Sketching in Winter

January 17, 2013

Lace cap hydrangea in a neighbor's garden

Lace cap hydrangea in a neighbor’s garden

I just bring Nature indoors when I want to do some sketching in Winter.  The color palette is more subdued, but still beautiful.  I stole this lace cap hydrangea from a flower bed in my neighborhood just so that I could paint it.  (Guilty, guilty.)

Watercolor sketch in my nature journal

Watercolor sketch in my nature journal

I may have to try another sketch and really bring out the subtle colors.

I may have to try another sketch and really bring out the subtle colors.

Finished watercolor sketch of lace cap hydrangea in winter

Finished watercolor sketch of lace cap hydrangea in winter




On Any Day, Do Something

January 1, 2013

Watercolor sketch, tools of the trade

Watercolor sketch, tools of the trade

I was inspired recently reading these words by the poet Jane Hirshfield in Jeffrey Skinner’s book, The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets:

“You don’t need to write every day, but you can do something every day that connects to and sustains your life as a person in love with words, images, music, stories, and what they can hold.  Listen with the ears of a language thief casing the mansion.  Cultivate concentration.  As you move through the day, notice one thing that you would not have seen if you were not looking with the questions of poetry in your ankles, knees, and tongue.  Remember a memorized poem in line at the post office.  Read something of substance before you read anything else in a day.  You don’t need to do all these things, you don’t need to write; only, on any day, do something.”

What do these words mean for me?

“I don’t need to paint every day, but I can do something every day that connects to and sustains my life as a person in love with images, form, pattern, composition, colors, and what they can hold.  Look with the eyes of a thief casing the mansion.  Cultivate concentration.  As I move through each day, notice one thing that I would not have seen if I were not looking with the questions of art in my ankles, knees, and eyes.  Look for forms and patterns in line at the post office. Read something of substance before I read anything else in a day.  I don’t need to do all these things, I don’t need to paint or sketch; only, on any day, do something.”
— with apologies to Jane Hirshfield

So this is my resolution for the new year.  To live a more artful life.  Maybe not to sketch or paint every day, but to sketch or paint more often.  To build a habit of art.  To give art prominent time in my days.  To feed my soul by visiting museums, learning the names of colors, experimenting and playing with tools of the craft, reading about artists and creativity, cultivating an attentive eye.  Slowly, slowly grow as an artist.

Dappled summer shade — under the maple tree

“And so the root
becomes a trunk
And then a tree
And seeds of trees
And springtime sap
And summer shade
And autumn leaves
And shape of poems
And dreams —
And more than tree.”
— from “For Russell and Rowena Jelliffe,” Uncollected Poems 1961-1967, by Langston Hughes

Time marches on, as evidenced by the slow changes on my “adopted” maple tree.  My photo for this post captured the dappled shade on one of the last days of summer.  The autumn equinox is at 7:49 a.m. tomorrow morning in Seattle.

Leaves and seeds

Watercolor sketch of leaves and seeds showing fall colors

“It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars

Acorns from a red oak tree

I don’t know what it is about acorns this year.  I seem to be focusing on them more than ever before.

Today’s quote about acorns speaks to the qualities of patience and faith.  And it makes me think about what acorns I have planted — certainly parenting is planting acorns.  We do our best, and despite our flaws and missteps and outright mistakes, we pray fervently that our children will be all right in the long run.  We have faith in our children.

What other acorns have I planted?  I trust that my investment in education and my experiences building skill sets will serve me well the rest of my working life.  Perhaps I’m even resting too much on my laurels in this area of my life.

The acorns I am planting now have more to do with committing to art — photography, watercolor painting, writing for my blog.  Who knows if, long term, these pursuits will grow into anything so recognizable as an oak tree.  It is so easy to become derailed by doubt.

The lessons of the acorn:  Patience.  Faith.

Watercolor sketch of acorns and leaves from a red oak tree





Exhibit of my watercolor sketches at the Elisabeth C Miller Library

An exhibit of my watercolor sketches is now on display at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle.  The exhibit, which runs through September 28, is available for viewing during the library’s normal visiting hours.  Please check this link for hours and driving directions.

I spent a delightful couple of hours yesterday morning with a group of six women who drove down from Bow, Washington to see the show.  This is the first time I’ve actually met new friends through my blog, and they are each kindred spirits — some painters, a couple of librarians, some with ties to the Midwest, fellow travelers.   I am touched that they made the effort to see my work and it was a real pleasure to meet them.

Magnificent bouquet from the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

I was also very honored to see a stunning bouquet from the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market delivered to the Miller Library to celebrate my show.  The bouquet is so beautiful, and it is such a thoughtful gesture of support from my friends at the Market.  The bouquet was quite a showpiece of local, seasonal blooms — I was tickled to see a stem of blackberries tucked in among the flowers and greens!

Display cases show sample blog posts, some photographs, and tools of my trade — watercolor sets and journals.

The framed watercolors are arranged by season — spring, summer, fall and winter.

