Before I start a sketch, I picture in my mind what I hope it will look like when I finally decide I’m done. I also think carefully about the medium I will use for this all-important first step. Will it be a graphite pencil (not too soft), Inktense pencil, colored pencil or pen and ink? Sometimes I just do a line drawing with one of those drawing implements without any watercolor. I have gotten into the habit of doing just that when I go to the Norton Simon Museum because the museum artist policy states that no wet media is to be used on the premises. Of course the last time my sketching group went to there I saw one of our members fill up a waterbrush right there in the back pond. None of the museum guards seemed to notice what she was doing. I have one of those brushes, but need to practice a bit more with it because I just seem to get blobs of water on the paper or nothing at all comes out. Maybe I need to get braver and try such a tool again—brazenly filling the hollow tube grip with water from the back pond of the Norton Simon in front of God and everybody. I’m not really brave enough to try any other wet material there. (Another one of our little artist gang often sits way at the back of the garden and quietly paints with her various inks. I think she is a very courageous artist rebel.)
The folks at the Descanso Garden don’t seem to mind artists like me using watercolors there. (I have even seen some paint with oils and pots of ink in the rose garden. I think the guards by the pond at the back of the Norton Simon would have a stroke if someone decided to whip out their oils and paint right there in front of God and everybody.) Lately I have been starting my Descanso watercolor sketches with either a graphite or Inktense pencil. I look at a landscape that’s caught my eye and decide if there is a particular color that seems to be calling my name based on what my imagination has conjured up. Sometimes I squint my eyes for a kind of soft light inspiration. Then I look through my Inktense pencils and sharpen that particular color—it’s often a shade of green, deep indigo, baked earth or bark. If no color seems to grab me, I just sketch with my “B” Staedtler Mars lumograph graphite pencil. However, when I look to add structure to my art, or I am at a cemetery or drawing a church, I ink in outlines and some texture lines with my “F” Faber-Castell black pen. Such lines are not meant to speak up and disappear into the landscape as a pencil line.
It may appear that I get overly stressed about making the “materials” decisions I have described here. I really enjoy this planning stage. I challenge myself to see if I can choose the perfect medium that will reflect my vision that’s inspired from squinting at my surroundings. And if something beautifully unexpected happens, it’s just like extra sprinkles that have landed on a favorite chocolate cake landscape. But in reality these are just sketches, not finished works of art. Maybe one in a hundred might possibly be considered for framing or given as a gift. It’s all a matter of enjoying every painstaking moment without some grand imagined payoff with each sketch. I do remember doing a sketch with another artist at the Norton Simon a while ago now. I left early, but it seems that someone there asked if they could buy our sketch, right there on the spot. I was so excited to hear our sketch had been sold until I heard she had gotten a dollar for it. She promised to get me the 50 cents sometime soon. Haven’t seen her for a while. Hmmm…
At the beginning of my summer break my son and I went to the old Mariposa Cemetery to spread the rest of my mother’s ashes with her parents who are buried there. Before my mother died she requested we bury some of her ashes with her parents. Her other half is with my dad in the cemetery in Cayucos. Yes, there is a story here, but I just don’t have the will to write about her strange thoughts, and comings and goings right now. Before spreading her ashes I had actually planned to sit on a sheet of bubble wrap near my grandparents graves and do this sketch on the spot. I am ashamed to say that I had never visited either grave before and didn’t know where to look, and this old cemetery has no map or directory of who’s buried where. We wandered around the tombstones, up and down a couple hills, and were about to give up and head for the motel when my son finally spotted their headstones. We had been looking for over an hour and it was a very warm afternoon. Before he had found them I thought we might try again the next morning, when it would be much cooler. So, by the time I took a picture of the scene you see here, I had given up the idea of sitting there to paint. I decided to capture it later from some photos I had taken with my phone.
But there is a story behind the photo that inspired this sketch. It actually included my son. He had a rather large grin on his face as he stood at the foot of the “Brown” plot. Oh, and he was also proudly holding out the rest of my mother’s ashes in a medium-sized ziplock bag. I don’t know, I didn’t add him because it seemed kind of weird and almost ghoulish. So, after I took this picture I opened the bag and carefully spread her ashes throughout the Brown enclosure in front of God and everybody. (There was only my son and I in the whole place.) I hadn’t noticed, but it seems my son recorded the event and even caught all my ramblings as I moved about the area. When I finished spreading every last bit of her, I couldn’t remember exactly what I had said. But upon listening to the recording, I heard myself tell my mom that I had kept my promise to bring her home to Mariposa to be with her mom and dad. When my aunt died, my brother, mom and her niece and nephews spread her ashes on this same spot in the old Mariposa Cemetery. (All of my aunt’s ashes are there.) And my cousins later added a plaque in her memory next to her mom and dad. My uncle, the only one missing from this little family, was not buried anywhere near here. In fact he was not buried at all. He donated his body to the UC Davis School of Medicine, and his wife at the time did not invite any of us to the ceremony they had for him there. But that’s not the weirdest part of this family burial story. Not that long ago I clearly remember my uncle saying that when he died he didn’t want a fuss. He said we were to “stake him out in the backyard and let the buzzards have him.” And all of this in front of God and everybody. I have no words…
Final note about the old Mariposa Cemetery
As my son and I had spent so much time wandering the old cemetery, I noticed a lot of red remembrance poppies and markers for veterans who had served in WWI all around. (If you look closely at the background of my sketch you can see a few dots of that red flower.) My grandfather had been in the balloon corp. during WWI and had a marker and small bouquet of poppies beside his headstone. Mom said that he even spent some time at the veteran’s home in Yountville just before he died in 1957.
I had your ashes in my closet for almost two years, mom. And every morning I walked into my closet and said good morning to you. Mom, I miss all the time we spent together. (died August 15, 2016)
And happy birthday Grandma Brown! (born August 24, 1897)