February 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

February 8, 2020

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

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

Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2020

garlic still life
California Select Spring garlic (on the left), Early Red Italian Spring garlic (on the right) and Ephraim Pottery tile, 1/20/2020 (water soluble pastel crayons on toned paper)

I pulled out my final tomato bush last Sunday. It still looked a vibrant healthy green, and it even had a few blossoms. But it had been quite a while since I had picked a red ripe tomato. (July 6, 2019 shows my first tomato.) So I dug it up. It gets cold in my SoCal neighborhood at night, but rarely freezes. I have actually seen such plants linger all through the winter months, but that seems kind of pointless. Besides, I wanted to make room in that bed because I have grand plans for that spot. Can you guess what’s going in there? Yes, I will be planting seed garlic. I’ve never tried to grow garlic and didn’t realize there was even something called seed garlic. I thought you just bought a couple heads of garlic at the grocery store, pulled apart the individual cloves and then planted them pointy side up—similar to the way you would plant a tulip bulb. But I read online that wasn’t a very foolproof procedure and you should buy seed garlic at a nursery. Of course I soon realized that there might not be any such bulbs in our nurseries right now as those are usually planted here in the fall. As I suspected I didn’t find any in our nearby nurseries. But I didn’t give up my quest and looked online. I found a lovely company called Filaree Garlic Farm, in Omak WA. I spoke on the phone to a lovely woman there and she suggested the two varieties you see in my still life, and they could still be planted in my area this time of year. If you have never ordered plants through the mail, it’s kind of fun. However, being from CA has its drawbacks in that department as there are some plant varieties that cannot be shipped here. I think that’s because there are just so many things that will grow here and a potential invasive plant and/or pesky hitch hiking insect might come into the golden state, inadvertently becoming a pest to the many farms that can be found in our Imperial Valley.

Anyway, it seems that mailing garlic to someone in CA is not forbidden. That is kind of funny if you think about it. Garlic is notoriously stinky, so maybe that keeps the bugs away. (I know vampires are repelled by it.) I don’t know if you are a fan of garlic, but I think my mother put onions and garlic in almost everything we ate as kids. I remember both my mom and dad going to the Gilroy Garlic Festival. My mom was quite taken with the idea of garlic ice cream. Thank goodness she never served that to us, but I did wonder if she ever considered adding a clove or two to some to her oatmeal cookies or carrot cake. 

More about the art

I’ve been wanting to get better at my still life drawings/paintings/sketches and thought this striking combination of creamy produce next to a colorful Ephraim Pottery tile would be great. All the colors pop nicely off the grey toned paper, and the waxy crayons add just a bit of a shine. Just as an aside, I think it’s hard to arrange things for a still life. I worry that anything I put together will look contrived. So, I made sure that there was no imagined, or forced, relationship between a beautiful Craftsman poppy tile and two varieties of seed garlic. I wonder if it took Van Gogh a long time to arrange items for his still life paintings? Nah, I imagine that he didn’t really have many worldly possessions and probably just arranged a few non-painting items together and called it a day. I think I would probably like any still life he created just because he personally arranged the items. I mean, he could have created even the most beautiful still life with the most common items laying around, like even a pair of his shoes or boots. Oh yeah, he did several painting of his boots and shoes. If you look at any of those still lives I’m sure you would be distracted by his wonderful brush work, making even the mundane important and beautiful. 

I post a lot of my art here that I do as an urban sketcher, but almost never post anything for other urban sketchers on Facebook. I knew such a still life would not be appropriate for an urban sketching post. They have very strict rules and probably wouldn’t have even allowed Van Gogh’s boots. In fact, they even have a manifesto. And here it is: 

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

You know, except for the fact that Van Gogh did not share his drawings online and was a pretty solitary individual, I think he met the criteria for everything else on this list for urban sketchers. I love the idea of a pair of shoes or boots telling the stories of places someone has traveled, and how he showed us his world, one painting/drawing at a time. 

And for those of you interested in my “poppy” tile you might enjoy looking at other pieces of Ephraim Pottery at www.ephraimpottery.com Their images and pottery shapes are taken directly from the Craftsman sensibility and the glaze colors they use are quite extraordinary. There is a section on the website that features those colors and it’s called “glaze swatches.” Check it out. They started out in Wisconsin, but now have a shop in Cambria. And if you are ever traveling on the CA coast, heading to Heart’s Castle or Big Sur, you might want to check out that shop in Cambria. 

Final words about the garlic and my garden…

I will be planting the garlic as soon as I post this. Filaree Garlic Farm has a pretty good description of growing, harvesting and curing, and storing garlic. Armed with the New Moon and such good directions I think it’s the optimum time to plant it for the best outcome. In a previous post I mentioned that my grandfather (my mom’s dad) said you should plant such things as bulbs and root vegetables by the dark of the moon—not really sure why. My grandfather died before I was two, so I didn’t know him. But it does remind me of my mom and I know she would approve of my plan of action. 

You may, or may not, be wondering what other plans I have for other garden beds this year. And if you are wondering, I will say that I plan to plant other items to support what I am calling my “pickle garden.” I have seeds for two different kinds of dill and plan to plant at least 3 different kinds of cucumbers. Don’t know what I could grow that would produce acetic acid and/or salt. Not going to worry about that. Here we go!

January 18, 2020

Mason Clay Statue, 1961
Black Cross sculpture by John Mason, 1961 (Fude Fountain pen on mix media paper)

Once again a sketching group I belong to met at the Norton Simon Art Museum the first Friday of January. I didn’t start out the afternoon/evening with the realization this would be a momentous “first” sketch of the new decade, but went there as is my usual. Most months when I walk in the front door, poised with my non-wet materials and ready for the sometimes unfriendly museum guards, I am always happy to be there. And I’m almost always look forward to going there the week leading up to that Friday. As I have said in previous posts I still really enjoy going into the back garden to see if there is something new to see, or maybe there is some old favorite I want to draw… again. For this excursion I had a new small stool I wanted to try out there. At the Descanso Gardens I had used it as a foot rest as I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap on a large boulder. I had also used it at the Descanso as a level place to place my pots of watercolors. But I had actually not yet sat on it to sketch. 

It was already getting dark by the time I walked in at 5. But I vowed to try and sit outside, hoping I might find a spot on the grass for this visit. Unfortunately there are still temporary-looking plastic strips, much like a “Police Line Do Not Cross” barricade tape, surrounding every bit of grass that rings the Monet Garden inspired pond. What would Claude say? Oh well. So I kept moving along the crushed granite path. Once I got to a left turn in the path I turned abruptly to the right and found myself face to face with this small, but charming, vignette. I must admit I didn’t really pay much attention to the clay cross, but liked the blocky dark mass nestled in with the wonderful vertical bamboo background and the large symmetrical succulent flowers in the foreground. In fact, I didn’t even look at the label in front of it until the sunlight was completely gone and I had finished the sketch. But when I spied this spot I knew I had to do something quick. So I set up my little stool and sat down, took out my sketchpad and did a quick pencil sketch. Then I hurried to capture this tiny corner of the garden with my Fude fountain pen. (At some point, during this mad dash, I realized my little stool was rather hard and I dug out my sheet of bubble wrap, placed it on the hard plastic seat and sat back down. That was much better.) By now I was truly racing the fading natural light as the outdoor lights started coming on. For about 30 seconds I thought there might be enough light from those spotlights highlighting the statue to help me see to finish. Of course, it got too dark even for that and it dawned on me the lights were there to illuminate the statue, not my sketchpad. By the time I put in the last couple lines I had my phone out and was inking by flashlight. By then I was cold and glad to go inside and find something else to draw.

Note about the sculpture:

Later in the weekend I looked up what the curator at the Norton Simon had to say about the Black Cross. Here is what it says on the website: “During the 1950s in Los Angeles, a group of artists led by John Mason rediscovered and reinvented the medium of ceramics for use in large scale sculpture. His Black Cross is one of many works that he crafted using soft clay in previously unexplored ways. An extremely tactile piece, the medium of fired clay brings a fascinating variety of texture and color to Mason’s work. Though he has used many other media, he continues to explore and reinvent his favorite medium: clay.” And if you want to know more about John Mason there is an interesting article about him in the LA Times online. The story ran the end of January 2019, not too long after he had died at age 91. (I guess no one at the Norton Simon has updated this information since his passing last January.)

NS Woman in White with Fan
Woman in White with Fan by Jean-Louis Forain (1883-84), 1/3/2020 (Inktense pencils on mix media paper)

Once I got in the door I decided to go downstairs and sketch something else from the Belle Epoque exhibit. (I have mentioned a number of times in various posts of my obsessions with various art, materials and other random items or places. So, it was not really surprising that I would be obsessed with the art and French artists of that 1871 to 1914 time period in Paris.) I got lucky and found a museum bench right in front of this lovely “Woman in White with a Fan” (Jean-Louis Forain) oil painting. The way it was lit down there it looked almost monochromatic, with mostly sepia-like tones and some bits of pink and gold. I decided to try and capture the dark and kind of moody feeling by limiting my palette of Inktense pencils—using only bark, sun yellow, baked earth and poppy red. 

Finally, it was time for the group throw down and I went upstairs. There was quite a sketching crowd gathered at a museum bench at the museum entrance that night. (It’s always fun to see what others have been working on as you were toiling away in some other part of the museum.) Once our leader took a photo of our work and we visited for a few minutes she suggested a group project. We were to wander the halls and find something that spoke to us about a possible New Year’s Resolution or inspired us to improve some aspect of our artwork. Then we were to meet back at that same bench and share any artistic inspirations we had come up with. 

NS Provence landscape
Pencil sketch of Paul-Camille Guigou’s The Village of Saint-Paul on the Banks of the Durance, 1865

I headed for the European Art/19th century room to look for inspiration, but quickly left because it was pretty crowded. So, I wandered about in a couple other rooms and locked eyes on this lovely 19th century landscape of the south of France. (Funny this one was in a different room. I mean, this seems like a 19th century bit of European Art…just sayin.’) I was trying to think of a valid New Year’s resolution related to this calm and beautiful looking place, but was not coming up with anything. We didn’t have a lot of time. So, I went ahead and set up my little stool a few inches from the wall just across from this rather large oil painting anyway. I was sure I could come up with some kind of goal for the year or decade, for that matter, if I sat gazing at this beautiful place long enough. As I began sketching I envisioned a perfect resolution for me. I have done numerous CA landscapes and think I’m pretty confident and comfortable with rendering skies, but I always balk when I come to the water’s edge—especially when imagining large bodies of water like the ocean. I so admire all those plein air painters that can capture the Pacific Ocean. Once I decided my resolution would be to do more paintings with water I relaxed and just enjoyed doing this very quick sketch. (Of course the minute I leaned ever so slightly against the wall, a guard came out of the shadows and told me not to do that…first encounter with a Norton Simon guard of the decade. Oh well!)

So, I do have some final thoughts about resolutions and my art. I’m obsessed with producing CA landscapes. I love the idea that I can travel to a particular place with pigment on canvas or paper. I can wander the hills of various places as my brush skims along the canvas in a field, dotting in grapes and leaves on a vine or layering in the dark bark and limbs and branches of a coast live oak as it reaches skyward. And when I paint a California sky, I luxuriate in layers of color as I apply the pigment with my biggest brushes in long strokes from side to side. As I sat there, my mind took me to this water’s edge in the south of France. Ooh la la! Maybe this CA girl should look to expand her horizons to the south of France? Maybe that’s a great goal for the decade. Restez a l’ecoute. (Stay tuned.)

January 11, 2020

Persimmons
Hachiya Persimmons, 1991 (watercolor on cold pressed Strathmore illustration board)

The art you see here was definitely a labor of love as there was no hurrying along the process. In past posts I have written about this watercolor layering technique. It’s all done with layer upon layer of watercolor, with the heat of a small hairdryer used to dry each layer after it is applied. People have asked me how many layers of pigment would be in something like this and I can’t really answer. But I would say there was easily more than 10 watercolor passes for this one. In describing this technique I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of the paper I used. This technique means major abuse of wet and heat—and my beautiful cold press Strathmore illustration board can take it like a champ. It was my “go to paper” in the early 90s. I think I only messed it up once or twice by getting it just too wet and/or hot, and then tiny balls of paper pulp began pulling away from the surface. I remember I almost cried and thought I should apologize to the trees who had so graciously helped make this paper possible. As I have already said (right here in this paragraph), knowing the paper/material you paint on is everything. And I always think about what’s going to happen when I begin to draw or paint on a new sheet of paper. 

Now, as for this persimmon composition, it’s never been my usual to leave such beautiful fruits floating free in space, much like so many abandoned satellites circling the Earth. But upon closer inspection of the board I noticed a third persimmon lightly penciled in to the right, and realized I had not actually finished this one. As was my usual I would have finished the last persimmon, then added some kind of shading to lock each one into a place in space. Not really sure why I didn’t finish this one. Oh well… All this got me thinking of my mother. As a kid I remember eating my mom’s persimmon pudding (recipe to follow). The Hachiya tree variety was pretty common in many of the Saratoga/Sunnyvale gardens in the 1970s. I specifically remember those trees because about this time of year all of the leaves would have dropped off and there would be these bright orange fruits hanging from every branch. It was quite a site. Of course, they would all ripen at the same time which meant they had to be picked all at once. Everyone scrambled to think of what to do with them before they spoiled. My mom always took a lug of them from a friend who lived not too far from us, in the Golden Triangle. (Look it up, it’s a thing—The Golden Triangle, Saratoga, CA) This variety is kind of tricky because you can’t eat them until they are mushy and pudding like. By then they are not a pretty color anymore. Sound appetizing? My brothers and I quickly learned you can’t eat them beautiful and orange from the tree as they have an astringent taste that will make your mouth pucker. No, they were only palatable after they had been cooked. My mom enjoyed making persimmon pudding this time of year and it makes me wonder why she didn’t plant a persimmon tree in our side orchard. My dad would have insisted the tree be in that part of the yard, otherwise such fruit laying on the ground would have probably been eaten by our dogs. I can’t imagine that would have been a good thing. 

Back then there were many nurseries in our area run by families of Japanese-American descent, and those businesses were busy landscaping yards in all the new housing developments in our area. Many of the plants they recommended for our gardens were from Japan, and that included the Hachiya variety persimmon tree. The nursery that designed our Saratoga garden was called Bonsai Nursery, and they were on the corner of Bollinger Road and Hiway 9 (now called De Anza Blvd). A nursery like Bonsai would design your garden for a fee and if you decided to go with their plan that fee would go towards their plants for your yard. Bonsai closed a number of years ago, but there is still another nursery from that time on De Anza Blvd. It is called Yamagami’s Nursery. I don’t remember many specific plants there were in that Saratoga garden, but I do remember a couple Japanese maples in our courtyard. They were spectacular even when they were first planted in the late 1960s/early 1970s. And if you drove past our old house in Saratoga today you would see them even now, towering majestically over the single story terra-cotta rooftop.  

I did promise to share my mother’s persimmon pudding recipe, but couldn’t find the recipe card. So, I looked online. This recipe looks similar to what I remember. (From Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, who was a frequent guest chef on A Chef’s Life—PBS. I actually saw the “A Chef’s Life” episode where Chef Vivian Howard helped Chef Smith make the persimmon pudding—PBS, Season 5, Episode 7 ) There was a recipe for hard sauce on the opposite side of my mom’s recipe card, but I think we almost never made because it was so good without adding anything quite that sweet. Sometimes she did make lightly sweetened whipped cream to go on top, but that was likely more for company and not us.

Ingredients:

1 T plus 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp, divided

3 C persimmons 

2 C buttermilk

1 1/2 C sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

Whipped cream topping, optional

* Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4 by 8 by 12 inch baking pan with 1T butter. Use a food mill, sieve or cone strainer to remove the seeds from the persimmons and puree the pulp; it will reduce them from 3 C to 2 C. Combine the puree with the buttermilk. Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. By hand, in a large mixing bowl, stir the persimmons into the butter.
  2. Sift all dry ingredients together and fold them into the persimmon mixture. Put the batter into the baking pan, and place the pan in a larger pan and fill halfway up with warm water. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours, or until the pudding is firm at the center, has pulled away from the sides of its pan, and a paring knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.
  3. Serve hot with fresh whipped cream. This will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days and reheats well in the oven or microwave.
  • My mom didn’t cook the persimmon pudding in a baking pan, but rather she made persimmon cupcakes in foil cupcake papers. (So, it would certainly take less than an hour to cook. I would probably check them after 20 minutes or so.) She also did not place the cupcake pan in a water bath, but rather put a pan of water just underneath the cupcakes. (We had an old and rusty square baking pan that she used for steaming a number of cakes and puddings in the oven.) My mom didn’t have a fancy mixer and just used her hand mixer when beating all the wet ingredients together. Finally, my mom had something she called a Mouli (Moulinex Mouli-Julienne Rotary 5 disc shredder grater slicer) to make the gooey persimmon pulp. She used this quite a bit for shredding and grating other fruits and vegetables. I remember her using it to make fried potatoes. (This is before food processors were around.) 
  • The above recipe talks about removing the seeds from the persimmons. I think Chef Smith must have been using an American variety of persimmon, common to the Atlantic seaboard. I understand they have seeds. As for the Japanese varieties we have here in CA, there are no seeds to worry about extracting.
    Fuyu persimmons
    Fuyu Persimmons, January 2020, (Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons on cold press Strathmore illustration board)

    I did this one this week. And I used my lovely cold press Strathmore illustration board, just to compare the fruits, time, and technique of the “quick and dirty” application of water soluble crayons over laboriously applied straight watercolors. It’s really hard to compare the two, but I like that this one got finished as is my usual. In fact, I decided I kind righted a wrong because my Fuyu persimmons seem to have the wings of a butterfly, rather than the stark appearance of a couple Sputniks floating out in space. (I do worry sometimes that putting two such fruits together look a little like breasts…but these seem to be OK.) 

    Oh, and I cut up the one on the right and sliced it on my morning mush. (I thought it looked to be the riper of the two.) All I had to do was peel and slice it, with no weird astringent taste. Woo hoo!

January 4, 2020

UPS3
Creatures for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)
UPS2
Creatures, with their decorating humans for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)

So my LA Urban Sketching day began with 20 of us meeting in a huge parking lot next to a number of huge warehouses in Irwindale. We boarded a shuttle bus, with a number of float decorators and were taken to an area just outside the Fiesta Float warehouse. It seems that shuttle would be on duty, taking volunteers to and from Fiesta Floats to the parking lot, until each float parked inside the warehouse was finished for Wednesday morning’s Rose Parade in Pasadena. After we filed out of the shuttle we gathered together to discuss how we would be proceeding for the day. One of our tribe had been there to sketch before and she had a few tips for us. For the most part, she said that we needed to stay out of the way of the volunteers working in there. She added that we should be very careful to watch for heavy things moving around over head, as much of what was going on was off the floor, with lots of people on scaffolding above us. Finally, she said that we should wander about first as there was a lot to see. But that even if we found the perfect spot to sketch, we needed to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. So, we had our marching orders and we all began fanning out to see what there was to see. I was intrigued by what I saw even before I got inside as there were piles of “floats gone by” in pieces all around the building. I made a mental note to come back to a particular scene I saw (see caption 3 of this post). 

I could try to describe what I saw, but maybe that isn’t necessary as you can actually see what just one tiny corner of the building looked like a week ago. There was scaffolding and huge bits of various float parts in every square inch of that huge building. And everything was larger than life. I guess that makes sense in that everything would be viewed from a distance and moving slowly down parts of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards for the Rose Parade. There were people everywhere! Most had a flat cardboard box of dried plant material in one hand and a small 1 inch paint brush in the other. There were bottles of white glue everywhere as well. The volunteers were dabbing on the glue, to specifically prescribed patches on animals and other items, and then carefully pressing the dried material in place. I have to say I wondered how long I would make in there as the smell of glue was almost overpowering. But it was so interesting to watch all these people carefully going about their work that I stopped noticing the smell and found myself wandering around. I found a great spot in front of this happy group of 3 large green lizards. But before I sat down and set up, I looked for the supervisor for this UPS Store, Inc float and introduced myself. (I forgot to mention that we were encouraged to do just that, hopefully making a good impression about the LA Urban Sketchers group so we might be invited to come back again.) The woman of this menagerie of huge animals was lovely and very interested in what I was about to do. I told her I would look for her when I had finished to show her my sketches. While I sat on my tiny stool and sketched a UPS Store, Inc representative stopped to chat. He told me that the theme of the 2020 float was part of a greater project UPS was supporting—literacy. You could tell he was very passionate about this project and said he wanted to hang my sketch (the first one) in his office. I was very flattered, but had not even finished it and knew that wasn’t going to happen. (These are just sketches and my stories are just a day in the life of One CA Girl.) Sadly, when I had finished I couldn’t find either of them. So, neither one got to see what I had created. Oh well.

 I also think it is important to talk about the people I chose to put in here. As you might imagine there were at least 100 people walking around, and most seemed to be on the move. There were lots of people from the media too–taking pictures and interviewing various volunteers. There were a few women, putting on the dry material on the underside of the lizards, who stood still long enough for me to capture here. By putting the humans in I think you get a real sense of the scale of these “Jurassic Park” like lizards. But you don’t really get a very flattering picture of the people. For starters, it was cold in there and most people had on bulky coats that covered them up. And second, in the second sketch I completely missed the head of one volunteer. It was really my fault too. I started with the woman on the left and noticed another volunteer in a red jacket to her right. So, I quickly added her. But I didn’t really notice that her head was completely covered by the lizard’s tail and was too far into the sketch to really do anything about it. (Hmm…Couldn’t imagine a UPS Store, Inc exec hanging that up on the wall…)

float graveyard
Fiesta Floats, Irwindale–outside with parts from floats past, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen and graphite on Canson Mix Media paper)

I stayed in the warehouse until I was just too cold to draw anymore and needed to get outside into the sunshine. I had seen this scene of float remnants earlier and set up my little stool covered with my sheet of bubble wrap and did this pen and ink with my Fude Fountain pen. Some of the surrounding rusted pieces I saw looked like they had once had dried flowers glued on, but the rain and sun were doing their best to wash and fade that all away. But this particular pile of disconnected bits of floatery didn’t seem to have any dried flower detritus. So, maybe this place does more than just floats for the Rose Parade, even though the sign on the outside of the building said Rose Parade—and had the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Foundation logo on it. It was nice to be outside, where I could warm up and watch the continuous flow of volunteers in and out of the building. Perfect! 

The UPS Store, Inc float New Year’s morning 2020 and beyond

This post has a rather funny end to it as the UPS float was the Sweepstakes Award winner for 2020. (And it seems they were the 2019 Sweepstakes Award winner as well.) Look it up—UPS, Store Inc Rose Parade 2020. It was covered with thousands of fresh flowers, animated animals and 3 working waterfalls. Yikes! The photo I saw showed some of the animals I sketched last Sat. In fact, one of the lizards I did was right up front, nestled in some 25,000 dark hot pink Hot Lady roses. It did make me laugh because the women I saw decorating the lizards were placing the dried flower material underneath each giant beast. I mean, who was going to be looking underneath them—with all those bright pink roses? That’s just crazy, right?

I was sketching at the Norton Simon last night. And the scaffolding that holds the bleachers for the Rose Parade were still up. That always looks like a larger than life bit of construction. I guess here in CA we really believe in doing things in a big way, but try not to miss the small details as well. Words to live by? Works for me!

December 28, 2019

UCSC 1
Trees and sky at UCSC, with the ocean just out of reach, 2019 (wax crayons/pastels on mat board for 5 by 7 image)

It’s almost 2020 and it’s been cold here in SoCal. The narcissus dot my garden in small bunches of vertical green leaves and stems, and there is snow on the San Gabriel Mountains behind my house. Pretty nice actually…

In year’s past I have made holiday gifts for friends and family. But it’s been so long since I’ve done that and I can’t really remember when I stopped, or why I stopped, for that matter. So this year I thought I would try to revive some of that homespun gifting again. Somehow, not really sure when the idea popped into my mind, I thought it would be interesting to paint little scenes from a photo I took of the amazing trees and ocean plus sky view at the UCSC campus. And I wanted this little scene around the edges of an 8 by 10 inch mat with a 5 by 7 opening. I knew I wanted to flank the sides of the frame with lovely vertical stabs of redwoods and other conifers. But I also wanted to fill in the center backing with the in between continued view of shorter conifers and shrubbery with more of that fabulous blue sky. Normally that space in a mat would be filled with some 5 by 7 inch photo or other special two dimensional image. I was kind of liking the idea that you could either put something in the frame, or not. And whatever went in that spot didn’t need to go behind glass either. I found that by taping the top edge of the mat to the backing I created a kind of free standing sandwich board pop up. If someone wanted to hang something in the frame it could be taped behind the opening with a little piece of drafting tape. If not it could be left open, with nothing else added. (When I finished the first one of these I amused myself greatly by placing a small stuffed UCSC banana slug looking out of the opening. In fact, I can’t stop giggling about it, so random and yet corny. But that kind of describes me perfectly, so random and corny, and yet easily amused…) I am also quite aware that my idea of giving this little gift of Northern CA trees and ocean inspired sky would not be done by the 1st. So, now I plan to give this little gift as a kind of random and corny “anytime” gift, hopefully not too much after January 1, 2020.

But I think the real story here is how I came upon the best media to do this little bit of personal ephemera from One CA girl. When I picked up the half dozen good quality Crescent board mats for the project I thought it would be fun to try using some lovely inks for this landscape. I had found an acrylic pearlescent sky blue and light green that I thought would be perfect for the project. Oh, I also wanted to try out my new Fude fountain pen filled with water soluble black ink as well. (You may have noticed by the above caption there isn’t one of these items listed there…) 

Here’s what happened: I experimented with the materials I just described using a few scraps of Crescent board. Nothing turned out the way I had hoped, with each one taking way longer to do than I had patience for. I knew if it took too long I would become bored doing a similar scene over and over again. And eventually I just got bored with all this trial and error and opened up one of the mat board frames I had bought and tried it there. Not sure why I thought doing the same thing I had just tried would be any different with this board. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity? You do the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time?) I try to be aware of the paper I paint on and the quality of mat board was described as “good.” And it turns out that it was not “good enough,” but somehow I thought I could bend it to my will. So, I finally realized it was just getting too wet and little balls of paper were rolling around underneath my soggy brush. I needed to rethink my materials, loosing the iridescent sky blue ink in favor of something that would be more like a dry brush technique. 

I remembered that I had some wax pastels/crayons that needed only the slightest bit of water to blend the colors together. I have two sets—Neocolor Ink water-soluble wax pastels (set of 15) and Lyra-Aquacolor wax crayons (set of 12) and that material turned out to be just right. I have no idea where I got either tin. But I do enjoy using them as they show the texture of the paper when applied like a pastel or crayon and blend nicely with just the tiniest bit of water.

Now comes the funnier bit. Several years ago I found myself sketching several Buddha’s in the downstair Asian Art section of the Norton Simon. I decided to try out each of them in the frame. There is nothing left to say here, right?

Buddha 1
Head of Buddha, Thailand, 8th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)
Buddha 3
Buddha Shakyamuni, Nepal, 13th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)
Buddha 2
Buddha Shakyamuni, Thailand, 15th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)

 

Just got back from sketching at the Fiesta Parade Floats in Irwindale. Yes, it’s just about time for the Rose Parade in Pasadena and I saw hundreds of volunteers inside the huge Fiesta warehouse, gluing dried plant parts to various floats that will be rolling along the parade route. The smell of glue in there was almost overpowering and finally went outside to sketch some of the leftover bits of floats that surround the building. (I will probably post those sketches next week.) I don’t often watch the parade anymore, but usually hear the bomber jets that open the parade fly over my house very early the morning of the first. Maybe when they wake me up this year I’ll get up and watch it live. It might be fun to see the floats I saw today with all the live flowers. Stay tuned…

Happy New Year!

December 21, 2019

close up of fremontia
Close up of Fremontodendron, 5 petals and 5 stamens, early 90s (watercolor on watercolor paper, Prismacolor yellow for stamens)

To add detail, or not to add too much detail. That is the artist’s question. Or at least that’s always my question when I’m beginning a piece of art. For me, I usually have some kind of picture in my mind of what I want to paint, or create, and that vision usually has a certain amount of detail in place, or not. But when you do a botanical like this one, there are “implicit” details you must include to make it so. Back then I was truly enamored with creating beautiful botanicals and had fallen for all those lovely late 19th and early 20th century detailed plant renderings. And for me that looked like the wonder and thrill of limitless detail. There is something very romantic about this art, with very soft colors and seemingly overly exaggerated curves in the leaves and petals. It’s as though the plant was still blooming and thriving in its perfect spot in the world. But of course all of those early plant renderings were not done Plein air, but rather from looking at a dried specimen that the artist or botanist had collected, sometimes months earlier. Maybe that’s why the art has such seductive curves and implied plumpness as the artist added imagined moisture to the dried up plant they were looking at. At the time I did this watercolor I was working in the botany and entomology departments of the California Academy of Sciences. I was not doing watercolors, but rather pen and ink renderings of plants from Chiapas, Mexico and wasps from Papua, New Guinea. I remember working with another botanical illustrator in the artist’s room in the botany department. She had surely captured this curvy quality even though she was only drawing with pen and ink. I had noticed her lovely art as we sat silently side by side, scrutinizing our dried up plant parts. I knew that Sheva was on to something wonderful that I vowed to try to add to my work. I often wondered if she learned this tiny bit of exaggeration from other botanical illustrators or if she just knew it intuitively. One way or another, I didn’t get that memo, but I can still see the lovely romantic roundness of her drawings in my mind to this day. 

To attempt rendering a true botanical you need to be all in with the horticultural aspect of every specific detail of the plant. For example, for this Fremontia (common name flannelbush) I first did a finished sketch, making sure you could count the five petals and five stamens. I also made sure that the shape and venation of each leaf was correct and they were arranged with the perfect posture, which relates to how the leaves sit on the stem. This kind of drawing/painting is known as the plant’s habit, or what an actual stem of the plant looks like. Sound like too much detail for you? Not for me. But there was one important step for this watercolor that I neglected to share. When I first started working at the Academy I hadn’t had much success painting with watercolor. But I was convinced that my pen and ink skills would overpower and diminish my lack of watercolor confidence. So, I went to the Native CA plant section of Strybing Arboretum one spring day and attempted to paint this plant. I sat on a rock, did a very nice sketch in my sketchbook, transferred that drawing to the paper and painted. I found myself once again trying to make the pigment do my bidding. It was an awful experience and the art looked tortured and awful. But I didn’t give up and I later took a watercolor and colored pencil illustration class right there at the Cal Academy of Sciences. It was taught by an amazing scientific illustrator who worked at the Morrison Planetarium. She showed us how to layer the watercolor and colored pencil onto good paper—drying the watercolor with a hand held hair dryer with every application of watery pigment. The romance and detail of those early botanical illustrations I described earlier began to appear before my very eyes. I was enchanted.

I did not sit on a rock for this botanical as I wasn’t sure where I would plug in my hair dryer. Instead, I painted it from one of my photos while sitting at my drafting table at home. It was so much more convenient to have a hair dryer plugged in there. 

You might be wondering about the raggedy paper I used for this illustration. I think I have shared that I try not to waste any of my materials and this paper had been a large sheet of expensive watercolor paper I had gotten wet, stretched onto my watercolor board, and then attached to the board with brown paper tape. I seem to remember that the bottom part of this paper had been the previous Fremontia disaster. I cut that off and used the upper left side of the paper you see here. 

fremontia
Fremontodendron in CA garden at the Descanso Gardens, “Just add water,” 4/7/2019 (watercolor pencils, Inktense pencils on 6″ by 9″ watercolor paper)

Fast forward 30 years and I have another watercolor of a Fremontodendron that I did at the Descanso Gardens last spring. I think it is not only the antithesis of a botanical, but it also has a story of a different kind of day I had while painting it. This was done in SoCal, not in San Francisco. I didn’t sit on a rock to paint it, but did sit on the ground on a sheet of bubble wrap. And we have a botanical painstakingly done compared to a quick 30 minute Plein air experience—same plant, different day. (I have already posted this piece of art and it’s story April 13, 2019. I thought it interesting to share my artistic journey of style and substance from then to now.) What is probably the true story here is that maybe this piece isn’t so great, but what I have learned in more than 30 years of painting is that it just doesn’t matter. Paintings the thing, and that’s all that matters!

Happy Holidays and happy first day of winter!

In past posts I have described my love of flowers and landscapes. I just tucked in the ground 20 more Narcissus bulbs. I was reminded that my mom said that her dad had said you should put bulbs in the ground during the new moon phase. I’m a couple days off, but maybe it’s close enough. We’ll see if there is a difference in those flowers compared to the others that are already greening up in my garden. Stay tuned.

December 15, 2019

French poster, with water
French poster from Paris in the Belle Epoque, Norton Simon Museum, 12/6/2019 (Inktense pencil on mixed media paper with dry brush technique added)

I found myself downstairs at the Norton Simon last Friday evening in the salons of art from the “By Day & by Night: Paris in Belle Epoque” exhibit. My sketching gang hadn’t quite gathered together yet, so I thought it would be interesting to sketch Georges de Feure’s 1894 poster with my 6 Inktense colored pencils—sun yellow, bark, baked earth, leaf green, tangerine, and sea blue. I did it on mixed media paper because I planned to later “just add water” to the sketch and thought the mixed media paper would take the water better than just some old sketch paper. If you are an artist you really understand how important it is to consider your paper before you get it wet. I mean, I don’t care if paper gets a little ripply, but color on cheaper paper will look dull when it dries. In past posts I have described how I’ve experimented with drawing with watercolor and Inktense pencils that I later squirt with water, but often use watercolor paper to get nicer color. I like the softened, splattered and/or runny effect you can get. (Actually using such descriptive words makes me wonder why I think so highly of this technique. It sounds rather terrible and ultimately like I am trying elevate something that looks a bit of a mess and shouldn’t be celebrated.) When I “just added water” to this one, later in the week, I was much more civilized in my approach. I used a 1/2 inch flat brush and added water using a dry brush technique—no splatters for this one, and the paper had only a couple ripples. Of course, going back to this piece to “just add water” reminded me again that I had left out the second letter A in Almanach. I was reminded of that error several times as my damp brush butted up against those pencil marks. Yuck!

I think what struck me most about de Feure’s poster, as well as other posters done by Toulouse-Lautrec, is that those were all advertisements for something. Many of Toulouse-Lautrec posters were done to advertise the Moulin Rouge and of course de Feure’s poster is an advertisement as well. I read the description of the piece next to the actual poster and it said that it was meant to advertise a city guidebook of Paris. It was published by a famous 19th century Paris print dealer, Edmond Sagot. I guess consumers were to see the fashionably beautiful and sophisticated urban woman holding the Paris guidebook and want one too. I think it was to make you want to be like her or maybe even meet her in some cool hot spot, like the Moulin Rouge. The description goes on to describe the men in the background as thought they were looking at her through a plate glass window—hence the grey/blue color. If you look at those guys, they really seem to be leering at her as well. Had advertisers back then already learned that “sex” sells? It made me wonder if the Moulin Rouge would have been listed in there as a place to visit while in Paris. From what I have read the Moulin Rouge, especially in it’s early days, was quite a naughty place. According to Wikipedia the can-can began there as a kind of seductive dance done by courtesans who “operated” from that sight. (Maybe like the dancehall girls in “Sweet Charity?” Except courtesans were usually prostitutes for the upper-class and/or wealthy clients.)

I’ve already mentioned Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and you have already probably already heard of him. He was a contemporary of de Feure’s during Le Belle Epoque. Toulouse-Lautrec frequently painted women he saw at the Moulin Rouge and produced quite a few posters featuring them. Those were meant as advertisements as well. He was a master of capturing the movement of the people he saw. If you have ever seen those depictions of women doing the can-can you will know what I mean. I bet it really brought them in to see such a spectacle. And as I have already said, sex really did sell at the Moulin Rouge. Speaking of the can-can, it seems that as time passed the can-can morphed into something a little more about entertainment in a cabaret setting. (Oh, I imagine sex continued to sell at the Moulin Rouge…) But there is a scene of French girl marionettes doing the can-can beside Pinocchio in the Disney movie, “Pinocchio.” That definitely has a “G” rating.

Both men were serious artists and did more than make posters. They painted Paris’s changing urban landscape of people and places, both sophisticated and “everyday.” They were some of the artists, who painted from 1871 to 1914, and they established the artistic area known as the Montmartre district. 

It’s kind of cool to imagine such an urban change in Paris that changed the art world forever. I mean, the Eiffel Tower was constructed during this time. Such an urban and artistic achievement, Oui? Maybe this CA urban sketching thing I seem to be swept up into will someday be given a name like “dessinateurs urbanism de Californie?” Maybe not. However, I do intentionally try to capture people, places and things in one CA girl’s urban life. And what I see won’t look the same to coming generations, much like Paris has changed quite a bit in the past 100 years. Maybe that’s an important contribution to these “good times?” Not sure about the “sex sells” angle of the various urban sketchers I have met in the Burbank/Glendale area. OMG, Walt Disney would be rolling in his grave!