watercolor sketch

Wasps? Hornets?

I like to eat my lunch in the garden and watch the flying insects. For the most part they are not interested in me, and only occasionally will a yellow jacket check out my lunch and drive me inside. There is one tiny, skinny bee-like insect that likes to hover close to my face, a bit unnerving but it does me no harm. 

Lately I’ve become an insect voyeur, spending time observing bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies up close if I can. The honey bees and bumblebees tend to be so drunken with their nectar cocktails that they will even fall asleep (especially on the sunflowers) and get carried in the house if I don’t shoo them off. I take a lot of close up pics of the others, who move too quickly for me to sketch them from life. 

But then there’s the labeling conundrum. For instance, these two didn’t quite match the pictures I found online. But the word “handsome” popped to mind. Then “hornet”, and I liked the alliteration and wrote them down on the illustration before I realized that these two were more likely wasps, because of relatively small size. I’ve always had a problem with the distinction. All hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Hornets tend to be bigger than an inch and “meaner” than other wasps because they release a neurotoxin in their sting. Ouch! But they can all sting repeatedly, unlike honey bees who have one shot at it. And wasps are carnivores. Unlike those pollen fuzzy bees and bumblers, they eat bugs, and that’s a good thing for us vegetable gardeners who don’t appreciate the bugs sucking the juices out of our vegetables and leaving behind big holes in the leaves.

But of course you know all this. But just in case you’re a little fuzzy on distinctions like myself and are prone to lump bugs and insects into the same category. . . Insects always have three body parts and six legs. They also usually have four wings and two antennae. Whereas true bugs have specialized parts of their mouths to suck juices, mostly from plants. In other words insects will get you from their back end and bugs from the front end. Haha! or neither, which is what we hope. End of science lesson for today.

You entomologists out there . . .please correct me where I am wrong!

Summer in Oly

I must say I’m beginning to feel like the school teachers among us who must return to work now after a lovely summer vacation. . .only I’m not. But still, all good things eventually must come to an end. Like the steady stream of interesting events springing up each week in a summertime Olympia, when the weather makes it actually possible most days to be outside all day long in the sun!!! 

Bob and I were taking our favorite walk around Capitol lake and came upon the All Triumph Drive In! in Heritage Park. About 30 – 40 spit-polished luxury sport cars, parked on the lawn with the owners comfortably lounging in their folding chairs, ready to talk to admirers. The brew pub tour, Poker Run, and celebratory banquet may have also lured them to the capitol. I wanted to admire the intricacies of their shiny engines,  which were clearly displayed for this purpose, but I hadn’t the words to match the task. So I smiled and ooo’d and aaaah’d and commented on the nice weather instead. Oh, and then later sketched the colorful scene from a picture I took.

On Sunday we made it to the last day of the Love Oly Summerfest, a weekly (in August) street fair/block party put on by the Olympia Downtown Alliance with live music, street performers, games and activities for kids, a beer garden and more. I sketched one of the circus troupe in movement! and. . .

caught the next performers for the music stage, hanging out under the marquee in the back of their stretch limo/hearse with the red hub caps. A real class act I must say, though I didn’t stay to hear the music to see if it matched the quality.


w/c pencils,ink, and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

My friends at Jubilee retirement community invited me back to lead a nature journaling workshop last week. We met at their shaded pavilion next to the woodland trail that leads to the beach on Puget Sound. It was a welcome opportunity to meet up with other artists who are nature lovers and share the desire to make more art IN nature.

There’s always a barrier to sitting out alone sketching on a trail or anywhere else where you may feel exposed. So no matter how appealing this kind of nature/art making is, it tends to not happen without a group of friends. 

To prepare for this workshop I went back to “the source” of nature journal practice, John Muir Laws, otherwise known as Jack and his website and books for inspiration 

No one speaks more eloquently than Jack about taking a sketchbook out with you in Nature.

“The process of attention is what makes you fall in love with the world. It’s through attention that we create memories. A sketchbook helps you to preserve the integrity of those memories.”

We practiced his three very simple tools in the form of verbal questions:

  1. I notice. . . .(where you observe what interests you, focusing here on sense perception, not label or concept)
  2. I wonder. . .(asking questions out of curiosity with no need to have the answers)
  3. This reminds me of. . .(making connections as memories surface).

And then we took our sketchbooks out on the trail with the instruction to observe and record our interests including at least one of each: a sketch, a word, and number (date, time, measurement, etc). The Salal was abundant on the trail and eye catching in all its variations. In preparation I had brought a small ruler with me, wanting to be a tad more scientific than my usual approach. We were so absorbed that I regrettably forgot to take pictures. The resulting nature journal entries from this group of artists were inspiring! And I definitely felt the wonder factor of our nature-filled afternoon reach a high point.

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, or perhaps serves as a reminder, you might be interested in the upcoming Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference coming up September 14-18. It will be live streamed so it doesn’t matter where you live. I’ll be attending and posting my favorite moments!

Rock, Stone and a Time Machine

pen and watercolor in Etchr w/c sketchbook

As you may guess from the sketch, the Time Machine is a vintage/antique shop in a historic building on the main street in this small town of Tenino. While I sketched, Janet, a non-sketcher, took her time enjoying the Shiplap Quilt and Coffee Shop across the street.

I can’t help wondering if the Time Machine will change the sign in 10 years when the future is no longer future and the Time Machine brings us back to the present, which we have been trying to escape for many years. Food for thought.

But to back up. . .we were heading out to Tenino on a Sunday and discovered that the Stone Carver studio, a main attraction in this town known for its stone quarry, would be closed. I called the number and reached Keith, who was eating his breakfast at the cafe across the street. “I’ll meet you there!” he said. And there he was waiting to greet us, still munching his hurried breakfast.

Turns out that Keith Phillips is the Master Carver in town and has been a journeyman stone carver for many years, working on large projects on government buildings like the capitol in Olympia but also creative sculptures like a stack of books for Powell’s in Portland. After showing off The Shed (the barn above) he took us on a tour of sculptures he made for the town and invited us another time to see the action at the workshop where the big tools are used.

Keith, beaming ambassador for Tenino, and a delighted artist/tourist. Gravestones? Birdbaths? Garden sculptures anyone? His team is ready to serve.

I sketched The Shed last year, and will definitely be returning for some more. Maybe sketching the stone carvers at work in the workshop next time?!


Tahoma is what the local indigenous people named the  mountain with the tallest peak in the Cascade Range. Now known as Mount Rainier, it rises solitary and imposing to 14,410 feet. Here where I live, it remains cloaked in cloud cover during the dark rainy months, then inspires spontaneous awe and wonder when it suddenly appears sunlit and shimmering on the horizon, looking close enough to touch! 

The opportunity to explore the mountain arose last week when my friend Janet came to visit. We picked a weekday and thought we’d leave early (for us) at 8am to make the two hour drive to Paradise where gentle trails lead to views of glaciers and the cloud bonneted summit. Or rather that would be the timing at other times of the year. But we hit peak wildflower season, a sunny day in the 70’s, and summer vacation. So when we’d finally trudged up the mountain from the overflow of the overflow parking, we began our hike at noon, joining the throngs.

No rocky trails for us. We took the well tended ones with expansive views of alpine meadows undulating with magenta Indian Paint brush, Lupin, Mountain Arnica, Arrow-leaved Groundsel in clusters, arranged by Nature’s curator. There was no way to capture it in pictures, though we tried!

But later, sitting outside the visitor center by the road I made a quick stab at telling a bit of the visual story. We were tired and hot, but so happy to have spent the day in Paradise!

We stopped along the way home for some dinner at the Base Camp Bar and Grill to enjoy some local live music and watch the suntanned mountain climbers enjoy their beer and pizza after a day on the glaciers.

Music in the Parks

It’s been a busy week, so I’ve a bit of catching up to do. Starting with music in the parks. 

Slainte, an Irish word used as a salutation or a toast, or the name of this Celtic Rock band that was playing at lunchtime in Huntamer Park in Lacey last Wednesday. We sketchers planted ourselves around on the lawn, enjoying the scene, with lots of small children dancing in front of the musicians while parents and office workers relaxed in the shade.

As often happens, a member of the band joined us to see our (unfinished) sketches and get his picture taken with the happy artists!

Three evenings later I was back on the dock, this time with friend Janet who was visiting,  for another Summer Evening at the Port concert with the Beatles cover band, Magical Mystery Tour. It’s always a toss up. Should I start by sketching the audience or the performers? I wasn’t sure I could see the band well enough, so I started with the people in front of me.

But then how to fit the musicians in? When you dive right in with sketching the scene as it unfolds, you design as you go! And some pen lines are later ignored and abandoned, like the ghostly seated girl with the great shoes on the left. Every concert requires a different strategy, and with no time to plan before diving in. I guess that’s the thrill of it.

And then the sketch was suddenly aborted when we couldn’t resist joining the dancers, baby boomers that we are, Beatles fans forever! 

Sunflower time

brown ink fountain pen, watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

I’m trying out a new sketchbook, a beautiful Etchr cloth bound hard cover portrait style 5.5″X8″sketchbook with 100% cotton hotpress w/c paper. You know, with the handy pocket at the back and elastic to hold it shut. Lovely smooth paper for gliding a pen over. Still, working wet and sloppy with the watercolor, which is my way, doesn’t adapt itself (myself) to the hotpress paper, which shows every puddle and stroke. Can I get used to it? Not sure yet.

This year I’d hoped to have a whole stand of these towering flowers in the back garden, like symbolic soldiers in the brave defense of Ukraine. Also for the best demonstration of midsummer’s beauty. Some of them popped up willy nilly in the vegetable garden and I added them to the lineup at the fence. They wilted and drooped and almost died, but in the end showed their true grit, dropping a few leaves and stretching upward to heights of 6 and 7 feet. I also planted seeds of a new variety, the Velvet Queen.

Whenever the sun is out, which is daylong lately, the honey bees are doing a frenzied nectar feed. I can’t bear to interrupt by cutting a flower for the house. Though I did bring a couple inside recently and they found a spot on the window sill by my studio art table.

Lo and behold, this favorite art quote was leaned up at the window already! A perfect pairing with the flowers.

I think of my studio as a vegetable garden, where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water.    -Joan Miro

-Joan Miro

Burial Grounds Coffee Collective

pens and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

Burial Grounds is not a grassy park where you can visit your ancestors, but a worker owned coffee shop with its roots in social action. Order a latte there and you’ll stare down into a perfect skull in the foam! 

I love their credo: “Coffee may seem simple, but it isn’t just a caffeinated cup of joy, it’s a communal meeting beverage, a coping mechanism, and sometimes a life saver. So, maybe when we say we like coffee, what we are actually saying is, we like people.” 

On this particular morning Jan and Ineke and I chose to pay homage by sitting across the intersection in the shade (it was the thick of the heat wave), sketching in comfort and with a great view. There was an occasional passer by; the slow pace of a city, which seemed to us at least, content to enjoy a vacation mentality on a sunny weekday morning! We vowed to work our way around this quirky and appealing city on upcoming days, recording whatever stories might intrigue.

Summer Daze

fountain pen with blue ink and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

Blueberries and lavenders. It’s the season of purples, from the blues to the pinks of the spectrum. I can pick a bowl a day of the blueberries in my back yard and enjoy the rich dark lavender mounds in our front yard. But it’s always a treat to visit a lavender farm, and there’s a beauty here in nearby Lacey – the Evergreen Valley Lavender Farm where you can picnic, purchase everything lavender, and of course sketch!

The Olympia Art League has a plein aire group that meets weekly on summer evenings at local spots. Unlike the Sonoma County weather where the temps cool down in the evening, here in the northwest the heat and bright sunlight often peaks in the evening and the sun sets later. I’m finding that it’s my favorite time of the day to get out and enjoy exploring.

The Schmidt house is the elegant historical home of the founder of the 1904 Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater. This sketch shows just a small portion of the house and estate with its spectacular formal gardens.

Zucchini and Spiraea

I’m chuckling now as I read this. When was it that I unlearned how to spell? My mother the school teacher would turn in her grave. pollenization? zuccini? Ah well. The visual artist in me cares not a wit, or is it whit?

Anyway I have not grown zucchinis for many years and I wondered how it is that some of the blossoms were attached to baby zukes and others were just on a stem. And so I researched and got my answer. Only the females “give birth” to babies! But all the flowers are edible. Then I started worrying that the bees might not find their way to the flowers to do their pollenating. Maybe the deer netting would keep them out! Silly me. But there are youtube videos on how to pollenate them by hand. . .of course, there’s videos for everything these days! So now I know how to imitate a bee even if I still can’t spell correctly.

Meanwhile the bank of spiraeas are showing off. Examining them closely you see at least 4 different flower formations as they simultaneously display the stages from buds to flowers to seeds. And there’s no need for a human intervention to do the job of pollenating here. The busy bumblers are on the job all day.