September 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

First day of autumn was 9/22/2020

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

September 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Virtually yours,

One California Girl 

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

September 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

Monk’s Hood

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

‘Just Joey’ Rose

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

Phalaenopsis orchid

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

‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea 

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

Gladiola

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

Lupines

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

Garden Update

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

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

Miss you mom—RIP 8/15/2016

August 9, 2020

PG and E with lupines
PG and E geodesic dome (San Ramon Technology Center), part of the Bishop Ranch Industrial Park in San Ramon with a great hillside of lupines. Photo taken in early 1990s, but watercolor was done 8/1/2020. (Watercolor, Inktense pencil and white acrylic on watercolor paper)

If you have been following my blog you might have seen the botanicals I posted this spring and summer (April 25, 2020, June 7, 2020, June 27, 2020, July 18, 2020 and August 1, 2020). You may remember those posts included flowers from the following plants: monk’s hood, rose, gladiolus, hydrangea, and orchid. And I have just about finished another one—maidenhair fern. I had also planned to focus on cherry blossoms and lupines. Kind of forgot about a cherry blossom botanical until I looked back at my notes. Hmm… And this is clearly not a botanical of a lupine. But I think such a landscape is better than a couple CA lupines as they would seem so lonely and frankly underwhelming. To truly bring out its best California features you need a whole hillside of flowers. I vividly remember taking the series of photos this particular view comes from. I was married at the time and we lived in an apartment not far from there. It was part of a huge planting on a hillside, behind an even huger industrial complex (Bishop Ranch). And the purple lupine enchantment did not end there. At the top of that hill were countless purple Ceanothus in bloom as well. It was such a glorious sight it took my breath away. 

Funny how things work. I had pulled out these photos to do a botanical of a lupine and wound up capturing a wonderful “urban sketching” moment. It’s also funny that if I had not included PG and E’s geodesic dome, and hint of surrounding buildings, it would not have been an urban sketch at all, but rather just a lovely lupine-filled landscape. Not sure it would technically count as an urban sketch anyway as it was done from a photo, not in the moment and plein air. Guess I would have needed a time machine to go back and paint this on the spot, but urban sketching didn’t really exist until 2007. So what’s the point? Besides, I wouldn’t want to waste a time machine trip for that. But this was such a pretty sight and memory that I decided to step into my “mind made” time machine for this landscape. I could almost smell the heady springtime fragrance as I worked.

As it turns out I had quite an art filled weekend as I also participated in an online LA Urban Sketchers event the next day. One of our members gave a wonderful demo of how to use a product called Brusho Crystal Colours to create backgrounds. (Yes, it’s made in England.) If you look it up you may notice that it says it’s for kids. Don’t let that put you off as the colors are so intense and wonderful. Looked like fun and I plan to order some and try it. When she was finished we went around the group and shared our recent art. For me, this is when it really got interesting, and it had nothing to the art I held up to the screen for others to see. One of our members shared that she had recently participated in some “nature journaling” with a group in Northern CA. Before she held up what she had sketched/written, she said it would not count as urban sketching, wondering if it would be OK to share. Thank goodness no one objected. When she held up her journal of plants and animals that she had sketched, I was immediately drawn to her art and intrigued with this idea. (And I don’t think I was the only one in the group who got the same feeling.) Anyway, she talked about someone called John Muir Laws and has books and website that encourages us to sketch and write about what we see in nature. His mission is for everyone to be aware of “Nature Stewardship Through Science, Education and Art.” This may not sound very earth shattering, but there is one more important aspect to his nature sketching stewardship that totally got me. He believes that when you keep a nature journal, you should be prepared to answer three questions about what you see. Those questions are as follows: 1. What do you see? 2. What do you wonder about what you see? 3. What does it remind you of?

Once she listed the importance of answering such nature questions when engaged in a plein air moment I realized I was already hooked. I fact, I had been unconsciously contemplating the answers to those very questions while doing this landscape. No kidding! Here’s what I mean:

What did I see? This actually has a two part answer. First, and foremost, I saw a riot of color and organic shapes that appeared to be hurrying down the sloping hillside. But I realized there was more to see here and it was important to this composition. Of course I had to include the human made horizontal line of implied buildings and the bright white geodesic dome. Now it becomes an urban sketch.

What did I wonder? I have couple “wonders” about this spot. Who planted the lupines, right? I tried to Google it, but no luck. My next “wonder” related to this hillside goes to wondering what it looks like now. I haven’t been back there since the early 90s, so I haven’t checked. My cynical side seems to tell me there are probably buildings at that location, with no more wildflower explosion every spring. But I bet you wonder what goes on inside that dome, right? I think I can answer that question. When my then husband and I lived there he worked for PG and E (Pacific Gas and Electric) in a building right next to the dome. I went on a tour of the place. It seems that experiments are conducted inside that huge dome related to high voltage electricity. They test transformers, power lines and other electrical equipment that might be problematic or malfunctioning. Such experiments are meant to test energy efficiency and safety. I remember an experiment they were conducting back then. They had a huge tree (maybe a redwood) next to some power lines attached to wooden power poles. A controlled storm inside the dome was whipping the lines against the tree. They were looking to see what kind of stress the lines could take before they would fail. OMG, they were simulating an electrical storm in there. I remember my husband saying that some of the experiments they did got pretty loud…do ya think?

What does it remind me of? As it turns out this CA girl was reminded of several other huge hillside explosions of CA lupines. I was reminded of a time I walked behind a friend’s house in Templeton and was treated to a sea of tiny balls of perky purple and white flowers covering a sloping hillside. Then there was a springtime that I was traveling north on the grapevine with my mom. There were masses of lupines on the left and CA poppies on the right. It looked as though someone might have tossed out the seed from an airplane.  I wrote about a hillside of lupines on a road in Atascadero (see December 8, 2018 post). I also remember an amazing display of not only lupines, but poppies, tidy tips and gold fields off another road in Atascadero (March, 24, 2018 post). And I did a huge oil of some hillsides of lupines across from Walmart in Paso Robles. I thought I took a picture of that painting before I sold it, but can’t seem to find it. I do wonder who planted all those seeds. Seems like such a wonder that there had been anything so beautiful on such an unlikely California corner. I’ve been back there and can tell you that there are now buildings on that spot. Guess if I want to see that again I’ll just have to step into my “mind made” time machine for that landscape. I can almost smell the lupines mixed with just a little oil paint, for good measure. 

August 1, 2020

last glad
Great Grandma’s gladiolus, July 2020 (Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Here is the most recent botanical I have created on my beautiful and wonderful Strathmore cold press illustration board. It was a bit tricky to get the color of the blossoms just right. I have glads in my garden right now, but none were the color I was after. (That probably seems like a weird thing to say, but it will become clear if you keep reading. If not, please enjoy this peach/pink/apricot/salmon colored gladiolus and you are done with the rest of this post. No worries.) Otherwise, please continue. First, I sketched an actual stem from a non-heirloom plant in a pot on my front porch. Then I scoured the internet for photos of old gladioli for just this shade of…what? Pink? Apricot? Peach? Salmon? Yes, I looked high and low. You are probably wondering why I went to so much trouble. Well, it turns out I wanted to capture the color of gladioli that I once had in my garden, but never learned its name and therefore could not look it up. 

gladiola story
Great Grandma’s Glads (Story from Central Coast Parent Magazine, March 2001)

Here is a magazine article that shows the color I was after. (What color would you say that is?) After reading this story you may have realized my son’s great grandma passed away some time back and it never occurred to me to ask her what her particular gladiola were called when she was alive. Back then I also didn’t know there was such a thing as a pass along plant. But when she gave them to us I knew I always wanted to have her flowers in our gardens. (She also grew garlic, but she never offered any of her garlic seeds and I never thought to ask.) So, I dug up the corms in our Paso Robles ground and took them with us when we moved to Grass Valley. However, when we left Grass Valley I forgot to take any. What was I thinking? For this botanical I had to rely on just the tiny bit of art from this old magazine article I wrote and illustrated. And to compound my color struggles I seem to have given away that original art to someone. Why hadn’t I made a photo copy of the original? Again, what was I thinking? 

As I thought about other pass along plants I have received and shared since then, I also got to thinking about other kinds of “pass along” treasures that can slip through our fingers if we are not careful. The first family treasure that comes to mind is a translucent pink vase that had belonged to my mother. It was her “go to” special vase when she was given flowers. I vividly remember that special pink vase. But this treasure was actually so much more than that as it had been a gift my mom had given her mother when she was a child. I remember my mom telling me that she had saved her money to buy it. So, when her mother died, the vase came back to her. And when my mother died it was passed to me. This same grandmother, whom I never met, also had a family bible that passed to my mom and then to me. We were never a particularly religious family, so the bible mostly sat on the shelf. When we were kids I remember there were tin types of my grandmother’s family in the back pages of that bible. Sadly, those have disappeared. But the pink vase was frequently used and I probably value it a little more. In fact, I used it for some red roses just the other day.

Music was very important to my dad, so I have some original LPs that he played countless times in our house when I was growing up. He also had a technical pen set that he had used in high school and that has now been passed to my son, his grandson. Other pass along stuff from my grandpas include a variety of tools. My mom’s dad had a pair of giant pliers and a level that somehow made it into my tool kit. My dad’s dad had an amazing basement of tools. And somehow I wound up with a double headed ax and a giant clamp. I have several hammers, and I think one of them came from one of them—not really sure who. Both grandpas were plumbers, so I’m not sure how such a tool could have been used by them for their livelihood. (Or maybe I want to imagine they were good plumbers and didn’t use a hammer to fix a leaky kitchen faucet.)  

How about you? Are there any treasures that were passed along to you in your family? My mom and ex-mother in law were big tea drinkers. So, I have several old tea cups from them. I also have tea cups from great grandma, my aunt, as well as a good friend’s grandma. I almost never use such tea cups anymore as I usually want more of a mug of tea than a dainty cup and saucer of Earl Grey. I guess that some pass along items can be a little on the weird side. Somehow I inherited my mother’s wooden hamburger press. It’s pretty cute as it has a stencil of two roosters on one side. I may not use fancy tea cups anymore, but I still use that press to make hamburgers. Probably the weirdest pass along treasure I never saw was my mother’s wedding dress. As I was making mine she so wanted to show me the dress she had made when she married my dad. As the story goes, after their big day my mom asked her dad (my grandpa) to store the dress for her at her family home in Mariposa. It seems that my grandpa didn’t really have a good place to keep it and put it in the brooder house (once a place for their chickens). And, as the story goes, the rats that frequented the now neglected brooder house, ate it. Even after all the times my mom told that story, I still can’t quite picture what that looked like. Thankfully, I have one photo of her in her wedding dress and that will have to do for the passing along of that particular treasure. But this CA girl is thankful to have a virtual way to hang onto many missing pass along family treasures and that’s in the telling of my family stories right here. The end.

July 25, 2020

Cars 2
Car in my front yard, 7/16/2020 (assorted gel pens on Mix Media paper)

On the 12th of this month a group of LA urban sketchers and I were treated to an online virtual demo of how to use different colored pens to create an urban scene. Our instructor sat outside on his porch in Long Beach and described how to just draw what you see using random colored ink pens. Right off the bat he told us that he rarely used a pen color that matched what he was drawing, as he ran through about 5 pens that had run out of ink. He just kept talking, trying one pen after another, until he found several that worked for the rest of the demo. At first I kind of wondered about this guy, but soon found myself relaxing and really enjoying the informality of his presentation. Once he had a handful of viable colors he immediately began rendering a car that was parked in front of his house. The front half of the vehicle was obscured by an overgrown tree, but that didn’t stop him—he added it to his drawing as well. After he had sketched in the car and tree another car came along and parked across the street. He seemed truly delighted to have another car to add to his urban landscape and immediately added it to the composition. His commentary was brisk, funny and very informative. But his message was clear, don’t worry about what colors you are using, just use the colors you have to render what you see. He also said that it was important to draw a lot and not worry about the finished product—quantity over quality. (Not sure what I think about that comment…) Anyway, he talked about not necessarily planning what you were going to do and for sure not to worry if you made a mistake. He said if you can capture the essence of objects or people on a page, no one is really going to notice a couple misplaced lines here and there. He suggested using pens with varying thicknesses, cross hatching and using loopy lines and shapes to suggest foliage and plants. Overall, it was great! 

Once he had finished there were lots of comments and questions from various members and it seemed that many were interested in drawing cars specifically. He shared that he didn’t much like drawing plants or trees, but that compositions could be enhanced when matching man-made hard surfaces with organic and natural subjects like trees and shrubs. So, even though he didn’t much like to draw plants he added the tree at the curb to make the cars look more interesting. For me, I am much more interested in plants than cars, but long ago I also learned the wonderful affect you can get when presenting something linear with harsh lines next to something natural and kind of fluffy. I even remember an art teacher saying such a juxtaposition can give a scene a kind of poetry. Really? I remember that teacher also saying that if those lines were presented on a diagonal, you added excitement and action to a rendering. Get the picture?

I realized that my front yard would be the perfect place to practice what this urban sketcher had shared with us as there are frequently cars parked on the streets all around my house. I found that I could make non-preferred drawings of cars more interesting by adding bits of plant life. And for the 7/16/2020 sketch I made sure to draw a car on the diagonal, hoping to add interest and action to the sketch. You may have noticed the street sign is on a different diagonal. It’s hard to tell what is actually straight up and down here. I think the spiky shrub behind the wonky sign and the fire hydrant in the foreground are the most truly vertical item in this composition. I don’t know, does it look like the car might just roll down the street? Maybe?

Cars 3
Car in my front yard, 7/14/2020 (assorted gel pens, and some graphite, on Mix Media paper)

Cars 1
Cars in my front yard, 7/15/2020 (assorted gel pens on Mix Media paper)

For three straight days I made myself sit on my front porch, drawing the cars parked on my street. For those afternoons I needed only a few supplies—a comfortable camping chair, handful of different colored ink pens, a pad of decent paper and a cloth glove for my drawing hand (helps to reduce ink from smearing). But wait! Until this technique was shared with me I had used only black inks, and only had that color in my supplies. Therefore, I needed to get some ink pens with different colors. I had noticed that our instructor used a couple gel pens and thought an assortment of such colors would be adequate. The day before my first “car sketch” attempt I put on my mask, walked to a nearby big box office supply store and bought a packet of gel pens (13 colors plus black).

None of the sketches really went as planned as there was a problem with the pens. Some of the colors worked for a while, but then seemed to dry up, and I had to sometimes switch pens mid line. Now, I have had quite a bit of experience drawing with ink pens (only black of course), and have a few tricks to get the ink flowing again—no luck! I tried to remember the words of our instructor, going with the flow and using random colors. But I was having trouble going with the flow as some of my brand new pens were not flowing—only making deep grooves in the paper as a pressed down hard. It pissed me off. But eventually, I got over it and finished the three days of sketching cars. 

As I was struggling with the pens, I struggled with the idea that under normal, non-COVID-19, circumstances I would have done more than buy gel pens at the nearby office supply store for this project. I would have gone to Blick’s in Pasadena and purchased some proper pens with different colored cartridges and/or pots of ink. But this would not have been a quick “into the store and then out again” scenario. I would have wanted to linger and look at whatever pens they had, trying them out on the spot on the little pads of paper that are always around the pen and ink section of art stores. I’m sure you’ve read that CA is currently experiencing spikes in coronavirus and that makes me not want to hang out inside any kind of LA business for any length of time right now. Even though I realize I can buy the pen’s online, I would have wanted to try out a few before ordering. (I heard that the hair salon I go to in Pasadena has moved everything outside—sinks with hot and cold running water, chairs, hairdryers, mirrors etc. I can’t imagine me sitting outside for all the world to see me with 50 foils plastered to my head. In the past I have entertained a scenario that as the last foil is folded and tapped with a comb we have a major earthquake and I have to run out the door. Yikes!)

So, now the simple wishes of one CA artist takes on national, if not global, implications. I get that my wishes are not really needs that are particularly relevant or earth shattering right now. But I can hardly support a business, and/or local economy, if I just stop purchasing everything except food. Right? I imagine you have had to make similar decisions related to such “non-essential” purchases as well. But I can’t help thinking that such a change in my buying habits will affect the life and livelihood of the businesses that are deemed “non-essential.” That really isn’t fair, is it? Such business owners/employers have employees who would definitely think their jobs are essential to their livelihoods and families. So, what do I do? I guess I will try out a couple pens online and will consider getting my hair colored outside. I mean, how bad could it be to sit outside in front of God and everybody with 50 foils plastered to my head? If we had an earthquake I wouldn’t have to run outside, I’d already be there. Right? 

July 18, 2020

Blue hydrangea
Memories of hydrangea in my mother’s garden, 7/2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

There are a couple things I want to say about this week’s hydrangea botanical. First, for the composition I chose two stems with foliage and flower. the one in the background is complete and in full bloom, but the second stem is less mature, representing an earlier stage of blossoming. You can clearly see the green/white inner petals that are only beginning to change color, take shape and increase in size. Second, the fact that a hydrangea can be such a shade of blue immediately makes this particular flower interesting to me. I think that’s because there are so few things in nature that are truly blue. And if you look closely you will see that even something that appears to be so true blue actually has some hints of purple. Finally, do you think it’s an “old lady” flower? Would you plant one in your garden? A friend of a friend said they liked the rendering well enough, but that she would never have hydrangeas in her garden as they are just too “old-fashioned.” Hmm… I don’t have any in my garden right now, but would if I had a good spot for one. I like them because it was a favorite of my mother’s and that makes it old-fashioned in all the right ways for me. I have such wonderful memories of a couple magnificently huge blue hydrangeas in her Grass Valley garden. You walked between them as you went through a gate from the back garden to the front, or front to back of course. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible leaves of a hydrangea plant. I very intentionally made them an equal partner to the colorful petals of the hydrangea. If you have viewed any of my recent botanicals posted at One California Girl you may have noticed that the foliage for those renderings play only a supporting role for each flower. But for the hydrangea the large shiny thick and green leaves are definite costars of this showy shrub. Most hydrangeas are deciduous, which means they drop leaves and petals in the fall. I think that’s why the leaves are so lovely, they get to be new and fresh again every year just like the flowers.

The actual blossoms for this one are specific to a particularly healthy real life plant in my aunt’s garden in Long Beach. But her hydrangea flowers are pink. I found a stock photo of a blue one (Nikko blue) that reminded me of my mom’s and I tried to recreate the color from my memory with a little help from the picture. You may have heard that you can change the color of hydrangeas by adding something to the soil. Steve Bender (aka The Grumpy Gardener) of Southern Living says you can only change the flower color of Mountain and French hydrangeas. He says their flower color is all about the pH of the soil and if your soil is very acid (pH below 6) the petals will be blue. However, if the soil is more alkaline (pH above 7) the petals will be pink and sometimes red. And if the soil is neutral/slightly acid (pH between 6 and 7) the petals might be purple, or a combination of blue and pink on the same shrub. (I actually saw such a hydrangea on a SoCal neighborhood walk the other day.) Mr. Bender says that to make the soil more acid, add garden sulfur to the soil, then water it. And to make the soil more alkaline, add some lime and then add water. He said that if you are trying to change the color of the flowers you should be patient as it could take months to change and you might need to repeat applications several times for it to take. 

two larva
Monarch larva in my July 2020 garden

Update on the monarchs in my garden (see June 20, 2020)—

I’ve lost count of the number of monarch worms on my two asclepius plants. As you can see they are out there in abundance. But I am on a constant vigil to keep the wasps away from them. I always thought there was nothing that would bother monarchs because they are poisonous. However, I have seen a wasp bite one of my worms and kill it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I Googled my question regarding this phenomenon and it seems wasps will actually hunt the worms, then kill and eat them. Apparently they are not bothered by the toxins in the monarch’s body. When I read this I whipped into action and hung a wasp trap near one of the plants. (It has been out there a couple weeks now and not caught a single wasp.) I also read that only about 5% of monarch caterpillars actually make it to the chrysalis stage. Yikes! I decided to try to bump up their survival percentage in my garden and I now hunt for wasps. How do I do this? I frequently check the plants to either shoo them away with a squirt of water or swat them with my shoe. And believe it or not, I have killed quite a few. 

I recently noticed another wildlife addition to my garden—baby Western fence lizards. This is going on my third summer in this house and I remember noticing baby lizards last summer and the summer before. Western fence lizards are very common in SoCal. They breed in mid to late March and the females lay eggs 2 to 4 weeks after that. And from what I have read, the females can lay up to three clutches of eggs per year. They are so cute and tiny—tiny being the operative word. Summer before last one slipped into my kitchen and I almost stepped on it just as it ran under the oven. Not sure what happened to the little guy—I always hoped he, or she, slipped back outside and is living the high life in my garden right now.

This brings me to yet another recent critter that seems to have joined my summer family—a skunk, or skunks. The smell of skunk has wafted through my bedroom window at night on several occasions. In fact, one night it was so strong it almost made me physically sick, even with the window closed. I have also seen a skunk digging around under the bird feeder at night. She, or he, was probably looking for left over seed and/or night crawling bugs. I read they are omnivores, so such a food variety makes sense. I also read that they eat berries, small rodents and lizards. Did I just say LIZARDS?! So now what? How can I protect my baby lizards from rampaging skunks? I guess I won’t be hunting skunks at night. Don’t think shooing them away with a squirt of water or the swat of a shoe would be the right approach. In fact, I don’t think I will approach them at all. I guess I hope the  baby lizards have good hiding spots at night, I know when I’m licked!