Friday, September 25, 2020


Oakland Mural by Gaia WXYZ
photo courtesy of Pete Rosos

How easily we get stubborn about so many issues these days. I won't get into a fight about the removal of statues, but I want to offer a suggestion. We need let go of our hackles and think like artists. We need to discover better solutions. We need to stop putting up statues of real people. 

Instead, like the Statue of Liberty or Rodin's Thinker, we can create monuments to ideas. Mildred Howard, a present-day sculptor originally from the Bay Area, uses ideas to create thought-provoking installations. Her house called You Are Welcome Here is made from recycled glass and wood and reminds a viewer of both slave quarters and the modernistic homes built by Bay Area architect Joseph Eichler, who was one of the first builders not to discriminate against anyone for their ethnicity, religion, or class.

You Are Welcome Here by Mildred Howard
courtesy of Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, Los Angeles

I don't know anyone who has walked by the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., who hasn't been moved by the experience. The sculpture by Maya Lin was first controversial because it wasn't traditional and didn't show human figures. Instead it lists all the American men and women killed in the war. The addition of a set of three soldiers of different ethnicities salved some of the criticism. The soldiers are placed so they look back at the list of names. Another effective placement. A statue honoring women who served was added in 1993.

A list of names is a powerful message. I first saw such a list when I visited Alnwick, a small town in the north of England. In their community hall, carved into a long brass plate running from the two-story ceiling to the floor, was a list of the men and women from this small town  killed in action in World War I. The names towered over me. I've seen similar lists in a synagogue in Prague, and now the University of Virginia, has erected a memorial to enslaved laborers, designed by Howeler+Yoon, after gathering feedback from community forums. It too is a list of names placed in a park-like setting.

Walking by and among these names makes you pause and reflect on the results of wars and/or deep human experiences. Have you ever had the same reaction when you walked by a man on a horse?

Check out the work of Mildred Howard and watch the video, Welcome to the Neighborhood, Where do you go when you can no longer afford to live in the Bay Area?

Mildred Howard

Mildred Howard current exhibition

Monuments worth visiting:

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, DC

Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, UVa


Last batch of postcards encouraging people to vote going out today!

New batch of Soul Box Project boxes going to Soul Box Project in Portland, OR

Friday, September 18, 2020


We're halfway through September. The redness in the sky has dissipated, though the air quality here is not good. Climate change creates accelerated fire conditions that pine beetles, the three-year drought, and poor forest management feast on. It's not going to get cooler.

We are doubly sequestered now: coronavirus and fires. I look for more things to do in small ways inside the house. I'm both an artist and a gardener. I've tried growing plants in my kitchen. I've signed up for a 30-day art challenge and decided to paint objects in my workroom.

With the smoke, we haven't seen shadows for days. Hoping for a sunny spot, I've been growing small bits of greenery in baking cups. I felt a small joy to see a shadow near a window.

The ends of carrots, onions, and celery can be placed in water, which is a fun scientific experiment. And a good way to include a few fresh greens in our food. Left in the water, the ends will sprout to look like miniature forests. The celery comes up like tiny celery stalks. I've tried planting the results in soil, but so far I've had no success in turning these beginnings into regular plants. I keep trying. The greens make excellent additions to salads or on potatoes or eggs. Besides, watching them grow gives me one more thing to do.

Each month this year brought new challenges. In the first few weeks of sheltering, we seemed to have an endless amount of time. We took slow walks, we read mountains of books and newspapers, we chatted on Zoom, and watched movies we'd never heard of, but now our days are filled. We wonder where the time went, but we keep adding more things to our calendars. Some of the things that I had on a perpetual list of things to do I realized that I will never get done. They were a flickering interest that disappeared once I had added them to my list. 

What new things are you doing now?

Some of my daily paintings for the 30-day Challenge:

Friday, September 11, 2020




What I've learned from watercolor classes:

A good drawing makes all the difference.
Remember hard and soft edges
Paint shapes, not objects
Stop when you think you are 90% done
Lay a light wash of Permanent Yellow Deep except where you want the white paper to show through
Hold your brush so that the bristles face vertically down to paint
Stop when you are 90% done
Tell yourself: this is just practice

I'm not taking my watercolor class this summer session so I'm trying to paint a watercolor each week. Sometimes I paint a lot in one day, sometimes just a little. I have tried to slow myself down so that I only paint while I feel confident. As soon as I start to feel squirrelly and unsure, I stop and take a breather.

My watercolors are not exhibition-worthy yet, but they are instructive for me and maybe for you. What I've learned about watercolor: a good drawing makes all the difference. If the drawing is out of proportion or off in any other way, the painting will be too. And there is little that can be done to correct that once I start painting. Might as well start over with a better drawing.

The photo of a woman from the 1930s (an old girlfriend of my dad's) intrigued me because of the high contrast. My drawing didn't show its errors until I started painting. I drew her head a little too big for the rest of her body, which only showed once I started painting below her head.


Once I've done my drawing, I dampen the paper and brush a light wash of yellow. I left the white highlights on her face and arm. The wash gives the paper and subsequent washes a glow that wouldn't be there from just the white paper itself.

Learning to draw for painting means learning to leave a lighter line where soft edges will be. If I don't paint soft edges, then the painting looks flat. In this painting, soft edges can be seen in the folds of her dress, and the bottom of her arms. They can be achieved by blurring the line between one color and another or having the same value next to each other so that the two shapes blend together.

I discovered that painting with my brush held vertically with the tip towards the bottom of the paper to be an effective way to add color either in large washes or in places where I could get too concerned with detail. I have been surprised by how well it works.

Every time I start a painting, I tell myself that this is just practice. It's a way for me to relax and not to care too much. Now I'm trying to tell myself to stop when I think I'm 90% finished. It's that last 10% where I can ruin a painting by overworking an area. Than that painting goes into my pile to be cut up and used as part of my mixed media stash.

This one is just practice!


My mixed media piece, There Is Always More, can be viewed online for the annual The Second Half show at the Las Laguna Gallery in La Laguna Beach, California. The exhibit is online only and has a bountiful group of work to view.

Friday, September 4, 2020


On my daily walk this summer, I watched as workers spread slurry over the street. They left a road that was pristine black and smooth as a new chalkboard. The next day, I noticed impatient tire tracks coming out of driveways, carving out the slurry before it was completely dried.

In the next couple of days, animals came down from the dewy grasses on the hills to walk across the street and left muddy prints of their passing. The deer hooves I recognized. And the small dog prints. I followed the track of an animal as it meandered from one side of the road to the other, up a hilly space and across another section of road. The tracks could have been a dog off-leash, but it also could have been a coyote, whose howls we hear regularly. I took photos and compared the two types of prints online. I couldn't distinguish the two. I needed a more experienced tracker than I am. 
A mystery unsolved.

Each day as I walked, new trails crossed the road. First, the road itself began to crack in places as the earth shifted under it. Mountain bike tires, possibly a rabbit, one foot of a squirrel perhaps, and of course, humans left their marks.

On one cross street where the crows congregate every day, white splashes of poop dotted the pavement.

During the lightning storms a couple of weeks ago, the trees let go of many of their dry leaves, crowding the gutters and spilling into the roadway. In a few short weeks, the pristine black pavement started to disappear into patterns and textures, absorbing the life that ventured upon it and telling a mysterious story.