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…