Archive for August, 2008


Saturday, August 30th, 2008

When I was a sophomore in high school, my art teacher allowed us to do an art discipline of our choosing for a semester. I had already done quite a few acrylic paintings and wanted to do something different. A friend of mine suggested batik, since she had already learned how and would be happy to show me.

So we both invested in some Rit dye, lots of paraffin, newspapers (to absorb excess paraffin), some old cotton sheets, and a batik instrument for the finer details – and we were off.

We had loads of fun and made quite a few batiks. Only one of mine survived all kinds of moves and life changes, and here it is (borrowed from my Dad to photograph). I’m surprised how the greens are still pretty vivid after over 30 years. The sky used to be a bit more blue, the reds in the flowers have faded to the lightest pink (I had used beet juice), and the brown in the tree trunk (some natural dye there also) are just hints.

Since we were interested in more natural dyes, we experimented with lots of them at the time. I can remember a pot of paraffin constantly on the stove during evenings and weekends; and ironing out layers of wax from the cloth into newspaper. It was a lot of work, but it was also a very satisfying technique and provided lots of surprises between each dye bath.

We got high marks for our semester, thankfully!

Walk Discoveries

Friday, August 29th, 2008

It’s to be in the 90s F today, but the mornings sure are chilly. Fall is on its way. When I went for my walk today, all the poison oak is turning red – “the better to see you with”! – and the old madrone leaves are coming down, along with the old bark.

These little Nubian buck kids are new to the neighborhood. The light beige guy always bleats when he sees me. He’s young enough to want to have company other than his brother, apparently.

And then there are the lovely lawn ornaments one sees these days. (Quite an impressive rack, I’d say!)

And last but not least, the walking paths were crawling with lizards of all sizes. This guy was not longer, from head to tail, than 1.5 inches. Although he was leery of me, he did not bolt. After photographing him, I carefully walked past him so that my shadow didn’t flow over him like a predatory bird. But I did tell him to please be careful – I almost stepped on him!

Street Smarts

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Time for a fawn update. The Mamma is teaching her fast-growing kids street smarts, and they’re doing great.

Here they were on Sunday morning, traversing one of the streets. They are getting big, one bigger than the other, and I suspect that one is a boy.

They continue very healthy and freely mix now with their elders, while keeping a close eye on their mom – she still has a lot to teach them…

Quirky Charlie

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Charlie No-Toe has some funny habits – and they are as predictable as the sun rising.

Here is Charlie indulging in his habit of flying over to the salt shaker and licking whatever traces of salt might be left on the shaker. Usually there are no grains of salt – only a faint powdery residue. It’s not good to give parrots salty food, so I don’t usually leave the salt shaker out. But occasionally I forget, and he’s there like a magnet.

The other habit he has, also very predictable, is to raid Sam’s food container on the living room tree and steal large pellets (or the chunks Sam leaves behind), which he takes to the wicker basket and slowly works on, eating it bit by bit. The Harrison’s large pellets are less refined than the cockatiels’ fine pellets and have millet seeds and other bits showing. I think these bits – and the satisfying challenge of working on the big guys’ food – are what’s most attractive.

Nature Sketchbook.2

Monday, August 25th, 2008

There are always lots of objects to draw from nature, some living and other having come to the end of their cycle.

I found a tired-looking (but interesting!) dried peony seed head at the end of summer, which combines both death and life: the dead outer husk protecting the life-giving seeds inside. The cedar pod does the same.

By the way, one of the most amazing nature experiences I’ve had was to open a Moonflower (Ipomoea Alba) seed before it had dried out and hardened. Opened very carefully – and it is possible because its seed is large – one can extract the actual green sprout with its wrinkled cotyledon leaves and small smooth root bud. When I performed this “dissection,” I was flabbergasted and a little horrified at the same time: I’d exposed a living plant embryo and deprived it of its life.

Intellectually, I have always accepted that life somehow miraculously springs forth from a small dessicated seed, but seeing this was truly amazing. A perfect living embryo is formed inside a seed, it dries out, then becomes green again under the right conditions. My appreciation of seeds and plants magnified by many factors after seeing this in reality.

Nature Sketchbook.1

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Cleaning out my closet this weekend revealed an old nature sketchbook I had started a couple of years ago and thought I’d lost.

I used to take it on my jaunts to Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon, where lots of migrating waterfowl come to rest en route north or south. I wrote: “This fellow – a canvasback? – was desperately trying to get some shut-eye, but was constantly thwarted by busy bozos like the one to the left. Long-suffering, he muttered ducky oaths under his breath and his wing.”

Another entry showed two other ducks: “The plain brown duck was very vigilant while her friend/mate slept. She never relaxed. Friend/mate was black with white specks in front/chest.”

This type of journal/sketchbook is a lot of fun. It’s a very cheap way to help hone sketching skills while also improving one’s powers of observation in nature. A fine point drawing pen/felt tip and some colored pencils does the trick.

Whispering Madrones

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

I love madrone trees. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of eucalyptus that I fell in love with, living in California when I was young. I used to go up to a grove of them on top of a hill in the San Francisco Bay Area and sit and listen to the wild oats swaying in the bay breezes and hear the rustling of the leaves and smell their wonderful fragrance. I always felt better when I did that, especially when things weren’t going well in my life.

Like eucalyptus, madrones shed their old bark in August, revealing a greenish, cool, and very smooth new tissue underneath. It is a treat to stroke the new bark and feel the aliveness under the hand. You can almost feel it is growing. One thing for sure, if you stop and listen in a large grove of shedding madrones,

you can actually hear the soft, constant rustling and curling of the old tissue-thin bark, as it pulls away from the new bark underneath – bark that no longer fits the new one.

And like eucalyptus, the madrone has a remarkable ability to heal and keep growing. I’ve seen ancient stumps with still-living bark around the base continue to produce bark that sheds annually. When a very old tree goes down in a storm, it may take many decades, but often you will see new trees forming from the roots of the old tree.

I call this formation “the six sisters.” It’s been through fire and storm, and yet it keeps on producing more trees around the original base.

It’s a tree that doesn’t give up and it keeps trying to live and grow, no matter what happens to it. I like that.

(I have two paintings inspired by madrones, and more will come in time: Madrone Gifts I and Madrone Gifts II.)

Big Morning Sky

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

This morning, on my drive to work, I was treated to this marvelous big sky. There were lots of quickly-moving big dark clouds with openings that the early morning sun shone through in columns. It is hard to see in this photo – I had only my cell phone camera at hand, so the quality is poor. But it may give you an idea.

And the air had been wind-washed of all wildfire smoke. What a lovely change!

And here is another photo from my work parking lot.
The weather turned out to be sunny and mild in temperature today. The slant of the sun is also markedly different, reminding me that autumn will soon be here.

I love that shift from summer to early fall and eagerly look forward to the leaves turning.

Well, while it lasts, may your waning days of summer be good.

Life’s a Gym

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Besides eating and hanging out with me, Sam does like a good bit of playing most days. Sometimes he doesn’t want to play without me; other times, he’s content to play on his own. These shots are taken of Sam in self-directed mode, and one of his favorite hang-outs is on top of his cage in his play bowl – a large carved wooden bowl filled with odd and interesting stuff.

I think Sam is part dragon. Like most green dragons, he likes to hoard things. Often he won’t even play with small pieces of wood or foot toys. But he fiercely claims them as HIS OWN. And then there are times he will deign to allow you to handle them – but only under a very watchful eye, as if he doesn’t quite trust me with his loot.

Sam also likes to explore. The “tree on wheels” in my living room has been parked next to my music stand for months, and he’s been aching to get to it and find out what’s on top of the fireplace mantel. Here he is after having finally stretched far enough to gain a foothold on the stand and made it to the summit. What!? Another bird?!

There are also many interesting things to discover in his woven grass bag. I deposit odds and ends in there for him to find, and he’ll spend lots of time just quietly chewing on wood bits and sea grass rope.

Well, it’s all in a day’s work and play for Sam, working up to the next important item on the day’s agenda:

“What’s for supper?”

Of Painting and Smoke

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Well, the wildfire smoke is back again,
with a vengeance. Today it was worse than ever because there is a cloud cover holding all the smoke in. It is supposed to rain, but nothing so far. This photo shows how colorless the sky is.

When the sun did show through the clouds briefly, it cast a sickly yellow glare over everything. (In the next photo, you might be able to see a yellowish glare over my easel and painting.)

Nevertheless, as much to distract myself from the smoke effects as to simply paint, I managed to paint most of the day. I’ve named my newest painting (not yet done) “Saturday Morning Rehearsal at the Britt.”

It’s coming along. I’ll post the final results once I finish it and have it scanned.

I find that working with a color chart helps me immensely as I paint. All my watercolors I’ve listed on a chart, broken down into 5 basic color columns: yellows, reds, browns, greens, and blues. I write the name/brand of each, then place a sample of the raw paint – undiluted and diluted.

This is a great point of reference when trying to choose just the right color for a certain application. Even so, most of the colors I use are used with another color or more than one, in order to achieve just the right hue.