April 3, 2021

Signs of Spring at the Descanso Gardens, 2021 (Majestic purple ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

As the tulips have been opening at the Descanso Gardens, so has my ever expanding need to see this year’s spring. Looking for spring flowers and the newness of green on all the plants continues to be my current obsession. I had the week off and went to the Descanso a number of times to sketch. They have a spring theme going on that of course involves the blooming tulips, iris and clivia, but it also includes much more. They have named their March 15 to May 31 offering “Signs of Spring.” And for spring 2021 at the Descanso Gardens they are emphasizing the idea of homes made by birds, or nests. The display involves bird nests of various sizes, shapes, materials and even some that are different colors. (They were sprayed bright pink, yellow and green.) Many of the nests are right out in the open, while others are tucked away in various locations along the paths in the garden. For these you have to look a little closer. All of the nests I have sketched here were man made, not constructed by birds. In fact, one of the nests you see here was made by the local artist David Lovejoy. I pretty much scoured the place, looking for nests to sketch. It seems that the only ones made by actual birds were along the fence next to the larger pond. I didn’t sketch any of those as they were each individually tucker under a glass dome and I was just not inspired to try to capture that kind of image. There were various signs describing each nest and the birds who had actually made them. These were closer down to the ground, compared to the other fantastic nests. I suspect the low level and glass covering was done to encourage little children to hunker down and look, but not be able to touch them. As the Descanso is very much into education for the younger garden goers, the location of these nests was perfect as there are a number of different kinds of birds that hang around that pond, as well as numerous of turtles that bob around in the pond. That being said, the other nests in the garden seemed to be in places someone under 3 feet in height could not reach. (Just guessing…)

To be an urban sketcher or not to be, that is the question…

If you have been reading my weekly stories and art, you may be wondering if my urban sketching group met last Sunday. Well, thanks for asking. And yes we did. We went on a fabulous online virtual visit to Bermuda. It was great! Guess I could have posted those sketches today, but was clearly more obsessed with these spring nests at the Descanso. As always, our virtual excursions are welcomed by all attendees. But, as we have gone longer than anyone expected with our unreal virtual sketching events, we often end each session talking about how to post and share our sketches. Lately, we have had some very lively discussions about what is and isn’t an urban sketch. If the art truly reflects the Urban Sketchers manifesto, you can post it on their website. Basically the group seems to agree that true urban sketching must tell a story, be done on sight and in real time. I might add that I think the art must include some kind of reference to humans—be that a telephone pole with lots of wires, a car or two and of course people. If you can include someone walking through your sketch that’s all you really need to create a true urban sketch. However, as our virtual sketches are not done on sight and in real time, we can only post our work in a very specific backdoor of the urban sketching world. It generally means the art is just for us and not for the consumption of the international group. OK. I’m not really a huge fan of posting my sketches there as it’s part of Facebook, and I am kind of done with Facebook. Posting any of my art on Facebook is not something I do…ever. But at the end of each of these virtual travel sessions the leader of our group reminds us how to post our art, as it is not a normal and straight forward maneuver. At these times it seems there is a residual, but seemingly ongoing discussion of what constitutes urban sketching. I believe that what I am sharing here constitutes urban sketching as I am definitely telling a story—albeit I’m sharing a collection of sketches done over a couple days. And as all of these nests were made by people, I think that adds the necessary human touch to each one–you just can’t see them. But none of this really matters anyway as I won’t be posting any of this on Facebook.

March 28, 2021

3/21/2021, wall and poppies (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate) and 3/22/2021, wall, poppies and car (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If you’ve been following one CA girl for the many weeks and months we’ve been under the weather with the pandemic, you have surely noticed the many worldwide virtual online sketching trips I’ve taken. We have been averaging one every other Sunday since our first trip to Porto, Portugal August 8, 2020 (posted September 5, 2020). But as the time has passed our group seems to have filled up the other Sundays with other kinds of art activities as well. One of those mornings a member shared his amazing tiny sketch pad filled with local SoCal street scenes done in gouache. For another odd Sunday another member showed us how he liked to sketch people on the Metro line with a ball point pen—of course this was pre-pandemic. And one Sunday morning I even took the group on a live webcam sketching event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We sketched sea turtles, various fish swimming in and around the three story kelp forest and a tank full of jellies. 

Something old becomes new again!

As it seems we will be home sketching a bit longer our leader (last Sunday) asked us if we had any ideas for possible upcoming art events we might like to host. Some suggested more virtual trips and some suggested sketching demos. One member suggested he could show us how he drives around LA, doing quick sketches at stop lights. I got kind of over excited about sharing something I might do. Not really sure why, but I volunteered to demo something I really haven’t done in years—how to use Prismacolor colored pencils on a variety of surfaces. I started out using them in the late 80s and early 90s. And my favorite surfaces to draw on at the time were acetate, Bristol board and illustration board. (see 9/23/2017 of Alligator Gar from 1990) Oh, I still have bags and bags of those colored pencils and a few random sheets of Bristol board and acetate, plus illustration board. But I wondered if I would be too rusty to demo something I used a lot in the past, but not so much lately. Too late for that now as it appears I have committed myself to remembering how to use them. Here are a couple of my most recent attempts—same spot on different days. One is on Bristol board, the other on acetate. It was fun to sit out on my front porch a couple warm afternoons—capturing these scenes using my long ago favorite colored pencils. I think these sketches came out fine, but look very different from my late 20th century drawings. Oh, and while sitting outside to do these that first afternoon I’d forgotten that the luscious waxy texture these pencils produce is great as long as you keep them out of the sun. If you don’t they will melt into a big unusable mess. And I was sitting in the direct sun! Once I realized my mistake I quickly moved me and my stuff to the shade. I had to wait a few minutes to be sure the lead had hardened a bit. By the second afternoon I knew to set up in the shade.

