Reportage with Oliver

On weekends Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a three ring circus, a place I would probably avoid if if were not for the superlative sketching possibilities! Last Saturday I was there for a Reportage sketching workshop with my good friend and fellow flaneur, Oliver Hoeller and a small group of “advanced” students wanting to learn his delightful illustrative style of storytelling journalism.


Working in a 9 X 12″ spiral bound Canson Mix Media sketchbook I did a warm up here before the workshop started.

You can sit on one bench on the Wharf, as I did here, and turn your head to see all of this (that’s Alcatraz at the top) and catch a performance while watching the tourists and sailboats and being tempted by food. Here I’m going fast and trying to fit the elements together, something which I know Oliver will be teaching.


First warm up in the workshop was to draw a composite figure using different subjects to complete it. Why? Because in a place like the Wharf everyone is moving, so unless you want to finish the figure from memory (not recommended) you may need to wait for the next subject to come along. I made it easy on myself and sketched what I could see from where I was standing, David’s head (another student) and Oliver’s body. We referred to this sketchy form of laboratory science as the Frankenstein man.


The next exercise (my favorite!) was like a scavenger hunt! Oliver would tell us what category of subject to add to the drawing and give us five minutes to complete it. Then we would move on. (this only works in a small group!) I added color later and might have overdone it.


In this one I’m focusing, with more concerted effort and the encouragement of Oliver, on varying and exaggerating the size of the various elements and connecting them in a “designed” way. It’s so liberating to pick and choose the story telling elements based on interest and the needs of the sketch rather than struggling to get perspective and other pictorial aspects to match the scene before you!


Sketching within cells, graphic novel style – another great way to capture aspects of an otherwise overwhelming scene. I lasted inside the Musee Mecanique arcade for about 15 minutes before the noise drove me back outside!


At the end of the workshop Oliver led us into the bowels of commercial Fisherman’s Wharf where the stimulation level reached a screaming pitch. But the great thing is that there is so much to choose in a setting like this.

This is not my favorite sketch of the day –  too locked down and closed up with no lost edges. And I was trying out Oliver’s grey felt pen and overdid it. But this is the kind of sketch that teaches the most. . .when you have that if-only-I-had. . . experience, because there’s always a next time, and a next. I can’t wait!

And a big thanks to Oliver!

See more of my Fisherman’s Wharf sketches here.


Fisherman’s Wharf and U.C. Berkeley

Catching up a bit here with some recent urban sketching. During my time in S.F. I spent some hours wandering and sketching at Fisherman’s Wharf with my buddy Cathy McAuliff. She’s good at finding sketch spots anywhere. The Wharf was teeming with tourists, so we hid out behind a particularly wharf-y looking building where we sat enjoying the sun and light breeze with only an occasional passer by.


I was anxious to give my gouache another try. Don’t you just love the creamy colors? Gouache does inspire a bit of “like a child”, which is what Maru Godas excels at. You can just keep playing around with the colors and layering and editing and adding cool details, both observed and invented!


I wanted to include the Fontana building where I was staying for a few days. From there you have a view of parts of Fort Mason and the Bay and Alcatraz and the pier and the people swimming in the frigid bay waters!


Today I had fun using my gouache to finish a scene I had sketched on that day at the Wharf. It is right below Ghiradelli Square (chocolate heaven) not far from the prior picture. The bear is our state animal mascot. (Fontana in the background there again.)


On another day I met up with some Bay Area sketchers at the Cal Berkeley campus. Here was a great vantage point above the Tyrannosaurus Rex Osborn (found in the badlands of eastern Montana by a rancher!) at the Museum of Paleontology. From up where I stood it looked like Susan Wilson had picked a dangerous spot to sit!


Ponderous buildings and rushing coeds alternated with some lunchtime loungers on the expansive lawns.


And then there was the obligatory Campanile sketch.


Outside the Faculty Club, an extraordinary tree whose white trunks were entwined like dancers or lovers. I called it the Ghost Tree because it was so light against the dark green background.

I had the guilty thought more than once that my day on campus was so relaxed and enjoyable while all around me was the strain of academia; assignments with deadlines and grades at a highly competitive university.  Yeah, but oh those were great times. . .to be young again. . .!


Festival of the Sea

You could get a pirate tattoo. watch sail raising, learn knot tying, splicing, worming and parceling, and listen to folk songs from around the world on the pier stages. It was the Festival of the Sea on Saturday at the Hyde St. Pier on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Or you could join the Urban Sketchers meet up and enjoy all of the above while sketching!


Fountain pen and watercolor in handmade sketchbook 7.5X11″

This was the most popular sketch subject. The raising of the sails on the C.A. Thayer schooner with all that sail flapping the wind and the crew suspended on the boom and cables way above the bay waters.


And such sweet and lively fiddle music from this pair, Adrianna Ciccone and Colin Cotter


I had heard the Brass Farthing sing their drinking songs at the Much Ado About Sebastopol Fair and was delighted to hear them again here. Their songs are bawdy, but not so terribly. The young son of one of them was seated next to us. It was a short set so I was drawing like crazy. Apologies to the one or two I couldn’t fit in and as always, the not quite likenesses I come up with!


I always try to show my sketches to the musicians if I can. This fellow found me later to take a peak and I asked for a picture.


There was just a bit of time left til we headed home so I picked a simple subject, a row boat on the beach which was enjoyed by children and adults in consecutive waves in the 20 minutes I sketched around them! I was too tired at that point to attempt to put the people in!