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Let the Winter Come and Go

My favorite song this time of year is “Julian of Norwich.”  Here’s video of the Hemblington Harmony singing at the Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail  2011. They’re singing in summer, but I always think of this as a winter song, because of the chorus:

Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go.

Here by the tower of Julian, I tell them what I know.


Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go

All shall be well again, I know.

Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.

Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.


Ring for the yellow daffodil, the flower in the snow.

Ring for the yellow daffodil, and tell them what I know.


All shall be well, I’m telling you, let the winter come and go

All shall be well again, I know.

Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go.

Here by the tower of Julian, I tell them what I know.


All shall be well, I’m telling you, let the winter come and go

All shall be well again, I know.

Happy Holidays, everyone!  Let the winter come and go.  All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

The words were apparently writte in 1981 by Sydney Carter, who also wrote “Lord of the Dance,” set to the Shaker tune, “Simple Gifts.”


Turning Green Again

Here in the Central Valley of California, we kind of have two seasons, rather than four. Wet and dry, summer and winter. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but our autumn only lasts about a month (if we’re lucky), and spring lasts about two weeks. In between are a short, mild winter, in good years full of gentle rain and fog; and the long, hot (but dry) summer. Where I live, outside of Sacramento, the nights are cool, and that’s what makes our summers tolerable.

First Green of Fall ©2012 Stephanie Benedict.
The grasses beneath the oak trees are greening up after recent rains. In the distance: the fiery red of the alders across the street. The native oaks are less showy.

In summer, all the plants dry out and hunker down. That’s because we only get about 18 inches of rain each year here in the Valley, most of it between November and March. “California’s Gold,” the color of the dried grasses in non-irrigated areas, is the result of annual grasses brought by European settles in the 1700s and 1800s, which out-competed the native perennials that stayed greener longer.

But then each fall*, we get this phenomenon of the hillsides and dales—all the non-irrigated areas—turning green again with the first rains. Acid green, brilliant green, green that hurts your eyes. Green you want to soak up and keep all year.

I went walking to my favorite local park/nature preserve the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and found the grasses are coming up green again. We’ve had two to three inches of rain so far this season, and all those annual grasses are coming to life again. They start under the oak trees and in the swales, then spread across the fields. The photo above shows what it looked like. In the middle of the picture, you can see in the background the brilliant red of alder trees in the landscaped development across the street.

I did a little painting of the same effect last year, called “Fall’s First Green.” Sometimes I feel like a documentary painter! But this is why I paint: to reveal the land around us, specific times and places, to help us remember there’s more to life than the latest tablet computer or Black Friday sale. Today’s walk made me want to do another one. But I’d better hurry: the effect won’t last.

Fall's First Green, by Stephanie Benedict
Fall’s First Green ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on panel. 4 inches by 6 inches

Is it fall where you are—or is it spring? What’s your favorite season?

*Assuming it rains. Last year we got very little rain or snow in the mountains. Keep your fingers crossed.

Yolo Art and Ag

I spent a great morning painting last week in western Yolo County, California.

The Yolo County Arts Commission has a program it calls Art & Ag: they work with farmers to bring painters to their farms. Once a month, painters can come to a farm to paint. It’s a great program, because it lets us paint on private property we otherwise wouldn’t get to see. I, for one, really appreciate the opportunity. I’ve lived in California most of my life, and in Sacramento most of that time, and I’ve been to places with Art & Ag that I’ve never been to before. This is the Scott Farm west of Woodland. Those are the coast mountains in the distance, near Lake Berryessa. The morning was pleasantly cool, and the barn provided lots of shade to work in.

What interested me with this scene was the juxtaposition of the farmhouse and the wind turbine in the distance (it’s in front of the mountains, almost in the center of the shot, below). A few minutes later, some cows wandered in front of us, in that pasture in front of the green (olive trees?). Instantly, this plein air study became a sketch for a larger painting, of the cows and the wind turbine. Agrarian and high tech. I’ll post an image when I get it finished!

Painting setup in Yolo County
A plein-air study in progress at Scott’s Farm in Yolo County. The wind turbine went in as the very last thing.

My New Favorite Sketchbooks

I recently discovered some nice little sketchbooks by Global Art Materials, Inc., called “Hand Book Journals.” They come in sizes ranging from 3.5” x 5” to about 8” x 10”, and have paper that will take washes with wet media.

Hand Book Journal Sketchbook
I love these little sketchbooks. They have great paper, and fit in my purse.

Now, there are hundreds of kinds of sketchbooks out there, with a variety of papers. Most are more expensive than I want to pay, and many have paper I don’t care for. They’re either perfect-bound (pages glued in) so they don’t lie flat, or spiral bound, so the pages can rub against one another, smearing your graphite drawing.

The Hand Book Journals are different. The Hand Books are sewn bound and they lay flat when you open them. (Note: so do Moleskine sketchbooks [and it’s pronounced mol-a-skee-na].)

But what I really like about these Hand Books is the paper. They say you can use pen & ink, pencil, marker, and light watercolor washes. The paper is lighter than watercolor paper (they don’t give a weight), but it does take light washes very well, and doesn’t buckle.

The reason I like paper that will take water is that I like to sketch either with water-soluble pencils (I like General’s*) or pens (black Tombo pens are great, but I use watercolor paper for them). Now, most teachers will tell you that line is the basis for all painting. OK, fine. But I see masses, so I want to draw (or paint) masses—and pencil points just won’t do. (Yes, I know the arguments against what I’m saying.)

Gateway Sketch by ©2012 Stephanie Benedict
I did this sketch in about 10 minutes using a water-soluble pencil and plastic waterbrush. The paper is more buff-colored than it appears here.

These little sketchbooks are easy to carry, and make it easy to do small, quick studies of whatever is nearby.

And really, isn’t the point to actually do the work? I’ve found that if I don’t like the materials, I’m not going to use them. Perhaps because I came to painting late, I’ve never developed the habit I see in some others of always sketching. I’m trying to become that single-minded, but it’s slow work! I really like these little sketchbooks, and if they get me to sketch more—that’s what’s important.

It turns out several of the on-line retailers carry them, but only in the smaller sizes. I’ve only seen the 8 x 10 at Johnson’s Paint in Boston.

What do you use to sketch with? How often do you sketch?

*General’s Pencils are made in the USA.

Hello world!

Well, here you are, at my first post on my own blog.  Hello, and welcome!

This blog will be about art, painting, nature–things like that.  I hope you enjoy it, I hope it makes you think. Please leave me your comments and questions.