Reportage Sketching

The Mothers of Bears Ears Monument

Bears Ears in southeastern Utah is the first national monument ever created at the request of a coalition of Indigenous tribes and is one of the most extensive archaeological areas on Earth. But it is being threatened by fossil fuel development and other uses which do not acknowledge the sacred status of these lands to the indigenous peoples who are fighting to protect these lands. These peoples recognize the authority of their matriarchs and it is these tribal women who are leading the way. 

As I painted them I realized that I am envious of their relationship to the land where they live. Especially perhaps now that I am leaving the home where I have lived the longest (a paltry 21 years!) As a child my family moved every year or more until I was eight and then only somewhat less frequently. Although we always made friends, we never lived near relatives, the people we “belonged” with. And there was no ancestral land I was aware of.

So no wonder I have been so drawn to the words and pictures of these indigenous women and their lands, which I have never visited.  

Mary R. Benally: gouache on beige toned paper

We have been birthed into these lands. The umbilical cords of our ancestors are buried here. Our genealogies are intertwined.”

Cynthia Wilson

“Our histories run deep. We relate to these lands who are alive. We know the names of the mountains, plants and animals who teach us everything we need to know to survive. We have within our cultures a familial bond. We know these lands as a mother knows her child, as a child knows her mother.”

Ahjani Yepa

“We are praying for Bears Ears National Monument and our nonhuman relatives. It’s not just Bears Ears we are praying for. Every tribal nation relates to these sacred mountains and their own ancestral lands. We are praying for them, too.

Please pray with us.

Please pray for us.

The mountains are reaching out to us.

The plants and animals are trying to reach us.”

Elouise Wilson

For more information about the Bears Ears inter-tribal Coalition visit the website. Indigenous peoples have so much to teach about how we may be able to heal our earth by relating to it in a more “familial” way.

RR Square

It was a glorious Saturday at RR Square in Santa Rosa and everyone seemed to be “out”. I was there with so many of my sketch friends for the first meet up since before the pandemic. Local friends, friends from the Bay Area, former students, brand new sketchers . . . and then all those folks who are always drawn to people putting brush to paper out on the street. 

water soluble pencil and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal

Windy was one of the people who stopped by, and then stayed to pose and tell us about her travels.

I followed friends over to the old graffiti covered brick facade west of the RR track and got that sudden immersion in street traffic noise and pedestrian walk-bys of the kind that one takes for granted as an on-location urban sketcher. A bit of a shock for this pandemic-stay-at-home-and-sketch-from-the computer artist of the past year. Fast and dirty, and it felt wonderful!

I got busy talking to friends though and got behind on sketching. For one, Richard Sheppard, friend of many years who is also moving away, and will be greatly missed by this community! And dear people with whom I share memories. . . Anyway I was too late to try to make out those building structures across the street from the Furniture Depot, so I populated my visual space with friends and got some paint on it. A supremely satisfying day!

If you are interested in joining a sketch group in Sonoma County you can ask to join the Facebook group Ready, Set Sketchers

RR Square’s Charlie Brown, painted by me in 2006

My memories of making art in RR Square go back years. The RR Square Charlie Brown statue I painted back in 2006 still stands at 4th and Davis St. You’ll find more about its creation here on my blog

Landscapes of near and far

. . .just to get the sketchbook and watercolors outside in nature,

to set up the three legged stool and have it sink into the soft forest bed,

to use the lap as a table and the eyes as a sponge to soak up the shapes and colors of the trees and plants,

to forget that it’s just a bit too cold in the shade,

to remember to include what is of greatest interest before you,

to know that you will not forget it when it goes into the sketchbook

where it will always be there to fire off distinct sensory memories of those moments along a trail on a winter afternoon. . .

The sketchbook rarely comes along on nature walks these days. The walks are more about exercise and contemplation. But for a change, last week, a stop along a trail. . .at a complex forest scene, as seen looking down into a ravine from a distance . . .

watercolor, Gray Fox ink, white gel pen in field watercolor journal 8 x 8″

While on an earlier page of the sketchbook, a precious memory from a trip to Ireland four years ago:

Painted from one of my photos taken on the trip. It made me remember how much I loved being there, in a way that will never leave me, and surely bring me back one day.

 

Riverfront

I do so love a spot in the sun on a winter day, and with a sketchbook and a view. Riverfront Park was not the busy spot it’s been lately, with scores of families and their dogs. Not midday on a weekday. So after a walk through post-rainy day mud, as well as drier places on the trail, it was time for a sit-down in the sun with a smashing view of the water.

and time to get some details of vegetation and water reflection and finish a sketch on location. Just the kind of activity to serve as an antidote to pandemic and insurrection pandemonium!

A Drawing Duo

We were having some work done on our house, so Andrew and I spent the afternoon in art making in my studio.  

We are both accustomed to sketching each other and being sketched. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a mostly stationary model across a table from me, especially after relying  mostly on pictures for so long.

watercolor and white gouache on gray toned paper

The pose as I constructed it is a bit of commentary on the preoccupation of our culture these days with staying connected on our phones while doing other activities. In fact, he was switching back and forth from the sketchbook to texting with friends and changing the music.

by Andrew Cornelis, black ink on white paper with fine liner pen and brush pen

This was the drawing he was working on while I drew him. Another illustration springing from his prodigious imagination. Note that there is no Procreate or Photoshop used in this, just black ink on white paper. His drawings capture so much about the human experience that it’s easy to recognise parts of yourself in them. You can see more of Andrew’s drawings on Tumblr!

Bay and Garden Sketches

There seems to be no end to our sunny days this fall. I keep getting out to hike and sketch, thinking the seasonal rains will start any day now. But not only the rain is late this year. The commercial crab season opening has been delayed by the whale activity. And that meant that not only was it a good time to head out to Bodega Bay for those delicious fish tacos at Fishetarian at Lucas Wharf, but also to try once again to sketch crab boats at the dock.

My eyes were blinded by the bright light shimmering off the water and bouncing off my white paper, so I called this a warm up, both to the body and the hand!  And then with bellies full of fish we headed across the bay to where the commercial crabbers are docked.

3″ X 4.5″

Confronted with a marina filled with fishing boats almost as far as the eye (mine anyway) could see, I jokingly said, “I think I’ll sketch the whole scene!” to which Cathy replied, “Shall we say 15 minutes?” So that’s what we did. 

I wish I’d let myself try it again, but I did want to practice on a particular boat.

I picked the Sea Farmer for its orange buoys and crab traps and mostly left out the other boats.

Later in the week I was sketching at Pat’s garden again, enjoying the warm weather. Started with a rusty wheelbarrow, not knowing where it would lead next. . .

. . .then added a sketcher to fill in the space and tell the story. The shrooms are garden art.

Out sketching again!

The smoke from the fires cleared out mid week, blown cross country and out to sea. Time to get out with a small group of friends and enjoy some on location sketching.

Four of us met up at Presidio Pond in San Francisco, a gorgeous landscaped garden which draws ducks, pigeons, geese and more as well as lots of tiny human ducklings with their nannies and moms. We moved over to the small bubbling brook/falls/stream and I plunged recklessly in, immediately realizing I was in over my head!

When in doubt draw a figure and when you’re with sketchers, there’s always at least one. Later I saw that Laurie had put me in her masterful sketch of the same water feature.

We adjourned over at the Warming Hut on the Marina for lunch and found it closed. No problem since we had bag lunches, and there were any number of views to sketch, from a sunlit city skyline and Presidio buildings, to the fishing dock and the bay with massive container ships and the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded as it usually is in fog.

Back at Pat’s Garden on Friday my friends and I spread out in the various gardens filled with antique farm implements and tools, sculptures and blooms.

I’d been wanting to sketch the rusty windmill, and when I saw the chairs, I decided to define the objects with negative painting and do it quickly since I always seem to overwork my sketches. It got quite complicated and messy, but at least I stopped in time!

With just a few minutes left I found this cement toad on the porch and he was just too cute to pass up. And yes, I know now that I misspelled cozy. It goes with the territory of trying to draw your letters. The right hemisphere (of the brain) rears up and invents new spellings.

Under the Freeway

When the smoke from the fires gets bad, I stay inside with the windows closed. But what can one do when the inside is your car or a tent or nothing? And a concrete overpass doesn’t even really count as a roof.

Since The Living Room closed its day shelter portion in March, due to pandemic risks, the staff has been going out to the homeless encampments to bring necessities and to offer case services. 

There are several organizations visiting the homeless encampments in Santa Rosa with supplies and services. This sketch tells the story of Silvia, the outreach manager from The Living Room, out on the trail with her wagon of supplies, a listening ear and a lot of experience with helping people find housing. 

I can hardly believe how quickly The Living Room is adapting to the needs of the homeless community since the Covid crisis began. They have doubled or tripled the number of people served. They are helping more people find shelter while opening new transitional living houses with casework services to help women and children secure permanent housing. In addition to Monday through Friday hot meals served through the window, they will be opening a food pantry as a satellite to Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Tiny Desk Musicians

Earlier this month I attended a Dance Party. Now before you freak out. . .it was another virtual event, meaning you get to dance by yourself pretending that you’re not. Although I actually enjoy knowing that no one is watching!

But it wasn’t even a Dance Party, but rather a sketch meet up organized by my friend Laurie Wigham of the SF Urban Sketchers group. The rest of the event title was Tiny Desk Musicians, which conjured up miniature people standing on a desk making music. I had to try this!

And it was better than I imagined. The Tiny Desk Concerts from NPR’s All Songs Considered have featured fabulous musicians performing live at Bob Boilen’s desk in the NPR Music office.  In our Zoom meet up, after introducing ourselves we broke out for an hour to sketch from the video footage, picking the groups we liked and sketching.

I did indeed have to dance for a bit with Cima Funk. I LOVE Funk and these guys had it going on, and they were so much fun to watch.

The Dirty Dozen https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/849018901/5-tiny-desks-concerts-to-help-you-break-a-sweat took me right back to my pre-pandemic trip to that New Orleans!

Another favorite for listening and sketching was the Tedeschi Trucks Band, with a female vocalist and blues, jazz and more.

Bomba Estereo was not my choice of music but the singer with the orange hair and oversized white glasses was irresistible, visually speaking.

And as I was getting tired, I attempted one more, and was so mesmerized by the music, that I just kept painting and painting, trying to deepen the dark skin tones until I think I overdid it. What to do? Splatter paint, of course.

China Camp

ChinaCamp1

Playing a bit of catch up here. Mid month, before all the lightning and fire business, I spent a sunny morning sketching with friends at the historic China Camp Fishing Village right on the bay waters in San Rafael.

The weathered buildings in this Chinese shrimping outpost, whose heyday was in the 19th century, were so appealing to the eye, with their textured woods and sloping lines. This house belonged to the last Chinese resident there, who ran a little cafe long after the shrimping business had died out.

Now the village is well populated by day with families who are drawn by the uncrowded beach and picnic areas.

The history of discrimination against the Chinese immigrants was a dark chapter in our nation’s history. Regrettably our treatment of immigrants is still appalling in this country. I found myself wishing I could have met Frank Quan before he died in 2016 and heard some of his stories of life on the bay.