Everyday Sketches

Duncans Mills with the Ready, Set, Sketchers

Duncans Mills is a “tiny hamlet” along the Russian River one encounters on the way to the beach at Jenner. It’s colorful in an historic and commercial way and immensely sketchable. The Ready, Set, Sketchers were meeting up there on Saturday and I happily joined them.

Years ago I did several “watercolor paintings” of the area, but wanted to do some quicker sketches in my book that told some part of the story of the place this time.

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For some reason it’s always easier for me to sketch a building if I can put a figure in front of it. Luckily I could see this fellow in our group from my spot in the shade!

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Duncans Mills is really all about the shops and gardens in between. I was fascinated by the rusty filagree of this gazebo and the fact that you could see through it to the garden and seats behind.

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This was a quicky I got in just before we shared our sketches. Sitting under a tree across the street I thought I’d be less likely to make my usual mistake of overdoing the details. What happened was a reliving of the happy memories of the times we were invited to join the camping club on the river when the boys were young!

If you’re in the Sonoma County or northern San Francisco Bay area you may want to join us on one of these regular monthly sketch meet ups on the second Saturday of each month. Check it out on Facebook here. You would be most welcome!

 

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Meditation Garden and Art at TLR

Once a week for the past month I’ve been entering through the gate at The Living Room (TLR) laden with art supplies for the mixed media expressive art class. Ruth from the Muse Group meets me there, also laden with fun art stuff. This week she found me in the garden sketching a lovely corner of the day shelter compound that I hadn’t captured in sketches yet – the Meditation Garden.

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I was well into this sketch when the subject I would have liked to sketch – a woman who is the owner of the bike – showed up. In the shade of the arbor she unpacked a loaded backpack, got it organized and repacked before heading out on the bike. There’s always a great deal of packing and unpacking going on here at this place where women come for day time respite and services before heading out again, to manage lives that are often lacking in secure housing.

On the day of our art group the resource room where we meet is a bustling place with women using computers for email and phones for inquiries about jobs, housing and a million other life concerns. As they finish up and file out to the hot lunch which is being served in the dining area, we turn the room into an art room with watercolor paper  and colorful inks and acrylic paints spread around the tables, along with stencils and stamps and squirters and scrapers and rollers for application. At noon the women start wandering in, up to seven or eight of them, and soon the small room is full of artists who have no trouble figuring out what to do with the paints!

Ruth and I quickly realized that what these folks needed was not an art class but an opportunity to play with materials without being encumbered by performance expectations. (Don’t we all need that!?)

This past week the room filled with a happy, raucous energy that was reflected in the paintings.  It was the last of our meetings in this series. (The regular Expressive Arts team returns with their wonderful program this coming week.) I think we were all a bit sad to have to draw our time to a close, possibly even especially Ruth and I.

I’ll be back this week though and probably for years to come, helping out with the meditation group, sketching stories and best of all, seeing my friends.

Afrolicious

Another summer concert at the plaza in Healdsburg this Tuesday. Afrolicious, as described on their website features:  inspiring lyrics, funky bass lines, and a powerful horn section while retaining the soul and feel of classic funk, disco, Latin, and Afrobeat melodies.

Carole and I immediately spotted the visuals and scoped out the possibilities of positioning ourselves so that we could have an unobstructed view. It’s the age old problem of getting close enough to see, let alone draw, without getting trampled by the dancers or blasted by the amplifiers. The volume was turned up to ear splitting levels that even our sound dampening ear plugs couldn’t handle.

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But the side and back view sometimes works well enough. And the group was engaging with their music and audience appeal. They invited the little kids on stage to “help” them drum and the grown ups to sing along on the chorus. Another warm summer night of music and community spirit.

I finished it up at home with a bold glaze of underpainting and a few accents of color to finish.

A True Tree Friend

There are those trees that end up being old friends. I have lunch with this well-worn apple tree each day lately. I’m watching for birds in its boughs as I munch my salad, but it’s the tree memories that are revealed.

It remembers the day after we moved in over 19 years ago and a neighbor boy arrived to play with our boys of the same age. The boy climbed the little tree and landed on the ground as one of the major limbs broke off. The little tree kept growing and giving shade and shelter to animals in its hollow core ,and fed many generations of goldfinches and Jays and doves and even some flashy Orioles. The occasional squirrel noisily raided its stash. The cats climbed into its arms to see why the birds were getting fed before them! And then there was the time when an errant rooster, that was terrorizing the neighborhood with its untimely crowing, could be found returning to the tree each day.

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So after lunch I responded to the tree’s need to have it’s story told. It wasn’t the first sketch I’d done over the years. There’s somehow more feeling in it each time though – a kind of bitter-sweetness as we age together.

Yesterday we went around propping up the leaning towers of hollow apple tree trunks. It would be too sad to lose my old friend and the others which are bending under the weight of Gravenstein apples right now.

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My friend, twisted and bent, a bit like I feel sometimes – I study the beauty of your curves and knots. It’s my way to pay homage to your grit and endurance. . .I’m always listening for your complaints, but hearing none but my own. Stay with me a while longer dear friend.

Last week at Sierra Camp

Have you ever chased a sunset with your brush? Mixed paint for an old weathered barn from clay dug up in the woods? Dipped sticks found on the ground into ink to draw trees at twilight while the mosquitoes swarmed?

If you’d been with fifteen of us at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus in Laurie Wigham‘s workshop titled Rock, Wood, Water, Sky you would exclaim Yes! and so much more.

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It’s been a while since I’ve “roughed it”. Some might consider this glamping. I mean, a big tent on a platform, hot showers and all meals provided. Bettina and I shared the tent which was named for a not particularly dangerous snake, the Rubber Boa.

A fork of the Yuba River ran right below us in a roar that drowned out our voices as we spoke to each other across the tent. That, combined with the birdsong in the morning and the stars at night. . .ahhhh!

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When I wasn’t in class I collected memories in my little sketchbook.

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This was no painting -botanicals- in- detail- workshop! Laurie encouraged us at every turn to use new materials and capture the essence of the forest and sky.  We were encouraged to do practice paintings on 5″ tall accordian-folded watercolor paper. I did these trees at dusk with sticks dipped in black and brown inks. Later I practiced sunset colors over the top.

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One evening we had a picnic by our cars to paint the sunset by the wetlands where there was more birdlife than I’d ever experienced in one place! Note that all the black marks on the photo above are not dust, but birds. Swallows, yellow headed and red winged blackbirds, Ibises, Sandhill Cranes, a Harrier or two, Grebes, singly or in massive flight patterns in the skies; all adding their melodious vocals to the night air. . .along with the bass notes of the bullfrogs.

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We lined up with our stools on the one lane dirt road to paint the changing light on our 5X5″ pieces.

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Suddenly it really was sunset and the colors changed so rapidly that each painting was about 3 minutes worth of trying to capture the impossible chromatic changes.

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And then it was over, and  on the drive back we kept calling out colors that we saw and the watercolor pigments that would express them.

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Next morning we spread them out on the table to share.

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Another morning we were up at Yuba Pass (6700 ft) painting the aspen trees with their white trunks and shimmering leaves. The lesson was to try many different ways to save whites. Here we are sharing masking fluids, gouache and special brushes (have you tried the eradicator?)

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Here’s one of my 5″X2.5″ test pieces with a combination of negative painting the white trunks and painting branches in white gouache.

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And here’s the woods with a combination of techniques.

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And did I say that one of the best parts of the week was the people; our wonderful teacher Laurie Wigham and the other students? Here is Janet with the tortoiseshell butterfly on her hat. Happily, we had some nature-nerds along who could identify birds, bugs and plants!

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And although the days were filled with activity from breakfast til nightfall at 9pm, some of us found some time to relax. Like my friend Cathy McAuliff, Laurie’s trusty assistant and veteran nature/urban/etc sketcher.

If this learning scenario sounds appealing to you, you can sign up for Laurie’s workshop nest year or one of the other wonderful workshops later this summer. Check out the workshop calendar.

Stay tuned for more sketch stories from my Sierra week.

While in S.F. last weekend

We stayed at a friend’s apartment next to Ghiradelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf so it was easy to find a nearby bench and catch the morning crowd assembling for their tours. I was reminded of the Urban Sketchers Symposiums I’ve been attending the last few years, with the leaders holding up their signs and greeting people as the excitement built.

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I’ve often been to the DeYoung Art Museum in Golden Gate Park, but not to the California Academy of Sciences right across the way, at least not since the boys were little. So, dear Bob humored me (my interest more than his!) for a day, so I could explore my favorites – the planetarium, rain forest with its butterflies, aquarium, and natural history museum. Yes! all under one roof.

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. . .the roof top being a garden, where I had a few minutes for a quick capture.

 

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Believe it or not I have a soft spot in my heart for praying mantises, and not just because they stand still to be sketched. When I had to deny my boys a pet dog due to allergies, I allowed some insects and reptiles/amphibians, including a mantis who did his praying for months in Ben’s room.

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Another attraction that remained still for me right across from a bench where I could rest my weary feet was these zebras. Sketching the stripes was a kind of meditation.

If you’re thinking of visiting this exceedingly popular museum you will hopefully find it quieter (than we did) on weekdays now that school is out. Unless that is you have a particular fondness for sketching children everywhere in motion. . .

Back Yard Nature Journaling

It’s raining hard now of course, but earlier this week I treated myself to an hour in my studio garden without feeling compelled to pull any weeds! But I’m not one for idleness, so I found the largest Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on a vine, and brought him and the vine to the garden bench where I had my sketch stuff.

He/she hardly paused in the munch munching while I held the vine in one hand and sketched/painted with the other, observing up close the wonder of that marvelous insect body with all it’s colored spikes and feelers and legs it employed in the balancing act of moving the fat body sections along the stem. I have a hard enough time coordinating the movement of my four limbs. It’s hard to imagine all those parts moving in concert!

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The leaf was almost gone by the time I finished the painting and moved to the Matilija Poppies which were fluttering their ballerina tutus in the wind. And then I added the “adult”, parent? of the caterpillar. They were fluttering around the garden too quickly so I’ll admit I pulled out my phone and got a picture to source the image of that beautiful midnight blue and black butterfly.

There was no idleness anywhere around on this spring afternoon. The air was filled with bird song, that monotonous cooing of the doves and loud buzzing of scores, hundreds? of bumblebees.

Well actually there was the idleness of Phil the cat, who dozed while I sketched and later woke up to get his picture taken and claim some credit for the art.

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