Everyday Sketches

Doorways to openess

Fountaingrove is where neighborhoods of gorgeous homes sit in the hills above the city of Santa Rosa. They are the homes to many of our doctors and other professionals. It used to be that if you drove around you’d notice the homes and landscaping. The properties cleared out now by the Tubbs fire of two months ago, your eye is now drawn first with dismay to rubble from the fire and then to the lovely brick and masonry entranceways that lead the eye unobstructed to open views of the valley below.

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Or in this case to a house across the ravine that did not burn.

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On this cul de sac the workmen were busy doing the work of clearing debris. No shovels and wheelbarrows here! I have captured only a couple of the machines at work. “The Claw” does most of the heavy lifting. And there’s a fellow who sprays a stream of water to keep any particles from going airborne. The woman in the bright vest was seated for a while watching the action. I figured she was there to direct traffic or something. But suddenly she jumps up and starts barking loudly enough for two back hoe operators to cease their machines’ noisy rumbling and listen to her instructions.

She came over to check out my drawing and introduced herself as a QC operator. That stands for quality control, if you hadn’t guessed. So the construction guys have to pay attention to her. She explained that there are different companies working contracted to work together to get the job done quickly and safely. These were homes built after 1980 so they didn’t have to worry about asbestos control and the job was going more quickly. It was getting dark when I left and they worked on. I liked the idea of a pretty lady boss, so I put her in the sketch twice!

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Sittin on the dock o the bay

Back at Bodega Bay for another effort to catch the crabbers in action. No such luck this time. Finally we just plunked down benches facing the marina boats to contemplate a highly complex scene. Pick something and leave out the rest is a strategy that sometimes works.

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pen and watercolor in 5X8″ Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook, full spread

The Sheriff’s boat certainly gave off the vibe of authority, all black and steely gray. I would want to have my fishing license handy when it drove up alongside. The little boat next to it looked like it might be a nice place to take a nap, or have a drink with friends. The riggings of nearby sailboats were singing in the wind which whipped up a bit in the afternoon, as family throngs celebrated their Thanksgiving togetherness by walking the boardwalk and pausing for endless family pictures.

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A burly fisherman made a wide berth around me while sketching. His dog was equally burly and might have caused a start if I found his nose too close. This was a picture snapped as he walked away and sketched later from my iPhone.

 

 

A Walk Down Polk St.

Last Tuesday I met my friend Tania at her apartment next to Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco to launch a day-long exploration of the city with a meandering walk down Polk Street from the Bay (at the top) to Market Street (at the bottom). I was armed with my sketcher’s gear and ready to plunk down and start moving the pen at any opportunity. She travels light with her iPhone in her pocket with its camera and built-in photo and voice editing, etc. We were both after stories and people to inhabit them and had no agenda beyond that.

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ink and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook (spiral bound)

The day was perfect for this kind of strolling with sunny sweater weather and no wind, a rare treat in S.F.  A lifelong resident of S.F., Tania was already sharing her stories of the various neighborhoods we passed through. Of course she knew where to get the perfect cup of coffee to start our day at Saint Frank Coffee in “Polk Gulch” right below Russian Hill.We sat in the window so I could capture some of the city scene along with the coffee drinkers and their dogs.

While I sketched, Tania read me one of the spell binding autobiographical stories/travel sagas she’s working on. Check out her blog where she publishes some of her stories. Her book Mother Tongue  a Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Woman, will be coming out in March.

As we were leaving Tania noticed that there were only men in the coffee shop all lined up in every seat and at work on their computers. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask them what they did to scare away all the women. Smiles broke out on all the faces as we left, something that tends to happen a lot on these excursions with Tania.

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Our walk continued with brief stops to check out the kind of unusual storefront and businesses one finds on S.F. streets. Some of them left us scratching out heads. I couldn’t resist the road crew with their colorful orange vests and plopped down on the sidewalk to sketch the work-people (that’s a woman holding the sign) while they ate their lunch. Behind me was MCC, a community center for “Diverse Beliefs, Common Values. A Home for Queer Spirituality”. Five inches in front of me was rushing midday traffic which vibrated the ground and caused me to blink madly to see the construction scene. That’s urban sketching for you!

After lunch we proceeded through the Tenderloin where homelessness and drug addiction is abundantly visible. It wasn’t an area where either of us was prepared to stop.

Arriving at the magnificent Civic Center Plaza and City Hall, Tania said “Let’s go inside.”

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I would have been happy to sketch the magnificent interior of City Hall with its classical, ornate elegance for days! But it also turned out to be a feast of elegance of the human sort with a steady stream of wedding couples, photographers capturing romantic poses while bridesmaids arranged the gauzy white trains.

As I sat down against the wall, this elegant couple in matching attire were posing for their engagement photo shoot (hence not white). I can only imagine what the wedding attire will be! (Note Tania with her iPhone camera)

The photographer told us that on any weekday you would find 25-50 weddings at City Hall and over 100 on weekends. But we found that number to be low because we saw at least 20 couples in the hour or so we were there!

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By the time the couple had changed outfits and come back for more pictures on the marble staircase, Tania had met them and urged me to show the sketch which had a bit of color on it. Aman held it up and wanted their picture taken with it.

We left City Hall with a bit of the glamor and romance and definitely sweetness of that day still clinging to us. You can’t help but feel hopeful for this couple as they launch into married life!

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It was time to soak up some sun in the Plaza and we were delighted by the knitted giraffes encasing some of the trees. Directly ahead where the orange cones were pointing was Market Street and a building with the word TRUTH drawing us toward it next.

As we neared Market Street we met some friendly “neighborhood embassadors”, people from the Hunter’s Point project who we gathered were there to help out with the homeless population as well as to help keep the public areas properly maintained. They had great pride in the fact that within moments a mobile soup kitchen would be set up and they would be helping to serve hot meals to those in need.

We watched as a van drove up and a nun was helped to unload deliscious smelling pots of food and boxes of bagels and salad. A tent and tables were quickly erected and people started lining up. The “embassadors” told us it would be OK for me to sit and sketch.

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And so, sitting on the cement wall with people eating steaming hot food on either side, I sketched as Tania listened to a woman with a heart breaking tale and the pigeons and gulls swooped in and out, scavenging what they could.

There’s a kind of alchemy that happens sometimes with this kind of sketching where you can begin to simultaneously experience not just the inside of your own space but that of others. I could feel the caring and enthusiasm of the servers, the relief and satisfaction of the diners all mixed in with my own gratitude for being there in those moments.

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Tania suggested a tram to get us back uptown where we could have dinner near her apartment. We could have taken a regular city bus or trolley or cable car, but the trams in S.F. have a special charm and claim to fame. As other cities in the U.S. were discontinuing electric cable methods of transportation in favor of buses, S.F. decided to continue, and to this day has a fleet of historic trams from cities all over the country. So we hopped on the Kansas City Tram for our rush hour ride and I got in my last sketches of the day.

Bijan Stefan writes In Praise of the Flaneur in the Paris Review, “The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. ”  I think it’s safe to say that we were . . .last Tuesday. . . walking Polk St. . . for that day at least . . .embodying a modern version of the  “flaneur”. Perhaps you have a bit of flaneur in you too?

Visiting the Burn

The roads through neighborhoods burned in last month’s devastating fires are finally open again. Over 5100 homes burned and an additional 1000 buildings. This past week I was drawn to take a better look, by a complex mixture of compassion, curiosity and my own need to heal in the way that comes easiest for me, through art making.

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pen, watercolor, gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn Nova Series Grey toned sketchbook

In the Mark West Springs area: rubber melted off tires, steel girders collapsed/bent,  while on the same property trees retaining full foliage.  Across the street roses blooming, and farther down, beautiful homes untouched by the flames. But that night of October 8 the fire didn’t stop there. It twirled like a Dervish and raced on for miles. In the bright light of a sunlit day, there was no sense to make of its crazy drunken path.

Yet here I sat on a lovely fall day, listening to the Mariachi music and mellow voices of the workers nearby. Pink ribbons flapped in the breeze on mailboxes indicating that a hazardous waste inspection had been done.

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Metal, cement, bricks, rocks, some glass and ceramic tiles and statuary remain, though not always in the original place. In these neighborhoods there are so many stairs to nowhere now. And this goddess arising from the shell, having also risen from the fire, seemed full of despair in one moment. . .and full of hope in the next. The metal sculpture on the right (once a heater perhaps?) tilted empathically at the same angle as the goddess. So much beauty in all this loss, shining paradoxically through the sadness.

roundbarn The Round Barn had stood on the hillside in Santa Rosa for 119 years before it burned in the Tubbs fire. I wanted to see it, and pay homage with a sketch, but although we knew where it was supposed to be, we couldn’t find it. On the blackened hillside above Mendocino Avenue leaned a small, leafless tree. I assumed at first that because the Barn was such a beloved landmark, the usual fire debris had already been trucked out.

But as we caught sight of the stone pilings, arranged in a circular fashion below, we realized we had reached the spot. Piles of rusty nails and bolts littered the ashy ground and green shoots of grass, bright and vibrant were already beginning to lend a healthy glow to the hillside.  Such was the contrast to the mountain of gray debris left behind by the fire that consumed the K-Mart and others businesses.

A walk on the burnt hillside restored my vision of nature as flexible, yielding to disaster, bending and springing back so ardently on this hillside meadow where an old wooden barn burned to the ground. Who knows what flowers will decorate the hillside this winter and spring?

It was time to choose which of the fire art I would render in my sketch. A few sheets of metal curled up in sculptural beauty, kissed with colors of flame and oxidation? The big oak which split in two in the fire, making a kaleidoscope of sky holes in the trunk and a stretch of trunk curling down to meet the ground and opening up future homes for many creatures? I chose the bench to sketch, for the story it told of the fire’s unique artistry.

Howl-O-Ween and Day of the Dead

The Plaza in Healdsburg, CA was a busy costumed place last weekend with canine Halloween fashions on Saturday and Day of the Dead celebrations on Sunday. Couldn’t resist showing up to sketch at both events.

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The Howl-o-ween Dog Parade was a benefit for the Sonoma Humane Society charity veterinary services for fire victims. It was less a parade and more a costume judging contest with lots of ribboned and tutu-ed and hatted dogs in costumes. Also kids and families milling around – in constant motion of course. I got frustrated enough trying to find a subject to sketch and finally just put pen to paper to catch whatever I could!

howlathon3At home later I had fun doing some quick sketches from my pics. Poor Doggie Parton. Her wig and hat kept smooshing her ears and slipping off her head, and  I imagine that tutu was a bit scratchy too.

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And the Unicorn pooch was clearly feeling a bit burdened by his white swaddling and extra set of ears. But hey! the event raised money for their less fortunate canine counterparts who lost their homes in the fire, so they were doing their part.

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The Howl-0-Ween event was over quickly and we stopped at Martin Ray Winery on the way back and sketched chickens. Not only does Martin Ray have fabulous wines and wine tasting room but exquisite gardens and even free range chickens that come right up to you begging for a treat. Trick or treat! The sign on the bar reads, “We don’t coop. Watch for poop!”

We had no seed treats for the cluckers, but it did seem like they might have an interest in painting with us. Those beaks got quite close to the wet paint. Be assured though, that the sketch in the following picture is the work of Becky, not our hen hosts.

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On Sunday two streets were closed off around the Healdsburg Plaza for a day of celebrating the Dia de los Muertos. diadelosmuertos2

These days every business, every store front, every organization, and every event is an opportunity to thank the First Responders who confronted the firestorm head on, saving lives and properties, even as so many were lost. So on this day of remembrance, a whole block was given over to the firemen and their life saving equipment.

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The theme was “An Event of the Heart”. I had to blink to remind myself that I was in Healdsburg and not in the heart of Mexico! Music, dancing, altars honoring the dead and food. Colorful, spicy, and loud. A family affair for all ages, welcoming us gringos as well. A lovely lady was feeding the incense offering to the ancestors.

Watercolor Simplified Workshop

Yesterday I held the Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop in Petaluma, CA under sunny skies with lovely cool temperatures, and best of all, fresh air! We all seemed to shed the mantle of recent fire storm woes and enjoy dipping brushes into color in the excellent company of other artists.

In planning this workshop I was acutely aware that “watercolor simplified” is indeed a bit of an oxymoron. Watercolor technique is decidedly NOT simple as anyone who is even moderately proficient at it will tell you. But there are certain strategies one can learn to make it easier to capture a scene quickly,  with less fuss and more fun.

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We started out in a park by the riverfront in Petaluma where there was a symphony of morning birdsong. The students all had good drawing skills but about the watercolor part they made comments like;  I want to get beyond painting by numbers. or I want to get more comfortable with sketching outside. or I want to learn how to punch up a sketch with watercolor. or I want to be freer with my painting.

So we practiced making decisions about what to leave white, painting quickly, dashing off a sky and ground shape with a wet application of at least two colors and a splash. And at lunch we took a wet-splash beginning and did a sketch on top of it.

petalumawkshop08It’s easier sometimes to start drawing on a page with some fun color already there. Instructions were to incorporate the under painting in the sketch design.

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It helped that we had such good eats on Petaluma’s riverfront at the Water Street Bistro.

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Phyllis’ hat was hard to resist. This is my sketch over a splatter-wash under painting.

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The old Petaluma Mill was the perfect setting for the afternoon lesson which was the old One-Two-Punch method.

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(above from my handout)

Paint just the shadow shape first using interesting mixed grays. When that’s dry, come back in with the local color of the objects/buildings, exaggerating or inventing color if you want! The Punch is where you define the darkest areas like windows and deep shadows with your darkest pigments. This will often rescue a pretty but timid sketch.

petalumawkshop07There was not time in this busy workshop to sketch entire scenes, so the students focused in on gem-like parts of the scene.

petalumawkshop04and drew borders around the focal point to further simplify.

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It was nice to have someone to sit with when sketching out in public. Different sketchers doing the same scene always makes for interesting variety. We get to see through each others’ eyes.

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Petaluma is such an enticing location for sketching with a combination of riverfront, older architecture, bridge, railroad tracks, old mills and granaries, and even an abundance of ducks under the tracks! I’m looking forward to another day of sketching there soon.

This was my last sketch workshop of the season, but there are more ideas formulating for new workshops in the series next year, so stay tuned! And let me know what you’re interested in.