May 11, 2019

Zenaida vineyards
Zenaida Cellars, Highway 46, spring 2003 (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

I had this watercolor framed for my aunt and gave it to her for Christmas. I can’t remember exactly which year, but I think it was December 2005. She has it hanging in the guest room of their house in Long Beach. I often stay in that room when I visit and don’t really notice it anymore. But the last time I was there, I stopped to look closely and found myself remembering a whole laundry list of things related to this very winery on Highway 46 that inspired the watercolor and this story. We lived in Paso Robles from the late 1990’s to August 2003 and my son, the dog and I frequently drove past this spot as we headed for the beach in Cayucos. I remember noticing the vineyard in the early 2000s and stopped to take photos that I used to create this painting. They had a great painterly looking sign out front of a kind of abstract vineyard with black, green and a kind of ochre I think. It was really creative and bold. Besides the sign, I was particularly intrigued with this vineyard because the grape plants hadn’t been in the ground very long. (If you look on the internet for the story of Zenaida it says that the land was part of a 100 plus year old homestead and the current winemaker started developing the land in 1998.) The plants were pretty vertical in shape as the branches hadn’t been tortured, tamed and trained to knit together sideways into what would become seemingly endless rows of thick green in the spring and summer. Then, of course, once the plants matured, the lovely fruit would come on with the lovely wine that comes from that fruit. Back then you could see the soil in between each plant. And the red roses at the ends of each row seemed just as distinctive and important as the pending cash crop. Nothing needs to be added here regarding the beautiful oak trees on that property because if you have read any of my previous blogs, you would know I am obsessed and besotted with oaks. 

As I continued to study this painting my thoughts of this place continued on. We had left Paso Robles by August 2003, but there was quite an earthquake in Paso that December and Zenaida had a bit of damage. A periodical from the time said that they lost about 6 barrels of wine and a 2500 gallon stainless steel tank sprung a leak! Yikes. I knew another winemaker who said that after everything stopped shaking he drove around to see how everyone had faired. It seems others lost product as well. Unfortunately, the building that housed York Mountain Winery had considerable damage after the quake and it was soon condemned. Once the thoughts of that place and time in my life had drifted away from me, I stepped in even closer to really take a look at the paper and pigment. During those years I was obsessed with local landscapes where I used Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on my beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board. The pencils left a kind of pebbly look, that I smoothed out in certain places with light layers of watercolor washes. I remember that I was obsessed with the texture of the illustration board and began wondering if I still had a few pieces that I could resurrect. And then, as quickly as my attention was initially drawn to the painting, I looked away again and walked out of the room, briefly thinking about where I might find pieces of that board in my stash of paper. Such is the fickle and fleeting nature of one CA girl artist.

And all of that was completely forgotten until I stopped at the Southwest Museum Gold Line Metro station on April 20th, when I was participating in the 63rd WW Sketchcrawl. I stepped off that train at that stop and immediately saw a hillside of solar panels that reminded me of Zenaida’s fledgling grape plants that I had seen and painted 16 “springs” ago. Funny how things seem to come together like that. Do you have such “ah ha” moments?  I happily did that sketch (posted on 4/27), channeling the Zenaida Vineyards from spring 2003. I vowed to look for a copy of that art when I got home. (When I first started painting in Paso Robles there was a guy in my neighborhood who had converted the back of his house into a photography studio. He photographed all of my canvases. As for my watercolors I used a printer on Spring Street—Poor Richard’s Press—for my copies of finished art. And when color copy machines got better, I made the color copies myself. I knew I should have a copy of the Zenaida vineyards that Poor Richard’s had made me, circa 2003, somewhere. Now I just take a picture of my art with my phone.) As you can see here, I found one. Funny, I didn’t think to look for illustration board at the same time I was hunting for the “old” Zenaida. I guess I will just have to wait for another moment of madness or obsession to hunt down any of that paper. 

Anyway, once I had decided I was going to write about the Zenaida Vineyards, and Highway 46, as I remembered it in 2003, I wanted to include a photo of their great “painterly” sign. When I looked them up on the internet I realized that they were somehow now called Zenaida Cellars. I thought that OK because in 2003 I don’t think there was a tasting room as yet because they didn’t have any product to taste and then sell. But guess what? They have changed their logo and now there is no sign of that sign anywhere on the internet. Now they have a giant Z for Zenaida instead of that wonderfully colorful sign that signaled the beginning of our journey to the beach and reminded me on my return trip that we were almost to 101 and home again. As you might imagine, I obsessed over finding just one picture of that sign, but found nothing. I should probably contact them directly to see if there was an image of it somewhere about.

I have calmed down since my first manic attack of looking for and finding a copy of this art, but not a picture of the original Zenaida sign. I have calmed down because I decided I should be glad that I stopped to take another look at this watercolor that had reminded me of so much. In the past I have written about the changes I have seen in my California, and I have tried hard not to lament over things I could not change. I mean, who really cares about that stupid sign. Right? This whole line of sign thinking reminds me of some other signs from that time and place. In the early 2000s I did a couple hand stenciled red and white signs for Linne Calodo, which is down the road from Zenaida on Vineyard Drive. Back then their tasting room didn’t even open onto Vineyard Drive, but was actually on Oakdale Drive. It was just a tasting room and some left over cattle fencing from an earlier time. I wonder what happened to those signs? All and all I have photos and art of both vineyards before they grew up and that’s pretty great. I’m glad I saw that area when the hills were still covered with golden safflower, deep pink vetch and just dirt brown nothingness. I’m glad I saw those hills before the Central Coast winery obsession surpassed the farmland it covered over in more ways than one. Thank God the oaks are still there. As I have said before, if those trees were gone, that would be a change I’m not sure I could handle.

May 4, 2019

Walking Man3
South Pasadena Gold Line Metro Station with public art “Astride-Aside”, 4/27/2019 (ink and colored pencil on Bristol Board)

You may have noticed that there are two connected sketches here, one on top of the other. For last week’s post I promised to record the fifth and final stop of our band of sketchers contribution to Sketchcrawl 63 on April 20th. (Even though I don’t think it actually counts for the actual Sketchcrawl.) And here is way more than I had originally planned. After participating in that very fun event I was so taken with the idea of speedily sketching everything you see in a given time on a given day that I started imagining how I could make such an endeavor a little more special the next time I was so inclined to chronicle places One CA Girl might go. So, I started thinking of how to present the day’s work in a slightly special way. Maybe I could start with the paper I use. I chose a couple different kinds, each 9 by 12 inches, and I folded and cut each sheet into the different rectangular sections you see here. I planned to take these ready made sketching windows with me to sketch at the South Pasadena Gold Line Metro station on the 27th. I was intrigued to see if having such ready made sketching windows would inspire different views for my work. Maybe something would be suited for a small rectangle? Or maybe a long narrow space would inspire a different idea for a sketch? And of course the rectangles I saw in my imagination could be in either portrait or landscape positions, it all depended on what looked best to me on the spot. And sure enough, when I sat down on the bench next to “The Walking Man” (it’s actually called Astride-Aside) I knew I wanted the long narrow rectangle (in landscape position) for the pen and ink view you see at the bottom. I thought that shape captured all of the hustle bustle of a busy train station with this sort of large bronze man barging through the station and across the street. I was now set to draw many more views from the South Pasadena Gold Line station, all I had to do was fold the paper into the rectangular shape I wanted. This particular station is a pretty lively place—with lots of trains coming and going, assorted bike riders and cars passing through the nearby intersection. A nearby parked car had a car alarm that went off every time a northbound train stopped at the station. But everyone kept moving around and no one came to silence his or her car. Just another busy Sunday noontime in South Pasadena.

