April 7, 2018

tulips:The Trib
Tulips for The Trib, November 1999 (gouache on toned paper)

My son found a copy of this article at his grandparent’s house the other day, so I thought it a good bit of fodder for another California story. Funny that I was able to find the original art for this one, as I seem to have way too many tablets and portfolios completely filled with such material. In fact, my son asked me what he was supposed to do with all my art when I finally die. I immediately said, just drop a few handfuls in my casket and let that be part of my ever after fuel when I am cremated. Yes, sometimes mothers and their children have the most unusual conversations…

Now back to this old “tulip” story…During the last couple months of the 90s and on through to April 2001 I did a series of articles and art for our local newspaper, The Tribune, in San Luis Obispo. Once a week, kind of like this blog, I would submit my work to an editor there and, poof, my art and words were published as if by magic. Of course for those “print” stories I had to wait to see them in the newspaper, unlike my current virtual “blog” world. And I actually got paid for them back then. “One California Girl” is more of a labor of love without any remuneration, and that’s just fine with me. No, I won’t quit my day job…but I still like pairing my art with stories as much today as I did back then. The difference for the newspaper stories and my current work is that those stories were written for children, or rather for the parents of children. They were meant to suggest things you could do with kids outside, like planting tulips in the fall to teach delayed gratification. Or going on a field trip to a nursery to look at all the plants and tools you might need for a garden. (When I was young I remember my mom and I going to look at shovels at the hardware store. She told me all she knew on the subject—and there really are a whole lot of different kind of shovels. As I said earlier, mothers and their children can have the most unusual conversations…) My “One California Girl” stories come from ideas I have with art I’ve already created. For my kids in the garden stories, the garden activity I had dreamed up came first with the art as visual support and inspiration came later. For some of those stories I actually wrote poetry to go along with it. And a very nice editor at “The Trib” seemed to love everything I did and that got published too.

It’s fun to look at the art I did of these bright red tulips. This story was written in November for a coming spring display in my garden. It’s spring again and it’s tulip time everywhere in my current neighborhood and at the Descanso Garden they are blooming like mad right now. But I got to thinking that a similar story about delayed gratification (for adults this time) would work right now, except you would plant early summer blooming bulbs and seeds like gladiolas, dahlias and any other cut flower you might fancy. But I haven’t ever had much luck planting dahlias—somehow to “fussy” for me I think. So, last weekend I planted 4 large barrels of gladiolas, and then I tucked in handfuls of hollyhock (a “pass along” gift from a friend’s garden that came by way of Aunt Ruth’s garden) and sunflower seeds in the dirt around each barrel. And I guess I’ll just have to wait for the little spiky green gladiola points and the tiny tips of flower seedlings to poke up from the dirt.

I love hollyhocks. My mom said that her mother planted them around their outhouse when she was a girl and they lived in Mariposa. I never could figure out if that was a pleasant memory for my mom, or if she just tried to imagine that her mom was trying to “make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” They didn’t have running water inside the house when they first moved there. (I guess most other mothers put up wallpaper on the inside bathroom walls…) Mom used to also like to remind us kids that she always took a shower after PE when she went to Mariposa High School. I guess the PE teacher would use her as an example of what all the other girls should be doing after sweating in PE. Little did that teacher know, but since there was no hot running water at home, my mom was thrilled to have a proper shower instead of hauling water from the creek. Mom also said that this same PE teacher didn’t stop with her comments about her showering habits and would tug at the hair on my mother’s legs asking if she was wearing her “brush wool” socks again. I guess my grandma had told mom that only “bad” girls shaved their legs and under their arms—like the girls who also wore ankle bracelets. My mom said that she once tried to use sandpaper to scrape the hair from her legs. (Another crazy mother daughter conversation that’s gone through the generations now…)

I loved doing the stories for “The Trib” and it seemed like it would go on for years and years. I had lots to stories to share with parents of young children. In fact, the publisher himself assured me that with my art and stories he could me famous, but not rich. For some unknown reason it didn’t turn out that way and my last piece for “The Tribune” was published in April 2001. Actually, I didn’t do any writing for that one, but only a half dozen botanicals for a story about the SLO Botanical Garden in the El Chorro Regional Park off Highway 1. That turned out nice as the people fundraising for the garden framed the pieces I did and auctioned them off. I think they made some stationery from the pictures to sell in their gift shop as well. I remember I was pretty disappointed that the gig with “The Trib” had so suddenly dried up, but that didn’t stop the stories and the art. For several years after that I wrote/illustrated for a local SLO Parents magazine and soon after that I worked on a couple books, editing and writing, for Sunset Garden books. It was a very creative time for a single mother with a small son and I am happy to have so many wonderful memories of the time my son and I lived in Paso Robles, in SLO County.

So, now all of my publishing is done online, with only the art as the paper with pigment part. I didn’t realize when I was writing stories about tulips or getting kids out in the garden that I would ever do it again. Of course now I am not writing or painting for children or parents of children, I am the one sitting on bubble wrap with my pots of watercolors as I paint in the garden. And I am creating all of this for me—sharing my art and California memories. (I hope when my son reads this one he won’t worry about all the art I leave behind because at the rate I am going, I don’t see my stopping any time soon. Just filled up another watercolor tablet…sorry sweetie!)

March 31, 2018

Gamble House 4:17
Exterior Gamble House, April 2017 (ink on drawing paper)

I did this four-part sketch as a “draw everyday” urban sketchers suggestion last April. It was a lovely afternoon, much like today, and I decided to head for the Gamble House in Pasadena. The house and bookstore were closed, but I wandered about—sitting in a variety of benches until I had captured some of the many specific and charming elements of the house. (I should note that the bird bath/butterfly garden I have shown here is new to the Gamble House and was not part of the original design.)

I have been on a number of tours of the interior of the house, at different times of the year, and if you are ever in the area and have the least bit of interest in Craftsman’s architecture, it should not be missed. The Gamble House was completed in 1908 and was built by the Craftsman dream team of Charles Greene and his brother Henry. Structures built by them are considered architecturally significant and are identified as a “Greene and Greene” by those who love this kind of architecture. These amazing architects worked primarily in California in the early part of the 20th century and are synonymous with the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Love of friends and CA architecture?

So, are you interested in the American Arts and Crafts Movement? What about California architecture? I hadn’t a clue about any kind of architecture, specific to California or otherwise, until I met two lifelong friends more than 30 years ago. They were definitely interested in the Arts and Crafts Movement buildings, furniture and design details. A series of fortunate adventures brought us together as my treasured friends of today. I don’t know if they knew back then how unenchanted or uninspired I was about the Arts and Crafts Movement. But I went along as they shared their love and knowledge of architecture that swept me up into this world of effortless and functional style, beauty, simplicity and detail. In fact, my two wonderful and beloved friends are remodeling the kitchen of a 1920s Spanish revival style home as we speak. Even now they are committed to the preservation and enjoyment of such classic style.

I think I remember the first time we went looking at that old stuff in the late 80s. They invited me to join them on a tour of some architecturally significant structures. (I didn’t even know what that really meant until they took me on the Rose Walk in the Berkeley Hills.) The paths, buildings, and details (It’s all about the details folks!) in this area are credited to Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), John Galen Howard and Bernard Maybeck. To see some of the architecture and design details, Google Rose Walk, Berkeley. I can’t even describe how enchanted I was walking around this lovely area all those years ago. I can only hope you are fortunate enough to have such dear friends to share amazing time, space and memories.

Later that same day, my friends took me to another architecturally significant house that had been designed and built by Greene and Greene (of Gamble House fame). As was typical back in the day, such houses were usually named after the family that had commissioned and paid for the house. I was very excited to see my next amazing piece of California architecture. I had not yet seen the Gamble House, so this would be my first Greene and Greene. But for this one we headed for frat row almost on the Berkeley campus. I had been past this house many times (as I had previously gone to Cal Berkeley), but had never really stopped to look at the Sigma Phi frat house. This Greene and Greene had been built for the Thorsen family in 1909 and today is known as the Thorsen house. All I had previously remembered as I walked past the house was a shabby garden and lots of old cars parked out front. So, we pulled up to the house, walked past the dead and dying shrubs and rang the bell—hoping to get a tour of the interior. It was then I noticed the beautiful stained glass windows and the lovely wooden front door. My friends seemed a little concerned about the disrepair they were seeing at first glance. Well, a young man answered the door and agreed to give us a tour of a couple rooms of the downstairs as the upstairs rooms had Sigma Phi frat brothers apparently still asleep (after 2 on a Saturday). Based on the frat crap that was all around the living room, I don’t think any of us wanted to go upstairs anyway. Both of my friends definitely seemed alarmed when they saw the light streaming through these amazing stained glass windows onto broken down couches, clothes and books everywhere. I thought the guy giving us the tour must have realized how appalling this all was, but he obviously didn’t because he showed us the kitchen. It looked like a food bomb had gone off in there—food, pizza boxes, cans and dishes everywhere…you get the picture. Finally, I think the young man giving us the tour woke up and apologized for the mess. By this time one of my friends said he wished he’d had a whistle because he would have blown it to let everyone in the house (including everyone who was upstairs) that they had 15 minutes to leave and never come back. Now, I had only been a true architecture believer for a few hours, but even I knew this mess was just wrong. We talked about that quite a bit as we hastily finished our tour and walked out the front door. (I just texted one of those wonderful friend’s a minute ago to ask him the name of the architect of that house. He reminded me that it was a Greene and Greene and said that the Thorsen House is now being properly cared for and preserved. Thank God for that…)

So fast forward a few years and these same treasured friends now owned a Greene and Greene of their own. And this one was on West California Boulevard in Pasadena. There were so many rooms and details that told of a lifestyle and time gone by. Just below the entrance and foyer were the maid’s quarters, complete with a still functioning “summoning” bell. And one of the doors on the street side of the house was specifically made for tradesmen to come in, with even a special window for the delivery of ice for the icebox. When my son was young he loved it when we visited. I don’t think he noticed all the beautiful materials and details that had been used to make this charming house. What he loved about their Greene and Greene was their amazing Japanese garden in the back and that the rotted bamboo poles laying around seemed to be perfect “ready made” fishing poles. My son was always trying to catch a koi or two that were swimming around the lowest pool at the bottom of the garden. Thankfully those fish were too crafty for him because as much as my friends loved me, and now my treasured young son, I am certain they wouldn’t have loved him pulling one of their treasured fish from the pond. When I was pregnant, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my friends had taken me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House before it was restored. Even though he had participated, in utero, in a wonderful afternoon of architecture, he had clearly not gotten the message.

In between the Greene and Greene and the house they are in now, my friends lived in a mid-century modern house that is known as the Rodriguez House. It was designed and built for Mr. Rodriguez in 1942 in Glendale. That was a very cool house I must say. And when they lived there it was used as the location for the movie “Pineapple Express.” Hard to top that and so “California” I think.

So, now my introductory, and very brief, history of California architecture has come to an end. And I am forever indebted to my friends for sharing their love of the Arts and Crafts Movement and some of the architecturally significant houses here in California. You know, the value of the truly amazing friendship we have shared over the years definitely eclipses the value of any house, new or old. But it’s funny, there have been many truly amazing times we have shared in their various houses. So many years of stories, both funny and sad, that are remembered and marked by the time spent in a particular house at a particular time. There are too many stories to tell in “One California Girl’s” blog. Here’s hoping there are so many more stories we will share together in the future, when we are next-door neighbors in a lovely assisted living structure. I can’t imagine that it will matter whether or not it is architecturally significant, but just that we are close by so we can tell the stories again and again—in case one of us keeps forgetting and needs to be reminded. Such is the love of true friends and California architecture.

Note about the Gamble House, March 2018

My son was just visiting for spring break and I asked him if he would like to go the Gamble House, as he has never seen the interior of the house. As luck would have it, they were about to give the last tour of the day and there would be no room for us. Oh well. So, he seemed fine with walking around the exterior of the house. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the beautiful day and the lovely house before us. I pointed out the significance of all of the details of the house that I have shown here in my sketch. There is a small pool, with fish, connected to an outdoor back patio that we looked at for a few moments. I didn’t remind him of a previous time he had seen a pond of fish at the back of a Greene and Greene. Thank God there wasn’t any bamboo nearby!

March 24, 2018

Atascadero wildflowers
Atascadero wildflowers, Spring 2002 (acrylic on canvas, 24 inches by 32 inches)

With today’s post, One California Girl will have been in existence for one year (almost to the day). I started my California art and stories March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But that particular birthday was the first I had celebrated without her actually being here. And tomorrow I will celebrate her birthday for the second time without being able to wish her a happy birthday. (That may not really be true, I think. I still have half her ashes with me and I say good morning to her every day.) As I said in the beginning I am now the keeper of family stories and the art I chose for this post will always be connected to my mother. But it also has a particular California story, all its own.

I painted this short-lived California profusion of wildflowers, with a background of my beloved oaks, in spring 2002. The flowers you see here are CA poppies, lupines, goldfields and tidy tips. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth took me to this spot because one of her sons had told her of the magnificent flowers. As she and I are the lovers of such weeds, she invited me along to enjoy this amazing scene. I am so thankful I did this piece because soon after we had been there a couple of houses were built right on that very slope. That meant the open area would then be closed to those of us who loved to traipse through such seasonal color. I remember enjoying the fact that the lovely blanket of green weeds in the mid-ground provided such a great field of saturated color next to the crazy blobs of orange, violet, yellow and white paint. If you think about it, it’s just a picture of weeds. It’s just that some have a great responsibility to produce flowers, which will then produce seeds that will hopefully ensure such flowers will somehow live again. And even though they may never bloom in that spot again, there is always the promise of seeds that will blow onto another patch of dirt. I live for such hope and promises.

You are probably wondering how this painting relates to my mother. I’m getting to that…Great Aunt Ruth and my mom are not related, but do share March as their birthday month. I don’t have the canvas anymore, but did take some photos of it, and I used it to make a birthday announcement for my mom for her March 2016 birthday. I put a cute black and white picture of her when she was young on the right side. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize it was to be her last birthday with us in the flesh, but I do enjoy looking at that card these days—with my mom smiling and she’s surrounded by all her spring birthday colors.

And as crazy as it may seem, this particular painting is part of a Paso Robles 2002-2003 story. And here’s how this story goes…After the spring of 2002 I contacted a coffee house in Paso Robles, called Brewed Behavior, to see if they would let me hang some of my art in their establishment. The business hadn’t been there very long and it was in a cute historic red brick building across the street from the city hall, park, and the library. This is when I first used the landscape as an invitation of sorts, except this time it was not to announce my mother’s birthday, but rather to announce an art show the summer of 2002 at Brewed Behavior. I remember selling quite a few paintings, including this one, during the reception and following month the art was there. Fast forward to the summer of 2003. I sold my house and my son and I moved to Grass Valley. But in October of that year a 6.5 earthquake hit the area and two people were killed running out of a building just a few feet around the corner from Brewed Behavior. All the historic brick buildings had big cracks (including this favorite coffee shop) and were later raised. Oh, and directly across from Brewed Behavior, behind the city hall and library, a huge sinkhole opened up. That was really a mess for a number of years because that huge depression in the ground was connected to a hot springs (part of the Paso Robles Inn). And that part of town smelled strong of sulfur until the city engineers figured out how to close it up without diverting all the hot stinky water into the city’s ground water. I didn’t have any art in that building at the time, but I did have quite a few pieces in a winery off Vineyard Drive. A couple of them flew off the wall, crashed to a concrete floor and the frames of those paintings became wracked. (I later had to reframe them because they were too warped to lie flat on the wall.)

And a couple more recent CA earthquakes

If you live in California long enough you will hear such stories as I have described above, or you will be in one yourself. Many LA residents still talk about the 6.7 Northridge quake that occurred in 1994. I wasn’t in that one, but I was around for the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, and subsequent after shocks along the Hayward fault. Sixty-seven people were killed in that one. The earthquake happened just as the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series in the Bay Area was about to start. I was driving home from work, listening to sports announcers talking on the radio, when my car lurched way over to the right. I thought I had had a flat. I started looking for a place to pull over to the side of the road when my car lurched way over to the left. And I thought to myself, what are the chances I could have two flats at the same time. Then the signal on the radio went to static and I saw the telephone poles along my road home swaying back and forth. I realized I had just been in an earthquake. I grabbed hold of the steering wheel hard and somehow got home. All the people in our Walnut Creek apartment complex were out on the grass, listening to radio. You may or may not know it, but the best place to be in an earthquake is outside, away from anything that can fall on you. When my then husband and I finally decided to go inside our second floor apartment I had just lost a couple of plants that had jumped off the shelves and landed on the carpet. But the later pictures of the Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway and some of the houses in San Francisco that had slid off the foundations told quite a story of devastation. Google it if you like. You know, it’s been almost 30 years since that happened and it’s still hard to look at those pictures. There was so much damage.

My dad’s family hadn’t been in California very long when they experienced the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. That one was of a magnitude of 6.4. My dad said he remembered that he went to school in a tent for a couple years, while the city rebuilt all the schools. I think my uncle said he went to kindergarten in the basement of a church. (I need to ask him if that’s right the next time I see him.)

I love that I can suspend a CA moment in time (as I did with this landscape), because a housing development can change it over a few months time. But a natural disaster like an earthquake, a fire, or a mudslide can change parts of our landscape in a matter of minutes. Now, if you’ve read some of my previous California stories I have written a lot about the changes this state has gone through since both sides of my family arrived here in the late 20’s. But if you look at a time line, starting when gold was discovered in 1848, this state has been on a break neck pace of people coming here to change our landscape since before my family arrived. That first change came with huge numbers of “gold seekers” coming to San Francisco by sea from the west and by train from the east. Later, changes came from people, like my dad’s family, who moved here because it was just too cold in Cheyenne. And I think I already mentioned that my mom’s mother came to southern California with her sister and mom and dad to be in the movies. My mom and dad, along with many non-native Californians, moved to the Peninsula (Silicon Valley) because there was amazing opportunity for technology. And most recently others have changed our landscape by planting and expanding huge tracts of vineyards all over the state. It’s become a little tricky to afford to live here anymore. I think those of us who have gone through such natural disasters and changes should be allowed a kind of “get out of jail free” card with a special one time huge discount on a house, or the electric car of our dreams. That’s not going to happen. But I can dream, can’t I?

I miss you mom. Happy Birthday!

March 17, 2018

Spring 2017 Descanso
Sycamore Trees, Descanso Garden, March 10, 2017 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

Hard to believe, but I did this watercolor almost exactly one year ago. And you could smell spring coming then as now. I love the leaves that are just coming up around my neighborhood trees, much like the wonderful green spikes in the ground around last year’s spring sycamores. I remember going to the garden and seeing the leaves of such annuals that seemed to have appeared as if by magic, adding bright balls of yellow and red on the ends of bright light green anemone stems. Spring is such a brief season here in SoCal, and I like to really accentuate the affect our seasonal water has on everything in our landscape in my art. That’s why I made the sky such a luscious watery blue, and why I added the stripes of cerulean next to the vertical leaves of daffodils and tulips that surround these trees. (They can be found at the edge of the rose garden at the Descanso.) And if you really want those saturated spring colors to pop in a painting, put them near different shades of grey—like the bark of the trees. You should also know that behind this vignette, sharp green weeds had also blanketed the hills behind the garden. Every spring the hills near my house add a welcome softness to our landscape, giving a real three-dimensional quality to our normally monotone graham cracker brown hills. The velvety green is especially nice on the rolling slopes I go past on my way to work every morning. They were recently ravaged by fire and have been looking more like a lunar landscape with “Dali-like” black outlines of trees popping up every so often. I noticed on my way home yesterday that a number of those dark skeletons have some bushy bits of green at the base—like a green phoenix rising from the ashes I think.

For those of you still in the grips of winter, all I have to say is that spring is really on its way, even for you. I know it may not seem like it could possibly be true, but the calendar says spring starts next week—March 20 to be exact. And you know in your heart it’s not wrong, it’s just delayed. There’s a wonderful passage in the book The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911) that will make you believe for certain that it is so. You may not see anything new green and growing, but under the ground the unseen is happening nonetheless. I’ll try to paraphrase the idea of spring coming before you can actually see it through the eyes of Mr. Weatherstaff, the main gardener in the book. The story takes place on a large estate on a moor in Yorkshire, England. Ben Weatherstaff describes the coming of spring to Mary, a little girl recently orphaned. She had been living in a hot and humid area in India, but was now living at her uncle’s house known as Misselthwaite Manor. The author, Ms. Burnett, was amazing at capturing the Yorkshire dialect in her writing, but it can make reading that kind of dialog a bit tricky. But here goes… “Springtime’s comin’,” he said. “Cannot tha’ smell it?” Then he goes on to tell Mary that the earth is fresh and damp in spring, and “…in good humor makin’ ready to grow things.” He tells her that the earth is “dull” in the winter with nothing to do and that plants start waking up with the new warmth of the springtime sun. And the last part, which is my favorite, he describes the different bulbs that will soon be visible “…bits of green spikes…” And he lists crocuses, snowdrops and “daffydowndillys,” which are daffodils, or narcissus. What a great word. And the way Ms. Burnett describes the greenness of pre-1911 Yorkshire in early spring you can almost feel the heaviness of oxygen that a great number of plants are about to produce, like these moors are on photosynthesis steroids or something. And you can just imagine that avid gardeners, like Ben Weatherstaff, have been waiting for just this moment. Today the English are still known as notoriously mad about gardening. That has actually always seemed kind of crazy to me as the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are at the same latitude as Newfoundland, so it’s pretty far north and usually sunless and wet. I mean, without the sun how do green plants grow in such profusion? It doesn’t seem like it should be a climate for elaborate gardens. But that doesn’t stop the people who live there from digging in the dirt and having amazing and beautiful gardens. I have distant ancestors that came from these very places. And I have to say that every year, when our spring rains are finally here, I am avidly planning which beds will need weeding and what flowers and/or vegetables with need planting. For a number of years I would get seed catalogs in winter and I would pour over the magazines as though I would be curing cancer with the plantings I had planned to make thrive and provide color or food. And of course there was all the compost I had made and where I would be amending the soil. For those of you who are too distant from your farming gene, I apologize and will stop here.

Last post for winter 2018 and Happy St Patrick’s Day!

You may or may not already know this, but the Irish don’t actually celebrate such a day. I remember learning once why Americans took up the “green” mantle, but I have forgotten. I mean St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish and he didn’t drive away all of the snakes in Ireland. There never were any snakes in Ireland to drive away. (I remembered that part.) And then there is the fact that there a whole bunch of Protestants in Northern Ireland and they would never consider celebrating some Papist catholic saint. Those shanty Irish Protestants are my ancestors. My mother’s family thought to celebrate July 12, in support of William of Orange, a kind of patron saint of the non-Catholic Irish folk.

The thought of getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day always annoyed me and I tried to permanently ward that possible assault by reminding people my eyes were green all the time, for real. So as long as I wasn’t asleep (and my eyes were closed), pinching me should not be allowed. But as kids I wasn’t sure anyone was actually looking at my eyes, so I usually wore some kind of green clothing to school to avoid the whole thing. Saying that I had green eyes was probably up there with telling classmates that you were actually wearing green underwear. That always seemed like a dicey gambit, as someone would then insist to see if you were telling the truth. And I’m guessing having green eyes somehow wouldn’t count anyway.

My mother used to tell a story about her mother that always gave me a real sense of her Irishness, but I always suspected some of what she said was a bit of blarney. (Mom said that her mother used to call daffodils daffydowndillys. Gotta love that word!) During the Depression I guess my grandmother would go into a green grocer in Los Angeles to buy produce for the family. Mom said that the owner was Irish and Catholic. So I guess there were some occasions my grandmother would have orange paper (from William of Orange fame) in her purse and with great fanfare she would cover those Irish Catholic green apples with the paper. And I guess once this little 4 foot 11 woman started doing that, the green grocer had green paper ready to cover the Northern Ireland Protestant oranges for when she came in the store. Hard to know what to think or believe. I mean, where did she get orange paper? I never met my maternal grandma, but it’s hard to imagine this little tiny lady sort of leaping up towards the boxes of pippins with sheets and sheets of orange paper. This kind of activity seems playful enough. But when I was growing up the trouble between the different parts of Ireland was anything be playful. My brother said he wasn’t going to admit that he was of Irish descent until they straightened out. Not sure if The Troubles are really over, but the bombings and shootings we heard about when I was a kid seem to have subsided. Eirinn go Brach

March 10, 2018

Peachy Canyon go
Peachy Canyon, Paso Robles (acrylic on wallpaper)

At the time I did this piece I was experimenting with landscape panels. I attached this 18 inch by 6 foot panel on to a board and then had it framed. I had a pretty amazing framer in Paso Robles during this time and she very cleverly worked out how to do it. But it was way too complicated to do that again, so this panel was the last one I did. I included a sampling of the framing above and below the art. Not sure this photo does any of that justice, but here it is anyway.

Peachy Canyon Winery is on the corner of Highway 46 and Bethel Road. I have done several other paintings of the vineyards on both sides of the road. But when I did this one, it was the little old white house on the property (from Paso’s earlier farming days) that caught my eye. I’ve always thought it would be great fun to live there. I enjoyed the idea that it was tucked away from view, but if you lived there you probably would have a great view of the vineyards from all sides. I haven’t been by that winery in a while, so the little white house may not even be there anymore. Most of the wineries in the area have become very fancy and such a humble little building probably doesn’t meet with the approval of the more sophisticated wine tasters that the area now attracts. Too bad!

One Californian Dreamin’

I often dream of houses. No, I really do dream of houses. And I wish I had the nerve to try and paint one of those houses from my dreamy memory. But I haven’t tried it yet. I just don’t think I could capture what my brain conjures up in the night as a single frame because dreams are actually movies, right? And oh my dream homes seem so real. I just don’t think I could do any of my “made up” houses justice. And as I am writing this now I wonder if I can actually do them justice trying to describe them in words. But I desperately want to imagine these houses in the daylight, so I’ll try. If you think the description of someone’s dreams of houses seems a bit of a yawn, you should definitely stop here.

I’m not a dream interpreter, but what does it mean to consistently dream of houses from both the inside and out? I mean, I have even had dreams of houses that were haunted, and sometimes I don’t go inside. But sometimes I just barge right in and check it out—even though I have to navigate a moving or undulating door handle. I don’t often have “repeat house” dreams except I’ve conjured up many homes that are high up on cliffs overlooking spectacular views of the ocean. But there is one house I have dreamed of so often that I can describe it pretty vividly. It always starts with a beautiful summer day and all around me is tall golden grass. I walk up to a small bridge and there on my right is a large red painted barn with white trim. I stop and look at it for a moment, noticing the crossed white boards on the barn door. Then my eyes look straight ahead to a tiny white clabbered house just in front of me. It’s not unlike the small farmhouse on this panel. In my dream the house is in deep shade with two huge trees on either side of it. I know the house is painted white, but the trees make it look a pale shade of green. Funny, in this dream I walk right up the steps of the small front porch, but don’t actually go inside.

Once I dreamt of a tall wooden house, in deep shade, with huge gardens all around. And as I walk all around, looking at the garden, I know this doesn’t make sense, as a garden can’t really grow much in such deep shade. But this is my dream and I love the coolness of the place and walking all around–occasionally looking up at what turn’s out to be a two-story Victorian that is tilting ever so slightly to one side. For another dream I am in deep shade again and my single story house is made of a kind of rosy shade of wood, like madrone I think. But what makes this house and dream so “jaw droppingly” perfect for me is that I walk out the back door of the kitchen and down into a valley of rigidly symmetrical forest of leafless, medium-sized deciduous trees. There are orange and golden fall leaves on the ground and I walk on and on into my forest, so very pleased with the order and beauty of my countless trees.

Sometimes my dream house dreams take place inside the house. I have such a vivid memory of me inside a huge floor to ceiling glass box that is my living room. The room is filled with afternoon light. And there is a piano and comfortable couch in the center of the room with lots and lots of books on shelves down low, so as not to block my view of the outside. And what a view it is—a huge expanse of green lawn that comes right to the glass. The velvety carpet of green is surrounded by an impenetrable wall of dark green layers of shrubs and taller trees, like no one can get onto the lawn and into this perfect light-filled box of books and music. And of course I am sitting on the couch in this amazing light, reading a novel of great interest.

In another interior dream house, I am in the center of a warm and dark living room. All around me are small indoor ponds and rivers. There is very soft lighting in this room and I sit on low comfortable furniture looking out the windows and listening to the sounds of the moving water. But in this cocoon room I don’t look out through floor to ceiling windows, but rather tall narrow windows all around the room. Outside these windows are narrow pathways that weave in and out of wooden fencing and bamboo.

Another dream interior that I can share with you starts in a bright kitchen. But the kitchen is like no other, and the room is a kind obstacle course where I must crawl over and under boxes to get to the center of the room. And somehow the tiny room expands as I move through it, and a table appears off to the side and all you would ever need to create an amazing meal is on the counters and in the cupboards around the perimeter of the room. It never occurs to me that this room is somehow magic, it’s just that I decided that all that space must have been there all the time.

