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.


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.


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

12 July 2017

"Silly Sheep"

That's what I googled, looking for an image to use as a reference. I don't think this guy looks so silly, though—a little more on the side of wistful, perhaps?

When I am stumped for something to draw and paint, I often turn to whatever I'm reading for inspiration, for a couple of reasons: First, I often dislike the book cover of whatever it is, and occasionally have the impulse to try to do better; second, if it's a book I'm enjoying, then chances are I'm going to review it for the library blog, which means that I can either put up the book cover with the post, or I can put up something more interesting (i.e., custom created art by me!).

I've been on a science fiction reading jag for the past few days, specifically perusing some of the stand-alone books of John Scalzi. I really got a kick out of Redshirts—it was a satire that was a combo of Star Trek, Galaxy Quest, and The Truman Show, if you can imagine. So after that, I decided to move on to another, and chose The Android's Dream.

The title is, of course, an homage to the famous novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the inimitable Philip K. Dick, that was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. This book is not really like that one, being partially about literal sheep (or their DNA), but it's smart, funny, and entertaining, nonetheless. I'm not finished with it yet, so I won't give a final verdict until I am, but I felt confident enough, halfway through the book, to make an illustration to go with my book review.

The Android's Dream
Uniball pen, watercolor

11 July 2017

Catbird Caboose

My Facebook friend Kim, who is a birder, says her favorite is the catbird. When I called up a few pictures from the internet, I wasn't really sure why—it's kind of a drab-looking little bird, mostly shades of gray and dull gray-brown.

Maybe it's the catbird's call? It certainly is varied, cheerful, and entertaining. If you want to listen to it, here's a link to Cornell Ornithology Lab, where they have some recordings. The "song" didn't sound cat-like, but if you click on the "mew call," you'll get the idea for where it got its name.

But then she posted a rare photo of the catbird showing off his "caboose," and a whole new facet of the catbird's personality became apparent! It was like Mammy in Gone With the Wind, pulling up the hem of her faded old housedress to show off the scarlet satin petticoat, a gift from "Mr. Rhett," hiding underneath.

I didn't really do justice to this guy—he needs to be painted "for real," a little more painstakingly on watercolor paper without black lines (and not as a direct copy of the photo)—but it will do for a fast impression. Maybe I'll attempt him again when I have more time, but here's my quick sketch for today—"Catbird Caboose," in honor of Kim Denise!

Uniball pen, watercolor

08 July 2017

Urban sketching at the bookstore

Today I had a wholly delightful treat—I had the opportunity to reconnect with Lorilyn Parmer, my good friend from high school. Although we are recently Facebook friends, and have kept in long-term tentative contact for all these years, I haven't actually seen her since her wedding day, more than 21 long years ago, on a clifftop in Marin County! She let me know that her husband had to fly into Burbank airport to do some business in neighboring Glendale, and wondered if I would like to meet her for breakfast, since she was accompanying him and then they were going down to Orange County to visit with some friends from their years in Singapore. I said an enthusiastic yes, and when I found out that Allen's business was just a few blocks from Foxy's and the Americana mall, I suggested we meet up there.

We had a wonderful five-hour interlude of playing catch-up and reminiscing, and also sharing some of our dreams and plans for the immediate and long-term future (both involving our artistic expression, interestingly enough). It was cool to have a conversation with someone who has known me since high school—different perspectives. It was not cool, however, in terms of weather (99 degrees in Glendale and 110 at my house in Van Nuys today!), so once we deserted our table at Foxy's and walked over to the mall, we took refuge in Barnes & Noble and shopped, compared reading tastes (including the recent preferences of her son, Quinn), and chatted some more.

While Lorilyn looked for board books for a little Afghan refugee girl she knows, who needs to learn some English, I found a bench by a window and sketched a couple of fellow refugees from the heat. I filled in the background of the store's façade later, and then decided to add the Foxy's sign, since I am always delighted by the "crystal chandeliers" part. It's there because there is a chandelier store across the way in the same strip mall, but the first time I saw it, I thought, "Oooh, fancy coffee shop if they're advertising that they have crystal chandeliers!"

LePen #3 and watercolor.

Quick sketches

Yesterday was a full day of preparing for and running the next-to-last Little Free Library session for our teens at the library. They have finished the drawing stage and are just beginning to paint on the decorations to which they have agreed, which are so full of character and so creative. While watching them work, I pulled out my sketchbook and made a couple of quick drawings. I'm not great at people—I need to do this more often.

I started the first one with LePen, but it ran out of ink, so the rest was done with a Uniball pen from my purse. I didn't know if it would run or not when I watercolored, but blessedly it did not. I might sketch with that more often—it gives a nice, fluid black line.

It's the weekend! Maybe I'll get some more complex work on paper.

06 July 2017

Montrose Car Show

I went to breakfast with Carey and Hubert on Sunday at our favorite place in Montrose (the Black Cow Café) for Hubert's birthday. Montrose always has little surprises on Sundays—there is the weekly farmers' market on the Old Town streets, but sometimes they add a pet adoption day, or a bunch of kiddie rides, and this week the surprise was a six-block-long auto show, with a plethora of cars from the early 1900s to the present! We wandered around reminiscing about cars our parents and grandparents had driven and wondered why we hadn't held onto them, waxed sentimental over the 1973 Corvette driven by our teenage crush or the El Camino that we coveted because that was what all the cool kids were driving in high school, and took some photos.

I drew this yesterday, but ran out of time to paint before work, so I got up a little early and did it today. It took longer than I thought it would, as it usually does, so I may go back and add some more detail later tonight. (I see a few bits I forgot to paint!)

I had a few proportion problems when it came to the cab of the truck, but I think I managed to camouflage them and pull it off pretty well. I aspire to someday draw cars as well as Nina Johannson, but it will take a lot more practice!

Turquoise Pick-up Truck
LePen #3 and watercolor
July 5-6, 2017

04 July 2017

Red, White, and Blue

That was today's prompt. After the past six months, forgive me if I'm not feeling like expressing patriotic feelings towards the government that has betrayed us, the people who voted for an inept, crass, deeply stupid megalomaniac, and the media who enabled it all in the name of ratings.

So, where do you go when you're feeling like this? My answer is usually comfort food, and since making my famous German potato salad is something of a tradition for the 4th of July, I decided to illustrate the "fixins'" for that as my expression of red-white-blue. The potatoes and vinegar are red; the mayonnaise is white; and some of the packaging is blue. Close enough!

"Red, White, and Blue"
LePen #3 and watercolor

(You may have noticed that I already skipped a day. I have a plan. I hope to catch up by doing another painting this afternoon.)

02 July 2017

In the Shade

Today's prompt was "in the shade," which made me look up the meaning of the saying "made in the shade," which led me to this rhyme:
Ice-cold lemonade,
made in the shade,
stirred with a spade,
by an old maid.

Which made me take notice of the empty plastic cup from Lemonade (one of my favorite places to go for a cold beverage on a hot day) discarded on my desk. (There are advantages to being a slob. Such as opportunities for drawing.) Since I didn't have a lot of energy or time today, I did a drawing of that.

There was no lemonade left in it; I guess it was made in the shade, because it was concocted indoors by a Lemonade employee; I have no idea what he stirred it with (probably a blender, since as I recall it was cucumber mint lemonade); and while I am old, I am certainly not a maid. But...close enough. Parenthetically, the phrase "made in the shade" was coined in the 1950s, to mean "being in an excellent or ideal situation." I would consider having another full container of cucumber mint lemonade a proper expression of "made in the shade," so while I had to make do with drawing its empty container, I can look backwards with fondness and forwards with anticipation. (Maybe I will stop by on my way home tomorrow night...)

"In the shade"
LePen #3, watercolor

01 July 2017

World Watercolor Month begins!

Some of you may be aware of the brainchild of Charlie O'Shields, over at Doodlewash.com, of World Watercolor Month: 31 paintings in 31 days, during the month of July. It's for everybody who paints in watercolor--or who wants to try it for the first time--to share their watercolors. Everyone hashtags their work #worldwatercolormonth so that it pops up where it should. You can follow Charlie's blog, or see him on Facebook under World Watercolor Group. People post stuff there all the time--but July is a special effort.

One of the things on offer is a list of 31 prompts, in case you are out of inspiration. You don't have to use them; you can paint anything and everything during your 31 days. But the prompts are fun from the aspect of seeing how each artist interprets them.

Today's prompt was "Strong and Free." A lot of people interpreted it as something associated with our Independence Day holiday, coming up on Tuesday, and painted such things as eagles soaring in a blue sky; but you can equally go your own way, which is what I chose to do.

Here is MY version of strong and free:

It's a nice *strong* cup of French Roast coffee, with a double-entendre book: C. S. Harris's new novel about the American Civil War (in which the slaves were *freed*), and also, it's a library book, so I checked it out and am reading it for *free*.

Weird proportions and slightly wonky cup, but...first day's assignment fulfilled. See you tomorrow! #worldwatercolormonth

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.