Last week the South Sound Urban Sketchers met up in the small town of Tenino, and this California girl got a taste of on location sketching in a northern clime. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you bring lots of clothing options in the trunk of your car. We all went back to bundle up. Time to get out the fingerless gloves too!
Tenino town is about three blocks long and is home to a sandstone rock quarry, rock carving artisans, a historic stagecoach and later railroad museum. But my favorite thing is the signs: like the sign for “Aunt Kate’s Chocolates /Tenino Denture Center Creating Smiles. . . Another favorite is the one with arrows to the right “Booze + Fun” and pointing to the left “Reality”. I guess the one you would choose might depend on the kind of day you were having.
And then there was a new one in front of the tavern that day. . .
The stone carver is only open on Saturdays during this season, but there was a good spot of sun in front of the old barn, so I gave it a try.
There’s also a fabulous antique/resale/garden shop on the corner, where I finally gave in and purchased a wonderful rusted weather vane for the garden.
And we warmed ourselves with the chef’s special chicken pot pie soup at the Sandstone Cafe in a room all to ourselves where we could spread out! I can certainly deal with this kind of sketch meet up
This rugged face asked for a rough treatment with the brush, so I made no effort to “clean it up”, which is not that easy to do with gouache on black paper anyway! It was kind of liberating I must say.
In an homage to Inktober, which many of you probably participate in each October, I switched to ink and slowed down a bit to work with washes at first and line detail later.
Do you think I got a bit obsessed with the eyes? haha! It’s always like that. If you don’t watch yourself or set a timer or something, there’s usually a part that gets overworked. But then she did have amazing eyes!
So the next one I decided to move quickly and not overdo, and now I’m having fun and like the result better, and can’t wait to try another!
I included the names of the models for the pictures submitted as inspiration on the Sktchy app in case you want to give it a try!
I went downtown last weekend for the opening of Olympia Arts Walk, a semi annual event that was attended by thousands in pre-Covid days. Wandering around I came upon an impressive hip hop dancing performance of a group of teens in front of the Performing Art Center. Not being at the time in possession of my sketch gear, I took pictures and later did sketches of some colorful bystanders.
I keep trying to understand the style in Olympia, but have decided there is none, except maybe tattoos on all the younger generation, and in abundance. Instead there is an abundant show of individuality that is quirky and colorful from head to toe, and often purchased at thrift stores and combined in intriguing ways.
The lady in the red was participating in the Silent Disco, where the disc jockey sets you up with headphones, and you get to shake your bootie alongside other silent dancers shaking theirs!
Meanwhile we had a bit of excitement last week in finding a contractor to build our studios-in-the-garage! When he submitted the drawings for a permit, our project was promptly put in the pile where there will be an 8-week wait for a permit to start. Phooey, especially since the temperature in the garage is dropping with the fall weather.
So I have moved my studio into the house in a carpeted room where messes must stay on the table (meaning watercolor and gouache) and out to the backyard where the fall color begs to be painted!
Not to mention the mushrooms of various varieties that have scattered themselves through the grasses in familial processions.
I bring all my visitors to Tumwater Falls for its Wow factor. Last week when Laura and Liane were here we really lucked out. One of the more anticipated events was going on – the salmon run! The fish swim from the salt water of the Puget Sound up the rivers, navigating turbulent waters and fish ladders to spawn and lay their eggs in the same rivers where they were “born”.
Here I am greedily snapping pictures as the salmon swim by in the tanks on their way up the fish ladder and through the viewing portal.
And down below the falls here the Chinook Salmon are waiting their turn, either to try to leap the falls (which many did!) or make their way up the “ladder” maze. The mind boggling part is that they find their way from the ocean back to their natal river and there they spawn and end their lives. An epic drama.
Another day I headed out to Woodard Bay with Gals Go Birding, a very friendly group of “bird nerds” (my son Andrew’s words, not mine. He’s actually impressed.) If you’ve been following here, you’ll remember that Woodard Bay is where we got our kayak stuck in the muck after seeing the Cormorant rookery.
There was a light drizzle going on as we headed out to the viewing spots. Since I’m a neophyte wannabe bird watcher whose only gear is tiny binoculars that I bought for my boys when they were little, ahem, I relied heavily on the company of these veteran bird watchers. They would stop and go silent, scanning the trees and ground cover, listening intently, while their world filled up with birds and their stories, and mine waited to see and hear what I was missing.
The Douglas squirrel was pointed out to me – an adorable cousin to the gray squirrel with whom I’m better acquainted. Later I added him to my sketchbook.
I don’t remember what they spotted here. In the background you see the bare trees where the Cormorant rookery has denuded the trees in the past years. Bald eagles are sort of ho hum here where they are so plentiful, but oh, seen through a powerful scope they are breathtaking.
I’m not sure how I’m going to add a sketch kit to my gear, which must already grow to include rain gear and better binoculars! but I’ve been going back to the lessons of John Muir Laws and his nature journaling school. In his book on drawing birds he describes how to sit so you hold steady your binoculars with your non-dominant hand/elbow by bracing it on your bent leg, while drawing/painting with your dominant hand on the sketchbook on your lap, keeping your eye steady on the bird that’s moving and. . .haha! The fun of it is in trying. And this is nothing compared to my friend Chris Carter who has tried sketching while hang gliding and even while under water!
When we first started exploring a move to the Pacific Northwest I contacted Jane Wingfield, a friend I’d made years before at an Urban Sketcher symposium in Chicago. I remembered her Instagram name as Olysketcher and realized that meant Olympia! When I planned my first exploratory trip north, Jane invited me to meet her at the Farmer’s Market, which is by the harbor in Olympia. As it turned out Jane was the one person I knew in Olympia when we moved here in June.
Fast forward to Saturday when I met Jane and another urban sketcher Eleanor Doughty at the Market for sketching, and afterward for that favorite activity of sketchers – sharing our sketchbooks, materials, workshops we’ve taken/taught, travel sketch itineraries and more. That usually involves trying out each other’s pens and paints too, much like siblings trying on each other’s clothes.
It was morning and I was uncharacteristically willing to stand and sketch while balancing the open ink bottle – the only way to capture these radical radishes as seen from the back. They were radically red, radically fresh, radically regal on their throne of green. And they were screaming out “We are the queens (kings?) of the harvest fair!” which is saying alot, because oh my the apples and pears and corn and. . .
The owners of Skipping Stone Garden, Sarah and Gabriel Baisan, parents of the rad radishes, caught me in the act, and posed with their bounteous beauties. Not only is their produce artistic inspiration, but they grow a variety of produce as well as soil-grown microgreens on less than one-quarter acre!
There was time for more, so I headed over to the picnic tables and grabbed one right in front of the jazz band that was playing. I regret to say I got distracted and forgot to ask their name! A shame since I really liked their music.
. .. or actually, probably a good thing, since I confess I made a mess of the drawing when I got home, trying something “interesting” with color
A fellow from the Sktchy picture archives – someone I’d like to meet !
What to say about this – dividing the face into fractals of color – why not stripes and dashes and thick and thin – adding and subtracting but mostly adding! That’s the beauty of gouache. You can just keep going. Come in at the end with pure color accents. That red on the tip of the nose and ear, blue in the shadow and pure white to pop.
I had to paint this redhead. Red goes with turquoise, green. Red like my hair was, and sort of still is with the help of hair coloring over the gray. Haha!
What is it about pumpkins and autumn? Is it the pie? or the color orange which we experience as sun saturation that warms the belly and the soul? Is it orange’s tendency to make a blue sky electric?
I think I’ve probably painted pumpkins every year since my beginning in watercolor in 1992 and possibly even longer. So when the local sketchers got permission for a private access to what I’m guessing is the primo pumpkin harvest farm in the county, Ashley Creek Farm, I couldn’t wait!
The farm was getting ready for the hoards of pumpkin-loving families to arrive for their season opener, when their field fills up with carloads and they sell pumpkins so fast that they are constantly replenishing them from the fields nearby. It’s not just the pumpkins that draw folks, but the idyllic and beautifully cultivated farm by a creek with hundred year old trees and house.
I was drawn to the contrast of blue-green to orange and red pumpkins and orange tractor! and anxious to practice with my new bamboo pen and India ink, followed by the Derwent Line and Wash palette.
And while I was sitting there painting I kept glancing over to the farmer who was feeding the cows and driving the tractor. He was a much older gentleman who walked with a cane and moved through his farm chores slowly and with great care. I was delighted when he came over to see the art makers and show interest and gratitude for our efforts.
And so I got to hear Robert Sand’s story of moving in the 1950’s to Tumwater, Washington from eastern Nebraska where he grew up on a farm. He raised 6 (or 7) children on this farm, teaching them the work ethic of farming.
He wanted to join us for our “critique” time after sketching and shared specific appreciation for each of our sketches, charming us all!
But Robert was not the only art lover. His black kitty stole the show by making a big deal of the art, particularly Ineke’s lovely sketch of the house!
I told myself that moving to a place where we knew (almost) no one would be a challenge at our age. I would have to overcome any natural shyness and join groups, participate in local activities, get out and mingle to make new friends. Ha! Not on your life during a pandemic, and especially lately with the Covid numbers spiraling upward.
So instead I spend time with plants and animals that don’t need vaccinations and masks. The daily visits I refer to here are mostly the ones I make out to the garden with its infinite diversity and lessons to teach. Most of my outside painting is with eyes and other senses and without brushes. What can you call that blue of the sky? and what’s that rustle sound of those leaves that shimmer like golden coins? And if you close your eyes where in your body do you hear that bird song?
Sometimes lately though I get some paint on too!
I have been eating my lunch out where I can watch the Juncos and chickadees dribbling bird seed from their red perch.
Another day just as the sun slanted toward the horizon I brought my sketch kit out to the back where two gigantic sunflower “volunteers” were luring me. The challenge was to hold the ink bottle and sketchbook in one hand and the bamboo pen in the other and draw. You’d think the flower would be facing the sun wouldn’t you? But for some reason these two plants are contrarians. Instead the sun was shining directly in my eyes and back lighting the flower. Speed was required to finish before the call to dinner and blindness from the sun. What fun!
Tried the other sunflower another day, this time with my usual watercolor palette and in a bigger 9 X 12″ sketchbook with more room for gestural strokes, and once again thought, wow, this is a lot more fun!
But today I brought my subject indoors and focused on detail. I’ve become the garden clean up crew, with Bob’s help of course, since we’ve had a hard time hiring help. I had just pulled up a flower bulb in my vigorous clearing of dead growth. And what I found stopped me dead in my tracks as I contemplated my cavernous ignorance about plant biology. Perhaps you could help me understand what I saw?
I mean really, all that bewitching beauty is underground! Just imagine what we are missing out on, just living our lives on top of all this and never seeing it. Those were my thoughts which ranged more to metaphor and visual poetry and spiritual ecstasy than scientific explanation.
Neverthless I would appreciate knowing more about the function of those jewelled clusters! Any suggestions? Ellyn, are you there?
Out in the side yard doing some garden trimming I suddenly came eye to eye and inches way from a bunny lying under cover of a plant I was about to trim. When he made no effort to move away. . .well, here’s the art and the story to go with it.
Found in a tangle of lily fronds, eyes open and question posed in absolute stillness, “if I do nothing will she go away? But from my touching proximity, I knew those deep dark eyes that gazed at me would not spur action. You were waiting for that which my world is trying to escape. I restored your soft shell of leaves around you and was drawn to speak to you as that beloved wildness that I have wished to reclaim for these many years, way back into childhood, standing at its door, impeded by my human-ness.
And so I softly pleaded with you Grandfather Bunny to let me step across the threshold with you, to hop and nibble and land softly with grass stained flower fragrant belly onto the softest spot in the garden. For a few moments I was almost close enough, but could not interrupt your last minutes of life with my human gaze, even though my prayers were to spend time with you in a rabbit warren, in the path of deer and all manner of birds and bugs.
Perhaps you knew that and had already sent blessings back to me from the other side, when I found you an hour later, eyes closed and body left behind, not a scratch on it, and I brought you inside because it was darkening out and I was not ready to abandon you to nature’s hungry reclamation crew. . .yet.
Next day I located a resting place under a conifer, on the far side of the ancestral grove, and the hole dug, filled it first with love and then your perfect wild body.
And the day after I found a fresh hole in the earth above you. I wonder, did someone in your home team come to get you and take you home? Or did you find your way back out and beyond so that now you are munching clover in a sunny field somewhere. . . eternal.
Turn right at the end of my street and suburban neighborhoods give way to more open countryside with woods and fields and barns and gardens. Cross a railroad track, turn onto Old Highway 99. One more turn and you’re there.
Or take your bike on the Chehalis Trail and stop when you see large sculptures. The Monarch Sculpture Park is a contemparary outdoor sculpture park and center for the arts, open daily. Walk right in. There’s no gate, but signs to welcome you. You hear distant voices of a handful of small children and moms, but otherwise you have the place to yourself. Is it a spiritual retreat or a magical mystery tour, or a stunning nature retreat? It’s all three! And a fabulous place to sketch. In fact I’d like to go every day for a week and fill a sketchbook with paintings and musings.
Our local sketch group met there last Thursday. I was immediately drawn into this scene and compelled to draw the bamboo with my bamboo pen, which has become my favorite drawing implement! so capable of boldness and subtlety. When the tip runs out of ink, which happens quickly, you can dip the pen tip in water and keep drawing for a bit with the lines quality so subtle.
I paired it with the Derwent Line and Wash Paints with their strange colors and granulating pigments. It’s hard to go dark with these paints so the black ink takes over when more depth is needed.
Sitting in a big open meadow, viewing these collossal white humanoid sculptures, I was struck with a delicious memory of papier mache sculptures from childhood! The layers of drippy paper smelling of wet newsprint. At the kitchen table with mom.
The red and the white with the green backdrop. I couldn’t resist. Sculptures by artist/owner Myrna Orsini, a creative and generous soul to whom I offer my gratitude! I’ll be back again and again.