February 2, 2019

first egg tempera
“Looking down at my feet by the stream…” First Egg Tempera, UCB (gessoed masonite board with egg tempera)

Not sure what made me think of posting my first egg tempera painting this week. I’d seen it a couple months ago when I was looking through my myriad of portfolios. Over a couple decades I have filled 11 portfolios, plus countless drawers, of art. And, mind you, these large flat envelope-looking containers are full to bursting with seemingly random sketches, paintings, watercolors, etchings, pen and ink renderings, newspaper articles and one lone 11 x 14 inch egg tempera on masonite board. While I was digging and muttering, I was wondering what I would write about when I found it. I hoped I wouldn’t be too under whelmed with the piece and then wonder why I’d made such a big deal out of it. Actually, I came across an interesting study of a woman (acrylic on heavy paper) I did about the same time and thought I might present that art today—but I eventually found what I was looking for, so stay tune for the Lady in Profile.

I was almost giddy when I finally saw the bag it was in. I was also pretty relieved and wondered how I had overlooked it the first time I went through that particular portfolio. As I gently ran my hand over the surface of the board, I remembered all over again how I worked to make it so smooth, and what I did to achieve the glass-like texture with such bright colors. So, my first thoughts were just that—what do I remember about making this particular piece? Where was I when I did it? And why didn’t I make more? If I think back, I remember wonderful afternoons in a “materials” art class in Krober Hall at UCB, so I think the “where” I learned about the medium is answered. I will try to explain “what” I remember about making egg tempera in the next section. And if you’re not too bored after reading the following “what” part, I think you will have an inkling of “why” I didn’t make any more. Finally, if you make it past that, there will be yet another set of “what,” “where” and “why” questions regarding the subject matter of “Looking down at my feet by the stream…”

What is egg tempera?

For me, it all starts with remembering what it is and how to make the pigments. I must confess I didn’t remember how long ago the technique was first discovered, so I Googled it. In doing so, I discovered that it was found in “ancient time” Egyptian temples. And it appears that it was used quite extensively in art during the Italian Renaissance. Andrew Wyeth (mid-century American painter) did some now famous paintings with egg tempera. Who knew?

As for how it is made, it appears that there are several formulas that have been used through the ages, but the three main ingredients are egg yolk, powdered pigment, and then one more liquid. I remember learning to make it with just straight water added to the other two ingredients. I read that some painters are adamant about the water being distilled, but I just remember getting water from the tap in the art room. The mixture needs water, vinegar, or white wine added because the egg yolk plus pigment will dry out too fast without it. And it seems some painters add vinegar or white wine in an attempt to also preserve the mixture. You probably don’t need to be reminded that an egg yolk, removed from the shell and left out of the frig, will spoil in a relatively short period of time. And the smell of a rotten egg mixed with water will stink and I can’t even imagine what a rotten egg yolk would smell like with a hint of white wine vinegar or chardonnay. So, you have to work pretty quickly with this medium, if you catch my drift.

Next, I remember that this medium needs to be applied to a stable hard surface, not canvas. This is because canvas is too pliable and dried egg tempera can crack if the surface is too flexible. And this part of the process I remember very vividly. My materials class was in the afternoon and the sun shafts drifted through a wall of windows in that Krober Hall room. I remember first prepping the board with a layer of gesso on the smooth side. There’s a great X of gesso on the back of the board, and I don’t remember doing that, but I obviously did, and I can’t think why. Maybe it was to remind you not to paint on the rough surface on the back? Yeah, right. Then there was a fair amount of sanding, mixing the paint and applying it. I remember adding the colors, with a final flourish of tiny details. I was truly surprised with the vivid colors and lovely finish. But even though I enjoyed every step of that creation, I never did another one. Over the years I have mixed a couple batches, thinking I would try it again, but never did. I think I prefer paints that come ready to go—in tubes, bottles and cakes. Ancient artists had to make their own paint, but I don’t. Even Vincent Van Gogh used oil paints (pigments mixed with oil and not egg yolks) in metal tubes. I mean, he was outside, painting in a huge hurry. He didn’t have time to catch a chicken and make the paint. And I’m sure if he had some wine, he wasn’t mixing it with cadmium sulphide. I’m with Vincent, I prefer my paint to be premixed and that’s why I never made more.

The What, Where and Why of “Looking down at my feet by the stream…”

Once the board was appropriately prepped, I remember thinking that the surface of the masonite was so very smooth, it kind of reminded me of ice, or the smooth surface of slow flowing crystal clear water in a stream. I decided the subject matter would be flowing water, making very small ripples around two rocks. I did the piece with the idea that it would be displayed flat on the ground down by your feet. And all you had to do was look over from the chair you were seated at, and see the water flowing past you. Crazy huh? What was I thinking? What if I stepped on it? What if you stepped on it? I didn’t want anyone’s footprints on there, not even mine. So, I put it away for safekeeping.

I have had “Looking down at the rocks by the stream…” on my easel all week and have enjoyed the memory of making something so personal, one of a kind with so many memories. Do you have something like that? Something you can run your hand over and remember a special time, person or whatever? How about a special painting that your great aunt or grandma made? It could even be a paint by numbers you did when you were in the fifth grade. Take good care of it. Don’t let anyone touch it with dirty hands and for heaven’s sake don’t let anyone walk on it. Who would ever think to make a painting that was meant to be displayed and enjoyed on the floor? Just one California girl, I guess!

January 26, 2019

descanso art, 1.20
At the Descanso Garden, looking for fresh growth, 1/19/19 (mixed media on water color paper)

The week leading up to my painting at the Descanso Garden last Saturday was very rainy in LA. By Friday, the days of rainy weather had finally ceased and if you had been in downtown during all that constant wetness, you would have welcomed that particular rainless overcast sky day. You would no longer be looking down at the water streaming around your rain boots and down the streets, but rather looking up at the beautiful trees all around you. You also wouldn’t have had to look past and dodge an endless sea of umbrellas, but rather enjoy the greening up of the shrubbery and other plantings at eye level. It’s funny, but a sense of “green all around” can be felt in southern CA just after the rain. You really notice it. But you know it won’t last long when the winter/early spring rain ends and the daytime temperatures are in the 60s and 70s. And if you had been walking around for what seemed like weeks and weeks in the punishing rain, you may have wanted to catch the brief glimpse of the greening of Los Angeles County.

So, when the sun tried to come from behind the clouds on Friday, I decided I would go to the Descanso Garden the next day, Saturday. I knew I wanted to look for bright green new growth leaves as well as shiny sparkling leaves that had been washed clean of a layer of dull dirt. And this is what you see represented here—lots of bright dots of light reflecting off new clean growth. It was overcast again last Saturday, but that was fine with me as I could sit on a bench that was not near any shade in the rose garden. It is not a common place for me to have often considered as that particular bench is out in the open with no nearby shade cover. As the springtime temperatures go up it will get too warm to sit there. And as you can see the sky was not my cerulean blue, but a bright shade of cream. I felt like I was in heaven.

Now it may seem that the final story here is not about the bright and sparkling “new growth” on trees. You may have noticed the reference I made to slogging around in the rain in downtown LA, and you may have guessed that somehow the rain factors more into this week’s CA tale. You would be right. The story for a particular week in one California girl’s life in mid January 2019 in LA ends in a garden, but begins with some very rainy and stressful days in downtown. Here’s the rest of the story. When I initially planned this week’s post I had hoped I could be clever and write a kind short story, where there is an unexpected ending, like it was all a dream, or he bought her a comb for her hair and she bought him a pocket watch chain or the guy you thought was human was really a robot. In the opening paragraph I had planned to weave in the unhappy “contract” story of teachers in the second largest school district in the country. Through the guise of treetops, tall buildings and punishing rain you would learn of the work stoppage, or strike, that occurred for an extended week starting January 14 through the 22nd for LAUSD teachers. I realized I was probably not a clever enough writer to create a really good short story about the roughly 30,000 people that hung out at various rallies in the rain in downtown LA during that time. I’m not sure I could have pulled off a great “twist ending” for my story where you would learn that I was part of that group, and I was part of the strike in the rain. I have photos of me down there and on the daily picket lines to prove it, as well as a photo of a clothesline with roughly 30 pairs of socks/tights I went through in four days of the damp and outright wet weather.

So, maybe the real story here isn’t the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (e.g. the momentary greenness, the strike, and the rain soaked people in red ponchos). I was looking for something bright and new by Saturday. Maybe I needed to be reminded that spring would in fact come, whatever we silly Californians do at any given time. Maybe the question is, how far would you go for something you believe in? What do you do when things get hard? Or where do you look for hope? You’ll never know, I guess, until it presents itself. But take heart, I’m here to tell you that you can do anything, even in the rain.

More about rain water in LA

I was raised in northern California and have only been down here a couple of years. When I first experienced my first LA rainstorm I was fascinated and actually horrified that a lot of the water seemed to just run down the street and then out to the ocean. I knew LA was considered a kind of desert and I wondered why rainwater wasn’t being captured in dams, wells or holding tanks. You know, save it for a rainy day, or maybe more like save it for a drought day. Not sure why this wasted run off occurs, but I think it might have something to do with a historic flood they had in 1938. Here’s what happened. A massive flood was triggered in the SoCal counties of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside as a result of two huge Pacific storms. It seems that the resultant flood was one of the costliest natural disasters in LA history in terms of dollars and cents and loss of life—over 100 people died. So then, the US Army Corp of Engineers, with some other agencies, determined that local streams/rivers needed to be controlled and channeled away from populated areas. They built huge concrete waterways, flood control dams and debris basins, with the sole intent of taking potential excess water to the ocean. Notice, I didn’t say that they thought to save the water in any way. And so, I think no one has changed that paradigm and and down here rainwater runs away to the sea. This has not gone unnoticed by most of my Northern California brethren because present day LA gets a lot of its water from the snow pack of the Sierra. Yes folks, lots of water is sent down here in huge aqueducts without the SoCal folks trying to save any water that falls around town. But, as you may have guessed, there are more than a few Northern California residents that aren’t particularly happy about sharing something that SoCal might be able to get for themselves. But that’s another CA story that can be told another time. I don’t want to talk about the rain anymore. Stay tuned for drier days.

January 19, 2019

oak in birch panel
Hay bales under an oak in Paso Robles, off Highway 46 (oil on birch panel, 2 of 2)

I have frequently painted and written about the beautiful oak trees we have here in the golden state of California. And this great mature oak, with glowing golden hay bales, was a perfect specimen to paint. The companion left birch panel does not feature one majestic oak, but rather golden hay bales in the foreground that lead to a sloping hillside of oaks in the background. For that August 2017 post I focused on the purpose of under painting, and how it can be used to enhance the final colors that are carefully and strategically layered on top. I think it gives the final work a very romantic feel, and I quite like the affect.

For this piece of art, and the story that goes with it, I am focusing on the front and center subject matter—the lone oak tree. When I came upon this bucolic scene, I knew the oak deserved a place all its own. I remember thinking that I loved that the farmer who planted the hay had left the tree there. Maybe he or she thought it a great place to get out of the sun and sit up against the giant trunk to eat lunch on a hot day. When adding the top layer of tree texture I emphasized the leaves, branches and trunk with individual pigment-laden brush strokes. And because the hard birch surface does not absorb the paint, as it would with a stretched canvas surface, the thick blobs of pigment actually adds a real three-dimensional quality to all parts of the tree. I quite like that affect. When I spotted the oak diptych on my wall the other day, I knew I wanted to write about some of my many ramblings and sightings of such amazing trees. So, this week’s featured oak will be a jumping off point for my many California rambles on roads and hills, looking for single specimen trees, clumps and rows of trees, as well as drifts and masses on whole hillsides.

I often go rambling through the various neighborhoods and country sides I live in, looking at the sky and the trees. When my son was little I would stop and take a photo of a tree, or a landscape full of trees. Then I would paint it later when he was asleep or otherwise occupied. Lately I have been rambling through various neighborhoods on foot. I don’t just look for oaks, a truly favorite of mine, but I look at all kinds of trees. I like to notice singular redwoods, oaks, eucalyptus and palms. But I am also interested in the general arrangement of layers and clumps of trees—some intentionally planted and some just there because of some natural force. If you walk in California neighborhoods with houses from the 40s, 50s and 60s you will often see row upon row of houses that have the same tree planted in front. There was a time that builders planted a tree in front of each new house. So, by now, there are some older neighborhoods with glorious single trees out by the curb. Unfortunately, for some varieties that were planted have roots that have buckled the concrete sidewalks beside them. That happened to my aunt and uncle’s house in Long Beach. Their house was built in the 1920s and their front sidewalk has had to be replaced several times because of the roots of the jacaranda that was planted in the 30s. FYI—the jacaranda is actually a very common SoCal tree and it has lovely purple blossoms in the spring. Google it and you will see.

In a previous post I described rows of palm trees, planted in the 1930s, which can be found on either side of several streets in Glendale. Another nearby area with lots of mature trees is a neighborhood of craftsman style houses in Pasadena. It’s called Bungalow Heaven, and most of those houses have oak trees on their lots, with many of them out front. It is quite lovely to look up those blocks and see rows of such stately trees. It is also not uncommon to see a huge oak in the courtyard of a Spanish Revival house in the Glendale hills. That usually means the house was built around the tree. It’s crazy to imagine that a tree would be so integral to the design and placement of house, right?

Driving along 101 you would not be able to help seeing rows and clumps of mature trees at the edge of cultivated fields. Sometimes it looks like there had once been a house at the end of the row of trees, but no more. It actually makes me kind of sad to think that there is no one there to enjoy the shade and beauty. There’s also a stretch of the 101 where huge eucalyptus trees have been planted as wind breaks along the road and between the various fields. Several years ago the trees got some kind of blight and started dying. However, soon those huge trees started sending up new growth and are still there—kind of lumpy and forever changed, but still there. Actually, I often think the trees I see are way more interesting than the nearby houses. This puts me in mind of a book I have been reading that has a section in a chapter called “Time, Order and the Garden.” It’s kind of a geeky, yet wonderful, gardening book called, “Life in the Garden,” by Penelope Lively. In the TOG section she speaks so lovingly about trees it almost comes across as prose. She writes that we count on them to help us pass the time in meaningful ways, rather than keeping track of time passing with a building or structure. I mean, can you tell how old a house is by counting its rings? And the philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” only make sense if you are talking about a tree, rather than a house or castle. Right?

Rockhaven Oaks

Some of my recent neighborhood ramblings on my way to Montrose have taken me past a square block of old houses and glorious mature old oak trees. It’s called Rockhaven. I took a tour of the place several months ago now and learned that it had been a home for women with mental illness. It was started in 1923 and was developed as a place for women to be treated in a dignified way in a homelike setting. In it’s heyday it even had a proper gardener that transformed it into a beautiful haven, with the lovely oak trees all around. Marilyn Monroe’s mother lived there in the late 50s and early 60s and was actually living there when Ms. Monroe died in 1962. Billie Burke, Glinda the good witch in the Wizard of Oz, also lived there for a time. (Google it to learn more.) Today, all of the houses, save one bungalow, are in varying states of disrepair. But the oaks still stand tall all around. This house is occupied by two people, one of them an avid gardener. They are now the caretakers of this property and have a small and ever expanding garden around their house and trees. Every time I walk past the place I look to see if anyone has repaired any of the roofs on the houses scattered around. It’s sad to see that nothing is being done to resurrect those houses. But I think it would truly be sad if the oaks were not still hanging around, keeping track of the seasons of sun and rain that pass over the sky above them year after year.

January 12, 2019

degas dancer1, 30%degas dancers2, 30%

Last Friday evening I met one of my sketching groups at the Norton Simon. It was pretty dark and cool at 5 pm in Pasadena. If you are from the Midwest you will probably scoff at my saying that it gets cold in SoCal in winter. I was thinking about my “made up” fragility as I went directly through the front door, then the back door and out to the back garden to see if I would persist. I decided I would at least take a turn around that garden, around the Monet inspired pond and past all the beautiful sculptures. Actually I have done some fun sketches as the sun is going down back there and thought just maybe…Nah ah! It was just too darn cold for me. And for some reason they had blocked off the grass area on one whole side of the pond. I often like to sit there. What was that about? I did see one sketching friend sitting on a large boulder at the farthest end of the pond. He looked pretty settled in there. But I just kept walking round, past the fun café playing favorite jazz, back to the back garden door and then into the warm building. I wasn’t really sure what to do, as this was uncharted territory for me. And because of the cooler weather most everyone else was inside too. Darn! So, I ventured into the salon with the more contemporary art and decided to look around. In the past, I have found myself in this part of the museum (when’s it’s been too hot to be in the garden) and drawn some of the Degas bronze dancer sculptures you see here and thought I might look at them again. I plopped down on a bench near the first dancer, the one you see here dancing all alone. As I started to take out my pencils and pens I looked over my shoulder and saw three more Degas dancers in a clump. Then I turned around the other direction and saw the third grouping of Degas dancers. So, with my newfound “non-garden” lethargy I decided I would sit on this one bench and swing myself around and sketch all three. (I also did a sketch of Degas “balking” horse sculpture. I wasn’t even sure what it meant if a horse “balked.” Those of you who are more familiar with horseback riding may already know what that means. So, I looked it up on my phone. I guess it’s when a horse all of a sudden decides “nah ah” and he or she tries to stop moving. Actually, I didn’t post that sketch here because I thought it looked more like a balking dog-horse. Not really sure if I’m to blame for the dog head outcome. It seems that Degas forgot to put ears on his horse, so in fact it kind of looks like a dog’s head on a horse’s body. Google it and I think you will see what I mean. Woof!)

In a recent post (November 17, 2018) I described a very officious museum guard that I had encountered outside in the sculpture garden in front of the Norton Simon. It seems that the guard brethren on the inside of the museum are just as persistent and annoying as those on the outside. After I finally got settled on one end of my bench to do the first sketch I thought I saw a rather nervous looking guard whiz past me several times. I was busy with my sketch and thought maybe I was just being paranoid. But after what I decided was his 10th flyby, he stopped in front of the Degas dancer I was sketching and asked if the tiny flaccid canvas bag on the floor at my feet was mine. I told him it belonged to me and he scooted past—never showing his face again in my direction for the rest of the evening. What is it with these guards and poor artists sitting at benches? The last time my bag of art materials and I were accosted here I imagined that I would get back at the guard by unleashing some live bats I just happened to have in my backpack inside the museum. This time, because my bag was quite a bit smaller, I imagined I had a couple dozen ping-pong balls in there. And at any given moment I would wave the bag about, flinging ping-pong balls willy-nilly throughout the room. And I could just picture all these little white balls bouncing merrily off the walls, paintings and sculptures, and on the polished hardwood floors. But alas, I would not be able to provide any additional evening entertainment for anyone as I had left my ping-pong balls at home. I did, however, have a sheet of bubble wrap in my bag. I guess I could have snapped and popped that at will, but it was so noisy in the room, no one would have noticed. Oh darn.

degas dancers3, 30%

Putting ideas, or even people, into context

So, all of these seemingly random events and subsequent thoughts got me to thinking about how I felt like a fish out of water that night. And that made me wonder if I was somehow out of my element, or out of my personal outdoor garden context. Why was I imagining myself wreaking havoc inside…again? Maybe the guards I ran into sensed that I was out of context and not where I was supposed to be. This all seemed way too serious after my imagined ping-pong incident. That got me wondering if I was using the phrase “in context” in a truly meaningful way. I looked it up in the Google dictionary and it says “in context” means “considered together with the surrounding words or circumstances.” Maybe I was just a “balking artist” and I should just be happy that the museum guard had left me alone so I could finish sketching all my dancers. I decided that was the best way to go. When I finished one sketch, I swiveled myself around the bench to the next set of dancers, and so on. At 6:30, I packed up my bag and gathered with my fellow artists for our throw down. It was at that time that realized I was certainly in a favorite artist’s context. Maybe we are all a little more comfortable and a little less stressed when we feel like we belong in our surroundings or circumstances. What about you? What is your personal favorite context?

I swear this is the last story of the guards at the Norton Simon:

A sketching friend told me that the museum guards at the Norton Simon used to be way worse. She added a pretty funny story about Norton Simon, the man. I guess Mr. Simon was pretty autocratic, with definite ideas of what the art museum should look like and how it was to be run. And it seems that Norton Simon didn’t really care if anyone actually visited the museum, so he had lots of rules for the people who actually wanted to see the art. But that’s not all. My friend added that it is rumored that on his deathbed he told his wife (Academy Award winning actress, Jennifer Jones), that now she could finally have her café.

 

January 5, 2019

henry at the descanso
Outdoor Exhibit at Sturt Haaga Gallery at the Descanso Garden, 12/30/18 (ink and black colored pencil on mixed media paper)

I found myself at the Descanso Garden once again a couple days before New Year’s Day. No real surprise there! My son and I wandered about and then looked at the exhibit they have at the Sturt Haaga Gallery. It was a cool afternoon, so I did this one at home later from a photo I took. My hands were just too cold, even with fingerless gloves, to control the pen and pencil plein air. We later returned to the garden on New Year’s Eve to take in the Enchanted Forest light display. It’s funny, but I wander around that place so often it feels like it’s my garden and that often takes me to a place where I wonder why there are so many people in my yard.

The Sturt Haaga Gallery is tiny and sometimes their display doesn’t interest me in the least and I can slip through there, having looked at everything, in under 5 minutes. In fact, there have been times I have lingered at one or two displays, reading the artist’s title/description, just to keep from leaving in under a minute. But I never miss the opportunity to check out what is in there, just in case something catches my eye or my imagination. I like that the gallery’s mission is to educate and it “seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences that are represented by the garden.” The display they have now is called La Reina de Los Angeles and artist displays related to art and science can be found inside the actual gallery building as well as all over the garden. I have actually popped into the gallery several times to look at one particular installation. (I will describe that piece later on…) I think I forgot to mention that La Reina de Los Angeles is all about water and waterways in our sometimes-parched landscape and it will be at the Sturt Haaga Gallery until January 13. According to the volunteer docent I chatted with on Thursday, after the 13th it will close for a month while the next exhibit is set up. She didn’t know the theme of the upcoming gallery exhibit.

What you are looking at here is part of the La Reina de Los Angeles “outdoor” exhibit and features some pieces of an old aqueduct called the Zanja Madre. In reading the description of the three aqueduct fragments displayed there, it seems that a brick and mortar aqueduct was used to bring water to the tiny town of El Pueblo de Los Angeles from 1781 to 1904. (Crazy to imagine LA being very tiny.) But I guess remnants of the aqueduct were unexpectedly dug up in Chinatown in 2014 and someone decided to save, and preserve, as much of it as they could. Considering the gallery’s mission statement is a blending of art with science, I am not sure if such a structure should be considered art. I get the science angle, but wonder if it’s more archeology and these are artifacts and not art. (If you can get over there before the exhibit closes you can decide for yourself their artistic value.)

Another outdoor artistic installation I have rather enjoyed involves some music that you can hear outside the gallery. An experimental artist, who is also a violinist, created the sounds/music you can experience there right now. It seems that he stood in the LA River, under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, capturing ambient sounds of the waterway. Then he added his “original” violin music as well as some “sonic effects.” The first time I heard the music I was on the hill behind the gallery. I thought a concert was underway on the grassy lawn area down below me. But I soon discovered a couple speakers in the rooftop garden of the gallery and realized the music/sounds were coming from there. I actually think it’s rather dark and strange, but cool sounding. I think that stems from my general love of the melancholy and such sounds make me feel so sad, but in such a lovely way.

Of all the various exhibits that are part of La Reina de Los Angeles I have described here two of the three parts that I have enjoyed most. I have one more to tell you about, and it is inside the building. It’s called Blue McRight and it is a 12 by 8 by 1.5 foot bookcase that vertically fills most of a wall in one room. In the wooden bookshelves are used books, vintage bronze faucets and sprinklers, and black rubber hoses. Some of the faucets have been attached to a couple books and some of those faucets are connected to hoses that have been attached to sprinklers on the floor in front of the bookcase crammed with books. It’s clear, upon entering the space that it’s a bookshelf completely filled with books. But if you look closer at all the books you will notice that all the book spines are black, white or cream colored, as well as various shades of sea green and blue. And if you get even closer you will notice that all book titles are related to water/ice, rivers, ocean and/or river/ocean creatures, boats etc. It seems to have something “water related” for everyone here. The afternoon my son and I were there we even noticed some guy taking books off the shelf to look at them. We were both in shock at his art effrontery. Did he think he was in a lending library? His library card should definitely be revoked! Where is a volunteer gallery docent, or reference librarian, when you need one?

So, I have carefully described three parts of the exhibit that I personally enjoyed. But several of the artist installations that contributed to La Reina de Los Angeles were just not my cup of tea. So, I thought the bigger story here was really that it is OK if you don’t like everything you see at an art gallery. In fact, it’s OK to not like anything you see. But I think it’s important to try to look at everything before you make that decision. Even though we, as artists, are extremely diverse, I think that kind of thought process is very common among my artist brethren. We try to look at someone else’s work with an open mind, ready to like any or all parts of what we see. And if we see nothing to our liking, we still walk away with an appreciation of what the artist was trying to convey in his or her work.

Of course I got to thinking more about artists and how diverse we are. In fact, we might be the most diverse single group of people on the planet. Diversity seems to be in the news a lot these days, as though some people are afraid of others that seem too diverse, too different from themselves. It seems that some want us to be more alike, so we won’t seem so dangerous or scary. But I think there is a “diversity” lesson for all of us to be learned from artists. And I think the best way to describe what I mean is the fact that even though I wasn’t drawn to all of the exhibits at the Sturt Haaga Gallery right now, I am thankful for all the people who participated.

Here is an example of a group of random artists interacting. Last evening one of my sketching groups met at the Norton Simon to sketch. It is typical for this group to start showing up at 5. Our little groups of one or two people begin sketching what interests us the minute we enter the place. Some go outside to paint in the garden, some head for a favorite painting or painter, some go downstairs to the Asian sculpture room and some check out the exhibit room that changes periodically. Last night I found myself doing pencil and ink sketches of a number of small Degas bronzes for the first part of the evening. As usual, by 6:30 we meet in the main lobby to share what we have drawn/painted. Then as a group we do something together and meet back in the lobby at 7:30 for a “throw down.” I have described a “throw down” in a previous blog, but will describe it here again. It’s when we each pick something that we think was particularly satisfying or successful and place in on a bench. Then we talk about what we did and share the materials we used. This might seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s really not. You put yourself in a very vulnerable place, like maybe you are thinking that what you have created isn’t that great, or you wish your art looked like someone who has more experience. And oh yes, there are always a couple “ringers” in our get togethers and it’s hard not to compare your amateur work with someone who gets paid regularly for his or her artwork. But this is where our diversity shines through and instead of people being smug and telling you why they are better and you are worse, we all look around together and pat each other on the back—the beginners, intermediates and the advanced artists. People make comments about everyone’s piece, saying things like I love your composition; I like the way you worked so loosely, or your layering of shades of green on the trees was great. Finally, after we have gone around and shared our work we stand together and take a group photo of all of us holding up our work. Wow! Those moments are so powerful, right? And maybe we were all expected to paint the same thing or do a piece of a whole, then put them together. That kind of group activity never seems to work out either because someone may want to paint the sculpture of an elephant he or she passed by and not the winged creature from 3rd century Pakistan. And that’s always OK and appreciated. As artists we are the textbook definition of diverse, but somehow we know it’s important to hang together on some level. And we appreciate each and everyone’s artistic spirit and the right to express it however we please. And I love knowing that there are artists out there that I will never meet or understand, but am thrilled to know they are out there…somewhere…creating art, just like me. No more to be said.

December 29, 2018

glad1
Gladiolus stem on China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)

A couple weeks ago I described the frame I built to help me with my first “canvas sketch.” It was a wooden expandable frame I originally created in the early 1980s to stretch panels of habotai, also known as china silk. (Habotai is quite ephemeral—very soft and almost translucent.) I painted bits of floral ephemera on the stretched material and sewed it together with other strips of silk to make simple kimonos. Habotai takes the paint beautifully, with the color soaking through to the other side, so it almost looks like stained glass when held up to the light. As I said in that recent post, stretching the piece of canvas made me wonder if I still had any of my painted kimonos. I dug through a box and found these. Woo hoo!

Before making the hand-painted kimonos, I was making kimonos from “found fabric” for a vintage clothing store in Los Gatos. The store was called “Rags to Riches.” When I say “found fabric,” I mean random squares of cotton or rayon I found in huge barrels in various fabric stores I seemed to be haunting at the time. I would dig way down to the bottom, finding colorful and fun prints. And it seemed that each piece was just enough to make a simple and fun kimono. I remember making a bunch of these, putting them in a garment bag and walking along North Santa Cruz, looking for some place that might let me sell what I had made. One of the owners of “Rags to Riches,” then located on North Santa Cruz, liked what I was making and let me sell my outerwear there. The store was very eclectic with her vintage clothing on one side of the store and a former boyfriend’s vintage furniture on the other side. The kimonos sold very well in her little shop and she and I actually became pretty good friends.

There were many funny stories and events that we shared together related to her vintage clothing business. Once we got to know each other she hired me to make 30s style dresses and what she was calling “Joan Crawford” blouses with shoulder pads and beaded necklines. We also made a trip to LA together, where she took me to an unmarked warehouse in downtown that sold vintage clothing by the pound. She was always on the look out for beaded sweaters from the 50s and what she called “Barbie dresses” that were actually old prom dresses also from the 50s. She found quite a few sweaters and dresses on that trip. Later on she started making hats and renting out Halloween costumes. She had found a small business in Santa Cruz that made a wide variety of Halloween costumes and my friend would rent some of their more elaborate costumes that she would then rent out to her “Rags to Riches” customers. One year she had a female gorilla costume on display at the front of the store. But one afternoon, a couple people drove up to the front of her store, grabbed the gorilla costume and drove away. My friend saw the whole thing happen and ran screaming after them as they made their gorilla getaway. She could run pretty fast even when wearing her usual pair of spring o lators. She never caught the “gorilla nappers,” but swore she was going to every Halloween party in Santa Clara County, looking for someone dressed as a female gorilla. It’s a pretty funny story now, but it wasn’t at the time, as she had to pay outright for the costume.

water lily1
Water Lilies on China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)
silk sleeves
Camellias on sleeves of China silk kimono (early-mid 1980s)

During her hat and Halloween phase she and I continued to collaborate on various other projects, but I also continued with my kimonos. I don’t remember what got me started painting on this flowy silk, but I do remember that I loved its soft and ephemeral quality and wanted to do something special with it. It made into such lovely lightweight kimonos. I was not only interested in painting on the silk, but was experimenting with dying the fabric with natural dyes. One of my favorite natural dyestuffs was cochineal and when it was mixed with hot water I created beautiful shades of bright red all the way to lavender, depending on the mordant added to the dye bath. If you want to know more about cochineal, look it up on the Internet. I will tell you that it is an insect… Besides dying yards and yards of china silk in huge pots my Los Gatos backyard, I also loved painting flowers on it. But I don’t remember what kind of paints I used. Such hand painted and hand dyed kimonos sold well at “Rags to Riches.”

As usual, many of my “art inspired” stories lead me to seemingly random topics that are just floating around in my head. This week is no exception. You may have noticed that for this week’s post I have used the term “ephemeral” quite a bit. Silk has a natural life and is short lived. And over time it will degrade and finally turn to dust. I learned first hand about this when my “Rags to Riches” friend asked me to repair a beaded dress from the 1920s. The beads had been stitched to a crepe de chine sheath dress and were falling off. As I tried to restitch the beads back to the silk, the thread would pull through the silk fabric and make a hole in the dress. The weight of the all over beads was pulling on the silk threads and the once strong and stable woven fabric was weakening. I suggested the dress be remade in cotton, but wondered who was going to sit and stitch each and every bead back onto that dress.

When thinking of the transitory nature of silk it stands to reason that the paint and dye materials I used on it would also degrade and be lost at some point in time. It’s funny, but I am actually OK with the idea that art is meant to be lost—even the great works of art painted on canvas will degrade sometime. Maybe art in general is meant to be transitory in nature and even the most saturated colors and materials lovingly created by an artist are meant to degrade and disappear over time. And maybe future artists are meant to reinvent or recreate that art for future generations to love with distraction as we do right now. But take heart future artists! There will always be a place for art and artists that don’t worry about such things. We will always continue to create our creations whether it’s meant to last or not. I mean, think of those artists who do detailed chalk sketches on the sidewalk. They know it’s going to rain sometime, but do it anyway. Can I get an A-men?

Note about vintage downtown Los Gatos, circa 1980’s

“Rags to Riches” has been gone for a long time. The whole Los Gatos downtown changed after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Many of the old brick buildings had been damaged and had to come down. And it seemed that once all of the buildings on North Santa Cruz changed Los Gatos took on a kind of gentrification that seemed to push out all the old funky parts of Los Gatos. That included “Rags to Riches,” the old movie house and the heart of Mountain Charley’s restaurant. Maybe places are just as ephemeral as art. Yes?

Just came from my first B’not Mitzvah in the Valley. What a delight!

Happy New Year!

 

December 22, 2018

LC, large canvas3
Canvas Sketch, Step 4, Tuesday afternoon (12/18/18), photo taken inside my garage.

