June 27, 2020

orchid botanical
Orchid, 6/23/2020 (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Last Saturday I joined an online sketching group and we did a virtual sketching trip to Italy. Our group leader chose a couple lovely and colorful photos to render—one in Tuscany and the other from the island of Sardinia. She set the stage for the first sketch, in Pienza, with a little intro from Rick Steves. She added to the theme by playing some Italian music and off we went—sketching/painting a lovely scene for the next half an hour. With that lovely introduction you might be wondering why I posted my latest botanical and not anything from that virtual visit to Italy. 

Here’s what happened. It started out OK, but I soon found myself struggling with the watercolor paper I was using. It’s cheap, but I thought I was such a master of watercolor I could bend it to my watercolor whim, making a “sink purse from a sow’s ear.” Before I knew it I was actually scrubbing off the top layer of paper and even the jaunty Italian music did not lighten my “pig’s ear” mood. Once the time was up and we were supposed to share I didn’t want anyone to see the definite bald spots right in the middle of some shrubbery. But I did anyway. It’s such a nice group and they were all very supportive—even those of us who were frustrated with the experience. It was funny that another sketcher shared how she had also been struggling with her cheap paper. It seems that we had a similar idea that as we were at home doing such art, nice paper was not required. Our leader shamed us, in a nice way of course, and we finished our critique. Our next stop was Bosa, Sardinia. Well by now, I was done and didn’t want to go to Bosa with cheap paper. Actually, about a third of the group seemed to beg off at this point, but I hung in there because that’s what I do. As we only had 15 to 20 minutes left I thought I would just go for it, with lots of color and big, wet, loose brushstrokes—no scrubbing. In 15 minutes I was more than done, but the group decided they would take another 10 minutes or so to finish up. Really? But as I said, I was done and there was really nothing left for me to do, but wait. That’s when I made a plan to order some good Italian watercolor paper and vowed to create something beautiful with the beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board I had ordered recently. 

The next day I ordered five 20 by 30 inch sheets of Fabriano Artistico 140 pound weight watercolor paper, soft press (wondered why the Italian paper was cut into inches and not cms…) I picked it up as a curbside delivery in Pasadena on Tuesday and now can’t wait to take it for a test drive! And as promised, here is a botanical I created on the cold press illustration board. Actually, I have already done a sketch/post of this particular orchid, look at October 6, 2019 if you’d like to see it. For this one I did not rush, but instead did a complete and finished pencil sketch. And as I had recently repotted this particular orchid, I took a studied look at the roots and have included them here. Then I luxuriated in the planning of the colors I would use. I had recently purchased a tiny tube of Winsor Newton’s permanent magenta and that seemed an appropriate start for the petals. To that I added my beautiful quinacridone opera and the promise of the petal color was assured. Once I’d transferred the sketch to the paper/board I began to layer the pigment. The paper was a dream, taking the pigment exactly as I had expected. Having cut many sheets of this board over the years I have assorted thin leftover strips that I use to try out combinations of colors. To add to this familiar painting process I listened to some Andre Previn (After Hours, with Joe Pass and Ray Brown) and Miles Davis’s “Kinda Blue.” And the picture was complete.

Vernazza, 6:27:2010
View from our room in Vernazza, 6/27/2010 (unfinished–water soluble crayons on pastel board)

But I didn’t leave Italy completely. Around Wednesday or so I looked back at an album of photographs and other bits of memorabilia I put together after a trip there. Here I found a photo of Vernazza I took exactly 10 years ago to the day. (Well, not exactly to the day as Italy is ahead of CA time wise, so this was actually taken 6/26/2010 Pacific Coast time.) I have been enjoying my recent revisit to the Cinque Terre for several days now, but am not in a hurry to leave. I first did a small finished sketch, then a larger one. I imagined how Vernazza’s stucco buildings attached and carved into the rocks would look on the grey pastel board articulated with water soluble pastel crayons. It is my hope that it will be finished by my next post. No more cheap paper for me and no more hurrying. If I’ve learned nothing else from being at home so much over the past three plus months, there is no need to hurry, right? (Of course, if a kitchen towel suddenly catches fire, I will hurry to extinguish that.) Stay tuned for more of Vernazza… 

June 20, 2020

urn with succulents
Urn and succulents at Descanso Gardens, 6/16/2020 (Inktense pencils, with sprayed water on watercolor paper)

As today is the first day of summer I am excited to begin a new season—exploring the new and numerous things related to my changing art and garden, as well as numerous thoughts about other changes in my day to day work life as a result of the coronavirus. To start with, my last day working with children online was Monday, the 15th. My therapy sessions for the last three months have been mostly successful even though I often felt like just a talking head—only able to use two of my five senses. However, there were a couple students left alone with limited adult supervision that indeed provided me some funny moments, gifting me the reminder that they need us and to not take myself too seriously. One third grader, in particular, seemed to be more creative than most. Several times he pressed a half full bottle of water against the computer screen, sloshing it back and forth much like underwater ocean waves. I guess he thought it more entertaining to imagine we were at the bottom of the sea having a conversation. But his final session with me was the most creative of all. He frequently liked to mute the sound and turn off the video camera at the beginning of our time together, as well as at other times throughout the session. Ok, I’d seen that trick before. This time, when he finally unmuted himself and turned on the camera, he was quietly looking at me through a pair of binoculars. I noticed the strap of the binoculars was in an odd place and soon realized he was looking at me through the wrong end. I seem to remember giving a loud snort of almost laughter, dutifully asking him to put the binoculars away. But of course he didn’t do that as he sensed my weakened condition. Instead he moved in closer, pressing one of the lenses against the screen. All I could see was one tiny blinking eye, way off in the distance. I lost it of course and once you start laughing, that’s the end of anything substantive. We ended with him not wanting to say goodbye, but knowing I needed a break from this process so I could begin again in earnest in the middle of August, when school starts up again.

But I didn’t wait until Tuesday to kick off some pre-summer art, I started it last Sunday. And how did I celebrate this momentous day? I went to the Descanso Gardens, of course. In fact, as of yesterday I have been there 3 times, sketching garden vignettes like the one you see here. I am so thankful they have once again opened their doors. But my sketching/painting routine in the garden has changed. Oh, I still head for the rose garden first, but for now I am just going early in the morning, when they first open and there are few people. And instead of my bringing watercolors, brushes several kinds of paper and water, I am just bringing small sheets of watercolor paper, Inktense pencils, a small collapsible chair and a sheet or two of bubble wrap. I have made this change, for now, as I want to do only small, quick sketches that I later spritz with water when I get home. This way I can do a couple sketches and also spend a fair amount of time hiking around as well. In the past, when I did full on watercolors I would leave the garden once the majority of wet had dried. It was always a little cumbersome to carry around a wet piece of art, plus all the supplies. Now, I feel like I not only need to sketch something beautiful, but it seems just as important to move around in the garden, wandering the trails and filling my lungs with fresh outside air. So, now I am content to do little vignette garden sketches, as you seen here.

monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed in SoCal garden (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

What’s new in my garden? Thank you for asking. As you can see I have monarch butterflies hanging around my newly planted milkweed. It is quite exciting, for me, to go outside and watch a monarch butterfly flit from plant to plant, leaf to leaf and flower to flower. That event is lovely, but quite brief compared to the anticipation of the hatching of the teeny tiny eggs they lay. Yes, I have actually seen a couple, but you definitely need a magnifying glass to appreciate their pearlescent quality. But oh my, the real show comes when the wildly striped caterpillars miraculously pop from the eggs. And OMG, those creatures can eat—quickly chomping stems, leaves and seed pods down to nothing or a nub.

new cucumbers
New cucumbers in a SoCal garden, 6/2020

What else is new under my SoCal girl’s sun? Veggies! My tomatoes are coming along nicely. And as you can see, so are the cucumbers. Not really sure about the garlic, the early Italian seem to be laying down, but the CA select appear to be on track. The basil is healthy, but the dill is weird. The plant I bought in April appears to be going to seed, which usually means it’s about to finish its life cycle and die. And the dill seed I planted around that same time are pretty tiny and look as though a slight breeze could break them to pieces. We’ll see, I guess. 

As you can probably tell, summer has arrived again in all our neighborhoods. Now we can go outside and walk the perimeter and area of our gardens—looking for new life and hope that the tomatoes will be wonderful again this year. I hope you have something new to look for outside in your garden or in your city. I don’t think going back to the old is an option anymore. It’s time, once again, to carefully step outside to see what is new and somehow make it good.

June 13, 2020

Oakdale 2
Vineyard/out buildings on Oakdale Road, behind Linne Calodo Winery, early 2000 (oil on birch panel)

I haven’t shared a Paso Robles vineyard in a while and thought it time I did. It was only by chance that I came upon this wonderful “wine grape” view almost 20 years ago. I was going to another vineyard/tasting room that was just across the road. I probably wouldn’t have found it today as the vineyard I was headed for then has their entrance on Vineyard Road, and I’m not even sure there is an entrance to anything back there now. Maybe it goes to the vineyard owners house on the hill? But no matter, I’m glad I captured this amazing CA sight with oil on birch. (Actually there is another that goes on the left. I will share it on another post—keeping you in suspense!)

I’ve posted other landscapes I’ve done with oil on birch panels. (If you are interested  to see more of this technique you might look for April, 4, 2020, August 31, 2019, January 19, 2019 and August 12, 2017.) I guess the only other thing I can say about this art is that this image is way darker than the actual piece and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s because I sold this one a long time ago and this is just a color copy of it. There was a great photographer that lived in my neighborhood in Paso and when I wasn’t in some kind of hurry, I would call him and have him take photos of my originals. But I hung it in a coffee shop in Auburn and it soon sold. Don’t you hate those kind of tiny regrets? It’s not like that individual lack of judgment truly means anything, but add up all the tiny regrets and somehow it seems to loom larger than it should. Is that true for you too?

I have been doing art more recently. In fact this week I did a couple “start with a wash” watercolors that was set as an Urban Sketchers challenge. This entailed starting with what I assumed as a random wash of color—keeping the tones warm or cool. Then you were to sketch on top of that. For the first one I made a warmish green wash and sketched a scene from across my street using my Fude fountain pen filled with black ink. The next day I did the same with a cool sky blue color and black ink—sketching a similar view across the street and down 20 feet or so. Both images looked kind of flat to me and I had a flat feeling upon finishing each one. By the third day, I created a sunny cadmium yellow wash, but waited till the next day to sketch yet another view just outside my front door on my side of the street. That day I used an Inktense pencil (bark) to add the sketch. It took me yet another day to spray some water on that one, hoping to bring some interest and life to yet another sketch that left me flat. I was done and none of them were worthy of a One CA Girl post. Some of my urban sketcher friends said it was very freeing to do this challenge. As for me, there was nothing very freeing about creating flat urban landscapes that didn’t even inspire me to use them as a preliminary sketch for something else. But something good did come from this frustrating week of art and maybe you have already guessed what I am referring to. It seems that my mind wandered to a “rural” landscape that I had remembered doing some 20 years ago. My mind needed a rest from this challenge and the other challenges facing us today. I found it by remembering the warm rolling greens and yellows of the Paso Robles hills, capped with a cool blue sky that was so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it for too long. I hope that looking at this long ago California landscape can bring you a bit a peace right now.

One final note about this typical Paso Robles vineyard landscape 

I have often written about these amazing Paso views that I was lucky enough to live near, but I have never spoken about their wine. I’m not a huge fan of white wine, so I don’t really have much of a repertoire of tasting them with the next thought of making a white wine purchase. (I guess I’ve tasted some pretty nice chardonnays in a couple wineries in Napa, but that’s another story…) I am a fan of the big reds, wine with legs. And you know, there are really too many Paso vintners with great reds to name here. If you ever get the chance to go wine tasting in Paso Robles, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty fun to spend an afternoon going from winery to winery. Be sure to designate a driver, as tasting too many lovely reds on a warm summer CA day can make your head swim, literally. It used to be that you could taste for free, but no more. It will cost you to be presented with little tastes. And just between you and me, I almost never buy wine at the actual source—the prices per bottle are sometimes staggering at these little winery boutiques. Of course if you join their wine club and purchase a case of wine, the price per bottle goes down. But that still seems like a racket to me. Actually, for a nice Paso red, you don’t need to go wine tasting at all. You can find a lot of good red wine in the grocery store, or Trader Joe’s. If you see a moderately priced Paso Zinfandel or not too young Cabernet, try it. I had a lovely red wine from Modesto with my frozen cheese enchilada at dinner last night. Of course the dollop of sour cream and sliced SoCal avocado helped to elevate the meal to make it pretty special. Until next time…

June 7, 2020

Just Joey botanical
Just Joey rose, May 2020 (Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been talking about doing a series of botanicals. Here is the latest one. If you have no idea what I’m referring to, I would tell you that this technique/style of art is a kind of botanical. And in a way, that’s all I have to say about this piece. The rest of this post is actually another side of an artist’s story. If you want to find out what I am referring to, read on. If not, please enjoy the subtle colors and lushness of this enchanting rose. It’s called “Just Joey.”  The rose breeder of this heavenly scented apricot beauty, Roger Pawsey, named it after his wife, Joey. According to Wikipedia, it was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1972. I guess there is something called the Rose Hall of Fame in the UK and this hybrid tea rose was inducted into that Famous Hall as the “World’s Favourite Rose” in 1994.

If you are still curious about my other tale, here we go. It’s actually a kind of shaggy dog story that started when I participated in an Urban Sketchers (USk) online event last Sunday. I have often written about sketching groups I belong to, but never actually talked about any one in particular. I belong to the Los Angeles Chapter of Urban Sketchers. Urban Sketchers is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “global community of artists that practice drawing on location in cities, towns, and villages they live in or travel to.” It was started in 2007 by Gabriel Campanario, a journalist for the Seattle Times, as a way for artists to share their artwork. In 2008 he started a blog that soon became very popular world wide. In 2009 he established Urban Sketchers as a nonprofit organization. The whole purpose of this group is not to only create fine art (or botanicals for that matter), but more of a kind of “street” art with a definite story and point of view. And they have quite a complete, and very specific, manifesto. 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. (I tend to not do this…mostly because such postings are on Facebook and I have really stopped engaging with anything Facebook…)
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

The group is very active and regularly invites members to engage in events and/or challenges. They are also interested in educating artists and regularly present workshops and/or tutorials to help artists explore new and different techniques and materials. There are now lots of local chapters, like the one I belong to in LA. And once a year, they host a huge symposium, inviting all members from all over the world to attend not only workshops, but panel discussions, lectures and of course numerous opportunities to meet other artists so you can get together and draw on location. The first symposium was held in Portland in 2010. But they have been held in: Singapore, Chicago, Amsterdam, Manchester England, Portugal, Brazil and Barcelona. The 2020 symposium was supposed to take place this summer in Hong Kong, but was unfortunately cancelled. It was announced last November that there would be no USk Hong Kong Symposium the summer of 2020 due to unrest in the city. The Urban Sketchers Executive Board and Urban Sketchers Hong Kong were concerned for visitor safety, and fun, but hope to reinvite sketchers to their beloved city when it is back to being stable and able to ensure a great experience for everyone.

Still with me? So, back to the USk LA Sunday meeting. Most of the participants were from LA, but a few from San Diego had also joined us. But we were also joined by a lovely man, and talented artist, from Hong Kong. (I have a couple postcards of his art that he handed out to us the last time he was in SoCal.) His name is Alvin Wong. He co-founded Urban Sketchers Hong Kong in 2013 and is the founder of USk China. Mr. Wong also participated in the “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong in 2014, where he and over 30 sketchers recorded the event with their sketches. If you are interested in seeing that artwork of unrest, he also coordinated and published a book with their sketches called “Sketches under the Umbrellas, Hong Kong 2014.” It’s amazing. Of course we talked about world events in light of our first night of curfew in LA (that actual day). It was so interesting to hear his perspective on the world, as he sees everyday a view of the world through his Hong Kong lens. 

We went around and said what we had been doing and what art we had been working on. I had just finished this botanical, but knew I wouldn’t actually be sharing it as it does not really count as Urban Sketching. That was fine. I did mention this piece, nonetheless. And I wasn’t the only who shared that the art they had been creating was just personal stuff and meant to help us from going insane because of all the insanity around us. It wasn’t long before the moderators stopped and reminded us that art is art and whatever we were doing just now was wonderful, valued and had a place, just don’t post it on the Urban Sketchers website. (Ha! Artists are a funny bunch…don’t think they meant to be funny in that instance though.) All funniness aside, it seems one of our members has been going out to sketch the Black Lives Matter protests around town. After learning about the Hong Kong sketchers doing the same thing in Hong Kong in 2014, I might be coaxed back to see what gets posted on the Urban Sketchers Facebook page. In fact, I am doing a USk Instructor challenge this afternoon. Maybe you would like to try it too? Here it is:

Start with a Wash

  1. Start your sketch with a watercolor wash.
  2. Choose either warm or cool colors.
  3. Make a line drawing of a place on top.

One last thing.

Here is a book that EVERYONE should read: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (she also wrote another fav of mine, The Secret Life of Bees)

Good luck, stay sane and stay tuned.