Wildflowers on Carlson Boulevard, ink & watercolor 5x8"

Dangerous Wildflowers on Carlson Boulevard

Wildflowers on Carlson Boulevard, ink & watercolor 5x8"

Wildflowers on Carlson Boulevard, ink & watercolor 5×8″

When the two-year long repaving project on the one-mile stretch of Carlson Boulevard from El Cerrito to Richmond Annex was finally completed, someone planted wildflower seeds in the dirt-filled center dividers. The ugly, urban street took on new life as the wildflowers bloomed into a gorgeous riot of color. There were little white ones and fluffy yellows, brilliant orange California poppies, and my favorites, the blue bachelor buttons and tall lavender lupines that stood (note past tense here) three feet high.

I’m glad I spent a lovely hour enjoying sketching them because the next day work crews came through and HACKED them all down. The neighborhood email newsletter was abuzz with people horrified at the destruction.

Then we found out why. There was a serious car accident and a couple of near misses because the flowers grew so high that you couldn’t see oncoming traffic on the other side of street when crossing or making turns.  It was true; even in my sketch you can’t see the street on the other side of the center divider because the flowers completely hid it.

Happily, new, completely different wildflowers have now sprouted, and hopefully they won’t be so dangerous and will be left to bloom in peace.

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Huntington Park Playground

Huntington Park, ink & Pitt Artist brush pens

Huntington Park, ink & Pitt Artist brush pens

Another drawing opportunity while the girls play in the park. They got bored and ready to leave at just the moment I finished the sketch. I added a little color with Pitt Artist brush pens when I got home. That’s quite a fancy light fixture at this nice little park in Richmond Annex.

I have so many other pictures to post but all have stories that need writing, and after a day of unsuccessfully trying to re-paint a painting for the third time, any words I might share at the moment aren’t really fit for print!

Ripping It Up for New Beginnings: Two Johns

John Deere & Porta John, Ink & watercolor sketch of tractor

John Deere & Porta John on my corner, Ink & watercolor

They’re tearing up all the streets in my neighborhood which were already horrible. There are so many potholes I often drive with one wheel on the center double yellow line since that is the only part of the road not in shreds.

The city had deferred maintenance for the past couple years, waiting for funds to replace the water lines (requiring street demolition) and then finally to pave them. The federal money finally arrived (thanks Obama!) and now the workers are out in force ripping up all the streets (in between their lengthy breaks every hour to stand around, smoke, snack and shoot the bull).

This seemed a fitting image for one of the last few pages of my journal since I’d done some tearing up and rebuilding of my own (figuratively) during the months it was in use. (More about that next time.)

I was sitting on a corner near my house sketching this near sunset when a nice, ordinary, family man who lives on that block (with a perennially messy front yard), wandered over to see what I was doing, reeking of marijuana. He showed me a wooden burl bowl he’d just carved and we talked briefly about the joy of creativity and then he wandered off again.

P.S. Not that anyone cares, but I was curious what this tractor thingee was called so I looked it up. It’s a backhoe-loader, a fun word to say out loud. It sounds like a line in a country western song.

Sketching Fish Heads at Ranch 99

Salmon Heads, Ink and watercolor

Salmon Heads, Ink and watercolor

For Tuesday night sketchcrawl we met at Ranch 99 Market inside the Pacific East Mall, an Asian shopping center. I spent most of my sketching time in the fish department, where shoppers can poke and prod a huge variety of whole fish, select the ones they want and hand them to the fish mongers to scale, wash, and carve them into steaks or deep fry them whole in their gigantic deep fat fryer.

Fishmongers, Ink and watercolor

Fishmongers, Ink and watercolor

I didn’t want to get in the way of shoppers (or have my fishy model sold before I could sketch it) so I moved down to the bins of fish heads to sketch. But even in the low rent department my models were being picked over and sold.

Cod Heads, Ink and watercolor

Cod Heads, Ink and watercolor

The catfish (below) had long whiskers that reminded me of Salvador Dali.

Salmon and Catfish Heads, ink and watercolor

Salmon and Catfish Heads, ink and watercolor

We also sat on benches inside the mall and sketched diners at some of the restaurants. That made me hungry and it was getting late so I ordered takeout from Great Szechuan and we called it a night and went home. The dish wasn’t great, made worse by being slopped into in a styrofoam clamshell container instead of a traditional Chinese takeout carton and I didn’t even get a fortune cookie!

Ranch 99 Market, Ink and watercolor

Ranch 99 Market, Ink and watercolor

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.

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