December 1, 2018

Japanese Lanterns
Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest lanterns at one of the entries to the Japanese Garden, 11/20/18 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I found myself at the Descanso Garden again. I was glad I had the day off to go and paint there. I assumed there wouldn’t be many people wandering about because it was a regular weekday. And I had a plan. I planned to paint some of the amazing red lanterns that are set up in the Japanese Garden for the Enchanted Forest holiday light display. I don’t often go into the Japanese Garden as it is a popular place with garden visitors, but I was sure it would be OK for that day. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it was almost full. What the heck! As I stood in line to get in a docent told me that on Tuesday the garden was free. So, there were lots of people milling around—especially lots of strollers, small children and their usually well-meaning adults.

But I was determined to get past my “people aversion” because I had a plan. I wandered over to the Japanese Garden, looking for a good view of the trees and shrubs with the colorful red lanterns that were hanging from long curved black poles throughout the space. Low and behold, I found the perfect spot just outside the Japanese Garden at a bench across the creek from the gate and four lanterns you see here. I was immediately in Descanso heaven and decided I could sit there quietly and sketch and paint without being bothered by people. Of course, just as I was settling in, two school-age children ran right over to MY bench and tried to hide behind it. They had absolutely no idea that I was there and were very much into some sort of giggling game. I turned to look at them and showed them my stern “teacher face,” but they soon ran off. So, even if I had managed the perfect look of disapproval, they weren’t there long enough to see it. I hate being ignored! And what good’s a perfect “look” if no one is looking your way.

Finally, I got my materials set up and did a sketch of this garden gateway with the greenery and red lanterns. When I do something with architectural elements I always like to include some kind of “perspective,” making the structure appear to go back into the page. I’m not sure if I learned to do this from someone, but it works well for me. I think buildings can look rather flat, square and uninviting, and if you want your viewer to come into the picture with you, you need to invite them in. This “color” story included all my usual blues, greens, yellows and “Bark” Inktense colored pencil leaving plenty of white space and highlights. But I wasn’t sure how to paint the four red lanterns. Each one was a saturated red/crimson/orange ball of color that changed ever so slightly as the sun moved across the sky. So, I painted everything, except the roundish white lantern shapes, and then I stopped. Now, I never do a painting without taking bits of breaks to mix another color or let the little voice inside my head suggest what I should do next. I mix some colors, layer them in, and let that dry while I work on other sections—always mindful to leave as much white space as possible. I had taken my usual half a peanut butter sandwich break so I could let everything settle and plan my final paint assault. But I just couldn’t think of what to do for those last round shapes. I sat there, pretending to let everything dry. My sandwich was gone, so I had nothing to do with my hands. I had no idea what to do next, so I just stared across the water at the gate and waited. What was I waiting for? I have no idea. Maybe I was hoping to make the tortuous moment last longer? Yes, I have been known to linger at the strangest times. Like, if I am reading a particularly good book and I don’t want it to end, I’ll put it down, sometimes in mid sentence. It’s a wonderful kind of agony because I am dying to find out what’s going to happen next. I did just that with the book Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. It’s a pretty long book, so I had many opportunities to willingly torture myself. (I recommended the 5-part HBO mini-series based that was done a couple years ago—based on the 4 books that make up the story—in a recent blog.) It was tortuously long and wonderful.

Anyway, getting back to my red lantern torture, I began pondering the question, “What was I waiting for?” That can be a really loaded question, like it can mean that you have been waiting to try something new, but are just too chicken to put yourself out there and go for it. So that would sound like, “What are you WAITING for? But then there is also “WHAT are you waiting for?” or maybe even “WHOM are you waiting for?” That makes me think something or someone is suppose to happen, and then you will know what you are supposed to do. And of course “Whom are you waiting for?” might take years and I had already eaten my half a sandwich and I wondered how long I could go without food while I waited.

All of a sudden a young school-age boy, his even smaller brother and their well-meaning parent walked up to me. I guessed that the older boy was a first grader as his left upper front baby tooth was hanging by a thread. And the smaller boy looked to be a 4-year old preschooler. The mom told me I was right on both counts. I’m not sure if they were enchanted with my art, so much as they had obvious interest in my tray of assorted pigments, pots of mixed colors, brushes and other painting materials on the bench beside me. They were so polite and approached very quietly and politely. But I could tell the older boy really wanted to talk about what I was doing and his silent grinning little brother was just happy to be included in the moment. The mom hung back, but seemed thrilled that her boys had come upon a painter in a garden with some really cool looking painting materials. I’ve had a few conversations about painting with small children and I usually ask them about his or her favorite color. It’s funny, but little kids really do have such passion for such a discussion because staking your personal claim on a color is very personal and important. I showed them my favorites at the moment—“Opera” and my beloved “Cerulean Blue.” When I added that cerulean blue was my favorite because it was often the color of the sky, they both nodded in agreement. I think the color of the sky is important to all landscape painters, or future young school-age landscape painters for that matter. The younger boy finally spoke and told me that green was his favorite color and I quickly described all my different green pigments. Funny, the older boy didn’t actually tell me his favorite color, but nodded in agreement when I told him “Opera” was great. I chatted a bit with the mom too. She told me of the older boy’s love for art and said that the school he was attending had art as part of the curriculum. That made my day and I told them of a very early memory I had of my kindergarten teacher allowing me to stay in at recess so I could draw and color. I have such a vivid recollection of one particular afternoon in kindergarten where I sat coloring at a table, and sunlight was streaming in the door that was open to the very noisy kindergarten playground.

And then they were gone. I guess I had been waiting for them to distract me, helping me get myself out of my head. I mixed up a beautiful red made up of “Scarlet Lake,” and “Cadmium Red Pale Hue,” got my “Chilli Red” Inktense pencil and went to work. It took me less than 5 minutes to add the lanterns. Crazy, huh? Then I packed up my materials and went home.

So, what are you waiting for? Or whom are you waiting for? And if you are waiting for that special someone I hope you are lucky enough to find them while strolling in a favorite place, or sitting on a bench with a lovely view. Or at least I hope you have lots of peanut butter sandwiches because you might get hungry if you have to wait too long.

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