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1. Illustrator Submission :: Lea Taloc

Post by Chloe

leataloc leataloc2 leataloc3 leataloc4

Lea Taloc has combined her passion for the kitchen and illustration to create beautiful works which often appear in food blogs and magazines. Through her art and graphic design techniques she is able to convey emotions and add visual embellishments to every day life. Lea Taloc’s work has a bright and airy feel to it which is refreshing and cheerful. 

If you would like to see more of Lea’s work, please visit her portfolio.

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2. The Magic Turtle.


Sometimes you just have to go for it. Maybe it’s not exactly how you have dreamed it up in your head, but if you jump – if you “begin anywhere” – you can go on from there.

For several years, Patrick, Tulsi and I have been *talking* about getting a dreamy VW pop-top, OR a fun-n-funky gypsy wagon, a vintage trailer OR even a school bus, and hitting the open road. Have you thought of, or done, the same?  When this little trailer came up for sale this Spring in Santa Fe, we jumped on it. (Plus, Tulsi had a very similar looking one glued to her “vision board” so it was bound to be.) We had been planning to return to the Redwoods in Northern CA to do fundraising events with Luna & Me, and when our plans expanded into a book tour, we decided to take the camper, aka the Magic Turtle. Tulsi and I decorated it to feel like home with flower-embroidered curtains, a felted mobile, dried marigold strands, and a photo collage/”Beloved board” of our family and friends. In July, we set off on our maiden voyage for 5 weeks and traveled over 4,500 miles across 10 gorgeous states: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.


What a magical country we live in!

There is so much I love about traveling. Spontaneity, and how one experience can lead you to another completely unplanned moment. I especially crave the open road – through vast landscapes with enormous skies, along windy rivers that change color at every bend, and through old towns that whisper stories as you pass by. It nurtures my creative spirit. I love the feeling of freedom and calmness – no rushing – space to think and breathe. And even though we moved around a lot, being outside nearly all day every day grounded us. If it was hot and we passed by a river, we stopped, played with rocks, splashed, made tea, and dunked in frigid waters while screaming in pure delight, heart racing, laughing, and feeling 1000% alive.


We camped nearly every night in our Magic Turtle – on empty ocean beaches with driftwood playgrounds and sea stack Giants, down mysterious National Forest dirt roads, sweet state parks, high mountain meadows, even our friends’ backyard. Our camper was cozy (6’3″x6’3″x13′) and ideal for road travel since we could pull it with our little Suburu Outback, and we could stop anywhere – the base of a golden and crimson arch in Moab or a small town park/playground – cook a meal easily and run off to explore. Oh, it was really dreamy. I couldn’t stop smiling.


IMG_7560 - Version 2

A few of the MANY highlights …

– On our first night out, we pulled into a meadow on a stunning high mountain pass in New Mexico when a wild rain + thunderstorm burst from the skies seconds after we got into the Turtle. We were dry, cozy, had a lovely, “home-cooked” meal by candlelight, and slept all night to sweet rain music (my favorite!).

– the postcard Tulsi mailed to Oso the 2nd day away


– We spent 5 special days at the Mendocino Woodlands State Park at a Sufi camp. Patrick taught Ayurveda/chai classes and led a Hindu ceremony while Tulsi, Narayan and I played at the ‘kids’ camp’. Every morning, the entire camp gathered for dances of universal peace and then the kids ran through a circular tunnel made of their elders’ joined hands, and off we went to explore. We discovered a red-legged frog in a creek and “stumbled upon” a nest of featherless baby hummingbirds camouflaged under a spiderweb atop green furry moss, in the nook of a redwood tree!

– One of my favorite dances of universal peace was to this beautiful tune by Tom Chapin, which Blue now loves to fall asleep to. Such a pretty lullabye.

“This pretty planet spinning through space, You’re a garden, you’re a harbor, you’re a holy place,

Golden sun going down, Gentle blue giant spin us around,

All through the night, Safe til the morning light.”

Luna & Me came full circle when we returned to Humboldt County, CA where we journeyed 2 years earlier to visit Luna and research/camp in the redwood forest. This time, we did 3 wonderful and successful fundraising events with Sanctuary Forest, caretakers of The Luna Preserve. What a fun and dedicated group of people doing great work for the environment!

– I loved connecting with the kids at events and visiting amazing indie bookstores!


– reconnecting with old friends, meeting friends I had only known via blogs/fb before, and encountering a lot of really kind-hearted people

– reading A Wrinkle in Time aloud in the car, on the beach, by the light of the campfire… love, love, love!

– reading, reading, and more reading!

– camping on the Southern Oregon Coast! The beaches are public, and we had the most magical beach to ourselves. We rolled out of bed onto cool, soft sand and explored in our jammies with not a care in the world.


– fairy-like Ferry rides from island to island in the Puget Sound and learning that Orca whales breathe in unison while traveling together!

– long hike with 2 kids to wild hot springs in Idaho

– witnessing a young bat swimming in a lake and flapping its way to shore where it rested and dried (and we admired)

– simply being together in nature








Maybe we’re just lucky, but we have two of the best travelers, Ever. Tulsi is such a free-spirited, ‘wild child’, and she flourished on this trip. She made us laugh non-stop, and made new friends easily even though she says she’s shy. She met new, and sometimes scary/challenging opportunities, with courage and wonder, and from these, she grew stronger, wiser, more confident, and more compassionate. I love watching her grow. And Narayan Blue radiates so much love and light from his brilliant blue eyes and joyous smile. It was awesome to watch him investigate every rock, pine cone, beach, and salty, worn piece driftwood. His favorite word for the trip was “MAMA!” which melted my heart. He learned to crawl forward during our travels and was a social butterfly making everyone he met, smile. Isn’t it a joy watching our children bring joy to others (friends and strangers alike) just by being themselves?

We learned a few things from this “trial excursion” with our camper:  we could easily go for longer (we seem to have little needs but being in nature), no agenda would be fun, we appreciated the simplicity of having little ‘stuff” with us, the camper was grounding for the kids and made camping/road-tripping easy, and we couldn’t get enough of the ocean (lakes, creeks, rivers, too!). We are ready for more. With homeschooling again this year, we are already planning field-trips with the Turtle!

Here’s another favorite song (from the Shaker tradition) that seems to sum up the way our little family lives, whether on the road or on our homestead. Such a gift.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.


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3. Got My Chop: Happy Little Cat!

Introducing: Happy Little Cat,
my new stone seal
all the way from Taiwan!
Finally getting a chance to catch up with my blog again after another long break. The reason for my absence this time has been, what else, editing. Each time I thought I was finished editing my WIP, oops, oh no, there was more work on my plate. However, I am now finished, as in one-hundred-percent finished. The final draft of  my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, is ready for submission to agents and editors alike. Which means that other than my daily freewriting (flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, whining), I'm planning to spend the rest of the year concentrating on establishing "Happy Little Cat," an online studio/shop that will include visual art, pottery, jewelry, and of course, books. I'm more than excited. And as you can see in the photo above, I even got a special seal carved to celebrate my debut, although . . .

. . . there's a certain irony to finally getting my seal made.

Backstory: Prior to leaving for my trip to Taiwan, my fellow travelers and I were emailed an itinerary of our day-to-day activities. One of the things listed for the first day was to visit an art supply store where we could order carved seals or "chops" as they are sometimes called. Back in March I was pretty sure I didn't need anything remotely like a carved seal, and when we did get to the art store, I was so fixated on buying a replacement for my broken water brush (you can read about that little misadventure here), that choosing a nice rock was the last thing on my mind. Other reasons for not wanting a seal included the fact that I didn't think "Valerie" sounded very Chinese, especially when I didn't paint in a Chinese or Asian style. Or at least I didn't then.

Fast forward to this summer and post-trip when I found myself still obsessed with everything Taiwanese. I bought a book on Chinese brush painting. I bought Chinese watercolors. I studied the books I bought in Taiwan on painting trees and tigers. Somewhere in the midst of all this enthusiasm for sumi ink and bamboo pens I had the profound realization that I loved Asian art and wanted to include as much of it as I could (given my limited and "beginner's mind" skills) in my own work. At the same time I very quickly learned something was vitally missing from all my pieces: my seal!

Immediately I started regretting my decision to forego buying a seal in Taipei when I had the chance. Things reached a crisis point when I attended a reception for the New Mexico Art League and saw a stunning floral watercolor painted by our Taiwan tour leader, Ming Franz, that naturally included her seal. My husband asked why I hadn't bought one. How could I be so remiss? Or so silly? I had to get that seal.

After some extensive online research, I found a great company, Asian Brush Art. They had the stones, the carver, great pricing and a nice feel to their website that encouraged me to go ahead and place my order. The big question now, though, was what was I going to have carved on the stone? I still didn't want to use my name. That's when I had the idea to describe not me personally, but how I feel about life and art in general: I feel like a Happy Little Cat. I asked the company if there was enough room on the stone for the characters; they said yes, and ta-dah, I have my own seal at last.

The best surprise of all was that the seal came not from the company's mailing address in North Carolina, but from Taiwan! What are the odds? And not just any place in Taiwan, but from one of my favorite stops on the tour: Kaohsiung. I was thrilled.

I'm still learning to use the seal properly, experimenting with how to tap and dip it into the special red ink paste which was included with my order (I tell you, this company was great). The hardness of the stone and the creaminess of the ink are both very different from my past experiences (and failures) with rubber stamping, so I'm still in "test" mode, but I'm getting there. My best impressions so far have resulted from placing a piece of folded felt under my paper before pressing down with the seal. The sample at the top here is in on rice paper. (Expanding the size of the photo made the edges go fuzzy. They don't look like that in real life.) After playing around with the rice paper, I moved on to stamping some artwork I had recently finished using various supplies (including my trusty bamboo pen) on Arches 140-lb cold press watercolor paper:

Splash Ink Goldfish.
Sumi ink, watercolor, and gouache
on Arches watercolor paper.

Lanyang Museum, Taiwan.
Watercolor, sumi ink, colored pencil
on Arches watercolor paper.

Kwan Yin.
Watercolor, sumi ink, colored pencil
on Arches watercolor paper.

Some of the best images I was able to achieve (and of course I don't have any photos just when I need one to show you) were from using the seal on kraft paper cardstock gift tags, the same tags I experimented with last year applying collage and stick-on "pearls," (examples shown here).

So where I am now is I need to stop playing with my seal and use it for real: getting down to work to fill the shelves of Happy Little Cat Studio. It's going to take me a while to build up my inventory and then incorporate everything into my website, but it's a project I'm looking forward to. I'm also planning on illustrating some of my books for the first time, a great combination of my two favorite disciplines: writing AND painting.

For more information on the history of carved seals and their use, here's a good Wikipedia link to start with, but there are many, many other sites to investigate. My Happy Little Cat seal is carved in what is called "yin style," meaning that the characters are carved into the stone, leaving a red impression around them, as opposed to "yang style" which leaves white space around red characters.

It's also very common to use more than one seal in a painting, e.g., a "mood seal," a bit of poetry, etc., etc., and that's where things get really scary. Because I have a strong suspicion I'm going to want more seals in the future, which also describes me to a T--going from not wanting a seal at all, to now wanting a dozen. Go figure, LOL! Whatever, I love this first seal, I thought it turned out beautifully, and being the first it will always be special. Very happy, indeed.

Tip of the Day: Getting my seal was another step toward creating my "personal brand," something I first blogged about over 5 years ago (!). You can read the post here: What's Your Brand? Although you might find the idea of "branding" somewhat restrictive, it can also be a great help in defining your work to both yourself and your audience. Just for fun, brainstorm a list of 12 things you could use or do that would identify your work as uniquely yours. You might just want a seal of your own.

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4. JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program

soar with readingYou’re in a bustling airport in a new city, weighted down with souvenirs and the dozen books you had to bring. (Or is that just me?) Amid the sea of strangers’ faces, two familiar travelers greet you from a display at your gate.

It’s Jack and Annie.

I saw plenty of the stars of Mary Pope Osborne’s super-popular Magic Tree House series (Random House) in my years as a children’s bookseller, and they frequently come through the Horn Book office. But when I spotted them in a JetBlue terminal, I was intrigued enough to take one of the Soar with Reading passports and investigate.

The passport acts like a regular passport, but without the jet lag; readers can color in the places they “visit” with Jack and Annie as they read the Magic Tree House books and their nonfiction Fact Tracker companions. But they also come equipped with that travel necessity: something to do. There’s a shark personality quiz, a shark word search, and other activities related to Jack and Annie’s adventures in the latest Magic Tree House book (#53, but who’s counting?), Shadow of the Shark. Even more enticingly, the Soar with Reading program runs events throughout the summer to encourage kids to keep reading when school’s out.

But what really warmed my children’s lit–loving heart was this: Soar with Reading has installed three  vending machines full of children’s books around Washington, DC. The books are totally free and children are encouraged to take as many as they’d like. According to the Soar with Reading website, $1,250,000 worth of books has been donated to children in need over the program’s five years. Most recently, a contest ran through the end of August to pick the city where another 100,000 books will be donated next summer; see the results here! (In July, author and educator Zetta Elliott wrote “An Open Letter to JetBlue,” praising the program but suggesting that the books offered should include more diverse authors and characters. Here’s hoping next year’s list takes her advice into account.)

If I was excited to see the Magic Tree House travelers in the airport, just think how exciting it must be for new readers. And for kids whose families can’t easily buy books, much less plane tickets, a free Magic Tree House book — or any good book — in their hands might mean even more.

The post JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program appeared first on The Horn Book.

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5. Adventures Outside Of The Comfort Zone

I did something crazy last week.
I spent a week in Thailand for a Muay Thai Training Camp: 6 days in a row, 2 trainings a day of each 2 hours. Crazy, right?

Why in heaven's name would I do this? Well... sometimes you just gotta step out of your comfort zone completely to learn new things, to grow, to face fears.
I have been doing some Muay Thai training here in Amsterdam for a while (a girl needs a hobby and a workout next to all the drawing after all!), but had NO idea what to expect of this Thai gym and its trainers. I was SO scared! But I decided to do it anyway. Just because I wanted to know what it would be like. Let me tell you, there were quite a lot of moments I caught myself thinking: ‘um, why did I want to do this again?’. That's what happens if you take a big leap out of the familiar, out of your comfort zone. 
Yes, it was exhausting and it was crazy, but each day after training I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. And it made me stronger - not just physically, but especially mentally. And I even got some drawing done between trainings as well; what a delight!

Curious to see what trainings look like? Watch this video of the Gym I went to:

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6. Jo’s Journey 2015 and Welcome Back to the Fall Blog Schedule

“Traveling is never a matter of money, but of courage.”—Paulo Coelho Sometimes it’s financial security that holds us back, other times it’s emotional security, but it takes courage to step outside your front door and head out into the world. … Continue reading

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7. Double Planes Pop-Up Greeting card

Folds flat to mail.
As the viewer opens the card - the planes and clouds all pop-up.

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8. Travel Journal pages: Norway 3

Last year when I was in New York, I visited a couple of art supply shops and came back to Amsterdam with my trolley being super heavy because of the stacks of sketchbooks I found of sizes and brands that aren't so easy to get by here in the Netherlands. They are great souvenirs and will last quite a while too! 
One of the sketchbooks I found there was a Strathmore toned paper book. In the netherlands, you can only get them with a ring binding and a flappy front and back, this one is nicely bound with a hard cover.
I had been drooling over Miguel Herranz's toned sketchbook pages, and even made a little drawing of my coffee in Danny's grey toned sketchbook when we met in Amsterdam in 2013. Both of them had told me that there is quite a challenge in finding the right way to make good use of the toned paper and to keep at it until the very last page. Others too told me that the toned background is fun but tricky. 
So I knew it was time to try it myself. If you follow me here on my blog or elsewhere on social media, you will have seen many of these toned paper sketches in the past months.

I found that the brown paper background seemed to work really good with black pen and a pinch of white. I used a white gel pen for bright whites, but a white colour pencil could do too. Sometimes I would add a dash of 1 single colour with colour pencil. A grey brush pen was wonderful to add some shadows, or to create a bit of a 'blurry' background. Watercolours did not work at all, colour pencils however, gave a bright effect. I discovered though that in all drawings I should use a graphic approach and stay away from super realistic pencil or colour pencil drawings. Think black pen lines were mostly the best basic starting point.

And then, finally, during my stay in Norway, when I had hours of drawing time, I sat down at the small kitchen table to draw the kitchen. At first I made a black line drawing and added shading with hatching lines.  I was pretty happy about the result - but I wanted to get all the colours in too. So I grabbed my colour pencils and instead of colouring each surface evenly, I decided to keep on hatching.
 So finally, almost at the end of the sketchbook, Ifound the right approach for this toned paper background! Such a revelation!
I discovered not just the technique that worked best for me, but also the subject that works best: rather than drawing an object, I should draw (part of an) interior!
So I made another interior drawing, of the living room (in the back, you can see the blue kitchen table I made the kitchen-drawing at).
At the last day, I sat myself down on a tree trunk in the front garden to draw the cottage again and played around a little more with my coloure pencils.
Boy am I glad I bought another one of those sketchbooks: I have one with grey paper and I might just dedicate it to drawing interiors only. It'll take a while to fill it because these drawings are quite elaborate, but that's okay - it may be a great project for winter!

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9. Travel Journal pages: Norway 3

These are the last bits and pieces from my travel pages I did in Norway. I am pretty amazed by how much drawings I made during just a one week vacation. It seems like the world without wifi has slower hours.
Thanks for stopping by to look at my vacation memories of this July!

We didn't mind that one day of rain: it meant we had a reason to start the fire place
The Jetty, where we also swam, at the Oslofjord
Random building in Gamlebyen
I started this drawing while waiting for lunch in Gamlebyen. I added some more details and the color later.

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10. Travel Journal pages: Norway 1

 Like I promised, here are a few more sketchbook pages I did during my 1 week vacation in Norway.

The summerhouse we stayed in. On the porch - the banjo man I always bring with me.

This doesn't look like my husband, but I don't mind

Even my sketches got lazy - I fell asleep right there for a little nap just a little after putting this drawing away.

A little narration to my drawings
These drawings were all done in a Strathmore toned paper sketchbook, with black rollerball pen and a white gelpen (uniball Signo broad)
The one on top also has red color pencil added.

I'd like to tell you about the aha-moment I had about how to use this toned sketchpaper best. It happened when I was filling the last few pages of my sketchbook.
It will take another blogpost though so stay tuned!

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11. Travel Journal pages: Oslo

Traveling is the best excuse to draw. A Lot. Especially when you're on a holiday and time is not an issue: there's plenty of it!
Here's a bunch of my travel journal pages of my visit to Norway. We first went to Oslo. I will share more pages, of my drawings at the Oslofjord later.

Sketching makes the wait feel a little less longer
Our AirBnB apartment in Oslo
The owners of the apartment are coffee geeks. Can you tell?

The girl in the back waved at me when she noticed me sketching and signaled if I could show my page. When I left, I went up to her table to show what I did - she loved it. The woman with the glasses (on the left page) was outside smoking a cigarette when I left and she too was curious. Turned out she's an artist herself!

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12. If You Were Me and Lived in … China: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World | Dedicated Review

If You Were Me and Lived In … China is an easy read and a fun way to introduce the People’s Republic of China to children.

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13. taking a walk

Greetings from Seaford, England!  Since I last posted from Brussels Airport, I've spent 10 days in Greece--on the island of Alonissos and in Athens.  You'd think I'd have much to write about from that experience (and I do!), but between relentless relaxing, heavy tourist activity and iffy internet connections, that real-time opportunity has passed.  So this morning I'll share a Summer Poem Swap gift that I received in June from Margaret Simon.  It came in a tiny notebook that has accompanied me on my travels, and as I have reread it in several new and unfamiliar locations, it has taken on new and interesting meanings.

Take a Walk

One leg a pillar
between earth and sky
the other, a pendulum,
swinging a single step
into a tap-a-tap-tap
percussion procession.

Disguise doing nothing as a walk.
Make harmony of mind, body, and world.
Your movements matter.  Be present.

Notice a leaf hanging loosely
wiggling like a worm
when the wind blows.

Notice your breath
in rhythm to your steps.
You are feeding the tree.

Walk through town.
Whom will you meet?
Greet them.
Invite them.
Start your own parade.

--Margaret Simon
   Summer Poem Swap 2015

Isn't that wonderful?!  At home as my summer vacation began, it fit so well with the walks I was taking in familiar surrounding, reminding me to be both present to wonder and outward-facing.  As I snorkeled the coast of Alonissos, I was the leaf hanging loosely at the surface, watching the seagrass "blowing" in the underwater wind.  In Athens, the first stanza described architecture of both stone and bone, building and body, columns of marble and columns of people stepping and swinging in and out of sun and shadow.  There were a LOT of steps!

Thank you, Margaret, and thank you, Tabatha, for organizing all this swapping!  I'm afraid I can't seem to upload any photos--this ChromeBook is not playing nicely with Blogger--but I think Margaret's images are strong enough to carry the post.  See more at the round-up today, hosted by--HA!  I'm just seeing this--Margaret herself at Reflections on the Teche.

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14. Reviewing My Taiwan Trip Art Supplies: What Worked, What Didn't

Trying my hand at "splash ink"!
I call this "The Spirit of The One"
and I've pasted it to the back cover
of my sketchbook.
The shadow in the middle is
where I had to fold it to fit.
Rice paper, sumi ink, Derwent Inktense pencil. 9" x 12". 
Time certainly flies. It's been several months since I've been home from Taiwan, and I've now had a chance to start working on some larger art pieces based on my travel sketchbook. At the same time, I've also been rethinking my choice of travel art supplies, all in the search for the "perfect pack." 

(Note: If you'd like to see what I took with me, or just need a reminder, here's my post listing the art supplies I packed.) 

In retrospect, I think most of my choices were good; others were . . . well, here's my verdict:

1. I loved my Stillman and Birn Epsilon 6" x 8" sketchbook, but it definitely took some getting used to. This was the first time I'd bought this brand, and I didn't have time to try it out before I left home. Not that I wasn't forewarned. Prior to making my purchase, I did quite a bit of research on the company and its products, and the one online comment I kept reading from other artists was that any kind of watercolor tends to "swim" on top of the book's paper. 

It's difficult to explain, and I didn't understand what they meant, but "swim" is the right word for sure. Until I learned how to manipulate the amount of water I applied to the areas I had colored in with my watercolor pencils, I had to be careful not to flood the pages. For instance, one picture I drew of the nursery we visited morphed into what looks like a rotten smashed cauliflower. It makes for an interesting abstract, but all the detail I wanted (and had drawn) was lost. (And no, I'm not sharing that one with you. Just use your imagination.) 

I think the problem is that the paper isn't very absorbent, so water and/or paint tends to pool on it. However, once I got used to this, I actually grew to enjoy and used the effect to advantage. Stillman and Birn sketchbooks are now the only ones I plan to buy, especially as they make so many different types of books and papers for various media.

2. Regardless of brand, the sketchbook I chose had too many pages: 50 of them. And because they were of such good quality paper, I could sketch on both sides without any kind of bleed-through whether I used my inky brush pens (purchased during the trip), watercolor pencils, or water-soluble graphite. (The paper didn't buckle when it was wet, either.) But planning to sketch 100 pictures in 12 days was ridiculously ambitious. I came home with the book less than half-filled. (The extra pages weren't wasted since I kept sketching once I got home using Taiwan references from my own photos, museum guides, and magazines. Every page is filled now, but it did take a whole three months.) So the next time I buy a Stillman and Birn for travel, it will be the 25-page version. 

3. My Faber-Castell Art Grip watercolor pencils were the best. I liked the triangular shape, and the grippy surface really did work, keeping the pencils from slipping and making them very comfortable to use. Like my sketchbook choice, I've decided to stick with this brand for travel. The colors are rich and intense with excellent coverage--probably one of the reasons I initially had trouble judging the amount of water I needed to use with them.

I had also mentioned in my earlier post on the subject that I had limited my colors down to 7. Now that I've had time to reflect, I would have added 2 more: black and pink. Yes, pink! Usually I don't like to use black paint out of a tube, preferring to mix my own, but this was one situation where a black watercolor pencil would have worked well. Not only would it have imitated the black ink that makes Chinese painting so unique, but I think it would have been a good mix with my other colors to give me a few more subtle, sophisticated hues. 

As for needing a pink pencil, I think I wanted to use pink about twenty times a day. The only red I brought was "scarlet" (a Caran d'Ache sample I received at a color pencil meeting). It's a beautiful red, and it turned out to be just right for Chinese lanterns, but it was absolutely hopeless when it came to drawing Taiwan's magnificent orchids and other flowers. Pink also would have been very helpful for drawing sunrises and sunsets, as well as Hello, Kitty!

One benefit of using such a limited palette was that it did give a coherent appearance to my sketchbook, but from now on I'm bringing a standard tin of 12 colors--including black and pink.

4. I brought--and used--a water-soluble graphite pencil (another Caran d'Ache sample from that same meeting I attended), but in all honesty I didn't find it that important or useful. Once again, I wished I'd had a black pencil in its place. So I'd leave this one at home.

5. I wrote about my water brush disaster here. I was lucky that we had already planned to go to an art supply store on the same day it broke, but what if I'd been in the middle of the woods? Or stuck on a desert isle? You can't always just go to the mall. To prevent any future mishaps, I'll be carrying three brushes with me at all times: 1 medium round, 1 large round, and 1 flat. And I am never, ever going to fly with them assembled again. (They're probably even easier to pack when the brushes are separated from the barrels.) So, lesson learned the hard way, but at least now I know.

6. One of my favorite pieces of advice I read before I left home was to just open my sketchbook "anywhere" rather than draw in page-by-page chronological order (my usual style of doing things). The good side of this advice is that it really helped me to think of my sketchbook as a working tool and not as a sacred text. It also kept me from freaking out about the pages I hadn't filled because I didn't realize how many were blank until I got home!

The downside of this system, though, was that none of my pictures follow the route of the trip. And because I failed to date anything, the where and when of some of my sketches will forever be a mystery. Next time: date the drawings, and maybe jot down a note or two about the location.

7. What I didn't bring and desperately wanted: my pocket-size viewfinder. Too often I was overwhelmed by Taiwan's scenery: huge green mountains, giant Buddhas, vast blue seas, enormous city blocks that went on and on and on . . . much of the time I couldn't grasp or take in the size of it. A viewfinder would have made sense of the vista and helped me to find the right portion to sketch. It's an easy item to pack and one that would have made a big difference to my sense of perspective. Note to self: Pack viewfinder!

All-in-all, though, I was pleased with my little kit, especially as it encouraged me to cultivate and continue a daily art practice, one that's become as important to me as my daily writing. I often think writing and drawing come from the same source anyway: both are about telling stories, making sense of the world around us, and endowing our daily experiences with gratitude and meaning. Last year I even wrote a post about it: Art and Writing, Two Sides of the Creative Coin.

So while you're digesting that happy thought, here are a couple of intermediate pieces I've been working on for your entertainment. They're larger than my sketchbook pages, but still in the "idea stage" as I work toward finding my true Taiwan art voice:

9"x 12". Color pencil on hot press watercolor paper.
I had to add the washi tape when the masking tape
I used to keep the paper on my drawing board
tore the edges. Happy accident?

9" x 12". One of the many vistas from The One.
Derwent Inktense pencil 
on hot press watercolor paper.

Tip of the Day: It's summer! You really don't have to go as far away as Taiwan to start a sketchbook habit. Keep a handy sketch pack in your car, purse, or backpack and just . . . sketch! Ideas for stories, ideas for jewelry, ideas for collage--you don't have to be a professional artist to express yourself with pictures. Go for it.

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15. Exploring the Earth with Landforms!

Are you looking for a fun family trip this summer? Don’t want to travel too far from home? This Land Is Your Land talks about many different landforms all over the United States. Read this book with your children to teach them about the diverse landscapes of our beautiful country, then pack up the car and head to the nearest (or farthest!) destination. Who says education has to stop in the summer?

FCM CoastCoastlines: Perhaps the easiest landform to reach for many, the United States coastline is over 95,000 miles long. Many people live on the coast – about 39% of the country’s population! The coast is a very popular tourist destination, and there are hundreds of beaches for people to travel to. Some of the best family beaches are located in the Outer Banks in North Carolina; Maui, Hawaii; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Destin, Florida; San Diego, California; and Ocean City, Maryland. There are beaches in every coastal state, though. Which beach is closest to you?

Mountains and hills: Mountains are also another popular place for tourists, especially those who enjoy activities such as hiking and TLIYL-spread-3camping. Some states have more to offer than others when it comes to mountains. For example, the highest point in Florida is only 345 feet above sea level, whereas Alaska’s Mt. McKinley towers 20,320 feet above sea level. However, all 50 states have some sort of forest, lake, or other natural area where camping and nature walks are possible, so even those of you in the flatter states don’t have to miss out!

Plateaus and canyons: In the United States, plateaus are found mainly in the western states, where the Colorado Plateau is. Plateaus provide opportunities for hiking and climbing, and the Colorado Plateau contains the famous Colorado River and Grand Canyon. Many national parks are also in this area, including Zion and Mesa Verde, where you can find smaller plateaus and canyons.

Valleys: A valley is simply a place between mountains or hills, so even states such as Kansas, with very few hills, have some areas that lie lower than others. Beautiful valleys in the United States include the Sedona Verde Valley in Arizona, Napa Valley in California, the Waipi’o Valley in Hawaii, and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

FCM PlainsPlains: The plain region of the United States is called the Great Plains, which runs from Texas north to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and eastern Montana. The Great Plains are known for their extensive flat lands covered in tall grass, cattle ranches, and bison. Be careful here in the spring and summer – the Great Plains are located in Tornado Alley, where tornadoes happen most frequently!

Peninsulas: Arbordale Publishing is located near a well-known peninsula –Charleston, South Carolina! Many of the first towns settled in the United States are located on peninsulas, as they provide easy access by water to ships delivering people and supplies. Jamestown, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts were first built on peninsulas. The entire state of Florida is a big peninsula!

Volcanoes: The west coast of the United States is located in what is FCM Volcanoknown as the “Ring of Fire,” an area where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur due to the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Active, potentially dangerous volcanoes in the United States include Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington, Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Shasta in California. While some of these volcanoes haven’t erupted in years, they are not considered dormant, meaning they could erupt at any time. A volcanic eruption would be an exciting sight to see, but be sure to keep your distance!

Islands and archipelagos: The most famous example of an island chain in the United States is Hawaii. Another is the Aleutian Islands in FCM archipelagoAlaska. Since neither of these are especially accessible to the average Mackinac, Michigan; Whidbey Island, Washington; Mount Desert, Maine; Amelia Island, Florida; and Assateague Island, Virginia. Did you know that part of the biggest city in the United States is located on an island? Manhattan is surrounded by the Hudson River, the East River, and the Harlem River!

Learn more about these landforms in Catherine Ciocchi’s book This Land is Your Land!


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16. Summer Travels and Blog Hiatus

  A month ago, I was coming to the end of my MFA, and after six months of searching for a job, had almost given up hope. I thought that after the summer, I would need to relocate back to … Continue reading

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17. Happy Birthday to Squire Babcock

According to Facebook (my birthday calendar of record), it's Squire Babcock's birthday, which immediately brings to mind a great road trip with Aaron Burch and Matt Bell to Murray State University, a fried bologna sandwich, the Wiggles, a great cheeseburger in the middle of Ohio, broken bottles of beer, Matt Bell's great sleeping dilemma, and really enjoying the hell out of Squire's novel, The King of Gaheena, on the ride home.


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18. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 11 and 12

Dharma words and stamps from our monastery stay.

Here we are at the end of our trip. I've been dragging these posts out in the hope I'd never reach this point. But, yes, all good things must come to an end (I've never really known why) and we were sure to cram as much fun into the last two days as possible. Starting with breakfast at The One and these coffee cups. I loved them so much I had to buy a set for home:

I don't think my husband is as impressed with them as I am, but I thought they were cute. And they're definitely a fine example of "splash ink" technique.

After leaving The One, we headed back up toward Taipei and a village famed for its ceramic work. We were running a bit behind schedule so we decided to forgo a sit-down lunch in favor of exploring what the street vendors had to offer. They were especially plentiful thanks to the ongoing national holiday. My choices included a steamed spinach-green onion-and-cheese bun, a fried doughnut, and a huge cup of iced lemon tea that lasted me most of the day.

Loved this tunnel kiln! I need one at home.

Bought chopsticks for home, too. 
Finally learned how to use them, LOL!

The afternoon took us further into Taipei:

Taiwan's "White House."

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
(unfortunately covered with

. . . and the National History Museum. I thought this little pagoda was perfect painting material:

Before studying any artwork we needed afternoon tea in the museum cafe:

The view from the cafe windows:

Someone actually gets to live in this building.

These beads date from 403-221 BC.
Still so modern. I'd buy them!

After the museum we found ourselves in a busy part of downtown where I had the opportunity to investigate some of the backstreet shops. Thanks to having bought the pig teacups I needed a larger carry-on. I found just what I wanted in a small suitcase store: bright pink canvas and made in Taiwan. A great souvenir for future travels.

Which store first??

Dinner that night was once again "family style" when we met up with some of Ming Franz's cousins, former high school classmates, and teachers in a downtown restaurant. It was a genuine reunion for them all, and wonderful for us to be part of such a special evening.

Then we were back to The Grand Hotel for our final night. By now we had traveled in a huge circle, seeing three coastlines and parts of the interior too. We also arrived back in time for  the start of "frog season." Right outside our windows: croak, croak, croak all night. As I noted in my journal: "These frogs are VERY disagreeable!"

A grand entrance, indeed.

Accompanied by the frog serenade, our packing lasted well into the early morning hours. We had become so spoiled in our big bus, a vehicle designed to sit 30-40 passengers when there were only 10 of us, that our daily habit was to load up the empty seats with our purchases from each stop and then forget about them. Now was the night of reckoning and everything had to find its place or get left behind. First to be discarded were all the beautiful shopping bags--so lovely but way too bulky. 

The next morning, packed and ready for our night-time flight, we still had a full day to spend in Taipei. First stop was a visit with Welsh paper artist, Tim Budden, now a Taiwan resident, who led us to his studio through this interesting neighborhood:

Hot spring water flows right through town.

Mr. Budden explaining the
intricacies of paper art.

Following our studio tour, we were off to Taipei 101, regarded to be the world's highest completed building. We were booked for lunch on the ground floor at an Anthony Bourdain-recommended restaurant specializing in xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings. Yum.

Before lunch we had 30 minutes to ride up to the 89th-floor. 

Next and final stop: The Eslite Book Store. The best bookstore in the whole world. Several stories high, filled with treasures I'll never see here in the USA, I could have moved in permanently. I bought more brush pens (black, forest green, gray, and rust red), a book on painting cats in the Chinese style, and a book on French shabby chic. In Chinese. Don't judge.

And then we were off to the airport. Our superb and talented tour guide gifted us all with special little items to remember our trip. For me it was a wooden key-ring carved into the shape of horse complete with saddle, bridle, and tons of intricate detail. She told me she had chosen a horse so that I "may keep traveling, and go far." She also gave me a postcard of a Taiwanese kitten, "Because you love cats!" 

On the way to the airport . . .

After dinner on the plane I think I slept more soundly than I did at the monastery. I don't remember much about the flight home except for the movie I watched before falling asleep: The Crossing--a recent film set in Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. It was excellent, and a real tear-jerker, but then it suddenly ended with the words 'To be continued." Apparently Part II comes out this summer, but I wanted to keep watching!

Along with two of my travel companions, I had decided earlier to stopover in San Francisco before going home to Albuquerque, and I'm glad I did, but it sure seemed strange (and lonely) to be on our own without the group or my roommate.

A room of my own.
New pink Taiwan travel bag in the back there.

My version of my cat postcard:
"This kitty is sad to leave Taiwan."

And then we flew into Albuquerque, and . . .  that's all, folks, 12 unforgettable days of Taiwan. I hope you've enjoyed reading my trip diary; I certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. May you one day travel far and wide, too!

(Next post: A review of my travel sketch supplies, what worked, what didn't. Stay tuned.)

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19. Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 3 and 4

Dawn breaking over Taipei's Grand Hotel.

Hello, Everyone! Where do the weeks go? Despite my best intentions, it's been nearly two whole weeks since my last post. I need to catch up, so let's just start with Day 3 dawning over Taipei:

Sunny and mild, Day 3 found us traveling to the Tamsui Bay region where we explored the ancient Spanish Fort San Domingo, with its classic old Western-style architecture, garden, furnishings and views of Guan-yin Mountain. For some reason I didn't take any photos--probably because I was concentrating on the views:

Tamsui Bay--looking forward to painting this.

Going through the various rooms of the fort's living quarters, displayed to resemble the way the house appeared during the time of the last British Consulate, I came across this intriguing message on the wall: "One may ask, From which angle will the mountain look like the Goddess of Mercy most?" 

Hmm. I found the answer fairly soon when I turned the corner and entered an exhibition of mid-century modern Taiwanese art focusing on scenes of Tamsui. Cubism, Fauvism, 1950's "primitive," so many different techniques but all with an Asian flair I loved--a little too much as I then had to run to the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog/book. And there went "traveling light."

After the fort and a drive along the coast, we lunched (feasted) at a seafood restaurant. Being a vegetarian I was given my own special selections, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the artistry of the fish presentations--fish as food sculpture was a new one to me! Better still was the fact that I started using my chopsticks with serious proficiency. I can only thank the Goddess of Mercy for such kindness.


One of my favorite things was seeing all the family businesses in action.
So many just like this.

After lunch: the wild and crazy Yehliu rocks, a coastal phenomenon unique to Taiwan. The rocks are truly unbelievable, shaped like chess pieces, dogs, mushrooms; whatever you can imagine there's a rock to match. Climbing up and down the walkways got a tad slippery for me (especially with my uncanny ability to trip whenever possible) so midway along the tour I stopped to rest with one of my fellow travelers, a lovely woman and new friend from the UK. While we were happily chatting in the shade about how difficult it is to get Americans to call a bathrobe a "dressing gown," we noticed people taking our photo, not once, but several times, only then to be asked if the photographers could be in the photos with us. It turned out that tourists from mainland China had never seen an American--or English--traveler in person before. They were thrilled, and I have no idea how many family albums we'll be appearing in over the next few months. 

Yehliu mushroom rocks--incredible!

Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Day 3 ended and Day 4 began in the port city of Keelung:

From our hotel room window!

Night view from the hotel restaurant.

Early morning stroll along the docks.

The sidewalk was narrow . . .  but I was on a mission . . . 

. . . to buy these. Delicious.
And then we were off to gold mining country, waterfall viewing,

and a terrifying bus trip while standing (I had to keep my eyes closed) into the romantic and exceptionally steep village of Jiufen. Once we arrived we still had to go further uphill, climbing, climbing, and climbing to the very top of the village accompanied by the pervasive scent of what's known as “stinky tofu," a local delicacy and a taste I'm embarrassed to say I never tried. I’m a bit disappointed at myself for being such a coward, but it was just too . . . stinky. 

The streets of Jiufen filled with happy strangers. 

No clue what they're selling here,
but it looks like something fun!

"No, it's your turn to buy the stinky tofu!"

Unbelievably, it was lunchtime again (the meals never stopped appearing). This time in a delightful open-air wooden tea room with the usual abundance of delicious offerings. Good thing we were forced to walk down to the bottom of the village to catch our bus. Calories, calories!

Before leaving the village we were given an hour or so to sightsee on our own, so my first choice was to visit a natural stone store I remembered passing on the way up and where I was able to buy beads for jewelry making. I came away with jade, aventurine, and citrine (so, so pretty), and at a bargain, too. (BTW, in case there's any doubt, let me just remind everyone that shopping IS sightseeing. It's very educational to learn how shopkeepers in foreign parts write up receipts, display their goods, etc. etc. I highly recommend it.)

After shop-seeing and some more much-needed walking, we then learned how to shove our way onto the shuttle bus. Being a Sunday, the place was crowded to capacity, so we had to be aggressive if we wanted get down to our tour bus waiting at the bottom of the mountain. So all together now: Shove, shove, shove! I felt terrible. Sort of.

Safely back on our home bus again, shins and elbows intact, we again followed the coastline, this time to the tune of soul-soothing classical music, before we stopped at this architectural wonder of a museum:

The island-shaped Langyan Museum.

Inside the museum I was able to learn more about the Aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the history of the Chinese settlers. My favorite moment was sitting inside a replica of an Aboriginal thatched hut to watch a movie (the big screen TV was something of an anachronism, especially as I was sitting on a log) about their daily lives, arts and crafts, and hunting methods.

After the museum: another spectacular hotel doubling as a spa (complete with deep stone-tiled spa tub and hot spring water right in our room) and known as "A Spring Full of Indulgence and Comfort." Taiwanese pajamas were provided for our comfort, that is if you were the size of a small teddy bear, but the cute free flip-flops fit like a dream--I'm still wearing them as I'm writing this post!

Tea for two.

Highlight of the Day: Shove, shove, shove! Nah, just kidding. Fortunately, we never had to be so ruthless again. Instead, I found the majority of the trip to be extremely calm and restful, a mood I'm celebrating with my new Pinterest board: I Love Taiwan! I'd love for you to take a look when you've got a free minute or two. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, Days 5 and 6.

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20. National Parks: Top 10 Kids’ Books

For those of you planning to take your kids to a national park in 2015, here are some excellent books you need to take along for the ride.

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21. Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 5 and 6

Into the mountains!

I've been sick--flu, cold, allergies, whatever you want to call it, but instead of blogging I've been stuck in bed reading (and finishing) Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet for the last couple of  weeks. My particular copy of The Quartet contained all four volumes in one door-stopper of a monstrosity, and my shoulders and wrists are suffering the consequences, LOL! Anyway, I'm much better now, have moved on to some lighter reading, and am ready to continue sharing my Taiwan trip, Days 5 and 6.

So . . . by Day 5 I had devised a sketching routine for my bus rides. I decided to divide some of my sketchbook pages into grids of six and then whenever we stopped at the traffic lights, or just slowed down, I would draw as quickly as possible in one or more of the squares. Some of the drawings are a bit esoteric, for instance:

At other times, however, the scenery was so consistent I was able to use a full page and go for some color, such as when we were following the coast:

They're funny little drawings, I know, but they mean a lot to me--and I now have some good references for larger work later this summer.

Other than drawing, the main focus for Day 5 was the National Center for Traditional Arts, and perhaps one of my favorite places on the tour. The idea behind the winding streets and specialty shops is to give visitors a sense of "old world" Taiwan while demonstrating how the various items for sale from puppets to paintbrushes are made. I found it utterly charming and ended up buying incense (complete with history lesson and a chance to sniff a wide variety of sandalwood shavings); preserved kumquats; dried "squid" cheese (a stringy cheese snack guaranteed to have not harmed any squids); and my most extravagant purchase to date: handmade lampwork glass beads for yet more jewelry-making. (I’m going to have to open my own shop at this rate.)

At lunch, served in a building that had once been an old kiln, one of our group members asked an interesting question: What have you learned about yourself so far? At first I seemed to have so many answers I couldn’t concentrate on just one, so I think I said something inane, like, “A lot!” But later that afternoon I wanted to examine the question in more depth. Here’s my reply straight and unedited from my journal: 

“I’ve learned that I don’t need to go on my dream-vacation to Japan. This trip is enough and even better. For years I thought I was “Japanese” in spirit. Now, after this trip, that no longer rings true. I have learned that I am more complex: for instance, in the Palace Museum I read that everything in Chinese culture and life holds meaning and symbolism. And it all has to add up and create the ultimate state of harmony. I have learned that I want that too. And that I want to use my five senses in my art and writing much, much more than I have in the past. I guess I've learned I am hungry for life. I want to keep learning."

Time Travel!

After lunch my quest for more "art and life" came to vivid life when I got caught up in a street theater performance—letting me believe I had been transported to another world and  century.

Then it was back on the bus for our next destination: our hotel and such a steep drive into the mountains we had to be calmed (i.e., distracted) by watching a spectacular movie on Taiwan's geographical wonders. Refreshments for the ride were what our guide referred to as “donkey tongue cookies.” Although I think something may have been lost in translation, they were very good, about ten inches of pastry filled with cinnamon, and I suppose they do look like donkey tongues (not that I'm any kind of expert on the subject).

And then . . . we arrived at our hotel, a wonderland of a resort owned and managed by the local Aborigines. I had NO idea we would be staying here (or anywhere like it, for that matter):

Magical morning.

My "10-minute" version of our cabin.

The dining room--great for early morning
journaling and sketching.

Using our hotel as "base camp,"  Day 6 took us hiking into the marbled cliffs of the Taroko Gorge:

Helmets were compulsory in this section--not, in my opinion, to protect us from the falling rocks, but because of the narrow walkway along the highway where buses, cars, and scooters whizzed, I mean whizzed by. Add to that my general fatigue from reaching the halfway point of our journey, and it's a miracle I didn't fall over the edge or in front of a speeding Porsche.

Taroko Gorge also provided my first monkey sighting in the village where we had lunch, followed by cold beers in a scenic garden setting while waiting for a few of our more-adventurous explorers to return. 

Beer finished, it was onto the bus and off to  a marble factory where we were able to take a peek into the high-security jade jewelry vaults. These star-fire gems (there is no other way to describe them) were unlike any pieces of jade I'd ever seen before--highly lustrous in shades of green, blue, and lilac, quite expensive, and guarded by uniformed girls straight out of a James Bond film. And, boy, did they keep their eyes out for sticky fingers. Once we'd had our look-see the cases closed with a bang, bang, bang and we were quickly ushered into the next room. Very quickly.

Marble chunks perfect for home or garden!

Back on the bus we had a lovely surprise waiting for us: our bus driver had bought us all porcelain pendant necklaces while we were admiring the jade. Mine was a miniature Blue Willow plate on a deep blue cord which I wore for the remainder of the trip. (It's currently on display in my writing room as part of my "Taiwan Memories" grouping.)

Necklaces in place, we then set out for another Aborigine village, this time with a lively dance show followed by a "hot pot" cook-your-own-dinner restaurant. As was often the case, I was given my own special vegetarian items to cook, starting with this amazing lotus flower:

A small lotus bud placed in  boiling soup water turned into . . . a 
genuine Kodak moment.
(And yes, I drew it in my sketchbook too.)

Highlight of the Day: Our Luxurious Leader Hotel. We were lucky enough to stay two nights in this beautiful setting and I don't think I'll ever forget a single moment. 

P.S. The dialogue in the video is in Chinese, but I thought that would provide an accurate example of what it was like to be there, rarely able to understand a single word anyone said! One difference between the video and our own stay is that the the grounds are shown to be more crowded than they were for us, but otherwise it's exactly the same. I even recognize some of the staff and  performers. So please turn on the sound, sit back, and enjoy.

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22. More Paris pages

Here's a few more sketchbook pages I made during my weekend in Paris. Great memories!

people sitting alone are often playing with their mobile phones; that way they sit perfectly still for a sketch

this drawing took 2 cappuccinos and a mineral water and some perseverence
quick last sketches before catching my train back home

in the train back to amsterdam

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23. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 7 and 8

Okay, I'll cut right to the chase: Taiwan Trip Day 7 will forever go down in history as: 

Long story short: my poor roommate was attacked, MUGGED, by three of the little devils. (And they weren't all that little.) 

I have never been so stunned--or frightened-- in my whole life. Monkeys might look cute and innocent on the surface, but wow, can they get mean. I was thoroughly impressed at how my roommate stayed so cool, calm, and collected as she divested herself of the creatures, talking to them in a quietly authoritarian voice (even whilst getting a huge bite in the process!), but it was a terrifying moment. 

Personally I would have had a complete nervous breakdown. The worst part was that we were on a bridge stretching a deep ravine. One false step and . . . well, we won't go there. All I can say is, if you ever get the chance to see monkeys in the wild: run. (Needless to say I made the above sketch from an image on my camera at a later date. No way was I going to stick around for longer than it took to snap a photo or two.)

Before monkey madness, the day started out quite peacefully in this coastal village where we stopped for lunch and some sightseeing:

The restaurant we ate at was what they called "chef cook style." Instead of customers choosing meals from a menu, lunchtime clientele simply got what the chef made that day. And of course it was delicious!

But then it was back on the bus to monkey territory. If I seem a little obsessed, it's because a) I was really looking forward to seeing the monkeys, and b) then I was traumatized by their antics. I can't even look at monkeys on TV at the moment. However, for your enjoyment, here they are again:

Me, before witnessing "the attack."
Hurrying back into the bus to resume traveling (and making sure my roommate was okay (She was. No puncture wound, thanks to the thick weave of her shirt, but there was a large bruise.), we then carried on in a state of exhaustion to an organic tea plantation. 

Here we tasted (and purchased) a variety of fragrant teas, the most-prized and expensive being a type known as "honey oolong." This particular tea gets its sweetness from cicada secretions. Yes. (By now nothing could faze me.)

Next stop: a "Buddha's Head" fruit stand. Each of these interesting little fruits is an exact replica of the tight curls atop the head of the familiar representation of the Buddha. Or this is at least what we thought. There seemed to be some difficulty in translation because sometimes they were called "Buddha's Hands." But to me they look like Buddha's head. Whatever they are called, they are wonderful, kind of like apple and pear custard.

And then our hotel--a lovely family-style hot springs resort owned by a friend from Ming Franz's high school days. What a treat! The sulphuric water scent was strong, but, oh, so healthy. For me it was pure nostalgia reminding me of my teenage trips to the hot pools of Rotorua in New Zealand, always with that smell hanging in the air at every turn. Here at the resort we could get the spring water in our rooms too, so naturally I took advantage of a long soak before bed.

Resort koi pond. I fed them, too.

Day 8 continued our up-close-and-personal portion of the trip, getting to see a side of Taiwan most tourists rarely see. After leaving Ming's friend's hotel, we next went to visit her former high school where one of her classmates is now the principal. (They were a very dynamic group!)

These kids were the lucky ones. The rest of their classmates 
were busy cleaning and mopping the hallways.
Wish my school had been this pretty.

After a short tour of the school grounds, we then assembled in the library where Ming gave the school one of her books and we were all presented with official school tie pins and a morning snack.

And then we were off for lunch and adult beverages at the Tsingtao Beer Factory:

Dragons love beer too.

Where I discovered this poster:

And had to know who these bad boys were . . . 

Before I could find out though, we then had the very special opportunity to visit with some of Ming's family living in her grandfather's one-hundred-year-old house. Parts of the home are still maintained just as they were in the past, and it was a unique privilege to be invited inside. I was especially taken with the family pet:

It took me forever to realize this kitty
didn't speak English, and that  it was useless
to repeat, "Kitty, look up! Look at me, Kitty!"

Ming's family owns a nursery in the town, and they graciously next took us for a visit there. The plants were exquisite, nothing like the dry specimens we have here in Albuquerque.

All that lovely mist . . . 

Cooled and refreshed, we then took off for Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, an architectural mixture of London, Barcelona, New York, Paris . . . It's beautiful! Here we stayed on the 39th-floor of a luxury hotel atop a posh department store with late night shopping. Dinner in the building's restaurant continued the family theme as we met with our tour guide's mother, sister and her husband, and their two adorable little children.

And then my solitary adventure began . . .

Remember the guys in the poster? I had the bright idea that I would try to find some of their music in that downstairs department store. Except I didn't know the name of the band, or anything else about them except they like Tsingtao beer.

So under the universal heading of "heavy metal" I bought what I thought would be some good old Taiwanese rock'n'roll. Carrying my daintily-wrapped package, I went in search of tea-towels, thinking that would be a nice thing to bring home. Except I couldn't get anyone to understand what I wanted. I even demonstrated what I thought "towel" looked like if you were playing charades. All that happened was the sales clerk started imitating my extremely strange movements until we were both doing this weird dance in the aisles and I had to shake my head, say, "Sorry, but thank you so much," and run away. 

I ran so far I then got lost and couldn't find the exit to the hotel. To make matters worse, the loud speakers came on: "The store is closing in 1o minutes." In English, nonetheless. For which I am eternally grateful. Otherwise I would have had to have slept somewhere between women's fashion and men's shoes. I think I got out of there with 30 seconds to spare. Whew.

