Sketches of art, watercolor, photos, recipes, books, interviews, Jewish topics and Highland Park, New Jersey

Imagination Landscape Watercolor

October 29th, 2014 by

watercolor landscape from imagination

Imagination landscape by Leora Wenger, watercolor on paper, 2014

This is my response to exercise 13 from One Watercolor a Day: “This is a memory painting. In your mind’s eye, think of a scene in nature that left an impression of strong color with you.” I had just been looking at fall trees in Highland Park, New Jersey, but I got my mind to travel back to autumn in Newton, Massachusetts, where I spent my childhood years. I also thought of a winding road in Vermont or New Hampshire. This imaginary landscape takes place on an autumn day in New England – I see colorful foliage on a windy, uphill road.

I am quite pleased with this watercolor. It reminds me a bit of a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a copse of birches. And that drawing I remembered in my subconscious mind from years ago from a book called The Art of Drawing by Bernard Chaet. The influence is the composition – note the placement of the birch copse. There is plenty of so-called “white space” on the drawing. One doesn’t have to stick the subject front and center with little room on the edges.

Do you have any artists, drawings or paintings, authors or books who enter your subconscious while you are creating?

Backyard Birds: Grackle, Turkey Vulture

October 26th, 2014 by

This past Friday I had the pleasure of photographing not just one but two new backyard birds! The above is a grackle, with a shiny iridescent body – how many colors do you see on that grackle? Many thanks to EG Camera Girl for confirming my identification. I learned more about the common grackle on the Cornell ornithology site.

hawk flying over Highland Park, New Jersey backyard
Overhead I saw this turkey vulture flying. At first I thought it was a hawk. But Michelle and Lorri thought otherwise – Lorri notes: “bald red head and plumage like that of adult male wild turkey.” She got that from the Wikipedia turkey vulture article. I have seen turkey vultures before in Highland Park, NJ, but never before in my backyard and never when I’ve been holding my camera. I watched him swoop and turn in the sky, like an acrobat.

turkey vulture beak red
Note the red turkey vulture beak.

cardinal in tree
I also spotted a male red cardinal. Cardinals are frequent visitors to my backyard. Today my husband spotted one in the compost. Happy when other family members also notice the birds.

tufted titmouse
A tufted titmouse visited our bird feeder. I last posted a tufted titmouse photo in February 2014.

tufted titmouse rear end in bird feeder
The tufted titmouse took a dive into the bird feeder. Here he shows us his rear end.

grackle open mouth
More photos of the grackle: what is he saying? Is he talking to some other bird?

grackle on roof
Love the shiny colorful look of the grackle. Have you seen a grackle?

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Chicken, Rice, Salsa in a Pot

October 12th, 2014 by

farm chickens

Chickens at Howell Living History Farm in Mercer County, New Jersey

I was looking for a recipe I could make on Rosh Hashana (on holidays observant Jews are allowed to cook, whereas for Shabbat we do all the cooking in advance). I found a recipe called Shabbat in a Pot in the cookbook The Taste of Shabbos. It was delicious, so I repeated it and changed it a bit. Here is my new culinary creation (a chicken rice salsa combination – the new ingredient is salsa – the old recipe used tomato paste and soy sauce, if you prefer that combination).


  • 4 – 7 pieces of chicken
  • 1 zucchini – chopped
  • 1 onion – chopped
  • 2 -3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 peeled and chopped carrot
  • 1 tsp. olive oil (or enough to coat the bottom of your pot)
  • 1 cup of brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cup of water (maybe more)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of salsa
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Optional (but delicious if you have them): fresh parsley, sage and/or rosemary, chopped
  • Optional (if fresh is not available): dried rosemary and/or oregano

How to Make the Chicken Rice Salsa Dish

Use a pot with a somewhat wide bottom (mine was about 7 inches wide at the bottom and 5 inches tall). Heat the oil, then saute the vegetables (onions first, then garlic cloves, carrots and zucchini) until tender. Add the rice, then the chicken. Add salsa, pepper and any dried herbs. Cook for about one hour (until rice is cooked). In the last fifteen minutes, be sure to stir the bottom often, to make sure it doesn’t burn at the bottom and the rice is evenly cooked. Toward the end of the cooking, add fresh herbs if you have any. You may need to add a little more water if all has already been absorbed and the dish needs more cooking.

Warning: do not leave this dish once it is cooked on even medium heat for too long. I left it on low medium heat, and the bottom got burnt. If you are doing this right before Shabbat, you can do something called hatmana: wrap it in an old blanket and unwrap right before serving. This is a way of insulating your food without fire or electric heat. Or use a warming tray that provides only a little bit of heat.

• • •

In other news, Pinterest kept sending me emails about signing up for a business account. I finally agreed out of curiosity. One benefit is you get statistics. So it turns out that my most popular pin last month on Pinterest with a url is Rosh Hashana Recipes. I doubt this will help much with my business (I build small business websites), but it is interesting to note what gets re-pinned and increases traffic.

We have one more set of holidays (Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah, where we dance with the Torah); a week or two after those holidays, I plan to resume Websites for Small Biz blogging (with an upcoming section on category pages). As for today – it is still Sukkot, so Moadim L’Simcha to all those who celebrate.

Flowers Watercolor Exercise – Nasturtium

October 2nd, 2014 by

flowers watercolor exercise of nasturtium

Flowers exercise (nasturtium) by Leora Wenger, 2014, watercolor, cray pas and pencil on paper

This Flowers watercolor exercise is from a book called One Watercolor a Day. The exercise is to observe some favorite flowers, paint the petals in bright colors, then add contrasting colors to the background. I then added wax crayon and pencil marks (also part of the exercise) to add a bit of line for detail. The flowers I observed are the nasturtium (edible) growing between our sidewalk and street that I planted in June.

Note that the idea is not to get a botanical depiction of a nasturtium – for that, I probably would have done several pencil sketches first and concentrating on one flower. For me, it was to get lose and easy with watercolor yet still display the subject with some amount of realism and observation.

I am hoping I can continue doing watercolors and watercolor exercises – maybe if I aim for at least once a month, I’ll be successful at production!

Have a G’mar Chatimah Tova to all of those who observe Yom Kippur (Friday night to Saturday), and have a great weekend to everyone. The following week is the holiday of Sukkot, so I will be putting my creativity into decorating our Sukkah (and maybe some creativity into cooking as well).

Male and Female Cardinals Visit

September 22nd, 2014 by

cardinal on roof with seed in beak
If you look carefully at this male cardinal, you will notice he has something in his mouth.

close up of cardinal with seed
If you get a little closer, it seems to be a seed in his mouth. Will he eat this now or store it for later or for a family member? I do not know. But I do know that every time I fill my bird feeder, I have a variety of birds coming to visit. Most are sparrows, but I do get pairs of male and female cardinals.

girl cardinal on a wire
Speaking of female cardinals, here is a girl cardinal hanging on a telephone wire.

cardinal on roof - female
Here she is again, this time on the side of the roof of our garage.

boyfriend cardinal
And here is her boyfriend cardinal, strutting his stuff.

bees on sedum
Last time I posted Nature Notes I featured bees on sedum. Here’s another view of bees enjoying the red sedum that blooms late summer or early fall.

bird on echinacea
If you look carefully at this photo, you will see a bird enjoying the seeds of my echinacea flowers. Is it a goldfinch? Last time I saw a bird on those flowers, I am pretty sure I saw a pretty yellow with a bit of black goldfinch.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Raspberry Watercolor, Raspberry Photo

September 17th, 2014 by

raspberry watercolor by Leora Wenger, 2014

raspberry watercolor by Leora Wenger, 2014

Here it is mid-September, and yes, we still have raspberries! I started this patch at least ten years ago from three little shoots. Now I have to cut them back and make sure they don’t take over our entire backyard.

I did the watercolor as a response to an exercise to paint something you observe in nature in the One Watercolor a Day book. The last time I posted a watercolor was my Sage Watercolor way back in April. I guess I’ve gotten distracted by both spring and summer gardening! More attractive to dig in the dirt than take out the paints, observe and record? Seems to be gardening won out this year.

raspberry photo garden
The raspberries are not as sweet as the strawberries we get in the spring. But their season is longer. We get a few ones on the old cane in July; in August we start getting the bunches of raspberries on the new cane. Have you ever eaten raspberries fresh from the garden?

If you live in Highland Park or Edison, I can dig up a plant or two to give to you.