Reportage Sketching

A Gouache Day with Maru!

Gouache is the strangest word. It always sends me to spellcheck because it couldn’t possibly be an English word. Yesterday at least, it had a Spanish feel, or maybe Catalan. Maru Godas was here (in San Francisco) from her home in Barcelona, teaching her popular Urban Sketcher workshop titled Gouache Like a Child

Being more of a transparent watercolorist myself, I’ve always had a mixed reaction to gouache, which is a creamy, opaque watercolor, because it is so often used by watercolorists to correct their painting errors. In the “wrong” hands it can have a deadening quality. But in Maru’s hands it is so appealing!

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She started us out with some exercises to get used to the consistency, mixing black with white to get a five step gray scale. To paint with the creamy consistency of opaque gouache, you have to have just enough water on your brush, but not dilute it. It takes practice for an old watercolorist like myself. We also did a black to almost white scale with black gouache only, adding water to show that you can actually use gouache in a watercolor-y way too. And with dry paint on the brush you get great textures which you need to enliven the surface of your paintings.

We also got to practice painting three minute thumbnails with black and white.

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Maru is showing her signature palette here. It’s totally brilliant. All these wonderful colors from just five pigments. We practiced mixing paints, keeping them creamy consistency with just the right amount of water, and then went outside to try it all out at Mission Bay.

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The row of houseboats along the canal seems to beg to be sketched! Here I’m trying to channel the “like a child” part of the instructions while wrestling with this much thicker and unfamiliar medium in a timed exercise. Unlike regular watercolor paint you can paint light colors on top of dark ones in gouache, though you can also leave the white paper untouched to preserve your whites. It’s very freeing (though I kept forgetting!)

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I enjoyed being able to come back in at the end with a white paint pen and pencils to spice up some areas.

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The final sketch was a panorama using line as well as the gouache. As I was painting in the colorful scene of Pac Bell stadium I could hear the roar of appreciative Giants fans.

So the verdict? If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with Maru. . .you may have to go to Europe. . .jump for it. And gouache? It’s so delectable, especially fresh from the tube, as to be practically irresistible. Paired with other media to add line to the blocks of color shapes, it can’t fail to activate the child painter within. My own child is drooling in anticipation of more chances to dive into those colors.

Only drawback. . .it’s definitely messier than watercolor and requires more water changes, more paper towels, a big sponge, brushes that are springier and a brush case to carry them in. That and another pouch for a variety of dry media like colored pencils. I don’t think I’d take it along on a protest march, for instance. But for a sunny afternoon at Mission Bay, it couldn’t be finer.

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Festival of the Sea

You could get a pirate tattoo. watch sail raising, learn knot tying, splicing, worming and parceling, and listen to folk songs from around the world on the pier stages. It was the Festival of the Sea on Saturday at the Hyde St. Pier on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Or you could join the Urban Sketchers meet up and enjoy all of the above while sketching!

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Fountain pen and watercolor in handmade sketchbook 7.5X11″

This was the most popular sketch subject. The raising of the sails on the C.A. Thayer schooner with all that sail flapping the wind and the crew suspended on the boom and cables way above the bay waters.

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And such sweet and lively fiddle music from this pair, Adrianna Ciccone and Colin Cotter

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I had heard the Brass Farthing sing their drinking songs at the Much Ado About Sebastopol Fair and was delighted to hear them again here. Their songs are bawdy, but not so terribly. The young son of one of them was seated next to us. It was a short set so I was drawing like crazy. Apologies to the one or two I couldn’t fit in and as always, the not quite likenesses I come up with!

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I always try to show my sketches to the musicians if I can. This fellow found me later to take a peak and I asked for a picture.

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There was just a bit of time left til we headed home so I picked a simple subject, a row boat on the beach which was enjoyed by children and adults in consecutive waves in the 20 minutes I sketched around them! I was too tired at that point to attempt to put the people in!

What I Love About the Gravenstein Apple Fair

The Gravenstein Apple Fair was this past weekend. The Gravenstein apples aka “gravs” are our main claim to agricultural fame here in Sebastopol, at least in the old timey way that the fair celebrates. (We won’t talk here about how the grapes have taken over. . .)

