Sunday was the California Art Club’s Quarterly “Paint Out”. Four times a year, in four or five different locations state-wide, the members of CAC get together to paint plein aire. Balboa Park was the San Diego spot — about 15 of us were painting throughout the park.
We got a later start than we normally would. The Rock and Roll Marathon’s first loop was right past Balboa Park, so I decided that I would wait until the roads were cleared of runners and spectators. When I arrived, the park was as empty as I’d ever seen it — if it wasn’t for the banks of porta-potties and the crowd control barriers, you’d never know that 20,000 runners plus their fans had been there an hour before. Anyone who had been involved with the race was already gone, and everyone else must have been sleeping in.
I set up my easel in the Alcazar Garden, which is patterned after the gardens at Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. The beds are laid out geometrically, and this time of year are filled with marigolds, salvia, calla lilies and sunflowers. I chose a spot that was off the main path, which led to a bench and the railing between the garden and one of the park promenades. This gave me a beautiful perspective of the garden. Painting on a Sunday in Balboa Park can become an exercise in crowd control and fending off toddlers, so I thought that this would be a nice quiet spot. Hah!
I have to work fast when painting plein air. The sun moves and the light changes minute by minute, so I have learned to complete a painting like this in about 2 hours. That doesn’t mean they all come out the way I intended! For every “successful” painting, there are 10 that I’ve discarded or painted over because they just didn’t meet the mark. But if I try to work on any one painting for longer than that, I find I’m looking at a whole different scene than when I started.
I was nearly done with this painting when I heard the buzz of many young voices behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see an entire Webolo cub scout troop watching my every move. I overheard the pack leader say, “Now, you’ve been to the museum, and you’ve got one more thing to do in order to get your merit badge. You have to interview an artist.”
That, I knew, was going to be me.
They continued to whisper among themselves about how they were going to do that. Finally I heard one very polite voice ask, “M’am, may we ask you some questions?”
I turned and smiled. “Yes, absolutely. But I have to keep working in order to finish this painting, so I’ll have to answer without looking at you. If that’s okay with you, ask away.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the pack leader’s voice: “She can’t see you raising your hands, you know.”
They got their voices working and asked me how long I’d been painting, did I go to school to learn how to paint, what kind of paint I was using, what was my favorite thing to paint, etc. After several minutes and many answers, I turned to face them and told them what great questions they had asked, and then I asked them if they liked to paint and what their favorite subjects were. I got lots of grins and a whole lot of answers all at once, and I complimented the pack leader on what a polite group she had.
At lunch time, we all gathered in the nearby Art Institute for a critique of the morning’s paintings. Fellow artist Paul Strahm had arranged for us to use the meeting room beside the exhibition hall. It always amazes me how 15 people can look at the same subject and come up with 15 completely different paintings. There was a great collection of talent in that room, and it was a pleasure to enjoy their company and comments.
Afterwards, my friend Jacqueline and I decided to paint on El Prado, the main promenade. This is always the busiest part of the park, and on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it was not only good painting, but great people-watching as well. As we set up to paint some of the Spanish-Renaissance architecture, a blues guitarist started playing nearby. As Jacqueline and I both enjoy listening to the blues, we remarked on our good fortune — until about the 40th rendition of “Kansas City”. Apparently he had a play list of only 3 songs.
We watched in line skaters and skateboarders, families with strollers, kids with balloons. There was a group riding Segues, led by a man wearing a plastic helmet with a mohawk on top. There were dogs of every shape and size, including one “rock star” Pomeranian dressed in a blue fur jacket and accompanied by her “bodyguard” German Shepherd. People stopped behind us to watch us: we were part of the afternoon’s entertainment as well! Sometimes people would get a little too close, or would let their children squeeze right in between us and our easels. My usual line when that happens is, “Unattended children will be painted green,” which always gets a laugh and usually gets the children out from underfoot. There were several wedding parties. One with bridesmaids in coral dresses carrying buttery yellow roses, all glowing in the late afternoon sun. Another had the most beautiful dress, of utterly simple lines, but with the most exquisite bead and pearl work on the bodice, that I don’t remember anyone else who was with her except for the beaming look of adoration on her soon-to-be-husband’s face. Ah, June!
Oh, and we did paint, in the midst of all that. I decided to go right for the ornate architecture, and painted one of the arches beside the reflecting pool: