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!

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