Travel Sketchbooks

Redwood Hill Goats

Oh for the love of goats! about twenty sketchers showed up at Redwood Hill Farm in Graton on Saturday. It was the Ready, Set, Sketch (country-style) urban sketchers group which meets once a month on the second Saturday of the month at some location in Sonoma County. We had the added treat of a farm tour led by fellow sketcher and member of the Redwood Hill Farm family, Sharon Bice. redwoodHill2_1

I’ve been wanting to get over there for a long time, but something always came up. The farm is about 7 minutes drive from my home and I have long been a fan of their cheeses.


But what I really hoped to do was to hold a baby goat or kid, that is. And here is the wish come true. Three days old, this one. And he/she snuggled and suckled and covered me with that velvety goat milky smell. Ever since I’ve been imagining having my own little goat to raise! After all it will be a while (or never) til I get a grandchild of my own to hold!


But there were chickens there too of course, and I felt rather rusty trying to sketch them as they scratched around and then quickly disappeared into the coop to lay their eggs!


The adult goats were hanging out in the barn, many different breeds of them. I found a spot standing next to the feeding troughs where they would come up to check me out while I was checking them out. It’s not an easy thing to draw a goat. The proportions of their heads are so very unintuitive. I mean the eyes are way farther up in the head than you would assume, and those horizontal black bands in the eyes? Like an alien. . .

And like most animals, goats are not very cooperative about standing still and posing. Add to that the fact that when they look you in the eye with those fascinating golden eyes, you lose track of what you’re doing and just want to soak up their friendly interest.


Personality and fecundity seemed to be the dominant traits of this group. It was a bit perilous to open the palette while propping the sketchbook up on the feeding trough bar. It became an instant object of interest to the feeders who stopped by to knock it around a bit. But it was the only way to study this fecund group resting together in dirt and alfalfa.


Finally, worn out by trying to balance the palette with frequent interruptions, I headed outside to sketch another view of farm life, the last of the day.



Fisherman’s Wharf and U.C. Berkeley

Catching up a bit here with some recent urban sketching. During my time in S.F. I spent some hours wandering and sketching at Fisherman’s Wharf with my buddy Cathy McAuliff. She’s good at finding sketch spots anywhere. The Wharf was teeming with tourists, so we hid out behind a particularly wharf-y looking building where we sat enjoying the sun and light breeze with only an occasional passer by.


I was anxious to give my gouache another try. Don’t you just love the creamy colors? Gouache does inspire a bit of “like a child”, which is what Maru Godas excels at. You can just keep playing around with the colors and layering and editing and adding cool details, both observed and invented!


I wanted to include the Fontana building where I was staying for a few days. From there you have a view of parts of Fort Mason and the Bay and Alcatraz and the pier and the people swimming in the frigid bay waters!


Today I had fun using my gouache to finish a scene I had sketched on that day at the Wharf. It is right below Ghiradelli Square (chocolate heaven) not far from the prior picture. The bear is our state animal mascot. (Fontana in the background there again.)


On another day I met up with some Bay Area sketchers at the Cal Berkeley campus. Here was a great vantage point above the Tyrannosaurus Rex Osborn (found in the badlands of eastern Montana by a rancher!) at the Museum of Paleontology. From up where I stood it looked like Susan Wilson had picked a dangerous spot to sit!


Ponderous buildings and rushing coeds alternated with some lunchtime loungers on the expansive lawns.


And then there was the obligatory Campanile sketch.


Outside the Faculty Club, an extraordinary tree whose white trunks were entwined like dancers or lovers. I called it the Ghost Tree because it was so light against the dark green background.

I had the guilty thought more than once that my day on campus was so relaxed and enjoyable while all around me was the strain of academia; assignments with deadlines and grades at a highly competitive university.  Yeah, but oh those were great times. . .to be young again. . .!


Corpse Flower and other S.F. Wonders

My recent days in San Francisco were almost perfectly timed to view the monstrously gorgeous Corpse Flower in bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers, along with other botanical wonders. The flower is actually taller than me and I’m 5’9′!


Luckily I missed out on the rotting flesh smell.  But I also missed seeing the full opening to all the little flowers in the base!

The environment inside the Conservatory is mostly steamy and tropical. My glasses misted up as soon as I walked in. And each room is like walking into an eerie land of alien looking plants.


These pond lilies are large enough to hold the weight of a human! And the pitcher plants were there in all sizes and colors, looking like the hiding place for fairies in an enchanted garden. One can certainly imagine that animation artists and science fiction writers might get their ideas from such a collection.



“Pitcher plants with matching beetle” Sketching botanicals was such a lovely break from drawing humans-in-motion and complicated city scenes.


One of my days was spent alone in the city wandering, or “flaneusing”. The first plan was to stroll along the Marina, but the wind drove me south into the Cow Hollow neighborhood where I perched for a few minutes to recover.


All the above sketches are in my 7 X 5″ w/c book, fountain pen and w/c

It was brunchtime then and I was seated at Causwells in the corner where I had an excellent vantage point for people sketching. It’s unavoidable to make up stories about people you are sketching, especially when you hear little snatches of conversation!


Next stop.  . .the Palace of Fine Arts, where I’ve sketched before. With my stomach full and my feet tired and the wind blowing pretty hard I didn’t really want to tackle sketching the complex Greco-Roman style Rotunda and colonnades, beautiful though they are. As I entered the central rotunda I found shelter from the wind and this scene.

Johnny from Liverpool was serenading the pigeons while feeding them. He was in a narrow band of shade and I didn’t want to disturb him or the birds and sat a distance off, where I could only see his outline (hence the scribbly start). He looked friendly though, and was open to me sitting next to him. Soon the bride showed up, posing for a wedding picture along with at least five different brides and grooms I saw in the hour or so I was there.

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!


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.


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.


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!)


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


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.

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!


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


And the llamas


and a big ole bull.


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.


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.


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.)


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. . .


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. . .


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.