Friday, February 29, 2008

A Laughing Gull and a Beeman’s mug

My favorite coffee mug earned its place of honor quite easily. It feels good in my hand and evokes pleasant memories. Friends urged me, “You have to go to Beeman’s for breakfast before you leave. They have the best pastries in the world.” So on my last day in Port Aransas, TX, I had two parting missions, a trip to Beeman’s and one last visit to the beach. Beeman’s was wonderful as promised, friendly, steamy and full of delicious temptations. I departed with black coffee, a sweet fat cinnamon roll, my mug, and happily headed to the beach. As I parked my vehicle and lowered the window, I wondered how long it would take the gulls to notice I had food. Silly me. No sooner had the thought escaped than a Laughing gull positioned himself on a post right beside me. What a comedian! --Nature and laughter forever vivid in a mug.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Inspiration Every Day

On Tuesday I awoke to thunder and drizzle. And when the rain stopped, layers of bird song filled first light. Ah, I thought, spring. So I selected a spring green sweater to wear to the office--green the color of newly sprouted leaves. The temperature steadily dropped throughout the day. The next day, I awoke to silence--a fluffy blanket of snow. More spring. She takes her sweet time and titillates with surprise. We should all live our lives that way. In a perfect world, the chattering house wren that invited me to look out the window would be under that suet basket in the photo. Oh, well.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Coiled Pine Needle Rim on Gourd -- Coiling Tutorial

Coiling Supplies

1) Hand awl for piercing holes
2) Artificial sinew
3) Long leaf pine needles with caps still attached

Single Needle Pine Needle Coiling
1. Soak Pine needles in boiling hot water for 30 minutes. Wrap in towel overnight. Pine needles will remain moist and pliable for three to four days. Desired moistness of needles depends on personal preference. However, if the needles are too wet the stitches will become loose when needles dry. Moist to dry needles secured with a firm stitch will create a firm coil.

2. Pierce holes in rim of gourd approximately 3/8 inch from rim edge and 3/8 inch apart. (Use your “little” finger width for a guide). Wider spacing (width of index finger) is required for insertion of two needles. These instructions are for the insertion for one needle per stitch.

3. Thread artificial sinew through your needle. Artificial sinew is waxed thread that can be split into thinner strips, much like dividing embroidery thread. You may use any thickness of thread that suits your taste. Select the front of your piece, then select a starting place 1/4 a turn back to the left. Tie a starting knot by inserting the needle from the outside through a hole and pulling the thread to the inside; bring the threads up near the end of your thread and tie a knot. Position the knot on the inside of the gourd.

4. Begin coiling by holding a pine needle against the rim between two holes and stitching a stitch across the fascicle (cap) and into the next hole. This will create a diagonal stitch across the fascicle.

Moving from right to left, continue around the rim adding a pine needle each time you make a stitch. Place each needle below the previous needle with the needles angled upward slightly to create a smooth coil.

5. When you reach the beginning of the first coil, begin the second coil by placing the needle on top of and even with the first pine needle. You will insert the sewing needle into the same hole of the first stitch. Continue to stitch into the hole for three to four stitches until the coil builds enough to allow you to insert the sewing needle between the pine needles of the coil and secure it to the coil. To lock the stitch and create uniformity, insert the needle on the left side of the stitch that preceded it on the coil below.
6. When you run out of thread, make a loop knot by inserting the needle back under the stitch and pulling the knot snuggly to the back side of the coil. Then insert the needle back through the coil toward the front, being careful to go between the needles rather than piercing a needle. Cut the end thread close to the pine needle coil and if visible tuck in with the tip of the sewing needle. Begin the next stitch by tying the thread to the next stitch in the coil beneath and pull the knot through to the inside between the two coils to the right of the stitch. Take the second stitch by coming over the coil, crossing over the added pine needle and inserting the needle over (to the left) of the stitch of the coil beneath it.

7. When your coil reaches its starting point, you will have two rows of pine needles placed completely around the rim. Continue to stitch as previously without adding pine needles, rolling the coil toward the inside. As you continue this process, the number of needles will thin and you will continue to make stitches securing the ending coil toward the inside until you run out of needles. Tie off the thread pulling the knot to the inside and securing the end by pulling your thread to the front side of the coil, coming between pine needles. Snip off this end thread close to the coil and tuck any thread that is visible. Tuck or snip any pine needles that look untidy.
Helpful Resource Links:
Pyroengraving Art or Woodburning an Art Design 
Judy Mallow, pine needle coiling artist, at Prime Pines

Thursday, February 21, 2008


“So you see, imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” --Brenda Ueland

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


“Chickadees are small songbirds of woodlands and suburbia—just a handful of feathers held together by an intense will to live…. Winter is time for hunkering down, huddling up, and pooling one’s resources, but chickadees rarely seem to give into the season. During the bleakest, coldest days of winter, their effervescence is often the perkiest part of any given day.” --Stephen Lyn Bales on the Carolina Chickadee, Natural Histories, Stories of the Tennessee Valley.
Visit Stephen Lyn's blog, Nature Calling!
I feel very fortunate that I have only to look out my window or stop to listen for a moment to discover one of these lively sprites. Besides their incessant chant, tche de de de, tche de de de, their acrobatics never fail to delight. As much trapeze artist as persistent vocalist, these energetic gems are cheerful neighbors in the waning days of winter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Taking It Easy

After tackling something hard, whether it’s a disappointment, recovery from illness, finishing up taxes or completing a difficult project, I like to then do something idle, something refreshing and easy.

Flowers are forgiving, rambling, delicately layered like daydreams. Sketch them, splash on color, pay no particular attention to their line or form. They offer no pressure, no deadlines, only soften the world with their hue and fragrance--and visit us ever so gently.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Creative Happiness

"Happy isn’t having everything perfect. It’s feeling comfortable in your own skin and finding contentment in your own company. It’s spending more of your time doing things you love—creating and enjoying what you create. That creation can be a walk in nature, a massage, the interaction you have while working, your enjoyment of the wind or the warmth of a sweater. Creating is what we do with how we feel. Every day is filled with opportunities to create."
Nov 29, 2007, morning pages, Vickie Henderson

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Matters

"...what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece itself becoming.” Jan Phillips, The Artist’s Creed

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whooping Crane Winter

A friend asked me this week, "what are the whooping cranes doing?" I answered, "they arrived in Florida, January 28th". I was speaking of the 17 juveniles of the ultralight migration class of 2007 and today I would add that they are now enjoying top-net free foraging in the salt marshes of the Chassahowitzka NWF. The rest of the 59 Whooping cranes in the eastern migratory flock are scattered throughout the east, with 23 in Florida and 18 wintering in Tennessee.

The original flock of migrating whooping cranes winter along the coast of Texas on the Aransas-Matagorda Island NWR and have reached a record number of 266.

Wintering whooping cranes are all pretty much doing the same thing this time of year--foraging, hunting for blue crab and other delicacies in the salt-marshes, hanging out in families or wandering in bachelor groups. The photo above captures a subadult whooping crane foraging for wolf berries on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. His tattered look is due to molting.
The photos below were also taken at Aransas. The first image is a whooping crane parent and juvenile foraging in an inland pool. The juvenile still has its distinctive cinnamon feathers on his head and neck and his black facial mask is developing.
Another shot of a family on their territory. All the whooping crane families have established territories that they return to each year. The adults will chase away any new arrivals.
Below, a bachelor group of six subadult whooping cranes captured while I was on a boat tour last February. Bachelor groups consist of both males and females. This is one of the ways that young whooping cranes get acquainted after they leave their parents. Whooping cranes must reach four to five years of age before they select their lifetime mate and begin nesting.
Whooping cranes and coastal marshes are fun to daydream about on a cold winter day.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Practice Finding Your Voice

Natalie Goldberg’s, Writing Down the Bones, is one of my favorite books. I keep it on my bedside table so I can open it whenever I want and read a few pages. Not only is it full of two-page gems about writing practice, each lesson also speaks volumes about living life.

Last night I opened the book to the section entitled, “Make statements and Answer Questions.” In this section she brings to light a study that shows that women and minorities often use qualifiers in their statements, words that ask for reinforcement and encouragement, rather than using a clear and affirming voice. She writes: “After I read the article, I went home and looked at a poem I had just written. I made myself take out all vague, indefinite words and phrases. It felt as though I were pulling towels off my body, and I was left standing naked after a shower, exposing who I really was and how I felt. It was scary the first time, but it felt good. It made the poem much better.”

We all know what this nakedness feels like. We know it best in the form of early encounters that caused fear or humiliation and these experiences often shut down our voice at an early age. But truth is, there are no constants and opinions are as varied as the autumn leaves. We each have our own unique way of seeing the world and of creating and expressing ourselves. No one expression is any more valid or valuable than another.

Drawing and writing practice can help overcome the fear of exposure. To expose your thoughts and feelings on paper can be unnerving at first. To present them to others, even more so. But with practice, you will find your voice. You can’t help it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Practice of Seeing

Have you ever written something and proofed it carefully, only to see that you’ve been overlooking a typo, reading it as though it were correct a dozen times? We sometimes read what we know is supposed to be there, the same as we have preconceived ideas about images that we try to draw or, for that matter, about the things we encounter in our daily lives.

Upside down practice makes us look more carefully at what's really there. And the more we practice, the more the lines and spaces are loaded into our brain. The sketch above started upside down and got worked over right side up--several times. There was something about the shapes and the angle of the calf's head that I couldn't quite get so I continued to change it until I was ready to try another one.

I liked the angle of the baby's head better in the next upside-down drawing, below. (To see the reference photo, click and scroll to the bottom photo: "upside down--on purpose") So I added a little watercolor and ink. Now that I look at the image, I see that I focused on the Mom's face more with the watercolor and barely dabbled on the baby's face. A little bit of gratitude to Mom for being easier to draw? I think so. Actually, I think Mom's face is more interesting.

Fortunately, our unconscious jumps in there and does some of the work--in art, in writing and in our daily lives. I wasn't paying any attention to the composition, just working on the shapes, especially the calf. But Mom is actually the focus of the interaction in this image. And she gave me the greatest satisfaction. Somehow it shows!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Upside down--on purpose

I was working with a client recently, who was particularly upset about what she was failing to accomplish and as a result, felt a lot of self-criticism and fear. While I was listening, it occurred to me that our negative beliefs about ourselves work very much like the “editor” in our brain that criticizes our work while we try to draw, paint or write.

Learning to turn off that editor in order to fully access the intuitive, creative mind is an important skill to practice, one that expands possibilities and allows creativity to develop. Likewise, learning to change our other limiting and damaging self-critical beliefs is equally as importance to our over-all health and happiness.

And so I said, to my client, “Do you ever draw?” The answer came, “Heavens, no! I can’t draw a stick.” And that’s what she believed. “Okay, then let’s see if you are right about that.” And I suggested that she find a photograph of herself or a friend and turn it upside down, then draw the lines she saw there to see what happened. The next time she returned, she brought her drawings and expressed surprise at how much better her upside-down drawing appeared than her right-side-up attempt.

This wonderful exercise comes from Drawing on the Right side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, an insightful book that can jump start your drawing skills and disprove the myths you believe about your ability to draw.
What happened to me and happens to everyone who tries this is, “the left brain goes to sleep”. The left brain, even though this designation is over simplified, holds our rules, our order, symbols, our beliefs and, of course, our self-criticism. When you turn the picture upside down, the left brain says, “Oh, that is foolish,” and as a result, ‘beliefs’ about what the drawing should look like disappear. In the absence of expectations, self-criticism stops. And the next thing you know, you are just seeing the lines and following them around the page with your pencil.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this with all our self-critical thoughts?

Today's upside down drawing. I haven't done this in a while. I'm still surprised by the results.

I'll have to try that baby face again. Fun.

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Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Bird-banding at Seven Islands

Bird-banding at Seven Islands
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
Photo courtesy of Bob King

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham