June 19, 2021

At the beginning of the week I found myself wondering what to share today. I went to the Descanso Gardens last Saturday morning, and wandered around. I did some sketching, but nothing really moved me to write about. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at the Descanso, as is my usual. They have some funny displays for summer that include a huge model of a trap door spider half buried in the ground, a larger than life oak gall that’s been painted bright red and hanging from an oak branch, life-size and oversized models of butterflies all around, and hovering/emerging from the water in the front pond is a giant dragon fly beside a dragon fly nymph respectively. Even with all those thought provoking items I found myself thinking was a children’s picture book I had started in the late 90s and early 2000s, very much like my bunny book (see 4/10/2021 post). And for some reason I thought I had given that book the title, One California Girl. Weird huh? Indeed, it would be very odd if I had used that same name over 20 years ago and only just remembered doing that. I had done some sketches and completed a thumbnail for a 40 page picture book that I was sure I had entitled On CA Girl. I had a good idea as to which portfolio I would find all of that and went looking for it. It was where I expected, and I was actually relieved that it had a different title—The Native Californian. I remember that I was kind of obsessed with native CA plants at the time and since I was also a native, it all just seemed like a good idea for a story. And I still love the idea for such a picture book. I must admit that what I wrote about then and now are very similar. For both the blog and the picture book I sketched/painted/rendered specific places in CA, told stories of my CA family as well as shared things that have always interested me about CA. However, The Native Californian was an imagined and partly real story of me as one 11-year-old CA girl. And as it was imagined as a book it had a definite beginning, middle and end. One California Girl doesn’t necessary run in such a linear way as I seem to drop myself into places and times in mostly CA, and each story is my response to a specific piece of art I have created. 

What you see here are a couple sketches I envisioned for the title page of The Native Californian. As I said, I was pretty obsessed with native plants at the time and the lettering for the title was done as native wildflowers with “Californian” as a car license plate. I know the sketch of the actual title is pretty light and might be hard to read. Sorry. I guess I never got around to inking it in—it’s still just what I wrote with a hard leaded pencil on graph paper all those years ago. The house you see here is real and can still be found in Atascadero. It belongs to my son’s great aunt. I did a couple versions of this house on the hill, and thought it would be interesting to share both. (Both were done with quite a fine point black ink pen.)

I don’t plan to share the whole story here like I did with my thumbnails for another idea I had for a picture book (see July 28, 2018, Life on the Farm: A tale of the magical reality in my CA life). I’ve always loved this house, and my son’s great aunt still lives there. You may have noticed that it looks a bit like a boat, and in fact it was constructed to look like Noah’s ark. However, it has never looked like it’s floating in a sea of sunflowers—I imagined that. Actually, on that side of the house there is a huge expanse of asphalt that leads to her basement. It’s where my son’s great aunt dries out her walnut crop each year. Once they are dry she bags them up and sells them to a variety of people as well as to the folks at farmer’s market in San Luis Obispo. Even though she doesn’t have flowers that close to the house she often has sunflowers somewhere in her garden. One year she had quite a sunflower patch on the hill behind the house. But that particular year she had also planted hot pink hollyhocks with the sunflowers. What a sight! It’s funny, I have never shown her any of the art I did for the book. I even did her portrait…I wonder what she would think of her house floating in a sea of sunflowers and hollyhocks? But she’s just another native CA girl from the country and would think that was nonsense. “Where would I dry my walnuts?”

Went to the Descanso Gardens with my urban sketching group today. That was great! It was so fun to see everybody—there must have 20 of us. There was even a 3 foot rattlesnake in the roses. (Not kidding!) I didn’t draw the snake, but did a rather nice watercolor of the roses climbing a nearby arbor. I’ll share it next time. I wonder if someone sketched the snake? Stay tuned…

June 12, 2021

In the fall of 2018 I found myself at the entrance to the Descanso Gardens, studying a large and unusual autumn sculpture made from the woody bits of palm trees, called bracts. Such bracts surround the flower spikes (inflorescence) of a palm tree and are normally way up at the top of mature and tall palms. However, such palm tree bits often drop to the ground—especially on windy days. Each bract and inflorescence can grow to be pretty long up there. And the display I was looking at had many individual bracts that were at least 6 feet in length. Each one had been spray painted a wonderfully bright color, then layered one on top of the other to form tall organic columns. On the ground and all around these colorful piles of SoCal palm tree detritus were lots of bright orange pumpkins. It was very dramatic. I wasn’t sure if I could recreate the display, but knew I wanted to do something like it for my 2018 outdoor holiday display. Once I left the Descanso I began to look around for interesting and usable palm tree parts that had fallen to the ground. Palm trees are pretty common here in SoCal, so I hoped I would find what I was looking for just laying around. That Thanksgiving I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Long Beach and saw great piles of palm tree bits in the streets and yards of their Belmont Shore neighborhood. (We had had a major storm and the wild winds snapped off just what I was looking for.) I picked through the damp mess and made a pile of bracts/flower stems I wanted to take home. As it turned out, they were pretty heavy and I had to drag the stash to my car in several loads. Once I got them home, I let them dry out and sprayed painted each one metallic gold. Then I placed them around my front door and windows. The gold was not as dramatic as the bright colors I had seen earlier, and my display didn’t look like much from the street. But, once you got up close it was much more interesting, or so I kept telling myself! In the end I had to admit that it looked quite underwhelming and I should have put all of it in the green waste after the holidays. But they were too long to fit easily into the cans, and I didn’t want to go to the trouble of cutting them down. So I tucked them away in the garage for another day of ?? 

Fast forward to spring break April 2021. Some of my climbing plants (specifically my moonflower morning glory) had greened up and were looking for something to climb. I found myself again looking at the palm bracts/flower stems that had gathered quite a bit of dust in my garage and decided they might be interesting to use for just that purpose. I brushed them off, got out my saw to cut each one down a bit, then I placed them near the climbing morning glory. Looking at the art I have shared here today, you may have guessed, something unseen by me, must have also been looking for a place to climb.  

I didn’t see the chrysalis for this specific monarch butterfly until the 8th, but there it was nonetheless. Once I see something that’s so bright and obvious I am astounded that I didn’t notice it earlier. But maybe it’s best if such events are not always evident to us mortals. We don’t need to see or know everything. However, once I caught on that monarch caterpillars from a nearby milkweed plant might be looking for a place to climb I monitored this very palm tree flower spike daily. 

And guess what? On May 19 I saw another monarch caterpillar that had clearly climbed the same palm tree flower spike. It had attached itself to a spike tip that was very close to the first chrysalis. However, this one had not yet magically cloaked itself into a sparkly green shell, but by the next day it had changed. I am pleased to report this one finished its metamorphosis just as the other one had. But I didn’t get to see this one crawl out its chrysalis skin. As I said, I don’t need to see or know everything. I was just thrilled the caterpillars had found a safe place to continue their life cycles—sending yet other lovely monarch butterflies into the world. I guess I’m glad I didn’t bin those palm tree flower spikes after all.

However, I must report that one of my squirrels and her two babies seem to enjoy climbing the palm tree bracts against a post, across from the chrysalis. It appears that with this additional height, a leap into the air could result in contact with the bird feeder, which might result in a bonanza of sunflower seeds on the ground. I’ve hear them banging around out there, trying to launch themselves from the golden holiday palm bracts. I already know too much about what’s going on, I can’t look…

June 6, 2021

Artistic cats and random COVID masks…

This is a painting I did of a friend’s kitties in 2016. (Their names were Matisse, Picasso and Georgia—yes, Georgia as in Georgia O’Keefe.) I saw it hanging in their house the other day and realized I had never taken a photo of the finished piece (oil on birch panel). So, I took it off the wall and took this picture for my records and to share here. If you have been following my blog this grouping may look a little familiar. Before doing the painting I did a finished sketch as well as a quick color test sketch. I always do a finished sketch for a painting, but don’t always experiment with colors the way I did for this one—see November 1, 2020.

I don’t have much to say this week, other than my usual highs and lows with global, local and personal events. Suffice it to say that I spent much of the week and yesterday trying to perfect the perfect boule using Nancy Silverton’s starter recipe. And I was still trying to get the bread to properly ferment last night at 10 pm so I could set it to proofing. It did neither and I went to bed. Then the power went off for several hours this morning, so I went to the Descanso Gardens to reflect on all things not related to bread and the possibility of food spoiling in my frig.

However, looking at this piece of art makes me happy. I distinctly remember having great fun working out how to render the fur of these three lovely silverpoint Siamese. And believe it or not, there is a connection between the art and the following photo.

I used some kitties and puppies at a birthday party themed fabric to make some masks at the very beginning of the pandemic. This was back in the days before they were as common as they are now. The pattern I used was from a New York Times article I found online (from March 31, 2020). I made a couple more with this very fabric, but only had enough elastic on hand for this one. I had to make cloth straps for the others. I gave the non-elastic strapped masks to the owners of Matisse, Picasso and Georgia. (I ordered more elastic and later updated the masks for my friends.). And before getting vaccinated, and we found ourselves at an appropriate distance apart, we would wear our “kitty” masks. I will miss those days. Do you think I really mean that? Am I crazy? Of course, there is nothing I will miss about worrying, staying a measured distance from my friends and wearing a mask where ever I went–even one made with such cute kitty and puppy fabric. 

May 29, 2021

Descanso Gardens bridge into the rose garden, 5/15/2021 (Inktense pencil and majestic purple water-soluble ink on Canson mix media paper)

On May 15th I found myself seated at a bench across from this bridge. There are a number of entrances into the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, but this is the only one with a bridge. As I spend so much time in this part of the garden it struck me odd I hadn’t sketched it yet. And as I hadn’t done a proper urban sketch lately, it would be the perfect sight that would tell an “urban sketcher” story of a SoCal bridge over a dry river bed. Since that day this sketch has been propped open near my laptop. Every time I would glance at it I wondered if it worthy of an even closer look from this one CA girl. It ticks most of the “urban sketching” boxes as it has an obvious human element and it marks a moment in time. But if it truly is to be considered an urban sketch it is supposed to be shared, and I really hadn’t originally planned to do that. Is there something more to be said? There is a SoCal back story, I guess. As I said, the bridge goes over a dry and therefore non-existent river. It’s actually a common sight around here, complete with boulders lining the basin—boulders that were smoothed in another real river somewhere else. However, this pretend river actually has a purpose other than to add a bit of hardscape interest that can be added to any garden landscape. Every so often we get torrential rains and then flooding. This usually dry river bed is meant to divert rainwater in a specific direction, keeping it from spilling into the planted beds and eroding the soil. (It’s also common for folks around here to have sand bags handy, just in case water is pouring down the usually dry streets. Filled sand bags can be lined up at the sides of streets and placed around walkways, creating fake river banks. This helps divert the speeding rainwater away from someone’s front door or into their garage.) But I kept wondering if describing a bit of “purposeful” hardscape you might find around here would really hold anyone’s interest, even mine. It’s almost as boring as talking about desiring a water feature in a garden. Actually, adding and/or maintaining water features is all but unheard of in SoCal. It’s probably no big deal to set up a lovely and artistic Italian fountain somewhere in the garden—it’s hooking it up to water that’s the problem. With water always in short supply it’s not a popular thing to do. Of course, lots of people have swimming pools. Hmm…It’s also not uncommon for neighbors to let their lawn die because they had gone past the amount of water they were allotted in a month and were charged a fine for the extra watering. Of course, we did not get enough rain again this season. Meteorologists are predicting another year of dry conditions, higher than normal summer temperatures and fires for the west coast…yuck!

But last Sunday a “worthy” story about this particular bridge popped onto my RADAR and I knew I wanted to share it. It all started when I saw many of my urban sketching buddies that had gathered that morning for a virtual portrait party that included hats and various props. One of the organizers of that portrait drawing event told us that an outdoor sketching outing had been planned for the third weekend in June. And it seems we would be meeting in the rose garden of the Descanso Gardens. Woo hoo! This was big news as we hadn’t been out as a group for over a year, and the last time we were all together in the flesh it was at the Descanso. Not everyone seemed comfortable with the idea of going out mid day with a group of more than 3 people to sketch for a couple hours. But I knew I was ready. It felt as though I was once again sitting on that same bench, waiting for my friends to come across the bridge and into the rose garden to sketch together again. It seemed a worthy wondering. I found myself wondering if I would find an empty spot on that same bench. I haven’t done a plein air watercolor in over a year, and I’m so ready to dig out my watercolors and luxuriate. I guess I should explain that I haven’t done such a watercolor at the Descanso because I haven’t been comfortable enough to go out with a bunch of strangers and stay 30 to 45 minutes in one spot. Instead, I have been traveling light with my stealth bag. That smaller backpack contains only a few pens, pencils and pad of mixed media paper for short 15 minute or less sketches. And I am often drawing standing up. So much to think about and so much to look forward to—packing my larger backpack with things that would require me to linger, waiting for the watercolor to dry. Can’t wait to hang out and sketch with friends.

So, without further ado, and fresh from a portrait party…

Ready or not? Here they come! Did you already forget about the hats and props?

Happy birthday, Kelly (5/29)

May 22, 2021

And before I knew it, this week’s post was all about irises. I started noticing the first brightly colored blossoms at the Descanso Gardens in January (see iris in 3/13/2021 post). Then it seemed that every time I went to the Descanso after that there were yet other singular blooms and/or another iris clump blooming it’s head off. (If you have ever had iris in your garden, you know how they like to clump.) As you can see, sometimes I did close ups or small vignettes with my Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate or Bristol board (three to starting from the left). As I have said, I like to call these tiny offerings my little bits of jewel art. And sometimes I found myself focusing on continuous line drawings using my majestic purple ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils. You can see right here a purple clump I did with those exact materials (far right). The iris rendered in the 3/13/2021 post was done with the same ink and Inktense pencils. In reality the individual blossoms don’t last very long, but as there are often many on each stem they will continue blooming one flower at a time. If you want to encourage multiple blossoms, just snap off the spent and dried up flowers. That will allow the next set of buds ample room to mature and bloom as well. 

So, let’s hear it for one of the many lovelies of spring…THE IRIS! While compiling the first group of sketches I remembered several other CA girl moments of personal iris in past springtimes. The bronze over deep oxblood colored iris you see (far left and center) bloomed in abundance in my mother’s Grass Valley garden every spring as far back as I can remember. This photo was taken in 1995 and I don’t know why I never thought to paint and/or sketch them, I certainly had many opportunities to do so. Such a wonder in general I guess. Thank goodness I took lots of pictures and here are a couple. (Sorry for the out of focus photo of the clump on the left.) It’s funny, but up until today I never wondered what kind of bearded iris it was and/or is. It turns out it’s an heirloom variety called Colonel Candelot and it became an official flower in 1907. (Not sure where such a name came from. I looked it up and there doesn’t appear to have been a Colonel Candelot.) My parent’s Grass Valley house was built in 1853, so it’s possible that garden had some of the first Colonel Candelot in northern CA, but I doubt it. My parent’s were told by the family who owned the house before them (in the 60s) that the large corner lot garden had been quite lovely and extensive in the 50s. It seems there were a couple sisters who lived in the house in the 30s, 40s and 50s and they liked to garden. The Colonel Candelot were probably planted by them. I have another reason to suggest such flowers were not planted earlier and it has to do with Grass Valley’s early days. It was a gold mining town and was always a kind of “rough and ready” place—not many beautiful gardens around the turn of the 20th century, I think. (Believe it or not, if you went west on Main Street and out of GV you will come to a tiny town named Rough and Ready. I’m not kidding. It seems that Rough and Ready had the dubious, and rather horrifying, distinction of seceding from the Union during the Civil War. I’m not kidding here either.) The original 1853 house was built before the Civil War and during the gold rush. It had a carriage house and manger for a horse out back, but no running water or electricity. Sometime later a second story was added, complete with Victorian dentils. Cornish tin miners had been imported to the area to help with the hard rock gold mining being done at mines like the Empire Mine. The miners rented rooms in the house and walked to and from the mine every day. Sometime after the second story was added indoor plumbing and electricity were added, along with a kitchen. As the mines were running at full steam in 1907, I just don’t think anyone who lived in that house would have had the time or interest to tend a garden. Just sayin’…

As the for the white bearded iris you see on the right, I did a painting of this one. It so happened that they were blooming in my Paso Robles garden the spring my niece was born, May 2, 1996. I had a habit of doing sketches/paintings of plants that were blooming when close friends and family had babies. Then I gifted the art to the new mom. I seem to remember making a photo copy of that finished art, but can only find the original sketches I did, not the color copy. I love that you can see metal wire fencing behind the flowers. I had to put that around any plants I cared about in that Paso garden, or the deer would eat it. 

Candy Land rose, Descanso Gardens, 5/22/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Uh oh! Today I was back at the Descanso Gardens. But my fickle eye was drawn away from any irises, and to a particular rose being visited by a bee. Yup, the roses have definitely taken over and I couldn’t resist…

Happy Birthday Dan (5/21)!

May 15, 2021

A friend’s cat, winter 2021 (oil pastel on raw sienna Colourfix pastel paper)

Several months ago my son asked me to draw a friend’s cat. It seems that the cat had lived with his friend and their partner. As you may have already guessed, the couple split and the kitty stayed behind. My son’s friend now missed their furry friend. My son didn’t specify what medium he wished me to use. But telling me the materials he wanted probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is because I kind of have this process I go through when I take on a request. It probably sounds a little too precious and self-important, on my part, but there it is. Once I saw the kitty’s striking colors, I knew I wanted to use the background as one of the colors of her fur. I had recently bought a packet of warm toned pastel paper (see other examples of drawings on this paper, 1/1/2021, 1/9/2021, 1/15/2021, 1/23/2021) and I was sure I had just the right color for her fur. The 9 by 12 inch size also became part of my “perfect storm” of  bits of art ideas swirling together. Finally, the idea of using my neocolonial II Aquarelle water soluble wax pastels completed the details of my process for this piece of art. I surveyed the colors I had on hand, and decided I needed to order a couple more (silver and pink) to complete the cat’s portrait. (I wanted the pink for just the tip of the nose. Yes, pretty anal, I know, but there it is.) The silver crayon came in the mail pretty quickly, but the pink did not. In fact, I had to call Blick’s to find out what was going on. Of course I couldn’t tell the woman that I needed this particular pink crayon so I could add just the tip of a cat’s nose to a pastel. That would just sound too weird, right? It took several weeks for it to arrive and then it came in a medium size box in a larger plastic bag, and all of this was in yet a larger box. I remember picking it up, wondering why I could hear it rolling around in there. I was glad it hadn’t broken in transit as I couldn’t imagine sending it back, only to wait for another one. Finally, I could go in for the kill and finish the portrait. Going in for the kill is when I add the last bit of a color or nuance to a piece—at least I try to tell myself to stop and not go any farther. Sometimes it works and sometimes even the perfect pink crayon can’t fix it. And just like that, she was finished. The kitty drifted out of my hands, into my son’s hand and then on to his friend. They were so appreciative. I got a very sweet thank you note.

Not really sure what exactly made me think of the little kitty this particular week. Maybe it was hearing that the Obama’s pooch, Bo, had died and the family was mourning the loss. What is it about some pets that make us grieve so? Not sure if you know what I mean by “some pets,” but maybe you do. I remember a guy I dated many years ago and he described what he called his “super dogs.” He said they were the ones that stood out in our lives more than others. I seem to remember that he really liked black labs. (I could be wrong about the breed, but he won’t be reading this so it doesn’t really matter. Of course it would probably matter to him.) He told me of one particular lab that was his “super dog” and that beloved dog was buried under a specific oak overlooking his property. To this day, I can still picture him pointing to that spot under the tree in Danville. 

In my life I have had a few dogs as pets and one in particular breaks my heart every time I think about her, and our very last moments together. In fact, it makes my eyes fill with tears even now to write about her. Her name was Lexi, and she was our golden retriever wonder dog. I have her collar and ashes in a small cedar box in a dresser and every now and then I open the drawer and say hello, and then goodbye. I am sure that there are many of you who have loved and lost a “super pet” so I am not going into great detail about how my life was better because she was there to watch over me and my son when he was little. I don’t think I could bear it. You probably have your own deep felt memories and stories to remember here.

