Friday, May 31, 2019


Barn at Tao House by Chuck Dorsett
Cars jammed the streets of Danville today. Kids crowded together, stared at phones, laughed and grabbed each other playfully, waved goodbye to each other, and crossed streets oblivious to the traffic around them. Today: the last day of school for them. Soon my watercolor class will end for a short break too.

As each session ends, my watercolor group shows the work they have done during the 8-week period. Many of the people return session after session while they try to better grasp techniques of watercolor painting. This last fall during the class reveal, I looked at a remarkable leap in progress for everyone in the class. The class, taught by Leslie Wilson and run by the Walnut Community Arts Department, is so popular that on registration day at 9 A.M. I sit at my computer ready to press the button to register. If I wait 5 minutes, all 20 places for Wednesday are gone.

On the critique day at the end of each session, I've noticed that Chuck Dorsett, who is over 90 years old and a longtime member of the class, makes a point of talking about being in the class. He stresses how important it is to be out in the community and to try new things. We've grown to expect these pieces of advice from Chuck. I realized last time though, his words are more than advice. It is his way of saying goodbye at the end of each session, hoping to leave some imprint of himself on us, if he doesn't return to class.

Chuck is a former architect and actor who belonged to the Screen Actors Guild. Because of his architectural training, he knows how to draw, to use perspective so that buildings look structurally correct in their environment. The pencil underdrawings he does before he paints make his final paintings fresh and believable.  A good example of his work is the barn at Tao House, part of Eugene O'Neill's ranch in Danville. Chuck says about our watercolor class, "It's important to remember that this is really a drawing class."


Chuck Dorsett passed away early this Spring. His class mates all miss him, but remember his thoughtful words of encouragement and his joyful paintings.

Friday, May 24, 2019


 It's not often I get to turn around from a workshop and use the lessons I've gained from the class right away, but our trip to Italy gave me the chance to create a sketchbook of places we visited.

Since I would need to lug my art supplies around with me, I tried to be compact with what I brought. I decided not to carry watercolors, brushes, or water containers. Instead, I opted for two small boxes of watercolor crayons: one set of Staedler primary colors and another made by Caran D'Arche, containing color hues such as burnt siena and yellow ochre that match the Tuscan landscape. I brought a water brush along with a set of Staedler markers. I packed a stack of watercolor sheets rather than a sketchbook. I could lay these flat on a clipboard without being annoyed by the folds of a sketchbook. I forgot to tape an inch at the end of each page, which means I'm going to have be inventive in connecting these pages together.

I also decided not to sketch while we visited sites. Instead I took lots of photos that I hoped would give me something to draw later back at our home base. It was fun to work this way since it gave me a second chance to visit the places we had been soon after we left them.

Our first hill town, Cortona, on a rainy day


Two pages of Florence, a wonder to walk through

Assisi and Fiumicino, our last stops 

Since we came home, I'm trying to keep up my sketchbook practice. Two creative friends and I plan to meet every couple of weeks to enjoy sitting in a garden and observing the world around us.

If you'd like to learn more about sketchbook drawing, try these classes:

Brenda Swenson,
Kristin Meuser,

or come draw with us on our sketchbook days!

Friday, May 17, 2019


After a long plane trip home, I opened our front door, called out to our kitty (officially named Tangier, but called Buzzer Baby for her tendency to jump on our bed early in the morning and meow us awake). We returned from our week and half long trip to Italy, our longest extended period away from home since the death of our oldest cat last November. Buzzer Baby, her 16-year old daughter, still resides with us. She was taken care of by a neighbor, who came to feed and sat with her twice a day while we were gone. In response to my call to Buzzer Baby, I heard a tentative "Mew Mew." As Buzzer Baby rounded the corner to the front hallway, she stopped, looked at me, then as she ran towards me, she burst into a full-throated meow. I let Buzzer Baby come to me before I reached out to her. She looked up at me and started to purr while I stroked her sides. Cats are often considered stand-offish, but you know cat love after you've been away.

Since our return, she has woken me up at 4 AM each morning by butting her head against me. I ignore her and go back to sleep, but she is there when I get up and follows me into the bathroom, meowing all the way. While I do my morning stretches, she lies down alongside my head, and nestles up against my hair. Once I'm dressed, we walk downstairs together. She is quiet for a few minutes while she eats breakfast, but while I sit in the dining room eating mine, I hear a plaintive cry. I call out to her and she comes running to my chair, meowing loudly even though she has a furry mouse toy in her mouth. I've never figured out how she meows with a big toy in her mouth, but she does it anytime she feels lost and alone.

After breakfast, Bill and I sit out on the back porch reading the papers with the windows to the dining room open. Buzzer Baby comes to the windows and meows insistently. She is an indoor cat and can't be outside with us, so I get up and walk around with her from room to room. She walks by my side and as I look down at her, she is looking at me. Neither of us understands what the other wants, but all I can say is what I see when I look at her is cat love.

Friday, May 10, 2019


We didn't expect to find huge crowds at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but when we arrived, we discovered a passel of police and hordes of people lined up outside the garden. The throngs of people had come to contemplate gentle beauty.

The gardens were celebrating Sakura Matsuri, a cherry blossom festival. We could see a smidgeon of pink as we peeked through the fencing around the park. The event was already sold out for the day with the lines snaking around the space between the gardens and the art museum next door.

We opted for the Brooklyn Art Museum instead of the crowded gardens, avoided another long line for a Frida Kahlo exhibit, ate lunch in the museum cafe, and took the elevator to the 5th floor so we could work our way down. We stopped to walk around Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, a large triangular table installation with hand-crafted table settings, each a representation of an important woman in history. I remembered Chicago's work when it was first exhibited in the 1970s. Her concept remains new and topical.

I thought of beauty again when we left our temporary stop in Brooklyn for Italy. Everywhere we went in Tuscany, we could see the effort to make a world a more beautiful place. We joined our son, his girlfriend as well as friends in a villa outside of Cortona, a town made famous by Frances Mayes in her book Under the Tuscan Sun.

We climbed the cobblestone streets of hill towns such as Cortona, Siena, and Assisi. We saw views from those towns similar to the countryside of California. In each town we admired the stone buildings and the abilities of the builders during the Middle Ages to construct buildings towering over our heads. We walked in cathedrals with soaring ceilings to stare at the paintings, illuminated manuscripts, walls decorated with murals, sculptures and minute details that attested to the spiritual nature of the people who built them. We visited the Galileo Museum in Florence and admired the detailed engravings on the scientific instruments and thought about their quest to find how to determine longitude. We stood under Michelangelo's David at the Accademia. We listened in the early evening to street musicians playing music that echoed against the old walls of the city.

We found more beauty in Assisi in a quiet corner of a building under repair. We were allowed in to see efforts of the plasterers and artisans who were repairing damaged plaster walls and murals that had faded and been eroded by water seepage. The work space was airy and clean and the tools used for the repairs were artifully arranged for display.

When we left Tuscany, we even discovered beauty in the light-filled, modern design of the Rome airport at Fiumicino, an ancient town that used to be a major Roman port city for ships bringing goods to Rome from all over the world. The Fiumicino airport serves a similar function bringing people from all over the world to visit Italy.

Lastly, we found beauty as our plane sailed over the snow-covered Alps on our way home.

The Alps from our plane window

Check out these sites in Italy:

Villa Bella Cortona
The library in the Duomo of Siena which has large illuminated manuscripts lining its walls
Galileo Museum, Florence
Etruscan Museum, Cortona
Ostia Antica, Fiumicino

Caffe la Costa di San Rocco, Foiano della Chiana,
Dragoncello, Siena
La Cantinetta, Florence
Tarumbo, Fiumicinoò-fiumicino-2

Side note:
If you know trees, you know this photo is of plum blossoms, not cherry blossoms. They are easily confused. Here's how to tell: plum trees have deep red leaves, cherry trees usually don't. The cherry blossoms have a notch on the outer edge of each petal. They are often planted together for masses of color in early Spring.

Friday, May 3, 2019


photo by Bill Slavin

Spring flowers for Mother's Day, someone's birthday, May Day (do you remember leaving a sprig of flowers at someone's door as a kid?), or maybe just because it is Spring and there is a beautiful abundance of flowers.

photo by Bill Slavin

We walk and find flowers flourishing in every yard, in planter boxes on city streets, and in large parks where rhododendron, peony and azalea fill the shaded places. The scent of orange blossoms, jasmine, and gardenias lingers in the air. Why not hand some flowers to someone we love?

In France, on May Day or La Fete du Travail, you will find small pots or bouquets of Lily of the Valley for sale. Why a flower on a national holiday to celebrate labor? The day is also La Fete du Muguet when sprigs of Lily of the Valley are offered to loved ones. The custom originated with King Charles IX in 1561 when he received a bouquet and loved the scent so much he encouraged others to give bouquets of the flower. It wasn't till 1901 that La Fete du Muguet became a modern tradition.

photo by Bill Slavin

For centuries, flowers and herbs have been appreciated not only for their beauty, but for their medicinal purposes. They have also been adorned with meaning. Shakespeare's writings are filled with flower references:

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that's for thought...."  Ophelia, Hamlet

photo  by Bill Slavin

photo by Bill Slavin

The meanings of Spring flowers correspond with this season of renewal (Daffodils), delicate pleasure (Sweet Peas), youthful innocence (Lilacs) and playfulness (Hyacinth) - all good Spring words. Calla Lilies are a perfect wedding flower since they symbolize beauty and purity. The next time you bring flowers to someone, pick flowers that emphasize your reason for giving Spring flowers.

photo by Bill Slavin

Another sign of Spring - the first deer in our yard.

For more information about flowers, herbs and their meanings, go to: