Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sweetgum Ball Sculpture Proposal

Last month I submitted a proposal to the town of Silverton to build a 10-foot diameter steel Sweetgum ball.  Although I did not get the commission, I thought I would post my sketches and the description from the proposal below.

"Silverton has a strong history of celebrating the health and vitality of the community’s tree canopy. Considering its history of urban forestry and its designation as a “Tree City,” I wanted to propose a sculpture that would remind viewers of that connection. I am therefore proposing to build a 10 ft. diameter Sweetgum ball that would be made of steel. The entire body of the piece would be made of sheet metal welded together. A supporting “soccer-ball” frame would be built to house each of the “arms.” The three-dimensional “arms” of the sculpture would be created using slats of sheet metal, similar to my other metal sculptures (see images here). Steel is a perfect material for this sculpture as it will turn brown as it rusts to mimic the brown color of a real Sweetgum ball."

"The Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) 'is one of the main valuable forest trees in the southeastern United States, and is a popular ornamental tree in temperate climates' (Wikipedia). Cincinnati is at the top of its native range and it is well-known by its star-shaped leaves and hard, spiky fruits. The seeds are eaten by finches, sparrows, doves, and wild turkeys. Small mammals such as chipmunks, red squirrels and gray squirrels also enjoy the fruits and seeds ( Humans have also enjoyed sweetgums for centuries, chewing the sap as gum and also enjoying a wide variety of medicinal benefits. And although the Sweetgum balls can be a hazard when mowing the lawn or walking barefoot, the seedpod itself is quite stunning."

"Below is a rendering of how the Silverton Sweetgum ball would sit on location."

Yesterday a new friend told me that you either succeed or you learn.  It took me a minute to let that sink in, but once it did I loved the idea. A part of me was sad I didn't get the commission because I think the world would be a better place with a giant steel Sweetgum ball.  But I learned there is a joy and a power in having an idea and communicating that vision to the world.  And just working on this watercolor sketch made me weirdly happy.  I usually like to end with a quote, but there were too many good ones about this subject.  So I will leave you with three of my favorites:   

"Would you like me to give you a formula for success?
It's quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure.
You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success.
But it isn't at all.
You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it,
so go ahead and make mistakes.
Make all you can.
Because remember that's where you will find success."

-- Thomas J. Watson

"Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
you will be successful."

-- Albert Schweitzer

"Everything you want is on the other side of fear."

-- Jack Canfield

Tuesday, June 4, 2019


Last month George and I drove to Santa Fe to pick up the fired sculpture I made last summer at Roxanne Swentzell's workshop.  The drive was 2 twelve hour days there and 2 twelve hour days back, but we got her home safe and sound.

Before we brought her home we took her out into the desert to photograph her in her natural setting.  She is not a light girl so George helped me move her all around, trying to capture the best light and angle.

The sculpture's name is "Abierta", which means "openness".  When I did the original blog post about making her, I wrote about how the hole has several meanings to me ranging from infertility to joy and abundance.  But when I sat down to write this post another interesting idea occurred to me.

Last week was a challenging week in a couple ways.  My Dad's house was hit by a tornado.  He was lucky he didn't lose his roof like most of his neighbors.  But he did lose his fence.  He had a wood fence that was completely flattened by the wind.  As we were picking up the pieces of the fence I saw his neighbor's fence two houses down was still standing.  But the fences were different in one important way.  My Dad's fence had no spaces between the vertical wood slats while his neighbor's fence had a space about the width of a slat between all the pieces.  The wind just sailed right through and his neighbor's fence was spared.

The other challenging thing that happened this week was that I had a fight with a person dear to me.  There was a stressful situation and I felt a couple of negative comments directed at me.  Afterwards I was sitting with the hurt of the words and had the thought, "Can I let these 'arrows' fly through me?'"  I had to ask myself if there was truth to the negative comments.  If there was truth to the comments then those arrows were going to hurt and I need to further examine my responsibility.  But if I honestly looked and there was no truth, then the wise thing would be to let the arrows fly right through.

As I thought about both my Dad's fence and my argument I realized that there is a great advantage to being open.  The more open I am, the less resistance I present.  The less of "me" (or my ego) there is, the more likely the wind won't knock me down, the arrows will fly right through, and maybe if I am lucky a little sunlight will come in.

Although the last paragraph was the prefect ending to the blog post I had to add an addendum.  I have been struggling this week with the question "Is it possible to be too open?"  I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know it is important to have boundaries.  "Fences" serve an important purpose.  They help keep the good things in and the bad things out.  Maybe the trick is to find just the right balance between strong boards and empty spaciousness.  I want to be spacious enough to feel the thrill of those strong winds but also to remain standing when the tornado blows through.  The truth is we will all get knocked down.  But every time we get knocked down we are reminded to find our inner spaciousness and our strength.  We are both the tornado and the calm.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

San Miguel Mission - Santa Fe, NM

"There is nothing like the silence of thick adobe walls.
The noise of the world cannot enter.
And clay and stucco absorb all thought."

I LOVE adobe buildings and on my final day in Santa Fe I stumbled upon a wonderful old adobe church downtown.  Earlier in the day I was listening to my phone give me directions to the botanical garden and as I drove by the church I noticed how interesting the architecture was.  I had the thought that I would try to return later if I had time.  At the end of a long day of sight-seeing I had about forty-five minutes left and decided to try and find it.  Luckily I found it pretty quickly and even luckier found a close parking spot.

The entrance to the church is through a little shop on the side of the building where they sell religious items and I asked the woman at the desk about the church.  She said it was the oldest church in the United States and that in her opinion it was one of the quaintest and coziest of the churches in Santa Fe.  It had been built by the Tlaxcalan Indians in the early 1600s.  I wasn't sure I had time to go inside but she said it was only a dollar to enter so I decided to have a peak and was so happy I did.

The interior of the church was GORGEOUS!  I loved the wooden beams of the ceiling and the church was indeed quite cozy.  I sat down for a few minutes and had the thought that "there is nothing like the silence of thick adobe walls.  The noise of the world cannot enter.  And clay and stucco absorb all thought."  It just feels good to be in a building built from clay and wood.

The carved detail of the ceiling beams was lovely.

And the altar was painted a pleasing color of green.  

Near the entrance of the church there is a large bell which you can ring with a rubber mallet.  Attached to the bell stand were hundreds of milagros.  Each one holds the prayers of those who placed them.

“No todos los milagros son inmediatos, algunos suceden lentamente.” ― Luis Davila

(Not all miracles are immediate, some happen slowly.) 

Below you can see a couple of historical photos of the outside of the church.  It is interesting to see how it changed through the years.

The day before I visited the church I stopped by the "Railyards."  Someone had mentioned there was an artisan market there.  I thought the train below was so fun and quirky with its red and yellow roadrunner.

While at the market I came across the booth of Blossom Merz.  He makes watercolors by grinding New Mexican stones and soils.  I was so intrigued by using paints that were literally from the land.  The sketch of the church was done with a combination of his stone paint and my Arteza watercolor pencils (the blue and the bright green were from my Cotman travel set).  The colors of my new "Arroyo Palette" were perfect for painting adobe, stone and brick. If you are interested in purchasing watercolors from Blossom please visit his website here.

“What's in a color?
Why, love of course!” 
― Anthony T.Hincks

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 2

A sketchbook workshop in Antigua would not be complete without visiting the Antigua Brewing Company's rooftop terrace.  While drinking a cool beverage you can enjoy incredible views of the volcanoes plus the gorgeous tile roofs and cupolas of Antigua.  During the course, Amy demonstrated how to draw both clouds and rooftop tiles and I thought this image would be good practice at both.  I also decided to experiment with not using any micron pen in this illustration.  I usually draw a pencil sketch, ink it with a micron pen, and then add color.  I ended up liking the softness of the drawing without pen although it then presented me with another quandry. . . what medium should I use for the type?  I ended up using an Arteza watercolor pencil my friend Jodi gave me.  I think it worked as a softer alternative to ink but I did have to be super careful because blotting it smeared the type.

One of my favorite things about Antigua are the women and how they dress.  I have visited Latin America often but have never been to a place where the women actually wear traditional clothing.  I love the colorful huipil shirts, the embroidered belts, and the corte skirts.  I am also always amazed to see how they balance items on their heads.  Plus I adore their colorful ribboned "trenzas." Below you can see several examples of the beautiful clothing and my reference photo. 

Another wonderful thing about Antigua are the ruins everywhere.  The ruins below were right next to our posada and some day I am going to draw its ornately textured columns.


One of our sketching destinations was "El Tanque."  This is a covered portal where there is a large pool of water for people to do their laundry the old-fashioned way. 

On the way to "El Tanque" my Dad and I stopped to get a photo in front of "Iglesia San Hermano Pedro."  I love the detail on this church and it was one of my favorite sketches from last year.  If this church were made of icing I would want the corner piece!


A new sketching destination this year was a church called "San Francisco El Gigante."  True to its name the church was HUGE and the property contained extensive ruins within its walls.

Below you can see Monica and my Dad sketching among the ruins.

I found a shady spot to sketch near the entrance that had a view of the large dome of the church plus a very large palm.  I ended up being surrounded by groups of children having tours a couple times and had to fight off mosquitoes.  But all in all I quite enjoyed sitting among the giant columns and angel-adorned domed ruins.

The photo below shows the same view but from the second story.  I had wanted to draw there but it was too sunny.

I also really liked the enormous spiral columns on the facade of the building.


One of our most fancy sketching destinations was Casa Santo Domingo.  It is a gorgeous hotel that contains ruins and a museum on the grounds.  Below you can see one of the "alfombras" or carpets.  During the Lenten season designs made of food, fruit and vegetables are common around the city.  I had never seen one before just made of beans. (You can see last year's alfombra was made of vegetables here.)

At the end of this short video you can see the black Madonna that I sketched below.

This sketch was also an experiment using watercolor pencil.  I think it worked for the wood but maybe not as well on the Madonna.  Or maybe she was just a little wonky from the beginning.


The posada where we stayed is a lovely inn chock full of interesting vintage finds.  Below is a case of baby Jesus figurines.

I also loved the collection of old irons with chickens on the front.

During the course Amy did a color demonstration of the blue patio wall of the posada.  She encouraged all of us to try and capture the interesting color of the walls and to notice how the color changed in the shadows.  I spent a very relaxing couple hours staring at and painting the blue-green walls of the sketch below.  I looked and looked for a quote I liked to go with this image but couldn't find the perfect thing.  So I ended up writing a little blurb which I think sounds way cooler in Spanish than English. 

When she looked at the wall

all was still

The wind stopped blowing

her mind white as a sheet in the sun

the aging color enveloped her

turquoise, cream, grey, and rose

One could only describe it as love

Cuando ella miró la pared

todo estaba quieto

El viento dejó de soplar

su mente blanca como una sábana al sol

el color antiguo la envolvió

turquesa, crema, gris y rosa

Sólo se podría describir como el amor

I am fascinated by the door ornaments in Antigua and couldn't help but photograph them every time I walked by a new door.  Below is but a small sampling of cool door bling.

On our last day in Antigua we were walking back through the central park and the light was so pretty coming through the trees and fountain.  Poppy posed for this photo wearing his new guayabera recently purchased in one of the markets.

If I had to choose one word to describe Antigua it would be "enchanting."  Both times I have visited I am charmed by the friendly people, the vibrant colors, the abundant markets, the crumbling ruins and the cobblestone streets.  It is a land where you cannot deny the presence of living giants poofing in the background and where the sun may appear another "pelota" to be gathered by a determined woman to sell at market (see sketch here).  Every time I visit this amazing country I feel its magic soak deeper into my bones and I hope I am lucky enough to return again someday soon.

A thousand stones
Each one place by hand
To bear the weight of the world
    A rubber tire, a horse's hoof, the soft clad feet of man.
To feel from above
   the sun, the rain, and the moon
And from below
   the heat of coursing lava
Even "Antigua" cannot tell their ancient stories.
But if you kneel upon their worn bodies
Touch your hand to the aged surface
Cheek to stone
And listen
You may hear the ancient tales of fire and ice
Of the birth of the mother
and her beautiful, rounded children.

The video below shows the entire sketchbook spanning two years of visiting Antigua on Amy Bogard's sketchbook workshop.

(Music courtesy of Fonogramas América Afroindígena: Free Music Archive)

If you are interested in taking Amy's workshop, visit her website here:

To see the first post from this trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 1

To see last year's trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2018 - Part 1

Friday, April 19, 2019

Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 1

This April my Dad and I attended Amy Bogard's Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop.  I took the workshop last year and I thought my Dad would love Guatemala.  I wasn't sure if he would be up for sketching but he surprised me and has not only quite a talent for it, but he has continued sketching even after we got home!

Guatemala is a place where you are always reminded that the land is alive.  While we were there we experienced a small "temblor."  It was relatively minor but left me sleeping with one eye open every time a large truck rumbled by.  Our first night we were also greeted by loud explosions quite near our posada that left us questioning if the source was fireworks or something we needed to be concerned about.  Needless to say we were all a little bleary eyed our first day but that didn't stop us from exploring the streets of Guatemala.

“He was attracted to this edge of unknowing, of hope and fear, he instinctively knew that surfing it was precondition for growth and transformation. And for feeling alive. Waking up and going out into the world not knowing what each day would hold, taking life as it comes, relinquishing any illusion of control. That's fresh, that's a good morning!”
― Matt Padwick 

We arrived a day before our course started and my Dad has always been a good shopper.  So we spent our entire first day perusing the incredible stores and markets.  Of course I had to take him to Nimpot which is a GIANT market store full of Guatemalan wares.  Below you can see the section of santos and masks.

There was also a super creepy section of Day of the Dead skeletons and Maximón (a Mayan deity and folk saint) seen below in the black suit.  He is a complex character that can be both good and bad and is often viewed as a trickster.

And then there was the fabric section.  I could spend all day just looking through the incredible fabrics.  Last year I covered some chairs in my basement with Guatemalan huipiles I bought at Nimpot (you can see them here).

I should have made my Dad stand by this giant bowl of chinchines (maracas) for scale.  It was about 6 feet wide. I love the crazy, colorful abundance that resides in Nimpot.

Our class began with a trip to Bella Vista coffee shop.  True to its name you get incredible views of both Volcán Agua and Fuego. You can see "Agua" in the photo below.

After delicious coffee and breakfast our first task was to create a grid of our watercolors so we could see the colors in our travel sets.  I was so proud of my Dad for jumping right in.  Not only has he never used watercolors, but he is colorblind.

Our first sketching destination was the "Convento de las Capuchinas."  It is a beautiful ruin of a convent from the 1700s that has been partially renovated and houses offices and a museum. 

Before settling down to sketch we wandered around the ruins and came upon a staircase that lead down to a basement room shaped like a donut.  The acoustics in this room were amazing and Monica and Cindy sang us a song that was so heavenly it sent chills up and down my spine.

I imagined their beautiful singing set the souls of all the old nuns that lived in the convent at ease.  It was completely magical to be standing in this old nunnery listening to angelic voices that could easily have been coming from another time and age.  For the rest of the day we all kept singing songs and I couldn't get "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" out of my head. 

Afterwards we all settled in for some sketching time.

I ended up sketching a spade-leaf philodendron and bougainvillea that was climbing the wall of the ruins.  You can see my sketch of the courtyard from last year here.

One of the things I most wanted my Dad to see during our stay in Antigua was "La Procesión."  During the Lenten season huge platforms displaying statues of Jesus and Mary are carried by somber men and women.  The men wear purple robes with pointed hats and we learned they are called "Cucuruchos," which means "cones".

You can see last year's sketch of La Procesión in this post.

The photo below looks a little cloudy and that is because there was so much incense in the air.  Between the smells and the colors and the melancholy music it is a full body experience and I found myself full of joy and sorrow at the same time.  

It is also an incredible people-watching opportunity.  If you look closely at the the young man in the bottom right-hand corner you can see he is selling stuffed toy Cucuruchos.

Below you can see my Dad sketching a little candle "Cucurucho" that he bought at mass.

One of our assignments was to draw whatever we wanted around the posada.  I ended up sketching the view of the rooftop on the second floor and the stairs leading to the rooftop terrace. (You can see last year's sketches of the posada here.)

The staircase appeared quite normal,
But next thing she knew,
She was on top of a mountain,
In a foreign land.

To see more sketches from this trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 2.