January 18, 2020

Mason Clay Statue, 1961
Black Cross sculpture by John Mason, 1961 (Fude Fountain pen on mix media paper)

Once again a sketching group I belong to met at the Norton Simon Art Museum the first Friday of January. I didn’t start out the afternoon/evening with the realization this would be a momentous “first” sketch of the new decade, but went there as is my usual. Most months when I walk in the front door, poised with my non-wet materials and ready for the sometimes unfriendly museum guards, I am always happy to be there. And I’m almost always look forward to going there the week leading up to that Friday. As I have said in previous posts I still really enjoy going into the back garden to see if there is something new to see, or maybe there is some old favorite I want to draw… again. For this excursion I had a new small stool I wanted to try out there. At the Descanso Gardens I had used it as a foot rest as I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap on a large boulder. I had also used it at the Descanso as a level place to place my pots of watercolors. But I had actually not yet sat on it to sketch. 

It was already getting dark by the time I walked in at 5. But I vowed to try and sit outside, hoping I might find a spot on the grass for this visit. Unfortunately there are still temporary-looking plastic strips, much like a “Police Line Do Not Cross” barricade tape, surrounding every bit of grass that rings the Monet Garden inspired pond. What would Claude say? Oh well. So I kept moving along the crushed granite path. Once I got to a left turn in the path I turned abruptly to the right and found myself face to face with this small, but charming, vignette. I must admit I didn’t really pay much attention to the clay cross, but liked the blocky dark mass nestled in with the wonderful vertical bamboo background and the large symmetrical succulent flowers in the foreground. In fact, I didn’t even look at the label in front of it until the sunlight was completely gone and I had finished the sketch. But when I spied this spot I knew I had to do something quick. So I set up my little stool and sat down, took out my sketchpad and did a quick pencil sketch. Then I hurried to capture this tiny corner of the garden with my Fude fountain pen. (At some point, during this mad dash, I realized my little stool was rather hard and I dug out my sheet of bubble wrap, placed it on the hard plastic seat and sat back down. That was much better.) By now I was truly racing the fading natural light as the outdoor lights started coming on. For about 30 seconds I thought there might be enough light from those spotlights highlighting the statue to help me see to finish. Of course, it got too dark even for that and it dawned on me the lights were there to illuminate the statue, not my sketchpad. By the time I put in the last couple lines I had my phone out and was inking by flashlight. By then I was cold and glad to go inside and find something else to draw.

Note about the sculpture:

Later in the weekend I looked up what the curator at the Norton Simon had to say about the Black Cross. Here is what it says on the website: “During the 1950s in Los Angeles, a group of artists led by John Mason rediscovered and reinvented the medium of ceramics for use in large scale sculpture. His Black Cross is one of many works that he crafted using soft clay in previously unexplored ways. An extremely tactile piece, the medium of fired clay brings a fascinating variety of texture and color to Mason’s work. Though he has used many other media, he continues to explore and reinvent his favorite medium: clay.” And if you want to know more about John Mason there is an interesting article about him in the LA Times online. The story ran the end of January 2019, not too long after he had died at age 91. (I guess no one at the Norton Simon has updated this information since his passing last January.)

NS Woman in White with Fan
Woman in White with Fan by Jean-Louis Forain (1883-84), 1/3/2020 (Inktense pencils on mix media paper)

Once I got in the door I decided to go downstairs and sketch something else from the Belle Epoque exhibit. (I have mentioned a number of times in various posts of my obsessions with various art, materials and other random items or places. So, it was not really surprising that I would be obsessed with the art and French artists of that 1871 to 1914 time period in Paris.) I got lucky and found a museum bench right in front of this lovely “Woman in White with a Fan” (Jean-Louis Forain) oil painting. The way it was lit down there it looked almost monochromatic, with mostly sepia-like tones and some bits of pink and gold. I decided to try and capture the dark and kind of moody feeling by limiting my palette of Inktense pencils—using only bark, sun yellow, baked earth and poppy red. 

Finally, it was time for the group throw down and I went upstairs. There was quite a sketching crowd gathered at a museum bench at the museum entrance that night. (It’s always fun to see what others have been working on as you were toiling away in some other part of the museum.) Once our leader took a photo of our work and we visited for a few minutes she suggested a group project. We were to wander the halls and find something that spoke to us about a possible New Year’s Resolution or inspired us to improve some aspect of our artwork. Then we were to meet back at that same bench and share any artistic inspirations we had come up with. 

NS Provence landscape
Pencil sketch of Paul-Camille Guigou’s The Village of Saint-Paul on the Banks of the Durance, 1865

I headed for the European Art/19th century room to look for inspiration, but quickly left because it was pretty crowded. So, I wandered about in a couple other rooms and locked eyes on this lovely 19th century landscape of the south of France. (Funny this one was in a different room. I mean, this seems like a 19th century bit of European Art…just sayin.’) I was trying to think of a valid New Year’s resolution related to this calm and beautiful looking place, but was not coming up with anything. We didn’t have a lot of time. So, I went ahead and set up my little stool a few inches from the wall just across from this rather large oil painting anyway. I was sure I could come up with some kind of goal for the year or decade, for that matter, if I sat gazing at this beautiful place long enough. As I began sketching I envisioned a perfect resolution for me. I have done numerous CA landscapes and think I’m pretty confident and comfortable with rendering skies, but I always balk when I come to the water’s edge—especially when imagining large bodies of water like the ocean. I so admire all those plein air painters that can capture the Pacific Ocean. Once I decided my resolution would be to do more paintings with water I relaxed and just enjoyed doing this very quick sketch. (Of course the minute I leaned ever so slightly against the wall, a guard came out of the shadows and told me not to do that…first encounter with a Norton Simon guard of the decade. Oh well!)

So, I do have some final thoughts about resolutions and my art. I’m obsessed with producing CA landscapes. I love the idea that I can travel to a particular place with pigment on canvas or paper. I can wander the hills of various places as my brush skims along the canvas in a field, dotting in grapes and leaves on a vine or layering in the dark bark and limbs and branches of a coast live oak as it reaches skyward. And when I paint a California sky, I luxuriate in layers of color as I apply the pigment with my biggest brushes in long strokes from side to side. As I sat there, my mind took me to this water’s edge in the south of France. Ooh la la! Maybe this CA girl should look to expand her horizons to the south of France? Maybe that’s a great goal for the decade. Restez a l’ecoute. (Stay tuned.)

January 11, 2020

Persimmons
Hachiya Persimmons, 1991 (watercolor on cold pressed Strathmore illustration board)

The art you see here was definitely a labor of love as there was no hurrying along the process. In past posts I have written about this watercolor layering technique. It’s all done with layer upon layer of watercolor, with the heat of a small hairdryer used to dry each layer after it is applied. People have asked me how many layers of pigment would be in something like this and I can’t really answer. But I would say there was easily more than 10 watercolor passes for this one. In describing this technique I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of the paper I used. This technique means major abuse of wet and heat—and my beautiful cold press Strathmore illustration board can take it like a champ. It was my “go to paper” in the early 90s. I think I only messed it up once or twice by getting it just too wet and/or hot, and then tiny balls of paper pulp began pulling away from the surface. I remember I almost cried and thought I should apologize to the trees who had so graciously helped make this paper possible. As I have already said (right here in this paragraph), knowing the paper/material you paint on is everything. And I always think about what’s going to happen when I begin to draw or paint on a new sheet of paper. 

Now, as for this persimmon composition, it’s never been my usual to leave such beautiful fruits floating free in space, much like so many abandoned satellites circling the Earth. But upon closer inspection of the board I noticed a third persimmon lightly penciled in to the right, and realized I had not actually finished this one. As was my usual I would have finished the last persimmon, then added some kind of shading to lock each one into a place in space. Not really sure why I didn’t finish this one. Oh well… All this got me thinking of my mother. As a kid I remember eating my mom’s persimmon pudding (recipe to follow). The Hachiya tree variety was pretty common in many of the Saratoga/Sunnyvale gardens in the 1970s. I specifically remember those trees because about this time of year all of the leaves would have dropped off and there would be these bright orange fruits hanging from every branch. It was quite a site. Of course, they would all ripen at the same time which meant they had to be picked all at once. Everyone scrambled to think of what to do with them before they spoiled. My mom always took a lug of them from a friend who lived not too far from us, in the Golden Triangle. (Look it up, it’s a thing—The Golden Triangle, Saratoga, CA) This variety is kind of tricky because you can’t eat them until they are mushy and pudding like. By then they are not a pretty color anymore. Sound appetizing? My brothers and I quickly learned you can’t eat them beautiful and orange from the tree as they have an astringent taste that will make your mouth pucker. No, they were only palatable after they had been cooked. My mom enjoyed making persimmon pudding this time of year and it makes me wonder why she didn’t plant a persimmon tree in our side orchard. My dad would have insisted the tree be in that part of the yard, otherwise such fruit laying on the ground would have probably been eaten by our dogs. I can’t imagine that would have been a good thing. 

Back then there were many nurseries in our area run by families of Japanese-American descent, and those businesses were busy landscaping yards in all the new housing developments in our area. Many of the plants they recommended for our gardens were from Japan, and that included the Hachiya variety persimmon tree. The nursery that designed our Saratoga garden was called Bonsai Nursery, and they were on the corner of Bollinger Road and Hiway 9 (now called De Anza Blvd). A nursery like Bonsai would design your garden for a fee and if you decided to go with their plan that fee would go towards their plants for your yard. Bonsai closed a number of years ago, but there is still another nursery from that time on De Anza Blvd. It is called Yamagami’s Nursery. I don’t remember many specific plants there were in that Saratoga garden, but I do remember a couple Japanese maples in our courtyard. They were spectacular even when they were first planted in the late 1960s/early 1970s. And if you drove past our old house in Saratoga today you would see them even now, towering majestically over the single story terra-cotta rooftop.  

I did promise to share my mother’s persimmon pudding recipe, but couldn’t find the recipe card. So, I looked online. This recipe looks similar to what I remember. (From Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, who was a frequent guest chef on A Chef’s Life—PBS. I actually saw the “A Chef’s Life” episode where Chef Vivian Howard helped Chef Smith make the persimmon pudding—PBS, Season 5, Episode 7 ) There was a recipe for hard sauce on the opposite side of my mom’s recipe card, but I think we almost never made because it was so good without adding anything quite that sweet. Sometimes she did make lightly sweetened whipped cream to go on top, but that was likely more for company and not us.

Ingredients:

1 T plus 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp, divided

3 C persimmons 

2 C buttermilk

1 1/2 C sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

Whipped cream topping, optional

* Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4 by 8 by 12 inch baking pan with 1T butter. Use a food mill, sieve or cone strainer to remove the seeds from the persimmons and puree the pulp; it will reduce them from 3 C to 2 C. Combine the puree with the buttermilk. Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. By hand, in a large mixing bowl, stir the persimmons into the butter.
  2. Sift all dry ingredients together and fold them into the persimmon mixture. Put the batter into the baking pan, and place the pan in a larger pan and fill halfway up with warm water. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours, or until the pudding is firm at the center, has pulled away from the sides of its pan, and a paring knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.
  3. Serve hot with fresh whipped cream. This will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days and reheats well in the oven or microwave.
  • My mom didn’t cook the persimmon pudding in a baking pan, but rather she made persimmon cupcakes in foil cupcake papers. (So, it would certainly take less than an hour to cook. I would probably check them after 20 minutes or so.) She also did not place the cupcake pan in a water bath, but rather put a pan of water just underneath the cupcakes. (We had an old and rusty square baking pan that she used for steaming a number of cakes and puddings in the oven.) My mom didn’t have a fancy mixer and just used her hand mixer when beating all the wet ingredients together. Finally, my mom had something she called a Mouli (Moulinex Mouli-Julienne Rotary 5 disc shredder grater slicer) to make the gooey persimmon pulp. She used this quite a bit for shredding and grating other fruits and vegetables. I remember her using it to make fried potatoes. (This is before food processors were around.) 
  • The above recipe talks about removing the seeds from the persimmons. I think Chef Smith must have been using an American variety of persimmon, common to the Atlantic seaboard. I understand they have seeds. As for the Japanese varieties we have here in CA, there are no seeds to worry about extracting.
    Fuyu persimmons
    Fuyu Persimmons, January 2020, (Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons on cold press Strathmore illustration board)

    I did this one this week. And I used my lovely cold press Strathmore illustration board, just to compare the fruits, time, and technique of the “quick and dirty” application of water soluble crayons over laboriously applied straight watercolors. It’s really hard to compare the two, but I like that this one got finished as is my usual. In fact, I decided I kind righted a wrong because my Fuyu persimmons seem to have the wings of a butterfly, rather than the stark appearance of a couple Sputniks floating out in space. (I do worry sometimes that putting two such fruits together look a little like breasts…but these seem to be OK.) 

    Oh, and I cut up the one on the right and sliced it on my morning mush. (I thought it looked to be the riper of the two.) All I had to do was peel and slice it, with no weird astringent taste. Woo hoo!

January 4, 2020

UPS3
Creatures for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)
UPS2
Creatures, with their decorating humans for UPS Store, Inc float, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen, Inktense pencils and graphite on Mix Media paper)

So my LA Urban Sketching day began with 20 of us meeting in a huge parking lot next to a number of huge warehouses in Irwindale. We boarded a shuttle bus, with a number of float decorators and were taken to an area just outside the Fiesta Float warehouse. It seems that shuttle would be on duty, taking volunteers to and from Fiesta Floats to the parking lot, until each float parked inside the warehouse was finished for Wednesday morning’s Rose Parade in Pasadena. After we filed out of the shuttle we gathered together to discuss how we would be proceeding for the day. One of our tribe had been there to sketch before and she had a few tips for us. For the most part, she said that we needed to stay out of the way of the volunteers working in there. She added that we should be very careful to watch for heavy things moving around over head, as much of what was going on was off the floor, with lots of people on scaffolding above us. Finally, she said that we should wander about first as there was a lot to see. But that even if we found the perfect spot to sketch, we needed to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. So, we had our marching orders and we all began fanning out to see what there was to see. I was intrigued by what I saw even before I got inside as there were piles of “floats gone by” in pieces all around the building. I made a mental note to come back to a particular scene I saw (see caption 3 of this post). 

I could try to describe what I saw, but maybe that isn’t necessary as you can actually see what just one tiny corner of the building looked like a week ago. There was scaffolding and huge bits of various float parts in every square inch of that huge building. And everything was larger than life. I guess that makes sense in that everything would be viewed from a distance and moving slowly down parts of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards for the Rose Parade. There were people everywhere! Most had a flat cardboard box of dried plant material in one hand and a small 1 inch paint brush in the other. There were bottles of white glue everywhere as well. The volunteers were dabbing on the glue, to specifically prescribed patches on animals and other items, and then carefully pressing the dried material in place. I have to say I wondered how long I would make in there as the smell of glue was almost overpowering. But it was so interesting to watch all these people carefully going about their work that I stopped noticing the smell and found myself wandering around. I found a great spot in front of this happy group of 3 large green lizards. But before I sat down and set up, I looked for the supervisor for this UPS Store, Inc float and introduced myself. (I forgot to mention that we were encouraged to do just that, hopefully making a good impression about the LA Urban Sketchers group so we might be invited to come back again.) The woman of this menagerie of huge animals was lovely and very interested in what I was about to do. I told her I would look for her when I had finished to show her my sketches. While I sat on my tiny stool and sketched a UPS Store, Inc representative stopped to chat. He told me that the theme of the 2020 float was part of a greater project UPS was supporting—literacy. You could tell he was very passionate about this project and said he wanted to hang my sketch (the first one) in his office. I was very flattered, but had not even finished it and knew that wasn’t going to happen. (These are just sketches and my stories are just a day in the life of One CA Girl.) Sadly, when I had finished I couldn’t find either of them. So, neither one got to see what I had created. Oh well.

 I also think it is important to talk about the people I chose to put in here. As you might imagine there were at least 100 people walking around, and most seemed to be on the move. There were lots of people from the media too–taking pictures and interviewing various volunteers. There were a few women, putting on the dry material on the underside of the lizards, who stood still long enough for me to capture here. By putting the humans in I think you get a real sense of the scale of these “Jurassic Park” like lizards. But you don’t really get a very flattering picture of the people. For starters, it was cold in there and most people had on bulky coats that covered them up. And second, in the second sketch I completely missed the head of one volunteer. It was really my fault too. I started with the woman on the left and noticed another volunteer in a red jacket to her right. So, I quickly added her. But I didn’t really notice that her head was completely covered by the lizard’s tail and was too far into the sketch to really do anything about it. (Hmm…Couldn’t imagine a UPS Store, Inc exec hanging that up on the wall…)

float graveyard
Fiesta Floats, Irwindale–outside with parts from floats past, 12/28/2019 (Fude fountain pen and graphite on Canson Mix Media paper)

I stayed in the warehouse until I was just too cold to draw anymore and needed to get outside into the sunshine. I had seen this scene of float remnants earlier and set up my little stool covered with my sheet of bubble wrap and did this pen and ink with my Fude Fountain pen. Some of the surrounding rusted pieces I saw looked like they had once had dried flowers glued on, but the rain and sun were doing their best to wash and fade that all away. But this particular pile of disconnected bits of floatery didn’t seem to have any dried flower detritus. So, maybe this place does more than just floats for the Rose Parade, even though the sign on the outside of the building said Rose Parade—and had the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Foundation logo on it. It was nice to be outside, where I could warm up and watch the continuous flow of volunteers in and out of the building. Perfect! 

The UPS Store, Inc float New Year’s morning 2020 and beyond

This post has a rather funny end to it as the UPS float was the Sweepstakes Award winner for 2020. (And it seems they were the 2019 Sweepstakes Award winner as well.) Look it up—UPS, Store Inc Rose Parade 2020. It was covered with thousands of fresh flowers, animated animals and 3 working waterfalls. Yikes! The photo I saw showed some of the animals I sketched last Sat. In fact, one of the lizards I did was right up front, nestled in some 25,000 dark hot pink Hot Lady roses. It did make me laugh because the women I saw decorating the lizards were placing the dried flower material underneath each giant beast. I mean, who was going to be looking underneath them—with all those bright pink roses? That’s just crazy, right?

I was sketching at the Norton Simon last night. And the scaffolding that holds the bleachers for the Rose Parade were still up. That always looks like a larger than life bit of construction. I guess here in CA we really believe in doing things in a big way, but try not to miss the small details as well. Words to live by? Works for me!

December 28, 2019

UCSC 1
Trees and sky at UCSC, with the ocean just out of reach, 2019 (wax crayons/pastels on mat board for 5 by 7 image)

It’s almost 2020 and it’s been cold here in SoCal. The narcissus dot my garden in small bunches of vertical green leaves and stems, and there is snow on the San Gabriel Mountains behind my house. Pretty nice actually…

In year’s past I have made holiday gifts for friends and family. But it’s been so long since I’ve done that and I can’t really remember when I stopped, or why I stopped, for that matter. So this year I thought I would try to revive some of that homespun gifting again. Somehow, not really sure when the idea popped into my mind, I thought it would be interesting to paint little scenes from a photo I took of the amazing trees and ocean plus sky view at the UCSC campus. And I wanted this little scene around the edges of an 8 by 10 inch mat with a 5 by 7 opening. I knew I wanted to flank the sides of the frame with lovely vertical stabs of redwoods and other conifers. But I also wanted to fill in the center backing with the in between continued view of shorter conifers and shrubbery with more of that fabulous blue sky. Normally that space in a mat would be filled with some 5 by 7 inch photo or other special two dimensional image. I was kind of liking the idea that you could either put something in the frame, or not. And whatever went in that spot didn’t need to go behind glass either. I found that by taping the top edge of the mat to the backing I created a kind of free standing sandwich board pop up. If someone wanted to hang something in the frame it could be taped behind the opening with a little piece of drafting tape. If not it could be left open, with nothing else added. (When I finished the first one of these I amused myself greatly by placing a small stuffed UCSC banana slug looking out of the opening. In fact, I can’t stop giggling about it, so random and yet corny. But that kind of describes me perfectly, so random and corny, and yet easily amused…) I am also quite aware that my idea of giving this little gift of Northern CA trees and ocean inspired sky would not be done by the 1st. So, now I plan to give this little gift as a kind of random and corny “anytime” gift, hopefully not too much after January 1, 2020.

But I think the real story here is how I came upon the best media to do this little bit of personal ephemera from One CA girl. When I picked up the half dozen good quality Crescent board mats for the project I thought it would be fun to try using some lovely inks for this landscape. I had found an acrylic pearlescent sky blue and light green that I thought would be perfect for the project. Oh, I also wanted to try out my new Fude fountain pen filled with water soluble black ink as well. (You may have noticed by the above caption there isn’t one of these items listed there…) 

Here’s what happened: I experimented with the materials I just described using a few scraps of Crescent board. Nothing turned out the way I had hoped, with each one taking way longer to do than I had patience for. I knew if it took too long I would become bored doing a similar scene over and over again. And eventually I just got bored with all this trial and error and opened up one of the mat board frames I had bought and tried it there. Not sure why I thought doing the same thing I had just tried would be any different with this board. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity? You do the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time?) I try to be aware of the paper I paint on and the quality of mat board was described as “good.” And it turns out that it was not “good enough,” but somehow I thought I could bend it to my will. So, I finally realized it was just getting too wet and little balls of paper were rolling around underneath my soggy brush. I needed to rethink my materials, loosing the iridescent sky blue ink in favor of something that would be more like a dry brush technique. 

I remembered that I had some wax pastels/crayons that needed only the slightest bit of water to blend the colors together. I have two sets—Neocolor Ink water-soluble wax pastels (set of 15) and Lyra-Aquacolor wax crayons (set of 12) and that material turned out to be just right. I have no idea where I got either tin. But I do enjoy using them as they show the texture of the paper when applied like a pastel or crayon and blend nicely with just the tiniest bit of water.

Now comes the funnier bit. Several years ago I found myself sketching several Buddha’s in the downstair Asian Art section of the Norton Simon. I decided to try out each of them in the frame. There is nothing left to say here, right?

Buddha 1
Head of Buddha, Thailand, 8th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)
Buddha 3
Buddha Shakyamuni, Nepal, 13th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)
Buddha 2
Buddha Shakyamuni, Thailand, 15th century (Norton Simon Museum of Art)

 

Just got back from sketching at the Fiesta Parade Floats in Irwindale. Yes, it’s just about time for the Rose Parade in Pasadena and I saw hundreds of volunteers inside the huge Fiesta warehouse, gluing dried plant parts to various floats that will be rolling along the parade route. The smell of glue in there was almost overpowering and finally went outside to sketch some of the leftover bits of floats that surround the building. (I will probably post those sketches next week.) I don’t often watch the parade anymore, but usually hear the bomber jets that open the parade fly over my house very early the morning of the first. Maybe when they wake me up this year I’ll get up and watch it live. It might be fun to see the floats I saw today with all the live flowers. Stay tuned…

Happy New Year!

December 21, 2019

close up of fremontia
Close up of Fremontodendron, 5 petals and 5 stamens, early 90s (watercolor on watercolor paper, Prismacolor yellow for stamens)

To add detail, or not to add too much detail. That is the artist’s question. Or at least that’s always my question when I’m beginning a piece of art. For me, I usually have some kind of picture in my mind of what I want to paint, or create, and that vision usually has a certain amount of detail in place, or not. But when you do a botanical like this one, there are “implicit” details you must include to make it so. Back then I was truly enamored with creating beautiful botanicals and had fallen for all those lovely late 19th and early 20th century detailed plant renderings. And for me that looked like the wonder and thrill of limitless detail. There is something very romantic about this art, with very soft colors and seemingly overly exaggerated curves in the leaves and petals. It’s as though the plant was still blooming and thriving in its perfect spot in the world. But of course all of those early plant renderings were not done Plein air, but rather from looking at a dried specimen that the artist or botanist had collected, sometimes months earlier. Maybe that’s why the art has such seductive curves and implied plumpness as the artist added imagined moisture to the dried up plant they were looking at. At the time I did this watercolor I was working in the botany and entomology departments of the California Academy of Sciences. I was not doing watercolors, but rather pen and ink renderings of plants from Chiapas, Mexico and wasps from Papua, New Guinea. I remember working with another botanical illustrator in the artist’s room in the botany department. She had surely captured this curvy quality even though she was only drawing with pen and ink. I had noticed her lovely art as we sat silently side by side, scrutinizing our dried up plant parts. I knew that Sheva was on to something wonderful that I vowed to try to add to my work. I often wondered if she learned this tiny bit of exaggeration from other botanical illustrators or if she just knew it intuitively. One way or another, I didn’t get that memo, but I can still see the lovely romantic roundness of her drawings in my mind to this day. 

To attempt rendering a true botanical you need to be all in with the horticultural aspect of every specific detail of the plant. For example, for this Fremontia (common name flannelbush) I first did a finished sketch, making sure you could count the five petals and five stamens. I also made sure that the shape and venation of each leaf was correct and they were arranged with the perfect posture, which relates to how the leaves sit on the stem. This kind of drawing/painting is known as the plant’s habit, or what an actual stem of the plant looks like. Sound like too much detail for you? Not for me. But there was one important step for this watercolor that I neglected to share. When I first started working at the Academy I hadn’t had much success painting with watercolor. But I was convinced that my pen and ink skills would overpower and diminish my lack of watercolor confidence. So, I went to the Native CA plant section of Strybing Arboretum one spring day and attempted to paint this plant. I sat on a rock, did a very nice sketch in my sketchbook, transferred that drawing to the paper and painted. I found myself once again trying to make the pigment do my bidding. It was an awful experience and the art looked tortured and awful. But I didn’t give up and I later took a watercolor and colored pencil illustration class right there at the Cal Academy of Sciences. It was taught by an amazing scientific illustrator who worked at the Morrison Planetarium. She showed us how to layer the watercolor and colored pencil onto good paper—drying the watercolor with a hand held hair dryer with every application of watery pigment. The romance and detail of those early botanical illustrations I described earlier began to appear before my very eyes. I was enchanted.

I did not sit on a rock for this botanical as I wasn’t sure where I would plug in my hair dryer. Instead, I painted it from one of my photos while sitting at my drafting table at home. It was so much more convenient to have a hair dryer plugged in there. 

You might be wondering about the raggedy paper I used for this illustration. I think I have shared that I try not to waste any of my materials and this paper had been a large sheet of expensive watercolor paper I had gotten wet, stretched onto my watercolor board, and then attached to the board with brown paper tape. I seem to remember that the bottom part of this paper had been the previous Fremontia disaster. I cut that off and used the upper left side of the paper you see here. 

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

Fast forward 30 years and I have another watercolor of a Fremontodendron that I did at the Descanso Gardens last spring. I think it is not only the antithesis of a botanical, but it also has a story of a different kind of day I had while painting it. This was done in SoCal, not in San Francisco. I didn’t sit on a rock to paint it, but did sit on the ground on a sheet of bubble wrap. And we have a botanical painstakingly done compared to a quick 30 minute Plein air experience—same plant, different day. (I have already posted this piece of art and it’s story April 13, 2019. I thought it interesting to share my artistic journey of style and substance from then to now.) What is probably the true story here is that maybe this piece isn’t so great, but what I have learned in more than 30 years of painting is that it just doesn’t matter. Paintings the thing, and that’s all that matters!

Happy Holidays and happy first day of winter!

In past posts I have described my love of flowers and landscapes. I just tucked in the ground 20 more Narcissus bulbs. I was reminded that my mom said that her dad had said you should put bulbs in the ground during the new moon phase. I’m a couple days off, but maybe it’s close enough. We’ll see if there is a difference in those flowers compared to the others that are already greening up in my garden. Stay tuned.

December 15, 2019

French poster, with water
French poster from Paris in the Belle Epoque, Norton Simon Museum, 12/6/2019 (Inktense pencil on mixed media paper with dry brush technique added)

I found myself downstairs at the Norton Simon last Friday evening in the salons of art from the “By Day & by Night: Paris in Belle Epoque” exhibit. My sketching gang hadn’t quite gathered together yet, so I thought it would be interesting to sketch Georges de Feure’s 1894 poster with my 6 Inktense colored pencils—sun yellow, bark, baked earth, leaf green, tangerine, and sea blue. I did it on mixed media paper because I planned to later “just add water” to the sketch and thought the mixed media paper would take the water better than just some old sketch paper. If you are an artist you really understand how important it is to consider your paper before you get it wet. I mean, I don’t care if paper gets a little ripply, but color on cheaper paper will look dull when it dries. In past posts I have described how I’ve experimented with drawing with watercolor and Inktense pencils that I later squirt with water, but often use watercolor paper to get nicer color. I like the softened, splattered and/or runny effect you can get. (Actually using such descriptive words makes me wonder why I think so highly of this technique. It sounds rather terrible and ultimately like I am trying elevate something that looks a bit of a mess and shouldn’t be celebrated.) When I “just added water” to this one, later in the week, I was much more civilized in my approach. I used a 1/2 inch flat brush and added water using a dry brush technique—no splatters for this one, and the paper had only a couple ripples. Of course, going back to this piece to “just add water” reminded me again that I had left out the second letter A in Almanach. I was reminded of that error several times as my damp brush butted up against those pencil marks. Yuck!

I think what struck me most about de Feure’s poster, as well as other posters done by Toulouse-Lautrec, is that those were all advertisements for something. Many of Toulouse-Lautrec posters were done to advertise the Moulin Rouge and of course de Feure’s poster is an advertisement as well. I read the description of the piece next to the actual poster and it said that it was meant to advertise a city guidebook of Paris. It was published by a famous 19th century Paris print dealer, Edmond Sagot. I guess consumers were to see the fashionably beautiful and sophisticated urban woman holding the Paris guidebook and want one too. I think it was to make you want to be like her or maybe even meet her in some cool hot spot, like the Moulin Rouge. The description goes on to describe the men in the background as thought they were looking at her through a plate glass window—hence the grey/blue color. If you look at those guys, they really seem to be leering at her as well. Had advertisers back then already learned that “sex” sells? It made me wonder if the Moulin Rouge would have been listed in there as a place to visit while in Paris. From what I have read the Moulin Rouge, especially in it’s early days, was quite a naughty place. According to Wikipedia the can-can began there as a kind of seductive dance done by courtesans who “operated” from that sight. (Maybe like the dancehall girls in “Sweet Charity?” Except courtesans were usually prostitutes for the upper-class and/or wealthy clients.)

I’ve already mentioned Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and you have already probably already heard of him. He was a contemporary of de Feure’s during Le Belle Epoque. Toulouse-Lautrec frequently painted women he saw at the Moulin Rouge and produced quite a few posters featuring them. Those were meant as advertisements as well. He was a master of capturing the movement of the people he saw. If you have ever seen those depictions of women doing the can-can you will know what I mean. I bet it really brought them in to see such a spectacle. And as I have already said, sex really did sell at the Moulin Rouge. Speaking of the can-can, it seems that as time passed the can-can morphed into something a little more about entertainment in a cabaret setting. (Oh, I imagine sex continued to sell at the Moulin Rouge…) But there is a scene of French girl marionettes doing the can-can beside Pinocchio in the Disney movie, “Pinocchio.” That definitely has a “G” rating.

Both men were serious artists and did more than make posters. They painted Paris’s changing urban landscape of people and places, both sophisticated and “everyday.” They were some of the artists, who painted from 1871 to 1914, and they established the artistic area known as the Montmartre district. 

It’s kind of cool to imagine such an urban change in Paris that changed the art world forever. I mean, the Eiffel Tower was constructed during this time. Such an urban and artistic achievement, Oui? Maybe this CA urban sketching thing I seem to be swept up into will someday be given a name like “dessinateurs urbanism de Californie?” Maybe not. However, I do intentionally try to capture people, places and things in one CA girl’s urban life. And what I see won’t look the same to coming generations, much like Paris has changed quite a bit in the past 100 years. Maybe that’s an important contribution to these “good times?” Not sure about the “sex sells” angle of the various urban sketchers I have met in the Burbank/Glendale area. OMG, Walt Disney would be rolling in his grave!

 

December 7, 2019

1stained glass house
So, where is that stained glass house at the Descanso Gardens? 11/26/2019 (watercolor on watercolor paper)

Sometimes, it is the journey I guess. And it seems that even pursuing art can be a journey of looking for something, or imagining something, that’s not there. For my November 16, 2019 post I wrote about going to the Descanso Gardens on the 10th because I had heard there was to be a stained glass house next to water for their Enchanted Forest of Lights event. I walked all around the garden, all around the duck pond, looking for that house. It was no where to be found. Of course you may be wondering how something as bright and festive as a stained glass house could be hiding somewhere. I began to wonder if I had imagined hearing about it. Anyway, I didn’t find it and decided I wasn’t going to the enchanted light show (showing contempt with lowercase letters and incorrect event title) this year as I had already seen everything there was to see, right? Maybe this watercolor captures the idea that something was missing…

By Sunday, November 17th the Enchanted Forest of Lights at the Descanso had opened. And I had forgotten that I was gravely disappointed with the missing stained glass house and went back there on Monday, 11/18. (Note the correct title and capitalization here.) I didn’t take any art materials with me, thinking that I would just walk around. And there it was—not in the larger duck pond, as I had imagined, but rather in the smaller pond by the waterfall. This was even better as the lovely deciduous trees around that pond were in striking shades of yellow and chartreuse. It’s a wonderful little spot with the added attraction of the sound of tumbling water. And if you’re lucky you might see a turtle or two paddling around in the water as well–only during the day of course. But today, and through January 5th, there is a stained glass house sitting on a platform in the middle of this smaller pond. I don’t know, maybe it’s the size of a small greenhouse (4 by 8 feet?). I knew I wanted to paint it and planned to go back the next day, Tuesday, as it was going to rain on Wednesday. I thought that if I waited till after the rain the lovely ephemeral leaves on the trees would be slick and slimy on the ground. I took a picture of it, messaged that image to friends and then went for my walk about. After about an hour I went back to be sure I had actually seen it. Actually, I knew it was there, but I wanted to see what it looked like with the sun in a different spot. I’m glad I did because by then the whole pond area was in shade. So, I made a mental note to get to the garden the next day as early as possible. I was really excited and packed my art materials the evening before, so I would be really ready…such a geek, right?

stained glass house
Enchanted Forest of Lights–stained glass house on a pond, Descanso Gardens, 11/26/2019 (watercolor, watercolor crayons and pen and ink, on watercolor paper)

So, my art journey continues and here it is. As I already said, I didn’t have my art materials with me on Monday, so both versions of the stained glass house were done that Tuesday morning. But the first photo was just the background/foreground of water colors. And I saved the best for last, first inking in the black lines that hold the various pieces of colored glass. It was lovely. But there is more to the story and my art journey. As I was thinking how I planned to ink in the house, another bit of my journey presented itself. While sitting on my sheet of bubble wrap on a large rock, trying to decide what size ink pens to use to first blacken in the lines of lead that hold the various pieces of glass, a very quiet small boy approached me. He was with his mom and grandma. He didn’t say a word, but it was clear he was very interested in what I was doing. I needed a distraction before diving in and engaged him in a bit of conversation, asking him if he liked to draw. He didn’t look at me to answer, but instead looked up at his mom and nodded. I asked him if he would like to draw with me, and he once again he looked up at his mom and smiled. So, I pulled out a couple sheets of drawing paper and let him use my tin of Inktense pencils. I don’t know how long we sat there together, he next to his mom and grandma on the bench under that beautiful deciduous tree with the yellow and chartreuse leaves, and me on my rock by the pond. But it was long enough for me to finish the stained glass house and enough time for him to finish his drawing. I showed him a sample of what happens to the Inktense pencils when you get them wet, but he seemed happy not to change anything he had created. It was quite a moment, and I told the mom and grandma that I thought them quite lovely to let this kindergarten-aged young man sit on a bench and draw. Of course I was sure to compliment the young man about his art and encouraged him to continue. I attempted to shake his hand, but he didn’t seem comfortable with that. He was OK with giving me a high 5. Then they continued on their journey through the garden. It was perfect! 

Thinking back, now, I am reminded that there were two artists on a journey that day. And we should always be on the lookout for the rare opportunities that our paths can cross. If you are an artist, I hope you look for such opportunities to share. And if you are not an artist, maybe you can think of a way to support art in the schools. It seems my young friend was from Texas and his mom told me that he had an art teacher in school. Such an individual is not very common in public schools here in CA. And we are the poorer for that. You never know where the next musician, playwright, painter or animator will come from… I don’t think we can live without the arts. I know I can’t live without them. What about you?

November 30, 2019

1Doo Dah
Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena, 11/24/2019 (pen and ink and graphite)

Last Sunday morning (11/24) I found myself a block off the east side of Colorado Blvd at my first Doo Dah Parade. What is the Doo Dah Parade, you might ask? I will try to answer that with this art and these words. Technically, I didn’t actually watch the parade, but instead I watched the various groups and individuals who were going to be in the parade arrive and set up. I didn’t see any of my fellow sketchers when I got there at 9, but I didn’t wait. I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on the NW curb corner of Nina and Vinedo, sat down and started sketching the Rock and Roll Preservation Society truck. They seemed to be decorating the truck with balloons and providing rock and roll music for all of us. Every now and then someone stepped up to the mic on the truck and performed a sound check. I think this could be described as a good introduction of what was to come as most paraders were enjoying the music and greeting others as they began to show up for the 11:00 event. Soon, I was joined by a few of my artist friends and we all scattered to capture on paper the 2019 Doo Dah Parade. I decided rock and roll would definitely be part of this, but still wasn’t really sure about the thread that held all of these people together for a common purpose. But even though I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, it seemed that most people who were wandering around met up with many people they knew. And most were really happy to see each other and you could tell it was just the beginning of a big street party. And judging by the sign on the truck, inviting people to “Follow us to the pub,” they were probably a welcome and expected end of the parade as well. 

2Doo Dah
“See No Grouch,” Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena (pen and ink, graphite)

Believe it or not, it got warm sitting on my little bit of that curb, so I moved across the street to another curb in the shade. Here I saw this rather quaint and hand decorated float. And sitting in a chair next to this float was woman playing the “Baby Shark” song on her harmonica. As you may have guessed, I am still wondering what this parade will look like, or if it will happen at all. A parader came and sat next to me on the curb and he said that the parade was originally meant for floats, or entries, that were not powered by gasoline engines. Hence this particular “Dah Doo” entry must have been from that vintage time. Soon Uncle Fester came walking along, pulling a wagon behind him. (Google “Uncle Fester, Doo Dah Parade” and you will see what he looked like.) Again, lots of people came up to say hello and a few took “selfies” with him. Just before 11, he cranked up a bubble maker he had attached to a wagon and placed a large mug of what appeared to be liquid nitrogen smoke on his head. (There is a picture of him with this cup on his head as well on Google.) So, I guess he has been doing this for a number of parades. Next, I saw a couple guys on stilts and again, they seemed to know lots of people there. Finally, a guy with a vintage turquoise corvette zoomed up, got out of the car and wove his way into the gathering crowd.

3Doo Dah
Just before Doo Day Parade, 11/24/2019 (pen and ink with graphite)

I kept thinking I should walk through the parade entries as they were lining up, but convinced myself that there was plenty to see right from my little spot. I was still trying to figure what I was looking at and decided that maybe this is a typical story of the kind of extremes you can find in CA—from old hippies to Uncle Fester with his bubble machine with the very posh Pasadena downtown as a backdrop. You sure don’t get a sense of Pasadena’s “old money” with these sketches, but that’s what seems to be the point—affluent Pasadena, bagpipes and a live rock and roll band on the back of a truck.

It was getting close to parade time when I finished this sketch. I packed my bag and walked the length of parade. There were aliens, people on motor scooters, a guy with his Jack Russel terriers in a remote control car, Bernie supporters, and a whole bunch of people in costumes I can’t even describe. But what surprised me most was the sight of one of my sketching buddies, sitting on her collapsible chair in the middle of this mayhem, sketching away. It was quite a sensory overload—something for all your senses. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there was quite a smell of weed in the air as well. 

Growing up in Northern CA I had heard of the Doo Dah Parade and remember seeing a video of the Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team. (Sadly, they weren’t there that day.) Still wondering if I completely understood this party parade I Googled the Doo Dah Parade when I got home. (If you want a better picture of what I’m talking about you can do the same. I think there is a picture of the Briefcase Drill Team.) I guess it was started in 1978, as a way to “thumb your nose” at the traditional Rose Parade (that started in 1893) that is held in Pasadena every January 1. It seems that the Rose Parade always takes place on New Year’s Day morning, unless that day falls on a Sunday. Then the parade happens the next day, or Monday. This tradition of no Rose Parade marching on Sundays began early on when the parade organizers did not wish to disturb horses hitched outside churches along the route during Sunday Church Services. (There don’t seem to be many churches along the parade route anymore, just a couple huge ones—Pasadena Presbyterian and First United Methodist. No body’s probably worried about disturbing the horses anymore, just the Teslas…) So, that first Sunday in 1978, was the first Doo Dah Parade and they have been presenting that parade in Pasadena ever since. Of course it’s not exactly on a specific day in January anymore, but somehow a varying date for such a parade seems somehow fitting to such an irreverent group of people.

So, is this story about the contrasts of traditions, lack of traditions or just the wackiness we have come to associate with CA, especially SoCal? As a second generation native of this hilarious state of frequent displays of irreverence and nonconformity it puts me in mind of my dad. He was quite a fan of Groucho Marx and often quoted him. And one of his favorite Groucho quotes went something like, “I wouldn’t belong to an organization that would have me as a member.” And that about sums up the Doo Dah Parade, I think. It sure sums up this CA girl.

November 23, 2019

rocks in garden
Art for Tribune, SLO, story, 12/12/1999 (colored pencil and watercolor on cold press illustration board)

It seems like I’m always digging through my art, looking for an odd piece of paper, brush or some kind of pigment that I haven’t seen for a while, but know is there. Or at least I think it’s there and I’m willing to dive in. So, I found this little colored pencil illustration when I went looking for some decent sized pieces of crescent board and tracing paper. I wanted to send my niece the piece of art I posted on October 6 and needed something to stabilize it so it would make it through the mail unscathed. I thought I had remembered sketching these river rocks about this time of year at least 20 years ago because I vaguely remember writing a story about kids in the garden that went with it. I had actually forgotten the overall point of the story, so now I was on yet another search into my artistic past. I was convinced I had written it for a kid’s magazine when we lived in Paso Robles and my son was about 5. So, I looked through all of my copies of those, but it wasn’t there. I was sure it had not been published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, but I looked through those clippings anyway. Low and behold there it was, and everything about the art and story came tumbling back to me. Funny that I should go looking for something that I did almost 20 years ago to the day, right? 

During those years in Paso Robles I was working as a freelance writer of math and science textbooks and teacher resource materials for young children. But what I really wanted to do was write about things to do in the garden with kids. As my son was of the perfect age to test out all of my ideas, I went crazy. I made long lists of activities and thought provoking suggestions that parents of young children could do outside. I was fortunate that between the Trib and the children’s magazine in Paso I got to explore and share those ideas with my art and stories in print. But I had so many things on that list that never made the ink of any periodical. Back then there wasn’t such a proliferation of blogs and self publishing was frowned upon by my other writer friends. A publisher was supposed to give you a contract and pay you directly for your work. That’s quite a shift from how it seems to go today. But my approach has evolved too. Now the art I have, past and present, functions as my muse and the idea for a story somehow always presents itself based on that art. Of course back then I was just trying to entertain my son and the list of ideas to try out came from that. But nothing I wrote about had to be exclusive to CA—It was just meant to be a message to parents that went something like: Go outside with your kids and look for something amazing! Of course we probably have more temperate/dry California days that we can go outside and do something. I won’t complain about that…

Now I look to entertain myself with geeky details of art materials, specific places in CA I have firsthand knowledge and my CA family stories. Don’t get me wrong, I work with kids and still believe they need to be outside and doing things in the garden. But the art seems to have taken on more of the central story as of late.

Pattern story 1999
Patterns in the Garden, SLO Tribune, December 1999

So, here it is. Once I found this clipping I remembered how fun it was to see the art and story together. It was the lead story in that section of the Sunday paper and took up over half the page. They had printed my art full size! That was a fun surprise. I still love the idea of kids looking for patterns in the garden and anywhere else their minds take them. I’m here to say that I wrote this a while ago, but looking for patterns is still a primary goal of teachers teaching in the elementary grades today, at least here in CA. In fact, I would go a step further and add that our brains seek out patterns, whether we like it or not. So, why not intentionally seek them out where ever you go. If you have been a recent follower of my blog this combo of art and newspaper story should look familiar. My November 9th post had a botanical of a Paperwhite (narcissus) with a SLO Tribune story (also from 1999) that focused on giving simple gifts from the garden. For that offering I made a couple observations about what I might do to update that story. But I have to say, I probably wouldn’t change anything about this one. I probably would remind the parent of an active child that you didn’t really need to go to a lot of fuss looking for materials. This story was pure serendipity and all started with my trimming some flowering plum trees. My son had come upon a pile I had made of 3 to 4 foot sticks and started stabbing them into our front lawn, making a kind of forest with a path you could walk through. And while I sat on our porch, watching him, I looked through his forest to our dry stream bed that flowed from the top of our front yard down to the sidewalk. You might be wondering what is actually flowing in a dry stream bed. Well, nothing, of course! Those of us in CA who can’t count on water staying in a place we left it (like a man-made pond or small creek) have come up with all kinds of great ways to have flowing water without actually having water. And a dry stream bed, complete with medium-sized to large-sized stones, was perfect waterless water feature for my front garden. As I watched my son busy himself with the sticks I plucked out a few rocks and created this on the lawn next to my son’s man-made forest. I added a couple pansies, and a small stone frog to the illustration, just for some color. Pansies are a kind of “go to” flower that adds color to drab fall and winter CA gardens.

I wasn’t the only one on our cul de sac who had a dry stream bed in the front garden. There was a guy up the street from me who also had a dry stream bed in his front yard as well. Every year at Christmas he put out strands of blue lights on the rocks that he had wired so they would turn on and off to look like water flowing down the rocks. Yup, we are obsessed with water out here. Of course his water only flowed at night and needed electricity, which somehow might be a hazard under normal circumstances…

But guess what? It rained last week in SoCal. Woo hoo! And it’s supposed to rain on Thanksgiving this coming week. And again I say woo hoo! So, what am I thankful for? You guessed it, real water, not the fake stuff I just told you about. And what are you thankful for? Probably that I won’t chatter on, for a time, about fires and our parched CA landscape. And, of course I am thankful that won’t be on my mind for a while as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, One California Girl 

November 16, 2019

Stars at Descanso2
Enchanted Forest stars on the arbor, Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you have viewed many of my posts you will know that I am massively obsessed with the Descanso Gardens. It seems that I have been drawn to that magical place since I moved to SoCal 5 years ago. We also have the Huntington Botanical Garden right next door, with the Getty not really that far away as well. But I prefer the Descanso. Actually, the Huntington has some very specific rules about painters in their gardens and I just haven’t gotten around to looking into that. And a friend’s wet watercolor materials were confiscated by a museum guard before she even got on the tram that takes you to the top of the hill and the Getty Museum. A mutual friend said my normally unflappable artist friend was seething and probably going to write a scathing letter to the Los Angeles Times. I’ve also shared with you the rather unfriendly guards at the Norton Simon…But no one has ever stopped me as I enter the Descanso with my backpack full of watercolor painting materials. And I love them for that simplicity. In fact, they have started an artist in residence program. And their first artist was Carole Kim and some of her art was recently on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery next to the Boddy House on the property. If you look at her bio on the Descanso Gardens website it says she, and I quote, “…seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences represented by the garden—botany, horticulture, biology, ecology, conservation and the study of gardens as cultural artifacts.” In looking a little further into Ms. Kim’s work and background I noticed that she was a past artist in residence (2013) at the Montalvo Art Center. This is cool and significant as Montalvo is in northern CA and I lived very near that place growing up. We used to ride our bikes over and around the hills of Villa Montalvo. My mom was part of a Montalvo service league that had fundraising events to rebuild/remodel various structures on the property. Every Christmas they had a huge event at the house, with each room decorated for the season. And of course because it was a fundraiser, they had various hand crafted gifts for sale as well. My poor mom was always upset with many of their “hand crafted gifts” and each year would say something like, “Why doesn’t someone tell the little old ladies that no one wants a crocheted toilet roll cover made from strange colored yarn?” She thought they should do wine or champagne tasting as the Paul Masson winery was nearby, not to mention The  Novitiate Winery that was then in the hills of Los Gatos. As you might have guessed, my mom quit after a few years. But she found a happy home as a volunteer at Village House in Los Gatos. 

I think that in the past few years the people who run the Descanso have been making a great effort to improve almost everything there, from upgraded garden areas to special events, without a strange hand crafted item in sight. One of the more successful events they have been presenting since November 2016 is the Enchanted Forest of Light. We went to see the lights that first year and have gone every holiday season since.

So, as you might imagine they were getting ready to debut their November 2019 season, opening Sunday November 17, when I was there last weekend. Most years I never actually plan to be there when they are setting up—so many wires and unlit lights. I go there so often to paint that I’m always surprised to see that it’s once again time for the event. But this year I remembered it was happening and thought I had heard of a new light installation that was to be featured this year. I thought I had heard of a stained glass house that was to be placed next to water and I thought it would be fun to try to paint that. So, when I got to the garden last Sunday I set about to find the stained glass house. I wandered all around the places that had massive amounts of wires and lighting, but did not see what I imagined would be there. No matter. I found myself in the rose garden, under the dangling stars that are hanging from an arbor near the fountain. And I found a lovely covered bench, surrounded with climbing roses, and painted the gorgeous fall trees, dangling stars and blooming roses you see here. (We have had such warm weather that there are still some roses blooming. If you are living in a very cold place, I am sorry…) 

praying mantis
Praying mantis on rose in rose garden at Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019

While I sat there, comfortably creating this sketch, I had a strange feeling that I was being watched. Sure enough, I looked beyond my perch just a bit and saw a praying mantis looking right at me. I think he, or she, was also enjoying the roses in the rose garden that lovely morning. 

I have sketched the “Enchanted” stars in the rose garden a couple times now, and they look pretty spectacular even in the daylight. It’s actually easier to draw them during the day as you can pretty much sit where you like. At night, they block many pathways through the garden and you are forced to be directly under the stars. Aside from being too close to the stars to make them look interesting, there really isn’t anywhere to sit and sketch. The Enchanted Forest of Light designers have set up a carefully directed event that takes people from one place to the next, cutting out most of the rose garden all together. Here’s how it goes: They let in groups of people every half hour, with a very tempting (if not compulsory) journey from one display to the next that also goes past several outdoor bars and gift shops along the way. 

I’m not sure we’re going again this year. I know some people are really into traditions and might consider doing this every year as a compulsory holiday event. That’s fine, I guess. But I think our trip to their newest block buster event called “Carved” will be our fall/holiday evening at the Descanso for this year. What was “Carved” you say? Well, the short answer is lots of pumpkins. They had 1000 professionally carved pumpkins that lined a 1 mile walk through the Camellia Forest and Oak Grove and we were there the evening of October 26th. Just imagine hundreds, yes hundreds, of lit jack o lanterns winding along paths, past a couple bars and gift areas. (Now that’s the way to have a fund raiser, right?) And then every few yards or so there were some giant-sized pumpkins that had been very intricately carved. Once you found your way to the house made of pumpkins, there was an area where artists were busy carving away some very large pumpkins—quite dramatic and amazing, I must say. I was trying to imagine where you would find people who could do this. I thought maybe they could be tattoo artists, but a friend said he thought that there was no shortage of animators around here and the pumpkins were probably done by them. There is quite a bohemian artists culture here and their pumpkins were there that night.

That’s all from one SoCal girl right now. But the big news is that it is supposed to rain this week. Oh, Yesssssssss!