A bit of nitty gritty arty information about the paper I used…if you’re interested…

As I said, I prepared and cut up two different kinds so paper. This is Bristol board, a good paper for ink and colored pencil as it has a smooth finish. In my experience it is not generally good for a wet medium. (It’s made by Strathmore and it says on the tablet cover that it’s “ideal” for airbrush experimentation—who knew?) I also similarly folded and cut 9 by 12 inch cold press watercolor paper. I had brought my watercolor and Inktense pencils in case I wanted to get the paper wet later. (It’s made by Canson and the outside tablet cover says it has a “durable” surface—sounds like a great kind of paper for an urban sketcher.) Once I decided on the long narrow view of Astride-Aside, I used a couple clips to hold the Bristol board in the horizontal position on the sturdy cardboard backing of a drawing pad I had also brought along. 

Walking Man2
“Astride-Aside” public art (2003), South Pasadena

I thought you might like to see what the bronze statue actually looked like from a different angle. The whole statue is made up of bands of bronze that look like they have been stretched and woven together over a larger than life form of a walking person and then welded in place. It kind of made me think of making a paper mache shape with a balloon form underneath. If you have never done this kind paper mache it’s kind of a mess, so do it outside.  First you blow up a balloon. Then you cover it with strips of paper that have been dragged through a wet and gluey mixture (flour and water). Then, once the paper strips have dried and hardened into place, you pop the balloon with a pin. And you should then have a great orb shape that is hollow to make into a huge Easter egg, a mask, or anything else you think could go on your head. (Of course, for the Astride-Aside man, I am guess there were no balloons used with hot strips of welded together pieces of bronze.) But I still kind of like the idea of the artist first making a model with balloons and paper mache…This has probably gone far enough, right?

Walking man1
Views from bench beside the public art at South Pasadena Metro Gold Line station, 4/27/2019 (ink, colored pencil and graphite on Bristol Board)

Here are the other vignettes I did from the same bench. The top one is of a clocktower with lovely greenery below. I think this view fascinated me because the clock was working, but the time was way off. I was trying to think of some clever reason for this clock. Was it meant to art rather than a time piece? I mean, there is some kind of irony in having a clock with the wrong time at a train station, yes?

The bottom pencil sketch, just to the right of the strange clock tower, had a nice plaque that told all about what you and I are looking at with this sketch. And here is what the plaque says of this South Pasadena Landmark: “Watering Trough” —Erected in 1906 by Woman’s Improvement Association as a rest stop for horses and men as they traveled between Los Angeles and Pasadena. Restored by Woman’s Club of South Pasadena Jrs. 1968.” (Oh, and I wrote all this information right on my handy dandy Sketching Card, another great use for this little piece of art.)

I think this little vignette is pretty cool. You can’t see it, but under the roof behind the pile of rocks is an area where a large stone trough was constructed. It’s filled in with concrete now, but it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine a horse drinking from that water-filled trough as the rider sat nearby in the shade. There’s a huge and beautiful oak nearby that I’m sure added to the comfort of this tiny oasis. (Note from me: I wonder who was in charge of filling the trough? Someone from the the Woman’s Improvement Association? Also, do you wonder like I do, why the group was called a Woman’s Improvement Association? And there appeared to be a similar club of  Junior “Woman’s” in 1968. Just wondering…

So, when I was all done, I had three quick sketches that I had completed while sitting on a bench in South Pasadena. I turned the art over in my hands and realized I might have something special here. Not only did I sketch things, but I added notes. Between today’s stories and the art, I think I really did what Enrique Casarosa suggested on his Sketchcrawl website—to draw or record what’s around you in a few hours, a day or whatever time frame you have to spare. Maybe this could work as a kind of card you send to someone. When completely folded it’s 4.5 by 6 inches and should fit nicely in an envelope. I send a lot of my sketches/watercolors to my son this way. And as long as I take a picture of the art I made, I don’t really need to keep it all. You could send it to someone with a note like…Greetings from South Pasadena…Thinking of you…Wish you were here…Look what I did today…If kids had to make such a little card at school every now and then, describing what he or she did at school on a given day, then parents wouldn’t have to anticipate a non-answer to the question, “What did you do at school today?” Almost anything’s better than having your kid say, “Nothing.” Right? 

Happy Birthday Michael, 5/4 at 10:42PM

April 27, 2019

Speed sketching, 2nd stop, Chinatown, 4/20/2019 (ink and graphite on mixed media paper)

Last Saturday I participated in an event called “Speed Sketching at the Gold Line of the Metro for SketchCrawl 63.” For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, here is how that event went down. First, I will describe the speed sketching part on the Gold Line and then I will fill you in about SketchCrawl 63. A gang of sketchers agreed to meet at the downtown Los Angeles Union Station at the entrance to the Metro’s Gold Line. About 15 of us found ourselves assembled at that very spot at the appointed time. We then looked to the leader of the group to explain what we were going to do first. She said that we were first going to sketch whatever we liked at the “Union Station” Gold Line platform until a train going north came into the station. Then we were to get on that train, hopefully together, and travel along to the next stop she had posted online. (Of course I had no idea about any such online list and was just glad that I had gotten to step one.) She said we were headed for South Pasadena and we would stop along the way to sketch at other Gold Line Metro platforms. She also said that the trains going north would be coming by every 14 to 24 minutes. And now I bet you are getting the idea of the “speedy” part of this speed sketching outing. So, we went upstairs to the downtown platform and all took out our various materials and began sketching a kind of cool downtown LA skyline. Seven minutes later our first train pulled in. (Hey what happened to the 14 to 24 minutes, right?) Anyway, we all quickly stuffed our sketching materials into pockets and bags and got on the train for the next sketching stop—Chinatown. 

As you may have noticed the first sketch you see here is a view from the Chinatown platform of the Metro Gold Line. I didn’t start my story with that first skyline sketch as it was pretty rough and a kind of “warm up” really. (I am never sure how people find my blog and didn’t want anyone to blow off this post because my 7 minute sketch of the LA downtown skyline looked like chicken scratching instead of actual human sketching.)  So, this second sketch was done at the Chinatown platform and our fearless leader let one train go by so those of us who had brought watercolors would have a few more minutes to get down some color. When I packed my bag that morning it seemed like speediness would be important so I brought only dry materials—ink pens, graphite pencils, some colored pencils and my trusty sheet of bubble wrap to sit on should the need arise. I don’t like to do anything wet unless I have more time to let things dry in between my bits of indecision of what to do next. And as I have said before, I hate carrying heavy sloshing things, like water, if I plan to be out sketching for any length of time.

