May 30, 2020

strawberries in a teacup
Fresh strawberries in a beloved teacup, June 2001? (Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold-press illustration board)

Not exactly sure when I did this one, but I think it was 2001. I had planned to write a story to go with it and send it to a local San Luis Obispo magazine. It must have been around this time of year as that is when strawberries are in season, really in season. It sometimes seems strawberries are in season year round here in CA, but if you Google “When are strawberries in season?” you will get an answer that reads something like this: Strawberries are officially supposed to be in the grocery store around here from April through June. According to the Google info 10 million pint baskets of strawberries are shipped every day from CA during that time. It may or may not come as a surprise to you that lots for fruit and veg come from the golden state and there are almost 25,000 acres planted here. That translates to 83% of the strawberries grown in the US come from California. Some of you may think that everything grows here and some of you might be right. However, I have tried to grow them with only spotty success. I say spotty success because most of my berries I’ve grown have had spots, or maybe tiny holes would be a better description. That’s because the slugs love to eat them too. In an evening a whole row of gorgeous red ripe strawberries can be ruined by the slugs. And I don’t think you can just cut off the holes and gobble down the rest. It’s really hard to get past the fact that each little red gem is also covered with slime that doesn’t seem to wash off easily. Darn and yuck!

It’s funny that when talking about crops being harvested, you have to remember that for strawberries, someone has to pick them. The process of harvesting lots of crops here have been mechanized, but there is still a lot of humans that need to bend over and pick a fruit or veg and put it in a box or on a conveyor belt. For crops that are planted each year, the whole plant can be removed. But other crops, like strawberries, are not replanted each year and therefore someone has to bend down and carefully remove each one from a slim stem. And picking 25,000 acres of strawberries takes a lot of people bending down. People in the grocery store want each piece of fruit to look perfect—no blemishes and certainly on slug holes. It’s hard work. While looking around for information about strawberries grown here in CA I came across a May 3, 2013 Los Angeles Times story where a newspaper writer, Hector Becerra, picked strawberries and broccoli with the migrant workers who do this work. If you look up that archived story online you will get a sense of how the lovely strawberries we buy make it to the grocery store. All of this talk of harvesting fruits and veg here in CA has also got me wondering how well that is going right now with COVID-19 forcing people to stand at least 6 feet apart and wear a mask. So, of course I wanted to check that out and found another LA Times story (April 29, 2020), directly related to this. You might want to check that out to—“A family of strawberry growers had big dreams. Then came the pandemic.” It’s such a poignant and heartbreaking story of 3 generations of a family growing strawberries in Ventura County.

Looking back at the teacup filled with strawberries I am reminded of my son’s beloved Great Aunt Ruth. She gave me that sunflower teacup when my son was born. He was my sunflower baby and such a teacup was thoughtful on so many levels. Ruth was and is an avid gardener, and there have been many times I have walked amongst her giant sunflowers on her hill beside a huge walnut tree. Sunflowers were blooming when my son was born and I obnoxiously coveted all things “sunflower” —Ruth knew that! But the cup also reminded me of so many cups of tea that she and I have drunk together over the years. When I went to visit, before and after my son was born, she always had baked something quite yummy to eat and of course we always had hot tea for those occasions. That got me thinking about a cake I have made over the years that tastes pretty amazing with a hot cup of tea. (Recipe to follow.)

I found this recipe in a 2001 Martha Stewart Living Magazine. (I couldn’t find the actual month it was printed, but it was probably sometime that summer.) The original recipe called for rhubarb and blackberries, but I have made this countless times with just about every kind of fruit imaginable, except bananas. Usually I would make it when some fruit was just about to go bad and I didn’t want to waste it.

Snack Cake

(Makes one 9 inch round cake)

4 T unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the baking pan

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the baking pan

5 ounces (1 and 3/4 to 2 cups) of chopped fruit

1 cup plus one T of sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder 

pinch of salt

2 large eggs

1 tsp of vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9 inch in diameter springform cake pan (removable bottom) and set aside. Combine whatever fruit you like with 1/3 cup of sugar in a medium bowl, allow it to sit for 45 minutes or so, stirring it occasionally. Depending on the fruit, quite a bit of liquid may form around the fruit. (It’s a good idea to strain off all the liquid or it will make the cake soggy when you cook it.)
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Set that aside. Using a medium size bowl cream the butter with the 2/3 cup of sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat the mixture well after each egg is dropped in. Add the teaspoon of vanilla extract and beat to combine. Now add the flour mixture and and beat to combine that as well. Spoon the now finished cake batter into the prepared spring form pan and spread in flat.
  3. Strain off any juice that has formed with your fruit and sugar mixture (rhubarb and strawberries give off lots of liquid when you cook them, so this step is critical if you are adding them to your cake). Spoon the fruit directly onto the cake batter, then sprinkle the last tablespoon of sugar on the fruit and batter. 
  4. Place the cake in the oven on the rack second from the bottom and bake it until the cake is golden brown and the center is set. The original recipe says to cook it for an hour, but I take it out way before an hour has passed. I usually check it when it’s been in the oven 25 to 30 minutes. Once it’s cooked to your idea of perfection take it from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool slightly before releasing the collar around the base.

I like to eat this cake when it’s still slightly warm. In fact, last Thursday I made it with some strawberries that were just past their prime. It came out OK, but I should have left the sugared berries to drain a little longer before adding them to the cake batter. While cooking they released extra water and it was a little soggy. But no matter, I found a can of spray whipped cream that hadn’t quite reached its “sell by date” and squirted a healthy amount on the still warm cake. And of course I washed that all down with a hot cup of tea in my beloved Ruth’s sunflower teacup. Very nice!

May 23, 2020

South Arroyo
Desiderio Park, 5/16/2020 (Inktense pencils, Fude Fountain pen and ink on Canson Mix Media paper)

I have a friend who has been dying to take me to a place he goes running in the arroyo near the Rose Bowl. In recent months, before COVID-19 public places closures, he described running past many wonderful sketching spots in the Lower Arroyo Park area. He knew I would enjoy doing some plein air art there. Very recently his beloved arroyo trails have become another “soft open” spot that he can now return to. Of course all who go there must stay 6 feet away from each other and wear a mask. He told me that there were some pretty terrific displays of California and Matilija poppies (also known as the fried egg plant) in the lower arroyo. We made a plan to go there together last Saturday. We’d had a couple warm days and the CA poppies were starting to fade, but there were several wonderful stands of Matilija poppies. (I hope to do a botanical of that native CA flower pretty soon.) And some of the nearby hillsides, shaded by magnificent oaks, were blanketed with nasturtiums. 

Once we had seen the nasturtiums and Matilijia poppies he walked me to the area you see here. It’s part of the Desiderio Park and quite an unusual sight, actually. All of this is in Pasadena and the huge building in the background is the Richard H. Chambers 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Courthouse. And if you thought it looked like an old Spanish Colonial Revival style resort called the Vista del Arroyo Hotel and Bungalows you would be right! It was built in 1903 and my friend told me that in it’s early days midwestern tourists loved to stay there when visiting the area. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many such hotels built at the turn of the last century that are still around. And that would have been the case with this historic building if the federal government hadn’t come on the scene. It seems that during the Second World War it was turned into the McCornack General Hospital. After the war it was then used as a general-purpose federal government building. I guess it fell into some kind of disrepair and in 1985 it was restored and converted to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Courthouse. I couldn’t find any stories about how the federal government came into this lovely SoCal arroyo, but it’s nice to see that the old historic building had not been torn down, but rather recycled for a new purpose. 

But there is much more going in this sketch than an old hotel finding new life. You might ask, “What else could be so interesting?” I’ll tell you, it’s the very unassuming single story bungalows you see in foreground, and here is the story behind those structures. Not so long ago those homes weren’t there, but rather it was owned and home to the Desiderio Army Reserve Center. It had been built during WWII, but had closed in 2005. So, the question became, what should be done with an old government building once it had been emptied of personnel and what ever army stuff was inside. It would be nice to imagine that those structures would have been recycled just like the old hotel. (Actually from what I could see in some old photos, the buildings on site were not historic Spanish Revival architecture, but rather nondescript two story buildings surrounded by a lot of old and cracked asphalt.) At that point it wasn’t clear what the federal government would do with the 5.1 acres. However, the city of Pasadena acquired the property and in 2013 began planning what to do next. In the end the US Army, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), City of Pasadena and San Gabriel Habitat for Humanity raised the old army buildings and put up 9 affordable homes in its place. And the rest would be open spaces and trails for the Pasadena community to use. It is now called Desiderio Park. But the wonder of 9 Habitat for Humanity houses doesn’t end there as 3 of the courtyard bungalows are reserved for vets. Wow! Right? A story where everybody gets something wonderful. Now aren’t these tidy little affordable homes way more interesting and important than saving some old hotel?

CO St Bridge
Colorado Street Bridge (built in 1913)

There is one more image you need to see to get the full effect of Desiderio Park. You need to see the Colorado Street Bridge, it’s just to the left of the scene I sketched. It’s pretty monumental and I think it looks a lot like the aqueducts of Rome. As you might imagine many artists have painted this bridge over the years. And one of these days I plan to go back down there and try a sketch or two. 

But my quick landscape captured a rather perfect day for one CA girl. It was the perfect combination of some of the things I hold most dear here—Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, open spaces with wild flowers, oak trees, time spent with a wonderful CA friend (born in Chicago) with a couple of my beloved palm trees thrown in for good measure.

But maybe my perfect CA day was way more than spending time with a beloved friend in an amazing SoCal spot. Maybe the story was even bigger than CA itself. Maybe it was the realization that sometimes the stars and stripes align and the US Army, HUD, stuffy old Pasadena and Habitat for Humanity could create something pretty wonderful for someone. Now you might think that such a project didn’t really provide for that many people in need of affordable housing, and I thought about that. And then I thought about the Starfish Story. If you don’t know the Starfish Story, look it up. I think you’ll see what I mean. 

May 16, 2020

Mother's Day, 2020
Neighbor’s trees, Mother’s Day 2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and water soluble crayons on watercolor paper)

Enjoyed a nice spring day last Sunday afternoon. I sat on my front porch and did this random and ever so bushy watercolor of my “across  the street” neighbor’s trees. I was able to sit in the shade and take my time with mixing and remixing pots of color, waiting as long as I needed for the water to dry between layers and plenty of time between while to eat my lunch. On such a slow low 70s temperature day in the past I might have found myself at the Descanso Gardens. But of course that was not an option for me, or anyone, on that particular day. I have to say that even if the Descanso Gardens was open on a typical Mother’s Day I would not have gone over there—too many mom’s, grandma’s and strollers walking about for my level of comfort. I think I have always felt most comfortable at a socially appropriate distance from others. (So, what kind of mother am I anyway?) But I didn’t wallow in self pity because I wasn’t free to go where I wanted. For that matter I soon forgot that I shouldn’t be enjoying my personal porch zone and actually luxuriated in the shady confinement it provided. I wasn’t settling for second best at all. It was good.

But last Monday I got an email from the Descanso Gardens. It seems they would be opening again Saturday, May 16, 2020. It also seems they have quite a plan to help all of us safely visit the garden again. Even though you may or may not have ever been there I thought I would share with you just what they propose. Maybe you can imagine a garden near you that has been closed. Maybe they are considering similar rules for reopening. I have paraphrased what the email said here and I am wondering if what they are doing will be enough to keep us from spreading the virus to each other. Maybe the real question here is; Will people be OK with so much to think about before visiting a garden? Will they just follow the rules without complaining to the management? I need to digress here a bit as this is all sounding a lot like what is to become our New Normal if we are ever to leave our respective houses for fun outings. I’m not even sure the phrase New Normal isn’t some kind of oxymoron. Can something really be new and normal at the same time? I always thought being normal described something that had been around a while, not something brand new. Was there ever an Old Normal? I guess I also wonder if the definition of “keeping safe” has also taken on a New Normal meaning. When I was younger keeping safe meant something very tangible, like don’t take rides from strangers, look before you cross the street and don’t eat oysters in months without an “R.” 

OK, back to the Descanso’s grand opening. All in all it seems they have 5 major rules to help us stay safe and enjoy the space.

  1. Maintain 6 feet or more distance between everyone, and that includes staff and other visitors
  2. Wear a mask (for all staff and visitors).
  3. Bring your own water as all drinking fountains will be closed (maybe the water has been shut off).
  4. Purchase a ticket to enter before your visit or show your membership card to get in (2 months of membership have been added to each card carrying member)
  5. Descanso Gardens will be a cashless establishment.

Are you with me so far?

Then they elaborated further (my comments in parenthesis):

  • Hours have been extended—Open daily from 9am to 7pm. Members only from 8 to 9am (I’m a member, I like that.)
  • The entrance has been altered to help with social distancing. (I’m curious to see what that will look like…)
  • Hand sanitizing stations have been provided in the front courtyard.
  • All indoor spaces have been closed—no gift shop, art gallery or Boddy House will be open.
  • Restrooms will be cleaned every 30 minutes.
  • No special programs will be conducted until it is deemed safe to do so.
  • The Enchanted Railroad is closed for now.
  • There is no seating in the central courtyard. This should help with maintaining appropriate social distancing. (That’s a huge change as they have a large area with cafe tables, chairs and umbrellas bunched together. That will have been cleared out.) 
  • Wheelchair rental will not be available. If someone in your group requires a wheel chair you will need to bring one.
  • The Kitchen will be open for limited hours. You may purchase drinks or food. You may consume drinks in the garden, but must take the food home or to the picnic area outside the facility. (That’s actually a little weird as in the past they never allowed visitors anything but water when walking around. And I can’t really imagine drinking anything while wearing a mask, anyway. I guess you might be able to slip a very flexible straw under the mask if you get really parched…) 

Don’t get me wrong, I am willing to try anything they suggest or demand from me for the privilege to walk in the rose garden again. I do so love to plein air paint there. I wonder if that will be allowed right now. Of course I can’t imagine how long I could sit among the flowers with a mask on. I would be so tempted to lift my mask just so I could smell the roses. How about you?

May 16, 2020 update:

I didn’t go to the Descanso Gardens today, but I did see some short videos people at the garden have been posting today. Looks lovely, with no reports of a garden revolt.

Also, I shared this watercolor with a virtual sketching group last evening. We were supposed to draw human heads in different positions and at different angles. I didn’t do that. One person said my neighborhood landscape had great energy. I thought that an OK comment as it did have a bit of a scribble going on. But I wasn’t the only one who did not draw heads. One grandma has not been able to see her 3-year-old grand daughter for a while, so she has been recently drawing virtually with that youngest grandchild. She shared some cute cartoons they’d made together. I especially liked her rendering of a duck going shopping. And so it goes with the new normal I guess…


May 9, 2020

May birthday roses
May 2020 birthday roses (Inktense pencils and Opera watercolor on Canson Mix Media paper)

Here are a few preliminary sketches of roses I’m thinking of rendering as a botanical or two. (I’ve ordered the illustration board from Blick’s and waiting for it to arrive.) Sometimes I wonder how anyone, me included, could think they are remotely capable of improving on, or even maintaining, the beauty of such roses in the flesh. But I am always drawn to attempt imitating the colors of such lovely ephemeral things anyway. It is my experience that none of the colors from nature actually come from a tube or cake. (I just realized that I sometimes use Opera right from the tube. The top rose was drawn with several Intense pencil colors, as well as undiluted Opera watercolor. I guess I’m not really the color diva I think I am. Oh, well.) Even though I know I won’t actually create the colors of nature I do enjoy the challenge of experimenting with combinations of one color or another, always mindful to leave enough white paper showing to add a highlight or color effect that I am seeking. I’m very aware of the number of layers of pigment I plan to use. If I’m not careful sometimes a color looses its intensity and luster. And there have been many times that I’ve gone too far with a pot of watercolor and it looks kind of muddy. I just toss it out and start again, trying to remember where I should have stopped in the first place. For my botanicals on illustration board I speed up the initial color threads with Prismacolor colored pencils.

Anyway, last time I wrote about the diseases and critters that can ruin roses. But of course there are all kinds of vermin that can get into any garden and take it down whether you have roses or not. A while back I planted what I am calling my victory pickle garden and have had a bit of trouble with the bugs ever since. But instead of listing all the creepy crawling things who decimated two thirds of my cucumbers and dill I decided to describe the unsung online appropriately socially distanced heroes who have helped me along the way, turning all that buggy mayhem into a pretty good start to a summer vegetable garden. Go pickle plants and friends, go! 

My son has been making pickles and enjoys putting garlic in the brine with the cucumbers and dill. If this pickle garden was going to have all possible ingredients I knew there should be garlic and it should go in the ground first. I ordered that straight away. (I have actually already written about ordering garlic seed from Filaree Garlic Farm in Omak, WA. See the art of garlic and story, January 25, 2020.)  Filaree Garlic Farm also sells asparagus, potatoes, shallots and sweet potato slips. (I grew Yukon Gold potatoes in Grass Valley a number of years ago, and harvesting those spuds was a fun version of digging for gold. I discovered many plump potato nuggets in every shovelful of dirt. I also tried growing asparagus in my Grass Valley garden, but that didn’t turn out so well. My chickens ate all 7 spears down to the ground before I could chase them away.) Once the garlic arrived I tucked it into the prepared ground. About that same time I also got a small dill plant and two different kinds of dill seed from my local Ace Hardware Store. I soon planted the plant and dug in the dill seed (Ferry-Morse Bouquet and Long Island Mammoth). Then I turned over the soil for the tomatoes and cucumbers. It was about this time that we were to stay home and if we were to go out we were to keep 6 feet away from everyone. I called my local Armstrong Garden Center and ordered 3 different kinds of tomatoes and 2 kinds of cucumbers (one for picking and one for salads—Lemon Cucumbers). They were delivered to my door the very next day. I put the tomatoes in right away. But I waited a bit to be sure the small cuke plants had hardened off before putting them into the ground. During that time I ordered online a cucumber and squash A-Frame support from Gardener’s Supply Co (in Burlington Vermont). It’s a metal lattice frame that folds into a triangle and a cucumber plant can then grow vertically up the sides. I don’t have a lot of room in my garden and thought this a good solution for a plant that needs some space to spread out. Once that arrived, I set it up and planted all the cucumbers. We had a fair amount of rain then and it seemed to suit everything in the garden, and everything started to increase in size ever so slightly. But once the temperatures warmed and the sun peeked from behind the clouds I noticed several of the cucumbers were looking puny and maybe a little dried out. I thought they were getting too much sun (that doesn’t seem like a bright idea now, but it seemed right at the time). I put out an umbrella. After a day or two of shade it was clear that wasn’t working. By then it was making sense to me that these plant needed the sun to grow, right? I finally realized, too late I might add, that some creepy crawly critters were eating the cucumbers and tiny dill seedlings. I decided I needed to get some cucumber seeds and start again. But I had heard that lots of people were planting gardens and vegetable seeds were becoming scarce. I looked online at veggie seeds available at Ace Hardware and there were no seeds of any kind to be seen. I took a chance and called my local Ace Hardware and a person there went to check to see if they had any pickling cucumber seeds. They had three kinds—(Ferry-Morse Sumter, Cucumber Slicer and American Seed National Pickling Cucumbers). I was saved and asked her to set these aside, which she gladly did for me. Within the hour I donned my mask and sun hat and walked there to get the savior pickle seeds and some diatomaceous Earth to take care of the crawling bugs. So, do you think I was satisfied? Was my garden now complete? Of course not. I realized I wanted a basil plant, even though it was not to be part of the pickle project. I knew it would be more of a friend of the pickles like the tomatoes. For this one I splurged a little and ordered an ‘Italian Large Leaf’ basil from the Grower’s Exchange in Sandston Virginia. As of Saturday, May 9, 2020, I can report that the victory pickle garden and friends is looking great. So, now we wait for the actual fruit.

If you are not a real gardener at heart, you probably stopped reading this garden tale by the second paragraph. But I thought it important to share all the businesses who are still out there, waiting to help us with a dream garden or whatever you are dreaming about right now. And they don’t have to be from CA to please this CA girl. Thank you!

May 2, 2020

Castilleja (CA native wildflower) botanical, 1991 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

For whatever reason, I seem to be on a botanical roll at the moment. I recently shared an old  “botanical-like” rendering of a Melastome from the Cloud Forest of the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. Last week’s offering was a recent monk’s hood compilation from the internet and this week’s botanical is an old rendering of a California wildflower from an Atascadero hillside I explored long ago. 

It all started when my son asked me to do a series of poisonous plant botanicals. His positive enthusiasm for such a series of works was matched with my positive enthusiasm for not wanting to engage in such a project. He wanted me to start with monk’s hood and then proceed to other delightfully deadly, but beautiful, flowers. He had also measured a part of his forearm for a monk’s hood tattoo and given me those dimensions for my sketch. So, yeah, not that enthused. Find your own art, right? Anyway, as time went on he told me he wasn’t really going to get that tattoo and my interest in what he might be considering perked up considerably. (Not the tattoo, but the flower.) Then I made a sketch the size he wanted for his finished botanical and a week or so later I began grudgingly looking for a usable sheet of illustration board in those dimensions. I didn’t think I had any larger pieces anymore and it’s not something I can just run down to an art store and buy anymore. It’s just not that common or easy to find. Years ago local hometown art stores were common and would likely carry all Strathmore papers as a 30 by 40 inch sheet. All you had to do was look through stacks and stacks of paper to find whatever you wanted. I was always looking through such stacks in such stores. You used to be able to find everything from rabbit skin glue, that was used by Renaissance painters as sizing for their canvases, all the way to synthetic brushes of every size, shape, price and/or proposed function. There just aren’t many independently owned brick and mortar art stores you can dig through anymore. (It feels like it’s the same for independently owned bookstores too. Right?) The larger art store players that are around today seem to have changed a bit too. I used to order all kinds of materials from Daniel Smith by mail, including the Strathmore illustration board I now seek. Just a few weeks ago I looked to see if I could order paper online from them, but found they only carry paint now. Daniel Smith used to have a large catalog that was filled with every imaginable art material. They even had rabbit skin glue listed in the catalog. Oh well! Thank goodness I can order what I want from Blick’s online.

So, once I knew I had what I needed to create a fresh batch of botanicals I asked my son what he wanted, hoping that none of the plant material he was thinking of had any connection to a poison, the word “poison,” or “implied poison.” He said he liked a whole host of flowers that I love, like roses, orchids and hydrangea. Yes! All I was missing for this new, and now exciting, botanical adventure was a trip to the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but it’s spring and you might imagine that everything is in bloom in SoCal! And I’m also sure I don’t need to remind you that the Descanso is closed right now. Such a disappointment.

Roses aren’t really as common as you might think. They do take a little care and are susceptible to a couple common pests that can just decimate them. Gophers love roses, and not in a good way. A friend from Paso Robles told me of a rose garden that had been planted by her husband for their anniversary. How romantic, right? I guess they lasted only a couple years. It seems that one night her 8 mature rose bushes were nibbled completely off at the base, all gone in a single night. Roses are also susceptible to aphids, mildew and something called black spot (no pirates here…). If you live where there are deer, they can be a huge problem for your roses as well, even if you have them in pots right up against the house. Another Paso friend told me deer would come that close to eat her roses. She said it sounded like someone was walking around in high heals in the dark on the deck.

But I can’t go to my beloved Descanso Gardens to look at roses. What should I do? Thank goodness I remembered various gardens in Glendale where I have seen spring roses in the past. There are a couple houses in nearby neighborhoods that immediately sprang to mind. One corner house has a most amazing display of about 20 identical orange blossomed roses (variety unknown), with just as many clumps of identical ornamental grasses (this variety also unknown). This time of year it’s quite a sight of texture and color with masses of spiky golden puffs of soft grasses beside a sea of velvety orange rose blossoms. Crazy, but the house is quite unforgettable really. So, the other day I went on a rose adventure, but went past this garden and headed straight to a nearby friend’s Glendale garden. He had told me that his roses were looking quite spectacular. It was kind of a funny moment when I got into his backyard as he stayed in the house, at an appropriate social distance. We just smiled and waved to each other through the back windows. I took pictures of some absolutely stunning roses that day, and they included the following: Marmalade Skies, McCartney Rose (named for Paul McCartney), Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sterling Silver. Each flower also had such an amazing scent. I don’t know which one my son would like me to turn into a botanical, but I would be happy to render any of the roses I saw and smelled the other day. Stay tuned. 

