Travel Sketchbooks

Monarch Sculpture Park

Turn right at the end of my street and suburban neighborhoods give way to more open countryside with woods and fields and barns and gardens. Cross a railroad track, turn onto Old Highway 99. One more turn and you’re there.

Or take your bike on the Chehalis Trail and stop when you see large sculptures. The Monarch Sculpture Park is a contemparary outdoor sculpture park and center for the arts, open daily. Walk right in. There’s no gate, but signs to welcome you. You hear distant voices of a handful of small children and moms, but otherwise you have the place to yourself. Is it a spiritual retreat or a magical mystery tour, or a stunning nature retreat? It’s all three! And a fabulous place to sketch. In fact I’d like to go every day for a week and fill a sketchbook with paintings and musings.

bamboo pen and India ink, Derwent line and wash paints, 9X12″

Our local sketch group met there last Thursday. I was immediately drawn into this scene and compelled to draw the bamboo with my bamboo pen, which has become my favorite drawing implement! so capable of boldness and subtlety. When the tip runs out of ink, which happens quickly, you can dip the pen tip in water and keep drawing for a bit with the lines quality so subtle.

I paired it with the Derwent Line and Wash Paints with their strange colors and granulating pigments. It’s hard to go dark with these paints so the black ink takes over when more depth is needed.

watercolor and pen

Sitting in a big open meadow, viewing these collossal white humanoid sculptures, I was struck with a delicious memory of papier mache sculptures from childhood! The layers of drippy paper smelling of wet newsprint. At the kitchen table with mom.

The red and the white with the green backdrop. I couldn’t resist. Sculptures by artist/owner Myrna Orsini, a creative and generous soul to whom I offer my gratitude! I’ll be back again and again.

Olympia Harbor Day

With the Puget Sound running right through the center of it, Olympia is among other things (like the state capital) a seafaring town of the recreational sort. So each year there’s three days of tug boat races and all kinds of showing off of the boat arts. Last year Covid put the cabash on it, but this year became this very low key one day event with music and model tugs on dry land and non stop live music, fully masked though outside, and no food or drink served. 

This suited my friend Shambhavi, fellow urban sketcher who lives in Seattle, and I just fine. No crowds to worry about. Tuneful folk music as a back drop and the sunny harbor scene to sketch.

While I waged war with the water reflections on a tugboat in the distance, Shambhavi chose a colorful model tugboat, and did a lovely sketch that the owner of the boat asked to photograph. He then climbed in his boat to show that it is indeed seaworthy for an adult human! and a race winner!

Then we became the front row audience for a folk singing group, Cosmo’s Dream, singing a medley their own songs, sea shanties and favorite folk songs.

All in all a pretty fine afternoon, and next year I’ll be here for the three day harbor extravaganza!

A Lively City and Peaceful Garden

Seems like ages since I’ve taken an online painting course. But when I saw The Lively City advertised on Sketchbook Skool I thought it seemed like an exciting new approach to reportage sketching that I could try. The teacher, Jedidiah Dore, an urban sketcher and reportage illustrator in New York City, uses a bamboo reed pen and ink, bright watercolor washes, and other techniques to create uniquely expressive and highly energetic scenes of the city.

Gathering up the materials I have in my studio, I took myself out to the East Bay Waterfront in Olympia to try it out with one of my favorite views here of the bay and marina with a backdrop of the Olympic range. 

In my rush to get out of the house I moved my materials into a larger bag. When I pulled them out on location I realized that I’d forgotten the bottle of India ink to use with the reed pen and dip pen. Phooey! I had my fountain pen, a more controllable tool, which however robbed me of some of the initial spontaneity and line texture which Jedidiah achieves at the get go with big expressive lines. But I enjoyed the process, which abandoned my usual approach of matching colors, and establishing atmospheric perspective. The result was purely an invention of my own of how it felt to be there on that glorious day. Thanks to Jedidiah for encouraging the play with pen and ink and spontaneity which makes painting feel more like play.

The Thursday sketch group met at the Yashiro Japanese Garden, a tiny garden enclosed in bamboo with fountain, koi pond and temple structures. Normally a peaceful, quiet spot where you can download and listen to the local symphony orchestra while enjoying the Zen-like setting. On this day we were greeted by a crew of gardeners weeding in the bushes and clearing the grasses from the path using a noisy torch to singe them. I guess that’s a way to avoid using Roundup?

Not being able to tune out the noise of the gardening ruckus so that I could settle into the peaceful fountain and pond scene, I got interested in the gardeners. And when they left, settled into the pond scene, equal parts stationary lily pads and gently flowing koi. 

As I left I passed a gardener who was thinning out the bamboo and I asked for some fresh bamboo stalks to use as dip pens, perhaps for the new Lively City works that have yet to emerge!

LoveOly and Tumwater Historical Park

The weather has been irresistible lately, issuing an invitation to get out “in it”. And everyone here promises a lot of non stop rainy weather come fall and winter. So the indoor stuff can wait! 

Cedar Teeth playing at the LoveOly event – two other performers missing

The real colorful performers here were in the audience in the middle of the road in front of the band stand, but I was already attracting too much attention up front where I could see, so I figured I better stay with the performers who I knew wanted to be seen. The downtown public in Olympia are a colorful lot, and maybe by next summer I’ll be comfortable enough to sketch more of them. Like the person dancing in hot pink fuzzy pants and wig and sporting a Big Bird sized tail of hot pink boas and waving pom poms. Now that I think of it, they probably would have loved for me to sketch them!

The Thursday morning sketchers met at Tumwater Historical Park and I sat right down near the lake’s edge among a flock of juvenile ducks and one Canadian goose. They were so marvelous to watch, and the light and colors were constantly changing, and I was so distracted by the beauty of it all that I just kept painting and trying to get it in without any plan, while listening to the quacks and honks and meeting the bold ones that circled my feet in hopes of some food dribbling their way. 

Meanwhile the Tumwater brewery with it’s broken windows and rosey glow eluded my efforts to capture an atmosphere that was beyond my painting ability, but thoroughly in my enjoyment!

Sitting on the Dock

The local sketchers met up at the Farmer’s Market and I headed over to the boardwalk at the harbor nearby because the weather was cool enough to sit comfortably in the sun! There were groups of children led by teen counselors in activities that must have been a summer camp.

I instantly fell in love with two sailboats sitting peacefully in the water casting colorful reflections on the water. I figured I’d have time for one of them before the scene changed. Sure enough a group of campers loaded onto the sailboats and sailed away! but not til I’d gotten enough of a start.

I still had some time before rejoining the group, and wanted to try a different approach.

From where I was sitting I could see blocks of color and lines that added up to a ship(s), trucks and cranes with containers or logs. I couldn’t see enough detail to be convincing, so opted for shapes in the abstract, finishing off with my favorite white gel pen. So much fun!

And a nice group of enthusiastic sketchers to have lunch with, and they go out weekly, at least in the summer.

More Exploring

I’m still new enough here that every time I leave the house I think of it as an exploratory mission. There are different driving routes to learn and places along the way to commit to memory. . .the bank I will need at some point. . .that cute lunch place I’d like to try out, that walk along the lake. . .the UPS store, etc. And if I have the presence of mind and time to spend, the sketchbook gives me a chance to focus in on the particulars of shape and color, atmosphere, human activity and flora and fauna.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

My friend Janet was visiting for a few days and I knew she’d enjoy beach combing at Priests Point Park above the Olympia harbor.  Not wanting to gaze into the glare on the water for a landscape sketch, I sat down and focused on the busy shore textures of shell and rock, leaves and wood. The wonderful stick with the hole in it that looked like a bird’s eye came home with me!

Another day we drove to Seattle for a day in the city. It started with a disappointing tour boat ride, followed by a long harbor side walk to see many of the tourist spots. Our favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What I could see was the sculpture of the man with hands out, and a challenge to try to quickly sketch the water. Challenge indeed! But after I’d finished, the fountain switched in its cycle to reveal the son, a little boy on the left side and the father had vanished in the water. So clever of Louise Bourgeois!

But the real show stopper was Echo, a collossal stone sculpture facing the water and Mt. Olympus in the distance. I sketched this with my scruffy waterbrush only, just to see what would happen. 

But here you get some of the effect of this 46 foot sculpture.

The short version of the Greek myth that inspired this sculpture:

Echo, in Greek mythology, a mountain nymph, or oread. … To punish Echo, Hera deprived her of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another. Echo’s hopeless love for Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, made her fade away until all that was left of her was her voice.

The Gum Wall

But Janet wouldn’t let us end our day in Seattle without a visit to the notorious Gum Wall. Does it kind of make you feel like you could get Covid just by looking at it?

Nevertheless people were reverently chewing gum and having their friends photograph them as they said their prayer? made their wish? and added it to the wall. Maybe I missed the boat not getting my wish out to the Gum Genii!

New Friends

It’s obvious, when you move to a new place where you know almost no one that you have to stick your neck out of your shell a bit to make new friends.  So I posted an invite on Facebook for a sketch meet up at the LoveOly Saturday event downtown and Jan and Ineke joined me.

fountain pen and watercolor

We plunked ourselves down in a row at the crossroads where everything seemed to be happening at once or at least successively – concert music, street entertainers, people meeting friends, often in front of us, beer drinking, giant chess playing, etc. So it became one of those sketches which grows across the page helter skelter with no planning possible and direct fountain pen to splashed on color. . .telling a story in pieces across the page. . .while getting to know my new sketch friends.

Meanwhile the amps on the concert stage nearby were turned way up, to make sure everyone for blocks around could hear, and I think a bit of the rhythms worked their way into the jerky line work as well.

And another day, in a more peaceful moment indoors at the dining room table, I settled on a favorite garden view out the window.

pencil, white gel pen and watercolor in Stillman + birn sketchbook

 Well that’s part of the art picture lately. Meanwhile there’s all the everyday stuff of registering cars and getting started with new healthcare and finding local stores and tradesmen, etc.

And Andrew moves to Seattle tomorrow after living with us for about 11 months!  Gulp. Things are still in constant motion!

Woodard Bay

My favorite thing about living in Olympia is that I can be on the Puget Sound, in a dense ferny, mossy forest, on miles of trails or a lake within 15 minutes of my suburban home. Last week we “discovered” Woodard Bay Conservation Area which provides habitat for shorebirds and songbirds, harbor seals, river otters, bald eagles, a large maternity colony of bats, and one of the most significant heron rookeries in the state. 

And boy could we hear the birds! The trail to the rookery is temporarily closed but it was unmistakable what was going on across the bay with all the ruckus. This week we hope to take the kayak back and explore the shorelines.

replica of indigenous tribe’s canoe

Yes, it was tempting to hop in the canoe and get out on the water, but it wasn’t going anywhere!

fountain pen and watercolor

So we sat a while, listening to the birds and the harbor seals and sketching!

And Andrew caught this picture of me, unposed, relaxed and in my Northwest element which suits me so well. I kept feeling my father was with us and remembering my early experiences of fishing with him in the Canadian wilds. He would have so loved this place. 

Like a vacation, only it’s not

It is a strange experience. It feels like I’m on vacation. You know, finding your way around a new town, meeting new people, and everything is a bit of an adventure. Oh, and it’s summer and sunny and warm every day and lots of people here are on vacation, because this is a summer vacation destination. 

But it’s for keeps. So every new person you meet is a potential new friend or has a vital piece of information you are going to need about living here. And every new thing you learn brings you that much closer to being settled, comfortably.

downtown Olympia street fair

This weekend we headed to town for the first of a summer long Saturday afternoon event called LoveOly, a street fair with performers and a beer garden and dancing and activities and entertainment for children. As I posed in the (social media highlight) spot I realized that it’s just a really good idea, when moving to a new home town, to make a conscious decision to love it. So there I was, proclaiming it! (and now it will be social media-ed!) And I’ll be back for future Saturday’s to sketch the action from one of the shady spots I scoped out.

Then I got an invitation from the one art friend I had in Olympia, Jane Wingfield, to join her for sketching at the Farmer’s Market the next day. And her group of local urban sketchers showed up, a friendly and enthusiastic group! 

South Sound Urban Sketchers at the Farmer’s Market

Bob showed up to take the picture and meet folks before we did our shopping for local produce and some culinary herb plants for my herb-garden-to-be.

Oly Farmer’s Market, fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

They tell me about the long gray winters here but it’s hard to imagine, with these long summer days that are sure to make the vacation last a bit longer.

The Fourth

It was kind of a joke on us that we moved up to the northwest coast to get away from the heat/drought/fires and arrived just after a a week of downpour and in time for a historic heat wave. What could we do but use some of that cardboard we’d brought with us to cover some windows and keep the hottest part of the sun out. 

It was one of those worrisome global warming shocks, but the nature here in our yard at least seems to have recovered quite nicely. The bunnies that went underground for a few days are back munching the grass in the yard and the hydrangeas are blooming again above their crisped leaves. And my basket is still overflowing with flowers. 

My friend Shambhavi from Seattle visited over the weekend and we took our sketchbooks out to Tumwater Falls.

watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook

There were lots of families out on the trail around the falls and one particular group was proud to show off their patriotic attire.

I’m not particularly a fan of July 4th, but I sure appreciated their style and spirit. When evening came we got to experience another kind of holiday fervor. . .fireworks, which by the way were outlawed here this year due to the recent heat wave that elevated risk. Ahem. You wouldn’t know it from my neighborhood. There were all kinds of sizzles and pops and airborn light shows going off in all directions. Who needs to go to a public display when you can just stand on your sidewalk and gape.