December 15, 2018

La Crescenta, large canvas1
Step 1, Stretching the canvas and going outside, 12/9/18 (62 by 32 inches)

I realize this may look like a heap of nothing, and in fact this first photo is just that, a large blank canvas in my front yard. But for this first image I wanted to show the set up I’m experimenting with—where I’m doing a kind of deconstructed “urban sketching” landscape on a much grander scale. (I will try to explain what I mean by a deconstructed landscape later. I’m still kind of working that out in my head.) I knew this whole thing would probably only work for urban landscapes where no one would mind if I showed up with larger than expected sketching stuff. (If you read my blog regarding the sketch I did out in front of the Norton Simon on November 17, 2018, you would know that the museum guard I spoke to that day would probably plotz if I showed up with anything you see here.) A lot of what I plan to do in the next few weeks will be me setting this up in various places in my garden, or garage if it’s raining, and then quickly painting what I see in my little SoCal neighborhood. And if it’s raining I will be running in and out of the garage to look at the mountains, or the sky, or whatever. Somebody left rather cute red toy truck out front the other day and I might even include something that mundane, but nonetheless “urban” and charming, in the future. So, this is what it looked like last Sunday afternoon in my front yard. I know, not very exciting. I had chosen this spot because I could easily see some of my “neighborhood mountains” just behind me. In fact, I did a watercolor of this same view and posted it almost one year ago to the day—December 12, 2017. I think I will post it again to compare with next week’s “completed” work. Or you can look it up yourself right here and now.

So, here are the behind the scenes descriptions of what you are looking at. First, I cleared off a workbench in my garage and temporarily tacked the sheet of 62 by 32 inch canvas onto a wooden frame I made back in the early 80s. At that time I was living with my family in Los Gatos and was painting on silk. I made the frame so it could be folded in half and therefore accommodate two different sizes (62 by 32 inches or 31 by 32 inches) Back then I taped different textures of silk to the frame and lightly painted favorite floral designs onto the stretched fabric. Once I finished the paintings, I removed them from the frame and then fashioned kimonos that I sold as wearable art. (I should look to see if I have any kimonos left that are worth ironing and photographing for another story. That would actually make quite a story and some of the silk I dyed in large vats in my backyard.)

Next, I pounded two 5-foot wooden garden stakes into the ground under my pepper tree and propped up the canvas against the stakes. And oh yeah, I am not a neat painter, so I put down a drop cloth under everything. In fact, when I work this big and fast I often get paint in my hair. A while back the lady who used to cut my hair when I lived in Grass Valley got tired of picking paint out of my hair. So one day she ceremoniously gave me a shower cap to wear when I painted. (That’s NOT in the materials you see here. And I can’t even imagine what my neighbors would think if they saw a woman wearing a shower cap painting on a large canvas in the front yard.)

To the right you see a rolling table with upper and lower surfaces crammed with supplies. I actually found this with a bunch of cast off furniture at a school and put it into my car and took it home—so I know it would fit in there easily. So I also knew that I could take this along in my car if I decided on a far off ninja urban sketching event. You probably can’t see it, but there is a black plastic plant holder that was meant to hold eight 4-inch by 4-inch plants. I got at the nursery. Those square holes hold my 8 fluid ounce jars of acrylic paint, plus assorted other 2 ¾ inch Mason jars for water and any colors I mix that are worth saving for another day. (I already have saved a lovely SoCal hazy day sky blue.) This “paint” arrangement seems perfect for transporting to locations that are as yet unknown. And this paint holder has a built in advantage for those of us who are messy because someone like me is less likely to spill things if they have a proper place to be. I specifically looked for paint containers that fit into those spots and had screw caps. Such containers will keep the paint from drying out. A lot of plein air painters use oil when they are outside because it doesn’t dry as quickly as acrylics, but since I like to do “under colors” I don’t want to wait for anything to dry. I want this to go fast. Then it’s really more like doing a watercolor that doesn’t bleed when the paper gets too wet, it just runs down the canvas. That’s when it gets messy because you need a rag to wipe off those “tear staining” dribbles.

La Crescenta, large canvas2
Step 3, Step after laying in some of the “under” colors (Step 2–not shown) and blocking in the trees and house in the foreground—half way there, 45 minutes from the start

End of first day painting

If you are getting bored with all this, hang in there because I am almost done with the set up and ready to tell how this is meant to be a deconstructed landscape. I mean, don’t you want to know what colors I used to get to this point? Of course you do! I used titanium white, ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow and burnt umber. Tomorrow I will finish this and plan to add touches of other colors I have in tubes in a bag for the final piece of art. I forgot to mention that I also had some plastic mixing trays, an assortment of big brushes and a laundry detergent jug that was rinsed out and filled with water.

What is a deconstructed landscape?

For each of the three steps I have described here, I stopped to take a photo of each one and shared it with friends. Now, I am not a sophisticated social media person and didn’t post the three photos I took (I didn’t include the Step 2 photo of sky and “under color” only here) on Instagram of Facebook, I just texted people that live nearby. And it was my hope that they would send along a note of acknowledgement, a question or two or even stop by to see what I was doing. Don’t hate me, but this is the cool part of being one California girl because the weather last Sunday was beautiful—in the upper 60s to low 70s. Someone could have driven past to say hello and make me take a break. I’m not looking for anyone to tell me whether or not they like what I’m doing, it just makes me stop and take personal stock of what’s in front of me. This helps to make a better piece in the end because I don’t feel like I can “drive off the cliff’ of going to far with a color or idea. It just makes me “stop.”

So, that is my idea of a deconstructed landscape, where other people are all part of the different stages of my painting—saving me from myself. And don’t we need more people in the world who save us from going too far? And they don’t even have to be a friend, just an interested bystander. I would do the same for them. Wouldn’t you?

Stay tuned for the final painting. Tomorrow looks to be another lovely day for one California girl.

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