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.


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. 🙂

Caran d’Ache

When I moved here four years ago I followed the instructions of every moving company and put my treasures in the car I drove myself. My treasures were Lily, Dusty, and Mindy (dogs), and my art supplies. I especially treasure two sets of Caran d’Ache materials — watercolor pencils and Conte crayons. I know that never in my life would I be able to replace the sets. I don’t use them. I work with a smaller set (40) and I replace each pencil as it wears down. These colors are made in Switzerland.

A long time ago I had a Swiss family. It’s a long story — pretty interesting one — but I’m not telling it here. For a few years, I spent most Christmases in Zürich with them. Often, I was given cash as a present, and one year I went to the Glatt (big shopping center in Wallisellen) and bought a giant sent of watercolor pencils. One year I wasn’t able to go to Zürich, and when my friend returned to California from time with his parents, he gave me my Christmas presents. One was the set of Conte crayons.

I have a set of Caran d’Ache gouache that I used once in a while and a set of oil pastels I’ve never used. So far they haven’t fit my technique.

For me these colors are wonderful in themselves and in the way they connect me to a time in my life that was these colors.

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