Out with the old, in with less is more

All over the internet folks are talking about what they coveted, liked, disliked, and even perhaps what they hope to achieve, gain or add to their flock of goodies, albeit, fountain pens, art supplies or decor.

On this last day of 2011, as I wish everyone a happy New Year and hopes for a brighter tomorrow, I have been streamlining, downsizing, evaluating what is important and where it will end up in 5 or 10 years if I hang on to it.

I have sorted through handbags, clothes closets, cellar clutter, paper, fountain pens, art supplies (ongoing), inks, journals and books.

In January 2012 it is my express desire to have all these extras in the homes of other collectors, at the thrift shop or in the hands of a neighbour or friend.

So I end this year with these words of Eduardo Galeano:

Wishes for 2012

By Eduardo Galeano

‐ May we have the dignity of desperate hope.

‐ May we have the courage to be alone and the bravery to risk being together, because it serves nothing to have a tooth outside its mouth, nor a finger away from its hand.

‐ May we be able to be disobedient every time we receive orders that humiliate our conscience or violate our common sense.

‐ May we be so persistent as to continue believing, against all evidence, that the human condition is worth it, because we have been poorly made, but we are not finished.

‐ May we be capable of continuing to walk the paths of the wind, despite falls and betrayals and defeats, because history continues, beyond us, and when it says goodbye, it is saying: until later.
‐ May we be able to maintain the certainty that it is possible to be a compatriot and contemporary of all those who live animated by the will for justice and the will for beauty, wherever it arises, whenever it lives, because the maps of the soul and of time have no frontiers.


So, you want to serve your country

Written two years ago, but as relevant today as it was in July 2010.

What qualities should an elected official possess and what qualifies them to run?

Should a senator be an attorney?

Should a congress member be proficient in science, math, business or the arts?

Is age a factor? Or is it experience? At what age or what form of experience should a candidate be judged or taken seriously?

Should a candidate's success be determined by how much money they raise, whether they have an intact family or are photogenic and/or telegenic?

Is there a purity test for Democrats that match the aspirant test for Republicans?

What about temperament, religion or education?

Looking back on Presidents, it appears FDR was a State Senator, a cabinet member, a Governor, with family money and connections. When he died in office, his Vice President, Harry Truman took up the baton, with 10 year's of Senatorial service under his belt and many years as a business man. He was also a farmer and served in the military.

Ike, as he was most affectionately called, was a general, led battalions and governed a major university before he was elected.

It was probably fitting in American voters' eyes to elect a man who fought in WW2 after having two presidents that navigated the US into war.

A change of guard by temperament, and party, Ike a Republican, held office for two terms.

I was ten years ago when Eisenhower came to office, and all I can remember is he played golf, had a wife named Mamie, and won the race against a man considered an intellectual. But the divorced Adlai Stevenson, a former Illinois Governor and Ambassador, did not pass the then purity test.

When JFK, a former US Senator and Congressman won the 1960 election against Richard Nixon, I was ineligible to vote, but old enough to remember the ins and outs of the campaigns.

When Kennedy was assassinated, like most Americans I wept.
LBJ quickly filled the void, and was elected in his own right in 1964, the first Presidential election where I was able to vote.

Johnson was a seasoned official having served in the Congress, Senate and White House as Vice President.

I've heard Johnson's taped recordings with his advisers (via Bill Moyers Journal) and know now what I didn't know then: LBJ was a reluctant war President, but an active participant. He did not run for re-election in 1968, although he could, and left a legacy of "social reform" or what is called, "the great society" that nearly eclipsed his role in one of our country's most divided issues: The Vietnam war.

Two Vice Presidents took each other on in 1968, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. Nixon won. Richard Nixon had good credentials; he had served in the Senate, the Congress, had been Ike's Vice President and served in the US Navy.

But the very things that drove President Nixon also undid him, and he left office in disgrace, succeeded by his Vice President, Gerald Ford.

President Ford had a long career in politics, was the Minority Whip in Congress and served in the House for more than two decades.

However, the wind did not favour President Ford when he run for election. Instead Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976.

Carter came to Washington after having been both a Governor and State Senator of Georgia. He was also a farmer and served in the US Navy.

A one term president, Carter was succeeded by Ronald Reagan. Reagan served in the military, was elected Governor of California and had a career as an actor. He served two terms in office.

George H. W. Bush, Reagan's Vice President won one term in 1988. Bush had a long career in politics, ranging from CIA Director, UN Ambassador, Liaison to China, and a seat in Congress.

After 12 years of Republican representation in the White House, Bill Clinton took the Oval Office in 1992. Clinton had been a Governor and an Attorney General in his home State of Arkansas.

After serving two terms in office Clinton was succeeded by George W. Bush, who was the Governor of Texas, the son of the 41st President and a business man.

In 2009, Barack Obama took office and is our 44th President. President Obama served in Illinois' Senate, and in the United States Senate. He had been a community organiser and a constitutional attorney.

What have I learned from this civics's review?

Two of these Presidents, FDR and LBJ, made essential changes in the legislature, remarkable for their backgrounds--one privileged, the other fiscally conservative--and altered the landscape of social change.

Two Presidents, Carter & Bush, Sr. were not re-elected for a second term.

One President, George W. Bush was essentially favoured by a Supreme Court Per Curiam decision that curtailed a recount of delegates from Florida, and disqualified former Vice President Gore's popular majority vote. Bush went on to win a second term in 2004.

In the sixty years I looked at it appears we vote as if we were on a see-saw, alternately between Republicans and Democrats. We rarely permit continuity of leadership but rather favour, or hope, for rapid national changes.

Blame or honour is bestowed on Presidents rather than the three branch system of government and how they play out in any given 4-year term.

The 4th Estate--the press--is rarely blamed or extolled, and it is the rare Pulitzer that reveals government workings at their lowest or highest level.

Take headlines. Jon Stewart did a story on headlines of his show, and made some good points. Huffington Post often has some headers that in no way describe the content accurately using words like: mock, eviscerate et al.

In the same two years I've researched back stories, old stories and historical documents to learn why or how our country has reached this monumental impasse, a bifurcation in the political road that could take this country into spiralling destruction--economically and socially.

Neither the Right or the Left, elected or self appointed appear able to resolve some fundamental issues that could promote government efficacy.

What is blocking the road to health care reform, the closure and cessation of the hell we call Guantanamo Bay Prison.

What is driving the Media to bark out slogans, misinformation and gossip faster than a speeding bullet?

What propels the debate on abortion or homosexuality to the point of murder?

Is Christmas a thing of the past as Fox proclaims when, in fact, 90% of the population celebrate it today as it did 20 years ago?

Are pundits replacing journalists for monetary gain?

Are corporate lobbyists more powerful than elected officials? Or are they one and the same?

And where do our elected officials stand on both small and large issues facing the country?

Paul Krugman outlines some of the problem by emphasising the stalemates in how the Senate votes or doesn't in his New York Times article here.

But how did we go from affable, camaraderie across party lines to intractable obstructionism?

Who leads and who follows?

It is difficult to impossible to answer with any certainty why our government is now inert.

Are there some simplistic answers like Obama is lead by his Chicago advisers, or that the Republicans are behaving like a 5 year old (or it is a 2 year old) and blocking anything and everything in an effort to reclaim their majority?

Is Reaganomics to blame? Deregulation? Outsourcing? Globalisation? Racism? Capitalism? Overpopulation? Poverty? Greed?

Again, I have no simple answer or a series of answers. I come up short, leaving myself frustrated by the probing questions that only reveal more fertile ground for blame and finger pointing. Take a look at Colorado Springs here.

But I don't want to blame or finger point, I'd like to see a clear path to resolution. I would like to see health care reform enacted, an end to two wars, a reclamation of civility in public and private lives, growth in the economy, a hunger free worldwide population, acceptance of our human responsibility for climate change, and a peace treaty that works in the Middle East.

It's in Brooklyn's water: Bagels and Songs

Neil Diamond was honoured last night at the Kennedy Center, a Brooklyn boy who attended Lincoln.  Here he is with another Brooklyn girl:

Diamond lyrics here.


An anthropomorphic city: Jerusalem

Reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Colin Thubron, Simon Sebag Montefiore 's book, "Jerusalem: A Biography" may be a must read for 2012.

Only three cities have ever left me nearly speechless, the Vatican, Florence and Jerusalem.

My first view of Jerusalem was when I approached the City by taxi from Tel Aviv on a remarkably sunny day in December, just days before Christmas and following about ten days with friends exploring Israel and reminiscing about our time together in the Netherlands and the loss of a beloved friend.  It was the anniversary of her death and I was compelled to participate in the family's commemoration of her life.  I had flown in from Amsterdam on KLM and had agreed to meet up with two Dutch friends for Christmas Eve at Bethlehem.

Just as I was unprepared for the glistening wonder of the Vatican, under the Roman skies, I found myself riveted to the skyline of this Holy City.  Speechless then, speechless now as to the way the City gleamed, and seemed to be calling me into its bosom.

That first day, I wandered around the Old City, alone, fascinated by the old, the new, the garish, the markets filled with Bedouin clothes (several of which I bought and have still), the cafes, the people, the history. By mid-day I was at the Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter drinking very strong coffee with several English speakers and arguing or was it discussing politics.  

Before darkness descended on the glow within and outside my view, I made my way to the Jewish Quarter.  It was here that one of my friends who had lived in Amsterdam had found her home.  She and her family had a remarkable flat overlooking the City.  From the roof-top we could gaze at the entire expanse of Jerusalem just above the Western Wall.  (See the map, courtesy Ajax for locations.)

Atlas Tours Map

It is never long enough, but with Christmas upon us, and promises to Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends in some conflict as to what, where and how, I managed to see most if not all the religious sites and many of the historical ones.  Christmas Eve I did meet my Dutch friends and we spent our evening in Bethlehem with thousands of visitors from all over the world--it was both exciting and frightening.  Exciting because of the biblical implications; frightening because security forces were high.

During my days in the City, I followed the route Jesus Christ may have taken to his crucifixion, while on another day I stood at the Wailing Wall.  Blending all three of Abraham's children's beliefs, customs and sacred places wasn't easy, but it was part of my goal and by the time I headed back to Tel Aviv, I had accomplished much of what brought me to Israel.

I've never returned.


The task before me

Started July 2011

I read a great deal, less now that earlier times, but still regularly, persistently, and eclectically.   I nearly always read the New York Times book review, in spurts, and add some of their reviewed books to my Amazon wish list.  I am not a slave to this or any other list, so the list never seems to decrease as I wander off course and discover a magazine, a book, a subject that is pushed forward by its rhyme or a beckoning from a beyond.

But now I have a task before me, that is to read my own scribblings, piled up on a file cabinet, stuck into folders, loosely folded in a straw square basket that only I know holds the keys to journal entries from the 1980s and 1990s.   Some of the writing is typed, while others are pages torn from their bindings, scratched out in ball point or fountain pen ink, intelligible and random, unintelligible and dark.

Time, the merciful, time the madman, time our destiny demands that I decide to see them go up in flames or be salvaged for an other's eye.

Much of my writing I burned already, letters, whole journals, scattered leaves of parchment, gone but not always forgotten, and not nearly forgiven.  I have a few regrets about how I savaged my memories in a burn barrel in the Berkshire mountains, or at a camp fire, but most often in the floor to ceiling stone fireplace at Sherman.

