An Album From My Garden (Lots of Old Roses)

My main hobby when I’m not in the studio is gardening. I love old roses and English style borders. It’s also really good exercise.

And it’s an art form, too, interesting partly because it adds the dimension of time. And also impermanence.

The orchestration of bloom through the seasons is fun and an on-going challenge.

I started this garden almost five years ago and there have already been a lot of changes.

What you’ll see here, with the exception of ‘Ispahan’, is the front “yard”, where most of the roses are. We killed off the grass in the middle a couple of years ago and put our vegetable garden there instead. The rose borders are coming along, but some plants are going to be moved this fall having already gotten too big for their allotted space. It’s hard to tell how a plant will do. Some never do well and some totally overdo it. The David Austin English roses are known to sometimes become vigorous climbers in California, but stay sedate shrubs elsewhere.

So here is an album of the front garden with photos I took day before yesterday, mostly the roses, but also a few other favorites.

Rosa mundi- a sport of Rosa gallica, ancient
Rosa gallica- The Apothecary Rose and the Red Rose of Lancaster, ancient
Rosa alba semi-plena- the White Rose of York, very old
Lilac 'Sensation'
"Leaping Salmon', large-flowered climber, 1960s; the closest to a hybrid tea rose you'll find in my garden
'Ispahan'-which has formed a HUGE bush; damask rose from Iran
'Golden Celebration'- David Austin English Rose
Hardy geranium 'Splish Splash', which is happily self-seeding around the garden
Duchesse de Montebello- gallica from France, pre-1826
'Crown Princess Margareta'- David Austin English Rose
'Citrus Splash'- Jackson and Perkins
'Abraham Darby'- David Austin English Rose
The vegetable beds- peas, beans, radishes, tomatoes, scallions, shallots so far
Bed with Charles Austin (David Austin English Rose) California poppies, orange wallflower, varigated maple, Citrus Splash rose, sisyrinchium striatum, backed by acanthus mollis

Animal Expression, Part 3- Noses And….A Contest!

Saving the eyes for last, I’m going to skip “down” to noses. This is a case where access to zoo animals is really handy. Even though you will still want to compare them to the wild version, being able to learn how a given animal’s nose structure works by seeing it really close up is very valuable.

Something that one of my art school teachers emphasized again and again was to not be “evasive” in our drawings, but to make a decision, put it down and then either make corrections, realize what needs to be changed for next time, or celebrate that you got it right. What was not ok was aimless noodling around trying to find the form. It shows.

I spent 4-5 hours on these six drawings of noses. This time I used a Sanford Draughting pencil, but on the same vellum bristol as last time. I kept erasures to a minimum and draw as directly as possible.

So here’s the deal: the first person who emails me with the correct identification (common name) of all six species gets a packet of six of my notecards (with images from original drawings). The deadline is midnight PST Wednesday, March 25. Your hint- they are all from North America.

grizzly-noseI’ve personally found the 3/4 view difficult, at least partly because I know that the camera flattens and distorts the form. This is a case where I draw what I know rather than what I see in the image.


Face-on is a good way to start. Look for reference with a good light side and shadow side, which will show more detail and structure.

moose-nose1Profile is good, also. Then you can see how the nose fits into the rest of the head without worrying about perspective. Pick what you want to emphasize and downplay the rest.

vulture-noseBird’s beaks are really hard to see close up in the field, generally because they’re small and the owners don’t tend to hold still for long. A captive bird may be your best bet because you don’t want to get caught faking it. But beware captive raptors whose beak tips won’t show the wear that the wild ones will.

cougar-nose1Cat noses are fairly similar in form. Variations on a theme, more or less. So drawing your house cat’s nose can be good practice for the big, wild guys.

elk-noseIt’s always great to get good reference of unusual angles, like this one looking up. It helps to see how the lower jaw fits with the upper jaw. Note how I have created a sense of three dimensional form by “wrapping” the right hand upper lip around the lower jaw.


Here’s a photo from the garden:



Rainbow from last week's storm
Rainbow from last week's storm

A great old French word that I picked up many years ago when I was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It means “a jumble or hodgepodge”. Which is kind of what today’s post is.

SOFTWARE THAT I USE to keep things moving and, with luck organized. FWIW.
I switched to Apple at the end of 2008 and have never looked back. I tease my husband, who still uses a PC, about when he’s going to come over from The Dark Side. He might, at some point, if his business requirements allow. In the meantime, other than house network stuff, which is still his balliwick, I can now handle my system with a minimum of whining at him for technical support.

1. MobileMe– keeps a bunch of data like my address book, email, notes, etc. in an online Apple “cloud”, which lets me effortlessly keep my iMac, MacBook and iPhone synced.

2. Quicken– checkbook balancing trauma is a thing of the past. At last. I also record my credit card transactions.

3. Flick!– just started to enter the records of my paintings. I used to have Working Artist, which I absolutely hated, but everything else available for the PC was worse. Flick! has a clean, attractive interface and responsive tech support. It’s built on Filemaker, the Mac-based database standard.

4. Aperture– Apple’s image management software; handles my closing in on 30,000 images effortlessly. Lets you open images in Photoshop with one click. Set up whatever categories (which it calls Projects and Albums) work best. The RAW files are resident on the iMac for speed, but are backed up to an external Time Machine hard drive,  so every image exists in duplicate. We hope to eventually keep an additional set on a Buffalo Terrastation that will be kept in the garage, which is a separate building. Am I paranoid? After experiencing a real, physical back up hard drive crash a couple of years ago with a machine that was supposedly designed to recover from something like that and having the vendor essentially shrug and say “Too bad”, and in which I lost forever a bunch of images of older work, you betcha. CDs are not archival. None of them. A high quality external hard drive is the only way to store images for the long haul.

5. Photoshop CS4– can’t imagine how I’d function without it. The relevant difference between it and Elements is that Elements doesn’t let you do CMYK conversions and other tasks necessary to prepare images for commercial reproduction. I use Photoshop for just about everything image-related.

6. iTunes– last year we converted over 700 CDs to digital. No more getting up to change discs and no more discs taking up valuable shelf space. All my music is right on my desk. Hey, it’s a big deal when you grew up with a record player and a stack of 45s and LPs.


Unless I’m writing, talking on the phone or doing concept work (thinking up ideas for paintings), the music’s on. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of the 1980s and there were still quite a few musicians from the 1960s around and working in various bands. Guitarist John Cippolina was one of them. He was best known as the lead guitarist for Quicksilver Messenger Service. I saw him in the mid-1980s in a band called Terry and the Pirates. It turns out there’s a two album set of recordings by the Pirates and, if you want to spend 99 cents on one of the hottest, driving SF-style rock songs out there, buy “Something to Lose”. Cippolina on the guitar and Nicky Hopkins, who was also in Quicksilver for while, on the piano. Crank. It. Up.

Species tulips, hellebores, flamingos
Species tulips, hellebore, flamingos


Frogs are at it around the clock now, crocus and early daffodils are blooming, tulips are up. Primroses going strong. In the neighborhood, the willows and Indian plum are starting to leaf out already. We’ve covered the front “lawn” (34’x19′) with black plastic and are going to turn it into a vegetable garden.

Pansies, Pickwick crocus, tulips
Pansies, Pickwick crocus, tulips


I’ve become increasingly concerned about what’s happening/happened to the food supply in this country. The pet food recall in 2007 definitely got my attention. Oh, and then there’s the Peanut Thing. Now I’m (finally) reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and it is really crystalizing my thinking. One of the basic points is that industrial scale food production, in and of itself, is a major problem, both in the animal suffering it causes and the loss of nutrition and taste in fruits and vegetables. Plus the environmental cost of moving all that stuff an average of 1500 miles. And who would have thought that corn and the excessive amount of it grown is literally the root of the problem.

It’s time to, as Pollan says, “opt out” of the industrial food chain. His book is an exploration of how that food chain works, what the consequences are and how new alternative food chains are being formed. Anyone who wants to make conscious, sound and informed decisions about what they eat needs to read this book.

For us, we’re becoming much better label readers (citric acid is from corn!?). We’re going to concentrate even more on sourcing our food locally. We already do not eat factory-farmed animals or animal products. Period. I’ve mentioned the vegetable garden. We also plan to get chickens later this year to provide eggs.

The great thing is that the information and alternatives are out there, especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in California. Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address that subsidies would be cut for “agribusiness”, which is long, long overdue. In the meantime, what we can do is vote with our pocketbooks.

Friday Features


Hot hummingbird action the last few days. Two Allen’s hummers competing for control of the plants outside my studio window. I have now found an absolutely reliable way for animal artists, or anyone else for that matter, to procrastinate. Plant hummingbird-friendly plants right outside the window next to your desk. Wait for that “humming” sound, stop work and watch. Perfect.

Outside my studio window is what I call “the tropical garden”. South-facing and it’s where I’m putting all the hot color combinations; red, orange, yellow, lavender, etc. Front to back is red verbena, crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, kangaroo paw and red dragon persicaria.

One of the little gladiators. I sometimes think that they are really Rottweilers in bird costumes.

Looked up a few days ago when I was outside and saw what looks like a northern goshawk escorting a turkey vulture, probably away from the nest. I got about six photos. This one reminds me of some I’ve seen in my husband’s aviation books of comparatively tiny American fighter jets “escorting” truly huge Soviet “Bear” bombers.


So, to follow up on the source of the Wednesday post title “Pot of Paint”. James McNeil Whistler (of “Whistler’s Mother” fame) had utterly buffaloed the art community in London with what he called his “nocturnes”, impressionistic paintings of night scenes which he showed at a time when the eyes of the public and art critics were conditioned to seeing a high level of detail and what was called “finish”.

The leading art reviewer and taste-maker of the Victorian era was John Ruskin, the first prominent critic to champion the Pre-Raphaelites, who never let the vein of a leaf go unpainted if they could help it.

In his review of Whistler’s show at the Grosvenor Gallery, then known for showing “advanced” work, Ruskin wrote that he “he never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” So there.

Whistler sued for libel. What followed was one of the most celebrated lawsuits of the time. What makes it fascinating and relevant even today is that it turned into a monumental struggle between two very different philosophies concerning the creation of art. Ruskin represented the establishment view that art had a duty to be beautiful, uplifting and moral. Whistler adamantly insisted that Art had no duty outside itself, in other words, “Art for Art’s Sake”.

The trial lasted for eight hours. The jury deliberated for two and, in the end, returned the verdict for Whistler, but only awarded him only one farthing, approximately a quarter of a penny, in damages. Whistler mounted it on his watch fob. The good news was that the verdict saved him from having to pay Ruskin’s court costs, but it left him in debt, albeit with a moral victory.

If you would like to know all the delicious, gory details, buy, what else, A Pot of Paint- Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler vs. Ruskin, by Linda Merrill.

The debate goes on today, although without the level of consciousness that existed in the Victorian art arena. There has been more than one art show here in Humboldt County through the years that had a painting in it that someone found objectionable. The reason is usually some variation of the un-thought out idea that art is supposed to be beautiful, pretty and not make the viewer uncomfortable. Poppycock. Art has no responsibility other than to express the creativity of the maker. No one has the right to pre-censor what an artist creates or shows. No one has to buy what is produced, but they don’t have the right to demand its removal either.



It is this sense of persistent life force back of things which makes the eye see and the hand move in ways that result in true masterpieces. Techniques are thus created as a need.

It is thus necessary to work very continuously and very valiantly, and never apologetically. In fact, to be ever on the job so that we may find ourselves there, brush in hand, when the great moment does arrive.

Robert Henri

Friday Features


Red Crossbills showed up at the sunflower seed feeder yesterday and made a serious dent in it. A group came through last fall, but moved on after a couple of days. We’ll see how long these stay.

The goldfinches and sparrows are emptying out two thistle seed bags in less than 48 hours. They’re back within seconds of the refill. We live but to serve. We must have the fattest finches in the neighborhood.

Bonus photo with my new lens- an osprey diving toward the pond, at what we’re not sure since the goldfish pretty much stay under the branches we’ve laid around part of the edge.

All photos taken with my new Nikon D80 with the equally new AF-VR-Nikkor 80-400. I’m stoked, to say the least.


Anyone with even a small yard can make it bird-friendly. Food, water and shelter are the requirements. We have the big pond, feeders, food plants, trees and brush piles. But a town backyard could have a bird bath (be sure to keep it clean), bird feeders and some small shrubs. If you can stand it and feel you have room, let a corner go “wild”. And consider not obsessively cleaning up in the fall. Leave some seed heads on the flowers and grass. Then sit back and see who shows up.


“There’ll be moments when you get a spark, a gleam of light and BOOM!, you’re gone. It seems easy. But then it goes away, and it gets so incredibly hard. It’s like having sex in a wind tunnel.”

Robin Williams (who else?)

Friday Features


Last night my husband and I were sitting in our spa at dusk and what should we see ambling along the edge of one of the flower borders but a mom skunk with one baby. Niki the collie, who got thoroughly skunked a month or so ago, immediately went to the other side of the spa and gazed with great interest toward the pond. Good dog.

The skunks went right onto the patio and then under the engawa (Japanese style veranda), at which point we called it a night.


Same as last week, except one of the first hummingbirds, an Allen’s I think, found the verbascum and lavender, which are starting to bloom. There was an article in the news today here about the songbird die-off. Pretty depressing. The only local bird named that we have seen here is the Rufous Hummingbird. Time to plant more hummingbird friendly plants.


You think you know your pets, but sometimes………..

Niki and Eowyn, en flagrante something or other. Got another one that I’m going to upload to If you haven’t been there and you have a sense of the ridiculous, highly recommended.


Two Views on Art:

Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we’re stupid.

Jules Pfeiffer, famous artist

Anyone who sees and paints the sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized.

Adolf Hitler, failed artist