Friday, November 24, 2023


New postcard design

A friend who is approaching ninety years old told me she just purchased a book called Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self by Rod Judkins. My friend is a wonderful artist, especially of animal portraits, and continues to learn every day. She is hope.

According to a very small study of art students in 2014 skills developed by drawing increase the areas of the brain that control spatial recognition and fine motor performance. A good reason to take up the practice of doodling. I knew before I read about the study that there was a good reason to make art and it is not just the old mantra of left/right brain thinking. This study showed improvement on both sides of the brain.

Doodles I turned into a book

This past year I have been able to take several Zoom art classes, which have been good time savers for someone with a long to-do list. They offered me the chance to relax, learn some new techniques, and see people I haven't seen since the pandemic. I recently took a class from Roxane Glaser, who is not only a lettering artist but a yoga instructor as well. She began her class with some yoga exercises before we picked up a pencil.

Roxane used her abstract watercolors as the foundation for holiday cards. The designs she used were similar to ones I had produced several years ago.

by Martha Slavin

In listening to her design process, I discovered something new to me: neuropathic art, which is a technique used by art therapists to help overcome anxiety and other mood disorders. Artists have adopted the technique and enhanced the process with color and shapes. Similar to Zentangles, which is another form of doodling, neurographic arts starts with a line. Rather than using patterns inside shapes as Zentangles does, you start with a thin marking pen at one edge of the paper. Once you notice the direction you are going, you change the direction and repeat that process until the line goes off the page. Artists have taken this line pattern further by rounding off each corner, adding color, and overlaying shapes on top of the line. The design can then become the background underneath a cutout shape.

Neurographic art in six steps

I have been doodling since I could hold a pencil. I tried Zentangles and then adapted the idea to include my own patterns. Whether I am sorting lead type for letterpress printing, doing calligraphy, doodling, or creating a piece of neuropathic art, I can confirm that doing this type of artwork has a meditative quality that improves well-being by getting into the zone of creativity where I become oblivious of the world around me and time doesn't matter.

Zentangle design using their prescribed patterns

Check out Roxane Glaser's work here:

Articles about the effects of art on the brain: 

Friday, November 17, 2023



Layered letters, a technique I learned in a Cora Pearl class recently

Watercolor escaped me this past month. So did calligraphy and even drawing in my sketchbook. Our move to San Francisco disturbed my creative routines. I knew the impulse to create would come back, I just needed a solution.

I found it with a table. A small lesson about myself and my need for a dedicated place to make art. Our furnished apartment in the City has a Minimalist vibe, just right for the many young people who populate the neighborhood. The apartment came with everything including two desks in each bedroom. Bill moved one desk into the living room and I placed my desktop, files, notes, and other items that help me manage our household and write my blog and other stories on the other. Not enough room there for artwork in progress. I tried leaning a drawing tablet against the edge of the table, but that was clumsy and not sturdy enough, and I didn't have room to spread out supplies. I needed another table to have my tools around me. The stress of the topsy-turvy moves we've made left me no time to reach the engagement in my work once described by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as creative flow, to sit in the zone of creativity, and to get lost in thought which makes creativity a joy.

Posterized flower photo done on my desktop

I ordered a table online. Three weeks later, I received a note from the apartment manager that my table had arrived at the front desk. Package deliveries are nothing like deliveries at our former home where a package would arrive and lean against our door. The apartment complex has implemented many security measures: key fobs for entry and elevator use, a room for locked USPS mail and parcel boxes, and a locked room for packages from UPS and other delivery services. In a complex that contains two buildings, one with five stories, the other with 14, one can imagine the number of packages that arrive daily at the front desk.

Brushstroke practice to loosen up

Same painting upside down. Which is more pleasing?

We live in the shorter of the two buildings, a half block away from the front entry. We have to plan for package pickups. We can either take the elevator down to the street level and walk to the front entry or walk down one flight of stairs to the third floor which is connected to the first building by an expansive patio area and then down their elevator. We are still figuring out delivery services. Every day we find a new adventure in just making our way in an apartment building.

Of course, the small metal table needed to be assembled. I became proficient at assembly when we moved to Japan and transported boxes of bookcases, beds, and tables that needed to be constructed on our arrival. But this metal table flummoxed me. The screws connecting the legs only went in halfway. I needed an electric screwdriver to finish the task. Ours is packed securely away in our storage containers along with our paper shredder, pencil sharpener, rain boots, measuring cups, tax files, lightbox, and other items I didn't think we would need while existing in limbo between houses with most of our possessions stored away.

We purchased a new electric screwdriver and with Bill's help, I now have a table. And already I am happy to sit and draw and paint some postcards. I made a set of overlapping words to send to some art students from St. Cloud State University, my dad's alma mater. I began to feel the sense of immersion that comes when something I'm working on is going well. For the cards, I used the words Grow and Change. When Bill saw them, he laughed, "Enough already. I don't need to grow or change for a while." Me too.

Second version of Change/Grow postcard

Third version  Which would you pick of the three?

Read more about Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research into happiness and creative flow:

Thursday, November 9, 2023


The last roses of autumn

Just as the TV showed the French police officers erupting out of their car to end a frantic chase of a right-wing terrorist trying to blow up housing for immigrants, we heard the wail of a siren in the background adding to the tense moment in the movie. We first thought the sound was bringing more officers coming to help on the screen. It took us a few seconds to realize that the alarm wasn't part of the film's plot but instead was coming from outside in our neighborhood. 

We paused the movie, walked out onto our tiny balcony, and stood searching the air for the source of the siren. A man on the street was getting into his car. The lights inside his car turned dark as he closed the door. The alarm kept going. It wasn't his car alarm shrieking.

We couldn't figure out where the shrill sound was coming from until we saw a group of people moving around in the glassed-in lobby of the apartment complex across the way. Then several people exited the building, not running, but ambling down the stairs. They gathered in groups in the small park nearby. In one third-floor apartment, a man came out onto his balcony with his little dog in his arms and sat down in one of his balcony chairs. The alarm kept wailing. He didn't move.

We didn't see any visible smoke. Finally, we walked back inside, picked up the TV clicker, resumed the movie, and watched the police officers frantically shooing people out of their apartments and out of the building before the bomb went off. The panicked dwellers ran downstairs, streamed out of the building just before the noise of the explosion hit them.

The alarm outside across from us stopped. No fire trucks arrived. False alarm.

Reel/real life in a city.

Beauty when we need it

I have stepped out of my usual stories with this week's post. The coincidence of the movie/real-life incident was so extraordinary to me that I had to share it. I thought of the movie and the police officers responding to an emergency and I thought of real people and how often we discount something that is possibly life-threatening and don't move until we are pushed.

New York Times' Monday edition had a spectacular display of photos from the Webb telescope with interesting commentary about each photo: 

Thursday, November 2, 2023


Some of my well-used pencils

A pencil. 

My favorite tool to use for drawing or doing crosswords. I have them scattered around the house.

If you learned to write with a pencil, you probably used a yellow Dixon Ticonderoga 2 HB, a soft pencil right in the middle of the pencil hardness scale. This pencil was designed by Joseph Dixon in 1812, though earlier pencils can be found as far back as 1650. In the U.S. the pencil came into its own during the Civil War. Soldiers needed something easier to write with than a quill and ink. They carried knives and could sharpen pencils to a point.*

I am taking a series of classes called the Liberated Line, my favorite design element. Each Saturday focuses on a different element of design. We use shape, form, texture, value, space, and color combined with line. Last Saturday's instructor, Amity Parks, took me back to my beginning drawing practice. We used various hard to soft pencils that we each had on hand. I picked up my favorite Eagle Draughting pencil, which is about 6B, very soft, and no longer made though they can be found through online dealers starting at about $20 a pencil. 

We worked to create a palette to show what we could achieve by varying the pressure we put on a pencil. We worked through the Bs, reaching the Ticonderoga 2HB, and then began to experiment with 2H. The pencil weights go from 9B to 9H. Some brands, such as Blackwing, use their own scaling system. I discovered in my first drawing class what a difference each grade and brand of pencil made in my ability to manipulate the line I drew. I loved the soft quality of the Eagle Draughting pencil. I still do. The series of Hs gave me little room to create dark and light strokes. 

Checking the hardness of a line with each type of pencil
 & creating a value scale for each pencil

We used other pencils, chalk markers, and Conte pastel pencils

During the day, we experimented with various ways of creating a letter, including adding color. 



My favorite exercise was a letter hidden within a value drawing, filling the entire area with a variety of pencil marks. 


Halfway through a pencil drawing using both 2HB and 6B pencils

Finished capital H (can you see it?)

As Paul Klee once said, "A line is a dot that went for a walk."


Learn more about the history of the pencil:

Story of the Dixon Ticonderoga yellow pencil: 

Check out Pencil Talk:

Tour the Sanford Pencil Factory: