May 29, 2021

Descanso Gardens bridge into the rose garden, 5/15/2021 (Inktense pencil and majestic purple water-soluble ink on Canson mix media paper)

On May 15th I found myself seated at a bench across from this bridge. There are a number of entrances into the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, but this is the only one with a bridge. As I spend so much time in this part of the garden it struck me odd I hadn’t sketched it yet. And as I hadn’t done a proper urban sketch lately, it would be the perfect sight that would tell an “urban sketcher” story of a SoCal bridge over a dry river bed. Since that day this sketch has been propped open near my laptop. Every time I would glance at it I wondered if it worthy of an even closer look from this one CA girl. It ticks most of the “urban sketching” boxes as it has an obvious human element and it marks a moment in time. But if it truly is to be considered an urban sketch it is supposed to be shared, and I really hadn’t originally planned to do that. Is there something more to be said? There is a SoCal back story, I guess. As I said, the bridge goes over a dry and therefore non-existent river. It’s actually a common sight around here, complete with boulders lining the basin—boulders that were smoothed in another real river somewhere else. However, this pretend river actually has a purpose other than to add a bit of hardscape interest that can be added to any garden landscape. Every so often we get torrential rains and then flooding. This usually dry river bed is meant to divert rainwater in a specific direction, keeping it from spilling into the planted beds and eroding the soil. (It’s also common for folks around here to have sand bags handy, just in case water is pouring down the usually dry streets. Filled sand bags can be lined up at the sides of streets and placed around walkways, creating fake river banks. This helps divert the speeding rainwater away from someone’s front door or into their garage.) But I kept wondering if describing a bit of “purposeful” hardscape you might find around here would really hold anyone’s interest, even mine. It’s almost as boring as talking about desiring a water feature in a garden. Actually, adding and/or maintaining water features is all but unheard of in SoCal. It’s probably no big deal to set up a lovely and artistic Italian fountain somewhere in the garden—it’s hooking it up to water that’s the problem. With water always in short supply it’s not a popular thing to do. Of course, lots of people have swimming pools. Hmm…It’s also not uncommon for neighbors to let their lawn die because they had gone past the amount of water they were allotted in a month and were charged a fine for the extra watering. Of course, we did not get enough rain again this season. Meteorologists are predicting another year of dry conditions, higher than normal summer temperatures and fires for the west coast…yuck!

But last Sunday a “worthy” story about this particular bridge popped onto my RADAR and I knew I wanted to share it. It all started when I saw many of my urban sketching buddies that had gathered that morning for a virtual portrait party that included hats and various props. One of the organizers of that portrait drawing event told us that an outdoor sketching outing had been planned for the third weekend in June. And it seems we would be meeting in the rose garden of the Descanso Gardens. Woo hoo! This was big news as we hadn’t been out as a group for over a year, and the last time we were all together in the flesh it was at the Descanso. Not everyone seemed comfortable with the idea of going out mid day with a group of more than 3 people to sketch for a couple hours. But I knew I was ready. It felt as though I was once again sitting on that same bench, waiting for my friends to come across the bridge and into the rose garden to sketch together again. It seemed a worthy wondering. I found myself wondering if I would find an empty spot on that same bench. I haven’t done a plein air watercolor in over a year, and I’m so ready to dig out my watercolors and luxuriate. I guess I should explain that I haven’t done such a watercolor at the Descanso because I haven’t been comfortable enough to go out with a bunch of strangers and stay 30 to 45 minutes in one spot. Instead, I have been traveling light with my stealth bag. That smaller backpack contains only a few pens, pencils and pad of mixed media paper for short 15 minute or less sketches. And I am often drawing standing up. So much to think about and so much to look forward to—packing my larger backpack with things that would require me to linger, waiting for the watercolor to dry. Can’t wait to hang out and sketch with friends.

So, without further ado, and fresh from a portrait party…

Ready or not? Here they come! Did you already forget about the hats and props?

Happy birthday, Kelly (5/29)

May 22, 2021

And before I knew it, this week’s post was all about irises. I started noticing the first brightly colored blossoms at the Descanso Gardens in January (see iris in 3/13/2021 post). Then it seemed that every time I went to the Descanso after that there were yet other singular blooms and/or another iris clump blooming it’s head off. (If you have ever had iris in your garden, you know how they like to clump.) As you can see, sometimes I did close ups or small vignettes with my Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate or Bristol board (three to starting from the left). As I have said, I like to call these tiny offerings my little bits of jewel art. And sometimes I found myself focusing on continuous line drawings using my majestic purple ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils. You can see right here a purple clump I did with those exact materials (far right). The iris rendered in the 3/13/2021 post was done with the same ink and Inktense pencils. In reality the individual blossoms don’t last very long, but as there are often many on each stem they will continue blooming one flower at a time. If you want to encourage multiple blossoms, just snap off the spent and dried up flowers. That will allow the next set of buds ample room to mature and bloom as well. 

So, let’s hear it for one of the many lovelies of spring…THE IRIS! While compiling the first group of sketches I remembered several other CA girl moments of personal iris in past springtimes. The bronze over deep oxblood colored iris you see (far left and center) bloomed in abundance in my mother’s Grass Valley garden every spring as far back as I can remember. This photo was taken in 1995 and I don’t know why I never thought to paint and/or sketch them, I certainly had many opportunities to do so. Such a wonder in general I guess. Thank goodness I took lots of pictures and here are a couple. (Sorry for the out of focus photo of the clump on the left.) It’s funny, but up until today I never wondered what kind of bearded iris it was and/or is. It turns out it’s an heirloom variety called Colonel Candelot and it became an official flower in 1907. (Not sure where such a name came from. I looked it up and there doesn’t appear to have been a Colonel Candelot.) My parent’s Grass Valley house was built in 1853, so it’s possible that garden had some of the first Colonel Candelot in northern CA, but I doubt it. My parent’s were told by the family who owned the house before them (in the 60s) that the large corner lot garden had been quite lovely and extensive in the 50s. It seems there were a couple sisters who lived in the house in the 30s, 40s and 50s and they liked to garden. The Colonel Candelot were probably planted by them. I have another reason to suggest such flowers were not planted earlier and it has to do with Grass Valley’s early days. It was a gold mining town and was always a kind of “rough and ready” place—not many beautiful gardens around the turn of the 20th century, I think. (Believe it or not, if you went west on Main Street and out of GV you will come to a tiny town named Rough and Ready. I’m not kidding. It seems that Rough and Ready had the dubious, and rather horrifying, distinction of seceding from the Union during the Civil War. I’m not kidding here either.) The original 1853 house was built before the Civil War and during the gold rush. It had a carriage house and manger for a horse out back, but no running water or electricity. Sometime later a second story was added, complete with Victorian dentils. Cornish tin miners had been imported to the area to help with the hard rock gold mining being done at mines like the Empire Mine. The miners rented rooms in the house and walked to and from the mine every day. Sometime after the second story was added indoor plumbing and electricity were added, along with a kitchen. As the mines were running at full steam in 1907, I just don’t think anyone who lived in that house would have had the time or interest to tend a garden. Just sayin’…

As the for the white bearded iris you see on the right, I did a painting of this one. It so happened that they were blooming in my Paso Robles garden the spring my niece was born, May 2, 1996. I had a habit of doing sketches/paintings of plants that were blooming when close friends and family had babies. Then I gifted the art to the new mom. I seem to remember making a photo copy of that finished art, but can only find the original sketches I did, not the color copy. I love that you can see metal wire fencing behind the flowers. I had to put that around any plants I cared about in that Paso garden, or the deer would eat it. 

Candy Land rose, Descanso Gardens, 5/22/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Uh oh! Today I was back at the Descanso Gardens. But my fickle eye was drawn away from any irises, and to a particular rose being visited by a bee. Yup, the roses have definitely taken over and I couldn’t resist…

Happy Birthday Dan (5/21)!

May 15, 2021

A friend’s cat, winter 2021 (oil pastel on raw sienna Colourfix pastel paper)

Several months ago my son asked me to draw a friend’s cat. It seems that the cat had lived with his friend and their partner. As you may have already guessed, the couple split and the kitty stayed behind. My son’s friend now missed their furry friend. My son didn’t specify what medium he wished me to use. But telling me the materials he wanted probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is because I kind of have this process I go through when I take on a request. It probably sounds a little too precious and self-important, on my part, but there it is. Once I saw the kitty’s striking colors, I knew I wanted to use the background as one of the colors of her fur. I had recently bought a packet of warm toned pastel paper (see other examples of drawings on this paper, 1/1/2021, 1/9/2021, 1/15/2021, 1/23/2021) and I was sure I had just the right color for her fur. The 9 by 12 inch size also became part of my “perfect storm” of  bits of art ideas swirling together. Finally, the idea of using my neocolonial II Aquarelle water soluble wax pastels completed the details of my process for this piece of art. I surveyed the colors I had on hand, and decided I needed to order a couple more (silver and pink) to complete the cat’s portrait. (I wanted the pink for just the tip of the nose. Yes, pretty anal, I know, but there it is.) The silver crayon came in the mail pretty quickly, but the pink did not. In fact, I had to call Blick’s to find out what was going on. Of course I couldn’t tell the woman that I needed this particular pink crayon so I could add just the tip of a cat’s nose to a pastel. That would just sound too weird, right? It took several weeks for it to arrive and then it came in a medium size box in a larger plastic bag, and all of this was in yet a larger box. I remember picking it up, wondering why I could hear it rolling around in there. I was glad it hadn’t broken in transit as I couldn’t imagine sending it back, only to wait for another one. Finally, I could go in for the kill and finish the portrait. Going in for the kill is when I add the last bit of a color or nuance to a piece—at least I try to tell myself to stop and not go any farther. Sometimes it works and sometimes even the perfect pink crayon can’t fix it. And just like that, she was finished. The kitty drifted out of my hands, into my son’s hand and then on to his friend. They were so appreciative. I got a very sweet thank you note.

Not really sure what exactly made me think of the little kitty this particular week. Maybe it was hearing that the Obama’s pooch, Bo, had died and the family was mourning the loss. What is it about some pets that make us grieve so? Not sure if you know what I mean by “some pets,” but maybe you do. I remember a guy I dated many years ago and he described what he called his “super dogs.” He said they were the ones that stood out in our lives more than others. I seem to remember that he really liked black labs. (I could be wrong about the breed, but he won’t be reading this so it doesn’t really matter. Of course it would probably matter to him.) He told me of one particular lab that was his “super dog” and that beloved dog was buried under a specific oak overlooking his property. To this day, I can still picture him pointing to that spot under the tree in Danville. 

In my life I have had a few dogs as pets and one in particular breaks my heart every time I think about her, and our very last moments together. In fact, it makes my eyes fill with tears even now to write about her. Her name was Lexi, and she was our golden retriever wonder dog. I have her collar and ashes in a small cedar box in a dresser and every now and then I open the drawer and say hello, and then goodbye. I am sure that there are many of you who have loved and lost a “super pet” so I am not going into great detail about how my life was better because she was there to watch over me and my son when he was little. I don’t think I could bear it. You probably have your own deep felt memories and stories to remember here.

A couple SoCal friends recently lost a beloved kitty to cancer. They invited me to their house the afternoon their treasured Dashiell Hammett (see his 6/1/2019 portrait) was put down by a visiting vet. Wow, that was hard! It brought back all my memories of my last moments with Lexi, except we were in the vet’s office. Well, these same friends have recently acquired a frisky kitten named Hugo. So, welcome little Hugo. You will be loved unconditionally as though you are destined to be their “super cat.” And even though you will inevitably break their heart someday, you will be loved today as though there is no tomorrow.

As far as I know, my son’s friend’s cat has not died. But it seems that she is sorely missed and I hope the sketch for his friend will be a nice reminder of a precious furry friend. Maybe my care and planning for the perfect pink nose was the right thing to do. Maybe waiting for that special color to come in the mail was worth the wait. Silly me, or course it was.

May 8, 2021

Virtual sketching (3/28/2021) of annual Bermuda Day Parade in Bermuda (black ink and POSCA pens on watercolor paper)

One of our sketching members was in Hamilton (capital city of Bermuda) for the cities annual Bermuda Day parade one year. (I don’t remember her saying what year they were there.) But I guess they’ve been holding this particular parade the end of May since 1902. That tells me she was there in late May. If you are like me, you might have wondered who or what started such a celebration. So of course I Googled Bermuda Day parade. It was originally called the Empire Day Parade. Uh huh. It also seems that it was to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was May 24th. And it also seems that she died in 1901, which probably means that first parade was meant to honor/remember that particular English queen by holding a posthumous celebration and parade in the British Colony of Bermuda. I’m not sure if Gombey dancers were part of those first Empire parade years, but they were certainly fun to look at and draw a month or so ago. I discovered some other rather “dull sounding” information about Bermuda Day. The queen’s birthday was also used to commemorate the first day of the season that business men, not business women, could wear Bermuda shorts with a jacket and tie. No, I’m not kidding. I was glad to read that today all kinds of people wear Bermuda shorts in Bermuda all year round. Yeah.

Our host told that Gombey was a melding of African, Caribbean and British traditions and that they are the favorite participants of any Bermuda Day parade. She talked at length about Gombey dancers, describing their great head dresses and colorful costumes. It’s funny, but when I discovered we were going to sketch the dancers at the parade, and we had only 30 minutes, I knew immediately I wanted to use my POSCA pens. The colors were perfect for the dancer’s costumes. It was all such fun—trying to capture the movement of row upon row of black and brightly colored fringe and tassels. I just couldn’t imagine personally moving, let alone dancing, while wearing  those tall tall head pieces.

Last Sunday, another of our intrepid artist friends took us to a couple summer festivals along the coast of the Catalonian region of Spain. It seems that Sitges celebrates summer with fire crackers and pyrotechnics. And in Coma-Ruga you might see a summer celebration that includes a parade with people wearing huge paper mache heads. It was fun to do 30 minute sketches of each celebration even though I’m not sure I would enjoy all that smoke, and I can’t explain the significance of the giant heads. Our host didn’t offer an explanation of why the heads were so big and I couldn’t find anything about them. Our guide did say that the two on the left were specific characters familiar to the people from that region. She added that she wasn’t sure if a pirate from the Caribbean (as seen on the right) really had anything to do with the other two, but that there once were pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. I did look that up and it seems that is true, but none of the images I saw of pirates from that region looked like Jack Sparrow.

So, even though I didn’t totally understand what any of these groups were celebrating, I did latch onto the idea of celebrating. I have been looking for something to celebrate. How about you? And once I thought about it I realized I have already enjoyed a couple recent celebrations, one traditional and some more minor and personal. My most recent personal celebration occurred only yesterday. When I got home from work I realized I had been back working on campus for two weeks. Yeah! And on Wednesday, it was Cinco de Mayo. (Don’t know if that is a big deal where you live, but here in SoCal it’s BIG.) The teachers and staff were treated to homemade tamales for lunch. If you have never tasted a homemade tamale, you don’t know what you are missing. Many of our Hispanic families have various abuelas, tias y mamas that make that delicious “real” food ,and it is a real treat! And to add to our Cinco de Mayo celebration, the school district’s COVID mobile truck came to school that day as well. So, we all got tested for the coronavirus and then ate lunch. That’s a party!

I participated in another personal celebration last Saturday at the Descanso Gardens. And it came as the result of the CDC saying we could remove our face coverings when outside—provided we had been vaccinated. It was such a treat to walk among the roses in the rose garden, smelling their fragrance whenever I pleased. As you might imagine there were other shy people like myself, celebrating in the same way. It was lovely and such a treat.

Finally, my urban sketching group is planning a celebration the end of June. What are we going to do? And what are we going to celebrate? We are planning to gather outside somewhere, in smallish groups of course, to sketch on location—just like the old days. We haven’t ventured out to do that for over a year, and most of us are really looking forward to sketching outside together. Actually, it will be a kind of bitter sweet celebration as many of our group live far away from the LA area. They, of course, will not be joining us. We talked of continuing to sketch together virtually, and I hope we do that as well. But you know how such plans can fall apart, right?

So, what would you like to celebrate? Check out colorful dancers at some event? See a fireworks display some balmy summer evening at the beach? Have a meal with friends in celebration of a birthday, anniversary or even just because? I have to admit that hearing live music would be reason to celebrate. I suspect the list seems endless right now…

May 1, 2021

Dutch iris, Descanso Gardens, 5/1/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If I want to have a perfect Saturday day, I try to get an early start and head over to the Descanso Gardens. Usually I’m not looking for something specific to sketch there, but I usually find something I want to draw whatever the weather and/or the time of the year. My adventure today and last weekend was no different. I went with no idea of what I would see that would grab my attention. As is my usual I soon find myself walking around the rose garden. Lately I think I have been subconsciously looking for a perfect urban/non-urban vignette to sketch with my new/old art materials obsession—Prismacolor on Bristol board or acetate. As I walk around I find myself engaged in an interior monologue about how spring has been progressing at the Descanso, based on the flowers that are about to bloom, those at their peak and what’s on it’s way out. Most of the tulips are gone, and I don’t mean that lone stems, sans petals, are evident, but most plants have been extracted from the ground. The lovely orange clivia that marks many paths among the camellias and oaks has dried up and the lilac shrubs have more green growth than flowers. The cobalt blue forget me nots (Myostis) are not the sharp blue they were a couple weeks ago. But don’t despair! Lots of “lovely” is coming on. The huge gingko tree that inspired a winter solstice pastel (see January 1, 2021) is leafing out with bright green leaves. Bearded iris are still going strong in the rose garden with soft yellows, bright yellows, rust colors and everything in between. Planted beside many of the bearded iris are huge patches of tall and spiky Dutch iris. And many of those are the same colors as their bearded friends. I saw this Dutch iris, with a few more just like it budding up, as I was walking out of the rose garden. I had already done a sketch of roses and salvia and was heading toward the outer garden area. But when I saw this color, I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew I had that exact petal colors (Tuscan red and Spanish orange) in my Prismacolor set of colored pencils in my backpack. It was such a nice day that I didn’t even look for a bench, but instead stood before the flower and sketched it on the spot. 

With great “Tuscan red” satisfaction I put the finished sketch in my backpack and continued into the native CA section of the Descanso. Native mint/sage/salvia are in full bloom right now, as well as CA fuchsia. But the fremontodendron (see December 21, 2019) and the bright purple blossoms of the red bud trees are now quite subdued. I didn’t see many bright orange CA poppies either, but they are still going strong in my home garden. I noticed that the tall and lanky matilija poppies are budding up, ready to produce their large and unusual “white with yellow center” flowers. (Each flower looks like a sunny side up egg. I’m not kidding. In fact, one of the common names for this native CA flower is the “fried egg plant.”)

In the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/24/21 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

Last weekend’s sketching adventure also took me to the rose garden at the Descanso. Surprise, surprise…Not sure I noticed that many roses in bloom that day. But I found a charming red climbing rose that I chose to render—and it would qualify as an urban sketch because I included the human-made wooden arbor. Based on what I saw last Saturday, and today, the great rose engine of color has turned over and beginning to rev up with amazing color. Most of the roses at the Descanso have fragrance as well. And as those of us who have had the vaccine can now loosen our masks a little when outside, I took full advantage of smelling every rose I saw both last week and today. Maybe the roses in your neighborhood are also beginning to bud and bloom, sending out their scent. If not yet, I hope it’s soon. Or maybe they are all done and you have lovely memories of some recent roses. We can only hope!

Note about last week’s post

Last week I wrote about my dad sharing some of his music with me when I was pregnant with my son. And I specifically wrote about the Johnny Mandel, Johnny Mercer song, “Emily.” I forgot to mention that my dad often told a story about an encounter with Johnny Mercer while he and my mom were undergrads at UCLA in the early 50s. It seems my dad liked to do his math homework on the huge chalkboards that could be found in college classrooms in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, one day he was working away, while my mother sat in one of the lecture hall seats doing her homework. As dad loved to tell it, all of sudden, Johnny Mercer opened one of the doors next to the chalkboards and walked in the room. I guess Mr. Mercer stood there for a few moments, watching my dad scribble all over the board. And then just as quickly as he had arrived, he walked out. I always thought this is a funny story as Mr. Mercer, the renowned lyricist of his time, never said a word. Of course, what’s really funny is that my dad recounted this story so many times to me and my brothers, and I don’t think he said a word either. Such a funny memory, right? My dad told that story over and over and somehow it is now my memory too. (As an undergraduate at UCSD I had classes in that same kind of lecture hall. They were huge rooms with 200 uncomfortable tiny wooden seats, and each tiny chair had a tiny desk you could open or close once you sat down. Oh man, I can picture that room.) And now, when I remember his “Johnny Mercer” story I am also in that long ago classroom, with the definite smell of chalk in my nostrils. But for the life of me, even though I am now in the room with my parents, I can’t wrap my head around why my dad would care if a famous person silently watched him silently write math equations on a huge chalk board. Funny…