May 19, 2018

wasp1
1. Wasp details, summer 1991 (ink on acetate)
wasp2
2. Wasp genitalia, summer 1991 (ink on tracing paper)

You are probably wondering what you are looking at exactly. Well, these are close up parts of solitary wasps from Papua, New Guinea. This is one of those times where the story behind the art is probably way more interesting and complete than the sketches you see here. In the summer of 1991 I worked at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and I did illustrations for a couple botanists and one entomologist who worked there. It’s kind of crazy as I have plenty of copies of finished plants and plant parts, but I could only find a few sketches of wasps. Not really sure why I have such scant bits of these ferocious bugs to remind me of that work, but I have some great stories about the people I met on the entomology floor of the Cal Academy.

So, now it’s time for the story about drawing wasp genitalia and I need to start with some kind of disclaimer or explanation. The entomologist I worked for at the Academy, and all of the people I got to know on both the entomology and botany floors, was amazing. My entomologist was so passionate about his studies of these solitary wasps from a far-away place. When I told my friends, and husband at the time, what I was doing there I was always met with a bit of a smirk or snort. Of course I don’t remember my husband at the time smiling about someone drawing wasp genitalia. He seemed to be more concerned with my possible deteriorating vision as a result of my looking back and forth at microscopic bug parts under a microscope (sometimes using an electron microscope) and then refocusing my eyes to look at a sheet of acetate where I inked in the lines of the wasp. He told me I should be getting more than 10 dollars an hour if I was going to go blind. Somehow, I just didn’t mind.

I thought all of it was so interesting. I loved the whole process I had to go through to complete just one final illustration. If this is all too odd for words, you have probably stopped reading. But if not, here’s how it went for each wasp I illustrated. First, the entomologist would prepare the genitalia bit he wanted me draw and placed it in a shallow dish of liquid (probably water). Then he placed it under the lens of a special projector that projected the specimen onto the wall of a windowless room that was lit only by light from the projector. Once he adjusted the picture on the wall to the size he wanted, I taped a small piece of tracing paper on that very spot. Then I used a pretty hard-leaded pencil to trace the structure and hairs you see in the second illustration. And once the sketch was done I then went into a well-lit room by a window and rendered the structure with a very fine point mechanical pen (.25 and .30 mm, that continuously clogged) on a sheet of acetate. Next, to add further detail to some “hair-like” strands of the lines I took a fine-pointed blade and scraped away some of the ink to make the lines go from thin to thick then back to thin again. “Lions and Tiger and Hairs, oh my!”

I guess the real question here is was it funny that I illustrated wasp genitalia, or was it funny that I enjoyed working really hard to make the best darn wasp genitalia I could? And I guess what’s really funny at this point in the story is that I assumed that each hairy little bug bit I illustrated was the actual wasp penis. But it isn’t! I never really asked him much about what I was drawing. And I only recently figured it all out when I looked it up online the other day—literally just the other day. Back then I knew that if you looked at the back end of these wasps, they looked different depending on the species. (I am guessing wasps didn’t need drawings to help them decide who was the male and who was the female.) But if you are a bug scientist, this is how you can tell one from another. I remember learning that you can look at wings or the head to also tell male from female. Look at the mandibles of that beast—at the very top of the bug hierarchy of predator bugs. Right? Are they afraid of you and you afraid of them? I’ve had them chase me…

From end to end I was fascinated with these wasps. But I was all wrong about their “back end” anatomy back then. It turns out that those hairy feather-like structures come in pairs and actually surround the penis on either side. So, I never did draw a wasp penis, just one side of the hairy outside covering. Who knew? I wonder why I didn’t wonder about it back then. Maybe the idea that this hairy feather like thing was a penis was kind of amusing to me. But I suspect the answer is even funnier than that. My entomologist had such passion for his work, but I was more interested in just making the best genitalia I could with no questions asked. I’m sure he would have explained it to me if I’d asked, but since I was on the clock it was all business the minute I walked into his office, with no time for explanations. Most of our conversations took place as I was starting a new specimen and when I came back from lunch. He frequently asked me then if I had had any caffeinated drinks, as he was concerned that my hand would be too shaky to draw. I guess the final part of this long winded disclaimer is that I never thought he was funny or ridiculous for studying such things. I got it. And he carried me along with his enthusiasm and I loved all the steps it took to get the final art of male wasp genitalia (penis coverings) from Papua New Guinea.

There were lots of reasons to snigger and smile that summer, I guess. Thinking back, probably the least funny bits were the actual wasp bits I was drawing, but I still smile when I think about some other characters I met on the entomology floor that summer. For example, one morning, as I walked down the hall behind one of the younger entomologists, he suddenly whipped around and presented me with a tiny box. It was a pair of copulating insects that had been captured, pinned and preserved in the act. Of course I was startled, but not as startled as he. He said, “Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else.” Then as quickly as he had first turned to look at me, he turned back around and hurried on his way. I remember thinking then as now, who did he think I was? Pretty funny, right?

Another morning I rode up in the elevator with another entomologist that enjoyed describing something called a “Skipper”—a tiny butterfly-like creature. With a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye he told me that he had spent his career studying this particular insect. Once we got to our floor he asked me if I’d like to look at some of the Skippers he had collected, but I noticed he was a bit slow getting out of the door. As we walked to his office he told me that he was about to have knee replacement surgery. It seems that he had compromised his knee joints from years of crouching in fields and balancing heavy collection boxes on his thighs with bent knees. But once he had a collection box in his grasp he was transported to a field of skippers. And I was there along with him. As a little girl I remembered these tiny golden things flitting from flower in a neighbors back yard. Ah yes, I got it too.

Of course the people who studied spiders were also on the entomology floor. I had a few encounters with those folks. Somehow I remember one “spider-guy’s” office as being more sinister and dark. Glad he didn’t ask me to draw any spider bits. I probably would have done it, but it would have seemed like Halloween all the time. Was I really ready to go blind squinting at spider parts for 10 dollars an hour? Too much for me, I think.

But the final and not very funny story of it all was when I told my entomologist that I was leaving. He was truly sad. So, when I finished my work on my final afternoon on the entomology floor at the Academy, he took me to a local, and very wonderful pastry shop, for a cup of tea and lovely sweet. And of course at that point, he didn’t really care if I had had any caffeine, as it didn’t matter if my hand shook. We visited for a time—don’t remember what we talked about—and he dropped me off at the BART station and that was that. I never went back as a Cal Academy employee. All future visits have been as a visitor. I’m sure such art would be done with a computer these days. Once you’ve drawn one bit of genitalia on the computer it’s just a bit of maneuvering that would need to done to elongate/shorten parts or add hairs. No more clogged mechanical pens and scraping. Of course now I do need glasses to clearly see this screen, write these words and create my art. But I can’t really blame it on my time with my entomologist or the solitary wasps from Papua New Guinea. It’s all due to just the passing of time.

May 12, 2018

Gene Autry tree
Gene Autry Museum, summer 2017 (mixed media on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 inches)

The first piece of art is of a tree outside the Autry Museum in Griffith Park. (I’ll get to the row of fantasy flowers in a bit.) Griffith Park is kind of big deal around here. I just looked it up on Google and saw that it is over 4210 acres right here in the city of Los Angeles and it goes from an elevation of 384 up to 1625 feet above sea level. That space includes the Autry Museum of the American West, the Hollywood Sign, Greek Theatre, Griffith Observatory (La La Land and Rebel Without a Cause featured this location), the LA Zoo, and 70 miles of trails to hike on. And it’s very close to the Warner Brothers Studios (in Burbank) and Universal (in Universal City). I guess to say Griffin Park is a big deal is kind of an understatement! And all of this is very close to downtown Los Angeles.

One early cool morning, last July, I was wandering the grounds outside the Autry Museum of the American West and I saw this tree and felt compelled to capture the shade and coolness of the tree. It was kind of nice as I found a picnic bench nearby and I sat there and painted away until the heat of the day started drying out my pots of color too quickly. I filled up that paper with all that lovely cool blue, green and pink. I think it was just in my last blog that I wrote of “filling the page” or “filling the space” and I have been thinking a lot about that idea. And that idea really started the afternoon of Friday, April 20th, when I taught a class of 2nd graders how to use oil pastels.

In my real life I work with children at a couple schools. When a teacher at my elementary school saw/heard that I was a painter and had been an elementary school art teacher, she asked me if I would come in and show her students how to use oil pastels. When I walked in the door, they were ready for me–with butcher paper on the tables and each student wearing a smock to protect their clothes from this very non-kid friendly medium. I quickly put on my apron and began to describe the color wheel, with its primary and secondary colors, to this rapt audience. I’m never sure if kids are really listening to me at this point of a lesson, or if they are just dying to break out a cool new material and start drawing Spiderman, a car, a princess or something from a video game or movie. But I gave it my all and not only explained what the color wheel looked like, but how those 6 colors of pigment, plus white and black, are related to each other.

row of flowers
Made up row of flowers, summer 2017 (mixed media on 6 x 9 inch watercolor paper)

(Now would be a good time to look at this flower illustration for inspiration. But I should say that this piece is only vaguely like what I demonstrated for them that afternoon. Besides, these flowers came from my imagination and I was trying to get them to picture flowers they may have actually seen before.) Since it was spring I contrived to have them first draw a row of 3 flowers (tulip, daisy and hyacinth) on long stems coming up through a bit of grass.  And aside from telling them not to use black because it can make everything kind of smudged I didn’t say anything about filling the space, or filling the paper. I didn’t tell them to first arrange the paper like a window, not a door. I thought they would notice that I had done my sample drawing in a horizontal position, but a couple didn’t notice and placed their paper on the vertical (like a door). And that was fine with me. So, I passed out the oil pastels, encouraged them to see what happened if you layered one color on top of another on some scratch paper and scrubbed, or mixed, the different colors right on the paper. Then… Ready! Set! Go! As I walked around the room it was so fun to see that some had done the row of flowers near the bottom of the page, some in the middle and some floated the row of flowers near the top. Some drew large flowers that filled the space, while others drew a row of small flowers. So interesting to see if anyone would want to fill the space and add something else, or would they just stop with the flowers and grass? When I could see that some were adding the sun, clouds, butterflies and lots of grass, I encouraged them to do so. Some were focused on each flower and were actually trying to mix the oil pastels on the paper, while others kept the colors very distinct and pure. All of the art was smudged a bit (a definite downside to this medium, especially for children), but no one seemed to mind. All were busy bees and the room practically hummed with the energy from such a creative hive. The teacher had gotten a special shiny silver pen for each student to boldly sign his or her art. She also told me she would mount each piece on black paper, much like a frame. The teacher added that the art would be displayed in the classroom for Open House. (This is a “time honored” spring event where families are invited to come to school and view each student’s classroom. Our Open House will be Tuesday.) And when it was finally time to clean up, I looked around one last time. The diversity in their finished work was lovely to behold. Some had completely filled the page, some had not and a couple convinced me to let them try the black and it really added to the overall effect of their flowers. I explained that the only artist I thought got how to use black was Vincent Van Gogh. Not sure if anyone was listening by that time because they were pretty close to being done. (I was thinking of his “Wheatfield with Crows” as he just added that dark bit of black to the sky and the “flying crows” detail so effectively. But I didn’t want to go any further and scare the little kiddies as Van Gogh did that one at the end of his life. And I guess there is much speculation as to his state of mind by that time.) I asked the teacher if she wanted to tackle watercolor with her students before the school year was out. She just kind of looked at me, with that “Are you kidding expression?” and reminded me that Open House was coming and there would be much to do before then. She agreed to talk about it, but seemed relieved when I said we could do it next year, with a new batch of second grade artists. Actually, the middle of August would be a great time to talk about watercolor. It’s so hot here at that time, which would make it a perfect time to talk about that medium and the miracle of evaporation. Oh yeah, I have also been a science teacher. Remember the answer to this one? What are the three states of water? What do you know about ice, liquid water and water vapor? Wouldn’t watercolor be a complete disaster without evaporation? I mean, what’s the worst that could happen with watercolors at elementary school? Someone spills water on the floor? No problem. Everything dries out eventually, right? Stay tuned…

Further note about my row of flowers:

My aunt has a friend who lives in Seal Beach. Her friend is an amazing artist and has done a lot of painting. She enjoys using all kinds of media and in the past liked to paint on furniture. Very whimsical and pretty! My aunt told me that this friend invites people over to paint with her, and my aunt likes to join the group when she can. My aunt doesn’t think she is much of an artist, so she usually knits when they get together. Most times my aunt’s friend has some new kind of art material or project to try out for these get togethers. Some bring art they are working on and others try out whatever she’s got going. I happened to be visiting my aunt last summer when she went to Seal Beach to hang out with the group. I had a great time trying out some of her pens, doing the repetitive details you see here. It seems like the artists I meet these days are very interested in trying new materials or techniques. (One of my Urban Sketchers said something like, “We all just love to ‘geek out’ over new pens, brushes, watercolor colors, paper, techniques and general painting stuff.” That is so true!) As you can see, I really filled up that flower space. And when I ran out of the obvious white spaces I imagined other kinds of spaces and began layering more and more detail on top of everything. And I even added the dreaded black! Not really sure outlining everything with a great black ink pen counts as being as bold and brilliant as Van Gogh though. Oh well.

May 5, 2018

Earth Day 2018 art
Doris Japanese Garden, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, April 21, 2018 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

I did this watercolor at a World Wide Sketch Crawl for Earth Day this year. I had never been to the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center and was a bit confused about where I was as I went past quite a few vacant lots with oil well pumps. (Random rows of oil well pumps in SoCal and parts of Central CA are pretty common sites. In fact, whole block areas of Long Beach are still loaded with oil well pumps. When my dad was a kid growing up in Long Beach he and his cousin used to climb the wooden derricks. His cousin thought it great fun to go to the bathroom while twenty feet off the ground. Yikes!) So, it was a bit disorienting to go past so many familiar CA sights in an unfamiliar part of Los Angeles. Finally, I started to see a few thickets of eucalyptus trees and fewer oil well pumps on the right side of the road. Then I saw the entrance, just as the GPS had predicted and my phone died. Since this was a new place for me it took a few minutes of walking around to find my little gang of LA Urban Sketchers. They were all gathered around this little bit of water and greenery and had already started to paint and sketch. So, as is usual for the urban sketchers I know (including me) we first walk around a bit to decide where we might like to settle and paint. I noticed that I didn’t see anything on this side of the pond that I wanted to capture and it looked cooler on the opposite side. So, I walked around. And there, I could see all these sketchers on the grass. I thought, I don’t often put people in my art and planned to immortalize everyone I saw on the spot—especially as I could clearly make out a couple painters I knew that were wearing large red hats. Adding those hats seemed like a lovely bit of unexpected color to accentuate sketchers on a patch of cool green and yellow. And I loved the idea that everyone sat very still, with no one moving around and doing strange things with his or her arms or legs. (I’m sure you’ve noticed that there aren’t any people in the finished piece. I tried. I did try. Oh well.) I sat at a bench in the shade and looked at a lovely little bit of water with bright red bridges, sloping grass with sketchers and rows of trees in the background with a tall stand of eucalyptus touching the sky at the very back. After a time, one of my friends across the way decided to move over to my side of the pond. She was one of the people who were wearing a large brimmed red hat. Uh-oh. I was now one stationery “red-hatted” person down. I quickly scribbled in the remaining people sitting on the grass, careful to include the other person still wearing her red hat. I then felt comfortable to focus on the rest of the composition, and started looking around. I watched a row of turtles at the edge of my side of the pond as they plopped into the water, one after another. I chased a couple of squirrels away from my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, mixed my pots of color and added the sky and tree layers. There was a rather large party of young people also at this pond. It was a young lady’s Quinceanera, or her fiesta de quince anos, and she was being followed around by her entourage and a photographer who was chronicling the event. A girl celebrates her Quinceanera when she turns 15. It’s a coming of age celebration that has its origins in Latin America, but is widely celebrated in both North and South America. Google it to see more. It is a very popular thing for a Los Angeles adolescent Latina to plan for and celebrate, so it’s a pretty big deal around here. There were about 8 boys who ranged in age from 5 or 6 to 13 or 14 years of age and they each wore matching charcoal-colored suits with pale pink ties. There were also about 5 young girls in fancy dress and long gowns, with assorted adults wandering around with the group as well. (I didn’t get an actual head count as they never stayed in one place long enough to do that.) At the center of all the commotion was a 15-year old girl in the midst of celebrating her Quinceanera, looking very much like a princess in her long “Cinderella-like” gown. I continued to watch the group move around the pond for photo opportunities and continued to add everything but the people to my watercolor. Can you tell that the wrong people had my attention? And you know where this is going, right?

So, by the time I got back to adding the sketchers in earnest, many of them had moved into the shade, or had moved behind bushes. What the heck! I began trying to ad lib the people I had previously scribbled in, trying to remember where they were and what they were doing. The only thing that stood out to me at this point was the remaining red hat. That was a mistake and it soon became too large for anyone’s head on that scale. My original plan to permanently add humans to my little world sort of deteriorated from there. I went to work scrubbing out everyone and the offending hat from the grass with a slightly wet brush. And just like that they were gone. The squirrels before me persisted, but I wasn’t about to put one of those pests in this piece.

It got to be time for us to get together and share what we had created, so I gathered up my materials and repacked my backpack. As I was walking around to the other side of the pond, a woman stopped me to ask what we were all doing. It turns out she was quite an artist and she showed me a couple photos of her work on her phone. She did these amazing close ups of flowers, kind of on the order of Georgia O’Keefe. She used such vibrant colors with a kind of fantastic realism. Not really sure if what she showed me jives with the Urban Sketcher mantra, but I suggested she join us anyway. She didn’t seem that interested, but was interested in my watercolor and said that she liked that I had “filled the page.” When doing a landscape like this, I can’t really help myself—I like to fill the page. (That might actually be a good subject for another time. Hmmm…) We said goodbye and I joined the gang to share our work. That part is always fun to me. Painting and writing are very singular endeavors. I think that’s why I like these events, it forces my rather shy self to get out there and mingle. It was amazing to see just what everyone had painted, as they were all kind of looking in the same direction at the same things—or so I thought. But everyone’s art looked completely different. Some painted in tiny tablets or books. Some did pen and ink on white paper, while someone else focused on the turtles using only graphite and white gouache on toned paper. We laid all the work on the ground and one of the artists set to work organizing each piece into a kind cohesive patchwork of art so a photo or two could be taken and get everyone’s in the shot. (She was pretty good at it and I thought she would probably be good to have around when it came time to load the dishwasher after Thanksgiving dinner.) Then one of the organizers of the group told us she was thinking of putting together a San Francisco Film Noire excursion this summer. She thought it would be fun to go to various haunts of Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon (by Dashiell Hammett) to draw and eat. Sounds great, right? Of course I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the weather in San Francisco during the summer months can be cloudy and cold. (You may or may not know the best months to visit San Francisco. September and October are usually best.) But I wasn’t about to spoil the moment and decided that people would for sure be wearing hats and that would give me another great opportunity to add some sketchers to a watercolor.

A Parting Look at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center

So, it was finally time to leave for home and I was wondering how my internal GPS was working as the battery in my phone needed to be recharged. I walked past a huge limo and was guessing that the Quincenara group was inside, ready to go to the next part of the celebration. I recently met a young lady who is a Quincenara choreographer (Yeah, you should Google this. It sounds pretty fun!) and I was guessing they were all about to go dancing. And based on the 3 or 4 year old girl who was having a melt down as she and her mom walked past (maybe more like on tip toe and screaming) this little one was not invited into the limo. But I imagine she will probably soon be planning her Quincenara. Of course she didn’t see it that way! She wanted to party, but probably really needed a nap! And even though Cinco de Mayo has absolutely nothing to do with young girl’s special party on a beautiful spring day in California, it somehow seems fitting to say Happy Cinco de Mayo because it is!

April 28, 2018

Eberle Vineyard
Eberle Vineyard, Paso Robles, 2000 (oil on canvas)

When I did this oil I thought I had been commissioned to do so by someone I knew at a local Paso Robles winery. That person told me that the local group that puts together their annual Zinfandel Wine Festival was looking for an artist to create a poster for the event. And then I guess sometime during the festival the painting would then be auctioned off. I was excited. I picked a pretty spectacular view of vineyards off a back patio of Eberle and I thought it a nice touch that it was like the viewer was standing at the railing, drinking a lovely dark red Zin while eating crackers and cheese. (Oh yeah, this originally had large hunk of cheese on the plate and not the pear.) I finished it quickly and proudly took it to the person who had told me about the event and poster. It seems that she had forgotten to mention that they wanted it to be a certain size, and this one was too small. And she also forgot to tell me that they wanted something that was a bit more commercial. (I guess the previous year’s poster had somebody running half naked through the vineyards.) I was extremely disappointed and of course with my “bent” sense of humor my imagination took me to a kind of ridiculous place. I imagined some kind of strip poker game where I added a glass of Zinfandel flying off the balcony and a pair of white “bun huggers” and a pink thong flying through the air just off the balcony of the winery. So what did I do? I went home and painted out the big cheese hunk and changed it to a lovely green pear. I sure showed them! I wasn’t about to defile the beautiful view of beautiful grape plants with obnoxious humans. Wasn’t it obvious that someone was there with a glass of Zinfandel and snacks? Too subtle I guess. Whatever…

Thank God my cousin’s daughter was getting married about that time and my mom arranged to buy it from me to give as a gift. I had it framed and dropped it off at my mom’s and she decided that she wanted to keep it. So, I gave her another painting of the J Lohr vineyards (same east side Paso vineyards view) for her to give to my cousin’s daughter. Funny how that all works out. And now that my mother has passed away, I have this amazing view hanging in my house and I get to enjoy the Eberle vineyards with my lone glass of wine, cheese and crackers and fruit without imagining anyone’s underwear flying off in the distance.

And what this view got me thinking about, besides my mom, is the life force that green plants use to produce beautiful fruits. (I get that the plants produce fruit to continue their own “life force,” but I am still in awe of the beautiful colors and shapes of fruits.) I love to wander through apple, apricot, plum or peach orchards when the tree limbs are heavy with fruit. The smell is intoxicating and the idea that people can eat these bright balls of red, green, orange and yellow is very appealing. And the inside of ripe fruit is just as beautiful as the outside. Years ago I read a book about a family farm that raised old-fashioned peaches in the Central Valley of California, 20 miles south of Fresno. The book is called Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, and David Mas Masumoto wrote it. Mr. Masumoto attended a literary event in Grass Valley when my son was young and my mom and I went to hear him speak about the book and his family’s love of a particular peach called the Sun Crest Peach. Read it if you want to share one California girl’s passion for some of the fruit the state produces.

