Everyday Sketches

Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher

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For more information and to register visit my website!


Toilets and Skyscrapers

Remember when those colorful toilets were stylish? Well they’ve still got them at Building Resources in San Francisco. Not that we were in the market. But sometimes photographers (like Bob) seek more off-the-beaten-path locations to find source for their shooting. And we sketchers can do our thing anywhere. This acre of reusable building supplies is a gold mine even if you’re not in the market! They even had an art gallery!


watercolor in 8 X 8″ Field Watercolor Journal

I must admit that I wasn’t sure this would look like anything as I worked with watercolor to build up the overlapping shapes of the toilets. But the alternating colors helped to create the illusion without pen lines!


We had parked our car across the street from these buildings at Hunter’s Point. I loved the mural on one wall, the rusty towers and mosaic of broken windows. A parade of noisy (smelly) trucks rumbled by and it was a cold, foggy morning, so I managed a quick pen sketch on site and added color and detail later in warm comfort.


Next morning, foggy again, I met Laurie Wigham and Cathy McAuliff, my friends who are S.F urban sketch veterans, at the temporary Transbay Terminal. I had asked them to please pick a spot where I could practice buildings of the sort we don’t have in Sonoma County. So they picked the big ones, the ones that go up into the fog and disappear. Initially I wasn’t so sure they were doing me a favor! After I’d been struggling with the perspective (and failing) Laurie tells me that these buildings have numerous different vanishing points from one perspective, adding to the complexity. I kept trying to fix lines by borrowing Laurie’s pencils and finally coming in with pen.


fountain pens with Noodler’s red black and black inks and watercolor

Then I got a bit smarter and jetisoned all but a couple buildings like I’d seen Laurie do. (and later added the car since I needed some detail below) By this point the sun was out and the colors were amped. All the construction on this building makes for some pretty confusing parts, but it’s more an illustration of certain parts of a scene rather than a realistic capture.


What I really need to do is spend a week showing up at that intersection every day. Well, that’s not going to happen! So I did this one from a picture when I got home. It definitely helps to use a water soluble pencil to get those fine lines in when you’re sketching so small and want to suggest floors and windows. Many thanks to Laurie and Cathy for giving me some new tools to deal with buildings towering over me!

You can find Cathy and Laurie’s sketches on Instagram and the SF Urban Sketchers Blog.

To be continued: Flowers!

100! and Julia Kay’s Portrait Party

How did it go with the 100 people in one week sketches? Did you see some of the wonderful people sketches that were out on the web last week? The #oneweek100people will get you there! I made my 100 over the weekend, but just got back yesterday from San Francisco, so here are some of them.


(here Tania is in color because she’s the speaker but also because she was wearing this amazing peacock vest and matching jewelry she got in Uzbekistan.)

On day 4 of last week I was at my friend Tania Amochaev’s (Romanov) book reading and opening in San Francisco. Her just published book is Mother Tongue: Three Generations of Balkan Women, available now on Amazon. The story follows the lives of three generations of women: Katarina, Zora and Tania over the last 100 years when they lived in countries that were dissolved, formed and reformed. They lived in exile, in refugee camps and in new worlds (namely San Francisco!). Tania tells this remarkable story straight from the heart. Her mother tongue is literally the language she spoke only with her mother, one of so many tongues she is comfortable speaking.

When I was just 21 years old I traveled through then Yugoslavia with absolutely no knowledge of the history and struggles of this fractured land. If only I’d read this book before I went. After reading it I’m more determined than ever to make a trip back.


I was seated on the front and side where I had a pretty good view of the faces in the audience.


Taniareads2_2Tania’s story is so moving that the audience was rapt and no one seemed to want her to stop reading!


On Friday we were having lunch in the colorful Mission neighborhood of San Francisco at a Peruvian restaurant, Alma Cocina enjoying their mouth watering rotisserie chicken! . . .followed by coffee at Philz across the street. My preference is always to sketch a variety of ethnicities and lifestyles, and I hit the jackpot. Hiding the book in your lap is good for staying undetected when up close, but it makes for some pretty wonky lines.

I ordered Jacob’s Wonder blend of “chocolate, smoke and nuts” flavors. Getting coffee at Philz is like going to a wine tasting room in Sonoma County. You get to hang out a bit with a hip young person, discuss the flavors, have them add or subtract cream and sugar, and then sip and murmur approval, watching their enjoyment at having gotten it “right”.


And not a single person there was over 30 I’m sure. Oh well, except me.



On Saturday I finished off my 100 people sketches at Arch Art Supplies at a meet up called Julia Kay’s Portrait Party. We sat in groups of 6-8 and posed for each other to sketch. We started off with 30-second poses, sketching with the non-dominant hand. The idea was to start off messing up so badly that the next ones would seem highly skilled in comparison! And so they did. My 30-second ones were a battle to even hold the pencil with the lead facing the right way in my right hand (I’m left handed), and just as I was getting used to the feel, we switched to the other hand. These (above) were the one minute poses with a brush pen.


Then we switched to the (now luxurious) 8 minute poses. I used fountain pens with red black (Noodler’s) ink which is water soluble and black ink.


These two sketches are of me, done by artists in my group. Lorna Strutt is the artist of the one on the left and Vivian Aldridge the one on the right. Don’t you just love them?! Both are so expressive in totally different ways. What they left out is as powerful as what they put in.

Well, somewhere in there I hit 100 figures, and then switched to toilets, skyscrapers and flowers. . .(to be continued)


100People Days 1-3

This was day three of the sketch 100 people in one week challenge. I don’t usually like to be told what kind of art to do, preferring to set my own goals. But when so many of my urban sketch friends were participating, I signed on. (you know FMO, fear of missing out?) Well, here’s what’s happening so far.


Lamy fountain pen and ink in a 6 X 8″ Hahnemuhle Nostalgie sketchbook

I started out using the Sktchy app, and as much as possible, continuous line drawing. It helps to keep the pen on the paper so you don’t lose your place! The drawings on the right were done first, and look at the improvement already when I made it to the other side of the paper and got clearer about where to draw the lines?


On Monday afternoon I caught the Muses (in my mixed media workshop) hard at work. Noodlers Red Black ink in the fountain pen here, and it’s slightly water soluble.

On Tuesday I was reading my friends’ blogs and feeling a bit jealous that they live in cities where there’s lots of people to draw. Here at home I have my husband or the goats at the bottom of the hill. Oh, and the cats.



So I headed over to the train depot at Railroad Square in the afternoon, where there were a few men waiting together while they complained about the cost of the ride on the new SMART train. The hipster (pictured above) lingered only moments and left before I could add his girlfriend (who was a great match!)


People don’t really stand all that still when they’re impatient for the train to come, and then it came, and that was it. So I headed over to Old Courthouse Square where I could sketch sleeping people from a distance, homeless or just down for a nice afternoon nap?


Then headed back to the S.R. Mall to see what action was there. Not bad! On the left I was trying to capture this beafy guy while he was balancing on the outside of his feet, but he changed positions and so did my drawing. The girls on the left and the right of him were my favorite sketches of the day. No pencil first. I was discovering that when I do the quick pencil thing first, I lose the gesture, so I put it away.

From a seat on a couch in front of a furniture store in the mall I could see the old men who were resting in the chairs in the middle of the mall.The one on the left was gesturing while telling a story. . .caught it!


Still on the sofa I’m watching the escalator traffic and getting maybe 5-10 more seconds of drawing time than with the people walking by. Then a lady comes right up to me and asks about the sofa I’m sitting on, and I realize it’s time to move on again.

And I get home and look at the sketches and see that almost everyone, even some of the people on the escalator, and the father eating dinner with his son in the food court, all are looking at their smart phones! But you already know, that’s our new world.


Today I had to wait a long while at Toyota. I decided I was “broken in” enough to use the pocket brush pen. With that I had to slow down enough to use the tip lightly for fine lines and broadly to “paint” in the darks. But what about gray or white hair and a beard? When you have only two values, black and white, it’s challeging to show subtlety?  I realized that every line started to count more and shapes became more important.


I haven’t counted them up yet. Since I’m headed to San Francisco for the weekend there will be lots more opportunities, and I’d like to try some color next!

How are you doing with your people sketching this week?

Where do you find 100 People to sketch?

Last year I joined the challenge to sketch 100 people in a week, thinking I would never find that many people or that much time. Fiddlesticks! Go have a coffee somewhere or sketch your family/friends for the 100th time. And if it’s raining or you’re pressed for time or tired, turn on your computer or iPhone (it’s obviously already on, right?) Our world abounds with people to sketch. And we people are so very interesting with our funny facial expressions and ethnic characteristics and hats and slouchy postures and hairdos. As a sketch subject, it’s the antithesis of boring.


fountain pen and watercolor in spiral Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

Here’s a couple examples of my recent “people finds”. This fellow was playing along with the group on stage at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market, which, if you’re local, is the premier people sketching spot all day every Sunday.


Four musicians I could see from my bench. I could have listened all day to the Andean folk sounds of Cuyuy. The guy on his knee on the left was playing a drum that I couldn’t see. The two next to him kept changing instruments. You just have to keep sketching whatever you have a good view of at the time and hope it comes out looking like an understandable scene!


Another day it was rainy and cold and I got an announcement from Playing for Change ,a music station I subscribe to, about a new recording. They record the same song performed by people all over the world at the same time and it’s so inspiring! Also, it’s great for people sketching, so I got out my beige toned Stillman + Birn sketchbook and a bit of gouache. Just hit pause and start drawing!

But if you’re going to try for 100 people in one week, you can do quickies in pencil or brush pen or any medium you want on any kind of paper. To my way of thinking this is not a contest. If you like to draw, it’s a way to give that draw muscle enough of a workout that by the end of the week you can say, “Wow! this drawing thing is getting easier and easier.”

The week starts tomorrow. Use the #OneWeek100People2018 hashtag if you share your sketches and are into that kind of thing. Or just do it for yourself. I’ll do it with you.

Annas and Mourning Cloaks

We’re finally getting some rain today, intermittent with the sun breaking through clouds. Nature has been so bountiful this week with brief hailstorms, the blooming of those miraculous orchid-like Pipevine flowers which look like Dutchmen’s pipes.

And there was the morning I was standing in our front walkway talking on my cellphone while scanning the garden and my eyes fell on this jewel.


Regrettably no, this little Annas Hummingbird was not just tame or friendly, but rather quite dead, newly so, and with no sign of external damage and no cats around to blame. And so brightly festooned in neon iridescence that I was quite awestruck. He may have been the one buzzing around my head in an urgent greeting some mornings. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for him and. . .


. . .to immortalize him in sketches! I have been watching these beautiful creatures for years and wondering how to paint that color, which changes into a multitude of pinks and reds and purples and russets and even blacks with each turn of the head. The dot you see on the top of the page is one of those head feathers that came off. I glued it onto the paper, and when you turn the paper in the light, all those colors manifest!

The next day on an afternoon stroll at Riverfront Park not far from my home, I was delighted to find myself practically alone on the trail, except for a pair of Mourning Cloak butterflies that accompanied me the whole way, weaving back and forth and stopping just ahead to open wings wide as if waiting for me. At one point one of them came repeatedly to rest on my scarf almost touching my chin! No way to sketch this in real time, so I just enjoyed the conversation.


watercolor in 5 X 8″Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

But as I sat on a bench overlooking the lake I heard a drone overhead – the electronic kind which we will be seeing more and more and everywhere. Such a strange world. I wonder what the butterflies and birds think of those flying “brethren”?


It was time to leave, but this view delayed my departure. Another challenge for the artist here in wine country, to get the color right on those impossibly yellow (actually the definition of yellow!) mustard plants that abound in the winter vineyards with a backdrop of blue violet hills.

Mixed Media and Sketch Workshops This Spring

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So what do I mean by “Previous sketching experience is recommended.”? This does not mean that you’ve got sketchbooks full of gorgeous drawings. It means that at least you’ve been out there at some point trying to sketch your experience, and enjoying the experience enough to want to do more of it and learn some ways to make it easier, to tell your personal stories with more color and pizzazz! If you don’t know if you’re ready for these workshops, contact me and we’ll talk about it.

For more information and to register visit my website, email or call me.