April 16, 2017

Between schools
Ornamental pear trees that line the field between the middle school and elementary school my son attended in Grass Valley. (Colored pencil and watercolor on cold-pressed illustration board.)

One of the things that we all enjoy in Southern California is the sunshine. We even take it for granted and complain when it dips below 60 degrees. But as a painter I never under appreciate the light we have here. My son’s middle school marching band played in the Disneyland princess parade one spring evening a few years back. And believe it or not it had rained just before they marched up Main Street. Of course my eyes, ears and camera were trained on the kids, and especially on my boy playing the trombone, as they lead the parade up the street. But once they passed by, I noticed the light of the setting sunlight on the masses of lavender-colored blossoms on the Jacaranda trees. The color was so bright that the ground beneath the trees looked pink. People may say what they like about “La La Land,” but there is really nothing quite as lovely as the colors of a Southern California evening. And the Disney princesses and/or the fact that I was standing on Main Street, “The happiest place on Earth,” had nothing to do with it. Of course Southern California isn’t the only part of California that enjoys color saturated sunny days and evenings. When driving from here north on 101 you come to Santa Barbara and it’s long stretches of the changeable blue-green Pacific Ocean. One day, I saw a pod of dolphins very near 101 just south of Santa Barbara, and people were pulling over to the side of the freeway to watch the sea boil with silver and black fins and flukes in the white froth. (There was probably a school of fish they were feeding on just there.)

Note about California weather: If you do plan a trip to sunny southern California the month of June you may be disappointed in the weather then. The whole month is usually overcast and is referred to as “June Gloom.” Just sayin’.

Northern California scenery also has a light and color story to tell. This piece of art was done on a beautiful early spring day in Grass Valley, at the foothills of the Sierra. Such a vision of complementary colors (on opposite sides of the color wheel) can be seen in early spring after the white blossoms have dropped off and blown away. What are left are these apricot colored “new growth” shiny leaves. And yes, the sky was that blue that day and the significance of these amazing colors being on the opposite sides of the color wheel means that such a contrast of color really “pops” in that California light. The French Impressionist painters would have loved to paint in the California light.

Note about trees: I am obsessed with most kinds of trees—palm trees, oaks, ornamental pear trees, flowering cherry trees etc. I love the natural shapes, colors, and textures of most kinds of trees (not too crazy about some kinds of conifers though). However, I do not know why humans insist on trying to control the shape of some trees. Why would anyone “top” a liquidambar, magnolia or even a pine tree (kind of conifer), or “trim into submission” a sycamore or a colorful crape myrtle? I know of an editor at Southern Living that called it “crape murder.” I think I speak for the trees, and those of us who are obsessed with them, to just put down the trimmers and leave them alone. They have such a nice shape all on their own.

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