A couple SoCal friends recently lost a beloved kitty to cancer. They invited me to their house the afternoon their treasured Dashiell Hammett (see his 6/1/2019 portrait) was put down by a visiting vet. Wow, that was hard! It brought back all my memories of my last moments with Lexi, except we were in the vet’s office. Well, these same friends have recently acquired a frisky kitten named Hugo. So, welcome little Hugo. You will be loved unconditionally as though you are destined to be their “super cat.” And even though you will inevitably break their heart someday, you will be loved today as though there is no tomorrow.

As far as I know, my son’s friend’s cat has not died. But it seems that she is sorely missed and I hope the sketch for his friend will be a nice reminder of a precious furry friend. Maybe my care and planning for the perfect pink nose was the right thing to do. Maybe waiting for that special color to come in the mail was worth the wait. Silly me, or course it was.

May 8, 2021

Virtual sketching (3/28/2021) of annual Bermuda Day Parade in Bermuda (black ink and POSCA pens on watercolor paper)

One of our sketching members was in Hamilton (capital city of Bermuda) for the cities annual Bermuda Day parade one year. (I don’t remember her saying what year they were there.) But I guess they’ve been holding this particular parade the end of May since 1902. That tells me she was there in late May. If you are like me, you might have wondered who or what started such a celebration. So of course I Googled Bermuda Day parade. It was originally called the Empire Day Parade. Uh huh. It also seems that it was to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was May 24th. And it also seems that she died in 1901, which probably means that first parade was meant to honor/remember that particular English queen by holding a posthumous celebration and parade in the British Colony of Bermuda. I’m not sure if Gombey dancers were part of those first Empire parade years, but they were certainly fun to look at and draw a month or so ago. I discovered some other rather “dull sounding” information about Bermuda Day. The queen’s birthday was also used to commemorate the first day of the season that business men, not business women, could wear Bermuda shorts with a jacket and tie. No, I’m not kidding. I was glad to read that today all kinds of people wear Bermuda shorts in Bermuda all year round. Yeah.

Our host told that Gombey was a melding of African, Caribbean and British traditions and that they are the favorite participants of any Bermuda Day parade. She talked at length about Gombey dancers, describing their great head dresses and colorful costumes. It’s funny, but when I discovered we were going to sketch the dancers at the parade, and we had only 30 minutes, I knew immediately I wanted to use my POSCA pens. The colors were perfect for the dancer’s costumes. It was all such fun—trying to capture the movement of row upon row of black and brightly colored fringe and tassels. I just couldn’t imagine personally moving, let alone dancing, while wearing  those tall tall head pieces.

Last Sunday, another of our intrepid artist friends took us to a couple summer festivals along the coast of the Catalonian region of Spain. It seems that Sitges celebrates summer with fire crackers and pyrotechnics. And in Coma-Ruga you might see a summer celebration that includes a parade with people wearing huge paper mache heads. It was fun to do 30 minute sketches of each celebration even though I’m not sure I would enjoy all that smoke, and I can’t explain the significance of the giant heads. Our host didn’t offer an explanation of why the heads were so big and I couldn’t find anything about them. Our guide did say that the two on the left were specific characters familiar to the people from that region. She added that she wasn’t sure if a pirate from the Caribbean (as seen on the right) really had anything to do with the other two, but that there once were pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. I did look that up and it seems that is true, but none of the images I saw of pirates from that region looked like Jack Sparrow.

So, even though I didn’t totally understand what any of these groups were celebrating, I did latch onto the idea of celebrating. I have been looking for something to celebrate. How about you? And once I thought about it I realized I have already enjoyed a couple recent celebrations, one traditional and some more minor and personal. My most recent personal celebration occurred only yesterday. When I got home from work I realized I had been back working on campus for two weeks. Yeah! And on Wednesday, it was Cinco de Mayo. (Don’t know if that is a big deal where you live, but here in SoCal it’s BIG.) The teachers and staff were treated to homemade tamales for lunch. If you have never tasted a homemade tamale, you don’t know what you are missing. Many of our Hispanic families have various abuelas, tias y mamas that make that delicious “real” food ,and it is a real treat! And to add to our Cinco de Mayo celebration, the school district’s COVID mobile truck came to school that day as well. So, we all got tested for the coronavirus and then ate lunch. That’s a party!

I participated in another personal celebration last Saturday at the Descanso Gardens. And it came as the result of the CDC saying we could remove our face coverings when outside—provided we had been vaccinated. It was such a treat to walk among the roses in the rose garden, smelling their fragrance whenever I pleased. As you might imagine there were other shy people like myself, celebrating in the same way. It was lovely and such a treat.

Finally, my urban sketching group is planning a celebration the end of June. What are we going to do? And what are we going to celebrate? We are planning to gather outside somewhere, in smallish groups of course, to sketch on location—just like the old days. We haven’t ventured out to do that for over a year, and most of us are really looking forward to sketching outside together. Actually, it will be a kind of bitter sweet celebration as many of our group live far away from the LA area. They, of course, will not be joining us. We talked of continuing to sketch together virtually, and I hope we do that as well. But you know how such plans can fall apart, right?

So, what would you like to celebrate? Check out colorful dancers at some event? See a fireworks display some balmy summer evening at the beach? Have a meal with friends in celebration of a birthday, anniversary or even just because? I have to admit that hearing live music would be reason to celebrate. I suspect the list seems endless right now…

May 1, 2021

Dutch iris, Descanso Gardens, 5/1/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If I want to have a perfect Saturday day, I try to get an early start and head over to the Descanso Gardens. Usually I’m not looking for something specific to sketch there, but I usually find something I want to draw whatever the weather and/or the time of the year. My adventure today and last weekend was no different. I went with no idea of what I would see that would grab my attention. As is my usual I soon find myself walking around the rose garden. Lately I think I have been subconsciously looking for a perfect urban/non-urban vignette to sketch with my new/old art materials obsession—Prismacolor on Bristol board or acetate. As I walk around I find myself engaged in an interior monologue about how spring has been progressing at the Descanso, based on the flowers that are about to bloom, those at their peak and what’s on it’s way out. Most of the tulips are gone, and I don’t mean that lone stems, sans petals, are evident, but most plants have been extracted from the ground. The lovely orange clivia that marks many paths among the camellias and oaks has dried up and the lilac shrubs have more green growth than flowers. The cobalt blue forget me nots (Myostis) are not the sharp blue they were a couple weeks ago. But don’t despair! Lots of “lovely” is coming on. The huge gingko tree that inspired a winter solstice pastel (see January 1, 2021) is leafing out with bright green leaves. Bearded iris are still going strong in the rose garden with soft yellows, bright yellows, rust colors and everything in between. Planted beside many of the bearded iris are huge patches of tall and spiky Dutch iris. And many of those are the same colors as their bearded friends. I saw this Dutch iris, with a few more just like it budding up, as I was walking out of the rose garden. I had already done a sketch of roses and salvia and was heading toward the outer garden area. But when I saw this color, I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew I had that exact petal colors (Tuscan red and Spanish orange) in my Prismacolor set of colored pencils in my backpack. It was such a nice day that I didn’t even look for a bench, but instead stood before the flower and sketched it on the spot. 

With great “Tuscan red” satisfaction I put the finished sketch in my backpack and continued into the native CA section of the Descanso. Native mint/sage/salvia are in full bloom right now, as well as CA fuchsia. But the fremontodendron (see December 21, 2019) and the bright purple blossoms of the red bud trees are now quite subdued. I didn’t see many bright orange CA poppies either, but they are still going strong in my home garden. I noticed that the tall and lanky matilija poppies are budding up, ready to produce their large and unusual “white with yellow center” flowers. (Each flower looks like a sunny side up egg. I’m not kidding. In fact, one of the common names for this native CA flower is the “fried egg plant.”)

In the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/24/21 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

Last weekend’s sketching adventure also took me to the rose garden at the Descanso. Surprise, surprise…Not sure I noticed that many roses in bloom that day. But I found a charming red climbing rose that I chose to render—and it would qualify as an urban sketch because I included the human-made wooden arbor. Based on what I saw last Saturday, and today, the great rose engine of color has turned over and beginning to rev up with amazing color. Most of the roses at the Descanso have fragrance as well. And as those of us who have had the vaccine can now loosen our masks a little when outside, I took full advantage of smelling every rose I saw both last week and today. Maybe the roses in your neighborhood are also beginning to bud and bloom, sending out their scent. If not yet, I hope it’s soon. Or maybe they are all done and you have lovely memories of some recent roses. We can only hope!

Note about last week’s post

Last week I wrote about my dad sharing some of his music with me when I was pregnant with my son. And I specifically wrote about the Johnny Mandel, Johnny Mercer song, “Emily.” I forgot to mention that my dad often told a story about an encounter with Johnny Mercer while he and my mom were undergrads at UCLA in the early 50s. It seems my dad liked to do his math homework on the huge chalkboards that could be found in college classrooms in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, one day he was working away, while my mother sat in one of the lecture hall seats doing her homework. As dad loved to tell it, all of sudden, Johnny Mercer opened one of the doors next to the chalkboards and walked in the room. I guess Mr. Mercer stood there for a few moments, watching my dad scribble all over the board. And then just as quickly as he had arrived, he walked out. I always thought this is a funny story as Mr. Mercer, the renowned lyricist of his time, never said a word. Of course, what’s really funny is that my dad recounted this story so many times to me and my brothers, and I don’t think he said a word either. Such a funny memory, right? My dad told that story over and over and somehow it is now my memory too. (As an undergraduate at UCSD I had classes in that same kind of lecture hall. They were huge rooms with 200 uncomfortable tiny wooden seats, and each tiny chair had a tiny desk you could open or close once you sat down. Oh man, I can picture that room.) And now, when I remember his “Johnny Mercer” story I am also in that long ago classroom, with the definite smell of chalk in my nostrils. But for the life of me, even though I am now in the room with my parents, I can’t wrap my head around why my dad would care if a famous person silently watched him silently write math equations on a huge chalk board. Funny…

April 24, 2021

I went on a virtual excursion to Isleboro, Maine on the morning of Sunday, April 11. Our artist host gets to live near that part of Maine year-round. Based on what she told us of her life there it sounded like there really weren’t too many who over winter in the coastal parts of Maine—the weather can be very severe that time of year. But it seems that she lives there year-round and enjoys all the seasons. She shared photos of rocky coasts, fishing boats and a couple lighthouses. Her Maine home looks to be a charming Victorian covered with split shingles made of cedar. The house’s exterior has taken on a lovely silver patina—guessing the cold damp weather contributed to that “weathered” color. Her choice of photos was very interesting as she had pictures of some of the same spots at high tide and low tide. She showed us places in the fog and in the sunshine. She also had several pictures with the sun going down over the water, reminding us to be sure to notice the muted and interesting hues at that time of the day at that time of year. She was a really good guide for those of us who have never been to that part of the country. But I am guessing that I would be Maine’s fair weather friend, only visiting in summer and/or early autumn. (Guess I’m a little spoiled to live in SoCal, with our “banana belt” winters.)

She chose 3 pictures for us to sketch and I have shared the first two sketches I did that morning. I didn’t include my third one as it just didn’t capture the “light” of the sun going down on the bay. (It actually kind of looked like a card you might send to  someone around the holidays. Somehow I made the conifers around the water look like Christmas trees.) I was pretty happy with these two. The rocky coast scene was done with a paired down set of Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board. The bay with boats was also done with the same colors, but I used a sheet of semi-transparent acetate for that one. But the real story for this week, besides virtually visiting a new place earlier in the month, is the materials I used for these sketches—my beautiful and beloved Prismacolor colored pencils. Last Sunday morning, 4/18, I gave a Prismacolor colored pencil demo to my LA urban sketching buddies. I wanted to share with them my renewed obsession of how to create what I call my tiny urban jewels with just some Prismacolor colored pencils.

Not sure you would be interested, but here’s the invitation I posted to entice them to join me for the virtual demo. 

Top SoCal “urban sketch,” March 21, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencil on acetate)
Bottom SoCal “urban sketch,” March 22, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth surface Bristol board)

“In the early 90s I was a scientific illustrator at the CAL Academy of Sciences. I worked for a couple botanists and an entomologist there. All of my art was done with pen and ink on Bristol board for the botany folks, and pen and ink on acetate for my drawings of wasp genitalia for entomology. Along the way I took some classes at the Academy on how to use Prismacolor colored pencils. And I was off like a shot—using those lusciously waxy pencils for a variety of subjects on Bristol board and on acetate. I also learned to use them in conjunction with watercolors on Strathmore cold press illustration board and with gouache on Canson toned paper. 

I have recently started using them in earnest for my urban sketches. (And here are a couple examples of my latest obsession.) I have bags and bags of those colored pencils, but for the “on the scene” sketches I have been doing lately I have paired that number down to 12 – 15 pencils. That seems to work for me. All you need to remember is that because they are made with a lot of wax, do not leave them in the sun or they can kind of melt a little.”

The demo went well, but I was nervous and glad when it was all over.

More on Maine

Visiting Isleboro Maine reminded me of Robert McCloskey. If you are not familiar with him, he wrote and illustrated a number of children’s picture books in the 40s, 50s and 60s. His stories are sweetly stuck in a long ago time, but the art of Maine in his “Time of Wonder” seems timeless to me. “Time of Wonder” won the Caldecott Medal in 1958. It was fun to look back at that book after my virtual journey to Isleboro. (Mr. McCloskey even mentions Islesboro in the story.) I told my son that I thought that part of Maine lovely and picturesque, especially when looking at McCloskey’s wonderfully color-saturated art depicting it’s coastal people and places. Of course my son had to remind me of the many Stephen King books that are set in Maine. Oh dear, not sure I want my imaginings of “Maine” to include it as a place of horror right now, or ever, for that matter.

And a final word about the end of April 2021

I have been listening to a Bill Evans Trio (with Stan Getz) live recording of “Emily” quite a bit lately. When I was pregnant with my son I wasn’t sure if I was having a boy or girl. I had chosen the name Henry for a boy and Emily for a girl. Many afternoons my dad would cue up “Emily” on his “Scott Hamilton Plays Ballads CD.” (The song is often associated with the Bill Evans Trio, but the music was written by Johnny Mandell and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.) My dad knew that if I was in the house I would come to find him so we could listen to “Emily” together. It pleased him so much that we could communicate so specifically with his music. Now I find myself playing Bill Evans’s version of “Emily” all the time, hoping that he will come looking for me. And maybe he does. I can still see his smile in my mind as we quietly listen to the music together. Happy Birthday dad, 4/25. I miss you so much, but at least I’ll always have you with your music.

April 10, 2021

As of last Monday I really had no idea what I would share for this week’s art and story. But that evening I found myself looking again at some sketches I had pulled from an old portfolio several months ago. I think my interest in these finished sketches was simultaneously peeked as I put away the stuffed rabbits my son had gotten when he was little. I had an Aunt Bunnie, and when my son was little she seemed to like giving him stuffed bunnies for various birthdays and holidays. I don’t know, maybe she thought he would forget her name or something. But how many little kids, or even the mom of a little kid, have an Aunt Bunnie—Great Aunt Bunnie to him. She passed away last August and it seemed time to put the bunnies away, but maybe a story of rabbits needed to be told. 

