October 24, 2020

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–The Ahwahnee Hotel (completed in July 1927), 10/18/2020 (watercolor and Intense pencil on watercolor paper)

This week’s virtual group sketching trip was courtesy of me—one CA girl! Before we got together to actually sketch I presented an idea to our leader. I told her I was interested in hosting a virtual tour of Yosemite’s floor of the valley. But there was more to the idea in that I also planned to engage my time machine and take us to 1940’s Yosemite—even before I was born. You might well ask, how is that even possible? Well, as all of this would be virtual anyway, anything’s possible, right? My mother’s father (my maternal grandfather) was the plumber for Yosemite Park and Curry Co during WWII. And even though I wasn’t there to experience first hand what it was like to live in Yosemite during that war, my mother, aunt and uncle were, and they certainly told my brothers and I their stories. Sadly, I never heard directly from my grandmother or grandfather about life there at that time. My grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died before I was 2. But based on what my mom and her siblings reported, plus a couple perfect Yosemite photos I found online, I think I did a satisfactory job. Who really knows what it was like, none of us were really there. And last Sunday morning we traveled to wartime Yosemite for some much needed virtual away time of sketching. If you think about it, any recent photo of Yosemite taken without cars or people will show you exactly what it looked like in the 40s. In fact, if you take away all the buildings and roads (even what was left of the Indian Village in 1940), the floor of the valley has looked exactly the same for at least the last couple million years. Amazing, right?

Not sure I’m inclined to just retell last Sunday’s previous generations stories in this post. As I look once again at my sketch of the Ahwahnee I am now thinking of jumping forward in the time machine and going back to when I went there as one young CA girl. We didn’t go there a lot, but I vividly remember tent camping and staying at the lodge. OK, maybe I’m inclined to tell a few of the old stories related to the Ahwahnee, but I will be sure to share some of my own as well. My mom remembers it fondly as this grand place where the “swells” stayed and where the Bracebridge dinners were held (not during the war years) and Ansel Adams was the squire for those dinner show evenings. She also spoke of the US Navy leasing the hotel as a kind of hospital for injured sailors who were sent to the Ahwahnee to recuperate during WWII. It’s actually kind of hard to imagine transporting the sick and wounded on that road into Yosemite valley. I’ve been on the road from Oakhurst to the park’s entrance, as well as the one from Mariposa. Neither road is a straight shot, but each has many twists and turns. I think I’ve always preferred the road to and from Mariposa as it goes along the Merced River and there have been some years when I remember seeing dogwood trees in full bloom. I don’t think my mom or her siblings ever ate or stayed at the Ahwanhee until they were all adults. I certainly have no memory of setting foot in there when I was young. It has always been pretty fancy and we were usually pretty grubby from camping. I do remember one visit to the nearby gift shop when Rock Hudson was spotted. I have to admit I was nonplussed with the thought if seeing him walking around as I was busy combing the shelves for the perfect souvenir. But there was quite a bit of chatter all throughout the store and my mom was definitely distracted and not really focusing on what I was trying to show her. Of all the nerve! 

I fondly remember camping in the Yosemite Creek Campground with my family and my uncle when we were pretty small. I remember my uncle thought it a good idea to put the cartons of milk we had brought with us in the cool water of the creek that flowed near our campsite and tents. I also remember waking up that first morning with all the milk gone and each carton showing the clear marks of a bear’s claws. I don’t remember feeling afraid at all, but kind of in awe at the sight of the jagged marks on the cartons left behind by the bears. Thinking back now I can’t believe my uncle did such a dumb thing! He and my aunt didn’t even have a tent and were sleeping in cots “under the stars”—not that a tent would have protected us at all if a bear wanted to get inside where we were. At least my mom knew enough to not let us even have the tiniest bit of food in the tent. Unlike my uncle, she seemed to remember that Yosemite has always had bears!

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–Curry Village with dogwood in bloom and spring snow (If you Google “dogwood blossoms at Curry Village” you’ll see what this spot looks like in color.) 10/18/2020 (pen and ink on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for the second sketch I gave the group a choice between a higher altitude (7200 feet above sea level) heady shot of Yosemite valley from Glacier Point as well as a more down to earth intimate shot of Curry Village taken in spring when the dogwood trees were loaded with big fat and fluffy blossoms. Hands down, my 30 virtual travelers almost unanimously chose springtime in Curry Village. The photo gave us quite a spectacular vision as there had been a late spring snow and the surrounding conifers were lightly dusted with powdery white and all around were countless white dogwood flowers in full bloom. This blooming vision immediately put me in mind of my mom. One of the memories she often shared about living in Yosemite were the dogwood trees in bloom in spring. Native CA dogwoods are all over the floor of the valley as well as all along the road from Mariposa. So, for this virtual part of the journey I will dedicate it to my mom, with only her longer ago story to tell. I can only imagine the visually stunning treat she must have seen looking out of the school bus window as she went back and forth to school each day in spring. 

October 17, 2020

2020 Halloween at the Descanso Gardens (watercolor, Inktense pencil and black ink on watercolor paper) Happy Birthday, Christie!

Last year the Descanso Gardens had an amazing series of evenings they called Carved. It was a one-mile night walk through the garden with the path marked by 1000 hand carved illuminated jack-o-lanterns to light your way. It sold out each of the 5 nights (October 23 through the 27th) it was planned. The night we were there it was kind of crowded and in my opinion there were a few too many strollers that needed headlights. But we all survived and had a great time. This first ever event looked to be a cool annual thing to do each fall, much like their Enchanted Forest of Light extravaganza (mid-November to the end of December) that had become a tradition for my friends and family. You’ve probably already guessed where this is going…Because of COVID, both events were cancelled for the 2020 season. However, according to info on the Descanso Gardens website, both holiday evening displays and activities will be back for their 2021 fall/winter season. OK.

I also read on the Descanso’s website that even though “Carved” had been cancelled they had some daytime Halloween displays to make it look “holiday pumpkin” festive. I checked it out last Sunday. It looks to be a thinly veiled attempt to fool kids into thinking a daytime walk in the park would be way better than going trick or treating on the evening/night of the 31st. But I think the over 4-year-olds are on to this trick. Deep down they know this is all just daytime smoke and mirrors and will not in any way replace wearing a favorite costume, ringing doorbells, getting candy and running around in the dark. As it has been some time since I went trick or treating with my son, I was delightfully surprised to see some really fun displays. From a distance the wooden boxes atop stakes you see here look like bird houses that had pounded into the ground by a deranged ornithologist. As you get closer you can start to see that each box has 1 or more jack-o-lantern face carved into 1 or more sides of the wooden panels. Actually, they look a bit like houses for vampire bats. (I could almost imagine tiny bats flying out of the jack-o-lantern mouths and eyes just as the sun goes down.) I thought them quite fun and knew I was going to sketch them for my 2020 tribute to Halloween this week. I also knew I wanted to sketch this scene because of the red urn you can also see here. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember seeing them in a couple summer posts (June 20, 2020 and July 11, 2020). It was nice to see how the lovely plantings around the large urns had grown up and surrounded each one. (There are 2 in this promenade planting.) Other creative and charming Halloween bits and bobs can also be found throughout the daylight garden as well. There is a pumpkin arch with strange and wonderful large pumpkin/twig insects in the camellia grove. There’s also a pumpkin house and children’s hay maze on the main lawn, with colorful pumpkin mandalas surrounding oak trees in the oak grove. And someone very carefully, and cleverly, constructed the loch ness monster covered with pumpkins and gourds in one of the large ponds at the front. As an adult I enjoyed all the charming displays on display. Even after visiting this great Halloween scene, I can still imagine little ones saying something like, “This is great. But I can’t wait to go trick or treating on Halloween.” Right?

My dad used to claim that he and his cousin Walter had invented trick or treating. I wasn’t much surprised when he told me that he and his older cuz were involved in “tricking” schemes as they often got into a fair amount of meanness on a pretty regular basis. He said that he and Walter would wait until it got dark and then very quietly sneak up to a neighbor’s house, rub bar soap into window screens they could reach, and then run away. OK, so that’s a pretty nasty trick. So where’s the treat he thinks they invented? My dad’s story continues. It seems one of his neighbors got wise to what they were doing, but could never catch them. He told the boys that if they convinced whoever was soaping his screens to cease and desist, he would treat them with some candy. And of course he would give my dad and Walter some candy as well in thanks for telling the other boys to stop soaping his window screens. That worked like a charm. It seems that other neighbors with soapy screens caught onto this and thus the candy extortion began in a long ago Long Beach neighborhood. Now, my dad’s story has absolutely nothing to do with such tricks being done the last day of October. It seems it happened with much more frequency than that. Nor would he or Walter have ever considered walking around their neighborhood wearing a costume. That was for babies, unless they could have had a real cutlass like Errol Flynn. But otherwise they were just too cool for costumes. Now, do I believe my dad (who later became an electrical engineer because the atomic bomb was way cool) and his cousin (who later became a Navy Seal at the end of WWII) were the originators of trick or treating? Who cares? It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just a fun story I remember hearing him tell about his carefree days as a boy growing up. I still miss him so much. (RIP dad, 10/14/2012)

October 10, 2020

Sunday, 10/4/2020–virtual trip to Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (oil pastels, brush pen with black ink on toned Canson paper)

Every other week a sketching gang I know goes together on a virtual trip somewhere to sketch. I’m so glad they invite me along, I don’t know what I would do without them. I look forward to getting away as often as I can, even if it’s only to a place of two dimensions based on a couple photos and someone else’s stories about that place. We’re only there an hour or two, but the image(s) I create stays with me long after I add the last line or paint detail. I think that’s because I usually plan to share it here and that gives me a week to think more about it as I plan what I want to write. Last Sunday (10/4) we traveled to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. According to their website it’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. And according to that same website it’s been closed quite some time because of the pandemic. It reopened on July 22, 2020. So, maybe planning a virtual trip there made the most sense all along.

As I have already said, I grew up in northern CA—specifically the Silicon Valley. When we were kids we sometimes went to nearby Golden Gate Park. Public transportation then as now was great. But my dad always insisted we drive into San Francisco in our family station wagon. Parking in the park today isn’t too bad as they have a pretty large underground lot. In fact, the new parking lot will give a visitor easy access to the Japanese Tea Garden as well as the deYoung Museum and CA Academy of Sciences. Parking back then was a challenge, and not just because our car was extra long and wide. There just weren’t that many spaces in the small parking lot between the Academy and deYoung. We often wound up parking far away from there, sometimes on surface streets just outside the park. As kids, we never went to Golden Gate Park to go to the Tea Garden. My brothers and I were aware of the Japanese Tea Garden, and would have loved making that a “for sure” destination during any of our visits. But the massive gate you see here seemed to always be closed and locked when we were there. 

Once, I remember walking past, on our way to the deYoung, and the doors were open. We all looked at each other and without saying a word began walking up the steps towards the opening. All of a sudden there was an insistent rattling of bells. I looked to see where the sound was coming from and caught sight of a long bamboo pole with a small basket and bells on the end of that pole. Looking more closely I could see a small hand written note attached there as well. You may have guessed that the note was informing us that we had to pay some kind of entrance fee to go inside. Well, as there were 5 of us and my dad was kind of cheap–he stopped us in our tracks. We all turned and went back down the steps onto the deYoung and then to the Steinhardt Aquarium in the Academy of Sciences. I think he reckoned that everything else in the over 1000 acre park was free, so why should he pay for us to go into that tiny 5 acre “unknown” place. (Yeah, he was cheap.) I seem to remember we had parked way out by the polo field that time and he wasn’t in the best mood. It was only as an adult that I actually went into that garden because I could if I wanted to. It is worth the price of admission, it’s lovely inside. 

When I was newly married I worked part time in the CA Academy of Sciences as a botanical and entomological illustrator. I also volunteered as a plant fabricator for a special exhibit they had back then called “Life Through Time.” (In 2008 the Academy was remodeled and that exhibit was removed. I have often wondered what they did with the huge redwood tree we airbrushed to make look real and lifelike…) It was always wonderful to be in Golden Gate Park. I even looked forward to BARTing there from the east bay. During a typical day in either department I frequently wandered into Strybing Arboretum for lunch. I didn’t go over to the tea garden because they wouldn’t have allowed me to eat in there, and of course it wasn’t free. But the Arboretum was free and you could lay out a blanket on the grass and eat a sandwich anytime. Today, of course, everything has gone the way of the Japanese Tea Garden, and all the permanent venues in the park charge admission, even the Arboretum. 

All week I have been happily remembering how I spent my time in Golden Gate Park. And when looking at my sketch of the front gate of the Tea House, I also reflected on my intentional choice of the grey toned Canson Mi-Tientes paper. The outer wooden surfaces of the garden entrance have that exact silvery-grey patina. It made so much sense to me to let the paper take on an important role when rendering this huge and imposing wooden structure. The blue-tiled roof and golden leaves of the Japanese maples just seem to pop off the page because of that amazing contrast. It’s interesting to me that Japanese structures in Japan have been traditionally built with wood, wood that weathers to this same silvery-grey patina. So, my virtual trip to the Japanese Tea Garden last Sunday took me further still and on to a couple websites that feature information about not only the wood they use, but some cool stuff about traditional Japanese wood working skills in general. Coming from fire preoccupied CA I think the most interesting thing I learned was that they don’t worry so much about fires burning down their wooden houses. They build their homes with wood (usually Japanese cedar and cypress) because they are most concerned with mold, typhoons and earthquakes—in that order. I have to say, coming from earthquake preoccupied CA, building with wood is a good practice for earthquakes. It allows for flexibility when the earth is shaking. But the worry of fire is ever present here, and mold growing in the buildings we live and work in is also a California concern. Glad we don’t have to be concerned with typhoons—small blessings for us I guess. I don’t often list websites here, but thought there was just too much cool information to be shared and learned. I included the website for the Japanese Tea Garden as well. Historically, it’s very interesting, but I’m sorry to say that there is also a very sad part to it’s story.  

Here are the websites, if you would like to look around:

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, japaneseteagardensf.com

A History of Wood and Craft in Japanese Design, www.architectmagazine.com

Wood, Mold and Japanese Architecture, www.nippon.com

OMG, the weather has cooled and we are all so thankful. Until next time…

October 3, 2020

Vineyard on Oakdale Road, behind Linne Calodo Winery, early 2000 (oil on birch panel)

This week’s post is of a vineyard on Oakdale Road in Paso Robles. I lived in Paso in the late 90s and early 2000s. While there I fell hopelessly in love with all things about the vineyards in the north county of the Central Coast. It wasn’t the wineries that I responded to, but the vineyards. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two, but I’ve always been more enamored of the places where the wonderful wine grapes grow (vineyard), not necessarily the buildings where the grapes are crushed, then processed into wine (winery). Don’t get me wrong, I have visited many wineries and enjoyed drinking the wine there. But all my grape related landscapes have almost always been of the actual plants, emphasizing the symmetry of the plantings as they wrap around the various hills and dales here in CA. (To date, I have painted only one winery, Linne Calodo. The painting I did of their first building, left over farming structures and the only road leading into the property were the subject of that long ago landscape. Today, all the farm related structures are gone, the road is on the other side of the property and they have tripled the footprint of the winery/tasting room.) 

I grew up in northern CA in what’s now called Silicon Valley, and we often visited family friends in Napa. I vividly remember seeing what was then known as the wine country in the Napa/Yountville/Rutherford area. Later, when I turned 21 and was an undergrad at UCB, my parents took me wine tasting there. We traveled along Highway 29 through Yountville and Rutherford, stopping to taste wine at the old and established wineries as well as the up and coming wineries along the way. (Beaulieu Wines were just becoming famous.) For that particular birthday, I remember that it was a hot day and the wine was not very memorable. But the grand scale of the vineyards we drove past made much more of an impression. There was just something about the lovely rows of grapes planted throughout those rolling hills dotted with oak trees. And to see those same vineyards in spring with bright yellow mustard growing between the rows was also something truly lovely to behold.

I should mention that the vineyard you see here is the left side of a diptych with the right side a continuing vineyard vision that includes various farm outbuildings (see June 13, 2020 for that companion piece). I have also separately posted both parts of another oil on birch panel diptych of Paso Robles (January 19, 2017 and August 12, 2017). That pair is not of vineyards dotted with oak trees, but rather a golden wheat field dotted with my beloved oaks. With regards to both birch panel diptychs I liked the idea that each individual piece could be a “stand alone” piece (literally stand alone), but also that each image seemed somehow more dramatic and complete when each landscape was elongated horizontally. As long as I am confessing to creating such configurations, I have also separately posted another pair here at One CA Girl, but those are not oil on birch panel. The pair I am referring to was another kind of homage to vineyards and wineries, but done with oil pastels on pastel board (see December 3, 2017—Cypress along a drive up to a Napa tasting room on Highway 29 and December 23, 2017–Lucchesi Vineyards in Grass Valley). As far as the oil pastels go, they were definitely meant to be stand alone (but they need to be in a frame), and somehow magical as they combine a vineyard in Grass Valley with the front entrance of a Napa tasting room on Highway 29. This was more a fantasy piece where I wanted to see if I could mesh and blend the scenes together, even with their region specific blue CA skies.

Looking back at these diptychs, I am kind of wondering why I did them that way. Although I still love these quintessential CA landscapes, they do seem a little contrived and actually kind of “dippy”—“dippy diptychs.” Historically speaking, diptychs and even triptychs (“trippy triptychs”), have been around since medieval times. Even though I don’t know why I did them that way, those early artists must have had a reason. So, I went looking on the internet for that seemingly inexplicable idea, and this is what I found out. First of all, such paintings never depicted secular scenes of vineyards or wheat fields, but rather stylized people from the Bible—often the baby Jesus (looking like a tiny adult) and the Virgin Mary were featured. Those painted wooden panels were also often connected with some kind of hinge that bound them together. It seems this was so the two or three images could be made to stand up when placed on a flat surface, like an altar in a church or cathedral. It was also suggested that when hinged together in the way, they could be closed up and protected if and when they were moved from one place to the next. (Not really sure why anyone would be moving them around, but no matter.)

I also learned that those medieval painters often created diptychs and triptychs to help tell a Bible story, with each panel representing a tableau full of meaning. There was even a suggested comparison to the tradition of specifically lining up panels of stained glass windows in a church or cathedral to tell a story, as pages in a book might do. No stories, past or present, come to mind with any of my panels. Thinking back, I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. Hanging them together so they are aligned and straight can be a bitch. And how far apart should they be? Whenever I hung these in a place to try to sell them, I had a hard time making them look like they belonged together. It was always best if the venue where I was exhibiting my art had picture railing—then at least I could hang them at the same level. Someone bought this Paso diptych. I hope they were able to figure out how to hang them so they looked nice. Or maybe they were placed upright on a mantel as though they were hinged together, much like medieval artists did long ago.

Venice diptych, summer 2010 (oil on canvas)

OK, I guess I’m not done with this idea! Several years ago I went to Italy with my son and aunt. This diptych is of Venice, and it features a canal near our hotel. I kind of liked the idea of forming a corner to make it seem as though the canal was flowing back into the painting. On the left is the canal, of course, but on the right is Campo San Barnaba (city square in Dorsoduro), a former Venetian Church which is now a museum. This particular city square was made famous in the Indiana Jones movie “The Last Crusade.” I owned a VHS tape of that movie and my son really loved watching it. So our staying near there was particularly memorable for him. He also enjoyed finding and buying YuGiOh cards in a shop right at that city square. Quite a story for this pair of paintings, I guess. Maybe those “story telling” medieval diptych and triptych painters were on to something after all.

One last word regarding CA vineyards and wineries

With all the recent fires in CA, both the Paso and Napa Vineyards/Wineries have been assaulted with smoke and flames. I read that the Paso Robles vintners are going to hold their collective breath while their wines ferment. Some seem hopeful that the smoke will not taint the flavor of their product. As for Napa, it seems all their grapes were picked before the Glass Fire took hold. I think they are going to struggle actually making their wines as some wineries appear to have been devastated by not only the smoke, but the heat produced by the actual flames. It looked as though vats and machinery used to make wine literally melted on the spot. All of us who enjoy CA wines, we will hold out hope for some kind of phoenix to rise from all that ash. 

RIP Aunt Bunnie, 8/21/2020

September 26, 2020

Sonoran Desert, 9/20/2020 (Inktense pencil and watercolors on watercolor paper)

My latest virtual sketching journey actually took us to a location pretty close to my actual Southern California home—the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert includes parts of SoCal, a big chunk of southwestern Arizona, a small corner of western Mexico and most of Baja CA. With our recent triple digit temperatures you might wonder why anyone in CA would want to even virtually traipse through a desert right now. Probably one of the best aspects of a virtual journey to a such an arid climate is you can do all the traipsing around desired hills and dales you like without actually breaking a sweat—unless the ceiling fan is making a funny sound and you have turned it off. But you may have noticed, with this first sketch, the desert can actually be quite lovely without a hint of heat. What you see here is the Sonoran Desert in spring. I’ve posted a story or two about our nearby desert areas, and springtime in such an unlikely place can give you quite a spectacular color show when spring wildflowers come into bloom. There is a trick to really enjoying such a scenic journey and it has to do with very specific timing. First, you must be prepared to go there at a moment’s notice. No one really knows when great displays will appear. As if by magic great fields of every imaginable colored flower begin to show, usually after some kind of rain. I’ve heard it said that you can expect lots of flowers after a particularly wet winter, but not always. There’s another important thing to keep in mind if you want to see such a sight and it again has to do with the timing—it just doesn’t last very long, only a few precious weeks at the most. Once the sun comes out in earnest again, the color fades and everything get crispy again. It lasts just long enough for a few pollinators to show up and secure future generations of flowers. Because soon the flower goes to seed, somehow hiding away on the ground to hopefully grow again at a future flower extravaganza. The flowers could care less if we are there to see them at all. And they go through this process over and over again, but not in any predictable or particular way. Maybe that’s just as well, as you might imagine this ecosystem is quite delicate and doesn’t need lots of yearly traipsers stepping on the flowers. So, if you ever decide you want to visit the Sonoran Desert to see the wildflowers, have your bags packed in early spring, ready to go when you get the word. Also, be sure not to ever plan a visit in the summer unless you are part of some weird science experiment where you are asked to count horn toads while sitting in the shade of your truck or the shadows cast by a giant saguaro cactus.

Among the many college prep classes I took in high school, I will always remember an oceanography class senior year. Over that spring break we traveled to Baja CA to study the inland waters of the Gulf of CA as well as its salt water creatures. It was quite a trek from San Jose by bus to Puertecitos. And to get there we had to go through a bit of the Sonoran Desert. I already mentioned that we had all given up a week of spring break for this adventure and that would make it mid-April I think. I do not recall seeing any wildflowers, but I do remember the heat of the desert even though we were right next to the ocean. And when the afternoon sun was particularly nasty we all looked for shade. There were no shade trees, with no trees to speak of at all. In fact the only shade I remember was the shadows cast by the bus and various trucks that had made the trek with us. If you were lucky you could actually lean against a truck and visit with a friend while listening to music. (Yes, some of my friends actually brought cassette tapes to the Sonoran Desert.) You might think you could find a tall cactus for some shade. In researching possible larger flora that could be found in this part of the desert, there aren’t any. There is a huge tree-like cactus called the saguaro, but it does not appear to be native to Baja. So, it would be unlikely to find even one. It looks like there might be some in the southernmost part of the Sonoran Desert in SoCal. But most seem to be in Arizona and in the Sonoran state of Mexico. Even if there had been such cacti in our vicinity, I’m not sure leaning against such a prickly plant would have been considered, even with the promise of listening to the Doobie Brothers. 

One afternoon we saw the superintendent of our school district and his wife breeze past our parched group in a speed boat. I wouldn’t have known who they were if our oceanography teacher hadn’t pointed them out. I was surprised. I hadn’t seen them on the bus, nor had I seen one of our trucks pulling such a large boat. Our teacher told us they had come down to join us for our educational experience. You might imagine that we thought we would be taking excursions on that boat for the various projects we had planned while we were there. But we never saw them again. That was it! You’re not surprised, right?

Sonoran Desert with giant cactus, 9/20/2020 Not sure what kind of flowers are in the foreground. They are not CA poppies. They look a little like something from the mallow family–checkerbloom I think. (Ink with Fude nib fountain pen, watercolor, Inktense pencil, Prismacolor colored pencils for the sky on watercolor paper)

Looking at these cactus I was struck by the fact that these human looking tree-like plants seem to be an image I conjure up in my mind when picturing a desert landscape. (Maybe not so much for the Saharan Desert. For me, that’s camels and huge red sand dunes I guess.) What about you? Of course there are many kinds of cactus out here, but the distinctive tall tree-like saguaro aren’t everywhere in our nearby deserts. As I have already said the saguaro can only be found in a thin strip of SoCal. I can’t remember ever seeing one. Old cowboy movies seemed to proliferate a desert filled with such cactus for sure. And my brothers and I watched a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons growing up, and Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner were certainly part of our viewing pleasure. (Coyotes and roadrunners can definitely be found in our nearby deserts. And coyotes are everywhere—even in a Glendale neighborhood.) Aside from Wile E. Coyote buying items from Acme Corporation there was never a shortage of giant saguaro in those cartoon backgrounds. Actually, Looney Tunes was part of Warner Brothers Studios—far away from a desert filled with actual tall cactus. Only in LA do such strange and dreamy desert landscapes occur. Such is life in this so-called SoCal Dream Factory of past cowboys and cartoons.

First day of autumn was 9/22/2020

I love this time of year. The light is definitely different–less harsh I think. Hopefully our evenings will become cooler. If only the Santa Anas will be kind to us this fall–we all might breathe a little easier without those intense winds stirring up more fires. Here’s to hoping that comes true. Stay tuned.

September 19, 2020

Sunday, 9/6/2020–Virtual trip to Collioure, France, Church of our Lady of Angels (Inktense pencils and watercolors on watercolor paper–in the Fauvist style)

Do you even know what Fauvism is? If you were like me, you’d have heard of it, but that would be the end of that. On September 6th of this year we took a virtual trip to a place that principal fauvist painters Henri Matisse and Andre Derain made famous—Collioure, France. Collioure is on the Mediterranean at the southern tip of France. In fact, Collioure is just 15 miles from Spain and shares a lot of the same Catalan culture. I found that out by looking up information on the internet. But one of the members of our virtual sketching group is actually from that area of Spain, and she ardently confirmed the Catalan connection to Collioure. In fact, she contributed appropriate music for our exploration of the city.

So, now I can actually answer the question: What is fauvism and what does it have to do with Collioure? The actual word comes from the French word “fauve,” which means “wild beast.” Not really sure why anyone would want to be called a wild beast, whether you were a painter, fisherman or even a lion tamer. But there you are. And it seems there never would have been such colorful wild beasts if it weren’t for Collioure. It was the perfect storm of “place” meets Matisse and Derain with their amazing, revolutionary and thoughtful style of painting that was directly related to their visit to Collioure in 1905. Derain was credited as saying he was tired of the dreary grey skies of Paris and was seeking the sun. He was dazzled by the bright orange tiled roofs of Collioure’s buildings set next to the sapphire-colored sea. (Such a striking contrast is evident to anyone who has studied color. Orange and blue are on the exact opposite sides of the color wheel and known as complementary colors. Using that same definition, red and green are complementary colors, as are yellow and violet. Cool, right? Derain Matisse had it going on…) While immersed in the life and charm of this fishing village they developed a kind of freewheeling and creative style that was all about intense colors and emotions. A key feature of the fauvist style is the use of bold non-realistic and non-naturalistic colors. Other artists such as Dufy and Picasso also got the “fauvism bug,” traveling to Collioure to take in the color while painting. After I read that Picasso had also gone there to paint I kind of wondered why. He was from Malaga, which is on the southern coast of Spain. Hadn’t he already seen such a golden beach? I guess there was just something about magical colors that only existed further north. So, it probably wouldn’t be surprising that many artists still live and paint in Collioure today.

The first place we stopped on our virtual trip to Collioure was the beach with the distant 17th century church and bell tower that was once a lighthouse. It was actually great fun to go as bold and colorful as I could just with some heavy-handed saturated watercolor colors and Inktense pencil on absorbent watercolor paper. The fauvist artists of the 20th century primarily used oil on canvas and the pigment stood proud and bold next to each stroke of paint. It was fun when we all shared our personal interpretations of this scene in such color. I noticed that many of my buddies still hung onto a watercolor strategy, using softly blended washes and definitely realistic colors.

Sunday, 9/6/2020–trip to Collioure, France, Fishing boats (Inktense pencils and watercolors on watercolor paper–in the Fauvist style)

For our second stop we went closer in and visited some colorful fishing boats that seem to be emblematic of the old and new Mediterranean coast of France. By this time, I was ready to go for much bolder color choices. When Siri chimed, telling us our time was up, we again shared our work. It was evident that many of sketching buddies had had the same idea as I—embracing the wild and colorful beast inside. Very fun to see our transformations, much like the fauvists must have felt when they attempted something new.

Note: As I was trying to do a quick study of this sketching challenge, I couldn’t help remembering that I had seen similar boat shapes and colors that had been painted by Van Gogh. Sure enough, when I later looked for just such an image I found that he had painted fishing boats on the Mediterranean coast of France (Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer) in 1888. If you Google Van Gogh’s fishing boats of 1888 and Derain’s 1905 painting of fishing boats you will definitely see the similarity. I guess as revolutionary ideas may seem, such things rarely occur in a vacuum. Wonderful colors for both artists, I think. (The light in both places must have been similar.)

If you think you might someday like to take in the light and color of Collioure, I’m sure the town would welcome you and I as it did the fauvists of the early 20th century. They even have what’s called a Fauvism Trail that leads interested painters and tourists around the village to 20 different sites that both Andre Derain and Henri Matisse painted. It looks like fun. At each of the stops there is a marker and a reproduction of the painting they had been done on that exact spot. We are encouraged to compare the actual view with the hundred plus year old painting. It is a little shameful, if you think about it, as the town wants to exploit those wild beasts. I guess they aren’t breaking any kind of law, but I do wonder what Matisse and Derain would think of the flagrant tourist attraction. From what I’ve read of Picasso, he loved to be noticed and would probably be thrilled with the idea of a kind of pilgrimage to see his work in a kind of plein air setting. In the end I guess what fascinates me most about Collioure is that it’s probably changed very little in all that time. I don’t think there is a single place in CA that has stayed exactly the same for 100 years, or even 50 years for that matter. Or 10 years…What about where you live?

September 12, 2020

Virtual tour of Narragansett Bay (8/8/2020), Rhode Island (water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

On the 23rd of August I was treated to another virtual sketching trip. For this one we didn’t even leave the US, but instead went sailing on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. But before we left, our host shared the actual sketch book and fine point permanent black ink pens he used while sketching onboard the sailboat. (That was for the geeks and art materials nerds like me…) Then he showed us what was inside. I just love the way this guy sketches—small jewels of continuous fine line, with just the right amount of spare watercolor dropped onto the page. At first glance the color seems so random, but once you look at his overall composition, you realize it’s strategically placed. If I were to use one word to describe his work it might be “intimate” or even “romantic.” (If you have been following my blog I have already shared the ideas behind some of his sketching. He is the one who does what he calls “red light” sketches—see August 29, 2020 post.)

Once we had ogled his amazing pen and ink sketches he told us stories of how he captured his views. It seems he sat at the very back of the boat (There’s a name for that part of the boat, right?), sketch book and pen in hand, rendering the open water, other sail boats and shoreline as the wind scooted the crew, plus artist, along their way. He told us he first he did a continuous line ink drawing, then when he was ready to add watercolor, he just leaned over the side (There’s a name for that part of the boat too…) and filled up his water cup from the bay. OMG! I was so in love with this idea, making his painting process just as romantic as the finished pieces in hand. He also described the interesting watercolor effect he got when he mixed the bay’s salt water with the watercolor pigment. He said you didn’t notice any difference right away, as the magic happened only after the water evaporated and the paper dried. And once it was dry, small white halos are left behind where the tiny bits of salt have stuck to the paper. Just brush that off and it’s done. Magic!

Now it was our turn to virtually set sail on the Narragansett, sketching as we went. (Our host even found us some salty sea music and played a version of “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” I know that jaunty little tune, but the words I seem to remember were much more “off color.”) I did as he described and began the line work with my new Fude nib fountain pen filled with new purple ink. I let the ink dry, and added Inktense pencil. Finally, I grabbed a brush, dipped it into my paint cup filled with imaginary bay water, and started to blend the Inktense colors. Yikes! The ink was bleeding all over the place and into the other colors! Silly me, I hadn’t realized my new purple ink was water soluble. But you know what? I just let it go, letting the colors run and blend where they wanted. It was magic. I mean, I was out in  sailboat on the Narragansett, what was I going to do?

This might be a good spot to talk more about creating different paint effects whether you add the natural salt of bay water to damp watercolor pigment or attempt such a technique on dry land. You can see more about the effects of using rock salt with a watercolor wash by Googling just that. And if you want to go further with a cool background effect, check out a product called Brusho. It may look like a craft material rather than something a serious artist might use. But I have several sketching friends who have used Brusho and salt crystals to create amazing backgrounds. 

Virtual tour of Narragansett Bay (8/8/2020), Rhode Island–overlooking a lighthouse (water soluble ink and watercolor on watercolor paper)

At this point in our virtual tour of the Narragansett we were dropped off near a light house to sketch. And before I knew it the sailboat sailed away. All in all it was a great day in and by the bay. And I now have a real sailing adventure I would love to try someday. 

Until next time.

Virtually yours,

One California Girl 

(Please think of us kindly as we struggle to live and breathe with all this smoke.)

September 5, 2020

View from a hotel window in Ribeiro (riverside) district, Virtual Visit to Proto Portugal, August 8, 2020 (black ink and Inktense pencil on 6 in by 9 in watercolor paper)

Church (Igreja de Santo Ildefonso) with azulejo tiles and streetcar, Virtual Visit to Proto Portugal, August 8, 2020 (black ink and Inktense pencil on 6 in by 9 in watercolor paper)

Virtual View of street scene in Porto, Portugal, August 8, 2020 (black ink and Inktense pencils on 6 in by 9 in watercolor paper)

On July 4, 2020 I wrote about my June 5th virtual sketching tour of Italy. It didn’t go well, artistically speaking, for me and several days later I took myself on a solo tour of Vernazza. While looking at photos I had taken on a previous visit there I came across a view from our hotel window. The memory of my looking out that window immediately transported me to a pleasant virtual visit to the Cinque Terre. I think that image transferred much more successfully with my water soluble pastels on pastel board than the watercolors I did while virtually visiting Pienza and Bolsa, Italy. (I will probably never post those watercolors on One CA Girl.) Fast forward two months to August 8, and on to yet another virtual sketching event. This time we went to Porto, Portugal. Several of my sketching friends had been there for the July 2018 Urban Sketchers symposium. Each of those attendees said they had had a lovely time there and wanted to go back for another visit. I have never been to Portugal, but was definitely game for this trip as I had a plan to make this journey more successful than the June 5th trip to Italy. For our three thirty minute sketches in Porto I planned not to do full on watercolors, like I had previously attempted. Instead I had 6 by 9 rectangles of watercolor paper at the ready. And I was prepared to use only permanent black ink and a few colors of Inktense pencil. Then, when our group leader told us we had 5 minutes or less to finish a sketch, I stopped what I was doing, adding water to each piece as either a spray or a wet brush. 

I think my sketching plan worked. These pieces are OK. But I have to say that even though our “Porto” leader was playing music from Portugal while we were painting I was expecting to hear a different kind of singing, a different sound. What was I looking for? You’ll never guess. I was looking to hear a Bossa Nova beat, like something from Brazil. In fact I am listening to just that kind of music as I am writing this. I know, I know, just because the people in both countries speak Portuguese, I shouldn’t expect them to have the same kind of music, right?

So, I put it to you, if you could go somewhere to either sketch or just hang out (maybe listening to some music), where would you go? Maybe there’s someplace you have always wanted to visit. I have a few places on my list: several castles in Scotland, a couple gardens in Ireland, the Nairobi National Park, Vancouver/Victoria BC and Japan’s Nakasendo Trail, to name just a few. Of course if I could take a virtual trip in the Star Ship Enterprise’s Holodeck, I could go to all of those places and more. Because not only could I journey anywhere in real time, but I could also go back in time to a certain place as well. That would be amazing. 

Well, here we go! Set the Holodeck controls for 1960s Rio de Janeiro. I can just imagine a young girl walking down a street on her way to Ipanema Beach. A song was written about just such a girl by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, who sat many afternoons at a bar watching her walk by. In 1964 a song called The Girl from Ipanema was released on an album featuring Jobim, with his unique vocals and guitar and the bossa nova sound. But there was much more to this first recording and subsequent album because it also included the saxophone stylings of Stan Getz, a prominent and well known American jazz musician at that time. (Getz and Gilberto on the Verve label) And as I am still in the Holodeck I can listen to that hypnotic sound as it comes through my dad’s huge speakers in our living room in San Jose. He was enchanted with almost every song from both sides of that LP. And because we were surrounded with such music on a daily basis, I also became enchanted with that bossa nova jazz sound—even though most of the songs were sung in Portuguese. (I couldn’t understand a word.) But what’s great about that virtual trip is that I will never really need the Holodeck to go there. If I wish to be transported to that place and time all I need is the Getz and Gilberto album cover. Olga Albizu, an abstract impressionist from Puerto Rico, did the painting for it. Check out her work and music that went with it. You won’t be disappointed. As for me, I didn’t have to even take out my paints or brushes for this virtual sketching trip. I was just along for the ride.

August 29, 2020

green wash
From my front porch, June 7, 2020 (watercolor wash with Fude ink pen on watercolor paper)

blue wash
From my front porch, June 8, 2020 (watercolor wash and Fude fountain pen ink on watercolor paper)

yellow wash
Another view from my front porch, June 9 and June 10, 2020 (watercolor wash and bark-colored Intense pencil)

You may or may not have noticed that I missed posting last week. I had the art and story idea ready to go, but just didn’t have time to write anything down. However, I am ready to go now. 

You may or may not have noticed that I have quite a varying artistic style, with a definite variety of focus and subject matter when it comes to the art I create. My One California Girl stories are more straightforward as they reflect a direct response to a piece of my art. As I have stated in previous posts I can generally wander with my words in a couple directions. That includes discussing a specific technique and/or art material, the places and people of the golden state that interest me (which might include a family story or shout out) and/or my general musings of the moment. That might even take the form of a recipe or two. I always hope such musings will amuse others who are curious about both one California Girl’s art and/or stories. 

There will be no surprises here as I start with the technique and materials I used for these three sketches. For four consecutive days I sketched similar views from my front porch here in SoCal. Each afternoon I quickly created a supposedly random watercolor wash on a sheet of watercolor paper, let it dry and then added the urban details with either black ink or dark water-soluble Inktense pencil. You may be wondering what I mean by a “supposedly random watercolor wash.” I don’t know if I really know how to just create a random anything very easily. And these three washes seem to have been affected by what I saw as I looked out from my porch. For example, I think the sketches with yellow and green washes somehow magically have the outline of the mountains I can see across the street and the sketch with the blue wash magically lends itself to a definite blue sky. They each seem to be very convenient backgrounds for the line work I layered on top. And just as a final comment, each sketch is pretty loose in style compared to my usual work. 

Throughout my years of drawing and painting I have almost always created art that was anything but loose, reflecting more of a tight and controlled style. Even when I was one young California girl I always tried to draw what I saw with definite realism. (Not sure that is surprising as probably most kids try to make their drawings look real.) When I was in junior high (in San Jose) I sketched the realistic profile of a horse’s head that was the cover of that year’s yearbook. (We were the mustangs, of course.) In stark contrast to that early realistic period I also remember drawing a cartoon-looking character that was to be my elementary school’s mascot. The Cupertino school was brand new and the administration was looking to create a mascot based on something made by a student. The students at the school voted to have my drawing represent the mascot. Unlike my school yearbook I don’t have that drawing or any remnant of the original sketch. I just looked up that school to see if the drawing was anywhere about. Alas, it’s not. It appears the current mascot is a lion that looks a lot like a bit of clipart—definitely not drawn by a 6th grader. I don’t remember drawing a cartoon lion. It was some crazy character with lots of teeth and a big grin. After the kids chose my art I seem to remember that first principal making a comment about how a mascot needed to look a certain way, like a lion or tiger or something. Uh huh. Probably could have put a cutlass in the cartoon’s hand, transforming him into a pirate. A pirate would make a good mascot. So much for letting kids choose, right?

I usually need to be looking at something when I paint. I don’t seem to trust my brain to come up with anything wonderful unless it’s right in front of me. But more recently I have found myself wanting to expand those limited horizons, speeding up my process with more loose interpretations of what I see. As an artist I think it’s important to try new things. Pretty cliche, right? Trying new kinds of techniques and materials is important for all of us who carry the “artist’s monkey” on his or her back. It also seems we are never truly satisfied with what we create—seeing things we would have done differently even when the ink, paint or watercolor has dried. But probably more important, we need to know when to stop because you can never truly remove or take anything back—it’s in the fibers. I’m always a little suspicious of my mind’s inner workings when I am contemplating adding gouache or acrylic to something as a final top coat or flourish. In fact, if I’m in the zone, I can tell the major impact I wanted to make is there when I stop and stand back to take a look. If I have slipped from the zone I might add just a little more detail, but I know in my heart it won’t add anything that probably needs to be there. And if I talk myself into adding more details I think would be nice when looking more closely, that’s when I step out and onto the tightrope. Then I hope I won’t slip off and make a fool of myself. Maybe it’s like boiling pasta, better to cook it until it’s al dente, and not overcooked and mushy.

I wish I could me more like a fellow LA urban sketcher. He is a master of capturing tiny and wonderful details using a kind of scribble technique or blind contour drawing. He knows how to block out everything in front of him, focusing on the corner of a building, the spire of a church or the lone sail of a sailboat in a crowded harbor. In fact, when we all got together virtually the other day, he shared some of what he likes to call his “red light” scribbles. (It’s not what you think…) He keeps a sketch pad and fine point ink pen (very fine point) at the ready in the passenger seat of his commute car. And when he is sitting in LA traffic at a stop light, he takes that out and quickly captures what he sees around him. He shared with us several “red light” sketches he had recently done of people in the crosswalk. They were tiny bits of urban brilliance, quickly done in the car while waiting for the light to change. Too bad I’m not commuting to work right now. I’m missing out on a mind expanding sketching opportunity. Just kidding…

August 15, 2020

maidenhair fern
Adiantum Maidenhair fern, 8/9/2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Here is my latest botanical (number 6) and it is probably the most different of all. If you have been following this CA girl’s art and journaling you have probably noticed that it is the only one without even the hint of a flower. As it is a fern, it doesn’t have flowers because it doesn’t need them. Yes, not all green plants come equipped with flowers. This is because they don’t need bees, or any other pollinator, to reproduce. (I have known gardeners who don’t like flowers in their garden, preferring only leafy greens. I remember one garden writer saying that she didn’t want any “colorful tarts” in her garden…that comment still makes me smile. I wonder if she was allergic to bees…) I don’t think I miss seeing a flower attached to any part of the fan-shaped green leaf segments on wiry black stems. It’s just such a luscious shade of green all to itself. You may or may not know that ferns are some of the oldest plants on earth, and none of those plants had flowers. I mean, there weren’t any pollinators flying around, so there would have been no need to try to attract that kind of attention (no “colorful tarts” back then.)  The first flowers were giant magnolia blossoms and it seems those flowers were pollinated by beetles. 

It appears that all my recent botanicals have taken over the natural science illustrator side of my brain, as though a kind of critical scientific mass of interest has been achieved. And as that train of thought has left the station I am compelled to closely consider the scientific side of my artwork for this post. I just can’t stop! See the tiny dark patches on some of the outer edges of the leaf parts? Those are spores. Most ferns use spores, not seeds, to reproduce. However, Adiantum, maidenhair fern, can also reproduce with rhizomes. Rhizomes are a kind of underground stem that can pop up as a new plant next to the original one. Thinking about this makes me consider the life cycle of my recent plant subjects, how they reproduce and how I might propagate them. If you have reached your natural science limit you may want to stop and go for a walk in a beautiful garden. SoCal flowers and greenery are a bit on the crispy side right now, but there are some later summer blooms in my garden (e.g. rudbekia, cosmos, coreopsis). I saw some lovely dark purple scabiosa at the Descanso the other day, and there were still quite a few roses in bloom as well. In fact, I got stung by a bee at the Descanso recently and I wasn’t anywhere near a flower being pollinated. I was just walking along a wooded area beside a little creek. What was that about?

For those who are interested, here’s how to propagate the actual plants that inspired my recent botanicals. (Actually, I don’t think I plan to try to propagate any kind of fern at the moment. I’m just doing to try not to kill the maidenhair fern I have in the kitchen right now.)

Monk’s Hood

Monk’s Hood is a perennial and it reproduces from seed and small tubers. I’m not sure how easy this is to grow. My son once sent away for some seeds and tried. The instructions were quite detailed and he followed the directions to the letter, but none of them sprouted—probably just as well.

‘Just Joey’ Rose

A rose can be propagated 4 ways=seeds, cuttings, layering (both air layering and soil/ground layering) and grafting. I have never attempted to propagate a rose, but was a little interested in “layering.” I Googled that and saw a couple short YouTube videos that described how to do both layering and/or grafting. It was interesting, but I think I would just a soon buy them bare root from a nursery.

Phalaenopsis orchid

Orchids can reproduce a couple ways=seeds (I’ve never seen an orchid seed, have you?) and what’s called vegetative propagation=when dividing larger plants, you might find what’s called a “back bulb”or two you can plant. (Haven’t seen one of those either.) But you can also plant what’s called an “off shoot.” That’s a tiny plant that grows on a “happy and healthy” orchid stem. (I have seen a couple of those.) I had quite a collection of orchids on my kitchen window sill, with one that had a couple off shoots on a stem. I tried to propagate them, but managed to overwater everything. It was a horrendous failure and I tossed them into the green waste. Thankfully, I have the art to remind me of my beautiful, but past tense, pink phalaenopisis orchid.

‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea 

A hydrangea is a flowering deciduous plant that can be propagated from seed and/or cuttings. I haven’t attempted to do that yet, and may not while I live in SoCal. I think it just gets too hot here for that plant to really thrive.

Gladiola

Gladiolus can reproduce with seeds. I’ve never seen a gladiola seed, but there must be something to that as I have seen bees buzzing around the flowers. You can also grow new plants from their corms=bulbo-tuber (an underground plant stem). I have been pretty successful growing gladiola from corms, and in my opinion, they make the perfect pass along plant. 

Lupines

Thinking back on last week’s post of lupines I am reminded of trying to propagate them. I have tried to propagate CA poppies and lupines, and have had some luck with them. They seem to come up fine the first year, but not so much after that. CA nature does a much better job secretly blowing around that seed, and I’m actually OK with that. I love driving around here in spring, looking for a surprise patch of lavender or bright orange.

Garden Update

I’ve written about planting garlic seed and not sure if that was particularly successful in this year’s garden. The final product looks way punier than I had hoped. My cucumber and dill plants haven’t been as prolific as I had hoped either. The tomatoes are doing better, but I found a huge tomato worm eating all the new growth at the top of the Better Boy. OMG! I seem to be better at propagating lizards and monarchs. Not really sure how I am doing that. It must be more of that secret and magical CA nature at work.

Starting back to work on Monday. LAUSD has decided we are going to start the school year with online/virtual learning—exactly as we finished up last school year. I am looking forward to seeing my students again, but have not been able go through the ritual of decorating my class room. I actually look forward to setting up the room for my students. As I will again be providing therapy to students sitting in front of the computer screen, I bought an ergonomic chair as my personal room decor. Guess we’ll see how it goes… Stay tuned.

Miss you mom—RIP 8/15/2016