Travel Sketchbooks

Smart Train to Novato Hamilton

After sketching the Smart Train and even teaching a workshop at the Depot at Railroad Square I finally got around to actually riding the train on Saturday! The train runs from the Sonoma County airport to San Rafael. During the week it is used by commuters and on the weekend for pleasure seekers like my friends and I. And last Saturday the train was full of people like us, and whole families taking their first ride. We took it just as far as Novato Hamilton which is where the beautiful Marin MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) with its gallery and artist studios is located.

On the train we met a young woman who commutes to her weekend job in San Francisco using train, bus, ferry, and another bus to arrive at her destination. Seems like a lot, but she has it worked out and enjoys the 2 hour commute which covers some gorgeous scenery and affords her time to relax and read her book as well. We kept her busy answering our questions til we got off.

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Direct watercolor on 140 lb CP Arches paper, 9 X 7.5″

The early California white stucco buildings at Hamilton Field’s former air force base are eminently sketchable. I started with a direct watercolor since I’m still working on the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge of this month. Some day I’ll master palm trees, but for now, I just really love trying.

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We had lunch at Beso, which is right next to the museum and has incredible food, then visited the museum and the Make Your Mark show, which had just opened. Then we wandered through the halls where the studio artists hang their work.

It was getting really windy and time to take the train back. We’re anxious to ride the train again. It’s especially nice to whiz in comfort by the cars clumped up and crawling along at the Novato and Petaluma “narrows”.

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Later I thought I’d give the same scene a try in a more whimsical style. If I’d tried once more I would have exaggerated even more. This version has more of the wind-blown feel.

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And then next day I had a few minutes for another direct watercolor quickie.

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Travel on the Brain

I guess I have travel on the brain these days. Meaning that I’m thinking a lot about my trip to Portugal next month for the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto. I’m determined to be prepared for everything, which is of course impossible, but I’ll try anyway.

We started a new month-long session of the Muse Group this week, painting with water shapes and inks. And here’s what came of it for me.

travelspecsinks and collage on w/c paper, 11X10″

So you want to sell me a postcard? Thanks anyway. Sunglasses? you say. No, thanks anyway. Got my sketchbooks and paints, got my shades and backpack and travel umbrella and comfortable shoes. .  . but hey, will you pose for me? or better yet, tell me about yourself. Tell me something I will never get from a guidebook. Look into my eyes and let me see your lifetime of struggles and triumphs. Let me sit for a few moments and be with you. Soon enough I’ll fly off, but I won’t ever forget. Promise. (It will all be found in my sketch.)

It is hard to explain how this works, how the complete sensory experience of some moments in time gets stored in a sketch made at that time. Frankly it doesn’t even matter if the sketch is simple or poorly executed. Any travel sketcher will tell you that. It makes you realize that most of the time we’re living in our heads, not particularly noticing what is happening around us in the moment. And that translates into not having memories of those moments!

And we think we have such important things going on in our minds. Ha! (Sorry for the rant)

Back to the 30X30Direct Watercolor challenge next. Are you doing your watercolor-a-day? Need inspiration? check out these folks, Marc and Suhita.

 

 

Let the Summer Begin!

. . .with free concerts on the plaza! And the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

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Lamy fountain pen and watercolor in Hahnemuhl Watercolor Book

The Plaza in Healdsburg was jam packed on Tuesday night. We were sitting far enough back where you don’t even see the musicians but can still enjoy the music just fine. People are set up in their groupings with friends and wine and food and dancing  by the stage and on the sidelines. Everybody happy to be there on a warm almost summer night. And the music. . .ahhh, Latin Jazz!

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Here’s my 30X30 direct watercolor for the day. Not the fluid watercolor paper I prefer, but I kind of like all the texture that happens with the wet application. When the musicians returned after the break, I set my little stool up on the side of the stage to get deep into the latin groove and let the percussion rule the sketch. Honestly I’d had some wine too, which might be evident in the “looseness” of the sketch. And all the while I’m thinking, oh yeah, it’s summer-groovin-time now!

Vignette Workshop Postscript

This is a belated postscript about the 10 X10 Urban Sketchers workshop I taught May 26 titled “Sketch the Vignette”. I was drawn to this topic because I have a habit of getting carried away and taking on too much in my sketches. Designing the vignette keeps me disciplined by isolating the main subject and focusing attention on it.

I like Edgar Whitney’s definition: “A vignette is a piece of subject matter in a well designed piece of white space.”

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We started by warming up in my favorite way with continuous line drawing. Keeping the pen on the paper is the best way I know to track your subject without losing your place!

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For the workshop exercises we spread out in a one block area in Petaluma where there’s lots to sketch, both inside the Old Petaluma Mill and outside. Some sketchers picked the river and old railroad ties and bridge, to the right of this picture. The first exercise was to find at least five subjects to focus on, doing a quick capture sketch of each and naming them. This helps to commit to a focus so that you’re more likely to stick to the point.

Then students were encouraged to place the subject matter in context and design the white spaces around the subject by identifying interesting edges.

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Lastly we accented the sketch with color. I did a demo of this spot which I love for the colorful umbrellas (also the food!) while students observed, so we could also discuss watercolor application. Also we discussed rationale for what was left out of the sketch. This is often as important as what is put in. The name of the restaurant on the window was important, but I didn’t do any other detail on the window to not upstage the patio eating scene. The street lamp made for a more interesting white shape.

And then there was the final splatter! which everyone loves to do because it gets the eye moving and makes the scene more active. There was some interest in learning how to do it with control, but to me, control is antithetical to quick capture sketching! And I’m also not very good at it.

 

Stowe Lake, G.G. Park Meet up

Temperatures soared in Sebastopol yesterday, and I headed for S.F. to enjoy the perfect weather there with other SF urban sketchers at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. There were nesting great blue herons and red tailed hawks to view, turtles sunbathing on every floating log, ducks and ducklings of many varieties, paddle boaters, cyclists, hikers and more. I went for subjects I rarely see in Sonoma County and in my fevered state immediately jumped in for more than I could manage. When will I learn?!

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Direct watercolor, day 2.

 I should have aborted early on, but hey, I learned a lot and later added more detail and killed it dead (learning even more!) Meanwhile, since my back was to the path where people were walking, and they were drawn to the color, I kept hearing all the compliments behind me. People just love it when you do art in public, like you’re a hero or something. So I guess this little sketch served some purpose aside from teaching me a lesson, and satisfying my direct watercolor challenge.

The lesson? – when attempting something this complex, do a thumbnail first, simplify, plan, before jumping in. Well, that’s one of the lessons anyway.

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Next I sat down very close to the Golden Gate Pavilion and was so beguiled by the intricate designs that I totally lost myself in them. Not a bad thing. If I hadn’t come to my senses though, I might also have added the paddle boats on the lake behind, the Canadian geese, and the soaring hawk!

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Direct watercolor

Several people in the meet up found this vantage point across the lake from the Pagoda  – a much better angle, which I found later after we’d done the sharing. And then I got to put the birds in too!

30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge

The 30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge dreamed up by some of my Urban Sketcher buddies starts tomorrow! It’s one of these marathon commitments to paint something every day for a month, and in this case to use the direct-watercolor approach. I’m going to give it a go and maybe you’d like to as well. Put up your art sail and catch the wind of lots of folks who will be trying it and having breakthroughs this month.

I love to draw with a pen, but I’ve been playing around with drawing with my brush and not allowing myself to come in at the end to define shapes with pen line. The result is looser, messier even, and often more appealing. I won’t stop drawing with all my fun fountain pens, BUT will do at least 30 direct watercolor paintings this month. (Actually I already started, which you’ll see in some of the sketches from my Princeton/Brooklyn trip)

It’s a pretty simple concept actually. Practice anything for 30 consecutive days, and you’re guaranteed to get better at it.

You might want to check out these amazing artist/teachers’ blogs to get tips on how to approach the month:

Suhita Shirodhar, Uma Kelkar, Liz Steel, Anne-Laure Jacquart, and of course Marc Taro Holmes.

Marc laid out the ground rules for us to follow, with lots of wiggle room for fitting it into busy lives. Here they are:

What is #30x30DirectWatercolor2018?

  • PAINT 30 watercolors in 30 days, from June 1-30 2018.
  • POST your paintings in our new Facebook group: <HERE
    We’d like to centralize the discussion around this group, to spare our usual sketching clubs all the extra traffic this might create 🙂
  • HASHTAG your work on any other social media (twitter, instagram) with the hashtag: #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.
    This will help people find your work in the future. Here are some FAQs on how to use hashtags: FB | IG | Twitter.
  • Any size, format or subject is ok. I personally hope to paint on location, but it’s going to depend on weather and the situation at home.
  • I plan to paint in watercolor, working as directly as possible. But if you want to tint drawings, or add in some mixed media, we’re not going to be enforcing rules. I won’t however, have a lot of advice about techniques I’m not thinking about this month.
  • Our goal is experiencing sustained daily practice. If it’s better for you to do seven paintings on the weekend instead of one a day, that’s totally ok. Same with posting progress. One a day makes a good story – but do what works for you.
  • It’s also completely normal if you fail to make 30! Or to need a few extra days. Like any marathon, just participating is the first reward. Though I’m sure any of us can catch up with some super fast, super small sketches if we have to!

Exploring Hip Brooklyn

I’ll skip over the day spent at The Met and Met Breuer because otherwise this post will get too long. But it’s worth checking out (online) the exhibits I saw  – Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the dance performance of Gallim: (C)arbon, and my absolute favorite Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body. There are videos to watch and so much of the exhibits shared on The Met’s website.

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This is a scene I don’t get to sketch at home in Sebastopol! I was given a tour of Williamsburg, a hip Brooklyn scene, by Andrew and his partner Maura. Here the view of Manhattan across the river with its skyscrapers and brownstones. They even joined me for some sketching here!

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There was a bit of thrift shopping to do (by Maura) and time for a quick standing sketch of Andrew while we waited.

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and then a stop in the Levi’s store for Andrew to find some shorts. I was intrigued by 1) the new “logo” on t-shirts Button Your Fly and 2) the mannikin wearing high heals with cutoff shorts. ? ? A girl was machine embroidering patches to sew on jackets, another “latest” or is it “throwback”?

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I begged off the next shopping stop, and they left me happily sketching in an empty dog park which had a bench facing this church with the onion domes. My direct watercolor was not working out very well, when along came a woman with her dog and sat directly opposite me.grover2

I instantly abandoned my unfortunate domes and tilted the sketchbook up out of her sight of vision and drew like mad. A real authentic Brooklyn hipster, sitting still before me! I tried putting Grover in the sketch, but he was so ecstatic to be running free that he was just a blur that my model kept calling to. . .”Grover!” or was it Rover?

I must say I found the style in Brooklyn to be wonderfully free and creative. Not at all a scene where everyone was trying to look alike, but the outfits came across as artistic in that idiosyncratic way.

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Looking out through the front window of And/Or Coffee here. (I forgot to ask what the and and or referred to). We needed to linger a bit, rest weary feet, and cool off.

The sketch strategy here was a fun one. Pick the things that catch your fancy and leave out the rest. Then add selective color. There were hardly any people to distract, just a colorful slice of a city corner. I never found out what the sign “You’ve Got Nail” referred to or explored the exotic “Dilruba Grocery”.

And that’s the last of the Brooklyn sketches. Next day I hugged Andrew and Maura goodbye and was off in an Uber to Newark airport. My driver was a friendly smiling young man Andrew’s age from the mountains of Ecuador with a fascinating story I would tell if this weren’t a sketch blog!

Newark

Back to airport sketching. Two characters sitting on the same row of seats, both on cell phones, of course. The older gentleman on the left took off his hat on the plane to reveal a yarmulka.

Well, that’s the end. Please forgive the uneven coloration on these pics. My scanner is temporarily not working. I put 95% of my sketches from the trip in this story so you might understand that travel sketching is not about making perfect little paintings but about capturing the moment in the time you have. The sketch installs the memory with all the sensory data, so you never forget. Not sure how that works, but it does! Thanks for coming along with me.