ink and watercolor sketch

Palace of Fine Arts

I was hankering for some sketching of “grand” architecture, like what one finds in Europe or other places in the world where a historic building is older than 100 years (ah, Italy!) A visit to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco last week was a great way to satisfy that longing and only 1 1/4 hour drive from my house.

As I recall, when I started taking watercolor painting lessons after my second son was born, I started with a day-long workshop where we camped out on the lawn opposite the Palace and I struggled with drawing, perspective, design, color, and watercolor technique all at once. What was I thinking?! Twenty three years later it’s still a formidable task, but oh what fun my sketch buddy and I had!


The Palace was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition but has been rebuilt and retrofited and landscaped in more recent years, so it can hardly claim antiquity. But who cares, since it is hard to imagine a lovelier place to spend a summer day (and get away from the heat of north county!) especially if you like tourists.

We knew better than to launch in on a sketch of the whole palace with infinite colonnades, the lake with swans and reflections, etc. Even a small portion of a colonnade has a fair amount of detail. I mainly wanted to get the graceful forms of the Greco-Roman Amazons that seems to be holding things up. Since I’m so much more accustomed to sketching people, if helps me to put a human form in a sketch before I tackle the more knotty angles of the architecture. (many people would say the opposite)

We soon learned that we were considered one of the tourist attractions. Especially the Asian tourists, of whom there were many, became the audience and photographers of our event. But then there were the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were set up nearby. They were so interested in our sketches and in getting our cards that they forgot to offer us their literature.


I’m going to skip over my second sketch which was enough of a disaster that it will not be allowed on this blog! We watched many romantic bride-and-groom pairs posing for pictures before the Palace backdrop. It is June after all and the solstice at that!

The wind picked up quite a bit in the afternoon, but we found a bit of respite from it in the sun and next to the water where the ducks and gulls were bathing and wildly flapping their wings. And here at least (I suppose I shouldn’t be on this side of this cord) I couldn’t see the tourists watching and photographing my artistic efforts.


The question of the day seemed to be, “how did you learn to do that?” referring to sketching, and with the conviction that I know how to do it. The way I heard the question was, “gee it looks like fun, how might I do that?” And the answer to that is . . .still learning (even though I’ve been teaching for many years now).


Carole still sketching, at the end of our day, with the fog rolling into the Bay. . .


At home later I analyzed the scene I’d screwed up. Still feeling a bit flummoxed but at least the scale and perspective is a bit closer. I’ll keep at it. It’s a learning chore I enjoy, always have. Carole said, “Let’s go back and do it again.” I guess that’s how it works, over and over until it’s a bit more second nature.

Honoring WWII and Korean War Vets

I live about 15 minutes from the Pacific Coast Air Museum at Charles Schultz (Sonoma So.) airport but had never been there before Saturday. The event honoring WWII and Korean War Vets was a great opportunity to enjoy a sunny day sketching vintage planes and servicemen from an earlier era, while also remembering my parents (both now deceased) who served in WWII.


Volunteers were giving tours of the aircraft, but we were there to tell the visual story of planes and people. When I was almost finished with this one, the blond lady came over to look and told us that her father had flown over 30 missions in a plane like this in the Korean War. He died in March of this year at 93 and she was there to honor him.


I think I’d have to spend longer than a couple hours sketching planes to understand the dimensions of them. This one with the shark face painted on presented a challenge, possibly because it wanted to be more of a marine species than an avian one.


Do you think that face would scare away the enemy, or would then fly closer to get a peak at the pin up girl by the cockpit?


In the open hanger beyond were veterans seated at tables where you could sit down and hear their stories. Lovely calendar girls walked around, posing with happy airmen, while a WWII vet sang songs from the 40’s and yodelled for an enthusiastic crowd.


Families could put their children in the cockpit to give them that pilot experience. I started this sketch of a one-legged veteran, then turned around to sketch the plane, not realizing the irony of his placement, mirroring the single wheel in the front of the plane and two on the sides. Or does he look like he’s holding up the front of the plane? I’m learning it’s all OK in the pursuit of the story and an afternoon of fun!

An afternoon in Graton

With the thought of sitting out in the lovely warm weather to sketch, my friends and I scheduled lunch at Willow Wood Market Cafe in Graton, followed by sketching in the town. It was Wednesday this week, and yet another day that never really warmed up.


fountain pen with brown ink and w/c in Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook, (full spread)

But I think I’ve been complaining too much about the weather lately! One can always put the hood of the sweatshirt up over ones head, after all. This spot, a boarded up abandoned house across the street turned out to be a wonderful subject. Just as I finished the sketch, (where I obviously got mesmerized by the old brick fireplace), the owner of the property showed up and gave us the history of the place! She grew up there, next to what was one of no less than three gas stations in this little one block town. For many years now they have been going through the environmental clean up, since it has not been a gas station for a long time. How fun to get the history from an old timer!

I woke up in the middle of the night after and knew I had to put this woman in the sketch, because I’d dreamed it! So I added her from memory the next day.


I was also scouting out sketch spots for the workshop I’m teaching June 10, which is a 10 X 10 Urban Sketch workshop and the topic is Sketching Vignettes. I changed the location to Graton because I think it’s quite perfect for this workshop and very “user friendly” with all the restaurants, art gallery, historic buildings and the like.


I started to sketch this gorgeous truck, but it was parked only briefly and drove off before I got too far. So I finished it later from a picture I’d taken.

Porchfest Musicians

Yesterday was an SF Urban Sketchers meet up for the Porchfest Musicians an afternoon of music on the porches, backyards and stoops of the Mission! The day was sunny perfection and the streets filled with relaxed and appreciative audience and the feeling of open community.


I made a concertina style “sketchbook”  for the day – 30″ X 7.5″ folded in six sides. Low and behold it worked for the four groups I heard/saw (one on the front fold)


Honestly speaking us sketchers were there as much for the visuals as for the music. This group was playing in front of an open garage door and it took a couple songs, and asking the person next to me, to realize that the Wet Paint sign, which looked so natural in this setting, ( as did their grunge style ) was the group’s name.


Ziva was in a doorway singing like an angel. I plopped down in a comfortable chair below her, a terrible angle to do a portrait (sorry), but great to watch the audience on the street corner.


For a larger venue we walked to the House of Brakes where a group called Monkey, backed up against an awesome three story mural, was working on getting the crowd engaged. I couldn’t resist the guy with the fuschia colored sideburns and beard! Eventually of course that also meant our clear view filled up with pulsating bodies.


With only minutes left before our end of day meet up to share sketches we found the Kai Lyons Jazz band and got in one more. Honestly? It was about the hat and dark glasses along with the flowered crop pants.

But the day was mostly about the personal aspect, meeting a very diverse crowd of people. The performers were sometimes as grateful to us for sketching them as we were to them for the music and visuals. There was lots of picture taking, and I even (supposedly) got on a live internet feed? which I will probably never see and that’s lucky. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Porchfest! Here’s the sketches from last year.

NYC: Part 5

On my last day in the city I’d planned to sketch in Central Park, but the head cold was in full swing and it was another day of gusty cold winds, so I hibernated in my son’s apartment where I’d spent the week with him and his three roomates, all of whom are PhD candidates in Economics at Columbia. Stealth sketcher that I am, I slyly recorded one of their study sessions.


And when the other roomate was home, caught him at the refrigerator digging around for dinner ingredients.


They were so welcoming and seemed comfortable enough having me around, that after a while I forgot my mother-ness and advanced chronological age and was flooded with memories of the joys of communal living in my 20’s. 

NYC45I’ll end this photo/sketch journal of the week with a couple pictures of the skyline from the roof of the building where Andrew works (Diller, Scofidio and Renfro). Looking north here with a slice of view of the Hudson. . .


.   .and east across a darkening sky toward the Empire State Building, with the High Line crossing just below.

New York, I’ll be back! You’ve definitely captured my heart.

New York: Part 3

The next day was a gully washer. Andrew and I arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, saturated after fording the street in ankle deep water, and then waited in line with the other umbrellas to enter.

The museum easily held all of us soggy souls, and we soon forgot about the sloshy shoes when we saw the Irving Penn Centennial and Rei Kawakubo’s “Art of the In-Between” , my favorites. The opportunity to sketch didn’t arise til evening.


. . .on the Balcony Bar where Veronica Lawlor’s workshop “Puzzling Out the Picture” was meeting up. The JP Jofre Hard Tango Chamber Band was playing the most passionate music! Can you tell by the way my line changed? I could barely contain myself. I mean this was soul-bared tango music.


Next Morning the workshop met at Brookfield Palm Plaza/the Winter Garden.


Another glorious sketching spot because it opens onto the World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial Pools and Oculus on one side, and the Hudson River on the other.



Ink and colored pencil in 9 X 12″ Canson mixed media sketchbook

Our exercise was to do lots of thumbnail sketches, composed in dimensional space, as a film director would do.


The Oculus is like a gigantic white raptor crouching at the base of the World Trade Center and inside it’s a transport hub. You really have to be there to even conceive of it.

Next to it is the 9/11 Memorial pools, and that’s where we went next to sketch.


. . .to sketch and ponder and pray for all those who lost lives and loved ones.


Veronica was circling around to all of us to give helpful comments. After struggling mightily with these BIG scenes, I was relieved with her instruction to “Just draw the heck out of it now!” So I did, surrounded by so many different languages I couldn’t even identify.

Then we entered the belly of the Oculus. . .


. . .a setting which made our thumbnail exercise suddenly so easy. Look anywhere for those shapes that enter and exit the picture boundary and capture the energy of that.


And yes! I even found a spot to enjoy a much needed latte while doing my lesson.


Here is the Oculus from the other angle, and that celestial form of the World Trade Center merging with the sky. And me, the little figure in the bottom left hand corner, at the end of a long and wondrous day, crossing with the light to find the subway stop.

NYC, Part 2, Day 2

Day 2 I was on my own until Andrew got off work at 6, so I took my time walking the High Line, a 1 1/2 mile long linear park built on an elevated section of a disused railroad spur in downtown Manhattan. It’s also an extraordinary botanical garden and architectural delight. I would have been impressed even if my son didn’t work on the High Line design team, honest.


It took a while to find a spot out of the wind where I could sit to sketch. The Sunken Overlook puts you on a bleacher going down to a window to the street below.

NYC26There are art installations along the way and a constantly changing view of the city and the Hudson River.


It was so windy that I needed a hat to hold my hair down. And I had to get the High Line pin and a High Line t shirt for my husband. Shameless parental pride.

At six Andrew and I met up to attend the Chelsea art openings, and then went out to dinner. He had a chuckle and eye roll about the hat.