Tuesday, March 13, 2018


One of the things I like best about the world is that there are many little worlds within the world.  There are worlds that are very familiar to me, and many more I don't even know.  The worlds I dwell in include painters, dog-owners, and people who blog.  We have our own language, tools, ways of meeting, and things other people just wouldn't get.  I once was a band parent and a folk-dancer.  There are wine-drinkers, golfers, bingo-players, sailors, motorcyclists, swap meet people, runners, bookclubs and birdwatchers.  Families are little worlds, as are religious communities, schools and neighborhoods.  There are millions of online communities surrounding games and other interests or shared experience.  There are groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers that come together to support their members.  

When you do things alone, you can challenge yourself and set goals, but you can't compete with yourself, and, even if you could, you could still cheat with impunity.  You can affirm yourself and encourage yourself, but when you need encouragement and affirmation the very most, you will find it the hardest to deliver.  So in the online art world, there are challenges.  The challenges foster community and competition.  There are a few different challenges I've participated in and shared here.  One is the Every Day in May challenge, where we receive 31 drawing subject prompts, one for each day, and each day we prepare and post a sketch.  These are some of my favorites from 2016.

I am aware of challenges for writers and fitness buffs and beer drinkers.  I've no doubt that every stripe of community has (or could have) challenges to encourage greater levels of experience or accomplishment.  I checked, because I was curious, and found all sorts of challenges.  Typically, challenges last for a set duration of time, often 30 days.  I found this collection of 30 challenges  and this collection of 100 challenges.  The latter also references a book with 500 challenges.  I think if you wanted to do them all, you would have to overlap significantly, or you just wouldn't have time.  I think I could use a good challenge.  Anybody out there want to make a challenge?  I'll  take it, but you have to try it too.  


Thursday, March 8, 2018


This is a less recognizable view of the Tournament of Roses House, or Wrigley Mansion, on Orange Grove in Pasadena.  The mansion was designed by architect G. Lawrence Stimson for his parents and built starting in 1906.  The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 brought about an unexpected shortage of building materials, and the construction wasn't complete until 1914 - the same year Wrigley's Doublemint Gum debuted.  William Wrigley Jr. and his wife Ada then bought the home in 1916, adding to their already significant collection of mansions.  The Rose Parade was already a thing, and the Wrigleys enjoyed a fine view of it.  The Wrigleys bought and razed the house next door on Orange Grove, and made room for the roses in the foreground of this painting.  In 1958, the Wrigley family gifted the mansion to the Tournament of Roses.  Rose Queens are crowned here.  Many months out of the year, there isn't too much going on at the Tournament House; during those months the roses are at their best.  There is an enormous front lawn, and I think if I had power or sway or organizational skills, I would found a bocce tournament at the Tournament House lawn.
This was painted slightly less than two years ago, so don't be tempted to draw any conclusions about current trends in my paintings.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Teachers hear so many things from children that it is difficult to surprise them.  But every so often a student says something so remarkably insightful or so incredibly stupid that a teacher’s face shows palpable amazement.  I put that look on a teacher’s face once with a statement that was not really clever or silly.  My seventh grade history teacher Mrs. Eddas (I think) had just finished a lesson.  There was some time left before class was over.  Mrs. Eddas asked the class what we should do next.  I don’t remember what our likely choices were.  There might have been some kind of history trivia we played.  Maybe quiet study time; maybe a quick film; maybe a preview of the next chapter.  I said, “let’s do nothing.”  Mrs. Eddas claimed she had never heard of a child wanting to do nothing.  Apparently children were constantly in states of motion, noise and need.  I probably didn’t mean literally nothing, which is basically impossible to do.  And while I recall Mrs. Eddas’s reaction, I don’t recall exactly my motivation.  Was it just my laziness?  Or was my mindfulness advanced far beyond my years?   Now that my time is all my own, I think I spend far too much time doing nearly nothing. 

I think nothing is one of those totally illusive things.  Where you think there is nothing, there is a vacuum, or space, or a back hole.  There is silence or inactivity.  There is a secret or something you forgot. 

There are all kinds of rules about composition, applying to photographs as well as drawings and paintings.  One must have a focal point.  The focal point can’t be dead-center, and it can’t be falling off the edge of the page.  There will also be visual elements of secondary interest.  There must be contrast, particularly in values, but also in shapes and edges.  The composition must lead your eyes back into the picture.  Artists, however, are rule-breakers.  Furthermore, there aren’t really art police.   There are only other artists and observers of art.  So you will see works of art that depict nothing identifiable, works of art that are as minimal as a single dot or line, and pure White Paintings.  Paintings of nothingness.

 A picture need not be a picture of something.  When I stare into space, and someone asks me what I’m looking at, I respond “nothing.”  Much as you might catch me thinking of nothing.  But of course there’s something in front of me and my eyes are open and the image on my retina sends signals to my brain.  I think this painting is a little of the nothingness I might look into.  Not to say I don’t think it’s beautiful; I do.  It follows rules of composition, I think; the focal point is an empty space.  Honestly I didn’t even remember where it was, although I do remember sitting on a slope beneath a tree.  I think it was Deukmajian Park, but it might be Devil’s Gate Dam.  The sky looks like any kind of weather could happen, and the grass could be tall or minute, the hill slope steep or tiny.  I think I know why I painted it, but there’s nothing that you would guess at.  

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Russians

Early in the existence of this blog, I installed a free version of Site Meter, which enabled me to track some pretty specific information about visitors to the blog.  Then at some point I could no longer see or link to Site Meter.  I explored a little on the internet, and learned that there were concerns about the security of Site Meter, and i made no effort to recover it.  Recent internet research informs me that Site Meter now is no more.  

Blogger is the host of the blog.   Along with design and other nice assistance for a non-programmer like me, Blogger provides some statistics about page visits.  I’m able to find out approximately how many page visits the blog receives, and how visitors are referred - whether by another website or by a search, and what search terms brought visitors.  Back in the days when the internet was a smaller place, the blog was much higher on search results.  I am able to tell what proportion of blog visitors use what operating system.  I can tell where blog visitors are located, although not with very much specificity.  There is world map where countries housing blog visitors show up in green.  

There aren’t a lot of surprises.  The blog has a small audience, which includes me, mostly but not exclusively located in the United States.  But you know where else?  Russia.  I sometimes look at Russian blogs, but not significantly often. I draw some limited conclusions here, about just how busy and thorough someone in Russia is on the internet.  I am curious to see the statistical results for this post, and whether it brings about any change.  Here is the map showing all time page views, and the numbers.

Entry            Pageviews
United States         39720
Russia                    8907
China                     2571
France                   1322
Germany                1188
Ukraine                   767
United Kingdom      719
Poland                    523
South Korea           500
Brazil                      409

The chickens up at the top have nothing to do with Russians, at least as far as I know.  They belong to one of the painters I paint with and his wife.  Despite appearances, there were only two chickens.  Each chicken appears more than once.  I have thought that I would do better to sketch people with the same dispassionate observation I sketch chickens.  People seem more complicated to me.  But probably not to the chickens.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Provenance of Plants

The appropriate painting to go with this title finally came around.  But then I took a photograph to lead.  In my teens, as now, I had a pretty great fondness for plants.   My friend told me that another friend’s mother said that if you received a plant as a gift, the plant would thrive or struggle the same as your relationship with the giver.  I’ve not proven that, but I do try to keep a close watch over plants that were gifts.  I no longer keep plants indoors.  They can be a little messy; my cat is wont to mess with them, and besides I have a yard and a front porch and a gentle climate. 

All my potted plants have come to me at some place and time for some reason.  Some were gifts. Several I’ve selected at plant sales and nurseries.  There is a local garden club plant swap; relatives and friends have provided cuttings from their own plants.  None of my plants dates back to those years in my teens, and there is at least one reason for that  The last place I lived was a townhouse.  I kept my potted plants along a wall by my front door.  Some of the plants were really lovely specimen palms and cacti I’d had for years.  I had to move them when waterproofing work was done, and deep trenches were dug outside all the exterior walls.  I moved the plants under a big pine tree along side the driveway close to the street.  The waterproofing work took a few months.  I remember it was 1991.  My second son was born and my father died.  One day I came home and my potted plants were gone.  Presumably taken; unquestionably gone.  

Two more times, since I moved to my current home, I’ve had plants stolen.  One time two or three small young bonsai trees were taken; I think it must have been in May, because I remember a friend of mine opined that it was kids looking for presents to give their mothers.  Made me wonder how my friend used to acquire his Mothers’ Day gifts.  The other time was soon after this painting was painted on my front porch on a rainy day.  The two small plants in the center of the painting were taken.  They were nice little plants in nice little pots.  They might have been nice gifts for someone.    

I have some remaining plants with interesting origin stories.  Once in this blog, I mentioned that an old guy at the Joshua Tree Motel gave me beavertail cactus.  That cactus grew and still lives in a pot.  Several pieces of it grew in other pots.  One pot fell over and the cactus grew up in my rose garden.  That is the cactus in the photograph.  I’ve also learned that it isn’t a beavertail cactus, but some other kind of opuntia.  I have a kalanchoe with orange flowers, along with several of its offspring.  I gave the kalanchoe to my husband on the occasion of his vasectomy.  I have string of hearts plants that came from a plant my parents told me came from a plant that they admired when they were shopping for a home.  As far as know, I don’t possess any stolen plants.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018


There are many classes, books, and YouTube tutorials addressing how to control watercolor paint.  On that topic, I have a couple of thoughts.  You can definitely learn how to control watercolors.  And, why would you want to?  The strength (as well as the challenge) of watercolor is that the paint behaves like water; it flows and it runs.  Some surfaces resist it, and other surfaces suck it up like a sponge.  It is subject to the whimsey of the weather.  It dries and disappears, and only the color remains in two dimensions.  Some of the nicest parts of this painting happened because I let watercolor act like itself.  Two different colors were mixed for the tree trunk, and you can see how the pigments started separating themselves on the paper in the moments before the paint dried.  There is a mid ground patch of amorphous foliage that is pink at the top fading downward to green;  I didn't actually paint that lovely transition, I just let color bleed into wet paint.  There are a few areas on the left side - the largest one in green - with efflorescent edges.  I didn't paint those edges; they occurred because I added wet paint to less wet paint.

People often comment that watercolor is difficult.  Probably they are noting that watercolor paint is sometimes difficult to control, and that once you paint something in watercolor, you will not be able to scrape it off or hide it under more paint.  You can't just wipe out your mistakes or changes of heart.  Things will stay pretty much as you painted them.  Yeah.  Life is hard too.  

This was painted at the Pasadena Museum of History, and depicts a building that is not open to visitors.  It is for administration or something.  Pink azaleas were in bloom and I painted them too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Speaking of Love

Since last year I've been volunteering at Edmund D. Edelman Children's Court, with the Free Arts program.  We serve children who are dependents of the court by providing arts and crafts activities in the waiting area.  Our objective is just to engage the children and distract them from crappy stuff that is going on in their lives.  We provide them with an opportunity to be creative and express themselves.  We are not art therapists, but some of our projects are designed by art therapists, and all the projects are deemed to have potential therapeutic value.  One of the projects is a "Things I Love" collage.  We start conversations with the children about love, including how loving things is different from loving people.  You may love your sibling, your friend, a celebrity, your pet, french fries, your shoes, your video games, and doing art.  This is probably as far as the conversation with the children goes.

But really it isn't just a difference between loving people and things; we have a completely distinct feeling of love for every person and thing we love, and those feelings are subject to change.  The Greeks had two different words for love, but I don't think either of them would specifically capture many of the ways most of us love.  There are other words we use that are equally uncommunicative, such as thing, amazing and hate.  We could limit our use of these words, but I think love is a nice word and we should not hesitate to use it.  We can just add more information.  I could say to my children: I love you, and not a day goes by that your existence doesn't give me joy; my heart bursts with pride in you and the people you are, and you enrich my life by being good, kind, smart, responsible, hardworking, interesting and fun.  (And that is about my children collectively, rather than how I specifically and differently love each of them.)  About coffee, I could say: I love coffee because I am enticed by its aroma and distinctive flavor; it gives shape to my mornings, gives me a boost in the afternoon, and I am reasonably certain it makes me smarter.  Of this painting, I could say I love this painting; it is one of my very favorites that I have painted; it is big and has great colors, values, and calligraphy.  There is nothing I would change - not even the crooked windows; I am proud and happy that I painted this.  It was painted at California Institute of Technology in 2016.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


When I paint out in the world, I need to first pick a subject.  If I don't see something on the horizon to make a picture, I draw my gaze closer - from the forest to a tree, from a cityscape to a doorway.  I am nearsighted anyhow.  In this  instance, I visually plucked some flowers from an abundant garden.

A handful of people tell me with some frequency that I should paint flowers more often.  Generally, though, I don't feel like it.  I am forever grateful that Cezanne,Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Merian painted flowers.    But I can't get past the feeling that my own paintings aren't nearly as nice as living (or cut) flowers.  They do at least last longer.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


This is to be another two-picture post.  I don't like either of the pictures enough to make a whole post about them.  Here is one.
What is I do like about this painting is the way i was able to simplify.  From this.  

Here's the other.  
This one is also rather simplified from the Mount Washington hillside that inspired it.  Although the trees, while stylized, are a little fussy.   In my quest to make my greens more natural than what comes from tubes, I think I went a bit far this time.  The grayish overall tone does provide a contrast to the splashes of color.   I'm not really such a harsh critic of my own work.  I just don't care for all of it.  And I constantly wish it were better.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Place & Time & Yellow

Monrovia Canyon Park February 2016.  Although I think they aren't much as paintings, they serve to remind me of a warm and  beautiful day, right down to details like butterflies and cellphone reception.   Which really kind of sums up the joys of painting outdoors on location.  You are in the scene; you are in the moment; you are deeply involved with what you are seeing as well as feeling and smelling, moment by moment as the sun moves through the sky, and the shadows across the ground.

Like many of my contemporaries, I begin stories with "maybe I've already told you this. . ."  But Blogger has a handy search feature, so we need not worry.  A few years ago, I met another painter.  I first encountered him and his work at street fair kind of art show.  I liked his work best, I suppose because of his chosen subjects, compositions, colors and paint application.  Later on, I attended a demonstration of his and took his first ever plein air class.  He taught some good practical things and he was encouraging.  As time passed we painted together a few times before he moved out of the country.  That's the background.  One time we painted at Caltech.  He looked at my painting and said I painted pretty well, but why didn't I use yellow?  He said people respond to yellow and that yellow sells paintings.  This seemed kind of funny, but I've told it to other people, and when I see a painting that everybody seems to like, it is not surprising if yellow predominates.

Like most of my lessons in painting and in life, I learn them and remember them, but they bounce around in my head for a long time before I actually apply them.  When I paint out now, I almost always use yellow.  I figure out where my lights and highlights will be, where my shadows will be, and where I can use yellow.  I started that sometime after these paintings.