August 29, 2020

green wash
From my front porch, June 7, 2020 (watercolor wash with Fude ink pen on watercolor paper)
blue wash
From my front porch, June 8, 2020 (watercolor wash and Fude fountain pen ink on watercolor paper)
yellow wash
Another view from my front porch, June 9 and June 10, 2020 (watercolor wash and bark-colored Intense pencil)

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…

August 15, 2020

maidenhair fern
Adiantum Maidenhair fern, 8/9/2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Here is my latest botanical (number 6) and it is probably the most different of all. If you have been following this CA girl’s art and journaling you have probably noticed that it is the only one without even the hint of a flower. As it is a fern, it doesn’t have flowers because it doesn’t need them. Yes, not all green plants come equipped with flowers. This is because they don’t need bees, or any other pollinator, to reproduce. (I have known gardeners who don’t like flowers in their garden, preferring only leafy greens. I remember one garden writer saying that she didn’t want any “colorful tarts” in her garden…that comment still makes me smile. I wonder if she was allergic to bees…) I don’t think I miss seeing a flower attached to any part of the fan-shaped green leaf segments on wiry black stems. It’s just such a luscious shade of green all to itself. You may or may not know that ferns are some of the oldest plants on earth, and none of those plants had flowers. I mean, there weren’t any pollinators flying around, so there would have been no need to try to attract that kind of attention (no “colorful tarts” back then.)  The first flowers were giant magnolia blossoms and it seems those flowers were pollinated by beetles. 

It appears that all my recent botanicals have taken over the natural science illustrator side of my brain, as though a kind of critical scientific mass of interest has been achieved. And as that train of thought has left the station I am compelled to closely consider the scientific side of my artwork for this post. I just can’t stop! See the tiny dark patches on some of the outer edges of the leaf parts? Those are spores. Most ferns use spores, not seeds, to reproduce. However, Adiantum, maidenhair fern, can also reproduce with rhizomes. Rhizomes are a kind of underground stem that can pop up as a new plant next to the original one. Thinking about this makes me consider the life cycle of my recent plant subjects, how they reproduce and how I might propagate them. If you have reached your natural science limit you may want to stop and go for a walk in a beautiful garden. SoCal flowers and greenery are a bit on the crispy side right now, but there are some later summer blooms in my garden (e.g. rudbekia, cosmos, coreopsis). I saw some lovely dark purple scabiosa at the Descanso the other day, and there were still quite a few roses in bloom as well. In fact, I got stung by a bee at the Descanso recently and I wasn’t anywhere near a flower being pollinated. I was just walking along a wooded area beside a little creek. What was that about?

For those who are interested, here’s how to propagate the actual plants that inspired my recent botanicals. (Actually, I don’t think I plan to try to propagate any kind of fern at the moment. I’m just doing to try not to kill the maidenhair fern I have in the kitchen right now.)

Monk’s Hood

Monk’s Hood is a perennial and it reproduces from seed and small tubers. I’m not sure how easy this is to grow. My son once sent away for some seeds and tried. The instructions were quite detailed and he followed the directions to the letter, but none of them sprouted—probably just as well.

‘Just Joey’ Rose

A rose can be propagated 4 ways=seeds, cuttings, layering (both air layering and soil/ground layering) and grafting. I have never attempted to propagate a rose, but was a little interested in “layering.” I Googled that and saw a couple short YouTube videos that described how to do both layering and/or grafting. It was interesting, but I think I would just a soon buy them bare root from a nursery.

Phalaenopsis orchid

Orchids can reproduce a couple ways=seeds (I’ve never seen an orchid seed, have you?) and what’s called vegetative propagation=when dividing larger plants, you might find what’s called a “back bulb”or two you can plant. (Haven’t seen one of those either.) But you can also plant what’s called an “off shoot.” That’s a tiny plant that grows on a “happy and healthy” orchid stem. (I have seen a couple of those.) I had quite a collection of orchids on my kitchen window sill, with one that had a couple off shoots on a stem. I tried to propagate them, but managed to overwater everything. It was a horrendous failure and I tossed them into the green waste. Thankfully, I have the art to remind me of my beautiful, but past tense, pink phalaenopisis orchid.

‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea 

A hydrangea is a flowering deciduous plant that can be propagated from seed and/or cuttings. I haven’t attempted to do that yet, and may not while I live in SoCal. I think it just gets too hot here for that plant to really thrive.

Gladiola

Gladiolus can reproduce with seeds. I’ve never seen a gladiola seed, but there must be something to that as I have seen bees buzzing around the flowers. You can also grow new plants from their corms=bulbo-tuber (an underground plant stem). I have been pretty successful growing gladiola from corms, and in my opinion, they make the perfect pass along plant. 

Lupines

Thinking back on last week’s post of lupines I am reminded of trying to propagate them. I have tried to propagate CA poppies and lupines, and have had some luck with them. They seem to come up fine the first year, but not so much after that. CA nature does a much better job secretly blowing around that seed, and I’m actually OK with that. I love driving around here in spring, looking for a surprise patch of lavender or bright orange.

Garden Update

I’ve written about planting garlic seed and not sure if that was particularly successful in this year’s garden. The final product looks way punier than I had hoped. My cucumber and dill plants haven’t been as prolific as I had hoped either. The tomatoes are doing better, but I found a huge tomato worm eating all the new growth at the top of the Better Boy. OMG! I seem to be better at propagating lizards and monarchs. Not really sure how I am doing that. It must be more of that secret and magical CA nature at work.

Starting back to work on Monday. LAUSD has decided we are going to start the school year with online/virtual learning—exactly as we finished up last school year. I am looking forward to seeing my students again, but have not been able go through the ritual of decorating my class room. I actually look forward to setting up the room for my students. As I will again be providing therapy to students sitting in front of the computer screen, I bought an ergonomic chair as my personal room decor. Guess we’ll see how it goes… Stay tuned.

Miss you mom—RIP 8/15/2016

August 9, 2020

PG and E with lupines
PG and E geodesic dome (San Ramon Technology Center), part of the Bishop Ranch Industrial Park in San Ramon with a great hillside of lupines. Photo taken in early 1990s, but watercolor was done 8/1/2020. (Watercolor, Inktense pencil and white acrylic on watercolor paper)

If you have been following my blog you might have seen the botanicals I posted this spring and summer (April 25, 2020, June 7, 2020, June 27, 2020, July 18, 2020 and August 1, 2020). You may remember those posts included flowers from the following plants: monk’s hood, rose, gladiolus, hydrangea, and orchid. And I have just about finished another one—maidenhair fern. I had also planned to focus on cherry blossoms and lupines. Kind of forgot about a cherry blossom botanical until I looked back at my notes. Hmm… And this is clearly not a botanical of a lupine. But I think such a landscape is better than a couple CA lupines as they would seem so lonely and frankly underwhelming. To truly bring out its best California features you need a whole hillside of flowers. I vividly remember taking the series of photos this particular view comes from. I was married at the time and we lived in an apartment not far from there. It was part of a huge planting on a hillside, behind an even huger industrial complex (Bishop Ranch). And the purple lupine enchantment did not end there. At the top of that hill were countless purple Ceanothus in bloom as well. It was such a glorious sight it took my breath away. 

Funny how things work. I had pulled out these photos to do a botanical of a lupine and wound up capturing a wonderful “urban sketching” moment. It’s also funny that if I had not included PG and E’s geodesic dome, and hint of surrounding buildings, it would not have been an urban sketch at all, but rather just a lovely lupine-filled landscape. Not sure it would technically count as an urban sketch anyway as it was done from a photo, not in the moment and plein air. Guess I would have needed a time machine to go back and paint this on the spot, but urban sketching didn’t really exist until 2007. So what’s the point? Besides, I wouldn’t want to waste a time machine trip for that. But this was such a pretty sight and memory that I decided to step into my “mind made” time machine for this landscape. I could almost smell the heady springtime fragrance as I worked.

As it turns out I had quite an art filled weekend as I also participated in an online LA Urban Sketchers event the next day. One of our members gave a wonderful demo of how to use a product called Brusho Crystal Colours to create backgrounds. (Yes, it’s made in England.) If you look it up you may notice that it says it’s for kids. Don’t let that put you off as the colors are so intense and wonderful. Looked like fun and I plan to order some and try it. When she was finished we went around the group and shared our recent art. For me, this is when it really got interesting, and it had nothing to the art I held up to the screen for others to see. One of our members shared that she had recently participated in some “nature journaling” with a group in Northern CA. Before she held up what she had sketched/written, she said it would not count as urban sketching, wondering if it would be OK to share. Thank goodness no one objected. When she held up her journal of plants and animals that she had sketched, I was immediately drawn to her art and intrigued with this idea. (And I don’t think I was the only one in the group who got the same feeling.) Anyway, she talked about someone called John Muir Laws and has books and website that encourages us to sketch and write about what we see in nature. His mission is for everyone to be aware of “Nature Stewardship Through Science, Education and Art.” This may not sound very earth shattering, but there is one more important aspect to his nature sketching stewardship that totally got me. He believes that when you keep a nature journal, you should be prepared to answer three questions about what you see. Those questions are as follows: 1. What do you see? 2. What do you wonder about what you see? 3. What does it remind you of?

Once she listed the importance of answering such nature questions when engaged in a plein air moment I realized I was already hooked. I fact, I had been unconsciously contemplating the answers to those very questions while doing this landscape. No kidding! Here’s what I mean:

What did I see? This actually has a two part answer. First, and foremost, I saw a riot of color and organic shapes that appeared to be hurrying down the sloping hillside. But I realized there was more to see here and it was important to this composition. Of course I had to include the human made horizontal line of implied buildings and the bright white geodesic dome. Now it becomes an urban sketch.

What did I wonder? I have couple “wonders” about this spot. Who planted the lupines, right? I tried to Google it, but no luck. My next “wonder” related to this hillside goes to wondering what it looks like now. I haven’t been back there since the early 90s, so I haven’t checked. My cynical side seems to tell me there are probably buildings at that location, with no more wildflower explosion every spring. But I bet you wonder what goes on inside that dome, right? I think I can answer that question. When my then husband and I lived there he worked for PG and E (Pacific Gas and Electric) in a building right next to the dome. I went on a tour of the place. It seems that experiments are conducted inside that huge dome related to high voltage electricity. They test transformers, power lines and other electrical equipment that might be problematic or malfunctioning. Such experiments are meant to test energy efficiency and safety. I remember an experiment they were conducting back then. They had a huge tree (maybe a redwood) next to some power lines attached to wooden power poles. A controlled storm inside the dome was whipping the lines against the tree. They were looking to see what kind of stress the lines could take before they would fail. OMG, they were simulating an electrical storm in there. I remember my husband saying that some of the experiments they did got pretty loud…do ya think?

What does it remind me of? As it turns out this CA girl was reminded of several other huge hillside explosions of CA lupines. I was reminded of a time I walked behind a friend’s house in Templeton and was treated to a sea of tiny balls of perky purple and white flowers covering a sloping hillside. Then there was a springtime that I was traveling north on the grapevine with my mom. There were masses of lupines on the left and CA poppies on the right. It looked as though someone might have tossed out the seed from an airplane.  I wrote about a hillside of lupines on a road in Atascadero (see December 8, 2018 post). I also remember an amazing display of not only lupines, but poppies, tidy tips and gold fields off another road in Atascadero (March, 24, 2018 post). And I did a huge oil of some hillsides of lupines across from Walmart in Paso Robles. I thought I took a picture of that painting before I sold it, but can’t seem to find it. I do wonder who planted all those seeds. Seems like such a wonder that there had been anything so beautiful on such an unlikely California corner. I’ve been back there and can tell you that there are now buildings on that spot. Guess if I want to see that again I’ll just have to step into my “mind made” time machine for that landscape. I can almost smell the lupines mixed with just a little oil paint, for good measure. 

August 1, 2020

last glad
Great Grandma’s gladiolus, July 2020 (Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Here is the most recent botanical I have created on my beautiful and wonderful Strathmore cold press illustration board. It was a bit tricky to get the color of the blossoms just right. I have glads in my garden right now, but none were the color I was after. (That probably seems like a weird thing to say, but it will become clear if you keep reading. If not, please enjoy this peach/pink/apricot/salmon colored gladiolus and you are done with the rest of this post. No worries.) Otherwise, please continue. First, I sketched an actual stem from a non-heirloom plant in a pot on my front porch. Then I scoured the internet for photos of old gladioli for just this shade of…what? Pink? Apricot? Peach? Salmon? Yes, I looked high and low. You are probably wondering why I went to so much trouble. Well, it turns out I wanted to capture the color of gladioli that I once had in my garden, but never learned its name and therefore could not look it up. 

gladiola story
Great Grandma’s Glads (Story from Central Coast Parent Magazine, March 2001)

Here is a magazine article that shows the color I was after. (What color would you say that is?) After reading this story you may have realized my son’s great grandma passed away some time back and it never occurred to me to ask her what her particular gladiola were called when she was alive. Back then I also didn’t know there was such a thing as a pass along plant. But when she gave them to us I knew I always wanted to have her flowers in our gardens. (She also grew garlic, but she never offered any of her garlic seeds and I never thought to ask.) So, I dug up the corms in our Paso Robles ground and took them with us when we moved to Grass Valley. However, when we left Grass Valley I forgot to take any. What was I thinking? For this botanical I had to rely on just the tiny bit of art from this old magazine article I wrote and illustrated. And to compound my color struggles I seem to have given away that original art to someone. Why hadn’t I made a photo copy of the original? Again, what was I thinking? 

As I thought about other pass along plants I have received and shared since then, I also got to thinking about other kinds of “pass along” treasures that can slip through our fingers if we are not careful. The first family treasure that comes to mind is a translucent pink vase that had belonged to my mother. It was her “go to” special vase when she was given flowers. I vividly remember that special pink vase. But this treasure was actually so much more than that as it had been a gift my mom had given her mother when she was a child. I remember my mom telling me that she had saved her money to buy it. So, when her mother died, the vase came back to her. And when my mother died it was passed to me. This same grandmother, whom I never met, also had a family bible that passed to my mom and then to me. We were never a particularly religious family, so the bible mostly sat on the shelf. When we were kids I remember there were tin types of my grandmother’s family in the back pages of that bible. Sadly, those have disappeared. But the pink vase was frequently used and I probably value it a little more. In fact, I used it for some red roses just the other day.

Music was very important to my dad, so I have some original LPs that he played countless times in our house when I was growing up. He also had a technical pen set that he had used in high school and that has now been passed to my son, his grandson. Other pass along stuff from my grandpas include a variety of tools. My mom’s dad had a pair of giant pliers and a level that somehow made it into my tool kit. My dad’s dad had an amazing basement of tools. And somehow I wound up with a double headed ax and a giant clamp. I have several hammers, and I think one of them came from one of them—not really sure who. Both grandpas were plumbers, so I’m not sure how such a tool could have been used by them for their livelihood. (Or maybe I want to imagine they were good plumbers and didn’t use a hammer to fix a leaky kitchen faucet.)  

How about you? Are there any treasures that were passed along to you in your family? My mom and ex-mother in law were big tea drinkers. So, I have several old tea cups from them. I also have tea cups from great grandma, my aunt, as well as a good friend’s grandma. I almost never use such tea cups anymore as I usually want more of a mug of tea than a dainty cup and saucer of Earl Grey. I guess that some pass along items can be a little on the weird side. Somehow I inherited my mother’s wooden hamburger press. It’s pretty cute as it has a stencil of two roosters on one side. I may not use fancy tea cups anymore, but I still use that press to make hamburgers. Probably the weirdest pass along treasure I never saw was my mother’s wedding dress. As I was making mine she so wanted to show me the dress she had made when she married my dad. As the story goes, after their big day my mom asked her dad (my grandpa) to store the dress for her at her family home in Mariposa. It seems that my grandpa didn’t really have a good place to keep it and put it in the brooder house (once a place for their chickens). And, as the story goes, the rats that frequented the now neglected brooder house, ate it. Even after all the times my mom told that story, I still can’t quite picture what that looked like. Thankfully, I have one photo of her in her wedding dress and that will have to do for the passing along of that particular treasure. But this CA girl is thankful to have a virtual way to hang onto many missing pass along family treasures and that’s in the telling of my family stories right here. The end.