October 26, 2019

2Glendale 10:20
Tea House in Glendale, 10/20/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Sunday last I found myself at the Shoseian (Whispering Pine) Teahouse and the Japanese Friendship Garden for a bit of sketching with one of my sketching groups. There was a special event going on where one could “Experience Manga, Anime and Cosplay at the Shoseian Teahouse.” (So says the announcement for the event…) There were food trucks and events scheduled all morning. Not sure why, but for this piece I turned my back to the teahouse and fixated on this row of palm trees, a complete 180 from the “official” action. I was happy enough with the Japanese music behind me and even enjoyed hearing the Pokemon theme song that I had heard many times when my son was a little boy. 

But once I’d finished this watercolor I turned around and moved closer to the teahouse, where I did a simple pencil sketch of the classically Japanese landscape that is in front of the tea house. ( I would have posted it, but didn’t finish…) It was a perfect day of art for me, as I sat next to a very special urban sketcher friend as I sketched the unfinished… And soon she was sharing with me her sketchpad full of wonderful pen and ink drawings she had recently done for an online class. (That’s when I stopped sketching and found myself totally enjoying her artwork and our conversation.) That’s kind of what we do. We share ideas, classes we are taking, and places we have recently sketched. A couple weeks ago my friend shared art she created in Vermont while traveling with her daughter and a couple months before that she shared art she had done while in Amsterdam. And of course we geek out over supplies we have just started using and new places to order materials. In fact, this very watercolor was done with a number 10 watercolor brush that a fellow painter was giving away, or passing along, with about a dozen other brushes. I thought it fitting to use my newly acquired #10 for this watercolor. (Such a nerd, right?)

If I take this random “sharing” a bit further it kind of reminds me of giving or getting a pass along plant. I’ve already written about such plant sharing in my blog, but think it’s worth mentioning again. These are plants, or plant parts, that you give to a friend or neighbor. It might be hollyhocks seeds or iris rhizomes, gladiola corms or daffodil bulbs you have dug up and separated. It might also be geranium cuttings, or strawberry plants that have sent out an abundance of runners. Over the years I have had my son’s great grandma’s peach colored gladiolus, amaryllis bulbs from my son’s great aunt’s garden and violets from another great aunt’s yard—just to name a few plants and people. I have always liked exchanging such things and recently shared seeds from some of my heavenly pink hollyhocks with a neighbor I don’t really know at all. Just the other day, I found a tiny jar on my front porch with hollyhock seeds from her garden. And so it goes, passing along things we love and cherish. I love the idea that I can look out over my garden and note that I have scented geraniums, daffodil bulbs and of course hollyhock seeds from friends and even now some strangers. So it goes with art materials. Even though my artist friends don’t normally give materials away, they often share ideas that become rooted in my brain. And I find myself looking for a perfectly sized, and beautifully bound, book of perfectly lovely watercolor paper, a small tin of liquid graphite and/or a Duke 209 fountain pen with fude nib.

You might wonder how a discussion of pass along plants can bring me back around to the visit with my friend in front of the teahouse, but it does. The class she had just taken had many references to basic line drawing, but was really rooted in drawing plants. Yes, plants and how to set up a composition and layering of plants with tips on how to add detail without drawing every branch, leaf or bark layer. It was fascinating and she was so excited to talk about it. If you are an artist and would like to know more about her class, Google Will Weston. Not sure if he lives around here, but I assume he has in the past as he has been a layout artist and background painter for Disney Feature and TV Animation (in Burbank) as well as an art instructor at the ArtCenter (in Pasadena).

The afternoon’s art experience was also kind of special for me as this tea garden was the very spot I had been introduced to urban sketching more than 3 years ago. I had been living in Glendale for only a couple months when I found myself at 1601 West Mountain Street in Glendale. The Shoseian Teahouse, the Brand Library and Art Center, and the Doctor’s House Museum and Gazebo can be found at that address. (And all of this backs up to the Verdugo Mountains with grassy fields, picnic areas and a playground.) On a particular day, which I thought was a weekend day (maybe not…), my son and I visited this place. The teahouse is not always open, but it was that day. As we wandered about I saw a number of people madly sketching away. I asked one of the sketchers what was going on and she told me about their group and said I should talk with the woman who was the leader of the group. She pointed to a rather handsome woman (wearing a red hat) standing under the shade of a large tree. I struck up a conversation with the “red hatted woman” and she suggested I join them for other sketching events. Specifically, she invited me to meet up with them at the Norton Simon Museum any first Friday of the month. And with that fateful introduction to the charming woman with the red hat, who was now sitting next to me in front of the Shoesian Teahouse, I was hooked! 

More creativity in Glendale/Burbank

Thought it worth mentioning just a bit more about the creative community I have joined and enjoy. (This little corner of SoCal is quite a hotbed of creativity with Disney, Dreamworks (Glendale), and ABC (Burbank) nearby.) But I didn’t fully realize the level of creativity in Glendale until Halloween 2016. I had driven through a couple neighborhoods and was struck by the elaborate decorations in various yards. So, Halloween night my son and I walked through one of these spots. It was amazing. One corner lot had been turned into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, with couches on one side. And in that area the movie “Young Frankenstein” was being projected onto a large screen. People were invited to sit on a couch and watch the movie. (It was in honor of Gene Wilder, who had passed away that August.) Then there were light displays of every kind with many houses looking like they had taken props from a Disney set. And in the garage of one of the houses, at the top of one street, was a live band playing music. (Of course the musicians were all wearing costumes…) There were even “lit up” signs, set up by the city of Glendale, reminding drivers in the neighborhoods to watch out for trick or treaters.

And I have a Glendale friend who regularly hires a group of stuntmen and stunt women who put up (and take down) holiday lights at their house for a fee. He made a funny remark as we drove through a Burbank neighborhood the other day. I commented on some crazy looking brick and stone work in a particular yard. He said that the house was probably owned by a Disney art director. I have to admit, it did look like a set you might find in a Snow White movie. Yes, only in LA!

October 19, 2019

summer 2018 birds
Outside my SoCal kitchen window, August 2018 (pen and ink, colored pencil on mixed media paper)

Tend a spot with few expectations…

This is the view from my kitchen window. I did this sketch last summer, on a particularly hot afternoon. I seem to remember how surprised I was to see so many birds on such a warm day. All I had at the time was a hummingbird feeder, bird seed in a feeder and a bird bath. Oh, and how could I forget the lovely pepper tree that is out there also. Of course I did not plant that, but the tree takes on unexpected importance to this story going forward.

When I first added what I thought was something for the birds, I didn’t know if any feathered friends would actually show up, but I had hopes. It only took a couple of days for the birds, of all sizes, to show up, even in almost 100 degree heat. (I think I have made it clear that it’s hot in August.) Maybe with hope there is a kind of abstract expectation without truly knowing what form it will take. Maybe without knowing what to expect, it’s not an expectation at all, but a kind of hope? Just wonderin’

As I have already said, the birds showed up in great numbers. But there were several other unexpected creatures that were also attracted to this set up. A couple neighborhood cats, and whole squirrel families also showed up. I didn’t know if I could keep the cats from hunting the birds I was so desperate to attract, but I tried to make friends with them so they would know to leave the birds alone. You have probably already imagined how that turned out. Yeah, every now and again I find a pile of bird feathers under the feeder…However, I didn’t expect to have trouble with the uninvited squirrels as I had hung the seed feeder far enough away from any bit of porch railing they could stand on. But as you might expect, that wasn’t what happened either. I soon noticed a couple of them gingerly coming down the pepper tree, heading straight for the nearest railing on the porch. Then they (yes, more than one) paced back and forth until at last there was a final frenzied pounce through the air with all their squirrel might and onto the feeder, sending seed and birds flying. I have since moved the seed feeder over and think it is now safe from the very acrobatic squirrels. But only time will tell if that will actually work. 

