Steilacoom is a small town on the Puget Sound between Tacoma and Olympia with a ferry to the islands, a train, historic buildings, and jaw dropping views. Muriel was visiting from California and together we joined the Tacoma Urban Sketchers for the day. 

Parked on our stools on the sidewalk across the street from this building, we met several friendly town dwellers. The last was a 95 year old woman (yes, I had to ask) who conveyed such vibrant beauty, keen intellect and warmth of spirit. She had lived her whole life in the town and probably would be the one to tell the intimate history of its residents! In the few minutes we conversed she mentioned her friend who had just celebrated her 107th birthday and still lives alone. Hmmm. Longevity in small town life. Surely a reason to make every effort to move there!

Sun alternated with a bit of rain that day. The sprinkling helped with the aged texture of this building, previously a church and now a tribal center, with its pealing paint and weathered facade.  

Tacoma Urban Sketchers in front of Bair Drug and Bistro

The meet up ended in Steilacoom-family style around a large table in the historic Bair Drug, now a Bistro and community hang out, whose mission to feed people is stated on their website: “This is for the purpose of health, live-ability and caretaking of our friends and family.  This labor is done of love, not job and service, not charity.” And so it was received with much gratitude! and we will be back.


Tenino Depot Museum

Walk in the door of the Tenino Depot Museum and you’ll feel like you’re in a time capsule. Sure, there’s a share of railroad lore and the shiny red caboose out front, and in the authentic bathroom there’s a sign reading “Please DO NOT Flush toilet while train in in station”. Hmmm. But after a few minutes you realize that in typical small town Tenino style, you are made to feel at home and ask any question and get a historically researched answer. Like: what is the real story of how the town/depot was named Tenino? or Can you really use the wooden money they print to buy things in this town today? Answer: yes, dollar for dollar.

While some of our sketch group went outside to sketch the adorable caboose, the rest of us settled into the folding chairs immediately provided by the docent Jessica, finding scenes and artifacts like the above picture. While drawing I could almost feel the presence of my two grandmothers sitting just out of sight and whispering about how they used the wash board and stoked the oven with wood.

Meanwhile the rooms filled with the local master stone mason Keith and friends, and a mother with a group of small children whose tiny voices chirped with questions as they learned about the olden days, which seemed quite close to my own prehistoric memories! Walk in the door of the Tenino Depot Museum and you’ll feel like you’re in a time capsule. Sure, there’s a share of railroad lore and the shiny red caboose out front, and in the authentic bathroom there’s a sign reading “Please DO NOT Flush toilet while train in in station”. Hmmm. But after a few minutes you realize that in typical small town Tenino style, you are made to feel at home and ask any question and get a historically researched answer. Like: what is the real story of how the town/depot was named Tenino? or Can you really use the wooden money they print to buy things in this town today? Answer: yes, dollar for dollar.


We were given a tour of the inside of the caboose and the one room schoolhouse on the grounds which border a park and the sandstone quarry and pool. This was not my first time in Tenino. I keep coming back for that small town feeling and the way the inhabitants love to share the history and make visitors feel like special guests.

We were given a tour of the inside of the caboose and the one room schoolhouse on the grounds which border a park and the sandstone quarry and pool. This was not my first time in Tenino. I keep coming back for that small town feeling and the way the inhabitants love to share the history and make visitors feel like special guests.

We all marveled at the tiny feet of the person whose shoes these were, and I felt compelled to include them in my book. They made modern day four inch heels look comfortable by comparison!

Thanks to the historians and carpenters and masons and other builders and installers and the city that funded the efforts and the docents who share the stories and everyone who helps to make this experience possible. 


UW Cherry Blossoms

It’s always a treat to join the large group of Seattle Urban Sketchers for their meet ups. From my home in Olympia it’s about the same distance I used to drive from Sonoma Co. to San Francisco for that group’s meet ups.

Last Wednesday I was not prepared for the surge of humanity that was filling the streets and the parking lots of the University of Washington’s colossal campus. Wasn’t it just a regular Wednesday afternoon? Yet everyone seemed to be streaming in the same direction as us, to the quad. When we reached it, I had the same reaction I have without fail when I catch a glimpse of Mount Ranier. Plain and simple. Awe.

These trees are Somei-Yoshino and they are close to 90 years old. UW is so proud of them that there are two webcams that live stream the cherry blossoms. You can visit it now!

When I first arrived I immediately surrendered to the impossibility of capturing the experience in a sketch. My first effort was abominable. 

The sun was playing hide and seek, constantly changing the color scene and values. Light blossoms against dark background, dark blossoms against light sky. Up close the blossoms were decidedly white. Yet the light and shadow was playing games of color tag.

fountain pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

There were visitors of all nationalities, ages, and diverse orientations. All, it seemed, were taking pictures and most were posing with the blossom backdrop, a kind of Hollywood set for the masses. Right by me a mother with two early elementary school children sat them down on a blanket, got out their art supplies and gave them a sort of lesson in Haiku writing. They colored for a few minutes, ate their snacks, and moved on.

A high school art teacher hovered near me, and then asked if she could take a picture of me for her class, to demonstrate the set up of an on-location artist.

A woman with a very pregnant belly and a voluminous and very bright, gauzy pink gown posed in front of a tree for a picture, the fruitfulness of the tree mirroring her fruitful body, or vice versa.

While I was being romanced by the blossoming trees I was unable to wrap my mind around adding the mass of humanity to my sketch. Only one couple stepped in afterward to give their version of spectator. 

Will I try again next year? Perhaps. Or tomorrow at the Capitol building blossom display, if it stops raining for a bit! There is only this slice of a window, before the spring storms remove the blooms from the trees, creating a blanket fit for a fairy princess.

Normandy Village in Berkeley

The storm that drenched Sonoma County last week wreaked havoc on the Bay Area with high winds that blew down trees whose roots were already too saturated. Power lines were down and much of the east bay where I was headed next was without electricity. On Friday though, much of the power was restored and I was able to join my Bay Area sketch buddies, Cathy McAuliffe and Laurie Wigham in a “surprise” location by the University in Berkeley selected by Cathy. And what a treat!

When you turn onto Spruce St from Hearst, north of the University you come without warning to a fairy tale replica of a 17th century Normandy village, built in the 1920’s by an enterprising young architect Jack Thornburg. Now it’s home to university students among others. One can only imagine what it would be like to live there! You can read a bit of the history here

As we sat and sketched and wandered around the cobbled lanes we met student residents and a man in the current owner’s family who later took pictures of all our sketches outside his house.

fountain pen and watercolor in hand.book journal 8 X 11″ spread

There was so much texture everywhere, irregular vectors, gargoyles, weathered paint and the chanteclere! A rich diet for a sketcher.

parallel pen and watercolor

When my pens ran dry (arggh!) Laurie loaned me her parallel pen for my next one. All subtlety of line quality was lost, which is not to blame the pen, but my handling!

Myself, Laurie and Cathy enjoying a sunny sketchy day. Check out their sketches on their Instagram links.

And have you heard about the first travel sketchbooks festival in the United States that is coming to beautiful Edmonds, Washington  July 14-16, 2023? Registration just opened today, featuring outdoor sketching workshops with renowned teachers,  a sketchbook fest and art market, and free sketchwalks led by members of the Seattle Urban Sketchers community.

I’ll be there! Let me know if you’re coming and I’ll look for you.

For more information and to register, visit Sketcher Fest.


Lacey Cultural Celebration

Last Saturday I attended the Lacy Cultural Celebration, a free event at St. Martin’s University featuring music and dance presentations by local and regional performing arts groups and more!  This year there were five members of our local urban sketch group, but I’m sure word will spread and that will double by next year. The performances by local people of all ages, with colorful ethnic costumes and musical accompaniment were engaging and occasionally spectacular. 

I put my nose in the little sketchbook I’d brought and hardly moved from my seat for 2 and a half hours while a new group took the stage every half hour.

Olympia Highlander
Haley Prendergast School of Irish Dancing
PNW Ryuel Ryohou Kan Dojo
India South Sound Association

The last one was drawn later from a picture I took. There were several others that are not worth sharing and never received color! 

But now that the  #Oneweek100people annual challenge has started! they can all be counted as part of this week, which is all about practising and repetition as a great way to increase people-drawing skills.  I know some of you are already well into papering your walls with people sketches for this challenge! If not and you’re interested in giving it a try, go to my friend Marc Taro Holmes’ blog to get super inspired. And I’ll be posting more this week. My buddies and I are even planning on hanging out at our local Costco food court to get some interesting subjects. You know, the ones shoveling pizza and hot dogs into their mouths and then racing to line up with their bulging carts, to have their receipts checked as they leave with all that loot! Crazy what one will be willing to do in the service of art!


Lummi Totem Blessing

On a chilly winter afternoon this week Ineke and Jane and I met at the Port Plaza downtown to attend a Lummi Totem Blessing event, and to sketch. The Lummi tribe is centered in the Bellingham area of northern Washington. Representatives from the House of Tears Carvers came to Olympia, welcomed by our local Squaxin Island tribe and Interfaith council and others. They came to gather support for their tour which is headed to Oak Flat Arizona in support of the Apache tribe who is protesting the proposed copper mining which endangers the future of the land and its people.

For us the event was an opportunity to experience our home through the eyes of the indigenous people whose fundamental mission is to be guardians of the health of ancestral lands, not just here but in the wider world.

As I approached the Port from the parking lot I was suddenly overwhelmed by a noisy flock of seagulls circling over the spot where the ceremony was about to start. There was no doubt that the ancestors had been summoned and announced themselves through this avian presence!

fineliner pen and watercolor in a hand.book w/c journal

As the ceremony and program began, reluctantly I took my hands out of warm pockets to open the sketchbook and start drawing.  As I heard bits of the story and introductions of the speakers, I took notes and picked the two Lummi elders who had traveled to Olympia on this mission, bringing a totem.

After I’d dropped my pen a couple times, I gave up and the hands returned to the warm pockets, and full attention to the speakers and message. I never fail to be brought to tears by the indigenous speakers who so naturally communicate their understanding of the oneness of man with the natural elements. Salmon are their relatives, as are the eagles. The earth is the living embodiment of their ancestral identity and cannot be separated from it. As I listen, everything in me responds with a yes, that’s it! I look around and see the same response on the faces of the crowd.

panoramic shot of the folks assembled for the laying on of hands ceremony of offering our prayers

I watched as the totem slowly made its way around the circle of attendees who reverently laid hands on the pole in silent prayer, joining with the hands of the local and Lummi tribal members. Meanwhile the symphony of gulls and the stories and blessings of Freddy and his auntie Mary filled the air and gave me goosebumps.


One more sketch here of this diminutive Lummi elder and great grandmother of 25, her braid almost down to her ankles. Embellished a bit by my experience of her larger than life presence. 

It was one of those times when I didn’t wonder about how/why I am so far from my Sebastopol home of many years.  I believe the move is bringing some kind of new lessons about ways to live in harmony with the natural world. My sincere gratitude goes to the indigenous peoples who have this lesson to teach us.

After the event was over it was dinnertime, and we were all invited to warm ourselves by enjoying delicious salmon chowder prepared, I assume, by the local Squaxin Island folks.

What’s the Angle?

Ostrich Flower Series Inks and brewed tea applied with dip pens and brush in Field Watercolor Journal

The lady in question here is Rachael Le Blanc, a Sktchy Museum app follower who posted her image to be sketched and shared. What was she thinking about when the picture was taken? That’s what I was going for in the sketch. A struggle of some sort. So when the red ink bled outside the lips it seemed just the right touch to indicate. . .well, you know as a woman, those days when the make up just doesn’t stay put. . .there’s often something else going on. 

And I love the off-centeredness of the pose, like shrinking back from whatever the feeling was. When I’d almost finished the sketch I had the thought. How would she look from another angle? So I grabbed my camera to see what would happen if I tilted it from the chin up.


How did that change the expression? Scarier, huh?


But I couldn’t stop there, and tilted the phone camera the other way. . .she seemed more distressed than angry.

What a discovery! for me at least. That you can use your camera to distort a pose into more of a characature and change the feeling, at least as a way to play around with learning to draw facial expressions. 

A friend had brought a bouquet of flowers which volunteered themselves for some practice with the Kakimori pen. After drawing some of the flowers I splattered some ink from the pen and spritzed it with water as an experiment. It made a mess.  When you’ve already made a mess, that’s the best time to try out something else, since you’ve got nothing to lose! So I started flooding the paper with my new Flower Series inks. Here we go!

I mean after all, flower inks and flower drawing. A reasonable pairing!

Master of the skEYES

Muse Group demo: inks and gesso on 10 X 11″ watercolor paper

Master of the skEYES

How do you SEE the bounties of land and sky?

My eagle eyed friend, oh master of the skies?

When my winter musings grow dead weight

May I hitch a ride 

Borrow your eyes 

See that magnificent

Place where Above meets Below

And a tiny mouse makes his way

Through the blades of grass

May I stow away in your backpack

Cozy while fresh winds nourish 

And cleanse my overheated mind

There’s more to seeing than eye balls, I know

I close my eyes and see worlds 

Of strange and wonderful folk 

So much light, even eyes closed

I will build myself an armature like yours

Not to keep others out, but to carry the weight

Of what destiny will serve up

Then leave it to my pen and brush

They will not fail me. 

The last Muse Group lesson of this series last week was the drama of Black and White. We started out making lots of lines and shapes on practice paper using all the fun paint application tools, including fingers of course. As often happens when I’m just trying to demonstrate these techniques without any content in mind, an image jumps out.

The figure. The eye. The choice was to get rid of the eye in the picture, or let it emerge. During the free write session that followed the art making in class, my own writing was aborted when my phone rang. It was a call to move my cataract surgery up a month sooner. By the next day I realized the image of the figure with the eye had something to say. Once again the saga of my failing vision continues. The surgery may or may not help much in my case. So I look to once again adapting myself to what may come. . . as the Master of the skEYES steps in to offer me my brush and paint and remind me of the xray vision. Haha!

Some new portrait ideas

I’m always on the look out for something to try in my portrait sketching. A course on Domestika has been capturing my attention lately. Experimental Portraiture with Ink, Tea, and Alcohol by Carne Griffiths. 

Materials required for the course are inks that are not waterproof. I bought these Ostrich brand inks, the Flower Series. There are no color names on the boxes, except maybe in Chinese/Japanese. I made a sample chart so I could identify them.

The inks are highly transparent and the colors mix beautifully with each other as well as the brewed tea. My results do not very closely resemble the teacher’s, but I am having so much fun with them, using my fountain pens to dip into the color and draw, working in layers to paint wet shapes onto the drawing, drop some tea and more ink and occasionally alcohol. It’s definitely my kind of fun to watch what happens! 


images source, courtesy of the Sktchy Museum app

Start with a pencil drawing, add some ink line. Dissolve it a bit with water, add tea, add alcohol to push ink around. Be satisfied with what you have done, knowing it is experimental. Keep working with layers of the above.


Number two attempt here. Can you see how I’m getting bolder? Just keep trying things out, I kept telling myself.

Number 3. Should I have stopped here?  I took a picture just in case. . .but then didn’t


I’m thinking I should have stopped somewhere in between this one and the previous one. What do you think? Or maybe it’s still not done?

Drink n Draw

The Drink n Draw type of meet up is something that Urban Sketchers like to do, especially at the annual Symposiums. You end a full day of sketching in a pub, cafe or restaurant for even more! Your sketch subjects are at the table with you or close by and no one is offended by your attention being in your sketchbook. 

This is also a really satisfying way to spend a cold/rainy morning with (sketch) friends. Here’s some from recent weeks.

folded pen and ink, watercolor in hand.book watercolor journal

The Starbucks on Yelm is a very large coffee house with lots of chairs and tables, separated well,  for people to enjoy meeting with each other.  I brought the folded pen Bob made and some ink and we all got a chance to try it out for figure sketching.  Our conversation continued at a lively pace while drawing. Not so good for concentrated accurate drawing, but energizing! I love the characters that emerge with this “style”.

Here I had stopped bothering with the business of trying to create depth in the figure plane and just did the quick capture characters, cutting my favorites out later and gluing them onto the page. My “good”eye was able to more or less focus on the people who were within about 15-20 feet of me and those were more convincing.

You know the trick when they’re moving – just draw another hand!

 On another day, at Tugboat Annies on the marina. . .the lady was long gone when the men showed up at the table behind her. I was having fun with pen scribbles!