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.
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.
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…