I thought I would finish today, but think I need one more day. And today’s session was a bit harrowing as the tiniest bit of wind flipped the canvas face down onto the ground. Thank goodness acrylic paint dries fast and it was OK. Of course there was a small problem with the tray I use to mix my colors. The wind blew it face down onto the concrete and left a splotch of blue paint. Hmm…I have a couple small bungee cords I will try to use next time to attach the canvas to the garden stakes. Stay tuned…

LC, large canvas4
Canvas Sketch, Step 5, Friday afternoon (12/21/18, first day of winter), photo taken outside my garage.

Going a pace?

As kids, when we were involved in some kind of project for school, writing a paper or doing general homework, my dad would ask us if we were “going a pace.” Such a term had special meaning for us, but probably doesn’t mean anything to you. I just Googled it and I guess it is actually a measure of 30 inches. But when my dad asked us if were “going a pace” we weren’t measuring whatever we were doing in inches, but in time. Like, how long before we expected to be done, or had we gauged the project correctly so we weren’t trying to do it last minute. My mom thought his routine “check ins” a bit odd because she said that when they were at UCLA he always procrastinated doing his homework and studying for tests. I figured he adopted this attitude because he didn’t want us to put off getting things done in a timely manner, then rushing at the end to finish. Interestingly enough this term did not originate with my dad.

My dad was an electrical engineer in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) in 60s, 70s and early/mid 80s. He loved designing circuits. For a time it seemed he was always changing jobs, going from one small start up company to another. When he started a new group, with an actual R and D (Research and Development) budget, he would order test equipment and tables etc. Then, his group of engineers and techs would literally build all the circuits/parts they would need for any given project and test it out right there in the lab. My dad had one tech guy; we’ll call him WH. It seemed my dad would invariably hire WH to join his group at whatever lab my dad was in charge of at the time. My dad loved to go into the lab and see his friend sitting at a workbench, tinkering with the group’s latest circuit. And he would ask him, “How’s it going WH?” And WH would reply, “We are going a pace.” Which meant they were getting closer to the measurements for the specs (specifications) they were looking for and that would make my dad smile. That way he knew they were nearer to completing a circuit that could then be reproduced and sold to waiting customers.

Since this painting took some real time and planning I wondered all along if I was going a pace. I guess that’s always the question in the back of my mind when I start a painting, or even a sketch. Will I finish it? Or will I just sort of stop working on it, put it away and move on to something else? I think the secret to being a painter, at least my secret to painting, is to try to finish it no matter what.

I have a kind of One California Girl weekly blog process. Before sitting down to start writing on Monday afternoon/evening, I have secured in my mind a piece of art that I think will inspire a story. You may have noticed that each story usually has three components. First, I give background for each piece with regards to the materials I have used to create it. Second, I support my California images/landscapes with names and places specific to California, sometimes with CA historical information I think is relevant and/or interesting. Finally, and of course not the least important, are the stories of my family—some who were born here and some who came in from the cold of various western and Midwestern states to sunny Southern California.

But this week my process was a little different, as I didn’t finish the art as planned. I wound up with a cold over the weekend and just couldn’t get myself outside either Sunday or Monday. But all this procrastination is actually what I had planned to write about this week, so I had a story in mind even before the art was finished. Don’t get me wrong, I walked past the canvas I started last week numerous times and definitely had a course of action to complete it. Or did I? I guess my question is, “Am I a finisher?” How about you? “Are you a finisher?” I got this one done, but I have a story of a painting that I never finished. It was meant to be the definitive portrait of my grandmother, a woman I never met. Even though I painted over the beginnings of her portrait years ago, I still feel a little intimidated and guilty—wondering why I didn’t complete it. And why isn’t it featured prominently over the mantle of my fireplace, like so many other grand family portraits I’ve seen in the movies? But as I think about what I’ve already written, this seems to be the fodder for a future California story.

Oh, and the bungee cords worked swimmingly. Nothing landed on the ground for the last step for this canvas sketch! Woo hoo!

Happy Holidays!

December 15, 2018

La Crescenta, large canvas1
Step 1, Stretching the canvas and going outside, 12/9/18 (62 by 32 inches)

I realize this may look like a heap of nothing, and in fact this first photo is just that, a large blank canvas in my front yard. But for this first image I wanted to show the set up I’m experimenting with—where I’m doing a kind of deconstructed “urban sketching” landscape on a much grander scale. (I will try to explain what I mean by a deconstructed landscape later. I’m still kind of working that out in my head.) I knew this whole thing would probably only work for urban landscapes where no one would mind if I showed up with larger than expected sketching stuff. (If you read my blog regarding the sketch I did out in front of the Norton Simon on November 17, 2018, you would know that the museum guard I spoke to that day would probably plotz if I showed up with anything you see here.) A lot of what I plan to do in the next few weeks will be me setting this up in various places in my garden, or garage if it’s raining, and then quickly painting what I see in my little SoCal neighborhood. And if it’s raining I will be running in and out of the garage to look at the mountains, or the sky, or whatever. Somebody left rather cute red toy truck out front the other day and I might even include something that mundane, but nonetheless “urban” and charming, in the future. So, this is what it looked like last Sunday afternoon in my front yard. I know, not very exciting. I had chosen this spot because I could easily see some of my “neighborhood mountains” just behind me. In fact, I did a watercolor of this same view and posted it almost one year ago to the day—December 12, 2017. I think I will post it again to compare with next week’s “completed” work. Or you can look it up yourself right here and now.

So, here are the behind the scenes descriptions of what you are looking at. First, I cleared off a workbench in my garage and temporarily tacked the sheet of 62 by 32 inch canvas onto a wooden frame I made back in the early 80s. At that time I was living with my family in Los Gatos and was painting on silk. I made the frame so it could be folded in half and therefore accommodate two different sizes (62 by 32 inches or 31 by 32 inches) Back then I taped different textures of silk to the frame and lightly painted favorite floral designs onto the stretched fabric. Once I finished the paintings, I removed them from the frame and then fashioned kimonos that I sold as wearable art. (I should look to see if I have any kimonos left that are worth ironing and photographing for another story. That would actually make quite a story and some of the silk I dyed in large vats in my backyard.)

Next, I pounded two 5-foot wooden garden stakes into the ground under my pepper tree and propped up the canvas against the stakes. And oh yeah, I am not a neat painter, so I put down a drop cloth under everything. In fact, when I work this big and fast I often get paint in my hair. A while back the lady who used to cut my hair when I lived in Grass Valley got tired of picking paint out of my hair. So one day she ceremoniously gave me a shower cap to wear when I painted. (That’s NOT in the materials you see here. And I can’t even imagine what my neighbors would think if they saw a woman wearing a shower cap painting on a large canvas in the front yard.)

To the right you see a rolling table with upper and lower surfaces crammed with supplies. I actually found this with a bunch of cast off furniture at a school and put it into my car and took it home—so I know it would fit in there easily. So I also knew that I could take this along in my car if I decided on a far off ninja urban sketching event. You probably can’t see it, but there is a black plastic plant holder that was meant to hold eight 4-inch by 4-inch plants. I got at the nursery. Those square holes hold my 8 fluid ounce jars of acrylic paint, plus assorted other 2 ¾ inch Mason jars for water and any colors I mix that are worth saving for another day. (I already have saved a lovely SoCal hazy day sky blue.) This “paint” arrangement seems perfect for transporting to locations that are as yet unknown. And this paint holder has a built in advantage for those of us who are messy because someone like me is less likely to spill things if they have a proper place to be. I specifically looked for paint containers that fit into those spots and had screw caps. Such containers will keep the paint from drying out. A lot of plein air painters use oil when they are outside because it doesn’t dry as quickly as acrylics, but since I like to do “under colors” I don’t want to wait for anything to dry. I want this to go fast. Then it’s really more like doing a watercolor that doesn’t bleed when the paper gets too wet, it just runs down the canvas. That’s when it gets messy because you need a rag to wipe off those “tear staining” dribbles.

La Crescenta, large canvas2
Step 3, Step after laying in some of the “under” colors (Step 2–not shown) and blocking in the trees and house in the foreground—half way there, 45 minutes from the start

End of first day painting

If you are getting bored with all this, hang in there because I am almost done with the set up and ready to tell how this is meant to be a deconstructed landscape. I mean, don’t you want to know what colors I used to get to this point? Of course you do! I used titanium white, ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow and burnt umber. Tomorrow I will finish this and plan to add touches of other colors I have in tubes in a bag for the final piece of art. I forgot to mention that I also had some plastic mixing trays, an assortment of big brushes and a laundry detergent jug that was rinsed out and filled with water.

What is a deconstructed landscape?

For each of the three steps I have described here, I stopped to take a photo of each one and shared it with friends. Now, I am not a sophisticated social media person and didn’t post the three photos I took (I didn’t include the Step 2 photo of sky and “under color” only here) on Instagram of Facebook, I just texted people that live nearby. And it was my hope that they would send along a note of acknowledgement, a question or two or even stop by to see what I was doing. Don’t hate me, but this is the cool part of being one California girl because the weather last Sunday was beautiful—in the upper 60s to low 70s. Someone could have driven past to say hello and make me take a break. I’m not looking for anyone to tell me whether or not they like what I’m doing, it just makes me stop and take personal stock of what’s in front of me. This helps to make a better piece in the end because I don’t feel like I can “drive off the cliff’ of going to far with a color or idea. It just makes me “stop.”

So, that is my idea of a deconstructed landscape, where other people are all part of the different stages of my painting—saving me from myself. And don’t we need more people in the world who save us from going too far? And they don’t even have to be a friend, just an interested bystander. I would do the same for them. Wouldn’t you?

Stay tuned for the final painting. Tomorrow looks to be another lovely day for one California girl.

December 8, 2018

Atascadero Road
Atascadero Road, date: timeless (oil on canvas, 24 by 32 inches)

I think the actual canvas I’ve posted today was the very first canvas I actually stretched. And I think I did this one in high school—seems like someone else’s lifetime ago. I remember that the actual weave of the cloth was not very close and when I brushed on the layer of gesso it took a couple coats to get into all the nooks and crannies. That being said, I have no idea how many paintings are under this view of lupines on a road in Atascadero. This last layer is on pretty thick as well and it would be impossible to see any of the original canvas unless you turned it over and looked at the raw ungessoed canvas on the back. In fact, I just got up from my laptop to look at the back, thinking it would be fun to take a picture of the raw canvas, but stopped short of my typical geekiness. Actually, what I noticed was years of dust and cobwebs back there and decided all of this might be just too weird. Oh, I dusted it off, by the way.

Now that I have added textures of flowers, trees and a road that takes you around an uncertain corner, this will probably be the last layer for this one. I don’t actually remember when I painted this final one, but it was definitely before the Great Recession of 2008. If you are an artist and were working at your art in the early and mid 2000s, there seemed to be people with extra money and they wanted to buy art. I met an interior decorator in Paso Robles early in the 21st century and she had lots of clients looking for art with very specific and personal themes for their walls. She suggested I look online at what other painters were making for sale. I checked it out and saw quite a variety. There were people who specialized in art that looked like it was from the Renaissance or street scenes of famous places like Paris and Rome, and landscapes of all kinds could be found there. Some did art of trains, boats and airplanes. I think Thomas Kincade, a fellow native Californian, figured this out and made a nice living painting romantic and idealized landscapes for just such a clientele. And of course there were artists who did “people” portraits and would paint your cat or dog if you sent them a photo. During this time of plenty I was doing lots of landscapes of vineyards and roads weaving in and out of the canvas, but none of it was done for a specific person or purpose. (Actually, that’s not exactly true. I did a painting during that time for what I thought was to be a poster for a Zinfandel festival in Paso Robles. That was actually a disaster and I blogged about it in my April 28, 2018 post.) Most of all I just loved traveling the North County back roads, capturing scenes of places that I wanted to linger and hang out in. The decorator I just spoke of said I should start a website of paintings that specialized in roads and vineyards. I also remember checking that out on the Internet to see if anyone else had a similar theme going. And sure enough there were plenty of paintings of vineyards. At that same time I knew of other artists who were creating paintings for wine bottle labels in the Paso Robles area. Before the crash, a Grass Valley winery owner tentatively suggested I do a label for one of their wines. Another person who was making and selling jewelry in Grass Valley told me he thought I should make posters of my work and not sell the originals. Again, I think Thomas Kincade figured out that whole idea. He mass produced his works, put them in nice frames and opened stores that just sold his art. Lots of people were all very generous with their suggestions of what I should do. Remember, I said all of this was going on before 2008. Because by 2009, that game was up and no one was interested in having someone who specialized in paintings of roads, airplanes or any other niche art category you could imagine. Of course I think there are probably still people who will do portraits and paintings of your pets. (I just Googled Portraits of Pets and found several websites that still specialize in that.)

The Road Less Traveled

And of course I didn’t do anything that anyone suggested and continued to paint as I pleased because even before the crash of 2008 I knew I would never really be happy trying to make a living selling my paintings. I think I realized it would be too much pressure to paint too many things that didn’t really interest me. So, I didn’t quit my day job. That brings me to the second part of the story that actually focuses on the subject matter of this painting. I am calling this part “The Road Less Traveled.” The idea was inspired by the “Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. Oh, and by the way, Robert Frost was a native Californian, born in San Francisco in 1874. He got to live the life of an artist—poet and playwright.

Not sure if I could get in trouble posting the whole poem here, but think I’m OK if I just include the fourth and final stanza.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Because I truly an introvert in an extrovert’s sharkskin suit, the life of an artist suits me well. Being able to paint throughout my life has allowed me to communicate my feelings and thoughts to myself and really no one else. I was painfully shy as a young girl and adolescent. I was bullied on and off through all those years as people often thought I was a snob or conceited and said and did some very unkind things to me. My dad would remind me that those people didn’t matter and I always had my art. (He also was good at reminding me of all the wonderful music that made our lives bearable…) And you know what? He was right! For those of you who also have the soul of artist, you know it is not an easy road. My ancestors were soldiers, sharecroppers, plumbers and dreamers. And when things seemed like tough going my family had an expression that went something like, “That’s going to be a hard road to hoe.” But it’s the only road I know.

December 1, 2018

Japanese Lanterns
Descanso Garden, Enchanted Forest lanterns at one of the entries to the Japanese Garden, 11/20/18 (mixed media on watercolor paper)

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I found myself at the Descanso Garden again. I was glad I had the day off to go and paint there. I assumed there wouldn’t be many people wandering about because it was a regular weekday. And I had a plan. I planned to paint some of the amazing red lanterns that are set up in the Japanese Garden for the Enchanted Forest holiday light display. I don’t often go into the Japanese Garden as it is a popular place with garden visitors, but I was sure it would be OK for that day. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it was almost full. What the heck! As I stood in line to get in a docent told me that on Tuesday the garden was free. So, there were lots of people milling around—especially lots of strollers, small children and their usually well-meaning adults.

But I was determined to get past my “people aversion” because I had a plan. I wandered over to the Japanese Garden, looking for a good view of the trees and shrubs with the colorful red lanterns that were hanging from long curved black poles throughout the space. Low and behold, I found the perfect spot just outside the Japanese Garden at a bench across the creek from the gate and four lanterns you see here. I was immediately in Descanso heaven and decided I could sit there quietly and sketch and paint without being bothered by people. Of course, just as I was settling in, two school-age children ran right over to MY bench and tried to hide behind it. They had absolutely no idea that I was there and were very much into some sort of giggling game. I turned to look at them and showed them my stern “teacher face,” but they soon ran off. So, even if I had managed the perfect look of disapproval, they weren’t there long enough to see it. I hate being ignored! And what good’s a perfect “look” if no one is looking your way.

Finally, I got my materials set up and did a sketch of this garden gateway with the greenery and red lanterns. When I do something with architectural elements I always like to include some kind of “perspective,” making the structure appear to go back into the page. I’m not sure if I learned to do this from someone, but it works well for me. I think buildings can look rather flat, square and uninviting, and if you want your viewer to come into the picture with you, you need to invite them in. This “color” story included all my usual blues, greens, yellows and “Bark” Inktense colored pencil leaving plenty of white space and highlights. But I wasn’t sure how to paint the four red lanterns. Each one was a saturated red/crimson/orange ball of color that changed ever so slightly as the sun moved across the sky. So, I painted everything, except the roundish white lantern shapes, and then I stopped. Now, I never do a painting without taking bits of breaks to mix another color or let the little voice inside my head suggest what I should do next. I mix some colors, layer them in, and let that dry while I work on other sections—always mindful to leave as much white space as possible. I had taken my usual half a peanut butter sandwich break so I could let everything settle and plan my final paint assault. But I just couldn’t think of what to do for those last round shapes. I sat there, pretending to let everything dry. My sandwich was gone, so I had nothing to do with my hands. I had no idea what to do next, so I just stared across the water at the gate and waited. What was I waiting for? I have no idea. Maybe I was hoping to make the tortuous moment last longer? Yes, I have been known to linger at the strangest times. Like, if I am reading a particularly good book and I don’t want it to end, I’ll put it down, sometimes in mid sentence. It’s a wonderful kind of agony because I am dying to find out what’s going to happen next. I did just that with the book Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. It’s a pretty long book, so I had many opportunities to willingly torture myself. (I recommended the 5-part HBO mini-series based that was done a couple years ago—based on the 4 books that make up the story—in a recent blog.) It was tortuously long and wonderful.

Anyway, getting back to my red lantern torture, I began pondering the question, “What was I waiting for?” That can be a really loaded question, like it can mean that you have been waiting to try something new, but are just too chicken to put yourself out there and go for it. So that would sound like, “What are you WAITING for? But then there is also “WHAT are you waiting for?” or maybe even “WHOM are you waiting for?” That makes me think something or someone is suppose to happen, and then you will know what you are supposed to do. And of course “Whom are you waiting for?” might take years and I had already eaten my half a sandwich and I wondered how long I could go without food while I waited.

All of a sudden a young school-age boy, his even smaller brother and their well-meaning parent walked up to me. I guessed that the older boy was a first grader as his left upper front baby tooth was hanging by a thread. And the smaller boy looked to be a 4-year old preschooler. The mom told me I was right on both counts. I’m not sure if they were enchanted with my art, so much as they had obvious interest in my tray of assorted pigments, pots of mixed colors, brushes and other painting materials on the bench beside me. They were so polite and approached very quietly and politely. But I could tell the older boy really wanted to talk about what I was doing and his silent grinning little brother was just happy to be included in the moment. The mom hung back, but seemed thrilled that her boys had come upon a painter in a garden with some really cool looking painting materials. I’ve had a few conversations about painting with small children and I usually ask them about his or her favorite color. It’s funny, but little kids really do have such passion for such a discussion because staking your personal claim on a color is very personal and important. I showed them my favorites at the moment—“Opera” and my beloved “Cerulean Blue.” When I added that cerulean blue was my favorite because it was often the color of the sky, they both nodded in agreement. I think the color of the sky is important to all landscape painters, or future young school-age landscape painters for that matter. The younger boy finally spoke and told me that green was his favorite color and I quickly described all my different green pigments. Funny, the older boy didn’t actually tell me his favorite color, but nodded in agreement when I told him “Opera” was great. I chatted a bit with the mom too. She told me of the older boy’s love for art and said that the school he was attending had art as part of the curriculum. That made my day and I told them of a very early memory I had of my kindergarten teacher allowing me to stay in at recess so I could draw and color. I have such a vivid recollection of one particular afternoon in kindergarten where I sat coloring at a table, and sunlight was streaming in the door that was open to the very noisy kindergarten playground.

And then they were gone. I guess I had been waiting for them to distract me, helping me get myself out of my head. I mixed up a beautiful red made up of “Scarlet Lake,” and “Cadmium Red Pale Hue,” got my “Chilli Red” Inktense pencil and went to work. It took me less than 5 minutes to add the lanterns. Crazy, huh? Then I packed up my materials and went home.

So, what are you waiting for? Or whom are you waiting for? And if you are waiting for that special someone I hope you are lucky enough to find them while strolling in a favorite place, or sitting on a bench with a lovely view. Or at least I hope you have lots of peanut butter sandwiches because you might get hungry if you have to wait too long.