November 16, 2019

Stars at Descanso2
Enchanted Forest stars on the arbor, Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you have viewed many of my posts you will know that I am massively obsessed with the Descanso Gardens. It seems that I have been drawn to that magical place since I moved to SoCal 5 years ago. We also have the Huntington Botanical Garden right next door, with the Getty not really that far away as well. But I prefer the Descanso. Actually, the Huntington has some very specific rules about painters in their gardens and I just haven’t gotten around to looking into that. And a friend’s wet watercolor materials were confiscated by a museum guard before she even got on the tram that takes you to the top of the hill and the Getty Museum. A mutual friend said my normally unflappable artist friend was seething and probably going to write a scathing letter to the Los Angeles Times. I’ve also shared with you the rather unfriendly guards at the Norton Simon…But no one has ever stopped me as I enter the Descanso with my backpack full of watercolor painting materials. And I love them for that simplicity. In fact, they have started an artist in residence program. And their first artist was Carole Kim and some of her art was recently on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery next to the Boddy House on the property. If you look at her bio on the Descanso Gardens website it says she, and I quote, “…seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences represented by the garden—botany, horticulture, biology, ecology, conservation and the study of gardens as cultural artifacts.” In looking a little further into Ms. Kim’s work and background I noticed that she was a past artist in residence (2013) at the Montalvo Art Center. This is cool and significant as Montalvo is in northern CA and I lived very near that place growing up. We used to ride our bikes over and around the hills of Villa Montalvo. My mom was part of a Montalvo service league that had fundraising events to rebuild/remodel various structures on the property. Every Christmas they had a huge event at the house, with each room decorated for the season. And of course because it was a fundraiser, they had various hand crafted gifts for sale as well. My poor mom was always upset with many of their “hand crafted gifts” and each year would say something like, “Why doesn’t someone tell the little old ladies that no one wants a crocheted toilet roll cover made from strange colored yarn?” She thought they should do wine or champagne tasting as the Paul Masson winery was nearby, not to mention The  Novitiate Winery that was then in the hills of Los Gatos. As you might have guessed, my mom quit after a few years. But she found a happy home as a volunteer at Village House in Los Gatos. 

I think that in the past few years the people who run the Descanso have been making a great effort to improve almost everything there, from upgraded garden areas to special events, without a strange hand crafted item in sight. One of the more successful events they have been presenting since November 2016 is the Enchanted Forest of Light. We went to see the lights that first year and have gone every holiday season since.

So, as you might imagine they were getting ready to debut their November 2019 season, opening Sunday November 17, when I was there last weekend. Most years I never actually plan to be there when they are setting up—so many wires and unlit lights. I go there so often to paint that I’m always surprised to see that it’s once again time for the event. But this year I remembered it was happening and thought I had heard of a new light installation that was to be featured this year. I thought I had heard of a stained glass house that was to be placed next to water and I thought it would be fun to try to paint that. So, when I got to the garden last Sunday I set about to find the stained glass house. I wandered all around the places that had massive amounts of wires and lighting, but did not see what I imagined would be there. No matter. I found myself in the rose garden, under the dangling stars that are hanging from an arbor near the fountain. And I found a lovely covered bench, surrounded with climbing roses, and painted the gorgeous fall trees, dangling stars and blooming roses you see here. (We have had such warm weather that there are still some roses blooming. If you are living in a very cold place, I am sorry…) 

praying mantis
Praying mantis on rose in rose garden at Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019

While I sat there, comfortably creating this sketch, I had a strange feeling that I was being watched. Sure enough, I looked beyond my perch just a bit and saw a praying mantis looking right at me. I think he, or she, was also enjoying the roses in the rose garden that lovely morning. 

I have sketched the “Enchanted” stars in the rose garden a couple times now, and they look pretty spectacular even in the daylight. It’s actually easier to draw them during the day as you can pretty much sit where you like. At night, they block many pathways through the garden and you are forced to be directly under the stars. Aside from being too close to the stars to make them look interesting, there really isn’t anywhere to sit and sketch. The Enchanted Forest of Light designers have set up a carefully directed event that takes people from one place to the next, cutting out most of the rose garden all together. Here’s how it goes: They let in groups of people every half hour, with a very tempting (if not compulsory) journey from one display to the next that also goes past several outdoor bars and gift shops along the way. 

I’m not sure we’re going again this year. I know some people are really into traditions and might consider doing this every year as a compulsory holiday event. That’s fine, I guess. But I think our trip to their newest block buster event called “Carved” will be our fall/holiday evening at the Descanso for this year. What was “Carved” you say? Well, the short answer is lots of pumpkins. They had 1000 professionally carved pumpkins that lined a 1 mile walk through the Camellia Forest and Oak Grove and we were there the evening of October 26th. Just imagine hundreds, yes hundreds, of lit jack o lanterns winding along paths, past a couple bars and gift areas. (Now that’s the way to have a fund raiser, right?) And then every few yards or so there were some giant-sized pumpkins that had been very intricately carved. Once you found your way to the house made of pumpkins, there was an area where artists were busy carving away some very large pumpkins—quite dramatic and amazing, I must say. I was trying to imagine where you would find people who could do this. I thought maybe they could be tattoo artists, but a friend said he thought that there was no shortage of animators around here and the pumpkins were probably done by them. There is quite a bohemian artists culture here and their pumpkins were there that night.

That’s all from one SoCal girl right now. But the big news is that it is supposed to rain this week. Oh, Yesssssssss!

November 9, 2019

paperwhite black and white
Black and white Paper-white, habit lower right, 1990 (pen and ink)

This post starts with a pen and ink drawing of a favorite flower in my then holiday garden—the Narcissus, or Paperwhite. I did this during my days when I worked as a scientific illustrator for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. This layout of plant parts, complete with habit, is very typical for a botanical rendering. I was never commissioned or paid to draw this one. I just happen to love them and wanted to do one on my own.

color paperwhite
Paper-white in color, habit lower right (gouache and colored pencil on toned paper)

Fast forward 10 years for this smaller color version of the exact botanical. I had taken a class at the Academy where we learned to use gouache on toned paper. I like the idea of using toned paper that either has some connection with the subject (green paper for a green plant). Or I like to use grey toned paper as most colors you layer on heather grey or blue grey will pop with great contrast. 

narcissus story
Narcissus story in the Tribune, SLO, 12/5/1999

I can’t remember if I did the above art for this article or not. But one way or another it was used here. I do remember that I was disappointed when I saw the finished article in the paper as an editor scrubbed out most of the green background. I’ve always thought it looked fuzzy or out of focus. Looking back, I should have submitted the pen and ink for this story. I was trying to be so agreeable back then. I was trying to do these wonderful color renderings of plants…There was a lovely editor that seemed so pleased to print my work. And the publisher of The Tribune, himself, had told me how much he liked my art and stories and had promised that he could make me famous (not rich) with my work. So much for that!  

And even though the image doesn’t really show the art in a great light, rereading the story got me thinking about the subject matter. I’m not sure I would give someone Paperwhite bulbs to be planted on top of layer of small rocks in a saucer. Oh, it works alright. If you keep the saucer just filled with water, the roots will take hold of the rocks and the stems, then flowers will follow. But then what? Once you force a bulb to bloom like that, it will never bloom again and you might as well throw it away when the flower and stem dry up. You also have to extricate the roots from the rocks, which is kind of annoying. I still like the idea of giving such a “thoughtful” gift to a friend. But if I were to write that story today I would suggest to the reader that he or she might change the ultimate action for the person getting the gift, telling the “gift receiver” to plant the 6 or 8 bulbs in the dirt in the garden. Then the thoughtful gift becomes more sustainable. The card I would attach to the gift would then remind the person they had received a “pass along plant” that will hopefully bloom and expand production over the years. Paperwhites are pretty hardy. I like putting them in because deer and gophers don’t usually bother them. I have had moles dig around my narcissus, but they are carnivores and won’t eat the flowers. They can sometimes ruin a perfect row of daffs. But that’s ok with me as I never plant them in perfect rows anyway. I think it’s always a good idea to throw them out in drifts. Oh, and they for sure should be in a spot that does not get summer or fall irrigation as the bulbs can rot. So, these are pretty good little things to give as they are sustainable and drought tolerant—everything we need here in CA anyway. Maybe where you live too?

There is something else in this article that I would expand upon. Can you guess? I mean, who thinks of such obscure songs (A Garden in the Rain) to even include the lyrics of something that seems so random. My dad told me that his mom, my grandma, used to sing it as she did many of the songs in the 30s on what was called the “Hit Parade.” She didn’t have it easy as my grandfather was an alcoholic and she had to get various jobs to help put food on the table during the depression. She went to work at various laundries and when WWII started she worked in the shipyard in Long Beach as a riveter. Yup, she was what was known as a “Rosie the Riveter.” Dad said she would sing in the kitchen before dinner, probably with the radio on, peeling potatoes. She would do this, it seems, before she really had plans for dinner. There are other singers who have performed “A Garden in the Rain,” but those performances were from long ago. I happen to have a Diana Krall’s rendition of the song on a CD.  My dad loved Diana Krall…

So now I am wondering what my next 20 years of art will look like, and what updates I might have for this story. If I am still around and haven’t lost too many memory marbles I hope to revisit my take on gifting Paperwhites. Maybe I will have spread more of them around me and in my friend’s gardens. I’ll be like “Miss Rumphius” (picture book by Barbara Cooney). Miss Rumphius said that in her life she wanted to do three things—live by the sea, travel to far away places and make the world a more beautiful place. And to make the world more beautiful she planted lupines. So, maybe my narcissus will spread like so many lupines in her story. Only time will tell.

In Remembrance of my dad

I meant to post a story about my dad nearer the day he passed. (October, 14, 2012) Uh oh! Maybe I’m already loosing some of my memory marbles. Only time will tell. (Hey, didn’t I already say that?)

Miss you dad. You’d be glad to know that Henry bought a turntable and has been listening to Nat King Cole and Jack Teagarden. 

November 2, 2019

neon museum
The Neon Museum, SketchCrawl, 10/26/2019 (Graphite on sketch paper)

On the morning of last week’s post I was on yet another SketchCrawl, dubbed the USkLA Brand Boulevard Sketch Walk. Our fearless leader, Virginia Hein, organized a very fun, inspiring and surprising walk up and down Brand Blvd. There were so many firsts for me that day that I actually can’t describe all of them—makes me sound totally unaware of my CA surroundings, right? But our first stop was the Neon Museum, where we sat in the shade beside the building and sketched some old neon signs that are part of the exterior. I focused on the swimmer at the top of the museum—loving her modest swimming suit and swimming cap (women wore such caps many years ago). I was surprised to finally see that the giant Clayton Plumbers neon sign just to the right and off the street was actually part of the museum. I have been past that museum countless times and just assumed there was a plumbing shop back there. I always wondered how to find the entrance to the business, but could never find it. That’s because there isn’t one!

Next, we walked north on Brand for several blocks and stopped at the Alex Theater. The Alex is a landmark here in Glendale and was built in 1925 in the Art Deco and Classical Revival styles. Some of us walked across the street to get a better view of the 100 foot tall art deco column with neon lights topped with a spiked neon sphere. I joined that group, but didn’t post the sketch here as it was just “so so.” I couldn’t quite capture the scale of that 100 foot spire so close up. But no matter, we left a little later and headed south on Brand to an interesting fountain. It was just a bit off the street, but I had never noticed that is was interactive. On a tall building in front of the fountain was a wall of moving lights accompanied with interesting moody sounds. And if you touched some sensors on a platform in front of the wall and fountain, you could change and affect the wall of moving lights. I was again blown away that I hadn’t noticed any of this before, even though I  had walked past this fountain countless times. However, I was glad to check out its coolness for the first time. 

Tower at the Americana, SketchCrawl, 10/26/2019 (pen and ink, Inktense and watercolor pencils on toned paper)

Then it was off to the Americana, where I had yet another first in a very familiar place. This piece was done while sitting at a rather lovely outdoor spot above a central area of the Americana—at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I had no idea that the third floor of the bookstore had a balcony that opened out to this plaza. What a treat, sitting outside on a balmy mid morning with a whole bunch of my fellow artists. I had been to their coffee area on that floor many times, but just sat at the tables nearby. So, before I took up residence there I went inside and got a cappuccino. Then I went outside and found the perfect spot to sketch. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think I should add that I have always liked the look of this rust colored tower and would love to report that it houses something very amazing. But as it turns out, it is the structure that houses a glass elevator–not very exciting I think. Certainly no Eiffel Tower, right? 

After a time it was time to move along to our last stop of the USkLA Brand Boulevard Sketch Walk. I kind of hated to leave, but vowed to come back for another visit as the plaza was being transformed into a huge holiday shopping miracle. We packed up all our materials and headed back to where we started—the Neon Museum. But this time we didn’t stop at the museum, but went past the Clayton Plumbers neon sign to the Glendale Central Park at the back. And here I saw a first that moved me most that day. Virginia directed us to a corner of the grass to see a statue. It was called the Korean Comfort Women Statue—a statue of peace. Such an unassuming, yet moving statue. Such a thought provoking sculpture. Maybe that’s what great art does, it provokes you in some way. I wish I could do this piece justice with a better description, but I can’t. Google it. You won’t be disappointed. I hope to go back sometime soon to do a sketch. 

So, here’s to a day of wonderful discovery and firsts! Maybe you have had similar experiences where you learned about something in your area you had never heard of before. Take a walk and take a look!

Update on the Southern CA fires… 

I didn’t write about the SoCal fires last week. I just couldn’t bear thinking about it anymore, even though it’s all around me. All the smoke and dust in the air is pretty hard to take—literally and figuratively. On Friday, 10/25/2019, many of the public schools in the northern part of LA were closed because of a nearby fire that had been whipped up by intense winds the afternoon before. When I walked out of my office the afternoon of the 24th (around 3:30) there was a huge wall of smoke on the horizon. So, I immediately went home. I felt momentary relief to be driving away from that mess. But in the early hours of the 28th, the west side of LA caught fire. The area burning there was near the Getty Museum, and the public schools close by were closed a couple days because of the intense smoke in the skies. Then Thursday morning, Halloween day, the Marie fire (near Santa Paula, in Ventura County) exploded. We are all so done with this…

Here’s to peace! And happy birthday to my youngest niece! (I think I owe you a painting.)