May Your Home be Happy!

This depressing post has been sitting here for too long. I’ve had such trouble getting into this account, that I haven’t written anything new since Dec! I’ll put up something bright and Cheery very soon, so don’t give up hope!

ARRG! Still figuring out this blog system. How do I get this picture to look right? It’s not supposed to be scrunched skinny like this!

May your home be happy

A Solstice story

The hero dies in this story from China. After fighting the sea dragon king to rescue the sun, Boachu has no more energy, and dies trying to push the sun up out of the water. His companion, the golden phoenix, takes over and pushes the sun up into the sky with her beak.

Heros don’t die in the stories I was brought up with. The hero defeats the bad guys or wins the princess–or she wins the prince– after a glorious fight or after finishing a task and meeting dangerous challenges, but he or she never dies. Our culture is in denial about death. It shows in our stories, our medical system, and in the way we treat our elders.

Sure, sure you knew all this. So did I, on the surface. It wasn’t until my husband died of lung cancer that I began to see what this really means for my life. We went through expensive heroic measures with a doctor who would not be honest with him about how long he had to live. As a result, he died before he had a chance to pass on family stories to his children.

And now I am watching my father die.  Things he always took for granted as easy are now difficult or impossible. One day recently I helped him take off his sock and put it back on straight; that night neither he nor Mom could do that. He still drives, but some days it is too much for him to drive half a block to the mailbox to check the mail and get the paper, or to take the garbage out. Every year he has a bout of pneumonia, and every year he recovers less of his energy. It is painful to watch him totter a few feet from his chair to the television.

Our culture did not prepare him to get old. He did not see his own parents age; our economic system took him far from his own parents when they were aging and taught him to devalue caregiving. Only now that he needs care himself does he value caregiving and care givers.

solstice thoughts


Boachu has freed the sun from the sea dragon king, and the golden pheonix pushes the sun out of the water into the sky.

Lovers in the moonlight

test peice

silk painting for the story of Humei and Shiwa

After more than a month of trying out different resists and dyes, I’m ready to begin painting images that speak to me from some of the stories I heard while in China.  This is a test piece for the story of Humei and Shiwa, lovers who turned into birds. It is a beautiful story. When the piece is finished, I’ll post the whole story with a photo of the silk painting. 

Of course, now that I am really ready to  begin the series of silk paintings, I first have to fight off my own demons. One very persistent demon keeps telling me this is a worthless project that will benefit no one. The last trial piece I did, “Golden Path”, based on a walk through a madrona forest with my lover, bled dye where it should not have, and that about broke my heart. path through the madrona forestThis time, I have told so many people about the series of silk paintings based on Chinese stories I heard while in China, that I dare not quit. And so I am back to work, and getting excited about it again. Even “ruined”, Golden Path looks spectacular–at least, if you don’t look too closely–and I really love the first four images for the stories. I love the stories.

Has China Changed me?

the audience at Huzhou Bridge Park

sharing my sketches with the local people

I spent August in China, visiting my brother Steve Watkins, who is teaching English at Huzhou University, and my sister in law, Xiao Ning. What a wonderful adventure, to learn a bit about the culture through their eyes! Steve has been in China, studying the culture and literature for many years, and Xiao Ning was born about the time the New China was established.

I’ve been back over as month now. I still miss drinking my tea from a glass and seeing green leaves in the bottom. I often find myself wondering, would XiaoNing think this food was too “hot”?   In China, the concept of “hot” does not refer either to taste or temperature, but has more to do–I think– with how it makes your body feel. Sugar is too hot, and so are fried foods. I miss Xiao Ning’s cooking, and her mother’s and sister’s cooking: rice every meal, with lots of vegetables and a little meat.

Has China changed me? I do feel different, more solid somehow, and bigger inside. I feel I have expanded to include a whole new people, the Chinese, and I have a good deal of respect for them. I learned some wonderful new stories with wonderful images, like the hundred family coat, made with a piece of cloth from every person’s clothing because the villagers had nothing else to give the hero in the story, like the lovers who turned into birds, or the ones who turned into butterflies, like the peacock princess, who flew away in her peacock cloak, and like the pheonix pushing the sun up out of the sea.

I am working on a series of silk paintings based on the scenery I saw in China and these images. To follow my progress on the paintings, go to my blog

A Chinese character for self confidence

I used this image to boost my self confidence.

I used this image to boost my self confidence.

When they handed out the gene for self-confidence, I must have been absent, or off reading a book. I was always a bit timid as a child. By the time I got to high school, I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing, that I hid in silence.

Of course, this got in the way of finding work later in life, when I was an adult and had 3 sons to support by myself. I settled for much less than I was capable of–washing dishes, cleaning houses, cooking in a nursing home. It has been a slow uphill battle to financial security, even after graduating from college (at age 40) with a teaching certificate.

I have come to believe in the power of visual images to focus our subconsious minds on what we want to achieve. Call it “magic” if you like. I call it programing the computer of my mind. A few years ago, I asked my brother (who has been studying in China for many years) to make for me the Chinese character for self confidence.  Then I copied it with my own hand and posted it on the wall by my computer, and forgot about it. That is, my consious mind forgot.

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of my trip to Laos and dinner there with the Minister of Education, of my upcoming trip to China, of the school I started in my basement. It dawned on me; self confidence is not a problem for me anymore.

Lately I have felt …lazy. I see the world’s pain and I see the great works of others. I am inspired by Beverly Naidus’s book Arts for Change, and by the websites featuring community art projects, and I think, Why not me? Why am I not doing interesting and effective work to help empower people and broaden their understanding? Am I lazy? I have only a vague yearning to do SOMETHING—but what? And where is the energy to do it–what ever IT is? 

I open my booik of poems by Hafiz, and Hafiz says to me

You could become a great horseman                                                  

Fierce Blessing by Melanie Wiedner

Fierce Blessing by Melanie Wiedner

And help to free yourself and this world,

Though only if you and Prayer become

Sweet Lovers.

It is a naive man who thinks we are not engaged in a firece battle, For I see brave foot soldiers

all around me going mad, falling to the ground in excruciating pain

You could become a victorious horseman                                               And carry your heart through this world                                                 Like a Life Giving Sun

Though only                                                                                                    if you and God




So I walked to the beach for my morning prayer

and I remembered:

I am doing projects with children such as our monsters on silk, which became a banner and a book of their stories, and the focus of discussion about fear and transforming fear.

I am visting classrooms of children as illustrator of the book Royal Spy, taking children back to a world before cell phones, microwaves, refrigerators, televisions.

In my own small way, I AM doing community art for change–and loving it!

this is the first image in a new series on parents and children enjoying each other

this is the first image in a new series on parents and children enjoying each other

Lets see if I have better luck uploading this time.

Babies and play

River and Amelia enjoy each other. I’m trying a new medium in illustration for a series on parents and children interacting in love and joy. I’ve found I can create a soft feeling with pastels and still get the detail I want for expressions by color copying the pastel image onto watercolor paper before drawing in the face with pen. I’m loving it, and working on two more images. I’m not sure if this image uploaded or not.

Mark Siegel Offers an Onion

Mark Siegel, of First Second Books, was in Seattle recently, giving a workshop to SCBWI members on graphic novels, where he offered us….an onion—and we were delighted!
Mark told us a little about the history of graphic novels, gave us a few tips on creating them along with some resources for learning more, and something about his own background. He explained his vision for First Second Books and told us a bit about how he likes to receive submissions. He gave us a model for working as a creator of graphic novels—or any other artistic endeavor–and he gave us all this wrapped in seven layers of an onion.
The outer layer is our face to the world. This includes professionalism, personality, how we put together a proposal and follow submission guidelines. At First Second the guidelines are fairly flexible. Mark wants just enough to get an idea of the project, “just enough to get us into a conversation about the project or know that we don’t have one.”
The next layer, #6, he called “style”. Don’t get hung up on style, Mark cautioned. Don’t imitate the style of some one who has been very successful. Instead, use a style that best tells the story.
Layer #5 Mark called “craft”. These are the skills and techniques the writer and artist develop to tell the story effectively. He recommended Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, and “Tips for Creative Types”, a blog put out by First Second Books.
“Transition” is the name Mark gave to the 4th layer. This is the interface between the inner person and the outer person. Here live our passions and our dragons, the story that MUST be told, the project we can’t NOT do. Mark looks for projects that come from this level. Collaborations that take place at this level are alive! Unlike many editors, Mark encourages collaboration between artist and writer.
Then Mark skipped to the onion’s core. He called it “colorless”, the place where we connect with that universal something that cannot be named or described. This is where new ideas come from. This is where genius is born. Mozart’s music came from this place from the very beginning. Beethoven struggled against great obstacles to connect with and express this in his music. Many people never reach it.
Service is the word Mark gave the 2nd layer, becoming the instrument of that universal something. The 3rd layer is how this something is translated through us, whether by writing, or music, or art, or some other means. Mark feels that graphic novels are how that something, that “new”, is coming through into our culture now.
When that “new” comes, it needs to be received. It needs an audience. Maybe this is where the onion gets “eaten?” The audience and artist shape each other. We train our audience what to expect from us, and our audience in turn draws us out and develops us.
Wow! That’s quite an onion! Thanks Mark!

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