What I love about this fair is that people are having fun enjoying our roots in country life; the apple pies and animals and handicrafts and free fresh pressed apple juice and local musicians and hay bales and children’s games and more.

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And the llamas

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and a big ole bull.

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and, under a colorful canopy in the oak grove, the Blues Broads, four women (and back up band) who could belt it out like the best of them and get a crowd of all ages grooving on the dance floor. I mean all ages too, starting with the toddlers and up to the great grannies with their canes. I got as far as the line work for this sketch, which involved dancing up front with my sketchbook so I could see beyond the dancers. Finally I gave up and just got out there with the toddlers and everybody else strutting my stuff. (Paint added later.)

What I Love About the Sonoma Co. Fair

I’m not much for the rides at the Sonoma County Fair, or the races or the greasy deep fried food on a stick. But boy do I like to hang out with the farm animals and 4H kids. Most of all the pigs. Don’t you just love their snouts and taut bellies and squeals? More than other animals they seem like us somehow, in their appetites and love of napping and their naked bellies.

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fountain pen (brown and black inks), watercolor on Fluid 100 watercolor paper, double spread 7.5 X 11″

You can watch the judging in the pavilion or you can roam the pens where the pigs are mostly resting, snuggled up with each other. Sleeping and eating seems to be their two modes. It was morning when I tried sketching these guys, and they weren’t exactly standing still.

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There’s this thing that happens to their mouths when they’re fed and I think happy. It seems simpler for them, this happiness thing, less encumbered by expectations. It’s a little upturn of the corners of the mouth.

These guys share so much. Do you suppose they know that their short lives are about to end with the auction which inevitably ends their stardom on the 4H stage at the end of the week? They don’t appear to be worried. And somehow their young owners, who feed and groom and apply sunscreen and cool them off with water spray when they get too hot, and who lie down and nap using their soft bellies as pillows. .  .will soon part with them forever. Sigh. Could I do that? I mean they have names and personalities. (but I am admittedly a bacon lover, oh dear.)

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Some of these bovines are so very glamorous that you would easily give them a prize. I lean toward the pink ones, thinking they are so pretty in pink, blackwhitepig

but some are a shiny black and others have an exotic picture puzzle-like design. They should have the great fashion houses of the world paying attention.

The white pigs are like me, if they get more than a few minutes of sun, they get sunburned and turn pink!

pigtrioNot having had enough of the pig sketching while at the fair, I did this one from a picture once I was home. These pigs are not embarrassed to have their naked bottoms on display, and those cute curly-Q tails. . .

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The animals seem so comfortable with each other. I mean you wouldn’t see unrelated humans who had just met sharing their space with each other in this companionable way. In this group there was a certain amount of standing and lying down and then getting back up, which made for inaccurate drawings. You need to exercise your visual memory, which has it’s limits! While I was sketching here, a 4Her asked us if we’d like to pet the animals. A sweet offer, if not exactly what I’d been thinking. . .

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Another 4-Her was grooming Bullseye, who was docilely chained to a spot for the purpose. The grooming consisted of being cleaned with a leaf blower. It’s a full time job to keep these animals looking shiny, spiffy and immaculate in a barn filled with hay and some amount of poop. I did not find the smell unpleasant, but I must say it was with me til the end of the day, long after I’d returned home.

Beauty School to Financial District

Every reportage sketcher’s dream is to become a fly on the wall observing and sketching some common human activity not generally open to observation. . . like sketching the action in a beauty school. Last week I was invited to accompany Bettina while her daughter Julia styled her hair at Cinta Aveda beauty school in the financial district of San Francisco.

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Looking through the eyes of a sketcher one notices hundreds of interesting facets in the visual field: certainly the bottles of products and carts of rollers and towels, hair dryers and curlers. Reflections in the mirror are the most intriguing. From where I was sitting the poster of the male model on the wall behind dominated the mirror. Looking around I noticed the other posters of “hot” guys ringing the room, imagining that not only were there guys getting their hair cut, but women enjoying the thought that their new “do” might attract such a guy.

