Thursday, April 25, 2019


My favorite new art tool:  Art Graf's Soluble Graphite Tailor Shape.

I have three discs, Ochre, Sepia, and Carbon Black that have been sitting in my collection of Great Art Supplies I Haven't Used. While getting ready for a calligraphy workshop about making an accordion book, I slipped the Sepia disc into my supplies bag.

Julie Wildman, the workshop instructor, came well-prepared with paper and book board cut to the right size for our books. She showed us beautiful samples of her work and asked us to design a book of the alphabet using a hand or font we created during the first day. (Hand is the calligrapher's term for alphabet. Font is the term used by graphic designers.)

One thing I have trouble with at workshops: scaling back my expectations. When I'm presented with an assignment, inevitably I start thinking in new ways and want to create a more elaborate finished piece instead of a practice piece that neatly fits the assignment. Since I still struggle with calligraphy, I knew that my designs would take me a long time to perfect well enough to include in my book. I didn't like the hand I created, so I decide to draw each letter instead of writing it and made each page a practice page of different fonts of the same letter.

How often do our own expectations get in the way of a satisfactory conclusion? I did not complete my book, partly because I gave myself too large of an assignment with the fonts (I only needed to do one sample of each letter, not several) and partly because I added another element, a tinted square, to each page of the book. I needed to complete not only each letter of the alphabet, but I now had added a tinted square to each page. All 26 of them. With only two days to complete the book.

I decided to try the Art Graf Shape as a means to tint each square. The disc can make fine lines or large swathes of color. Water activates the color to create a mottled surface, which reminded me of old walls patinaed with age. I used the Sepia disc to make the square to draw my letters on. Making the squares took up a lot of my time in the workshop. I finished tinting half of the squares.


Adding water to the sepia
 colored square

I also worked on each letter, making the group of the same letter fit within a square. At the end of the workshop, I had rough drawings of six letters ready to be transferred to each of the sepia-toned squares. I assembled the front and back covers, but I didn't fold the sheets of paper for the accordion pages inside because I wanted to work on a flat surface later when I drew the letters. I liked what I had accomplished so far.

Rough drafts of each letter

I walked away from the workshop happy with the unfinished work -- hoping in the near future that I would take the time to complete this new project. Too often unfinished workshop projects of mine stay unfinished just because I come home. This time I've decided to do a letter a day. With the project broken down into small pieces, I might just be able to avoid adding this book to my incomplete projects pile that I already have.

Here's the book cover and the first letter square.

Check out Julie Wildman's calligraphy and graphic design:

Friday, April 19, 2019


I've been thinking about layers for the last couple of months. While I've been pondering layers, I received a gift of a beautiful book, The Infinite City, by one of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit. Each time I sit down to read the book, I can't get past page 3, not because the book is boring, but because Solnit writes about maps and that makes my mind wander all over the place.

We moved to Danville more than 30 years ago because we could afford the housing prices and because Danville was a 45-minute drive to San Francisco for my husband Bill and a 45-minute drive to Fremont where I taught school. My map of Danville is not 2-dimensional. Instead the map is like a cube with many layers. Our townhouse that we bought was part of the beginning of the extension of Danville out into the Tassajara Valley with its rolling hills and cattle ranches. The cowboys would come into town and dine at the restaurant and bar that is now another coffee shop. I haven't seen a Stetson in town in a long time.

We could easily bike into town from our townhouse. We knew all our neighbors, including the man who rebelled against our homeowners' association and painted six-foot nudes on his garage door. We ate breakfast every Saturday morning at Vally Medlyn's, a 1950's coffee shop with a counter, steel-tubed tables and chairs, and a few booths against the back wall. When we exited Medlyn's, we walked by the fire station next door with its arched doors, looked across at Elliot's, the local dive bar with a couple of motorcycles already in place outside, and crossed over to the Danville Hotel, constructed to look like an old pioneer town.