In the late 80s and early 90s I was employed to do pen and ink botanical and entomological drawings at the CA Academy of Sciences. My botanicals were done on Strathmore smooth Bristol board. My wasp drawings were done on a more heavy duty acetate. All of said scientific illustrations were done with Rotring Rapidograph pens with points that ranged from .13, .25 and .30. (Those are pretty fine points and I spent a fair amount of time unclogging them.) Also during that time of very technically tight drawings I was amusing myself by using Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board and acetate of various thicknesses and finishes. I should also mention that about that time I became obsessed with using the same Prismacolor colored  pencils with watercolor on hot press illustration board. (See 20th century botanicals on 4/6/2020 and 5/2/2020 posts and 21st century botanicals 4/25/2020, 6/7/2020, 6/27/2020, 7/18/2020, 8/1/2020, 8/15/2020.) As you can see, I am still obsessed with doing such detailed Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor botanicals on illustration board.

Pansy vignette, 3/24/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on acetate)

Here’s another one from the other side of my front porch. Again, it was fun to sit (in the shade) and sketch a simple spring vignette of pansies. When using colored pencils the finished product is usually not very big. As I sat and applied that wonderful waxy pigment to the acetate I was reminded why I liked using them so much. When you are done you have this tiny bright gem. I’ve written about the appeal of creating such jewel-like bits of art. I was glad to be reminded of that. So, maybe I was a little rusty—almost melting some key colors I love. But I think I will be ready to share these materials with my sketching buddies on some upcoming Sunday. I have quite a history with this medium. I wonder if they would be interested in hearing my Prismacolor colored pencil journey? Of course not! If they are like me, they just want to hear about it and then try it out on their own, right?

…A little late with this week’s post. I got my second COVID vaccination on Thursday (March 25, my mom’s birthday) and had a rather nasty reaction. But all done with that for now. And Happy Birthday mom! I miss you!

March 20, 2021

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Sanze-in Temple in OHARA, (Prismacolor colored pencils and POSCA pens on toned paper)

Our artist tour guide for last Sunday’s virtual sketching trip to Kyoto was amazing. First, he spent a few minutes giving us a quick bit of history for that ancient city. Here’s just a few things he said: Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1000 years. Tokyo became the capital in 1868. Japanese emperors lived in Kyoto for 1074 years and there are over 1600 temples in Kyoto. Such an interesting and old culture…

Our host was so thoughtful. He used his colored pencils to draw us a map of all the places we would be visiting that morning. At the top of the map he penciled in where the airports one might use to get to Kyoto (Kansai, Narita or Haneda). He also noted on the map the relative distance and time it would take to get there based on which airport you flew into. Below that he sketched a very simple and easy to read map of several landmarks around town as well as 4 stops we would be making—Ohara, Gion, Toji and Arashiyama. I don’t think he had planned we would sketch in all 4 areas, but with 30 minutes per sketch, he thought we would do at least 3. (We spent a little longer for our first two sketches and never got past our second stop. That was fine with me.)

For our first stop we were treated to a temple in OHARA that he had seen one fall while visiting Kyoto. The lovely orange and yellow foliage in the background are the leaves of Japanese maples. If you have never seen a Japanese maple, please Google it and just enjoy what you see. Japanese maples were a particular favorite of my parents and they often planted them in the gardens of our family homes in Silicon Valley and Grass Valley. I have written about the Japanese maples they planted in our Saratoga yard in the 60s. I haven’t been past that house in a while, but my brother (who lives in Sunnyvale) said they are still there. He said they absolutely tower over the terra cotta roof of that single story Spanish style house in Saratoga. I should go check it out one of these days. There was a particularly slow growing Japanese maple in my parent’s garden in Grass Valley. I remember my dad telling about a time when he took a friend on a tour of our old house (built in 1850) and garden. My dad said he stopped to show him the maple tree. He said the friend stared intently at the tree and made a comment about how expensive that tree must have been. (Actually, that’s kind of a weird thing to say, right? I guess it was his way of saying how lovely it was, but he wouldn’t have planted something that expensive as it might just die some particularly cold Grass Valley winter. Hmmm…) If you have followed my art with stories you have already heard me speak of many of my beloved CA trees—oaks of all kinds, redwoods and dogwood. I am also in love with many non-native CA trees, such as fruitless mulberry (native to China and favorite food of silk worms) and palm trees.

Virtual sketching tour of Kyoto (3/14/2021), Yasak Pagoda and fan shop in Yasaka area, near Gion, (Prismacolor colored pencils and oxblood ink with Fude nib on watercolor paper)

For our second stop we went to the Yasaka area, near Gion. For this view we could see the Yasaka Pagoda in the background with the sign for a fan shop more close up. I love the idea that there would be a shop that sold only fans. Our host said that it gets warm in Kyoto in the summer and a fan came in handy to keep cool. He also that there were many shops that sold paint brushes, inks and watercolors. It seems that such materials were originally for those who painters who did calligraphy. But of course all kinds of artists now go to such shops looking for all things painterly. All of our ears pricked up when we heard of yet another place to buy lovely art supplies. And of course I have already looked up several places to shop for such goods in Kyoto.

I can’t leave today’s post without mentioning that I recently watched Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan on Netflix. It was fascinating and focused on some pretty fierce battles between competing warlords from 1551 to 1616. I’m not usually partial to stories of wars, but I would definitely recommend it. 

Photo of SoCal monarch chrysalis, 3/17/2021–St. Patrick’s Day


Today is the first day of spring and I went to sketch the tulips at the Descanso Gardens. Yes, they are up, open and beautiful. I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketched them in the damp low fog. Actually, I’d planned to share that sketch here today. The fog was so low and the air so very wet that the Inktense pencil and water soluble majestic purple ink mixed lightly together in a very subtle and interesting way without any help from me. However, on my way home I stopped past a nursery to replace a milkweed plant I had inadvertently killed. Thinking of the many monarch chrysalis I have hanging from the under side of my front porch I thought I would share a photo of one here. There is just no way I can sketch or paint something as beautiful as this. It’s my homage to spring 2021. Welcome!

March 13, 2021

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 1/16/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

If you are still climbing out of some unbelievably punishing winter weather, I am so sorry. I hope you can take some minor comfort knowing that spring has been on its way for weeks now. If you have suffered beyond measure with COVID I hope you can take heart that change is coming and visible in every new flower bud and light green growth on bare branches. Or if you feel like you’ve been waiting for something new and good, maybe sunshine really is just around the corner. Based on weather reports I am seeing today, that may seem just so far away for you. And I am sorry.

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been looking for spring and a reason for a more hopeful summer. As I live in SoCal I know I’m lucky to be able to go outside in winter and not worry about freezing to death. I was out looking for signs of spring when I went to the Descanso Gardens on January 16, 2021. If you are a member and can get there at 8am, you and other members are the only ones allowed in. Members can be there all day at any time. However, non-members must make reservations and those reservations begin at 9. As there are fewer people walking around at 8 or 8:30, I am happy to get up early to share the garden at a time when there are more birds, squirrels and bunnies than people. It was a pretty cold morning on the 16th, but I put on lots of layers, my fingerless gloves and walked through the gate a little after 8. There was fog hanging onto the ground and it was just too frigid to even consider looking for a place to sit and sketch. Even though I had my bubble wrap to sit on, I knew that just wasn’t going to work. I was so happy to came across this blooming pinkish iris. I walked right up to it, opened my backpack and began sketching on the spot—one long continuous marvelous and majestic purple ink line. I scribbled on some Inktense pencil as well, but added water when I got home. We are pretty lucky here in SoCal to have flowers that are blooming even in the middle of January. In fact, the Descanso has some old huge camellias shrubs under the old huge oaks and I could see many light green flower buds on the Camellia branches. They usually bloom in February in CA. Most of the oaks are live oaks which means they don’t loose their leaves. But even those trees were showing new green growth. Yeah!

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 2/15/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencils and watercolor on Canson Mix Media paper)

I went back the next month and was again looking for a sneak peek of spring. Again, there was fog clinging to much of the ground in the rose garden and it was again too cold to sit and sketch. But the minute I came upon this lovely vignette, I stopped in my tracks and took out my sketch pad and marvelous majestic purple ink pen. And again I rooted myself to that spot and I sketched this lovely pinkness with green trim using continuous contour lines. (I think there might be more than one contour line here…) If you’ve never seen a tulip tree (Magnolia Soulangeana), they are really something, and can only have these amazing flowers in winter. It’s part of the magnolia family and the blossoms are huge. The maple leaf hydrangea wasn’t yet blooming, but the leaves had an almost a pinkish glow in that early morning ground fog. 

Sneak peek at spring 2021, Descanso Gardens, 3/6/2021 (majestic purple ink with Inktense pencil on Canson Mix Media paper)

So, a week ago I was so hopeful to get more than a sneak peek of spring. I was sure there’d be at least some tulips blooming. Well, a couple deep purple ones tulips were present, but most were still pushing up through the ground as green spikes strips. There were lots of different kinds of blooming daffodils in clumps around, as well as some bright yellow drifts of King Alfred daffy down dillys. For this little vignette of blue borage, purple wallflower and bright orange CA it was just warm enough for me to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap and sketch. Making some spring 2021 progress. Guess I have to wait a bit longer for the big flower show.

March 13, 2020 

You may or may not be wondering what was significant about this date. Well, for all of us who work for LAUSD, it was the last day that students and staff were all together at school. Since then, all learning for our students has been done at home online and virtually. Yes, it’s been a year. Was March 13, 2020 significant for you or your family? I guess for my speech pathologist brethren, March 16, 2020 was also a day to remember. On Monday, March 16, 2020, I voluntarily attended my first Zoom session with over 40,000 other speech therapists across the country. There was no charge for this online event. We were to learn about how to provide virtual speech and language therapy. It was an entire day of tele therapists sharing with all of us how we were going to proceed until we could all see our students in the flesh and face to face again. I remember at the end of the day one of the organizers saying it was the largest ever online voluntary gathering of people for a single purpose. She even said that what we had done that day could probably qualify us for some kind of Guinness World Records record. But honestly, I don’t think anyone wanted to make that day seem special in any way. And I don’t remember hearing back from that person as to whether or not our amazing event would be considered for any kind of world record. I think we were all overwhelmed with what was ahead of us, and really couldn’t see any kind of reason to celebrate. So, I choose to celebrate the coming of spring 2021. Can I get an amen?

March 6, 2021

Sketch of Bourdeilles, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

This is one of three sketches we did on our recent virtual sketching trip to France—le deuxieme. For our previous excursion there, la premiere, we explored the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival in Pont Aven (see February 27, 2021 post). Our hosts for that first and memorable trip had specifically gone to that part of Brittany to sketch the people who participated in the festival, with emphasis on seeing and sketching the women’s very elaborate costumes. If you have looked as last week’s post you may have noticed some pretty extreme head gear. But for last Sunday’s trip to Southwestern France our host shared with us that she and her husband had not gone there to see what the local folks liked to wear 100 years ago, but for cheese tasting. They traveled from town to town, tasting regional fromage as they went. She shared photos of some of the cheeses they sampled, as well as hams and other regional foods. Not sure I would have enjoyed sketching a stall of hams hanging about as much as I liked sketching this scene in Bourdeilles. When I first glanced at these structures I planned to do a finished outline sketch with some “heavy handed” graphite and then use only watercolor with my 1/2 inch squared off Stroke brush. However, it just didn’t go as planned and the graphite pencil didn’t give me the outlines I wanted. So, I grabbed my Prismacolor colored pencils and added some French grey lines, indigo blue and a couple other colors. Once I had taken care of that I was in a much happier state of mind and especially enjoyed adding the final apple green Prismacolor to the grapes that flanked the walk up to the front door. Of course, as this is France, the grapes grown there are harvested each year and turned into wine. OMG, that’s definitely a French and CA way to think and live—wine to go with fabulous regional cheese! I was now lost in some kind of dreamland, deciding the shrubs to right of the grapes were French lavender. I love the smell of lavender and have been known to spray my pillow cases with lavender essence. I was now imagining a friendly afternoon of pairing various wines with cheeses. Then it would be time for a lovely nap—a nosh and nap (or romantic romp)—on scented linen. It doesn’t really get any better than that. 

Sketch of Hotel Coligny, Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for all the hard times I seemed to have with my first sketch, this one went more easily and was way more satisfying to do. It was like spreading a soft cheese on a piece of crusty bread, not at all like trying to spread butter just out of the frig on a graham cracker. My artist friends have often commented that when doing these quick sketches, the first one you do feels like a warm up. And all the sketches that follow are somehow better, with less doubt about the sometimes split second decisions we are making in the moment, as we look at something and choose materials to represent that something we have conjured up in our brains. It’s like the muscle memory needs to get activated so it can go on autopilot and the brain is freed up to think of composition, materials, color or not color, and the final knowing when it’s time to stop. I think I’m in agreement with the idea. I need a warm up before I can enjoy sketching something. Anyway, I enjoyed the process of capturing this little hotel. When I first looked at it I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that meant nestling the charming white structure with terra cotta roof directly into the background of the dark green blob of trees and shrubbery. Then, to put it further in its place, and make it interesting, I knew I wanted to add the buildings reflection in the slowly moving river. Somehow I knew that if I could get that right I would relax and be satisfied with the results. So, I limited my materials to just watercolor and Inktense pencils. And I finished what I set out to do in 20 minutes or so. I found I had time to work more on the bridge and attend to the awnings etc in the front of the building. I don’t remember our host telling us of some great cheeses they sampled there. I mean, she may have, but I think the minute she shared this picture I began planning and sketching, even before the official 30 minute timer was set. The whole experience was very satisfying. 

Sketch of Brantome, Dordogne, done virtually 2/28/2021 (POSCA markers, Inktense pencils, black ink on watercolor paper)

Several of the members commented on the lovely light colors for this one. The trip host said she thinks she’d put a filter on her camera to create a different feeling of light. One of the group leaders said she thought it made it look like it was a warm summer day. With that single comment I knew what I wanted to do. I got out a non-water soluble black ink pen, POSCA markers, and a couple Inktense pencils. I wanted to somehow capture light waves that were moving all around this bright village scene. I started the sketch using my black pen and captured the scene you see in one long continuous line. Then I added wavy POSCA pen lines to reinforce the idea of normally invisible light wavelengths that appeared to bounce off the stone walls, terra cotta roofs, road and of course the blue sky. Finally, I scribbled in some bright fields of Inktense pencil–yellow, blue, green and orange. I think we all had a great time in Southwest France even though we didn’t get to taste one bit of cheese. And I think I heard that our next virtual trip would be to Maine. Stay tuned!

February 27, 2021

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Grand Dame, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Recently, a couple of the people in our online virtual sketching group took us, via some real vacation photos taken a couple years ago, on a sketching tour of Brittany. One of those realtime travelers explained that the organizer of their real trip wanted to see and sketch a very specific Breton event in Pont Aven. It seems there is a very colorful parade with various activities called the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival. And it’s been held every year there since 1905. The organizer of their trip wanted to see the festival in action, especially the costumes the men and women wore for it. Here you can see just such a participant—the Grand Dame of the whole thing that particular year. We were told that she sat on the porch of a second story building, somewhere along the parade route. I guess she was some kind of VIP. Her costume was very ornate and had many parts to it. Lace and/or brocaded fabric seemed to be the order of the day for not only the grand dame, but most of the other men and women that marched, danced and played music for this event. You can’t help but notice the large hat she was wearing with hanging ties that didn’t seem to need to be tied. Anyway, she also had a huge lace collar that turned up at each shoulder. What kind of killed me about the women’s costumes, including the grand dame herself, was that they also all wore aprons. Were they going to be doing some kind of domestic work later, making a pie or gathering apples in the folds of the apron for that pie? 

She was interesting to draw and I found myself wondering how much of her I would be able to capture in the 30 minutes our group had allotted ourselves for each of our 3 sketches. There was a myriad of detail I could try to render. Using my Fude nib fountain pen filled with majestic purple ink I tried my best to capture as much of her as I could with contour lines. I think what was kind of randomly fun and funny about this scene was the pot of dead flowers between she and porch railing. Besides all that lace and folds of fabric I wanted to be sure to get that in. As I hurried along I kept thinking that as she was wearing an apron, she must have been expected to do something domestic right then and there, or maybe she had a job to do right after the parade. Maybe she would help clean the street or cook dinner. But somehow she had forgotten a basic duty, she had forgotten to water that plant directly in front of her. I mean, the Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities must have some direct connection to flowers. I don’t really know French, but I know that fleur in French means flower. Thinking of that bit of irony then as now seems a little unusual to me. Quelle dommage.

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Lady with umbrella, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For this costumed Breton, I thought it interesting that she most reminded me of the women post-impressionist Paul Gauguin had painted in the very city and countryside of Pont-Aven. He was painting in Pont Aven before 1905, so he wouldn’t have attended any Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities, nor would he have seen someone that was dressed exactly like her. He did lots of colorful and beautiful landscapes of the area. I happen to be unabashedly in love with his oil painting called “A Farm in Brittany.” OMG, his use of color for that one blows me away. His use of pinks and greens in that Breton light cannot be equaled by anyone, in my opinion. He also did lots of paintings of women and men working in the fields, and just kind of moving about the countryside. If you Google “Paul Gauguin in Pont Aven” you will see the places and people he painted. The women back then also wore aprons and similar white hats, but those 19th century hats had a similar shape, but did not look very fancy. I think my lady here must have been taking a breather from the festivities her 21st century day, relaxing a bit under her pert white umbrella. You can’t tell, but she was wearing a modest white hat, much like the long ago ladies from Pont Aven. But I was so engrossed in sketching her with a continuous contour line that her head soon became stuffed into the umbrella and there was no adding a hat here. Oh zut! But her green background with houses and boats along the water definitely reminded me of some of Gauguin’s landscapes. (Well, there wouldn’t have been a car there…) 

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Resting ladies, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

I think this image was our favorite sketching opportunity for the day. I am calling this  piece “Resting Ladies” or “dames au repos.” It was pretty clear to all of us that these lounging ladies had had enough marching and dancing for the time being. But I think we all wondered if they were really done for the day as they were still wearing their festival costumes with those tall chef-like lacy hats. And of course they still had on their aprons. Maybe they weren’t done cooking and cleaning for the day. Hmmm…

Final French note:

Tomorrow, we are going on yet another virtual trip to do some sketching in the south of France. A bientot

February 20, 2021

Contour drawing (two continuous lines, plus individual birds) of arbor with climbing rose, not in bloom, with lamp post and aeonium succulent, Descanso Gardens, 1/5/2021 (non soluble black ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

