Black Bears

My last blog post was over three years ago and a LOT has changed since then, both in the world at large and for me personally. During the pandemic, my family and I bought a fixer-upper house in a western North Carolina mountain cove adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest and working on it has occupied a large part of my time. In spite of being busy with the remodel, I’ve had time to explore and enjoy our home’s surrounding forest, which has inspired me artistically in a big way. Last year, I embarked on a series called “Night Creatures”, which features animals we’ve seen on the security cameras around our home, one of which, the Black Bear, is the topic of this post.

Black Bears

The American Black Bear Ursus americanus was chosen as the topic for my return post because seeing this magnificent wild animal on a regular, and sometimes daily, basis has been a magical experience for me. American Black Bears are omnivores native to North America and are listed as a least-concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to their large population estimated to be twice that of all other bear species combined. We love our bears here in western North Carolina and we are committed to living with them. For more information about Black Bears please check out this link to North Carolina Wildlife Resources.

Observations about Black Bears in my Neighborhood

Will show up at any time of the day/night in western North Carolina, although they visit less frequently January – March.

Extremely curious about everything and investigate with their noses first, followed by paws.

Generally seem disinterested and/or cautious around humans; however, check out Bearwise for tips on living with Black Bears because they CAN be a dangerous nuisance, especially if you leave food garbage outside.

Black Bear Artwork/Video

One of the standout things about black bears to me are their walk. Like humans, they put the whole surface of their feet on the ground, which is called plantigrade locomotion. This walk, which I’ve seen on dozens of our outdoor camera videos now, inspired my artwork “Night Walkers” below.

Video of a Black Bear in Montreat, NC copyright Please credit the website!


Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) – ABR cares for orphaned and injured black bear cubs for return to their natural wild habitat; increases public awareness about coexisting with black bears; and studies all aspects of returning cubs to the wild.

Bearwise – Bearwise helps people live responsibly with black bears.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources – mission is to conserve North Carolina’s wildlife resources and their habitats and provide programs and opportunities that allow hunters, anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy wildlife-associated recreation.

Great American Sandwiches – Hamburger

Merriam-Webster’s Definition of Sandwich 
– two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between


Great American Sandwiches is a series focused on America’s best-loved sandwiches. In this series, we’ll explore classic American sandwiches at the state, regional, and national levels, as well the various fillings and types of bread that make them unique.

This series was born out of my love for BREAD. I trained as a pastry chef and my passion was/and always has been, bread. In addition, I have a deep love and curiosity about American regional ingredients. Sandwiches are a way to explore both, so my goal with this series is to research, eat, and illustrate the classic, best-loved, most unique, and also the more controversial and also the ‘newer-style’ American sandwiches.

And, arguably, no sandwich is complete without Condiments, defined by Merriam-Webster as:  something used to enhance the flavor of food.
America loves its condiments and in this series we’ll examine the whole spectrum of condiments that help make our sandwiches unique from ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, to cheese, coleslaw, and green chilies.

Sandwich suggestions, comments, and questions are always welcome. Contact me at I’d love to hear from you!


FIRST UP,  The HAMBURGER – no discussion about American sandwiches is complete without the HAMBURGER, the common name for a sandwich consisting of a cooked beef patty between two slices of bread (or a bun) with or without various condiments or toppings.

Origin -The term hamburger originally derives from Hamburg, a city in Germany. Hamburger in German is  a specific regional term used in Hamburg for meat-based foods. The proposed origin of the hamburger in the United States coincides with a German migration in the 1800s and it flourished under several names including, the Hamburger Steak, before finally settling beginning its evolutionary process as a hamburger steak sandwich in the late 1800s.

Popular Culture – Where to start? How about the mid-western United States – in 1921, White Castle, based in Wichita, Kansas, due to widely anti-German sentiment in the U.S. during World War I began serving hamburgers under the alternative name Salisbury steak. Other hamburger chains began to emerge both during and after World War I; however, it was McDonald’s, which opened in 1940 in San Bernardino, CA that established the baseline for what became known as the American hamburger. McDonald’s widely successful formula was later duplicated in various restaurants including Burger King, What-A-Burger, In-N-Out_Burger, Wendy’s, Sonic Drive-In, Hardee’s, and many others.

Ingredients – at its simplest, the hamburger is a patty made from ground beef that is typically grilled or fried and served between two slices of bread. Meats other than beef have adopted the suffix ‘burger’ and we now how have variations such as lamb burger, turkey burger, bison burger, salmon burger, and a veggie or plant-based burger. With regards to bread, most stores in the United States sell what they call “Hamburger or  Sandwich Buns”, which is a yeast-risen product specifically designed to hold a hamburger or toppings. The bread, however, can vary by region, from the classic sandwich buns, to sliced white bread, wheat, sourdough, and everything in between.

