Travel Sketchbooks

An Afternoon at Point Reyes

I used to think of Point Reyes Station, CA as a sleepy little town on the way to the spectacular north coast park trails, beaches and Tule Elk, not to mention Tomales Bay. But that couple blocks of the town is a busy, happening place on the weekend, especially in fine weather. Bob and I were there for the opening of our good friend Todd Pickering‘s exhibit: This Sacred Land: Images and Words from Point Reyes at Toby’s Feed Barn.

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I had a few minutes before to sit at a picnic table in the sun outside Toby’s Feed Barn and the farmer’s market and enjoy some music and a bit of sketching. Jerome’s tunes were sweet and folksy. Later he shared with me that he spends his days at the parks nearby, enjoying the nature scene and contemplating making it a more permanent residence.

Todd’s exhibit of black-and-white photography of land and nature worked evocatively with written words by locals about their experience of the sacred in the land there. One has to feel awe at his ability to capture Raven and Moon, the secret poses of Owls, the mystical ocean, and more. If you’re in the area you should stop by and see it. It’s open til September 30.

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Sitting down on one of Todd’s custom made wooden benches, I was compelled to capture this musician, whose solo act was music played with hands on this unusual metal drum. I got a bit carried away with his head piece, which perfectly matched the extra terrestrial vibes of the sound and instrument!

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Dominican U. and Peacetown Concert

Occasionally it’s quite pleasant to hang out on a university campus many decades after one has graduated. You can still enjoy the vibe of learning, and even imagine that it would be fun to be a college student again, (sans writing papers and taking tests of course). Dominican University in San Rafael, CA has a lovely combination of grand buildings and exotic gardens and the serenity of its connection to the church.

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This campus is sooo different from U.C. Berkeley, which is just across the bay with its throngs of students, myriad posters and causes and academicians with deadly serious countenances. We enjoyed this quiet spot at the back of the school and bordering a vegetable garden.

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In fact there is such diverse vegetation that the campus grounds resemble a botanical garden. In this sketch I reversed the order and painted first and then defined with pen line.

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Back in Sebastopol, AKA Peacetown, later in the day The Love Choir members were singing their hearts out with Mr. Music and Moon Puppy on keyboard. It was (almost) the last of the summer concerts in Ives Park. I caught a bit of it before heading home, sad that I’d not made it to any of the other Sebastopol concerts this summer. And now the summer is over, sigh! Well, not entirely yet. . .

The Duo Quartet

A couple weekends ago I got invited to a concert with The Duo Quartet (Nina Gerber, Chris Webster, Pam Delgado, and Jeri Jones) on the grand shady lawn of the Davis’ family. We arrived after it had started and grabbed a seat at the back. Not the best place to see the musicians, but excellent for listening and grooving on the lyrics and tunes of this dynamic foursome of kick ass women! Like I want to be cool like them when I grow up.

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So, peeping between the heads of the people in front of me I managed to see enough to get something down in an old toned sketchbook I started back in 2015. A bit of white gouache at the end perked it up a bit. The audience was mostly grey haired and groovy and appreciating, like me, this brand of folksy rock n roll with lyrics you could relate to, or at least remember what it was like back when the hormones were raging.

Ahh, summer!

Ahhh, hot! So we scrapped the idea of getting our shed cleaned out today, which would have been suicide in this heat, and packed up the umbrella and beach chairs for a morning at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay. It was heavenly.

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I enjoyed watching the little boy play in the sand while the pelicans swooped and the harbor seals barked from their island off the coast. I couldn’t help remembering with bittersweet yearning those days when we would take our rambunctious little boys to the ocean and get to see it all fresh again through their eyes.

As I’m enjoying my musings one of them, 6’2″ of him, lay engrossed in his book by my side under the umbrella. Well, that part is fun too. Always nice to have that fresh 26 year old energy to liven up our home!

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Challenging myself here for a few minutes of painting those distant shapes that my eyes can’t quite get in focus. Then it was time to hit the Fishetarian Fish Market for dripping, finger licking fish tacos.

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Last weekend I met up with the monthly Ready, Set, Sketchers! gang in Geyserville, in the heart of Sonoma County wine country. About one block of historic buildings, housing gourmet restaurants like Catelli’s, wine tasting, and other assorted stores.

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. . .like Gin’gilli’s Vintage Home, with a little bit of everything you might want in your home. I found a chair in the shade outside and just kept adding on to my nutty picture.

 

Amsterdam Last days

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures. -Vincent van Gogh

On my last full day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh Museum and emerged two hours later feeling that I’d just encountered the part of myself that knows what it means to be an artist with a pressing need to draw and paint the world. I felt a kinship to this strange man who loved the common people, the miners, the potato eaters, and celebrated that love through his painting. . .kinship with his need to get out of the studio into the beauty and harshness of nature to try to find its “language”.

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Afterwards the trees outside the museum seemed to have stepped right out of his paintings, and I sat to ponder them while eating my sandwich. A bee was flying around my food and I welcomed it, like the birds, as a part of this glorious natural scene! When my attention was distracted I took a bite and felt an electric shock in my mouth. Out popped a dazed and dying bee into the grass. My tongue was on fire! What would Vincent do? Surely not freak out, but start his painting! Which is what I did (and clearly survived).

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Laurie Wigham met me for lunch afterward, and while I talked, she did this cafe portrait piece of me, direct watercolor with touches of after-the-fact water soluble pencil!

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My last morning I had an hour to head out for a last sketch before catching my shuttle to the airport. Ah, if only I had another week, I thought. . . but this will have to do for now.

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The flight back to San Francisco was fully booked. It was delayed and the waiting area was full of people already hot and weary, anticipating the eleven hour flight. My last sketch kept me from grinding my teeth, almost.

On the ride home my seat companions were a couple from Holland making their first trip to the U.S with their three teenagers. They got to practice their English and get some tips from a Californian. The man was a dyke engineer, so I got to ask my questions about how it’s possible that Amsterdam is not under water when it is over four meters below sea level!

The scene I never got to sketch on location!

I want to thank you if you’ve lasted through this rather long story documenting just a week of travel. It would have felt like a dream if I hadn’t put it down in this way. Actually as I look at my sketchbook, I think I’ve painted a dream.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.  – Vincent van Gogh

Exactly, Vincent!

 

Amsterdam Part IV

The last day of the Symposium I was out dodging bicycles and exploring again, this time in the Jordaan, a neighborhood with numerous outdoor markets, stunning houses, interesting shops and more canals! I particularly wanted to find the Het Papeneiland a historic outdoor cafe I had seen in my guidebook. It was early in the morning and barely open yet.

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Once again I tried to tackle all the elements at once! (When will I learn?!) Then walked across another bridge to get this stunning view of the cafe from a different angle.

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There I met a charming Yorkshire sketcher who, while she was drawing this whole complex scene, regaled me with stories of life on the moors where the Bronte sisters lived. Soon a Dutch woman joined us with her own local stories. . .which is why I sometimes enjoy wandering “alone”.

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The subject matter here was chosen as a result of resting my feet and drinking an iced coffee at another cafe on another canal.

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Just in case you haven’t been to Holland and you picture people walking around in wooden shoes or skating on the ice of canals. . .this is the scene outside the Central Station in Amsterdam. If you want to blow a gasket, try sketching that tangle!

One has to learn very quickly that pedestrians must yield to the bikes that are coming at you sometimes at alarming speeds from all directions at once. After a couple of near misses I caught on and walked with exaggerated caution.

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The Symposium ended that day as it always does with the final sketchwalk followed by picture taking and the closing reception. I joined the Spanish “delegation” on the waterfront across from the Nemo Science Museum, built in the shape of a boat.

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The day ended at the reception with the big announcement that next year’s Symposium will be held in Hong Kong!

A high point for me was getting to meet Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, the online art school creators of Sketchbook Skool . It was Danny’s book Everyday Matters, 2003, that launched me on a lifetime of sketching and broke the ground for the Urban Sketcher movement.  His books and courses have been at the top of my resource list for students for years. So I shook his hand and offered my sincere thanks for his gifts to the world of sketching. . .and we had a lovely conversation. Koosje too, as beautiful and enthusiastic as she in the online workshops she teaches.

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The next morning I took a bus out to the De Gooyer windmill to do my mandatory windmill sketch. Up close one is struck by the enormous span of the blades/arms; also the attention to primary color accents, which now seems so “Dutch”.

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Seated at a sidewalk table at a lunch spot near the Zuidekerk I had a busy view which I chose once again for an architectural landscape reflecting Mondrian style.

While I was busy with this sketch a fellow stopped on his bike, watching in respectful silence. I looked up and asked “Are you an artist?”  Bingo! He nodded and smiled and we started talking and he asked to join me and an hour later we parted.

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Corstiaan had been noticing scores of sketchers occupying his city and was happy to have someone tell him about it. He is an accomplished Dutch artist, master of many styles and materials, and was fascinated to learn about the international world of urban sketchers. I was equally fascinated to meet a local and hear his perspective of the art world in Europe.

Stay tuned for the last two days. . .

 

Amsterdam Part III

The International Urban Sketchers Symposium can at times be a humbling experience as one gets to observe some of the most accomplished sketch artists from around the globe. It is tempting to hide one’s imperfect sketches, or even give up! But here’s what Vincent had to say:

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -van Gogh

So I headed out in the relative cool of the morning to tackle canal reflections, boats, buildings and bridge. . . to paint.

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And what I loathed about this sketch at the time with its clumsy inaccuracies, I quite enjoy looking at now. The point of the sketch was obviously the red boat, which I accomplished, and some similitude of a reflection in the water. A bit of cropping would undoubtedly help, but that’s not the point here.

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That particular canal was shaded and serene, so rather than wandering on when I’d finished one sketch, I stayed to do a study of one of the colorful row houses that are so typical, along with other common aspects of canal life. One is always “serenaded” by waterfowl on the waterfront.

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I wandered a bit as the day heated up, staying close to the canals, hoping for a breeze, observing canal houseboat life. It didn’t look like any of the houseboats which lined the canals had air conditioning – not so idyllic a life in the 100 degree heat!  Even the swans looked hot, or perhaps that was my imagination? After all, at least they were in the water!

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I found a table in a busy market square at lunchtime, right next to the hot baked potato booth, which not surprisingly had almost no business in this record breaking heat wave. The potato chef, delighted to have myself and another sketcher to watch, hung out with us, helping me at least to get the mind off physical discomforts.

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During the hottest part of the day I holed up in the air conditioned hotel, feeling boundless gratitude for its welcome comfort. From a relaxed vantage point in the lobby ice cold beer in hand, I sketched my homage to Motel One Waterlooplein!

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Evening was for enjoying beer, dinner and good company again at the Drink and Draw, though no relief in temperature (note the walking shoes are off).

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From my seat I could see the Zuidekerk, also known as the Hub, where the Symposium was meeting.

 

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And before I knew it I was late getting out to join the sketchers on the river. The sun had dipped below the horizon, the city and boats lights cast a spell on the scene, and I was sketching in the dark! Luckily I at least knew the location of my Quinacridone Gold and Payne’s Gray on the palette and just stayed with those.

I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. – V. van Gogh

To be continued. . .