April 4, 2020

Vetch on HIway 46
Vetch on fields and hillsides of Highway 46, early 2000s (oil on birch panel)

I went for a quick drive on Wednesday afternoon through nearby neighborhoods that I love to visit. While driving along I realized I had made one other trip in the car only one other time in the past 14 plus days. And that trip had been to get groceries. So, this venture took on special meaning as I looked upon gardens I have not seen since spring had arrived. And of course spring’s “springiness” was out on display whether or not I had been out there recently to see it. It was lovely. I was taken by surprise, as I am every spring in CA, with the bright patches of poppies and lupines on display in all kinds of random untamed spots right now. Over the 3 plus years I have been posting art and words on One California Girl, I have sketched and written about both of these native wildflowers. So, the art you are looking at now is another favorite native wildflower that will be coming on soon in the golden state. It generally blooms just as the lupines are fading and it has a rather unfortunate name I think—it’s called vetch. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this is a painting of fields and hillsides of vetch—common name “hairy vetch.” Close up it doesn’t look like much. The flowers are a kind of cascade of tiny lavender colored blossom dots, and if you squint your eyes I guess the leaves and stems look a little hairy. But in this early 2000 Paso landscape I saw that day, the fields and hills looked the pink color you see here. No foolin’ Looking back on that lovely spring day I remember the sky was really this bright blue. It’s as though the amazing spring light actually changed the color of the flowers to pink. Or maybe it just played a trick on my eyes and mind, creating this a spectacular sight. 

I don’t know if there is such a sight along Highway 46 this year, as opulent  wildflower displays are often the result of the perfect amount of rainfall at the perfect time of the spring season. But there may not be much in the way of open fields at that spot anymore as there were vineyards to the right at that time. Maybe they have filled in with grapes since then. I’m not one to really lament such a change as it’s really true that one person’s flowers are another person’s weed patch. But as I have said, with regards to such changes in the Paso Robles wine country, I am so glad I was there to see this sight. And of course I am so glad I painted it.

This one I did from a photo I took as in the early 2000s. I was the single mom of a young child back then and didn’t have time to sit for any extended period of time and paint plein air. Besides, the fence surrounding that field was pretty close to the asphalt and cars have always whizzed up and down that road and I’m not really sure that would have been a safe place to sit then or now. I remember I was glad to get the couple dozen photos I took of the area at the time.

I did several oil paintings on birch panels during this time. If you are interested I have written about underpainting and general painting techniques on such a surface in a couple previous posts. (see January 19, 2019 and August 12, 2017) I will say that it’s kind of cool to try different pigment applications on such a hard surface. I remember really scrubbing the blue pigment over a raucous pink/red under color to get a smooth surface for the sky. But then I applied blobs of paint that sit proud on the wood and I think that really worked for the blossoms in the foreground. I have to add that the colors in the actual piece were much brighter than you see here as this is a scan of a photo copy of the original. And a scan of a photocopy is never good, yes? But I really never thought I would be sharing this image again and just made a photocopy for me. This would have been easy to scan…but no matter. (The original sold almost immediately when I put it up on the wall of a nearby tasting room, so there was no chance of remembering to do that.) At the time I was also doing larger landscape canvases and actually had hired a professional photographer to take pictures of those pieces. No use worrying about all that past painting stuff…spring is here. And I can only hope that some farmer/rancher somewhere in California will have a glorious spring field or two of “hairy vetch.” (Why does saying that make me laugh?) 

Wasn’t yesterday the first Friday of the month? Did I go to the Norton Simon?

For the first time since I moved to SoCal there would be no sketching time at the Norton Simon Museum the first Friday of the month. And you probably have guessed that the Norton Simon is closed because I don’t think social distancing can be achieved in an art gallery. At the beginning of the week our fearless leader suggested we have a virtual meeting, discussing how we might continue our group sketching in a “non-contact” way. Actually, I thought it would be fun to just get together virtually, with a favorite glass of wine in hand, and discuss that. Maybe even do quick sketches of each other and see how that all looked as we each finished our first or second glass of wine. Hmmm…

But this is what happened. There were at least a dozen of my sketching buddies who appeared virtually on my screen last night, and several had a glass of wine in hand. (One woman texted her husband, who was in the next room, to bring her a glass of wine. Pretty funny…) Our leader was a perfect host inviting each of us to share how we were doing with our collective confinement in our homes, and maybe share some art we had done in the past weeks. She was so gracious, letting each of us ramble on if we needed to. I shared that I had been doing lots of art and had even challenged myself to sketch everyday for two weeks. There were others who had been sketching as well—drawing things just outside the window, or whatever was laying around in the kitchen. A number of sketchers had been participating in online sketching classes. One member is an art teacher at a local art school and she had just finished teaching online when we gathered together. In fact, one sketcher did quick sketches of each of us in our “Brady Bunch” style face and upper body arrangement. (She posted that a little later in the evening.) But there were several people who said that they were too overwhelmed with what was going with the pandemic and couldn’t paint or sketch anything at all. You could tell that they were energized to see us and I think we all felt good about making this contact. In fact, we agreed to do this again in two weeks. And we now have a StayAtHome sketch challenge that we are to draw the same thing we can see inside our house or outside through a window for the next two weeks. I have a mug of pencils that sits on my desk. I think I might try to do that. And if a series of pencils in a cup look like anything interesting I will post what I have drawn next time. So, until next time…

Oh, and is there anyone out there making masks? I found a pattern from a NY Times story online. OMG, it took me all morning to make one. Well, I guess I have time to figure that out…

March 28, 2020

DG, day 7
Garden Vista at the Descanso Garden, day 7, 3/21 (Derwent colored pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 7, Saturday, 3/21

Last Saturday I went to the Descanso Gardens and walked among the tulips. I took pictures of tulips and lilacs, as well as a picture of a glen for gathering that might be a place for a leprechaun, and vistas from benches that might give me a respite from worry and wondering if I could imagine myself sitting there, staring off into the distance. The piece of art you are looking at here is exactly one of those spots. It’s where I would rather be sitting today instead of sitting inside at home. (It is also day 7 of my two week self-inflicted art at home challenge.) Of course I am not the only one at home today, it just feels like it. I imagine a caption for this one that could be very literal and has something of a cliche about it. That might go something like, “Looking off into the future and wondering what is ahead.” Or it might be, “How will my SoCal world change?” And finally, my favorite right now is, “It’s always darkest before the bottom falls out.”

Then I got to thinking about my literal interpretations and wishes for our lives and cliches seem like a kind of survival mechanism—the only way to try to make sense of things. I’m no philosopher, but I’ve always been interested in philosophy. (My dad was a big fan of Plato.) So, for all you geeks like me out there, here is a suggestion that might help. I recently watched a great Netflix movie called “Genius of the Ancient World.” It’s all about the lives and teachings of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius, and presented by the historian, Bettany Hughes. It was amazing! Check it out.

hummingbird, day 9
Front porch hummingbird, day 9 (ink and watercolor on watercolor paper)

Day 8, Sunday, 3/22 (art of pen and ink of hummingbird at the nectar feeder outside my kitchen window) 

Day 9, Monday, 3/23

So, this is part 2 of my Sunday sketch. The sky Sunday morning was really that amazing blue, and the puffy clouds really looked that white. In previous posts I have described the lovely birds outside my kitchen window. Doing this watercolor got me away from my imaginings of the Descanso Gardens and the world outside and brought me just outside my own window. I love the idea that the birds just come and go all around, unaware of COVID-19 and/or their own mortality. In fact, yesterday I very wisely texted something about birds to a dear friend. I said, “They don’t seem to notice, or care about, what’s going on. Of course they are the descendants of dinosaurs, so they are in way better shape than the rest of us.” Amen to livin’ like a bird.

Geranium, day 11
Front porch geranium, part 2, March 25, day 11 (Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 10, Tuesday, 3/24, Geranium on my front porch (Inktense pencil only)

Day 11, Wed, 3/25

Today was a mixed bag of being one California girl on a rainy day during self-quarantine. 

1. I called my nearby nursery yesterday and ordered some summer garden plants. This afternoon I received my order— three specific tomatoes (brandywine, early girl, and better boy) and two 6 packs of cucumbers (pickling and lemon). The plants were delivered to my door by a lovely lady from a company called Roadie. What a wonderful vision—something to put in the ground that will grow and provide vegetables later in the summer. (It’s nice to imagine a “later” that I want to live in…) The plants were also nice to see as they were my dad’s favorite tomatoes, and I remember planting those very varieties in many of our yearly vegetable gardens. 

2. I made beans for dinner.

3. As the sun was heading way to the west it was shining bright and all around there were dark clouds, but no rain. Then it began to rain and then hail—all the while the sun backlit the whole scene. I went outside and ran around with my umbrella. When I Iooked over my house towards the San Gabriel Mountains I saw a complete double rainbow. Wow!! What a wonderful water blessing for my new seedlings. And Happy Birthday mom!

Rusty in the garden, day 14
Rusty in the back garden, with garlic and dill in the background, part 2, March 28, day 14 (Ink and Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 12, Thursday, 3/26, (art sketch/pen and ink of monk’s hood)

Yup! You read that one correctly…Hoping to do a “full on botanical,” as requested by my son…

Day 13, Friday, 3/27 (pen and ink of Rusty, our neighborhood cat, in the back garden.)

Day 14, Sat, 3/28 (Inktense pencil and water of Rusty the cat)

And this ends my 14 day self-inflicted art quarantine. I don’t know what kind of art will inspire me for my first April 2020 post. But I think this image is perfect for me right now—life somehow going on with the hope of a CA summer garden of vegetables. Take care and be safe!

March 21, 2020

DG, day 1
Sycamore tree and tulips, Day 1, 3/15/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil, watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

This has certainly been an odd week for One SoCal Girl, as I am sure it’s been an unusual mid-March week for you as well. Lately it feels like I’ve been on a kind of roller coaster of thoughts and emotions. So, since I am to be home for the foreseeable future I decided to sketch and write a little something for the next couple weeks, starting last Sunday. 

Day 1, Sunday, 3/15/2020 

Ok, I am as ready as I will ever be with regards to staying inside/home indefinitely. But before I could actually say that without shivering uncontrollably or screaming out loud I decided I would need to fortify my soul with something beautiful. So, I went to the Descanso Gardens yesterday to walk among the tulips I have been so desperate to see. Not complaining, but it’s been a sort of wet March in SoCal and I wasn’t sure that would work. But when I woke up Saturday morning it wasn’t raining and I headed over there. (One of my sketching groups had actually planned an official visit that day to welcome spring at the Descanso. I think because of all the bad news it didn’t happen.) I noticed that Urban Sketchers challenged all of us to engage in an indoor virtual meeting with USk Milano—sketching what we could see just outside our windows at 11 in the morning. I was wandering the hills and dales of Descanso Gardens at that time, but I did see that an artist friend had done a sweet sketch of her cat looking in at her through her garden window.

Later Saturday evening I looked at all the pictures I took that morning, wondering which tulip landscape I would paint and write about for this first week. It was then I got the idea I should try to sketch or paint something every day I was inside. Creating art and/or writing on a daily basis is not such a novel thing for Urban Sketchers. There was a recent challenge to sketch at least 100 people from midnight, March 9 to midnight, March 13. But of course, being inside for days on end is pretty novel for sketchers and non-sketchers alike. 

DG, day 2
Tulips next to the train station, Day 2, 3/16/2020 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Day 2, Monday, 3/16/2020

Today I did another watercolor of tulips, as I needed to see something bright and colorful on this dark winter SoCal day. 

My son was visiting family in Santa Clara County and realized if he didn’t leave before midnight, he would be stuck there until who knows when. So, he whipped into action and bought 10 pounds of frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts. On his way home that afternoon/evening he got stuck in the snow and had to stay in a motel overnight. He had a fridge in his room, but of course all the chicken defrosted. He brought it to me the next day and I began a plan of how to cook/save the chicken. 

Never one for wasting food I cooked all of it, making stock for soup. I added chicken, carrots, celery and rotini pasta for a pot of chicken soup. Some I chopped into pieces, making chicken salad with fresh apples, and a tiny bit of red onion. I pounded the rest into paillards. (If you don’t know about a paillards, check out the recipe below.) 

Chicken Paillards with Lemon-Butter Sauce (from MarthaStewart.com)

2 breast halves (pounded into 4 pallairds)

salt and pepper

1 to 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

3 to 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/4 cup minced shallots

3/4 cup of chicken stock

juice of one lemon

washed/clean spinach

Making the pallairds

For this recipe you will be making 4 pallairds. This means you will need two breast halves. 

  1. Cut the meat off the bone, if you have bone in chicken. Or just get two boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Oh, I had a few of those…)
  2. Press your hand on the top of the first piece, and slice the meat horizontally, cutting it almost all the way through. Open it like a book.
  3. Place this piece of meat between a sheet of plastic wrap. Working from the center out, pound with the smooth side of a mallet until the meat is 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. (I use a rolling pin.) Cut this flattened chicken into 2 pieces.
  4. Do the same for the other piece of breast meat.

The rest

Season the 4 pallairds on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter int a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts, but is not burned. Add 2 paillards to the pan and cook the first side until it’s golden brown (about 2 minutes). Flip them and cook the other side the same way. Transfer the meat to an oven safe dish and place them in the oven at a low temperature. Do the same with the remaining paillards—putting all 4 in the oven to stay warm.

Add the shallots to the frying pan, with butter and/or oil as needed. Stir the shallots often until they are golden brown (about 1 minute). Add the lemon juice and chicken stock (a little white wine instead of the lemon juice is nice to add as well) to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping brown bits of chicken from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the sauce reduces by half (about 3 minutes). Gradually stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until it has just melted. Season to taste.

Martha doesn’t say to put the cooked paillards back into the sauce. I do because it keeps the meat warm. Put the meat and a generous amount of sauce on a small helping of cleaned raw spinach. The sauce is tangy and hot, and when poured over the spinach, it wilts just a bit. Maybe make some biscuits for dunking?

Day 3, Tuesday, 3/17/2020 (Sketch of a glen at the Descanso)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Day 4, Wednesday, 3/18/2020 (Art of woven cherry trees at the Descanso)

I didn’t add the art for today either. But if you want an idea of what it looks like, look at my February 1, 2020 post where you will see the same woven trees. But for this one the cherry trees, just coming into bloom, are the star of the piece.

Kind of a sad Descanso day really as the Descanso Gardens will be closing tomorrow, 3/19 and will remain closed until further notice. Glad I have so many images I can conjure up to take me there in my imagination when I wish. I am all the more thankful that I wandered around there last Saturday. See you again soon, my treasured place.

Day 5, Thursday, 3/19/2020 (Art of close up of lilac blossoms on gray toned paper)

Today’s art looked rather uninspired as I did it in a hurry—trying to adhere to my self exiled challenge of doing one piece of art a day. I had grand plans to spend more time on this one, imaging the amazing smell of the lilacs last Saturday. But I wound up spending most of the morning and afternoon participating in a live video webcast about Breathing, Digestion and Swallowing. Bet you wish you’d done the same…no, huh? Better luck tomorrow…

DG, day 6
Pot of tulips at Descanso Gardens entrance, Day 6, 3/20/2020 (watercolors, Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons)

Happy first day of spring! Here are some more tulips that were at the front entrance last week. 

I plan to do a Day 7 sketch later today. I think I have just the perfect garden vista in mind. Hope you are staying safe and away. Stay tuned…

March 14, 2020

geese, color at NS
Pair of Canadian geese at the Norton Simon Museum, March 6, 2020 (graphite, ink and Inktense pencil on Mix Media paper)

It is my usual to go the Norton Simon the first Friday evening of the month. I go there to hang out with other sketchers, and of course because it’s free from 5 to 8. But I actually go there for more than just artistic companionship and free admission, I absolutely love sketching in the back garden every imaginable time of the year. Imagine it’s after 5pm in the evening and the sun has turned the almost dusk sky a beautiful shade of crystal blue. I quickly wander about for a few moments, as I know the sunlight is waning. I watch the changing colors on the sculptures, pond and plants. I check to see what has come into bloom, what is coming along and what has faded with the season. And since this is SoCal, there really aren’t many evenings you can’t stroll out there. Then I quickly find a spot to sketch, roll out out my bubble wrap, sit down and go to work before it gets too dark to see. For me it’s fun to mark monthly time in this intimate garden as the CA light changes, year in and year out. The sound of tire whine at that time of day pulses around me. If you look at a map of the museum you will see that the entire facility is almost a complete triangle set adrift with Colorado Blvd at the base, the 134 at an angle up from the base and the 210 almost completes the next side of the triangle. I imagine the pulsing sounds of going home from work traffic on these busy roads to be the sound of ocean waves. You may laugh all you like, but settling into this LA evening freeway commute frame of mind always works for me. Just another day for one SoCal girl. And based on today’s art you have probably noticed that when I was there last Friday (March 6) I spotted a couple Canadian geese on the grass beside the pond. This is pretty amazing as I think that I have now seen this same pair in this same spot almost every spring since 2017. Now, I cannot be absolutely sure they are the very same ones, but after I have told you my goose story, you may be inclined to follow my logical conclusion that they are one and the same. 

In my July 22, 2017 I wrote of a pair of Canadian geese that I had seen earlier in the back garden of the NS. My first encounter with them occurred the evening of Friday, March 3, 2017. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t at least try to sketch them, but they were sitting on the roof of the building and pretty elusive to prying eyes. I remember that you could only occasionally see a neck reaching up or a fluffy goose bottom move around up there. But if you stayed out there long enough you could hear them. Fast forward to the next first Friday and we are now at April 7, 2017. They had made a nest at the edge of the pond and someone at the Norton Simon had put up a temporary fence to physically keep people away from the nest and the birds. I remember thinking that I should have sketched this scene, but didn’t think much of the temporary orange plastic fence surrounding the birds. My “goose nesting” timeline has a spring (2018) that I forgot to look for them. But I assume they were there because the following spring I saw them again. This time I did try to sketch them. (See April 20, 2019 post) The art wasn’t much to see as they were pretty hidden up there on the roof, but you could hear them all over the garden.

Last first Friday I spotted them again and this time they were in full view just next to the water. But this time they weren’t sequestered behind a tacky orange plastic fence. Instead, they were surrounded by a tacky “keep off the grass” fence around the whole pond. And of course the always officious NS guards were patrolling the pathways back there, verbally reminding people to keep off the grass. I noticed the fence a couple months ago and I asked one of the guards why it was there. He said that he had been told that someone had gotten too close to the water and fallen in. So, now the lawn area is off limits to humans, but these geese can waddle freely all around, and they’re pretty oblivious to all of us staring at them. There must be something great about this spot as this is at least their 4 year anniversary together at the Norton Simon pond. And just to add to my story I asked SIRI if Canadian geese mated for life and she said: “According to animaldiversity.org, Often remaining paired for life, Canada geese are monogamous.” Are you convinced yet that these two are the same ones I have seen a number of times back there? I’m convinced. 

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy watching birds. I like to see flotillas of mallards in the NS pond, in any of the ponds at the Descanso Gardens and even in the various ponds at Golden Gate Park—I have even seen swans swimming there. I like watching small groups of Morro Rock pelicans fly in formation so close to the surface of the ocean that they look like they might just fall in. Of course they are doing that because they are looking for fish to eat and will later come back to a given spot and dive head first into the water with a great splash. I also like watching pairs of eagles circle high in the sky about this time of year all over CA. And of course who wouldn’t enjoy bands of loudly squawking wild parrots as they awkwardly fly from tree to tree most SoCal summer evenings? I try to attract birds to my yard with seed and nectar feeders just outside my kitchen window. I enjoy watching them come and go, feeding their babies as they feed. (Thursday, March 12: It’s 5:30pm and I am looking out my window at the rain and finches eating at the seed feeder. I just saw an adult finch feeding his or her baby finch.)

I just finished reading a pretty remarkable novel (“Bird Summons,” by Leila Aboulela) where a hoopoe features prominently. What is a hoopoe you say? Look it up online. It almost looks like an imaginary bird, with its long curved beak, fantastically patterned plumage and bright colors, but it’s real and can be found in Africa (including Madagascar) and Eurasia. In “Bird Summons,” the hoopoe visits 3 women hiking in the hills of Scotland. You may already be getting the idea that this book is a bit of fantasy, right? And you’d be right. I just looked up online again and it seems that the hoopoe features prominently in the mythologies of Greek, Arabic, Persian and Egyptian cultures. So, it does make sense for this story. Check it out.

I don’t have any grand and nonsensical connections to be made with my interest in birds and the fact that I just finished reading “Bird Summons.” But my mind took me to a place where I wondered if the COVID-19 had maybe come from birds. So, I looked that up online as well. As it turns out scientists believe that it originated with bats. Ok, that ends my “so called” bird connections. 

My final thoughts this week are kind of consumed with COVID-19. Maybe that’s true for you as well. No matter how I try to pretend it’s California business as usual, it’s not. LAUSD has closed all schools, so I will be home for the next two weeks. My final thoughts are with all of us. And for now I’m not feeling like just One CA Girl, but maybe just One Girl of the World. Stay safe. 

March 7, 2020

reflection of tree2
Reflection of a tree on a pond at the Descanso Gardens, March 1, 2020 (Fude fountain pen, watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I was certain there would be huge drifts of tulips in bloom at the Descanso Gardens. I had planned to get there soon after they opened at 9 because I was certain that would be too early for most other lovers of tulips to arrive. I wanted to sit and paint where ever I liked and have the flowers all to myself. When I woke up that morning, it was all but raining. I decided I would still go early, but I would just take pictures of the flowers and then do the art in my dry and cozy kitchen. When I got there I saw mostly green leaves and stems in the tulip beds, which meant they weren’t ready for me or the rest of the soon to be arriving tulip lovers. I was probably a week early. I decided to wander about and enjoy the bit of misty rain. I came to this pond and there I saw an amazing reflection of a tree in the relatively calm surface of the water. As it turns out this is the same tree that I have sat under numerous times to get out of the sun in the summer. It is also the same tree and pond that I sat near when I painted the stained glass house they had for the Enchanted Lights (December 7, 2019). For that one I was under the tree on the opposite side of the pond. 

Even though I didn’t see what I was hoping when I got there I found myself reflecting on whether or not I should try to render such a stark and wintery tree. I often find myself at the Descanso with some kind of idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, and then I wind up in the rose garden—painting something there. Oh, don’t think I didn’t wander through that garden before this moment to take a look. But it was kind of sprinkling as a walked around the flowerless roses and I just kept going, right out of there. Once I got to this spot I was overcome with the idea of a literal reflection of something in water as well as other kinds of reflections we sometimes consider that are much more abstract, subjective and/or personal. I had recently finished watching the Netflix version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” authored by Lemony Snicket. And the penultimate story, “The Penultimate Peril,” popped into my head. There are those of you who might not have considered these stories, but my son and I had read together all 13 books when he was young. And we had so enjoyed all of the stories that I not only viewed “The Bad Beginning,” but I watched every book turned movie all the way through to the end, or “The End.” There is a wonderful, yet perilously reflective element in the 12th, or penultimate, book. It’s a giant pond that perfectly reflects the entire facade of the Hotel Denouement—the setting for this unfortunate event. And the hotel is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. (If you want to find out how and why the Hotel Denouement is set up like a library you should read the book, I think.) But the importance of this exterior pond to all the characters inside the hotel cannot be overstated. But you will immediately get the ultimate importance of it because all the signs and numbers on the actual building are written backwards and from right to left so you have to look into the pond to correctly read all the letters, words and numbers written on the hotel. (Have I peeked your curiosity yet?)

So, I decided that a fitting acknowledgement of all the noble and not so noble characters inside the Hotel Denouement might be presented here. And this is based on MY personal reflections that can sometimes make me smile and/or keep me up at night. Some of what I have listed here may seem to be on the serious side and some things are just funny and fanciful. Hopefully, when you have seen what I have recently reflected on you will come up with your own list. Here goes…

Upon reflection I have decided the following:

  • Seeing the movie is rarely as good as reading the book.
  • It’s OK to change your mind about doing something unless you’ve made a promise to a child.
  • One shouldn’t expect promised “life-like” hair.
  • I can no longer fit either foot in a size 6 and half shoe, or a 7 for that matter.
  • Having a second helping of Belgian waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream is never a good idea.
  • Also, consuming too much of a good thing is rarely a good idea, especially when consuming Trader Joe’s dried Turkish apricots.
  • A triple shot latte is no substitute for getting enough sleep.
  • No one wants advice.
  • And no one wants criticism either, even when it’s “constructive criticism.”
  • How many different passwords and/or PIN numbers can I be expected to remember? And which user name and password goes with which account?
  • Sometimes saying you’re sorry isn’t enough, unless you are under 5 or over 80.
  • If you come across something that’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
  • Nude isn’t a color. 
  • Not all weeds are bad.
  • There are an infinite number of things better left unsaid.
  • It’s important to have a library card and support your local library.
  • And don’t complain if you didn’t vote.

February 29, 2020

Camellia watercolor
Camellia forest at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I met a friend and her “just turned” 5 year-old son for a bit of garden wandering and of course some sketching. Once inside the front gate of the Descanso Gardens my friend’s son said he wanted to draw some animals. We immediately went in search of some. I told him that sometimes I had seen deer, rabbits and squirrels wandering, or scurrying in the wooded areas. We soon came to a small creek and there before us was a pair of mallards. We decided to sit for a moment to see if we could sketch them. I had packed three pieces of rolled up bubble wrap just in case we three might need it. I passed it out and we sat down and began sketching. The ducks were bobbing up and down, looking for something to eat. As you might have guessed the birds didn’t linger very long and soon floated away out of our view. We also decided not to linger and moved along too. Without any plan, other than trying to catch a deer grazing on plants near the rose garden, we walked on. I showed him a “less traveled” path for humans at the back of the garden. As he was “newly 5” he asked if we might see a mountain lion and/or a poisonous snake on this path. I told him that such sightings would probably not come to pass, but that we might instead need to be on the look out for poison oak. Of course that was the wrong thing to say as he then seemed wary of joining his mom and I on the trail because I had mentioned the word “poison.”  What was I thinking?!! And of course he carefully noticed every gopher hole in the ground, telling us for sure there was a snake and/or large spider, ready to pounce, living in each one. We finally reached the top of the hill without any poisonous mishaps. I wanted to show him my favorite secret place. (I had forgotten I had taken them to this very spot in January 2019, and of course he remembered and reminded me that he had already been there.) We rested for a couple minutes there anyway and headed down the hill on the other side.

Finally, we got to a kind of open space where we could see this camellia-filled landscape. In the late 1930s, Mr. Boddy (the owner of the Descanso at the time) planted camellias under these magnificent oaks. And in the 90 years since the original plantings it’s easy to see that his camellia forest has become quite a spectacular pink sight when the flowers come into bloom. We’d had a bit of rain the day before and it looked as though a blanket of blossoms had been knocked to the ground because of it. The air between the blossoms on the ground and the blossoms in the branches seemed to take on a kind of pink hue. This actually brings me to what used to be a pet peeve I have with regards to camellias. (You probably can’t imagine who could have ever had any problem with these gorgeous flowers.) It all starts with the fact that the blossoms on any given plant all open at the same time. And once the mature flower gets any amount of rain on it, many of those soggy flowers seem to get too heavy to hang on and they drop to the ground all at once. (I imagine that you are still wondering how anyone would have a problem with this. I mean, look how beautiful the ground looks—like pink confetti, right? Stay with me.) In my past Grass Valley garden the massive flower drop meant that in a day or two it would be time to rake up the blossoms as they would have turned brown and gotten very slimy and slippery on the wet ground. (Ok, I’m done.) But this SoCal camellia dropping event didn’t bother me at all. This is because the fluffy soft pink blossoms hadn’t gotten brown yet and the site of pink all around was spectacular and I would not be called upon to rake up anything. Let’s hear it for camellias on the ground!

Descanso tree, Feb 23
Descanso Gardens tree, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and Fude fountain pen)

We were ready to sketch and I had found us a nice nearby bench for three. It seemed my young friend did not want to sit on the bench, and suggested we should sit again on our bubble wrap on the ground. And as he was “just 5” this request did not really seem unreasonable as we had just sat in the dirt and gravel to sketch a pair of mallards. I’m sure he thought this was how it should be done. I passed out the bubble wrap and we settled on the ground just in front of the bench. I did a quick sketch of a tree nearby, showing my young artist friend favorite colors, brushes, and ink pens. I was very impressed by his interest. He listened very carefully to what I had to say and tried all the materials I presented to him. I think he really enjoyed the Inktense pencils as it was easier to control compared to applying big wet blobs of watery paint on paper. By the time we were ready to go, he had done 3 watercolor sketches and we had been there for about 40 minutes. I must admit that I didn’t do the camellia landscape watercolor on the spot, but instead took a bunch of pictures and did it on Monday when I got home from work. (It was just too much fun to sit and visit with his mom and do the quick watercolor sketch of a tree you see here.)

My young artist friend will be starting kindergarten next year and I told him that I remember drawing when I was in kindergarten. I think I have already written about this first “artistic” memory when I was “just 5,” but it’s always pleasant for me to retell that Santa Clara story again. Here is what I said: I remember sitting at a table inside my kindergarten classroom one CA afternoon. I was using all the crayon colors in the crayon box to make a picture on a piece of light-colored construction paper. It was a bright afternoon and I could look through an open door that connected the kindergarten yard with the classroom. My classmates were racing back and forth out there. But I so remember my kindergarten teacher visiting with me as I sat at a table inside. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I can picture a pleasant smiling woman nearby.

That’s a pretty great memory for one CA girl, right? I hope my young artist friend will have many such memories as he grows up.

Camelia heart
Photo of heart made from downed camellia blossoms, 2/23/2020
Camellia love
We love camellia blossoms at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020
Camelia mom
Mom loves camellia blossoms, Descanso Gardens 2/23/2020

Not much to say here, except you can maybe see why I no longer hate to see camellia blossoms on the ground. I hope you too can enjoy the garden artistry of carefully arranged pink blossoms.

February 22, 2020

Red Hot Poker, Monterey
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia), Coast of Monterey Bay, winter 1993 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

Last weekend I visited family in Belmont Shore. If you ever find yourself on 2nd Street on the Shore you will be just two short blocks from the ocean. Most days you can smell the sea air and on foggy days you can hear the fog horns. There’s a pier, and what looks like miles of calm water. This is what’s called break water as berms and other devices have been layered into the sand to interrupt the surf—calming it down. There is a wide flat sandy beach, and I’m not really sure who hangs out there anymore. It used to be filled with families and people with dogs. Now there are quite a few homeless people wandering that area. My dad never considered this a proper ocean area as there were no big waves to body surf. He always loved the big thundering surf of Huntington Beach. Now that was a proper ocean front!

I bring up all this briny talk because as I walked around there, which is my usual when visiting, I go past many teeny tiny houses close to the water. For this visit I saw quite a number of red hot poker plants blooming in the teeny tiny yards. In fact, I walked past a house on Sunday that had a riot of SoCal color—dense fuchsia bougainvillea with lavender colored lantana popping out and all of that surrounded by green grass-like clumps of foliage with glowing crimson flower spikes all set about like many red hot torches. It was quite a site! And what a time not to have my paints with me. I have already written about my first memories of the red hot colors of the Belmont Shore plants I have just described. Add the shockingly spiky bright orange and purple colors of bird of paradise, and countless shades of alstroemeria and pelargonium (geraniums), and you might only begin to imagine such color. In fact, seeing this profusion reminded me of my post last week and my mention of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Bougainvillea, lantana and bird of paradise appear to be tropical plants, and would not be featured in the SLO Garden. But red hot poker, alstroemeria and pelargoniums COULD be found in the drought tolerant Mediterranean inspired garden. Looking at my Sunset Western Garden book (2007) again it seems that Kniphofia originated in South Africa, but has been hybridized and there are numerous varieties and colors that can be cultivated in a garden. I’ve never put any in my garden as it can look “ratty” (descriptive adjective from the Western Garden book) in my mild climate and it is my understanding that it usually needs to be pruned in the fall. I’ve seen it go quite rogue in a garden or two and just never wanted to go to the trouble in any of my milder climate gardens.

If you know CA coastal geography or you have already read he caption, this red hot poker landscape was not done near a SoCal sea, but rather overlooking Monterey Bay—300 miles to the north. I did this one in 1993, before I had discovered the wonders of sitting on a sheet of rolled out bubble wrap. But thank goodness I had brought my travel size Winsor Newton watercolor set and tiny pots for mixing colors for that visit. Back then I usually sat on my sweatshirt (sweatshirts and heavy coats are often required when visiting Monterey Bay). I seem to remember trying to brush off the dirt and sand, hoping I wouldn’t need to wear my now dirty sweatshirt anywhere out in public. (Sometimes I turned my sweatshirt inside out, but that didn’t always work out either…) This watercolor was done on a pathway that leads to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—a pretty cool place to see what our Pacific Ocean kelp forests look like. It’s also a great place to see sea otters, brown pelicans and other underwater wonders. I so remember sitting in the dirt, painting this one. But I wasn’t alone, as there were several large CA ground squirrels popping up and down, and in and out of the spiky “poker” foliage around me. Not really sure why I didn’t try to put one or two of them in here. I’ve always been such a science geek. At that time I was working in Menlo Park at Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. I was a book editor and we were creating a science textbook for the southeast (e.g. Virginia, Georgia etc). And the project was called Destinations in Science. In thinking about that experience and one CA girl’s beloved Pacific coastline I am reminded that back then you were never to put a surfer, sea otter, gray whale or the Golden Gate Bridge in a book that was bound for any textbook market other than CA. Such images were forbidden for the east (New York), as well as the southern market (Texas). Of course I thought it interesting that an Addison-Wesley math textbook (bound for the south) had the state flag of Texas in it. And what would the CA textbook buying educators think of the Texas flag in one of their math books? Uh huh.

Trying to think how to end this week’s art and story and I’m hard pressed to come up with a satisfactory end. You see, the minute I wrap this up and send it along, I am no longer sitting on that path, looking through the red hot pokers and out to sea. I think I might look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium website and linger awhile at the jellies cam. If you too look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium online, you will notice you can  have sleepover there. My brother’s family has done that a couple times. California Crazy huh?

Final CA note:

As I reread today’s blog one last time I was taken by the fact that I so randomly mentioned the homeless in Belmont Shore. And I felt like I should say something more. There are many homeless people in CA right now. It’s so heart breaking to see a state that has so much with so many people who have so little. I don’t believe there is one cause for these numbers, but I will say that a contributing factor here is the cost of living. It’s very expensive to live here and many are one paycheck away from homelessness. Affordable housing is quite a problem for many, if not all, of our CA cities. Mental illness and drug addiction also add numbers to the streets. And once again I don’t really know how to end this, except to say that I do what I can. When the staff at the school I work at hear of a family living in their car we look to help them find a homeless shelter, provide diapers, a winter coat or food. And all the LAUSD schools provide daily breakfast and lunch to those K-12 students who need it. I guess in the end we just have to keep keeping on, right? This is not the end to this story, but only bye for now.

February 15, 2020

Banksia, SLO Botanical Garden
Banksia speciosa, from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. This art was originally commissioned by the SLO Tribune, but it did not appear in the final story. (Watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board) 

A friend said she was intrigued with the proteas I sketched and posted the first of this month, and that reminded me of this lively protea I did in spring 2001. From the little research I found online concerning proteas, it appears they are native to both Australia and South Africa. The Banksia speciosa you see here is in the protea family, but is only native to Australia. According to Sunset’s Western Garden book (2007) all Banksias are native to Australia, and few are in cultivation, but that every now and again they are sold at botanical gardens as live plants. I have seen them only once in an actual garden, and it so happens that the flower you see here was on such a plant in central CA SLO Botanical Garden back then. However, I seem to remember seeing them in various floral departments of some of our local grocery stores as cut flowers out here. In doing my little bit of protea research online it was interesting to discover Banksia speciosa produces lots of nectar and a number of Australian creatures (e.g. birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and many invertebrates) need that nectar to live. It also seems that this particular flower is important to Australia’s nursery and cut flower industry. I’m sure they ship to other places besides CA. Maybe you have seen them in your area as well. (I think I saw that they can also be found as dried flowers—not really a big fan of dried flowers myself.) I guess Banksia can tolerant fires and drought conditions. In a weird way I like the idea that something so strange and wonderful can survive in a harsh and probably unforgiving environment. But it seems this rather odd and lovely flower’s existence is threatened by people clearing land. That’s probably the harshest living conditions for any living thing, as the plants can’t run away when someone shows up with a backhoe.  Maybe you are wondering, like I am, if the recent devastating fires in Australia have had an effect on this particular member of the protea family and the nurseries that grow the plants. And again, if you are like me, I certainly hope not! 

SLO botanical garden article
Botanicals for Tribune story and SLO Botanical Garden Fundraiser, spring 2001

So this 2001 story from The Tribune tells more of my personal brush with Banksia speciosa. I was asked by Jennifer English (who no longer appears to be with The Trib) to do botanicals of plants from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden for a story about the garden. They were having a big event and Jennifer thought my art would be a nice addition to a garden map. The garden features plants from the 5 major Mediterranean climate zones which includes: CA, central coastal Chile, western Cape Province of South Africa, parts of Western and South Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Plants from these areas do well with summers that are dry (like we have here in CA) and are more drought tolerant. All of this adds up to conserving water, which seems to be a recurrent topic of discussion for those of us who live in SoCal. If you look up the SLO Botanical Garden online there is a nice section that lists all the plants they have onsite, but the Banksia speciosa is not listed there. They now list a Banksia repens, which looks similar to the speciosa, but it doesn’t have a flower like you might expect. Instead of a colorful blossom perched atop a stem, the Banksia repens just seem to pop out of the ground. In fact, they kind of remind me of tiny Totoros, or fantasy forest creatures, used in Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. I am a big fan of “My Neighbor Totoro” and most other movies he made with Studio Ghibli. 

I have already illustrated, and posted, a number of plants that can be found in the SLO Botanical Garden. And they include: Fremontodendron (December 21, 2019, April 13, 2019), Eschscholzia californica, “CA poppy” (May 7, 2017) and pelargonium, “geraniums” (March 2, 2019).

Finally, with this February 15, 2020 art and story I have now made 150 One California Girl posts in almost 3 years. Yikes! Last week I tried to limit my words with the idea that a picture was worth a 1000 words. I might now say that the word “yikes,” in this instance, is worth a 1000 words! Yes? Yikes!


February 8, 2020

1Lunar New Year 2020
Lunar New Year Celebration at The Huntington, Pasadena, 2/2/2020 (Sketched with Fude fountain pen and Inktense pencils on Mix Media paper)
2Lunar New Year 2020
Lunar New Year at The Huntington, Pasadena, 2/2/2020 (Sketched with Fude fountain pen and Inktense pencils on Mix Media paper)

I don’t think I have a lot to say with words this week. I will try to let the art speak for itself. I calculated the number of words I used to describe my art, my family and my California for January 2020. I came up with about 5500 words for the 4 entries, or for the month, I guess. So, if I think that this week’s thoughts and offerings could be shared almost entirely in 5 pieces of art—three from last weekend (very first of Feb) 2020 and two from late January 2017—I think that might just do. I am counting on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Therefore, 5 pictures should be worth 5000 words—kind of in the same ballpark as actual words from the whole of last month. (Yikes! I am already getting wordy.)

Here we go!

Last Saturday and Sunday, The Huntington hosted Lunar New Celebration. On that Sunday a gang of sketchers met to sketch. There were events on the various grassy areas, outside pavilions and inside several buildings on the property. When I got there I didn’t really have a plan. I mean, that place is huge compared to my lovely Descanso Gardens. So many open grassy areas, as well as thoughtful little intimate views. But I found a nice bench on the east lawn (in the shade) overlooking all of these young martial arts youngsters (in red shirts) warming up for their performance. It was a lovely cool morning and I noted at least 3 red-tailed hawks flying high in the sky overhead. (I think I remember that you can see hawk pairs in the skies in Paso Robles the first of March. It was a pleasant reminder of life in CA and that somehow it continues, even with all the crazy things that go on around here.) 

Anyway, as I sketched I realized that this was actually a good plan because once they started the performance, there would be many people standing between me and the action I came to see and record. I was grateful for this bit of serendipity and sketched like mad. Sure enough, as I was finishing the first one, the people started to show up and block my view. But I wasn’t quite ready to leave, so I decided to turn my attention to another grassy area just to the right of this scene and my bench in the shade. As you can see, there was no one is this overflow spot I think was meant for people to mill around. That actually kind of worked well for me because I still wanted to feature another aspect of The Huntington—an old stodgy building. (You may have noticed that another such building was in the first sketch.) The Huntington, like lots of other buildings in Pasadena, are rather old looking and large. It made me smile to see the bright yellow and red ethnic umbrellas and tables with table cloths right out in front of God and everybody. 

Japanese Garden at the Huntington
Beside the old bell, entering the Japanese Garden, Huntington Botanical Garden, February 2, 2020 (graphite on Mix Media paper)

We had been warned not eat any snacks we might have smuggled in our bags of art stuff, and I needed to eat a little something. I was done with this spot. So, I headed through the Rose Garden and on to an edge of the Japanese Garden. I found a secluded spot beside a huge bell that had been cast in 1776 for a Kongobuji Temple in Japan. I’m not really sure what it was doing here, but I enjoyed sketching it anyway. And I ate my sneak snack while there. Once I had finished the bell, and stuffed the food evidence back down in my bag I turned my attention to this lovely little spot. There were about a dozen of these charmingly carved, probably cast, 18 inch or so pieces that had been placed in the ground under a couple trees—complete with a squirrel that I rendered a couple times as he moved through the leaf duff. I couldn’t find out anything about them, why they were placed there and/or who was on each piece. I thought they looked a little like headstones, but of course that didn’t make any sense—just my Western eyes looking at something I knew nothing about. But I was trying to just enjoy the beauty of each little carving in this peaceful place and somehow it all made sense. 

1Chinese New Year 2017
Entrance to Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, January 28, 2017 (watercolors and colored pencil on watercolor paper)
2Chinese New Year 2017
Looking towards the snow covered San Gabriel Mountains from His Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, January 28, 2017 (watercolor and colored pencil on watercolor paper)

So, here’s another serendipitous moment. As it was just Chinese New Year I knew that I wanted to post the above story and art as soon as possible. And as I thought about what I wanted to share I remembered another time I had painted/sketched a SoCal Chinese New Celebration. And I went looking for these. I have often written about my digging through piles of my art, much like a squirrel digging through layers of leaf duff. But I remembered I had done the above watercolors in a 6 by 12 inch watercolor paper. And I have only one of those pads. Woo hoo! Found them in a snap! 

Anyway, I did these two for Chinese New Year 2017, the year of the rooster. I wondered why I hadn’t posted them at the time. I looked back to past posts and realized that I couldn’t have as I didn’t start One CA Girl until March 25, 2017. That’s my mother’s birthday. I’m always happy to have even random memory moments of my mother. And yes, it will soon be three years (and 4 birthdays) that I have been sharing my art and words.

I realize I originally thought I didn’t have much to say this week and meant to let the art do the talking, rather than the words. (Way past 1000 words for today, but thankfully no where near 5000.) And I forgot to mention, the garlic for my pickle has come up…just those last few words…I promise.

February 1, 2020

Descansos Proteas in January
Proteas at Descanso Gardens entrance, 1/26/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and white watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

After I finished my laundry and posted my story last Saturday, I planted the garlic for my upcoming pickle garden. But as I dug in the ground I knew I wanted to go to the Descanso Gardens the next day for some painting/sketching. It had been too long since I had done a “full on” watercolor there and I wanted to capture a particularly huge and amazing Sycamore tree I had seen in the rose garden the previous weekend. In my mind’s eye I had remembered a huge Sycamore tree with golden leaves (yes, it still has last year’s fall leaves hanging from the branches) against a bright blue winter sky. I had all kinds of plans for my new gamboge leaves against a backdrop of cerulean.

However, as I walked through the front gate, I immediately wondered if I should look for that tree at all. This is because directly in front of me were these amazing drifts of bright yellow. The sky was pretty hazy so it wasn’t going to be a cerulean sky day in the rose garden anyway. The picture I had in my mind was trying to change and I was wondering how the bright yellow Sycamore leaves would look against a hazy sky. I wasn’t sure which way my desire to use my new gamboge watercolor color would take me—to the tree leaves or atop these clumps of proteas. But I was transfixed there at the entrance, with the backdrop of the dark and moody oaks next to the woven together cherry trees. I couldn’t make myself walk away. And of course the pathways were also part of the appeal here, inviting me to walk around and maybe see who might be under the umbrella way in the back. It almost wasn’t fair. Of course you might wonder why I was making such a big deal about making such a choice. “Get on with it,” you might say. “Paint this beautiful scene and forget about the tree.” But there really was much more to making this decision, at least for me. Sitting in the front of the garden, out in the open, with many people walking by would be very uncomfortable for me. There were so many people coming and going. I could hear mothers and fathers making deals with their children, trying to convince them that running along the paths was not only a bad idea, but would not be tolerated. Uh huh. And many were lingering in the very spot I was interested in, taking lots of photos. My usual comfort zone at the Descanso is under a slightly hidden and protected rose covered arbor in the rose garden. Lots of people wander through there, but somehow I feel more comfortable and hidden away. I did scout out a prime protea spot slightly off the path in the duff and slightly hidden under the shade of a lovely oak tree. But I still went to look at the Sycamore tree. Crazy huh? I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing something and slightly hoped that it was going to be so outstanding that I would soon forget about the proteas. When I got there I realized that even though the tree was huge and stately the leaves were a kind of a mottled orange. It didn’t take me long to realize there was not going to be a new gamboge opportunity here. So, I left, quickly got some water by the miniature train and train station and went back to the front entrance. I took a deep breath and set up my pots for paint in the oak duff, just across from this view. I wondered if it was OK to sit there, wondering if anyone who worked there would tell me to get back on the path. (There are way more employees at the front entrance than in the rose garden. In the rose garden I can sneak eat a half a peanut butter sandwich without anyone reminding me that you aren’t to bring anything to eat into the garden. I knew that wouldn’t be the case out there.) A couple guys in a truck drove past and neither of them said anything, so I thought I would be OK. But of course another person, wearing many badges and name tags, came along and said, “We really don’t like people sitting in the plantings.” Of course with a comment like that I should have been able to say, “But I am sitting on dead oak leaves, my feet are only 8 inches from the actual path and I get very anxious out in the open. May I please sit here?” But of course I didn’t say anything and moved out of that tiny bit of oak cover and onto the very edge of the path—maybe a grand total of 12 inches. Wow! I was really uncomfortable there, sitting right out where people were strolling directly in front of me and my pots of paint. I knew I would have to work quickly because the paint would be drying faster than I like (another reason I rationalize my desire to look for a bit of shade or cover). And I wondered how long before I just had to get out of there. I always think “passers by” are wondering why someone would be allowed to sit in such a brazen way, on the path and in the way…like, does this CA girl think she is “all that” with her art work? Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for compliments. I just want to go unnoticed and be left alone. But how could I do that? I was right out there in front of God and everybody. So, I worked hard to keep my head down, not to make eye contact, hurried along with the picture and left for home. 

When I got home, I heard about the tragic helicopter accident in some nearby SoCal hills that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 other people. So, my personal art angst quickly disappeared and was replaced with public sadness and profound loss. On Monday, flags were flown at half mast across Los Angeles. Just another day in the life of one SoCal girl I guess.