Animals

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.

philcollage

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.

philhelps

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.

phil

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.

phil

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

phil

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!

sunrisePhil

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.

sylvester

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!

treeoflife

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.

evacuationday2

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.

gerrie_1

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.”

dogduo

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.

ghiradelli2

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.

zebras

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!

pipevine_matilija

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.

philhelps

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.

deerisland2

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.

deerisland3

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.

What I Love About the Gravenstein Apple Fair

The Gravenstein Apple Fair was this past weekend. The Gravenstein apples aka “gravs” are our main claim to agricultural fame here in Sebastopol, at least in the old timey way that the fair celebrates. (We won’t talk here about how the grapes have taken over. . .)

What I love about this fair is that people are having fun enjoying our roots in country life; the apple pies and animals and handicrafts and free fresh pressed apple juice and local musicians and hay bales and children’s games and more.

llamaluv

And the llamas

bigolebull

and a big ole bull.

broads

and, under a colorful canopy in the oak grove, the Blues Broads, four women (and back up band) who could belt it out like the best of them and get a crowd of all ages grooving on the dance floor. I mean all ages too, starting with the toddlers and up to the great grannies with their canes. I got as far as the line work for this sketch, which involved dancing up front with my sketchbook so I could see beyond the dancers. Finally I gave up and just got out there with the toddlers and everybody else strutting my stuff. (Paint added later.)