Wednesday this week was #4 of my “flaneur” days rambling through the streets of San Francisco, taking it all in with sketchbook in hand. The flaneur(m), flaneuse (f) (French for loafer, stroller, loiterer, dawdler) apparently has nothing better to do with their time, though in this case I would agree that I can think of nothing better to do with my time than this!
Two of my urban sketch friends agreed with me and asked to join, hence Flaneurs a Trois – the esteemed Oliver Hoeller (from whom I stole the idea) and the esteemed Cathy McAuliffe of urban sketching and other fame.
We met on Mission St. in S.F.and started out at Grand Mission Donuts and Bakery, an unassuming neighborhood bakery, where we set the ground rules. Oliver had the idea of a throw of dice to introduce randomness into our expedition, but more importantly to avoid long discussions (aka disagreements) about which direction to walk in. We all agreed.
Cathy called the first stop (she’s sooo good at seeing sketch opps!), and we plunked right down on the sidewalk to do our first 20 min sketch. I tried not to panic.
It helped that, as I was putting color on my messy sketch, a very hip young couple with their kid in the stroller and their designer dog came along. Luis asked if he could take my picture. “Of course!” I said. After all, I shamelessly sketch everyone in sight without ever asking permission.
“You are so cool!” he said enthusiastically. Of course I’m thinking, you think I’M cool?! This old lady on the sidewalk doing this messy sketch?
Cathy and Oliver
It wasn’t long before it happened again! We were sketching across from the colorful Women’s Building when another person said, “You guys are so cool!” You get the picture here, right? Sketching on the street is the new uber-cool thing to do. And look at these cool dudes here.
Well I think it was at this point that I was getting a little tired of Oliver’s dice running my day (even though I’d been enthusiastic about it in theory). And the dice was sending us down a street I didn’t want to sketch and I started whining. They noticed and were both very sweet about it, asking me what I wanted.
Turns out I didn’t want to sketch buildings (which take too long for me to figure out) so when I saw the workmen, we stopped. Notice how I got out of doing much building sketching even though that’s what they were building? We’re talking 20 minutes after all!
And then my wish came true and we went inside Paxton Gate a shop with endless curiosities from the natural world and a wall full of taxidermy. Around the time I’d sketched the last of these animals I started to think about the exploitation of wild animals and felt uncomfortable about sketching them.
It was time to put on paint so I went out to the back where there was space to sit and was soon joined by a young woman who was also sketching. Turns out she’s a Vietnamese born college student at U.C. Berkeley who has just started to sketch and was excited to hear about Urban Sketchers. What are the chances. . .?
Walking down Mission St. again the wind was kicking up. I was learning that you don’t want to walk down the sidewalk in this part of the Mission without keeping your eyes on the ground where your feet are stepping – a difficult thing when you’re being constantly distracted by the life on the street.
This guy on the corner selling fruit drinks and corn, Latin American style was a magnet for us. It started to feel like my memories of Mexico, which is what I love about the Mission.
Next stop was for coffee and to get out of the wind. An interesting discussion of how we approached the day and what it all means transpired then. Cathy filled us in on the history she’d collected at our various sketch sites. Oliver approached it with his scientifically trained mind, asking lots of questions. He promises to shed light on this flaneur business with his thoughts, soon to be written out and shared!
And then it was time for me to hit the road for the long drive home. But not before a last sketch on the corner of 16th and Mission.
and a selfie of the trois flaneurs.
Look for Oliver and Cathy’s sketches on Instagram and other media!