04 June 2017

Any excuse

So today is supposed to be chore day, starting with dishes. I washed one drying rack full (15 plates, one bowl, four cups), and then discovered that all my tea towels for drying were missing or dirty. So, leaving those to air dry, I put a load of towels in the washer, and cast around for something else to do while the rack of dishes dried and the towels washed AND dried. I decided that, rather than embark on some other chore that would get complicated and ultimately sour me for continuing the dishes once I was able, I would instead paint something. As an inveterate slob, I will take any excuse to avoid doing housework...

My gardenia bush just burst into glorious blossom, and smells divinely outside my bedroom window. I decided I'd paint a vase of gardenias. Since they are white, I decided I would do a negative painting of sorts, by doing the background dark so the flowers would stand out. So instead of drawing in pen, which is my usual habit in my sketchbook, I drew in pencil, then erased until I could see the lines fairly lightly, and began.

I'm pretty happy with how the gardenias themselves turned out, but I was so anxious to get to them that I shorthanded some things that I shouldn't. The vase in which I put them is pottery, and although it's dull, it does have some shine and sparkle in the light, but I left out the highlights. It also has weird markings that are white because wherever they are scored into the clay, the paint didn't follow, but they are really hard to translate in art. In retrospect, I wish I'd left some simple highlights and left out the white lines. Also, although gardenias are soft and almost chalky in appearance, with few highlights, the same cannot be said of their leaves, which are all colors of extremely glossy green, and there, too, I neglected to leave the highlights that would make them sparkle. If I had been working on watercolor paper instead of in my sketchbook, I could have lifted some; but this paper isn't that forgiving. And similarly, the paper in the sketchbook reacts differently to big washes of color, and it was impossible to maintain "the bead," the all important wet line at the bottom of your wash that allows you to continue it top to bottom without it looking scrubby. So there are lots of things wrong with this little painting.

If I hadn't determined that this would be the day I would have a clean kitchen, I would have retried this on watercolor paper; but after having put away the first, dry rack of dishes and washed another one...after having taken the towels out of the washer and put them in the dryer...and after having cooked myself a nice lunch (onion and mushroom frittata with parmesan) and messed up a plate and a glass again, I can't refuse to confront that kitchen any longer.

03 June 2017

Unexplored Los Angeles

I have to admit that although I have lived in Los Angeles for 40 years, there are parts of it with which I am familiar, and parts to which I am a total stranger. I went to Pepperdine University, so I know Malibu. I like the beach, so Santa Monica and Venice are regular destinations. I live in the San Fernando Valley and work in Burbank, so I know those well. I commuted to Hollywood for 12 years (split into three batches depending upon the job/employer), over the course of my career. And I've driven through most parts of it, on my way to somewhere else. But there are a lot of places I have never stopped. I went to one of those this morning.

Los Angeles urban sketcher Virginia Hein is going to be one of the teachers at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this August. Since I forgot to sign up for that until so late that all the good stuff was already full, and decided against going for that reason (among others), when I saw a post on Facebook that Virginia wanted to do a "dry run" (that's a pun, since it's watercolor) of her class, "The Color of Light in an Urban Garden," this morning at Echo Park Lake, I decided that would be a fun way to experience a teensy part of Chicago without the plane fare. The class was from 9:00 to 12:00, so I got up early, packed up my kit, and drove down to Echo Park, which on a Saturday took me about 20 minutes. (On a weekday? 1.5 hours, probably.)

She was proposing a new way of working for me, which is always both good and awful in equal measure: Good, because I learn something; awful, because I never have much to show for my efforts at these workshops. I'm so focused on figuring out the technique that I mostly make messes I wouldn't show anyone. Which is always frustrating to my non-artist friends--they find out I'm taking a workshop with some talented and accomplished person and automatically expect me to come back having created a masterpiece in a new style. The reality is, learning anything takes time and repeated flubs and missteps, and I never have much of anything to exhibit.

I'm going to be brave, however, this time, and show one of the three sketches that we did. I'm under no illusions that it's any good, but it was a fun morning and I wanted to post about it, and this IS an art blog, after all. Also, I am enamoured of the subject of my painting, a 14-foot, art-Deco-style female statue called "Nuestra Reina de Los Angeles" (Queen of the Angels), more commonly called "Lady of the Lake" by people in the neighborhood. She was sculpted in 1935 by Ada May Sharpless, as part of the post-stock market crash government program called the "Public Works of Art Project" (PWAP). She's a beauty, and I'm including a photo of her from 1937 (courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library) so you can see her true contours.


Here she is, in place, and here is her creator, Ada May Sharpless.

And here is my 20-minute urban sketch of her. Our objective here was not to draw first, but simply to put in a few defining lines to indicate focal point and major elements, and then go straight to paint (something I have never, ever done). Our other objective was to squint our eyes to discover the light and the dark, the warm and the cool, the dominant and the recessive, and use just two colors to make our entire painting. After that, we were allowed to use a third color to pick out some highlights or beef up an area of heightened color or interest.

For those not familiar with Echo Park Lake, that column of white behind her is a huge fountain that bursts up in two parallel streams from the middle of the lake to tower over everything. White water on a pale blue sky background is hard to paint!

Now that I have discovered Echo Park, I will make another expedition on a weekend morning to paint some of the other beautiful sights (or sites) I found there. Here are a couple:

If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the Lotus Pond while they're blooming. They're really spectacular.

23 May 2017

Busman's holiday

On the last weekend in April, there is a horror convention for literature called StokerCon. This year it took place at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and Anarda and I got out of the library to do a little refresher course in horror to boost our collection chops (neither of us is a horror reader, so we thought we'd see what was new out there that we should buy for the library). We didn't hit the whole convention (we're not masochists), but StokerCon does this nice thing where they invite librarians to come all day on Thursday, and they have a few panels stocked with authors and publishers for us, and they feed us lunch, and we can shop for books from the booths the publishers set up.

We were sitting in the room where we had just finished listening to one panel and were waiting for the next to begin, and Anarda was chatting with some people I didn't know, so I pulled out my sketchbook and captured a moment. One of the volunteers running the librarians' day was herself a librarian; we both knew she looked familiar, and thought we might know her from grad school. She is a rather large woman, and I give her respect for her clothing choices. While most of us who grew up watching our weight and then giving up watching it (except to watch it grow) take care to wear dark colors and neutrals (slimming, right?), this woman always dresses with impeccable taste in dramatic fashion and intense color.

On this day, she had on a bright scarlet dress in a stiff material that wasn't satin, I don't think, but acted like it in the way it draped and folded, and in this moment between panels, she sat down to rest for a moment in a chair in front of me, with one leg tucked up under its voluminous skirt, and let it billow out around her. So I did a quick sketch, and then captured a few details from the room around us. I started drawing in the ornate pattern of the rug, but I liked the conceit that it was only blooming in her shadow (and also, the panel was about to start and she got up), so here she is, the lady with the talent to make the carpet sprout color.

21 May 2017

Draw dinner, make dinner

I was going to paint a "real" painting today, but my plan was to paint a vase of roses, and my roses were just "beheaded" by the gardener, so there are no new blooms yet. Rats. So, as an exercise, I decided instead to immortalize my ingredients before turning them into Black Bean Chili.

This is when I find out that it really is important to draw and paint more regularly. Proportions are so wonky in this thing--the tomatoes look like they are half the size of the onion; the black bean bag is too small to contain 16 oz. of beans when compared to the giant green pepper; the ear of corn is a lot wider than it is long when it should be the opposite. In fact, there are two completely separate size ratios here: The beans, chili powder, garlic, and tomatoes belong in one drawing, while everything else belongs in another, larger one! And my original layout had the chil powder on the other side, in order to have some variation of color across the page instead of grouping all the red with all the red and all the green with all the green, but due to the size issues (and starting too far over with the black bean bag), there was no room on the sketchbook page for the chili powder, so I had to put it on the left. Oh, and worst of all, I left the "n" out of "Organic." Curses.

Well, the best I can say is, I needed an exercise, and I did an exercise. And, like when you haven't gone to the gym for a while, I will rest for a day and work out again if I know what's good for me, but the sore muscles are a bit obvious at the moment.

I'm just going to go chop it all up and pretend it never happened. And then eat the evidence.

30 April 2017

Last illustration?

I futzed with this all afternoon, and I'm going to let it sit for a day or two and decide whether or not to do it over. I liked the way some of it came out, but I am unhappy with the mug (which is the point of the whole drawing, since it's to advertise Book Café!).

That turquoise color is really hard to work with, and the more I tried to push it, the more it pushed back. I ended up with rather a mottled mess, with weird highlights and smudgy shadows. I don't really have the time to be doing it over, but...I may anyway. Perhaps we are fated to have a lime green mug instead...

I wanted to include three diverse books, for various reasons; Love & Gelato is a contemporary coming of age / romance, The Diabolic is sci fi / dystopic and is on the ballot as one of the Teens' Top Ten for this year, and Crooked Kingdom, the second in a duology by Leigh Bardugo, is my favorite book so far in 2017. But I'm not sure the color combo works between the three books, either; I should have put the white book in the middle instead of on the bottom, and the red pages on Crooked Kingdom are a little distracting (even though they are that color).

I guess I'll ponder...and ask the opinion of my colleague, Anarda, and/or maybe a few teenagers...

23 April 2017

Weekend of art

Some was planned, some was not. On Saturday, I took my car to Glendale Kia for a service, but also because it has been making weird creaking noises when I start and stop and turn. I had a suspicion something major was wrong with it, because after our big winter rains, a bunch of potholes opened up in our streets and highways, and I hit a large one dead on with my left front tire while driving 70 mph in the fast lane on the 5 freeway. Sure enough, when I got it to the dealership, my shocks were BENT and I had to replace them. And, of course, I was also badly in need of a general service for everything. So I left the car and walked to Foxy's for breakfast.

Foxy's "thing" is that they have a toaster on every table, and they bring you your bread untoasted, so you can put it in when you want it and have piping hot toast. I love this immediate gratification (I like my toast at the end of my breakfast, by which time it's usually cold and hard), so I decided to memorialize it as an urban sketch:

I was sitting at a table with a view out to the patio, so I included that in my sketch as well. I had to draw it there but watercolor it later, since Foxy's is a popular place on Saturday morning, and there were multitudes waiting for my table. So I took a reference photo and went over to the Americana mall to see a movie, to pass the time. When the movie was done, so was my car! (I do NOT understand people who take their car in and then sit in the waiting room for five hours when they could walk a few blocks and have some fun!)

Today, I got down to business: drawing and painting two more illustrations for Teen Summer Reading flyers and brochure. The first one was a cinch and took me half an hour to draw and another half an hour to paint; but the second one took me about five hours by the time I was done. I'm pretty pleased with it, though.

Here is the first illustration, an alternate to my too-childish LEGO drawing from last week. I think this one will work better, although it is infinitely more boring!

And here is the second illustration, for the Reading Log. I do one of these multiple-book illustrations every year, and the hardest part of it is selecting the books. They need to be colorful; they need to have a variety of colors (not all the same scheme); the lettering needs to be manageable; and they have to look good together. Also, it helps if they are popular books by popular authors, OR if they are books I'm trying to get the kids to read.

I laid them out various ways, photographed them, and worked from the photo for the drawing (and the shadows), but then looked at each actual book as I went along (I checked them all out and brought them home with me) to make sure I was representing the artwork and colors well. This was a big challenge! Lots of colors, shadows, lettering, detail.

All of these are LePen (it's similar to a Micron) #3, and watercolor.

I had hoped to get my third and last illustration (for Book Café) done today too, but I ran out of time and daylight. Maybe I'll get to it during the week...or next weekend? I'm probably crazy to put all this pressure on myself to illustrate the summer reading program every year, but although it's a lot of work and stressful because of deadlines, I do enjoy seeing my artwork on the final product throughout the summer!

17 April 2017

And at the other end of the spectrum...


We're building a LEGO city for teen summer reading, so this is the illustration (I think) for the flyer. I was going to do something more sophisticated, but couldn't find any good pictures of LEGO buildings to use as source material, and I thought this was cute/silly. We'll see if my co-creators think I should do something more serious for the teens.