urban sketching

Port Plaza views

fine liner pen and watercolor in hand.book sketch journal

You really get the small town feeling in Olympia at the Farmer’s Market. Everyone is there! and definitely was there on Saturday. The usual parking lot was full and overflow parking was filling up by 1pm when I got there. The plan was to sketch in the morning, but a totally unexpected gullywasher at 9am sent me running inside from the garden where I was weeding. Then the thunder rumbled and all the vegetable starts turned up their heads and drank while the downspouts turned into waterfalls. By afternoon the sun brought everyone out of their homes. You’ve got to live in the northwest to realize how elated one is with the spring sunshine. It makes you a little goony.

Right next to the Farmer’s Market where everyone was buying (expensive) but perfect veggies is a lumber yard and cranes and more at the Port of Olympia. I’ve had my eye on all those colorful story shapes for a long time, so I sketched some of the scene through the chain link fence at Port Plaza on Budd Bay.

Next I wanted to capture the Port Plaza lookout on the boardwalk and the Capitol building in the background because, after all, though a small city/town of 56,000, Olympia is also the state capitol. But I always look for ways to put things together into a possible story.  The couple on the bench seemed pretty amorous, and I liked the cement anchor sculpture, so the title popped into mind, “Meet me at the anchor at Port Plaza”. Can’t you just picture that as a title for a RomCom?!


Samish Island Camp: Last Day

It was the last full day at paint camp and I headed down to the water, wanting to see the baby bunnies again and the lone orange salmonberry and maybe catch sight of the elusive Black-headed grosbeak,  to sketch the colorful canoes and even see if the creepy caterpillars had spilled completely out of their paper sack. 

This bench was in exactly the right place by the boathouse, so I straddled it,  andavoided having to get out my tripod to attach to the easel. I just propped the back of the easel board on my art gear bag! Here you see the beginning of color application, bleached out by the bright sun. 

After lunch, a walk in the forest cathedral carpeted by wildflowers and then, to keep from descending into naptime, I sketched the mini-chapel, big enough for one meditator. Viewed from the outside it may have provided the same sense of peace as I sat drawing and painting in the spring afternoon. Here you also see the grasses that were studded with clover, daisies and buttercups, adding to their lush appeal.

On my last walk out to the lake I found friends, new and old, and got to see how this extraordinary setting had manifested in their art and to confirm that, YES! We will be back again and again to enjoy this land that gives and gives, like the indigenous people who have named it. “Samish: means, the people who stand up and give.”

There were minutes left for one last quick sketch before dinner and a drive to the other side of the island to watch the sunset over the sea. Next morning we moved out, stopping at Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park which is on the Camano Island Studio Tour. The art indoors and out in the cedar forest was breathtaking. Here’s some views of the sculpture garden.

I must leave the north coast there for now. Back at home in Olympia the irises are blooming so full that they’re toppling over. On my walk today on the Chehalis Trail the air was birdsong-heavy, so I turned on my Merlin bird sound ID app.  Fourteen different bird species appeared on my screen! But the vegetation is so thick now that for the most part the birds are hidden from view, making it rather frustrating to try to see them, even with binoculars. Time to join the Audubon folks again and get some more lessons! With my new hearing aids the woods are equipped with heavily amplified sound systems!

Samish Island (part 2)

The next day our small group of sketchers from Olympia headed over to La Conner, a picturesque town on the Puget Sound that boasts two art museums, lots of galleries and more to explore. 

We started out sketching on the street in the morning. The Museum of Northwest Art gallery was unfortunately closed for installation of the annual auction, so we found a table on the water for a seafood lunch at Nell Thorn Bistro. I started sketching the tribal community gathering structures across the channel, not realizing that soon it would become a gathering place for the revered tribal “ancestors”, the bald eagles!

The highlight of the day was the convocation of so many bald eagles above our heads at the restaurant that it was hard to count them until they landed across the channel, on the beach at Swinomish Community park!

