Friday, May 29, 2020


Our backyard has changed again.

The deer and their babies have arrived in our neighborhood. They seek shelter from the heat in our backyard. At first, the little ones where so new that they trembled when standing still and scampered about from one side of the yard to the other without fear.

They have already grown taller and more cautious. They follow their mother as she jumps our low fence into the backyard. They chase each other up the hill; but when they come down, they hesitate for a long time before they sail over the fence.

All photos by Bill Slavin

Last summer we planted two trees at the top of the hill to hide a neighbor's new structure from our view. The deer found the trees a treat and nibbled the leaves from about four feet down to the ground. We put plastic fencing around the trees to try to keep the deer away from the trees. Over the winter, the fence sagged and separated so that there was an opening into the trees. We hadn't had time to fix the fence before the deer discovered the opening. We watched as the mother walked inside with her two babies and settled down for their afternoon nap. Inside the fencing. We looked at each other and laughed.

by Bill Slavin

While we ate our lunch on the deck, two more deer came into the yard and proceeded up the hill, munching on the bushes along the way. Suddenly we heard a din of  scrambling and crashing noises. The two new deer flew down the hill chased by the mother. The interlopers kept trying to advance up the hill but the mother would have none of it. She staked out her territory well. Eventually, the two disappointed deer leaped over the fence for greener pastures.

Meanwhile, we keep our eyes on the birds. The chickadees alternate between our bird feeder and the bird house we put up. We can hear the peeping of new babies within. We watch parents fly in and out of the house so fast it's hard to see them.  We hear the adult chickadees chattering loudly. We see why. A cowbird hops around our porch and investigates old nests in hopes of dropping an egg to be tended by another bird. No such luck for her this year. The junkos in the front yard lost their brood to a crow. Sometimes bullies win, sometimes they don't. We admire the determination of the little birds and the mama deer to keep their families safe. Territory matters, a safe home matters, defending yourself matters. 

Photos of chickadees by Bill Slavin

To fellow birder, Christian Cooper, thank you for standing up.

Friday, May 22, 2020


Every scrap of paper is a possibility. Every piece of art needs a new perspective.

Accidental Landscape # 50

I collect scraps of paper that most people would discard. I save  the wax paper that I separate art pieces with while I press them flat, the newspaper I lay under a painting I'm working on, torn pieces of tissue paper, and old maps.  I keep them because I know they can be turned into collage art.

A Stack of papers with a blue theme

I am not the only collector, of course. Collages have been an important technique through the ages. The oldest examples come from China and Japan when calligraphers layered pieces of paper over a surface to add background to their text. Picasso, Matisse and Braque all used collage as a major part of their work.

Crystal Neubauer is a mixed media artist whose work I admire. Her collages remind me of art pieces by Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch, both collage artists who used torn paper to create abstract paintings. I've been taking Neubauer's Facebook class for the last couple of weeks and find I have the same question with my mixed media pieces as I do with watercolor. When do I stop?

Before the class, I unearthed a stack of scrap paper that I've saved because I like their texture or subtlety. They are easy to put together as a collage grouping because their colors are similar. I tend to add pieces of old maps, music paper, and circles---common themes that appear in my mixed media work.

One of my stacks of scraps

Some pieces, like this one, start our vertically. I keep adding layers, but nothing clicks to tell me that I am finished. The design seemed unsettled and incomplete. I stop for the day and place my work-in-progress on the floor so that I can see it from a distance. Sometimes, distance is what I need to gain a new perspective on a piece. I take a photo and wait for tomorrow.

Longing Belonging

I walk back into my workroom the next day. I check on my photo library on my computer. I see once again that the photo is upside down. Because I am left handed, I click the button on my phone with my left hand, which makes them upside down on the computer. Seeing them from a different perspective made me realize that I needed to alter my design by switching from portrait to landscape orientation. With that small adjustment, this collage said, "I'm finished."

This next piece started vertically. I switched it to horizontal. The final rendition is upside down from the original.

