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.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s