Travel Sketchbooks

Humans in Action: Pedro Loureiro on Etchr

More of my student work today, this time from Etchr Studios workshops where a lot of my favorite urban sketchers are offering classes. I met Pedro Loureiro a few years ago during the International Symposium of Urban Sketchers in Portugal. He’s a master of reportage (visual journalism) and capturing people in lively scenes. One of his Etchr courses, which you can watch on demand, is Humans in Action: Figures and Gestures in Ink and Watercolor.

(The artwork posted here is my student work)

Humans Action with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed media sketchbook

This is a scene I probably would never have tackled, but Pedro breaks it down into foreground, mid ground and background; simplifying, suggesting rather than detailing, and sticking to more neutral color choices to unify. No pencil here. Students were asked to just pretend we were actually on location with all the movement and visual/kinesthetic/auditory/aromatic inputs and keep the pen moving! Watching his pen move across the paper in flowing motions was ample inspiration to give it a try!

Urban Sketching, Painting Crowds with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor

In another workshop with Pedro I discovered my achilles heal. My perceptual capabilities break down when I have to switch from foreground figures to tiny people in the distance. (Only part of that can be attributed to my poor distance vision, haha!) Surely it’s a matter of practice. I didn’t recover from the urge to toss this paper in the trash until I added watercolor. Focusing on patterns of light and shade on the figure is the speediest way to render a figure in motion.

Urban Sketching, Painting Crowds with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor

This scene is the sort I love to sketch. With such a clear figure as star of the show the question is how to include figures in the background as supporting actors.  By simplifying them with simple line, no detail and neutral color washes they add interest without distraction. 

Some other watercolor teachers I enjoy on Etchr are Eleanor Doughty from Seattle and Bianca Ryala from Phillipines. But there are so many intriguing short workshops to try!

More Sparks Lit on Spark!

A busy city scene is probably the most challenging subject for an urban sketcher, especially for one like me who has lived in the countryside for the past two decades. But oh, I can’t resist the challenge. It would be marvelous to go out each day and practice in a busy location, but winter temps here in the Pacific Northwest are not amenable to on location sketching, especially in the time of Covid. So what better time to learn some new skills, sketching along on Zoom with people who excel at capturing the lively city! 

(The art shown here is my student work.)

Jedidiah Dore is a New York City artist and passionate urban sketcher/reportager who teaches a series now on Sketchbook Skool’s Spark platform called Creative Urban Sketching

Creative Urban Sketching with Jedidiah Dore: a street scene in New Orleans

One lesson was about editing a complex scene – deciding before putting pen to paper what should be included and what left out. And the scene was one I remembered well and loved from a sketch trip to New Orleans almost two years ago now!

Let’s Figure it Out with Jedidiah Dore

In another class titled: Let’s Figure it Out: Drawing People, we were timed and coached in a way to simulate live action scenes and draw decisively. Continuous line gestural drawing, while looking more at a subject, who will move at any moment, than at the paper. This is from Jedidiah’s photograph, but in the spirit of live action.

We all want to “get it right” and know we can’t possibly succeed at that with a moving scene. So it takes a certain practiced surrender to let go enough to set the hand loose from the thinking mind.  A lifetime of practice surely. Works for me, because it’s such a high to be able stop the mind for a while. Most sketchers would agree.

And I took another fun urban sketch class on Spark with someone whose style many of you will recognize instantly – Ian Fennelly! Lots of patterned pen work and zany watercolor washes which I dutifully tried. It’s not my style, but I wanted to play with different pens and was happy to go wild with it and even get tangled up in all the patterns. Such a fun way to tell a story of a time and place!

In the Home of the Beatles with Ian Fennelly

So much of what I’ve learned about drawing and painting and dancing and playing music has been a process of imagining myself in the body of the master . . . trying to hold a pen or leg or hand in the same way, watching and feeling and listening from the inside. Almost an Alice in Wonderland leap into another perception.

One of my current master teachers is a two year old boy across the street who soaks up everything in his environment, interacts with it, seeks to understand it with all his senses, and never seems to worry about getting it wrong. So I’ll take my cues from him, and above all keep it fun!

Snowed In

And the snow keeps coming! draping us in a pristine white silence. We walk around the neighborhood in the fresh snow, taking care to avoid the layer of ice underneath. Today our neighbor Margo and I brought our two year old friend Ellis along for a sled ride, then helped older kids build a snowperson family of four on a front lawn. Memories of my childhood in Canada and Connecticut came rushing back. Hours spent absorbed in play and unconcerned as the fingers and toes grew numb with cold.

There’s the backyard discoveries of tracks in the snow – deer and rabbits – and Quon Yin sporting new winter garments. On a walk around the block the discovery of a street-side Christmas tree, labeled “free”, adorned with white and unclaimed. We live in Christmas tree heaven here where all the cut trees in the lot are full and perfectly shaped, with 6 or 7 species to choose from. Bob and I bought the first one we saw when we arrived in the big barn at the Hunter Family Farm.   

With temps in the 20’s the sketching is happening in the upstairs room where my watercolors and sketchbooks live.

It’s a cozy spot with a carpeted floor, a temporary art roosting spot until the garage studio is completed. Yesterday we had the electrical inspection, so things are moving along in spite of the fact that no roads around us are plowed. 

The windows on the left are being enlarged and there’s a door on that wall which looks out on the back garden.

And here’s the opposite view, with a sink going in where the black pipe comes down. And while the work is happening, the majority of my studio supplies have been stashed and unavailable in the rest of the garage. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. Being “snowed in” is highly conducive to art play!

Wishing you a joyful new year with an abundance of creative inspiration, tantalizing art materials, and fellow art lovers to share it all with.

Kettle View Park in the Rain

I waited too long to get out for a walk a couple days ago and by the time I was out the door an icy rain was just getting cranked up. I knew this day would come to test my determination. So I went back in, donned the rain pants I’d purchased for just such an occasion, and drove to a new (to me) park about a mile and a half from my house. The midday sky was dark and the park abandoned by all but a dedicated dog walker who looked miserable.

There wasn’t much to this suburban park and the puddles on the loop were getting deep. But there was a narrow muddy trail into the woods that looked more interesting. I saw chairs through the brambles and thought “homeless encampment” but saw no humans and was curious.

The scene looked more like a secret spot where three musician friends might come to jam on a summer night. It opened under the leaden sky, and bordered on one of those pond-like depressions in the earth one sees everywhere here in the rainy season, where birds flock and hold their conventions in the frigid water.

bamboo pen and ink, watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook

Home from my walk, I dried off and got a hot cup of tea in hand. . .and became totally absorbed in sketching the scene.

This morning the rain had turned to sleet when I went out to stock up on food for the week. Our son Ben arrives tomorrow, and we haven’t seen him in two years!

There’s an urgency to paint after being out in this weather, and a feeling of snuggling up with pens and paints, and no beautiful weather to lure me away! The silver lining of all these clouds. And a white Christmas is seeming more likely every day.

Capital Building Grandeur

Like all creatures that seek warmth in the coldest part of winter, urban sketchers seek out interiors of buildings with something inspiring to draw. We are fortunate here in Olympia, even though otherwise a small city, to have the state capital which is open to the public, and actually quite grand and stately.

But (speaking as a sketcher) something happens to the doors of perception when you are suddenly faced with the interior of a cavernous rotunda. The thought – where do I look first? and – what is my perspective/point of view? and lastly, what does my small and insignificant sketchbook page, all blank and flat, want from all these angles and lights and a thousand points of light? It took a while to calm myself down enough to begin to draw a piece of it.

For want of a better idea, I decided that somewhere in the middle was a good place to start, and found a spot on the 4th floor balcony, with as much of the rotunda soaring above me as spread out dizzyingly below. I pealed off the winter coat and hat and gloves I’d worn for the temperature outside, which was in the 30’s,  and settled down to draw. 

fountain pen, marker, watercolor, white gel pen in w/c sketchbook

. . .a series of curved lines meeting up with straight lines and then taking off in another direction and back again until I was quite dizzy, but happy with the effort . In the end I caught some of the “bling” of the Capital moment.

With the little bit of time left before sharing sketches with my friends, I found a quiet inner corridor with a visual story I could tell. The Senate gallery with a bright red protective STOP! sign at the door. Although the sign was related to Covid regulations, it conjured up visions of the January 6 insurrection and aftermath of National Guardsmen sleeping in the hallways in the capital buildings to prevent another breach of security.

That quiet weekday between sessions there was little activity to cause concern for safety, just couriers delivering mail and supplies to whatever government business was going on behind closed doors. I made note to come back again and tackle another bit of grandness, and definitely in the spring to catch the explosion of blossoms on the grounds. Is it too soon to be fantasizing about spring before we’ve even reached the solstice?

Downtown Oly: Spar Cafe

Another cold and damp day, but this time with sun, dazzling sun. That day there was nothing for it but to bundle up and brave the icy wind to sit on the sidewalk, with fingerless gloves and an intrepid spirit! And the blue sky lasted all the way until sunset, which arrived with a ferocious downpour as if to say “don’t get used to it!”

While sketching I couldn’t help but envy the fellow inside, imagining a warm bowl of soup and shelter from the wind. . .as the trucks and cars rumbled and screeched by. I made it through the ink sketch and did the rest of the paint and detail later in the comfort of my warm home. I guess that counts as only partial intrepid spirit.

Here I am, huddled and counting the minutes until I can have lunch with my friend in warmth! But oh how good it felt to have showed up.

Harmony Springs

A member of our small sketch group got permission for us to meet at Black Lake Bible Camp and retreat center. The idea was that we could stay warm in the dining hall while looking out the window and sketching the view.

But just on the other side of the parking lot is a western themed campground. Harmony Springs is staged like a western movie set with a frontier town, calistoga wagons, a circle of teepees, archery range, etc. I took advantage of the scene to practice my weakest skill – buildings and perspective.

What was I thinking?! So many vanishing points and and details distracted from the task of putting the 3-D experience onto the 2-D surface of my sketchbook. I got the drawing done and painting begun in the hour until the tips of my fingers went numb and legs got stiff.

But what if I had done it from another angle with a more compressed perspective of the buildings? I had some time at home and tried it again. After all, the harder you work on something, the greater the payoff, right? Quantity and repetition often beats out striving for perfection in the end. But by this point I was getting pretty bored with the scene and ready to move on!

The weather has grown colder lately and the cold along with damp makes sitting outside, even while bundled up, seem masochistic! So I walked around downtown and took some pictures and did this practice sketch at home.

Meanwhile things are moving along slendidly on our garage studio construction! 

The first wall went up yesterday, and the pounding and sawing is going on all day. Music to our ears! (sort of) I can’t wait to unpack the acrylics and collage materials and get back to some Muse painting again by next month some time.

Downtown Olympia

We tried another “alternative” coffee shop downtown for our sketch meet up last weekend – a retail clothing/gift boutique called Ember Goods

fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ hand.book journal

Ember Goods is indeed as advertised “a sanctuary for everything we love about the Pacific Northwest”. Firstly, a place to get out of the rain and cold, have an extraordinary cup of coffee, the kind that makes the thick coffee colored foam on the cup, to sit in the hyggelig decor (remember that Norwegian word that sounds like “hug” and means something similar – soothing, cozy, etc.) The clothing is the sort you might put on your Christmas wish list. And the patrons seemed to know the owners who were busy at the espresso counter. My own family “discovered” this place our first week in Olympia when we were hoping that our move had landed us in the right place.

After our small sketch group had arrived, drunk our coffees and checked in with each other, I settled in to do a continuous line drawing of things that caught my eye – quilting them together somewhat out of order to fill the page.

I had planned to sit outside on the street where shoppers were passing, Christmas lights were hung, volunteers were sweeping up leaves and tending the plants in merry seasonal clean up efforts. The Center for Performing Arts was offering free concerts of student groups, and a tent offering rapid Covid testing and vaccines was set up outside. But I ended up in the quiet skylit vestibule of the New Caledonia Building for another sketch behind the chocolate and tea shops and more hyggelig!

Revival Motorcycle and Coffee Co.

Motorcycles and coffee? Who would have thought that would be such a winning combination? Not a surprising one for Olympia of course. When we first landed here back in June and were staying in a hotel downtown, the only espresso place that opened earlier enough for us was a clothing store called Embers, and man! but they had the most amazing coffee served amidst the t shirts and pants. 

Fast forward to yesterday and a meet up with a handful of sketchers downtown, needing an inside place to stay warm and dry. Jane and I wandered into Revival to get, according to her, “the best decaf latte”. The front of the place has a coffee bar, maybe three tables, some retro furnishings, collector motorcycles and art. The back room has motorcycle gear, a repair shop, and lots more I know nothing about. Their motto is CHOP BUILD RESTORE CAFFEINATE.  So as we engaged in the caffeinate part, we sketched the motorcycles!

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 x 8″ w/c hand.book journal

This sketch rapidly became a lesson in motorcycle anatomy, a subject I have very little experience with. All those wires and tubes and tires at different angles, and lights and mirrors.  . . You certainly wouldn’t want to ride the one in my drawing!  But the owner was pleased that we’d come and encouraged us to return. 

the finished version with a bit more detail

With that kind of invitation and the great coffee (not to mention the cool sticker, which we sketchers always love to have!) we will definitely be back for more on another rainy day.

If you want to see Jane Wingfield’s version of the 1969 Honda CL90 Scrambler from a different angle, check out Olysketcher on Instagram!

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a protected estuary at the southern end of the Puget Sound where river meets sea, birds flock and salmon run and nature lovers can walk way out into the estuary on a long boardwalk. My friend Jane and I were there on a cold and windy but gloriously sunny Sturday. The meadows were densely populated by Canadian geese and the parking lot was full. 

After a bracing walk onto the open area of the boardwalk we entered the forest by the river to enjoy the dense fall foliage and sketch the play of light and shadow.

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue sketchbook

The boardwalk through the forest created the light and shadow patterns necessary to make visual sense of this dense forest scene. With nowhere to sit and get this view, I leaned myself up against the railing, sketchbook braced in the my arm, and got the pen moving! Luckily I’d brought clips and a water brush and mini-palette which attaches with a magnet to the clip. Otherwise it might all have ended up on the forest floor!

The punctuating sound effects of hunting season were intermittant and disturbing. It was hard to tell how far away the shots were, but not so hard to imagine the poor unwitting targets.

Tired after finishing the ink sketch, I sat down on a bench across the way to rest my legs and eat some chocolate. In moments a gray squirrel had hopped up on the bench and boldly approached me with obvious intent!

I took a picture of course, thanking him for his attention, but stopped short of offering my chocolate. Wouldn’t you agree that salted caramel dark chocolate is a rather extravagent offering for this little fellow who stays healthy eating acorns I imagine? But I suspect he probably wouldn’t have agreed.