May 8, 2021

Virtual sketching (3/28/2021) of annual Bermuda Day Parade in Bermuda (black ink and POSCA pens on watercolor paper)

One of our sketching members was in Hamilton (capital city of Bermuda) for the cities annual Bermuda Day parade one year. (I don’t remember her saying what year they were there.) But I guess they’ve been holding this particular parade the end of May since 1902. That tells me she was there in late May. If you are like me, you might have wondered who or what started such a celebration. So of course I Googled Bermuda Day parade. It was originally called the Empire Day Parade. Uh huh. It also seems that it was to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was May 24th. And it also seems that she died in 1901, which probably means that first parade was meant to honor/remember that particular English queen by holding a posthumous celebration and parade in the British Colony of Bermuda. I’m not sure if Gombey dancers were part of those first Empire parade years, but they were certainly fun to look at and draw a month or so ago. I discovered some other rather “dull sounding” information about Bermuda Day. The queen’s birthday was also used to commemorate the first day of the season that business men, not business women, could wear Bermuda shorts with a jacket and tie. No, I’m not kidding. I was glad to read that today all kinds of people wear Bermuda shorts in Bermuda all year round. Yeah.

Our host told that Gombey was a melding of African, Caribbean and British traditions and that they are the favorite participants of any Bermuda Day parade. She talked at length about Gombey dancers, describing their great head dresses and colorful costumes. It’s funny, but when I discovered we were going to sketch the dancers at the parade, and we had only 30 minutes, I knew immediately I wanted to use my POSCA pens. The colors were perfect for the dancer’s costumes. It was all such fun—trying to capture the movement of row upon row of black and brightly colored fringe and tassels. I just couldn’t imagine personally moving, let alone dancing, while wearing  those tall tall head pieces.

Last Sunday, another of our intrepid artist friends took us to a couple summer festivals along the coast of the Catalonian region of Spain. It seems that Sitges celebrates summer with fire crackers and pyrotechnics. And in Coma-Ruga you might see a summer celebration that includes a parade with people wearing huge paper mache heads. It was fun to do 30 minute sketches of each celebration even though I’m not sure I would enjoy all that smoke, and I can’t explain the significance of the giant heads. Our host didn’t offer an explanation of why the heads were so big and I couldn’t find anything about them. Our guide did say that the two on the left were specific characters familiar to the people from that region. She added that she wasn’t sure if a pirate from the Caribbean (as seen on the right) really had anything to do with the other two, but that there once were pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. I did look that up and it seems that is true, but none of the images I saw of pirates from that region looked like Jack Sparrow.

So, even though I didn’t totally understand what any of these groups were celebrating, I did latch onto the idea of celebrating. I have been looking for something to celebrate. How about you? And once I thought about it I realized I have already enjoyed a couple recent celebrations, one traditional and some more minor and personal. My most recent personal celebration occurred only yesterday. When I got home from work I realized I had been back working on campus for two weeks. Yeah! And on Wednesday, it was Cinco de Mayo. (Don’t know if that is a big deal where you live, but here in SoCal it’s BIG.) The teachers and staff were treated to homemade tamales for lunch. If you have never tasted a homemade tamale, you don’t know what you are missing. Many of our Hispanic families have various abuelas, tias y mamas that make that delicious “real” food ,and it is a real treat! And to add to our Cinco de Mayo celebration, the school district’s COVID mobile truck came to school that day as well. So, we all got tested for the coronavirus and then ate lunch. That’s a party!

I participated in another personal celebration last Saturday at the Descanso Gardens. And it came as the result of the CDC saying we could remove our face coverings when outside—provided we had been vaccinated. It was such a treat to walk among the roses in the rose garden, smelling their fragrance whenever I pleased. As you might imagine there were other shy people like myself, celebrating in the same way. It was lovely and such a treat.

Finally, my urban sketching group is planning a celebration the end of June. What are we going to do? And what are we going to celebrate? We are planning to gather outside somewhere, in smallish groups of course, to sketch on location—just like the old days. We haven’t ventured out to do that for over a year, and most of us are really looking forward to sketching outside together. Actually, it will be a kind of bitter sweet celebration as many of our group live far away from the LA area. They, of course, will not be joining us. We talked of continuing to sketch together virtually, and I hope we do that as well. But you know how such plans can fall apart, right?

So, what would you like to celebrate? Check out colorful dancers at some event? See a fireworks display some balmy summer evening at the beach? Have a meal with friends in celebration of a birthday, anniversary or even just because? I have to admit that hearing live music would be reason to celebrate. I suspect the list seems endless right now…

May 1, 2021

Dutch iris, Descanso Gardens, 5/1/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If I want to have a perfect Saturday day, I try to get an early start and head over to the Descanso Gardens. Usually I’m not looking for something specific to sketch there, but I usually find something I want to draw whatever the weather and/or the time of the year. My adventure today and last weekend was no different. I went with no idea of what I would see that would grab my attention. As is my usual I soon find myself walking around the rose garden. Lately I think I have been subconsciously looking for a perfect urban/non-urban vignette to sketch with my new/old art materials obsession—Prismacolor on Bristol board or acetate. As I walk around I find myself engaged in an interior monologue about how spring has been progressing at the Descanso, based on the flowers that are about to bloom, those at their peak and what’s on it’s way out. Most of the tulips are gone, and I don’t mean that lone stems, sans petals, are evident, but most plants have been extracted from the ground. The lovely orange clivia that marks many paths among the camellias and oaks has dried up and the lilac shrubs have more green growth than flowers. The cobalt blue forget me nots (Myostis) are not the sharp blue they were a couple weeks ago. But don’t despair! Lots of “lovely” is coming on. The huge gingko tree that inspired a winter solstice pastel (see January 1, 2021) is leafing out with bright green leaves. Bearded iris are still going strong in the rose garden with soft yellows, bright yellows, rust colors and everything in between. Planted beside many of the bearded iris are huge patches of tall and spiky Dutch iris. And many of those are the same colors as their bearded friends. I saw this Dutch iris, with a few more just like it budding up, as I was walking out of the rose garden. I had already done a sketch of roses and salvia and was heading toward the outer garden area. But when I saw this color, I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew I had that exact petal colors (Tuscan red and Spanish orange) in my Prismacolor set of colored pencils in my backpack. It was such a nice day that I didn’t even look for a bench, but instead stood before the flower and sketched it on the spot. 

With great “Tuscan red” satisfaction I put the finished sketch in my backpack and continued into the native CA section of the Descanso. Native mint/sage/salvia are in full bloom right now, as well as CA fuchsia. But the fremontodendron (see December 21, 2019) and the bright purple blossoms of the red bud trees are now quite subdued. I didn’t see many bright orange CA poppies either, but they are still going strong in my home garden. I noticed that the tall and lanky matilija poppies are budding up, ready to produce their large and unusual “white with yellow center” flowers. (Each flower looks like a sunny side up egg. I’m not kidding. In fact, one of the common names for this native CA flower is the “fried egg plant.”)

In the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/24/21 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

Last weekend’s sketching adventure also took me to the rose garden at the Descanso. Surprise, surprise…Not sure I noticed that many roses in bloom that day. But I found a charming red climbing rose that I chose to render—and it would qualify as an urban sketch because I included the human-made wooden arbor. Based on what I saw last Saturday, and today, the great rose engine of color has turned over and beginning to rev up with amazing color. Most of the roses at the Descanso have fragrance as well. And as those of us who have had the vaccine can now loosen our masks a little when outside, I took full advantage of smelling every rose I saw both last week and today. Maybe the roses in your neighborhood are also beginning to bud and bloom, sending out their scent. If not yet, I hope it’s soon. Or maybe they are all done and you have lovely memories of some recent roses. We can only hope!

Note about last week’s post

Last week I wrote about my dad sharing some of his music with me when I was pregnant with my son. And I specifically wrote about the Johnny Mandel, Johnny Mercer song, “Emily.” I forgot to mention that my dad often told a story about an encounter with Johnny Mercer while he and my mom were undergrads at UCLA in the early 50s. It seems my dad liked to do his math homework on the huge chalkboards that could be found in college classrooms in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, one day he was working away, while my mother sat in one of the lecture hall seats doing her homework. As dad loved to tell it, all of sudden, Johnny Mercer opened one of the doors next to the chalkboards and walked in the room. I guess Mr. Mercer stood there for a few moments, watching my dad scribble all over the board. And then just as quickly as he had arrived, he walked out. I always thought this is a funny story as Mr. Mercer, the renowned lyricist of his time, never said a word. Of course, what’s really funny is that my dad recounted this story so many times to me and my brothers, and I don’t think he said a word either. Such a funny memory, right? My dad told that story over and over and somehow it is now my memory too. (As an undergraduate at UCSD I had classes in that same kind of lecture hall. They were huge rooms with 200 uncomfortable tiny wooden seats, and each tiny chair had a tiny desk you could open or close once you sat down. Oh man, I can picture that room.) And now, when I remember his “Johnny Mercer” story I am also in that long ago classroom, with the definite smell of chalk in my nostrils. But for the life of me, even though I am now in the room with my parents, I can’t wrap my head around why my dad would care if a famous person silently watched him silently write math equations on a huge chalk board. Funny…

April 24, 2021

I went on a virtual excursion to Isleboro, Maine on the morning of Sunday, April 11. Our artist host gets to live near that part of Maine year-round. Based on what she told us of her life there it sounded like there really weren’t too many who over winter in the coastal parts of Maine—the weather can be very severe that time of year. But it seems that she lives there year-round and enjoys all the seasons. She shared photos of rocky coasts, fishing boats and a couple lighthouses. Her Maine home looks to be a charming Victorian covered with split shingles made of cedar. The house’s exterior has taken on a lovely silver patina—guessing the cold damp weather contributed to that “weathered” color. Her choice of photos was very interesting as she had pictures of some of the same spots at high tide and low tide. She showed us places in the fog and in the sunshine. She also had several pictures with the sun going down over the water, reminding us to be sure to notice the muted and interesting hues at that time of the day at that time of year. She was a really good guide for those of us who have never been to that part of the country. But I am guessing that I would be Maine’s fair weather friend, only visiting in summer and/or early autumn. (Guess I’m a little spoiled to live in SoCal, with our “banana belt” winters.)

She chose 3 pictures for us to sketch and I have shared the first two sketches I did that morning. I didn’t include my third one as it just didn’t capture the “light” of the sun going down on the bay. (It actually kind of looked like a card you might send to  someone around the holidays. Somehow I made the conifers around the water look like Christmas trees.) I was pretty happy with these two. The rocky coast scene was done with a paired down set of Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board. The bay with boats was also done with the same colors, but I used a sheet of semi-transparent acetate for that one. But the real story for this week, besides virtually visiting a new place earlier in the month, is the materials I used for these sketches—my beautiful and beloved Prismacolor colored pencils. Last Sunday morning, 4/18, I gave a Prismacolor colored pencil demo to my LA urban sketching buddies. I wanted to share with them my renewed obsession of how to create what I call my tiny urban jewels with just some Prismacolor colored pencils.

Not sure you would be interested, but here’s the invitation I posted to entice them to join me for the virtual demo. 

Top SoCal “urban sketch,” March 21, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencil on acetate)
Bottom SoCal “urban sketch,” March 22, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth surface Bristol board)

“In the early 90s I was a scientific illustrator at the CAL Academy of Sciences. I worked for a couple botanists and an entomologist there. All of my art was done with pen and ink on Bristol board for the botany folks, and pen and ink on acetate for my drawings of wasp genitalia for entomology. Along the way I took some classes at the Academy on how to use Prismacolor colored pencils. And I was off like a shot—using those lusciously waxy pencils for a variety of subjects on Bristol board and on acetate. I also learned to use them in conjunction with watercolors on Strathmore cold press illustration board and with gouache on Canson toned paper. 

I have recently started using them in earnest for my urban sketches. (And here are a couple examples of my latest obsession.) I have bags and bags of those colored pencils, but for the “on the scene” sketches I have been doing lately I have paired that number down to 12 – 15 pencils. That seems to work for me. All you need to remember is that because they are made with a lot of wax, do not leave them in the sun or they can kind of melt a little.”

The demo went well, but I was nervous and glad when it was all over.

More on Maine

Visiting Isleboro Maine reminded me of Robert McCloskey. If you are not familiar with him, he wrote and illustrated a number of children’s picture books in the 40s, 50s and 60s. His stories are sweetly stuck in a long ago time, but the art of Maine in his “Time of Wonder” seems timeless to me. “Time of Wonder” won the Caldecott Medal in 1958. It was fun to look back at that book after my virtual journey to Isleboro. (Mr. McCloskey even mentions Islesboro in the story.) I told my son that I thought that part of Maine lovely and picturesque, especially when looking at McCloskey’s wonderfully color-saturated art depicting it’s coastal people and places. Of course my son had to remind me of the many Stephen King books that are set in Maine. Oh dear, not sure I want my imaginings of “Maine” to include it as a place of horror right now, or ever, for that matter.

And a final word about the end of April 2021

I have been listening to a Bill Evans Trio (with Stan Getz) live recording of “Emily” quite a bit lately. When I was pregnant with my son I wasn’t sure if I was having a boy or girl. I had chosen the name Henry for a boy and Emily for a girl. Many afternoons my dad would cue up “Emily” on his “Scott Hamilton Plays Ballads CD.” (The song is often associated with the Bill Evans Trio, but the music was written by Johnny Mandell and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.) My dad knew that if I was in the house I would come to find him so we could listen to “Emily” together. It pleased him so much that we could communicate so specifically with his music. Now I find myself playing Bill Evans’s version of “Emily” all the time, hoping that he will come looking for me. And maybe he does. I can still see his smile in my mind as we quietly listen to the music together. Happy Birthday dad, 4/25. I miss you so much, but at least I’ll always have you with your music.

April 10, 2021

As of last Monday I really had no idea what I would share for this week’s art and story. But that evening I found myself looking again at some sketches I had pulled from an old portfolio several months ago. I think my interest in these finished sketches was simultaneously peeked as I put away the stuffed rabbits my son had gotten when he was little. I had an Aunt Bunnie, and when my son was little she seemed to like giving him stuffed bunnies for various birthdays and holidays. I don’t know, maybe she thought he would forget her name or something. But how many little kids, or even the mom of a little kid, have an Aunt Bunnie—Great Aunt Bunnie to him. She passed away last August and it seemed time to put the bunnies away, but maybe a story of rabbits needed to be told. 

I did these sketches as part of picture book I had planned to write and illustrate when my son was young. At that time I was an editor of educational materials, but wanted to crack the trade book market. I didn’t have a lot of spare time back then, but I loved the idea that my stories would someday be published and catch on. I put together several picture book ideas (see 7/28/2018 for a complete picture book thumbnail). But for this one I had in mind the idea of mixing a kid’s fantasy life of playing with her rabbit next to the reality of owning a potentially very demanding pet. My fascination with having a pet rabbit started long before my son was born, and all told I had 5 pet rabbits. My first bunny I named Numbert. My mom and dad loved Pogo Possum (Walt Kelly cartoons) and Numbert was one of the characters that lived in the Okefenokee Swamp with Pogo, Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Churchy LaFemme. I got baby Numbert when I was a freshman at UCSD in the 70s. You weren’t supposed to have pets in the dorm, so I hid him in my room. My roommate didn’t seem to mind and would let Numbert out of his cage to hop around. As you may have guessed, that didn’t turn out to be a good idea because he would hop in my closet and poop in my shoes. Then he would jump onto my roommate’s bed and pee on her bedspread. But of course the story of Numbert didn’t end there. I had painted a giant tree and gumball machine on a wall in our room. (I’m not sure that was allowed either. I never bothered to ask, I just stood on my bed and painted.)  That crazy rabbit would stand on his hind legs and lick the red paint off the gumball machine’s base. 

There was a long dry spell, where I had no interest or opportunity to get another rabbit. But once I started teaching science at an elementary school in the late 80s I had a whole string of them, one after the other. First, there was a mini lop eared rabbit named Cookie (father named Chocolate, mother named Chip). She was pretty placid. I would let the kids put her in a cat leash and take her for a walk on the grass outside my classroom. That was pretty funny to watch as Cookie didn’t quite get how to go for a walk attached to a human. She would just randomly take off with the kids holding on tight to the leash, laughing all the way. When she got older she had a rather serious kidney infection. I had to give her injections twice a day, and she actually got better—surviving the kids, a serious medical condition and me. Then I was given a large lop eared bunny that the kids in my class named “Thumper.” After that I found myself the proud owner of a petite black and white spotted bunny named Hopscotch. Finally, I had a kind of standard white rabbit that I named Frisby. I had just read the book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh” to my students and I named her Frisby. Of all my pet rabbits, Frisby had the most personality. And the ideas for the picture book you see here were mostly based on that sometimes very naughty rabbit with a little sprinkling of Numbert, the number one.

Frisby was long gone from my life before my son was born, but I guess I hadn’t quite let go of my love of bunnies and wanted to write about them. Frisby had some peculiar habits, but her bad behavior was probably my fault. I had trained her to use a cat litter box inside the apartment I shared with my then husband. But if I didn’t keep that litter box spotless, Frisby would have an occasional accident on the carpet or the bathroom floor. So, I lined our outdoor balcony with chicken wire and took to putting her outside. And sometimes I would leave her out there when we would go out for the evening. I know, I know… who’s the one with the bad behavior? But that turned out to be kind of hilarious because she figured out how to jump up onto a table out there and would be looking for us when she heard our voices as we were coming up the walk. Once we made eye contact, she would jump down and wait patiently at the sliding glass door. But of course leaving her out there unattended was not a good idea. I soon found out that she had figured out how to get in a small shed on that deck and she had chewed up the plastic handle of my then husband’s very small, very cheap suitcase. I thought her doing that so funny, but he didn’t think it amusing at all. It still makes me laugh when I think of him trying to show me what my rabbit had done to his suitcase, but he couldn’t hold it up because the handle was in shreds. OMG, it still makes me laugh. I am laughing right now as I am remembering all of this! Oh yes, we are divorced—no sense of humor is definitely grounds…

Anyway, between Numbert and Frisby, I was sure I had the perfect story of a child’s fantasy of having a fantastically wonderful pet rabbit, juxtaposed to the reality of a real live naughty rabbit. And on each page was the imagined bunny with the reality penciled in below. I never finished the story and actually don’t remember how I had planned to end this cautionary tale. 

Even though I have no memory of how I was going to end the story I do remember how much I enjoyed them even with the warning signs of what might happen when caring for a busy critter. Maybe that’s the ending, be sure to enjoy your pet rabbit, but be on the look out as well. And if you start to notice that your rabbit jumps up on the outside table when she hears your voice, then waits at the sliding the glass door to be let in…maybe you have gone too far. Oh well! No regrets! Maybe the story ends like the “The Velveteen Rabbit” in a kind of reverse. Instead of the stuffed bunny becoming real, the good domestic bunnies get to become wild rabbits that run around the Descanso Gardens—free as bunnies can be. (That’s actually what happened to Cookie. I gave her to a friend and she let the rabbit run around in the backyard, free as you please. I went to visit her one day and that rabbit not only ignored me, but ran into the shrubbery when I tried to pet her. Of all the nerve!) But here’s the non-velveteen rabbit twist—the naughty bunnies are turned to stone like the one you see here, and they are forever left to sit in one place. And they will be tormented by the many children who like to sit on them and scream. Not sure, but this kind of ending doesn’t sound much like a book for kids, maybe more for adults who are fixated on some kind of weird rabbit revenge? 

While wandering the Descanso Gardens today I discovered a nest that I’d missed. It is another one made by a local artist named David Lovejoy. It’s his interpretation of a Bower Bird nest. Google Bower Bird, you’ll see photos of their actual nests. They are definitely cool birds.

April 3, 2021

Signs of Spring at the Descanso Gardens, 2021 (Majestic purple ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

As the tulips have been opening at the Descanso Gardens, so has my ever expanding need to see this year’s spring. Looking for spring flowers and the newness of green on all the plants continues to be my current obsession. I had the week off and went to the Descanso a number of times to sketch. They have a spring theme going on that of course involves the blooming tulips, iris and clivia, but it also includes much more. They have named their March 15 to May 31 offering “Signs of Spring.” And for spring 2021 at the Descanso Gardens they are emphasizing the idea of homes made by birds, or nests. The display involves bird nests of various sizes, shapes, materials and even some that are different colors. (They were sprayed bright pink, yellow and green.) Many of the nests are right out in the open, while others are tucked away in various locations along the paths in the garden. For these you have to look a little closer. All of the nests I have sketched here were man made, not constructed by birds. In fact, one of the nests you see here was made by the local artist David Lovejoy. I pretty much scoured the place, looking for nests to sketch. It seems that the only ones made by actual birds were along the fence next to the larger pond. I didn’t sketch any of those as they were each individually tucker under a glass dome and I was just not inspired to try to capture that kind of image. There were various signs describing each nest and the birds who had actually made them. These were closer down to the ground, compared to the other fantastic nests. I suspect the low level and glass covering was done to encourage little children to hunker down and look, but not be able to touch them. As the Descanso is very much into education for the younger garden goers, the location of these nests was perfect as there are a number of different kinds of birds that hang around that pond, as well as numerous of turtles that bob around in the pond. That being said, the other nests in the garden seemed to be in places someone under 3 feet in height could not reach. (Just guessing…)

To be an urban sketcher or not to be, that is the question…

If you have been reading my weekly stories and art, you may be wondering if my urban sketching group met last Sunday. Well, thanks for asking. And yes we did. We went on a fabulous online virtual visit to Bermuda. It was great! Guess I could have posted those sketches today, but was clearly more obsessed with these spring nests at the Descanso. As always, our virtual excursions are welcomed by all attendees. But, as we have gone longer than anyone expected with our unreal virtual sketching events, we often end each session talking about how to post and share our sketches. Lately, we have had some very lively discussions about what is and isn’t an urban sketch. If the art truly reflects the Urban Sketchers manifesto, you can post it on their website. Basically the group seems to agree that true urban sketching must tell a story, be done on sight and in real time. I might add that I think the art must include some kind of reference to humans—be that a telephone pole with lots of wires, a car or two and of course people. If you can include someone walking through your sketch that’s all you really need to create a true urban sketch. However, as our virtual sketches are not done on sight and in real time, we can only post our work in a very specific backdoor of the urban sketching world. It generally means the art is just for us and not for the consumption of the international group. OK. I’m not really a huge fan of posting my sketches there as it’s part of Facebook, and I am kind of done with Facebook. Posting any of my art on Facebook is not something I do…ever. But at the end of each of these virtual travel sessions the leader of our group reminds us how to post our art, as it is not a normal and straight forward maneuver. At these times it seems there is a residual, but seemingly ongoing discussion of what constitutes urban sketching. I believe that what I am sharing here constitutes urban sketching as I am definitely telling a story—albeit I’m sharing a collection of sketches done over a couple days. And as all of these nests were made by people, I think that adds the necessary human touch to each one–you just can’t see them. But none of this really matters anyway as I won’t be posting any of this on Facebook.

March 28, 2021

3/21/2021, wall and poppies (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate) and 3/22/2021, wall, poppies and car (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If you’ve been following one CA girl for the many weeks and months we’ve been under the weather with the pandemic, you have surely noticed the many worldwide virtual online sketching trips I’ve taken. We have been averaging one every other Sunday since our first trip to Porto, Portugal August 8, 2020 (posted September 5, 2020). But as the time has passed our group seems to have filled up the other Sundays with other kinds of art activities as well. One of those mornings a member shared his amazing tiny sketch pad filled with local SoCal street scenes done in gouache. For another odd Sunday another member showed us how he liked to sketch people on the Metro line with a ball point pen—of course this was pre-pandemic. And one Sunday morning I even took the group on a live webcam sketching event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We sketched sea turtles, various fish swimming in and around the three story kelp forest and a tank full of jellies. 

Something old becomes new again!

As it seems we will be home sketching a bit longer our leader (last Sunday) asked us if we had any ideas for possible upcoming art events we might like to host. Some suggested more virtual trips and some suggested sketching demos. One member suggested he could show us how he drives around LA, doing quick sketches at stop lights. I got kind of over excited about sharing something I might do. Not really sure why, but I volunteered to demo something I really haven’t done in years—how to use Prismacolor colored pencils on a variety of surfaces. I started out using them in the late 80s and early 90s. And my favorite surfaces to draw on at the time were acetate, Bristol board and illustration board. (see 9/23/2017 of Alligator Gar from 1990) Oh, I still have bags and bags of those colored pencils and a few random sheets of Bristol board and acetate, plus illustration board. But I wondered if I would be too rusty to demo something I used a lot in the past, but not so much lately. Too late for that now as it appears I have committed myself to remembering how to use them. Here are a couple of my most recent attempts—same spot on different days. One is on Bristol board, the other on acetate. It was fun to sit out on my front porch a couple warm afternoons—capturing these scenes using my long ago favorite colored pencils. I think these sketches came out fine, but look very different from my late 20th century drawings. Oh, and while sitting outside to do these that first afternoon I’d forgotten that the luscious waxy texture these pencils produce is great as long as you keep them out of the sun. If you don’t they will melt into a big unusable mess. And I was sitting in the direct sun! Once I realized my mistake I quickly moved me and my stuff to the shade. I had to wait a few minutes to be sure the lead had hardened a bit. By the second afternoon I knew to set up in the shade.

In the late 80s and early 90s I was employed to do pen and ink botanical and entomological drawings at the CA Academy of Sciences. My botanicals were done on Strathmore smooth Bristol board. My wasp drawings were done on a more heavy duty acetate. All of said scientific illustrations were done with Rotring Rapidograph pens with points that ranged from .13, .25 and .30. (Those are pretty fine points and I spent a fair amount of time unclogging them.) Also during that time of very technically tight drawings I was amusing myself by using Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board and acetate of various thicknesses and finishes. I should also mention that about that time I became obsessed with using the same Prismacolor colored  pencils with watercolor on hot press illustration board. (See 20th century botanicals on 4/6/2020 and 5/2/2020 posts and 21st century botanicals 4/25/2020, 6/7/2020, 6/27/2020, 7/18/2020, 8/1/2020, 8/15/2020.) As you can see, I am still obsessed with doing such detailed Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor botanicals on illustration board.

Pansy vignette, 3/24/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Here’s another one from the other side of my front porch. Again, it was fun to sit (in the shade) and sketch a simple spring vignette of pansies. When using colored pencils the finished product is usually not very big. As I sat and applied that wonderful waxy pigment to the acetate I was reminded why I liked using them so much. When you are done you have this tiny bright gem. I’ve written about the appeal of creating such jewel-like bits of art. I was glad to be reminded of that. So, maybe I was a little rusty—almost melting some key colors I love. But I think I will be ready to share these materials with my sketching buddies on some upcoming Sunday. I have quite a history with this medium. I wonder if they would be interested in hearing my Prismacolor colored pencil journey? Of course not! If they are like me, they just want to hear about it and then try it out on their own, right?

…A little late with this week’s post. I got my second COVID vaccination on Thursday (March 25, my mom’s birthday) and had a rather nasty reaction. But all done with that for now. And Happy Birthday mom! I miss you!

March 20, 2021

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Sanze-in Temple in OHARA, (Prismacolor colored pencils and POSCA pens on toned paper)

Our artist tour guide for last Sunday’s virtual sketching trip to Kyoto was amazing. First, he spent a few minutes giving us a quick bit of history for that ancient city. Here’s just a few things he said: Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1000 years. Tokyo became the capital in 1868. Japanese emperors lived in Kyoto for 1074 years and there are over 1600 temples in Kyoto. Such an interesting and old culture…

Our host was so thoughtful. He used his colored pencils to draw us a map of all the places we would be visiting that morning. At the top of the map he penciled in where the airports one might use to get to Kyoto (Kansai, Narita or Haneda). He also noted on the map the relative distance and time it would take to get there based on which airport you flew into. Below that he sketched a very simple and easy to read map of several landmarks around town as well as 4 stops we would be making—Ohara, Gion, Toji and Arashiyama. I don’t think he had planned we would sketch in all 4 areas, but with 30 minutes per sketch, he thought we would do at least 3. (We spent a little longer for our first two sketches and never got past our second stop. That was fine with me.)

For our first stop we were treated to a temple in OHARA that he had seen one fall while visiting Kyoto. The lovely orange and yellow foliage in the background are the leaves of Japanese maples. If you have never seen a Japanese maple, please Google it and just enjoy what you see. Japanese maples were a particular favorite of my parents and they often planted them in the gardens of our family homes in Silicon Valley and Grass Valley. I have written about the Japanese maples they planted in our Saratoga yard in the 60s. I haven’t been past that house in a while, but my brother (who lives in Sunnyvale) said they are still there. He said they absolutely tower over the terra cotta roof of that single story Spanish style house in Saratoga. I should go check it out one of these days. There was a particularly slow growing Japanese maple in my parent’s garden in Grass Valley. I remember my dad telling about a time when he took a friend on a tour of our old house (built in 1850) and garden. My dad said he stopped to show him the maple tree. He said the friend stared intently at the tree and made a comment about how expensive that tree must have been. (Actually, that’s kind of a weird thing to say, right? I guess it was his way of saying how lovely it was, but he wouldn’t have planted something that expensive as it might just die some particularly cold Grass Valley winter. Hmmm…) If you have followed my art with stories you have already heard me speak of many of my beloved CA trees—oaks of all kinds, redwoods and dogwood. I am also in love with many non-native CA trees, such as fruitless mulberry (native to China and favorite food of silk worms) and palm trees.

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Yasak Pagoda and fan shop in Yasaka area, near Gion, (Prismacolor colored pencils and oxblood ink with Fude nib on watercolor paper)

For our second stop we went to the Yasaka area, near Gion. For this view we could see the Yasaka Pagoda in the background with the sign for a fan shop more close up. I love the idea that there would be a shop that sold only fans. Our host said that it gets warm in Kyoto in the summer and a fan came in handy to keep cool. He also that there were many shops that sold paint brushes, inks and watercolors. It seems that such materials were originally for those who painters who did calligraphy. But of course all kinds of artists now go to such shops looking for all things painterly. All of our ears pricked up when we heard of yet another place to buy lovely art supplies. And of course I have already looked up several places to shop for such goods in Kyoto.

I can’t leave today’s post without mentioning that I recently watched Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan on Netflix. It was fascinating and focused on some pretty fierce battles between competing warlords from 1551 to 1616. I’m not usually partial to stories of wars, but I would definitely recommend it. 

Photo of SoCal monarch chrysalis, 3/17/2021–St. Patrick’s Day

Finally…

Today is the first day of spring and I went to sketch the tulips at the Descanso Gardens. Yes, they are up, open and beautiful. I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketched them in the damp low fog. Actually, I’d planned to share that sketch here today. The fog was so low and the air so very wet that the Inktense pencil and water soluble majestic purple ink mixed lightly together in a very subtle and interesting way without any help from me. However, on my way home I stopped past a nursery to replace a milkweed plant I had inadvertently killed. Thinking of the many monarch chrysalis I have hanging from the under side of my front porch I thought I would share a photo of one here. There is just no way I can sketch or paint something as beautiful as this. It’s my homage to spring 2021. Welcome!

March 13, 2021

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 1/16/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

If you are still climbing out of some unbelievably punishing winter weather, I am so sorry. I hope you can take some minor comfort knowing that spring has been on its way for weeks now. If you have suffered beyond measure with COVID I hope you can take heart that change is coming and visible in every new flower bud and light green growth on bare branches. Or if you feel like you’ve been waiting for something new and good, maybe sunshine really is just around the corner. Based on weather reports I am seeing today, that may seem just so far away for you. And I am sorry.

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been looking for spring and a reason for a more hopeful summer. As I live in SoCal I know I’m lucky to be able to go outside in winter and not worry about freezing to death. I was out looking for signs of spring when I went to the Descanso Gardens on January 16, 2021. If you are a member and can get there at 8am, you and other members are the only ones allowed in. Members can be there all day at any time. However, non-members must make reservations and those reservations begin at 9. As there are fewer people walking around at 8 or 8:30, I am happy to get up early to share the garden at a time when there are more birds, squirrels and bunnies than people. It was a pretty cold morning on the 16th, but I put on lots of layers, my fingerless gloves and walked through the gate a little after 8. There was fog hanging onto the ground and it was just too frigid to even consider looking for a place to sit and sketch. Even though I had my bubble wrap to sit on, I knew that just wasn’t going to work. I was so happy to came across this blooming pinkish iris. I walked right up to it, opened my backpack and began sketching on the spot—one long continuous marvelous and majestic purple ink line. I scribbled on some Inktense pencil as well, but added water when I got home. We are pretty lucky here in SoCal to have flowers that are blooming even in the middle of January. In fact, the Descanso has some old huge camellias shrubs under the old huge oaks and I could see many light green flower buds on the Camellia branches. They usually bloom in February in CA. Most of the oaks are live oaks which means they don’t loose their leaves. But even those trees were showing new green growth. Yeah!

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 2/15/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils and watercolor on Canson Mix Media paper)

I went back the next month and was again looking for a sneak peek of spring. Again, there was fog clinging to much of the ground in the rose garden and it was again too cold to sit and sketch. But the minute I came upon this lovely vignette, I stopped in my tracks and took out my sketch pad and marvelous majestic purple ink pen. And again I rooted myself to that spot and I sketched this lovely pinkness with green trim using continuous contour lines. (I think there might be more than one contour line here…) If you’ve never seen a tulip tree (Magnolia Soulangeana), they are really something, and can only have these amazing flowers in winter. It’s part of the magnolia family and the blossoms are huge. The maple leaf hydrangea wasn’t yet blooming, but the leaves had an almost a pinkish glow in that early morning ground fog. 

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 3/6/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

So, a week ago I was so hopeful to get more than a sneak peek of spring. I was sure there’d be at least some tulips blooming. Well, a couple deep purple ones tulips were present, but most were still pushing up through the ground as green spikes strips. There were lots of different kinds of blooming daffodils in clumps around, as well as some bright yellow drifts of King Alfred daffy down dillys. For this little vignette of blue borage, purple wallflower and bright orange CA it was just warm enough for me to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketch. Making some spring 2021 progress. Guess I have to wait a bit longer for the big flower show.

March 13, 2020 

You may or may not be wondering what was significant about this date. Well, for all of us who work for LAUSD, it was the last day that students and staff were all together at school. Since then, all learning for our students has been done at home online and virtually. Yes, it’s been a year. Was March 13, 2020 significant for you or your family? I guess for my speech pathologist brethren, March 16, 2020 was also a day to remember. On Monday, March 16, 2020, I voluntarily attended my first Zoom session with over 40,000 other speech therapists across the country. There was no charge for this online event. We were to learn about how to provide virtual speech and language therapy. It was an entire day of tele therapists sharing with all of us how we were going to proceed until we could all see our students in the flesh and face to face again. I remember at the end of the day one of the organizers saying it was the largest ever online voluntary gathering of people for a single purpose. She even said that what we had done that day could probably qualify us for some kind of Guinness World Records record. But honestly, I don’t think anyone wanted to make that day seem special in any way. And I don’t remember hearing back from that person as to whether or not our amazing event would be considered for any kind of world record. I think we were all overwhelmed with what was ahead of us, and really couldn’t see any kind of reason to celebrate. So, I choose to celebrate the coming of spring 2021. Can I get an amen?

March 6, 2021

Sketch of Bourdeilles, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

This is one of three sketches we did on our recent virtual sketching trip to France—le deuxieme. For our previous excursion there, la premiere, we explored the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival in Pont Aven (see February 27, 2021 post). Our hosts for that first and memorable trip had specifically gone to that part of Brittany to sketch the people who participated in the festival, with emphasis on seeing and sketching the women’s very elaborate costumes. If you have looked as last week’s post you may have noticed some pretty extreme head gear. But for last Sunday’s trip to Southwestern France our host shared with us that she and her husband had not gone there to see what the local folks liked to wear 100 years ago, but for cheese tasting. They traveled from town to town, tasting regional fromage as they went. She shared photos of some of the cheeses they sampled, as well as hams and other regional foods. Not sure I would have enjoyed sketching a stall of hams hanging about as much as I liked sketching this scene in Bourdeilles. When I first glanced at these structures I planned to do a finished outline sketch with some “heavy handed” graphite and then use only watercolor with my 1/2 inch squared off Stroke brush. However, it just didn’t go as planned and the graphite pencil didn’t give me the outlines I wanted. So, I grabbed my Prismacolor colored pencils and added some French grey lines, indigo blue and a couple other colors. Once I had taken care of that I was in a much happier state of mind and especially enjoyed adding the final apple green Prismacolor to the grapes that flanked the walk up to the front door. Of course, as this is France, the grapes grown there are harvested each year and turned into wine. OMG, that’s definitely a French and CA way to think and live—wine to go with fabulous regional cheese! I was now lost in some kind of dreamland, deciding the shrubs to right of the grapes were French lavender. I love the smell of lavender and have been known to spray my pillow cases with lavender essence. I was now imagining a friendly afternoon of pairing various wines with cheeses. Then it would be time for a lovely nap—a nosh and nap (or romantic romp)—on scented linen. It doesn’t really get any better than that. 

Sketch of Hotel Coligny, Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for all the hard times I seemed to have with my first sketch, this one went more easily and was way more satisfying to do. It was like spreading a soft cheese on a piece of crusty bread, not at all like trying to spread butter just out of the frig on a graham cracker. My artist friends have often commented that when doing these quick sketches, the first one you do feels like a warm up. And all the sketches that follow are somehow better, with less doubt about the sometimes split second decisions we are making in the moment, as we look at something and choose materials to represent that something we have conjured up in our brains. It’s like the muscle memory needs to get activated so it can go on autopilot and the brain is freed up to think of composition, materials, color or not color, and the final knowing when it’s time to stop. I think I’m in agreement with the idea. I need a warm up before I can enjoy sketching something. Anyway, I enjoyed the process of capturing this little hotel. When I first looked at it I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that meant nestling the charming white structure with terra cotta roof directly into the background of the dark green blob of trees and shrubbery. Then, to put it further in its place, and make it interesting, I knew I wanted to add the buildings reflection in the slowly moving river. Somehow I knew that if I could get that right I would relax and be satisfied with the results. So, I limited my materials to just watercolor and Inktense pencils. And I finished what I set out to do in 20 minutes or so. I found I had time to work more on the bridge and attend to the awnings etc in the front of the building. I don’t remember our host telling us of some great cheeses they sampled there. I mean, she may have, but I think the minute she shared this picture I began planning and sketching, even before the official 30 minute timer was set. The whole experience was very satisfying. 

Sketch of Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (POSCA markers, Inktense pencils, black ink on watercolor paper)

Several of the members commented on the lovely light colors for this one. The trip host said she thinks she’d put a filter on her camera to create a different feeling of light. One of the group leaders said she thought it made it look like it was a warm summer day. With that single comment I knew what I wanted to do. I got out a non-water soluble black ink pen, POSCA markers, and a couple Inktense pencils. I wanted to somehow capture light waves that were moving all around this bright village scene. I started the sketch using my black pen and captured the scene you see in one long continuous line. Then I added wavy POSCA pen lines to reinforce the idea of normally invisible light wavelengths that appeared to bounce off the stone walls, terra cotta roofs, road and of course the blue sky. Finally, I scribbled in some bright fields of Inktense pencil–yellow, blue, green and orange. I think we all had a great time in Southwest France even though we didn’t get to taste one bit of cheese. And I think I heard that our next virtual trip would be to Maine. Stay tuned!

February 27, 2021

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Grand Dame, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Recently, a couple of the people in our online virtual sketching group took us, via some real vacation photos taken a couple years ago, on a sketching tour of Brittany. One of those realtime travelers explained that the organizer of their real trip wanted to see and sketch a very specific Breton event in Pont Aven. It seems there is a very colorful parade with various activities called the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival. And it’s been held every year there since 1905. The organizer of their trip wanted to see the festival in action, especially the costumes the men and women wore for it. Here you can see just such a participant—the Grand Dame of the whole thing that particular year. We were told that she sat on the porch of a second story building, somewhere along the parade route. I guess she was some kind of VIP. Her costume was very ornate and had many parts to it. Lace and/or brocaded fabric seemed to be the order of the day for not only the grand dame, but most of the other men and women that marched, danced and played music for this event. You can’t help but notice the large hat she was wearing with hanging ties that didn’t seem to need to be tied. Anyway, she also had a huge lace collar that turned up at each shoulder. What kind of killed me about the women’s costumes, including the grand dame herself, was that they also all wore aprons. Were they going to be doing some kind of domestic work later, making a pie or gathering apples in the folds of the apron for that pie? 

She was interesting to draw and I found myself wondering how much of her I would be able to capture in the 30 minutes our group had allotted ourselves for each of our 3 sketches. There was a myriad of detail I could try to render. Using my Fude nib fountain pen filled with majestic purple ink I tried my best to capture as much of her as I could with contour lines. I think what was kind of randomly fun and funny about this scene was the pot of dead flowers between she and porch railing. Besides all that lace and folds of fabric I wanted to be sure to get that in. As I hurried along I kept thinking that as she was wearing an apron, she must have been expected to do something domestic right then and there, or maybe she had a job to do right after the parade. Maybe she would help clean the street or cook dinner. But somehow she had forgotten a basic duty, she had forgotten to water that plant directly in front of her. I mean, the Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities must have some direct connection to flowers. I don’t really know French, but I know that fleur in French means flower. Thinking of that bit of irony then as now seems a little unusual to me. Quelle dommage.

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Lady with umbrella, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For this costumed Breton, I thought it interesting that she most reminded me of the women post-impressionist Paul Gauguin had painted in the very city and countryside of Pont-Aven. He was painting in Pont Aven before 1905, so he wouldn’t have attended any Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities, nor would he have seen someone that was dressed exactly like her. He did lots of colorful and beautiful landscapes of the area. I happen to be unabashedly in love with his oil painting called “A Farm in Brittany.” OMG, his use of color for that one blows me away. His use of pinks and greens in that Breton light cannot be equaled by anyone, in my opinion. He also did lots of paintings of women and men working in the fields, and just kind of moving about the countryside. If you Google “Paul Gauguin in Pont Aven” you will see the places and people he painted. The women back then also wore aprons and similar white hats, but those 19th century hats had a similar shape, but did not look very fancy. I think my lady here must have been taking a breather from the festivities her 21st century day, relaxing a bit under her pert white umbrella. You can’t tell, but she was wearing a modest white hat, much like the long ago ladies from Pont Aven. But I was so engrossed in sketching her with a continuous contour line that her head soon became stuffed into the umbrella and there was no adding a hat here. Oh zut! But her green background with houses and boats along the water definitely reminded me of some of Gauguin’s landscapes. (Well, there wouldn’t have been a car there…) 

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Resting ladies, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

I think this image was our favorite sketching opportunity for the day. I am calling this  piece “Resting Ladies” or “dames au repos.” It was pretty clear to all of us that these lounging ladies had had enough marching and dancing for the time being. But I think we all wondered if they were really done for the day as they were still wearing their festival costumes with those tall chef-like lacy hats. And of course they still had on their aprons. Maybe they weren’t done cooking and cleaning for the day. Hmmm…

Final French note:

Tomorrow, we are going on yet another virtual trip to do some sketching in the south of France. A bientot