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:

Friday, October 21, 2022


What the Sun Said by Martha Slavin

Circles have deep meanings in many cultures. A circle can represent life, eternity, and unity, ideas that seem almost out of reach right now. Those deeper meanings draw me to include circles in my designs.

Trying to get letters around a circle is a mathematical challenge so I took a class recently from Debbie Reelitz, a calligrapher, who showed us the mathematical principles to arrange letters in a circle using measurements of the circumference, radius, and pi to figure out the exact size that the circle needed to be. We used protractors and compasses to measure accurately. 

The tools we used

Two minutes after she explained the process (luckily she gave us detailed written instructions too), I started to follow her lead and found that I had forgotten most of what she said. My long-time math anxiety intervened. My humble hand-lettering abilities raised their heads too. I began to doubt that I could finish putting letters around a circle. Then Reelitz showed us a shortcut that fit my capabilities.

Though I still had to measure, I was able to fit the words I had chosen around a circle. I wrote out the phrase I planned to use, measured the length of the line, cut the phrase out, and folded it in half and then into quarters.

Using a compass, I placed the two compass points at two adjacent quarter marks, which gave me the radius of the circle I needed. I drew the circle and divided it into quarters and filled each quarter with the corresponding letters on the straight strip of paper. (Take Debbie Reelitz's class to learn the complete instructions.)

As a left-hander, I find calligraphic writing to be a challenge. I've practiced a lot, but I don't have the beautiful flow that true calligraphers show in their work. For this project, I decided to use a monoline alphabet, the easiest one for me to draw and one I knew I could have success with. 

All of these examples are my rough drafts waiting to be put on a light table, adjusted for line length and spacing between letters and words, and enhanced with illustrations. Maybe then I will try to use Italic or Copperplate in a circle.

Possible illustration for "and your smile grows wide..." quote

Two other takeaways from Debbie Reelitz's class: I need to remember to turn the page as I draw each letter to keep each letter upright and let the ink dry as I go around a circle or I will smear the letters.

Check out Debbie Reelitz's calligraphy here or take a workshop:

I'm planning to read Math Without Numbers by Milo Beckman in hopes of gaining a new understanding of math. Find the book here:

Friday, October 14, 2022


All in the Eyes of the Beholder by Martha Slavin   (finished piece!)

While we lived in Tokyo, I went to a shrine sale, similar to a flea market, looking for another obi, the long piece of narrow cloth that wrapped around the waist of a woman wearing the traditional kimono, to add another obi to my small collection. I walked by a table loaded with small items and glanced at a pair of round wire glass frames sitting in a tattered case. I picked the glasses up and looked through the glass and felt like I was looking at the world through someone else's eyes. I quickly replaced the glasses on the table and continued my search.

I remembered those glasses as I sat writing this post with my right eye half-closed. I had a corneal transplant surgery recently and am recovering nicely with the help of a patient and strict caregiver, Bill, who won't let me cross over to doing too much activity at once as I am prone to do. 

My sight has changed much since fourth grade when I had to sit about a foot away from the TV to see the programs. I've worn glasses and contacts to correct my nearsightedness and astigmatism, had cataract surgery that gave me one week of perfect vision, developed glaucoma, and now have problems with my cornea.

I don't agree with the idea that every trauma or hard experience makes you stronger. Sometimes it doesn't. In the last week though, I have had a chance to reflect on the deeper meaning of a situation that I can't control. In those moments of reflection, I have found gratitude for good friends, a good, well-lived life, and a husband who cares.

Recently we received an alumni magazine that listed people who attended the last reunion as well as the people who had passed away in the last five years. Looking at the latter list and seeing people who we remembered as vital, insightful human beings, I realized once again how random life can be. They are gone and I am here, grateful to be able to see clearly.

A few years ago, I started a daily gratitude journal. I didn't think it would make much of a difference in my outlook on life, but over time it did. At the end of the year, I went back and re-read what I had written. I noticed how often my gratitude reflected interaction with nature, a good reminder of how much being out in the natural world contributes to my well-being. I seek out writers of the natural world such as Richard Powers, Robert MacFarlane, Margaret Renkl, and Florence Williams, who have all given me a glimpse of the part we play in nature. If we live in big cities or suburbia, we forget sometimes that we are nature and that our actions have connections with the rest. 

My best advice: take a walk among trees.


Some of my favorite books about the natural world

Friday, October 7, 2022


Letters in Martha's Studio by Bill Slavin

Opening up the garbage can filled with rain water, I took a leap back at what I saw: four, 3-inch slugs slowly slithering their way up the sides of the can. OOO, boy, just a reminder of the Uglies that sprout to our attention this time of the year. Spiders are more prominent, mice scurry along a wall, mushrooms pop up one day and disappear the next, the howl of coyotes wakes us up in the night, and we think of witches and other creepy things as we draw closer to Halloween and Day of the Dead. Spookiness abounds. 

Where in the world did these slugs come from? I know that debris collects in the open barrel during the rainy season, but I have never seen slugs creep out of the water before. They are hermaphrodites with both female and male components and lay eggs in moist locations. They are part of the beneficial beings who provide food for small animals and birds. I know all this, but I am still startled and repulsed by them. Especially when they grow over four inches in length and are bright yellow. They also eat my plants just like snails do.

I picked up a piece of decaying wood recently and was surprised by a bright red-orange salamander under the wood. Again my primitive brain kicked in and I jumped back from the sight. Salamanders, like slugs, have shiny, moist bodies and are good at eating small insects and even snails. They are sometimes called mud puppies or hellbenders. The origin of the name hellbenders is murky. It maybe because thought of them because of their appearance as trying to get back to hell.Again, salamanders are a beneficial part of the garden. So, I put the wood back as quickly as I could.

What is it about autumn, my favorite time of the year, that brings out these chills and frights? Is it our way to ward off the long nights of winter?

A challenge using the alphabets designed by Corita Kent  

Crows and ravens, wolves, spiders, and owls all have been victims of our frightful stories. We've given them oversized roles in scaring us when mostly they would just like to be left alone. Even cats that now proliferate on cute social media videos have been hunted to almost extinction in some centuries because of their supposed association with witches. Don't we have enough scary people in this world without foisting unfair characterizations on animals? Give these creatures who live among us a break.

Poe's Raven, another being who gets a bad rep.


Autumn is a good season to give back to the Indigenous people who came before us and who continue to offer insight into living:  Check out the Indigenous First Gift Shop here:

Or read Indigenous scientist, Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass

If you live in California, you might consider contributing to the Shuumi Land Tax: