Travel Sketchbooks

Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher

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For more information and to register visit my website!


Botanical Garden and Bouquets to Art!

The day after the skyscrapers the weather turned sunny and we headed over to the S.F. Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park to see the last week of the “Magnificent Magnolias” and other spring bloomings.


watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue Watercolor Book

Who could resist the red of these flowers, which I assumed were poppies, but my friends declared were ranunculus? To get the red in watercolor requires a great deal of red pigment, all the reds and some of the blue!


Along came two year old Axel with his mom. He unleashed a steady stream of unintelligible commentary on the flowers, no doubt pointing out attributes which I had missed. His fingers were making little squeezing movements while his mother warned “we don’t touch the flowers”. She then handed him a soft ball which he squeezed happily while continuing his monologue, and the flowers were saved! That’s Bob in the background enjoying the show.


The daffodils blooming under pink budding trees provoked my own kind of frenzy, one of splattering. The result looked best lain on the daisy studded lawn where I was sitting.

Next day was my birthday and our last day in San Francisco. What a treat to celebrate my birthday with a trip to the de Young Art Museum for the annual Bouquets to Art! For one week only, 120 floral designers have displayed arrangements that are inspired by the artworks in the museum. Here are some that I sketched in the museum, and later painted. (Some were sketched with the painting which inspired them.)



fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn Beta spiral sketchbook, 6 X 8″

Arrangement by IM Chan Designs/ painting by Gottardo Piazzioni


Water Lily Pond Floral Design/ painting by Salvador Dali not shown here

bouquetstoart3‘Arrangement by Orinda Garden Club/ painting by Joe Light


Arrangement by Donnel Vicente Designs/ painting by Louisiana Bendolph


Arrangement by Poppie’s Petalworks/ painting by Kara Walker


Arrangement by Katherine Stuart Floral Art/ painting by John Koch

There are lots of differing opinions about how to enjoy art like this. Some would complain about all the picture taking. And I had to be careful to stay out of the way of the iPhone cameras when I was sketching. I totally understood the need to take the images home and enjoy them for a long time afterward! I probably took 50 pictures and would love to sketch every one of them! When I close my eyes I still see flowers and can imagine their sweetness.

Ah, dear Spring, you are only two days away!

Toilets and Skyscrapers

Remember when those colorful toilets were stylish? Well they’ve still got them at Building Resources in San Francisco. Not that we were in the market. But sometimes photographers (like Bob) seek more off-the-beaten-path locations to find source for their shooting. And we sketchers can do our thing anywhere. This acre of reusable building supplies is a gold mine even if you’re not in the market! They even had an art gallery!


watercolor in 8 X 8″ Field Watercolor Journal

I must admit that I wasn’t sure this would look like anything as I worked with watercolor to build up the overlapping shapes of the toilets. But the alternating colors helped to create the illusion without pen lines!


We had parked our car across the street from these buildings at Hunter’s Point. I loved the mural on one wall, the rusty towers and mosaic of broken windows. A parade of noisy (smelly) trucks rumbled by and it was a cold, foggy morning, so I managed a quick pen sketch on site and added color and detail later in warm comfort.


Next morning, foggy again, I met Laurie Wigham and Cathy McAuliff, my friends who are S.F urban sketch veterans, at the temporary Transbay Terminal. I had asked them to please pick a spot where I could practice buildings of the sort we don’t have in Sonoma County. So they picked the big ones, the ones that go up into the fog and disappear. Initially I wasn’t so sure they were doing me a favor! After I’d been struggling with the perspective (and failing) Laurie tells me that these buildings have numerous different vanishing points from one perspective, adding to the complexity. I kept trying to fix lines by borrowing Laurie’s pencils and finally coming in with pen.


fountain pens with Noodler’s red black and black inks and watercolor

Then I got a bit smarter and jetisoned all but a couple buildings like I’d seen Laurie do. (and later added the car since I needed some detail below) By this point the sun was out and the colors were amped. All the construction on this building makes for some pretty confusing parts, but it’s more an illustration of certain parts of a scene rather than a realistic capture.


What I really need to do is spend a week showing up at that intersection every day. Well, that’s not going to happen! So I did this one from a picture when I got home. It definitely helps to use a water soluble pencil to get those fine lines in when you’re sketching so small and want to suggest floors and windows. Many thanks to Laurie and Cathy for giving me some new tools to deal with buildings towering over me!

You can find Cathy and Laurie’s sketches on Instagram and the SF Urban Sketchers Blog.

To be continued: Flowers!

100! and Julia Kay’s Portrait Party

How did it go with the 100 people in one week sketches? Did you see some of the wonderful people sketches that were out on the web last week? The #oneweek100people will get you there! I made my 100 over the weekend, but just got back yesterday from San Francisco, so here are some of them.


(here Tania is in color because she’s the speaker but also because she was wearing this amazing peacock vest and matching jewelry she got in Uzbekistan.)

On day 4 of last week I was at my friend Tania Amochaev’s (Romanov) book reading and opening in San Francisco. Her just published book is Mother Tongue: Three Generations of Balkan Women, available now on Amazon. The story follows the lives of three generations of women: Katarina, Zora and Tania over the last 100 years when they lived in countries that were dissolved, formed and reformed. They lived in exile, in refugee camps and in new worlds (namely San Francisco!). Tania tells this remarkable story straight from the heart. Her mother tongue is literally the language she spoke only with her mother, one of so many tongues she is comfortable speaking.

When I was just 21 years old I traveled through then Yugoslavia with absolutely no knowledge of the history and struggles of this fractured land. If only I’d read this book before I went. After reading it I’m more determined than ever to make a trip back.


I was seated on the front and side where I had a pretty good view of the faces in the audience.


Taniareads2_2Tania’s story is so moving that the audience was rapt and no one seemed to want her to stop reading!


On Friday we were having lunch in the colorful Mission neighborhood of San Francisco at a Peruvian restaurant, Alma Cocina enjoying their mouth watering rotisserie chicken! . . .followed by coffee at Philz across the street. My preference is always to sketch a variety of ethnicities and lifestyles, and I hit the jackpot. Hiding the book in your lap is good for staying undetected when up close, but it makes for some pretty wonky lines.

I ordered Jacob’s Wonder blend of “chocolate, smoke and nuts” flavors. Getting coffee at Philz is like going to a wine tasting room in Sonoma County. You get to hang out a bit with a hip young person, discuss the flavors, have them add or subtract cream and sugar, and then sip and murmur approval, watching their enjoyment at having gotten it “right”.


And not a single person there was over 30 I’m sure. Oh well, except me.



On Saturday I finished off my 100 people sketches at Arch Art Supplies at a meet up called Julia Kay’s Portrait Party. We sat in groups of 6-8 and posed for each other to sketch. We started off with 30-second poses, sketching with the non-dominant hand. The idea was to start off messing up so badly that the next ones would seem highly skilled in comparison! And so they did. My 30-second ones were a battle to even hold the pencil with the lead facing the right way in my right hand (I’m left handed), and just as I was getting used to the feel, we switched to the other hand. These (above) were the one minute poses with a brush pen.


Then we switched to the (now luxurious) 8 minute poses. I used fountain pens with red black (Noodler’s) ink which is water soluble and black ink.


These two sketches are of me, done by artists in my group. Lorna Strutt is the artist of the one on the left and Vivian Aldridge the one on the right. Don’t you just love them?! Both are so expressive in totally different ways. What they left out is as powerful as what they put in.

Well, somewhere in there I hit 100 figures, and then switched to toilets, skyscrapers and flowers. . .(to be continued)


Where do you find 100 People to sketch?

Last year I joined the challenge to sketch 100 people in a week, thinking I would never find that many people or that much time. Fiddlesticks! Go have a coffee somewhere or sketch your family/friends for the 100th time. And if it’s raining or you’re pressed for time or tired, turn on your computer or iPhone (it’s obviously already on, right?) Our world abounds with people to sketch. And we people are so very interesting with our funny facial expressions and ethnic characteristics and hats and slouchy postures and hairdos. As a sketch subject, it’s the antithesis of boring.


fountain pen and watercolor in spiral Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

Here’s a couple examples of my recent “people finds”. This fellow was playing along with the group on stage at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market, which, if you’re local, is the premier people sketching spot all day every Sunday.


Four musicians I could see from my bench. I could have listened all day to the Andean folk sounds of Cuyuy. The guy on his knee on the left was playing a drum that I couldn’t see. The two next to him kept changing instruments. You just have to keep sketching whatever you have a good view of at the time and hope it comes out looking like an understandable scene!


Another day it was rainy and cold and I got an announcement from Playing for Change ,a music station I subscribe to, about a new recording. They record the same song performed by people all over the world at the same time and it’s so inspiring! Also, it’s great for people sketching, so I got out my beige toned Stillman + Birn sketchbook and a bit of gouache. Just hit pause and start drawing!

But if you’re going to try for 100 people in one week, you can do quickies in pencil or brush pen or any medium you want on any kind of paper. To my way of thinking this is not a contest. If you like to draw, it’s a way to give that draw muscle enough of a workout that by the end of the week you can say, “Wow! this drawing thing is getting easier and easier.”

The week starts tomorrow. Use the #OneWeek100People2018 hashtag if you share your sketches and are into that kind of thing. Or just do it for yourself. I’ll do it with you.

10 X 10 Urban Sketch Workshops Return!

The popular 10X10 Urban Sketch workshop series is returning this spring, and here is the line up with ten different teachers at locations all over the Bay Area. I hope you’ll join me for Sketch the Vignette May 26 in Petaluma!

Don’t wait too long to sign up. They sold out last year.

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For more workshop details and registration information visit this page.


Mixed Media and Sketch Workshops This Spring

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So what do I mean by “Previous sketching experience is recommended.”? This does not mean that you’ve got sketchbooks full of gorgeous drawings. It means that at least you’ve been out there at some point trying to sketch your experience, and enjoying the experience enough to want to do more of it and learn some ways to make it easier, to tell your personal stories with more color and pizzazz! If you don’t know if you’re ready for these workshops, contact me and we’ll talk about it.

For more information and to register visit my website, email or call me.