Once I'm dressed, we walk downstairs together. She is quiet for a few minutes while she eats breakfast, but while I sit in the dining room eating mine, I hear a plaintive cry. I call out to her and she comes running to my chair, meowing loudly even though she has a furry mouse toy in her mouth. I've never figured out how she meows with a big toy in her mouth, but she does it anytime she feels lost and alone.

After breakfast, Bill and I sit out on the back porch reading the papers with the windows to the dining room open. Buzzer Baby comes to the windows and meows insistently. She is an indoor cat and can't be outside with us, so I get up and walk around with her from room to room. She walks by my side and as I look down at her, she is looking at me. Neither of us understands what the other wants, but all I can say is what I see when I look at her is cat love.

Friday, May 10, 2019


We didn't expect to find huge crowds at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but when we arrived, we discovered a passel of police and hordes of people lined up outside the garden. The throngs of people had come to contemplate gentle beauty.

The gardens were celebrating Sakura Matsuri, a cherry blossom festival. We could see a smidgeon of pink as we peeked through the fencing around the park. The event was already sold out for the day with the lines snaking around the space between the gardens and the art museum next door.

We opted for the Brooklyn Art Museum instead of the crowded gardens, avoided another long line for a Frida Kahlo exhibit, ate lunch in the museum cafe, and took the elevator to the 5th floor so we could work our way down. We stopped to walk around Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, a large triangular table installation with hand-crafted table settings, each a representation of an important woman in history. I remembered Chicago's work when it was first exhibited in the 1970s. Her concept remains new and topical.

I thought of beauty again when we left our temporary stop in Brooklyn for Italy. Everywhere we went in Tuscany, we could see the effort to make a world a more beautiful place. We joined our son, his girlfriend as well as friends in a villa outside of Cortona, a town made famous by Frances Mayes in her book Under the Tuscan Sun.

We climbed the cobblestone streets of hill towns such as Cortona, Siena, and Assisi. We saw views from those towns similar to the countryside of California. In each town we admired the stone buildings and the abilities of the builders during the Middle Ages to construct buildings towering over our heads. We walked in cathedrals with soaring ceilings to stare at the paintings, illuminated manuscripts, walls decorated with murals, sculptures and minute details that attested to the spiritual nature of the people who built them. We visited the Galileo Museum in Florence and admired the detailed engravings on the scientific instruments and thought about their quest to find how to determine longitude. We stood under Michelangelo's David at the Accademia. We listened in the early evening to street musicians playing music that echoed against the old walls of the city.

We found more beauty in Assisi in a quiet corner of a building under repair. We were allowed in to see efforts of the plasterers and artisans who were repairing damaged plaster walls and murals that had faded and been eroded by water seepage. The work space was airy and clean and the tools used for the repairs were artifully arranged for display.

When we left Tuscany, we even discovered beauty in the light-filled, modern design of the Rome airport at Fiumicino, an ancient town that used to be a major Roman port city for ships bringing goods to Rome from all over the world. The Fiumicino airport serves a similar function bringing people from all over the world to visit Italy.

Lastly, we found beauty as our plane sailed over the snow-covered Alps on our way home.

The Alps from our plane window

Check out these sites in Italy:

Villa Bella Cortona
The library in the Duomo of Siena which has large illuminated manuscripts lining its walls
Galileo Museum, Florence
Etruscan Museum, Cortona
Ostia Antica, Fiumicino

Caffe la Costa di San Rocco, Foiano della Chiana,
Dragoncello, Siena
La Cantinetta, Florence
Tarumbo, Fiumicinoò-fiumicino-2

Side note:
If you know trees, you know this photo is of plum blossoms, not cherry blossoms. They are easily confused. Here's how to tell: plum trees have deep red leaves, cherry trees usually don't. The cherry blossoms have a notch on the outer edge of each petal. They are often planted together for masses of color in early Spring.