January 12, 2019

degas dancer1, 30%degas dancers2, 30%

Last Friday evening I met one of my sketching groups at the Norton Simon. It was pretty dark and cool at 5 pm in Pasadena. If you are from the Midwest you will probably scoff at my saying that it gets cold in SoCal in winter. I was thinking about my “made up” fragility as I went directly through the front door, then the back door and out to the back garden to see if I would persist. I decided I would at least take a turn around that garden, around the Monet inspired pond and past all the beautiful sculptures. Actually I have done some fun sketches as the sun is going down back there and thought just maybe…Nah ah! It was just too darn cold for me. And for some reason they had blocked off the grass area on one whole side of the pond. I often like to sit there. What was that about? I did see one sketching friend sitting on a large boulder at the farthest end of the pond. He looked pretty settled in there. But I just kept walking round, past the fun café playing favorite jazz, back to the back garden door and then into the warm building. I wasn’t really sure what to do, as this was uncharted territory for me. And because of the cooler weather most everyone else was inside too. Darn! So, I ventured into the salon with the more contemporary art and decided to look around. In the past, I have found myself in this part of the museum (when’s it’s been too hot to be in the garden) and drawn some of the Degas bronze dancer sculptures you see here and thought I might look at them again. I plopped down on a bench near the first dancer, the one you see here dancing all alone. As I started to take out my pencils and pens I looked over my shoulder and saw three more Degas dancers in a clump. Then I turned around the other direction and saw the third grouping of Degas dancers. So, with my newfound “non-garden” lethargy I decided I would sit on this one bench and swing myself around and sketch all three. (I also did a sketch of Degas “balking” horse sculpture. I wasn’t even sure what it meant if a horse “balked.” Those of you who are more familiar with horseback riding may already know what that means. So, I looked it up on my phone. I guess it’s when a horse all of a sudden decides “nah ah” and he or she tries to stop moving. Actually, I didn’t post that sketch here because I thought it looked more like a balking dog-horse. Not really sure if I’m to blame for the dog head outcome. It seems that Degas forgot to put ears on his horse, so in fact it kind of looks like a dog’s head on a horse’s body. Google it and I think you will see what I mean. Woof!)

In a recent post (November 17, 2018) I described a very officious museum guard that I had encountered outside in the sculpture garden in front of the Norton Simon. It seems that the guard brethren on the inside of the museum are just as persistent and annoying as those on the outside. After I finally got settled on one end of my bench to do the first sketch I thought I saw a rather nervous looking guard whiz past me several times. I was busy with my sketch and thought maybe I was just being paranoid. But after what I decided was his 10th flyby, he stopped in front of the Degas dancer I was sketching and asked if the tiny flaccid canvas bag on the floor at my feet was mine. I told him it belonged to me and he scooted past—never showing his face again in my direction for the rest of the evening. What is it with these guards and poor artists sitting at benches? The last time my bag of art materials and I were accosted here I imagined that I would get back at the guard by unleashing some live bats I just happened to have in my backpack inside the museum. This time, because my bag was quite a bit smaller, I imagined I had a couple dozen ping-pong balls in there. And at any given moment I would wave the bag about, flinging ping-pong balls willy-nilly throughout the room. And I could just picture all these little white balls bouncing merrily off the walls, paintings and sculptures, and on the polished hardwood floors. But alas, I would not be able to provide any additional evening entertainment for anyone as I had left my ping-pong balls at home. I did, however, have a sheet of bubble wrap in my bag. I guess I could have snapped and popped that at will, but it was so noisy in the room, no one would have noticed. Oh darn.

degas dancers3, 30%

Putting ideas, or even people, into context

So, all of these seemingly random events and subsequent thoughts got me to thinking about how I felt like a fish out of water that night. And that made me wonder if I was somehow out of my element, or out of my personal outdoor garden context. Why was I imagining myself wreaking havoc inside…again? Maybe the guards I ran into sensed that I was out of context and not where I was supposed to be. This all seemed way too serious after my imagined ping-pong incident. That got me wondering if I was using the phrase “in context” in a truly meaningful way. I looked it up in the Google dictionary and it says “in context” means “considered together with the surrounding words or circumstances.” Maybe I was just a “balking artist” and I should just be happy that the museum guard had left me alone so I could finish sketching all my dancers. I decided that was the best way to go. When I finished one sketch, I swiveled myself around the bench to the next set of dancers, and so on. At 6:30, I packed up my bag and gathered with my fellow artists for our throw down. It was at that time that realized I was certainly in a favorite artist’s context. Maybe we are all a little more comfortable and a little less stressed when we feel like we belong in our surroundings or circumstances. What about you? What is your personal favorite context?

I swear this is the last story of the guards at the Norton Simon:

A sketching friend told me that the museum guards at the Norton Simon used to be way worse. She added a pretty funny story about Norton Simon, the man. I guess Mr. Simon was pretty autocratic, with definite ideas of what the art museum should look like and how it was to be run. And it seems that Norton Simon didn’t really care if anyone actually visited the museum, so he had lots of rules for the people who actually wanted to see the art. But that’s not all. My friend added that it is rumored that on his deathbed he told his wife (Academy Award winning actress, Jennifer Jones), that now she could finally have her café.

 

January 5, 2019

henry at the descanso
Outdoor Exhibit at Sturt Haaga Gallery at the Descanso Garden, 12/30/18 (ink and black colored pencil on mixed media paper)

I found myself at the Descanso Garden once again a couple days before New Year’s Day. No real surprise there! My son and I wandered about and then looked at the exhibit they have at the Sturt Haaga Gallery. It was a cool afternoon, so I did this one at home later from a photo I took. My hands were just too cold, even with fingerless gloves, to control the pen and pencil plein air. We later returned to the garden on New Year’s Eve to take in the Enchanted Forest light display. It’s funny, but I wander around that place so often it feels like it’s my garden and that often takes me to a place where I wonder why there are so many people in my yard.

The Sturt Haaga Gallery is tiny and sometimes their display doesn’t interest me in the least and I can slip through there, having looked at everything, in under 5 minutes. In fact, there have been times I have lingered at one or two displays, reading the artist’s title/description, just to keep from leaving in under a minute. But I never miss the opportunity to check out what is in there, just in case something catches my eye or my imagination. I like that the gallery’s mission is to educate and it “seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences that are represented by the garden.” The display they have now is called La Reina de Los Angeles and artist displays related to art and science can be found inside the actual gallery building as well as all over the garden. I have actually popped into the gallery several times to look at one particular installation. (I will describe that piece later on…) I think I forgot to mention that La Reina de Los Angeles is all about water and waterways in our sometimes-parched landscape and it will be at the Sturt Haaga Gallery until January 13. According to the volunteer docent I chatted with on Thursday, after the 13th it will close for a month while the next exhibit is set up. She didn’t know the theme of the upcoming gallery exhibit.

What you are looking at here is part of the La Reina de Los Angeles “outdoor” exhibit and features some pieces of an old aqueduct called the Zanja Madre. In reading the description of the three aqueduct fragments displayed there, it seems that a brick and mortar aqueduct was used to bring water to the tiny town of El Pueblo de Los Angeles from 1781 to 1904. (Crazy to imagine LA being very tiny.) But I guess remnants of the aqueduct were unexpectedly dug up in Chinatown in 2014 and someone decided to save, and preserve, as much of it as they could. Considering the gallery’s mission statement is a blending of art with science, I am not sure if such a structure should be considered art. I get the science angle, but wonder if it’s more archeology and these are artifacts and not art. (If you can get over there before the exhibit closes you can decide for yourself their artistic value.)

Another outdoor artistic installation I have rather enjoyed involves some music that you can hear outside the gallery. An experimental artist, who is also a violinist, created the sounds/music you can experience there right now. It seems that he stood in the LA River, under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, capturing ambient sounds of the waterway. Then he added his “original” violin music as well as some “sonic effects.” The first time I heard the music I was on the hill behind the gallery. I thought a concert was underway on the grassy lawn area down below me. But I soon discovered a couple speakers in the rooftop garden of the gallery and realized the music/sounds were coming from there. I actually think it’s rather dark and strange, but cool sounding. I think that stems from my general love of the melancholy and such sounds make me feel so sad, but in such a lovely way.

Of all the various exhibits that are part of La Reina de Los Angeles I have described here two of the three parts that I have enjoyed most. I have one more to tell you about, and it is inside the building. It’s called Blue McRight and it is a 12 by 8 by 1.5 foot bookcase that vertically fills most of a wall in one room. In the wooden bookshelves are used books, vintage bronze faucets and sprinklers, and black rubber hoses. Some of the faucets have been attached to a couple books and some of those faucets are connected to hoses that have been attached to sprinklers on the floor in front of the bookcase crammed with books. It’s clear, upon entering the space that it’s a bookshelf completely filled with books. But if you look closer at all the books you will notice that all the book spines are black, white or cream colored, as well as various shades of sea green and blue. And if you get even closer you will notice that all book titles are related to water/ice, rivers, ocean and/or river/ocean creatures, boats etc. It seems to have something “water related” for everyone here. The afternoon my son and I were there we even noticed some guy taking books off the shelf to look at them. We were both in shock at his art effrontery. Did he think he was in a lending library? His library card should definitely be revoked! Where is a volunteer gallery docent, or reference librarian, when you need one?

So, I have carefully described three parts of the exhibit that I personally enjoyed. But several of the artist installations that contributed to La Reina de Los Angeles were just not my cup of tea. So, I thought the bigger story here was really that it is OK if you don’t like everything you see at an art gallery. In fact, it’s OK to not like anything you see. But I think it’s important to try to look at everything before you make that decision. Even though we, as artists, are extremely diverse, I think that kind of thought process is very common among my artist brethren. We try to look at someone else’s work with an open mind, ready to like any or all parts of what we see. And if we see nothing to our liking, we still walk away with an appreciation of what the artist was trying to convey in his or her work.

Of course I got to thinking more about artists and how diverse we are. In fact, we might be the most diverse single group of people on the planet. Diversity seems to be in the news a lot these days, as though some people are afraid of others that seem too diverse, too different from themselves. It seems that some want us to be more alike, so we won’t seem so dangerous or scary. But I think there is a “diversity” lesson for all of us to be learned from artists. And I think the best way to describe what I mean is the fact that even though I wasn’t drawn to all of the exhibits at the Sturt Haaga Gallery right now, I am thankful for all the people who participated.

Here is an example of a group of random artists interacting. Last evening one of my sketching groups met at the Norton Simon to sketch. It is typical for this group to start showing up at 5. Our little groups of one or two people begin sketching what interests us the minute we enter the place. Some go outside to paint in the garden, some head for a favorite painting or painter, some go downstairs to the Asian sculpture room and some check out the exhibit room that changes periodically. Last night I found myself doing pencil and ink sketches of a number of small Degas bronzes for the first part of the evening. As usual, by 6:30 we meet in the main lobby to share what we have drawn/painted. Then as a group we do something together and meet back in the lobby at 7:30 for a “throw down.” I have described a “throw down” in a previous blog, but will describe it here again. It’s when we each pick something that we think was particularly satisfying or successful and place in on a bench. Then we talk about what we did and share the materials we used. This might seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s really not. You put yourself in a very vulnerable place, like maybe you are thinking that what you have created isn’t that great, or you wish your art looked like someone who has more experience. And oh yes, there are always a couple “ringers” in our get togethers and it’s hard not to compare your amateur work with someone who gets paid regularly for his or her artwork. But this is where our diversity shines through and instead of people being smug and telling you why they are better and you are worse, we all look around together and pat each other on the back—the beginners, intermediates and the advanced artists. People make comments about everyone’s piece, saying things like I love your composition; I like the way you worked so loosely, or your layering of shades of green on the trees was great. Finally, after we have gone around and shared our work we stand together and take a group photo of all of us holding up our work. Wow! Those moments are so powerful, right? And maybe we were all expected to paint the same thing or do a piece of a whole, then put them together. That kind of group activity never seems to work out either because someone may want to paint the sculpture of an elephant he or she passed by and not the winged creature from 3rd century Pakistan. And that’s always OK and appreciated. As artists we are the textbook definition of diverse, but somehow we know it’s important to hang together on some level. And we appreciate each and everyone’s artistic spirit and the right to express it however we please. And I love knowing that there are artists out there that I will never meet or understand, but am thrilled to know they are out there…somewhere…creating art, just like me. No more to be said.

December 29, 2018

glad1
Gladiolus stem on China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)

A couple weeks ago I described the frame I built to help me with my first “canvas sketch.” It was a wooden expandable frame I originally created in the early 1980s to stretch panels of habotai, also known as china silk. (Habotai is quite ephemeral—very soft and almost translucent.) I painted bits of floral ephemera on the stretched material and sewed it together with other strips of silk to make simple kimonos. Habotai takes the paint beautifully, with the color soaking through to the other side, so it almost looks like stained glass when held up to the light. As I said in that recent post, stretching the piece of canvas made me wonder if I still had any of my painted kimonos. I dug through a box and found these. Woo hoo!

Before making the hand-painted kimonos, I was making kimonos from “found fabric” for a vintage clothing store in Los Gatos. The store was called “Rags to Riches.” When I say “found fabric,” I mean random squares of cotton or rayon I found in huge barrels in various fabric stores I seemed to be haunting at the time. I would dig way down to the bottom, finding colorful and fun prints. And it seemed that each piece was just enough to make a simple and fun kimono. I remember making a bunch of these, putting them in a garment bag and walking along North Santa Cruz, looking for some place that might let me sell what I had made. One of the owners of “Rags to Riches,” then located on North Santa Cruz, liked what I was making and let me sell my outerwear there. The store was very eclectic with her vintage clothing on one side of the store and a former boyfriend’s vintage furniture on the other side. The kimonos sold very well in her little shop and she and I actually became pretty good friends.

There were many funny stories and events that we shared together related to her vintage clothing business. Once we got to know each other she hired me to make 30s style dresses and what she was calling “Joan Crawford” blouses with shoulder pads and beaded necklines. We also made a trip to LA together, where she took me to an unmarked warehouse in downtown that sold vintage clothing by the pound. She was always on the look out for beaded sweaters from the 50s and what she called “Barbie dresses” that were actually old prom dresses also from the 50s. She found quite a few sweaters and dresses on that trip. Later on she started making hats and renting out Halloween costumes. She had found a small business in Santa Cruz that made a wide variety of Halloween costumes and my friend would rent some of their more elaborate costumes that she would then rent out to her “Rags to Riches” customers. One year she had a female gorilla costume on display at the front of the store. But one afternoon, a couple people drove up to the front of her store, grabbed the gorilla costume and drove away. My friend saw the whole thing happen and ran screaming after them as they made their gorilla getaway. She could run pretty fast even when wearing her usual pair of spring o lators. She never caught the “gorilla nappers,” but swore she was going to every Halloween party in Santa Clara County, looking for someone dressed as a female gorilla. It’s a pretty funny story now, but it wasn’t at the time, as she had to pay outright for the costume.

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Water Lilies on China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)
silk sleeves
Camellias on sleeves of China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)

During her hat and Halloween phase she and I continued to collaborate on various other projects, but I also continued with my kimonos. I don’t remember what got me started painting on this flowy silk, but I do remember that I loved its soft and ephemeral quality and wanted to do something special with it. It made into such lovely lightweight kimonos. I was not only interested in painting on the silk, but was experimenting with dying the fabric with natural dyes. One of my favorite natural dyestuffs was cochineal and when it was mixed with hot water I created beautiful shades of bright red all the way to lavender, depending on the mordant added to the dye bath. If you want to know more about cochineal, look it up on the Internet. I will tell you that it is an insect… Besides dying yards and yards of china silk in huge pots my Los Gatos backyard, I also loved painting flowers on it. But I don’t remember what kind of paints I used. Such hand painted and hand dyed kimonos sold well at “Rags to Riches.”

As usual, many of my “art inspired” stories lead me to seemingly random topics that are just floating around in my head. This week is no exception. You may have noticed that for this week’s post I have used the term “ephemeral” quite a bit. Silk has a natural life and is short lived. And over time it will degrade and finally turn to dust. I learned first hand about this when my “Rags to Riches” friend asked me to repair a beaded dress from the 1920s. The beads had been stitched to a crepe de chine sheath dress and were falling off. As I tried to restitch the beads back to the silk, the thread would pull through the silk fabric and make a hole in the dress. The weight of the all over beads was pulling on the silk threads and the once strong and stable woven fabric was weakening. I suggested the dress be remade in cotton, but wondered who was going to sit and stitch each and every bead back onto that dress.

When thinking of the transitory nature of silk it stands to reason that the paint and dye materials I used on it would also degrade and be lost at some point in time. It’s funny, but I am actually OK with the idea that art is meant to be lost—even the great works of art painted on canvas will degrade sometime. Maybe art in general is meant to be transitory in nature and even the most saturated colors and materials lovingly created by an artist are meant to degrade and disappear over time. And maybe future artists are meant to reinvent or recreate that art for future generations to love with distraction as we do right now. But take heart future artists! There will always be a place for art and artists that don’t worry about such things. We will always continue to create our creations whether it’s meant to last or not. I mean, think of those artists who do detailed chalk sketches on the sidewalk. They know it’s going to rain sometime, but do it anyway. Can I get an A-men?

Note about vintage downtown Los Gatos, circa 1980’s

“Rags to Riches” has been gone for a long time. The whole Los Gatos downtown changed after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Many of the old brick buildings had been damaged and had to come down. And it seemed that once all of the buildings on North Santa Cruz changed Los Gatos took on a kind of gentrification that seemed to push out all the old funky parts of Los Gatos. That included “Rags to Riches,” the old movie house and the heart of Mountain Charley’s restaurant. Maybe places are just as ephemeral as art. Yes?

Just came from my first B’not Mitzvah in the Valley. What a delight!

Happy New Year!

 

December 22, 2018

LC, large canvas3
Canvas Sketch, Step 4, Tuesday afternoon (12/18/18), photo taken inside my garage.

I thought I would finish today, but think I need one more day. And today’s session was a bit harrowing as the tiniest bit of wind flipped the canvas face down onto the ground. Thank goodness acrylic paint dries fast and it was OK. Of course there was a small problem with the tray I use to mix my colors. The wind blew it face down onto the concrete and left a splotch of blue paint. Hmm…I have a couple small bungee cords I will try to use next time to attach the canvas to the garden stakes. Stay tuned…

LC, large canvas4
Canvas Sketch, Step 5, Friday afternoon (12/21/18, first day of winter), photo taken outside my garage.

Going a pace?

As kids, when we were involved in some kind of project for school, writing a paper or doing general homework, my dad would ask us if we were “going a pace.” Such a term had special meaning for us, but probably doesn’t mean anything to you. I just Googled it and I guess it is actually a measure of 30 inches. But when my dad asked us if were “going a pace” we weren’t measuring whatever we were doing in inches, but in time. Like, how long before we expected to be done, or had we gauged the project correctly so we weren’t trying to do it last minute. My mom thought his routine “check ins” a bit odd because she said that when they were at UCLA he always procrastinated doing his homework and studying for tests. I figured he adopted this attitude because he didn’t want us to put off getting things done in a timely manner, then rushing at the end to finish. Interestingly enough this term did not originate with my dad.

My dad was an electrical engineer in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) in 60s, 70s and early/mid 80s. He loved designing circuits. For a time it seemed he was always changing jobs, going from one small start up company to another. When he started a new group, with an actual R and D (Research and Development) budget, he would order test equipment and tables etc. Then, his group of engineers and techs would literally build all the circuits/parts they would need for any given project and test it out right there in the lab. My dad had one tech guy; we’ll call him WH. It seemed my dad would invariably hire WH to join his group at whatever lab my dad was in charge of at the time. My dad loved to go into the lab and see his friend sitting at a workbench, tinkering with the group’s latest circuit. And he would ask him, “How’s it going WH?” And WH would reply, “We are going a pace.” Which meant they were getting closer to the measurements for the specs (specifications) they were looking for and that would make my dad smile. That way he knew they were nearer to completing a circuit that could then be reproduced and sold to waiting customers.

Since this painting took some real time and planning I wondered all along if I was going a pace. I guess that’s always the question in the back of my mind when I start a painting, or even a sketch. Will I finish it? Or will I just sort of stop working on it, put it away and move on to something else? I think the secret to being a painter, at least my secret to painting, is to try to finish it no matter what.

I have a kind of One California Girl weekly blog process. Before sitting down to start writing on Monday afternoon/evening, I have secured in my mind a piece of art that I think will inspire a story. You may have noticed that each story usually has three components. First, I give background for each piece with regards to the materials I have used to create it. Second, I support my California images/landscapes with names and places specific to California, sometimes with CA historical information I think is relevant and/or interesting. Finally, and of course not the least important, are the stories of my family—some who were born here and some who came in from the cold of various western and Midwestern states to sunny Southern California.

But this week my process was a little different, as I didn’t finish the art as planned. I wound up with a cold over the weekend and just couldn’t get myself outside either Sunday or Monday. But all this procrastination is actually what I had planned to write about this week, so I had a story in mind even before the art was finished. Don’t get me wrong, I walked past the canvas I started last week numerous times and definitely had a course of action to complete it. Or did I? I guess my question is, “Am I a finisher?” How about you? “Are you a finisher?” I got this one done, but I have a story of a painting that I never finished. It was meant to be the definitive portrait of my grandmother, a woman I never met. Even though I painted over the beginnings of her portrait years ago, I still feel a little intimidated and guilty—wondering why I didn’t complete it. And why isn’t it featured prominently over the mantle of my fireplace, like so many other grand family portraits I’ve seen in the movies? But as I think about what I’ve already written, this seems to be the fodder for a future California story.

Oh, and the bungee cords worked swimmingly. Nothing landed on the ground for the last step for this canvas sketch! Woo hoo!

Happy Holidays!

December 15, 2018

La Crescenta, large canvas1
Step 1, Stretching the canvas and going outside, 12/9/18 (62 by 32 inches)

I realize this may look like a heap of nothing, and in fact this first photo is just that, a large blank canvas in my front yard. But for this first image I wanted to show the set up I’m experimenting with—where I’m doing a kind of deconstructed “urban sketching” landscape on a much grander scale. (I will try to explain what I mean by a deconstructed landscape later. I’m still kind of working that out in my head.) I knew this whole thing would probably only work for urban landscapes where no one would mind if I showed up with larger than expected sketching stuff. (If you read my blog regarding the sketch I did out in front of the Norton Simon on November 17, 2018, you would know that the museum guard I spoke to that day would probably plotz if I showed up with anything you see here.) A lot of what I plan to do in the next few weeks will be me setting this up in various places in my garden, or garage if it’s raining, and then quickly painting what I see in my little SoCal neighborhood. And if it’s raining I will be running in and out of the garage to look at the mountains, or the sky, or whatever. Somebody left rather cute red toy truck out front the other day and I might even include something that mundane, but nonetheless “urban” and charming, in the future. So, this is what it looked like last Sunday afternoon in my front yard. I know, not very exciting. I had chosen this spot because I could easily see some of my “neighborhood mountains” just behind me. In fact, I did a watercolor of this same view and posted it almost one year ago to the day—December 12, 2017. I think I will post it again to compare with next week’s “completed” work. Or you can look it up yourself right here and now.

So, here are the behind the scenes descriptions of what you are looking at. First, I cleared off a workbench in my garage and temporarily tacked the sheet of 62 by 32 inch canvas onto a wooden frame I made back in the early 80s. At that time I was living with my family in Los Gatos and was painting on silk. I made the frame so it could be folded in half and therefore accommodate two different sizes (62 by 32 inches or 31 by 32 inches) Back then I taped different textures of silk to the frame and lightly painted favorite floral designs onto the stretched fabric. Once I finished the paintings, I removed them from the frame and then fashioned kimonos that I sold as wearable art. (I should look to see if I have any kimonos left that are worth ironing and photographing for another story. That would actually make quite a story and some of the silk I dyed in large vats in my backyard.)

Next, I pounded two 5-foot wooden garden stakes into the ground under my pepper tree and propped up the canvas against the stakes. And oh yeah, I am not a neat painter, so I put down a drop cloth under everything. In fact, when I work this big and fast I often get paint in my hair. A while back the lady who used to cut my hair when I lived in Grass Valley got tired of picking paint out of my hair. So one day she ceremoniously gave me a shower cap to wear when I painted. (That’s NOT in the materials you see here. And I can’t even imagine what my neighbors would think if they saw a woman wearing a shower cap painting on a large canvas in the front yard.)

To the right you see a rolling table with upper and lower surfaces crammed with supplies. I actually found this with a bunch of cast off furniture at a school and put it into my car and took it home—so I know it would fit in there easily. So I also knew that I could take this along in my car if I decided on a far off ninja urban sketching event. You probably can’t see it, but there is a black plastic plant holder that was meant to hold eight 4-inch by 4-inch plants. I got at the nursery. Those square holes hold my 8 fluid ounce jars of acrylic paint, plus assorted other 2 ¾ inch Mason jars for water and any colors I mix that are worth saving for another day. (I already have saved a lovely SoCal hazy day sky blue.) This “paint” arrangement seems perfect for transporting to locations that are as yet unknown. And this paint holder has a built in advantage for those of us who are messy because someone like me is less likely to spill things if they have a proper place to be. I specifically looked for paint containers that fit into those spots and had screw caps. Such containers will keep the paint from drying out. A lot of plein air painters use oil when they are outside because it doesn’t dry as quickly as acrylics, but since I like to do “under colors” I don’t want to wait for anything to dry. I want this to go fast. Then it’s really more like doing a watercolor that doesn’t bleed when the paper gets too wet, it just runs down the canvas. That’s when it gets messy because you need a rag to wipe off those “tear staining” dribbles.

La Crescenta, large canvas2
Step 3, Step after laying in some of the “under” colors (Step 2–not shown) and blocking in the trees and house in the foreground—half way there, 45 minutes from the start

End of first day painting

If you are getting bored with all this, hang in there because I am almost done with the set up and ready to tell how this is meant to be a deconstructed landscape. I mean, don’t you want to know what colors I used to get to this point? Of course you do! I used titanium white, ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow and burnt umber. Tomorrow I will finish this and plan to add touches of other colors I have in tubes in a bag for the final piece of art. I forgot to mention that I also had some plastic mixing trays, an assortment of big brushes and a laundry detergent jug that was rinsed out and filled with water.

What is a deconstructed landscape?

For each of the three steps I have described here, I stopped to take a photo of each one and shared it with friends. Now, I am not a sophisticated social media person and didn’t post the three photos I took (I didn’t include the Step 2 photo of sky and “under color” only here) on Instagram of Facebook, I just texted people that live nearby. And it was my hope that they would send along a note of acknowledgement, a question or two or even stop by to see what I was doing. Don’t hate me, but this is the cool part of being one California girl because the weather last Sunday was beautiful—in the upper 60s to low 70s. Someone could have driven past to say hello and make me take a break. I’m not looking for anyone to tell me whether or not they like what I’m doing, it just makes me stop and take personal stock of what’s in front of me. This helps to make a better piece in the end because I don’t feel like I can “drive off the cliff’ of going to far with a color or idea. It just makes me “stop.”

So, that is my idea of a deconstructed landscape, where other people are all part of the different stages of my painting—saving me from myself. And don’t we need more people in the world who save us from going too far? And they don’t even have to be a friend, just an interested bystander. I would do the same for them. Wouldn’t you?

Stay tuned for the final painting. Tomorrow looks to be another lovely day for one California girl.

