April 9, 2017

Winter 2017 Descanso Garden

This coming week is spring break for me and I plan to do a lot of sketching/painting. I have recently begun wandering the hills of Glendale, looking for opportunities to paint a quaint image of a house with trees, flowers and bushes, or just row upon row of palm trees. (My son says I am obsessed with palm trees. And so what if I am?) There are literally acres of palm-lined streets in this part of Southern California and I am in heaven. I also wander the paths between oaks, native California plants, roses and perennials at the Descanso Garden. I must admit I am drawn to the rose garden there. (My son hasn’t commented on that obsession yet.) I look for a shady spot, so my paints don’t dry out too quickly, and I begin to sketch. Then the paints come out and I start the layering of color. I’m not sure if I’ve really gotten the hang of this very temperamental media, but I do enjoy talking to the colors as I coax them from the cakes of my pallets into the mixing tray. I usually start with my deep blues like cobalt blue, ultramarine and Prussian blue. These help me immediately add dimension to my landscape—drawing my eye back into the shadows of a tree, shrub or into the baseline of a patch of flowers. Blue is kind of my “go to” color. I always try to have some kind of sky in the background too, and this is where I add my “cheeky” cerulean blue to the mix. The skies of California (in both northern and southern California) are often a haze of white on the horizon. Smog you say? Maybe, but I give that a pink (alzarin crimson) or aqua (sap green added to the cerulean) tint and all of a sudden I have romanticized a hazy sky of questionable content. And finally, there must be some white on the page as either a highlight or just because there should be some kind of reminder that there is paper underneath all that color. Obsession you say? But this is my little piece of the world and I can do what I wish! Isn’t that what we all do, really? We pick and choose people, jobs and of course food and fun, and then somehow we just mix that together to form a perfect afternoon of drinking and dancing. Right? Or maybe there’s an extra special moment at work where it all comes together and someone notices. Or just maybe you are in the right place at the right time and that perfect friend happens to be at the same garden at the exact moment, and you are both looking for the turtles that hide under the water lilies in the pond. And you know this is good because they listen to you talk about your painting obsession and are polite enough to let you finish and their eyes don’t glaze over while you seem to go on and on. Well, that’s at least how some of us do it in California. There are a lot of very creative people here, or maybe we are all just very patient as the stories drone on and on and on.

So, the other day I had situated myself in a dark corner by the camellias at the Descanso Garden. Strangely enough I was not at any of my usual benches in the rose garden. I had begun mixing my colors and was happily chatting with the cobalt blue when a couple with their little boy of 3 or 4 stopped by. This little guy was running around the paths near me like he was on fire, and his dad was trying to catch him and put him out. I was unusually patient and didn’t really look up, except to notice them finally chase him out of this little part of my garden. I kept working for another 45 minutes or so and finally finished the painting I was working on. I was beginning to pack up to leave, when the little boy came walking towards me, holding his mother’s hand. He was very shy and his mom said that he wanted to come back and see what I had been painting. I showed him the trees, flowers and sky I had just finished and then we talked about our favorite colors and that we both really liked art and painting. (I didn’t tell him I talk to my paints as I mix colors.) The running would have probably commenced all over again and this time it would have been the mother running away from the obsessed painter. But I was impressed that the little boy wanted to come back to see me and that I had made a small friend at the Descanso Garden that day. That reminds me of the time I first brought out my watercolors when my son was 3 or 4 years old. He wanted to taste the different colors as he mixed them with water in the tray. And that of course is another California girl’s story.

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