Reportage Sketching

Redwood Hill Goats

Oh for the love of goats! about twenty sketchers showed up at Redwood Hill Farm in Graton on Saturday. It was the Ready, Set, Sketch (country-style) urban sketchers group which meets once a month on the second Saturday of the month at some location in Sonoma County. We had the added treat of a farm tour led by fellow sketcher and member of the Redwood Hill Farm family, Sharon Bice. redwoodHill2_1

I’ve been wanting to get over there for a long time, but something always came up. The farm is about 7 minutes drive from my home and I have long been a fan of their cheeses.

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But what I really hoped to do was to hold a baby goat or kid, that is. And here is the wish come true. Three days old, this one. And he/she snuggled and suckled and covered me with that velvety goat milky smell. Ever since I’ve been imagining having my own little goat to raise! After all it will be a while (or never) til I get a grandchild of my own to hold!

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But there were chickens there too of course, and I felt rather rusty trying to sketch them as they scratched around and then quickly disappeared into the coop to lay their eggs!

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The adult goats were hanging out in the barn, many different breeds of them. I found a spot standing next to the feeding troughs where they would come up to check me out while I was checking them out. It’s not an easy thing to draw a goat. The proportions of their heads are so very unintuitive. I mean the eyes are way farther up in the head than you would assume, and those horizontal black bands in the eyes? Like an alien. . .

And like most animals, goats are not very cooperative about standing still and posing. Add to that the fact that when they look you in the eye with those fascinating golden eyes, you lose track of what you’re doing and just want to soak up their friendly interest.

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Personality and fecundity seemed to be the dominant traits of this group. It was a bit perilous to open the palette while propping the sketchbook up on the feeding trough bar. It became an instant object of interest to the feeders who stopped by to knock it around a bit. But it was the only way to study this fecund group resting together in dirt and alfalfa.

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Finally, worn out by trying to balance the palette with frequent interruptions, I headed outside to sketch another view of farm life, the last of the day.

 

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Wildfire Anniversary

I think it’s best to start at the end of this extraordinary week of events commemorating the wildfires of Sonoma County last October that earned the designation of the the most destructive wildfire in California history.

For me the last event, Tuesday night the 9th at Coffey Park, where about 500 people gathered in the dark was such a tangible expression of solidarity, hope and love that I was swept away in it. Especially when the President of Coffey Strong, Pamela Van Halsema said, “We’re going to sit on these front porches we’re building and we’re going to greet each other by name, because we know each other now and we can call each other friend.” I actually caught myself feeling jealous that these families, who had lost so much, but actually had gained something that few neighborhood groups can claim.

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It was of course too dark for me to sketch, so I did this one from a picture I took. Almost half of the 1,321 homes that were lost that night last October are being rebuilt now, many completed or almost, making the neighborhood an active construction site.

There were moments of silent prayer for the five neighbors who lost their lives in the fire that night. Poems were read and music played to lead the crowd through memories to hope. Even in the dark I ran into a couple of the people whom I had sketched and once again felt that connection of love and hope.

Back to the earlier events: Last weekend began at Shiloh Park with an event sponsored by the Parks and Rec. Dept., Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. Twelve sketchers showed up to help capture Fire Stories. We had a sign and binder of fire sketches and badges so that people would know who we were.

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The opening ceremony took place under the oaks where Aztec Dancers and drummers did a healing ceremony and dances calling on Mother Earth, bowing to the four directions, and even involving the audience to join in a spiral dance.

AztecDancers Some of the sketchers captured the life and color of the dancers. You’ll find their sketches on the new SketchingFireStories website!

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Some of us stood at a table in the activities area and invited people to look at the sketches in a binder. Kyle had come with his band from Elsie Allen H.S. to play in the closing for the day. Penny Hastings, who was there to help interview, knew Kyle and had her pad ready to record his account of the fire, leaving me free to do a quick sketch. He started out by downplaying his story, I think because he didn’t lose his own house. But he had become one of the first responders, spending days helping out at the high school evacuation center after getting his family to safety.

Holly

Next Penny and I interviewed/sketched Holly, whom I had met in Coffey Park. Holly and her husband are now rebuilding the Coffey Park house they lost in the fire. She was one of the legions of people who endured multiple fire related traumas that first week of the fire. She was glad to have come to the Anniversary event. But on the way there she received a Code Red Alert on her phone, which triggered fear. Dry winds blowing on a low humidity day has become an ominous reminder.

CourthouseSquare by Susan Cornelis

On Monday the 8th Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa was the scene of another anniversary event where children and adults were decorating the plaza with chalk drawings and words. City and county officials were there along with the firefighter’s honor guard. Senator Mike McGuire was going around handing out what looked like homemade cookies! May Khosia, our poet laureate read her poetry, and a fire fighter rang the memorial bell for all the souls in our county and the tri-county area who lost their lives in the fires.

Forum by Susan Cornelis

On Tuesday morning I got to hear my favorite radio show, KQED Forum with Michael Krasny, live at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. In the two hours of the program no stone was left unturned in discussing all the issues raised by the North Bay fires that challenged all assumptions about disaster preparedness, from fire fighting to insurance to rebuilding, communications and so much more. You can listen to it here.

I was sitting in the front row, but the stage was big and I couldn’t read the name cards or see facial features clearly. I’ve learned to just approximate my drawings, and I apologize to the speakers! Listening while sketching, writing in between, trying to get the main points but missing many of them. . .I must say that it’s a challenge that makes the time fly by! The group above was in the first hour.

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And then a whole new seating of illustrious experts arrived in the second hour. I was so impressed with the passion and dedication of all the speakers. They admitted that yes, we are not ready for another Tubbs Fire, but we’re doing everything we can to fight the battles that need fighting to bring resources to bear. And here’s what you, the home-owner can do.

And so, here we are in the lovely month of October, with tree colors starting to flame. With no firestorms, but also no complacency about that, because we remember too well. We’re a community still needing years more of healing and recovering from last October. But I think the anniversary events helped those who lost homes and jobs, as well as those who didn’t. If there is such a thing as a shared spirit of hope, this community has it.

I hope you’ll visit the Sketching Fire Stories website, Facebook page of the same name and Instagram #sketchingfirestories to see more of our group’s sketches!

Latino Community Event

Last night I attended an event for the Latino Community to share experiences of the firestorms last October. KRCB in conjunction with KBBF were the hosts and there was dinner and entertainment. It was a great opportunity to listen to and sketch “Fire Stories”.

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Trio Orion was a perfect way to warm up the crowd. I learned that KBBF radio provided the only translation of fire disaster information to the Spanish speaking community that was experiencing the same terror and uncertainty as the rest of Santa Rosa.

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Patty Ginochio, of Ginochio’s Kitchen in Bodega Bay talked about the throngs of fire evacuees that filled the roads and later the beaches in the wake of the fires. Many of them were Spanish speakers who were afraid to go to the shelters closer to Santa Rosa because they feared deportation. But she also spoke of the overwhelming support provided them by the community in the days that followed.

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Irma Garcia spoke eloquently about the need for government and other agencies to be better prepared to understand and respond to the needs of the Latino community that works so hard and makes such a large contribution to our county.

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Some middle school girls read their poems about the fire. And then individuals shared their anxiety the night of the fires and their difficulty coming to terms with their post-fire lives.

My pen and brush were moving like mad to try to record all this while my heart filled with compassion for these folks. I hope we all do a better job of watching out for all the people in our community whenever the next disaster appears, regardless of citizenship, language or economic status.

If you think you’d like to sketch fire stories like these please join us on Saturday Oct 6 at the Shiloh Park Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. And please sign up at the Meet Up site where there’s more information, and so we know you’re coming.

Sketching Fire Stories

If you’ve been following along here then you know that, along with a small group of urban sketcher friends, I’ve been doing reportage sketching of our firestorm aftermath since last October, telling the visual stories of the scarred landscape, the first responders and the people who lost so much.

In the process I’ve experienced an increased feeling of connection with my community. Ironically, even though we are told that firestorms are now “the new normal” of weather patterns, I have a greater sense of security as a result of hearing stories of such bravery and the loving responses of communities of friends and even strangers. Even though I didn’t lose my home, the “fire news” has become a personal thing for me.

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On Saturday I attended a round table discussion of artists whose art in response to the fires was in the From Fire Love Rises exhibition now showing at the Sonoma Valley Museum. Listening and sketching I felt intimately connected to their pain and loss, but also to their experience of the healing and redemptive aspects of art making. You may have noticed that almost every art venue is showing fire related art right now!

For all these reasons I decided I wanted to share this experience with others like yourself and see if our group can’t grow into a larger reportage effort called “Sketching Fire Stories”. If you think you might be interested, please read further.

If you’ve taken any of my workshops, you may be ready for one form or another of this reportage sketching! You can learn about it “on the job” so to speak. And here’s the invitation.

If you are an artist, illustrator, sketcher, writer, and/or friendly good-listener, please join us for Sketching Fire Stories at the Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together on Sat., Oct. 6, 11am-2pm at Shiloh Regional Park in Windsor, CA We will have a table set up with information about how you can participate. The “stories” we collect will be posted on social media and wider, including pop-up art shows in the coming months.

You may wish to sketch the many activities at the event, the people, or the nature areas recovering from the fire. We will also be pairing up into interviewer/sketcher teams to do portraits of people who wish to share how the fires affected them, and what has given them hope in the last year. (see examples of this from Sketching Climate Stories) You might prefer to interview and take notes to be added to the sketches.

If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll give you more information! Or visit the Meet Up posting about the event and sign up there. This is such a satisfying way to connect with the community, to help with the healing, and to participate in socially conscious art making!

Fisherman’s Wharf and U.C. Berkeley

Catching up a bit here with some recent urban sketching. During my time in S.F. I spent some hours wandering and sketching at Fisherman’s Wharf with my buddy Cathy McAuliff. She’s good at finding sketch spots anywhere. The Wharf was teeming with tourists, so we hid out behind a particularly wharf-y looking building where we sat enjoying the sun and light breeze with only an occasional passer by.

fishermansWharfGouache

I was anxious to give my gouache another try. Don’t you just love the creamy colors? Gouache does inspire a bit of “like a child”, which is what Maru Godas excels at. You can just keep playing around with the colors and layering and editing and adding cool details, both observed and invented!

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I wanted to include the Fontana building where I was staying for a few days. From there you have a view of parts of Fort Mason and the Bay and Alcatraz and the pier and the people swimming in the frigid bay waters!

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Today I had fun using my gouache to finish a scene I had sketched on that day at the Wharf. It is right below Ghiradelli Square (chocolate heaven) not far from the prior picture. The bear is our state animal mascot. (Fontana in the background there again.)

Trex

On another day I met up with some Bay Area sketchers at the Cal Berkeley campus. Here was a great vantage point above the Tyrannosaurus Rex Osborn (found in the badlands of eastern Montana by a rancher!) at the Museum of Paleontology. From up where I stood it looked like Susan Wilson had picked a dangerous spot to sit!

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Ponderous buildings and rushing coeds alternated with some lunchtime loungers on the expansive lawns.

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And then there was the obligatory Campanile sketch.

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Outside the Faculty Club, an extraordinary tree whose white trunks were entwined like dancers or lovers. I called it the Ghost Tree because it was so light against the dark green background.

I had the guilty thought more than once that my day on campus was so relaxed and enjoyable while all around me was the strain of academia; assignments with deadlines and grades at a highly competitive university.  Yeah, but oh those were great times. . .to be young again. . .!

 

Kevin’s house

It all started with the article in the Press Democrat showing Bettina and Carole and I sketching out on the streets of Coffey Park, that famously unfortunate neighborhood of fleeing souls that lost 1200 homes in one night in last October’s firestorm in Santa Rosa, CA.

Sasha saw the article and contacted us to see if we could do a similar “fire story sketch” of  Kevin’s (her fiance) home that burned that night.  The idea was to try to do something showing the passage of time.

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I started by sketching what was the present moment of the new home coming up on a street which was busy with construction.

Of all the neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that burned in that fire, Coffey Park is way ahead in efforts to rebuild. You can see the Coffey Strong signs everywhere that express a kind of neighborhood “united we stand” sentiment that has proved to be so vital to the spirit of healing and renewal.

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Sasha wanted another sketch showing the possession that Kevin was the most distressed to lose in the fire – his shiny new red motorcycle! Luckily she had a photo of the motorcycle before and after, as well as a before the fire photo of the house. I was able to combine all three in this rendering.

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Sasha invited me to come after work to see how the house was coming along, meet Kevin, give them the sketches, and watch the Coffey Strong neighbors greeting each other for their “walk the neighborhood” and potluck gathering.  There were smiles and hugs and picture taking and exchanges of information about how the construction is going, decisions that are being made, etc. It felt like the kind of survivor’s club I’d want to be a member of.

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Kevin and Sasha are told the house will be finished by Christmas. I sure hope Kevin has a motorcycle under the tree!

Corpse Flower and other S.F. Wonders

My recent days in San Francisco were almost perfectly timed to view the monstrously gorgeous Corpse Flower in bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers, along with other botanical wonders. The flower is actually taller than me and I’m 5’9′!

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Luckily I missed out on the rotting flesh smell.  But I also missed seeing the full opening to all the little flowers in the base!

The environment inside the Conservatory is mostly steamy and tropical. My glasses misted up as soon as I walked in. And each room is like walking into an eerie land of alien looking plants.

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These pond lilies are large enough to hold the weight of a human! And the pitcher plants were there in all sizes and colors, looking like the hiding place for fairies in an enchanted garden. One can certainly imagine that animation artists and science fiction writers might get their ideas from such a collection.

 

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“Pitcher plants with matching beetle” Sketching botanicals was such a lovely break from drawing humans-in-motion and complicated city scenes.

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One of my days was spent alone in the city wandering, or “flaneusing”. The first plan was to stroll along the Marina, but the wind drove me south into the Cow Hollow neighborhood where I perched for a few minutes to recover.

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All the above sketches are in my 7 X 5″ w/c book, fountain pen and w/c

It was brunchtime then and I was seated at Causwells in the corner where I had an excellent vantage point for people sketching. It’s unavoidable to make up stories about people you are sketching, especially when you hear little snatches of conversation!

birdman

Next stop.  . .the Palace of Fine Arts, where I’ve sketched before. With my stomach full and my feet tired and the wind blowing pretty hard I didn’t really want to tackle sketching the complex Greco-Roman style Rotunda and colonnades, beautiful though they are. As I entered the central rotunda I found shelter from the wind and this scene.

Johnny from Liverpool was serenading the pigeons while feeding them. He was in a narrow band of shade and I didn’t want to disturb him or the birds and sat a distance off, where I could only see his outline (hence the scribbly start). He looked friendly though, and was open to me sitting next to him. Soon the bride showed up, posing for a wedding picture along with at least five different brides and grooms I saw in the hour or so I was there.