Missing my dad

Last weekend I bought a few watercolor brushes and paints, thinking I’d start to play around with learning the techniques. And when I asked about a case for storing brushes, the clerk showed me a matchstick mat with a cotton lining, individual stitched pockets for brushes, and an elastic tie to hold it closed after rolling it up. And I realized the purpose for the rolled up matchstick placemat that we found with Dad's painting things.

I keep trying to remember more about his art and painting, but the memories are faint. How carefully he packed the army day pack with his supplies, everything in its proper place with no room to spare. Using an old drafting board to mount his paper, instead of a new lightweight masonite board. The way he carefully attached a piece of kraft paper to hang down and protect the painting in progress. I wish I’d paid more attention to how he mixed paints, and the colors he kept in his kit, and what brush types and sizes he had. I wish I’d realized how expensive paper and paints and brushes were, and that maybe the reason he didn’t paint more was because the money went to raising his daughters.

It was during my high-school years that he got involved with Allied Arts, helping to set up their art shows, serving on the board, and submitting paintings. Two of the paintings that my sister has, the shore birds and Tipsoo Lake, I remember winning awards at Allied Arts shows. One of the shows was in the brick bank building in Old Burien, and during the evening, one of Dad’s friends drew a pencil portrait of me (which I disliked, because it was pre-contacts and I didn’t think to remove my glasses). I can’t remember what happened to this sketch; hopefully I have it tucked away somewhere.

My strongest memory of my dad painting is sitting with him while he painted the lighthouse on Whidbey Island, which to this day I persist in calling the Fort Casey lighthouse, not the Admiralty Head lighthouse. This painting is hanging in my living room. I also remember spending an afternoon with Dad and Laurie, sketching a scene along a river (can’t remember where). He said we needed to draw the scene first, then we could paint it. I never made it past the drawing stage.

It’s nice to know that the places he painted live on in those paintings, even though we don’t remember where some of them were. The grey farmhouse that hangs in my bedroom and the red building next to the railroad tracks are surely gone forever, but the lighthouse will always be there. The scenery pictures take me to those places whenver I see them. The shore birds, the windswept trees will always be Beachside State Park. I never visit Tipsoo Lake without thinking about that painting and the missing mountain, and how realistic it is... most of the year, the mountain hides behind the clouds.

I know he was proud of each of us, and loved us, but do you think he was ever disappointed that none of us followed in his footsteps and became artists? Between us we learned so many other art forms, and he was right there with us: sewing, stained glass, batik, photography. I think he would have loved quilting... choosing colors and design and making it all come together would have been right up his alley.

I miss him.

The art of watercolor

A definite bonus of my research into the art of watercolor is getting a better understanding of what Dad went through in order to paint. He painted before the days of nylon packs and lightweight easels, all the multitude of handy bags and carrying straps to make things easier. And his preference for painting out of doors involved a lot of gear: the drafting board, the china plate for mixing paints, the canteen of water. Plus his paints, brushes, towels, paper towels, a folding stool. Everything lugged miles down the beach, or up and down steep hills to get to the perfect spot. I have memories of watching him carefully pack everything into a small canvas pack, each piece in its designated spot with not a bit of space left over.

I have the drafting board, the canvas pack, the army canteen, the stool, the small metal storage box, and the heavy divided plate from Seattle College, before it became Seattle University. The two small brushes didn’t survive the years, but one was a sable brush and must have been treasured. I also have a china palette made for the home studio, a monogrammed weight used to keep his sketches from blowing away, a rectangular plate with round depressions to hold a squeeze of paint, and shallow oblong depressions for mixing. It's crazed and stained. His collection of paints is the most precious to me, because it tells me what colors he preferred to use for his landscape work. Surprisingly, most of the paints are still pliable and could be used.

To my recollection, he never painted at home. Our small house was too small, perhaps... and once there were three small girls running around, there was no safe haven for an artist.



I’m reading the best book, by Northwest author Molly Wizenberg. It's called "A Homemade Life," and it's the title that grabbed my attention as I walked into my neighborhood library. The author also has a blog, called Orangette, which has become a daily read (and is bookmarked here on my own blog).

The book is a funny memoir interspersed with recipes, and I hadn't even finished reading it when I bought my own copy (and a couple more for gifts). The book lives on the table next to my bed, and I read a chapter every night before turning out the light. I can hardly wait to try out some of the recipes. Don't these sound scrumptous?
  • Dutch Baby pancakes with lemon and sugar
  • Roasted eggplant ratatouille
  • Blueberry-raspberry pound cake (also good with blackberries)
  • Coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache
  • Slow-roasted tomato pesto
I do believe my mouth is watering...


Keeping up with blackberries… or trying to

I'm picking blackberries daily right now. They're later than usual, and it's a bumper crop.

From the latest batch I made a free-form pie sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It was a bit juicy, so it needs modification (maybe more cornstarch in with the berries). Glad I baked the pie inside a ceramic pie plate and not on a cookie sheet as recommended! I scooped servings into bowls and topped each with vanilla bean ice cream... yummy.

The berries are amazing this year. For once we didn’t get a lot of rain, so the fruit is big and dense and has lots of flavor. I made a pie last weekend, and will make another one tonight (probably will freeze it). I’d like to pick enough to freeze several pie’s worth, so we can have blackberry pie this winter.

This afternoon I picked more blackberries and found yet another thing I love about my new refrigerator: the lower pull-out baskets in the freezer are the perfect size to hold cookie sheets full of berries for freezing. How cool is that?

I watered plants, sprayed the volunteer blackberries with Roundup, and scoped out the new “berry” bed next to the chicken coop. I’ll have lots of room for the blueberries, the gooseberry, and the rhubarb with room to spare. Maybe I’ll reserve a long strip next to the coop for raspberries… I’ll have a trellis built by next spring when I can dig plants at Laurie’s.