September 29, 2018

Heart Mountain
Heart Mountain, Paso Robles, October 2006 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on cold pressed illustration board)

So, when I was thinking about what I would post today, I went looking for something from my artistic past. And as I went through the photos I have taken of my art, past and present, my scrolling finger happened upon this one. This is what I was looking for anyway and I knew it should be posted today for a number of reasons. First, I had mentioned Heart Mountain (before the vineyards were planted) in a previous blog and thought you should see nature’s perfect heart shape made up completely of my beloved oak trees. I am still enchanted with the simplicity and the all too human naming of something that grew naturally into such a shape. (The other day I almost began to weep with joy when I saw a picture on the side of huge grocery truck that showed two hands facing outward heaped with bright red cherry tomatoes in the shape of a giant heart. Not really the same, I guess. But it did take my breath away.) Second, it’s my son’s birthday is tomorrow and he was my sunflower baby. And I love me some sunflowers one by one or in glorious drifts as I saw outside the parking structures of the Stanford Shopping Center when I was pregnant with my son. I should add that there never were such flowers in the foreground of Heart Mountain. The day I ran across the road from Sycamore Farms (July 2003) and took this picture there were lots of weeds in the foreground—mostly thistles.

Finally, I knew I would post this one because of the color palette and texture I had achieved with this landscape. I remember being obsessed with my process of layering in the colors that made up the subtle palette of yellows, golds, soft greens and grays with that beautiful pristine blue sky and emerald green heart-shaped jewel in the center of everything. I knew I would post this one because in the more than 10 years since I scrubbed in the watercolor and colored pencil on the lovely cold pressed illustration board, my art and my approach to it has changed in a rather unexpected way. I had come from a place of oil on canvas landscapes and watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on illustration board, where every inch of the surface I was working on was accounted for—no white spaces and nothing left to chance. Now, I find myself looking for places to randomly sketch or paint a view that has caught my attention. (I probably would have painted the heart-shaped hands of cherry tomatoes that was on the side of that truck if I had had the time…) And I have even taken photos of a finished sketch where I have intentionally let the actual light and shadows cast on the paper as I sit on a bench or on my rolled out sheet of bubble wrap on the ground. Those momentary moments make me smile outwardly, giggle inside and “yes” sometimes take my breath away.

Since I started doing looser “on the spot” painting and sketching (the hallmark of a committed urban sketcher) I have really let myself go—but in a good way, I think. Now I work a bit more wet, letting colors bleed together as they do without any encouragement. I intentionally leave white spaces as highlights or negative space that adds interest to an otherwise boring flat 2-D surface. I like to go really dark in some places and try to feather the perimeter of that spot with soft colors for an interesting effect of shrubbery or trees. But I don’t mind the hard edges of one color next to another, which would have made me anxious before. I also try adding a color that I am almost certain won’t work, just to see what will happen. And I really enjoy being in the moment—sitting at a cemetery, garden bench or at my breakfast table looking out my window, instead of sitting inside and working from a photo. (I think I said in a previous post that when my son was young, I didn’t have the time or opportunity to paint plein aire. So, I had to paint from photos that I could take at a moment’s notice and then work on my art at home when I had a free 30 minutes or so…) Now, I don’t regret the time I spent in my studio painting on canvas or a piece of illustration board from photos while listening to Miles or Mozart. (I even had special light bulbs in that room that mimicked sunlight. I think it was called a full spectrum light.) That was heavenly! But I have found a new spot of heaven to dwell in these days and it’s almost always outside now.

As I looked at the picture I took of Heart Mountain the summer 2003, I tried to remember not only the artistic journey I had taken to get this place, but also how my life had changed in the 10 plus years since I’d taken it. In the early 2000s my son and I were living in Paso Robles and I was doing freelance writing/editing for a number of educational publishing companies that were mostly here in California. During that time I also wrote and edited some gardening books for Sunset Gardening—they were in Menlo Park.

