Oscar de la Renta at the de Young


Pelican fountain pen and watercolor in 6X8″ Stillman and Birn sketchbook

A morning spent at the de Young art museum in San Francisco with two sketch-buddies, there to see the Oscar de la Renta Retrospective show .  The show runs til May 30, so plenty of time to see it.  And bring your sketchbook, because it’s a near ideal situation for sketching the figure.  First of all, the figures are posed in stylized postures. Second, they don’t move. And third, they have no complicated hair and facial features, because they’re bald mannequins!  So you can focus on what really turns you on: color, design, textures, and imagining what it would be like to wear such creations!


I had a moment of freak out at the entrance when I was told that I couldn’t bring my day pack in unless I held it by the handle like a purse!  Right. And where was the third hand to hold a pen?

The problem was quickly solved by putting my pens and iPhone in a pocket, carrying my sketchbook, and checking the rest in the coatroom.


The exhibition rooms were dark and dramatic.  No place to sit down, but we’d anticipated that.  Sometimes the feet of the model never made it on the page, and in this one I did “her” from two angles to try to get that Cossack-like stance.


With each figure I took a picture to use as source for adding color at home.


The viewers were mostly women there with their girlfriends, talking about the fabrics, picking their favorites.  It was a real girlfriend extravaganza.


The Eastern Influence room was heavy on the animal skins, like this bridal outfit with the minks dangling from other minks or whatever other poor animal.


We spent some time in this room, deciding which gown we would like to wear.  I tried to think of the last time I wore an evening gown. . .high school prom maybe.  But that doesn’t really count.  Camp Winnarainbow “Kick the Cannes Festival”?


We all liked this one: soft, flowy, and sooo feminine (and not scratchy on the skin)


While I was sketching these, the docent came around and I picked up some tidbits.  Sara Jessica Parker wore the white gown at an opening and asked de la Renta to put his name on it, which he did in RED! The pink one flows down three sets of steps.


About de la Renta Vogue magazine wrote: “Nobody makes a woman feel more like a woman at night”.  (Movie stars maybe.)

By the time I’d painted in the drawings at home I was thinking, how fun it would be to do fashion illustration!  in another life perhaps?

Smoke Painting and Brulage, May 14


smoke painting, ink dripping and collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

We see the surface textures of things and miss the heart of them.

Meanwhile our lives are full of holes where creatures live out of sight and unknown to us.

But if we listen closely we can hear the skittering and feel the electric ripple of skin in that part of us that knows. . .

I do love to paint with smoke! It’s not hard.  Light a candle and hold the paper at an angle over it, letting the flame kiss the paper until you see a stroke of soot/charcoal/smoke dust on the paper.  If you wait too long, or hold the flame on the edge of the paper you get burnt paper or “brulage” (we do love those French words!)  Instant painting!  That’s what we did in Monday’s class.

It’s a lesson I’ll be repeating on May 14 in a mini-workshop in my studio.  You are welcome to come! As you can see above, we take the smoked beginning and let it lead us into more mixed media fun.  Here’s a couple more examples: “Up in Smoke” and “Smoke and Mirrors”

If you’d like to register, visit my website for more information!

Babatunde Lea and Friends


fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn (alpha)  6 X 8″sketchbook

My husband the Jazz buff gets me out to these incredible concerts, this one at the Healdsburg Art Center, where they moved panels and art aside to make space for this evening concert. If you weren’t able to be there, you can look forward to hearing more of Babatunde Lea at the upcoming Healdsburg jazz Festival in June!  This drummer here, cooking up some pretty spicy beats, is Babatunde, and the other sketches are some of his “friends”, all amazing jazz musicians in their own right.


This dude plays the most liquid keyboard, and not only with his fingers but it seems with every muscle in his body.  How can I ever learn to capture that?!


We were not sitting where I could see much, but I was able to lean over to a space between heads and zoom in for a shot with my Iphone so I could sketch later.


The singer was so hot I thought she’d melt the microphone!

Mixed Media Painting Workshop

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There’s still some space in my weekend workshop coming up in 1 1/2 weeks at the lovely Firehouse Art Center in Pleasanton, CA.  I’m particularly excited about sharing some discoveries about getting that “patina” glow in paintings.  To find out more and register please visit the Pleasanton Art League’s website.

The Native in Me


acrylic paints and inks, collage, image transfer on coffee baked w/c paper

I like to think I might have Native American blood, (though it’s doubtful).  Maybe then I could feel like a true American? or maybe not. My claim is shaky and based on strange preferences like feathers, drums and repetitive native chants.  Also there’s something about my high cheekbones. . .

My ancestors were settlers, Norwegians who took advantage of the fertile prairie lands of the dakotas.  Perhaps they even read this sign (which I found in an old Look magazine) that read “2,000,000 farms. . .to be had free of cost” and “simply by occupying it”.  I cringe to think of this.  Free of cost to whom? We now know that the price to nature, to human life, not to mention that next most essential staple of human life – culture and tradition – was obscenely high.

My feelings about this, my confusions come to occupy the paper, even as I demonstrate a lesson in aging paper by soaking it in coffee and baking it, using antique ephemera, sepia toned inks, and even image transfer (the native on horseback and the feather).

My Norwegian relatives, the Buskeruds and Loffswolds were “good” people as far as I remember. So I can’t help wondering if they had any Native American friends, and perhaps even a little bit of the native gene pool entered the blood line somewhere along the way?

A long weekend in San Francisco


Pigma Sensei pen, w/c in Stillman and Birn sketchbook, 5 X 8″

A four day weekend with my husband was packed with San Francisco sights, from Japantown to the Legion of Honor, Turtle Hill and the Castro to Fort Mason and Haight Ashbury. This enchanting city  never lets us down.

The Bonnard exhibit at Legion of Honor was so much more spectacular than I’d anticipated. When we got to this mural room, we couldn’t resist taking pictures of these guys, ignoring the art and tuning themselves to cell-land.


We were with Andrew’s friend Maura, and finally at lunch Bob and she got into a conversation so that I could (without being impolite) start sketching madly, trying out some of Bonnard’s space/perspective flattening techniques and color play.


We were staying in the apartment of a friend which had views of Fort Mason (see the Golden Gate bridge peaking out on the right) and the harbor looking out at Alcatraz and across the bay to Marin.  So I did some thumbnail sketches, getting a bit carried away on the painting of them. i don’t think I’d ever get tired of that view.


Next day I joined a SF Urban Sketchers meet up at Turtle Hill and the Mosaic steps (two sets).  Most of the sketchers climbed to the top, but I enjoyed the leisure and the view from the bottom.  In San Francisco the “bottom” would mean the Bay and this was already up many steep streets and commanding a view of lower lands.

A cool wet wind was blowing and I’d forgotten to bring my stool or any munchies. It had been an uphill walk from my car, and it was far from any warm cafe. And how was I to paint all those mosaic tiles? I leaned against a parked car and started in.


A few blocks around the hill was another set of mosaic steps and these were a popular tourist attraction with carloads of people disembarking regularly. I found a curb to sit on and was alert to any cars that might accidentally head for my toes.

Later we saw Laurie Wigham’s exhibit titled “The Changing City” at Spark Arts Gallery in the Castro. A thoughtful, sensitive show of her masterful watercolor paintings and sketches of the developing scene in neighborhoods in San Francisco.


Our last day we headed for Haight St. and got there before the shops opened. I sipped coffee, watching the diverse parade of people passing: from fresh faced young students in groups to stylish professionals to the gypsy/hippy garbed to the addicts and homeless people talking to themselves and picking remnants of joints out of the gutter and lighting up. As the shops opened the smell of incense wafted my way. It was a strange time capsule I’d happened into, this street with alternating tie dye, water pipes, and trendy sterile clothing shops catering to the new tech-y crowd.


What a deal!  We were seated opposite the sushi chef at lunchtime.!


I took a few pictures and wanted to get at least one of the street people, so I did this at home today from my Iphone.

Fool’s Day Parade


Fountain pen and w/c in 6 X 8″Stillman and Birn sketchbook (alpha series)

This was the second year in a row Carole and I headed over to Occidental, the lovely little town nestled in the redwoods, for the Fools parade. (You can see last year’s sketches here.) It seems like the whole town turns out for this delightfully goofy event, and it appears that they all know each other. The optional attire is anything fool-ish, which leaves infinite room for invention. And you definitely don’t have to worry about standing out!  Most people walk/dance/whatever in the parade, which has no obvious organization, but plenty of pizzazz, and the rest watch.

Since we knew what to expect this year, we were better prepared. For instance there would be no sitting and sketching. So the sketchbook was open in hand and the pens and water brush in a pocket vest.

In fact, mostly we were walking and sketching. Carole even did some painting while walking! I made color notes as I sketched and added the paint later, when we could sit a moment and rest.

Some of these subjects had an official role to play, like Zero the clown, who later mounted the Podium of Impossibility to crown new royalty, and other foolishness.  Others were folks standing in front of me when I looked up and needed another subject.

Enjoy the parade!


In the first sketch I tried my Pentel brush pen, but it must have been a very dry day, because I couldn’t get much of a line, or maybe I was too rushed?


Following this guy, trying to get the hang of making lines while walking. Yes, that’s a boxing glove hanging from his waist, I think?


Here I was starting to get major costume envy.  Next year. . .


The Hub Bub Club is a marching band with more than one tuba, fabulous costumes and a super cool attitude that makes me want to follow them anywhere!


I’m happy to report that I had no time to take pictures.  Often it’s like, you can either take photos or sketch, but not both.


There was a band setting up to play after the parade. Picture a big guy, maybe the bassist? dressed in a bunny suit.  Now you’ve got the idea of Fool’s Day in Occidental.


You sketch what you have time for and leave out the rest. So the tuba grew out of a head.


A good place to end. . .with a benediction by a Cardinal.