July 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

July 3, 2021

Dragon fly sculpture at Descanso Gardens, day 4, 7/2/2021 (watercolor, Inktense pencils and watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

My week, as seen through art and photos

It didn’t seem like there would be many words/stories to share regarding my most recent week in SoCal. So, I decided to mark the time with art and photos, describing the week in what might seem like rather random events. The art and photos here are not really in any particular chronological order, but it all somehow makes sense to me. Therefore, I am leading with a watercolor I did just yesterday. I sat on the same stump at the Descanso Gardens four days in a row, starting Tuesday (6/29) and ending yesterday (7/2). I wanted to do a series of sketches of the same view, at the same time of day for a number of days in a row. Actually, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to draw the first morning, but the minute I saw the dragon fly in the cool looking pond, I knew I wanted to sketch the scene. I went around behind it and found a tree stump in the shade. This would be my perch for the next few mornings. In fact, I even got out a fresh sheet of bubblewrap to sit on, as the one I had been using had gotten pretty flat. My mission was to render the same scene several days in a row, with a full on watercolor as my final piece.

And because events in our lives do not occur in a vacuum, this was also a week to watch for monarch larvae, chrysalis and butterflies in my garden. Last Sunday, I noticed this little green jewel fixed to a palm tree bract. I had strapped the bract to a pot for my moonflower morning glory to climb. It seems a monarch larvae had climbed it and set about turning into a chrysalis on the spot. I didn’t see the actual caterpillar, but there is no mistaking that bright green color and shape. (See 6/19/2021 post for another story and art of monarch on a nearby palm tree flower spike.) Once you spot the little capsule, you can’t unsee it. And who would want to unsee it? I looked for it each morning as I headed to the Descanso Gardens to sketch.

I have made Nancy Silverton’s sourdough bread starter. It sits in my frig, waiting for an opportunity to become bread. I have been planning to make bread for a couple weeks now. So, after feeding the starter three times on Tuesday I used some of it to mix a batch of dough at 10pm Wed evening. Then I let it proof overnight. When I got up Thursday morning, I tested the dough to see if I should proceed with baking the bread. I convinced myself that I could let it proof another couple hours and went to sketch the giant dragon fly at the Descanso. I was very excited to use my colorful POSCA markers for that day’s sketch. Big mistake. By the time I got back the dough didn’t look as perky as it did when I left. And it was already pretty warm outside—then I turned on the oven. This is what it looked like when I took it out of the oven sometime later. I showed this photo to a friend and he said it looked like something extraterrestrial. I think I could agree. Or maybe it looks like elephant poo. Either way, it was inedible, as you might expect. But I haven’t given up on the bread yet and will try again next week…maybe… Not really sure when we will have some cooler days. Guess I’ll just keep feeding the starter every week until that day comes around. Stay tuned…

But wait, the week of photos and art are not complete. This morning I looked once again at the little green chrysalis I had been watching all week. As you can see it had turned black. This means that a butterfly is imminent. I had a few things I wanted to do in my garden, so every so often I looked over at it. Before I knew it, a rumpled looking butterfly was hanging from the now empty chrysalis shell. Yeah, it happens that fast! I continued to watch as I busied myself in the garden. But to my horror, I saw it drop from its precarious spot. This is not normal. It took me a few seconds to find it. It had dropped onto some soft dirt and was struggling to right itself. I hurriedly came up with a plan to use a small stick to help. Once I reached out with my tiny stick, the butterfly quickly reached up to grab on. I moved the upside-down butterfly to a lower spot, but I couldn’t get it to let go. I was trying to get it to transfer itself onto a morning glory stem. It clung on tight. So, I held it there and sat down on a bit on concrete. I was there, holding my stick, for about half an hour. Silly me, I had just put a fresh batch of sunflower seeds in the feeder hanging directly above me. As I sat there on the concrete, I was pelted with sunflower seed shells from above. The finches were cracking the seeds and dropping the shells to the ground and onto my head. Somehow they hadn’t noticed I was sitting there and were unaware of the monarch drama that was unfolding below them. Eventually I convinced the butterfly to grab onto the morning glory stem and I cautiously removed the stick I was holding. Of course, by now the squirrels had joined in the fun and were just inches from where the new butterfly was hanging. I couldn’t watch! I went into the house. But I went out there a couple hours ago, and the butterfly was gone. I can only assume it had flown away. Yikes, what a week! It didn’t seem all that interesting until I looked at the art and photos. It was OK. Hope your week before the 4th of July was good too. 

June 26, 2021

Rose Garden/Descanso Gardens, 6/19/2021 (watercolor, Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

A morning of close encounters…

As I indicated last week, the LA Urban Sketchers were at the Descanso Gardens on the 19th. It had been over 15 months since we had gathered for an in-person sketching event and it was greatly anticipated by most folks in the group, and that included me. The night before I laid out all my usual watercolor materials. It felt a little weird because for my recent visits there I had only been taking my stealth bag of “non-wet” gear to do quick sketches. I would need a larger backpack and would be carrying water. I was concerned that we were meeting at 10 and I was used to arriving at 8—when it’s much cooler. In fact, for most of my recent sketching time at the Descanso I head for home at 10. I kind of wondered how I would feel sitting for a longer period of time, as doing a watercolor can’t really be timed or hurried. Would I freak out with more people nearby and milling around? Would I remember how to keep my pots of paint perfectly hydrated? Or would the dry hot temperatures of a typical SoCal day quickly dry out my carefully mixed colors? Silly, huh?

I guess my first close encounter for the morning was when I arrived at the rose garden pavilion. There were about 10 sketchers milling around. Some were quite sweaty as they had already been wandering around for some time. And most of them were not wearing masks—sweaty and no masks. Of course we were all standing pretty close together. I wondered what I was doing there. I had on my mask, but wondered why as I had been vaccinated. I had so many unanswered questions rolling around in my brain. I needed one answer to one question at this point. What was the plan for our morning together? I looked for our group leader, but she wasn’t there. It seems she had eaten something (a bit of disagreeable shellfish) the night before and wasn’t feeling well. Oh no! Now what? I was starting to sweat. Someone suggested we individually find a place to sketch and come back together at 12: 30 to share our work. Two and a half hours? It was already getting warm, and I wasn’t sure I would stay that long. But I thought I would give it a try. And just like that, everyone wandered away. I wondered if I would see anyone later that day.

I started looking for a spot in the shade and found that a sketcher had taken a favorite shady and cool bench. Darn. I looked for other shady spots under the trees, wondering how long each location would stay in the shade as the sun moved across the sky. I found what looked to be a shady bench across the path from a patch of roses. I set up everything. But I soon realized that the solid shade around me seemed to be changing to filtered sunlight. Hmmm… I decided to move down the trail to the next bench, about 10 feet away. This new spot would stay in the shade all day and was across from the beautiful arbor of roses you see here. As I re set up my materials, a number of couples seemed to like this same arbor. They sat at my arbor bench and took numerous selfies—smiling and having a good time. But they were blocking my view and I didn’t want them to think I was staring. Maybe I should move again? I didn’t want to as I had noticed a least a half dozen fellow sketchers sitting on the grass behind the arbor. I wanted to be near them, so I stayed put. Thank goodness couples stopped coming around and I could focus on what I wanted to draw.

But I soon found myself engaged in one close encounter after another. First, I chatted with a fellow sketcher who was sitting at the next bench, further along the trail. Once she left I did a rough sketch of the rose arbor. Then a man with a walking stick stopped in front of the arbor and started a conversation. He was rather charming, and by the time he walked away he had definitely shared with me his philosophy of life. Then a woman stopped to ask me about what we were all doing. She shared that she loved to paint and I suggested she look into Urban Sketchers. She thanked me and moved on her way. Finally, I had a minute to mix my pots of color and I added the first layers of rose and arbor colors.

I stopped to stand up and eat a snack. I noticed a couple with their two small children standing in front of my first bench. They were watching a snake as it made its way under my first bench, across the path and into the nearby roses. All of sudden the whole family took a step back. I walked a little closer and saw the 3 foot snake just as it had made it into the shrubbery. It’s rattle (with maybe 5 rattles) was still clearly visible. Yes!! It had a diamond pattern on its back and was most certainly a rattlesnake. I alerted my sketching friends on the nearby grass and they all stood up quickly to see what I was talking about. Nobody sat back down right away, but instead took turns looking to confirm that a rattler was mostly hidden in the nearby roses. A short time later a Descanso Gardens employee went past in her golf cart. We got her attention and told her about the snake. She called someone on her radio and soon a guy showed up with gloves, a proper snake stick and a bucket with a lid. We knew he meant business as he very skillfully used the stick to get the snake into the bucket (marked with the word “rattlesnake”) and carefully put on the lid. No harm came to the snake, the snake wrangler or anyone else. When asked what would happen next, he said that he would take it to an area way at the back of the Descanso and release it. Good!

While this was going on a family had begun hovering near my bench. The parents and grandfather were talking intermittently to each other and me. Their 4-year-old child/grandchild was mesmerized at the sight of my palette and pots of paint. Even with a snake in the bushes it was clear she wanted to paint with me. However, once the snake excitement was over they continued on their way along the path. I was finally alone, but still hadn’t completed this watercolor. And it was noon! Somehow I had managed to stay in the rose garden the whole morning. I finished up and headed over to the rose garden pavilion. There were at least 20 sketchers and they had already placed their finished artwork on a concrete bench. It was so crowded with art there wasn’t enough room for all of us to share. Some of us had to find space on a nearby post. How wonderful is that? Can there ever be too much art to share? And for my final close encounter we crowded together for a group picture, with all of us holding up our art and smiling. We were all sweaty and there wasn’t a mask in sight–we’d all been vaccinated! What a perfect way to come together for some in person sketching and welcome summer 2021!

Happy Birthday Brian (6/29)  

June 19, 2021

At the beginning of the week I found myself wondering what to share today. I went to the Descanso Gardens last Saturday morning, and wandered around. I did some sketching, but nothing really moved me to write about. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at the Descanso, as is my usual. They have some funny displays for summer that include a huge model of a trap door spider half buried in the ground, a larger than life oak gall that’s been painted bright red and hanging from an oak branch, life-size and oversized models of butterflies all around, and hovering/emerging from the water in the front pond is a giant dragon fly beside a dragon fly nymph respectively. Even with all those thought provoking items I found myself thinking was a children’s picture book I had started in the late 90s and early 2000s, very much like my bunny book (see 4/10/2021 post). And for some reason I thought I had given that book the title, One California Girl. Weird huh? Indeed, it would be very odd if I had used that same name over 20 years ago and only just remembered doing that. I had done some sketches and completed a thumbnail for a 40 page picture book that I was sure I had entitled On CA Girl. I had a good idea as to which portfolio I would find all of that and went looking for it. It was where I expected, and I was actually relieved that it had a different title—The Native Californian. I remember that I was kind of obsessed with native CA plants at the time and since I was also a native, it all just seemed like a good idea for a story. And I still love the idea for such a picture book. I must admit that what I wrote about then and now are very similar. For both the blog and the picture book I sketched/painted/rendered specific places in CA, told stories of my CA family as well as shared things that have always interested me about CA. However, The Native Californian was an imagined and partly real story of me as one 11-year-old CA girl. And as it was imagined as a book it had a definite beginning, middle and end. One California Girl doesn’t necessary run in such a linear way as I seem to drop myself into places and times in mostly CA, and each story is my response to a specific piece of art I have created. 

What you see here are a couple sketches I envisioned for the title page of The Native Californian. As I said, I was pretty obsessed with native plants at the time and the lettering for the title was done as native wildflowers with “Californian” as a car license plate. I know the sketch of the actual title is pretty light and might be hard to read. Sorry. I guess I never got around to inking it in—it’s still just what I wrote with a hard leaded pencil on graph paper all those years ago. The house you see here is real and can still be found in Atascadero. It belongs to my son’s great aunt. I did a couple versions of this house on the hill, and thought it would be interesting to share both. (Both were done with quite a fine point black ink pen.)

I don’t plan to share the whole story here like I did with my thumbnails for another idea I had for a picture book (see July 28, 2018, Life on the Farm: A tale of the magical reality in my CA life). I’ve always loved this house, and my son’s great aunt still lives there. You may have noticed that it looks a bit like a boat, and in fact it was constructed to look like Noah’s ark. However, it has never looked like it’s floating in a sea of sunflowers—I imagined that. Actually, on that side of the house there is a huge expanse of asphalt that leads to her basement. It’s where my son’s great aunt dries out her walnut crop each year. Once they are dry she bags them up and sells them to a variety of people as well as to the folks at farmer’s market in San Luis Obispo. Even though she doesn’t have flowers that close to the house she often has sunflowers somewhere in her garden. One year she had quite a sunflower patch on the hill behind the house. But that particular year she had also planted hot pink hollyhocks with the sunflowers. What a sight! It’s funny, I have never shown her any of the art I did for the book. I even did her portrait…I wonder what she would think of her house floating in a sea of sunflowers and hollyhocks? But she’s just another native CA girl from the country and would think that was nonsense. “Where would I dry my walnuts?”

