Stowe Lake, G.G. Park Meet up

Temperatures soared in Sebastopol yesterday, and I headed for S.F. to enjoy the perfect weather there with other SF urban sketchers at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. There were nesting great blue herons and red tailed hawks to view, turtles sunbathing on every floating log, ducks and ducklings of many varieties, paddle boaters, cyclists, hikers and more. I went for subjects I rarely see in Sonoma County and in my fevered state immediately jumped in for more than I could manage. When will I learn?!

bothouse3

Direct watercolor, day 2.

 I should have aborted early on, but hey, I learned a lot and later added more detail and killed it dead (learning even more!) Meanwhile, since my back was to the path where people were walking, and they were drawn to the color, I kept hearing all the compliments behind me. People just love it when you do art in public, like you’re a hero or something. So I guess this little sketch served some purpose aside from teaching me a lesson, and satisfying my direct watercolor challenge.

The lesson? – when attempting something this complex, do a thumbnail first, simplify, plan, before jumping in. Well, that’s one of the lessons anyway.

pagoda.jpg

Next I sat down very close to the Golden Gate Pavilion and was so beguiled by the intricate designs that I totally lost myself in them. Not a bad thing. If I hadn’t come to my senses though, I might also have added the paddle boats on the lake behind, the Canadian geese, and the soaring hawk!

pagoda2

Direct watercolor

Several people in the meet up found this vantage point across the lake from the Pagoda  – a much better angle, which I found later after we’d done the sharing. And then I got to put the birds in too!

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June 1 and the challenge commenses!

I decided to start out the month of doing a direct watercolor sketch each day by treating myself to garden sketching. The delights of sitting in the garden at peak season, listening to bird choruses and bumblebee rumbles seemed a good way to get the habit going. When I’ve got a bit of confidence in the line-less approach I might even try the goats at the bottom of my road.

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It’s hard when the sketch has to compete with the beauty of nature. I thought I’d made of mess of this until I threw it down on the ground and saw it from a bit of a distance.

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Same thing happened today when I attempted a view from more distance. I was ready to start over, then looked at it on the ground and decided to put a few more strokes in. You might have to step back from your screen to get the impact, but I’m actually quite pleased. Not the overexact contrivance I sometimes get.

Are you rising to the 30X30 Direct Watercolor 2018 challenge this month? Doing it along with 100’s, 1000’s(?) of people worldwide makes it so much fun, regardless of how any one sketch turns out. Like when you were a kid and all the kids on your block got together to play softball or build a fort.

30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge

The 30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge dreamed up by some of my Urban Sketcher buddies starts tomorrow! It’s one of these marathon commitments to paint something every day for a month, and in this case to use the direct-watercolor approach. I’m going to give it a go and maybe you’d like to as well. Put up your art sail and catch the wind of lots of folks who will be trying it and having breakthroughs this month.

I love to draw with a pen, but I’ve been playing around with drawing with my brush and not allowing myself to come in at the end to define shapes with pen line. The result is looser, messier even, and often more appealing. I won’t stop drawing with all my fun fountain pens, BUT will do at least 30 direct watercolor paintings this month. (Actually I already started, which you’ll see in some of the sketches from my Princeton/Brooklyn trip)

It’s a pretty simple concept actually. Practice anything for 30 consecutive days, and you’re guaranteed to get better at it.

You might want to check out these amazing artist/teachers’ blogs to get tips on how to approach the month:

Suhita Shirodhar, Uma Kelkar, Liz Steel, Anne-Laure Jacquart, and of course Marc Taro Holmes.

Marc laid out the ground rules for us to follow, with lots of wiggle room for fitting it into busy lives. Here they are:

What is #30x30DirectWatercolor2018?

  • PAINT 30 watercolors in 30 days, from June 1-30 2018.
  • POST your paintings in our new Facebook group: <HERE
    We’d like to centralize the discussion around this group, to spare our usual sketching clubs all the extra traffic this might create 🙂
  • HASHTAG your work on any other social media (twitter, instagram) with the hashtag: #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.
    This will help people find your work in the future. Here are some FAQs on how to use hashtags: FB | IG | Twitter.
  • Any size, format or subject is ok. I personally hope to paint on location, but it’s going to depend on weather and the situation at home.
  • I plan to paint in watercolor, working as directly as possible. But if you want to tint drawings, or add in some mixed media, we’re not going to be enforcing rules. I won’t however, have a lot of advice about techniques I’m not thinking about this month.
  • Our goal is experiencing sustained daily practice. If it’s better for you to do seven paintings on the weekend instead of one a day, that’s totally ok. Same with posting progress. One a day makes a good story – but do what works for you.
  • It’s also completely normal if you fail to make 30! Or to need a few extra days. Like any marathon, just participating is the first reward. Though I’m sure any of us can catch up with some super fast, super small sketches if we have to!

