A week in Ashland, OR


Carbon platinum pen, watercolor in 8 X 8″ Handbook w/c sketchbook

A week in Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival started out with what turned out to be our favorite play “The Happiest Song Plays Last”.  (The Last was First??)  Although my husband assured me I was free to sketch on this shared vacation with him, this did not include sketching during performances. But I’ll share the quick sketches I did manage to fit in.


The “street people” turned out to be the best subjects, but I was not brazen enough to stand in front of this guy and sketch.  I never saw another sketcher while there. So I quickly snapped a picture and sketched this in the hotel room, using my Lamy cartridge pen with the ink that “melts” when you wet it.


Sketched on the spot and finished later with details from a photo I took.  This one-man act, performing in the daily free concert on the Green Stage, combined Native American dance and song with Rap – an interesting combination!


fountain pen w/c, gouache, in 5/5″X8″ Toned Tan Strathmore sketchbook

Once the food comes, the drawing stops.  I’m not one to let my food get cold while I sketch it!  The white is a Presto Jumbo Correction Pen.


There was a heat wave, and luckily we had a pool to soak in during the afternoons.  Sunbathing bodies are always a favorite subject, especially when sleeping, so they can’t see what you’re doing!


A super-hot afternoon in the park, and we actually got a spot in the shade on a bench in front of this cellist.  I was quite happy with my drawing until I started to put the white on his hair.  The heat had melted or boiled and pressurized the correction fluid so that it spurted and globbed!  There was nothing to do but move the white around the page, which actually created the sensation of movement.


Finding another shady spot we watched a frisbee game.  I abandoned the white goo and just dipped my waterbrush into a tube of white gouache, discovering that I really liked the effect.


Our last dinner was back at the brewery and it was still very hot despite the fans, and noisy with Saturday night diners/drinkers. I got in one more sketch before the food came.


Art Loves Transitions


powdered graphite, black india ink, fluid acrylic, gesso on w/c paper, 11 x 10″

Wound up and ready to go. A massive journey or short walk. It’s all the same. One must simply go. It feels like it’s time.  A plane ride, a new place to set a hat or a computer. Does it really matter where in this wired world? Only that it is a new adventure/venture, a place for talents to unfurl and lessons to be learned. . .about this life. . .until the next arrives. . .

As it has for a dear one.  We watch as slowly she crosses over life’s threshold. And for a while we share her steps.

Art loves times of transition. It leaps forward to express that which cannot be spoken or yet understood. You may have your own story to weave about this image and the words that came with it. My own involves the immanent launching of a son into his world, and bearing witness to the passing of his grandmother, whose every word is a blessing to those who will carry on after her.

It’s the stuff that fills up the heart. So yesterday in that great-hearted Monday Afternoon Muse group, I got to play my way into the art. The lesson was to use powdered graphite (powdered pencil “stuff”), sprinkling it on wet and dry paper and then spritzing it with water, mixing with acrylic mediums, etc. to get an interesting textured surface to develop. I hadn’t meant to see a figure, but after I’d finger-painted for a while, there it was, unmistakably.


Wabi Sabi: Nature’s Poetry in Black and White


Higgins black india ink, gesso, collage, acrylic ink tones on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Wabi Sabi. Keep it natural. Keep it sensual. Let the mind flow and spirit rise. 

Black ink bears witness to the natural processes: the melting of snow and slow trickling through ice lattice into underground streams that feed rock beds deep within the layers of the earth we walk,  the passage of time until that melt-off emerges “magically” from faucets.

For eons this one has soared above, witnessing the elemental exchange, silently raising the question of . . .but forever?


Higgins black india ink and Daler Rowney Antelope Brown acrylic ink on paper collage surface, 10 X 11″

In Saturday’s workshop we explored painting with black and white in the context of the Japanese esthetic, Wabi Sabi- the quality of things that suggests a natural process, vulnerable to effects of time, weathering, human treatment, yet still possessing poetry, poise and strength of character.  For more about Wabi Sabi you can go to this post from two years ago.

Often even we lovers-of-color feel freed up by the exploration of black marks on white paper, free to enjoy the added drama of it, but also the subtlety and balance of soft passages with hard edged counterpoints.  We’re not copying nature here, but allowing the ink to flow in natural ways that illustrate the movement of water or texture of stone or flight of wings.


J.M.W. Turner art exhibit and Jazz at Yoshi’s


fountain and brush pens, watercolor in Strathmore mixed media sketchbook, 5.5×8″

A group of art friends went to the De Young museum in S.F. to see a stunning exhibition of Turner’s oils and watercolors. Glowing skies and surging seas, and small watercolor paintings unlike any other watercolors I’ve seen. Simple and yet extraordinarily complex at the same time.

After the viewing and fortified by lunch we sat in the gardens. I chose to sketch something that wasn’t in motion.  How restful that is (for a change).


Practicing decorative architecture on a strict time budget here.  We wanted to get back to Sonoma Co. before rush hour.  If only I’d spent 30 more seconds doing some measuring. . .the statue on top would not have loomed to lopsidedly large!


Later in the week Bob and I went to Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club in Oakland to hear Arturo Sandoval.  While waiting to get our seats, I caught the scene at the sushi bar while standing, barely out of the crush of people lining up. Painted it in later.


This guy is one of those Jazz legends who seem to have music pouring out of every cell in his body!  I kept trying to sketch this posture during the performance, but I couldn’t get it  – wasn’t close enough, view blocked, etc. – so next day I found a picture of exactly the pose online and did a quick sketch.


Sonoma Marin Fair


fountain pen and watercolor in Handbook hard cover w/c sketchbook, 8 X 8″

An afternoon at the fair seemed like a perfect opportunity for a sketch-venture last week. . .starting with the Funnel Cake Eating Contest.  A table of kids started it off.  Here I’m madly sketching while they’re getting the rules of the game spelled out.  No hands. Lots of squirming going on.


The adult contest came next and there was one woman at a table of men.  Luckily she’s the one I had a view of for a quick sketch.  And of course she was the winner.  Her cake literally disappeared in the time it took me to get my cell phone camera ready.  It seemed like the men had just started!


Next was the exotic animal building where, believe it or not, the Hairy Armadillo was the darling of the audience.  He kept running to and fro and crawling under the astroturf.  And then the baby porcupines. . .awww!


and of course the showy and noisy birds.


Next was the (little) pig races, but they were moving too fast to sketch.  So we went in the barn where the big pigs were sleeping.


This was sketched from a picture I took while watching and eating (very greasy) chicken.  Everything at the fair is deep fried, even candy!


Last stop – the midway. It’s a bit overwhelming, an assault on all the senses. There’s nothing to do but draw as fast as you can and then blast it with color.




acrylics with Pouring Medium, black gesso, collage, dip pen and ink on w/c paper 10 X 11″

He thinks I’m weird!? (I’d have to agree.)  We both are.  He is made of the same elements as I, the same energetic flow, the same fire of Pitta, the same molten temper. . . why, even the same white hair!  His power is from the same source as mine.  

Perhaps we should join forces.

I don’t actually think of myself as someone who is drawn to the grotesquely creepy and I stay away from much of television drama which is!  But occasionally the grotesque comes flowing off my brush and there’s nothing to do but embrace it. I was demonstrating acrylic flow medium and pouring acrylics onto the page.  Some of my mixtures were apparently a bit old and they started to interact in diabolical ways. Minutes later they were still moving, like some kind of creepy Zombie army.

Fast forward to the next week when the lesson was “Black Gesso”, that fully opaque and velvety matte acrylic paint, which not only serves as a wonderful ground to begin a painting on, but also is useful in rescuing a failed one.

So with a brush loaded with black gesso I attempted to rescue my demon.  After all, we all need to embrace our shadow sides, or so say not only the therapists but even my Buddhist teacher!

Meanwhile my class did far more beautiful creations with their gesso, poured acrylics and collage, which I’m happy to share here.


Potrero Hill


fountain pen and brush pen and watercolor in Strathmore mixed media sketchbook, 8 X 10″ spread

It was sizzling hot at Camp Winnarainbow in Laytonville, 2 hours north of my home in Sebastopol (northern California).  The day after I got home Bob and I went to San Francisco for the day.  As you can see in the picture, it was cold and windy, at least 50 degrees cooler than at Camp.  I dropped Bob off for a workshop at the S.F. Center for the Book and had the day to wander and sketch.  Potrero Hill was a brand new area for me to explore, so I set off with a map, not realizing that every two blocks or so I would ascend and then descend another hill.

I found these gentlemen, possibly homeless, in a small park bundled up against the cold wind and sound asleep.  Rather than turn and head on, I sat down nearby to sketch the scene and contemplate their lives. . .with compassion. I have slept in parks in the daytime, clutching my purse to my breast.  I have slept curled up on seats in airports with my legs wound around my luggage.  It was a nice neighborhood.  They would be safe there.

potrerohill2Sitting outside a popular restaurant on a narrow retaining wall, I had an unobstructed view of a different kind of crowd in this gentrified neighborhood.  The challenge was to tell the story in a short period of time, leaving out 10 times more details than I put in.  The dog was my favorite part.  Luckily the wait for a table was rather long, so I had some good models!

potrerohill3Here I actually had a bench in the sun which was so welcome as the wind was still blowing off the sea.  Once again so much detail to choose from, so I just started and worked my way around.  Something I’m learning about urban sketching in S.F. is that most of the streets go abruptly up or down, like the sidewalk in this scene which disappears.  I need more practice with the visual cues to quickly describe the scene.

When I’d finished the sketch I stopped in at the Open House in the residence next to where I was sitting, curious about what one could buy in S.F. for $1,150,000.   A great view in a trendy neighborhood and a place to park your car off the street.  Highly desirable in a city like S.F.  Otherwise a tiny 2 bedroom, 1 bath flat.

If you like adding watercolor to your drawings, I wouldn’t buy the Strathmore mixed media sketchbook.  I like the 5.5 X 8″ size which gives you the choice to draw across the gutter if you need more space, but the paper is not sized like w/c paper so it’s harder to do washes of color.  So once again I’ll be looking for the perfect sketchbook!

In conversations with the Muse I mix paint with vision, collage with story, word with meditation and prayer. And out of the mixture comes a release of energy and healing and a lightening of the load of everyday living. You'll find most of it here, where I've been showing up for the past few years, along with collectible paintings, travel sketchbooks, figure studies and an invitation to join me in art play and discovery!

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By Susan Cornelis


All images and text are the original copyrighted work of Susan Cornelis unless otherwise attributed.


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