April 28, 2018

Eberle Vineyard
Eberle Vineyard, Paso Robles, 2000 (oil on canvas)

When I did this oil I thought I had been commissioned to do so by someone I knew at a local Paso Robles winery. That person told me that the local group that puts together their annual Zinfandel Wine Festival was looking for an artist to create a poster for the event. And then I guess sometime during the festival the painting would then be auctioned off. I was excited. I picked a pretty spectacular view of vineyards off a back patio of Eberle and I thought it a nice touch that it was like the viewer was standing at the railing, drinking a lovely dark red Zin while eating crackers and cheese. (Oh yeah, this originally had large hunk of cheese on the plate and not the pear.) I finished it quickly and proudly took it to the person who had told me about the event and poster. It seems that she had forgotten to mention that they wanted it to be a certain size, and this one was too small. And she also forgot to tell me that they wanted something that was a bit more commercial. (I guess the previous year’s poster had somebody running half naked through the vineyards.) I was extremely disappointed and of course with my “bent” sense of humor my imagination took me to a kind of ridiculous place. I imagined some kind of strip poker game where I added a glass of Zinfandel flying off the balcony and a pair of white “bun huggers” and a pink thong flying through the air just off the balcony of the winery. So what did I do? I went home and painted out the big cheese hunk and changed it to a lovely green pear. I sure showed them! I wasn’t about to defile the beautiful view of beautiful grape plants with obnoxious humans. Wasn’t it obvious that someone was there with a glass of Zinfandel and snacks? Too subtle I guess. Whatever…

Thank God my cousin’s daughter was getting married about that time and my mom arranged to buy it from me to give as a gift. I had it framed and dropped it off at my mom’s and she decided that she wanted to keep it. So, I gave her another painting of the J Lohr vineyards (same east side Paso vineyards view) for her to give to my cousin’s daughter. Funny how that all works out. And now that my mother has passed away, I have this amazing view hanging in my house and I get to enjoy the Eberle vineyards with my lone glass of wine, cheese and crackers and fruit without imagining anyone’s underwear flying off in the distance.

And what this view got me thinking about, besides my mom, is the life force that green plants use to produce beautiful fruits. (I get that the plants produce fruit to continue their own “life force,” but I am still in awe of the beautiful colors and shapes of fruits.) I love to wander through apple, apricot, plum or peach orchards when the tree limbs are heavy with fruit. The smell is intoxicating and the idea that people can eat these bright balls of red, green, orange and yellow is very appealing. And the inside of ripe fruit is just as beautiful as the outside. Years ago I read a book about a family farm that raised old-fashioned peaches in the Central Valley of California, 20 miles south of Fresno. The book is called Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, and David Mas Masumoto wrote it. Mr. Masumoto attended a literary event in Grass Valley when my son was young and my mom and I went to hear him speak about the book and his family’s love of a particular peach called the Sun Crest Peach. Read it if you want to share one California girl’s passion for some of the fruit the state produces.

Food nourishes us, but is also sensual and beautiful. I love to go to the produce section of a grocery store or a farmer’s market to see piles of dark purple onions, stacks of green leafy lettuce or a brown paper sack with handles filled to overflowing with bright oranges just ready to be taken home and eaten. My dad loved to shop for navel oranges and he always knew how to pick out the sweetest and juiciest bright orange oranges imaginable. He would say that the best ones couldn’t have skins that are too thick and bumpy or too smooth and thin. And the brighter the color, the tastier it will be. He was always right! I guess the thin-skinned variety (Valencia oranges) makes better juice and the navel oranges are the best for eating directly. Of course the best navel oranges can always be found when they are in season, which is January to April here in California. And speaking of pears…oh yeah, back to the painting. My dad also loved Comice pears. The pear in this painting is not a Comice variety, I don’t remember that particular pear right now. When ripe they are squat light yellow/green balls of juice, with an almost white flesh inside that tastes amazing with chunks of sharp cheddar cheese. The skin can have a bright red blush, but it is thick and tough to eat, so this one needs to be peeled. Comice pear trees used to be found all over Santa Clara. Not so much anymore. This is a fall/winter fruit and comes in season the end of summer.

