Friday, September 18, 2020


We're halfway through September. The redness in the sky has dissipated, though the air quality here is not good. Climate change creates accelerated fire conditions that pine beetles, the three-year drought, and poor forest management feast on. It's not going to get cooler.

We are doubly sequestered now: coronavirus and fires. I look for more things to do in small ways inside the house. I'm both an artist and a gardener. I've tried growing plants in my kitchen. I've signed up for a 30-day art challenge and decided to paint objects in my workroom.

With the smoke, we haven't seen shadows for days. Hoping for a sunny spot, I've been growing small bits of greenery in baking cups. I felt a small joy to see a shadow near a window.

The ends of carrots, onions, and celery can be placed in water, which is a fun scientific experiment. And a good way to include a few fresh greens in our food. Left in the water, the ends will sprout to look like miniature forests. The celery comes up like tiny celery stalks. I've tried planting the results in soil, but so far I've had no success in turning these beginnings into regular plants. I keep trying. The greens make excellent additions to salads or on potatoes or eggs. Besides, watching them grow gives me one more thing to do.

Each month this year brought new challenges. In the first few weeks of sheltering, we seemed to have an endless amount of time. We took slow walks, we read mountains of books and newspapers, we chatted on Zoom, and watched movies we'd never heard of, but now our days are filled. We wonder where the time went, but we keep adding more things to our calendars. Some of the things that I had on a perpetual list of things to do I realized that I will never get done. They were a flickering interest that disappeared once I had added them to my list. 

What new things are you doing now?

Some of my daily paintings for the 30-day Challenge:

Friday, September 11, 2020




What I've learned from watercolor classes:

A good drawing makes all the difference.
Remember hard and soft edges
Paint shapes, not objects
Stop when you think you are 90% done
Lay a light wash of Permanent Yellow Deep except where you want the white paper to show through
Hold your brush so that the bristles face vertically down to paint
Stop when you are 90% done
Tell yourself: this is just practice

I'm not taking my watercolor class this summer session so I'm trying to paint a watercolor each week. Sometimes I paint a lot in one day, sometimes just a little. I have tried to slow myself down so that I only paint while I feel confident. As soon as I start to feel squirrelly and unsure, I stop and take a breather.

My watercolors are not exhibition-worthy yet, but they are instructive for me and maybe for you. What I've learned about watercolor: a good drawing makes all the difference. If the drawing is out of proportion or off in any other way, the painting will be too. And there is little that can be done to correct that once I start painting. Might as well start over with a better drawing.

The photo of a woman from the 1930s (an old girlfriend of my dad's) intrigued me because of the high contrast. My drawing didn't show its errors until I started painting. I drew her head a little too big for the rest of her body, which only showed once I started painting below her head.


Once I've done my drawing, I dampen the paper and brush a light wash of yellow. I left the white highlights on her face and arm. The wash gives the paper and subsequent washes a glow that wouldn't be there from just the white paper itself.

Learning to draw for painting means learning to leave a lighter line where soft edges will be. If I don't paint soft edges, then the painting looks flat. In this painting, soft edges can be seen in the folds of her dress, and the bottom of her arms. They can be achieved by blurring the line between one color and another or having the same value next to each other so that the two shapes blend together.

I discovered that painting with my brush held vertically with the tip towards the bottom of the paper to be an effective way to add color either in large washes or in places where I could get too concerned with detail. I have been surprised by how well it works.

Every time I start a painting, I tell myself that this is just practice. It's a way for me to relax and not to care too much. Now I'm trying to tell myself to stop when I think I'm 90% finished. It's that last 10% where I can ruin a painting by overworking an area. Than that painting goes into my pile to be cut up and used as part of my mixed media stash.

This one is just practice!


My mixed media piece, There Is Always More, can be viewed online for the annual The Second Half show at the Las Laguna Gallery in La Laguna Beach, California. The exhibit is online only and has a bountiful group of work to view.

Friday, September 4, 2020


On my daily walk this summer, I watched as workers spread slurry over the street. They left a road that was pristine black and smooth as a new chalkboard. The next day, I noticed impatient tire tracks coming out of driveways, carving out the slurry before it was completely dried.