Southwest Museum
Speed sketching, 3rd stop, 4/20/2019 (ink and colored pencil on mixed media paper)

This wasn’t actually the next Gold Line stop after Chinatown. We whizzed past the Lincoln/Cypress and Heritage Square stops, and then got out at the Southwest Museum platform. For this one, I was drawn to a view of some uniquely planted solar panels that covered a hill surrounded by swaths of bright yellow mustard. I was actually intrigued with the symmetry of the panels as they kind of reminded me of rows and rows of grape plant stakes you might see in a new vineyard. I say new vineyard because there are no bright green leaves on vine stems in the beginning, but it reminded me of a newly planted vineyard as the plants are just slender grey cuttings with no visible life. Because of the bright yellow flowers I knew I wanted to use my colored pencils for this one. I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on a concrete cube that looked like a giant die that was melting into the concrete platform and sat down to work. The concrete was cold and the bubble wrap provided just the right amount of insulation, with some comic relief as some of the bubbles popped as I moved around. Most of the other sketchers looked up for inspiration while speedily sketching away at this stop. And here is why. Close to where I was sitting was a 13 foot tall white column with a winged creature on top. The column sat atop two dice and the “guardian” on top had an ornate crown and was covered with sparkly mosaics. The arms of this guardian seemed to be pointing in the directions of where we had just came from and where we were headed next, up and down the line. If you are interested, Google art on the Metro Gold Line and you will be treated to all of the Metro art that you can see along this line of public transportation. Thank goodness our leader suggested we let another train go by while we were there. By now, it seemed we had each figured out some kind of routine for packing up in a hurry. And for some that meant carefully carrying around something wet—they were much braver than I.

Highland Park
Speed sketching, 4th stop, 4/20/2019 (ink and graphite on mixed media paper)

This was the next stop after the Southwest Museum, Highland Park. It was here I decided to embrace all the power lines and other man made stuff that you might find at a typical public transportation platform. In fact, I put in as many lines both vertical and horizontal that I could see in the direction we would soon be headed. I can’t remember if we let another train go by or not, but it was actually fun to attempt a speedy sketch of lines going every which way—not at all my comfort zone. We were even treated to the musical stylings of a lone mocking bird. All of this somehow worked for me. But of course, before I could really relax and actually add all the parts I had intended to include for this one, another northbound train came along. We all dutifully packed up and got on. Pretty soon we found ourselves at the next station in South Pasadena.  We all got out and stood next to “The Walking Man” sculpture that towered over us at the South Pasadena platform. Our leader said that this was to be our final stop and we were to make one more speedy sketch here. But with no impending train to catch and most, if not all of us, feeling a might peckish we stopped for lunch with every intention of doing a quick sketch after eating. Once we had finished lunch we gathered again for a “throw down” of all the work we had done that morning while standing nearby the looming “Walking Man” metal sculpture. Then photos were taken and we were to stay and do a final sketch. By then there were only a few sketchers left who did just that. I was ready to go home and bailed. I decided I would come back another time to finish our marathon speed sketching of the north bound Gold Line of the Metro. (In fact, if all goes to plan I will go back tomorrow.) 

Remember I promised to tell you about the other part of our event—the WW SketchCrawl? If you are interested, read on. If not, no worries and good bye for now. Even though I did not sketch our final stop last Saturday, I hope to share the South Pasadena Gold Line Metro Station next time… I don’t know if it still counts as part of the 63rd WW SketchCrawl, but that’s fine with me.

What is the WW Sketch crawl?

According to our fearless leader, and a bit of my sleuthing on the internet, the World Wide Sketchcrawl was started in in 2004 in San Francisco by Enrico Casarosa (storyboard artist and director who works at Pixar). It seems that he and some of his buddies had gotten on an SF N Judah Muni line street car with the intent of going on a pub crawl. (I have ridden on the N Judah. I used to take that streetcar when I worked at the CA Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.) Mr. Casarosa said they had planned to go to 10 pubs/bars, but only made it to 7. But I guess this somehow gave him the idea of a sketch crawl, where the intent was to spend the whole day intensely drawing everything he saw around the city. He said he wanted a nonstop recording of everything within sight. Mr. Casarosa said he took his journal, watercolors and a pencil, and filled it with SF city details. I read about this now world wide phenomenon at He said he filled his journal with a variety of things, such as: all the coffee he drank and all the different buses he took that first day. He turned that day into a marathon of drawing and has kept this idea alive and well since then. Mr. Casarosa has taken his idea globally and invites groups of people to get together for a marathon day of speedy sketching around his or her city on specified days. And the 63rd Sketchcrawl happened on April 20th, and we were all part of it! I don’t know when the next one will take place, but I may not wait until then to do some speedy sketches. Some of you may want to see what a huge “Walking Man” metal sculpture looks like. Right? Stay tuned…

Happy Birthday dad, April 25. I miss you!


April 20, 2019

Canadian geese pair, Norton Simon, 4/5/2019 (graphite sketch)

When I went to the Norton Simon the first Friday of this month, I first went to the back garden (as is my usual). For two previous springs a pair of Canadian geese have settled by the Monet pond to lay their eggs. I had hopes to see them a third spring time. As I walked out the door I heard them, but there was no fenced off part of the pond with a nest and no sign of either bird. I walked around to the side of the pond they had nested in the past, again to make sure there was nothing there, even though the honking continued. (That’s a funny thing we do. Why do we attempt to look for something we know isn’t there? I mean, if your car is not where you left it, why would you look around for it? It’s not there!) Guess what? They were on the roof of the museum nearest the spot they had nested two previous springs. So, I walked back inside the museum and asked one of the guards about them. He said that they had probably laid their nest somewhere else and were just hanging around at the pond. I thought that sounded a little weird, but didn’t question his thoughts on the subject as he seemed certain that they had done exactly that. (I have had run ins with the guards at this museum and decided there would be no point in telling him that none of that made any sense.) I told him how I thought it kind of great that the museum folks would just put up a temporary bit of fencing to keep people away from the eggs and the eventual goslings. He said that some people got upset with the temporary plastic fencing because it ruined the effect of the pond. Of course I thought that even weirder than the geese laying their eggs somewhere else, and then just coming to the Norton Simon to visit…

So, I sat on a rock beside their previous nesting place and looked up to the roof, thinking I could get a couple of good sketches of the birds anyway. The rock was covered with geese poop, but it didn’t smell so I sat down. Thank goodness I had my trusty sheet of bubble wrap to sit on. (I never go sketching anywhere without it.) As I started to draw, it became clear that this was all I was going to get. In fact, it seemed the longer I sat there, the further they inched away from view. But I persisted and started the next sketch you see here, hoping they would think I was ignoring them and would come out a little more. And oh, there weren’t three birds on the roof. I sketched the bird on the left a couple times—as he moved from the flat rooftop next to his mate up to a higher bit of roof—further away from me. And you may have noticed the bird on the right shared only her backside. (Not sure how I came up with the idea of which one was the male and which one the female.) Hmmm…

Looking for geese
Back garden of Norton Simon, 4/5/2019 (pen and ink and graphite)

My plan was to aim my body toward the pond, sketching away at this view. I planned to occasionally look over my shoulder, hoping they would come out so I could draw them in different positions. But they were too smart for me and eventually, when I looked over my shoulder to the rooftop in their direction, you couldn’t even see a feather blowing in the breeze.

But this sketch was fun to do anyway as I wanted to capture the bronze of the three nymphs just inside the museum. I had this kind of funny idea to make sure that your eye was drawn along the edge of the pond to the back entrance to the garden, but the sun was coming in at a crazy angle and their heads were in complete shadow. And since I couldn’t see their heads I decided to focus on another part of their anatomy that could be clearly seen, even from across the pond. You can definitely make out a couple booties, right? If you have read many of my previous blog posts, you may have noticed that I often include bits and pieces of things I see just to amuse me. I actually did a story of the bronze ladies from the front in August 19, 2017. It was a hot August day and I sat inside looking at the shrubbery of the outside garden between their thighs, torsos, arms and heads. 

Not quite sure why I am always drawn to be outside to paint or sketch. So many of my urban sketching brethren draw in places that just don’t appeal to me—laundromats, coffee houses, airports etc. I think I just like the natural light outside better than what can be generated inside. I remember going with a gang of Urban Sketchers to draw people at Union Station in downtown LA a couple years ago. It was kind of a cool day where various groups and/or individuals had brought musical instruments and were playing Bach. I mean, there was one guy in front of a ticket area with a harpsichord. Anyway, I tried to draw the musicians. But finally I went outside, ordered a cappuccino and sketched the people I saw out there. However, it was a very satisfactory experience as the live music came out of the open doors and windows and I could hear and enjoy it in my peculiarly particular way.

This morning, I participated in something called a World Wide Sketchcrawl. In fact it was the 63rd WW Sketchcrawl. We met at Union Station in downtown and road the Gold Line metro north, getting off at certain stops to engage in a bit of speed sketching—very fun. Our final stop was South Pasadena, where we had lunch and shared our artwork. There are a couple I might share in next week’s blog post. It was overcast today, but it was lovely to be outside sketching. It’s pretty amazing here in SoCal, no matter what the LA haters say!

April 13, 2019

flowering crabapple
Flowering crabapple tree in the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/5/2019 (watercolor pencils and Inktense pencils on 6″ by 9″ watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I went to the Descanso Gardens to sketch whatever was blooming. I suspected the tulips were done and hoped that other spring flowers were showing their colors. Some of my sketching buddies went to Placerita Canyon State Park to sketch the native CA spring wildflower show going on right now. I didn’t want to drive that far and thought I might just as well catch the nearby color of native and non-native flowers. It seems that a lot of people had the same idea and there were lots of them milling around the Descanso. But for once I didn’t mind, as I was on a mission. Urban sketchers, like myself, are always on the look out for ways to satisfy our craving for drawing/painting without carrying a lot of stuff. By the time you have been traipsing around for a couple hours, everything seems to feel heavier and awkward. I use the term awkward because it can be a problem if you have brought too much stuff and it never goes back in the bag as easily as it first went in. Too many tablets of paper can weigh you down and carrying around jugs of water adds a kind of sloshing heaviness to my backpack. I have been trying to be more creative with carrying around less water and have been experimenting with “just add water” to my little 6 by 9 “almost” watercolor pieces. So, for these little sojourns I just put graphite pencils, ink pens, colored pencil and Inktense pencils in my bag—sans water. But if I want to do a wash, brush on a color or scrub around some wetness, I want water. If you have read some of my previous blogs I’ve indirectly talked about how to best travel light, somehow finding water along the way. While at the Getty (back in February of this year) I talked about a drawing I had done of the garden with Inktense pencils and then maybe putting it out in the rain and letting it mix the colors. (I didn’t put the sketch in the rain as I had been sick and didn’t want to chance sitting in the wet for an undetermined length of time. So, I just added water when I got home.) At the Autry Western Museum the second week of March this year, I described how I perchance came upon a cup of rainwater complete with a brush that I used to mix the Inktense colors on my little sheets of 6 by 9 paper. I remember a couple times at the Descanso that I didn’t travel with my large set of watercolors, just the tiny Winsor Newton travel set (12 tiny cakes of color) and my Inktense pencils. I didn’t even carry painting water or a cup, but instead I attached a small plastic bag to my brush holder with clothespins, then I filled it with water once I got to my sketching spot. Last summer, when I was painting a beautiful stand of Romneya at the Descanso, I got one of the gardeners there to fill my bag full of water. (She had the hose out and was watering nearby.)

But last Sunday I had the idea to come only with water for drinking, Inktense pencils, watercolor pencils, my brushes, a sheet of bubble wrap to sit on, a rag and three small sheets (6 by 9) of watercolor paper. And oh yeah, I brought a small spray bottle that I later filled with a bit of my drinking water. My plan was to sketch three small scenes of spring, and then when I finished each sketch, I would “just add water” by spraying it down with instant rain to see what would happen. The flowering crabapple was my first attempt at a spritzing spring scene. After I laid down some colors with the Inktense and watercolor pencils I sprayed it all over, letting water run a bit here and there. Then, while it was still wet I used a small brush to spread out some of the water, mixing colors as I went. That was a bit tricky, as I wanted to dip my brush in water and didn’t have a cup or baggie. So, I dipped the brush in my drinking water and spread it around. Then I reapplied some Inktense pencil color to brighten certain parts. And yes, I did later drink from the same water, but it didn’t taste weird and nothing untoward has happened to me as yet. My flowering crabapple vision also had some irises in the foreground, so I added those as well. They weren’t like my mom’s deep purple flowers, but were a bearded variety and a lighter shade of pink. In fact, there were lots of lovely irises I could have sketched that day in the rose garden, including a border of a beautiful bearded variety that had a cream colored interior with a frilly yellow trim. When my niece was born (first week in May) I did a watercolor on toned paper of some incredibly lovely white irises that were blooming in my backyard in Paso Robles. I didn’t take a picture of that piece of art. I wish I had so I could post it here with all the other spring flowers.

Fremontodendron in CA garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/7/2019 (watercolor pencils, Inktense pencils on 6″ by 9″ watercolor paper)

Once I finished the flowering crabapple I was very excited about how my “just add water” idea had turned out. The whole process was so much fun that I didn’t get the least bit grumpy with all the people that walked in front of me while I was sketching. The crabapple tree was quite beautiful and large, so I guess there was room to share. Next, I headed for the CA native section of the garden for a second attempt. I wasn’t certain what I would find, but knew there would be something. I came across a couple mature Fremontodendron shrubs in full bloom—such a lovely and vibrant shade of yellow. It was fun to see these grand plants as I remember wandering through the same section of the garden last spring with a close friend and they were absolutely stunning now as then. But for this one there wasn’t a bench to sit on, so I rolled out my “trusty” sheet of bubble wrap and sat on the ground. I was just about to add water when a family with two young girls came up the trail. As they got closer I realized they weren’t speaking English. It sounded like Ukrainian or Russian. But I knew they would stop to chat and that would be OK because the older girl (maybe 6 or 7) was carrying a drawing she had made. So, when the girls stopped to look more closely at my drawing, I said something like, “Do you like to draw?” Mom translated what I had said very quickly and the girls nodded “yes” at the same time. Then I said, “Would you like to see my favorite color?” They were nodding again very rapidly as the mom again translated what I had said. I brought out my tube of Opera (always have that with me…it doesn’t weigh very much…) and took off the lid. They both uttered “ooooo” at the same time and I said it was a kind of pink. Mom again translated what I had said and pointed to some of their clothing. Yes, they were both wearing various shades of pink! All seemed to be satisfied with our little encounter and just like that they said thank you and continued on their journey. I was absolutely delighted to think that we all understood and spoke the language of “pink.” Then I got back to work and spritzed the sketch (easy for you to say…). I like the way it turned out. But it had gotten kind of warm and I didn’t think it a good idea to drink from the water I had been using to paint any more. I decided that the next time I would be sure to bring a baggie to hold painting water. I had also decided it was time to go home even though I had not done a third piece yet. I was happy with these two. So I took the long way around the back of the garden to the front entrance. Along the way I found a couple drinking fountains to drink from. That worked out great as I wasn’t carrying too much water weight and it didn’t matter if everything fit perfectly into the bag because there just weren’t that many items to put away.

