January 1, 2021

Gingko Tree at the Descanso Gardens, 12/21/2020 (crayon pastels on “soft umber” toned pastel paper)

I ordered a set of POSCA pens a while back and proceeded to go insane with plans to use them. If you have been following my blog you will see definite recent evidence of my obsession. From the outset I knew I would also want to use toned paper with these miracle markers. I first began experimenting with a kind of line work on some grey toned paper I had on hand (see 11/15/2020 and 12/19/2020 posts). But I soon realized this paper was pretty limiting and it would only be a stepping off place for my desired “texture driven” sketches on toned paper. I began looking online for different colors and ordered a packet of “warm toned” pastel and multi-media artists’ paper. It seemed perfect for any medium, even the POSCA markers. The packets of paper were advertised as either collections of cool or warm tones. The warm tones I chose included: sand, rich beige, Australian grey, soft umber, raw sienna, burgundy, aubergine, olive green, burnt umber and terra cotta. But as you may have already guessed, the acid free archival paper is not meant for all media. I should have realized that when something was described as tough and toothy it would not make a great surface for the felt-like tips of my pens. The pen tips would have been shredded in no time at all. Of course, right? Once I realized my mistake I ordered some smooth vellum finished black card stock and once that arrived I gleefully went to work with my POSCA markers (see 12/25/2020 and 11/28/2020 posts).

Initially I was annoyed with myself that I now had all this lovely “warm toned” pastel paper without any purpose. However, it didn’t take me long to find a lovely use for it. It came to me when my Urban Sketchers group got together on the 20th and I saw that one of my buddies had done a stunning watercolor of a gingko tree at the Descanso Gardens to mark winter solstice 2020. (She presented this lovely piece of finished holiday art while I obsessively sketched Santa and reindeer in a cartoon car…) I let that pass, but an idea just kind of went “ping” in my head. I knew I wanted to maybe do a pastel of a gingko tree. Without realizing it, my friend also helped me act quickly to make this happen as the very ephemeral deciduous leaves of the gingko tree can easily blow off the branches this time of year. So, I went over there the first day of my winter vacation, which happened to be the 21st, the official day of winter solstice. As I have been to the Descanso so many times I knew exactly where “her” tree was located. Sure enough, the minute I got near it, I knew this was the one. And as I began to sketch the tree in situ an even greater idea came to me. I knew I wanted to render more Descanso trees on pastel paper as a kind of homage to the first day of winter and the promise of more hours of sun over the next few months. So I took a photo of this glorious gingko and several other lovely golden sycamore trees with plans to render at least three more 2020 winter solstice pastels from the Descanso Gardens. (Good thing I went when I did as we’ve since had some very windy days, with a winter thunder and lightning storm that brought buckets of hail on Monday, 12/28. I was at the Descanso on the 30th and there were very few leaves on this epic tree.)

If you have never seen a gingko tree, it’s kind of worth it to try to locate one in the flesh someday. The autumn/winter leaves are a spectacular shade of yellow. I would guess the actual color to be close to a cadmium yellow, light hue. (The rest of the year the leaves are a very summery shade of light green.) If you find a really old and tall specimen in the fall you will be treated to a shock of countless small fan shaped leaves. And if the weather has just the right amount of wind you will also be treated to an amazing display of yellow confetti all around. Seeing the tree at the Descanso reminded me of a time I helped fabricate plant material for the Life Through Time exhibit at the Academy of Sciences in the late 80s and early 90s. One of the trees we replicated was a full size gingko tree. It seems that the gingko tree is a very old genus and there are fossils of that plant that go back 200 million years. It is believed that dinosaurs like the supersaurs and lambeosaurus (a kind of hadrosaur) ate the plant. We hand painted each tiny yellow gingko leaf that was later affixed to fabricated tree branches. It was quite fun as we were instructed to not only paint the leaves yellow, but occasionally create interest on a random leaf or two with hand-painted bug bites. It actually became a kind of competition to see who could make the most realistic bug bites—what a riot! With the recent remodeling of the CAL Academy that tree and all the other plants I helped fabricate are now gone. I sometimes wonder what happened to all that fake foliage and wish I had one of the prehistoric leaves I had painted, maybe one with a particularly great rendering of a bug bite! (I am so easily amused…)

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