pencil and various pens in handmade sketchbook BFK Rives paper

What do you do while the orchestra is tuning up?  I like to draw them.  We had seats in the balcony at the Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center for the rehearsal of “Russian Glory”.  You can see the program here;  very passionate Russian music.  I was particularly interested in hearing the pianist Olga Kern, whom my piano teacher had recommended.



If I hadn’t been sitting where I had a clear view of the her hands, I would have had difficulty believing that a mere ten fingers could have such a profound impact on an instrument and an audience.  Suffice it to say I was rapt.  And totally unable to sit still.  So once again sketching saved me.  Especially watching Bruno, the conductor, who is apparently the only one in the concert hall who gets to really move his whole body!


The Honkey Donkey Farm and Bird Refuge


Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen, watercolor on BFK Rives paper in handmade journal, 5X8″

As many of you know I love birds.  And who wouldn’t be excited by a large room filled with exotic plumage and bird talk! The Honkey Donkey Farm and Bird Refuge is only 7 minutes drive from my house, so when my friend Chris Carter was here teaching and visiting this week, we headed over to sketch the birds and donkeys.

You probably can’t read my handwriting in the sketch above so here’s the “translation”:

an afternoon at the Bird Exchange with Chris sketching standing up, peering into cages where 100’s of birds chattered, screamed, and even spoke English while feathers flew and poop landed 

If you didn’t have a headache when you entered the cage room, you’d certainly have one if you stayed very long.  The ear splitting racket of it all!  But Oh! the delight of the colors and expressions, and bizarre mannerisms, and extreme variety of these feathered beauties!

Soon enough we sought the fresh air outside and settled on our stools to watch the donkeys.


Japanese brush pen and watercolor

The miniature Sicilian donkeys were grazing out in the field, and I know from experience that you don’t want to call attention to yourself as a possible food bestower or you’ll get too much attention to be able to draw.  But while I was sketching the little fellow on the left, I looked up into the prehistoric eyes of one of the two resident ostriches and got quite distracted!  Actually the donkey and the ostrich are maybe about the same size, but the Ostrich puts out a pretty intimidating vibe.


The donkeys did finally discover us after a bit, and they started working their way over to where we were sitting, just a few at first. ..


So out of gratitude for their being such wonderful subjects we started the feeding, and then the donkey word went out, and well, we had a lap full of the sweetest faces. . .


Aren’t they adorable!?


Pirate Ships


pencil, pens, watercolor in 8X10″ Strathmore w/c art journal

Continuing on with my weekend in San Francisco, on Sunday I crossed the Bay to Sausalito for a SF Sketchers Meet Up.  What a fun group it was.  And how nice to sit on the dock of the bay in good company and sketch something (the Hawaiian Chieftain) interesting that wasn’t moving, at least for the 3 hours we were therer.  So I plunged right in and got mesmerized by the masts and booms and riggings and pulleys and ropes and hitches. That’s almost the extent of my seaman’s vocabulary, but we got to listen to the crew and watch and learn. And you can visit the Meet Up blog and see more sketches.


This lady seemed like the captain because she was giving the orders, and meanwhile getting in all these wonderful positions which invited gesture sketches.



Wine tasting and Artist Reception this Saturday!

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For directions to Moshin Winery (located just above Forestville and the Russian River) visit their website.

Hope to sip some wine with you there!


A Weekend of Urban Sketching

I had been looking forward to this 3 days in San Francisco.  My husband Bob was at a photography portfolio review, leaving me to get out on the streets and sketch!  No shortage of subjects in S.F., that’s for sure. I carefully assembled my supplies and outfit for my new urban sketch persona.  The trick is to have everything you need for comfort and art making compact and accessible.  Only thing is the list of all those things gets so long that you might as well be packing for a trip to Europe!

My new vest with 15 pockets really helped. I’m not kidding.  15 pockets, which means you have to memorize where you put things. But it worked great!  So now I need a whole new wardrobe of all vests with lots of pockets.


Ready for my first day out.

My husband Bob made me a lovely sketchbook with BK Rives printmaking paper in it.  This paper is so soft and lovely.  But there’s a bit of a learning curve for me to use it, as I discovered with my first sketches in Chinatown.


I did a rough blocking out of the card players in Portsmouth Square and midway they all got up, rearranged their “furniture” and played musical chairs. Only the lady in purple stayed put.  So I erased the pencil and that’s when I discovered that the paper was too soft.


But I had to try the cherry blossoms and I knew this guy was stoned and not likely to move. . .


One of the challenges I’d assigned myself was a true urban sketch of a building with some complexity.  Sitting among the smokers in the park, but on a comfortable bench with a view of this restaurant, I plunged in, trying all my different pens while trading texts with my friend who suddenly showed up in town and wanted to take me for a drink.  (oh yeah, it was my birthday)


Next day I had planned to sketch the 164th annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities downtown, including the parade of 200 floats.  But first, while waiting for the bus, I saw the nude bike-a-thoners pedal by.  (no sketches there!)  Arriving to a sea of green bedecked humanity I instantly understood the this was not a very accessible sketch venue.  Too hot in the sun and everything moving!  Nevertheless I tried some figure sketches.



  • the guard in front of the Asian Art Museum
  • parade4
  • the ubiquitous cell phone
  • Next:  Pirate Ships on the Bay with the SF Urban Sketchers

Pirate Ship


acrylic and collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Warrior woman searches the sky for storm clouds and enemy vessels, while I watch from shore, sketchbook in hand.

This was actually a color lesson featuring violet as the dominant hue.  The nautical theme inserted itself at some point – no doubt a connection with the fact that this Sunday I’m planning to participate in a Meet Up of urban sketchers in Sausalito to sketch the Lady Washington, an 18th century sailing ship replica with credits including Pirates of the Caribbean.  Here’s the details if you want to come.  Pirate Ships in Sausalito

The subtext is that I am not such a good sailor. I did acquire a love of boating from my dad, who was a Norwegian (Minnasotan) with a passion for boats. And I grew up with boat trips on rivers and lakes and later the Sacramento Delta.  But the open sea makes me queasy just thinking about it.  As in other matters of life, however, I am quite good at imagining more freedom than I actually have, and becoming that maiden with the golden sword in hand.


An Old (Tree) Friend


dip pens with walnut ink + Noodlers Golden Brown + Japanese brush pen + w/c in Strathmore journal 8X10″

If this sunny California weather continues much longer I’ll get my spring fever out of the way before it actually arrives!  It felt like such a guilty pleasure, setting up a folding chair right there on the walkway with a cup of coffee on one side and ink bottles and dip pens on the other.

It was an “assignment”, the latest nudge from Danny Gregory’s Sketchbook Skool designed to keep us arting our every days.  Basically. . .scrutinize a tree and sketch it.

Not just any tree, this old apple tree lived behind my studio for years before there even was a studio.  In the winter it stands naked revealing it’s bizarre twists and turns.  As I got lost sketching the crooks and shoots, I found myself surrendering to the messiness of it all, adding more ink and kept going.  Meanwhile it was talking to me about all its memories.  So I wrote them down.

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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