January 25, 2020

garlic still life
California Select Spring garlic (on the left), Early Red Italian Spring garlic (on the right) and Ephraim Pottery tile, 1/20/2020 (water soluble pastel crayons on toned paper)

I pulled out my final tomato bush last Sunday. It still looked a vibrant healthy green, and it even had a few blossoms. But it had been quite a while since I had picked a red ripe tomato. (July 6, 2019 shows my first tomato.) So I dug it up. It gets cold in my SoCal neighborhood at night, but rarely freezes. I have actually seen such plants linger all through the winter months, but that seems kind of pointless. Besides, I wanted to make room in that bed because I have grand plans for that spot. Can you guess what’s going in there? Yes, I will be planting seed garlic. I’ve never tried to grow garlic and didn’t realize there was even something called seed garlic. I thought you just bought a couple heads of garlic at the grocery store, pulled apart the individual cloves and then planted them pointy side up—similar to the way you would plant a tulip bulb. But I read online that wasn’t a very foolproof procedure and you should buy seed garlic at a nursery. Of course I soon realized that there might not be any such bulbs in our nurseries right now as those are usually planted here in the fall. As I suspected I didn’t find any in our nearby nurseries. But I didn’t give up my quest and looked online. I found a lovely company called Filaree Garlic Farm, in Omak WA. I spoke on the phone to a lovely woman there and she suggested the two varieties you see in my still life, and they could still be planted in my area this time of year. If you have never ordered plants through the mail, it’s kind of fun. However, being from CA has its drawbacks in that department as there are some plant varieties that cannot be shipped here. I think that’s because there are just so many things that will grow here and a potential invasive plant and/or pesky hitch hiking insect might come into the golden state, inadvertently becoming a pest to the many farms that can be found in our Imperial Valley.

Anyway, it seems that mailing garlic to someone in CA is not forbidden. That is kind of funny if you think about it. Garlic is notoriously stinky, so maybe that keeps the bugs away. (I know vampires are repelled by it.) I don’t know if you are a fan of garlic, but I think my mother put onions and garlic in almost everything we ate as kids. I remember both my mom and dad going to the Gilroy Garlic Festival. My mom was quite taken with the idea of garlic ice cream. Thank goodness she never served that to us, but I did wonder if she ever considered adding a clove or two to some to her oatmeal cookies or carrot cake. 

More about the art

I’ve been wanting to get better at my still life drawings/paintings/sketches and thought this striking combination of creamy produce next to a colorful Ephraim Pottery tile would be great. All the colors pop nicely off the grey toned paper, and the waxy crayons add just a bit of a shine. Just as an aside, I think it’s hard to arrange things for a still life. I worry that anything I put together will look contrived. So, I made sure that there was no imagined, or forced, relationship between a beautiful Craftsman poppy tile and two varieties of seed garlic. I wonder if it took Van Gogh a long time to arrange items for his still life paintings? Nah, I imagine that he didn’t really have many worldly possessions and probably just arranged a few non-painting items together and called it a day. I think I would probably like any still life he created just because he personally arranged the items. I mean, he could have created even the most beautiful still life with the most common items laying around, like even a pair of his shoes or boots. Oh yeah, he did several painting of his boots and shoes. If you look at any of those still lives I’m sure you would be distracted by his wonderful brush work, making even the mundane important and beautiful. 

I post a lot of my art here that I do as an urban sketcher, but almost never post anything for other urban sketchers on Facebook. I knew such a still life would not be appropriate for an urban sketching post. They have very strict rules and probably wouldn’t have even allowed Van Gogh’s boots. In fact, they even have a manifesto. And here it is: 

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

You know, except for the fact that Van Gogh did not share his drawings online and was a pretty solitary individual, I think he met the criteria for everything else on this list for urban sketchers. I love the idea of a pair of shoes or boots telling the stories of places someone has traveled, and how he showed us his world, one painting/drawing at a time. 