Descanso Gardens update

You can still visit their website

For a real spring treat, go to the “Now Blooming” section and click on the “bloom calendar.” There you will find what blooms in the garden by the month. And if you do look there you will see that roses are first on the list of May flowers. Scroll down below the list and there are some lovely shots of roses and other spring lovelies. Not sure who took the photos, but imagine there must be gardeners about the place, even now. But among the photos are a couple videos of goslings wandering carefree where ever they please as there is no humans to bother them. Whoever took the short videos of the goslings also added some music—pretty cute. Somehow it’s nice to know that the birds are enjoying the Descanso Gardens right now and they could probably care less about the roses in bloom. 

And Happy Birthday Megan!

April 25, 2020

monk's hood botanical
Monk’s hood, April 2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

I have been threatening to complete and post this particular botanical for a few weeks now. Here it is. I guess I want to say something right up front about the subject matter I chose to render, aside from the fact that it is a poisonous plant. Normally, all the images you see at One California Girl have come from my actual sitting and looking at a particular view or art that I created from a photo I took of said view. As I do not have any poisonous plants in my garden, that I know of anyway, I painted this from a compilation of several photos and an actual old botanical that I found online. I wanted to state for the record that I did not directly copy anyone’s work. Directly copying someone’s photo, art or written work is not OK. If you are an artist, photographer or writer, you know how important it is that someone not copy your work, and then put his or her name on it as their own, right? It’s called plagiarism. And it is doubly bad, unethical and probably worthy of some kind of lawsuit if someone copies your work and then sells it, right again? I have no intention of selling this.

As I said, I don’t have any poisonous plants in my yard. I once got some Lily of Valley plants as a “pass along plant” when we lived in Grass Valley. I didn’t know it was poisonous when I tucked it into the ground back then. And it does kind of make me cringe when I think that we also had a dog at the time. But she didn’t seem very interested in any of my plants. She was more excited about digging holes, chasing water as it spurted from a sprinkler or hose and eyeing the chickens through cracks in the wooden gate. Foxglove, or digitalis, is quite pretty, but quite poisonous to dogs, cats and humans. Over the years I have thought of putting some in a shady spot in my garden, but knew enough not to really consider it when we had dogs. At least I knew better with that one! My son had asked me to do a botanical of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), but I have declined. It’s actually kind a sweet looking plant and part of the carrot family. (That makes it seem almost palatable, right?) If you look for botanicals of poison hemlock online, you will see some really lovely renderings of the plant as it looks in its natural habit, with close up views of seeds, roots, flowers and stems. Looking at these very detailed paintings made me realize how much poison hemlock looks like a favorite medicinal wildflower that I have propagated and let reseed in numerous gardens over the years. It’s called Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carrot). To see if there was any connection between the two, other than the fact that the word “carrot” can be used to describe each plant, I went looking for specific information on Queen Anne’s Lace. And sure enough I found a great source of all things you would ever want to know about medicinal plants at the Ohio Northern University Herb Garden ( web page. It appears that they have Queen Anne’s lace in their Medicinal Sundial Garden. I also did a little digging to see if anyone besides me saw the need to be able to tell the two apart. This is because Queen Anne’s Lace can be used as a diuretic, a cure for indigestion, and form of birth control, and Poison Hemlock would be considered deadly if ingested. (I did kind of wonder about someone making Queen Anne’s Lace tea from the roots as birth control, right? But I digress.) Anyway, I guess the greatest difference between the two is to be observed when looking at the stem of each plant. Queen Anne’s Lace has hairy looking green stems and Poison Hemlock has no hairs, but instead small purple blotches. You know, if you look at botanicals of Queen Anne’s Lace you sure don’t see the promised hairs on the stems, but you do see the purple blotches on the Poison Hemlock. I bet you can guess the moral of this story…

Making your own tracing paper

When considering making your own botanical it is important to first do a detailed sketch. And once you have gotten the lines and flourishes just where you want them on plain old drawing paper, you don’t want to have to redraw it again on good paper. That’s when I dig out my drafting tape and homemade tracing paper. Place the tracing paper between the good paper (inked side down) and the sketch. Use a little drafting tape to hold everything in place. Take a sharp hard lead pencil (H or BH) and redraw your lines directly on the sketch. (I sometimes use a red pencil so I can make sure I don’t miss any lines.) Once you’ve retraced every line remove the sketch and tracing paper and an exact copy of your plant will appear on the good paper as if by magic. But when I do a botanical I do a couple more things before I’m ready to start adding color. I take the same hard pencil I just used and lightly trace over those lines directly on the good paper. Finally, I take a kneadable eraser and gently dap at every line—leaving a pretty crisp looking sketch made of light fine lines. Ahh…

I guess you can buy tracing paper at an art store, but you can also make it very easily. I wouldn’t have even thought about making tracing paper if I hadn’t needed to make some for this botanical. I have a sheet that I made over 30 years ago, and I have made countless transfers with it. I even tried to use it for this botanical, but the transferred lines were just too light. It was time to make another. Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a sheet of 9 by 12 or 11 by 14 sheet of plain tracing paper.
  2. Hold a soft leaded pencil (I used a 6B) at an angle so you can use the side of the graphite, not the point.
  3. Scribble in long strokes across the paper leaving about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch frame around the edge uncovered. But the paper should be pretty dark with graphite.
  4. Now, you can stop right here and use it to transfer your sketches to good paper. The graphite is pretty loose and can come off easily and for me, it’s just too easy to add random smudges everywhere at this point. I do one more thing to help with that.
  5. I coat the graphite with a light layer of a solvent with a cotton ball. Be sure to find a well ventilated spot to do this.
  6. Let it dry and it should be good for 30 years of transferring bliss. 
  7. Oh, there really is one more thing that you need to do. You need to find a good place to store it, so it will be at the ready anytime you need it. My first tracing paper has been in the same sketch pad, between the same two pages, since I made it. Now that I have a new sheet, I have put it in a new sketchpad and have put that in a special drawer. I have plans to do more non-poisonous plant botanicals now. I hope I remember where I put the tracing paper…

I did remember that today is your birthday, Dad. Happy Birthday! I miss you every day.

April 18, 2020

Melastome in the Cloud Forest of the Strybing Arboretum, Golden Gate Park, 1993 (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

It took me until Wednesday to figure out the art I wanted to share this week. That’s pretty unusual for me. I usually have an art idea in mind the Sunday before, and once I have that visual in mind a story of something “California” somehow takes shape. Or I am reminded of the technique that went into the piece and plan to write about that over the week. But that’s not what happened this time and my muddle headedness started last Saturday when I thought I would do a daily sketch of the same thing just like last week—but no more mugs holding the desk detritus of my somewhat boring life. So, I went outside to look for a muse that would amuse me. Oh, yeah, I can’t leave my yard. There is a lovely little spot on my front porch that is covered and from there I can see a view of some lovely mature trees across the street, with rolling green mountains behind that. I can also see a very suspicious looking citrus tree from here. How can a tree be suspicious? I could swear that every orange on that tree has been hanging there since I moved into my house over three years ago.  The tree has looked the same every season of those years. Is that possible? That seemed to amuse me and I thought this would be good. That was until it started to rain again and the colors across the street took on a kind of wet and blurry look. I lost interest. 

By now it’s Monday and I still haven’t come up with anything. My son had asked me to do a botanical of monk’s hood and I thought of working on that everyday this week—writing each day about a very specific technique I use for such botanicals. (I used this exact technique for the above Melastome.) I had already done a pen and ink of the poisonous plant and got busy transferring it to a piece of my beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board. Creating such a botanical, for me, is quite a process, taking lots of time. This is because it’s a kind of layering of color, first Prismacolor colored pencils to set the tone by adding the deepest shadows, then the mixing of a beautiful color that will go on top of that. And the watercolor colors are quite diluted as there will many layers added to make lovely saturated patches of color. First colored pencil, then watercolor, colored pencil, then watercolor…until I get the overall effect I want. This can take a long time as you need to wait for each pass of watercolor to dry before adding the next layer of paint and/or pencil. And if you have ever worked with watercolors and don’t let an under color dry, that under color can be lifted off when you add the next color. Anyway, I was going to document what the piece looked like each day, showing how the color changed and intensified with each layer. But even this seemed diluted and it wouldn’t make an interesting story because photos of all the stages might be dull and uninteresting until I got to the final piece. (Botanical renderings are not everyone’s cup of tea. And you may be one who briefly enjoys a realistic rendering of a plant in the last stage, but find all the steps to making it very dull.) I continued with the poisonous botanical, but realized there wasn’t much more to say about it. By Wednesday I was still up in the air with an art idea when I remembered this botanical. When I looked at it again that day I was transported to the Cloud Forest of Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. This is where the particular melastome you see here was growing in the early 90’s. This plant, and all the other plants in the Melastomataceae family, became my muse for the rest of the week. (I’m sorry this image is not very clear as it is a scan of a photo copy. I donated the original many years ago to a silent auction to raise funds for art and science programs that benefited my son’s school district, Grass Valley School District.)

There is one specific melastome that seems to do well in CA even though none of the plants in the family are native, and that is the “Princess Plant.” I’ve seen them mostly in gardens in the cooler climates of north CA, especially Berkeley, but I have also seen them in coastal SoCal neighborhoods like Belmont Shore. If you Google “Princess Plant” and look for a close up of the flower you will see my Melastome except in the most luscious shade of violet with soft and fuzzy leaves. Botanists would call this a very sexy plant.

pen and ink monk's hood

I promise I will share the monk’s hood botanical when it is complete. But, OMG, my son is liking the idea of such a botanical that he wants a whole collection of poisonous flower botanicals. He thinks the blossoms of poison hemlock (conium maculatum) quite lovely and he asked if maybe I could do a painting of foxglove (digitalis). I told him I would see how I felt when I finished the monk’s hood (aconitum). Stay tuned.

April 11, 2020

mug, day 1 and 2
April 4, day 1 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (graphite on drawing paper) April 5, day 2 of two-week challenge. Back of mug filled with desk materials plus battery powered pencil sharpener. (graphite, Fude fountain pen on drawing paper)

Last Friday one of my sketching groups had a virtual meeting. That was great! We decided to sketch the same object(s) or scene in or around our house everyday for two weeks, posting the art daily. If you think it might be boring to see the same items day after day, you might want to skip this week’s art and story and I’ll see you next week. Even though I am supposed to be doing the same items the week after that I can’t imagine I will actually post more renderings of the same mug with office items. 

Anyway, I actually did some journaling right on the page of art, not really sure why. I think it’s because I noticed that other artists I met with on the first Friday of the month had done that. I think I will add words to he page if I feel like it, we’ll see as the week goes on.

mug, day 3 and 4
April 6, day 3 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials with houseplant in a basket (Inktense pencil–with water added, Fude fountain pen on Canson Mix Media paper) April 7, day 4 of two-week challenge. Mug filled with desk materials. (watercolor on watercolor paper)

On April 6 I set up my tunes and listened to Love Scenes (Diana Krall—1997). Lots of great old-time ballads like, “All or Nothing at All,” “Peel Me a Grape,” “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” and “Garden in the Rain.” I’m not sure my listening to the music or lyrics had any influence to this marathon of work, but it was a joy to listen to nonetheless. (My dad once told me that his mom—my grandmother—liked the song Garden in the Rain.) 

On the 7th I listened to Kinda Blue (Miles Davis—1959) and Unplugged (Eric Clapton—1992). There was the tiniest bit of sunshine today, but otherwise it’s been a rainy week.

mug, day 5
April 8, day 5 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (wax crayon on toned paper)

OK, I think I have almost had enough of this mug. How about you? I mean, I guess it’s interesting to lay them end to end and see how each one is the same and how each one is different, but that takes about 20 seconds and then “ho hum.” Right? I have ideas for two more and then I will need to do a week of something else, like maybe something outside for a change. At the first blush of the challenge I was excited to use things in the mug and then maybe put them back in a slightly different place. For example, I used the purple scissors in the first couple sketches and realized they weren’t very sharp and replaced them with a taller purple pair of scissors (they were not really much better…) I also use my pencils a fair amount throughout the day and have sharpened them. Maybe they look a bit shorter? In one of the drawings I noted that the cover was coming off the book, and journaled about it. This morning I used the blue pen to write a check, placing it in a different place all together. OMG? How bored am I? Continuously looking at the same mug over and over for the better part of a week reminds me, once again, that I am staying home and inside because of COVID-19. And it’s been a particularly rainy week, so I am doubly reminded of a reason to stay inside. (You also many be wondering about the green dotted background for each photo. That is the surface of my ironing board. I used it as a surface to lay fabric I used to make cloth masks this week as well.)

What are YOU doing to keep from going mad? Today my son made churros. Why did he do that, you might ask? It seems that Disneyland posted the recipe they use for the churros they serve at the park. And because no one can go there, maybe we’re all supposed to make them, nibble them with our eyes closed, imagining we are walking around somewhere filled with people and noise. Hmm…

mug, day 6
April 9, day 6 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (deep indigo Inktense pencil and water on watercolor paper.)
mug, day 7
April 10, day 7 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (Tuscan red Prismacolor pencil and cadmium red, light watercolor on other side of day 6 watercolor paper)
day 6 and 7, part 2
Day 7 and Day 6 combo for two-week challenge.
day 6 and 7, part 1
Day 6 and Day 7 combo for two-week challenge.

These last two may or may not very clever, but it’s what I came up with for my last two images of the same tired mug filled with my desk stuff. I don’t know, I guess I was thinking of a Dutch door—you know, a door that has a bottom and top part. I’ve never lived in a house with such a Dutch door. I have never really wanted one because there is no way to keep out the flies and/or mosquitoes. Maybe it’s interesting that I was listening to Andre Previn’s CD After Hours was playing when I sketched and painted day 7. (My dad loved that CD.) Oh, and one final bit of interest for these two tiny vignettes? The day 7 version is the back of the mug. Ooooo. OK, I’m done.

Note about churros:

You have to eat them warm and just from the fryer. Day old and cold is not so great, even if you try dipping it in chocolate. Until next time…

April 4, 2020

Vetch on HIway 46
Vetch on fields and hillsides of Highway 46, early 2000s (oil on birch panel)

I went for a quick drive on Wednesday afternoon through nearby neighborhoods that I love to visit. While driving along I realized I had made one other trip in the car only one other time in the past 14 plus days. And that trip had been to get groceries. So, this venture took on special meaning as I looked upon gardens I have not seen since spring had arrived. And of course spring’s “springiness” was out on display whether or not I had been out there recently to see it. It was lovely. I was taken by surprise, as I am every spring in CA, with the bright patches of poppies and lupines on display in all kinds of random untamed spots right now. Over the 3 plus years I have been posting art and words on One California Girl, I have sketched and written about both of these native wildflowers. So, the art you are looking at now is another favorite native wildflower that will be coming on soon in the golden state. It generally blooms just as the lupines are fading and it has a rather unfortunate name I think—it’s called vetch. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this is a painting of fields and hillsides of vetch—common name “hairy vetch.” Close up it doesn’t look like much. The flowers are a kind of cascade of tiny lavender colored blossom dots, and if you squint your eyes I guess the leaves and stems look a little hairy. But in this early 2000 Paso landscape I saw that day, the fields and hills looked the pink color you see here. No foolin’ Looking back on that lovely spring day I remember the sky was really this bright blue. It’s as though the amazing spring light actually changed the color of the flowers to pink. Or maybe it just played a trick on my eyes and mind, creating this a spectacular sight. 

I don’t know if there is such a sight along Highway 46 this year, as opulent  wildflower displays are often the result of the perfect amount of rainfall at the perfect time of the spring season. But there may not be much in the way of open fields at that spot anymore as there were vineyards to the right at that time. Maybe they have filled in with grapes since then. I’m not one to really lament such a change as it’s really true that one person’s flowers are another person’s weed patch. But as I have said, with regards to such changes in the Paso Robles wine country, I am so glad I was there to see this sight. And of course I am so glad I painted it.

This one I did from a photo I took as in the early 2000s. I was the single mom of a young child back then and didn’t have time to sit for any extended period of time and paint plein air. Besides, the fence surrounding that field was pretty close to the asphalt and cars have always whizzed up and down that road and I’m not really sure that would have been a safe place to sit then or now. I remember I was glad to get the couple dozen photos I took of the area at the time.

I did several oil paintings on birch panels during this time. If you are interested I have written about underpainting and general painting techniques on such a surface in a couple previous posts. (see January 19, 2019 and August 12, 2017) I will say that it’s kind of cool to try different pigment applications on such a hard surface. I remember really scrubbing the blue pigment over a raucous pink/red under color to get a smooth surface for the sky. But then I applied blobs of paint that sit proud on the wood and I think that really worked for the blossoms in the foreground. I have to add that the colors in the actual piece were much brighter than you see here as this is a scan of a photo copy of the original. And a scan of a photocopy is never good, yes? But I really never thought I would be sharing this image again and just made a photocopy for me. This would have been easy to scan…but no matter. (The original sold almost immediately when I put it up on the wall of a nearby tasting room, so there was no chance of remembering to do that.) At the time I was also doing larger landscape canvases and actually had hired a professional photographer to take pictures of those pieces. No use worrying about all that past painting stuff…spring is here. And I can only hope that some farmer/rancher somewhere in California will have a glorious spring field or two of “hairy vetch.” (Why does saying that make me laugh?) 

Wasn’t yesterday the first Friday of the month? Did I go to the Norton Simon?

For the first time since I moved to SoCal there would be no sketching time at the Norton Simon Museum the first Friday of the month. And you probably have guessed that the Norton Simon is closed because I don’t think social distancing can be achieved in an art gallery. At the beginning of the week our fearless leader suggested we have a virtual meeting, discussing how we might continue our group sketching in a “non-contact” way. Actually, I thought it would be fun to just get together virtually, with a favorite glass of wine in hand, and discuss that. Maybe even do quick sketches of each other and see how that all looked as we each finished our first or second glass of wine. Hmmm…

But this is what happened. There were at least a dozen of my sketching buddies who appeared virtually on my screen last night, and several had a glass of wine in hand. (One woman texted her husband, who was in the next room, to bring her a glass of wine. Pretty funny…) Our leader was a perfect host inviting each of us to share how we were doing with our collective confinement in our homes, and maybe share some art we had done in the past weeks. She was so gracious, letting each of us ramble on if we needed to. I shared that I had been doing lots of art and had even challenged myself to sketch everyday for two weeks. There were others who had been sketching as well—drawing things just outside the window, or whatever was laying around in the kitchen. A number of sketchers had been participating in online sketching classes. One member is an art teacher at a local art school and she had just finished teaching online when we gathered together. In fact, one sketcher did quick sketches of each of us in our “Brady Bunch” style face and upper body arrangement. (She posted that a little later in the evening.) But there were several people who said that they were too overwhelmed with what was going with the pandemic and couldn’t paint or sketch anything at all. You could tell that they were energized to see us and I think we all felt good about making this contact. In fact, we agreed to do this again in two weeks. And we now have a StayAtHome sketch challenge that we are to draw the same thing we can see inside our house or outside through a window for the next two weeks. I have a mug of pencils that sits on my desk. I think I might try to do that. And if a series of pencils in a cup look like anything interesting I will post what I have drawn next time. So, until next time…

Oh, and is there anyone out there making masks? I found a pattern from a NY Times story online. OMG, it took me all morning to make one. Well, I guess I have time to figure that out…

March 28, 2020

DG, day 7
Garden Vista at the Descanso Garden, day 7, 3/21 (Derwent colored pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 7, Saturday, 3/21

Last Saturday I went to the Descanso Gardens and walked among the tulips. I took pictures of tulips and lilacs, as well as a picture of a glen for gathering that might be a place for a leprechaun, and vistas from benches that might give me a respite from worry and wondering if I could imagine myself sitting there, staring off into the distance. The piece of art you are looking at here is exactly one of those spots. It’s where I would rather be sitting today instead of sitting inside at home. (It is also day 7 of my two week self-inflicted art at home challenge.) Of course I am not the only one at home today, it just feels like it. I imagine a caption for this one that could be very literal and has something of a cliche about it. That might go something like, “Looking off into the future and wondering what is ahead.” Or it might be, “How will my SoCal world change?” And finally, my favorite right now is, “It’s always darkest before the bottom falls out.”

Then I got to thinking about my literal interpretations and wishes for our lives and cliches seem like a kind of survival mechanism—the only way to try to make sense of things. I’m no philosopher, but I’ve always been interested in philosophy. (My dad was a big fan of Plato.) So, for all you geeks like me out there, here is a suggestion that might help. I recently watched a great Netflix movie called “Genius of the Ancient World.” It’s all about the lives and teachings of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius, and presented by the historian, Bettany Hughes. It was amazing! Check it out.

hummingbird, day 9
Front porch hummingbird, day 9 (ink and watercolor on watercolor paper)

Day 8, Sunday, 3/22 (art of pen and ink of hummingbird at the nectar feeder outside my kitchen window) 

Day 9, Monday, 3/23

So, this is part 2 of my Sunday sketch. The sky Sunday morning was really that amazing blue, and the puffy clouds really looked that white. In previous posts I have described the lovely birds outside my kitchen window. Doing this watercolor got me away from my imaginings of the Descanso Gardens and the world outside and brought me just outside my own window. I love the idea that the birds just come and go all around, unaware of COVID-19 and/or their own mortality. In fact, yesterday I very wisely texted something about birds to a dear friend. I said, “They don’t seem to notice, or care about, what’s going on. Of course they are the descendants of dinosaurs, so they are in way better shape than the rest of us.” Amen to livin’ like a bird.

Geranium, day 11
Front porch geranium, part 2, March 25, day 11 (Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 10, Tuesday, 3/24, Geranium on my front porch (Inktense pencil only)

Day 11, Wed, 3/25

Today was a mixed bag of being one California girl on a rainy day during self-quarantine. 

1. I called my nearby nursery yesterday and ordered some summer garden plants. This afternoon I received my order— three specific tomatoes (brandywine, early girl, and better boy) and two 6 packs of cucumbers (pickling and lemon). The plants were delivered to my door by a lovely lady from a company called Roadie. What a wonderful vision—something to put in the ground that will grow and provide vegetables later in the summer. (It’s nice to imagine a “later” that I want to live in…) The plants were also nice to see as they were my dad’s favorite tomatoes, and I remember planting those very varieties in many of our yearly vegetable gardens. 

2. I made beans for dinner.

3. As the sun was heading way to the west it was shining bright and all around there were dark clouds, but no rain. Then it began to rain and then hail—all the while the sun backlit the whole scene. I went outside and ran around with my umbrella. When I Iooked over my house towards the San Gabriel Mountains I saw a complete double rainbow. Wow!! What a wonderful water blessing for my new seedlings. And Happy Birthday mom!

Rusty in the garden, day 14
Rusty in the back garden, with garlic and dill in the background, part 2, March 28, day 14 (Ink and Inktense pencil, sprayed with water, on Canson Mix Media paper)

Day 12, Thursday, 3/26, (art sketch/pen and ink of monk’s hood)

Yup! You read that one correctly…Hoping to do a “full on botanical,” as requested by my son…

Day 13, Friday, 3/27 (pen and ink of Rusty, our neighborhood cat, in the back garden.)

Day 14, Sat, 3/28 (Inktense pencil and water of Rusty the cat)

And this ends my 14 day self-inflicted art quarantine. I don’t know what kind of art will inspire me for my first April 2020 post. But I think this image is perfect for me right now—life somehow going on with the hope of a CA summer garden of vegetables. Take care and be safe!