Sometimes, a piece starts vertically, and will remain so. It feels pleasing to the eye. Sometimes, pieces, like these small collages, move from one position to another to find the way that suddenly connects them together. Sometimes pieces stay scattered around my workroom for a long time till that happens. That's why it hard to know when something is finished.

Which way works?

Not finished yet

Check out  the works of these two contemporary artists who lead workshops in their techniques:
Crystal Neubauer:
Donna Watson:

Collage artists from the 20th Century:
Kurt Schwitter:
Hannah Hoch:

While we are still sheltering-in-place or have discovered the value of working at home, I recommend the following art instructors who offer classes on Facebook, Zoom or online:

Roxanne Stout:  (collage artist)
Sheri Blaukopf:  (watercolor)
John Muir Laws:  (nature journaling)

Friday, May 15, 2020


Sometimes I need reminders of the importance of kindness. I find it on
the Kindness wall at Bondadosa Coffee & Tea Collective in Walnut Creek,
an independent coffee place still open for business.

First, our coffee machine conked out. We were able to fix that before the Corvid-19 pandemic hit California, but that was only the beginning of a series of malfunctions. My new computer that I received in December kept going to sleep and not waking up until I unplugged it and let it sit for a while. It finally gave up the ghost and died. The repair shop was open for drop-offs by appointment only. The computer came back still susceptible to moments of extended sleeping.

In the midst of making face coverings, my sewing machine snarled up, with thread stuck willy-nilly in the bobbin case. Off to the sewing machine shop, with its back-door, hands-free deposit, which made me think that I wasn't the only one who tried to activate a sewing machine after long disuse.

Last week we discovered a leak in the main pipe leading to the inside of the house. Major repair. Once it was fixed, we found we no longer had our instant hot water that we cherished during the drought. Instead, I groaned as I filled bucket after bucket waiting for hot water to flow. To fix our hot water system and ever conscious of drought in California, we needed to replace the old circulating heat pump attached to our water heater, which is already 15 years old and may be good for another two years. We replaced the pump with our fingers crossed that the water heater would continue to work. Oh, and two sprinkler heads are leaking, our ice maker doesn't make ice anymore, and the U-shaped pipe under the kitchen sink fell off spewing water all over the floor. Little broken things.

While I'm thinking about malfunctions, I'm looking for any good ideas of what to make with all these broken pieces of pottery that I've accumulated over the years. Have any suggestions?

For the two of us, it's the little, every day things that are malfunctioning. We need to see our own misadventures in perspective. We look around the world and see the locusts that plague parts of Africa, the pandemic and its economic storm, harsh weather that effects whole regions, governments turning authoritarian, and we wonder. We fixed the malfunctions in our house and they were small compared to what else has happened in 2020. For all of us, every day brings new world-wide, enormous issues that will take a long time to resolve.


On a completely different note, Somerset Studio magazine published my art journal of chalkboard lettering and other black and white pieces. You can see a portion of the article by clicking on the link below:

a couple of pages from my art journal

Somerset Studio magazine, published by Stampington & Co., is filled with creative ideas from many artists around the country. If you would like to be the winner of a copy of the magazine, be the first to email me at

Friday, May 8, 2020

A MURDER OF CROWS by Terri Hinte

 This week I want to share a post by Terri Hinte, who inspires me to write 
about the hidden depth of ordinary things.

artwork by Martha Slavin

by Terri Hinte

A blessing during the current nightmare has been the opportunity to leave my desk and my four walls, at will, for a spell in the garden. Pulling weeds focuses the mind even as it makes room for beauty and for previously crowded seedlings to thrive. The Sombreuil climbers in the front yard are exploding with fragrant white roses, while in the back I scan the yard in anticipation of graceful oak leaf hydrangea blooms. A mass of volunteer nasturtiums provides a colorful carpet in the center of the space.

The verdigris birdbath is my favorite focal point. Tucked alongside a tall abutilon that boasts pale orange, bell-shaped flowers year-round, it's a popular spot for resident birds as well as those passing through. When the water is fresh and plentiful, the birds arrive--towhees and finches and titmice, sometimes as many as 8 or 10, splashing vigorously and fluffing their feathers in obvious pleasure. I usually spy on them from my close-by bedroom window, as does Claude, my young cat.

Three days ago, I happened to see Claude at the window, and from the wide-eyed expression on his face and his tense body language I knew that something was afoot.

It was a crow. In the birdbath. Joined in short order by a second. They seemed absurdly large in the basin, and I worried they might scare off the regular customers.

by Martha Slavin

After a few minutes, they flew off to the top of the redwood tree in the adjoining yard, which afforded them a 360-degree view of the neighborhood. I went outside to examine the birdbath and discovered peanut shells they'd left behind--my crow-crazy neighbor across the street feeds the crows daily, calling them with her own mad caws, and peanut shells turn up everywhere. I cleaned up the premises, ready for the next group of bathers.

Day 2, a repeat: one crow lands in the bath, soon to be joined by a second. They talk amongst themselves and eat their peanuts, casting off the shells in the water.

Day 3, ditto. This time I watched as one crow, then the other, held a shelled peanut in its beak and bent over to dip the treat in the water--a great big dipping bowl.

by Martha Slavin

It occurred to me that, in such dreadful times, these visitations might be an omen. "Wherever crows are, there is magic," writes Ted Andrews in Animal-Speak. "They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life. They are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world every day and available to us."

I'm choosing to welcome my crow visitors--a nesting pair?--as companions and inspirations. I'm happy to tidy up after them. I'm at their service.

by Martha Slavin
Terri Hinte is a Richmond-based jazz  publicist. She has been a member of Elizabeth Fishel's Oakland Writers Group (as I have ) since 1993.  Check out her website here:


I used photos from the photographic archives of BBC, Wikipedia, and Discover Wildlife as reference for these paintings of crows.  To make the paintings shimmer, I first coated the paper with metallic acrylic paint. The child's garden came from my imagination.

Friday, May 1, 2020


We all saw the videos of the crowds at Newport Beach last weekend. 

We are all drawn to the sun, even during these days 
when the pandemic has not resolved.

Growing up I remember when my mother used sunshine as a healer. As we recovered from the chicken pox, flu or a cold, she would sit us outside in the warm sun and fresh air to help us get well. She would even set out books from the library in the sun because she thought that any germs lingering on their pages would be eliminated.

During the 1918-20 flu pandemic, the health workers had little to relieve the patients from their suffering. The nurses would wheel patients out to sit in the sun. My mother, born in 1915, grew up in a world where quarantine signs hung from house windows, where there were no vaccines, no penicillin, and no anti-viral remedies. So, she too looked to the sun for healing.

We all know that the sun can boost our supply of Vitamin D. We also learned how harmful too much exposure to the sun can be. We are aware how close proximity to others can spread germs. Unfortunately for my mom, setting books out in the sunlight for a short time probably didn't kill any viruses. But the sun felt good to me after being inside with an illness for several days and helped lift my spirits. We are all drawn to the sun.

This year when the weather has been gloomy, chilly, or stormy, I found it easy to be inside. Now that the warm sun comes out in the morning, I am tempted to venture outside my home's boundaries. Here in California for the most part, we have flattened the curve of cases of Covid-19 by adhering to the sequestering in place order. I am mindful of that when I open the door to our backyard and choose to sit there instead of on a public beach in the warm sun.


This week, the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto put up its latest exhibit, Wish You Were Here, the Postcard Show, online. Please take a look at the wonderful examples of art. Each image is postcard size. The cards are displayed as inchies. Click on each one to expand it and to see the artist's name.
The postcards with this post can be viewed in Part 1, Row 29. 

Go to

For a quick review of both benefits and harm from sunlight:
For more in-depth review:
Read about the 1918-20 Flu Pandemic: