Friday, August 27, 2021




Martha will be back with a usual post next Friday.

Friday, August 20, 2021


photo by Bill Slavin

One of my favorite sets of Bill's photos is a collection of objects that he has arranged on black paper. They remind me of the 18th-century still-life painters with their exquisite focus and detail. Black paper or background makes the objects seem suspended in air and the details within most objects highly visible. 

One inspiration for this style of work comes from Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, a woman from the 18th century from an influential family in England, whose friends included Handel, John Wesley, and Jonathan Swift, and who often stayed with King George III and his family, all of whom are still familiar names to us. Her friends were leading lights of her time, but she has been lost to us even though she developed a technique using paper decoupage to illustrate flowers with botanical precision. Decoupage  remains a flourishing way of creating works of art on paper today.

by Mary Granville Delany (this is not a painting)
courtesy of the British Museum

Starting at 72 years old, Delany began cutting strips from paper already covered with watercolor paint. She layered the bits of paper to make copies of flowers from gardens, and glued them down onto black paper. She completed almost 1000 of these images, which she combined into what she called Botanica Delanica. The folio of work now resides at the British Museum.

We have ignored so many women artists, especially from this period of time. I had never heard of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany. Have you? She is one from the 18th century like Mary Moser and Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun that we ought to know. Delany, who led a fascinating life around dynamic individuals, spent most of her time doing the work of an aristocratic woman of that time period. She embroidered, sewed, managed several households, orchestrated dinners, gardened, and painted throughout her life. She did not exhibit her paintings. They were entertainment to fill time in busy days.

When Delany was in her late sixties, her second and beloved husband died, leaving her bereft. It wasn't until a close friend swooped her up into her own home and encouraged Delany to find an outlet for her sorrow that she began to gather examples of flowers from the gardens around her. With paper and scissors, she designed exact replicas of the flowers from paper, and created a new art form using paper decoupage.

Molly Peacock's book The Paper Garden describes this late-in-life burst of creativity which spurred Delany to return to a flourishing life filled with friends who admired her work. Delany continued to cut and past for 15 years until she began to lose her eyesight and had to put her tools away. 

Her technique influences many artists today including the artist Viveca Moller, who says of her artwork:

"I enjoy myself with scissors, thread and needle, glue, loads of silks, lace, velvet, a wide variety of paper and printed material." 

courtesy of

Check out the Botanica Delanica collection at the British Museum:

For more of Viveca Moller's art:

Check this list of female artists. How many do you know?

My post Summer, Water, Bounty from last Friday has been re-published in  Frog Hollow Farm's newsletter. Take a look at their marvelous offerings!

Friday, August 13, 2021


Two friends and I sat in a cafe several years ago enjoying an afternoon tea. We laughed and told stories, drank our tea with gusto, and made plans for adventures. As we talked, I looked around the tearoom. Colorful abstract paintings lined the walls along with shelves holding various-shaped teapots. Our table was near the window looking out to the street. I had my back to the window and across from me was an older woman sitting by herself. I looked at her occasionally thinking that she would be a good subject to paint. As I glanced at her, I thought she looked lonely as she gazed out the window, not paying too much attention to the food at her table. Just before we finished our tea, I took a photo of my friends, making sure that I captured the woman in the background. She was still sitting, staring out the window as we left.

Since then I have tried to paint her portrait several times. I thought it would be easy. Each attempt has ended up in my throw-away pile. I ask myself why. Does her side view make drawing her expression difficult? Is it because she is looking off to the right? (I flipped the photo over and tried the painting with her facing left -- same dissatisfied attempt.) Is it because her loneliness seeps into my painting? Is it because of that little nagging guilt of seeing someone by themselves without reaching out to connect?

Someone once advised me not to paint someone I knew, especially family members. Her reason: your emotions get too entangled in your painting. I've followed that suggestion when I paint portraits. Out of my parents' photo albums, I pick photos of people I never knew. I don't feel the need to get an exact representation of the person. They are just a model for me to practice painting people. I can ask myself questions. Where is the light coming from? Did I get the ratio of the space between the eyes and their ears correct? Where are the shadow shapes? I don't have to ask myself if my drawing looks like my mother/sister/aunt because I am not trying to paint a real person.

I had a similar experience as I drew people from Zoom who are in my writers' group. I didn't want to make exact portraits of each one. I was just practicing getting eyes in the right place, gestures and expressions, the fall of the hair across a face, the lines around the mouth when we smile. I exaggerated or emphasized features as I drew. I felt like writing next to the drawings: This isn't you.

As I worked on paintings of the woman in the tearoom, I tried various positions, eliminated her surroundings, added them back in, looked for examples from other painters' work, and finally, in frustration, drew on the watercolor with a heavy pencil. I looked at the result and liked it even though the portrait is severe and nothing like my idea of a light-hearted portrait of an older woman enjoying tea in a tearoom. That last attempt pushed me to try again. This time I felt myself relax and I put away the photograph so I wouldn't copy every shadow or wrinkle that I saw. Though none are award-winners, I learned some lessons about myself.  I realized, once again, how important the drawing underneath can be. I also decided that some of my earlier attempts weren't so bad after all. I had let my inner critic out. I was reminded that artists live with failure all the time. Sometimes I need to move on or sometimes taking one more step can provide the change and growth I am trying to achieve. In this case, my next best step was to relax.


Friday, August 6, 2021


Peaches by Martha Slavin

If you are like me, you can think of two things that make summer wonderful. You have to know, first, that summer is not my favorite time of the year. With heatwave after heatwave this year, I am spending a lot of time in our cool downstairs. When the heat waves blow off, we have had brilliant blue skies, cool evenings, and perfect temperatures during the day to relax under our shade trees. We can watch the antics of the butterflies as they float through the air, never stopping on any one bush, or we can observe the birds scramble at the bird feeders, or laugh at the squirrels who chase each other across the roof and take a flying leap into the trees, shaking down the Japanese maple seeds that we traipse into the house on the bottom of our shoes.

Secondly, summer brings favorite foods: corn on the cob and peaches. Corn on the cob, especially young white corn with kernels ripe enough to snap open when pressed, then grilled, roasted, or plopped into boiling, sugary water for 5 minutes, and eaten as is or brushed with melted butter, salt, and pepper. Peaches, their subtle aroma, filling the air around me as I slice them. Eaten whole with the juices dripping down my arm, or grilled or sauteed in butter and then mixed with a tangy sauce that brings out the peach flavor. These are summertime foods to savor and remember along with the wildlife that makes our backyard garden an oasis in summer.

Tomatoes by Martha Slavin

Though I love to garden, I gave up on growing vegetables and fruit because of the constant battle with wildlife who loved what we grew as much as we did. I think often of organic farmers and wonder how they manage to grow enough of anything to sell. Our garden is now one filled with deer-resistant plants,  many with varied-colored leaves that add needed color to our garden. Just one cherry tomato plant in our front yard gives us some sweet, fresh-picked fruit to eat.

Halfway up the hill in our backyard, we planted a peach tree. In hindsight, we wonder why we planted a fruit tree on a hill. Not easy pickings. The original thought was to continue to prune the tree to keep the fruit in reach. That didn't happen. Now the tree is a spindly twenty feet tall. We can't reach the new fruit to thin them out nor can we trim the branches safely. Too precarious to lean a ladder from any direction to pluck off some of the buds so that the remaining peaches will grow huge and flavorful. Someone suggested placing the young fruit inside drink bottles to let them grow to a good size as they do in Japan. But that means climbing a ladder. We still watch for new fruit in June. Some years there are only a few marble-sized peaches. This year the tree is covered with clumps of fruit.

We watch as the peaches get bigger and bigger, not ripe yet, but just enough to make the squirrels begin to knock them down and bite into them, leaving half-eaten fruit on the deck. I walk up to the tree and shake it hard. The ripe fruit that is left jiggles and one or two falls. I grab them off the ground and hope they didn't bruise. We will have just a few peaches from this year's bounty to savor.

We order a CSA mini-box from Frog Hollow Farms, a long-time organic farm near us. We pick up the box twice a month all year long, but in summer the fruits are at their best. In California, being a small farmer becomes harder and harder because of the drought and wildfires. The wildfires can affect the taste of fruit such as grapes and the drought can mean a field is left fallow for another year. Frog Hollow Farms is one of many small farms in California and they have used sustainable farming methods for a long time. They need our help to continue to provide the luscious food that they grow.

This week is National Farmers' Market Week. If you have a farmers' market near you, you can find just-ripe fruit and fresh vegetables to make smoothies, cobblers, salads, and other favorite recipes -- almost as good as walking out your door to pick something from your own garden, plus you support another family or group of families besides.

Here's a good recipe from for a tangy sauce to top grilled fruit:

1 Tbsp. Brown sugar

3 Tbsp. white Balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. hot sauce

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and use a whisk to stir them. Pour over fresh fruit slices grilled or sauteed in butter.

Check out the Frog Hollow Farm website:

read their latest blog posting and help save water:

This post has been republished in Frog Hollow Farm's newsletter. Check it out here:

When you visit California, take a tour of farms in the area:

Read more about family farms at: 

List of farmers markets in California:

Read Cornell Ornithology Labs' articles about birds instead of pesticides: