Monthly Archives: September 2013

Curiosity Kills the Cat, but Not the Writer….

Woodpecker - Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

Woodpecker – Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

I love getting newsletters from Smithsonian magazine emailed to me once a week – they send links to their articles and I usually find a thing or two (or three or four or more) to think about and explore further.  I subscribe to the print magazine, too;  it’s the one I reach for first when the mail brings me lots of heady reading. I have a thick folder in my file cabinet that’s just for articles I’ve torn out from their pages. This week, it was the beautiful birds of paper sculptor Diana Beltran Herrera (see link below.) I sent the link on to my sister, who also likes such things and whose intellectual curiosity and capacity for wonder inspire me. It seems to me that the bottom line for all artists is curiosity, no?  If you want to be a better writer, try being more curious about the world and the way it works.

Here, then, are links to some recent Smithsonian articles (and there are links within those articles – you can get lost inside it all.)  I hope they set you wandering and wondering…and writing!  Just click on the description:

1. Paper robins, woodpeckers, cardinals, kingfishers…

Robin in flight...

Robin in flight…

2. An insect with “mechanical” gears…

3.  …and a mechanical insect! (this one is from the archives)

Man-made beetle...

Man-made beetle…

4. A “sonic bloom” at the Seattle Center


5. Making music with the Brooklyn Bridge …

6. Shooting frozen flowers? (Who would even think of it? Eerie and beautiful…)

Frozen Flower, Shot

Frozen Flower, Shot

7. Repairing memories and changing memories…

"Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it."

“Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it.”

8. There’s an exhibition of Brian Skerry’s photography up at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. right now. Here’s a slideshow of his work. 

This is how you photograph a whale...

This is how you photograph a whale…

(By the way, it doesn’t take much to support our wonderful national museum – just $19 and you automatically get a subscription to the magazine.  Click here to visit their website and become a member.)


The word is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson


I agree with Julie P. in her most recent post – all those years of returning to school each September make it feel more like the start of the year than January. Around here, epic spider webs and cooler nights signal that this banner summer of sunny skies in Seattle is coming to an end and it’s time to get back to work.


Last month, I combed through 20 years of old notebooks, pulling out ideas that seemed to hold promise.


They mostly fell into four camps: craft advice, garden and plant notes, thoughts related to my longterm middle grade project, and ideas for stories which I labeled my “Idea Farm.” Now it’s time to harvest the Idea Farm for writing prompts, prompts to fuel a daily writing habit. I love how ideas grow out of writing itself and I am curious to see where these prompts will lead.

Outside my studio window, I see my garden, too, heeds the change of season. I will wait for that sunny weekend in November to put the garden to bed, but it is getting itself ready: viburnum leaves already blazing, tomato plants falling over with heavy fruit, a pumpkin oranging up for its Halloween star turn. The sweet peas that I planted for our daughter’s June wedding are still blooming along the tops, though their stems are bleaching and dying from the ground up. I should be so lucky.


• • • • •

Lastly, an update on the Yosemite Rim fire. As of this writing, the fire was estimated to have burnt 256,169 acres, roughly 400 square miles, most of it in my beloved Tuolumne county. It was 84% contained. Eleven homes, 98 outbuildings and three commercial buildings have been destroyed. At its worst, over 5,000 firefighters from 44 states came to fight the blaze. Fewer than 2,000 remain. Fire crews continue mop-up efforts and work to keep the blaze within its existing containment lines. The estimated full containment date is the day this will post, September 20. All these statistics can’t begin to represent the huge loss of high country forests, canyons, and meadows, and the creatures who lived there.

Back To School

Paschkis ABCXYZ

I haven’t been a full time student for more than 30 years. I haven’t been a full time teacher for 20. But September still feels like the beginning of a new year. It’s time for a fresh start; it’s time to go back to school.
Here are some images for your edification, whether or not September brings you back to a school building.

This alphabet come from ABZ, edited by Julian Rothenstein.

ABZ Alphabet

But where did B,C and F (and many other letters) go?
Maybe they are dancing.
This Czech Modernist alphabet was designed by Karel Teige in 1935.

Czech modernist B

czech modernist F

Saul Steinberg took the alphabet for a walk in 1965:

Steinberg 1965

What to do with the alphabet? Make words.
These illustrations are from The Infant’s Alphabet of 1822:

The ArticlesNouns: An Infant's Alphabet 1822

Or perhaps you would like to learn French. These pages are from an 1814 primer painted for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard by his uncle Arnaud.

for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard

1814 French Primer

No education is complete without math and science. Number Friends was published in 1927.

Number Friends 1927

This Edible Frog is from The Art of Instruction, published by Chronicle Books. It is not a scratch and sniff poster and does not include the smell of formaldehyde.

Edible Frog

All learning needs to be synthesized. Here are two helpful pictures painted by Saul Steinberg in 1959.

Saul Steinberg 1959

Steinberg 1959

And how to end this post? With proper punctuation, of course. This is from the Good Child’s Book of Stops, published in 1825.



Looking through my old books for my Fairy Tales post last month was an enjoyable, but somewhat eerie experience. I feel as though those books imprinted themselves on my brain on some deeply primordial level. The thoughts and ponderings I had in my head as a child are still there, just waiting for the right images to make them pop back up again.

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne, “decorations” by Ernest H. Shepard, causes this phenomenon to happen. I found this copy at my parent’s house recently.

Now We Are Six book

When I read this book now I hear voices. Well, not actually voices, just one voice – my mother’s – with the same intonation and cadence she used as she read the poems to me before I could read them myself. This is especially true with those that are my favorites, the ones that I must have made her read to me over and over again.  For example, this one.

Shepard-Now We are Six-The Good Little Girl

The answer to the question was deliciously obvious and thrilling to me. It  echoed what I often heard.

Here is an image that I remember staring at and wondering about. It’s from “The Little Black Hen”.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Little Black Hen

…But I’ll lay you a beautiful

   Eastery egg,

If you’ll show me the nettle-place

   On your leg.”

So for years I thought nettles left pinfeather-like spines sticking out of your skin. Re-examining the picture now I think those lines are supposed to represent Christopher Robin’s fingers, but I still see them as an anomaly.

Tales From Grimm, illustrated by Wanda Gág, was part of my fairy tale collection. I was able to read by the time Mom brought this book home from a library discard sale.

Gag Tales From Grimm book

Gág’s drawings are comfortingly lumpy and solid with the pleasing line textures common in illustrations from the 30s and 40s. They make me happy.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-The ListenerGag-Tales From Grimm-The Long One

Years later I saw Gág’s Millions of Cats for the first time and it was like visiting with an old friend. Familiar face but different outfit.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-Hansel and Gretel ending

As you can see, these books have been well loved over the years.  The Golden Treasury of Children’s Literature, edited and selected by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, was new when it came to me in 1967, a gift from my brother and his wife.

The Golden Book

They wanted me to be a good girl too.

Golden Book Inscription

I’m afraid it has fared the worst of the three. It has been literally loved to pieces.

Golden Book in pieces

This book is a candy-shop sampler of so many masterful storytellers and illustrators. Over thirty authors including Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Forester , J. R. R. Tolkien , Lafcadio Hearn, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Louis Slobodkin and of course Milne, Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Aesop.

The illustrators include Gordon Laite (I studied these hairdos very, very closely. How did Cinderella manage them?).

Gordon Laite-Cinderella's sisters

Adrienne Ségur made Thumbelina’s environment exquisite but terrifying.

Adrienne Segur-Thumbelina

W. W. Denslow, the original illustrator for Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of OZ.


Charles Harper’s Bambi. Geometric and precise.

Charlie Harper-Bambi

The Provensens’s illustrations for Aesop’s fables. They make it look easy.

Provensens-Never Cry Wolf

As well as Robert J. Lee, Lilian Obligado, Tanako Tanabe, Eloise Wilken, Jean Winslow and others.

All of these books have influenced the images I create today, even if I don’t consciously think about them doing so. The graphic quality, the stylization. It’s all in there.

These words and pictures speak to me like no others can, still and always. Perhaps my girls will feel the same way some day about Imogene’s Antlers and Ooh-la-la, Max in Love.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Have you been a good girl