January 6, 2018

Enchanted stars
“Enchanted Lights” in the Rose Garden, December 2017 (mixed media)

As this is my first post for 2018, I’m wondering if it should be related to some kind of New Year’s resolution. Nah… Instead I like the idea of talking about the “structure” or “bones” I have in this piece of art and how I need to have structure or at least a point of reference for each piece of my art. Some artists can just conjure something in their head and paint as if from memory. Whenever I try that, it looks kind of contrived or forced. I need to get out of my head and be transported somewhere else when I paint. That means I need to be looking at something of interest, and maybe even listening to music.

I remember when I was in school at UC Berkeley; I had some amazing art teachers there. My figure drawing instructor’s first assignment was for us to go outside onto a second floor back balcony and paint the sky. Well, the sky in Berkeley that day was completely cloudless—an all-over perfect blue. Funny assignment for a figure drawing class, right? I figured she hadn’t lined up anyone for us to draw that day and decided to have us draw outer space. Artists can be like that and I was inspired to do my best even if there was nothing actually there. I had previously stretched a sheet of watercolor paper and proceeded to mix what I thought the most perfect blue paint color. I then went to work evenly covering the paper, creating the most perfect afternoon blue-sky wash I could imagine. It didn’t take me very long. Most of my time was spent mixing the color. Because, as you may or may not be aware, doing a wash is tricky and you have to apply the paint quickly and evenly, especially when you are outside in the warm sun. (I found this “long ago” piece while digging through a stack of old portfolios the other day. Still a perfect blue sky, I might add.) I had noticed a guy wearing a black beret and cape when we all filed into the studio that first day. So of course he created a sky that looked like it was on fire—with bright shades of purple, red, deep gold and black. It took him quite a while to create his sky. I can still picture it in my imagination. (I didn’t watch him do it, but I always wondered how one paints while wearing a cape.) I don’t remember what the teacher said to any of us when we were all finished (some had painted fluffy white clouds). But she was pretty great with all other critiques, not crushing our very tender and delicate artistic souls as we painted the subsequent parade of nudes that came and went during the rest of the quarter. I can only imagine she thought mine was too literal and a bit of snooze and that “beret” man had tried a little too hard to be different. I can still picture her pleasant face as she sipped from a huge mug of tea—walking carefully among the easels, stepping around the large birdcage and hatboxes that one of the models often brought with her. I seem to remember painting her too. I remember her wearing bright red lipstick, a colorful hat with a plume while holding a parrot. She might have been wearing a pair of spring-a-laters as well…

So, besides including a beautiful blue California sky in my work as often as possible I always have in mind some kind of underlying structure. That might mean I draw a few pencil marks on the paper or canvas before I start. Or I create a sketch or thumbnail before I dive into the white abyss of a blank canvas. I don’t often actually use pen and ink first, as I have done here, but sometimes I want the structure very evident. I think it stems from all the detailed pen and ink plant and animal renderings I have done in the past. I try to add some stippling, crosshatching and/or line detail to indicate depth or texture. Sometimes I mix colors and try them out on scraps of paper or board before I add them, or layer one color on top of another to see if it’s what I really want.

I love all the thought and prep I engage in before starting a painting. I think this comes from my process that involves a certain amount of internal grit. What do I mean by grit, you might say? When I Googled it just a bit ago, Wikipedia said something about having passion for long-term goals and a level of perseverance. When I was in grad school I learned of a woman named Angela Duckworth who was doing research on this very topic. Her theory is that to be successful you probably need a certain amount of intelligence, but you also need a certain non-tangible amount of willingness to not get easily discouraged, try not to be overcome with setbacks or disappointments and finish what you start. There is even a test she has developed called the “Grit Scale.” And you can take it online to determine how “gritty” you are.

I think if you want to be an artist of any kind, you need to be pretty “gritty.” You need to keep going and finish what you start. And as a painter, it is very important to me to finish most pieces of art I start and I think that’s why I spend some time making each piece important to me, important enough to finish. Of course I don’t finish every piece, that would be impossible and somehow crazy to even imagine! Sometimes I have to admit that what I’m working on isn’t working and I need to just stop. This is especially true with watercolor. I just have to stop because I’ve inadvertently covered up too much white space. It just starts to look dark and dim somehow. There are times I have tried to reintroduce white spaces with white gouache, but that never works for me. It all starts to look kind chalky, maybe a little greasy and definitely overworked. When working in oil, I can usually salvage a piece by just painting over whatever it is that’s bugging me. But that usually means waiting for a section to dry and “stepping back” in the process and waiting can drive me “up the wall.” I have actually gessoed a finished canvas and started over completely, with a completely different painting. I have also scraped and sanded off dried paint to change part of a finished painting. Crazy huh? What would my laid back Berkeley figure drawing art instructor say to that? Too much grit I think, literally! I mean, when you try to scrape and sand hardened paint it literally makes bits of grit that stick to other parts of painted canvas. What a mess. Stop already!

So, how gritty are you? Do you go to the point of obsession like me? Or do you pick your battles more discerningly and know when it’s time to stop and let it go? I think watercolor has almost saved me from being too obsessively gritty because you can’t sand or scrape off watercolor paint. It just makes a big hole in the paper. Did I just admit to doing that? Not going to try to be less gritty for a new year’s resolution again. Happy New Year!

December 30, 2017

Dec 3
Descanso Garden, 12/3/17 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and watercolor crayon)

It’s about to be a new year and this post is my idea of a wrap up of 2017 I guess. Of course what I have to say has some heavy-handed symbolism, with a few of my stories that are sprinkled with my abounding love of art. And it’s a time where I get to take myself way too seriously. Ha! Gotta love that. This year, as well as any year for that matter, it’s all about special moments–like a moment in the sun when the light is just right. I got to thinking about reflecting on the year as light filled moments on December 21, the shortest day of year. Years ago, I realized I needed a certain number of sunny days in a row to really be happy and somewhat “centered.” Being raised in Silicon Valley we had many sunny days, and that was good. But as is typical of my native CA brethren and me, we move frequently. And I didn’t stay in Silicon Valley once I had graduated from high school. After that I lived in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego and Berkeley (as well as a couple other East Bay cities—Walnut Creek and San Ramon), Santa Clara, Long Beach, Paso Robles, Grass Valley, Glendale and La Crescenta. (And that list is not in any particular order.) The year between my sophomore and junior years in college I ventured far from sunny California and lived in Munich. As I soon discovered, that’s a place with way too many cloudy days in a row for me. I remember a moment in the sun one particularly cloudy spring day. I had just stepped off the strassenbahn near the room I rented in a flat in Schwabing, which is near the Englische Garten. People on the street were dressed in their usual heavy wool coats and hats, carrying shopping bags, and they were shuffling along past the many store windows. It was another cloudy day and I had gotten used to no sun. All of a sudden the clouds parted and everything was bathed in sunlight. All the shuffling immediately stopped and it got very quiet. That crowd of people had turned to face the sun, standing so still that it looked like a huge army of shadows had materialized as if by magic. I stopped too, but more or less to look at the frozen bodies all around me. After 20 seconds or so the sun went back behind the clouds, never to return that afternoon or many other subsequent afternoons. The people unfroze and resumed whatever journey they were on that previous moment. I had met some people from the States that were doing doctoral research at the University of Michigan. They said the Germans loved being outdoors, especially on a beautiful sunny day. One friend had said they’d seen whole families strip down to no clothes on the side of a lake once on a particularly sunny day. It was just a moment or two in the sun that turned into an afternoon. How lovely!

When my son was little we lived in Paso Robles, a place of intense sunshine during the summer. I probably got spoiled with too many moments in the sun there because no particular moment comes to me now. After that we moved further north and lived in Grass Valley. I remember several lovely moments in the sun there, especially after days of brutal wind and snow. Once the sun came out you could see a huge blanket of snow as well as the almost individual snowflakes that had landed on the tips of leaves or were stuck to the side of fence posts or street signs. But those tiny sparkles would almost immediately start to melt once the sun came out. Just another moment in the sun.

While living in Grass Valley I had a doctor tell me that women who lived north of San Francisco probably didn’t get enough sun and that we should all take vitamin D to make up for that. I surely took that to heart and now find myself in sunny southern California. There have been so many moments in the sun here to describe and record in a watercolor. I am in a sunlit heaven. I have seen so many amazing sunsets and sunrises nestled on the hills near my house this year. Would love to see some rainbows. Maybe there will be a few more in 2018… Maybe this year you had memorable rainbows where you live…

On Christmas morning I went walking along Second Street in Belmont Shore. I carry a small scribble pad and pen with me always—just in case I see a perfect statue, strange plants or a symmetrical grouping of trees I need to capture in a moment. During previous walks on Second Street I had noticed that an artist had painted shadows on the sidewalk connected to a couple parking meters next to the curb. However, on this particular morning I started to really look at a shadow or two, madly scribbling notes about what the artist had depicted there. As I walked along I realized there were probably a dozen or more whimsical shadows painted on the concrete connected to these meters. That artist had captured a moment in the sun and had somehow created a beachfront southern California story I was really interested in. I’d been down the street countless times and had not noticed all those shadows. It occurred to me there were usually lots of people milling around down there, looking in windows, pushing a stroller, walking their dogs and/or waiting to be seated in a café. So, normally all those painted shadows would have obliterated by the real shadows of people, strollers and dogs. (I have spoken in the past about my distaste for people and now I had irrefutable proof of their infamy.) But since it was Christmas morning lots of the stores and cafes were closed, save a coffee shop or two. There was virtually no one walking around, or pushing a stroller with a dog attached.

Here is a list of those Second Street shadows, in order: 1. Parking meter with a bird in flight just above it, 2. Dog on a leash (sitting on the concrete) as though it was attached to the actual meter, 3. Two crows in profile perched on the side of the parking meter, 4. Parking meter with 2 pelicans in flight above the meter, 5. No shadow of a parking meter, but rather the shadow of a large dog, 6. Parking meter with a person putting money in the meter, 7. No shadow of a parking meter, but rather the shadow of a young girl on an adult’s shoulders, 8. No shadow of the parking meter, but the shadow of a very large crow, 9. No shadow of a parking meter, but the shadow of a heron with the heron’s reflection in water with 3 fish in the water within reach of the heron. There may have been more parking meter shadows further down the street, but I had gone past a coffee shop and turned around to get a cappuccino.

I guess the final thoughts I have about memorable moments in the sun in 2017 (or any year), is to remember to remember what you have seen or felt in a particular moment. Not everyone will capture a moment in a watercolor or see a series of shadows on a sidewalk on Christmas morning. But don’t forget to notice momentary snowflakes, blazingly amazing sunsets and sunrises, rainbows or the occasional impromptu army of German shadows on the sidewalk on a busy spring day. Such moments should not to be missed!

Happy New Year!

December 23, 2017

Lucchesi pastel bd
Lucchesi Vineyards (2005), companion piece for Napa Vineyard curving cypress (watercolor crayon on pastel board)

These vineyards are pretty spectacular—sitting in the Sierra Foothills surrounded with dense pine forests. During the cool fall months through early spring you can see snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains that are in the distance. (This view is of the western side of the Lucchesi Vineyards, with the Sierra behind me.) I spent a couple enjoyable afternoons traipsing the hillsides through these grape plants and I think the pastel shows the kind of deep blue green that exists in northern California that I don’t see in SoCal. The greens here have that hint of yellow or gold, as you might find in a eucalyptus or palm tree. Once you get north of San Luis Obispo County you can see this kind of blue green in the landscape.

Ode to Old Grass Valley

My mom and dad, along with my paternal grandfather, went into business together in the early 1960s. My parents invested in 10 acres of rental property near downtown Grass Valley. There were 6 or 7 very old little houses on the property. As kids we thought the houses very funny as the toilets in each house had a wooden box on the wall high above the toilet bowl and it had a chain hanging down. You pulled down on the chain when you wanted to flush it. My dad loved to say, “Would you like to hear the story about the chain and the turtle? Pull the chain and the turd ‘l go down.” I think I thought that funny the first dozen or so times he said it…

Back in the 60s no one would have planted vineyards. I imagine the old timers that lived there would have thought it crazy to plant grapes and go to all the trouble of making wine when there were already a great many bars and liquor stores all along Mill Street and West Main. In its early years Grass Valley flourished as a mining town once gold was discovered near Sacramento in January 1848. It was an honest to God boomtown and the Empire Mine in GV ran from 1850 to 1956. According to Wikipedia it was the oldest, biggest and richest gold mine in California. And Grass Valley has the distinction of continuing to thrive to this day even after gold fever moved to the Yukon.

It seems the 10-acre rental property my parents bought was very much a part of early Grass Valley history. It was at the end of North Church Street and most of the streets around that area were named after women, such as: Doris Drive, Carol Drive, Bernice Drive, Hazel Lane and Jan Road. During the early days of the “hard rock” mining done at the Empire Mine that part of town was known as the “red light” district. There were a number of tiny houses in the area that were inhabited by prostitutes that the miners were known to frequent. And I guess some of the women were so famous that some of the streets were named after them. As an adult I thought it amusing that there were so many bars in town and with a quick walk down North Church you were on Doris Drive.

You may have noticed that the Empire Mine had only been closed a couple years when my dad bought the property. Later, in the mid-1970s, my mom and dad bought an 1863 pre-Victorian in Grass Valley near downtown and their rentals. One of their neighbors across the street had worked in the mine until it closed in ‘56. I think I remember him saying that if any miner found a particularly large nugget or a sizable vein of gold threading through the quartz the mine was immediately shut down. This was so management could go down and take a good look without the “hired help” around. Jim speculated that they didn’t want anyone volunteering to work that part of the mine in case they might be considering taking “samples” home with them. Hmmm…

Back to the partnership between my dad and his father…

It was always a kind of precarious arrangement as my grandfather had been a lifelong alcoholic. However, at that time he was on wife number two and as my dad said, “he seemed to be behavin’ himself.” I guess my grandpa had been mostly sober since meeting and marrying her. Finding and buying the property all coincided with my grandpa, his wife and her brother going to the CA state fair where they had seen cabins made of cedar that went together like Lincoln logs. The wood was notched and drilled so they could be assembled one on top of the other, with long pieces of rebar to stabilize the 10-foot by 13-foot little cabins. It was all decided that my grandpa and his brother-in-law would build a mill and they would make the cedar logs and then assemble them on the front half of the property near the few existing little houses. So, now my dad was on board because he was sure my grandpa would be too busy to drink. However, my grandpa’s brother-in-law liked to drink. And throughout the time they built the cabins that brother-in-law would disappear for days on end. Eventually he would then turn up at the local jail for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Then they would get back to work.

So, even though the miners were long gone, my family built a number of these little cabins I’m sure long ago miners would have loved to inhabit—so close to work, town and Carol Drive. Over time, the town and the partnership changed. My grandpa’s second wife died and he began drinking again and married wife number three. They were “hitched” in the Flume Room at the local bowling alley, a short walk from the property on North Church. That building was eventually taken down and is now a Holiday Inn. And with my grandpa’s third wife his drinking resumed and the rentals became populated with his drinkin’ buddies. My dad decided things had to change and bought out my grandpa, then forced him to move off the premises.

And so as the characters in my life’s story changed, so did the character of the bar-filled town. If I think about it, there’s only one of those original bars left. Even the old Gold Pan Liquor store is now a “head shop.” And there are more sophisticated businesses with wine and coffee bars. And the sleepy little mining town, and surrounding areas, has become a destination rather than secret places hidden in the foothills of the Sierra. Large homes and a couple golf courses were added for the “white hairs” that have moved in. I’m not really sorry for so many changes. I’m not so sure I think things were better in the past whether it’s Grass Valley or any other place in California. It was just the past and sometimes people think it was simpler and more romantic long ago. Yeah, tell that to the miners that went straight down into the blackness of the Empire Mine everyday in the late 1800’s.

That actually reminds of very visual bit of gentrification that has taken place in Grass Valley. When we were kids there was a particular landmark we would see as we drove into town. On the Del Oro Theater on Mill Street was a huge, if rather simple, mural on the back wall. It depicted a giant heart with a miner holding a pick and shovel on either side. Centered inside the heart were the words, “Grass Valley, The Heart of the Gold Industry.” In 2009 that was painted over by a muralist in a kind of Trompe L’oeil image. The painting is meant to trick your eye into thinking you are looking directly into a mountain—complete with rock, flowing water, greenery and timbers you might find in a gold mine. Then, as if in a mist, on the right is the depiction of long ago miners sitting side by side, top to bottom, in a kind of vertical train that would transport them down into the darkness of the mine to work. No words for this one. Oh, and at the very bottom around the back door to the theater is a painting of a prominent city guy from the 1990’s to early 2000’s. He looks as though he is going in the back door of the theater. Of course you can imagine the controversy this started with the few old timers that were left.

In the mid 80s my grandpa died in a little house just off the property he and his brother-in-law helped my parents develop into a business with 25 little cabins. Just before he died my dad said he was behavin’ himself again and they would get together and talk. I think my grandpa was pleased to remind my dad that all the hard work had paid off and all the heartache of the past was just the past. That must have been true as my mom and dad had forgiven him and were just about to invite him to come live with them when he passed away. So, maybe the past is important to remember, but it was never perfect. And in my opinion, trying to reproduce the past should certainly not be a blueprint for the future. Besides, if this winery hadn’t been built, this pastel would never have happened. And more importantly, all their wonderful wine would never have been produced and tasted.

December 16, 2017

My front porch, 12/10/17 (watercolor, Inktense pencil, watercolor crayons on watercolor paper)

Since I moved to this SoCal house (last August) I have been meaning to sit on my front porch and create a piece of art. So, last Sunday I did just that. The air was slightly cooler than it had been and the wind that blew in all the smoke from fires around us had moved farther north. Good for us, but bad for Santa Barbara.

I have been focusing a lot on color as of late, but on that day I was more interested in composition. It was fun to decide what had really caught my eye, and what I would leave in and what I would leave out. Would it be an expansive landscape that included many details jumbling around on a hillside? Would I include plants that were surrounding the view, and actually creating a kind of frame around my special elements in the middle? Or would it be something else, like a vignette of specifically chosen elements, almost like a still life of large things? Those are sometimes the most tricky to do because these days I want my art to look effortless even though the planning and logic of placement certainly takes a bit of effort. I even sometimes squint my eye to imagine the frame it will be in or use my hands to block out the things I don’t want to see. I get to pick and choose what I want to leave in and what I leave out. It is my composition, my vision.

So, this is what I decided to include: two palm trees (the one on the left got cut out and didn’t notice my bad cropping job until just now…), several sharp dark green cypress spires, a hint of houses with their roofs, and some plant specimens that include an orange tree covered with fruit. (Yes, there is ripening citrus on the trees in SoCal right now.) But perhaps the understated star of this show is the background that suggests soft verdant hills that have not been blackened by fire. It is where my eye can rest. You might wonder what I left out. Do you want to know? I removed the white truck that was in front of the house, took down a rather large telephone pole with wires extending in all directions and I axed a rather non-descript shrub in front of the palm tree on the left so you could see that tree (which I inadvertently chopped out…). Often, when I do a landscape I am looking to crawl into the picture and escape down a road, up a tree or I picture myself in the place just beyond a hill like this one. That means I take out items that don’t contribute to the story or feeling I am trying to convey.

When it comes to my art I think I always look to the “free speech” part of the first amendment for inspiration. I mean, I think it is perfectly OK to present my work as though I am having a conversation with you and I get to tell you what I hope you see. I know I am often overdramatic, but if you really plan to share your art with someone, you hope they get what you are trying to say using color and composition. But in way it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t working for you because you have my permission to look away, or look at someone else’s blog or art, or whatever. That’s fine with me. (Of course you don’t really need my permission to do that, right?) And, without being overly dramatic again, I think that’s what makes democracy (specifically the first amendment) so wonderful, you don’t have to like what I like. You don’t have to listen to me.

Are you wondering where all this is going? There is definitely more to this story…

Ok, earlier on that Sunday I went to a new coffee shop and began a new book that I had gotten at the library the day before. (Yes, I still browse library shelves for something to read.) I don’t know if I should mention the title of the book as it is a rather “lightweight” murder mystery and I don’t know if I am going to like it yet. Anyway, I was quietly drinking my double cappuccino and happily reading away, when a guy behind me began talking a little louder than I like. I mean, I could hear him very clearly over the other sounds of this rather busy place and it was kind of distracting. He was one of 7 or 8 people all sitting around, eating brunch and it sounded like he was giving the others at the table a lecture. I was really trying not to pay attention. So, I am thinking this is a free country and I attempt to dive back into my book, wondering who had put the poison in the tea that had just killed Beau. But then he began to describe, to the rapt crowd of mostly women at the table, that Satan and all his many demons were walking among us. I imagined they had just come from church and he was continuing the morning’s message to his lunch companions and me. I couldn’t really “unhear” this now and thought of planning my departure, but wasn’t quite finished with my cappuccino. I naively hoped he would focus on his meal and stop talking. But of course that was not to be and he wasn’t done. So, now he began to speak of Jews and all the problems they have brought to the world, including the fact that Jews had killed Jesus. Merry Christmas! I guess I had never actually heard someone say anti-Semitic things over brunch in a coffee shop. But I knew I did not have to sit there and listen to such “hate.” I quietly closed my book and left, wondering if I would ever go back to that coffee shop again.

I went home, and planned and executed the composition you see here, not intending to give my earlier flight from the coffee shop another thought. But somehow I started obsessing about what freedom of speech really meant to me and how the right to speak freely had a flipside and I wasn’t required to hang around and listen. I even Googled “First Amendment” and was reminded that besides freedom of speech it also guarantees us freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom to assemble peaceably. So, I guess the church group in the coffee shop was exercising another part of their first amendment right as well. But of course I wasn’t quite done with my little bit of personal drama. I told myself such anti-Semitic people were only allowed in my composition if they were all inside the truck that I so carefully removed from this piece. Then they could drive off into their personal sunset and leave me alone with my personal composition, my personal vision. Ok, so now I’m done…

Footnote to the story: This morning my son and I went back to coffee shop. We had a lovely brunch and all I could hear in the background was the Beatles. Ah me, there is a God!

Note about a wonderful book of “color”: Besides the murder mystery that I am still not sure I will finish, I found a rather wonderful book called, The Color of Pixar, by Tia Kratter. According to the introduction in the book, Ms. Kratter has been a Shader Art Director at Pixar for 19 years. (Not sure what a “Shader” is…) Anyway, she has taken specific 1/24 of a second images from various Pixar movies she has “Shaded (?)” and matched them with a border of color and put all such images in a book. The book starts with white borders framing an image, then the borders gradate to lilac, then purple, continuing on through all the colors of the rainbow. In fact the first two pages with white borders are two shots of the desk lamp that is so “iconic Pixar.” And the last couple pages are framed with black. And of course the irony that I love here is that all the digital art that was created for such a book was not made with an artist’s brush on paper, but a computer program. Gotta love that!

December 9, 2017

backyard tree
Backyard Tree, La Crescenta, November 2017 (watercolor test of New Gamboge)

Hadn’t planned to post this picture, as I am not sure it’s worthy of anyone’s attention—save my “color” scrutiny. I thought this tree in my backyard had fall leaves that were the perfect shade of yellow—my new obsession. So, I rolled out a thin sheet of bubble wrap onto the cold concrete slab walkway beside the garage and sat down to paint. (I should replace that bubble wrap as it has gone quite flat in places where my butt has unceremoniously popped the bubbles.) The light was fading and I had a new tube of New Gamboge to try out. I thought this strange “SoCal-specific” color would be perfect for the gorgeous fall leaves as the Southern California light faded into evening. So, here’s what my backyard tree (don’t know what kind of tree it is actually) looked like that day and in that light.

Fast forward to one week later. All, and I mean all, of the colorful yellow blotches you see here (plus a huge number of green leaves and branches) were blown to the ground Monday night (12/4). We have something here in Southern California called the Santa Ana winds. They tend to come in the fall and blow like crazy for a couple days. Sometimes the winds gust to 40, 50, on up to 80 miles per hour. And then just as quickly as they arrive, they’re gone again. (Of course I’m glossing over the meteorological event going on here…)

So, back to why I posted this picture. I think I did it because as corny as it may sound, you need to stop and notice things around you. Because random events, like crazy-strong gusts of wind, can change everything overnight. Of course this didn’t happen in an instant. The tree took hours of battering winds to completely drop its “New Gambogeness.” And now, that color is somewhere in the dried up leaves and branches all over my backyard. So, what’s the big deal? Why all the drama and whining? I think some of it stems from the fact that I just finished lingering over a book (Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren). In that book she describes, in great detail, the perils that trees constantly face here on Earth. And I could almost feel the tree’s pain as the rather poetic changing and dropping of fall leaves could be instantly changed as they were ripped from it’s branches and thrown about like so many other bits of inconsequential detritus. (OK, way over the top drama and I will stop with the metaphors.) But I will have something more to say about my beloved trees…later.

But the real story that comes from this kind of wind in our dry inland landscape is the potential for fires. And that is the real story here because that is exactly what happened Monday night, just a few miles away from my windswept backyard tree and me. A random ember, from who knows where, started a fire. Then the churning wind fanned those flames and picked up floating embers and blew them around, setting alight more and more things that burn. And just like that, you are in danger and everything you care about can go up in smoke, including you. But of course you can move and hopefully have time to get in a car and drive away. Not so, for your pets and/or livestock, your house and surrounding trees or shrubs. So, now your beautiful home (and all your beautiful possessions inside), trees and shrubs can become your death trap. Some think they can stay behind, use garden hoses to wet down the roof and somehow ride it out. Maybe. Then you see photos of the hillside next to the 405 completely ablaze, as cars move slowly past the spectacle. Oh, and on the west side of this particular stretch of the freeway is the Getty Museum, something else that you can’t pack up and take to safety. So, if you ran the Getty and a helicopter could whisk away something inside the museum at a moment’s notice, what might you stuff inside before you jumped aboard and flew away? Or, what if the police or fire department told you to evacuate your house right now? What would you take?

I got one of those emergency messages (Wednesday night) on my phone telling me that crazy high winds may bring the blaze to my front door and that I might need to be evacuated in the middle of night. Thank goodness the Santa Anas in my area that night/morning weren’t as fierce as predicted. But I woke up several times during the night/early morning and looked out my window just to see if there were gusts of smoke I should be worried about. In case I had to leave in a hurry I had placed a couple large paintings and my laptops by the front door. I had also left my car out that night because I didn’t want to worry about the winds while trying to open the garage door in a hurry. (I had had great difficulty getting my car out Tuesday morning as the wind kept blowing the door shut. I finally put the car in reverse and just backed out as quickly as possible, hoping the wind would not slam down onto my new car.) Tuesday night I put a few items inside my car, like my checkbook and pending bills, an old address book with many friends listed inside, a full backpack of assorted painting supplies with things like watercolors/paper and brushes, a box of supplies for my son’s insulin pump, recharger cords for my phone and laptops, and my mother’s ashes. I had spoken to my son earlier in the evening and he reminded me of a couple valuable comic books. And he asked me to put those in the car as well. Not that anything I wanted to save would be as precious as what you might find at the Getty, and I don’t have any pets right now. But the items I just listed are important to me. What would you put in your car if you had to leave in a hurry? What is precious to you?

My note to you about trees: So, now I come back to the trees. I can’t put them in my car and I can’t stand to look at an area that’s burned—with so many ash gray shrouded trees where my beautiful green color should be. Sometimes my heart just feels like it will break at that sight. And I can’t watch them burn when the news shows the devastation of the flames on a hillside of trees. The other night they showed a couple palm trees burning like large candles against the night sky. I turned it off, I couldn’t watch, it just made my heart sick with grief.

It can’t be an accident that Friday, 12/8/17 was the birthday of Jan Ingenhousz. He was the 18th century Dutch scientist who is credited for discovering photosynthesis. And it can’t be an accident that I finally finished Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. (I savored every delicious chapter of this one…) Her final thoughts in the book are to tell us to plant trees whenever and wherever possible. She tells us to plant them as though your life depended on it. Because actually, it does.

December 3, 2017

Napa Winery, summer 2005
Napa Winery, Winter 2007 (watercolor crayon on green pastel board)

I’ve done a number of winery landscapes. In 2007 I was living in Grass Valley, but I was painting Paso Robles and the surrounding area (my son and I had previously lived there). Back in 2007 my son was still pretty young and as a single mom I didn’t have the luxury of doing much plein air painting. Mostly I took photos of places I loved and wanted to paint, and then when I had a moment or two I would paint them either in oil, watercolor or colored pencil.

I took this photo the summer 2005 when I was on a trip with a couple lovely friends. We were in Napa and doing some serious wine tasting. I thought these “crazy shaped” cypress pretty fun and made my friends stop so I could take a picture. For many months after our trip, I pulled this photo out of the box with the intent of painting it. It took me until the winter of 2007 for me to finally create this piece. By that time I was experimenting with pastel board and watercolor crayons. I had just finished a pastel board of some of the grape plants of Lucchesi Vineyards in Grass Valley and thought I’d be clever and magically add some grapes, the driveway and cypress trees of a winery in Napa—making another diptych. Not so sure how clever all that really was…

During my “sans” plein air outdoor painting period I usually played some Mozart, Miles or the Chieftains and had a ball painting. Picasso had his “blue period” and I had my “tunes period.” But most of this one was done sans music, amid “ear splitting” silence, punctuated by intermittent chanting and meditation in the sanctuary of the Grass Valley United Methodist Church one Sunday morning. Our pastor was trying to establish an early morning “contemplative prayer” service and she asked me to sit and paint while they all worshipped during one of these services. I thought it an interesting idea and wondered how I could do without listening to bagpipes, but said, “OK.”

The set up for watercolor crayons and pastel board isn’t as messy as random trays of watercolors or smelly oils. I just had a cup of water that I used to mix some of the water-soluable crayons right on the bumpy surface of the board. But there was nothing that would really leave a horrible stain if something spilled. So, I sat and painted in the darkened sanctuary, with only the light of the sun streaming through a rather large stained glass window behind me and had a ball. The service lasted 45 minutes and of course I wasn’t done. I think I had finished the sky (where I often start my landscapes) with the wonderful Italian cypress weaving up through the blue. And I had most of the other plants and the road roughed in. It was still in what we in the painting trade call it’s “ugly period.” So, as the 8, or so, people who were in the service filed past me, no one gushed in excitement and admiration at the site of the few “Italian” cypress trees standing before my blue sky. The pastor seemed pleased I was there, but she didn’t invite me back to be “contemplative” and never asked to see it when I was finished. So, I took it home and contemplated the amazing saxophone stylings of Paul Desmond, finished the landscape and never looked back.

Maybe they were expecting the Madonna and Child, the visual representation of someone speaking in tongues, something on fire or an angel or two—looking much like the cherubs from Western Europe’s religious painting of the 15th and 16th centuries. This got me thinking about what it must have been like before the Renaissance (14th century), when all art was meant to be devotional and had very stylized representations of the people from the Old and New Testament. And before the Renaissance, “nature” was not represented. If the painter added something behind an apostle or two, where the sky might be, it was often done in gold, not blue. And if plants were indicated at all, they were not as you would find in nature, but a stylized idea of foliage that was in the painter’s head. In fact, painters didn’t really go out to paint until the impressionists set up their easels outside. Western Europe’s Impressionists didn’t seem to care about the pesky changing light and bits of detritus that blew onto their palettes and/or onto the actual painting. They set up their easels all around the town and country, and had a ball (I’m sure).

Probably the best thing I can say about the whole “contemplative” experience was my surprising use of black—a color I rarely used then or even now for that matter. While sitting in that rather dark spot, I thought I had discovered a lovely dark blue in my tray of watercolor crayons that I hadn’t noticed before. But that lovely dark blue turned out to be black. That was a funny moment for me, when I stepped into the light and began looking for the dark blue color. It wasn’t there! I was happy how that bit of black turned out, but didn’t use it again until last night when I sat on a sheet of bubble wrap on the damp grass in the darkened back garden of the Norton Simon Museum. There I painted that magical garden and “Monet Inspired” pond by the light of the almost full moon and the night light of a nearby statue. This time I intentionally reached for my darkest blue again. I guess crazy and wonderful things can happen in the dark.

November 25, 2017

Adelaida Vineyard
Adelaida Vineyard (watercolor and colored pencil on illustration board)

So I did this one from a back deck of the Adelaida Vineyards. Not exactly sure when I painted it—probably around 2000. When I was thinking about this week’s post I had been wanting to write about the amazing yellows and gold colors that were in this landscape and also in my watercolor tray. I have already done my homage to blue and the “blue blood” royalty it has achieved in my painter’s palate. I thought it time I shared my thoughts on yellow and gold, and how I have used it so masterfully through my many experiences painting fields of safflower and bales of golden hay. I had decided this piece, with the golden hills of Adelaida as a backdrop to the almond trees and grape plants you see here, the perfect painting to do that. But I should have learned never to pair art with words too early—something about what I think I want to say is bound to change. And that’s exactly what happened. I thought I would wax eloquently about my layering of Prismacolor and watercolor yellows on cold press illustration board. So, just stop already!

Here’s what changed my tune. Last Sunday I participated in a watercolor workshop (sponsored by Winsor Newton) at the CTN Animation Expo at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank. Gary Geraths and Virginia Hein, art instructors from Otis College of Art and Design, were there to show us how they use Winsor Newton products to create “on the spot” plein air watercolor paintings. Woo hoo! I got there a little early and watched a whole lot of animators, carrying books to be autographed and portfolios to be critiqued, going from building to building, building to tent and room to room (I noticed this particular movement when I went inside in search of a restroom).

Soon, Gary assembled all of us at the Winsor Newton tent and we walked to the hotel parking lot, where we were a bit apart from all the moving animators. But when I say away from the movement, I meant the movement of the people crossing in front of us to go to the various buildings and tents. There was some serious movement going on just to our right in the form of planes taking off from the Burbank airport (aka Bob Hope Airport) about every 20 minutes. It was actually pretty cool to watch commercial jets leave the ground, then a second later that very plane was reflected in the pink/amber tinted windows of a nearby building, and once that reflection moved off the windows a brief shadow was cast down on us standing there in the parking lot. Oh my God, I was in heaven!

Back to Gary. He had set up an easel in the shade (yes, it was in the 70’s) of several huge sycamore trees. (Virginia was sitting in a camp chair off to the side, peacefully painting the people and trees in front of her.) Gary immediately launched into telling us all his tricks for carrying only the most necessary items to paint anything anywhere. He had many stories and talked of many experiences he had while painting outside, all the while he painted layer upon layer of color to the sycamore trees, people and row of cars directly in front of him. He showed us how he arranges his trays of color, with the warm colors in one row and the cool colors in another. Gary referred to the lovely dark colors John Singer Sargent used to great effect in his watercolor paintings. He told us how he (Gary) had painted from moving kayaks/canoes—stashing his tiny watercolor book and paints away at a moment’s notice when they were soon to be in the rapids. Yikes! He even described getting lost once (for a day and a night) and how he only had water from his water bottle meant for painting to drink. Writing this down now I wonder if I heard him correctly. Anyway, there was plenty of water to be found around the Marriott parking lot. And his final piece was lovely—capturing just the right amount of Southern California dark and light color, leaving plenty of white spaces for highlights and rest.

So, now it’s Virginia’s turn, and she chose the exact same composition as Gary, but she included people. And the light on the Sycamore trees and space between them had definitely changed. I have taken a watercolor class from her (at the Descanso Garden) and I see her at various urban sketching venues around town. Her “on the spot” artwork is pretty amazing! She didn’t have harrowing plein air experiences to share, but instead treated us to a lesson in using layers of various yellows to capture the light of a fall day in Southern California. Virginia did a quick sketch of the scene with a golden colored Inktense pencil (I didn’t write down what exact color…), so it would soon fade into the background as soon as watercolor was added. She talked about experimenting with the transparent nature of certain colors, specifically New Gamboge. Virginia layered in the more opaque watercolors like cadmium yellow. Then going in for the kill at the end, she added fluorescent orange and line detail with her “oak” colored Inktense pencil. I think her reference to these golden colors and then golden shaded greens was of further interest to me. She said, and I think I agree, that southern CA foliage greens are more yellow and golden, not generally of a blue driven nature as you might find in the trees/plants of northern CA. And when I look back at early 20th century California impressionist landscape painters who painted in Laguna Beach, you can see that they had figured that out too. The light here in southern California is rather special and golden. And Virginia sure captured that golden essence. I didn’t even have a tube of New Gamboge. Better get on that ‘cause now it’s my turn to see what I can do with the golden light of southern California! Thanks Gary and Virginia.

Note: I kind of went a little overboard about everything except this painting and the lovely landscape I got to capture that day at the Adelaida Vineyard. And all my “carrying on” about the golden southern California light cannot diminish the joy and triumph I had creating the colors of the Central Coast of California you can actually see here. Just saying…

Oh, here’s a note about John Singer Sargent watercolor paintings: If you are most familiar with his oils, treat yourself and Google his watercolors. Done, and fade to black…

November 18, 2017

Decanso water
Descanso Water, Fall 2017 (watercolor, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Monet’s water lilies and the amazing pond he had installed at Giverny. I decided to make it my mission to get in touch with my “Monet side” and paint California bodies of water, big and small, as often as I could. So, the last time I went to the Descanso Garden, I looked for the perfect bench, “waterside,” to sit and paint. It took some doing to veer away from my favorite spots in the rose garden. But I persisted and found the perfect bench beside the perfect dark waterway that led to the bright patch of green sunlight at the end of this view. I was a little intimidated to paint moving water and wondered if I could capture the reflections of the dark “greenness” of the trees.

As was usual for me, I intentionally avoided contact with people as I walked around the roses and under the oaks. Maybe I worry that someone will get to the spot I want before I can fill up my water bottles at the drinking fountain. I thought the view from this bench perfect as there were no nearby paths other than the one that lead directly here. So, I could be certain not to have anyone spoil my view. As I set up my materials, I felt a little smug that I had fooled everyone and would be unseen until I realized the train tracks for the miniature railroad at the garden were just to my right. Darn! But I soon realized I could angle my body all the way to the left and would therefore not have to look directly at any children or their adults as they “tooted” past my view of the secret garden.

I don’t often think about what I want to write as I paint. The words usually come after the art for me. If you have read any of my other posts you may have noticed that I sometimes write about painting in general—how I mix colors (sometimes talking to various blues), stress over details and generally discuss how I apply paint. I also like to include something that is very specific to California in the form of a place or person. Then of course there are my family stories and just general musings that float through my brain throughout the day and night. So, on this particular day I was stressing about making the water look “Monet-like,” as I assumed I would be writing about that experience. I was also trying to avoid eye contact with the people on the train that went past me about every 10 minutes. (I noticed that the lady sitting at the back of the train smiled at me the first couple rounds, but I am guessing she finally gave up as I stopped looking in that direction). Toot, toot!

Even with all these rather weird thoughts I managed to make a go of it, and was generally pleased with the feeling of green peace being reflected in the water. When all of a sudden, out of shadows, a rather large koi drifted into view. I hadn’t expected to see anything other than the dark colors of the water and was surprised that a bright spot of orange dared to appear here. But I was determined to add this shiny splash of color on the spot even though I hadn’t planned earlier to add such a “tart” color into the cool blue and green mix. I grabbed my Inktense Poppy Red and Tangerine pencils and began mixing a bit of lovely cadmium red paint. Another fish joined the first one and now I welcomed two fish into my composition. I thought this hilarious because I probably wouldn’t have done the same if a couple kids had walked through the scene, but instead I would have waited till they passed by. I was so glad I had saved some white space and I worked quickly to put them in the water. Within a minute or two they were gone from my view.

By this time I was almost done and ready for a break. So, I took out my half a peanut butter sandwich and turned to watch the next trainload of children and their bored looking adults chug past me. Toot toot! I was certain they were all very curious to see what I was doing and maybe wanted me to hold up the watercolor I had been working on. I was prepared to say, “No. No. I couldn’t. It’s still wet and not ready for anyone to see.” I was surprised to see that the train was completely full and no one was looking my way, including the lady sitting in the caboose. No one looked bored. They were busy enjoying the train—smiling and talking, waiting for the conductor to blow the whistle again. Toot toot! It made me smile to watch them wiz past without noticing the smug and self-important painter. They sure hadn’t left any white space for me! (I guess we are all allowed to find our place at the park.) Maybe they were trying to avoid me. And just like that, they went around a corner and disappeared from my view.

As I finished my sandwich I thought of my dad, and how he was quick to remind us that no one was “all that.” In my mind I heard him say one of our family sayings, “So, you think you are * Mrs. Astor. But you are more surely Mrs. Astor’s horse.” Toot toot! Time to pack up and go.

* If you don’t know who Mrs. Astor was, she was married to a very wealthy man (John Jay Astor). They were on the Titanic. She made it across the Atlantic, but he did not.

Just checked the weather for turkey day in SoCal. It’s supposed to be 90 degrees! Good Grief. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 11, 2017

Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, April 2017 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

Last spring I visited my brother and his family while they stayed at Crystal Cove, near Newport Beach. This is the view from their little house on the hill, looking down a rather nice bit of California coast. Crystal Cove State Park includes a couple miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, some chaparral canyons and a number of historic beach houses that were built from about 1920 to 1940. I guess they started renting out these little cottages in 1979. When I looked up more details about this place a minute ago, their official site described Crystal Cove State Park as one of the last bits of natural seashore and open space in Orange County. I think I like adding this last bit in my narrative because there really isn’t much of our coastline that hasn’t been claimed by someone and/or developed with condos, hotels, businesses, golf courses and of course huge homes.

When I was a kid there were a couple beachfront areas, like Newport Beach (further north of Crystal Cove), La Jolla (San Diego) and parts of Malibu that seemed to have been reserved by the wealthy and/or famous. But even Malibu was known as the Malibu Colony back then and there were definitely some simple and unadorned houses right on the sand.

It’s always been so funny to me to see the seaside places that were once considered to be kind of dumpy, with the worst possible foggy weather, that now boast million dollar homes with continued terrible coastal fog. I mean, on the central coast no one went to Pismo Beach, Cayucos, or Morro Bay for a fancy “get away.” Those places always seemed to be “socked in” with fog, and only passable dives that served “greasy spoon” fish and chips. The sand-filled wind at the beach in Cambria in winter can literally blast the freckles from your nose, and yet lots of folks flock to that area these days. The California coast just north of Cambria (on the way to San Simeon) is pretty spectacular, with wonderful bluffs and no houses. But the Hearst family has tried, over the years, to develop that area–so far without success. Traveling south from here, near San Diego, there is Pacific Beach. And when I was young it had many scary looking houses near the water. It seemed that the only people who went to that beach back then were looking for a bar or a tattoo, or both. And of course there are Northern California beaches that weren’t particularly glamorous not so long ago. Santa Cruz had the beach boardwalk with some terrifying roller coaster rides, and the requisite bars and tattoo parlors. And there were lots of “white-haired” surfer dudes with beach dogs, riding around in old V dub vans. The downtown really changed after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. A lot of the brick buildings there were taken down because they weren’t safe anymore. And with that went some of the quaintness of that sleepy beach community.

Writing about the long ago beaches of California reminded me of a particular family SoCal summer rental. It was a little house in Sunset Beach, near Huntington Beach. I guess my grandfather and uncle picked out the place for us, site unseen by my mother. We actually have a home movie of us getting out of the family van and taking our stuff into that little house. There was just a tiny road between the sandy beach and our house, and I distinctly remember that I had the attic room at the very top of the stairs. I spent some amazing time in my little hidy hole reading a bunch of Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers (aka Helen Lyndon Goff). And at night I could hear the ocean. My brothers and I thought it was pretty great. Of course, when my mom spoke of our little house she reminded us there were slugs in the shower and a mouse in their bedroom that could be heard chewing on the carpet at night. Poor mom! And it seems there was a rip tide in the ocean just in front of our house. I guess my dad was disappointed that his body surfing there would be limited. But aunts, uncles and cousins came by to visit and that all seemed pretty great to me. I can’t remember if my grandpa and uncle (that picked out the place for us) came by. I suspect my mom would have loved to tell them about the critters that were sharing the house with us.

Those little houses are all gone now. Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach has some really fancy condos, restaurants and shopping. I think the nostalgia for old California beach areas is why my brother started taking his family to Crystal Cove. He wanted them to see what was like to stay in a little house right on the water, minus the bars and tattoo parlors. I think getting a reservation at Crystal Cove isn’t particularly easy, compared to the many slightly dumpy places we rented when we were kids. Crystal Cove isn’t as cheap as it was back then. I guess people today expect to pay more, and probably wouldn’t think it fun if there was a slug or two in the shower.

Note about this watercolor: When I finished this watercolor, I sent it to my brother to hang in the vintage tugboat wheelhouse he has restored and placed in his backyard in Northern CA. He likes to go sit out there and smoke cigars. I’m sure he enjoys the view. (I guess I should add that you can’t rent any of the little houses you see here. They have fallen into disrepair. And if you look closely, you can see the faint outline of a chain link fence between the row of houses and the surf line. I’m sure there are more than a few slugs, mice and other assorted critters (e.g. termites and dry rot) living in those places right now.)

Note about Veteran’s Day and my dad: My dad was a vet, serving just as WWII was ending. He wanted to get the GI bill so he could go to UCLA and study physics and engineering. Thanks dad for your service and thanks for going to UCLA–where he met my mom.

November 4, 2017

fall leaf
Fall Leaf (watercolor on cold pressed illustration board)

With a bit of rain, a drop in temperature and the drop of a few colored leaves from nearby liquidambar trees, fall seems to have finally arrived in SoCal. I bring this piece out and hang it on the wall when it is finally clear that summer is finally over.

The “Stuff” for Watercolor

Watercolor can be very tricky and this particular one represents the first time I realized I could tame and manipulate the medium satisfactorily. Woo hoo! Up until then I spent way too much time soaking expensive watercolor paper in the tub, using gummy brown paper tape to affix the paper’s edge onto a hollow board (made for just such a maneuver). If you don’t wet the paper, stretch it and then let it dry it will leave ripples when you paint on it. So, here is the secret to such control. Don’t use expensive watercolor paper, use Strathmore cold press illustration board. Or don’t worry about the ripples and just paint away. The next biggest secret to watercolor, in my opinion, is that you will need to practice, practice, practice—another reason not to use expensive watercolor paper, as it will seem like you are wasting it. Then, once you start, try working really wet and loose, try letting different layers dry and then paint on top, or just let colors bleed together. Try to enjoy what you are doing, and remember what you did by mistake and see if you can do it again on purpose. You will make mistakes. You need to understand that using watercolors is not very forgiving—meaning you can’t just paint over what you have decided is a mistake. That’s because watercolor is transparent, so whatever you put down on that paper it will be seen, no matter what. Gouache is for making mistakes; it’s opaque and will cover up almost anything. Browsing the Internet you can find plenty of resources for teaching watercolor painting. My personal favorite is a YouTube video where an amazing watercolorist from Studio Ghibli (Kazuo Oga) creates a simple looking piece of nature with his masterful watercolor technique.

As I kind of mentioned, picking the right paper is very important, and of course the expensive cotton rag paper is by far the best to use. However, the watercolor paper you can find in pads will work too. I look for pads of paper that are on sale. You can start at the back of the book and move forward with each page, trying washes of every color (ultramarine blue or cobalt blue are favorite sky color washes for me), watercolor layering and dry brush techniques. Then flip the pad over and do the same on the back of each sheet going forward.

The watercolors themselves can be kind of daunting when you walk along the isles of supplies in an art store. And the higher priced (better quality) tubes and cakes are really better than the cheap stuff. And of course choosing colors may also stop the faint of heart from looking. However, as a starter there is a nice Winsor Newton travel set that gives you a dozen colors, including a cake of “cheater” white gouache. I almost never use black (it’s not in this set) because once you start adding layers of black everything seems to go dark rather quickly. And too much black may even make your watercolor look kind of dirty. I let my dark blues (Indigo) and greens (sap green) do the dirty work—the darkest tones I use. Personally, I think you can get away with cheaper paints than cheaper paper. Oh, and don’t forget to try watercolor pencils, those are fun too.

Brushes can really cost a lot. I pretty much just use my trusty #14 synthetic watercolor brush for everything. It’s fat enough to hold the perfect amount of water/pigment to achieve nice washes on 9 by 12 inch watercolor paper. The tip works well for any detail you might like to add at the end, like the veins on this fall leaf. Oh, and keep your water clean—trying to mix beautiful colors with muddy water kind of muddies the colors, I think.

The “Patience” for Watercolor

So, now you’re ready to create a masterpiece. Not really. Probably the most important lesson I learned (with this leaf) was being patient while the paint dried between the many layers of color it took to create it. In fact, I used a small hair dryer to dry each layer of the “sepia-like” paint. Someone once asked me how many layers of color wash I put on before adding the final vein details. I lost count, but I think I applied at least 7 or 8 layers, drying each before applying the next. If you don’t let it dry completely, the brush and water will start to pick up the color you just laid down when you add the next layer. This can be very frustrating and might undo whatever plans you had. Oh, and it’s good to get up and walk around a bit to let the paint dry. And if you think you are done, you are. Know when to stop and really stop. It’s so easy to overwork watercolor and I somehow want my watercolor paintings to look kind of fresh, with plenty of white and soft places for your eye to go.

The “Passion” for Watercolor

So, you might ask if I use this kind of watercolor technique anymore. Are you kidding? No way! It’s way too much work, and I have no idea where I would plug in a hair dryer when painting outside. Besides, hair dryers make a lot of noise—not very conducive to the natural plein air urban sketcher outside experience I am passionate about now. My outdoor paintings are the result of a kind of quick three-step approach that includes a snack. First, I find the perfect spot for that day’s painting, do a quick thumbnail sketch and set up my stuff. Then, I lay in all my washes and deepest, darkest shadows on watercolor paper. This helps me think about where I want to leave white spaces—covering 1/3 to ½ of what I plan to do on the whole page. This is not usually where I want too many colors to bleed into another—that kind of effect comes later. So, I take a few beats, look where I plan to add paint and mix more colors in my watercolor pots. Then I go back and forth in the painting and add more layers, encouraging colors to bleed or dry. It’s at this point I start to worry that I may be going too far with color or detail. I stop for a snack. This gives the painting a chance to really dry. After the snack I add final details that might include some Inktense pencil scribbles or watercolor crayons.

You might have already realized that I am still perfecting my watercolor technique. I think it will continue to be a life long passion for me. Mastering watercolor might seem like too much trouble and you might have a passion of your own. Maybe it’s oil painting or acrylics, or visiting art museums and galleries? Maybe your passion is baking, gardening or reading? Maybe you’re passionate about walking, running or traveling. It’s kind of like, if you had a time machine that could speed up or slow down time, what would you use it for? Would it be to zip through a day of work so you could spend time doing what you’re passionate about? And then, you could turn the speed to “slow” and linger a little longer doing what you love. If I had such a machine, I know how I would use it. What about you?