Condiments/Toppings – Ketchup, Mayonnaise, and/or Mustard are traditional, as well as lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion. Cheese, the addition of which changes ‘hamburger to cheeseburger’ is also extremely popular and varies with area. Regional toppings flourish as well including ones with coleslaw, green and red chilies, chili con carne, avocado, bacon, and kimchi.

Side Items – French Fries, sliced, fried white potatoes served with ketchup, are the classic side for hamburgers in the United States. Depending on the region and establishment, side items can vary and may include – onion rings, potato chips, sweet potato fries, zucchini fries, and various forms of salad, such as potato salad, coleslaw, or a green salad with your choice of dressing.











Fruit and Vegetable Art Stamps

As a mixed media artist, I have used pre-made stamps to add additional elements in art journals. I did not, however, think of stamps as a potential focal point in an image until I saw a couple of tutorials about using fresh fruits and vegetables as organic stamps. I decided to explore creating my own fruit and vegetable stamps because I think it’s a great way for beginners to “cheat”, and by that I mean get a tiny bit of extra help while sharpening their observation skills. The are some collages I created of my first experiments with fruit and vegetable stamps using tangerines, limes, onions, and mushrooms.  Try them yourself and treat this a FUN exercise – no art critics allowed! I think the collages are self-explanatory, but you are welcome to contact me with questions or post them in the comments section. Feel free to print and/or use these images for classroom or personal use.





Mountain Gardens Plant Walk in Burnsville, North Carolina

I took a plant walk this past March at Mountain Gardens located just outside of Burnsville, North Carolina. Mountain Gardens is the brainchild of Joe Hollis, a famed local root doctor and a classically trained herbalist in Chinese Medicine.

I visited in mid-March, which is quite early in this part of country given the elevation to see much in the way of plant life. In spite of this, Joe was able to point out (and sometimes uproot), plenty of plants to fill the whole time period.

The walk consisted of an examination of the various plants such as Trillium, Wild Ginger, and Bloodroot, that were growing at the time of my visit and an explanation of their medicinal properties. It was fascinating, and it also happily reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in south Mississippi with a horticulturist grandfather, who inspired my lifelong love of plants, and I used to walk with him in the woods and learn about our local plants.

Mountain Gardens accepts apprentices who live in a communal community while learning all aspects of how to create and manage ethnobotanical gardens. During my visit I met a young lady from British Columbia who was working as an apprentice there and she spoke highly of the program and what she was learning. If you are interested in becoming an apprentice, be aware that it’s off-the-grid living.

Upon arrival, they suggested an optional post-walk dinner for $45 where participants foraged and helped prepare dinner from plants shown during the tour. At the time, it was cash on-site only, so we couldn’t participate. Hopefully, they will mention this as option when you sign up and pay for tours going forward.

I loved the tour. Joe is a treasure of plant healing knowledge, plant lore, and practical gardening. Check it out future tours if you get a chance and support someone who has devoted their life to living the Green Path. He really deserves it!



Pickletown, U.S.A. – the Wiggins, Mississippi Pickle Plant

I recently completed a certificate in scientific illustration with botanist and illustrator Gretchen Halpert. The final part of the certificate required either doing an internship or conducting an independent study. I selected the independent study option, and chose to focus on the pickle manufacturing industry in Wiggins, Mississippi. I grew up in Wiggins and wanted to honor my hometown by making creating educational illustrations about the pickle industry, which is an important  part of its history.

The study focuses on a single entity – AKA , the Wiggins Pickle Plant, the Pickle Plant, or just the Plant, which operated from 1912 – 1983 under various company names. For the study, I traveled to Wiggins and visited the Old Firehouse Museum, which is a repository of information about town’s history. The majority of the information for this project came from newspaper articles dating from the mid 1920s to late 1950s found there. I also questioned several individuals who had either worked at the Pickle Plant, or had family who grew pickles for it.

In this study, illustrations and supporting text are used to describe cucumbers and discuss how they are pollinated. It then examines the harvest and processing methods associated with the Wiggins Pickle Plant between mid-1930s to late 1950s. The study concludes with a look at a Pickle Festival held in 1937 to show how the plant impacted the town both economically and socially. These are the illustrations that I created for the study.

Click on the link below to download the full PowerPoint presentation of the study.




Given the long history of the pickle plant in Wiggins, this ten-week project barely scratched the surface of the many microcosms involved in manufacturing pickles. I plan to continue the study, but will do so by focusing on more specific research questions.