Exploring Hip Brooklyn

I’ll skip over the day spent at The Met and Met Breuer because otherwise this post will get too long. But it’s worth checking out (online) the exhibits I saw  – Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the dance performance of Gallim: (C)arbon, and my absolute favorite Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body. There are videos to watch and so much of the exhibits shared on The Met’s website.

skyline

This is a scene I don’t get to sketch at home in Sebastopol! I was given a tour of Williamsburg, a hip Brooklyn scene, by Andrew and his partner Maura. Here the view of Manhattan across the river with its skyscrapers and brownstones. They even joined me for some sketching here!

andrewwaiting

There was a bit of thrift shopping to do (by Maura) and time for a quick standing sketch of Andrew while we waited.

levis

and then a stop in the Levi’s store for Andrew to find some shorts. I was intrigued by 1) the new “logo” on t-shirts Button Your Fly and 2) the mannikin wearing high heals with cutoff shorts. ? ? A girl was machine embroidering patches to sew on jackets, another “latest” or is it “throwback”?

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I begged off the next shopping stop, and they left me happily sketching in an empty dog park which had a bench facing this church with the onion domes. My direct watercolor was not working out very well, when along came a woman with her dog and sat directly opposite me.grover2

I instantly abandoned my unfortunate domes and tilted the sketchbook up out of her sight of vision and drew like mad. A real authentic Brooklyn hipster, sitting still before me! I tried putting Grover in the sketch, but he was so ecstatic to be running free that he was just a blur that my model kept calling to. . .”Grover!” or was it Rover?

I must say I found the style in Brooklyn to be wonderfully free and creative. Not at all a scene where everyone was trying to look alike, but the outfits came across as artistic in that idiosyncratic way.

andor2

Looking out through the front window of And/Or Coffee here. (I forgot to ask what the and and or referred to). We needed to linger a bit, rest weary feet, and cool off.

The sketch strategy here was a fun one. Pick the things that catch your fancy and leave out the rest. Then add selective color. There were hardly any people to distract, just a colorful slice of a city corner. I never found out what the sign “You’ve Got Nail” referred to or explored the exotic “Dilruba Grocery”.

And that’s the last of the Brooklyn sketches. Next day I hugged Andrew and Maura goodbye and was off in an Uber to Newark airport. My driver was a friendly smiling young man Andrew’s age from the mountains of Ecuador with a fascinating story I would tell if this weren’t a sketch blog!

Newark

Back to airport sketching. Two characters sitting on the same row of seats, both on cell phones, of course. The older gentleman on the left took off his hat on the plane to reveal a yarmulka.

Well, that’s the end. Please forgive the uneven coloration on these pics. My scanner is temporarily not working. I put 95% of my sketches from the trip in this story so you might understand that travel sketching is not about making perfect little paintings but about capturing the moment in the time you have. The sketch installs the memory with all the sensory data, so you never forget. Not sure how that works, but it does! Thanks for coming along with me.

Brooklyn and Central Park NYC

From Princeton Ben, Andrew and I took the train(s) to Brooklyn where I’d rented an AirBnB in Bushwick. Both of them had lived there for a while in the past couple years. The rain we’d had every day in Princeton stopped and the sun came out in Brooklyn. Since it was my first time in Brooklyn, I deferred to them about where we should go. It was soon clear that eating in the excellent ethnic restaurants was high on the priority list!Tarosushi

Ben treated us to a steady flow of Japanese delicacies at the Taro Sushi restaurant in Clinton Hill where he had worked for a while. We even had a good view of the chefs, and since I ran out of appetite while more food arrived, I had time for this.

sushi

Forgive me if I adopt the now popular custom of sharing photographs of food. The point here being that this was only one of the plates that arrived at our table, courtesy of Ben.

bridge

At my first view of the famous Brooklyn bridge in Dumbo I realized I had maybe 30 minutes to sit and sketch something. It was a spectacular evening with throngs of people enjoying themselves. I was trying to swallow the experience whole. Andrew hung in there with me and coached, and even did a bit of video for Instagram. With his encouragement I plunged in with direct watercolor, knowing there was no way I could figure out how to squeeze the whole bridge on my paper (even though I wanted to!) But you know, I have to say that it’s all there in the messy sketch anyway. Gotta love this urban sketching!

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Next day I met up with my beloved sketch buddy and amazing artist Chris Carter  at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Again the weather was perfect and the scene enchanting. We decided to go for direct watercolor. I started with a light pencil layout to get the proportions and then went for it. As an afterthought I put in the figure, who looks like she’s on her cell phone, but actually was sketching! There was a drawing class there that morning.

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After lunch I sat on a bench and listened to the Jazz sax of Ralph Williams. And later shared the sketch with him.

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and found out that Ralph has played with some well known Jazz musicians in San Francisco, and now plays in Central Park almost every day.

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Last sketch of the day I decided to go for it and bite off a big piece of the action at the Bethesda Terrace. What is not included in this sketch however is the performers who were singing to audiences in the fescoed and ceiling-tiled inner spaces of the terrace, while brides and grooms posed for portraits under the arches, and people leisurely rowed small boats in the pond behind us, and thousands more pictures were taken on tourists’ cameras. This is why one makes the trip to NYC, among other reasons.

I always learn so much and get energized by sketching with Chris. You might want to check out her website and follow what she’s up to. Stayed tuned next for a day in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with Andrew and Maura.

Princeton

Two weeks ago I flew east to visit my two sons. Andrew is an architecture grad student at Princeton. Ben, a software engineer in Nashville, came up to join us in Princeton and later in the week in Brooklyn. We packed a lot in and I did my best to keep up with some of it in sketches.

SFO

There was plenty of waiting time in San Francisco airport, with a flight delay to Newark, but I was too sleepy (after getting up at 3:30am!) to do more than one.

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Andrew had thought he’d be done with classes/building projects etc and apologized that he still had work to do, but I loved it! What sketcher could resist an invitation to be a fly on the wall at the Embodied Computation Lab where his group was working on their installation? You get it, right? The embodied part is the robots. It was not exactly clear how there were getting utilized.

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They looked like they were either dueling or kissing!

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I tried to catch the positions that the students held for more than 30 seconds while building, but wasn’t so good at predicting which those would be!

ECL3

Meanwhile it rained almost non-stop and the campus grounds had become lush in that greenest-of-greens, east coast way.

library

The undergrads had mostly left the campus, but there were studious souls to be found in the numerous libraries and study halls on campus. I don’t think I could have gotten any study done in this particular one on a rainy afternoon.  Too comfortable with it’s stuffed leather chairs and soft light filtering in from 19th century  Victorian Gothic windows that reminded me of an abbey crossed with a gentlemen’s lounge.

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The rain stopped long enough that I could head out to the lawn to attempt deconstructing one of the ivy covered buildings. It was still dark and overcast, adding to the challenge, but I was kept company by a very bold little squirrel asking for handouts. At one point he was standing on my shoe and looked like he was heading for my lap!

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It was still raining the next day, so I headed to the Princeton Art Museum to sketch some tomb figures in the archaeology wing.

 

tombfigure

This guy was my favorite, especially fierce and powerful. Looked like he could do a pretty fair job of guarding a tomb!

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Next day it was raining yet again and though Ben and I took a nice walk along the river, he also had to do some remote work, so Andrew got me into the Frank Gehry designed science building on campus where it’s hard to find right angles. I pulled up one of the cushy chairs (you find everywhere for students a Princeton) to a tilted window to study the tilted scene below through rain splattered glass. The curvy brown structure below is none less than the Hedgehog and the Fox, a massive sculpture by Richard Serra similar to the one you see in the lobby of SF MOMA.

Gehrig

On the second floor of the same building is a study hall called the Tree House and looking down from there you see this lobby. The colors and angles! How could I resist.

Next day we headed to Brooklyn. Stay tuned for more. . .

 

Uprising of the Shrooms

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how this painting started. Somewhere at the beginning was a smoke painting that later got covered up, when the irresistible  mushroom shapes I’d rescued from another painting took over.

shroomrising

smoke, inks, acrylic, collage, acrylic texture on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

the uprising of the ‘shrooms from darkened earth

the lizards and voles and birds

even Phil the cat, in their nature shrine

have grown accustomed to the exotic air

spiced with herbs and decay

while we worship at our manmade temples

and hope for salvation there.

citadel

“The Citadel”, inks on acrylic gel coated w/c paper 10 X 11″

geltexture

inks, acrylics coarse pumice gel on gel coated w/c paper 10 X 11″

All of these are demos in the Monday Muse Group were we experiment with a myriad of mixed media materials and techniques! These last two were from a lesson where we started out with watercolor paper coated with three dry layers of gel medium. The surface becomes more slick so that the paint/ink does unexpected things!

Think you might want to join us? There is one spot left in the session that starts June 4 and runs weekly for the month of June. For more info and to register visit my website!