Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lovely Recycled Jewelry, a Sheep, a Portrait, and Some Scenery

Tonight's post includes yesterday's drawings as well as today's.  This is a tough week for blog posting!  I'll try to keep up, but may end up doing a catchup in a few days.  A couple of overnight guests,  a party over here, a very busy weekend-- but I will keep drawing!  Here on the right is my friend M with whom I went canoeing early yesterday morning.  We had pulled into a little swampy area and sat visiting and sketching while a kingfisher and other water birds rustled around and darted in and out of the trees and bushes.
After I drew M I drew the quiet little backwater where we were sitting.  And on the right are all eight of the now-nearly-grown turkeys and their mother taking a dust bath in our front garden.  A fantastic fluttering of wings and feathers, massive grooming, puffing and fluffing-- great to watch.
This afternoon I picked Maya up from school to come over and work on some projects and spend the night.  I drew this patch of mountains while waiting in the car line to pick her up. On the right is a bracelet that M made out of some old sequiney trim that a friend gave us.  She attached a little silver cat that was once an earring to the bracelet so that the cat looks like it's climbing a glittery wall.  She designed it completely by herself.  She used Velcro as a closing.
 On the left above is the sheep we made today.  This one has mint green ears, legs, tail, and face with a white body.  This one has hanging ears and looks more calm than the racing sheep that we made last week.  On the right is the second bracelet Maya made out of trim and an old earring.  She had a couple of other clothing ideas, but we ran out of time.  (Be sure to check Jacob's creepy photographs from this past weekend at the old barn on campus and outside of one of the eerie tuberculosis hospitals near here.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Maybe the Definitive Harvest of Wild Nuts Around Here

I thought I had found all the nuts around here, but today I walked with my friend L, a great forager of wild foods, and she showed me (right hand page) a whole other layer of nuts that I wasn't even seeing, so intent was I on finding great numbers of lovely if inedible buckeyes.  At the top in its light green dehiscent case is a hickory nut, and next to the slightly opening case is a hickory nut itself.  Under the hickory nut is a butternut (which I had guessed was a hazel nut but which isn't).  The clue to its butternutness is the lemon-shaped indehiscent case, which has a distinct citrusy smell.  Skip to the bottom row and you will see a brown butternut case, which seems to be what happens when they ripen and start to disintegrate and develop lots of tannen.  I pried the case off, no easy job, and found the nut inside, looking like a small walnut, which makes sense as it is a relative of the black walnut.  This one has been gotten to by some worms and had mostly blackish powder where the nut meat was supposed to be.

The prickly green case above the butternuts is a cinquepin oak nut, a kind of acornish-looking nut that is really a relative of the chestnut.  If you wait long enough, the case splits open and you find the glossy, tear-drop shaped cinquepin nut, prized for its sweet, chestnut-like meat.  L taught me how to split it open with my teeth (not a problem as the skin is tough but flexible and won't chip your teeth) and get at the meat.  Delicious!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Drawing in the Middle of Sheep

First, the bad boy ram!  (Jacob and I had gone the old white barn on campus to see what we could see.  The farm manager had graciously agreed to our going inside to photograph and draw on late Friday afternoon as well as Saturday morning. ) It was cloudy and rumbly outside at 5:00, and when we pushed open the chunky door to the lower level of the barn, some spitting rain was just starting.  The first thing that we saw in the gloom was that the sheep had been gathered in for the night, and a couple of rams were just inside the door in a pen under a sign that said "Be careful of the Ram".  A couple of students arrived to do a chore shortly after we had settled in, and they unlocked the upper level for us.  But they told us they could only stay for a few minutes, and we couldn't be there without them.  So we did some quick sketching and photographing, and agreed to return in the morning. The ram was grumbling and slamming around in his pen, but I was able to make two quick drawings of him.

This morning we arrived just as a larger group of students was getting ready to inoculate and weigh and tag the whole flock.  Exciting!  Jacob disappeared up in the dark, cathedral-ceilinged attic level, and I sat midway up on the narrow wooden stairs that led to the attic and watched the sheep.  On this page a few sheep are eating straw from a bale enclosed in a wire fence-like container.  From the other side of the room came maaa-aaa-aaa-ing as the students worked with the sheep.
Within minutes a large crowd gathered at the food, including the watch-donkey.  The big mama sheep in the middle  stayed in her prime eating position the entire time, about an hour, that I sat on the stairs.
The donkey was tethered by a rope while a student cleaned her hoofs and brushed her coat.  Meanwhile the sheep continued eating and milling around.  This was very much as action drawing!
The rest of the drawings are studies of individual sheep.  I grew to love their shapes and gestures.  I noticed they have seamed upper lips and very knobby heads.  The babies have longer coats than the mothers, probably have never been sheared.  I am happy to report that these sheep are being grown for their coats and not for food.
One enormously pregnant sheep with udders so full they poked out like a double balloon, one nipple pointing east and one west. 
By the time I drew this page some of the sheep were settling down, having eaten their fill.  I was able to do a textured and value drawing of one of them.  I really like the contour drawing on the left, almost best of all.
On our way home we stopped by the old tuberculosis hospital so Jacob could take a few outside shots, and I drew a nice arrangement of large cardboard boxes behind one of the buildings.  Very relaxing after chasing sheep!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

More Exquisite Conkers

After living with my collection of conkers for a few days now I can see distinct differences among them.  The one at the top, for instance, has two flat places on it, and these indicate that this conker was one of triplets.  The one right below has one flat side, indicating that it is a twin.  Twins and triplets are known as cheesers in conker game parlance.  The tiny blackish one is a singleton and very small.  It had a small hull, too.  The one at the bottom left was nibbled by a squirrel through its hull.  The squirrel ate a hole through the hull but never succeeded in opening the dehiscent seam.  The one on the bottom right is smallish and interestingly lumpy, but definitely a singleton.

My research tells me that conkers, besides being used to play games with, have been used for jewelry and for mojo in some voodou traditions.  One process was to drill a hole in the conker and fill the hole with mercury.  The end of the hole was them plugged some way, and the quicksilver-filler conker was added to a pacquet.  All conkers have been used as good luck symbols.  Conkers can be preserved by oiling them with human skin oil (your own).  You simply rub the conker alongside your nose in the indentation between your cheek and your nose.  In a few weeks your conker will be beautifully smooth and preserved.  I am working on mine diligently.  I chose the triplet as my lucky charm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beautiful Friends

I met with a group of friends this afternoon in my critique group.  These drawings don't really look like them, and I missed out on drawing two of them altogether.  But it was good practice to draw while looking at them and not much at the paper, which I held on my lap mostly.  It's hard to draw moving people!  Much easier to paint a conker resting in its capsule.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Along the new River Trail today P and I found a cache of gorgeous yellow buckeye nuts, many still in their capsules.  I really enjoy the design of these-- the dehiscent lines on the smooth capsule where a smart squirrel can easily open it by inserting its front teeth into the groove;  the boat-shaped half capsules after the nuts have been removed, with a few immature nuts peeking out from between the papery lining of the inner chamber.  There is some kind of umbilical connection.  The oval spot on the nut matches perfectly the oval spot inside the chamber to which it is apparently connected.  I collected a whole bagful of the empty cases and a few nuts and found two unopened capsules that I opened easily.  Does anybody know if these are edible?

Monday, September 8, 2014


It was so cool and almost dry today!  A cool front has passed over us, and we are happy happy happy, at least I am.  I walked down to the farm to buy a dozen eggs that were probably gathered this morning from happy organic bug-eating chickens.  I walked down the mountain from our backyard (see drawing at top left, which shows roughly where we live), then traversed the hideous path along Warren Wilson Road with its barreling trucks and zooming cars and no shoulder to speak of.  Soon, though , I came to the trail head for the new River Trail, which I followed for about 3/4 of a mile.  The trail went through the golden bamboo grove, where I checked on Owl Man (right side of page), who has, happily,  gotten his leg glued back on at least partially.  Last time I was here he had a sock where his lower leg should be.  He also has his modesty bamboo leaf in place.

I peeled off of the trail when I came to the college sawmill and lumber drying shed;  from there I passed several fields, one of them my absolute favorite field.  This field contains a Chinese Feng Shui feature known as a frolicking green water dragon, and this is a very auspicious landscape feature.  You can see it in the top left drawing-- a ribbon of greener, weedier, denser vegetation whipping through a field of grass and marking the ancient path of the nearby river.  There is still a trickle of water under all the dense vegetation, and it fills when it rains hard.  But the river has moved over the millennia to its present location.  I know all this because I worked on the archaeological site down in this valley for four summers in the 90's.  The water dragon coincides with the lowest elevation on campus, around 2200 ft above sea level.  The water dragon is beautiful and mysterious, and walking along that field always feels lucky.

I reached the main chicken house and yard, next to the farm office, where I went in and bought my honor system eggs, putting my $4 in the coffee can and taking eggs out of the fridge.  Then I continued back toward the trail, passing a little paddock or field or something that had some sheep grazing.  Not only were these sheep close enough to really see, but there was a bench on the overlook.