December 15, 2018

La Crescenta, large canvas1
Step 1, Stretching the canvas and going outside, 12/9/18 (62 by 32 inches)

I realize this may look like a heap of nothing, and in fact this first photo is just that, a large blank canvas in my front yard. But for this first image I wanted to show the set up I’m experimenting with—where I’m doing a kind of deconstructed “urban sketching” landscape on a much grander scale. (I will try to explain what I mean by a deconstructed landscape later. I’m still kind of working that out in my head.) I knew this whole thing would probably only work for urban landscapes where no one would mind if I showed up with larger than expected sketching stuff. (If you read my blog regarding the sketch I did out in front of the Norton Simon on November 17, 2018, you would know that the museum guard I spoke to that day would probably plotz if I showed up with anything you see here.) A lot of what I plan to do in the next few weeks will be me setting this up in various places in my garden, or garage if it’s raining, and then quickly painting what I see in my little SoCal neighborhood. And if it’s raining I will be running in and out of the garage to look at the mountains, or the sky, or whatever. Somebody left rather cute red toy truck out front the other day and I might even include something that mundane, but nonetheless “urban” and charming, in the future. So, this is what it looked like last Sunday afternoon in my front yard. I know, not very exciting. I had chosen this spot because I could easily see some of my “neighborhood mountains” just behind me. In fact, I did a watercolor of this same view and posted it almost one year ago to the day—December 12, 2017. I think I will post it again to compare with next week’s “completed” work. Or you can look it up yourself right here and now.

So, here are the behind the scenes descriptions of what you are looking at. First, I cleared off a workbench in my garage and temporarily tacked the sheet of 62 by 32 inch canvas onto a wooden frame I made back in the early 80s. At that time I was living with my family in Los Gatos and was painting on silk. I made the frame so it could be folded in half and therefore accommodate two different sizes (62 by 32 inches or 31 by 32 inches) Back then I taped different textures of silk to the frame and lightly painted favorite floral designs onto the stretched fabric. Once I finished the paintings, I removed them from the frame and then fashioned kimonos that I sold as wearable art. (I should look to see if I have any kimonos left that are worth ironing and photographing for another story. That would actually make quite a story and some of the silk I dyed in large vats in my backyard.)

Next, I pounded two 5-foot wooden garden stakes into the ground under my pepper tree and propped up the canvas against the stakes. And oh yeah, I am not a neat painter, so I put down a drop cloth under everything. In fact, when I work this big and fast I often get paint in my hair. A while back the lady who used to cut my hair when I lived in Grass Valley got tired of picking paint out of my hair. So one day she ceremoniously gave me a shower cap to wear when I painted. (That’s NOT in the materials you see here. And I can’t even imagine what my neighbors would think if they saw a woman wearing a shower cap painting on a large canvas in the front yard.)

To the right you see a rolling table with upper and lower surfaces crammed with supplies. I actually found this with a bunch of cast off furniture at a school and put it into my car and took it home—so I know it would fit in there easily. So I also knew that I could take this along in my car if I decided on a far off ninja urban sketching event. You probably can’t see it, but there is a black plastic plant holder that was meant to hold eight 4-inch by 4-inch plants. I got at the nursery. Those square holes hold my 8 fluid ounce jars of acrylic paint, plus assorted other 2 ¾ inch Mason jars for water and any colors I mix that are worth saving for another day. (I already have saved a lovely SoCal hazy day sky blue.) This “paint” arrangement seems perfect for transporting to locations that are as yet unknown. And this paint holder has a built in advantage for those of us who are messy because someone like me is less likely to spill things if they have a proper place to be. I specifically looked for paint containers that fit into those spots and had screw caps. Such containers will keep the paint from drying out. A lot of plein air painters use oil when they are outside because it doesn’t dry as quickly as acrylics, but since I like to do “under colors” I don’t want to wait for anything to dry. I want this to go fast. Then it’s really more like doing a watercolor that doesn’t bleed when the paper gets too wet, it just runs down the canvas. That’s when it gets messy because you need a rag to wipe off those “tear staining” dribbles.

La Crescenta, large canvas2
Step 3, Step after laying in some of the “under” colors (Step 2–not shown) and blocking in the trees and house in the foreground—half way there, 45 minutes from the start

End of first day painting

If you are getting bored with all this, hang in there because I am almost done with the set up and ready to tell how this is meant to be a deconstructed landscape. I mean, don’t you want to know what colors I used to get to this point? Of course you do! I used titanium white, ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow and burnt umber. Tomorrow I will finish this and plan to add touches of other colors I have in tubes in a bag for the final piece of art. I forgot to mention that I also had some plastic mixing trays, an assortment of big brushes and a laundry detergent jug that was rinsed out and filled with water.

What is a deconstructed landscape?

For each of the three steps I have described here, I stopped to take a photo of each one and shared it with friends. Now, I am not a sophisticated social media person and didn’t post the three photos I took (I didn’t include the Step 2 photo of sky and “under color” only here) on Instagram of Facebook, I just texted people that live nearby. And it was my hope that they would send along a note of acknowledgement, a question or two or even stop by to see what I was doing. Don’t hate me, but this is the cool part of being one California girl because the weather last Sunday was beautiful—in the upper 60s to low 70s. Someone could have driven past to say hello and make me take a break. I’m not looking for anyone to tell me whether or not they like what I’m doing, it just makes me stop and take personal stock of what’s in front of me. This helps to make a better piece in the end because I don’t feel like I can “drive off the cliff’ of going to far with a color or idea. It just makes me “stop.”

So, that is my idea of a deconstructed landscape, where other people are all part of the different stages of my painting—saving me from myself. And don’t we need more people in the world who save us from going too far? And they don’t even have to be a friend, just an interested bystander. I would do the same for them. Wouldn’t you?

Stay tuned for the final painting. Tomorrow looks to be another lovely day for one California girl.

December 8, 2018

Atascadero Road
Atascadero Road, date: timeless (oil on canvas, 24 by 32 inches)

I think the actual canvas I’ve posted today was the very first canvas I actually stretched. And I think I did this one in high school—seems like someone else’s lifetime ago. I remember that the actual weave of the cloth was not very close and when I brushed on the layer of gesso it took a couple coats to get into all the nooks and crannies. That being said, I have no idea how many paintings are under this view of lupines on a road in Atascadero. This last layer is on pretty thick as well and it would be impossible to see any of the original canvas unless you turned it over and looked at the raw ungessoed canvas on the back. In fact, I just got up from my laptop to look at the back, thinking it would be fun to take a picture of the raw canvas, but stopped short of my typical geekiness. Actually, what I noticed was years of dust and cobwebs back there and decided all of this might be just too weird. Oh, I dusted it off, by the way.

Now that I have added textures of flowers, trees and a road that takes you around an uncertain corner, this will probably be the last layer for this one. I don’t actually remember when I painted this final one, but it was definitely before the Great Recession of 2008. If you are an artist and were working at your art in the early and mid 2000s, there seemed to be people with extra money and they wanted to buy art. I met an interior decorator in Paso Robles early in the 21st century and she had lots of clients looking for art with very specific and personal themes for their walls. She suggested I look online at what other painters were making for sale. I checked it out and saw quite a variety. There were people who specialized in art that looked like it was from the Renaissance or street scenes of famous places like Paris and Rome, and landscapes of all kinds could be found there. Some did art of trains, boats and airplanes. I think Thomas Kincade, a fellow native Californian, figured this out and made a nice living painting romantic and idealized landscapes for just such a clientele. And of course there were artists who did “people” portraits and would paint your cat or dog if you sent them a photo. During this time of plenty I was doing lots of landscapes of vineyards and roads weaving in and out of the canvas, but none of it was done for a specific person or purpose. (Actually, that’s not exactly true. I did a painting during that time for what I thought was to be a poster for a Zinfandel festival in Paso Robles. That was actually a disaster and I blogged about it in my April 28, 2018 post.) Most of all I just loved traveling the North County back roads, capturing scenes of places that I wanted to linger and hang out in. The decorator I just spoke of said I should start a website of paintings that specialized in roads and vineyards. I also remember checking that out on the Internet to see if anyone else had a similar theme going. And sure enough there were plenty of paintings of vineyards. At that same time I knew of other artists who were creating paintings for wine bottle labels in the Paso Robles area. Before the crash, a Grass Valley winery owner tentatively suggested I do a label for one of their wines. Another person who was making and selling jewelry in Grass Valley told me he thought I should make posters of my work and not sell the originals. Again, I think Thomas Kincade figured out that whole idea. He mass produced his works, put them in nice frames and opened stores that just sold his art. Lots of people were all very generous with their suggestions of what I should do. Remember, I said all of this was going on before 2008. Because by 2009, that game was up and no one was interested in having someone who specialized in paintings of roads, airplanes or any other niche art category you could imagine. Of course I think there are probably still people who will do portraits and paintings of your pets. (I just Googled Portraits of Pets and found several websites that still specialize in that.)

The Road Less Traveled

And of course I didn’t do anything that anyone suggested and continued to paint as I pleased because even before the crash of 2008 I knew I would never really be happy trying to make a living selling my paintings. I think I realized it would be too much pressure to paint too many things that didn’t really interest me. So, I didn’t quit my day job. That brings me to the second part of the story that actually focuses on the subject matter of this painting. I am calling this part “The Road Less Traveled.” The idea was inspired by the “Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. Oh, and by the way, Robert Frost was a native Californian, born in San Francisco in 1874. He got to live the life of an artist—poet and playwright.

Not sure if I could get in trouble posting the whole poem here, but think I’m OK if I just include the fourth and final stanza.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Because I truly an introvert in an extrovert’s sharkskin suit, the life of an artist suits me well. Being able to paint throughout my life has allowed me to communicate my feelings and thoughts to myself and really no one else. I was painfully shy as a young girl and adolescent. I was bullied on and off through all those years as people often thought I was a snob or conceited and said and did some very unkind things to me. My dad would remind me that those people didn’t matter and I always had my art. (He also was good at reminding me of all the wonderful music that made our lives bearable…) And you know what? He was right! For those of you who also have the soul of artist, you know it is not an easy road. My ancestors were soldiers, sharecroppers, plumbers and dreamers. And when things seemed like tough going my family had an expression that went something like, “That’s going to be a hard road to hoe.” But it’s the only road I know.

December 1, 2018

Japanese Lanterns
Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest lanterns at one of the entries to the Japanese Garden, 11/20/18 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I found myself at the Descanso Garden again. I was glad I had the day off to go and paint there. I assumed there wouldn’t be many people wandering about because it was a regular weekday. And I had a plan. I planned to paint some of the amazing red lanterns that are set up in the Japanese Garden for the Enchanted Forest holiday light display. I don’t often go into the Japanese Garden as it is a popular place with garden visitors, but I was sure it would be OK for that day. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it was almost full. What the heck! As I stood in line to get in a docent told me that on Tuesday the garden was free. So, there were lots of people milling around—especially lots of strollers, small children and their usually well-meaning adults.

But I was determined to get past my “people aversion” because I had a plan. I wandered over to the Japanese Garden, looking for a good view of the trees and shrubs with the colorful red lanterns that were hanging from long curved black poles throughout the space. Low and behold, I found the perfect spot just outside the Japanese Garden at a bench across the creek from the gate and four lanterns you see here. I was immediately in Descanso heaven and decided I could sit there quietly and sketch and paint without being bothered by people. Of course, just as I was settling in, two school-age children ran right over to MY bench and tried to hide behind it. They had absolutely no idea that I was there and were very much into some sort of giggling game. I turned to look at them and showed them my stern “teacher face,” but they soon ran off. So, even if I had managed the perfect look of disapproval, they weren’t there long enough to see it. I hate being ignored! And what good’s a perfect “look” if no one is looking your way.

Finally, I got my materials set up and did a sketch of this garden gateway with the greenery and red lanterns. When I do something with architectural elements I always like to include some kind of “perspective,” making the structure appear to go back into the page. I’m not sure if I learned to do this from someone, but it works well for me. I think buildings can look rather flat, square and uninviting, and if you want your viewer to come into the picture with you, you need to invite them in. This “color” story included all my usual blues, greens, yellows and “Bark” Inktense colored pencil leaving plenty of white space and highlights. But I wasn’t sure how to paint the four red lanterns. Each one was a saturated red/crimson/orange ball of color that changed ever so slightly as the sun moved across the sky. So, I painted everything, except the roundish white lantern shapes, and then I stopped. Now, I never do a painting without taking bits of breaks to mix another color or let the little voice inside my head suggest what I should do next. I mix some colors, layer them in, and let that dry while I work on other sections—always mindful to leave as much white space as possible. I had taken my usual half a peanut butter sandwich break so I could let everything settle and plan my final paint assault. But I just couldn’t think of what to do for those last round shapes. I sat there, pretending to let everything dry. My sandwich was gone, so I had nothing to do with my hands. I had no idea what to do next, so I just stared across the water at the gate and waited. What was I waiting for? I have no idea. Maybe I was hoping to make the tortuous moment last longer? Yes, I have been known to linger at the strangest times. Like, if I am reading a particularly good book and I don’t want it to end, I’ll put it down, sometimes in mid sentence. It’s a wonderful kind of agony because I am dying to find out what’s going to happen next. I did just that with the book Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. It’s a pretty long book, so I had many opportunities to willingly torture myself. (I recommended the 5-part HBO mini-series based that was done a couple years ago—based on the 4 books that make up the story—in a recent blog.) It was tortuously long and wonderful.

Anyway, getting back to my red lantern torture, I began pondering the question, “What was I waiting for?” That can be a really loaded question, like it can mean that you have been waiting to try something new, but are just too chicken to put yourself out there and go for it. So that would sound like, “What are you WAITING for? But then there is also “WHAT are you waiting for?” or maybe even “WHOM are you waiting for?” That makes me think something or someone is suppose to happen, and then you will know what you are supposed to do. And of course “Whom are you waiting for?” might take years and I had already eaten my half a sandwich and I wondered how long I could go without food while I waited.

All of a sudden a young school-age boy, his even smaller brother and their well-meaning parent walked up to me. I guessed that the older boy was a first grader as his left upper front baby tooth was hanging by a thread. And the smaller boy looked to be a 4-year old preschooler. The mom told me I was right on both counts. I’m not sure if they were enchanted with my art, so much as they had obvious interest in my tray of assorted pigments, pots of mixed colors, brushes and other painting materials on the bench beside me. They were so polite and approached very quietly and politely. But I could tell the older boy really wanted to talk about what I was doing and his silent grinning little brother was just happy to be included in the moment. The mom hung back, but seemed thrilled that her boys had come upon a painter in a garden with some really cool looking painting materials. I’ve had a few conversations about painting with small children and I usually ask them about his or her favorite color. It’s funny, but little kids really do have such passion for such a discussion because staking your personal claim on a color is very personal and important. I showed them my favorites at the moment—“Opera” and my beloved “Cerulean Blue.” When I added that cerulean blue was my favorite because it was often the color of the sky, they both nodded in agreement. I think the color of the sky is important to all landscape painters, or future young school-age landscape painters for that matter. The younger boy finally spoke and told me that green was his favorite color and I quickly described all my different green pigments. Funny, the older boy didn’t actually tell me his favorite color, but nodded in agreement when I told him “Opera” was great. I chatted a bit with the mom too. She told me of the older boy’s love for art and said that the school he was attending had art as part of the curriculum. That made my day and I told them of a very early memory I had of my kindergarten teacher allowing me to stay in at recess so I could draw and color. I have such a vivid recollection of one particular afternoon in kindergarten where I sat coloring at a table, and sunlight was streaming in the door that was open to the very noisy kindergarten playground.

And then they were gone. I guess I had been waiting for them to distract me, helping me get myself out of my head. I mixed up a beautiful red made up of “Scarlet Lake,” and “Cadmium Red Pale Hue,” got my “Chilli Red” Inktense pencil and went to work. It took me less than 5 minutes to add the lanterns. Crazy, huh? Then I packed up my materials and went home.

So, what are you waiting for? Or whom are you waiting for? And if you are waiting for that special someone I hope you are lucky enough to find them while strolling in a favorite place, or sitting on a bench with a lovely view. Or at least I hope you have lots of peanut butter sandwiches because you might get hungry if you have to wait too long.

November 24, 2018

Cloud art2
Fanciful cloud 1, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) This is the same cloud I posted a couple weeks back, but I scrubbed out a cheeky cloud that I had somehow let in.
Cloud art3
Fanciful cloud 2, spring 2016 (acrylic on unstretched canvas, 55 inches by 43 inches) If I were to stretch this canvas the wrinkles down the middle would be gone.

If you are an artist, you probably don’t usually create something to cover up an unsightly something. Creative motives are usually to make something of beauty, with no real extrinsic value except to the creator. But every now and again art is called for when it can help with an ugly or unsightly view in your apartment. These two panels were just what I wanted to cover some tragic vertical blinds in my bedroom. I think vertical blinds in general are a bad idea, or at least an unsatisfactory solution to covering a large window or sliding glass door. I get that they are cheap and that’s why apartment owners put them up. But that’s the problem, they are cheap and often don’t hang straight, are difficult to open or close and/or just the fact that they are made of plastic from top to bottom makes me very unhappy. Besides, even with all those layers of plastic hanging down, light somehow gets in at various places where the plastic doesn’t quite come together because some pieces were slightly wavy and warped. So, I decided to cover up one such disaster completely with something I wanted to look at when I woke up in the morning, rather than…you know what I’m talking about. Even with that being said, I wasn’t sure that such a resolve to permanently block out a long and narrow window (110 inches by 43 inches) with a beautiful piece of art, no matter how unsightly the blinds, was a good idea. I had a double reason for covering it all up. Because even though I was on the third floor, the window in question looked out over an alley to other apartments and lots of power lines. I began musing what I would like to see out that window instead of what was actually there. I decided on a beautiful blue sky with soft romantic clouds made up of cerulean and ultramarine blue and titanium white. That’s what you see here.

First, I had to cut the canvas into two pieces because I didn’t have a large enough space in my apartment to paint one long large unstretched piece of canvas. I did have a perfect little spot in front of my refrigerator on the kitchen floor for each half, and I could reach all the way around each cloud square crawling around on the floor on my hands and knees. But I only had room to do one at a time, and I wanted each one to dry quickly, so I used acrylics. If you are a lover of oil paints and wish to paint with them, that’s up to you. Anyway, I didn’t fancy too many days of stepping over large sections of oil painted canvas when I wanted to get something out of the frig. I still think painting in the kitchen was a great solution. Besides, lots of apartment kitchens have windows you can open as both acrylics and oils can be rather stinky.

I think I would always recommend putting a beautiful cerulean blue sky with puffy white clouds up to a window with a questionable view and/or window treatment. Here’s how I came to this seemingly random artistic discovery. Mind you, everything I will describe here happened quite by accident with only the determination of making something beautiful for a perfectly utilitarian use. When I painted each canvas piece, I covered the blue sections with a slightly heavy layer of paint, but only lightly painted the actual cloud sections with white. (Remember I said I was in a hurry to not block access to my frig and this all went down fast.) I liked the idea that the actual gessoed white canvas would be part of the white cloud. The thin layer of white paint would turn out to be key, as you will soon discover if you have not already stopped reading this because it’s just too boring. Once everything was dry, I closed the blinds for good and hung up my clouds. The clouds had turned out to be a satisfactory solution for that room. But one weekend morning I woke up late and noticed the larger clouds were actually glowing from the tiny bit of light that still got in through the cracks of the blinds. I lay there a while and just looked at them. The cloud show got better and better because as the light coming through that eastern facing window moved higher in the sky, the lightness and brightness of the clouds changed. I was blown away. I wish I could say that I had actually meant all of this to happen, but it was quite random and therefore even lovelier. So remember, if you want this affect, be sure you are covering crappy vertical blinds that let in small bits of random light. Be sure to make the blue background very opaque and just add touches of cloud colors using a very thin mixture of paint. And also remember the vertical blinds are key because I actually used the top cornice of this window treatment to hang the sheets of clouds. All it took was 8 or 10 clothespins well placed and evenly spaced at the top. I forgot to mention that the reason I didn’t stretch the canvas was because I thought it would make the finished pieces too heavy and maybe pull the blinds right off the wall. I could just imagine the landlord asking me what I thought I was doing. I would have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing. If you don’t have ugly vertical blinds—lucky you. You could probably hang your canvas clouds with pushpins at the top of a window with an ugly view. But remember, once they’re up you’re done with opening or closing the window or any other window treatment that might be there.

Now I don’t live in that apartment and I have attached the cloud mural to a large wall in my bedroom with pushpins. And even though they don’t glow with the changing eastern light, I wake up each morning to these wonderful beauties. I’m thinking of stringing some twinkle lights on the row of pushpins at the top. Maybe it will look like stars or something. Already sounding a little too contrived, right?

You are probably wondering if we of SoCal actually have such blue skies and clouds here. Actually, I was just at my son’s for Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz and came home yesterday on the Grapevine. As I started to climb that steep grade, heading south, I wondered if there would still be smoke in the air from the awful fires we’ve had here (Woolsey fire in Thousand Oaks). It had been raining in Santa Cruz and was cloudy most of the way home. But as I got to the summit, the clouds parted to make vista after vista for cerulean blue sky and puffy clouds the rest of the way home. At one point there was a complete rainbow that seemed to hover beside my car, following me down the other side of the mountain. It was glorious and not a hint of smoke was to be seen—just a perfectly beautiful fall sky after a bit of rain. Oh, and I have never really seriously tried to paint a rainbow. You may want to add such a wonder to your cloud canvas. I don’t even know how I would begin to mix those colors because I think the colors of the rainbow are best done with tiny droplets of water magically lit by the sun.

Finally, now I have a wonderful space in my garage to paint the large vistas of my dreams. This spot is grand enough to paint something 95 inches by 63. And there won’t be any rolling around on the cold concrete floor because I have set it up to paint on one wall of the garage. I am working on how to set up every thing with the actual paints etc. and I think I have it. So, as soon as I can I plan to try one. Even thinking of maybe posting all of this on YouTube. Stay tuned…

November 17, 2018

Norton Simon Rodin sculptures
Norton Simon Front Garden Rodin Sculptures, November 2, 2018 (graphite, colored pencil and ink on mixed media paper)

I hadn’t planned to be out in the front garden entryway of the Norton Simon the evening of November 2nd. But it’s not really that unusual as one of my sketching groups always meets there the first Friday of the month. This month our leader suggested we sketch the altars that would be on display at the Day of the Dead exhibit in downtown Pasadena that evening. I drove into town with the express purpose of going to that event, but couldn’t find parking anywhere near the displays. So my car just navigated itself the few extra blocks west on Colorado and I found myself pulling into the parking lot at the Norton Simon Museum. There were plenty of places to park! For this sketching visit I decided I wasn’t going into the museum, for a reason I will later divulge, and I wandered around the front garden instead. I’m always happy to wander around the Norton Simon, so missing out on Pasadena’s Day of the Dead didn’t seem to matter much. (The leader of our group did find parking and she posted a wonderful watercolor she did of one of the altars that she entitled, Viva las mujeres!)

But I had my own kind of dead moment going on there as I decided that the Rodin sculptures all around the front entrance seemed to be coming to life. Since I had already decided I wasn’t going inside I planned sit out there and sketch them, watching for any kind of “Twilight Zone” movement moment. It was almost twilight and the evening lights were just coming on and highlighting the statues. I could swear fingers, shoulders and necks were moving ever so slightly. It didn’t seem as though any feet had moved—that would have been silly as they were attached to stone pediments. If you look closely at my sketch, can you tell which are the Rodin Sculptures and which are the humans hanging around? Of course you can. The Rodin twilight army is the ones not looking at cell phones, right?

Since I hadn’t actually crossed the threshold of the actual building, I wondered if technically I was at the museum. Of course I soon found out I was. While looking for the perfect view I noticed that one whole corner of the museum, next to the parking lot, was surrounded with connecting concrete benches. I was very excited at the prospect of so many places I could sit on my bit of bubble wrap and draw. I soon found the view you see here and I unfolded my bubble wrap on just the right concrete bench and sat down. As I began taking out a few sketching materials from my backpack I thought I saw someone off in the distance coming towards me. Was it a rogue Rodin statue? No, it was just a very officious museum employee lumbering over to tell me I was doing something wrong. (It was at this point that I realized I was actually at the museum. I had had run ins with other officious Norton Simon guards before, but never before entering the front door.) What could it be this time? I was beginning to wish I had tried harder to commune with the “dead” in downtown rather than anticipating a boring lecture from the “living” here in the garden. I stopped taking my sketching things from my bag and waited for her.

She told me I couldn’t sit on the bench because I might fall off and hurt myself on the concrete gutter under my feet. She added that they had this rule to keep kids from playing on the benches. I thought I looked old enough to refrain from such behavior. And I thought I could convince her of my arty earnestness and opened my sketchpad to show her 4 or 5 sketches I had done of the sculpture garden in the back. She said she liked the sketches, but wasn’t having any of my cozy chatter. So, I stood up and dropped the bubble wrap down into the gutter below the bench and slunk down so I was then sitting in this slim bit of bubble wrap in the gutter with my back against the bench. She said it was OK if I leaned against the bench. Well that was a mercy anyway.

I told her I hadn’t actually been out front very often to draw and that I usually went right through the front door directly to the back garden. But I said that I had brought my backpack, because I thought I was going to the Day of the Dead Celebration in downtown. I knew backpacks were not allowed inside the museum. I think the Norton Simon powers at be worried that those of us carrying backpacks would bump into something, or someone, as it was clear I was someone who played on benches and would run through their museum willy nilly with a backpack full of live bats. Oh, she was adamant that I most definitely could go in the back garden as long as I checked my backpack full of bats at the coat check counter, transferring my art items that included a small sketchpad and zipper bag of pens and pencils, slim metal container of 12 colored pencils, 12 inch by 24 inch sheet of bubble wrap and a small kitchen towel into one of their bags. I was just imagining all the bats escaping into the museum as I made the transfer (and that would be all her doing), but I said nothing. (Actually our conversation was no small feat as I was sitting in a narrow gutter at her feet, looking directly at her knees.) You know, you can stand at the front entrance of the Norton Simon and look directly through the front glass doors to the back glass doors, maybe 30 paces away. But I still needed to transfer my materials to another bag. She kept going on and on about how simple that would be. Of course it would have been much simpler for me to walk those few steps without stopping. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken more than 10 or 12 seconds.

By now I was done with all this nonsense and hoped she would finally leave me alone. But she wasn’t quite done with me and continued the conversation, telling me that she couldn’t believe that the original 1970s or  80s architect of the museum exterior had made such an unsafe design blunder right out there in front of God and everybody. She seemed horrified that someone would create permanent benches around Rodin’s sculpture garden at the front of the Norton Simon. And all the while I’m thinking, “the fiend!” It was about now I knew I was going to start giggling. Besides, I really wanted to sketch something.

Finally, she started walking away, but turned briefly to ask me if I had brought any kind of wet media with me. I remember thinking of saying something like, I am sitting in a concrete gutter out front of an art museum with patches of grass that look like they could use some water. Was she hoping I had a huge bag of water, along with everything else, in my backpack so I could help out with the drought? But I knew what she meant and I had no intention of going inside to clean Rembrandt’s face on his self-portrait with some of my dirty watercolor water. But the moment was saved as I could see just over her shoulder a friend sketcher/painter hurrying up the steps towards the front doors of the museum. (She must not have been able to get a parking spot either. She and I are often sketching/painting out in that back garden there on these wonderful Friday evenings.) Did I say painting? Why yes I did! I happen to know she definitely does watercolors (very wet and loose I might add) out there and is very fond of brushing on permanent inks as well! Ooh, this was delicious revenge. I was somehow getting a kind of revenge for all the nonsense I had been listening to for the past 10 minutes. But I immortalized my officious museum acquaintance. She is the tiniest person standing guard near the front of the museum to the left of the naked Rodin statue against the front wall. He had probably heard her droning on and on as well and was gesturing her to come closer so he could tell her to “leave off!” Of course maybe he was actually trying to muster another hand gesture. Ah, but we’ll never know…

My uncle (my dad’s only sibling) doesn’t have anything to do with computers, but it’s his birthday today anyway. So Happy Birthday Uncle R! 11/17/18

November 10, 2018

1999 pumpkin
Pumpkin, October 1999 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)
Newspaper pumpkin
The Tribune, 10/31/1999

Not really sure how I got the idea to submit my art with stories to The Tribune in San Luis Obispo almost 20 Halloween’s ago. But this was the first one. Once I formulated a plan to draw and write like this, it seemed a bunch of similar ideas for art and stories for kids and their families in the garden started to grow somewhere in my subconscious. And once I first saw this published in the newspaper a kind of floodgate of images and words began to tumble from my brain and out onto the waiting paper. There was a really nice editor at the newspaper who was my champion, so to speak. Beginning with that first story, she loved everything I sent her. That was really fun and satisfying.

Before I ever put pumpkin to paper and/or word to word processor I’d been thinking of Halloween and carving a pumpkin with my son who had just turned 5. I remember being struck by how beautiful pumpkins can be—not those wary ones. Some might think orange a rather rude color, but I’ve always admired the audacity of something so humble getting so much colorful attention. The shape of a pumpkin is pretty fun and unmistakable, and was forever made famous by being turned into a coach for Disney’s Cinderella. So, I always felt kind of sad for the pumpkin turned to jack-o-lantern because if you leave it alone, it’s the stuff of dreams and will remain whole and unabashedly bold for months—way past Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the minute you make that first stab into it, the pumpkin will soon die a quick, but painful death with tiny hairs and black spots of mold and mildew engulfing all that orange and shapely loveliness. Pretty dramatic, I know. But that was the angle I was going for with this first story.

But the real reason I posted all of this was not to lament the life of a carved pumpkin, but to share the untold story of the art I had created for it. I could also make a case for posting this now because Halloween was just 10 days ago and Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie is a few weeks away, but I digress. I remember enjoying all the colors I had used to make the art, layering layer after layer of watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on my wonderful cold pressed illustration board. And as I built up the colors the pumpkin began to look very real and round on the flat page. But where this gets tragic is that I didn’t create the right shadow for the pumpkin, but hadn’t figured that out just yet. I kept looking at it and it looked somehow weird. Of course the editor was ready for me to submit it with my story and there wasn’t time to redo anything. And even if I’d had the time I wasn’t sure what I should do. So, I emailed the editor my story and drove the 30 miles from our house in Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo to drop off the art to The Trib. The editor loved it, and that was good because I didn’t have it around the house to look at and obsess over anymore. Now I just waited for the next Sunday morning to see what it looked like in the newspaper. It was quite a bit smaller and that was fine. Of course, once I saw it there in print I realized what was bugging me. The shadow was definitely off and it looked like the pumpkin was floating above the surface of the page and not sitting on anything. Darn! But it seemed that it was only me who noticed, so I basked in all my friend’s friendly comments about the art and story and sent a copy to my mom and dad.

After that I made sure that all the art I submitted to The Tribune was grounded on the page, or at least didn’t have a kind of surrealistic style. But the tragic story of the floating pumpkin did not end there. Here’s what happened next. As I said, I mailed a copy of the newspaper clipping to my mom and dad. They were of course very proud and extremely pleased for me. And that Christmas they gave me a present of the article beautifully framed—complete with a double matt. This, of course, was meant to hang on my wall somewhere. I still hadn’t said a word to anyone about my pumpkin shadow faux pas, so they didn’t know I probably didn’t really want to look at it. (In fact, in writing this very story I just realized that I have never told it to anyone until now.) They had also framed a copy for themselves and had it hanging on their wall, for all the world to see. I was horrified! Now this pumpkin was meant to be displayed not only in my house, but was hanging on the wall by their front door as well. They told me they showed it off to everyone who came to the door—even the UPS lady I suppose.

I dutifully hung mine up when I got it home, but couldn’t stand to look at for very long. (In fact, I put the original art in a drawer and hadn’t really looked at it again until I did this story.) I decided I would bring it out for only special fall occasions and holidays—beginning with Halloween and ending with Thanksgiving. And that’s what I have been doing for the past almost 20 fall seasons. In fact, it’s hanging up in my living room right now. But now that both my parents are gone, I proudly bring it out and celebrate the season and their lifelong belief in my art and me. I don’t look for the shadowy imperfection anymore.

But I am not cured of my mania; there is a huge mural of clouds that I did a few years back.

cloud canvas
Fantasy Clouds, spring 2017 (acrylic on 43 by 55 inch unstretched canvas)

Somehow, I let a little cheeky cloud creep onto the canvas on the left side. It just doesn’t belong there. Now, I am scheming to see if I can mix a pot of the perfect blue acrylic that I can use to make it go away. I will write about that, and the other half of the art, in a later post.

Fire update from SoCal

On June 16th of this year I posted a little watercolor I did of a structure at Paramount Ranch, just over the hill from Malibu. I had heard in our local news that some, if not all, of the structures at Western Town at that location had burned down as a result of one our latest wildfires. Hearing that news made my heart sink. So far no official photos to confirm or deny that story have been posted. However, somehow an urban sketcher got a picture and shared it online. It showed that at least one of the Western Town buildings had burned to the ground. Just unbelievable to see the “before” and “after” shots. In that photo I could see that the building constructed for the West World series (and the one I painted for 6/16/18) looked OK. But I couldn’t see if the oak I had sat under to paint that piece was unharmed. The winds here in SoCal on Thursday night and most of Friday were horrific and so many people have been evacuated for that fire–not to mention all the other fires burning in California right now. It would be so nice if we had a few rainclouds on the horizon, something to lighten this dry and fiery load. No more words from One CA Girl today…

November 3, 2018

Descanso:lights1
Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest of Lights 2018, October 27, 2018
Descanso:lights2
Descanso Garden light vignette, October 27, 2018 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you’ve read many of my previous blog entries you might realize that I don’t usually post photos of where I am. But I posted this one for a couple reasons. First, I thought it interesting to see the actual objects/plants that inspired the actual piece of art. I also think that putting the actual art somewhere in the actual scene gives the viewer some kind of indication of scale. I like that. Second, urban sketchers commonly post photos of where they are with a finished painting or sketch so you can compare the real view with the made up one. I know this sounds like I’m repeating myself, but I need to add here that many of the urban sketcher posts I see come from people all over the world. And I think they secretly want us to be jealous that they are sitting in a café in Florence drinking another heavenly cappuccino from a ceramic cup and saucer with tiny spoon, waiting for a train in Osaka, or looking out over a tranquil scene in Bali. And those of us looking at the art are not. Finally, I wanted to share the connection we feel, as artists, to the places we are inspired to paint. I walked all over the Descanso Garden last Saturday, looking for the perfect spot that would share something about the holiday light show they are getting ready to present.

It took me a while to find this spot and I was getting pretty anxious by the time I finally sat down on a bench and started mixing my pots of color. As I have said, the minute I walk onto a prospective painting location my internal timer gets set to 10 minutes. And I really find myself hurrying about because the drive to paint is greater than my overall patience to wait to start painting. For this one I was really trying to think of a composition that would capture something without repeating the string of stars in the rose garden from last week’s post. I was taken by the rather perfect light spheres, but also wanted to show off the beauty of the garden as well. There must be 100 of these spheres lying around all over the garden. It was as though a couple giants had been playing night golf and forgot to pick up the random balls they had left behind. Finally, I saw this vignette of the slightly violet-colored light sphere nestled in with a chartreuse coleus with delicate lavender spiky blossoms and the vertical lines of a flowering cherry. I don’t know, maybe it has a kind of “Ikebana” feel to it. Maybe not.

A final story seemed to come to me when I realized that I had chosen a “linear” man-made light next to the organic shapes of a particularly lovely chartreuse coleus with diagonal irregular lines of the flowering cherry. I was reminded of a comment made by an instructor in a “materials for painting” class when I was at UC Berkeley. One afternoon, after we had finished an assigned project, it was time for us to place our work on a chalk tray for critique. (I don’t remember what materials we were exploring. I think it might have been acrylic paints. Not very exciting…) I remember one student’s work for some reason. She had painted a piece of pie with an ice cube on top with water running down the sides. I think I remember the art because it was pretty funny and so was she. Anyway, I don’t remember what he said about her piece of pie, but when he got to mine he made a grand comment, not about my masterful use of the targeted painting material, but about the composition. He said that I had created nice interest in my art by juxtaposing a linear shape (or something with a definite man made bent) with something more organic or something from nature. The painting was of an overstuffed chair that looked like it had been pushed into the corner of a room. And the texture of the material that covered the chair looked like fabric covered in huge yellow, green and red flowers with black outline. I remember being impressed with myself for being so brilliant, but showing such brilliance wasn’t intentional. I think I just nodded with agreement that he had understood my work on a different level apart from using a particular assigned painting material. And it wasn’t some random piece of strange pie on a Styrofoam plate. What a laugh, right?

And that’s the point here. I often wonder if some of the things we see in a painting were intended or just a happy accident that somehow worked brilliantly. If you are an artist I think you know what I mean. Do we let on that it wasn’t intentional? Or do we nod, humbly and knowingly, like our brilliance was finally discovered by the masses? Of course it could be worse and have the opposite effect where we try something and it doesn’t work. Then and you might find yourself saying that you meant it to look that way. And we convince ourselves that we are pleased with the effect, but somehow these are not the right “masses” and they just don’t get it.

Finishing this up just now I am already planning next week’s post. But there are actually possible two bits of art with stories I might tell—one about a piece of pumpkin art that went terribly wrong in so many ways and another about a piece I did last evening. I had planned on doing a sketch of some of the altars and people at a Day of the Dead Celebration in Pasadena. However, I couldn’t find a parking space and found myself back at my beloved Norton Simon Museum, just down Colorado. And there is quite a story of me sitting out front, sketching some of the “zombie-like” statues out there as the sun went down. (I hate zombies…) So, now I have to decide which one comes next. I guess we will all wait and see which one bubbles up first in my brain first, as long as zombies haven’t gotten to my brain first. Stay tuned…

A note about the dark of the moon, November 7

You are suppose to plant your bulbs at the dark of the moon. I thought the New Moon was tomorrow and had planned to put my paperwhites in the ground then. But I guess it’s not until Wed. Wish I hadn’t looked that up just now. I wonder if the flowers will mind if I am a few days early?

October 27, 2018

Enchanted Stars2
Enchanted Forest of Light, Descanso Garden October 2017 (watercolor on watercolor paper)

Two Octobers ago I went to my first Enchanted Forest of Light display at the Descanso Garden. This is part of that display. When I did this watercolor, I hadn’t yet seen the lights at night. And the afternoon I looked up and saw the star shaped lanterns I knew there must be more to the starry story. I think it was just about that time when a friend suggested we see these lit up on a night later in November. I was keen to do that. But getting back to this watercolor I remember I was again intrigued with using this odd shaped paper and decided it was perfect for this string of daytime stars. When I wrote of this watercolor paper a couple blogs ago (watercolor of trees at the Cayucos Cemetery) I like that it worked there because it added to the feeling of movement of a particular stretch of Highway 1 running between a row of trees and a favorite Cayucos beach. For this one, I liked the idea there was to be movement when you looked up and across from one side of the rose arbor to the other. I also liked that you could see the overhead trellis filled with roses and you knew you were in a garden as well as a special place to see such a display of stars during the day. When I later saw these stars the dark colored arbor disappeared into the night sky and they looked like they were just suspended there as if by magic or some other cosmic “star like” force. I also wrote about the Enchanted Forest of Lights for my January 6, 2018 blog entry—if you’re interested in my continuous obsession with being in the rose garden at the Descanso Garden. Ah me!

I realized that when I first saw these amazing larger than life stars dangling from the arbors that the whole garden (not just rose garden) was getting ready for something very special. I started thinking about what it meant to get ready for something and decided that it was really more than just anticipation as you had to get some kind of idea in your head and then actually do something. I guess since I wasn’t responsible for doing anything for this event, I could just enjoy the anticipation. I had no expectations, but was looking forward to seeing the lights anyway. I vividly remember that evening. There were 4 of us in all and we had decided to delay the lights viewing by first having dinner at a new restaurant at the garden. That was a mistake! The meal itself was forgettable, the service slow and it was overpriced. So, there was a momentary bad feeling mixed in with my anticipation for the evening. But here’s the interesting part, when we finally finished dinner we had to get ready to go outside and see the lights. It was to be a cool evening and we had brought heavy coats, hats and gloves. Now I would be ready to see something special without whining about having cold hands. I still didn’t know what I was about to see, so the excitement of anticipation crept in again as I zipped up my coat and plopped my hat on my head. There were no more disappointments after that. The lights were amazing and the moment we walked into the Enchanted Forest I had already forgotten about the forgettable overpriced meal we had endured the first part of the evening. And we all vowed to do the lights again the next year.

For the fall 2017 light show we assembled a slightly different group of friends and made reservations to see the lights. We did not endure a disappointing dinner before hand as we went to a favorite near by Mexican Restaurant. (You should know that Mexican restaurants are a definite thing here in California, especially in So Cal.) And after we finished that meal we drove over to the Descanso and got ready to see the lights again—putting on our warm coats and hats before going in. It was again an amazing event and the Enchanted Forest did not disappoint for the second year in a row.

This year a similar group of friends are planning another trek to the Descanso to see the lights. I am anticipating that the upcoming evening will probably start again with a wonderful meal of tequila, guacamole, salsa and mole. And I am looking forward to getting ready for the whole evening.

Do you see where this is going yet? I think I am kind of stuck on wondering about what we get ready for and then what happens after we get ready. As I’ve already said I see a kind of distinction between anticipation and getting ready as anticipation can actually be done in your head, but getting ready might involve a number of things like buying someone a gift, loosing weight, or investing in the right stocks or bonds because you are getting ready for retirement or maybe setting up a college fund.

And as I got thinking about getting ready for things, I kept remembering that I’d heard that expression before. And bang, I remembered that my mom used to say that to introduce many topics for a variety of things we did as a family growing up. I think she used to say it as a kind of reminder that we were supposed to be doing something together. For example, she might say to my dad and us kids on an afternoon in early December, “I was just getting ready to decorate the Christmas tree.” And as if by magic we got the decorations down from the attic, put on some agreed upon music, opened the 5-pound box of See’s Candy and passed it around, and began decorating the tree—with my dad first putting on the lights.

Most often my mom used that carrier phrase to announce a meal. She might say something like, “I was just getting ready to start the beans.” Or she would say, “I was just getting ready to put dinner in the oven.” But upon hearing this particular statement my father often said that he was sure my mom had first served the meal we were about to eat to another family because it seemed we were always just getting ready to eat “leftovers” again.

So, then I got to thinking, or obsessing if you must know, about different events you could begin by saying “I was just getting ready to____.” And you can fill in the blank however you like. I had fun making lists of odds and ends that could go there. They seemed to fit into odd categories that included: thoughts and deeds, foods and pets, your habits and personal grooming, and finally the musical and important.

I had way more on my list than this, but here are a few I thought I would share.

I was just getting ready to:

  • tell you that I love you.
  • practice the piano.
  • change that light bulb.
  • get to the bottom of this.

Or, I was just getting ready to:

  • give the dog a bath.
  • clean the cat hair off the refrigerator door.
  • eat the last piece of cheesecake.
  • figure out what’s gone bad in the frig.

Maybe I was just getting ready to:

  • get my first tattoo.
  • get another tattoo.
  • get just one more.
  • wax.

And finally…I was just getting ready to:

  • “Peel me a grape, crush me some ice, skin me a peach—save the fuzz for my pillow.” (lyrics from the song titled “Peel me a Grape,” by Dave Frishberg. Blossom Dearie and Diana Krall recorded pretty good versions of it. I was sure Peggy Lee did this one too, but couldn’t find a recording of her singing it. Oh well, dad.)
  • help someone in need.
  • make a donation.
  • vote.

One final final note: Just came back from painting at the Descanso Garden, and the lights are going up. So, I am already getting ready for next week’s blog.

What are you just getting ready to do?

October 20, 2018

Indian Paintbrush
Atascadero Castilleja, spring 1991 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)

I saw a hillside of these wildflowers in Atascadero in the spring of 1991. I was riding around in the car with a fellow wildflower enthusiast. Her name was (and is) Aunt Ruth, and she had seen this patch of flowers and took me there one afternoon when I was visiting from northern California. The road we were on was kind of a funny single lane old country road that desperately needed some potholes filled. At one point we jumbled around one corner and she slowed to a stop. Yeah, it was that kind of road—no one was there. The view that I saw took my breath away. It looked like a million paintbrushes had been dipped in red paint and then pushed into the ground, bristles side up. When I say red, it’s so much more than just red from a crayon box, it’s a kind of scarlet that takes some mixing when trying to come up with just the right watercolor color. The irony is not lost on me that these flowers look like paintbrushes and also have that as part of their name. A true painter might use the common name, but a true botanist would not call it Indian Paintbrush. Oh no. They would of course have been just as “gob smacked” as I upon seeing all these “lovelies,” but would have been much more cool. Instead, they would have commented on the very lovely display of Castilleja affinis and not used the common name. It’s just too common and most definitely the incorrect nomenclature if you are that kind of purest. At that time I had already become aware of this taxonomic scoop as I had been working in the botany department at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. There I helped prepare specimens for their herbarium, did some pen and ink drawings for a couple botanists and was taking art classes from some of the natural science illustrators in the San Francisco area. I loved it all. I loved traipsing around hillsides with Ruth, I loved traipsing around the Strybing Arboretum, I loved the quiet halls of the botany department, I loved the long and important words I was learning and I loved the scientific, natural science and medical illustration I was learning at the Academy.

One of the classes I took at the Academy gave me the idea for this botanical rendering of the Castilleja you see here. First, it’s all about using this amazing Strathmore cold press illustration board—it has a wonderful texture and will take a pretty wet watercolor without rippling. If you start by laying in the dark shadows with Prismacolor colored pencils, the flower seems to immediately take on a three dimensional quality. And as I am scribbling in that first bit of color I am thinking about the colors I will be mixing in my watercolor pots. This is way different from what I seem to be doing now because back then I was more interested in painting very detailed and realistic flowers and trees. So, for this one I didn’t want to set up my paints on that road, I wanted to ponder the paper and colors back in my studio to get just the right layering effect that would make it look so real you could reach out and grab it right off the page. Of course the actual size of this piece is way larger than an actual Indian Paintbrush. But it’s very common to do such illustrations pretty big because if it were to be reproduced in some journal or other, it would be at least ¼, or less, the size you see here. This would give the renderings an even more realistic appearance. So, because I wasn’t going to sit in the dirt and paint I took a bazillion close up photos and did the art back at my house in San Ramon when I got home a few days later. No worries.

I have already written about my life with Ruth in my One California Girl ramblings (June 17, 2017). For that entry I inserted a copy of a sweet vase of wildflowers (that had come from her garden) I had painted for her birthday one year. It’s quite a story—meeting the same person three separate and disconnected times in a lifetime. I was first introduced to her when I was 10 or 11, then our paths crossed again when I was doing my student teaching as a senior at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and last she became a permanent member of my California Girl’s Club (she was born in Adelaida) as I married her nephew. I’m not married to her nephew anymore, but I have a son that is a blood relative to that amazing Aunt Ruth. So, I am related to her by an unmarriage, which somehow works splendidly for me.

I think wildflowers are an interesting thing to decide you like. Wildflowers spend lots of the year nowhere to be seen at all. Then they burst on the scene in all too brief blobs of glorious color and finally they just look like a bunch of weeds. But Ruth and I love them for sure and don’t mind the waiting, or the weedy stage because the blooms are just that special. So, when our life paths crossed for the third time (this by the late 80s) I took up the wildflower mantle and began traipsing through spring fields, always on the look for just such bits of beauty. Since then I have gone on many such walks with Ruth, as well as other wildflower lovers. And there’ve been times when there was no one to walk with, so I went by myself. To this day I still enjoy traipsing through roads and fields in search of those tiny blobs of color.

1991 Indian Paintbrush and journal
Catalina Castilleja, spring 1991 (watercolor on watercolor paper in wildflower journal)
tiny art materials
Sample plein air materials from 1991 traipsing–sans H pencil with sheet of sand paper for sharpening

There was another particularly interesting hike I took in the spring of 1991 and that was on Catalina Island. One morning I came upon a more delicate version of a California native Indian Paintbrush. As you can see, I put this little “Paintbrush” in a journal. In fact, that journal marks the beginning of my California traipsing. Funny to read that I wrote about the “flower’s inflorescence”—harkens back to those beginning botanical days. At that time I was taking more photos, so I always had my camera with me. (This was way before the ease of taking photos with a phone.) So, this first journal was mostly photographs. It contains photos and a sketch of a peony I saw in Mendocino the winter of 1992, photos of almond trees in bloom in Paso Robles in early March 1992 and a bunch of photos of wildflowers in the native California plant section of Strybing Arboretum in spring 1992. There are also photos of wild flowers in the Alamo Hills, huge field of lupines and Crow Canyon Garden in San Ramon, lupines in Atascadero, and roses and irises in Aunt Ruth’s yard in Atascadero. There’s even a picture she took of me sitting in her garden painting a particularly lovely rose in bloom. Then in January 1993, I got out my little painting set up again, took along a couple colored pencils and painted a clump of red hot poker as I sat overlooking Monterey Bay. (This was before I had learned that I could easily pack a small sheet of bubble wrap that I could roll out and sit on comfortably.) I remember that whole morning was pretty fun as there were about a half dozen ground squirrels that popped out of the ground every now and then to see what I was doing. If I had been sitting on bubble wrap they probably would have wondered about the occasional popping sound as I shifted around while working. We are all such curious creatures…

So, now I’ve come to the end of this week’s traipsing through time and California, and I wonder about you. Where have you traipsed? Or where would you like to traipse? I feel something new coming on for me. I have set up a place in my garage to do large canvases. I mean these can be at least 5.5 feet by 7 feet. But I’m wondering what I can actually see from my garage. I guess I picture myself having my colors all mixed and running in and out of the garage—looking up at the beautiful hills I live amongst. Then I can quickly run back into the garage to add more color to the canvas. (And oh, acrylics dry really quickly…) That sounds fun for a time I guess. Actually, I have been working on a collapsible frame that I could take along with me and it would allow me to paint something 32 inches by 60 inches. Stay tuned…

 

October 13, 2018

Cayucos Cemetery Trees
Cayucos Cemetery Trees, fall 2016 (watercolor and deep indigo Inktense pencil on narrow watercolor paper)

I painted this as I sat at the top of the Cayucos Cemetery, looking down at this row of trees and on out to the Pacific Ocean. The paper is an odd size and shape, 6 by 12 inches, but I liked that it gave the painting a sense of movement as the railing you see running through the trees separates this property from Highway 1. Highway 1 in southern California is also called PCH, or Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve never heard it called PCH by the people who live in the Central Coast, but whatever it’s called, this little stretch of very busy road connects Morro Bay with the actual town of Cayucos. These trees are pretty big and cover part of a beautiful beach that my son and I frequented when he was little. I like to think that my mom and dad, who are buried high up on this hillside cemetery, face that narrow stretch of beach and ocean view.

This stately row of trees got me thinking about what this view looked like when the trees were first planted and much smaller. Then you could have really seen the beach and ocean, but of course then you could have really seen the cars whizzing by on Highway 1 as well. I think I’m OK with the trees blocking the view of the road, but I would be pretty sad if you couldn’t see the ocean.

When my dad died, a close family friend had a small tree planted (some kind of conifer that will do well in the damp Cayucos beach climate) in my dad’s memory. It’s on the left side of where I was sitting, about half way down the hill. For the longest time I wasn’t sure which tree it was, as the marker that was to go with it had not yet been fixed into the ground. But once I was shown the tree, I was really touched with such a thoughtful and fitting gift to mark a significant moment for our family, sad as it was. Trees do that for us. They can signify important events in our lives. Maybe it’s a kind of immortality as we hope that future generations of visitors, whether they are related to me or not, will come visit the tree and make sure that it is still thriving. And then of course the tree will grow bigger and become something we hope will stick around for a while. Besides, my dad loved trees. He and my mom were always planting them in the various houses we lived in growing up. So, when my brother sent me a recent picture of my dad’s last tree, with my brother standing beside it, I could see that it had already gotten taller. That was wonderful.

So, then I got to thinking of other times and other trees. Most that came to mind were planted right here in California. And it would be fitting to start with some trees my mom and dad planted in the corner yard of their house in Grass Valley when my son was a baby. I’m not really sure why they chose the three liquidambar saplings to commemorate his birth, as it is not really a common tree for that part of northern CA. My mom and dad were mad about sugar maples and had already planted several of them along with 6 or 8 pistachio trees. But the liquidambar were chosen and planted nonetheless. Somewhere in my photos is a wonderful picture I took of my mom and dad holding their first grandchild in front of the three 4 to 5 foot trees. By the time my son graduated from high school and we moved away, those trees had become giants in that corner of the yard. When my mom and dad first moved to that house in the mid 1980s I remember my mom saying that they wanted it to look like a park, and I must say they succeeded. By about 2008 or 9 the trees were so big and beautiful in their yard that there wasn’t much room for other plants that needed more sun. Oh well! But every fall, throughout the years, we watched the sugar maples, pistachio trees and liquid ambers turn stunning shades of yellow, gold, orange, red and pink. (Yes pink!) It was quite a site. And when the first big winds of fall began to blow, the leaves dropped to the ground like so much colorful confetti. It took days to rake that up—mostly because my son and I liked to play in the piles I tried to rake up. I haven’t been back to Grass Valley since my son graduated, so I am assuming the current owners of mom and dad’s house has left my mom and dad’s park alone. I guess I don’t want to find out if any trees have been cut down. I think it would make me feel too sad.

There’s another cool California tree story that took place around the corner and down the hill from my parent’s Grass Valley home. That story actually starts with the end of a giant sugar maple. It had been brought from Gettysburg as a sapling and planted in front of an old farmhouse (pre Civil War) on that street. It was huge and every fall it was covered with huge bright yellow leaves. I think it was 2010 or so that a big winter storm blew off one of the last great branches of the tree. So when it had to be taken down it made the headlines of the local newspaper. But the story doesn’t end there, of course. An old timer who lived in the house next door to the tree, said that a seedling from the Gettysburg tree had planted itself in his yard when he was a young boy. And he said he and his family watched that tree grow, much like the families who watched that first Gettysburg sugar maple. In fact, the old timer himself was something of a marker of time in Grass Valley as his ancestors had been some of the original Cornish tin miners who had come to the area to mine for gold just after the Civil War. He was born, raised, married, had children and died at age 93 in that house—so he saw the first tree in its mighty glory, all the while his family cared for the next generation tree right there in his yard. He was very proud of being part of that tree’s legacy. He was also very proud of his Cornish ancestry as well. Great tree and human story, huh?

That’s what trees do; they mark time and help us remember. I have a final California tree story and it takes place in SoCal. Several weekends ago I went on a house tour of 6 old homes on an historic street in Glendale. Two houses were built in the late 1920s and the other 4 were built in the early to mid 1930s. Each house had a unique story of who built it, it’s overarching style and some of the people who had lived in each house. And of course I was interested in all that, but I was also interested in the huge and majestic rows of palm trees that lined each side of the street. Out in the front yard of one of the houses on the tour were large poster size photos of this same area in the early 30s, when only these few houses had been built. Looking at one particular photo you could clearly see how small the palm trees were when they were first planted 80 years ago. That was really fun to see. Makes me think something like, if these trees could talk, or some other silly thing like that…

But I guess I do have a couple more short stories about trees, but neither take place in CA and for that matter, neither of them actually happened. First, if you would like to enjoy a large, but fictitious tree, in a mini-series, check out “Parade’s End.” The story was written by Ford Madox Ford and adapted into a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. In it there is a magnificent and huge tree that is actually an important character in the story, and it is called the Groby Tree. Check it out. Finally, I will share a picture book with you that a little student I saw yesterday shared with me. The title of the book is “Our Tree Named Steve,” by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow. If any of what I have written about today resonates with you, you will love this story, and the illustrations are so clever and wonderful! If you don’t have a little friend to share this book with you, I hope it’s still in print and you can find it.

I miss you dad! (10/12/12) And thanks for you and mom for planting so many trees.