Friday, March 25, 2016


 Don't you love Spring Green?

Our hills are vibrant green from all the rain we have had in March. A visitor from Minnesota, who last came to Northern California during the worst of the drought in the Fall, couldn't believe the change from the dry brown hills to the lush green that washes over everything in Spring.

The greens of the hills and the new leaves sprouting everywhere contrast with darker evergreens and create many shades of green.  Can I match those greens by mixing my watercolors? How many greens can I make by mixing greens and other colors together?

To start, I used Amazonite Genuine as the base and added one color to the Amazonite for each square: Black Tourmaline, Goethite, Quinacridone Gold, Green Apatite, Diopside, Ultramarine Blue, Smalt Genuine, Blue Apatite, Hansa Yellow Medium, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Neutral Tint, Indigo, Rhodonite Genuine, Quinacridone Red, Lunar Earth, Quinacridone Sienna, Green Apatite, Naples Yellow, Garnet Genuine, Shadow Violet, Hematite.  I then started other rows in the same way, first with Diopside Green and then with Green Apatite. Don't you begin to feel like a geologist or chemist as you read these names?And what greens we can make.

The mixed green in the center of this palette is so much the color of Spring!

You can use greens straight from the tubes: Hooker's Green, Hunter's Green,  Chromium Green Oxide, Cascade Green, Sap Green, Jadeite, Malachite, Olive Green, Phthalo Green, Prussian Green, Viridian Green. There are many. Greens made from a mixture of blues and yellows though or mixed with others look more natural and interesting than greens from the tube.

I used Amazonite, Hansa Yellow and Indigo to make these green leaves.

So many of the colors in watercolor (and oil) are natural pigments from rocks that have been ground down to powder, then mixed with gum Arabic, glycerin, a humectant such as corn syrup or honey, and a filler such as cornstarch. As a painter, you may be painting a landscape using paint mixed from the earth around you. Can you image the early artists (and present-day DIYers) mixing their own colors from crushed rock and stones? Watch the following YouTube to see one painter make her own paints.

At one of my first watercolor classes, my instructor proclaimed that she loved to make color charts and color wheels. At the time, I didn't understand, but now I do. I love to mix squares of colors just to see what colors I can make and how closely I can match a color around me. There are thousands of variations of green. Try some color charts of your own. Besides you can get your hands dirty while you are having fun.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Happy Birthday       XXXX   OOOO

These phrases came to me scrawled across numerous cards that I receive as a child from my Great Aunt Josephine and Uncle Gerald. Even today when I see XXXs and OOOs, I am reminded of those two distant relatives who lived in Boston. I loved my aunt and uncle for sending those occasional cards in the mail, yet I didn't meet them until one summer during college.

I took a summer job as an art instructor and cabin counselor at a camp for privileged kids in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. My salary for the 8-week camp just covered my expenses getting back and forth from California.

I was ready for an adventure, and made all my own arrangements to travel across the country, once there found a small plane to take me to the Berkshire Hills, made train reservations to different towns, and hailed cabs in big cities. Yet I learned I had no idea what I was getting into as a camp counselor. I had never been to camp as a camper so my impressions of camp came from books and TV programs. I discovered the six squirrelly 8-year-old girls in my cabin would rather play and shout than take a nap in a space just big enough for our cots, sleeping bags, and gear. During each day's prescribed "Quiet Hour," my girls made the old canvas cabin shake. I learned a lot that summer about what I needed to do to make my own way in this world besides just organizing travel reservations.

At the end of camp, with great relief, I hopped on a train for Boston to see my aunt and uncle. I arrived at their apartment building and discovered Uncle Gerald waiting for me. He was in his 80s, but he hefted my duffel bag filled with a summer's worth of gear on to his back and preceded to climb briskly up the stairs with me trying to catch up to him. My Aunt Josephine was waiting for me at their door. She had a big smile on her face, happy to see me. I knew her instantly because she looked like her brother, my grandfather, who was short with dark, grey-streaked hair. He was handsome; she, not so much, but she had his same mischievous character.

I was in for one more adventure as I discovered my uncle was an alcoholic. Most of the time he remained in their apartment, drank beer, and watched the Red Sox play ball. When he wasn't watching the game, my aunt and I hunted him down and chased him out of one bar after another. When we weren't bar hopping, we took the subway to Filene's or to see the sites of Boston.

Uncle Gerald drove us to Nantucket. He sped through Boston, driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction, weaving back and forth along the expressway, and miraculously, arriving at the Cape in one piece. After we returned, my aunt and I went to Mass. The first time I ventured to a Catholic Latin service. The first time I felt like getting down on my knees to pray for my survival in a summer that was filled with adventures.

Here's some XXXs and OOOs for those of you born in March.  Happy Birthday too!

What are some of your favorite childhood memories?
I hope you had many adventures too!

Friday, March 11, 2016


Artists are well known for sharing. That is why I liked this sign that I saw in San Francisco one day. I think of it as a reminder to us all to value the work of creative people.

A good friend, Deborah Hansen, sent me a drawing of her cat, which had been prompted by my post, Look or See. Rather than a pencil sketch, Deborah employed her iPad to make her drawing. She uses the Procreate app on her iPad for much of her work, and as she said, "I decided to cover the existing design with a solid layer and used the eraser tool for the contour drawing. Using the eraser shows what is underneath the solid color." I'm going to have to try this technique.  Great way to get a scratchboard effect!

Deborah does beautiful work in many media. Take a look at her wonderful website at

Another good friend and I sat in La Mediteranee in Berkeley the other day and talked of our plans for our college reunion. She is an artist who especially loves Diebenkorn, Robert Motherwell, and the quality of a line. I was surprised and delighted when she mentioned how my blog post, Look or See, had reminded her  to be brave in her own work. Contour drawing gave her the chance to focus on the quality of her line. I love that!

One last example of contour drawing shows how this technique develops the character of a line. These chairs seem a little quirky, don't they?

Contour drawing is a fun way to learn to draw. It does take some patience because you need to make yourself draw slowly as you absorb the shape of the object that you are drawing. You only look at the paper when you turn a corner and you never take your pencil off the paper.

With contour drawing, you become aware of all the details of an object. You are practicing 'seeing.'

Try it and send me your results!

Friday, March 4, 2016


How often do you get to walk in the woods? If you are like me, not very often.

Last weekend, I walked on the Presentation Trail in the hills above Los Gatos. I felt the dampness in the air, smelled the pungent pines, and bounced on the springy loam under my shoes. The path through the woods reminded me that life is a series of decaying and renewal. New lichen, moss, and green shoots pushed their way through the rotted tree bark around me. The trees overhead kept all noise except birds' songs away from me. I felt as if I had stepped from one world into another.

Who do you see here?

I attended an art workshop at the Presentation Center. The Center began as a 'wayward boys' school, changed to a thriving convent, and, today, though still a convent, functions as a conference center for various groups. A handful of nuns still live on the property in an old adobe building with a chapel attached. The center is surrounded by woods and offers the chance to be away from our hustling everyday world.

I spent the weekend with my Tribe -- a group of creative women who test boundaries, experiment and encourage each other. Thirteen of us sat/stood/danced in Orly Avineri's Art Journaling class. She is a terrific teacher who led us on an investigation of ourselves, asking questions that needed more thought than the first response we gave. She pushed us to "Let Go" of our attachments. While we pondered her questions, we layered paper, paint, distress ink, and other bits and pieces. We tied bundles of paper, metal, twigs, flowers, and moss together and sank them into a big pot of black tea overnight. The next day we unrolled the bundles to find transformation. Some of us used the pieces in our journal pages.

These papers started out as paper towels, plain paper, some with ink marks. Tied together and left in tea they became luscious pieces to use in our journals.

I came to the class because I resist covering up work that I like. I hold things precious. I want to stop when I have a good image or design. Layering gesso, acrylic paint, papers, and photos stymied me. In this class, I finally let that resistence go. Any mark that I made could be covered by other marks. Nothing was finished and could always be changed.

My walk through the woods also gave me a better understanding of layering, destruction, letting go, and renewal. Nothing in the woods is permanent. Nothing in life is permanent either. Even the manmade pipes that I found in unexpected places had crumbled and rusted. We all do.


Check out Orly Avineri's website: 


Next week I will feature some of the contour drawings that have been sent to me. They are terrific!