Friday, December 30, 2022



The last week of the year provides me with a pause to do mundane things like update passwords and develop a report of the year's expenses, chores that I would normally put aside for another day. The "another day" is here. This year the cloudy skies and chilly weather gave me time to get these chores done as well as time for reflection, reading, and sitting with our ancient cat by the fire. Good times.

My sister Linda has been tagging me with Found Faces this year. She knows I look for these faces in objects that I see. There is actually a name for the occupation: Pareidolia.  I've found a few faces of my own to share to provide a moment of uplift for another day.

We spent a couple of days in Monterey in December. We toured the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Pacific Grove. The number of monarchs has increased from the previous downward spiral toward extinction, but only one tree in the reserve was covered with hanging butterflies. In the past, millions had spread themselves over the grove. We came just after a rain so the butterflies were resting and trying to dry their wings. They can't fly when wet. A few had been caught by the rain and lay on the ground. We were cautioned to be careful where we stepped. They are small and hard to see. Each photograph here makes it harder and harder to spot them.

I still have to cheat with this photo. If you can't find the butterfly either,
 I've left the circled answer below. 

Walking in the grove was a good reminder to watch our steps wherever we are.

The website, Boredpanda has examples of faces in everyday objects:

Take a trip to Monterey and Pacific Grove to see the Monarch butterflies:

Friday, December 23, 2022


by Todd Heimdahl


As a teacher in middle school, I always hoped that something I said or did would have a good effect on one of my students. You never know who you will touch or what your words will mean to someone. I can think of some of my own teachers, who made that kind of a difference in my life.

The other day, I received a card from Carole, the wife of one of my cousins. Enclosed with her note, she included a comic strip drawn by my cousin, Todd Heimdahl, when he was about 13. Todd went on to become a fine artist and college art instructor instead of a cartoonist. In his own work, he used pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor to make beautiful representations of the Great Plains. His work shows the emptiness, the stillness, and the beauty of the prairie. He is one of several cousins influenced by my dad, who wrote to him about becoming an artist and writer. Here is what my dad said: 

"Todd, keep drawing everything you see, people, animals, other objects, and with both your writing and drawing ability, you have a wonderful chance to develop. Don't ever let yourself become discouraged at anything, drawing or writing, because there is always an answer. You are young and you may see later that you want to do something else, but no matter what, you are sharpening your brain and talents now, and that will mean a lot to you later in life.

"Besides your drawing, keep a notebook to write down the funny happenings around home or school, the things your mother or father say, and your grandparents, uncles and aunts do and say, and others. You will set a habit for observation, and an artist and writer needs that."

As I read this letter from 1954, I could hear my dad saying those words and knew that I had been influenced by his way of life as I was growing up. I hope they will have meaning for all of you too.

two pen and ink drawings by Todd Heimdahl

The best to all of you this season!

Two good books to read:

Friday, December 16, 2022


More sketches of man-made objects

When we hear about exciting scientific discoveries or achievements such as the recent creation of clean energy from nuclear fusion or the return to space flights to the Moon or the development of DNA-modified plants that will be hardier than their original, we have to ask at the same time, "What is the cost?"

The idea that we could make clean energy without toxic waste or develop a plant that could possibly grow into a building sparks the imagination. Back when we first landed on the Moon, the whole world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the Moon surface. Those steps remain visible today. If you have ever tried the app SkyView, you will see the clutter we have dropped in the atmosphere around us as we venture out into space. As Newton's Third Law states, for every action there is a reaction. We need to decide where money is best spent.

Fire hydrant sketch

I turned the newspaper to the local news, and found articles about non-profits who are working with foster kids and disadvantaged youth. These groups are providing on-going support to young people who do not have the privileges or opportunities that many of us have and who could grow into insightful, strong people with our support. In the Bay Area, there are many small non-profits with this goal. One group, All Stars Helping Kids created by Ronnie and Karen Lott, provides grants to start-up non-profits who work with kids to develop their potential. Though the non-profit groups are small, with our support, they could continue to grow to change our world for the better.  If we care, we can do space and home at the same time.

Read about the latest development around clean energy: 


Continue your holiday spirit by making a donation to one of these important non-profits that are helping disadvantaged kids in the Bay Area. Check your own county listings for groups in your area.

