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

Chanukah Pattern Watercolor

November 19th, 2014 by

monochromatic pattern painting
Finally, I have a little more time for watercolor painting. This is exercise 24 in One Watercolor a Day: Playing with Patterns – “Paint an element in one color and its different values…Create a square, then tile it…do a simple repeat.”

I created the initial illustration in Illustrator. Then I flipped the pattern both vertically and horizontally, so you have four versions of the tile. Next I printed the graphic on watercolor paper. I mixed various shades and tints of purple watercolor on my palette. I painted using thin watercolor brushes. Once the painting was dry, I scanned it back into my computer and cropped it with Photoshop.

watercolor painting painterly pattern Chanukah
For fun, using Photoshop, I decided to add a little more color (changed a bit of the purple to pale blue). I also added something that looks like a watercolor effect. It might be fun to reprint my Chanukah Pattern Watercolor in black and white and then paint it in multitude of colors. Or perhaps just a palette of blue, red and yellow. Both look a little messy to me, but they are just exercises.

What do you see in the pattern?

Highland Park Foliage | Blue Jay Visits

November 16th, 2014 by

red fall foliage 2014
The leaves turn red, yellow and orange only one time per year, in October and November. If one is busy elsewhere, one might completely miss photographing the colors. I see I have photographed Highland Park foliage (Highland Park, New Jersey, that is) for each year that this blog has existed (even in 2012, after my father died and Hurricane Sandy came to visit, I had at least one post with a bit of fall foliage). This post is for those of you in places like Israel or California who don’t get to see the autumn colors.

foliage bald cypress
My bald cypress tree has grown quite big. Here you can see how it (upper left in the photo) turns orange in the fall. It is bigger than we expected when the borough planted the tree about ten years ago.

foliage red yellow
My neighbor has a tall red maple across the street that shows up in all these foliage photos. Will have to remember to study it changing more carefully next autumn.

blue jay in feeder
I looked outside my kitchen window, and I saw a big bird in our feeder. I came out with my camera, and the blue jay flew away quickly. I waited quietly about ten minutes in one spot, and my reward was a blue jay came back to the feeder. Happy to capture this fast bird with my camera.

blue jay flies off
Almost as quickly as the blue jay came, it flew off. Happy to get the blue jay in motion!

Last Friday I filled my bird feeder with some seeds that were exclusively black oil sunflower seeds. No birds seem to pay any attention – indeed, I saw no birds in my yard. But I now think it was just the extra cold weather; by Saturday noon, all the seeds had been munched. We actually had snow on Thursday night, but it only stuck to the ground in other parts of the state, probably in higher elevations.

My nasturtium and marigolds died last Thursday night in the frost. If you are a gardener, you will know there is a little bit of sadness when your annuals die. My snapdragons survived the cold weather – nice to see those bright colors.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Flat Design: Armchair

November 12th, 2014 by

arm chair flat design
What do you see in the above illustration? Does this look like a flat design armchair? (I looked up armchair – it is truly one word). Does it remind you of any particular profession? What does it evoke?

I have been redoing my website, the main part of my site in which I sell my web services such as WordPress training and small business web development. I decided a little illustration would be nice for my new Services page. Of course, the illustration itself is the hard part … I already fussed a lot over the illustration for the home page.

So one idea is to have little balloons or circles with flat design illustrations that represent some of the businesses or organizations for which I do websites. Maybe one might look like this:
arm chair flat design
Or like this:
flat chair in a balloon

I may just toss the circles all together. Meanwhile, I need to come up with a few more flat icons / illustrations to put together in one illustration. Ideas: pen and ink, camera, piles of books, light source from a lamp …

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been fussing over today (in between helping various clients with various issues). The main question for you is: Does the arm chair illustration remind you of any particular profession? Or can you think of any professions I might illustrate with a simple flat design of some sort?

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.