Saturday, November 30, 2013

Short Nap

I've been working on a print for a show with the theme Books Without Electricity.  Today I sketched the inside pages, which are done, and also what I imagine the cover will look like.  And then Jesse sauntered over and lay down for a nap.

Before I could finish this last one, he stretched and rolled over and took off.  But I really enjoyed nailing his contours, especially that tucked-under front leg and paw.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Big Catch-Up Post

I'll try to keep the writing in this big post to a minimum!  Actually, many of the drawings are labeled.  On this first page are a couple of drawings of landscape patterns from the drive from our house to our friends' house a couple of hours southwest of us.  There was a light snowfall, and it was below freezing  as we set out into the mountains Wednesday morning; so patterns showed clearly, dark shapes against white ground.  When we arrived our friends greeted us with bowls of a spectacularly good soup, the recipe for which is written around the drawing of the bowl.  On the right are some of the deer that gather around Sandy and Lee's house every morning for breakfast.  They silently materialize out of the woods, so quiet, so still, so attentive.  We watched from a window up above, and if we moved even slightly, the deer moved away.

Sandy and Lee have as extensive collection of artifacts and art objects, which I always enjoy sketching when we visit. On the left above are an Innuit doll made of bones and a Balinese container with a carved wooden head.  On the right hand page is a drawing and recipe for Sandy and Lee's son Patrick's dukkah, a roasted seed and nut delicacy that he makes every year and that we all immediately eat on fresh bread dipped in olive oil and then in dukkah.  Fabulous!

 On the left above are three Indonesian jars for ointments, oils, spices.  On the right are a group of small and interestingly made kitchen utensils.

Sandy and I always find time to do artwork together.  This time we drew together while various of the men cooked (a fine arrangement) and also spent some time in her studio where I worked a bit on my big print project, turning the prints into a book, and she showed me her installation, a work-in-process.  Last night after a movie the men made their annual batch of peanut brittle while Sandy and I sketched some cat toys, a pretty bone knife shaped like a fish, and a pair of earrings made for Sandy by a friend.  The earrings were made around a core of cat hair from recently departed Sara, the hair rolled into a ball.  There was something of the elegiac air of Victorian hair jewelry about them, and the earrings were delicate and creepily beautiful.  Sandy pointed out that the fur balls had been constructed from cat hair that had been combed out, not hacked up.

Back home this afternoon, I sketched out designs for a couple of orders that came in today for a small bag and a large laptop and iPad case.  I'm excited to get going on them, especially the laptop case since it involves an interesting innovation.  Patrick ordered it and designed it, and he has really good ideas and is great at articulating what he wants.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

# 1000

My friend Fran showed me a sprouting red onion this rainy morning when I arrived at her house.  Drawing it was a fine way to start the day.  I didn't draw anything else until after dinner tonight, when I grabbed a handful of silverware from the drawer that has odd pieces.  I had thought that I might get to 1000 this week, and I really wanted to finish up this sketchbook with that milestone drawing.  But I had only one double page plus a part of a back page of the book that already had some notes on it.  The silverware seemed like a good choice, all those skinny pieces that could be crowded onto the pages.  The numbering system is mixed up because I numbered as I drew, and I drew as I could fit things in.

So here's the last page of the sketchbook.  There's no real theme here besides most items being long and thin.  #1000, on the other page, is a pretty little green leather pouch in which I keep two Swiss army knives and a whittling knife.  I mainly use these for peeling bark when making paper from bast fiber.  I plan to take a couple of days off from posting since I'll be out of town over Thanksgiving and away from my scanner.  I will keep on drawing, just post everything when I get back in town.  I'm considering posting every couple of days instead of every single day, but keep drawing every day.  Not sure yet.  I am really loving this practice!  Drawing just gets easier and easier.  I highly recommend this.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reading the Rhododendron Leaves

I didn't need the weather channel or a thermometer to tell me the temperature this morning:  at 7:00 I looked outside at the rhododendron plants and saw tightly furled leaves.  The drawing on the left shows what they looked like at 22 degrees F.  To show how this plant changes throughout the day in relation to the temperature, I drew the same twig and leaves at noon, when the temperature had gone up to 33 degrees.  I love things like this!