*Note: In case you’re wondering what happened to the building, It was purchased by the family of Rusty Reeves in 1987 and used for HVAC air distribution products until 2002. According to Mr. Reeves, the plant employed up to 88 employees at peak times.

Impasto Painting in Acrylic

I recently took an impasto painting class using acrylic paint at Northaven Gardens from artist Melanie Brannan.  Impasto is a technique where paint is applied to a substrate in thick layers. Due to its thickness and slow drying time, oil painting is historically considered the medium best suited for the impasto technique; however, a similar effect can be achieved in acrylic painting through the use of products designed to slow the drying time of acrylic paint and build texture.


For this class, we were tasked with completing an abstract landscape painting in using acrylic paint on a piece of 10″ x 10″ wood panel. Ms. Brannan had example paintings for us to see, but no actual photographs as the goal was to intuitively create an imaginary landscape.


  • Birch Wood Panel
  • Golden Heavy Gloss Gel*
  • Golden Molding Paste*
  • Palette of Golden* acrylic colors – white, yellow, red, green, blue, and purple
  • Palette Knife, Paintbrushes, and Paint Shaping Tools

*Ms. Brannan is a certified educator for Golden so we used Golden products exclusively in this class.


We started the class by choosing either orange or purple paint and painting a base coat of it on a piece of a birch panel. I loved the ultra-smooth texture of birch panel and plan to use it for other art.

Base Coat of Acrylic Paint  in Orange 

After the base coat, we smeared on a layer of heavy gloss gel whose purpose was to slow the drying time of future applications of paint. Then, she guided us through the process of using a palette knife to lay down blocks of color (acrylic paint mixed with molding paste to create texture) to create a loose, intuitive composition.

Once finished with the color-blocking, we used shaping tools to remove sections of paint and refine our composition with critiques from her and her studio assistant. Removing the paint was a freeing experience, I felt almost like I was excavating my painting. (She called it a subtractive painting.) Using this technique meant that the original orange base set the theme for the whole painting and I had to find a way to work with it. It was a little scary at first, but the finished painting turned out much better than I expected. I plan to incorporate the impasto techniques I learned in this class into a landscape series I’ve just started.

Finished Acrylic Painting with Impasto Technique  

Venue Information

The class was held in the Gallery at Northaven Gardens. Northaven is an extensive garden center/plant nursery located in north Dallas that is open 7 days a week. The Gallery there has art classes and hosts exhibits for artists. During this class they had an exhibition up called “Botanical Portraiture: A Modern Take on Classic Still life” featuring several well-regarded local artists such as Gaby Pruitt and Jan Dreskin-Haig. In addition, Northaven has an onsite cafe with an excellent menu, we had fabulous wine and cheese during our class, and they also host weekly plant educational talks and classes.


Melanie M. Brannan –

The Gallery at Northaven Gardens –

Capsaicin Glands

Capsaicin is known for being the substance responsible for the heat in chili peppers. But what IS capsaicin, and what does it look it? Also, does it have any other uses besides turning your mouth into a blazing inferno? These are questions I sought to answer for a recent illustration project about capsaicin glands, during which I got medieval on several jalapeño peppers while setting my face on fire in the process.

What is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin is a pungent, crystalline compound derived from the glands of Capsicum (pepper) plants. Capsicum is a large genus of flowering plants in the Solanceae (nightshade) family, which is native to the Americas. Other common names for Capsicum include – bell peppers, green peppers, sweet peppers, chili peppers, hot peppers, jalapeño peppers, Tabasco peppers, red peppers, and cayenne peppers.

Capsaicin is concentrated in glands located within the pepper’s placenta and inner membranes. Contrary to popular belief, pepper seeds do not contain any capsaicin. Their reputation of being the hottest part of the pepper is due to their attachment to the pepper’s placenta and inner wall. When the pepper is sliced some of the capsaicin glands are also severed so they drench all surrounding structures, i.e. the seeds, in capsaicin.

Placenta and Inner Membranes of a Jalapeño Pepper

Peppers have their own dedicated hotness meter, the Scoville Scale, which is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. The Scoville scale is a measurement of capsaicin concentration reported in Scoville heat units (SHU) ranging from 0 (zero heat) to 16,000,000, the hottest, which is pure capsaicin. Bell peppers register on the lowest end of the scale at 0 units, while Jalapeños, which have a reputation for high heat, hit a mere 10,000. If you really to burn check out the Ghost and Carolina Reaper peppers, clocking in at 1,000, 000 and 2,000,000, respectively.

