Everyday Sketches

Practice, practice

Like most of us I like to think that one day I’ll just “get it” and then painting will be effortless self expression. This is very short sighted thinking of course, because it’s the drive to evolve as a painter which motivates me to practice, practice, practice, even when things are not going particularly well. Practice, as in effort. My friends who participate in challenges, like the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge which is going on this month, understand this. Paint something every day and you can’t help but evolve, even though on any particular day it may feel like you’re sliding backward.

Suhita suggested doing more than one of the same subject. So after two tries at the pagoda on Stowe Lake, I tried a third, this time from a tiny picture on my phone, direct watercolor. Taking the advise of Marc, to get farther away or work from a less detailed pictures.

pagodanew

A quick and dirty direct watercolor with fewer specifics yet more fresh and appealing. Here’s the first two:

In the first I got mesmerized by the up close detail. In the second I was far enough away that I had to make up details, when I should have left them out!

Another day I was sketching in Sebastopol with a view of Gravenstein Station. My first try, in direct watercolor was highly frustrating! Not having the pen line to rely on, my watercolor application got too tight and descriptive, choking out the light.

gravstation It certainly represents the scene relatively accurately, but I think I pretty much killed it dead. With 10 minutes left til I had to go, I did this less ambitious sketch and liked it much better.

gravstation2

Direct watercolor with white pen line added at the end

Another day I decided to practice figures with no preplanning, just drawing/painting directly, from another phone photo.

trio

I was testing my ability to paint shapes with no drawn or painted line. Great practice but clumsy outcome. And definitely missing the spirit of the music.

selfie

Determined to do a first-thing-in-the-morning direct watercolor I did this selfie in my pajamas while sipping chai (from my computer monitor). It bears little resemblance to me (which haunts me! how to fix it!) but again, great practice.

 

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Watercolor Simplified in Sonoma

On Saturday I met with 13 sketchers at the historic Barracks in Sonoma to teach the day- long Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. The weather was warm and lovely and the sun kept dipping behind clouds and then re-emerging. I figured I better get in the demonstration of the “one-two-punch” sketch while the sun was casting lovely shadows.

Sonoma1

fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal 7 X 10″

It was also a chance to put in a “sky dash”, which is a juicy blue sky wash that leaves a bit of white for occasional clouds and doesn’t get all fussy when there’s not time to get the particular sky “right”. The one-two-punch goes in layers of darkening values, the last one of which pops out the sketch, rescuing it from ho-hum.

Of course by the time I’d finished my demo, the sun ducked behind a light cloud obliterating the shadows for my poor students, who were then supposed to paint the shadow shapes!

Sonoma5_1

When you’re learning watercolor it’s important to find a way to have fun with it so you don’t get bogged down in trying to get realism in your application. So I demonstrated the spritz-splatter method of creating a colorful sketchbook page and then drawing/painting some detail on it to tell a bit of the story. Since it is spring and the Sonoma Plaza was filled with blooming flowers, this was a good bet. And it turned out to be the most popular technique of the day.

Sonomafountain This fountain went into/behind many of the spritz-splatter floral displays!

Sonoma3_1

Some of the sketchers were putting people in, and this fellow sitting around the fountain was so still as to be an ideal model! He seemed in fact to have perfected the art of doing nothing! I used this as an example of anchoring your subject to the context and leaving out unnecessary detail.

Sonomafducks

Then the ducks in the pond became a favorite subject! Honestly I could sit all day and watch them and the children shreeking with delight at their antics.

Sonoma2_1

I managed to work them into my spritz-splatter floral!

And then suddenly it was time to call it a day, and such a good one it was!

Alice in BlakeGardensLand

Last week I met up with a few of my urban sketch buddies for a day at Blake Gardens in Kensington. The property is owned by the University of California and the garden managed by the school of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. To say it’s a spectacular setting is an understatement. Indeed I felt like Alice in Wonderland walking through the gardens, and then there was the panoramic view of the S.F. Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Sigh. Choosing one place to start sketching was a challenge.

Blake1

fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal, 7 X 10″

I anchored myself with the “scarecrow” figure, a girl I think?

BlakeGardenSusan

I think I was overawed by these violet beauties towering over. Some of the other sketchers managed to capture their essence better than I could.

Blake2

I expected a Lepracaun or other enchanted character to jump out at any moment!

Have a look at Cathy McAuliffe’s sketches from the day.

Home in the garden

I’d planned to sketch at Sebastopol’s Apple Blossom Festival last Sunday, but it was hot and when I thought of the crowds and my lovely cool garden at home, the plan changed. From my chair on the patio beneath the redwoods there would be no musicians to sketch, no lively festival activities. Just the same old house and garden I look at every day. But I could sit in the low flight pattern of the birds on their way to the bird feeder and watch the gold finches bathe in the fountain and listen to variety of bird choruses and loud humming of the bees in the Australian tea tree.

home1

fountain pen and w/c in Hahnemuhl Watercolor Book, 6 X 8″

And of course the butterfly action, Tiger Swallowtails and Pipevine Swallowtails.

home2

I tend to suffer from the malady of all enthusiastic souls. . .FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but I think I discovered for now at least a way to avoid the symptoms while staying home.

Oh, but then I guess I will have FOMO when I’m away from home too, knowing I will miss the baby quail parades and hungry caterpillars growing. I guess there’s no cure for FOMO.

Vacation With a Purpose II

We spent a few hours in Carmel, precious and touristy in the money’d way. Lots of galleries. We saw a bright orange Lambergini or Porsche convertible parked on the corner. You know, the kind of car you certainly wouldn’t park in S.F. or anywhere else for that matter. Not a speck of dust and soft leather seats. Ahhh. And there was a crowd of mostly men ogling it.

But I love to see the latest Mark English mixed media paintings at Jones and Terwilliger gallery.

demetra

ink and watercolor in Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book 6 X 8″

For lunch we ended up at Demetra, a mediterranean restaurant on Ocean Blvd that is so popular that I was dodging elbows while sketching the same wonderful fresco I sketched last time I was here about 3-4 years ago. Hummus and Babaganouj drenched in olive oil, yeah!

Asilomarbeach

(This is not in chronological order I’m afraid.) The beach at Asilomar, unlike our otherwise beautiful beaches north of S.F., has white sand, so you feel like you’ve been transported to the Caribbean. (except for the chilly wind)  It’s the main advantage of staying at the Asilomar Conference Grounds – this daily walk on the white sand beach.

As I was walking along the beach I had the thought that I really ought not to be thinking about anything that was not on that beach in that moment. I really ought to just forget, at least for the time being, everything but the bliss of those waves and that white sand and the endless horizon and sky.

grill

But vacations are also about needing to find a place to eat three times a day. That evening we were in Monterey and so wanted to be on the water. The windows at the Sandbar and Grill look out onto the bay. The sign promises that you will see otters playing. And Bob did while I was busy sketching.

Pablo was our waiter, a handsome swarthy Hispanic fellow. When he “caught” me sketching, it became a bit of an event. I was into my second half a glass of wine when the bus boy arrived, having heard of the artist. He was not satisfied with my rather “loose” portrayal of his buddy Pablo. “He doesn’t have a mustache”, he counseled, and offered other tips for how to get the picture right. This was not the first time I’d been corrected by my “audience”.

Another glass of the wine arrived then, courtesy of Pablo, hoping perhaps that the extra wine would help me to get it right after all?

asilomarlodge

 

There’s just something about the trees on the coast that makes them seem almost human the way they reach out – the textures of the bark and the way they reach out in ways that connect the land to the sea.

Next: 20 tables and kites in memorium

Vacation With a Purpose

Bob and I agree that we’re not much for the leisure-on-the-beach vacations. So when we headed to Carmel (California) a week ago we were looking forward to the events surrounding Rfotofolio’s Depth of Field Biennial Juried Exhibition at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel. As an exhibitor Bob was looking forward not only to the show but to meeting and sharing ideas with the other notable photographers who were converging from all over the country, Canada and Austria!

PGbeach

fountain pen, watercolor in Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book, 6X8″

We were staying at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove and had a couple days to explore first. This is the beach in town. I was so relaxed in the warm sun and loving my vantage point that I kind of overdid it and tried to put everything in! Just like me.

As we wandered around Pacific Grove we discovered throngs of people, trailers, security personel, and movie cameras at an area called Lover’s Point. An episode of Big Little Lies was being shot there and the fans were out in force. (off to the left of where I was sketching).

littlelies

“That’s Meryl Streep there, drinking water, see?!”

“Yes, and I heard they’re looking for extras. . .”

PGtree

So I found another lovely place nearby out of the fray and still in the warm sun.

redcafewait

Eating in town proved to be difficult our first night. We stood shivering on a porch until we got a table at the Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove. Not a big place, but when we finally got a table. . .

redcafewait2

we were next to a lovely fire and the food was yummy and filling!

Next: Carmel and the Center for Photographic Arts.

Visitors From Denver!

threesome

I had a blast this week sketching with my friends and fellow teachers from Denver, Colorado, Judith Cassel-Mamet and Carol Ann Waugh. I met them last spring when we were all taking an urban sketch workshop in New York city. I was honored that they wanted to come and take a workshop from me to get some sketching tips to add to their already considerable repertoire. I had all kinds of plans for on-location sketching in this gorgeous California spring weather. You know, sunshine and blossoms and happy people congregating in public areas!

Instead they got to experience the Pineapple Express weather that flooded roads, drove everyone indoors and kept us in coffee shops and restaurants sketching people. But since PEOPLE sketching was what they were after, it worked out fine! And apparently wet weather and dampness is a novelty to folks from Denver!

stilllife

We started in my studio with continuous line drawing to warm up, then adding color, letting the wet paint edge bleed to connect shapes. As time goes on I become more and more convinced that when you are sketching quickly from life, the continuous line improves not only accuracy but also expressiveness because it keeps your mind (and therefore your mind’s eye) from wandering off.

What’s that in the bottom right hand corner you ask? It’s my troll doll made of grasses and seed pods. I was also going with the idea that you overlap shapes to connect the images, and the Troll wanted in on the action.

judith

We had planned to go down to the foot of my road and sketch the goats in the green grass after lunch, but the rains had started. So they talked me into sharing some of my strategies for skin tone and painting shadow shapes of figures. I’m not a portrait artist, but I had a willing model and needed a subject to demonstrate on. Yellows and reds with a touch of blue for the skin tone with the green from the background glazed over in parts to show reflections. And here you can really see the limits on this Stillman and Birn Beta Sketchbook paper which doesn’t do well with wet applications!

taylormaid2

Next morning we met at one of Sebastopol’s favorite coffee shops, Taylor Maid, and invited the person who was sitting alone at the table we needed, to join us in sketching! Luckily it was Linda Kammer, who happens to be a watercolor artist friend,  who seemed happy to share her table and sketch with us.

Judith and Carol had asked for ideas to get their figure sketches to capture the uniqueness of the people as opposed to the stock figures. As the rainstorm raged outside, we worked on getting the gestures of specific coffee drinkers and practicing skin tones.  I guess the tech-y people were upstairs with their computers in the loft, because there was actually a young man reading a paperback book! And at another table a fellow engaged in deep conversation with another and no phones/tablets/laptops in sight. And then there was the fellow at the window writing. . .on paper with a pen. What is this world coming to?!!

taylormaid3

When it got even stormier there were fewer people to sketch so we stood up to try to catch the baristas in action.

Like I said, we had a blast, and even though I was the ostensible teacher for the days, I learned as much as them. They do mixed media workshops together and separately all over the country and even in Europe. They share a passion for teaching and exploring the creative process. They began collaborating a few years ago, combining Carol’s love of contemporary fiber arts with Judith’s focus on mixed media, sketching and art journaling. They have stitched, painted, sketched and dyed together….and now give workshops together called Mixed Media Adventures! They both have Craftsy online courses you should check out.