Playing with Watercolor Toys on a Snowy Day

Do you ever feel like playing with your watercolors, exploring all the juicy gorgeous possibilities without having to sketch a scene first? Congratulations, you’ve come to the right place.

I have two active sketchbooks with distinctly separate purposes.

One I take out on location, to sketch and paint on those lovely days when we’re between blizzards here in New England. I use the other one for indoor “studio” exploration. (Like many of us, my “studio” is also my living room, dining space, heartbeat center of my home. Calling it my “studio” just sets the mood.)

I launched this second Studio Sketchbook a few weeks ago, beginning with the lessons I found in Andy Walker’s valuable course, “Learn the Secret of Successful Color Mixing” (link is in the next paragraph.)

Many of you are familiar with color theory, but when was the last time you indulged in mixing colors for the simple fun of it? Doing so brings color theory to life, right before your eyes. You’ll marvel at how the slightest shifts in pigment-to-water ratios change the mood of a color. You may even create mud by mistake, but no matter; you learned why it happened, a valuable lesson. Besides, some versions of “mud” are actually lovely!

As a result of all this color play, the next time you’re out in the field sketching and you’re looking for the perfect color mix for the sunlight on that weathered fence post, you’ll smile, knowing you have the recipe right there in your experiential memory, not in your theory-brain or, heaven forbid, in a book or PDF you left at home. I highly recommend exploring Andy’s course in a leisurely, fun-focused manner. Andy’s introduction to the course is here.

It costs from $16 to $29USD depending on which discounts are in effect at the moment. No need to wait though, because it really is worth the full price. Andy leads you step-by-step through the basics and invites you to enjoy your own color mixing experience, which is far more exciting and educational than any PDF handout you will ever see. What you learn in this course will apply to all your color work in the future, including when you expand your palette or switch to a different brand. Best of all, it will break you of the bad habit of using colors right out of the tube or pan. Adding at least a dab of some other color will bring the original color to life, as you will discover from your own firsthand experience with Andy’s course.

Creating your color charts will take time, patience, and perseverance. The good news is that all the while you’ll be having fun! If you pour a cup of tea first and turn on some good music or an uplifting podcast, you will find yourself enjoying every minute. I mean, every minute; I even enjoyed measuring out my pencil grids!

When you decide to give yourself the gift of a second sketchbook to use purely for color and brush technique exploration, I implore you to invest about $20 in a sketchbook that has good quality paper; otherwise, your color blending work will be less successful, and more importantly, less fun. The water itself needs a good place to play and move around on its own. 140lb, 100% cotton paper is the gold standard for the best results. Some sketchbooks I recommend are:

Moleskine Art Watercolour Album ($18 for 72 pages)

Pentalic Aqua Journal ($27 for 48 pages)

This final sketchbook suggestion is one of my favorites, despite being made with somewhat lighter-weight paper (95lb. paper rather than the usual 140lb.) HandBook Journal Co. Watercolor Sketchbook: ($18 for 60 pages)

These books are about 5 inches x 8 inches, a comfortable size. I use small clips on each of the unbound corners of the page, especially if I plan to include wet washes in the day’s sketch. Even for small color-mixing squares, the clips are extra insurance that the session will be enjoyable.

A square-format Seawhite of Brighton watercolour sketchbook

So, back to Andy’s lessons. My favorite page from his course was on Mixing Neutrals.

I have long been enchanted by inspired neutrals, beginning back in 1986 when I was studying with a group of beginners, all using Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing as a guide. Brilliant book. (The photo below is of the second copy I bought recently and had converted from a standard soft cover book to a spiral bound version at my local office supply store. Made it far easier to use as a textbook!)

One of my favorite lessons about inspired neutrals is on page 19.

(If I were on a desert island for a year and could bring only one watercolor book, this would be it!)

One way to practice your new understanding of color mixing is to take a small part of a famous painting you like, and try to match the colors. That of course means studying the value (dark vs light) as well as the temperature (toward warm/orange or cool/blue).

Final Inspirations from one of my heroes, Andrew Wyeth

I’ve long admired this man’s creations, and recently I came across Andrew Wyeth’s 1955 work called “Monday Morning.” It is not watercolor, it’s tempera, but it has the same radiance that watercolor is known for. Because of copyright law, I can’t share the image, but here’s a link to a gallery view of much of his beautiful work. You’ll see “Monday Morning” if you click on that link, then scroll down a bit.

Here’s my recent homework inspired by Wyeth’s “Monday Morning.”

The more time you spend practicing color-mixing and creating small studio study pieces, the more equipped you will be when you head out to create your own one-of-a-kind masterpiece from first-hand, plein air experience.

But what about the rest of the Studio Sketchbook?

I used a Moleskine sketchbook (72 pages) for Andy Walker’s color mixing course which filled up about a dozen pages, so I decided to leave a few more pages blank for future color mixing experiments. Then in the second half of the book (starting on about page 30) I created a new section called Brush Dancing. Here I take lessons learned from Alwyn Crawshaw and others, and practice exploring the vast array of marks you can make with just three brushes. With any luck, that will be my next blog post. Stay tuned!


Your generous or humble contribution to The Tip Jar helps keep this website solvent and is very much appreciated!

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

And, as always, thanks for joining me in some time “aloft”!

Posted in Sketchbooks, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Perspective difficulties? Try planting fence posts!

If you’re struggling with getting the perspective right when you’re drawing buildings, take it from me, you’re not alone. I’ve been drawing buildings in urban scenes and country scenes for decades, and my success in achieving credible perspective has been unreliable. It may look okay by the end, but some days the mental gymnastics I go through to get there feel excessive. Focus and effort have not guaranteed success despite having studied lots of art instruction books on how to draw accurate perspective. The ease eluded me… that is until now.

To get you up to speed, there are two lines you need to understand. Together, ironically, they create a “plus sign,” always a good place to start, right?

The Eye-Level Line

First, establish your eye-level line. Forget the word “horizon” for a minute. You can’t always see the horizon, but you can always:

  1. look straight ahead of you, whether standing or sitting,
  2. pretend your eye has the power of a laser beam,
  3. then, looking straight ahead, burn a dot in the closest object directly in front of you.

Next, imagine a horizontal line going right through your dot. This will be your “horizon,” or eye-level line, for this one drawing. Now you see that “the horizon” is not actually a thing or a place; it’s a point of view! Who knew!

Some artists call it an eye-line. Either way, you’ve nailed it. Decide early on, before you draw this line, whether you want to be sitting or standing, because your laser beam point changes when you change levels. Remember, your legs and neck may get tired holding the same position for a long time, so get comfortable before you commit to a viewpoint.

Okay, now that you found your dot, extend that line left and right with your eyes first, and then faintly draw that line on the page.

You’ve made your first mark! On to Line #2! This is getting exciting!

Line #2: The Main Vertical

Next, look for the closest corner of the nearest building. Decide where you want that line to be on your paper (avoid dead center: there’s a reason it’s called “dead” center!).

Now draw it lightly. You’re on a roll with that one vertical line. This is where most perspective classes start talking about vanishing points, roof angles, window angles, and suddenly you’re up in your head instead of staying firmly grounded in Eyeball Land. (My book is called “Look at That!” not “Let’s Think About This Until We’re Totally Confused”!)

Let’s get back to that first vertical line. Now that you know where it intersects your eye-level line, how much of it is above eye level, and how much is below? More than likely, the “above” part is much longer than the “below” part because from eye-level to the ground is usually less than 6 feet, but the above eye-level part is often10, 20, 30 or more feet. So take a minute and make that line look right. You’ve accurately completed Line #2!

Now, find the next vertical line to the left or right of Line #2. It’s probably another building corner. How far to the left (or right) is it? Is it fairly close? Take your time, you’re making friends with your subject matter.

Now that you know how far to the left (or right) it is, put a dot on the eye-line to show where you’re “planting” your Line #3. Now, how tall above the eye-line is it, compared to your first line? How far below eye-level does it go? Don’t think about it, just notice, just look and compare. You can say, “Hmm…” if you want, like I do all the time. It seems to help.

Create all the main verticals from one side of your sketch to the other. Your fence posts are now planted. It will look something like this:

You could stop right now and be very proud of yourself. Amazing, right?

But if you’d like to continue, start connecting the tops of those lines carefully, one by one. Keep looking back at your subject, and notice how these new lines (rooflines if you have a flat-roof building) are automatically perfect, or close to it. Voila! No stressing over perspective, no vanishing points. All you did was ask yourself, “Is this line taller or shorter than the one next to it, and by how much?” You were just planting fenceposts and hammering them in.

If you feel like it, now that you have a credible building, you can add whatever details you want, like the porch, or a few windows, or even a car or two. Make these minor shapes simple, no perfectionism. Like this:

Then in a couple of days you might find yourself out for a walk, looking down a street that was too complicated to sketch in the past. Not now!

If you forgot your sketchbook, take a moment just to discover all those lovely verticals you never noticed before. Let your confidence grow. If you do have your sketchbook, you might decide to just draw the eye-level line and all the verticals, the fenceposts. No houses, just posts. Use a pencil if you like, so you can erase the tops of any posts that get too tall. Then add whatever rooflines you like. And a shrub or two. Then quit halfway through because you’re pleased enough, and your fingers are freezing. That’s what I did.

When I see a student’s sketch that has wildly inaccurate perspective, nine times out of ten the only problem is that their fence posts are too tall above the eyeline, too short below the eyeline, or not spaced properly on the eye-line.

It’s all about relationships, not angles.

So now you know the secret: there are three basic steps to rendering perspective accurately.
1) Plant your fenceposts the correct spacing apart,
2) then dig the hole to the right depth (below the eye line),
3) and finally, be sure they’re the right height (above the eyeline).

You simply can’t go wrong. Before long, your draftsmanship will be so solid that you can add in color and really have some fun.

By the way, this approach expands on the “GPS dots” idea I introduced on pages 42-43 of Look at That! In this blog episode, we simply add the “fenceposts” those GPS dots are sitting on! I hope this helps build your confidence, and above all, increases your joy in seeing and sketching.

Do me a favor: I would love to know if this made sense to you, if you tried it out, and if it felt like it helped. In no time at all, you will start seeing street scenes as a collection of verticals, all linked together by those no-longer tricky angles. Some fun now!


Your generous or humble contribution to The Tip Jar helps keep this website solvent and is very much appreciated!

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

And, as always, thanks for joining me in some time “aloft”!

Posted in Beauty, Look at That! book, Pencil sketching, Seeing and looking, sketching, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

More from my hero, Danny Gregory

In my book, Look at That!, on pages 55 and 67, I gave kudos to Danny for being a wonderful creative mentor to hundreds of wannabe artists.

Then in my second book, Double Take, I pretty much gave Danny credit for saving my creative life, via a radio interview he did on January 24th, 2013.

Danny, not wanting to rest on his laurels, has now taught himself a whole slew of new skills and has single-handedly created his first animated short film. Knowing he did every step of it himself is impressive, but not surprising, knowing him.

This afternoon, I had a creative epiphany that blew my mind wide open. I have to sleep on it a few more days, let it percolate, before I share any details here, but wow, it reminded me that we are each, always, just one moment away from our next massive creative insight.

Watching this film tonight felt like Epiphany Dessert. Life just gets better and better.

And if instead of riding the crest of the wave, you’re in a lull at the moment, be patient, be kind to yourself, and indulge in some great animation. All 6:24 glorious minutes. It can’t hurt.

Thanks again, Danny!


Your generous or tiny contribution to The Tip Jar helps keep this website solvent and is very much appreciated!

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

And, as always, thanks for joining me in some time “aloft”!

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Beauty, Cartoons, Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Never cut the warp

(Note: this post is about twice as long as most. Good story though!)

Many years ago, I owned a weaving studio that catered to helping people who lived on the riverbanks of mainstream culture. The people I worked with were from many different corners of society—gifted home school children, young people with physical or intellectual disabilities, busy moms, retired men and women. Most of them had busy lives but they were no longer punching a clock, or never had done so. What they had in common was curiosity, inventiveness, and the willingness to try something new.

FreedomWeavers Studio was a nurturing haven for handwoven creativity. The main room had six SAORI looms set up in a circle, and most days you’d find strangers becoming friends there. I also traveled to nursing homes and residential schools to bring this wonderful creative practice to the residents.

One such project took me to the local veterans’ home, where men and women live out their lives in a healthy environment that provides food and care for body and soul. The recreation director hired me to conduct a six-week program with the vets. My challenge was to create a project, and a narrative, that would capture their imaginations as well as hold their interest for all six weeks.

I knew I had to introduce the project in a way that helped them get past initial feelings of resistance. The “machine” (the floor loom) looks complicated at first glance, and these elderly men were not about to look foolish in front of their fellow vets. For some, their very identities were still tied to those days when they had to be tough, when hierarchy reigned supreme. I needed to honor that as I opened a new door to exploration as well.

I needed to create a custom warp long enough to last for the full six weeks, a warp whose colors and textures provided an inviting foundation for discovery. I chose red, white, and blue, but not the traditional flag colors. Instead, I intermingled threads of burgundy red, muted beige, and navy blue.

Before I go any further, let me introduce you to the basics of weaving, as I did when I met the veterans. In the photos below, you’ll see a collection of black threads that are connected at the front of the loom. That is called the warp. (Note: the first four photos shown here are of a current project I am working on. The photos from the veteran’s project come later.)

Those threads are then threaded individually through the reed (which looks like a comb).

Next, they are threaded, one by one, through the heddles, which are suspended wires with a hole in the middle through which the thread passes.

Finally, these warp threads go over a wooden bar at the back of the loom and are wound onto a roller near the floor.

As you see here, the black threads, or warp threads, are held under tension, about as tight as a bouncy trampoline. It’s labor-intensive to “dress” a loom, and happily, I find it quite meditative. It must be done before any actual weaving can begin, and there is no way to rush it. A full-width warp has approximately 300 threads, each of which I get to handle three times during the setup. This “dressing the loom” process often involves many cups of tea as well!

The warp setup through the reed and heddles creates the mechanism which allows the other set of threads, the weft, (blue in the first photo above) to pass over, under, over, under the warp threads in one easy motion. If any of you remember as a kid making loopy potholders on a frame, this is essentially the same process: interlocking threads that are perpendicular when they pass one another.

Now, back to the story.

I arrived at the veterans’ home with the many hours of “dressing the loom” already completed back at my studio. In the recreation hall of the facility, I found a good place to set up the loom, create a gathering of chairs, set up a couple tables, and display a generous selection of weft yarns for them to choose from. One by one, the gentlemen, and a couple ladies as well, entered the recreation room, some walking slowly, some in wheelchairs, a few with walkers. I smiled and watched their faces which registered everything from curiosity to clear skepticism. When everyone had gathered round, I sat down with them by the loom and began my introduction.

“I admit it was a challenge to create a meaningful project for us to work on together,” I began. “There are so many stories in this room, such a wealth of memories, and talent, and experience. One thing this community has in common is love of country, which each of you served so generously in the past. That is why I chose the colors of our flag, red, white, and blue, as the warp that will hold this weaving project, and this community, together.”

“Added to that uniting element, though, is the colorful diversity of each of you. Without that, we would have a plain flag without the breath of life animating it. So here on the table are dozens of different colors and textures of yarn, and each of you get to pick whichever threads are pleasing to you. No right or wrong, this is you adding yourself to the fabric of this community. I bet we will see a lot of variety here, once we get going.”

During my demo, the mechanically-minded vets came forward to investigate and admire the loom’s ingenious design. The confident ones soon gave it a try and, little by little, the more reluctant ones were encouraged and assisted by the now-experienced weavers. Some people chose to use just a single color for their weft contribution. Others blended several colored threads on a single bobbin, creating a section of weaving unique to them.

Everyone was given total aesthetic autonomy except in one area: SCISSORS. The colorful weft threads were carefully cut by me every time a new weaver sat down, but I remained the official Keeper of the Scissors. The reason for this was simple; the warp is the very foundation of the woven cloth’s existence. A cut warp thread meant a gap that could not be easily repaired. Cut warp threads on the edges could easily turn a 24-inch-wide project into a 20-inch-wide one, with yards and yards of wasted, loose threads piling up sadly on the floor. Thus, my constant admonition: Never cut the warp. It’s what holds us all together.

Vets who had previously been aloof by choice found themselves helping their fellow vets who had a little trouble following the steps. The SAORI looms are known for the adaptive accessories that are available, so a person who uses a wheelchair, or has use of just one arm, can still fully participate. Although SAORI weaving can easily be done by a solo person, we set it up as “team weaving,” so three people were operating the loom at the same time, building community as well as fabric.

Toward the end of the six-week residency, I was told that a few vets had requested seating changes in the dining room because of the new friends they had made during our project together. That still pleases me to this day.

On the final day of the residency, we had an “unveiling parade”, where the finished cloth was slowly unrolled from the loom, revealing yards and yards of one-of-a-kind fabric.

A wider point applies as well.

As a lover of metaphor, I readily see the connection between choosing the essential warp colors for a very long art project, and carefully choosing what core values, your personal “warp,” you want to embrace so that the common threads of your life stay front and center in your daily choices.

My warp threads for this year, 2023, are three shades of the word “Downsize:”

1- I’m successfully releasing the excess body weight that has kept me from activities I love in recent years.

2- I’m downsizing my personal possessions by 50%, an ambitious goal. Now, only three weeks into the new year, I’m seeing great progress in this plan to discard and donate as much as feels right. I’m exhilarated by the freedom found within my suddenly-spacious living quarters.

3- My final downsizing project is related to my calendar. I want extra space in my schedule too, extra time to breathe and have life itself invite me in new directions, moment by moment.

So, my “red, white and blue” warp this year is Downsizing my body, my home, and my commitments. All three will give me more breathing room, which I crave more than anything.

What about you? What might your warp colors be for this year?

I believe it is well worth a good ponder, especially if you are feeling mildly restless or dissatisfied. It’s your beautiful life— once you decide on your basic warp colors, you will be free to weave in all sorts of texture and ornamentation and joy.

There are many ways to begin this gentle exploration. I love pondering the question, “If I had a year to live, fully healthy, where would I focus my time and heart?” It’s an exhilarating way to start a new year, full of potential. I wish you all the best in freeing up your heart’s desire.


Your generous or tiny contribution to The Tip Jar helps keep this website solvent and is very much appreciated!

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

And, as always, thanks for joining me in some time “aloft”!

Posted in Beauty, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

I’m moving! Not really…

Last week I was lucky to have a long visit with my niece who is in the midst of one of life’s top stressors: Moving Your Household. I’ve moved more times than I can count (okay, full disclosure, I’ve moved eighteen times). There’s an up-side to it though: when you move every few years, you have a built-in way to sort through all your possessions with a discerning eye.

I’ve lived in my current digs for eight years, and for several months I’ve felt the need to live in a larger, less crowded apartment. The problem is, I love this loft. I mean, I really love it. So, I’ve made a decision: I’ll pretend I’m moving.

It’s simple really. Start in a corner of one room and look at every single object with the critical eye of K.D.D.: Keep, Discard, or Donate. It’s the perfect time of year (new beginnings), and it might actually be exciting.

I’ve given myself six months to complete this deep-downsizing project, and now, suddenly, everything I own looks different. For example, yesterday, as the kettle boiled for a cup of tea, I opened the cupboard, looking for a favorite mug I haven’t used in a while. As I moved other mugs out of the way, I found myself wrapping those four random mugs in newspaper rather than replacing them on the shelf. They now sit in the donate basket, and I’m pleased every time I see only the two teacups I love on the shelf, instead of six I have to shuffle around. The downsizing pleasures start immediately!

My goal is two-fold: to free up floor space, and then dispose of half of the contents of all the bookshelves and storage drawers. Half my possessions out the door by the end of June 2023. An ambitious goal! It’s important to start with the easy stuff first and build momentum.

What’s the hard stuff for me? The Art Stuff of course. Art Books and Art Supplies. Those have been my biggest challenge, because although much of it is dusty, I keep thinking I just might need that, or reread that, someday…maybe…hmmm.

So while sorting through outdated clothing and extra teacups, I’ve started, little by little, also giving away art stuff. I’ve donated spare watercolor palettes, etc. to local creative friends and that’s fun. I want more though; I want to include all of you in this adventure. Here’s how.

I have art instruction books which I have loved for many years and since I no longer need them, I’m giving them away in bundles of three. If this is a bundle you like, send me a note by clicking here, and I will box it up and mail it to you. (The three books are a bundle, take them all!) Your only expense will be shipping. 

This first bundle weighs five pounds– you can research the shipping cost for the USA here. These books do qualify for Media Mail which is quite affordable but can be very slow. USPS Ground Service or Priority Mail is available too, up to you. (I can ship out of the country as well, but figuring the costs in advance is a bit trickier.) Here we go!

Jeanne Dobie’s classic Making Color Sing.

This is the book that first introduced me to watercolor in 1986. Our instructor, Giffin Russell, presented it like a college textbook, and together the class worked through every single word, doing every single exercise. It provided me with a priceless foundation worth its weight in gold. I have two copies actually: my original book from 1986 (which I’m keeping) is a hardcover copy riddled with class notes and highlights. A couple years ago I bought a second copy, a paperback, then paid to have a local printer remove the spine and add the spiral binding, so it would work better as a lay-flat-on-the-table textbook. This copy I’m offering you is in pristine condition.

Next, a lovely book by Judi Betts called, Watercolor: Let’s Think About It.  

This book feels like a guided meditation, instructive through your heart rather than your head.  It helps you reframe how you see your surroundings, and your artwork. This book, unfortunately, got a little water damage at some point but the pages are still legible an delightful. 

Finally, a hardcover copy of Sketching School by Judy Martin, a rich overview of all the approaches to sketching you can imagine.

 It explores various media, beginning steps, themes, and art basics like composition. It’s a rich resource packed into 176 pages.

Three books to start! To recap, together they weigh about five pounds including packaging. If you are interested, you can look here to get an estimate of the shipping cost to you. Then send a private message to me here, telling me you’re interested (and why!) and where you would like the box-of-three shipped.(If you live outside the USA and want to research your shipping costs, my postal code is 03301 in New Hampshire.)

Upcoming posts will tell you about more giveaways of books and art supplies. Stay tuned!


Your generous or tiny contributions to The Tip Jar help to keep this website solvent and are much appreciated!

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

Posted in Beauty, Books I Love, Pen & Ink, Pencil sketching, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Enough is enough…finally

I recently finished reading a book entitled, “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough” by Wayne Muller. Published eleven years ago in 2011, I bet I highlighted passages on half of the 256 pages.

Reading it now was perfect timing in the midst of having the flu for six weeks and thinking about my friend Scott’s song called “May They Be Blessed.” Our personal pendulums swing from too much to too little, and if we pass that place of “just enough” too swiftly, we miss out on how delightful it is.

Wayne Muller, the author, is a therapist, minister, and community advocate whose resume is impressive. While others in his age group were climbing the corporate ladder, Muller was dedicating his life to service to some of the most disenfranchised members of our society through community, healthcare, and educational work. I especially enjoyed the short video clips you can find here on his website.

One of the first quotes I highlighted in the book was, “So many good-hearted people I know are exhausted.” Phew, that certainly rang true. “However sweet or nourishing the fruits of their work may be for themselves or others, nothing they do ever feels like enough.” Muller goes on to explain how this feeling of “not enough” is embedded in our culture, that whether it’s earning more money, or buying a bigger home, or becoming more physically fit, or collecting graduate degrees like some competitive stamp collection, it’s simply not enough. And if you start to feel satisfied, then you have to wonder what’s wrong with you, because you might be at risk of becoming a slacker!

Even with perfectly healthy hobbies like gardening or sketching, meditation, or reading, do you ever really have enough seeds, paint brushes, quiet time, or books? “Enough books”, impossible! Would that mean I am no longer teachable, that I have run out of curiosity? No, perhaps just the opposite.

The state of Enough is rich and full of breathing room. It is that contented feeling in the belly that is not hungry or thirsty, nor is it the slightest bit overfull. As Muller states, “Beyond this point [of enough], anything more—whether real or imagined—simply creates suffering.”

Developing this in-the-moment awareness of when you have reached “enough” of whatever you are experiencing takes practice. You are fine-tuning a machine that has most likely spent decades being numbed to healthy limits because everything in our culture screams more, of anything, must be better. Even with a fever and what turned into a long-term case of the flu, my mind kept slipping into impatience to “get on with it already!” My loving friends would call and innocently say, “Aren’t you feeling better yet?” not knowing that I had been silently shouting the same thing most hours of every day that the illness lingered. But I was asking the wrong question.

What if instead I spent those same moments thinking how lucky I was to have a body that could fight such a long battle? What if instead of slandering my immune system with insults about its incompetence, I turned my thinking on its head and considered the magnitude of the challenge /infection it was fighting, and watched in awe, knowing I didn’t have to lift a finger for my body to continue to heal at a perfect, glacial pace.

What if nothing was wrong to begin with?

What if I was just having another life experience, one that actually forced me to redefine “enough”? What if this was the best gift the Universe had ever given me, the biggest “reset button” opportunity of them all?

I turned a wellness corner yesterday and can now take a deep breath without coughing afterward. That is enough for today.

Goldilocks was definitely on to something. I can recognize Too Much and I’m well aware of Too Little.

Time to befriend Just Right, otherwise known as Enough.


As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Books I Love, Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yeah, what he said…”

Sometimes I read something and before I’m finished my whole brain is saying, “This has to be a blog post!”

I just read the weekly essay from my good pal Danny Gregory, and instantly wanted to share it with you. I asked his permission, and he generously said yes. Here it is:

Should you care what others think? Kinda.

“Let’s face it, one of the most important parts of making things lies beyond our ability to control: other people’s reactions to our work. Right?

— “Hey, mom, look what I made.”

— “That’s wonderful, you’re a genius, let’s hang it on the fridge.”


— “Hey, mom, look what I made.”

— “What is it now? Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a creative person. Not the fun, satisfying, unfurling of an idea, but the cold crickets that confront it or the “yes, but” of the professional critic or the form rejection letter or worse, the anticipation of rejection that stops the egg from ever even popping into the nest.

We may not make it for others but a work is not fully realized until it bounces off another’s eyeballs, vibrates their eardrums, or rearranges some of the cells deep within their corpus callosum.

And praise can be as insufficient as a shrug. We don’t just want a pat on the head; we want connection, reaction, insight, something that makes us see what we made in a newer light or on a deeper plane.

Knowing we moved someone else, revealed truth to them, reminded them of something we didn’t even know corresponded, that makes us love our work all the more.

Love it and wonder at it, at the fact that we were the conduit for it, that something passed through us and then passed through another heart. It dissolves the loneliness of existence.

Ideally, our art is the truest manifestation of our conclusions about the nature of things and, when someone else sees it and validates it and shares it, the power of that truth is reflected back on itself like an endlessly repeating mirror.

That’s why rejection hurts, because, yes, we feel our efforts are wasted, and, yes, we don’t matter and, yes, we didn’t make a ripple on the surface of the earth — all true.

But mainly because we wonder whether the magic we found is really magic, whether the revelation we thought so profound was just a single-serving glimmer of something too puny and insufficient to be shared, a whistle in the dark, not a full-blown hallelujah chorus with kindred spirits chiming in.

The true value of acknowledgment isn’t registered in the ego; it’s the opposite, a breaking down of the barriers between creator and audience so that we can unite in a shared appreciation of something that lends beauty and meaning to the grinding metronome of the day. We see a glimpse of the heavens together, a view that appeared to one of us first but is now a canopy over us all.

It’s even true of a joke, a shared laugh, the quick bark of recognition that our minds thought alike. We saw the other’s insight, and we were able to escape together from the hard, ivory prison of our skulls for a moment.

When I hear from people who like my work, or more importantly found something in my work that made their day a little brighter, I like my work more too. And when a reader has an insight or can tell me of a particular sentence that strummed their strings, I have insight into where to go next, into what matters in what I’ve done.

And conversely, of course, if my work pulls up lame and doesn’t find much of an audience, I wonder where I went wrong or why I thought something was worth my time but proved not to be worth anyone else’s.

Finally, I believe there’s a time and a place for everything in the creative process. Feedback, response, and critiques have a valuable part to play but only after the making is done. Don’t allow your worries about what people might say to overshadow the actual process of creation.

Begin by making freely, unconcerned by where you might ultimately get to. Keep your head down and keep playing. Don’t indulge in an inner conversation about whether it’s original or good. If that voice pops up, tell it you’ll be glad to discuss and assess it later, once the cake is out of the oven. Opening the door repeatedly to poke and prod is unlikely to make things better.

Okay, I’m done with this essay. So, now — what’d ya think? Huh, huh? Isn’t it great?

I jest. But I am always interested to hear what you think about what I think.

Your pal, Danny”

… and here is a link for you to follow, so you too can get a little nugget of creative inspiration in your inbox each Friday.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A cliffside life on a windy day…

Some folks seem to have bumpier roads to travel than other folks, for no obvious reason. It would be so nice to believe there is a relationship between Effort and Outcome– that it is linear, clear, understandable, even controllable. That has not been my experience though.

For many weeks now I’ve been trudging through yet another health struggle, flu followed by severe respiratory difficulty and exhaustion. At times I have lost heart, and have been so frustrated; I wanted to chuck a crystal wine glass into the fireplace. If only I had a crystal wine glass. Or a fireplace.

Then this song drifted into my heart. Unbidden, and fully welcome.

My dear friend Scott Alarik wrote a song many years ago called May They Be Blessed. At the time he wrote it we were intimate friends, and he said I was the first to hear it as he played it for me in the living room.

I remember the long silence between us when he finished.

“What do you think?” he said.

“I’m stunned,” I replied.

“By what, what part?”

“The surprise ending.”

It was Scott’s turn to look confused.

“What do you mean, what surprise?”

His life had been so tumultuous in those years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a struggling singer-songwriter who had worked endless hours, traveled thousands of miles each year, had done gigs on stages as big as Prairie Home Companion, followed by playing in a noisy smoky bar for tips the next night. Rarely feeling like he was making any progress, yet utterly unwilling to give up. He was so good at persevering, so determined, even when battle-weary.

It never dawned on me that he could allow himself to dream of a life any different than that. The first half of the song describes The Way Life Is: winds blowing mercilessly, hearts torn asunder, the only choice being between lurching steps or none at all.

But toward the end of the song, I heard him speak from a quieter place, outside the storm, looking back at it. That is what surprised me. His viewpoint.

I explained all that to him at the time, and he smiled. “Oh sweets,” he said, “You have been with me through some rough times, haven’t you?” Yes, I had.

That song still brings me to tears because of its relentless faith, all the while knowing that Life Can Be Very, Very Hard.

I had started another blog post, about our need to define “Enough,” especially in times of illness and stress and scarcity. Then this song came to me, out of nowhere. Maybe a telegram from Scott, who passed away suddenly last December first. His death shook the folk music community across America and beyond. Scott’s niche as a troubadour took the back seat years ago to his starring role as a writer, historian, journalist, and activist. His life most certainly blessed us all.

My next post will be a continued look at this notion of “Enough.” For now, here’s Scott’s recording, and the lyrics, so you can read along. Enjoy, especially if, for this moment, your house feels like a cliffside view on a windy day.

Here is the song’s recording: May They Be Blessed – Scott Alarik

Some people’s houses are on good firm ground
Where tall and sheltering trees stand
They are safe in their homes — their roots are well known
They can welcome the winds as they blow.

But some people go to the edge of those woods
Where the dark and the wild things grow
And their lives blow like leaves — in more dangerous winds
For reasons they may never know.

May they be blessed who live in those winds
whether in them their lives rise or fall
For their danger teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

Some people walk in small clean steps
every movement is carefully planned
They may never see all their heart longs to see
But they will always be sure where they stand.

Oh but some people move with a lurching step
Always reaching for much too much
They may never find what their heart needs to find
Always reaching beyond what they can touch.

May they be blessed who run through this life
When it would be so much wiser to crawl
For their passion teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

Now some people love with a measuring heart
Always balancing chances with gains
They will love safely or love not at all
And they will have no time for their pain.

Oh but some people love with a reckless heart
Never bargaining pleasures or cost
And they often burn in the heat of their own flame
And when they lose it is much that they have lost.

May they be blessed whose hearts are this way
Who will love fiercely or love not at all
For their loneliness teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

I hope that I live in a good strong house
That I walk down clear roads sure but slow
I hope those I love might be those who love me
That I’m not lost where the wild things grow.

But let me never forget those whose lives burn too brightly
for reasons they may never know
May I not stand too long in dangerous winds
But let me never forget how they can blow.

May they be blessed who live in those winds
whether in them their lives rise or fall
For their danger teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all,

…and their fear graces us all.

© 1986 Scott Alarik

And here’s a bit about Scott:


As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

99¢ is practically free!

This coming week, from November 7th through 13th, my first book, Look at That! will be available in eBook form for a mere 99 cents!

It’s a promotion that and are doing, and at that price, of course, there’s no profit for me. Having said that though, I love the idea that people will be able to share this book with friends and family members whom they think just might benefit from it.

Did you know you can “gift” an eBook to someone? Who knew!

Here’s how:

Simply find my first book on Amazon by searching for “Look at That- Herron” (or click on that handy-dandy link above), then click on the Kindle version option, and look over on the right-hand side of the window for a spot that looks like this (it should say 99 cents, not $4.99!):

To buy Kindle books for others:

  1. Go to the Kindle eBook’s product detail page on Amazon.
  2. In the Buy for others box, select the quantity you want to purchase.
  3. Select the Buy for others button and then enter the details for your gift recipients.

You can specify recipient email addresses on the checkout page to send each recipient an email with the link to redeem the eBook. Any eBooks not sent are available, after completing your purchase, to be sent when you choose.

If you didn’t provide a recipient email address, instructions on how to manage your books are emailed to you after the order is complete. Go to Send Kindle Books to Individual Recipients for more information.

That’s it, simple, right? Buy as many copies as you like this week, at this price, and you can send some right away (because the weather is still great for sketching), or wait and send the links closer to your favorite holiday, the recipient’s birthday, etc.

How’s that? I know many people prefer the paperback version, but to get someone started, the eBook is just fine!

It’s funny, of all the illustrations in that book, this is the one I think of most often, the one that makes me smile. It reminds me of all the fun I had turning in-person classroom demonstrations into inanimate book illustrations— challenging at times!

“How wet is your watercolor brush?

That’s all for now. Starting Monday 7th November, you have a week to take advantage of this amazing sale!

Have fun, and as always, keep on a’sketching!



As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Cartoons, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dowshifting to autumn tempo

The only thing that beats my love of words and watercolor is having people to share both with. I’m sitting in my favorite cafe, Bean & Bakery in Concord NH, indulging in the most amazing pumpkin raisin muffin I’ve ever tasted. I think it has random bits of ginger in it too, little surprises to delight the senses. That’s what my life is about now– celebration of all the senses.

This last month has been full of surprises, the biggest one being a bit of a health scare only a few hours after my big birthday. This was not the “Welcome to the 70s” I expected! 

The good news is that after lots of tests for blood clots, etc., I’ve happily arrived at the land of “Love what’s left of your body, or lose it!” I’ve been exercise-averse my entire life for no special reason, but I see now that a sedentary life is a luxury I can no longer afford. Happily, I have enticements to help me do the next right thing. It started with a birthday splurge— a chair, ironically!

I finally indulged in buying a very high-quality sketching stool that I’ve had on a wish list for over a year. It is the Walkstool Comfort 45, 18″ seat height, and it folds to easily fit inside my backpack.

 I stopped driving about four years ago, and now when I go for a walk for pleasure or errands, I know I can confidently stop anywhere for a little rest, pull out the Walkstool and my minimal art kit, and turn exercise into a very comfortable sketch outing as well.

For those of you who struggle to travel light when sketching, here’s the kit I’ve used for years.

 I keep thinking I can improve on it by eliminating or adding something, but always come back to this. It’s pretty close to the Bare Bones Kit at the beginning of “Look at That!”

When I stopped having a car whose trunk was a “traveling art supply studio/chair storage area,” I had to get seriously streamlined. And like it says in “Look at That!,” the fewer supplies to choose from, the fewer minutes wasted in decision-making. 

Weekly Sketchers’ Meet-Up Resurrected!

As some of my Facebook friends know, I restarted a sketchers’ meet-up group here in Concord a few weeks ago, a throw-back to the group I started in 2014 (see page 42 of “Double Take.”) We meet weekly for now at a spacious, well-ventilated café a block from where I live. We’ll meet through the end of November, and I hope we get some warm, sunny days so we can use their beautiful patio dining area as well. 

Here at the cafe now, I’m smiling because the midday music they’re playing is Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Elton John…wow, they have us Boomers pegged. The café is very busy early in the morning, so I picked the midday lull (11-1) to have our Drawing Attention Sketchers’ Group meet on Tuesdays. My goal is two-fold: first, to meet with other sketchers, and second, to support this privately-owned local business.

The Covid Quarantine Months made me aware that loyalty choices are powerful. You might want to ask yourself:

Which local small businesses (the ones that have been here through thick and thin, recessions and blizzards) do you want to support right now, to let them know verbally and financially that you honor their hard work? I didn’t need that delicious pumpkin raisin ginger muffin, but for today, I made a deposit not only in my happy tummy, but also in a good business in a wonderful city. My sphere of influence is smaller than a ping pong ball, but nevertheless, I persist.

How are you doing as we enter a new season of the year? Is your art practice playful?

Are you moving those rusty joints just enough to keep everything flexible and strong? (I’ve recently discovered rope flow, the most unlikely of activities for this elder lady, and have fallen madly in love with it.  For us non-jocks, it is shockingly enjoyable!) 

Are your head and heart and hands in alignment with your deepest values and dreams?

If not, can you take a breather and gently ask yourself what might need a shift, or a little clear-out? 

As those of us north of the equator snuggle in for the coming externally fallow, internally rich, season of the year, I hope you take time each day to uncover, recall, and live your very best autumn dreams.

Down by the Merrimack River on a gorgeous day, with the best of friends.


As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments