Friday, September 30, 2022



Do you like to do puzzles? Here's one for you. I found a new way to make puzzles when I took a mark-making class from Sally Penley recently. I layered gesso and acrylic paint and drew with Sharpie markers of various sizes and with a needle-nose applicator to make thin lines of acrylic on pieces of watercolor paper. Two abstract paintings resulted from the exercise. I then cut the results into two-inch squares to be used as designs on greeting cards.

Abstract piece combining 2 different paintings

Before I started on the cards, I decided to put the two paintings together, mixed the squares up, and randomly put them down on black paper. I liked the result, but I realized I hadn't taken photos of the two original works. Luckily, I had used two different weights of watercolor paper, 140 and 300, for the two separate paintings so that I knew which squares belonged to which painting. The hard part came next when I discovered how difficult it was to match the squares' edges to re-make the original. Harder to do than any puzzle I've attempted before because I had no reference guide similar to a commercial puzzle out of a box.

Painting #1

After about an hour of work, I finally succeeded in returning Paintings #1 and #2 to their original design. I intended to make cards with each 2-inch square by gluing them to small pieces of black paper and then to postcard-size card stock. I've now decided to go back to my first idea of putting the two originals together to make an entirely new painting. I plan to do a different version from the first combination. And maybe I won't glue them down at all and leave them as a puzzle to create again and again. 

We'll see what I come up with!

Painting #2 They look alike, don't they? Same colors, similar marks

Check out Sally Penley's calligraphy classes:

Friday, September 23, 2022


Leaves (watercolor) by Martha Slavin

Brrr, it's cold out there and inside too. On my birthday at the beginning of September, we had a record 111 degrees, now it's in the high 70s with rain during the week. After the unexpectedly high heat wave, the crisp fall air is tantalizing. The wind blusters through the trees, the leaves rustle down the street, the shadows stretch a little longer every day, and acorns drop. With the change in the weather, we turn off our fans, close the windows, pull out a couple of blankets, and look for recipes for hearty soups.

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. We get a hint of what is to come, yet know that we will have a late version of Summer again in October or November, with warm, hazy weather. Since we are inside more, it's a good time to work on Autumn-themed projects. Pumpkins and squash offer great painting material as well as fun crafting ideas. My mom collected autumn leaves, pressed them between the pages of books, and included them in letters to me. I still have some of her leaves as well as leaves I collected in Tokyo while we were living there. That is why I am drawn to leaves as an object for projects.

stenciling with pan pastels

On one of my workroom shelves rest pan pastels whose colors are luscious. I feel guilty letting them sit on the shelf. The colors are soft and easy to spread with a sponge and seem perfect for Autumn projects. They are a great tool for stenciling. I have a small stack of paper leaves that I use with the pastels.

To make cards, here's what I do: I wash some 140# watercolor paper with Aureolin, one of my favorite yellows. Once dry, I place one of the leaf stencils on the paper and rub pastel over the edges of the stencil. I pick up the leaf and repeat stenciling with different autumn colors. Then I use a piece of card stock from which I have cut a 2-inch square. I lay this in various places on the stenciled sheet until I find a good design. I mark the corners of the square with a pencil and then use an Exacto knife to cut out the design. I glue the design to another piece of cardstock or any heavy paper. Card made.

watercolor paper with stenciled leaves

Finding a good 2" square design

My pastel leaves

Finished with my cards, I sit down and pick up a book to read. Remembering that it is Banned Book Week, I pick up a Toni Morrison novel to read again. Reading her lyrical writing makes me want to practice writing by imitating her style. I find that good writers, like Morrison and Margaret Renkl, give me a chance to absorb another person's command of language, just like the work of well-known artists can inspire me.

In this year alone, over 2500 books have been banned or are under investigation at libraries across the nation. There is a difference between selecting books that are age-appropriate in the classroom and banning books from library shelves. Most of these banned books include stories about people who may be different, whether by skin color, sexual orientation, sexuality, or just being new. Here are just a small portion of those banned books from this year. If you haven't read one, please do.

Khaled, Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer

Ashley Hope Perez, Out of Darkness

Judy Blume, Forever

Jerry Craft, New Kid

Michael Hall, Red: A Crayon's Story

I looked at lists of banned books going back to 1960 I was astonished at some of the titles that I read on the list, including the Great Gatsby, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, and Clockwork Orange, all considered classics now. In my search, I discovered PEN America,  a group that celebrates free expression, the value of a free press, and the rights of writers.

Check out some of the other banned books for this year:

Friday, September 16, 2022


Sketch of the planet Earth

A long time ago, I tried to construct a 3-D art piece that moved around in circles. I wanted to attach flags and other symbols to a motor that would turn the symbols around and around. I scoured antique shops looking for something with a motor that moved slowly enough so I could build my contraption. I never found the right motor. Everything, such as fans or turntables, moved too fast and my flags and other objects would have been spinning in a blur. 

sketch of a motorized 3-D piece

Years later I came across a clock whose designer had perfectly answered my quest. The unknown artist had attached a small figure on a wire to the workings of a battery-operated clock. The figure slowly moved around in a circle as the clock ticked. I laughed in delight at the character and the wonderful solution to a problem that I had worked on too.

Clock produced by Jeco, artist unknown

"Small, Medium, Large," the theme for this year's Pacific Art League's annual member show, made me step back and wonder what kind of artwork the show wanted. The theme seemed wide open for any response to the call. I could just send in a painting that fit the size requirements; but to be accepted in the show, I thought I needed to do more than that. I needed to show the idea behind the meanings of the title or as Plate said, "The orangeness of an orange."

The PAL show has been a good place for me to exhibit my work. Last year the gallery displayed online all 500 pieces that they accepted for their online exhibit. This year, the exhibit is once again in person and will be juried with fewer pieces chosen. I was intrigued by the theme and thought of the class I had taken with Janet Takahashi, a calligrapher who does beautiful tiny paintings. That gave me an idea.

Sketch for another view of earth

Sometimes ideas pan out well. Sometimes my skills at a particular moment (such as that motorized idea from long ago) just can't create what I hoped to make. The process is fun and challenging either way. This is my idea for the show: within a two-inch square, I painted a view of the earth. Now I am going to layer several pieces of 12-inch square foam board, each with a two-inch square cut from the middle, which I will place on top of my view of the earth. Once those pieces are stacked, I will attach three figures looking down from the top layer to the earth below. I am hoping this will convey the idea that even something as large as the earth can be small if viewed from far away.

Sketches for the 3 figures looking down at the Earth

I hope it works. No moving parts are needed. Just a steady cutting hand to cut out the figures. The painting may not be accepted in the juried show, but it will be fun to put it all together. 

Janet Takahashi offers workshops in calligraphy and art journaling:

Friday, September 9, 2022


Photos by Bill Slavin

 Bubbles floated up into the sky as a young girl pointed her toy and shot more of the fragile bubbles near us. We watched her moment of joy, as we ate a corn dog at the Minnesota State Fair, a place where over two million people come to enjoy the last of summer's entertainments.

A trip to Minnesota to see relatives and view my dad's drawings one more time at St. Cloud State University also gave us time for a trip to the opening day of Minnesota's State Fair. Everyone we met, from Lyft drivers to hotel personnel to cousins, when asked what they liked most about the fair, said, "The food! Don't miss Sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies in a bucket, try the deep-fried pies, or the Cheese Curd Tacos, or the Pickle on a Stick."

As we came into the fair, we walked towards the livestock barns (our favorite part of any summer fair) and saw a group of people clustered in a circle. We walked over out of curiosity and discovered Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar in the middle shaking hands and taking selfies with fairgoers. Everyone was happy to see them and shouted encouragement to the two politicians.

During the morning, we toured the livestock barns, watched animal mothers tend to newborn babies in the Miracle Birth Barn, and young 4-Hers care for their farm animals. We marveled at the beauty and precision of teams of draft horses such as Percherons, Clydesdales, and Belgians as they competed in an arena. We ventured through the food streets and sampled fresh, whole milk, corndogs, and milkshakes. We couldn't see everything at the fair. It covers over 320 acres, we missed the fine arts and home arts displays, the Machinery Hill, and the Midway. We mingled with joyful crowds, admired the work of young 4-H members, watched fun entertainment, and ate good food.

After returning home to California later in the week, I learned that the next weekend, a shooting took place at the Midway in the evening. No one was killed, fortunately, and even the large police presence couldn't prevent the incident. As the sheriff said, "If someone with a gun is intent on using it, it is very hard to prevent that."

After our trip to the fair, we walked in the evening around downtown St. Paul. It was quiet, with the Twin Cities, like so many cities, still recovering from the pandemic. On several buildings, we saw a sign embedded in the marble exterior that read: "Building Management Bans Guns in these Premises." 

I stared and thought that another bubble had burst. Like many states, Minnesota, which has long been a hunting state, has little regulation over long guns, but handguns are subject to more control. That didn't prevent a gun at the fair, and the sign, except on government buildings, has no legal basis. All that the building owners can do is ask a gun holder to leave and press trespassing charges if they don't.

I think back over the times we've visited Minnesota with fondness. We love its verdant green beauty in the summertime. We like the friendliness of the people. We have a wonderful time reconnecting with cousins. I had never seen this sign about guns on any building there before. But something has changed in the last few years there, just as change has come to California and Texas and Georgia and other states. Gun violence is now the number one cause of death in children and teenagers in the United States. According to a Gallup survey, over 67% of the U.S. support gun safety regulations. Don't you think it is time we stepped forward and made our voices heard?

Check out information from Sandy Hook Promise:

The Soul Box Project is continuing its efforts for artists to promote gun safety:

Friday, September 2, 2022


Hobo Art Box, made from cigar boxes and purchased by Letty Watt's dad after WWII.
(Thank you, Letty, for letting me share this photo here.)

Tales of family cars filled our mailboxes, texts, and emails a couple of weeks ago when I posted Bill's story of his childhood car adventures. Friends wrote of wind wings, Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, and Chryslers or of no cars at all because they lived on busy city streets. No one mentioned a Peugeot, my mother's last car that she treasured fiercely, as she did with the things she loved. She finally sold the old clunker when the last mechanic who knew how to fix it (and it needed constant attention) retired.

The stories of cars brought up other objects of childhood: a dad who smoked cigars reminded people of cigar boxes and the many uses people make of them. My dad stored art materials in his. Other people used them to hold secret treasures away from the prying eyes of other family members much in the same way people kept small diaries with a key (did anyone really write anything in them?). Other memories included wearing circle pins and what their placement on your collar meant, telling lies to avoid punishment, favorite book series read over and over, and more. Can you think of another common tidbit from your childhood that still resonates with you?

Cigar boxes are harder to come by these days. I still have the lid of a King Edward Mild Tobaccos box and the bottom of an El Producto box filled with charcoal drawing sticks and a Kohinoor drafting pen that belonged to my dad. I keep them because I like examples of type styles and I know the two separate box pieces will be "useful someday." 

 On a rickety table outside of one of the few tobacco shops left in San Francisco, the owners had stacked some empty cigar boxes for $2 to $3 apiece. They were made of thin slices of wood and covered with designs and typography. I picked up an empty Arturo Fuente box, still in good condition. I opened the lid and the cigar odor came wafting out. I couldn't resist buying it. The boxes are prized by mixed media artists, who cover them with ephemera and turn them into 3-D displays. The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse recently offered a class to learn how to collage a cigar box with leftover pieces of paper. For me, I find covering up the lettering and designs is like putting the first stroke on white paper. It's easier for me to cover up a plain substrate such as this small wooden box that now holds a diorama.

Flee by Martha Slavin

Maybe because Bill and I are in the process of decluttering, these moments of old memories keep cropping up more often. Some of these memories may remind us of difficult situations or embarrassing events when we tested our character and found ourselves wanting. Some of these memories are golden and stay with us as if we kept them secure in an old cigar box.


You can see more stories of car memories by clicking on the Comments in the post by Bill, What Car is That?

To learn more about Hobo Art:

East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse offers classes using materials that are donated to the shop:

More about murals:

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is showcasing murals while construction is occurring at the museum. Check out their guide to the murals at the museum as well as a map of others around Washington, DC. Also don't miss the online exhibits, Paper Routes and the Book as Art series.

Elizabeth Fishel, the leader of the writers' group that I belong to, has always said that our own small moments in life can become stories that reach other people and become universal in theme. Three writers that I follow use that underlying idea in their writing :

Carrie Classon, an adventurous spirit, actor, and syndicated columnist, writes about her everyday encounters in a column called Postscript:


See her also on YouTube:

Audrey Ward, a former pastor and writers group member, is another explorer who writes a column in the Napa Valley Register called Regarding Children: 

Letty Watt writes Literally Letty, and  allowed me to show her Hobo Art box: