I have been an art store junky for many, many years. And so I am quite well equipped to tackle new materials whenever the fancy seizes me. I recently purchased a Stillman + Birn’s Nova Series toned paper sketchbook with beige, black and gray pages.
I’ve been loving the beige paper for my portraits, after a long run of doing them on the gray, with pen, watercolor and a few touches of pastel pencil. The Sktchy app supplies me with the most wonderful subjects, which they call “muses”. Like this adorable guy Zel.
But in order to break into the black paper section of the sketchbook, I got out my gouache paints with the pastel pencils.
This may be the dawn of the up-in-your-face faces! All my fine watercolor skills flew out the window. How liberating. Gotta do more of these.
Meanwhile my in-person model is available and I’m taking advantage, in yet another, more familiar style of watercolor-what-you-can-before-it-moves.
We actually had breathable air today and a sun we could see and even a blue sky!
Where are you concentrating your doomscrolling activities these days? Fires? Other global warming environmental disasters? or Covid numbers, and changing protocols, openings, closings, etc? Politics and the upcoming election?
Here in California we’ve become intensely focused on the colors in our skies and the effects of smoke on our health. Meanwhile I have developed a fascination with all the colorful interactive maps, particularly of fire events and Covid outbreaks, all of which are continually updating. I got to the point where I was seeing dots of red and orange everywhere. Time to do an art treatment!
All the fire dots were on the west coast and the majority of Coronavirus hot spots in colleges were in the eastern half of the country. So I decided to draw a map of the U.S. and paint black around it. Then I punched out red and orange dots and used an acetate overlay to position the Covid outbreak dots.
Putting them all together here, along with some labeling, I arrived at a crude but nevertheless satisfying result of my day’s doomscrolling.
The Map of My Country Has an Outbreak of Acne
I see spots everywhere
Red dots (and not all republican)
Outbreaks so numerous
They’re beginning to merge
The borders are closed
No one wants us any more
With no escape I wear this country
Like my body blemishes and all
I’ve moved on now to an obsession with checking the air quality index of cities and towns all over the west coast that are burdened with smoky atmospheres from unhealthy to hazardous throughout the day.
Well, that and keeping my son fed. Andrew is home now and in quarantine for a few more days after traveling from New Jersey. Not a bad deal. Kind of like a bed and breakfast plus lunch and dinner and no dishes to do. But we’re looking forward to having some good in-person family time, and then maybe I’ll drop some of the . . .you know.
I’ve been really missing going to The Living Room, hanging out in the groups and at lunch, getting to meet new women and visit with the ones who’d become friends. But since the doors to the day shelter were closed due to the pandemic guidelines in March, I’ve had a bit more chance to visit at the transitional houses run by The Living Room.
Tracy volunteered to let me do a portrait story of her. I first met her when she showed up at Bonnie’s apartment to take her to the doctor. You might remember what I wrote in my Meet Bonnie post:
This is what I love about many of my friends who have been homeless. It’s that spirit of making the best of what one has, and not letting set-backs get one down. As I was leaving, I ran into another participant at The Living Room [Tracy], who was having her own issues with pain from walking after surgery. She was there to provide the ride for Bonnie to a doctor’s appt. People who know what it’s like to need help are always the first to offer it.
I knew instantly I was going to enjoy talking to Tracy.
I got to meet with Tracy in the back yard of the house she shares with other women who have been homeless and are working on finding long term housing. She showed me the well-tended garden she had lovingly created in the back yard, with marigolds planted among the vegetables to attract beneficial insects that prey on garden pests, and an elegant structure for the climbing beans. I wondered how she managed it on a limited income and with her painful hip.
Her final words in the story were the answer I got, “I am determined to make things work!”
I couldn’t help thinking about the various aches and pains I complain about at my age, and the way I use them as an excuse to think I can’t achieve certain things. Women like Tracy cause me to think again, and maybe get a bit busier!
If you live around here, it’s likely your mind is running those opening notes to The Twilight Zone. This is the scene that many of us in fire country woke to this morning.
Quite lovely actually, and cool air with not a hint of smoke. . .down here anyway. But so strange, and a bit ominous.
And a great opportunity to find a way to wrap the art around it. My Muse friends have accepted a challenge to work with black gesso and develop it into a mixed media work these two weeks. Here’s how I began:
Then I pawed around in my mountains of collage materials, cut some things out, and started to feel a story coming when I found two main pictorial elements:
When the smoke from the fires gets bad, I stay inside with the windows closed. But what can one do when the inside is your car or a tent or nothing? And a concrete overpass doesn’t even really count as a roof.
Since The Living Room closed its day shelter portion in March, due to pandemic risks, the staff has been going out to the homeless encampments to bring necessities and to offer case services.
There are several organizations visiting the homeless encampments in Santa Rosa with supplies and services. This sketch tells the story of Silvia, the outreach manager from The Living Room, out on the trail with her wagon of supplies, a listening ear and a lot of experience with helping people find housing.
I can hardly believe how quickly The Living Room is adapting to the needs of the homeless community since the Covid crisis began. They have doubled or tripled the number of people served. They are helping more people find shelter while opening new transitional living houses with casework services to help women and children secure permanent housing. In addition to Monday through Friday hot meals served through the window, they will be opening a food pantry as a satellite to Redwood Empire Food Bank.
When evacuation was lifted and we were able to come back to our home, we unloaded the car and collapsed. A week later I was able to sit myself down at the art table to put the feelings down on paper. Here’s what came, along with the Ashes, Ashes pieces I posted yesterday.
The Walbridge fire near us, the one that evacuated us, still burns. Many have lost their homes, and we will mourn with them, even while experiencing relief that most evacuations orders are lifted and the fire perimeter is holding.
I’ve heard from many of my friends that we are all weary of virus and fires and of smoky air that keeps us inside. We are unable to breathe deep and have feel that “it’s over now”. And we probably have three more months of “fire season” ahead.
The last two days I’ve turned back to my mixed media, expressive, intuitive Muse art to help me deal with those feelings that the mind has not been able to keep up with.
I grabbed a new bottle of black ink and as I dropped, splattered, smeared and scraped. . .
the words “ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” kept popping up. Hmmm. . .a nursery rhyme. Remember?
Ring around the rosies
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down!
So I decided to research the rhyme and here’s what I found! Ring-a-round therosie (probably in the Great Plague of London in 1665) referred to a red circular rash common in some forms of plague. The posies would have represented the different flowers and herbs people carried to ward off disease. The ashes or a-tishoo and falling down was supposed to mimic sneezing and eventually dying from the disease.
It seems that fire and plague have joined hands again!
And so I did another on the same theme, with the rosies/posies and ashes and that red orange we’ve seen on the horizon of late, either at sunset or sunrise, tinting the sun and the moon.
Rosies and posies, fire and plague. No wonder I can’t get the mind around it. But art can.
Earlier this month I attended a Dance Party. Now before you freak out. . .it was another virtual event, meaning you get to dance by yourself pretending that you’re not. Although I actually enjoy knowing that no one is watching!
But it wasn’t even a Dance Party, but rather a sketch meet up organized by my friend Laurie Wigham of the SF Urban Sketchers group. The rest of the event title was Tiny Desk Musicians, which conjured up miniature people standing on a desk making music. I had to try this!
And it was better than I imagined. The Tiny Desk Concerts from NPR’s All Songs Considered have featured fabulous musicians performing live at Bob Boilen’s desk in the NPR Music office. In our Zoom meet up, after introducing ourselves we broke out for an hour to sketch from the video footage, picking the groups we liked and sketching.
I did indeed have to dance for a bit with Cima Funk. I LOVE Funk and these guys had it going on, and they were so much fun to watch.
Another favorite for listening and sketching was the Tedeschi Trucks Band, with a female vocalist and blues, jazz and more.
Bomba Estereo was not my choice of music but the singer with the orange hair and oversized white glasses was irresistible, visually speaking.
And as I was getting tired, I attempted one more, and was so mesmerized by the music, that I just kept painting and painting, trying to deepen the dark skin tones until I think I overdid it. What to do? Splatter paint, of course.
Playing a bit of catch up here. Mid month, before all the lightning and fire business, I spent a sunny morning sketching with friends at the historic China Camp Fishing Village right on the bay waters in San Rafael.
The weathered buildings in this Chinese shrimping outpost, whose heyday was in the 19th century, were so appealing to the eye, with their textured woods and sloping lines. This house belonged to the last Chinese resident there, who ran a little cafe long after the shrimping business had died out.
Now the village is well populated by day with families who are drawn by the uncrowded beach and picnic areas.
The history of discrimination against the Chinese immigrants was a dark chapter in our nation’s history. Regrettably our treatment of immigrants is still appalling in this country. I found myself wishing I could have met Frank Quan before he died in 2016 and heard some of his stories of life on the bay.
Before the fire season got off to a roaring start with lightning strikes and wildland fires all over California, I had been occasionally enjoying the company of the donkeys and goats that live at the bottom of our road. After my dinner I would take a bucket of apples down in the cool of the early evening. They would see me approaching and come running. Did me a world of good to suddenly be so popular.
I’ve tried many times before to sketch them at the fence where they are so adorable and engaging, but it’s impossible with all the movement. So one time I kept them waiting for their apples, while I took pictures.
The donkeys are not that much bigger than the biggest goats and I had to distract the goats who are more aggressive at the fence.
Then last week, as we were packing for a fire evacuation I noticed that the field was empty and the donkeys and goats had beat us to evacuation.
Perhaps they were taken to the county fairgrounds, or perhaps a friend’s pasture, but I hope to see them home soon. It would do my nerves a world of good to have my animal friends gobbling apples from my hands again.
It’s been an exhausting and stressful week of evacuation to three different places in the Bay Area, to friends’ homes and a hotel. But our area was saved, thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, police, prison inmate crews, pilots, local authorities, rescuers from far away, and so many more.
We came home yesterday to a yellow ribbon on our mailbox “crime scene” which we figured was placed there when the police made their rounds of mandatory evacuation areas. Otherwise there is a dusting of ash, a lot of fallen apples, neighbors with their own stories to tell, and Sylvester the cat who no longer lives here, but hangs out here all day.
We still have a friend who is waiting for news of whether her house will be saved. And of course there are all the families who have already lost their homes, and that rests heavily on my heart. I’d like to say I’ll get right out and do more fire story sketches as I did in 2017 and 2018, but I haven’t had the extra energy to sketch through this crisis. One spends so much time just making it through the day, calling and texting friends and family, moving possessions in and out of the car.
And now I just want to enjoy home again. After all, that is the greatest gift when you almost lose yours and then don’t.