As this is the last post for the last official weekend of winter 2019 in sunny southern California, I thought I would share some sketches I did at the Autry Museum of the American West last Sunday, March 10. The museum is in what’s called Griffith Park and is directly across from the LA Zoo. I don’t know if you know anything about Gene Autry, but he was known as the singing cowboy. He was quite a businessman as well and owned a television station, a couple radio stations in So Cal, as well as the Angels baseball team from 1961 to 1997. It seems the museum, with his name on it, was started in 1998 and it’s been crammed full of western memorabilia. If you like paintings of horses and the west, real western saddles, real guns and movie posters featuring the singing cowboy, this is the place for you. (The last time I was there they had a number of principal actor’s costumes from the movie The Hateful Eight. My son was with me and he had enjoyed the movie, so he was interested in all the gear those badass cowboy actors wore. The Hateful Eight was another of Quentin Tarantino’s violent movies and I wasn’t as interested.)
When I first arrived at the Autry on Sunday, it wasn’t raining, so I sat out front and sketched a monument to Native American women. If I finish the sketch, I’ll post it. Then I went inside to catch up with some fellow sketchers. One of my friend’s was headed downstairs to sketch one of the guns in the collection. She said she was looking for a Colt “something something.” I guess it has a pearl handle and quite a bit of etched detail on the barrel and other gun parts (I don’t know what those parts are called and neither did she…). I’d wandered around for about 5 minutes and noticed that in this downstairs area there was also a garden out the back door. I headed for that bit of sunshine. What you see at the top of the story are a couple sketches I did. The two side-by-side sketches are actually one continuous scene with the tree on the left and a waterfall on the right. I chose to do them separately, with the one on the left focusing on the tree and favoring tones of blue for the rocks. The one on the right centers on the waterfall and the rocks are more golden and brown in tone. Actually, I am not sure it looks much like flowing water, but more like flowing hair. Oh well.
The Serendipitous Sketching Set up
But the coolest thing about making these sketches was this serendipitous sketching area. I didn’t have to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap on the ground or draped over a large boulder. I stood up at an easel that someone had thoughtfully left there for me. Actually there are two permanent easels stuck in the ground out there. They appear to be part of a few interactive things for kids to look at and touch. Each easel has a piece of slate at an angle with a small trough in front, and below that is a cup welded to the post. A couple paintbrushes were there and the cups were filled with water, ready for someone to make a water painting on the piece of slate. The water was pretty muddy and I suspect it was mostly rainwater, but I didn’t care. I put my watercolor paper on the slate and began to sketch the tree with my Inktense pencils. And when I was finished, I just added water that I didn’t have to fetch and carry. Now the brushes were not great and the water wasn’t clear, but it was perfect and I had the best time creating these. I decided the traces of dirt on the paper were all part of the experience. I was in the moment and nothing else mattered. Once I finished the tree I leaned it against one of the large boulders to dry and started the waterfall sketch with the same enthusiasm. It got so warm I took off my pink jacket (you can see on the rock).
By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun had gone back behind the clouds and I put my jacket back on. It was at lunch that I saw my friend’s gun art. Another artist had drawn western costumes and another had drawn a pair of western boots that were on display there.
All in all it turned out to be quite an art day. After I finished there I went to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and sat outside, with my pink coat on, and I sketched a particular stretch of Brand Avenue in Glendale that I love. I love it because the street goes steeply up into the hills and it is lined with the most perfect rows of palm trees on either side of the road. Not exactly a western scene, I guess, but no matter. I was sitting at a table with an umbrella to keep out of the tiniest sun and the dark heavy clouds had dramatically collected above the mountains. I had my sketching paper, graphite pencils and ink pens at the ready. Oh, and of course I was also enjoying a double shot cappuccino. And it was all rather perfect until someone drinking coffee from a tiny paper cup he’d gotten for free at Trader Joe’s decided to sit down and visit with me. But I was having such a great day I didn’t care about the seemingly random conversation he was trying to have with me. As long as he didn’t block my view I happily sketched and sketched, while occasionally sipping my strong milky coffee drink. When I had finished I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to the strange stranger. I noticed that he then drifted over to another woman with a laptop who was sitting out front of the Coffee Bean. It looked like he had invited himself to sit down in a chair near her and was probably boring her with whatever… I was actually kind of amazed that he was still drinking from that same tiny paper cup of coffee that had not come from the Coffee Bean. Whatever…
Next, I headed for a friend’s house in Glendale and we watched the recent movie about Vincent Van Gogh. It’s called At Eternities Gate. What a powerful story, with some wonderful cinematic effects of color and movement that made you feel like you were traipsing around the hills of southern France with Van Gogh. The story really gave you a sense of him wanting to be outside in nature, quickly painting what he saw in the wonderful sunlight. Not that I am anything like him, but I love to traipse around, looking for something to sketch or paint in the sunlight. Of course the movie was sad because it seemed he was always alone and he wanted to be around people, but somehow only truly connected with a few people in his life. I found myself glad that I was an artist who had friends to hang out with, and maybe even a friend who was just as passionate about art as me, but not an actual painter. And that friend would invite me over to watch a movie about an artist we both admired.
Of course much has been written about Van Gogh’s revolutionary use of color. And as I watched Van Gogh moving about sunny fields and orchards I kept thinking of a color yellow that I love to use that seemed to be part of the color palette the cinematographer must have had in mind—my beautiful New Gamboge (made from synthetic materials). It appears that Van Gogh didn’t use Gamboge (new or old). Gamboge is a transparent deep saffron to mustard yellow pigment that was used to dye Buddhist monks robes. As near as I can tell Van Gogh used Cadmium yellow and Chrome yellow—both are pretty toxic.
What a day of art for One California Girl! I am looking forward to seeing the sun more, as spring is just around the corner. And I am excited to have more days outside painting and sketching with opportunities to use my New Gamboge pigment. I will be on the look out for more serendipitous sketching opportunities, I will seek out more chances to spend time with friends, I will look for more rows of palm trees, and of course, more opportunities to traipse around some beautiful California hills. Not sure I will be on the look out for someone who is traipsing about the Coffee Bean with a tiny paper cup of a competitor’s coffee. That’s a serendipitous moment I could live without…