Moving on a bit

The fire contemplation persists, though not on purpose. This lady rises up on her own, appearing during a string of bad hair days, determined to use that which she has at hand to have her say.

ladyofflames

acrylic and collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Lady of flames has moved on to egg laying, using ashes to adorn her hair, and pieces of bark and branches in her hat. And from this unlikely combo sprouts a bloom and a brand new egg.  How amused she is by this hat-become-nest. A new fashion. Combined with a bit of feather and frill it suits her healing spirit. And all the while a heart shaped coal burns softly in her throat, reminding her of the flame from which she so recently arose.

The fire engine red of the trucks and the fire itself has become the firey red of autumn foliage, vineyards in richer warm hues than any palette could produce. I no longer have hens, but I know that they lay fewer eggs when the days grow short. Then each egg becomes a special gift.

Perhaps an egg would heal my hair problem?

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Sittin on the dock o the bay

Back at Bodega Bay for another effort to catch the crabbers in action. No such luck this time. Finally we just plunked down benches facing the marina boats to contemplate a highly complex scene. Pick something and leave out the rest is a strategy that sometimes works.

sheriffsboat

pen and watercolor in 5X8″ Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook, full spread

The Sheriff’s boat certainly gave off the vibe of authority, all black and steely gray. I would want to have my fishing license handy when it drove up alongside. The little boat next to it looked like it might be a nice place to take a nap, or have a drink with friends. The riggings of nearby sailboats were singing in the wind which whipped up a bit in the afternoon, as family throngs celebrated their Thanksgiving togetherness by walking the boardwalk and pausing for endless family pictures.

dogwalker

A burly fisherman made a wide berth around me while sketching. His dog was equally burly and might have caused a start if I found his nose too close. This was a picture snapped as he walked away and sketched later from my iPhone.

 

 

Coffee Park Apocalypse

We finally made it out to Coffee Park in Santa Rosa to see the scene where 1000 suburban homes burned to the ground in one night when residents had little or no warning beyond neighbors pounding on doors to alert each other to flee.

Our mission, if we could articulate it, was to take in the scene with open eyes and hearts and to report on it through our on-location sketches.

carmelt

pen and w/c/gouache in Stillman + Birn grey toned Nova series sketchbook, 9 X 12″

The scene was devastation of the apocalyptic sort as far as the eye could see. It defies belief, not to mention description. The expected blackened trees and burnt wooden siding, yes, but melted glass and mangled cars?

I chose this car with its guts hanging out like a soldier wounded in battle and started to draw, realizing that I could not begin to identify the make or model or to imagine what all the wires must have been connected to. On the one hand it was a powerful piece of abstract art, stunning in its bright orange color (courtesy of the oxidizing effects of fire). On the other, it was a lure to coax the mind down a dark hole of death and destruction. One imagines an alien force with a ray gun.

The intensity of the fire as it hit Coffee Park made it unique in history. Fueled by winds that clocked in at 90 mph, the convection forces were powerful enough to create tornado-like vortices and even flip over cars. From a resident who had lost her home that night in the area where we were standing we learned that temperatures of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit had occurred that night, easily melting the glass of a windshield down onto a car’s dashboard.

carmeltpic

Meanwhile I was not prepared for the level of activity going on in Coffee Park yesterday, about five weeks after the fire struck. Bulldozers and backhoes and cranes were busy everywhere, clearing the lots to ready them for reconstruction. In fact this car was sitting on a piece of plastic on a lot completely cleared of detritus. I sat while the bulldozers roared about me, and the inspectors, encased in white with their bug-like masks and cameras and ribboned markers, surveyed the property next door.

Every little nail and bolt of this former-car called out to be drawn. I might still be there if my knees had held out. Did I think that the drawing would somehow help me to make sense of it all, if only I could get it right?

Crab Season Opens

W headed out to the coast yesterday to see what we could find to sketch of the crab season which started recently. Bodega Bay was a lively spot for recreational and commercial fishermen on this sunny fall day.

crabseason

By the time we got there most of the boats had left but we found one where the crew was busy loading crab traps using a crane. We raced out a wobbly dock next to it and started sketching madly. We had about ten minutes to get what we could before they motored out into the bay. And all the while the dock was swaying randomly to the movement of the water as boats motored by. We stayed, enjoying the sunshine and adding color from memory and pictures we’d taken with our iPhones, and then headed over for fresh crabcakes at Spud Point Crab Company, home of the world famous clam chowder (voted best for 14 years now!)

Barbeques are the Survivors

A lot of mobile homes burned in the Tubbs fire last month. And some next door did not. One tries to imagine the fire burning through one property and not crossing the street to burn another. What stopped it at that point? These are the questions that run through your mind when you look at the burn.

One thing you see lots of is barbeques standing intact among the rubble. They are the survivors of the firestorm. They look like you could light them up and grill a steak on them as is. By the end of the summer season I know our barbeque doesn’t really look so different from the ones I’ve seen in the burned neighborhoods. I guess their “species” already had lots of experience with fires and heat, so they took the Tubbs Fire in their stride.

barbequepen and watercolor and gouache in Stillman + Birn 9 X 12″ gray toned sketchbook

 

A Walk Down Polk St.

