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.