Reportage Sketching

What I Love About the Sonoma Co. Fair

I’m not much for the rides at the Sonoma County Fair, or the races or the greasy deep fried food on a stick. But boy do I like to hang out with the farm animals and 4H kids. Most of all the pigs. Don’t you just love their snouts and taut bellies and squeals? More than other animals they seem like us somehow, in their appetites and love of napping and their naked bellies.


fountain pen (brown and black inks), watercolor on Fluid 100 watercolor paper, double spread 7.5 X 11″

You can watch the judging in the pavilion or you can roam the pens where the pigs are mostly resting, snuggled up with each other. Sleeping and eating seems to be their two modes. It was morning when I tried sketching these guys, and they weren’t exactly standing still.


There’s this thing that happens to their mouths when they’re fed and I think happy. It seems simpler for them, this happiness thing, less encumbered by expectations. It’s a little upturn of the corners of the mouth.

These guys share so much. Do you suppose they know that their short lives are about to end with the auction which inevitably ends their stardom on the 4H stage at the end of the week? They don’t appear to be worried. And somehow their young owners, who feed and groom and apply sunscreen and cool them off with water spray when they get too hot, and who lie down and nap using their soft bellies as pillows. .  .will soon part with them forever. Sigh. Could I do that? I mean they have names and personalities. (but I am admittedly a bacon lover, oh dear.)


Some of these bovines are so very glamorous that you would easily give them a prize. I lean toward the pink ones, thinking they are so pretty in pink, blackwhitepig

but some are a shiny black and others have an exotic picture puzzle-like design. They should have the great fashion houses of the world paying attention.

The white pigs are like me, if they get more than a few minutes of sun, they get sunburned and turn pink!

pigtrioNot having had enough of the pig sketching while at the fair, I did this one from a picture once I was home. These pigs are not embarrassed to have their naked bottoms on display, and those cute curly-Q tails. . .


The animals seem so comfortable with each other. I mean you wouldn’t see unrelated humans who had just met sharing their space with each other in this companionable way. In this group there was a certain amount of standing and lying down and then getting back up, which made for inaccurate drawings. You need to exercise your visual memory, which has it’s limits! While I was sketching here, a 4Her asked us if we’d like to pet the animals. A sweet offer, if not exactly what I’d been thinking. . .


Another 4-Her was grooming Bullseye, who was docilely chained to a spot for the purpose. The grooming consisted of being cleaned with a leaf blower. It’s a full time job to keep these animals looking shiny, spiffy and immaculate in a barn filled with hay and some amount of poop. I did not find the smell unpleasant, but I must say it was with me til the end of the day, long after I’d returned home.


Beauty School to Financial District

Every reportage sketcher’s dream is to become a fly on the wall observing and sketching some common human activity not generally open to observation. . . like sketching the action in a beauty school. Last week I was invited to accompany Bettina while her daughter Julia styled her hair at Cinta Aveda beauty school in the financial district of San Francisco.


Looking through the eyes of a sketcher one notices hundreds of interesting facets in the visual field: certainly the bottles of products and carts of rollers and towels, hair dryers and curlers. Reflections in the mirror are the most intriguing. From where I was sitting the poster of the male model on the wall behind dominated the mirror. Looking around I noticed the other posters of “hot” guys ringing the room, imagining that not only were there guys getting their hair cut, but women enjoying the thought that their new “do” might attract such a guy.


Applying color here, while somebody’s son amuses himself on his phone. I never saw the final hairdo.


After lunch at an overpriced Financial District restaurant we headed to the Embarcadero Center to sketch. Embarcadero Center is a commercial complex of five office towers, two hotels, an underground shopping center with more than 125 stores, bars and restaurants, two movie theaters, and fitness center on three levels. But stringing it all together is a beautifully landscaped open area with stellar views of skyscrapers and other urban geometry. It’s always fascinating to me to view the tallest building in a city, here the Salesforce tower, from a vantage point that dwarfs it.


I was focusing here on the geometry without thinking “things” and using a dip pen and ink bottle for a change. I’d like to try again with a thicker nib. It didn’t look that different from my usual fountain pen. I liked the way the ink flowed onto my watercolor paper though.


Then it was rush hour and we decided to wait it out to avoid a long commute back to Sonoma County. We’re across the street from the Ferry Building here and right below the Bay Bridge, one of those places that feels like a crossroads of humanity.

Not everyone was rushing however. This fellow was catching up on sleep on the sun-warmed pavement, one of the thousands of homeless people in this city and others around our wealthy but neglectful country. Summer in San Francisco is cold and windy and often not hospitable to outdoor relaxation. He was bundled up and the wind was blowing and the public toilet had a steady stream of visitors and the bridge was jammed with commuters. And this became my last story of the day.

If you had been there, no doubt your story would have been a completely different one!

Porto: Last days

Saturday July 21st was the last day of the whirlwind Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018. After the morning workshop with Marion Rivolier (yesterday’s post) the 800 attendees were invited to the “Big Sketch” final sketchwalk and group photo in a long central promenade area up on the hill which ended in the grand city hall.


This young woman with her sketch board and symposium pass was perfect to tell the story.

But first I started with a warm up sketch in direct watercolor to overcome my nervousness about the busy open space with so many curious onlookers and experienced artists. I was happy with the girl with no face, painted in only shadow shapes, before I got all involved with the cherub statue and decided I better move on!

It was time then for the group photo on the steps of the City Hall. Can you see me waving? Ha ha!

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 3.38.03 PM

Next we walked back to the river to the Alfondega or symposium Hub for the Silent Auction of the spectacular work done by Urban Sketchers in Porto. This was followed by the raffle drawing of prizes from generous sponsors. Then the buildup to the big announcement that next year’s Symposium (drum roll here) in Amsterdam!

With all the socializing activities and workshops during the event I was starved to just wander and sketch with no time limit. So the following morning I set off alone.


The tourists don’t get up early, so it was possible for a while to wander without the crowds and sip coffee with the excellent views of the river.


Walking to the other side of the bridge on the lower level I found a spot in the shade with my back to the bridge wall. It was midday and the day’s activity was beginning in earnest. A young man was donning a wet suit, and later returned to strip it off with an appreciative audience of girls. So I wrote this tidbit on my sketch (never write until later!) He and his friends then expressed some interest in what I was doing and I was able to ask

Q: Why the wetsuit?

A: To jump off the lower bridge span into the river! (the upper span is for suicides I learned)

When the group came over to look closer, I covered my writing with my hand and had to keep it there while one of the girls, an art student sat beside me to watch me paint!

Then a street musician/artist stopped by and chatted with me for a while and explained that the deafening roar of motorcycles which was increasing with each moment was related to another kind of symposium happening that weekend, a motorcycle rally!


Back across the bridge again I caught sight of this edifice sheltered in the armpit of the upper bridge span.

Oh how I will miss the urban character of Porto! I heard that someone suggested we have the annual symposium in Porto every year!

On the last Porto day exhaustion finally took over. But we agreed we couldn’t go home without seeing the Atlantic ocean beach. A short cab ride got us there and exhaustion lifted as we breathed the sea air and found a lovely resort to dine and enjoy sun and cool breezes.


I got out my Inktense pencils, pens and marker for the top sketch, though I always end up wondering why I didn’t use watercolor.


The young wait staff were not so busy they couldn’t visit with us and answer questions and enjoy being sketched.


And that’s about it.Well, that’s not quite it. I’m still doing a bit of sketching from my pictures of scenes I had no time to do while there.


The Porto sign was right around the corner from our Yellow House and perfect to stage our farewell (along with a line of tourists from other countries.

Thanks for joining me on the trip! If you came in late, you can scroll down for more sketches of two weeks in Portugal.

Part III Porto

My first Symposium workshop was one that I knew would blow my sketcher’s mind wide open, and gratefully it did! Inma Serrano‘s workshop titled Porto: Calm and Wild! She got us going right away by giving us India ink and sticks and accordian folded paper to do quick drawings which played with textures, open and dynamic lines and overlapping shapes.  You see the results here.inma serrano

Then looking out at the busy Ribeira area by the river we did a sketch making a clear pathway into the focal point and leaving out any other detail.


Here’s my exercise. It was so liberating to get to leave out so much of the colorful scene and just focus on a particular story with large shapes leading into smaller shapes in the background. And no watercolor here, because I had to use my water container to put the ink in. So this is the India ink, drawn with a stick and brush, marker, brush pen, and colored pencil.

inma serrano2

Here’s Inma pointing at the scene we walked to next. We were in the labyrinthine walkways leading up from the river near the bridge.

Inma is saying, “First paint only the shadow shapes (luckily there were some!) in black, and then finish the sketch with detail in any medium you want.”

When some of us winced she said, “Trust me. Just do it.”


Here’s mine. And I’m sure you can imagine what happened in my mind when I finished with just the back ink. . . but in the end I thought, “Hey this is so cool!”

When she looked at mine her comment was, “This is out of your comfort zone, right? (I nodded vigorously) Very good.”

Funny thing about that comfort zone. Hard to let go of it, but always a good idea if you want to move ahead. You’ll see some influence this workshop had on my later sketches!

In the afternoon, after lunch and more up and down climbing and a wee rest, I joined Jim Richards‘ workshop, Drawing as Discovery: Revealing Porto’s Rich Sense of Place. Jim invited us to first explore the area, walking around doing thumbnails or small sketches to find elements that conveyed the life and energy of the place. We were at the foot of the statue of Henry the explorer, in a garden ringed by a palace, cathedral with solid gold interior, another church with decorative tiled facade, openings with river views, hillside views of more cathedrals and battlements and on and on.


Here’s my “discovery tour”, and I would happily have sketched any of these scenes. The final exercise was to create a large composition to express this city’s energy and life, adding in many objects to enrich the concept. I chose the scene on the lower left.

But first, knowing that this endeavor would require more energy than I had, I bought myself a gelato!


There’s Henry the explorer reaching out to explore and conquer the world, and the angel with her foot on the planet and arm in the air holding a cross. Definitely a story right there. And always the lovebirds oblivious of all but each other. And me enjoying my gelato on a blue sky day.

The Drink and Draw followed. A time more for urban sketchers socializing than drawing. I made some interesting new friends and took a break from sketching!

My last workshop was the next day. Capturing People and Space in the Same Gesture with Marion Rivolier. Marion is a stage and set designer and fine artist living in Paris. The urban sketcher community is in awe of her ability to sketch big scenes with direct watercolor painting in vibrant color, often with figures that are moving and complex urban scenes.

She started out by getting us to practicing mixing our warm and cool dark mixes of color. porto9

To be able to emphasize light against dark and warm against cool colors, we needed to be ready to produce these quickly, because. . .the next part was to capture figures with a gestural brush mark, and then to negative paint the figure while simultaneously building the background scene in dark warm and cool brush strokes. Are you still following?


The “models” were the folks waiting for the tram or sitting at the restaurant tables, or each other.


The last exercise was to put it all together and do the big scene (no drawing first) and we had 40 minutes, the first 10 of which I sat freaking out and thinking this is impossible. (There it is again, no comfort zone here.) Then I plunged in and painted like crazy. And if you stand back far enough, it actually looks like a scene you might see in Porto! Warm and cool and dark and light. It’s all there, barely. Whew!

Next: Symposium finale and last days in Porto

Porto: Part II


And then the much anticipated Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018 began with registration at 11am. The event had somehow grown to 800 sketchers from around the world (500 the past two years I attended) and they all seemed to converge at once on the Alfondega or “hub”. Here’s what happened to me. . .



And so the Symposium started for me “taking shelter” on the littered steps across the street where some ebullient Brits were sketching and chatting. And I guess you can tell by the sketch that I was ready for some fun.


And later, while a long row of experienced sketchers from around the world were doing the entire skyline of colorful edifices on the hill, I picked out one spot on the hill to do a quick study. A rousing opening ceremony closed out the day.

Workshops started the next day and I had signed up for a full schedule of four workshops and a demonstration over the three days.


L.K. Bing, architect and master painter from Indonesia was teaching my first workshop Dramatic Atmosphere in Black and White. We climbed the hill to a spot with the street view he wanted to capture, waited until we could find a spot for 15 of us to congregate on the street without blocking any doors. Then the delivery trucks started arriving and we kept squeezing over to avoid toes getting run over. (Urban sketcher workshops are always great adventures!)

We started out with the little cards he gave us, sketching the shadow patterns of the scene with water soluble pencil and black watercolor and white, then moved on to a larger piece. The view was partially blocked by the trucks and the wall of tourists who were curious and wanting to take pictures of us. The day was overcast so we were mostly guessing at shadows, but I must say that getting to see this teacher paint with large expressive strokes that captured the drama of street life was worth every minute.

porto4 And here’s my clumsy efforts, with a huge serving of invention!

In the afternoon I attended a demonstration with U.K. teacher Lynda Gray

lynda gray

This is Lynda’s signature style, gorgeous line work that thins out at the edges and delicate, restrained watercolor around the focal point. The result is serene and refined. Watching her slow build up of color was a relaxing break from the mad rush of activity in the city and symposium events.

Next: more workshops


Porto Part I

Porto is a visual feast. Like Lisbon it climbs a steep hill with views from every narrow, cobblestoned street, each of which is decorated with bright flags and colorful laundry in drooping strings across painted balconies. You can wear yourself out trying to capture even a thimbleful of the kaleidoscopic images that greet you with every turn.

So it really helped to just sit down and compose whatever sketch time allowed.


And then there’s the Douro River at the base and not so wide across that you can’t enjoy the other side as well. And six glorious bridges, each an architectural marvel.


We took a river cruise to get oriented. The Ponte de D. Luis I bridge here with a lower and upper span dominated our view for the duration of our stay.


Here’s the view from the river of the “boardwalk” area, which was a favorite of the urban sketchers.

portoriver Even the river boats had a unique style.


We settled into the Yellow House on the hill, a three story house we rented through AirBnb and it became home for a week. . .a home we shared with the raucous gulls whose wingspan was that of an Albatross I think, because they seemed to span the width of the narrow street down which they soared in noisy drafts. Then they perched on the roofs and commenced heated discourse which ended in brawls (or that’s what it sounded like).


The view from my bedroom window balcony on the third floor in the morning. . .That’s the river down there and the monastery across the river.  .


And the view lit up at night. . .and yes, that’s a cathedral next door.


Stay tuned for Porto: Part II


Last Days in Lisbon

Arriving back in Lisbon after a day in Sintra we wandered the busy streets looking for a good restaurant for dinner. When the sun set and darkness descended we had just trudged up yet another steep street when we arrived at Largo do Carmo, a small square where people were dining under the night sky while watching a fire juggler.


We ordered an assortment of small plates and wine and the fire juggler was replaced by Bossa Lounge, a group performing Brazilian style music, Girl from Ipanema, smooth jazzy and romantic.


I needed a day off from wandering and the Museum of Marionettes in our neighborhood was the perfect break! An opportunity to sketch stationary objects up close. There were few tourists and even chairs you could pull up to sit on.


The puppets/marionettes represented cultures and their stories from all over the world. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed copying the art of others so much. The artists’ names are on the sketches.


Lisbon17 The final day in Lisbon was a real work out in Mario Linhares’ (almost 10 hour long) workshop, “Warm Up for Porto in Lisbon”, which started at the top of the city, worked its way down and then up along the river. He delivered on all his promises to get us ready for the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto, including teaching us some Portugese which would come in handy!


The workshop started at the Miradouro. That blue line you see is the wide river beyond. We stood or perched on the wall for the first exercise of sketching the entire cityscape below.


First we used directional lines to just sketch the roofs. . .


then added color, and soon dashed for cover as the sky opened up for a good drenching, after which the sun returned and we added a title and story text to finish the piece.


In the next exercise we were to use four different media for four different five-minute sketches in different locations as we descended the steep steps into the Alfama area AND the sketches were to be connected into one piece on the page. Got that? As we were digging in our bags for pencils and stools and watching our step, I was thinking “this is impossible” but actually it was quite fun.

And the reward was lunch at Santo Antonio de Alfama with endless servings of tapas.

Lisbon39And time to get to know the international group of fellow sketchers!

Lisbon19from the U.K., South Korea, Hong Kong, France, Canada, Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, and of course Portugal.

There was more to the day, but I’ll never make it to Porto unless I stop there, with a big thank you to Mario for a great day to wrap up my stay in Lisbon.

Next: Arrival Porto