March 28, 2021

3/21/2021, wall and poppies (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate) and 3/22/2021, wall, poppies and car (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If you’ve been following one CA girl for the many weeks and months we’ve been under the weather with the pandemic, you have surely noticed the many worldwide virtual online sketching trips I’ve taken. We have been averaging one every other Sunday since our first trip to Porto, Portugal August 8, 2020 (posted September 5, 2020). But as the time has passed our group seems to have filled up the other Sundays with other kinds of art activities as well. One of those mornings a member shared his amazing tiny sketch pad filled with local SoCal street scenes done in gouache. For another odd Sunday another member showed us how he liked to sketch people on the Metro line with a ball point pen—of course this was pre-pandemic. And one Sunday morning I even took the group on a live webcam sketching event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We sketched sea turtles, various fish swimming in and around the three story kelp forest and a tank full of jellies. 

Something old becomes new again!

As it seems we will be home sketching a bit longer our leader (last Sunday) asked us if we had any ideas for possible upcoming art events we might like to host. Some suggested more virtual trips and some suggested sketching demos. One member suggested he could show us how he drives around LA, doing quick sketches at stop lights. I got kind of over excited about sharing something I might do. Not really sure why, but I volunteered to demo something I really haven’t done in years—how to use Prismacolor colored pencils on a variety of surfaces. I started out using them in the late 80s and early 90s. And my favorite surfaces to draw on at the time were acetate, Bristol board and illustration board. (see 9/23/2017 of Alligator Gar from 1990) Oh, I still have bags and bags of those colored pencils and a few random sheets of Bristol board and acetate, plus illustration board. But I wondered if I would be too rusty to demo something I used a lot in the past, but not so much lately. Too late for that now as it appears I have committed myself to remembering how to use them. Here are a couple of my most recent attempts—same spot on different days. One is on Bristol board, the other on acetate. It was fun to sit out on my front porch a couple warm afternoons—capturing these scenes using my long ago favorite colored pencils. I think these sketches came out fine, but look very different from my late 20th century drawings. Oh, and while sitting outside to do these that first afternoon I’d forgotten that the luscious waxy texture these pencils produce is great as long as you keep them out of the sun. If you don’t they will melt into a big unusable mess. And I was sitting in the direct sun! Once I realized my mistake I quickly moved me and my stuff to the shade. I had to wait a few minutes to be sure the lead had hardened a bit. By the second afternoon I knew to set up in the shade.

In the late 80s and early 90s I was employed to do pen and ink botanical and entomological drawings at the CA Academy of Sciences. My botanicals were done on Strathmore smooth Bristol board. My wasp drawings were done on a more heavy duty acetate. All of said scientific illustrations were done with Rotring Rapidograph pens with points that ranged from .13, .25 and .30. (Those are pretty fine points and I spent a fair amount of time unclogging them.) Also during that time of very technically tight drawings I was amusing myself by using Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board and acetate of various thicknesses and finishes. I should also mention that about that time I became obsessed with using the same Prismacolor colored  pencils with watercolor on hot press illustration board. (See 20th century botanicals on 4/6/2020 and 5/2/2020 posts and 21st century botanicals 4/25/2020, 6/7/2020, 6/27/2020, 7/18/2020, 8/1/2020, 8/15/2020.) As you can see, I am still obsessed with doing such detailed Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor botanicals on illustration board.

Pansy vignette, 3/24/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Here’s another one from the other side of my front porch. Again, it was fun to sit (in the shade) and sketch a simple spring vignette of pansies. When using colored pencils the finished product is usually not very big. As I sat and applied that wonderful waxy pigment to the acetate I was reminded why I liked using them so much. When you are done you have this tiny bright gem. I’ve written about the appeal of creating such jewel-like bits of art. I was glad to be reminded of that. So, maybe I was a little rusty—almost melting some key colors I love. But I think I will be ready to share these materials with my sketching buddies on some upcoming Sunday. I have quite a history with this medium. I wonder if they would be interested in hearing my Prismacolor colored pencil journey? Of course not! If they are like me, they just want to hear about it and then try it out on their own, right?

…A little late with this week’s post. I got my second COVID vaccination on Thursday (March 25, my mom’s birthday) and had a rather nasty reaction. But all done with that for now. And Happy Birthday mom! I miss you!

March 20, 2021

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Sanze-in Temple in OHARA, (Prismacolor colored pencils and POSCA pens on toned paper)

Our artist tour guide for last Sunday’s virtual sketching trip to Kyoto was amazing. First, he spent a few minutes giving us a quick bit of history for that ancient city. Here’s just a few things he said: Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1000 years. Tokyo became the capital in 1868. Japanese emperors lived in Kyoto for 1074 years and there are over 1600 temples in Kyoto. Such an interesting and old culture…

Our host was so thoughtful. He used his colored pencils to draw us a map of all the places we would be visiting that morning. At the top of the map he penciled in where the airports one might use to get to Kyoto (Kansai, Narita or Haneda). He also noted on the map the relative distance and time it would take to get there based on which airport you flew into. Below that he sketched a very simple and easy to read map of several landmarks around town as well as 4 stops we would be making—Ohara, Gion, Toji and Arashiyama. I don’t think he had planned we would sketch in all 4 areas, but with 30 minutes per sketch, he thought we would do at least 3. (We spent a little longer for our first two sketches and never got past our second stop. That was fine with me.)

For our first stop we were treated to a temple in OHARA that he had seen one fall while visiting Kyoto. The lovely orange and yellow foliage in the background are the leaves of Japanese maples. If you have never seen a Japanese maple, please Google it and just enjoy what you see. Japanese maples were a particular favorite of my parents and they often planted them in the gardens of our family homes in Silicon Valley and Grass Valley. I have written about the Japanese maples they planted in our Saratoga yard in the 60s. I haven’t been past that house in a while, but my brother (who lives in Sunnyvale) said they are still there. He said they absolutely tower over the terra cotta roof of that single story Spanish style house in Saratoga. I should go check it out one of these days. There was a particularly slow growing Japanese maple in my parent’s garden in Grass Valley. I remember my dad telling about a time when he took a friend on a tour of our old house (built in 1850) and garden. My dad said he stopped to show him the maple tree. He said the friend stared intently at the tree and made a comment about how expensive that tree must have been. (Actually, that’s kind of a weird thing to say, right? I guess it was his way of saying how lovely it was, but he wouldn’t have planted something that expensive as it might just die some particularly cold Grass Valley winter. Hmmm…) If you have followed my art with stories you have already heard me speak of many of my beloved CA trees—oaks of all kinds, redwoods and dogwood. I am also in love with many non-native CA trees, such as fruitless mulberry (native to China and favorite food of silk worms) and palm trees.

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Yasak Pagoda and fan shop in Yasaka area, near Gion, (Prismacolor colored pencils and oxblood ink with Fude nib on watercolor paper)

For our second stop we went to the Yasaka area, near Gion. For this view we could see the Yasaka Pagoda in the background with the sign for a fan shop more close up. I love the idea that there would be a shop that sold only fans. Our host said that it gets warm in Kyoto in the summer and a fan came in handy to keep cool. He also that there were many shops that sold paint brushes, inks and watercolors. It seems that such materials were originally for those who painters who did calligraphy. But of course all kinds of artists now go to such shops looking for all things painterly. All of our ears pricked up when we heard of yet another place to buy lovely art supplies. And of course I have already looked up several places to shop for such goods in Kyoto.

I can’t leave today’s post without mentioning that I recently watched Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan on Netflix. It was fascinating and focused on some pretty fierce battles between competing warlords from 1551 to 1616. I’m not usually partial to stories of wars, but I would definitely recommend it. 

Photo of SoCal monarch chrysalis, 3/17/2021–St. Patrick’s Day


Today is the first day of spring and I went to sketch the tulips at the Descanso Gardens. Yes, they are up, open and beautiful. I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketched them in the damp low fog. Actually, I’d planned to share that sketch here today. The fog was so low and the air so very wet that the Inktense pencil and water soluble majestic purple ink mixed lightly together in a very subtle and interesting way without any help from me. However, on my way home I stopped past a nursery to replace a milkweed plant I had inadvertently killed. Thinking of the many monarch chrysalis I have hanging from the under side of my front porch I thought I would share a photo of one here. There is just no way I can sketch or paint something as beautiful as this. It’s my homage to spring 2021. Welcome!

March 13, 2021

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 1/16/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

If you are still climbing out of some unbelievably punishing winter weather, I am so sorry. I hope you can take some minor comfort knowing that spring has been on its way for weeks now. If you have suffered beyond measure with COVID I hope you can take heart that change is coming and visible in every new flower bud and light green growth on bare branches. Or if you feel like you’ve been waiting for something new and good, maybe sunshine really is just around the corner. Based on weather reports I am seeing today, that may seem just so far away for you. And I am sorry.

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been looking for spring and a reason for a more hopeful summer. As I live in SoCal I know I’m lucky to be able to go outside in winter and not worry about freezing to death. I was out looking for signs of spring when I went to the Descanso Gardens on January 16, 2021. If you are a member and can get there at 8am, you and other members are the only ones allowed in. Members can be there all day at any time. However, non-members must make reservations and those reservations begin at 9. As there are fewer people walking around at 8 or 8:30, I am happy to get up early to share the garden at a time when there are more birds, squirrels and bunnies than people. It was a pretty cold morning on the 16th, but I put on lots of layers, my fingerless gloves and walked through the gate a little after 8. There was fog hanging onto the ground and it was just too frigid to even consider looking for a place to sit and sketch. Even though I had my bubble wrap to sit on, I knew that just wasn’t going to work. I was so happy to came across this blooming pinkish iris. I walked right up to it, opened my backpack and began sketching on the spot—one long continuous marvelous and majestic purple ink line. I scribbled on some Inktense pencil as well, but added water when I got home. We are pretty lucky here in SoCal to have flowers that are blooming even in the middle of January. In fact, the Descanso has some old huge camellias shrubs under the old huge oaks and I could see many light green flower buds on the Camellia branches. They usually bloom in February in CA. Most of the oaks are live oaks which means they don’t loose their leaves. But even those trees were showing new green growth. Yeah!

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 2/15/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils and watercolor on Canson Mix Media paper)

I went back the next month and was again looking for a sneak peek of spring. Again, there was fog clinging to much of the ground in the rose garden and it was again too cold to sit and sketch. But the minute I came upon this lovely vignette, I stopped in my tracks and took out my sketch pad and marvelous majestic purple ink pen. And again I rooted myself to that spot and I sketched this lovely pinkness with green trim using continuous contour lines. (I think there might be more than one contour line here…) If you’ve never seen a tulip tree (Magnolia Soulangeana), they are really something, and can only have these amazing flowers in winter. It’s part of the magnolia family and the blossoms are huge. The maple leaf hydrangea wasn’t yet blooming, but the leaves had an almost a pinkish glow in that early morning ground fog. 

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 3/6/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

So, a week ago I was so hopeful to get more than a sneak peek of spring. I was sure there’d be at least some tulips blooming. Well, a couple deep purple ones tulips were present, but most were still pushing up through the ground as green spikes strips. There were lots of different kinds of blooming daffodils in clumps around, as well as some bright yellow drifts of King Alfred daffy down dillys. For this little vignette of blue borage, purple wallflower and bright orange CA it was just warm enough for me to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketch. Making some spring 2021 progress. Guess I have to wait a bit longer for the big flower show.

March 13, 2020 

You may or may not be wondering what was significant about this date. Well, for all of us who work for LAUSD, it was the last day that students and staff were all together at school. Since then, all learning for our students has been done at home online and virtually. Yes, it’s been a year. Was March 13, 2020 significant for you or your family? I guess for my speech pathologist brethren, March 16, 2020 was also a day to remember. On Monday, March 16, 2020, I voluntarily attended my first Zoom session with over 40,000 other speech therapists across the country. There was no charge for this online event. We were to learn about how to provide virtual speech and language therapy. It was an entire day of tele therapists sharing with all of us how we were going to proceed until we could all see our students in the flesh and face to face again. I remember at the end of the day one of the organizers saying it was the largest ever online voluntary gathering of people for a single purpose. She even said that what we had done that day could probably qualify us for some kind of Guinness World Records record. But honestly, I don’t think anyone wanted to make that day seem special in any way. And I don’t remember hearing back from that person as to whether or not our amazing event would be considered for any kind of world record. I think we were all overwhelmed with what was ahead of us, and really couldn’t see any kind of reason to celebrate. So, I choose to celebrate the coming of spring 2021. Can I get an amen?

March 6, 2021

Sketch of Bourdeilles, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

This is one of three sketches we did on our recent virtual sketching trip to France—le deuxieme. For our previous excursion there, la premiere, we explored the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival in Pont Aven (see February 27, 2021 post). Our hosts for that first and memorable trip had specifically gone to that part of Brittany to sketch the people who participated in the festival, with emphasis on seeing and sketching the women’s very elaborate costumes. If you have looked as last week’s post you may have noticed some pretty extreme head gear. But for last Sunday’s trip to Southwestern France our host shared with us that she and her husband had not gone there to see what the local folks liked to wear 100 years ago, but for cheese tasting. They traveled from town to town, tasting regional fromage as they went. She shared photos of some of the cheeses they sampled, as well as hams and other regional foods. Not sure I would have enjoyed sketching a stall of hams hanging about as much as I liked sketching this scene in Bourdeilles. When I first glanced at these structures I planned to do a finished outline sketch with some “heavy handed” graphite and then use only watercolor with my 1/2 inch squared off Stroke brush. However, it just didn’t go as planned and the graphite pencil didn’t give me the outlines I wanted. So, I grabbed my Prismacolor colored pencils and added some French grey lines, indigo blue and a couple other colors. Once I had taken care of that I was in a much happier state of mind and especially enjoyed adding the final apple green Prismacolor to the grapes that flanked the walk up to the front door. Of course, as this is France, the grapes grown there are harvested each year and turned into wine. OMG, that’s definitely a French and CA way to think and live—wine to go with fabulous regional cheese! I was now lost in some kind of dreamland, deciding the shrubs to right of the grapes were French lavender. I love the smell of lavender and have been known to spray my pillow cases with lavender essence. I was now imagining a friendly afternoon of pairing various wines with cheeses. Then it would be time for a lovely nap—a nosh and nap (or romantic romp)—on scented linen. It doesn’t really get any better than that. 

Sketch of Hotel Coligny, Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for all the hard times I seemed to have with my first sketch, this one went more easily and was way more satisfying to do. It was like spreading a soft cheese on a piece of crusty bread, not at all like trying to spread butter just out of the frig on a graham cracker. My artist friends have often commented that when doing these quick sketches, the first one you do feels like a warm up. And all the sketches that follow are somehow better, with less doubt about the sometimes split second decisions we are making in the moment, as we look at something and choose materials to represent that something we have conjured up in our brains. It’s like the muscle memory needs to get activated so it can go on autopilot and the brain is freed up to think of composition, materials, color or not color, and the final knowing when it’s time to stop. I think I’m in agreement with the idea. I need a warm up before I can enjoy sketching something. Anyway, I enjoyed the process of capturing this little hotel. When I first looked at it I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that meant nestling the charming white structure with terra cotta roof directly into the background of the dark green blob of trees and shrubbery. Then, to put it further in its place, and make it interesting, I knew I wanted to add the buildings reflection in the slowly moving river. Somehow I knew that if I could get that right I would relax and be satisfied with the results. So, I limited my materials to just watercolor and Inktense pencils. And I finished what I set out to do in 20 minutes or so. I found I had time to work more on the bridge and attend to the awnings etc in the front of the building. I don’t remember our host telling us of some great cheeses they sampled there. I mean, she may have, but I think the minute she shared this picture I began planning and sketching, even before the official 30 minute timer was set. The whole experience was very satisfying. 

Sketch of Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (POSCA markers, Inktense pencils, black ink on watercolor paper)

Several of the members commented on the lovely light colors for this one. The trip host said she thinks she’d put a filter on her camera to create a different feeling of light. One of the group leaders said she thought it made it look like it was a warm summer day. With that single comment I knew what I wanted to do. I got out a non-water soluble black ink pen, POSCA markers, and a couple Inktense pencils. I wanted to somehow capture light waves that were moving all around this bright village scene. I started the sketch using my black pen and captured the scene you see in one long continuous line. Then I added wavy POSCA pen lines to reinforce the idea of normally invisible light wavelengths that appeared to bounce off the stone walls, terra cotta roofs, road and of course the blue sky. Finally, I scribbled in some bright fields of Inktense pencil–yellow, blue, green and orange. I think we all had a great time in Southwest France even though we didn’t get to taste one bit of cheese. And I think I heard that our next virtual trip would be to Maine. Stay tuned!