Friday, April 28, 2017


As I bag up the week's collection of plastic bags, I think about the recent Earth Day March to celebrate the work of scientists and the environmental movements. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with trying to find ways to use every last piece of paper, every piece of plastic, or any other object that otherwise will land in the trash. I try to do the best I can to recycle and reuse, but I know there is still a lot more that I could do.

I loved the signs displayed at the Earth Day March:

We Are With Her (a drawing of The Earth)

Got Polio? No? Thank Science

Science is in Our DNA

I'm Here for Pi

I think so many of us feel the same way that I do and want to make sure that we continue to lessen our environmental impact.

 I've never met an artist yet who doesn't pick up something and say, "I could use this somewhere someday." We often incorporate recycled materials in artwork, but we also have been contaminating our environment with toxic chemicals for a long time (aerosol sprays and permanent markers, for example). A new generation of artists have become more aware of the footprint they leave as artists and choose to reuse and repurpose as much as possible.

Connie McDowell makes art exchange cards that are about 2" tall.
What a great way to use up the smallest of scraps.

Until the 20th Century, many artists -- perhaps our first scientists -- made their own paints using natural materials, which were not always harmless (cadmium, arsenic, and lead were key ingredients). They also used toxic materials to clean up after use. Since my school days, new products such as terpenoid and soy-based inks have replaced old harmful products. At the Art and Soul Retreat that I attended recently, each classroom had dirty water buckets so that classes wouldn't overwhelm the pipes with acrylic residue.

I gave up oil paints a long time ago because of the solvents needed to clean the paint off my skin. An alternative, acrylic paint is toxic too. Though water-based, acrylics are made from acrylic polymer, which becomes a solid mass when dry. The residue from brushes or from the cleaning jars can create havoc with plumbing and our water supply. Cleaning with care takes extra effort, but keeping acrylics out of our water supply is important to me.

I often use the paint splattered paper towels left over
from another painting session in a new piece.

With the advent of Earth Day in 1970, many people, including artists, became much more aware of the need to be environmentally friendly. We depend on the research of scientists to developed better formulas for products that aren't as polluting as previous ones. Artists have returned to old ways such as eco-printing, which uses natural dyes from plants to create interesting designs. We need to tend to our Mother Earth. There is no Planet B!

The paper catches the dyes from the plants, which make ghost prints on the paper.

To get more ideas about reuse and recycling, check out the magazine, Uppercase. The latest issue #33 highlights the efforts of artists to be green.

Agora Gallery offers good advice about green practices for artists.

Another site with good information about art supplies:

Read Kate Moore's new book, The Radium Girls, about the young women who painted radium on watch dials in the early part of the 20th century.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Spring is everywhere, isn't it? This time of year always reminds me of our time in Tokyo. Unlike California where many types of flowers bloom at once, Japan's plantings appear a little bit at a time. First, the plum blossoms, then the cherry blossoms fill the air with their faint perfume. People organize cherry blossom viewing parties and make a point to go to temples, shrines, and parks during March and April. After the trees cast off their blooms, the tulips come up followed by wisteria, roses, hydrangea, and then iris in June.

Some shrines and temples are known for growing particular types of flowers. Kameido Shrine in Tokyo is a great place to view wisteria while Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura blooms with hydrangeas.  In June you can walk next to the iris-filled streams in Meiji Shrine in Toyko. You might also get a chance to see young women in their Spring kimono walking the grounds.

Do you have a favorite garden that you go to in the Spring?

With the wet weather we had in the Bay Area this winter, public gardens here in the Bay Area are filled with flowers at their peak.

Easly Spring at Filoli

The tulips at Filoli in bloom

Filoli and the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto both have large plantings that you can wander through.
Hakone Gardens in Saratoga provides another chance to see a Japanese style garden.The Blake Garden in Kensington is a research garden, part of UC Berkeley, with surprising views of the Bay Area. Even at Ruth Bancroft's Succulent Garden in Walnut Creek, you can spot flowers on the succulents and cacti that she planted there.

Though the flowers are already gone from this cactus, the fruit left behind is beautiful too.

Have you seen your first iris, bird-of-paradise or a Swallowtail butterfly of the year? Are you counting the bees in your area? If you are, send your data to the Great Sunflower Project.

Let me know if you have a public garden near you.

Check out these websites for more information about public gardens in the Northern California and Japan:  Palo Alto, CA   Palo Alto, CA  Menlo Park, CA  Saratoga, CA  Kensington, CA

Friday, April 14, 2017


It's not always easy to do art. Sometimes in a class, I can hear that inner critic jump in. I watched last weekend as another woman lamented, her inner critic in high gear, "I've never done this before. I really don't like what I did. The colors are all wrong. The texture under the watercolors is too black.This looks like junk." All the other people in the class rushed to reassure her, but she didn't believe in herself and continued to let that inner critic win.

Last week I jumped at the chance to spend time with other creatives interested in learning new techniques. We all attended the Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreat in Portland, Oregon. I knew  that working around others can be great fun, but can also be challenging. Looking over someone shoulder can interrupt your confidence and undermine your creativity. I know that, and I go to classes telling myself, "This is practice. This is just practice."

Art and Soul runs for a week and offers diverse classes from how to use encaustic wax to jewelry making, from quilting to watercolors, and lots more. I chose just three days of three different classes. Outside our hotel, the Spring storms raged, but we didn't notice as we delved into projects that captured our imaginations.

I spent my first day with Roxanne Evans Stout in her Nature's Gathering, Exploring Stenciling class, where we experimented with pan pastels, acrylics, stencils and ephemera to create an accordion book filled with layers, words, and textures.

I started by covering the watercolor paper with pan pastel markings.
One side of my finished piece

Catherine Anderson's class, The Secret Life of Trees, involved using old photos that we wet and scrubbed with sandpaper to achieve beautiful, sturdy background paper. We rubbed on pan pastels to add color. We applied paper napkins, used tea bags, textures, torn paper, string, and photos and drawings of trees.

A duplicate of an old photo

After scrapping with sandpaper and rubbing with pan pastels

 By the end of the day, we had pages filled with intriguing images. I used the poem, Advice from a Tree by Ilan Shamir, throughout my pages.

On Saturday Helen Shafer Garcia taught monoprinting using easy tools including a printing brayer, acrylic paint, aluminum foil, a sheet of hot press watercolor paper, and a pencil or ballpoint pen.

To start, Helen crumbled the foil and then spread it out on the inking surface. She applied a small amount of dark acrylic paint to the foil with the brayer. She placed the inked foil, ink side down, on top of the watercolor paper and drew freeform shapes on the foil with her pencil. She lifted the foil off to reveal a textured paper. The foil could be printed again to make a 'ghost print.'

A ghost print just needing some shapes drawn with crayon

I followed her instructions for making the monoprint. Once the paint was dry, I drew more freeform shapes directly on the watercolor paper with crayons. I painted around the crayon shapes with watercolor. I did the same thing with some of the dark printed shapes. I used white gouache to cover up parts that I didn't like or to bring out a design that I wanted to create on top of the first layers.

During those three days at Art and Soul, I worked side by side with other people who explored and pushed their own abilities. Sometimes with new techniques, the learning process can be discouraging; other times a sense of joy pervades the room as people make new discoveries about themselves and their own abilities.

Check out these websites for more information about retreats and instructors:

Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreats:

Roxanne Evans Stout:

Catherine Anderson:

Helen Garcia:

Friday, April 7, 2017


Do you remember middle school? Most of us do with a twinge of pain. Those were the days when we looked in the mirror and saw 'gawky and clumsy,' wanting to be a grown-up one minute and hanging on to childhood the next, heard our voices changing, and our bodies growing in uncertain, mysterious ways.

I sit in a classroom with the students I work with as a Writer Coach and see something different. I think, "I'm sitting next to hope." I work with two eighth grade boys, Larry and Tommy, on assignments about John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men. The story is difficult, but the students in the class have seen the movie, read articles about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, which sent many people to California searching for new lives.

Both students are grappling with the relationship between two itinerant workers, George and Lenny: are they friends or more like father-son figures? The students are being asked some tough questions about loyalty and friendship, the dream of owning a piece of land, and loneliness and companionship. Listening to the students speak about the themes in the book gives me hope.  They see parallels to today's world of immigrant workers, people with special needs, and the security of a strong friendship. Larry brings up some of his own family's experiences while Tommy uses his math logic to puzzle out the relationships.

As I sit with them, I am filled with hope. I know that middle school is a time of great change, a time when students begin to define themselves and their beliefs, and to question what they have learned. These students already have a better grasp of how the world works than I did when I was their age. I'm glad to see schools such as this one take on the task of developing critical thinking in their students. I sit with hope.

On my walks, I often come across Lost Things. Each one of them has a story of how they became separated from someone. In the top right hand corner is a line of items that someone else found and moved to a sidewalk. In an other photo, there is a shoe caught in the flotsam of the water around a pier. Children's things slip away easily, but how about that boot?