November 28, 2020

Rose Garden, Descanso Gardens, 11/21/2020 (water soluble purple ink, Inktense pencils, watercolor pastels on Mix media paper)

Ode to a SoCal Fall

I was lucky enough to have this past week off. So, last Saturday I went to the Descanso Gardens (not a virtual trip, but for real) to sketch because I wanted to begin my vacation with a lovely bit of fall nature and sketching. I like to go there early in the morning as there are fewer people wandering around. Actually, even before March 2020 it was always my habit to go places where I hoped there weren’t going to be many people. As I am a person of habit, I have often written about my habitual visits to their Rose Garden. I always turn right when I enter the Descanso’s gate. And I always head for the first open gate into the Rose Garden. It seems that my first thought is always to find something there to sketch. Then, it seems my plan is to find something else to sketch anywhere but the Rose Garden. The trellised fall leaves you see here were not to be ignored. Within the first minutes I had walked in the gate, I found myself sitting down to capture these amazing fall colors on these rather sculptural trellises. Exuberant and rampant fall color is not really something I have come to expect here in Southern California. It’s not to say that colorful leaves and berries are not to be found, but it seems you have to make an effort to find them. I grew up in Northern CA and the cooler fall and winter weather we had there seemed to carry a kind of secret message in the air that told gardeners to plant and enjoy more deciduous trees and shrubs than can be found in a typical SoCal neighborhood. Of course sometimes those Northern CA gardeners seem to have gotten the wrong message and in turn planted palm trees and bougainvillea, but that’s OK I guess. That will be struggle for sure, but I really appreciate such optimism. It was nice to come upon something so familiar to my Northern CA girl past. We are having some pretty lovely fall weather right now and the sky is the insane blue you see here. Such a nice backdrop for definite pops of bright yellow—perfect for my new gamboge and Cadmium yellow watercolor pigments. I have sat in this same spot and sketched the trellises before. It’s a nice arrangement, with each of four tall structures centering around a small pond. As I am usually in the Rose Garden early there are always lots of birds flitting in and out of this area. I never mind lots of birds around me. Nice.

Just as I was finishing up, I heard a toddler yelling out as her attending adults were trying to have a conversation. When I finally packed up my bag I looked over at this little one and she was going absolutely crazy trying to catch the birds. But what I really noticed was the fact that she had a face shield over her face. It looked as though she had on a knit hat that had the shield attached. She wasn’t wearing a mask, but the shield did not appear to impede her joyously running around yelling “bird!” I was happy to see the parents trying to keep this little one safe as they wandered the garden with a whole lot of strangers. I have to say that I often see “maskless” toddlers that are up and out of his or her stroller running about. I actually find this kind of distressing as the adults are wearing masks, but the little ones aren’t. I am guessing the parents would say that their toddler won’t wear a mask. Well, I guess that means they really shouldn’t take them to a public place right now. Maybe? It almost seems selfish to me that they will protect themselves, but not their little ones. Ok, I’m done…

Oak woodland, Descanso Gardens, 11/23/2020 (Black ink with fude fountain pen nib and Inktense pencils on mix media paper)

After wandering the Descanso a bit more I found myself drawn to this oak woodland area. They have a very low key SoCal fall display there right now. There are numerous clumps of gold-burnished logs, stumps and stones placed at the base of a number of oak trees. If a visitor looks closely they can find small gold plaques with clues about things that live in the an oak woodland. Children, and their adults, are invited to see how many of the questions they can answer as they wander from tree to tree. It also seems like a great way to help people with social distancing. Quite a safe golden fall moment!

Monarch butterfly in my 2020 summer/fall backyard (Posca pens on Strathmore Black Mixed Media vellum surface paper)

My final sketch today is of a monarch butterfly that hatched in my back garden the other day. I have been experimenting with POSCA markers and knew I wanted to include this lovely creature in all it’s fall orange and black glory. But when I was ready to add the orange pigment, there wasn’t an orange pen in my set of pens. I was so sure it was there, but no, it wasn’t. I panicked with an overwhelming sense of disappointment. How could I have an Ode to Fall without the color orange? I called the local Blick art store and had them grab a couple different orange POSCA pen point sizes for me and put them on hold. I went there the next day and picked them up. So glad I had some time off this week so I could do that—anything to avoid any orange-colored anxiety, yes? Just trying to smoothly ride my creativity train right now and stay calm. How about you? 

November 21, 2020

Virtual trip to Ireland, 11/15/2020 (violet ink and watercolor on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I again participated in a virtual sketching trip with what has become an artistic lifeline to other artists and places I can only dream of visiting right now. And this time we were transported to Ireland by a member of our group that had traveled there a few years ago. She shared a fair number of photos of cities like Dublin that included several town squares and even a couple images of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. But it was the Irish countryside that she chose for us to sketch. I think we were all happy to imagine wandering through that green countryside, stopping now and then to take out our pens, watercolors and pastels to capture a far away place as an imagined moment in time. I’ve never been to Ireland, but it’s definitely on my “bucket list.” And I, like so many others I guess, are captivated by what appears to be more shades of green than any other place on Earth. I have some distant Irish ancestry connected to Northern Ireland. My mother was always quick to point that her people were not of the green Catholic variety, but rather the “orange” Protestants. However, if I ever get the chance to go to Ireland I don’t believe I would confine myself to one part or another based in the religion of the area. Right?

We did two sketches. The first thirty minute sketch was of a bucolic scene of green grass with a small tranquil pond and tiny church. It came out OK, but not OK enough to post here. We did this one for our second 30 minute sketch. I like the way it came out. I think I’m getting more confident with the way I use purple water soluble ink. Someone in our group said the dogs looked like border collies, and another said they looked like a couple of dark lumps. I once had a Border Collie Kelpie mix. She looked like these dogs—lumpish and completely black all over except one tiny dot of white on her chest. Her name was Trevor. You might say it’s a funny name for a female dog. All I can say is my son wanted to name her after a friend who had moved to Texas. His name was Trevor, and that was that. Anyway, she was the kind of dog who needed a job, like herding sheep. As I looked closely at these dogs, they put me in mind of older herding dogs that had once helped their master herd sheep. Now I imagine he doesn’t ask too much from them anymore. But they are still important to him and he takes them for walks at twilight. I like that image. It’s important to take care of the dogs and people we love.

One minute sketches, 11/1/2020

3 minute sketches, 11/1/2020

As I mentioned in the first part of my post, I really appreciate the artistic lifeline I have with my sketching friends. We have become a pretty tight community and I think we all look forward to seeing each other on a regular basis, even if it’s only virtual visits. It’s actually a number of the same people I would see at the Norton Simon on the first Friday of the month. As we are not going out to sketch so much right now and our online group can accommodate a much larger number of people than would normally move together unnoticed about the kind of “smallish” Norton Simon Art Museum. The Getty would be a different story as it is quite a large and could accommodate a large group. (Of course, both the Norton Simon and the Getty are closed right now. ) There are about 35 to 40 people who regularly sketch together. And we come from all over. Most of us are still SoCal people with many from the Pasadena area, the west side of LA, San Diego, and Long Beach. We have one member who regularly joins us from New York, and a westside friend’s mom who lives on the east coast also sketches with us from time to time. We have some from Northern CA and even one member joins us from Poland. Crazy, huh?

The day after Halloween we had a virtual costume portrait party. Portrait parties are kind of a common thing for those of us who go to the Norton Simon. Some evenings we would sit at tables in the cafe and sketch each other’s face, shifting from one face to another as a 1 to 3 minute timer was set. For this one we did the same thing, but used the Zoom “spotlight” feature to switch from model to model at 1 minute intervals and then a few took turns posing every 3 minutes. It’s a lot of fun and here are just a few of the sketches I did. It looks as though most of us wore hats to the party. (I had on a fishing hat with facepaint.) Of course, as we are artists someone had to show up with her scimitar. No one thought it odd. We have become so close. When we share our work at the end of our time together I can recognize many of my friend’s work by his or her style or medium. I love that, it’s kind of like an artistic signature without any words. For those of you who paint or are fond of painters, I think you know what I mean. Can’t you tell a favorite artist’s work without being told who painted it? I think it’s part of that artistic lifeline of familiarity that I so crave and enjoy, especially with so many unknown crazy things that seem to be happening right now.

Wishing Tree at the Descanso Gardens, 11/21/2020

I went out early for some sketching at the Descanso Gardens this morning. I saw this Wishing Tree in one of the oak woodland areas. As next week is Thanksgiving I have been thinking of what I’m thankful for. Those thoughts, ideas and people inhabit my real world of today. Making wishes involves thoughts of the future. That’s part of a whole different set of thoughts of possible positive outcomes as well as disappointments. A number of people were busily filling out his or her single “wish” card, then attaching it to one of the branches. Don’t know about you, but I need to think about this and come back when there aren’t so many people around. Maybe that’s my wish…I wish for a time I won’t have to think about getting too close to people. What would be your wish for the wishing tree?

November 15, 2020

Asparagus fern hanging in a ficus tree, November 2020 (POSCA pens on Strathmore Toned Gray sketch paper–medium surface)

Lamp at night, November 2020 (POSCA markers on Strathmore Toned Gray sketch paper–medium surface)

Time for fun art!

For this week’s post I decided to share the fruits of my exploration of a new material and technique. This may not be your idea of fun, but when I saw an artist from one of my sketching groups demonstrate how to use the PASCO pens on black paper I was all in with these unapologetically bright colors and possible artistic effects. She showed us how she typically uses them, drawing a delicate teacup and saucer covered with an old-fashioned floral design that was as thin as the strands of a spider’s web. And she did so with one continuous line that even revealed the black tea in the cup when she was finished. I think I ordered a set of pens the next day and couldn’t wait for them to arrive to try them out. But I didn’t have any black paper and have to admit I am a little intimidated to draw on black. I always worry it will look like paintings I have seen done on black velvet and I’ve yet to warm up to that style. I was actually happy I had some grey toned paper on hand and like how these two came out.

Monarch chrysalis on sage, November 2020 (POSCA pens on Strathmore black mixed media paper paper–vellum surface)

However, I was determined to have fun exploring a material I am not particularly comfortable using. I’m not sure doing something out of my comfort zone actually fits into anyone’s “fun” category. As you can see, I did order some black paper. And I found this monarch chrysalis on a sage stem in my front yard and thought it would be fun to render the colorful plant and chrysalis on a black background. I’m still not sure I like it as well as the grey. A friend of mine, who I think was trying to be kind, said it looked like I was painting with neon. Looking again at this rendering I am actually reminded of what was fun about creating the art you see here. It all stems from me finding this little green jewel firmly attached to a sage stem while blowing in the wind. I had actually seen the caterpillar hang itself upside down and miraculously change. That discovery and moment was absolute joy for me and I wanted to capture that on paper. But then I began to worry my little friend would not survive to become an adult butterfly as the night temperatures have been dropping and we were expecting rain. In fact my garden center had recommended cutting the milkweed back to encourage the butterflies not to hang around and migrate. It’s getting kind of late in the season for a new butterfly to emerge into the world and fly off. As this little guy was no longer in need of leaves to munch I was set to cut back the plant. But I didn’t because I thought the little flower buds that were coming on might be good for a new butterfly. OK, I’m having fun! How about you? Because, I am not done with this new obsession and the story goes on. I was so worried about the rain that I actually thought of putting up an umbrella to protect my unborn friend. Instead, I snipped off the branch and it is now sits in a terrarium on my kitchen counter. But the fun isn’t done. I decided the tiny flower buds I still have on the milkweed might not be enough and found a couple more plants with flowers at a nearby nursery and stuck them in the ground. Now, the stage is set for any monarch butterfly eventuality. And I am smiling!!

Time for a funny book!

I have a library card that I use regularly to go to the library to check out books—even in this time of COVID. Actually, I don’t go to the library to browse for something to read right now. I go to the library’s website and browse there. I put the books I want on hold and my local library sends me an email when they are ready for pick up. This works out pretty well, but I do miss actually going in, looking for a new author or books series to obsess over. But I have found an author that’s new to me that I am currently obsessed with and can heartily recommend. Her name is Sloane Crosley and she has written a collection of essays called, “I was told there’d be cake.” I am not normally in the habit of reading essays, but I am certainly glad I didn’t let that stop me. Her writing is so clever, insightful, wonderful and of course funny with regards to every topic she decides to look at and share. In this particular collection she has one essay called Sign Language for Infidels that is particularly appropriate for this week’s post as it is all about her desire to volunteer. She winds up working in the butterfly exhibit in the Museum of Natural History. It’s just one of the many stories she tells that are pretty funny and make you want more. Now I am a total fan and advise you to become one as well.

Photo of monarch found in my backyard, Sunday, 11/15/2020

Final word of fun

Look what I found struggling in the grass in my backyard this morning? Yes, another butterfly. It must have hatched this morning (11/15/2020) somewhere back there. I guess the rain didn’t hurt this one. Hmm… Maybe I over reacted with the chrysalis sitting on my kitchen counter? But, now I look forward to the fun of rendering this little flapping friend with the PASCO markers on black paper. Yes!! Stay tuned…

November 7, 2020

In memory of the giant SoCal pepper tree, 10/26/2020 (oxblood ink with Fude nib fountain pen, graphite on Mix Media paper)

The early morning hours of Monday, October 26, were pretty terrible as the wind had been blowing for hours in what seemed like infinitely long gusts of punishing air. I could hear branches, leaves and clumps of dirt being tossed about outside my bedroom window. And it sounded like a couple things on my front porch had blown to the ground. I was certain that the trash can I had put out the night before for trash pick up had also been knocked down and probably blown down the street. I certainly didn’t need any sort of wake up alarm that morning as I had been awake for hours. Finally, the sky got a bit lighter and the wind died down some. I began my usual weekday routine, opening drapes, turning off the porch light etc. As I opened each drape I looked out to see what the wind had done. As it was still pretty windy I didn’t think I would go outside anytime soon to take a closer look. But when I looked out my large kitchen window I saw something that didn’t make any sense. There was a huge black and spiked object just in front of my old pepper tree. What was I looking at? This was just too weird. So I waited for a lull in the wind and went out to take a closer look. (And yes I was still in my jammies, but had put on boots and a hoody.) My tired brain finally began to function and I realized I wasn’t looking at a huge and dark spiky ball of unknown origin in front of my great huge pepper tree. It was the great huge pepper tree itself, and I was looking at the bottom of the root ball. The rest of that magnificent tree had crashed through a low stone wall and was now leaning at a 45 degree angle into the street. Somehow shock seemed to set in with the totality of that vision and my body began to shake a little with wondering. I was wondering so many things, but couldn’t quite decide what to do. However, I stood out there long enough for another cycle of wind gusts to come back. I was much calmer than you might expect because I realized the tree wasn’t going to fall on me, or fall on anyone else for that matter. No passing people, pets or cars were under the now doomed tree, so that was good news. But there were huge branches just inches away from the utility lines. That gave me pause as I didn’t know if they were power lines or phone lines. So, my first call was to 911. I told the dispatcher what I was looking at and thought the fire department should probably come look at this too. They soon came by, without a siren, and one fireman got out to take a look. He told these were not power lines and that was good news. Good news? Even though there would be no imminent power outage or anyone being electrocuted with live wires on the ground, what was good about it what I was looking at? He told me he would make a call to the city, as they would want to remove what they could around the phone lines, but that since most of the tree was on private property, I would need to call someone to take down the tree. Take down my tree? That was hard to hear as it had been such a companion to this house for at least 60 or 70 years—providing refuge for countless generations of birds and squirrels. And for the past 4 years I’d been living beside it, benefiting with the company of those countless bits of wildlife, not to mention the wonderful umbrella of shade it provided during the summer. Even though I only rent the house, I’m sure you can tell by my description it felt like such a personal loss. And I could hear the sadness in my landlady’s voice that morning when I told her what had happened. For the next couple days it was whittled away, chunk by chunk, until all that was left were a bunch of confused birds and a hole in the stone wall you can see in my sketch. Yes, I was so moved by the loss of my tree I did a sketch of the rubble and the now naked patch of ground outside my kitchen window. So now what? My landlady said she thought it would be a good idea to plant another tree there as that side of the house definitely needed shade in the summer. She asked me what kind of tree she should plant. Very sweet of her, right? I told her I thought it would be good to plant another pepper tree, in memory of the previous one. 

So, then I got to thinking that maybe I had been too quick to suggest the same kind of tree. I didn’t really know that much about pepper trees in SoCal. Would it take a long time to get tall enough to provide the kind of shade that side of the house needed on summer afternoons? It had taken at least 60 years for my tree to get the size I remember. And I would be long gone from this house, as well as this earth, by the time it would even get close to that size again. For me, if I am thinking of putting in such a specimen tree, I like to drive around my neighborhood to see what my neighbors have planted. Did the tree look nice? Did it look healthy? Guess what? There are no other pepper trees, small or big, near me. Again I say, now what?

Now my mind was filled with the myriad of trees I have seen and liked in Southern CA. I have to say that people all over CA make lots of mistakes when they choose trees for their yards. It seems most want a fast growing tree, like eucalyptus, a redwood or liquidambar. And the biggest mistake people make is they put these soon to be huge trees too close to the house. Soon this fast growing thing is messing with plumbing, uprooting porches and even sometimes casting way more shade than desired. Redwoods are not suited for SoCal and belong along the cool coast of the Pacific Northwest. The redwoods I have seen here are certainly tall, but don’t look healthy. Eucalyptus and liquidambar can be pretty, but they drop all kinds of pods, leaves and other bits of detritus year round. If you are someone who likes fruit trees, that’s great, but those trees also drop leaves, petals, and fruit—not always a desired effect. When I lived in Walnut Creek (northern CA) I loved seeing people plant fruitless mulberry trees. They are fast growing, provide terrific shade and have lovely shiny leaves. In the fall those leaves turn a brilliant yellow that drop to the ground like so much confetti. In the spring I would gather those beautiful leaves to feed to my silkworms—an added bonus when choosing to have such a tree in any yard, I think. Notice I did not say that such a tree would do well in SoCal. I have never seen one down here. If I’m honest, the tree I would most prefer to take my old tree’s place is a coast live oak. But that’s not going to happen. I don’t think you can just go and get a seedling for such a specimen tree, not to mention, such a tree is very slow growing and would probably not provide any kind of useful summer shade for at least a hundred years. So, I’ve come full circle and think another pepper would be wonderful. 

A final word about trees in California

For a time I lived in Sacramento. It is known as “The City of Trees.” If you drive around downtown, you would be struck by the many trees you see, especially in the older neighborhoods. I used to think the reason there were so many trees was because  it’s so hot in Sac in the summer. If you live there you can really benefit from cool “mature tree” shade where ever possible. That isn’t why it’s call The City of Tree. The city nick name came from a time when C.K. McClatchy, past editor of the Sacramento Bee, regularly wrote front page obituaries of trees that had died. I guess people liked the idea that trees were important enough to make headline news and the nickname stuck. I love this idea. So, in honor of my now deceased pepper tree, I honor its life in my November 7, 2020 “front page” One CA Girl post. May it rest in peace.

November 1, 2020

My son’s first look at the ocean–finished sketch, 1995 (Pencil on acetate)

Last Sunday we of the LA Urban Sketchers group were treated to a virtual demo of how to sketch heads. The talented artist who took us on this online journey was Gary Geraths. He is not only a teacher at Otis College of Art and Design, but he was also the sketch artist who sketched the court proceedings, inside and out of the LA courtroom, for the 1995 OJ Simpson trial. Do I have your attention? Wow, huh? Anyway, he is also this kind of random artist who goes way out to places like Tibet to sketch the landscape and the people. He started off sharing his many journals, which of course meant he also shared the many stories that went with his art. One journal he was particularly proud of as it had flown out of this hand as he was intermittently sketching and paddling down some rapids on one of his many river rafting trips. I was amazed that he hadn’t actually flown out of the boat with it. I was also amazed that the journal must have actually floated and he was able to find it again. I guess that was major for him as well, but he didn’t say. But he did tell us that he was very excited with how quickly the pages had dried out so he could get back to sketching on board the boat. His message was pretty clear, and that was to sketch as quickly as you can. I got the impression he was trying to tell us you need to stay focused wherever you may find yourself sketching. Be aware of your surroundings, or you might miss something. I have paddled down fast moving CA river rapids in the past. I can’t imagine taking my focus off the potentially churning water up ahead as I gripped the paddle with both hands. Putting the paddle down to take up a waterproof pen and journal would have been unthinkable to me. And even with all my concentrated effort to be part of a team of paddlers going down the rapids I have flown out of a boat a time or two. Thank goodness the people on the boat came back around to get me. And I don’t remember drying out very quickly at all!

Anyway, after his unusual introduction, he got down to the business of showing us how he sketches heads. He started by telling us that he believed there were three kinds of sketches you can do when you are out in the field, or fast moving water I guess. The first kind he talked about was a finished sketch. Gary said that when making such a sketch you needed to “bring the goods.” He further explained that meant you needed to convey some kind of expression on the person’s face that shows definite skill and/or intent. I think my first pencil sketch, showing my young son’s 1995 head, would fit that description. I so remember taking this photo. He was less than a year old and it was the first time he was seeing the Pacific Ocean. The expression on his face was indescribable. You may have noticed that there is way more than just my son’s face here. But there was way more information I wanted to share with this drawing and that included his body language as well. He was pretty excited, right? Gary said that if you were going to include a human or animal in your sketch, you needed to be aware of the angle of that organism’s head, whatever kind of sketch you intended to make. He said you should be able to look at a person or animal and decide if it was 3/4, profile, full on, or some variation of one of those. I should add here that he said learning to draw hands is worth spending time on as well. Nice that both my son’s head and hands show some skill. 

Note: You may have noticed the colored pencil and watercolor painting of my son and I that heads up One California Girl each week. Here is what we looked like in 1995. However, we were far from the ocean, but instead looking at the J Lohr vineyards on Paso Robles’s east side of Highway 46. He doesn’t look as excited here to see the vineyards as he was when he first caught sight of the pounding surf at a Cayucos beach. You can see that his head is in 3/4 view in a kind of over the shoulder view. I, on the other hand, am not even facing the viewer, but instead am looking straight on at my beloved Paso Robles vineyards.)

Quick sketch from, 5/2020 (pencil on sketch paper)

Looking at this profile quick sketch from a photo on, you can see what Gary referred to as his second category of sketching. As this was done in a timed format, it definitely puts me in mind of his message to sketch quickly. For this second kind of sketch he reminded us that it’s always important to correctly get the angle of the head as well as other landmark features (e.g. ears, nose etc). However, maybe the visual message of the person you are sketching here is not so evident with their expression needing to be more inferred. He added that you don’t necessarily need to bring your A-game for this kind of sketch—maybe you might be exploring the mechanics of trying to capture a gesture, feeling or mood. Finally, he said you are trying to say more with less precision. For this kind sketch you may be using a more scratchy approach, where many lines somehow read as the line of a jaw, forehead etc—much less precise compared to a finished sketch. 

Note: Gary said he gets lots of really interesting faces/heads to draw by looking at old mug shots online. I tried to look at some, but they kind of gave me the creeps. That’s not where I’ll be looking to practice drawing heads. You have probably already gotten the idea that Gary is pretty adventurous when it comes to his art. Welcome to LA!

Example of the third kind of sketch, circa 2016 (ink and watercolor on sketch paper)

For this final kind of minimal sketch, Gary reminded us that even though you might not be rendering much in the way of detail it was still important to maintain appropriate head and body angles—even you are drawing giraffes and elephants at the zoo. For this kind of sketch it might be hard to infer emotion or meaning, but often such a sketch includes several people/animals and meaning can be added by the way the people/animals are grouped.

Gary said that this kind of drawing technique might be what you do when out sketching people at your favorite restaurant, neighborhood laundromat or when you happen to catch a couple cats just waking up from a nap. He said you needed to figure out the composition in a hurry and you should never start with the person/animal you plan to render straight on. Gary said you need to practice with a couple of your other characters in profile or 3/4 before that. He told us that he sometimes adds one head to another’s body and vis versa. Feels a little like a zombie thing to do, right? Yeah, this is LA.

Note: Maybe I’ve been feeling a little like a zombie, or the walking dead. Can’t wait to feel comfortable enough to go out and sketch people or even places without worrying about whether I am going to get too close to someone. Of course maybe the zombie feeling I have right now has to do with the fact that it was Halloween yesterday and the election is just around the corner—not to mention COVID. How about you? Feeling a little of the zombie vibe right now too?