September 28, 2019

Descanso class, 2016
Took a watercolor class at the Descanso Gardens, Saturday, June 25, 2016 (watercolor and watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

It was purely by accident that I happened upon this watercolor. I am always on the lookout for unused watercolor paper and was flipping through an older pad. There were no blank sheets that could be salvaged, but there was this little sketch along with several remnants of exercises I did for a watercolor class I took at the Descanso Gardens in June 2016. Before taking that class I remember looking for a particular size paper at Swain’s Art Store (local independent art store that has recently gone out of business, sadly) because I wanted something on the small side (9 inches by 12). I was imagining myself wandering the garden with all my imagined new artist friends on the lookout for the perfect spot to paint. I didn’t want to lug around a large and heavy pad of paper. I think I secretly wanted something smaller because I had decided that in this class I was pursuing a new and personal artistic goal. That was, I wanted to force myself to paint quickly and of course it would take longer, in theory, to fill a larger page. (You may have noticed that I even marked a smaller rectangle to paint in, so the final sketch was actually 8 and 1/4 by 6 and 1/2. What was that about? What a weird size…) 

Anyway, I remember this class very well, spending several Saturday mornings in the garden (June 11, 18 and 25th) learning about a whole bunch of art stuff. Some things I had learned previously, some techniques were a new take on something I had already learned and some of what we did was brand new to me. I loved every bit of it. I think I have already mentioned the artist who taught the class in a previous post or two. Her name is Virginia Hein. And since taking her class we have become fast artist friends who find ourselves at the same venues, where we are always painting outside. She is such a wonderful and generous artist. (I heard her say the other day that she had taught a similar watercolor class at the Descanso earlier in the summer.) If you want to learn more about her amazingness just Google Virginia Hein. We focused on composition, how to get the most from your art by first coming up with a thumbnail, close up study of our paint colors and then (my favorite)—the perfect wash. Of course Virginia first demonstrated how to do this with cobalt blue. After that I practiced one cobalt blue sky after another, filling pages and pages of random bits of watercolor paper—trying to get it right. In fact, just before this sketch in my book is quite a number of sky wash attempts. Finally, I got bold enough to capture this little landscape. (Looking closely at it I am reminded that I used a particular brush that seems to have gone missing. Hmmm…)

After I found this piece of art, that is now already 3 years old, I realized how important One California Girl has become to me. Each week I look forward to picking out a piece of my art as a kind of muse for my thoughts and writing. And I write a little every day, thinking about what I want to say all week. Continuing my focus on beauty, funny thoughts and family stories has become especially important to me since I began the blog on March 25, 2017 (my mother’s birthday). I think the back story to this creative outlet need for me came together during the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017. As an artist I have always felt like I’m on the outside looking in, but during those months I found myself feeling like I was from another planet, wondering about the extra weirdness that seemed to be all around me. Sometimes I felt weightless and I might drift away at any time. Other times I felt so heavy that I might have sunk down into the Earth, just like Rumpelstiltskin did when the princess learned his name. Being from California I am kind of used to weird and wonderful people, places and things. But beginning 2017 I was struck by how people seemed to be so angry. What they were saying on Social Media and even on the street corner was so mean and not very helpful. I found myself feeling just bit numb, trying to ward off the negative slew of words and thoughts. 

I have to say that the weirdness continues. But I am thankful that I gave one California girl a voice and I get to do something creative every day. I will not succumb to feeling numb! I have found something that helps me continue feeling and contributing to something that feels good. I hope that you who have been reading my blog posts get a sense of what I’m talking about. I guess I should add here that sometimes my posts are a bit crabby, sometimes inspired and insightful, and even sometimes funny. It all depends on the time and place of the art and my state of mind. Because even if my words sound a bit cranky, I think maybe my art shows that I somehow found something beautiful to look at, study and share.

Last Wednesday I saw a quote from Archibishop Desmond Tutu.

“Do your little bit of good where you are;

it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Pretty good words to live by and for me good words to blog by. It’s a good day today. It’s raining in SoCal and on Monday it will be my son’s birthday. Happy Birthday sweetie!

September 21, 2019

Descanso Gardens Fountain1
Descanso Gardens Fountain in the Rose Garden, 9/8/2019 (watercolor with #20 round watercolor brush and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For last week’s blog I featured a couple paintings I did a couple of years ago. Today, you are looking at a sketch I did a couple weeks ago. You may or may not have noticed, but I rotate old and new art as a kind of “flash back” where I feature past and present art. I try to interject my past and present thoughts regarding technique and materials as well as my CA stories. However, this flashing forward and back may soon come to an end as I am running out of “old art” to “flash back.” I still have lots and lots of “old art,” but I can’t really think of anything very interesting to say about many of those pieces. In the 80s I went through a fashion design period. And I did countless sketches with markers as well as lots and lots of watercolors on really nice watercolor paper. But, none of them are really that good and if I think about it they actually look a bit contrived. I think using the adjective “contrived” when describing someone’s art is probably one of the worst things you could say about a painter and his or her paintings. I guess another solution to one CA girl’s conundrum would be to start repeat posting some of my non-contrived “old art.” I have been posting art and stories for over two years now, so I guess that might work. However, I think the adjective “disingenuous” might apply to doing that. And that would also not be a good word to use when describing an artist and/or their art. So, maybe it’s time to just let go of all that old stuff…

Flash forward to September 8, 2019 and the Spanish Style fountain in the Rose Garden at the Descanso Gardens. I found myself seeking water when I was at the Descanso that hot day. In fact, I used my giant #20 watercolor brush for this one and just really loaded up those bristles with water and pigment, making broad and sloppy strokes on the watercolor paper. Then I added some tight linear detail with Inktense pencils and finally some stippled white acrylic water droplets. If you read last week’s post I think I made it clear about my love of moving water when I wrote about the wine fountain in Shandon. I think there is something quite soothing about the sound and sight of flowing water. Not sure I am that great when it comes to painting it, but it’s not from a lack of trying. 

Watching the bubbling water of the Descanso Gardens fountain reminded me of another amazing CA fountain I used to frequent when it was hot. When I was married we lived for a time in Walnut Creek and then San Ramon. Near San Ramon is a community called Blackhawk and in Blackhawk there is a plaza with restaurants, shops and a museum. In the center of that plaza is a fountain that looks like it has been carved out of huge boulders. I remember often going to that plaza so I could sit on a bench by the booming fountain, enjoying the coolness of tiny drops of water while looking for tiny rainbows in the spray. To this day, I can see and feel the cascading water if I close my eyes. And if I think about it this might be the best way to “flash back” to old art or maybe it’s more like “wanna be old art.” I just hope my memory and written descriptions of such places and feelings will be up to the challenge!

