Friday, August 26, 2016


One of these days a pencil will be an object of curiosity in a museum somewhere.

These are my two favorite kinds of pencils

If you visit an art school, you will walk into rooms filled with computers with students creating magical designs using various design apps. You will be hard pressed to find a pencil except at the instructor's desk.

My letterpress instructor explained to two other (younger) students that in the 'old days,' art students had to learn to draw typefaces (now called fonts) by hand. They would draw them on tracing paper, rub the back of the paper with their graphite pencil, lay the tracing on top of a good piece of paper, and transfer the lettering to be finished with India ink, watercolor or gouache.

The first sketch to lay in the background

The second sketch to add the main figure

The finished watercolor.
All three of these steps now can be created on a computer

As I sat listening to the discussion, I knew  he was talking about someone like me. As a graphic design student, I had learned to design with paper and pencil. I stopped doing art in my thirties, taking up writing instead. It wasn't until we moved to Japan that I was tempted to try my hand at making art again. I chose a class in botanical illustration and loved the precision of painting flowers with that technique.

Sitting in the letterpress class though, made me realize that my return to the art world after a twenty-year hiatus was like being a visitor from another planet who didn't know how to use the equipment. I still pulled out pencil and paper instead of naturally reaching for computer programs such as Photoshop, inDesign, or Illustrator. When I took an Illustrator class, the instructor asked me, "Why are you taking the class when you already know how to draw?"  I didn't have an answer at the time, especially since I knew I would need to devote many additional hours to become proficient at Illustrator. (I haven't done that yet.) But now I know: these apps allow me to be creative in the same old way and also can enhance my designs beyond what I could do by myself.

I am taking an etching class now at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. Etching is a process that dates back to the 1500s, but it has also evolved with the help of design apps. I need to know how to use Photoshop in order to make the transparencies that I use to expose my design on a photo polymer plate. This plate is the one I will rub with ink and print on a press that still looks like the ones that were used by artists such Albrecht Durer. The other students are using photographs to make plates. My designs start as pencil drawings. I am making a leap into now-common practices, yet I am still one of the 'old days' artists.

I started with this sketch

Did another of the stages of the chrysalis

Put them together, but I didn't like the etched result

Still using pencil, I went back and changed the design.
All of this could also be accomplished with a good design app

Friday, August 19, 2016


Ring-necked doves, which are much larger than mourning doves.

Two mourning doves just built a nest on top of the rain gutters at the corner of our roof.  They have tried this place before several years ago. At that time we had an active hawk nest in the Sycamore tree in our front yard. One day as I stood in the kitchen, I heard two loud bumps, looked out our window to see a hawk with a dove in its claws, fighting to get out from under our porch overhang with his large catch. By the time I got outside, all that was left was a pile of feathers.

A bird's world is a tough place. We have had robins, finches, hawks, and doves build nests in our yard. Very few of them succeed in producing babies. Big birds such as the hawk, blue jays, and crows, which chased the hawks from their nest, eagerly fly through our yard looking for a new meal. I often find clumps of feathers near our bird feeders. One less bird in our yard. Now I've discovered that even small birds go after each other.

I found an egg in a nest under a spider plant that has been used several times by junkos without much success. The nest had been abandoned leaving behind one egg with a small hole in it. House wrens are known for attacking the eggs of other small birds. The hole in the egg was so precise that I can only guess that another bird was the culprit.

Each morning as I walk into our dining room, I look up to see the mourning dove. She is perched on her nest, just her head visible. Sometimes the male comes and wanders around the gutter near her. I am glad so far they are safe. Their repeated attempts to create new life fills me with hope.

Thanks to my husband Bill  for sharing these amazing bird photos!

I'm a little late posting today. Internet problems!

Friday, August 12, 2016


While I thumbed through the Internet the other day, the words "100 Inspiring Women" caught my eye. I didn't pause to investigate. You know how one thing will lead you astray quickly on the Internet. But I couldn't stop thinking about that phrase. Who are the women who inspire you?

For me, there are plenty of well-known women: Eleanor Roosevelt, the social worker Dorothy Dix, the designers Edith Head and Vera, Audrey Hepburn, and the marathon runner, Joan Benoit Samuelson to name a few. But there also people I've met who have inspired me. One of those women is Deborah Rydell Hansen, a fellow artist and friend, who creates amazing pieces on her iPad. Using the Procreate app, she assembles photos of flower petals and turns them into beautiful dresses. Here are just two to tempt you. They are part of her collection she calls, Corola de la Moda.

For more of her work, click here

Deborah, like many artists, bursts with ideas. She designs clothing, makes pillows with her designs on the covers, she creates tea towels with her digital paintings for motifs, and paints on glassware, which has sold at the Museum Shop at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. A very talented woman and an inspiring person too!

Who Inspires You?

Friday, August 5, 2016


I am sorry to read that our local school district is starting back in mid-August now, cutting short the wonderful, unstructured time of Summer.

What brought joy to you in Summer?

For me, watching and 'helping' my mom when she cooked, baked, or canned the fruit from our trees.

Playing dress-up and Pretend allowed me to get 'lost' in another world.

Sitting in the middle of a mound of just-cut grass in my dad's wheelbarrow after he mowed the lawn.

Climbing the trees in our backyard so that I could look at our world from above like a bird.

Bicycling to explore the neighborhoods beyond our two-block street.

Painting and drawing and making scrapbooks with flour paste, tissue, scraps of magazines and paper and starch. Making a mess and sometimes a picture worth saving.

Tucking myself into my favorite chair while reading adventure books, which lit my imagination.

In our hurry-up world, we easily push our kids away from these kinds of activities, and instead enroll them in to one structured activity after another. Wouldn't you rather have some unstructured, exploration time to do what you would like to do?

We can set good examples by spending time reading. Three good Summer reads I'd recommend:

Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
A good summer mystery set in Laos during the Communist take-over, part of a series with the protagonist, Dr. Siri, the country's only coroner. The stories remind me of Kafka as Dr. Siri tries to wend his way through the arcane rules of the ruling party and solve a mystery at the same time.

Worthy by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Growing up, I read as many dog and horse stories as I could get my hands on. Who doesn't love a story with animals in it? This book will touch your heart -- have plenty of tissue on hand as you read it! Hyde also wrote the book Pay It Forward, which was made into one of my favorite movies. (Thanks, Joan, for the good suggestion.)

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
Do you know a good storyteller? One who embellishes the truth to make a good story even more compelling? After reading this book, I felt the narrator was one of those storytellers. The novel begins with three young people who to go to Greece, meet accidentally, and become friends. Their lives are abruptly changed in the terrible aftermath following an earthquake. The writing describes each scene in intimate detail so you feel you are in the 'room.' The story seems straight forward until the end when I wondered if what I believed was the true story, wasn't.

What are doing this Summer that brings you joy?

Peace be with you, Madelyn.