November 24, 2018

Cloud art2
Fanciful cloud 1, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) This is the same cloud I posted a couple weeks back, but I scrubbed out a cheeky cloud that I had somehow let in.
Cloud art3
Fanciful cloud 2, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) If I were to stretch this canvas the wrinkles down the middle would be gone.

If you are an artist, you probably don’t usually create something to cover up an unsightly something. Creative motives are usually to make something of beauty, with no real extrinsic value except to the creator. But every now and again art is called for when it can help with an ugly or unsightly view in your apartment. These two panels were just what I wanted to cover some tragic vertical blinds in my bedroom. I think vertical blinds in general are a bad idea, or at least an unsatisfactory solution to covering a large window or sliding glass door. I get that they are cheap and that’s why apartment owners put them up. But that’s the problem, they are cheap and often don’t hang straight, are difficult to open or close and/or just the fact that they are made of plastic from top to bottom makes me very unhappy. Besides, even with all those layers of plastic hanging down, light somehow gets in at various places where the plastic doesn’t quite come together because some pieces were slightly wavy and warped. So, I decided to cover up one such disaster completely with something I wanted to look at when I woke up in the morning, rather than…you know what I’m talking about. Even with that being said, I wasn’t sure that such a resolve to permanently block out a long and narrow window (110 inches by 43 inches) with a beautiful piece of art, no matter how unsightly the blinds, was a good idea. I had a double reason for covering it all up. Because even though I was on the third floor, the window in question looked out over an alley to other apartments and lots of power lines. I began musing what I would like to see out that window instead of what was actually there. I decided on a beautiful blue sky with soft romantic clouds made up of cerulean and ultramarine blue and titanium white. That’s what you see here.

First, I had to cut the canvas into two pieces because I didn’t have a large enough space in my apartment to paint one long large unstretched piece of canvas. I did have a perfect little spot in front of my refrigerator on the kitchen floor for each half, and I could reach all the way around each cloud square crawling around on the floor on my hands and knees. But I only had room to do one at a time, and I wanted each one to dry quickly, so I used acrylics. If you are a lover of oil paints and wish to paint with them, that’s up to you. Anyway, I didn’t fancy too many days of stepping over large sections of oil painted canvas when I wanted to get something out of the frig. I still think painting in the kitchen was a great solution. Besides, lots of apartment kitchens have windows you can open as both acrylics and oils can be rather stinky.

I think I would always recommend putting a beautiful cerulean blue sky with puffy white clouds up to a window with a questionable view and/or window treatment. Here’s how I came to this seemingly random artistic discovery. Mind you, everything I will describe here happened quite by accident with only the determination of making something beautiful for a perfectly utilitarian use. When I painted each canvas piece, I covered the blue sections with a slightly heavy layer of paint, but only lightly painted the actual cloud sections with white. (Remember I said I was in a hurry to not block access to my frig and this all went down fast.) I liked the idea that the actual gessoed white canvas would be part of the white cloud. The thin layer of white paint would turn out to be key, as you will soon discover if you have not already stopped reading this because it’s just too boring. Once everything was dry, I closed the blinds for good and hung up my clouds. The clouds had turned out to be a satisfactory solution for that room. But one weekend morning I woke up late and noticed the larger clouds were actually glowing from the tiny bit of light that still got in through the cracks of the blinds. I lay there a while and just looked at them. The cloud show got better and better because as the light coming through that eastern facing window moved higher in the sky, the lightness and brightness of the clouds changed. I was blown away. I wish I could say that I had actually meant all of this to happen, but it was quite random and therefore even lovelier. So remember, if you want this affect, be sure you are covering crappy vertical blinds that let in small bits of random light. Be sure to make the blue background very opaque and just add touches of cloud colors using a very thin mixture of paint. And also remember the vertical blinds are key because I actually used the top cornice of this window treatment to hang the sheets of clouds. All it took was 8 or 10 clothespins well placed and evenly spaced at the top. I forgot to mention that the reason I didn’t stretch the canvas was because I thought it would make the finished pieces too heavy and maybe pull the blinds right off the wall. I could just imagine the landlord asking me what I thought I was doing. I would have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing. If you don’t have ugly vertical blinds—lucky you. You could probably hang your canvas clouds with pushpins at the top of a window with an ugly view. But remember, once they’re up you’re done with opening or closing the window or any other window treatment that might be there.

Now I don’t live in that apartment and I have attached the cloud mural to a large wall in my bedroom with pushpins. And even though they don’t glow with the changing eastern light, I wake up each morning to these wonderful beauties. I’m thinking of stringing some twinkle lights on the row of pushpins at the top. Maybe it will look like stars or something. Already sounding a little too contrived, right?

You are probably wondering if we of SoCal actually have such blue skies and clouds here. Actually, I was just at my son’s for Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz and came home yesterday on the Grapevine. As I started to climb that steep grade, heading south, I wondered if there would still be smoke in the air from the awful fires we’ve had here (Woolsey fire in Thousand Oaks). It had been raining in Santa Cruz and was cloudy most of the way home. But as I got to the summit, the clouds parted to make vista after vista for cerulean blue sky and puffy clouds the rest of the way home. At one point there was a complete rainbow that seemed to hover beside my car, following me down the other side of the mountain. It was glorious and not a hint of smoke was to be seen—just a perfectly beautiful fall sky after a bit of rain. Oh, and I have never really seriously tried to paint a rainbow. You may want to add such a wonder to your cloud canvas. I don’t even know how I would begin to mix those colors because I think the colors of the rainbow are best done with tiny droplets of water magically lit by the sun.

Finally, now I have a wonderful space in my garage to paint the large vistas of my dreams. This spot is grand enough to paint something 95 inches by 63. And there won’t be any rolling around on the cold concrete floor because I have set it up to paint on one wall of the garage. I am working on how to set up every thing with the actual paints etc. and I think I have it. So, as soon as I can I plan to try one. Even thinking of maybe posting all of this on YouTube. Stay tuned…

November 17, 2018

Norton Simon Rodin sculptures
Norton Simon Front Garden Rodin Sculptures, November 2, 2018 (graphite, colored pencil and ink on mixed media paper)

I hadn’t planned to be out in the front garden entryway of the Norton Simon the evening of November 2nd. But it’s not really that unusual as one of my sketching groups always meets there the first Friday of the month. This month our leader suggested we sketch the altars that would be on display at the Day of the Dead exhibit in downtown Pasadena that evening. I drove into town with the express purpose of going to that event, but couldn’t find parking anywhere near the displays. So my car just navigated itself the few extra blocks west on Colorado and I found myself pulling into the parking lot at the Norton Simon Museum. There were plenty of places to park! For this sketching visit I decided I wasn’t going into the museum, for a reason I will later divulge, and I wandered around the front garden instead. I’m always happy to wander around the Norton Simon, so missing out on Pasadena’s Day of the Dead didn’t seem to matter much. (The leader of our group did find parking and she posted a wonderful watercolor she did of one of the altars that she entitled, Viva las mujeres!)

But I had my own kind of dead moment going on there as I decided that the Rodin sculptures all around the front entrance seemed to be coming to life. Since I had already decided I wasn’t going inside I planned sit out there and sketch them, watching for any kind of “Twilight Zone” movement moment. It was almost twilight and the evening lights were just coming on and highlighting the statues. I could swear fingers, shoulders and necks were moving ever so slightly. It didn’t seem as though any feet had moved—that would have been silly as they were attached to stone pediments. If you look closely at my sketch, can you tell which are the Rodin Sculptures and which are the humans hanging around? Of course you can. The Rodin twilight army is the ones not looking at cell phones, right?

Since I hadn’t actually crossed the threshold of the actual building, I wondered if technically I was at the museum. Of course I soon found out I was. While looking for the perfect view I noticed that one whole corner of the museum, next to the parking lot, was surrounded with connecting concrete benches. I was very excited at the prospect of so many places I could sit on my bit of bubble wrap and draw. I soon found the view you see here and I unfolded my bubble wrap on just the right concrete bench and sat down. As I began taking out a few sketching materials from my backpack I thought I saw someone off in the distance coming towards me. Was it a rogue Rodin statue? No, it was just a very officious museum employee lumbering over to tell me I was doing something wrong. (It was at this point that I realized I was actually at the museum. I had had run ins with other officious Norton Simon guards before, but never before entering the front door.) What could it be this time? I was beginning to wish I had tried harder to commune with the “dead” in downtown rather than anticipating a boring lecture from the “living” here in the garden. I stopped taking my sketching things from my bag and waited for her.

She told me I couldn’t sit on the bench because I might fall off and hurt myself on the concrete gutter under my feet. She added that they had this rule to keep kids from playing on the benches. I thought I looked old enough to refrain from such behavior. And I thought I could convince her of my arty earnestness and opened my sketchpad to show her 4 or 5 sketches I had done of the sculpture garden in the back. She said she liked the sketches, but wasn’t having any of my cozy chatter. So, I stood up and dropped the bubble wrap down into the gutter below the bench and slunk down so I was then sitting in this slim bit of bubble wrap in the gutter with my back against the bench. She said it was OK if I leaned against the bench. Well that was a mercy anyway.

I told her I hadn’t actually been out front very often to draw and that I usually went right through the front door directly to the back garden. But I said that I had brought my backpack, because I thought I was going to the Day of the Dead Celebration in downtown. I knew backpacks were not allowed inside the museum. I think the Norton Simon powers at be worried that those of us carrying backpacks would bump into something, or someone, as it was clear I was someone who played on benches and would run through their museum willy nilly with a backpack full of live bats. Oh, she was adamant that I most definitely could go in the back garden as long as I checked my backpack full of bats at the coat check counter, transferring my art items that included a small sketchpad and zipper bag of pens and pencils, slim metal container of 12 colored pencils, 12 inch by 24 inch sheet of bubble wrap and a small kitchen towel into one of their bags. I was just imagining all the bats escaping into the museum as I made the transfer (and that would be all her doing), but I said nothing. (Actually our conversation was no small feat as I was sitting in a narrow gutter at her feet, looking directly at her knees.) You know, you can stand at the front entrance of the Norton Simon and look directly through the front glass doors to the back glass doors, maybe 30 paces away. But I still needed to transfer my materials to another bag. She kept going on and on about how simple that would be. Of course it would have been much simpler for me to walk those few steps without stopping. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken more than 10 or 12 seconds.

By now I was done with all this nonsense and hoped she would finally leave me alone. But she wasn’t quite done with me and continued the conversation, telling me that she couldn’t believe that the original 1970s or  80s architect of the museum exterior had made such an unsafe design blunder right out there in front of God and everybody. She seemed horrified that someone would create permanent benches around Rodin’s sculpture garden at the front of the Norton Simon. And all the while I’m thinking, “the fiend!” It was about now I knew I was going to start giggling. Besides, I really wanted to sketch something.

Finally, she started walking away, but turned briefly to ask me if I had brought any kind of wet media with me. I remember thinking of saying something like, I am sitting in a concrete gutter out front of an art museum with patches of grass that look like they could use some water. Was she hoping I had a huge bag of water, along with everything else, in my backpack so I could help out with the drought? But I knew what she meant and I had no intention of going inside to clean Rembrandt’s face on his self-portrait with some of my dirty watercolor water. But the moment was saved as I could see just over her shoulder a friend sketcher/painter hurrying up the steps towards the front doors of the museum. (She must not have been able to get a parking spot either. She and I are often sketching/painting out in that back garden there on these wonderful Friday evenings.) Did I say painting? Why yes I did! I happen to know she definitely does watercolors (very wet and loose I might add) out there and is very fond of brushing on permanent inks as well! Ooh, this was delicious revenge. I was somehow getting a kind of revenge for all the nonsense I had been listening to for the past 10 minutes. But I immortalized my officious museum acquaintance. She is the tiniest person standing guard near the front of the museum to the left of the naked Rodin statue against the front wall. He had probably heard her droning on and on as well and was gesturing her to come closer so he could tell her to “leave off!” Of course maybe he was actually trying to muster another hand gesture. Ah, but we’ll never know…

My uncle (my dad’s only sibling) doesn’t have anything to do with computers, but it’s his birthday today anyway. So Happy Birthday Uncle R! 11/17/18

November 10, 2018

1999 pumpkin
Pumpkin, October 1999 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)
Newspaper pumpkin
The Tribune, 10/31/1999

Not really sure how I got the idea to submit my art with stories to The Tribune in San Luis Obispo almost 20 Halloween’s ago. But this was the first one. Once I formulated a plan to draw and write like this, it seemed a bunch of similar ideas for art and stories for kids and their families in the garden started to grow somewhere in my subconscious. And once I first saw this published in the newspaper a kind of floodgate of images and words began to tumble from my brain and out onto the waiting paper. There was a really nice editor at the newspaper who was my champion, so to speak. Beginning with that first story, she loved everything I sent her. That was really fun and satisfying.

Before I ever put pumpkin to paper and/or word to word processor I’d been thinking of Halloween and carving a pumpkin with my son who had just turned 5. I remember being struck by how beautiful pumpkins can be—not those wary ones. Some might think orange a rather rude color, but I’ve always admired the audacity of something so humble getting so much colorful attention. The shape of a pumpkin is pretty fun and unmistakable, and was forever made famous by being turned into a coach for Disney’s Cinderella. So, I always felt kind of sad for the pumpkin turned to jack-o-lantern because if you leave it alone, it’s the stuff of dreams and will remain whole and unabashedly bold for months—way past Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the minute you make that first stab into it, the pumpkin will soon die a quick, but painful death with tiny hairs and black spots of mold and mildew engulfing all that orange and shapely loveliness. Pretty dramatic, I know. But that was the angle I was going for with this first story.

But the real reason I posted all of this was not to lament the life of a carved pumpkin, but to share the untold story of the art I had created for it. I could also make a case for posting this now because Halloween was just 10 days ago and Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie is a few weeks away, but I digress. I remember enjoying all the colors I had used to make the art, layering layer after layer of watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on my wonderful cold pressed illustration board. And as I built up the colors the pumpkin began to look very real and round on the flat page. But where this gets tragic is that I didn’t create the right shadow for the pumpkin, but hadn’t figured that out just yet. I kept looking at it and it looked somehow weird. Of course the editor was ready for me to submit it with my story and there wasn’t time to redo anything. And even if I’d had the time I wasn’t sure what I should do. So, I emailed the editor my story and drove the 30 miles from our house in Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo to drop off the art to The Trib. The editor loved it, and that was good because I didn’t have it around the house to look at and obsess over anymore. Now I just waited for the next Sunday morning to see what it looked like in the newspaper. It was quite a bit smaller and that was fine. Of course, once I saw it there in print I realized what was bugging me. The shadow was definitely off and it looked like the pumpkin was floating above the surface of the page and not sitting on anything. Darn! But it seemed that it was only me who noticed, so I basked in all my friend’s friendly comments about the art and story and sent a copy to my mom and dad.

After that I made sure that all the art I submitted to The Tribune was grounded on the page, or at least didn’t have a kind of surrealistic style. But the tragic story of the floating pumpkin did not end there. Here’s what happened next. As I said, I mailed a copy of the newspaper clipping to my mom and dad. They were of course very proud and extremely pleased for me. And that Christmas they gave me a present of the article beautifully framed—complete with a double matt. This, of course, was meant to hang on my wall somewhere. I still hadn’t said a word to anyone about my pumpkin shadow faux pas, so they didn’t know I probably didn’t really want to look at it. (In fact, in writing this very story I just realized that I have never told it to anyone until now.) They had also framed a copy for themselves and had it hanging on their wall, for all the world to see. I was horrified! Now this pumpkin was meant to be displayed not only in my house, but was hanging on the wall by their front door as well. They told me they showed it off to everyone who came to the door—even the UPS lady I suppose.

I dutifully hung mine up when I got it home, but couldn’t stand to look at for very long. (In fact, I put the original art in a drawer and hadn’t really looked at it again until I did this story.) I decided I would bring it out for only special fall occasions and holidays—beginning with Halloween and ending with Thanksgiving. And that’s what I have been doing for the past almost 20 fall seasons. In fact, it’s hanging up in my living room right now. But now that both my parents are gone, I proudly bring it out and celebrate the season and their lifelong belief in my art and me. I don’t look for the shadowy imperfection anymore.

But I am not cured of my mania; there is a huge mural of clouds that I did a few years back.

cloud canvas
Fantasy Clouds, spring 2017 (acrylic on 43 by 55 inch unstretched canvas)

Somehow, I let a little cheeky cloud creep onto the canvas on the left side. It just doesn’t belong there. Now, I am scheming to see if I can mix a pot of the perfect blue acrylic that I can use to make it go away. I will write about that, and the other half of the art, in a later post.

Fire update from SoCal

On June 16th of this year I posted a little watercolor I did of a structure at Paramount Ranch, just over the hill from Malibu. I had heard in our local news that some, if not all, of the structures at Western Town at that location had burned down as a result of one our latest wildfires. Hearing that news made my heart sink. So far no official photos to confirm or deny that story have been posted. However, somehow an urban sketcher got a picture and shared it online. It showed that at least one of the Western Town buildings had burned to the ground. Just unbelievable to see the “before” and “after” shots. In that photo I could see that the building constructed for the West World series (and the one I painted for 6/16/18) looked OK. But I couldn’t see if the oak I had sat under to paint that piece was unharmed. The winds here in SoCal on Thursday night and most of Friday were horrific and so many people have been evacuated for that fire–not to mention all the other fires burning in California right now. It would be so nice if we had a few rainclouds on the horizon, something to lighten this dry and fiery load. No more words from One CA Girl today…

November 3, 2018

Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest of Lights 2018, October 27, 2018
Descanso Garden light vignette, October 27, 2018 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you’ve read many of my previous blog entries you might realize that I don’t usually post photos of where I am. But I posted this one for a couple reasons. First, I thought it interesting to see the actual objects/plants that inspired the actual piece of art. I also think that putting the actual art somewhere in the actual scene gives the viewer some kind of indication of scale. I like that. Second, urban sketchers commonly post photos of where they are with a finished painting or sketch so you can compare the real view with the made up one. I know this sounds like I’m repeating myself, but I need to add here that many of the urban sketcher posts I see come from people all over the world. And I think they secretly want us to be jealous that they are sitting in a café in Florence drinking another heavenly cappuccino from a ceramic cup and saucer with tiny spoon, waiting for a train in Osaka, or looking out over a tranquil scene in Bali. And those of us looking at the art are not. Finally, I wanted to share the connection we feel, as artists, to the places we are inspired to paint. I walked all over the Descanso Garden last Saturday, looking for the perfect spot that would share something about the holiday light show they are getting ready to present.

It took me a while to find this spot and I was getting pretty anxious by the time I finally sat down on a bench and started mixing my pots of color. As I have said, the minute I walk onto a prospective painting location my internal timer gets set to 10 minutes. And I really find myself hurrying about because the drive to paint is greater than my overall patience to wait to start painting. For this one I was really trying to think of a composition that would capture something without repeating the string of stars in the rose garden from last week’s post. I was taken by the rather perfect light spheres, but also wanted to show off the beauty of the garden as well. There must be 100 of these spheres lying around all over the garden. It was as though a couple giants had been playing night golf and forgot to pick up the random balls they had left behind. Finally, I saw this vignette of the slightly violet-colored light sphere nestled in with a chartreuse coleus with delicate lavender spiky blossoms and the vertical lines of a flowering cherry. I don’t know, maybe it has a kind of “Ikebana” feel to it. Maybe not.

A final story seemed to come to me when I realized that I had chosen a “linear” man-made light next to the organic shapes of a particularly lovely chartreuse coleus with diagonal irregular lines of the flowering cherry. I was reminded of a comment made by an instructor in a “materials for painting” class when I was at UC Berkeley. One afternoon, after we had finished an assigned project, it was time for us to place our work on a chalk tray for critique. (I don’t remember what materials we were exploring. I think it might have been acrylic paints. Not very exciting…) I remember one student’s work for some reason. She had painted a piece of pie with an ice cube on top with water running down the sides. I think I remember the art because it was pretty funny and so was she. Anyway, I don’t remember what he said about her piece of pie, but when he got to mine he made a grand comment, not about my masterful use of the targeted painting material, but about the composition. He said that I had created nice interest in my art by juxtaposing a linear shape (or something with a definite man made bent) with something more organic or something from nature. The painting was of an overstuffed chair that looked like it had been pushed into the corner of a room. And the texture of the material that covered the chair looked like fabric covered in huge yellow, green and red flowers with black outline. I remember being impressed with myself for being so brilliant, but showing such brilliance wasn’t intentional. I think I just nodded with agreement that he had understood my work on a different level apart from using a particular assigned painting material. And it wasn’t some random piece of strange pie on a Styrofoam plate. What a laugh, right?

And that’s the point here. I often wonder if some of the things we see in a painting were intended or just a happy accident that somehow worked brilliantly. If you are an artist I think you know what I mean. Do we let on that it wasn’t intentional? Or do we nod, humbly and knowingly, like our brilliance was finally discovered by the masses? Of course it could be worse and have the opposite effect where we try something and it doesn’t work. Then and you might find yourself saying that you meant it to look that way. And we convince ourselves that we are pleased with the effect, but somehow these are not the right “masses” and they just don’t get it.

Finishing this up just now I am already planning next week’s post. But there are actually possible two bits of art with stories I might tell—one about a piece of pumpkin art that went terribly wrong in so many ways and another about a piece I did last evening. I had planned on doing a sketch of some of the altars and people at a Day of the Dead Celebration in Pasadena. However, I couldn’t find a parking space and found myself back at my beloved Norton Simon Museum, just down Colorado. And there is quite a story of me sitting out front, sketching some of the “zombie-like” statues out there as the sun went down. (I hate zombies…) So, now I have to decide which one comes next. I guess we will all wait and see which one bubbles up first in my brain first, as long as zombies haven’t gotten to my brain first. Stay tuned…

A note about the dark of the moon, November 7

You are suppose to plant your bulbs at the dark of the moon. I thought the New Moon was tomorrow and had planned to put my paperwhites in the ground then. But I guess it’s not until Wed. Wish I hadn’t looked that up just now. I wonder if the flowers will mind if I am a few days early?