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I went quiet when I finished my six months of daily leaves and got COVID the same week. It took me a while to get my energy back, and a while longer to settle into my new practice. It has finally taken its form for the rest of the year: to do art first thing in the day, over a cup of tea, for five minutes.

“First thing” for several reasons. One is that I feel terrific when I start my day this way. At best, like today, I spend the rest of the day humming with ideas, and at worst, when no inspiration comes in the art room, at least I have checked it off. Also, I hate to say this because people judge you, but I’m a morning person. And finally, on those days when something intrudes, such as I left something important undone on the previous day’s work to-do list and have to get to it right away, or my daughter misses the city bus, I still have the whole day ahead of me. Planning an art session for after dinner does not allow for this wiggle room.

“Over a cup of tea” because so much that I’ve read about creating habits says to attach the hoped-for habit to a trigger. I like starting my day with tea, so it’s nice to brew a cup, bring it down to the art room, and sip while I work. Also, it takes about five minutes to drink a cup of tea.

“Five minutes” because a very small amount of time helps me to overcome resistance. I’ve discovered this over and over with the garden. If I look out there and see it could really use an hour of weeding, forget it. That’s daunting. Even half an hour feels like a chore. But if I just go out and weed for a few minutes, I get into the groove and don’t want to stop, and often I do spend an hour or more in the garden, and I enjoy it, too. Some days that happens with art and sometimes I’m glad that five minutes have elapsed and I can go do something else. But I have still done five minutes. And today was a perfect example of what happens when I keep doing that. For the past few days I’ve spent minimal time and felt uninspired. But they seem to have sat on a shelf in my mind the way a pot of lentil soup sits in the fridge overnight, with the flavors blending and enriching each other, so that it tastes much better heated up as leftovers. Today, the things I’d been playing with in this desultory way connected with an old project that has roots 30 years deep, and now I feel the little sparks going pop pop poppoppop pop. I love that feeling, and I love what I’m learning from the confluence of these two projects.

Maybe I’ll share more about them soon. However, something I added to the practice after talking to my spiritual director was an intention, in general, not to post photos of what I make, because I am trying to open up space to play and explore and not worry about outcomes. I impose enough judgments on myself about outcomes, without seeking out others’, positive or negative. So I’ll mostly just write about them (and haven’t done even that for the past couple of months). However, a couple of weeks ago a preoccupation with labyrinths met a question I was wrestling with, and together they inspired this. And I did stay playful. And I (mostly) don’t care if anyone else likes it.

Diptych: Judgment, Curiosity. Graphite and colored pencil, approx. 12 x 18″. (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern, August/September 2022
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After spending so much time with willows and learning how many kinds there are, I now realize that I see them around me all the time. Walking in and around the Point Reyes National Seashore, for example, as I’ve been doing for the past few days. Willows, willows, everywhere, and I never recognized them before because I didn’t realize they are so often large shrubs, with silhouettes that don’t resemble those of weeping willows at all. If I hazarded a guess about what these shrubs were at all, I would have said something related to olives (going purely by a glance at the leaves), but olives and willows aren’t even in the same order.

I can’t identify which willow species grow here around Point Reyes, but I’m pretty sure there are some trees of genus Salix, anyway. Maybe tomorrow I will remember to snap a few photos and check them in a field guide or iNaturalist.

I had a drawing teacher at the Educational Center for the Arts, Avner Moriah, who said that when you really, really wanted to get what you saw onto the paper, you would work so hard you would cry. I looked at the light on this leaf and thought, I would work on that until I cried if it would mean success. I didn’t quite cry, and I’m not sure I quite got it where I wanted it, but I may try again, because I love it so much.

Here’s the reference photo, from the blog Trees of Santa Cruz County by Peter Shaw.

And my drawing:

Another mystery born of jotting down just a common name from my 1982 field guide. When I searched on the name “northwest willow,” I got Salix exigua, which I already drew a couple of weeks ago (common names: sandbar willow, narrowleaf willow, or coyote willow–not northwest willow, according to Wikipedia, but there you are). Hm. My friend Aleks dug up Salis sessifolia, also known as northwest willow, so I happily drew that. I’ll find out when I get home whether it’s what the field guide had in mind.

In the world of fauna, sessile means stationary: a mature barnacle, for example, is in its sessile phase. (Did you know that young barnacles swim freely? True.) In flora, a sessile leaf is one that attaches directly to the twig, without a stalk. So this is a sessile-leaf willow.

The problem with using a field guide from 1982 is that sometimes, species names have changed. Since I’m away from home for several days, I scribbled the common names of the trees I’ll be drawing this week in my journal so I wouldn’t have to bring the field guide along. Then I looked up today’s tree, Torrey vauquelinia, and I couldn’t find any such thing online. There are a lot of trees named after John Torrey, but most, if not all, are conifers. If I had the field guide with me, I could check the scientific name, or look up other common names and the description, and probably find the corresponding tree online.

Since I don’t have the book, I mentioned my problem on Facebook, and two friends who love doing research dove right in. Aleks’s best guess is this: Vauquelinia californica, common name Arizona rosewood. Why is Arizona in the common name and California in the scientific name? What happened to the John Torrey connection? Is this the tree that appears next in my field guide? Some of these questions may be answered soon. In the meantime, it is a leaf, and I drew it, and that’s the most important thing.

An experiment in simplicity. I used only three tones: one dark, one light, and the unmarked paper. I think it’s very expressive, in spite of or because of this limitation.

I took a break from this one (MacKenzie willow) about 2/3 of the way through, then liked it so much when I opened my sketchbook again that I didn’t add another mark. Nor did I look back at the reference photo to see what I was leaving out by stopping. I like the spirit of it, and isn’t that the aim?

And here is yesterday’s leaf, from a peach tree.

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