April 20, 2019

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Canadian geese pair, Norton Simon, 4/5/2019 (graphite sketch)

When I went to the Norton Simon the first Friday of this month, I first went to the back garden (as is my usual). For two previous springs a pair of Canadian geese have settled by the Monet pond to lay their eggs. I had hopes to see them a third spring time. As I walked out the door I heard them, but there was no fenced off part of the pond with a nest and no sign of either bird. I walked around to the side of the pond they had nested in the past, again to make sure there was nothing there, even though the honking continued. (That’s a funny thing we do. Why do we attempt to look for something we know isn’t there? I mean, if your car is not where you left it, why would you look around for it? It’s not there!) Guess what? They were on the roof of the museum nearest the spot they had nested two previous springs. So, I walked back inside the museum and asked one of the guards about them. He said that they had probably laid their nest somewhere else and were just hanging around at the pond. I thought that sounded a little weird, but didn’t question his thoughts on the subject as he seemed certain that they had done exactly that. (I have had run ins with the guards at this museum and decided there would be no point in telling him that none of that made any sense.) I told him how I thought it kind of great that the museum folks would just put up a temporary bit of fencing to keep people away from the eggs and the eventual goslings. He said that some people got upset with the temporary plastic fencing because it ruined the effect of the pond. Of course I thought that even weirder than the geese laying their eggs somewhere else, and then just coming to the Norton Simon to visit…

So, I sat on a rock beside their previous nesting place and looked up to the roof, thinking I could get a couple of good sketches of the birds anyway. The rock was covered with geese poop, but it didn’t smell so I sat down. Thank goodness I had my trusty sheet of bubble wrap to sit on. (I never go sketching anywhere without it.) As I started to draw, it became clear that this was all I was going to get. In fact, it seemed the longer I sat there, the further they inched away from view. But I persisted and started the next sketch you see here, hoping they would think I was ignoring them and would come out a little more. And oh, there weren’t three birds on the roof. I sketched the bird on the left a couple times—as he moved from the flat rooftop next to his mate up to a higher bit of roof—further away from me. And you may have noticed the bird on the right shared only her backside. (Not sure how I came up with the idea of which one was the male and which one the female.) Hmmm…

Looking for geese
Back garden of Norton Simon, 4/5/2019 (pen and ink and graphite)

My plan was to aim my body toward the pond, sketching away at this view. I planned to occasionally look over my shoulder, hoping they would come out so I could draw them in different positions. But they were too smart for me and eventually, when I looked over my shoulder to the rooftop in their direction, you couldn’t even see a feather blowing in the breeze.

But this sketch was fun to do anyway as I wanted to capture the bronze of the three nymphs just inside the museum. I had this kind of funny idea to make sure that your eye was drawn along the edge of the pond to the back entrance to the garden, but the sun was coming in at a crazy angle and their heads were in complete shadow. And since I couldn’t see their heads I decided to focus on another part of their anatomy that could be clearly seen, even from across the pond. You can definitely make out a couple booties, right? If you have read many of my previous blog posts, you may have noticed that I often include bits and pieces of things I see just to amuse me. I actually did a story of the bronze ladies from the front in August 19, 2017. It was a hot August day and I sat inside looking at the shrubbery of the outside garden between their thighs, torsos, arms and heads. 

Not quite sure why I am always drawn to be outside to paint or sketch. So many of my urban sketching brethren draw in places that just don’t appeal to me—laundromats, coffee houses, airports etc. I think I just like the natural light outside better than what can be generated inside. I remember going with a gang of Urban Sketchers to draw people at Union Station in downtown LA a couple years ago. It was kind of a cool day where various groups and/or individuals had brought musical instruments and were playing Bach. I mean, there was one guy in front of a ticket area with a harpsichord. Anyway, I tried to draw the musicians. But finally I went outside, ordered a cappuccino and sketched the people I saw out there. However, it was a very satisfactory experience as the live music came out of the open doors and windows and I could hear and enjoy it in my peculiarly particular way.

