November 27, 2021

Alberi Cappuccino

I’ve had this week off. So, without much planning or thought I found myself at the Descanso Gardens on a weekday. I didn’t really have any idea of what I might sketch. But there I was, sitting across from a row of birch trees with a stained glass house just visible through the trees. I had my stealth bag and decided I would use some stormy grey water soluble ink and “hard candy colored” Inktense pencils to capture this scene. I purposely sat on a bench with damp grass within my reach. This is so I could scrub my paintbrush in that bit of water and use it to blend the media on the page. By the time I was ready to scrub my brush in the grass, it had dried out considerably and my brush was covered with damp dirt. (We’ve been having some Santa Ana conditions here in SoCal and that means it’s windy, very windy. When that happens our “drought driven” air dries making everything seem brittle. In fact, we have all been on high fire alert as such windy weather can lead to fires.) 

I was frustrated that I couldn’t muster any moisture from the grass and considered putting the brush in my mouth, hoping I could find enough liquid to mix my colors here. (That probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.) Just like that I looked at the cup of take away cappuccino I had brought into the garden. There was just a tiny bit in the bottom of my paper cup. Have you already guessed what I used to create the birch bark color? Why yes, I poured a tiny bit into my blue cup, dipped my brush in and applied it to the trees. Oh yeah, before I did this, I cleaned the dirt from the brush. Now that I think of it I’m not sure why I poured such a tiny bit into the blue cup. Was I planning to drink those remaining few drops of my cold cappuccino? Possibly! (A few minutes earlier I had contemplated mixing the colors with my saliva…) Whatever the weird thoughts that were running through my mind, I was satisfied with the mocha tree color I achieved here. In the end, this became a perfect urban sketching outing—I was in the moment, and I told you a story. All in all, it was a very satisfying day off.

Now it’s time to switch to my non-urban sketching, art. I stretched canvas for two 24 by 30 inch pieces of art and cleaned all my paint trays. Then I took inventory of my oil paints and brushes. I should say that stretching the canvas took longer than I expected as I had to re-stretch one of them as one side and each corner were lumpy and slightly puckered. I should have remembered that you can’t use the selvage edge of the canvas as it doesn’t stretch smoothly and/or lie flat. So, I took that one off the bars, cut out a new piece and reattached it. That one went on perfectly. Now, I have two canvases ready to go. My brushes looked fine, but I decided I might want a couple new ones, just for fun. I went through my tubes of paint and was mad that I couldn’t get the lids off half of them. I would need to buy a half dozen more. And as long as I needed to buy some new tubes of paint, I would also pick up a couple brushes at the same time. 

As I already said, I had this week off and had hoped I would at least get the non-colors down for one land scape, but that didn’t happen. However, I did a couple preliminary sketches, noting desired compositions and the under colors I plan to use. If you’re not a painter, none of this probably seems interesting at all, but that’s my process and I hope to continue on this particular journey. I may try to get some pigment on a canvas tomorrow. Stay tuned…

November 20, 2021

Recently I’ve been thinking that I’m not sure about sharing many more quick sketches as this one CA girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the Descanso Gardens to sketch, but I’m not sure what I create then needs to be shared. Of course I was at the Descanso last Sunday and I came across this village of stained glass houses in the rose garden. And of course I am sharing it now! It’s part of their Enchanted Forest of Light holiday event. (So, imagine what a half dozen stained glass houses will look at night.) Actually, for their 2019 Enchanted Forest of Light they had one of the stained glass houses in a pond (See December 7, 2019). I plan to continue sketching with my urban sketching buddies and of course I will continue to sketch on my own. But I feel a change in the art wind for me and I’m gearing up to paint on canvas again. Or maybe I’ll think about painting on birch panels.

Here are the materials I need for stretching a canvas—rubber mallet, staple gun, notched precut bars of wood and of course pre-gessoed canvas. What you see here will allow me to create a couple 24 by 30 inch canvases. As I once again take inventory of these materials I am thinking about early 20th century painters. They didn’t have the luxury of anything you see here. They would have had to cut strips of wood to whatever length they wanted, mitered the corners, cut the canvas (leaving room on each side to fold over the wood) and nailed everything together. Oh, and they would have had to paint on a coat of gesso after construction. I’ve stretched canvases where I have done all those things too. It is daunting to cut word with 45 degree mitered corners and I have never been able to drive nails into wood without bending at least 1/3 of them as they went in. I will say this, it is easier to stretch a piece of canvas that has not been pre-painted with gesso. Without that layer of painted on material the fabric is much softer and more malleable, and much easier to manipulate. But I will put up with the prepared canvas as wet gesso really stinks. And I will have enough to think about when trying to keep my studio ventilated once I start layering the oil paint.

I just finished putting the frames together and cutting out the canvas, but didn’t get past that point. I got my COVID booster shot this morning and my arm is kind sore right now. So, I’m done for the day. But I plan to share again when there really is something there to share. 

Bye bye for now.

November 6, 2021

Of course I went back to sketch these wonderful Stick Spirits at the Descanso Gardens on Halloween! In a way it’s not really surprising they would feature such creatures made from sticks whipped together. Over the past year I have sketched a number of similar creations. If you look back at a couple of my posts you will see what I mean. (August 14, 2021=woven archways, August 8, 2021=a giant dragon fly in a pond, July 3, 2021=bird nests, and January 1, 2021=fencing around the gingko tree.)

When I got home and looked again at these charming creatures I got to thinking about another long ago stick creature I had envisioned for a picture book. Here it is. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s I tried to break into the trade book market—writing and illustrating picture books. This creature/monster was to be the protagonist in a book I was calling “Monsters Count.” The story was about a “tree-like” monster who had found a couple nests of birds that had blown down onto the ground during a storm. And the monster is kind of obsessed with all things related to birds in nests—counting them in as many ways as possible as well as figuring out all ways to put them back up into the tree. (If you look at the “contact” illustration for One California Girl you will see the pen and ink sketch I did for the actual birds in the story. And based on what I wrote in that section of the website you might also guess that I probably prefer a world of monsters and birds to people. I wrote that a while back and it’s probably still true today.) 

In the story the monster clearly appears to be beyond excited–looking to save the birds from certain death. So, it then decides to help them get back to the appropriate tree branch posthaste. Of course the monster gets carried away, devising unique ways to get them home—parachutes, a crane, a sling shot, asking a friendly eagle to give them a ride, and a strong fan to blow them back up on the branch—reversing the action that blew them to the ground in the first place. Of course the monster lets that one go right away when it realizes it didn’t have an extension cord that would reach that far from his treehouse. The birds soon tire of all the commotion, finally convincing the monster to just pick them up, one at a time, and carry them aloft to a safe spot in the tree, but not too close to the monster’s treehouse. 

It was fun to be reminded of my own long ago tree monster and the picture book story I had written to go with it. The original image for this monster was based on a very scary creature in a reoccurring nightmare I had when I was very little. This creature was not a bumbling tree monster, nor was it a playful stick spirit running around the grass. It was so scary to me and I can still picture it in my mind today. The scene and images of that nightmare were so vivid. Many mornings I would describe every exact detail to my dad. It always began and ended the same. I would find myself standing on the back porch of a neighbor’s house, all alone. And each time I would check the door going back into the kitchen of the neighbors’ house, but of course it was always locked. Then something would compel me to go down the steps. It was at this point I knew that something was waiting for me at the side yard of the house. As I turned the corner into that part of the yard I would see a tall scarecrow creature made of straw standing inside a kind of straw house. It had huge holes for eyes and a long pointy nose. And the minute I would see the creature I would stop dead in my tracks. But of course the monster would then begin coming towards me. Thankfully, it would be at this point I would wake up in a cold sweat, but wake up nonetheless. There was really nothing funny or charming about this creature at the time. However, I had told the story to my dad so many mornings, that when I got to the part where I demonstrated the monster’s long and pointy nose with my hand and fingers, he would join in and mime that part along with me. Somehow it would then seem less scary, until the next night when it would start all over again. Quite a scary Halloween story for a 4 or 5 year old, right? 

Time to move on to a new holiday I think…Bye bye for now!