Sunday, November 20, 2022

Star And Warrior

Brand New Baby Grand Daughter watercolor by Meera Rao

The baby is a year & half and finally I get around to post this little sketch from 2021!!  At least I did sketch it more than a year ago. I love it that this is being posted on the 14th Blog Anniversary! I wish I had a better image. I hope I will sketch many more as she grows up to fully realize her wonderful potential. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar Week 15 2021

The Kiowa Battle dress c 2000 by Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima) is "similar to those worn by female relatives of the warrior members of the Ton-Won-Gah, or the Kiowa Black Leggings Society. The yellow patches with the horse heads indicate a Vietnam War veteran from the US Army's first cavalry." I actually had not paid any attention to this photo on the opposite page in the upcycled sketchbook - the Smithsonian Engagement calendar 2021- while I sketched my grandbaby. It is one of the very few times I totally ignored the image in the engagement Calendar until it was time for me write about it in the blog :)
Star Magnolia from Japan At the national mall 

We planned the visit to DC to coincide the cherry blossoms in full glory. As we were walking around checking out various pockets of cherry blossoms around the National Mall area, I came across this marker on on of the star magnolia tree marking the gift from Japan many many years ago! 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar Week 15 2022

"The strappy petals of Magnoliastellata's flowers give this tree its common name- the star magnolia. Endangered in its native Japanese range, it is commonly planted in gardens for its beauty." And I found this one near the Capitol grounds.   

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Cycle of Life


Studying Skull Anatomy drawing pen and ink by Meera Rao 

I did not realize that I had been away from my blog for more than a month. I have been busy though with various projects and sketching almost daily. Some of it I post on Instagram as @artbymeera. Please send me a request in Instagram if you would like to follow and check my posts :) This month I am participating in the Inktober challenge. 

I am still plugging away at my sketching the pandemic years project! It just happened that this particular week  in March/April, I was watching various videos and studying the anatomy of human skull to help me improve my portrait drawing and painting skills.  For this sketch, the reference was by Vladimir London.  It definitely pairs well with the mask pictured for the week in my Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 upcycled to 'Sketching the Pandemic' art journal. It is 'Bo nun amuin' mask helmet c1960 from Baule people Cote d'Ivori, Africa. The caption reads:  "The mask, carved from a single block of wood, combines a forest buffalo's massive horns, a snake, and crocodile's menacing and toothy maw to represent a powerful bush spirit. Meant to be worn horizontally on the head, these masks were donned by costumed dancers while performing at the funerals of elder men. 
Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 14 March 27-April 2

Cherry Blossoms at Washington DC. ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Every year we try to visit Washington DC to admire the cherry blossoms around the Tidal basin and all over the city. Last year  we were there during the peak blooming time. I was surprised to see the all the people who ventured out (including us) ! Most wore masks where there was a crowd and  enjoyed the outdoors. The profusion of delicate pink blossoms is a sight that is awe inspiring. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 14 March 28-April 3

 'Little Hills in April' c1923 -Color aquatint etching on the opposite page of the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 14 is by Beatrice Levy.  The Smithsonian coordinated a 1932 exhibition of her art that included this artwork prepared using three color intaglio plate printing system. It is now in the collection of National Museum of American History. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

If Then She Can

#ifthenshecan sketch pit markers and ink by Meera Rao 

When we went for our walk in the National Mall in Washington DC, I came across a few orange life like statues scattered around Enid A Haupt Garden by the Smithsonian Castle. Turns out, #ifthenshecan-the exhibit “is the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled together, to be installed on and around the National Mall. The 120 life-size 3-D printed statues are of a diverse coalition of contemporary women STEM innovators and role models leading a variety of fields, from protecting wildlife, discovering galaxies, building YouTube platforms, to trying to cure cancer.” 

I had picked the two statues by the castle entrance to sketch because they were the first ones I came across! Yasmina Pressller PhD is a Soil Scientist and an Educator, and Jessie Rack PhD is an Ecologist, Environmental Educator and. Naturalist. These statues were  among the many in the Garden. Later when I got home I read that during the opening weekend earlier in the month, visitors were able to explore all the 120 statues placed in the castle, garden and AIB.  Starting March 7, select statues were then spread out to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and National Air and Space Museum along the National Mall through the end of the month.  #IfF/THEN is an initiative of the Luda Hill Philanthropies designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week13 March 20-26

I think it’s pretty interesting that the photo in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 13 is from an Smithsonian traveling exhibit that explores how another minority in USA, Latinas and Latinos have used baseballs to chase their dreams, challenge prejudices and build communities.  The photo is of Filipe Alou baseball card 1963, produced by Topps Company Inc. 

Northern Mockingbird ink and graphite by Meera Rao 

We have a sunroom and glass doors, windows on the back of our house and have taken care to not have birds crash into it. Unfortunately once every few years a bird does fly into it the glass and gets stunned. This mockingbird stayed still for an hour or so on the deck and then slowly recovered and flew off. I watched the bird to make sure it was ok and sketched - as it is not often I get to see a live bird sit still for any length of time. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 13 March 21-27

The 54-48 million years old bird fossil pictured is on the left in the Calendar is of Primobucco mcgrewi from Green River Formations WY - now at the National Museum of Natural History. According to the information in the book  “The fossil from Cenozoic era is an extinct relative of modern Coraciidaerollers, so called for the intense rolling dives they perform to attract mates and intimidate threats to their territories. Unlike its descendants Primobucco mcgrewi had shorter wings that would have made such aerial feats impossible”

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Backyard Bird Bulletin

Camouflaged Baby Birds in the Nest watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

I have to catch up with my postings - I am a year and some months behind with posting the 2021 sketches and about 20 weeks late with 2022 sketches! But I am sketching :)  

I always get excited when the sketch of the week serendipitously matches the concept shown in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar that I have repurposed for sketching the ongoing pandemic years!! For this week it is birds and nests.  It is not a surprise that spring days means I will find a nest or two tucked away in the trees and bushes in the yard.  I am not sure if the four baby birds I saw in this nest in the holly tree are Carolina wrens or Northern Mockingbirds - both were near by chirping away. So I am sure there was another nest near by as well.   I was being very careful not to disturb the chicks or alarm the parents but hearing the birds call insistently I guess that did not work!  

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 12 March 14-20 

The hand colored lithograph shown in the Calendar is by John Gould(1804-1881) from Smithsonian Libraries and Archives: Campylopterus delattrei  Plate 42 from A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of  hummingbird, vol 2, 1849.
"The five volumes of Gould's 'A Monograph of Trochilidae feature breathtaking illustrations of hundreds of hummingbird species. Gould was a prolific British ornithologist known for identifying 'Darwin's finches.'  For this book Gould drew and lithographed all the plates with British printer Henry Constantine Richter (1821-1902)"

I hope some day I will be able to check out the lithographs in person! 

The Osprey Returns!  Ink and watercolor by Meera Rao 

I had marked on my calendar to check for Ospreys' arrival and they migrated up north a week earlier in March. They started work on their nest right away, finishing it within two days. They nest on the same post in the river every year.  They had to build the nest from scratch this year as the nest from past years had been blown away in one of the storms earlier in the year.  I was delighted to find the Osprey in its perch on the pine tree in yard where they regularly enjoy their meal of freshly caught still alive wriggly fish held securely in the claws.  (Unfortunately, we lost that tree couple of weeks ago in a storm and now his/her new perch can't be seen from my kitchen window.) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 12 March 13-19 

The Red eyed tree frog Agalychnis callidryas , digital photograph by Steve Paton,  November 2019 is from the collection of Republic of Panama Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.  "Red-eyed tree frogs distract predators by flashing their bright red eyes, orange webbed feet, and blue and yellow racing stripes. whether they survive habitat destruction is another story, one in which Smithsonian research plays a leading role."  I doubt though that the fish the osprey catch get any kind of warning signs before they are scooped up!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

'Girl is Not a 4 letter Word'


Ukrainian Soldier with blue and yellow sunflower in her hair

sketch by Meera Rao from a twitter photo

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar Week of March 6-12 2022 Week 11

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Ukrainian Ministry of  Foreign Affairs noted on twitter that more than 15%of the regular Ukrainian Army are women. Girl is not a 4 letter word!!! How true - these women are taking their unique feminine qualities to a tough fight. Who knew then there is going to be so much destruction and blood shed ? I pray for a peaceful resolution for Ukraine and for the rest of the world.  

