Reportage Sketching

Halloween on the Plaza

At first glance it didn’t seem like there was much Halloween “stuff” going on at Healdsburg Plaza on a Tuesday afternoon, so my friends and I were left to find some and apply our sketches to it. After enjoying the world’s best coffee at Flying Goat we picked the north block and gave ourselves 30 minutes to put the Halloween story together.

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Walking down the block we each picked elements, found on signs and in store windows from clothing stores to bars and restaurants. The exercise ended up looking like what you would do in designing a store window at holiday season, only it’s your own assemblage story. Each element is from a different location, so fitting them together is like constructing a puzzle on the go.

I was tired after standing to sketch all this and spent my next 30 minutes seated and adding color while resting.

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Next was the south side block of the Plaza, dominated by Copperfields book store which was a gold mine of Halloween books and chotskas (sp?) Lots of Harry Potter books and games, which took me back on a nostalgic tour of those days when my boys and I enjoyed the young wizards’ adventures!

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Fort Baker/Cavallo Point

The gorgeous fall weather drew me back to the Golden Gate Bridge mid-week, this time on the north side of the S.F. Bay at Fort Baker, an old army post that is now a luxury lodge called Cavallo Point. The combo of the white buildings, golden hills, S.F. Bay adorned with white sails and magnificent city skyline make it a most appealing sketch spot. Cathy McAuliff met me there for the day. We shared a couple of the same views, so you will enjoy seeing her sketches as well!

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Knowing we had the leisure of several hours I brought along my gouache paints and pencils and started out with them. When I work with gouache and colored pencils I tend to just keep working, which is very fun, but it all feels very experimental and I’m very weak on strategy. At some point I just said STOP! to all the corrections and decided just to enjoy the lovely rich colors.

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. . .but then switched to watercolor and a different sort of loose interpretation. Living out in the country, I rarely get the chance to paint interesting buildings like these, so I left out the visitors who were leaving their cars with the valets as well as the cars. Cathy loves to sketch the buildings, so it’s a good opportunity for me to practice when I’m with her.

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Next we headed down to the bay side.

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What caught my eye at the marina was the iconic cityscape in the background as well as the trees clinging to the side of the hill like a group of bare-legged crew members carrying their boat down to the launch. (The crazy line work in the upper corner was a drawing I started weeks before, while on a bus that was jerking mercilessly!)

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The GG Bridge has become so trite as an art subject that I almost thought I’d skip it, and just sat for a while taking in the real majesty of it, which never, ever grows old. But then the sky did this miraculous thing (no, I didn’t make up that shape!) and I dove in without pen. But not without measuring! A bit of colored pencil and it was done.

Golden Gate Bridge times 60!

Big turnout for the S.F. Urban Sketchers this weekend thanks to two big highlights – the always-so-sketchable Golden Gate Bridge and a well loved sketcher/blogger/teacher/author visiting from Australia, Liz Steel. Apparently last time she was in town the fog rolled in and obliterated the bridge show, so she needed to give it another try. And this time the fog and wind and sun all conspired to make for a dazzling display of the bay and bridge in all its orange-gold-red-purple-hazy-clear-appear and disappear glory!

dockofSFBay I found a spot at the end of the pier in front of the Warming Hut where the fishermen were busy and the dock was covered with crab shells and cigarette butts. Some children were screaming Octopus! Octopus! when a small one was pulled up in a crab net. As usual I was excited enough about being there myself that I started putting in all the things I don’t get to see at home, like the S.F. skyline with the Salesforce building and Transamerica Center and the Bay Bridge and sailboats. . .

And then realized I needed a foreground element and started sketching the fisherman who was directly in front of me. When he saw me looking his way he apologized and started to move out of the way. So I had to fess up and tell him that he was my subject. He loved that! So he resumed his position and let me finish. Meanwhile I got to find out he was from Fiji and it was his first time fishing for crab!

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I did eventually join the throngs of familier sketchers in this iconic spot below the bridge and did my obligatory sketch of the bridge, putting in another fisherman and leaving out the scores of tourists standing right in front of me taking their selfies!

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Then my sketches joined the other bridge scenes, each of which expressed a unique viewpoint of our beloved bridge. A memorable day with the best of company in my favorite city.

Redwood Hill Goats

Oh for the love of goats! about twenty sketchers showed up at Redwood Hill Farm in Graton on Saturday. It was the Ready, Set, Sketch (country-style) urban sketchers group which meets once a month on the second Saturday of the month at some location in Sonoma County. We had the added treat of a farm tour led by fellow sketcher and member of the Redwood Hill Farm family, Sharon Bice. redwoodHill2_1

I’ve been wanting to get over there for a long time, but something always came up. The farm is about 7 minutes drive from my home and I have long been a fan of their cheeses.

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But what I really hoped to do was to hold a baby goat or kid, that is. And here is the wish come true. Three days old, this one. And he/she snuggled and suckled and covered me with that velvety goat milky smell. Ever since I’ve been imagining having my own little goat to raise! After all it will be a while (or never) til I get a grandchild of my own to hold!

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But there were chickens there too of course, and I felt rather rusty trying to sketch them as they scratched around and then quickly disappeared into the coop to lay their eggs!

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The adult goats were hanging out in the barn, many different breeds of them. I found a spot standing next to the feeding troughs where they would come up to check me out while I was checking them out. It’s not an easy thing to draw a goat. The proportions of their heads are so very unintuitive. I mean the eyes are way farther up in the head than you would assume, and those horizontal black bands in the eyes? Like an alien. . .

And like most animals, goats are not very cooperative about standing still and posing. Add to that the fact that when they look you in the eye with those fascinating golden eyes, you lose track of what you’re doing and just want to soak up their friendly interest.

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Personality and fecundity seemed to be the dominant traits of this group. It was a bit perilous to open the palette while propping the sketchbook up on the feeding trough bar. It became an instant object of interest to the feeders who stopped by to knock it around a bit. But it was the only way to study this fecund group resting together in dirt and alfalfa.

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Finally, worn out by trying to balance the palette with frequent interruptions, I headed outside to sketch another view of farm life, the last of the day.

 

Wildfire Anniversary

I think it’s best to start at the end of this extraordinary week of events commemorating the wildfires of Sonoma County last October that earned the designation of the the most destructive wildfire in California history.

For me the last event, Tuesday night the 9th at Coffey Park, where about 500 people gathered in the dark was such a tangible expression of solidarity, hope and love that I was swept away in it. Especially when the President of Coffey Strong, Pamela Van Halsema said, “We’re going to sit on these front porches we’re building and we’re going to greet each other by name, because we know each other now and we can call each other friend.” I actually caught myself feeling jealous that these families, who had lost so much, but actually had gained something that few neighborhood groups can claim.

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It was of course too dark for me to sketch, so I did this one from a picture I took. Almost half of the 1,321 homes that were lost that night last October are being rebuilt now, many completed or almost, making the neighborhood an active construction site.

There were moments of silent prayer for the five neighbors who lost their lives in the fire that night. Poems were read and music played to lead the crowd through memories to hope. Even in the dark I ran into a couple of the people whom I had sketched and once again felt that connection of love and hope.

Back to the earlier events: Last weekend began at Shiloh Park with an event sponsored by the Parks and Rec. Dept., Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. Twelve sketchers showed up to help capture Fire Stories. We had a sign and binder of fire sketches and badges so that people would know who we were.

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The opening ceremony took place under the oaks where Aztec Dancers and drummers did a healing ceremony and dances calling on Mother Earth, bowing to the four directions, and even involving the audience to join in a spiral dance.

AztecDancers Some of the sketchers captured the life and color of the dancers. You’ll find their sketches on the new SketchingFireStories website!

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Some of us stood at a table in the activities area and invited people to look at the sketches in a binder. Kyle had come with his band from Elsie Allen H.S. to play in the closing for the day. Penny Hastings, who was there to help interview, knew Kyle and had her pad ready to record his account of the fire, leaving me free to do a quick sketch. He started out by downplaying his story, I think because he didn’t lose his own house. But he had become one of the first responders, spending days helping out at the high school evacuation center after getting his family to safety.

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Next Penny and I interviewed/sketched Holly, whom I had met in Coffey Park. Holly and her husband are now rebuilding the Coffey Park house they lost in the fire. She was one of the legions of people who endured multiple fire related traumas that first week of the fire. She was glad to have come to the Anniversary event. But on the way there she received a Code Red Alert on her phone, which triggered fear. Dry winds blowing on a low humidity day has become an ominous reminder.

CourthouseSquare by Susan Cornelis

On Monday the 8th Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa was the scene of another anniversary event where children and adults were decorating the plaza with chalk drawings and words. City and county officials were there along with the firefighter’s honor guard. Senator Mike McGuire was going around handing out what looked like homemade cookies! May Khosia, our poet laureate read her poetry, and a fire fighter rang the memorial bell for all the souls in our county and the tri-county area who lost their lives in the fires.

Forum by Susan Cornelis

On Tuesday morning I got to hear my favorite radio show, KQED Forum with Michael Krasny, live at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. In the two hours of the program no stone was left unturned in discussing all the issues raised by the North Bay fires that challenged all assumptions about disaster preparedness, from fire fighting to insurance to rebuilding, communications and so much more. You can listen to it here.

I was sitting in the front row, but the stage was big and I couldn’t read the name cards or see facial features clearly. I’ve learned to just approximate my drawings, and I apologize to the speakers! Listening while sketching, writing in between, trying to get the main points but missing many of them. . .I must say that it’s a challenge that makes the time fly by! The group above was in the first hour.

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And then a whole new seating of illustrious experts arrived in the second hour. I was so impressed with the passion and dedication of all the speakers. They admitted that yes, we are not ready for another Tubbs Fire, but we’re doing everything we can to fight the battles that need fighting to bring resources to bear. And here’s what you, the home-owner can do.

And so, here we are in the lovely month of October, with tree colors starting to flame. With no firestorms, but also no complacency about that, because we remember too well. We’re a community still needing years more of healing and recovering from last October. But I think the anniversary events helped those who lost homes and jobs, as well as those who didn’t. If there is such a thing as a shared spirit of hope, this community has it.

I hope you’ll visit the Sketching Fire Stories website, Facebook page of the same name and Instagram #sketchingfirestories to see more of our group’s sketches!

Latino Community Event

Last night I attended an event for the Latino Community to share experiences of the firestorms last October. KRCB in conjunction with KBBF were the hosts and there was dinner and entertainment. It was a great opportunity to listen to and sketch “Fire Stories”.

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Trio Orion was a perfect way to warm up the crowd. I learned that KBBF radio provided the only translation of fire disaster information to the Spanish speaking community that was experiencing the same terror and uncertainty as the rest of Santa Rosa.

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Patty Ginochio, of Ginochio’s Kitchen in Bodega Bay talked about the throngs of fire evacuees that filled the roads and later the beaches in the wake of the fires. Many of them were Spanish speakers who were afraid to go to the shelters closer to Santa Rosa because they feared deportation. But she also spoke of the overwhelming support provided them by the community in the days that followed.

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Irma Garcia spoke eloquently about the need for government and other agencies to be better prepared to understand and respond to the needs of the Latino community that works so hard and makes such a large contribution to our county.

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Some middle school girls read their poems about the fire. And then individuals shared their anxiety the night of the fires and their difficulty coming to terms with their post-fire lives.

My pen and brush were moving like mad to try to record all this while my heart filled with compassion for these folks. I hope we all do a better job of watching out for all the people in our community whenever the next disaster appears, regardless of citizenship, language or economic status.

If you think you’d like to sketch fire stories like these please join us on Saturday Oct 6 at the Shiloh Park Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. And please sign up at the Meet Up site where there’s more information, and so we know you’re coming.

Sketching Fire Stories

If you’ve been following along here then you know that, along with a small group of urban sketcher friends, I’ve been doing reportage sketching of our firestorm aftermath since last October, telling the visual stories of the scarred landscape, the first responders and the people who lost so much.

In the process I’ve experienced an increased feeling of connection with my community. Ironically, even though we are told that firestorms are now “the new normal” of weather patterns, I have a greater sense of security as a result of hearing stories of such bravery and the loving responses of communities of friends and even strangers. Even though I didn’t lose my home, the “fire news” has become a personal thing for me.

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On Saturday I attended a round table discussion of artists whose art in response to the fires was in the From Fire Love Rises exhibition now showing at the Sonoma Valley Museum. Listening and sketching I felt intimately connected to their pain and loss, but also to their experience of the healing and redemptive aspects of art making. You may have noticed that almost every art venue is showing fire related art right now!

For all these reasons I decided I wanted to share this experience with others like yourself and see if our group can’t grow into a larger reportage effort called “Sketching Fire Stories”. If you think you might be interested, please read further.

If you’ve taken any of my workshops, you may be ready for one form or another of this reportage sketching! You can learn about it “on the job” so to speak. And here’s the invitation.

If you are an artist, illustrator, sketcher, writer, and/or friendly good-listener, please join us for Sketching Fire Stories at the Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together on Sat., Oct. 6, 11am-2pm at Shiloh Regional Park in Windsor, CA We will have a table set up with information about how you can participate. The “stories” we collect will be posted on social media and wider, including pop-up art shows in the coming months.

You may wish to sketch the many activities at the event, the people, or the nature areas recovering from the fire. We will also be pairing up into interviewer/sketcher teams to do portraits of people who wish to share how the fires affected them, and what has given them hope in the last year. (see examples of this from Sketching Climate Stories) You might prefer to interview and take notes to be added to the sketches.

If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll give you more information! Or visit the Meet Up posting about the event and sign up there. This is such a satisfying way to connect with the community, to help with the healing, and to participate in socially conscious art making!