Food nourishes us, but is also sensual and beautiful. I love to go to the produce section of a grocery store or a farmer’s market to see piles of dark purple onions, stacks of green leafy lettuce or a brown paper sack with handles filled to overflowing with bright oranges just ready to be taken home and eaten. My dad loved to shop for navel oranges and he always knew how to pick out the sweetest and juiciest bright orange oranges imaginable. He would say that the best ones couldn’t have skins that are too thick and bumpy or too smooth and thin. And the brighter the color, the tastier it will be. He was always right! I guess the thin-skinned variety (Valencia oranges) makes better juice and the navel oranges are the best for eating directly. Of course the best navel oranges can always be found when they are in season, which is January to April here in California. And speaking of pears…oh yeah, back to the painting. My dad also loved Comice pears. The pear in this painting is not a Comice variety, I don’t remember that particular pear right now. When ripe they are squat light yellow/green balls of juice, with an almost white flesh inside that tastes amazing with chunks of sharp cheddar cheese. The skin can have a bright red blush, but it is thick and tough to eat, so this one needs to be peeled. Comice pear trees used to be found all over Santa Clara. Not so much anymore. This is a fall/winter fruit and comes in season the end of summer.

People have forgotten that fruits used to be available only when they were in season—without hothouses or any tricks to ripen fruit that’s been picked green at other times of the year. And I watch out for fruit that has been grown and flown in from some far away place, instead of coming from our own California soil and sun in it’s own time.

It seems that many people in my family have a variety of favorite fruit passions and subsequent stories. My son’s favorite Aunt Ruth says that the perfect strawberries come from Santa Maria, an hour south of Paso Robles. And she says that the perfect time of year for such berries is from April to early June. My ex husband’s family used to grow the best dry farmed watermelons imaginable out by the airport in Paso Robles—very near where this vineyard view is located. They are still grown by the families who live out in Estrella and they would tell you they are best when harvested in mid to late summer.

My mom’s dad died when I was about 2, so I only remember him in pictures and stories I’ve heard. My dad said that he loved to eat Bing cherries and that one afternoon my grandpa bought a couple pounds from a roadside stand near Mountain View. I guess he sat outside with a metal bowl on the back porch and ate all of them, one after another, laughing and spitting the pits into the bowl in a kind of rapid-fire action. Dad said it sounded like he was firing a machine gun out on the back porch. That story always made me smile as a kid. Of course as I got older and knew that eating too many stone fruit fruits could really make you sick. I got the impression that my grandpa was having such a good time; he could have cared less if he would feel terrible later. Oh, and Bing cherries are best in early June.

My mom loved Blenheim apricots. And a spherical chunky, tree-ripen Blenheim is a site to behold with that amazing light yellowish orange and outside skin and flesh, with the large and shiny brown inside pit. They’re in season mid summer. (That one you really need to be careful and not eat too many in one sitting, or you will be sick. Take if from me.) Southern California is the land of the avocado. For some it has an unpleasant squishy texture, but for the rest of us that soft light green and yellow flesh is amazing when spread liberally on a saltine cracker. Because it’s green, some think it’s maybe a vegetable, but because it has that huge pit it is considered a fruit. Mom said that when she was a girl in LA they frequently had a half avocado filled to overflowing with French dressing for a salad Feb through Sept, with summer being the best time to eat an avocado.

I already mentioned my dad’s love of oranges grown here in California. He also loved to eat vine-ripened tomatoes that came from our mid to late summer garden. My dad loved nothing more than walking out to the garden to check for ripe tomatoes. There he would pick a couple sun warmed crimson colored Early Girl or Better Boy tomatoes while my mom fried the bacon for the deliciously anticipated BLT sandwiches. This was a favorite lunch for them on any given day in the summer. Most years they planted Brandywine or Beefsteak tomatoes as well. They are quite a bit larger and fit nicely on a sandwich, but they would take a bit of time to get up to speed with production, and the flowers on the Early Girl and Better Boy plants set first and produced the bumper crop my mom and he would require for what seemed like their endless burgers and sandwiches. He would almost be in a swoon as he sliced the tomatoes and my mom drained the bacon and assembled the rest of the sandwich. It was always hard for me watch as he would sprinkle salt on the tomato slab, as though the salty bacon wasn’t enough. He put salt on lots of things I found questionable. My dad liked to sprinkle salt on cantaloupe and watermelon. And when I say sprinkle on salt he had this very noticeable and kind of ritualistic sprinkling technique. He brought the shaker way up in front of his face, extended his elbow (Maybe his pinky was extended too…) and he lightly jiggled his wrist to make the shaker go up and down as he carefully watched the shower of salt spread evenly over his food. Crazy what we remember.

Happy Birthday dad! (April 25th) I planted an Early Girl and Better Boy in my garden this year. Can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen so I can make a BLT and think of you and mom. It is the memories of beautiful food and the people we associate with that food that nourish and sustain us. Right dad?

April 21, 2018

March 2017 Palm Trees
Glendale Palm Trees, March 2017 (watercolor and watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

I did this watercolor on a lovely spring day last year (March 2017) as a kind of rebound piece of art. I had actually started out to paint at the Descanso Garden, but I got to the front gate and saw it was mobbed. I have always had such a hard time with crowds of people, even when I was little. I call it the “Disneyland Syndrome.” You go someplace, like Disneyland, with a great sense of purpose and fun because you have really enjoyed being there before. But you can’t even walk through the front gate because there are just too many people milling around aimlessly outside your “Happiest Place on Earth” for that moment. My relationship to Disneyland has completely changed and all I have to do is picture myself at the front gate, in a huge long line, and I can’t even think about purchasing a ticket on line and making the drive to Anaheim.

This story seems to have taken an unintended turn, so back to the palm trees…

So, broken hearted and just a wee bit mad I left the Descanso and drove home through a Glendale neighborhood I had passed through countless times both by car and on foot. But that morning I saw something I hadn’t been looking for before. I turned the car around, pulled over and set up my three-legged stool on a corner to paint. (Yeah, I used to have a wonderful lightweight fishing perch to sit on, instead of sitting on the ground/curb on my sweatshirt and sheet of bubble wrap. But I think I left it in the parking lot at the Gene Autry Museum across from the Los Angeles Zoo. Now I have a heavy metal camping chair that I sometimes put in the back of my car, but I loath to take it from the trunk and carry it around. Because every time I think I might lug that thing around I get pissed off all over again and remember that I don’t have the perfect stool anymore.) Get over it, right? OK, so I arranged the paints and myself so I could really see this amazing row of perfectly spaced palm trees that snaked up the street, around a corner and then out of sight. And I began to sketch—happy that I had a definite purpose, there weren’t any people and I wasn’t mad anymore. After about 45 minutes of sheer bliss, I had the art you see here.

I have always been drawn to landscapes with several components—blue sky, with an occasional cloud or two, trees, vineyards and/or wild flowers—not necessarily in that order. And when it comes to vineyards and palm trees, I am attracted to the symmetry of what I am looking at in these kind of diagonal or curved lines, wider in the front and then tapering back to an end curve.

The other night, when I was at the Norton Simon Art Museum with a Pasadena sketching group, I learned that the old masters intentionally incorporated vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved lines of interest in their works. And I guess painters that did still life paintings realized that adding such lines and curves or suggestions of such linearity added interest to each piece. We decided to look at some 19th century still life paintings, looking specifically for that kind of line action. Not sure if anything has been written on the subject. Have you heard of anyone writing about design elements and techniques that were used by such painters? We looked at a couple and it was fun to look for such an element in what I actually consider pretty boring stuff. The first one we looked at has an interesting story, but it really has nothing to do with linearity of 19th century still life paintings. It has to do with the subject matter of the painting and how one of the people in the group interpreted this exercise. I forget the exact title of the piece, but it was really dark with a pot with a handle, a soup tureen with a ladle that curved to the left, smaller jars and other kitchen items on a nondescript suggestion of a horizontal table surface. And then in the foreground on the left was a dead chicken, or fowl, as it was called in the painting’s description. It was definitely in a curved shape with its head dangling just off the table. I didn’t think much of this poor chicken, although someone in the group said that such carrion was common in old still life paintings. It must have been pretty smelly in the rooms where these painters worked, what with the smell of oil paints and a dead bird. Of course I started laughing and wondered if anyone had thought to add flies buzzing around to such an art piece. Everyone seemed so serious back then, right? Finally, we all finished our little drawings, complete with sketched in horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved lines of interest. After we do such a group assignment we have a “throw down,” where we lay out what we’ve drawn on a bench to share with each other. Nothing really caught my eye except one person had not only drawn the chicken upright and alive, but the hen had laid 2 or 3 eggs in this still life. When it was her turn to describe what she had drawn she said that she was vegan and did not wish to consider the chicken as something to be eaten then or now. Only in California, right?

The other still life we studied was a rather large painting of items that might be found on an architect’s drafting table. It actually looked life-size, with stacks of books, pens and other tools of the trade, drawings on large sheets of paper and a Greek column in the background. For me, this one had way too many linear points of interest to be interesting. And even though I am sure the painter used a number of colors, it almost seemed like a large black and white photo. I could appreciate the historical aspect of the subject matter—what it might look like in the work room of a 19th century architect, but that was it. There were just too many lines to count, so I got kind of bored and started chatting with the person next to me. Don’t even remember what he or she was saying, but it kept me distracted enough to pretend to be interested in this still life.

That’s about it for today’s blog. Later this morning my urban sketching group is meeting at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area on La Cienega Blvd. to be part of an urban sketcher’s WW SketchCrawl #59. It’s supposed to be in honor of Earth Day (tomorrow). Never been to this place before. I am going to travel on several LA freeways (the 210, Glendale Freeway, the 5 south, the 110 south, and the Santa Monica Freeway), and this will take me directly through the “belly of the beast” (downtown LA) to get to my destination. I kind of have an LA driving rule that I seem to be living by these days. If the traffic is too horrendous, I won’t be going back to this place any time soon. Hope it’s nice. Stay tuned…

Happy Birthday Dad, April 25th

April 14, 2018

first 3:31
1 Descanso Garden, March 31, 2018 (mixed media)
2, March 31
2 Descanso Garden, March 31, 2018 (mixed media)

As I have said in previous blogs, I am addicted to the Descanso Garden and was there over spring break. And I almost always head for a shady spot in the rose garden. I tell myself, probably every time I have walked in the front gate, that I will find some place else there to sit and paint. But if I am really truthful, all the groups of strollers always overwhelm me and so do the shear number of people pushing strollers, so I head for the rose garden to calm myself down. And when I once again am lured to yet another perfect spot there, I tell myself that I will do better next time and will definitely paint in a different quadrant of the garden in the future. On the 31st it was a little cool that day, and I actually sat on a bench that would normally be too bright and hot for my paints and me. I have found that the bright white blank paper is just too bright and my paints seem to get darker and darker as the water in my pots of color quickly evaporates. For this view I was interested in capturing the first new bursts of spring color in that part of the garden. And from my chosen vantage point I was treated to the first emerging pink blossoms of a flowering crabapple you see to the right and the drifts of bright blue forget-me-nots in the middle ground amongst the twig like stems of the roses. And all of this set against the San Gabriel Mountains and the perfectly clear blue blue sky.

As I sat there I found myself wanting to channel Vincent Van Gogh, to help me visualize how I wanted the bench and the crabapple blossoms to turn out. I was thinking about him as I was wandering around. And before I sat down I had looked carefully at some lovely irises that I could have done in his honor, but ultimately decided to focus on the tree blossoms and the chunky wooden bench instead.

OK, you may or may not believe this, but I just now Googled Van Gogh to see if he had done any watercolors of blossoms and I read that he was born on March 30, 1853. (Cue the creepy Twilight Zone theme song.). Happy birthday Mr. Van Gogh! Too bad you never made it to California. You would have loved the southern California light. So, both paintings are dedicated to you and all the wonderful painters who came before you to inspire all of us going forward.

So, the question I want to know about him, and really I guess it’s a question for all of us who paint. How do you know? How do you know when you are done? How do you know if you really achieved what you set out to do, or are the best parts just by chance? Or do you just stop at what might be considered a random place because you think you’ve gone too far? Van Gogh used black and that has never worked for me as it always seems to get too dark too fast, or it kind of takes over to my eye. But he knew how to use that pigment. Were his paintings planned, or did he just get bored and want to move onto something else? When I Googled him just a minute ago I also read that he created some 900 paintings, as well as 1100 sketches and drawings, and he died before he was 40. And he produced all that amazing art in about a 10-year period. And if I mentally crunch the significance of all the numbers I have described here, my mind reels. But there is one number that relates to him that truly staggers the imagination, and that number is one. It appears that after all that work, he sold only one piece in his lifetime. Yikes!

So, if I think about my process, Van Gogh would have probably thought me an art slug. I always take time to at least figure out (sketch) my composition and then I start mixing colors and planning what part I should do first, second etc. This is based on what areas will need to dry before I can move on. And I usually stop at some self-imposed critical moment to let things dry, step back and eat a peanut butter sandwich. I know there is always a chance that what I started out to do will get changed or I realize the focal point should really be something else. Or I misjudge the distances between things, or I leave things out or shift things around. So, did Van Gogh do that? How much of what he did was really planned, or was all those canvases just quick experiments. Of course, he didn’t start out doing the really memorable stuff, but did he know it was great? I hope so. My son reminded me of a “Dr. Who” episode that brought the doctor to meet Vincent Van Gogh. It was kind of a bit of contrived writing that had Van Gogh seeing things (bad guys) that others could not. So after Van Gogh helped Dr. Who destroy the bad guys, the doctor takes Van Gogh to a “future” museum. He shows the painter that his art is displayed with such relish and reverence in the future. And that he was known by countless numbers of people worldwide for his groundbreaking use of color and technique. But we all know how the story really ends and Van Gogh’s glimpse of his work after he’s gone, does not affect the choices he makes and the outcome of his personal story. I guess the true point to that bit of fiction is we want to somehow let Van Gogh know that all he went through was worth it, at least for all of us. I suspect Vincent Van Gogh could have cared less about all of us in the future. But maybe not. Maybe that’s what all of us who paint want to know, in the end—did we do it right? Was it really worth it, all those tiny details and decisions we made for every corner of every canvas or piece of watercolor paper? Guess I should really be working on a time machine instead of countless watercolors. I think I read that Vincent Van Gogh spoke English. So then I could ask him.

Note about the two paintings:

I actually sat in the garden and painted the top one on March 31, 2018. But then I got home I decided I didn’t like it much. I then painted the second one at home while looking at a photo I had taken. Of course now I can’t decide which one I like better. I wish Vincent was here.

April 7, 2018

tulips:The Trib
Tulips for The Trib, November 1999 (gouache on toned paper)

My son found a copy of this article at his grandparent’s house the other day, so I thought it a good bit of fodder for another California story. Funny that I was able to find the original art for this one, as I seem to have way too many tablets and portfolios completely filled with such material. In fact, my son asked me what he was supposed to do with all my art when I finally die. I immediately said, just drop a few handfuls in my casket and let that be part of my ever after fuel when I am cremated. Yes, sometimes mothers and their children have the most unusual conversations…

Now back to this old “tulip” story…During the last couple months of the 90s and on through to April 2001 I did a series of articles and art for our local newspaper, The Tribune, in San Luis Obispo. Once a week, kind of like this blog, I would submit my work to an editor there and, poof, my art and words were published as if by magic. Of course for those “print” stories I had to wait to see them in the newspaper, unlike my current virtual “blog” world. And I actually got paid for them back then. “One California Girl” is more of a labor of love without any remuneration, and that’s just fine with me. No, I won’t quit my day job…but I still like pairing my art with stories as much today as I did back then. The difference for the newspaper stories and my current work is that those stories were written for children, or rather for the parents of children. They were meant to suggest things you could do with kids outside, like planting tulips in the fall to teach delayed gratification. Or going on a field trip to a nursery to look at all the plants and tools you might need for a garden. (When I was young I remember my mom and I going to look at shovels at the hardware store. She told me all she knew on the subject—and there really are a whole lot of different kind of shovels. As I said earlier, mothers and their children can have the most unusual conversations…) My “One California Girl” stories come from ideas I have with art I’ve already created. For my kids in the garden stories, the garden activity I had dreamed up came first with the art as visual support and inspiration came later. For some of those stories I actually wrote poetry to go along with it. And a very nice editor at “The Trib” seemed to love everything I did and that got published too.

It’s fun to look at the art I did of these bright red tulips. This story was written in November for a coming spring display in my garden. It’s spring again and it’s tulip time everywhere in my current neighborhood and at the Descanso Garden they are blooming like mad right now. But I got to thinking that a similar story about delayed gratification (for adults this time) would work right now, except you would plant early summer blooming bulbs and seeds like gladiolas, dahlias and any other cut flower you might fancy. But I haven’t ever had much luck planting dahlias—somehow to “fussy” for me I think. So, last weekend I planted 4 large barrels of gladiolas, and then I tucked in handfuls of hollyhock (a “pass along” gift from a friend’s garden that came by way of Aunt Ruth’s garden) and sunflower seeds in the dirt around each barrel. And I guess I’ll just have to wait for the little spiky green gladiola points and the tiny tips of flower seedlings to poke up from the dirt.

I love hollyhocks. My mom said that her mother planted them around their outhouse when she was a girl and they lived in Mariposa. I never could figure out if that was a pleasant memory for my mom, or if she just tried to imagine that her mom was trying to “make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” They didn’t have running water inside the house when they first moved there. (I guess most other mothers put up wallpaper on the inside bathroom walls…) Mom used to also like to remind us kids that she always took a shower after PE when she went to Mariposa High School. I guess the PE teacher would use her as an example of what all the other girls should be doing after sweating in PE. Little did that teacher know, but since there was no hot running water at home, my mom was thrilled to have a proper shower instead of hauling water from the creek. Mom also said that this same PE teacher didn’t stop with her comments about her showering habits and would tug at the hair on my mother’s legs asking if she was wearing her “brush wool” socks again. I guess my grandma had told mom that only “bad” girls shaved their legs and under their arms—like the girls who also wore ankle bracelets. My mom said that she once tried to use sandpaper to scrape the hair from her legs. (Another crazy mother daughter conversation that’s gone through the generations now…)

I loved doing the stories for “The Trib” and it seemed like it would go on for years and years. I had lots to stories to share with parents of young children. In fact, the publisher himself assured me that with my art and stories he could me famous, but not rich. For some unknown reason it didn’t turn out that way and my last piece for “The Tribune” was published in April 2001. Actually, I didn’t do any writing for that one, but only a half dozen botanicals for a story about the SLO Botanical Garden in the El Chorro Regional Park off Highway 1. That turned out nice as the people fundraising for the garden framed the pieces I did and auctioned them off. I think they made some stationery from the pictures to sell in their gift shop as well. I remember I was pretty disappointed that the gig with “The Trib” had so suddenly dried up, but that didn’t stop the stories and the art. For several years after that I wrote/illustrated for a local SLO Parents magazine and soon after that I worked on a couple books, editing and writing, for Sunset Garden books. It was a very creative time for a single mother with a small son and I am happy to have so many wonderful memories of the time my son and I lived in Paso Robles, in SLO County.

So, now all of my publishing is done online, with only the art as the paper with pigment part. I didn’t realize when I was writing stories about tulips or getting kids out in the garden that I would ever do it again. Of course now I am not writing or painting for children or parents of children, I am the one sitting on bubble wrap with my pots of watercolors as I paint in the garden. And I am creating all of this for me—sharing my art and California memories. (I hope when my son reads this one he won’t worry about all the art I leave behind because at the rate I am going, I don’t see my stopping any time soon. Just filled up another watercolor tablet…sorry sweetie!)

March 31, 2018

Gamble House 4:17
Exterior Gamble House, April 2017 (ink on drawing paper)

I did this four-part sketch as a “draw everyday” urban sketchers suggestion last April. It was a lovely afternoon, much like today, and I decided to head for the Gamble House in Pasadena. The house and bookstore were closed, but I wandered about—sitting in a variety of benches until I had captured some of the many specific and charming elements of the house. (I should note that the bird bath/butterfly garden I have shown here is new to the Gamble House and was not part of the original design.)

I have been on a number of tours of the interior of the house, at different times of the year, and if you are ever in the area and have the least bit of interest in Craftsman’s architecture, it should not be missed. The Gamble House was completed in 1908 and was built by the Craftsman dream team of Charles Greene and his brother Henry. Structures built by them are considered architecturally significant and are identified as a “Greene and Greene” by those who love this kind of architecture. These amazing architects worked primarily in California in the early part of the 20th century and are synonymous with the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Love of friends and CA architecture?

So, are you interested in the American Arts and Crafts Movement? What about California architecture? I hadn’t a clue about any kind of architecture, specific to California or otherwise, until I met two lifelong friends more than 30 years ago. They were definitely interested in the Arts and Crafts Movement buildings, furniture and design details. A series of fortunate adventures brought us together as my treasured friends of today. I don’t know if they knew back then how unenchanted or uninspired I was about the Arts and Crafts Movement. But I went along as they shared their love and knowledge of architecture that swept me up into this world of effortless and functional style, beauty, simplicity and detail. In fact, my two wonderful and beloved friends are remodeling the kitchen of a 1920s Spanish revival style home as we speak. Even now they are committed to the preservation and enjoyment of such classic style.

I think I remember the first time we went looking at that old stuff in the late 80s. They invited me to join them on a tour of some architecturally significant structures. (I didn’t even know what that really meant until they took me on the Rose Walk in the Berkeley Hills.) The paths, buildings, and details (It’s all about the details folks!) in this area are credited to Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), John Galen Howard and Bernard Maybeck. To see some of the architecture and design details, Google Rose Walk, Berkeley. I can’t even describe how enchanted I was walking around this lovely area all those years ago. I can only hope you are fortunate enough to have such dear friends to share amazing time, space and memories.

Later that same day, my friends took me to another architecturally significant house that had been designed and built by Greene and Greene (of Gamble House fame). As was typical back in the day, such houses were usually named after the family that had commissioned and paid for the house. I was very excited to see my next amazing piece of California architecture. I had not yet seen the Gamble House, so this would be my first Greene and Greene. But for this one we headed for frat row almost on the Berkeley campus. I had been past this house many times (as I had previously gone to Cal Berkeley), but had never really stopped to look at the Sigma Phi frat house. This Greene and Greene had been built for the Thorsen family in 1909 and today is known as the Thorsen house. All I had previously remembered as I walked past the house was a shabby garden and lots of old cars parked out front. So, we pulled up to the house, walked past the dead and dying shrubs and rang the bell—hoping to get a tour of the interior. It was then I noticed the beautiful stained glass windows and the lovely wooden front door. My friends seemed a little concerned about the disrepair they were seeing at first glance. Well, a young man answered the door and agreed to give us a tour of a couple rooms of the downstairs as the upstairs rooms had Sigma Phi frat brothers apparently still asleep (after 2 on a Saturday). Based on the frat crap that was all around the living room, I don’t think any of us wanted to go upstairs anyway. Both of my friends definitely seemed alarmed when they saw the light streaming through these amazing stained glass windows onto broken down couches, clothes and books everywhere. I thought the guy giving us the tour must have realized how appalling this all was, but he obviously didn’t because he showed us the kitchen. It looked like a food bomb had gone off in there—food, pizza boxes, cans and dishes everywhere…you get the picture. Finally, I think the young man giving us the tour woke up and apologized for the mess. By this time one of my friends said he wished he’d had a whistle because he would have blown it to let everyone in the house (including everyone who was upstairs) that they had 15 minutes to leave and never come back. Now, I had only been a true architecture believer for a few hours, but even I knew this mess was just wrong. We talked about that quite a bit as we hastily finished our tour and walked out the front door. (I just texted one of those wonderful friend’s a minute ago to ask him the name of the architect of that house. He reminded me that it was a Greene and Greene and said that the Thorsen House is now being properly cared for and preserved. Thank God for that…)

So fast forward a few years and these same treasured friends now owned a Greene and Greene of their own. And this one was on West California Boulevard in Pasadena. There were so many rooms and details that told of a lifestyle and time gone by. Just below the entrance and foyer were the maid’s quarters, complete with a still functioning “summoning” bell. And one of the doors on the street side of the house was specifically made for tradesmen to come in, with even a special window for the delivery of ice for the icebox. When my son was young he loved it when we visited. I don’t think he noticed all the beautiful materials and details that had been used to make this charming house. What he loved about their Greene and Greene was their amazing Japanese garden in the back and that the rotted bamboo poles laying around seemed to be perfect “ready made” fishing poles. My son was always trying to catch a koi or two that were swimming around the lowest pool at the bottom of the garden. Thankfully those fish were too crafty for him because as much as my friends loved me, and now my treasured young son, I am certain they wouldn’t have loved him pulling one of their treasured fish from the pond. When I was pregnant, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my friends had taken me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House before it was restored. Even though he had participated, in utero, in a wonderful afternoon of architecture, he had clearly not gotten the message.

In between the Greene and Greene and the house they are in now, my friends lived in a mid-century modern house that is known as the Rodriguez House. It was designed and built for Mr. Rodriguez in 1942 in Glendale. That was a very cool house I must say. And when they lived there it was used as the location for the movie “Pineapple Express.” Hard to top that and so “California” I think.

So, now my introductory, and very brief, history of California architecture has come to an end. And I am forever indebted to my friends for sharing their love of the Arts and Crafts Movement and some of the architecturally significant houses here in California. You know, the value of the truly amazing friendship we have shared over the years definitely eclipses the value of any house, new or old. But it’s funny, there have been many truly amazing times we have shared in their various houses. So many years of stories, both funny and sad, that are remembered and marked by the time spent in a particular house at a particular time. There are too many stories to tell in “One California Girl’s” blog. Here’s hoping there are so many more stories we will share together in the future, when we are next-door neighbors in a lovely assisted living structure. I can’t imagine that it will matter whether or not it is architecturally significant, but just that we are close by so we can tell the stories again and again—in case one of us keeps forgetting and needs to be reminded. Such is the love of true friends and California architecture.

Note about the Gamble House, March 2018

My son was just visiting for spring break and I asked him if he would like to go the Gamble House, as he has never seen the interior of the house. As luck would have it, they were about to give the last tour of the day and there would be no room for us. Oh well. So, he seemed fine with walking around the exterior of the house. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the beautiful day and the lovely house before us. I pointed out the significance of all of the details of the house that I have shown here in my sketch. There is a small pool, with fish, connected to an outdoor back patio that we looked at for a few moments. I didn’t remind him of a previous time he had seen a pond of fish at the back of a Greene and Greene. Thank God there wasn’t any bamboo nearby!

March 24, 2018

Atascadero wildflowers
Atascadero wildflowers, Spring 2002 (acrylic on canvas, 24 inches by 32 inches)

With today’s post, One California Girl will have been in existence for one year (almost to the day). I started my California art and stories March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But that particular birthday was the first I had celebrated without her actually being here. And tomorrow I will celebrate her birthday for the second time without being able to wish her a happy birthday. (That may not really be true, I think. I still have half her ashes with me and I say good morning to her every day.) As I said in the beginning I am now the keeper of family stories and the art I chose for this post will always be connected to my mother. But it also has a particular California story, all its own.

I painted this short-lived California profusion of wildflowers, with a background of my beloved oaks, in spring 2002. The flowers you see here are CA poppies, lupines, goldfields and tidy tips. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth took me to this spot because one of her sons had told her of the magnificent flowers. As she and I are the lovers of such weeds, she invited me along to enjoy this amazing scene. I am so thankful I did this piece because soon after we had been there a couple of houses were built right on that very slope. That meant the open area would then be closed to those of us who loved to traipse through such seasonal color. I remember enjoying the fact that the lovely blanket of green weeds in the mid-ground provided such a great field of saturated color next to the crazy blobs of orange, violet, yellow and white paint. If you think about it, it’s just a picture of weeds. It’s just that some have a great responsibility to produce flowers, which will then produce seeds that will hopefully ensure such flowers will somehow live again. And even though they may never bloom in that spot again, there is always the promise of seeds that will blow onto another patch of dirt. I live for such hope and promises.

You are probably wondering how this painting relates to my mother. I’m getting to that…Great Aunt Ruth and my mom are not related, but do share March as their birthday month. I don’t have the canvas anymore, but did take some photos of it, and I used it to make a birthday announcement for my mom for her March 2016 birthday. I put a cute black and white picture of her when she was young on the right side. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize it was to be her last birthday with us in the flesh, but I do enjoy looking at that card these days—with my mom smiling and she’s surrounded by all her spring birthday colors.

And as crazy as it may seem, this particular painting is part of a Paso Robles 2002-2003 story. And here’s how this story goes…After the spring of 2002 I contacted a coffee house in Paso Robles, called Brewed Behavior, to see if they would let me hang some of my art in their establishment. The business hadn’t been there very long and it was in a cute historic red brick building across the street from the city hall, park, and the library. This is when I first used the landscape as an invitation of sorts, except this time it was not to announce my mother’s birthday, but rather to announce an art show the summer of 2002 at Brewed Behavior. I remember selling quite a few paintings, including this one, during the reception and following month the art was there. Fast forward to the summer of 2003. I sold my house and my son and I moved to Grass Valley. But in October of that year a 6.5 earthquake hit the area and two people were killed running out of a building just a few feet around the corner from Brewed Behavior. All the historic brick buildings had big cracks (including this favorite coffee shop) and were later raised. Oh, and directly across from Brewed Behavior, behind the city hall and library, a huge sinkhole opened up. That was really a mess for a number of years because that huge depression in the ground was connected to a hot springs (part of the Paso Robles Inn). And that part of town smelled strong of sulfur until the city engineers figured out how to close it up without diverting all the hot stinky water into the city’s ground water. I didn’t have any art in that building at the time, but I did have quite a few pieces in a winery off Vineyard Drive. A couple of them flew off the wall, crashed to a concrete floor and the frames of those paintings became wracked. (I later had to reframe them because they were too warped to lie flat on the wall.)

And a couple more recent CA earthquakes

If you live in California long enough you will hear such stories as I have described above, or you will be in one yourself. Many LA residents still talk about the 6.7 Northridge quake that occurred in 1994. I wasn’t in that one, but I was around for the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, and subsequent after shocks along the Hayward fault. Sixty-seven people were killed in that one. The earthquake happened just as the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series in the Bay Area was about to start. I was driving home from work, listening to sports announcers talking on the radio, when my car lurched way over to the right. I thought I had had a flat. I started looking for a place to pull over to the side of the road when my car lurched way over to the left. And I thought to myself, what are the chances I could have two flats at the same time. Then the signal on the radio went to static and I saw the telephone poles along my road home swaying back and forth. I realized I had just been in an earthquake. I grabbed hold of the steering wheel hard and somehow got home. All the people in our Walnut Creek apartment complex were out on the grass, listening to radio. You may or may not know it, but the best place to be in an earthquake is outside, away from anything that can fall on you. When my then husband and I finally decided to go inside our second floor apartment I had just lost a couple of plants that had jumped off the shelves and landed on the carpet. But the later pictures of the Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway and some of the houses in San Francisco that had slid off the foundations told quite a story of devastation. Google it if you like. You know, it’s been almost 30 years since that happened and it’s still hard to look at those pictures. There was so much damage.

My dad’s family hadn’t been in California very long when they experienced the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. That one was of a magnitude of 6.4. My dad said he remembered that he went to school in a tent for a couple years, while the city rebuilt all the schools. I think my uncle said he went to kindergarten in the basement of a church. (I need to ask him if that’s right the next time I see him.)

I love that I can suspend a CA moment in time (as I did with this landscape), because a housing development can change it over a few months time. But a natural disaster like an earthquake, a fire, or a mudslide can change parts of our landscape in a matter of minutes. Now, if you’ve read some of my previous California stories I have written a lot about the changes this state has gone through since both sides of my family arrived here in the late 20’s. But if you look at a time line, starting when gold was discovered in 1848, this state has been on a break neck pace of people coming here to change our landscape since before my family arrived. That first change came with huge numbers of “gold seekers” coming to San Francisco by sea from the west and by train from the east. Later, changes came from people, like my dad’s family, who moved here because it was just too cold in Cheyenne. And I think I already mentioned that my mom’s mother came to southern California with her sister and mom and dad to be in the movies. My mom and dad, along with many non-native Californians, moved to the Peninsula (Silicon Valley) because there was amazing opportunity for technology. And most recently others have changed our landscape by planting and expanding huge tracts of vineyards all over the state. It’s become a little tricky to afford to live here anymore. I think those of us who have gone through such natural disasters and changes should be allowed a kind of “get out of jail free” card with a special one time huge discount on a house, or the electric car of our dreams. That’s not going to happen. But I can dream, can’t I?

I miss you mom. Happy Birthday!

March 17, 2018

Spring 2017 Descanso
Sycamore Trees, Descanso Garden, March 10, 2017 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Hard to believe, but I did this watercolor almost exactly one year ago. And you could smell spring coming then as now. I love the leaves that are just coming up around my neighborhood trees, much like the wonderful green spikes in the ground around last year’s spring sycamores. I remember going to the garden and seeing the leaves of such annuals that seemed to have appeared as if by magic, adding bright balls of yellow and red on the ends of bright light green anemone stems. Spring is such a brief season here in SoCal, and I like to really accentuate the affect our seasonal water has on everything in our landscape in my art. That’s why I made the sky such a luscious watery blue, and why I added the stripes of cerulean next to the vertical leaves of daffodils and tulips that surround these trees. (They can be found at the edge of the rose garden at the Descanso.) And if you really want those saturated spring colors to pop in a painting, put them near different shades of grey—like the bark of the trees. You should also know that behind this vignette, sharp green weeds had also blanketed the hills behind the garden. Every spring the hills near my house add a welcome softness to our landscape, giving a real three-dimensional quality to our normally monotone graham cracker brown hills. The velvety green is especially nice on the rolling slopes I go past on my way to work every morning. They were recently ravaged by fire and have been looking more like a lunar landscape with “Dali-like” black outlines of trees popping up every so often. I noticed on my way home yesterday that a number of those dark skeletons have some bushy bits of green at the base—like a green phoenix rising from the ashes I think.

For those of you still in the grips of winter, all I have to say is that spring is really on its way, even for you. I know it may not seem like it could possibly be true, but the calendar says spring starts next week—March 20 to be exact. And you know in your heart it’s not wrong, it’s just delayed. There’s a wonderful passage in the book The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911) that will make you believe for certain that it is so. You may not see anything new green and growing, but under the ground the unseen is happening nonetheless. I’ll try to paraphrase the idea of spring coming before you can actually see it through the eyes of Mr. Weatherstaff, the main gardener in the book. The story takes place on a large estate on a moor in Yorkshire, England. Ben Weatherstaff describes the coming of spring to Mary, a little girl recently orphaned. She had been living in a hot and humid area in India, but was now living at her uncle’s house known as Misselthwaite Manor. The author, Ms. Burnett, was amazing at capturing the Yorkshire dialect in her writing, but it can make reading that kind of dialog a bit tricky. But here goes… “Springtime’s comin’,” he said. “Cannot tha’ smell it?” Then he goes on to tell Mary that the earth is fresh and damp in spring, and “…in good humor makin’ ready to grow things.” He tells her that the earth is “dull” in the winter with nothing to do and that plants start waking up with the new warmth of the springtime sun. And the last part, which is my favorite, he describes the different bulbs that will soon be visible “…bits of green spikes…” And he lists crocuses, snowdrops and “daffydowndillys,” which are daffodils, or narcissus. What a great word. And the way Ms. Burnett describes the greenness of pre-1911 Yorkshire in early spring you can almost feel the heaviness of oxygen that a great number of plants are about to produce, like these moors are on photosynthesis steroids or something. And you can just imagine that avid gardeners, like Ben Weatherstaff, have been waiting for just this moment. Today the English are still known as notoriously mad about gardening. That has actually always seemed kind of crazy to me as the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are at the same latitude as Newfoundland, so it’s pretty far north and usually sunless and wet. I mean, without the sun how do green plants grow in such profusion? It doesn’t seem like it should be a climate for elaborate gardens. But that doesn’t stop the people who live there from digging in the dirt and having amazing and beautiful gardens. I have distant ancestors that came from these very places. And I have to say that every year, when our spring rains are finally here, I am avidly planning which beds will need weeding and what flowers and/or vegetables with need planting. For a number of years I would get seed catalogs in winter and I would pour over the magazines as though I would be curing cancer with the plantings I had planned to make thrive and provide color or food. And of course there was all the compost I had made and where I would be amending the soil. For those of you who are too distant from your farming gene, I apologize and will stop here.

Last post for winter 2018 and Happy St Patrick’s Day!

You may or may not already know this, but the Irish don’t actually celebrate such a day. I remember learning once why Americans took up the “green” mantle, but I have forgotten. I mean St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish and he didn’t drive away all of the snakes in Ireland. There never were any snakes in Ireland to drive away. (I remembered that part.) And then there is the fact that there a whole bunch of Protestants in Northern Ireland and they would never consider celebrating some Papist catholic saint. Those shanty Irish Protestants are my ancestors. My mother’s family thought to celebrate July 12, in support of William of Orange, a kind of patron saint of the non-Catholic Irish folk.

The thought of getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day always annoyed me and I tried to permanently ward that possible assault by reminding people my eyes were green all the time, for real. So as long as I wasn’t asleep (and my eyes were closed), pinching me should not be allowed. But as kids I wasn’t sure anyone was actually looking at my eyes, so I usually wore some kind of green clothing to school to avoid the whole thing. Saying that I had green eyes was probably up there with telling classmates that you were actually wearing green underwear. That always seemed like a dicey gambit, as someone would then insist to see if you were telling the truth. And I’m guessing having green eyes somehow wouldn’t count anyway.

My mother used to tell a story about her mother that always gave me a real sense of her Irishness, but I always suspected some of what she said was a bit of blarney. (Mom said that her mother used to call daffodils daffydowndillys. Gotta love that word!) During the Depression I guess my grandmother would go into a green grocer in Los Angeles to buy produce for the family. Mom said that the owner was Irish and Catholic. So I guess there were some occasions my grandmother would have orange paper (from William of Orange fame) in her purse and with great fanfare she would cover those Irish Catholic green apples with the paper. And I guess once this little 4 foot 11 woman started doing that, the green grocer had green paper ready to cover the Northern Ireland Protestant oranges for when she came in the store. Hard to know what to think or believe. I mean, where did she get orange paper? I never met my maternal grandma, but it’s hard to imagine this little tiny lady sort of leaping up towards the boxes of pippins with sheets and sheets of orange paper. This kind of activity seems playful enough. But when I was growing up the trouble between the different parts of Ireland was anything be playful. My brother said he wasn’t going to admit that he was of Irish descent until they straightened out. Not sure if The Troubles are really over, but the bombings and shootings we heard about when I was a kid seem to have subsided. Eirinn go Brach