Saturday, July 19, 2014

Plein Air Documents Valley History

10" x 14"Watercolor
The real deal
Historical information
We had a picture-perfect California morning at the Rengstorff House, a preserved home from the 1800s typical of an affluent family of the times. Last year I was invited to exhibit two of my collages during their August show of local art. You can read about the event here.
The commute was just awful and I was never a commuter; I lived  just 3 miles from the two IBM campuses where I worked in my 30 year career.  I often bicycled to work the final 8 years. The 32 minute drive north to the paint site took almost an hour and a half! Thankfully, it was worth the drive. I had about an hour and a half to paint this piece before lunch, which keeps me from overworking the piece.
There were many great paintings done of the house, but I chose the lifeblood of the valley -- wind and water. Santa Clara Valley was known as "The Valley of the Heart's Delight" for its glorious agriculture. Today we are "Silicon Valley" and the fields sport companies with manicured landscapes like Google, Facebook, EBay and Paypal, to name but a few. There are remnants of agriculture and very fortunately, I live on the southern end of San Jose where the fields remain open between towns. We have a lovely farm stand just a couple miles from us where I buy my fresh produce. Today Linda gifted me with cantaloupes that she planned to compost because they were very ripe. Bob made cold melon soup from them -- yummy.

 I loved that you could order this windmill from Montgomery Wards for $42.50 in the Thirties. I enjoyed doing the dramatic shadows and I had a nice view across the marshes behind the structures and a piece of delicious shade. When we gathered for our picnic lunches at 12:30, we were impressed with the groups output. A few of the 20+ paintings are seen here.

Check out more about this paintsites event on the paintsites blog.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Morning Drawing Class: A bag of fruit

"A Bag of Fruit"
14" x 12" Pastel
This morning Bob set up a plastic bag with apples, a plum, and a peach. I've never done plastic bags before and boy, this was a challenge. Three apples were mostly exposed and the three other fruits were in the bag. He says we will get to try wax paper next time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Morning Drawing Class: Hyderangeas

14" x 12" Pastel
Critique time
We enjoyed the setup today. Florals are a challenge. Instructor Bob Semans always emphasizes blocking in the values first, then going back and adding a bit of detail. You can see the drawing of the vase is off somewhat, but overall I like the painting.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Getting the word out on the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society Exhibit

I just emailed my art distribution list to inform them of my latest show:

Two of my works will be on exhibit in "Fast, Fresh, and Friendly," sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society and hosted by Hobee's Restaurant in North San Jose.
                                                        Fast Food Vietnam Style Final.jpg
                                                                                "Fast Food, Vietnam Style"
                                                                                   19" x 14" Watercolor
"Fast Food, Vietnam Style" was inspired by a recent visit to Vietnam. I love the conical hats and the market scenes with locals purchasing and selling produce, meats, fish, and merchandise. Bicycles and scooters are the primary transportation because taxes double the price of cars.  This piece depicts a scene in Hoi An.
                                                          Marinkas Figs.jpg
                                                                                  "Marinka's Figs"
                                                                                       9" x 13"

"Marinka's Figs" was completed last September on an art vacation to the island of Hvar in Croatia. We spent a day at the farmhouse atelier of artist Marinka in Dol. We had a beautiful time painting in her garden and feasting on two meals she prepared for us. Her fruit trees made great subjects.

Place:  Hobees Restaurant, 680 River Oaks Pkwy, San Jose,
Date and Time: 7 am until 2:30 pm daily from June 29 through August 2
Reception: Saturday July 19, 5 to 7 pm, sponsored by Hobee's. 
Please join me on July 19th at the reception and stop in to see the show if you are in the area.
 *You can also view or purchase artworks from Mary's studio by appointment

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Play It Again Sam

"Fast Food, Vietnam Style"
19" x 14" Watercolor

Before leaving town, I completed an entry for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society Exhibit, "Fast, Fresh, and Friendly," the theme inspired by the Hobee's Restaurant motto. I was not satisfied with the piece, so I've done it over with a touch more color and some white of the paper.  I used the same combination of colors: Pthalo Blue, Ultramarine Blue, New Gamboge, and Scarlet Lake, selected for their transparency. You can compare this one with the original piece. I am happier with this redo.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Plein Air Painting in Vasona Park

"Summer Morn"
Vasona County Park
10" x 13" watercolor

Our Santa Clara Valley Water Color Society (SCVWS) Plein Air painters are a very active group. They paint all over the Bay area twice monthly on Thursday mornings and once a month on Saturday mornings in such interesting places. Some new leaders took over recently and are doing a fine job of carrying on the tradition upon which this 400 member society was founded and that our previous leaders did so well.

There is nothing better than painting outdoors in our lovely California sunshine with other artists. One woman asked me how she could join the group because there was such great energy. I told her to sign up at for a modest $30 a year.

 "Summer Morn" is a composite of the elements that say "Vasona." This county park is a little haven in the midst of Los Gatos, a vibrant and upscale community abutting San Jose. People from all walks of life use the park. School busloads of children, moms and/or dads with children, babies, and pets in tow, joggers, and bike riders were in abundance. We were at the boathouse and many children were taking sailing or paddle board lessons. I wanted a typical park view, so I edited out the dock and boats and mentally moved the rock. The rest of the elements are pretty true to the view.

We gathered sometime after 12:30 for our self-provided picnic lunches and sharing our work. Everyone did such nice pieces and the individual styles are so interesting to see. Check out the paintsites blog to see all the work:  when Brad posts them. An artist who teaches told me my pallette is the traditional WPA pallette of the 30s. Who knew I was such a throwback! I enjoyed meeting some newcomers to the group, including Rich who said this was his third outing and he is loving it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Monday Morning Drawing Class: Winter Squash - oh wait, isn't it summer?

"Winter Squash Summer Style"
14" x 12" Pastel

Did this yesterday and there are things to fix. Bob pointed out the top plane should be higher key and warmer tones. Should model the light reflecting surfaces. However, he complimented us three oldies that we are getting better at this all the time.

Room With a View: Half Moon Bay and the Coast

"Beautiful Morning in Half Moon Bay"
7" x 5" watercolor sketch
Bob attended "Flutes by the Sea," a master workshop in Half Moon Bay offered by the San Francisco Flute Society. I went along for the fun. Today defied all the usual summer weather patterns and predictions and is sunny with limited patches of fog.

The first morning I painted "Half Moon Bay Morning" in the sketchbook from a second floor deck at our B&B. The sun was starting to lift the fog. The top of the building you see houses the Half Moon Bay Roasting Company and Cafe, a very popular establishment. I made use of their wifi and sipped delicious coffee a few times,  and we had lunch there one day.

"Ice Plant"
7" x 5" watercolor sketch
Later while Bob was practicing with the flute choir, I rode my folding bike along the coast. I stopped to sketch "Ice Plant." Our West Coast never fails to provide inspiration.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Room with a View: Vermont

"Millbrook Falls"
7" x 5" watercolor sketch

7" x 5" watercolor sketch

"Hazy Day"
7"x 5" watercolor sketch
Vermont scenes are in the sketchbook. We traveled there to attend granddaughter Kelly's graduation from high school and see friends and family.The first piece, "Millbrook Falls" was done from my son's yard high over Sleeper River in North Danville, VT. The other two sketches were an attempt to salvage a difficult situation -- Bob had to return home early due to back issues that had plagued him for months but got really severe. I stayed on for the graduation. I painted by Lake Champlain after dropping him at the airport in Burlington.

"Breakwater Chilling" was done at our favorite little place on the lake, the Breakwater Cafe. I had lunch and painted. "Hazy Day on Lake Champlain" was done along the city waterfront. Quite the memories here. My late husband Gary and I graduated from the University of Vermont. Walking the waterfront on the first warm day of spring was a tradition for us. In the 60s, the waterfront was derelict and the city's poor citizens lived in the tenements. Now the waterfront is refurbished and beautiful. I don't know where the people relocated who at one time had the prize view of the city.

Here are a few of my photos from this trip.

With my sons in Burlington.
My Great Grandpa Fremeau built the landmark clock at the head of church street.

Graduate Kelly retrieves Spirit who wandered into the neighbor's yard
during our barbecue while free ranging in the yard.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In the Sketchbook: On the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand

Longboat on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
7" x 5" ink and watercolor sketch
Here it is -- about 1 in the afternoon and I am riding in a longboat on the magnificent and choppy Chao Phraya River in the central part of Bangkok, Thailand. I've been up since 5 a.m., flown from Cambodia with some of my touring friends, gone through a very busy customs area, met our local guide, and ridden the tour bus to the very modern downtown. Again, I pinch myself -- am I really in what, to me, is this very exotic location? I am mesmerized by the mixture of skyscrapers and pockets of old, and in some cases ramshackle, houses.

My sketch captures part of  the longboat with it's beautiful wooden construction, colorful canopy, and decorative flowers hanging from the prow. You can see that my lettering was definitely freehand. We sit two to a seat. Our boatman manipulates a small engine which has a very long rod with propeller that trails behind us at an angle so he can traverse not only the river but the shallow klongs (canals). The Coast Guard is out warning drivers to slow down in the fast moving current and stopping boats where passengers have not donned their life preservers. The city buildings rise above us on both banks and there are several royal sites on one side.

Longboats speeding along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
Thailand loves its royal family; the king now very elderly, has been kept alive for about 5 years in a medical facility. There is a parliamentary form of government, but periodically the royals or the military intervene in politics, as was just done this month. The country, formerly known as Siam, takes great pride in the fact that it was never colonized by Western powers, unlike the surrounding countries. Our guide explained that cleverly the reigning king took action in the 1800s to make the country modern and westernized and did a good job of playing the French against the British.

The guide also laid to rest any thoughts that we believed the story as told in "The King and I." People were insulted by the portrayal of their King. The King at the time was most proper and would not have had any intimacy with the woman he hired to teach the royal children as part of his modernization of the country.

We made a few stops to see the royal barges and Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. The royal barges are very beautifully decorated with gold and mythical figures. The temple is amazingly beautiful. Here and at other sites, we see the clever way the Thais used broken pottery that had served as ballast on ships delivering goods from China to decorate the outside walls.
Wat Arun
Broken porcelain used as ballast on Chinese
ships is reused decoratively on the temple buildings

We also went down the klongs, but I save that sketch and story for another day. We checked into our very modern hotel and had a relaxing evening.

Monday, May 26, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Cambodia

Carvings on Ta Prohm Temple
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
5" x 7" Ink and Watercolor 

"Royal Palace"
Phnom Penh
7" x 5" Ink and Watercolor

One of our weekly rituals when home is to have breakfast on Saturday at our neighborhood bagel shop run by a Cambodian family. They were very interested to hear that we would be visiting the country. Our first discussion revealed that Jennifer would be visiting her homeland soon, but before we left, she told us she would not be going back now because of the political situation. She did not explain what prevented her return to her country under the Communist regime; she told us as tourists we would be just fine. And we were.

We spent four nights in the town of Siem Reap, the staging area for tourists visiting the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat and surrounding areas. Here we were to visit both Buddhist and Hindu complexes. My sketch of Ta Prohm cannot do justice to the ancient carvings of this 12th to early 13th century monastic complex.

Beautiful carvings enhance intact parts of the complex

This site is especially interesting because it remains in its natural state, with fig, banyan and kapok trees spreading their gigantic roots over, under and between the stones. This popular spot was used in the film Tomb Raiders, a film I have not seen, but I am not a movie buff.

A Banyan tree growing amidst the ruins
of Ta Prohm

We visited other ancient temples, including the magnificent Angkor Wat. This we did in temperatures above 100 degrees with matching humidity. We were a pretty wilted bunch by the end of each day. 

Bob and I suffered from turista there, so we were unable to do every activity, including visiting the Landmine Museum, a heritage of the war with Vietnam. I did a little volunteer project at Journeys Within Our Communities, which teaches English to children and young adults, and runs preschool and after school programs. I spent a half hour helping a young woman in a wheelchair practice her English. She was very bright and had quite a good command of our language. Collette Explorations, provider of our tour, is a nonprofit and gives back to the communities in which they travel, so JWOK is one of their supported projects.

In Siem Reap we had more opportunities to venture off on our own in the evening to eat in local restaurants. We used Tuk Tuks as our transportation for a few American dollars. I felt quite elegant and very exhilarated as we traveled through busy city streets and intersections where the only rule that applies is bully your way through.

Riding a Tuk Tuk to a restaurant
We would end the tour of Indochina in Phnom Penh, with some of our group leaving for home and 11 of our group of 21 flying on to Bangkok, Thailand. The bus ride to Phnom Penh was very lengthy because a March typhoon had removed much of the pavement, so 199 miles took us 7 hours. Essentially we arrived mid-afternoon, had a half hour to freshen up and then toured the Royal Palace and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I know this will sound strange, but I like when things are not simple. I didn't fly half way round the world to experience a US freeway.

The entire way I prayed I would not be sick again (I wasn't) and I was most grateful for good health when I found myself standing ankle deep in water using a squat toilet at a rest stop. The countryside was really worth seeing.

A typical country home

We shared the road with many different vehicle types

Phnom Penh was a busy city with many luxury cars owned by government officials who take graft. The guide explained that when foreign companies who invested there complained about corruption, a Corruption Bureau was set up right across from the Lexus and Mercedes dealers. In five years, exactly one person has been prosecuted. I was amused by the cars that had their brand painted across the side of the vehicle, announcing Lexus, BMW, Mercedes. The owners are obviously proud of their affluence.

We visited the Royal Complex and I chose to sketch just the top of one of the buildings. They are covered in gold and sparkle in the sun. We were told that Bangkok has a much larger and more impressive royal complex, but I found this one to be very beautiful even though of smaller scale.
Part of the Royal Complex
Phnom Penh

Interestingly, there is a King of Cambodia who lives at the complex. He was out of the country when we visited. The King is a classical dancer, in his 60s, and has never married. The government of Cambodia is described as  "vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy." In other words, this is a one party government that allows capitalist ventures.

The country has a very bad human rights record, and those my age recall the atrocities of the "Killing Fields." We visited this part of their history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former jail that details the genocide by the Khmer Rouge perpetrated during the Pol Pot years. Our guide April told us that Collette will soon rearrange the tour and no longer have this sad piece of human history be the final site visited on the tour. I found the people of Cambodia to be very friendly and welcoming. They are hard working people and do an outstanding job of living in a challenging climate and providing for their families. Their temple complexes are amazing; their history is long and complex.

We ended our Indochina tour with a final dinner and prepared to leave for our optional tour of Thailand the following morning.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Exhibit entry inspired by Vietnam visit

"Fast Food, Vietnam Style"
19" x 14" Watercolor
One of the members of Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society owns a chain of restaurants in the area by the name of Hobee's. Peter introduced healthy food to us long before it became trendy. He is hosting a society exhibition in July at one of the restaurants. Hobee's motto is "Fast, Fresh, and Friendly" and it's the theme of our show, to be loosely interpreted.
I have a lot of wonderful market scenes from my travels in Vietnam. One photo from Hoi An captured my imagination. I like the design element of the conical hats in a diagonal row. So with lots of artistic license and editing, I focused the painting on the three women. I like a painterly approach, so I muted anything I chose to include in the background. I painted the entire piece in the compliments of blue/purple, yellow/orange, with a bit of red in the center of interest.
People in Vietnam believe in fresh food and go to open markets daily. They usually arrive on foot, bicycle, or scooter. Many of the sellers do the same. It's a fascinating scene.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monday Morning Drawing Class: Sweet Peas in a lovely vase

14" x 12" Pastel

In case you thought I quit my longstanding Monday drawing class, I have not. Classmate Mary provided a beautiful vase and Sweet Peas from her garden. We spent two Monday mornings on this drawing, and it was a challenge in many ways, not the least of which was a whole new arrangement on the second Monday because bouquets don't last a week.

Three of us worked on this setup while Bob was spending a good deal of time with new folks in the class. However, at critical points we requested some help and critique. For florals, Bob emphasizes masses of values, rather than detail. Be sure to push the lights, mostly on the right of this bouquet. Make the most of your darks, as seen at the top of the vase and in the dark greens of the leaves. Pump up those highlights. It's all about values.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Luang Prabang, Laos

"Alms for the Monks"
Luang Prabang, Laos
As we neared the end of our stay in Vietnam, tour manager April prepared us for traveling to Laos and Cambodia. She said that in terms of economic development, Cambodia was 15 years behind and Laos was 30 years behind. The accommodations in Laos would be simple and pleasant. She taught us a few new words. I managed to learn hello -- "Sabaidie" - beautifully written in their alphabet, an Indic script, as ສະບາຍດີ.
After a very efficient entry at their small airport in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage town,the former royal capital of Laos, and the center of a thriving tourist industry, we boarded the bus for a short ride to our hotel. I was immediately struck by the change in architecture and alphabet, and suddenly had that aha moment when I understood we were in Indochina. Vietnam has been very influenced by China and the French, while Laos was influenced by Thailand and India. The architecture, even on small homes, looked like something from "The King and I." I wish I knew what they call the curlicues, and stacked structures. The Buddhist temples and former royal buildings were especially decorative. As we drove through town, I had one of those, "Wow, I am really here" moments.
We stayed at the Sala Prabang. I loved this little place where we filled the majority of their rooms. The room was exotically simple, roomy, done in blacks and white. The lobby was open air with a small courtyard in the middle of the buildings where we were served breakfast, a delicious affair with eggs to order, fruits, yogurts, Asian foods, and the best bread I had on the trip -- toasted over a wood fire in a barbecue kettle. Unfortunately I did not take pictures, but the link to the hotel will give you a peek. I liked all our hotel locations. Some tours will put you in nice hotels, but they are far from the action. All our hotels were right in the middle of town and sites.
Over the course of the next few days, we would visit temples and see the saffron-robed monks, and learn a bit about Buddhism. We were very taken with their approach to being a monk. Males of any age can become a monk and stay for as little as a few days to as much as their entire life. Our guide had been a monk twice, once when his father died when he young, and again as a young adult. He is married now with children. The temples housed many statues of Buddha, from the very large to small, and many do not have the girth of what I think of as a Buddha.
We had two of my favorite experiences here. One was alms giving for the monks. Around 6:00 every morning, the monks walks in single formation through the town gathering alms. I previously assumed alms was money -- wrong -- it's food that you place into their bowl as they pass silently. It is a way for people to connect with the spiritual. We were provided with sticky rice, some wrapped sweet bars, a prayer shawl, small stool, and rug. We placed the shawl over our shoulders, sat on the stool on the rug, and removed our shoes. I have to admit I felt a little like Lucy (Lucille Ball) on an assembly line. I could not get the sticky rice into the bowls very quickly.

Our second wonderful experience was visiting an elephant rescue sanctuary, and I got to be a Mahout for the elephant and drove Maecom, a 38-year-old female, across a small island while her trainer took photos. The elephants have been saved from the logging industry where they are worked to death as the land is denuded to supply wood to China under contracts with the Laotian military. The elephants have a quiet life here and give a ride a day. The females are very gentle and sure-footed, which was good when we descended and ascended a treacherous riverbank.,

I climbed out of the basket and onto Maecom's head, placing my knees behind her ears. Those bare legs you see belong to Bob! It was quite fitting that I drove and he was the passenger as that is the way things are at home -- Bob is a public transit and bicycle kind of guy. We also got to take a rustic boat across the river and visit a 7-month old baby elephant. He's gotten old enough to be naughty and now must stay in his pen when visitors come to see him and Mommy. He enjoyed our company, though.

 On our final morning in Laos, we toured the National Museum, the former Royal Palace. We saw how the last royal family lived. Their furniture and clothes remain. The guide tactfully explained they were sent to a reeducation camp when their government was overthrown by the current ruling party. They had been pulled into the Vietnam War and sided with the USA.  In an aside with our tour manager, I learned that they died in the camp, probably of starvation.
The temple at the National Museum

We had many other experiences here, including visiting Kuang Si waterfall and having a picnic lunch with everything wrapped in banana leaves, participating in a Baci ceremony to call our soul and pray for a safe journey, and visiting a Hmong village where the families wove beautiful silks and made paper. The Laotian government has a history of genocide against the Hmong and many fled through Thailand to the US. This small town is thriving. This tour was jam packed, but we had time for social hour with our tour friends and getting some laundry done. I have a soft spot in my heart for this small country.

After our museum visit, we were whisked off to the little international airport and flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia on Vietnam Airlines.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Painting for a Dear Family Member

"Birds of a Feather"
15" x 18" watercolor

Back in February a family member who has been valiantly battling cancer took a beautiful photo from the window of her home in Vermont. She captured a gorgeous white/grey world with tree branches full of cardinals and a few other birds. Can you find a tiny brown one and a Dove? I asked her if I could paint from her photo.

Life and travel happened, but I finally completed the painting and it is on it's way to her, promised to arrive by tomorrow. I hope it brings her some peace and comfort. If you read my post, kindly send good thoughts or prayers as suits you.