I invite you all to stop by the Miller Library to see my show.  And to spend some time visiting this wonderful horticultural resource in the city.  Tomorrow’s blog post will take you along the trails of the Union Bay Natural Area adjacent to the Miller Library.  And Friday’s post will introduce you to the Otis Douglas Hyde Herbarium, also part of the Center for Urban Horticulture.  I’ll close here with some photographs from the demonstration gardens.


This purple trumpet flower is called “the devil’s trumpet,” or datura

Bed of sneezeweed

Sneezeweed, so much variety in one bed



I loved the range of colors here, too.

A hanging curtain of green

Looking through the curtain

Grape leaves like stained glass

Watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts, May 2012

As your summer calendar fills with events and activities and vacations, please pencil in a visit to the Elisabeth C. Miller Library in Seattle for my first-ever exhibit of watercolor sketches.  The exhibit runs from August 2 – September 28, 2012 during normal library hours.  The exhibit will feature about 40 of my watercolor paintings of flowers, leaves, and natural objects.  You can see an announcement at this link.

While you are there, relax for an hour or two and:

  • browse the library’s extensive collection of horticultural books and magazines;
  • stroll through the demonstration gardens;
  • pack a picnic to eat on the grounds; and/or
  • walk the trails of the Union Bay Natural Area, a bird-watching mecca adjacent to the library.

I hope to see you there!

Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift

“Hasten slowly . . . See as much of life as possible, but take time to notice it, too.”
— Vivian Swift, Le Road Trip

Inside pages from Le Road Trip

Another two-page spread from Le Road Trip

I love everything about Vivian Swift‘s new book, Le Road Trip.  It’s a book about her honeymoon trip to France, and while I wouldn’t mind following Swift’s itinerary (she makes all those villages and encounters with French people so beguiling), it is much more than a travel guide.  Swift describes her book as an “art of travel” kind of book, and it is full of her observations about the pleasures and pains of traveling with a companion and philosophical musings about “slow” travel.  I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who makes watercolor sketches in a travel journal, and Le Road Trip is full of exquisite paintings that depict exactly the kinds of travel vignettes that I delight me.

Here are a few samples of Swift’s expert observations:

  • Anticipation is half the fun of traveling.
  • Accept the inevitable bumps in the road with equanimity.  She says, “Every road trip needs a low point” and suggests that  when the going gets tough, “Each morning look at yourself in the mirror and say, “You’re no bargain either.'”
  • “There are no wrong trains.”
  • “It’s not a crime to want to sit in a cafe and not take a walking tour of all those historic monuments in your peripheral vision.”
  • “Beware of quaintitude” (all those “quaint” spots that every tourist goes to see).
  • “There’s always a cat, just when you need one.”

Or consider her advice for finding a good restaurant on a road trip (and haven’t we all been there):

  • Start looking early.
  • Check the menu for signs of age — it should be freshly hand-lettered daily, which indicates that the chef is shopping around for in-season specials.
  • Check the parking lot for local license plates — “If the restaurant is good enough to the locals, it’s good enough for us.”
  • Look for the resident cat.

How can you not love an author who plans to found an Institute of Slow Information in her next life:  “My embroidery studio on the main street of Bayeux will be just one part of my Institute of Slow Information.  I will also teach letter writing, listening, miniature portrait painting, and the art of doing one thing at a time.”

I’ll leave you with just one more passage from the book, a defense of travel by middle-agers:  “You cannot possibly know how much time it takes to learn to treasure this world, how many years it takes to properly cherish your place in it.  As you age, you will find it more and more remarkable, a miracle really, that any of us — you, me — are here at all, the result of an undeserved, infinite gift.  And the older you get, the more you know how much you will miss all this when you are gone.  In the end, the world was not all that changed by your coming, you were not all that crucial to it.  But the world, this world, which you will one day travel in homage and gratitude, this world was everything to you.”

Bleeding Heart

May 8, 2012

I’ve been watching the bleeding heart in my neighbor’s parking strip since March.  The fat, little hearts are now in bloom and sway like pink pantaloons on a slender clothesline.

Back in March the pink flowers were just starting to form.

March foliage, tiny flower buds

Fast-forward to mid-April. . . slender branch bowed with bleeding hearts

Graceful arch

Graduated sizes

Bleeding heart and the book, Bringing Nature Home

Stalk of bleeding heart with the book, Bringing Nature Home

Watercolor sketch of bleeding heart

Circle of bleeding hearts

Another view

Watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts


Apple Blossoms

May 2, 2012

“The blooming orchards are the glory of May . . . ”
— John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril

Apple blossoms

“May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South wind.”
— Amy Lowell, “Lilacs”

Blossom by blossom, the spring progresses.  We are now seeing apple trees in flower.

Apple blossoms on the tree where I find windfalls.

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Apple tree full of blossoms

Apple blossoms on my work table

Watercolor sketch of apple blossoms

Witch Hazel

February 21, 2012

The witch hazel is blooming, mostly in yellow, but some pink, too.

Witch hazel adding a touch of yellow to our gray winter days.

Witch hazel bloom

Witch hazel in bloom at Green Lake

Pink witch hazel?

Another bush with witch hazel blooms and old leaves

Still life with witch hazel and old leaf

Watercolor sketch of witch hazel and leaf