Grateful to be back in our room with a view.
More exciting than New York!
Good night, Kitty!

Highlight of the Day: Say it isn't so. Discovering that the CD I had bought was this:

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24. Perfection Is Not the Point

Do you have an inner art supply monster?

Whenever I visit an art supply shop, this is what happens: 
I forget the world around me completely and I feel the exact same way as I used to feel when I was little, visiting a candy shop or toy store. There is SO much to see, there is SO much I want to try and play with! Suddenly, time doesn't exist and all my focus goes into feeling the structure of sketchbook paper, smelling crayons, trying pens, wondering about techniques and endless possibilities. Sometimes I even start sweating a little just because of all the choices there are. I can't walk out of an art supply shop or stationary shop without buying anything. Even if it's just a pencil sharpener - I will get my fix! But usually, I walk out with a lot more than just a modest pencil sharpener...
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It's even worse when visiting art supply shops in different cities or countries. 
Finding brands that are hard to find in Amsterdam makes me greedy. 
When I visited New York, my suitcase was so heavy when I travelled back home after a few days: I had collected a huge stack of sketchbooks!
Recognize this kind of behaviour? I'm sure you do!

And then what?

Some people find it so hard to start a new sketchbook or art journal. All those sketchbooks need to be filled - and the fact that they are hard to come by and kind of precious because of that, could become a threshold to crack them open. 
Have you ever felt the fear of "spoiling" your nice journals? Or do you just dive in, and see each blank page as a new corner of your creative playground. To make some kind of art everyday, to experiment and to record whatever captures your attention that day?

Is an art journal supposed to be a book full of perfect pages?

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Not much of a view during the 4-hour train ride - still I enjoyed myself thanks to my sketchbook
To me, perfection is NOT the point. Sure, it's great to have a collection of beautiful drawings, but my art journals reflect my days. They contain memories. They help me kill time when travelling or waiting. They help clear my mind. Even a crappy drawing of a fun moment is a well kept memory. Or the other way around: a fun drawing changes how you feel about a boring moment. Perhaps the not-close-to-perfect drawings even have more character as well!

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25. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 9 and 10

I'm coming to the end of my Taiwan trip; just four days left as I continue with Days 9 and 10. In many ways, these last days were amongst my favorites, but then I say that about every day in Taiwan, so it's difficult to know if there was anything I didn't enjoy to the max!

Day 9 started in Kaohsiung with a visit to the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, both overlooking a stunning lotus bed and lake.

At this point of our trip we were also poised on the cusp of a national holiday weekend, coinciding with Easter, and so there were lots of  local tourists and food trucks to keep everyone happy.

After climbing to the top of the pagodas and wending our way back "out of the mouth of the tiger" (sounds like a kung fu movie), we next went to a modern art museum. I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative installations including a life-size street scene made from dried banana peels (it was amazing!) and a variety of art videos (which also gave me a chance to sit down for a while).

We left Kaohsiung after lunch in a Hakka-style restaurant (read more on Taiwan's Hakka population here), and headed for our next major stopping point: the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Memorial Center.

Prior to our arrival at the monastery, I had no idea what to expect other than a night of austerity: gruel for dinner (if we were lucky), lights out at 7 PM, compulsory meditation, and pre-dawn rise-and-shine.

I couldn't have been more mistaken. The monastery was a beehive of commercial activity filled with hundreds of visitors, an art museum and up-scale galleries, a shopping mall, plenty of individual specialty shops tucked away into various hidden corners, several top-notch restaurants, a 7-11, and of course a Starbucks right in the main entrance! In other words, it was paradise. And that was just the small part I was able to see. Apparently there's also a university, conference centers, and all kinds interesting visitor and educational facilities.  

It was also very noisy. As well as finding preparations underway for an outdoor concert to be held sometime that weekend, a construction project prevented our tour bus from dropping us of at our dorm-room accommodations:

Despite our difficulties getting up the hill and into our rooms, we were encouraged at all times to look on the bright side:

And they were right: tune out the noise and confusion, and the grounds were magnificent, the main feature being this enormous Buddha:

The theme of spiritual living extended into our dorm lobby . . .

. . . leading to our rooms: simple, clean, and cozy, and designed for students with strong backs. The mattresses were comically rock-hard, probably the only austerity we experienced in the place, but mine also provided the best night's sleep of my life. Maybe I should get a piece of plywood to sleep on here in Albuquerque!

Sketchbook reminder: Do Good Deeds . . . 

Banners and signs placed throughout the walkways reminded visitors to"Do good deeds, speak good words, think good thoughts." A worthy sentiment and one that was very different from what I discovered when I unwrapped a throat lozenge halfway through our tour. I wasn't getting sick, I just felt like I needed some Vitamin C. The lozenges I brought from home were packaged in what the brand called "positive affirmations," and the one I picked on this occasion revealed the statement: "Inspire envy!" Whoa. What a contrast to "Do good deeds." Give me the lessons of the Buddha any day.

That evening we gathered in one of the mall restaurants for the best vegetarian dinner to date (vegetarian cuisine being the only one available, and just right for me) followed by yet more shopping. I was able to purchase more beads, this time ones inscribed with little spiritual symbols and writings (none about envy, I'm sure), and a couple of brush pens I totally fell in love with.

Morning proved to be far more peaceful than the day before, the machinery turned off and the air humming with the sound of nuns chanting while others walked in silent procession or worked in the gardens:

The only catch to the day was the complete absence of coffee in the breakfast room. I need coffee in the morning, as in, I really need coffee in the morning, and I've already mentioned how good the coffee in Taiwan is. In my desperation I remembered the Starbucks, but I also remembered it being a long way to walk and I wasn't sure when our tour bus would be leaving.

As I stood alone in the middle of an empty courtyard, contemplating what to do, a party of nuns and monks led by a tall German greeted me with a hearty, "Good Morning! Where are you going?" Immediately I thought this was one of those trick koan questions, and that I was supposed to have some brilliant reply such as, "To find enlightenment, O Master!" Instead, all I could weakly croak was, "Starbucks?"

The monk's reply: "Hahahaha! Then I wish you luck! They are closed!" Drat.

However, thanks to my quick-thinking roommate, I was able to avoid a caffeine headache when she surprised me with a can of iced coffee from a vending machine. Yay! The day was saved. I thank her with a thousand Buddhas:

Even after we left the monastery, monks and nuns seemed to be following us. Lunchtime in a village known for its wood-working artistry let me snap this photo:

And then we were on our way to: THE ONE. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my. THE ONE really is, The One. (That's what it's called, The One. The One what? Just. The One.) Now a luxury spa, resort, hotel and restaurant, it was originally the playground of a Taiwanese newspaper mogul. Built in the 1980s in a traditional and palatial style (no nails were used in its construction), it is gorgeous. I took dozens of photos, mainly for art references, but here are just a few to capture the ambiance:

Really, I could live here forever.

Highlight of the Day: Before dinner at The One (which was. what else?, a multi-course extravaganza) I had a chance to sit and dream with my sketchbook in my own private alcove. The area I found was decked out in pale lavender silk, embroidered cushions, antique Chinese furniture, and dimmed lighting. 

While I was luxuriating upon the divan and pretending to be an eighteenth-century empress, I thought I would experiment with one of my new brush pens. Wow--where have these pens been all my life? It was like painting with silk. Another unforgettable moment from Taiwan.

(Side note: the stamp in the upper corner on this sketch was from our visit to the King Car Whisky Factory where they make--and we got to taste--Kavalan whiskey, judged to be the world's finest. In an interesting coincidence, King Car was founded by the man who developed "Mr. Brown Coffee," the canned coffee that saved my life at the monastery. Thanks, Mr. Brown!)

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