The Sky Up There

One morning this week I sat at my dining room table facing the sunrise view, watercolor paints at the ready, hoping to capture the breathtaking sky drama. The sky was streaked with salmon color and every variation on blues and dark strings of clouds with bright yellow-orange-red undersides, and I started to put paint down in great haste. Every few seconds I looked up and it had changed. And then it started to rain. And then it stopped and a whole new cast of cloud characters entered the stage. Fifteen minutes from beginning to end of my sketch and I admitted that I had just tried to paint several different skies and ended up with mud (which always translates to indecision!)

So I thought I’d try a different approach, and paint the inner sky, or at least the one I remembered. After all, we look to the sky to help clear our minds, and never has there been a greater need of that. I got out my gouache paints which I thought might help with the pastel colors I imagined. 

But it wasn’t long before the sky started jumping around, and what was at first clear, became muddled and even opposite. Sound like something else we’ve been experiencing a lot lately?

the sky we think is up

there but we live in our inner

sky where we float and bob

the day along

as up becomes

down horizons appear

and disappear

A whacky ride which

flips us on our ear

leaves us standing wobbly

teetering on the edge

with a faulty gyroscope

and no wings


Fort Baker/Cavallo Point

The gorgeous fall weather drew me back to the Golden Gate Bridge mid-week, this time on the north side of the S.F. Bay at Fort Baker, an old army post that is now a luxury lodge called Cavallo Point. The combo of the white buildings, golden hills, S.F. Bay adorned with white sails and magnificent city skyline make it a most appealing sketch spot. Cathy McAuliff met me there for the day. We shared a couple of the same views, so you will enjoy seeing her sketches as well!


Knowing we had the leisure of several hours I brought along my gouache paints and pencils and started out with them. When I work with gouache and colored pencils I tend to just keep working, which is very fun, but it all feels very experimental and I’m very weak on strategy. At some point I just said STOP! to all the corrections and decided just to enjoy the lovely rich colors.


. . .but then switched to watercolor and a different sort of loose interpretation. Living out in the country, I rarely get the chance to paint interesting buildings like these, so I left out the visitors who were leaving their cars with the valets as well as the cars. Cathy loves to sketch the buildings, so it’s a good opportunity for me to practice when I’m with her.


Next we headed down to the bay side.


What caught my eye at the marina was the iconic cityscape in the background as well as the trees clinging to the side of the hill like a group of bare-legged crew members carrying their boat down to the launch. (The crazy line work in the upper corner was a drawing I started weeks before, while on a bus that was jerking mercilessly!)


The GG Bridge has become so trite as an art subject that I almost thought I’d skip it, and just sat for a while taking in the real majesty of it, which never, ever grows old. But then the sky did this miraculous thing (no, I didn’t make up that shape!) and I dove in without pen. But not without measuring! A bit of colored pencil and it was done.

Exploring Gouache in a Workshop


The Chef, watercolor and gouache on hot pressed w/c paper, 7 X 7″

Last week I attended a 5-day workshop with Donna Zagotta, whose vibrant opaque watercolor paintings I’ve admired for years.  A departure for me from my more abstract mixed media work of late, but a good opportunity to try an opaque medium which lends itself well to the kind of figure work I still love.

I took this picture of the smiling chef in Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro in, of all places, Garberville, CA this summer.  We had just raved about the food, thanking him profusely, and the memory still lies sweetly on my tongue and in my gut.  A good circumstance for the creation of a painting.  It’s not done, might never be to my satisfaction.  The painting of it was more about mixing my watercolors with white gouache and trying to keep the water ratio down and get the pigment to settle onto the slick paper.


“Quartet”, w/c and white qouache on cold pressed paper, 6.5 X 9″

This is the kind of scene one often finds with two couples where the wives sit together in animated conversation and the men start to feel irrelevant.  Of course that may not have been what was happening at all, but then it’s my painting.  And besides, that makes for an interesting focal point and color story.  I was trying to go more and more abstract, bouncing the color around to entertain the eye.  The facial tone going from green to yellow to violet to red.

This painting started with an all over glaze of Opera watercolor.  In opaque watercolor the white is paint, not the white of the paper.  And it takes a lot of paint, sometimes several layers to get there.  I like that you can at any point change your mind and wash off an area, then repaint it again.  The woman’s red face had at least eight changeovers before I was satisfied.

I also like the soft edge quality of working with gouache.  Drawback is that you may never feel that you’ve finished because there is always something you could “fix”.  Also, you wouldn’t be able to add collage or other mixed media techniques because the paint lifts off when it is rewet.


“Pink Shoes”, gouache on acrylic/gessoed glazed cold press w/c paper, 9 X 8″

For this last painting of the week  I started out with gessoed cold press paper (for more tooth which I needed) and a glaze of opera acrylic pigment. Then I used almost all gouache pigment to paint the figure, squeezing out the creamy pigment onto a white tray so there was no digging into palette wells for it.  This was a lot more fun, and that way I didn’t run as much risk of mixing too much water into the pigment.  Gouache goes beautifully over an acrylic surface and is so easy to lift and change.  Perfect for quick sketches as well as “serious” paintings.  Another tool in an already bulging tool box!

Thank you Donna!