Portlandia

It was a good week to get a bit of a getaway and breathe some fresher air, for a couple of days at least. The unhealthy air from the Camp Fire actually reached Portland for two out of the four days I was there visiting a friend. But then there was also some of that fresh moist north coast air you can take a lungful of without a gasp or cough.

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Our little Santa Rosa airport just minutes from my home makes the trip so easy. The terminal air was gritty with smoke, so I’m trying not to breathe too deep during the wait.

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In Portland it was too cold and damp to sketch outside, so Janet had already planned some indoor alternatives. She is not a sketcher, but one of those rare people who is happy to amuse herself while I sketch. The main library is elegant and architecturally interesting.

I had planned to practice the geometry of columns and windows and lighting, but no sooner had we sat down in one of the open areas than this old lady came up to us with big grin and said “Are you girls having fun?”

The thing about Portland(ia) is that, even though it’s a big city, you are likely to be approached by a stranger who acts like you’re an old friend and launches into a conversation with little preamble. So this dear lady cheerfully engaged us for a good 15 minutes about her dismay at the changes that had been made to the original Fantasia movie that would make dear Walt turn in his grave! Janet pretended to listen raptly, while I sketched.

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I found a spot on the stairway where I could look down into the periodicals room, a daunting view which I tackled with great trepidation, getting confused about the windows and bored by all the books! What I call a useful practice exercise for my weak points.

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Bob had told me to look out for “man buns” in Portland, hipster fashion as he knows it. However we were spotting very few man buns and many other manifestations of hipster-dom, like this couple at one of the many coffee bars, Case Study Coffee Roasters. Her raspberry hair and his cock’s comb were all we could see from where we were sitting but one can imagine more decorative fashion on the skin shrouded by coats.

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It’s slow going walking around town. The trees are shamelessly flaunting their finest apparel of the year and begging for pictures to be taken. And then there’s the shops, like the Peculiarium with products like bottles Hipster Powder flanked by wierd skeletons. And of course there’s a coffee shop on each block, like this one serving Stumptown coffee, where one can watch the procession of colorful humans. This coffeeshop, Vivace, had a piece of paper money from about every country in the world tacked to its walls inside, and nice porch seating as well.

The sun had emerged after our walk in the forest. The wind was blowing leaves on the table, and that became the subject of the sketch.

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Well, that’s about it for sketches. It was really a visit to see Janet, my friend who goes way back to, gulp, 1963 when two New England girls landed in Palo Alto, California mid-year in eighth grade and survived the culture shock together.

JanetandBalthazarHer housewarming gift was happily received, a mixed media (fabric/acrylic) portrait of her beloved cat Balthasar.

 

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Crab Season!

This time of year we get kind of excited about crab season. The Dungeness crabs rival lobster for their delectable flavor and texture, especially when dipped in lemon butter. And then there’s the ritual of cracking the shell and getting crab juice dripping down to your elbows and smearing crab butter onto the wine glass as you reach to wash down the food.

And now there’s a new ritual, second year in the making, with my sketch friends. We head out to Bodega Bay and try to sketch the fishing boats with their colorful crab traps.

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We picked a weekday after the frenzied opening to the crab sports fishing season over the weekend. It was very windy and cold and there was little or no action at the docks. We walked around for a while trying to find spots with some shelter from the wind. I settled on this spot which was at least partially protected and in the sun. By the time I was finished I was shivering and happy to head across the street to the restaurant for yummy fish tacos.

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We’d had enough of freezing, and headed back to the town of Bodega, known perhaps best for the house in Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. I started out wanting to sketch individual architectural features of interest, but then reverted to my habit of connecting elements. The tombstone was of particular interest in that it is the only grave in the churchyard next door. Ellen Orr, bless her heart, died in childbirth (I found this later on the internet). To this day 250 years later she lies alone in her very own church cemetary.

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Waiting for my friends to finish up I had time for one more, the back of a home facing Bodega Hwy and a chance to get in some of the fall color.

Oh No, Not Again!

I was on the phone this afternoon with my son, paying only partial attention to the skies as they transitioned from bright sunshine to a peachy gunmetal gray, which worked its way up from the horizon until the entire sky was filled. Bob placed a piece of paper in my lap that said it was smoky outside. And the words came to mind, “oh no, not again!”

It took a bit of online searching and a leap of the imagination to believe that the smoke was blowing all the way from Butte County, where a new and fast growing firestorm was blowing through 15,000 acres with no signs of slowing, and 1000 ‘s of people were fleeing. Oh no, not again.

And I still thought that referred just to the fire.

ono not again

acrylic and cheesecloth texture on watercolor paper, 10 X 11″

Out in my studio  I looked around for a way to give shape to what I was feeling. A cheesecloth textured piece reminded me of a horizon in flames.  I knew I was looking for the faces of those who would be fleeing the conflagration.

We refer to a mask of fear, of sorrow, and this is what I wanted as a kind of prayer of solidarity. Yes, I was grateful to find out that the fire was not closer, at least not this time, but. . .I still feel the fear, and the loss.

And then I’m watching the evening news about the shooting in Thousand Oaks, a country western music night for young people, some of whom lost their lives and others who will never feel totally safe again. And then the news announcer uses these words, “people are saying oh no, not again”.

Symphony to Farmer’s Market

Two great ways to spend a weekend, at the symphony and a farmer’s market.

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I’m sitting in the second row, looking up to the stage at the Green Center at the Santa Rosa Symphony conducted by the marvelous Francesco Lecce-Chong. It’s an open rehearsal with various starts and stops and instructions to the orchestra, which I can hear, though the music already sounds perfect to my ears.

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The program is Dancing Across Time and I’m having trouble sitting still enough to sketch when the music demands that I MOVE! From my seat I can see only the conductor and stringed instruments, so at the intermission I move up to the balcony to get a different view.

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I am in awe of the conductor who expresses the emotion of the music with every pore of his body, and the musicians who come in on time and play the complex music and seem so relaxed!

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This morning I’m at the farmer’s market in Sebastopol, on a bench in the shade. I wonder what the Joy Pop is and marvel at the business model of this guy who cycles with his product right up to his spot by the stage.

It’s lunchtime and everyone seems to have a plate of food with something green on top. I recognize the poet (top left) who showed up at my open studio over ten years ago and wanted me to read his little books. “No charge, but you can donate.” And then the bunny shows up. . . That’s Sebastopol for you, every Sunday of the year.

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Reportage with Oliver

On weekends Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a three ring circus, a place I would probably avoid if if were not for the superlative sketching possibilities! Last Saturday I was there for a Reportage sketching workshop with my good friend and fellow flaneur, Oliver Hoeller and a small group of “advanced” students wanting to learn his delightful illustrative style of storytelling journalism.

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Working in a 9 X 12″ spiral bound Canson Mix Media sketchbook I did a warm up here before the workshop started.

You can sit on one bench on the Wharf, as I did here, and turn your head to see all of this (that’s Alcatraz at the top) and catch a performance while watching the tourists and sailboats and being tempted by food. Here I’m going fast and trying to fit the elements together, something which I know Oliver will be teaching.

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First warm up in the workshop was to draw a composite figure using different subjects to complete it. Why? Because in a place like the Wharf everyone is moving, so unless you want to finish the figure from memory (not recommended) you may need to wait for the next subject to come along. I made it easy on myself and sketched what I could see from where I was standing, David’s head (another student) and Oliver’s body. We referred to this sketchy form of laboratory science as the Frankenstein man.

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The next exercise (my favorite!) was like a scavenger hunt! Oliver would tell us what category of subject to add to the drawing and give us five minutes to complete it. Then we would move on. (this only works in a small group!) I added color later and might have overdone it.

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In this one I’m focusing, with more concerted effort and the encouragement of Oliver, on varying and exaggerating the size of the various elements and connecting them in a “designed” way. It’s so liberating to pick and choose the story telling elements based on interest and the needs of the sketch rather than struggling to get perspective and other pictorial aspects to match the scene before you!

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Sketching within cells, graphic novel style – another great way to capture aspects of an otherwise overwhelming scene. I lasted inside the Musee Mecanique arcade for about 15 minutes before the noise drove me back outside!

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At the end of the workshop Oliver led us into the bowels of commercial Fisherman’s Wharf where the stimulation level reached a screaming pitch. But the great thing is that there is so much to choose in a setting like this.

This is not my favorite sketch of the day –  too locked down and closed up with no lost edges. And I was trying out Oliver’s grey felt pen and overdid it. But this is the kind of sketch that teaches the most. . .when you have that if-only-I-had. . . experience, because there’s always a next time, and a next. I can’t wait!

And a big thanks to Oliver!

See more of my Fisherman’s Wharf sketches here.

Halloween on the Plaza

At first glance it didn’t seem like there was much Halloween “stuff” going on at Healdsburg Plaza on a Tuesday afternoon, so my friends and I were left to find some and apply our sketches to it. After enjoying the world’s best coffee at Flying Goat we picked the north block and gave ourselves 30 minutes to put the Halloween story together.

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Walking down the block we each picked elements, found on signs and in store windows from clothing stores to bars and restaurants. The exercise ended up looking like what you would do in designing a store window at holiday season, only it’s your own assemblage story. Each element is from a different location, so fitting them together is like constructing a puzzle on the go.

I was tired after standing to sketch all this and spent my next 30 minutes seated and adding color while resting.

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Next was the south side block of the Plaza, dominated by Copperfields book store which was a gold mine of Halloween books and chotskas (sp?) Lots of Harry Potter books and games, which took me back on a nostalgic tour of those days when my boys and I enjoyed the young wizards’ adventures!

What the season holds in store

I got out the cheesecloth in Monday Muse Group and realized I would have to learn all over again how to make interesting textures with it. I was still refreshing my memory when I did this one before class. God awful bright,  I know, but this is the season of rich colors, so why not?!

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Skies aflame and birds circling. They know what the weather signifies, what the season change holds in store for anyone who pays attention to the timber of the light, to the patterning in the fields, to the leaves and seed pods in dense clusters of writing that black birds comprehend as they follow their own flight patterns and land in choreographed formations designed to satisfy the hunger of bellies so long aloft.

You English teachers might be annoyed with the run-on sentence, but the leaves don’t pause for you to notice them falling or the river slow down so you can freeze action. This season is coming on us in glorious and unsettling ways that doesn’t allow for regular punctuation. Are you getting into some spookiness?