Went to the Descanso Gardens with my urban sketching group today. That was great! It was so fun to see everybody—there must have 20 of us. There was even a 3 foot rattlesnake in the roses. (Not kidding!) I didn’t draw the snake, but did a rather nice watercolor of the roses climbing a nearby arbor. I’ll share it next time. I wonder if someone sketched the snake? Stay tuned…

June 12, 2021

In the fall of 2018 I found myself at the entrance to the Descanso Gardens, studying a large and unusual autumn sculpture made from the woody bits of palm trees, called bracts. Such bracts surround the flower spikes (inflorescence) of a palm tree and are normally way up at the top of mature and tall palms. However, such palm tree bits often drop to the ground—especially on windy days. Each bract and inflorescence can grow to be pretty long up there. And the display I was looking at had many individual bracts that were at least 6 feet in length. Each one had been spray painted a wonderfully bright color, then layered one on top of the other to form tall organic columns. On the ground and all around these colorful piles of SoCal palm tree detritus were lots of bright orange pumpkins. It was very dramatic. I wasn’t sure if I could recreate the display, but knew I wanted to do something like it for my 2018 outdoor holiday display. Once I left the Descanso I began to look around for interesting and usable palm tree parts that had fallen to the ground. Palm trees are pretty common here in SoCal, so I hoped I would find what I was looking for just laying around. That Thanksgiving I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Long Beach and saw great piles of palm tree bits in the streets and yards of their Belmont Shore neighborhood. (We had had a major storm and the wild winds snapped off just what I was looking for.) I picked through the damp mess and made a pile of bracts/flower stems I wanted to take home. As it turned out, they were pretty heavy and I had to drag the stash to my car in several loads. Once I got them home, I let them dry out and sprayed painted each one metallic gold. Then I placed them around my front door and windows. The gold was not as dramatic as the bright colors I had seen earlier, and my display didn’t look like much from the street. But, once you got up close it was much more interesting, or so I kept telling myself! In the end I had to admit that it looked quite underwhelming and I should have put all of it in the green waste after the holidays. But they were too long to fit easily into the cans, and I didn’t want to go to the trouble of cutting them down. So I tucked them away in the garage for another day of ?? 

Fast forward to spring break April 2021. Some of my climbing plants (specifically my moonflower morning glory) had greened up and were looking for something to climb. I found myself again looking at the palm bracts/flower stems that had gathered quite a bit of dust in my garage and decided they might be interesting to use for just that purpose. I brushed them off, got out my saw to cut each one down a bit, then I placed them near the climbing morning glory. Looking at the art I have shared here today, you may have guessed, something unseen by me, must have also been looking for a place to climb.  

I didn’t see the chrysalis for this specific monarch butterfly until the 8th, but there it was nonetheless. Once I see something that’s so bright and obvious I am astounded that I didn’t notice it earlier. But maybe it’s best if such events are not always evident to us mortals. We don’t need to see or know everything. However, once I caught on that monarch caterpillars from a nearby milkweed plant might be looking for a place to climb I monitored this very palm tree flower spike daily. 

And guess what? On May 19 I saw another monarch caterpillar that had clearly climbed the same palm tree flower spike. It had attached itself to a spike tip that was very close to the first chrysalis. However, this one had not yet magically cloaked itself into a sparkly green shell, but by the next day it had changed. I am pleased to report this one finished its metamorphosis just as the other one had. But I didn’t get to see this one crawl out its chrysalis skin. As I said, I don’t need to see or know everything. I was just thrilled the caterpillars had found a safe place to continue their life cycles—sending yet other lovely monarch butterflies into the world. I guess I’m glad I didn’t bin those palm tree flower spikes after all.

However, I must report that one of my squirrels and her two babies seem to enjoy climbing the palm tree bracts against a post, across from the chrysalis. It appears that with this additional height, a leap into the air could result in contact with the bird feeder, which might result in a bonanza of sunflower seeds on the ground. I’ve hear them banging around out there, trying to launch themselves from the golden holiday palm bracts. I already know too much about what’s going on, I can’t look…

June 6, 2021

Artistic cats and random COVID masks…

This is a painting I did of a friend’s kitties in 2016. (Their names were Matisse, Picasso and Georgia—yes, Georgia as in Georgia O’Keefe.) I saw it hanging in their house the other day and realized I had never taken a photo of the finished piece (oil on birch panel). So, I took it off the wall and took this picture for my records and to share here. If you have been following my blog this grouping may look a little familiar. Before doing the painting I did a finished sketch as well as a quick color test sketch. I always do a finished sketch for a painting, but don’t always experiment with colors the way I did for this one—see November 1, 2020.

I don’t have much to say this week, other than my usual highs and lows with global, local and personal events. Suffice it to say that I spent much of the week and yesterday trying to perfect the perfect boule using Nancy Silverton’s starter recipe. And I was still trying to get the bread to properly ferment last night at 10 pm so I could set it to proofing. It did neither and I went to bed. Then the power went off for several hours this morning, so I went to the Descanso Gardens to reflect on all things not related to bread and the possibility of food spoiling in my frig.

However, looking at this piece of art makes me happy. I distinctly remember having great fun working out how to render the fur of these three lovely silverpoint Siamese. And believe it or not, there is a connection between the art and the following photo.

I used some kitties and puppies at a birthday party themed fabric to make some masks at the very beginning of the pandemic. This was back in the days before they were as common as they are now. The pattern I used was from a New York Times article I found online (from March 31, 2020). I made a couple more with this very fabric, but only had enough elastic on hand for this one. I had to make cloth straps for the others. I gave the non-elastic strapped masks to the owners of Matisse, Picasso and Georgia. (I ordered more elastic and later updated the masks for my friends.). And before getting vaccinated, and we found ourselves at an appropriate distance apart, we would wear our “kitty” masks. I will miss those days. Do you think I really mean that? Am I crazy? Of course, there is nothing I will miss about worrying, staying a measured distance from my friends and wearing a mask where ever I went–even one made with such cute kitty and puppy fabric. 

May 29, 2021

Descanso Gardens bridge into the rose garden, 5/15/2021 (Inktense pencil and majestic purple water-soluble ink on Canson mix media paper)

On May 15th I found myself seated at a bench across from this bridge. There are a number of entrances into the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, but this is the only one with a bridge. As I spend so much time in this part of the garden it struck me odd I hadn’t sketched it yet. And as I hadn’t done a proper urban sketch lately, it would be the perfect sight that would tell an “urban sketcher” story of a SoCal bridge over a dry river bed. Since that day this sketch has been propped open near my laptop. Every time I would glance at it I wondered if it worthy of an even closer look from this one CA girl. It ticks most of the “urban sketching” boxes as it has an obvious human element and it marks a moment in time. But if it truly is to be considered an urban sketch it is supposed to be shared, and I really hadn’t originally planned to do that. Is there something more to be said? There is a SoCal back story, I guess. As I said, the bridge goes over a dry and therefore non-existent river. It’s actually a common sight around here, complete with boulders lining the basin—boulders that were smoothed in another real river somewhere else. However, this pretend river actually has a purpose other than to add a bit of hardscape interest that can be added to any garden landscape. Every so often we get torrential rains and then flooding. This usually dry river bed is meant to divert rainwater in a specific direction, keeping it from spilling into the planted beds and eroding the soil. (It’s also common for folks around here to have sand bags handy, just in case water is pouring down the usually dry streets. Filled sand bags can be lined up at the sides of streets and placed around walkways, creating fake river banks. This helps divert the speeding rainwater away from someone’s front door or into their garage.) But I kept wondering if describing a bit of “purposeful” hardscape you might find around here would really hold anyone’s interest, even mine. It’s almost as boring as talking about desiring a water feature in a garden. Actually, adding and/or maintaining water features is all but unheard of in SoCal. It’s probably no big deal to set up a lovely and artistic Italian fountain somewhere in the garden—it’s hooking it up to water that’s the problem. With water always in short supply it’s not a popular thing to do. Of course, lots of people have swimming pools. Hmm…It’s also not uncommon for neighbors to let their lawn die because they had gone past the amount of water they were allotted in a month and were charged a fine for the extra watering. Of course, we did not get enough rain again this season. Meteorologists are predicting another year of dry conditions, higher than normal summer temperatures and fires for the west coast…yuck!

But last Sunday a “worthy” story about this particular bridge popped onto my RADAR and I knew I wanted to share it. It all started when I saw many of my urban sketching buddies that had gathered that morning for a virtual portrait party that included hats and various props. One of the organizers of that portrait drawing event told us that an outdoor sketching outing had been planned for the third weekend in June. And it seems we would be meeting in the rose garden of the Descanso Gardens. Woo hoo! This was big news as we hadn’t been out as a group for over a year, and the last time we were all together in the flesh it was at the Descanso. Not everyone seemed comfortable with the idea of going out mid day with a group of more than 3 people to sketch for a couple hours. But I knew I was ready. It felt as though I was once again sitting on that same bench, waiting for my friends to come across the bridge and into the rose garden to sketch together again. It seemed a worthy wondering. I found myself wondering if I would find an empty spot on that same bench. I haven’t done a plein air watercolor in over a year, and I’m so ready to dig out my watercolors and luxuriate. I guess I should explain that I haven’t done such a watercolor at the Descanso because I haven’t been comfortable enough to go out with a bunch of strangers and stay 30 to 45 minutes in one spot. Instead, I have been traveling light with my stealth bag. That smaller backpack contains only a few pens, pencils and pad of mixed media paper for short 15 minute or less sketches. And I am often drawing standing up. So much to think about and so much to look forward to—packing my larger backpack with things that would require me to linger, waiting for the watercolor to dry. Can’t wait to hang out and sketch with friends.

So, without further ado, and fresh from a portrait party…

Ready or not? Here they come! Did you already forget about the hats and props?

Happy birthday, Kelly (5/29)

May 22, 2021

And before I knew it, this week’s post was all about irises. I started noticing the first brightly colored blossoms at the Descanso Gardens in January (see iris in 3/13/2021 post). Then it seemed that every time I went to the Descanso after that there were yet other singular blooms and/or another iris clump blooming it’s head off. (If you have ever had iris in your garden, you know how they like to clump.) As you can see, sometimes I did close ups or small vignettes with my Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate or Bristol board (three to starting from the left). As I have said, I like to call these tiny offerings my little bits of jewel art. And sometimes I found myself focusing on continuous line drawings using my majestic purple ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils. You can see right here a purple clump I did with those exact materials (far right). The iris rendered in the 3/13/2021 post was done with the same ink and Inktense pencils. In reality the individual blossoms don’t last very long, but as there are often many on each stem they will continue blooming one flower at a time. If you want to encourage multiple blossoms, just snap off the spent and dried up flowers. That will allow the next set of buds ample room to mature and bloom as well. 

So, let’s hear it for one of the many lovelies of spring…THE IRIS! While compiling the first group of sketches I remembered several other CA girl moments of personal iris in past springtimes. The bronze over deep oxblood colored iris you see (far left and center) bloomed in abundance in my mother’s Grass Valley garden every spring as far back as I can remember. This photo was taken in 1995 and I don’t know why I never thought to paint and/or sketch them, I certainly had many opportunities to do so. Such a wonder in general I guess. Thank goodness I took lots of pictures and here are a couple. (Sorry for the out of focus photo of the clump on the left.) It’s funny, but up until today I never wondered what kind of bearded iris it was and/or is. It turns out it’s an heirloom variety called Colonel Candelot and it became an official flower in 1907. (Not sure where such a name came from. I looked it up and there doesn’t appear to have been a Colonel Candelot.) My parent’s Grass Valley house was built in 1853, so it’s possible that garden had some of the first Colonel Candelot in northern CA, but I doubt it. My parent’s were told by the family who owned the house before them (in the 60s) that the large corner lot garden had been quite lovely and extensive in the 50s. It seems there were a couple sisters who lived in the house in the 30s, 40s and 50s and they liked to garden. The Colonel Candelot were probably planted by them. I have another reason to suggest such flowers were not planted earlier and it has to do with Grass Valley’s early days. It was a gold mining town and was always a kind of “rough and ready” place—not many beautiful gardens around the turn of the 20th century, I think. (Believe it or not, if you went west on Main Street and out of GV you will come to a tiny town named Rough and Ready. I’m not kidding. It seems that Rough and Ready had the dubious, and rather horrifying, distinction of seceding from the Union during the Civil War. I’m not kidding here either.) The original 1853 house was built before the Civil War and during the gold rush. It had a carriage house and manger for a horse out back, but no running water or electricity. Sometime later a second story was added, complete with Victorian dentils. Cornish tin miners had been imported to the area to help with the hard rock gold mining being done at mines like the Empire Mine. The miners rented rooms in the house and walked to and from the mine every day. Sometime after the second story was added indoor plumbing and electricity were added, along with a kitchen. As the mines were running at full steam in 1907, I just don’t think anyone who lived in that house would have had the time or interest to tend a garden. Just sayin’…

As the for the white bearded iris you see on the right, I did a painting of this one. It so happened that they were blooming in my Paso Robles garden the spring my niece was born, May 2, 1996. I had a habit of doing sketches/paintings of plants that were blooming when close friends and family had babies. Then I gifted the art to the new mom. I seem to remember making a photo copy of that finished art, but can only find the original sketches I did, not the color copy. I love that you can see metal wire fencing behind the flowers. I had to put that around any plants I cared about in that Paso garden, or the deer would eat it. 

Candy Land rose, Descanso Gardens, 5/22/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Uh oh! Today I was back at the Descanso Gardens. But my fickle eye was drawn away from any irises, and to a particular rose being visited by a bee. Yup, the roses have definitely taken over and I couldn’t resist…

Happy Birthday Dan (5/21)!

May 15, 2021

A friend’s cat, winter 2021 (oil pastel on raw sienna Colourfix pastel paper)

Several months ago my son asked me to draw a friend’s cat. It seems that the cat had lived with his friend and their partner. As you may have already guessed, the couple split and the kitty stayed behind. My son’s friend now missed their furry friend. My son didn’t specify what medium he wished me to use. But telling me the materials he wanted probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is because I kind of have this process I go through when I take on a request. It probably sounds a little too precious and self-important, on my part, but there it is. Once I saw the kitty’s striking colors, I knew I wanted to use the background as one of the colors of her fur. I had recently bought a packet of warm toned pastel paper (see other examples of drawings on this paper, 1/1/2021, 1/9/2021, 1/15/2021, 1/23/2021) and I was sure I had just the right color for her fur. The 9 by 12 inch size also became part of my “perfect storm” of  bits of art ideas swirling together. Finally, the idea of using my neocolonial II Aquarelle water soluble wax pastels completed the details of my process for this piece of art. I surveyed the colors I had on hand, and decided I needed to order a couple more (silver and pink) to complete the cat’s portrait. (I wanted the pink for just the tip of the nose. Yes, pretty anal, I know, but there it is.) The silver crayon came in the mail pretty quickly, but the pink did not. In fact, I had to call Blick’s to find out what was going on. Of course I couldn’t tell the woman that I needed this particular pink crayon so I could add just the tip of a cat’s nose to a pastel. That would just sound too weird, right? It took several weeks for it to arrive and then it came in a medium size box in a larger plastic bag, and all of this was in yet a larger box. I remember picking it up, wondering why I could hear it rolling around in there. I was glad it hadn’t broken in transit as I couldn’t imagine sending it back, only to wait for another one. Finally, I could go in for the kill and finish the portrait. Going in for the kill is when I add the last bit of a color or nuance to a piece—at least I try to tell myself to stop and not go any farther. Sometimes it works and sometimes even the perfect pink crayon can’t fix it. And just like that, she was finished. The kitty drifted out of my hands, into my son’s hand and then on to his friend. They were so appreciative. I got a very sweet thank you note.

Not really sure what exactly made me think of the little kitty this particular week. Maybe it was hearing that the Obama’s pooch, Bo, had died and the family was mourning the loss. What is it about some pets that make us grieve so? Not sure if you know what I mean by “some pets,” but maybe you do. I remember a guy I dated many years ago and he described what he called his “super dogs.” He said they were the ones that stood out in our lives more than others. I seem to remember that he really liked black labs. (I could be wrong about the breed, but he won’t be reading this so it doesn’t really matter. Of course it would probably matter to him.) He told me of one particular lab that was his “super dog” and that beloved dog was buried under a specific oak overlooking his property. To this day, I can still picture him pointing to that spot under the tree in Danville. 

In my life I have had a few dogs as pets and one in particular breaks my heart every time I think about her, and our very last moments together. In fact, it makes my eyes fill with tears even now to write about her. Her name was Lexi, and she was our golden retriever wonder dog. I have her collar and ashes in a small cedar box in a dresser and every now and then I open the drawer and say hello, and then goodbye. I am sure that there are many of you who have loved and lost a “super pet” so I am not going into great detail about how my life was better because she was there to watch over me and my son when he was little. I don’t think I could bear it. You probably have your own deep felt memories and stories to remember here.

A couple SoCal friends recently lost a beloved kitty to cancer. They invited me to their house the afternoon their treasured Dashiell Hammett (see his 6/1/2019 portrait) was put down by a visiting vet. Wow, that was hard! It brought back all my memories of my last moments with Lexi, except we were in the vet’s office. Well, these same friends have recently acquired a frisky kitten named Hugo. So, welcome little Hugo. You will be loved unconditionally as though you are destined to be their “super cat.” And even though you will inevitably break their heart someday, you will be loved today as though there is no tomorrow.

As far as I know, my son’s friend’s cat has not died. But it seems that she is sorely missed and I hope the sketch for his friend will be a nice reminder of a precious furry friend. Maybe my care and planning for the perfect pink nose was the right thing to do. Maybe waiting for that special color to come in the mail was worth the wait. Silly me, or course it was.

May 8, 2021

Virtual sketching (3/28/2021) of annual Bermuda Day Parade in Bermuda (black ink and POSCA pens on watercolor paper)

One of our sketching members was in Hamilton (capital city of Bermuda) for the cities annual Bermuda Day parade one year. (I don’t remember her saying what year they were there.) But I guess they’ve been holding this particular parade the end of May since 1902. That tells me she was there in late May. If you are like me, you might have wondered who or what started such a celebration. So of course I Googled Bermuda Day parade. It was originally called the Empire Day Parade. Uh huh. It also seems that it was to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was May 24th. And it also seems that she died in 1901, which probably means that first parade was meant to honor/remember that particular English queen by holding a posthumous celebration and parade in the British Colony of Bermuda. I’m not sure if Gombey dancers were part of those first Empire parade years, but they were certainly fun to look at and draw a month or so ago. I discovered some other rather “dull sounding” information about Bermuda Day. The queen’s birthday was also used to commemorate the first day of the season that business men, not business women, could wear Bermuda shorts with a jacket and tie. No, I’m not kidding. I was glad to read that today all kinds of people wear Bermuda shorts in Bermuda all year round. Yeah.

Our host told that Gombey was a melding of African, Caribbean and British traditions and that they are the favorite participants of any Bermuda Day parade. She talked at length about Gombey dancers, describing their great head dresses and colorful costumes. It’s funny, but when I discovered we were going to sketch the dancers at the parade, and we had only 30 minutes, I knew immediately I wanted to use my POSCA pens. The colors were perfect for the dancer’s costumes. It was all such fun—trying to capture the movement of row upon row of black and brightly colored fringe and tassels. I just couldn’t imagine personally moving, let alone dancing, while wearing  those tall tall head pieces.

Last Sunday, another of our intrepid artist friends took us to a couple summer festivals along the coast of the Catalonian region of Spain. It seems that Sitges celebrates summer with fire crackers and pyrotechnics. And in Coma-Ruga you might see a summer celebration that includes a parade with people wearing huge paper mache heads. It was fun to do 30 minute sketches of each celebration even though I’m not sure I would enjoy all that smoke, and I can’t explain the significance of the giant heads. Our host didn’t offer an explanation of why the heads were so big and I couldn’t find anything about them. Our guide did say that the two on the left were specific characters familiar to the people from that region. She added that she wasn’t sure if a pirate from the Caribbean (as seen on the right) really had anything to do with the other two, but that there once were pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. I did look that up and it seems that is true, but none of the images I saw of pirates from that region looked like Jack Sparrow.

So, even though I didn’t totally understand what any of these groups were celebrating, I did latch onto the idea of celebrating. I have been looking for something to celebrate. How about you? And once I thought about it I realized I have already enjoyed a couple recent celebrations, one traditional and some more minor and personal. My most recent personal celebration occurred only yesterday. When I got home from work I realized I had been back working on campus for two weeks. Yeah! And on Wednesday, it was Cinco de Mayo. (Don’t know if that is a big deal where you live, but here in SoCal it’s BIG.) The teachers and staff were treated to homemade tamales for lunch. If you have never tasted a homemade tamale, you don’t know what you are missing. Many of our Hispanic families have various abuelas, tias y mamas that make that delicious “real” food ,and it is a real treat! And to add to our Cinco de Mayo celebration, the school district’s COVID mobile truck came to school that day as well. So, we all got tested for the coronavirus and then ate lunch. That’s a party!

I participated in another personal celebration last Saturday at the Descanso Gardens. And it came as the result of the CDC saying we could remove our face coverings when outside—provided we had been vaccinated. It was such a treat to walk among the roses in the rose garden, smelling their fragrance whenever I pleased. As you might imagine there were other shy people like myself, celebrating in the same way. It was lovely and such a treat.

Finally, my urban sketching group is planning a celebration the end of June. What are we going to do? And what are we going to celebrate? We are planning to gather outside somewhere, in smallish groups of course, to sketch on location—just like the old days. We haven’t ventured out to do that for over a year, and most of us are really looking forward to sketching outside together. Actually, it will be a kind of bitter sweet celebration as many of our group live far away from the LA area. They, of course, will not be joining us. We talked of continuing to sketch together virtually, and I hope we do that as well. But you know how such plans can fall apart, right?

So, what would you like to celebrate? Check out colorful dancers at some event? See a fireworks display some balmy summer evening at the beach? Have a meal with friends in celebration of a birthday, anniversary or even just because? I have to admit that hearing live music would be reason to celebrate. I suspect the list seems endless right now…