April 25, 2020

monk's hood botanical
Monk’s hood, April 2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

I have been threatening to complete and post this particular botanical for a few weeks now. Here it is. I guess I want to say something right up front about the subject matter I chose to render, aside from the fact that it is a poisonous plant. Normally, all the images you see at One California Girl have come from my actual sitting and looking at a particular view or art that I created from a photo I took of said view. As I do not have any poisonous plants in my garden, that I know of anyway, I painted this from a compilation of several photos and an actual old botanical that I found online. I wanted to state for the record that I did not directly copy anyone’s work. Directly copying someone’s photo, art or written work is not OK. If you are an artist, photographer or writer, you know how important it is that someone not copy your work, and then put his or her name on it as their own, right? It’s called plagiarism. And it is doubly bad, unethical and probably worthy of some kind of lawsuit if someone copies your work and then sells it, right again? I have no intention of selling this.

As I said, I don’t have any poisonous plants in my yard. I once got some Lily of Valley plants as a “pass along plant” when we lived in Grass Valley. I didn’t know it was poisonous when I tucked it into the ground back then. And it does kind of make me cringe when I think that we also had a dog at the time. But she didn’t seem very interested in any of my plants. She was more excited about digging holes, chasing water as it spurted from a sprinkler or hose and eyeing the chickens through cracks in the wooden gate. Foxglove, or digitalis, is quite pretty, but quite poisonous to dogs, cats and humans. Over the years I have thought of putting some in a shady spot in my garden, but knew enough not to really consider it when we had dogs. At least I knew better with that one! My son had asked me to do a botanical of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), but I have declined. It’s actually kind a sweet looking plant and part of the carrot family. (That makes it seem almost palatable, right?) If you look for botanicals of poison hemlock online, you will see some really lovely renderings of the plant as it looks in its natural habit, with close up views of seeds, roots, flowers and stems. Looking at these very detailed paintings made me realize how much poison hemlock looks like a favorite medicinal wildflower that I have propagated and let reseed in numerous gardens over the years. It’s called Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carrot). To see if there was any connection between the two, other than the fact that the word “carrot” can be used to describe each plant, I went looking for specific information on Queen Anne’s Lace. And sure enough I found a great source of all things you would ever want to know about medicinal plants at the Ohio Northern University Herb Garden (webstu.onu.edu) web page. It appears that they have Queen Anne’s lace in their Medicinal Sundial Garden. I also did a little digging to see if anyone besides me saw the need to be able to tell the two apart. This is because Queen Anne’s Lace can be used as a diuretic, a cure for indigestion, and form of birth control, and Poison Hemlock would be considered deadly if ingested. (I did kind of wonder about someone making Queen Anne’s Lace tea from the roots as birth control, right? But I digress.) Anyway, I guess the greatest difference between the two is to be observed when looking at the stem of each plant. Queen Anne’s Lace has hairy looking green stems and Poison Hemlock has no hairs, but instead small purple blotches. You know, if you look at botanicals of Queen Anne’s Lace you sure don’t see the promised hairs on the stems, but you do see the purple blotches on the Poison Hemlock. I bet you can guess the moral of this story…

Making your own tracing paper

When considering making your own botanical it is important to first do a detailed sketch. And once you have gotten the lines and flourishes just where you want them on plain old drawing paper, you don’t want to have to redraw it again on good paper. That’s when I dig out my drafting tape and homemade tracing paper. Place the tracing paper between the good paper (inked side down) and the sketch. Use a little drafting tape to hold everything in place. Take a sharp hard lead pencil (H or BH) and redraw your lines directly on the sketch. (I sometimes use a red pencil so I can make sure I don’t miss any lines.) Once you’ve retraced every line remove the sketch and tracing paper and an exact copy of your plant will appear on the good paper as if by magic. But when I do a botanical I do a couple more things before I’m ready to start adding color. I take the same hard pencil I just used and lightly trace over those lines directly on the good paper. Finally, I take a kneadable eraser and gently dap at every line—leaving a pretty crisp looking sketch made of light fine lines. Ahh…

I guess you can buy tracing paper at an art store, but you can also make it very easily. I wouldn’t have even thought about making tracing paper if I hadn’t needed to make some for this botanical. I have a sheet that I made over 30 years ago, and I have made countless transfers with it. I even tried to use it for this botanical, but the transferred lines were just too light. It was time to make another. Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a sheet of 9 by 12 or 11 by 14 sheet of plain tracing paper.
  2. Hold a soft leaded pencil (I used a 6B) at an angle so you can use the side of the graphite, not the point.
  3. Scribble in long strokes across the paper leaving about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch frame around the edge uncovered. But the paper should be pretty dark with graphite.
  4. Now, you can stop right here and use it to transfer your sketches to good paper. The graphite is pretty loose and can come off easily and for me, it’s just too easy to add random smudges everywhere at this point. I do one more thing to help with that.
  5. I coat the graphite with a light layer of a solvent with a cotton ball. Be sure to find a well ventilated spot to do this.
  6. Let it dry and it should be good for 30 years of transferring bliss. 
  7. Oh, there really is one more thing that you need to do. You need to find a good place to store it, so it will be at the ready anytime you need it. My first tracing paper has been in the same sketch pad, between the same two pages, since I made it. Now that I have a new sheet, I have put it in a new sketchpad and have put that in a special drawer. I have plans to do more non-poisonous plant botanicals now. I hope I remember where I put the tracing paper…

I did remember that today is your birthday, Dad. Happy Birthday! I miss you every day.

April 18, 2020

Melastome in the Cloud Forest of the Strybing Arboretum, Golden Gate Park, 1993 (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

It took me until Wednesday to figure out the art I wanted to share this week. That’s pretty unusual for me. I usually have an art idea in mind the Sunday before, and once I have that visual in mind a story of something “California” somehow takes shape. Or I am reminded of the technique that went into the piece and plan to write about that over the week. But that’s not what happened this time and my muddle headedness started last Saturday when I thought I would do a daily sketch of the same thing just like last week—but no more mugs holding the desk detritus of my somewhat boring life. So, I went outside to look for a muse that would amuse me. Oh, yeah, I can’t leave my yard. There is a lovely little spot on my front porch that is covered and from there I can see a view of some lovely mature trees across the street, with rolling green mountains behind that. I can also see a very suspicious looking citrus tree from here. How can a tree be suspicious? I could swear that every orange on that tree has been hanging there since I moved into my house over three years ago.  The tree has looked the same every season of those years. Is that possible? That seemed to amuse me and I thought this would be good. That was until it started to rain again and the colors across the street took on a kind of wet and blurry look. I lost interest. 

By now it’s Monday and I still haven’t come up with anything. My son had asked me to do a botanical of monk’s hood and I thought of working on that everyday this week—writing each day about a very specific technique I use for such botanicals. (I used this exact technique for the above Melastome.) I had already done a pen and ink of the poisonous plant and got busy transferring it to a piece of my beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board. Creating such a botanical, for me, is quite a process, taking lots of time. This is because it’s a kind of layering of color, first Prismacolor colored pencils to set the tone by adding the deepest shadows, then the mixing of a beautiful color that will go on top of that. And the watercolor colors are quite diluted as there will many layers added to make lovely saturated patches of color. First colored pencil, then watercolor, colored pencil, then watercolor…until I get the overall effect I want. This can take a long time as you need to wait for each pass of watercolor to dry before adding the next layer of paint and/or pencil. And if you have ever worked with watercolors and don’t let an under color dry, that under color can be lifted off when you add the next color. Anyway, I was going to document what the piece looked like each day, showing how the color changed and intensified with each layer. But even this seemed diluted and it wouldn’t make an interesting story because photos of all the stages might be dull and uninteresting until I got to the final piece. (Botanical renderings are not everyone’s cup of tea. And you may be one who briefly enjoys a realistic rendering of a plant in the last stage, but find all the steps to making it very dull.) I continued with the poisonous botanical, but realized there wasn’t much more to say about it. By Wednesday I was still up in the air with an art idea when I remembered this botanical. When I looked at it again that day I was transported to the Cloud Forest of Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. This is where the particular melastome you see here was growing in the early 90’s. This plant, and all the other plants in the Melastomataceae family, became my muse for the rest of the week. (I’m sorry this image is not very clear as it is a scan of a photo copy. I donated the original many years ago to a silent auction to raise funds for art and science programs that benefited my son’s school district, Grass Valley School District.)

There is one specific melastome that seems to do well in CA even though none of the plants in the family are native, and that is the “Princess Plant.” I’ve seen them mostly in gardens in the cooler climates of north CA, especially Berkeley, but I have also seen them in coastal SoCal neighborhoods like Belmont Shore. If you Google “Princess Plant” and look for a close up of the flower you will see my Melastome except in the most luscious shade of violet with soft and fuzzy leaves. Botanists would call this a very sexy plant.

pen and ink monk's hood

I promise I will share the monk’s hood botanical when it is complete. But, OMG, my son is liking the idea of such a botanical that he wants a whole collection of poisonous flower botanicals. He thinks the blossoms of poison hemlock (conium maculatum) quite lovely and he asked if maybe I could do a painting of foxglove (digitalis). I told him I would see how I felt when I finished the monk’s hood (aconitum). Stay tuned.

April 11, 2020

mug, day 1 and 2
April 4, day 1 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (graphite on drawing paper) April 5, day 2 of two-week challenge. Back of mug filled with desk materials plus battery powered pencil sharpener. (graphite, Fude fountain pen on drawing paper)

Last Friday one of my sketching groups had a virtual meeting. That was great! We decided to sketch the same object(s) or scene in or around our house everyday for two weeks, posting the art daily. If you think it might be boring to see the same items day after day, you might want to skip this week’s art and story and I’ll see you next week. Even though I am supposed to be doing the same items the week after that I can’t imagine I will actually post more renderings of the same mug with office items. 

Anyway, I actually did some journaling right on the page of art, not really sure why. I think it’s because I noticed that other artists I met with on the first Friday of the month had done that. I think I will add words to he page if I feel like it, we’ll see as the week goes on.

mug, day 3 and 4
April 6, day 3 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials with houseplant in a basket (Inktense pencil–with water added, Fude fountain pen on Canson Mix Media paper) April 7, day 4 of two-week challenge. Mug filled with desk materials. (watercolor on watercolor paper)

On April 6 I set up my tunes and listened to Love Scenes (Diana Krall—1997). Lots of great old-time ballads like, “All or Nothing at All,” “Peel Me a Grape,” “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” and “Garden in the Rain.” I’m not sure my listening to the music or lyrics had any influence to this marathon of work, but it was a joy to listen to nonetheless. (My dad once told me that his mom—my grandmother—liked the song Garden in the Rain.) 

On the 7th I listened to Kinda Blue (Miles Davis—1959) and Unplugged (Eric Clapton—1992). There was the tiniest bit of sunshine today, but otherwise it’s been a rainy week.

mug, day 5
April 8, day 5 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (wax crayon on toned paper)

OK, I think I have almost had enough of this mug. How about you? I mean, I guess it’s interesting to lay them end to end and see how each one is the same and how each one is different, but that takes about 20 seconds and then “ho hum.” Right? I have ideas for two more and then I will need to do a week of something else, like maybe something outside for a change. At the first blush of the challenge I was excited to use things in the mug and then maybe put them back in a slightly different place. For example, I used the purple scissors in the first couple sketches and realized they weren’t very sharp and replaced them with a taller purple pair of scissors (they were not really much better…) I also use my pencils a fair amount throughout the day and have sharpened them. Maybe they look a bit shorter? In one of the drawings I noted that the cover was coming off the book, and journaled about it. This morning I used the blue pen to write a check, placing it in a different place all together. OMG? How bored am I? Continuously looking at the same mug over and over for the better part of a week reminds me, once again, that I am staying home and inside because of COVID-19. And it’s been a particularly rainy week, so I am doubly reminded of a reason to stay inside. (You also many be wondering about the green dotted background for each photo. That is the surface of my ironing board. I used it as a surface to lay fabric I used to make cloth masks this week as well.)

What are YOU doing to keep from going mad? Today my son made churros. Why did he do that, you might ask? It seems that Disneyland posted the recipe they use for the churros they serve at the park. And because no one can go there, maybe we’re all supposed to make them, nibble them with our eyes closed, imagining we are walking around somewhere filled with people and noise. Hmm…

mug, day 6
April 9, day 6 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (deep indigo Inktense pencil and water on watercolor paper.)
mug, day 7
April 10, day 7 of two-week challenge. Mug of desk materials (Tuscan red Prismacolor pencil and cadmium red, light watercolor on other side of day 6 watercolor paper)
day 6 and 7, part 2
Day 7 and Day 6 combo for two-week challenge.
day 6 and 7, part 1
Day 6 and Day 7 combo for two-week challenge.

These last two may or may not very clever, but it’s what I came up with for my last two images of the same tired mug filled with my desk stuff. I don’t know, I guess I was thinking of a Dutch door—you know, a door that has a bottom and top part. I’ve never lived in a house with such a Dutch door. I have never really wanted one because there is no way to keep out the flies and/or mosquitoes. Maybe it’s interesting that I was listening to Andre Previn’s CD After Hours was playing when I sketched and painted day 7. (My dad loved that CD.) Oh, and one final bit of interest for these two tiny vignettes? The day 7 version is the back of the mug. Ooooo. OK, I’m done.

Note about churros:

You have to eat them warm and just from the fryer. Day old and cold is not so great, even if you try dipping it in chocolate. Until next time…

April 4, 2020

Vetch on HIway 46
Vetch on fields and hillsides of Highway 46, early 2000s (oil on birch panel)

I went for a quick drive on Wednesday afternoon through nearby neighborhoods that I love to visit. While driving along I realized I had made one other trip in the car only one other time in the past 14 plus days. And that trip had been to get groceries. So, this venture took on special meaning as I looked upon gardens I have not seen since spring had arrived. And of course spring’s “springiness” was out on display whether or not I had been out there recently to see it. It was lovely. I was taken by surprise, as I am every spring in CA, with the bright patches of poppies and lupines on display in all kinds of random untamed spots right now. Over the 3 plus years I have been posting art and words on One California Girl, I have sketched and written about both of these native wildflowers. So, the art you are looking at now is another favorite native wildflower that will be coming on soon in the golden state. It generally blooms just as the lupines are fading and it has a rather unfortunate name I think—it’s called vetch. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this is a painting of fields and hillsides of vetch—common name “hairy vetch.” Close up it doesn’t look like much. The flowers are a kind of cascade of tiny lavender colored blossom dots, and if you squint your eyes I guess the leaves and stems look a little hairy. But in this early 2000 Paso landscape I saw that day, the fields and hills looked the pink color you see here. No foolin’ Looking back on that lovely spring day I remember the sky was really this bright blue. It’s as though the amazing spring light actually changed the color of the flowers to pink. Or maybe it just played a trick on my eyes and mind, creating this a spectacular sight. 

I don’t know if there is such a sight along Highway 46 this year, as opulent  wildflower displays are often the result of the perfect amount of rainfall at the perfect time of the spring season. But there may not be much in the way of open fields at that spot anymore as there were vineyards to the right at that time. Maybe they have filled in with grapes since then. I’m not one to really lament such a change as it’s really true that one person’s flowers are another person’s weed patch. But as I have said, with regards to such changes in the Paso Robles wine country, I am so glad I was there to see this sight. And of course I am so glad I painted it.

This one I did from a photo I took as in the early 2000s. I was the single mom of a young child back then and didn’t have time to sit for any extended period of time and paint plein air. Besides, the fence surrounding that field was pretty close to the asphalt and cars have always whizzed up and down that road and I’m not really sure that would have been a safe place to sit then or now. I remember I was glad to get the couple dozen photos I took of the area at the time.

I did several oil paintings on birch panels during this time. If you are interested I have written about underpainting and general painting techniques on such a surface in a couple previous posts. (see January 19, 2019 and August 12, 2017) I will say that it’s kind of cool to try different pigment applications on such a hard surface. I remember really scrubbing the blue pigment over a raucous pink/red under color to get a smooth surface for the sky. But then I applied blobs of paint that sit proud on the wood and I think that really worked for the blossoms in the foreground. I have to add that the colors in the actual piece were much brighter than you see here as this is a scan of a photo copy of the original. And a scan of a photocopy is never good, yes? But I really never thought I would be sharing this image again and just made a photocopy for me. This would have been easy to scan…but no matter. (The original sold almost immediately when I put it up on the wall of a nearby tasting room, so there was no chance of remembering to do that.) At the time I was also doing larger landscape canvases and actually had hired a professional photographer to take pictures of those pieces. No use worrying about all that past painting stuff…spring is here. And I can only hope that some farmer/rancher somewhere in California will have a glorious spring field or two of “hairy vetch.” (Why does saying that make me laugh?) 

Wasn’t yesterday the first Friday of the month? Did I go to the Norton Simon?

For the first time since I moved to SoCal there would be no sketching time at the Norton Simon Museum the first Friday of the month. And you probably have guessed that the Norton Simon is closed because I don’t think social distancing can be achieved in an art gallery. At the beginning of the week our fearless leader suggested we have a virtual meeting, discussing how we might continue our group sketching in a “non-contact” way. Actually, I thought it would be fun to just get together virtually, with a favorite glass of wine in hand, and discuss that. Maybe even do quick sketches of each other and see how that all looked as we each finished our first or second glass of wine. Hmmm…

But this is what happened. There were at least a dozen of my sketching buddies who appeared virtually on my screen last night, and several had a glass of wine in hand. (One woman texted her husband, who was in the next room, to bring her a glass of wine. Pretty funny…) Our leader was a perfect host inviting each of us to share how we were doing with our collective confinement in our homes, and maybe share some art we had done in the past weeks. She was so gracious, letting each of us ramble on if we needed to. I shared that I had been doing lots of art and had even challenged myself to sketch everyday for two weeks. There were others who had been sketching as well—drawing things just outside the window, or whatever was laying around in the kitchen. A number of sketchers had been participating in online sketching classes. One member is an art teacher at a local art school and she had just finished teaching online when we gathered together. In fact, one sketcher did quick sketches of each of us in our “Brady Bunch” style face and upper body arrangement. (She posted that a little later in the evening.) But there were several people who said that they were too overwhelmed with what was going with the pandemic and couldn’t paint or sketch anything at all. You could tell that they were energized to see us and I think we all felt good about making this contact. In fact, we agreed to do this again in two weeks. And we now have a StayAtHome sketch challenge that we are to draw the same thing we can see inside our house or outside through a window for the next two weeks. I have a mug of pencils that sits on my desk. I think I might try to do that. And if a series of pencils in a cup look like anything interesting I will post what I have drawn next time. So, until next time…

Oh, and is there anyone out there making masks? I found a pattern from a NY Times story online. OMG, it took me all morning to make one. Well, I guess I have time to figure that out…