I spent most of the day printing large woodcuts that will end up in a short edition of books.  These drawings show some of the tools and supplies I have out on my drawing table right now-- thread and needle and old mint tin needle case as well as two tubes of watercolor, lilac and Payne's gray.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Birds, Cat, Fish

This morning the rhododendron leaves outside our bedroom window were curled into drinking straw-sized tubes, a clear indication of below-freezing temperatures.  And then, around 9:00, we experienced our annual descent of birds.  This year it was a cloud of robins that arrived to strip the berry crop from the holly tree and the dogwood tree that sit in the hedgerow behind the house.  Drawing 974 shows an impression of this twittering and happy-sounding feast.  I added drawing 980 (which is an eraser carving that I made yesterday for the big print I'm working on)  to show the arrival of the birds.  An hour after they descended, there was not a red berry on either tree, and the  dissimulation of birds took off as one organism.

Ignoring the birds altogether was Jesse having breakfast out of his china food dish.

Tonight Jesse curled up on a couch near the aquarium and went to sleep while I drew a few of the fish.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vermilion Foods for the Lost

When Jacob was around 6 or 7 years old we used to walk often in the woods, and we would sometimes play a game that we called "What if we were lost---?"  I would say "Suppose we were lost in these woods and had to spend the night here, where could we get water, what would we eat?  Where would we sleep?"  And we would search for ways to gather clean water (eat berries in the summertime,  eat snow in winter, collect dew drops, lick honeysuckle flowers) and find food.  I remember the day Jacob figured out that a pine cone had nuts in it and we could eat that.

Today I collected vermilion things in the woods, and realized that all of them came from plants that we could use for food should we get lost.  The prickly smilax (also called greenbriar as well as deer thorn) at the top left has a tuberous root that has been used in soups and stews and has also been eaten raw.  Below that, the little privet leaf, while not exactly tasty, has many medicinal uses, including being good for healing wounds.  The mystery leaf to the right of the privet is up for grabs, since I have no idea what it is.

On the right is a leaf from an oak tree, which makes acorns,  a rich food source that can be ground up to make a nutritious flour.  Across from the oak leaf at the top of the page is a leaflet from a barberry bush, the berries of which are a good source of vitamin C and can be used to make jam, jelly, juice, and wine.  Beneath the barberry leaves are rose hips.  Some are bigger and better than others, but if you're really hungry, any rose hip will give you a boost of vitamin C.  You can use rose hips in soups, bread, wine, and marmalade.  Euell Gibbons had a recipe for stuffed rose hips which consisted of slicing a large rose hip in half, removing the seeds, and then stuffing the rose hip with a raspberry.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Expressing Chagrin and Woe

I spent a couple of hours on the phone this morning with a computer repair guy who was fixing my printer via remote assistance.  In order to fix the printer, which was working okay as long as I was printing from the computer but which was unable to make a simple copy, the technician had to locate and then re-install the printer drivers.  When he went to do that he noticed how extremely dirty and clogged my computer was, so he first had to clean it.  Then I pointed out that the printer has never been set up as a wireless printer, so he fixed that.  Meanwhile I held on to the phone and typed in various passwords as he told me to.  I decided to draw the way I felt by drawing faces from around the house that seemed to be feeling the way I was feeling-- that doomed and helpless feeling I get when someone is peering into the mysteries of my computer and telling me sadly what's wrong with it, and it is taking a l-o-n-g time.

The object on the top left is a stuffed cloth figure that looks like a gravestone angel, only it's made out of rusty wire, old brown cotton, some kind of black wool, a few tarnished jingle bells, and strips of dirty old lace.  I found it at Eastern Market in D.C. and bought it on the spot.  The artist is unknown.  I love its dazed and resigned look.  Beneath it is a skeptical lizard made of green metal, bought from a street vender in Herculaneum in Italy.  On the top right is a grumbly guy with a monocle made by my son David, who signed it D 2 (D squared), so he must have been around 12 when he made it, going through his D2 phase.  The two ceramic figures are reproductions of Aztec and Olmec figures from various museum stores.  One looks skeptical to me and the other is clearly not happy.  The little figure cut off midway, down at the bottom right, is one that I've had for a long time but don't know where it came from.  It's made of bisque fired white clay, looks outraged:  So how much is this costing??

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Diagram of Dinner

This is a post that almost wasn't.  Very long day, not a chance to draw until I stood in the kitchen fixing something to eat for dinner.  So here it is:  a deconstruction of a very good shrimp pasta primavera-- sort of a visual recipe-- and a half a loaf of pretzel bread and a leek.  That's it for today!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More Things Must Go!

I have  no idea how a set of false fingernails came to live on a shelf in my studio, but it's on its way out tonight.  I must have gotten it for some project, but it doesn't seem to have been used.  The little container of nail epoxy is still in its safety seal (Warning! Keep out of the reach of children!  If ingested induce vomiting! ) and there are literally hundreds of nails, lying together in the sections of the case spoon style, looking like elongated fish scales, each one with a slightly more opaque forenail that curls slightly downward like a -- well, like a claw.
 And then there are the two cunning little funnels, too tiny for any purpose, with slender throats,   Why do we have these things in a kitchen drawer?  No one can remember where they came from or why we have them.  They look like they maybe came free with something and were made for a very specific purpose, such as for slipping homeopathic remedies into tiny glass bottles?

In the same drawer as the funnels I found a black plastic oval that could lock and unlock.  Again, no discernible function. On the right side of the page at the top is a useless candle that I've had on a studio shelf for a long time.  I think I used it once to drip red wax onto a voodoo doll, but the wick is too short to light now and the wax has caved in, covering even the little stump.

Another mystery item, this time from the funnel drawer, is this white plastic thing.  It must be something that could be used to drain something, but surely not the sink.  It has a hole in the top so you could hang it up, and a little cup-like part that makes me think of an egg poaching thing, but could you poach eggs with all those holes?

Tonight's final item is a drinking jar about 1/6 filled with dessicated gum Arabic.  It has a label saying gum Arabic, and a wide piece of tape holding the lid on since it doesn't have a screw top.  The gum Arabic is hopelessly dried out and hardened, but I've held onto it with the idea of maybe melting it and using it.  Hopeless, and out it goes in the Miscellaneous bag on the curb tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Out With the Old!

So last night at Journal Group, Allison told us about a practice she's trying out for the next month:  every day she goes through her house and selects one object to get rid of.  To help her let go of the object, she draws it and writes about it in a notebook.  I especially loved her drawing and story about her ancient and beloved bedroom slippers that she had worn an actual hole in the sole of.  Alison's practice reminded me of one that another friend, Ann Turkle, wrote about in Real Life Journals (a.k.a. Journal Your Way).  She has a journal devoted to drawings and writings about pieces of furniture and other heirlooms that she needed to get rid of for lack of space.  Having the journal allowed her to maintain something of the family stories that the objects reminded her of.

Well, I decided that today's drawings would be six things that I need to get rid of AND that I will put out on the curb for recycling or composting or whatever the recycling crew wants to do with them THIS THURSDAY.  It was easy to select the winners:  three handbags and three pairs of shoes, most  of which I have not used even once in the past three or four years;  yet I've held on to them for various lame reasons.

At the top of the left page is a knitted bag that I bought in Ireland at a sweet little handicraft center in 2003 or 4.  It's a pretty bag, but the first time I used it, for extra luggage on my return trip from Ireland, I discovered its fatal flaw:  its strap grows slowly but alarmingly when weight is put into the bag.  Walking with it through the airport I began to realize it was slapping against my knees and then my calves.  I tried knotting the knitted strap to no avail.  It has an amazing capacity to stretch and grow.  Since then it has hung empty in my closet, just in case I discover a way to shrink the strap back to its original length and keep it that way.

Below the growing bag is a small orange Tombow bag that I used to really like.  Then I somehow needed something slightly bigger, but the orange bag was still good; so I saved it in case I ever decided to stop carrying a large phone and a sketchbook around with me. In last summer's dampness it grew such a fuzz of mildew that it would be a major effort to clean it;  and I still need something bigger.

At top right is a beautiful caramel colored leather bag that I bought in the little town of Fabro in Italy about six Novembers ago.  I loved it for its leather, but the shape was awkward, and it soon joined the other unused bags in the closet.  I held onto it because I had paid so much for it, and I kept hoping it might suddenly seem to be exactly what I wanted;  but it never has done that.

At bottom right is a very old pair of cinnamon-colored suede Naots.  I loved them when I bought them, but they never were as comfortable as I wanted them to be; so they were always second-string shoes.  And now they're fifth string, so out they are going, pretty color and all!

Here are two more pairs of shoes.  The sandals at the top are light orange Earth shoes.  I thought they looked good, and I believed that they would soften up and feel good after I wore them around a bit.  But they never did soften up and so they have spent most of their long life in the closet.  And at the bottom are my trusty barefoot shoes, Merrells, with their little toe pads, that feel so wonderful and feather-weight, hardly like shoes at all.  I've worn them out, summer and winter, for hiking and around town and going out to eat and working.  They have popped stitches and a great deal of mould and dirt worn into them.  They actually deserve a burial with full honors.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Moon, Mushrooms, and More

I opened the front door at 6:00 this morning to call Jesse (we pretend that he comes when called;  really he decides whether or not to avail himself of the opportunity to scoot inside) and saw such a gorgeous sky that I drew it right there on the spot.  This moon is called the Return of Little Cold Moon by some Native American groups,  Full Beaver Moon by others, and it was full last night.  This morning a few clouds were around it in the west as it started to set.  Beautiful Mercury was shining nearby.

Later in the morning I set out on a longish hike with my friend Annie.  We started out at around 2800 feet near a sign that said Eastern Continental Divide.  The trail went slowly and steadily up and up and up through rhododendron and oak and ash and pine forest.  We met some neighbors of Annie near the top, which they told us was 3500 feet.  At the top the trail ended at some large flat stones that made a good overlook, and about ten feet behind the stones the wind began to blow like a mistral, icy cold and fierce.  Step back ten feet and it was calm;  step up ten feet and it was like a different day.

We decided to draw, so we backed up around 20 feet, out of the wind zone, and found a relatively comfortable log to sit on; and we drew the woody polyphores that were on every tree trunk and log.  I know very little about these things, but I can look up things in my mushroom field guide, and I would guess the ones in drawing 937 are crowded parchment or Stereum complicatum, the most common of the Stereum.  Drawing 958 might be a kind of oyster mushroom, but I wouldn't take my word for it!

In the evening I went to my journal group gathering, and drawings 939 - 942 are from that.  We met at a member's wonderful house, and I drew a few of her many artifacts as well as a portfolio of paper hand-beaten from local fibers including okra, mulberry, slippery elm, and Japanese knotweed.  Maria (drawing 939) grew several varieties of okra this summer and was in the group that made the paper, much of it from her okra.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


It was a lazy rainy Sunday morning.  Jesse came in early after a night out and was so deeply sleeping that I drew him twice before he moved.  I let the pen swing in lazy swopes to reflect Jesse's relaxed state and the general feel of the day.

While I was drawing Jesse, P alerted me to a pitying of doves out in the street, lazily pecking tree seeds from the damp surface of the road.  We usually see the doves sitting up on a wire, no more than one or two at a time.  Today's congregation called for the proper term of venery:  a pitying of doves.  I was looking up the name for a collection of doves when I came across an explanation of what are called terms of venery.  These are hunting terms from the Middle Ages.  It was a kind of playful intellectual game for people at a hunt to use the appropriate term for various groups of animals, and the terms had been developed to reflect the emotional characteristics of the groups.  The word venery comes from the Middle English venerie, which comes from the Middle French venerie, which comes from the Latin venor, meaning to hunt.

A little later I saw a dissimulation or flocking of birds-- those wonderful groups of birds that swoop and twist and turn like a single organism.  I want to use a group of birds in the print I'm working on, so I drew a couple of versions of the flocking.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


There's a pretty ceramic bowl in our house that holds shells, rocks, pottery shards, and even a few fossils, all collected through the years on family beach trips.  I doubt that the bowl has ever been emptied.  The top was furred with dust, so this morning I began to take the objects out to wash them.  The top layer was mostly seashells, but there were several broken pottery pieces, glazed red clay.  I remembered collecting these a few years ago from a small volcanic lake in Italy, Lago Bolsena, where the water was icy blue and the surface of the lake shivered every now and then, sending ripples toward the shore, which tumbled small pieces of broken pottery. (drawings 928 and 929).

Below the pottery was a collection of small seashells, the kind that we collected after we moved to North Carolina and started going to ocean beaches.  There was a small but perfect wentletrap (drawing 916), a shark's tooth (drawing 917, what I think we called an auger shell (918), a sunset tellin (919), and a broken but still pretty lightning whelk (920). We collected shells every day, saving them in egg crates and arranging along windowsills of the cabin.  Sometimes we held shell contests, and always we hauled home bags and bags of shells.  Drawing 921 is a very fine baby's fingernail shell (I think we made up this name), and drawings 922 and 923 are both jingle shells, those pearly gray and sometimes gold shells that made good wind chimes.  Drawing 924 is a scallop shell, small but perfect.  Drawing 925 is a kitten's paw, 926 , which we thought looked like a bed pan, was a baby's ear shell, and 927 was a large slipper shell, certainly a prize winner for its size.

The top drawings on this page are all of objects collected at Lake Michigan.  These were in the lowest level- the oldest- of the bowl, and they date from the early and mid 1980s when we went to South Haven every summer.  Because Lake Michigan is a fresh water lake, it doesn't have sea creatures that make shells like those from Atlantic beaches.  We collected many small flat black stones prized for their perfect ovalness or roundness, their smoothness, and their usefulness as board game pieces.  We also found beach glass in jewel colors, worn to a satiny matte finish.  The rarest colors-- purples and occasional deep blues-- were the prize winners.  But the most amazing finds were the crinoids and blastoids that we found, fossilized plant parts  from prehistoric times.  Drawings 909 and 915 show a fossil snail shell and a rather large plant stem. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

#900 plus on Friday Morning

Drawing 900 turned out to be Frank's apple with one bite out of it, at my critique group meeting this morning.  I gave it a shadow in honor of its lucky number.  The rest of the drawings are of objects around our table, plus one done later at City Bakery.  So the common thread would be Friday morning I guess.  To the right of the first drawing of Frank's apple is Margaret's tiny journal, wrapped in a leather strap.  Below the first apple, the apple after a little while.  To the right  is Clara's journal opened and ready while we were talking about her project.  And then at the bottom, phase three of the apple.  At the top of the right hand page is the final phase of the apple, and to the right of it is Michelle's little black leather purse.  Below Michelle's purse is Laura's lovely scarf, drawn the way it draped around her neck but without her. 

After the meeting I went to grab lunch at City Bakery, where I saw that the newest flavor of cake pops is S'More!.  The cake has been dipped in chocolate and then rolled in graham cracker crumbs.  Maybe there's a marshmallow in the center?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quick Post

Not much to report today.  The drawings on the left page were done while waiting to be served at a Thai restaurant downtown, and then the one on the right was done at our parking place afterwards.  At top left is a drawing of the best tasting and smelling jasmine green tea ever.  Look for Stassen brand if you like jasmine green!  In the middle are some pretty ceramic jars on a shelf in the bar area of the restaurant, and below them is a plastiky-rubbery gray tray with rolled silverware stored in it.

When we got back to the car after dinner we sat for a little while so I could draw a really lovely sculpture that was hanging in the window of the Black Mountain College Museum -- a wooden piece by Robert Bliss titled Cradle for a Young Viking Queen, made in 1989.  SOrry, but we'll have to wait for tomorrow for number 900!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Leaf Scars and Other Intriguing Items from the Frozen Woods

It was far too cold in the woods this evening to crouch down and peer closely at the skeletal remains of summer.  So I grabbed a handful of the most interesting things I could find and drew them at home in the good warm kitchen. At the top are two drawings of a very small bean pod, two perfectly spaced round black seeds, very cozy as two peas in a pod, delicate as baby fingernails.  In the middle are two views of what I think is the skeleton of a daylily pod.  It looks like a finely woven basket and encloses a single black seed.  Possibly there were other seeds that have fallen out of this cage.  At the bottom is a sketch of a twisting vine that has dry little buds at intervals, alternating sides of the stem.  This vine was twirled around a fat twig that had another, finer vine springing off of it.  The twig has very large shield-shaped leaf scars.  Drawing 892 shows an enlargement of one of these.

Dominating this page is a papery hosta leaf with its veins raised and some small holes.  The veins merge at the stem end in a perfect twirling motion. Drawing 895 is a small piece of a bittersweet vine with its tri-part yellow pod popped open revealing the red berry.  The red smears on the page are from the berries-- a nice color, but it fades to a yellow quickly.

More leaf scars are in drawing 894.  I took a nature study course as an undergraduate and learned that trees in winter could be identified by their leaf scars!  Did you know that?  I made a dichotomous key to use in identifying winter trees by these curious shield-shaped scars that are left when leaves fall off of branches.  The bud of next season's leaf is a little bump just above the scar.  I suspect this twig is from a red maple tree, based on the information at the following url.    Go to to learn more than you really want to know about identifying trees by their leaf scars!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Sampling from the Toy Shelf

When my brothers and I visited our grandparents, there were no toy shelves set aside for our amusement and perusal.  This is not to say that there wasn't anything to play with at their houses;  there just were no toys.  At one of the grandparents' houses we very much enjoyed playing with the automatic card shuffler.  That same house also had an astonishing collection of National Geographic magazines, and no one ever paid attention to the fact that we went straight to the naked people issues every week and studied them with amazement.  Our grandfather kept us supplied with yellow number 2 pencils and Dun & Bradstreet letterhead, and our grandmother allowed me to play unattended in her Avon closet.  She was an Avon lady and had a walk-in closet filled with Avon, including wee sample lipsticks that she gave to me while making me promise to not tell my mother.

At our house we have several toy shelves full of modest toys that have served well for the past 14 years with very little replenishment.  On this page at the top is the frog beanbag, not really a suitable toy for an infant (something dangerous about the tiny beans inside it and its non-washable skin), but nevertheless very much enjoyed by the youngest babies.  Below the frog on the left is one of several plastic snakes.  These snakes have served as princesses, sea monsters, spaghetti, and many other characters in games through the years.  On the right is what's left of the Matrushka doll that P. and I bought in Prague long before there were babies on the scene again.  As soon as Jacob could sit up he appropriated it, and it has always been a favorite. 

On this page are one of the rubbery dinosaurs that have been made to do battle with each other, march in parades, spend the night with the other friendly dinosaurs, and wear doll clothes on occasion.  It is peeking into the Vermints tin of tiny treasures.  All of the kids have loved digging through tins of buttons, beads, sea shells, broken jewelry.  One year we sent Luca a dozen tins filled with tiny things, so great was his love of treasure tins.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cheers and Grrrrrrrs

My little Meyer lemon tree struggles away especially during the winter and late fall when it has to live indoors.  But this morning I was surprised to see that, in spite of being covered with way more than a spattering of scale now, it is putting forth a single sweet-smelling white blossom.  I gave it an indoor bath with Safer soap, and crusts of scale peeled away from its stems where I had not even realized it had any.  I'm tempted to plant it in the ground outside in the spring and just build a tent around it next fall as we do for the figs and lemongrass and over-wintering kale and Swiss chard..

Much later I went stomping around the house selecting objects that expressed the giant GRRRRRR that I'm feeling right now after several trying events.  It felt satisfying to draw these guys:  the little reproduction Minoan snake goddess with what I hope are copperheads in her fists and a fierce frown on her face;  the tempter- tantrum-throwing plastic baby from a long-ago King Cake;  the put-upon and grimacing frog candle holder with his load of melted wax ready to dump on somebody's irritating head;  the howling growling bisque-fired ceramic chicken that lurks in a dark corner of my studio.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Badling of Ducks, A Cliff of Cordwood?

We went walking at Lake Louise today, and so I'm continuing along the roll I started yesterday:  groups.  I sketched the eternally moving ducks at the lake, some in the water, which I learned were called a paddling of ducks, and some on land, called a badling of ducks.

As we walked along one of the streets adjacent to the park, a corps of geese came waddling over, crossing a lawn and continuing on into the park.  I know geese are called a gaggle of geese, but according to the Almighty Guru they are also called a corps of geese.

I was a passenger in the back seat of a car on the way to the restaurant, and so I was free to look and draw as we traveled along.  And what luck!  About a mile down the road from the park on the left was the largest pile of cordwood I've ever seen.  I can't figure out how anyone was able to pile so much wood up so high.  The stack was as tall as a two story building,  perfectly stacked, and a medium-sized tree was growing out of the center of the peninsula that seemed to be made of earth surrounded by a cliff of cordwood.  It looked like a ziggurat or a Mayan stepped pyramid.  Amazing.  My son David told me that's the yard where they buy their firewood.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Murder of Crows, A Mischief of Mice!

We woke up this morning to the screams of dozens of crows on our front lawn.  I jumped out of bed and grabbed my sketchbook, stood at the bedroom window and drew gesture drawings.  I love it when the crows descend for one of their noisy, busy conventions.  As I was sketching I remembered that the name for a big group of crows is a "murder of crows."  What could be better?  I decided that today's drawings would be of large groups of animals or birds or insects.  I found one of the websites that lists these fanciful names ( and copied down some of the ones I was most likely to see today.

Right away I went to my back studio, where the day before there had been a small army of ants making their way across the door sill that separates one studio from the other.  I could already see it, the marching ants, stopping to salute each other when they meet on the chemical trail-- I had been watching them yesterday and noticed how they pause when they encounter another one.  But this morning there wasn't a trace of the army.  Well, this is probably the first time ever that I've been disappointed not to find ants in the house;  so I put down my pen and went over to mist the olive  and lemon trees that are pouting in their winter quarters over in a somewhat sunny corner.  And then I noticed a spattering of scale on the lemon tree!  Not a very mobile insect, but an insect nonetheless.  It's not on the list, so I had to make up a name for the group, and I think "spattering" sounds about right.

For my third group of animals I have chosen a mischief of mice, actually Jesse's toy mousies;  but thanks to Jesse, these are the only mice around our house.  The little one down in the front without a tail is his Old Favorite, his Velveteen Rabbit of mousies.  But lately he has actually been sleeping with Big Gray in the center.  The others live on the floor in various rooms, get lost under closet doors, and are corralled each month when our cleaner comes and puts all to rights.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Topiaries Gone Rogue

But first, on the left, the exact same scene as last night's evening view of across-the-street, only this is how it looks at 8:00 on a sunny morning.  The walkers are different, too.  This time it's Kathe and Trina on their morning walk, facing the early sun.

Now for the topiaries, and I promise to drop this subject after tonight!  I've been on the lookout for topiaries that are in need of haircuts since Mary mentioned the ones at Ellen and Bill's the other night.  I sketched these while at two different red lights today.  They were all from the roadside tree lawns of Ingles supermarket and a McDonald's and a Shell station,  within a few blocks of each other along Highway 70 in East Asheville.  The two at the top were like bonzai topiaries, thin and wee, in front of Ingles.  The middle row collection is a bunch of McMuffins going wild.  The center one is starting to look like it might grow up to be a giant cake pop, with that stick-like branch taking off.  The Shell station had nice geometric designs, one a perfect rectangle.  We had a warmish rain a few days ago in between cold days.  Maybe that started them sprouting, and the landscapers are on winter schedule now. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Evening and an Array of Re-gifts

Standing on the front doorway around 5:30 this evening, preparing to go out into the chilly evening for a walk, I was stopped short by the crisp, clear horizon on top of the mountain across the street. I stood there for a long time drawing the dark bulk of the wooded mountainside with a sickle moon rising near some clouds and the pure violet sky.  Our neighbor came walking past tugging his dog after him.  Jesse was in a wild mood, racing up and down the yard, finally landing on the edge of the sloping yard across the street that leads down to the woods.

After a quick, cold walk, I was happy to sit at the dining room table and draw the funky little collection of objects that live on a small table made by my dad.  All the objects on this page are things that were given away as gifts,  and then returned to the giver as a gift, an interesting cycle.  At the top left, a pair of salt and pepper hens, glazed ceramic, circa 1957, bought by me at Sutton's  Fairyland on Canal Street in New Orleans and given to my mother for Christmas.  Twenty years later my mom gave the same set of chickens, now slightly chipped in the beak areas, to my son David, then 7 years old.  He gave them back to me as a Christmas present shortly afterwards.  

Below the chickens is a tin rabbit, given by the Easter Bunny to our son Michael when he was very young, and given by Michael to the family collection of little tin wind-up toys when he grew up.  It still jumps around for a few hops when someone sticks the key in its tail, but its ears, which were plastic, are long gone.

At top right is a ceramic bunny who stands on his head while holding a carrot in his mouth.  Our son Erik flew alone to visit my mom when he was around 9 years old, and my mom bought him this bunny to bring back to me as a souvenir.  At the time, Erik was really good at standing on his head, and so this bunny had special significance. 

The bottom right figure is a plaster of Paris gnome that I made and painted when I was around 5 years old.  Someone had given me a plaster of Paris casting kit.  I clearly remember the red rubber mold into which I spooned the wet plaster.  The plaster got warm as it cured, and my dad, who was helping me, explained that the dry plaster and water gave off heat when they were mixed together.  I painted the gnome with watercolors that came with the kit, and I remember thinking it looked really good.    I gave the gnome to my mom, and she kept it in her curio cabinet for the rest of her life.  When she died a few years ago at 93, she left the gnome to me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Urban Topiaries

I've never had the slightest interest in topiary until I wandered into a small cemetery one evening last May in the tiny village of Goult in the south of France.  The drawing above is a pen and watercolor sketch that I made of two of the trees.  What made these topiaries spectacular and eerie and unsettling and wonderful was the scale of them:  when I walked under these two trees I was a good three feet shorter than the lowest foliage.  There were dozens of them throughout the cemetery, lining the alleys, punctuating the rows of tombs, pressed up against the walls.  I asked a woman who was putting flowers on a grave who was responsible for them, and she said they had been made in the early 20th century and kept up all this time by people in the village.

When I came back home I began to notice, of all things, topiaries in Asheville.  For a few weeks I sought them out, then lost interest.  Nothing here came near to the craziness of those French topiaries.

Then this afternoon I was idling at a long red light in north Asheville and looking around to check out what was new and interesting, and I spied a topiary!  In the upper left of the left hand page, is a drawing of a tree perched outside of a little roadside antiques store.  It is a rather large, not quite symmetrical, rather flat-iron-shaped topiary!  I pulled over into the parking lot of a shop and quickly sketched it.  As I continued down the road I saw more and more topiaries.  Most bordered on the murky line between trimmed bushes and true topiaries, but many seemed to me to all be topiaries (which I am defining as trees and bushes shaped with some kind of expressive intention). At every red light (and there are many, and for once I was happy to catch them all) I found either a topiary or something really close to one.   There were twin towers, about 5 feet tall, on the edge of the parking lot of a drive-in burrito place.  The McDonald's had muffin-shaped bushes, perfectly carved and lining the parking area.  A lawyer's office had a nice collection along the brick front of the building.  These were of geometric shapes that incorporated the mailbox.

Gas stations seemed to be good sites for topiaries.  Some imaginative person with a hedge trimmer had made a double decker split level something out in front of a Shell station.  There was a pair of breasts in front of a small framing gallery.  And a funeral home had a line of shot glasses.  Or maybe they were urns.   I drew really fast, kept my notebook and pen opened on the seat next to me, and as soon as I pulled up to the light I sketched in the barest outlines of the shapes of the topiaries.  I filled in the textures later at home.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

More Fall Drawings

Today's drawings are more seed pods, drying plants, and the first fire in our livingroom fireplace after P's summer spent up on the roof cleaning ivy out of the chimney.  At top left is a very large flower on a draecena plant in the waiting room of the Chinese acupuncture clinic.  These plants are supposed to be good at cleaning toxins out of the air.  This one was thriving on whatever it was finding!  AT the bottom are two views of a Japanese lantern plant seed pod.  The flower is tissue paper thin, bleached pale ochre by now (it was orange in the summer), and it encloses loosely a fat brown seed pod.  I peeled a little hole in one of the pods, thinking it was a big round seed like a Japanese plum pit.  To my surprise it was a papery skin enclosing many. many tiny seeds.

On the left on this page is a hank of dried lemongrass from the front garden.  It smells wonderful, lemony, and promises many cups of lemongrass tea.  And on the right, the fire.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Drawing with Knives

Today's drawings were all done with wood carving tools-- knives, gouges, and one hard-working tiny veiner.  I'm working on a large block (8 " x 36") for a book for an art exhibit in Barcelona in April.  The intriguing topic of the exhibition is "Blackout Books" or "Books Without Electricity."  Needless to say, all the artwork has to be made without the use of electricity;  but also the concept of the book might deal with any number of ideas springing from the topic.  I'm fascinated by the history of how people lived their lives without electric lights and other high-speed technologies that interrupted their natural diurnal rhythms.  My idea for the book is to show what some studies show were natural rhythms of sleep and wakefulness during the dark hours of the day.  Arching over everything is the Egyptian goddess of the night, Nut [Noot}, who was believed to swallow the sun and heavenly bodies at twilight and then give birth to the sun each morning at dawn. 

To see this whole piece you should swipe across.  This is a rubbing made from the carved block.  The colors are nothing like what they will be in the finished piece.  I will do more carving, too.  This first rubbing is to show what needs more work.  I spent so many hours carving this week, and today I articulated all of the figures, so I counted all those knife drawings as part of the 10,000. I'm curious to see how this comes out in the blog, whether or not you can see the whole thing.  In the preview it all showed at once, but it covers part of the page not normally covered by an image. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Yellow Ochre for Fall Back

Yellow ochre comes from clay that is rich in iron oxide.  It abounds around here, not as prevalent as orange and red ochre, but easy to find nonetheless.   On this completely golden Sunday when daylight savings time ended and we flipped into whatever the other kind of time is called, yellow ochre seemed to be the color of the day.

This morning Jacob, my 14 year old grandson, came over to earn a little money doing garden and lawn work.  While I cleaned a garden and cut back the lemongrass that Jesse considers his garden house  (drawing 811),  Jacob raked pine straw to make winter covers for three little fig trees.  He also dug up and  moved one of these trees to what we hope will be a better spot for it, and then he mowed the backyard AND cleaned the front porch and re-stacked the dregs of the woodpile.

Drawing 812 is a the bell that Jacob and I had on our table at Dobra after we finished working.  At Dobra you get a bell to use to summon a waiter when you need to order.  We ordered our usual:  two bubble teas made with rooibos  tea and sunflower seed milk and Vietnamese bubbles made of tapioca starch;  goat cheese and pita with olives and tomato slices; and pita with hummus and carrots, celery, and cucumbers; and one large chocolate chip cookie.

Later at home P. and I sat on the porch and watched Jesse who sat surveying the field across the street as the sun came through the trees in the woods beyond it.  Then I drew two of Jacob's winter huts for fig trees.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Souls in Purgatory

The day after the day after Halloween wasn't a school holiday.  It was a day when we had what we thought of as a serious job to do.  The nuns explained to us every year that each time we went into the church on November 2 and said certain prayers, we would be able to give the soul for which we prayed a free pass out of Purgatory.  We had to leave the church after each round of prayers and re-enter in order to free another soul.  Even though we didn't know which souls we were freeing, I can remember thinking this was a good way to win a friend for eternity who would then pray my soul out of Purgatory.  We spent our entire recess zipping in and out of the church earning those free passes. 

I did this drawing (with its purgatorial caput mortuum background) from memory.  Every time I go to the gym I see the bank of treadmill walkers and joggers and it makes me think of souls in Purgatory doing their penances until their magic numbers (or a lucky free pass) come up.