Trying to Stay Busy and Feeling “Why Bother”

The last of our gorgeous rhododendron…depleted efforts. It is a bit autobiographical this week. I feel a bit spent.

All the things that have been done just end up as a reminder that there will be more to do. This week of national racist turmoil on top of the restrictions of avoiding the virus can feel so hopeless. Add to that the watching of Lee’s growing confusion and trying to stay on the positive side of the road while negative thoughts get stuck in my head.

Here is another good image via Nature on the struggle to hang on to what was.

That leaf might just have contracted Covid 19. And the very next day on the same driveway I found this. It is as close as I have to an Eucalyptus leaf. A gentle reminder of my times in Australia. It made me smile and be grateful for its successful attempt to lift me up.

A poor old diseased pin oak leaf still has something to offer.

This week the tree man came and cleared away some of the deluge of green density. It took a couple of days as he circled each Japanese maple and snipped with a careful eye. He waded through poison ivy and other vines to cut down some trees that were becoming oppressive and went on to take out branches that touched roofs and extended into the driveway. He trimmed the rhododendron above and snipped at other overgrown bushes. And when he was through with it all, he would not take any extra money, thanked me for the trust I had in him to work on our property, and finally looked me in the eye and said, “If you need any other man job done that your husband used to do, please just call me.”

I have to quickly change the subject when these kindnesses come from strangers because it makes me tear up.

Speaking of which, another fun homemade card from Australia came this week….in an envelope made from a full page magazine picture of an oil painting that featured one of those beautiful Renoir period women wearing a hat. I carefully open them using a paring knife to make the slit and take my time pulling out the contents. I know they will make me laugh so I want it to last. Thank you.

And here are the last four days of drawings a day. I moved from outside to the contents of this working bag of tools brought upstairs. perfect for starting another sketchbook.

This a small awl

that in my hands feels so smooth

and aptly designed.


Isn’t this fancy?

And yet it fits in the hand

just right for the job.

Isn’t this the best

little hammer purchased at

St. Andrews market.


Thirty-six inches

is a difficult thing

to draw folded up.

That’s it for now I think. The printer corrected a wrongly sized image of the Bush Book, and managed to do it making me feel it was my fault that he forgot to resize it when he did the other fourteen.  Now I have all ten books glued together and draped around the studio waiting til I get a break on Monday afternoon. Lots of careful folding to do before all the covers are made.

Most of these books have been spoken for. Then it is on to The Stoat Story. I think I have got it all sized and laid out on the computer. This one I think I will print myself because it has the text below the images….and I am not ready to give more business to the printer.

I just took a break to stop Lee from hacking away at roots with his ax. Sometimes he can be an accident waiting to happen. I got him back on his mangled rake dragging rocks around. Hopefully it will wear him out and he will come in and take a nap.

That’s it for now.


Sketchbooks for Specific Places

An old friend in Australia reminded me after the last post that she was so happy to have one of the Common Thing books I talked about. Gloria Alport, who hosted me on several early teaching tours in the Sydney area. I smiled when she mentioned having the little book. The memories of being in her home and walking to her garden stepping on sample squares of upholstery textiles. They made such a lovely path, like magically marked slate stones embedded in the grass.

I also think of Gloria each time I attempt to draw something in a sketchbook. She took me to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and we drew things together. She told me that I made lines around the things I was drawing and to remember that those things were objects in a space, part in sharp detail and part fading away into the blur of edges. I remember that every time and remind myself to not just look at the outside edges but see what is happening in the space it takes up.

So I took along a sketchbook that I bought in New York City when Gwen Diehn and I were touring museums. It is a replica of one that Van Gogh used…..or so they say and of course i needed to have it. Here are a couple of drawings with Gwen done in that new book and the book itself.

Gwen has always been the fastest pen sketcher I know. It took some doing to keep up and get the ideas down quickly to use as reference later for my work about men in graduate school.

And here are the pages I was drawing with Gloria a short while later.

See what I mean?

Mostly I used this book only in museums and tried to get as much information as I could to take back home with me.

Here was my introduction to Bea Maddock, an Australian artist, print maker, and user of earth pigments. I could have stayed in front of this massive piece about the land of Tasmania and its Aboriginal history for two days and not seen all it had to offer.

Over the years that followed I had many more opportunities to see her work. And the only book about her that I have is more about her time as a print maker.

Later on I found myself in Vancouver at a museum without this little Van Gogh book so had to buy another small sketchbook in the museum store. It was an exhibition featuring the works of Emily Carr, Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo. I evidently did not bother to make my way to Kahlo’s work. I was too busy looking at the trees of Emily Carrs, reading her words and Georgia O’Keefe’s.

“What is that vital thing the woods contains?”  Emily Carr

“It is the unexplainable things in Nature that make me feel the world is big, far beyond my understanding. I attempt to understand it by trying to put it in form, by finding the feeling of infinity on the horizon or just over the next hill.”  Georgia O’Keefe

I found this book I made to explain about altering images of fine quality inked magazine pictures and then using those in your own work once they are way beyond the original artists work. It was a National Geographic aerial view of someplace arid, changed using a cleaning solution after a few hours of making marks with gesso and clear glue.

I was also giving a lesson on coptic binding used on this book and not wasting paper by folding the too long parts back into the book rather than cut and toss.

I like the feel of this book in my hands. It is about 4.5 x by 5.5 inches x 1.5 inches thick. I wrote how the book was made on the inside front page, then being influenced by Emily Carr I did a wash of trees over the ball point ink writing.

I think I will use this for just thoughts…the kind you just need to get out. No drawings allowed.

Here are six days of drawings a day…even went a day ahead just to finish off this sketchbook. It was number one of four made to use this year. Now I can start on number two day after tomorrow.

A pink flowered shrub

was planted meandering

throughout the landscape.


Bright yellow wild weed

helps itself to the outer

untended fringes.

Honeysuckle vine

has crawled all over every

available tree.


Little blue-eyed grass

can’t decide whether to be

a grass or flower.

Tiny lavender

flowers on delicate stems

on spaced out leaves.


So called creeping thyme

actually moves along

at the rate of time.

Okay enough for now….taking a break and going to read.

til later.


A Simple Little Book – Common Thing

I made a small edition of this book in graduate school. There were three little books like this. The other two were just a bit bigger. All had black cloth hard covers. I was dealing with intimate thoughts and wanted all three books small to be held in two hands to be opened slowly with a close eye to the way I chose to illustrate those thoughts and words.

It was the words of Thomas Wolfe that spoke to me. This one sentence while I was working out ideas of how to present the men on the corner and our relationship to one another, spoke volumes. I was firmly planted on what I referred to throughout my time in graduate school as “the threshold of the familiar.” Just what is it that makes us feel so “right” in this spot? What do we see beyond the threshold that makes us know we belong there? It is the familiar…the comfortable….the “I know this place….these people.”

Anyway Thomas Wolfe was asked questions about “creativity”…and that was back when the word meant more than gluing pleasing bits of things together. The author was asking his subjects what it was that sparked their creative minds.

Wolfe talked about being in Paris, I believe it was Paris, and when coming out of the door of where he was staying, he saw the chipped paint on the hand railing, a hand railing he grabbed every day.

But this day when he saw the railing, he did not see that one, but the one from home….and he saw that one in great detail.

And he said this:

“And this utterly familiar common thing would suddenly be revealed to me with all the wonder with which we discover a thing we have seen all our lives and yet have never known before.”

I know, reading it over it is a bit wordy….but he was a writer don’t forget. And I loved this sentence, this way of seeing and I still do.

It was the perfect length for a small book with illustrations of the familiar things between the men and myself….clothes hung on a line.

Here is the entire book, page by page, that is 4.25 x 5 inches by .25 thick.


I thought I would sell these books but never liked the idea of selling someone else’s words so I ended up giving most of them away. But only to those who I thought would really get what he was saying. That “discovery” of the familiar. It can take your breath away when you experience what he was talking about.

And you know what else I love about this book besides the simple illustrations of tiny cut blocks of stamping material (something so low tech)? It is that I stitched the illustrations before tipping them into place. That homeyness and universal familiarity of the stitch.

I also have to tell you that the font printed with my computer was called “Betty’s Hand”. My mother’s name. Over the years and different computers, this particular font did not make the transition and was lost along the way. I have a similar one called “Bradley Hand”. I used to spend so much time researching free fonts to download. Fonts that had a certain “look”.

Anyway I am trying to work myself back into the studio to design another book as soon as I get the Bush Book and the Stoat Book finished. Thank you to those who have asked me to hold them a copy of those books.

Now I am heading back in there to cook up some paste to put all those birds and animals and insects together….very carefully.

By this next week I should have them finished.

Til later.


The Rest of the Story and a Bit More

    Here is the last two days of drawings a day with haiku.

A bright yellow weed

with shiny waxy petals

and parsley-like leaves.


This was from a bush

that I always thought might be

wild huckleberry.


Now onto the rest of the Stoat Story.

      By now she knew the stoat would patiently wait for her as she stood transfixed to something she saw. It was hard to imagine where the things came from. And where was the parade going as it all passed her going back the way she and the stoat had come?

     The old woman laughed more than she had in years. It must have been the things she was seeing go by on her trip. The stoat certainly wasn’t saying or doing anything funny. He was taking his job quite seriously…. getting the old woman from where she came to where she was going.

     She found herself dawdling more each day. Maybe it was the worry that this would all be over soon. And the old woman did not want it to end. She grew dependent on waking up each morning knowing that there would be more of these extraordinary sights that brought back memories every day.

     When they got to where they were going would the parade of magical things be over? And for that matter would she have to give back the magic basket? Would she have to say goodbye to the stoat?

One day she thought she heard the stoat talking to someone over behind a big maple tree.

….”will she be ready soon?”

And  …”we are getting close.”

     The old woman could hardly believe that someone else was there with them. And she worried that things were going to change….and soon.

     It was at that moment of anxiety that it occurred to her to do something she had not done since she was child.

     A thing she did when she was afraid things would change and never be the same. And she wanted to hang onto what was there right at that moment.

     She stood very still, held her arms close to her sides, closed her eyes tight, and breathed in as deeply as she could. Breathe in everything around her. Breathe it so deeply that it pushed against her skin from the inside.

     Then hold her breath for as long as she could to keep it all there. There inside when she needed it again. When she missed it so much.


What seemed like a few days later, but it could have been longer because the old woman had lost all track of time, they came to a fork in the road. The stoat stopped and looked up at the old woman.

                 “We have come a very long way, you and I, haven’t we?”

     The old woman answered that they had indeed and asked the stoat if they could just keep going on like this forever.

       “I am afraid not, my dear.” 

        She did not want to be alone without the stoat and tears welled up in her eyes.

        The stoat started off in one direction and called back,

           “You will not be alone.”

                      And just then a grinning red fox stepped onto the other path.

         “Hello child. Follow me.”

             And this time she did.


                      The End


I am actually sorry to see the story end. Several things the old woman remembered were my memories. I still tend to hold my arms close to my sides, close my eyes and breathe in the things I don’t want to lose.  My grandmother made the best buckwheat pancakes. She did it with a springer spaniel named Freckles following her around the kitchen with his head just under her dress. If he couldn’t see anyone then no one could see him while he waited for her to drop something. Silly dog.

The stoat has been good company indeed.

Now I am laying out the images two at a time with the appropriate text to figure how to make a more manageable book. I don’t think I will bother to make a cover for the original one, but design one to make copies of for the new, larger version. The pictures will stay the same size and the text printed below….making it a book about 8 x 10 inches. I will arrange the fore edges to connect all images together but keep the concertina attached to the front and back cover with a spine connecting the covers. So the book could be turned a page at a time or pulled out into a circular tale.

I will post pictures of how that goes.

Til then.