Friday, June 24, 2022


Three-story view of the Napa River

Sometimes when I start to read a book, I realize I'm in the presence of a better-than-good writer.  I can't say that about every book I've ever read, but the word choices made by extraordinary writers pull me into their writing and I spend time outside my own life in their universe. As I read along, I find myself thinking of ways to attempt to write in a similarly profound way.

This happened to me recently as I read Margaret Renkl's memoir, Late Migrations. She mixed her family history with her discovery as a child of the natural world. She writes about cats with such detail, that it made me envision our own cat flicking her tail back and forth in anger or licking my hand gently to encourage more petting, or hearing her slight murmur when I enter a room she is lying in, or just my seeing her front paws near my face as she stands at attention next to me while I do my floor exercises in the morning. 

Renkl's description of herself from a childhood photo made me think of a photo of me dressed in my summer romper, ignoring the toys strung across the hood of the carriage I was sitting in, looking eager to get out and already impatient with a camera in my face. 

I think of our neighborhood now when I read about Renkl's childhood home in the outer suburbs of Tennessee. She spent time in the woods discovering about life outside. We live in a well-manicured suburb, but we are right next to a wild place with a creek running behind some of the houses. A bobcat with its long legs and black-tipped pointed ears loped across our street into our neighbor's backyard and down to the creek the other day. The creek runs with water most of the year and is filled with fallen trees, rocks, and places for deer and other wild things to hide in the cool shade.

Bobcat sketches drawn from Internet images  Cats are hard to draw & pencil works best for me

Do you have favorite writers who can evoke such a place in your mind that you feel you are a part of their world? I can think of Robert MacFarlane and Joyce Carole Oates, two writers who look at the world from unique points of view. MacFarlane writes of his journeys into the wildest places and Oates, a prolific author, wrote an essay, They All Just Went Away, about her childhood as she, like Renkl, wandered alone in the woods near her home. She ventured into abandoned buildings, and described them in her writing, but also found a writing theme in their decay.

Good reads for summer: These books come from my tendency to pick up any book about living with nature, mysteries based during the 1930s and WW I and II, and books about the wisdom I've found from older writers who write about the changes in life as they get older. Diana Athill's book, Somewhere Towards the End, started me on that pursuit.

Just in case the book titles are hard to see:
The Hawk's Way by Sy Montgomery
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
The One Hundred Years of Linni & Margot by Marianne Cronin
Hammer to Fall by John Lawton
Billy Boyle by James R. Benn

Read Joyce Carole Oates's essay here:

You can find Margaret Renkl's essays here:

Friday, June 17, 2022


ART LESSON, a book designed with Indigo-filled pages

Unlike many people, I don't like wearing jeans. I never got over the early ones that were stiff and uncomfortable. I remember friends lying on the floor trying to pull up their too-tight jeans. What I like about jeans is the color, Indigo, a deep blue-black hue that over time washes out to an almost white tint.

Jeans aren't the only clothing made from indigo dye, which came from the Indigofera tinctoria plant in India. The Japanese used Indigo for Shibori, a tie-dye process, and the early Egyptians and Mayas dyed clothing in Indigo. Indigo was so rare and the process to make the dye was so time-consuming that for a long time Indigo was reserved for royalty. A scientist finally developed a synthetic version, which is widely used today.

I love indigo's intensity, but it works best for me as a watercolor if I use it all by itself with just a hint of another color like Burnt Sienna somewhere on the page. I sometimes drop Indigo into a shadow, but I don't like the results that occur when I drop another color into wet Indigo. As you can see on this color chart of Cerulean and Indigo, when I dropped Carmine into the Indigo, the Carmine disappeared. One of the beauties of watercolor is being able to mix colors together on the page as I did with Cerulean and Aureolin on the left and Carmine on the right. Cerulean also tends to granulate, creating texture.

I had a stack of paper that I had splashed, stamped, and brushed with Indigo. I wanted to make something using this beautiful hue. I decided to answer a challenge call from Stampington & Company, an art magazine publisher, to create a monochromatic piece of art. I covered several pieces of watercolor paper with scraps of Indigo paper and made abstract designs using circles and squares.

I realized the pages needed to be something more than a collection of monochromatic designs. I decided to make a book of the pages, but I wanted the book to have a story. I wrote down phrases on pieces of Burnt Sienna paper about what I had learned from making art, an idea that I have thought about many times. I made a list of my ideas:
Do Something New Every Day
Turn Your Work Upside Down
Take a Break---Go Outside---Eat Chocolate

I also included a list of the Principles of Design for their connection to life:

I sewed the pages together with a simple stab binding using some Indigo-dyed string. I had a book finished and ready to send to the magazine.

To learn more about the history of Indigo: 

Two blogs full of information about watercolor:

Friday, June 10, 2022


Wind-up toys have always delighted me. I love their quirky movements as they scurry across the floor. I placed an array of them on a shelf in our laundry room. Since we are decluttering, I thought they might be something that I could easily donate. Some of them have parts missing like the springy antennae on the snail or the arm of a tiger playing a drum. Those look a little sad. I took them all down and wound each one up and broke out in a smile. For a few moments, that child-like delight returned to me. So much for donating these fun toys. I painted them instead.

I realized as I worked to declutter that I needed to start with stuff that we've accumulated and never paid attention to rather than the precious objects that I picked because I liked their design, shape, or sense of whimsy. Some of these objects remind me of the people who gave them to me. Some of them brought back memories of the laughter they evoked as they moved across the floor. I decided to paint them as a way to remember them just like Bill did when he made a poster from photos of all his cycling jerseys before he donated them to a good cause. I decided that my whimsical collection will stay with me until we down-size and move. Only then, if there is no space to display them, I will make a poster of the watercolor portraits of each tender object and hang the poster in our next laundry room.


Friday, June 3, 2022


Did you run to the mailbox to get your family's mail? I did. I looked for letters and postcards from people we knew. Someone would send a postcard from their travels. A relative in another state would write a newsy letter about their family and the events in their town. Looking at the postcard photos, I wanted to know more about the places they visited. I checked their town on a map to see what else was around them. I wondered why two former placer mining towns were named Igo and Ono, both of which housed Chinese migrant miners. 

Postcards by artists from all over the U.S. & other countries

I still write postcards. I write them to other artists and writers who share their thoughts, worries, and inspirations with me. I send postcards when I travel. And I have been writing people all over the country since 2020 to encourage people to vote. Today, after the last few weeks, those postcards mean more than ever. We need concerned, dedicated people in Congress who will make decisions with their moral compass, not from pressure from their donors. And we need to vote.

Before the 2020 election, I signed up to write postcards to people all over the United States, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, California, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Wisconsin. I'm writing my latest batch this week to remind people to vote in the June primaries. As I copy the addresses from my list, I think about the towns scattered across the United States and wonder how they came to be.

Although I was born in California, I haven't visited every town in the state. I've uncovered the histories of some of those towns by looking at a state map that showed me more than just the towns listed on my sheet of names. I found that Temecula is a Spanish translation of a Luiseno tribe's word, temecunga, which means "a place in the sun."  Once I looked for one place, I wanted to know more about the towns in the area. I had been to Temecula, but that led me to a map where I found Dutch Village nearby, which was settled by French-speaking Dutch who erected windmills and buildings that reminded them of the Netherlands. Wynola, a small unincorporated village near San Diego, grew from a settlement of gold miners, ranchers, and orchards. Near Fresno, I discovered Weedpatch Camp, created during the Dust Bowl era, to house migrants from the Southwest Great Plains who came to California looking for work. Weedpatch appeared in John Steinbeck's story, Grapes of Wrath. The camp on a smaller scale still operates for migrant workers.

I hope the postcards that I write will encourage people to vote thoughtfully. At the same time, the postcards have tweaked my interest in other places in the United States. The more I write, the more I want to know about the towns spread across a very large and diverse country.

Remember to vote for your life!

Find out more about Igo and Ono here:

Had enough of gun violence? Me too. Donate to groups such as Everytown, Brady and others focused on gun safety. Be more active and participate in EnoughPlays and let your voice be heard!