Vally Medlyn's and Elliot's are still here, the fire station was converted long ago to shops, then to several restaurants, and the Danville Hotel was torn apart and renovated. It now houses condos on the second floor over the shops and restaurants in the new buildings. We don't see cowboys there anymore. Instead Danville has become a mecca of small restaurants where you can find families fresh from soccer tournaments sharing pizzas, singles looking to meet up while ordering a Manhattan or couples sharing Spicy Pomegranate Chicken Wings at Bridges, a restaurant which was once featured in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire.

We used to come into town to the hardware and lumber store, which were later replaced by a car wash. The car wash disappeared and now the land is part of a block of stores and restaurants including our local Peet's Coffee where the cyclists from all over the Bay Area descend. When the space was a hardware store, the cashier asked us what we planned to do with our purchases and offered advice to us weekend DIYers. We would take 30 minutes to get past the cash register. Now we sit outside Peet's and watch the cyclists gang up around us while we all spend the rest of Saturday morning drinking various coffee drinks.

After our first ten years in Danville, we moved farther out in the Tassajara Valley. When we moved into our new house, the hill behind us was bare. We planted small stick-like trees that now tower over our house. Even our house has layers as rooms changed from office space to baby's nursery to child's room and back to office space again. Underneath our house are the layers that came before: the cattle ranches, the Miwok indigenous people, and the dinosaurs that left their bones to help build layers of new ways of living.

My map of Danville also takes into account the parks, animals and plants that have changed since we moved here. Crows and turkeys have discovered that Danville is a great place to live. Flocks of turkeys strut the hillside and down the streets where they had never been before. The crows now sail above the trees, scaring away the hawks and other smaller birds. We've had plagues of mice and grasshoppers over the years, but the pair of great horned owls that we saw in our first year at our new home disappeared.

If you live somewhere for a long time, you know how things change. Your map of your town would be different from your neighbors, depending on when you and they arrived. Can you begin to imagine the cubes of your own mind map? What does each layer represent? What do the cars, the houses you lived in, the rooms, the place tell others about you?


Friday, April 12, 2019


from Christy's art studio

Doesn't this scene make you want to sit down and read a book, sketch a tree outside the window, paint swatches of color or write about another episode of your life? I can't think of a better way to spend a Spring afternoon then with a cup of tea and your favorite creative supplies.

Recently I sat in a California Watercolor Society workshop with 20 others. We had paints, brushes, water cans and paper ready for a three-day Watercolor Sketching workshop presented by Brenda Swenson. She asked us to bring small objects and we spread them out on open shelving in the back of the room. Our assignment: take one object and give yourself 3 minutes to draw the object with a marking pen using the contour drawing technique, which follows the edges of an object without picking up the pen. Once the drawing was done we added color to accent the object. We didn't need to completely fill in between the lines nor did we need to worry about backgrounds.

I picked one of my favorite wind-up toys that I brought and a couple of plastic tomatoes. Here is the result:

Brenda then gave us the chose of a slew of photographs to pick from. I selected an image of old Pasadena. First I sketched the picture with a marking pen. Instead of painting a complete likeness, Brenda suggested that we pick out objects in the photo and rearrange them into a pleasing design.

I changed the placement of the Colorado Street Bridge, modernized its columns and place the old Green Hotel in front of it. It still reminds me of Arroyo Seco, the Rose Bowl and old Pasadena where we used to go for shopping trips and a meal at Bob's Big Boy on Colorado Boulevard.

Here are the supplies I used for the workshop:

Staedler's pigment liner (waterproof) 0.3 & 0.7
Tradio marker (not waterproof)
#12 Miller's pseudo sable
#6 Dynasty Black Gold
Kneaded eraser
Daniel Smith & Winsor Newton watercolors

Want to try a watercolor sketching workshop?  Four excellent instructors:
Brenda Swenson:

Liz Steel, an Australian, who teaches online classes & offerssketching tours:

Cathy Johnson, whose books offer exercises and tips:

Charles O'Shields, who offers challenges and daily prompts to get you started on a daily practice:

Interested in finding out what happened to Bob's Big Boy and the special sauce they are known for?

Friday, April 5, 2019


Are you one who dreams of publishing your stories in a book some day?

We are all natural storytellers. Some of us decide to write our stories down. We want to pass them on to children or others have encouraged us because our unique stories have universal value or we are driven to write because writing helps us solve our own problems.

I think of some of my writing friends' tales of a grandparent's life in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, of struggling to survive a Japanese war camp as a child, of traveling to places like Brazil as a single woman, of trying to find a mother's home, or like me, moving to another country and having a normal life except with the adjustment to a different culture and being illiterate in a new language. We all have stories to tell, but it takes persistence, dedication and focus to bring a book to life.

I've been in a writers group for more than 20 years. Many of the writers in the group join with the intent to complete a book. They all have great stories to tell. The writers are aided by the  encouragement and support of the group of fellow writers. As they write portions of their book, they realize how difficult writing, editing, publishing and selling a book can be. All of those tasks are more complicated now. Major publishers have been squeezed by digital publishing so they rely heavily on well-known authors. Independent publishers look for new authors, may have editing staff, but not the resources to provide promotion. Agents are swamped with requests for help getting a book published. All the different jobs besides doing the writing can deflate the interest of a fledgling writer. But if they persist, they can publish a book.

I've been lucky to watch numerous friends produce a book. Sometimes the book is not the story they thought they were going to tell. Often they started with a memoir, which honed their writing skills. They struggled with naming names of people close to them and decided to turn parts of their lives into fiction. Sometimes they started over and over again with a different point of view each time. They sought the help of editors to polish their work and to help them stick to deadlines.

For me, I started out with family stories, asked relatives to send me their responses to the statement, "I remember..." which I collected and published through a printing company owned by one of my cousins. The more I wrote the more I realized that short essays about life and my artwork let me say what I wanted to say. Writing helped me to understand my place in this crazy world. Blogging became the avenue for my writing.

Some friends have managed to produce a finished work (some have published more than one book). I am proud of their endeavors because I know they have accomplished what many us dream about.

Elizabeth Fishel

Elizabeth is the founder of Wednesday & Friday Writers Groups, journalist, teacher, and author of 5 non-fiction books about women and their relationships with their families. Her latest book, co-written with Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D

Francie Low


A mother, author and blogger who in her own words: "My first fun blog, shoezle, started way back in 2011 when I barely knew anything about social media or how to take a picture on my shiny hot-pink cell phone. I guessed at how to blog and through the amazing feedback from readers and a bazillion writing groups and classes, I got better. I got better a blog photos too. Then I got the courage to write a book."

Irene Sardanis

A retired psychologist and writer was born into a Greek family in the Bronx in the 1940s in which fear and peril hovered. Out of the Bronx is her story of coming to terms with her mother and her past that terrified and paralyzed her for far too long -- and of how she went on to create a new life free of those fears.

Jane Bonacci

A cookbook author, blogger, recipe developer, food and travel writer, and teacher has a passion for cooking and baking that she loves to share. Her latest cookbook written with Sara De Leeuw.

Carrie Classon

A columnist, author and performer, and one of my cousins. In her own words, "She champions the idea that it is never too late to reinvent oneself in unexpected and fulfilling ways." Her latest book, Blue Yarn, describes her experience in Africa where she loses her marriage, her home and her career.

B. Lynn Goodwin

Former drama teacher, continuing to be a writer, editor with Story Circle Network and blogger. Her latest book, Never Too Late, describes her new life as a wife at 62 and the challenges of changing from lifelong single to married woman.
Talent is a young adult novel about a young teenager trying to get out from under the shadow of her older brother.

Check out  your local bookstore, Amazon or other online booksellers to find these good reads: