urban sketching

Boca de Tomatlan I

Vacation? Adventure? Painting workshop? Urban Sketcher “assignment”? As I was bumping down the coastal highway south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico in a taxi from the airport heading to a small fishing village on the ocean, the sun was setting over the Pacific. I was traveling alone to a place I’d never been and where I would know no one. But with a magical sunset like that, I felt ready for whatever happened.

And with my arrival at Boca de Tomatlan I found myself. within moments, with bare feet in the warm sand, friendly artists to meet, margarita in hand and a dinner of freshly caught red snapper. . . a few feet from the ocean, in candlelight and Mariachis playing by our side. OK I thought. I can deal with this.

The next morning on my bedroom veranda I was greeted with this view, where the ocean meets the shallow Horcones River. I was spending the week at the Casa de los Artistas where room and board, art mentoring with master artist Robert Masla as well as local excursions were provided and friendships developed.  

My first sketch here after breakfast in the morning, looking through the palms to the river harbor below and the village opposite. My eyes focused on the palm thatched beach restaurant. I was greedy for a big picture, and didn’t care about getting it right! My eyes were able to focus only slightly better than the picture above, the cataract having traveled with me to Mexico. Certainly not a reason to stop sketching and enjoying the daily sunshine and exuberant jungle leaning up against river, beach and ocean! 

fineliner, Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal 10 X 7″

And such an abundance of activity there was, day and night. With no road on our side of the river, we walked or climbed a narrow dirt path through outdoor courtyards with the dogs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, a friendly parrot, laundry drying, babies nursing, children playing, workers carrying heavy loads, and each morning a parade of tourist hikers headed to the ocean cliff trail. To cross the river we walked a three wooden plank-wide bridge propped on rocks just above the rushing water. When tide was low, we could wade across.

The next day was Sunday and a beach day for families. Hungry to get the joyful activity packed into a sketch, I kept adding people to the sketch. This middle aged couple stood contentedly nn the shallow riverbank holding hands, unaware that they were a prized foreground for this sketch. 

I stood uncertainly on the river’s edge, wondering about the current and depth and presence of rocks, but wanting to cross. These children with the ancient boat saw me pondering and offered a lift. English not needed. Pointing to the boat and smiling at me was enough. They helped me onto a wet seat and ferried me to the other side, two on either side outside the boat. The girl was intent on my safe journey and gestured for me to wait til they got close enough before signaling me to rise and de-boat. After that sweet initiation, I was able to ford the river, at low tide, on my own.

On Monday we were taken on a boat trip down the coast to another beach and the village of Quimixto for a picnic. We pounded the waves in our water taxi and surfed it onto another beach down the coast, with a turbulent and rather wet disembarking amongst flocks of pelicans and snowy egrets. 

,The one sketch I managed. While eating our lunch on the beach, this fellow appeared with his iguana.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone camera, greasy fingers and all. You may see this in a sketch at some point. Who could resist?! Then I watched all the crazy activity of the egrets and pelicans and a few frigate birds, and picked through the colorful rocks on the beach. The surf was too wild and rocky for swimming. And accidentally, because I was so intent on taking pictures, dropped my phone in the ocean. It survived but needed a day to dry out. 

Therefor the next day at the spectacular Botanical Museum I was camera-less. Sigh. But how fortunate to not have that distraction. I guess. 

To be continued. . .

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On the Shortest Day

On the shortest day of the year a short drive through snow flurries landed us in the faux tropical setting of  The Bark and Garden Nursery where we found respite in the indoor plant section. In this divine setting the Buddha oversaw the art making with his beatific inner vision and gentle waterfall acoustics. It was warming and restorative!

ink and watercolor in w/c hand.book journal

Normally I don’t think one finds a flamingo statue in a meditative garden with a Buddha, but when I finished the sketch I noticed that bird peeking out behind Buddha, no doubt being drawn in by his compassion. So in the last two minutes there I added him to finish the story of abundant grace!

Since we’d run into lunchtime and were hungry, Jan and I headed over to the nearby Mall’s food court to also practice catching people on the move. I figure it takes at least 30 minutes to warm up for this kind of quick capture sketching, where you’re really taking a rapid mental picture and trying to hold onto it long enough to get your nervous hand to get something human-like down on paper. Often the figure is long gone and you’re half finished and needing to make up the legs or use someone elses. The faces at the tables were more cooperative, but the manikin in the window was the best!  We were just getting warmed up when it was time to head home! 

At home the day before I was practicing a technique I’ve seen on the youtube channel @VanidasMangathilArt. This amazing painter/teacher demos how to paint  imaginary figures from watercolor paint splatters! 

 

direct watercolor on w/c paper

He makes it look pretty easy, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first line of splash figures was intriguing enough to try again. I did the second line of 12? figures in 5 min with my palette “mud”. You’ve got to paint fast before the paint dries. Now do 10 more lines, I told myself! and was promptly called to dinner. So the challenge is still floating. 

Want to do landscapes in the same way? Vanidas Mangathil also demos imaginary landscapes which look so effortless and realistic that your mind is blown. Give it a try and let me know! He’s also on Instagram of course.

Waterfront Market in Ruston

My house in Olympia is a 45 minute drive from the city of Tacoma which is on another finger of the Puget Sound. The city of Ruston is glorious with its scenic waterfront views of Commencement Bay, the snowy Olympic Mountain Range on one side and the Cascades and Mount Rainier on the other! But we were headed for sketching in the indoor Waterfront Market on a cold and rainy Wednesday.

fountain pen, watercolor in hand.book journal

The meet up was hosted by the Tacoma Urban Sketchers. A spot prefered during the weekday when there were no crowds, with plenty of food and drink, colorful vendors and holiday spirit. ( It took the rest of the day to get the Christmas carols to stop looping through my mind though!)

OK, so the red wall was my homage to the holiday in this one, though the scene was entirely black and white, which was what I liked about it! Strong value patterns! The other thing was that I had a lovely quiet space to put my stool and Shalaine the eyebrow threader would not be in. Good thing, since there was not a soul there looking to get their eyebrows threaded. Certainly not me! though I would have enjoyed watching it, since it’s a mystery to me what eyebrow threading is.

This was the next quiet spot I found, next to the booth with the sign for massages and the young masseuse who didn’t seem concerned that there were no takers, but carried on having interesting conversations with passersby and other venders. I was tempted to stop drawing and join them.

So with that inspiration today, I’m finally kicking into gear with Christmas decorations – a gorgeous wreath purchased at the Farmer’s Market. It seems that everyone here in Olympia is holding with Thanksgiving as the time to get started with trees and lights, so I’m already way behind. The neighbor next door set up a colorful and well-lit tableau of snowman with head phones and cell phone and a gang of glittery snow figures in the slice of property between our houses. So we get credit for that too, without the work! Lights make even more sense here in the north country where people use their headlights every day and the sky is dark by 4.

Bark and Garden Center

various pens and watercolors in w/c hand.book journal

It was a day of “wintry mix” precipitation last week and we sketchers were not to be deterred. A wintry mix forecast on the weather apps, I’ve learned, means an unpredictable and freezing mix of rain, sleet, and snow with a similar mixture involving some ice on the ground. In all cases it means lots of layers of clothing to put on and take off throughout the day unless you just stay inside. 

Wintry mix does not mix well with sketching on location outdoors, obviously, so the always resourceful Jane Wingfield suggested the perfect solution: the enormous indoor plant nursery at the Bark and Garden Center with its endless (still life-) displays of plants and statuary. And it was a balmy 50 – 60 degree temperature!

Of course the nursery was in full-on Christmas tree, poinsettia and reindeer mode, and I probably go back there to do at least one Xmas card illustration sketch! The owner was so welcoming to us sketchers.

But there was something about this Greco-Roman mother figure that attracted me to sit with her for a while. She seemed powerful and indrawn, and so at one with the enveloping plant life, that the sketching of her became my own afternoon meditation. 

Love Oly Winter Fest

Fountain pen and w/c with gesso splatter in hand.book w/c journal

I just went grocery shopping to replenish the larder. Our two sons, home for Thanksgiving, had left after working their way through the stash from Thanksgiving. By the time I got back to the car with, once again, heavy bags of groceries, it was snowing. Real snow. First of the season? 

But the snow in this picture from yesterday was courtesy of our newly redecorated and updated Center for the Performing Arts and their snow machine effectively created a winter scene on the sidewalk and road. Once again the four blocks downtown were closed off for another Love Oly celebration, this time called Winter Fest! with all the cozy touches of lights, hot cocoa, high school orchestras and choirs leading carols, candy canes and fun kidstuff. I didn’t see the horse and buggy rides but heard they were there too. Lots of happy holiday shoppers.

pens and watercolor in hand.book journal

We sketchers lined the window seats at Ember Goods clothing store and coffee shop indoors to stay warm as the crowds ambled by and wandered in for some of the best espresso in town. Meanwhile we chatted, tried out a new pen and sketched whatever came into view for a moment or two. It made for a pretty disorganized sketch, but hopefully one that is full of the holiday season cheer! 

Wallingford Center in Seattle

Saturday was a perfect day to head to Seattle for a Seattle UsK meet up! The Wallingford Center was the setting, a shopping mall housed in a historic school with the headline act of a colorful Trophy Cupcake and espresso cafe. When Jan and I arrived, the sketchers were lined up on the benches in front of the cupcake showplace, because after all, who could resist? so we joined them.

fountain pen, watercolor in 8 X 8″ hand.book watercolor journal

There was time for one more so I perched outside this very festive women’s clothing store to sketch and later paint in. 

This is the “throw down” where everyone shares their sketches from the day. Many people chose to sketch out in the neighborhood. Some of the contributors to the new UsK book titled: The World of Urban Sketching: Celebrating the Evolution of Drawing and Painting on Location Around the Globe – New Inspirations to See your World One Sketch at a Time by Stephanie Bower, were in the group, inviting people to the book signing on December 5 in Seattle.