People have forgotten that fruits used to be available only when they were in season—without hothouses or any tricks to ripen fruit that’s been picked green at other times of the year. And I watch out for fruit that has been grown and flown in from some far away place, instead of coming from our own California soil and sun in it’s own time.

It seems that many people in my family have a variety of favorite fruit passions and subsequent stories. My son’s favorite Aunt Ruth says that the perfect strawberries come from Santa Maria, an hour south of Paso Robles. And she says that the perfect time of year for such berries is from April to early June. My ex husband’s family used to grow the best dry farmed watermelons imaginable out by the airport in Paso Robles—very near where this vineyard view is located. They are still grown by the families who live out in Estrella and they would tell you they are best when harvested in mid to late summer.

My mom’s dad died when I was about 2, so I only remember him in pictures and stories I’ve heard. My dad said that he loved to eat Bing cherries and that one afternoon my grandpa bought a couple pounds from a roadside stand near Mountain View. I guess he sat outside with a metal bowl on the back porch and ate all of them, one after another, laughing and spitting the pits into the bowl in a kind of rapid-fire action. Dad said it sounded like he was firing a machine gun out on the back porch. That story always made me smile as a kid. Of course as I got older and knew that eating too many stone fruit fruits could really make you sick. I got the impression that my grandpa was having such a good time; he could have cared less if he would feel terrible later. Oh, and Bing cherries are best in early June.

My mom loved Blenheim apricots. And a spherical chunky, tree-ripen Blenheim is a site to behold with that amazing light yellowish orange and outside skin and flesh, with the large and shiny brown inside pit. They’re in season mid summer. (That one you really need to be careful and not eat too many in one sitting, or you will be sick. Take if from me.) Southern California is the land of the avocado. For some it has an unpleasant squishy texture, but for the rest of us that soft light green and yellow flesh is amazing when spread liberally on a saltine cracker. Because it’s green, some think it’s maybe a vegetable, but because it has that huge pit it is considered a fruit. Mom said that when she was a girl in LA they frequently had a half avocado filled to overflowing with French dressing for a salad Feb through Sept, with summer being the best time to eat an avocado.

I already mentioned my dad’s love of oranges grown here in California. He also loved to eat vine-ripened tomatoes that came from our mid to late summer garden. My dad loved nothing more than walking out to the garden to check for ripe tomatoes. There he would pick a couple sun warmed crimson colored Early Girl or Better Boy tomatoes while my mom fried the bacon for the deliciously anticipated BLT sandwiches. This was a favorite lunch for them on any given day in the summer. Most years they planted Brandywine or Beefsteak tomatoes as well. They are quite a bit larger and fit nicely on a sandwich, but they would take a bit of time to get up to speed with production, and the flowers on the Early Girl and Better Boy plants set first and produced the bumper crop my mom and he would require for what seemed like their endless burgers and sandwiches. He would almost be in a swoon as he sliced the tomatoes and my mom drained the bacon and assembled the rest of the sandwich. It was always hard for me watch as he would sprinkle salt on the tomato slab, as though the salty bacon wasn’t enough. He put salt on lots of things I found questionable. My dad liked to sprinkle salt on cantaloupe and watermelon. And when I say sprinkle on salt he had this very noticeable and kind of ritualistic sprinkling technique. He brought the shaker way up in front of his face, extended his elbow (Maybe his pinky was extended too…) and he lightly jiggled his wrist to make the shaker go up and down as he carefully watched the shower of salt spread evenly over his food. Crazy what we remember.

Happy Birthday dad! (April 25th) I planted an Early Girl and Better Boy in my garden this year. Can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen so I can make a BLT and think of you and mom. It is the memories of beautiful food and the people we associate with that food that nourish and sustain us. Right dad?

April 21, 2018

March 2017 Palm Trees
Glendale Palm Trees, March 2017 (watercolor and watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

I did this watercolor on a lovely spring day last year (March 2017) as a kind of rebound piece of art. I had actually started out to paint at the Descanso Garden, but I got to the front gate and saw it was mobbed. I have always had such a hard time with crowds of people, even when I was little. I call it the “Disneyland Syndrome.” You go someplace, like Disneyland, with a great sense of purpose and fun because you have really enjoyed being there before. But you can’t even walk through the front gate because there are just too many people milling around aimlessly outside your “Happiest Place on Earth” for that moment. My relationship to Disneyland has completely changed and all I have to do is picture myself at the front gate, in a huge long line, and I can’t even think about purchasing a ticket on line and making the drive to Anaheim.

This story seems to have taken an unintended turn, so back to the palm trees…

So, broken hearted and just a wee bit mad I left the Descanso and drove home through a Glendale neighborhood I had passed through countless times both by car and on foot. But that morning I saw something I hadn’t been looking for before. I turned the car around, pulled over and set up my three-legged stool on a corner to paint. (Yeah, I used to have a wonderful lightweight fishing perch to sit on, instead of sitting on the ground/curb on my sweatshirt and sheet of bubble wrap. But I think I left it in the parking lot at the Gene Autry Museum across from the Los Angeles Zoo. Now I have a heavy metal camping chair that I sometimes put in the back of my car, but I loath to take it from the trunk and carry it around. Because every time I think I might lug that thing around I get pissed off all over again and remember that I don’t have the perfect stool anymore.) Get over it, right? OK, so I arranged the paints and myself so I could really see this amazing row of perfectly spaced palm trees that snaked up the street, around a corner and then out of sight. And I began to sketch—happy that I had a definite purpose, there weren’t any people and I wasn’t mad anymore. After about 45 minutes of sheer bliss, I had the art you see here.

I have always been drawn to landscapes with several components—blue sky, with an occasional cloud or two, trees, vineyards and/or wild flowers—not necessarily in that order. And when it comes to vineyards and palm trees, I am attracted to the symmetry of what I am looking at in these kind of diagonal or curved lines, wider in the front and then tapering back to an end curve.

The other night, when I was at the Norton Simon Art Museum with a Pasadena sketching group, I learned that the old masters intentionally incorporated vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved lines of interest in their works. And I guess painters that did still life paintings realized that adding such lines and curves or suggestions of such linearity added interest to each piece. We decided to look at some 19th century still life paintings, looking specifically for that kind of line action. Not sure if anything has been written on the subject. Have you heard of anyone writing about design elements and techniques that were used by such painters? We looked at a couple and it was fun to look for such an element in what I actually consider pretty boring stuff. The first one we looked at has an interesting story, but it really has nothing to do with linearity of 19th century still life paintings. It has to do with the subject matter of the painting and how one of the people in the group interpreted this exercise. I forget the exact title of the piece, but it was really dark with a pot with a handle, a soup tureen with a ladle that curved to the left, smaller jars and other kitchen items on a nondescript suggestion of a horizontal table surface. And then in the foreground on the left was a dead chicken, or fowl, as it was called in the painting’s description. It was definitely in a curved shape with its head dangling just off the table. I didn’t think much of this poor chicken, although someone in the group said that such carrion was common in old still life paintings. It must have been pretty smelly in the rooms where these painters worked, what with the smell of oil paints and a dead bird. Of course I started laughing and wondered if anyone had thought to add flies buzzing around to such an art piece. Everyone seemed so serious back then, right? Finally, we all finished our little drawings, complete with sketched in horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved lines of interest. After we do such a group assignment we have a “throw down,” where we lay out what we’ve drawn on a bench to share with each other. Nothing really caught my eye except one person had not only drawn the chicken upright and alive, but the hen had laid 2 or 3 eggs in this still life. When it was her turn to describe what she had drawn she said that she was vegan and did not wish to consider the chicken as something to be eaten then or now. Only in California, right?

The other still life we studied was a rather large painting of items that might be found on an architect’s drafting table. It actually looked life-size, with stacks of books, pens and other tools of the trade, drawings on large sheets of paper and a Greek column in the background. For me, this one had way too many linear points of interest to be interesting. And even though I am sure the painter used a number of colors, it almost seemed like a large black and white photo. I could appreciate the historical aspect of the subject matter—what it might look like in the work room of a 19th century architect, but that was it. There were just too many lines to count, so I got kind of bored and started chatting with the person next to me. Don’t even remember what he or she was saying, but it kept me distracted enough to pretend to be interested in this still life.

That’s about it for today’s blog. Later this morning my urban sketching group is meeting at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area on La Cienega Blvd. to be part of an urban sketcher’s WW SketchCrawl #59. It’s supposed to be in honor of Earth Day (tomorrow). Never been to this place before. I am going to travel on several LA freeways (the 210, Glendale Freeway, the 5 south, the 110 south, and the Santa Monica Freeway), and this will take me directly through the “belly of the beast” (downtown LA) to get to my destination. I kind of have an LA driving rule that I seem to be living by these days. If the traffic is too horrendous, I won’t be going back to this place any time soon. Hope it’s nice. Stay tuned…

Happy Birthday Dad, April 25th

April 14, 2018

first 3:31
1 Descanso Garden, March 31, 2018 (mixed media)
2, March 31
2 Descanso Garden, March 31, 2018 (mixed media)

As I have said in previous blogs, I am addicted to the Descanso Garden and was there over spring break. And I almost always head for a shady spot in the rose garden. I tell myself, probably every time I have walked in the front gate, that I will find some place else there to sit and paint. But if I am really truthful, all the groups of strollers always overwhelm me and so do the shear number of people pushing strollers, so I head for the rose garden to calm myself down. And when I once again am lured to yet another perfect spot there, I tell myself that I will do better next time and will definitely paint in a different quadrant of the garden in the future. On the 31st it was a little cool that day, and I actually sat on a bench that would normally be too bright and hot for my paints and me. I have found that the bright white blank paper is just too bright and my paints seem to get darker and darker as the water in my pots of color quickly evaporates. For this view I was interested in capturing the first new bursts of spring color in that part of the garden. And from my chosen vantage point I was treated to the first emerging pink blossoms of a flowering crabapple you see to the right and the drifts of bright blue forget-me-nots in the middle ground amongst the twig like stems of the roses. And all of this set against the San Gabriel Mountains and the perfectly clear blue blue sky.

As I sat there I found myself wanting to channel Vincent Van Gogh, to help me visualize how I wanted the bench and the crabapple blossoms to turn out. I was thinking about him as I was wandering around. And before I sat down I had looked carefully at some lovely irises that I could have done in his honor, but ultimately decided to focus on the tree blossoms and the chunky wooden bench instead.

OK, you may or may not believe this, but I just now Googled Van Gogh to see if he had done any watercolors of blossoms and I read that he was born on March 30, 1853. (Cue the creepy Twilight Zone theme song.). Happy birthday Mr. Van Gogh! Too bad you never made it to California. You would have loved the southern California light. So, both paintings are dedicated to you and all the wonderful painters who came before you to inspire all of us going forward.

So, the question I want to know about him, and really I guess it’s a question for all of us who paint. How do you know? How do you know when you are done? How do you know if you really achieved what you set out to do, or are the best parts just by chance? Or do you just stop at what might be considered a random place because you think you’ve gone too far? Van Gogh used black and that has never worked for me as it always seems to get too dark too fast, or it kind of takes over to my eye. But he knew how to use that pigment. Were his paintings planned, or did he just get bored and want to move onto something else? When I Googled him just a minute ago I also read that he created some 900 paintings, as well as 1100 sketches and drawings, and he died before he was 40. And he produced all that amazing art in about a 10-year period. And if I mentally crunch the significance of all the numbers I have described here, my mind reels. But there is one number that relates to him that truly staggers the imagination, and that number is one. It appears that after all that work, he sold only one piece in his lifetime. Yikes!

So, if I think about my process, Van Gogh would have probably thought me an art slug. I always take time to at least figure out (sketch) my composition and then I start mixing colors and planning what part I should do first, second etc. This is based on what areas will need to dry before I can move on. And I usually stop at some self-imposed critical moment to let things dry, step back and eat a peanut butter sandwich. I know there is always a chance that what I started out to do will get changed or I realize the focal point should really be something else. Or I misjudge the distances between things, or I leave things out or shift things around. So, did Van Gogh do that? How much of what he did was really planned, or was all those canvases just quick experiments. Of course, he didn’t start out doing the really memorable stuff, but did he know it was great? I hope so. My son reminded me of a “Dr. Who” episode that brought the doctor to meet Vincent Van Gogh. It was kind of a bit of contrived writing that had Van Gogh seeing things (bad guys) that others could not. So after Van Gogh helped Dr. Who destroy the bad guys, the doctor takes Van Gogh to a “future” museum. He shows the painter that his art is displayed with such relish and reverence in the future. And that he was known by countless numbers of people worldwide for his groundbreaking use of color and technique. But we all know how the story really ends and Van Gogh’s glimpse of his work after he’s gone, does not affect the choices he makes and the outcome of his personal story. I guess the true point to that bit of fiction is we want to somehow let Van Gogh know that all he went through was worth it, at least for all of us. I suspect Vincent Van Gogh could have cared less about all of us in the future. But maybe not. Maybe that’s what all of us who paint want to know, in the end—did we do it right? Was it really worth it, all those tiny details and decisions we made for every corner of every canvas or piece of watercolor paper? Guess I should really be working on a time machine instead of countless watercolors. I think I read that Vincent Van Gogh spoke English. So then I could ask him.

Note about the two paintings:

I actually sat in the garden and painted the top one on March 31, 2018. But then I got home I decided I didn’t like it much. I then painted the second one at home while looking at a photo I had taken. Of course now I can’t decide which one I like better. I wish Vincent was here.

April 7, 2018

tulips:The Trib
Tulips for The Trib, November 1999 (gouache on toned paper)

My son found a copy of this article at his grandparent’s house the other day, so I thought it a good bit of fodder for another California story. Funny that I was able to find the original art for this one, as I seem to have way too many tablets and portfolios completely filled with such material. In fact, my son asked me what he was supposed to do with all my art when I finally die. I immediately said, just drop a few handfuls in my casket and let that be part of my ever after fuel when I am cremated. Yes, sometimes mothers and their children have the most unusual conversations…

Now back to this old “tulip” story…During the last couple months of the 90s and on through to April 2001 I did a series of articles and art for our local newspaper, The Tribune, in San Luis Obispo. Once a week, kind of like this blog, I would submit my work to an editor there and, poof, my art and words were published as if by magic. Of course for those “print” stories I had to wait to see them in the newspaper, unlike my current virtual “blog” world. And I actually got paid for them back then. “One California Girl” is more of a labor of love without any remuneration, and that’s just fine with me. No, I won’t quit my day job…but I still like pairing my art with stories as much today as I did back then. The difference for the newspaper stories and my current work is that those stories were written for children, or rather for the parents of children. They were meant to suggest things you could do with kids outside, like planting tulips in the fall to teach delayed gratification. Or going on a field trip to a nursery to look at all the plants and tools you might need for a garden. (When I was young I remember my mom and I going to look at shovels at the hardware store. She told me all she knew on the subject—and there really are a whole lot of different kind of shovels. As I said earlier, mothers and their children can have the most unusual conversations…) My “One California Girl” stories come from ideas I have with art I’ve already created. For my kids in the garden stories, the garden activity I had dreamed up came first with the art as visual support and inspiration came later. For some of those stories I actually wrote poetry to go along with it. And a very nice editor at “The Trib” seemed to love everything I did and that got published too.

It’s fun to look at the art I did of these bright red tulips. This story was written in November for a coming spring display in my garden. It’s spring again and it’s tulip time everywhere in my current neighborhood and at the Descanso Garden they are blooming like mad right now. But I got to thinking that a similar story about delayed gratification (for adults this time) would work right now, except you would plant early summer blooming bulbs and seeds like gladiolas, dahlias and any other cut flower you might fancy. But I haven’t ever had much luck planting dahlias—somehow to “fussy” for me I think. So, last weekend I planted 4 large barrels of gladiolas, and then I tucked in handfuls of hollyhock (a “pass along” gift from a friend’s garden that came by way of Aunt Ruth’s garden) and sunflower seeds in the dirt around each barrel. And I guess I’ll just have to wait for the little spiky green gladiola points and the tiny tips of flower seedlings to poke up from the dirt.

I love hollyhocks. My mom said that her mother planted them around their outhouse when she was a girl and they lived in Mariposa. I never could figure out if that was a pleasant memory for my mom, or if she just tried to imagine that her mom was trying to “make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” They didn’t have running water inside the house when they first moved there. (I guess most other mothers put up wallpaper on the inside bathroom walls…) Mom used to also like to remind us kids that she always took a shower after PE when she went to Mariposa High School. I guess the PE teacher would use her as an example of what all the other girls should be doing after sweating in PE. Little did that teacher know, but since there was no hot running water at home, my mom was thrilled to have a proper shower instead of hauling water from the creek. Mom also said that this same PE teacher didn’t stop with her comments about her showering habits and would tug at the hair on my mother’s legs asking if she was wearing her “brush wool” socks again. I guess my grandma had told mom that only “bad” girls shaved their legs and under their arms—like the girls who also wore ankle bracelets. My mom said that she once tried to use sandpaper to scrape the hair from her legs. (Another crazy mother daughter conversation that’s gone through the generations now…)

I loved doing the stories for “The Trib” and it seemed like it would go on for years and years. I had lots to stories to share with parents of young children. In fact, the publisher himself assured me that with my art and stories he could me famous, but not rich. For some unknown reason it didn’t turn out that way and my last piece for “The Tribune” was published in April 2001. Actually, I didn’t do any writing for that one, but only a half dozen botanicals for a story about the SLO Botanical Garden in the El Chorro Regional Park off Highway 1. That turned out nice as the people fundraising for the garden framed the pieces I did and auctioned them off. I think they made some stationery from the pictures to sell in their gift shop as well. I remember I was pretty disappointed that the gig with “The Trib” had so suddenly dried up, but that didn’t stop the stories and the art. For several years after that I wrote/illustrated for a local SLO Parents magazine and soon after that I worked on a couple books, editing and writing, for Sunset Garden books. It was a very creative time for a single mother with a small son and I am happy to have so many wonderful memories of the time my son and I lived in Paso Robles, in SLO County.

So, now all of my publishing is done online, with only the art as the paper with pigment part. I didn’t realize when I was writing stories about tulips or getting kids out in the garden that I would ever do it again. Of course now I am not writing or painting for children or parents of children, I am the one sitting on bubble wrap with my pots of watercolors as I paint in the garden. And I am creating all of this for me—sharing my art and California memories. (I hope when my son reads this one he won’t worry about all the art I leave behind because at the rate I am going, I don’t see my stopping any time soon. Just filled up another watercolor tablet…sorry sweetie!)