Reportage Sketching

Between Riverside and Crazy

When I was in elementary school I loved to stage little plays with neighborhood kids. In junior high I played one of the red headed twins in Elmer and the Lovebug. Never heard of it? Oh well. And that was the end of my career as a thespian. But the wonder and delight of the stage never left. And now I may have found a way to get closer to that backstage experience, by going to some rehearsals. . .

This is our second year now of having seasons tickets to Left Edge Theatre, featuring left leaning, edgy theatrical productions. So I asked if I could come and draw at their rehearsals. The director said sure! I knew it would also be a great way to sharpen up my reportage sketching skills.

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fountain pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media spiral book

My first try was in the second week of rehearsals for Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis, which by the way opened last night.

I wasn’t yet sure how I was going to approach drawing a theatrical production. As the actors started drifting in, I introduced myself and started to learn their names and parts played. Meanwhile I had time to sketch the set before they started rehearsing.

I guess I thought there would be long pauses where the actors got more direction and I could do a quick freeze-frame captures. But this cast was already so far along that there were almost no pauses, and to my delight and dismay, the action kept moving! How to jump in with the pen and brush? It was like trying to catch a train as it’s leaving the station by running alongside until you get enough speed to grab a door handle and hop! So forgive me if I omit the rest of my scribbles from that evening.

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Before I went back a couple weeks later I thought I’d practice a bit using their PR photos from the website. In their glamor PR shots here they bear only a slight resemblance to the characters they play , but it was a good warmup with no pressure.

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Two night ago I was back to watch the dress rehearsal. [Let me interject here that I do not recommend sketching at performances like this unless you have already seen them or will be seeing them without sketching.]

This play gets off to a rip-roaring start and never lets go of your attention until the very end. So as soon as it started, I had an overwhelming urge to put down my sketchbook and say “this is impossible!”

But I had a sort of strategy, to start with the main character Pops, who hopefully would stay put in his wheelchair for a few minutes, and then just add other characters willy nilly as they appeared. I put a bit of watercolor on during the intermission and the rest the next day.

Leftedge8 I’m no theatre critic, but this is my blog, so I get to give my opinion. This play is outrageous, hilarious, touching, and full of surprises, with a cast of seasoned professional actors. It runs through Nov 10. I’ve already got my tickets for November 3, but you may want to hurry and get yours.

And there’s a whole season of plays coming up. Hopefully by season’s end I will have figured out how to sketch-a-play!

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Preston Farm and Winery

The Ready, Set, Sketchers had a meet up at Preston Farm and Winery on Saturday. It was a perfect day to drive out in to (wine) country in Sonoma County. Some of the sketchers situated themselves in the garden by the house and others outside the chicken coop. Some managed to fit in time for some wine tasting. (I was tempted but knew it would be hard to go back to sketching afterward!) And I found a rather peaceful spot by the country “store”. I can never resist the colorful pumpkins and gourds!

It also turned out to be precisely the place where people come for the photo ops. Bring your 2 year-old grandchild named Andrew. Plunk him down in front of the display, and put a bright orange pumpkin between his legs, and then make all kinds of ridiculous sounds to get his attention as you take the picture that will immediately go out on social media to the rest of the adoring clan.

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There were lots of Andrews and Annas getting their pictures taken, calling back my memories of taking our little Andy and Ben to the country to experience the delights of pumpkins and autumn bounty!

And there was the friendly gray cat who refused to pose for me, but occasionally tried to jump up in my lap.

The Ready, Set Sketchers meet up on the second Saturday of every month at a different location in Sonoma County. If that sound good to you, you will find the announcements on their/our Facebook page. Or contact me and I’ll get you on the email notification list!

 

Ferry Building with Oliver

My friend and fellow urban sketcher and teacher extraordinaire Oliver Hoeller is moving from SF to Austria, so I took the opportunity to join him in yet another urban sketcher workshop last weekend, in the area around the Ferry Building in S.F.

The morning was “Sketching 101”. I was interested in learning how he builds his playful and entertaining urban scenes with pen and then pimps them out with various media. (The afternoon was titled “Pimp Your Watercolors”!)

 

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We were coached through the steps of growing a sketch out from the center, using added line weight to add form, textural lines and gray value pens for contrast. A musician was crooning Frank Sinatra and similar era songs with amplification all morning.

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Four days later I’m still trying to get those songs out of my head! But they did find a place in the sketch. The idea with building out the sketch like this is not that you put in what you see, like a camera that you hold still. There were hundreds of people passing across this picture plane as I sat there. I would have had a nervous breakdown trying to draw them and all the palm trees!

So you pick what you like – the muscle man on his taxi bike (who disappeared after 5 min) – a couple of palm trees – a bit of obelisk and bike rentals. Enough. Next exercise.

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After lunch we moved down the pier toward the Bay Bridge and started pimping. Here I’m trying out all kinds of stuff, sampler style: gray pen shading, splatter, textural marks, watercolors gone overboard!

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2″X4″ two-color quick-y looking out at the bay.

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And finally this view looking out at a (wonky) Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and trying to incorporate as many of the tools as possible.

The workshop ended at 6pm, and most of the workshop students continued for another day. Now comes the digestion phase! Practicing, integrating, making it my own.

Although Oliver is moving, he’s promising to return to do more workshops in the Bay Area and in other locations where he’ll be traveling. If you’re interested contact him and get on his email list.

 

S.F. Botanical Garden

On Sunday I spent the day at Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden with over 40 nature journalers and John Muir Laws.  If you don’t already know, Jack is a Bay Area treasure; a naturalist, artist, author-illustrator of numerous nature guides, and entertaining guy who helps people to wake up and interact with the natural world by journaling about it.

 

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You can’t help but fall in love with the massive tree that greets you inside the gate. While Jack was talking, my eyes were tracing the curves, like a warm up doodle. I must admit, the tree got compacted to fit on my paper, but it didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I.

 

Next there were docent-led tours of the park to get us started thinking about what we might want to sketch.

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With such a multitude of exotic species to choose from, it was particularly hard to pick a subject to examine and sketch. I decided to try some of the more exotic varieties that would never be found growing in Sebastopol.

And started with a close up of this Snakebark Maple, which was labeled RARE. When you take the time to look closely, not only do you start to see so many different patterns and green mixes, but bright pinks and reds as well.

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The Ancient Plant Garden gives the opportunity to go waaay back in time and trace the evolution of plant life. Admittedly I used a bit of artistic license in the coloring here, but this giant fern was mostly in the shade.

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The leaves on this Gunnera plant from the Jurassic era were about four feet across, but I was drawn in by the reddish “fruit” cones, and the fact that there was a bench with a good view of this. There was also a lady from the sketch group who was drawing there. We engaged in lively conversation, which made it difficult for my eyes to follow the lacy folds . . .and I got quite lost and had to make stuff up. Once again lots of red in all that green.

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With just a few minutes to spare and no time to draw, I took a different approach, sketching a familiar plant, Anemones, from a distance and with watercolor. As my eyes began to focus better I caught sight of the familiar figure of St. Francis in the background.

Dia de los Muertos

How do you draw swirls of skirts in motion? I have no idea except to attend a Folklorico Ballet and drink in the excitement of the mariachi music and families and color, color, color!

I arrived late at the Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa for the Dia de la Muertos celebration in the courtyard. Plunked myself down on a wall in back and started in.

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Next came the couples, and the children, and I was getting a bit dizzy trying to watch and sketch. Noticed some caballeros waiting to go on and gave that a try.

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They were a bit easier. not so much swirly skirt stuff, but kind of stiff looking.

Afterwards I entered the Art Museum, past the dancers changing into street clothes, and viewed the (not to be missed) Tierra de Rosas exhibit and then into the history museum for the Dia de los Muertos exhibit where I got at least two ideas for Muse Group lessons! Both exhibits will be up til November if you haven’t already seen them.

Pet Families

I like to sit in on the Community meetings at The Living Room where I learn about services that are available to homeless and at risk women and children. One particularly popular program is called Dogwood. It’s an animal rescue project that supports animals and the people who love them. And in the case of the women who come to The Living Room this service is as supportive as the hot meals, counseling, and groups. The pets support these women in crisis in fundamental ways we can all relate too.

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So I continually add to my sketches of women with their dogs and hear heart warming stories like. . .

“I couldn’t have made it on the streets without his companionship.”

“My dogs are like family, only better. They love me regardless of what happens.”

“I have learned that I have to take care of things even when I’m down so that I can continue to take care of her. “

“I need them with me so that I can feel safe in the [homeless] encampments.”

“They won’t abandon me like my ____________.”

“When I cry, they lick my face and make me feel better.”

sofia_1 “He sleeps on my chest, right over my heart.”

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The Living Room is a place where women can get help and feel connected with a community of people like themselves. And that connection flows generously to folks like myself whose only real difference is that I don’t have the anxiety and depression that comes as a matter of course with having lost the security of a home. And that caring spirit extends seamlessly to the pets, who enjoy an extended family of caretakers that make it possible for women to participate in activities at times without their pets.

See some of the other TLR pet sketches here.

Climate Strike

I don’t know what it will take for enough people to wake up to the dire state of our world’s climate change to save us. But it surely was a ray of hope to see our youth showing up and crying out for change at the Climate Strike yesterday. . .  and in no uncertain terms!

I was at the youth rally in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square, attended by folks of all ages from groups of younger school children to grandparents. I arrived just as the march from the SR Junior College arrived at the square in a massive surge which filled the street for many blocks. I heard the count – 2000 of them!

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The traditional Aztec dancers in the feathered headresses led the way and then performed a ceremonial blessing as the entire crowd formed a massive ring around them.

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I was there, along with my friends Bettina and Carole to participate by doing reportage sketches of the event.

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I wandered around trying to find a vantage point and preferably one in the shade, since the temps were climbing up to the 90’s. I got some of the backdrop roughed in and realized I’d have to stand and do some sketching in the sun or standing in the thin shade of a telephone pole! But little by little I filled in pieces as I found them.

While standing in the crowd a woman about my age came by with her sign and said to me, “I’m not liking this agism thing going on!” I guess she had probably been demonstrating on Earth Day and such for much of her life and didn’t like the invasion of the young folks. Meanwhile I was thinking this was the best sign possible!

One of the speakers, all of whom looked like high school and college age (and one middle schooler), said “We were raised by the generation that said ‘we won’t be there then.'” (meaning when life becomes unbearable on this planet)

Of course I’m one of them, who at least in my private thoughts have heard that selfish statement come up. But we all need to hear these young people and feel their distress as our own!

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At the Global Climate Summit march last October we interviewed active participants and sketched their stories to provide a different kind of coverage of the protest. A collection of these climate stories was created.  You can also see some of my sketches and pictures from the event in San Francisco here.

My friends and I were hoping to make contact with some of the young speakers in order to do some sketch stories. So we hung out by the podium and were lucky to “enlist” two high school seniors who were charismatic speakers and leaders in the youth movement, Natasha and Annabelle. And as a bonanza they turned out to be good friends of many years as well.

friends So sitting in the generous shade of a tree, Bettina interviewed them while I sketched portraits and Carole sketched on fabric, which will become a fiber art  protest piece. The girls warmed to the task, and we were charmed.

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We asked them to speak about their personal fears about global warming, but they were also very tuned to their “mission” about climate change.

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This was not the first time I’d heard young people say that they felt it was not fair for them to bring children into this world. That’s particularly hard for me to hear as a someday hopeful grandmother, but I certainly know where it’s coming from.

One can get quite depressed thinking about what we human beings have done and are still doing to our planet. But these youth know they don’t have the option to be inactive, and they are highly motivated to vote. So look out climate-deniers! The youth wave is coming.