July 27, 2019

July 2000 article
July 2000 magazine article

Thinking of last week’s art and story about flowers and insects reminded me of an article I did for a children’s magazine when my son was little and we lived in Paso Robles. As you can see the art for last week’s story and this week are of insects on flowers, but the art for the July 2000 article featured a project a parent might do with his or her child. Last week’s story was actually linked more to the art rather than the words, I think. And even though my son just graduated from college, I decided to see if the “beetle making” procedure I wrote about still worked as well as it did almost 20  summers ago. It’s been a hot week here in So Cal, so making and painting the Plaster of Paris beetles was a fun indoor project. How well I remember thinking of such things to do to keep a little kid entertained when it was just too hot to be outside. (Oh yes, Paso Robles can easily get to over 100 on a typical July day. Of course the best remedy for that kind of heat involved putting the dog, the boy and few beach toys in the back of the station wagon and heading to Cayucos for the day. Ahhh…) 

The art for this July 2000 magazine article shows a couple ladybugs, or ladybird beetles, on a favorite CA wildflower. The common name for this flower is tidy tip and it is part of the genus, Layia. It can be found in lovely blankets of bright yellow on some of the grassy hills of CA in spring. I love the jagged edges of the flower with a definite line that seems to have been painted onto each flower petal. I have actually seen them in shockingly bright circles of yellow in a “fairy ring” (vernal pool in Fairfield—July 1, 2017) And as far as I can tell, you can see ladybugs flying around most months in California except in winter. It seems that they like to find warm spots to hibernate when it gets cold and I have a personal story about that. When my then husband and I were living in 1989 Walnut Creek (East Bay) I put some ladybugs on the potted plants I had out on our deck. There was quite an infestation of aphids that summer and I was sick of picking them off my flowers. I wanted some heroic ladybugs to come and eat the dreaded aphids. So, I bought a bag of ladybugs at a nursery. I remember carefully following the directions on the bag that described how to release them into your garden. Here’s what you do: On a coolish evening, lightly spray your plants with water. Then cut open the bag and gently shake out the beetles onto your plants. (I guess the water is to give them something to drink.) The idea is to distribute them as the sun is going down onto damp plant material. This is so they will hang around and not fly off immediately as they probably would if it was warm and the sun was high in the sky. (I don’t actually remember what time of year I did this—it was probably early fall.) After a time, I noticed the aphids were gone. I wondered if the ladybugs had done the trick or the evenings had just gotten too cool for the aphids to survive. I actually forgot all about the ladybugs until sometime after Christmas when I moved a pot that was close to the deck enclosure wall. And what did I see? There were at least 100 hibernating ladybugs clinging to that wall. I realized I may have compromised the little red nest of beetles and quickly put the pot back exactly as I had found it. I went out there everyday that winter, trying to view the ladybugs in the dark crack between the pot and the wall, but didn’t dare move anything. I couldn’t see anything! When the warmer spring weather finally turned up I finally got up the courage to move the pot. There wasn’t a single ladybug to be seem anywhere. It was always my hope that I hadn’t disturbed them too much and they had stayed there all winter. Such are the funny wishes and dreams of a gardener.

If you are not interested in making Plaster of Paris ladybugs or other beetle you won’t want to read the directions for making your very own insects as described in my July 2000 story. But, if you are a kid at heart, like me, you will want to make them just for fun.

set up for beetles
Materials needed to make the Plaster of Paris bugs
plaster of paris spoons
Plaster of Paris in spoons on a cookie sheet

I happened to have on hand all of the materials you see here, except the Plaster of Paris. I had the plastic cups, water, old cookie sheet and compostable spoons. Remember, this is California and of course I used compostable spoons for this project, but there was no such thing in July 2000, so I used non-compostable spoons. (Of course back then I would have washed them after I did the project and used them again.) Time to reread the directions as stated in that story. (You may have noticed I only made 6 this time around.)

bugs are done
Painted Plaster of Paris beetles (Clockwise from upper left to lower left: dung beetle, two-part stag beetle, ladybug, potato beetle, 1960s VW Bug)

Once the Plaster of Paris dried, I popped out the little beetle shapes and began planning the destiny of each one. Oh, and just for the record, the potato beetle is actually a pest and is not a happy sight for potato farmers, but I liked the colorful stripes and made one anyway. I also thought myself clever in making a two-part stag beetle and a dung beetle, and of course the 1960’s VW beetle was amusing to me…a kind of “tongue in cheek” beetle.

As you can see I also made a ladybug. And while mixing the perfect shade of red I remembered another “true” ladybug story. It goes something like this: Once upon a time one CA girl followed a northern CA creek in some northern CA woods. Some of the time she walked in the water, but most of the time she had to scramble up and over boulders to stay with the narrow creek filled with slow moving water. She imagined great winter storms of water moving the large and smoothly rounded rocks all around her. By and by she climbed up onto a large boulder and decided to take a break. She laid down on the rock and got as comfortable as she could. It was pretty enchanting there, looking up into the trees while listening to the creek swoosh past the rocks. Just above her there was quite a swarm of ladybugs and she thought this an even better detail to later remember and retell to others. A couple of them landed on her. She wondered if this was some kind of woodland welcome, but almost instantly they began biting her. Each bite actually felt like a kind of sharp “pin prick” pinch. She jumped up immediately—getting off that rock as soon as possible. She quickly moved away further down the creek. After she had gone a few feet she turned around to see if they were following her. Thank goodness they stayed right there, hovering in a bright red swarm directly above that rock. She was surprised and a little horrified at what had just happened. When she later told someone of the encounter they just laughed and told her that just wasn’t possible. 

I think most people believe in a ladybug’s benevolence rather than as a swarming nipping terror in the woods. (BTW, I just asked Siri, “Can ladybugs bite?” and she responded, “Ladybugs can bite humans.”) So, even though I obviously like having them in my garden, I prefer to see them from a safe distance, or as little bits of painted Plaster of Paris.

I have to say that I probably spent too much time painting all these little beasts—working too hard to get the detail just right. I mean, little chips of Plaster of Paris are pretty ephemeral, and I think planning and making them was actually the most fun. But throughout this whole process I was reminded of making them long ago with my 5 year old son. They didn’t look this detailed and finely painted. I remember using watercolors with him, encouraging loose and colorful application of pigment. Such a project is pretty messy, but perfect for a little kid. And other than my adding two definite eyes on each one, I don’t remember whether each one could be identified as any particular kind of beetle. I will try to save these to show him sometime. I wonder if he will remember making them? Of course he won’t remember, he was 5! The end. 

July 20, 2019

white bachelor buttons
Bachelor buttons, 7/16/19 (gouache on pink wash, watercolor paper)

Last week’s post was all about the meadow of flowers that’s still blooming away in my backyard. For that one I used my “just add water” art technique or idea to capture the  myriad of soft colors of individual flowers. I dilute a sketch made with transparent Inktense and watercolor pencils for a soft and maybe dreamy image. This week’s art shows a small detail of life in that same mass of blossoms. But for this view, I zoomed in closely and used a completely different technique that is a 180 from last week’s loose and wet approach. It’s actually more of a dry brush technique where opaque gouache is applied and each stroke is visible, resulting in a thicker application of pigment. When I first learned to do gouache on toned paper, it was to get close up—rendering the outer covering of birds and mammals (e.g. hair, fur, feathers etc). So, of course it would work for the close up look of a beloved insect and flower petals. It was fun to plan and execute art depicting the same subject matter with a completely different intent and outcome, hence the final comparison of last week’s art to this week. 

This flower is called a bachelor button, or cornflower. I have to admit that I thought this particular flower only came in one color—cornflower blue. I was wrong, it comes in many colors. So, when I went back out there to do this close up I was certain I would paint a brightly colored bachelor button. But as I was looking around for a likely candidate I noticed the bees were particularly busy in this part of the garden as well, especially on the bachelor buttons. I decided to capture one of those busy females as she visited one of the blossoms, but soon discovered that the bee showed up best on the white flowers. It was then I decided to do a pink watercolor wash for a background with a couple white flowers and visiting bee. This background pink is the exact shade of my pink bachelor buttons. (I mixed Opera with Cadmium Red, Pale Hue—from my Winsor Newton pocket travel set—for the color wash.)

Note about my meadow: I think I am coming to the end of the bright colors as it’s time for them to go to seed. I saw a pair of goldfinches chowing down on the bachelor button seeds this morning. (They don’t seem to care what color flower they devour.) It appears the heat is finally making its way out west this week. I think it’s time to stop deadheading, and feed and water my garden birds and bees—they are probably going to need it.

Back to the art…

I knew that a bee wouldn’t stay very long gathering nectar at any given flower so I took a photo and used it for this week’s art. It was also easier for me to work from a photo as I have been spending a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s in Long Beach this summer. So, I sat at a little metal table under a patio cover covered with wisteria and painted. It was a charming spot to mix my pots of color, do some color trials and sketches. Of course, I got fixated on the bee and how to tell a color story where the background had no real connection to the images I painted. It became a kind of experiment to see if I could make this contrast work. And I became hyper focused on the bee and decided to make everything larger than life.

Bees are funny insects for sure. I love to see them busy in my garden. But some people (adults as as well as children) seem to freak out when they think one is too near. The other day a friend of mine said he wasn’t going to plant a certain variety of tree in his backyard because it would attract bees. I don’t think he is allergic to them, but he was adamant about that statement. I thought it rather sad actually. I have a birdbath in my front yard that has become a haven for bees and I must admit I feel rather brave when I refill it with water and a few of them begin to gently swarm around me. Most birds, especially the doves, don’t really notice the busy bees as they walk the rim of the bath. It’s funny, but the crows seem to be the only creatures who acknowledge the buzzing bees, besides me of course. I have seen them take a snap at them when they sit on the rim. The crows seem to like to drop peanuts in the water to soften the shell, making it easier to get the meat out of the nut. And if a bee seems to get too close, they open their large beaks and SNAP!

Once I had everything the way I wanted it I remembered a poem about insects that I wrote at least 20 years ago. At that time I was working in educational publishing and was trying to write and illustrate children’s trade books. A lot of my “kiddie writer” friends at the time also submitted work for magazines. This one was written for that purpose. I was always warned that it is difficult to write “rhyming” verse, and it is. But I think this one works and it’s fun to actually get it in print after all these years…


Look for some insects if you dare.

Some are out looking for you.

They’re on your food and in your ear.

I see quite a few on your shoe.


Watch out for the humble bees and ants, 

their numbers outnumber us all.

They buzz at your nose and cling to your pants

and crawl with great skill up a wall.


But some bugs are fine to have around.

A lady bug is a bright sight.

And summer would surely be missing a sound

if crickets were quiet at night.


No need to go find such six-legged beasts,

like hornets, mosquitoes or flies.

They show up on time for your picnics and feasts

of apples and crackers or pies.

July 13, 2019

before spritz
Backyard flower meadow (no spritz), July 8, 2019 (Inktense and watercolor pencil on watercolor paper, 6 x 8 inches)
after spritz
Backyard flower meadow (with spritz), July 8, 2019 (Inktense and watercolor pencil on watercolor paper, 6 x 8 inches)

Last week I attempted to paint this amazing display of flowers in the backyard using my “just add water” technique. If you read that July 6, 2019 post you might remember that I said it was a total disaster and threw it away. Thankfully, I was distracted from that epic artistic failure with the sighting of the first ripe tomato of 2019. (It takes so little to launch my attention into another seemingly random direction.)

But I didn’t give up on my backyard flowers. Here they are! I thought of not painting this right away, waiting longer as I was still a bit concerned I would blow it again. But as the warm summer temperatures begin to climb here in SoCal, I knew it was now or never. Those bright balls of color are going to get crispy quickly. The first image you see is what the color sketch looked like before adding water. I normally wouldn’t reveal something I am working on in it’s “ugly” stage, but took the picture anyway. What is the “ugly” stage? It’s when you’re adding the bones of a piece and it doesn’t look like anything. Of course such a notion is truly up to the artist and rather subjective. However, it has been my experience that all the art I create goes through a kind of “ugly” stage and I know I need to hang onto my final vision and work past it. Or, I need to trust that it’s not going as planned and I want to see where the color and design lead me. A really good example of this stage for me is when I paint with oils. The “ugliness” begins when I first put in large areas of the under colors, or non-colors. At that stage my landscape looks pretty crazy—with the sky in bright shades of lavender and/or the rolling hills a kind of a red or even ochre. And this “ugly” stage hangs around on my easel for a few days as I like to wait for the pigment to set before I add the over colors. This approach is very different from Van Gogh’s later landscapes done in oil. He sat right there in the weeds and slapped on the paint, not waiting for anything to dry. I sometimes wonder if we were looking for a similar effect with his colors layered side by side, and my non-colors peaking through the top coat. Either way, your eye mixes the side by side or upper and lower colors, and the desired affect is achieved. As I have said in the past, I would never compare his skill with mine, but I have always liked looking to the masters, attempting to understand and use certain techniques.

