Watercolor sketches

Trees and tombstones

Some sketches from last week. Late afternoon is a magical time in the garden, and one day I enjoyed some time before dinner, sketching the entrance to our home which is on a private road.mailboxwelcome

Mr. Frog used to spout fountain water, but later was retired to the garden. I found him under some plants which were towering over him, and invited him to pose for the sketch, which needed an accent at the bottom.

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Another day I met Cathy and Bettina at the rural cemetery in Santa Rosa. My first sketch was a study of the various shapes of the old tombstones from the 1800’s. I put them close together to make a single shape, since none of the them were particularly interesting in themselves.

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Then I became mesmerized trying to sketch this tree. Nothing like a beautiful tree to lose oneself while painting!

More on location sketching, yay!

The agapanthas, those tall lacy clusters along our walkway, are just starting to bloom. They’ve been here for longer than our 20 years in this home. And this afternoon I sat down to try and figure out how to sketch them, and the rest of the scene. . .agapanthas1

As I was sketching the birds and the bees were checking me out, or so I thought. I like to think I’m accepted by the plant and animal kingdoms even though I spend the majority of my time in my house/studio with frequent and all too brief forays into the outdoors. The hummingbirds, whose feeder is to my right, did that suspension in mid air thing as if to say, what are you doing here? And Sylvester the cat, who has never let me pet him, talked to me in that soft kitty way that I wish I understood.

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It ended up being more about the red geranium because, of course, it’s a scene stealer.

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Yesterday I made another trip to the farmer’s market and had a different vantage point than last week. Turning my head in a 180 degree arc I found enough subjects of interest and just piled them up to make a single scene. The conversation I overheard was yet another typically local one which included the remark “I can’t believe my brother is a Trump supporter!”

Sketch Stories in Pandemic Times

Have you been wondering how to get your hair cut in these perplexing times? Well I took things into my own hands and at least got some of it out of my eyes. The scissors I grabbed were not so sharp and I had to get my glasses to see well enough, but it more or less worked.

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So how did I sketch this when both hands were occupied with the hair? The iPhone is good for so many things, like the timed selfie picture. So I leaned it up against the wall below the mirror.  etc etc.

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Another day I ventured out to buy some plants for my spring garden. My local nursery, Harmony Farms was mobbed with people anxious to plant their vegetable gardens, so I stopped by Ace hardware and found some plants. They were all set up with the plexi window and masks to protect the cashiers, but it became a comedy act as I was asked to shove my plant under the window and lost a bit of soil and flowers in the process. (The sketch is from memory.)

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My friend Bettina lives next to the old, historic part of the Santa Rosa cemetery. The back gate of her garden leads directly into this wonderland of historic oaks and vines and every shade of green. Nature has aggressively moved to reclaim this final resting place. A dense sprinkling of rain started just as I set up my stool to sketch this story, so I collected some pictures and later put it together in this.

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Yesterday I went to town and sat in the plaza to see what action I could capture. Sebastopol is a small town where as far as I can tell people are taking the Shelter in Place and social distancing order pretty seriously. The main event that Friday morning was a helicopter circling noisily overhead. I wonder why? After sitting for a while in an empty plaza finally at noon there were a handful of folks in family groups eating lunch.

The sign on the road made my day though.

Kindness is also contagious

Spread it around!

Final Days New Orleans

We set out on another Garden District walk, inching up Jackson Street with a stop here to admire the palm fronds spilling over the sidewalk, and there to gawk at the boughs of trees that extended down to the earth and up again, and there to catch sight of the bird serenading us with vigor. We took pictures of lichen painted leaning fences and antique gate handles with rich verdigris patina.

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Until finally we just sat down on the sidewalk to sketch the next house. This one looked a bit run down and haunted, causing a passerby to query “Why are you drawing this house?” (meaning, because there are so many nicer looking mansions)

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We were headed to one of the historic cemeteries where people were buried above ground inside the tombs, since the water table in the city is so high. The gates were locked and the cemetery closed while much needed maintenance and repairs were happening. But the view from outside the gate was fascinating. There are so many places in New Orleans like this, with a Halloween vibe that makes you want to carve a pumpkin, go trick or treating or read a gothic novel.

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Next day we took two buses (for $.40 total fare) to a neighborhood down river aptly named Bywater. And there I believe we encountered not one other tourist! We walked along the Mississippi on a trail reclaimed from post-Katrina devastation and found a jewel of a hipster lunch cafe.

NOLA17 After lunch we found a hurdy gurdy man outside his music/clothing/etc. resale shop who was friendly and excited to have some prospective customers or at least people interested in the hurdy gurdy.

The houses in Bywater were smaller than the Garden District, but were so charmingly diverse and colorful, that in the interests of time, we did thumbnail paintings.

As we were leaving we talked to a woman who pointed out an intersection nearby that had “bad juju” so that none of the businesses survived for long. She also shared what she’d had to do to exorcise the spirits from her house with a combination of Feng Shui and Voodoo or something like that. Like I said. . .the stuff of Halloween.

Later in the day on the way home I stopped at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium because I love bugs! I think it comes from having raised two little boys with whom I spent lots of time finding chrysalids, following butterflies and bringing crickets home for the leopard gecko and  praying mantis. As I walked through the museum I kept having flashbacks of my little boys faces lit up with delight! So of course I revelled in the exotic butterflies and beetles and tasted the bugs in the cafeteria. They have no taste on their own, but are quite tasty with cajun spices and in chocolate chip cookies!

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And then it was our last day, with just enough time to wander in and out of all the strange and wonderful shops on Magazine St, grab a last sketch, and meet Brenda.

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Somehow we started talking while she was waiting for the bus and I was loitering. It wasn’t long before I learned that she’d worked in the medical field her whole life and had lost her home in Katrina, and that her son had died two years ago. And then she said something that has stuck with me since, as I’ve contemplated the repercussions of the pandemic crisis. She said that what people gained from Katrina was a greater knowledge of what’s really important in life – kindness and caring for each other.

As we parted we shook hands (the last of that act for a long time now!) and introduced ourselves.  It felt a bit like a blessing to take with me on the airplane and into my life at home with the (bad) news digesting and the hand washing and social distancing. . .a blessing to stay kind and caring and find a way to look out for each other.

If you’ve stuck with this travelogue this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you are finding a way to live with the onslaught of news and lifestyle changes. Stay well and let’s stay connected in all the ways we can.

And do lots of art of whatever kind you have access to!

NOLA Part II

On Saturday we met up with the New Orleans Urban Sketchers at the Historic New Orleans Collection  in the French Quarter. I must admit that another museum was not what I would have chosen on a sunny day in a city with so many sights to see. But we were welcomed with a heady combination of southern hospitality and urban sketcher friendliness. We were given a lovely sunny courtyard with French Quarter architecture and a history-savvy docent, away from the tourist-choked Royal St. outside.

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By this point I knew better than to spend my time with the frustration of ornate balconies and walls of columns and shutters, and picked the vignettes that told my chosen story. The scent of alyssum and violets behind the curtained window afforded flashbacks of my mother and grandmother.

For those of you who are sketchers, my sketchbooks were hand-sewn signatures of CP Fluid 100 paper which later will be bound in a book. The above size is the smaller, 7.5X11″ when open, as above.

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When we emerged again onto Royal St. we were hungry, but wandered a while, checking out the shops devoted to Mardi Gras, wild hats and jewelry, and hot sauces before settling on the Royal House for lunch.

Then back to more of the History Museum. One thing I learned from a week in NOLA was that my taste for history had not been totally destroyed in school by chapter books and memorized battle dates!

One sign in the exhibit: in a life sized picture which put the viewer in a seat in one of the early trolley cars: DEATH RIDES THE HIGHWAYS, BUT YOU ARE SAFE IN THE TROLLEY CAR!  Ironic that in the day of the Corona virus one might feel safer in ones car  on the highway than in a trolley car.

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And then one of the high points of the trip, the street musicians I’d hoped to hear, and in particular Doreen, who could lean back and blow that clarinet with every muscle and cell of her body and make you want to weep with it. That’s her husband on tuba and daughter on drums. Standing across the street in a crowd I managed to draw this and paint it later.

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She had glittery blue braided into her hair. Afterwards I shamelessly asked for her picture, and tired as she was from a long session on the busy streets, she beamed that warm smile.doreenandI

Note the vestiges of Mardi Gras on the balcony above, which one finds everywhere in the city. As we walked the streets of the French Quarter there were small marching bands and processions on every other street “celebrating” funerals,  weddings, and who knows what! When we reached Bourbon Street, where the amped music flooded the street along with liquor that permeated the air, we headed home.

 

Westside Farm

We’re all concerned about a February month without a drop of rain in our rainy season. But that hasn’t stopped us from glorying in the gorgeous “spring” weather we’ve been having. It’s such a treat to be able to sit out in the direct sun to sketch without becoming overheated or burning.

I haven’t driven out Westside Road in ages, even though it’s so close to my home. Many of the wineries were closed, or appointment only, on Saturday. I guess because it’s off season? Westside Farm is not a winery, but an magnificently picturesque collection of aging barns backed by vineyards. 

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This shack/shed hung off the back of one of the mammoth old barns whose roofs had become sieves. It tilted in wonderful ways that gave it personality. I sat on my three legged stool while a big orange barn cat wrapped himself around my legs and the chickens in a nearby coop kept up a symphony of whines and clucks. It was heaven for a while, far away from other folks and the din of my home responsibilities!

