Coral Cave Contest Submission

French artists, Cécile Brun are Olivier Pichard, are the duo behind Atelier Sento. I came across their work when I searched for examples of watercolor artwork using Sennelier palette. Their work is so happy to look at!

This is my submission for their Coral Cave contest, ending on Jan 2nd.

It was tons of fun to create this mini 9cm x 9cm square, inspired by their game. I love that they required all submitted artwork to be done with traditional media only. 

First, a sketch!
In progress...
Final piece - wish it were cleaner. I'm slowly getting better with watercolor. Slowly.  
Close-up. Media: pencil, colored pencil, and Sennelier watercolors on Arches CP paper.
Oh yeah, Happy New Year! But for me, the real New Year doesn't begin until Lunar New Year rolls around. January 1st is usually the opportunity for me to clean out the home to get ready for Lunar New Year. :-) 

Let's Be Like Our Fungi & Lichen Friends

Lichen dyes. Oooohhh ahhhhhhh!
They staged a forest setting, with real mushrooms! The one on the left dyes beautiful hues of warm orange and yellow.
This beautiful shade is extracted from a rare lichen
Wool dyed with mushrooms by a local spinner, creator. I resisted buying them!

The San Francisco Mycological Society has been holding their Annual Fungus Fair since the 70's! What captured the show for me were the few exhibits of mushroom and lichen dyes. To be clear, lichen are not mushrooms. They’re separate, distinct organisms that live symbiotically with mushrooms – beautiful relationships.

The dyes that can be achieved with lichens are captivating, and precious. Lichen can only be collected from the ground, off fallen branches or withered off a rock surface; never, ever peel it off a tree or rock! NEVER EVER!

Lately, my heart has been heavy with raw injustice domestically and abroad. Tea has really helped to calm and soothed my spirit. Feeling beat and tired from the emotion and tension that’s in the air? One to two cups daily of the following humble tea helped me...

2 parts chamomile
1 part nettle leaf
1 part roses

Add anything else that calms you (e.g. bit of lavender buds).

A small action that has great magnitude is simply to speak up when you hear or see injustice happening. Heard a micro aggression? Be an ally, and say something! You could be the critical voice in a situation, and enlighten others or plant a seed. 

Do you follow Humans of New York? Brandon Stanton is recording some of the stories of Syrian refugees who have been admitted into the U.S. Their stories strike my heart. My parents and relatives have told me stories since I was little about enduring war in Vietnam, and traveling sometimes harrowing journeys to leave. Over 450,000 Vietnamese refugees were provided citizenship in the United States.

I am so grateful for the Orderly Departure Program. I wouldn't be here (my parents met in San Jose, CA and I was born here), and I wouldn't be a U.S. citizen if it weren't for the fact that my parents were granted asylum. So far, the United States has granted asylum for less than 4,000 Syrian refugees. Let's hope this changes, and sign any petitions that come our way!

The Return of Knitting and My Search for Wool Tights

Paige Green Photography
Paige Green Photography 

Wool has really never left me. It’s been over a year since I’ve knit something with wool yarn, but I have wool with me every day: my dresses, skirt, socks, hats, sweaters (all secondhand from Etsy/Ebay), and even my underwear are wool!*

Of all the types of garments that I own, the most difficult to find is wool tights or leggings. I want wool tights or leggings that are durable, worthwhile to repair, and  from organically-raised, happy sheep. There’s nothing out there that fulfills my criteria, and if it did, it might be prohibitively expensive. I need to own a few pairs, and they can’t cost $95 each (SmartWool leggings are about that much last I checked).

Besides, I don’t want to own SmartWool leggings because they’re machine washable, which means all the fibers are actually coated in plastic! Fellow knitters may be familiar with this because yarn that’s undergone this treatment is called superwash. Can you say super gross? No thanks, I’ll take my yarn without synthetic treatments, please.***

My thoughts about yarn have changed since I last picked up a pair of knitting needles. I’m no longer interested in the softest, plushiest fiber. Right now, I want the yarn that feels, smells, and looks earthy. I want yarn that is alive!

Enter Full Belly Farm. In addition to growing amazing produce, they raise sheep for their wool and meat. They have a flock mixture of Ramboiillet, Lincoln, Suffolk, and Merino – the resulting fiber is soft, yet tough and hard-wearing. Their 3-ply worsted weight yarn is absolutely wonderful to work with. Can you see where this is going? 

Elizabeth Zimmerman has a pattern called “Nether Garments”** and with a few skeins of Full Belly’s beautiful brown yarn, I’ve been knitting up a storm. I’m about done with one leg (took a few days), and will begin on the other leg soon. My knitting muscles are reawakening, and are sore as a result, so I’m doing my best to listen to my body and to take many breaks. I’m on my way to having those wool tights, knit with yarn from happy sheep…at $10 a skein (250 yards)!

*I made myself a pair of undies from felted thrift store SmartWool sweater. It is absolutely divine to wear felted merino against your butt. DIVINE. There are sellers on Etsy who actually make these if you're interested. 

**I initially began to knit the Tights Pattern from Fibershed's Marketplace, designed by Kacy Dapp, but didn't enjoy the gaps in the stockinette (it's knit with size 10 needles). It wasn't keeping me warm enough! :-( 

***EDIT: Oh! I just learned on Ravelry's forums from another user who shared that Superwash wool can be processed in another way that doesn't coat it in plastic/resin. It's rather bathed in an acid bath, and the scales are stripped so that they cannot felt. That also sounds sad to me! :-( Oh well, it's preferably over the coating with plastic. Ick.

California’s Rugged Good Looks and Seaweed Abundance

Sweet younger brother 
Curious papa
Chilled, adorable mom and dad  
Sea Ranch chapel stained glass window
We harvested nori seaweed! Here it is partly dried, brought indoors from the balcony.
My mom made Bun Rieu, Vietnamese Crab Pork Meatball Noodle Soup - one of my soul foods.
We rented a home along Sonoma Coast for solid family time. As much as I love camping, I want my folks to be comfortable now that they’re in their 60’s.

However, they would be down to rough it, which I know because they’ve enthusiastically attended almost all of the Boy Scout troop trips we took growing up. Now that I'm "grown," it is so wonderful to enjoy and to cherish time with my family. 

It's nearing the end of idea seaweed harvesting season because as fall and winter roll around, the tides are higher and shores become too dangerous. I took a class last year with local seaweed expert and herbal teacher, Tanya Stiller. The experience was so profound. We rose at 4:45am to hike down to the shore and gingerly walk around the tide zones to harvest kombu, nori, bladderwrack, and sea palm.* I didn't harvest much during that weekend course because I was arrested in awe of the ocean's beauty and gifts, and way too busy photographing it

On this past weekend trip, I showed my parents how to harvest nori, and we scored a freshly washed-up kombu. Altogether, took home half a 32-gallon plastic bag of dried nori to eat.

I highly recommend incorporating seaweed into your cooking habits, especially when making soups, broths, making beans or rice! Adding a 6 to 8 inch strip of kombu adds wonderful nutrients and vitamins. Seaweed is quite the staple in Asian cultures that have a culinary and social history with the ocean. 

Do you cook with seaweed? Would you ever try it? Hope everyone had a good Labor Day weekend!

*Note: Sea palm can only be harvested with a commercial license in the state of California. And, please harvest seaweed responsibly. 

Farewell Summer, Hello Strength

John Muir Woods, among the Redwoods and by the creeks that I love
Nasturtiums in progress, with Sennelier watercolors

Old China plates make wonderful paint palettes
I finally feel my life force returning to me. This summer has restored energy that seeped from me since last spring/summer. I’m finally feeling as healthy as I should be.

The rapid loss of energy has a lot to do with the fact that we bought our first house a little over one year ago. That whole process has been, and still is, a loud learning experience with high joys and also crushing stresses.

Our first year of home ownership in the freakin’ insane Bay Area market has been a radical flurry of activity as we remodeled, found housemates, and generally hustled. At some point of house remodeling and strained relationships, my body said, “Enough, please.”

For six months, from October 2014 to March 2015, my body was in the worst state it’s ever been. I wasn’t falling ill with terrible colds or the flu, but I experienced constant inflammation from stress and the fact that I became sensitive, even outright intolerant, of certain foods (e.g. cow dairy, sugary gluten-y pastries, etc).

The inflammation was experienced through headaches, insomnia, and horrible yeast infections among other symptoms. That’s right, let’s talk frankly about women’s health. Food sensitivities and stress caused me vaginal inflammation! What the hell? I never would have thought that was possible.

Thankfully, in March of this year, I cut dairy out of my life (not without reluctance. Good-bye butter, and ghee *tears*) and said, “NO THANKS” to invitations, engagements, extra jobs so that I could generally slow my life down. I replaced dairy fats with high quality coconut oil, lard, and olive oil. I took up Iyenger yoga at a wonderful studio, started swimming laps at the local pool, and also enrolled our household to a local farm, Full Belly Farm, for a weekly box of vegetables. I saw more of my loved ones between periods of rest. So much healthy goodness happened since March.

I’m proud that Cop and I own a home*, and that my health is being restored, but I’m overwhelmingly grateful and proud of our relationship. We’re doing it, we’re making it despite all the shitty stresses. This is our eighth year being together, growing up, and becoming adults, which is what we joke because we feel like giant kids most of the time. As summer fades and autumn comes around, I’m reflecting and feel immense gratitude for everything in my life, especially for all of the love, support, and strength of my partner. Thanks, Cop.**

Friends, listen to your bodies: work hard, especially when you have to, but rest fully, always oblige when your heart and mind say to stop. Modern life in cities is demanding, it doesn’t allow for patience. In order to build sustainable communities, we’ve got to nourish ourselves.

These books and resources have really helped me recover:
Nutrition in Essence, Sarah Bearden (one of my teachers at Ohlone Herbal Center)

Do you have any resources that you recommend concerning food sensitivities, or holistic health??

*I’m fully aware that buying a home in the cutthroat real estate market in the Bay Area is certainly no small feat, and definitely screams “privilege." Don’t misunderstand: we’re modest middle-income folks (I’m the poor one, with my environmental non-profit job), and we didn’t accomplish it all on our own. Although Cop and I saved up a bunch of money, we still had some help from our parents both financially and to help remodel the home. We found a house in a city right outside of Berkeley because we couldn’t afford anything in Berkeley. I’ll tell the story of our home acquisition another time!
**I also want to share our story another time. Soon!

The Complete Gnomes, cir 1970's

Picking ticks off fox friends

Lol least the watercolor is vibrant?
Lol more racism...
Ugh! Racist and sexist - story of European gnomes visiting Siberian gnomes, and being offered Siberian women to sleep with - in your dreams, Poortvliet!
This Gnome womyn was hand drawn and painted by me, from an image in the book. This is what beginning artists do, we copy and copy and copy some more.

I came across The Complete Gnomes by chance. This book has 414 pages of full color, with enchanting illustrations by Rien Poortvliet and text written by Wil Huygen. Despite its title and obvious subject matter, it’s really a window into old Dutch culture. 
When I studied Western Art History, Dutch painters and especially the Golden Age painters were absolutely my favorite.  I almost enrolled in a Golden Age Dutch art history class for fun, when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. I backed out when I quickly learned in the first class that shit was going to be way too serious and difficult ( not gonna be fun). “What? You want me to submit a 14-page paper in two weeks, on top of all the other schooling I have?....See ya later!” 
Back to The Complete Gnomes: I wish I could come across a similarly watercolor-rich book of Vietnamese culture, maybe featuring Viet fairies and dragons. Gnomes are strictly northern European inventions.
Poortvliet uses watercolor, ink, and from what I can tell, touches of colored pencil, to create vibrant illustrations of gnome livin’. The hefty book is great reference material as I learn to work with watercolors.
I’ve come a long way since I picked up watercolor two years ago. The first pieces of work I did are embarrassing! Maybe someday I'll share them... :) 

Summer Florals and Sunlight

Flowers! From paint on palette that I can't bear to wash away.

Drying coreopsis to dye wool 

Thomas Farm Organic flowers, local grocery store - one bouquet divided into five smaller ones. 

Ah, the summer daylight hours are amazing: more time to garden, cook, paint! And, my body takes well to cold smoothies.

Coconut Summer Stone Berry Fruit Smoothie
1 cup coconut milk
Handful of blackberries 
Flesh of two peaches, skin and all
Healthy spoon of coconut butter
1 tablespoon whole flaxseed
Some chia seeds 

Moses' face painted from a beet I was eating. He looks good in pink, yeah? I've finally gotten around to painting swatches from my Sennelier watercolors. 

Summer in Full Swing

Maven the pup hanging out with Arnica. Plumas National Forest.
Pouring honey over aralia root
Pretty face - common name. Plumas National Forest.
Passiflora jamesonii, picked off the bike path. The Land of El Cerrito.
California Bay Laurel 
Red Clover
Painting for someone else is one of my best motivators.

Some photos from my recent trip to Lakes Basin, near Tahoe, with my classmates. 

My summer has been wonderful! How's yours goin'? It's supposed to be 85 degrees F today! I'm starting my day off earlier since it sucks to bike when the sun beats down.

Thank You Card, Rose Hips, and HEY Fused Shiitake Mushroom

Based off Kate Beetle's illustration of calendula 

Rose hips! Vitamin C yum.

Hah, what a weirdo. YUM again.

I love artists who work with traditional media, particularly transparent watercolor. The illustrations of Kate Beetle and Ginny Joyner caught my eye years back, and you might recognize their work, too. They both do freelance custom illustrations for the Badger Balm company. They created all of those fun images of badgers picking flowers and beekeeping. Next time you spot Badger products at your local store, look carefully to appreciate the wonderful illustrations!

I was lucky enough to receive the latest Badger Balm calendar (you can get a copy here, they’re on sale!) because the company kindly mailed one to me after I wrote them a love e-mail. They’re one of the few body care product companies that has upstanding values in the environment, labor rights, and safe non-toxic products. Grade A, badass, and a real gem. And they’ve grown pretty big, good for them. Let’s hope they won’t ever be bought by a big soul-less company (cough Burt’s Bees cough).

Oh yeah, so back to illustrations with traditional media. My doodles above are largely inspired by the women artists who work for Badger Balm. If any of you own the latest calendar, you’ll recognize this as an amateur version of some of Kate Beetle’s work!

Annnd, I just wanted to share this funny shiitake mushroom that appeared to have two stems from one head. It was delicious.