I think many of us who are from California maybe think of water in a kind of reverential way because we live in a desert. It doesn’t rain here in the summer months and the hills around us are looking pretty dry and brown right now. Even those who often take the availability of fresh water for granted get a little anxious as September and October are considered prime “wildfire” months here in California. I was reading in a recent LA Times story that this time last year wildfires had already burned more than 1.2 million acres in CA. So, we are all hopeful that this year will be better and we start to pray for lower temperatures, no Santa Ana winds and maybe even some early rain.

The other day at school we had a bit of cloud cover and I heard some kids say they had felt rain drops. I was sure I too had felt it, but thought maybe we all had had mass imagined rain on the brain. But I did see the tiniest strip of a rainbow above our very brown and parched hills, so maybe…I guess we all have natural disasters to watch out for. Sometimes it’s a fire, sometimes a volcano erupting, an earthquake, hurricane flooding and/or winds, a tornado or even a tsunami. The description of the natural elements of fire, water and wind might not seem almost poetic until they get out of control, then watch out! So, I am watching for some rain on our horizon. (I just looked at my weather app and it is predicted we will have rain next weekend here in SoCal. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!) But I know the saying “be careful what you wish for.” I’m sure no one in the Houston area of Texas are wishing for some rain right now.

Nature's Fury
A little pen and ink for a booklet of worksheets for elementary school students. Notice the misspelling of the word “Specialists.” This misspelling was on the cover of every booklet and cover page we made for the program. :()

So, maybe I do still have a  bit of old art to “flash back.” I found this booklet of student worksheets in a drawer yesterday. And yes, I did the pen and ink sketches/lettering for all the worksheets. I don’t actually remember when this “Natural Disaster” display from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was at the Blackhawk Museum, but it was probably the early 90s. Anyway, I was a science teacher in the San Ramon Valley Unified District at the time. Another science teacher in the district and myself put this booklet together. The idea was that school groups (grades K through 6) were to come to the exhibit and then have activities they could then do in the classroom. The natural disasters featured at the exhibit included: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding and erosion due to flowing water, and tornadoes. Actually, I was surprised there was no mention of wild fires or hurricanes. But I was even more surprised that there was a huge typo on the front cover and the title page of the booklet. There it is, my pen and ink lettering complete with lightning bolts, but why didn’t anyone notice we had a misspelled word—“specilists” instead of “specialists.” Even my “spell check” alerts me to this mistake, but there wasn’t “spell check” back then. And of course the irony of this huge mistake is that this was put together by teachers. What a disaster!

Happy Fall, September 23, 2019!

September 14, 2019

east side vineyard
J Lohr vineyards on east side of Paso’s vineyards (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board–framed and on my easel)

This particular J Lohr vineyard is a favorite east Highway 46 view for me. That’s because it’s the very same vineyard that is featured just above the One California Girl title on my home page. And yes, that’s me with my son when he was pretty small. The other reason I love this vineyard is because I vividly remember noticing for the first time the amazing symmetry of the row upon row of grape plants, snaking up and over the hills of Paso Robles. I’ve always been in awe of a farmer who can plant thousands of plants so precisely. Of course I am looking at this physical marvel as a thing of wonder and beauty and the vineyard owner (farmer) is thinking of crop yield. I think we have the French or Italians to thank for such cramped and compact planting. That means this lovely arrangement helps the vineyard owner cram in as many grape plants per acre as possible—sweetening the beauty of the view with added income when it’s time to harvest.

hot air balloon and vineyard
Hot air balloon over Paso’s east side vineyards (oil pastels on pastel board-framed and on my easel)

For this one, I remember a friend posting a photo on Facebook of this shadow of a hot air balloon floating over some east side grapes. And guess what? She was in the balloon and took the photo that was the inspiration for this vineyard. You may also have guessed that I was again obsessed with the almost infinite and perfect rows of grapes from this vantage point. I remember I imagined that she was high enough in the air to see the actual curve of the Earth. Funny, I don’t actually know what vineyard she was floating over. And even funnier still, I don’t think I ever showed her the art before and/or after I had it framed. I kind of regret not doing that. (I must remind her to look at this week’s post…) But I have a question for you: Does this look like a hot air balloon floating over the vineyards? Sometimes when I look at it I wonder if it doesn’t just look like a large blue blob. But I don’t regret doing this art and I don’t think I need to apologize for the balloon that might look a bit like a bruise. Not sure I would have framed it, but I was enchanted by the framing material and I think that made it pretty special in spite of my apprehension.

I have already mentioned some of the west side vineyards that I love. And this area is filled with beautiful grapes as well, but the air and ground look a bit drier. Maybe that makes sense as this part of the highway is going inland (towards some of California’s agricultural gold) compared to the west side that ends up on Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. But no matter, I have enjoyed doing a number of paintings of this area. And if you live in Paso Robles you get used to this more arid golden landscape. However, there is one spot out there I never got around to painting and I kind of regret not doing that. If you go far enough out of Paso you will come to Shandon. Right alongside the highway is a massive metal wine fountain that sits amid more rows of grapes. In fact, if you Google wine fountain in Shandon you will see it. Many of the photos online show it gushing with water. I’m not exactly certain if they run it with water anymore, especially after we went through such tough drought times. I remember seeing it flowing with water one autumn, and believe it or not, the water had been tinted to look the color of red wine. It was kind of amazing to see faux red wine cascading from huge bunches of grapes into huge hot tub-sized wine glasses. As I said, I regret that I never did a painting of that silver/tin colored sculpture standing tall with a backdrop of what looks like endless rows of symmetrical grape plants.

Thoughts of not capturing the wine fountain with the flowing wine got me thinking about regrets in general. Oh, I do have another “painting” regret I will share here. I regret that I didn’t take photos of these two pieces of art before framing them. But if I actually go down that rabbit hole of regrets, maybe I don’t really regret doing that. If I had taken them out of their frames to photo copy I would have messed up the back paper of each one. In the past I have carefully sliced out a painting or two from a frame. But it always looks so tacky on the back when I try to reassemble it again later. Maybe the addition of archival tape only looks bad to me. I mean, who really cares about the back of a framed piece of art? After you pay a small fortune to have something framed, it seems silly to rip it up, right? I don’t usually photograph my framed work as there can be a glare from the glass. But these two photos work just fine and maybe add a little element of artist’s paint covered easel. (Yeah, whatever…)

Finally, I decided it’s just too easy to think of regrets, painted or otherwise. Try to think of things you don’t regret. I did. Here are just a few I came up with…

No regrets regarding:

  • getting married in the 80s and divorced in the 90s
  • liking the color orange
  • spending money on my hair
  • choosing comfort over fashion
  • telling people I like the bagpipes, or telling them I like classical music
  • telling people that I like to do puzzles
  • being the first to leave most parties
  • being Susie Homemaker. I like to share recipes and put up shelf paper in the kitchen
  • doing dinner dishes the next morning
  • the lingering dirt on the exterior of my car
  • driving in a convertible with the top down and the heater running
  • ordering shoes online and/or in catalogs
  • choosing to discuss various cuts of meat with the butcher rather than shopping for shoes (or any other pieces of clothing for that matter)
  • visiting with strangers while checking out the produce in the market or chatting with them in line at the store
  • being sweaty and OK with getting dirty (I don’t like “sticky” though…)
  • making lists (e.g. list of west Highway 46 art, a list of art where I use vertical elements in the foreground of paintings)

Until next time…And keep finding things about you and your world that you don’t regret!

September 7, 2019

1. Point Vicente Lighthouse, Palos Verdes, 9/1/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday, September 1, a couple of sketching groups (that included me) met at a lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes at 1:00 in the afternoon. I don’t really remember visiting this lighthouse before, but to get there I drove past the Port of Los Angeles and under a big sign that read “San Pedro.” Now, I have definitely been to San Pedro, but none of my surroundings looked familiar. It was kind of warm that day in all inland SoCal cities and I was hoping that the coast would be cooler. I even got a little excited at the prospect of temperate temperatures because as you can see it was completely overcast that day. In fact, for the first watercolor, you couldn’t actually see the horizon, the ocean seemed to just blend into sky. Very cool…

Unfortunately, it was overcast and extremely muggy. In fact, I worked up quite a sweat walking around to set up for this first sketch. You couldn’t get very close to the lighthouse itself because it was closed that day and you couldn’t get an upclose look as it was completely enclosed with a rusty chain-link fence. I was pretty disappointed that I was indeed walking away from the lighthouse to get a better view. Anyway, I walked along the trail going north, hoping to at least find others who had come to the point to paint. I walked up to the interpretation center and found a few painters. It seemed that most people had already felt the defeatist feeling induced by the heat and had fanned out to find places to start painting before succumbing to the humidity and leaving early. I did the same and soon found a picnic table to share with 3 other painters. It became a testament to our level of “grit” as to how long we could persist with this one. And here’s what I came up with. I loved that one of the women that perched on the table with me said it looked “fresh.” I thought that an interesting comment as I was feeling anything but fresh. Just a bit ago I said that you couldn’t see a discernible line between the sky and the water. But there was such a lack of color and things of interest I just needed more elements to include here, and I added that horizon line anyway. If you are an artist you know that you have to do that from time to time—add things that aren’t there.

2. Point Vicente Lighthouse, Palos Verdes, 9/1/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Finally, the picnic table perchers (that included me) couldn’t stand it any longer and we all moved to a spot on the grass in the shade. Since I was the last to join them, I was the last to escape to the shade. It was time for me to cool off and have a snack. (One of the sketchers said she was sad I had moved as she was adding me to her painting of the picnic table in the sun. Sorry!) I was so disappointed and hot, I considered leaving after eating. But it was quite cool on the grass under the trees and I decided to stick it out. Besides, I saw quite a few sketchers walk past us and I did not want to be the first to leave. I had more grit than that! So, I moved closer to the trail, carefully remaining in the shade and found this view. It was perfect! There were even a couple large rocks that came in handy—one I used as a foot rest and the other to balance my brushes and tray of Inktense pencils. I was further drawn to this view because it had a nice patch of vertical weeds in the foreground. Crazy, but I really like that kind of element in my work. I can’t explain it. That got me thinking about all the art with similar vertical strokes of plants and sticks in the foreground areas that I have posted at One CA Girl. So, I went back to my archives and counted them. (I did this last week, counting all the west Highway 46 paintings/sketches I have posted here.) Not sure why I am “going there,” but if you are not interested in the following list, no worries. Skip it!

September 1, 2019—Point Vicente Lighthouse, with foreground vertical shrubbery

August 17, 2019—Fence in front Victorian house at Heritage Square Museum

March 31, 2019—Dark weedy rows of weeds in front of Peachy Canyon winery oaks

March 23, 2019—Row of red tulips at the Descanso Gardens

February 23, 2019—Succulents in the back garden of the Getty Center

September 29, 2018—Sunny sunflowers in foreground of Heart Mountain (no vineyards)

September 15, 2018—Norton Simon back garden pond with vertical greenery at the water’s edge

September 1, 2018—slender trunks of grape plants at Bonnie Doon Vineyard

July 14, 2018—Vertical stems of plants at El Molino Viejo (Old Mill, San Marino)

March 17, 2018—Grasses in front of sycamore trees at Descanso Gardens

March 3, 2018—Mass of vertical weeds at the foreground of a couple oak trees on Highway 46

February 3, 2018—Descanso Gardens camellias

December 30, 2017—Descanso Gardens with sycamores and grasses

October 14, 2017—Moon coming up through the trees and shrubbery at the Norton Simon

September 9, 2017—Field of Safflower, east side of Highway 46.

Wrap it up, please…

So, by now it’s 3:30 and it’s time to gather and share. I noticed it had gotten pretty busy around 3, with people setting up tables and countless brides maids and groomsmen. (Yes, a wedding or reception was about to take place.) But somehow 30 sketchers didn’t seem to notice all this activity and we set up our work on a stone wall/seating area right in the middle of things. (Yes, there were about 30 of us.)

Anyway, we did our thing, displaying our work and then cruising past to look. (One guy had a rather brooding violet sky next to his lighthouse and it looked as though he had gotten closer to the lighthouse than the rest of us. I wondered if he had actually been there at a different time and had slipped that one in just to see if anyone noticed. Well, I noticed!) Then, as is our custom, we take turns introducing ourselves and saying a little about ourselves etc. (It’s always interesting to see who traveled the farthest. And of course there is always mention of who had traffic…it WAS Labor Day weekend.) Sometime during our introductions I thought I heard someone behind us say, “We need to ask them to leave.” But in my muggy stupor I thought maybe that someone was referring to a family with some obnoxious kids I had seen running around on the grass nearby. But it was only when we were good and ready that we actually moved to a nearby amphitheater to take a group picture. I think  by then some of us realized we were in the way as a young man escorted us past a temporary fence they had set up to keep non-wedding guests out. 

So, now we were on the outside looking in. And once the photo was done I all but ran to get in my car and head home. My grittiness was waning and I had done what I had set out to do. As I drove away I wondered how a bride in muggy weather was going to hold up. I imagined various bits of clothing, hair, make up and flowers wilting. But, if she could hang onto to her gritty self and not drink too much she would be alright. Of course the sun was going down and maybe that would cool things off. But we’ve had quite a problem with mosquitoes all summer and they are pretty active at twilight. I think you get the gritty picture, and how important it is to hang onto your gritty self, right?