I'm not certain what is left, or why they still exist.  My limp attempt at novel writing, my own Treblinka rests in a mauve file folder.  All my proprioceptive writings are together laying in wait for an active verb.  And my small short story masterpiece written at the theology group in five drafts is stained with the fingers that both rejected and embraced the pages time and again, always begging me to end its purgatory of indecision. 

I put the task off each day, taking on more mundane duties, or painting and sketching, organising closets, emptying medicine cabinets, and yes burning old invoices and long outdated income tax receipts.

Am I afraid, and if I am what is it I am afraid of that can be revealed by reading my own words?  Or am I just not certain I want to decide now, right now, their destiny when my own destiny is still unwritten.

then I started, 23 December 2011

Then I found my way into the piles, the purple folders, the clipboard plastics, the loose sheets and today, month after writing the above, I am sorting the wheat from the chaff, tossing away diary entries from 24 years ago, and morning pages from 1992.  Gone, very soon they will be ablaze in the burn barrel.  It is just a matter of time, a milder day, stronger footing, or a call to my helpmate to watch the smoke rise out of the metal container.  Soon they will be gone.

The Coal Tattoo

Silas House writes the way some folks drew or paint, with a clarity of images that spark emotion and imagination.  His books also call me back to the sultry long days and the moonlighted sky above the mountains of Kentucky, driving behind a lumbering truck filled with black soot, lumps of coal, one after another tumbling  onto the narrow road that took me somewhere or nowhere at all.

All these years later, nearly 20 to be precise, and a lost inventory of journals, I can't recall the name of the towns, or the road map, but I can remember the feelings that were stirred in me as I stepped into a back road store and encountered Kentucky folks sipping pop, and making sounds that resembled a spluttered greeting to my so obvious strangeness.  Later that same week I came into more direct contact with similar folk outside Chattanooga (Tennessee) where I spent a warm day admiring and then buying two hand woven baskets from a roadside vendor.   I stayed a long time, chatting, drinking coffee, then water, as the man sliced the reeds and wrapped them snugly into shape.  One of the baskets was meant for laundry and it served me well until one day it splintered from the weight of wet towels.  The other basket is with me still, a market basket, long, firm, with a fixed but flexible handle that sits comfortably on your wrist.  The man who made these baskets could be Paul, Clay's uncle, the character who makes Clay's quilt.

Basket at etsy

The Coal Tattoo is the third in a trilogy, and the second book of Mr. House's I've read this holiday.   His first book, Clay's Quilt, came into my reading hands several years ago, but stuck with me as if I had sat on nettles.  The middle book, A Parchment of Leaves moves back in time just as the Coal Tattoo brings the story full circle revealing relationships in the two succeeding books.

Clay captured me, Vine soothes and then shocks, Serena grows on you, and then you meet Easter as a young woman, and Clay's Momma, Anneth, as a wild teenager.

A most terrific trilogy and one I left in Pittsburgh for my daughter to read.

Your little notebook

Charles Simic is still writing in little notebooks, perhaps Moleskines.

I am writing in several these days: my daily notes in an older Rhodia Pure? which is coming into its final run before I blick an eye.

And small dots and dashes in a Cavallini & Co 2011 diary that Bill gave me half way through the year.


The Power of the Powerless, Vaclav Havel

It comes in threes they say, or perhaps it is just Jungian synchronicity, but within days of each other Korea lost its leader, and Czechoslovakia, a country closer to my personal house and home, lost its Velvet Revolution leader, former President and amazing playwright, Vaclav Havel, after the untimely early death of Christopher Hitchens.

All men with voices, beliefs and personal strengths.

I had a friend who was caught up in the battle of Communism before the Velvet Revolution and it is his voice I hear when I listen and see the words in the above video.

Making a Mark

We have many terrific blogs on line, some beautiful, some informative, some intense, many often personal, but few meet the high standards at Making a Mark, a blog written by Katherine Tyrrell.

Plantery Gears

I first encountered Katherine at Wet Canvas at the Coloured Pencil Channel and found her later at her current blogs.

At the moment, Ms. Tyrrell is collecting nominations for best in several areas of blog-land and asking for recommendations.  I haven't found myself able to come up with a worthy nomination, not because they don't exist, but rather because Katherine has such a great handle on what happens on the web.  It always seems that Ms. Tyrrell is capable of circling the entire web and finding its artistic pulse.

If you don't read Making a Mark, today may be the day to begin with her weekly column on "Who's Making a Mark this Week.  It is a post I eagerly await.


Hitch, gone but not forgotten

Robert Scheer, at Truthdig. like many who knew Christopher Hitchens, writes fondly of him as he is laid to rest this week, and recalls his word, deed and energy.  This ditty from "The Internationale" struck me today as worth repeating.

Arise ye workers from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the dust to win the prize. 

Like many my age and background, we've traveled up and down the political ladder, scattering our thoughts along strange paths with stranger bedfellows.  When I left for Amsterdam, I was a young liberal New York Republican, and when I returned years later I was a staunch independent who leaned as left as I could without fear of falling from the boughs of tarnished ideologies.

Nixon was out, Carter was in and I was committed to the working class.  I lived in the East Village, wore carpenter pants, continued to ride my bicycle and read Trotsky.  Unlike Mr. Hitchens, 31 years later, I never supported the war in Iraq, and always suspected the reasoning behind the invasion was faulty, flawed and opportunistic.  After all no one in Iraq had plundered the very ground I walked on in New York, nor sent its citizens to down an American icon. On other issues I frequently agreed,  and like Hitchens, I remain in doubt about the existence of the Supreme Being.

I always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens talks and robust energy in debating all those who disagreed with him.  Like another debater, one I also didn't always agree with, William Buckley, I knew I was listening to a person who thought, and thought well.

Wherever you are, and whomever you rest with, Christopher Hitchens, rest well and slumber in peace knowing many of us will remember.



How to hold a pen

Quiver (website)

Bandolier at Cleverhands (etsy)

Yes, I have many pens, and perhaps more pencils than pens, whether you are talking fountain pens or just a writing instrument.  And Yes, I have several very versatile pencil and pen holders, but still I don't have anything like the Quiver or Cleverhand's Bandolier.

It is holiday time?  Which one of these do I want?  Either? Neither?

Very early morning visitor

Red fox 17 December 2011 view (wiki photo)
It is rare, utterly rare that I see one of these visitors, and nearly as rare that I am up and at the window at half five or six in the morning--but today both occurred.

Do you have a child in your life or the love of nature

Mindy Lighthipe's book, "Mother Monarch" is beautiful and inspired me so much after I found and tried to save the life of my neighbourhood butterfly.   Check out Mindy's website for a short video of several samples of her work in the book if you are as fascinated by the butterfly as I am.

I bought Mindy's book at etsy in the name of Santa for my granddaughter, Anya, who is a true naturalist.



Beatrix Potter at the V&A

If you happen to be planning a trip to London, or abroad, you might want to go now and not miss the Beatrix Potter Exhibit at the V&A.

Potter's Home

Her botanicals are wonderful. 


Rhodia on the Road

On the way to Pittsburgh, we stopped at Dix Honda (State College) to check out the car, especially the sensor light, and was spotted with a Rhodia reporter.   Heather (holding her small Rhodia) got a big smile when she saw mine and pulled out hers.  She said, "I never go anywhere without my Rhodia."   A great advert for the product and a huge smile to boot.    Heather is a proof-reader, avid fountain pen user and a good sport as she gladly posed for this i-phone shot of her holding her small, but most useful Rhodia reporter.


New York City Marathon, Today and I am not there!

Marathon Route 2011

My beloved daughter and her husband drove up from Pittsburgh on Friday and are now running the New York City Marathon.  Unfortunately my recent surgery prohibits me from driving so I am eager to hear the results later today.

They both ran the full and half marathons in Pittsburgh and my daughter ran a full in Alaska to raise funds for leukemia--her first.


Less is More

When I left home I had a camping trunk, a handbag and one armful of hanging clothes. Now I have lots of stuff. When I get home I'm going to edit rapaciously.


Nader and Simin: A Separation

In the end, as in the beginning, how different is an Iranian family from an American family? Nader and Simin receives praise and a review here, and wins the Golden Bear Berlin Prize for best foreign film in 2011.  Yet when I pause to see the clips, and struggle with translations, I see humanity, not nationality.

And joy in the success of a sensitively drawn storyline:


The fountain pen universe is shrinking...again

It appears that both the Pear Tree and Swisher have closed their doors, and their internet sales operations, both within days of each other.

It is sad on many fronts. Sad because two more independent businesses have gone under, right after Pam at Oscar Braun also closed up shop, but sadder for those who love a good writing instrument that requires a little coddling--a fountain pen.

I've bought fountain pens many places, from many faces and for different reasons at various times in my life, and I can probably recount each and every event, if not blow by blow, or name the actual day, in a general way even with a weather report.

You might wonder why? Two reasons: I have a good memory, still, but mostly because I often bought myself a fountain pen as a birthday present. And perhaps a third reason: I often traveled on/around my birthday and bought pens along the way or even in stray places marking the event as doubly special.

But my first online purchase was with James at The Pear Tree, and my near to miss last purchase was intended to go to Swisher. My cart mysteriously emptied sometime during the last few days.

I also bought several wonderful pens at Braun, the last of which was a resin Falcon with a SF nib--a beauty by nearly anyone's standards and at a Pam special price.

Independent businesses are closing up faster than they begin, and this is a telling sign of our times--and these telltale signs "ain't" good at all.


Fountain Pen Converters

I am cleaning fountain pens, rating them and getting ready to offer several for sale after my upcoming surgery. I discovered I have some odd ball converters that needed an identification and remembered the subject was covered at FPN by Wim.

From left to right (all are piston converters unless indicated otherwise): Lamy Z24 (Safari etc.), Lamy Z26 (Linea etc.), Stipula international size, Pelikan, Parker, Parker slide converter, Waterman old style, Waterman newest style, Waterman CF converter, Namiki/Pilot squeeze converter, Namiki Pilot (courtesy Wim, Fountain Pen Network)

Inoxcrom Converter

The Inoxcrom, like several others, is considered "an international converter" and fits into my Rotring 600N.


Let's all "Doodle"

What a refreshing take on doodling, something I support and do nearly every day, in one way or another.


The Jews of New York, PBS

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), PBS, Channel 19 here, presented, "Jews of New York," an hour long look at Jewish culture and an emphasis on its contribution to New York life.

History is always fascinating, and this history is no exception.  Learning about the origin of Mt. Sinai Hospital, listening to the team that produced, directed and wrote "Fiddler on the Roof," hearing the 70s New York City Mayor talk about his life, were just some of the subjects covered.

Hasidic Rabbi ©

If I have any issue with this presentation, it is that it was too short.

It got me so homesick and so hungry.

The last segment was about Russ & Daughters, a landmark on Houston Street where smoked fish is not a delicacy but a life saving remedy for any weekend blues.  Their new bagel special that includes wasabi sure sounds like something to try on a Saturday morning.

To all who observe, or celebrate this holiday, Happy New Year!


Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday

Lyrics | Billie Holiday lyrics - Strange Fruit lyrics

Democracy Now were on live feed until nearly midnight from Georgia, ending with this song, and only after the officials insisted they leave. 

Rest in Peace, Troy Davis.


When Wanderers Cease to Roam

With many thanks to Cathy (Kate) Johnson and her Artists Journals Workshop blog and book, I discovered Vivian Swift's amazing memoir, "When Wanderers Cease to Roam, A Traveler's Journal on Staying Put."  It was the single book in the Artists Journal Workshop bibliography that I had never heard of before.   I know that other books Cathy Johnson recommends have most often hit the spot for me so with a captivating title, I hit buy.

Bloemgracht, Amsterdam ©
The title resonated strongly for me as a former wanderer myself, although now nearly settling for a sedentary life, almost, but not quite and hopefully not always and forever.

Swift's memoir, hand written in beautiful lettering and drawn with ink and watercolour is delightful, engaging, sparkles with wit and exhibits incredible observatory skill.  Observation is often the key to good writing and good drawing and Ms. Swift seems to have mastered them both.   The little town in which she settled takes on major proportion as she explores each day, each week, each month, imparting the small, the mundane, the simple, the philosophical.

Each month is a chapter and each evening I read and admire her ability to convey what makes a day for one person, and often is what could be my day.

It appears Vivian Swift has a blog and is working on another book, but this time she travels much farther than Main Street.

Green Pond, Sherman, CT ©
As I sit at my large antique desk with a lap top, and view the world outside, I too remember the days, nights, the light outside, the glow inside, the people, the adventures, and the variation of time and place.

Pity I didn't write more of it down.


Danny Does Tommy

Danny Gregory take 5 with Tommy Kane and cinematographer Jack Gregory. 

What a blast!  

A walking distant neighbourhood from my old haunts in New York looking mighty arty and even spiffy through this lens.

Red Hook - a film about Tommy Kane from DannyGregory on Vimeo.


Remember 9-11-2001

9-11-2002, Envelope Art ©


A Most Remarkable Exhibit: Shay's Door

If you are a New Yorker, former or present, or in love with the Apple and its exuberant history, you very well may enjoy this new exhibit of Shay's Door.  Shay's Door is the very door, signed by more than 200 Greenwich Village luminaries, that once in 1920-25, sat near to a corner on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village Bookstore.

For me, a person who lived and loved all things Village, the discovery of the door, hidden away for years in Texas (yes, Texas) and now revealed with most of the signatures and their personage uncovered, is like finding a hundred dollar bill or several on the corner of Carmine and Bleecker Streets--enough to buy pounds of Pete's Blend coffee at Portorico or an espresso and pastry at any one of the by-gone days cafes--most notably for me at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Street,  Figaro.

Sicilian Door, 2005  ©

Doors, of all kinds, shapes, sizes and colours have fascinated me and this exhibit had me very excited.

The entire exhibit is on line and can be read, savoured and take us back to one of several Village heydays.


This interview with Professor Julian Isaacs has me thinking, consciously.  For a great while I was very engaged in the study of phenomenon and parapsychology.  Although the subject remains a major interest of mine, my studies in recent years has declined.   Isaacs makes some interesting points, and Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, as always asks good questions.

As science advances it is not unlikely that the mystery of mind and matter will reveal answers, although not necessarily any answer heretofore postulated.


Barren Ground, Ellen Glasgow

I was thrilled to get this book and more than sated reading all 500-odd pages.  The story is a romance of sorts, without the happy ending we expect from that word: romance.

The protagonist is a dreamy girl of 20, who makes wrong turns in the road, but recovers sufficiently to have a full life, first in New York for a short while, and then back to her Southern roots and a prosperous dairy farm she single handedly carves out of old tobacco earth. 

What stands out about Glasgow's work is the writing itself.   A more descriptive story will be hard to find.  Each person, most incidents, the environment, the structures, the weather, are all richly stated, not intrusively, but purposefully clear and beautifully penned.

By the time you reach mid-point in the story, you could possibly draw the characters or paint a landscape of the town or region. 

More than 70 years ago this was a contemporary story; today it languishes for a buck at bargain tables.  It is a pity that the worth of each word is not retained and that fads are so plentiful that not all good writing is valued equally.

If you like stories of the South, with good words, some of which might send you to the dictionary, and a not story book ending, you might search out this book and read it yourself.


Dystopia and the Fountain Pen

I am reading Margaret Atwood's recent novel, "The Year of the Flood," perhaps a follow up her to earlier novel, "Oryx and Crake" or perhaps not.  I haven't finished it yet.

And whilst reading "The Year of the Flood", slowly and betwist and between drawing, painting and listening, what should appear on NPR's Fresh Air and then the New York Times book review podcast but interviews with Tom Perrotta about his newest book, "Leftovers."  Yes, another dystopic novel, this one about the rapture.

What have these books and fountain pens have in common?

Not much unless you are me.

Conklin, F nib
This morning I bought another fountain pen.  What?  Yes, I bought another pen.  This time a vintage Conklin.  I hemmed and hawed.  I asked the seller many questions.  I questioned my sanity about buying another pen.  Yet just three days ago I contemplated and almost bought another Pelikan to live with my flock.  I resisted and then today saw the pen had sold.  I sighed with relief.

But still I bought the Conklin.

It is something about getting old(er) and living to the max that perhaps is the connective tissue or the way my mind comingles the dystopic novels I read, and occasionally attempt to write and a fountain pen.

They, the pens, are often buried treasures in people's lives, occasionally rising to the surface from a drawer, or cupboard and presented to a younger generation with stories of "when I was young," or "back then," or any number of preambles to a fountain pen story.

Novels are also buried treasures from the author's imagination, either lifting us up, or drowning us in their fantasy of yesterdays and potential tomorrows.  Novels came in all sorts of colours, shades, lengths, with few or many words and provide us with a literary framework of life--not necessarily our life, but life itself.

Atwood is a good writer.  Non-readers may recognize her name if they saw the film, "The Handmaiden's Tale," based on her novel. 

"The Year of the Flood" is very much about digging up the past and living in the future.  Buying a vintage pen is not my oft decision.  I am afeared of the levers on many oldies; cautious about their delicacy; hard on pens like I am on life.  In fact, I sold about a dozen or more vintage pens just a few years ago--real collectibles, but unused, unloved.

But with the world spinning out of control, nearly as dangerously close to Atwood's vision in at least three of her books, I am feeling attached to the past and yearning for a revisionist version of Utopian dreams.  Just days ago we had an earthquake; the New York subways and the bus lines will be closed tomorrow at noon; I was caught in an ice storm just a week ago, in summer; and my body is slowly falling into ruin.

One more pen, more or less, more to be accurate, in the wider scheme may add a momentary pleasure otherwise lost if I resisted.   And as Whole Earth Catalogue said when they closed their doors, and Steve Jobs said at the Stanford commencement in 2005, "Stay hungry, stay foolish."

And I just had a flashback to Edith Wharton and the pen she used in Taos, a pen I coveted and now next week will own.

Edith Wharton's pen, Mabel Dodge House, Taos, New Mexico

Although, I am unfamiliar with Perrotta's work, I am tempted to get his book and perhaps another fountain pen.


The Lost Art of Postcard Writing

The New York Review of Book has this to offer about the loss of postcard sending and receiving.   The comments section is a must read.

I am amongst those with a guilty conscience.

I started out as a stalwart member of the postcard exchange at the Fountain Pen Network, but have not sent a single card in a year or more.

I am in possession of dozens of unscribed postcards.

And just today I was thinking about Lenore Tawney's wonderful book, Signs On the Wind, a collection of hand made postcards to friends.

In Silence, Leonore Tawney, 1968, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Between the potential loss of the US Postal Service and the accumulation of cards I have scattered among various desks, I do believe I will actively renew my commitment to write more postcards and certainly return postcards to the few scribes who remain loyal and unflaggingly send me a beautiful card for absolutely no reason.

Calligraphy, dipping or not

After messing around and messing is the operative word, with several of my dip pens and various nibs, I realized that these days I'd rather make my life easier, and sought out some alternatives.

I found that Hero has put out a new calligraphy pen, and ordered one from Todd Nussbaum at isellpens immediately and within less than 48 hours it arrived in my mailbox.  (Isellpens is a match for Jet Pens for rapid responses to orders.)

Photo: Isellpens website

I haven't had a chance to take any sample photos, but it is one smooth writer, not too easy to load, but it can be used with cartridges. It comes with 3 nibs, 1.1; 1.5 and 1.9.   The converter is a little unusual, and with less than perfect vision it took a few tries to discover it has a slider at its upper edge.  It is a light weight pen, and on the small size but has a nice feel in the hand.  I loaded it with Noodlers Brown 41, a new favourite, and had a good time scribbling or is that calligraphy.

I've only tried the 1.1 but it appears to be smoother than my Lamy Safari 1.1 nibs and seems to have a tiny bit of flexibility.  It comes in several colours and is very affordable.


Chinese Flower Painting

I never got past my first six lessons in Mandarin (1988) but watching this video does not require knowledge of the language. How Cui Gingguo uses the brush, and how he mixes the paint on various decorated plates is enough to understand the technique(s).

His use of watercolour and ink in the last demonstration is inspiring.


Z is for Zet

Image created by Keetra Dixon, via Daily Drop Cap.


Two Point Perspective

Although demonstrated in Adobe, this illustration of two point perspective is very well done and points out some of the common pitfalls in drawing and painting architecture and how to overcome them.


Oxalis at Rileyville Cafe

Last month I mentioned seeing a beautiful Oxalis during a rain storm.

When the Wayne County Arts Alliance Studio Tour was over, I joined two artist members at the Cafe for a quick and simple dinner.   We unfortunately came from three different directions and three automobiles (a waste).  I arrived first, and immediately went to find the Oxalis.  It is limping a little from the heat, but still rather glorious.  Unfortunately, I was losing the light.

Oxalis at Rileyville Cafe

The first time I saw this plant I asked if I could take a wee cutting.  Although I thought I would only be able to see and draw it for a day or two, it has developed roots and I am going to pot it today.

Stillman and Birn Blind Tests

Imitating Eric Carle
Left Side: Epsilon sketch paper, Right Side: Alpha sketch paper

The scientist that lives within couldn't resist.

The paper samples I received from Mr. Kalman got folded in half and made into a temporary pamphlet sketchbook, held together by a ribbon.  I didn't take note of which papers were where, I didn't read the writing on any of the samples and just did some work on each of them as they appeared in the random order they got placed into a loose signature.

I worked in various media: Ecoline watercolour ink*; transparent watercolour of various brands;  LuminArt colour; pastel and charcoal; various fountain pen inks; Pentel brush pen and one nasty swipe with a Sharpie (one and only nasty).

As it turned out, it made the testing more fun and a surprise.

Alpha, natural white, vellum, 100 lbs/150 g/m, hard or wire bound has proved itself durable and useful for most media, including wet.  I've been using one with pleasure.

Beta, natural white, rough, 180lbs/270 g/m, wire bound only is a heavy weight paper that responds well to dry and wet media.

Beta, Ecoline watercolor ink with Noodlers Flex pen and Brown 41 ink

Beta, LuminArte colour pots and Preppy fountain pen

Delta, ivory, rough, 180lbs/270 g/m, wire bound only is extremely sturdy and can probably be used for any medium.  I may try some gesso and acrylic to see if it responds well to a heavier application.

Epsilon, natural white, plate, 100 lbs/150 g/m, hard or wire bound may need further testing but performed adequately with wet media.

Gamma, ivory, vellum, 100 lbs/150 g/m, hardbound continues to please (see post here) and although my book is small has proved itself adaptable to dry and wet media.

I have no reservations recommending any one of these sketchbooks, with the caveat that you select one that suits your drawing, sketching and painting style.  The single interruption to a perfect score was the Sharpie which bled through onto the back of the Alpha drawing above (Eric Carle, watercolour and pastel) and we know that Sharpies are notorious for bleeding.

For more about these sketchbooks, see the Stillman and Birn site here.   Now available at Wet Paint (Minneapolis); Utrecht and Flax and other suppliers being added (I see from a Google search).

NB - Not all tests appear in this post.
* Ecoline watercolour ink is lovely, but apparently not available in the States.  I bought two bottles from Quietfire Designs in Canada.  Suzanne Cannon, the proprietor, and I have been online friends for about ten years and I love giving her business.


The Origins of Pleasure


Farewell Exacompta Sketchbook I

 Exacompta Sketchbook I, 2009-2011

I had always been a one journal person and had everything from shopping lists to diary entries in some chronological order.  Somewhere in the last two years that habit got sidelined and I have had several different journals in my bag, on my desk or on the dining room table.

I've been working toward a consolidation as I really prefer "one" journal at a time.

It was difficult to let go of the Canteo and now harder still to place the Exacompta sketchbook into the bookcase.  On and off, since July of 2009, it has served me as a place to test materials, write notes, even test a watercolour concept.

The laid paper is heavy enough to take wet media.  It is nearly a perfect book.  Its only liability is that the paper is not uniform on both sides.  Somehow the front and back of the paper are bound opposite each other.   It hasn't affected my use much as I wasn't doing "double" page sketches, but it might become more annoying if I want to in Sketchbook II.

This particular sketchbook opened up a place for some painful and joyous memories, and the first drawing I made was about an accident I had in 2001.

This week I painted an apple, a study and part of the instructions in my Eden botanical course.

 Pink Lady apple, New Zealand, 
Kremer pigment watercolour, 
Exacompta Sketchbook 2009-2011

Many of my previous entries in this sketchbook have been colour tests of various materials-- pencils, pens and watercolours.  It is fascinating how one french ultramarine differs from another, and how pigments from different manufacturing plants come out uniquely their own with pleasing variations in hue and value.

Vintage Daler Rowney portable metal watercolour palette
Sennelier Bijou watercolor palette

I haven't selected a new journal yet, but I am using a Stillman and Birn Alpha 5-1/2 x 8-1/2-sketchbook for the preliminary sketches for the Eden coursework.

Review: Watercolour Textures, Ann Blockley

Circling the Internet which is my wont, the name Ann Blockley turned up on several occasions.  The name was familiar, but it wasn't until I received Ms. Blockley's book, "Watercolour Textures," that I realized she is the late, very much esteemed John Blockley's daughter.

On first glance I was pleased I hadn't bought but had borrowed the book from my ever helpful library.  But as I dug in and let myself move with Ms. Blockley's friendly tone and engaging writing manner, I realized the book and the author are prizes.

Ann Blockley's book is written in an open, nearly conversational fashion, so much so that I could almost hear her voice as she moved from one suggestion to another creating both a professionalism and an intimacy with the reader.

It took nearly a week to read and begin to absorb but I am certain that in the near future I will be purchasing one or more of her books as I am so pleased with her presentation.  She is not a martinet, but an enthusiastic explorer willing to share her travels and offer her experiences.  Furthermore, she is an extraordinarily able and expressive painter.

Ann Blockley (c) at Manor House Gallery (sold)

The primary reason I was put off by the first half dozen pages was what appeared to be the lack of new material.  As a hobbyist, acrylic and mixed media was my passion, and mixed media means anything goes.   Watercolourists, especially the traditionalists, are loathe to even touch white or black paint, and adding other elements or other media an anathema.

Ms. Blockley moved away from those strict traditions, and has explored everything from cling film (saran wrap) to India ink, collage elements, acrylic ink, gouache and other media and instruments to texture her work.  Her strength, among others I will come to know and appreciate, is her ability to share her experiments and provide new ways to look at watercolour painting in a non-threatening way, inviting you into the process and join her in the adventure.

The "explore further" notes throughout the book are especially helpful, informative and worth the price of the book.  In fact, this book is a mini-class in watercolour painting.  Tucked in with pictorial examples, are serious gems from an experienced and talented artist.

From reluctant reader to enthusiast, I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the perfect watercolour painting and wants to break free.  In addition to Ms. Blockley's work, she's included three other artists, all of whom are unique and noteworthy: her father, John Blockley, Shirley Trevena of "Taking Risks with Watercolours" fame, and lastly the well known pastel and watercolour artist, Moira Huntly.  I am fortunate to have one or more books from each of these experimentalists and ground breakers on my shelves.

Palomino Pencils, yes, no, maybe so

My blogging, on line friend, Nikiraart generously sent me a Palomino and a Blackwing 602  pencil to try out.  The distributor,, is selling them by the dozen and if you follow this blog you'll recall from my inventory I am not one without pencils.  I wrote and asked if they would offer half dozen mixed orders, but they said they haven't added that option.  I therefore resisted the temptation to add another dozen untested pencils to my shelf and grateful to Irina for her kindness.

The pencils are elegantly fashioned, terrific in the hand, the eraser actually works and of the two, the Blackwing 602 delivers a purer and blacker line and allows for much shading and detail.  It is intended for drawing.  I believe the Palomino Black is referred to as the writer, but they surely are interchangeable.

My single objection to these is the disappearing point, that is, the lead is so soft that it wears down quickly, and needs frequent sharpening. Palomino inaugurated a special Kum pencil sharpener for these, which I bought from the folks at Jet Pens.   I did watch several videos on how to use these special sharpeners.  However, mine may be defective or I may be lame because all it does is eat my pencil in the same way you see folks at food fests gobble--fast and greedily.

I notice in this video that pressure is exerted in hole #1:

But in the video, Andy doesn't seem to be doing more than I am doing with this sharpener.

Using a more traditional 2 hole Kum pencil sharpener that I've had for ages seemed to sharpen the pencils with greater ease and success.

I sent off a quick note to Jet Pens because it is possible that the blades in mine are defective. 


Book: A Book of Secrets

A brilliant, funny review by Toni Bentley of what appears to be the final masterpiece of biographer, Sir Michael De Courcy Fraser Holroyd,

While it wanders from one famous or infamous Brit to another, it is the Vita-Violet story that drew me in wanting to rush to a book seller to gather the book to my breast and read its passages.

I've always been fascinated by this crowd, and even after years of reading about them, I can read about them still.

On a few occasions I've been among a crowd; once as a teen, another time on my fortieth anniversary, and lastly when I formed a women's club in Rhode Island, with the able assistance of many other terrific members of the female sex.

Crowds set one apart, and are often treacherous both for its members and for those outside its realm.  My teenage crowd was rather harmless, and circled around eating pickles at 7.15 in the morning, and secretly puffing on shared cigarettes, often hidden in my bicycle basket.  I was not the ring-leader, but certainly assertive among the dozen or more 9th graders--or at least that is how I remember it and it is retold on the rarest occasions I meet one of those high school friends.

The crowd that formed before and long after my 40th was more similar to the Bloomsbury crowd that Vita and Violet, and of course let's not forget Virginia, shared.  We were a smallish pack of wannabe wonders in dirty shorts, and loose linen shirts, blueberry fields, Wharf life, and fed on excellent New England claim chowder.  One of the group held antique auctions, another joined me, or rather I joined with, and opened a splendiferous art gallery at the height of a downward turn on the market which sold only 19th century Americana, another was a budding artist who had taken a degree in literature and done a thesis on Kafka.  (Ultimately he succeeded and sells quite well these days but only near home.)  We were a motley group of less than half a dozen, with one member falling in and another falling out with no obvious reason.

One of our best Bloomsbury moments was a week long rental on Block Island.  Friends joined us from New York, Providence, Boston and home.  I even having a photo or two to prove how raucous, rowdy, and inhibited we were, although we pretended otherwise.  Our failing was not mischief in the physical sense, but rather destructive psychologically--we enabled each other for good or bad.  During that week I held the keys to our only automobile, a late model Mercedes diesel wagon that needed constant attention.  I guarded the keys with my life for fear one of the group would take a hankering to leave the Island and strand us, or rather me without a way back to our Kingston pad.  Yet, I believe we all had a marvelous time and our house guests talked about their visit fondly.

The last crowd I called my own was composed of dozens of women, one calling out to the other, to join and form a women's only club.  Three of us came up with this idea one lazy summer day on A's terrace in Westerley and before we knew it, women were coming out of corners, law offices, art studios, and government buildings, clamoring to join us.  If you don't know Rhode Island this might sound "unreal" but the State is so small that if one person sounds a horn in Westerley, as A did, others will hear and respond in Providence, Bristol, Narragansett, Newport and Little Compton.  And they did!

The idea was formed around a mystery novel I read which we passed around.  I don't know what happened to the book, couldn't recall its title but the plot has stayed with me--soundly.  Although I hadn't realized it, I was very much the glue that held the group together and after I left Providence and Rhode Island, the group petered out and our dues returned to the members.

None of my groups can be compared to the Bloomsbury troupe, no novels have been written by us or about us, and only B's beautiful oil paintings which can be found in a gallery at the Cape tell any part of the story we created and left behind.

So perhaps it is vicarious to pour over the three Vs and those others who circled around in alphabetical order.


Envy Metre: 2nd International Urban Sketching symposium-Lisboa

As I travel around the net and see the wonderful work done, and the fascinating classes held at the symposium, I am green with envy.

One of the classes that would have been terrific to take is "Unfinished Business."  Nina Johnson, one of my favourite bloggers and artists, led this class with fellow artist, Jose Louro, and exhibited some of the work on her blog.

What is dynamic about a sketch often is its composition, and what is difficult about sketching is how fast a scene can change.

Another class I am sure I would have enjoyed was "Lining over Colour", instructor Richard Camara.  It is a totally different approach than colouring over line, which is what I've always done.  This is something I can do today!

And Ruth Rosengarten posted her lecture at her blog.

If you want to experience your own envy, check out the symposium's flicker pages.

NB - Marc Holmes post on 4 August is a sensational learning tool.


Helpful Advice on disposing of paint waste water

Evaporative Bucket:

Evaporate it… Pour it into an Evaporative Bucket. (this tip came from Kevin Tobin of Golden Paints).

Take a bucket and put some sand in there. Put it in your garage, on your back porch.. or under a low hanging eve. You want to avoid rain getting into your bucket. When you pour your dirty water in, the sand traps the paint and the water evaporates. Good for the environment and easy as can be. (no washing the sink after you’ve poured the paint water in)


Collage Museum (France)

More information here.

Purple Oxalis

Several weeks ago,  I got stranded on the Rileyville Diner's porch during a torrential storm.  Never having been on the porch for more than a few seconds, I hadn't noticed the amazing Oxalis growing by one of the built in benches.  It was breathtaking, more so considering the dark sky just inches away.

It is not quite shamrock shaped nor is it a true shamrock, but it is often used at St. Patrick Day events.  It is also a house plant, and one that grows well in the shade.

The next time I am at the cafe, I'll take a photograph of that particular Oxalis, with yellow blooms, cascading freely on the porch.


Artist Wish List

Category 1: Items that you can buy at any time

These might be art materials you don’t really need but would like to have anyway, just to experiment with.
Or, they could be small things which feel too frivolous or unnecessary to spend money on. (For instance, a subscription to an art-related magazine, or a visit to an art gallery or exhibition.)

Category 2: Items that require some “input”

These are things that would cost you a little more, either financially or in time. That’s why I use the word input. . . these items will require you to put in a little extra effort if you want to attain them.



Category 3: When “all your dreams have come true”

These are the items dreams are made of, the things you’ll probably need to save hard for, work hard for and dream big for.

Soltek easel

Ten recommended digital cameras here.

Macbook Pro 15" screen

Wish list concept via Empty Easel