Friday, July 29, 2016


After getting off the boat from Norway, my grandmother's dad walked from New York to Minnesota. I can't image walking that distance. I have a hard time walking from Danville to Alamo and back (about 5 miles). He, like my dad's father and brother, came to the U.S. in hopes of a better future for themselves. They left relatives behind in Norway, found a place in the Northern Midwest similar to the country they left, with people who sounded and looked like themselves, just like many immigrants do.

My other side of the family fled France during the French Revolution, again leaving a life (and possibly a castle according to my grandfather) behind them, to pursue a new and different life in upper New York State. My grandmother's family arrived in the New World from England before the United States was formed, with one relative who furthered the American Revolution by signing the Declaration of Independence. They too sought a better life in a new place.

My mother's parents, one Baptist, one Catholic, married over the objections of their families. They moved west from New York to California, living along the way in places such as Cincinnati and Ogden, Utah. They too were looking for a better life, and found it in the developing western part of the United States.

None of these people were Irish or Italian, African American or Latino. They never saw the signs, "No Irish Need Apply," that appeared on storefront windows back East during the great migration from Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, or the more recent manifestations of the same sentiment. They were not persecuted because of their race, religion, or ethnicity. By accident of birth, they fit in with the general population of the United States at the time.

All of these people were honorable, humble, not boastful of their accomplishments. They helped to form communities. They valued hard work, and the freedoms that our country offered them. By luck and place of birth, they were acceptable as citizens. Yet they too were immigrants and migrants. They brought with them reminders of their former cultures. They introduced new foods and new celebrations. They are part of what makes the United States still a great country.

Where do you come from?

Friday, July 22, 2016


I'm with my tribe this week. My tribe includes people who love to do calligraphy, and who love to test the boundaries of calligraphic design. Sometimes the results mean that the words aren't legible. Sometimes they are so large they fill the page. Others become patterns instead of text.

I love to take workshops. Not only do I learn new techniques or refine old ones, I get to be with fellow artists, who inspire and recharge me.

Rebecca Wild's workshop participants

Rebecca Wild's class, Art and Text, Nature Inspired, arranged through the Friends of Calligraphy this Spring, gave us new ways to experiment with art media. During a busy weekend, we used stencils, acrylic paints, and pastels to create transparent layers using nature and calligraphy as a theme. We worked up each piece on a 6" X 6" square of watercolor paper.

I come away from workshops in a state of bliss. The workshop might be tiring, challenging, even overwhelming, but I find new skills and test myself not to withdraw from failures and push myself in new directions.

To start these designs, I taped a 6-inch square with Scotch Magic Tape to another piece of paper.
Once the design is finished,  I remove the tape. Look how colorful they are on their own.

I drew an insect on a piece of contact paper. I cut the image out with an Exacto knife. I saved both negative and positive sections of the design. I rubbed the positive design on to the watercolor square.

Now I am ready to work with pastels and/or acrylics. Once one layer of color is complete, I can move the image around or use the negative image on the same square. I continue working with the pastels and layers of colors till I am satisfied. Then I can add words to the image.

If you have a chance to take a workshop, look for one with Rebecca Wild. Check out her website at

Friday, July 15, 2016


A good friend and I sit in the shade of her backyard, which blooms with flowers, fruit, and her mosaics on the fences. Color is everywhere: the clay fish in the simple bubbling fountain, the shards of glass pushed between the stepping stones of the paths that wander through her yard, the bright red apples and deep purple plums hanging in the trees, and the ceramic frogs and lizards near her hammock. My friend, a painter, is most at home in Monet's garden in Giverny in France, and she brought the flood of color of that garden to her backyard.

Her two dogs push toys at us, waiting for a foot to kick the toy far enough for them to scamper after. When we don't respond, they explore the garden. Piper, a Jack Russell terrier, brings back a green apple with teeth marks on it. She hopes this offering will interest us.

We set out watercolors and paper on the table and pursue "Painting, No Judgment," as my friend calls it. We relax into our efforts. She quickly splashes reds and magentas on her page while I lightly wash my paper with the soft colors of succulents.  

Garden photos by Christy Myers

When we've had enough, we get up, stretch, and walk around the table. I  say, "I started to put too much dark...."

She calls, "Shush, no judgment," and whispers, "Oh" and "Ahh," as she walks around the table (though that is a judgment too).

"Shall we start writing now?" I ask, feeling free of any negative thoughts and open to what follows "Painting, No Judgment."

Friday, July 8, 2016


Summer is here, summer is here,
Time to make good memories
and to surround yourself with cool blue.
Take a photo of five blue images and send them to me!

After a week of 100 degree weather, we are back to bright blue skies, chilly mornings, leaves waving in the breeze.

Good time to have dinner outside with friends.

My favorite blues:
Azure, the intense blue of the summer solstice,
Cornflower blue, the color of Theo's bedroom when he was a baby,
French blue, which reminds me of Paris,

Indigo, a deep blue, a prevalent color in Japan. Like Prussian blue, Indigo mixed with black makes a more intense black.

I remember visiting a dye maker's shop in Japan and carefully stepping by the vats of Indigo dye. The dye maker in the photo pulls racks of fabric out of one vat to see if it is ready.

Did you know that Blue Appatite is a psychic's color, or that Prussian blue is the color of blueprints, therefore, new beginnings?

Have you ever heard of Smalt? It's an ancient color of blue used by the Egyptians. It's the blue in blue glass.

My Aunt Ona, whose eyesight wasn't good even with glasses, made me laugh. One time as she was watching a slideshow of Dad's photos, she exclaimed, "Look at the big waves!" She had mistaken the fog rolling over the hills for waves.  I think of her every time I try to paint clouds or waves.

I've been painting blue palettes and blue sky horizons, but summer is also a good time to read a book. These two are good summer reads.  Notice the blues used on the covers. Are you reading a good book today?

The ending will leave you wondering!

A good light mystery.


Summer blue skies remind me:

Do you call soft drinks pop or coke?

Did you grow up swimming in a swimming pool,  at the plunge or natatorium, or at a river or a lake?

Did you get sunburned on a sandy beach or while playing on a rocky path through a stream?

Wasn't the sky always blue in the summer?

Here's to a quiet moment away from the relentless news of the day. Cheers!

Send your blue images to, post them on my Facebook page at Martha Heimdahl Slavin, or to Instagram at #postcardsintheair or directly to Google +  Thank you for sharing!

Friday, July 1, 2016


Do you read your horoscope? About once a year I sneak a look at mine just to see if any new advice comes my way. Today it did. The reading suggested that for the next month (or forever) I concentrate on one thing and master that, which is just a small nudge in the right direction to remind myself not to leap from one project to another all the time. So which should it be this month: watercolors or etching?

I immediately went outside to tackle emptying out my compost bins, a job on my long-term to-do list.

Over the years I've tried several different methods of composting, starting with the easiest, a stack of clippings near our vegetable garden at a previous house. I tried and ultimately discarded several different shapes of bins (I found a local community garden that would take them) until I decided on two round ones that I could spin to mix the ingredients. I have had a hard time finding a hidden place with sunlight in our shady backyard.  The bins need the sunlight to cook the contents so that it becomes good dirt.

Instead of the expected good dirt in a couple of months, my bins have been sitting there for several years. I continued to add compostable stuff, spun the bins, and added fertilizer in the hopes the contents would turn. At one point the contents turned sour. I added more fertilizer, which provides heat, and the contents progressed a little. I still never had a large quantity of spreadable compost. Our trash collection service announced this year that it would begin accepting compostable food scraps, so I gave up composting. I left the bins alone, turning them only every couple of months. I decided to give these bins away too. I just needed some time to clean them out. Today seemed perfect for that chore.

If you are a wannabe scientist like I am, you will find all kinds of interesting things in a compost bin. As I dumped the compost out, I noticed wiggly things, millions of them. In the dirt, I found red worms that I added a long time ago, their hatchlings, and smaller worms that looked like centipedes. What is more, the compost finally changed into true good dirt. I was excited. I had two good barrels of compost.

A few things didn't decompose. Some of the food scraps - carrot tops, turnip ends - that I added five or six months ago were still in their original shapes.  Silk tea bags and egg shells looked the same as when I put them in. A raspberry vine had established itself in the compost and had sent two or three shoots through the seams of the bin. I continued to dump the dirt out until one of the bins was completely empty except for some dirt that tenaciously clung to the sides along with a few worms. I transferred the compost to a large fibrous composting bag and to a plastic container.  I shredded the newspaper that I had used to catch the compost and put it into the empty bin so that the worms would have something to eat while they waited for a new home. The other composting bin was still full, but much easier to empty than the one I had been working on all morning.

I now have three (instead of two) containers full of good dirt, just waiting for the perfect day to spread around our yard. Perhaps that day will be the next time I decide to concentrate on just one thing.

Some people don't like worms and other wiggly things, but here's my dad's version of a caterpillar that became the book plate for the library.