Then we moved to Grass Valley the summer of 2003 (there’s that time again…). But I missed my beautiful oaks and vineyards of Paso Robles and I continued to do art from photos of the area. And I was still painting Paso landscapes from photos in Grass Valley in 2006. Crazy huh? Between then and 2015 (when I moved to Southern CA) I continued to paint, but was not so obsessed with painting Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo County for that matter. Soon after I got to SoCal my son and I were walking around Brand Park in Glendale and I saw a bunch of artists sketching and painting like mad in the Whispering Pine Teahouse and Garden. When I asked one of the artists what was going on, she directed me to the woman who was leading the group. And the rest is history. She invited me to come to one of their group outings at the Norton Simon and I was hooked. No more nostalgia for the hills and blue skies of Paso Robles. No more thoughts of painting San Luis Obispo County. It was to be my time of sketching and painting in the moment in the beautiful Southern CA. Right?

Madonna Mountain on glass
Madonna Mountain, San Luis Obispo, spring 2018 (acrylic on window glass by my back door)

Oops! I guess One California Girl just couldn’t help herself—still in love after all these years.

Happy Birthday Sweetie!




September 22, 2018

Descanso 9:15
Descanso Garden, 9/15/18 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

Last Saturday, two of my sketching groups joined forces and decided to sketch at the Descanso Garden. It was meant to be a kind of farewell to summer as fall starts today. And if you have read any of my many posts related to the Descanso Garden, you would know that I love going there. So, I was delighted to hang out with artistic friends at a favorite place. Although I did say to one of my new friends, as we were gathering at the entrance at 10, that it’s kind of funny that we join up at such events, as painting and sketching is actually such a solitary endeavor. The directive for this day was no different from any other group-sketching event. First, we say hello and basically wait for others to arrive—chomping at the bit to go in and start painting. Some couldn’t wait and had already been inside and begun sketching. I always get a little envious that someone had somehow gotten a head start. (Yeah, to a race that doesn’t exist.) Maybe I worry that someone will pick the exact spot I was going to choose, even though I have no idea where that will be at the moment. And of course they will do an amazing piece of art at my yet to be determined perfect spot—somehow stealing my thunder all because of my inferior timing and artwork. Even though such events do not have a beginning or middle, they do have an end. This is where we all finally gather again—this time in full force (with no one dawdling in the garden) to share what we did. For that day it was decided we would come back together at the entrance at 12:30. As usual we got a passerby to take a group picture of all of us holding up our artwork. This group was so large that the photo was a sea of heads with ugly hats and tablets of paper with what appear to be blobs of color and line. Of course I assume we are all smiling, but the hats leave a definite shaded spot to the upper half of our faces—hard to tell. Then it is time to either have lunch with someone you know or time to leave. I needed to start my laundry, so I left soon after the picture was taken.

Back to the Rose Garden

If you have been reading my blog you may remember that I had vowed not to go back to the rose garden, as I have been there so often and had a recent rather rude experience involving a chatty mother of a newborn and a dirty diaper. So, once we were cut loose I found myself circling around the outside of the rose garden, looking for a spot I had never considered before. To distract myself from looking for mom’s with strollers, I thought it would be fun to try to channel Beatrix Potter and come up with a wee patch of garden that some rascally rabbits might choose to run through. (Actually I have actually seen tiny rabbits running through the rose garden in the past.) And of course I found a spot I was sure no one in the group had already sketched and there wasn’t a new mom in sight. It was nestled in front of a tall wall of shady green foliage. From this place I could see two “Potter inspired” views—one with a quaint rooftop with trees and another with drifts of flowers surrounding a random arch made of weathered wood and a curved piece of metal. I chose the random arch.

So I rolled out my bubble wrap, set up my materials and started mixing my pots of watercolor. I never got a B. Potter feeling as I put in my washes and detail, but no matter I painted away with great joy and anticipation of the summer being over. (I did see some of my painter friends skulking around in the background, but none dared to come near…or maybe they just didn’t see me as they too were looking for that perfect spot.)

After I got home, I looked online and at some Beatrix Potter books I have to see if I had actually channeled any of her garden illustrations. Sadly, I had not. But the more I looked at this piece the more I started to wonder if I had actually channeled someone else. I began to wonder if the inspiration for my first day of fall art 2018 had come from me, that same one CA girl. So, I looked back at what I had painted and posted a year ago. Sure enough, there was another ode to the end of summer painted in the rose garden at the Descanso Garden around the same time. And here it is, with the first paragraph I had for that 2017 post.

Descanso 9:9:17From 9/9/2017, but posted on 9/16/17

“I finally got to the Descanso Garden last Sunday to do some long awaited sketching. The end of August and first part of September brought triple digit heat here in Southern California and it has been too uncomfortable to make the effort to sit outside—even for a quick sketch. In fact, that heat caused a substantial fire that I could see from my front porch on the top of some “all too close” mountains across the way. So, Sunday morning I packed my backpack with my paints and bubble wrap, found a favorite shady bench in the rose garden and did this watercolor in about 30 minutes. Sheer bliss!”

Back to 9/22/18

I don’t really have much else much to add here, other than the fact that I hadn’t yet discovered New Gamboge. That would be later in the fall.  But I think last year’s fall art would have benefited from that magical SoCal color. Also, this view is to the north and features the lovely San Gabriel Mountains. Oh, and instead of including a random arch for this one, it was a random lamppost. For the 9/15/18 art in the rose garden I was facing west. In fact, I have placed the two pieces side by side on my easel by the door, as a kind of mural of the Descanso’s rose garden from fall to fall. I started to write about the seemingly random things I do to change up the art and artifacts in my house as a new season starts, but that’s for another time I think.

September 15, 2018

Mountain, view three
Norton Simon, Back garden, Aristide Maillol Mountain, 1937—Speed sketching #1 on September 8, 2018 (ink and graphite on Canson Mixed Media paper)

As promised in last week’s blog, I have posted a couple pieces of art from my “speed sketching” excursion to the Norton Simon on Friday, 9/7/18. This one is the third, and probably final, sketch of the Mountain (at least until spring…when the pair of geese come back to nest near her…). I was so excited to have captured her from three different vantage points, But I think if I tried a 4th twenty minute view of the Mountain just now I might become bored of her. And that would be a crime!

Don’t know if you have ever taken figure drawing, but doing quick sketches of models are very common. (Of course the Mountain is a pretty static model, not striking any other pose than you see here.) I remember such challenges in a number of my figure drawing classes, where we were to quickly sketch our model as she, or he, changed positions. And they would make those changes every 60 seconds or so with all of us in class hurrying to catch the essence or the “line” of their body in that very short time. I seem to remember that one teacher had us do 5 second sketches as well. This same teacher also asked us to look carefully at our model, then we were to close our eyes and “speed sketch” what we had pictured with only our two hands and a grease pencil. (Some used charcoal. That was always such a smeared black mess for me even with my eyes open. I never tried it in the dark.)

Norton Simon4
Speed sketching at the Norton Simon #3 on September 8, 2018 (ink and graphite on Canson Mixed Media paper)

It’s funny, but by the time I got to the last 20-minute “speed sketch” (shown above), it seemed like I had all the time in the world to complete it. Later, I mentioned that to one of the other sketchers and she said the same thing. We decided we were in such a huge hurry that we made sure to capture the essence of our landscape within the first couple minutes. Then we languished a little while adding more details, trying not to over do it or take away from our initial, and important, quick lines and curves.

The sun was pretty low in the sky by this time and some of the lights in the garden were coming on. In fact, my focal point sculpture to the left of the tree was actually disappearing into the fence in the background, even with the bit of golden light that was reflecting off the polished surface. And I have to say that I stopped that sketch way before the 20 minute gong went off (Yes, our leader had a gong sound that came from her phone when time was up…). And I sat in the damp grass, on my sheet of bubble wrap, and enjoyed the amazing, almost-fall pink light that was filling the sky above the trees. It was wonderful.

Norton Simon4+color
Speed sketching at the Norton Simon #3 (mixed media on Canson Mixed Media paper)

Finally, we come to the final piece. It actually started as the sketch above it, only with added watercolor. (I added the color the next day while looking at a photograph I had taken of my chosen vignette.) I didn’t hurry for the painting part of this one. I chose a favorite piece of music (Letters Home by Pat Metheny) and started to mix my pots of color. I must say that I spent more time than I would have liked working with this paper. I had never applied watercolor to it and it kind of allowed unwanted vertical rivers of color to run down the page. So, I had to move the paper up and down and side-to-side, encouraging the pigment to spread out and not make unwanted puddle stripes. I think the paper is too thin for such a wet media. But I discovered that I liked how the vertical stripes ran down through the dark shrub to the right. It so wonderfully mimicked the vertical stripes of the fence behind it. And actually I think that intentional striping of the fence was enhanced with my use of Inktense pencils—not so sloppy and wet. Anyway, my evening of speed sketching came to an end with a finished watercolor the next day. (It took me about 40 minutes to do this one, not counting the time I spent waving the paper around to keep the paint from pooling in an undesired way.)

So, all this speediness got me thinking about other things in our lives we do with great speed. And that got me thinking about the things we do with great speed that really should be slowed down and not done too quickly at all. I made an anecdotal list of things that should never be done too quickly and/or too slowly. Once you see where I’m going with this, you may have your own “top ten” list of things that should not be sped up or slowed down. Here goes:

10. As I commute to work every day on a major freeway in Los Angeles, I see many people driving way too fast—way past the speed limit. I listen to the radio as I am on the look out for such speedy drivers. And it seems that each morning and afternoon I hear traffic reports that have at least 1 or 2 crashes, and it often relates to the carpool lane. I once got a ticket for incorrectly merging into the carpool lane and I learned why there are so many crashes. One, people are going way to fast. Two, they don’t use their turn signal when changing lanes. I don’t know about you, but I never travel with my crystal ball. So I cannot predict who is going to be moving into a lane of speeding cars at the exact moment as someone else. And every now and then I see someone looking in their rear view mirror applying lip liner or mascara as they are heading down the road. That is definitely something that should not be put on with great speed as you are speeding down the freeway.

9. Sitting in a dentist chair has never been a favorite for me. So, I am happiest if she or he is quick. My dad used to talk about his favorite dentist because he said his hands were in his mouth for a very short time. He liked that.

8. I guess you want to take off a band aid pretty quickly. Grabbing it and slowly tugging at can be excruciating.

7. Oh, and be sure to pick the paint color for your bedroom carefully. Choosing something like that on a whim and trying to live with a bad color choice would give me.

6. This is a funny one, and really a personal choice I guess. I have never been a fan of wearing much make up. But I have known women who take upwards of an hour to do their hair and put on make up every day of the week. That’s just way too much time for me. I mean, what if you spend all that time, walk out the door and get hit by a bus. You don’t know when your time will be up–don’t waste it putting on gobs of lip-liner or mascara.

5. Speaking of massages, facials and tattoos…I think all of these should be done slowly.

4. Not quite sure why my list has so many personal grooming items on it, but I’ll keep going. I don’t want to take a speedy bath, but a quick shower is OK.

3. I guess I’m all in favor of quick meal preparations, but food should not be consumed at a break neck pace. When I lived in San Francisco I had a boyfriend who loved cherry pie. I once made him such a pie. When I placed a large slice in front of him he smiled, picked up his fork and began eating. He did not look at me, or speak to me, but instead he shoveled huge piece after huge piece into his mouth. I don’t remember if he chewed it, and it seemed to just slide down his throat like an anaconda eating one mouse after another. And when he was finished, having almost licked the plate clean, he was panting. Yes, I don’t think he took a single breath throughout this 40-second event. I was horrified. Slow down! If your girlfriend spent the better part of an afternoon making you a pie, at least have a conversation while eating it. I never made him a pie again. He seemed confused when I told him that was his first and last one from me. He reminded me that he did say thank-you. He had forgotten that he had said thank you as he produced a huge belch.

2. Oh, and when I’m reading for pleasure; I rarely want a quick read. If I am really enjoying my book then I don’t want it to end. I have been known to stop mid sentence and put the book away for the day. This is so I have to reread parts, when I pick it up again the next day. I want that to last and last.

1. Finally, I call this one the melancholy of finishing a dish of coffee ice cream. Never gobble down two scoops of coffee ice cream. Aside from getting a major brain freeze from eating something cold too fast, you must savor each bite. My dad used to talk of the “melancholy nature” of eating such a bowl of ice cream. He described it this way–You take your time to let in melt a little. Don’t mux it. That means you are not to stir it with your spoon. (Actually my dad was wrong about this one. I turns out your taste buds can’t really register flavors at low temperatures. So, you should mux it so it will warm up to a proper temperature that you can really taste and appreciate. This is another way to slow the actual eating process before it melts completely and you are left with liquid cream, milk, sugar and coffee in the bowl.) Take small bites, eating each dollop slowly. And when it comes to the penultimate bite, it is really quite a sad moment as you scrape and scrape the last little bit of this amazing melted confection at the bottom of the bowl, trying to make it last just a little longer…

So, what’s on your list?



September 8, 2018

Norton Simon, Back garden, Aristide Maillol Mountain, 1937—View 1, August, 3, 2018 (ink and graphite on multimedia paper)

I did both of these sketches the other afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum. I think I have mentioned in previous posts that this Pasadena museum is free the first Friday of the month from 5 pm to 8 (closing). One of my sketching groups takes advantage of this “Friday Freeness” and we meet there regularly once a month. And as I have said before, I usually head straight for the back garden and look for a spot to roll out my bubble wrap. For that evening of sketching I first sat on some grass and discovered this lovely lady. I must say that I am often inspired to draw the sculptures next to the Monet inspired pond and it was a pleasure to get to know her up close a personal next to a calm pond dotted with lily pads and ducks. I must also say, that when drawing such sculptures I often impose a slightly different face with a decidedly animated expression. And that is definitely the case with “Ms Mountain.”

statue and ducks
Norton Simon, Back garden, Aristide Maillol Mountain, 1937—View 2, August, 3, 2018 (ink and graphite on multimedia paper)

Around 6:30 we usually meet inside the museum, just inside the garden, and share what we did the first hour. (Some don’t actually get to the museum until then as they are getting off work and dealing with awful Friday afternoon LA traffic. I have to admit that sometimes LA traffic is just too awful to even imagine, let alone be part of it.) That evening, our group leader didn’t really have an idea of what we could do together, so she sent us off to draw, paint or sketch what was pleasing to our eye. What you see here is my second hour sketch. And guess what? I walked around the pond to the other side of the “Mountain” and discovered another view that seemed to be calling me. I rolled out my bubble wrap and sketched her from another point of view. And as I was thinking of what I wanted to write about this week, I imagined something kind of glib, like “If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then two pictures much surely be worth 2000.” And then I would just end the blog abruptly, like there just wasn’t anything else to say. (You may have realized that one California girl is never lacking with things to say and I gave up on that idea right away.) So, then I got inspired with the idea that I had drawn the same sculpture from two very different vantage points and the theme could be something like, “it depends on how you look at it.” I further egged myself on with the notion of “it depends on how you look at it” when I included the man across the pond in the first sketch. I decided he might be a voyeur, of the nice variety of course. Maybe he was looking at the “Mountain” or maybe he was looking at me looking at the “Mountain.” I guess “it depends on how you look at.” Either way, I decided that the next time I was in this garden I would do a sketch of her from his side of the pond, from his point of view. (He was wearing sunglasses and it was hard to tell where he was looking. I also think he was looking at his phone most of the time, so I guess that’s my answer…)

So, last night we went to the Norton Simon again. Our fearless leader’s directions for the evening’s sketching was some “speed sketching” in the back garden. Together we walked to a part of the garden and had 20 minutes to sketch a vignette from that location. Our leader suggested that we make the sketch as thought we were going to add watercolor later. It was a worthy challenge for all of us. Maybe it was serendipity, maybe not. But the first area she led us to looked out in the direction of Ms. “Mountain,” but from my “voyeur’s” point of view. So, I was immediately and happily drawing her again, and could see what my maybe he saw, or not. Then when the timer went off, we moved to another part of the garden and sketched again for 20 minutes. (A strolling garden voyeur watched me sketch in this second location for a while and asked me if doing this kind of “speed sketching” was anything like “speed dating.” I told him it was similar, except I didn’t get indigestion after I finished a quick sketch.) Then we moved to a third location and our leader set the timer again. I was in heaven—it was a beautiful southern California evening and I was in a favorite place.

I will post the sketch I did of last night’s “Mountain} in my next blog, along my last sketch of the evening. (I hope to have time to add some watercolor…)

So, until next time…

More about “it depends on how you look at it:”

When my son was young we read a number of wonderful children’s books together. And a very favorite series we devoured as each one was published, was Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” If you have children, I hope you think to share any, or all, of these books with them. But even if you don’t have children, I recommend ALL of them for your reading pleasure. I have recently been re-reading the last in the series—The End, and the phrase “it depends on how you look at it,” appears frequently in it. Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, uses words and repeated phrases in his books to great affect. He even frequently defines words for the reader for emphasis when the main characters Violet, Klaus and Sunny are faced with their many difficult situations and people—with their most notable difficult person named Count Olaf. So, for this final “Unfortunate Event,” Mr. Snicket has many castaways (including Violet, Klaus and Sunny) who have washed up on a distant coastal shelf, repeating this apt phrase. There are too many examples of his use of this phrase to describe here, but I will leave you with one that I think very apt. When asked by the “facilitator” of the island (Ishmael, “Call me Ish”) they found themselves on, the children are told that kindness above all else is important to everyone there. So, when asked if there was a “story” they would like to tell him about their adventures prior to being washed up on the sand, Violet had to reflect on what her answer might be. She thought of all their intentions to be good and kind, but reminded herself that they had done some rather awful things in the name of trying to be good and kind. So, her final answer to his question was, “it depends on how you look at it.”


September 1, 2018

Bonny Doon
Bonny Doon Vineyard, Highway 46 west, October 2006 (8″ x 14″ oil on canvas)

This is probably my tiniest landscape to date. It was next door to a wonderful herb garden business in Paso Robles called Sycamore Herb Farm. These are some of the grapes that go into wines with the Bonny Doon label. I remember being interested in this vineyard as an agriculture spot with special needs because it’s on a pretty steep slope, and I often wondered about tending and picking wine grapes on a slant. Walking across the mountain rows is probably OK, but how do the workers get trucks and all other large moving vehicles up and down around there? I have never been around when they pick the grapes, so I guess I can only imagine the extra effort it takes. And I have never tasted Bonny Doon wines, so I hope the extra sweat adds positive notes to the wine’s flavor. This probably sounds kind of crazy to say, but if you have ever been to a California winery you might hear someone say something like that. For example, I remember a vintner at a Los Olivos winery and tasting room say that wine made from their grapes near a field of mustard had hints of a pepper taste, and such a flavor came directly from these weeds. And I think I remember this same vintner saying that one of their wines had a hint of asphalt because a nearby road was installed while those grapes were on the vine. I remember thinking; didn’t you guys wash the grapes before you made this stuff? Or is it more organic to leave the dirt? Remember, this is California, and as I have already said, such crazy talk is not really all that crazy around here. Oh, I do hope they at least washed their hands before they crushed the grapes…

Anyway, when I imagined what I would write to go with this “little jewel” I was sure that other painters had been famous for painting small works of art with similar lovely tiny bits of detail. Not that I am in the same category of painter as Leonardo da Vinci, but in a previous post I referenced his Mona Lisa as such a lovely little jewel of art. And if you look closely you will see just a hint of an idealized landscape behind that mysterious woman with the inscrutable smile. I thought I could do a little research and come up with other painters who had done such little pieces of art heaven. I was sure I had remembered that many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous surreal close-ups of flowers were pretty small. But I couldn’t find any information about the dimensions of her art on the Internet, so I can’t be certain any of those paintings are particularly diminutive. The only way I could even get a sense of the general size of her paintings was to see photos of people in a museum or gallery standing next to them. Hmm…

So, I got frustrated with this dead end story and gave up on the “little jewel” theme for this post and looked once again at the Bonny Doon vineyard for inspiration. (Oh, and if you go to Paso Robles, you will not be able to taste the wine made from these grapes as the winery and tasting room is in Davenport, on Highway 1 near Santa Cruz.) So, once I got my head back into the subject of this little landscape I remembered that you once could taste the wine right next door, at Sycamore Herb Farm. Never forget the importance of looking next door or across the street for an herb farm, a wine tasting room, a neighbor or just some inspiration. This is some pretty basic stuff, but I think it’s somehow forgotten all too often.

I have heard that people outside of California think we aren’t friendly. Well, I can’t speak for others, but I have been knowns to embarrass my son because I chat with everyone as I move about my life. For example, I enjoy visiting with the butcher and cashiers at the grocery store. And I frequently start up conversations with random people standing next to me who are looking at produce at the market. I might say something like, “These tomatoes don’t seem to really be red, do they?” and “They put out these overpriced heirloom tomatoes just to tease me. I am so desperate to taste a real tomato they think I will pay the price.” Or, “Why don’t these peaches smell like peaches? Shouldn’t they smell like summer? They are as hard as bullets…” (Maybe my son is right…)

So, I frequently make contact with the neighbors who walk past my house. There are a couple of older ladies who cruise by pushing their walkers either up or down my little hill (sans sidewalk). I am not sure if they are hard of hearing, have forgotten to wear their hearing aids or don’t speak English, but we never exchange words. However, they always slow down as they go past to see what’s blooming in my garden and give me a great big smile. I wave and smile back as I water or tend my flowers or birds.

Notice I didn’t say I tend the squirrels that also come to eat sunflower seeds at the bottom of the bird feeder. There is a story about squirrels that can best be told through the eyes of a neighbor who stopped to chat the other day as she was walking her dog. She asked what had happened to my huge five-foot high patch of sunflowers that during her frequent walks had watched me start from seed. I explained to her that the squirrels that scoot around my pepper tree were not satisfied with the sunflower seeds on the ground, but thought it good sport to leap onto the flowers and rip off the flower heads. I added to my story by saying that at first I thought it was some crazed raccoon that was coming in the night, knocking down the flower stems and eating the seeds and flowers—leaving a huge mess. But one morning, I saw two familiar squirrels jumping and smashing down the flowers. That was it. A couple days later I cut huge bouquets of undamaged flowers for my house and took the rest out. It was nice to tell my story to the dog-walking neighbor, lamenting the loss of my sunflowers. I told her I would try again next year, with hopefully some new plan to keep the squirrels at bay. She said she would be looking again for them come spring. Then she cleaned up her dog’s poop and wished me luck. Now, that’s a good and friendly California neighbor.

Sycamore Herb Farm

Sycamore Farms used to be this amazing herb farm, nursery and display garden next door to the vineyard. It was a fun place to buy herbs and see the owner’s animals. They had chickens. And to keep them safe from hunting hawks that were flying overhead, they had a kind of netting over their chicken yard. They also had two stately geese and some goats. I understand that there was a devastating fire there and one of the buildings on the property burned down. I guess it was closed for a long time and then was resurrected at Fat Cat Farms, but sadly that is now gone as well.

My son and I spent many fun hours there, looking at the animals and plants. They had a huge variety of interesting and unique herbs. I remember specifically that they had every kind of mint and basil you could imagine. It was so fun to choose something new for my garden. And I regularly bought their cilantro, trying in vain to get it to grow in my garden, only to have it immediately go to seed and die. I had a friend around the corner from my house that said it had become a pest in her yard and was growing like a weed everywhere, even in the crackers between the pavers. I gave up on growing cilantro and just bought it at the store. But I am forever grateful that Sycamore Herb Farm existed, because if it hadn’t I would never have discovered its next door neighbor, the Bonny Doon Vineyards.

But even though Sycamore Farms is gone, there is still a landscape inspiration to be seen here, and it’s across the street from the vineyard. The locals here call it Heart Mountain. I just Googled Heart Mountain, Paso Robles CA. And if you look through all the pictures under the “images” category you will see a mountain where a cluster of oak trees have grown together to form the shape of a dense green heart. When I first started going to Sycamore Farms, the green heart of trees stood out against golden hills. Now, vineyards surround the heart of oak trees. I painted Heart Mountain with Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor, but added a huge cluster of sunflowers in the foreground. It’s kind of a little jewel of a painting. Maybe there is still a “little jewel” art theme to be shared here. Stay tuned…