And for those of you interested in my “poppy” tile you might enjoy looking at other pieces of Ephraim Pottery at www.ephraimpottery.com Their images and pottery shapes are taken directly from the Craftsman sensibility and the glaze colors they use are quite extraordinary. There is a section on the website that features those colors and it’s called “glaze swatches.” Check it out. They started out in Wisconsin, but now have a shop in Cambria. And if you are ever traveling on the CA coast, heading to Heart’s Castle or Big Sur, you might want to check out that shop in Cambria. 

Final words about the garlic and my garden…

I will be planting the garlic as soon as I post this. Filaree Garlic Farm has a pretty good description of growing, harvesting and curing, and storing garlic. Armed with the New Moon and such good directions I think it’s the optimum time to plant it for the best outcome. In a previous post I mentioned that my grandfather (my mom’s dad) said you should plant such things as bulbs and root vegetables by the dark of the moon—not really sure why. My grandfather died before I was two, so I didn’t know him. But it does remind me of my mom and I know she would approve of my plan of action. 

You may, or may not, be wondering what other plans I have for other garden beds this year. And if you are wondering, I will say that I plan to plant other items to support what I am calling my “pickle garden.” I have seeds for two different kinds of dill and plan to plant at least 3 different kinds of cucumbers. Don’t know what I could grow that would produce acetic acid and/or salt. Not going to worry about that. Here we go!

January 18, 2020

Mason Clay Statue, 1961
Black Cross sculpture by John Mason, 1961 (Fude Fountain pen on mix media paper)

Once again a sketching group I belong to met at the Norton Simon Art Museum the first Friday of January. I didn’t start out the afternoon/evening with the realization this would be a momentous “first” sketch of the new decade, but went there as is my usual. Most months when I walk in the front door, poised with my non-wet materials and ready for the sometimes unfriendly museum guards, I am always happy to be there. And I’m almost always look forward to going there the week leading up to that Friday. As I have said in previous posts I still really enjoy going into the back garden to see if there is something new to see, or maybe there is some old favorite I want to draw… again. For this excursion I had a new small stool I wanted to try out there. At the Descanso Gardens I had used it as a foot rest as I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap on a large boulder. I had also used it at the Descanso as a level place to place my pots of watercolors. But I had actually not yet sat on it to sketch. 

It was already getting dark by the time I walked in at 5. But I vowed to try and sit outside, hoping I might find a spot on the grass for this visit. Unfortunately there are still temporary-looking plastic strips, much like a “Police Line Do Not Cross” barricade tape, surrounding every bit of grass that rings the Monet Garden inspired pond. What would Claude say? Oh well. So I kept moving along the crushed granite path. Once I got to a left turn in the path I turned abruptly to the right and found myself face to face with this small, but charming, vignette. I must admit I didn’t really pay much attention to the clay cross, but liked the blocky dark mass nestled in with the wonderful vertical bamboo background and the large symmetrical succulent flowers in the foreground. In fact, I didn’t even look at the label in front of it until the sunlight was completely gone and I had finished the sketch. But when I spied this spot I knew I had to do something quick. So I set up my little stool and sat down, took out my sketchpad and did a quick pencil sketch. Then I hurried to capture this tiny corner of the garden with my Fude fountain pen. (At some point, during this mad dash, I realized my little stool was rather hard and I dug out my sheet of bubble wrap, placed it on the hard plastic seat and sat back down. That was much better.) By now I was truly racing the fading natural light as the outdoor lights started coming on. For about 30 seconds I thought there might be enough light from those spotlights highlighting the statue to help me see to finish. Of course, it got too dark even for that and it dawned on me the lights were there to illuminate the statue, not my sketchpad. By the time I put in the last couple lines I had my phone out and was inking by flashlight. By then I was cold and glad to go inside and find something else to draw.

Note about the sculpture:

Later in the weekend I looked up what the curator at the Norton Simon had to say about the Black Cross. Here is what it says on the website: “During the 1950s in Los Angeles, a group of artists led by John Mason rediscovered and reinvented the medium of ceramics for use in large scale sculpture. His Black Cross is one of many works that he crafted using soft clay in previously unexplored ways. An extremely tactile piece, the medium of fired clay brings a fascinating variety of texture and color to Mason’s work. Though he has used many other media, he continues to explore and reinvent his favorite medium: clay.” And if you want to know more about John Mason there is an interesting article about him in the LA Times online. The story ran the end of January 2019, not too long after he had died at age 91. (I guess no one at the Norton Simon has updated this information since his passing last January.)

NS Woman in White with Fan
Woman in White with Fan by Jean-Louis Forain (1883-84), 1/3/2020 (Inktense pencils on mix media paper)

Once I got in the door I decided to go downstairs and sketch something else from the Belle Epoque exhibit. (I have mentioned a number of times in various posts of my obsessions with various art, materials and other random items or places. So, it was not really surprising that I would be obsessed with the art and French artists of that 1871 to 1914 time period in Paris.) I got lucky and found a museum bench right in front of this lovely “Woman in White with a Fan” (Jean-Louis Forain) oil painting. The way it was lit down there it looked almost monochromatic, with mostly sepia-like tones and some bits of pink and gold. I decided to try and capture the dark and kind of moody feeling by limiting my palette of Inktense pencils—using only bark, sun yellow, baked earth and poppy red. 

Finally, it was time for the group throw down and I went upstairs. There was quite a sketching crowd gathered at a museum bench at the museum entrance that night. (It’s always fun to see what others have been working on as you were toiling away in some other part of the museum.) Once our leader took a photo of our work and we visited for a few minutes she suggested a group project. We were to wander the halls and find something that spoke to us about a possible New Year’s Resolution or inspired us to improve some aspect of our artwork. Then we were to meet back at that same bench and share any artistic inspirations we had come up with. 

NS Provence landscape
Pencil sketch of Paul-Camille Guigou’s The Village of Saint-Paul on the Banks of the Durance, 1865

I headed for the European Art/19th century room to look for inspiration, but quickly left because it was pretty crowded. So, I wandered about in a couple other rooms and locked eyes on this lovely 19th century landscape of the south of France. (Funny this one was in a different room. I mean, this seems like a 19th century bit of European Art…just sayin.’) I was trying to think of a valid New Year’s resolution related to this calm and beautiful looking place, but was not coming up with anything. We didn’t have a lot of time. So, I went ahead and set up my little stool a few inches from the wall just across from this rather large oil painting anyway. I was sure I could come up with some kind of goal for the year or decade, for that matter, if I sat gazing at this beautiful place long enough. As I began sketching I envisioned a perfect resolution for me. I have done numerous CA landscapes and think I’m pretty confident and comfortable with rendering skies, but I always balk when I come to the water’s edge—especially when imagining large bodies of water like the ocean. I so admire all those plein air painters that can capture the Pacific Ocean. Once I decided my resolution would be to do more paintings with water I relaxed and just enjoyed doing this very quick sketch. (Of course the minute I leaned ever so slightly against the wall, a guard came out of the shadows and told me not to do that…first encounter with a Norton Simon guard of the decade. Oh well!)

So, I do have some final thoughts about resolutions and my art. I’m obsessed with producing CA landscapes. I love the idea that I can travel to a particular place with pigment on canvas or paper. I can wander the hills of various places as my brush skims along the canvas in a field, dotting in grapes and leaves on a vine or layering in the dark bark and limbs and branches of a coast live oak as it reaches skyward. And when I paint a California sky, I luxuriate in layers of color as I apply the pigment with my biggest brushes in long strokes from side to side. As I sat there, my mind took me to this water’s edge in the south of France. Ooh la la! Maybe this CA girl should look to expand her horizons to the south of France? Maybe that’s a great goal for the decade. Restez a l’ecoute. (Stay tuned.)

January 11, 2020

Hachiya Persimmons, 1991 (watercolor on cold pressed Strathmore illustration board)

The art you see here was definitely a labor of love as there was no hurrying along the process. In past posts I have written about this watercolor layering technique. It’s all done with layer upon layer of watercolor, with the heat of a small hairdryer used to dry each layer after it is applied. People have asked me how many layers of pigment would be in something like this and I can’t really answer. But I would say there was easily more than 10 watercolor passes for this one. In describing this technique I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of the paper I used. This technique means major abuse of wet and heat—and my beautiful cold press Strathmore illustration board can take it like a champ. It was my “go to paper” in the early 90s. I think I only messed it up once or twice by getting it just too wet and/or hot, and then tiny balls of paper pulp began pulling away from the surface. I remember I almost cried and thought I should apologize to the trees who had so graciously helped make this paper possible. As I have already said (right here in this paragraph), knowing the paper/material you paint on is everything. And I always think about what’s going to happen when I begin to draw or paint on a new sheet of paper. 

Now, as for this persimmon composition, it’s never been my usual to leave such beautiful fruits floating free in space, much like so many abandoned satellites circling the Earth. But upon closer inspection of the board I noticed a third persimmon lightly penciled in to the right, and realized I had not actually finished this one. As was my usual I would have finished the last persimmon, then added some kind of shading to lock each one into a place in space. Not really sure why I didn’t finish this one. Oh well… All this got me thinking of my mother. As a kid I remember eating my mom’s persimmon pudding (recipe to follow). The Hachiya tree variety was pretty common in many of the Saratoga/Sunnyvale gardens in the 1970s. I specifically remember those trees because about this time of year all of the leaves would have dropped off and there would be these bright orange fruits hanging from every branch. It was quite a site. Of course, they would all ripen at the same time which meant they had to be picked all at once. Everyone scrambled to think of what to do with them before they spoiled. My mom always took a lug of them from a friend who lived not too far from us, in the Golden Triangle. (Look it up, it’s a thing—The Golden Triangle, Saratoga, CA) This variety is kind of tricky because you can’t eat them until they are mushy and pudding like. By then they are not a pretty color anymore. Sound appetizing? My brothers and I quickly learned you can’t eat them beautiful and orange from the tree as they have an astringent taste that will make your mouth pucker. No, they were only palatable after they had been cooked. My mom enjoyed making persimmon pudding this time of year and it makes me wonder why she didn’t plant a persimmon tree in our side orchard. My dad would have insisted the tree be in that part of the yard, otherwise such fruit laying on the ground would have probably been eaten by our dogs. I can’t imagine that would have been a good thing. 

Back then there were many nurseries in our area run by families of Japanese-American descent, and those businesses were busy landscaping yards in all the new housing developments in our area. Many of the plants they recommended for our gardens were from Japan, and that included the Hachiya variety persimmon tree. The nursery that designed our Saratoga garden was called Bonsai Nursery, and they were on the corner of Bollinger Road and Hiway 9 (now called De Anza Blvd). A nursery like Bonsai would design your garden for a fee and if you decided to go with their plan that fee would go towards their plants for your yard. Bonsai closed a number of years ago, but there is still another nursery from that time on De Anza Blvd. It is called Yamagami’s Nursery. I don’t remember many specific plants there were in that Saratoga garden, but I do remember a couple Japanese maples in our courtyard. They were spectacular even when they were first planted in the late 1960s/early 1970s. And if you drove past our old house in Saratoga today you would see them even now, towering majestically over the single story terra-cotta rooftop.  

I did promise to share my mother’s persimmon pudding recipe, but couldn’t find the recipe card. So, I looked online. This recipe looks similar to what I remember. (From Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, who was a frequent guest chef on A Chef’s Life—PBS. I actually saw the “A Chef’s Life” episode where Chef Vivian Howard helped Chef Smith make the persimmon pudding—PBS, Season 5, Episode 7 ) There was a recipe for hard sauce on the opposite side of my mom’s recipe card, but I think we almost never made because it was so good without adding anything quite that sweet. Sometimes she did make lightly sweetened whipped cream to go on top, but that was likely more for company and not us.


1 T plus 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp, divided

3 C persimmons 

2 C buttermilk

1 1/2 C sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

Whipped cream topping, optional

* Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4 by 8 by 12 inch baking pan with 1T butter. Use a food mill, sieve or cone strainer to remove the seeds from the persimmons and puree the pulp; it will reduce them from 3 C to 2 C. Combine the puree with the buttermilk. Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. By hand, in a large mixing bowl, stir the persimmons into the butter.
  2. Sift all dry ingredients together and fold them into the persimmon mixture. Put the batter into the baking pan, and place the pan in a larger pan and fill halfway up with warm water. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours, or until the pudding is firm at the center, has pulled away from the sides of its pan, and a paring knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.
  3. Serve hot with fresh whipped cream. This will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days and reheats well in the oven or microwave.
  • My mom didn’t cook the persimmon pudding in a baking pan, but rather she made persimmon cupcakes in foil cupcake papers. (So, it would certainly take less than an hour to cook. I would probably check them after 20 minutes or so.) She also did not place the cupcake pan in a water bath, but rather put a pan of water just underneath the cupcakes. (We had an old and rusty square baking pan that she used for steaming a number of cakes and puddings in the oven.) My mom didn’t have a fancy mixer and just used her hand mixer when beating all the wet ingredients together. Finally, my mom had something she called a Mouli (Moulinex Mouli-Julienne Rotary 5 disc shredder grater slicer) to make the gooey persimmon pulp. She used this quite a bit for shredding and grating other fruits and vegetables. I remember her using it to make fried potatoes. (This is before food processors were around.) 
  • The above recipe talks about removing the seeds from the persimmons. I think Chef Smith must have been using an American variety of persimmon, common to the Atlantic seaboard. I understand they have seeds. As for the Japanese varieties we have here in CA, there are no seeds to worry about extracting.
    Fuyu persimmons
    Fuyu Persimmons, January 2020, (Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons on cold press Strathmore illustration board)

    I did this one this week. And I used my lovely cold press Strathmore illustration board, just to compare the fruits, time, and technique of the “quick and dirty” application of water soluble crayons over laboriously applied straight watercolors. It’s really hard to compare the two, but I like that this one got finished as is my usual. In fact, I decided I kind righted a wrong because my Fuyu persimmons seem to have the wings of a butterfly, rather than the stark appearance of a couple Sputniks floating out in space. (I do worry sometimes that putting two such fruits together look a little like breasts…but these seem to be OK.) 

    Oh, and I cut up the one on the right and sliced it on my morning mush. (I thought it looked to be the riper of the two.) All I had to do was peel and slice it, with no weird astringent taste. Woo hoo!

January 4, 2020

Creatures for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)
Creatures, with their decorating humans for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)

So my LA Urban Sketching day began with 20 of us meeting in a huge parking lot next to a number of huge warehouses in Irwindale. We boarded a shuttle bus, with a number of float decorators and were taken to an area just outside the Fiesta Float warehouse. It seems that shuttle would be on duty, taking volunteers to and from Fiesta Floats to the parking lot, until each float parked inside the warehouse was finished for Wednesday morning’s Rose Parade in Pasadena. After we filed out of the shuttle we gathered together to discuss how we would be proceeding for the day. One of our tribe had been there to sketch before and she had a few tips for us. For the most part, she said that we needed to stay out of the way of the volunteers working in there. She added that we should be very careful to watch for heavy things moving around over head, as much of what was going on was off the floor, with lots of people on scaffolding above us. Finally, she said that we should wander about first as there was a lot to see. But that even if we found the perfect spot to sketch, we needed to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. So, we had our marching orders and we all began fanning out to see what there was to see. I was intrigued by what I saw even before I got inside as there were piles of “floats gone by” in pieces all around the building. I made a mental note to come back to a particular scene I saw (see caption 3 of this post). 

I could try to describe what I saw, but maybe that isn’t necessary as you can actually see what just one tiny corner of the building looked like a week ago. There was scaffolding and huge bits of various float parts in every square inch of that huge building. And everything was larger than life. I guess that makes sense in that everything would be viewed from a distance and moving slowly down parts of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards for the Rose Parade. There were people everywhere! Most had a flat cardboard box of dried plant material in one hand and a small 1 inch paint brush in the other. There were bottles of white glue everywhere as well. The volunteers were dabbing on the glue, to specifically prescribed patches on animals and other items, and then carefully pressing the dried material in place. I have to say I wondered how long I would make in there as the smell of glue was almost overpowering. But it was so interesting to watch all these people carefully going about their work that I stopped noticing the smell and found myself wandering around. I found a great spot in front of this happy group of 3 large green lizards. But before I sat down and set up, I looked for the supervisor for this UPS Store, Inc float and introduced myself. (I forgot to mention that we were encouraged to do just that, hopefully making a good impression about the LA Urban Sketchers group so we might be invited to come back again.) The woman of this menagerie of huge animals was lovely and very interested in what I was about to do. I told her I would look for her when I had finished to show her my sketches. While I sat on my tiny stool and sketched a UPS Store, Inc representative stopped to chat. He told me that the theme of the 2020 float was part of a greater project UPS was supporting—literacy. You could tell he was very passionate about this project and said he wanted to hang my sketch (the first one) in his office. I was very flattered, but had not even finished it and knew that wasn’t going to happen. (These are just sketches and my stories are just a day in the life of One CA Girl.) Sadly, when I had finished I couldn’t find either of them. So, neither one got to see what I had created. Oh well.

 I also think it is important to talk about the people I chose to put in here. As you might imagine there were at least 100 people walking around, and most seemed to be on the move. There were lots of people from the media too–taking pictures and interviewing various volunteers. There were a few women, putting on the dry material on the underside of the lizards, who stood still long enough for me to capture here. By putting the humans in I think you get a real sense of the scale of these “Jurassic Park” like lizards. But you don’t really get a very flattering picture of the people. For starters, it was cold in there and most people had on bulky coats that covered them up. And second, in the second sketch I completely missed the head of one volunteer. It was really my fault too. I started with the woman on the left and noticed another volunteer in a red jacket to her right. So, I quickly added her. But I didn’t really notice that her head was completely covered by the lizard’s tail and was too far into the sketch to really do anything about it. (Hmm…Couldn’t imagine a UPS Store, Inc exec hanging that up on the wall…)

float graveyard
Fiesta Floats, Irwindale–outside with parts from floats past, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen and graphite on Canson Mix Media paper)

I stayed in the warehouse until I was just too cold to draw anymore and needed to get outside into the sunshine. I had seen this scene of float remnants earlier and set up my little stool covered with my sheet of bubble wrap and did this pen and ink with my Fude Fountain pen. Some of the surrounding rusted pieces I saw looked like they had once had dried flowers glued on, but the rain and sun were doing their best to wash and fade that all away. But this particular pile of disconnected bits of floatery didn’t seem to have any dried flower detritus. So, maybe this place does more than just floats for the Rose Parade, even though the sign on the outside of the building said Rose Parade—and had the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Foundation logo on it. It was nice to be outside, where I could warm up and watch the continuous flow of volunteers in and out of the building. Perfect! 

The UPS Store, Inc float New Year’s morning 2020 and beyond

This post has a rather funny end to it as the UPS float was the Sweepstakes Award winner for 2020. (And it seems they were the 2019 Sweepstakes Award winner as well.) Look it up—UPS, Store Inc Rose Parade 2020. It was covered with thousands of fresh flowers, animated animals and 3 working waterfalls. Yikes! The photo I saw showed some of the animals I sketched last Sat. In fact, one of the lizards I did was right up front, nestled in some 25,000 dark hot pink Hot Lady roses. It did make me laugh because the women I saw decorating the lizards were placing the dried flower material underneath each giant beast. I mean, who was going to be looking underneath them—with all those bright pink roses? That’s just crazy, right?

I was sketching at the Norton Simon last night. And the scaffolding that holds the bleachers for the Rose Parade were still up. That always looks like a larger than life bit of construction. I guess here in CA we really believe in doing things in a big way, but try not to miss the small details as well. Words to live by? Works for me!