Seattle sketchers!

Holiday Bazaar

fineliner pen and watercolor in 6X8″ hand.book watercolor journal’

We were back to the Squaxin Island Museum for a holiday craft fair on Saturday. I wanted to sketch the front of the building for its unique architecture with exquisite landscaping around. But as rain threatened to resume, the warmth of the museum beckoned.

Inside the Museum the tribal artesans had spread out with their wares and in many cases were practicing their arts while the public shopped. I found a bench where I had a view of Eileen here, doing some pretty skillful turning of the heel of a patterned sock, using four needles, while she greeted friends and family and only occasionally looked down at the needles. Her legs were cozy in their bulky knit leg warmers and the museum’s leather sofa with the tribal symbols made a comfortable place to knit. Meanwhile her niece stood behind stacks of sweaters, hats, and gloves, selling to the customers. The sketch got quite cluttered as I put in the museum display cases. And the quote on the wall – A place to come together, to collect, gather, and share – seemed to so perfectly reflect the feeling of that day. The translation back to the indigenous language follows. I would love to know how to pronounce these or perhaps this word/concept which conjures such warmth. It reminds me of the Scandinavian word hyggelig.

I went home with the warmest, softest knit hat, which will come in handy this week as our temperatures in the northwest plunge to the 20’s!

Dazzled!

Dazzled by fall colors! And anxious about how quickly the fall rain and wind storms are denuding my favorites! 

I keep thinking I’ll find the colors to mix, the techniques to employ, the tools to utilize. . .to capture. . .a touch of the outrageous autumn foliage displays. I keep working on it, but. . .

You probably think I’m exaggerating. But Nature is the biggest and most outrageous exaggerater, always. It was awful windy at the Capitol building this week, too much to try to put the color on the page on site. A more intrepid urban sketcher surely would have done so. I just wanted to memorize the look of that redderthanredred against that greenerthangreengreen with the gold thrown in . So at home I just kept putting paint on til I gave up. . .yet strangely still felt satisfied from the effort. 

Autumn glory upstaging Washington’s state capitol building!

And meanwhile this artistry was going on in my neighborhood. What would you say. . .New Gamboge with a touch of Quin Gold? Quin Rose? 

And then this morning this 4 inch glowing something in the middle of our lawn. A golf ball? A piece of paper trash (it is trash day) a wrapper? A fried egg for goodness sake? Would it glow in the dark to flavor up the spooky Halloween?

Did you guess? A mushroom of course! Time to get out the mushroom ID books!

Squaxin Island Museum

inside the Squaxin Island museum

To continue my education about the lives and history of the Squaxin Island people who have lived in Olympia and the surrounding areas since time immemorial I visited their museum and research center this week.

The colorful wall murals answered so many of my questions with pictures, texts, and stories. And the display cases were rich with artifacts. After perusing the displays, Jan and I sat in the well appointed library, feasting on the books and later went outside to enjoy the lovely gardens and stream for some sketching.

pens and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

It was a smoky day in western Washington, but we didn’t notice it there in the secluded area by the Sound with its rich oxygenating greenery.

Autumn is upon us now quite suddenly, at least a month late, bringing the rain and cold temps. I’d like to go back to the museum on a rainy day with the friends who weren’t able to join us, for the kind of immersion that sketching always promises. Like leaving the tea bag in longer to get a richer brew!

Indigenous Peoples Day with the Squaxin Island people

various pens and watercolor in Canson mixed media sketchbook 9 X 12″

Monday was Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly mis-named as Columbus Day) But when I arrived that morning at Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park) in town, I was there to get to know more about these people whose home for thousands of years has been on this land we call Olympia. I brought my sketchbook, because that’s the way I learn things now. But after a few minutes I realized that I needed to be fully engaged with all my senses, and particularly my feelings to the unfolding of this event. My sketchbook became a jumble of notes as my iPhone occasionally took the pictures I would need to use later, and occasionally tears streamed down my face.

The tribal leaders opened the dedication ceremony and prayers while drummers and dancers filled the open meadow with chanting and waves of movement. We la ho yaa ye ye ye ye kaha ye or something like that. They were invoking the spirit of the land.

“The land is alive and it sings to us. The plants are alive. They are our teachers and medicine to the people.”

“We are the people of the water. “

“We are joyful all of you have arrived!” (This is written on the sign in the native language as you enter the park now)

“We as Squaxin wrap our arms around you.”

And then the mayor and council members each read a passage of the proclamation vowing to stand together with the Squaxin Island tribe for the mutual benefit of our shared home.

A minister of the Interfaith council asked everyone present to find ways to embrace the truth that indigenous wisdom holds the salvation our world needs for healing.

And then the tribal leader proclaimed “Thank you for welcoming us back to our home.” The flag of the Squaxin people was raised next to the American flag and the tribal members served a free feast to everyone.

What more can I say. I wish you’d been there. The Ancestors definitely were, in the magnificent towering trees around us.