So, now what? I think I will plan many more opportunities for traipsing around with my “just add water” theme. If I am very patient I might try to do this with the birds that come to my birdbath and feeder out front. They are so skitterish, and fly away even if I just open the front door or close a window near the feeder. But I think I have found the perfect solution of how to get pretty close to them. I noticed my trashcan is just about the right distance and height from my bird scene. I can easily place my 6 by 9 sheets of watercolor and other materials on the top of the can. Such a set up is perfect as it will be easy to get my necessary materials to fit in that small space! Maybe intentionally standing in front of a trashcan for 30 minutes or so doesn’t sound good to you. But I figure as long as I don’t open the lid I won’t be bothered by the smell of rotting grass clippings. This seems very doable for an urban sketcher. Stay tuned…

April 6, 2019

Small overflowing creek behind a Santa Cruz apartment, 3/31/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Expect the Unexpected

I found myself, unexpectedly, in Santa Cruz last weekend. This is the view of the wooded area behind my son’s apartment there. After an arduous drive north it looked to be the perfect place to wander along and listen to the water gushing past the rocks as well as a perfect place to toss a ball to your dog—way off in the distance here.

So, here is the story of how I got this unexpected bucolic view. My son was coming home from college for spring break March 23 and was unexpectedly at the tail end of a horrific pile up of some 20 plus cars in the rain and fog on the Grapevine—a sometimes-treacherous stretch of Highway 5. My son was OK, but his car was unexpectedly totaled. He hadn’t expected to spend his entire spring break down here in SoCal, but that’s the way his brief vacation unfolded. So, I gave him a ride back to school last Saturday. I often refer to various freeways in SoCal in my writing and the 5 is a major truck and car freeway that will take you from San Diego through to Portland Oregon. We hadn’t planned to go on 5, but the weather was fine and it really is usually the quickest way. But of course 5 wasn’t quite done with us for the moment as we unexpectedly got caught in a massive traffic jam because a semi had caught fire and blocked all lanes of the freeway. We sat there, motionless for an hour, until we could finally drive slowly past at least 20 clean up and emergency vehicles and what used to be a truck full of stuff. It looked like the huge truck had burned to the ground and everything had melted on the spot, with charred damp cardboard boxes and mangled pieces of metal on the road. Before the massive traffic jam I had tried to make the trip slightly interesting by counting the number of Amazon Prime, Fed Ex and UPS trucks I saw every 30 minutes. But by the time we were moving again I had lost the will to count big rigs anymore. Oh, and Amazon Prime trucks were almost 2 to 1 more than either UPS or Fed Ex. Not so unexpected?

Eventually we got to Santa Cruz, where it continued to be a beautiful day. I just now remembered that it was a lovely day—with expansive fields and bright green etched mountainsides with lupines (both bush lupines and annuals), poppies, owl’s clover, fiddleneck and mustard. In a way, that unexpected beauty and the peaceful moment of people going about their business on this grassy meadow behind my son’s apartment is what we should focus on when dealing with other unexpected yucky stuff. Right? That’s why I let my son unload his belongings from the car while I made a beeline to the sound of water that I clearly heard once we got out of the car. It was such a welcome sound compared to the tire whine of too many cars and trucks going too fast down Highway 5. So, once I knew I would have this lovely moment to focus on and later paint I was set to try a restaurant I saw near my son’s apartment. It’s called Primal and the sign outside said they served breakfast all day long. Even though it was well past 6 pm, breakfast foods sounded great to me—something simple and familiar. But of course Primal was not serving what I was expecting. Their menu was more relevant and purposeful, and our meal was not going to be anything you could get at a pancake house or waffle joint. We were game and actually very hungry at that point and were both ready to try something very Primal and expected for Santa Cruz. We were treated to a lovely meal with the promise of being served “real food.” I had some yummy fish tacos and my son had what looked to be a good burger—good thing they didn’t serve us any unreal food. I had had enough of what seemed like way to many unexpected and unreal moments for about a month.

I left my son in Santa Cruz and headed back to SoCal on Sunday morning. I had noticed that Primal served what looked to be great coffee, so I stopped there on my way out of town to have breakfast. Yes, I was still hopping that their promise of breakfast was as real as their promise of “real food.” Never had a cappuccino with raw milk and my bagel with schmear was very unexpected, but tasty. But everyone who worked there was so friendly, intense, purposeful and sincere and left me alone so I could read (Reading The Razor’s Edge right now…) while eating my breakfast. It was wonderful. I hope to go back there sometime, and maybe it will meet my “feeling good” expectations again. I chanced to take Highway 5 home and there were no unexpected bits of traffic and/or accidents. Woo hoo! And I was treated to the same beautiful wildflowers on the hillsides I had seen the day before. My dad used to say, “If you don’t expect too much, you are never disappointed. Then everything that comes your way is just icing on the cake.” And who doesn’t love an unexpectedly yummy piece cake?

Don’t groan. This is for my brothers…

And now for something completely different…No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

March 31, 2019

Peachy Canyon Oaks
Peachy Canyon Winery Oak Trees, Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles (24 by 32 inch oil on canvas)

(Sorry I’m late this week. I had to go to Santa Cruz unexpectedly this weekend.)

I don’t remember exactly when I painted this one, but it was probably in the early 2000’s, maybe in spring. It’s the Highway 46 side of Peachy Canyon Winery. I have painted the entrance side of the vineyard on Bethel Road a number of times, but only painted this side once. (See March 10, 2018 post for a mural I did in acrylics on paper of the front entrance.) At the time I painted this I was experimenting with rendering the rows of grape plants in unusual ways. I thought it would be interesting to curve things a bit. But I imagine that if it were real the vineyard workers would have a hard time maneuvering the curves as they disc down the weeds between the rows in the spring. In my head it seemed a pretty interesting idea. Actually, with all the rain we have had, I imagine that such work is being done, or planned to be done, as we speak here in our CA vineyards right now! Just have to wait until the soil dries out so the tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. I also remember loving the contrast of the trees and shadows up against the absolute yellow of the sod in the background. I was also thinking about the dark shadows and trees running horizontally and vertically through the landscape. And the blades of grass around the edges were also intentional. In fact, I still do that—trying to elevate the inevitable weeds that seem to float in the foreground of my current watercolor landscapes. I remember I was really interested in adding elements that weren’t there and removing things I didn’t like or things that I wanted to emphasize which obliterated the reality of other things that just had to go. I hope some day to get really good at simplifying elements of a painting like Picasso.

I think I have already written about the brilliant way Picasso simplified the subjects in his paintings, especially in his later work. But if I have it does bear repeating and here’s a great example of that simplicity: The Norton Simon had a great display of a series of lithographs he did from 1945 to 1960. The exhibit was called States of Mind and it ran at the museum from October 2016 to February 2017. It featured groups of images that came from the same lithograph stone beginning with a first iteration, or state, then changing over and over as he rubbed out certain parts and adding other lines and ink for emphasis. Picasso said he became interested in the moment of a painting (lithograph actually) “…when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself.” So, he etched in an image, say of a bull. Then he inked it, printed it and then reworked it and printed it again in its second state. He would go through this process over and over until he came up with a final image. And what struck me so profoundly was the way he did that with that bull, for example, until the final image took about 10 linear strokes to create. And all of this came from images in his head. Very cool.

As I have said before, I would never compare my art with the likes of Pablo Picasso. But for this painting I did the best I could with my idea of what I wanted the Peachy Canyon Vineyard to look like. Because not only did I adjust the colors, lines and shapes, but I took out a very unattractive wine barrel with a blue and white sign. I get that it is a business and they were just advertising. But that is the great thing about being a painter; we can scrub out or look past things we don’t want to see. I wanted only the slightest bit of human activity shown here and that took the form of the wonky rows of vineyards in the background.

Sometimes I wish I could conjure up something as inspired and terrific from an image or scene that I can see only in my head. I have never felt very confident about doing that. A couple posts ago I mentioned that I had seen the recent movie (At Eternities Gate) about Vincent van Gogh. There is a great scene where he is talking with Paul Gauguin and Gauguin asks him why he needs to have something to look at when he paints. Gauguin tries to convince him he should not need to look at anything and that what he paints should come from his mind, or imagination. But van Gogh persists and tells him that he loves going outside and painting nature. Of course going outside to paint and just looking inward is probably the same because your mind sees what it wants to see anyway. Maybe some of us are better at taking the pictures we have in our heads and putting them down on canvas with paint. I can’t hold onto an image for very long. And if I try to make something out of a fleeting scene from my imagination, it always looks contrived or stiff to me. I think painting something that only exists in my brain is like walking a tightrope without a net. I crave the net like I crave sunlight. I enjoy the prospect of trying to capture something on canvas as the sun moves across the sky—deepening blues, adding dark shadows, causing bright white outs and changing highlights. That kind of slow moving scene gives me a net that I can count on, it gives me just enough time to study what I am looking at, making quick decisions (on canvas) and commitments for watercolor. Oil on canvas is a little more forgiving if you change your mind. You can’t turn back for watercolor—you can only start over. In fact, I have timed myself and know that if I have 30 minutes to capture a moment outside on paper or canvas, that’s all the time I need. I just want a net that lasts about 30 minutes; all the rest is smoke and mirrors. So, I guess I will never paint like Gauguin or Picasso. I am going to imagine that Vincent van Gogh had a similar sunlight sensibility. That’s right, it’s me and my friend Vincent all the way!

RIP Lorene, 3/31/2019 (An Irish Lass)

March 23, 2019

tulips from St Patrick's Day, Descanso
Tulip Display at the Descanso Garden on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

With all my complaining about our wet and cooler weather lately, it was in the mid 70s on St Patrick’s Day. (A friend who was in Chicago at the time said it was 28 degrees) So, no, I can’t complain about our weather except to say that if it stays warm the tulips you see here won’t last very long. They are native to places like the Netherlands, where it’s cool and rainy in the spring. Warm and dry sunny southern CA may not be the best place for such delicate and ephemeral flowers.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my mother. She passed away mid-August 2016. I know, I know, it’s not even close to August, but I started One California Girl the following March 25th–her birthday. As this is the two-year anniversary of that first blog I thought it would be fitting to exalt the tulip in honor of my mom’s birthday and the coming of spring. I had actually planned to feature irises, but saw only one in bloom that day. My mom had these amazing deep purple old-fashioned scented irises in her garden that I seem to remember blooming in early spring. I thought I would look for some purple irises. Of course that was in her Grass Valley garden, so I’m not really sure why I thought they would be around here right now. But the Descanso Garden tulips were so beautiful it took my breath away, and it was a “no brainer” to paint them for my mom instead. There were countless drifts of colorful tulips just outside the rose garden. Everywhere I looked there were lovely blobs of different colors perched primly on tall green stems. So, I found a lovely bench in the shade, and was able to capture this stunning swath of two different shades of red tulips. I normally don’t refer to myself, or anyone for that matter, saying they were ABLE to do something. I’m always of the belief that whether or not you are ABLE to do something can, at times, be purely subjective. But, the large rocks and path in front of these beauties was crawling with people looking for photo opportunities and it was quite a challenge to wait for various drifts of people, strollers et al to take their photos, move on and out of my view. There was one guy who laid sideways on the rocks in the foreground, twice, for what seemed a long time for each side view. It appeared that he was trying to capture some kind of other worldly photo of that mass of red. I mean, what kind of photo of flowers would you take lying on your side? He was wearing a purple Scientology T-shirt, so I wasn’t going to ask him anything. I just waited for him to leave…twice.

My mom used to say that she was the product of her generation. And when I heard her say that as a young girl I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Sadly, it seemed to me then and even now, that there were things and/or people that made her unhappy a lot of the time. As I got older, I realized that she loved us very much and tried to be a good mom, even though there was some unseen part of her that doomed her to bouts of extreme disappointment and sadness. She was an excellent grandma to my son and it was nice to think that even though she often seemed unhappy when we were growing up, she finally got it right when she was presented with grandchildren.

If I think back on a time that she truly was the happiest, it would have to be when we lived in Saratoga. A builder helped my mom and dad design their house. They painstakingly designed every inch of that house. As my mom was quite a good cook she was especially keen to get her kitchen right. I remember her saying that she loved all the storage she had and she never had to work at putting groceries away because her pantry was just the right size. And if I think of several memories related to that house and kitchen, mash them all together, it paints a nice picture of a time she was happy.

During those years my parents would invite gangs of families to eat barbeque and swim in the pool during summer. I remember one particular warm evening when a friend was particularly enjoying a meal my mom had prepared. I don’t remember what kind of meat she cooked, but fresh corn on the cob was featured. I remember that we had had a bumper crop of corn in the garden next to our fruit trees. So, huge bowls of corn on the cob were prepared for that dinner. The friend enjoyed the fresh picked corn so much, that when the bowls were finally empty he asked permission go out in the garden and pick more. My mom was over the moon with smiles and of course said, “Yes!” She left a large pot of water on the stove, at a slow rolling boil, for him to cook his corn. He schlepped out to the garden countless times to pick the corn. When he came back in he shucked, boiled and ate every bit of that corn, one at a time with no butter or salt. By the time he had finally finished that amazing corn feed he had eaten 7 ears of corn. I thought my mom was going to die from happiness, so happy to feed a hungry and wonderful friend. Of course, the wine was flowing too and all were having a great time. Later, when my parents got together with that friend and his family, they often recalled the great ears of fresh corn that were consumed that evening.

