Friday, April 24, 2015


When I work on an art project, I really test my theme for the year: Letting Go.

I'm putting together a small book of watercolors that I painted. I know they will look much better when they are framed in some matter. They will stop being just sketches. The book I am making is called "Ephemera" based on a visual poem I wrote about things disappearing.

Putting together a book is mind-bending. As I work on the book, I need to visualize its completed form, I need to calculate dimensions, I need to measure accurately, and I need to be precise with the assemblage. I have to work really hard to make these actions happen so that I end up with pages that line up without any squiggly edges out of whack.

As you can see on this try making accordion folds, I didn't quite make the folds precise enough, which can throw off the book's form. That's when I have to ask myself, "Does it matter?"

I have a choice here of just letting go or making the most polished book that I can. I have to ask myself, "Is this the best I can do at this time?" Then I think of another small book I made with shows a quote from Lao Tsu.

Each time I practice making a book, I find new problems, new mistakes to make. Sometimes I need to begin again, other times I am satisfied with what I've done, while other times I can let go of my preconceived ideas of what I wanted and discover a better solution.

With some books I've made, I have reveled in their imprecision. When I have used cloth bindings, the pages naturally twist and give a little. They are full of scraps and stitches.

What I have to ask myself each time, "Is this the kind of book I want to make or is it a book that needs to be made as meticulously as possible?"  What questions do you ask yourself as you work?

For this book of very careful watercolors, I think it is important to develop the precision I need to make a book that allows the watercolors  to shine and also pleases me. I may make the book over and over again until it just right. I've decided to cut apart what I have assembled already and remake the book entirely. 

Instead of an accordion folded book, I cut and folded enough separate pieces of paper to hold the small paintings. After gluing a painting to each page, I tied the pages together with square knots at both bottom and top. I then punched two holes in the fold of each piece and made a loop to anchor the ribbon that I attached to the covers to hold the whole book together.

In the process of finishing the book, I used matt medium to attach end papers. I didn't notice until everything was dry that a big drop of medium landed on the first page of the book. Do I let that go? Do I have to start over? No. Instead, I took a piece of the end paper and attached it to the first page. The drip disappeared under an interesting page that had a trace of ink swiped across it.

When I finished, I did not have a perfect book. I remembered when I was younger, my inner critic parts would have been jumping up and down in frustration. I have learned to talk with those parts so now I can slow down, enjoy what I am doing, and be patient with my results. My mom said, "It takes some people a long time to grow up." I now know what she meant by that. 
I am still learning to let go.

If you are interested in making books, look through Alisa Golden's book, Making Handmade Books, and you will find 100 ways to build a book.  Check out her website too.

Two galleries to discover:  23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon, which specializes in book art exhibits.

 Seager Grey Gallery in Mill Valley, California.Their annual book arts exhibit starts
 May 5:

Friday, April 17, 2015


Now that Spring is here, summer is only around the corner and a good time for stories. And since you are probably somewhere that is colder than California is right now, I thought I'd tell you a story about one summer trip to Minnesota from California when I was eight -- a hot, infinitely long drive for all of us.

My mother recalled that my sister, Linda, and I kept asking, "Are we there yet?" My dad hung a burlap bag full of water on the front grill of our midnight blue Packard so that he could pour water into the radiator, when it started to boil over in the Mojave Desert. My mother, the map reader, became know for 'Mother's Shortcuts,' which took us miles away from our nightly destination, and which made our trips even more fun because of the extra sights we saw. Linda entertained us in the back seat with road games such as License Plate Bingo.

I spent the rest of the time in the car making up stories about the Old West and the trail that became Route 66, the road my dad was driving on. I also called out at every quirky place that had a sign in the window proclaiming:

"Stop! Look! Rock Museum -- see Volcanic Rocks!"
"Monster Dinosaurs -- Paw Prints as Big as Houses!"
"Ft. Bridger -- Don't Miss Jim Bridger's Guns!"

I wanted to explore them all. My dad obliged me and stopped at a few along the way. What better way to collect a few souvenirs of the Old West?

By the time we got to South Dakota, we were all tired and fairly grumpy. We made a short stop in Pierre to see one of my dad's sisters and her family, but our final long driving day meant we had to cross the Badlands, a place of moonscapes, and no water or gas until the other side.

My dad stopped at the last gas station to fill up the Packard. I ran to the restroom and waited as an elderly woman took her time in the single stall. When I was done, I walked out the door. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes looked at the gas pump -- no Packard there. "Where'd my family go?" I didn't look beyond the pump. 

Thinking that I was in the back seat already, my dad had started the car out of the station. When Linda yelled, "You forgot Martha!" he backed up and came right back to retrieve me. My poor dad must have been thinking of that last, hot, difficult drive through the Badlands to the state border of Minnesota when he almost left me in the middle of nowhere -- and me without a horse.

Martha in the Middle of Nowhere

Friday, April 10, 2015


Deep in the heart of every man still lurks a little boy.

Boys building in the sand at Pt. Reyes Seashore

While we were remodeling our house, our contractor came over to me excitedly. I walked over with him to the rest of his crew who were all huddled around one part of the house's foundation. 

They pointed at what they wanted me to see: a colony of termites as dense as a beehive, wiggling and squirming around the wood part of the foundation. I just knew they were waiting for me to shriek. But I didn't. I love to look at bugs, and here was a whole feast. Finally, one of the men shivered and turned away. I smiled, knowing that they not only wanted me to know about the termites, but they had been hoping for that age-old 'girl' response to insects of any kind.

I love insects. As a young girl, I used to collect them, suffocate them in jars, stick pins in them and put them on a display board. All I can say about that:  I didn't know any better, and that's what insect collectors did, right?

As an adult homeowner, I can no longer kill a bug intentionally (mosquitos are an exception). I keep what my husband calls, 'my bug cup.'  So when we have a spider or insect, including wasps, trapped in our house, we sneak up on the insect, put the cup over it, gently slip a piece of paper under the cup, and trap the insect inside until we can open a door to allow the insect to escape. Making up for all those beautiful insects that I killed when I was young, I guess.

A large Sphinx Moth

We have caught some interesting ones around our house: many Daddy Long Legs, ant lions, bumble bees, moths, butterflies, and one that I had never seen before, a hummingbird moth. I thought at first the fluttering I was watching was a hummingbird -- same size but this one had a long feeding tube instead of a bill. What a beautiful sight to see!

Makes me want to get out my book of insects again, and learn more about them. I've started taking pictures of them so that I can paint them. They are hard to get since they move so quickly and are so small. What kind of insects are your favorites?

One of the cicadas that fill the trees with their clicking in Arisagawa Park in Tokyo in September -- not painted yet!

Thursday, April 2, 2015


What are your first signs of Spring where you live?

We can tell it is Spring when the pollinators make our Japanese maples and liquidambar trees thrum. Above our heads, the bees dance and knock the flower stems out of the trees. The sap drops on the deck. Our shoes pick up the stickiness and we make snapping noises as we walk.

The bees in our trees are not all honeybees. Some are smaller with straighter, hairless bodies. I've tried to identify them, but they are too high in the trees to photograph so they remain a mystery. Bees, flies, wasps -- any of these could be pollinating our trees. While trying to identify our pollinators, I've discovered that there are about 25,000 species of bees worldwide and they are endangered.  I am just grateful when I hear them in our trees every Spring. They, like Spring green, are a sign of renewal and hope.

We have friends who are beekeepers. We have ventured close to the hives to watch in fascination as the bees squirm, shake and fly to flowers in the hills near Mt. Diablo. I have never seen a wild nest of a California native bee. Some live underground like bumblebees and miner bees, and others build hives in trees. I am still looking.

When I visited Shakespeare's home in Stratford-on-Avon, the bumblebees hovered over the alliums in the garden.

Spring also brings the Tiger Swallowtails back in the garden when the weather warms. Every year we have one or two that flit around the yard starting in early Spring and continuing through the Summer. They never seem to touch down, but float across the trees and flowers. They live about two weeks so we see the cycling of many generations during the warm months.

Bees and swallowtails are delights and remind me to take time to sit awhile and enjoy what nature brings before me.

In the process of trying to identify our yearly visitors to the garden, I've come across some helpful websites:

Two honey vendors who can be found in local farmers' markets: (located in San Luis Obispo County) (located in the East Bay, San Francisco Bay area)

three sites with information about bees and butterflies:

and don't miss the Spring edition of Edible Marin and Wine Country, which has several articles about bees.

Other signs of Spring:  we start cleaning -- decks, garage, offices. What do you do when Spring comes?