December 30, 2017

Dec 3
Descanso Garden, 12/3/17 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and watercolor crayon)

It’s about to be a new year and this post is my idea of a wrap up of 2017 I guess. Of course what I have to say has some heavy-handed symbolism, with a few of my stories that are sprinkled with my abounding love of art. And it’s a time where I get to take myself way too seriously. Ha! Gotta love that. This year, as well as any year for that matter, it’s all about special moments–like a moment in the sun when the light is just right. I got to thinking about reflecting on the year as light filled moments on December 21, the shortest day of year. Years ago, I realized I needed a certain number of sunny days in a row to really be happy and somewhat “centered.” Being raised in Silicon Valley we had many sunny days, and that was good. But as is typical of my native CA brethren and me, we move frequently. And I didn’t stay in Silicon Valley once I had graduated from high school. After that I lived in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego and Berkeley (as well as a couple other East Bay cities—Walnut Creek and San Ramon), Santa Clara, Long Beach, Paso Robles, Grass Valley, Glendale and La Crescenta. (And that list is not in any particular order.) The year between my sophomore and junior years in college I ventured far from sunny California and lived in Munich. As I soon discovered, that’s a place with way too many cloudy days in a row for me. I remember a moment in the sun one particularly cloudy spring day. I had just stepped off the strassenbahn near the room I rented in a flat in Schwabing, which is near the Englische Garten. People on the street were dressed in their usual heavy wool coats and hats, carrying shopping bags, and they were shuffling along past the many store windows. It was another cloudy day and I had gotten used to no sun. All of a sudden the clouds parted and everything was bathed in sunlight. All the shuffling immediately stopped and it got very quiet. That crowd of people had turned to face the sun, standing so still that it looked like a huge army of shadows had materialized as if by magic. I stopped too, but more or less to look at the frozen bodies all around me. After 20 seconds or so the sun went back behind the clouds, never to return that afternoon or many other subsequent afternoons. The people unfroze and resumed whatever journey they were on that previous moment. I had met some people from the States that were doing doctoral research at the University of Michigan. They said the Germans loved being outdoors, especially on a beautiful sunny day. One friend had said they’d seen whole families strip down to no clothes on the side of a lake once on a particularly sunny day. It was just a moment or two in the sun that turned into an afternoon. How lovely!

When my son was little we lived in Paso Robles, a place of intense sunshine during the summer. I probably got spoiled with too many moments in the sun there because no particular moment comes to me now. After that we moved further north and lived in Grass Valley. I remember several lovely moments in the sun there, especially after days of brutal wind and snow. Once the sun came out you could see a huge blanket of snow as well as the almost individual snowflakes that had landed on the tips of leaves or were stuck to the side of fence posts or street signs. But those tiny sparkles would almost immediately start to melt once the sun came out. Just another moment in the sun.

While living in Grass Valley I had a doctor tell me that women who lived north of San Francisco probably didn’t get enough sun and that we should all take vitamin D to make up for that. I surely took that to heart and now find myself in sunny southern California. There have been so many moments in the sun here to describe and record in a watercolor. I am in a sunlit heaven. I have seen so many amazing sunsets and sunrises nestled on the hills near my house this year. Would love to see some rainbows. Maybe there will be a few more in 2018… Maybe this year you had memorable rainbows where you live…

On Christmas morning I went walking along Second Street in Belmont Shore. I carry a small scribble pad and pen with me always—just in case I see a perfect statue, strange plants or a symmetrical grouping of trees I need to capture in a moment. During previous walks on Second Street I had noticed that an artist had painted shadows on the sidewalk connected to a couple parking meters next to the curb. However, on this particular morning I started to really look at a shadow or two, madly scribbling notes about what the artist had depicted there. As I walked along I realized there were probably a dozen or more whimsical shadows painted on the concrete connected to these meters. That artist had captured a moment in the sun and had somehow created a beachfront southern California story I was really interested in. I’d been down the street countless times and had not noticed all those shadows. It occurred to me there were usually lots of people milling around down there, looking in windows, pushing a stroller, walking their dogs and/or waiting to be seated in a café. So, normally all those painted shadows would have obliterated by the real shadows of people, strollers and dogs. (I have spoken in the past about my distaste for people and now I had irrefutable proof of their infamy.) But since it was Christmas morning lots of the stores and cafes were closed, save a coffee shop or two. There was virtually no one walking around, or pushing a stroller with a dog attached.

Here is a list of those Second Street shadows, in order: 1. Parking meter with a bird in flight just above it, 2. Dog on a leash (sitting on the concrete) as though it was attached to the actual meter, 3. Two crows in profile perched on the side of the parking meter, 4. Parking meter with 2 pelicans in flight above the meter, 5. No shadow of a parking meter, but rather the shadow of a large dog, 6. Parking meter with a person putting money in the meter, 7. No shadow of a parking meter, but rather the shadow of a young girl on an adult’s shoulders, 8. No shadow of the parking meter, but the shadow of a very large crow, 9. No shadow of a parking meter, but the shadow of a heron with the heron’s reflection in water with 3 fish in the water within reach of the heron. There may have been more parking meter shadows further down the street, but I had gone past a coffee shop and turned around to get a cappuccino.

I guess the final thoughts I have about memorable moments in the sun in 2017 (or any year), is to remember to remember what you have seen or felt in a particular moment. Not everyone will capture a moment in a watercolor or see a series of shadows on a sidewalk on Christmas morning. But don’t forget to notice momentary snowflakes, blazingly amazing sunsets and sunrises, rainbows or the occasional impromptu army of German shadows on the sidewalk on a busy spring day. Such moments should not to be missed!

Happy New Year!

December 23, 2017

Lucchesi pastel bd
Lucchesi Vineyards (2005), companion piece for Napa Vineyard curving cypress (watercolor crayon on pastel board)

These vineyards are pretty spectacular—sitting in the Sierra Foothills surrounded with dense pine forests. During the cool fall months through early spring you can see snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains that are in the distance. (This view is of the western side of the Lucchesi Vineyards, with the Sierra behind me.) I spent a couple enjoyable afternoons traipsing the hillsides through these grape plants and I think the pastel shows the kind of deep blue green that exists in northern California that I don’t see in SoCal. The greens here have that hint of yellow or gold, as you might find in a eucalyptus or palm tree. Once you get north of San Luis Obispo County you can see this kind of blue green in the landscape.

Ode to Old Grass Valley

My mom and dad, along with my paternal grandfather, went into business together in the early 1960s. My parents invested in 10 acres of rental property near downtown Grass Valley. There were 6 or 7 very old little houses on the property. As kids we thought the houses very funny as the toilets in each house had a wooden box on the wall high above the toilet bowl and it had a chain hanging down. You pulled down on the chain when you wanted to flush it. My dad loved to say, “Would you like to hear the story about the chain and the turtle? Pull the chain and the turd ‘l go down.” I think I thought that funny the first dozen or so times he said it…

Back in the 60s no one would have planted vineyards. I imagine the old timers that lived there would have thought it crazy to plant grapes and go to all the trouble of making wine when there were already a great many bars and liquor stores all along Mill Street and West Main. In its early years Grass Valley flourished as a mining town once gold was discovered near Sacramento in January 1848. It was an honest to God boomtown and the Empire Mine in GV ran from 1850 to 1956. According to Wikipedia it was the oldest, biggest and richest gold mine in California. And Grass Valley has the distinction of continuing to thrive to this day even after gold fever moved to the Yukon.

It seems the 10-acre rental property my parents bought was very much a part of early Grass Valley history. It was at the end of North Church Street and most of the streets around that area were named after women, such as: Doris Drive, Carol Drive, Bernice Drive, Hazel Lane and Jan Road. During the early days of the “hard rock” mining done at the Empire Mine that part of town was known as the “red light” district. There were a number of tiny houses in the area that were inhabited by prostitutes that the miners were known to frequent. And I guess some of the women were so famous that some of the streets were named after them. As an adult I thought it amusing that there were so many bars in town and with a quick walk down North Church you were on Doris Drive.

You may have noticed that the Empire Mine had only been closed a couple years when my dad bought the property. Later, in the mid-1970s, my mom and dad bought an 1863 pre-Victorian in Grass Valley near downtown and their rentals. One of their neighbors across the street had worked in the mine until it closed in ‘56. I think I remember him saying that if any miner found a particularly large nugget or a sizable vein of gold threading through the quartz the mine was immediately shut down. This was so management could go down and take a good look without the “hired help” around. Jim speculated that they didn’t want anyone volunteering to work that part of the mine in case they might be considering taking “samples” home with them. Hmmm…

Back to the partnership between my dad and his father…

It was always a kind of precarious arrangement as my grandfather had been a lifelong alcoholic. However, at that time he was on wife number two and as my dad said, “he seemed to be behavin’ himself.” I guess my grandpa had been mostly sober since meeting and marrying her. Finding and buying the property all coincided with my grandpa, his wife and her brother going to the CA state fair where they had seen cabins made of cedar that went together like Lincoln logs. The wood was notched and drilled so they could be assembled one on top of the other, with long pieces of rebar to stabilize the 10-foot by 13-foot little cabins. It was all decided that my grandpa and his brother-in-law would build a mill and they would make the cedar logs and then assemble them on the front half of the property near the few existing little houses. So, now my dad was on board because he was sure my grandpa would be too busy to drink. However, my grandpa’s brother-in-law liked to drink. And throughout the time they built the cabins that brother-in-law would disappear for days on end. Eventually he would then turn up at the local jail for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Then they would get back to work.

So, even though the miners were long gone, my family built a number of these little cabins I’m sure long ago miners would have loved to inhabit—so close to work, town and Carol Drive. Over time, the town and the partnership changed. My grandpa’s second wife died and he began drinking again and married wife number three. They were “hitched” in the Flume Room at the local bowling alley, a short walk from the property on North Church. That building was eventually taken down and is now a Holiday Inn. And with my grandpa’s third wife his drinking resumed and the rentals became populated with his drinkin’ buddies. My dad decided things had to change and bought out my grandpa, then forced him to move off the premises.

And so as the characters in my life’s story changed, so did the character of the bar-filled town. If I think about it, there’s only one of those original bars left. Even the old Gold Pan Liquor store is now a “head shop.” And there are more sophisticated businesses with wine and coffee bars. And the sleepy little mining town, and surrounding areas, has become a destination rather than secret places hidden in the foothills of the Sierra. Large homes and a couple golf courses were added for the “white hairs” that have moved in. I’m not really sorry for so many changes. I’m not so sure I think things were better in the past whether it’s Grass Valley or any other place in California. It was just the past and sometimes people think it was simpler and more romantic long ago. Yeah, tell that to the miners that went straight down into the blackness of the Empire Mine everyday in the late 1800’s.

That actually reminds of very visual bit of gentrification that has taken place in Grass Valley. When we were kids there was a particular landmark we would see as we drove into town. On the Del Oro Theater on Mill Street was a huge, if rather simple, mural on the back wall. It depicted a giant heart with a miner holding a pick and shovel on either side. Centered inside the heart were the words, “Grass Valley, The Heart of the Gold Industry.” In 2009 that was painted over by a muralist in a kind of Trompe L’oeil image. The painting is meant to trick your eye into thinking you are looking directly into a mountain—complete with rock, flowing water, greenery and timbers you might find in a gold mine. Then, as if in a mist, on the right is the depiction of long ago miners sitting side by side, top to bottom, in a kind of vertical train that would transport them down into the darkness of the mine to work. No words for this one. Oh, and at the very bottom around the back door to the theater is a painting of a prominent city guy from the 1990’s to early 2000’s. He looks as though he is going in the back door of the theater. Of course you can imagine the controversy this started with the few old timers that were left.

In the mid 80s my grandpa died in a little house just off the property he and his brother-in-law helped my parents develop into a business with 25 little cabins. Just before he died my dad said he was behavin’ himself again and they would get together and talk. I think my grandpa was pleased to remind my dad that all the hard work had paid off and all the heartache of the past was just the past. That must have been true as my mom and dad had forgiven him and were just about to invite him to come live with them when he passed away. So, maybe the past is important to remember, but it was never perfect. And in my opinion, trying to reproduce the past should certainly not be a blueprint for the future. Besides, if this winery hadn’t been built, this pastel would never have happened. And more importantly, all their wonderful wine would never have been produced and tasted.

December 16, 2017

my-porch.jpg
My front porch, 12/10/17 (watercolor, Inktense pencil, watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

Since I moved to this SoCal house (last August) I have been meaning to sit on my front porch and create a piece of art. So, last Sunday I did just that. The air was slightly cooler than it had been and the wind that blew in all the smoke from fires around us had moved farther north. Good for us, but bad for Santa Barbara.

I have been focusing a lot on color as of late, but on that day I was more interested in composition. It was fun to decide what had really caught my eye, and what I would leave in and what I would leave out. Would it be an expansive landscape that included many details jumbling around on a hillside? Would I include plants that were surrounding the view, and actually creating a kind of frame around my special elements in the middle? Or would it be something else, like a vignette of specifically chosen elements, almost like a still life of large things? Those are sometimes the most tricky to do because these days I want my art to look effortless even though the planning and logic of placement certainly takes a bit of effort. I even sometimes squint my eye to imagine the frame it will be in or use my hands to block out the things I don’t want to see. I get to pick and choose what I want to leave in and what I leave out. It is my composition, my vision.

So, this is what I decided to include: two palm trees (the one on the left got cut out and didn’t notice my bad cropping job until just now…), several sharp dark green cypress spires, a hint of houses with their roofs, and some plant specimens that include an orange tree covered with fruit. (Yes, there is ripening citrus on the trees in SoCal right now.) But perhaps the understated star of this show is the background that suggests soft verdant hills that have not been blackened by fire. It is where my eye can rest. You might wonder what I left out. Do you want to know? I removed the white truck that was in front of the house, took down a rather large telephone pole with wires extending in all directions and I axed a rather non-descript shrub in front of the palm tree on the left so you could see that tree (which I inadvertently chopped out…). Often, when I do a landscape I am looking to crawl into the picture and escape down a road, up a tree or I picture myself in the place just beyond a hill like this one. That means I take out items that don’t contribute to the story or feeling I am trying to convey.

When it comes to my art I think I always look to the “free speech” part of the first amendment for inspiration. I mean, I think it is perfectly OK to present my work as though I am having a conversation with you and I get to tell you what I hope you see. I know I am often overdramatic, but if you really plan to share your art with someone, you hope they get what you are trying to say using color and composition. But in way it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t working for you because you have my permission to look away, or look at someone else’s blog or art, or whatever. That’s fine with me. (Of course you don’t really need my permission to do that, right?) And, without being overly dramatic again, I think that’s what makes democracy (specifically the first amendment) so wonderful, you don’t have to like what I like. You don’t have to listen to me.

Are you wondering where all this is going? There is definitely more to this story…

Ok, earlier on that Sunday I went to a new coffee shop and began a new book that I had gotten at the library the day before. (Yes, I still browse library shelves for something to read.) I don’t know if I should mention the title of the book as it is a rather “lightweight” murder mystery and I don’t know if I am going to like it yet. Anyway, I was quietly drinking my double cappuccino and happily reading away, when a guy behind me began talking a little louder than I like. I mean, I could hear him very clearly over the other sounds of this rather busy place and it was kind of distracting. He was one of 7 or 8 people all sitting around, eating brunch and it sounded like he was giving the others at the table a lecture. I was really trying not to pay attention. So, I am thinking this is a free country and I attempt to dive back into my book, wondering who had put the poison in the tea that had just killed Beau. But then he began to describe, to the rapt crowd of mostly women at the table, that Satan and all his many demons were walking among us. I imagined they had just come from church and he was continuing the morning’s message to his lunch companions and me. I couldn’t really “unhear” this now and thought of planning my departure, but wasn’t quite finished with my cappuccino. I naively hoped he would focus on his meal and stop talking. But of course that was not to be and he wasn’t done. So, now he began to speak of Jews and all the problems they have brought to the world, including the fact that Jews had killed Jesus. Merry Christmas! I guess I had never actually heard someone say anti-Semitic things over brunch in a coffee shop. But I knew I did not have to sit there and listen to such “hate.” I quietly closed my book and left, wondering if I would ever go back to that coffee shop again.

I went home, and planned and executed the composition you see here, not intending to give my earlier flight from the coffee shop another thought. But somehow I started obsessing about what freedom of speech really meant to me and how the right to speak freely had a flipside and I wasn’t required to hang around and listen. I even Googled “First Amendment” and was reminded that besides freedom of speech it also guarantees us freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom to assemble peaceably. So, I guess the church group in the coffee shop was exercising another part of their first amendment right as well. But of course I wasn’t quite done with my little bit of personal drama. I told myself such anti-Semitic people were only allowed in my composition if they were all inside the truck that I so carefully removed from this piece. Then they could drive off into their personal sunset and leave me alone with my personal composition, my personal vision. Ok, so now I’m done…

Footnote to the story: This morning my son and I went back to coffee shop. We had a lovely brunch and all I could hear in the background was the Beatles. Ah me, there is a God!

Note about a wonderful book of “color”: Besides the murder mystery that I am still not sure I will finish, I found a rather wonderful book called, The Color of Pixar, by Tia Kratter. According to the introduction in the book, Ms. Kratter has been a Shader Art Director at Pixar for 19 years. (Not sure what a “Shader” is…) Anyway, she has taken specific 1/24 of a second images from various Pixar movies she has “Shaded (?)” and matched them with a border of color and put all such images in a book. The book starts with white borders framing an image, then the borders gradate to lilac, then purple, continuing on through all the colors of the rainbow. In fact the first two pages with white borders are two shots of the desk lamp that is so “iconic Pixar.” And the last couple pages are framed with black. And of course the irony that I love here is that all the digital art that was created for such a book was not made with an artist’s brush on paper, but a computer program. Gotta love that!

December 9, 2017

backyard tree
Backyard Tree, La Crescenta, November 2017 (watercolor test of New Gamboge)

Hadn’t planned to post this picture, as I am not sure it’s worthy of anyone’s attention—save my “color” scrutiny. I thought this tree in my backyard had fall leaves that were the perfect shade of yellow—my new obsession. So, I rolled out a thin sheet of bubble wrap onto the cold concrete slab walkway beside the garage and sat down to paint. (I should replace that bubble wrap as it has gone quite flat in places where my butt has unceremoniously popped the bubbles.) The light was fading and I had a new tube of New Gamboge to try out. I thought this strange “SoCal-specific” color would be perfect for the gorgeous fall leaves as the Southern California light faded into evening. So, here’s what my backyard tree (don’t know what kind of tree it is actually) looked like that day and in that light.

Fast forward to one week later. All, and I mean all, of the colorful yellow blotches you see here (plus a huge number of green leaves and branches) were blown to the ground Monday night (12/4). We have something here in Southern California called the Santa Ana winds. They tend to come in the fall and blow like crazy for a couple days. Sometimes the winds gust to 40, 50, on up to 80 miles per hour. And then just as quickly as they arrive, they’re gone again. (Of course I’m glossing over the meteorological event going on here…)

So, back to why I posted this picture. I think I did it because as corny as it may sound, you need to stop and notice things around you. Because random events, like crazy-strong gusts of wind, can change everything overnight. Of course this didn’t happen in an instant. The tree took hours of battering winds to completely drop its “New Gambogeness.” And now, that color is somewhere in the dried up leaves and branches all over my backyard. So, what’s the big deal? Why all the drama and whining? I think some of it stems from the fact that I just finished lingering over a book (Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren). In that book she describes, in great detail, the perils that trees constantly face here on Earth. And I could almost feel the tree’s pain as the rather poetic changing and dropping of fall leaves could be instantly changed as they were ripped from it’s branches and thrown about like so many other bits of inconsequential detritus. (OK, way over the top drama and I will stop with the metaphors.) But I will have something more to say about my beloved trees…later.

But the real story that comes from this kind of wind in our dry inland landscape is the potential for fires. And that is the real story here because that is exactly what happened Monday night, just a few miles away from my windswept backyard tree and me. A random ember, from who knows where, started a fire. Then the churning wind fanned those flames and picked up floating embers and blew them around, setting alight more and more things that burn. And just like that, you are in danger and everything you care about can go up in smoke, including you. But of course you can move and hopefully have time to get in a car and drive away. Not so, for your pets and/or livestock, your house and surrounding trees or shrubs. So, now your beautiful home (and all your beautiful possessions inside), trees and shrubs can become your death trap. Some think they can stay behind, use garden hoses to wet down the roof and somehow ride it out. Maybe. Then you see photos of the hillside next to the 405 completely ablaze, as cars move slowly past the spectacle. Oh, and on the west side of this particular stretch of the freeway is the Getty Museum, something else that you can’t pack up and take to safety. So, if you ran the Getty and a helicopter could whisk away something inside the museum at a moment’s notice, what might you stuff inside before you jumped aboard and flew away? Or, what if the police or fire department told you to evacuate your house right now? What would you take?

I got one of those emergency messages (Wednesday night) on my phone telling me that crazy high winds may bring the blaze to my front door and that I might need to be evacuated in the middle of night. Thank goodness the Santa Anas in my area that night/morning weren’t as fierce as predicted. But I woke up several times during the night/early morning and looked out my window just to see if there were gusts of smoke I should be worried about. In case I had to leave in a hurry I had placed a couple large paintings and my laptops by the front door. I had also left my car out that night because I didn’t want to worry about the winds while trying to open the garage door in a hurry. (I had had great difficulty getting my car out Tuesday morning as the wind kept blowing the door shut. I finally put the car in reverse and just backed out as quickly as possible, hoping the wind would not slam down onto my new car.) Tuesday night I put a few items inside my car, like my checkbook and pending bills, an old address book with many friends listed inside, a full backpack of assorted painting supplies with things like watercolors/paper and brushes, a box of supplies for my son’s insulin pump, recharger cords for my phone and laptops, and my mother’s ashes. I had spoken to my son earlier in the evening and he reminded me of a couple valuable comic books. And he asked me to put those in the car as well. Not that anything I wanted to save would be as precious as what you might find at the Getty, and I don’t have any pets right now. But the items I just listed are important to me. What would you put in your car if you had to leave in a hurry? What is precious to you?

My note to you about trees: So, now I come back to the trees. I can’t put them in my car and I can’t stand to look at an area that’s burned—with so many ash gray shrouded trees where my beautiful green color should be. Sometimes my heart just feels like it will break at that sight. And I can’t watch them burn when the news shows the devastation of the flames on a hillside of trees. The other night they showed a couple palm trees burning like large candles against the night sky. I turned it off, I couldn’t watch, it just made my heart sick with grief.

It can’t be an accident that Friday, 12/8/17 was the birthday of Jan Ingenhousz. He was the 18th century Dutch scientist who is credited for discovering photosynthesis. And it can’t be an accident that I finally finished Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. (I savored every delicious chapter of this one…) Her final thoughts in the book are to tell us to plant trees whenever and wherever possible. She tells us to plant them as though your life depended on it. Because actually, it does.

December 3, 2017

Napa Winery, summer 2005
Napa Winery, Winter 2007 (watercolor crayon on green pastel board)

I’ve done a number of winery landscapes. In 2007 I was living in Grass Valley, but I was painting Paso Robles and the surrounding area (my son and I had previously lived there). Back in 2007 my son was still pretty young and as a single mom I didn’t have the luxury of doing much plein air painting. Mostly I took photos of places I loved and wanted to paint, and then when I had a moment or two I would paint them either in oil, watercolor or colored pencil.

I took this photo the summer 2005 when I was on a trip with a couple lovely friends. We were in Napa and doing some serious wine tasting. I thought these “crazy shaped” cypress pretty fun and made my friends stop so I could take a picture. For many months after our trip, I pulled this photo out of the box with the intent of painting it. It took me until the winter of 2007 for me to finally create this piece. By that time I was experimenting with pastel board and watercolor crayons. I had just finished a pastel board of some of the grape plants of Lucchesi Vineyards in Grass Valley and thought I’d be clever and magically add some grapes, the driveway and cypress trees of a winery in Napa—making another diptych. Not so sure how clever all that really was…

During my “sans” plein air outdoor painting period I usually played some Mozart, Miles or the Chieftains and had a ball painting. Picasso had his “blue period” and I had my “tunes period.” But most of this one was done sans music, amid “ear splitting” silence, punctuated by intermittent chanting and meditation in the sanctuary of the Grass Valley United Methodist Church one Sunday morning. Our pastor was trying to establish an early morning “contemplative prayer” service and she asked me to sit and paint while they all worshipped during one of these services. I thought it an interesting idea and wondered how I could do without listening to bagpipes, but said, “OK.”

The set up for watercolor crayons and pastel board isn’t as messy as random trays of watercolors or smelly oils. I just had a cup of water that I used to mix some of the water-soluable crayons right on the bumpy surface of the board. But there was nothing that would really leave a horrible stain if something spilled. So, I sat and painted in the darkened sanctuary, with only the light of the sun streaming through a rather large stained glass window behind me and had a ball. The service lasted 45 minutes and of course I wasn’t done. I think I had finished the sky (where I often start my landscapes) with the wonderful Italian cypress weaving up through the blue. And I had most of the other plants and the road roughed in. It was still in what we in the painting trade call it’s “ugly period.” So, as the 8, or so, people who were in the service filed past me, no one gushed in excitement and admiration at the site of the few “Italian” cypress trees standing before my blue sky. The pastor seemed pleased I was there, but she didn’t invite me back to be “contemplative” and never asked to see it when I was finished. So, I took it home and contemplated the amazing saxophone stylings of Paul Desmond, finished the landscape and never looked back.

Maybe they were expecting the Madonna and Child, the visual representation of someone speaking in tongues, something on fire or an angel or two—looking much like the cherubs from Western Europe’s religious painting of the 15th and 16th centuries. This got me thinking about what it must have been like before the Renaissance (14th century), when all art was meant to be devotional and had very stylized representations of the people from the Old and New Testament. And before the Renaissance, “nature” was not represented. If the painter added something behind an apostle or two, where the sky might be, it was often done in gold, not blue. And if plants were indicated at all, they were not as you would find in nature, but a stylized idea of foliage that was in the painter’s head. In fact, painters didn’t really go out to paint until the impressionists set up their easels outside. Western Europe’s Impressionists didn’t seem to care about the pesky changing light and bits of detritus that blew onto their palettes and/or onto the actual painting. They set up their easels all around the town and country, and had a ball (I’m sure).

Probably the best thing I can say about the whole “contemplative” experience was my surprising use of black—a color I rarely used then or even now for that matter. While sitting in that rather dark spot, I thought I had discovered a lovely dark blue in my tray of watercolor crayons that I hadn’t noticed before. But that lovely dark blue turned out to be black. That was a funny moment for me, when I stepped into the light and began looking for the dark blue color. It wasn’t there! I was happy how that bit of black turned out, but didn’t use it again until last night when I sat on a sheet of bubble wrap on the damp grass in the darkened back garden of the Norton Simon Museum. There I painted that magical garden and “Monet Inspired” pond by the light of the almost full moon and the night light of a nearby statue. This time I intentionally reached for my darkest blue again. I guess crazy and wonderful things can happen in the dark.