I Could go ON and ON and ON but…

Most of them are just rocks and dirt that people discovered ages ago they could use to paint with. Cave paintings like this one from Argentina have been found wherever there is ochre clay clinging to the rocks, usually near limestone caves. Limestone + water + pigment = fresco. To get these amazing paintings, all they had to do was pulverize some ochre, put it in a hollow reed, wet the wall of the cave, put a hand up and blow through the reed.

Cueva de los Manos, Argentina. Red, brown and white ochre.

Ochre is common throughout the world. I saw brilliant green and gold ochre outside Verona (Verona green ❤ ). I’ve had the chance a few times to go to the Paint Mines not far from Colorado Springs. It’s a spot where Indians dug for face paint, but the white clay there is also good for pottery.

Artists still use these ancient pigments. We draw and even paint with charcoal and lamp black. All of our “earth colors” are really earth colors.

Under the boot and on the toe you can see the color of the pink rock from the Paint Mines that’s in the featured photo.

Other colors were harder to come up with long ago. Red was extremely challenging to produce, and some shades were deadly poisonous. A beautiful non-toxic red — carmine — could be derived from the Cochineal beetle which is found in South America. Carmine made its way to Europe in the 16th century. It was so valuable that the Spanish — who had cornered the resource, obviously — kept its source a secret until the 18th century. The most common red was ferrous oxide (rust). Some very rare and expensive colors are now made synthetically. Artists have benefitted through “better living through chemistry,”

The most beautiful blue came from this rock:

Raw Lapis Lazuli
Padua, Baptistry of the Cathedral, Giusto de Menabuoi

Ultramarine blue was so rare and expensive, its production (obviously) not easy, that for a while it was worth more than gold. For a long time, it was used only on Jesus’ robes. It is Ultramarine Blue — “ultra marine” — across the sea. It is made from Lapis Lazuli and came from Afghanistan to Europe on any of the arduous and dangerous trade routes.

A tube of Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis I bought last year before my hip surgery, and my ultramarine blue watercolor pencil

These days, many of the colors we use are synthetically derived — including ultramarine blue. Paints are less poisonous. Artists’ favorite white, lead white, became illegal in the 19th century and now there are a few substitutes. It’s thought Van Gogh went nuts from eating his cadmium yellow paint in fits of sunflower driven ecstasy.

Like any painter — have favorite brands. For watercolor, obviously, I love Caran d’Ache. I usually use pencils, but I also use watercolor crayons and paints from their traditional box, too.

My favorite oil painting brand is Gamblin Oil Paint. They are made in Portland, Oregon, in a small company, Gamblin Artist’s Colors. The founder, Robert Gamblin, is, among other things, an art restorer who builds traditional pigments, which, of course, I love. One of the main aims of the company is the production of safer paints and solvents. The oil colors and various media are beautiful, easy to use and responsive to my way of painting. The solvents are not only less toxic but also less stinky which is good because the place where I paint has no ventilation other than the doorway to the kitchen.

Well, as I said, I could go on and on and on…


I keep my paints in a jewelry box made by my Uncle Hank.

Side Canals

Venice is a “city for lovers” but I have no idea why except that historically and physically it’s a perfect metaphor for the complicated and inscrutable labyrinth of love. I have been there three times, two of those times in the midst of a romantic conundrum. Venice was, at least, distracting.

It exerts incredible pressure on the lone female tourist with all the honeymoon couples, posing on the Rialto Bridge over the grand canal, asking me to take their photo while they look into the lens with feigned happiness and real perplexity. Venice is the world’s locus for “Just ask for directions, David!” and “No. I know where we are.”

It’s a good place to visit if you’ve always dreamed of medieval Byzantium because it’s there. Venetians stole it in the 12th century and brought it home as best they could, along with the bones of St. Mark.

I love Venice. Away from the main spots — Piazza San Marco, the Rialto — it’s a secretive, mysterious, living city. I do not know how anyone could see everything without living there a while. I also wish I’d known more history, at least when I was there in 2000. In 2004, I enjoyed the luxury of staying on the train as it discharged passengers and loaded passengers who were, like me, going to Trieste.

There are so many films set in Venice, but my favorite, the one that captures it best, is Bread and Tulips or Pane e Tulipani.


A Story…

I awaken bewildered in this silent compartment. The train has stopped. The calm young lovers speaking in soft tones are gone. I look at the station. Pesceria di Garda. Lago di Garda. It’s not the first time I pass over something without seeing. In the town of Limone, on this same lake, Goethe first saw lemon trees. My sleepy musing comes from the thought of how exotic had been a lemon to Goethe, a symbol of a place so distant and magical, it became the object of all his dreaming. The locomotive shudders to a start. My head against the padded back of the high seat and my face to the window, I quickly return to sleep in this cradle of a train, relentlessly forward, ever side to side.  

Mi scusi, signora, il biglietto per favore.

Who is he talking to? My thoughts are far away and I am with them. Tomorrow is my last day in Italy. I am already in tomorrow or nowhere or in a dream. In regrets? 

Signora?” A gentle tap on my shoulder.

Mi dispiace.”

I hand him my ticket. He validates it with his paper punch and continues moving through the train. There are only two other passengers in my car. Could there be very many more on this whole train? It’s after ten p.m.

He returns, “Are you American?”
“Yes,” I answer, looking up.
“May I sit with you?”
Parla italiano un po, si?”
Si, ma non bene. Solo un po.”
Va bene. Anche io. Parlo un po di Inglesa. Forse possiamo communicare?”
Spero che si!” I laugh. “Ma, per communicare, la lingua non e il unico problema.” I grin at him.

He has sincere blue eyes, pale skin, a receding hairline. He loves to travel; he likes his job because he sometimes meets interesting people, “Like you,” he says, gently flirting. He speaks of Venice, how he likes it better in the winter when the tourists are gone, and the streets are filled with fog.

“Venice like that,” he says, “you can believe you are in the past.”
“All Europe is like that for me,” I tell him, “maybe for all Americans. European streets are stories; they are dreams.” 
“For you?”
“For me, certainly, for me.”
“Do you like Italy?”
“I love Italy.”
“Why? What do you love about Italy?” He settles back, his arms folded across his chest, a warm glint in his eye. “I uomini,” I should say, “The men,” I don’t think to say it. Flirtation is far from my thoughts; he has asked the question I was working out in my sleep. I am leaving Italy and, with all my heart, and longing, I love what I am leaving.
“I have to think.”
“If you have to think, you don’t like anything.”
“No. It’s a language problem. I don’t know how to say it.”
“Say it in English, then.”
“No, just wait. I can do this, I can tell you in Italian.”

I don’t like to cross over into the confusing twilight of English that doesn’t belong here. I love my language, sure, but Italian streets–and certainly this day — do not reflect the crushed, rebuilt, borrowed sounds of English, the sliding of syllables into silence. Even constrained by my limited vocabulary and primitive grammar, I have been more in Italy by speaking Italian. Of this day in particular I want every small moment that remains of Venice, my nostalgic espresso in honor of a beloved, now dead, friend, Pietro, beneath the Lion at Piazza San Marco, the changing evocative light above canals, the tourists like strings of bright Venetian beads dragged by destinations across the Rialto Bridge. The only English I’ve heard or spoken all day was but an echo of Goethe; “Please, can you take our photo?” “With pleasure,” I answered, and photographed a honeymooning German couple. Still, I don’t know how I will be able to answer this man’s question or frame my rather complex notion in my Italian baby talk. 

He waits, nervous.

“Ah,” I say, “Posso. Mi piace che in italia la vita classica vive insieme della energia moderna.”
He stares, surprised, then, “Bello. Profondo.
“What do you do? You are not an ordinary person.”
“Sure. I’m ordinary.”
“No. Ordinary people do not say things like ‘The classical life lives together with the modern energy’. That is extraordinary. What do you do?”
I think, only a moment, “I am a writer.”
“What do you write? Romances, stories about love?”
“No, no, that doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh, no. Historical fiction.”
“Ah, that’s why you would be aware of that, the classical life, you would look for it here.”
“I guess so.”
“Are you stopping in Milano?”
“Yes. I’m staying with some friends.”
“How long will you be in Milano?”
“Only one day more. I go back day after tomorrow.”
He looks at me intently. “A pity.”
“I think so, too.”

We look away from each other. He looks out the window across the aisle, I through the window next to me. The train keeps its steady movement. I feel his eyes, and see them reflected in the dark window. I turn.

“You can write about this. You can write about this train ride.”

I look at him for a moment. I see my whole story in this compartment on this train. Though I am going home, I should not go home; I realize in the next moment that I never really will.

“I will. I will write this story.”

The featured photo is one I took in 2000 as I wandered the backstreets of Venice, looking for a real story, distancing myself from my bewildered heart. 


I am trying to empty out the art room as much as possible. I have HUNDREDS of notecards left over from the Great Art Coop Fiasco of 2016.

If you would like some (5/pack) they are free, except for shipping which is $3 in the US. Most are folded, some are flat, all have envelopes.

Here is what they are :

I can pretty much mix up any selection you want. 🙂

I also have a few of these:

Quotidian Update 43.2.a

Well, that break didn’t last long. It appears my NOT writing a daily blog while drinking my coffee in the morning disturbs the balance of life on Planet Martha. I get it. It corresponds with the rawhide pencil moment of my dogs’ lives, and it’s part of Dusty’s morning coffee (cup). Dogs are creatures of habit, but it might go deeper. I think it might be ritual.

Yesterday I cleaned out the art-room/studio/play room and assessed my art supplies. I guess during the working years I amassed supplies ahead of “someday.” Someday is now. I’m going to have to start manufacturing artwork and not watercolors on paper that take up no space and use almost no materials. I have to get into the oil paints and start turning out Elvis portraits. Tout suite!

The big news (in two days, you can’t expect a lot) is that I got my tax refund and paid for my skis. For the last several days, while the local mountains have been dumped on, we’ve had a melt. I was out there with Bear day before yesterday. The tracks looked OK, but we had more warm temps yesterday. The cross-country skiing is good up at Wolf Creek, the local ski area, but I don’t have anyone to go with and since it’s off to the side of the mountain, in the woods, and not patrolled. I don’t feel so good about going by myself.

In political news, I watched part of the State of the Union. What I do not understand is WHY that man doesn’t care about or respond to the fact that more than half the people in this country despise (fear? loathe?) him. He doesn’t seem to recognize that there’s a legitimate parallel America doing its best to function beside his bizarro America. He doesn’t get that he’s (ostensibly) the leader of THAT America, too, and owes them (us) a debt of responsibility.

As I looked at the sea of representatives from all over the country I thought that one side represents the future and the other the past. I can’t say I like the face of either side, and, even more significant, I am sad that there are “sides.” I’m tired of the ignorance. Socialism and Freedom are not opposites, for example.

OH well…

In other news (cheerier) on my dog walk yesterday, I found this note on the sidewalk. It had white ribbon and had been attached to a scarf that had been tied around a slumbering flowering crab apple tree.

I have to go paint something.


Morning came, beautiful and dazzling blue. I awoke fresh and feeling something I had not felt in a very long time. I felt as if I could dance forever on ballerina toes; I felt as if I could fly. Mark was up, washing dishes.

“Good morning!” I sang to him. “How are you?”

“Shut up.”

“I see you’re fine. I’m so glad.”

“Don’t start.”

“I won’t. I don’t feel like fighting any more. I don’t feel like fighting anything. I feel wonderful.”

“You would.”


I kissed his cheek, and he pulled back, like a small boy evading a smelly-old aunt. “Oh my, you don’t like me any more. C’est l’amour.”

I was wearing khaki pants and my favorite turquoise shirt, turquoise like the New Mexico sky, like the window frames of New Mexico houses.

“What’s on the agenda today?” I asked, making coffee.

“You leave.”

“Not until evening. Sorry.”

“What time?”

“Plane leaves at 7. I had to stay forty-eight hours. You know that.”

“I know. What do you want to do?”

“I want to go to the Art Institute.”

“You have to go alone.”


“I have to work. Paul left.”

“What do you mean, ‘left’?”

“He’s gone to Colorado to buy boots.”

“Ah. You don’t have boots in Chicago?”

“We sell boots. They’re for the store.”

“Great! I won’t have to spend the whole day in the car.”

“I guess not.”

Mark was not happy. I began to see that he was tired, sad, drained. But then, I’d had no experience in the night with someone. I’d simply slept. I knew very well the hell of our day together, but no idea what had gone on between him and Paul at night, what conversations, fights, discussions. It was none of my business, and I sought no confidences.

“The other thing is, Paul took my car. I have his.”


“Paul’s car won’t make it to the airport.”

“Call me a taxi.”

“You can’t afford it.”

“You can.”

I mixed up some Instant Breakfast and poured my coffee. I guess because Paul was gone or because I was leaving, we began to calm down and to talk sensibly. I walked around the bedroom, finding my things and packing. Mark watched and talked. “What are you going to do?”

“Did I tell you about the foreign service exam?”


“Well, I passed it. Now I’m waiting to hear where and when I take the oral test.”

“Why do you want to join the Foreign Service?”

“I just want to leave the country.”


“Why not? You’ve lived in France, Italy, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. You’ve left the country, so you know what I mean, or you should know what I mean.”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want exposure, Mark. To see things, know things.”

“Honey, you’ve already seen more of life than 99% of most Americans. It’s not that great to go away.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I don’t know that.”

“I’m telling you.”

“I have to. All my life I’ve wanted to live someplace with a different way of thinking, of doing things. I need to get perspective, experiences. I feel so blind.”

“Well, you’re not blind.”


From Fledging….


Twenty-two years ago, for Christmas, I got this:

You can see it hasn’t been used. I’ve been doing little watercolor painting/drawings and last night I thought, “It’s time.”

Whether I’m actively making art or not, I think of art supplies as “real wealth.” That’s an idea I got from Alan Watts during an ethics class in college. He made the distinction between symbolic and real wealth. Real wealth is things you have and can use. They don’t lose value. Symbolic wealth (money), on the other hand, is tied to purchasing power and CAN lose value. Of the two, Watts insisted, REAL wealth is more important. It was his argument against debt and in favor of frugality and minimalism.

When I got my Christmas present from my Swiss family ($200 CHF) my friend and I walked down to Jelmoli, a beautiful department store then in Glattzentrum in Wallisellen, a suburb of Zürich, where they lived, and bought this set of pencils.

It was too precious and too beautiful to dip into. That’s kind of absurd because I’ve been using and re-stocking a 40 pencil set for nearly 30 years. It’s real pencils and no different from what I’ve been using, but all this time it’s represented magical potential.

Anyway, I’m going to start using them on the little consequenceless watercolors I’m doing.

Just a Little Watercolor

Mt. Blanca from Rio Grande Wildlife Area, Watercolor on Paper

I think the image on this blog is LARGER than the picture in real life! Anyway, my first real painting in 3 years. I’d forgotten how painting something you love involves the lover’s perspective, whether you will or not. This has red willows, patches of snow, golden fall grass, cottonwood trees, a snowy mountain and a very well-loved trail. 🙂


Today for no good reason I started a watercolor drawing. Well, there is a reason. I put together a tiny Facebook giveaway. It’s the first “gift.” It’s a watercolor drawing.

Happily, the person I had in mind saw it and wants it.

When the painting is finished, I’ll share it.

I got the drawing table for $12 at a thrift store in Colorado Springs last time I was up there. It’s almost exactly like the one I left behind when I moved. It’s sturdy, doesn’t wobble, and I like it.

On the table is my precious 40 piece set of Swiss made, Caran d’Ache colored pencils. They originally belonged to a friend and on my first trip to Zürich in 1994 — with him — I used them all the time. I drew the vegetables in his father’s garden, his father and him. It was a very strange trip, and this box of pencils, though at the time it wasn’t mine, felt like my best friend. They are really handy — fit well inside a backpack.

Over the years I’ve replaced many of the pencils either by buying smaller sets and robbing them or going to arts stores that sell Caran d’Ache. His dad bought me a much larger set and I’ve never opened it. It’s too precious.

I love these pencils even without the sentimental associations. They work very well as straight up watercolors (though I have a set of Caran d’Ache watercolors) and combining the watercolor fluidity with the texture of pencil is fun. They are soft, mix well, and thought they are expensive when you buy them, they last a long, long time.

I don’t think the piece I’m working on right now is great, but I haven’t done a real piece of art in three years and it looks pretty much like what it’s supposed to. The person I had in mind when I painted it knew exactly what it was and identified the things that make it special to HER. I don’t think I can ask for more than that. 🙂