Animals

More on location sketching, yay!

The agapanthas, those tall lacy clusters along our walkway, are just starting to bloom. They’ve been here for longer than our 20 years in this home. And this afternoon I sat down to try and figure out how to sketch them, and the rest of the scene. . .agapanthas1

As I was sketching the birds and the bees were checking me out, or so I thought. I like to think I’m accepted by the plant and animal kingdoms even though I spend the majority of my time in my house/studio with frequent and all too brief forays into the outdoors. The hummingbirds, whose feeder is to my right, did that suspension in mid air thing as if to say, what are you doing here? And Sylvester the cat, who has never let me pet him, talked to me in that soft kitty way that I wish I understood.

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It ended up being more about the red geranium because, of course, it’s a scene stealer.

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Yesterday I made another trip to the farmer’s market and had a different vantage point than last week. Turning my head in a 180 degree arc I found enough subjects of interest and just piled them up to make a single scene. The conversation I overheard was yet another typically local one which included the remark “I can’t believe my brother is a Trump supporter!”

Pigs and Clouds

My friend Ruth happened to mention that her neighbor next door has pigs, so I invited myself over to visit them . . .oh, to visit her too.

Since there will be no county fair this year, no 4H kids with their pigs ready to show, I took the opportunity to meet Goldie and Zoomzoom. They were quite busy sticking their snouts in the wet mud, snorting and carrying on as pigs are wont to do. I’m not sure where the syllables “oink oink” originated because I heard none of that. I quickly gave up trying to sketch them from the perimeter and did this later from pictures.

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Can you imagine the good fortune of the small children of this household who get to ride around on the backs of these remarkable creatures? Of course I wonder how they will feel when their porcine friends become bacon.

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The time to paint the sky in California is mainly in the winter and early spring when there is more than just endless blue skies. But one day last week I realized that we didn’t have many days left with those heavenly cloud formations. So I grabbed my sketchbook to try to capture the scene outside my studio door.

But then the light kept changing every five minutes and the smoke bush was glowing and changes colors and I got all excited and frenetic and lost it all!  So I turned it into a kind of map of one portion of my one acre home. Some day, who knows, I’ll look back on this sketch and it will fire off the sound of rushing waters in winter and the smell of mint and the excitement of my young boys who found the mint there and transplanted it closer to the house, where we now regularly pick it for recipes and tea.

Butterfly Love

About 18 years ago I learned about the rare pipevine swallowtail butterfly from a local treasure, Louise Hallberg of Hallberg Butterfly Gardens. Louise was a butterfly whisperer, and I wanted to be like her. I found the host plant living in a hilly ravine in my neighborhood, and planted some under an apple tree.

Each year I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the butterflies in February and watched as the vine extended its reach. In those early days I was busy and it was not til a few years ago that I started noticing the orchid-like Dutchman’s pipe flowers hiding under the leaves on the vine, and a couple more years til I noticed the starfruit-like fruit on the vine and the tiny clusters of eggs.

Yet I always wondered where the caterpillars went to to metamorphose into the pupa or chrysalis stage. . .until this year.

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Maybe it’s because I’m home all the time and walking back and forth to my studio from the house, but this year I watched a butterfly drying it’s wings, newly emerged from its dormancy. And this week I have been watching caterpillars as they migrate, looking for a place to form their chrysalids. I fear for their safety from predators. (Louise used to bring them into her house and keep them safe while they went dormant.)

And then I got to watch a caterpillar do it’s “transition” on the gutter above the door to my studio!  In 24 hours it became a jewel-like chrysalid with its “coat” dangling on the end of a string! The next day it was a different jewel-like color. I must say I’m enchanted.

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Something is definitely going on in our ecosystem this year. In addition to the caterpillar/butterfly action this week we were visited by a bobcat in our backyard one day and a great blue heron the next. And the birdsong. . .well I’ve written about that. It’s operatic! Have you noticed nature reaching out to us humans more this year as we quiet down?

 

Corvid: Corvidae

If you’re like I was, you’re probably doing a double take. I mean it looks like the name of that virus we’re all freaked about about, right? But that’s Covid and this has an R and it’s a family of birds we know well.

Corvid:  any of a family (Corvidae) of stout-billed passerine birds including the crows, jays, magpies, and the raven. And my friend Laurie Wigham had the prescience to challenge the Nature Journal club with a shelter-in-place meet up idea to sketch them, 19 of them in fact!

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I had already decided to employ my Pentalic accordian fold sketchbook, which was contributing nothing whatsoever by staying in my drawer for the past 12 months, to sketching the bud break in my garden. I realized the other side could be devoted to crows.

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This also gave me an opportunity to try out a new bent tip fountain pen I just got.

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So you may have guessed that these Corvids were not posing for me, but were gleaned from my online research into what their differences might be.

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The Magpies were my favorite. They are real tricksters yet nevertheless they are a good luck symbol, so I think we need them at this moment in time, or maybe always.

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The Rook is a Dickensian-looking character of chess fame.

Tomorrow I’ll get out and try to finish the bud side of the book.

And if you’d like to explore sketching the Corvids this week, join in with the Nature Journal Club

The Sweetest Cat no longer in this world

We’ve known for the past month that our beloved Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, was preparing for his final passage. It almost seemed he was waiting to spend his last days with the boys who grew up with him. Who can know such things? They lavished him with attention in the two weeks they were here for the holidays and he responded with steady purrs and the kitty conversation Phil was known for. He passed away on the evening the full moon rose.

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All my students and many folks who came to open studios over the years will remember Phil, because he was the official greeter, happy to receive a neck or belly scratch from all visitors.

I’ve gone back in history to find sketches and paintings of Phil I have posted here on the blog. The above collage is his “official” portrait, hanging in our home along with other beloved pets.

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I was never able to sketch or garden in our yard without the company of Phil. He would nudge me to let me know I must give him attention before I could get on with my business.

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When I was trimming plants in the garden I would have to take special care not to snip his whiskers or tail, because he couldn’t seem to get close enough and was always talking.

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Phil would eventually find a spot on the bench to nap after a long spell of purring.

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Phil was a teenager when he adopted us about 17 years ago, just showing up and insisting in no uncertain terms that we belonged to him!

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He acquired the habit of throwing himself down suddenly in front of people on our walkway, exposing his belly, with a clear message that he was to receive love before one could proceed.

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And then Sylvester showed up, and his devotion to Phil was so complete that even though Phil gave him the message, in no uncertain terms, that this property was  his territory, Sylvester persisted. . .and eventually they came to terms with the arrangement and became Phil and Syl, eating, sleeping, and lounging together. When I finally got around to doing Sylvester’s portrait, I knew it would be incomplete without his best friend.

Recently on the cold winter nights when Phil was so weak, Sylvester warmed him with his body and checked on him throughout the day.

This may not be the end of my portrait-making of Phil, though it is the end of Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, who we will never forget! The boys want to plant a tree in the yard for him above where he is buried.

We would love to hear any of your memories of this lovable feline family member!

Evacuation and beyond

Alas I had in mind the blazing colors of autumn growth when I painted this in Muse Group a couple weeks ago. The theme was the “tree of life” and we were painting on crinkled Masa paper. We’d had a lovely uneventful “fire season” at that point and even a few drops of rain. But by now you probably have heard about our massive Kincaid fire, evacuations, and lengthy power outages. The sentiment is strong here. . .oh no not this again!

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acrylic and collage on crinkled Masa paper, 10 X 10″

When the neighboring towns of Windsor and Healdsburg evacuated and the winds were blowing our direction, we packed up our photo albums, hard drives and important papers and headed down to a hotel in Daly City, just below San Francisco where we figured that PG+E would not cut the power. There we stayed for four days, glued to the news and texts from friends, to await the terrifying spread of this firestorm.

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While our brave fire warriors battled the flames and thousands of courageous evacuees buttressed themselves against the sudden drop in temperatures without heat and power, we hunkered down in Daly City and made a hotel our temporary home. To manage the anxiety I sketched, starting on Day 2.

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On Day 3 we visited sketch buddy, Laurie Wigham and John, in nearby Bernal Heights. Laurie took me up the hill to enjoy 180 degree views of the city. In her good company and from that vantage point I could feel more philosophical about the possibility of losing our home.

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Daly City is well endowed with malls and access to a freeway that is a major artery to SF and the bay area. The eating establishments within walking distance of our hotel included Inn n Out Burger, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Mr. Pickle and Miss Tomato sandwich shops. The waiting and constant attempt to get updated news was exhausting. We wandered malls to find dinner.

By Day 4 I decided to go for a nature walk around nearby Lake Merced. It turned out that the “trail” was next to rushing traffic, BUT the lake was teaming with birdlife! So I spent a delightful hour in nature therapy, listening to bird conversations and arguments. I couldn’t quite tell which they were.

I have no more illustrations for after that. The winds died down. The fire is mostly contained. No one died in this fire though around 87 homes were lost. We’re out of danger for now, though our hearts are now with southern California as the fire monster is not ready to rest yet. The population of Sonoma County is back home with electricity mostly restored, grocery stores at least partially restocked and air that so far is mostly breathable.

And now we know, that all can change once again. There’s not really a home free anymore.

Pet Families

I like to sit in on the Community meetings at The Living Room where I learn about services that are available to homeless and at risk women and children. One particularly popular program is called Dogwood. It’s an animal rescue project that supports animals and the people who love them. And in the case of the women who come to The Living Room this service is as supportive as the hot meals, counseling, and groups. The pets support these women in crisis in fundamental ways we can all relate too.

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So I continually add to my sketches of women with their dogs and hear heart warming stories like. . .

“I couldn’t have made it on the streets without his companionship.”

“My dogs are like family, only better. They love me regardless of what happens.”

“I have learned that I have to take care of things even when I’m down so that I can continue to take care of her. “

“I need them with me so that I can feel safe in the [homeless] encampments.”

“They won’t abandon me like my ____________.”

“When I cry, they lick my face and make me feel better.”

sofia_1 “He sleeps on my chest, right over my heart.”

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The Living Room is a place where women can get help and feel connected with a community of people like themselves. And that connection flows generously to folks like myself whose only real difference is that I don’t have the anxiety and depression that comes as a matter of course with having lost the security of a home. And that caring spirit extends seamlessly to the pets, who enjoy an extended family of caretakers that make it possible for women to participate in activities at times without their pets.

See some of the other TLR pet sketches here.

While in S.F. last weekend

We stayed at a friend’s apartment next to Ghiradelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf so it was easy to find a nearby bench and catch the morning crowd assembling for their tours. I was reminded of the Urban Sketchers Symposiums I’ve been attending the last few years, with the leaders holding up their signs and greeting people as the excitement built.

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I’ve often been to the DeYoung Art Museum in Golden Gate Park, but not to the California Academy of Sciences right across the way, at least not since the boys were little. So, dear Bob humored me (my interest more than his!) for a day, so I could explore my favorites – the planetarium, rain forest with its butterflies, aquarium, and natural history museum. Yes! all under one roof.

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. . .the roof top being a garden, where I had a few minutes for a quick capture.

 

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Believe it or not I have a soft spot in my heart for praying mantises, and not just because they stand still to be sketched. When I had to deny my boys a pet dog due to allergies, I allowed some insects and reptiles/amphibians, including a mantis who did his praying for months in Ben’s room.

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Another attraction that remained still for me right across from a bench where I could rest my weary feet was these zebras. Sketching the stripes was a kind of meditation.

If you’re thinking of visiting this exceedingly popular museum you will hopefully find it quieter (than we did) on weekdays now that school is out. Unless that is you have a particular fondness for sketching children everywhere in motion. . .

Back Yard Nature Journaling

It’s raining hard now of course, but earlier this week I treated myself to an hour in my studio garden without feeling compelled to pull any weeds! But I’m not one for idleness, so I found the largest Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on a vine, and brought him and the vine to the garden bench where I had my sketch stuff.

He/she hardly paused in the munch munching while I held the vine in one hand and sketched/painted with the other, observing up close the wonder of that marvelous insect body with all it’s colored spikes and feelers and legs it employed in the balancing act of moving the fat body sections along the stem. I have a hard enough time coordinating the movement of my four limbs. It’s hard to imagine all those parts moving in concert!

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The leaf was almost gone by the time I finished the painting and moved to the Matilija Poppies which were fluttering their ballerina tutus in the wind. And then I added the “adult”, parent? of the caterpillar. They were fluttering around the garden too quickly so I’ll admit I pulled out my phone and got a picture to source the image of that beautiful midnight blue and black butterfly.

There was no idleness anywhere around on this spring afternoon. The air was filled with bird song, that monotonous cooing of the doves and loud buzzing of scores, hundreds? of bumblebees.

Well actually there was the idleness of Phil the cat, who dozed while I sketched and later woke up to get his picture taken and claim some credit for the art.

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Deer Island with John Muir Laws

When the boys were little we were always going out to find pollywogs or caterpillars, shiny stones or interesting seed pods. So spending the day at yesterday’s meet up at Deer Island in Novato with naturalist John Muir Laws and the Nature Journaling Club was a great reminder of how much I enjoy getting out to some wilder areas and feeling that freedom of fresh air, birdsong, wind in the hair, and a million discoveries large and small.

deerisland1b pen, pencil and w/c in 8.25 X 5.5″ hand.book travelogue w/c sketchbook

Jack (nickname for John) started out by letting us all know that our goal was not to make lovely little paintings but to take visual notes of our observations, questions, sensory experiences, etc. Along the trail he invited us to explore, occasionally leading us in discovery and a method of delving deeper into the experience of the natural world. We sketched small and mostly standing so as not to interrupt the flow of discovery.

Among his suggestions were the “landscapito”, a drawing which is tiny enough to take mere minutes rather than an hour; annotations and arrows to say that which could not be sketched; and starting with a quick sketch of the trail map (which came in handy when my little group started to feel lost)

Walking a trail behind Jack is a novel experience. When he stops to take a closer look you are invited to look for the unexpected and formulate questions, like why are the leaves (which he measured with a tape measure from his bag) smaller on the bottom than the top of the tree? One suspects he knows the answer but prefers to get one noticing more, and soon a million questions and hypotheses come to mind and you’re noticing the smallest things popping into view everywhere you look! Not to mention your ears become more animal-ian and pick up sounds that were not audible before.

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This buckeye tree in its winter nakedness invited close examination by a several of us, enamored by its unique shape and jigsaw puzzled skin (bark). I might still be there sketching it, but we were already overdue for the lunch meet-up on the hilltop.

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Sketching along with Jack here on the hilltop, scribbling down his advise along with sounds and sensations, looking upward occasionally as one of the experienced bird watchers shouted out a sighting. Kite! Harrier! Sharpee! (sharp shin hawk)

By the way, if this sounds like your idea of fun, try one of Jack’s day outings or classes in how to sketch and paint all things in nature! I’m already looking forward to the next.