For this one, I had a clear vision of the finished art and took a chance that it would turn out all right. Needless to say, I am happy with this one and it was not tossed into the recycling.  For my previous “just add water” pieces (2/23/19, 4/13/19, 5/25/19, 6/9/19, 6/22/19) I used a spray bottle that was a bit of a blobby gusher when I squeezed the trigger. For this one, I remembered that I had a small atomizer. I’m glad I still have it because it emits a much finer spray. I had bought it for my son and he used it for his trombone. (Don’t really remember what he used it for, but I do recall his trombone teacher being adamant about the size and type of bottle. He even told me where I could purchase it.) I really like the relative control I have over the amount of water that I can layer on. It’s almost like using airbrush, but unlike airbrush the spray of water goes on in spurts, rather than an even flow. I like that I could get the soft pink and yellow “afterglow” effect with a single plunge, compared to a wetter application in the darker blue areas.

It seems to me there could be a couple themes for this week’s art and story. First, it’s important to never give up. And second, and probably more important, it’s key to actually start a story or piece of art, and not wait for some kind of inspiration. I have never really believed in writer’s or painter’s block. At some point you just need to start (an oxymoron?). Anyway, I am reminded of a couple times I have heard, or read, words of encouragement to keep going and to keep trying. Years ago I read the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she describes the process of writing and how some get bogged down with reasons not to write, but that such excuses were a waste of time and to just get on with it. I can’t find the book on my bookshelf right now. (Last week I said the same thing about another favorite writer/story teller, Garrison Keillor. For two weeks in a row now I have been relying on my memory of words written by favorite authors. I should definitely reread Bird by Bird and Lake Wobegon Days as soon as possible.) But getting back to Anne Lamott’s words of wisdom in Bird by Bird, I remember her saying that sometimes beginning writer’s want to first know how to get his or her work published. It seemed she was surprised by such interests and/or requests. She reminded them that the writing was the thing and you must do that without worrying about getting it published. She added that the wonderful feeling of being published was pretty fleeting. It was so funny to see in print her words that told the reader and/or writer to just get on with it and that she was OK with her books beginning with a “shitty” first draft.  In a way this reminds me of not being afraid of my art going through what I call an “ugly” phase. As artists maybe it’s just hard not to second guess what we are doing—like it isn’t right somehow, or I should have done it this way or that, or no one will understand what I am trying to say. I guess it’s hard not to second guess our decisions. 

There’s another nice example of “just getting on with it” and it comes from the first few minutes of the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The opening scene is of a young writer in a bookstore thanking his mentor, Frances Mayes, for some advise she had given him. Of course I can’t remember it word for word, but it goes something like: “Don’t worry if you think all your ideas are bad ideas. Take one of your bad ideas and work on it.” Even if you are not an artist or writer, I think those are words to live by. I don’t think I can add anything more here, except to do the work and enjoy the flowers.

July 6, 2019

first tomato 2019
First Tomato, 2019

When Orchard Supply went out of business I bought a can of mixed flower seeds (Renee’s Garden, Endless Bouquets, Cut Flower Garden). I must have planted them in the perfect spot in my backyard as I have a dense meadow of all kinds of flowers that range in height from a few inches tall to 3 and a half feet. And it’s a riot of color with alyssum, cosmos, baby blue eyes, calendula, marigolds, sunflowers, rudbeckia, clarkia, forget me nots, CA poppies, Shirley poppies, zinnias and a colorful array of bachelor buttons. (Actually, SoCal had some later rains this spring that I suspect helped get it going so vigorously and spectacularly.) Now all I have to do is dead head the spent flowers and add water. I have written about my “add water” quick painting technique. So, I attempted a quick painting of this amazing floral vision with my watercolor and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper, with a light spritz of water. It was a complete disaster! I had a dark patch that ran down into the bright flower colors and it looked awful. I threw it away. But as I was wandering around out there, muttering to myself, I found this little red bauble at the bottom of my Early Girl tomato plant. It was my first tomato of the season—picked Friday, 6/28/2019. Once I had it in my hand I almost swooned on the spot. I carried it inside, took a picture and ate it. The discovery, recording and eating of the tomato took less than 5 minutes. It was still warm from the sun. Pretty great, huh?

art for 2001 article
Art of vegetables for July 2001 article (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on cold press illustration board)
July 2001 article
July 2001 article

Once I realized that the wonderful time of vine-ripened tomatoes had begun, I forgot all about the doomed flower watercolor. (Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on it. I don’t give up so easily and will try again soon. Those flowers must be captured in pigment before they die out.) And with the last chunk of tomato tasted and then gone I began to plan for future meals with my beloved tomato as there are lots and lots of green ones on my three healthy plants. As tomatoes seem to be sought after by some and abhorred by others it didn’t take long for me to remember this art and article I did when my son was little. 

Rereading the story I was reminded that most kids I know don’t like tomatoes—vine ripened or picked green and allowed to ripen on a shelf. But it’s such a great source of vitamin C. Of course they like ketchup, which I think appeals to kids because of the other flavors in that bottle rather than the red tomato base. There was some controversy about ketchup being declared a vegetable when Reagan was president. It seems that there were big changes in funding of school lunch programs at the time and districts were looking for ways to cut costs. I guess there is nutritional value in ketchup because it does have Vitamin C, but it can’t really be counted on as a vegetable serving as you would have to consume quite a bit to get any benefit. I can just imagine how many French fries would need to be consumed for a a child to eat say 1/2 cup of ketchup. Seems like children would be getting a veg, but at the expense of eating more junk food. I see what looks like baked tater tots in school lunches these days, but still think kids don’t really need that many carbs dipped in ketchup. 

Every now and then I meet an adult who doesn’t care for them as well. I find that very strange indeed. I remember one summer (when I was in my early 20’s) that I ate so many tomatoes I got an upset stomach and decided that maybe all the acid from consecutively eating 3 or 4 tomatoes was the reason. I must say that my little plan to get my son to eat his vegetables really worked. Every Friday I made pizza or pasta and the sauce for the that Italian inspired meal was made up of our glorious vine-ripened tomatoes with as any other left over veg I had in the frig. Some weeks the sauce was not particularly red as it contained broccoli, zucchini squash and/or green bell peppers. But blended up in the food processor, it looked fine to my son and he ate lots of it. Unfortunately, he didn’t grow up to love tomatoes as I do, but he does enjoy them in salads and on hamburgers. And of course he loves ketchup! So, I guess my work here is done.

Garrison Keillor wrote a funny story about tomatoes in one of his Lake Wobegon books. I looked on my many book shelves for the book, but couldn’t find it. (It’s probably in a box in the garage.) As I remember it, he carefully crafts his tomato tale by telling the reader about the anticipation of tomatoes and the joy the residents of Lake Wobegon experience at the beginning and middle of tomato season. Much is made of their long awaited arrival and the frantic eating, canning and giving away of tomatoes. Of course there is a twist, because eventually everyone is done with tomatoes, but no one says they can’t look at, let alone eat, one more beautiful vine-ripened tomato. Countless jars have been put up, sauces and recipes have been exhausted and no one is giving away or accepting tomatoes from anyone anymore. The final scene comes when he and his sister are once again out in the garden picking tomatoes for some imagined use by the adults. At one point he decides to throw one at her and makes a direct hit on her bum. I hope I haven’t left out any really good details and I’m sorry if I did. But MY final take away from his tomato story is that it’s good to be a kid and do childish things that show our true feelings about things we are asked to do and not question. Besides, they’re just tomatoes, right? We’ll see how I feel later in the summer. Stay tuned…  

Update on our recent CA earthquakes

It seems we have had several thousand quakes since the 4th of July. I don’t know anyone who lives in Ridgecrest (Kern County), but when a big one hits (with it’s many many after shocks) CA becomes a small community of sorts. That means that friends and family who live here (north, middle or south) call each other to check in. We all want to say we are fine and describe what we were doing when the shaking started. My uncle in Long Beach reminded me that his uncle (my Great Uncle Earl) slept out in an open field for weeks after the 1933 earthquake. That’s actually a very smart thing to do because then nothing can fall on you. Such stories are a kind of a way of life here—earthquakes and fires. Living in California is not for the faint of heart and sometimes it still feels like the rough and ready wild west.

June 29, 2019

Scottie and Judy
Siamese Cats at Home, 5/29/19 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on cold press illustration board)

Do you have a neighborhood cat?

When considering this question it may have crossed your mind that these particular Siamese beauties would probably not be what you would call neighborhood cats because chances are you wouldn’t see such cats just walking around your neighborhood. They are indoor cats and do not go outside unless it’s in a special carrier on the way to and/or from the vet. I would consider a neighborhood cat a very independent feline who roams away from home, and in and out of various neighboring yards with actually surprising regularity. These two kitties are actually house mates of the Siamese cat I posted on June 1st, and their collective neighborhood includes all the various rooms in the house they share with their humans. For my friend’s birthday this year (5/29/2019) I did two paintings of his three cats. The reason for one cat lounging by himself and the others as a pair has no particular meaning and is based solely on photos I was given. As of today, my friend has not seen either piece of art. (I did not tell him that I had already posted the first Siamese.) I hope to have an unveiling of both either later today or tomorrow. In any event, happy birthday again my friend! Because by now you have seen the originals and are reading this post.

There are a couple neighborhood cats that slink through my yard—looking at the birds at the bird feeders. In fact, one of them knocked over the birdbath the other morning—getting a little too close to the birds. I’m not sure which of the three did it, but I have my suspicions. Two of the three are pretty skittish and when they hear me open the door they run away. But the third neighborhood cat is more friendly. According to his tag his name is Rusty. He’s a pretty good-sized white and a rust colored male—hence the name I’m sure. Most times when he sees me, and I can get his attention, he will stop and let me pet him. (Notice how I say, he “lets” me pet him. And yes, he is one of those very self-possessed felines that is just too charming to be ignored.) He has a few marks on his face and ears that suggest he has been in a few “kitty scrapes” over the years. But if he is in the mood we can have a conversation for a minute or two. I guess the verbal part of such communicative events is all from me, but I think he understands when I tell him to leave the wild birds in my yard alone. Of course this one sided conversation is pretty funny when he spies a hummingbird and every muscle in his body tenses to attention. He just doesn’t seem to hear me at all then. I have told him that I don’t really mind if he sprays my yard, and of course I really do mind. But I have assured him that he can mark his territory at will if he just stops hunting the birds in my yard, also staying clear of my birdbath. I suspect either he, or one of the other neighborhood cats, have caught a slow moving dove on occasion, as I have seen so many feathers under the feeder now and again. Lately I have seen Rusty patiently watching a tall patch of flowers in my backyard. I suspect there are some lizards in there that he feels compelled to hunt. When we have our little talks I guess I will now have to warn him to leave the lizards alone as well. We’ll see how that goes.

I hope it’s clear that I really do enjoy having him around because I do enjoy our brief chats. But I think what I like about seeing him around is that he is around, and I know nothing bad has happened to him. When I was a kid, in San Jose, we had a dog, Shadow, who waited daily for a neighborhood cat to appear on the fence by a side gate. That cat jumped into our backyard at the same time every morning, according to my mother. Mom said the cat and Shadow loved to play together. One day she said the cat did not arrive for her playdate. She said that Shadow waited for her friend and whined quite a long time when the kitty did not appear. Later, mom said that she had heard that the cat had been hit by a car. Poor Shadow had lost her friend.

There are definite perils for a neighborhood cat—cars speeding on neighborhood streets are just one of many. I have also alluded to some of the perils Rusty has faced when describing the scars he has on his ears and head from fights with other neighborhood cats. But I still I look forward to seeing him, even if he ignores me as he saunters under my gate or jumps off my front porch on his way to the next door neighbor’s yard. (Oh yes, Rusty gets around.) So, then the question about noticing a neighborhood cat changes. “Is it really safe for a neighborhood to roam outside, or should our feline friends be kept inside exclusively?” I know my birthday friend with the three Siamese says with great certainty that they should always be kept inside. Now, I wouldn’t normally get on my “catbox soapbox” and take sides on this one, but for this post I am taking sides in favor of keeping cats indoors. So, just be warned that the rest of this post will be directed to why I believe that to be the best course of action .

From the Humane Society:

Cats face many dangers outside. And if you let your cat roam around they are exposed to careless drivers in speeding cars, diseases, dogs, poisons, cruel people and coyotes. Some people think it is unnecessarily cruel to keep your cat indoors. The truth is cats who are protected by living indoors will be happier and live longer than those allowed to roam around. And neighborhood wildlife (like my lizards and wild birds) will stay safer and live longer as well. (The Human Society has further guidelines to help you with keeping your cat inside.)

Watch out for CA coyotes! They are everywhere!

I have to say that I always thought it was up to the cat owner to decide to keep their pet cat inside all of the time or not. But as of Tuesday morning, June 25, I decided that your beloved pet cat should be kept inside and you should also keep a close eye on even your pet dog in your own backyard. So, what happened? On that morning I went out my front door around 10. I was looking to see if the mail had been delivered. On the grass next to fire hydrant and the street was someone’s pet dog (with a collar) that had been killed by coyotes. I ran back into my house to get the phone to call animal protection, when I saw their truck come around the corner and stop in front of my house. I then noticed a woman across the street, and she was waving to me. She said that she had already called them. So, yeah, keep your eye on your pets. I don’t know where you live, but I’ve seen coyotes in all kinds of neighborhoods in California—urban as well as country. And I’ve seen them at sunset as well as at noontime. The animal control guy said again that they were everywhere, but were most active in the early morning. Sorry about ending this post on such a downer, but I don’t think I can unsee what I saw on my lawn that morning. I will continue be on the lookout for Rusty, and I will continue to hope that Rusty and my other neighborhood cat friends are safe and live a long and happy life.

Happy Birthday to my baby brother (6/29/2019)


June 22, 2019

Montrose Lamp post
Lamp Post outside Coffee Bean in Montrose, 4/27/2019 (6 by 8 inch Inktense pencils and watercolor pencils on watercolor paper)

On Saturday, April 27th, I decided to walk to Montrose to use my “just add water” technique to paint some of the buildings and expanding garden at Rockhaven. I knew it would need to be a quick sketch as I could only peek through a chain link fence to see any part of it, but I was game. Once I got there I realized there was really no way to access the materials I would need and sketch what I had planned while peeking through the fence. I was disappointed, but I carefully took a couple pictures of the Spanish revival bungalows and surrounding garden, and vowed to paint that at a later time. So, I continued my way down Hermosa, and on to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Honolulu. While sitting outside I was determined to sketch something while I drank my cappuccino. I looked across the street, but nothing caught my eye. But directly in front of me was a tall vintage (1930s or 40s I think) street lamp, so common to many residential areas in Glendale and throughout SoCal. I decided right then that I wanted to paint the street lamp and set about doing a preliminary sketch of the whole lamp and flanking tree. However, I was really drawn to the glass shade and became enchanted with this vignette that focused on the stamped industrial milky blue/white glass orb set against the patchwork of green leaves backlit with patches of bright blue sky. So, I took my materials out of my backpack and went to work.

Vintage Lamp post1
One minute scribbled lamp post, Glendale, 6/13/17 (pen and ink in scribble pad)
Vintage Lamp Post with Telephone Pole
One minute scribbled lamp post with cactus, Glendale, 6/30/17 (pen and ink in scribble pad)

When I got home I remembered similar vintage lamp posts I had sketched in my minute “minute” scribble book. What is a minute (my-NOOT) minute scribble book? On the cover of this pocket sketch book is a rather terrifying tiny Picasso paper doll (meant to be a removable bookmark), with his piercing eyes staring out at you. I carry him with me in a small plastic bag with black ink pens of varying point size. I use it to sketch little spontaneous moments as I walk along. And I have decided that whatever I draw in this tiny 3 by 4.5 inch doodle pad, it must be completed in 1 to 2 minutes. I have opened it horizontally to make a number of 3 by 9 inch images. For example, I have drawn a row of symmetrical trees, as well as the sprawling detail of a row of second story windows of a house. I have also opened it vertically to sketch a 3 by 9 inch image of the trunk of a palm tree in Santa Barbara, a bird perched on the seat of a swing hanging from the branch of a large tree and a couple of old neighborhood lamp posts in Glendale. The whole point of this little sketchpad is to help me be more spontaneous by just stopping at random moments to draw something very quickly.  I wrote about quick sketches I did on a Sketchcrawl the other day (April 20, 2019), but this is like the lightning version of those “sloth-like” 20-minute drawings and puts me very much in the moment (augenblick), literally.

When contemplating “sketching” adventures outside my comfort zone, I tried to think of other times I did something spontaneously. All of sudden, it came to me. If you are only interested in my art and/or stories of one CA girl that take place in CA, you may want to stop here. Because the following spontaneous tale does not happen in California, but it does involve a lifetime CA friend. 

In the 70s I was living in Munich. It was getting time for me to come back to the states to go to UC Berkeley when a childhood friend (third generation native California girl) decided to visit me before I returned. We had numerous plans of what were going to do and places we would visit. We started our journey together in Munich, of course, with a proposed final destination of Norway (we made it as far as Copenhagen, but had a great time even without seeing Oslo). We both had “student” train passes and rode the rails for the whole journey. I had given up my room in my flat in Schwabing and was staying with a friend. It didn’t start out well as our first day trip to Fussen, to see Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, ended with my friend getting sick from eating Leberkase mit ei for lunch that day. While she recuperated at my friend’s apartment we formulated our plans. And just to prove I hadn’t tried to poison her, we took another day trip to Salzburg—without too much fuss. And we were off!

We stopped in several lovely German cities/towns on our way to Bruges. I had been there before with my boyfriend and wanted to show her this very enchanting town. If I remember, after Bruges we meant to head for Amsterdam, and then planned to go north to Oslo from there. On our way to see the lovely lace in Bruges we met a couple really cute guys from South Africa, as well as a couple Americans. They were all on their way to Ostend, then Dover with London as their final destination. When we got to our stop in Bruges we said our goodbyes, grabbed our bags and left the train. We got two steps out the door, simultaneously looked at each other and without a word got back on the train. We were on our way to London. It was grand and a memorable spontaneous moment for me. Of course the two South African guys ditched us at the train station in London, but we didn’t care. We found a cheap hotel and stayed there the better part of a week, with no regrets. 

I’m not sure I need to be spontaneous all the time. I think I have experienced more than one frustrating occasion waiting for my spontaneous friends to show up. And now that I am rereading this story I am wondering if I have blurred the idea of being spontaneous with being in the moment. Maybe the difference between the two can be better discussed with another piece of art and a later story. But suffice it to say that I know my little Picasso pocket sketchbook has helped me to be in the moment on more than one occasion, and I am grateful for that. And when my Picasso pocketbook is full, there are many other similar inspirational sketchbooks that I can carry around with me in a plastic bag with black ink pens of varying points—just waiting for that moment to be used to do a very quick sketch. My next minute “minute” sketchbook, with tiny staring person bookmark, might be: a fauvist, a graffiti artist, organic architect (Frank Lloyd Wright), folk artist (Frida Kahlo), the Scream (Munch) or fashion model (Twiggy). Stay tuned.

Happy first day of spring!

And so sorry to hear that your mom passed away Monday, 6/17/2019, my CA friend. You told me that she enjoyed hearing my stories and I know she would have loved hearing this one as well.



June 16, 2019

hip bone
Human hipbone, summer 1990 (airbrush and some colored pencil on crescent board)
brochure for airbrush
GNSI (Guild of Natural Science Illustrators) description of summer 1990 natural science workshop, Philadelphia

Monday, June 10, was the last day of school for me. When working at a school you spend a lot of time in the weeks before summer vacation talking about looking forward to summer vacation. You do this with the kids as well as the other adults. Such conversations usually also always come round to discussions of plans for the summer. Adults seem to be obsessed with trips, spending time with his or her own children and sleeping in. My summer list includes sleeping in (of course), but reading is also an important part of my summer plans. I am always for sleeping in, whether it’s summer vacation or the weekend, as I am a night person in a day person’s world. And I can easily stay in bed dozing and reading until 10 on days with no imminent or important plans. I often ask my students what they plan to do, trying to suggest they read of course. The kids don’t usually ask me about my plans because it is all about them, of course. But if I can slip in something about me, I say that I plan to read a book whenever possible and draw or paint, of course.