Capsaicin Uses 

As anyone who has cut up a pepper scoring high on Scoville scale can attest, capsaicin is strong irritant to the skin and mucous membranesIn spite of this, when used in a properly formulated topical cream, it has been purported to help relieve pain associated with neuralgia (shingles), rheumatoid arthritis, and muscle sprains or strains. Other uses for capsaicin include self-defense pepper spray,  pesticides, and nutritional supplements. 


My objective for this project was to create an infographic illustrating the location of the capsaicin glands on a hotter capsicum pepper and to showing a microscopic view of its capsaicin glands. I also wanted to list a few medicinal and non-medicinal uses of capsaicin as discussed above.

Research Process 

In summary, my research process was to dissect a bunch of jalapeño peppers, remove their placentas  attempt to locate the pepper’s capsaicin glands under a microscope, and sketch them.

Pretty straightforward, however, keep in mind that once you start cutting through placenta and inner membranes of the pepper capsaicin is released. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, latex gloves and glasses to shield my eyes, however, my exposed cheeks and lips quickly “caught fire”. In retrospect, I probably should have wrapped my face in a bandanna.

After about an hour of carefully shaving off thinner and thinner slices of placenta and membrane, I was finally able to locate a few glands under the microscope. The color of capsaicin has variously been described clear, yellow, orange, and reddish-orange. As you can see in this iPhone shot of jalapeño capsaicin glands at 10x magnification, these were a yellowish-orange.

Capsaicin Glands of a Jalapeño Pepper at 10x Magnification


The final illustration is a digital composition containing informative text with manually rendered sections including: capsicum pepper anatomy (gross and dissected), and a 10x cross section of a pepper showing the capsaicin glands.


The individual illustrations were rendered in a combination of watercolor, colored pencil, and pen and ink. I had trouble deciding how to render the microscopic image and ended up using this article as a guide.

Future Research 

I would love to create more illustrations related to capsaicin, by conducting future research such as:

  • Examining capsaicin glands under a higher-powered microscope to see if there are any structures within them.
  • Examining the capsaicin glands of different pepper varietals under a microscope to see if there are color differences.
  • Creating a medical illustration showing how capsaicin affects the human body.
  • Visiting a Capsicum pepper farm.
  • Exploring the culinary uses of peppers by visiting a hot sauce manufacturing plant to observe the creation process.


Andrews, T. (2000). Nectar and ambrosia: An encyclopedia of food in world mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Bambas, L.R. (n.d.). What’s hot is hot [Web log post]. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Capsaicin. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Capsicum. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Cayenne Diane. (n.d.). Scoville scale [Web log post]. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Cayenne Diane. (n.d.). The Scoville scale [Web log post]. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Mayo Clinic. (2017, March 01). Capsaicin (Topical Route). Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Microscope Master. (n.d.). How to sketch a microscope slide [Web log post]. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Pubchem. (n.d.). Capsaicin. Retrieved August 1, 2018, from

Storl, W.D. (2016). A curious history of vegetables. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.




Arches Hot Press Watercolor Blocks for Oil Painting

Many artists I know consider Arches to be a top-of-the-line brand of watercolor paper.  I became more focused on watercolor painting this year and decided to purchase both the Hot Press and Cold Press Watercolor Blocks.  The blocks are natural white paper made in molds that are cut and tape-bound into blocks. (Carefully remove each with a thin metal spatula to avoid tearing.) The sheets are 140 lb (300 gsm) weight, with 20 sheets per block. I love doing abstract panoramic landscapes in both horizontal and vertical orientation so I got the  3.9″ × 9.8″ for experimentation. This post discusses my experiences with Hot Press. I’ll do another post later about the Cold Press.

To be frank, I was disappointed with my abstract watercolor paintings using the Hot Press. While they weren’t terrible, the  smoothness of the paper, combined with the subtlety of the watercolors, resulted in somewhat bland images.

watercolor on hot press paper
Watercolor – Hot Press Paper

Had I seen the Artists Network’s article discussing the different grades of watercolor paper beforehand, the results would have made more sense.  The article says “Hot pressed is not adequate for general watercolor painting” and further states that very little pigment penetrates beyond sitting on the surface. I do not know enough about watercolor science to produce an explanation, however, I’m theorizing that maybe penetration aids translucency? The translucent aspects of watercolor are part of its charm. More research is needed.

So, being cheap and not easily daunted, I resolved to find another media for this special paper. I had given up oils about 20 years ago due to my reaction to turpentine, however, I still had a large stash of Windsor Newton oils that had maintained their quality. After taking a class with Deborah Paris of the Landscape Atelier, who works in oils and uses liquin instead of turpentine for glazing, I decided to give them a try again.

I feel the resulting artworks turned out extremely well with the combination of oil paint and liquin only as a glaze/thinner. They retained their high chromatic colors, which I feel work well with abstract landscape paintings. And, I was able to add some texture which resulted in the illusion of depth. They were still extremely smooth, but attractively so.

I am still researching the reason WHY the oils performed so well with the Hot Press paper (suggestions appreciated) and will update this blog post when I have hard data. Going forward, I plan to enthusiastically use the Arches Hot Press Watercolor in my oil paintings.


Pomegranate – History and Mythology

acrylic painting of a pomegranate

I had my first pomegranate at around age seven. It was weird, messy, and fun. I enjoyed spitting out the seeds after sucking every last bit of fruit pulp from them. The pomegranate remained an occasional novelty throughout childhood; however, it wasn’t until adulthood that I learned of its rich and controversial history dating back thousands of years. Listed below are some tidbits from my readings about the pomegranate’s symbolism. More detailed information is available from numerous books and articles. I’ve listed the my sources cited at the end of this post.

Womb and Fertility Symbol

The word pomegranate evolved from the Latin pomum, which translates to apple or fruit, and granatum, meaning many seeds. The pomegranate’s red color, suggestive of menstrual blood, along with its prolific seeds, made it a powerful symbol of womanhood and fertility throughout the ancient world. Many rituals involving the pomegranate took place during marriage ceremonies. In ancient Armenia, brides were given pomegranates to throw against a wall. The scattered seeds meant many children. The Bedouins of the Middle East also used the pomegranate in their wedding celebrations. The bride and groom would break open a pomegranate as they entered their new home. The new couple would then eat the seeds hoping for an abundance of children. In China, pomegranates were thrown on the bedroom floor of newlyweds’ homes because they felt the bursting of the fruit and scattering of the seeds would produce a fruitful marriage.

Persephone and Underworld

One of the most well known myths associated with the pomegranate is the abduction of Persephone by Hades, the ancient Greek God of the Underworld. This classic Greek myth has a number of interpretations. This is one version in summary.

Persephone was out gathering flowers and noticed an enticing narcissus growing by itself in the field. When she picked it, the god Hades rose from the ground and took her to back to the Underworld. The only witness to her abduction was Hecate, the Goddess of Crossroads. Hecate told Demeter, the Goddess of Grain and Persephone’s mother, what had happened. Demeter became extremely depressed causing the crops to wither and the world to become barren.

Eventually, Zeus, the king of the Gods, intervened and ordered Hades to return Persephone to Demeter so that the world would not starve. Hades allowed her to return, but not before Persephone ate a few pomegranate seeds he offered her. Eating foods of the Underworld was forbidden and whoever consumed them would have to remain. By eating them her return to the Underworld was guaranteed; however, she only had to stay for part of the year because she consumed so few. When Persephone is in the Underworld, we call this portion of the year Winter, a time of barrenness, said to represent Demeter’s grief while she is separated from her daughter.

In the myth, I feel the pomegranate symbolizes choices and our commitment to the outcome of those choices. Not everyone will be happy with our decisions in life and the final outcome has possibility of being both unexpected and painful. Choosing, however, always leads to new growth, understanding, and perhaps a new direction in life. Persephone became the Queen of the Underworld, something she likely did not expect when she picked that unusual flower.

Pomegranate as the Forbidden Fruit of the Christian Bible

Some researchers propose that the pomegranate was the actual forbidden fruit of the Christian Bible that Eve offered to Adam. The pomegranate has a long cultivation history in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions of the world where Christianity originated, not so the apple, making it a more probable candidate. Christianity, a monotheistic religion, eventually replaced Greek and Roman polytheism. Due to the pomegranate’s long association with femininity and Goddess worship, it’s possible that the androcentric writers of the Bible choose to associate it with disobedience to the new Christian god. Speculation and food for thought.

Reflection and Artwork

The myth of Persephone resonates with me deeply. I see it as a chosen journey and an awakening, rather than a forced abduction. She did not have to eat the pomegranate seeds; she made a conscious choice to eat them and by doing so completed her transformation into a self-actualized woman. To honor her journey, I created a series of digital illustrations depicting my vision of the myth.

Recipe for Pomegranate Sauce

Let’s put aside ancient history, myth, and symbolism for a moment and enjoy the culinary charms of the pomegranate. This is a basic recipe for pomegranate sauce. It’s great with grilled meats and vegetables, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.


6 Pomegranates
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Slice the pomegranates in half and extract the juice using a hand reamer. Discard the seeds. Add the juice and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Sources for Further Reading

Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology by Tamra Andrews

The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara G. Walker

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor