Travel Sketchbooks

Duncans Mills with the Ready, Set, Sketchers

Duncans Mills is a “tiny hamlet” along the Russian River one encounters on the way to the beach at Jenner. It’s colorful in an historic and commercial way and immensely sketchable. The Ready, Set, Sketchers were meeting up there on Saturday and I happily joined them.

Years ago I did several “watercolor paintings” of the area, but wanted to do some quicker sketches in my book that told some part of the story of the place this time.

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For some reason it’s always easier for me to sketch a building if I can put a figure in front of it. Luckily I could see this fellow in our group from my spot in the shade!

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Duncans Mills is really all about the shops and gardens in between. I was fascinated by the rusty filagree of this gazebo and the fact that you could see through it to the garden and seats behind.

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This was a quicky I got in just before we shared our sketches. Sitting under a tree across the street I thought I’d be less likely to make my usual mistake of overdoing the details. What happened was a reliving of the happy memories of the times we were invited to join the camping club on the river when the boys were young!

If you’re in the Sonoma County or northern San Francisco Bay area you may want to join us on one of these regular monthly sketch meet ups on the second Saturday of each month. Check it out on Facebook here. You would be most welcome!

 

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Afrolicious

Another summer concert at the plaza in Healdsburg this Tuesday. Afrolicious, as described on their website features:  inspiring lyrics, funky bass lines, and a powerful horn section while retaining the soul and feel of classic funk, disco, Latin, and Afrobeat melodies.

Carole and I immediately spotted the visuals and scoped out the possibilities of positioning ourselves so that we could have an unobstructed view. It’s the age old problem of getting close enough to see, let alone draw, without getting trampled by the dancers or blasted by the amplifiers. The volume was turned up to ear splitting levels that even our sound dampening ear plugs couldn’t handle.

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But the side and back view sometimes works well enough. And the group was engaging with their music and audience appeal. They invited the little kids on stage to “help” them drum and the grown ups to sing along on the chorus. Another warm summer night of music and community spirit.

I finished it up at home with a bold glaze of underpainting and a few accents of color to finish.

Sierra adventure continued:

Laurie had done some pretty good scouting in the area and found a spot with one of those barns with the gorgeous weathered wood, and nearby a dried up bog with clay the color of the barn! Apparently it was an old Basque sheep herders’ camp.

So we followed her out to the spot where she dug up the clay, and adding gum arabic and glycerine (which she had brought along), proceeded to make watercolor pigment for us to paint with! Gotta love that enthusiasm for connecting with nature in our art.

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I took my little sketchbook out to the field to get a quick sketch of the barn and the wonderful cement? oven in another small building – kiln or bread over, we couldn’t tell. It would have made a great pizza oven too!

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Practicing sky, weathered barn, distant hills and grasses here. Greener and lighter blues on the horizon and warmer/darker ones higher up.

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The last morning we drove out to the wide open expanse of grasslands with the backdrop of mountains and constantly changing cloud formations. The lesson was to go BIG! BIG brushes and paper. So that we wouldn’t get all attached to getting it right, but rather feel free to be more expressive with our brush strokes without fear of screwing it up, we played the pass-the-painting game.  With each new step of the painting a new person added their personal touch! Skies, distant mountains, nearer mountain, trees on the near mountain, grasses, fence, etc. Here are our creations all laid out before we said goodbye to our wonderful teacher and new friends.

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Before Bettina and Anni and I headed over to Sierra Hot Springs for an afternoon soak, I added this one to my travel sketchbook.

SalmonLake

Next day Bettina and I went to Salmon Lake for a bit of hiking and sketching. Sometimes even on a gorgeous day, there are times when it is almost impossible to get comfortable enough to focus on sketching a scene. Can you relate?  For some reasons the mosquitos were quite hungry – for me, not Bettina! – and the sun was so bright I couldn’t see my colors, and when I finally got enough bug spray on I could still see the mosquitos circling over my head as they cast moving shadows across my paper! And then I got numb-butt while sitting on granite. But hey, it was great.

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Later we headed up to Frazier Falls and took the trail out to the overlook. The sign read that the falls is at 6500′ and has a 248′ cascade. Here’s Bettina tackling the falls while standing. I found a little spot for my stool in the shade next to her. Meanwhile groups of sightseers looked over our shoulders as they arrived.

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As we left our spot we passed 2 or 3 groups of men who asked “Did you put me in your painting?” Unbeknownst to us they had been watching us from the other side at the top of the falls.

So we headed to the spot at the top, where you can’t see the falls, unless you bend over the granite edge (no thank you). A fellow sits down at the edge for just long enough for me to sketch him and later build the scene around him.

He noticed me and came over to take a look and was delighted that I’d sketched him. (It’s interesting that it never seems to matter to people that it doesn’t look like them.) Soon we’re talking and I find out he’s a local physician who is writing a book about the mind/brain/spirituality or something and dictating it into a microphone while walking, as well as doing video for his vlog.

FrazierFalls_Paul So the caption here is Vlog meets Blog.

And that completes the bird’s eye view of a week in the Sierras.

Hope you’re enjoying your July 4th celebration! I’m delighted to be home, eating fresh picked plums off the tree, and leaving the roads to other people.

Last week at Sierra Camp

Have you ever chased a sunset with your brush? Mixed paint for an old weathered barn from clay dug up in the woods? Dipped sticks found on the ground into ink to draw trees at twilight while the mosquitoes swarmed?

If you’d been with fifteen of us at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus in Laurie Wigham‘s workshop titled Rock, Wood, Water, Sky you would exclaim Yes! and so much more.

SNFCtent

It’s been a while since I’ve “roughed it”. Some might consider this glamping. I mean, a big tent on a platform, hot showers and all meals provided. Bettina and I shared the tent which was named for a not particularly dangerous snake, the Rubber Boa.

A fork of the Yuba River ran right below us in a roar that drowned out our voices as we spoke to each other across the tent. That, combined with the birdsong in the morning and the stars at night. . .ahhhh!

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When I wasn’t in class I collected memories in my little sketchbook.

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This was no painting -botanicals- in- detail- workshop! Laurie encouraged us at every turn to use new materials and capture the essence of the forest and sky.  We were encouraged to do practice paintings on 5″ tall accordian-folded watercolor paper. I did these trees at dusk with sticks dipped in black and brown inks. Later I practiced sunset colors over the top.

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One evening we had a picnic by our cars to paint the sunset by the wetlands where there was more birdlife than I’d ever experienced in one place! Note that all the black marks on the photo above are not dust, but birds. Swallows, yellow headed and red winged blackbirds, Ibises, Sandhill Cranes, a Harrier or two, Grebes, singly or in massive flight patterns in the skies; all adding their melodious vocals to the night air. . .along with the bass notes of the bullfrogs.

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We lined up with our stools on the one lane dirt road to paint the changing light on our 5X5″ pieces.

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Suddenly it really was sunset and the colors changed so rapidly that each painting was about 3 minutes worth of trying to capture the impossible chromatic changes.

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And then it was over, and  on the drive back we kept calling out colors that we saw and the watercolor pigments that would express them.

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Next morning we spread them out on the table to share.

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Another morning we were up at Yuba Pass (6700 ft) painting the aspen trees with their white trunks and shimmering leaves. The lesson was to try many different ways to save whites. Here we are sharing masking fluids, gouache and special brushes (have you tried the eradicator?)

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Here’s one of my 5″X2.5″ test pieces with a combination of negative painting the white trunks and painting branches in white gouache.

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And here’s the woods with a combination of techniques.

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And did I say that one of the best parts of the week was the people; our wonderful teacher Laurie Wigham and the other students? Here is Janet with the tortoiseshell butterfly on her hat. Happily, we had some nature-nerds along who could identify birds, bugs and plants!

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And although the days were filled with activity from breakfast til nightfall at 9pm, some of us found some time to relax. Like my friend Cathy McAuliff, Laurie’s trusty assistant and veteran nature/urban/etc sketcher.

If this learning scenario sounds appealing to you, you can sign up for Laurie’s workshop nest year or one of the other wonderful workshops later this summer. Check out the workshop calendar.

Stay tuned for more sketch stories from my Sierra week.

Gator Nation

This Tuesday the Healdsburg Summer Concert series featured Gator Nation with their South Louisiana, Cajun, Zydeco, and New Orleans style music. They quickly revved the audience up for dancing. I moved my little stool up to in front of the dancers. Gulp. And quickly realized that my proximity meant total engagement with the music and these wonderful performers that were constantly moving around, interacting with each other, and looking like they were having so much fun. How could I sketch when I felt like joining the dancers?

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Here’s the challenge. How to get them all on the spread with no time to plan it out first. But honestly, it’s so much fun to do this while the music is going on and seeping into the sketch. In the end I did just jump up and join the dancers. It felt like we were on the bayou with these guys!

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This is band leader Willard Blackwell. Not only did I get to meet him and take a picture, but he gave me a CD so I could take the music home. (I think this was the best part of the evening!)

Summer is arriving

The thermostat just hit 100, so summer has officially arrived. I’m hunkered down in air conditioning with time to catch up on blogging a bit. Here’s some sketches of recent outings.

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We lucked out with weather over the weekend and the Ready, Set, Sketchers (aka North Bay Urban Sketchers) met up in Valley Ford on Saturday. It was sunny-warm enough that I just looked for a shady spot to sit in a parking lot, and fell in love with this old “shack”. Did someone live there? Was it storage for the little store next door? Or maybe even the post office?

Valley Ford is a block long and surrounded by rolling grass lands and stands of trees, a big draw for plein aire painters, but also a lunch stop for cyclists and others on their way to the shoreline. The parking lot was a crowded with all of the above, but somehow none of them made it into this old-timey scene.

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As you can see I didn’t get close enough to the band, Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, to sketch them at the opening of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in the Plaza. That evening I was content to sit in my chair along with all the other folks, eating and drinking wine and people watching. If you want to see the band, you can look at last year’s sketch.

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Same place, Healdsburg Plaza concert series, with the band, the King Street Giants.There’s always space to plant my mini-stool on the side or in the back of the stage to get a closer view.

And tomorrow is another concert there, but I think I’ll have to pass. Another 100 day tomorrow, and my melting point is 90.

While in S.F. last weekend

We stayed at a friend’s apartment next to Ghiradelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf so it was easy to find a nearby bench and catch the morning crowd assembling for their tours. I was reminded of the Urban Sketchers Symposiums I’ve been attending the last few years, with the leaders holding up their signs and greeting people as the excitement built.

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I’ve often been to the DeYoung Art Museum in Golden Gate Park, but not to the California Academy of Sciences right across the way, at least not since the boys were little. So, dear Bob humored me (my interest more than his!) for a day, so I could explore my favorites – the planetarium, rain forest with its butterflies, aquarium, and natural history museum. Yes! all under one roof.

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. . .the roof top being a garden, where I had a few minutes for a quick capture.

 

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Believe it or not I have a soft spot in my heart for praying mantises, and not just because they stand still to be sketched. When I had to deny my boys a pet dog due to allergies, I allowed some insects and reptiles/amphibians, including a mantis who did his praying for months in Ben’s room.

zebras

Another attraction that remained still for me right across from a bench where I could rest my weary feet was these zebras. Sketching the stripes was a kind of meditation.

If you’re thinking of visiting this exceedingly popular museum you will hopefully find it quieter (than we did) on weekdays now that school is out. Unless that is you have a particular fondness for sketching children everywhere in motion. . .