Reportage Sketching

Boca de Tomatlan II

The next morning I headed down to the riverside just below our house, anxious to sketch the boat life. Bob, our instructor/host had warned us about this. With all the activity on the river in the morning, a peacefully anchored boat will be boarded and motor out to the ocean in moments, aborting your best sketch yet. However, I would be quick with this one, I thought.

 

A parade of hikers crossed in front of me on the narrow trail which was the only place to roost on my stool. A quick pencil sketch was done, and the boat still lingered. But I discovered I’d forgotten to bring my water brush. I raced upstairs to fetch it and when I returned the boat had disappeared! I borrowed a boatman from another craft and proceeded to paint from memory and the rest of the scene which had luckily not moved.

Then around 11am we piled into a van and were driven along the mountain road above the  river.  We were having lunch and spending the afternoon at the spectacular Vallarta Botanical Garden.

I could happily have spent days in that tropical paradise with my nature journal in hand. I guess it was a good thing that I’d left my iPhone/camera drying out from its quick dunk in the ocean the day before. Because at every turn of the head a new plant or butterfly or bird was screaming Look at me! Take my picture to prove there is really a lily pad that gigantic and a bird with every color of the rainbow! Good thing not to have the camera between me and all that beauty. 

I sat by the fruit feeder and was rewarded after a while by first one, then a flock of Yellow Winged Caciques having a raucus bird party under the cacao tree.  I sat as still as I could as they frolicked mere inches away.

To be continued tomorrow. . . with another trip to the mountains and beach life.

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Boca de Tomatlan I

Vacation? Adventure? Painting workshop? Urban Sketcher “assignment”? As I was bumping down the coastal highway south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico in a taxi from the airport heading to a small fishing village on the ocean, the sun was setting over the Pacific. I was traveling alone to a place I’d never been and where I would know no one. But with a magical sunset like that, I felt ready for whatever happened.

And with my arrival at Boca de Tomatlan I found myself. within moments, with bare feet in the warm sand, friendly artists to meet, margarita in hand and a dinner of freshly caught red snapper. . . a few feet from the ocean, in candlelight and Mariachis playing by our side. OK I thought. I can deal with this.

The next morning on my bedroom veranda I was greeted with this view, where the ocean meets the shallow Horcones River. I was spending the week at the Casa de los Artistas where room and board, art mentoring with master artist Robert Masla as well as local excursions were provided and friendships developed.  

My first sketch here after breakfast in the morning, looking through the palms to the river harbor below and the village opposite. My eyes focused on the palm thatched beach restaurant. I was greedy for a big picture, and didn’t care about getting it right! My eyes were able to focus only slightly better than the picture above, the cataract having traveled with me to Mexico. Certainly not a reason to stop sketching and enjoying the daily sunshine and exuberant jungle leaning up against river, beach and ocean! 

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

And such an abundance of activity there was, day and night. With no road on our side of the river, we walked or climbed a narrow dirt path through outdoor courtyards with the dogs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, a friendly parrot, laundry drying, babies nursing, children playing, workers carrying heavy loads, and each morning a parade of tourist hikers headed to the ocean cliff trail. To cross the river we walked a three wooden plank-wide bridge propped on rocks just above the rushing water. When tide was low, we could wade across.

The next day was Sunday and a beach day for families. Hungry to get the joyful activity packed into a sketch, I kept adding people to the sketch. This middle aged couple stood contentedly nn the shallow riverbank holding hands, unaware that they were a prized foreground for this sketch. 

I stood uncertainly on the river’s edge, wondering about the current and depth and presence of rocks, but wanting to cross. These children with the ancient boat saw me pondering and offered a lift. English not needed. Pointing to the boat and smiling at me was enough. They helped me onto a wet seat and ferried me to the other side, two on either side outside the boat. The girl was intent on my safe journey and gestured for me to wait til they got close enough before signaling me to rise and de-boat. After that sweet initiation, I was able to ford the river, at low tide, on my own.

On Monday we were taken on a boat trip down the coast to another beach and the village of Quimixto for a picnic. We pounded the waves in our water taxi and surfed it onto another beach down the coast, with a turbulent and rather wet disembarking amongst flocks of pelicans and snowy egrets. 

,The one sketch I managed. While eating our lunch on the beach, this fellow appeared with his iguana.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone camera, greasy fingers and all. You may see this in a sketch at some point. Who could resist?! Then I watched all the crazy activity of the egrets and pelicans and a few frigate birds, and picked through the colorful rocks on the beach. The surf was too wild and rocky for swimming. And accidentally, because I was so intent on taking pictures, dropped my phone in the ocean. It survived but needed a day to dry out. 

Therefor the next day at the spectacular Botanical Museum I was camera-less. Sigh. But how fortunate to not have that distraction. I guess. 

To be continued. . .

