Friday, September 29, 2023


Montara State Beach

The forecast predicted rain and big waves last Tuesday. We found a few sprinkles on our car as we left San Francisco to go back down the coast to Aptos. Fog instead of rain was in its usual place south of the city. By 11 a.m., though, the fog lifted, and we looked up at blue skies, no rain in sight. Then we turned to look down on the ocean by our side. The waves were as predicted, crashing against the rocks near the shore and spreading across the beaches like a wedding veil. The edges of the lacey water stayed in place and sank into the wet sand as the rest of the water receded. Some waves traveled as far as the ocean wall near our car.

To reach most of the beaches along this stretch of the Pacific Coast means a long trek down two-to-three-story flights of wooden stairs, worn smooth by the weather, or by meandering down sandy pathways to reach the beaches where we could spread our towels and watch the soothing waves. Tuesday the waves were anything but soothing, letting us know once again how powerful nature can be. Locals along the beach said that Tuesday's wave action isn't unusual in winter. After all, north of Half Moon Bay, the Mavericks surfing competition takes place when the big waves are at their peak in November through January. But the big waves on Tuesday (some predicted as tall as 16 feet) in early fall were different. They were a surprise and seemed to come out of nowhere.

Rio Del Mar Beach  by Bill Slavin

Later in the day, we drove down to Rio Del Mar Beach, one of the few beaches with walk-on access to the sand. The day before we walked along the edges of the waves leaving plenty of dry sand where most people gathered for picnics and to play games. The beaches are strewn with detritus left from the fierce winter storms we had last year. Massive, bleached, wave-softened tree trunks litter the area. All along the beaches from Santa Cruz to Manresa, people constructed tepees with these thrown-about-like-straw logs, draping the tepees with towels to provide shelter from the sun.

Rio Del Mar Beach    
Photo by Bill Slavin

Yellow tape and metal fences clung to the top edge of the sea wall warning walkers along a walking trail away from climbing down the rocks and trees to the beach. During previous visits to Rio del Mar, an inlet stopped at the dry sand and a ramp led us down to the beach. Once on the sand, we could stop and watch the seagulls, pelicans, and other shore birds as they searched for food along the softly breaking waves.

Today as walked away from our car, the beach was mostly gone, inundated with pools of water that joined with the inlet to cut off the ramp down to the beach. The seagulls, usually swimming in the inlet water, were bunched in one higher sandy area and did not move when a person walked through their midst. 

Pescadero Beach       Photo by Bill Slavin

We stared at the crashing waves in wonder. The waves, not so high as further north, still crashed with fury just below the dry sand lip. Once a wave came in, we expected it to rapidly withdraw, instead the water spread slowly over the lip and out on the dry sand towards the man-made sea walls. We marveled at how easily the coast can change from unseen forces such as faraway storms. I remembered advice from my childhood: Never turn your back on the ocean.

Friday, September 22, 2023


 Creative moments come and go. Sometimes it takes a while for something to coalesce in my mind before I go back to creative work I hadn't finished. Last February I took an art journaling class from Janet Takahashi, but I put the book aside while we prepped our house for sale. Among the art supplies that I remembered to bring with me to our temporary home, I discovered the unfinished art journal that I started in her class. The journal's theme is the alphabet, an abecedarian book with letters and words that start with each letter.

Some of the pages I had filled to the brim in the class, while others just had a penciled letter in the bottom corner to remind me which letter to work on. My first page, the letter A, is easy. A is for Alphabet. Oh, and A is for one of my favorite influencers: Iris Apfel, the 102-year-old New York City fashionista known for her huge black glasses and colorful outfits. I want to be like her at her age.

B stands for Brain (left and right), Brush, Blending, and the Blues. B is a reminder to Begin.

F we need because it represents Form that Follows Function, Fonts, Flowers, and a peek behind a Fold-out.

S covers many drawing techniques: scribbles, stipples, shapes, sizes, spirals, and shadows.

V stands for Violet (think the colors of shadows), Vignette, Viewpoint, Value, and Viewfinder.

An art journal is a place for me to experiment. It's the perfect solution when I have packed away my usual implements and materials thinking that I would be able to unpack them sooner than now. Using different materials and techniques has opened up a new creative space in my head to explore. I had been overwhelmed to try to fill the art journal pages with something new in every space. Now since my supplies are limited, I have gone back to older work which I've copied onto plain paper, and am now filling the pages with these old ideas in new ways. 

L is for Letting Go.

cover of my Abecedarian art journal

Check out Janet Takahashi's workshops:

Friday, September 15, 2023


By Bill Slavin

My art space has disappeared with our move. The room was a great place to work and filled to the brim with the stuff I thought essential to creating. I also felt more and more cramped in the space, but I never took the time to clean much of the jumble out. With our move, I had the chance. I selected what I thought I could use in our transition and packed the rest away. 

Now that we are in our new temporary home, I’ve unpacked the art equipment that I brought and find myself puzzled by what I left out. I have no drawing tablets, scrap paper, gesso, cutting boards, and other tools. I had to laugh at the decisions/mistakes I’ve made because they have forced me to try new things. 

New place to work

I’m working on our dining room table, which is also filled with our house-hunting papers, computers, shopping lists, glasses, books we’re reading,  and Bill’s cameras. I’m still taking my Zoom watercolor class, but with limited space, I am using a watercolor sketchbook and therefore making much smaller paintings. One lesson Bill and I have learned from our move has been how privileged we were to live in the house we did. We don’t regret moving, but we are re-evaluating our needs and expectations of what we have.

My old workspace looked out on our street and I could see walkers stop to talk or briskly power through their exercise routine. Since our move, I realized that light and view are important. Right now we look out on a small pond and light filters through our windows, which brings light into the house.

by Bill Slavin

Since our move, I have visited other creative friends’ homes and have come away with a little studio envy. Their rooms have supplied me with new ideas for an art space for myself when we have a new permanent house to live in.

 A friend’s studio overlooks the ocean and is filled with her large paintings of the sea. The ocean blues she uses in her paintings wander on objects throughout her house. Another painter friend has a room overlooking the straits leading from San Francisco to Sacramento. She can hear the whistles of the trains on the other side of the water and watch cargo ships wend their way up the straits. Her view includes her colorful garden that spreads across her backyard. Another friend quilts in a pristine space with enough room to hang large quilts on a wall and plenty of storage space for mountains of quilting fabric. A writer/painter friend lives at the top of a hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains with a house filled with family photographs, shells, her pastel paintings, books on writing, and a collection of fountain pens with their smooth flow that inspires her to write by hand.

In each of these homes are treasures, whether a collection of colorful California pottery, a garden brimming with flowers to gather in bouquets, smooth stones picked up on beach walks, or chairs lovingly painted by children. Their homes are like being inside of someone else’s creativity and an inspiration to me to keep around me objects that motivate me in my own work no matter the size of the space I live in.

Friday, September 8, 2023


Rio Del Mar by Bill Slavin

One day as I was walking in a neighborhood, I turned a corner to find a schoolyard dotted with hundreds of robins all pecking at the ground, bringing up worms. A feast for an enormous number of birds and a remarkable experience for me. Since then, I've seen the occasional single robin or a couple building a nest, but I've never again seen a field full.

I think of the few times that I have witnessed other large groups of animals or insects together. Just after we bought our first house, we had a plague of mice in our neighborhood. They scurried across lawns, entered the house, and surprised us as they cowered in every room. They disappeared just as quickly from the neighborhood as they came, never to return in such profusion again. 

One summer in Minnesota small frogs filled the grass by the lake's beach. The boys staying in the cabins by the lake collected them in buckets, heaped one frog on top of another, stared at them in fascination as the frogs wiggled around, and then tipped the buckets over to let them go. Sometimes, we think of sizable groups as pests, sometimes they become the victims of our interest and thoughtlessness.

Blue Moon by Bill Slavin

This week within the waters of Monterey Bay, anchovies congregated in huge numbers. We couldn't see them from shore, but as we stood on the sand at Sea Cliff Beach near Santa Cruz, we marveled at the thick line of birds flying above the water. We discovered that the dark brown birds called sooty shearwaters migrate each year from New Zealand. The line of birds stretched back a long way past the marker at Rio Del Mar Beach Trail, a mile away from us. We'd never seen so many birds in one place before. Hundreds of pelicans flew in formation above the sooty shearwaters, who by their numbers created the dark, massive line of birds and with their dives churned up the water to reach the food below the surface.

According to the local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the anchovies this year are so numerous that the city has had to put special aeration machines into the bay to keep the anchovies alive. Otherwise, their numbers suck up all the oxygen and they would die. We didn't see the anchovies, but we saw the extraordinary number of birds feasting on them. Like the mice in our old neighborhood, both the anchovies and birds will soon be gone for the year. Will they come back again in such numbers or was this a truly extraordinary event?

I marvel, just as we all do, when I glimpse abundance in nature. I think of other parts of the natural world that I will never see: the extinct passenger pigeons, the North African Elephant, or the Atlas lion both extinct by Roman times. People hunted the pigeons for food never realizing that their abundance would end. The North African Elephant became a vehicle in war and entertainment along with the lion in Rome. They all died out because of human interaction with them. We realize how destructive humans can be, but we also have groups working to make a difference in our environment. 

We noticed on our visit to the coastline that the coal-fired plant north of Monterey is being disassembled. The natural gas plant nearby constructed a long pipeline to allow the water that is circulated in the plant to cool down before it is ejected into the bay. Even small actions can have an impact. Bird-friendly coffee growers offer coffee grown using sustainable practices that don't affect the life cycle of migrating birds. Peet's Organic Yosemite Dos Sierras and Birds and Beans Signature coffees are two brands that are certified as bird-friendly.

Sketchbook by Martha Slavin

Read more about the anchovies in Santa Cruz harbor:

Read about migrating birds in this New York Times article:

Find bird-friendly coffee at the Smithsonian:

More about the Moss Landing Power Plant:


I like to look at other people's drawings. To me, they are more interesting because they show me how the artist's mind works. If you do too, watch this very short video of Jake Weidmann's unbelievable artwork: 

Friday, September 1, 2023


Thanks, Bonnie, for the painting Cairns idea!

 Sometimes taking a break from what you are doing helps, sometimes it doesn't. After a couple of months of not painting at all, I was inspired by a gift from a friend. She gave me an apron with a watercolor palette as the pattern, the perfect gift for a painter.

Thanks, Debi, for the apron

I stepped back into painting by picking rocks as my subject. You would think that a nice relatively round shape would be easy to paint. Instead, rocks are hard and often end up looking like potatoes. Once I don't like what I've done, I start trying to correct the painting. I keep thinking that magically, the right color, the right brushstroke will make the painting work. The painting usually ends up all muddy. 

Sketches done with Kuretake paints

After my first try, I took a step backward and painted a palette of the colors from a new box of Kuretake paints, which are Japanese paints that are rich in color and creamy in consistency. 

Then instead of trying to paint an object, I painted quickly and abstractly just to get relaxed and loose.

Three important lessons that I learn over and over again, are that value is more important than color (squint and look at the variety of values in the abstract above), that drawing is really important, and it is easy to overdo watercolors. Keep it simple and fresh.

Abstract rocks

These quick studies relaxed me and allowed me to go back and look at rocks with fresh eyes. You will notice even on the smooth rocks in the Stone Cairns sketch that I've created edges with shadows. I had let go of my daily practice and it showed. I plan to focus on rocks and stones for a while.