Sunday, January 12, 2020

Things that capture our imagination...

Wolves--beautiful, wild, intelligent--do it for me.  This one has been part of my imaginal world, as Dr. Sharon Blackie calls it, for years, looking straight into my soul, speaking wild words to me.  I drew this one a couple of years ago, after a soul-journey.

What captures your imagination and won't let go?

Graphite pencil and watercolor, in my journal.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Choices, Time, and life just a bit out of control.

Well, all right, a LOT out of control. What IS this thing called control, and do I even want it?

Too many choices, too many opportunities, and an embarrassment of riches! 

I still feel the urge to journal and paint...
I love learning, and I am a sucker for books...but I have way, way more than I'll ever be able to read, on a wide variety of subjects. 

And then there are the online courses and classes and videos and groups and seminars and docu-series and workshops and webinars and membership programs and "summits" that capture my interest or curiosity...

I am currently in two membership programs and managed to pass on another one yesterday, a supporter of two Patreons with lots of wonderful offerings I am behind on, taking a class in February that requires preparation NOW (and it's fun and fascinating so of couse I make time!), finishing up a course I was behind in, and signed up for for a month or two to learn some new techniques for sculpting...

...and of course there are my own projects. The sewing, the character dolls, cooking, fermenting, herbalism, tinctures, journaling, painting, meditation, qi gong, tai chi, healing modalities...
This is Faeana Fawkes, who appeared in my imagination last summer and would NOT let go...
Who knew Faeana would bring so many more along with her?!  She was the result of a meditation or a shamanic journey after 3 years of foxes appearing in my life.

She was followed by a number of others, including these two soft-sculpture stuffed foxy girls, Joyful and her sister Studious. 
And then there's sewing for myself...

And Joseph...
He loves his warm, cozy short robe...
And eco-dyeing, one of the courses I'll be taking...there's a Daily Om one, too (and another Daily Om that Joseph would like to take together)...

I AM getting better at hitting delete delete delete DELETE on lists and offerings and courses, and even book temptations, and  I'm unsubscribing right, left, and center (how DID I get on so many mailing lists?!?), but even poor brain feels like a bit of tasty snack food with a bunch of seagulls gathering to nibble it madly (and noisily!) to bits.  

Awake before five this morning trying to think WHICH of the many things to do...and here it is mid-morning and I've accomplished very little.  Paralyzed by choices...and by the internet...

I can't count the times I have aimed for more focus, stillness, attention, Presence...

"Be here now," Ram Dass entreated us, many years ago.  But where is here...?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Under the heading of "art, life,"--and other craziness! Making videos...

Folding journals ARE fun to work in, and relatively fast to make...

They can be small, with only a few pages, like this one, or you can join multiple strips for a longer journal.

I am working on some new videos and images for a new project Danny Gregory's putting together--a new approach upcoming in the future.  Sounded like fun, and relatively easy--which it IS.  Or would be...

This illustration was from a nice, easy PDF a few years ago.  LOTS easier than doing a video, let me tell you!

But oh my, today was one of those days.  (Actually the last two I got off to him a couple of weeks ago were a bit problematical, too, since after multiple tries at sharing our Dropbox folders I ended up doing unlisted videos on YouTube for him to worked, but it was a little less than smooth! )

Anyway, today we finally got a good day and enough time after our doctors' appointments this morning.  Got the table, my chair, lights, tripod, journals, cover boards, glue, stamps, etc. all corralled and ready to go...

And found that NEITHER of our printers is working, so I couldn't print out my script for video with the "starting a new journal" idea, so I decided fine, I'd just do the ones that I didn't need a script for.

And discovered the camera battery was dead.  Found another battery, got the first video almost done (on making covers for the zigzag journals) when Amazon delivered and banged on the door in the middle of videoing!  (Funny, can't say filming any more...or taping...) 

Soooo, starting over on that one, all worked fine this time, and I decided to do a couple of show-and-tell journal videos too, just showing the various techniques and images.  Everybody loves to browse someone else's journal, right?? 

Got done with the first one and the light's battery died just as I started the second.   I decided we were done for the day...

No, this wasn't today...things are quite a bit more complex now.  For one thing, my indoor cats are nosy!  This was the shed, a few years ago, in the winter.  Nice bounced light, though!

I'm putting both of them on YouTube as unlisted, again, and hope they work.  Been at 68% for well over an hour...

Babble babble...

And then, oops.  Watching the videos, I realized I did say "oh, bugger" in the first one, when something went wrong, completely forgetting in the UK that is a BAD word for a lady to be using.   I figure Danny can edit out or leave it, it doesn't bother me, but it might someone!

I hope to get more done tomorrow, and perhaps more smoothly since surely we've worked the bugs out now and I don't feel quite so inept.  Knock wood.  Fingers crossed...

So for those who say it looks so easy, or who ask me why don't I do a video on this, or that, or more of them, or more often...maybe not.

Oh, yeah, I mentioned my YouTube video on making one-page folding journals and that I'd provide a link--that's here in case you'd like to see it again:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Observations from Nature--Being There

For some time, I've been writing my Dayspring observations and sharing them daily on Facebook...for five years now.  Joseph and I ring our small gong and then drum together to greet the new day, then I settle in with a cup of hot tea and my journal to see what unfolds.

My beloved husband says those observations too need sharing...and so here is this morning's...

A flock of noisy crows converge on the hill above the Smallwood--are they mobbing their ancient enemy the owl, or merely discussing avian politics?  I wish I could fly to them and ask what's up, the loud caw caw caw CAW goes on and on, for maybe 10 minutes!

And now I find it was not the owl, it was the red-shouldered hawk, who finally has had quite enough of that cacophanous harassment and streaks off screaming invective, escorted by a pair of corvids.  The rest fall silent, mission accomplished--they move on to the next challenge.

Mission accomplished--or is it!?  Now the hawk returns, screaming defiance--once the crows have moved on.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Farm Life, and Memories...

Another find I didn't know I still had--carbon copies of dozens of articles written in the 70s, our farm years, in the hope of earning part of our living from my writing. Some of it is tripe--trying for a "voice" that might appeal to the then-market of back-to-the-land hippie types, going for "down-home common folk"...what my dad would have called a "shit-kickin' country girl"--and a little of it is damn good. Not fakey, not fooling anybody either, not trying to be someone I wasn't...more like the honest farm diary I never actually kept.

But I guess I did. I had just hoped to share it with a larger audience.
 Almost none of it reached publication. A few articles in the Mother Earth News, a few accepted by but never published in Natural Lifestyles and other alternative publications. (Some published but never paid for, another source of anxiety. I remember all too well those long walks to the mailbox, hoping against hope for that promised $30 check...and the long walk back, in tears of frustration. We were more broke than I ever hope to be again...)

Reading one written during our third winter brought a different kind of tears to my eyes--we were exhausted but learning what farm life is really like. HARD. Demanding. Responsible. Beautiful. Eternal. Deeply satisfying.

And the writing is pretty good, too.


This showed up in my Facebook memories today...and I thought I'd share.  Life.  That's what this blog is about, really...

Monday, November 12, 2018

Trying out Acrylic Gouache, Comparing to the Original Stuff...

Do you ever get tired of saving whites and lights or painting around them?  Do you love the look of plein air work done in oils or other opaque mediums?

I do, and I continue to look for a medium that I really like (in addition to my beloved watercolor) for plein air and journal work, sometimes wishing for freedom from "preserving those whites" that watercolor depends on so heavily--so I decided to give the new acrylic gouache a try.  

There are a number of brands--Holbein's Acryla Gouache is the one I chose, in small tubes to begin with.

Over the years I've used regular acrylics with pleasure in the studio, but I've only taken it with me once or twice in the field.  It dries quickly, and can't be lifted once dry, on the paper or on the palette, of course, but once your palette is dry in the field, you're done--unless you've packed a bunch of tubes!  

I've painted with regular gouache both as a professional illustrator and in my journal, and it's satisfying its way.  (Also called opaque watercolor, also tempera, I believe, in Europe--though it's not the same as childhood's tempera/poster paints.  These are artist quality.)  It can be frustrating, when lights dry darker and darks dry lighter, and I'd wondered if acrylic gouache had the same issues.

So for the past month, I've been exploring, trying out various approaches and applications!  

And so far I find acrylic gouache has pros and cons, for me. I will probably find it most useful, for under painting, tinting a page with a dark color or a mood-setting one.  It doesn't lift under subsequent applications, which may muddy your colors when using regular gouache unless you work very quickly and with a light touch. I DID use it on several of the pages here and it worked well.

(These are all in a journal, with pages approximately 5 x 7".)

I did a dark, almost black underpainting, mixed from burnt sienna and ultramarine, on this page before adding the late fall field in an opaque manner, allowing the dark to show through the closer earth and on the far hill. 

I used a combination of a watery, washy application and more opaque on this feels a bit garish, to me, and I found it difficult to get quite the color/value I was after.  Like regular gouache, acrylic gouache doesn't always dry like you put it down, if not quite as markedly as regular gouache.  Darks still dry lighter, and lights dry darker to a degree, and I have not yet fully learned how to compensate.
This was a quick study of the falls at Tryst Falls Park near here...and you can see one of my first issues, above the sketch--the crowded mess on my palette!  I was also trying out the smaller Masterson's Sta-wet Handy Palette, and quickly ran out of unsullied mixing space on my very first couple of sketches.  Sure enough the paint DOES stay moist, but...

The one on the left is what is in this little journal.  TOO pebbly...but happily Fabriano's soft press is similar to the original.

I did utilize the roughness of the paper in the trees, though, for a lacy effect.  (This is another one that had an underpainting, this time mostly a thin layer of Acryla's Sky Blue.)
I like a palette with a good mixing area or wells, so I can mix a larger amount of paint. With the small, flat Sta-wet (about 6 1/2" x 8"), I run out of unsullied room quickly.  This is a problem with how I work, obviously, and not with the medium itself.

So because of the mess above, I decided to try again, and allow for more mixing room...I don't use all the colors that came in the set, but these seemed most useful.  (I mix my own greens, so no need for the two greens that came in the set.)

Not thinking about the fact that these are quite a bit runnier paints and need to be stored absolutely LEVEL...they didn't remain unsullied here, as you can see, and I haven't even started painting!  I would have to get used to the fact that these paints are more fluid...perhaps a different kind of palette would be better, and I may try that. 
Mind you, I often paint with a tiny Cotman set from Winsor & Newton that I converted to regular gouache years ago...but I believe it would be difficult to clean with acrylics because of the deep wells.
There are actually several issues I ran into, which may or may not be because it's acrylic. I normally prefer to let my paints dry, and prewet a little while before painting, whether watercolor or gouache. Obviously, can't do that with acrylics, dry is dry, and done! It's not how a lot of painters work, I know, but I always have, even with big studio paintings--I just don't like fresh squeezed paint.  For me, it doesn't mix as smoothly once I wet it.  So that was something I'd need to get used to, with these...shouldn't be that difficult, I suppose, since I have painted with acrylics almost since they were first invented and dinosaurs roamed the earth!

Another issue is taking care of my brushes...if acrylic dries in the ferrule the brush may never work well again, or be ruined entirely.  When I'm working at home, that's nut much of an issue, as lots of water is available.  For plein air, not so great.  I DO hurry to thoroughly clean my brushes, though, even at home, as soon as I finish my sketch.  I don't use expensive sable brushes with any acrylic, of course.

I am also used to being able to lift, soften, and adjust some once dry, which is not how you work with dry acrylics, obviously.  A whole different way of working.

I find they didn't blend as smoothly even as regular gouache when wet, for whatever reason. Operator error, perhaps!

So it just doesn't seem to suit the way I work overall.  Keep in mind this is COMPLETELY subjective, based on my own experience and expectations.

I DO like that it dries matte rather than the plasticy sheen most acrylics seem to have.  You can frame without glass or sealing, too, another plus.  My friend and fellow artist/author Larry Seiler works more directly, and told me, when I asked how he liked the acrylic gouache compared to regular, which he has mastered, "Since my method of attack is alla prima, I aim to lay a stroke down as is, not to be fussed over (a brushstroke laid is a brushstroke stayed), it seems to work just fine for me."  Larry's work is gorgeous, so I can only agree!

Check out his website at and explore his books, instructional page, and videos on YouTube, interspersed on his channel, here: !

This is an old bridge near Boonville, Missouri...I'd been wanting to give it a go!

On thing I personally have a problem with is that it encourages more and tighter detail than I'm used to, as in the above sketch.  That could be good, but it felt weird...and somewhat overworked.

I tried for a more direct application this time...
And again, part of the problem may be that I've not yet tried them plein air (see the difficulty of keeping that palette level, above!), and have been working--uncharacteristically for me these days--from photos.  That too can encourage overworking.  When I'm working on the spot, I usually quit when I am tired or uncomfortable!

So, for me:


Dries matte, like regular gouache
Intense color
Soft consistency
Won't lift with subsequent layers
Light over dark possible, like regular gouache
Use opaque or transparently
Doesn't need glass or sealing


Runny, must be carried flat
That same soft consistency!
Still dry rather differently than they go down, somewhat like regular gouache
Don't blend as readily as regular gouache or watercolor
Won't lift once dry 
Brushes need to be cleaned, immediately
For me, personally, they seem to encourage overworking
I will probably continue to explore these paints under a variety of circumstances, but for the present I am more likely to stick with the more traditional forms.   

And that said, my NEXT blog post will be on gouache, in a couple of old-fashioned forms or approaches!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


A few weeks ago I decided to start a new group on Facebook, called Sketch With Me.  In all honesty, it was in the hopes it would get me focused again.  So much drum and flute building the past couple of years cut into my sketching time--or desire.

It worked.  We have nearly 600 enthusiastic members, and it's been amazing.  AND I'm sketching.

It's to be a monthly (probably) virtual sketch weekend, but of course various of us have posted our work before the event (which was October 20th, this first time) and after...'s what I did for the first event...

This one was out my front window before I ever got up and about...

Across from my little shed studio is a new forest I call The Smallwood...this old house is on the hill above it.  I am loving the autumn colors...

My old Prang box and a #4 quill mop were most useful...

This is the actual view...

Trees added...some of them ayway.

Beyond the Smallwood...
 Then we gathered our gear and headed out to Tryst Falls, a local park with a lovely waterfall...and at this time of year the falls are actually flowing!  Our summer's drought had things down to a trickle.

I chose a bent-nib calligraphy pen for the basic sketch...

My subject...
Finished, and pretty happy with it...I love the combination of ink and wash.  (And one of my post popular self-directed mini-classes is on that subject, so I'm guessing others do too!  The link to the class is here.)
I came home and curled up by my chiminea to paint another view of the Smallwood, in gouache on pre-painted paper...that blue was a bit intense!
Just before I called it a day I noticed the sunlight on my neighbor's gorgeous red maple across the street...I could only see a tiny bit of it from where I was, but I liked the contrast...

Tired and hurried, by then, but fun just the same...

Of course since my subject was backlit, I mostly got shadow in the photo!

I have no idea what we'll do next time, but I know there will BE one~

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tracking changes, finding heart homes...

Many years ago...close to thirty, of my lifelong dreams came true--with lots of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention exhaustion and expense) to be sure, but the dream came true all the same.

Down a dusty gravel road I found a bit of land with a pond, a creek, and acres of oak, hickory, walnut and cedar forest.  There were, in some places, a concentration of redbud trees, so that in the spring the forest was painted with splashes of pink.  Wildlife, plants and flowers were abundant...I was in love.

I found it in the midst of a hard drought, not unlike the current conditions, when small creeks and farm ponds were drying all around and wildlife searched for any source of life-giving water.

That small pond glittering in the sun made a backdrop for a dusty "for sale" sign that I almost missed under its coating of dust, and I had to stop to explore.  I jotted down the phone number on the sign, thinking perhaps the land would be in 5 acre plots or smaller, like the homes on the cul de sac on the hill...and perhaps I could think about buying this tiny bit of paradise.

I was working hard, in those a freelancer, I wrote a regular column in Country Living Magazine as well as The Artist's Magazine and then Watercolor Magic (now Watercolor Artist).  I was doing a bit of screenwriting, as well as commercial illustrating for Early American Life, Country Life, and Sports Afield, among others.  Added to the books I was writing--two at a time that year--I often put in 14 hour days.  And was paid for it!  (And paid for it as well but that's another story...)

Turned out that it was NOT a 5 acre plot for sale but almost 20 acres!  I was sure that I couldn't afford it...but given all of the work I was doing, everything fell into place, and lo, I could...and did.

I hadn't intended to build...only to explore, and learn, and have a safe place to wander with few people.  But my childhood spent in tiny cabins all over the Ozarks and Colorado kept haunting my dreams...I knew a place in the woods would give me a place to work undisturbed.  And so the dream took hold.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." --Henry David Thoreau

So, I took the old man's advice, and did.  With the help and guidance and mentorship of young friend and builder Greg Young, that's exactly what I did.

And of course, wrote a book about it...

Published in 1991, the book was the culmination of a dream. And what a joy, first to build the place and then get to share that process...
And to my great delight, nearly 30 years later the book has been republished, by Echo Point Books and Media!  You can find  The Naturalist's Cabin; Constructing a Dream on Amazon and elsewhere!

I've drawn and painted the place many times and written several books there.  I've shared it with friends, celebrated milestones, and gone to ground there when my heart was broken by grief.  And then, took myself there to heal...and start the cycle of life all over again.  It's one of my heart homes...

We've been through a lot, that little 14' x 16' cabin of mine...floods, droughts, losses, triumphs, celebrations...we're aging, hopefully gracefully, together.

And so, still, I find things to chronicle.  Closer to the cabin, these days, since arthritis curtails much of my wandering down the rocky creek or up and over the steep bluffs.  but even when I was younger, I was fascinated by my covered bird feeder.  It once had plastic sides to hold more seed, but the resident raccoons soon made short work of that!

Triplets were a bit hard on the thing, and once I found the whole superstructure on the ground...
This is all that remains,'s aged, as have I!  What's left of the roof is under the deck, and the remainder is now a platform feeder--and moss garden!

But as always, I wanted to chronicle the changes...
Pen and ink and watercolor were my mediums of choice...first washes, here...

I was using my customized small Schmincke travel set--I'd removed the inner metal tray for half pans and replaced it will full pans with my own pigment choices.  A pen and a travel brush kept my gear simple!

I played around a bit with my kids' set as well--I ordered it online from Wet Paint in Minneapolis, where my friend Roz Stendahl finds such fun things.  I pulled the guard off the Niji flat waterbrush to make a longer, juicier's still small enough to fit in those little round pans, though!  (Check out Roz's linked blog and classes, she is a GOLDMINE of information!)

This is one of those progressive pages...testing inks, pens, brushes...

Again, if you'd like to read about finding the land, exploring its natural wonders, and building a cabin in the woods, here is the link!  Just click on the title: The Naturalist's Path


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