Friday, December 25, 2020


 The wind bellowed down our hill the night before last, shaking our house and waking me up. At 3:30 I got up to close the window that had been creaking back and forth in the wind. At four o'clock, I heard a boom outside and knew something big in our yard had come crashing down. We've lost trees to storms in previous years. I thought of the three trunk stumps in the back. Instead of taking the trees down completely, we had someone carve bears in the stumps left behind.

The tree broke the top bear in the stump into two pieces

We planted redwood trees years ago on the hill at the back of our house. Like twigs at first, they now tower 4 or 5 stories above us. Their trunks have expanded so that the circumference of the biggest one is 21 feet around. They appear to be strong, sturdy, and indestructible. Their roots fill the hill so that it is hard to plant anything beneath them. But they are vulnerable. The one closest to the bottom of the hill has been struck by lightning a long time ago. The trunk split into two trunks and continued to grow skyward. Closer to the top, the bigger trunk again was damaged, split, and now has four trunks pushing towards the sky.

The lesser of the two original trunks broke from the tree and crashed down in the wind. We were lucky because it came down parallel to our house. The wound left on the tree runs down the side for four or five feet, glaringly creamy white in the sun. The telephone pole-like remains on the ground reached almost to the other side of the yard forty feet or more, the size of a small tree, heavy enough to smash everything underneath.

The fallen tree pulverized one bear stump, the bears dissolving into crumbled wood, and cut another stump in two. The Pride of Madeira bush that had been thriving and the Carpet roses near the stump disappeared under heavy branches. The pear tree looked like it had a bad pruning job. The wisteria lost its crown. When we walked into the yard, we were stunned. We knew that this tree was weakened, but the task of removing it had always seemed monumental with either someone climbing up the trunks or a crane precariously reaching for the top. So we left it, hoping that the trunks would withstand the wind.

The broken top half of one tree stump

The remaining bottom half

We called a tree service and they cut the fallen tree into sections, carrying out five-foot pieces to their shredding machine. Bill asked them to cut a slice of the trunk to keep. With the clean-up completed, we looked at the tree slice. Bill counted the rings -- 21 in all -- 21 years since the lightning strike which had separated the trunk into more fragile pieces. We both ran our hands over the rough, still moist piece, marveling at the growth between each ring, and touched where off-shoots had started to grow.

We have one unscathed redwood stump with three bears. The tree, which should have died after it was cut to the stump, flourishes and sends sprouts from the base and the crown of the tree, which we continue to prune down close to the stump. The tree, though, resists our efforts to contain it. It has begun to grow over and around the bears. In ten years, the bears will be gone.

There is always a lesson in trees, whether you go tree-bathing or have to cut a tree down. Redwoods, especially, remind me of their strength and their vulnerabilities. They do not have a tap root like other trees; instead, their shallow roots spread far around them comingling with other redwoods, which stabilizes them all in windstorms. Their thick bark and less tannin help them to survive fires, but they have no defense from lightning that can damage the trunks. They are usually the tallest in an urban forest and can be a lightning rod. The damage to the tree and to our yard reminds us that nothing lasts forever, that even the most sturdy can be cut down, but usually something new will grow in its place. 

Friday, December 18, 2020


Little things, more than usual, either bring me to tears or make me burst out laughing. A neighbor sent me a video of a svelt yogi twisting into amazing positions. The next scene showed an ordinary person attempting the same moves. I guffawed knowing which person was me. I keep reading short essays about first responders, COVID survivors, and the first people to receive the vaccinations. These snippets of life bring me to tears.

I also feel like doing a happy dance lately, a dance to let the vast feelings of relief after 9 months of uncertainty. All that suppressed anger over Trump and COVID-19, being in SIP, and just getting through 2020 is flaring out. But my happy dance is also over an insignificant thing in life. I have one moment of joy just for myself. My happy dance celebrates finally turning the corner in my attempts at watercolor painting. Like I said: a small thing compared to the rest of this year. 

I learned a lot from all my instructors who displayed their mastery and styles of watercolor in online classes. I've oohed and aahed and envied their lifelong practice, which developed their abilities far more than I ever will. As I continue to practice though, I am finding my style. I am working with the paints in a way I want to do after struggling with various techniques for the last few years.

This is a moment of gratitude to those instructors who shared their knowledge. I learned about hard and soft edges and painting neighboring shapes from Leslie Wilson. From Ted Nuttall, Michael Reardon, and Michael Holter, I learned about washes, blobs of color, shadows, and drips. From Carolyn Lord, Gary Bukovnik, and Sondra Holtzman, I learned about flat washes inside of shapes. From Brenda Swenson and Cindy Briggs how to organize a travel sketching journal. From Gloria Miller Allen and Julie Pollard, how to do negative painting.

So I'm doing a happy dance in tribute to these artists. I also know that the next time I pick up my paintbrush that I may be back to ground zero again. That's the way creativity wanders. But now I remind myself to slow down, let the paper dry, take a break, walk around the house and come back to add another layer, and not forget about the darks. I think about 2020 and realize that sheltering in place has given me the extra time to move forward in one small part of my life. I think about the instructors who have had to reinvent their classroom space on Zoom and who have suffered financially during this time. I think of those COVID stories that I hope will stay with me and guide me to action to do one small thing for someone else.

In this moment though, I am doing a happy dance.

Take a class or buy a painting. Help support artists.

Friday, December 11, 2020


This holiday season is a good reminder to me to make the best of what we have and know that we will look back on this year and say, "Remember...."

This season is a good chance to receive a personal letter or postcard in the mail. I have creative friends who use a cutting machine such as Cricut to make beautiful designs.

I am always amazed to open an envelope to find one of their cards inside. Their designs are often intricate and always carefully done. I haven't purchased a Cricut yet. For now, I still make do with hand cut or hand punched designs when I make cards and decorations as part of this holiday season. I find I always need an extra card or two, so I am sharing some quick and easy cards to make. All of them feature a Christmas tree. They would be much easier to make using one of the cutting machines!


Postcard-weight paper

Paper tape

Green Copy paper

Decorative paper (last year's wrapping paper or washi paper) cut into strips

Rice paper

Circle hole punches

Glue & Matte Medium with an old brush for spreading these

Embellishments such as stars

Watercolors & small round brush

Tombow dual brush pen or whatever marking pen you have on hand



Practice lettering with the Tombow brush. I used the stiff end to practice letters, but you might like the brush instead. Good examples of lettering styles can be found at Pinterest and check YouTube for demos. Write slowly on your finished postcard when you are ready.


Punch out a dozen half-inch green circles. Arrange them in a tree shape on the postcard paper. Add a trunk cut from your decorative paper or washi. Add either smaller punched circles or embellishments to decorate the tree. Add hand lettering at the bottom of the card.


Using paper tape, create a triangle on the postcard paper. Make sure edges are pressed down or the watercolor will leak. I used a light and dark green wash over the triangle. While still damp, I dotted several places with gold paint. When the tree was completely dry, I removed the tape and placed red ornaments on the tree and a red triangle for the base. Because watercolor will warp the paper, be sure to press your postcards under a couple of books for a day.


I cut thin strips of washi paper (wrapping paper works well too). I coated a piece of rice paper with matte medium and placed the strips one after the other until I covered a six by seven inch segment. I coated the washi with matte medium and hung the paper to dry.

Washi strips glued to rice paper

I drew a six by seven inch rectangle on a piece of copy paper and divided it into four sections. I drew lines from each mark to make three tree-shaped triangles and two halves. I punched a hole in each of the points of the triangle so that I could mark the triangles on the washi paper. I used a cutting blade to cut out the triangles from the washi paper leaving my copy paper pattern intact. I trimmed the bottom of each triangle so that it would fit on the postcard. I had lots of trimmings left over. I glued the tree-shaped triangles to each postcards and added a star on top.

Pattern for triangle trees

With the washi paper that I trimmed from the original triangles, I made two more cards using the strips that I shaped on the copy paper pattern. I glued the strips to the postcard paper.

Use pattern to cut strips to fit inside tree shape

On all the trees, I added hand-lettered words. These trees are a quick way to add some personal touches to your holiday. I use them as gift tags, thank you cards, and ornaments. Have fun!

Be sure to use an envelope to mail any of these cards. 

Check out the YouTube tutorial for hand lettering: 

HowTo: Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners

Pinterest is a great source for examples of fonts:[]=contemporary%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=hand%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=lettering%7Ctyped 

Friday, December 4, 2020


We tackled the garage recently. Another attempt to clear pathways through our stuff. I laughed when I discovered a box tucked away on a shelf above my head. The cardboard container had dividers inside to hold six bottles of wine. It had been empty and hiding for years. Bill said, "That's the first case of wine we ever ordered." I looked at him with crossed eyes. There was no wine inside the box, but we still saved the box -- a memento of another time.

We are still cleaning. When you are accumulators and/or artists, you save everything. Underneath a pile of old sketchbooks, I found a gold box filled with a project I had sent to Mademoiselle magazine when I was enticing them to choose me as a Guest Editor for their annual College issue. I won a seat at the magazine, but I had forgotten that I saved one of my many submissions: a 3-D construction of a shopping mall that I called Pooka Park. I laughed at the pieces in my hands as the construction fell apart, the glue and tape long ago had turned yellow and lost its tackiness. Yet, looking at the pieces, I realized I had a treasure of late 60s styles. I re-sorted the pieces laying them on a larger paper and took pictures this time. Did I then throw the project away? What do you think?

Pooka Park by Martha Slavin

The original ad by Mademoiselle magazine.
Does the style remind you of psychedelic posters from the Fillmore in San Francisco?

We had many adventures during our month in New York City including a night out at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Helen Hayes attended the event along with other celebrities. We Guest Editors wore shiny paper dresses.


Friday, November 27, 2020



BYZANTOSH Alphabet, designed by Cherryl Moote, shown within her beautiful design work

Workshops inspire me. Recently, I watched with awe as Cherryl Moote showed her work with an alphabet, Byzantosh, that she designed. I joined with 20 others in her online calligraphy class offered by the Friends of Calligraphy to practice using the alphabet in different ways.

We spent the weekend playing with words. Here are a couple of samples:


Besides her calligraphic work, Cherryl showed us the tools she collects. Her array of tools reminded me of my own.

As an artist, I use all kinds of tools, including expected ones such as pencils and pens. It is even more fun to experiment with objects you might not think to use to make a mark on paper, such as sponges, screens, straw, corrugated cardboard or plastic, toothpicks, and rollers. All of these tools makes me think of the tools that other professions use: tools for cooking, for woodworking, for making music. What tools do you use?

Friday, November 20, 2020


by Martha Slavin

A to Z: The First Alphabet

A to Z: How Writing Changed the World

If you haven't seen this 2-part documentary yet, find it on PBS' NOVA. You will discover how writing and the need to share our thoughts changed our world, created a path to equality, led to our Constitution, and the development of computers.

We are wired to communicate with each other, share our ideas, and to make decisions together. Written language can be found in the pictorial writings in Ancient China, Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, Ancient Egypt, and Indic scripts, which show us that from early civilizations, we needed to communicate with each other beyond our own small groups.

In ancient Rome, each of the letters of the Old Roman Alphabet began in a grid and then were carved in stone. The carvers made the letters easy to read and as permanent as stone can be. The Romans didn't stop with words carved on stone. Literacy was high throughout the culture because scribes used papyrus to write on. The papyrus surface helped the flow of writing. The scribes developed a cursive style that was easy to read while writing on papyrus with its smooth surface.

courtesy of the

When the Roman Empire dissolved and sources of papyrus disappeared, scribes turned to parchment, which is made from animal skins. Because parchment has a different surface than papyrus, writing became more laborious and expensive to produce, thus limiting the number of people in the Western world who had access to the written word. Paper, invented in China, did not find its way West until the crusaders' conflicts with the Ottoman Empire. Not until Guttenberg developed a printing press with moveable metal type did reading become readily available in the Western world.

As in the West, social systems in China and other parts of the world created disparities in literacy. But progress in both China and in the Ottoman Empire led to Gutenberg's invention, which allowed ideas and materials to more easily spread around the world. Printing presses, for the most part, these days, are consigned to museums as we have become a digital world, but we continue to find ways to connect together so that our ideas flow from one group to another.

Those of us who learned to print and then connected letters into cursive may mourn the fact that cursive is no longer taught in most schools. Teaching cursive has even become a political issue just like so many of our other traditions. Most students now learn to print, usually making capital letters (going back to the Roman carvers?) They then easily switch to technology using their fingers to type on a computer or phone similar to traditional typesetters and typists. With the addition of voice apps, we continue to tell our stories wherever we can.

by Martha Slavin

Calligraphers all over the world keep writing by hand, incorporating technology to perfect the design process. They use apps such as PhotoShop or InDesign to clean up their work. When finished though, the documents showcase either precise hand lettering such as the document by Gemma Black for the Australian government to apologize to the indigenous people in their country or free-wheeling mark-making such as what you will see in the Friends of Calligraphy's journal Alphabet, if you click here:

by Gemma Black

Check out the calligraphy of  and

Find PBS' NOVA episodes:

Look into one of the many calligraphy guilds all over the world that actively encourage writing:

Don't miss the International Print Museum's Virtual Printers Fair. You will find a celebration of the printed word:

More about the origins of handwriting, read Script and Scribble by Kitty Burns Florey

Are we so different than other animals?  Check out: Humans and other animals

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


Read any good books lately? 

I have a stack of good ones that have carried me through this year. My favorite so far is The Library Book by Susan Orleans. Orleans writes about the fire that almost destroyed the Los Angeles Central Public Library in 1986. You may have missed that news because the fire occurred on the same day as the Chernobyl meltdown in the Soviet Union. Her story reads like a novel as she investigates the origins of the fire itself, but also presents the history of the LA library from its beginnings in the late 1800s. She makes you realize what work goes into running a library, who the people are who run the library, how libraries have always and continue to be an important community resource. 

This seems to be a good year for odyssey-type stories involving pre-teen and teenagers.

Summerlings by Lisa Howorth is set in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of the Cold War. The people in the neighborhood where the children gather all have some secrets, which are gradually revealed.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, whose usual tales are mysteries. This book instead is the odyssey of four orphans who run away from one of the Indian Training Schools in Minnesota during the Depression and who embark on adventures down the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in their attempt to return to St. Louis. A modern-day Huck Finn story with information about the training schools and the lives of the First Nations, who were forced to assimilate during that time.

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde who also wrote Pay It Forward. Stay revolves around two teenagers and their interactions with a woman who has been shunned by their small town. A good look at family relationships and the meaning of friendship.

The Nightwatchman by Louise Erdrich A novel based on Erdrich's grandfather who in the 1950s stood up to Congress to prevent the breaking of the treaty that guaranteed his tribe the reservation land in perpetuity.

Lastly, not a coming-of-age odyssey, but a story worth understanding:

Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy. Stevenson established the Equal Justice Initiative, which works with low-income, wrongly accused people who had not received fair representation or trials.

What books are you reading? Use the comment page or email me with your suggestions.

Thursday, November 5, 2020


 Let's play.

Let's make art.

Let's take a moment for time for ourselves. Art is a healer of souls.

Art therapists encourage people to make art as a way to express their feelings. Art can provide meditative calm or it can be a way to let out anger, splashing that emotion on the page instead of at other people.

I tried watercolor this week and found myself returning to old habits of rushing to finish, of dabbing with my brush instead of with confident strokes, of pushing one color across the page instead of adding color with each stroke. In the end, I took the painting I made and cut off the piece I still liked, washed the color off the rest, and placed the cut-off piece in my bin for mixed media scraps. I then took a deep breath and looked at my collection of random pieces of paper.

I  thought of harmony, one of the principles of design along with balance, repetition, proportion, movement, contrast, and unity. These principles are what make a piece of art appealing to others. They have become intrinsic to me, but they underlay every piece that I work on whether it is a painting, print, mixed media piece, or hand lettering.

How do you learn to make these principles work for you? Collage art is an easy way to apply these principles. By taking a pile of random pieces of paper and moving them around the page, you will find yourself drawn to one layout over another. In my scrap heap, there are many pieces that I either think will be a valuable start to a design or were the wrong color, pattern, shape for the original purpose. I took a bunch of them today to see if I could create some way to find balance and harmony with disparate pieces. How can I tie them together to make a whole?

From my stack of scrap papers

First, I tried the repetition of shapes: squares and rectangles. Nope.

I added a circle. Nope

Removed some of the elements and added lettering. Nope.

Tried a paper with a circle cutout. Nope.

Added calligraphy and a larger circle to unify all the shapes. Getting there! 
I like the repetition of the vertical lines in the cardboard piece contrasting with the white lines on the right bottom corner. I like the yellow ochre, aqua, and magenta that run through the entire design, which helps your eye move around the page.
Circles always help. 
A few words do too.

This is a good week to tear up some paper, get out a paint box and brushes, find unusual tools, grab some glue, and begin. Take care of yourself.


by MARTha Slavin

This piece is actually 4 small squares bunched together. Why do the four pieces work together? Repetition of patterns and lines, the green, blue-grey, and magenta that color each square, and the contrast between lights and darks.

This mixed media piece is included in Uppercase Magazine's #47 issue. Uppercase is a wonderfully creative magazine produced in Canada and filled with inspiring ideas. Take a look at issue #47 here: Uppercase Magazine #47

Friday, October 30, 2020


 As Bill and I filled out our ballots, sealed them in the return envelopes, and carefully signed our names, we reminded ourselves of the weighty responsibility of voting and the opportunity our country gives us to vote. We choose candidates for our and our family's future.

I brought to my ballot my values and principles that stand out from among many that I hold dear:




Respect for the Environment

These four principles top my list and make it easy for me to choose the Biden/Harris ticket. 

What are the principles that you take with you when you complete your ballot safely at home or walk into a polling place? This year I hope you will vote in favor of decency, democratic principles, and your moral beliefs. Our country depends on you.

We saw this play almost four years ago and realized how timely its message is.

Before election night, watch Pete Souza's documentary, The Way I See It. He was the official White Photographer for both the Reagan and Obama administrations. You can find it for free on Peacock or buy it at Amazon. You won't want to miss it.

Friday, October 23, 2020


I love combining words with artwork, which is why I continue to make my own books and art journals. The books become a good way to contain work done during a workshop and a way to practice new techniques and tools. They also can showcase a theme, poem, or story as in this book I made as my senior project ages ago, which I called What the Sun Said.

Before Covid hit us, I tried to go to at least one big art conference each year. Now I miss the challenge of being with other creative people. Zoom, Facebook classes, and online classes work well, but they're not quite the same, are they? If you have a chance to attend a conference, GO. You will come away full of brilliant ideas, enthusiasm, and new ways of looking at the world.

This book that I created while in a workshop incorporates images of birds along with feathers, ribbons, threads, and buttons, with muslin and canvas sewn to the pages to connect the individual pages together.

Circles and time are two of my most used themes. Circles hold ideas and are complete in themselves. Time represents change and memories.

Our cat is always curious

Exhibited at the online annual exhibit of Collage Artists of America this summer

Looking back at conferences, I remember Focus on Book Arts' fourteenth conference in 2019. The organizers asked attendees to arrive with a book based on the engaging idea to incorporate fourteen words that reference the number 14. The group presented a list of 14 ideas to work from and asked each person to select 5. I hope you will create your own 14-page book of creativity! 

Here are their instructions for the challenge:

"We are counteracting the Chinese notion that 14 is an unlucky number by celebrating our good fortune with a fourteen-theme book arts challenge. The list below contains fourteen themes, objects, color, and more that somehow relate to the number fourteen. Your mission is to take at least 5 (1 + 4, get it?) concepts from the list and incorporate them into a book arts piece. You may interpret your choices any way you see fit."

Citizenship -- 14th Amendment
Fingers -- sign language?
Forgetfulness -- # for forgetfulness
Fortnight -- 14 days
Gold -- 14 carat
Ivory -- traditional anniversary gift
Jewelry --modern anniversary gift
St. Valentine -- Feb. 14
Silicon -- atomic number
Sonnet -- 14-line poem
Stone -- British unit of weight equal to 14 pounds
Temperance -- Tarot cards: card of temperance
Vermont -- 14th state of US

I've added some more 14 ideas:
Makar Sankranti -- celebrates January 14 as the sun moves from one zodiac zone to another
Moon -- 14 days waxing/14 days waning
Cuboctahedron -- 14-sided
Bastille Day  -- July 14, 1789
Lunar Landing -- Apollo 14

To explore book arts, click here:

To see a video of a one-sheet book, check out

Another superb conference:
WriteOnTheEdge 2022 International Calligraphy Conference to be held at Mills College in Oakland, CA  The committee is busy working on the conference and will have a website soon. Take a look at what was offered at the 2019 conference in Quebec.