Travel Sketch Workshop in Occidental

On Saturday the Travel Sketching workshop met up in a shady spot with benches across from the Union Hotel in Occidental, California. My hope was that we could imagine the workshop as a simulated vacation day where you’re enjoying the town with friends and having a heightened awareness of the stories which evolve.

Fine for me to say I know. It’s a bit of a challenge for some students to find a way to get comfortable making art in a public place, not to mention deal with all the materials challenges, like paint that dries out instantly, and where do you put your water anyway while balancing the sketchbook? And last weekend there was also the HEAT, which rose to about 95 degrees some time in the afternoon.

However this fabulous group of artists rose to the challenge and even got into the swing of it. If I hadn’t been so busy I would have thought to photograph their sketches, showing different styles, different approaches to visual story telling that we could all enjoy.

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After warming up with continuous line drawings we turned to the question of what to put in a sketch and what to leave out. I demoed a quick 5 min. watercolor application using the shadow shape on the hardware store to do some modeling. I tend to include the things that tell the story as I see it: the orange Do it Best sign, the 25 mile speed limit in this country town, the lawn furniture on display and the palm tree. It all spells out that colorful corner in this three block long town. And I left out a lot more than I put in!

Hugging the shady spots the class wandered to find and sketch what was of interest to them. The lunchtime assignment was to record the food, table settings or decor of the restaurant or to continue sketching through lunchtime.

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It’s a given that no matter how busy your travel schedule is, there’s usually lots of rest and recuperation time spent in eating and drinking establishments. Especially when traveling with non-sketchers, this becomes the time to actually get out your sketchbook. Gluing the restaurant’s business card onto your sketch helps to fill the picture space and may be the piece of information you most need a year later when you’re trying to remember where you ate that lovely meal!

We all agreed that Occidental is a spot to come back and do lots more sketching! Even on Saturday the atmosphere was so low-key and the dense shade of redwoods was a welcome relief on this hot day.

These are a couple of sketches from my book, done the week before to get ideas for the workshop. The first one is rimmed by an account of an incident that occurred while I was sketching “sitting in a quiet spot in the parking lot by Howard Station Cafe, an ancient woman drives up in a rusted old van and tries to manuever by cane and handholds down from the cab, across a step and to the door of the library to drop off an armload of books. When she seems marooned and unable to resume her car seat, I rush to assist. She accepts help gracefully (gratefully), not realizing she’s a stand-in for my dear mother who passed 3 years ago.”

No matter how much I focus on improving drawing and painting skills, it is always in the service of telling a story.

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