Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

It's about that time of the Christmas season when many hearts turn toward home and hearth as they relive family traditions, make new ones, and enjoy the company of those they love. I've noticed a lot of my blogging/online friends have signed off via their blogs, Twitter or Facebook with messages that they won't be back online until after Christmas. I like that. I see it as a sign that we haven't gotten so completely entrenched in the virtual world of the internet that we have forgotten how to live the way we used to before technology.

I am extremely grateful this Christmas for the blessings of friends and family--"in person" friends and "online" friends alike. Your warmth, friendship and love is what makes this season bright--far brighter than thousands of twinkly lights ever could.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!
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Behind the Scenes: "Building" a Snowman (a work in progress)

As I often do, I tried to cram one too many designs on my "to do" list for my 2010 holiday designs. I was done and then decided to do "just one more". I was mostly done with it when I lost my head of steam. When this happens with a seasonal piece, I put it aside until the next year rolls around--which is what will happen with this snowman sketch.

Poor little snowman... it isn't his fault.

Then I decided he would be a good behind-the-scenes subject for a blog post. So Mr. Snowman does get to have some fun this year after all!

BTS Post Photo 1

Above is the rough scan of the pencil sketch of Mr. Snowman. I do all my preliminary sketching by hand in one of my various sketchbooks (one for small sketches, one for large sketches and one for on-the-road sketching).

BTS Post Photo 2

After I've scanned in the pencil sketch, I bring it into Photoshop CS3 and perform clean-up with the help of my Wacom Cintiq digital tablet. I do this because I want all the specks and flecks that are picked by the scanner up from the white paper to not transfer when I print out the outline sketch onto watercolor paper.

Next I print out the snow man on a piece of 12x17 watercolor paper using my Canon Pro9000 ink jet printer. I choose this size because that's the largest I can scan once the painting is done. Even if the original sketch isn't that large, I enlarge it to fill the paper.

Then I secure the watercolor paper that has the printed outline on it to my painting board, I break out the watercolors, and I begin painting.

BTS Post Photo 3

Oftentimes, I will scan the painting after completing one stage (in this case the black hat and coal buttons). This is a good practice for me just in case I do something I don't like later in the painting process. If I do, I can always reprint the outline and repaint the elements I didn't like and then digitally marry them with the elements I did like from previous scans.

BTS Post Photo 4

There is a quality of painting that I can only get with watercolor and haven't been able to replicate digitally. I paint the shapes and elements that I want to have that quality. In this case, I wanted a certain look to the shading as well as a certain brushstroke for each piece of the fringe of his scarf. At that stage, I scanned the painting again and brought it back into Photoshop CS3.

After some clean-up using the Wacom Cintiq again, I decided to apply one of my photo textures to Mr. Snowman to make him look more like he was made of snow (see the texture below).

Click on texture above to download for free

I also added some additional shading and highlights over the top of the snow to get this...

BTS Post Photo 5

Although Mr. Snowman may look like he's done, he really has a way to go. I have to paint the additional elements like the holly berries for his hat and the patterns for the gifts he's carrying. Those will get painted separately and added digitally. Mr. Snowman is also going to need a snazzy background so he isn't floating in white space. And I'll have to design the layouts specifically for each thing he goes on. A 5x7 card layout is much different than an iPhone case and that's different from an e-card/e-vite (the list can go on and on). I may even offer him with different colored scarves and mittens... I don't know. All that work will happen when I begin putting together my 2011 holiday designs.

Mr. Snowman will wait until then. Luckily, he won't melt.
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Emerald nostalgia

Emerald nostalgia

I watched her hands as she made the ornaments.

Each jewel...

Each pearl...

Each ribbon...

Pinned in place.

My tiny 4 year old heart leapt.
Elegant glimmering beads and baubles
Dazzling a young romantic soul.

Too delicate for little hands to touch...

Precious enough to hang high on the tree
Until each was tucked in soft tissue cradles
To wait for the next year.

Available to send free as an e-vite or e-card by clicking here

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Snow white and rose red

Winter roses

"There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, one of which bore white and the other red roses. She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, and one was called Snow-white, and the other Rose- red. They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful as ever two children in the world were, only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields seeking flowers and catching butterflies; but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her housework, or read to her when there was nothing to do.

"The two children were so fond of one another that they always held each other by the hand when they went out together, and when Snow- white said: ’We will not leave each other,’ Rose-red answered: ’Never so long as we live,’ and their mother would add: ’What one has she must share with the other.’

"They often ran about the forest alone and gathered red berries, and no beasts did them any harm, but came close to them trustfully. The little hare would eat a cabbage-leaf out of their hands, the roe grazed by their side, the stag leapt merrily by them, and the birds sat still upon the boughs, and sang whatever they knew."

This photo is available as custom-printed invitations at Rosehaven Cottage Stationers by clicking above
and is also available to send for FREE as an e-card or e-vite at pingg by clicking below.

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"Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding talents God has given us. We don't discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman."
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
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Abundance: What I see in a pomegranate


I have a favorite book that I discovered the summer of 2007. It's entitled "Beloved Bridegroom" by Donna B. Nielsen. I love understanding historical contexts to symbols found in art, literature and poetry (no surprise I was an art history major in college). Donna Nielsen book about ancient Jewish marriage and family customs gave me so much more by making the symbolic meanings of things in my Mediterranean-climate garden come alive. One symbol that has become particularly poignant for me is the pomegranate.

"The Hebrew word translated 'pomegranate' is 'rimmon' or 'bell.' Pomegranates are notable for their beautiful red flowers, shapely fruit, sweet flavor (to those in the Middle East!), and prodigious number of seeds. The fruit is the size of an orange and has a calyx which resembles a crown." [p 80]

"In Jewish thought, pomegranates have an association with the clothing of the High Priest (Exodus 28:33-34), and also because of their many seeds, with the promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 15:5)." [p v]

"Because of its decorative form, [the pomegranate] has long been a popular motif in Jewish art. The flowers of the pomegranate served as patterns for the 'golden bells' and also for 'open flowers' embroidered on the temple robes of the High Priest [of the tabernacle]. Fabric pomegranates adorned the hem of the robe, alternating with golden bells. The erect calyx-lobes on the fruit served as inspiration for [King] Solomon's crown, and incidentally for all crowns from that time on.

"Israelites were exhorted by their sages to 'be as full of good deeds as a pomegranate is full of seeds,' and good students were said to model their study habits upon the pomegranate, eating only the good fruit, but discarding the bitter peel." [p 80]

Now when I see the ruby seeds a pomegranate spilled on the ground after the fruit has burst open with ripeness, I think of the abundance in my life. Each seed symbolizes one of the rich and treasured blessings I enjoy.

And I am thankful.

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Autumn in the Rosehaven Cottage gardens: Canna lilies and bougainvillea blooming

November canna lilies

This morning I woke up from a dream that I was in my beloved Hawai'i. It was probably the morning sun shining through the window onto me as I slept ensconced by sun-loving cats. I found it unusual though. I usually don't yearn to escape to a tropical paradise until some time after Christmas and before Valentine's Day--in other words that cold month known as January. Since spending that entire month lounging in a chaise on the shores of Turtle Bay is completely unfeasible financially and logistically, a few years ago I set a goal to grow sub-tropical plants and shrubs in my own garden to create the feeling of being there.

Autumn canna lily

After hunting around, I found quite a few sub-tropicals that can stand winter temperatures down to 20F (-7C) which is usually the coldest it gets here in winter. I've got some sub-tropicals that prefer to remain a few degrees above freezing like a tender hibiscus and a plumeria, so I put those in pots where I can pamper them through frosty nights. The bougainvillea doesn't like frost either, but it has to tough it out in the ground (sometimes I wonder if it will come back in the spring). The rest of my homage to Hawai'i (birds of paradise, canna lilies, palms, New Zealand flax and Japanese water iris) tough it out quite well in various spots throughout the garden when our overnight temps dip down into the frosty range.

Overnight frost is still a few weeks away in our micro-climate, so even though it's November I'm enjoying the beauty of gorgeous tropical looking canna lilies in my back garden. I put in quite a few new varieties last spring so the colors are all new to me. I'm really enjoying the pretty sherbet-toned surprises.

November bougainvillea

Despite hints and scowls from Hubby, I haven't had the heart to cut back the long invasion thorny tendrils of bougainvillea that creep toward the cars parked in the driveway. Our coolish summer got it off to a late start, and I want to savor their pink and orange tissue paper blooms before they're zapped by Jack Frost's breath in a few weeks.

Soon the leaves of the canna will succumb to the colder nights too. But I know that their hardy rhizomes are underground waiting for February and March to come so they can send up shoots again and dazzle me with their glory for the next 9 months. If they can tough out January, then I can too.

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Autumn in the Rosehaven Cottage gardens: White zinnia

White zinnia

Scattered seeds some time in June or July
Hoped for quintessential summer pom poms
No seeds sprouted
Must have been a treat for the birds
Then one blossom comes in November
I don't remember planting white
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Autumn in the Rosehaven Cottage gardens: Pomegranate on abalone

Pomegranate on abalone

There were a number of things left in the garden from the two previous owners when we bought our house that would become Rosehaven Cottage. But they were hidden like buried treasure.

One such treasure was the pomegranate bush that had been cut to the ground. Not one limb remained. I didn't know it was there until it started sending up shoots from the ground. I wondered what it was for a while, but it didn't take long for me to recognize its shiny thick leaves on straight light branches with a thorn here and there. It was indeed a pomegranate. Over the past 10 years, I've let it grow under the supervision of my gardener's shears, and it has rewarded us magnificently with a beautiful bush that now towers at least 12 feet over our heads. In late spring, its tropical looking deep coral-hued blossoms delight us and the hummingbirds alike. By mid summer, those blossoms have turned into green orbs hanging like ornaments on the boughs of the bush. By the first day of autumn, the orbs have taken on a lovely blush, and by October, the rosy skins of the fruits are bursting open to reveal the glistening ruby jewels within.

Another treasure we found throughout the garden were empty abalone shells from the former owners' abalone expeditions in the San Francisco Bay in years past. Some shells were embedded in the concrete half-walls of a dilapidated covered lanai at the back of the garden. Other shells I found in piles under a few layers of fresh earth formed from leaves and debris left to compost. Each shell I've found (intact or otherwise) I've added to a collection that dots the edges of the pond I dug the first winter we were here. It seems fitting to have the abalone at waters edge, catching rainwater for lizards and other small critters to drink from.

The pomegranate bush grows at the pond's edge as well with its autumn fruit often falling on the stones and abalones in its shade, thus making pomegranates on abalone a common sight here in Rosehaven Cottage's autumnal gardens.

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Autumn in the Rosehaven Cottage gardens: Sun's last rays

Sun's last rays

Digitally painted photo

In between the much-needed rain showers we've been receiving this week, I took the time to duck out into the garden and take some photos of the last vestiges of summer as well as the first signs of autumn.

Summer lasts longer and autumn comes later here in our climate. Sunflowers are a flower of August, September and October for me. This lovely is one of the last bunch blooming in the shaggy front garden that is in dire need of a "haircut".

Until the last heatwaves end and the autumn rains come in the latter part of October, the garden has to remain on the shaggy side to conserve water and prevent burn that could occur on newly trimmed roses and other bushes. The uncut fennel and sunflowers going to seed on their heady high stalks make for lovely natural bird feeders where finches, oak titmice and bushtits feed on their delectable seeds. The birds' flitting provides copious entertainment for the indoor kitties as they peer out the large living room picture window. With noses almost touching the glass their teeth chatter and whiskers twitter silently as they enjoy the show.

Over the next few posts, I'll be showing more vignettes of what this unique seasonal transition looks like in our gardens here at Rosehaven Cottage.

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Behind the Scenes: Little Halloween Witch (and her kitten) from sketches to painting

Little Halloween Witch

It's time for another "behind the scenes" post about my latest painting "Little Halloween Witch" so you can see the progression I went through to create it.

Every painting always starts out as a rough pencil sketch in one of my sketchbooks (I have several). Usually the sketches aren't in scale with one another. Rarely are they the size of what the finished painting will be. And often elements of the same finished composition aren't even on the same page in the sketchbook! Sometimes I don't know if I'm going to combine elements into one composition until much later in the process.

The sketching phase is the time to just get shapes and elements worked out. LOTS of erasing happens during this phase (you can even see my eraser lines if you look closely).

Once I like a sketch enough to take it on to the next phase, I scan it into the computer using my Epson Expression 10000 XL flatbed scanner that has a large glass especially for art. The digital version of the scan is cleaned up in Photoshop so all the eraser lines and boo boo's. It's at this point that I correct any proportion issues within the sketch by cutting and pasting pieces.

I'm left with a clean sketch that I reduce the opacity on so it looks like a light pencil sketch. I print the sketch onto regular watercolor paper that I send through my Canon Pro 9000. Even though my Canon can print up to 13x19 prints, I cut the watercolor paper down to 12x17 so it's the maximum size that my scanner will take once the painting is done.

Next, I tape the watercolor paper to a drawing board using white drafting tape. Then it's time to get out the brushes and paints! This is my favorite part. I love turning on iTunes and painting.

This painting process can take hours or days. Sometimes I can sit down and do a painting from start to finish all in one sitting (the black kitten for this painting was like that). But usually I work on different pieces of the painting, set it down, walk away, and then come back with fresh eyes and a clear head after a long break (sometimes overnight). I often do that several times. Even though I paint with a portable fan nearby to dry the paints quickly if need be, sometimes it's good for me to let the painting sit and let all the moisture in the paper really dry so I don't have to worry about cross-bleed between colors that are touching one another. That's the real secret to watercolors. Dry paper works like a "dam" with the paint that will usually only spread on moist or wet paper. When I'm painting something like the little witch's hair against the black hat, I definitely can get bleeding from one to the other. I have to let the paper completely dry or it would ruin it. That's when overnight drying is essential.

Even though the paintings look like they're done at this point, they usually aren't.

I scan them into the computer again using my flatbed art scanner. Then with Photoshop, I clean up any "oopsies" that happen (like when my hand spazzes and the paintbrush flies across the painting leaving a trail of purple paint in its wake).

After clean-up, I go in and digitally paint highlights like the little white sparkle in the eyes. I could do this last step with watercolors, but I have more flexibility if I do it digitally. I can try various placements and opacities on the highlights without altering the original painting.

The final step is to take the finalized art and place it in a composition so it can be used as stationery or reproduced as a print. Sometimes the two compositions will look very similar to one another and only differ in size to accommodate the end product. But other times (like this time) I can get creative and do a crisp "tight" version for use in e-cards/e-invites and then an "artsy" version for prints.

I still can't decide which one I like better. I think I like them both for different reasons.

Little Halloween Witch

Click here to see this painting in fine art reproduction prints, canvases and cards
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Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along your way

Dahlia petals

When strolling through Golden Gate Park with Hubby, we came upon a seasonal planting area that is tended by volunteers from the community. It was in full bloom with dahlias. With camera in hand, I leaned over the iron fence protecting the gardens and drooled over the amazingly gorgeous dark-brown (and weedless) soil. I almost wanted the soil more than the flowers! I guess that's a sign of a gardener.


As I slowly walked the perimeter looking at the array of dahlias (and the soil at their feet), I came upon this bunch of dahlia petals that had fallen from an overly-heavy mop-head of a blossom. The petals were still so fresh and vibrant, as if they had just fallen minutes before when a volunteer brushed by to tend a neighboring plant.

I only took one photo.

I've looked at this photo several times since taking it.

When I look at the image, the words of a hymn come into my mind...
In a world where sorrow ever will be known,
Where are found the needy and the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort you can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine everywhere you go.

Chorus (for the altos):
Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along over your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten every passing... passing day
Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along over your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten every passing day
I've always thought it was interesting that the cheerful chorus is repeated twice after every verse. It makes me think that's probably the part that deserves most of my attention.

One dahlia blossom is so small in comparison to the rest of the world. So am I. Yet this dahlia scattered its petals on the ground which caught my eye (and my camera lens) and then made me think of something so sweet as this hymn... makes me wonder what I can learn from that dahlia.

"Scatter Sunshine" (click here to listen)
Text: Lanta Wilson Smith
Music: Edwin O. Excell, 1851-1921
Scripture references: Psalm 100:2 and James 1:27
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Broken path

When we visited the Japanese tea gardens last month, I was intrigued by a couple of the paths that led over bodies of water. From a distance, the paths seemed like any other stone path, but when I got closer and began to traverse the path to get across the water I realized how treacherous the cracks between the stones were. I realized one false move could easily result in my foot going in between the stones and a nasty fall would follow. I had to carefully navigate from one stone to another to get to my destination. If I wanted to take a look around me to enjoy the beauty while I was on the path (like the purple Japanese water iris growing out in the water), I had to stop in order to take my eyes off the stones. It was only when I could give my undivided attention to the path again that I continued moving forward.

This path is a perfect metaphor for so many things in my life--actually a perfect metaphor for my life's journey in general.

Increasingly since this last spring, I've faced some health challenges that I haven't wanted to admit I was facing. Right now, I feel like I'm in the middle of a giant broken stone path that crosses water I don't want to fall into. Every step has to be made carefully and thoughtfully. One of my ways to deal with it is to write about it. But since I didn't want to fill my creative blog with the sarcastic humor that I tend to rely on to keep from whining, I decided to resurrect my health blog, rename it, and use it as an outlet.

So for those of you that want to follow my creative pursuits unencumbered with detours, just continue to read my posts here.

Anyone else interested in the "saga" of my health issues can go over to the newly dubbed "Could be worse... could be raining" blog I've dedicated to documenting my attempts at finding wellness and humor while living with the disease endometriosis [reading the health blog's revamped right sidebar and then clicking on the button that says "The Halloween that changed my life" is the best way to get up to speed].
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My new book "What Kind of Pumpkin Are You?"

What Kind of Pumpkin Are You?

I'm a bit shy about sharing this (don't ask me why), but I will anyway... I've self-published my first book--What Kind of Pumpkin Are You?

What Kind of Pumpkin Are You? is an inspirational and humorous book intended to bring a smile to your face and hope to your soul. I envisioned it being read on days you don't want to get out of your jammies and would just rather go back to bed and sleep the day away--yeah, those kinds of days.

Anyone who knows me well knows I enjoy finding meaning and analogies in the world around me. One day a few years ago I was visiting our local “pumpkin patch” (it becomes the Christmas tree lot by December and is a vacant lot the rest of the year). I took photographs of the groupings of pumpkins as I found them. I thought it was interesting how someone had had some fun with stacking the pumpkins various ways. Once I got home and began reviewing the photos in post-processing, I was surprised to find themes of hope, acceptance, and love in the unstaged shots. I ended up compiling them into a Halloween blog post that I re-posted as an annual post each year since.

Well, that blog post has now been expanded into this book, What Kind of Pumpkin Are You? The book is available in a selection of soft and hard cover bindings that fit various budgets (my personal preferences are the "Imagewrap Hardcover on Express Photo Silk Paper" and the "Perfect Bound Softcover on Express Satin Paper").

What Kind of Pumpkin Are You?
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Behind the Scenes with Sachi

My brother and his wife have an adorable purebred Shiba Inu puppy named Sachi. Shiba's are a Japanese breed so her name, Sachi, is a Japanese name that means "girl child of joy, bliss, happiness or good fortune". At 16 weeks old, Sachi lives up to her name in a big way! Although capturing video of her is pretty easy, getting portrait photos of her can be a bit challenging.

I wanted to show how I worked my "magic" using Photoshop (PS) to take a run-of-the-mill chance shot of Sachi sitting still, and turned it into multiple versions of one of her first portraits.

To begin, I'll show you the shot SOOC ("straight out of the camera")...

Sachi (SOOC)

Taking photos in indirect sunlight is good, but it can cause color issues. You can see there is a blue tint to the photo. This is caused by inappropriate white balance. Don't be scared off at this point... the term "white balance" describes something very basic. It simply means what the camera sees as true white. For a realistic photo, the goal is to get the camera to see white things in the shot as true white, because it uses that as the baseline for color balance throughout the other colors in the shot. Most digital cameras have auto white balance settings, but still they can be off (as seen above).

But never fear...

Clicking the shutter to take the shot with a digital camera is really only half the work. The other half happens once the shot is brought back to my computer and downloaded for me to do post-processing. Since I shoot in RAW format, the camera doesn't process any of the data it records when I click the shutter. It just records it so I can download the RAW data into my computer and tweak to my heart's content within a post-processing program (I use Camera RAW because it came with PS, but most pro's use Adobe Lightroom). I can do post-processing on images I shoot in jpg format but I get the most flexibility with RAW.

So with a bit of tweaking with the color balance, I can bring the colors out of the blue range and back to what it looked like in person...

Sachi (original)

You probably noticed that there's something else different in the shot above from the original. Sachi isn't wearing her harness or leash anymore. It really is the same shot... I promise. I used the patch tool in PS CS5 to carefully remove the harness and leash. Normally, I use PS CS3 for everything because the user interface is more friendly to my needs. But PS CS5 has a powerful "content aware" ability to patch things like this. So in this case, I pulled the image into PS CS5 temporarily to do the patch work, and then brought it back into PS CS3 to play and finish up. For less complex patching, I just stay in PS CS3.

The next step is what I call "playing" with PS actions. Actions are a way for a PS user to record a long list of steps they've performed so they can use them later or share them with others. I've collected a few actions from various users that share via their blogs or websites. I often will take a shot and run action after action on it to see the results I get--hence the term "playing". As long as I've saved the file up to the point that I start running actions, nothing is permanent and I can undo anything I don't like. It's really fun to watch the image as it goes through the action script and wonder how it will look when it's done.

Sachi (with Autumn Glow action)

For the shot above, I used the PS action "Soft Autumn Glow" by Rita at Coffee Shop Photography. I really like Rita's actions because Rita writes her actions so that the layers aren't merged once the script is done. That way I can go back and tweak any layer and customize for the specific image I'm working with.

Sachi (with Lomo action)

For the shot above, I used Omar the Radwan's "Lomo Effect" action (another fave resource of mine). His lomo effect action always produces a cool, dramatic, and edgy look. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I never know until I run the action. [If you're wondering what the "lomo effect" is, click here for a great wikipedia write-up.]

Sometimes, I decide that I really want to get in there and be creative with a shot. That's when I break out my Wacom Cintiq digital tablet, my textures, and my drawing skills.

Sachi (formal portrait)

In PS, I can stack layers on top of the original image much like I'd put tissue paper over the top of a real print to trace it. My Cintiq lets me draw or erase directly on the image just like I'm holding a sketchbook. So I use my stylus like a pencil to "draw" and "paint" the image as I erase away textures that I've put on top of the original image.

I used a number of textures for the piece above--working one layer completely before adding another. I have my own library of textures but I also use the textures of others creatives that generously share through flickr. I used textures from playingwithbrushes and swimmingintheether.

I also used the burn and dodge tools on the original image layer to brighten up whites or darken shadows to get the painted or pastel effect.

Finally, I cropped the final "formal" portrait so that it would print at 11x14. Digital cameras shoot in non-standard sizes, so I think about that if I'm doing something for someone else that will possibly need a standard size for framing.
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Dark pink hydrangea

Dark pink hydrangea

This hedge of dark pink hydrangea is in Golden Gate Park. I made sure not to change the color of the blossoms in post-processing because they were so beautiful.
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Finding my own Tuscany

Green leaves and red laquer

I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit that until today I had not ever been to the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Despite being a native of the Bay Area and having gone to the museum adjacent to the gardens, I had never gone in until Hubby took me there today. Today was a typical summer day in San Francisco--overcast and cool... perfect conditions for shooting photographs.

Hubby and I like to listen to podcasts in the car whenever we take a road trip and today's short drive into the city was no exception. One podcast featured an interview with one of my favorite writers, Frances Mayes (author of Under the Tuscan Sun). I rarely read a book more than once but this is one book that I've read multiple times because of the way I'm drawn into Frances' memoirs of restoring an old villa in the Tuscan countryside. As I listened to the podcast interview today, I realized that it was the first time I'd heard her voice audibly. As she described her love of Tuscany with a hint of a soft southern accent, I had a few epiphanies. One epiphany that struck deeply is one that has tried to resound ever-so-softly in my inner core for some time now.

And it is this...

I live in an area that many non-locals see as a vacation destination. For some, a trip to San Francisco may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just as I've dreamed of visiting Tuscany for the past 13 or so years since I first read Frances Mayes' book, there are others living around the globe that dream of visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. The land of my birth; the place I often take for granted and consider to be so ordinary; the horizon I've spent a lot of my life looking beyond... this is the very place that others dream of visiting in person.

My next thought was, "Why am I looking beyond the horizon then?" Yes, indeed... why am I?

Then a wave of wonderful epiphanies came as I realized if I was in Tuscany there is so much that I would miss.

I would have missed the first flight of the fledgling sparrows this past weekend as the little birds flapped their wings and took off from their nest under the eaves right outside my studio window--a wonderful small miracle I was blessed to witness just by chance.

I would miss the screech of barn owls soaring overhead in the midnight sky, their ghostly white silhouettes dancing against the backdrop of August's Perseid meteor shower.

I would miss the soft hoarse meows of a little feral garden kitty calling to me from the back garden as I return from an afternoon away. She doesn't need to trust me, but she does. And her meows are her way of asking me to sit with her in the garden just to pet her for a few minutes before she goes off on her way to do whatever it is she does when the sun sinks low in the sky.

The final epiphany then came... what am I waiting for? I need to embrace the reality that I am here. My roots have begun to take hold, and they're going deeper than they ever have in any place I've ever lived. So why not embrace it and live every day as fully as I live each day that I'm on vacation somewhere else?

Yes, indeed... why not?

So I'm on the precipice of starting a journey that isn't really a journey. I still don't know if it is worthy of writing about here. I know I will be toting my camera with me (that's just what I do). I may just share photos and not so many words. I don't know. Any thoughts?

Orange flowers reflected
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The colors of August

August night

I've written before about the different colors I associate with the seasons and months of the year (like the color of January). August is one of those months that doesn't really have any American holiday attached to it that serves as a good iconic representation of the month the way one can draw a cute little jack-o-lantern in orange and black to represent the month of October. As a child I decided that the perfect representation of August was a big yellow sunshine wearing sunglasses with a smile. Any iconic representation of the beach seemed fitting too. Then I expanded to include sunflowers and black-eyed susan's as well. Over the years bright yellows and oranges have become the colors of August for me--not the more muted russet tones of autumn, but bright glowing oranges that seem to radiate heat. Yes, those are the colors of August for me.

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The light was perfect and the horses were such good models. :-)
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Two legs
Two arms
A face and a nose
Parts that all work
That should be enough

Running water
A roof over my head
That should be enough

A husband
A home
Purring kitties at my feet
That should be enough

I will keep repeating
That IS enough


I'd love to take credit for the illustrations in this post, but, alas, I cannot.
They are fun graphics generated by A&E's website
I did think it was fun that one of the backgrounds to choose from was the bedroom above.
It looks a lot like my own bedroom.

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Finding creative motivation through flickr

The County Fair
"The County Fair"
collage created for flickr Creative Challenge group's weekly challenge "Collages"

One my greatest sources of inspiration are the creative communities that exist at flickr. There's a group for just about every niche, hobby or interest you can imagine. And within those groups are wonderfully talented individuals that "gather" to share and support others with like interests.

Not very long ago, a new group was formed by a very talented woman whose flickr handle is Simply Hue (aka Vicki Dvorak from the blog Simply Hue). The group is simply entitled Creative Challenge. As a challenge group, the purpose is to "motivate us as artists, photographers, and designers to keep our work fresh and new". Vicki presents a challenge each week and if we choose, we can share our own interpretation of that challenge theme.

This week's challenge was simply "collages" with no boundaries other than that. Last week was "your favorite color" with the only rules being "post anything (illustrations, collages, photos, mixed media work) that includes your favorite color! The work you submit should have about 75 percent of your favorite color with a few other colors sprinkled in" (my interpretation to last week's challenge is found below).

I've mentioned several times that being part of the flickr community is a lot like being in a master of arts seminar. I feel enlivened by the work of others, inspired by their views of the world, and buoyed up in my own creative attempts by their kind comments and insights on my own work. Flickr has been responsible for a great deal of my creative growth over the past couple of years. I can safely say that without it I probably wouldn't have pushed myself and discovered new styles of creative communication. I am so grateful for the technology that makes this wonderful phenomenon possible!

My favorite color...
"My Favorite Color: Ballet Slipper Pink"
created for flickr Creative Challenge group's weekly challenge "Your Favorite Color"
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