At one point we counted ten on the beach. And later a talkative pair perched in a tree on the main street and held a raucous, animated conversation involving flapping wings and piercing vocalizations. Pedestrians came out of the shops and stood spellbound. A marital argument perhaps? Maybe it was about the young ones we’d seen earlier? Or one of them got a juicier catch?

We headed up the hill to the Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum which was as interesting for its glorious house as its exhibitions. 

A bit foot tired and weary we headed across the street to the Butterfly Garden, where my friends tackled sletching the intricate architecture while I let my eyes rest on the garden in bloom.


Stay tuned for Part 3 next!

Samish Island Paint Camp

Do you have memories of summer camp as a kid? My own memories go back to eight years old and the lake, woods, campfires and cabins of somewhere in Connecticut and my best friend (also redheaded like me. I was Copper to her Rusty that summer). Well, all that came rushing back at Samish Island Paint Camp on the north coast of Washington, where all those ingredients converged with spectacular spring weather and loads of like-minded artists. No workshops, just the freedom to roam the 87 acres and paint, with no responsibilities but to make it to meals on time (or not!)

The Samish Island Camp and Retreat Center is run by the Community of Christ church and was managed for this retreat and two others every year by the Northwest Watercolor Society.

on the grounds at camp, low tide on Samish Bay and oyster farming on the beach

We arrived and checked into our rustic cabins, where each person had their own! Mine was green and had two bunk beds in addition to my bed, and a heater which was useful at night. On the weeks when kids and families arrived, one could imagine a more “cozy” bunking experience.

We had our first meal at the Longhorn saloon in the nearby town of Edison and launched into sketching.

pen and watercolor in hand.book watercolor journal

Next day, while the majority of the 50 artists at camp settled into the studio for a day of painting, my friends and I headed back to Edison to try to capture the “flavor” of small town north Puget Sound before the anticipated weekend crowds converged.

The Hedgerow store attracted me with its color palette and rags? textiles? hanging from the telephone pole out front. Inside was jewelry and clothing with upscale S.F. prices! And the Smith and Vallee art gallery in this two block town was equally upscale and well curated.

Meanwhile I was struggling with this sketchbook, which has good watercolor paper and opens flat, but on some spreads exposes the messy glued seam in the gutter!

pens and watercolor in 9X12″ Canson mixed media sketchbook

After lunch there was the entire afternoon to wander around the salt water lake down below, stopping with each something to record. I started with the lake and tree reflection where I could also map the signs of oyster farming as well as the snow capped peaks of Mount Baker across the Sound. There were the creepy wriggling caterpillars and the first solo salmonberry of spring and so much more to notice.  I turned on the sound in the Merlin bird ID app and it lit up with birds! some I was able to see, and all I could hear. As I walked along the path baby bunnies scurried to the side and swallows swooped low.

When all the squares on the grid were filled, I was happy with my efforts and ready for dinner.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Easel painting

I’m off to Samish Island on the north Puget Sound today for five days of Paint Camp! Knowing that I would be in the company of plein air painters and might desire an easel, I bought a backpack size one on a light weight tripod to bring along. First time it took me about 30 minutes to get it put up! But I persevered and I think I have it down to five minutes max. Here’s the trial run in the back garden at home.

I like having my paper at arm’s distance and vertical, rather than so close to my body, though there’s a bit of insecurity in not holding onto it, as if it might get away from me. With a gust of wind I’m sure it would. But getting my whole arm into the action of drawing and painting is a decided advantage.

easel set up in back yard

The small easel opens on a hinge and the “table” part has magnets to keep the palette and water secure. My 5.5X8″ sketchbook fits easily on the back board. The easel attaches to an inexpensive tripod and weighs almost nothing because it’s made from bamboo. I purchased it in the Etsy store from Taylor Seamount. 

In this picture you get a sense of how small it is. I have to say the jury’s out on whether I can make it work for what I do. Likely I will be sitting on my stool. When there’s a lot of walking involved, I might leave the tripod behind.  And I can use the wooden easel flat on my lap without the tripod!

There’s so much going on in the garden right now that I’m anxious to get back to journaling in my nature journal. For instance, these two bugs, stuck together and moving as one.

some variation of Boxelder bug? on my vegetable garden gate

How do they decide and agree on which direction to move? It didn’t seem like they were having difficulty with the “engaged” situation. And they both seemed to have equal capacity at movement forward and backward.  Oh, where was my natural journal when I needed it?! 


 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.

May Day

Do you celebrate May 1st. and what is your association with the day? Dancing around the May Pole with ribbons or protesting unfair labor practices? There was a version of both at Heritage Park on Capitol Lake last Monday, and some of us sketchers were out to do some pictorial reporting (reportage).

We arrived at the tail end of the speeches by union representatives from our nearby Washington counties. The speeches were protesting labor practices and the crowd was supportive, if sparse. I’m guessing that the audience that would have come out for this were busy working at jobs that didn’t allow it as a worker holiday!

drawn and painted with w/c on a previously painted and textured sketchbook spread

We gravitated over to the local version of the May Pole, where the colorfully clad troupe of Clown Town performers were stilt walking, doing clown tricks, juggling, and blowing bubbles larger than children for children to chase. After a while the sketchers became the only audience, so we learned the clown’s names and a bit about their troupe, that also performs for our summer street fairs downtown called Love Oly.

And then it was clown lunch time! Definitely easier to sketch when they’re not juggling and carrying on! Turns out I had sketched Luz last month at the Farmer’s Market, busking on the accordian. She’s a veteran clown/musician of 20 years. Hanging out with these folks reminded me of my times at Camp Winnarainbow with Wavy Gravy where I practiced juggling, but ended up being better at sketching and wearing my red clown nose!

Not wanting to overlook the labor protest part of the event, I sketched this later at home.

Tipping into Tulips

me, mesmerized by tulips at Knutsen Farms, photo courtesy Paige Dietrich

What happens when you put just-bloomed tulips shoulder to shoulder in rainbow rows, and on the warmest sunny day in six months? A bunch of artists show up to try their hand at the impossible task of painting “it”. It was a Tacoma Urban Sketchers meet up.  We of the neighboring Olympia contingent arrived an hour and a half late and dove in quickly. 


Determined to get the color in I figured I’d just start there and use lots of paint to speed things up. Soon I’d lost all sense of perspective, but it didn’t seem to matter. A young mother and her one-year-old were in my row, so I got the tinkling background music of glee from a little girl who had just learned to walk and couldn’t seem to stop, he giggles directed more at the ground moving beneath her feet than the glorious blooms on either side.

At the end of another row a woman was sitting in a bathtub. I know. Why? and what was it doing there? A perfect backdrop or foreground for a sketch of the tulips! I would have snapped a picture and sketched her and the bathtub later, but I’d left the house in a hurry and left my iPhone on the counter. What artist goes to a tulip farm without their camera? Grrrrr. 

There was just enough time for a quick drawing of paperwhites on the tractor before we headed home, satisfied with our first “real” spring day well spent. 

More pictures can be found on our Facebook page. And if you’re local, you are welcome to join us some time!

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. 


Oly Harbor

fineliner pen and watercolor in hand.book travelogue

If you’re bundled up sufficiently, it’s always a treat to sit on the dock somewhere in Olympia and watch the sky and waters change hue and patterning every few minutes. This is especially true in the spring weather. I’m always excited to make another stab at painting the boats with their reflections. But honestly, since the scene changes dramatically and constantly, one needs to have a photographic memory, or. . . a photo to copy! In this case there was neither, haha! But I soldiered on. Truly the small city of Olympia with its heart of marine life and view of snow clad mountains, lake, forests and Capitol buildings with colorful gardens is a visual delight in all seasons.

A group of us sketchers enjoyed a morning in the area around Bayview Thriftway grocery and later lunched at their deli upstairs, where you get a crow’s nest view of the harbor. I hadn’t planned to sketch any more cherry blossoms but the scene on the other side of 4th Street beckoned later. The apartment building with its glass windows provides a moving picture of the cloud-filled sky drama. Its strategic location however has been controversial as it blocks the view of the lake and Capitol grounds from one direction and the harbor from the other. That day I was just happy to have a beautiful dark background for painting the blossoms!