February 24, 2018

Family Day, Porter College, UCSC, 2/10/18 (watercolor on watercolor paper)

I went to my son’s college Family Day. We started the morning off with pastries and coffee, and then were treated to panels of students who presented various projects they were passionate about. One group shared pieces of art that told of the physical and mental abuses of women, another shared a You Tube project they had done related to the myths and truths of being biracial and another created posters of popular Hollywood movies with the casts changed to more appropriately include people of color. I was so impressed with the courage and commitment these students have. And I have told my son that previous generations had made such a mess of things and it’s up to them to save us from ourselves. I have such hope!

Then we, the parents, heard about the issues of off campus housing in Santa Cruz and why it was so expensive to live there. (No surprise that people working in Silcon Valley come over the hill to Santa Cruz to live, leaving no affordable housing for anyone else.) Finally, we were treated to a group of a cappella singers and then lunch. And of course we were in Santa Cruz and that meant our meal (e.g. utensils, plates and left over food) was compostable. Gotta love that too! My son was too busy with his studies to join me for the morning’s events, but he did join me for lunch. Then he went back to studying and I did this piece just a few steps from his dorm room. Such a lovely day, by the way.

Sitting on my bubble wrap in the dirt and leaves, looking at this view, got me thinking about the sometimes-glaring differences between northern and southern California. And if you are looking for such differences just at the coastline from Santa Cruz to below Santa Barbara it’s just the tip of the “difference” iceberg. (No icebergs here, but the Pacific Ocean is pretty cold and most would need a wetsuit to spend any time in that frigid water, even in San Diego.) To the untrained eye you just see the trees with a big sky that blurs into ocean way off in the distance. Could be anywhere along the California coast, right? Well, that’s because what you can’t see has always been the real story in California. How do I put into words what I am trying to describe? OK, first, those trees you see in the foreground are huge conifers, and there are groves of giant redwoods just behind me and out of this line of site. This is no SoCal or central coast scene. In fact you wouldn’t see these trees once you got south of Monterey. They have these really cool trees called Monterey Pine or Monterey Cypress there. Look them up on Google, you won’t be disappointed. Of course Big Sur has some mighty redwoods, but that part of California’s coast is not as subtle as Santa Cruz. It’s wild and windy there. When my son was little we dared to run around in the screaming rain and wind at a beach near Big Sur. When we were completely soaked and hoarse from yelling, we found a public restroom nearby and changed into our jammies. I put our wet clothes in a bag and we drove home.

By the time you get down to Hearst Castle (Central California coast) there really aren’t many trees to speak of near the ocean, except maybe an occasional grove of eucalyptus (non-native to California). But in winter that area is tossed and blown around until there are huge piles of detritus on the narrow strips of sand below Cambria’s amazing bluffs. And once you get to Santa Barbara, and further south for that matter, many of the trees you will see along the coast are palm trees (only one is native—California Fan Palm). And I am obsessed with palm trees!

Every area of California is different with different attractions for all. Our coastline is often foggy, so, it isn’t always sunny in California. But lots of people come here looking for a kind of intangible sunny weather that they hope will lead to some kind of “California Dreamin” (Beachboys song, right?) lifestyle. I think the most energetic come to California for the technology in Silicon Valley (northern CA). But now there is a high tech area in Santa Monica (SoCal) and it is called Silcon Beach. Some come to experience the wine country. That used to be exclusively in the northern Napa Valley, but now wineries can be found in the inland areas of Napa on down to Los Angeles in cities/towns like Lodi, Paso Robles, Templeton, Santa Maria, Simi Valley and Temecula—to name only a few. Funny that the people who dream of the creative world of movies and entertainment still need to come to LA. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

So, I am at the point in this story where there is way more to tell about the differences and similarities of the people and regions in this huge state. And I didn’t really know how to end this without going on and on. So, I will leave us at the beach for now.

I guess I’m not done. I just can’t seem to stop. OK, here’s a question and answer that people want to know about those of us who live in southern California. “Who in their right mind would live in LA? I mean, how do you put up with all that traffic?” I’ll tell you the slice of a story that should begin to answer that. I remember a perfect southern CA evening where we watched the sunset at a friend’s house at the top of Mount Washington. They had a huge window that overlooked a canyon and out to a thin silver ribbon that was the Pacific Ocean. From that window, we watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean while the twinkling lights of planes landed at LAX. And oh yeah, I think we were drinking a particularly lovely Napa Valley Cab while eating guacamole made from CA avocados. You get it, right?

February 17, 2018

Forest Lawn
Forest Lawn, Glendale, January 2018 (mixed media)

On January 27 a couple sketching groups from LA participated in WW SketchCrawl 58. I’m not sure I know exactly what there is to know about a Sketch Crawl, but suffice it to say, it’s a kind of worldwide sketching and painting group experience. And I guess it’s sort of an exclusive club of urban sketchers from every continent (except Antarctica I believe) that posts what each group creates on a predetermined day. But unless you have gotten permission to join the group, you can’t see what we do on Facebook. I think it’s kind of funny that a bunch of crazy artists thought to put together such a cohesive continuous event. It’s a lot like herding cats. So, you are lucky to see what I did on that SketchCrawl 58 day, even though I didn’t post it on the LA Urban Sketching website. Of course there are no rules! I should add that our Urban Sketching gang was joined by some other wonderful artists through a “Meetup” group.

I love the gang we have cobbled together, and don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants to join us can come along. But our little (I guess it’s not really so little) Urban Sketcher/Meet Up group decided to go to Forest Lawn in Glendale to sketch and paint on the 27th. Oh, and I forgot to mention that usually at one of these gatherings we also take a photo of all of us holding up our art and that gets posted too.

Back to Forest Lawn…You may or may not know it, but Forest Lawn is a kind of conglomerate cemetery and you can be buried in Glendale (where we were), Arcadia, City of Industry, Covina Hills, Cypress, Hollywood Hills, Long Beach, Cathedral City, Coachella or Indio. Many of LA’s rich and famous were buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale. (It also has the dubious distinction of being where my parents got married—at The Little Church of the Flowers.) It was my first visit and I had planned to paint The Little Church of the Flowers. But if you read the caption, you will see that that is not what happened. I liked the idea that the “story of me” started in that little church in Forest Lawn. But I guess the really big story about this place is the fact that people like Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson (to name only a few famous people) were buried there.

The place is huge and when I first turned into the property, I drove around and around, until I finally got to the top along with the 10 to 15 others who had dared to paint at Forest Lawn. The group had decided to meet in front of The Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection and museum. After we determined what time we would all get back together to share what we had created, we milled around a bit and each found a spot to paint. It was at this point I realized there wouldn’t be time to find the church where my parents had been married. But no worries. I made a mental note to come back another afternoon to do that. I found a nice place in the sun across from the Church of the Recessional. We had been instructed not to get too close to the church as there were continuous services going on there all day. And I guess it wouldn’t have been a good idea to roam the burial markers looking to practice figure drawing while a family placed flowers at Great Aunt Myrtle’s headstone. Across the street from this church were great mounds of chipped trees and shrubs (mulch). So, I laid out my bubble wrap and sweatshirt and settled down to sketch and paint this church. But there were lots of places to go all around that mountaintop. When we later had our “through down” (placed our work on the steps in front of the Hall) I noticed 3 or 4 others who chose to paint the Church of the Recessional. But some painted the many statues that were all around The Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection and museum, and some painted the exterior of The Hall. I didn’t see it, but I understand there is a “Last Supper” window inside that should not be missed. There is also a giant 195 foot long by 45 foot high Crucifixion painting that was originally painted in 1904 for an exposition in St Louis, and it finally found its final resting place in the Hall in 1951. And if you looked over a wall on one side of the Hall, there was an amazing view of the city of Glendale below. I thought of trying to paint that scene, but it was too overwhelming, and I am glad I chose to do this piece instead.

I guess it’s common for people to come to Forest Lawn and look for famous people who have been buried there. If you look up Forest Lawn on the Internet you can find a page that lists such famous people in alphabetical order. I was kind of intrigued with Michael Jackson’s final resting place and thought I might look for it some day. There is, however, a kind of note on their website that says we, the public, are not really invited to do so as there is special security to keep non-family members away. Not even sure what that might look like.

I guess the question might be, whose grave would you be interested in seeing? How close can we get to something so personal without it being intrusive or kind of creepy? And how do we show respect and reverence without being like a member of the paparazzi? Or is visiting a famous person’s grave the ultimate fan club event? I am looking forward to going back there to find and sketch The Little Church of the Flowers. I guess I am the self-appointed official historian of June and Gene’s fan club.


February 10, 2018

Adelaida, 1997 (oil on canvas)

We lived in Paso Robles for 7 years and my son went from age 1 to almost 8 during that time. I wasn’t able to sit in the weeds and paint the beautiful mountains, safflower fields and wine grapes around me, so I took photos of what I saw for a later time. I had an old camera in the car and every chance I got I pulled over to the side of the road and took pictures. This view was such a surprise and I will never forget the afternoon I came upon it. I was on my way to a writer friend’s house and she lived in Adelaida (Adelaida Winery to be exact) and didn’t have my son with me. I had never been to the winery before, but knew I was getting close based on the directions I had been given. I came around a corner and there it was—like a soft focus dream of mountain beauty that included a far off sliver-blue lake. I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and lingered there for quite a while. And I took lots of pictures. Later, when I had time, I stretched a canvas and captured this scene, but it isn’t the painting you see here. That original piece hung on the wall a couple years I think. But there was something I didn’t like about the way I had rendered the foreground. So, I eventually put it back on my easel, covered it with gesso and started again. I like this version better. (Of course it doesn’t really matter if I do or not, the other one has been completely obliterated.)

You might think this story is going to be about repainting, touching up or just putting a painting away for good. But you would be wrong. This story actually has to do with the view and similar mountain scenes from all over San Luis Obispo County that I cobbled together to make a complete 360-degree mural for my son’s Paso Robles bedroom.

And this all started with two completely separate events that seemed to happen simultaneously. The first event was my visit to an upscale furniture store in the Stanford Shopping Center. They sold one of a kind pieces of furniture that was very colorful and quirky—a perfect combination for me. In one of the back rooms was a lovely long narrow mural that ran along the top of the wall and the ceiling for about 15 feet. The art was a bucolic scene of mountains, trees, with an occasional building. I was enchanted with this idea and thought such a scene would be a lovely bit of sophisticated art that would wrap around my son’s bedroom, giving him something peaceful and calm to look at as he went to sleep at night. This got me thinking then and for weeks after that. But what specific mountain scenes would I paint?

The second event that lead to the mural came while I was parking my car on the rooftop parking structure on Marsh Street across from the movie theater (which is one the tallest buildings in downtown San Luis Obispo). As I got out of the car and headed for the stairs I noticed a pretty spectacular 360-degree view of the nearby SLO mountains. I thought, OMG, I could put some of these mountains, and trees, in my mural. So, I thought back on the mountains I had photographed and realized I could invent a 360-degree panorama of my favorites. When I got home that very afternoon I laid out all my photos into one long landscape that looped back around to the beginning.

I was very excited with this idea. And a couple of days later I got a pencil, ruler and my photos (that I had taped together), moved a few items out of the way in my son’s room and set up a ladder. Before I made even one mark on the wall, I decided that it was going to take forever to finish—up and down the ladder, and up and down the ladder dragging a drop cloth behind me. I didn’t have time to commit to this lengthy process. But did I give up? No! Now I imagined some kind of wallpaper border, 18 inches or so deep, that wrapped around his room. I went to a paint store in San Luis Obispo and found blank wallpaper paper. It seemed sturdy enough to accept acrylics and I could pre-cut 4 pieces—each one 18 inches deep and the length of each wall. I also liked the idea because I knew I wouldn’t be in this house forever so that when we moved, I could take them down, roll them up and that would be that. (Of course I hadn’t really worked out how I was going to attach the long narrow panels to the wall yet. Maybe you are getting the sense that there would be some complications when that part came around…) Actually I finished each panel pretty quickly (one of the panels had this view) and I was soon ready to hang all of them up. My original idea was to have some kind of narrow framing trim that I would nail to the top part of the mural, with a similar piece of trim at the bottom. Then it would look like the mural had been framed all the way around his room. This was getting more and more complicated. I decided just to tack it up around the room. And once it was done I thought it looked really cool. My son had so many of my favorite “mountain views” including this one (Adelaida), Madonna Mountain, Heart Mountain and all the mountains on both the north and south sides of Highway 46 on the way to Cambria.

Fast forward to moving day and me taking these pieces down. That actually was fine, except the pushpins I had used to put them on the walls had left noticeable holes in the paper. But I wasn’t worried, I thought I could put them up again on the walls in his new bedroom and I would just match the holes. But in my usual style, I didn’t even try to do that and got the great idea to attach each panel to some kind of backing and then hang these more stable pieces to the wall. I got 4 particleboard panels, painted them and then nailed each panel to the boards through the old paper holes. There was to be a further complication to the mural reapplication as my son’s new bedroom was in the attic room, which meant the walls were at a crazy angle and it wasn’t going to be as easy to hang them as before. The idea worked, but OMG each piece was heavy. It took two people to hold up each panel while I secured them with special hooks I had found at the hardware store. We only hung up 3 of the 4 because 4 didn’t fit in his new room. So, I had a left over panel that I put in my studio. And when we moved again, I left the three for the new owner and took the left over one with us. That was just fine with me!

Oh my, did I learn something about murals. If you think you want to make one, just paint it right on the wall. Trying to figure out how to move it is just not worth the time and effort, in my opinion. And actually it’s a good idea to leave it where you first dreamed it up because it will never look as good (or fit in a different wall space) somewhere else anyway.

The other day my son asked me what had happened to the Madonna Mountain that had been in his room when he was a little boy. (I think he forgot that we had to leave it behind.) Thank goodness I had taken photos of the finished panels. And guess what? I got inspired to do another mural of Madonna Mountain. But this time I’m painting it on a couple windows in a back room of my house (no ladder thank you very much). I’ve never painted on glass before and it’s kind of a cool surface. I discovered that the acrylic paint dried more evenly when the weather was a bit cooler and the glass was not in the afternoon sun. And when I leave this house I can either leave Madonna Mountain right there or scrape it off with a razor blade. Oh, how I have become so “devil may care” with my artwork. It’s such a relief to not take myself so seriously don’t you think?

More about Madonna Mountain

If you are wondering about Madonna Mountain I can tell you a little about it. No, it has nothing to do with Jesus, nor does it have to do with Madonna the singer. A local San Luis Obispo businessman, Alex Madonna, owned the mountain and surrounding property and named it Madonna Mountain. You can still see the large letter M near the mountain peak when you drive south on 101. He built the Madonna Inn in 1958. The original structure burned down and it was rebuilt in 1966. At that time some theme bedrooms (now considered kitschy) were added. And his wife, Phyllis, who had helped with decorating, had a number of things in and around the inn painted a very specific shade of pink (a color that is now called unique). I think the coolest item that he had at his motel was the downstairs waterfall urinal in the men’s room. When my brothers and I went to visit family in LA we sometimes stopped at the Madonna Inn. I was always a bit envious that I was not allowed to see inside this particular men’s room. And of course my brothers made it sound unbelievable and were always going to be my lookouts so I could peek in. That wasn’t going to happen, as I didn’t trust them. I have since seen pictures and it looks like a stone enclosure that when someone activates a light sensor in the wall, a waterfall pours down the back of the rock urinal. Seems a bit unsanitary to me now, but it certainly was the stuff of legends when we were kids.


Sorry I missed posting this on Saturday. I was at a Porter-Kriesge “family day” event for my son at UCSC.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 3, 2018


some camelias
Oak Woodland and camellias, January 2018 (mixed media)

Back to painting in my beloved Descanso Garden—so predictable, I know. This time I wandered to the left of the entrance instead of to the right. And I found myself at a bench just below the Boddy House overlooking some magnificent oaks. Most often if you see such an oak cluster it’s called an Oak Woodland—a habitat that is native to CA. As I was finishing up I noticed a jumble of bright red dots that had appeared as if by magic (as the light had changed) just under the branches of the trees. They are camellia blossoms. Now I knew the camellias were there, I just didn’t know they were already blooming and hadn’t really thought I would be adding them here. I was primarily interested in the oaks and trail outline of the dark green clivia foliage. Mr. E. Manchester Boddy (the original owner of the house on the hill) under planted much of the Descanso Garden’s oak woodland forest with camellias in the late 30’s to early 50’s. (If you are interested, there is a rather fascinating story about his connection to local Japanese American nursery owners before and after Pearl Harbor. Look for it on the Descanso Garden website.) Mr. Boddy was an amateur horticulturalist and he dreamed of having a flower business on his property. He planted the camellias under the cool oak canopy and created a year round water supply for his crop. He chose to sell the property before an actual business was realized, but I have to admire his dream of such beauty.

While some have dreams of looking down for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, others have dreams of looking up for the double rainbow or maybe even pink and red camellia flowers. I am a double “rainbow” dreamer and so was my father. When he was in high school at Long Beach Poly High he discovered he was good at math and science and dreamed of becoming an engineer. That was quite a dream for a 16 year old whose father was an alcoholic and never wasted an opportunity to belittle him all his young life. But once the Atom Bomb was developed and used, my dad’s course was set. He used to say that his high school physics teacher had said to the boys in his class (yes, it was all boys), “We need you boys!” So, my dad went into the army to get the GI bill and settled on UCLA where he got a degree in physics. He was the dreamer that was the first college graduate on that side of my family. In the bargain he met my mom and they almost immediately began our family.

My dad said his first engineering job was at a place called Convair in San Diego, and his first real assignment was to build some shelves. My dad’s carpentry skills were never the stuff of dreams, so they soon gave him some real engineering to do, thankfully. But the late 50’s in Mountain View and Palo Alto had started to become known as the place to be (the stuff of the double rainbow for dreamers like my dad) if you were an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers and physicists, from all over the country and the world, seemed to hear the drumbeats calling them to this very special place. Maybe those first luring rhythms came from William Hewlett and David Packard’s garage. I don’t know, but it was a force of nature that I was not old enough to appreciate at the time. Only now, with the legacy of Silicon Valley firmly part of my history and the history of the world, can I fully understand what was happening.

Soon our young family left San Diego and headed for Mountain View. The first place my dad worked was for a company called Western Microwave. There he met the first of many other engineers who dreamed of working for companies where making cool circuits strapped to silicon chips that were getting smaller and smaller seemed to be the stuff of what they had all been dreaming about. I don’t know where I first heard the term semiconductor, but that was the beginning of Silcon Valley. We lived in Santa Clara and some of the other Western Microwave engineers lived near us. They formed a carpool of 4. Each took a week to drive the other guys to work 5 days a week. Every fourth week my dad (who was 6 feet tall) and his three commuters, would somehow fit into our family 2-door Volkswagen Beetle and drive off to work. I never saw any of this, but I remember my mom saying that the other wives loved to see their full-grown husbands squeeze in and out of that car on the days my dad drove.

After a few years my dad went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor. This is where he worked for Robert Noyce, the guy who later founded Intel. My dad would describe those years as heady times for those lucky R and D (Research and Development) engineers like him. He was gone by 7 in the morning and got home 6ish. Most evenings he sat in our living room, smoking a pipe while reading IEEE journals or researching the stock market. And it was not uncommon for him to go into work on weekends. He was so happy then. I remember him coming into the kitchen many evenings, grabbing my mom at the waist, and with a grand dip he would kiss her right there in front of us, with a hot meatloaf sitting on the kitchen counter.

Several years after working for Fairchild, my dad started a microwave business with a tech friend. They called the business MG Microwave, which stood for Merle and Gene (my dad). That lasted about a year and my dad was back at Fairchild. He got a couple patents for Fairchild and was offered a job by Noyce, as he and Gordon Moore were starting Intel. My dad turned it down because he knew his position there would be in “management” and he wasn’t interested in that because he still wanted to continue as a design engineer. (I don’t think my mom ever forgave him for that one!) I also think my dad wasn’t that interested in computers. Crazy huh? He had been trained to build things on a workbench in a lab. He didn’t want to write code for a computer program. After Fairchild my dad went to California Microwave (CMI). Most of the work he did there was with telecommunications for the phone company–“ma Bell” and all the “baby Bells”. By now it’s the mid 80’s and my dad is done. Lots of tech companies had stopped their R and D divisions and were hiring MBA’s to focus only at the “bottom line.” Dad would complain that everyone had hired too many “bean counters” and it just wasn’t very fun anymore. He wondered who was going to develop a better “mousetrap” when all the research money was drying up. He hadn’t noticed that the next version of “mousetraps” was already taking hold of Silcon Valley. But he wasn’t interested in personal computers.

I suspect it was getting harder and harder for him to dream of looking for the double rainbow, when all about him the “bean counters” were only interested in the pots of gold held firmly to the ground. So, at age 52 he and my mom left Silcon Valley and moved to Grass Valley, to tend their rentals. Don’t get me wrong, my dad dreamed of finding gold like everyone else. In fact, before retiring he had been working on a circuit that he was sure could detect gold a couple feet or so down in the ground. Once he got to Grass Valley he and my youngest brother, who later became an electrical engineer, worked on a scheme to look for gold on my family’s property in Grass Valley. It seems they had somehow attached this detector to my dad’s truck and had planned to drive it all over the gravel roads on the 10 acres, looking for gold. (There had been a small working gold mine on the property.) I guess my brother would drive around very slowly while my dad sat in the passengers seat trying to make the device work. I don’t think they ever found anything. Once a dreamer, always a dreamer, I guess.

Last word on “Dreamers”

Right now there is a lot of talk about so called “Obama’s Dreamers” and whether they should be allowed to stay in the US, or be made to go back to the country where they were born. But a lot of those young people have now been educated here and probably dream of staying. It makes me wonder why we would want to send them away, when this country was founded by dreamers of all kinds, even first generation college dreamers like my dad. I mean, maybe one of these dreamers will come up with Silcon Valley’s best “mousetrap” ever! And you never really know what kind of wonders will come from future dreamers. My son was born in Palo Alto in the mid 1990s in the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Yup! Money for that “state of the art” hospital was donated by David and Lucile Packard (of HP fame). And that’s a very real thing that’s a dream come true for so many children and their families.