February 27, 2021

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Grand Dame, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Recently, a couple of the people in our online virtual sketching group took us, via some real vacation photos taken a couple years ago, on a sketching tour of Brittany. One of those realtime travelers explained that the organizer of their real trip wanted to see and sketch a very specific Breton event in Pont Aven. It seems there is a very colorful parade with various activities called the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival. And it’s been held every year there since 1905. The organizer of their trip wanted to see the festival in action, especially the costumes the men and women wore for it. Here you can see just such a participant—the Grand Dame of the whole thing that particular year. We were told that she sat on the porch of a second story building, somewhere along the parade route. I guess she was some kind of VIP. Her costume was very ornate and had many parts to it. Lace and/or brocaded fabric seemed to be the order of the day for not only the grand dame, but most of the other men and women that marched, danced and played music for this event. You can’t help but notice the large hat she was wearing with hanging ties that didn’t seem to need to be tied. Anyway, she also had a huge lace collar that turned up at each shoulder. What kind of killed me about the women’s costumes, including the grand dame herself, was that they also all wore aprons. Were they going to be doing some kind of domestic work later, making a pie or gathering apples in the folds of the apron for that pie? 

She was interesting to draw and I found myself wondering how much of her I would be able to capture in the 30 minutes our group had allotted ourselves for each of our 3 sketches. There was a myriad of detail I could try to render. Using my Fude nib fountain pen filled with majestic purple ink I tried my best to capture as much of her as I could with contour lines. I think what was kind of randomly fun and funny about this scene was the pot of dead flowers between she and porch railing. Besides all that lace and folds of fabric I wanted to be sure to get that in. As I hurried along I kept thinking that as she was wearing an apron, she must have been expected to do something domestic right then and there, or maybe she had a job to do right after the parade. Maybe she would help clean the street or cook dinner. But somehow she had forgotten a basic duty, she had forgotten to water that plant directly in front of her. I mean, the Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities must have some direct connection to flowers. I don’t really know French, but I know that fleur in French means flower. Thinking of that bit of irony then as now seems a little unusual to me. Quelle dommage.

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Lady with umbrella, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For this costumed Breton, I thought it interesting that she most reminded me of the women post-impressionist Paul Gauguin had painted in the very city and countryside of Pont-Aven. He was painting in Pont Aven before 1905, so he wouldn’t have attended any Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities, nor would he have seen someone that was dressed exactly like her. He did lots of colorful and beautiful landscapes of the area. I happen to be unabashedly in love with his oil painting called “A Farm in Brittany.” OMG, his use of color for that one blows me away. His use of pinks and greens in that Breton light cannot be equaled by anyone, in my opinion. He also did lots of paintings of women and men working in the fields, and just kind of moving about the countryside. If you Google “Paul Gauguin in Pont Aven” you will see the places and people he painted. The women back then also wore aprons and similar white hats, but those 19th century hats had a similar shape, but did not look very fancy. I think my lady here must have been taking a breather from the festivities her 21st century day, relaxing a bit under her pert white umbrella. You can’t tell, but she was wearing a modest white hat, much like the long ago ladies from Pont Aven. But I was so engrossed in sketching her with a continuous contour line that her head soon became stuffed into the umbrella and there was no adding a hat here. Oh zut! But her green background with houses and boats along the water definitely reminded me of some of Gauguin’s landscapes. (Well, there wouldn’t have been a car there…) 

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Resting ladies, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

I think this image was our favorite sketching opportunity for the day. I am calling this  piece “Resting Ladies” or “dames au repos.” It was pretty clear to all of us that these lounging ladies had had enough marching and dancing for the time being. But I think we all wondered if they were really done for the day as they were still wearing their festival costumes with those tall chef-like lacy hats. And of course they still had on their aprons. Maybe they weren’t done cooking and cleaning for the day. Hmmm…

Final French note:

Tomorrow, we are going on yet another virtual trip to do some sketching in the south of France. A bientot

February 20, 2021

Contour drawing (two continuous lines, plus individual birds) of arbor with climbing rose, not in bloom, with lamp post and aeonium succulent, Descanso Gardens, 1/5/2021 (non soluble black ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

Lately, as I have been sketching at an appropriate social distance from my fellow garden goers at the Descanso, I have been obsessed with capturing garden images using one or two long continuous line (s). Such a line can also be referred to as a contour line. When wandering around the Descanso Gardens I generally carry several different kinds of ink pens that can accommodate such contours. Those pens include a couple Fude nib pens with water-soluble ink in oxblood, majestic purple and black. I also have a number of black Pigma micron and Faber Castell Pitt pens with tips that range from brush tips to fine 05. I also carry with me some graphite pencils, a tin of 12 Inktense pencils, a 7 by 10 inch pad of Canson Mix Media paper and of course my sheet of bubble wrap. (As I have shared in previous posts, I always have a sheet of bubble wrap with me when I go sketching. That’s so I save something I can roll out and sit on when I sketch. I recently replaced my old sheet of bubble wrap. The new sheet is actually pretty clean and it’s very soft. I think that because most of the bubbles are still full of air and intact. It’s almost like I’m sitting on a cloud instead of a large boulder or a damp park bench.) But that’s all I carry! I don’t carry any water or brushes because water weighs me down. I add the water when I get home. For the art I am sharing here today I used a fine point pen (probably a 1) with non water-soluble black ink pen. When I sketch with the colored water-soluble ink I have a different process I go through (see last week’s cherry blossoms on 2/13/21 and 1/30/21). For these lovely colored inks, plus special pencils, I am hyper aware of my plan to make the long contour lines bleed and intermingle with the other water-soluble colors on the paper when water is added later. But whatever pen I am using I am usually in a hurry to do such sketches and tend to finish everything, minus the blending, in 20 minutes or so. Then I pack my few art items (rolling the now damp bubble wrap with the wet side folded together) into my backpack, take a walk around the garden and head home. When I get home, and I’m not worrying about social distancing from my fellow garden goers, I brush water on the spots I imagined while sitting on my bench. 

I really enjoyed sitting on a bench in the sun that day to do this sketch. And I came prepared with all my usual materials. But what I was not prepared for was my stopping in that particular spot to capture this particular view. Why is that, you say? Well, I have walked under that “Monet’s Giverny inspired” arbor with climbing roses countless times, but have never really stopped to look at it. The only reason I stopped on the 5th was because it was a cold morning and I was looking for a bench in the sun. It appeared as if by sunlit magic, just at the opening of this quite magnificent arbor. Looking down and through the many metal hoops I was astonished by the cool perspective and happy to sketch something so interesting while sitting on my new bubble wrap on a wet bench in the sun. It was perfect.

Contour drawing (single continuous line) of cherry blossom tree in bloom, Descanso Gardens, 2/13/2021 (non soluble black ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

Strangely enough I found myself on the other side of the exact same arbor a little more than a month later. I wasn’t looking for an another opportunity to capture this amazing structure, but rather I was again looking for a bench in the sun. When I sat on my rolled out bubble wrap on a damp bench in that sunlit corner of the rose garden I was drawn to the shocking pink color of the flowering cherry tree blossoms and the deep rose red of the asters at the base of the tree. It was only after I wrapped up the continuous contour line with the added Inktense color of the flora that I noticed the arbor in the background. What was I thinking? How did I miss seeing it? I guess I am thankful I eventually noticed it was there because I think it adds a nice bit of blue background pattern to that pink tree plopped center stage. Once I finally figured out what I was looking at I also noticed the exact same lamp post that was in the previous sketch. I looked at the pair of sketches side by side when I got home and noticed that I hadn’t captured the aeonium succulent for this one. Not sure how I missed it. Like for the first sketch, there were a number of birds here as well, but they were happily hopping around under my damp bench. That was really a treat. I think I was so still while I sat there, sketching away, that the birds didn’t notice that a human sitting on a sheet of bubble wrap was perched just above them. It was perfect, again.

February 13, 2021

Virtual trip to Gujo Hachiman (1/24/2021), Night scene (POSCA markers, white and scarlet Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore black Mixed Media paper–vellum surface)

Well it seems to me that my virtual trips around the world with my artist friends has taken on a life of its own. (Wondering if there is a pun or a bit of irony in that statement…). It’s so fun to go to a bunch of different places just about every other Sunday morning with my special bunch of artist friends. And I don’t have to worry about getting on a plane with people who are potentially sick with that dreaded pandemic virus, nor does it cost me a thing. Well, of course it costs me my time. But it seems that’s what I have more of these days of staying home so much. However, these virtual trips provide me with something to look forward to and I am so grateful for the mental stimulation. Our most recent trek was on January 24th, and we went to Gujo Hachiman, Japan. If you are like me, you’d have never heard of it. In all the excitement I forgot to ask our guide that day where you might find this night scene in Gujo Hachiman. So, I spent a couple evenings this week looking online to see what I could find out, wondering if I would see the exact location as seen at night. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but instead was treated to an amazing collection of photos of the town that included several 360 degree cams of various spots. (See gujohachiman.com and click on English, unless you know how to read Kanji.) In the end it didn’t really matter whether or not I could actually confirm where I had sketched. But, if I were to guess I would say it was probably part of the Sogi Sui Water shrine. If you browse the website I’ve shared it seems this PR marvel was created before the pandemic. Never mind the shameless and overly advertised information meant to attract tourists. It did strike me funny that they described all the year round sights and experiences in this way—snow in winter, cherry blossoms in spring and typhoons in the summer. (I think I snorted out loud when I read that last bit…)  For me, I could ignore the online enchanted sirens singing the praises of Gujo Hachiman (especially the summer sirens). I just went down almost every 2 dimensional alley/street, river and museum photo they showed. And I almost got dizzy from all my spinning around with the great number 360 degree cams available on their website. It was fun!

Virtual trip to Gujo Hachiman (1/24/2021), Cherry blossoms above river (purple watersoluble ink with Fude nib, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For our next view we went to another unnamed area of town with a bit of carefully laid stone and moving water. Water is definitely key to this small town in the Gifu prefecture. It’s where three rivers (Nagara, Yoshida and Kodara) come together and much of the commerce for old and new Gujo Hachiman is connected to water. Our host explained that every city/town in Japan has their own manhole cover design. Gujo Hachiman’s manhole cover depicts “Fishes in the Clear River.” With all the water in the area, this design makes total sense. There were so many lovely things to see, with the waterways that surround the town being at the top of my list of loveliness. But, I was also struck by the way they used stones in and around the water. Some were quite round and smooth and looked like they had been polished over time in the rivers. They came in a variety of sizes as well and were used as hardscape, in intricate designs everywhere you looked. There were also stones that looked like identical geometric pavers. They were used to build retaining walls and cover walkways. Of course traveling to Gujo Hachiman is now on my bucket list. All that stone embedded in moving water next to silver looking wooden buildings with smaller structures painted bright red would be a pleasure to look at and sketch realtime someday.

So, here comes the really interesting part of my story. As I did research on the town I had a feeling I had seen something like it before. I realized I had read about the area a number of years ago. I found the actual article I was thinking of in a drawer full of similar bits of travel information I have saved over the years. The article was from the October 2010 Smithsonian magazine and it was called “A Walk Through Old Japan.” In the story a couple hikers go for a trek on The Kiso Road, which is part of the Nakasendo Way. I remember thinking at the time that someday I wanted to do some walking on that ancient road. It seems this old road, connecting Tokyo with Kyoto, goes right through Gifu prefecture. And guess what? Gujo Hachiman is in Gifu prefecture. OMG! It didn’t take me long to realize that going there was already on my bucket list. How convenient!

If you would like to see more about the area I am babbling on about, check out jtbusa.com/gifu-chiune. The information you will find there is another shameless attempt to encourage tourists to come visit. It all looks perfect to me. I hope to someday be able to go there—maybe see the snow in winter and/or the cherry blossoms in spring. However, I don’t think I need to see a typhoon in summer. So, I don’t think that time of year will work for me. But I wonder if the room rates are lower in summer…

February 6, 2021

Art and story published in the SLO Tribune, Sunday, January 9, 2000. Original art was done with Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold-press illustration board.

Hard to believe, but as of this particular art and story, One California Girl has posted something here almost every week for a sum of 200 times. Yikes! And if there are 52 weeks in the year, that puts me in the running for presenting something weekly for almost four years. And because there are 52 weeks in the year the 4 year mark for One CA Girl should be my 208th entry which should occur Saturday, April 3, 2021. That bit of calendar math seems about right as I started all of this on my mother’s birthday, March 25, 2017. I marked that day as the first birthday I celebrated without her as she had passed away the previous August. It is a kind of bittersweet milestone I guess. Both of my parents were always so proud of my art skills and I know for a fact both to them would have enjoyed following my blog as they were the “Mom and Dad of One CA Girl.” Thinking back, and forward for that matter, it fascinates me that I have created so many sketches and paintings over the years. As I have also said in past posts, I really don’t have much more “long ago” art to share anymore. But as I was trying to imagine how to mark today’s milestone I thought of some old art I had yet to post here. The timing was rather perfect, I think. The time was January 9, 2000 and the place was Paso Robles. My son was little and I had started illustrating and writing short pieces to go in The Tribune’s Sunday paper. Here is what I presented then and there. Blogging was not uncommon then, but I was still drawn to contributing my stories and art to our local brick and mortar paper. I don’t have the original art of this primrose anymore. I had it framed and gave to one of my nieces. I do have a copy or two of the actual newspaper depicting this art with story. In 20 years the paper is just starting to turn a little yellow. I store it away (away from sunlight), except for the other day when I took it out to take a quick photo. Then it was back into a portfolio and out of sight. 

Even though the paper has yellowed a little, you should still be able to read it. I still believe in the immortal words of Miss Rumphius, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” She did that with her accidental, then definite and diligent, planting of lupines. The story is based on a real person and it seems she ordered her lupines from England. I’m not sure what I really think of going too crazy planting non-native flowers. I hope such spiky and colorful exotic beauties have not aced out any native flowers in the hills and dales of Maine. 

Tribune ad from Wednesday, March 15, 2000

This image may seem like a strange thing to put with my long ago art and story. But one day, later that winter in 2000, I noticed something very specific on a random page of the paper. (Maybe you’ve already noticed it.) As you can see, our little local paper had distinguished itself with other newspapers at the time. I really had no idea then as now what they were so excited about. International acclaim? Who were they competing against for the six prestigious awards? Sometimes when I see the word “international” attached to something like this, I wonder if that just means Canada was part of what someone meant by international. However, when I first saw this ad (which ran daily for a number of weeks) I didn’t notice or read the words at all, but instead saw that they had obviously used my January 9, 2000 story in the photo that accompanied their great news. I guess they liked my piece, and maybe it was representative of the great design in their newspaper. Funny, at the time, the publisher told me he could make me famous with my work. (He added that he wasn’t sure I would get rich, but definitely famous.) He seemed nice enough, but nothing ever came of it. I’m still not rich or famous. Oh well. Maybe I’ll be rich and famous next year. Maybe I don’t really care about any of that. I think what’s really more important is for each of us to take Miss Rumphius’s advice—do something to make the world a more beautiful place. I don’t think I’m going to plant lupines. But, I will try to make the world a little more beautiful by sharing my California art and stories one week at a time. Stay tuned.