You may have noticed the few bees buzzing around the bird bath. There are usually at least 20 of them hanging about, clustered together at the edge of the water line. I noticed there weren’t very many birds visiting the bird bath, as it had been clearly taken over by bees. Doves didn’t seem to notice them and the crows just waved them away. So, I put a dish of water closer to the seed feeder and that seems to have been the solution. The bird bath is for the bees and the dish is for the birds. But, not so fast. Recently I saw one of my neighborhood cats drinking from the bird’s water dish. It must taste like some lovely bird juice. None of this is what I expected to see, or imagine, and I can’t really see a solution for that bit of kitty behavior.

bees and sage3
Bees and Sage, October 2019 (Inktense colored pencil, watercolor pencils on folded watercolor paper, 6 by 9 inches)

In the past year I have planted a few things around the birds in the front yard as well as a few things in the back. So, for this recent sketch I used my “just add water” technique—first sketching with Inktense and watercolor pencils, then adding a light mist of water, and finally a little manipulation of the running color with a brush and/or tilting that paper to encourage the flow of water. I guess I should mention that I do like to let the brush do a little scrubbing. I also treated the composition a little differently as each side could actually be a small stand alone vignette. Instead I folded the paper and left both sides together. Now it stands alone like a small card I will never send.

Last spring I added three drought tolerant plants (sage, or salvia) to the front area near all of this activity. I had had no true expectations for these 1 gallon-sized plants other than to have something with a kind of spiky texture up against the stone foundation. I also thought it important to tend a plant that would not need much water. That spring I also threw out some flower seeds in the back, with no idea if they would even grow at all. Amazingly, everything I planted has thrived and the spring/summer backyard flowers provided a bonus I did not expect—honey bees! I am loving that! Now the salvia in front is over two feet tall and the summer flowers in back have turned golden and yellow with two foot tall marigolds and rudbeckia, with also a few brightly colored zinnias sprinkled here and there. And oh my goodness, my tomatoes are covered with bright yellow blossoms, and still producing fruit. Sadly, the number of bees in the back have diminished. But I am not really sad because their numbers have increased 10 fold in the front and now cover the blossoms on each long, purple salvia plumes. Oh, and the hummingbirds are checking out the flowers as well. Did not expect that! The birds that used to visit the backyard flower seeds have gone, but a huge number of very tiny lizards have taken their place on the ground back there. In fact, there are little tiny lizards hiding amongst the front salvia as well. 

Of course, the presence of so many lizards has attracted the attention of our neighborhood cats, especially a large white and orange cat named Rusty. If he hasn’t seen me watching him, he sits very patiently just at the edge of all these flowers, tail switching back and forth. I haven’t seen any lizards drinking water from the bird’s water dish. Just imagining that tasty lizard infused bird water for Rusty to drink. Ahhh.

I also heard the mournful sound of white crowned sparrows outside my kitchen window the other evening. That gives me hope that they have returned to my garden for the winter. It also gives me hope that the weather will start cooling down and winter is on it’s way. It seems there are never ending moments of hope that surprise and delight me. And if I make sure to welcome even the troublesome things that come to my garden, I can hope to be delighted again and again. Funny, this kind of makes me think of a clever circular tale picture book called, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” by Laura Numeroff. Maybe I am the long suffering little boy that tries to encourage the whims of a demanding mouse. But in my little corner of the world a mouse in my garden would probably not be a very welcome site. Of course Rusty might think he had died and gone to heaven.

October 12, 2019

NS, Oct 4
Norton Simon back garden, 10/4/19 (pen and ink, Inktense pencil and graphite pencil on drawing paper)

As is my usual, I was at the Norton Simon Museum the evening of the 4th. (If you are new to my obsession with the back garden of the Norton Simon, welcome to my world. If you are old to my obsession, sorry in advance and you can skip reading this first part and move to the next sketch.) As I have shared in the past, I love to sit in the back garden and sketch on the first Friday of most months. It’s free then and I belong to a sketching group that meets there as well. Sometimes I love to sit and sketch the same statue, over and over. But that evening I sat on an unfamiliar and very slanted bit of carved stone across from this view. Even though I found myself sliding down the stone, it was OK and I realized why I like to sit in this garden on a Friday evening around 5:30. It’s the perfect place to decompress and unwind after a week of work, even with the slipping and sliding. I imagine ocean waves rolling over and over, past the museum, rather than the actual tire whine of the cars on the 210. And the cafe nearby plays jazz on those evenings as people stroll around the pond. Pretty great! On this particular evening the sun was already going down and the light through the trees and the bright sparkle on the water was sublime. You might have noticed something that appears to be a tiny sea monster trying to get out of the water, but it’s only a lone mallard stretching up and fanning his wings. Maybe with the ocean theme floating around in my imagination a tiny flapping sea monster makes perfect sense. Or not!

I don’t always have a plan when sketching back there, but on this particular night I wanted to experiment with my Pigma Brush Pen. I was particularly interested in looking to create some dark values and curves, especially with the prone statue hiding in the shrubbery. The only media I added was a HB graphite pencil and a bit of Inktense pencil color. I made sure to hint at the sparkling sunlight through the trees and on the rather still pond water.

2NS Oct 4
Norton Simon, 10/4/19, Le Belle Epoche exhibit, manipulated light effect (pen and ink, Inktense pencil, graphite pencil on sketch paper)

At 6:30 I wandered into the lobby. As is our usual the sketching group was convening  at a bench very near the “Three Nymphs” bronze. It was agreed that we would wander the museum, looking for opportunities to practice sketching items or people with an emphasis on dark values. I thought this a great idea as I had already been doing that and was eager to continue sketching with my Pigma Brush Pen. By this time it was pretty dark outside, too dark for a good sketch with much contrast other than just dark. (And I didn’t want to encounter any night convening mosquitoes…) So, I was happy to be inside and went downstairs to the room with the new exhibit. Before even looking around much I sat on a bench in front of this view. I sat for quite a time on the bench, visiting with fellow sketchers and sketching.

It was such a beautiful evening, or belle soiree, all the way around. If you know the French language then you know that the Belle Epoque (capitalized of course) means the “beautiful era” and actually describes about a 40 year period of art that took place in Paris. (I’ve always wondered about it ending in 1914, the same year as WWI broke out. I think there would be another group of painters who wouldn’t find things so beautiful after that war.) The Norton Simon exhibit had some lovely pieces of art from that time (1871 to 1914). I was particularly taken with the many Henri de Toulouse-Latrec posters on exhibit. Just imagine any one of the famous large posters you’ve seen—many were there, with such amazing bold colors. I was particularly struck by the rather ephemeral nature of the work done on paper and cardboard. Yes, cardboard. Such materials can’t be easy to preserve, and I wonder how long they will last. I noticed that one of his original pieces was done with pastels and drained oil on board. I’d never heard of drained oil as a medium and looked it up when I got home. Online, I found an excerpt from a book that described it. It seems that the technique was invented by Degas, but Lautrec liked to use it too. Degas sometimes wanted a mat gouache-like finish, but found oil paints sometimes too thick and they took too long to dry. To get drained oil pigment he first painted unprimed cardboard or paper mounted on canvas, then the oil was absorbed by the paper. He then mixed the left over pigment on the board with turpentine. It was much thinner and dried quickly, which it seems was why he went to all that trouble. The article said that he liked to use this medium for preparatory studies. Toulouse-Latrec liked to use this thinned pigment as a drawing medium that allowed him to draw with a brush, which suited his more linear/graphic style. And when the drained oil medium dried it had a mat/gouache finish and looked like pastels. Latrec also liked it because it was more versatile and allowed for overpainting as each layer dried faster and the previous layers were not disturbed. 

Norton Simon, 10/4/19, Le Belle Epoche exhibit, (pen and ink, Inktense pencil, graphite pencil on sketch paper, sprayed with water)

My perfect belle soiree continued while sitting on this bench. As I just mentioned, I sketched and visited with fellow sketchers while sitting on this bench. And of course, I spoke at length with a couple members of my group. But I was also joined at my bench by a wonderful young man, his younger brother, mom and grandma. I had seen him earlier in the museum with his sketchpad wandering the galleries with his family in tow. They told me they were from Chile, and he struggled some with his English. But we spoke art and sketching and got along fine. He was an absolutely charming 10 year old, and quite a brilliant artist. I guessed that he wanted to be an animator, telling him he was in the perfect place for such an interest. He, and his mother, just beamed with such thoughts and ideas. Probably the most beautiful moment of the evening came when he said, to no one particular, “I love sketching among other artists.” I thought at that moment Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse-Latrec were there with us, with their fellow artists. Quelle belle soiree!

Update on California Fires

With all the lovely art I had seen last week, I hate to even mention the fires we are experiencing here in CA right now. Quel dommage. Southern CA gets winds this time of year. They are called the Santa Anas. With everything so dry, no one can predict what that will mean. Early Friday morning the Saddleridge fire took hold. The 210 was closed and I headed straight towards plumes of smoke to get to work on surface streets. Once I got to school, it was pretty crazy. The kids were first fed breakfast in the auditorium, then we were all given masks and sent to class. All of the teachers were wondering what we were doing there. The district had cancelled some schools, but not us. Thankfully, it was a minimum day, and everyone got to go home early. Just checked our weather news and it seems it is more contained and some who were evacuated from the San Fernando Valley have been allowed to go home.

Here’s just a bit of what’s going on in Northern CA. PG and E (Northern CA power company) shut down power as they were blamed for sparks that set fall fires last year. They went bankrupt with payouts they had to make and thought it prudent to turn off the power to 800,000 customers. Yikes!

So, now we all pray for rain and the wind to die down. You could send us good wishes too if you like…

October 6, 2019

2019 birthday orchid
Phalaenopsis orchid, September 2019 (pen and ink, watercolors, Inktense pencils on 6 inch by 12 inch watercolor paper)

This may sound a bit too precious and cliche, but this week’s story unfolded much like an orchid blossom. I got this beauty for my birthday this year and knew I wanted to see if I could capture that shade of pink, or lilac, or whatever… As you may have guessed, I’m not sure I actually achieved the exact color. I mixed a pot of Opera, Cerulean Blue hue and Scarlet Lake, and I left lots of white showing through to add to the lightness of the color. I have not included a photo of the actual orchid so you can’t judge me. But, I do like this color quite a bit and wonder if there is an actual orchid that looks exactly the color my brain wants to see. (There seems to be so many different shades of orchids in the grocery stores around here, so there very well could be this very shade of pink.) 

You may also be wondering if I was inspired to make this sketch because of the perfect vertical piece of the watercolor paper. You might be thinking, I wonder if she had some of that paper just lying around. Actually, week before last I was looking around through random pads of paper to see if there were any unused pieces and I found this on the back of a horizontal landscape sketch from the Descanso Gardens. Who knew that I could just turn that paper on end and create the perfect shape for this orchid? Just because a sheet of watercolor started life the long way does not mean it can’t be turned over and rotated into another shape that perfectly supports the weight of an orchid. (Here’s the other side.)

DG:summer 2016
Descanso Garden, summer 2016 (watercolor and watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)
old birthday orchid
Birthday orchid, September 2018 to September 2019

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I don’t often include photos. I think I am not that comfortable, or good at, taking pictures that look like anything. Primarily, I use a camera just to capture a moment to help me remember a place or thing. I’m much more in tune with my interpretation of the things that interest me, rather than the actual thing itself. I’m never very happy with the way color turns out in photos I take. I also don’t usually like the colors that come from a photocopier, even if I have someone who works at the copy shop make the image for me. And I don’t really know what to do about it and I’m just not interested in finding out. So, I just rely on my colors as a kind of relay that starts in my heart (with my interest in the subject), then to my brain to imagine the colors and finally with me mixing, squirting, scrubbing and layering color onto the paper. I think my art shows a kind of confidence that my photographs lack. 

But, I do have a nice reason to include this rather average photo. I was given this orchid for my birthday last year and it has been continuously flowering for the past 365 days and counting. Ok, I get that it has only one flower left, but I still count that as blooming. And I don’t know much about orchids, but looking closely at this birthday marathon plant there seems to be another stem of buds coming on. (I tried to capture that little nub with the camera, but alas it doesn’t look like anything.) I am hopeful that this last flower will last until another couple buds appear and pop open. Can I keep this going for another year? Maybe…

Even though this started out about the color of my new orchid, I didn’t want to forget my old orchid friends, like this one. I have never tried to grow orchids before and believe it or not, I now have 4 on my kitchen window sill. And all of these were gifts. Maybe there is a cosmic message out there telling me that I don’t have a brown thumb and can grow lovely indoor plants. I probably don’t actually have a brown thumb, but I don’t know if I have a green one either. Maybe my thumb has nothing to do with it, but rather the perfect light that comes through my kitchen window year round. It’s pretty brightly inspiring. I am forced to look at them on a daily basis because I stand at my kitchen sink a lot and the sill is directly at eye level. A couple months after I put this one on the sill I noticed it was going for some kind personal best in my kitchen. I found myself scrutinizing every stem, looking for new buds and I bought orchid food (20-20-15). It seems when I talk to most folks about my few house plants they say, oh I don’t have time or talent for growing plants indoors or out. And I say, you just haven’t found the perfect plant for you. I also like the idea that there are plants that actually remove harmful chemicals in the air indoors. Martha says that the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is good for that, as well as Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), golden pothos (probably the easiest to grow…I have it all over my house…), and red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata). Unfortunately, I have not read of any orchids that clean your indoor air. So, I guess we who grow orchids will just have to live with their beauty. I think it makes me breathe a little easier to see something colorfully hopeful, balancing precariously on the end of a graceful stem. What do you think?

A few final words on colors in photos and/or photocopies…

Many years go, I lived in Munich for the better part of a year. During that time I visited Amsterdam a couple of times. As I have always been an artist I went to the Rijksmuseum as well as the Van Gogh Museum. I have always been an avid admirer of all things Vermeer and sought out a few of his paintings while at the Rijks. I remember walking into a light filled room where two of his paintings were hanging. Right in front of his The Little Street, was a woman who had kind of camped out there. She had a number of open folders, a tripod, pads of paper, markers, colored pencils, and paints and brushes all over the floor. And she was walking back and forth in front of the painting taking photos, both up close and a little far away. Initially I was a bit upset that I couldn’t get very close to the painting. But of course I soon became intrigued with what she was doing—no guard had asked her to move so others could see as well. So, I struck up a conversation with her. (I was thankful that she spoke English.) She said that she worked for a company that printed art posters and that they were getting ready to reproduce this gorgeous street scene—complete with brick facade in partial sunlight and partial shade. She told me that when reproducing paintings it was very difficult to get the colors just right in the photo and then onto a poster. I remember her adding that the beautiful brick color was especially difficult to get right. So, she was taking photos, mixing paint colors, layering different shades of colored pencil and just making general notes about all the colors on this piece. Now, this was of course in what might be called the analog days of capturing the lines and colors of an original piece of exquisite art with a photograph. I imagine now such works would be digitally mastered, and pixels would be scientifically arranged for such a poster. After speaking with her I had decided that I wanted to have a job like hers. But I didn’t. I don’t know if I ever found out what company she worked for. I never looked for the poster, either. However, I just Googled The Little Street poster and saw several versions for sale—and the color was definitely different for each one. Maybe capturing true colors with a camera hasn’t changed all that much. Makes me want to go back to the Rijksmuseum again to see The Little Street. I wonder if she is still there, trying to capture those colors…