Last Tuesday I met my friend Tania at her apartment next to Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco to launch a day-long exploration of the city with a meandering walk down Polk Street from the Bay (at the top) to Market Street (at the bottom). I was armed with my sketcher’s gear and ready to plunk down and start moving the pen at any opportunity. She travels light with her iPhone in her pocket with its camera and built-in photo and voice editing, etc. We were both after stories and people to inhabit them and had no agenda beyond that.

PolkSt1

ink and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook (spiral bound)

The day was perfect for this kind of strolling with sunny sweater weather and no wind, a rare treat in S.F.  A lifelong resident of S.F., Tania was already sharing her stories of the various neighborhoods we passed through. Of course she knew where to get the perfect cup of coffee to start our day at Saint Frank Coffee in “Polk Gulch” right below Russian Hill.We sat in the window so I could capture some of the city scene along with the coffee drinkers and their dogs.

While I sketched, Tania read me one of the spell binding autobiographical stories/travel sagas she’s working on. Check out her blog where she publishes some of her stories. Her book Mother Tongue  a Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Woman, will be coming out in March.

As we were leaving Tania noticed that there were only men in the coffee shop all lined up in every seat and at work on their computers. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask them what they did to scare away all the women. Smiles broke out on all the faces as we left, something that tends to happen a lot on these excursions with Tania.

PolkSt2

Our walk continued with brief stops to check out the kind of unusual storefront and businesses one finds on S.F. streets. Some of them left us scratching out heads. I couldn’t resist the road crew with their colorful orange vests and plopped down on the sidewalk to sketch the work-people (that’s a woman holding the sign) while they ate their lunch. Behind me was MCC, a community center for “Diverse Beliefs, Common Values. A Home for Queer Spirituality”. Five inches in front of me was rushing midday traffic which vibrated the ground and caused me to blink madly to see the construction scene. That’s urban sketching for you!

After lunch we proceeded through the Tenderloin where homelessness and drug addiction is abundantly visible. It wasn’t an area where either of us was prepared to stop.

Arriving at the magnificent Civic Center Plaza and City Hall, Tania said “Let’s go inside.”

proposalsketch

I would have been happy to sketch the magnificent interior of City Hall with its classical, ornate elegance for days! But it also turned out to be a feast of elegance of the human sort with a steady stream of wedding couples, photographers capturing romantic poses while bridesmaids arranged the gauzy white trains.

As I sat down against the wall, this elegant couple in matching attire were posing for their engagement photo shoot (hence not white). I can only imagine what the wedding attire will be! (Note Tania with her iPhone camera)

The photographer told us that on any weekday you would find 25-50 weddings at City Hall and over 100 on weekends. But we found that number to be low because we saw at least 20 couples in the hour or so we were there!

Proposal

By the time the couple had changed outfits and come back for more pictures on the marble staircase, Tania had met them and urged me to show the sketch which had a bit of color on it. Aman held it up and wanted their picture taken with it.

We left City Hall with a bit of the glamor and romance and definitely sweetness of that day still clinging to us. You can’t help but feel hopeful for this couple as they launch into married life!

giraffe

It was time to soak up some sun in the Plaza and we were delighted by the knitted giraffes encasing some of the trees. Directly ahead where the orange cones were pointing was Market Street and a building with the word TRUTH drawing us toward it next.

As we neared Market Street we met some friendly “neighborhood embassadors”, people from the Hunter’s Point project who we gathered were there to help out with the homeless population as well as to help keep the public areas properly maintained. They had great pride in the fact that within moments a mobile soup kitchen would be set up and they would be helping to serve hot meals to those in need.

We watched as a van drove up and a nun was helped to unload deliscious smelling pots of food and boxes of bagels and salad. A tent and tables were quickly erected and people started lining up. The “embassadors” told us it would be OK for me to sit and sketch.

feedinghomeless

And so, sitting on the cement wall with people eating steaming hot food on either side, I sketched as Tania listened to a woman with a heart breaking tale and the pigeons and gulls swooped in and out, scavenging what they could.

There’s a kind of alchemy that happens sometimes with this kind of sketching where you can begin to simultaneously experience not just the inside of your own space but that of others. I could feel the caring and enthusiasm of the servers, the relief and satisfaction of the diners all mixed in with my own gratitude for being there in those moments.

tram

Tania suggested a tram to get us back uptown where we could have dinner near her apartment. We could have taken a regular city bus or trolley or cable car, but the trams in S.F. have a special charm and claim to fame. As other cities in the U.S. were discontinuing electric cable methods of transportation in favor of buses, S.F. decided to continue, and to this day has a fleet of historic trams from cities all over the country. So we hopped on the Kansas City Tram for our rush hour ride and I got in my last sketches of the day.

Bijan Stefan writes In Praise of the Flaneur in the Paris Review, “The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. ”  I think it’s safe to say that we were . . .last Tuesday. . . walking Polk St. . . for that day at least . . .embodying a modern version of the  “flaneur”. Perhaps you have a bit of flaneur in you too?