Figure studio sketches

Oscar de la Renta at the de Young

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Pelican fountain pen and watercolor in 6X8″ Stillman and Birn sketchbook

A morning spent at the de Young art museum in San Francisco with two sketch-buddies, there to see the Oscar de la Renta Retrospective show .  The show runs til May 30, so plenty of time to see it.  And bring your sketchbook, because it’s a near ideal situation for sketching the figure.  First of all, the figures are posed in stylized postures. Second, they don’t move. And third, they have no complicated hair and facial features, because they’re bald mannequins!  So you can focus on what really turns you on: color, design, textures, and imagining what it would be like to wear such creations!

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I had a moment of freak out at the entrance when I was told that I couldn’t bring my day pack in unless I held it by the handle like a purse!  Right. And where was the third hand to hold a pen?

The problem was quickly solved by putting my pens and iPhone in a pocket, carrying my sketchbook, and checking the rest in the coatroom.

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The exhibition rooms were dark and dramatic.  No place to sit down, but we’d anticipated that.  Sometimes the feet of the model never made it on the page, and in this one I did “her” from two angles to try to get that Cossack-like stance.

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With each figure I took a picture to use as source for adding color at home.

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The viewers were mostly women there with their girlfriends, talking about the fabrics, picking their favorites.  It was a real girlfriend extravaganza.

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The Eastern Influence room was heavy on the animal skins, like this bridal outfit with the minks dangling from other minks or whatever other poor animal.

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We spent some time in this room, deciding which gown we would like to wear.  I tried to think of the last time I wore an evening gown. . .high school prom maybe.  But that doesn’t really count.  Camp Winnarainbow “Kick the Cannes Festival”?

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We all liked this one: soft, flowy, and sooo feminine (and not scratchy on the skin)

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While I was sketching these, the docent came around and I picked up some tidbits.  Sara Jessica Parker wore the white gown at an opening and asked de la Renta to put his name on it, which he did in RED! The pink one flows down three sets of steps.

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About de la Renta Vogue magazine wrote: “Nobody makes a woman feel more like a woman at night”.  (Movie stars maybe.)

By the time I’d painted in the drawings at home I was thinking, how fun it would be to do fashion illustration!  in another life perhaps?

Nursing Home Sketches

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fountain pens, watercolor in 7 X 12″(full spread) handmade sketchbook, Fluid w/c paper

I’ve made some new friends at the nursing home where my mother-in-law lived. My weekly visits coincide with this fellow Chris coming to play and sing folk songs to the residents, who largely sit quietly listening, enjoying and zoning out. Almost all the patients are in wheelchairs. The staff has given me permission to sketch and I’ve become part of the “furniture” in the activities room.

fcactivities2 Funny thing, I always feel better when I leave. It’s a heart opening. My own personal world grows larger from sketching these folks. fcactivities4

Some patients brighten their day, which is pretty much always like the day before, with colorful clothing.

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and accessories.

FCactivitiesFamily visit are cherished.  And music in all forms lifts the spirits and soothes.

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There’s ball “games” for the residents!

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I like to use my fountain pen with the Noodlers Golden Brown ink to start the sketch. The softer line works best for old people whose edges are softened by the years and by inactivity. The Golden Brown ink melts a bit when color is added, and later I go back for some line emphasis with black.

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I’m learning my way around wheel chairs.  They’re as complicated as bicycles!

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Someone’s grandpa.  I never knew either of mine, and I lost my father 27 years ago.

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Such a wonderful face – I couldn’t resist. A friendly man, happy to be sketched.

Shakespeare in Presidio Park

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Yesterday was the most glorious weather in Presidio Park, San Francisco, with the SF Urban sketchers meeting up for an afternoon of free Shakespeare on the lawn.  The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was performed with pathos and a perfect dose of comedy to an audience on blankets with their lunch and wine.

With the constantly changing scenes, costumes, gestures, it was both tantalizing and frustrating to try to get it down on paper.

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When there was too much activity on stage, I reverted to contour drawing of the crowd, which helped a bit to calm me down so I could try again.  I also wanted to use my new watercolor pigment, Sepia with just a bit of Cerulean.

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I was using my water soluble ink on the three women, but all the lines melted when I touched them with a brush, so I switched pens again for the friar.

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Catching on that what I wanted was to capture the DRAMA of the moment, I realized that the Pentel Brush Pen was the way to go for quick gesture.  THere was no way to capture one whole scene in tact!  So I just kept adding figures as I thought I could sketch them.

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For instance, Romeo and Juliet’s father, definitely not in the same scene!

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The play doesn’t actually end here, but this is the ending we all remember.  AH!  Star crossed lovers!

After the play, as our group was sharing our sketches from the day, Juliet (alive again and smiling) and some of the other actors came by to enjoy the sketch art, as we thanked them for stellar performances!

Family Models

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Dip pen with Diamine Terracotta and Noodlers black ink in 8 x 8 ” HAndbook w/c sketchbook

This is my first post using apps on my iPhone! I’m practicing the new “mobile me” in preparation for the trip to Italy in 1 1/2 weeks.  You may have noticed that the appearance of the blog has changed recently.  That is also so it will be smart phone mobile friendly (with “fluid layout”).  I have a little gorilla pod to set the iPhone on and a fold-up wireless keyboard as new toys to make this possible.  Here’s what it looks like.

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Meanwhile, in an effort to keep sketching even while at home, I hunt down my son(s) who, bless their dear hearts, are willing to let me sit and stare at them.  With Ben I always get the finger picking guitar music as an accompaniment, a sort of icing on the cake, both visually and auditorily.

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Pentel Pocket brush pen in Canson Mix media sketchbook

Andrew, who is no longer home, likes to do crosswords at breakfast, like his mother.  Here I’m practicing quick gesture drawing, which I like a whole lot better than my labored drawings, but only one out many turn out this good.  Believe me, you don’t see the others!

Sketching away the holidays


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Japanese brush pen and w/c in Strathmore w/c sketchbook, 5 X 7″

The holidays are officially over now.  Today we’ll take down our Bookworm tree and lights.  My Strathmore sketchbook, inaugurated in October, is full.  The holidays are never a time to get much larger painting done, but they are a perfect time for some quick sketches.  Here’s a sampling.

The jury is still out on which of my pens works best.  They all have pros and cons. The brush pen, which you see in these images, is the most expressive, but it puts down such a bold line (a bit scary!) and it bleeds, so you can’t paint watercolor over it. unless you want mud.

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In pursuit of more colorful subjects I have found the Farmer’s Market to be the most accessible.  I went to sketch motion, but ended up sipping my chai comfortably on a bench and opting for a sedentary subject who was easier to draw.


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More brush pen sketching at a local cafe hang out. The trick is to stay away from facial features and go for body attitude. All the shading here is the brush pen bleeding as I swipe it with a water brush.

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The guy in the foreground was literally close enough I could touch him, but he was more interested in the people ordering their coffee, especially this young lady with the cool boots!

Sketching in the Dark

When my friend and colleague Chris Carter was in town teaching workshops, we teamed up for some fun sketch-ventures.  I wrote about this one in my newsletter (see link on the previous post).  Sketching in the (almost totally) dark of a night club (Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol) is something Chris is comfortable with, so I borrowed her confidence for an evening, and here’s what came of it on my end. (Check our her blog to see my inspiration). Since this is illustrated journaling and storytelling, I’ll share the whole story from beginning at 10pm when the doors opened and we grabbed the only table near the stage, until after midnight when we left the night to the young people.

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black ink and dip pen with watercolor in Strathmore w/c sketchbook, 5″ X 7″

10:15pm I guess it’s good to not be able to see the faces or any detail.  You get the overall feeling. . .and color doesn’t much matter either.  There’s dark colors and then there’s light colors.  Period.

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10:45pm  Now I’m using my Japanese brush pen and drawing and painting to the music. There’s a DJ, but where is the headliner, we’re wondering?

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10:55pm I’m just trying to capture the “vibe” with my pen, and dancing a bit myself.

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11:15pm The headliner, Ras Attitude, still hasn’t come, but the crowd is definitely warmed up. . .and then

ras_attitude11:16pm  Ras Attitude enters, lights up the stage and audience. My pen goes a bit crazy. . .

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Then settles down enough to get the stripes in his 3 foot high hat drawn in.  What a colorful character!

12:15am  We pack up our pens and paints and leave the night to the young people.

Sketching the story

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sepia ink and dip pen, wet with brush in 9 X 12″ mixed media sketchbook

It’s week 5 of the Sketchbook Skool Kourse titled “Storytelling” and the assignment given by teacher Veronica Lawlor, (author of One Drawing a Day) was to capture movements, actions and expressions in one subject.  Since my son is home right now for a visit . . . well, I guess he didn’t have much choice, since I wasn’t asking for him to pose, just to let his snoopy mom quietly sketch for a few minutes.  I liked this one, but he was mostly still, so there wasn’t much in the “action” department and it looked a bit too finished for what I wanted.

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So I asked for some help with yard work (not for the purposes of sketching, mind you), raking up leaves and sweeping.  He was in constant movement, so I stood just out of range with sketchbook and a brush pen and water brush in hand.

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No, his brother didn’t show up to help.  He kept turning which was good for practice.

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15-20 minutes into it, just as I was getting warmed up, he finished the work, otherwise I think I’d still be there sketching on this lovely fall day.  It always feels impossible to sketch a moving subject.  It takes a suspension of belief to get started (or perhaps a suspension of dis-belief) and then there’s the energy of the effort, which is intoxicating!