Starting something is not an event; it’s a series of events. . . . Keep starting until you finish.”
— Seth Godin, Poke the Box

Moon snail shell on frosty leaves

Moon snail shell on frosty leaves

This month I will be sharing my latest project, 100 moon snail shells drawn, painted, and captured on paper. (Photographs won’t count.)  The germ of this idea entered my consciousness many years ago when I first read Everyday Sacred:  A Woman’s Journey Home by Sue Bender (1996).  In it, Bender mentions an art exercise that her friend Gale was teaching called The 100 Drawings Project:

“The task of the class was to find and draw one hundred times, one simple, familiar object, portable enough to bring to class each time.  It had to be neutral in content, not religious, not a family heirloom, nor an object that held any sentimental value. . . . Making one hundred drawings of the same object forced Gale to find new techniques, materials, and ways to work.  The goal here was to take risks and exceed limits.  Hopefully, along the way, a personal style would emerge.”

The idea of drawing a single object 100 times intrigued me then and many, many years later it still pulls me.  This year I decided to commit and actually do it.  I had some ideas for getting started, but I didn’t know if I would eventually “hit the wall” and run into artist’s block.  Starting out, I was also curious about what directions this challenge would take me.  I will share my steps along the way in this blog.

Here are my first three watercolor sketches:

Moon snail shells # 1, 2 and 3; watercolor sketches

Moon snail shells # 1, 2 and 3; watercolor sketches

“But an empty shell, like an empty nest, invites day-dreams of refuge.”
— Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space:  The Classical Look at How We Experience Intimate Places

Watercolor sketch of moon snail shells


Pocketable Treasures

July 7, 2012

“I fetched my sea-born treasures home.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Each and All”

Sun-bleached sea urchin shells

“Many of us beach-comb.  I think in a pretty mindless way, hoping that when we later look at our gatherings, we’ll feel the charge of the beautiful, happened-upon, pocketable things . . .”
— W. S. Di Piero, from “Saints”

Since I began painting flowers, leaves, seeds, and other natural things, I’m constantly carrying home “found” treasures.  They often become models for my watercolor sketches.  Something ineffable has drawn my eye and hand to these little gifts of nature, and I find that taking the time to sketch or paint them deepens my appreciation for them.  But interestingly, once they’ve been captured on paper, I seldom feel the need to keep them in my possession.

Di Piero is aware of the “charge” of the beautiful in shells and other found objects.  But Emerson warns that the “gay enchantment” often dies once the object is removed from its natural setting, pocketed, and taken home.  He repines that his sea-born treasures have “left their beauty on the shore.”

I found my sea urchin shells on a beach in Hawaii almost 30 years ago.  I’ve kept them in a small glass jar and still treasure them.  Seeing them brings back memories of my first trip to Hawaii and the secluded beach where I beach-combed for shells.  So in some respect, these pocketable treasures have kept their charge over the years.

One cannot always hold on to beauty.  But sometime we can come pretty close.

My collection of sea urchin shells

Sea urchin shell

I keep my Hawaiian shells in two small glass jars. I embroidered the little shells on the jar covers.

Ink sketch of sea urchin shells

“I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.”
— Marilynn Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books

Pile of fiction books with basket and moon snail shells

“. . . I belong to the community of the written word in several ways.  First, books have taught me most of what I know, and they have trained my attention and my imagination.  Second, they gave me a sense of the possible, which is the great service — and too often, when it ungenerous, the great disservice — a community performs for its members.  Third, they embodied richness and refinement of language, and the artful use of language in the service of the imagination.  Fourth, they gave me and still give me courage.”
— Marilynn Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books

I recently read a charming picture book that celebrates the love of books, the printed word, reading, writing, and libraries.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore by William Joyce became the basis for an Academy-Award winning short film.  Both are real treats for book lovers.

Do read the book, but if you can’t do that, then take 15 minutes to watch this short, silent film at this link.

Marbles, buttons and spools of thread

I have to chuckle at the title of this poem.  It’s obviously a given that one would collect books, but what else?

Besides Books, What Do You Collect?
by Richard Jones

Foreign coins,
skeleton keys,
old French primers,
small tin boxes —
any little thing
I can hold in my hand
that like a prayer says
be attentive
this is the way we live —

bits of blue glass
polished by waves
and saved
in a jar
in a drawer.

Blue and green buttons from my collection of buttons

Shells, two decades old, found on Sanibel Island

Watercolor sketch of buttons

Another watercolor sketch of buttons

Paintings and the buttons that inspired them

Rocks, feathers and shells


Cardinal feathers, Sanibel Island shells, sea-smoothed rocks


We Alone
by Alice Walker 

We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
is gold
so much the worse
for you. 

Feathers, shells
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare. 

This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
what’s scarce.


February 7, 2010

“It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.”
     — Robert Louis Stevenson

Moon snail shells I have collected

Moon snail shells

My collection of sand dollars

Today’s post is inspired by Lisa Congdon’s blog  My friend Lynne recently turned me on to this charming site, where every day Congdon posts a photograph or drawing of one of her collections.  It’s not easy to photograph inanimate objects!

I battle internally between collecting things that appeal to me and getting rid of clutter.  I find it amusing that others have had to justify their passions for collecting, as Samuel Johnson does here:

“The pride or the pleasure of making collections, if it be restrained by prudence or morality, produces a pleasing remission after more laborious studies; furnishes an amusement not wholly unprofitable for that part of life, the greater part of many lives, which would otherwise be lost in idleness or vice; it produces an useful traffick between the industry of indigence and the curiosity of wealth; it brings many things to notice that would be neglected; and, by fixing the thoughts upon intellectual pleasures, resists the natural encroachments of sensuality, and maintains the mind in her lawful superiority.”