Nature Abstractions

Botanical Garden and Bouquets to Art!

The day after the skyscrapers the weather turned sunny and we headed over to the S.F. Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park to see the last week of the “Magnificent Magnolias” and other spring bloomings.


watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue Watercolor Book

Who could resist the red of these flowers, which I assumed were poppies, but my friends declared were ranunculus? To get the red in watercolor requires a great deal of red pigment, all the reds and some of the blue!


Along came two year old Axel with his mom. He unleashed a steady stream of unintelligible commentary on the flowers, no doubt pointing out attributes which I had missed. His fingers were making little squeezing movements while his mother warned “we don’t touch the flowers”. She then handed him a soft ball which he squeezed happily while continuing his monologue, and the flowers were saved! That’s Bob in the background enjoying the show.


The daffodils blooming under pink budding trees provoked my own kind of frenzy, one of splattering. The result looked best lain on the daisy studded lawn where I was sitting.

Next day was my birthday and our last day in San Francisco. What a treat to celebrate my birthday with a trip to the de Young Art Museum for the annual Bouquets to Art! For one week only, 120 floral designers have displayed arrangements that are inspired by the artworks in the museum. Here are some that I sketched in the museum, and later painted. (Some were sketched with the painting which inspired them.)



fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn Beta spiral sketchbook, 6 X 8″

Arrangement by IM Chan Designs/ painting by Gottardo Piazzioni


Water Lily Pond Floral Design/ painting by Salvador Dali not shown here

bouquetstoart3‘Arrangement by Orinda Garden Club/ painting by Joe Light


Arrangement by Donnel Vicente Designs/ painting by Louisiana Bendolph


Arrangement by Poppie’s Petalworks/ painting by Kara Walker


Arrangement by Katherine Stuart Floral Art/ painting by John Koch

There are lots of differing opinions about how to enjoy art like this. Some would complain about all the picture taking. And I had to be careful to stay out of the way of the iPhone cameras when I was sketching. I totally understood the need to take the images home and enjoy them for a long time afterward! I probably took 50 pictures and would love to sketch every one of them! When I close my eyes I still see flowers and can imagine their sweetness.

Ah, dear Spring, you are only two days away!


Annas and Mourning Cloaks

We’re finally getting some rain today, intermittent with the sun breaking through clouds. Nature has been so bountiful this week with brief hailstorms, the blooming of those miraculous orchid-like Pipevine flowers which look like Dutchmen’s pipes.

And there was the morning I was standing in our front walkway talking on my cellphone while scanning the garden and my eyes fell on this jewel.


Regrettably no, this little Annas Hummingbird was not just tame or friendly, but rather quite dead, newly so, and with no sign of external damage and no cats around to blame. And so brightly festooned in neon iridescence that I was quite awestruck. He may have been the one buzzing around my head in an urgent greeting some mornings. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for him and. . .


. . .to immortalize him in sketches! I have been watching these beautiful creatures for years and wondering how to paint that color, which changes into a multitude of pinks and reds and purples and russets and even blacks with each turn of the head. The dot you see on the top of the page is one of those head feathers that came off. I glued it onto the paper, and when you turn the paper in the light, all those colors manifest!

The next day on an afternoon stroll at Riverfront Park not far from my home, I was delighted to find myself practically alone on the trail, except for a pair of Mourning Cloak butterflies that accompanied me the whole way, weaving back and forth and stopping just ahead to open wings wide as if waiting for me. At one point one of them came repeatedly to rest on my scarf almost touching my chin! No way to sketch this in real time, so I just enjoyed the conversation.


watercolor in 5 X 8″Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

But as I sat on a bench overlooking the lake I heard a drone overhead – the electronic kind which we will be seeing more and more and everywhere. Such a strange world. I wonder what the butterflies and birds think of those flying “brethren”?


It was time to leave, but this view delayed my departure. Another challenge for the artist here in wine country, to get the color right on those impossibly yellow (actually the definition of yellow!) mustard plants that abound in the winter vineyards with a backdrop of blue violet hills.

Self Portrait in the Wild

My bird feeders are busy stations these days. There’s the mixed birdseed one, the Nyer seeds for the smallest birds and the blocks of suet laced with seeds and fruit. They swing with activity throughout the day. Oh and then there’s the hummingbird nectar as well. So small wonder that when we did the crazy self portrait lesson in Muse Group this week, my own went over to the feathered side, yet again.


Photo of self at Photo Booth using Comic Strip filter, printed in black and white, cut and collaged onto w/c paper with other collage and paint, etc. etc.

I am captured, captivated, taken over by dreams of those feathered ones who have been whispering in my ears for years. I am captive to my earthbound ways, my rootedness and groping for stability. Though I fluff my hair and imagine wings stretching out, open, ready for flight, I never quite make it into the air, but stand and watch as my feathered relatives soar and dip and perhaps look down on me with compassion for my flightless state?

(Can you tell which eye is mine?) I’ve been teaching wacky self portraits in Muse Groups for years and it always gets us laughing! How different it is from what happens when you look in the mirror in the morning, trying to get your hair right while noticing some new puffiness or wrinkle.

In the next series of Monday Muse Groups which starts March 19 I’ll be teaching Smoke Painting, the esthetic of Wabi Sabi art featuring textures and patina, and painting with water shapes charged with pigment. There are still openings at this point, so I hope you’ll be able to join. For more information and to register visit my website.

Here’s an old video I made of student self portraits, which I’ve watched so many times with giggles.

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Muse Group Begins Again. . .

The Muse Group is a mixed media painting adventure class that I’ve been teaching ongoing for about ten years or more. On Monday this week we started a new session  with gessoed watercolor paper because it leaves a longer working time with the acrylic. And we employed lots of not-brush application methods like rollers, and toothbrush and fingers and scrapers to “lose control!” happily.

splashdemo: fluid acrylic on gessoed watercolor paper 10 X 11″

I tried demonstrating the alcohol technique but had squirted the acrylic on the paper too thick and only got a trace of the alcohol textural effect at the top here. In my choice of colors and splatter I was definitely still feeling the crashing of surf against the rocks from the beach walks of last week.

In my second piece I was trying to redeem myself and get the alcohol spray to work! And once again still at that beach I remembered my encounter with two ravens. One of them was haughtily pulling plastic (dog poo) bags from the container on the trail. I shooed him away and returned about ten strewn bags to the holder, as the other raven sat on a nearby post cackling in a way that struck me more as laughter, as if to say “You idiot! He’s just going to come back when you’re gone and do it again. Ha ha, caw caw!”

scene5take1 Fluid acrylic and collage on gessoed paper, 10 X 11″

Scene 5 Take 1 and the curtain lifts on a pair of ravens. They’re in cahoots and we’d like to think of an olive branch offering of peace.

But they’re not white doves and the blood red beaks are a tip off. Something more dramatic is a-wing and they’re going to take advantage of it. Survival of the fittest or the loudest perhaps? But only for so long. This scene will end soon enough and the curtain will come down before we know what’s next.

The vine will continue to creep and extend its influence, and no one knows what will transpire as the curtain lifts again in scenes 6 and 7.

If you’re reading something about the current political climate into this last, I’m not surprised. Me too.



If you let one thing lead to another, you might end up with these. . .


monoprint with fluid acrylics on BFK Rives paper and stone paper collage, 10 X 11″

Bombinate. I bomb. You bomb. We bomb. They bomb-inate [buzz and hum] and taste the sweetness of the seasons, a spicy mixture of humus and herbs.

Abom(b)ination, an assault, an intense combination of bombs and angry countries, nations in abom(b)inate mode with no nature to groove on or calm them down.

I’ll bombinate with the mushrooms and lichen, hum for world peace and try not to expect too much, too soon. Try not to be too disappointed when the bumblers don’t return and the other kind of bombing abominators get too bumbling.

Dictionary definitions:

bombinate: to make a humming or buzzing noise

abomination: a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc.

You probably know what I’m getting at here without my spelling out the politics of it. The art technique of it is more fun to talk about. In Muse Group we used stone paper for the printing plate in our lesson on monoprinting.  Not the usual, but that’s what we had. The “plate” was in most cases more interesting than the print.

yellowfloweracrylic on stone paper with collage, 10 X 11″

Can you see how the print at the top is the mirror image of this one?  The stone paper is a bit like Yupo, if you’ve ever tried that. You get all kinds of interesting textures with juicy paint. Use a rubber tipped color shaper to scrape paint off before it dries. After pulling a couple prints I did some scraping and shaping and let this one dry, then added color and line and collage elements later.

The word bombinate came from interesting-word-file which I started years ago. I could just imagine the bumble bees going after the pollen in this delectable flower!

Fire Flow

firepourDemo for Monday Muse Group: acrylic, Pouring Medium, collage (paper, netting, “medallion skins”)

Such beauty, red, color of sunset, of ripe apples, of rosy cheeks and

Color of flames blowing this way, color of monster chewing up homes, melting down metals and tossing cars like those evil midwestern twisters.

And that Hollywood Oscars-night glow on my horizon. Dumbfounding.

A couple of days after the Tubbs fire (since anointed as the most destructive fire in California’s history) began and while it was still raging on, I tried painting the horizon in flames in the night sky as I viewed it from our living room window on that night of October 8. It didn’t work. There was no way to paint it “on purpose” because this fire was the essence of random. Add to that rampant, unconstrained and unpredictable.

Those same adjectives could be used for acrylic pouring medium which is formulated to make acrylic paints flow and level out and keep moving as you tip and turn the paper, and to keep moving until they dry, which takes a while. Pouring Medium is the name for the Liquitex brand, but Golden has their own version called GAC 800. Mix a few drops of fluid acrylic paint with the medium and you’re ready to pour, either onto your painting surface (paper here) or onto plastic in order to make “skins”, or as I like to call the more circular pools, “medallions”. Here are some of the other medallions I made.

medallionsWhen they’re dry, after a day or so, you peel them up and use them as collage pieces. The one on the lower left was made by marbling with a stick and tipping the surface. The others were made on a level surface with pouring and dropping the paint, all mixed with pouring medium.


These involved more tipping of the surface to cause more random occurrences as in the painting at the top. You never know what’s going to happen. . . like that fire.

I’ll be teaching “medallions” and other mixed media techniques in the upcoming workshop. Contact me if you’re interested!

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