You may or may not have noticed that I missed posting last week. I had the art and story idea ready to go, but just didn’t have time to write anything down. However, I am ready to go now.
You may or may not have noticed that I have quite a varying artistic style, with a definite variety of focus and subject matter when it comes to the art I create. My One California Girl stories are more straightforward as they reflect a direct response to a piece of my art. As I have stated in previous posts I can generally wander with my words in a couple directions. That includes discussing a specific technique and/or art material, the places and people of the golden state that interest me (which might include a family story or shout out) and/or my general musings of the moment. That might even take the form of a recipe or two. I always hope such musings will amuse others who are curious about both one California Girl’s art and/or stories.
There will be no surprises here as I start with the technique and materials I used for these three sketches. For four consecutive days I sketched similar views from my front porch here in SoCal. Each afternoon I quickly created a supposedly random watercolor wash on a sheet of watercolor paper, let it dry and then added the urban details with either black ink or dark water-soluble Inktense pencil. You may be wondering what I mean by a “supposedly random watercolor wash.” I don’t know if I really know how to just create a random anything very easily. And these three washes seem to have been affected by what I saw as I looked out from my porch. For example, I think the sketches with yellow and green washes somehow magically have the outline of the mountains I can see across the street and the sketch with the blue wash magically lends itself to a definite blue sky. They each seem to be very convenient backgrounds for the line work I layered on top. And just as a final comment, each sketch is pretty loose in style compared to my usual work.
Throughout my years of drawing and painting I have almost always created art that was anything but loose, reflecting more of a tight and controlled style. Even when I was one young California girl I always tried to draw what I saw with definite realism. (Not sure that is surprising as probably most kids try to make their drawings look real.) When I was in junior high (in San Jose) I sketched the realistic profile of a horse’s head that was the cover of that year’s yearbook. (We were the mustangs, of course.) In stark contrast to that early realistic period I also remember drawing a cartoon-looking character that was to be my elementary school’s mascot. The Cupertino school was brand new and the administration was looking to create a mascot based on something made by a student. The students at the school voted to have my drawing represent the mascot. Unlike my school yearbook I don’t have that drawing or any remnant of the original sketch. I just looked up that school to see if the drawing was anywhere about. Alas, it’s not. It appears the current mascot is a lion that looks a lot like a bit of clipart—definitely not drawn by a 6th grader. I don’t remember drawing a cartoon lion. It was some crazy character with lots of teeth and a big grin. After the kids chose my art I seem to remember that first principal making a comment about how a mascot needed to look a certain way, like a lion or tiger or something. Uh huh. Probably could have put a cutlass in the cartoon’s hand, transforming him into a pirate. A pirate would make a good mascot. So much for letting kids choose, right?
I usually need to be looking at something when I paint. I don’t seem to trust my brain to come up with anything wonderful unless it’s right in front of me. But more recently I have found myself wanting to expand those limited horizons, speeding up my process with more loose interpretations of what I see. As an artist I think it’s important to try new things. Pretty cliche, right? Trying new kinds of techniques and materials is important for all of us who carry the “artist’s monkey” on his or her back. It also seems we are never truly satisfied with what we create—seeing things we would have done differently even when the ink, paint or watercolor has dried. But probably more important, we need to know when to stop because you can never truly remove or take anything back—it’s in the fibers. I’m always a little suspicious of my mind’s inner workings when I am contemplating adding gouache or acrylic to something as a final top coat or flourish. In fact, if I’m in the zone, I can tell the major impact I wanted to make is there when I stop and stand back to take a look. If I have slipped from the zone I might add just a little more detail, but I know in my heart it won’t add anything that probably needs to be there. And if I talk myself into adding more details I think would be nice when looking more closely, that’s when I step out and onto the tightrope. Then I hope I won’t slip off and make a fool of myself. Maybe it’s like boiling pasta, better to cook it until it’s al dente, and not overcooked and mushy.
I wish I could me more like a fellow LA urban sketcher. He is a master of capturing tiny and wonderful details using a kind of scribble technique or blind contour drawing. He knows how to block out everything in front of him, focusing on the corner of a building, the spire of a church or the lone sail of a sailboat in a crowded harbor. In fact, when we all got together virtually the other day, he shared some of what he likes to call his “red light” scribbles. (It’s not what you think…) He keeps a sketch pad and fine point ink pen (very fine point) at the ready in the passenger seat of his commute car. And when he is sitting in LA traffic at a stop light, he takes that out and quickly captures what he sees around him. He shared with us several “red light” sketches he had recently done of people in the crosswalk. They were tiny bits of urban brilliance, quickly done in the car while waiting for the light to change. Too bad I’m not commuting to work right now. I’m missing out on a mind expanding sketching opportunity. Just kidding…