And if I could have a favorite dream house movie I have seen in my head…here it is. When I was pregnant with my son I had an amazing dream that ended with me stepping up off a low wall to then fly through the air down the center of a house-lined street at sunset. Before I knew it, my two children fly up, each one taking my hand. Together, we whiz through the air, down the street. My child on the right says, “Dad, you need to get home soon. Mom has somehow killed all the plants in the house.” And we all start laughing. By now, the sun has gone down and we are hovering in front of our mid-century modern house. We stare into the “lamp-lit” living room with floor to ceiling windows and cool furniture—Eames lounge chairs, a glass chandelier and futuristic clock on the mantel. But what I remember seeing so vividly at this point are the 5 or 6 indoor plants with black leaves and a woman wandering around the room, obviously upset with the dead plants. She finally looks up and sees her family outside the window. She smiles faintly and we all wave. So, of course this is when I wake up and realize I have a big smile on my face. And my “dream” movie ends…

So, daylight savings starts tonight. I hate this time change–I feel like I am somehow cheated out of my dreaming time.

March 3, 2018

Cad Red and vineyards
Paso Robles Vineyard, spring 2003 (oil on 26″ by 34″ canvas)

This Paso Robles landscape hangs on a wall in my house. I walk by it several times a day and love to remember what I was thinking when I decided to paint it. It was definitely springtime, and I realize it isn’t quite spring yet again, but the colors remind me of the coming spring. But why I chose those colors and my overall treatment/technique for the sky, vineyards and oaks, and weeds that were growing in the foreground really had nothing to do with the season. There was kind of a “back story” in my head as I tackled each of those sections. I tried not to over think any of it and I think it came out kind of a nice mood piece that captured a moment of the ever-changing landscape of any place in California. 

So, starting at the top, I can speak about the Paso Robles sky. It often has this kind of hazy color palette. Not sure why. When I was a young girl, and I hung around this area, the sky was deep blue and the air was pretty dry. Back in the 80s, when people started planting (and irrigating) grapes, over time it seemed like the weather gradually got more humid. Makes me wonder if all that irrigation may have put more moisture in the air. About that same time I really started noticing the many vapor trails of big jets that crisscrossed the sky at 30,000 feet, going from LAX to SFO and back again all day long. Maybe that added to the haze as well. I also know of people who have lived in the area for several generations and recently some of them have turned up with seasonal allergies and even asthma. Such attacks of sneezing and difficulty breathing wasn’t the case back when this was just oak trees and golden rolling hills. I have no facts to support any of this, but it does make me wonder. But I have done so many landscapes of this area and it was just what the sky looked like that day. And it was fun to layer and swirl the mist above the vineyards imagining so many jets going off to places unknown, or just to LA.

Now onto the middle ground and why I painted the vineyards this way. There are acres and acres, or what seem like miles and miles, of grapes on both sides of 101 around here now. I tried to somehow give the viewer the feeling that we were speeding past the countless plants, as the green branches moved faster and faster to the left–squishing them down to a curved thin line right off the canvas and into the distance. I had tried this curved technique of vineyards in another landscape, only in that one I added a road next to the vineyard to speed along. For this one, I imagined I was in a car and the road was under me and not visible. I intentionally wanted the oaks to look stiff and still, as they had been for the 100 years or more. I am not sure, but the road probably wasn’t paved back then and you couldn’t travel very fast. From the pictures I have seen of the area it was mostly farmland and people would have traveled that road on horseback or in a wagon pulled by some kind of beast of burden. And there were definitely only farmers here back then, no vintners.

Finally, there are the inevitable weeds that grow in the front of vineyards as well as down the rows of plants. Remember this is all irrigated now and weeds grow there too, and they will stay there until the viticulturist instructs the workers to plow them under. Now, they might seem kind of humdrum to you and maybe I should have left them out. But I didn’t! Instead I decided to accentuate them in kind of vertical green stripes. It was here I remember getting very interested in the colors I would choose and created a great shade of pink-red with my cadmium red lined up next to sap green. I have done several pieces where I celebrate weeds and try to draw attention to the usually mundane parts of a landscape. I remember taking that same pink color and placing it next to the gold of the hills next to the oaks. And I even interjected that same red in the foliage of one of the middle ground trees.

And that pop of color has stood the test of time for me because I like it now as much as I did then. I have since done a number of landscapes with this color combination. I did a small 8 by 10 oil on a birch panel of pinkish vetch with oaks off in the distance. Vetch is a kind of weedy legume that seems to bloom after the lupines are done. However, that foreground was not marked with vertical lines, but dotted with a lovely cadmium pink. I loved the way that turned out and maybe I’ll post that some time with a story about what we can look forward to when we ask ourselves about the changes in our individual lives and “what comes next.” That could be going from one job or profession to another, what kind of car we may drive in the future or whether or not we will do something to our bodies when things start to get a bit saggy.

As for the California I’ve shown here I guess change is a hazy sky, countless rows of vineyards and the inevitable (and usually unwelcome) non-native weeds that pop up out of the ground because they were invited to do so with some extra water. So, this got me thinking about what to do or think about such changes—as though I can rip out all the vineyards, roll out a huge sponge to soak up all that water and somehow wring it out over the ground. Do I want to go back to a landscape of blue skies against the golden hills with clusters of coast live oak trees? Do the changes you see here bother me and make me mad? I’m not sure this is actually the question I should be asking. I guess the question is more like what will I do if I see something that bothers me? Will I just get mad and make everyone around me miserable with complaining about how it should look or how it should be? Or should I just get on with it?

I just finished reading the book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I think the main character in the story, Ove, is a great example of a person who sees problems and problematic people where ever he looks. But he likes to fix things and somehow manages to help his “inept” neighbor drain her radiator, teaches the annoying pregnant lady across the street to drive a stick shift, and shows a young man with a bad haircut how to fix a bicycle. Ove is often seen in the story heading to his garage to find a piece of equipment or to get his toolbox. I like to imagine that we all probably have some kind of toolbox that we can reach into and find something to help us all just get on with it. Some toolboxes might have birdseed to feed neighborhood birds, or a hot cup of coffee and a piece of pumpkin bread for a homeless person outside Starbucks, or a garden rake that could be used to rake leaves in a neighbor’s yard. I keep cadmium red, sap green, new Gamboge, cobalt blue and cerulean pigments in my toolbox. I might need to paint a changing sky, a vineyard or an oak tree set against some golden rolling hills at any given time. And what about the weeds? Who else is going to paint the weeds?

So, what would be in your toolbox?

A further note about the rows of weeds that just naturally come with the CA vineyards: “Hip-high” bright yellow mustard (non-CA native) weeds can be found growing down the center of the rows of grape plants in the Napa Valley. That mass of bright yellow blossoms with lacy green foliage can be absolutely stunning. There have been times I have seen the contrast of light cadmium yellow flowers next to the wet black stumps of rootstock after a rain that would take your breath away. One grower I know said she and her husband had seriously considered planting specific grains (a kind of weed) between the rows. This was during a time when the price of wine grapes had dipped a bit and they were looking for ways to supplement their primary cash crop. They thought they might harvest the grain and make beer to try and make some kind of profit. And it’s not like they were going to stop watering their grapes, so why not water the weeds in between. With pot now legal here, I wonder if anyone will be planting pot in the spaces between the grapes? Now, that’s a party. And you may or may not have guessed, we know how to party here in California!

February 24, 2018

Family Day, Porter College, UCSC, 2/10/18 (watercolor on watercolor paper)

I went to my son’s college Family Day. We started the morning off with pastries and coffee, and then were treated to panels of students who presented various projects they were passionate about. One group shared pieces of art that told of the physical and mental abuses of women, another shared a You Tube project they had done related to the myths and truths of being biracial and another created posters of popular Hollywood movies with the casts changed to more appropriately include people of color. I was so impressed with the courage and commitment these students have. And I have told my son that previous generations had made such a mess of things and it’s up to them to save us from ourselves. I have such hope!

Then we, the parents, heard about the issues of off campus housing in Santa Cruz and why it was so expensive to live there. (No surprise that people working in Silcon Valley come over the hill to Santa Cruz to live, leaving no affordable housing for anyone else.) Finally, we were treated to a group of a cappella singers and then lunch. And of course we were in Santa Cruz and that meant our meal (e.g. utensils, plates and left over food) was compostable. Gotta love that too! My son was too busy with his studies to join me for the morning’s events, but he did join me for lunch. Then he went back to studying and I did this piece just a few steps from his dorm room. Such a lovely day, by the way.

Sitting on my bubble wrap in the dirt and leaves, looking at this view, got me thinking about the sometimes-glaring differences between northern and southern California. And if you are looking for such differences just at the coastline from Santa Cruz to below Santa Barbara it’s just the tip of the “difference” iceberg. (No icebergs here, but the Pacific Ocean is pretty cold and most would need a wetsuit to spend any time in that frigid water, even in San Diego.) To the untrained eye you just see the trees with a big sky that blurs into ocean way off in the distance. Could be anywhere along the California coast, right? Well, that’s because what you can’t see has always been the real story in California. How do I put into words what I am trying to describe? OK, first, those trees you see in the foreground are huge conifers, and there are groves of giant redwoods just behind me and out of this line of site. This is no SoCal or central coast scene. In fact you wouldn’t see these trees once you got south of Monterey. They have these really cool trees called Monterey Pine or Monterey Cypress there. Look them up on Google, you won’t be disappointed. Of course Big Sur has some mighty redwoods, but that part of California’s coast is not as subtle as Santa Cruz. It’s wild and windy there. When my son was little we dared to run around in the screaming rain and wind at a beach near Big Sur. When we were completely soaked and hoarse from yelling, we found a public restroom nearby and changed into our jammies. I put our wet clothes in a bag and we drove home.

By the time you get down to Hearst Castle (Central California coast) there really aren’t many trees to speak of near the ocean, except maybe an occasional grove of eucalyptus (non-native to California). But in winter that area is tossed and blown around until there are huge piles of detritus on the narrow strips of sand below Cambria’s amazing bluffs. And once you get to Santa Barbara, and further south for that matter, many of the trees you will see along the coast are palm trees (only one is native—California Fan Palm). And I am obsessed with palm trees!

Every area of California is different with different attractions for all. Our coastline is often foggy, so, it isn’t always sunny in California. But lots of people come here looking for a kind of intangible sunny weather that they hope will lead to some kind of “California Dreamin” (Beachboys song, right?) lifestyle. I think the most energetic come to California for the technology in Silicon Valley (northern CA). But now there is a high tech area in Santa Monica (SoCal) and it is called Silcon Beach. Some come to experience the wine country. That used to be exclusively in the northern Napa Valley, but now wineries can be found in the inland areas of Napa on down to Los Angeles in cities/towns like Lodi, Paso Robles, Templeton, Santa Maria, Simi Valley and Temecula—to name only a few. Funny that the people who dream of the creative world of movies and entertainment still need to come to LA. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

So, I am at the point in this story where there is way more to tell about the differences and similarities of the people and regions in this huge state. And I didn’t really know how to end this without going on and on. So, I will leave us at the beach for now.

I guess I’m not done. I just can’t seem to stop. OK, here’s a question and answer that people want to know about those of us who live in southern California. “Who in their right mind would live in LA? I mean, how do you put up with all that traffic?” I’ll tell you the slice of a story that should begin to answer that. I remember a perfect southern CA evening where we watched the sunset at a friend’s house at the top of Mount Washington. They had a huge window that overlooked a canyon and out to a thin silver ribbon that was the Pacific Ocean. From that window, we watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean while the twinkling lights of planes landed at LAX. And oh yeah, I think we were drinking a particularly lovely Napa Valley Cab while eating guacamole made from CA avocados. You get it, right?

February 17, 2018

Forest Lawn
Forest Lawn, Glendale, January 2018 (mixed media)

On January 27 a couple sketching groups from LA participated in WW SketchCrawl 58. I’m not sure I know exactly what there is to know about a Sketch Crawl, but suffice it to say, it’s a kind of worldwide sketching and painting group experience. And I guess it’s sort of an exclusive club of urban sketchers from every continent (except Antarctica I believe) that posts what each group creates on a predetermined day. But unless you have gotten permission to join the group, you can’t see what we do on Facebook. I think it’s kind of funny that a bunch of crazy artists thought to put together such a cohesive continuous event. It’s a lot like herding cats. So, you are lucky to see what I did on that SketchCrawl 58 day, even though I didn’t post it on the LA Urban Sketching website. Of course there are no rules! I should add that our Urban Sketching gang was joined by some other wonderful artists through a “Meetup” group.

I love the gang we have cobbled together, and don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants to join us can come along. But our little (I guess it’s not really so little) Urban Sketcher/Meet Up group decided to go to Forest Lawn in Glendale to sketch and paint on the 27th. Oh, and I forgot to mention that usually at one of these gatherings we also take a photo of all of us holding up our art and that gets posted too.

Back to Forest Lawn…You may or may not know it, but Forest Lawn is a kind of conglomerate cemetery and you can be buried in Glendale (where we were), Arcadia, City of Industry, Covina Hills, Cypress, Hollywood Hills, Long Beach, Cathedral City, Coachella or Indio. Many of LA’s rich and famous were buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale. (It also has the dubious distinction of being where my parents got married—at The Little Church of the Flowers.) It was my first visit and I had planned to paint The Little Church of the Flowers. But if you read the caption, you will see that that is not what happened. I liked the idea that the “story of me” started in that little church in Forest Lawn. But I guess the really big story about this place is the fact that people like Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson (to name only a few famous people) were buried there.

The place is huge and when I first turned into the property, I drove around and around, until I finally got to the top along with the 10 to 15 others who had dared to paint at Forest Lawn. The group had decided to meet in front of The Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection and museum. After we determined what time we would all get back together to share what we had created, we milled around a bit and each found a spot to paint. It was at this point I realized there wouldn’t be time to find the church where my parents had been married. But no worries. I made a mental note to come back another afternoon to do that. I found a nice place in the sun across from the Church of the Recessional. We had been instructed not to get too close to the church as there were continuous services going on there all day. And I guess it wouldn’t have been a good idea to roam the burial markers looking to practice figure drawing while a family placed flowers at Great Aunt Myrtle’s headstone. Across the street from this church were great mounds of chipped trees and shrubs (mulch). So, I laid out my bubble wrap and sweatshirt and settled down to sketch and paint this church. But there were lots of places to go all around that mountaintop. When we later had our “through down” (placed our work on the steps in front of the Hall) I noticed 3 or 4 others who chose to paint the Church of the Recessional. But some painted the many statues that were all around The Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection and museum, and some painted the exterior of The Hall. I didn’t see it, but I understand there is a “Last Supper” window inside that should not be missed. There is also a giant 195 foot long by 45 foot high Crucifixion painting that was originally painted in 1904 for an exposition in St Louis, and it finally found its final resting place in the Hall in 1951. And if you looked over a wall on one side of the Hall, there was an amazing view of the city of Glendale below. I thought of trying to paint that scene, but it was too overwhelming, and I am glad I chose to do this piece instead.

I guess it’s common for people to come to Forest Lawn and look for famous people who have been buried there. If you look up Forest Lawn on the Internet you can find a page that lists such famous people in alphabetical order. I was kind of intrigued with Michael Jackson’s final resting place and thought I might look for it some day. There is, however, a kind of note on their website that says we, the public, are not really invited to do so as there is special security to keep non-family members away. Not even sure what that might look like.

I guess the question might be, whose grave would you be interested in seeing? How close can we get to something so personal without it being intrusive or kind of creepy? And how do we show respect and reverence without being like a member of the paparazzi? Or is visiting a famous person’s grave the ultimate fan club event? I am looking forward to going back there to find and sketch The Little Church of the Flowers. I guess I am the self-appointed official historian of June and Gene’s fan club.


February 10, 2018

Adelaida, 1997 (oil on canvas)

We lived in Paso Robles for 7 years and my son went from age 1 to almost 8 during that time. I wasn’t able to sit in the weeds and paint the beautiful mountains, safflower fields and wine grapes around me, so I took photos of what I saw for a later time. I had an old camera in the car and every chance I got I pulled over to the side of the road and took pictures. This view was such a surprise and I will never forget the afternoon I came upon it. I was on my way to a writer friend’s house and she lived in Adelaida (Adelaida Winery to be exact) and didn’t have my son with me. I had never been to the winery before, but knew I was getting close based on the directions I had been given. I came around a corner and there it was—like a soft focus dream of mountain beauty that included a far off sliver-blue lake. I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and lingered there for quite a while. And I took lots of pictures. Later, when I had time, I stretched a canvas and captured this scene, but it isn’t the painting you see here. That original piece hung on the wall a couple years I think. But there was something I didn’t like about the way I had rendered the foreground. So, I eventually put it back on my easel, covered it with gesso and started again. I like this version better. (Of course it doesn’t really matter if I do or not, the other one has been completely obliterated.)

You might think this story is going to be about repainting, touching up or just putting a painting away for good. But you would be wrong. This story actually has to do with the view and similar mountain scenes from all over San Luis Obispo County that I cobbled together to make a complete 360-degree mural for my son’s Paso Robles bedroom.

And this all started with two completely separate events that seemed to happen simultaneously. The first event was my visit to an upscale furniture store in the Stanford Shopping Center. They sold one of a kind pieces of furniture that was very colorful and quirky—a perfect combination for me. In one of the back rooms was a lovely long narrow mural that ran along the top of the wall and the ceiling for about 15 feet. The art was a bucolic scene of mountains, trees, with an occasional building. I was enchanted with this idea and thought such a scene would be a lovely bit of sophisticated art that would wrap around my son’s bedroom, giving him something peaceful and calm to look at as he went to sleep at night. This got me thinking then and for weeks after that. But what specific mountain scenes would I paint?

The second event that lead to the mural came while I was parking my car on the rooftop parking structure on Marsh Street across from the movie theater (which is one the tallest buildings in downtown San Luis Obispo). As I got out of the car and headed for the stairs I noticed a pretty spectacular 360-degree view of the nearby SLO mountains. I thought, OMG, I could put some of these mountains, and trees, in my mural. So, I thought back on the mountains I had photographed and realized I could invent a 360-degree panorama of my favorites. When I got home that very afternoon I laid out all my photos into one long landscape that looped back around to the beginning.

I was very excited with this idea. And a couple of days later I got a pencil, ruler and my photos (that I had taped together), moved a few items out of the way in my son’s room and set up a ladder. Before I made even one mark on the wall, I decided that it was going to take forever to finish—up and down the ladder, and up and down the ladder dragging a drop cloth behind me. I didn’t have time to commit to this lengthy process. But did I give up? No! Now I imagined some kind of wallpaper border, 18 inches or so deep, that wrapped around his room. I went to a paint store in San Luis Obispo and found blank wallpaper paper. It seemed sturdy enough to accept acrylics and I could pre-cut 4 pieces—each one 18 inches deep and the length of each wall. I also liked the idea because I knew I wouldn’t be in this house forever so that when we moved, I could take them down, roll them up and that would be that. (Of course I hadn’t really worked out how I was going to attach the long narrow panels to the wall yet. Maybe you are getting the sense that there would be some complications when that part came around…) Actually I finished each panel pretty quickly (one of the panels had this view) and I was soon ready to hang all of them up. My original idea was to have some kind of narrow framing trim that I would nail to the top part of the mural, with a similar piece of trim at the bottom. Then it would look like the mural had been framed all the way around his room. This was getting more and more complicated. I decided just to tack it up around the room. And once it was done I thought it looked really cool. My son had so many of my favorite “mountain views” including this one (Adelaida), Madonna Mountain, Heart Mountain and all the mountains on both the north and south sides of Highway 46 on the way to Cambria.

Fast forward to moving day and me taking these pieces down. That actually was fine, except the pushpins I had used to put them on the walls had left noticeable holes in the paper. But I wasn’t worried, I thought I could put them up again on the walls in his new bedroom and I would just match the holes. But in my usual style, I didn’t even try to do that and got the great idea to attach each panel to some kind of backing and then hang these more stable pieces to the wall. I got 4 particleboard panels, painted them and then nailed each panel to the boards through the old paper holes. There was to be a further complication to the mural reapplication as my son’s new bedroom was in the attic room, which meant the walls were at a crazy angle and it wasn’t going to be as easy to hang them as before. The idea worked, but OMG each piece was heavy. It took two people to hold up each panel while I secured them with special hooks I had found at the hardware store. We only hung up 3 of the 4 because 4 didn’t fit in his new room. So, I had a left over panel that I put in my studio. And when we moved again, I left the three for the new owner and took the left over one with us. That was just fine with me!

Oh my, did I learn something about murals. If you think you want to do make one, just paint it right on the wall. Trying to figure out how to move it is just not worth the time and effort, in my opinion. And actually it’s a good idea to leave it where you first dreamed it up because it will never look as good (or fit in a different wall space) somewhere else anyway.

The other day my son asked me what had happened to the Madonna Mountain that had been in his room when he was a little boy. (I think he forgot that we had to leave it behind.) Thank goodness I had taken photos of the finished panels. And guess what? I got inspired to do another mural of Madonna Mountain. But this time I’m painting it on a couple windows in a back room of my house (no ladder thank you very much). I’ve never painted on glass before and it’s kind of a cool surface. I discovered that the acrylic paint dried more evenly when the weather was a bit cooler and the glass was not in the afternoon sun. And when I leave this house I can either leave Madonna Mountain right there or scrape it off with a razor blade. Oh, how I have become so “devil may care” with my artwork. It’s such a relief to not take myself so seriously don’t you think?

More about Madonna Mountain

If you are wondering about Madonna Mountain I can tell you a little about it. No, it has nothing to do with Jesus, nor does it have to do with Madonna the singer. A local San Luis Obispo businessman, Alex Madonna, owned the mountain and surrounding property and named it Madonna Mountain. You can still see the large letter M near the mountain peak when you drive south on 101. He built the Madonna Inn in 1958. The original structure burned down and it was rebuilt in 1966. At that time some theme bedrooms (now considered kitschy) were added. And his wife, Phyllis, who had helped with decorating, had a number of things in and around the inn painted a very specific shade of pink (a color that is now called unique). I think the coolest item that he had at his motel was the downstairs waterfall urinal in the men’s room. When my brothers and I went to visit family in LA we sometimes stopped at the Madonna Inn. I was always a bit envious that I was not allowed to see inside this particular men’s room. And of course my brothers made it sound unbelievable and were always going to be my lookouts so I could peek in. That wasn’t going to happen, as I didn’t trust them. I have since seen pictures and it looks like a stone enclosure that when someone activates a light sensor in the wall, a waterfall pours down the back of the rock urinal. Seems a bit unsanitary to me now, but it certainly was the stuff of legends when we were kids.


Sorry I missed posting this on Saturday. I was at a Porter-Kriesge “family day” event for my son at UCSC.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 3, 2018


some camelias
Oak Woodland and camellias, January 2018 (mixed media)

Back to painting in my beloved Descanso Garden—so predictable, I know. This time I wandered to the left of the entrance instead of to the right. And I found myself at a bench just below the Boddy House overlooking some magnificent oaks. Most often if you see such an oak cluster it’s called an Oak Woodland—a habitat that is native to CA. As I was finishing up I noticed a jumble of bright red dots that had appeared as if by magic (as the light had changed) just under the branches of the trees. They are camellia blossoms. Now I knew the camellias were there, I just didn’t know they were already blooming and hadn’t really thought I would be adding them here. I was primarily interested in the oaks and trail outline of the dark green clivia foliage. Mr. E. Manchester Boddy (the original owner of the house on the hill) under planted much of the Descanso Garden’s oak woodland forest with camellias in the late 30’s to early 50’s. (If you are interested, there is a rather fascinating story about his connection to local Japanese American nursery owners before and after Pearl Harbor. Look for it on the Descanso Garden website.) Mr. Boddy was an amateur horticulturalist and he dreamed of having a flower business on his property. He planted the camellias under the cool oak canopy and created a year round water supply for his crop. He chose to sell the property before an actual business was realized, but I have to admire his dream of such beauty.

While some have dreams of looking down for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, others have dreams of looking up for the double rainbow or maybe even pink and red camellia flowers. I am a double “rainbow” dreamer and so was my father. When he was in high school at Long Beach Poly High he discovered he was good at math and science and dreamed of becoming an engineer. That was quite a dream for a 16 year old whose father was an alcoholic and never wasted an opportunity to belittle him all his young life. But once the Atom Bomb was developed and used, my dad’s course was set. He used to say that his high school physics teacher had said to the boys in his class (yes, it was all boys), “We need you boys!” So, my dad went into the army to get the GI bill and settled on UCLA where he got a degree in physics. He was the dreamer that was the first college graduate on that side of my family. In the bargain he met my mom and they almost immediately began our family.

My dad said his first engineering job was at a place called Convair in San Diego, and his first real assignment was to build some shelves. My dad’s carpentry skills were never the stuff of dreams, so they soon gave him some real engineering to do, thankfully. But the late 50’s in Mountain View and Palo Alto had started to become known as the place to be (the stuff of the double rainbow for dreamers like my dad) if you were an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers and physicists, from all over the country and the world, seemed to hear the drumbeats calling them to this very special place. Maybe those first luring rhythms came from William Hewlett and David Packard’s garage. I don’t know, but it was a force of nature that I was not old enough to appreciate at the time. Only now, with the legacy of Silicon Valley firmly part of my history and the history of the world, can I fully understand what was happening.

Soon our young family left San Diego and headed for Mountain View. The first place my dad worked was for a company called Western Microwave. There he met the first of many other engineers who dreamed of working for companies where making cool circuits strapped to silicon chips that were getting smaller and smaller seemed to be the stuff of what they had all been dreaming about. I don’t know where I first heard the term semiconductor, but that was the beginning of Silcon Valley. We lived in Santa Clara and some of the other Western Microwave engineers lived near us. They formed a carpool of 4. Each took a week to drive the other guys to work 5 days a week. Every fourth week my dad (who was 6 feet tall) and his three commuters, would somehow fit into our family 2-door Volkswagen Beetle and drive off to work. I never saw any of this, but I remember my mom saying that the other wives loved to see their full-grown husbands squeeze in and out of that car on the days my dad drove.

After a few years my dad went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor. This is where he worked for Robert Noyce, the guy who later founded Intel. My dad would describe those years as heady times for those lucky R and D (Research and Development) engineers like him. He was gone by 7 in the morning and got home 6ish. Most evenings he sat in our living room, smoking a pipe while reading IEEE journals or researching the stock market. And it was not uncommon for him to go into work on weekends. He was so happy then. I remember him coming into the kitchen many evenings, grabbing my mom at the waist, and with a grand dip he would kiss her right there in front of us, with a hot meatloaf sitting on the kitchen counter.

Several years after working for Fairchild, my dad started a microwave business with a tech friend. They called the business MG Microwave, which stood for Merle and Gene (my dad). That lasted about a year and my dad was back at Fairchild. He got a couple patents for Fairchild and was offered a job by Noyce, as he and Gordon Moore were starting Intel. My dad turned it down because he knew his position there would be in “management” and he wasn’t interested in that because he still wanted to continue as a design engineer. (I don’t think my mom ever forgave him for that one!) I also think my dad wasn’t that interested in computers. Crazy huh? He had been trained to build things on a workbench in a lab. He didn’t want to write code for a computer program. After Fairchild my dad went to California Microwave (CMI). Most of the work he did there was with telecommunications for the phone company–“ma Bell” and all the “baby Bells”. By now it’s the mid 80’s and my dad is done. Lots of tech companies had stopped their R and D divisions and were hiring MBA’s to focus only at the “bottom line.” Dad would complain that everyone had hired too many “bean counters” and it just wasn’t very fun anymore. He wondered who was going to develop a better “mousetrap” when all the research money was drying up. He hadn’t noticed that the next version of “mousetraps” was already taking hold of Silcon Valley. But he wasn’t interested in personal computers.

I suspect it was getting harder and harder for him to dream of looking for the double rainbow, when all about him the “bean counters” were only interested in the pots of gold held firmly to the ground. So, at age 52 he and my mom left Silcon Valley and moved to Grass Valley, to tend their rentals. Don’t get me wrong, my dad dreamed of finding gold like everyone else. In fact, before retiring he had been working on a circuit that he was sure could detect gold a couple feet or so down in the ground. Once he got to Grass Valley he and my youngest brother, who later became an electrical engineer, worked on a scheme to look for gold on my family’s property in Grass Valley. It seems they had somehow attached this detector to my dad’s truck and had planned to drive it all over the gravel roads on the 10 acres, looking for gold. (There had been a small working gold mine on the property.) I guess my brother would drive around very slowly while my dad sat in the passengers seat trying to make the device work. I don’t think they ever found anything. Once a dreamer, always a dreamer, I guess.

Last word on “Dreamers”

Right now there is a lot of talk about so called “Obama’s Dreamers” and whether they should be allowed to stay in the US, or be made to go back to the country where they were born. But a lot of those young people have now been educated here and probably dream of staying. It makes me wonder why we would want to send them away, when this country was founded by dreamers of all kinds, even first generation college dreamers like my dad. I mean, maybe one of these dreamers will come up with Silcon Valley’s best “mousetrap” ever! And you never really know what kind of wonders will come from future dreamers. My son was born in Palo Alto in the mid 1990s in the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Yup! Money for that “state of the art” hospital was donated by David and Lucile Packard (of HP fame). And that’s a very real thing that’s a dream come true for so many children and their families.