April 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 6, 2019

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

Expect the Unexpected

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

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

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

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

Don’t groan. This is for my brothers…

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

March 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

small cookbook cover
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, 1981

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Mom!

(March 25th)

March 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

The Serendipitous Sketching Set up

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2019

geraniums in a pot
Urn of geraniums, Glendale, April 3, 2017 (colored pencil and ink on toned paper)

I did this almost two years ago as a kind of art challenge. As a lead up to Earth Day, 4/22/2017, one of my sketching groups dared us to paint or sketch everyday until that Saturday. In April 2017 I was living in an apartment in Glendale and had noticed two huge urns of perky red geraniums up on pillars near the front of my building. So, for my April 4, 2017 art I sat on a wooden bench that was next to one of those pillars and sketched this. I have written in the past about using toned paper to achieve certain effects. And this soft grey paper is great to use when you want color to pop and I think the red flowers and bright green foliage make an even bigger impact when layered onto the grey. It can also add a kind of heaviness to other things. For example, the paper’s grey is an effective under color for the heavy urn. I think it gives the urn a head start by adding a bit of lovely darkness that’s in contrast to the flowers and foliage. I have used the same grey color to give a head start of darkness and weight to sculptures in the back garden of the Norton Simon. And toned paper comes in a myriad of colors. Next time you go to an art store, check it out.

When I chanced upon the photo I took of these flowers that day, it struck me how much I love geraniums. It’s not everyone’s favorite flower. But as I am writing this week’s story I have quite a show of bright pink and orange geraniums up against my toned golden house and toned grey stonewalls. Geraniums have a kind of “smell” that is probably not meant to be anything special, but I love it. I even have one that smells of mint when you gently stroke your fingers across the leaves. I have noticed over the years that the scented variety generally doesn’t have the lush bright flowers and leaves. The flower petals tend to be smaller and/or paler in color with somewhat spindly stems. And the mint one I have right now has not blossomed yet, so I have not idea what color that flower will be. For some reason that one hasn’t sent up a flower. Hmm…But I have such a profusion of color on my front porch right now, I hardly notice the mint-scented slacker…

I was born in Santa Monica, but have spent most of my life living in northern CA. And I remember my mom planting geraniums, but I seem to remember they were usually on the porch in pots, where they might have some protection from the frosts and freezes that can occur on a crisp Santa Clara winter night. Geraniums seem to be OK with hot weather, but not the cold. I’ve noticed that northern CA gardeners kind of let them fend for themselves or treat them more like coveted colorful annuals. But down here they grow and grow and grow and can be propagated by just lopping off a bit of a healthy stem and plopping it a pot with well draining soil. I’m not kidding; they actually root and thrive that easily in SoCal.

Even though I just said I have spent most of my life in Northern California, my love of geraniums began when I lived in Long Beach for a short time more than 30 years ago. I had family in Belmont Shore and had decided to see if the kimonos I was making up north would sell in SoCal. (Came pretty close to selling them to Neiman Marcus, but that’s another CA girl’s story…) One of my first memories of the Shore (as it’s known by the locals) was the amazing front yards filled with geraniums of every shockingly bright color you can imagine. I mean, they had been planted in the ground and were not in pots to hide away during winter. It almost hurt my eyes to look at those intense purples, reds, crimsons and oranges in the yards of white washed Spanish style stucco houses set against the bright blue sky. But I was hooked. I tried to grow them when I got back to Northern CA, but I knew they would not make it hanging out bare in the ground. So, I put them in pots. (Nothing so disheartening as once perky geraniums turned to frozen popsicle stems and flowers that soon turn a slimy ghoulish black color when they thaw out). I just sort of gave up on them for a while, just too much disappointment.

By 1995 I moved again from Northern CA and went to live in Central CA, specifically Paso Robles. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth gave me many cuttings of geraniums and I propagated them in pots and enjoyed them as bright annuals. I liked the more old-fashioned ones with the rather strange smell that I described earlier. Thank goodness Aunt Ruth gave me a number of scented ones as well. That’s how I learned that there could be varieties of geraniums that smelled nice to other people. In the early 2000’s I began working as a freelance editor and writer for Sunset Garden books. It was at that time that I began my interest in plant taxonomy. It was really great fun to learn about ornamental grasses, how to construct a greenhouse, old varieties of Southern apple trees, plants that do well in pots, plants that do well in the Pacific Northwest etc. And it kind of just happened that one day I was talking to an editor there and she reminded me that what I was calling a geranium was actually not a geranium. In fact, if you Google geranium you will find that “there is some general confusion” about this particular plant and you shouldn’t call a geranium a geranium if it is in fact a pelargonium. Who knew? And maybe who cares? I got into it, just as all the other kind of snooty plant people do. But now that I have been away from that little world of words for almost 20 years, I don’t correct people when they call a pelargonium a geranium. I mean, how rude? I figure that if I am talking about something, and you know what I’m referring to, who cares? Right? I think there are way more important things to consider than who seems to know more than someone else. I think the real question here should be, if you could have a pot of something lovely on your sunny porch, what would it be? Don’t get hung up on telling someone about your amazing pot of pelargonium. They might think a “pot of pelargonium” is code for cannabis and wonder what you are doing. The cannabis plant flower doesn’t look like much, and of course the palmate leaf is what most people recognize. That plant certainly has a distinctive smell that I do not like. I think I would rather smell geraniums on my front porch. How about you?

How should I celebrate my 100th post?

Crazy to imagine, but as of Feb 23, 2019, I have posted 100 pieces of art with CA stories. My first post/story was March 25, 2017. So I am actually coming up to my 2-year anniversary date for One California Girl. March 25th also happens to be my mother’s birthday. So, there are many things for me to celebrate, remark about, or possibly ignore. And it does make me think that I should maybe do something special for my mom’s birthday this year. I’ll think about that one…So, where did I go last evening to celebrate 100 posts? To the Norton Simon of course! Stay tuned for Titian’s Portrait of a Lady in White.

February 23, 2019

Getty Garden, Feb 2019
Succulents at the Getty Garden, Feb 17, 2019 (ink and Inktense pencil on mixed media paper)

I had the flu last week, so I didn’t post any art or words. Did you miss me?

Last Sunday morning my sketching group went to the Getty Center here in LA. I know some people think LA is some kind of cultural wasteland, and maybe it is for some things. But The Getty is a Cultural Land and sketching there the other day was mostly great. The Getty Center sits atop a hill to the west of the 405 and the views from up there are astonishing. From the east side of the building you see rolling green hills and houses with a far off view of downtown Los Angeles. And to the west side of the building is quite an uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean. Even though I have lived in LA for a couple years now, this was only my second visit. The last time I was there it was quite warm, compared to the cold and ultimately rainy day I experienced on Sunday. It’s advertised to be free, but that’s a bit of LA hilarity in that you have to pay to park, and that comes out to be at least 15 dollars. And if you plan to eat in any of the eating-places there, it won’t be cheap. The parking structure is pretty massive, and it’s best to get there when it opens or you will get stuck in a massive traffic jam just to find a parking space—another bit of LA hilarity. Then you can take a tram to the top. If the weather is nice, you can walk up the hill, but most people ride the tram, and that can be mobbed as well.

I got to the top before the museum opened and the sun was out, but it was windy. It has been pretty wet here lately, so I was delighted to see the sun even if a cool wind was blowing all around. The sketchers all gathered in the lobby of the museum at 10 and we discussed what time we would get back together to share our artwork. Then we all shot off to parts we wanted to see. The last time I was there I had remembered an amazing garden at the base of The Getty and immediately hiked down there. By the time I settled in the spot looking at the colorful succulents you see here, there were already 3 or 5 of my artist brethren setting up and painting near me. My “sometimes chair” has not been in the back of my car for sometime now. So I have gotten used to looking for benches or chairs or even a perfect spot on the ground where I can sit on a sheet of bubble wrap. I left my first “sometimes chair” some place, sometime back. My second “sometimes chair” is at my son’s apartment in Santa Cruz. Not really sure why it’s there…But, luckily I found a chair under an amazing rebar bougainvillea planter—you can see a couple of them in the background of the garden view I sketched here. I didn’t take my watercolors with me for this visit, just colored pencils, black ink pens and my set of 14 or so Inktense pencils. I went to work making an initial thumbnail sketch and then started to work with the ink and my brightest Inktense colors, planning to add water when I got home. I amused myself with the idea that all I had to do was add water, kind of like I was making soup or something. As it got colder and the clouds gathered overhead, I toyed with the idea that I might just let it sit out in the imminent rain, and let nature take its course.

Right off the bat I was having trouble focusing on this little succulent vignette as various small groups of people passed in and out of my view. But after a time a bit more LA hilarity came my way. A woman, giving some kind of tour to a large group of visitors, told me that I wouldn’t mind if her larger group blocked my view for a short time, right? Actually, she didn’t really even look at me when she didn’t ask my permission to stand there. OK, this is what makes LA kind of infuriating at times–quite often, people around here don’t notice anyone but themselves and their immediate needs. I was a bit annoyed, but realized she was probably the kind of person who did the same thing when zooming down the freeway at 85 miles per hour. I was glad she wasn’t in my car with her trying to pass a couple trucks and me in the pouring rain on the 405. Finally, she was done talking and without a word to me, they all went on to annoy someone else. I thought it interesting that a person pushing someone else in a wheelchair said they were sorry they’d gotten in my way. At least that was nice. In my mind I was a bit behind because of all these interruptions and it was getting colder, and the once blue sky was now covered with grey clouds. Pretty soon it was raining again, and I was in no mood to let this sketch sit in the rain to see what would happen. By then I had also lost focus of what I was doing and thought I would head into one of the galleries and do some sketching in a warmer place.

