Monday, March 28, 2011

Illustration Friday: Toy

Some toys are timeless.  I have a big, cloth bag full of wooden alphabet blocks that belonged to my husband when he was a child, and which were used for years by our two children.  I love them—many have incised pictures on the side opposite the letter.  They're wonderful images, which are also timeless: a chick, a quail, a nest, a vase, a fox.  But I'd imagine that most children use them to learn the alphabet and create their own words, so I arranged three of them into my word for this week:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Roots and wings

They say that they best gifts parents can give their children are roots and wings.  Today, I said goodbye to my biologist son as he left for a stint in the field studying spotted owl populations.  We were lucky to have him staying with us for the month of March, after having left his previous research position at UC Davis to prepare for his new adventure.  He just set up this beautiful  blog to document his experience, which features some of his nature photography, if you're interested.

My son is responsible for the interest in birds and chickens around our house.   A while back, he gave me a birdhouse and hung it under the eaves of our front porch, easily visible as I sit at my computer.  A couple of springs ago, I saw a bird going in and out, but there hasn't been any activity lately.  This week, as he was packing and getting ready to go, a chickadee started going in and out, with nesting materials in its mouth.  Today, I noticed that there are actually two chickadees busily preparing a nest in the box.  On a day of goodbyes, made even drearier by the grey, rainy weather, I'm overjoyed to welcome our new  residents.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Illustration Friday: Cultivate

"The garden is a ground plot
for the mind."
—Thomas Hill,  The Gardener's Labyrinth, 1577

Several days in a row of spring rains are keeping me from putting in my vegetable beds as I'd planned, but the Illustration Friday topic of "cultivate" has me thinking of gardening nonetheless. (I found that wonderful quote in a book that I love to page through when I can't be outside in a real garden: The Garden of Reading.)

This magnolia drawing (also part of my page banner) was drawn at a workshop that I attended quite a few years ago at Filoli, an historic estate with beautiful gardens about thirty minutes north of where I live.  (The mansion was used for the exterior shots in the tv show "Dynasty", once upon a time.)  Filoli has a wonderful botanical drawing program, but the classes are quite pricey—however, the two-day workshops are a little more affordable.  The class description said that all mediums were welcome, but I was the only person not using watercolors, which I found a little intimidating.  I never completed the drawing (I'm not sure I even went back for the second day, come to think of it), but I kind of  like the fact that the image is sort of blossoming out of the white paper.

At that time, I did very little drawing for pleasure.  But in the following years, I would occasionally steal a peek at this piece, as if to remind myself that, even though I didn't have the time or inclination to cultivate it, the artistic side of me was lying dormant, ready to emerge when the time was right.

By the way, two of my favorite farmers/gardeners are back in my life this week:  The Fabulous Beekman Boys will be back for Season Two on Planet Green on Tuesday, March 22!  (There is also a Season One marathon being shown today, at this very moment.)  You may remember that I blogged about and drew my Beekman 1802 goat milk soaps here and here, back in January, and even got a comment from the guys themselves.  Love them, love the show, love Josh's book, love their get the idea.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Illustration Friday: Stir

Starbucks has caused a bit of a stir in my life by changing their logo.

Whether we make it at home or buy it in a shop, coffee drinkers love their rituals, and being a visual person, my ritual involves seeing the words STARBUCKS COFFEE  happily encircling the little mermaid. The new girl on the block looks a little lost without her nametag, don't you think?

I know that it's not hip and cool to admit it, but I love Starbucks.  (Those of you that are groaning and/or rolling your eyes, stay with me.)  There are four Starbucks locations within walking distance of my house, a fact that does not disturb me one iota. I first walked into Starbucks about 16 years ago. Having just dropped off my youngest at kindergarten, I was exploring the new-found concept of "me" time. Not knowing exactly what to order, I asked for a latte, which has been my drink of choice since that day. My almost-daily latte has seen me through many an early morning getting two kids off to school (my husband would often make the coffee run and he doesn't even drink coffee), and warmed me up at many cold, wet soccer games. (My family still teases me about the time a soccer player accidentally plowed full-speed into the spectators, knocking me and my chair over, and yet I managed to not spill a drop of my coffee.) I'm not completely adverse to change: each November, when the holiday cups appear,  I am filled with glee. (And I love the new perfectly designed stirrer/stoppers.)
I just want the old cups back.

Recently, a commenter on wrote the most articulate argument defense of Starbucks. (Here's the link to the original post.) He wrote:

I get tired of the trendy, hipster attitude of putting down Starbucks, as if pre-Starbucks America was filled with lovely, independent, caring coffee shops that were forced out by this evil, corporate titan. It was not. In fact, "coffee shop" was a synonym for an awful, greasy spoon that you wouldn't go near, relic diners that were far from charming (but of course now we miss them).

Really, before Starbucks there were few places you would actually go to just sit. You met people for lunch or a drink, but "meeting for coffee" was something that happened in old movies and Europe. In many ways, Starbucks trained Americans to think differently, to care more (and yes, pay more) for that black tonic you were tossing down your throat each day, often made in a crusty, petri dish of a pot surrounded by sugar packets and non-dairy creamer in a crummy break room.

Starbucks encouraged people to sit, taste and enjoy. They didn't chase you away once your drink was empty. They put chairs outside, and people slowly began using them (even in winter, like those crazy Europeans!). Because of Starbucks (not in spite of) America became a coffee culture. People started demanding better coffee at home and the office and learned a little more about brewing. New, alternative coffee shops opened up, attracting people allergic to the word "chain." Restaurants and bookstores (some also chains) let people linger longer, and added more year-round outdoor seating. People started to think more about how they lived, what they were eating and drinking, and America became more of a food culture as well.

Is Starbucks corporate and whitewashed? A silly, plastic-y American version of a European lifestyle that's been around forever? Definitely. This is America, if quaint makes money we mass produce quaint. But really, Starbucks is responsible for making this country—our beautiful America with its huge TVs, NASCAR t-shirts and shoot first attitude—a little more sophisticated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Illustration Friday: Warning

"TWEET! Recess is over, return to your classroom!"

"TWEET! Get out of the pool!"

"TWEET! Make way for ducklings!"

Maybe it was the fact that I haven't had much time to draw, or maybe it's because I just finished reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and am still under the spell of those breathtakingly exquisite pencil drawings, but I was in the mood to do a simple sketch this week.  This is the nickel-plated whistle that I carry to school with me when I teach.  It belonged to my mother-in-law, who taught school for forty years.  As I looked at my whistle, I thought of this drawing by another illustrator that did exquisite pencil work, Robert McCloskey.  As a child, I adored Make Way for Ducklings, and Homer Price.  I remember looking at those illustrations, and marveling that they were done with some of my favorite things...pencils and paper.

from Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Illustration Friday: Swarm

When I saw this week's Illustration Friday topic, swarm, I figured that this was a wonderful opportunity to try and draw one of my favorite things...bees!  I love bees as a design motif and own lots of things with bees and/or beehives on them.  But since I've never tried to draw any insects, I decided to email a beekeeper that lives not far from me, to see if he could provide me with some bee "models".  What a treat it was for my husband and me to meet Steve Demkowski of Willow Glen Honey.  Besides being a very nice man, he's an amazing wealth of information, and clearly loves what he does, producing local honey, and teaching beekeeping in our community.  Thanks, Steve!

I brought home some wonderful specimens (recently deceased) of female honeybees (the males don't appear until springtime, I learned) and it was fascinating to examine them under a magnifying glass.  I tried to draw the "pose" that is similar to one that might typically be used in a scientific illustration, and I ended up combining the parts of several bees to get the ideal one.  (And yes, I know that one bee isn't exactly a swarm.)  A bee expert can probably find many inaccuracies, but it was really, really fun to draw.  With their beautiful symmetrical forms, insects feed right into my obsession with patterns and arrangements in nature.

Did you know that honeybees visit approximately 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey?  Check out the Willow Glen Honey website for more interesting facts about bees!