Friday, July 30, 2021


 Do you know someone who has friendships that go back to their early childhood? I mean the kind of friendship that is more than just sending holiday cards once a year?

I once taught with someone who married her next-door neighbor, someone she had known since they were both toddlers. When I knew her, they both were in their 50s, still married, and enjoying life together. I know others who have kept friendships alive since school days by meeting for museum visits, long weekends of quilting, or going to spring training. To me, maintaining long friendships is a marvelous ability to cultivate in a lifetime. And not always easy to do.

Before the pandemic, when we used to meet in person frequently, we followed the rules of being friends: looking past our quirks because we liked being with the person. The pandemic shut down meeting in person for most of us. Zoom offered a different window into keeping friendships alive, but it didn't give us a solid enough connection to help us overlook those quirks and irritations that surface between friends.

Now that the restrictions for vaccinated people have been lifted, friends and I attempt to meet. Two longtime friends, both artists and writers, who I have known since before my son was born, met for lunch for only the second time since June. In the rush of getting back to activities, we had had a hard time finding time to get together. We grew a little irritated at not being able to find a good day. Finally, this week we walked into the patio of a restaurant and laughed when we saw each other. We were all wearing similar blue patterned outfits, two of us had hats, we all had flat-heeled shoes, and, most of all, we were all glad to see each other again. We talked of books we were reading, Netflix shows, gardening, children, grandchildren, promising adventures we could plan, and we reached out past those little quirks that we all have that we know don't really matter because the person next to us is more important than any little differences that might come up in a long time friendship. Most of all, we remembered what it means to have good friends.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Be Someone's Lighthouse

Curtis Island Lighthouse, Maine

Lighthouses link us to the past and stir our imagination so much that novelists such as Virginia Woolf center stories around lighthouses. We think of the guiding light bringing someone home, we think of the fog-bound waters with only the sweeping light keeping ships and sailors safe, and we think of the keepers who lead solitary lives. The turning light in the towers, which warns ships of treacherous waters, often stands alone on an island or at the end of a distance point of land, evoking feelings of mystery, loneliness, power, and wonder. Lighthouses dot both of our coasts becoming the first symbols of land that is welcoming and strong.

The East Brother light station on a small island in the San Francisco Bay stood abandoned and vandalized until a foundation formed, raised money for renovations, and the station became a bed and breakfast. The light station needs a new caretaker as well as more funding. This past Spring, the cable bringing electricity, thus heat, to the island was damaged and the Coast Guard, which oversees the island, concluded that the price for fixing the cable was prohibitive. Again, people came to the rescue with a GoFundMe page and volunteers managed to repair the cable so that the station could continue as a bed and breakfast inn.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, CA

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero in San Mateo County has guided ships since 1872. The Fresnel light has been replaced by an automatic LED beacon, but you can still see the original Fresnel on display. It is an amazing piece of craftsmanship, 16 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter, and worth the trip to the lighthouse to just marvel at the intricacy of the huge glass lens. A hostel also operates on the property.

On both of our coasts, lighthouses still work, though most of their purpose has been supplanted by GPS and other navigational aids. They are protected by the Lighthouse Act of 1789 and also by people who care about keeping their history and ideas alive. To celebrate the lore and beauty of lighthouses we have designated August 7 as National Lighthouse Day.

Luckily for artists and photographers, lighthouses still exist. Because of their locations, they make perfect composition material. In my watercolor class, our instructor presented us with a photo of a lighthouse with a station where personnel lived. The buildings near light towers are usually simple geometric structures with or without porch roofs above the front door. I attempted to paint this lighthouse and after two tries put the paintings in my "It's just practice" pile. I decided to look for other lighthouses and found the Pigeon Point Station and the Curtis House Lighthouse in Maine. Once I started these, I grew more interested in the simple shapes of the buildings, took my expectations down a notch, and began to fill a sketchbook with lighthouses.

This is the painting that started my lighthouse exploration. I like the tower, but the rest???

Virginia Woolf is not the only writer to include lighthouses as a major element in her novel. Try these:

The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

The Lighthouse, P.D. James (an Adam Dalgleish mystery)

The Lighthouse, Allison Moore

The Bad Luck Lighthouse, Nicki Thornton

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

For more information about lighthouses:

Friday, July 16, 2021


One of life's simple pleasures, getting together with people with similar interests, causes me to search for art and writing classes. I've never stopped being a student. I like the inspiration I collect from other people as they work on art or writing. Like the old quilting bees from long ago, the communal nature of these gatherings satisfies a need in me. I have friends who find that same space by playing cards or Mahjong, making crafts, or learning how to make a better pie crust. We humans thrive in community.

 My favorite mantra for working in art, "It's just practice," helped me through classes at the annual calligraphy conference I attended by Zoom. Though I was eager to begin, the old familiar feelings of failure, of being not quite good enough cropped up. But I pushed them back with "It's just practice." 

The first class I picked concentrated on values, with exercises going from dark to light and back again. Same kind of exercises I've been doing since college with a graphite pencil. The result becomes a scale that shows the multitude of greys possible. I thought when I signed up, this class was for me. I love working with pencil and grey scales. I read the list of supplies and realized that there was more to the class than the pencil I had in my hand. We were to do the same thing with gouache, a medium I rarely used.

Watercolor mixes on the page

I've done a hundred watercolor color palettes. They are fun to do as you can see the mixing of color right on the page. I'm pretty good at getting a variety in the mixtures. But gouache is different. Gouache is an opaque watercolor, thick and creamy like acrylics, which has usurped gouache's place in most painters' toolboxes. Many calligraphers still use gouache, though, in their broad-edged pens to add color to their lettering. I've never tried it since I have trouble doing calligraphy with just the usual ink. But here I was, sitting in a class with calligraphers, much better than me, holding four brushes clasped in my fingers to mix a gradual set of darks to lights. I found it hard to either darken or lighten the colors so that I achieved the slight gradations I could find with a pencil. I repeated painting each variation on four different colored papers. Each color of paper changed the relationship of the gradations -- a two-for-one exercise. The darkest paint at the bottom disappeared on the darker paper. The mid-tones did the same on the middle-value paper.

Another humbling experience came from my second class. Watching the instructor was like watching magic. She moved her pen across the page with ease. She played with each letter. Swoop and a beautiful line resulted. Her mantra, "Relax your fingers, relax your shoulders, relax your whole body, breathe," set us in a quiet place to concentrate but also to let go of all that tightness we can develop as we try to be perfect. 

"I can tell when you are trying to work the pen and not go with it," she said. I listened and attempted to relax into the stroke just as I could with a pencil or with a brush when I wasn't trying to draw letters. Those old familiar feelings crept in. When we took a break, I walked away feeling frustrated. When I got back to my practice sheet, I thought, "Not too bad for a first practice. It's okay. It's just practice."

When I finished the week, I had a good collection of various techniques. I had a chance to see what other people were making. I realized I'd gotten better with a broad-edged pen (Practice, practice, practice: another good mantra). I discovered in my last class, which was the design of one letter inside a geometric shape, that I wanted to continue with that concept and make another A to Z book with each letter representing a flower.

Take a look at the mini-classes in calligraphy that are available from the Legacies III International Calligraphy Conference. You can purchase them even though you were not an attendee. These classes are a great way to try calligraphy from some of the masters.

Or check out these instructors whose classes I took at the conference:

Janet Takahashi:

Annie Cicale:

Carrie Imai:

Judy Detrick:

Friday, July 9, 2021


What better way to liven your summer than with a good book (audio, Kindle, or real book, whichever works for you). While I am Zooming calligraphy classes at Legacies III, the 39th International Calligraphy Conference this time sponsored by the Texas Lettering Arts Council this week, I am also accumulating suggestions for good books to read this summer.

Here are my suggestions to keep you fascinated, thrilled, thoughtful, and full of good humor:

First, Roger Bennett's book, Re(born) in the USA, will fill you with hope. He is originally from Liverpool, England, loved America since he was a kid, and overstayed his student visa. Now a U.S. citizen, he has written a book about what he loves about America.

Then there are a few more:

Several people, including me, recommend:

The Library Book by Susan Orleans

This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace, both by William Kent Krueger

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

The BookWoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Henna Artist by Ala Joshi

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis & Renewal by George Packer

These will get you started on a long, pleasurable summer of reading.  Check for more captivating recommendations on my Book Lists Page. Continue to support your local book store with your purchases. Happy Summer Reading!

Theodore Parker: "The books which help you the most are the books the ones which make you think the most." 

Friday, July 2, 2021


We sat with good friends over dinner and laughed at words that conjured up memories in us all: summer camps, paper routes, running with friends from the neighborhood, building forts in an empty lot, dressing up in costumes, the buttery taste of Ritz crackers, cooling off in a plastic wading pool in the backyard, and watching a Fourth of July parade with bands of tricycles and lawnmowers. 

Sweet memories of slower days of summer unmindful of any controversies around us. 

More images popped up: rolling down grassy slopes,  feeling the tiny fish nibble at ankles while swimming in a lake, searching for four-leaf clovers in the grass, scraping the cream off the top of the milk in a milk bottle, and the jingle of an ice cream truck. 

Simple pleasures.

According to recent research, these types of memories help us build emotional resilience to current events. Psychologists say that if we can find the positive moments from our daily lives, we can turn our languishing feelings around. Maybe that is why the four of us found that reminiscing about childhood adventures allowed us to open up to laughter again.

Remember to thank an essential worker. We wouldn't be here without them.

Perry Bacon from the Washington Post said it best in his salute to the all-stars of the pandemic. We need to remember the efforts of these people who worked to keep us alive.

by Perry Bacon: 

Read Adam Grant's article in the New York Times about mental health after COVID:

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark captures girlhood in the exhibit at the National Museum of Women Artists. The exhibit is available online:

I joined Earth Day and YES! Magazine in pledging to keep July plastic-free. Hard to do, I know, but every little bit helps.