Life in my garden this Spring

Allergies really got to me this spring and I wound up in the emergency room and now carry my Epi pen with me and am seriously taking better care of myself. 

The planting season was slow due to a cold wet spring and the seed starts seemed slow too. After planning the garden layout for the veggies and flowers, I transferred compost to the gardens and dug out seven new areas along the fencing and began to transfer the Iris and echinacea into two of the new beds. Wrong time for transferring iris, I know, but I had no choice. I am hoping they will recover by next fall. 

The echinacea is budding so it seems hardy enough. So I now have three large beds of Iris and Echinacea. Then the twins and I created a small shade garden that could make for happy spring times. We took a hike to find out what kinds of plants like to live in the shade and then took pictures of them. We found Lily of the Valley, four kinds of ferns and wild bleeding heart, wild ginger, columbine and our favorite was the May Apple! Next we went to Romence nursery to buy our plants. We left space for new plants  in the coming years…

We are trying to keep the plants alive this summer. The boys will be watering on the weekends and weeding too. We are planning a flower business for this summer. We will be telling you more about this next week. 

Here are some pictures of the iris in the dye garden this Memorial Day Weekend. Some are from Schreiners in Oregon, and others are from a gardener in our neighborhood. I live in a Dutch community and the Dutch love their gardens!! We did add some tulips and more jonquils this past fall and have quite the bloom this spring! Whites, roses and pinks! They lasted all of May! 250 tulips…the rose colored tulips came in first, then the pinks and finally the whites. 

Quite the spring! Now into the dye plants next. The next post will combine the working on the cut flower garden and then the dye garden projects! If you have questions, let me know in the comments. Thanks for visiting! 


December Times

This fall I decided to try and harvest seed from my pitiful indigo plants. While waiting for the seeds to dry, I started to chronicle the flower’s changing colors. 

From a glowing pink flower to a soft dull brown branch I watched the process take place. 

From a plant that creates a beautiful range of blues from its leaves, there is an amazing transition in the plant itself. 

So after using the leaves to create a very soft blue/turquoise, I let the flowers remain and fully develop into seeds. When they began turning brown I clipped them and brought them indoors to dry. 

While this took over a month, I began to document the changes in color and texture in watercolor. 

The transition was slow and subtle. I enjoyed the changes taking place. It helped to slow me down through the Thanksgiving holiday. Every couple of days I was able to add another transition. 

The painting process was relaxing and having the plant right there assured that the shape, texture and colors were referenced.  I have had a serious block lately with the results of the presidential election and hopefully this painting has stemmed the tide.  

Here is the completed project! Just a simple piece. But with a great hope within…for the next season. 

Polygonum tintorium seed saving experiments

This summer I planted my indigo seeds as a last minute effort. Honestly, I lost the seeds I had ordered and found a packet of seeds that I had never planted last summer because the was no more room in the garden. It sounds like I am not too organized but I really am…we had unexpected visitors come and stay, which was right in the middle of planting time and we were also trying to build the fence around the vegetable garden at the same time. 

Well needless to say there were disruptions and things got moved around and seeds were lost! 

So this sad patch you see above was a miracle to me! This was after leaving for a week in June and no care for this box of seedlings. I did give the plants a douse of fish fertilizer and it perked up and gave more color and encouraged many more seeds to sprout in the coming weeks. You can see the difference! 

I kept an eye on the patch of indigo and it seemed that every thing that could go wrong for these plants happened and yet they survived. We had a really hot summer and my allergies were horrible. We caught three woodchucks in the yard looking into the raised bed on their hind legs, and they had chewed a few tops off and were trying to get into the box! We trapped them and released them in the woods and built a cover to protect the plants until they were much taller. 

So summer days past, time to pick the leaves for the first cutting. There weren’t enough leaves for a good batch so I decided to try for one at the end of summer, and gave the plants another feeding of liquid fish fertilizer. They filled in and began to bloom. I collected all the leaves before the first frost. The leaves were enough for two half gallon jars of dye. Here is the photo of the steeping process. I had added ammonia and oxygenated the two jars. 


Below is a vase of the flowering plants in the days after cutting the leaves back. 

The bloom lasted for three weeks! The color was intense as you can see. I remembered that the seeds were a shiny brown color and plump specimens. The seeds on my plants didn’t look quite like that so I left the plants another week. We had some cool nights and a frost in some areas of the gardens but the flowered remained! I kept watering and the flowers were finally turning brown.  I stopped watering the plants and yesterday, November 1st, I clipped the seeds and brought them in to the studio to dry. 

Here is a close up of the seed tips yesterday. There are some that still have that pink coloring, and I doubt that they will produce a viable seed. 

So the next step will be to plant a group of ten seeds and see if they will sprout! That will take some time. 

Here is a sample of the colors from the two batches of indigo I dyed this fall. The two darkest skeins were first dipped in the Japanese indigo in Early October. The top skein was first dipped in the indigo exhaust dye then dipped it in a marigold  dye bath. The third skein down was a long dip in marigold. And the bottom skein is just a short dip in marigold dye solution. All the colors! 

These two skeins below were still damp when photographed. The were left to set for two days and then rinsed. They were extremely lighter after they dried. 

Here is the color of the dye bathe and the color of the wool as it was pulled out of the jar. Enjoy! 

Book Building Exercises

The gift of a book press this year led to the desire to create samples of books that are child friendly and different in size and shape. Papers, colors, shapes and bindings are my focus. 

This press is from Massachusetts and was used to build scientific lab books for a college. It was covered in glue and layers of cardboard. We worked to clean and repair the press. Martin built a table to hold the press. 

There are many beautiful papers available for covering books that are inviting to children. The first paper I chose was a waxed paper that was covered by sea creatures. I believe it is from Japan. I purchased it in Ann Arbor at Hollanders.

The size was determined by the number of creatures on the paper. The shape was to be landscape so it could be used on the lap of a seated painter at the waters edge. 

Working on the the glueing technique was a challenge! Brushing the glue with a firm enough bristle brush was key. I brushed from the center out. I placed the board onto the paper, then I turned the board over and smoothed the paper with my bone folder tool. 

The paper inside this book is heavyweight water color paper. In between each page of watercolor paper is a sheet of drawing paper for sketching. The backing board was covered in a different paper that is textured and strong enough to withstand being set on a log or in the grass.  It is peach colored! 

I learned that the trimming is important when working with transparent papers! It would be fun to add another layer of a sea creature underneath the cover sheet and to use a color that complements the cover color. New ideas were swimming in my head.  The press is used to apply the pressure to flatten the board when the glue is drying. Here is a picture of that happening. 

The stitching was a troubling experience…I used a waxed linen thread and an awl. I drew a template and marked it onto the cover.

 It was hard to pull through to the back and I had to use a pair of pliers to move the thread through the stab binding process. It came out crooked. I think going through twice is a good idea and I need to practice more! It looks easier than it is! 

I worked on folding the cover back as it was two pieces, but I didn’t allow enough space between the pieces to allow for folding it back. The paper began to split…so much was learned in this one exercise.

The next book will take on more challenges and a bit more fun for children. 

Here is a photo to show you the tools I used to bind the book. So much to learn!  Looking forward! 


Many grey days. I walked the perimeter of the back yard and found the daffodils and narcissus budding and pushing up in the leaves and snow yesterday. My birthday was sunny and then turned grey again. I have been working in the studio regularly to complete a painting I started last February while traveling in California. This year we stayed home. Winter was much worse last year, by a long shot. Many more deeply cold days filled the calendar in 2015. 

While drawing the base of the painting, on site, I noted all of the textures and colors in the rocks and plants. It was overwhelming! I wanted to celebrate yet simplify the scene.

We camped here in a county park. Clean, empty except for the host and us. Showers, flushies and good water! I liked the visibility of the mountains, the Sawtooth Range – and the Tierra Blanca Mountains. You can see the contrast above. 


 Last year I painted the Vallecito Stage Station and I thought I completed it while we were in Oregon visiting our son, Micah. But while digging out the other drawing to complete, I realized it had not been finished! 

 So digging out other photos of the plants in the area, I started to identify the cactus plants and looked at the colors of the stones and mountains. I wanted to capture the range of colors I was seeing in the landscape. It was very different than what I had painted across the road at the stage station. Those colors were all in Browns, with a hint of green in the mesquite bushes. The architecture of the station and the building details were most important. I needed to play with variations in color and to find the right color palette. That was true of both paintings. 

I worked in blues: smelt (Dumont’s Blue), indigo. Browns: burnt sienna and raw sienna, magnesium brown and brown ochre.  Greens: serpentine green, green gold, perylene green and terre vert. Yellows: cadmium yellow, Naples Yellow and gold ochre. Reds: Alizarin Crimson and Venetian red.

When comparing the two paintings, I noticed so many differences. Color, light, texture, shadow, and plant diversity. 

So now I will go back and work on those hills and the plants around the station. Always learning! 

   “Working while Playing”

This is my latest discovery while playing with lines, shading and color.  
I am working on drawing skills this month and playing with color again! 
When it is so grey outdoors, bringing out the box of colors is always the first thought for me! I worked on coloring this last night for a few hours. This picture was sketched on a visit to the Northshore of Massachusetts last year.   Each year I do sketches and plen-aire work that is never completed.  I just set them aside, waiting for the right moment.  During the winter times I like to revisit my sketchbooks to work on completing at least one painting. I have come to realize that layering the colors and taking time to revisit a place can add dimension to my work. I have only taken one class in painting, ever, and I am always working on so many aspects within a composition. Authur Wesley Dow has a really good book filled with lessons on Composition. 

When I put pencil to paper or to glass for a solarplate, I do not think about the end result. I work on the placement and light/shadow qualities, the line techniques and movement at the beginning.  Once there becomes a focus,  I make notes and set it aside. And sometimes I will use it to inform another piece of work! This sketch of a moon snail out walking in the Cape Cod Bay will help to complete a solar plate using the horseshoe crab I am currently working on!   
I have always had to work in short spurts, a few minutes in an afternoon during a hike, bringing my knapsack along on every trip, just incase! I love my old knapsack!   I bought it in a thrift store in Espanola, New Mexico in 2008. It holds a sketchbook, my brushes, paints and palette, along with a water container. I also carry my car keys, drinking water, a compass, gloves, a flashlight, a whistle, a small piece of rope, my epi pen, sunscreen and an even smaller plen-aire  kit inside if I am on a longer hike. Here is the smaller kit beside the knapsack. It is made by Winsor & Newton. 

 Inside the small kit is a small bottle of water, a plastic bag, two paintboxes*, two sketchbooks, two pencils and a marker. 
* two for the twins!  Just in case one is interested in coming along on an adventure there will be paper, pencil and paint available. As you can see, one paintbox is well loved… The small paint chips help the boys to see the variety of colors in tube colors I use sometimes. Silas likes these,  while Owen enjoys using the paintbox colors. The smaller page size allows for a quick way to have time to draw, paint and still explore together with whomever comes along.  It is really important to play while you work, as I am still learning!  Thank you for stopping by! Stay warm! And remember to play in your work! 

The New Year is almost here~~~2016! 

This was the gift that I never expected this Christmas! Martin knows my deepest wishes and I try so hard not to ask for things because we are so fortunate. This came from Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was covered in glue, cardboard and dirt. It has had two scrub downs so far, and will have a piece of ash placed on top of the cracked baseplate…and do very well!! The table with two drawers he made this past week! Here it is holding up the book press. So sturdy!!   

The studio has been in disarray since Thanksgiving. I emptied out all my school boxes from the shop space that is a two car garage that Martin occupies for his cabinet shop, and here is what it looked like yesterday. 

 Here are the remnants of 23 boxes of school materials. That was all that remained of 30 years of teaching Montessori.  Now there are 13 boxes of materials and books to donate to the Public Montessori in Grand Rapids! 

Here is the shop space for Martin.  We share s doorway and he has the heater and  there is a baffle that he can open for heat but no insulation…

 He gave me the heat and the insulation…he is putting up more lighting next week. He just brought home a load of red oak with my brother just two days before Christmas! Now we are in a winter storm warning! 

I must get back to work!! Printmaking, letterpress and painting. Just wanted to share the news! So excited. The bookmaking will be the newest exploration this winter! I can’t wait!! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! 

Artichoke – False Indigo an unexpected but pleasant mix!! 

First frost this morning called me to the garden and I quickly clipped about 20 leaf fronds from my four Artichoke plants. These plants never came to bud, just too cool, here in west Michigan and were somewhat shaded by the Rosemary plants that really took off. 

I love artichokes and have since first seeing them as a child. The first time I had them I fell in love…

When I researched their origin I was even more delighted. A relative of the thistle, they were considered an aphrodisiac in the 14th and 15th century…in Italy and France!! The flower is an incredible shade of purple with great intensity in the summer heat. 

These leaves were chopped into 1 inch chunks and dropped into a slightly boiling water for 1 hour. Electric stoves vary but I keep my dye bath around 180′ on medium low. The color was not evident until an hour had passed. Strained and drained it revealed a warm golden hue.  


I put in the wool and the silk, both mordanted with vinegar/water for 1 hour. Next, they simmered in the dye color for 1 hour and looked like this- 


Nothing too exciting-but I pulled them out and rinsed them in warm water…noting the color deepened as I rinsed in cool water! 


I added about a 1/3 cup of baking soda to the rinse water and the color changed again. 


a darker brown when reheated for 15 minutes I added more baking soda to the color bath and kept stirring. Look what came out!  


A sage green with yellow tones.  The color of artichokes in olive oil!  This made me so happy! Here it is dry on the leaves. 


The false indigo was just as interesting. I ordered five plants that arrived two days ago. Two pink and three blue flowered varieties. I clipped off the leaves and cut them up and placed them in a small pot to simmer.  


They didn’t change the color of the water after an hour but there was a slight sheen on the surface that was a steel gray blue. I treated them as I would real indigo leaves and let them brew a bit longer. They did turn the water darker and I drained and strained the gray water from the small pot.  Notice the color on the sides of the pot? 


This shows the color of the water in the bottom of the jar. I added 2 tablespoons of clear ammonia and poured the liquid back and forth to add oxygen to the water and it turned a brilliant green! So I added a piece of silk and topped the jar and set it in the sun for at least three hours.  
 Tones of blue, gray and greens…in an applesauce jar. I only had about a cup of dye. But after three hours the sun went down. I opened it and rinsed it clear. The color was a very faint,subtle graded turquoise.  Much like the underside of an artichoke leaf! 

Very soft color. I really like it and can’t wait till next year when the plants have grown some more!  

 Then I took several Artichoke leaves and placed them on the silk and rolled it into a bundle, with no stick. I tied it up and dipped it back into the applesauce jar with the false indigo dye  and microwaved it for two minutes. I left it overnight on the sink and came back this morning and unwrapped it. Then I  placed it in the artichoke dye bath and left it all afternoon. This is the result. There is a faint imprint of the artichoke leaf in several places . It maybe more evident once ironed. Here are the two side by side for comparison. Right- just false indigo and left-false indigo with an over dye of artichoke.  

There is not too much dyeing information on either of these two plants and I am certainly willing to try dyeing these two plants sgain! 

Happy dyeing!!  

Our Neighbor’s Pear Tree

The wind has gifted us with the leaves of our neighbor’s pear tree this fall. This means southeast winds heading over our fence and into our compost pile! The colors are great! 

I am thinking about wool and silk for dyeing next and I was wanting something the color of a light celery green. Right now I have some wool brewing in sycamore bark that the boys harvested on the sidewalk near their home a few weeks ago, and it is a soft yellow biege. It is still brewing and I am patiently waiting for it to become the color it is to be. 

Here is a test swatch I did last week of the sycamore. I really love the color! It created a warm variegated gold.  

 So I collected pear leaves and chopped enough to brew in my small pot.  

i love the colors in fruit leaves.
Here is our neighbors pear tree.

The pot cooked on low for about an hour and I transferred the contents into the yellow enameled pot and added alum mordanted wool.  The color of the brew was that of pale herbal tea! 

  Just a tiny bit of wool. When finished, it was a warm creamy biege. Nothing too impressive and not what color I had hoped for.  Very close to the shade of the sycamore dye! So, I did not collect more pear leaves. 

Pear leaves can make a nice combination with madder maybe??

Petals of Echinacea and a bit of Dahlia on Silk

 The garden is sensing the shift of seasons. Cool nights and hot sunny humid days have been the norm for the last three weeks.Some days it is too hot to do much else than sit in the shade of the buildings and trees, reading about dyeing. The book, A Garden to Dye For, Chris McLaughlin.

I trimmed back the echinacea yesterday morning and spent time under the umbrella, sorting the trimmings.  

I am always moved by the variety of subtle colors that appear to tease my eye as I work preparing the parts of these flowers. I know that the power of the plant is in it’s core and that is what I aim for on my work.

As fall arrives, the maple leaves reveal a pigment known as Anthocyanins; responsible for the reds, purples and blended combinations. The Anthocyanins develop in the late summer in the sap of the tree’s leaf cells. Their formation depends on the amount of sugar and the presence of bright light. Photosynthesis slows the production of chlorophyll as the daylight hours become shorter.

Carotenoids are developed in other trees. These pigments include yellows and oranges. They are common in tulip trees, aspen and birch. We had a large cottonwood tree that offered a warm yellow glow for a week before turning brown and covering our yard with a mountain of beiges,  browns and greys.

I wonder how this happens for flowers!!!? Sugar must have some part in all of this!  These are the echinacea and dahlia petals soaking in the brew pot.

 As fruits and vegetables ripen they too change color.

Here are the dahlias the day they were cut.  I used the three darkest flowers in the dyepot.

 So…after simmering gently to 140 degrees and letting them set to cool, and draining the water into a jar, I filled the pot with water and simmered again. I still got color althought lighter.
The next morning I drained the liquid and did it again.

 Still some color!  But the first two batches were much darker. Here is the dyepot after adding an equal amount of water to the two quarts I extracted.   
Pretty much darker! So, after the dyeing of the silk and a bit of mordanted (alum) wool, this is the result! Very warm,subtle, and glowing. Just what I’d want around my neck mid winter!
 Now let’s go back and find that color at the core of the flower!   Delicate beauty.  Now for some over dyeing! Enjoy!