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!

October 30, 2021

Did you miss me? Something came up…twice…

This week’s art and words just sort of came to me as I walked into the Descanso Gardens with my stealth sketching bag last Sunday. I knew the Descanso would be replete with Halloween decor for their evening “Carved” events. And as I wasn’t wandering around there this time last year, I wanted to check it out in all its splendor. It was really pretty terrific to see even in the daylight! They had gourds and pumpkins aplenty on the ground and wired to arbors. Quite a few of said fall fruits had been attacked by squirrels and the like, and their guts had been hollowed out very cleanly and completely. I even encountered a squirrel digging through a hole in a pumpkin—chowing down on all those lovely gooey seeds. They didn’t seem too worried that I was standing close by. I continued on my journey through the Descanso, looking for all things cute and/or spooky. On my last visit (October 9, 2021) I did a watercolor of the jack-o-lantern bird houses. Looking at that planter area again it seemed as though 50, or more, had been added—very cute. There were huge bugs (a spider, a dragon fly etc.) made from branches and pumpkins, stationed under the oaks in the oak woodland. But my favorite was a grouping of creepy spirits made from branches and bits of fabric and string. They looked as though they were coming up out of the ground, hiding behind a tree and chasing each other around on a grassy area. I can only imagine how they might appear to come to life at night, with strategic lighting. As you can see, I didn’t draw any of that. Instead, I found myself sitting on a bench near the pumpkin house. It was there on the 9th, but it didn’t really wow me at the time. But wait, I did come up with a reason to sketch the little organic cottage for that day’s sketching adventure. As I was walking around, looking at everything else, an idea bubbled up from somewhere and took the form of a pair of sketches of that holiday pumpkin house surrounded by hay bales. I wanted to see what kind of difference in detail or rendering I would get sketching the exact same view, one while sitting on a bench on the spot and the other from a photo of the same scene sometime later. So, I endured the screaming children, live, for this one. It was fun! Then, using the exact same materials and colors I did the identical view from a photo at home that afternoon. Here it is!

I guess they really look pretty similar, but of course there were different people and different sounds. For this “at home version” it was amazingly quiet, except for the sounds of Bille Holiday singing in the background. This one was fun too! I don’t know if one is more successful than the other. I must say that for the “on location” sketch I was having some real trouble getting the oxblood ink to flow, and the lines were a little more on the “scratchy side than I wanted. But at home I had no such technical difficulties with the Fude pen nib and/or the ink flow. I guess the biggest difference was the feeling of being in the moment for the first sketch and how much I thought about that first experience while doing the second one. There were immediate comparisons for this one. For the first sketch I got involved in a couple conversations with passers by, while no such distractions occurred at home. Two different groups of women stopped to chat and look at my art. The first couple stopped, took my picture and promised not to post the pic online or anything. They were very curious to see if I had captured the woman yelling at her daughter. (I guess the little girl had managed to jiggle free one of the pumpkins from the house and was trying to take it home.) Then there was a grandma, mom and young girl who stopped by. That was fun as I could see the yearning and “art eyes” of the little girl. I know if it weren’t for the pandemic she would have sat right next to me on the bench to draw. Mom and grandma were very interested in my materials and mom took a photo of my tin of Derwent Inktense pencils. I told them they should go on a field trip to an art store and just wander around. That was very pleasant.

But what struck me about both images, while I sat at home, was how much the pumpkin house reminded me of the witches house in Hansel and Gretel. I think that all started when I heard a child had tried to steal a pumpkin right off the house. But in my story the witch is the mom, yelling at her kid for trying to take away something that didn’t belong to her. You see the connection too, right? I could almost imagine it was covered in large round candies, instead of so many colorful pumpkins. The roof would be made out of cotton candy and not straw. And instead of hay bales, there would be stacks and stacks of giant s’mores—marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers. Oh yeah, there’s one more piece of One CA Girl crazy to add to this spooky scenario. For this second view there was a woman, directly in the middle here, and she really looked the part of a witch—black clothing, long white hair and a cap that made me think of a long “witchy” nose. I think that’s enough. I’m done!

Happy Halloween!!

October 9, 2021

On September 25th I went to the Descanso Gardens with the explicit intention of doing a watercolor. That meant I would have to take a bigger backpack, as my usual stealth bag is too small and wouldn’t work for the occasion. That morning I put everything I might need in a more traditional backpack, one with lots of zippers and sections for lots of supplies. 

As I walked in the entrance I was immediately taken with the “fall” changes that had occurred. Gone were the vestiges of summer flowers and butterflies. If you read my story and art from last time, you will know that big changes had been planned and were coming, and it was clear they were getting ready for their evening holiday events. However, last time the workers were just laying the cable for the myriad of lights that would be needed for the evening enjoyment of future visitors. But on the 25th, all the cable had been safely placed around. All seemed ready for their first event, and included a house made of pumpkins and the Lock Ness Monster in the front pond made entirely of pumpkins and gourds.

If you were to ask me, “What’s your favorite season of the year?” I would have to say that fall is definitely my fav. I absolutely love that seasonal change. As the sun is not beating down from overhead, it means the daylight is changing and softening. And I love love love that we will soon go back to standard time. The temperatures are definitely cooler, especially at night. OMG!! We had rain on Monday—rain with thunder and lightning. It was wonderful! And just the other day I noticed the white crown sparrows, my non-summer birds, had returned to my SoCal bird feeder. I love knowing that they have been on their way, somehow making it here again and right on time. (I have already shared my art and a story about them. See May 21, 2017). So, what’s your favorite season?

Back at the Descanso on the 25th…

As I rounded the corner, just outside the rose garden, I came upon this view. I had seen the same display of funky jack-o-lantern light boxes in the same planting area last year. I also did a watercolor of the same jumble of plants/flowers and funny faces. (See the October 17, 2020 art and story.) I knew I wanted to do another watercolor of the scene, but from another vantage point. So, I sat at a nearby bench, made a preliminary sketch and began mixing my pots of color. It was heavenly! There is a big advantage to sitting to do a watercolor over my quick sketches. For my watercolor events I sit in one place for a longer period of time as I have to wait for various areas of the watercolor paper to dry. That means I can eat a snack or even visit with a friendly passer by or two. In fact, that’s exactly what happened—two lovely women came by and we had the best conversation, covering a myriad of topics. Wonderful!

One final note about this display…

It’s kind of crazy, but once Halloween is over, they rip everything out of this planter. Then they fill it with a spectacular bed of glass tulips that will put on a rather dazzling light display for the Enchanted Forest of Light. The lights flash and change color with musical accompaniment. Check it out…descansogardens.org

And one final note about this fall…

I guess the biggest SoCal fall 2021 story for this one CA girl will come on October 18th. You may be wondering what is so special about that date. LAUSD, my employer, has mandated that all teachers/staff must have had the first COVID vaccine by 10/15/2021 and the second one by 11/15—no exceptions. I’ve been vaccinated, but have heard there are others who have not. Not sure what the 18th will look like, and who will be on campus that day. If you hear about us in the news, I hope it’s good news. Stay tuned.

October 2, 2021

As I wandered around the Descanso Gardens last summer (Ha! 9/19/2021), I didn’t really have much of an idea of what I wanted to sketch. I was horrified with the sign of aphids on the milkweed, and just had to walk away. But I was also distracted with the number of workers wandering around the garden. And there were numerous large boxes filled with electrical gear all around as well. I imagined they were laying cable for all the lights that would be needed for the upcoming holiday evening events—Carved and Enchanted Forest of Light. It turns out I was right, as there were signs all around the worker’s trucks and beside the garden paths, alerting us to their intent. Actually, I kind of marvel at that kind of advertising, don’t you? I imagine that such signage is meant to alert everyone of the long black electrical cables winding their way around the paths—a rather daunting safety hazard I think. But it also reminded me that there are those of us who have attended either one or both events in the past, and we should think about buying our tickets for the 2021 holiday season. And for those who had never attended either event, it might peek their curiosity to find out more about what they might be missing. Eventually,  I kind forgot all about the aphids, workers and massive spaghetti lines of cable, and wandered into the rose garden. I often head straight for the arbor area that was patterned after Monet’s garden arbor archway. It’s very similar to his arbor of  climbing roses and other flowering plants in Giverny. I’m not sure if the roses in Monet’s garden are one’s that he actually planted in the late 1800’s, but they are covered with roses and other climbing plants today. The gardeners at the Descanso have planted some older varieties of roses in their arbor garden area. I discovered the age of some of these varieties one day, when I’d stopped to read the descriptions posted by each one. My favorite old rose is at the farthest end of the arbor, near the rest rooms that look like a charming cottage. (I love that!) That particular climbing rose variety was introduced to the world in 1811 (Rosa ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster’). Not sure why that old rose fascinates me so much. But I love it when I find clusters of those flowers just blooming their little hearts out. And it makes me wonder if that lovely old fashioned perfume is exactly what others first smelled in 1811. (Oh, I learned that if you bend down to smell a charming rose and burp just as you take a sniff, you won’t smell a thing. And of course you will not smell a thing if you are laughing when you try to take a whiff. It’s true. I can tell you that first hand.) If you really look at these older roses, you might notice how much smaller they are compared to most rose cultivars from the 20th and 21st centuries. Also, the colors of those old roses seem to be much more muted and tend to be some variation of pink. 

As I turned around to look for a spot to maybe sketch the heirloom rose, I spied this charming squirrel statue in the nearby maze garden for tiny children. It’s funny, but I a rarely go into the maze for tiny children as it seems there are often unattended tiny children running around in there. But I came face to face with this guy and decided to sketch him—both of us standing there “bold as brass.” I was ready to bolt if any tiny children, without their handlers, appeared on the scene. I felt sorry for the squirrel as he or she was rooted to the spot and would not be running away from anything any time soon.

So for this one, I sat beside a tiny creek that runs through the rose garden. And not only did I sit by this bit of moving water, I dipped my brush right into that water as it moved slowly past. I felt very bold. And there were even a couple tiny well behaved children who stopped by to see what I was doing. It was nice. I liked that!

As I peacefully sat there, watching those hummingbirds from afar, I couldn’t help thinking how much my application of pigment to paper puts me into a kind of familiar echo chamber. You might be wondering what I mean. I will try to explain. The echoes I am referring to might be the repeated use of a color. Or it might be the commitment to a certain line to indicate leaves or flowers or even a random squirrel statue in a maze garden for tiny children. It might also be a nod to composition as I try to include/repeat similar shapes. I guess it doesn’t work for me to make everything I render a one of a kind, unless I am focusing on one tree, one lamp post, one building and/or one squirrel. Is this any clearer? I also like the idea that even though I am repeating line, color and/or composition, what I sketch/paint is a single point in time. So, every time I repeat something on the page, it will never look that same again. From sketch to sketch, day to day and even season to season. It will always be something new. I like that! As you may already know, you can make a repeat visit to a place, but it will never be exactly the same as you remember. All those echoes are different, every time. And I love that!

BTW…about last Saturday’s post…something came up. It was my birthday, and I enjoyed a lovely unplanned day. Of course I went to the Descanso Gardens! Stay tuned.

September 18, 2021

This week’s words and art are about the true joy I feel when sketching the same place/thing over and over again. Actually, the kernel idea for that statement didn’t originate with me. Last week, an urban sketcher friend suggested that painting the same place over and over again was a personal joy of hers. It seems that we both are obsessed with creating art at the Descanso Gardens. Her “go to” place is the Japanese Tea Garden. She not only posted her lovely and colorful watercolors with her fellow urban sketchers, but also described all the lovely evenings she had spent in that particular garden. And the part that got me was her description of the lovely and languid time she has spent painting the same place over and over again. (Actually, I stumbled upon her painting there one evening this last July. That was fun!) Her art wonderfully captures the trees, shrubs, colorful bridge, running water and koi. For my forever joyful painting place, I prefer the wonderful morning light in the Rose Garden at the Descanso. Of course, this week’s art is of a couple mornings spent there. If you saw last week’s post, you know that I have been experimenting with sketching/painting with droplets of water found in the grass at my feet. This soft vignette was done with water droplets I accumulated on my paint brush after scrubbing it in the grass. Just so.

But on Thursday I found myself using water droplets that were on the leaves of a nearby rose shrub to complete this one. OMG! Is this just too precious? Maybe… But it was truly inspirational to let those water droplets blend the green marine ink with my Inktense and watercolor pencils. I also like the blue-green effect of that ink with my Teal Green and Sea Blue Inktense pencils. 

Lately, I have been imagining how I might start stretching canvases again—maybe doing some landscapes with oils based on my myriad sketches and/or studies of the Descanso Gardens. I am not thinking of actually dragging my usual 24 by 30 or so canvases into the garden. It would be the plein air thing to do, but I just don’t like shlepping all that stuff to a location with so many people coming and going. I would need a couple hours to finish one piece and that’s way out of my comfort zone. (Kind of a little whiny, I guess.) But what I am interested in trying out could be accomplished right here in my living room. I am kind of wondering if I could use the many sketches I have done to do a larger, more complex and final, Descanso Garden landscape. I am kind of wondering if I might have gained some Descanso “tree,” “shrub” or “bench” muscle memory. That would be fun to explore, right? I can already imagine shades of green as my non/under colors—then adding a grove of golden oaks. Or what about a far-off view with that perfect soft blue sky and hills with trees and roses littered all about the landscape? I have so many views and colors to draw upon…And I have a huge roll of canvas to draw upon as well. I just need to start ordering the stretcher bars and look for my staple gun. Stay tuned…

September 12, 2021

Most weeks I post my art and story every Saturday. And most times if it goes up on Sunday it’s because something came up on Saturday. Most often it’s because I got busy during the week and even though the art was done, the written part wasn’t. I guess you could say that this week something came up. It had to do with the fact that this week’s Saturday was September 11th. And as you are probably aware, it was not just any September 11th, but the 20th anniversary of that most infamous and maybe indescribable day. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to believe it has been 20 years. If you were in the US on September 11, 2001 you probably remember what you were doing when the three attacks took place. I sure do. So, my planned Saturday post just didn’t happen. But I still had something to say and share this week. 

Here goes…

Last Sunday (9/5), I found myself enjoying a little sketching time at the Descanso Gardens. Lately, I have been bringing my stealth bag with Inktense pencils, fountain pens with fude nib, Canson’s mix media paper, a small jar for water and a watercolor brush. Most times I get all the dry lines of pigment in place, fill the jar with water and brush/scrub/blend the color into place. However, when I had finished this particular rose I started thinking about where I would get some water to add the finishing touches. For some reason, I looked down at my feet and noticed for the first time that the grass was wet. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I had realized earlier that the grass and bench I was was sitting on were both wet. The Descanso gardeners had finished watering the lawn just before I sat down. Thank God for my sheet of bubble wrap. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I always carry a sheet of bubble wrap and rag in my stealth bag. When I sit on the ground, a rock or a wet bench, I roll out the plastic wrap and sit on it. I use the rag to wipe up wet spots or to control the amount of water I add to a sketch.) But as I looked more thoughtfully at the wet grass, I wondered if I could get my brush wet enough by gently scrubbing the brush around and around in the damp grass. Then I could apply the moisture I had soaked up in the brushes bristles, using it to blend the colors on my paper. I tried it on the spot. OMG! It worked!!! Over and over again, I twirled my brush around and around in the grass. Then I applied the water where I wanted it. The rag came in handy for this newly discovered technique as a way to clean the bits of dirt and grass that collected on the brush. All in all, I was thrilled with the effect. And I got to try out my discovery twice in one sitting. Because, as it turns out I could not only see this rose but also a patch of pink amaryllis was within view of my perch. I tried to get a kind of pink glow around the “naked ladies”—common name for this particular amaryllis. 

Eventually I moved on and captured this sweet little “drip drop” landscape. For this one I used only my Inktense pencils and some watercolor pencils. (I guess I forgot to mention that I sometimes carry them around in my stealth bag as well…) I tried to take a photo of the droplets of water I used to paint. Not sure if it really shows, but if you zoom in, you should be able to see them.

I was at the Descanso Gardens again this morning and did another “drip drop” sketch. I’ll save that one for another time. Stay tuned…

September 4, 2021

The other day my postman put a few lychees in a bag near my mailbox. How sweet was that? He and I have had a number of friendly conversations about the things we grow in our gardens. Last spring, I remember him noticing that I had pineapple guava shrubs along an old stone wall in my front garden. He said the fruit was delicious and I should trying eating them. It was May and the shrub line up had lots of beautifully delicate blossoms. I read you can put the flowers in a salad or add them to ice tea. It seems they taste fruity and sweet with a little bit of a tangy flavor. The fruit is also edible, and can be blended into smoothies, or used as a fruit topping for ice cream and yoghurt. I noticed quite a few flowers on the shrubs that spring and had planned to try eating the fruit sometime later. With further research I found out that you could tell when the pineapple guava fruit was ripe when they dropped to the ground. But I never got the chance to taste any, as the squirrels ate every single one before a single one dropped to the ground. 

One day, in early summer, I remember this same gardening postman telling me of the many fruit trees he had in his garden. At that time, I had a bounty of tomatoes and I gave him a half dozen or so.

Fast forward to the lychees making their appearance on my front porch. The postman had even written a note on the bag, telling me what they were and who they were from him. I have to admit I had heard of lychees, but can’t remember actually seeing one before. (Glad he labeled the bag. They kind of reminded me of liquidambar pods and I would never eat a liquidambar pod.) I put them in a bowl on my kitchen counter and they sat there, untouched, for a number of days. Finally, I got up the courage to try one. But first I needed to figure out how to eat them—I had no idea what to do. I located a Youtube video to help me out. It featured a Swedish couple, and they talked about the fruit and how to eat it. This is what they said, in my own words. “Gently squeeze a lychee pod between your thumb and index finger. It should open easily, revealing a small whitish ball of juicy fruit flesh. Pop it into your mouth and nibble the fruit, but don’t eat the seed that is also inside the pod.” They said the fruit was sweet and tasted like a grape. Notice I said gently squeeze…because I forgot that part when I opened my first one. I squeezed with a bit too much gusto. Something that looked very much like a gooey eyeball hit me in the chest. And a fair amount of juice ran down my shirt. I finally got ahold of the fruit and popped it into my mouth, careful not to eat the seed. Actually, the seed is huge and I can’t imagine eating it. Good thing I was not tempted because lychee seeds are poisonous. The whole encounter was not really a good first taste of something new. I decided I would eat only that one. Because, if I got sick or died that night, I might be able to decide later whether or not I would be eating any more. I didn’t get sick and I’m still here. I’ve eaten a few more, but not many. 

I don’t often do still life art. (See 5/30/2020, 1/25/2020, 1/11/2020 posts for other examples.) I am calling this week’s still life art “Lychee in a la fermiere yoghurt jar.” I really like the colors and textures. The organic and prickly/leathery lychees inside the periwinkle blue container look nice, I think. A friend gave me a half dozen of the jars and I use them for a variety of artistic endeavors. For example, I keep all my ink samples in a couple and use another to hold water for quick watercolor art when I’m on the move. It’s a perfect size, and fits nicely in my smaller backpack. And what about the charming wine-colored felt star? Nice, huh? I should add that a dear friend made it, along with several other colorful stars. It was part of a gift she gave me one year. I have them on my work table and use them all the time as coasters. I put cups of tea, cappuccino and/or ice water on them. She is quite an artist in her own right and often makes amazing things with felt—very cool!

Not really sure how many lychee eyeballs I will be eating in the future. I thought I would thank my postman for the fruit by giving him this sketch. I won’t tell him that I’m not sure I will be eating all the lychees. Of course, he may not like the sketch. But I guess he could drop it in the mail and I would get it back. I’m sure we will both be polite and say nothing disagreeable. How could I? His gift was so thoughtful. We need to keep reaching out to each other. That’s as it should be.

And yes, the west is still on fire. I was so disheartened to see Tahoe burning. I know there are so many of us who are facing horrendous, and deadly, weather right now. But I think we should treat each other with as much kindness and understanding as we can. Maybe you have a friendly postman you can chat with. 

August 28, 2021

Our sketching group gathered again last Sunday. We traveled to Oceanside, via Zoom, for some “virtual” sketching. For this event we rendered some of the same places that others had seen in person for the Oceanside 2021 Plein Air Festival (July 24 to July 31). Artists had been invited to wander about the city (real time), painting what they saw on the spot. Then, if you wanted, you could enter your painting into a juried competition. Our host for the virtual trip didn’t mention anything of the awards that were given out. I just assumed she didn’t enter her paintings. (And the two she showed us were lovely and worthy of an award as far as I was concerned.) It was a fun morning of sketching, as I had never actually been to Oceanside. Over the years I’ve driven past it many times as I zoomed along the 5 on my way to San Diego. And even though it’s a beach town, we didn’t sketch very near the water. In fact, to look at the art you see here, you might not even guess the Pacific Ocean was close by. As a result, there wasn’t much of a discussion of how to render ocean waves. Instead, we talked about how to impose some nice perspective when quickly sketching the quaint little Oceanside houses. I think my favorite sketch, of the two, is the Top Gun house. I already had a piece of watercolor paper that I had added a wash of gold and blue. I thought it looked nice as a background—with the ink lines outlining the tiny Victorian. (I hadn’t really intended the gold to attach itself to the house in that way—it reminded me a little of “rising damp.”) You may, or may not, have guessed that the Top Gun House was in the movie “Top Gun.” I haven’t actually watched the movie, but understand there is a scene with Tom Cruise where the house figures prominently. I guess he rides up to this very house on a motor cycle. (Yup! This is SoCal and such things happen around here all the time.) It was fun to explore Oceanside, just a bit–a town I had never visited. Even One CA Girl can be a CA tourist for a day.

Even though I enjoyed my morning of sketching in Oceanside, I think the more interesting story, for me, involves my participation in a Plein Air competition some years ago. However, it was not part of a Plein Air Art Festival. It happened at the Nevada County Fair as a fair entry. Painters were invited to meet at a specific day and time during the actual fair. Participants were to do a Plein Air painting on site and then come back after 2 or 3 hours and have the art judged. (I can’t remember if we painted for 2 or 3 hours…) When my son was little, we used to enter lots of different categories under the pines at the Nevada County Fair. One year he won a ribbon for his Troll Doll Collection. Another year it was Legos. Most years we also entered the ugly cake contest. That particular spring I was surprised to see the Plein Air art challenge and decided to enter the competition. As it turns out I was one of only 3 people who showed up for the event. Once the timer started, the other two immediately went into the midway area and began painting. As I am not a fan of carnival rides I went to the animal barn. I sat under the shade of a couple huge pine trees and began sketching a young lady who was getting her bull ready to show. I had never done a Plein Air sketch that involved a specific “time” element. I remember wondering how I would do. But I soon got into my “groove” and enjoyed capturing the moment with my watercolors, Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore Illustration board. An artist friend and her daughter came by a couple times to check in and encourage my progress. But as the time came for us to finish, I realized I wasn’t going to be done. I had spent too much time on the pine tree in the foreground. I hadn’t resolved the greenery in the background or the ground, nor had I added highlights to the bull. And there was a whole section with a calf and 4Her that wasn’t done. (Yes, I hadn’t had time to add another person.) Maybe if I had cut off the calf without a handler with my matt knife…? Maybe? I decided I would go back to our meeting spot, and confess that I hadn’t completed the art piece in the appointed time. And therefore, I would not be but not be competing. I figured the other ladies could duke it out for 1st and 2nd place, while I just stood back and watched. But when I got back to our spot and told them I wasn’t going to share, one of the women got really mad. I reiterated several times that I hadn’t finished and she just got madder and madder. Of course, if I had shown my art I would have for sure gotten third place, with them at 1 and 2. I didn’t give in. There were only two ribbons awarded for Plein Air painting art at the fair that year. I actually started to think it was kind of funny because the woman who got first place (the one making a stink) clearly wanted to beat out 2 others. Also, the woman who got second told me on the “down low” that the crabby art bully was often like that. (I guess they both belonged to the same art group in the area.) BTW, I remember looking to see if there was a Plein Air event at the Nevada County Fair the following year. Nothing like it was listed in the catalog. Surprise, surprise! Enough said…