Niagara, Canadian Side

Looking down from the top of the horseshoe falls on the Canadian side, that turquoise water that forms on the edge is stunningly beautiful. From this angle the power and the force of this water is unmistakeable. I do believe the view from Canada is the best – you can view the American falls from directly across and walk from there to the Canadian horseshoe falls.

American Falls, Niagara

The night before traveling to Niagara was not a good one. My husband holds a green card and he was worried about crossing the border. He had dreams of border checks and helicopters flying overhead. We argued and he barely slept. With the current American political climate I don’t blame him. Nightmare accounts of separated families and body searches are all over the news. I grew up thinking the U.S. and Canada were practically the same country -how did we get to the point where we we’re nervous crossing a bridge into Canada? Is it possible to turn around and go back if you cross the bridge by mistake?

Once we crossed the border we no longer worried about getting back into the U.S. The Canadian side is built up, with noisy restaurants, haunted houses, wax museums, go carts and Ferris wheels. We walked through a Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe arcade to find a bar with free beer samplers. I don’t even go to those places in Chicago. Afterwards we found an Indian restaurant that was quiet and the food was good. Then as we walked along the falls, we realized how nice the view from this side is. There were lots of people, but the strip of walkway lined with gardens was so big, it never felt very crowded. We walked for hours, then we retired to our room at the Sheraton, where we had a perfect view of the falls and watched the fireworks. 

Old power station with lights for the falls

Early the next morning we left for Chicago, driving on the Canadian side to Detroit. It was smooth sailing the whole way – much better than driving through Ohio. And though the border guards are far from cheerful, we didn’t have any problems. Oh and we had to pay five bucks to get back in. What a rip off!


Below is the finished drawing, with watercolor, of the octopus at Friday Harbor Labs. His name is Enzyme.The next drawing is a work in progress, a Prismacolor drawing of the octopus named Silence. I was feeling a bit frustrated with it on my last day in Friday Harbor, but now that I am going back to it, I think it’s okay. So I’ll keep plugging away at it.

Inspiration for my next project is below. It’s going to be an installation piece and I’ll give a hint – Plankton. I’m quite excited about it, so much so, that I couldn’t fall asleep the other night, but had to get up and order supplies at 1 a.m. 

Octopus Obsession

I spent yesterday drawing more octopus and today I finally used a large sheet of D’Arches 140 lb cold press watercolor paper. It has been a while since I’ve used anything besides handmade paper, and I forgot how well a nice sized paper takes watercolor. After all the sketches, I was very happy with the final results. I’m hoping to make one more large drawing today – thanks to the Whiteley Center and Friday Harbor Labs!

Almost finished

I was given the opportunity to feed one of the octopuses tonight. Silence is a bit moodier than Enzyme and he usually hides and changes color a lot when I watch him. Tonight, after some coaxing, he grabbed the crab from my hand, latched onto me, and started pulling and exploring. It was so amazing and a bit unsettling. He is very strong and I had to tug a bit to get him to release my hand. I’m going to be very sad to leave these octopuses after tomorrow.


My studio mate and I have been making great progress. We spend hours in the studio, and yesterday Ashwin even went out to sell his wares. He made enough to buy a Lego mini figure. I’m still trying to figure out what works best for the octopus drawings and will begin a large one over the weekend. This afternoon we are going on a whale watch, but Ashwin and I already saw a pod from the shore on the West side of San Juan Island. I’m hoping to see some up close today.

 Below are some results, the good the bad and the ugly. Please let me know which one you prefer if you have a moment!

The drawing on the left is by Ashwin, it reminds me of Hundertwasser.

Day is done. I put some pages up for people who peek through the door.

Arkham at FHL

Meet Arkham, he is a bit larger than the other three octopuses at Friday Harbor Labs and he is a bit bristly. He is the main man in the study being done in Gire Labs, where they are studying navigation and sensing. Because he is a bit darker and moodier, he is more reclusive, but when I manage to take a photo he is quite dramatic. He uses something called papillae in his skin to make the dramatic horn-like bumps.

While here, I have also been given a studio.  Ashwin and I spent hours in the studio yesterday, where I draw and he writes in his journal. I knew I would want to do some sketching here, but somehow ‘a place of ones own’ makes all the difference. Now I may want to buy some big paper and go larger! I can’t wait to get back to the studio again today, it’s bright and airy and smells of fresh wood.

In between sketching sessions we go down to the water to scavenge for treasures, the shore is full of driftwood that we take up to the studio. I know I want to draw octopus, but I think I could also get swept into drawing pieces of driftwood, or printing the grain. I’ll just have to come back again for round 2!

Former scientific study specimens – now dinner

Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, WA

How do I love thee, let me count the ways. 
On my first night I held a small crab in my fingers and fed it to an octopus – Enzyme aka Slimey (Ashwin’s name for him). He lunged at my hand and wrapped his arms around, I could feel his suckers attached to my skin. It was love at first sight. I am at Friday Harbor Labs where my husband Venkatesh is collaborating with a colleague from University of Washington, studying the way octopuses move and track. In three days I have learned more about Octopuses than I have in my life. They are fascinating to watch and yesterday I went to the lab to draw and take photos. They move so much in the evening, it was hard to sketch, but I took 145 photos! I’m just a little obsessed.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I have been drawing octopuses for a little while, mainly from National Geographic photos. But there is nothing quite like drawing an octopus you are familiar with, from your own photos. I feel that Friday Harbor Labs is full of interesting people doing cool things. It’s such an inspiring environment and I feel very lucky to be here.

Octopuses become very active in the evening

Suckers with ruffled edges

Always peeking

First drawing

House Warming


Banana leaves and flowers decorate the gate

Last Monday we were invited to a house warming at the home of my mother-in-law’s cousin. He had recently completed a renovation to create apartments for his two daughters and their families on the floors above his home. In India, buildings begin with the ground floor on street level, and the 1st floor is the level above the ground. This ceremony was for the apartment on the 2nd floor. The pooja (blessing) had taken place the night before, which includes a fire in the center of the hall (living room) and offerings of fruits and flowers. A Hindu priest chants shlokas (prayers) and rangoli patterns are made on the floor with rice flour. Below s a photo of the pooja that was performed for my neice’s naming ceremony in 2014. This is before the fire was lit and smoke filled the room!


After seeing the apartment we went downstairs for a traditional South Indian Meal. We begin by washing our banana leaf with water and wiping it off with our hands. There are no utensils given for this meal and it is thought that both the banana leaf and eating with your hands enhances the flavor of the food. I don’t profess to know all about the ins and outs of the South Indian Meal, and it varies from region to region, but I do know that there is a prescribed variety of foods that are placed in precise areas of the leaf. My meal began with a small mound of salt on the upper left and a sweet tapioca paysam on the lower right. Then across the top is a row of pickle, chutney, salad and some vegetable. We we given papdum crunchier on the left side and in this case we were served a baby mango curry. The main course is served in the center beginning with a heap of white rice and some sambar. In this case were were also given bisi beli bath on the left side. Once the sambar is finished we are given rice and rasam and then mosuru, or curd rice. Then desse


South Indian Meal – almost finished

Some people fold their leaf when they are finished eating, but I was told by my sister in law that this can have various meanings for different occasions. Best to follow  what those around you are doing.

Did I mention that the meals are served by many shirtless men wearing lungi (South Indian wrapped skirt)? How could I forget? They move up and down the aisles with their stainless steel buckets of food, ladling out each variety before you can say ‘bus’ (enough)! It is only after all the guests are served that the hosting family will sit down to eat.


Taking a cell phone break after the meals are done

We are sent home with two bags. One has a coconut in it and we are given banana. The second one has a prescribed set of gifts that vary little. Below, the green package at the top is a blouse piece, to be stitched at a tailor to go with your sari. Underneath is a 10 rupee note that was given by a family member during the meal and an envelope with 200R. On the right is a sweet block of jaggery and betel leaves, and on the left are bags of crunchy snacks and ladu sweets. At the bottom is a packet of betel nut powder to be eaten with the betel leaves, and red and yellow kum kum (to dot your forehead).


Contents of the gift bag

I couldn’t resist including this beautiful Laurie Baker style home with that was next door. Venkatesh has been a big fan of his designs, built with brick open work patterns, for years.


Laurie Baker style home