Lately, as I have been sketching at an appropriate social distance from my fellow garden goers at the Descanso, I have been obsessed with capturing garden images using one or two long continuous line (s). Such a line can also be referred to as a contour line. When wandering around the Descanso Gardens I generally carry several different kinds of ink pens that can accommodate such contours. Those pens include a couple Fude nib pens with water-soluble ink in oxblood, majestic purple and black. I also have a number of black Pigma micron and Faber Castell Pitt pens with tips that range from brush tips to fine 05. I also carry with me some graphite pencils, a tin of 12 Inktense pencils, a 7 by 10 inch pad of Canson Mix Media paper and of course my sheet of bubble wrap. (As I have shared in previous posts, I always have a sheet of bubble wrap with me when I go sketching. That’s so I save something I can roll out and sit on when I sketch. I recently replaced my old sheet of bubble wrap. The new sheet is actually pretty clean and it’s very soft. I think that because most of the bubbles are still full of air and intact. It’s almost like I’m sitting on a cloud instead of a large boulder or a damp park bench.) But that’s all I carry! I don’t carry any water or brushes because water weighs me down. I add the water when I get home. For the art I am sharing here today I used a fine point pen (probably a 1) with non water-soluble black ink pen. When I sketch with the colored water-soluble ink I have a different process I go through (see last week’s cherry blossoms on 2/13/21 and 1/30/21). For these lovely colored inks, plus special pencils, I am hyper aware of my plan to make the long contour lines bleed and intermingle with the other water-soluble colors on the paper when water is added later. But whatever pen I am using I am usually in a hurry to do such sketches and tend to finish everything, minus the blending, in 20 minutes or so. Then I pack my few art items (rolling the now damp bubble wrap with the wet side folded together) into my backpack, take a walk around the garden and head home. When I get home, and I’m not worrying about social distancing from my fellow garden goers, I brush water on the spots I imagined while sitting on my bench. 

I really enjoyed sitting on a bench in the sun that day to do this sketch. And I came prepared with all my usual materials. But what I was not prepared for was my stopping in that particular spot to capture this particular view. Why is that, you say? Well, I have walked under that “Monet’s Giverny inspired” arbor with climbing roses countless times, but have never really stopped to look at it. The only reason I stopped on the 5th was because it was a cold morning and I was looking for a bench in the sun. It appeared as if by sunlit magic, just at the opening of this quite magnificent arbor. Looking down and through the many metal hoops I was astonished by the cool perspective and happy to sketch something so interesting while sitting on my new bubble wrap on a wet bench in the sun. It was perfect.

Contour drawing (single continuous line) of cherry blossom tree in bloom, Descanso Gardens, 2/13/2021 (non soluble black ink with Inktense pencils on Canson Mix Media paper)

Strangely enough I found myself on the other side of the exact same arbor a little more than a month later. I wasn’t looking for an another opportunity to capture this amazing structure, but rather I was again looking for a bench in the sun. When I sat on my rolled out bubble wrap on a damp bench in that sunlit corner of the rose garden I was drawn to the shocking pink color of the flowering cherry tree blossoms and the deep rose red of the asters at the base of the tree. It was only after I wrapped up the continuous contour line with the added Inktense color of the flora that I noticed the arbor in the background. What was I thinking? How did I miss seeing it? I guess I am thankful I eventually noticed it was there because I think it adds a nice bit of blue background pattern to that pink tree plopped center stage. Once I finally figured out what I was looking at I also noticed the exact same lamp post that was in the previous sketch. I looked at the pair of sketches side by side when I got home and noticed that I hadn’t captured the aeonium succulent for this one. Not sure how I missed it. Like for the first sketch, there were a number of birds here as well, but they were happily hopping around under my damp bench. That was really a treat. I think I was so still while I sat there, sketching away, that the birds didn’t notice that a human sitting on a sheet of bubble wrap was perched just above them. It was perfect, again.

February 13, 2021

Virtual trip to Gujo Hachiman (1/24/2021), Night scene (POSCA markers, white and scarlet Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore black Mixed Media paper–vellum surface)

Well it seems to me that my virtual trips around the world with my artist friends has taken on a life of its own. (Wondering if there is a pun or a bit of irony in that statement…). It’s so fun to go to a bunch of different places just about every other Sunday morning with my special bunch of artist friends. And I don’t have to worry about getting on a plane with people who are potentially sick with that dreaded pandemic virus, nor does it cost me a thing. Well, of course it costs me my time. But it seems that’s what I have more of these days of staying home so much. However, these virtual trips provide me with something to look forward to and I am so grateful for the mental stimulation. Our most recent trek was on January 24th, and we went to Gujo Hachiman, Japan. If you are like me, you’d have never heard of it. In all the excitement I forgot to ask our guide that day where you might find this night scene in Gujo Hachiman. So, I spent a couple evenings this week looking online to see what I could find out, wondering if I would see the exact location as seen at night. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but instead was treated to an amazing collection of photos of the town that included several 360 degree cams of various spots. (See gujohachiman.com and click on English, unless you know how to read Kanji.) In the end it didn’t really matter whether or not I could actually confirm where I had sketched. But, if I were to guess I would say it was probably part of the Sogi Sui Water shrine. If you browse the website I’ve shared it seems this PR marvel was created before the pandemic. Never mind the shameless and overly advertised information meant to attract tourists. It did strike me funny that they described all the year round sights and experiences in this way—snow in winter, cherry blossoms in spring and typhoons in the summer. (I think I snorted out loud when I read that last bit…)  For me, I could ignore the online enchanted sirens singing the praises of Gujo Hachiman (especially the summer sirens). I just went down almost every 2 dimensional alley/street, river and museum photo they showed. And I almost got dizzy from all my spinning around with the great number 360 degree cams available on their website. It was fun!

Virtual trip to Gujo Hachiman (1/24/2021), Cherry blossoms above river (purple watersoluble ink with Fude nib, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For our next view we went to another unnamed area of town with a bit of carefully laid stone and moving water. Water is definitely key to this small town in the Gifu prefecture. It’s where three rivers (Nagara, Yoshida and Kodara) come together and much of the commerce for old and new Gujo Hachiman is connected to water. Our host explained that every city/town in Japan has their own manhole cover design. Gujo Hachiman’s manhole cover depicts “Fishes in the Clear River.” With all the water in the area, this design makes total sense. There were so many lovely things to see, with the waterways that surround the town being at the top of my list of loveliness. But, I was also struck by the way they used stones in and around the water. Some were quite round and smooth and looked like they had been polished over time in the rivers. They came in a variety of sizes as well and were used as hardscape, in intricate designs everywhere you looked. There were also stones that looked like identical geometric pavers. They were used to build retaining walls and cover walkways. Of course traveling to Gujo Hachiman is now on my bucket list. All that stone embedded in moving water next to silver looking wooden buildings with smaller structures painted bright red would be a pleasure to look at and sketch realtime someday.

So, here comes the really interesting part of my story. As I did research on the town I had a feeling I had seen something like it before. I realized I had read about the area a number of years ago. I found the actual article I was thinking of in a drawer full of similar bits of travel information I have saved over the years. The article was from the October 2010 Smithsonian magazine and it was called “A Walk Through Old Japan.” In the story a couple hikers go for a trek on The Kiso Road, which is part of the Nakasendo Way. I remember thinking at the time that someday I wanted to do some walking on that ancient road. It seems this old road, connecting Tokyo with Kyoto, goes right through Gifu prefecture. And guess what? Gujo Hachiman is in Gifu prefecture. OMG! It didn’t take me long to realize that going there was already on my bucket list. How convenient!

If you would like to see more about the area I am babbling on about, check out jtbusa.com/gifu-chiune. The information you will find there is another shameless attempt to encourage tourists to come visit. It all looks perfect to me. I hope to someday be able to go there—maybe see the snow in winter and/or the cherry blossoms in spring. However, I don’t think I need to see a typhoon in summer. So, I don’t think that time of year will work for me. But I wonder if the room rates are lower in summer…

February 6, 2021

Art and story published in the SLO Tribune, Sunday, January 9, 2000. Original art was done with Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold-press illustration board.

Hard to believe, but as of this particular art and story, One California Girl has posted something here almost every week for a sum of 200 times. Yikes! And if there are 52 weeks in the year, that puts me in the running for presenting something weekly for almost four years. And because there are 52 weeks in the year the 4 year mark for One CA Girl should be my 208th entry which should occur Saturday, April 3, 2021. That bit of calendar math seems about right as I started all of this on my mother’s birthday, March 25, 2017. I marked that day as the first birthday I celebrated without her as she had passed away the previous August. It is a kind of bittersweet milestone I guess. Both of my parents were always so proud of my art skills and I know for a fact both to them would have enjoyed following my blog as they were the “Mom and Dad of One CA Girl.” Thinking back, and forward for that matter, it fascinates me that I have created so many sketches and paintings over the years. As I have also said in past posts, I really don’t have much more “long ago” art to share anymore. But as I was trying to imagine how to mark today’s milestone I thought of some old art I had yet to post here. The timing was rather perfect, I think. The time was January 9, 2000 and the place was Paso Robles. My son was little and I had started illustrating and writing short pieces to go in The Tribune’s Sunday paper. Here is what I presented then and there. Blogging was not uncommon then, but I was still drawn to contributing my stories and art to our local brick and mortar paper. I don’t have the original art of this primrose anymore. I had it framed and gave to one of my nieces. I do have a copy or two of the actual newspaper depicting this art with story. In 20 years the paper is just starting to turn a little yellow. I store it away (away from sunlight), except for the other day when I took it out to take a quick photo. Then it was back into a portfolio and out of sight. 

Even though the paper has yellowed a little, you should still be able to read it. I still believe in the immortal words of Miss Rumphius, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” She did that with her accidental, then definite and diligent, planting of lupines. The story is based on a real person and it seems she ordered her lupines from England. I’m not sure what I really think of going too crazy planting non-native flowers. I hope such spiky and colorful exotic beauties have not aced out any native flowers in the hills and dales of Maine. 

Tribune ad from Wednesday, March 15, 2000

This image may seem like a strange thing to put with my long ago art and story. But one day, later that winter in 2000, I noticed something very specific on a random page of the paper. (Maybe you’ve already noticed it.) As you can see, our little local paper had distinguished itself with other newspapers at the time. I really had no idea then as now what they were so excited about. International acclaim? Who were they competing against for the six prestigious awards? Sometimes when I see the word “international” attached to something like this, I wonder if that just means Canada was part of what someone meant by international. However, when I first saw this ad (which ran daily for a number of weeks) I didn’t notice or read the words at all, but instead saw that they had obviously used my January 9, 2000 story in the photo that accompanied their great news. I guess they liked my piece, and maybe it was representative of the great design in their newspaper. Funny, at the time, the publisher told me he could make me famous with my work. (He added that he wasn’t sure I would get rich, but definitely famous.) He seemed nice enough, but nothing ever came of it. I’m still not rich or famous. Oh well. Maybe I’ll be rich and famous next year. Maybe I don’t really care about any of that. I think what’s really more important is for each of us to take Miss Rumphius’s advice—do something to make the world a more beautiful place. I don’t think I’m going to plant lupines. But, I will try to make the world a little more beautiful by sharing my California art and stories one week at a time. Stay tuned.

January 30, 2021

Virtual trip to Newfoundland, 1/10/21 (Water soluble red ink with Fude nib and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Of course my virtual visits to far away places did not stop while I toiled away on my many Descanso Gardens winter solstice 2020 pastels. On Sunday morning, January 10, 2021, I was whisked away to far away Newfoundland with 30 of my favorite virtual online traveling sketchers. As was our usual for such an event the choice of place was left up to one of our members. And as is our usual, when someone chooses a place it’s to be somewhere he or she has been. It is also best practice that the photos we sketch from were taken by the host. Every now and then someone shares “stock” pictures that we in turn sketch. But when using such photos (probably taken by a professional photographer) you are never to proclaim you actually created the art as you are tapping into another person’s creative vision captured in their photo. It all comes down to awareness, as none of the “virtual travel” pieces I share with you are published or sold. They are meant to transport me to a fantastic place, where our host tells us about his or her visit there. It’s nothing more than that and not meant as a finished piece of art to be sold. It’s just meant to be quick bits of practice, as well as events my friends and I can do together to keep the artistic juices flowing during “lockdown.” It’s also to keep us from going mad with the incessant sameness of it all. 

This is actually my second sketch of that mornings journey to Newfoundland. It was especially fun to plan and execute this one. Our tour guide described this as an abandoned dock, a relic of an earlier time when such buildings were in constant use for the local fishing trade. What was most interesting to me was that the structure appeared to be made completely of wood, including the wooden pilings that supported it all. To me, that would seem like a very temporary set up, as the submerged wood would be difficult to maintain, right? It reminded me of old piers I saw on our CA coast when I was little. Today, such wooden piers out here are pretty much a thing of the past, with the wood having been replaced by concrete and steel. Over time the pounding salty surf from Pacific Ocean storms, full of punishing water and wind, inevitably wore away probably all CA piers, even those made with the biggest center cut redwood timbers imaginable. Of course the Newfoundland waterway seen here appear much calmer than our thrashing CA coastline. I think our host said she was in Newfoundland in April. Maybe the winter storms you might associate with such a northerly North American location was over for the season. Someone in our group remarked that the buildings of Venice were constructed on wooden pilings as well. I guess I could imagine the city may have been originally built with wooden pilings, but I couldn’t believe you would find such underpinnings today. Surely all of that wood has been replaced with something else, right? I looked it up and sure enough Venice was built on wooden pilings. And it seems there are still some 1000 year old buildings with the original wood underneath. Of course Venice is sinking, but it started sinking right after it was first established. According to what I found online it’s the weight of everything pressing down into the wet soil (mud) underneath that’s causing the sinking, and the integrity or wear of the underwater wood really had nothing to do with this phenomenon. Still hard for me believe…

As you may have guessed I was fascinated with all the wood I saw in this image. I set about to challenge myself by rendering the wood, and virtually everything else you see here, with one continuous line of water soluble “oxblood” ink. As I noted in the caption, the only other inked lines I added were surrounding the greenish bits of moss/kelp/rocks just above the walkway and to the right, below the walkway. 

Descanso Gardens scribble sketch, 1/9/21 (Red water soluble ink with Fude nib, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Not sure I made a conscious decision to use a similar palette and technique the day before we went on our virtual journey. But sure enough, I remember being interested in the weathered wood of a pergola and bit of fencing I saw in the rose garden. Of course, for this one, I was actually at the Descanso Gardens for this “realtime” rendering. It was such a lovely Saturday morning to sit and sketch.

Virtual trip to Newfoundland, 1/10/21 (Black ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

I thought I might also share the first sketch I did on our tour. It was not done with any particular intent or choice of materials. Funny, but this image reminded me that I had already been on a virtual trip to Newfoundland. And I had taken that particular journey years ago when I read “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx. It’s quite an amazing story, with some very difficult themes, but nonetheless a wonderful book I would heartily recommend. Ms. Proulx shared with the reader a Newfoundland that had some calm days, but there were also many days of incomprehensibly stormy weather.

Finally, I mentioned that we were expecting some rain here in CA. And boy howdy did we get some rain last week. In fact, the winter storm wind and rain washed away part of Highway 1 in Big Sur. As I said, our CA Pacific coastline can have some serious wind and wave action that can not only take down a substantial wooden pier, but it can also break up concrete and wash it away. And even though my garden and I are glad of the rain, it’s nice to have a break from all the lashing and thrashing for now. Hope you and your weather are fairing well on this winter day as well.