Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Catch- Up Post, But Not So Big

It was a wonderful trip in every possible way.  Being part of the fantastic ILDE artist's book festival meant getting to know people  and working alongside them as well as playing with them, going to dinner together in restaurants that opened at 9 PM and that expected diners to linger until past  midnight.  Living in our little apartment meant feeling like we were part of a neighborhood-- shopping for food in tiny stores that were in the little alleys that made up our area as well as in astonishing Catarina Market and Bouqueria Market, putting out the garbage, walking everywhere, getting to know on some level the neighbor who seemed to never be able to dry her duvet cover and also the cat who climbed out onto the roof garden next door.

I drew so much, mostly in museums, but also in restaurants and along the street.  By Sunday evening I had amassed 100 new drawings.  And then, while we were sitting at dinner in a small restaurant with two friends, someone slipped into the nearly-empty room (while we were distracted by the waiter arriving at the table with a paella made with black squid-ink rice) and deftly removing my handbag without any of us noticing.  In that bag was my sketchbook.  In fact, I had just shown it to one of our friends at the table and had slipped it back into my bag shortly before the waiter arrived.  An hour later I noticed the bag was gone, along with my sketchbook, phone, passport, credit cards, cash, a map, and my prescription sunglasses.

So this first drawing shows the cashier window at the American embassy in Barcelona, where I spent Monday morning getting a replacement passport.  (I had brought along a second empty sketchbook in case I used up the first one.)
On Monday afternoon, after a trip to the local police station where I filed an accident report,  I sketched the alley/street near our apartment where one of our favorite restaurants-- El Bitxo-- is located.  This was such a typical back street.  On the right is an arrangement of fruit and candies from a counter top at El Bitxo. 
I had always intended to sketch the rooftops visible from our apartment window but never had gotten around to it.  On Monday afternoon I sat down on the floor in the living room and drew both the rooftops and then a detail of a neighbor's clothesline and back balcony.
Along the streets of Barcelona there are occasional enormous woven plastic refuse bags filled with construction debris-- old bricks and plaster, broken lath, etc.  They have four webbing loops, one at each corner, and can be lifted up into a truck for hauling off.  I really coveted one because they have text printed on them saying that they are for use by the city ONLY and telling the manufacturer of the bags.  I could easily imagine a market bag made out of part of one.  The things are strong enough to hold cement blocks so they should be perfect for upcycling into market and carry-on bags.  I was asking around at the festival on 23 April.  No one knew how to get ahold of one, but a woman named Annie told me she had something like that at home.  The next day she brought me a beautiful woven plastic Ikea shopping bag.  It's big enough to hold the carry-on bag I brought along.  I ended up using it to haul all my extra carry on baggage home in.  And it's a nice turquoise color with two sizes of handles/straps on each side.

On the right are a bunch of ideas for a pick-pocket-proof bag!  I learned a lot after losing all my essentials.  Mainly I realized how dumb I was to carry everything in one place.  I loved my little sheep bag, but next time I'll keep my money and cards and passport in different pockets of my clothing and use the handbag for sketchbook and pens and maps and phone.  I won't carry all my cards or my passport, but will leave passport and all but one of the cards at home/hotel/apartment. And I'll shorten the bag strap so it's easy to keep in my lap when I'm sitting down.
Monday night dinner was at Catarina Market, which serves dinner in the evenings.  This drawing was in honor of all the lost food drawings.  At the top is a vegetable tempura and below it a gorgeous bowl of mussels.  On the right is a memory drawing of us in the little warmly-lit restaurant on the seashore in the huge dark night-- while the thief watched for the perfect moment to slip in and out.
A nice amenity of the Barcelona airport is the view of the Mediterranean from some of the gates.  From our gate we could see the sea as well as a house on top of a hill overlooking the sea, with umbrella pines at the base of the hill.  I then drew airport faces in honor of the many face drawings that got away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Packing Light, Sort Of

My dream is to travel with nothing except what I can fit in my pockets and layer onto my back.  In reality I generally do manage to keep it to two carry on bags.  But those two bags often become shoulder separators when I'm racing through an airport carrying them cross-body and slung by straps. 

This trip to Barcelona involves some tricky packing.  For one thing, it's spring, and I know that today's warm weather can snap into chilly windy and drenching rain in a flash.  So layers are important as well as a few sweaters and socks.  Most difficult for light packing is the need to bring along supplies for teaching a workshop as well as books to exhibit and possibly sell, and a wallet for someone who ordered it, plus a couple of extras.  I am hoping this bag will be empty when I pack to go home, and I can fill it with things I've acquired while there!
 My process was to lay out everything I would have liked to be able to bring and draw these things on the same page as the bag they would have to fit in.  The top page here is the contents of a medium-sized heavy duty but very light market bag that F made.  I chose it for the books and art-related things because it's less floppy than the messenger bag and offers better protection for fragile objects. 

In the process of drawing, I curated out about a third of the duplicates, thus reducing the weight considerably.  Drawing made me think several times about whether I needed clothing choices or easy travel.  I definitely needed to be free of the aggravation of bag checking/loss, especially on a three-legged flight.

The second page shows my everyday bag, which I will tuck into the big orange market bag for boarding the plane.  This bag will carry two sketchbooks, pens, one waterbrush, a wallet with my credit cards and debit cards, my passport, sunglasses, two boxes of gum, my phone, and a few blank checks.
 Page three is the messenger bag, canvas, unconstructed, floppy, velcro closing, very malleable and pillowy.  It also seems to expand forever.  The only challenge is keeping it light enough to haul through three airports.  I first packed the scrubba  so that we can wash our laundry quickly and remove the water in the special lightweight but very absorbent towel.  Also down on the bottom is an extra pair of shoes, super comfortable, great for everything shoes.  Then I pared down the clothing to 2 pairs of jeans;  3 pairs of underwear; 1 bra; 2 pairs of socks; 4 tee shirts ; two light sweaters; a hairbrush; a small canvas bag of toiletries and the quart bag of liquids-- shampoo, etc.  I am also slipping in one of the heaviest books to even out the weight of the two bags.
The rest I will wear, no matter how warm it is tomorrow.  A tank top, underwear, tee shirt, sweater, jeans, socks, and the heavier of the two pairs of shoes.

I may or may not post over the next two weeks, but in either case I'll be drawing every day and will do catch-ups when we get home.  If I can get good photographs with P's iPad I can post from there.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A New View of Owl Man, More News from the River Trail, and a Surprise Neighbor

Back we went to the new River Trail today, this time with P's sister in tow.  G is visiting from New England and so we wanted to show her this wonderful trail.  We took a side trip through part of the college organic garden where we saw asparagus shoots emerging in a straight line, perfectly evenly spaced, some purple and some green.

Nearby a flock of hens were ranging somewhat freely in the front yard of their large coop.
There was a new art piece in the river, a few feet out from a rocky beach.  This was a traditional cairn, very well-done and especially interesting because of its island status.  It was very close to the golden bamboo grove.  Today I studied the roots and runners of the bamboo.  This must be one of the kinds of bamboo that proliferates and take over the neighboring fields if not contained by underground concrete walls.  Runners looped up at the base of some of the stalks,  and even cut-down stalks often had runners springing out from them.  The newer stalks are light pea green, and the older ones are golden with a few light green stripes.
Owl man was sitting looking out over the river, still wearing his single sock.  I drew him and some of his owl disciples from the rear today, framed by two enormous stalks that looked like columns of a portico overlooking the Aegean Sea or something.

On the right is a white-flowered plant that I know now is NOT nettle.
When P and I drove home a couple of hours later, to our surprise a young bear was loitering in our across-the-street neighbor's front yard.  It seemed unperturbed by us.  We stopped the car to take pictures and look, and the bear stepped out a few yards in front of our car and proceeded to lead us down the block.  We drove very slowly.  The bear walked straight down the middle of the block, and then turned a sharp right into our next door neighbor's drive and headed up onto the deck where bird feeders hang during the daytime.  We drive into our driveway and got out of our car as the bear trotted back down the neighbor's drive and back into the street.  A few  minutes later our 80-something year old neighbor called to say a young bear had been on their deck and they had chased it off.  "We need to renew our bear horns" she told me, and I guess we do.  I haven't seen a bear on our block or on the mountain at the end of the block in several years, and I have let my air horn run down;  but I guess this year we'll need our horns if we're going to be sharing space with bears. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Golden Grove Man Acquires a Sock, and Other Wonders of the New River Trail

 Look what the owl man has gotten!  Someone has carefully pulled a striped sock over his foot, and (maybe) the same person has strategically placed a golden leaf in his lap.

P and I walked the New River Trail (so-named many years ago when it was first cleared to distinguish it from the original river trail) all the way to its ens, then looped around the farm fields and back through the college vegetable and herb gardens to the golden grove and back home.  Gorgeous late afternoon sunset, birds calling, sweet smelling breeze every now and then.
A little past the grove of giant bamboo is a small bird hide overlooking a wetlands pond.  We crouched inside it for a few minutes and spotted this turtle catching the last sunlight from its place on a log.
 Here's another bird hide further along the trail.  We didn't go inside this one but it looks out at the same pond only from a westerly-facing angle.  And on the right is what we think was a chainsaw training practice log.  The students manage the forest on campus, and there is a student crew called the chainsaw crew who clear fallen trees and trim other trees.  This log was wedged into an upright position inside an enormous stump.  Angled cuts were made wherever a side branch had come out.
 Down the road a bit (we were off the trail and on the farm road by now) we saw many mamas and babies.  One of these mamas was stretched out with her chin on the ground dozing while her white-faced baby looked around.
We also saw very wooly sheep in a fenced pasture with the milk cow.  There were some lambs too, but none as astonishingly wooly as these.

When we got home I drew the yellow celendine that's blooming in our front garden.  The yellow color on the drawing is sap from the plant.  I first learned what this plant was at the medieval garden at the Cloisters in Manhattan.  Yellow celendine sap was used as a golden paint in Medieval manuscripts when the budget wasn't big enough to afford gold leaf!  I searched and searched for it when I got back home.  I could never find it in the woods or fields.  Then one day I realized it was growing in one of our gardens.  I had bought it as Celendine Poppy, but it's the same plant!

Friday, April 11, 2014

More Deep Mysteries in the Woods

 My friend M, the finder of the shelter and the rock people, also put me on the trail of two little clay owls.  I was halfway into a drawing today before I realized I was drawing the owls and not the sculpture I thought I was drawing.  The sculpture shown here is small, around 15 " high and approximately the same width.  I at first thought it was a small-headed man sitting in a chair with little heads clustered around his shoulders.  I thought the owls must be somewhere nearby in the woods.  Then my friend (not M) said "These are owls" and so they were!  M had photographed only two of the really tiny owls, and I had been expecting to find two clay owls only.  It just shows how expecting to see something changes what we see.  When I spotted the man in the chair, I immediately thought it was NOT the owls.
 Here is one of the little owls, drawn about actual size.  The sculpture is down on the forest floor of a golden grove of large bamboo.  It rests in a drift of golden leaves.

On the right side of this page is a mysterious leaf that P and I always wonder about.  It never seems to have flowers or stem, and it stays green all winter long.  It always looks strangely dry and unalive.  Today I was looking up Mountain Laurel for my friend A. when we were on the River Trail, and up popped this very leaf on a page of NC wild flowers!  It's called the Adam and Eve orchid or the Putty Root orchid.
 Okay, back to the sculpture.  Two  more of the little owls on the left, and the whole ensemble in situ on the right.  It is quite amazing to come upon something like this in the woods.  The river runs below the golden bamboo grove and the grove itself sits on a low cliff over the water.  The sculpture looks out over the water through a few stems of bamboo.  There is no artist's signature, nothing to identify it.  It is of matte-glazed fired clay, a kind of medium brown, an enigmatic and really interesting piece.
Now switching back to the putty root with some details.  I looked it up since at this time of year there is only the dessicated-but-still-green leaf. I found several web pages that gave pictures of the flower, which reputedly comes in May and is a tiny orchid.  The leaves have chlorophyll in winter only and the food the plant makes is stored in its root, which is a corm.  The leaf dries up and dies before the bloom comes.  This page gives details about this plant.  Now I'm going to be on the lookout for the seed pods and the flowers as the seasons progress.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Curiosities at the Acupuncture Clinic

 While waiting for my acupuncturist to come into the room today I whipped out my sketchbook and speed-drew some of the things on the little table in the room.  At the top left are two glass cups for doing what is called, surprisingly, cupping.  A candle is burned near the mouth of the cup to create a vacuum, and then the cup is clapped down on your sore back, for example, and the acupuncturist moves it around to create circulation.  It always works to relieve the stagnation or whatever bad thing is causing your pain or congestion.
Under the cups is an ornate little bell.  This is placed right next to the immobilized patient's hand in case of an emergency, such as a needle suddenly popping out (rare) or a need for help of any kind while lying there while the needles cook.  And just to the right of the bell is a candle for lighting moxa or for making vacuums in cups.

On the top right are a pair of tweezers for I don't know what, and a metal container into which used needles are placed.  At the far right is an enigmatic little metal statue of a Chinese figure.  At the bottom right is a sealed package of needles in a box that once held a dozen of these packages.
At the top to the left is another, larger needle tray that has a sloped end so that the needles can be tipped into the disposal bin.  Below the tray is a stump of moxa, which is an herb that is burnt on the end of needles sometimes to somehow increase the efficacy of the needles.  Right next to the moxa is a needle, fine as a hair.  And at the bottom is a statue of a Chinese figure, one of a set of several that stand on the mantelpiece in the room.  The clinic is in a beautiful old house, and every treatment room has nice amenities such as live plants, fireplaces, artwork, soothing music.  No creepy alcohol smells at all, no rustling paper table covers, no cold instruments.  Altogether a most humane modality.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DIfferent but Still Local Fauna and Flora

 Sweet pot of blooming grape hyacinths that I had forgotten all about.  Winter before last our son M and his wife A sent us potted bulbs for several months during the cold season.  When they would finish blooming I would always put them out in the back patio area in hopes that they would come back.  I glanced out there the other day and saw the little violet blooms peeking out of what looked like a pot full of wild chives.  My favorites-- grape hyacinths!
 We hiked the fabulous River Trail late this afternoon.  Each day there are more and more plants unfurling.  Today we especially noticed Solomon's Seal, not sure yet if they are false or true, but in either case they unfurl so beautifully.  In the center is a May apple that had its bloom bud showing.  And as we were admiring the profusion of trout lilies and Solomon's Seal and May apples, a pair of mallard ducks were in the river that runs alongside the trail.
Back at home we came upon Jesse earnestly grooming his paw after a busy day outside.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Local Fauna in Asheville

 F and I were sitting at work this morning in her dining room, a perfectly ordinary Tuesday morning, chilly breeze ruffling the many flowering trees, the grass as green as Ireland.  Suddenly I looked up and saw, a few feet outside of one of the large windows, an enormous bear strolling past.  S/he paused to scratch his/her back on a smallish tree, then slowly plopped back down.
 The bear walked through some of the gardens, patting the ground as though looking for something, and was soon joined by another much larger bear.  It was obvious that the first bear was an adolescent from last summer because the second bear was beefier and taller and not as naively walking right next to the window through which people were staring and snapping pictures.  The bigger bear kept a little distance, but the smaller one seemed completely at home in the yard.
After a good fifteen minutes or so the bigger bear clumped up to the berry garden and then disappeared in the neighbor's yard, and the smaller one wandered into a stretch of woods in back of the house.

After a couple of hours, the pair showed up again, walking right next to the window, hanging out in the yard, unconcerned and comfortable.  We went outside to get a better look at one point.  It was kind of like being on a safari and riding in one of those wide-windowed vans that let you get close enough to a wild animal to check its teeth. 

Later I drew F with her little cat Teenie, who looks like a miniature black bear for sure!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Colony of Strange Stone People Near the River

Michelle, my friend who first found the hut, emailed me this morning with an alert that there was something great on the River Trail.  Sadly, it was pounding rain and chilly, and I decided to wait for another day to go searching.  But by 4:00 this afternoon the rain had slowed to an intermittent drizzle, and off I went.

 I hadn't been on the RT since last fall, but it's my favorite place to look for anthropomorphic trees.  I wore my high rubber rain boots so I was able to stomp in puddles.  I stomped for around 20 minutes before I spotted the something:  a whole colony of stone people, some standing at the edge of the river, others further back in the brush
 and small trees.  These are not ordinary cairns.  They are amazingly human in form and expression.  Some of them are wearing stone clothes and hats. 

I imagine these were made by art students, sculpture students probably.  They are so exquisitely balanced and situated.

Some are together as if they were in conversation.  None are cute.  They all look ancient, perfect.  Thank you, whoever did this!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Yellow Spring Giving Way to Blue and Pink

 Yellow spring comes first around here-- forsythia, dandelions, daffodils and the shy trout lilies.  On its heels comes blue and pink spring.  Today up on the higher parts of Jones Mountain I saw palest pink spring beauties, some aging trout lilies, a few bloodroot--white, but with carmine sap so I group it with pink--, some crow's feet which have no blossoms. But did you know that trout lilies are pollinated by ants?  And that it takes seven years between the germination of the seed and the first flowering of a trout lily?  And that bloodroot is pollinated by small bees and flies?  (finally, a non-disgusting job for flies)
Then some blue-violet fleabane just beginning to bloom, some pinkish toothwort, and some fiddlehead ferns.   And maybe you already know that toothwort is edible and in fact belongs to the same plant family as radishes and cabbage. 

After hiking and then dinner we sat around with our friends and read children's books and poetry to each other. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Illustration Sketches

 This batch of drawings is what I worked on most of today.  I'm finishing up two projects that will be in a book that my publisher is putting together.  My editor asked for in-process photographs for the illustrator to work from.  I made in-process sketches instead, since in my experience drawings can isolate what needs to be shown so much better than photographs can. 

So these aren't especially interesting as they have no context.  But I enjoyed doing them.  Maya told me what parts of the projects needed illustrations, and I took her advice.
Here's the second one, a
little notebook made out of a snack bag.

Friday, April 4, 2014

An Unfurling of May Apples, a Squiggle of Tadpoles

This icy windy snowy winter seems to have caused a bursting spring around here.   The forsythia bushes are choked with yellow blossoms,  there are twice as many tulips and daffodils and hyacinths as usual, and today I saw more baby may apples unfurling their umbrella leaves than ever before. 
I went back down to the pond at the end of the trail where Maya and I got frog eggs and a few tadpoles a couple of weeks ago.  Amazing!  The spot where the eggs had been was black with tadpoles, wiggling, darting, hovering together in a squiggle over some dead grasses while water striders (renatra fusca) angled past.  I've never seen so many tadpoles in one place!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Homely

I thought I'd take on the challenge of drawing the homeliest things I could find, things I almost avoid looking at and certainly never focus on.

While we were waiting for dinner at a little Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood, instead of eating as many chips as I possibly could, I drew the exceedingly homely condiments caddy with its slightly crushed Splenda and sugar packs.

At home, I spied Jesse's formerly favorite mousie, fallen out of favor and mouldering away behind the door to my studio.  It still has a yellowed tag that says something about its contents {??} and the word China.  And on my drawing table
                                                                                                       lay a pitiful push pin with a bent tip.

This collection is starting to remind me of the Arnold Lobel children's  story "Tearwater Tea," in which Owl cries over sad objects. So  I give you
"condiment caddies that are covered with greasy dust, mousies that the cat no longer plays with, pushpins that have no further use."

And what about "plastic palette knives that no one ever uses, dish drainers that don't quite fit the drain, a travel toothpick that came free on an airline but that is no longer taken along on trips, the strange little between-the-teeth brush that is too clogged and bent and disgusting to use"? 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Flotilla of Turkeys and Another Trek

We all complain about the wild turkeys that roam around here destroying gardens as they go, but you have to admire their parallel world and apparent indifference to the human world that they slide past.  This morning I glanced outside just as a flotilla of them was gliding down the street.  Most of the birds were hens, and the hens were ignoring the two toms, who were parading in full display.   Jesse watched from the window for a few  minutes and then demanded to be let outside.  Sometimes he tries to chase the turkeys, but they generally ignore him along with the toms.  This morning he just sat on the sidelines and watched the passing show.
 Maya spent the day and night with us today due to spring break.  One thing we did was take a hike to find the hut this afternoon-- my first solo attempt since Michelle showed me how to find it.  It was a perfect day for it-- warm and mostly sunny with not many bugs.  Maya is a good hiking companion who is adventuresome and careful at the same time.  We found early bloodroot flowers and even a few may apples beginning to unfurl.  But the best find was the many trout lilies that are at their peak right now in the shady, damp places along the river.
 I was really hoping to be able to find the shelter without dragging Maya up Tony's driveway to the north or swinging so far south that we landed on the brambly slope that leads to the Charlie's Spring Trail.  I brought all the maps I've drawn of the area.  I drew more maps today, and this time I included steps that I got from a pedometer app between each feature along the way.
Maya was just beginning to hit me with a chorus of are we there yets when I spied the tree that lies across the gulley and signals the proximity of the shelter!  We left the gulley and turned left up the slope and bingo!  there it was!  We sat around marveling that we had actually found it by ourselves; and then we were able to pick our way down the slope to the chimney and the trail very quickly and without incident of any kind.  I took a picture of Maya in front of the hut, but I can't seem to get it off of my phone.  Maybe it will have uploaded by tomorrow.