December 8, 2018

Atascadero Road
Atascadero Road, date: timeless (oil on canvas, 24 by 32 inches)

I think the actual canvas I’ve posted today was the very first canvas I actually stretched. And I think I did this one in high school—seems like someone else’s lifetime ago. I remember that the actual weave of the cloth was not very close and when I brushed on the layer of gesso it took a couple coats to get into all the nooks and crannies. That being said, I have no idea how many paintings are under this view of lupines on a road in Atascadero. This last layer is on pretty thick as well and it would be impossible to see any of the original canvas unless you turned it over and looked at the raw ungessoed canvas on the back. In fact, I just got up from my laptop to look at the back, thinking it would be fun to take a picture of the raw canvas, but stopped short of my typical geekiness. Actually, what I noticed was years of dust and cobwebs back there and decided all of this might be just too weird. Oh, I dusted it off, by the way.

Now that I have added textures of flowers, trees and a road that takes you around an uncertain corner, this will probably be the last layer for this one. I don’t actually remember when I painted this final one, but it was definitely before the Great Recession of 2008. If you are an artist and were working at your art in the early and mid 2000s, there seemed to be people with extra money and they wanted to buy art. I met an interior decorator in Paso Robles early in the 21st century and she had lots of clients looking for art with very specific and personal themes for their walls. She suggested I look online at what other painters were making for sale. I checked it out and saw quite a variety. There were people who specialized in art that looked like it was from the Renaissance or street scenes of famous places like Paris and Rome, and landscapes of all kinds could be found there. Some did art of trains, boats and airplanes. I think Thomas Kincade, a fellow native Californian, figured this out and made a nice living painting romantic and idealized landscapes for just such a clientele. And of course there were artists who did “people” portraits and would paint your cat or dog if you sent them a photo. During this time of plenty I was doing lots of landscapes of vineyards and roads weaving in and out of the canvas, but none of it was done for a specific person or purpose. (Actually, that’s not exactly true. I did a painting during that time for what I thought was to be a poster for a Zinfandel festival in Paso Robles. That was actually a disaster and I blogged about it in my April 28, 2018 post.) Most of all I just loved traveling the North County back roads, capturing scenes of places that I wanted to linger and hang out in. The decorator I just spoke of said I should start a website of paintings that specialized in roads and vineyards. I also remember checking that out on the Internet to see if anyone else had a similar theme going. And sure enough there were plenty of paintings of vineyards. At that same time I knew of other artists who were creating paintings for wine bottle labels in the Paso Robles area. Before the crash, a Grass Valley winery owner tentatively suggested I do a label for one of their wines. Another person who was making and selling jewelry in Grass Valley told me he thought I should make posters of my work and not sell the originals. Again, I think Thomas Kincade figured out that whole idea. He mass produced his works, put them in nice frames and opened stores that just sold his art. Lots of people were all very generous with their suggestions of what I should do. Remember, I said all of this was going on before 2008. Because by 2009, that game was up and no one was interested in having someone who specialized in paintings of roads, airplanes or any other niche art category you could imagine. Of course I think there are probably still people who will do portraits and paintings of your pets. (I just Googled Portraits of Pets and found several websites that still specialize in that.)

The Road Less Traveled

And of course I didn’t do anything that anyone suggested and continued to paint as I pleased because even before the crash of 2008 I knew I would never really be happy trying to make a living selling my paintings. I think I realized it would be too much pressure to paint too many things that didn’t really interest me. So, I didn’t quit my day job. That brings me to the second part of the story that actually focuses on the subject matter of this painting. I am calling this part “The Road Less Traveled.” The idea was inspired by the “Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. Oh, and by the way, Robert Frost was a native Californian, born in San Francisco in 1874. He got to live the life of an artist—poet and playwright.

Not sure if I could get in trouble posting the whole poem here, but think I’m OK if I just include the fourth and final stanza.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Because I truly an introvert in an extrovert’s sharkskin suit, the life of an artist suits me well. Being able to paint throughout my life has allowed me to communicate my feelings and thoughts to myself and really no one else. I was painfully shy as a young girl and adolescent. I was bullied on and off through all those years as people often thought I was a snob or conceited and said and did some very unkind things to me. My dad would remind me that those people didn’t matter and I always had my art. (He also was good at reminding me of all the wonderful music that made our lives bearable…) And you know what? He was right! For those of you who also have the soul of artist, you know it is not an easy road. My ancestors were soldiers, sharecroppers, plumbers and dreamers. And when things seemed like tough going my family had an expression that went something like, “That’s going to be a hard road to hoe.” But it’s the only road I know.

December 1, 2018

Japanese Lanterns
Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest lanterns at one of the entries to the Japanese Garden, 11/20/18 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I found myself at the Descanso Garden again. I was glad I had the day off to go and paint there. I assumed there wouldn’t be many people wandering about because it was a regular weekday. And I had a plan. I planned to paint some of the amazing red lanterns that are set up in the Japanese Garden for the Enchanted Forest holiday light display. I don’t often go into the Japanese Garden as it is a popular place with garden visitors, but I was sure it would be OK for that day. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it was almost full. What the heck! As I stood in line to get in a docent told me that on Tuesday the garden was free. So, there were lots of people milling around—especially lots of strollers, small children and their usually well-meaning adults.

But I was determined to get past my “people aversion” because I had a plan. I wandered over to the Japanese Garden, looking for a good view of the trees and shrubs with the colorful red lanterns that were hanging from long curved black poles throughout the space. Low and behold, I found the perfect spot just outside the Japanese Garden at a bench across the creek from the gate and four lanterns you see here. I was immediately in Descanso heaven and decided I could sit there quietly and sketch and paint without being bothered by people. Of course, just as I was settling in, two school-age children ran right over to MY bench and tried to hide behind it. They had absolutely no idea that I was there and were very much into some sort of giggling game. I turned to look at them and showed them my stern “teacher face,” but they soon ran off. So, even if I had managed the perfect look of disapproval, they weren’t there long enough to see it. I hate being ignored! And what good’s a perfect “look” if no one is looking your way.

Finally, I got my materials set up and did a sketch of this garden gateway with the greenery and red lanterns. When I do something with architectural elements I always like to include some kind of “perspective,” making the structure appear to go back into the page. I’m not sure if I learned to do this from someone, but it works well for me. I think buildings can look rather flat, square and uninviting, and if you want your viewer to come into the picture with you, you need to invite them in. This “color” story included all my usual blues, greens, yellows and “Bark” Inktense colored pencil leaving plenty of white space and highlights. But I wasn’t sure how to paint the four red lanterns. Each one was a saturated red/crimson/orange ball of color that changed ever so slightly as the sun moved across the sky. So, I painted everything, except the roundish white lantern shapes, and then I stopped. Now, I never do a painting without taking bits of breaks to mix another color or let the little voice inside my head suggest what I should do next. I mix some colors, layer them in, and let that dry while I work on other sections—always mindful to leave as much white space as possible. I had taken my usual half a peanut butter sandwich break so I could let everything settle and plan my final paint assault. But I just couldn’t think of what to do for those last round shapes. I sat there, pretending to let everything dry. My sandwich was gone, so I had nothing to do with my hands. I had no idea what to do next, so I just stared across the water at the gate and waited. What was I waiting for? I have no idea. Maybe I was hoping to make the tortuous moment last longer? Yes, I have been known to linger at the strangest times. Like, if I am reading a particularly good book and I don’t want it to end, I’ll put it down, sometimes in mid sentence. It’s a wonderful kind of agony because I am dying to find out what’s going to happen next. I did just that with the book Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. It’s a pretty long book, so I had many opportunities to willingly torture myself. (I recommended the 5-part HBO mini-series based that was done a couple years ago—based on the 4 books that make up the story—in a recent blog.) It was tortuously long and wonderful.

Anyway, getting back to my red lantern torture, I began pondering the question, “What was I waiting for?” That can be a really loaded question, like it can mean that you have been waiting to try something new, but are just too chicken to put yourself out there and go for it. So that would sound like, “What are you WAITING for? But then there is also “WHAT are you waiting for?” or maybe even “WHOM are you waiting for?” That makes me think something or someone is suppose to happen, and then you will know what you are supposed to do. And of course “Whom are you waiting for?” might take years and I had already eaten my half a sandwich and I wondered how long I could go without food while I waited.

All of a sudden a young school-age boy, his even smaller brother and their well-meaning parent walked up to me. I guessed that the older boy was a first grader as his left upper front baby tooth was hanging by a thread. And the smaller boy looked to be a 4-year old preschooler. The mom told me I was right on both counts. I’m not sure if they were enchanted with my art, so much as they had obvious interest in my tray of assorted pigments, pots of mixed colors, brushes and other painting materials on the bench beside me. They were so polite and approached very quietly and politely. But I could tell the older boy really wanted to talk about what I was doing and his silent grinning little brother was just happy to be included in the moment. The mom hung back, but seemed thrilled that her boys had come upon a painter in a garden with some really cool looking painting materials. I’ve had a few conversations about painting with small children and I usually ask them about his or her favorite color. It’s funny, but little kids really do have such passion for such a discussion because staking your personal claim on a color is very personal and important. I showed them my favorites at the moment—“Opera” and my beloved “Cerulean Blue.” When I added that cerulean blue was my favorite because it was often the color of the sky, they both nodded in agreement. I think the color of the sky is important to all landscape painters, or future young school-age landscape painters for that matter. The younger boy finally spoke and told me that green was his favorite color and I quickly described all my different green pigments. Funny, the older boy didn’t actually tell me his favorite color, but nodded in agreement when I told him “Opera” was great. I chatted a bit with the mom too. She told me of the older boy’s love for art and said that the school he was attending had art as part of the curriculum. That made my day and I told them of a very early memory I had of my kindergarten teacher allowing me to stay in at recess so I could draw and color. I have such a vivid recollection of one particular afternoon in kindergarten where I sat coloring at a table, and sunlight was streaming in the door that was open to the very noisy kindergarten playground.

And then they were gone. I guess I had been waiting for them to distract me, helping me get myself out of my head. I mixed up a beautiful red made up of “Scarlet Lake,” and “Cadmium Red Pale Hue,” got my “Chilli Red” Inktense pencil and went to work. It took me less than 5 minutes to add the lanterns. Crazy, huh? Then I packed up my materials and went home.

So, what are you waiting for? Or whom are you waiting for? And if you are waiting for that special someone I hope you are lucky enough to find them while strolling in a favorite place, or sitting on a bench with a lovely view. Or at least I hope you have lots of peanut butter sandwiches because you might get hungry if you have to wait too long.

November 24, 2018

Cloud art2
Fanciful cloud 1, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) This is the same cloud I posted a couple weeks back, but I scrubbed out a cheeky cloud that I had somehow let in.
Cloud art3
Fanciful cloud 2, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) If I were to stretch this canvas the wrinkles down the middle would be gone.

If you are an artist, you probably don’t usually create something to cover up an unsightly something. Creative motives are usually to make something of beauty, with no real extrinsic value except to the creator. But every now and again art is called for when it can help with an ugly or unsightly view in your apartment. These two panels were just what I wanted to cover some tragic vertical blinds in my bedroom. I think vertical blinds in general are a bad idea, or at least an unsatisfactory solution to covering a large window or sliding glass door. I get that they are cheap and that’s why apartment owners put them up. But that’s the problem, they are cheap and often don’t hang straight, are difficult to open or close and/or just the fact that they are made of plastic from top to bottom makes me very unhappy. Besides, even with all those layers of plastic hanging down, light somehow gets in at various places where the plastic doesn’t quite come together because some pieces were slightly wavy and warped. So, I decided to cover up one such disaster completely with something I wanted to look at when I woke up in the morning, rather than…you know what I’m talking about. Even with that being said, I wasn’t sure that such a resolve to permanently block out a long and narrow window (110 inches by 43 inches) with a beautiful piece of art, no matter how unsightly the blinds, was a good idea. I had a double reason for covering it all up. Because even though I was on the third floor, the window in question looked out over an alley to other apartments and lots of power lines. I began musing what I would like to see out that window instead of what was actually there. I decided on a beautiful blue sky with soft romantic clouds made up of cerulean and ultramarine blue and titanium white. That’s what you see here.

First, I had to cut the canvas into two pieces because I didn’t have a large enough space in my apartment to paint one long large unstretched piece of canvas. I did have a perfect little spot in front of my refrigerator on the kitchen floor for each half, and I could reach all the way around each cloud square crawling around on the floor on my hands and knees. But I only had room to do one at a time, and I wanted each one to dry quickly, so I used acrylics. If you are a lover of oil paints and wish to paint with them, that’s up to you. Anyway, I didn’t fancy too many days of stepping over large sections of oil painted canvas when I wanted to get something out of the frig. I still think painting in the kitchen was a great solution. Besides, lots of apartment kitchens have windows you can open as both acrylics and oils can be rather stinky.

I think I would always recommend putting a beautiful cerulean blue sky with puffy white clouds up to a window with a questionable view and/or window treatment. Here’s how I came to this seemingly random artistic discovery. Mind you, everything I will describe here happened quite by accident with only the determination of making something beautiful for a perfectly utilitarian use. When I painted each canvas piece, I covered the blue sections with a slightly heavy layer of paint, but only lightly painted the actual cloud sections with white. (Remember I said I was in a hurry to not block access to my frig and this all went down fast.) I liked the idea that the actual gessoed white canvas would be part of the white cloud. The thin layer of white paint would turn out to be key, as you will soon discover if you have not already stopped reading this because it’s just too boring. Once everything was dry, I closed the blinds for good and hung up my clouds. The clouds had turned out to be a satisfactory solution for that room. But one weekend morning I woke up late and noticed the larger clouds were actually glowing from the tiny bit of light that still got in through the cracks of the blinds. I lay there a while and just looked at them. The cloud show got better and better because as the light coming through that eastern facing window moved higher in the sky, the lightness and brightness of the clouds changed. I was blown away. I wish I could say that I had actually meant all of this to happen, but it was quite random and therefore even lovelier. So remember, if you want this affect, be sure you are covering crappy vertical blinds that let in small bits of random light. Be sure to make the blue background very opaque and just add touches of cloud colors using a very thin mixture of paint. And also remember the vertical blinds are key because I actually used the top cornice of this window treatment to hang the sheets of clouds. All it took was 8 or 10 clothespins well placed and evenly spaced at the top. I forgot to mention that the reason I didn’t stretch the canvas was because I thought it would make the finished pieces too heavy and maybe pull the blinds right off the wall. I could just imagine the landlord asking me what I thought I was doing. I would have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing. If you don’t have ugly vertical blinds—lucky you. You could probably hang your canvas clouds with pushpins at the top of a window with an ugly view. But remember, once they’re up you’re done with opening or closing the window or any other window treatment that might be there.

Now I don’t live in that apartment and I have attached the cloud mural to a large wall in my bedroom with pushpins. And even though they don’t glow with the changing eastern light, I wake up each morning to these wonderful beauties. I’m thinking of stringing some twinkle lights on the row of pushpins at the top. Maybe it will look like stars or something. Already sounding a little too contrived, right?

You are probably wondering if we of SoCal actually have such blue skies and clouds here. Actually, I was just at my son’s for Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz and came home yesterday on the Grapevine. As I started to climb that steep grade, heading south, I wondered if there would still be smoke in the air from the awful fires we’ve had here (Woolsey fire in Thousand Oaks). It had been raining in Santa Cruz and was cloudy most of the way home. But as I got to the summit, the clouds parted to make vista after vista for cerulean blue sky and puffy clouds the rest of the way home. At one point there was a complete rainbow that seemed to hover beside my car, following me down the other side of the mountain. It was glorious and not a hint of smoke was to be seen—just a perfectly beautiful fall sky after a bit of rain. Oh, and I have never really seriously tried to paint a rainbow. You may want to add such a wonder to your cloud canvas. I don’t even know how I would begin to mix those colors because I think the colors of the rainbow are best done with tiny droplets of water magically lit by the sun.

Finally, now I have a wonderful space in my garage to paint the large vistas of my dreams. This spot is grand enough to paint something 95 inches by 63. And there won’t be any rolling around on the cold concrete floor because I have set it up to paint on one wall of the garage. I am working on how to set up every thing with the actual paints etc. and I think I have it. So, as soon as I can I plan to try one. Even thinking of maybe posting all of this on YouTube. Stay tuned…

November 17, 2018

Norton Simon Rodin sculptures
Norton Simon Front Garden Rodin Sculptures, November 2, 2018 (graphite, colored pencil and ink on mixed media paper)

I hadn’t planned to be out in the front garden entryway of the Norton Simon the evening of November 2nd. But it’s not really that unusual as one of my sketching groups always meets there the first Friday of the month. This month our leader suggested we sketch the altars that would be on display at the Day of the Dead exhibit in downtown Pasadena that evening. I drove into town with the express purpose of going to that event, but couldn’t find parking anywhere near the displays. So my car just navigated itself the few extra blocks west on Colorado and I found myself pulling into the parking lot at the Norton Simon Museum. There were plenty of places to park! For this sketching visit I decided I wasn’t going into the museum, for a reason I will later divulge, and I wandered around the front garden instead. I’m always happy to wander around the Norton Simon, so missing out on Pasadena’s Day of the Dead didn’t seem to matter much. (The leader of our group did find parking and she posted a wonderful watercolor she did of one of the altars that she entitled, Viva las mujeres!)

But I had my own kind of dead moment going on there as I decided that the Rodin sculptures all around the front entrance seemed to be coming to life. Since I had already decided I wasn’t going inside I planned sit out there and sketch them, watching for any kind of “Twilight Zone” movement moment. It was almost twilight and the evening lights were just coming on and highlighting the statues. I could swear fingers, shoulders and necks were moving ever so slightly. It didn’t seem as though any feet had moved—that would have been silly as they were attached to stone pediments. If you look closely at my sketch, can you tell which are the Rodin Sculptures and which are the humans hanging around? Of course you can. The Rodin twilight army is the ones not looking at cell phones, right?

Since I hadn’t actually crossed the threshold of the actual building, I wondered if technically I was at the museum. Of course I soon found out I was. While looking for the perfect view I noticed that one whole corner of the museum, next to the parking lot, was surrounded with connecting concrete benches. I was very excited at the prospect of so many places I could sit on my bit of bubble wrap and draw. I soon found the view you see here and I unfolded my bubble wrap on just the right concrete bench and sat down. As I began taking out a few sketching materials from my backpack I thought I saw someone off in the distance coming towards me. Was it a rogue Rodin statue? No, it was just a very officious museum employee lumbering over to tell me I was doing something wrong. (It was at this point that I realized I was actually at the museum. I had had run ins with other officious Norton Simon guards before, but never before entering the front door.) What could it be this time? I was beginning to wish I had tried harder to commune with the “dead” in downtown rather than anticipating a boring lecture from the “living” here in the garden. I stopped taking my sketching things from my bag and waited for her.

She told me I couldn’t sit on the bench because I might fall off and hurt myself on the concrete gutter under my feet. She added that they had this rule to keep kids from playing on the benches. I thought I looked old enough to refrain from such behavior. And I thought I could convince her of my arty earnestness and opened my sketchpad to show her 4 or 5 sketches I had done of the sculpture garden in the back. She said she liked the sketches, but wasn’t having any of my cozy chatter. So, I stood up and dropped the bubble wrap down into the gutter below the bench and slunk down so I was then sitting in this slim bit of bubble wrap in the gutter with my back against the bench. She said it was OK if I leaned against the bench. Well that was a mercy anyway.

I told her I hadn’t actually been out front very often to draw and that I usually went right through the front door directly to the back garden. But I said that I had brought my backpack, because I thought I was going to the Day of the Dead Celebration in downtown. I knew backpacks were not allowed inside the museum. I think the Norton Simon powers at be worried that those of us carrying backpacks would bump into something, or someone, as it was clear I was someone who played on benches and would run through their museum willy nilly with a backpack full of live bats. Oh, she was adamant that I most definitely could go in the back garden as long as I checked my backpack full of bats at the coat check counter, transferring my art items that included a small sketchpad and zipper bag of pens and pencils, slim metal container of 12 colored pencils, 12 inch by 24 inch sheet of bubble wrap and a small kitchen towel into one of their bags. I was just imagining all the bats escaping into the museum as I made the transfer (and that would be all her doing), but I said nothing. (Actually our conversation was no small feat as I was sitting in a narrow gutter at her feet, looking directly at her knees.) You know, you can stand at the front entrance of the Norton Simon and look directly through the front glass doors to the back glass doors, maybe 30 paces away. But I still needed to transfer my materials to another bag. She kept going on and on about how simple that would be. Of course it would have been much simpler for me to walk those few steps without stopping. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken more than 10 or 12 seconds.

By now I was done with all this nonsense and hoped she would finally leave me alone. But she wasn’t quite done with me and continued the conversation, telling me that she couldn’t believe that the original 1970s or  80s architect of the museum exterior had made such an unsafe design blunder right out there in front of God and everybody. She seemed horrified that someone would create permanent benches around Rodin’s sculpture garden at the front of the Norton Simon. And all the while I’m thinking, “the fiend!” It was about now I knew I was going to start giggling. Besides, I really wanted to sketch something.

Finally, she started walking away, but turned briefly to ask me if I had brought any kind of wet media with me. I remember thinking of saying something like, I am sitting in a concrete gutter out front of an art museum with patches of grass that look like they could use some water. Was she hoping I had a huge bag of water, along with everything else, in my backpack so I could help out with the drought? But I knew what she meant and I had no intention of going inside to clean Rembrandt’s face on his self-portrait with some of my dirty watercolor water. But the moment was saved as I could see just over her shoulder a friend sketcher/painter hurrying up the steps towards the front doors of the museum. (She must not have been able to get a parking spot either. She and I are often sketching/painting out in that back garden there on these wonderful Friday evenings.) Did I say painting? Why yes I did! I happen to know she definitely does watercolors (very wet and loose I might add) out there and is very fond of brushing on permanent inks as well! Ooh, this was delicious revenge. I was somehow getting a kind of revenge for all the nonsense I had been listening to for the past 10 minutes. But I immortalized my officious museum acquaintance. She is the tiniest person standing guard near the front of the museum to the left of the naked Rodin statue against the front wall. He had probably heard her droning on and on as well and was gesturing her to come closer so he could tell her to “leave off!” Of course maybe he was actually trying to muster another hand gesture. Ah, but we’ll never know…

My uncle (my dad’s only sibling) doesn’t have anything to do with computers, but it’s his birthday today anyway. So Happy Birthday Uncle R! 11/17/18

November 10, 2018

1999 pumpkin
Pumpkin, October 1999 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)
Newspaper pumpkin
The Tribune, 10/31/1999

Not really sure how I got the idea to submit my art with stories to The Tribune in San Luis Obispo almost 20 Halloween’s ago. But this was the first one. Once I formulated a plan to draw and write like this, it seemed a bunch of similar ideas for art and stories for kids and their families in the garden started to grow somewhere in my subconscious. And once I first saw this published in the newspaper a kind of floodgate of images and words began to tumble from my brain and out onto the waiting paper. There was a really nice editor at the newspaper who was my champion, so to speak. Beginning with that first story, she loved everything I sent her. That was really fun and satisfying.

Before I ever put pumpkin to paper and/or word to word processor I’d been thinking of Halloween and carving a pumpkin with my son who had just turned 5. I remember being struck by how beautiful pumpkins can be—not those wary ones. Some might think orange a rather rude color, but I’ve always admired the audacity of something so humble getting so much colorful attention. The shape of a pumpkin is pretty fun and unmistakable, and was forever made famous by being turned into a coach for Disney’s Cinderella. So, I always felt kind of sad for the pumpkin turned to jack-o-lantern because if you leave it alone, it’s the stuff of dreams and will remain whole and unabashedly bold for months—way past Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the minute you make that first stab into it, the pumpkin will soon die a quick, but painful death with tiny hairs and black spots of mold and mildew engulfing all that orange and shapely loveliness. Pretty dramatic, I know. But that was the angle I was going for with this first story.

But the real reason I posted all of this was not to lament the life of a carved pumpkin, but to share the untold story of the art I had created for it. I could also make a case for posting this now because Halloween was just 10 days ago and Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie is a few weeks away, but I digress. I remember enjoying all the colors I had used to make the art, layering layer after layer of watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on my wonderful cold pressed illustration board. And as I built up the colors the pumpkin began to look very real and round on the flat page. But where this gets tragic is that I didn’t create the right shadow for the pumpkin, but hadn’t figured that out just yet. I kept looking at it and it looked somehow weird. Of course the editor was ready for me to submit it with my story and there wasn’t time to redo anything. And even if I’d had the time I wasn’t sure what I should do. So, I emailed the editor my story and drove the 30 miles from our house in Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo to drop off the art to The Trib. The editor loved it, and that was good because I didn’t have it around the house to look at and obsess over anymore. Now I just waited for the next Sunday morning to see what it looked like in the newspaper. It was quite a bit smaller and that was fine. Of course, once I saw it there in print I realized what was bugging me. The shadow was definitely off and it looked like the pumpkin was floating above the surface of the page and not sitting on anything. Darn! But it seemed that it was only me who noticed, so I basked in all my friend’s friendly comments about the art and story and sent a copy to my mom and dad.

After that I made sure that all the art I submitted to The Tribune was grounded on the page, or at least didn’t have a kind of surrealistic style. But the tragic story of the floating pumpkin did not end there. Here’s what happened next. As I said, I mailed a copy of the newspaper clipping to my mom and dad. They were of course very proud and extremely pleased for me. And that Christmas they gave me a present of the article beautifully framed—complete with a double matt. This, of course, was meant to hang on my wall somewhere. I still hadn’t said a word to anyone about my pumpkin shadow faux pas, so they didn’t know I probably didn’t really want to look at it. (In fact, in writing this very story I just realized that I have never told it to anyone until now.) They had also framed a copy for themselves and had it hanging on their wall, for all the world to see. I was horrified! Now this pumpkin was meant to be displayed not only in my house, but was hanging on the wall by their front door as well. They told me they showed it off to everyone who came to the door—even the UPS lady I suppose.

I dutifully hung mine up when I got it home, but couldn’t stand to look at for very long. (In fact, I put the original art in a drawer and hadn’t really looked at it again until I did this story.) I decided I would bring it out for only special fall occasions and holidays—beginning with Halloween and ending with Thanksgiving. And that’s what I have been doing for the past almost 20 fall seasons. In fact, it’s hanging up in my living room right now. But now that both my parents are gone, I proudly bring it out and celebrate the season and their lifelong belief in my art and me. I don’t look for the shadowy imperfection anymore.

But I am not cured of my mania; there is a huge mural of clouds that I did a few years back.

cloud canvas
Fantasy Clouds, spring 2017 (acrylic on 43 by 55 inch unstretched canvas)

Somehow, I let a little cheeky cloud creep onto the canvas on the left side. It just doesn’t belong there. Now, I am scheming to see if I can mix a pot of the perfect blue acrylic that I can use to make it go away. I will write about that, and the other half of the art, in a later post.

Fire update from SoCal

On June 16th of this year I posted a little watercolor I did of a structure at Paramount Ranch, just over the hill from Malibu. I had heard in our local news that some, if not all, of the structures at Western Town at that location had burned down as a result of one our latest wildfires. Hearing that news made my heart sink. So far no official photos to confirm or deny that story have been posted. However, somehow an urban sketcher got a picture and shared it online. It showed that at least one of the Western Town buildings had burned to the ground. Just unbelievable to see the “before” and “after” shots. In that photo I could see that the building constructed for the West World series (and the one I painted for 6/16/18) looked OK. But I couldn’t see if the oak I had sat under to paint that piece was unharmed. The winds here in SoCal on Thursday night and most of Friday were horrific and so many people have been evacuated for that fire–not to mention all the other fires burning in California right now. It would be so nice if we had a few rainclouds on the horizon, something to lighten this dry and fiery load. No more words from One CA Girl today…