Camellias Sketchcrawl style

Saturday, four hardy artists braved the cold temperatures and sallied forth to Descanso Gardens for a sketchcrawl. Because it was sprinkling, our first stop was the Japanese teahouse with its sheltering roof, which protected us from the morning drizzle. We sketched there for an hour or more and then, seeing that the sun was peeking occasionally through the clouds, we ventured out into another part of the garden.

I stopped at a camellia bush where I painted this cluster for a little while. I used a page in my Canson watercolor journal that I had previously started at the Chinatown parade, then rapidly gave up on. (Digression warning) The only scribble on said page was a stiltwalker in drag wearing a slinky Chinese dress. Think “Al” from ToolTime (the flannel-shirted, bearded one) wearing a dress from The World of Suzie Wong, only imagine him 10 feet tall. Got the picture? There simply wasn’t time to capture him/her in all his/her glory, so I gave up somewhere between the mandarin collar and the flash of beefy thigh. However, being of a frugal nature, I painted over the page with a few coats of Liquitex acryllic gesso (white) figuring I’d do something else in that space.

The else moment arrived on Saturday. I painted these using my portable w/c palette (which I have since misplaced, unfortunately.) The first challenge was trying to figure out the values of the colors when the light conditions went from full sun to dark stormy clouds, minute by minute. The next challenge was painting directly without doing any drawing or sketching underneath. Usually shadows provide positive and negative spaces to get ones bearings with. But everytime the sun went away the image “flattened out” and the shadows disappeared.

The final challenge involved the medium itself. The watercolor flowed smoothly over the gessoed surface and was surprisingly malleable until it dried. I’m guessing that the gesso prevented it from sinking into the paper, so the pigment was simply a dry layer on the surface. When raindrops started falling, it created dissolved water drop marks. Before I panicked, I realized that it looked somewhat like raindrops clinging to the petals. Hmmm. An accident becomes a technique. “Why yes, um, er, I did plan it exactly that way, timing my painting so the waterdrops would fall just so at the appropriate moment.” Sorry, Karen, not very convincing. At any rate, I stopped painting before the droplets turned the whole thing into a runny splotchy mess.

I had a nice moment when some camellia watchers came by and asked if they could see what I was doing, which I happily shared with them.

So that’s my sketchcrawl story. I am now in pursuit of the missing palette which I surmise may be proof positive of poltergeist activity in my house. When I find it, I suspect a lost shaker of salt will be nearby. Wasted away again in Watercolorville.


  1. Lin
    February 19, 2006

    OH THIS IS SO NEAT, raindrops and all, Karen .. of COURSE your timing is impeccable when it comes to your art!! Hope you find your wc pallette …!

  2. TeriC
    February 19, 2006

    What an unique way to get dew drops on your painting! There is no end to your resourcefulness Karen. :) The flower is beautiful!

  3. DrumsNWhistles
    February 20, 2006

    My 95-year old grandma served as a docent at Descanso Gardens until she became too ill to continue. As a kid, she’d take me there on Sunday afternoons and tell me about all of the different flowers. For some reason, the camellias are the ones that I most remember.

    Your drawing brings back all of those lovely warm memories for me. She passed away in December, and her wish for a memorial was a bench in Descanso. Thank you for posting this.


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