Have I been doing art every day? Yes, but this piece is so slow, and my time with it so short each day, that it’s only half done. I’m really liking it, though.

“Clearing,” work in progress, pencil on paper, 9×12

Playing this game with myself again. I drew 100 rectangles on a page of my notebook, dated them, and because I hate to leave a blank spot, will now feel a little self-imposed pressure to do art every single day for the next 100 days. This is known as channeling my compulsive tendencies for a good purpose.

Yesterday was day 1, and I finished (I think) a drawing I’d been making for a few days.

Clearing, pencil on paper, 9×12″

This sweet face greeted us from the counter at my in-laws’ house this weekend. It also chimed, “Draw me!”

Colored pencil on paper, 6×9″

What caused the blotch on this leaf? I’m pretty sure that whatever it was, it was just pursuing its own nutrition or some other such necessity, not setting out to create beauty. But it is beautiful.

I knew I’d be waiting for an hour or more for a car repair today, so I brought this work-in-progress along. I took a walk and then stopped at a cafe to draw; it is now closed, and I am hoping the car will be ready before they tell me I have to leave.

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing during this vacation. Everything we see is so beautiful. Sometimes I draw from life, in this case trying to squeeze in a recognizable sketch of the resident dog at the Bundy Museum, a lovely gallery in Warren, Vermont, before he moved again.

And I’ve taken lots of reference photos of water, since it confounds me by moving constantly, and erosion, which does hold still but where I might not be able to stay long enough to give the drawing the time I want. I felt like I was getting the hang of it with this drawing of fairly still water, the pond in the Boston Public Garden.

At the pond in the Public Garden, Boston
Brook through Warren, VT

But with running water, which I love so much, I made a note that I should try it as a painting, so as to put the swathes of darker and lighter shades in first and then go on to the detail. It was fun to try drawing this brook, though.

Lands End, Bailey Island, Harpswell, Maine

This is a first try at an erosion pattern I love, rock worn by water. I stopped when I couldn’t stand sitting on the rock any longer, but I have lots of photos and will draw some more.

Pavilion roof on the Waterbury, VT, town green

This building stayed obligingly put (though clouds kept changing the light), but I had to leave when I was only about one-third done, so I took a photo in order to keep working. Today I finished it.

As a Californian-by-adoption, I am sorry to say this, but I have never been able to find a soft-serve place in California that knows how to put sprinkles on a cone. I have not given up without a struggle. The resulting conversations tend to go like this.

Me: Small chocolate soft-serve on a regular cone, please. And could I have sprinkles on that?

Them: If you have it in a cup, yes.

Me: I’d like a cone and sprinkles. They’ll stick if you roll the cone in them.

Them, with an expression suggesting my sanity is in doubt: Ohhhkay. I could put them on top.

(They spoon some sprinkles over the cone. Predictably, only about ten stick.)

Them: Is this what you wanted?

Me, sighing: No, you have to roll it, but thanks.


Me: Small chocolate soft-serve on a regular cone, please. And could I have sprinkles on that?

Them: If you have it in a cup, yes.

Me: I’d like a cone and sprinkles. They’ll stick if you roll the cone in them.

Them: Here, I can give you both.

(They fill the cup with soft-serve and spoon a generous helping of sprinkles on top, then stick a cone on upside-down.)

Them: How’s that?

Vermont knows how. Connecticut knows how. New Jersey knows how. Come on, California, you can’t let yourself fall behind this way!

Me, grimacing internally: Thanks.

(I dispose of the cone at the first opportunity, because let’s admit it, they’re made of styrofoam and if unable to carry out their only purpose, which is to contain soft-serve, they might as well go straight to the compost pile.)


Me: Small chocolate soft-serve on a regular cone, please. And could I have sprinkles on that?

Them, definitely assessing me as cognitively challenged: Um . . . no, but you could have dip.

(I consider leaping over the counter and showing them how it’s done. Instead, I assent to dip.)

What I have said only once or twice, not wanting to begin a civil war, is that in the northeast, people know how to coat a cone in sprinkles. The gravity is the same in both places, so I’m sure all that is lacking in the California shops is confidence and know-how. As a result, our entire state population is deprived of one of the great pleasures of summer: being handed a cone loaded with sprinkles and taking in a mouthful of sprinkle-coated ice cream. As I am about to do in this photo, taken a few days ago in Vermont.

Day one in Boston was a Sunday. We let ourselves have a slow start, since we were on Pacific Time and had checked in around midnight local time the night before, and started the day with lunch at the Trident Cafe and Bookstore. It was my first time ordering via QR code and online menu in-house, for the record. Then we met friends of Joy’s at the MFA and saw the Ekua Holmes exhibit, which was gorgeous.

I took a photo of one piece I loved (“Pride”), a profile portrait of a young man with a 3-D gold earring in his ear, but respecting her copyright, I won’t share it. However, you can see lots of her other work at her website, here. She often incorporates elements like that into her collages–a bow tie on a portrait of her son and a flower on a woman’s hat were two others–in a way that brings the whole piece more vividly to life.

I love children’s book illustrations, I love collage, and neither they nor African-American artists get their due from our art museums. African-American artists who are also female and contemporary are even more sparsely shown. I hope exhibits like this show curators and funders everywhere what treasures they have overlooked.

I think the signature is “John R. Key,” which makes it likely that the artist is John Ross Key.

Another work of art that captured my attention was this drawing in the B&B, which, by the way, is called Abigayle’s; you can see lots more photos of the rooms here, and if you’re going to Boston, look it up via AirBNB–the innkeeper used a booking agent until recently, but now prefers to handle reservations directly. (And a good idea. We used the agent and she reported the wrong dates to the innkeeper! Fortunately, no one had booked the room immediately after us, so her assumption that we were leaving earlier than we’d planned didn’t leave us without a place to stay–just scared us for a minute.) The drawing is quite large–I’m guessing 18″x36″–and done in charcoal on paper. The signature looks like “John R. Key,” and the innkeeper said something about the artist’s brother having work in the Museum of Fine Arts, but a little research indicates to me that the artist is probably John Ross Key, who is quite well-known in his own right. The house was built during his lifetime, in 1896; it’s very possible that the art changed hands along with the house, going to her husband’s parents, who were only the second owners. I’m going to drop her a line.

I love the variety of textures: mist, tree bark, lichen-covered stones, water, needles. I have long been confounded by the question of how to draw moving water, and seeing this inspired me to stop being confounded and just try it–not as Key must have done, from life, but from photographs.

An opportunity came on our second day, when we had lunch in Chinatown and then walked to the Boston Common and the Public Garden. On Indigo’s short list for Boston activities was “see the ducklings”–these ducklings, of course. The sculptor, Nancy Schön, had a tough bill to fill (no pun intended), as Robert McCloskey’s drawings are so expressive and his style is unmistakably his own. She really captures them in such a different medium. I could never get Indigo to love his other stories the way I do, but I brought Homer Price and Centerburg Tales into the house in the attempt, and that led me to stories I hadn’t read, so it was not for naught.

Then we went on and sat for a while in communion with the living ducks. The one to Indigo’s left here napped peacefully the whole time, while others swam up to her hopefully and went away disappointed by her lack of snacks.

It’s been a rainy July in Massachusetts, and the lushness of the green here is so lovely. Even after the winter rains, it never gets this intensely green in the Bay Area.

The next chapter of our adventures mostly concerns Indigo, so it is at Mookie’s Mama.

I tried to take photos of duck tails out of the water, but only got blurry shots that did not capture the charm of this particular activity. But one made a good reference photo for me to use later to try a sketch. I always want to draw water, and am frustrated by the way it keeps moving–which motion, of course, is also what makes it such a compelling subject. But how do I draw something that won’t sit still? I began to get an idea as I drew this from my photo, and noticed the repeating patterns, the way the light sections are shot through with dark and vice versa. I’m going to keep at this approach, and see if I can get familiar enough with the patterns without stylizing them too much.

I’m skipping over a couple of days I must go back to, but we just arrived in Vermont and I am so happy about it that I have to post. We’re in Brattleboro, having taken Route 2 across Massachusetts rather than the faster route to our rental house. That would have been my old route between home in Strafford, VT, and Harvard Divinity School, I-93 up through New Hampshire. Boring. Today, we’ve met up with our friend EJ, who lives in Amherst. And I am soaking up the Vermontness. More later, since I want to pay attention to EJ and Brattleboro.

We are in Boston! We woke up yesterday in this beautiful B&B: an immediate immersion in the architecture of Victorian Boston. The skylight is stained glass.

Indigo was wowed by the opposite view. We don’t get many chances to look down stairwells like this at home.

I love the details of the woodwork.

If you’re running in the Boston Marathon, when you pass this house you have one mile to go. They have a guest each year who has run it for 20 years, and they commemorate every race on this wall.

My congregation, in their wisdom, grant me four weeks of study leave each year, during which I’m freed of my other duties (writing, leading services, going to meetings, responding to e-mail, etc.) and asked to focus, instead, on refilling my intellectual and spiritual cup. I take its status as work time seriously. However, I’m also seldom capable of reading, writing, and planning for eight hours straight. A busy study-leave day involved lots of these, interspersed with bouts of pulling weeds, cleaning the kitchen, cooking dinner, practicing the piano. (I am suddenly pondering the difference between “playing the piano” and “practicing the piano.” Hmm.) I think as I weed. Back in the house, I jump from book to book. After 30 pages of one, I turn on the computer and write a bunch of childhood memories, a project I’m undertaking for my parents and any other family members who might be interested one day. Then I go on to another book.

So study leave activity is pretty indistinguishable from reading for pleasure, except that I’m more conscious of my choices, and rereading Agatha Christie is strictly not included. Yesterday, when I was mostly reveling in having a day when I had neither to preach nor to study, I read half of The Anthropocene Reviewed, a book of essays by the novelist John Green. Pure pleasure to read, but also absolutely chock-full of “that’ll preach” nuggets (though this is undercut somewhat by the fact that Green has preached on them first, and beautifully). So: was that a study leave day? Sure. Kind of. Whatever.

Earlier in the day, I read an essay and a half in Keeping an Eye Open, a book about art that I came across while browsing the public library’s online catalog and took out because it’s about art and it’s by Julian Barnes, whose novels I’ve liked. But Barnes and I got off to a bad start when I read his table of contents. White European men, every single one, though he crosses the pond along with his final artist, Claes Oldenburg, who was born in Sweden but emigrated to (gasp!) the United States. No one from the more than half of the world that isn’t male, or the more than 90 percent that isn’t European. Okay, Amy, calm down, I told myself. You’re not going for a comprehensive introduction to art; you’re peeking into one person’s mind, and this mind loves 19th-century French artists. So do you, so chill. It won’t hurt you to dip into Gericault and Bonnard. He’s a good writer. And at least he doesn’t write about Renoir.

I told myself all of that, and then I started reading, and his tone was soooo annoying. Arch, snide, obsessed with rating things as worthy or unworthy. Going back to John Green after that was like hanging out with your best friend, who just happens to be the Dalai Lama, after enduring a forced afternoon tea with your most supercilious high school teacher, where he was commenting dismissively on the outfits of everyone else in the tea shop, and all the scones were sprinkled with caraway seeds. The lovely thing about Green’s book is that, while it is literally a series of reviews, each ending with a one- to five-star rating, he doesn’t seem judgmental at all. He writes with love, humor, and above all that form of honesty that isn’t so much about revealing the truth of things, but revealing the truth about oneself. I guess you’d call it humility.

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