What I have posted today is what I did one summer vacation almost 30 summers ago. The airbrush of a now 130 year old human hip bone from a Smithsonian collection, was done as part of an amazing 2-week scientific illustration workshop in Philadelphia at the the University of the Arts Philadelphia. It was sponsored by GNSI and we took inspirational illustration classes with some of the best scientific illustrators working at that time, many from the Smithsonian. I have also included a brochure created by one of the artists I met then and there, not to show something amazing that I had created (out of at least 100 or so possible pieces), but to show some of the other art that my fellow scientific illustrators produced. If I think back on that time, there were a couple illustrators working with various software programs to produce such art. I think we all had an inkling of future computer programs that would take over what we were doing by hand. But we kept protesting that real scientific illustration (e.g. ink wash, silver point, carbon dust/pastel dust, scratchboard, pen and ink etc) could only be done by hand. Nothing like having that kind of monastic attitude of “wearing a hair” shirt for bonding some geeky artists. I posted some pen and inks I later did at the CA Academy of Sciences (October 7, 2017, May 19, 2018) that I am sure could today be generated with the aid of a couple drawing programs. 

I suspect the domain of airbrush then as now is part of car detailing. But today, it seems that some use an airbrush to apply make up, or to spray on a tan. Sounds like a bigger event than I would like to engage in because whatever you are spraying there is still a problem of getting the pigment to the right consistency to go through the fine sprayer. If it’s too watery, it will be drippy and run. If it’s too thick or lumpy, the nozzle will clog. Oh yes, it doesn’t matter what kind of pigment you are spraying as it is drying out as you work. Not to mention you really need to have a cursory knowledge of how a compressor works. There is probably one advantage to an airbrush spray tan and make up as you are probably only mixing one color. But if you have cut a bunch of friskets for car detailing or art of tiny swimming fish, you will need countless color changes as you go. And oh yeah, do you know about friskets? That’s the sticky film that needs to be applied to the surface you are painting on to mask the spots you don’t want covered in paint. For the hip bone, I had to cut and apply a frisket to the crescent board to mark the clean edge around it, as well as the opening below the socket for the femur and above the ischium. When exploring this technique with a gifted illustrator at the workshop, she told us that when she had a big job to finish, she actually hired someone to help her cut the friskets. She also reminded us to be sure to wear some kind of protective mask over your face, as you don’t want to breathe in any of the airborne particles that are actually the magic of airbrush. And some people actually spray airborne pigment towards his or her nose and/or eyes? I wasn’t a complete novice for this technique as I had learned to use it the summer before at the CA Academy of Sciences. At the time I was a volunteer plant fabricator for an exhibit that was called Life Through Time. We were hand painting gingko leaves and using the airbrush to spray redwood branches that had turned brown when preserved and needed “life-like” green needles. We did those branches outside and that helped greatly with the ventilation you should have with such a medium.

So, what else do I plan to do this summer? Glad you asked. I haven’t had many opportunities to do any volunteering recently, so I hope to work in the garden at Heritage Square Museum. I also hope to do some sketching out there as well. 

As I have already written I hope to try my hand at making some YouTube presentations based on my One CA Girl theme of presenting a piece of my art and responding to it. As always I plan to talk about the materials and technique used for each piece, and when and where the CA image came from—northern CA through the central Coast and then on down to SoCal. The third part of my blog has also included stories of my CA family. Not really sure how that would translate to a moving picture of me creating art and talking about it. Not really sure how interesting that would be to anyone unless you knew me or my family. So, I think I will focus on the art and the places in CA I have seen, past and present, in and out of different mediums, techniques and inspirations.

But the vacation has only begun and I am just trying to keep up with what I have been doing for over two years now. Oh, and I am assiduously working on the sleeping in and reading part. Not sure why I started with Catch 22…

Henry, so glad I saw you graduate from UCSC on Friday, 6/14. I love you!

June 9, 2019

coral tree
Coral Tree, Marina Vista Park, 4/17/19 (6 by 8 inch, watercolor colored pencils and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

The other day I was in Long Beach, visiting my aunt and uncle. As I drove around Marina Vista Park (English/Spanish translation=“marine” distant view) I noticed there were a number of coral trees (Erythrina) in bloom. The park is actually just an expanse of grass, dotted with these trees, and of course the marina. In summers past I have actually sat on a lawn chair on the grass, with hundreds of other people, to listen to live music. Pretty nice actually. Such events are generally in the evening and whoever is playing sets up right next to the water, so you look out over a narrow strip of very calm break water while enjoying the music. But I don’t remember seeing any of these amazing bright flowers on the trees in summer, so they must be done blooming before then. On the 17th it was just me, a few dogs on leashes with their owners and gardeners riding around on large lawn mowers, cutting the grass. 

I have driven through the park countless times and hadn’t planned to stop this time either. But I had just come from Starbuck’s and decided I would sit at a picnic table under one of the trees and drink my cappuccino. As luck would have it I also had my little “just add water” sketching bag in the car. So, I sat down, set up and began sketching with my watercolor and Inktense pencils. When I had finished I took the cup of water I got from Starbucks and poured some in my squirt bottle. Then I gave the sketch a light spray of water, tipped the paper from side to side, top to bottom—moving the color around. I also scrubbed some of the pigment with a wet brush, then I added just a bit more of the pencil to brighten up some of the color. And there you have it!

As spring is here in sunny southern CA, I have been on the lookout for blossoms on plant material that looks like it should have some kind of flower—roses, wildflowers, irises, gardenias… There are quite a number of flowering trees in the various neighborhoods and parks all around. The coral tree is very exotic looking, even without the blooms and I had a feeling that it is not native to CA. So once I got home I looked up “coral tree” on the Internet. Sure enough, it is not only not from California, but it is also not native to North America. It is actually supposed to be growing in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. I also learned that the seeds, flowers and leaves of most species are poisonous. It was actually very shocking to learn that as it is quite a gathering place for lots of people and animals throughout the year. Not to mention, I was there, and so was a crew of gardeners mowing the lawn under the trees where I sat drinking my coffee. Good thing that cup had a cover on it. I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been good if anything from a coral tree dropped into my coffee.

If you have been reading my blog you may remember the art and story I did the other week about another non-native brightly blooming beauty called the jacaranda. As I just said, Southern CA is loaded with exotic looking non-native flowering trees, as well as flowering shrubs (e.g. geraniums, bird of paradise, hibiscus). Our winters are so mild that tropic plants grow very well here. All you need to do is water them regularly. (Not really a great idea to have tropical plants in this desert climate. Did I mention that there are also lots of palm trees here?)

With all this blooming going on around me, and probably in your neighborhood as well, I am acutely aware of the exposed pollen each and every flower presents each and every time another flower opens. For some this time of year is not only the spring season, but also the allergy season—with sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose. I usually only get seasonal allergies (hay fever) during spring and it usually isn’t the pollen from flowers that gets me—it’s grass. In fact, ragweed seems to be the biggest blooming bad boy for me. (I just sneezed thinking about it.) Several years ago I worked on a book about ornamental grasses for Sunset (Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses, copyright 2002). For that book I interviewed Tom Ogren, an expert on the subject of allergies and how it relates to all manner of plants that produce pollen. He lives in San Luis Obispo and wrote a book called “Allergy-Free Gardening.” In the book he has a kind of handy list of plants that he has rated for allergy—with an allergy index scale from best (1) to worst (10). It’s pretty extensive and I found it very interesting reading. I found out that the coral tree has a ranking of 6 on that scale. So, it isn’t really bad for allergies, but it isn’t great. I remember him saying that allergies have been on the rise in recent years because people just want to landscape with ornamental flowering trees that produce only flowers (male) and not fruit (female). So, there is a problem here. People don’t want fruit dropping on the ground, but I don’t think they want extra pollen blowing around that might kick up some allergies either. BTW, he said that you can’t really blame your neighbor for having a flowering tree that’s blowing pollen your way. That’s much too far away for one or two trees to make you sneeze. It is more likely that the pollen offender(s) is in your own backyard. As you would probably guess, grass is a big allergy producer too. Mr. Ogren said that most grasses produce pollen in the morning. So, he said to be sure to keep grasses short, but not to mow during early morning hours when the pollen is most likely to be at its peak. And isn’t that when the garden guys come around to mow and blow? Hmmmm…

But what if there are thousands of pollen producing trees nearby?  This might be a problem if you live close by them and have allergies. And if you live near California’s Central Valley, you would definitely be subject to large amounts of pollen in spring. It is here that mile after mile of fruit and veg have been planted and grow in abundance. I looked up the allergy index for some of the fruit trees we have in huge numbers here. Prunus is the genus that includes over 400 species of deciduous shrubs and trees. I was most interested to read about our garden variety “Prunus” fruit trees such as plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds. Mr. Ogren has rated all of these trees for possible allergies. It seems that the different kinds of cherries ranged from 5, 6 or 7—so not bad, but not good either (similar to the coral tree). Plums and peaches were pretty good for allergies at a ranking of 3 or 4. What was most surprising, however, was the ranking for almonds. It is the biggest offender for allergies with an index value of 10, the worst. I wasn’t surprised that apricots are the lowest at 2. This is because it is not really that easy to grow and have it bare fruit, as it needs very mild winters. I have had a couple of these trees drop every blossom after a couple cool evenings in a row. He mentioned that plums and pears are pretty good, with a ranking of 3 or 4, but that pears are susceptible to fire blight. I thought it interesting that he said some people thought the blossoms of pear trees had a bad odor. Who wants a beautiful blossom that stinks? And I have had a tricky time with pears because of the blight and worms that love the fruit as much as we do.

So, what to do? Should you take a chance and plant a tree that produces flowers? This is what I suggest. Go to the farmer’s market and enjoy the fruit that others grow. And, if you want to look at beautiful blossoms, just keep looking here at One CA Girl and I will brave the pollen and poison for you. Until next time (A-choo)!  

June 1, 2019

Siamese Cat at home, 5/29/19 (6 by 8 inches, Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Several months ago I went looking for the one and only egg tempera I ever completed. As I rifled through every portfolio and possible drawer of art I should have also looked for some unused pieces of my beloved Strathmore cold press illustration board. That illustration board used to be the staple of many of my watercolor landscapes. In fact, when you look at the homepage of One CA Girl, you see myself and my son (when he was little) looking out at the J Lohr vineyards on the east side of 101 in Paso Robles. That was done on this same illustration board. The heavy paper has just a bit of texture, compared to a smoother hot press paper surface, and that open texture allows for the paint to nestle in very nicely, while the colored pencil scoots on the surface, leaving behind tiny bits of white. As it is a board it doesn’t warp when you get it wet. Even good watercolor paper can warp a bit if you don’t wet it all over and stretch it before painting on it. Back in the late 80s I learned of this wonderful board and technique (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor) from a scientific illustrator at the CA Academy of Sciences. She did wonderful and richly colored pieces of “space” art for the Morrison Planetarium.

I used to have no trouble finding this paper as I had a hefty package of what seemed like countless 30 by 40 inch sheets that I cut to whatever size I wanted as needed. The all over dark blue package it came in was easy to spot and it seemed that every time I looked into it there was always more. Until one day there wasn’t, and sadly that large blue package disappeared. I thought maybe I had used it all up, but was almost certain I still had a few smaller pieces tucked away into random places. Yeah, yeah, I guess I could buy some more. But, ever the optimist, I went looking for some because I wanted to do this piece for a friend for his birthday and didn’t want to wait for a paper delivery. 

I was delighted to find several pieces—none very large, but all would do well for what I call my smaller “jewel” pieces. For this one I grabbed some colored pencils that I thought would make a lovely backdrop of the two paintings that flanked the kitty—nothing too dark, but just enough color and ambience to make the dark and luxurious colors of the cat come alive and jump off the page. Then I brought in the darks/shadows of the cat. I have my all time favorite colored pencils that I use to get that color. And the final shade I get is dependent on the order I use them. I usually see a kind of final “glow” color and that will be what goes on last. Those “go to” colors include blue indigo, Tuscan red and dark brown. Sometimes, if I think green is needed I will add to this deep mix of loveliness forest green or even grass green. But for this one, the top pencil color is Tuscan red.

As far as the watercolor goes I use that to help with the shadows and sometimes the texture of the whole piece—background as well as focal point. So, I mixed a pale grey that I used to tone down the two paintings as well as shading for the kitty. It becomes a kind of layering of pencil, then watercolor, then pencil, and then watercolor. I did the same thing with his eyes—giving depth to that amazing blue with a light touch of blue indigo and then a water color wash of cobalt blue and cerulean, layer upon layer.

There is only one problem you really have to worry about with this kind of technique and that is you need to be careful with adding too much “waxy” colored pencil. Over time you can get what’s called wax bloom. That’s where the paper gets a kind of filmy white coating in the parts you’ve scrubbed in the color too much. So, don’t press too hard. I will say, that I actually kind of like having some of the areas get kind of smooth and shiny, it adds a nice texture to certain areas of interest. I think the kitty’s face and some of the background pieces, like the poppies on the left and the eucalyptus on the right, are enhanced some with a more smooth and silky surface.

Here’s what else I found while digging around…

Now, I am not a pack rat for most things. But when it comes to my art I have kept a lot of the work I have done over the years, including a mountain of sketches—some very rough, but many very finished and complete. In fact, I did a complete and detailed sketch to scale for this one. And I used it as a template for the finished piece, transferring the drawing directly to the illustration board. So this takes me to something else I found myself looking for—the transfer paper I made in the late 80s and have used countless times to do such a transfer. Luckily I found that paper in an old sketchbook from that time. Looking through the sketch pad it took me back to not only the landscapes I just described, but to some close up botanicals I did at that time as well—some of my other small “jewel” paintings of mostly flowers. And it was funny, but the minute I looked at the outside of the pad, I knew the transfer paper I was looking for would be inside.

Finally, as I was digging around, I found about a zillion fashion sketches/paintings I had done. Most of them had been created in the mid 80s when I was making clothing for sale and thinking about becoming a costumer for movies or theater or television. Some were very complete as large watercolors on lovely watercolor paper I remember soaking in my bathtub in Long Beach. Some still had traces of the brown paper tape I used to attach the paper to the hollow board used for this medium. Some were done with colored markers.

Oh yes, there are more people than you might imagine who come to SoCal to be in the movies. I know of a pool guy who wrote screen plays and a waitress who wanted to sing. Then there was my grandma. She had come to California from Canada in the 1920s, and she and her sister wanted to be in the movies too. I was a special education teacher working for Long Beach Unified School and I had thought about it too—seemed way more glamorous than teaching. I’m not sure if I was really that serious about costume design, but that’s probably what we all say when it doesn’t happen and your life takes a different turn. It is fun to have the art that has somehow recorded a California time and place for me. The best part is that now when I look at this recent piece it reminds me all over again of that art and those times. And I don’t have go digging for it. It’s right here!!

Happy Birthday Kelly, 5/29

May 25, 2019

Jacaranda, 5:18
Jacaranda tree, Glendale, 5/18/19 (watercolor pencil, Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

After I posted last week’s story of where art takes you I went on another “art” journey. And I went looking for jacaranda trees that are beginning to burst with impossibly bright purple flowers. I had seen quite a few when I was at the Mount St Mary’s University Doheny campus the day before. Mount St Mary’s is right near USC, the California Science Center and the Museum of Natural History. The tiny university is just two city blocks, but my my they had some lovely jacarandas blooming there. 

So the next day, I headed to where I knew some of these trees were blooming a little closer to home—in Glendale. And of course, this “art” journey became something of an all too familiar journey I had often done in this part of Glendale a couple years ago. So a quick sketch of a SoCal spring blooming jacaranda tree began an art gambol through the Glendale hills, where I greedily captured what I saw around me as I went. As I sat on my sheet of bubble wrap on the very cold concrete I formulated this plan of trying to capture several views as I walked along with my folded and cut watercolor paper, similar to the Sketchcrawl I wrote about April 27, 2019 on May 4, 2019. I must say that I was actually not inspired to sit there very long as every time I moved even the slightest bit I could hear the tiny bubbles pop that were trapped in the plastic. I knew it wasn’t going to be long before my posterior was sitting on  the cold concrete on a thin sheet of plastic, sans air bubbles of insulation. For this first one I wanted a kind vertical 3 rectangle sketch, emphasizing the expansive branches of the bright purple upper story, narrowing down on the left to the dark trunk of the jacaranda. (Isn’t that a great name? Jacarandas are not native to CA, like so many other flowering trees you can see down here, but comes from tropical and subtropical places in Mexico, Central and South America as well as islands in the Caribbean.) I was pretty excited about what I might see on my next stop, but kind of had the idea of going to the amazing pink stucco house that’s coming up next. I used walked past it on previous walks in this Glendale neighborhood. (See August 5, 2017 entry.)

Columbus, 5:18
Pink house on Columbus, 5/18/19 (pen and ink, watercolor pencil and Inktense pencil with watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)

Because of this kind of journey, I didn’t want to wait for anything to dry, so I didn’t add water to any of these pieces until I got home. Once I had the jacaranda just where I wanted it, sans water, I started the climb up the hill to this view. I have walked past this house countless times, visited with the next door neighbors, watched a for sale sign go and then down. And now the newer owners have added a massive fountain next to the pink wall in front. So, I stopped and sketched what you see here, focusing on the new fountain. Birds were coming and going and I wanted to capture it, with its bubbling water, that had invited new life to the pink stucco house. For the shape of this image, I dropped open the bottom right vertical rectangle, below the jacaranda,  and went to work. I liked the idea of doing this as a small 4 by 6 vertical piece because if I folded up the jacaranda just right, the welcoming fountain could be the front of a card I might put in an envelope so I could send it to someone. I have to admit, I really cheated on this one as I only did a pen and ink while standing there, adding the color and water when I got home. If you have ever stood and sketched anything, you know that it’s a little tricky to add too many elements to the paper when you are standing, as you are shifting materials in and out of a bag or pocket with one hand while holding the pad of paper with the other. So, I was there just long enough to see a couple birds, get the basics down, take a photo and head further up the hill. I wanted to capture one more piece on the back of my cut and folded watercolor paper before I headed to a Coffee Bean for a lovely double shot cappuccino. 

Kenneth, 5:18
House on Kenneth, 5/18/19 (pen and ink, Inktense pencil and watercolor pencils on watercolor paper)

It was truly a strange event for me to even stop and really look at this house. I normally don’t walk past it on Kenneth. I’ve driven by it, but have never really taken a good look as I speed by. For my usual journey through this neighborhood of Spanish revival houses, I come down the hill past just the corner of this one. And I have walked past there countless times, wondering who had painted this Italian villa inspired stucco house a couple odd shades of pink and ochre. There was also a small addition being added to this side and I was distracted by that as well. Yes, you could see some flowers here and there, but there was just too much boring grass and I didn’t realize there were so many palm trees in and around the house and lot. But for this Glendale gambol I found myself walking past the front of the house on the other side of the street. I noticed the whole house had been painted a rather lovely cream color. It was at this point I really noticed the amazing rose garden that was in full bloom the entire expanse of the front. I kind of stopped and almost gasped at my previous lack of attention to all this loveliness. I knew I wanted this image. So, I folded my paper into a long horizontal view so I could capture this lovely Italian looking stucco house with fountain and roses that a were bursting with color all along the low wall. I had the whole backside of the jacaranda and pink house fountain watercolor paper to do it. Woo hoo!

Finally, I had constructed the perfect three-piece art of my Glendale gambol. And it was all inspired by a lovely jacaranda tree. I don’t really have anyone in mind to send it to, so I think I’ll keep it awhile to remind me to always look again at things we think we have already seen. I was glad I had gone on my art journey, back to a familiar place to discover something new. Maybe it was good to be gone so long because it was fun to see it again. Where would you go visit again if you could? It doesn’t have to be a fancy far away place, it could even be something, or somewhere, in your own California backyard.