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

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