21 October 2017

Harbinger

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.

#inktober2017


Urban sketching

Kirsten and I had breakfast at Corky's in Sherman Oaks last week, so I did this quick sketch of the counter while waiting for her to arrive. I had to finish it up fast, because she hates it when I sketch while she's in the room, so the coffee maker on the right is floating in mid-air instead of sitting on the counter. Oh, well. I liked the guitars and foliage on the guy's shirt.


Inktober sketches

Even though I didn't do these sketches specifically for Inktober, since I did them on the first two days of the month and since they were drawn in ink, I'm calling it good. #inktober2017

Here's a book I was reading; I figured that at some point I would review it for the library blog, so I decided to draw and paint the cover, to go with.


And here are two quickie sketches I made while sitting in on a teen storyboarding workshop at my library. It was put on by Cartoon Network, and they brought five artists (one for each table of five or six teens), so all I really had to do was sit in the room, just in case. So I sketched a couple of tables full of teens while I hung out. I've been trying to do more sketching of humans, because I'm pretty bad at it; you can see from the girls' table that that one girl's head is waaaay bigger than anybody else's, and they also end up with spindly legs and weirdly shaped arms. But I'm working on it.




20 August 2017

Saving Saturday

Saturday should be a day for sleeping late, reading your novel during your leisurely breakfast and morning cup of joe, catching up with your friends on Facebook, and perhaps assaying a few chores should you be feeling particularly ambitious (which I usually am not). Naps are not unheard of; TV show binges are definitely on the table. So imagine my lack of enthusiasm when my good friend and colleage Anarda bullied me (yes, positively wouldn't take no for an answer) into driving to Pasadena at 8:00 in the morning to attend a day-long seminar (8:30 to 4:00!) on CalPers, Social Security, and MediCal. I could hear the zzzzzzzzs coming from all of you as I typed that last sentence, so imagine my own sentiments!

Anarda claims to be concerned for my best interests; but I strongly suspect that she hoped this day of information about our non-working futures would result in me being "scared straight," as they phrase it when somebody goes to juvenile hall to frighten children back into good behavior. I've been talking for a while now about the possibility of retiring at the 10-year mark (which is fast approaching) from my current full-time position at Burbank Public Library and instead pursuing some part-time work, perhaps some freelance teaching, and definitely some illustration or painting work, once I have the time and energy to focus on all of those; and she doesn't want me to retire before she does (probably because she knows she'll be stuck with my job).

So I sallied forth to Pasadena—no, no, that sounds far too cheerful a phrase—I grumbled my way along the 134 to the Hilton on Los Robles—and sat through a CalPers presentation followed by a Social Security presentation, and I was done. As my mom used to say, D-U-N, DONE. I was also still confused about how the two work together, although I got some helpful information afterwards in the exhibit hall from a nice guy representing Social Security that makes me think all is provisionally well in Melissa's retirement future. So I told Anarda to take good notes at the MediCal seminar, and fled to the parking garage and freedom.

Driving home, I wondered if there was something I could salvage from this trip, just as I realized that the next turn-off would take me straight to my car dealership in Glendale; so I motored off the freeway at Brand and dropped off the car for an oil and brake fluid change, then strolled up the street to Foxy's for my favorite Santa Fe omelet.

Since I was now giddily free for the rest of the day, I took my time, starting a drawing before my breakfast arrived, reading the rest of my excellent John Scalzi novel during breakfast, and lingering afterwards over another cup of coffee while I completed the drawing. And then I painted it when I got home.



This is the counter at Foxy's. It's a bit messy, and a few significant details (like the legs of the woman on the right) are missing, but it was great fun to dwell on all the minutiae and decide whether or not to include each object that I saw (and there were SO many more). It definitely perked me up from the stultifying lectures of the morning hours, as did the Santa Fe omelet!

And then...I took a nap. So there, Anarda.


Postcards

The Burbank postcards continue. Last week I decided to focus on a couple of the studios as inspiration, so I looked for iconic images. The first that occurred to me was the Warner Bros. tower--we actually have this image on one of the library card designs we offer at BPL, so that's a pretty constant reminder.

I went with a little looser style for this one, and was pretty happy with it, except that I fuffed the lettering in the band across the logo (started too far right, made letters too wide), so I just obscured them a bit with a darker shade of paint, and hopefully no one will look too closely.



Then I got a bit more ambitious. I have always been delighted by the pop-up of these ridiculous shapes within the perspective of a fairly traditional skyline of office towers; it certainly makes the purpose of the Disney Animation buildings known to their surrounding community!


This was a fun one, with the colors, angles, and scale. I probably should have put a few people in, but I decided not to push my luck.

This week, I did a quickie of a favorite restaurant with Burbankians. I made it more interesting for myself by focusing not just on the lettering but on the neon that lights up the lettering at night. It's a bit messy, but still recognizable to those who love their steaks and famous cheese bread.


I have a few more in mind...stay tuned.