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…

August 21, 2021

When I was in art school, I remember one of my professors saying it was important to develop a style, a style all your own. It seemed to me at the time that trying to focus on one particular style would be pretty limiting and actually pretty boring. I think I still feel that way today. Maybe what he meant was that it was a good idea to focus on becoming skilled with drawing and painting. Then if you developed an ease with figure drawing, symmetry, composition, line work etc you would be on your way to becoming an artist, and a good artist at that. I remember he said that it took years to become a good painter. And it also somehow seemed important to him that someone could look at a piece of art and know who had painted it. Well, if you were to line up my art from week to week, you may not guess they were done by the same person. I think the people he must have been referring to were artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Leonardo etc. I wish he would have just said all of that. Otherwise, it just seems like some kind of rubbish artistic advice. All I have ever really wanted, artistically speaking, was to be skilled and memorable in some way.

If you have been looking at the art I present each week for One CA Girl, you must have noticed lots of different styles. I really like trying new things and maybe from week to week you wouldn’t guess that I had created it. Oh well! My intention here has always been to present my art, past and/or present, that I would react to in some way. I might describe in excruciating detail the materials and technique I used. Or I might tell a story of my CA family, or I might present whatever musings that have been rolling around in my brain at any given moment during the previous week. 

For this week’s Descanso Gardens offering (8/15/2021), I was certainly attempting a paired down style, much like my Descanso’s rose arbor dated June 26, 2021–watercolor and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper. You have probably noticed that I identify each One CA Girl entry with a date (usually on a Saturday or Sunday). In a way the date is not really how I would like to identify each post, but rather I want the art to be the first thing you notice. However, as this is a journal of sorts, marking the date for each entry has always seemed the most expedient way to just get on with it. (Not sure I’m clever enough, or patient enough, to come up with a catchy title for each entry. Again, oh well!) 

It’s too bad you can’t see a WordPress feature that I use to store each week’s art/photo for One CA Girl. It’s called “Media Library” and it’s where each piece of art I have used over these past 4 years have been uploaded. It lines up each and every one as a discreet square—six images across. There is just the right amount of white space between each square and above each image is the date they were uploaded, with a discretely small font and a light shade of grey. And every now and then I scroll through the list. There are just over 500 images, with the first piece of art and story being shared March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But looking at the Media Library just now reinforces my earlier comment about wanting to be somewhat memorable, coupled with the joy of having so many different styles over the years. Works for me. How about you?

August 14, 2021

This week was all about beginnings and endings for me. Or maybe it was more like endings and beginnings? It all started with my completely filling up another sketchbook. The 8/8/2021 sketch was the final one, thus ending the second in a series of Canson Mix Media 7 by 10 inch sketchbooks (Yes, I have completely filled two of them now and about to start another.) On 8/11/2021 I began sketching in the next Canson 7 by 10 inch sketchbook. But before I did that sketch I looked at the first couple sketches I had done in the beginning of the book ending with 8/8/2021. Are you with me so far? I was curious where I had been when I started that one. Those first few renderings reflected a spring “nests” theme going on at the Descanso at the time. If you look at the April 3, 2021 One CA Girl post, featuring those drawings, you will notice they were also done with pen and ink and Inktense pencils. And they were all done at the Descanso Gardens. What a surprise, right? It was fun to sit in a similar spot the other day, looking again at the same metal arbors at the entry area of the garden. Now, those rebar arbors are covered with life size butterflies (Descanso’s summer 2021 theme). As I walked around there this week, I noticed that they had also taken down many of the other nest displays. And they have removed the dragon fly I featured in my July 3, 2021 art/story. My, my, but seasonal beginnings and endings seem to be happening everywhere. I bet the Descanso’s getting ready for their fall themes. It was nice to get an invite to their 2021  “Carved” pumpkin and subsequent “Enchanted Forest of Light” outdoor events. Both were cancelled because of COVID worries.

Even though I was glad to hear the Descanso was planning to reinstate their outdoor fall/winter events (Carved and Enchanted Forest of Light), it seems that other SoCal venues may not be so lucky. The Gamble House, in Pasadena, started giving tours of the house’s interior late last spring. Prior to that time they had been closed for several months because of COVID transmission worries. However, due to recent COVID worries, they have again stopped giving in-person tours inside the house. You can still tour the outside of the house in person and they have a virtual tour of the inside. But if you can’t get inside you will miss experiencing something truly extraordinary. (You may or may not be away, but the Gamble House exterior was used as Doc Brown’s house in the movie “Back to the Future.”) Not being able to step inside is sad news on so many levels. If you are a fan of craftsman architecture (specifically Greene and Greene buildings) it us heartbreaking to imagine you can’t experience the glorious textures and craftsmanship of the wood, glass and furniture of that time. But more heartbreaking for sure is the fact that their junior docent program will again be interrupted. Each year adult volunteer docents teach middle school students about that house, training them to give tours. Then elementary school students are invited to tour the house with the middle school student docents. Cool, huh? As the inside of the house will be closed, none of the recently “virtually” trained middle schoolers will be able to conduct those tours. Breaks my heart…

But my endings/beginnings story does not end with a couple sketchbooks, seasonal changes at the Descanso Gardens and/or the status of visiting The Gamble House. Another ending/beginning SoCal story for One CA Girl will begin on 8/16/2021. That is the day summer break ends and the 2021-2022 school year begins for LAUSD. That means I will be back on campus. I am cautiously optimistic for that beginning and truly looking forward to seeing all my students. Here’s to a new beginning! Wish us luck!

August 8, 2021

It might sound a little strange, but I have been playing hide and seek with monarch caterpillars much of the summer. I have seen monarch butterflies all around my garden. And I have seen a number of them flitting about the Descanso Gardens as well. (You may have already noticed the tiny orange blurs in the first two sketches for this week. Those were monarch and fritillary butterflies.) But I haven’t seen any monarch larva in action in either location since I shared a sketch on June 12, 2021. And believe me, I have looked for them both at home and at the Descanso! However, I have seen a number of wasps buzzing around the milkweed plants here and there. Wasps will hunt and kill such larva. I’ve seen them do it! If I see one hovering around my milkweed plants I spray them with water and then squish them underfoot. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that at the Descanso. No one there has ever questioned my bringing a squirt bottle filled with water into the garden, especially if they saw me use it to create one of my “just add water” sketches. (See 6/20/2020, 6/9/2020 and 4/13/2019 for examples of how I create a nice effect with Inktense pencils and blasts of water.) However, I wonder what the Descanso folks would think if I repeatedly sprayed a wasp–wetting it completely until it can’t fly, drops to the ground and I grind my heal into that ferocious critter—making it dead? That’s what I do at home, anyway. TMI, right?

However, you may or may not be interested in my quest to find thriving monarch larva or how I hunt and kill wasps. But you may be interested in my less violent story for the week—the amazing gingko tree you see in each sketch. I saw a whole bunch of butterflies flitting inside the potager garden (flanked by this maidenhair gingko tree) at the Descanso Gardens (7/28/2021), daring me to find out where they had been hiding. Of course that drew me in, but did not sustain my interest for long. I think maybe the best story here is that tree. (See January 1, 2021 to see this lovely tree as part of a series of pastel sketches I did in honor of our most recent winter solstice.) Once my attention was drawn into looking at the tree, I was hooked for more visits and summer tree renderings. These sketches show a “changed” opening to that part of the garden, as it was recently altered with a new rustic arbor. For the winter solstice pastel sketch, there was a kind of rustic gate that kept people from going inside. (Not really sure why we weren’t allowed in there. Maybe they had heard there was a CA girl planning to kill bugs in their garden?) It’s much better now, as the opening is much larger and people can walk around at will. (I haven’t been going near the wasps…) I happened to walk by the day the garden guys were reconstructing it. And I’m not sure why, but they left that original gate leaned up against the tree. I kind of like it there…somehow gone, but not forgotten. 

Monarch caterpillar update!

I went to the Descanso Gardens this morning to sketch. Guess what I found in a patch of milkweed just outside the potager garden? Yes, a monarch caterpillar. In fact, I saw two caterpillars munching away on this plant. That really made my day! After taking a bunch of pictures, I floated on air back into the garden to do another ginkgo tree sketch. It’s not here today. I’m saving it for next week’s story. Stay tuned…

July 31, 2021

Last Sunday Urban Sketchers Los Angeles met at Shoreline Village in Long Beach. I was thrilled to meet in person with my peeps for a day of drawing. And it seemed everyone in our group of 20, or so, was equally happy to be out and about for a sketching event. Shoreline Village is kind of a touristy spot, with lots of restaurants, shops and even a merry go round. So of course there were lots of families and couples wandering around, looking in windows and looking for a place to eat. The last time we were there it was pre pandemic (See 8/24/2019 post), and it looked much the same as it did the other day. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with so many people (sans masks) milling around. I’ve been vaccinated and I wore a mask—that helped alleviate my anxiety a little. But we were outside and I was very motivated to sit right down and draw. There are a bunch of great sketching opportunities at the Shoreline Village—the downtown Long Beach skyline with its tall buildings and palm trees, boats moving in and around the harbor, and colorful buildings along the wharf. And if you walk to the other side of the boardwalk, you can see the Queen Mary standing tall. Last Sunday there was also a huge cruise ship around that side as well. As I said, there was a lot to see and draw. So, I made the most of the morning and did these two sketches.

For the first sketch I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on a grassy area in the shade of a giant tree. It was a great way for me to begin my time there as it was across from the boardwalk and away from most of the people. There was also just enough of a breeze blowing to make the overall sketching experience cooly wonderful. As it turned out, another sketcher joined me there. We worked quietly for quite a while. At one point I looked at her and said that it was so wonderful to be sitting in a cool spot while looking at the boats coming and going in the marina. I also said that I would have enjoyed sitting there even if I wasn’t sketching anything. She said she thought so too. It was pretty great! But eventually we each finished what we were drawing and thought it a good idea to move on. Our group wasn’t meeting up for 45 minutes, and that meant we had plenty time to do another one. We packed up and went to look for another sketching opportunity—wondering if we would find an equally great spot. We wandered back to the actual boardwalk and looked for a place to perch. I found a set of stairs in the shade that offered a great view of another part of the harbor. My friend went around to the other side of the boardwalk to sketch the Queen Mary. The wooden steps were between two restaurants, making this sketching opportunity more lively than the first. It was nice, because by then I had relaxed about being around so many people. I really enjoyed doing that piece and boldly included a large ship as it motored it’s way out to the open ocean. I sat there for maybe 30 minutes, happily working away, until a security guard told me I couldn’t sit on the steps. He was nice about it. I knew I was close to being done, so I didn’t really mind moving. I packed up most of my materials, stood at the base of the stairs and finished the second sketch in a few minutes. It all ended perfectly as it was time for the group to get together and share what we had created. Sometimes it’s good to have a time limit. Then you can’t go too far with adding details that can ruin your final artwork. All in all, it was a great day to be a member of the Los Angeles Urban Sketchers group.

As an artist I am always thinking about how to use color in my work. Of course there are times that I don’t want color at all, focusing on a graphite grey pencil sketch, black ink lines or even white spaces and/or white pigment. If you have been looking at recent One California Girl art and stories you will then know of my most recent obsession with some new ink colors from The Goulet Pen Company. I ordered a sample set of 9 colors and have been experimenting with them in stand alone line drawings as well as a wonderful accompaniment to my Inktense pencils. I finally ordered a couple colors (Bleu Ocean and Green Marine) from Goulet, and I think they are amazing. I wonder if I’ve been having some kind of subconscious need to use the blues and greens of water. I mean, last week I sat creekside at the landlocked Descanso Gardens and went crazy with the water soluble Green Marine ink. And last Sunday I sat beside a Long Beach harbor and geeked out with Bleu Ocean ink. In case you are wondering, I created what I think is a great ocean color story by adding my Sea Blue and Teal Green Inktense pencils to the Bleu Ocean. Yes, it appears I am obsessed with water and colors of water. It’s pretty dry out here in California right now and I’m probably not the only CA girl who dreams of cool water.

July 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2021

Flaunt the White Spaces!

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

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

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

Here are other examples of how to leave white spaces:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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