Animals

What I Love About the Sonoma Co. Fair

I’m not much for the rides at the Sonoma County Fair, or the races or the greasy deep fried food on a stick. But boy do I like to hang out with the farm animals and 4H kids. Most of all the pigs. Don’t you just love their snouts and taut bellies and squeals? More than other animals they seem like us somehow, in their appetites and love of napping and their naked bellies.

thepigs

fountain pen (brown and black inks), watercolor on Fluid 100 watercolor paper, double spread 7.5 X 11″

You can watch the judging in the pavilion or you can roam the pens where the pigs are mostly resting, snuggled up with each other. Sleeping and eating seems to be their two modes. It was morning when I tried sketching these guys, and they weren’t exactly standing still.

prettyinpinkfinal

There’s this thing that happens to their mouths when they’re fed and I think happy. It seems simpler for them, this happiness thing, less encumbered by expectations. It’s a little upturn of the corners of the mouth.

These guys share so much. Do you suppose they know that their short lives are about to end with the auction which inevitably ends their stardom on the 4H stage at the end of the week? They don’t appear to be worried. And somehow their young owners, who feed and groom and apply sunscreen and cool them off with water spray when they get too hot, and who lie down and nap using their soft bellies as pillows. .  .will soon part with them forever. Sigh. Could I do that? I mean they have names and personalities. (but I am admittedly a bacon lover, oh dear.)

prizepig

Some of these bovines are so very glamorous that you would easily give them a prize. I lean toward the pink ones, thinking they are so pretty in pink, blackwhitepig

but some are a shiny black and others have an exotic picture puzzle-like design. They should have the great fashion houses of the world paying attention.

The white pigs are like me, if they get more than a few minutes of sun, they get sunburned and turn pink!

pigtrioNot having had enough of the pig sketching while at the fair, I did this one from a picture once I was home. These pigs are not embarrassed to have their naked bottoms on display, and those cute curly-Q tails. . .

thecows

The animals seem so comfortable with each other. I mean you wouldn’t see unrelated humans who had just met sharing their space with each other in this companionable way. In this group there was a certain amount of standing and lying down and then getting back up, which made for inaccurate drawings. You need to exercise your visual memory, which has it’s limits! While I was sketching here, a 4Her asked us if we’d like to pet the animals. A sweet offer, if not exactly what I’d been thinking. . .

bullseye

Another 4-Her was grooming Bullseye, who was docilely chained to a spot for the purpose. The grooming consisted of being cleaned with a leaf blower. It’s a full time job to keep these animals looking shiny, spiffy and immaculate in a barn filled with hay and some amount of poop. I did not find the smell unpleasant, but I must say it was with me til the end of the day, long after I’d returned home.

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Marin County and Sonoma Sketching

I was out scouting for locations for upcoming sketch workshops. A new series of Bay Area Urban Sketch 10 X 10  workshops will be announced soon! And I’ll be teaching one of them, so stay tuned. This spot in Sausalito right on the Bay with a view across to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge was cold and windy, with colorful layers of clouds constantly changing.

sausalito

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ spiral Handbook Co. Field Watercolor Journal with the Fluid Watercolor paper I like!

The colors of water and sky and everything, even the values were constantly changing. You have to just decide where to set your sights and stick with it, something I’ve never been particularly adapted to. I get excited by all the changes and want to dip my brush in new colors. It can make for a mess. So I tried to reign myself in on this one.

millvalley

Then, not so far away in Mill Valley looking toward Tamalpais Valley it was hard to find a spot where the wind was not blowing us to smithereens. Finally we found a building to block the wind and settled down to sketch this lovely scene of creekbed and lagoon beyond. I even managed to get the cyclists in! And then once again the weather changed while we were sketching, and the sun came out, wind died down, and all the colors changed! (Not that I’m complaining.)

Meanwhile my friend Laurie Wigham did a lovely sketch which captured the serenity of the natural scene and illustrated the reflections on the water, a subject she taught in workshops for the Nature Journal Club series last week.

Geese

On Saturday Bob and I headed to Sonoma Plaza so that I could scope it out for the May 5 workshop I’m teaching there titled Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher.  I was immediately drawn to the ducks in the pond that were delighting the small children. And then when these geese settled down on the grass, I did a quick standing capture of them since they were relatively still for a few minutes. That is, until a small boy chased them away! Because of the softness of the scene I left out the pen did a quick pencil sketch before the watercolor.

Mission

I was looking for simple subjects of interest for students in the workshop. Sonoma is a town where California history is well represented in an historic park bordering right on the Plaza. Not only can you visit the Mission but the Blue Wing Inn, with its Gold Rush era gambling room and saloon, and the adobe barracks built to house General Vallejo’s Mexican troops. So much to sketch, indoors and out!

Sunflowercafe

But it was lunchtime, so we ordered at the Sunflower Cafe and I sketched in pencil til the food came, and later added color from memory (and imagination).

I hope you’ll join me on May 5 for the Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. For more info and to register visit my website.

Muse Group Begins Again. . .

The Muse Group is a mixed media painting adventure class that I’ve been teaching ongoing for about ten years or more. On Monday this week we started a new session  with gessoed watercolor paper because it leaves a longer working time with the acrylic. And we employed lots of not-brush application methods like rollers, and toothbrush and fingers and scrapers to “lose control!” happily.

splashdemo: fluid acrylic on gessoed watercolor paper 10 X 11″

I tried demonstrating the alcohol technique but had squirted the acrylic on the paper too thick and only got a trace of the alcohol textural effect at the top here. In my choice of colors and splatter I was definitely still feeling the crashing of surf against the rocks from the beach walks of last week.

In my second piece I was trying to redeem myself and get the alcohol spray to work! And once again still at that beach I remembered my encounter with two ravens. One of them was haughtily pulling plastic (dog poo) bags from the container on the trail. I shooed him away and returned about ten strewn bags to the holder, as the other raven sat on a nearby post cackling in a way that struck me more as laughter, as if to say “You idiot! He’s just going to come back when you’re gone and do it again. Ha ha, caw caw!”

scene5take1 Fluid acrylic and collage on gessoed paper, 10 X 11″

Scene 5 Take 1 and the curtain lifts on a pair of ravens. They’re in cahoots and we’d like to think of an olive branch offering of peace.

But they’re not white doves and the blood red beaks are a tip off. Something more dramatic is a-wing and they’re going to take advantage of it. Survival of the fittest or the loudest perhaps? But only for so long. This scene will end soon enough and the curtain will come down before we know what’s next.

The vine will continue to creep and extend its influence, and no one knows what will transpire as the curtain lifts again in scenes 6 and 7.

If you’re reading something about the current political climate into this last, I’m not surprised. Me too.

 

Wine Country Fire Evacuees

Our wine country fire evacuees are plentiful just now, 10% of the population of Sonoma County I heard this morning! I am not one of them. I am also not one of those heroic first responders. My lungs cannot tolerate smoke and I’ve been spending a great deal of time fretting and checking on friends and neighbors and just sharing stories and of course fears as the fires rage on.

I was happy to see that someone in our rural neighbor of a shared water company had found an old fire hose to attach to the simple fire hydrant which sits next to my driveway.

firecountrystyle

We’ve all been watering around our homes in hopes of preventing fires here if the wind changes directions and blows the embers our way. I could go years and not have so many conversations with my nice neighbors as I’ve had this week. I learned for instance that you can plant native plants that burn up and out quickly and then sprout again the next year! And then there’s the Scotch broom which makes for a more deadly fire.

Today I visited my friend Liz who has welcomed evacuees in her home (inside and out) so that I could meet and then sketch them. The air was more clear today thanks to winds from the north overnight so I climbed inside the pig pen with Madeline and Liam while Barbara enjoyed the sun and serene country setting.

pigs5You can also see Zoey in the picture to the left. She’s the only one who actually lives here ongoing. Barbara, in the chair, was evacuated from a senior living center which luckily did not burn (although her son’s home in Santa Rosa did) and the miniature pigs are the beloved pets of other people who needed a temporary place to house them. Normally they are actually indoor pig-pets, so these accommodations were a bit of a come down for them. But they were adapting admirably. They were not however the best models for sketching.

pigs1

I spent my first few minutes trying to understand their various parts as they were in constant movement. These little pigs look more like miniature warthogs without the tusks.

pigs2

They had the annoying habit of burying the parts of their body I was sketching in the straw where they were finding something delectable to eat. Nevertheless I was rapidly becoming enamored of them, particularly their gross lip smacking snorting sounds and gorgeous curly tail swishing. They really are the epitome of bad table manners when eating, which seems to be non stop and it’s hilarious! Madeline has these long white eyelashes and bright pink halter (for if you would want to take her for a walk), and Liam is small and dark and they’re both so friendly. Here’s a picture of Liam when he got interested in painting and gave my palette a good wet snort-sniff.

pigs6

I wasn’t feeling particularly successful with the sketching, but thought I’d give it one more try. And after a while they actually stopped eating and got kind of mellow.

pigs3

and I had more time to observe.

meetmadeline

But once home I had try one more from a photo. My heart goes out to all the fire evacuees, but these little piggies totally stole my heart.

Sketching at home

When it’s not the season for travel or time for local event sketching, there’s always what is close at hand. I no longer sketch my food and drink, which is recommended by some of my favorite luminaries such as Danny Gregory and Liz Steel. But I’ve had my eye on the rusty mailbox next door, and then there’s always the goats at the bottom of the hill.

mailbox

Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in soft cover Beta Stillman + Birn sketchbook

And then there’s the town I live (outside of), Sebastopol, where I’ll be teaching two workshops this spring. The first is “Introduction of Sketching in Public” on March 25th. So I’ve been wandering around town with the eyes of a tourist sketcher to find what one could capture quickly in a workshop setting.

sebastopol

A lovely water fountain in the plaza and an exercise in connecting it with the background while leaving out most of the rest of what was there! That’s the hard part.

sebastopol2

I found a bench in the sun and had a few minutes left to doodle some people. I often end up liking these “doodles” better than the more finished ones. You’d think I’d learn.

sebastopol3

But another day I had more time, and a good spot to sit with a friend and kept sketching awhile after my subject had left. Of course they always leave before you’re done!

pogodahead

fountain pen and watercolor in Toned Tan Strathmore Art Journal

And then there’s always the selfie. This one done while on an hour-long phone call in front of my computer (one looks for time where it is to be found), which might account for having lost a bit of the top of her head. Oh well.

I’ve had people tell me I should paint more attractive self portraits of myself, but this is so much more amusing. I think I feel a series coming on. After all, you don’t have to pay this subject to sit and she’s always available to sketch live!

What Kind of Creature

If you’re asking what kind of creative this is, then maybe you don’t know about animal spirits.

whatkindofcreature

crinkled Masa paper, inks, collage on w/c paper 10 X 11″

What kind of creature is that? you ask, as if animal spirits confine themselves to only one specie. These spirits are known to take the form of imagination and keep you guessing, to move with stealth and vigor across the page even while standing still. 

This one looks you in the eye and knows you, as the mirror does. . .only more. Knows your mental undergrowth to be a brambles and yet is comfortable there.

. . .even as you in your waking state find your hair standing on end to confront that gaze.

Look, I don’t dream up these creatures. They appear out of somewhere/nowhere. This one was (partially) a demo of various ink splotchings, stick drawing etc. for the Wabi Sabi workshop two weekends ago. It needed to be liberated from a piece that was going nowhere, so I cut it out and found a home for it/him/her on another underpainting of crinkled Masa paper.

It was a real Halloween character, this pregnant bunny/deer dancing creature. Isn’t this the way we often put together a costume, feeling free to mix metaphors.  Mine this year was a combination ballerina (tutu) and pirate (hat) and probably some other elements when combined with Jazzercise leggings and shoes.

There’s more to sight than eyes

I thought I was just being playful with this one, picking up an old class demo of a kind of ink drip creature. And then, no kidding, it started to talk to me about something I needed to hear!

eyes

I can see you sitting there, thinking about your eyes, one clear and one struggling to see through spots and threads and the murky patch.

Look me in the eye and repeat after me: I can see just fine. This cage of one eye is translucent and does not a prison make. I have three eyes to take the place of the one

and the world keeps opening.

Drip creatures tend to be a combination of many species and so they exist outside the realm of waking mind where we have convinced ourselves that things are a certain way that we can explain.

Yes, my left eye has a retinal occlusion for which there is treatment. . . of sorts, and yes I must be reminded not to worry, but to notice all the ways my other senses and brain fill in the blanks, giving me for the most part decent sight. I won’t soon forget this colorful and bizarre image, like something right out of a dream, or perhaps a prayer.