Friday, May 29, 2015


How do you get to work?  Do you make lists? Draw up a plan? Or just go wherever you may go?

As a writer, I write draft after draft of a story or essay until I am happy with the results.

As an artist, I learned to sketch out my ideas, using design principles that became intrinsic to me the more I drew.

My first inclination, even if I don't sketch out a design first, is to stop when I feel I've reached a good piece. I don't usually add lots of layers, gesso over something repeatedly, or cover up parts that I really like. Here's an example of a piece that I did quickly:

This piece was done with spray inks, stencils, torn up napkins, and acrylic paints.

When I first started making collages, I usued scraps from magazines, copies of photos, and other ephemera to build up a page. Except for images from napkins, I don't do that anymore because I like to use my own artwork within a piece.

This is an altered book that I made at Castle in the Air in Berkeley.

This piece was made with torn napkins, music sheets and acrylics.

Last Sunday I spent a delightful day at the Juicy Soul Retreat at Work of Heart Studio in San Jose, hosted by Andrea Chebeleu. We played with spray inks, tissue papers, napkins, acrylics, stencils, stamps, and bits of ephemera. What a great day we had!

While at the retreat, I tried letting go of my normal way of making art. I know that many collage artists build layer upon layer of torn paper and paint and end up with extraordinary results. But I find that process to be hard. I don't like to cover up images that I like with gesso. I find it difficult to add lettering on top of a finished piece. But I'm trying to learn.

Once I had several pieces complete, I decided to risk my last one. Rather than stopping when I felt I had a good result, I decided to continue to add layer after layer. Here is what happened to my last piece.

On our back deck, just ready to start layering.

My theme was Letting Go.

Last version after several layers. I was beginning to feel that I was just making a big mess!

I finally cut the piece into ATC (Artist Trading Cards). 
Sometimes things look better when I cut them into smaller pieces. 
Now I have ATCs to trade. 
I think I have miles to go with these techniques. 
What do you think?

Check out these sites for workshops and good ideas:

Andrea Chebeleu at the Work of Heart Studio:
Julie Valentine:
Castle in the Air: 
(sometimes I turn on their website just to listen to the animal sounds I hear in the background)


Friday, May 22, 2015


The owl hoots echo through our windows as loud as a foghorn, with that same haunting undercurrent of sadness. When we first moved to our house over 30 years ago, an owl couple inhabited the neighborhood. The owls liked the crossbeams on our neighbor's house. They would sit there in the evening and hoot at each other. One evening as I stood at the top of our hill, one of the owls glided slowly by me. Its wings stretched wide as I ducked out of its way. There weren't many trees then for them to nest in. The owls disappeared from our neighborhood until recently.

The redwoods that we planted on the hill have grown taller than our house. We didn't think as we planted them that it would matter that they grow several feet a year. After 30 years, they are over one hundred feet tall. The owls have come back and call out in the spring one to the other in their deep, lonely voices. They sometimes screech and are joined by the yips of the family of coyotes who come to hunt ground squirrels on the golf course next to us.

The two owls call to each other until midnight. I imagine they are Great Horned Owls, who inhabit large areas of North America. They have found a good spot in our neighborhood where there are plenty of mice, squirrels, birds, rats, and other creatures that take refuge in the dark.

They have been calling since the start of an unusually dry Spring in February, while the daffodils flowered, while the evergreen pear leaves unfurled into the Spring green that I love, and while the cherry blossoms filled the air with their sweet scent. They still hoot as the rose bushes begin to fill out their leaves, the wisteria shoots out flower buds, and the birds clamber over the bird feeders -- one species pushing another out in their frantic Spring feed after a cold and barren Winter.

The owls continue to stay even as the crows, new to our neighborhood, have chased the one hawk until she has temporarily abandoned her nest in the sycamore in our front yard. I would like to see the owls, but our backyard is too dark at night and the redwoods give the owls plenty of cover to hide from prying eyes. Their slow hoots are a welcome sound, an unusual Spring welcome in our hurried world.

Friday, May 15, 2015


I love maps. I love the feel of paper maps and the intricate way they unfold. I love that I see the lay of the land once they are open. I do use Google Maps when needed for written directions. Unlike my husband Bill though, I've been reluctant to listen to the GPS voice on our car, which directs up to a specific place once we give the Voice the coordinates it needs.

I have changed my mind. A couple of weekends ago, we went to Seattle. I needed to drive to Lynwood, a suburb north of the city. I keyed in the address into the GPS and followed the vocal directions. With only one mishap (the Voice didn't know which parking lot to choose) we, the Voice and I, arrived at our destination. When I got out of the car, I realized I was relaxed and ready for my day's adventure. I didn't have the leftover anxiety that would have been there if I had ventured out on my own, dependent on either a paper map or the written directions from GoogleMaps. My serenity at my arrival was a wake-up call for me to change my mind.

I went to Seattle, Bill in tow, to attend Letters of Joy, the annual calligraphy conference put on by Write On Calligraphers of Edmonds. Of the more than 30 workshops they offered that day, I had to pick three. While Bill went on a photography expedition on a ferry ride around Seattle, I sat in classes with three encouraging, dynamic instructors: Jocelyn Curry, Dewey Henderson, and Kathy Barker. We added flourishes to our Chancery script, wrote letters embellished with calligraphy and drawings, and worked with basic design principles to make a more pleasing piece.

Envelopes sent by Letter of Joy registrants.

At Letters of Joy, I signed up for the Decorated Envelope exchange. I will practice my penmanship throughout the year as I send birthday greetings with a flourish to each person on my list. In return, I will receive a wonderful birthday present from each of them. Here are some samples from previous years:

Calligraphy keeps me connected to hand-made things. The hand-eye-brain concentration helps me focus and weeds out the worries of the day. But I also like the depth of the Internet: I never would have found Letters of Joy without a search on a computer. I like how the old and new can be a source for new adventures and enrichment. I include my acceptance of the Voice that comes with our GPS in our car as a new source for fun and growth.

We haven't taken the step of naming our Voice. Have you?

Have you had a change of mind recently?  Tell me about your experience.

Check out Write On Calligraphers

These three calligraphers do beautiful work:
Kathy Barker
Jocelyn Curry
Dewey Henderson
Her work can be seen at the Letters of Joy page of the Write On Calligraphy site.

Also check out Jean Wilson's blog for more decorated envelopes:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

On a corner in Seattle last weekend, just before breakfast, Bill, my husband, and I stood with a young man while we all waited for the light to change. He engaged us, telling us his story. He was originally from Kenya, had moved to Michigan but found the weather too cold, and for whatever reason, was now living under a bridge in Seattle. Until he said that he was homeless, neither of us had a clue. He was clean and well-spoken. His story reminded me of one that I wrote after going to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with our son Theo:

A day of adventure at Golden Gate Park was a pleasant diversion for my three-year old son, Theo, and me. We rented a paddleboat at Stowe Lake and paddled across the lake. With our cannons booming off the bridge, we played pirates all around the island in the middle of the lake. Many other people were using the lake for boating, and a large group had collected on a nearby baseball field for a game. Beyond the trees around the lake, we could hear the music of an outdoor blues concert. The people we saw, like us, were warmly dressed to protect against the fog that regularly creeps into San Francisco.

We ate lunch and Theo did not have the patience to play any game for long. But a walk in the woods spelled, "Adventure." we climbed over fallen logs, picked our way through the underbrush, and followed a trail around an old log house. I watched Theo from behind as his determined strut carried him down the path. Even as we walked, I repeatedly checked our back trail to make sure we did not get lost. Deeper in the brush, we found two makeshift lean-tos made from large branches and leaves, evidence of another kind of living dramatically different from our own sequestered world where a walk in a small grove of trees in a large city park is just a 'walk in the woods.' My son looked at the makeshift pile of branches and leaves and headed immediately down the trail towards one of the lean-tos. "Let's head over the hill this way," I called to divert his attention.

Someone made those woods their home and knew the safest places in the park to build a small nest for the night. These wood dwellers were not here for a day's picnic like we were. They had carved out their lives in the underbrush. Except for a moldering piece of jeans dropped on the trail, the hidden homes and the trails to them were the only evidence that other humans used the forest in different ways than we did.

I wondered what this someone who in lived in the woods was like. I felt a shiver of recognition. Had that someone once scampered through the woods following a mother on a trail?

What had made that someone change so much that living in the woods became the last safe haven, so close to civilization but so far from its normal boundaries? I watched as my son turned down another trail, picked up a stick, and aimed it at the sky. My dreams for my son are wide dreams full of adventure and social purpose. I dream that my son will leave the world a better place than he found it. Looking at the lean-tos, I know that a mother wished that too, but that sometimes dreams don't come true.

With Mother's Day this Sunday, I hope that you will give all the mothers, sons, and daughters that you know a big hug that will keep them close and safe. Dream big!

Friday, May 1, 2015


It's Friday and everything is done for this week. I've finished some art projects, I've worked on calligraphy practice, my blog is posted.  I also have been feeling overwhelmed by the news this week: Nepal, the drownings off Italy, Baltimore, and more. I needed to take some time to myself. I found a good place out on our back porch.

As I work on a piece of cross-stitching that has taken me 20 years to complete, I listen to what is going on around me. First, I hear the twittering song of one of the canary finches that live around us. What a voice from such a small bird.

The wind picks up. The weather is changing with the possibility of rain. In drought-parched California any change in weather or chance of rain is good news. I listen as the breeze collects in the trees, soughing through the leaves. Out of the corner of my eye, I keep seeing something small and dark dash across the patio stones. I concentrate on the stones and realize that it isn't lizards or voles running through, just the  leaves left over from last year that skitter across the patio.

I take more stitches. I hear the doves coo, the squirrels chatter, the chirp of the hummingbird, and the whistle of a quail. I even  think I hear the sounds of the mole digging tunnels industriously in our front yard.

Not all the sounds are natural.
I listen again and hear our neighbor clunking one rock or brick against another as he moves his garden around again. I hear the chunk of a golf club striking a ball. A plane rumbles over. A car passes by on the street.

And then I hear the finch once more. I look down at the progress I have made on my project. I am almost finished. The piece is a complicated design. I began the work when we used to take summer trips to a Minnesota lake. I only worked on it as I was relaxing by the lake. When our son was in high school and we stopped our trips, I put the work away and forgot about it until recently. Making each cross-stitch gives me time for a moment of sounds in our backyard.

What do you do to take quiet time for yourself?

Other surprises:  I've been selected as a Star Blogger on Story Circle Network, an online writing community for women that offers writing classes and groups to encourage writing your stories.  Find them at: