February 29, 2020

Camellia watercolor
Camellia forest at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I met a friend and her “just turned” 5 year-old son for a bit of garden wandering and of course some sketching. Once inside the front gate of the Descanso Gardens my friend’s son said he wanted to draw some animals. We immediately went in search of some. I told him that sometimes I had seen deer, rabbits and squirrels wandering, or scurrying in the wooded areas. We soon came to a small creek and there before us was a pair of mallards. We decided to sit for a moment to see if we could sketch them. I had packed three pieces of rolled up bubble wrap just in case we three might need it. I passed it out and we sat down and began sketching. The ducks were bobbing up and down, looking for something to eat. As you might have guessed the birds didn’t linger very long and soon floated away out of our view. We also decided not to linger and moved along too. Without any plan, other than trying to catch a deer grazing on plants near the rose garden, we walked on. I showed him a “less traveled” path for humans at the back of the garden. As he was “newly 5” he asked if we might see a mountain lion and/or a poisonous snake on this path. I told him that such sightings would probably not come to pass, but that we might instead need to be on the look out for poison oak. Of course that was the wrong thing to say as he then seemed wary of joining his mom and I on the trail because I had mentioned the word “poison.”  What was I thinking?!! And of course he carefully noticed every gopher hole in the ground, telling us for sure there was a snake and/or large spider, ready to pounce, living in each one. We finally reached the top of the hill without any poisonous mishaps. I wanted to show him my favorite secret place. (I had forgotten I had taken them to this very spot in January 2019, and of course he remembered and reminded me that he had already been there.) We rested for a couple minutes there anyway and headed down the hill on the other side.

Finally, we got to a kind of open space where we could see this camellia-filled landscape. In the late 1930s, Mr. Boddy (the owner of the Descanso at the time) planted camellias under these magnificent oaks. And in the 90 years since the original plantings it’s easy to see that his camellia forest has become quite a spectacular pink sight when the flowers come into bloom. We’d had a bit of rain the day before and it looked as though a blanket of blossoms had been knocked to the ground because of it. The air between the blossoms on the ground and the blossoms in the branches seemed to take on a kind of pink hue. This actually brings me to what used to be a pet peeve I have with regards to camellias. (You probably can’t imagine who could have ever had any problem with these gorgeous flowers.) It all starts with the fact that the blossoms on any given plant all open at the same time. And once the mature flower gets any amount of rain on it, many of those soggy flowers seem to get too heavy to hang on and they drop to the ground all at once. (I imagine that you are still wondering how anyone would have a problem with this. I mean, look how beautiful the ground looks—like pink confetti, right? Stay with me.) In my past Grass Valley garden the massive flower drop meant that in a day or two it would be time to rake up the blossoms as they would have turned brown and gotten very slimy and slippery on the wet ground. (Ok, I’m done.) But this SoCal camellia dropping event didn’t bother me at all. This is because the fluffy soft pink blossoms hadn’t gotten brown yet and the site of pink all around was spectacular and I would not be called upon to rake up anything. Let’s hear it for camellias on the ground!

Descanso tree, Feb 23
Descanso Gardens tree, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and Fude fountain pen)

We were ready to sketch and I had found us a nice nearby bench for three. It seemed my young friend did not want to sit on the bench, and suggested we should sit again on our bubble wrap on the ground. And as he was “just 5” this request did not really seem unreasonable as we had just sat in the dirt and gravel to sketch a pair of mallards. I’m sure he thought this was how it should be done. I passed out the bubble wrap and we settled on the ground just in front of the bench. I did a quick sketch of a tree nearby, showing my young artist friend favorite colors, brushes, and ink pens. I was very impressed by his interest. He listened very carefully to what I had to say and tried all the materials I presented to him. I think he really enjoyed the Inktense pencils as it was easier to control compared to applying big wet blobs of watery paint on paper. By the time we were ready to go, he had done 3 watercolor sketches and we had been there for about 40 minutes. I must admit that I didn’t do the camellia landscape watercolor on the spot, but instead took a bunch of pictures and did it on Monday when I got home from work. (It was just too much fun to sit and visit with his mom and do the quick watercolor sketch of a tree you see here.)

My young artist friend will be starting kindergarten next year and I told him that I remember drawing when I was in kindergarten. I think I have already written about this first “artistic” memory when I was “just 5,” but it’s always pleasant for me to retell that Santa Clara story again. Here is what I said: I remember sitting at a table inside my kindergarten classroom one CA afternoon. I was using all the crayon colors in the crayon box to make a picture on a piece of light-colored construction paper. It was a bright afternoon and I could look through an open door that connected the kindergarten yard with the classroom. My classmates were racing back and forth out there. But I so remember my kindergarten teacher visiting with me as I sat at a table inside. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I can picture a pleasant smiling woman nearby.

That’s a pretty great memory for one CA girl, right? I hope my young artist friend will have many such memories as he grows up.

Camelia heart
Photo of heart made from downed camellia blossoms, 2/23/2020
Camellia love
We love camellia blossoms at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020
Camelia mom
Mom loves camellia blossoms, Descanso Gardens 2/23/2020

Not much to say here, except you can maybe see why I no longer hate to see camellia blossoms on the ground. I hope you too can enjoy the garden artistry of carefully arranged pink blossoms.

February 22, 2020

Red Hot Poker, Monterey
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia), Coast of Monterey Bay, winter 1993 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

Last weekend I visited family in Belmont Shore. If you ever find yourself on 2nd Street on the Shore you will be just two short blocks from the ocean. Most days you can smell the sea air and on foggy days you can hear the fog horns. There’s a pier, and what looks like miles of calm water. This is what’s called break water as berms and other devices have been layered into the sand to interrupt the surf—calming it down. There is a wide flat sandy beach, and I’m not really sure who hangs out there anymore. It used to be filled with families and people with dogs. Now there are quite a few homeless people wandering that area. My dad never considered this a proper ocean area as there were no big waves to body surf. He always loved the big thundering surf of Huntington Beach. Now that was a proper ocean front!

I bring up all this briny talk because as I walked around there, which is my usual when visiting, I go past many teeny tiny houses close to the water. For this visit I saw quite a number of red hot poker plants blooming in the teeny tiny yards. In fact, I walked past a house on Sunday that had a riot of SoCal color—dense fuchsia bougainvillea with lavender colored lantana popping out and all of that surrounded by green grass-like clumps of foliage with glowing crimson flower spikes all set about like many red hot torches. It was quite a site! And what a time not to have my paints with me. I have already written about my first memories of the red hot colors of the Belmont Shore plants I have just described. Add the shockingly spiky bright orange and purple colors of bird of paradise, and countless shades of alstroemeria and pelargonium (geraniums), and you might only begin to imagine such color. In fact, seeing this profusion reminded me of my post last week and my mention of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Bougainvillea, lantana and bird of paradise appear to be tropical plants, and would not be featured in the SLO Garden. But red hot poker, alstroemeria and pelargoniums COULD be found in the drought tolerant Mediterranean inspired garden. Looking at my Sunset Western Garden book (2007) again it seems that Kniphofia originated in South Africa, but has been hybridized and there are numerous varieties and colors that can be cultivated in a garden. I’ve never put any in my garden as it can look “ratty” (descriptive adjective from the Western Garden book) in my mild climate and it is my understanding that it usually needs to be pruned in the fall. I’ve seen it go quite rogue in a garden or two and just never wanted to go to the trouble in any of my milder climate gardens.

If you know CA coastal geography or you have already read he caption, this red hot poker landscape was not done near a SoCal sea, but rather overlooking Monterey Bay—300 miles to the north. I did this one in 1993, before I had discovered the wonders of sitting on a sheet of rolled out bubble wrap. But thank goodness I had brought my travel size Winsor Newton watercolor set and tiny pots for mixing colors for that visit. Back then I usually sat on my sweatshirt (sweatshirts and heavy coats are often required when visiting Monterey Bay). I seem to remember trying to brush off the dirt and sand, hoping I wouldn’t need to wear my now dirty sweatshirt anywhere out in public. (Sometimes I turned my sweatshirt inside out, but that didn’t always work out either…) This watercolor was done on a pathway that leads to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—a pretty cool place to see what our Pacific Ocean kelp forests look like. It’s also a great place to see sea otters, brown pelicans and other underwater wonders. I so remember sitting in the dirt, painting this one. But I wasn’t alone, as there were several large CA ground squirrels popping up and down, and in and out of the spiky “poker” foliage around me. Not really sure why I didn’t try to put one or two of them in here. I’ve always been such a science geek. At that time I was working in Menlo Park at Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. I was a book editor and we were creating a science textbook for the southeast (e.g. Virginia, Georgia etc). And the project was called Destinations in Science. In thinking about that experience and one CA girl’s beloved Pacific coastline I am reminded that back then you were never to put a surfer, sea otter, gray whale or the Golden Gate Bridge in a book that was bound for any textbook market other than CA. Such images were forbidden for the east (New York), as well as the southern market (Texas). Of course I thought it interesting that an Addison-Wesley math textbook (bound for the south) had the state flag of Texas in it. And what would the CA textbook buying educators think of the Texas flag in one of their math books? Uh huh.

Trying to think how to end this week’s art and story and I’m hard pressed to come up with a satisfactory end. You see, the minute I wrap this up and send it along, I am no longer sitting on that path, looking through the red hot pokers and out to sea. I think I might look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium website and linger awhile at the jellies cam. If you too look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium online, you will notice you can  have sleepover there. My brother’s family has done that a couple times. California Crazy huh?

Final CA note:

As I reread today’s blog one last time I was taken by the fact that I so randomly mentioned the homeless in Belmont Shore. And I felt like I should say something more. There are many homeless people in CA right now. It’s so heart breaking to see a state that has so much with so many people who have so little. I don’t believe there is one cause for these numbers, but I will say that a contributing factor here is the cost of living. It’s very expensive to live here and many are one paycheck away from homelessness. Affordable housing is quite a problem for many, if not all, of our CA cities. Mental illness and drug addiction also add numbers to the streets. And once again I don’t really know how to end this, except to say that I do what I can. When the staff at the school I work at hear of a family living in their car we look to help them find a homeless shelter, provide diapers, a winter coat or food. And all the LAUSD schools provide daily breakfast and lunch to those K-12 students who need it. I guess in the end we just have to keep keeping on, right? This is not the end to this story, but only bye for now.

February 15, 2020

Banksia, SLO Botanical Garden
Banksia speciosa, from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. This art was originally commissioned by the SLO Tribune, but it did not appear in the final story. (Watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board) 

A friend said she was intrigued with the proteas I sketched and posted the first of this month, and that reminded me of this lively protea I did in spring 2001. From the little research I found online concerning proteas, it appears they are native to both Australia and South Africa. The Banksia speciosa you see here is in the protea family, but is only native to Australia. According to Sunset’s Western Garden book (2007) all Banksias are native to Australia, and few are in cultivation, but that every now and again they are sold at botanical gardens as live plants. I have seen them only once in an actual garden, and it so happens that the flower you see here was on such a plant in central CA SLO Botanical Garden back then. However, I seem to remember seeing them in various floral departments of some of our local grocery stores as cut flowers out here. In doing my little bit of protea research online it was interesting to discover Banksia speciosa produces lots of nectar and a number of Australian creatures (e.g. birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and many invertebrates) need that nectar to live. It also seems that this particular flower is important to Australia’s nursery and cut flower industry. I’m sure they ship to other places besides CA. Maybe you have seen them in your area as well. (I think I saw that they can also be found as dried flowers—not really a big fan of dried flowers myself.) I guess Banksia can tolerant fires and drought conditions. In a weird way I like the idea that something so strange and wonderful can survive in a harsh and probably unforgiving environment. But it seems this rather odd and lovely flower’s existence is threatened by people clearing land. That’s probably the harshest living conditions for any living thing, as the plants can’t run away when someone shows up with a backhoe.  Maybe you are wondering, like I am, if the recent devastating fires in Australia have had an effect on this particular member of the protea family and the nurseries that grow the plants. And again, if you are like me, I certainly hope not! 

SLO botanical garden article
Botanicals for Tribune story and SLO Botanical Garden Fundraiser, spring 2001

So this 2001 story from The Tribune tells more of my personal brush with Banksia speciosa. I was asked by Jennifer English (who no longer appears to be with The Trib) to do botanicals of plants from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden for a story about the garden. They were having a big event and Jennifer thought my art would be a nice addition to a garden map. The garden features plants from the 5 major Mediterranean climate zones which includes: CA, central coastal Chile, western Cape Province of South Africa, parts of Western and South Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Plants from these areas do well with summers that are dry (like we have here in CA) and are more drought tolerant. All of this adds up to conserving water, which seems to be a recurrent topic of discussion for those of us who live in SoCal. If you look up the SLO Botanical Garden online there is a nice section that lists all the plants they have onsite, but the Banksia speciosa is not listed there. They now list a Banksia repens, which looks similar to the speciosa, but it doesn’t have a flower like you might expect. Instead of a colorful blossom perched atop a stem, the Banksia repens just seem to pop out of the ground. In fact, they kind of remind me of tiny Totoros, or fantasy forest creatures, used in Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. I am a big fan of “My Neighbor Totoro” and most other movies he made with Studio Ghibli. 

I have already illustrated, and posted, a number of plants that can be found in the SLO Botanical Garden. And they include: Fremontodendron (December 21, 2019, April 13, 2019), Eschscholzia californica, “CA poppy” (May 7, 2017) and pelargonium, “geraniums” (March 2, 2019).

Finally, with this February 15, 2020 art and story I have now made 150 One California Girl posts in almost 3 years. Yikes! Last week I tried to limit my words with the idea that a picture was worth a 1000 words. I might now say that the word “yikes,” in this instance, is worth a 1000 words! Yes? Yikes!


February 8, 2020

1Lunar New Year 2020
Lunar New Year Celebration at The Huntington, Pasadena, 2/2/2020 (Sketched with Fude fountain pen and Inktense pencils on Mix Media paper)
2Lunar New Year 2020
Lunar New Year at The Huntington, Pasadena, 2/2/2020 (Sketched with Fude fountain pen and Inktense pencils on Mix Media paper)

I don’t think I have a lot to say with words this week. I will try to let the art speak for itself. I calculated the number of words I used to describe my art, my family and my California for January 2020. I came up with about 5500 words for the 4 entries, or for the month, I guess. So, if I think that this week’s thoughts and offerings could be shared almost entirely in 5 pieces of art—three from last weekend (very first of Feb) 2020 and two from late January 2017—I think that might just do. I am counting on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Therefore, 5 pictures should be worth 5000 words—kind of in the same ballpark as actual words from the whole of last month. (Yikes! I am already getting wordy.)

Here we go!

Last Saturday and Sunday, The Huntington hosted Lunar New Celebration. On that Sunday a gang of sketchers met to sketch. There were events on the various grassy areas, outside pavilions and inside several buildings on the property. When I got there I didn’t really have a plan. I mean, that place is huge compared to my lovely Descanso Gardens. So many open grassy areas, as well as thoughtful little intimate views. But I found a nice bench on the east lawn (in the shade) overlooking all of these young martial arts youngsters (in red shirts) warming up for their performance. It was a lovely cool morning and I noted at least 3 red-tailed hawks flying high in the sky overhead. (I think I remember that you can see hawk pairs in the skies in Paso Robles the first of March. It was a pleasant reminder of life in CA and that somehow it continues, even with all the crazy things that go on around here.) 

Anyway, as I sketched I realized that this was actually a good plan because once they started the performance, there would be many people standing between me and the action I came to see and record. I was grateful for this bit of serendipity and sketched like mad. Sure enough, as I was finishing the first one, the people started to show up and block my view. But I wasn’t quite ready to leave, so I decided to turn my attention to another grassy area just to the right of this scene and my bench in the shade. As you can see, there was no one is this overflow spot I think was meant for people to mill around. That actually kind of worked well for me because I still wanted to feature another aspect of The Huntington—an old stodgy building. (You may have noticed that another such building was in the first sketch.) The Huntington, like lots of other buildings in Pasadena, are rather old looking and large. It made me smile to see the bright yellow and red ethnic umbrellas and tables with table cloths right out in front of God and everybody. 

Japanese Garden at the Huntington
Beside the old bell, entering the Japanese Garden, Huntington Botanical Garden, February 2, 2020 (graphite on Mix Media paper)

We had been warned not eat any snacks we might have smuggled in our bags of art stuff, and I needed to eat a little something. I was done with this spot. So, I headed through the Rose Garden and on to an edge of the Japanese Garden. I found a secluded spot beside a huge bell that had been cast in 1776 for a Kongobuji Temple in Japan. I’m not really sure what it was doing here, but I enjoyed sketching it anyway. And I ate my sneak snack while there. Once I had finished the bell, and stuffed the food evidence back down in my bag I turned my attention to this lovely little spot. There were about a dozen of these charmingly carved, probably cast, 18 inch or so pieces that had been placed in the ground under a couple trees—complete with a squirrel that I rendered a couple times as he moved through the leaf duff. I couldn’t find out anything about them, why they were placed there and/or who was on each piece. I thought they looked a little like headstones, but of course that didn’t make any sense—just my Western eyes looking at something I knew nothing about. But I was trying to just enjoy the beauty of each little carving in this peaceful place and somehow it all made sense. 

1Chinese New Year 2017
Entrance to Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, January 28, 2017 (watercolors and colored pencil on watercolor paper)
2Chinese New Year 2017
Looking towards the snow covered San Gabriel Mountains from His Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, January 28, 2017 (watercolor and colored pencil on watercolor paper)

So, here’s another serendipitous moment. As it was just Chinese New Year I knew that I wanted to post the above story and art as soon as possible. And as I thought about what I wanted to share I remembered another time I had painted/sketched a SoCal Chinese New Celebration. And I went looking for these. I have often written about my digging through piles of my art, much like a squirrel digging through layers of leaf duff. But I remembered I had done the above watercolors in a 6 by 12 inch watercolor paper. And I have only one of those pads. Woo hoo! Found them in a snap! 

Anyway, I did these two for Chinese New Year 2017, the year of the rooster. I wondered why I hadn’t posted them at the time. I looked back to past posts and realized that I couldn’t have as I didn’t start One CA Girl until March 25, 2017. That’s my mother’s birthday. I’m always happy to have even random memory moments of my mother. And yes, it will soon be three years (and 4 birthdays) that I have been sharing my art and words.

I realize I originally thought I didn’t have much to say this week and meant to let the art do the talking, rather than the words. (Way past 1000 words for today, but thankfully no where near 5000.) And I forgot to mention, the garlic for my pickle has come up…just those last few words…I promise.

February 1, 2020

Descansos Proteas in January
Proteas at Descanso Gardens entrance, 1/26/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and white watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

After I finished my laundry and posted my story last Saturday, I planted the garlic for my upcoming pickle garden. But as I dug in the ground I knew I wanted to go to the Descanso Gardens the next day for some painting/sketching. It had been too long since I had done a “full on” watercolor there and I wanted to capture a particularly huge and amazing Sycamore tree I had seen in the rose garden the previous weekend. In my mind’s eye I had remembered a huge Sycamore tree with golden leaves (yes, it still has last year’s fall leaves hanging from the branches) against a bright blue winter sky. I had all kinds of plans for my new gamboge leaves against a backdrop of cerulean.

However, as I walked through the front gate, I immediately wondered if I should look for that tree at all. This is because directly in front of me were these amazing drifts of bright yellow. The sky was pretty hazy so it wasn’t going to be a cerulean sky day in the rose garden anyway. The picture I had in my mind was trying to change and I was wondering how the bright yellow Sycamore leaves would look against a hazy sky. I wasn’t sure which way my desire to use my new gamboge watercolor color would take me—to the tree leaves or atop these clumps of proteas. But I was transfixed there at the entrance, with the backdrop of the dark and moody oaks next to the woven together cherry trees. I couldn’t make myself walk away. And of course the pathways were also part of the appeal here, inviting me to walk around and maybe see who might be under the umbrella way in the back. It almost wasn’t fair. Of course you might wonder why I was making such a big deal about making such a choice. “Get on with it,” you might say. “Paint this beautiful scene and forget about the tree.” But there really was much more to making this decision, at least for me. Sitting in the front of the garden, out in the open, with many people walking by would be very uncomfortable for me. There were so many people coming and going. I could hear mothers and fathers making deals with their children, trying to convince them that running along the paths was not only a bad idea, but would not be tolerated. Uh huh. And many were lingering in the very spot I was interested in, taking lots of photos. My usual comfort zone at the Descanso is under a slightly hidden and protected rose covered arbor in the rose garden. Lots of people wander through there, but somehow I feel more comfortable and hidden away. I did scout out a prime protea spot slightly off the path in the duff and slightly hidden under the shade of a lovely oak tree. But I still went to look at the Sycamore tree. Crazy huh? I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing something and slightly hoped that it was going to be so outstanding that I would soon forget about the proteas. When I got there I realized that even though the tree was huge and stately the leaves were a kind of a mottled orange. It didn’t take me long to realize there was not going to be a new gamboge opportunity here. So, I left, quickly got some water by the miniature train and train station and went back to the front entrance. I took a deep breath and set up my pots for paint in the oak duff, just across from this view. I wondered if it was OK to sit there, wondering if anyone who worked there would tell me to get back on the path. (There are way more employees at the front entrance than in the rose garden. In the rose garden I can sneak eat a half a peanut butter sandwich without anyone reminding me that you aren’t to bring anything to eat into the garden. I knew that wouldn’t be the case out there.) A couple guys in a truck drove past and neither of them said anything, so I thought I would be OK. But of course another person, wearing many badges and name tags, came along and said, “We really don’t like people sitting in the plantings.” Of course with a comment like that I should have been able to say, “But I am sitting on dead oak leaves, my feet are only 8 inches from the actual path and I get very anxious out in the open. May I please sit here?” But of course I didn’t say anything and moved out of that tiny bit of oak cover and onto the very edge of the path—maybe a grand total of 12 inches. Wow! I was really uncomfortable there, sitting right out where people were strolling directly in front of me and my pots of paint. I knew I would have to work quickly because the paint would be drying faster than I like (another reason I rationalize my desire to look for a bit of shade or cover). And I wondered how long before I just had to get out of there. I always think “passers by” are wondering why someone would be allowed to sit in such a brazen way, on the path and in the way…like, does this CA girl think she is “all that” with her art work? Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for compliments. I just want to go unnoticed and be left alone. But how could I do that? I was right out there in front of God and everybody. So, I worked hard to keep my head down, not to make eye contact, hurried along with the picture and left for home. 

When I got home, I heard about the tragic helicopter accident in some nearby SoCal hills that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 other people. So, my personal art angst quickly disappeared and was replaced with public sadness and profound loss. On Monday, flags were flown at half mast across Los Angeles. Just another day in the life of one SoCal girl I guess.