Reportage Sketching

Different angles on painting faces

One of the reasons i love to paint people is that it doesn’t take much (skill? accuracy?) to communicate feeling. A little exaggeration of one aspect goes a long way. So at some point I always think “oh what the heck. It doesn’t really look like so and so, but it’s an interesting expression, so let it be!”

We were out in the back yard putting a shade cloth over our gazebo, which was letting too much light and therefore heat onto our heads! Andrew took his shirt off, since it was hot up there where he was stationed to pull the fabric across, and his head was burning so he made a sort of turban of it. And then he crouched as low as he could to get into the shade a bit. I had my hands full and no sketchbook at hand anyway, so I snapped a pic and later sketched this out.

He’s a very patient fellow with his parents, but I don’t imagine he was having fun. He had a good laugh when he saw this sketch!

gouache on gray toned paper

Another Sktchy app portrait. I loved the blue hair and the dark reflection on the one side of the glasses and was having fun playing with opaques on toned paper, doing my own thing with the color. She looks pretty heavy duty, I mean strong personality you wouldn’t want to mess with!

New Friends

It’s obvious, when you move to a new place where you know almost no one that you have to stick your neck out of your shell a bit to make new friends.  So I posted an invite on Facebook for a sketch meet up at the LoveOly Saturday event downtown and Jan and Ineke joined me.

fountain pen and watercolor

We plunked ourselves down in a row at the crossroads where everything seemed to be happening at once or at least successively – concert music, street entertainers, people meeting friends, often in front of us, beer drinking, giant chess playing, etc. So it became one of those sketches which grows across the page helter skelter with no planning possible and direct fountain pen to splashed on color. . .telling a story in pieces across the page. . .while getting to know my new sketch friends.

Meanwhile the amps on the concert stage nearby were turned way up, to make sure everyone for blocks around could hear, and I think a bit of the rhythms worked their way into the jerky line work as well.

And another day, in a more peaceful moment indoors at the dining room table, I settled on a favorite garden view out the window.

pencil, white gel pen and watercolor in Stillman + birn sketchbook

 Well that’s part of the art picture lately. Meanwhile there’s all the everyday stuff of registering cars and getting started with new healthcare and finding local stores and tradesmen, etc.

And Andrew moves to Seattle tomorrow after living with us for about 11 months!  Gulp. Things are still in constant motion!

Woodard Bay

My favorite thing about living in Olympia is that I can be on the Puget Sound, in a dense ferny, mossy forest, on miles of trails or a lake within 15 minutes of my suburban home. Last week we “discovered” Woodard Bay Conservation Area which provides habitat for shorebirds and songbirds, harbor seals, river otters, bald eagles, a large maternity colony of bats, and one of the most significant heron rookeries in the state. 

And boy could we hear the birds! The trail to the rookery is temporarily closed but it was unmistakable what was going on across the bay with all the ruckus. This week we hope to take the kayak back and explore the shorelines.

replica of indigenous tribe’s canoe

Yes, it was tempting to hop in the canoe and get out on the water, but it wasn’t going anywhere!

fountain pen and watercolor

So we sat a while, listening to the birds and the harbor seals and sketching!

And Andrew caught this picture of me, unposed, relaxed and in my Northwest element which suits me so well. I kept feeling my father was with us and remembering my early experiences of fishing with him in the Canadian wilds. He would have so loved this place. 

Like a vacation, only it’s not

It is a strange experience. It feels like I’m on vacation. You know, finding your way around a new town, meeting new people, and everything is a bit of an adventure. Oh, and it’s summer and sunny and warm every day and lots of people here are on vacation, because this is a summer vacation destination. 

But it’s for keeps. So every new person you meet is a potential new friend or has a vital piece of information you are going to need about living here. And every new thing you learn brings you that much closer to being settled, comfortably.

downtown Olympia street fair

This weekend we headed to town for the first of a summer long Saturday afternoon event called LoveOly, a street fair with performers and a beer garden and dancing and activities and entertainment for children. As I posed in the (social media highlight) spot I realized that it’s just a really good idea, when moving to a new home town, to make a conscious decision to love it. So there I was, proclaiming it! (and now it will be social media-ed!) And I’ll be back for future Saturday’s to sketch the action from one of the shady spots I scoped out.

Then I got an invitation from the one art friend I had in Olympia, Jane Wingfield, to join her for sketching at the Farmer’s Market the next day. And her group of local urban sketchers showed up, a friendly and enthusiastic group! 

South Sound Urban Sketchers at the Farmer’s Market

Bob showed up to take the picture and meet folks before we did our shopping for local produce and some culinary herb plants for my herb-garden-to-be.

Oly Farmer’s Market, fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

They tell me about the long gray winters here but it’s hard to imagine, with these long summer days that are sure to make the vacation last a bit longer.

The Fourth

It was kind of a joke on us that we moved up to the northwest coast to get away from the heat/drought/fires and arrived just after a a week of downpour and in time for a historic heat wave. What could we do but use some of that cardboard we’d brought with us to cover some windows and keep the hottest part of the sun out. 

It was one of those worrisome global warming shocks, but the nature here in our yard at least seems to have recovered quite nicely. The bunnies that went underground for a few days are back munching the grass in the yard and the hydrangeas are blooming again above their crisped leaves. And my basket is still overflowing with flowers. 

My friend Shambhavi from Seattle visited over the weekend and we took our sketchbooks out to Tumwater Falls.

watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook

There were lots of families out on the trail around the falls and one particular group was proud to show off their patriotic attire.

I’m not particularly a fan of July 4th, but I sure appreciated their style and spirit. When evening came we got to experience another kind of holiday fervor. . .fireworks, which by the way were outlawed here this year due to the recent heat wave that elevated risk. Ahem. You wouldn’t know it from my neighborhood. There were all kinds of sizzles and pops and airborn light shows going off in all directions. Who needs to go to a public display when you can just stand on your sidewalk and gape.

Departure and Arrival

Golly, has it been only 10 days since I last posted?!! More like a lifetime ago. Now I know why all my friends were sending encouraging comments to help me weather this move. No matter how positive it is, it is a severe jolt to the system. The best metaphor for the experience is that of squeezing awkwardly down the birth canal.  Leaving the comforts of the womb for a sudden arrival and realizing. . . there’s no going back now! Gulp.

I promised myself I would not stop making art through the move and packed all kinds of fun materials. But honestly, what was I thinking?! Too ambitious, at least for this first couple weeks. So I’ll just take you along as I like to do after I’ve traveled – with a few pictures to satisfy curiosity and tell a tiny bit of the story that is unfolding each minute.

the 80 foot monster truck

June 15 the driver of the monster truck decided not to try parking in front of our home in the country, so the movers loaded everything onto a smaller truck and ferried three entire loads over to a spot on River Rd. to move it again into the big one.

the garden on moving day

The garden posing for a last memory. Friends on the street were stopping by to say goodbye all day. 

Andrew says goodbye

Andrew filling his eyes with the view we’d enjoyed for 21 years, since he was 8 yr. old.

the studio emptied out of all but the floor splatters!

I know, this is a hard one to look at. But I guess it’s part of the moving on process. Art and the comradeship of making it has not ended. The Muse group has a life of its own which has grown outside the boundaries of these walls. Brave words from me as I allow myself to feel the loss as well.

Olympia city harbor, view of the Olympic range.

We arrived in Olympia just after a significant rain. Sunny and warm. The right kind of weather for a vacation and for moving in. But I’ll admit we had been looking forward to rain after months of drought and elevated temperatures in California. Now we face a record breaking heat wave. Did we bring it with us?

the view in the opposite direction from the harbor tower of the marina and Washington Capital building

We moved into the Doubletree Inn on the harbor for a week’s wait until we could move into our new home. Time to explore the city and pretend we were on vacation.

And I did one quick sketch just before sunset, staring into the setting sun. It felt so good to finally get the watercolors out!

fountain pen and w/c Stillman + Birn sketchbook

Stay tuned for more pics of this quirky town (and I mean that is a positive way!) with more than its share of natural beauty!

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!