August 31, 2019

Jack Creek
Jack Creek Vineyards, off Highway 46  (oil on 8 by 14 inch canvas)

Not exactly sure when I first really noticed the many beautiful vistas on Highway 46 going west from Paso Robles (101) straight through to Highway 1 and the ocean. This little jewel view is not exactly on 46, but it is just off the highway and I certainly count it as part of a lovely landscape journey you could take from Paso to the beach. Over the years I have explored many of the roads that go either north or south of 46. I should add here that there is another side to 46. And it goes east from Paso (101), changes to 41 at about Shandon, and then ends at the 5. (I have done a number of paintings, mostly vineyards, of that east stretch of the highway and plan to revisit that road with you in a near future post.) Highway 46 (west) used to be a beloved secret that took you past farms and golden safflower covered hills on your way to the ocean. Now those same hills and roads are covered with vineyards and wineries. And it’s a popular place to go wine tasting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the vineyards and the wine tasting. It’s a fun thing to do and I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Central CA.

I found this inspiring landscape when I chanced to turn off onto Jack Creek Road where I found myself at the Jack Creek vineyards you see here. I must confess, however, that this composition is a compilation of three images/colors that I mashed together for the overall bucolic scene. The sky, vineyards, tree and out buildings were original to that time and place. And there were cattle on the land that day, but they were all crowded around a shady fence area with none of them daring to venture out onto the hot and sunny field. Because I didn’t really see the “cattle in the field” I was looking for that day I later drove down River Road in search of cooperative cattle in a field. The two critters you see here were part of another herd closer to town. The third element of the image I altered/enhanced was a made up golden wheat color that surrounds the cattle, adding a foreground contrast to the far away vineyard. (Maybe it’s my homage to the fields you used go past before the grapes moved in.)

In previous posts I have described/shared many pieces of my art, using various mediums, from Paso Robles. My son and I lived in Paso from summer 1995 to summer 2003 and I spent countless hours in my studio at home, painting from photos I took all around the north county. (My son was pretty young then and I didn’t have the luxury of plopping down in the dirt to plein air paint or draw anything.) In the 2 plus years of One California Girl posts I have written about my love for the many vineyards and fields I saw during our time there. And many of the images I have painted over the years were from Highway 46, and/or roads going west and east of Paso Robles. I also continued to paint these views (from photos) even after we left Paso and moved to Grass Valley. During those years I could have painted plein air because my parents could have helped with my son, but then I was over 300 miles away from my beloved 46. For those of you who have never been here, California is a big busy state, so nothing is really nearby anything or anyone, for that matter. I say this because even though something or someone appears to be near you on a map, the frequent and inexplicable traffic keeps many of us from the people and places we might want to visit in a reasonable amount of time. But for those of you who are interested in taking a virtual tour of the other 9 west side paintings I have posted since I started this blog (on 3/25/2017), check out the archives of One California Girl for the following posts:

3/25/2017 Morro Rock in the distance (Oil on canvas)

8/12/2017 Hay bales (Oil on birch panel, part one of two)

3/3/2018 Two Oaks and a Vineyard (Oil on canvas)

3/10/2018 Peachy Canyon vineyard and tasting room, on the corner of Highway 46 and Bethel Road (Acrylic on six foot wall paper panel)

9/1/2018 Bonnie Doon Vineyard (Oil on small canvas)

9/29/18 Heart Mountain, before the grapes (Watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)

1/19/2019 Hay bales with Oak (Oil on birch panel, second in pair from 8/12/2017)

3/31/2019 Peachy Canyon Oaks (Oil on canvas)

5/11/2019 Zenaida Cellars (Watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on illustration board)

I mentioned Highway 1 earlier, and that is the final destination of Highway 46 going west. If you turn left (south) you will find yourself in Cayucos and then Morro Bay. Turn right (north) and you will find yourself in Cambria and then San Simeon. I mention all of these beach towns because they are kind of what’s left of a quintessential CA beach town, and each spot still has some of what’s left of the old communities. And except for San Simeon, large homes have been built in all of these towns, filling in the areas between them. I like all the beach towns I have mentioned here just fine, but am particularly fond of San Simeon because there aren’t huge homes, or even small homes there. San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle, a few motels, food places and camping–that’s it. I still love traveling north from Cambria to San Simeon because it has changed very little since I was little and we visited Hearst Castle. We didn’t camp there when we were kids, but I did take my son camping there a couple times. If you can catch just the right weather the camping is great. But it can be cold and windy, even during the summer months. Best to visit San Simeon during the fall. 

A Final note about Highway 1 and the Central Coast

If you ever find yourself with some time and don’t mind a windy road, the trip north on Highway 1 from San Simeon is pretty spectacular. Plan to stop in Big Sur and then on to Monterey and/or Carmel. I think over the years I have often said that that would be my recommendation of a place not to be missed if you come to CA only once in your life. Seriously, forget any other place someone might suggest to you. Forget San Fransisco, San Diego, Yosemite, the Napa Valley or Disneyland. (Yes, I said to forget Disneyland…) Hands down, Highway 1 and San Simeon, Big Sur/Monterey would be my top California destination recommendation. No kidding!

August 24, 2019

Shoreline Village
Downtown Long Beach from Shoreline Village, August 11, 2019 (pen and ink, water color, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Sometimes it feels like maybe this one CA girl is really just one CA tourist. For example, last week’s post was all about going to the Heritage Square Museum and the one before that was about visiting the Norton Simon Museum. Maybe being a tourist of the state I was born and raised in makes sense because describing CA, past and present, is one of the key components of this blog. And if you add the descriptions of the actual art/materials/techniques I use plus the stories of my mostly CA family, you have the other two elements that comprise the whole of One California Girl. This week’s art and story will take you to another SoCal tourist attraction. But for this one you leave LA’s NE interior and head some 30 miles south to the Pacific Ocean. 

On August 11, I met up with a couple sketching groups at Shoreline Village. We all wandered this very touristy waterfront shopping and entertainment area in search of the perfect scene to sketch. Some sketched the row of colorful village shops, while others (like me) looked out to Rainbow Harbor. There is actually a merry-go-round on that boardwalk. (I don’t think anyone actually included the merry-go-round in his or her sketch. I figured we were at the ocean, so who would want to ride, or paint, a merry-go-round? I guess that I must be in the minority when it comes to entertainment at the seashore, as I find the ocean very entertaining and I am not particularizing interested in all the junk you can find at a boardwalk. I have always always thought that rides, carnival games and sticky finger food at the beach rather odd. But I digress…) A couple of people focused on a lighthouse that is across the harbor. I had hoped to the do the same, but just as I had settled in to sketch it a huge yacht pulled in and blocked my view. Oh well. It didn’t take me long to find something else to paint. In past posts I have written of my obsession with palm trees. And low and behold, across the harbor were some downtown Long Beach high rises with a a lovely row of palm trees lining the waterfront. So, even though I was initially upset that I was robbed of the light house, I was immediately calmed with the imaginings of swaying palm trees. I sat there quite happily for a couple hours and got all this down on paper.

If you were to walk around to the other side of Shoreline Village you can actually see the Port of Long Beach, the Queen Mary and the geodesic dome that was constructed for the Spruce Goose (flying  boat designed and built by Howard Hughes). It seems that the Port of Long Beach is the second largest/busiest container port in the US. The largest, and busiest, being the Port of Los Angeles which is just a little bit north of Long Beach. The Port of Long Beach is huge! And I can attest to how busy it must be by the shear number of trucks attached to containers that go to and leave that port on the 710 at all hours of the day. It’s quite unnerving to drive in and around those hulking trucks. They sure rule that road and driving there with just a car is not for the faint of heart.

More about the Queen Mary, “The Spruce Goose”/geodesic domes and other Port of Long Beach tourist attractions—past and present

The Queen Mary was originally a British Ocean Liner (built in the 1930s), but it is now moored in the Port of Long Beach. It has an onboard hotel with restaurant as well as a museum that you can tour with other tourists. I have taken the tour a couple times and I have to say that the last time I was on that ship I got seasick. Yup! And how can you get seasick on a ship that is moored to a dock in the second largest US port? Well, I remember going on a tour that took us way down below the water line and I remember feeling claustrophobic. When we finally got down to the last step of the ladder I could definitely feel the ship rock side to side ever so slightly. I was done and soon retreated upwards to the fresh ocean air of the upper deck. Once we all got up there the tour guide tried to scare everyone with stores of ghosts that haunt the Queen Mary.  But as for me I was more scared that someone might have noticed I’d left my handbag with all my money down in that hull. The thought of going back down there was just too scary for words. 

Beside the Queen Mary is a very large geodesic dome. It was originally constructed to house a very large airplane that had been built by Howard Hughes in the 1940s. The press at the time named it “The Spruce Goose.” The Spruce Goose was a prototype that was meant to be used during WWII as a kind of ship/airplane hybrid. And it was made from wood because of restrictions of the use of aluminum during the war and wood was more lightweight than other metals used at the time. Even though it was known as The Spruce Goose, it was made almost completely from birch and I guess Howard Hughes wasn’t fond of the name. The dome housed the airplane until 1991 and now if you want to see it you have to travel to McMinnville Oregon. But now that the Spruce Goose is no longer inside the dome, what is in there? I tried to look that up and couldn’t really figure it out, but I guess it has been used as a backdrop for a number of movies. In fact, I read that it was prominently featured in a recent Batman movie—only in LA, right?

If you travel a bit south from those to attractions you come to a pretty nice aquarium—the Aquarium of the Pacific. When I was a kid that area was known as the Pike. And it was home to the infamous and legendary Cyclone Racer roller coaster. The amusement zone at the Pike was built in 1902 and my dad often reminisced about the Pike and riding the Cyclone Racer (built in 1930). So, when we were old enough we too were taken to the Pike. I remember a lot of things about that place, with that giant roller coaster that had been constructed out of pilings and took you out over the ocean. But I also remember quite a number of tattoo parlors and gaming areas. My mother ushered us quickly past those “sketchy” places. I also seem to remember that she was none too keen to let her young children ride this stuff of our father’s legends. But ride it we did. I don’t remember if I thought it particularly scary at the time, but my brothers and I were scared with anticipation. I remember comparing it with a roller coaster we had been on at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, the Big Dipper. I think we were quite impressed with the fact that we had ridden on both those rides and survived. Sadly, the Cyclone Racer was taken down in 1969. And I can’t remember when I last went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to ride the Big Dipper.

Finally, I think I am a hypocrite, a touristy CA hypocrite! Earlier in this story I made a snooty comment about “those people” who go on rides at the beach. And here I have just described a couple instances where I not only participated in such rides, but also fondly remember doing it. Sorry! So, here’s to being wrong and trying to set the record straight. And here’s to my dad, a man who wanted desperately to share so many fond life memories and stories with us. And this is just a guess, but I think he thought such words and deeds would give him just a touch of immortality. What do you think, my brothers? No matter, I am so glad I got to ride on the Cyclone Racer with him. Thanks dad!

August 17, 2019

Ford House
John Ford House, built in 1887. Originally located in downtown LA, but later moved to Heritage Square Museum, sketched it plein air, July 19th

On July 19th I took the Gold Line Metro to the Heritage Square Museum. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church, originally built in 1897, to sketch the Ford House. I chose to sit there because it was shady and I liked the view you see here of the house and garden. The Ford House and Methodist Church were not originally constructed here, but moved to this location at a much later time. Such is the disposition of a total of 9 LA structures you can see at the Heritage Square Museum. They date from the time of the Civil War to the early 20th century. (If you want to learn more about the history of the museum you can Google

It was a warm Friday midmorning and I had gotten there later than planned. And even though I had originally intended to add some watercolor color to the Ford House (kind of a golden ochre on the wooden clapboard siding) I resolved to at least get the house and garden rendered in ink, with some graphite for additional shading. When I finished it was mid day and I was done with the heat. I decided to try to return on a cooler Friday midmorning for some additional sketching. (They are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 to 4:30.)

Methodist Church
Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church, 1897, sketched this one August 9th at Heritage Square Museum

On Friday, August 9, I once again got on the Metro Gold Line and headed for the Heritage Square Museum. It promised to be a cooler day than my previous visit. This time I thought it would be fun to try to render the curved wooden shingles, clapboard siding and windows of the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church. I sat at a shady picnic table under a sycamore tree that afforded me the straight on view you see here. Once I roughed in the pencil sketch I added ink and some colored pencil. (Last time I had brought all my watercolor materials. But for this visit I decided to travel light and only brought my colored pencils, and pen and ink—no brushes, paints or water for painting. Oh, but I brought a snack and water to drink, of course.) I read on the Heritage Square website that the original stained glass windows in this church (as well as some pews) were stolen before it was moved here. For now, large panes of solid colored glass have been substituted. However, it seems that research regarding what those windows looked like has begun and it is hoped that someday soon reproductions of that glass will be installed. And in the event that the glass is replaced I would certainly enjoy returning to that picnic table under the dappled light of the sycamore tree to sketch the church again with all the rainbow wonder of my watercolor colors. It was a beautiful day, with the sky an inspiring shade of cerulean and the surrounding trees were bright with greens and golds. Even though I only added just a hint of color on the church itself I was happy with this sketch and spent more than a few minutes taking pictures of it. (I have recently been experimenting with the “live” setting of my phone. And I found that I could capture this image with the hint of the breeze that was blowing at the time, making the corner of the page flutter. I have tried to include that bit of movement in my blog, but I can’t figure out how to do that.)

southwest museum station
Photo of one of three mosaic tile guardian figures on columns, made of painted tile and sculpted metal wings at Southwest Museum Gold Line metro stop. The guardians and some fun seating at the stop were implemented by Paul Polubinskas. (Not sure what implemented means, but let’s just say there are some fun artistic elements at this and most of the Gold Line Metro stations.

