Perpetual Journal Rescue Operation

A few years back I started a Perpetual Journal inspired by the work of Lara Call Gastinger

I used a journal I’d made and still had on hand that was blank.  Lara divides her books into weekly spreads, but I didn’t have enough pages in my chosen journal to do that so I did some math and decided I’d use 10 day increments in my book.  That worked out perfectly.  I figured I could manage a drawing every 10 days or so throughout the year if I was diligent.  Of course I haven’t been as diligent as I hoped and my journal has many gaps 3-plus years later, but it also has lots of drawings in it and is progressing more or less how I hoped it would, just a little more slowly.  It’s a project that is close to my heart and I carry this journal with me both into my own backyard and also whenever I travel about the country.  I use it mostly for botanical subjects but I’ve been thinking I might insert some small landscapes here and there as well.  Carrying the journal with me so I can do field work is essential.

Enter my aging LL Bean backpack:

I’ve carried this pack for years and it is still quite serviceable.  In fact, it looks almost new from the outside.  When we travel, I use it to carry all of my art supplies and often games and books as well.  It is capacious and the divided sections allow me to separate the books and journals from the supplies that might soil them.  BUT, when I pulled out my journal after our last trip to the coast where I never got a chance to draw at all,  I noticed there were black specks of something scattered throughout the journal on every page, some worse than others.  I assumed a pencil sharpener had exploded or something similar and was so saddened by the dirt everywhere that I just set the book aside and moved on to another project. 

When I got the book back out and started trying to remove the specks of dirt that were behaving exactly as if they were flecks from a black colored pencil lead scattered across the pages, it seemed wise to stop and really figure out what had caused this explosion of particulate matter that was significantly worse at the bottom end of the book.  So I removed everything from the pack and discovered that all of my pencils and sharpeners were intact and safely stowed apart from the journal.  It was the lining of the pack itself that was disintegrating, but only in certain places where there was a water-resistant coating.  I took a white cloth rag and swiped across the area at the bottom of the pack that had the coating and here’s the result:

Oh my goodness!  This reminds me of the material they used at about the same time to make the soles of some Clark shoes that suddenly and unexpectedly began disintegrating years later, especially in shoes that had been stored in boxes, like my favorite red shoes I trotted out each holiday season.  Each one of those flecks of rubber-like material has the capacity to leave a mark on clean white paper.  I have spent hours with a very fine X-acto knife carefully attempting to lift each speck off of the paper before it smears an indelible mark.  I’d say my success rate has been about 85%-90%.  Many of the specks came cleanly away from the page and others left marks that could be lightened with an eraser.  Very few left marks so dark that I won’t be able to cover them with a subsequent drawing and none of the drawings I’ve done so far was ruined.  So it’s not an unmitigated disaster at all.  And as I was looking at one of Lara Call Gastinger’s perpetual journals displayed on her website, I saw some embedded dirt in the spine area of one of her page spreads so I guess I’m in good company if my perpetual journal has a few stray marks here and there.  Whew!  Now, back to that drawing board after I issue a warning to any of you who might have LL Bean backpacks that are 15-20 years old: check that any waterproof interior linings are still intact before each use!

Rows and Floes and So It Goes…


Pure watercolor, wet into wet with some scumbling.

So all those years ago when Joni Mitchell was singing about clouds that got in the way and rained and snowed on everyone, many people got her very poetic lyrics about cloud formations absolutely wrong.  How many of us have been singing along to these lyrics: Bows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air?

To me, the first line of lyrics to that song always seemed non-sensical, but the rest of the lyrics were very good and the melody is lovely so I just sang along like everyone else and didn’t worry too much about it.  Occasionally I’d think, “I wonder what she means by bows and flows of angel hair?  Oh well, there’s simply no accounting for what was going through the heads of songwriters (or anyone) in the 1960’s!” 

That was until recently when this song was proposed as one to do for my ukulele group and I needed to make up a music chart so I went seeking definitive sheet music to help me get everything right.  Well much of the sheet music you can buy out there for this song also begins with the “Bows and flows” line BUT on Joni Mitchell’s  personal website she generously offers transcriptions of many of her songs and this happens to be one.  When I read the first line of music I found on her site and it said “Rows and floes of angel hair,” I suddenly could envision the exact cloud formations she was singing about and I bet she was looking at some Altocumulous Stratiformis clouds when the idea for the song came to her while sitting on that airplane and looking at clouds from above.  Thus, Both Sides Now! 

I like looking at those formations too, at sunset (above), at midday (below), and after a storm (further below).  They tend to stack up in rows and look rather like floes of ice!  Or angel hair if you have a good imagination.  Aha!  But if you really want to appreciate the timeless appeal of this song, watch Joni singing it at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival

She brings the crowd to tears with her poignant rendition of this song she wrote in her early 20’s.  Here she is at nearly 80, convincing you that after all that life has thrown at her (and it’s been a LOT), it’s still the illusions she recalls and furthermore, she still really doesn’t know clouds or love or life at all and you get the sense that that’s how it’s meant to be and it’s okay.  It’s okay.  Just keep on looking and loving and living.

The 2 watercolor cloud studies here are from a journal project I did some time back when I had a wide   view of the sky available to me at all times.  The framed painting is from further back, but again from the Sexton Road days.   Now I am mostly focused up close on botanical subjects, but some days I do miss the joy of splashing about with abandon on wet watercolor paper.

And So It Goes…but that’s another song from another artist for another day. 


Watercolor and gouache. The superimposed darker rectangle is from a sticker that was on the paper when I bought it. That sticker made the paper take the paint differently on this journal page. Theoretically, this was intended to be the back of the paper, but why, oh WHY do they put stickers on art paper at all? Go look in anyone’s watercolor studio and you will see plenty of paintings on the back sides of other paintings. The best paper can take work on both sides with no trouble.
Watercolor and oil pastel: a combination I’ve experimented with through the years as a way of adding resist under or lights over watercolor paint and highlighting the texture of cold press paper.

Tick-tock, tick-tock

And no, it’s nothing to do with the internet, but a reminder that a deadline is fast approaching and it’s going to be down to the wire.  I’m participating in Round 2 of the Northern California Chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists, abbreviated NCalSBA and I’m working on my title page and first ‘sketch.’  I put sketch in quotes because I think of a sketch as something that takes minutes to an hour or 2 at the most and these little illustrations have taken on a life of their own and I’ve been working on this one for well over a week.  I need to mail this to the next artist on the list around the 25th and here it is the 21st and I’ve still got one huge leaf to render after I finish the little one I’m working on now:


Note how I got all excited by the spotted petals of this flower. I went on the internet to research “spotted cyclamen” and couldn’t find any speckled or spotted varieties of cyclamen except one photo of a “rare spotted cyclamen” photographed on the plains of Galilee. A deeper dive revealed that dark purple spots on petals in cyclamens is a sign of a fungal infection called Botrytis blight. Sigh. Not so rare. Botrytis blight is a very common plant pathogen that attacks all sorts of ornamental flowers but I think it usually shows up as brown spots. These purple spots are actually quite pretty and the plants and flowers looked healthy, but closer inspection showed holes at the center of some of the spots. That’s a dead giveaway. Farmer Gary recognized it as blight immediately from afar, of course.

For any pencil artists in the audience, and really more as a reminder to myself, I discovered a few useful new pencil colors on this project as I was trying to replicate the colors of the stems and leaves. Cyclamen stems are a very interesting mix of reds and greens and the leaves are a dull green that was easily replicated with a few of my standard greens (Polychromos 174 and 165) and I have backups for those colors in my stock, but those lighter areas of dull green were a little more challenging. I found Polychromos 189/Cinnamon and Tombow Irojiten LG-6/Mist Green were quite helpful (you can see them on the table) and I’m well on my way. I just have to buckle down and draw!