After Christmas

Our family has started the long drive home. The deer have come and gone. What corn and seed they didn’t eat is picked over by turkeys and anticipated by crows.

It was a fun and relaxing Christmas this year. We kept it simple. Each of the three who came to visit will return to keep Lee company while I am in Australia. After getting all the guest rooms put back together I photographed each of the kitchen cupboards and drawers with their contents. I noticed that not too many of them knew where things go. So now when they open a cupboard there will be a picture of what goes in there…..and how. A good idea I think. When I return things should be pretty much where they need to be.

Our daughter received a new sewing machine for Christmas and tried it out making catnip mice for her cat friends…our’s included. I still  had her business card from forty years ago when she hired her brother and a neighbor girl to stuff them with catnip. Her closet where the “hired help” were kept working on the line was a bit of a sweat shop with dried catnip, fabrics, sewing machine and stuffing. A local paper did an article on her entrepreneurship that resulted in several callers wanting her to come and harvest excessive amounts of catnip. Here are the three she made using a scrap of two sided cotton I bought from the Dairings in Australia and a bit of pink felt and book binding thread.

She also got me sorted out with my new computer and gave me a battery docking station for traveling and away from a power source for charging an iphone. And for fun some lenses for the iphone. Here is the studio using a combination of lenses.

Blurry but pulls a lot into the frame. And then the macro lens alone to do this detail of a luna moth wing.

I like the macro lens. And here is the new computer, an Asus Zen, that is very lightweight. The image for the wall paper or background is from a picture I took of the scarves I dyed at the Botanical Studios in Australia. The last of those were given to two of our three guests and our masseuse who comes the day after Christmas each year to give each of us an hour of heaven.

We also had time to finish off some pincushions to get in the mail.


And then before you knew it the week was over and it looks as though no one was here. In about three more hours they should arrive home.

I did have time to work on another of the boat series. Still not sure where this is going but don’t they feel like some sort of travel back to childhood? I will just keep working on them.

The next one will be air ships floating up into the sky like an ascension of balloons.

And from our son came the makings of a pretty drastically bad drink made with only the cheapest whiskey one can find mixed with diet Fresca and about four ice cubes. What makes it palatable is that is should be served in a Jefferson Cup ( metal similar to pewter and bowl shaped). He actually found a set of four to present along with the mix and cheap whiskey. We only drink these when we want to remember our friend who passed shortly before her 100th birthday. This was her favorite drink that she often served with popcorn cooked just right. She, Pacia, was also the reason we decided to come up with the book I wrote and editioned titled, The Spirits Bar. It is about a bar we open when we miss those who have gone before us. The ones we loved sharing a drink with, the ones we would like to see come back for “one more round”. Here is the book. My friend who comes each year with the kids got it out so I could read it while we ate popcorn and drank Pacia’s favorite drink.

I will take a new picture with the Jefferson Cup. I am finishing off the Aristocrat whiskey and Fresca while having a five o’clock phone visit with a friend. We usually drink scotch on these calls but Pacia is still on my mind as well as the thoughtful son who found these ingredients to make a perfect gift, not to mention his encouragement for me to write this little book.

Til next time. I am off to the Spirits Bar.


Another Direction

Illustrator Jill Barklem of the Brambly Hedge series died recently. I love her work and when my kids got me this one and other books by her several years ago, I was thrilled. For hours a person can get lost in this magic. If you loved Beatrix Potter, then this book is a step beyond. The details of the interiors of these little mice’s homes all neatly tucked into the woods, and their little clothes and shoes and smiles….terrific.  Jill Barklem was amazing. She would spend years doing her research before starting on a book. In this one in particular she tells you how she does her drawings.

It was her mention of the pen outlines that really intrigued me. How could she be so sure as to where to put those permanent lines? And the lines always a soft walnut ink color. With the calligraphy nibs that a friend sent recently and a small pot of walnut ink waiting in the studio to be boiled down, I thought I would give it a try.

Another favorite book of mine is this one by Janet Marsh. I think I bought it when it first came out in the eighties. Another English illustrator. Janet went to a pond to document in the most beautiful watercolors what was happening there. I love this book and her dedication to documentation.

See the similarities? Look at those delicate marks and just how beautiful it all is.

Anyway, I got inspired (again) and decided to just escape into the fantasy with my own limited abilities. Giving myself limits of size and pieces, I decided to go about making a boat-like thing using only three things from the natural bits in my studio. Then the boat would be obviously afloat or well-grounded with the addition of some other thing.

Here is the first.

They are each drawn into a marked space of 5 x 7 inches. I loved having the bird in charge of the oar. Fun.

So now number 2. The drawing first.

I am using my new pencil.

An oyster shell, a nest and a quail egg….rock for an anchor. Likely this boat is not going very far.

Number 3.

This one is well and truly stuck on a rock.

And then Number 4.

A fish is helping this one along.

There will be some touch up work on them and certainly better photographs if I want them to have another life beyond Inga’s sketch book. But for now, they are quite satisfying. The size is small, as are the expectations. The challenge is simple….just go ahead and do it.

Think about Janet and Jill and just do the best you can. Simple.

Have a lovely holiday season.

I will be back later.



Still Unsettled

I am still floating out there with my fish. Touch of snow still clinging. I thought it would be gone today. When you get older never read too far into the weather forecast on your Iphone. I thought it was going to be in the 50s today….that is tomorrow. So still cold. Still cloudy. Still waiting for hoses to thaw.

And still waiting for inspiration on something to keep me occupied artistically until company comes for the holidays.

I finished the eight small pieces. I tried to not do them all at once, but never mind. I just kept going. All finished, framed and on the wall with the other pieces, all made for an April exhibit.

Here is one.

All in black specimen type frames.

I think I added a touch of something to this one after I photographed it. Funny how something comes to you after you think it is finished.

Anyway, those are on the wall. And then to something else that these prompted. Going back to drawing some of the bits of Nature in the studio.

I found a lovely moleskine type sketchbook that Inga Hunter from Australia gave me a while back. Then I blocked out a section and picked out three things that would fit. My first thought was that I would do watercolors in light layers to build up color. But once I got the new Graph Gear mechanical pencil with a .3 graphite lead, it became all about the drawing, the shading, the building up. It felt good to get out my drawing tools.

The new pencil.

The other tools because .3 is not going to give a whole lot of darks.

A private student had the Graph Gear pencil and this lovely mechanical eraser. I bought them both together on Amazon…my store of choice and necessity anymore. Rummaging through my pencil box is always fun. I like the sound of those graphite sticks bumping into each other. And this Australian pencil box bought at an airport on my way out of the country is wonderful to slide open to find other treasures. I bought this large soft brush somewhere because I just liked the look of it. But it is indispensable in brushing away eraser crumbs instead of using an already graphite-covered edge of my hand. And those gummy erasers that make nasty dark dirty marks simply disappear somewhere in their bellies, never to be seen again. Magic. And a great tension reliever.

So here is how that drawing ended up. I tried to take my time. But less than two hours later what more can I do?

I have three more things that I will arrange and draw next. Killing time. Trying to stay focused. Waiting for someone to visit. Thinking way too much about things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about.  Sending letters and faxes to selfish, incompetent Congress members who seem totally focused on lining their donors’ pockets as well as their own. When did we get so politically pathetic? November 9th, 2016 is probably the correct answer to that. We just need a November, 2018 to start getting it right again.


I have one more week before company comes. I could easily fill Inga’s book by then. I just ordered more graphite leads for my new pencil. To make the order worthwhile, I tossed in a few colored inks for intaglios. After the holidays I will get back to the press and try to work with color. It seems most of what I like doing has very little color….earth tones at best. And it is not my gloomy mood or the gloomy weather. I just like dull colors and bright people.

Til next week.

Trying to Focus

I used to look out the window here in western North Carolina, see this, and think “lovely”.  Not so much now. It is cold. It brings electric outages. It limits access to an internet that all too many times I have become dependent on. It prohibits driving anywhere until it all melts off a sloped, curved asphalt driveway.

When did I not want to put on some mittens and go out to make a snowman? When did I start seeing only the icy patches where it would be easy to slip and fall?

So I stay in. Happy to have a gas stove to cook a lovely chowder on. Happy to have a generator that keeps the main necessities running. Happy I have an art practice to get back to when I can settle down and not let the weather control my mood. It should all be gone tomorrow. Good. Hopefully this was our winter and spring is just around the corner.

But the last few days I did ricochet off the walls looking for something to hold my interest long enough to see it through.

Like the chowder, it takes putting your hands on the ingredients. Then getting the right mix and your senses begin to stir and lift. How can you not smile when frying bacon bits, onions, celery, carrots, yellow peppers?  And then seasonings like smoked paprika, thyme, savory, sage added with cut red potatoes, corn and chicken stock. Finished off with a bit of flour paste and half and half and whatever cheeses can be rescued from the refrigerator. Just the right amount of everything can come together to pick a person up out of the doldrums. A single malt scotch late in the afternoon can also help. Especially when there is a sympathetic soul on the end of the line who understands your moods.

Things do get better. The holidays are coming. The gifts are wrapped. My cards are all made and sent out. Friends and family will be here for Christmas dinner. Some will replenish the scotch. And the sun is shining.

But all that aside, I worked in the studio yesterday on small framed pieces using bits and pieces that I love handling. Like the chowder, this handling of ingredients has been very uplifting.

it is the blending of tiny pieces of cloth, specimens in bottles, leaves, prints and stitches. Remember how we used to buy specimens of butterflies or large bugs in deep black frames? That is what these new small works remind me of. Each item placed just so to become a collection of evocative thought. Of course an isolated phrase from that old cut up romance novel is there to act as an identification of sorts. I offers a direction for the mind to go when viewing the small bits mounted and encased. As I hang them on the wall, I carefully move from one to the other and wonder what in the world I will do after all eight are finished. What can I do with all those bits and pieces left over?

One of my favorite things is the loosely woven cloth that was just a scrap dyed in a vat with other botanical contact prints made in Australia.

It is only about four inches wide and eighteen inches long and I love every square inch of it. Tiny bits get cut away and frayed and stitched into place. Or in one of the new pieces I put a tiny, very tiny, scrap into a very small cork stopped glass bottle.

I will work on more today. With the power back on it is also laundry day. There was no trip to the diner this morning due to the possibility of ice on roads. But there is always tomorrow for that. Folding laundry, ironing, putting everything away and having the last of that scrumptious chowder is on next.

Then back to the studio and finding just the right phrase in that browned and tattered romance novel. Making it relevant to the scattered bits of other things from different times and places.

Til later.