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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
I’ve been away from my blog this past week, for a number of reasons, including setting up a new computer, an extended family member suddenly hospitalized in a coma with no brain activity, plus other more positive family events.
So in this brief intermission, here is a page from Costa Rica’s Zoom magazine I received recently. My sketches illustrate an article about Leaf Cutter Ants (amazing creatures that live in Costa Rica). When the editor was looking for illustrations she came across my sketches on my blog and asked for permission to use them in the article. It’s fun seeing them in print:
(Click image to enlarge)
I’m looking forward to some solid studio time for the next two days and getting back to regular posting. Meanwhile, life goes on…