Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mournful Jesse

Jesse has that unerring cat sense that tells him when we're sneakily getting ready to go out of town and leave him at the boarding kennel.  This morning we put the cat carrier out on the back porch where he couldn't see it from the house.  We held off packing and hid the bags and piles of clothes.  But sure enough Jesse knew.  All these are drawings of him peering sadly out the door and finally giving up and going over to his food bowl.  He for sure knows something's up when we won't let him go outside.   Shortly before 3:00 he disappeared, and he didn't come out of wherever he has found to hide until we were afraid he had slipped outside somehow and then we would never find him in time to bring him over to Top Dog before 5:00.  Just as we were giving up, he appeared in the kitchen.

We'll be gone for five days, heading to New Orleans by train, taking Jacob with us, to visit my beloved aunt plus some favorite cousins.  I'll be drawing but not posting till early next week. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bovine Semi -Abstract

Last night Maya was over and I never got around to posting.  But here are some things she made:  a stuffed terrycloth mustache (orange), a necklace made out of a sheep button,  and the peachy orange and white sheep at left below.  We now have three sheep in our inventory and hope to complete two more for her to sell at the Delany holiday fair December 6.

Today the farm crew moved the cows from the field adjacent to our backyard to one at the corner near the old silo.  I was able to get very close to the cows , and all the rest of these drawings are of cows.  The sun was very bright and angled exactly into my eyes, so it was challenging to draw.  I decided to just go for cow-like gestures and shapes, no time-consuming details .

 After a few minutes I got warmed up and really enjoyed following cows around with my pen.  Of course they never stand still, even when they seem to be still.  What struck me was how silent it was out there.  Here were probably thirty large animals standing around, walking around, lying around;  and the only sound was the occasional breathing sound or chomping on grass.  No mooing, no snorting.  So peaceful. 

When I got home I  painted over everything with plain water, no pigment.  The supposedly waterproof pen bled very nicely.  This is a technique I picked up from my friend Annie Cicale, only she uses a pen known to be non-waterproof.  My pen was the one I've been believing to be waterproof, but the ink probably was still wet enough to be re-wet.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Restaurant Notes: Puffy Hair and Shitake Kale Rice Bowl

P and I went walking around WAsheville late this afternoon, found some neighborhood treasures, and ended up at King Daddy's for an early dinner.  It seemed to be puffy hair night at KD, except for pony tail man, whose hair was not puffy but was unusually long for the genre.
I had a spectacular rice bowl, perfect for after a chilly walk.  As far as I could tell, these ingredients  combined at home should yield the same results.  There were many, many shitakes, only two smallish stewed tomatoes, an abundance of kale cut into small pieces, a handful of pepitos (pumpkin seeds), and one poached egg.  Perfection!

Friday, November 21, 2014

On the Table at Crit Group

This morning was our monthly critique group.  Here are sketches of some in-progress work, a sketchbook, a work-in-progress built around some eerie readymades.  Always the best conversations, the most honest and essential exchanges.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gratitude for Soups That I Don't Have to Cook

I keep coming across people writing about the things they're grateful for, and I can tell you that at the top of my list is gratitude that  I live in grocery-store-rich Asheville with its endless supply of organic and non-GMO take out.  Yesterday around 5 PM  I went to the new Whole Foods with the lukewarm intention of buying Something to Fix for Dinner.  I didn't have to go any further into the store than the take out refrigerator case, which featured quart-sized containers of in-store-made soups of such wonderfulness that I brought not one but several quarts home, and everybody got to choose which two or three or even four to sample.  And not only that, but 30 different types of Kind bars---

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plaster Fossils and Tangerines

When my eldest son was in fifth grade, he went camping with his class from McDonogh #16 in New Orleans, and he brought home a plaster raccoon footprint that he had made.  It's a very well-made impression, and thanks to the little piece of wire embedded at the top, it has hung in all of our many  kitchens since 1977.  Tomorrow is Mike's birthday, so I painted his raccoon print for him  to thank him for it and let him know that I think of him every day when I see that funky little print.  At the top right is a second generation animal print-- a bobcat print that Mike's son Tallis made a couple of years ago when he was a cub scout. 

Across the bottom some quick drawings of the tangerines that L brought over tonight for our studio work period. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Chunky Old Mostly Rusty Things

Hiking with my friend M today we went into some woods that I haven't walked in for a while.  M is great at finding things-- she's the one who found Owl Man as well as the hidden shelter last spring-- and today she showed me an old chimney that was so beautifully constructed.  All that's left of it is the last four or five feet and part of the fireplace.  We admired the moss garden that lives on the stones, and M found a rusty round lid to something, maybe an old stove burner cover or something to do with this fireplace.  I drew it, topside and flipside.

When I got home I spotted three nice heavy rusty objects that J and I found on our recent trip to the rail yard.  I had put them outside near the carport to rust some more, and it was fun to see them today and remember that trip.  They also reminded me of a many-years-ago trip that three-year-old J and I made one afternoon:  we went out exploring on the UNCA campus, walking around some old tennis courts that had been turned into a parking lot.  We played air tennis for a while, and then J found a rusty thing, some kind of a fastener maybe.  He was very interested in picking up the rusty things, so we made a game of collecting all the rusty things we could find in that place that afternoon.  We found several pocketsful of rusty metal things and brought them all home.  We wondered what these objects were and how they had ended up on the tennis court/parking lot.  J doesn't remember this afternoon, but he still likes to pick up stuff and so do I!  He's the one that encouraged me to bring home these rail yard treasures.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Obsession and Entropy

 While painting today's seedless persimmon purchase,  I took a break and googled seedless persimmons.  Apparently this seedlessness is a complex and misunderstood issue.  I copied down a few quotes from a thread on a persimmon growers' list. 
Meanwhile, down at the end of the road, the pumpkins in the silo are slowly returning to chaos.  Only two are still sitting in their windows, and their faces are scrambling and melting.  They're looking less cute and more like terrified prisoners in a tower.  I have to admit that I still like them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Amateur Memory Drawing

I never draw out of my head, just can't do it.  This pitiful bird drawing, which looks a lot like a stuffed penguin with an elongated tail, or maybe a fat dove with a strange red tail, is a drawing that I made from memory of an astonishing giant bird that I saw today while walking in downtown Asheville enroute Whole Foods from the Y.  This bird must have been 18" from head to tail.  It zoomed in like a low-flying plane right overhead and landed heavily on a telephone wire very close to where I was standing with my mouth hanging open.  Two small birds were flying near it, but when it landed they took off.  I dug in my bag for a pen but worst luck-- no paper at all to draw on.  I stood there memorizing the shape of the bird.  It was silhouetted against a bright overcast sky, so it looked dark gray but with white belly.  After a few minutes it took off, and I saw its reddish brown tail.  The tail was blunt and not tapered or swallowtaily.  I saw the bird dive down between a house across the street and a garage, but I couldn't see what was going on.
I looked up giant gray-black raptors with reddish tails in NC on my phone right away, and I think this thing was a red-tailed hawk.  When I got home I painted from memory the painting on the other page (as well as the flying version, which was so surprising with that bright red tail).  Then I copied a red-tailed hawk from the web page, only I adjusted the illustration to reflect what I actually saw.  According to the page the grey-black top part can have white spots and streaks, but I didn't see any.  I hadn't even noticed the yellow feet and beak, but I believe that was what color they were.  At any rate, there was no other raptor on the web page that remotely looked like the bird I saw.  The real identifying feature for me was the red top side of the tail.

The little orangey moons are some that I carved earlier today for an book that I'm working on.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Exotic Seeds from Pia

Pia sent me three large pods from a tree that is in the same family as the mimosa tree.  I found out that it's called an elephant ear tree in some places, a monkey ear tree in others.  It's called guanacasta in Costa Rica, which means ear tree.  The shiny brown pods look like very large human ears, and the seeds are beautiful-- oval with dark oval centers surrounded by tan rings.  The seed packaging is intricate-- a translucent membrane seals each seed into a little chamber wherein it rattles around when the pod is mature and dry.   This is the national tree of Costa Rica, but in Florida, where it also grows, it's more or less a garbage tree.  The seeds can be ground into a flour that has 35% protein, which is three times the amount of protein in wheat flour.  The seeds are also used in jewelry-- I actually have a necklace made of these seeds. 
Pia also sent me a mojo-- the macuna sloanei seed shown at the top left.  This name means deer's eye in Spanish, and it is used to ward off the Evil Eye.  It looks like a nicely designed yoyo or a very tiny hamburger in a bun.  I read up on it a little and found out that it is tropical, easily dispersed by sea, hence one of its names:  Sea Bean.  The seed contains L-Dopa, and it could potentially be used medicinally but needs more research.  It comes in a pod with one other seed.

Below the Deer's Eye are some delonia regia seeds, also known as Royal Poinciana, native of Madagascar.  Not as elaborate as the mucuna sloanei but also shows up in jewelry, including another necklace that I have.  And on the right are a half-dozen persimmon seeds that Pia said came from a type of small persimmon.  These are NOT weather forecasting seeds, but very pretty.  I drew all of the seeds and pods life-size, so you can see these are hefty seeds. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Arrival of Treasures

It was impossible to post last night because I was in the middle of installing Yosemite on my Macbook, which made scanning impossible as it took hours to download the files and more hours this morning to install.  But all is done now and here, then, are yesterday's and today's drawings.  First, two more cats from F's house.  On the left a small colorful maybe wood, maybe papier mache celebratory cat;  and on the other side a little bronze cat, one of three. 

I picked up Maya from school yesterday to keep her for the few minutes between when she had to be picked up and when she could be fetched by her parents;  the timing was perfect, because that afternoon a fantastic package had arrived from Pia in Barcelona!  At the top right of this page is a small pillow that Maya immediately made from a piece of fish printed cloth from Pia.  There was another piece of pretty cloth, a tin of Spanish paprika, a lovely piece of beaded lace for Maya to make a bracelet out of, two old photographs for Jacob for inspiration, seeds-- unbelievable seeds-- that will start me drawing seeds all over again--

--and a piece of plushy pink terrycloth for making a sheep with pink.  We started the pink-legged sheep today and will finish her tomorrow morning.  Pia, how can you be such a mind reader and send exactly the things we have been longing for  (including the great rice bag for my next book cover???)
On the left is frozen Charlie sleeping on the pillow Maya made and inside the sleeping bag she made a few  minutes later.  This evening in between bouts of sewing and watching episodes of Once Upon a Time we made meringues.  Maya got the idea from a friend at school today and wanted to make some to bring to his party tomorrow.  Here are sketches of a few of them, really nice looking and quite delicious.  We tinted them a very light minty green.  Tomorrow:  Pia's SEEDS!  Thank you, Pia, and please check your FB messenger for a more complete thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speed Drawing

SOme days there's only time for drawing on the fly.  Tonight I settled in to draw some restaurant patrons, and halfway into the couple at bottom left, our dinner arrived.  So I wrapped it up with a few strokes, and then quick-quick sketched one of the waiters, who was not still for one second but kept moving back into the pose every few minutes.  After dinner I managed to get the woman with her basket of chips.
At home Jesse was nearby, so I drew him while he grabbed a snack.  I really looked at his tail and noticed that he has eight stripes, counting the dark tip.  That explosion of yarn on the right side is Jesse's new bed.  I found a piece of leather from a long-haired sheep that had sheep hair on one side.  I thought J would love this bed.  But he ignored it for a week.  So I put it on the chair that I sit in to draw, and that's when he started sleeping in it.  Now he's back to ignoring it, but it makes a nice chair cover for chilly days in the studio.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Club!

Book Club is a great place to draw because we meet in different houses and I get to draw other people's things.  Tonight:  this white ceramic vase of oakleaf hydrangeas, possibly dried, definitely sumptuous.  Also, the ceramic cat that I've been wanting to draw for a while and finally sat within eye range of.  I should say that it is glazed in orange and for a long time I thought it was made of papier mache because of its wonderful unseriousness and uncuteness.  And down in the corner is a part of a basket of strawberries.
On the other side of the room was this loopy cat toy, which I've never seen a cat play with, and I spend a lot of time in this house.  I did see Nate play with it a few years ago when he was just starting to crawl and his family was house swapping with F and J.  And on the right, E's lovely boot, which I covet.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Double Interventions

Living in a rural area for the first time in my life, I take great pleasure at finding evidence of interventions in the land that show the presence of humans even in the middle of a forest.  I especially enjoy old interventions, such as the brick ruin of a silo that stands at the base of our road in such a position that on icy mornings it's a challenge to avoid sliding down the hill, taking out the little fence, and landing in the silo.  It was built in the 1920s by students at the then Asheville Farm School.  All that's left is a brick cylinder, roofless, with five arched openings that look like old windows, but are actually openings that used to let grain out to a kind of conveyor that used to be attached to the outside of the silo.  My neighbor, who was born on the farm (his father was the farm manager) remembers farm school students climbing inside and standing on the grain while they shoveled it into the openings and onto the conveyor.

Every year for Halloween students from the college farm crew put pumpkins in the openings, and this year they've left them out.  Every day this past week I've wanted to go draw the pumpkins, and I finally made it tonight just before dark.  I got as close as I could, crouched down on the county road side while semis and cars whipped past.  I noticed that some of the pumpkins are looking a little wan, but that only makes them better.  I love the silo in all its seasons and times of day, but especially when festooned with slouching pumpkins.

The other double intervention is along one of the trails that I often walk in the woods.  Many years ago someone thought it would be good to bring some goats to live in the woods at the foot of the mountain near the little apple orchard.  Theoretically the goats would keep the orchard mowed, and they would produce some milk at the same time.  So they knocked together a milking stand (today almost completely reclaimed by vines) and a little hut.  The hut has recently sprouted a plastic gnome doll with hot pink hair.  He stands inside the hut like he's trying to decide whether or not to rent it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Odd Fruit, Protecting Itself

I came across some local persimmons in the grocery today; so I decided to buy one and take it home to see if it had seeds in it that could forecast the winter weather.  A few weeks ago I bought some persimmons from California at Whole Foods, but they turned out to have no seeds.  Barren persimmons, useless for my investigation.  Well, I struck out again.  What's going on with persimmons?  This one was smaller than the California ones, and it was a little softer.  But when I cut it open I saw the same seedless seed places.  I took a bite of this one.  It tasted sweet and juicy at first;  then the inside of my mouth began to feel like it had been spray painted with texture paint.  Who eats persimmons?  Do you have to brine them or something in order to eat them??

Next to the persimmons in the exotic fruit section was this hand-grenade of a fruit.  The sign said simply "horned squash."  The horns were sharp and irregularly distributed over the surface.  I imagined a kind of cantaloup would be inside.  But no-- when I cut it in half this is what was there:  densely packed green seeds surrounded by a little gelatinous green stuff.  There was nothing to eat, unless this fruit is one of those pomegranate  fruits that really don't have much besides the seeds that you suck on and spit out.  I could imagine a colorful but frustrating salad made of pomegranate seeds and horned squash seeds. 

I've read that most plants don't really want to be eaten and have devices to defend themselves and ward off predators such as humans:  spines, bitter taste, hard shells, poison, irritating oils.  This plant makes fruit that is destined to be left alone in peace to ripen its seeds and then release them in time. 

Friday, November 7, 2014


Once I spent an afternoon in a grove of flowering pomegranate trees. The sharp-edged petals were the same vermillion orange- red as the fruit.  The grove was on a tiny island in Lago Trasimeno near Cortona, Italy.  Ducks that swam with their babies on their backs paddled along the shore.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Neighborhood Archaeology

These four are all old, and  all surfaced after many years underground.  We dug up the little rusty goat bell at top left while digging new gardens when we moved into our current house, around 12 years ago.  It doesn't have a clapper anymore and is frail and lacy around the edges.  We wonder whether this belonged to a goat that was temporarily hired to clear brush on the lot or that was maybe part of a herd of goats when this land was farmland around 100 years ago.

The bell at the bottom seems to be possibly a cow bell because it's so much larger and stronger than the goat bell.  We dug it up while digging a garden during 1972, our first year in Indiana.  It has a clapper and still rings in a clangy, unsonorous cow bell way.  Someone must have kept a cow in that yard when the neighborhood was farmland.  The house dated from the early 1900s, and by the time the house was built the area had been subdivided into little lots for factory houses for the nearby Ball Band plant.  So the cow bell could be quite a bit older than the house.

On the right at the top is the oldest object we own.  It's a stone knife that my son David found in a newly-plowed cornfield around 1998.  I was working that summer on the archaeological site adjacent to the cornfield, and I brought the knife to the archaeologist the next Monday to see what he could tell me about it.  It was useless to him as an artifact of course, because it had been found out of context in a field that had been plowed for years; but based on the kind of material and the flint-knapping techniques, the archaeologist estimated the knife to be several thousand years old, way older than the artifacts we were finding in the nearby site where we were digging about 24 inches underground and finding  arrowpoints that were 2-3000 years old.  It's a lovely little knife, and the marks of work on it are fresh and sparkly.  You can see exactly where it was chipped and shaped, and the edge is still sharp.

The spear point on the bottom is from a friend's backyard in Indiana.  My friend collected arrow and spear points from his property, and gave me this large example many years ago.  He didn't know anything about it, and I certainly didn't.  The material is a lot smoother than the stone knife, and the working marks are clear and detailed.  You can just see the stem of the point where it was fastened to a stick with sinews. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Thoughtless Drawing

 Tonight's drawings happened without any thinking on my part.  The first two appeared on notebook pages while I was leading a meeting this afternoon.  At a certain point I was unable to not draw the sinuous lines of a scarf, even though I was listening to the scarf-wearer intently.  I hardly glanced at the paper until afterwards.  It felt wonderful to trace those flowy lines, tuck into that bunchy knot.
 This second drawing happened right after the scarf.  Someone had tossed a jacket onto the seat of the booth we were sitting in, and again I could not resist.  I seem to be able to listen better when I draw.  I can remember the whole conversation; yet the only notes I took were the lines in the jacket.  Drawing is mysterious when it slips out of conscious control, as it is doing more and more these days.
My friend L came over this evening and we parallel drew while we visited for a couple of hours.I started with the now-withered rose hip that has been featured on these pages several times since I found it last week.  I like the crenelations  it is acquiring and the dark greenish mildew that is forming in tiny rims along the perimeter of the dark end. 

Next I drew a couple of my mojo items.  The heart has a woman who is part plant on both sides.  I don't know where it came from but it's been rattling around my studio for several years.  This time it popped up on a shelf with other little things, including the face at the top.  I really like this face.  It has a hole drilled through it, so it must be a bead of some kind.  It's about the size that I drew it, tiny, not quite half an inch and made of metal. 

The notebook these are all drawn in has terrible thin paper with enormous strike-through and limited absorbency, but it worked okay.  It looks like check register paper or something.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Finalists in the Leaf Contest

Just when I thought I was over the leaves, I spotted this weirdly-patterned cucumber root vine outside my studio window.  You have to know that I despise this poor plant.  It thrives in all of our gardens as well as all over the woods, where it rips our hands with its wire-thin thorns when we attempt to pull it up.  It actually can't be pulled up because it's eternally anchored to the soil by a prickly hand grenade-shaped root (the cucumber) that seems to be impossible to remove/kill/stab to death.  Usually it's a not-remarkable leaf that turns brown in fall.  With the strange weather we've had this fall, the leaves on this vine that is busily choking to death a small tree out back have turned golden first and only now are getting brown, and the veins are staying golden.  How did people ever figure out this wretched plant had an edible root?

So I decided to allow three and three only prize winning leaves today.  The lovely pink-to-yellow leaf at the top right is one of many under that particular tree in the woods.  I think it's one of the nut trees.  And at the bottom right is a rare example of an oak leaf that turned maroon but retained an interesting pattern of green.  Most of the leaves are down now after this weekend's storm.  Snow lingers in shady drifts.  Time to move on to a new subject.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

French Braid for Maya

Maya's over here this afternoon and over night.  Here she is working on a label for one of the teething sheep that we made.  We made two sheep today, took a short and very cold hike, had a nice leisurely shopping at Whole Foods, and also prowled the aisles of Home Depot searching for some poplar for a block I'm getting ready to carve.
After dinner Maya asked me if I knew how to make French braids.  I sort of knew, theoretically;  but I grew up with four brothers and no sisters and raised three sons and no daughters.  And even though all of the sons went through phases of long hair, none of them ever required braids of any kind from me.  Maya knew just what to do:  "While I take my shower, you go watch some YouTubes and learn how to do it."  So that's what I did, and here's the result.  It's a little messy because she wanted me to braid it wet so that it would dry with some waves in it.  Tomorrow morning I'm supposed to make a regular, dry French braid, now that I'm a graduate of YouTube French Braid Tutorials.  And on the right are the two sheep.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bad Drawing Materials?

 I jumped out of bed this morning into a peculiar, unseasonable light.  The floor was really cold under my bare feet, and little particles were spitting against the window:  snow!  On the first of November!  The autumn leaves on the trees are still clinging, only now they're looking kind of frantic, those warm colors --the apricots and rusts and mustardy yellows --under heavy clumps of snow.

I grabbed the only pen in sight, a clumsy ballpoint give-away from a local business, and the small sketchbook with the less-than-perfect paper that I've been dealing with for the past couple of weeks and hope to finish with today.  As I drew the snow-covered lawn ram outside the bedroom window, I remembered how beautifully a former student of mine drew with just such a ballpoint pen.  I remember that he not only used ratty old ballpoint pens, but he kept jars full of them classified according to the degree of almost-out-of-inkness they possessed.  He needed certain degrees for each value of the chiaroscuro effect he achieved in his drawings.  His drawings were beautiful.  I have never liked ballpoint for drawing, but I had to conclude that that was just my issue, not an inherent flaw in the pen itself.  I still don't enjoy drawing in ballpoint, but I decided to stick with it today and see what I could do with it.  (Mainly I didn't feel like walking through the cold house to find my real pen.)
 This next drawing is of some azalea leaves bearing a heavy burden of wet snow.  Many of the leaves are completely covered but the top pair are like a pair of hands holding this mound of white stuff.  They remind me of cotton bolls full of cotton.
 Still using the draggy, blobby ballpoint, I next drew the underside of the leatherleaf mahonia leaves,  pale mustard yellow under their snow blanket.  When I washed some yellow-green over the drawing of the leaves, the ballpoint ink bled a little, and I thought of my friend A who uses a Pilot Precise pen that isn't waterproof, because she likes the way a wash will turn the ink line into a part of the wash.  I've never been good at doing that and have therefore shunned those pens.  Once again, my issue, not a flaw of the pen.
 For this drawing of a part of the crepe myrtle bush in the backyard I did the minimal:  a few blobs of yellow watercolor, and a wash of Payne's grey, saving out the whites.  This bush was another case of autumn leaves under unusual snow cover.
Finally, a big fat rose hip frosted with snow.  It is reminding me of, what else?  a cake pop!  By this time I'm no longer hating the pen and the rough, unresponsive paper.  I actually like the way the paper blots up the watercolor, and I think I've achieved a decent line bleed.