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.


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.

09 August 2017

More postcard art

More postcards of locales and artifacts of Burbank.

Here is the Metro station on Front Street,
with Burbank Water and Power towers in the background.

Circus Liquor...which may actually be in NoHo...

St. Leon's Armenian Cathedral, from a sort of aerial view...

and the Doughnut Hut sign..."What's missing? U!"

More to come...

01 August 2017

The art of work

This blog post isn't about a work of art, it's about the art of work. I am officially about to sound elderly, because I am going to bemoan the good old days. Specifically, whatever happened to the shoe stores of our youth? To the shoe salesmen and saleswomen who took pride in their work? The ones who asked if they could help, listened to what you were telling them you needed and why, measured your feet, brought out an array of shoes in your size that might fill your requirements, helped you into the shoes with the aid of a handy shoe horn they withdrew from their pockets (above), checked the length of the shoes and judged whether your toe was too far forward and "we might need to go up half a size," then cheerfully boxed and bagged everything up and wished you well? What happened to those people?

For the past few years, especially since I injured one knee and the other one got angry at me for having to overcompensate for its shortcomings, I have pretty much lived in athletic shoes. Saucony and New Balance are my brands, because they come in wide widths. I have difficult feet. They are short, they are super wide, and the insteps are unusually high. That makes me hard to fit; and I need a specific kind of support for the knees as well.

So I have a pair of Sauconys in dark gray that will go with gray, black, and shades of blue, and I have a pair of white New Balance that will go with most everything else. I have felt the lack of something to go with shades of brown, and have been meaning to go find something, but shoe shopping in its current day incarnation is kind of a nightmare. If you don't want to spend a lot of money (and who does? unless you're in Italy), then you go to some warehouse place like DSW, where there are long aisles of waist-high shelves with shoes displayed on the top counters and various sizes of same residing in their boxes in the cubby holes below. You troll up and down the aisles, looking first for something in which you'd be willing to be caught dead. Once you find that shoe, however, you are constrained by whether the store has it in your size; and in my case, I am further stymied by whether that manufacturer makes a wide width and, further, whether this particular store carries it. Many a time I have spent two hours in one of these places and left with a token pair of socks. And when I have bought shoes, they are usually not exactly what I would have liked, but rather whatever would fit and not be too objectionable. At least, I consoled myself, they were cheap.

So, I've been getting along with my two pairs of running shoes until the Burbank City Manager, in his infinite wisdom, decided that city employees weren't dressing up to their full potential, and massively revamped the dress code. Most of it didn't affect me; I tend to wear dresses or skirts, and have many nice outfits that are perfectly adequate to a teen librarian's wardrobe. But the shoes...oh, the shoes. Suddenly we are not allowed to wear running shoes—that is, nothing with a discernible logo (strike one), and nothing with a weird color on the body or trim (strike two—my gray ones have a turquoise tongue and piping). While we are not required to change to anything as draconian as heels or pumps or even mary janes, the serviceable shoes we choose need to be in basic colors—black, gray, navy, brown, maybe a tasteful beige—and as inoffensive and anonymous as possible.

Time to go shoe shopping. I knew I wouldn't be finding what I needed at DSW, so I faced the fact that I was going to have to spend some serious cash to get some decent shoes. I headed to The Walking Company. And this is the point at which I started to bemoan the days of yore when shoe salesmen gave a shit. Seriously.

I walk into this place in an upscale mall in Sherman Oaks. There is one salesman on duty, and there are two women he is already in the midst of helping. He turns to me and says "What do you want." I say, "I'm going to need to buy a few pairs of shoes and I have some rather particular needs, so why don't you finish helping those ladies first." He stands there and stares at me. Then he says, "Okay, look around," and turns back to the other women.

When he finishes with them, he goes around the sales floor picking up all the shoes they had tried on and returns them to the back. He comes back out and I expect him to approach me, but instead he walks around the entire circumference of the room, tidying up all the displays. Finally, I walk over to him and say, "Can you help me now?" He replies, "Yes, what do you need." No smile, no indication that he is at all interested in the fact that I said I needed to buy a few pairs of shoes. I'm assuming (maybe I shouldn't?) that these sales people are on commission. The Walking Company sells pretty much two brands: Abeo, and Dansko. Both retail for somewhere between $99 and $149. So we're talking serious commission here, if he can simply bring himself to sell me some.

I say, "My employer has changed our dress code, so I need to buy some shoes that give me the support of a running shoe but without obvious logos and in subtle colors. I also have a high instep, and need a wide width, so I'm kind of hard to fit."

At this point, he cuts me off. "We don't carry wide widths. You have to order them online." And then he turns away!

I say to him, "I bought a pair of Abeo sandals here once, and they were wide." He replies, "Oh, yes, the sandals come in wide widths." Full stop. So I show him three pairs of shoes (one a sandal) in which I'm interested. "No, I don't have that one." "I have that in black, maybe. But no wide width. You can try a bigger size and see if it works." "No, I don't have that."

Finally, I say to him, "Have I offended you in some way?" He kind of laughs, and says, "No, why?" I reply, "Well, so far you have told me all the reasons why you can't help me, you haven't offered any solutions, you haven't asked me what size I wear or measured my feet..." He replies, "Size 9? I'll go get those shoes now" and goes in the back.

He brings them back, sets the box down next to me on the bench, and walks away to the counter. I pick up the box, open them up, lace them, try them on, discover they are not wide enough (naturally), and probably too short. I ask him, "Do you have these in the next size up? I think they're too short for me." "No," he says. "Do you think my toe is too far forward in these?" "I don't know." "Can you check?" He looks at me like I'm insane, and then leans down and stares at my foot. "Maybe."

The whole time all of this is going on, I'm thinking, These shoes retail for $100 up. I've had better service at DSW from the minimum wage teenagers they hire. What is this guy's problem?

I decide to buy one pair of walking sandals. I'm not even sure they qualify under the dress code, because they do say "ABEO" in tiny letters on the velcro strap. I'm going to check.

I then ask him to write down the names, numbers, and sizes of the shoes I tried on that I liked but that didn't come in wide widths, so that I could go online and order them. He looks at me like I had asked him to sacrifice his first-born on the shoe-rack with a Brannock Device.

Just as I was about to leave the store, a new customer was entering. Another salesman had just come on duty, apparently back from his lunch break. As I passed the woman, I said, "Talk to HIM," and pointed at the other salesman. After all, he couldn't be worse...could he?

Oh for the good old days of Thom McAn.

29 July 2017

Postcard-sized art

I am so, so bad at drawing small! I want to do a series of scenes from Burbank at postcard size (4x6 inches), and tried my first one today. I intended to fit the entire thing on the postcard, and even pre-drew with pencil so I could tweak it, but still managed to cut off the top of the steeple. Oh, well.

This is St. Finbar's, a Catholic church in Burbank on Olive, near sunset to get some shadow contrast, done from a photo. I made some mistakes of both perspective and proportion, but I think it's still recognizable. I may try it again later—the watercolor postcards I bought are not very cooperative, and I think I may cut my own out of larger sheets instead.

LePen and watercolor

St. Finbar's at sunset
Burbank, California

26 July 2017

Two meals, memorialized

While on a break from work, I was up in Ventura this week, for an evening and a morning. I was planning to be there an entire day longer, but a sleepless night in an attractive but airless and noisy hotel room followed by an unexpected minor but annoying illness brought me home a day early. I don't regret it that much; a solid eight-hour sleep in my own bed was just what I needed to start feeling better. (I wish I could have kept the dinner date with my friend Barbara, that I made for evening #2, but we will reschedule soon.) But I do regret that the only times I ended up drawing and painting on the trip were at the two meals I ate there! My plan was to spend half a day at the beach and half a day downtown on Tuesday, sketching ocean vistas and perhaps the charmingly small and accessible San Buenaventura Mission. Instead, I captured a scene at dinner on Monday and another at breakfast on Tuesday, and by 1 p.m. I was on the road home.

The scene from Monday night's meal was captured while I waited for my companion, an old friend I hadn't seen in years who was passing through and made a dinner date with me. It's a drawing that is hard to interpret without setting the scene: I am sitting at a table against the wall, with a mirror hung directly to my left. In the mirror, I can see the front window of the restaurant, so the name of the restaurant, which is backwards when you look at it directly from the inside, is now right-reading, while everything else is backwards. So I drew what I saw in the mirror. It was kind of a fun challenge. The only thing I don't believe I achieved is any sense that there is both mirror and glass intervening between myself and the view. After painting the scene, I thought of putting a slash through the entire page, lifting the color, to give an impression of reflection, but was too timid to follow through with it. The only thing that gives the impression of glass or layers is the framing, and the fact that the lettering is suspended in front of everything else.

Breakfast on Tuesday was fraught with frustrations. I knew that Cafe Nouveau wasn't far from my hotel in mileage; what I didn't realize until I was too far on the walk to change my mind was that it was all steeply uphill. So when I got there, sweaty and winded, I asked to be seated outside, where it was still cool. I took my reading glasses and my Kindle, supplied with three books for my trip, out of my purse to read with breakfast, only to discover that the Kindle, which I thought held a full charge, was stone dead. I ordered my breakfast, and five minutes after it was delivered to my table, the city started up with roadwork not 10 feet outside the fence surrounding the restaurant. So I asked my waitress to move me indoors, which she happily did, and finished my excellent breakfast there.

Then, bereft of anything to read, I pulled out my sketchbook and made a drawing of the remains of my breakfast. The omelet was already cleared away, but I still had the rest of my biscuit and jam, plus a little plate that came with the bill, with a complimentary small muffin. After drawing, I checked my purse and discovered that I had brought along my mini travel kit: a collapsible brush, a Motrin bottle full of water, and my Altoids palette, with five colors (the primaries plus sepia and turquoise). So I decided to paint the scene on site, rather than waiting until later. Although it was such a limited palette, I almost like the result of this one better than the more mannered painting of the restaurant from the night before, which was completed with access to a full palette of colors.

I had neither the time nor the discipline to paint the table just the way it appeared—it was one of those lovely 1950s ones with the chrome around the edges and the bright two-tone linoleum on top, sort of a pinky red combined with a lighter red-orange. But I feel like my random splashes of color captured what was going on there, which was mainly bright! I enjoyed the contrast of the white dishes against it, and had fun with the see-through blue plastic glass.

Capriccio Restaurant: LePen #5 and watercolor
Café Nouveau: Uniball and watercolor

16 July 2017

Alternate book cover

As people who know me know, I have been a fan of the Regency romance novels of Georgette Heyer since I was about 13 years old. Far from outgrowing them, I have read them again and again over the years, and even though I know some of the stories quite well, I never cease to be entertained by her ingenious plotlines, smart, witty dialogue, and charming characters. (Someday I want to write a comparison of her books to those of P. G. Wodehouse. Cousin Ferdy in this one particularly reminds me of Bertie Wooster.)

Periodically I go on a Heyer jag, usually when I am either craving "comfort food" type reading or when I have made a series of dull reading choices and need to cleanse my palate with a little light, sweet, cold sherbet. Sometimes I also end up reading one because I have managed to arrive home from the library on a Friday night not having had the time to walk to the stacks and pick out a book to read. That's what happened to me this weekend, and when my dismay over this was compounded by a dead battery in my Kindle, rendering me also unable to check out an e-book, I turned to my shelves and picked up one of my favorites, Friday's Child.

The story begins thusly: Lord Sheringham has been mooning over the beautiful Isabella Melborne (along with half of the beaux in London), and has decided to ask her to marry him. He fancies himself in love; but his extra motive is that his money is tied up in a trust to which he won't have access for three more years unless he marries, at which time control is transferred from his two miserly trustee uncles to himself. Isabella, however, turns him down, and in a fit of temper, he swears to marry the next woman he sees, so as to get control of his fortune. That happens to be his childhood friend, Hero Wantage, who he encounters, as he drives by in his phaeton, perched on a fence, in tears. When he stops to find out what's what, she tells him her evil relatives are forcing her to go be a governess, a patently absurd plan, given that she's only 17 years old and lamentably ignorant. So Sherry, in a fit of pique, decides he will scotch everyone's plans by marrying Hero. She, having worshipped Sherry since childhood, is thrilled with this plan, especially because it will get her away from her disagreeable aunt and three condescending cousins, plus she'll get to go to London, go to balls, wear beautiful clothes, and, best of all, be with Sherry. Sherry, however, doesn't know what he's getting into, bringing a 17-year-old bride to the capitol and turning her loose on Society...

Although I am a fan of the books, I have never been a fan of the covers. The re-released versions in trade paperback (above) have more charming paintings of Regency misses on the front (although they are not always chosen so as to complement the particular story), but the older books (of which this is one, because I have a discarded library version from the 1960s) had pretty dreadful art (left). So today, when I finished the book with my usual feeling of satisfaction, I decided I would try out an illustration that picked up on some of the elements of the book, and give it a different look.

I did this pretty spontaneously, and therefore didn't think ahead to design a space for the title as part of the illustration (which is bad cover design, but oh well), so I had to cram it in at the bottom, willy nilly. But I had fun finding and duplicating the ormolu clock that Gil presents to Hero as his wedding gift, the canary in a cage that is Ferdy's contribution to her happiness, a Queen Anne hall table that could have been part of the furnishings that Hero and Sherry chose for their new house on Half Moon Street, and the chubby pug dog belonging to Gil's aunt, which takes Hero on a fateful walk that precipitates the French farce of an ending.

Friday's Child, by Georgette Heyer
Uniball pen, watercolor