­ Minerva Getty

Minerva – 9 x 12 graphite drawing on pastel paper – after Nollekens

Yesterday I had the opportunity to return to the Hillside Getty in Sepulveda Pass for a little drawing practice. I just had time for two drawings this time – This first was this Minerva, the Roman equivalent of Athena, goddess of war. Unlike the Malibu Getty where there are numerous seats for viewing the sculptures, at the Hillside Getty they want you to keep moving so drawing means standing and balancing the sketchbook on your arm which is what I needed to do here. I much prefer the stability of working on my lap, but sometimes you just need to make do.

There were throngs of people, as usual. I started drawing this from one angle which was completely unsatisfactory and I turned the page over to begin again. A group of women walked by and asked if they could look. Rarely, I say no, but this time I did. “Is it bad luck?” one asked. “Yes, I said, it’s bad luck.” Gotta remember that one. Later another woman asked to see and I was far enough along that I was happy to show her the drawing in progress and we chatted for awhile about both Gettys and their Friday evening drawing class which happens twice a month. The gallery guard stopped by periodically to see my progress, too. He was a really nice guy and seemed to enjoy seeing the drawing take form. He said that an artist occasionally draws upstairs in the painting gallery but he scowls at anyone who attempts to speak to him so that says to me that people generally don’t know what kind of reaction they’ll get from someone who’s drawing. If I’m drawing indoors with plenty of time, I don’t mind stopping and chatting. But if I’m chasing the light with a watercolor outdoors, whoa, that’s a different story and I’m guessing my body language communicates that, too.

Communicating Pairs – Illustration Friday

“Communicating Pairs” 9″ x 7 3/4″
Watercolor and mixed media on board

$150 + shipping …
Purchase from the artist

For Illustration Friday on the theme of “Communication.”

Something winged this way comes

I am frustrated today because my Yahoo email is bouncing and every reactivation request I’ve put in is not working. I get error messages back that reassure me that Yahoo is working hard to upgrade its sites to serve me better and if I don’t hear anything after 4 hrs to get updates here (and then it shuttles me to a generic FAQ page. Updates? Hah! Nada.) I don’t know what else I can do now but wait. I’ve followed all the steps including trying to reactivate myself from a group I moderate.

So this lack of results has put me in a rather peevish mood, but since it’s Halloween and the time for the thinning of the veils and such, I’ll tell you a story of synchronicity.

Many years ago, oh best beloved, my dh and I were on an expedition in Egypt searching for ancient artifacts using remote viewing. It was tiring and hot but we loved nearly every minute of it, and cherished the moments that we could see other parts of that beautiful and fascinating country. One early evening, our drivers took us out to Saqqara where we watched sunset near the bent pyramid of Zoser. We sat on a hillside covered with loose rocks and rubble. I put my hand down and picked up one rock, turned it over, and there was a hieroglyphic of an ibis, headless. But the body clearly told me what kind of bird it was. That was a rare moment, holding a piece of history in my hand, rescued from what looked like a landfill.

Flash forward ten years or more, to another turbulent time. We were working on a show that had to do with native americans and the settling of the west, and I was looking for some props to use in filming a sequence. A chance visit to a garage sale (unrelated) turned up a bead loom with a bead weaving half completed. There was the ibis-like wading bird, again … but this time, without a tail. It felt like a visitation from an old friend.

Ibises in art seem to speak to me in some way. A benign, good way, even if they are headless. So, today when my dh had a meeting in Beverly Hills and offered the opportunity to ride along and go to the LA county art museum, I jumped at the chance. I had HAD it up to here with bouncing emails, thankfully a rare occurrence. On Halloween the museum was empty. I had the place to myself and I reveled in it. You can imagine my smile rounding the corner into the Egyptian gallery and coming across this beautiful bronze of an ibis which may have once been on a royal standard. I just had to stop and draw it, head, wings, tail and all.

When I got home tonight, I did a little research on the ibis and its symbolism. The bird is sacred to the Egyptian deity Thoth, the civilizer of men, who taught music, medicine, writing and magic and was associated with speech, literature, the arts and learning. And most appropriate today, on all hallows eve, Thoth was the author of the Book of the Dead, and he who helped or punished the departed as they made their trek to the underworld.

On these days when some believe the veil between worlds may thin, who knows what power ancient symbols may still hold – even if only to grant a smile and a moment of relaxing drawing pleasure.

Birthday lilies

I painted this interpretation of stargazers as a birthday card for a dear friend who I’ve known for more years than either one of us want to confess!
Watercolor and colored pencil on 140 #paper

Baby elephant walk

At the Wild Animal Park in San Diego we road a tram around a wide open savannah styled area, and at one point passed by the elephant territory where this baby was tossing hay into his mouth. Due to a tram breakdown in front of us we paused for a little while there, but not long enough to get a detailed drawing, so this was drawn later from a photo my husband took for me. I prefer to draw animals from life if they hold still, but that’s just not always possible. Still, I learned something from this experience that will help me the next time I encounter a live elephant and am not passing by at 10 miles an hour.

More often than not these days I’m trying to match the paper and art tool to the subject matter rather than drawing in one journal consistently. That’s why I have so many different books going, I suppose. For example, yesterday’s Hollywood and Highland jazz concert was drawn in a very smooth paper Moleskine with a brush pen. Using a brush pen on coarse recycled paper would have made it difficult to get fine detail. Trying to draw an elephant with charcoal on the “toothless” Moleskine would have been equally challenging. The native palms I posted a few days ago was done in a journal with white paper that accepts wet media. So I always have to remember to date the drawings to provide some sort of chronology. I don’t have one journal, I have a journal group or cluster that move forward like a mooing herd . It’s an odd system, but it works. And the variety of paper and media keeps me challenged and experimenting. And what’s more fun than that?

Descanso Koi

At the end of a great weekend, with everyone safely back home, or en route, I took a few minutes to paint these koi from a photo reference. In real life, they don’t hold still very well. This study will help me draw them when I encounter them again in the gardens.

These koi are from Mulberry Pond at Descanso, where they swim lazily all day in an idyllic setting. The pond got a total makeover this year, complete with a waterfall and other deluxe features like a special ledge that the koi can hide under if herons or raccoons come around. One of the days we were there we saw many small koi, less than an inch long, swimming in the water, proving that the koi are reproducing. Sadly, they will be eaten by the larger fish. If not, the pond would probably become overrun. I would have liked to have saved one of the small fry but I’d probably get caught for poaching. And I’ve never poached anything but a salmon.

This quick sketch is watercolor and colored pencil in my large size Moleskine cachet journal. Now, back to work for me.


Yesterday we went to San Diego Wild Animal Park, and these are some quick sketches I did of some gibbons. Because they were in motion most of the time, there was not much opportunity for detail. A suggestion of posture and behavior was about all I got.

I’ll write more later when I scan some other sketches, but overall the place was a disappointment. A realistic habitat is fantastic for the animals and important for conservation, but when many of the animals are so far away that you can’t see them, it leaves a little bit to be desired. These gibbons were among the few that were close enough to a viewing area to be seen. If you wanted to get see the giraffes closer than the distance of a few football fields from a moving tram, you had to purchase a special pricey photo safari on top of your park admission. If you’d like to see a cheetah run (or see the cheetah at all, in fact) sorry, that’s another special event.

I know that the costs of admission go toward caring for the animals, but I felt that the park overpromised and under delivered. The commercial that showed how close you could get to see the lions only applied if the lions deigned to go up next to the plexiglass window. There were only two lions on display, perched on a hillside quite a distance away. I’ll try some drawing from photo references we took.

I’ll have more to say about the good parts later.

Mandus Tail

As well as doing portraits, I’ve been doing a series of sketches of Mandu’s features – her tail, her paws, her eyes. More will be posted later. I’m exploring using different media to see which represents the texture the best. The graphite pencil seemed best for the smooth fuzzy tail as well as her scruffy flank. A few additional strokes attempt to describe a corduroy cushion on an old pressed wood oak chair. Northern noonday light was coming in the window to the right.

You Lookin’ at ME?

Yesterday, after we finished scrambling up and down streambanks and walking over gently sloped hillsides covered with pine straw, my husband and I headed back to the car. He had walked on ahead a few yards and was turned around in my direction when he saw a slithering not far from me. Experienced Boy Scout that he was, he did not yell “look out” or “freeze” or “stand where you are,” he uttered one emphatic word that instantly stopped me in my tracks. “SNAKE.”
I froze and quickly looked around me.
“In front of you and to your left about 7 feet.” Gingerly, I backed up and took the long way back up to the road.
He, of course, the intrepid and curious cameraman, had to investigate.

It was a rattler, and we were the interlopers. We gave the snake space and respect. It had already wound itself up into a neat coil and was ready to defend itself – firstly, by being smaller and inconspicuous, and secondly, if necessary, by striking.
My husband knew, of course, that it could only strike at 2/3 of its length, and it appeared to be about 3 feet in length (he had seen it extended, slithering.)

He offered to take a picture from a safe distance. “Don’t you want to draw it?” he asked.
What a guy! He knew I did.
I nervously hopped on one foot and the other and made frantic little yikesy noises as he approached it to get a better shot for me.
So the snake lived happily ever after and so did my husband, and I have a sketchbook entry to show for it.

From looking at photos on the net, my best guess is that this is a Crotalus oreganus helleri., which looks a lot like your generic diamondback rattler. I read that the western diamondback rattler has now been divided into 7 distinct species, but that taxonomy is disputed. Whatever you want to call it, it is a venomous pit viper, and unlike some other snake species, its babies are born alive and loaded with poison from the get-go.

Rattlers are known to be aggressive. They prey on small rodents, birds and insects, but are themselves vulnerable to birds of prey. Deer, cows and other large mammals will stomp them to death, so they are necessarily fearful of large warm bodies (like ours.)
We couldn’t hear the snake rattling, but the photo showed a blur where a neat tail should be, so I’m guessing that it was quivering slightly.
Did you know that rattlers can SWIM and hold their rattle delicately out of the water when they do? I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that they often lose their fangs when biting and always have a spare pair in reserve.

I don’t have a fear of snakes, per se, but I do have a healthy respect for them. The sight of one doesn’t send me away screaming and I will gladly hold a small boa or other small non-venomous snake if it is offered. Our son had a green snake named Stretch which I helped care for. So this experience didn’t panic me or discourage me from painting in woods and gullies. But it will certainly teach me to wear hiking boots instead of old sneakers on our next outing.

Tomorrow: a watercolor portrait or a wildflower moment …

Zoo Story – Part 1

On our LA Zoo sketchcrawl on Saturday, I took along a bagful of different art supplies because I wanted to experiment drawing the animals using different tools that seemed appropriate for their textures and coloration. I’m going to be scanning them and posting them throughout the week, so please check back if you’re interested in seeing more. The smooth graphic lines of the zebra seemed to lend themself to ink, and our model posed quietly in the shade for quite a long time. Thank you, zebra – you were the most cooperative subject of the day! I scanned and painted it later in Photoshop – my drawing paper doesn’t lend itself to wash.

Next subject: A mother kangaroo who had recently given birth to a little girl “joey.” Following some of the advice given in David Rankin’s Fast Sketching Techniques I used a dark, soft pencil and brought a stomp to smudge the lines. I think this captures some of the feeling of the soft fur of the mother roo who was taking a much needed rest. That big lump under her tail is where her daughter is napping! After scanning the sketch I added a little Photoshop color from a reference photo so you can see the before and after. Rankin is certainly right, drawing with a smudgeable pencil does allow you to get a faster impression with volume – good for drawing animals that won’t hold still.

If you’re in the So. California area (from Santa Barbara to San Diego to San Bernardino) and you’d like the experience of drawing with a group of friendly art-loving people, drop me a note and I’ll put you on our list so you can find out about upcoming get-togethers.