Being Prepared

I was in the Boy Scouts once. One point in their credo is: ‘be prepared’. I’ll go along with that, even though I only made it to the rank of Tenderfoot.

The kids are here from Chicago and LA. The house looks like a hurricane hit it, but we are having fun.

We visited Stanford today. The main reason was to visit the American Girl store at the shopping center, but we also stopped by the university. Sidra loves bookstores, and while we were there, she chose Stanford as her college. Now she’s no slacker. She’s smart as a whip and a hard worker. She had her first job at 6 months of age – as a Ford Model. She had to quit to go to kindergarten.

Will, on the other hand, has to catch up. Even though the family is on vacation, he is in preparation for job interviews, should they come along.

William dressed up for an interview

In the picture above, William is practicing his handshake. We would be reciting his elevator speech, but alas, he is not talking yet.

Today’s experiment

In keeping with my self-imposed goal of experimenting with watercolors every day, I submit the sketch below.

Watercolor Sketch - Monochrome Fuschia

Monochrome Fuschia
5″x7″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The experiment today was the use of one basic color, in this case, Winsor Red. The ends of the petals and the outside of the petals that form the bulbous attachment to the stem are the only places that are different colors. For those areas I found a pale green on my palette and just dry-brushed them lightly.

I mixed a very small amount of gray with the red for the shadowy areas; for the brighter areas, I either mixed the red with white, or diluted the red with water.

The only thing I would change in this sketch would be the scale, since I was unable to fit the extended stamen in the frame.

I guess you can tell I only made it to Tenderfoot.

Geometry, Art and Nature

I have been playing with a compass and straight edge lately. It is relaxing and at the same time, thought provoking.  I was inspired by Paul Klee‘s work, even though it seems that his credo of ‘taking a line for a walk’ doesn’t seem to mesh with the strictures of the compass and straight edge.

Constructing circles, bisecting lines, connecting points on the circumference, is relaxing to the extent that one can see patterns emerging.

However, I found that attempting to create a specific figure can be maddening. The other night, when I had trouble sleeping, instead of counting sheep, I would try to figure out how to construct an equilateral pentagon inscribed in a circle. That was a mistake. First I had to figure out the angle at each vertex. That wasn’t too bad. I came up with 108 degrees. The difficult part was trying to figure out how to construct lines that intersect at that angle.  I couldn’t do it.

I thought of another approach: Instead of trying to construct the angle, figure out how to divide the circumference of the circle into five equal arcs. I couldn’t do that either.

I was up for hours mulling over these thoughts.

A hint from The Healing Garden gardener (THGg)

THGg provided me with a  reference to an animated construction of a pentagon inscribed in a circle ( I have to look at it in a little more detail, but I am not certain that this figure is a pentagon with equal sides.


The thought occurred to me that perhaps it is not possible to inscribe an equilateral pentagon in a circle. So I worked backwards. Using a protractor I constructed an equilateral pentagon, with each of the five internal angles equal to 108 degrees. After finding the center of the figure by drawing lines between vertices, I was indeed able to draw a circle that touched each point on the pentagon.

I need to revisit this.

Thanks to THGg for his interest and follow up on his blog.

Today’s experiment

To a person with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.  This seems to be the case with today’s watercolor sketch.

I was in the kitchen and happened to look at a pineapple that was on the counter. The circular opening on its bottom was surrounded by triangular shapes. I thought, “Could nature have solved the inscribed polygon problem, proved by Gauss?”

Watercolor Sketch - Bottom of a Pineapple

Pineapple Bottom
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

This watercolor is a visual edit of the pineapple bottom. I was interested in the triangular shapes and how they were disposed around the circle that I assume was the attachment point of the pineapple fruit to the rest of the plant.

As in yesterday’s sketch, the shapes in this sketch are accurate, but the coloration and shading is a bit off. The triangular shapes at the top are translucent and a bit fluted, as if each triangle was a leaf with parallel veins. The pinkish color fades to yellow and brown at each vertex. The brownish color at the top of the inside circle could be more defined, as it represents the shadow of the recessed center. In addition, the triangular shapes at the bottom should be much brighter, as the light fell on them directly.

Future work

I would like to develop a method of working that combines aspects of compass and straight-edge construction with the freedom of Klee’s idea of ‘taking a line for a walk’.



First things first.

Family Portrait - Photograph

Siddy, William and Me

As I mentioned yesterday, the kids have arrived. The Chicago and LA contingents converged to celebrate William’s first birthday. We’re having a great time. William is wandering all over the place, touching everything. He is curious about everything. Sidra and I had a little drawing session – we postponed the rock-painting session for another time.


It is a full house. The living room houses four people; two people are on the pull out bed in the dining area; three people were sleeping in the bedroom that normally accommodates one person. Then the company arrived.

Today’s experiment

As everyone caught up with the news of everyone else, I took the opportunity to make a quick sketch of Arthur, my pet avocado tree. He seems to be fading… literally.

Bedraggled Avocado Plant

12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I captured the general shape and essence of the droopy forms of the leaves as the become more and more desiccated. However, I did not capture the fading colors accurately. I can describe it in words better than I can match the actual watercolor color with my vision of the leaf color. I was trying to capture the dusty-ish sage-green color of the backs of some of the leaves. Other leaves were fading to yellowish green, with darker green surrounding the veins. Apparently, the area around the veins are the last to dry out.

There was also more texture in the crispy-brown edges of the leaves than I was able to capture.

Arthur looks as bedraggled as I feel.  However, unlike Arthur, my bedraggledness is life affirming.

They’re He-e-e-r-e

The Chicago family arrived last night, safe and sound; still awaiting the LA contingent, who should be here in a matter of hours.

Remember I talked about blemishes the other day? Amazingly, I had no thoughts of that today. Sidra and William are just as perfect as I remembered them to be and as I imagined they would be. This time, however, William can walk! Of course that means he will be in training for the famous ‘running hug’.  I taught that to my second cousin nearly 2o years ago, to my niece and nephew 18 and 16 years ago, respectively. I get to start over with William. At least he can’t run me over…  at the moment.

The blemish-free experience has crept into my photography. The leaf below caught my attention during our outing this morning, finalizing the design specs for William’s first birthday cake.

Perfect-looking leaf on the side of a building

It was shiny and bright, just like the beautiful day we had here. I found it on the side of the building. I forgot to see if it was a tree or a vine. It looked a little too waxy to be a tree leaf, even though it reminded me of the foliage of a maple.

Today’s experiment

Unlike the perfect-looking leaf, my watercolor leaves (no pun intended) a lot to be desired. I think I may have overstepped by attempting to provide a semi-contrasty background. I probably should have left well enough alone, and settled for the leaf alone.

Watercolor Sketch - Los Gatos Leaf

Los Gatos Leaf
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

What to do differently…

If I were to re-do this sketch, I would concentrate on the details of the vein structure, which is probably what attracted me to this leaf in the first place. I might consider a pen and ink under-drawing. The only problem is, if you look at the photograph, the veins are yellowish and the area around them are what defines the space. In other words, it looks like a quilt. Any pen and inking would have to be accompanied by shading that would lift the space defined by the veins that enclose that area.

Another tack would be to find another way to represent the shading as seen from afar. One could, recreate the leaf by squinting one’s eyes as one painted. There would be loss of detail, but the integrity of the overall effect of this leaf in the sunshine would be maintained.

Tomorrow – Sidra and I paint rocks…

Another Leaf

I think The Healing Garden gardener is correct: Arthur, my pet avocado sapling is irretrievable.

I’m going to probably chronicle Arthur’s demise, since I did all I could to revive him. Is that wrong? It probably isn’t for a plant.  The animal kingdom is probably different. Some would say it is definitively wrong to chronicle the demise of a person, especially in pictures.

The condition of demise

I believe that the portrayal of all aspects of the human condition is not wrong. As with any sensitive endeavor, there are those who choose to exploit and expose human weaknesses in a mean-spirited way.  However, when done with sensitivity and love, the specific story of a human life at its end has universal application. We will all be faced with ultimate demise at some point. There is much to learn.

I have first-hand experience documenting the fragile human condition through my years of photographing my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. This was a journey for me and helped me to understand my relationship with him, since I did not know whether he knew who I was. Mike seemed oblivious to my photography.

My first experience with a photography book addressing death of a loved one, was in the late 1970s, when I read Gramp.  It chronicled the end of a favorite grandfather by two of his grandchildren. It was quite a tribute.

Another book, a collaboration between Dorothea Lynch and Gene Richards, chronicled the course of her cancer that led to her death. This is the book, Exploding into Life.  It is rare that a person grappling with death would allow the world to know the details of such a private and terrifying ordeal.

Nicholas Nixon had a photography show many years ago, called ‘People with Aids‘. This was not a point-and-shoot affair. He used a large-format camera, which as you may know, exposes a large negative (typically 8″x10″). This was another intimate experience between a subject in a terribly weakened state, and photographer.  When I saw this show, I could hardly contain my tears.

Why bring this up now?

Our kids and grandkids are arriving tonight (that is Friday night, as I write this post). We haven’t seen them in a long time and William, our youngest grandson will be one year old next week. Sidra is looking forward to seeing her cousins, whom she hasn’t seen in a very long time. It is exciting and we are thrilled.

However, a week or so ago, one of Joy’s uncles died; the father of Joy’s second cousins had a heart attack while surfing and died as his grandson tried to revive him; another of Joy’s aunts is very ill and is not expected to survive more that a couple of weeks.  Although I am removed from the direct experience of grief, it is still a very sad time.

Today’s experiment

Before I so rudely interrupted myself, I mentioned that Arthur, my pet avocado, is probably experiencing the beginning of the end. I took a clinical look at one of his leaves, which is not difficult, since I don’t have that much of an emotional connection with him, and focused on one of his leaves.

Watercolor Sketch - One of Arthur's Leaves

One of Arthur’s Leaves
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The obvious characteristics of this leaf are: 1) it is not entirely green; 2) it is curling up; 3) it is brown around the edges; 4) the veins near the stem have metamorphosed into brown semicircles.

Comments about the watercolor

I used yellow ochre, Van Dyke Brown for the upper center of the leaf, near the stem. I washed this area with raw sienna to get a reddish hue. I re-painted the brown semicircles (that once were veins).

The curl on the left side of the leaf began as a yellow ocher as well. There is a bit of green at the lower end of the curl. I used an olive green here. After thorough drying, I washed this part of the leaf image with lemon yellow. That seemed to pull all the watercolor patches together. Ultimately, I overlaid a Van Dyke brown-white mixture on this area. I used a lot of white, since the brown is very dense.

For the green areas in the center of the leaf, I used thalo yellow green, Hooker’s green and olive green in varying amounts. For the green veins, I used thalo green.


I have been studying Paul Klee’s work to be better able to express my inner creativity. However, there are other modes of expression. The idea of being able to connect on a human level about the human condition is one such mode that also deserves attention.  I would bet that these modes do not have to be separate.



We were at that store that sells food that is good for you. I don’t want to use brand names, so I’ll call it… um… Entire Foodstuffs. We were picking up a lot of stuff for the kids, who will be here tomorrow! It is very exciting.

It has been pretty warm lately, and green as can be. I have been in awe of the trees and plant life on the West Coast since I moved here in ’08.

Back in the parking lot, I noticed a single, bright red leaf among a clutter of green at the base of the tree, next to the car. This is the kind of scene that I love to photograph: beautiful contrast, intricate patterns on one particular leaf, and… a blemish.

I think the blemish on this particular leaf was due to a bird. Not a hungry bird, but rather a bird that had previously eaten and was flying directly over the leaf in question.

Today’s experiment

I am trying a ‘resting phase’ of practicing art today. I have not read much of Paul Klee’s writings lately. I am trying to let the messages sink in.

My experiment today: The red leaf.

Watercolor Sketch - Red Leaf

Red Leaf
9″x12″ 140# Hot Pressed, Watercolor Block

I started by sketching the outline of the blemished area. The original photograph showed a lot of detail, which I attempted to recreate with black lines. But the decaying, or eaten-away part of the leaf was predominantly white; like the ash of a cigar: one thinks it is black, but its real color is white.

The rest of the outline was a standard leaf shape except for the bottom left. The first natural subdivision of this leaf (as marked by the first branching of a vein), turned under on the upper outline. I believe this is where the leaf attached itself to the twig. Normally, I would have taken a second picture from another angle to clarify this point, but I thought I had all I needed in the first photo.

There were so many colors in this leaf, the least abundant of which was green. The deep red color seemed to begin at the blemish. Was it some foreign substance that caused the blemish and the red coloration? The red turned to orange, and yellow, especially where the sunlight fell directly on the leaf. The sun illuminated the lower portion of the leaf, shining through from behind.

Some of the sections on the top portion of the leaf displayed convexities between major vein offshoots. I was able to represent this crudely by darkening one side of the crease and lightening the adjacent area. I need some more practice in this technique.

I used cadmium yellow pale for the veins. Fortunately the yellow was not all absorbed by the underlying red, thus rendering the veins visible.

A special color appeared where the sunlight shone through the surface illuminating every detail. This type of lighting reminded me of the oblique light, either early in the morning or shortly before dusk. I love to photograph anything that reflects this kind of light. If this light fell on a brick wall, one would be able to see every grain of sand on every brick. I certainly did not represent it properly in this watercolor sketch.

Finally, I painted leaf shapes in different shades of green, for the background. I did not use the photograph for a guide in this instance. I just made up leafy shapes. I used crude brush strokes in constructing my background leaves. Hopefully they are not too distracting. The green background allows for maximal contrast  with the red leaf in the foreground.

Tap Root

Today was much better than yesterday. I don’t exactly know why.  I spent some time with my drawing board, compass and straight edge. For some reason, I found that to be calming. I found a way to divide the circumference of a circle into 12 equal segments (like a clock face). No big deal, but I enjoyed connecting each point to every other point around the circumference, with straight lines, and liked the resulting intricate network of intersecting lines.

Pencil scribblings and compass constructions

Compass and Other Scribblings
11″x17″ 67# Bristol

I understand that it is possible to construct a 17-sided polygon using only a compass and straight edge. I would love to be able to figure this out myself.

[Note: Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) proved the more general theorem that a polygon of n sides (where n=2p+1 [sorry, apparently WordPress does not support superscripts. This equation should read: n = 2 to the pth power +1]  p=2k , [p = 2 to the kth power] n is a prime number, k=0,1,2,3…) can be constructed with only a compass and ruler. (Struik, D.J A Concise History of Mathematics Volume 2, New York: Dover Publications 1948 p. 206).]

Never mind the proof, I’ll settle for being able to construct the 17-sided polygon.

Arthur’s progress

I have been thinking about Arthur, my pet avocado tree. After months of germination in the Mason jar, I had to set him free. My first attempt at planting was abortive. I had to return Art to the jar. Finally, with some good advice from The Healing Garden gardener (THGg), I re-planted Arthur in a clay pot with the right kind of soil. I hope that the crispy leaves do not portend his demise. We’ll see.

Today’s experiment

I have been struggling with the idea put forth by Paul Klee, Master at the Bauhaus in the early part of the 20th century (and my artistic hero), that an artist’s creativity is manifested in how he or she takes his or her pencil point ‘for a walk’. This is how Klee describes drawing. A point is just a point until some motivating force animates it. The motivating force is the idea inside the person wielding the pencil.

The Healing Garden gardener triggered a thought that has enabled me to combine the idea of taking my line for a walk in service of capturing an essence of Arthur at an earlier point in time. THGg mentioned that Art will develop a tap root, which has the capability to support a 60′ tall tree when fully developed.

When Arthur was in the Mason jar, his roots were a hopeless tangle. However, there was one thick extension from the avocado pit that curled around at a lazier tempo than the others. I assume that this was the ‘tap root’.

The idea of tangled roots in real life meshed perfectly with the artistic concept of walking my pencil point around the page.

In the study below, I constrained my line to the circle, which represents the top of the Mason jar. My motivation for animating the pencil point was connected to the idea of the tangled roots. My understanding of Klee’s concept of creativity is that the pencil point is not in service of representation of the physical, but rather an idea embedded somewhere within the artist.

Watercolor sketch and line drawing inside circular constraint

Tap Root in Mason Jar
11″x17″ 67″ Bristol

I believe that I made some progress with this sketch even though it is representational.  I do have some justification for the colors I used. The predominant yellow is for the brackish water after I transferred Arthur from the dirt back to the jar. The darker colors are for the tap root. The greens are wishful thinking about Arthur’s chances for survival.



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