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A perfect setting for a sketch with a backdrop of the Mayacama mountains, a curving path, fence, a stately tree, and a bit of red barn.

Jacuzzi Vineyards and the Olive Odyssey

Last Saturday it had been too long since I was out sketching on location! So I seized the opportunity with the No. Bay Urban Sketchers meet up at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards . A glorious sunny day and the special event was an Olive Odyssey! meaning tasting, tasting, tasting! (even olive iced tea!) and a mammoth crowd of bay area partygoers.

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Unfortunately due to an allergy attack I lasted only a while, doing my best to get something down on paper before heading home. But what a delight to sketch some building geometry!

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And then the noisy tasting crowd! Yes, this man on the left had wine glasses on his shirt to match the wine glass in his hand. That’s what I call a die-hard wine connoisseur! The ladies on the right were probably just as avid, but not quite dressed to impress.

The Sweetest Cat no longer in this world

We’ve known for the past month that our beloved Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, was preparing for his final passage. It almost seemed he was waiting to spend his last days with the boys who grew up with him. Who can know such things? They lavished him with attention in the two weeks they were here for the holidays and he responded with steady purrs and the kitty conversation Phil was known for. He passed away on the evening the full moon rose.

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All my students and many folks who came to open studios over the years will remember Phil, because he was the official greeter, happy to receive a neck or belly scratch from all visitors.

I’ve gone back in history to find sketches and paintings of Phil I have posted here on the blog. The above collage is his “official” portrait, hanging in our home along with other beloved pets.

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I was never able to sketch or garden in our yard without the company of Phil. He would nudge me to let me know I must give him attention before I could get on with my business.

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When I was trimming plants in the garden I would have to take special care not to snip his whiskers or tail, because he couldn’t seem to get close enough and was always talking.

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Phil would eventually find a spot on the bench to nap after a long spell of purring.

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Phil was a teenager when he adopted us about 17 years ago, just showing up and insisting in no uncertain terms that we belonged to him!

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He acquired the habit of throwing himself down suddenly in front of people on our walkway, exposing his belly, with a clear message that he was to receive love before one could proceed.

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And then Sylvester showed up, and his devotion to Phil was so complete that even though Phil gave him the message, in no uncertain terms, that this property was  his territory, Sylvester persisted. . .and eventually they came to terms with the arrangement and became Phil and Syl, eating, sleeping, and lounging together. When I finally got around to doing Sylvester’s portrait, I knew it would be incomplete without his best friend.

Recently on the cold winter nights when Phil was so weak, Sylvester warmed him with his body and checked on him throughout the day.

This may not be the end of my portrait-making of Phil, though it is the end of Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, who we will never forget! The boys want to plant a tree in the yard for him above where he is buried.

We would love to hear any of your memories of this lovable feline family member!

Grandma Buddy’s Trees

My son Andrew is arriving tomorrow and Ben the next day, and I was rushing to get a tree before the next rainstorm which is due today. Grandma Buddy’s Tree Farm is five minutes from our home, so I popped in to get a tree yesterday, and scored the most gorgeous freshly cut 6 foot tree for a bargain price. There was no time to sit and sketch the fairyland barn draped with “snowy” wreaths, electric trains, candy canes and hot chocolate. . .

But remembering a lovely afternoon spent by the pot bellied stove there December 2016, I will turn the clock back and re-blog those sketches.

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Thank you Grandma Buddy!

 

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Now I better get back to decorating that tree! If you haven’t gotten yours yet, you’d do well to get over to Graton’s Grandma Buddy’s

Gypsy and Rose

Catching up a bit with posting sketches. On another lovely fall day BF (before the fire) I headed over to the Russian River Rose Co. to catch the gypsy music and buy some of their freshly harvested and divinely distilled rose water.

As I took my seat in the generous shade of a tree bordering the rose garden and sipped my cup of Russian tea, Jan Tolmasoff, the co-owner with her husband Michael, introduced the “gypsy” musician Joella and shared the process they undertake each year to harvest over a ton of rose petals, which get distilled into a small quantity of fragrance. Starting in the dark at 4:30am, wearing miners’ hats they collected petals from 400 rose bushes!

Along with the fresh rose fragrances another of my favorite things on visits at the Rose Co. is the butterfly garden. I don’t know how they manage it, but their pipevine (host to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly) was still climbing the trellise, green and vibrant. (Mine was eaten to the ground by caterpillars months ago.)

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I have to admit I was really hoping to hear a real gypsy violinist of the eastern European variety. When I was 21 and traveling in Hungary and Yugoslavia I remember on more than one occasion eating dinner in a roadside inn where a gypsy violinist was in the corner playing the most heartbreakingly romantic folk music. . .I’ve been trying ever since to find music that would have a comparable effect.