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)