The skateboard is a prototype designed by Cindy whitehead in 2013. "Professional skater Cindy Whitehead designed this skateboard with just the right blend of edginess and bling, showcasing her original artwork as the signature product for her 'Girl is not a 4 letter word'  brand. Geared toward women and girls, her products were among the first from a woman-owned company to offer inclusion in the male-dominated sport of skateboarding."

Phyllis Wheatley pencil drawing -copy by Meera Rao 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar Week of March 7-13 2021 Week 11

When I saw the photo of 'Poems of Phyllis Wheatley'  I realized I had never read any of her poems and knew very little about her. So I went googling her and her poetry. This is probably the first time, my entry in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar is not by chance but by design. I also found a drawing of her done 50 years after her death at the National Museum of African American History and Culture- I used that sketch as my reference wondering the whole time if it was really her! The Poems of Phyllis Wheatley is from 1909 and is displayed in the museum. "In 1773, Wheatley became the first African American to publish a volume of poetry, which she did while enslaved in Boston. A version of the poet's portrait by enslaved artist Scipio Morehead(active 1770s) is depicted on the cover of this 1909 edition of her poems."

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

One of a Kind

An Unlikely Hero: Noor Inayat Khan WWII uniform at the Spy Museum in Washington DC  

I was surprised to read about and see the uniform of Noor Inayat Khan at the Spy Museum in DC. which we visited with our grand daughters.  Its a treasure trove of history and innovations and surprises like Noor Inayat Khan. I learned that she was a musician, author, princess, and a secret agent for the British during World War II. 

Wanting to know more about her, I followed up later : "Perhaps best-known by her Resistance code name ‘Madeleine’, the story of Noor Inayat Khan is unfamiliar to many today, but contains so many extraordinary elements that it’s incredible she isn’t more widely recognized. A staunch pacifist regarded by her captors as a fierce and dangerously uncooperative spy, an outspoken supporter of Indian independence who gave her life fighting for the British, a children’s author, musician and princess (descended from Tipu Sultan of Mysore), Noor is also the first - and so far only – Muslim woman to be honoured with a statue in Britain." And her service as a spy was very impressive:  "In the early hours of 17 June 1943, Noor became the first woman agent to be parachuted behind enemy lines in France (previous women had been sent as couriers). Her task was to maintain radio contact between Britain and the Resistance in Paris. This was an unbelievably dangerous job – radio equipment was bulky and hard to conceal, and staying on air for more than 20 minutes at a time risked detection by the enemy. The average lifespan of a field agent was just 6 weeks. Noor evaded capture for three months, as the Paris Resistance network – which had been infiltrated by double agents more deeply than anyone had realised – began to disintegrate during the summer of 1943. In October, she was arrested at her Paris flat and taken to German security headquarters.  Noor made two immediate escape attempts (and refused to sign an agreement with her captors ruling out a third). Regarded as a particularly dangerous prisoner, she was kept in solitary confinement in Pforzheim prison for 10 months. Finally, Noor was transported to Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed in September 1944. Her last reported word was ‘Liberté’."

It was her uniform that was on display at the Spy Museum (I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area!). 

The image on the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 for that week is a Kimono c1955 japan, Cotton with shibori tied resist patterning indigo dyed from the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Shibori is "a complex technique which selected areas are bound with with thread to resist the penetration of dye. The medium blue areas are composed of hundreds of small white circles created with kanoko shibori or tied resist while the petal like forms are nuo shibori or stitched resist. "

This page spread is dedicated to 'one of a kind' :) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 10 Feb 27-March 5

Bald Eagle Silhouetted on Pine Tree

There is a bald eagle family in our area and the birds regularly visit our yard. They sit on the branch and eat the fish caught from the river or just take a break. That tree is in east/south east section of our yard and from my kitchen window I always see the birds in the mornings as silhouettes. The painting on the opposite page for the week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 prompted me to paint the scene with black brush pen. That hanging scroll, ink on paper painting is by Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924)  Su Dongpo in a borrowed hat 1912, Meiji era.

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 10 Feb 28-March 6

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Power of Words and Images

Jaume Plensa’s Silver Adagio at Planet Word  pen&I know and watercolor by Meera Rao 

We went to the Planet Word museum with our 8 year old granddaughter who was excited to show off the place. It’s a really fun ‘museum where language comes to life’ and is perfect for language/book nerds :) There are unique interactive exhibits on various topics like history of English, languages around the world, language of humor, poetry, advertising, music, children’s first words, and more!  There is playful poetry written on the bathroom walls ! Our granddaughter‘s favorite was a ‘secret book room’ in the museum that is ‘hidden’ behind a wall of shelf :) 

At the entrance is a sculpture ‘Silver Adagio’  by Jaume Plensa.  It is made up of stainless steel symbols from ‘9 different language systems : Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, Tamil, Chinese and Assamese’.  I was impressed there were three languages from India in that sculpture! It was fun to find them ! I read that Plensa’s sculptures often focuses on what it means to be a human ‘particularly in an increasingly globalized world. The meditative pose of the figure reminds us that we are not merely bodies but spirits that use languages to express themselves and connect to others.’ 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 9 Feb 20-26
The photo of the pin back button ‘Black Lives Matter’ is from the ‘Million Man March 2015’  that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first Million Man March on the National Mall in Washington DC.  It is from the collection of National Museum of African American History and Culture. Thousands gathered and marched demanding an end to violence against black Americans. The button “features the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ which has become a movement and a rallying cry against racial violence and injustice. Plensa’s sculpture ‘speaks’ to the very same issue. I could not have planned the pairing for the week - pure serendipity! 

Palm Tree Brings Nostalgia  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Sheltering at home during the pandemic has meant that I looked out the windows and door at various times during the day and saw my own yard with new eyes ! Watching the way the sun shines and wind rustles the palm fronds on the tree near our front door brings back memories of areca nut and palm trees near my childhood home. On this particular day I felt an acute tinge of nostalgia. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 9 February 21-27

In the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 for week 9, is the ‘Portrait of the Artist’  an etching by Shahzia Sikander. It is from the collection at the National Portrait gallery.  That etching spoke to me differently than the explanation given ! 


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Colors in the Sky and Garden

Flying Colors watercolor by Meera Rao

The Great Backyard Bird count  this year was on February 18-21 and the website says 'the world comes together to watch, learn about, count and celebrate birds.'  I observed, counted and reported the birds I saw in our backyard. Over the course of four days, armed with a binoculars, I was lucky to see herons(great blue and night), an egret, ducks, ospreys, bald eagles, northern mockingbirds, cardinals, finches(purple, golden/yellow and house), pine warblers, mourning doves, Carolina wrens, sparrows, pelicans, cormorants, tufted titmouse, chickadees, woodpecker, red winged black birds and many crows. And I also heard one owl at night! I feel fortunate to have so many different kinds around our neighborhood. The birds I painted in the repurposed Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 though, are not true to what I observed - but mainly my experiments with painting them in direct watercolor without prior sketching. I am pleased how they turned out :) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 8 February 13-19

It is indeed a fantastic coincidence that the photo opposite is a different kind of colorful flyer : Boeing Stearman N2S-5 Kaydet at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and space museum. "More than 10,000 Stearman trainers were built by Boing, which had purchased the Stearman company in the late 1930s- Kaydets, along with Fairchilds and Ryans served as the backbone of US army and Navy primary flight training in World War-II. This Kaydet was used to train naval aviation cadets until 1946. 

Tasty Beauty Watercolor by Meera Rao

The 'Beautification of America' 6c block of four stamps January 16, 1969 on display at the National Postal Museum  matched well with the beautiful yellow mustard flowers from our garden during this week in February 2021. But then we grow them also for the tasty leaves for cooking :)  It is always exciting to get fresh greens in February from the backyard! 

"The stamp block, designed by Walter Dubois Richards, was part of a commemorative set in recognition of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson's 'Natural Beauty' campaign. These stamps honored the accomplishments of Mrs. Johnson's initiatives which encouraged involvement from government and local community organizations. They proved popular with the general public and the initial printing of 120 million stamps had to be increased to 170 million."

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 8 February 14-20


Sunday, April 17, 2022

Water, Earth and Sky

Watermen  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Late post! This is from February - week 7.  We see watermen in the river early morning. My research says they are harvesting oysters during February. Later it will be blue crabs and fish. As I am a vegan, until now I never bothered to look up what they were harvesting!   Their bright orange and blue outfits and yellow boat are easy to spot even when its foggy and misty. I love to watch them working and moving about in the waters. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 7 February 6-12

The photo in the  Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 7 February 6-12 shows "Raft used by Cuban 'balseros' in 1992" now at the Anacostia Community Museum. 'This small craft, handcrafted from scavenged materials, buoyed two men on their journey from Cuba to the US in 1992. Styrofoam blocks are adhered to a wooden substructure with tar and held together by the Tarred cloth that wraps around the hull. the two men in the raft were spotted by a Florida based non-profit during a flyover of the ocean and then rescued by the US Coast Guard.'

Discarded Fish Heads watercolor by Meera Rao

There are about 5 bald eagles and a pair of Ospreys that have claimed our backyard as a part of their territory. The bald eagles are year round residents but the Ospreys usually migrate around mid March to nest in the Chesapeake Bay area  and fly south for winter in September. The bald eagles don't eat the whole fish - they usually drop the fish heads to the ground and its feast time for the fish crows and turkey vultures that always show up as soon as the Eagles or Osprey land on the pine tree branch lunch spot with their catch. With osprey though, the crows have to contend with bits that fly off while tearing into the fish. There is always lots of drama as the crows try to steal from the Eagles or the Ospreys and the Eagles go after Osprey with the fresh wiggly fish in its talons!

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 7 February 7-13

The pottery shown in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 7 February 7-13, is by Jeri Redcorn (Caddo/Potawatani) and is at the National Museum of the American Indian. "Like her ancestors, Jeri Redcorn(Caddo/Potawatani) gathers clay, makes her pottery by hand, and rather than using a kiln, fires it in a pit using wood for fuel. Though many of her designs and forms draw inspiration from those her ancestors used hundreds of years ago, they are, in themselves, unique works of contemporary art."  I learned that the art of Caddo pots were lost for more than a century until Jeri Redcorn revived them after seeing the pottery exhibited in museums. These pots were used  ceremonially and may have been used to accompanied the dead to the next world.  Seems appropriate to pair them the fish heads I find in the ground around the pine tree in my backyard! 


Friday, April 1, 2022

Paradise on Earth

Bird of Paradise  watercolor by Meera Rao 

These stunning beauties belonging to genus Sterlitzia bloom every February in our sun room bringing joy and color in the middle of winter !  They look like birds in flight as their name suggests. As a matter of fact, they are also known as ‘crane flower.’ They symbolize in loyalty, success, royalty, and of course, paradise on earth in various cultures around the globe. 

 As luck would have it, in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar that has been up-cycled into a sketch book / art journal chronicling my images of these pandemic times, the photo for the week is the equally colorful ‘Earth Spirit Tomb Guardian -zhenmushou.’   It is a late 7th to mid 8th century Earthenware from Tang Dynesty in China with three color lead glaze.

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 6 January 30-February 5 2022

According to the write up : ‘During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), pairs of these fearsome composite creatures known as earth spirits were interned in tombs of elites. Charged with preventing the deceased’s soul from leaving the tomb to wander among the living, these ceramic beasts also warded off tomb robbers  and evil spirits. Chinese potters exploited the random patterns of the runny glazes in cream, brown and green to accentuate an aura of supernatural energy and crafted the plinth to resemble a mountain top, the abode of protective deities.’ 

Winter Lines  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Week 6 photo in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 was an untitled work by Avery Singer. ‘Pushing the limits of painting Avery builds compositions with 3-D modeling software and then uses computer-controlled, industrial-scale printers to airbrush them on to canvas.’  After checking the photograph, I went through my camera roll for the week zeroed in on a shot. When I looked up, outside my window was the same image: beautiful lines created by the winter branches of the trees. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 6 :January 31-February 6 2021 


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