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Boring? Not!

Peet's Coffee Corner, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 7x5"
View north from Peet's Coffee, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

At first glance, the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Carlson in El Cerrito is boring, boring, boring: a wide busy avenue with boxy buildings. But when viewed on a lovely summer day from a cafe table outside Peet’s Coffee with pen in hand, it transforms itself into a sketching delight full of fun details and color.

San Pablo Ave. Wells Fargo, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5x7"
View South down San Pablo Ave. Wells Fargo, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5x7"

Looking the other way down San Pablo, the Wells Fargo Bank building holds little hope for drawing inspiration. But start sketching and it too transforms itself. There are trees of all kinds and colors. A cerulean sky with only a hint of clouds, a pink apartment building and a gold dentist office. Sun, shadows, banners.

Not boring! I don’t think I’ve ever felt bored when I was sketching. Years ago a friend told me that when I was sketching I looked like I was roller-skating. Whee! Let’s skate!

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Animals Art supplies Drawing Every Day Matters Illustration

Ostrich with Hole in the Sand (How I Get My News)

Ostrich with Hole in the Sand, ink on Stonehenge paper
Ostrich with Hole in the Sand, ink on Stonehenge paper

One of the Everyday in May drawing cues is “Draw How You Get Your News.” The image that immediately came to mind was an ostrich with its head in the sand. I am the opposite of a news junkie. I cancelled my newspaper subscription years ago when I realized it made me cry nearly every day. TV news is even worse, with “If it bleeds, it leads” as the guiding principle.

So I just stick my head in the sand instead of consuming all the fear-based media, and do what I can to create better news. Avoiding the news means I can continue to believe that most people are mostly good and that it’s great to be alive.

About the paper: Stonehenge just started making their wonderfully soft drawing paper in this color called “Kraft” except unlike regular Kraft paper it’s archival 100% cotton. It’s fun to draw on with black ink and white gel pen.

About ostriches: They don’t really bury their heads in the sand. When frightened they try to hide by lying low and pressing their long necks to the ground which could look like they have buried their heads in the sand.

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Animals Gouache Illustration Life in general Sketchbook Pages

What is This Bug I’m Fighting?

Not Swine Flu, Ink & gouache
Not Swine Flu, Ink & gouache

It’s not the swine flu, not so bad.

Not Bird Flu, ink and gouache
Not Bird Flu, ink and gouache

Definitely not the Bird Flu.

Just an ordinary bug, ink and gouache
Just an ordinary bug, ink and gouache

It’s not a cold, a fever, a pill bug or a lady bug, and probably not something from getting a flu shot on Wednesday. It’s just a sleepy, coughing, red-eyed, sneezey, sniffly little bug.

And it looks like I’m winning! I hope so. Tomorrow is a plein air painting day at a winery in Sonoma, the last of the season with my primary plein air group, and I’d really like to go.

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Animals Cartoon art Drawing Gardening Illustration Ink and watercolor wash Life in general Painting Plants Richmond Annex Sketchbook Pages

Strange Garden Ecology: From Birds to Mice to Wasps to Ants to Birds

Weird Ecology, ink & watercolor in sketchbook
Strange Ecology, ink & watercolor (click to enlarge or see big images below)

I used to love feeding the birds and seeing my little customers flocking to the feeder. But one day I thought I saw the wood chip ground covering moving under the feeder. When I looked closely I saw it wasn’t the tan bark moving, it was dozens of mice! By feeding the birds I was also nourishing a growing army of mice with all the seed the birds scattered!

1. Feed the Birds  2. Mice grow strong and prosper
1. Feed the Birds ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> 2. Mice grow strong and prosper

I called “Vector Control” (a euphemism for the county rat patrol) and an interesting female rat inspector came out and inspected. She told me the only way to get rid of the mice was to stop feeding the birds and that for each mouse I saw there were 50 more I wasn’t seeing. I was sad to stop feeding the birds but it was better than the alternative (which included multiple mouse traps, even sadder).

Meanwhile, the spilled millet seed grew into a lovely, tall, feathery bush under the feeder, which I left hanging in a bit of wishful thinking that one day I’d be able to return to feeding my feathery friends.

3. Millet grass grows under feeder. 4. Wasps move in.
3. Millet grass grows under feeder ---> ---> ---> --->4. Wasps move in.

A couple years pass, the feeder and bird house remain empty and the millet bush continues to be a pretty garden feature. One day I notice something odd: wasps are buzzing in and out of the feeder and have built a nest inside it. I learned that while wasps do not pollinate like bees, they are still beneficial because they eat insect pests in the garden. I decided to leave them alone and enjoyed watching them care for their  babies (larvae) in the nest.

Wasps eat potential garden pests including the venomous black widow spider. Adult wasps eat only pollen and nectar (or your soda at picnics). They only hunt for meat (insects, worms, your barbequed hamburgers) to feed their larvae. Wasps nests have only one purpose: to ensure the production of young. At the end of the nest’s cycle, every member of the nest, except emerging queens, dies.

5. The wasps move in next door ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect
5. The wasps move in next door ---> ---> ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect

I guess things got a little crowded in the nest because the wasps started hanging out at the neighboring empty bird house too. Then one day we had a scorcher of a summer day. The temperature in my usually cool and foggy neighborhood by the Bay was in the 90s (f). The clear plastic bird feeder turned into a greenhouse and cooked all the wasps in the nest. So sad. All those poor little larvae, all that building and hunting and gathering of food.

But it wasn’t entirely wasted…

7. The millet bush becomes a little ladder and the ants have a party
7. The millet bush becomes ladder to an ant party

The stalks of tall millet grass made a perfect ladder for the gazillions of ants who live in my garden (and don’t even get me started about the ants and their nasty aphid ranches). The ants were streaming up the grass onto the feeder and having a lovely dinner party of roasted wasp.

And because my garden is well stocked with ants and aphids, I am, in a way, still feeding the birds. They still flock to my garden, but now they eat the ants and aphids off the rose bushes and it doesn’t even cost a penny in bird seed.