Travel Sketchbooks

Portlandia

It was a good week to get a bit of a getaway and breathe some fresher air, for a couple of days at least. The unhealthy air from the Camp Fire actually reached Portland for two out of the four days I was there visiting a friend. But then there was also some of that fresh moist north coast air you can take a lungful of without a gasp or cough.

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Our little Santa Rosa airport just minutes from my home makes the trip so easy. The terminal air was gritty with smoke, so I’m trying not to breathe too deep during the wait.

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In Portland it was too cold and damp to sketch outside, so Janet had already planned some indoor alternatives. She is not a sketcher, but one of those rare people who is happy to amuse herself while I sketch. The main library is elegant and architecturally interesting.

I had planned to practice the geometry of columns and windows and lighting, but no sooner had we sat down in one of the open areas than this old lady came up to us with big grin and said “Are you girls having fun?”

The thing about Portland(ia) is that, even though it’s a big city, you are likely to be approached by a stranger who acts like you’re an old friend and launches into a conversation with little preamble. So this dear lady cheerfully engaged us for a good 15 minutes about her dismay at the changes that had been made to the original Fantasia movie that would make dear Walt turn in his grave! Janet pretended to listen raptly, while I sketched.

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I found a spot on the stairway where I could look down into the periodicals room, a daunting view which I tackled with great trepidation, getting confused about the windows and bored by all the books! What I call a useful practice exercise for my weak points.

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Bob had told me to look out for “man buns” in Portland, hipster fashion as he knows it. However we were spotting very few man buns and many other manifestations of hipster-dom, like this couple at one of the many coffee bars, Case Study Coffee Roasters. Her raspberry hair and his cock’s comb were all we could see from where we were sitting but one can imagine more decorative fashion on the skin shrouded by coats.

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It’s slow going walking around town. The trees are shamelessly flaunting their finest apparel of the year and begging for pictures to be taken. And then there’s the shops, like the Peculiarium with products like bottles Hipster Powder flanked by wierd skeletons. And of course there’s a coffee shop on each block, like this one serving Stumptown coffee, where one can watch the procession of colorful humans. This coffeeshop, Vivace, had a piece of paper money from about every country in the world tacked to its walls inside, and nice porch seating as well.

The sun had emerged after our walk in the forest. The wind was blowing leaves on the table, and that became the subject of the sketch.

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Well, that’s about it for sketches. It was really a visit to see Janet, my friend who goes way back to, gulp, 1963 when two New England girls landed in Palo Alto, California mid-year in eighth grade and survived the culture shock together.

JanetandBalthazarHer housewarming gift was happily received, a mixed media (fabric/acrylic) portrait of her beloved cat Balthasar.

 

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Crab Season!

This time of year we get kind of excited about crab season. The Dungeness crabs rival lobster for their delectable flavor and texture, especially when dipped in lemon butter. And then there’s the ritual of cracking the shell and getting crab juice dripping down to your elbows and smearing crab butter onto the wine glass as you reach to wash down the food.

And now there’s a new ritual, second year in the making, with my sketch friends. We head out to Bodega Bay and try to sketch the fishing boats with their colorful crab traps.

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We picked a weekday after the frenzied opening to the crab sports fishing season over the weekend. It was very windy and cold and there was little or no action at the docks. We walked around for a while trying to find spots with some shelter from the wind. I settled on this spot which was at least partially protected and in the sun. By the time I was finished I was shivering and happy to head across the street to the restaurant for yummy fish tacos.

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We’d had enough of freezing, and headed back to the town of Bodega, known perhaps best for the house in Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. I started out wanting to sketch individual architectural features of interest, but then reverted to my habit of connecting elements. The tombstone was of particular interest in that it is the only grave in the churchyard next door. Ellen Orr, bless her heart, died in childbirth (I found this later on the internet). To this day 250 years later she lies alone in her very own church cemetary.

Bodega

Waiting for my friends to finish up I had time for one more, the back of a home facing Bodega Hwy and a chance to get in some of the fall color.

Reportage with Oliver

On weekends Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a three ring circus, a place I would probably avoid if if were not for the superlative sketching possibilities! Last Saturday I was there for a Reportage sketching workshop with my good friend and fellow flaneur, Oliver Hoeller and a small group of “advanced” students wanting to learn his delightful illustrative style of storytelling journalism.

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Working in a 9 X 12″ spiral bound Canson Mix Media sketchbook I did a warm up here before the workshop started.

You can sit on one bench on the Wharf, as I did here, and turn your head to see all of this (that’s Alcatraz at the top) and catch a performance while watching the tourists and sailboats and being tempted by food. Here I’m going fast and trying to fit the elements together, something which I know Oliver will be teaching.

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First warm up in the workshop was to draw a composite figure using different subjects to complete it. Why? Because in a place like the Wharf everyone is moving, so unless you want to finish the figure from memory (not recommended) you may need to wait for the next subject to come along. I made it easy on myself and sketched what I could see from where I was standing, David’s head (another student) and Oliver’s body. We referred to this sketchy form of laboratory science as the Frankenstein man.

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The next exercise (my favorite!) was like a scavenger hunt! Oliver would tell us what category of subject to add to the drawing and give us five minutes to complete it. Then we would move on. (this only works in a small group!) I added color later and might have overdone it.

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In this one I’m focusing, with more concerted effort and the encouragement of Oliver, on varying and exaggerating the size of the various elements and connecting them in a “designed” way. It’s so liberating to pick and choose the story telling elements based on interest and the needs of the sketch rather than struggling to get perspective and other pictorial aspects to match the scene before you!

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Sketching within cells, graphic novel style – another great way to capture aspects of an otherwise overwhelming scene. I lasted inside the Musee Mecanique arcade for about 15 minutes before the noise drove me back outside!

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At the end of the workshop Oliver led us into the bowels of commercial Fisherman’s Wharf where the stimulation level reached a screaming pitch. But the great thing is that there is so much to choose in a setting like this.

This is not my favorite sketch of the day –  too locked down and closed up with no lost edges. And I was trying out Oliver’s grey felt pen and overdid it. But this is the kind of sketch that teaches the most. . .when you have that if-only-I-had. . . experience, because there’s always a next time, and a next. I can’t wait!

And a big thanks to Oliver!

See more of my Fisherman’s Wharf sketches here.

Fort Baker/Cavallo Point

The gorgeous fall weather drew me back to the Golden Gate Bridge mid-week, this time on the north side of the S.F. Bay at Fort Baker, an old army post that is now a luxury lodge called Cavallo Point. The combo of the white buildings, golden hills, S.F. Bay adorned with white sails and magnificent city skyline make it a most appealing sketch spot. Cathy McAuliff met me there for the day. We shared a couple of the same views, so you will enjoy seeing her sketches as well!

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Knowing we had the leisure of several hours I brought along my gouache paints and pencils and started out with them. When I work with gouache and colored pencils I tend to just keep working, which is very fun, but it all feels very experimental and I’m very weak on strategy. At some point I just said STOP! to all the corrections and decided just to enjoy the lovely rich colors.

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. . .but then switched to watercolor and a different sort of loose interpretation. Living out in the country, I rarely get the chance to paint interesting buildings like these, so I left out the visitors who were leaving their cars with the valets as well as the cars. Cathy loves to sketch the buildings, so it’s a good opportunity for me to practice when I’m with her.

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Next we headed down to the bay side.

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What caught my eye at the marina was the iconic cityscape in the background as well as the trees clinging to the side of the hill like a group of bare-legged crew members carrying their boat down to the launch. (The crazy line work in the upper corner was a drawing I started weeks before, while on a bus that was jerking mercilessly!)

ggbridgenorthside

The GG Bridge has become so trite as an art subject that I almost thought I’d skip it, and just sat for a while taking in the real majesty of it, which never, ever grows old. But then the sky did this miraculous thing (no, I didn’t make up that shape!) and I dove in without pen. But not without measuring! A bit of colored pencil and it was done.

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.

SusanwithKid

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

fishermansWharfGouache

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!

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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!

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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.)

Trex

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!

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

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And then there was the obligatory Campanile sketch.

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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′!

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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.

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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!

birdman

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.