Meet Grace

Before the pandemic my friend Ruth and I used to show up at The Living Room after the hot lunch was served, and armed with our bags of art supplies, lead an expressive arts group. One of the women who would drop in was Grace. She usually had to leave early to pick up her kids at school, though at least once I remember she was able to bring her daughter with her.

I was impressed with how competent she seemed, even in the midst of what I knew was a housing crisis similar to that of the other women. She would sit down, immediately engage in the art with little need for instruction, express her gratitude for the opportunity and be on her way before we wrapped up.

Months later I ran into her outside The Living Room and she agreed to share her story for the portrait project. 

She was housed and juggling a demanding schedule of work and childcare with the added element of supervising Zoom instruction for two children at home. We finally found some time to talk so I could hear her story. As with all the portrait stories I’ve done, the final story that goes with the art piece is a seriously abbreviated portion of a person’s life.

To see more of the portraits in the series “This is My Story: Women and Homelessness” you may visit the exhibit on the Santa Rosa Arts website.

If you’d like to know more about The Living Room in the context of constantly changing needs in the homeless community, watch this video which presents a look at their open-hearted response to the pandemic!

Click here to watch!

Glide Annual Holiday Jam

Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco does an annual holiday music jam to raise money to serve the people of the Tenderloin district. GLIDE is a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization. So when they celebrate what they do, it’s a joyful and loving event! 

I got invited to sketch along with the S.F. Urban Sketchers. Since it was all on line of course, we exited our Zoom meet up to watch, listen and sketch on our computers. I wanted to try to capture the animation of the singers, so I paid attention to the mouths, lips and teeth. Often the eyes were closed, or almost. Sorry but I was not paying attention to the names of star performers, though I was grooving to the music. I sure would love to be in their choir!


Smoke Bush “fire”

Enough of that monochromatic business with Sumi Alone! Yesterday I indulged whole heartedly in fall color in Pat’s garden. Who can resist a smoke bush with the light shining through the foliage? The “smoke” happens in the spring with the sprays of lace-like flowers that explode in delicate halos around the leaves, but autumn is when the real firy colors are revealed.

I had no intention of putting yet more pumpkins in the sketch. I’d done enough of those already this year! But I needed something warm for balance, and they were there after all. The heat lamp is a great reminder that we must do our congregating outside now, if at all, and Pat’s family is ready to follow protocols and stay safe!

Sumi Alone

My little studio in the orchard

Not a time to paint with black and white with all this riotous fall color going on, you might say.  And I would agree. . . with the exception of sumi ink, which prepares us resolutely for the upcoming season of dark dramas.

So along with my Muse friends I got out my sticks and sumi ink to doodle and explore lines and shapes and the beautiful warm gray tones you can get with sumi. This was the point when I stopped and did some writing. . .

A line takes a walk

It’s late afternoon and the light is dwindling

But it takes heart and sets off

No time to worry about direction

And the trees tip this way and that

but the line is still walking now

Emboldened by its very own blackness, brashness, ballsiness

Its I-don’t-care-what-you think-I’m-liking-this ness

Til the tiniest seed of doubt creeps in. . .

But does it need color?

And a great weariness takes over. . .

I manage to resist the color, yet contemplate further the doodle shapes. . .

    A skinny snake trying to digest an overly large mouthful?

    Some hearts drank too much at a convention?

    Rapunzel, just off the page, has let down her long hair?

And then, I almost load up a brush with a juicy load of red or yellow, but no! The purity of the sumi must not be tampered with. . .this time.

Meet Isabel

I first met Isabel a couple years ago when I first started volunteering at The Living Room. I was allowed to sit in on the close “knit” group of women who were knitting, crocheting and doing other fiber arts projects (back in the day when it was possible to sit close around a table inside in cold weather).

The group was composed of women who had been or were homeless or otherwise at risk. The leader was a much loved woman named Mary who came with supplies and participated equally in the free flowing conversation.

In the hour plus that I was there I sketched like mad to get as much of the action as possible, while absorbing the feeling of intimacy, comradeship and healing generated by this group.

With very little time to put color on, I splashed it on where it was most evident. The colorful woman in the middle was Isabel, and I hoped I would meet her later and be able to do a portrait story. Isabel was very private, but finally agreed to tell me something about her life for the portrait project.

Isabel’s is a story of great endurance, and one which was not easy for her to tell. It involves so much loss, discrimination and unfairness, yet she has found her way.

The knitting group has not been able to meet since the Covid outbreak, and access to zoom for these women is not generally an option.

However the Living Room continues to find new ways to engage with women and children at risk. Each time I stop by, I hear of their new efforts to adjust to the challenges of pandemic times. 

To see more of my portrait stories from The Living Room visit the This is My Story: Women and Homelessness gallery on the Santa Rosa Arts website


Devilish to Angelic

The Inktober challenge is stretching way into November for me, because I just don’t want to put my ink away. Here’s the latest.

sumi ink

Day 24: Dig.  He’s probably a nice guy just planting some bushes in his garden. But then it’s possible the shovel has a different meaning, if you know what I mean.

Day 30: Ominous.    Can you tell that I love the dark drama poses? This one was a surprise, since the paper I thought was cold pressed watercolor paper turned out to be something different which acted more like a blotter paper. I almost threw it out, but instead just kept going.

sumi ink and Noodler’s golden ink

So this last one is the result of some hilarity on FaceTime. Son Andrew captured this shot of his brother Ben while Ben was walking around his apartment, with the light shining over his head, creating a statue of liberty or angelic effect.

I couldn’t resist. Perhaps the angelic will serve as a needed counterpoint to the more devilish portraits in this post. (Ben is and will always be my little angel, after all!)

Hidden Creatures

Pat’s garden can be inhabited like a Where’s Waldo picture, where there are creatures everywhere (of the statuary sort) if one slows down enough to look. And slowing down and looking is what we’ve been doing there for the past few weeks in order to sketch.

I sat down to sketch this scene in the afternoon light, which at this time of year dwindles quite rapidly. The light and shadow shapes were what drew me, but minutes into sketching, I looked up to see the light had gone! And remembered that you must always notate the shadow shapes before they change and you lose them!  Consequently I was on my own, making it up and hoping for the best.

The little bunny nearby saved the day.

Inktober into November

In the second half of October I on a trip which interrupted my participation in the Inktober 2020 challenge, but I’m doing a bit of catching now. It’s never too late after all and I quite like the habit of sketching after dinner. So here’s some more.

Higgins Red Fadeproof ink, Noodler’s Golden ink, Sumi ink

Day 16 this theme was Rockets so I got out some firey colors.

Sumi ink

Day 18: Trap I’m working from the Sktchy pictures. This was a subtle but excellent choice to convey the feeling of being trapped. I used the warm black Sumi ink to match the feeling tone.

Higgins Red ink and Sumi ink with brush

Day 22: Chef.   My guess is she’s making cannolis here and my bet is they taste pretty good.

A while back I added fountain pens to my sketching armory, and that opened up a whole world of inks which I knew nothing of previously. I ordered samples from Goulet Pens and soon had amassed a large number of mini ink vials which have sat on my table for some years unused. . . until now.

Diamine Grey and Winsor and Newton Sepia Calligraphy ink with brush

For this one I watched the Sktchy video of teacher Arto Isotalo demonstrate his masterful method of wet on wet watercolor. Water has a mind of its own in this kind of wet painting, and if you can surrender to it and be ready to work with all the blossoms and other irregularities, sometimes you get those the most amazing results. I’ve got to do more of these.

My son Andrew continues to blow my mind with his ink drawings. He’s letting me show one more of them here.

by Andrew Cornelis

I’ve had a lot of days lately where I could relate to this drawing. How bout you?

You can see more of Andrew’s drawings here. 

I Voted

Actually I voted weeks ago. It’s been a slow agonizing wait, or has it been fast? Feels that way now suddenly on the eve of election day.

w/c paper textured with light molding paste and finished with fluid acrylics


Speedy goes the clock

Goes the calendar

Goes the daylight time falling back

Goes the leaves changing falling

Down to the wire

Down to the red and the blue

Down to the finish line

The donkey and the elephant panting

With so much to weigh them down

There’s that down again

Is the up on its way?

Hope you get some sleep tonight!!


Dreaming in the Garden

There’s something about my friend Pat’s garden which sets me to dreaming. You know the kind of summer vacation on the edge of boredom but slipping softly into something more like dreamtime, fairy garden time where everything taken in by the senses is a kind of an amazement.

The thing is to find a spot out of the blistering sun and just see what’s there. And in Pat’s garden there’s always something blooming or fruiting and a creature left behind by the fairies. And in my sun drenched stupor I start drawing and painting, trying to put it all onto an 8X 8″ sketchbook page.  I think I almost did it here! At least I got the stupor on. Haha!