Reportage Sketching

Smoke

We’ve been warned about the toxic smoke in the air from the north bay area fires. After getting the phone text alert from Sebastopol PD, I got to the Senior Center just as they ran out of face masks. Next stop was Ace Hardware where they were handing out 3 per  (anxious) person from big boxes. I got the kind with the vent and the rating of 95. Only problem is it’s still the most uncomfortable, suffocating experience to wear it, and doesn’t protect the eyes at all. Today I tried walking up to my neighbor’s house up the hill and was fed up with it before I got there. I recommend staying inside. . .if you can. . .when the smoke chokes the air. Tomorrow hopefully clearer skies?

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(Sketched from phone selfie)

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Wine Country Fire Evacuees

Our wine country fire evacuees are plentiful just now, 10% of the population of Sonoma County I heard this morning! I am not one of them. I am also not one of those heroic first responders. My lungs cannot tolerate smoke and I’ve been spending a great deal of time fretting and checking on friends and neighbors and just sharing stories and of course fears as the fires rage on.

I was happy to see that someone in our rural neighbor of a shared water company had found an old fire hose to attach to the simple fire hydrant which sits next to my driveway.

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We’ve all been watering around our homes in hopes of preventing fires here if the wind changes directions and blows the embers our way. I could go years and not have so many conversations with my nice neighbors as I’ve had this week. I learned for instance that you can plant native plants that burn up and out quickly and then sprout again the next year! And then there’s the Scotch broom which makes for a more deadly fire.

Today I visited my friend Liz who has welcomed evacuees in her home (inside and out) so that I could meet and then sketch them. The air was more clear today thanks to winds from the north overnight so I climbed inside the pig pen with Madeline and Liam while Barbara enjoyed the sun and serene country setting.

pigs5You can also see Zoey in the picture to the left. She’s the only one who actually lives here ongoing. Barbara, in the chair, was evacuated from a senior living center which luckily did not burn (although her son’s home in Santa Rosa did) and the miniature pigs are the beloved pets of other people who needed a temporary place to house them. Normally they are actually indoor pig-pets, so these accommodations were a bit of a come down for them. But they were adapting admirably. They were not however the best models for sketching.

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I spent my first few minutes trying to understand their various parts as they were in constant movement. These little pigs look more like miniature warthogs without the tusks.

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They had the annoying habit of burying the parts of their body I was sketching in the straw where they were finding something delectable to eat. Nevertheless I was rapidly becoming enamored of them, particularly their gross lip smacking snorting sounds and gorgeous curly tail swishing. They really are the epitome of bad table manners when eating, which seems to be non stop and it’s hilarious! Madeline has these long white eyelashes and bright pink halter (for if you would want to take her for a walk), and Liam is small and dark and they’re both so friendly. Here’s a picture of Liam when he got interested in painting and gave my palette a good wet snort-sniff.

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I wasn’t feeling particularly successful with the sketching, but thought I’d give it one more try. And after a while they actually stopped eating and got kind of mellow.

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and I had more time to observe.

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But once home I had try one more from a photo. My heart goes out to all the fire evacuees, but these little piggies totally stole my heart.

Fire News

Everyone here in Sonoma County wants to know “Are you safe?” So first of all yes, and so is my family and home and neighborhood and town of Sebastopol. And that doesn’t go very far to describe what it’s like to live in this county on fire. Scary and sad is more like it. The air was too dense with smoke to go out and sketch it, and the first responders wanted people out of the way anyway. So I did the next best thing and sketched from our paper, the Press Democrat.

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Sketched from a photo by Kent Porter in the Press Democrat newspaper.

You get the picture here. What’s left of a house and yard and buried car. We’ve been tuned to this kind of picture since Monday morning. Or rather Sunday night when I was awakened by the ding of my cell with a message from a friend “Where are you? Are you packed?” Groggily I looked out my living room window to a view of a horizon on fire. (I’ve tried sketching this from memory but the image I remember is not reproducible).

We packed the car and waited. The fire was visibly distant enough from us to wait, meanwhile realizing we were not nearly prepared for this. Over the next two days conversations ensued about what to take, how to stay informed, how to be responsible to others. It was exhausting and humbling and scary and sad, especially as the stories of evacuations and lost homes unfolded.

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Meanwhile we were marooned inside where the air was filtered. Bob got a call from his sister and tried to fill her in. Our sons kept texting and calling for updates. For a couple days we had almost no phone or wifi. I was desperate to sketch to get a handle on that anxiety. I got out my new Hahnemuhle Nostalgie Sketch Book and grabbed a couple pens and colored pencils. This paper is so sensuous to draw on, smooth in a way that invites a pen to flow.

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Finally we had Comcast cable again and the distraction of TV, Masterpiece and Poldark! Costumes and romance, and that predictable Poldark dark-browed scowl! Perfectly suited to the anxious sketcher in need of relief.

So the Sonoma County fires burn on. But you’ve heard that in the news. My sketch workshop this Saturday has been cancelled due to unhealthy air quality from the fires. I’ll regroup and try another date.

We have our minds on so many things right now. The mind actually collapses when confronted with this sort of thing. But one thing I know. Art restores.

 

This Week’s Sketch Lures

The exotic lure of passion vine. I have one growing on the outside wall of my studio. When I was doing Open Studios in the fall this vine would frequently upstage my paintings. Visitors would be snared by its seductive blooms peeking out demurely from dense foliage. They would arrive in my studio not with interest in the paintings, but anxious to know the name of the exotic bloom. Eagerly they would thrust their iPhone picture, just taken, at me for an answer.

Recently one of my students remarked on the heady fragrance from the vine, noticed even before the blooms. On a perfect early fall day this week I myself succumbed to the mystery and brought out a folding chair and my sketch gear to hang out with one particularly well situated bloom.

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I got a respectable enough but rather ho-hum sketch and was bested yet again by this showy flower. You can see my problem. Look at the palette of color and shapely forms of one of nature’s own prima ballerinas!

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Even after I tried all my cool tricks like splatter and framing and such, I had lost heart to try again. Today maybe I’ll just sit for a few minutes, allow the vine’s spell to enfold me, and celebrate its beauty without trying to copy it.

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Every other Sunday I attend a meditation session and discourse by my Tibetan Buddhist teacher in Point Richmond, then drive home to Sebastopol. This Sunday I’d brought my sketch gear and took some time to eat lunch and sketch in the tiny town square. Point Richmond, even with its proximity to San Francisco and Oakland, has maintained a delightful small town ambiance with much of the cultural diversity and artistic interest found in other areas of the Bay Area. My plan is to work my way around the couple blocks of the town, enjoying some Sunday sketching as long as the weather holds.

 

Nob Hill with the Urban Sketchers

Last Saturday the SF Urban Sketchers met at Nob Hill to sketch Grace Cathedral and top-o-the-city scenes. The icing on the cake was a visit from our Australian friends Liz Steele and Jane Blundell who perched alongside us on the streets sketching and enjoying a near perfect sunny day in San Francisco. The group swelled to 83 sketchers and there was plenty of socializing with old and new sketch friends.

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fountain pen and watercolor in Hand book w/c sketchbook, 8 X 8″

While we perched on our stools across the street from the Cathedral we enjoyed the photo shoots of several brides dressed in the romance of white and bouquets.

nobhill06I might have to sketch this one from the picture! I was too lost in the arches and hangings and intricate architecture of the cathedral to catch on in time for a live sketch of this.

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Sitting next to my friend Cathy McAuliffe, who always finds an elegant way to simplify a scene I thought I’d try her approach for a quick one. Maybe I should have slowed down a bit? But sometimes on the street sketching with friends that accuracy ceases to matter. It’s about the story of the moment I will definitely not forget.

At 3:30 we met in the park across from the Cathedral to share sketches and welcome our guests. I took a bit of video on my phone to capture a sense of the day. (click image to play)

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At this point some of us were a bit fried! Many sketchers would think this rather strange, but my default relax-a-sketch mode is people, especially when it’s people relaxing in parks on a lovely sunny day with their dogs.

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This is what some city folks do when the day is not the usual blustery cold SF summer weather;  hang out on park benches with their newspapers and kids and dogs. Sketching a scene like this ways feels like a fascinating expedition into other peoples’ lifestyles, and with the advantage of no electronic screen in between!

nobhill08We ended the day with a picnic on the hill at Lafayette Park overlooking the bay, with the city spread all around us below and the trees above. At the picnic table I sat next to a sketcher from Russia who’s a scientist living in the city now and doing cancer research. . .and sketching! If I ever get to Russia I’m going to contact their UsK group and sketch with them! Sometimes it feels like we’re a little United Nations of sketchers. Do you think maybe if the Sunnis and Shiites sketched together there would be more peace in the Middle East? What about democrats and republicans here?

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While the urban sketchers (and family members) tackled the landscape of trees and bay and distant hills (they never seem to tire!) I sketched the sketchers and then it got dark and we headed home.

Apple Press and Petaluma Sketching

If you live in Sebastopol there’s still time to bring your apples over to the free apple press and enjoy the nectarian pleasure of your own fresh apple juice. The volunteer crew will help you out and even clean the press after you and all with enthusiastic smiles. I guess I was too busy with art and such this season to bring my own apple harvest in, so instead I harvested some sketches last Saturday morning.

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The sponsor of this is the Slow Food Russian River group. For those of you who don’t know, the term Slow Food refers to “an alternative to fast food and strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.” Slow however is not how I would refer to the folks doing the apple press procedure. So my pen was moving pretty fast!

And then I got totally distracted by a little girl who was washing apples and then feeding them into the press. When she came over to check out my paints I couldn’t resist loading up a brushload and handing it to her. She knew what to do with it of course. Here’s Adeline’s version of the activity.

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Then last week we were checking out the scene for the upcoming Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop in Petaluma on October 14. We were delighted to find the most appealing spots for sketching, not to mention eating, easy parking etc. So I’m quite looking forward to offering this workshop. For instance there’s the Great Petaluma Mill and the backdrop of those, are they grain shoots?

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and the cutest bistros, bakeries etc to go for the lunch sketch which is always assigned.

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Check out the meal I had. And yet even so I was tortured by the men sitting across from us who ordered a spectacular gluten free chocolate cake and only ate a bite or two! They were so friendly that I know they would have given me the rest, but truly I was already full. I’m quite impressed with these urban sketchers who draw and paint their food when it comes. I’m always too ready to dig in.

There’s still one spot left in the workshop. If you’re interested, visit my website for more info and to contact me.

National Heirloom Expo

This “urban sketcher” headed to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds this week for an agricultural extravaganza, the National Heirloom Expo, otherwise known as the World’s Pure Food Fair!

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I appreciate beautiful organic produce as much at the next person, but I have to admit that the draw for me was the color! The House of Flowers was filled with such diversity of texture, color and just plain outrageous and sometimes alien forms of fruits and vegetables that it took a long time until we could sit down to sketch. Even then my eyes were bigger than my sketchbook and I overdid it! I decided just to go for it with a brush loaded with color and to keep painting for dear life! Fun!

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This is bitter melon. Its health benefits are legendary if you can survive the bitterness. But get a load of those colors and textures! If I could imagine it as a sugary treat I might actually be able to eat it!

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The dahlias next to me here were a tiny portion of the total display, some of them measuring a foot or more across and with layers of multi colored petticoats. A young mother approached me and asked to take a picture of me for her 5 year old daughter who likes to paint. Reminded me that that’s one of the reasons I like to expose myself to public sketching like this. It was a very friendly crowd, and I made some new friends and at times abandoned the sketching to talk or show off my paints or hand out cards.

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Carole and I realized at some point that people considered us part of the display and soon we had some folks camping out with us, watching the brush dip into paint. A bit distracting, but well worth the interruption!