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Applying color here, while somebody’s son amuses himself on his phone. I never saw the final hairdo.

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After lunch at an overpriced Financial District restaurant we headed to the Embarcadero Center to sketch. Embarcadero Center is a commercial complex of five office towers, two hotels, an underground shopping center with more than 125 stores, bars and restaurants, two movie theaters, and fitness center on three levels. But stringing it all together is a beautifully landscaped open area with stellar views of skyscrapers and other urban geometry. It’s always fascinating to me to view the tallest building in a city, here the Salesforce tower, from a vantage point that dwarfs it.

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I was focusing here on the geometry without thinking “things” and using a dip pen and ink bottle for a change. I’d like to try again with a thicker nib. It didn’t look that different from my usual fountain pen. I liked the way the ink flowed onto my watercolor paper though.

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Then it was rush hour and we decided to wait it out to avoid a long commute back to Sonoma County. We’re across the street from the Ferry Building here and right below the Bay Bridge, one of those places that feels like a crossroads of humanity.

Not everyone was rushing however. This fellow was catching up on sleep on the sun-warmed pavement, one of the thousands of homeless people in this city and others around our wealthy but neglectful country. Summer in San Francisco is cold and windy and often not hospitable to outdoor relaxation. He was bundled up and the wind was blowing and the public toilet had a steady stream of visitors and the bridge was jammed with commuters. And this became my last story of the day.

If you had been there, no doubt your story would have been a completely different one!

Porto: Last days

Saturday July 21st was the last day of the whirlwind Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018. After the morning workshop with Marion Rivolier (yesterday’s post) the 800 attendees were invited to the “Big Sketch” final sketchwalk and group photo in a long central promenade area up on the hill which ended in the grand city hall.

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This young woman with her sketch board and symposium pass was perfect to tell the story.

But first I started with a warm up sketch in direct watercolor to overcome my nervousness about the busy open space with so many curious onlookers and experienced artists. I was happy with the girl with no face, painted in only shadow shapes, before I got all involved with the cherub statue and decided I better move on!

It was time then for the group photo on the steps of the City Hall. Can you see me waving? Ha ha!

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Next we walked back to the river to the Alfondega or symposium Hub for the Silent Auction of the spectacular work done by Urban Sketchers in Porto. This was followed by the raffle drawing of prizes from generous sponsors. Then the buildup to the big announcement that next year’s Symposium (drum roll here) in Amsterdam!

With all the socializing activities and workshops during the event I was starved to just wander and sketch with no time limit. So the following morning I set off alone.

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The tourists don’t get up early, so it was possible for a while to wander without the crowds and sip coffee with the excellent views of the river.

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Walking to the other side of the bridge on the lower level I found a spot in the shade with my back to the bridge wall. It was midday and the day’s activity was beginning in earnest. A young man was donning a wet suit, and later returned to strip it off with an appreciative audience of girls. So I wrote this tidbit on my sketch (never write until later!) He and his friends then expressed some interest in what I was doing and I was able to ask

Q: Why the wetsuit?

A: To jump off the lower bridge span into the river! (the upper span is for suicides I learned)

When the group came over to look closer, I covered my writing with my hand and had to keep it there while one of the girls, an art student sat beside me to watch me paint!

Then a street musician/artist stopped by and chatted with me for a while and explained that the deafening roar of motorcycles which was increasing with each moment was related to another kind of symposium happening that weekend, a motorcycle rally!

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Back across the bridge again I caught sight of this edifice sheltered in the armpit of the upper bridge span.

Oh how I will miss the urban character of Porto! I heard that someone suggested we have the annual symposium in Porto every year!

On the last Porto day exhaustion finally took over. But we agreed we couldn’t go home without seeing the Atlantic ocean beach. A short cab ride got us there and exhaustion lifted as we breathed the sea air and found a lovely resort to dine and enjoy sun and cool breezes.

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I got out my Inktense pencils, pens and marker for the top sketch, though I always end up wondering why I didn’t use watercolor.

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The young wait staff were not so busy they couldn’t visit with us and answer questions and enjoy being sketched.

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And that’s about it.Well, that’s not quite it. I’m still doing a bit of sketching from my pictures of scenes I had no time to do while there.

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The Porto sign was right around the corner from our Yellow House and perfect to stage our farewell (along with a line of tourists from other countries.

Thanks for joining me on the trip! If you came in late, you can scroll down for more sketches of two weeks in Portugal.

Part III Porto

My first Symposium workshop was one that I knew would blow my sketcher’s mind wide open, and gratefully it did! Inma Serrano‘s workshop titled Porto: Calm and Wild! She got us going right away by giving us India ink and sticks and accordian folded paper to do quick drawings which played with textures, open and dynamic lines and overlapping shapes.  You see the results here.inma serrano

Then looking out at the busy Ribeira area by the river we did a sketch making a clear pathway into the focal point and leaving out any other detail.

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Here’s my exercise. It was so liberating to get to leave out so much of the colorful scene and just focus on a particular story with large shapes leading into smaller shapes in the background. And no watercolor here, because I had to use my water container to put the ink in. So this is the India ink, drawn with a stick and brush, marker, brush pen, and colored pencil.

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Here’s Inma pointing at the scene we walked to next. We were in the labyrinthine walkways leading up from the river near the bridge.

Inma is saying, “First paint only the shadow shapes (luckily there were some!) in black, and then finish the sketch with detail in any medium you want.”

When some of us winced she said, “Trust me. Just do it.”

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Here’s mine. And I’m sure you can imagine what happened in my mind when I finished with just the back ink. . . but in the end I thought, “Hey this is so cool!”

When she looked at mine her comment was, “This is out of your comfort zone, right? (I nodded vigorously) Very good.”

Funny thing about that comfort zone. Hard to let go of it, but always a good idea if you want to move ahead. You’ll see some influence this workshop had on my later sketches!

In the afternoon, after lunch and more up and down climbing and a wee rest, I joined Jim Richards‘ workshop, Drawing as Discovery: Revealing Porto’s Rich Sense of Place. Jim invited us to first explore the area, walking around doing thumbnails or small sketches to find elements that conveyed the life and energy of the place. We were at the foot of the statue of Henry the explorer, in a garden ringed by a palace, cathedral with solid gold interior, another church with decorative tiled facade, openings with river views, hillside views of more cathedrals and battlements and on and on.

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Here’s my “discovery tour”, and I would happily have sketched any of these scenes. The final exercise was to create a large composition to express this city’s energy and life, adding in many objects to enrich the concept. I chose the scene on the lower left.

But first, knowing that this endeavor would require more energy than I had, I bought myself a gelato!

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There’s Henry the explorer reaching out to explore and conquer the world, and the angel with her foot on the planet and arm in the air holding a cross. Definitely a story right there. And always the lovebirds oblivious of all but each other. And me enjoying my gelato on a blue sky day.

The Drink and Draw followed. A time more for urban sketchers socializing than drawing. I made some interesting new friends and took a break from sketching!

My last workshop was the next day. Capturing People and Space in the Same Gesture with Marion Rivolier. Marion is a stage and set designer and fine artist living in Paris. The urban sketcher community is in awe of her ability to sketch big scenes with direct watercolor painting in vibrant color, often with figures that are moving and complex urban scenes.

She started out by getting us to practicing mixing our warm and cool dark mixes of color. porto9

To be able to emphasize light against dark and warm against cool colors, we needed to be ready to produce these quickly, because. . .the next part was to capture figures with a gestural brush mark, and then to negative paint the figure while simultaneously building the background scene in dark warm and cool brush strokes. Are you still following?

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The “models” were the folks waiting for the tram or sitting at the restaurant tables, or each other.

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The last exercise was to put it all together and do the big scene (no drawing first) and we had 40 minutes, the first 10 of which I sat freaking out and thinking this is impossible. (There it is again, no comfort zone here.) Then I plunged in and painted like crazy. And if you stand back far enough, it actually looks like a scene you might see in Porto! Warm and cool and dark and light. It’s all there, barely. Whew!

Next: Symposium finale and last days in Porto