01 January 2018

New Year's Day

They say that whatever you do on New Year's Day is the precursor to what you will do during the rest of the year, so I decided to get in a wide spectrum of behavior today, to include all the things I both want and need to do.

First up was a walk at the park (Lake Balboa), accompanied by my small sketchbook and a micron pen. The walk part was fairly short (but still symbolic of daily exercise to come, right?), while the two sketches took a bit longer. This first one was happenstance—my lower back tightened up, I sat down on a bench to relax it for a minute, and was presented with a really nice tree specimen, with a little dog and a fisherman standing underneath it. By the time I got to the part with the fisherman, he had disappeared back into his car to listen to music, apparently, while eating his mid-morning snack, so the dog (patiently waiting for his person) had to be the entire star of the show. Yes, he is wearing a plaid coat.

Then, a little ways further around the lake, I decided I wanted to try painting a panorama of a portion of the lake and shore, so I found a bench that provided a good one and made that sketch.

Next up was breakfast at home, followed by watercoloring the two sketches I made.

Plans for the rest of the day: Finish the major project I started early this week of cleaning up and cleaning out my kitchen (you can see the primary sentiment I feel for that kind of project in the lower right corner of this drawing from last year).

Once it's clean I intend to mess it up again (only temporarily) by putting a nice big pot of potato soup on to simmer. While that cooks, I'm going to work on an ongoing project on my computer (a class I plan to teach later this year).

And when the soup is done, I plan to wrap up the day with a bowl or two, accompanied by a good book!

I thought that sounded like an excellent master plan for the new year.

24 December 2017

Christmas gifts

The last six weeks have been one long blur of work and exhaustion. But yesterday started a 10-day holiday from the library for me, and I had a lovely day of running errands in the morning, reading and napping in the afternoon, and wrapping Christmas gifts in the evening.

Today, I am trying to make a gift of money special. I hate giving gift cards or cash, because it seems so impersonal, like I didn't think much about the person to whom I am giving them. But I have two teenage cousins and one in his early 20s who want things I can't afford, and I decided that rather than buy them something they might not want that I could afford, I would instead give them cash towards their dreams. (Whether they save it to put towards these things or squander it on ephemera is up to them!)

Last night, though, when I was putting their cash into their money cards, I decided that just because it was an impersonal gift, I didn't have to leave it that way. So this morning, I got up and found reference photos on Google for what I wanted, and now, accompanying each gift of cash, will be a small postcard-sized painting of the goal for which it is intended.

My cousin Lily has recently taken up ice skating, and is so taken with it that all she wants to do is skate. But both skating sessions and skating lessons are expensive, and her mom is already pushed to supply the necessities, let alone a luxury like this. Some of her aunts and uncles got together and bought her new skates, so I decided I would give her cash toward lessons or sessions. Here is the painting to go with her card:

Lily's brother, Lucas, lives for gaming, and his entire Christmas list consisted of two lines: A new X-Box, or cash towards a new X-Box! So he's getting his wish from me (the second, not the first), and here is his illustration:

My cousin Harley is a dedicated auto mechanic, and all he wants for Christmas is tools. I actually could have afforded a set of socket adaptors for him, but...brand? range of sizes? I dunno. So I'm giving him the cash and a picture, and he'll get the idea for himself.

Everyone else is getting the usual--books, books, books, and maybe some movie tickets or edible treats, plus biscuits and a chew toy for the dog. And now it's time for me to go cook my contribution to our Christmas Eve dinner! Hopefully, there will be more artistic contributions to this blog during this long-awaited hiatus, and my habits will improve in the new year!

11 November 2017

Snacks are important!

Somehow, weeks have gone by without drawing or painting, although I thought about doing it almost every day. Working full-time does not leave enough time for art! Today, however, I decided to work on an illustration that pertained to work: I'm making a powerpoint about how to provide various teen services, and wanted to make the point that, no matter what program you put on for teens, snacks are important! Teenagers are always hungry. It doesn't matter if your program is at 7:00 at night and they just ate dinner with their family: If you have pizza, it will disappear. If you don't set parameters, stacks of Oreos six inches high will walk off with each one.

This illustration is partly true and partly wishful thinking. I have, on occasion, provided fruit as a snack, and a certain percentage of my teens will eat it, or even welcome it enthusiastically; but if there are no chips or cookies to go along with that fruit? I might not survive the evening. One of my book club teens once explained to me, "I  never get to eat any kind of junk food at home. So please don't try to buy the healthy stuff for us—just give us what we want! It's only once a month, after all." So mostly, that's what I do.

Here they are: Book Club snacks, in Micron pen, pencil, and watercolor on 93-lb. sketchbook paper.

24 October 2017

Coffee Shops

What is the lure of coffee shops? The food isn't usually above average; the service can be okay, but the lousy coffee counterbalances that. (Only in America would you call it a coffee shop and the proprietors wouldn't think to specialize in good coffee.) But we continue to frequent them.

There is something familiar and satisfying about scooting into a naugahyde booth, knowing what to expect, and feeling free to hang out there for as long as you want. That is probably the sole advantage the coffee shop has over other venues; patrons don't, in general, feel rushed to vacate their table for the next wave of customers, because apart from the regulars, there is no next wave. They are not chic destinations, they are neighborhood institutions, complete with a newspaper kiosk and a bike rack out front and an "Always Open" sign in the window.

I recently decided to drop in on one that I've been driving by for years, and true to form, the food is basic and good, the coffee is watery and not hot enough, the service is slow. But the charm of the early 1960s decor and the people-watching of the regulars makes up for it somewhat, and the anonymity is a plus as well.

Here is an outside view of Corky's. The patio is always empty at breakfast, because it's on the east side of the building and thus flooded with sun all morning; I imagine it's a good place to while away the late afternoon after grabbing a cocktail from the attached "Cork Lounge," which is simply an annex where they serve meals the rest of the day and turn on the TV at night to give it a more bar-like atmosphere.

Micron pen #5 and watercolor. About 5x8 inches, in my new small journal.

21 October 2017


I commented in my previous post that sometimes it was hard to tell if it was Autumn in Southern California; but I had forgotten about the Harbinger, aka my across-the-street neighbor's tree.

It is a thoroughly obnoxious tree. Not only does it grow at a truly astounding rate, necessitating frequent trimmings (which it doesn't get often enough, in everyone's opinion but said neighbor's), but it drops everything on the ground that a tree could possibly think to deposit: sticky clusters of green fuzz in the spring, long thin pods full of seeds in the winter, and in the fall, gigantic leaves larger than my father's hands (which were known in my family for their gargantuan size and strength—people have been known to surreptitiously whip off their rings before shaking hands with Dad, for fear of injury).

These leaves turn bright gold in the fall for a short week or two of glory, and then they become brown and brittle, and fall off; but because of their size, they don't subside quietly into piles beneath their tree; they travel. It doesn't help that I live on the south side of the street. If you live in the San Fernando Valley, you know that the wind nearly always blows down from the north, so if you are a south-side dweller, you are the designated leaf rakers in autumn. But these leaves will not be raked—they must be chased down, gathered, and stuffed in a bin quickly, lest they overwhelm you!

Today, when I returned from breakfast out (and a smog check for my car), I decided to do some watering in the front yard. The wind has been blowing the past couple of days and everything was bone dry. While the rose bed was filling, I sat down on the front porch and captured the tree in its goldy magnificence in my small sketchbook. Would that I could capture its brown discards on the page and keep them out of my yard, in about two weeks when they begin to fall!

Black Uniball pen and watercolor.

And no, I have absolutely no idea what kind of tree it is. 

14 October 2017

Fall signs

Signs of Autumn for people in much of the country are cooler weather, rain, and turning leaves. For we who live in California, sometimes all three of those are missing, well into October, and sometimes the rain doesn't come until February. We have to look for other telltale signs that the season is changing. One is that the light is lower in the sky in the morning and late afternoon; another is that the fruits on offer at the farmers' market and the grocery store switch from summer stone fruits like peaches and apricots to the staples of fall and winter: apples and pears. And one for me in particular is the blooming of the asters.

I planted a one-gallon pot of asters, about 15 years ago, in the flower bed that makes a border between my garage and the sidewalk to my back yard. The asters were part of a lavender scheme that included verbena, mexican sage, and alyssum. Slowly but surely, however, the asters ran their insidious little rootlets everywhere and took over the whole bed, crowding the others right out. Now, every year I have a bed of green that gradually, from winter when I cut them down to their roots, grows from an inch high to four feet tall (they have to be staked), and every year in October, they burst into extravagant bloom, enticing every bee, butterfly, and hummingbird to make, well, a beeline to my yard.

I had a few things to do today, so I didn't have much time for drawing or painting; but I wanted to put together two of the elements that say "Fall" to me and do a quick sketch. Also, after I captured the pretty blush of this pear, I was dying to eat it! So here is my "signs of fall" sketch:

I actually painted this twice; the first one wasn't bad, but I tried to do something tricksy with the background framing and completely flubbed it, so I decided to start over. Serendipitously, the sun chose just that instant to cast a really nice shadow across my patio table, so I painted in the shadow first on this one, to capture it before it was gone. I'm happier with it, although I would like for someone to give me instruction in paint spatter. Some of the sketch artists I know manage to get a beautiful array of perfect dots in three colors scattered in assymetrical patterns across the page, while mine tend to look more like arterial spray. Someone tell me your secret!

This was done in Micron pen #5 and watercolor, in a new little sketchbook given to me for my birthday by Brenton, one of my library pages at work. I didn't think I would like it, because it's smaller than any I've ever had; but since it has a seam between pages instead of being spiral bound like my regular sketchbooks, I can, if i like, go across the seam and paint double-wide, so it's working out well. The paper is nice and is holding up pretty well to watercolor, which is always a plus, and it's small enough to go in my purse. Thanks, Brenton!

Oh, by the way...

04 October 2017

Birthday Breakfast

As I have mentioned here before, my cousin Kirsten and I have for some time now been going to breakfast once a month, usually on a Tuesday morning when she is off and I don't go in to work until noon, and we have been trying out a different restaurant almost every time. Some have been great successes, and others have been forgettable. For my birthday breakfast today, I decided we would revisit one that I like better than she does, although I think today we were both happy with the result!

We went to Nicola's, an Italian restaurant in the West Valley, on Ventura Blvd. near DeSoto, in a little shopping complex called The French Quarter. I used to go there for dinner all the time, a few years (or a decade?) back, but we didn't discover until fairly recently that they serve breakfast. Today, we went with the intention to share our two breakfasts; both of us prefer savory over sweet, but doesn't everyone get an occasional yen for a pancake or a waffle or a sweet roll? Nicola's has a special treat: French toast. I'm not usually that much of a fan, but theirs is unusual—it comes covered in lemon curd, and with a wonderful French vanilla custard sauce on the side to make it even better. So we ordered an omelet with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto cream sauce, accompanied by red roasted potatoes, and also ordered the French toast, and then went halvesies on all. Breakfast and dessert, and a gourmet cup of coffee—perfection.

I wanted to go sketching afterwards, but I also had a few errands and some other projects for the day, so instead I took a photo of our breakfast spot and made a drawing/painting when I got home. Perhaps I will start a new series, called "Breakfast in the Valley," and document all the unusual or outstanding places we have been. Some of them will lend themselves to this more than others. This one certainly was fun, with its New Orleans-style façade and its variety of colors and textures.

Drawn in Micron pen #5, and then watercolored.