But as I started up the hill I noticed there were way more people wandering around than when I had first arrived. Large posters were all around the Getty describing a featured painter named Jacopo da Pontormo. One of the other sketchers said that his piece called the Visitation should not be missed. I wandered into that gallery, hoping that I could focus on something else inside. But there were way too many people also trying to get a look at this painting, and I could not find a reasonably uninterrupted viewing spot to look at his Pontormo’s vision of the Virgin Mary chatting with Elizabeth. So, now I was wandering aimlessly from room to room, looking for a place and piece of art to draw. I ran into the same sketcher who had told me of The Visitation painting and we wandered out of that building and into another building that had some amazing Greek/Roman statues. Of course she had a little fold up chair to sit in and she settled herself right in front of a lovely statue. I finally found a bench next to a busy restroom and just outside the room of statues. I finished up my sketching at the Getty peaking into that room at the backside of a couple life-size statues. I was feeling pretty disappointed with what I had done for the day. Maybe I was still feeling a bit under the weather because of the flu or maybe I was tired of dealing with the weather and too much LA hilarity. Finally, it was time to meet and share what we had created. We all gathered together and had our usual “throw down,” but this is the first time I did not participate. I’ve never done that before. Usually I have some kind of sketch I’m OK with, but not that day. I participated in the group picture, but I wasn’t holding anything in my hands as the majority of other sketchers. Little did I know that lunch at the Getty with a few painters would be what I really needed that day. And little did I know that this piece would look OK when I finally added some water the next day at home.

So after that agonizing 30 minutes was over, some went back into the galleries and sketched some more, but some of us had lunch. I was hungry and needed some carbs, and we went to the café on the lower level. The food was not cheap or memorable, but the company of artists was a delectable main course that fed my artist’s soul. We sat and talked and shared all kinds of stories. One sketcher had just come back from China and he showed photos of the terra cotta armies he had seen there. Now, I had heard of the afterlife armies that had been part of an early emperor’s tomb, but he was so excited about what he had seen I enjoyed thinking again about these amazing creations with fresh and new eyes and ears. I said I was envious of artists/artisans of that day who were so focused on their work, with no distractions. For those focused few there were no people getting in their way, wandering aimlessly around. Just look at the meticulous work and beautiful things they made with no distractions. They got up in the morning and knew exactly what they were going to do.

The rest of lunch and our conversation was equally nourishing. One of our group member’s talked about how he struggled to relax, and had a hard time dealing with the waves of energy that seemed to take over. He said he thought he must be hyperactive or something. He shared an app that he was using to meditate and I was wondering if that would be good for me when I get into a crazy sketching/painting moment. Unlike him, painting and/or sketching is not meditative for me. I get a buzz when I am painting, and my body all but vibrates head to toe when I’m working. And then of course the conversation took a turn to the silly side and we laughed at the idea that maybe a poor “focused” maker of terra cotta army men might wake up each morning and think, WTF, I have to make another one of those ridiculous statues. As I packed my bag and said goodbye to my friends I realized how wonderful it is to be in the world with others who understand you, or at least appreciate a different way of looking at the world. Another bit of LA hilarity? I think not. These are definitely words and people to live by.

A final bit of LA hilarity?

The Academy Awards are this Sunday and will be held right here in LA—at the Dolby Theater. As I was listening to the traffic report on the way home from work on Friday, they were reminding drivers to avoid certain areas of LA near the theater as various streets near the theater were going to be closed off for Sunday night’s event. Yes, traffic is part of a way of life around here, not sure there is anything hilarious about that. Do I care about the Oscars? I rarely go to that part of LA, and rarely see any of the movies that are nominated. I did see Roma this year. What a lovely movie…

February 9, 2019

woman in profile
Woman in Profile, UCB (acrylic on heavy paper)

Last week I went into quite a bit of detail about an egg tempera I did while at UC Berkeley. It took me a bit of time to find it in my many portfolios and while I was looking I came across this study. I think what intrigued me most about her is that I have absolutely no memory of creating it, while my memories of the egg tempera were so real and complete. But I can’t picture the art room, where I was when I painted it or anything else for this one. During my time at UCB I did many acrylic paintings, so maybe there was nothing special about it. What I do remember about making such creations is standing at a huge metal sink off one of the art rooms in Krober Hall, cleaning out my mixing trays and brushes. I have since figured out that all you really need to do is clean the brushes and let the acrylic dry in the tray. Then you can easily scrape it out with a razor blade. But I do remember standing there, visiting with the other neophyte painters as we endlessly rinsed and scrubbed out our brushes.

What struck about this one is that I kind of remember being surprised that it came out kind of nice. Not so sure about her skin—looks a little dirty I think. Since it appears she is only in a robe, maybe she was about to jump in the bath. I don’t know. Maybe her head is a little big and her breasts a little flat and oddly placed. Maybe it’s a little like the question, “Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? But I really like her intense stare in profile, with her hand covering her mouth, as if she is really contemplating something important. (Maybe she’s looking at the bathroom door, hoping her roommate has not used all the hot water so she can take a bath?) I also like the way I rendered the print on her robe. Wish I had such a robe with those colors. I can actually say that I don’t remember if I did this from a live model or a photo of an existing painting. But I sure don’t remember doing this in a figure drawing class, so it’s probably the latter.

Doing sketches or paintings of other painters work is actually encouraged when in art school or taking a painting class. I think such exercises have always been encouraged for artists of today and long ago. It gives us a chance to study the masters, looking at their rendering of fabric, skin or hair. It is also good to look closely at how another painter uses proportion, depth and foreshortening. For this week’s blog, I thought it noteworthy to write about drawing faces, and how a painter uses angles, facial expressions and even where the subject’s eyes are looking to give you some kind of message or emotion.

60% sketch3
Sketch of Portrait of Boy, Rembrandt, Norton Simon Museum

Here is a sketch I did of a Rembrandt at the Norton Simon a couple years ago. For this one I remember noticing that the child was looking straight out at the viewer. Such a straight on angle is not all that common for portrait paintings, not really sure why. But somehow it seems appropriate for a child to be looking out at the viewer so clearly, as children don’t really know they’re not supposed to do certain things until they get older. I loved noticing the plump round features that tell us it is a child. Of course the hat that kid is wearing is actually kind of big and strange. It looks like one that maybe he got out his dad’s closet. I don’t know anything about the young boy, but I don’t think children were often painted alone, so he must have come from a wealthy family. It was fun to imagine that Rembrandt himself had probably started the painting with a similar sketch, or two, or ten.

50% sketch 2
Sketch of Self Portrait, Rembrandt, Norton Simon Museum

This face is none other than Rembrandt van Rijn. I’ve always been fascinated by self-portraits. If you think about it, it means that you are looking at yourself in a mirror for hours. And every time you look away to mix a color or add some pigment to a canvas, you have to get your face back to where it was, so you can keep going. In a way, it’s probably simpler than finding a patron and/or paying for a model in the hopes of finding a buyer. However, I am guessing no patron would be buying such a painting as it’s not a member of his family. So, I think this kind of work was done when a painter had down time, or it was winter and too cold and rainy to go outside and look for a model or a patron. I just Googled Rembrandt to find out how many self-portraits he did in his 40 years of painting. Wikipedia says he did almost 100, and that included: paintings, etchings and drawings. I think it’s lovely to see what he saw when he looked in the mirror. This piece shows him as maybe a middle-aged man and I like that he captured a more adult self in a three-quarter view—not looking straight at the viewer. For this one I remember thinking it was fun to imagine he was sitting for me and I was drawing a sketch of the great Rembrandt van Rijn. He seems to be wearing the same hat as the boy and it somehow looks more appropriate. And if you haven’t figured out by now, all of my ramblings about sketching/painting someone else’s art can give you possible insight into what you are looking at. Of course I made up everything I wrote about today, except all the self-portraits of Rembrandt. I am guessing he couldn’t have sold a single one in his day, and I believe he died poor. But I wonder what just one would sell for today. Or what would be the total value of 100 of his self-portraits? I have never even attempted one. I guess I had better get busy…

Final note about copying a painting or photograph

I have seen a number of sketches/paintings of photographs taken of famous people, or not so famous people. That’s kind of dangerous territory for a painter. If you paint something from life or from a photo you took, it’s OK to frame it and try to sell it. (I think I have even seen that people send sketches/painting to the famous people they have depicted. I guess that’s OK because they are not asking for money.) If I had done Woman in Profile looking at a live model and I liked it well enough, I could have put it in a frame and maybe sell it. But, if I did it while looking at someone else’s photo, or copying another’s work, there should be no framing and selling. Right? That would actually mean you stole someone else’s idea and claimed it as your own. Oh, and if you do decide to frame a piece of your art, pay a couple bucks for it and get a nice one. One thing you can steal from the old masters is the importance of a good frame. OK?

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!