I did this watercolor at a World Wide Sketch Crawl for Earth Day this year. I had never been to the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center and was a bit confused about where I was as I went past quite a few vacant lots with oil well pumps. (Random rows of oil well pumps in SoCal and parts of Central CA are pretty common sites. In fact, whole block areas of Long Beach are still loaded with oil well pumps. When my dad was a kid growing up in Long Beach he and his cousin used to climb the wooden derricks. His cousin thought it great fun to go to the bathroom while twenty feet off the ground. Yikes!) So, it was a bit disorienting to go past so many familiar CA sights in an unfamiliar part of Los Angeles. Finally, I started to see a few thickets of eucalyptus trees and fewer oil well pumps on the right side of the road. Then I saw the entrance, just as the GPS had predicted and my phone died. Since this was a new place for me it took a few minutes of walking around to find my little gang of LA Urban Sketchers. They were all gathered around this little bit of water and greenery and had already started to paint and sketch. So, as is usual for the urban sketchers I know (including me) we first walk around a bit to decide where we might like to settle and paint. I noticed that I didn’t see anything on this side of the pond that I wanted to capture and it looked cooler on the opposite side. So, I walked around. And there, I could see all these sketchers on the grass. I thought, I don’t often put people in my art and planned to immortalize everyone I saw on the spot—especially as I could clearly make out a couple painters I knew that were wearing large red hats. Adding those hats seemed like a lovely bit of unexpected color to accentuate sketchers on a patch of cool green and yellow. And I loved the idea that everyone sat very still, with no one moving around and doing strange things with his or her arms or legs. (I’m sure you’ve noticed that there aren’t any people in the finished piece. I tried. I did try. Oh well.) I sat at a bench in the shade and looked at a lovely little bit of water with bright red bridges, sloping grass with sketchers and rows of trees in the background with a tall stand of eucalyptus touching the sky at the very back. After a time, one of my friends across the way decided to move over to my side of the pond. She was one of the people who were wearing a large brimmed red hat. Uh-oh. I was now one stationery “red-hatted” person down. I quickly scribbled in the remaining people sitting on the grass, careful to include the other person still wearing her red hat. I then felt comfortable to focus on the rest of the composition, and started looking around. I watched a row of turtles at the edge of my side of the pond as they plopped into the water, one after another. I chased a couple of squirrels away from my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, mixed my pots of color and added the sky and tree layers. There was a rather large party of young people also at this pond. It was a young lady’s Quinceanera, or her fiesta de quince anos, and she was being followed around by her entourage and a photographer who was chronicling the event. A girl celebrates her Quinceanera when she turns 15. It’s a coming of age celebration that has its origins in Latin America, but is widely celebrated in both North and South America. Google it to see more. It is a very popular thing for a Los Angeles adolescent Latina to plan for and celebrate, so it’s a pretty big deal around here. There were about 8 boys who ranged in age from 5 or 6 to 13 or 14 years of age and they each wore matching charcoal-colored suits with pale pink ties. There were also about 5 young girls in fancy dress and long gowns, with assorted adults wandering around with the group as well. (I didn’t get an actual head count as they never stayed in one place long enough to do that.) At the center of all the commotion was a 15-year old girl in the midst of celebrating her Quinceanera, looking very much like a princess in her long “Cinderella-like” gown. I continued to watch the group move around the pond for photo opportunities and continued to add everything but the people to my watercolor. Can you tell that the wrong people had my attention? And you know where this is going, right?
So, by the time I got back to adding the sketchers in earnest, many of them had moved into the shade, or had moved behind bushes. What the heck! I began trying to ad lib the people I had previously scribbled in, trying to remember where they were and what they were doing. The only thing that stood out to me at this point was the remaining red hat. That was a mistake and it soon became too large for anyone’s head on that scale. My original plan to permanently add humans to my little world sort of deteriorated from there. I went to work scrubbing out everyone and the offending hat from the grass with a slightly wet brush. And just like that they were gone. The squirrels before me persisted, but I wasn’t about to put one of those pests in this piece.
It got to be time for us to get together and share what we had created, so I gathered up my materials and repacked my backpack. As I was walking around to the other side of the pond, a woman stopped me to ask what we were all doing. It turns out she was quite an artist and she showed me a couple photos of her work on her phone. She did these amazing close ups of flowers, kind of on the order of Georgia O’Keefe. She used such vibrant colors with a kind of fantastic realism. Not really sure if what she showed me jives with the Urban Sketcher mantra, but I suggested she join us anyway. She didn’t seem that interested, but was interested in my watercolor and said that she liked that I had “filled the page.” When doing a landscape like this, I can’t really help myself—I like to fill the page. (That might actually be a good subject for another time. Hmmm…) We said goodbye and I joined the gang to share our work. That part is always fun to me. Painting and writing are very singular endeavors. I think that’s why I like these events, it forces my rather shy self to get out there and mingle. It was amazing to see just what everyone had painted, as they were all kind of looking in the same direction at the same things—or so I thought. But everyone’s art looked completely different. Some painted in tiny tablets or books. Some did pen and ink on white paper, while someone else focused on the turtles using only graphite and white gouache on toned paper. We laid all the work on the ground and one of the artists set to work organizing each piece into a kind cohesive patchwork of art so a photo or two could be taken and get everyone’s in the shot. (She was pretty good at it and I thought she would probably be good to have around when it came time to load the dishwasher after Thanksgiving dinner.) Then one of the organizers of the group told us she was thinking of putting together a San Francisco Film Noire excursion this summer. She thought it would be fun to go to various haunts of Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon (by Dashiell Hammett) to draw and eat. Sounds great, right? Of course I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the weather in San Francisco during the summer months can be cloudy and cold. (You may or may not know the best months to visit San Francisco. September and October are usually best.) But I wasn’t about to spoil the moment and decided that people would for sure be wearing hats and that would give me another great opportunity to add some sketchers to a watercolor.
A Parting Look at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Center
So, it was finally time to leave for home and I was wondering how my internal GPS was working as the battery in my phone needed to be recharged. I walked past a huge limo and was guessing that the Quincenara group was inside, ready to go to the next part of the celebration. I recently met a young lady who is a Quincenara choreographer (Yeah, you should Google this. It sounds pretty fun!) and I was guessing they were all about to go dancing. And based on the 3 or 4 year old girl who was having a melt down as she and her mom walked past (maybe more like on tip toe and screaming) this little one was not invited into the limo. But I imagine she will probably soon be planning her Quincenara. Of course she didn’t see it that way! She wanted to party, but probably really needed a nap! And even though Cinco de Mayo has absolutely nothing to do with young girl’s special party on a beautiful spring day in California, it somehow seems fitting to say Happy Cinco de Mayo because it is!