On the Shortest Day

On the shortest day of the year a short drive through snow flurries landed us in the faux tropical setting of  The Bark and Garden Nursery where we found respite in the indoor plant section. In this divine setting the Buddha oversaw the art making with his beatific inner vision and gentle waterfall acoustics. It was warming and restorative!

ink and watercolor in w/c hand.book journal

Normally I don’t think one finds a flamingo statue in a meditative garden with a Buddha, but when I finished the sketch I noticed that bird peeking out behind Buddha, no doubt being drawn in by his compassion. So in the last two minutes there I added him to finish the story of abundant grace!

Since we’d run into lunchtime and were hungry, Jan and I headed over to the nearby Mall’s food court to also practice catching people on the move. I figure it takes at least 30 minutes to warm up for this kind of quick capture sketching, where you’re really taking a rapid mental picture and trying to hold onto it long enough to get your nervous hand to get something human-like down on paper. Often the figure is long gone and you’re half finished and needing to make up the legs or use someone elses. The faces at the tables were more cooperative, but the manikin in the window was the best!  We were just getting warmed up when it was time to head home! 

At home the day before I was practicing a technique I’ve seen on the youtube channel @VanidasMangathilArt. This amazing painter/teacher demos how to paint  imaginary figures from watercolor paint splatters! 

 

direct watercolor on w/c paper

He makes it look pretty easy, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first line of splash figures was intriguing enough to try again. I did the second line of 12? figures in 5 min with my palette “mud”. You’ve got to paint fast before the paint dries. Now do 10 more lines, I told myself! and was promptly called to dinner. So the challenge is still floating. 

Want to do landscapes in the same way? Vanidas Mangathil also demos imaginary landscapes which look so effortless and realistic that your mind is blown. Give it a try and let me know! He’s also on Instagram of course.

Waterfront Market in Ruston

My house in Olympia is a 45 minute drive from the city of Tacoma which is on another finger of the Puget Sound. The city of Ruston is glorious with its scenic waterfront views of Commencement Bay, the snowy Olympic Mountain Range on one side and the Cascades and Mount Rainier on the other! But we were headed for sketching in the indoor Waterfront Market on a cold and rainy Wednesday.

fountain pen, watercolor in hand.book journal

The meet up was hosted by the Tacoma Urban Sketchers. A spot prefered during the weekday when there were no crowds, with plenty of food and drink, colorful vendors and holiday spirit. ( It took the rest of the day to get the Christmas carols to stop looping through my mind though!)

OK, so the red wall was my homage to the holiday in this one, though the scene was entirely black and white, which was what I liked about it! Strong value patterns! The other thing was that I had a lovely quiet space to put my stool and Shalaine the eyebrow threader would not be in. Good thing, since there was not a soul there looking to get their eyebrows threaded. Certainly not me! though I would have enjoyed watching it, since it’s a mystery to me what eyebrow threading is.

This was the next quiet spot I found, next to the booth with the sign for massages and the young masseuse who didn’t seem concerned that there were no takers, but carried on having interesting conversations with passersby and other venders. I was tempted to stop drawing and join them.

So with that inspiration today, I’m finally kicking into gear with Christmas decorations – a gorgeous wreath purchased at the Farmer’s Market. It seems that everyone here in Olympia is holding with Thanksgiving as the time to get started with trees and lights, so I’m already way behind. The neighbor next door set up a colorful and well-lit tableau of snowman with head phones and cell phone and a gang of glittery snow figures in the slice of property between our houses. So we get credit for that too, without the work! Lights make even more sense here in the north country where people use their headlights every day and the sky is dark by 4.

Bark and Garden Center

various pens and watercolors in w/c hand.book journal

It was a day of “wintry mix” precipitation last week and we sketchers were not to be deterred. A wintry mix forecast on the weather apps, I’ve learned, means an unpredictable and freezing mix of rain, sleet, and snow with a similar mixture involving some ice on the ground. In all cases it means lots of layers of clothing to put on and take off throughout the day unless you just stay inside. 

Wintry mix does not mix well with sketching on location outdoors, obviously, so the always resourceful Jane Wingfield suggested the perfect solution: the enormous indoor plant nursery at the Bark and Garden Center with its endless (still life-) displays of plants and statuary. And it was a balmy 50 – 60 degree temperature!

Of course the nursery was in full-on Christmas tree, poinsettia and reindeer mode, and I probably go back there to do at least one Xmas card illustration sketch! The owner was so welcoming to us sketchers.

But there was something about this Greco-Roman mother figure that attracted me to sit with her for a while. She seemed powerful and indrawn, and so at one with the enveloping plant life, that the sketching of her became my own afternoon meditation. 

Thanksgiving Moments

My thanksgiving holiday was pretty much like many people’s with lots of cooking and eating, visiting, getting out to see some sights around town. Ben flew in from North Carolina and Andrew and Holly joined us from Seattle. I snatched some pictures and decided to do so quick sketches from them after the holiday, using the same kind of technique I would use in on-the-lap-on-location sketching/storytelling. 

dip pen and ink in hand.book journal

I rarely take an inkpot out with me because of the chance of spilling it! But this was done in my studio and I didn’t spill it! That’s me at the end of the table. Can you tell?

The day after Thanksgiving Ben wanted some Pacific Northwest nature drama, so we drove out to the ocean at Westport and lucked out by arriving at high tide, a King Tide crashing against the sea wall in 15 foot vertacles, spraying onlookers and flooding the nearby streets. We stuffed ourselves on fish n chips watching the water creep down the road out front.

Afterward we took a walk above the dunes, not wanting to be ON the beach where the tide sometimes drags people out to sea! A very dapper looking pheasant was not to be deterred from his walk on the trail so we followed him for quite a way. And later stopped for coffee at a coffee shop with unique decor. The mannikin at the window seemed to be inviting visitors to come and sit a while with her!

Back home again, Drew (Andrew) took up his favorite spot in the living room. My boys are masters of comfortable poses!

Love Oly Winter Fest

Fountain pen and w/c with gesso splatter in hand.book w/c journal

I just went grocery shopping to replenish the larder. Our two sons, home for Thanksgiving, had left after working their way through the stash from Thanksgiving. By the time I got back to the car with, once again, heavy bags of groceries, it was snowing. Real snow. First of the season? 

But the snow in this picture from yesterday was courtesy of our newly redecorated and updated Center for the Performing Arts and their snow machine effectively created a winter scene on the sidewalk and road. Once again the four blocks downtown were closed off for another Love Oly celebration, this time called Winter Fest! with all the cozy touches of lights, hot cocoa, high school orchestras and choirs leading carols, candy canes and fun kidstuff. I didn’t see the horse and buggy rides but heard they were there too. Lots of happy holiday shoppers.

pens and watercolor in hand.book journal

We sketchers lined the window seats at Ember Goods clothing store and coffee shop indoors to stay warm as the crowds ambled by and wandered in for some of the best espresso in town. Meanwhile we chatted, tried out a new pen and sketched whatever came into view for a moment or two. It made for a pretty disorganized sketch, but hopefully one that is full of the holiday season cheer! 

Wallingford Center in Seattle

Saturday was a perfect day to head to Seattle for a Seattle UsK meet up! The Wallingford Center was the setting, a shopping mall housed in a historic school with the headline act of a colorful Trophy Cupcake and espresso cafe. When Jan and I arrived, the sketchers were lined up on the benches in front of the cupcake showplace, because after all, who could resist? so we joined them.

fountain pen, watercolor in 8 X 8″ hand.book watercolor journal

There was time for one more so I perched outside this very festive women’s clothing store to sketch and later paint in. 

This is the “throw down” where everyone shares their sketches from the day. Many people chose to sketch out in the neighborhood. Some of the contributors to the new UsK book titled: The World of Urban Sketching: Celebrating the Evolution of Drawing and Painting on Location Around the Globe – New Inspirations to See your World One Sketch at a Time by Stephanie Bower, were in the group, inviting people to the book signing on December 5 in Seattle.

Seattle sketchers!

Center for the Performing Arts

Our Washington Center for the Performing Arts downtown Olympia has been closed for months for renovation. When it reopened recently, three of us sketchers joined the public for the tour of the new digs. Everything had been refaced and upgraded, from walls to seats and carpets, to lighting and sound systems!

I chose the Loge section to take on the challenge of perspective and the fun of the new multicolored seat covers!

fineliner pen and watercolor in hand.book watercolor journal

The “trick” to being able to convert the wide angle 3D experience of the human eye to a flat 2D on paper is to take a picture with your phone and use that to anchor the major lines on the paper first. Even so, this was a particularly gnarly scene in its detail and complexity. Good practice, if not much fun!

Holiday Bazaar

fineliner pen and watercolor in 6X8″ hand.book watercolor journal’

We were back to the Squaxin Island Museum for a holiday craft fair on Saturday. I wanted to sketch the front of the building for its unique architecture with exquisite landscaping around. But as rain threatened to resume, the warmth of the museum beckoned.

Inside the Museum the tribal artesans had spread out with their wares and in many cases were practicing their arts while the public shopped. I found a bench where I had a view of Eileen here, doing some pretty skillful turning of the heel of a patterned sock, using four needles, while she greeted friends and family and only occasionally looked down at the needles. Her legs were cozy in their bulky knit leg warmers and the museum’s leather sofa with the tribal symbols made a comfortable place to knit. Meanwhile her niece stood behind stacks of sweaters, hats, and gloves, selling to the customers. The sketch got quite cluttered as I put in the museum display cases. And the quote on the wall – A place to come together, to collect, gather, and share – seemed to so perfectly reflect the feeling of that day. The translation back to the indigenous language follows. I would love to know how to pronounce these or perhaps this word/concept which conjures such warmth. It reminds me of the Scandinavian word hyggelig.

I went home with the warmest, softest knit hat, which will come in handy this week as our temperatures in the northwest plunge to the 20’s!