AllStars Helping Kids. Check out the groups they are sponsoring this year on their website:

The next three groups are graduates of the AllStars Helping Kids program:

Writer Coach Connection:

Chapter 510:

Mindful Life Project:

Two that are not a part of the AllStars group:

Battle Tested Kids:

Beyond Emancipation:

Wednesday, December 7, 2022


A friend asked me for some art prompts to get her out of a temporary creative block. We all have those moments, don't we? Blocks remind me of trying to ride a bicycle with no hands or attempting to stand on a balance beam. My lack of confidence made me too shaky to do either one of those successfully.  Toddlers, who venture out to jump off a low wall, will either sail right into the jump or hesitate. It's the hesitation that can defeat us or it can lead us to discover a new way of getting off the wall.

I've realized that I'm more likely to hit a block if I don't practice daily. I've also discovered that the blocks usually are a moment when I am learning something and nothing seems to be going right. Doing watercolor and calligraphy has shown me one thing: just do it. Who cares if my project turns out awful or overworked or lopsided. The more practice I do, the less I care if it does. It's the failure that helps me develop new skills. I still look with envy at someone else's work that I think is better than mine. There is always someone. I now acknowledge my envy and try to learn from what I admire. I'm never going to be that person's equal and that is okay with me.

Thinking about prompts gave me an idea for a challenge. With the iPhone in hand, I decided to take photos of man-made objects on my walk. I have been walking our street for years and I've spent a lot of time taking photos of natural objects such as leaves, footprints, spiderwebs, acorns, and the sky, which all attract my attention. As I walked, I realized that my choices of small man-made objects would be limited. But I did find eight objects that I hadn't drawn or painted before. I've decided to do one or two a week in December and see what happens. Good practice.

My husband Bill has signed up for a photo challenge called 52 Frames. The group receives a weekly prompt and posts their results on the website each week. Wouldn't it be a challenge to come up with a prompt each week?

Pepper by Bill Slavin

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

*     Draw yourself using a continuous line. Look in the mirror and don't look at your paper as you draw. When you are finished, look at the result and have a good laugh.

*     Have a cup of coffee or tea and draw the cup and liquid first before you drink it.

*     Draw your favorite tool, whether it is part of the equipment you use for art, from the kitchen, or for gardening, woodworking, quilting/sewing, or skating. Try drawing again with a continuous line. You can look at your paper this time. This technique is a good way to get over a need for perfection.

And remember to have fun!

Other prompt and challenge groups abound on the Internet:
Doodlewash offers daily challenges to watercolorists.  

Sheila Delgado shares Leslie Saeta's 30 Paintings in 30 Days on her website.

ArtWork Archive: 


Just received notice that this piece received
an honorable mention at
the Palo Alto Pacific Art League Member Exhibition


Friday, December 2, 2022


View from our Paris apartment

The last few weeks have been like a breath of fresh air. I can look up at the blue autumn sky and feel relief and some hope. For now, I don't feel the anxiety caused by our cultural and political wars. I am still cautious about being in big crowds. For now, instead of theaters or other large venues, we continue to turn to Netflix and other streaming channels for escape.

Before COVID sent us into sequestering, Bill and I watched TV every evening, usually to catch up on the news with a few Masterpiece Theater episodes thrown in. We didn't catch the popular game or contest shows that permeate TV land, and we had a hard time caring about the new Bachelorette. 

When 24 was in its prime years ago, a few friends binged on it. They would make a day of it with popcorn and propped pillows as they watched the suspenseful events that occurred in a 24-hour period. We watched it after the first season was over, but we didn't hunker down for hours. Instead, we watched one episode at a time and then turned off the TV. 

When we lived in Japan, we missed Seinfeld and Friends and instead followed Samurai soap operas with their view of old Japanese culture.  We learned how important cultural moments can be. When friends in California mentioned events in Seinfeld or Friends, we didn't have a clue what they were talking about.

Yet, during the height of the pandemic and for the last several months, we haven't focused on American shows, preferring other worlds than ours. We watched European and Asian series including Babylon Berlin, Occupied, Midnight Diner, Borgen, and Call My Agent to name a few. They provided an escape from American news and culture wars. None of them hooked us enough to binge on them. We could be satisfied with one episode and turn off the TV and go to bed.

Mick LaSalle, the movie critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a column about superhero movies and why they are so popular. He explained that many of us are watching these movies because they offer a release from our feelings of helplessness and dread resulting from the chaos in our political system and the aftermath of sequestering.

Character from Japanese Kabuki theater

As we watched the foreign language TV series, we noticed one common theme in many of them: the outsider who becomes the vigilante hero by using methods outside the norm to solve problems for ordinary people. I think of American movies and TV shows such as High Noon, Batman, Watchman, and the recent Marvel and DC Comic movies that have the same characteristic. We have found that the superhero is flourishing in other countries' stories too.

Dragon monster on the roof edge of a temple in Japan

The theme of a silent, solitary hero to the rescue appears in a 2021 Korean TV drama series, Vincenzo, that we consumed (all 20 episodes).  Just as in real life, the characters in Vincenzo seek justice in the face of governmental corruption where rich and powerful people can circumvent the law.

The main character in Vincenzo is a Mafia consigliere, a true "bad guy," a Korean man adopted by an Italian family, who comes back to Korea to recover a ton of gold bars hidden in a basement of a slum building that he owns in Seoul. Preposterous plot? Yes, but in the process, Vincenzo comes to know the hard-luck tenants of the building. With his help and inspiration, the tenants uncover their own buried talents, including computer expertise, martial arts, and special effects training, that become important in the story. The tenants, who thought they were powerless, come to the gradual realization that by joining together as a community they can overcome adversity.

The idea of forming a community to work together reminded me of a postcard produced by Syracuse Cultural Workers which lists ideas for building communities. The last item on the list reads:

"Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this."

Festival float made by a neighborhood group in Japan

Quilt made by a group of
Nishimachi International School moms
The quote on the quilt says,
"Let There Be Peace on Earth,
and Let It Begin With Me."

Check out the Syracuse Cultural Workers website here:


Friday, November 25, 2022



Writers love words. 

I collect words and keep a Thesaurus by my side as I write. My favorite English major joke, "What's another name for a Thesaurus?" makes me laugh every time I think of it.

I read the dictionary from A to Z growing up, but I've never wondered how the words in a dictionary are selected. Then I read Pip Williams' historical fiction, The Dictionary of Lost Words, which chronicles the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary and the people who collected the words that fill the dictionary's volumes.

I was intrigued by the story. Not only does Williams describe the lives of the people who curated the words to be defined, but she included significant historical events that had an effect on the choices for the dictionary. During the accumulation of words for the dictionary which began in 1884 and continued through the publication of the complete set of 10 volumes in 1933, monumental events such as World War I, the suffragette movement, and the Great Depression occurred. A group of men determined the main word choices and definitions based on the number of literary references that could be found. The men in charge often neglected women's words and common marketplace vernacular that were not considered substantiated enough to be included in the dictionary. Even a dictionary has a point of view. The main character Esme collects words that drop out of consideration and creates a dictionary of her lost words.

"Wonderful Words Used Rarely," a page from a letterpress book
 about language by Martha Slavin
(words include adumbrate, arcanum, eidetic,
irenic, muliebrity, perseverate, ratiocination)

A good friend invited Bill and me to the Authors Luncheon in San Francisco at the Palace Hotel organized by the National Kidney Foundation, which gave us the opportunity to listen to a diverse group of writers with new books. We also had a chance to help efforts to support people with kidney disease. We learned from one recipient of a kidney transplant that her grandmother had died of kidney disease. Although dialysis was available at the time, the grandmother was excluded from that treatment because she was Black.

We live in a world of layers, good and bad mixed together. Just as in the Dictionary of Lost Words where women's and common folks' languages were ignored, we need to remember the exclusion of people of color or ethnicity from opportunities that we often take for granted because we are White.

We joined other book lovers as we sat in the beautiful ballroom of the Palace Hotel, one of the few major buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake only to be destroyed by the subsequent fire. It was rebuilt in 1909 and then renovated in 1989. But the reminders of that first Gilded Age still abound in the sparkling chandeliers, the ornate ceiling decorations, and the marble columns lining the grand spaces.

We listened to Billy Collins, Michael Connelly, Jennifer Egan, Margaret Sexton Wilkerson, and Siddhartha Mukherjee as they discussed why they wrote their new books. Wilkerson's book, On the Rooftop, uses the 1950s Fillmore District in San Francisco as a backdrop for her story about three sisters as the Fillmore becomes gentrified and the community around them begins to dissolve.

Other good reads for the holidays:

Siddhartha Mukherjee:  The Song of the Cell
Billy Collins: Musical Tables
Michael Connelly: Desert Star
Jennifer Egan: The Candy House

Read about the history of the Palace Hotel here:,_San_Francisco

To learn more about the National Kidney Foundation:

Check out the development of the Oxford English Dictionary here:

Read about the gentrification of the Fillmore District:

Friday, November 18, 2022


This past week has been such a relief with the mid-term elections over and the sense of a new beginning away from the rancor and anxiety that has possessed so many people including me over the last seven years. That feeling of relief matches my uplifted feelings as I walk into my workroom. Here is a place where I can survey unfinished pieces and explore new ways to work on them and be happy.

I step over a stack of pieces I've put aside for another day. I picked an accordion folded piece that I've puzzled over repeatedly. I haven't decided whether to leave it alone as a long, 3-dimensional work or attach a cover so that I can fold the pages into a book. I have a separate piece that I am considering as a book cover. I will keep fiddling with ideas.


One of my favorite methods to reassess what I've done is to rotate the paper upside down. This technique is one of the best lessons that I've learned from making art. Looking at something from a different perspective pulls me away from my self-assurance that what I created the first time is perfect. I can open my mind to other possibilities. I can see what I need to do to make value adjustments, spatial rearrangements, changes in color, and more. 

I belong to the Global HeART Postcard Swap group. Three blank postcards wait on my table today. Each season we are given a theme to work on. I've cut up some watercolors that didn't work and now I've rearranged them on the blank postcards. I took a photo of the three once I glued the watercolor strips down. Then I turned them upside down and realized that a couple of them look better that way. Somewhere on the postcards, I will letter this season's theme, "Thankful."

Which way looks better?  Sometimes it helps to turn artwork in a different direction

The theme of thankfulness also makes me think about why I feel thankful this week. First, I am grateful for a life full of rich experiences, for wanderings that have taken me off my chosen path, for beauty I've found in cracks, and for the hands that have reached out to me in support and friendship and for developing the ability to reach back.

To my list, I added a thank you that democracy won this week over selfishness and greed.


Don't miss out on Pacific Art League's annual member exhibition. 
I have a piece displayed among the artwork.

All in the Eye of the Beholder by Martha Slavin

Friday, November 11, 2022


"Come and Play"

 "You should draw cats," my mother told me a long time ago. I remember her words among the many thousand pieces of advice she gave me. I was puzzled why she suggested that I concentrate on cats in my art. My mom often had ulterior motives beyond her casual advice. Looking back through my sketchbooks, I found very few cats. Cats are hard to draw because other than their faces, there is not much there except for the fluffy fur. Perhaps my mom wanted me to do the work to discover a cat's inner structure. Unless I understood what is underneath all that fur, I would not be successful in drawing them. 

Family Cat

Heads of animals sketches including the top view of a cat

I thought of mom's comment in my watercolor class as we worked on a cheetah, another version of a cat. As a reminder, I am still a student of watercolor. There are many people who paint with much more skill than I do, but this post is about the process of becoming better at something with practice.

To begin, I drew the cheetah on watercolor paper. I'm good at drawing, but sometimes the drawing gets lost once I paint over it with watercolor. Sometimes that's good so that I don't end up painting within the lines, sometimes it's not helpful when I lose the structure of what I'm painting.

I started painting the eyes since they are the focal point of the picture. I like drawing eyes, but painting them isn't always easy. Leaving a light highlight somewhere within the eye keeps the eye from becoming a dark hole.

Taking photos as I am painting helps me to see where I need to go back into the painting and correct values. I applied too dark a value under the cheetah's cheek, which I didn't realize until I looked at the photo. I pulled some of the dark paint out of the painting. I still have a lot of work to do before this portrait is finished. Right now the cheetah's head is floating on the paper. I need to show more of the cheetah's body.

I am glad that I have had this project to work on this week. Art has been a wonderful way for me to let go of stress and escape the daily news of the last several years. 

I am glad that Proposition 28, which provides funding for arts education, is likely to pass here in California. As a former art teacher and a practitioner of the arts, I know how valuable art can be for peace of mind and self-expression. Young people especially find the arts a way to belong.

Yeah to California voters for seeing the need for the arts!

Friday, November 4, 2022


Trompe d'oeil mural in Santa Cruz   Photo by Bill Slavin

Santa Cruz beckoned us on Halloween weekend. We drove over the Santa Cruz Mountains, through the redwoods to the Pacific Ocean. Walking downtown Santa Cruz, we didn't hear a word about the midterm elections (we've voted already) nor about the economy (the streets were filled with people) nor any other downcast news. What a relief to have a moment of peace.

We didn't avoid Halloween because the downtown streets were full of costumed people stopping by stores for Trick-or-Treat. At the corner of Front Street and Pacific Avenue, we listened to a marimba band as they played next to the town's memorial for fallen soldiers. People gathered around, danced, and swayed to the music, smiles on their faces. We bought coffee at Verve nearby, sat, and people-watched while the music played and lifted everyone's spirits.

Photo by Bill Slavin

Santa Cruz and the beaches that line the coast all the way to Half Moon Bay have been favorite day trips since we moved back to the Bay Area after college. We used to spend time at various beaches including Natural Bridges, Pescadero, Bean Hollow, and Pigeon Point with its lighthouse. We rarely walked through the downtown Santa Cruz area. We got a different perspective of Santa Cruz while we sat and relaxed. Instead of sunbathers, we saw families and college students, unhoused people and shoppers all mingling together on a chilly afternoon.

Photo by Bill Slavin

On Halloween in 2021 when the pandemic had ebbed briefly, we came to Santa Cruz to hear Janis Joplin's original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, play at the Dream Inn. At the time, we looked for familiar places to stay close to home to avoid COVID. This year we chose the Dream Inn again but this time so we could be around people who also were returning to a more normal life. That night we listened to Lavey Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers perform jazz and old standards from our balcony. Each musician in the band amazed us with their versatility and skill.

Photo by Bill Slavin

Behind the band down on the beach, a solitary man walked into the halo of the band's spotlight. He put down two buckets and picked up a rake. We thought at first he was one of the unhoused people who wander in Santa Cruz and we wondered what he was doing on the beach after dark. He started to rake the sand till he had a large, smooth oval shape. He picked up one of his containers and sprayed liquid out of the nozzle attached to the container. As we watched him work, a musical note appeared on the sand. He continued to rake the sand around the note and then moved to a new patch of sand. By the time the show was over, he had created four different musical notes on the beach -- an ephemeral piece of art on the sand. As we watched him turn sand into art, we looked at each other and winced at our misconception about who the man appeared to be. An artist, an unhoused person? Did it matter who he was? What he did brought a moment of joy to those of us listening to the music.


Artists have often responded to the events of the day with powerful posters. 

Letterforms Archive in San Francisco is showcasing protest posters about Strike, Resist, Love, and Teach. The exhibit can be seen online. Clicking on each of the four words on their website expands the online exhibit: 

The in-person exhibit at Letterforms Archives, 2325 Third St., 4thF, will be open through Spring 2023.

Friday, October 28, 2022


Some words, like detritus and unprecedented, become popular terms for a while. In the art world, the word Notan has been bouncing around lately. If you've seen the Yin and Yan symbols, you have seen a Notan design. Notan is an old Japanese term for finding balance in negative and positive spaces. Maybe Notan design is popular right now because we are also looking for that kind of balance in life. 

School kids everywhere learn Notan when they try the simple paper-cutting technique of drawing half of an image on the edge of a piece of paper and cutting it to make pumpkins, trees, leaves, hearts, and other shapes. Some graduate to making more complicated Notan designs that amaze anyone looking at them. 

Calligraphers play with Notan when they cut out symmetrical letters of the alphabet. A H I O T U V W X all work for Notan designs. Quilters use Notan to balance the darks and lights in their quilts.

Movie title design, such as the titles for the Korean drama, Vincenzo, conceived by Wooktist of Undesign Museum, and the title for The Magpie Murders designed by Huge Designs of London for the PBS Masterpiece series, create strong negative and positive spaces that draw the eye in.

Part of the title design for Vincenzo by Wooktist

Painters posterize photographs to find the balance of darks and lights in a subject.

The original paper craft of Notan can be as simple as cutting out a heart or as complicated as cutting out a landscape or abstract design. It's a good way to play with shapes and ideas.

To make a Notan pumpkin you will need:

White or orange paper to glue the pumpkin on.
Black cardstock weight paper (I used Canson Mi-Tientes)
a sharp Xacto knife (#1 blade) or try the Gryo-Cut Crafting knife
Saral transfer paper
glue stick
kneaded eraser to remove chalk marks

Sketch your idea for a pumpkin.
Cut out a square from the black paper (size will depend on how big you want the pumpkin)
Place a piece of Saral transfer paper over the black square
Place your design on top making sure to align the design to one edge of the black square
trace over your sketch lines

design placed at edge of black square

Cut out the shapes starting with the inner smaller shapes. Place them on the white paper so that the edge matches the edge of the original black paper.

Continue to cut out the pieces and place them so the center edges match. You may want to draw a light vertical line to help get the pieces aligned at the center.


When you have all the sections cut out, glue the pieces down to the white or orange background paper. Let dry and using a kneaded eraser, lightly rub off the chalk marks.
Have fun making Notan!

Check out the work of title designer,Wooktist, here:
Watch the title design segment for Magpie Murders here: