Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bundleflower Linocut - Colors 1 & 2

A couple years ago George and I were hiking and we came across these beautiful seed pods.  I loved the shape of the pod and the way the dried seed pods opened to expose the seeds inside.  I took lots of photos and, as usual, uploaded them into my giant folder of plant photos. 

This January I was trying to decide the subject for my next print and I had a vague memory that I had liked a seed pod from that walk.  Sure enough, I found the photo deep in the depths of my computer and decided that this was my next subject.  I didn't even know the name of the plant... although it is common around here.  I emailed my botany friends and they told me it was an Illinois Bundle Flower, Desmanthus illinoensis.  (Thank you Ken for the ID!). The plant is a member of the pea family, has compound leaves that are sensitive to touch, and has hallucinogenic properties.  The shape of the plant also reminded me of a many-eyed feathered cherubim character in a Madeleine L'Engle book I read when I was little.

So that began my almost three-month journey working on a linocut of this plant.  Part of the reason it has been such a long project is that I decided to depict the bundleflower using four colors.  That means you either have to use four plates, or print one color and then continue carving the same plate, then print the next color, and carve again and so on.  That is why it is called a "reduction cut." 

This post will show the first two colors.  Below you can see both the plate and the prints for the cream and burnt orange colors. 

The only sad part about doing a reduction cut is the plate is slowly destroyed along the way.  I think that is why I took so many photos of the plate. 

In the image below you can see my "helper" who either continually tries to hop on my lap while I am carving or paws under the door while I am printing.  Here, he has mercifully taken a five-minute break as he was distracted by a squirrel.

The video below shows me rolling the ink onto the plate.  It is fun to watch the image magically appear as the ink is rolled.

The most exciting moment comes after inking the plate, laying the paper down and burnishing, burnishing, burnishing.  This video shows the big reveal.

I liked the plate at this stage so much I decided to buy more paper to print the plate before I destroyed it by carving more. 

In my next blog post I will share photos of the plate after carving the next color. The final print will be available at

Thursday, March 23, 2017


The inevitable finally paperwhites fell over.  A couple weeks ago my neighbors gave me some paperwhite bulbs  (thank you Pat & Terri!).  I dutifully put them in a low, wide vase with some rocks so their base would touch the water.  And sure enough, the next day they had sprouted some serious roots.  And about three days later the green shoots were already about 6 inches long with buds!  If you think about it, it really is quite magical.  And after about 6 or 7 days we had full-on blooms!

But as is always the case with paperwhites the beautiful green shoots outweigh the strength of their impressive root system and they eventually fall over.  I came downstairs and George had take them to the kitchen where they lay on their sides.  I propped them up against the kitchen wall, tied a string around them, and made sure their roots could reach the water.  All day I kept walking by them knowing if I didn't photograph them that day I might as well let go of that idea.

Finally around 3:30 I decided it was now or never.  I brought up my light from the basement and brought the flowers over to the wood bench.  As you can see below I had lots of help from a boy or two.  They LOVE to help me when I have a project like this.  Lots of licking of plants and general getting in the way.

But we had lots of fun playing around with angles and lighting.  And check out these roots!  I think I liked them even more than the flowers!

Today, the flowers are still slumped against the wall in the kitchen looking a little worse for wear after their photo shoot (and cat licking).  But they have given me so much pleasure and reminded me how important it is to take a break from the computer and play for a while.  Thanks again Pat and Terri for such a lovely gift.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mercantile Library Sketch

Last week I visited the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati with my friends Roy and Tiffany.  As you  may know, Cincinnati has an incredible public library system and quite a history of breathtaking libraries.  If you have never before seen the photos of the old public library check it out here (jaw-dropping...straight out of Harry Potter!).

I had never been to this library before and it did not disappoint.  It is located on the 11th and 12th floors of the Mercantile Library Building at 414 Walnut.  When you step out of the elevator and walk into the main room you are greeted by beautiful, old, wood magazine and book racks and gorgeous domed windows that span the entire space.  Below you can see the main room and the book stacks at the far end. 

If you visit the library it is worth climbing the old stairs to walk among the stacks.  It is hard to tell from the photo but the floor is made of thick glass panes that are semi-transparent.  If you are scared of heights it might make you feel a little weird.  Plus the whole structure of stacks appears to float, seemingly held up from pipes from the ceiling.

And if that isn't magical enough for you there is a spiral staircase that leads to the 12th floor!

And on the twelfth floor is a GORGEOUS reading room decked out in the arts and crafts style.

I didn't even mention the main draw for many people.  They serve coffee and although I don't drink coffee my friends said it was delicious.

So if you are looking for a nice outing for the day I highly recommend visiting this amazing place.  As I stood looking out from the stacks over the main room I couldn't help but feel like a student at Hogwarts looking for a book on advanced potion making.  I didn't find that book but I did find a nice one for muggles on how to tame dragons.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

Monday, February 20, 2017


"There is joy in repetition." - Prince

As you might already know I am a sucker for repetition in form.  So you can imagine my joy when I was walking the other day and discovered this fungus growing in the middle of my neighbors yard on an old stump.  I walk that street almost daily and never noticed it.  In my defense, it was growing on the far side of the stump but when I walked around and saw what was growing my jaw dropped.  I literally oogled this stump for about half an hour...climbing all around taking photos from every which way.  I'm sure if you had been watching you might have thought I was a total weirdo.

But if being excited about rotting wood and their dazzling decomposers makes me a weirdo than I am happy to wear that badge because  LOOK AT THESE GUYS!!!  The burnt orange and grey-blue are such a lovely complimentary pair along with the neutral cream edging.  And the ruffled repetition is stunning.   

The photo below was one of my favorites.  I like the color in the foreground and the contrast of textures between the bark and the fungus in the background. 

I wasn't sure if the fungus in the photo below was a different kind or not, but the color was certainly a bit more green.  This fungus was growing on the top of the stump so the color may have been different because it receives more sunlight.

When I was looking at this photo it reminded me of photographing barnacle and mussels down by the beach in New Jersey... so much repetition.

It is a lovely thing to witness such beauty.  As I walked away from the stump and continued my walk I couldn't help but smile.  I love that even though I've walked that path a thousand times...every time is different and a subtle turn of my head can lead to something spectacular that was right before my eyes the whole time.

After I finished writing this post I re-read it and had the thought that all my posts sound the same.  I had the urge to delete all the text and just let the images speak for themselves.  But then I decided to listen to what the post was trying to tell me and thought..."repetition, repetition, repetition."

“Beauty is seen in repetition; keep repeating your beauty even if your beauty is not all that beautiful, you shall still leave a mark and there shall come a moment when the beauty will be seen.”
― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

Friday, January 20, 2017

All Shall Be Well

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."  - Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


When I look at these photos of wood I am reminded of the cosmos and see whirling galaxies and black holes.  It brings to mind a strange experience I have sometimes when I first wake up in the morning.  In the few seconds before I even have a thought I can vaguely see vibrating cells that spin around a center that I can never quite see.  At times it looks like I am peering at a galaxy whirling in space inside of me and at other times it just looks like vibrating cells.  Then, poof, as soon as I have a thought it disappears. 

I have tried to google this and the closest thing I have found to describe it is the word "spanda."  Spanda is the "primordial vibration of the universe and of our being" and corresponds with "an awakening to a state of wonderment and subtle delight." (source Hridaya Yoga).

If you can imagine the photo above vibrating and swirling around in circles, that is what it looks like to me.  I am not sure if what I am seeing is Spanda, but I do love the concept.  It is described as the "vibration that pervades both the energies of one's body and the energies of the whole universe" (source Hridaya Yoga). 

I like the idea of playing with imagine the pine cone above as a supernova or the hole in a piece of wood as an endless black void.

“I promise you that the same stuff galaxies are made of, you are. The same energy that swings planets around stars makes electrons dance in your heart. It is in you, outside you, you are it. It is beautiful. Trust in this. And you your life will be grand.” ― Kamal Ravikant, Live Your Truth

I suppose it is just as possible for us to have galaxies whirling inside of us as it is that we are but a miniscule spec of life inside another cosmic being.  Who knows?  But it is lovely to ponder and just as pleasing to know that we will never solve this reading a good book that never ends.

"We aren't here to solve the mystery.  We are only here to see that we are the mystery." - Matt Kahn

Friday, January 6, 2017

Taos Adventure

It is funny how things happen in Taos.  I have found it is best to make vague plans and be open to whatever befalls you.  Our first night at Mabel's, we were sitting in the lobby happily filling our gullets with mint-chocolate truffles when a woman walked by.  (As my dad would say, "She was hippy-dippy.")  I can't remember why now, but we started chatting with her.  Her name was Tenney and she had a lovely, friendly way about her.  We got to know her background story and how she was a freelance performer and how she used to live down the street from Sarah Jessica Parker.  She was a full time resident of Taos and at the very end of the conversation she asked us our plans for the next day.  We told her we were going to Ranchos church and then to the gorge, but beyond that we weren't sure.  She recommended going to Arroyo Seco, a little town north of Taos that is artsy and has pottery shops and the best ice cream ever.  I made a mental note and we bid our adieus.

The next morning we set out for the famous Ranchos church.  It was made famous by Georgia O'Keefe who painted the backside of the church (you can see it here).  It really is one of the most adorable adobe structures I have ever seen and last time I was in Taos I woke up before dawn (which for me is a rare event) and did a photo study of the sun coming over the church (and a requisite sketch of the backside).  

After visiting the church we wandered into a little store near the entrance to the plaza.  As I was looking around a man walked in the front door.  He clearly knew the owner and they were discussing something.  At one point the man asked us where we were headed for the day and I told him we were going to the gorge and maybe Arroyo Seco.  He said we should definitely visit Arroyo Seco and that we should do a hike a little north of town to a waterfall.  He said you go until the road think it will never end but it does;  pretty vague instructions but I didn't think we would have time.

After leaving the church we made our way over to the gorge.  I have a little fear of heights but I forced myself to walk across the bridge and nervously took the video below.  I had a fear I would drop my phone.

After the gorge we drove by the Earthships.  If you don't know about the Earthships visit my blog post here for more info.  As you can see below the structures are made from recycled materials.

Our next stop was Arroyo Seco.  I knew it was going to be small but I was surprised the whole town is no more than a half mile long.  George decided to go birding while my dad and I perused the shops.  Right in the middle of town was a small store called Rottenstone Pottery.  I wasn't really interested in buying pottery but something drew me to go inside.  As I scanned the room a table with a portfolio open caught my eye.  I walked over and looked down to see beautifully rendered etchings of birds.  As a printmaker I know how hard the process of etching metal plates is and these were so sensitively drawn.  I flipped through the entire portfolio and was truly blown away by the images.  I told the man working at the desk how much I loved them and he told me there was a book I could purchase by the artist, Ladislav R. Hanka

As the man wrapped up the book he told me to be sure to read the text as well as looking at the imagery.  Maybe he could tell I was a visual person because normally I might have just looked at the incredible renderings.  However this week I finally had time to start reading it and I am blown away at the beauty of the writing.  I am only halfway through and I feel like we are kindred spirits and he describes so eloquently the plight of the artist.  "In the studio, around me, at one point there lay several hundred plates --etched, burnished sanded, started over.  The birds had proven so provocative in their improbable variety that they had consumed me...Why does anybody need to make etchings of thirty warblers?...Transcendant moments of revelation were spelled by hours of frustration."  I greatly shortened the passage but I would end up re-typing the whole page if I quoted everything I liked.  It is rare you find the work of someone that speaks to your soul... but the combination of printmaking, birds and my museum/taxidermy background made this book the perfect Christmas gift wrapped in wings and wonder.

"Art is created from a driving internal need, a gripping passion; when it is no longer enough to be a hobbyist, enjoying a dalliance, casting a passing glance--when you feel compelled to be at it for hours, mesmerized, battling past your own feeble inadequacies, prepared to redeem yourself before the most severe tribunal of your own self-judgment, willing to meet your own impossible standards."  -Ladislav R. Hanka, In Pursuit of Birds

But our adventure did not end in the pottery store.  As I paid for the book I casually asked if there was a waterfall north of town somewhere.  The man said there was and told me to go look at the list of local hikes in the nearby grocery store.  He said it was on private land and you had to stop and pay somewhere...again vague directions.  After we ate way too much for lunch we weren't sure what we were going to do.  We really wanted the famous ice cream but were too full.  I hesitantly suggested maybe we go see the waterfall and work up an appetite.  George, of course, was immediately up for it but my dad said he could pass on it.  I was the deciding vote and I decided we should have our adventure.

So north we went in our weak little Hyundai rental car down the dirt road north of town without bothering to check for directions at the grocery.  We weren't sure where we were going but I eventually noticed a sign saying we had to pay.  We backed up to re-read the sign when we saw a man sitting in a truck in a nearby driveway.  Sure enough, he was the man who lived there.  He didn't speak clearly and could barely hear us as we asked further directions.  He just kept waving his arm and pointing in the direction we were headed.  So on we went...and on and on and on.

The twisty road turned from dirt to slush and then to serious snow. After twenty minutes or so of driving an SUV came around the bend.  We waved and a woman rolled down the window.  I asked if there was a waterfall at the end of the road.  She said "Yes, just keep going and you will see a gate.  But make sure to go this way and not that way! (pointing aimlessly in the air)" and then drove away with a friendly wave.

Every time we went down a big hill George and I had the same unspoken thought..."Will we be able to get out of here?"  And then a very steep hill emerged in front of us and our little car could go no further.  We hopped out to survey the situation and decided to park the car on the side of the road and walk a bit.  As we were getting out of the car a big, bad-ass four-wheel drive truck came around the bend.  They saw us and stopped.  Two Native American men peered at us and I asked if we were close enough to walk to the waterfall.  They said yes and to just go up the hill.  Then they gunned it and barely made it up the hill themselves.

I was a little worried about my dad's knees and about how hard a hike this would be.  But we eventually made it to a gate and then the road forked.  Not knowing for sure which way to go we went left ("go this way, not that way!").  After about half a mile it began to get very rocky.  The sun was getting low and I was more and more concerned that perhaps we should turn around.  We all felt a growing nervousness but no one wanted to be the one to say it first.  But soon the rocks opened up and revealed a tremendous cavern and lo and behold there was a thin trickle of water cascading down to meet the earth in frozen mounds of water.

I was so happy we had made it in one piece. Although it wasn't exactly the waterfall I envisioned, I loved the pitter-patter sound and the serenity of the cave. As I stood breathing in the cold, fresh air I felt deeply present in this place where earth, water and light came together.

We hiked back to the car at a brisk pace.  As darkness closed in our little car nervously scaled the inclines and we made it back to civilization.  It was fun to look back at the day and see how our fortunes were directed this way and that by the random comments of strangers.  The day had definitely delivered unexpected gifts and ice cream never tasted to good.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mabel Dodge Luhan House - Taos

After taking the scenic "High Road to Taos" we arrived at our lodging in Taos, The Mabel Dodge Luhan House.  I first visited this amazing historic inn while on a sketchbook workshop in 2012.  Both the workshop and Mabel's had a great effect on me.  Before the workshop I had never done watercolor sketching and Amy Bogard opened my eyes to a whole new world.  (If you are at all interested in journaling, sketching, or both please check out her workshop here.)  I also absolutely fell in love with the "house", its history, Mabel, and Taos. 

As you can see above and below, the house is made of adobe and couldn't be more quaint.  I absolutely love the shape of the doorways and the large wooden beams throughout the house.  Staying in an adobe structure is like being held by nature herself.  The first night I awoke in the middle of the night to the bone-chilling sounds of coyotes calling.  I even slipped out of bed and looked out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse but they eluded my sleepy eyes. 

Below is the dining room and it wouldn't be right not to mention the food is wonderful.  The first night we pulled in we were tired and hungry from our drive and the most amazing chocolate mint truffles awaited us.

In these two photos you can see the "vigas" or beams of the ceiling.  We spent quite a bit of time in the cozy lobby sitting next to a crackling fire in the kiva fireplace.

During the 2012 workshop I stayed in the Georgia O'Keefe room which was adorable.  But this time there were three of us and we splurged and stayed in Mabel's room.  You can see photos of more of the rooms in my blog post from that trip here.

Below is a sketch of the front doors of Mabel's from the 2012 trip.  The interesting teal-turquoise color frames the windows and doors.

Our final day in Taos we had to high-tail it out of there because a snow storm was coming.  As we were leaving I turned around to look at the house one more time and it was so peaceful watching the snow fall on the old adobe inn.

If you ever get a chance to visit Taos a stay at Mabel's is a must.  In my next post I will describe some of our adventures around Taos.  There is never enough time to explore everything there.

"In a cold like this, the stars snap like distant coyotes, beyond the moon. And you'll see the shadow of actual coyotes, going across the alfalfa field. And the pine trees make little noises, sudden and stealthy, as if they were walking about. And the place heaves with ghosts. That place, the ranch, heaves with ghosts. But when one has got used to one's own home-ghosts, be they never so many, and so potent, they are like one's own family, but nearer than the blood. It is the ghosts one misses most, the ghosts there, of the Rocky Mountains,..." -D.H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico