Resident Minstrel


We live out in the country where the ears are more likely to pick up birdsong than traffic noise. But in the house it’s generally soft music, finger picking guitar riffs that emanate from various rooms where Ben perches, drifting in his own world of sound.I think it must relax him even more than it does me.  To jump on the vibe, sometimes I sketch him.

SF Porchfest


brush pen and watercolor in 9 x 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook

We joined up with the San Francisco Urban Sketchers yesterday for a Meet Up in the Mission district to sketch the Porchfest musicians.

It’s always a bit of an expedition to drive into “the city”.  It’s a bit like a back packing trip where you have to think about carrying all the possible necessities on your back.  For starters, one can never really predict the weather in S.F., so you have to bring your sun hat and rain coat or down parka and sometimes all three just to be sure. And then there’s the snacks, because once you start sketching, you aren’t going to be wasting time stopping for food or drink along the way. And then there’s getting things like keys and wallet and cell phone and reading glasses and sunglasses (what have I forgotten here?) stashed in safe and easily accessible pockets. And then there’s the collapsible stool and maybe a clipboard, and we haven’t even gotten to the art supplies yet!! And then, where are you going to park once you get there?

But we braved all of the above and we glad of it as we arrived at Buena Vista Horace Mann School to hear the first band The Bogues  heat up the day and call the sun out of the clouds.


Next was the Colonels of Truth (love their title!) playing at the House of Brakes in front of one of the most phantasmagorical 2-3 story murals. This is a true community event with bands playing on many blocks of the Mission simultaneously and music lovers of all ages and persuasions.


Next we followed some of the group through an opening between city buildings and into a secluded garden that felt like another world. All in Common Garden was a wonderland of exotic plants, vegetable garden and bamboo forest.  Under a gigantic avacado tree was Katie Holman, a folk singer soloist who shared some of her repertoire with us in this intimate green shaded setting.

Next year I think I’ll plan to stay into the evening. Walking to the car we passed groups of spectators listening to more bands playing music from a wide variety of genres. I really love this kind of informal setting for enjoying live music, and it seemed that the musicians did as well.

Wabi Sabi: Imperfection

Ring the Bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen


Inks and gesso on 10 X 10″ w/c paper

Today I immersed myself in a contemplation of the Japanese esthetic of wabi sabi. In particular, the beauty of imperfect things, like cracked pottery and gnarled old trees.

My instructions to myself read something like: Strive for simplicity. Get in and out of the painting in 15-30 minutes. Allow the murky and undefined, the random and the clunky. Breathe deep and try not to overthink it.


I had fun dripping inks on this gesso textured surface.


and scraping out and toweling off and rolling on, with a bit of charcoal line suggestion. The title of this one will be “What is that growing on your roof?”


And when I was done, I had such a lovely torn piece of paper towel. In celebration of imperfect beauty I glued it onto another piece of paper for another start. I might break the 15 minute rule and play with this one some more. These “cracks” are letting a lot of light in!

If you’d like to join me in this pursuit of wabi sabi, on June 25 and 26 I’ll be teaching a weekend painting workshop at Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol, California titled “The Visual Poetry of Wabi Sabi”.  For more information and to contact me, visit my website.

Smokin’ again


smoke on w/c paper, inks, screen collage, 10 X 11″

Want a little mystery mixed in with your paints?  Light a candle and smoke the paper. That’s what we did in the Saturday workshop, that and a bit of brulage (burning the paper). The effect usually caused hallucinations of a sort (even without the cannabis). In this image I saw people huddling and was reminded of the novel I was reading late at night about the blitz bombing of London in WWII; people huddling in underground shelters night after night.smokespider

A second one was perhaps equally evocative (creepy?) I used a piece where I had collaged on tissue paper and purposely burned it in places where it was built up, in order to get that brown color.  I liked that so much that I made some holes with the hole punch and briefly placed the candle flame in them for some nice brulage edges. (and sprayed with water immediately to put the fire out!) Kind of spidery. . .and it took a while to figure out what to do next. . .


I started out with a more benevolent floral theme by adding some yellow ink, but ditched that idea and started dripping sepia ink.  And finally cut up an old painting and collaged on the pieces, smoking over those at the end. (I still see the spider, kind of a tarantula, but now he’s safely in a world beyond!)

Sketching in the Rain


Fountain pen, watercolor in Stillman + Birn Alpha Sketchbook, 6 X 8″

Last weekend we headed over to the open house at the goat farm to sketch, but it was closed due to rainy, soggy ground. Next stop, Julliard Park in Santa Rosa for the Japanese Arts Festival and a chance to practice sketching in the rain.  The performers were on stage under a tent and the audience under umbrellas.  I was under neither and initial sketching efforts of the judo demonstration afforded a valuable lesson:  namely that ink shapes dissolve quickly on saturated paper (not shown here).

But the rain stopped at some point and these delightful dancers came on stage and the ink settled again onto the paper.


These were from iPhone shots.  I wanted to capture the attitude of pure glee of the dancers!


At one point the performers taught the audience to do the dance moves. We were furiously sketching and looked up at one point to realize that the audience and dancers were circling around us as we sat on our stools in the wet grass, too absorbed to get up and join in.

The Lure of Patina


embossed gesso texture, metallic mix of acrylics on w/c paper, 10 X 10″

This is a demo from the Pleasanton Art League workshop (two weekends ago now!) where we experimented with different acrylic textures and fluid acrylics mixed with metallics like Golden’s Micaceous Iron Oxide and Iridescent Bright Gold to get that aged metallic or patina look. The problem is that one can never really capture the sparkle in a photograph, so you’ll just have to imagine it! And I’m not sure yet whether I’m done with this one.  The multiply layers of glaze just seem to improve it, and I might even add some collage.

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with this fun group in their lovely Firehouse Art Center, where I taught a sketching workshop about four years ago.