This morning, I participated in something called a World Wide Sketchcrawl. In fact it was the 63rd WW Sketchcrawl. We met at Union Station in downtown and road the Gold Line metro north, getting off at certain stops to engage in a bit of speed sketching—very fun. Our final stop was South Pasadena, where we had lunch and shared our artwork. There are a couple I might share in next week’s blog post. It was overcast today, but it was lovely to be outside sketching. It’s pretty amazing here in SoCal, no matter what the LA haters say!

April 13, 2019

flowering crabapple
Flowering crabapple tree in the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/5/2019 (watercolor pencils and Inktense pencils on 6″ by 9″ watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I went to the Descanso Gardens to sketch whatever was blooming. I suspected the tulips were done and hoped that other spring flowers were showing their colors. Some of my sketching buddies went to Placerita Canyon State Park to sketch the native CA spring wildflower show going on right now. I didn’t want to drive that far and thought I might just as well catch the nearby color of native and non-native flowers. It seems that a lot of people had the same idea and there were lots of them milling around the Descanso. But for once I didn’t mind, as I was on a mission. Urban sketchers, like myself, are always on the look out for ways to satisfy our craving for drawing/painting without carrying a lot of stuff. By the time you have been traipsing around for a couple hours, everything seems to feel heavier and awkward. I use the term awkward because it can be a problem if you have brought too much stuff and it never goes back in the bag as easily as it first went in. Too many tablets of paper can weigh you down and carrying around jugs of water adds a kind of sloshing heaviness to my backpack. I have been trying to be more creative with carrying around less water and have been experimenting with “just add water” to my little 6 by 9 “almost” watercolor pieces. So, for these little sojourns I just put graphite pencils, ink pens, colored pencil and Inktense pencils in my bag—sans water. But if I want to do a wash, brush on a color or scrub around some wetness, I want water. If you have read some of my previous blogs I’ve indirectly talked about how to best travel light, somehow finding water along the way. While at the Getty (back in February of this year) I talked about a drawing I had done of the garden with Inktense pencils and then maybe putting it out in the rain and letting it mix the colors. (I didn’t put the sketch in the rain as I had been sick and didn’t want to chance sitting in the wet for an undetermined length of time. So, I just added water when I got home.) At the Autry Western Museum the second week of March this year, I described how I perchance came upon a cup of rainwater complete with a brush that I used to mix the Inktense colors on my little sheets of 6 by 9 paper. I remember a couple times at the Descanso that I didn’t travel with my large set of watercolors, just the tiny Winsor Newton travel set (12 tiny cakes of color) and my Inktense pencils. I didn’t even carry painting water or a cup, but instead I attached a small plastic bag to my brush holder with clothespins, then I filled it with water once I got to my sketching spot. Last summer, when I was painting a beautiful stand of Romneya at the Descanso, I got one of the gardeners there to fill my bag full of water. (She had the hose out and was watering nearby.)

But last Sunday I had the idea to come only with water for drinking, Inktense pencils, watercolor pencils, my brushes, a sheet of bubble wrap to sit on, a rag and three small sheets (6 by 9) of watercolor paper. And oh yeah, I brought a small spray bottle that I later filled with a bit of my drinking water. My plan was to sketch three small scenes of spring, and then when I finished each sketch, I would “just add water” by spraying it down with instant rain to see what would happen. The flowering crabapple was my first attempt at a spritzing spring scene. After I laid down some colors with the Inktense and watercolor pencils I sprayed it all over, letting water run a bit here and there. Then, while it was still wet I used a small brush to spread out some of the water, mixing colors as I went. That was a bit tricky, as I wanted to dip my brush in water and didn’t have a cup or baggie. So, I dipped the brush in my drinking water and spread it around. Then I reapplied some Inktense pencil color to brighten certain parts. And yes, I did later drink from the same water, but it didn’t taste weird and nothing untoward has happened to me as yet. My flowering crabapple vision also had some irises in the foreground, so I added those as well. They weren’t like my mom’s deep purple flowers, but were a bearded variety and a lighter shade of pink. In fact, there were lots of lovely irises I could have sketched that day in the rose garden, including a border of a beautiful bearded variety that had a cream colored interior with a frilly yellow trim. When my niece was born (first week in May) I did a watercolor on toned paper of some incredibly lovely white irises that were blooming in my backyard in Paso Robles. I didn’t take a picture of that piece of art. I wish I had so I could post it here with all the other spring flowers.

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Fremontodendron in CA garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/7/2019 (watercolor pencils, Inktense pencils on 6″ by 9″ watercolor paper)

Once I finished the flowering crabapple I was very excited about how my “just add water” idea had turned out. The whole process was so much fun that I didn’t get the least bit grumpy with all the people that walked in front of me while I was sketching. The crabapple tree was quite beautiful and large, so I guess there was room to share. Next, I headed for the CA native section of the garden for a second attempt. I wasn’t certain what I would find, but knew there would be something. I came across a couple mature Fremontodendron shrubs in full bloom—such a lovely and vibrant shade of yellow. It was fun to see these grand plants as I remember wandering through the same section of the garden last spring with a close friend and they were absolutely stunning now as then. But for this one there wasn’t a bench to sit on, so I rolled out my “trusty” sheet of bubble wrap and sat on the ground. I was just about to add water when a family with two young girls came up the trail. As they got closer I realized they weren’t speaking English. It sounded like Ukrainian or Russian. But I knew they would stop to chat and that would be OK because the older girl (maybe 6 or 7) was carrying a drawing she had made. So, when the girls stopped to look more closely at my drawing, I said something like, “Do you like to draw?” Mom translated what I had said very quickly and the girls nodded “yes” at the same time. Then I said, “Would you like to see my favorite color?” They were nodding again very rapidly as the mom again translated what I had said. I brought out my tube of Opera (always have that with me…it doesn’t weigh very much…) and took off the lid. They both uttered “ooooo” at the same time and I said it was a kind of pink. Mom again translated what I had said and pointed to some of their clothing. Yes, they were both wearing various shades of pink! All seemed to be satisfied with our little encounter and just like that they said thank you and continued on their journey. I was absolutely delighted to think that we all understood and spoke the language of “pink.” Then I got back to work and spritzed the sketch (easy for you to say…). I like the way it turned out. But it had gotten kind of warm and I didn’t think it a good idea to drink from the water I had been using to paint any more. I decided that the next time I would be sure to bring a baggie to hold painting water. I had also decided it was time to go home even though I had not done a third piece yet. I was happy with these two. So I took the long way around the back of the garden to the front entrance. Along the way I found a couple drinking fountains to drink from. That worked out great as I wasn’t carrying too much water weight and it didn’t matter if everything fit perfectly into the bag because there just weren’t that many items to put away.

So, now what? I think I will plan many more opportunities for traipsing around with my “just add water” theme. If I am very patient I might try to do this with the birds that come to my birdbath and feeder out front. They are so skitterish, and fly away even if I just open the front door or close a window near the feeder. But I think I have found the perfect solution of how to get pretty close to them. I noticed my trashcan is just about the right distance and height from my bird scene. I can easily place my 6 by 9 sheets of watercolor and other materials on the top of the can. Such a set up is perfect as it will be easy to get my necessary materials to fit in that small space! Maybe intentionally standing in front of a trashcan for 30 minutes or so doesn’t sound good to you. But I figure as long as I don’t open the lid I won’t be bothered by the smell of rotting grass clippings. This seems very doable for an urban sketcher. Stay tuned…

April 6, 2019

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Small overflowing creek behind a Santa Cruz apartment, 3/31/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Expect the Unexpected

I found myself, unexpectedly, in Santa Cruz last weekend. This is the view of the wooded area behind my son’s apartment there. After an arduous drive north it looked to be the perfect place to wander along and listen to the water gushing past the rocks as well as a perfect place to toss a ball to your dog—way off in the distance here.

So, here is the story of how I got this unexpected bucolic view. My son was coming home from college for spring break March 23 and was unexpectedly at the tail end of a horrific pile up of some 20 plus cars in the rain and fog on the Grapevine—a sometimes-treacherous stretch of Highway 5. My son was OK, but his car was unexpectedly totaled. He hadn’t expected to spend his entire spring break down here in SoCal, but that’s the way his brief vacation unfolded. So, I gave him a ride back to school last Saturday. I often refer to various freeways in SoCal in my writing and the 5 is a major truck and car freeway that will take you from San Diego through to Portland Oregon. We hadn’t planned to go on 5, but the weather was fine and it really is usually the quickest way. But of course 5 wasn’t quite done with us for the moment as we unexpectedly got caught in a massive traffic jam because a semi had caught fire and blocked all lanes of the freeway. We sat there, motionless for an hour, until we could finally drive slowly past at least 20 clean up and emergency vehicles and what used to be a truck full of stuff. It looked like the huge truck had burned to the ground and everything had melted on the spot, with charred damp cardboard boxes and mangled pieces of metal on the road. Before the massive traffic jam I had tried to make the trip slightly interesting by counting the number of Amazon Prime, Fed Ex and UPS trucks I saw every 30 minutes. But by the time we were moving again I had lost the will to count big rigs anymore. Oh, and Amazon Prime trucks were almost 2 to 1 more than either UPS or Fed Ex. Not so unexpected?

Eventually we got to Santa Cruz, where it continued to be a beautiful day. I just now remembered that it was a lovely day—with expansive fields and bright green etched mountainsides with lupines (both bush lupines and annuals), poppies, owl’s clover, fiddleneck and mustard. In a way, that unexpected beauty and the peaceful moment of people going about their business on this grassy meadow behind my son’s apartment is what we should focus on when dealing with other unexpected yucky stuff. Right? That’s why I let my son unload his belongings from the car while I made a beeline to the sound of water that I clearly heard once we got out of the car. It was such a welcome sound compared to the tire whine of too many cars and trucks going too fast down Highway 5. So, once I knew I would have this lovely moment to focus on and later paint I was set to try a restaurant I saw near my son’s apartment. It’s called Primal and the sign outside said they served breakfast all day long. Even though it was well past 6 pm, breakfast foods sounded great to me—something simple and familiar. But of course Primal was not serving what I was expecting. Their menu was more relevant and purposeful, and our meal was not going to be anything you could get at a pancake house or waffle joint. We were game and actually very hungry at that point and were both ready to try something very Primal and expected for Santa Cruz. We were treated to a lovely meal with the promise of being served “real food.” I had some yummy fish tacos and my son had what looked to be a good burger—good thing they didn’t serve us any unreal food. I had had enough of what seemed like way to many unexpected and unreal moments for about a month.

I left my son in Santa Cruz and headed back to SoCal on Sunday morning. I had noticed that Primal served what looked to be great coffee, so I stopped there on my way out of town to have breakfast. Yes, I was still hopping that their promise of breakfast was as real as their promise of “real food.” Never had a cappuccino with raw milk and my bagel with schmear was very unexpected, but tasty. But everyone who worked there was so friendly, intense, purposeful and sincere and left me alone so I could read (Reading The Razor’s Edge right now…) while eating my breakfast. It was wonderful. I hope to go back there sometime, and maybe it will meet my “feeling good” expectations again. I chanced to take Highway 5 home and there were no unexpected bits of traffic and/or accidents. Woo hoo! And I was treated to the same beautiful wildflowers on the hillsides I had seen the day before. My dad used to say, “If you don’t expect too much, you are never disappointed. Then everything that comes your way is just icing on the cake.” And who doesn’t love an unexpectedly yummy piece cake?

Don’t groan. This is for my brothers…

And now for something completely different…No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!