Monday, August 31, 2015

Slow Seeing

 The idea here is to find something that feels so good to look at that I don't want to rush through the drawing.  These fresh-picked red okra are velvety to the touch and this morning they even had a few raindrops sparkling on them from last night's shower.

Around 2:00 I had to go get my car inspected and the oil changed.  There were several emergencies at the car place, so I had to wait an hour to get this half hour job done.  I remembered a wonderful drawing that my friend Donna did a couple of years ago while she was in a mechanic's shop, and that moved me to see what I could enjoy seeing from the waiting room windows.  On the left I started with the chimney at top left and gradually crawled around the scene with my pen following my eyes until I had even included a few cars.  I never look at cars!  I can't even find my husband's car in a parking lot half the time.  I have a kind of car blindness that grows out of complete boredom with most cars.  But today I noticed that the sky was reflecting on the windshield and even on the roof of a car right in front of the shop.

On the right I had looked down the street and noticed that I could actually see my friends' loft down at the end of the street, without wearing any glasses, and it was great fun to start with their building and gradually build the streetscape, ending with a fine fat dumpster at the edge of the car place lot.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What I'm Liking to Look at Today

I was leaning on the kitchen counter this morning and I couldn't stop looking at the great colors on the back cover of my new sketchbook (made out of the Trader Joe bag that N so kindly brought me from Santa Fe).  In the dull grey of this --let's just say it-- gloomy-light  morning, the colors warmed up the whole kitchen, and I couldn't stop drinking it in.  Then and there I decided that today I would draw the things my eyes wanted to look at.

A little later I was dispatched by P to go to Lowe's for the exciting purchase of a new water filter for the sink.  He would install it if I would get it.  I made the drive while on the lookout for something wonderful to see.  And of course there were the patterned grasses growing at the exit ramp, and I made a quick sketch to help remember while at the red light at the next intersection.  I love the shadow shapes and the pattern of the stems under the cloud of seed heads.  They made me think of the patterns that I so love in Egyptian (and other) art;  so when I got home I drew mummy man's patterned inner coffin, which I was trying out in the outer coffin before it got completely hard.  Happily, the cover fits fine and the bandaged mummy fits perfectly within.

P and I went for a walk in the greyness, and the bright flowers of the Jerusalem artichoke plants that flourish in the woods near the old  apple orchard were great to look at.  I picked a handful to draw at home.  Once I started drawing I zeroed in on the patterns and slight shifts in formation that the flower parts move into and out of on the road to seed production.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

News from the Creepy Little Toyshop

I made a few leaps of progress on N's mummy today:  for starters, I found the perfect material to use for bandages:  beeswax impregnated cotton that is used as a fine alternative to plastic wrap and can be washed and reused for up to a year and is sold in Asheville at the Bee Keeper store downtown.  I bought a bread loaf wrapper piece of the stuff and cut a strip around 1.5 inches wide.  This is a great material for all your mummy bandage needs!  As you wrap you can mold it to the mummy, and it needs no further fastening.  An added advantage is that it smells just right-- beeswax and resins give it a yummy mysterious smell, perfect for a mummy in bandages.  Drawing 5453 shows the mummy with his painted mask on top of his bandaged mummified body.

I also made headway on the inner casket or case, as you can see in the two drawings on the left above.  I have it molded around the top of a marble rolling pin.  The terra cotta is the natural color of the air-dry clay, and I've decided to leave this inner case unpainted so that N and I can paint it together.  On the right above is the alternative mummy with mask but showing mummified clay body.

Then I made a trip to Tobacco Barn this afternoon when I realized I was not going to be able to make a good outer coffin out of clay.  A thorough and seemingly endless search of the place finally turned up a perfect little salesman's model cedar chest from the early 20th century.  The mummy in the bottom of the inner case fits perfectly.  I will leave the painting of the outer coffin for N and me to do together too.  He can use his hieroglyphics decoder to find some things to paint on it.  I am trusting that the top part of the inner case will slip right in on top of mummy man.  We can add lots of gold paint to the inside, too.

Friday, August 28, 2015

News From Our House

We need something cheering to focus on today, and that thing is:  Mexican sunflower seeds!  This summer's crop never came up, beaten as they were by the rudbeckia that took over the entire yard and all the gardens and actually cracks in the driveway.  But today I found a dead Mexican sunflower plant on the sidewalk in Montford when I was walking downtown, and I was able to gnaw and twist  off a dry seed head and carry it home to add to my growing supply of these seeds for next spring.

It was good to find a Mexican sunflower seed head, because here are the other house-related things that happened today:
1.  We discovered an ominous damp spot on the ceiling of one of the studio rooms.
2.  The hungry ground hog has returned and is again chewing on the doorsill of the back porch in spite of the pepper spray.
3.  We have faced the fact that ivy has damaged most of the exterior walls of our house, and we are going to have to scrape off the dry leavings and re-stain it come fall.
4.  The humidifier is broken.
5.  Our hemlocks have wooly adelgids again, this after the $800 treatment three years ago.  We knew it would probably happen, but still.
6.  The driveway needs sealing, and even though my proposal is to let it revert to dirt, P vetoes that idea.
7.  The washer is on its last legs and ditto the refrigerator.
8.  There are at least twenty ground hogs living in our backyard just beyond the little wooded area.  Their holes are like something you might find on the moon.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Seed Factories

I started a new book today made out of a Trader Joe bag (cover) and the last of my sumptuous paper from Cartiera Clandestina da Venezia.  All the drawings are of seed heads/dead flower heads from our gardens.  I can never get over the elegant architecture of a seed factory.  At the left are a dry Siberian iris pod, just cracking open to release its round ball-bearing-like seeds from their long chambers;  at the bottom is one of the million bee balm or bergamot dried heads with its tubular seeds and the scent of Earl Grey tea hanging on.

Above are a blasted zinnia flower, dry as toast, with its arrow-shaped seeds;  and a coneflower head almost ripe but not quite yet.  Its seeds are still truncated little green comets, and the birds are not yet feasting on it.  At the far right are the glossy, black berries of a Peruvian lily, the translucent flower petals like paper peeling off of an old wall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Close Studies and a Map of a New Trail

Jesse was sprawled out on the floor of the porch this morning watching P repot a plant.  He seems to have picked up a little bulk this summer.  On the right are a series of close observations of some little cocoons from our front garden.  Most of these are empty except for the first two, which still have moths or butterflies inside.  They were attached to our toadflax plants, very delicate and beautifully articulated.  Number 5434 is a curious black, white, and orange beetle that was sucking nectar from a flower in the monarch butterfly area of the bird sanctuary down by Beaver Lake.  The beetle is colored exactly like a monarch butterfly.
I had gone to kill some time in the bird sanctuary by walking while waiting to go to my friend's house after running a bunch of errands in town.  I was walking all around areas that seemed to have been newly opened up for trails off of the main boardwalk.  I was walking off-trail at one point, trying to get through a place where the trail was overgrown, and I saw a woman walking along just above a slope so that she was at eye level and on the other side of a chain link fence.  I saw a place where a steep slope led up to a break in the fence, so I clawed my way up the slope and found a straight, well-groomed trail leading along the edge of the nearby lake!  In all the years I have wandered through the bird sanctuary I've never seen this trail or anyone on it.  So I mapped it as I walked it.  It turned out to be a perimeter trail for joggers and runners and fast walkers that joins up with the well-known trail around the grassy lawn-like lake shore.  There was at one point an old wooden picnic table in the woods beside the trail.  It was an interesting vantage point on the lake that we have canoed on so often.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Curiosities and Oddities

I love to draw other peoples' collections, and my friend J has one of the best ever.  Book Club met at her house today, and most of these drawings are of things that I have no name for but that are strange and lovely and evocative.
After I got home I drew Nate's mummy, who now has his bandages and is looking very solemn and boy-priestly.  Next up:  his coffin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Postcards from an Edge: Almost Impossible to Find Secret Lake

P and I set out this morning to find the little double lake that showed up on yesterday's Map My Walk on the fringe of the River Trail but on the other side of the river.  We spent a long time trying to find the road that the map named as leading in to the lakes.  After we eliminated every other road along this extremely obscure and hidden route, we ventured down a rutted driveway-like road that had a different name than the expected road leading to the lakes.  The ruts got bigger as the road got narrower, but we had my car, which can fit anywhere, and I persisted until the road petered out and landed us at---- the lakes!

It was well worth the trip.  It reminded us of another hidden pondish lake that we found once in rural Italy, Lago di Chiusi.  Like Lago di Chiusi, this lake was mostly a fishing hole, but it did have a trail that went completely around both lakes.  It was extremely quiet, with a few water hyacinths blooming and some bullfrogs klonking in a little subsidiary pond that was fenced off from the main lake trail, and a few silent fishers and Sunday paper readers.  There was a big group of mallard ducks with a couple of different kinds of ducks in the pack.  There was a closed fishing hut where you could rent fishing poles and maybe buy bait, rent a numbered spot along the lake to fish.  A sign in the window said "Potluck", and the pile of black garbage bags out back suggested the potluck might have been last night.

There were two tiny islands in the lake, no sign of rowboats or canoes (unlike Lago di Chiusi, which had a supply of sculls in a boat shed and tied-up rowboats all along one shore.  I tried to rent one, only to be told by a desultory attendant that it was "troppo ventoso oggi" [too windy today].)  This lake seems to be for fishing, and in two locations the water was being aerated, probably to help the fish.  One edge of the lake has a row of mobile homes, and one of these has a couple of old cars up on blocks near some bushes, one of which I drew.  Definitely a good place to walk a short walk, about a mile if you go around both lakes and cut through the center twice.  We avoided the back corner because of twin dachshunds who seemed to be on their own with their sharp little teeth flashing.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mapping the East River Trail

As if the amenities of the east River Trail-- the profusion of flowers, the soft purling of the river sliding over rocks all along the way, the golden glowy light in the giant bamboo grove, the clucking of hens from the garden, the songs of birds-- were not enough, today the sound of a cellist playing Pachelbel's Canon at an outdoor wedding across the river floated on the air from the second bird blind to the end of the trail at Owen Lake.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Nature Does Not Need Any Help from Humans

M and I were watching bumblebees as they hovered and crawled over some passionflowers while we were walking in West Asheville this afternoon.  The flowers smelled like honeysuckle, like exotic lilies, like the distilled sweetness of a million summer afternoons;  and the bees were all over them lapping up the nectar.  Meanwhile, as they crawled on the nectary center part, they fit perfectly under the five pollen pads, thereby filling their furry backs with thick coats of the pollen that was on the undersides of the pads.  When a newcomer bee would land on the flower, with its back  already full of pollen, it would pass under the overhanging anthers and transfer some pollen to the flower's three anthers, which connected to the ovary.  I haven't looked up the botanical explanation of passionflowers, but this is what our observations told us, and it was so elegant and economical;  nothing designed by a human could improve on it.

Earlier today we had gone to our critique group, where we realized that our group has been meeting once a month for more than eight years.  Amazing.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Green Fig, Long Thin Tomato

On the table at Fran's house today were a small green fig and a strangely shaped tomato paste tomato that looked more like a sweet pepper of some kind.  Since I am consumed with envy over her fig tree and her enormous and fruit-laden tomato plants, I decided to draw these guys, making two drawings of the tomato.   She thinks the paste tomato might be a Roma.  I have never seen such a long tomato.  Her fig tree and my pathetic fig tree are siblings.  Hers is about six feet tall and laden with green figs;  mine is about ten inches tall and has zero fruit.  She had picked the green fig to see if it would ripen in the house since it doesn't seem to be ripening on the tree, and the weather is getting slightly cooler.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cats DO Have Profiles

 This  morning early on the back porch, Jesse lazily watching a few sparrows down on the ground, the sun peeking through the trees lighting up the ivy at the base of the garden man, I decided to focus on Jesse's profile.

I was surprised to see that his nose sticks out in a manner similar to my late uncle's and that he has a forehead that is admittedly a bit Neanderthal-seeming.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Night Kitchen, August

I am sitting on the stool at the kitchen bar eating scones while Jesse chows down on whatever is in his bowl and katydids sing outside the opened porch door in the dark woods out back.  I decide to draw whatever is in front of me;  hence the scones, a basil leaf, Jesse and his bowl, a pretty accordion folded booklet from my friend in Italy, written in her handwriting in what seems to be Dante's Italian.  I will need a dictionario.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Creepy Little Toy Shop

Nate likes mummies, especially mummies with bandages.  When we saw one at the Met last month, he borrowed my phone and carefully took pictures of the bandaged mummy.  Maya likes sculpture, and she told me the other day about some air-drying clay that she uses to customize her Littlest Petshop animals.  We went to AC Moore and bought some for us, and we decided to make a toy mummy for Nate.  At the top are some preliminary sketches based on Nate's photographs from the Met.

Above are drawings of the two mummy starts that I made today.  The air-dry clay is quite wonderful: it's nice to model with, and it dries in about 24 hours to a kind of instant papier mache-like quality.  The figures that I made are supposed to be the mummified body with a few bones thrown in for verisimilitude.  The clay is terra cotta colored, sore of like mummified skin.  I used acrylic to paint the mask, using gold and cadmium red medium.  Nate loves gold, so the outer case, not yet made, will have lots of gold designs.  We are going to sew a bandage-like shroud out of scraps from the garden trellis seat cushions, which are off-white cotton, when Maya comes to spend the night this week.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Okra Explosion

Okra is coming in!  I picked about ten large deep red pods and one fat green one, as well as a chubby little cucumber,  late this afternoon just ahead of a tremendous downpour.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Let's Celebrate National Left-Handers' Day!

 My immediate family is slightly more than half left-handed-- of the five of us, three of us are, and I suspect Jesse of being left pawed.  And today I learned that one of our daughters-in-law is left handed!  Alas, of the nine grandchildren, only Jacob is a lefty as far as I know.  So the score stands five to seven, with disturbing evidence that Abby is not left-handed.  So in honor of all of us who use the preferred and esteemed left hand, here are drawings of:  Jesse's left front paw, my left foot, my left hand (badly drawn by my right hand)---
and then three drawings from old photographs:  David's five-year-old left hand, Erik's three-month-old left hand, and my eleven year old left hand sporting a garnet ring while playing the role of a praying angel in a family xmas pageant.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Seed Factories Gearing Up Again

When M and I were walking last Friday morning we cut through the college garden and I spied a Mexican sunflower plant on fire with dozens of vermillion flowers.  I usually have a couple of these in my garden, but this year the Rudbeckia overtook everything, and the Mexican sunflower seeds never sprouted.  So I searched the bottom branches of this plant until I found a single almost-dried flower.  The birds usually get all the seeds from these flowers, but I thought an underneath one might have a few seeds in it.

It has been sitting on my drawing table for a few days now, and I started loosening the dried up flowerets.  I was happy to find a few of the little torpedo-shaped seeds.  They seem small, but maybe if I sprout them in the garden under a glass bell I can get a plant or two next summer.  Love it when the flowers start turning to seeds.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Late Night Jesse

 Maya is spending the night and we are not sleepy.  We worked a lot on our giant print;  Maya sewed a toy dog bed completely by herself, on the treadle, her design; and we cut out and pinned two seat cushions for the garden trellis.  On top of that we made a trip to AC Moore for air-drying clay and Velcro.  Then we watched a movie, and then Jesse settled down on the bed curled against Maya, and I sketched him while she watched a few episodes of cupcake wars.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In Which One of My Crops Actually Seems to Be a Success!

Back in early spring, before we left for Spain even, I bought two packets of okra seeds and planted them heavily in the plot adjacent to my square foot garden.  I was growing them in hopes of having enough okra for a gumbo, and also for the pleasure of watching them grow.  Occasionally I weed the plot, but the plants were very short and in the shade of the monster Rudbeckia that have taken over most of the garden and yard.  Today I risked being destroyed by mosquitoes and actually crouched down in the garden to draw the lovely deep red pods that are forming all over the place!

The odd stick-like insect on the left in three poses was parading around on the countertop near the kitchen sink this morning.  I drew him once, and then he flew at me like a New Orleans roach.  But by then I was too interested in the architecture of the thing to squash it, and I ended up letting him wander off into a pile of trivets and hot pads by the sink.  Hope he made it back outside.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unpleasant Drawing, First Step in Tearing Out a Block with My Teeth

I'm getting ready to carve a 34 x 34" piece of tempered Masonite for a steamroller print event.  My design is from a 4 x 4" sketchbook drawing of some sheep.  I've decided to forego my usual way of transferring the image and instead to dive right in and draw the image right on the block using a carving tool.

Step one is to trace the little image, since I want to draw it backwards so that when I print it, it comes out the way I originally drew it.  So I made this tracing on tracing paper and flipped the paper so that the design will be backwards on the block.

Step two is to scale the small drawing up to a giant drawing using a grid.  I folded the small drawing into 16  1 x 1" sections.  Then I divided the big block into the same 16 sections, only these sections are 8 5/8" x 8 5/8" square.
The next step is where the not-fun begins.

I want to lightly sketch the design onto the block, just sort of map it.  I can't do that very easily with a woodcut tool because the tool doesn't make curves quickly , and the Masonite is somewhat slippery;  so if I'm trying to move fast, there's a good chance that the tool will slip.  So I have had to unearth my ancient, infrequently-used Dremel tool from the back of a cobwebby studio shelf.  The tip that's on the Dremel is very pointy but tiny blades flare out rom the tip on four sides.  There is another tip, but it's a fat little ball, also possessing of flaring blades.

When I turn on the Dremel I discover how much it vibrates and requires a strong grip to control it.  I also notice how awkwardly fat the handle is.  Drawing with this vibrating clunker is going to be like doing intricate topiary with a weed whacker.  And the cord is short, and I'm working on the floor and need to get into a yoga split to reach the top of the giant surface.

The best I can do is a rough approximation of the drawing, but that's okay, since I want to do the actual drawing with my woodcut tools.  The main thing is that I am able to scale the drawing up by going square by square as I D-d-d-dremel, referring to the small drawing and shakily clumsily sketching the lines up to scale and in the approximate position.

There are lots of slips and errant lines.  The tip is no good for curves.  Next time I'll try the ball tip.  But I am able to do what I set out to do.  And I want the final carving to stand on its own and have its own meaning, not depend on being an accurate facsimile of the original drawing.

This closeup of the sheep's head shows the jerkiness and sketchiness as well as the grid lines (which I did in water-soluble Caran d'Ache crayon and can wash away with a damp-not-wet sponge.  Tomorrow I will start carving.  This is going to be a contour line carved drawing with some abstract textural marks maybe outside and maybe inside the shapes.  The lines will be white (carved out) and the background black (left in), just the opposite of the original drawing.  I have only a couple of weeks to carve this thing, not enough time to clean out all that space!

I'm counting these as drawings as 5334-5337.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Lounging Cat, Walking Onions

At M's this morning I admired her walking onions.  Then she told me that she pulls them up when they die back and cooks with them.  Somehow I missed that step with mine, concentrating as I did on getting the heads to plant themselves to make more onions.  So I went home and pulled up a bushel of weeds and found two onions that seemed ready,  and I sliced them up and we had them with dinner.  But not until I drew them.  Nice red skins.

M's cat Buddy is a dead ringer for Jesse, minus a few of Jesse's stripes.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

White Things

Really, the only thing I could think of to unite this disparate collection of objects was their color:  a couple of paper napkin utensil rolls, a stack of flour tortillas in a foil wrapper, and four random charlottes.  I am just fulfilling a quota tonight!  To tired to think!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Tomato Hornworm Under Siege Plus a New Collaboration

I found a tomato hornworm chowing down on one of my two tomato plants yesterday.  Usually tomato hornworms blend so seamlessly into the colors and shapes of the tomato plant that they're almost invisible, but this one stood out.  It was half-covered with small white cocoon-like things that looked like  miniature silkworm cocoons.  What the heck----?  The worm was very sluggish and at first I thought it was dead.  Maybe it was in the middle of laying eggs?  I googled tomato hornworms today and learned that the white egg-like things are actually eggs of a brachonid wasp, and the hornworm has been parasitized.  The eggs will turn into larvae, which burrow into the hornworm and feed on the body of the hornworm, eventually killing the worm.

Jacob is leaving Friday for Zurich, and today was our last chance at finishing the collaboration we started last week at the old dam.  We used Jacob's black and white photo of the dam with my drawing of one of the doctor dolls in its box.  I like the sort of adrift feeling in this weird environment.

We had a family send off dinner for him tonight at Wasabi.  I tried very hard not to cry and create a scene but I am incapable of saying goodbye gracefully!

Monday, August 3, 2015


My mother used to tell us, with the air of presenting a great treat, "Run outside and pick some figs for your breakfast!  They're still warm from the sun!"  And then she could sit back and drink her coffee while the four or five of us scrambled all over the fig trees in the side yard, slurping those figs and dropping the skins on the ground; and no dishes or egg pans to wash  up,  no damp Cheerios to strain into the sink and dump limply into the garbage.

I can never pass by a fig even now without getting excited and bringing home a basketful.
a leftover boutonnière from the wedding

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wedding in the Clouds of Hydrangeas

These sketches are all unfinished, done on the fly.  I carried my sketchbook all day, and whenever I could I drew.  On the left is Maya's basket that held the two rings resting on a satin pillow,  under a bed of flower petals that she scattered along the path through the backyard as she began the bridal  procession.  Here's Jacob doing some photographs of the yard, flowers, garden trellis, and basket before the ceremony began.  And on the right, Lynn's lovely and delicious chicken and olive pastries, which were part of the hors d'oeuvres that she fixed for the time between the ceremony and the reception while Jacob was taking formal photographs and those  not involved were dancing and talking.  (For photos see, where the wedding photographs will be posted.)
A couple of drawings of the garden trellis after Lindsay, Maya, and Phil and I draped the peachy pink satin over it and Maya and Lindsay tied it to the trellis with satin bows and attached the flowers.  Earlier, Jacob, Sam and I had decorated the backyard with pots of flowering plants and vases of hydrangeas in front of the trellis.  On the right is a not-very-accurate sketch of Hillary taken while she was posing for numerous photos.
On the left is David plus another attempt of him as well as a detail of the trellis.  On the right is Jacob hidden behind the flowers and under the trellis drapery while taking a group selfie.  On the far right is a kind of composite of the two fathers, who were co-celebrants and had to sign papers afterwards.
Finally some people sitting still!  Here's Lynn on the left, and the back of Maya showing her curly hair and wreath.  On the right are two sketches of Lindsay dancing with Kate the dog, who wore her wedding dress and was a fine participant.

The last group photograph was a selfie of the kids and David and Hillary all jumping for joy together.  This took many attempts to get everyone off the ground simultaneously!  On the right is David showing everybody how to do it.  A perfect day!  We concluded the celebrations with dinner at the Grove Park Inn Sunset Terrace.