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The Bee Catalog, Part I

I’m on a mission today…yesterday I spent about two hours perusing my garden, amazed at how many different kinds of bees and wasps were out.

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Today, I am starting to log how many different kinds of bees I observe in the garden. Lots of honeybees, per usual…

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Right now, the honeybees are collecting from the sage, lavender, and thyme with a vengeance. The yarrow is just starting to bloom, and some have discovered the early flowers.

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So many different types of smaller bees, too! I think this is a type of sweat bee or stingless bee…you can see the pollen that it’s collecting on its back legs.

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This bee on the coreopsis was vibrating like crazy! At first, I thought it was a honeybee because it was a similar size, but the abdomen was not hairy at all and had very delineated striations. I think it was some kind of plasterer bee, sometimes called “cellophane bees” (Colletes) because of the silky fungus-resistant substance they make in order to glue and line the walls of their nest cells.

Yesterday when I was bee-watching, I spotted a giant wasp with a reddish-orange abdomen on the coreopsis. It was flitting its iridescent blue wings so fast it looked like it was pulsing. I wish I had my camera for that!

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One last flower for your viewing pleasure…the Tequila Sunrise in its prime.

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A Most Beautiful Masterpiece…in the Making

Took a walk through the garden this morning, enjoyed the sporadic showers, all of the fat drops catching the light and streaming rainbows. The morning was magical! I found this little guy on the patio…I was hoping he wasn’t dead, just getting an early start on sunning since it’s been raining cats and dogs lately. I’m still not quite sure of his living status.

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I’m reading a few books on gardening I recently got from the library. Many of the authors start out sort of svengali on the design/layout, lording over what can grow where and how much space can be taken up by each plant. Ruthlessly culling those that have been deemed to have pushed whatever bounds too far. Many also had preconceived notions about self-seeders being crazy pernicious weeds (and many also changed their ways and let the self-seeders be).

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I began with the opposite penchants. Nursing every seedling that poked its cotyledon out of the ground for a look-see. Even when many turned out to be so-called weeds, I let them go…these were still quite beautiful. Yellow primrose, thistle, Queen Anne’s lace…and here in California, fava bean, clover, mallow, wild geranium, and milk thistle.

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I crammed small seedlings into compact spaces, only trimming so that bedfellows had an equal footing. I didn’t care if they spilled out into the walkway…I actually kind of liked that. The riot of growth felt very bohemian.

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As for self-sowers, I can’t imagine late spring and early summer without all the California poppies and blue nigella (above, in the midst of the garlic) that have taken fateful matters into their own hands since that February three years ago when I first threw a few seeds into the dirt.

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And I frequently disregarded grow zone suggestions, especially if the range of the plant was just one off from my own (zone 9). The blackberry cuttings you can purchase at the garden store here supposedly only grow to zone 8, but I have a few canes behind the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired trellis. They are thriving.

I also find that plants that are accustomed to regions unlike my own can in fact grow here if I find and utilize the right microclimate in the yard.

Check out this hardy fuchsia above…I was afraid there wasn’t a spot in the back that would provide adequate shade at the hottest part of a summer day and be able to retain sufficient moisture for this plant. But she seems to be doing just fine…I was excited to find a couple new shoots!

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Found an onion amidst the pink evening primroses! I cleared this part of the bed out recently and was afraid that I wouldn’t have a glorious batch of Oenothera this summer and fall…I had no need to worry, as just a few remnant runners are more than enough to send out some shoots!

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Pest control is another story. I’m at my wits’ end with our gopher problem. They cleared out an entire tier of vegetables this winter. They started munching on my Lantana (above the Shasta daisies), but I spread a lot of red pepper flakes around the area, mixed them into the dirt, and they haven’t been back to this spot. And these Shastas were almost another casualty, even though the gophers don’t seem to really like them…they just recently started some fragile new growth…

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Littlefoot is our only chicken left now. Raccoons got Lucky and Star…I am going to wait to get new chicks until I am finished with my credential program. Dreaming of building a new spacious coop in the coming months and have been busy perusing free plans. I want to use all reclaimed materials. I have all the tools I need.

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The apple and pear trees have lots of spurs this year…I am looking forward to the harvest. I had to cut a few bigger branches this year, including one that was competing with the leader.

When we first moved here four years ago, the trees hadn’t been pruned for what I can only guess was a very long time. There were so many lateral branches, waterspouts, and a shaggy unrestrained growth of leaves…but no fruit. My dad helped me prune the apple tree the first year, and we had so many apples that I had enough applesauce for baking for the next year. I pruned after that but didn’t realize that the tree was spur-bearing and nipped off all of the spikes, so we haven’t had apples for a while.

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But this time, I was careful. We’re going to have quite a yield this year!

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And another project to finish–level out the dirt in the steps we just put in, lay down landscaping cloth and top with stones. Look how magnificent that live oak is…sometimes a red-shouldered hawk comes and perches on the left boughs, eyeing whatever scurries through the grasses and Russian olive below. Hopefully I’ll get a picture of him one day.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”
― Claude Monet

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Eternal Year–Drawing Stage

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Another drawing that will be part of my Eternal Year card deck. I am repurposing this old piece…I’ll be adding some kind of carnivore skull at the base of the mushrooms to symbolize “Decay.” This card will be part of the “Summer” collection.

The deck will have either 44 or 48 cards, possibly more, depending on how I progress. I have to finish my credential program, and part of that is completing my edTPA here in California, which is quite involved and time-consuming.

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Here is another finished drawing–“Emerge,” part of the “Spring” collection. You can see strawberry leaves and blossoms, fiddlehead ferns in her hair, and decaying leaves from the past fall. She represents the earth coming back to life, greening up, unfurling.

Eventually, perhaps when I get 15 drawings ready to go, I will start coloring in Photoshop. I have more to share, as I’ve been pretty consistent in my drawing routine for the past few weeks.

More to follow!

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A Few New Works

I’m in the midst of my teaching credential program and don’t get a lot of chances to post new work when I have it…but I have some! And I’ve made time for a post.

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This one was started over our last trip to the East Coast to visit Grammy and Grampa, and it shows what it’s like to be at G&G’s house! So many animals and birds to watch and places to explore and flowers to pick!

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And here’s one of a sailboat, with a sperm whale and giant squid…I see more sea scenes in the future 🙂

I’m going to be working on a few for the 2019 holiday card selection for Collage this whole weekend! While I’m learning a lot in the program, I can’t wait to be finished so I can work on art and writing more often…

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Snowshoes and Chickens

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Finished one I started a while back, inspired by a trip to Donner Lake near Tahoe. The area has a gruesome history, but it sure is beautiful. And scary, too–my daughter did not want to go on the trails behind the cabin we stayed at. Just a little too close to complete remoteness for her, I think.

I just finished reading an essay in Wendell Berry’s collection Home Economics about this very subject: it’s natural to feel wary and apprehensive about pristine nature, even while being in rapturous awe of it at the same time.

He believes we feel most comfortable living with nature, not in it, and I have to agree. He mentions the ecological phenomenon of  “edge effect.” I live on those special margins that seem to bring out and nourish the health of the wildlife in the area–my garden and little orchard and “developed” land abut a big track of oak forest that covers the side of the canyon we live atop. I’ve seen more birds, animals, insects, etc. than I ever have immersed deep in the woods (fox, moles, squirrels, red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, crows, wild pigs, deer, swallowtails, western jays, finches, doves, owls, praying mantises, skinks, fence lizards, garter snakes, to name some).

That being said, Berry also talks about how we “need” wilderness, as much as a physical reality as an idea in our collective mind. I, for one, definitely feel that necessity to know that there are still wild, scary places out there, with creatures that could, in fact, kill us.

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Also finished another drawing, inspired by my girls feeding the chickens. They love to dig for worms in the compost pile and feed them to the chicks!

And I’ve been featured on the Doodlewash watercolor blog and community…thank you so much!

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Creating Compositions: Organizing Principles of Design

I sometimes get questions about how I come up with my compositions for my watercolor paintings, many times I think because people see progress pictures and they assume (rightly) that I don’t have everything all drawn out before I start putting the brush to the paper. But, it should be said, that I do have a general picture (usually) in my head before I begin, and I try to apply a variety of design principles to each painting as I add layer upon layer. I learned a lot about this subject from a book that was required reading for my art history curriculum in college: The Art of Seeing.

In this post, I’m going to explore some of the elements of design that I frequently manipulate in my work. I’ll create another post about composition later for further exploration.

Repetition. I repeat a single design element: line, shape, form, value, color–any will work! In my deer painting above, the same heart shape of the ginger leaf is painted over and over again, in a variety of different positions and values, and this holds the overall composition together, unifying fore-, middle-, and background.

In the evergreen forest scenes, I repeat triangular shapes in different colors and values, with the relatively horizontal layering of those shapes contributing the feel of tranquility; if there was a diagonal positioning of shapes, the composition would suggest movement and dynamism. Lots of times, the repetition in my paintings builds up to the point of pattern, and shapes are more orderly than not, and these patterns of elements can create a rhythm, like in music, satisfying our desire for harmony and structure.

Contrast. In hues and colors, values, implied lines (like to figures pulling away from one another and creating mirror arcs with their bodies–opposing gestures)…any abrupt change. This contributes to variety. In the snail painting, I go from green to red hues, and this switch between complimentary colors enhances our appreciation of each. The same happens in the sleeping princess painting: the purplish pinks alternates with golds and yellows, and the complimentary quality of opposites creates unity.

In most of my paintings, I try to make sure that there is a high contrast in values somewhere in the composition. In the Seven Sisters/cave horse painting, the minimalist/gestural figures are painted all black, with many of the stars painted all white. These extreme contrasts are found only a few places in the composition, to provide variety and draw the eye. (The three black figures are also arranged in triangular formation, a very visually pleasing and stable shape–more on that later!)

Balance. Distributing visual weights so that they offset one another. I mostly apply formal or symmetrical balance in my paintings, as in the sailboat scene where the vertical composition is divided into three horizontal parts (on odd, and therefore dynamic number) and there is a central point of focus. In the unicorn painting, the unicorn is the central focus and also holds the lightest value; all other elements in the painting contrast and compliment this central figure.

A painting can also be asymmetrical and exhibit an informal balance (for instance, a large light-colored shape can be offset by a small, dark-colored shape, with the focal point somewhat off center).