pen and watercolor sketch

Downtown Olympia

We tried another “alternative” coffee shop downtown for our sketch meet up last weekend – a retail clothing/gift boutique called Ember Goods

fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ journal

Ember Goods is indeed as advertised “a sanctuary for everything we love about the Pacific Northwest”. Firstly, a place to get out of the rain and cold, have an extraordinary cup of coffee, the kind that makes the thick coffee colored foam on the cup, to sit in the hyggelig decor (remember that Norwegian word that sounds like “hug” and means something similar – soothing, cozy, etc.) The clothing is the sort you might put on your Christmas wish list. And the patrons seemed to know the owners who were busy at the espresso counter. My own family “discovered” this place our first week in Olympia when we were hoping that our move had landed us in the right place.

After our small sketch group had arrived, drunk our coffees and checked in with each other, I settled in to do a continuous line drawing of things that caught my eye – quilting them together somewhat out of order to fill the page.

I had planned to sit outside on the street where shoppers were passing, Christmas lights were hung, volunteers were sweeping up leaves and tending the plants in merry seasonal clean up efforts. The Center for Performing Arts was offering free concerts of student groups, and a tent offering rapid Covid testing and vaccines was set up outside. But I ended up in the quiet skylit vestibule of the New Caledonia Building for another sketch behind the chocolate and tea shops and more hyggelig!

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.


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!)

Visiting the Burn

The roads through neighborhoods burned in last month’s devastating fires are finally open again. Over 5100 homes burned and an additional 1000 buildings. This past week I was drawn to take a better look, by a complex mixture of compassion, curiosity and my own need to heal in the way that comes easiest for me, through art making.


pen, watercolor, gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn Nova Series Grey toned sketchbook

In the Mark West Springs area: rubber melted off tires, steel girders collapsed/bent,  while on the same property trees retaining full foliage.  Across the street roses blooming, and farther down, beautiful homes untouched by the flames. But that night of October 8 the fire didn’t stop there. It twirled like a Dervish and raced on for miles. In the bright light of a sunlit day, there was no sense to make of its crazy drunken path.

Yet here I sat on a lovely fall day, listening to the Mariachi music and mellow voices of the workers nearby. Pink ribbons flapped in the breeze on mailboxes indicating that a hazardous waste inspection had been done.


Metal, cement, bricks, rocks, some glass and ceramic tiles and statuary remain, though not always in the original place. In these neighborhoods there are so many stairs to nowhere now. And this goddess arising from the shell, having also risen from the fire, seemed full of despair in one moment. . .and full of hope in the next. The metal sculpture on the right (once a heater perhaps?) tilted empathically at the same angle as the goddess. So much beauty in all this loss, shining paradoxically through the sadness.

roundbarn The Round Barn had stood on the hillside in Santa Rosa for 119 years before it burned in the Tubbs fire. I wanted to see it, and pay homage with a sketch, but although we knew where it was supposed to be, we couldn’t find it. On the blackened hillside above Mendocino Avenue leaned a small, leafless tree. I assumed at first that because the Barn was such a beloved landmark, the usual fire debris had already been trucked out.

But as we caught sight of the stone pilings, arranged in a circular fashion below, we realized we had reached the spot. Piles of rusty nails and bolts littered the ashy ground and green shoots of grass, bright and vibrant were already beginning to lend a healthy glow to the hillside.  Such was the contrast to the mountain of gray debris left behind by the fire that consumed the K-Mart and others businesses.

A walk on the burnt hillside restored my vision of nature as flexible, yielding to disaster, bending and springing back so ardently on this hillside meadow where an old wooden barn burned to the ground. Who knows what flowers will decorate the hillside this winter and spring?

It was time to choose which of the fire art I would render in my sketch. A few sheets of metal curled up in sculptural beauty, kissed with colors of flame and oxidation? The big oak which split in two in the fire, making a kaleidoscope of sky holes in the trunk and a stretch of trunk curling down to meet the ground and opening up future homes for many creatures? I chose the bench to sketch, for the story it told of the fire’s unique artistry.

Wine Country Winter Festival

Yesterday Carole and I spent the afternoon at the Wine Country Winter Festival at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds and somehow never tasted the wine, but came away with lots of sketches!

The Santa scene was very low key so we started there, and even got our picture taken on Santa’s lap (well almost).


fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn Beta Sketchbook, 7 X 10″

Santa Tim is a non-profit Santa! and he even belongs to an organization of Santas who have natural beards!


Nice beard, huh? And no, Carole and I did not plan to wear the same color.


The music was too loud in the pavilion so we sat right outside and enjoyed the sun.

winterfestival3 The group My Divas was dressed in colorful 19th century garb, wandering around sharing their carols. I wanted to get all six of them on the page, but alas, they didn’t fit. So apologies to the one I left out! Their vocals were so delightful and clearly they were enjoying each other’s company.


Inside the Grace Pavilion here with the Arts and Crafts exhibits, and the magical disappearing man! I could have drawn in the rest of him after he left, but I’m not sure it would have matched. Better to move on I decided.


Moving down to Amy Smith’s hats (Flying Colors Studios), she let me sit on a stool and enjoy the view while trying on one of her exquisite soft creations. Getting pretty comfortable here and chatting with the artists. With so much detail to draw, what a treat!  But finally it was time to call it a day.

Jimtown, Sonoma, Healdsburg sketching

Last weekend I joined up with the Ready Set Sketch group at Jimtown Store  in Healdsburg. I have sketched the iconic front of the store/cafe in the past with its historic building and red truck out front. So this time I joined some others in the shade behind the the store. What was intended as a quick sketch turned into a painting as I relaxed on my tiny Coleman stool, enjoying the lovely setting, good company, and welcoming presence of the owner, Carrie Brown. A delicious lunch in the cafe followed.jimtown

Lamy Joy fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ w/c sketchbook


On a trip to Sonoma on Sunday I grabbed a half hour to do my last lesson for Liz Steele’s Sketch Now Buildings course. I was appalled at the messy result of my rushed sketch, but had to admit that the cast shadows at least offered a bit of realism and I believe the proportions were more or less right. The colors? not so much. I’d like to say it was fun to sketch, but I still find myself resisting straight lines and studied measurements. Nevertheless on Thursday I was trying it all out with another structure.


But first, a warm up in Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg with my sketch buddies. Worth a visit for not just the best cup of coffee but the paintings of Mary Linnea Vaugham!


Then out on the sidewalk for some more measuring and analyzing building structure.

And now the sky again is white as we wait for another storm to roll in. No sketching outdoors this weekend!


Before I started hanging out with Urban Sketchers I avoided sketching buildings. All that linear stuff was too boring, I thought. Then I started wanting to be one of those cool urban sketch artists who can capture a busy city scene quickly and expressively. I should be able to pull that off, I thought.  After all, I’ve been an artist for 23 years, or longer if you count excursions into drawing since I was a child.

But it wasn’t that easy. I realized that I never really looked at buildings in the way one must to convincingly tell their stories. So it has been humbling, but also exciting, to forge new territory. It also helps with my motivation that one of my sons has chosen a career in architecture and opened my eyes to the beauty and mystery of structural design.


Garber St. in Berkeley, fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ sketchbook

You have to really be interested in building design to be willing to sit on a sidewalk and waggle your head up and down  and try to make sense of what you see. Since I got back from Manchester, England where the Urban Sketchers annual symposium took place, I have been looking at buildings in a new way. I live in the countryside, so it takes a bit of planning to find structures complex enough to offer some interest. This street of beautiful homes in the Berkeley hills was a good find.

I also signed up for Liz Steel’s online course, “SketchNow Buildings”. Liz approaches her sketches with the benefit of having practiced architecture for 20 years, and she has learned how to communicate the essentials of architectural sketching to non-architects for quick sketching in public spaces. She has a new book that just came out: Architecture: Super Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings


This is one of my class exercises, sketched from the parking lot of Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa. To follow the lesson I focused first on following edges with a continuous line, thinking in terms of shapes (sky shape, shadow shape, etc.), and 3-D volumes, moving back and forth through these as I proceeded with the sketch.


Here’s a little house in town where I stopped to do my assignment, which started with analysing the volumes. I made the mistake of not taking time to measure properly, but I found it useful to critique the sketch and spell out the steps I could take to improve. Here’s some of my self critique:

-focus on volumes and thicknesses

-made the house too narrow

-needed to measure first

-steps are difficult

-need to go back with crucial lines left out

-difficulty of not seeing the ground line to get perspective cues

–sketching behind steering wheel in car is too restricting!

-color confusion: test to use more consistent shadow colors


A Methodist church I pass every time I go to town.  More practice understanding the volumes and working out the watercolor mixtures for shadow shapes and more. Doing little side sketches to work out the details of areas like window insets and doors and porticos is so helpful. Also paying attention to leading edges on buildings and drawing all the thicknesses improves a drawing dramatically.


Working from a photo to understand some issues with the structural components of some classical architecture.


And then, how fun! I found this house in Santa Rosa which took lots of measuring and redrawing to even begin to understand how the columns related to the entablature (some things I’ve learned in past 4 weeks!)

Well I’m not ready to give up drawing people, but I must say that buildings hold a new kind of interest. Thanks to Liz Steel and Urban Sketchers, at least I won’t be so intimidated when I visit the city again and try to get all those lines to make sense!

Much Ado About Sebastopol

My husband teases me about choosing movies where there are costumes. Yes, I’m a fan of Masterpiece Theatre. But it’s been years since I’ve been to a Renaissance Fair. I used to take my boys when they were little and help them dress with capes and toy weaponry tied at the waist.

But much as I love costumes, especially to sketch, I chose to wear only the lightest, coolest clothes in my wardrobe (on a scorcher of a day) for this festival titled “Much Ado about Sebastopol” held in Ives Park.


fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ w/c sketchbook

We strolled past the booths selling trinkets and tents where costumed characters lounged and the tarot card reader and the children’s games and the food and settled on hay bales to watch the fencing demonstrations. There’s actually a fencing academy in Santa Rosa!

Then the Mayor of Fenwick (alias Sebastopol) entered the stage with his wife and soon was accompanied by Will Shakespeare himself and

. . .the Queen and her flamboyant nobleman. I was sketching furiously to try to keep up, when the next performers arrived, Bella Donna.


The Italian courtesan ladies with their hilarious drama in song about a beautiful young woman who must make the decision to marry (the handsome young rake proposing to her), become a cultured courtesan, or enter a nunnery – the only three choices to a lucky woman in Renaissance Italy I suppose.


Luckily I’d thought to eat before coming, because we were glued to our hay bale seat not wanting to miss the next acts either! The Brass Farthing is a “group of stalwart lads”, professional singers who performed bawdy drinking songs. Next came the Morris dancers, but I needed a bit of rest in my pen wielding hand, and honestly I still haven’t gotten the hang of drawing dancers in movement.


Still wanting to enjoy the memories of a fine day once I got home, I sketched this bonnie scotsman from my iPhone image.

The Classics

At the invitation of Richard Sheppard and his monthly sketch group I headed up to Cloverdale for the Annual Car and Motorcycle Show.  It was a bit like how I felt attending a Tattoo festival last year. I mean, out of my element. I wouldn’t really know how to converse with one of these classic car owners with any kind of knowledge. (I drive a 2006 Prius whose computer does all the thinking for me)

carshowLamy Joy fountain pen and w/c in (full spread) 8X8″ sketchbook

It was such a riot of color with these classics taking over the main street of town, spit polished and neon colored in the blinding midday sunshine. I walked until I found a super sleek and classically lined car with a spot in the shade for me to set up my little stool. Simple, all black. Ha!

Two tries and I started to get the shapes down and was feeling proud. . .until I realized that black is the hardest color to paint, especially when time is an element and it is reflecting light off every surface – the green of trees above, the red of cars across.

Meanwhile the owner turned out to be well known and an award winning car show personage so I got to listen to all kinds of car talk as others arrived and as he periodically brushed some infinitesimal dust mote off the surface.

It wasn’t til I got home that I realized that my sketch had robbed his beloved 1940 Ford Deluxe of it smooth luster. He was gracious and forgiving, a kind host to my intrusion.


Next I decided to go for color, which I thought might be easier, once my eyes got used to the bright glare. The music at this spot matched the Cougar in the foreground and I started to feel like perhaps I was in my element after all. I knew all the songs by heart!

Questions Like When to Stop

The biggest city in Sonoma County, CA and the county seat is Santa Rosa. Right now the city is undergoing a major revamping in the center. Courthouse Square is soon to be a lovely park area with no cars driving through (as was the previous case). Bob and I were downtown and I wanted to check it out for a possible sketch project to record the transformation.  Of course I’m already too late for that, since I didn’t sketch the “before”, but Im thinking I’d like to sketch the cranes and signs and construction scene when they’re back at work after the Labor Day weekend.


fountain pen and brush pen and watercolor in 8X8″ w/c sketchbook

Capturing urban scenes is a relatively new challenge for me. There’s so much detail for the eye to focus on, and I’m learning little by little what to put in and leave out.

And then there’s also the question of when to STOP! It’s hard, because putting in all the shadow shapes is time consuming and not always necessary.


Sometimes, as at the farmer’s market yesterday, I decide to just see how many layers I can put in to capture the story. My idea was to do a vignette, leaving white space, but I was having so much fun adding in characters that I just kept going.

The three young mothers in the foreground had toddlers constantly jumping into their laps and then running around in the grass. The guy behind them was a jazz musician playing on the ground rather than the stage for some reason. Great sounds!

And various people sat down on the bench next to me during the 30-40 minutes I was there and wanted to start up a conversation with me. It’s hard when you’re sketching, but Sebastopol is a very friendly town and people talk to you everywhere like you’re an old friend. Hmmm. Reminds me a bit of Ireland!