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

Sage Leaves Watercolor

April 6th, 2014 by

sage leaves watercolor
I participate in an online Facebook group called One Watercolor a Day, based on the book by Veronica Lawlor. There are many exercises in the book, and every few weeks I do an exercise and share it in the group. Recently, I’ve been sharing the watercolor exercises on this Sketching Out blog as well. The most recent exercise was Do a Study of Nature, and it was fun to sit outside and paint:
sage watercolor with watercolor paints outside

This particular painting is a sage leaves watercolor: I took a look at my sage plant that has come back year after year and did a little painting study. I once tried to plant more sage in the back of my yard, and those sage plants unfortunately died. This sage plant, however, that is close to my kitchen back door, has managed to re-emerge after many a winter. Happy that today was such a nice day, so I had an excuse to sit outside and paint in between cleaning my house for Passover.

I find sketching from nature a great way to learn – you really need to observe to come up with a little watercolor painting quickly. I did two others before I decided to limit my color palette and limit my subject to the sage leaves.

It has been a while since I’ve participated in a Nature Notes, one of my favorite online memes run by my friend Michelle over at Rambling Woods. Here is a cardinal shot I had in my stash but never got a chance to share until now:
cardinal with cocked head in tree

Do you cook with sage? Do you have it in your yard? Have you ever painted outside?

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Watercolor: Baby Dolls, Barbie Doll

March 28th, 2014 by

Baby dolls, barbie, American Girl doll watercolor painting by Leora

Baby dolls, barbie doll, American Girl doll watercolor painting on paper by Leora Wenger, March 2014

This watercolor of baby dolls, a barbie doll and an American Girl doll was painted in response to a One Watercolor a Day challenge to paint some children’s toys. I gathered some of my daughter’s dolls in a basket, sketched a simple drawing, then they sat for a few weeks as Purim came, was a busy, fun time, and went. I finally had the time to do the painting (don’t believe the part about one watercolor a day – once a week is great, once a month feels like how it needs to be right now). It was fun to watercolor baby dolls, but I’m not sure how much time I will have to do more watercolor painting for a while.

Now it is “sandwich time” – a totally made up term by myself, meaning the time between Purim and Pesach (Passover) in which observant Jews get their homes ready for Pesach. I call it sandwich in that not only are we squeezed at this time to figure out how to get ready, we also aim to get rid of anything resembling a sandwich, such as cookies, crackers, cereals, pasta, pretzels and plenty of other other starchy items. You know all those gluten-filled items you own? We probably can’t own them on Pesach. One of the nice features is if we have unopened non-perishable goods, we can donate them to a local food pantry. I even learned I can donate my unopened box of chickenless nuggets to Elijah’s food kitchen in New Brunswick. Not sure if I will make it there for one box, but I love the idea of someone else using the food.

Do you do anything special at this time of year: clean your house, start your garden, get ready for a holiday or prepare for a trip? What were your favorite toys as a child?

Recipe: Fermented Beets

March 21st, 2014 by

beets watercolor by Leora Wenger

Beets, watercolor and ink pen on paper by Leora Wenger, January 2014

Beets and early spring: do you associate the two? In any case, I’ll teach you how to make fermented beets. You only need two food ingredients: a bunch of beets and some salt. We won’t be cooking the beets, although I did find recipes that cooked the beets before fermenting. Cooking might make it easier to digest, but it also might kill off some of the nutrients. And I like the crunch of raw beets. You will also need a sharp knife, a cutting board, a glass jar (a mason jar is fine), a small baby food jar, a piece of thin cloth and a rubber band.


  • 3 or 4 beets
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • water

Wash the beets as best you can and cut off the ends (the part with the leaves and the part that looks like a tail). Cut each beet in half once and slice as thin as you can. Place the beets in a glass jar with a wide top. Add sea salt. Add enough water to cover the beets. Place a small jar on top of the beets to push them down into the brine. The beets need to be submerged in water. Cover the jar with a thin cloth and hold the cloth in place with a rubber band. Wait about two weeks. Fermented beets! In the heat of the summer, you may only have to wait two days instead of two weeks. If you are fermenting for the first time, you should check it every few days to see how the flavor changes. Really, you should do that whenever you ferment, but in reality you might just move on to other things. If you feel your beets are done fermenting, store them in the refrigerator.

You can even drink the liquid – I believe it is called beet kvass. I mix mine with a bit of seltzer.

See also: Three Beet Recipes

If I am organized enough, I might make these fermented beets two weeks before Pesach (Passover).

Tall House Illustration in Highland Park, NJ

March 13th, 2014 by

Tall house illustration
I worked on this tall house illustration back in December, and I’m presenting it to you today with a little secret. Shh, it’s not quite official and may be going slowly, but this house illustration and the house illustration I posted in late December will be part of a new “mural” painting that will appear on my home page. I came up with the idea about two years ago to redo my home page completely and give it a “Highland Park, NJ” look – to me, that meant the old houses of Highland Park. And some trees. An old-fashioned suburban look perhaps. I started working on the actual “mural” or banner earlier this week – it needs a third house, so that is on the list to be done.

My next step will be either cloud or tree illustrations – which should it be? Clouds or trees, anyone?

Watercolor: Nuts, Raisins, Seeds

March 7th, 2014 by

Nuts, Raisins and Sunflower Seeds, watercolor and ink pen by Leora Wenger, 2014

Nuts, Raisins and Sunflower Seeds, watercolor and ink pen by Leora Wenger, 2014

I painted this scene of nuts, raisins and sunflowers seeds for the food exercise in One Watercolor a Day. I’m not convinced of the scale I chose – perhaps since I made the nuts as big as I did, the sunflower seeds should be bit bigger? But no point to criticizing one’s own work – here it is for you to view. In the Facebook group for One Watercolor a Day, someone painted a lobster. It was quite a painting – lively and colorful. As I keep kosher, I would not have considered lobster for a food study, but that’s the sort of range one gets with these exercises. I also did a watercolor food study of beets – perhaps I will post that one closer to Pesach (Passover) and tell you how to make fermented beets, one of my favorite foods.

My son bought a new printer, an Epson XP-310 (or I bought it for him). I used the scanner for this painting, and I was quite pleased with the results – no more excess gray. I may buy a standalone scanner so I will have a larger scanner (the Epson XP-310 is quite small). When I do, it most probably will be an Epson.

The next watercolor exercise I plan to try is to paint some toys. I have a doll in mind to add to my still life. What other toys should I add? We still do have plenty of toys in this house, even if my children are no longer little.

Blue Jays in Winter

March 3rd, 2014 by

blue jay with wings that look like stained glass
I have seen more blue jays this winter than I can remember. Their wings look almost like stained glass with those pieces of blue.

blue jay on deck
This handsome blue jay was all the way back on my neighbor’s deck. He looks like he is working to catch a bit of sun in this wintry winter.

blue jay behind
Yes, you do have a beautiful blue behind, Mr. Blue Jay.

What do blue jays eat in winter? According to Diane on this bird watching site, blue jays like the black oil sunflower seeds I’ve been sticking in my feeder. They don’t like safflower seeds. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Blue Jays are known to take and eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, but we don’t know how common this is. In an extensive study of Blue Jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of their diet was composed of insects and nuts.”

red finch
I also saw some red finches one day, but I don’t see those nearly as often as the blue jays, sparrows or cardinals. I saw a whole flock of robins on another street this morning. They seem to travel in packs.

Do you see blue jays in winter? Red finches? Robins?

For more nature notes:
Nature Notes