July 24, 2021

If last week’s post was all about white spaces and white pigment, then this week has been all about studying fine green ink lines and squiggles. I got my new green marine ink (Noodler’s Ink) from The Goulet Pen Company. I sketched creekside at the Descanso Gardens all week—trying out the new color. For me, it is the perfect green that will be a definite asset to my color repertoire. And I really like the effect I got when adding my Inktense pencil colors with the green ink.

Monday, 7/19/2021, was a morning of sketching and mosquitoes. Of course, I didn’t realize they had joined me until I killed a rather large on my ankle. So, I not only began learning about my new ink, but I also learned that I would be wearing long pants, long sleeves and socks for future creekside sketching. Darn! The temperatures for the Descanso looked to be in the 90s all week. However, the realization that I would be rather sweaty while sitting creekside did not dampen my enthusiasm to try out my new ink again and again—all week. 

Tuesday, 7/20/2021, was all about sketching without worrying about the bugs, but also enjoying a conversation with a fellow watercolor painter. For this sketch I moved further down the creek. I hadn’t noticed whether or not the ink was water soluble on Monday, but discovered it Tuesday, when I added water to the creek and the Japanese maple foliage. I like the effect. As for the human company, that was fine too. 

Wednesday, 7/21/2021, started out like the previous mornings. I had moved further down the creek and set to sketching. After I had planned everything out, a turtle floated near. I wondered if he or she would hang around long enough for me to include them in my imagined rendering. Sure enough, they hung around long enough for me to add them. Nice touch, I think. At one point a female mallard paddled quickly by. She was not hanging around and was definitely on a mission to be somewhere else. No chance of including her in this rather tranquil scene. Also, if you have been following my art and stories, you may have noticed a purple shrub just like this one (See ink drawings for 7/10/2021.). It’s called a chaste tree. This one seemed pretty unique to me as it was right at the water’s edge, and not out in an open planting bed, surrounded by roses. 

Thursday, 7/22/2021, turned out to be just as interesting as the three previous days, but not in the way you might in any way predict. I couldn’t find a bench to sit on, so I rolled out my bubble wrap on the wet ground and sat down beside the creek. It was fine, with nothing to distract me from my sketch—no bugs or other critters. And I didn’t have any human encounters either, but heard a group of people just on the other side of the bushes. Once the sketch had dried I packed up and headed up the hill for a hike. At the edge of a grassy area, not particularly close to the water, was a turtle. He or she looked like he or she was trying to back into the grass and maybe get wet from a sprinkler that was watering the lawn. I stood and watched for a moment, wondering if I should do or say something. So, I walked back to the area where I had heard voices while sketching. There was a woman wearing an official Descanso Gardens badge with a number of volunteers pulling weeds, and I guessed she was in charge of the group. I got her attention and told her what I had seen, a turtle that seemed to be a little far from the creek, and maybe in distress. She guessed that the turtle might be laying eggs. Cool! So, we walked back to the turtle spot together and she radioed someone in the garden to take a look. Last I saw, someone had placed an official blue Descanso Gardens’s cone near the turtle action. Still crazy to me that a turtle might lay her eggs in such an open area. But it wasn’t a crazy idea to me that someone else thought it special, and would try to preserve a spot that might erupt with baby turtles in 80 to 100 days. I was comforted with the thought that someone would keep an eye out. And if that turtle, or possibly future baby turtles, needed some help to get to the creek, someone would be there to help out. You better believe I will check on that when I visit there in the future! Wouldn’t you?

July 17, 2021

Flaunt the White Spaces!

Before beginning a new piece of art I try to imagine how white spaces and/or white pigment might be included in the final piece. It is my general belief that it’s almost always a good idea to leave white spaces when using any media on paper or illustration board. However, when it comes to painting on most other surfaces, particularly canvas and wood, I cover every inch with pigment. I will try to explain the difference, starting with how I use white spaces when painting on paper or any other paper backed product. I have been told by countless art teachers not to be afraid of leaving white areas. For me, that can really take self control. I believe large areas of white on any piece of art can provide your brain a break and a place to rest. And if you play your cards right it will add a quality of lightness that you just can’t add later, when every inch is covered with color. The one exception to that is adding tiny drops of opaque white acrylic to eyeballs, indicating life behind the eyes. For me, that is often my final flourish. For this rendering I planned ahead and left tiny white spaces for the pooch’s nose and one eye. (The other eye was in shadow and therefore did not need a highlight.)

This photo shows what the watercolor and colored pencil illustration of the dog looked like before I added her very curly white fur. My son said she looked like a ghost dog! Maybe he was right about that. But I didn’t arrive at that ghostly place by chance. It was all part of my overall plan. I wanted to complete all the surrounding colors first. This helped to situate her in a field of “grass green” grass, accentuating her light color and diminutive size, without really adding any dog details. Once I was satisfied with the background I softly sketched in French grey and lavender Prismacolor colored pencil, giving her body and head shadows and dimension. And to add the dog’s fur texture, I gently brushed in short strokes of opaque titanium white acrylic over everything. Finally, I added just a touch of terra-cotta Prismacolor colored pencil around her muzzle, then dark blue indigo for her eyes.
Japanese Tea Garden, Descanso Gardens, 7/14/2021 (POSCA markers on Canson Mix Media paper)

I think this is a good example of what I mean about a piece of art having a kind of lovely lightness when the color is strategically placed on the paper. I think POSCA markers are a perfect medium to use sparingly on white paper for a great effect.

Here are other examples of how to leave white spaces:

June 26, 2021. For this rose arbor watercolor I used a light touch of transparent watercolor pigment, letting the soft colors stand up to the blank white paper. When I painted this one it was a warm afternoon and I think that comes through with that technique.

December 7, 2019. I did a similar “ghost” technique for a stained glass house that was set up in a pond at the Descanso Gardens for the 2019 Enchanted Forest of Light event. First, I painted the many colors of the leafy green background, leaving a house shape floating on the water. Then I used black ink to outline stained glass shapes. Finally, I added the bright colors of the glass. And of course I was careful to leave lots of white spaces, adding to the lightness of that transparent house floating in the pond.

January 30, 2021. For a sketch I did during an urban sketching virtual trip to Nova Scotia, I left large areas of white for the sky and water. The photo we sketched was taken on an overcast day. Without the sun, the sky and water appeared colorless. I think allowing that amount of white for the sky and water contributed to the “stillness” of the scene. 

May 14, 2017. When doing landscapes with watercolors I frequently leave horizontal strips of white paper untouched, indicating larger strips of highlights. For this view of the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens I did just that—leaving bright patches of white to indicate that the roses were in direct sunlight. Behind that light bright and airy area I used dark patches of color to indicate shady shadows, areas not illuminated by the sun.

I have shared many botanicals here at One California Girl. Botanicals are generally solitary plants and plant parts centered on white paper. It has long been a tradition to render plants that way as they are meant to be the center of attention, with no distracting background colors or scenes. I’ve always liked the simplicity of such a piece of art.

Adding large areas of white to a canvas and/or wooden panel:

June 6, 2021. When I paint with oils I often add “under colors” to the top and final color you see. Even though what I am painting may be white, I always under paint another color. For these creamy white Siamese cats, I first layered a lavender blue. It has been my experience that you can really make white sing in a painting when underpainting with some kind of blue. It seems to make the white particularly bright and lovely. I inadvertently learned to do this one summer when I worked in the summer theater costume shop at Occidental College (See June 30, 2018). The head costumer for that summer’s Gilbert and Sullivan (Iolanthe) had us sew aqua tulle under white tulle for the fairy’s tutus. It really accentuated the white, making it bright and crisp looking. 

Final comment regarding the use of white/white spaces in my art:

I have shared many landscapes here at One CA Girl depicting clouds. For clouds on paper, I add patches of sky with some lovely cobalt blue and alizarin crimson, leaving white spaces for the clouds. And as for my clouds in an oil on canvas and/or wood, I first put in the blue sky, then strategically cluster white in the desired shapes. This follows my general rule of first underpainting with blue, right

OK, I think I have completely worn this topic out. Enough already! Until next time…

July 10, 2021

A week of SoCal pen and inks, post 4th of July

This may look a bit like last week’s post, but it wasn’t my intention to do that…really. But somehow I found myself sketching each day, just like last week. However, this was not a week of mixed media for me, but rather a week of pen and ink only. There is a perfectly good reason for such a narrow perspective. I have been using black, red and purple for a while now and wanted to add more colors to my ink repertoire. I was thinking I might want a blue and a green. So, I ordered ink samples that included a couple shades of blue and green. The samples came from a company called The Goulet Pen Company (Henrico, VA). The grouping of nine I ordered are listed as the Jacques Herbien Shimmering Full Line Ink Sample Set. (I think these are not water soluble like some of my other inks. I need to check that out.) The Goulet Pen Company has quite a selection of ink, plus fountain pens and paper. Looks to be a very nice resource…

What’s kind of crazy is that I already had a set of “rainbow” colored Fude nib fountain pens. I had already filled the black, purple and red pens with Higgins’s black india ink, and Diamine’s Majestic purple and oxblood inks. I had 9 pens left—the exact number of trial ink colors I now wanted to try out. It was crazy perfect. I filled the cartridges of the remaining pens with all my new colors and went sketching at the Descanso Gardens five days in a row. It was pretty warm this week, so I started out early each morning. It was excellent to begin each day with an outdoor adventure, knowing that I would be cool and inside each afternoon. On day 4 I found myself sitting on a cool (temperature cool) boulder next to a stream for that sketch. There are quite a number of similar “vitex” specimens in the rose garden, but this was the only one next to a bit of a stream and in the shade. It was heaven. When I finished that pen and ink I quickly put everything in my stealth bag and ran through a nearby sprinkler. It really kept me cool as I hiked in the warmer back area of the Descanso. Such a great day for keeping cool while sketching with cool new inks. For my day 5 sketch I went to the Japanese tea garden and stopped three times to experiment with stormy grey. First, I sat on yet another cool stone next to another stream and did the actual tea garden house and I used the stormy grey with Kyanite. I think those colors look nice together. Then I stood on a bridge and rendered a small school of koi fish, using the same stormy grey, but this time I used Cornaline. For my final sketch of the week, I used the stormy grey and Cornaline to sketch this painted bridge. Looking back at the sketches, it made me realize how the garden inspired me to try different colors in different combinations. How will I choose my favorites? 

So, I think I am in love with the Bleu Ocean, but not really feelin’ either green. However, I am loving Caroube—not one I thought I would like. But it reminds me of the chipped bark and tree bits that are strewn under the plantings at the Descanso Gardens. I have been smelling that oak woodland smell so much that I just want that color. Of course, all of the color samples I have been using all week are pretty great and I could see myself owning all of them, except maybe the greens. I went back to The Goulet Pen Company website and looked for some other colors of green. And I think I am in love with the Marine Green. Maybe some kind of nautical blue and green theme with just a touch of mulch?

It’s now Saturday afternoon and I have decided on those three colors for now. I can’t wait to order them and see what sketching journeys I will be making with then. I can already see myself using the blue and green at an upcoming urban sketching event at the Long Beach marina 7/25/2021 (see August 24, 2019 for a previous black ink and watercolor I did at that very spot). Hope the new ink comes in time. Stay tuned… 

July 3, 2021

Dragon fly sculpture at Descanso Gardens, day 4, 7/2/2021 (watercolor, Inktense pencils and watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

My week, as seen through art and photos

It didn’t seem like there would be many words/stories to share regarding my most recent week in SoCal. So, I decided to mark the time with art and photos, describing the week in what might seem like rather random events. The art and photos here are not really in any particular chronological order, but it all somehow makes sense to me. Therefore, I am leading with a watercolor I did just yesterday. I sat on the same stump at the Descanso Gardens four days in a row, starting Tuesday (6/29) and ending yesterday (7/2). I wanted to do a series of sketches of the same view, at the same time of day for a number of days in a row. Actually, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to draw the first morning, but the minute I saw the dragon fly in the cool looking pond, I knew I wanted to sketch the scene. I went around behind it and found a tree stump in the shade. This would be my perch for the next few mornings. In fact, I even got out a fresh sheet of bubblewrap to sit on, as the one I had been using had gotten pretty flat. My mission was to render the same scene several days in a row, with a full on watercolor as my final piece.

And because events in our lives do not occur in a vacuum, this was also a week to watch for monarch larvae, chrysalis and butterflies in my garden. Last Sunday, I noticed this little green jewel fixed to a palm tree bract. I had strapped the bract to a pot for my moonflower morning glory to climb. It seems a monarch larvae had climbed it and set about turning into a chrysalis on the spot. I didn’t see the actual caterpillar, but there is no mistaking that bright green color and shape. (See 6/19/2021 post for another story and art of monarch on a nearby palm tree flower spike.) Once you spot the little capsule, you can’t unsee it. And who would want to unsee it? I looked for it each morning as I headed to the Descanso Gardens to sketch.

I have made Nancy Silverton’s sourdough bread starter. It sits in my frig, waiting for an opportunity to become bread. I have been planning to make bread for a couple weeks now. So, after feeding the starter three times on Tuesday I used some of it to mix a batch of dough at 10pm Wed evening. Then I let it proof overnight. When I got up Thursday morning, I tested the dough to see if I should proceed with baking the bread. I convinced myself that I could let it proof another couple hours and went to sketch the giant dragon fly at the Descanso. I was very excited to use my colorful POSCA markers for that day’s sketch. Big mistake. By the time I got back the dough didn’t look as perky as it did when I left. And it was already pretty warm outside—then I turned on the oven. This is what it looked like when I took it out of the oven sometime later. I showed this photo to a friend and he said it looked like something extraterrestrial. I think I could agree. Or maybe it looks like elephant poo. Either way, it was inedible, as you might expect. But I haven’t given up on the bread yet and will try again next week…maybe… Not really sure when we will have some cooler days. Guess I’ll just keep feeding the starter every week until that day comes around. Stay tuned…

But wait, the week of photos and art are not complete. This morning I looked once again at the little green chrysalis I had been watching all week. As you can see it had turned black. This means that a butterfly is imminent. I had a few things I wanted to do in my garden, so every so often I looked over at it. Before I knew it, a rumpled looking butterfly was hanging from the now empty chrysalis shell. Yeah, it happens that fast! I continued to watch as I busied myself in the garden. But to my horror, I saw it drop from its precarious spot. This is not normal. It took me a few seconds to find it. It had dropped onto some soft dirt and was struggling to right itself. I hurriedly came up with a plan to use a small stick to help. Once I reached out with my tiny stick, the butterfly quickly reached up to grab on. I moved the upside-down butterfly to a lower spot, but I couldn’t get it to let go. I was trying to get it to transfer itself onto a morning glory stem. It clung on tight. So, I held it there and sat down on a bit on concrete. I was there, holding my stick, for about half an hour. Silly me, I had just put a fresh batch of sunflower seeds in the feeder hanging directly above me. As I sat there on the concrete, I was pelted with sunflower seed shells from above. The finches were cracking the seeds and dropping the shells to the ground and onto my head. Somehow they hadn’t noticed I was sitting there and were unaware of the monarch drama that was unfolding below them. Eventually I convinced the butterfly to grab onto the morning glory stem and I cautiously removed the stick I was holding. Of course, by now the squirrels had joined in the fun and were just inches from where the new butterfly was hanging. I couldn’t watch! I went into the house. But I went out there a couple hours ago, and the butterfly was gone. I can only assume it had flown away. Yikes, what a week! It didn’t seem all that interesting until I looked at the art and photos. It was OK. Hope your week before the 4th of July was good too.