In the next couple of days, animals came down from the dewy grasses on the hills to walk across the street and left muddy prints of their passing. The deer hooves I recognized. And the small dog prints. I followed the track of an animal as it meandered from one side of the road to the other, up a hilly space and across another section of road. The tracks could have been a dog off-leash, but it also could have been a coyote, whose howls we hear regularly. I took photos and compared the two types of prints online. I couldn't distinguish the two. I needed a more experienced tracker than I am. 
A mystery unsolved.

Each day as I walked, new trails crossed the road. First, the road itself began to crack in places as the earth shifted under it. Mountain bike tires, possibly a rabbit, one foot of a squirrel perhaps, and of course, humans left their marks.

On one cross street where the crows congregate every day, white splashes of poop dotted the pavement.

During the lightning storms a couple of weeks ago, the trees let go of many of their dry leaves, crowding the gutters and spilling into the roadway. In a few short weeks, the pristine black pavement started to disappear into patterns and textures, absorbing the life that ventured upon it and telling a mysterious story.

Friday, August 28, 2020


Roger Peterson by Martha Slavin

A friend, taking an online watercolor class, remarked, "I'm just copying," not giving herself credit for the considerable progress she has made.  Her statement reminded me of our time living in Paris when our son was in middle school. He took drawing lessons from Marc Vinciguerra, a young artist, who sat in our apartment strumming Theo's guitar before taking Theo to the local museums to draw what he saw on the walls. Theo followed a time-honored tradition of copying a master's work, a practice that most artists do to learn techniques.

Both my parents went to art schools. They, like my sister and I, spent college years in large art rooms filled with students behind drawing boards or easels with a model at the center of the room. We spent hours studying the form, learning about the bones and muscles underneath the skin, and how to draw a figure in 3-dimensions.  My dad also took classes through the mail from the Federal Schools based in Minneapolis.

A sculptured face by Ralph Heimdahl

by Esther B. Heimdahl

I am still copying, especially when it comes to watercolors. I like painting flowers and portraits more than landscapes. I look for artists whose style interests me.

by Martha Slavin

Uncle Buvver by Martha Slavin

I visited Chuck Bukovnik's studio and feasted my eyes on his work. He paints flowers, filling a full sheet of watercolor paper with glorious examples. Ever since that day, I have been trying to get him out of my head. I think painting is sometimes like listening to music. When you hear a song you like, the song gets embedded in your brain and it is hard to get out. The same with painting. If I like a technique and try it, sometimes it is hard to change it to fit my own way of working.

Chuck Bukovnik's watercolor palette

I look at other artists, such as my cousin, Hugh Heimdahl, who freely paints portraits just with dabs of paint. He manages to capture the character of the person so well. 

by Hugh Heimdahl

by Hugh Heimdahl

I continue to look for inspiration from other artists. I am still learning.

More about the Soul Box Project:

We've sent several new sets to Soul Box Project. Mary has honored women killed by gun violence. My boxes name young men under 25 who have died from gunshots. Pam's boxes honored members of families: mom, dad, sister, and brother.

by Pam

by Mary

If you would like to contribute a box to honor someone who died from gun violence, go to:

Chuck Bukovnik doesn't have a website, but you can see his flower images here:

Friday, August 21, 2020


Stone Lagoon Classroom by Charlene Gerrish
  Third Place award-winner at The Women in Watercolor competition

Watercolor is hard. Like so many endeavors, watercolor takes lots of practice. You could be inspired by these two artists, Charlene Gerrish and Ruth Collins. They are both people who have practiced art all their lives. Their work is something to aspire to. They have very different styles, which represent the opposite ends of watercolor: the meticulous, but atmospheric, layering of paint to create a scene as Charlene does in "Stone Lagoon Classroom" or the free-flowing movement of washes of "Alice and Harold" by Ruth Collins. Both are equally valid ways to work in watercolor. Neither is easy! Most art, just like any skill, takes practice and copying to learn techniques, and plenty of time to observe the subject matter. 

Alice and Harold by Ruth Collins

Every watercolor instructor that I've met sets up their palette differently. Some label each section with the name of the paints and mix puddles of paint liberally on the palette, not necessarily cleaning up before mixing anew.

  Others contain their paints in a small, portable palette and clean their palette mixing spaces after each use. There is room for both ways of painting.

Watercolor is also good for sketching when you are outside and want to keep a memory of a place you've visited. I made a book of my sketches from a time I spent in Carmel and then combined them all into a handmade book.

Carmel by Martha Slavin

There are many great online courses to teach you watercolor techniques. Check out these websites. If you found another good instructor, let me know!

Cindy Briggs, watercolor
Andrea Chebeleu at a Work of Heart Studio
Shari Blaukopf

Check out Charlene Gerrish's work here:

Are you registered to vote?  Now is the time to check your registration.
For impartial information about voting and issues that concern you, 
go to the League of Women Voters, Vote411:

Friday, August 14, 2020


Aren't all babies beautiful?

When Theo was little and the most beautiful baby in the world, we couldn't get past one person in the grocery store without them stopping to "oh and ah" as he sat sandwiched between two rolls of paper towels in the seat of the grocery cart. (We ended up with almost a lifetime supply of paper towels by they time he outgrew the need to be supported.)

I thought of that joy as I walked on the other side of the street from a family that I see on my walks. They have two young children, one still in a stroller, the other on a tricycle. They sat in the shade as they cooed and giggled at their youngest one. I couldn't go over to take a peek. A young man walked by with his fluffy dog. We had talked before how much the dog missed interacting with people on their walks. He would pull and tug on his leash as I came by.

Bill and I spent an afternoon in the San Francisco financial district recently. The streets are usually teaming with people, shopping, sightseeing, running for coffee, or standing in line for lunch. Food trucks dot the sidewalks as cars, trucks and buses roar by. Now Bill walked in the eerie silence while I visited my eye doctor. When we were together again, we felt like we were traipsing in the aftermath of an apocalypse. We moved past closed restaurants and stores, a favorite coffee shop gone with a For Lease sign in the window, and the one bright spot, Alexander Book Co., its front door invitingly open. 

Time-lapse photo by Bill Slavin of stars and the new comet, Neowise. This week has been the peak for the Perseid meteor shower. Look up.

The bookstore has always been a favorite of ours with its extensive collection of intriguing books. Just past the front door, they have the latest fiction and non-fiction as well as periodicals that are hard to find. At the back, a narrow staircase winds up to the second floor with its array of multi-cultural children's books, travel books, and philosophy. On the basement level, Alexander stocks art and graphic design books because they are near a local art college as well as samples of business and other non-fiction. The most intriguing section on the main floor is a revolving collection by Black authors with books by well-known authors as well as books of light fiction similar to the mysteries on the shelves to the left.

August is Black Business Month. Though Alexander Books is not black owned, they have reached out to the diverse communities in the City and are worth supporting. Each purchase we made at Alexander Books buys a tree through the group, Trees for the Future. So far, Alexander Books has planted over 500,000 trees! 

Our stroll through the City reminded us that small things count. When we recover from 2020, the Amazons and the other big entities will still be around, but the small businesses that create the vibrance of a community could be gone if we don't support them. 

Because this summer is so different from others we experienced, I've asked people for reading list suggestions and have received some good ideas, though they are not your typical summer reads. These books are available at local independent booksellers.

From PatK:
Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, by Marcia Bjornerud
"I just finished reading this book by Marcia Bjornerud, a professor of Geology and Environmental Sciences. This is a very accessible and engaging description of how our planet came to be, how we know how old it is and how it developed and changed over eons. At the same time, the professor puts in context the frightening speed of current climate change and the urgent need for action now that we are in the Anthropocene, where human actions are overwhelming the healing power of the planet's natural systems. Thought-provoking and hard to put down."

From Teresa:
The Overstory by Richard Powers, a powerful and beautiful novel about the importance of trees.
The River by Peter Heller, which she describes as a poetic thriller!

From Marcia:
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olua. She describes her experiences growing up mulatto in Seattle with a White mom in a White city. The book is not pleasant to read but the social and structural injustice that she talks about is eye-opening.
Dispatches from Pluto...Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant, which is very descriptive of what life in Mississippi is like, then and now.

From Mary:
The Honey Bus by Meredith May, a memoir about a girl, her grandfather and the first time a bee crawled up her arm. The story evolves into the importance of nature in her life and how the bees helped her to find a home.
I Who Would Not Die by Meredith May, the story of two child soldiers in Iran.

From Rose:
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi  Coates
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, who investigates religious extremism found in a sect of Mormons. Krakauer, known for his book about climbing Mt. Everest, also has written Where Men Win Glory, a book about Patrick Tillman, a football player, who was killed in Afghanistan.

And my recommendations for lighter reading:

When we are not reading, we have been catching up on some good streaming shows and movies including:

A Short History of a Long Road: the odyssey of a young teenager as she searches for a home.
Fisherman's Friend: delightful movie about a group of fishermen who become overnight music sensations in the U.K.
Driveways:  At the death of her sister, a young woman and her son come to pack up the contents of the sister's house. The boy befriends a gruff neighbor. Brian Dennehy's last performance.
A French Village: a series about a French village occupied by Nazis and the effect on the villagers.
Honeyland: An isolated woman tends bees in a traditional manner until her life is interrupted by new neighbors
Booksellers: a documentary about the rare book sellers in NYC

Read about Alexander Book Company here:

After you read The Overstory, you might want to read about the restorative work that Trees for the Future is doing here:

Read how difficult it can be to be a bookseller, especially a gay black bookseller:

Support Black-owned business beyond Black Business Month:

Friday, August 7, 2020


Nine years ago, a group of friends came together at my home for Craft Day. We worked on the unfinished projects that we all had hidden away in drawers and closets. The group has changed over time as some people have moved on. Still, there are sometimes as many as thirteen people at Craft Day, sometimes just four. Whether we have a crowd or just a few, we come away with more work accomplished and also with the joy of friendship. Until SIP, we have met once a month since that beginning in 2011.

Some of us did not do crafts in the beginning, but gradually tried making cards or fabric garlands or brought coloring books. After a couple of hours of work and conversation, we stopped for Stone Salad, a variation on the old story about Stone Soup. Each person brought one item to add to the salad greens. We had a homemade soup as well as other goodies that crafters brought.

We all miss our Friday Craft Days, but I discovered through an email to everyone that most of the Craft Day participants have used the shelter-in-place time to be productive in some way. What a joy for me to see what they have been working on.

Marcia, always looking for a craft, has started weaving pine needles into baskets. Her tightly woven beginnings in this photo is beautiful all by itself.

by Marcia
Two members have been taking online watercolor classes. Terri takes classes through Let's Make Art on Facebook. She has been someone who claims she isn't artistic, but I am amazed at the work she has accomplished in only a few months.

by Terri

by Terri

Micki uses fabrics and other materials for her thoughtful media pieces, including this delightful pillow. Now she is also taking watercolor classes online. Her sketches of watermelon slices are reminders of hot summer days, of sipping iced tea on my grandparents' back patio, of spitting the black seeds out into the garden in hopes that a "Watermelon Tree" might grown in the next season.

by Micki

Mary, a prolific quilter and card maker, has produced two beautiful quilts and many cards. Her cards remind me of her precise quilting style. She has also put her pen to postcards and letters encouraging people across the country to register to vote.

2 Quilts by Mary

cards by Mary

Debi looks on Pinterest and other sites for good craft ideas. She loves to make decorations for each holiday, including this flag container and the fabric garland to place on a mantel.

crafts by Debi

Pam, who has many projects, wrote:
"It's so fun learning how everyone is keeping busy.
I started organizing everything in my pathway.
After that I started cooking everyday (love my new Ninja Foodi!)
I've been gardening including experimenting with an old, sprouted potato.
I learned to color my own hair and practiced while my sister visited.
And then I thought it only fair that Chloe (the cat) also got a new Summer do."

"But mostly I've been card making. With each card, I challenge myself to practice new techniques such as ink and texture blending, making 3D cards, hand printing and drawing." 

3D Cards by Pam

Pam ended her comments by saying, "Thanks for letting me share. Back to talking to myself again!"

During this time of sheltering in place, masks on, physically distancing from each other, I know that I am sometimes overwhelmed, lethargic, but also buoyed by the people I know. I am heartened by this group of friends who used to come together once a month and continue to stay creative in a difficult time. Perhaps our Craft Days have carried us through this time to continue to challenge ourselves to find hidden talents.

Check out Let's Make Art's website at: