Solo Retreat

Where you drive up the country lane outside of Fort Bragg, California to the Garden at Road’s End you are greeted first by this surrealistic natural sculpture in the ferns beneath the redwoods and you know you’ve entered a place of serene beauty. This is where I was this past week, on a solo retreat to have some time to hear the more quiet inner voices that needed some space to be heard.

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Lamy fountain pen and w/c in 6 X 8″ Stillman + Birn Beta series sketchbook

John Calhoun is the host here and has poured his architectural training and master garden skills along with experience running a spiritual retreat into this remarkable Air BNB retreat.

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I was ready to do a lot of meditating, writing, sleeping of course and nature walks. Initially the sky was heavy with drizzle so I satisfied my sketching urge inside, with cup of hot tea by my side.

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But I was minutes from the choicest northern California beaches, so I bundled up against the wind and rain and headed out to MacKerricher State park and walked along the cliffs. These rock outcroppings with seals and cormorants can be seen everywhere along the coast, but not up close. So, squinting I did my best, but learned that you should always start with the closer figures, in this case the seals, which of course are larger than the birds. But since I could make out the outline of the cormorants I started there. Oh well, you get the idea.

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Theoretically there are Gray Whales migrating now off the coast of California. I missed seeing them but settled for this skeleton, finding it particularly challenging to get the right proportions and fit this creature, which is already 12-14′ long at birth, into a drawing 7 inches wide!

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Later sketching in some late afternoon glow in John’s rainbow colored heather garden, which upstages even the Botanical Garden in town.

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For Bragg is particularly known for its Glass Beach and nature walk along the bluff. The waves were so high that day that it was easy to imagine not only the warned tsunami but the rapid loss of coastline. Fences were erected to keep people from standing too close to the edge of wet loose soil and rock.

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It’s always a treat to see the first poppies of the season, our gaudy California state flower. And such a treat to see this bumble bee, heavily laden with pollen.

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On Friday I stopped at Russian Gulch State Park on the way home to walk the headlands trail. The sun came out and I was treated to the most dazzling display of a winter sea with mountainous waves thundering and exploding against the cliffs into vertical sprays that dazzled blindingly in the sunlight. The entire sea below me was white foam.

Which is to say that I simply had to surrender to the fact that it was beyond my ability to sketch the experience. Sometimes it’s like that. The camera, the video, the brush, all become useless and you’re confronted with the necessity to use all your senses to lap it up and store it away in memory. . .when the time comes to go home.

Which is where I am now, still feeling the ocean spray and the thrill of standing on the edge of such magnificence. In a few years, that trail will be gone as the coast is eaten by forces we are learning more about each day. But the memory will remain.

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Oakland Museum

The S.F. Urban Sketchers met at the Oakland Museum yesterday. It’s a bit of a schlep to get there from Sebastopol, but so worth it! Since I lived in the East Bay for sixteen years, I know how to navigate the crazy knots of freeway pretzels to get there.

Once at the museum you are treated to three levels of engaging exhibitions and interactive installations. It was free admission day and well attended by families with strollers and children of all ages. And the sketchers turned out in numbers.

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This installation is hard to describe – like one of those bouncy houses for kids’ birthday parties, only not for bouncing. The colors were gradually changing and you could walk through the big spheres. (No paints allowed in the museum exhibits, so the watercolors were added later.)

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It was hard to capture in a sketch, so I did this one when I got home and it seemed a bit more accurate.

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Level 1 downstairs was a goldmine of taxidermy animals! I believe I could have stayed there for hours and maybe days! While in a trance trying to get the raccoon’s hands right, I heard a small child say something to his father about the drawing and felt him breathing down my neck. The father said “Sure! When we get home let’s get out your marking pens and you can do your own drawing of the raccoon!”  I thought, yeah, that’s one of the reasons we sketch in public.

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The dioramas were so dramatic! You’re not likely to run into this kind of animal action outside of National Geographic TV.

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Going for the snarl here.

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This haunting installation in recognition and remembrance of the people who lost their lives in Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire of a year ago was linked with the Day of the Dead and butterfly migration/metamorphosis exhibits. After sketching this I met a boy at the origami butterfly table and we helped each other fold paper butterflies.

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The meet ups always end with sharing our sketches. A large enthusiastic group of old and new sketchers assembled in the cafe to meet, see each others’ sketches and share ideas. What a fun way to spend a Sunday!

Captured!

It’s eerily quiet around our house today. I mean there’s still the usual birdsong and occasional car, but no cocky bird fellow pecking and crowing throughout the day. I must admit I miss Mr. Peckerdoodle a bit, even though we spent days trying to  locate his owner and then when we couldn’t, stalking and trying to catch him. Have you ever tried to catch a rooster that wasn’t roosting and asleep? None of the help that Google had to offer was working.

It’s not like he was unfriendly either. In fact he was frequently to be found with his beak to our front door, anticipating our company or at least our bird seed.

Finally though, yesterday morning the Hav-a-heart trap worked!

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And you bird lovers, do not despair! Our gardener picked him up and took him to the ranch where he will not only be well treated but will have an instant harem of eight hens awaiting him. Bye bye birdie.

Holiday Stories

Both our sons were home for the holidays, lapsing into eating and lounging and occasional computers games. I lapsed into holiday mode of buying groceries, cooking and cleaning up. That and taking a moment here and there to sit and sketch. . .

But first there was the Messiah Sing-along. . .

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which presented the challenge of standing up and sitting down repeatedly as the audience rose to join in the chorus. Each time some part of my sketch stuff clattered to the floor as I stood!

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When Ben occupied the kitchen counter and Andrew the front room I moved around to capture this thoroughly mesmerizing game they were sharing (in low light!)

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Andrew got stranded here for a couple extra days due to the storm so we asked him to capture the errant rooster that has been driving us crazy with its day-long crowing and pooping on the front step. Here’s how it’s going, as seen from the front window.

Smart Train

Those of us in Sonoma County who have been longing for a rapid transit system to transport us efficiently and economically to San Francisco are now realizing that our cars and the buses are our only bet. The new Smart Train (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transport) is finally up and running and apparently has riders, even though it only goes as far as San Rafael. So it was time to check it out with a bit of on location sketching.

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Derwent Graphik Line Maker pens and w/c in Stillman+Birn Sketchbook, 5.5X8.5″

The Railroad Square station, at the old 4th street Depot in Santa Rosa was rather quiet on a Saturday morning and a lovely spot for sketching in the sun.Trains departed every two hours. This first was a standing sketch behind the gate. To pull this one off I had to take an iPhone photo of the train arriving and add it to the sketch when finished since I don’t know enough about trains to catch it on the fly!

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It’s a bit of a rush to sketch on the platform and people were cold so they kept moving around. I was nervous too, knowing that the train would arrive in moments, and when it did, it stayed only briefly. And then I made the mistake of adding paint to the left side first (I’m left handed so I dipped my sleeve in it , smearing the paint around before realizing my error. (Tip! Always start painting on the side opposite your dominant hand!)

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After the 10:30am train left the station the two attentant/hosts sat down on opposite sides of the waiting area to give their attention to their cell phones and rest their feet.

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It was time for coffee at Flying Goat then and an opportunity to capture the old depot and train crossing posts along with the new.

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At home later I sketched this from a photo to practice design and perspective.

Some day I may try to get to San Francisco via the train. I can drive there in a little over an hour in my car (or get caught in traffic). Or I can drive to the station and look for parking, jump on the Smart Train, get off in San Rafael and take a bus to the ferry which will take me to San Francisco where I can board many different forms of public transportation to get me where I’m going, by which time I will need to turn around and come home. Hmmm.

Sylvester

This is a story of cat love. Our country abode has attracted many cats, birds, and rodents and more over the years. The water fountain and bird bath are a favorite neighborhood stop. Our beloved cat of 15 years, named Phil by my boys when they were little, showed up as a hungry abandoned teenager and hung around crying all day until we embraced him as ours. Many years later we noticed this gorgeous black angora cat following Phil around all day, and we realized he was here to stay. Sylvester is his name for obvious reasons (white bib and markings). And now years later Phil and Syl have become an old gay couple with side by side food bowls outside under the sycamore tree.

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

Since we have paintings of all our pets over the years, going back even to the gecko drawings that Ben did when he was in preschool, the bunny, and definitely Phil; I decided it was time to include Sylvester in the pantheon. I did it in the style similar to the portrait I’d done of Phil a few years ago – fabric collage and acrylic paint with a helping of whimsy. It was clear that a portrait of Sylvester must include his beloved Phil.

philcollagePortrait of Phil

Today Phil is standing by in the drizzle of rain watching as Andrew, my son who is still visiting, is using all his wiles to try to capture our latest uninvited guest – a handsome and surprisingly smart and elusive young rooster, who is tearing up our garden and loudly proclaiming his virility with day-long cock-a-doodle-dooing and leaving his poo patties on the walkway. So far the errant rooster has won and I’m readying my sketchbook to at least derive some artistic satisfaction from this epic battle of the wits.

 

Burn Mama

The story is always in the details. You can drive by the neighborhoods that burned in the October fires, as I did with my sons who have been visiting from back east. I wanted them to get a feel for this epic event that changed so many lives. But when you sit down to stay a while and sketch the scene, pieces of the story start to creep into your heart and get stuck there.

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This property, like so many others, had passed inspections and been partially cleared. The insurance company was involved. The holiday spirit had been noted in stray decorations. The straw batting was arranged to keep the soil and pollutants from flowing into the street when it rains. And the lot is for sale. Like many property owners now, these folks will be moving on, and new owners will build, and in a few years this night of fires will be history, though never forgotten.

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I confess that I had a few moments of despair on that street and wondered why I was still sketching the fire story. So many lives upended.

But then I saw this marvelous burnt-out tree and did a detailed pen drawing of it. When I got home, this creature looked out at me. We’ll call her Burn Mama. She got her hair singed and her lungs full of smoke, but she’s still standing strong in that what’s your problem honey things are going to be OK way.

So when my heart fills with despair, about the fire losses or the sad state of affairs in our country and injustices in the world; when I take stock of things on the turn of the calendar year, I’ll stand with her. She can handle it and so will I/we. Sonoma Strong!