Friday, September 24, 2021


We all get stuck sometimes, don't we?

Artists and writers sometimes confront the blank white page and freeze. As an artist, I know I can get past that blank page. I have found several ways to help myself. I wash a light yellow over an entire piece of watercolor paper. With a pen, I draw connected circles back and forth across the page just as I did when I was learning how to write. I write my name backwards in big letters. I get up and take a break. Little tricks that might get my mind working creatively. I use those art exercises when I need to loosen up to write. My first question to myself every Monday: what could I write about this week? Some weeks I know right away, other weeks I will start with one thought which will morph into a hundred different ideas.

If I'm really stuck, I participate in a 30-day challenge to re-ignite creativity through practice, practice, practice. If you Google 30-day art or writing challenges, you will find lots of good ideas to help you jumpstart your day. Doodlewash presents a Watercolor Monthly with lists of things to paint or draw. In October, Jake Parker encourages artists to draw with pen and ink for Inktober. November is Writers Month. The challenge there is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. For something less daunting right now, fellow blogger, Chandra Lynn from Pics and Posts lists ideas that could inspire you to dig deep into your reservoir of potential subjects. She got me thinking because I love lists too.

I asked myself, "What are three things I always carry and that I actually use? 

I couldn't hone it down to just three, but it was an interesting exercise to discover which small things become essential.

Lip Balm

Pencil or Pen

Smallest Art Journal that fits in my purse. The journal has become my COVID diary of my appointments and the other people I see there.


Then I thought of all the things I put in my car's trunk that I've either forgotten about or never use, and knowing that if I remove them, I will need them the very next day.



Animal alarm for my walks just in case I run into a mountain lion (we all have unusual fears, don't we?) In my defense, we have had sightings of bobcats in our neighborhood, but I never remember the alarm.

My complete art kit, including a sketchbook, pencils, pens, water brush, colored pencils, eraser. Somehow I forget to take it with me and wish I had something to sketch with. That's why I carry my camera.

Water to drink and to fill my water brush.

The discount coupons from my favorite garden store that I forget to bring with me into the store. 

Sunscreen. And I was born and still live in California.

What do you bring with you?

Check out these websites for good ideas to break the blank white page:

Friday, September 17, 2021


September -- one of my favorite and least favorite times of the year. People who move from other states to California say that the one thing they miss is the change of seasons. As a native Californian, I know our state has only two seasons -- wet and dry. The more traditional ones whiff by and can be missed unless you pay attention.

September at five in the evening is warm and still outside, not the suffocating, blazing hot of mid-day. The sun approaches a different position and casts shadows across long stretches of ground. Dust floats in the changing sunlight. The first redden Sycamore leaf drifts down to our deck, to join the Japanese maple seeds that cover the same area. Spiders have filled nooks with their webs and stretched their delicate-seeming threads from one post or leaf to another. 

With climate change, the dry, baking heat that makes the ground crack and your skin feel the same and that used to erupt during the first weeks of September, heated the air as early as June. We've had the hottest summer on record and fires started much earlier than usual. We listen in horror of the news yesterday that the Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park, thousands of years old, stand threatened by an out-of-control fire near them.

We notice other signs of fall. The yellow jackets come out and try to nibble at the edges of our picnic. We pick up our plates and hustle inside. At the top of the hill, we surprise a buck with four points crowning his head who crashes down the hill and out of our yard. We wonder at the glimpse we have of him. We think he must be down from the hills to find a mate. We rarely see bucks in our yard. Up the street, a Northern red oak's leaves shiver in the breeze as if they know that soon they will turn dark red and drop at the end of autumn.

I remember an editor of a home and garden magazine because she often wrote of her flourishing garden. Just before she retired, she wrote of pulling out her much-used herb knot garden because she didn't have the energy to tend it anymore. I was taken aback that she stop something she had prized for so long. My garden is also long gone due to the lack of adequate sunlight and the wildlife who loved it too much. I still keep pots of herbs though. The deer are repulsed by thyme and mint, so these herbs are sprinkled in pots through the garden. I've harvested my bunch of basil, whose scent fills the kitchen as I chop the leaves for pesto. I toast Ciabatta bread slices, give them a light coating of olive oil, spread the pesto on top, slice up some of my neighbor's tomatoes, scatter them on the pesto, and dust the top with grated parmesan. Those and avocado toast are tasty treats for this time of year.

The drawings I've been doing have changed too, from summer blooms to bulbs ready to be planted, acorns, harvested fruits and vegetables, and autumn leaves, a whisper of autumn in California.


If you too are concerned about the Giant Sequoias, email President Biden and your state representatives to encourage them to commit as many resources as possible to contain the fire that is now raging around them.
To reach the President:


Last of summer's good reads:

What are your favorite books from this summer?


Go to Filoli's Instagram account to see my post about a trip to Filoli as well as to see the beautiful gardens there:

Friday, September 10, 2021


 On a quest to paint a flower on a postcard each day this month, I ran into a problem with a box of postcard-sized watercolor paper that I had purchased recently, the result of walking into an art store and being unable to resist grabbing new supplies. I thought, when I saw the box of EtchrLab postcards, "This is just what I need." 50 sheets of pre-cut postcard-sized paper in a nice black box (organizational tools also intrigue me).

With watercolor, three supplies matter: the quality of brushes, paper, and paint. I've experimented with all of these to find which ones work for me. Of the three, I think the quality of the paper makes the biggest difference. Watercolor paper comes as either student-grade made from wood pulp (not recommended except for sketches), or professional-grade, made from 100% cotton and acid-free. Watercolor paper comes in three different textures: smooth Hot Press, somewhat textured Cold Press, and Rough. Watercolor paper also comes in three different weights: 90lb/190gsm, 140lb/300gsm, or 300lb/640gsm. The pounds and grams per square meter were determined by weighing 500 sheets of 22" X 30" paper. That's a lot to consider for one piece of paper.

There are many brands of watercolor paper: Strathmore, Arches, Fabriano, Saunders Waterford, and Hahnemuhle, which are some of the most well-known. Each has qualities that attract different painters. I've tried as many as I could by purchasing sample packets from online art supply stores. I finally chose Saunders Waterford (SW). Similar to Fabriano, SW allows me to push the paint around the surface, lift up the paint, and even remove paint almost back to its original white. I've been using it for a while and have learned its many characteristics.

I used SW to paint the group of flowers from Filoli. I decided to paint the Echinacea again on the new postcard paper. "Whoa," I said, "This paper doesn't react at all like the SW."  First, the Etchr paper didn't seem to have any sizing, a gelatin that is smoothed over most watercolor paper to make absorption more consistent. Instead, the water from my brush soaked through the paper to the back. The paint dried quickly, not allowing me to push it around. "Oh, boy," I said, "Is this going to work or not?" 

I played with the flower some more being careful to feather the edges of each brushstroke so I didn't get a hard line where I didn't want it. I kept thinking, "Am I wasting my time?" But I finished the flower and set it aside to thoroughly dry. I was surprised later. The finished postcard looked similar to the one on the SW paper. Lesson learned though. Good quality paper actually makes painting easier.


This week has been a week of remembrances about 9/11. 

We all recall where we were on that day.

Yard 44 and NBC Studios have created a documentary called Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11, which revisits the people who participated in artist Ruth Sergel's 2002 Memory Box creation. The original film showed the people speaking about their personal accounts of 9/11. They have returned in 2021 to reflect on the last 20 years.

It is available on Peacock and well worth seeing:

Friday, September 3, 2021


Some of the plants we found at Filoli

Have you visited any of the grand houses and gardens created during the Gilded Age of the 19th and early 20th centuries by entrepreneurs such as Cornelius Vanderbilt or John Rockefeller?  California has its share of places to tour including Filoli, which is on the Peninsula near San Francisco.

Filoli, run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation,  sits in the middle of history and values. The Ohlone lived on the land originally. Over the tumultuous period when the Spanish arrived in California, the land became a Spanish land grant, then changed from Mexican ownership to American, while still remaining open land but leaving the Ohlone without compensation. 

After the 1906 earthquake, wealthy San Franciscans began to move south from the City. The Bourn family, whose wealth came from the Gold Rush and eventually from the company that became PG&E, acquired the property in 1914. They called the ranch Filoli and built a mansion and a huge garden on the grounds. The Roth family, who started the Matson shipping company, bought the property in the 1930s and continued to develop the garden into a showcase. The Roths donated the property to the National Trust.

The main benefit of Filoli for us now is the preservation of a large piece of open land in the middle of a bustling metropolitan area that is open to anyone. The National Trust recognizes that Filoli is not only a beautiful property to maintain, but provides an avenue for discussion about its history and the diverse groups of people who lived and worked there. Large posters hang in the information center explaining the history of the property before the Bourns and Roths. This past year Filoli also recognized the part played by three Asian Americans, chef Kee Low, landscape architect Mai Kitazawa Arbegast, and horticulturist, Toichi Domoto, in the development of Filoli. An exhibit, "Stories of Resilience," can still be accessed online with information on the importance of these three people as well as other essential workers to Filoli.

The ticket booth at the entrance to Filoli stands in front of an old olive tree grove, which separates the house from the parking lot.  Though not native to California, olive trees thrive in our Mediterranean climate; but because of olive fruit flies that damage the fruit, no oil is made from the fruit. The trees grow tall and provide a canape as visitors walk to the grounds. To encourage everyone to visit, the National Trust provides free admission to anyone with a SNAP EBT card and also offers botanical illustration and horticultural classes. Otherwise, tickets can be purchase online before a visit.

Entry stickers attached, friends and I, all of us long-time gardeners, walked the grounds to admire the carefully tended gardens and to take photos of plants and flowers. We saw several groups of young people building wattles and other supports from slim, flexible willow branches. When I asked them questions about the plants, they jumped in with valuable, well-grounded information. I was impressed with their knowledge and glad to see a younger generation who has learned to love the land and wants to tend the plants that grow in such rich soil. 

We strolled next to a row of espaliered fruit trees lining beds of sweet-scented roses and multi-colored dahlias. Some of the dahlias were dinner-plate-sized and hung heavy on their stalks. We saw squash vines and bright nasturtiums crawling between heather hedges, and lavender and other herbs filling two knot gardens with subtle shades of purple and grey. 

We could have hiked the Nature Trail to the Sally MacBride Nature Center and read the many placards that identify plants used by the Ohlone for food and medicine. We decided instead to have lunch at the Quail's Nest Cafe run by Town Kitchen, which provides employment for foster and re-entry youths. The food is locally sourced from minority and female-run businesses.

We left feeling refreshed and invigorated, knowing that Filoli has become a treasure for all of us to visit, not just for the wealthy families who once lived there. As William Bourne, someone who would applaud the changes at Filoli, said:

Fight for a just cause.
Love your fellow man.
Live a good life.

Fi - Lo - Li

One of the herb knot gardens
photo by Christy Myers


Check out Filoli's website:

"Stories of Resilience" can be found here: 

Read about the work of Town Kitchen here:

Wikipedia lists mansions from the Gilded Age. Some have been torn down, some turned into museums, hotels, or college buildings, some, like Filoli, have beautiful gardens to visit, and some are still residences: