Friday, January 31, 2020


By Bill Slavin

Across Tomales Bay from the town of Pt. Reyes Station lies a peninsula which is the outer most edge of California. Beyond the land is the Pacific Ocean. At this time of year, hundreds of Elephant Seals sprawl across its beaches. The males fight each other for dominance, the females give birth and suckle their young. Park docents, eager to share their knowledge, supervise you so that you don't get too close to the enormous seals.

by Bill Slavin

Completely different plant life grows on the peninsula side of Tomales Bay from the other side. The origins of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake lie between the pushing and shoving of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates located in the middle of Tomales Bay. The peninsula, formed of the same rock as the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California, has been inching itself towards Alaska at a slow but steady pace.

by Bill Slavin

Standing at the edge of Tomales Bay reminds me again of how small we are and how fleeting our time on Earth will be.

Painting by Sam Francis, courtesy of

On the Pt. Reyes Station side of the bay sits Mesa Refuge, former home of the artist Sam Francis, which has been transformed into a writer's residence-retreat. Opening the closet door of the upstairs bedroom reveals the signatures of some of the writers who have used the space to practice writing, to begin books, and to move away from the hustle of human life to reflect on our world. Daniel Ellsberg, Rebecca Solnit, and Michael Pollan are just a few of the writers who have opened the refuge's doors.

Every year my writers' group led by Elizabeth Fishel comes to the refuge fo a weekend respite to sit with other writers for encouragement, companionship and time. The home itself has been transformed from the white-walled residence of Sam Francis to a vibrantly colored place, a reflection of the colors that Francis used in his work. At the entrance to the refuge hangs a large sign that says "Imagine" above the walk to the door. The main meeting room has expansive windows looking out on the marshes at the edge of the bay. Turning yourself around to look at the book-lined wall of the room, you see window cutouts near the roof that allow you to view a framed scene: a bird building a nest on a branch of an old tree or reflections of the inside overlaying the trees outside.

We met with Carlos Porrata, an engaging photographer. Many years ago, he and his family drove across the country and stayed at national parks along the way. By the time they arrived in California, he had decided to change his career from therapist to park ranger. Since his retirement from Pt. Reyes National Seashore, he has devoted his time to wildlife photography in a place that has been home to him for over 40 years.

Porrata exemplifies the spirit that generates from a visit to Mesa Refuge. His photos bring you close to the world outside. The books written while at the refuge reflect the creativity, solace, and reflection garnered from a site at the edge of the continent.

Here is a list of some of the books from the Refuge that I want to read:

Our Common Wealth by Jonathan Rowe
Meant to Be Wild by Jan de Blieu
More: Population, Nature and What Women Want by Robert Engleman
Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants to Fight by Aspen Baker
On Good Land by Michael Abelman
A New Map of Wonders by Caspar Henderson
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

These are just a few of the books. A more extensive list can be found at the Mesa Refuge website:

Check out the work of Sam Francis:

Information about Pt. Reyes National Seashore can be found here:

Elizabeth Fishel, author and writer's group leader:
Check out the photography of Carlos Porrata:

Friday, January 24, 2020


Supplies for a fun day of play

January. Have you been scurrying around like me since the holidays? I'm trying to find normal, but I've put too much on my calendar anticipating the lull after December. The lull never arrived. Instead, I'm shaking my head at my lack of attention to doing One Thing At A Time.

I'm taking a day off from my calendar today to give myself time to play. Since Valentine's Day comes soon, I thought I would make some easy Valentine's. I've collected these supplies:

heart-shaped paper doilies, card stock, and blank postcards
washi tape, scraps of paper, ribbon
waterproof fine line marking pens, stamps
watercolors and colored pencils
Altoid box

The easiest Valentine to make:

This Valentine is still hanging over Bill's office door

In a packet of paper doilies, some of the doilies stick together. Don't separate them. You want a cardstock-weight doily for each heart.

Fold the larger heart. Crease only two inches from the top. Cut along the crease. It is better to make a short cut. You can always cut a longer one.
Fold the smaller heart and crease from the bottom. Cut along the crease.

Slide the smaller doily down the cut on the larger doily.
Attach a ribbon through the holes of the larger heart.

Voila! You have a Valentine's card.

Postcards with Love

I had a lot of washi paper left over from other projects. This card is a great way to use up scraps. Paper doesn't need to be washi but chose papers with similar patterns or colors.

Cut the papers to fit the outside edges of the card stock or postcards you are using.
Before you glue, test your layers so that you get a mix that you like.
Glue the first sheet down.
The next sheet needs to be about 1/4 inch smaller. Glue that down. And don't obsess over measurements.
Continue adding layers until you are happy with the card.
Cut out a center heart from one of the doilies (just one layer of doily this time).
Use your marking pen to write your favorite love word.
As you write, extend the spaces between each letter. (Practice this type of writing before you do your final version.)

An even easier version: You could also use washi tape cut to fit the card and then attach doily hearts on top.

Love Book

You will need a sheet of Bristol paper or watercolor paper cut to 10 inches by 2 inches.
Starting at the right side of the paper, use your fine line-marking pen and doodle across the page. Starting at the right instead of the left will loosen you up. Try to make loops that are heart-shaped (or add hearts later). Color inside the loops with colored pencil or watercolor.

On the other side of the paper, write all the words that you can think of that mean love to you. Use the extended spacing between letters of each word to stretch out your words across the page.

Fold the paper in half and make accordion folds. Tie your little book with string.

Cover the outside of the Altoid box with paper or washi tape. Cover the inside lid and inside bottom with paper. Place your Love Book and some heart-shaped candies in the box.

Altoid box covered in washi paper

Love Book sits inside Altoid tin box

Have fun. A good way to play!

Good art supplies: has a package of 100 premium paper postcards  has gel pens, metallic colored pencils and other supplies that are just right for Valentine's Day

Friday, January 17, 2020


The door sticks as I pull it open. An invisible cloud of warm air pushes against me as I enter. I look around to see who is in the room and smile at so many familiar faces. I wander how it can be more than a month since I last sat at the table, picked up my brushes and started a new watercolor. I took a deep breath as I sat down and listened for a moment to the critical voice in my head telling me, "You'll have to start over. It's been too long." I shut the voice out as I turned to my neighbors, people who have become friends by sitting together, working together, struggling over paint placement and the desire to be better than we are.

Not yet finished painting of old shed

It was good to be back even though I left half-finished home projects scattered over the house. With my return to classes, volunteering and travel that I had set aside for the holidays, my attempts at New Year clean-up stalled in mid-January. I keep thinking that I will make a day to catch up, but already the tumult caused by an already-full calendar has jumped into my path.

First day's work on old boat

The watercolor I am working on gives me hope. I found that my absence from art had been helpful. The skills I struggled with all last year percolated up and appeared on the page. My old mantra, One Thing At A Time, resurfaced as I placed a color on the page, stepped back to make sure that was the color I wanted, and then pushed the color forward another inch before I refreshed the color by dropping a new color to add depth to the first. For once, as I packed up my supplies at the end of class, I felt positive about what I had started. I walked around the classroom and saw the same renewed response in the work of others. We had all progressed in a year and now came ready for a new beginning.

Second day's work on old boat.
Now I need to add the sky and a few finishing marks.

January is full of promise, fresh starts, returns to old practices, and a recognition that another year has come and will quickly pass.  Have you stopped saying, Happy New Year, yet?

Today, January 17 is an ordinary day. No special holidays fill the calendar square, though January 17 has been declared Cable Car Day, Hot Buttered Rum Day, Ditch New Years Resolutions Day (that quickly?), and Judgment Day, which seems a little hard-nosed for an ordinary day. Ruth and Thomas Roy, creators of the day, tell us to look in the mirror on January 17 and see if you measure up to your own standards. If not, they suggest you go out and give life another shot, which is what I did recently when I opened the door to my watercolor class.

Friday, January 10, 2020


Brown: the color of old things.

The color of rust.

And of dryness.

Along with grey, the color of winter. 
Not the favorite color of most people. 
But how many browns can you find here?

Brown is also the color of chocolate. And this beautiful parquet work behind the chocolate.

Brown is the color of spots on puppies.


And just baked bread.

Can you see warm browns and cool browns on these leaves? 
Brown is the combination of the three primary colors, blue, red and yellow. 
In watercolor it is easy to make Mud instead of a rich brown.

At the bottom right hand corner of this page of palettes, I show four browns right out of the tube: Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna, and Dark Brown. They all look pretty flat.

The other squares show variations that can be made using blues, reds and yellows together. I used Indigo Blue, Cobalt, Cerulean and Ultramarine Blue as the bottom layer. Then added Carmine, Alizaron Crimson, or Cadmium Red Light over that. I added Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Light or Winsor Yellow Deep as the last layer. Some of the squares may not look like brown, but these variations dropped around other browns or in the shadows could add depth to the brown on a piece of wood or bread or old ladder.

As a kid, I used to pester my mom with questions: What color is my hair? What color are my eyes? What is the best color for me to wear? Her usual response while she was doing laundry, washing dishes, or baking: brown, that is your best color. Not my favorite color then. But I've gotten over that. After all, there are so many versions of brown to choose from, aren't there?

Friday, January 3, 2020


New doors to open, new paths to follow, new traditions to find. 2020. As my eye doctor said, there will be many jokes this year about 20/20. 2020 will also be a good year for reflection and choosing to do one good thing.

When we lived in Tokyo, I adopted the tradition of new year clean-up. The truth though: I am still cleaning up from last year. The value of cleaning up still sticks with me even though the spaces I clear get cluttered almost as fast as I tidy them up. 

Just as this serene image of the boulder and calm waters lets my mind wander through the stillness, I know that after I take the decorations down, I clear my desk of leftover projects, and I sort through closets the emptiness remaining will open new space to think and create.

So today I'm trying to pack away, throw away, give away anything I can. I resisted for today the urge to start on a new project. I write down the idea so that I can come back to it later, and remember to take one step at a time. I think about the phrases I have adopted as a yearly theme: Joy, Home, Layers, Time, Just Say Yes, and Letting Go. I begin to feel the wiggle of a phrase that has poked at me in the last couple of days. "Don't make anyone else's life more difficult." Something to remember as I choose and consider my own actions throughout the year. Something I wish the leaders of our country will consider too.