Friday, March 1, 2024


High-rise apartments and office buildings line most of the streets in our neighborhood. We are also close to two professional sports complexes, which means some days the streets are filled with cars and people. A couple of blocks away from our apartment is an empty block-long parking lot used by people attending events at the sporting venues. One day, we turned the corner and found that the entire parking lot was filled with circus tents. Cirque de Soleil had come to town and overnight, like magic, had erected tents all over the lot. We hadn't been to one of their performances in a long time, so we bought tickets, walked into the largest tent, and watched with awe the acrobatic performers. Behind us sat a family with an eight or nine-year-old boy who had never seen acrobats in person. We heard his rapturous "Oohs and Ahs" as his eyes followed the acrobats through the air. What a delight to hear him captivated by their magic.

I thought of that performance when Carol DuBosch, a calligraphy teacher, posted a challenge to create a pangram, a sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet. I like challenges and I like whimsy, so I decided to try. First, I asked myself, is it even possible to design a sentence that uses each letter only once and still makes sense? Of course, after a few tries I discovered pangrams are more challenging than I anticipated. I remembered the grace of the acrobats who did amazing feats, but only after years of practice and perseverance. 

What makes a word work are the vowels. They have all kinds of uses, don't they? They are handy to finish words and to separate words into syllables. How do I find enough short words that don't rely on too many vowels?

I looked at examples from a list of pangrams, of which the most famous, "A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," still uses two "e's". I did find a pangram that is only 26 letters long: "Mr. Jock, TV Quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx." My favorite of the pangrams came from Carol DuBosch: "I vow that poetry, quilts, and ink can fix and jazz up a boring home."

My own attempts didn't succeed very well. (Not that I spent too much time on this activity.) I couldn't make a sentence with only 26 letters that made sense, which is common with pangrams (who bags lynx?). My sentence was too long with too many double letters: "Quickly wax over my dainty, lazy judges from the pub."

A little laughter for the day and puzzlement too.  Maybe this week I captured some of the whimsy and challenge we felt while watching acrobats in the air.

One last piece of whimsy. A good friend gave me these two paper ornaments called Triskele paper globes. They are beautiful and will be a welcome addition to hang near me. (Thank you, Janet)

If you would like to try to make one, check Hattifant's website. You will be surprised at how simple these are to make:

Cirque de Soleil performs in San Francisco till March 17:

Find Carol Dubosch's calligraphy:

Check out these fun facts about the English alphabet: 

Friday, February 23, 2024


An unfinished Neurographic design  
What would you put in the square?

Instead of snow, much of California in February is covered with green. The hills sprout new lime-green grass as we receive more and more rain. The green surprises visitors from colder climates, especially if they have visited California during the summer, our dry season when the hills are brown.

This past weekend I attended Letters: California Style, a calligraphy conference organized by the Society of Calligraphers, held at Cal Poly Pomona, an oasis nestled in the hills in the LA Basin. I've gone to the conference since 2014 except for pandemic years and always come away flush with new ideas. Like I am, most of the attendees are older, nerdy women who enjoy expressing themselves through lettering and art. Cal Poly Pomona provides a perfect venue where we can sit in a classroom with floor-to-ceiling windows that give us a glimpse of the green hills and the budding fruit trees while we toil away like Medieval monks on a craft that takes concentration and precision.

This year I chose Cherryl Moote's class for creating art books. In other classes, attendees worked on improving their calligraphic and hand lettering skills with a choice of several other well-known calligraphy instructors, who also showcased their own work at our lunchtime gatherings. One of the teachers, Viktor Kams, began as a graffiti artist in Spain, then studied calligraphy, and is now a professional calligrapher and tattoo artist. He designs logos for businesses and anything that can contain his exquisite calligraphy including tattoos. He showed photos of some of his freshly made tattoos on the arms of clients. The designs were beautiful, but the clients' arms were still red from the procedure. You could feel the collective silent gasp of his audience, not a visible tattoo among them. Calligraphers have been around for a long time creating all kinds of lettering. Now, Kams represents the next generation of calligraphers who are interested in experimenting with their craft.

In Cherryl's class, we concentrated on creating unexpected art books. Unexpected, because we couldn't plan each page of our book. Instead, we started with a large sheet of paper, made designs all over the surface, and then folded and cut the paper into smaller book forms. We never knew what would happen once we folded the original design into smaller segments. The results were unexpected, amusing sometimes, and wonderful to view. Some people used colored inks, marking pens, and stamps to create images while others used paste papers, water-soluble crayons, and lettering to enhance their designs. Though we all used similar materials, no two books looked alike. In three days, we also made mock-ups of different ways of making a book including using a Lark's Head binding for heavy-weight paper, three versions of a two-minute book, accordion books, and a flat-style Australian reverse piano hinge binding, which takes longer to say than to make. Cherryl has written several easy-to-use books about various bookbinding techniques that can be found at John Neal Books online.

Designs on a large piece of paper using ink, scraps of paper,
tea splatters, and Cretacolor AquaGraph pencils

Two-Minute Book folded from the original large piece of paper

I came away from the conference with renewed enthusiasm for bookmaking, joy for having seen friends I hadn't seen in a long time, inspiration from the many works done by other attendees, and glad that my accidental choice for my Word for the Year is Unfinished. I brought home books that I will continue to work on and know that I have new ideas to try.

 Two Two-Minute signatures with Two-into-One Cover

Accordion book with doodles on a cover with neurographic lines

Accordion book with no lettering or cover yet

Mock-up for Lark's Head Binding

Check out Cherryl Moote's website:

Books available at John Neal Books:

Be amazed at the work of these calligraphers:

Viktor Kams:

Cora Pearl:

Wednesday, February 14, 2024


The opening page from Postcards in the Air 2023 book

Pens run dry
just like a river in a drought
sometimes the pen fails:
words don't tumble out,
don't scratch across the surface.

Other times
a pen pushes ideas
across a page
swirling around rocks and boulders
of the mind,
creating small pools,
leading to new pathways
washing away dirt
to find what is hidden beneath.

I can't say I've ever experienced writer's block or artist's block. Early on, I learned that I needed to push through hesitation, think of everything as practice or an experiment, or pick up some other piece to try. Some days when I start and stop with ideas that don't pan out, I slip another page up onto my computer, start writing about something else, and keep doing that until I reach the kernel that had been waiting there in the shadows of my mind. I have heard of writers who get so stymied that nothing comes out. After ten years of writing this Friday blog, I am confident that some idea will percolate up out of the dregs. With a computer, I don't scrunch up a piece of paper and throw it into the wind. I can save those unfinished ideas in another file and maybe take them out to work them over again.

I'm more picky with myself with art. Coming from a family of artists, I have much to compare my work against. I have managed to rise above the self-doubt that creeps into creative work. I think of what I am doing as play, as practice, and that eases the doubt. I am lucky I do not earn my living with my work. I am always surprised and pleased when someone offers to buy one of my pieces, but that is not my goal. My art is my way to express my thoughts and feelings, and to develop more skills.

Sometimes simple ideas become the groundwork for something bigger. Since we moved to our new apartment in January, I have taken a photo every morning from the same spot looking out the window over Mission Creek and the buildings on the other side. The sun hits the windows of the buildings, creating brilliant jewels of light. The shadows of the morning slide down into the creek, and the birds begin to circle the water below. Some mornings grey clouds fill the sky, other times the sky is bright blue. The window spot has become a good place to start the day.


A friend invited us to a local ballet production. The company created a ballet in honor of Mary, her wife, who passed away a couple of years ago. Mary had been a big supporter of the ballet, and, among other things, was a certified clown. The ballet called Dr. Magic was a delight and focused on all the movements that clowns use at the same time presenting the love that people felt for Mary. The ballet was a wonderful way to pay tribute to someone who brought joy to others.

I started writing posts for this blog in 2012. The anniversary of my blog is in March. I only wrote nine posts in 2012 and 2013 so I consider 2014 to be the official start date since I wrote almost every week during that year.  Recently I found a blog publishing website that allows me to have a printed version of all my posts. The books look terrific. They are well-designed and formatted so that each post is easy to read. At the beginning of the book, the publishers have pulled a collage of the photos I've used within the year. You can see the pages at the top of this post. I am pleased with the result and so glad that people continue to read my blog posts. Thank you!


An important documentary, 20 Days in Mariupol, is well worth watching. A good reminder of what is at stake in Ukraine.

Friday, February 9, 2024



When was the last time you heard someone say, Hogwash, or Balderdash, Bullpucky, Razzamatazz, Fudgel, Dillydally, Lollygag, or Tin Whistle? Did you know that a Tin Whistle is a kind of Fipple Flute along with the recorder and flageolet? Have you ever heard of a fipple flute or flageolet? I hadn't, but I love the alliteration when I say these "F" words.
    If you look up the origins of these colorful words, you will find some interesting connections. Some are replacements for swear words or as "lollygag" was once used, as a euphemism for love-making. Lollygag became a word that means to waste time instead. Hum.
    Reading Kory Stamper's Word by Word, the Secret Life of Dictionaries, reawakened an interest in the origin of words. English is such a versatile language that words change meanings and usage over time. That's why we have lexicographers who painstakingly create the definitions found in our dictionaries to help us keep track of what a word means.

Sakura: Signs of Spring

    The meaning of an acronym can also change over time. LOL used to mean Little Old Lady, but now it's Laugh Out Loud, what will its next iteration be? In our hurried-up world, words that are too long become acronyms instead, such as Post-Modernism shortened POMO, OMG instead of Oh My God, and FOMO or Fear of Missing Out. The use of acronyms flourishes in the English language because it accepts change and adapts to new meanings.
    Other languages have different ways of dealing with new words and meanings. In France, any new word needs to be formally approved by the Academie francaise before it appears in their official dictionary. Yet, in everyday use, foreign words creep into French, "weekend" and "smartphone" being prime examples.
    The Japanese use three different alphabets to create words. First, The Japanese used kanji, the original written language borrowed from Korea and China. Kanji is an ideogram version of writing and includes both sound and meaning within the word. A good example is the word "Mori", which means forest. Mori repeats the symbol for tree three times and looks like a forest.

    Hiragana and Katagana, the other two alphabets developed by the Japanese, have different purposes and are syllabic. Hi ra ga na and ka ta ga na are easy to pronounce once the syllables are separated. Hiragana is a placeholder between nouns and used at the end of sentences. Katagana is used to make the written expression of foreign words.
    Cherry blossoms (sakura) are a significant part of Japanese culture because they appear at the beginning of Spring and are transient. People gather for cherry blossom viewing parties and watch as the buds turn to blossoms and then the blossoms fall and cover the ground like pink snow. I found this Japanese word for the changing nature of life which includes the symbol for cherry blossom:

Mi kka mi nu ma no sa ku ra

The last character of this word stands for sakura (cherry blossom). Can you see the tree? There is also the symbol for female within the symbol:

That's the beauty of discovering the origins of words I hadn't known or used before.


Thanks to these four delightful books that inspired this post:

Kory Stamper, Word by Word: the Secret Life of Dictionaries
Joe Gilliard, The Little Book of Lost Words
Yee-Lum Mak, Other Wordly
John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

All four are available at


Looking for something to make for Valentine's Day? Check out my Project Directions page. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 2, 2024


Kuratake watercolor reds and blues

 Among all the colors on a watercolor palette, I find red to be one of the hardest to use. Red often becomes too bright, too bold, attention-getting, or too muddied and dark and not easy to pick up with a Magic Eraser or wet Viva towel. I have to be careful where I paint it. A small spot of red will draw the eye and stop there. In this quick sketch below, I used sprays and dabs of watered-down red to lead the eye across the page. The red anchors the black marks and helps to give the sketch depth.

When I make abstract calligraphic pieces, red is a useful tool. One small square somewhere in the mark-making anchors the abstract strokes.

Like all colors on the color wheel, red has warm and cool variations. I gravitate towards the cooler versions since I tend to paint with colors that are mixed together, greyer, and quieter than something right out of the tube. I have to be careful mixing red into other colors on my palette. Just a small spot of red can overwhelm other colors. Adding a touch of red to blue makes a good tone for clouds or shadows.

I found a small dried-up blob of red watercolor in an old palette tray and put it in some water to see what would happen. Once the red blob dissolved, the result was red water, of course. Could I do anything with that red water? I put it into a spare bottle and sprayed it across part of an unfinished watercolor. Too much light red  (pink!) splatter. I wiped it off before it had time to dry. I brushed six small red squares on a page in my art journal and dropped some ultramarine blue onto the wet surfaces. The blue mixed and fanned out on the wet red surface.

I thought about those squares and couldn't come up with a way to use them in a painting so I decided to try to use the red tinted paper as background for sketches. I had watched from my window seagulls, crows, and pigeons stand as sentinels on the corners of the buildings like the gargoyles of Medieval cathedrals. Sparrows and finches lined up along the edges too. I wanted to remember those images. I used the squares to draw small versions of what I'd seen and painted them with regular watercolor. I used gouache, and white and yellow colored pencils to cover some of the pink areas and to make the birds' beaks stand out. Making art is a process of trial and mistakes to help me decide if the attempt is successful or not. In this case, it was a good experiment, but one that I probably will not use again. The red water will be good for our two indoor plants.

Painting with red as part of an exercise in Birgit O'Connor's watercolor class

Wednesday, January 24, 2024


Maybe because it is winter. Maybe because it is cold outside, and we stay inside more often. Maybe because January is a quiet month and a good time to read. I find myself reading more books in January. 
A long time ago, I started to keep a list of the books I read. I have filled several small volumes with titles, authors' names, and notes about the books. I didn't include the books we remember from childhood such as Nancy Drew, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn nor did I include books from college such as The Illiad and The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, Beowulf (how I ever got through the old language of that book, I don't remember), and all the other world literature that was required reading at that time.
Looking back on my list, I realized that in the last few years, I have read my favorite book of the year in January. The titles include Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, The Wild Places by Richard MacFarlane (the one book I needed a dictionary at my side as I read it), The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and last year, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. This year, I think my favorite could be Word by Word: The Secret Live of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer, who is one of those people who decides which words will appear in a dictionary, defines the word and changes the description as the usage of the word evolves. She makes something that seems like an unexciting life into something magical and important.

  Two good reads

By fourth grade, my parents allowed me to check out books from the adult section of the library. My first choices included history books, especially about the White migration across the Plains in the 19th century and the effect on the Native Tribes already living there. The most recent book I read about this era, The Heart of Everything That Is, was another gut-wrenching, unmasking view of that time in our history.
I also discovered a love of mysteries. I remember reading my way through the Mr. and Mrs. North series written by Francis and Richard Lockridge about married sleuths who solved mysteries in the manner of Agatha Christie novels. I also powered through all of Christie's mysteries. Playing Clue with my sister increased my interest in solving "Who Dunnits." I enjoyed reading how an investigator explored the other characters who became prime suspects. I found good company in Presidents Kennedy and Obama who also liked this genre.
What kinds of books do you read? Mysteries or non-fiction? Sci-fi? Generational stories? History or Biographies? Romances? What piqued your interest in these genres or themes? Do you have a favorite from last year?


One of my favorite writers, Margaret Renkl, wrote three wonderful essays about winter in her state of Tennessee. You can read them in the New York Times here: 

Check out her website here:

Good book recommendations by friends:

Mary, Marcia, and Letty recommend:  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

The Magnificent Lives of Margarie W Post by Allison Pataki

Bill recommends: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James MacBride, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, and Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson

Christy recommends: Horse by Geraldine Brooks and Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Rose recommends: Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shaped Me

Marcia recommends: Horse by Geraldine Brooks, Demon Copperfield by Barbara Kingsolver, and Trust by Herman Diaz

Mary, Marcia, and I all recommend stories by Kate Quinn:  good reads

Check out this updated version of the 100 Must-Read Classics. How many have you read?

Friday, January 19, 2024


Photos for January from the Northeast Window

Not too early in the morning from the northeast bedroom window of our new apartment, I can watch the sun hit the windows of the apartment buildings across the channel. The sun touches a few of the windows with golden light. The seagulls circle and land on the still waters of the channel. I hear their off-key caw as they greet each other. I check the shoreline for the rocks that are hidden by high tide. Sometimes the water is as reflective as a mirror. Other times, the wind ruffles the water and the mirror disappears. 

I can see the giant electronic billboard at Oracle Park where the Giants baseball team plays. The billboard is on 24/7 and flashes enormous photos of ball players, Motocross riders, or the trendy entertainers who will come to the park in the future. I can see the towers of the Bay Bridge rise above the park and Yerba Buena Island in the distance.  I watch steam rising from pipes on several buildings and I have to remind myself that this isn't Tokyo or Paris. I am in San Francisco.

I see a chattering of sparrows fly to the edge of the roof below and line up like little soldiers. I watch walkers amble across the street to the channel parkway, many with dogs in tow. I hear the roar of freeway traffic which sounds more like a river than individual cars and trucks. I hear the occasional forceful commuter train whistle as the train surges towards the Fourth Street terminal. Sirens from ambulances and fire trucks screech as they race towards the hospital emergency rooms. Occasionally, I hear the alarm that signals one of the drawbridges across the channel is moving upwards as all traffic stops on the streets.

Channel Street

I am too far above the street to notice any odors or feel the street-side weather from the window. The northeast window looks out onto Mission Creek, which separates us from the rest of San Francisco. Bill and I moved to another apartment on the corner of the building in the same complex we had been living in since November. I like that there are more windows. Bill misses the sun from our old south-facing apartment. 

At night, the view from the northeast bedroom window is a different story.

Mission Creek at night by Bill Slavin