Friday, January 29, 2016


How many shades of grey can you find in this picture? Do you feel surrounded by grey in the winter?

We've had our share of grey days this month -- lots of rain -- but also fog and grey skies. Looking out at the dark grey clouds, grey landscape, grey roads, I began to feel grayness in my soul. It all seemed the same shade of grey: fog.

My challenge to myself:  paint the beauty in shades of grey.

I started taking photos of every wintry shade of grey I could find. Back in my workroom, I painted a palette of greys using a foundation mix of ultramarine blue, quinacrodine red, and hansa yellow. I changed the ratio in each box and added other colors from the pencil list below. I also tried painting with black tourmaline, hematite, and neutral tint in the hope that I wouldn't just have flat grey. The minerals in these watercolors separated as they dried so the colors became more appealing.

I found multiple shades of grey. Maybe I could create a beautiful grey painting after all!

I was lucky that we visited Pt. Reyes over the weekend. I found grey everywhere I looked: boat docks, bridge girders, water.

I found blue grey in the bumper of a truck:

I found yellow grey by a boat dock:

I found reddish grey in the morning clouds:

and realized the depth in shades of grey. Now I'm on a grey painting binge. Here's the first Grey Horizon:

My Challenge to you:

take photos of the grey skies around you right now.  Send me your results. You can post them to my Google + Collections page
or my Facebook page, or Instagram at #postcardsintheair,
or email them to me at Martha Slavin <>.

I'd love to see what you find. And maybe by looking grey in the 'eye', you will find the beauty in grey days too.

Friday, January 22, 2016


In the Middle Ages, artisans and tradesmen organized into guilds to protect themselves from excessive taxation by the lords who ruled over their countries. The guilds flourished and became the foundations of the middle class in many Western countries. We still have guilds among us: trade unions are modern versions. Artisans still collect into guilds too.

Clockmakers Guild

On a rainy Saturday recently, I sat with fellow calligraphy guild members in a church hall in Japantown for a day of Trivial Pursuits. Instead of intense classes in a chosen 'hand' such as Italic or copperplate, we spent the day with six different instructors who directed us through six short art lessons.

We drew each other's faces using a technique called Blind Contour Drawing:

We found the entire alphabet within a series of crosshatched lines we drew on paper:

Can you find the letter R?

My version

We built fold-out display/gift boxes:

We learned the best technique to add glitter to calligraphic inks:

Use glitter powder and just touch the tip of a parallel pen into the powder. Change ink colors as you work.

We made a small box out of a milk carton:

We practiced lettering on chalkboards:

None of these short classes mirror the disciplined classes usually associated with mastering calligraphy. Instead we had fun working together, meeting new people and extending our creativity through these brief exercises. We had good food, good fun, and learned something too.

 Another good way to stay connected: send a decorated envelope to someone. Recently, I sent an envelope that looked like this:

My instruction: get out colored pencils and start coloring!

Envelope folded and glued together

 To my surprise, I received the envelope back, beautifully complete:

Check out these websites to see more beautiful calligraphic work:  sign up for a calligraphy class  check out their Graceful Envelope contest sponsors of Letters of Joy

Friday, January 15, 2016


A young mother stood slightly bent over her hands as I approached her on the Iron Horse Trail. Her infant slept in the stroller in front of her. I chuckled when I saw what she was doing: painting her nails a bright blue. She had carved out a small amount of time for herself in the time-consuming world of new motherhood. We smiled at each other in understanding.

Many times when I walk the trail, I hear voices in other languages: Eastern European, Chinese, occasionally Italian, sometimes Spanish. I listen carefully when I hear Japanese, proud of myself for still being able to distinguish the Japanese words from other Asian ones. I might hear, "Kudasai," or "Genki desu," or "Koko," or "Hai, doozo" -- phrases that stand out in my memory -- but all the other words slip by me too fast for me to grab them and understand what the walkers are saying.

One day on the trail, two women walked towards me gesturing with their hands in English. As I approached, I realized they were talking about food and what they planned to make for dinner. The more I heard, the hungrier I got for a satisfying dinner on a chilly night. One woman planned to make Chicken Cordon Bleu, a dish I hadn't cooked in a long time. I stopped them and asked for their favorite versions. We all had similar recipes.

Done with my walk, I picked up the ingredients at the grocery store and began preparations for the evening's dinner.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Set oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray.
Pound chicken cutlets and lay a piece of prosciutto and a piece of Jarlsberg cheese on each chicken breast. Roll up each chicken piece and use a toothpick to hold each one together.

Whisk two eggs together.

Mix together chopped garlic, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper, parmesan cheese, and whole wheat breadcrumbs.

Dip each chicken bundle into the eggs and then into the breadcrumb mix.

Place on a cooking sheet and bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the juices run clear.

Serve with roasted vegetables or a generous salad.  Enjoy some comfort food on a chilly night!

Thursday, January 7, 2016


The second week of 2016 and I already have a lot of catching up to do.  My cold kept me from doing my usual end-of-year activities: de-clutter, reflect, and find a purposeful word to guide me throughout the year. I've been thinking about new words, but nothing has resonated with me yet. Last year's phrase, Letting Go, helped me start the new year by looking at  the pieces of my life and my behaviors that I could let go of and change. I thought about that phrase all year long and it helped me to move through old and new hurtles.

The seed pods on the left and right of the photo are from our wisteria that almost died from the drought. Late in the summer new tendrils started growing up the trellis where the dead branches still hung.

Other words -- Fly, Freedom, Yes, Hope, One Thing at a Time, Create -- have attached themselves to me in other years, and they have been the underlying force that encouraged me to grow.

This year, maybe Adventure will be the one or Nourishment or Intention. But first, I need to de-clutter and reflect before I can feel the purpose for the year.

While thinking about words, I wandered our neighborhood and took photos of doorways. My inspiration was an online watercolor class I took with Jacqueline Newbold, which included segments about painting windows and doors. These are my finished pieces from the class:

I took the photos of my neighborhood's doors and made watercolor sketches of them. They are preliminary sketches and need adjustments:  the houses are a little wavy and out of scale with doors the wrong size compared to the structure around them.  I realized as I was drawing the fronts that I needed to start with the door and fit the rest of the house around the door instead of the other way around.

Here are the sketches of doors:

Maybe that will be my phrase for 2016: Open a new door.

Check our Jacqueline Newbold's website for information about watercolor classes:

Friday, January 1, 2016


I've been flummoxed by a cold for the past week, which has given me time: one day to count the smattering of rain drops on the stones outside;  another day, to count the one bee, confused by the sunny weather, that buzzed by me on the back porch; and to count the number of seed balls that fell from the Liquid Amber trees on to our deck like little bombs.

I needed comfort this week, not adventure, so I chose to draw on the back deck with my Pentel Stylo pen, which allowed me time to recover. I sat outside for my prescribed 20 minutes of sun, and followed the directions of a good book, The Curious Nature Guide, by Clare W. Leslie.

I made sketches in answer to the questions she asked.

What was in front of me?

Our Christmas tree as if it were in snow

From the window

What did I see that had similarities?

First, trellises and bird houses; second, leaves

What were some memories I had of nature?

What does my neighborhood look like?

Through the week, I drew and slowly got over the cold. I thought of two good books that I read this year:

which gave me insight into the Japanese culture and answered questions that I had while we were living in Japan.

which looks at the incident at the center of The Stranger by Albert Camus (the random shooting of an Arab by the Stranger) from the point of view of the Arab's family, and what it means to have no name other than 'the Arab', and to be constantly reminded of his death at the hands of another each time someone new reads the book. Interesting idea.

If you live in Northern California, you are experiencing our 'secret' California weather that almost always comes the last week in December and the first week in January:  blue skies, fluffy clouds, chilly, but warm sun. If you are not, I hope you can find
 a place where the sun is warm on your face and that you are well!