There is a Heritage Square stop on this metro line, but believe it or not the Southwest Museum stop is actually closer. And believe me, I tried both. This station is actually key to a couple other LA museums—the Southwest Museum of the American Indian (open Saturdays from 10 to 4) and the Lummis House (only open on the weekends). Getting off at the Southwest Museum stop you can see the Southwest Museum on a hill to the left. And when walking on Avenue 43, on your way to the Heritage Square Museum, you go right past the Lummis House, also known as El Alisal. This little piece of northeast LA, near the edge of the Arroyo Seco, has a lot of LA history that you wouldn’t even guess at when zooming past them going north or south on the 110 freeway.

As I was sketching the church I was reminded of the various kinds of architecture you can see here in CA. I have sketched and written about some of them. I have described CA mission dwellings that were built from huge blocks of adobe, stone, timber, brick, and tile (January 1, 2018, July 14, 2018).. I have also described stucco- covered Spanish revival homes that were built here in the 20s and 30s (art only, May 28, 2017, October 21, 2017). I have also made mention of Greene and Greene craftsman style homes that can be found here as well (March 31, 2018). Sketching the wooden cladded buildings that can be found at the Heritage Square Museum reminds me of a kind of architecture known as Victorian or Edwardian. According to Wikipedia, structures with Victorian architecture were built from the mid to late 19th century. Anything built later, when Edward was king of England (1901 to 1914), would be considered Edwardian architecture. (Not sure I can actually tell the difference between Edwardian and Victorian.) But if you Google “The Painted Ladies of San Francisco”, you will see a row of Victorian/Edwardian homes that I think have become quite famous and a tourist attraction at Alamo Square. (Sadly, I think lots of other wooden “stick houses,” or Victorians, burned down as a result of the 1906 earthquake.)

As it turns out I know a little about a particular farmhouse turned Victorian in Grass Valley. My parents bought the house in the late 70’s and they lived in it from the mid 80s until 2013. The house was built in 1863 and started out as a single story farm house with no electricity or running water. Sometime later a second story with a wrap around porch and lots of Victorian brick-a-brack was added. Such brick-a-brack included decorative railings, turned porch posts and a large hand carved wooden sunburst above the front door. Once that was completed it became a rooming house for gold miners who worked in the mines in town. The house did have some non-Victorian interesting quirks in that the upstairs door openings and doors were all pretty short. And the doorknobs and railings were lower than you would expect. It was surmised that the Cornish miners who had come to this part of the gold country were short in stature, and such things as door knobs and railings were lowered to accommodate these men.

As these houses were made entirely of wood and needed to be painted to protect the wood from the punishing effects of wind, rain, snow and sunlight (probably the most destructive weather element).  But it always seemed funny to me that such homes were often painted all over white. You would think that the wood carver of such a beauty would want to use color to show off their exacting and detailed work. And if you have now looked at the “Painted Ladies of San Francisco,” you will see how such color was added to rows of Victorians/Edwardians in the 1960s. In fact, when my parents bought their Grass Valley Victorian it was all over white. But they soon painted it a warm yellow with white trim. And before they sold it they changed the white trim to a deep blue, forest green and a plum color–emphasizing all the various carved wooden details. 

I now live in a house that was made with large river stones and covered in stucco. It was built in the 1920s, but I don’t think it could be described as any of the styles I have mentioned here. I don’t need to live in an architecturally significant house. My house is old and quirky, just like me! And I love it—just another quirky SoCal house for one more quirky California girl. 

August 10, 2019

NS1, 7:5
Aristide Maillol “Mountain” sculpture (1937), back garden of Norton Simon, July 5, 2019 (Prismacolor colored pencil on Bristol board)

Sorry I missed posting on last week. I was on vacation.

For this week’s offering I have again included a couple versions of a favorite sculpture in the back garden of the Norton Simon. If you have been following my blog you may recognize this lovely “Mountain.” On September 8, 2018 I shared two versions of her from the other side of the pond—one rather close up and the other far away, creating the illusion that she was nestled in the lovely background shrubbery. For my September 15, 2018 post I focused again on this lovely “Mountain” for a speed sketching activity with a sketching group. For this activity we stepped outside to the back garden and walked along the path until our group leader suggested we stop and find something to draw. We stood there for 20 minutes, feverishly sketching, until the alarm on her phone went off. We then walked a bit further until another sketching spot was chosen for a quick 20 minute sketch. (This is actually very similar to the April 20, 2019 Sketchcrawl I wrote about, except we weren’t getting on and off a train every 20 minutes to draw what we saw.) 

I think I have shared here that the first Friday of every month the Norton Simon Museum is open and free from 5 to 8 pm. And there is a kind of standing invitation from one of my sketching groups to gather at that place and time. From 5 to 6:30 we are invited to sketch what we like. At 6:30 we have a throw down and then go together somewhere in the museum (could be inside or out) to do a coordinated group sketch. As is my usual, I shoot out the back door at 5 pm and head for the garden. And it seemed the “Mountain” was calling me again. So, I rolled out my bubble wrap on the grass in front of her—actually it’s “her” rear view—and began planning my sketch. Not really sure why, but I decided I wanted a vertical rearview with a kind of diagonal flow of the background trees and shrubbery behind her. I remember learning long ago in an art class that when you include something on a diagonal, it gives the piece a kind of action or element of movement. It made me giggle a little as this statue is pretty massive and I’m sure she wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, perhaps she recognized me and was tired of me repeatedly looking at her. Maybe she planned to jump over the pond and hide away in the background of darkness next to the tree I had conveniently placed there for her escape.

NS2, 7:5
Aristide Maillol “Mountain” sculpture (1937), back garden of Norton Simon, July 5, 2019 (ink, Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

That hour and a half went by very quickly and soon it was 6:30, so I joined our group in the lobby just inside the glass doors. It was time for the throw down. (This is when we share our sketches.) It’s such a geeky artist thing to do…but I love it! Once we finish with this wonderfully “self affirming” bit of sharing our group leader usually suggests some kind of group activity (like speed sketching in the back garden) before the museum closes for the evening. She didn’t have a particular assignment for us on that July 5 evening and we were instructed to sketch what we liked and meet back in the lobby at 7:45.  So, I found myself back on the grass, looking again at the back end of that beautiful “Mountain.” But this time I wanted to render her in a completely different way. For this one I have her sitting largely in the middle of a horizontal field of grasses, and I rendered her with my Inktense colored pencils and black ink pen on watercolor paper. (I also did a little spritzing of water to diffuse the background colors a bit.) With that calming horizontal plane there was no hint of action on her part—no escape plan seemed necessary. However, it did seem that she was definitely communicating something with her body language, even though she was facing away from me. Maybe with the downward angle of her head close to her extended left hand she was trying to say, “no more, please stop.” 

For both images you may have noticed the ambient light coming from the left. That was a completely accidental, and yet wonderful, lighting effect. I took those photos on my kitchen table on July 6 at 6:26pm, and that was the exact light that was coming through the window next to the table. I’m not sure, but I think the striated effect was due to the angle of the sun’s rays as it passed through the window screen. It’s not a typical screen as it is metal and a kind of heavy gauge. And the glass on that window is old and wavy—that may have contributed to the effect as well. Anyway, I hope to remember to try taking a photo of a piece of art in that same spot next July 6th at 6:26pm. What are the chances I’ll remember to do that? Trying to stay positive!

As I was writing this week’s words I reflected on all the different ways I had rendered this same statue, with a different and pleasing outcome for each sketch. Each time I found myself near the “Mountain” I wanted to draw her, but I never expressly went to the Norton Simon for that purpose. Not really sure why I have had such an unintended obsession with that statue. There are quite a few statues out there, but she seems to be my muse that draws me to the pond, trees and shrubbery that she watches over. But maybe now I’m finally done with the “Mountain?” Probably not! Although she may have had enough of me…

August 2
Ducks in pond in back garden of Norton Simon, August 2, 2019 (ink and colored pencil on Bristol Board)

As you can see I was at the Norton Simon on Friday evening, August 2, and found myself once again in the garden. I often sit on the grass beside the pond and sketch. That evening I breezed past the grass and sat on a bench overlooking the pond from the opposite end. I decided to sketch that end of the pond—imagining I would catch a couple ducks as they breezed between past the two foot grasses that lined the foreground. I didn’t intentionally avoid the “Mountain,” she’s just off to the left and out of view of this view. 

And yet another update on the guards at the Norton Simon…Keep off the grass!

In previous posts I have written about the “guards” at the Norton Simon. Unfortunately, my stories have not painted these officious women and men in a very favorable light. Here is yet the latest…

For this sketch I sat on a bench and didn’t attempt to sit on the grass. And it’s a good thing I didn’t want to sit there. It seems there is a new rule now and no one is allowed on the grass, or too close to the edge of the pond. It seems that a week or so ago someone got too close and fell in. But instead of the rule being stay a foot away from the edge, the entire grassy area is now off limits to all humans. (Maybe that’s why I noticed only a group of ducks gathered on the grass, near the water’s edge. There were also no small children were running amok on the lawn either…) There was just one guard on duty out there that evening and she tried to make it sound like they don’t have enough guards to wander that back garden to remind people to keep away from the edge. So, she marched continuously around the garden, telling people to keep off the grass. I just hope this new rule will not keep me from sketching what I like back there. One of my artist friends set up her camp chair on the edge of the trail. I wonder how long that will be tolerated. Well, I won’t be back there for a month or so. We’ll see what happens next time time I am there. Still trying to stay positive. Stay tuned…


July 27, 2019

July 2000 article
July 2000 magazine article

Thinking of last week’s art and story about flowers and insects reminded me of an article I did for a children’s magazine when my son was little and we lived in Paso Robles. As you can see the art for last week’s story and this week are of insects on flowers, but the art for the July 2000 article featured a project a parent might do with his or her child. Last week’s story was actually linked more to the art rather than the words, I think. And even though my son just graduated from college, I decided to see if the “beetle making” procedure I wrote about still worked as well as it did almost 20  summers ago. It’s been a hot week here in So Cal, so making and painting the Plaster of Paris beetles was a fun indoor project. How well I remember thinking of such things to do to keep a little kid entertained when it was just too hot to be outside. (Oh yes, Paso Robles can easily get to over 100 on a typical July day. Of course the best remedy for that kind of heat involved putting the dog, the boy and few beach toys in the back of the station wagon and heading to Cayucos for the day. Ahhh…) 

The art for this July 2000 magazine article shows a couple ladybugs, or ladybird beetles, on a favorite CA wildflower. The common name for this flower is tidy tip and it is part of the genus, Layia. It can be found in lovely blankets of bright yellow on some of the grassy hills of CA in spring. I love the jagged edges of the flower with a definite line that seems to have been painted onto each flower petal. I have actually seen them in shockingly bright circles of yellow in a “fairy ring” (vernal pool in Fairfield—July 1, 2017) And as far as I can tell, you can see ladybugs flying around most months in California except in winter. It seems that they like to find warm spots to hibernate when it gets cold and I have a personal story about that. When my then husband and I were living in 1989 Walnut Creek (East Bay) I put some ladybugs on the potted plants I had out on our deck. There was quite an infestation of aphids that summer and I was sick of picking them off my flowers. I wanted some heroic ladybugs to come and eat the dreaded aphids. So, I bought a bag of ladybugs at a nursery. I remember carefully following the directions on the bag that described how to release them into your garden. Here’s what you do: On a coolish evening, lightly spray your plants with water. Then cut open the bag and gently shake out the beetles onto your plants. (I guess the water is to give them something to drink.) The idea is to distribute them as the sun is going down onto damp plant material. This is so they will hang around and not fly off immediately as they probably would if it was warm and the sun was high in the sky. (I don’t actually remember what time of year I did this—it was probably early fall.) After a time, I noticed the aphids were gone. I wondered if the ladybugs had done the trick or the evenings had just gotten too cool for the aphids to survive. I actually forgot all about the ladybugs until sometime after Christmas when I moved a pot that was close to the deck enclosure wall. And what did I see? There were at least 100 hibernating ladybugs clinging to that wall. I realized I may have compromised the little red nest of beetles and quickly put the pot back exactly as I had found it. I went out there everyday that winter, trying to view the ladybugs in the dark crack between the pot and the wall, but didn’t dare move anything. I couldn’t see anything! When the warmer spring weather finally turned up I finally got up the courage to move the pot. There wasn’t a single ladybug to be seem anywhere. It was always my hope that I hadn’t disturbed them too much and they had stayed there all winter. Such are the funny wishes and dreams of a gardener.

If you are not interested in making Plaster of Paris ladybugs or other beetle you won’t want to read the directions for making your very own insects as described in my July 2000 story. But, if you are a kid at heart, like me, you will want to make them just for fun.

set up for beetles
Materials needed to make the Plaster of Paris bugs
plaster of paris spoons
Plaster of Paris in spoons on a cookie sheet

I happened to have on hand all of the materials you see here, except the Plaster of Paris. I had the plastic cups, water, old cookie sheet and compostable spoons. Remember, this is California and of course I used compostable spoons for this project, but there was no such thing in July 2000, so I used non-compostable spoons. (Of course back then I would have washed them after I did the project and used them again.) Time to reread the directions as stated in that story. (You may have noticed I only made 6 this time around.)

bugs are done
Painted Plaster of Paris beetles (Clockwise from upper left to lower left: dung beetle, two-part stag beetle, ladybug, potato beetle, 1960s VW Bug)

Once the Plaster of Paris dried, I popped out the little beetle shapes and began planning the destiny of each one. Oh, and just for the record, the potato beetle is actually a pest and is not a happy sight for potato farmers, but I liked the colorful stripes and made one anyway. I also thought myself clever in making a two-part stag beetle and a dung beetle, and of course the 1960’s VW beetle was amusing to me…a kind of “tongue in cheek” beetle.

As you can see I also made a ladybug. And while mixing the perfect shade of red I remembered another “true” ladybug story. It goes something like this: Once upon a time one CA girl followed a northern CA creek in some northern CA woods. Some of the time she walked in the water, but most of the time she had to scramble up and over boulders to stay with the narrow creek filled with slow moving water. She imagined great winter storms of water moving the large and smoothly rounded rocks all around her. By and by she climbed up onto a large boulder and decided to take a break. She laid down on the rock and got as comfortable as she could. It was pretty enchanting there, looking up into the trees while listening to the creek swoosh past the rocks. Just above her there was quite a swarm of ladybugs and she thought this an even better detail to later remember and retell to others. A couple of them landed on her. She wondered if this was some kind of woodland welcome, but almost instantly they began biting her. Each bite actually felt like a kind of sharp “pin prick” pinch. She jumped up immediately—getting off that rock as soon as possible. She quickly moved away further down the creek. After she had gone a few feet she turned around to see if they were following her. Thank goodness they stayed right there, hovering in a bright red swarm directly above that rock. She was surprised and a little horrified at what had just happened. When she later told someone of the encounter they just laughed and told her that just wasn’t possible. 

I think most people believe in a ladybug’s benevolence rather than as a swarming nipping terror in the woods. (BTW, I just asked Siri, “Can ladybugs bite?” and she responded, “Ladybugs can bite humans.”) So, even though I obviously like having them in my garden, I prefer to see them from a safe distance, or as little bits of painted Plaster of Paris.

I have to say that I probably spent too much time painting all these little beasts—working too hard to get the detail just right. I mean, little chips of Plaster of Paris are pretty ephemeral, and I think planning and making them was actually the most fun. But throughout this whole process I was reminded of making them long ago with my 5 year old son. They didn’t look this detailed and finely painted. I remember using watercolors with him, encouraging loose and colorful application of pigment. Such a project is pretty messy, but perfect for a little kid. And other than my adding two definite eyes on each one, I don’t remember whether each one could be identified as any particular kind of beetle. I will try to save these to show him sometime. I wonder if he will remember making them? Of course he won’t remember, he was 5! The end. 

July 20, 2019

white bachelor buttons
Bachelor buttons, 7/16/19 (gouache on pink wash, watercolor paper)

Last week’s post was all about the meadow of flowers that’s still blooming away in my backyard. For that one I used my “just add water” art technique or idea to capture the  myriad of soft colors of individual flowers. I dilute a sketch made with transparent Inktense and watercolor pencils for a soft and maybe dreamy image. This week’s art shows a small detail of life in that same mass of blossoms. But for this view, I zoomed in closely and used a completely different technique that is a 180 from last week’s loose and wet approach. It’s actually more of a dry brush technique where opaque gouache is applied and each stroke is visible, resulting in a thicker application of pigment. When I first learned to do gouache on toned paper, it was to get close up—rendering the outer covering of birds and mammals (e.g. hair, fur, feathers etc). So, of course it would work for the close up look of a beloved insect and flower petals. It was fun to plan and execute art depicting the same subject matter with a completely different intent and outcome, hence the final comparison of last week’s art to this week. 

This flower is called a bachelor button, or cornflower. I have to admit that I thought this particular flower only came in one color—cornflower blue. I was wrong, it comes in many colors. So, when I went back out there to do this close up I was certain I would paint a brightly colored bachelor button. But as I was looking around for a likely candidate I noticed the bees were particularly busy in this part of the garden as well, especially on the bachelor buttons. I decided to capture one of those busy females as she visited one of the blossoms, but soon discovered that the bee showed up best on the white flowers. It was then I decided to do a pink watercolor wash for a background with a couple white flowers and visiting bee. This background pink is the exact shade of my pink bachelor buttons. (I mixed Opera with Cadmium Red, Pale Hue—from my Winsor Newton pocket travel set—for the color wash.)

Note about my meadow: I think I am coming to the end of the bright colors as it’s time for them to go to seed. I saw a pair of goldfinches chowing down on the bachelor button seeds this morning. (They don’t seem to care what color flower they devour.) It appears the heat is finally making its way out west this week. I think it’s time to stop deadheading, and feed and water my garden birds and bees—they are probably going to need it.

Back to the art…

I knew that a bee wouldn’t stay very long gathering nectar at any given flower so I took a photo and used it for this week’s art. It was also easier for me to work from a photo as I have been spending a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s in Long Beach this summer. So, I sat at a little metal table under a patio cover covered with wisteria and painted. It was a charming spot to mix my pots of color, do some color trials and sketches. Of course, I got fixated on the bee and how to tell a color story where the background had no real connection to the images I painted. It became a kind of experiment to see if I could make this contrast work. And I became hyper focused on the bee and decided to make everything larger than life.

Bees are funny insects for sure. I love to see them busy in my garden. But some people (adults as as well as children) seem to freak out when they think one is too near. The other day a friend of mine said he wasn’t going to plant a certain variety of tree in his backyard because it would attract bees. I don’t think he is allergic to them, but he was adamant about that statement. I thought it rather sad actually. I have a birdbath in my front yard that has become a haven for bees and I must admit I feel rather brave when I refill it with water and a few of them begin to gently swarm around me. Most birds, especially the doves, don’t really notice the busy bees as they walk the rim of the bath. It’s funny, but the crows seem to be the only creatures who acknowledge the buzzing bees, besides me of course. I have seen them take a snap at them when they sit on the rim. The crows seem to like to drop peanuts in the water to soften the shell, making it easier to get the meat out of the nut. And if a bee seems to get too close, they open their large beaks and SNAP!

Once I had everything the way I wanted it I remembered a poem about insects that I wrote at least 20 years ago. At that time I was working in educational publishing and was trying to write and illustrate children’s trade books. A lot of my “kiddie writer” friends at the time also submitted work for magazines. This one was written for that purpose. I was always warned that it is difficult to write “rhyming” verse, and it is. But I think this one works and it’s fun to actually get it in print after all these years…


Look for some insects if you dare.

Some are out looking for you.

They’re on your food and in your ear.

I see quite a few on your shoe.


Watch out for the humble bees and ants, 

their numbers outnumber us all.

They buzz at your nose and cling to your pants

and crawl with great skill up a wall.


But some bugs are fine to have around.

A lady bug is a bright sight.

And summer would surely be missing a sound

if crickets were quiet at night.


No need to go find such six-legged beasts,

like hornets, mosquitoes or flies.

They show up on time for your picnics and feasts

of apples and crackers or pies.