June 26, 2021

Rose Garden/Descanso Gardens, 6/19/2021 (watercolor, Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

A morning of close encounters…

As I indicated last week, the LA Urban Sketchers were at the Descanso Gardens on the 19th. It had been over 15 months since we had gathered for an in-person sketching event and it was greatly anticipated by most folks in the group, and that included me. The night before I laid out all my usual watercolor materials. It felt a little weird because for my recent visits there I had only been taking my stealth bag of “non-wet” gear to do quick sketches. I would need a larger backpack and would be carrying water. I was concerned that we were meeting at 10 and I was used to arriving at 8—when it’s much cooler. In fact, for most of my recent sketching time at the Descanso I head for home at 10. I kind of wondered how I would feel sitting for a longer period of time, as doing a watercolor can’t really be timed or hurried. Would I freak out with more people nearby and milling around? Would I remember how to keep my pots of paint perfectly hydrated? Or would the dry hot temperatures of a typical SoCal day quickly dry out my carefully mixed colors? Silly, huh?

I guess my first close encounter for the morning was when I arrived at the rose garden pavilion. There were about 10 sketchers milling around. Some were quite sweaty as they had already been wandering around for some time. And most of them were not wearing masks—sweaty and no masks. Of course we were all standing pretty close together. I wondered what I was doing there. I had on my mask, but wondered why as I had been vaccinated. I had so many unanswered questions rolling around in my brain. I needed one answer to one question at this point. What was the plan for our morning together? I looked for our group leader, but she wasn’t there. It seems she had eaten something (a bit of disagreeable shellfish) the night before and wasn’t feeling well. Oh no! Now what? I was starting to sweat. Someone suggested we individually find a place to sketch and come back together at 12: 30 to share our work. Two and a half hours? It was already getting warm, and I wasn’t sure I would stay that long. But I thought I would give it a try. And just like that, everyone wandered away. I wondered if I would see anyone later that day.

I started looking for a spot in the shade and found that a sketcher had taken a favorite shady and cool bench. Darn. I looked for other shady spots under the trees, wondering how long each location would stay in the shade as the sun moved across the sky. I found what looked to be a shady bench across the path from a patch of roses. I set up everything. But I soon realized that the solid shade around me seemed to be changing to filtered sunlight. Hmmm… I decided to move down the trail to the next bench, about 10 feet away. This new spot would stay in the shade all day and was across from the beautiful arbor of roses you see here. As I re set up my materials, a number of couples seemed to like this same arbor. They sat at my arbor bench and took numerous selfies—smiling and having a good time. But they were blocking my view and I didn’t want them to think I was staring. Maybe I should move again? I didn’t want to as I had noticed a least a half dozen fellow sketchers sitting on the grass behind the arbor. I wanted to be near them, so I stayed put. Thank goodness couples stopped coming around and I could focus on what I wanted to draw.

But I soon found myself engaged in one close encounter after another. First, I chatted with a fellow sketcher who was sitting at the next bench, further along the trail. Once she left I did a rough sketch of the rose arbor. Then a man with a walking stick stopped in front of the arbor and started a conversation. He was rather charming, and by the time he walked away he had definitely shared with me his philosophy of life. Then a woman stopped to ask me about what we were all doing. She shared that she loved to paint and I suggested she look into Urban Sketchers. She thanked me and moved on her way. Finally, I had a minute to mix my pots of color and I added the first layers of rose and arbor colors.

I stopped to stand up and eat a snack. I noticed a couple with their two small children standing in front of my first bench. They were watching a snake as it made its way under my first bench, across the path and into the nearby roses. All of sudden the whole family took a step back. I walked a little closer and saw the 3 foot snake just as it had made it into the shrubbery. It’s rattle (with maybe 5 rattles) was still clearly visible. Yes!! It had a diamond pattern on its back and was most certainly a rattlesnake. I alerted my sketching friends on the nearby grass and they all stood up quickly to see what I was talking about. Nobody sat back down right away, but instead took turns looking to confirm that a rattler was mostly hidden in the nearby roses. A short time later a Descanso Gardens employee went past in her golf cart. We got her attention and told her about the snake. She called someone on her radio and soon a guy showed up with gloves, a proper snake stick and a bucket with a lid. We knew he meant business as he very skillfully used the stick to get the snake into the bucket (marked with the word “rattlesnake”) and carefully put on the lid. No harm came to the snake, the snake wrangler or anyone else. When asked what would happen next, he said that he would take it to an area way at the back of the Descanso and release it. Good!

While this was going on a family had begun hovering near my bench. The parents and grandfather were talking intermittently to each other and me. Their 4-year-old child/grandchild was mesmerized at the sight of my palette and pots of paint. Even with a snake in the bushes it was clear she wanted to paint with me. However, once the snake excitement was over they continued on their way along the path. I was finally alone, but still hadn’t completed this watercolor. And it was noon! Somehow I had managed to stay in the rose garden the whole morning. I finished up and headed over to the rose garden pavilion. There were at least 20 sketchers and they had already placed their finished artwork on a concrete bench. It was so crowded with art there wasn’t enough room for all of us to share. Some of us had to find space on a nearby post. How wonderful is that? Can there ever be too much art to share? And for my final close encounter we crowded together for a group picture, with all of us holding up our art and smiling. We were all sweaty and there wasn’t a mask in sight–we’d all been vaccinated! What a perfect way to come together for some in person sketching and welcome summer 2021!

Happy Birthday Brian (6/29)  

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