September 28, 2019

Descanso class, 2016
Took a watercolor class at the Descanso Gardens, Saturday, June 25, 2016 (watercolor and watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

It was purely by accident that I happened upon this watercolor. I am always on the lookout for unused watercolor paper and was flipping through an older pad. There were no blank sheets that could be salvaged, but there was this little sketch along with several remnants of exercises I did for a watercolor class I took at the Descanso Gardens in June 2016. Before taking that class I remember looking for a particular size paper at Swain’s Art Store (local independent art store that has recently gone out of business, sadly) because I wanted something on the small side (9 inches by 12). I was imagining myself wandering the garden with all my imagined new artist friends on the lookout for the perfect spot to paint. I didn’t want to lug around a large and heavy pad of paper. I think I secretly wanted something smaller because I had decided that in this class I was pursuing a new and personal artistic goal. That was, I wanted to force myself to paint quickly and of course it would take longer, in theory, to fill a larger page. (You may have noticed that I even marked a smaller rectangle to paint in, so the final sketch was actually 8 and 1/4 by 6 and 1/2. What was that about? What a weird size…) 

Anyway, I remember this class very well, spending several Saturday mornings in the garden (June 11, 18 and 25th) learning about a whole bunch of art stuff. Some things I had learned previously, some techniques were a new take on something I had already learned and some of what we did was brand new to me. I loved every bit of it. I think I have already mentioned the artist who taught the class in a previous post or two. Her name is Virginia Hein. And since taking her class we have become fast artist friends who find ourselves at the same venues, where we are always painting outside. She is such a wonderful and generous artist. (I heard her say the other day that she had taught a similar watercolor class at the Descanso earlier in the summer.) If you want to learn more about her amazingness just Google Virginia Hein. We focused on composition, how to get the most from your art by first coming up with a thumbnail, close up study of our paint colors and then (my favorite)—the perfect wash. Of course Virginia first demonstrated how to do this with cobalt blue. After that I practiced one cobalt blue sky after another, filling pages and pages of random bits of watercolor paper—trying to get it right. In fact, just before this sketch in my book is quite a number of sky wash attempts. Finally, I got bold enough to capture this little landscape. (Looking closely at it I am reminded that I used a particular brush that seems to have gone missing. Hmmm…)

After I found this piece of art, that is now already 3 years old, I realized how important One California Girl has become to me. Each week I look forward to picking out a piece of my art as a kind of muse for my thoughts and writing. And I write a little every day, thinking about what I want to say all week. Continuing my focus on beauty, funny thoughts and family stories has become especially important to me since I began the blog on March 25, 2017 (my mother’s birthday). I think the back story to this creative outlet need for me came together during the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017. As an artist I have always felt like I’m on the outside looking in, but during those months I found myself feeling like I was from another planet, wondering about the extra weirdness that seemed to be all around me. Sometimes I felt weightless and I might drift away at any time. Other times I felt so heavy that I might have sunk down into the Earth, just like Rumpelstiltskin did when the princess learned his name. Being from California I am kind of used to weird and wonderful people, places and things. But beginning 2017 I was struck by how people seemed to be so angry. What they were saying on Social Media and even on the street corner was so mean and not very helpful. I found myself feeling just bit numb, trying to ward off the negative slew of words and thoughts. 

I have to say that the weirdness continues. But I am thankful that I gave one California girl a voice and I get to do something creative every day. I will not succumb to feeling numb! I have found something that helps me continue feeling and contributing to something that feels good. I hope that you who have been reading my blog posts get a sense of what I’m talking about. I guess I should add here that sometimes my posts are a bit crabby, sometimes inspired and insightful, and even sometimes funny. It all depends on the time and place of the art and my state of mind. Because even if my words sound a bit cranky, I think maybe my art shows that I somehow found something beautiful to look at, study and share.

Last Wednesday I saw a quote from Archibishop Desmond Tutu.

“Do your little bit of good where you are;

it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Pretty good words to live by and for me good words to blog by. It’s a good day today. It’s raining in SoCal and on Monday it will be my son’s birthday. Happy Birthday sweetie!

September 21, 2019

Descanso Gardens Fountain1
Descanso Gardens Fountain in the Rose Garden, 9/8/2019 (watercolor with #20 round watercolor brush and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For last week’s blog I featured a couple paintings I did a couple of years ago. Today, you are looking at a sketch I did a couple weeks ago. You may or may not have noticed, but I rotate old and new art as a kind of “flash back” where I feature past and present art. I try to interject my past and present thoughts regarding technique and materials as well as my CA stories. However, this flashing forward and back may soon come to an end as I am running out of “old art” to “flash back.” I still have lots and lots of “old art,” but I can’t really think of anything very interesting to say about many of those pieces. In the 80s I went through a fashion design period. And I did countless sketches with markers as well as lots and lots of watercolors on really nice watercolor paper. But, none of them are really that good and if I think about it they actually look a bit contrived. I think using the adjective “contrived” when describing someone’s art is probably one of the worst things you could say about a painter and his or her paintings. I guess another solution to one CA girl’s conundrum would be to start repeat posting some of my non-contrived “old art.” I have been posting art and stories for over two years now, so I guess that might work. However, I think the adjective “disingenuous” might apply to doing that. And that would also not be a good word to use when describing an artist and/or their art. So, maybe it’s time to just let go of all that old stuff…

Flash forward to September 8, 2019 and the Spanish Style fountain in the Rose Garden at the Descanso Gardens. I found myself seeking water when I was at the Descanso that hot day. In fact, I used my giant #20 watercolor brush for this one and just really loaded up those bristles with water and pigment, making broad and sloppy strokes on the watercolor paper. Then I added some tight linear detail with Inktense pencils and finally some stippled white acrylic water droplets. If you read last week’s post I think I made it clear about my love of moving water when I wrote about the wine fountain in Shandon. I think there is something quite soothing about the sound and sight of flowing water. Not sure I am that great when it comes to painting it, but it’s not from a lack of trying. 

Watching the bubbling water of the Descanso Gardens fountain reminded me of another amazing CA fountain I used to frequent when it was hot. When I was married we lived for a time in Walnut Creek and then San Ramon. Near San Ramon is a community called Blackhawk and in Blackhawk there is a plaza with restaurants, shops and a museum. In the center of that plaza is a fountain that looks like it has been carved out of huge boulders. I remember often going to that plaza so I could sit on a bench by the booming fountain, enjoying the coolness of tiny drops of water while looking for tiny rainbows in the spray. To this day, I can see and feel the cascading water if I close my eyes. And if I think about it this might be the best way to “flash back” to old art or maybe it’s more like “wanna be old art.” I just hope my memory and written descriptions of such places and feelings will be up to the challenge!

I think many of us who are from California maybe think of water in a kind of reverential way because we live in a desert. It doesn’t rain here in the summer months and the hills around us are looking pretty dry and brown right now. Even those who often take the availability of fresh water for granted get a little anxious as September and October are considered prime “wildfire” months here in California. I was reading in a recent LA Times story that this time last year wildfires had already burned more than 1.2 million acres in CA. So, we are all hopeful that this year will be better and we start to pray for lower temperatures, no Santa Ana winds and maybe even some early rain.

The other day at school we had a bit of cloud cover and I heard some kids say they had felt rain drops. I was sure I too had felt it, but thought maybe we all had had mass imagined rain on the brain. But I did see the tiniest strip of a rainbow above our very brown and parched hills, so maybe…I guess we all have natural disasters to watch out for. Sometimes it’s a fire, sometimes a volcano erupting, an earthquake, hurricane flooding and/or winds, a tornado or even a tsunami. The description of the natural elements of fire, water and wind might not seem almost poetic until they get out of control, then watch out! So, I am watching for some rain on our horizon. (I just looked at my weather app and it is predicted we will have rain next weekend here in SoCal. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!) But I know the saying “be careful what you wish for.” I’m sure no one in the Houston area of Texas are wishing for some rain right now.

Nature's Fury
A little pen and ink for a booklet of worksheets for elementary school students. Notice the misspelling of the word “Specialists.” This misspelling was on the cover of every booklet and cover page we made for the program. :()

So, maybe I do still have a  bit of old art to “flash back.” I found this booklet of student worksheets in a drawer yesterday. And yes, I did the pen and ink sketches/lettering for all the worksheets. I don’t actually remember when this “Natural Disaster” display from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was at the Blackhawk Museum, but it was probably the early 90s. Anyway, I was a science teacher in the San Ramon Valley Unified District at the time. Another science teacher in the district and myself put this booklet together. The idea was that school groups (grades K through 6) were to come to the exhibit and then have activities they could then do in the classroom. The natural disasters featured at the exhibit included: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding and erosion due to flowing water, and tornadoes. Actually, I was surprised there was no mention of wild fires or hurricanes. But I was even more surprised that there was a huge typo on the front cover and the title page of the booklet. There it is, my pen and ink lettering complete with lightning bolts, but why didn’t anyone notice we had a misspelled word—“specilists” instead of “specialists.” Even my “spell check” alerts me to this mistake, but there wasn’t “spell check” back then. And of course the irony of this huge mistake is that this was put together by teachers. What a disaster!

Happy Fall, September 23, 2019!

September 14, 2019

east side vineyard
J Lohr vineyards on east side of Paso’s vineyards (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board–framed and on my easel)

This particular J Lohr vineyard is a favorite east Highway 46 view for me. That’s because it’s the very same vineyard that is featured just above the One California Girl title on my home page. And yes, that’s me with my son when he was pretty small. The other reason I love this vineyard is because I vividly remember noticing for the first time the amazing symmetry of the row upon row of grape plants, snaking up and over the hills of Paso Robles. I’ve always been in awe of a farmer who can plant thousands of plants so precisely. Of course I am looking at this physical marvel as a thing of wonder and beauty and the vineyard owner (farmer) is thinking of crop yield. I think we have the French or Italians to thank for such cramped and compact planting. That means this lovely arrangement helps the vineyard owner cram in as many grape plants per acre as possible—sweetening the beauty of the view with added income when it’s time to harvest.

hot air balloon and vineyard
Hot air balloon over Paso’s east side vineyards (oil pastels on pastel board-framed and on my easel)

For this one, I remember a friend posting a photo on Facebook of this shadow of a hot air balloon floating over some east side grapes. And guess what? She was in the balloon and took the photo that was the inspiration for this vineyard. You may also have guessed that I was again obsessed with the almost infinite and perfect rows of grapes from this vantage point. I remember I imagined that she was high enough in the air to see the actual curve of the Earth. Funny, I don’t actually know what vineyard she was floating over. And even funnier still, I don’t think I ever showed her the art before and/or after I had it framed. I kind of regret not doing that. (I must remind her to look at this week’s post…) But I have a question for you: Does this look like a hot air balloon floating over the vineyards? Sometimes when I look at it I wonder if it doesn’t just look like a large blue blob. But I don’t regret doing this art and I don’t think I need to apologize for the balloon that might look a bit like a bruise. Not sure I would have framed it, but I was enchanted by the framing material and I think that made it pretty special in spite of my apprehension.

I have already mentioned some of the west side vineyards that I love. And this area is filled with beautiful grapes as well, but the air and ground look a bit drier. Maybe that makes sense as this part of the highway is going inland (towards some of California’s agricultural gold) compared to the west side that ends up on Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. But no matter, I have enjoyed doing a number of paintings of this area. And if you live in Paso Robles you get used to this more arid golden landscape. However, there is one spot out there I never got around to painting and I kind of regret not doing that. If you go far enough out of Paso you will come to Shandon. Right alongside the highway is a massive metal wine fountain that sits amid more rows of grapes. In fact, if you Google wine fountain in Shandon you will see it. Many of the photos online show it gushing with water. I’m not exactly certain if they run it with water anymore, especially after we went through such tough drought times. I remember seeing it flowing with water one autumn, and believe it or not, the water had been tinted to look the color of red wine. It was kind of amazing to see faux red wine cascading from huge bunches of grapes into huge hot tub-sized wine glasses. As I said, I regret that I never did a painting of that silver/tin colored sculpture standing tall with a backdrop of what looks like endless rows of symmetrical grape plants.

Thoughts of not capturing the wine fountain with the flowing wine got me thinking about regrets in general. Oh, I do have another “painting” regret I will share here. I regret that I didn’t take photos of these two pieces of art before framing them. But if I actually go down that rabbit hole of regrets, maybe I don’t really regret doing that. If I had taken them out of their frames to photo copy I would have messed up the back paper of each one. In the past I have carefully sliced out a painting or two from a frame. But it always looks so tacky on the back when I try to reassemble it again later. Maybe the addition of archival tape only looks bad to me. I mean, who really cares about the back of a framed piece of art? After you pay a small fortune to have something framed, it seems silly to rip it up, right? I don’t usually photograph my framed work as there can be a glare from the glass. But these two photos work just fine and maybe add a little element of artist’s paint covered easel. (Yeah, whatever…)

Finally, I decided it’s just too easy to think of regrets, painted or otherwise. Try to think of things you don’t regret. I did. Here are just a few I came up with…

No regrets regarding:

  • getting married in the 80s and divorced in the 90s
  • liking the color orange
  • spending money on my hair
  • choosing comfort over fashion
  • telling people I like the bagpipes, or telling them I like classical music
  • telling people that I like to do puzzles
  • being the first to leave most parties
  • being Susie Homemaker. I like to share recipes and put up shelf paper in the kitchen
  • doing dinner dishes the next morning
  • the lingering dirt on the exterior of my car
  • driving in a convertible with the top down and the heater running
  • ordering shoes online and/or in catalogs
  • choosing to discuss various cuts of meat with the butcher rather than shopping for shoes (or any other pieces of clothing for that matter)
  • visiting with strangers while checking out the produce in the market or chatting with them in line at the store
  • being sweaty and OK with getting dirty (I don’t like “sticky” though…)
  • making lists (e.g. list of west Highway 46 art, a list of art where I use vertical elements in the foreground of paintings)

Until next time…And keep finding things about you and your world that you don’t regret!

September 7, 2019

1. Point Vicente Lighthouse, Palos Verdes, 9/1/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday, September 1, a couple of sketching groups (that included me) met at a lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes at 1:00 in the afternoon. I don’t really remember visiting this lighthouse before, but to get there I drove past the Port of Los Angeles and under a big sign that read “San Pedro.” Now, I have definitely been to San Pedro, but none of my surroundings looked familiar. It was kind of warm that day in all inland SoCal cities and I was hoping that the coast would be cooler. I even got a little excited at the prospect of temperate temperatures because as you can see it was completely overcast that day. In fact, for the first watercolor, you couldn’t actually see the horizon, the ocean seemed to just blend into sky. Very cool…

Unfortunately, it was overcast and extremely muggy. In fact, I worked up quite a sweat walking around to set up for this first sketch. You couldn’t get very close to the lighthouse itself because it was closed that day and you couldn’t get an upclose look as it was completely enclosed with a rusty chain-link fence. I was pretty disappointed that I was indeed walking away from the lighthouse to get a better view. Anyway, I walked along the trail going north, hoping to at least find others who had come to the point to paint. I walked up to the interpretation center and found a few painters. It seemed that most people had already felt the defeatist feeling induced by the heat and had fanned out to find places to start painting before succumbing to the humidity and leaving early. I did the same and soon found a picnic table to share with 3 other painters. It became a testament to our level of “grit” as to how long we could persist with this one. And here’s what I came up with. I loved that one of the women that perched on the table with me said it looked “fresh.” I thought that an interesting comment as I was feeling anything but fresh. Just a bit ago I said that you couldn’t see a discernible line between the sky and the water. But there was such a lack of color and things of interest I just needed more elements to include here, and I added that horizon line anyway. If you are an artist you know that you have to do that from time to time—add things that aren’t there.

2. Point Vicente Lighthouse, Palos Verdes, 9/1/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Finally, the picnic table perchers (that included me) couldn’t stand it any longer and we all moved to a spot on the grass in the shade. Since I was the last to join them, I was the last to escape to the shade. It was time for me to cool off and have a snack. (One of the sketchers said she was sad I had moved as she was adding me to her painting of the picnic table in the sun. Sorry!) I was so disappointed and hot, I considered leaving after eating. But it was quite cool on the grass under the trees and I decided to stick it out. Besides, I saw quite a few sketchers walk past us and I did not want to be the first to leave. I had more grit than that! So, I moved closer to the trail, carefully remaining in the shade and found this view. It was perfect! There were even a couple large rocks that came in handy—one I used as a foot rest and the other to balance my brushes and tray of Inktense pencils. I was further drawn to this view because it had a nice patch of vertical weeds in the foreground. Crazy, but I really like that kind of element in my work. I can’t explain it. That got me thinking about all the art with similar vertical strokes of plants and sticks in the foreground areas that I have posted at One CA Girl. So, I went back to my archives and counted them. (I did this last week, counting all the west Highway 46 paintings/sketches I have posted here.) Not sure why I am “going there,” but if you are not interested in the following list, no worries. Skip it!

September 1, 2019—Point Vicente Lighthouse, with foreground vertical shrubbery

August 17, 2019—Fence in front Victorian house at Heritage Square Museum

March 31, 2019—Dark weedy rows of weeds in front of Peachy Canyon winery oaks

March 23, 2019—Row of red tulips at the Descanso Gardens

February 23, 2019—Succulents in the back garden of the Getty Center

September 29, 2018—Sunny sunflowers in foreground of Heart Mountain (no vineyards)

September 15, 2018—Norton Simon back garden pond with vertical greenery at the water’s edge

September 1, 2018—slender trunks of grape plants at Bonnie Doon Vineyard

July 14, 2018—Vertical stems of plants at El Molino Viejo (Old Mill, San Marino)

March 17, 2018—Grasses in front of sycamore trees at Descanso Gardens

March 3, 2018—Mass of vertical weeds at the foreground of a couple oak trees on Highway 46

February 3, 2018—Descanso Gardens camellias

December 30, 2017—Descanso Gardens with sycamores and grasses

October 14, 2017—Moon coming up through the trees and shrubbery at the Norton Simon

September 9, 2017—Field of Safflower, east side of Highway 46.

Wrap it up, please…

So, by now it’s 3:30 and it’s time to gather and share. I noticed it had gotten pretty busy around 3, with people setting up tables and countless brides maids and groomsmen. (Yes, a wedding or reception was about to take place.) But somehow 30 sketchers didn’t seem to notice all this activity and we set up our work on a stone wall/seating area right in the middle of things. (Yes, there were about 30 of us.)

Anyway, we did our thing, displaying our work and then cruising past to look. (One guy had a rather brooding violet sky next to his lighthouse and it looked as though he had gotten closer to the lighthouse than the rest of us. I wondered if he had actually been there at a different time and had slipped that one in just to see if anyone noticed. Well, I noticed!) Then, as is our custom, we take turns introducing ourselves and saying a little about ourselves etc. (It’s always interesting to see who traveled the farthest. And of course there is always mention of who had traffic…it WAS Labor Day weekend.) Sometime during our introductions I thought I heard someone behind us say, “We need to ask them to leave.” But in my muggy stupor I thought maybe that someone was referring to a family with some obnoxious kids I had seen running around on the grass nearby. But it was only when we were good and ready that we actually moved to a nearby amphitheater to take a group picture. I think  by then some of us realized we were in the way as a young man escorted us past a temporary fence they had set up to keep non-wedding guests out. 

So, now we were on the outside looking in. And once the photo was done I all but ran to get in my car and head home. My grittiness was waning and I had done what I had set out to do. As I drove away I wondered how a bride in muggy weather was going to hold up. I imagined various bits of clothing, hair, make up and flowers wilting. But, if she could hang onto to her gritty self and not drink too much she would be alright. Of course the sun was going down and maybe that would cool things off. But we’ve had quite a problem with mosquitoes all summer and they are pretty active at twilight. I think you get the gritty picture, and how important it is to hang onto your gritty self, right?