It seemed those Saratoga summer dinners always included some kind of barbeque. I remember walking out onto the deck one evening to see my mom hovering over the chicken or tri tip or whatever, wearing one of my brother’s face masks from the pool to keep the smoke out of her eyes. My brothers and I thought that pretty funny as she was terrified of the water and wouldn’t get near the pool except to check the chemicals and briefly dunk in the water at the shallow end when it was just too hot to bear. She always had a swimming suit, but I don’t think they ever wore out from use. That’s OK mom, we all loved to swim, were very comfortable swimmers, and I know it made you happy that we were safe in the water.

small cookbook cover
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, 1981

Other happy times I remember for her involved a restaurant she worked at as a volunteer. It was called Village House and the money they made selling lunches and wedding receptions was given to the Ming Quong Home in Los Gatos. She was involved with Village House (and later Village House and Garden) while we lived in Saratoga and later after we moved to a Victorian in Los Gatos. Village House is no longer there and I imagine the building is probably gone too. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a lot of buildings in Los Gatos had to come down and maybe that one did too. I kind of hope the oak that was out front is still there. I think my mom was pretty happy in the house in Los Gatos, but she would often comment about missing her great Saratoga kitchen.

mulligatawny stew
A favorite family recipe. Did my mom actually add 1/4 cup of fat? Yikes! I use a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

Here’s to the Village House cookbook and one of our family’s favorite recipes, Mulligatawny Stew. My dad loved this stuff! My aunt’s birthday was yesterday, so I am making the stew for a family gathering for my aunt and mom’s birthdays tomorrow. Mom, I know if you were here, making one of your recipes from the Village House cookbook for the family would definitely make you happy.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

(March 25th)

March 16, 2019

Autry art, winter 2019
Two sketches of an outdoor garden, Autry Museum, 3/10/2019 (Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

As this is the last post for the last official weekend of winter 2019 in sunny southern California, I thought I would share some sketches I did at the Autry Museum of the American West last Sunday, March 10. The museum is in what’s called Griffith Park and is directly across from the LA Zoo. I don’t know if you know anything about Gene Autry, but he was known as the singing cowboy. He was quite a businessman as well and owned a television station, a couple radio stations in So Cal, as well as the Angels baseball team from 1961 to 1997. It seems the museum, with his name on it, was started in 1998 and it’s been crammed full of western memorabilia. If you like paintings of horses and the west, real western saddles, real guns and movie posters featuring the singing cowboy, this is the place for you. (The last time I was there they had a number of principal actor’s costumes from the movie The Hateful Eight. My son was with me and he had enjoyed the movie, so he was interested in all the gear those badass cowboy actors wore. The Hateful Eight was another of Quentin Tarantino’s violent movies and I wasn’t as interested.)

When I first arrived at the Autry on Sunday, it wasn’t raining, so I sat out front and sketched a monument to Native American women. If I finish the sketch, I’ll post it. Then I went inside to catch up with some fellow sketchers. One of my friend’s was headed downstairs to sketch one of the guns in the collection. She said she was looking for a Colt “something something.” I guess it has a pearl handle and quite a bit of etched detail on the barrel and other gun parts (I don’t know what those parts are called and neither did she…). I’d wandered around for about 5 minutes and noticed that in this downstairs area there was also a garden out the back door. I headed for that bit of sunshine. What you see at the top of the story are a couple sketches I did. The two side-by-side sketches are actually one continuous scene with the tree on the left and a waterfall on the right. I chose to do them separately, with the one on the left focusing on the tree and favoring tones of blue for the rocks. The one on the right centers on the waterfall and the rocks are more golden and brown in tone. Actually, I am not sure it looks much like flowing water, but more like flowing hair. Oh well.

Autry photo, winter 2019
Back garden, Autry Museum, 3/10/2019

The Serendipitous Sketching Set up

But the coolest thing about making these sketches was this serendipitous sketching area. I didn’t have to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap on the ground or draped over a large boulder. I stood up at an easel that someone had thoughtfully left there for me. Actually there are two permanent easels stuck in the ground out there. They appear to be part of a few interactive things for kids to look at and touch. Each easel has a piece of slate at an angle with a small trough in front, and below that is a cup welded to the post. A couple paintbrushes were there and the cups were filled with water, ready for someone to make a water painting on the piece of slate. The water was pretty muddy and I suspect it was mostly rainwater, but I didn’t care. I put my watercolor paper on the slate and began to sketch the tree with my Inktense pencils. And when I was finished, I just added water that I didn’t have to fetch and carry. Now the brushes were not great and the water wasn’t clear, but it was perfect and I had the best time creating these. I decided the traces of dirt on the paper were all part of the experience. I was in the moment and nothing else mattered. Once I finished the tree I leaned it against one of the large boulders to dry and started the waterfall sketch with the same enthusiasm. It got so warm I took off my pink jacket (you can see on the rock).

By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun had gone back behind the clouds and I put my jacket back on. It was at lunch that I saw my friend’s gun art. Another artist had drawn western costumes and another had drawn a pair of western boots that were on display there.

All in all it turned out to be quite an art day. After I finished there I went to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and sat outside, with my pink coat on, and I sketched a particular stretch of Brand Avenue in Glendale that I love. I love it because the street goes steeply up into the hills and it is lined with the most perfect rows of palm trees on either side of the road. Not exactly a western scene, I guess, but no matter. I was sitting at a table with an umbrella to keep out of the tiniest sun and the dark heavy clouds had dramatically collected above the mountains. I had my sketching paper, graphite pencils and ink pens at the ready. Oh, and of course I was also enjoying a double shot cappuccino. And it was all rather perfect until someone drinking coffee from a tiny paper cup he’d gotten for free at Trader Joe’s decided to sit down and visit with me. But I was having such a great day I didn’t care about the seemingly random conversation he was trying to have with me. As long as he didn’t block my view I happily sketched and sketched, while occasionally sipping my strong milky coffee drink. When I had finished I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to the strange stranger. I noticed that he then drifted over to another woman with a laptop who was sitting out front of the Coffee Bean. It looked like he had invited himself to sit down in a chair near her and was probably boring her with whatever… I was actually kind of amazed that he was still drinking from that same tiny paper cup of coffee that had not come from the Coffee Bean. Whatever…

Next, I headed for a friend’s house in Glendale and we watched the recent movie about Vincent Van Gogh. It’s called At Eternities Gate. What a powerful story, with some wonderful cinematic effects of color and movement that made you feel like you were traipsing around the hills of southern France with Van Gogh. The story really gave you a sense of him wanting to be outside in nature, quickly painting what he saw in the wonderful sunlight. Not that I am anything like him, but I love to traipse around, looking for something to sketch or paint in the sunlight. Of course the movie was sad because it seemed he was always alone and he wanted to be around people, but somehow only truly connected with a few people in his life. I found myself glad that I was an artist who had friends to hang out with, and maybe even a friend who was just as passionate about art as me, but not an actual painter. And that friend would invite me over to watch a movie about an artist we both admired.

Of course much has been written about Van Gogh’s revolutionary use of color. And as I watched Van Gogh moving about sunny fields and orchards I kept thinking of a color yellow that I love to use that seemed to be part of the color palette the cinematographer must have had in mind—my beautiful New Gamboge (made from synthetic materials). It appears that Van Gogh didn’t use Gamboge (new or old). Gamboge is a transparent deep saffron to mustard yellow pigment that was used to dye Buddhist monks robes. As near as I can tell Van Gogh used Cadmium yellow and Chrome yellow—both are pretty toxic.

What a day of art for One California Girl! I am looking forward to seeing the sun more, as spring is just around the corner. And I am excited to have more days outside painting and sketching with opportunities to use my New Gamboge pigment. I will be on the look out for more serendipitous sketching opportunities, I will seek out more chances to spend time with friends, I will look for more rows of palm trees, and of course, more opportunities to traipse around some beautiful California hills. Not sure I will be on the look out for someone who is traipsing about the Coffee Bean with a tiny paper cup of a competitor’s coffee. That’s a serendipitous moment I could live without…

March 10, 2019

Lady in White
Portrait of a Lady in White, Titian, c1561, March 1, 2019 (colored pencil, ink on mixed media paper)

As I was planning for the 102nd post for One California Girl, I decided to share my experience with the Portrait of the Lady in White that is currently on display at the Norton Simon Museum. The Norton Simon kind of made a big deal over her, so I decided to make a big deal over her as well. I don’t pretend to really understand what makes one Titian painting better or somehow more significant than another. But the Norton Simon thinks so much of her that there is a huge poster of the lady on the outside of the building right now. Apparently, she is on loan from a museum in Dresden. Of course, how a portrait done by a famous Venetian painter c1561 wound up in Germany is another story. Once inside the museum there are signs all around pointing you in her direction. She has one side of a room all to herself with lots of information about the painting written attractively on the wall on either side of her. You may wonder many things about Titian’s lady. I must say I was pretty fascinated by the dress she was wearing. It looks very uncomfortable to me. And who wants huge amounts of stiff looking fabric starting at the hips accompanied by a bust-squishing corset? It was noted on her wall that she was wearing a great number of important pieces of jewelry. Of course, I was most fascinated with the strange “stick” thing she was holding in her right hand. What is that, you say? It’s called a ventuolo and is a kind fan that I guess was common in Venice 450 years ago. But it also appears that this item was often used as a fly swatter as well. I’m not kidding! I didn’t make this up. This information was written on the left hand wall beside her. So it must be true. What kind of lovely lady would wear a stiff white unflattering dress (with expensive jewelry) while delicately holding a fly swatter? Drum roll please…no one knows who she was. How crazy is that? Maybe that’s why a certain segment of the art world has gone gaga over the mystery model in the portrait. Some Titian experts have speculated she was his mistress or one of his daughters. Some say she was some kind of idealized image of a perfect Venetian woman c1561, ready to kill a fly at a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t you want to keep the flies away from a white dress that must have been a bitch to keep clean? I guess there is some letter that Titian wrote that said that the “model was very dear and precious…” That’s not helpful.

back garden NS
Back Garden of Norton Simon Museum, March 1, 2019 (Ink and colored pencil on mixed media paper)

But I had no clue about any of this when I first arrived at the museum, as I went outside to do this sketch of the back garden. There had been so many days and nights of rain and grey skies I was determined to get out there before it got too cold and the sun went down. (I was sitting on my trusty sheet of bubble wrap on a slab of granite. That thin layer of bubbles only provides a bit of cushion, but does nothing to keep my tush warm.)

First lady
A Lady in White pencil sketch, March 1, 2019

As the outdoor lights started coming on, I went inside and plopped down on one of the warm wooden benches directly in front of a Lady in White. That’s when I got my first look at her. There didn’t seem to be much of anyone in the room, except another fellow sketcher and a dad holding his little girl. So, I sat there and did this pencil sketch. As I said there was quite a bit of information about the painting that also included how his Lady in White had been copied almost limb for limb by Rubens a bit later. They even had a sketch that Rubens had done of the painting, much like what I have here. But it’s kind of funny that I always seem to NOT capture the look on the face of the lady or whomever I am sketching. I always seem to capture some other kind of look that initially frustrates me, but later amuses me. And you can see what I mean if you Google Portrait of a Lady in White by Titian. She has a kind of unique enigmatic look about her. She’s definitely not smiling and might even have a look of surprise—I attribute that to the fact that you see so much of the whites of her eyes. (Later in the evening one of the sketchers I hang out with said that her eyes kind of bulged out a bit. I think I agree.) But by the time I had finished this first sketch it was time to gather together with my group.

We gathered and gabbed a little and decided to go back and sketch her again. Now normally I would not be interested in such a repeat of just one lady in a white dress, famous or otherwise. But I was determined to really capture her expression this time. (Oh well, I tried.) I mean, I like the expression I gave her, but it is not the same woman. Anyway, this time we weren’t alone in the hall. There was a rather large group of people who stepped in front of us, and some kind of expert began to talk. Normally, I would be annoyed at a group that blocked my view, but I had already started my study of the lady. So, I just looked at the backs of the people standing in front of me and tried not to listen to what the woman was saying. Of course I heard every word. Mostly she just repeated what was already printed on the wall. I was surprised she did not say anything about the ventuolo also being used as a fly swatter. She focused, instead, on the other things our mystery lady was wearing, spending a lot time describing her opulent jewelry. I assumed, that because she was wearing white that she might be a bride. But the woman giving the tour must have anticipated that others might think the same as me. She assured her group that brides only recently started wearing white. She added that brides of that period usually wore their hair down. So, I guess the painting was not done to commemorate a bride.

Finally, they all left and I was able to complete the top sketch you see. I finished A Lady in White before the others and wandered through her room for a bit. As usual the portrait caused me to think of a number of things, but most of all I was reminded again how women in art over the years have always been just models and/or muses. There must have been some women artists. Yes? And it kind of made me sad that no one thought to write down the name of the woman I had studied so intently. Why didn’t Titian give her credit, give her a name? It seemed like he had painstakingly created such beauty and detail, but had not written her name down somewhere. Why didn’t Rubens make an effort to find out? He didn’t do his version until Titian had been dead (of the plague I might add…) for a little over 25 years. I know people didn’t live very long back then, but there must have been someone around who would have known her. Maybe even the lady herself was still alive when Rubens did his copy. Hey, maybe even that dress was in the back of someone’s closet and her identity could have been traced that way.

But take heart my fellow art lovers. I thought of a perfect end to this never-ending story of women being marginalized and discounted over time. About a week before I went to the Norton Simon, I finished reading a book about a now famous woman painter who had been painting in Holland just 100 years later. Her name was Judith Leyster, and she was one of the painters of what became known as the Dutch Golden Age. She was born in 1609 and died in February 1660. A wonderful author named Carrie Callaghan wrote a wonderful historical fiction about Ms. Leyster’s life. The book is called A Light of Her Own. I almost didn’t finish reading it because it seemed like it was always raining and cold, or blistering hot in her story. I wasn’t sure I could take the cold rainy weather we were having here in LA at the time on top of Judith’s constant worries about the cold and the damp. If you Google Judith Leyster’s self portrait, you will a see a smiling woman at her easel. I thought it interesting that these Golden Age artists often provided their models with humble props to make the finished piece more human and interesting. Judith Leyster did not have great jewels to adorn her models. And guess what? Her self-portrait hangs in the National Gallery. Of course the story definitely mentioned her male counterparts at the time, even one sentence about a young man named Rembrandt who seemed to be getting some attention. It took a while for her to get credit for her work and contribution to the Dutch Golden Age. It seems that her husband, also a painter of the time, and Franz Hals were credited for her art for many years. But eventually she got the attention and credit she deserved. I think if I ever find myself in DC again, I will definitely go back to the National Gallery and look for her self-portrait. I would consider it an honor to sketch her self-portrait. Maybe I could even make my sketch actually look like her? I know I would certainly try. No flies on you, me or Judith!