I did these sketches as part of picture book I had planned to write and illustrate when my son was young. At that time I was an editor of educational materials, but wanted to crack the trade book market. I didn’t have a lot of spare time back then, but I loved the idea that my stories would someday be published and catch on. I put together several picture book ideas (see 7/28/2018 for a complete picture book thumbnail). But for this one I had in mind the idea of mixing a kid’s fantasy life of playing with her rabbit next to the reality of owning a potentially very demanding pet. My fascination with having a pet rabbit started long before my son was born, and all told I had 5 pet rabbits. My first bunny I named Numbert. My mom and dad loved Pogo Possum (Walt Kelly cartoons) and Numbert was one of the characters that lived in the Okefenokee Swamp with Pogo, Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Churchy LaFemme. I got baby Numbert when I was a freshman at UCSD in the 70s. You weren’t supposed to have pets in the dorm, so I hid him in my room. My roommate didn’t seem to mind and would let Numbert out of his cage to hop around. As you may have guessed, that didn’t turn out to be a good idea because he would hop in my closet and poop in my shoes. Then he would jump onto my roommate’s bed and pee on her bedspread. But of course the story of Numbert didn’t end there. I had painted a giant tree and gumball machine on a wall in our room. (I’m not sure that was allowed either. I never bothered to ask, I just stood on my bed and painted.)  That crazy rabbit would stand on his hind legs and lick the red paint off the gumball machine’s base. 

There was a long dry spell, where I had no interest or opportunity to get another rabbit. But once I started teaching science at an elementary school in the late 80s I had a whole string of them, one after the other. First, there was a mini lop eared rabbit named Cookie (father named Chocolate, mother named Chip). She was pretty placid. I would let the kids put her in a cat leash and take her for a walk on the grass outside my classroom. That was pretty funny to watch as Cookie didn’t quite get how to go for a walk attached to a human. She would just randomly take off with the kids holding on tight to the leash, laughing all the way. When she got older she had a rather serious kidney infection. I had to give her injections twice a day, and she actually got better—surviving the kids, a serious medical condition and me. Then I was given a large lop eared bunny that the kids in my class named “Thumper.” After that I found myself the proud owner of a petite black and white spotted bunny named Hopscotch. Finally, I had a kind of standard white rabbit that I named Frisby. I had just read the book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh” to my students and I named her Frisby. Of all my pet rabbits, Frisby had the most personality. And the ideas for the picture book you see here were mostly based on that sometimes very naughty rabbit with a little sprinkling of Numbert, the number one.

Frisby was long gone from my life before my son was born, but I guess I hadn’t quite let go of my love of bunnies and wanted to write about them. Frisby had some peculiar habits, but her bad behavior was probably my fault. I had trained her to use a cat litter box inside the apartment I shared with my then husband. But if I didn’t keep that litter box spotless, Frisby would have an occasional accident on the carpet or the bathroom floor. So, I lined our outdoor balcony with chicken wire and took to putting her outside. And sometimes I would leave her out there when we would go out for the evening. I know, I know… who’s the one with the bad behavior? But that turned out to be kind of hilarious because she figured out how to jump up onto a table out there and would be looking for us when she heard our voices as we were coming up the walk. Once we made eye contact, she would jump down and wait patiently at the sliding glass door. But of course leaving her out there unattended was not a good idea. I soon found out that she had figured out how to get in a small shed on that deck and she had chewed up the plastic handle of my then husband’s very small, very cheap suitcase. I thought her doing that so funny, but he didn’t think it amusing at all. It still makes me laugh when I think of him trying to show me what my rabbit had done to his suitcase, but he couldn’t hold it up because the handle was in shreds. OMG, it still makes me laugh. I am laughing right now as I am remembering all of this! Oh yes, we are divorced—no sense of humor is definitely grounds…

Anyway, between Numbert and Frisby, I was sure I had the perfect story of a child’s fantasy of having a fantastically wonderful pet rabbit, juxtaposed to the reality of a real live naughty rabbit. And on each page was the imagined bunny with the reality penciled in below. I never finished the story and actually don’t remember how I had planned to end this cautionary tale. 

Even though I have no memory of how I was going to end the story I do remember how much I enjoyed them even with the warning signs of what might happen when caring for a busy critter. Maybe that’s the ending, be sure to enjoy your pet rabbit, but be on the look out as well. And if you start to notice that your rabbit jumps up on the outside table when she hears your voice, then waits at the sliding the glass door to be let in…maybe you have gone too far. Oh well! No regrets! Maybe the story ends like the “The Velveteen Rabbit” in a kind of reverse. Instead of the stuffed bunny becoming real, the good domestic bunnies get to become wild rabbits that run around the Descanso Gardens—free as bunnies can be. (That’s actually what happened to Cookie. I gave her to a friend and she let the rabbit run around in the backyard, free as you please. I went to visit her one day and that rabbit not only ignored me, but ran into the shrubbery when I tried to pet her. Of all the nerve!) But here’s the non-velveteen rabbit twist—the naughty bunnies are turned to stone like the one you see here, and they are forever left to sit in one place. And they will be tormented by the many children who like to sit on them and scream. Not sure, but this kind of ending doesn’t sound much like a book for kids, maybe more for adults who are fixated on some kind of weird rabbit revenge? 

While wandering the Descanso Gardens today I discovered a nest that I’d missed. It is another one made by a local artist named David Lovejoy. It’s his interpretation of a Bower Bird nest. Google Bower Bird, you’ll see photos of their actual nests. They are definitely cool birds.