Just finished this oil on canvas the other day, or I guess I should say that I think it’s finished. For now, I have no plans to change or add anything to this painting. The caption captures the subject matter pretty well, except to say that I added a tiny, yet “cheeky,” spring coast live oak on the left. And just like that, I have shared 3 of 4 seasons in a beloved CA oak woodland.
But for now, I think this might be my last post here at One CA Girl central. I’m not done drawing or painting, but not sure I have much more to share here. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my art and California stories for quite some time.
If you’ve been following One CA Girl for a year, this ginkgo tree may look familiar. This is because I also did an oil pastel of this exact tree almost one year ago to the day. (See January 1, 2021). But when I sat in the potager garden a couple weeks ago, I was taken by a slight terra cotta back color I might use to make this lovely golden yellow be up standing for this year’s New Year’s image. I think the slight lime green of the leaves also somehow drove me to use my terra cotta pastel paper as an under color for this one.
When I was a young girl, I remember several pyracantha shrubs in our Santa Clara backyard. Our family was the first owner of that tract house and my mom planted several along a side fence. Then, as now, I really think they are a kind of funny, thorny and yes, stinky plant. But if you mind the thorns and are far enough away, they are pretty nice to look at year round. I looked them up in my Sunset Western Garden book and found that pyracantha can grow in a variety of zones, depending on the species. I also read that they look best if they are allowed to grow naturally and that seems a good idea as they have needle-like thorns. I also like it when a plant can grow the way it seems natural and not trimmed into submission by a misguided gardener. It also seems they will tolerate most soils, but should not be over watered. They are evergreen and have small bright green oval shaped leaves. In the spring pyracantha shrubs are covered with clusters of tiny, cream colored flowers. You might think the flowers would smell nice, but they don’t. I don’t think they smell good at all. However, the bees love the flowers and hover around them until tiny orange/red berries form on the plants in late summer. Guess what, the berries are just as stinky as the flowers. You are probably wondering why anyone would plant such a bush. As I said, it’s a really pretty shrub—shiny green leaves year round, with sweet looking white flowers and then bright orange/red berries from later summer through the fall. If you’re lucky you’ll have birds come to eat the berries—a definite reason in favor of having one in your yard. As a girl I remember looking out our back window at the robins that came to eat the berries every fall. But this was always best done at a distance. For starters, birds really won’t come near if you are around, making any kind of noise. Also, swarms of robins drop lots of poop as they gorge on the berries—another reason to watch at a distance. Finally, probably the funniest and most curious aspect of pyracantha berries is the fact that as they sit on the stems the interior of each one begins to ferment. Maybe it’s hard to imagine robins getting “tipsy,” but they do. Soon they seem to almost bump into each other as they fly in and out of the plant, with no regard to his or her drunk behavior.
I don’t have any pyracantha in my SoCal garden, but as I sat to sketch this one at the Descanso Gardens the other day I wondered if I would see a robin. Sure enough, as that thought passed through my mind, one showed up as if on cue. I quickly grabbed a black pen and captured the bird as he quickly ate a berry or 10.
We’ve had some blessed rain the past couple days and I worry about this monarch butterfly. (Last Sunday I spied her/him visiting a milkweed plant I have in my back garden.) But I’m hopeful that if there is one here, there must be many others. Besides, we are in such desperate need of rain, I’m sure the butterflies headed south when they got wind of this storm.
I’ve had this week off. So, without much planning or thought I found myself at the Descanso Gardens on a weekday. I didn’t really have any idea of what I might sketch. But there I was, sitting across from a row of birch trees with a stained glass house just visible through the trees. I had my stealth bag and decided I would use some stormy grey water soluble ink and “hard candy colored” Inktense pencils to capture this scene. I purposely sat on a bench with damp grass within my reach. This is so I could scrub my paintbrush in that bit of water and use it to blend the media on the page. By the time I was ready to scrub my brush in the grass, it had dried out considerably and my brush was covered with damp dirt. (We’ve been having some Santa Ana conditions here in SoCal and that means it’s windy, very windy. When that happens our “drought driven” air dries making everything seem brittle. In fact, we have all been on high fire alert as such windy weather can lead to fires.)
I was frustrated that I couldn’t muster any moisture from the grass and considered putting the brush in my mouth, hoping I could find enough liquid to mix my colors here. (That probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.) Just like that I looked at the cup of take away cappuccino I had brought into the garden. There was just a tiny bit in the bottom of my paper cup. Have you already guessed what I used to create the birch bark color? Why yes, I poured a tiny bit into my blue cup, dipped my brush in and applied it to the trees. Oh yeah, before I did this, I cleaned the dirt from the brush. Now that I think of it I’m not sure why I poured such a tiny bit into the blue cup. Was I planning to drink those remaining few drops of my cold cappuccino? Possibly! (A few minutes earlier I had contemplated mixing the colors with my saliva…) Whatever the weird thoughts that were running through my mind, I was satisfied with the mocha tree color I achieved here. In the end, this became a perfect urban sketching outing—I was in the moment, and I told you a story. All in all, it was a very satisfying day off.
Now it’s time to switch to my non-urban sketching, art. I stretched canvas for two 24 by 30 inch pieces of art and cleaned all my paint trays. Then I took inventory of my oil paints and brushes. I should say that stretching the canvas took longer than I expected as I had to re-stretch one of them as one side and each corner were lumpy and slightly puckered. I should have remembered that you can’t use the selvage edge of the canvas as it doesn’t stretch smoothly and/or lie flat. So, I took that one off the bars, cut out a new piece and reattached it. That one went on perfectly. Now, I have two canvases ready to go. My brushes looked fine, but I decided I might want a couple new ones, just for fun. I went through my tubes of paint and was mad that I couldn’t get the lids off half of them. I would need to buy a half dozen more. And as long as I needed to buy some new tubes of paint, I would also pick up a couple brushes at the same time.
As I already said, I had this week off and had hoped I would at least get the non-colors down for one land scape, but that didn’t happen. However, I did a couple preliminary sketches, noting desired compositions and the under colors I plan to use. If you’re not a painter, none of this probably seems interesting at all, but that’s my process and I hope to continue on this particular journey. I may try to get some pigment on a canvas tomorrow. Stay tuned…
Recently I’ve been thinking that I’m not sure about sharing many more quick sketches as this one CA girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the Descanso Gardens to sketch, but I’m not sure what I create then needs to be shared. Of course I was at the Descanso last Sunday and I came across this village of stained glass houses in the rose garden. And of course I am sharing it now! It’s part of their Enchanted Forest of Light holiday event. (So, imagine what a half dozen stained glass houses will look at night.) Actually, for their 2019 Enchanted Forest of Light they had one of the stained glass houses in a pond (See December 7, 2019). I plan to continue sketching with my urban sketching buddies and of course I will continue to sketch on my own. But I feel a change in the art wind for me and I’m gearing up to paint on canvas again. Or maybe I’ll think about painting on birch panels.
Here are the materials I need for stretching a canvas—rubber mallet, staple gun, notched precut bars of wood and of course pre-gessoed canvas. What you see here will allow me to create a couple 24 by 30 inch canvases. As I once again take inventory of these materials I am thinking about early 20th century painters. They didn’t have the luxury of anything you see here. They would have had to cut strips of wood to whatever length they wanted, mitered the corners, cut the canvas (leaving room on each side to fold over the wood) and nailed everything together. Oh, and they would have had to paint on a coat of gesso after construction. I’ve stretched canvases where I have done all those things too. It is daunting to cut word with 45 degree mitered corners and I have never been able to drive nails into wood without bending at least 1/3 of them as they went in. I will say this, it is easier to stretch a piece of canvas that has not been pre-painted with gesso. Without that layer of painted on material the fabric is much softer and more malleable, and much easier to manipulate. But I will put up with the prepared canvas as wet gesso really stinks. And I will have enough to think about when trying to keep my studio ventilated once I start layering the oil paint.
I just finished putting the frames together and cutting out the canvas, but didn’t get past that point. I got my COVID booster shot this morning and my arm is kind sore right now. So, I’m done for the day. But I plan to share again when there really is something there to share.
Of course I went back to sketch these wonderful Stick Spirits at the Descanso Gardens on Halloween! In a way it’s not really surprising they would feature such creatures made from sticks whipped together. Over the past year I have sketched a number of similar creations. If you look back at a couple of my posts you will see what I mean. (August 14, 2021=woven archways, August 8, 2021=a giant dragon fly in a pond, July 3, 2021=bird nests, and January 1, 2021=fencing around the gingko tree.)
When I got home and looked again at these charming creatures I got to thinking about another long ago stick creature I had envisioned for a picture book. Here it is. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s I tried to break into the trade book market—writing and illustrating picture books. This creature/monster was to be the protagonist in a book I was calling “Monsters Count.” The story was about a “tree-like” monster who had found a couple nests of birds that had blown down onto the ground during a storm. And the monster is kind of obsessed with all things related to birds in nests—counting them in as many ways as possible as well as figuring out all ways to put them back up into the tree. (If you look at the “contact” illustration for One California Girl you will see the pen and ink sketch I did for the actual birds in the story. And based on what I wrote in that section of the website you might also guess that I probably prefer a world of monsters and birds to people. I wrote that a while back and it’s probably still true today.)
In the story the monster clearly appears to be beyond excited–looking to save the birds from certain death. So, it then decides to help them get back to the appropriate tree branch posthaste. Of course the monster gets carried away, devising unique ways to get them home—parachutes, a crane, a sling shot, asking a friendly eagle to give them a ride, and a strong fan to blow them back up on the branch—reversing the action that blew them to the ground in the first place. Of course the monster lets that one go right away when it realizes it didn’t have an extension cord that would reach that far from his treehouse. The birds soon tire of all the commotion, finally convincing the monster to just pick them up, one at a time, and carry them aloft to a safe spot in the tree, but not too close to the monster’s treehouse.
It was fun to be reminded of my own long ago tree monster and the picture book story I had written to go with it. The original image for this monster was based on a very scary creature in a reoccurring nightmare I had when I was very little. This creature was not a bumbling tree monster, nor was it a playful stick spirit running around the grass. It was so scary to me and I can still picture it in my mind today. The scene and images of that nightmare were so vivid. Many mornings I would describe every exact detail to my dad. It always began and ended the same. I would find myself standing on the back porch of a neighbor’s house, all alone. And each time I would check the door going back into the kitchen of the neighbors’ house, but of course it was always locked. Then something would compel me to go down the steps. It was at this point I knew that something was waiting for me at the side yard of the house. As I turned the corner into that part of the yard I would see a tall scarecrow creature made of straw standing inside a kind of straw house. It had huge holes for eyes and a long pointy nose. And the minute I would see the creature I would stop dead in my tracks. But of course the monster would then begin coming towards me. Thankfully, it would be at this point I would wake up in a cold sweat, but wake up nonetheless. There was really nothing funny or charming about this creature at the time. However, I had told the story to my dad so many mornings, that when I got to the part where I demonstrated the monster’s long and pointy nose with my hand and fingers, he would join in and mime that part along with me. Somehow it would then seem less scary, until the next night when it would start all over again. Quite a scary Halloween story for a 4 or 5 year old, right?
Time to move on to a new holiday I think…Bye bye for now!
This week’s art and words just sort of came to me as I walked into the Descanso Gardens with my stealth sketching bag last Sunday. I knew the Descanso would be replete with Halloween decor for their evening “Carved” events. And as I wasn’t wandering around there this time last year, I wanted to check it out in all its splendor. It was really pretty terrific to see even in the daylight! They had gourds and pumpkins aplenty on the ground and wired to arbors. Quite a few of said fall fruits had been attacked by squirrels and the like, and their guts had been hollowed out very cleanly and completely. I even encountered a squirrel digging through a hole in a pumpkin—chowing down on all those lovely gooey seeds. They didn’t seem too worried that I was standing close by. I continued on my journey through the Descanso, looking for all things cute and/or spooky. On my last visit (October 9, 2021) I did a watercolor of the jack-o-lantern bird houses. Looking at that planter area again it seemed as though 50, or more, had been added—very cute. There were huge bugs (a spider, a dragon fly etc.) made from branches and pumpkins, stationed under the oaks in the oak woodland. But my favorite was a grouping of creepy spirits made from branches and bits of fabric and string. They looked as though they were coming up out of the ground, hiding behind a tree and chasing each other around on a grassy area. I can only imagine how they might appear to come to life at night, with strategic lighting. As you can see, I didn’t draw any of that. Instead, I found myself sitting on a bench near the pumpkin house. It was there on the 9th, but it didn’t really wow me at the time. But wait, I did come up with a reason to sketch the little organic cottage for that day’s sketching adventure. As I was walking around, looking at everything else, an idea bubbled up from somewhere and took the form of a pair of sketches of that holiday pumpkin house surrounded by hay bales. I wanted to see what kind of difference in detail or rendering I would get sketching the exact same view, one while sitting on a bench on the spot and the other from a photo of the same scene sometime later. So, I endured the screaming children, live, for this one. It was fun! Then, using the exact same materials and colors I did the identical view from a photo at home that afternoon. Here it is!
I guess they really look pretty similar, but of course there were different people and different sounds. For this “at home version” it was amazingly quiet, except for the sounds of Bille Holiday singing in the background. This one was fun too! I don’t know if one is more successful than the other. I must say that for the “on location” sketch I was having some real trouble getting the oxblood ink to flow, and the lines were a little more on the “scratchy side than I wanted. But at home I had no such technical difficulties with the Fude pen nib and/or the ink flow. I guess the biggest difference was the feeling of being in the moment for the first sketch and how much I thought about that first experience while doing the second one. There were immediate comparisons for this one. For the first sketch I got involved in a couple conversations with passers by, while no such distractions occurred at home. Two different groups of women stopped to chat and look at my art. The first couple stopped, took my picture and promised not to post the pic online or anything. They were very curious to see if I had captured the woman yelling at her daughter. (I guess the little girl had managed to jiggle free one of the pumpkins from the house and was trying to take it home.) Then there was a grandma, mom and young girl who stopped by. That was fun as I could see the yearning and “art eyes” of the little girl. I know if it weren’t for the pandemic she would have sat right next to me on the bench to draw. Mom and grandma were very interested in my materials and mom took a photo of my tin of Derwent Inktense pencils. I told them they should go on a field trip to an art store and just wander around. That was very pleasant.
But what struck me about both images, while I sat at home, was how much the pumpkin house reminded me of the witches house in Hansel and Gretel. I think that all started when I heard a child had tried to steal a pumpkin right off the house. But in my story the witch is the mom, yelling at her kid for trying to take away something that didn’t belong to her. You see the connection too, right? I could almost imagine it was covered in large round candies, instead of so many colorful pumpkins. The roof would be made out of cotton candy and not straw. And instead of hay bales, there would be stacks and stacks of giant s’mores—marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers. Oh yeah, there’s one more piece of One CA Girl crazy to add to this spooky scenario. For this second view there was a woman, directly in the middle here, and she really looked the part of a witch—black clothing, long white hair and a cap that made me think of a long “witchy” nose. I think that’s enough. I’m done!
On September 25th I went to the Descanso Gardens with the explicit intention of doing a watercolor. That meant I would have to take a bigger backpack, as my usual stealth bag is too small and wouldn’t work for the occasion. That morning I put everything I might need in a more traditional backpack, one with lots of zippers and sections for lots of supplies.
As I walked in the entrance I was immediately taken with the “fall” changes that had occurred. Gone were the vestiges of summer flowers and butterflies. If you read my story and art from last time, you will know that big changes had been planned and were coming, and it was clear they were getting ready for their evening holiday events. However, last time the workers were just laying the cable for the myriad of lights that would be needed for the evening enjoyment of future visitors. But on the 25th, all the cable had been safely placed around. All seemed ready for their first event, and included a house made of pumpkins and the Lock Ness Monster in the front pond made entirely of pumpkins and gourds.
If you were to ask me, “What’s your favorite season of the year?” I would have to say that fall is definitely my fav. I absolutely love that seasonal change. As the sun is not beating down from overhead, it means the daylight is changing and softening. And I love love love that we will soon go back to standard time. The temperatures are definitely cooler, especially at night. OMG!! We had rain on Monday—rain with thunder and lightning. It was wonderful! And just the other day I noticed the white crown sparrows, my non-summer birds, had returned to my SoCal bird feeder. I love knowing that they have been on their way, somehow making it here again and right on time. (I have already shared my art and a story about them. See May 21, 2017). So, what’s your favorite season?
Back at the Descanso on the 25th…
As I rounded the corner, just outside the rose garden, I came upon this view. I had seen the same display of funky jack-o-lantern light boxes in the same planting area last year. I also did a watercolor of the same jumble of plants/flowers and funny faces. (See the October 17, 2020 art and story.) I knew I wanted to do another watercolor of the scene, but from another vantage point. So, I sat at a nearby bench, made a preliminary sketch and began mixing my pots of color. It was heavenly! There is a big advantage to sitting to do a watercolor over my quick sketches. For my watercolor events I sit in one place for a longer period of time as I have to wait for various areas of the watercolor paper to dry. That means I can eat a snack or even visit with a friendly passer by or two. In fact, that’s exactly what happened—two lovely women came by and we had the best conversation, covering a myriad of topics. Wonderful!
One final note about this display…
It’s kind of crazy, but once Halloween is over, they rip everything out of this planter. Then they fill it with a spectacular bed of glass tulips that will put on a rather dazzling light display for the Enchanted Forest of Light. The lights flash and change color with musical accompaniment. Check it out…descansogardens.org
And one final note about this fall…
I guess the biggest SoCal fall 2021 story for this one CA girl will come on October 18th. You may be wondering what is so special about that date. LAUSD, my employer, has mandated that all teachers/staff must have had the first COVID vaccine by 10/15/2021 and the second one by 11/15—no exceptions. I’ve been vaccinated, but have heard there are others who have not. Not sure what the 18th will look like, and who will be on campus that day. If you hear about us in the news, I hope it’s good news. Stay tuned.
As I wandered around the Descanso Gardens last summer (Ha! 9/19/2021), I didn’t really have much of an idea of what I wanted to sketch. I was horrified with the sign of aphids on the milkweed, and just had to walk away. But I was also distracted with the number of workers wandering around the garden. And there were numerous large boxes filled with electrical gear all around as well. I imagined they were laying cable for all the lights that would be needed for the upcoming holiday evening events—Carved and Enchanted Forest of Light. It turns out I was right, as there were signs all around the worker’s trucks and beside the garden paths, alerting us to their intent. Actually, I kind of marvel at that kind of advertising, don’t you? I imagine that such signage is meant to alert everyone of the long black electrical cables winding their way around the paths—a rather daunting safety hazard I think. But it also reminded me that there are those of us who have attended either one or both events in the past, and we should think about buying our tickets for the 2021 holiday season. And for those who had never attended either event, it might peek their curiosity to find out more about what they might be missing. Eventually, I kind forgot all about the aphids, workers and massive spaghetti lines of cable, and wandered into the rose garden. I often head straight for the arbor area that was patterned after Monet’s garden arbor archway. It’s very similar to his arbor of climbing roses and other flowering plants in Giverny. I’m not sure if the roses in Monet’s garden are one’s that he actually planted in the late 1800’s, but they are covered with roses and other climbing plants today. The gardeners at the Descanso have planted some older varieties of roses in their arbor garden area. I discovered the age of some of these varieties one day, when I’d stopped to read the descriptions posted by each one. My favorite old rose is at the farthest end of the arbor, near the rest rooms that look like a charming cottage. (I love that!) That particular climbing rose variety was introduced to the world in 1811 (Rosa ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster’). Not sure why that old rose fascinates me so much. But I love it when I find clusters of those flowers just blooming their little hearts out. And it makes me wonder if that lovely old fashioned perfume is exactly what others first smelled in 1811. (Oh, I learned that if you bend down to smell a charming rose and burp just as you take a sniff, you won’t smell a thing. And of course you will not smell a thing if you are laughing when you try to take a whiff. It’s true. I can tell you that first hand.) If you really look at these older roses, you might notice how much smaller they are compared to most rose cultivars from the 20th and 21st centuries. Also, the colors of those old roses seem to be much more muted and tend to be some variation of pink.
As I turned around to look for a spot to maybe sketch the heirloom rose, I spied this charming squirrel statue in the nearby maze garden for tiny children. It’s funny, but I a rarely go into the maze for tiny children as it seems there are often unattended tiny children running around in there. But I came face to face with this guy and decided to sketch him—both of us standing there “bold as brass.” I was ready to bolt if any tiny children, without their handlers, appeared on the scene. I felt sorry for the squirrel as he or she was rooted to the spot and would not be running away from anything any time soon.
So for this one, I sat beside a tiny creek that runs through the rose garden. And not only did I sit by this bit of moving water, I dipped my brush right into that water as it moved slowly past. I felt very bold. And there were even a couple tiny well behaved children who stopped by to see what I was doing. It was nice. I liked that!
As I peacefully sat there, watching those hummingbirds from afar, I couldn’t help thinking how much my application of pigment to paper puts me into a kind of familiar echo chamber. You might be wondering what I mean. I will try to explain. The echoes I am referring to might be the repeated use of a color. Or it might be the commitment to a certain line to indicate leaves or flowers or even a random squirrel statue in a maze garden for tiny children. It might also be a nod to composition as I try to include/repeat similar shapes. I guess it doesn’t work for me to make everything I render a one of a kind, unless I am focusing on one tree, one lamp post, one building and/or one squirrel. Is this any clearer? I also like the idea that even though I am repeating line, color and/or composition, what I sketch/paint is a single point in time. So, every time I repeat something on the page, it will never look that same again. From sketch to sketch, day to day and even season to season. It will always be something new. I like that! As you may already know, you can make a repeat visit to a place, but it will never be exactly the same as you remember. All those echoes are different, every time. And I love that!
BTW…about last Saturday’s post…something came up. It was my birthday, and I enjoyed a lovely unplanned day. Of course I went to the Descanso Gardens! Stay tuned.