pen and watercolor sketches

Beauty among the ashes

Exploring yet another burned out neighborhood in the path of the October 8 Tubbs fire I drove out Mark West Springs road. While walking down a street of flattened homes this antique car rose out of the ashes and stared at me like a giant beetle. The squashed garbage cans seemed to be having a dialogue with it, so I sat down to listen to what they had to say about the event.


pen, watercolor and gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn toned Nova series sketchbook

The constant drone and thunking of the bulldozer down the street and conversation of workers kept me company while I followed the lines with my eyes, unencumbered by knowledge of familiar shapes I’d drawn before. Squashed circles and wavy/sharp edges and broken pieces set the brain free to engage in a pure effort of drawing as it should be, without distractions of the mind.

A couple of workman stopped by to ask me if I had lost my house here. People are always ready to offer condolences. A supervisor with a company on contract with FEMA or OSHA or, I wasn’t quite clear, engaged me in conversation. He had come from Miami, where he lives.

“I was there in the middle of the hurricane destruction,” he said, “and it looked a lot like this does” waving his hand over the flattened neighborhood they were clearing.


Continuing up Mark West Springs way and out Reibli road and other country lanes, I traced more of the fire destruction and found a peaceful spot by the side of the road. It was a typical scene with layered colors of alternating lush vibrancy and dark, burned areas with debris, like the trees above, still green at the tops with browned scorched leaves and black charred trunk. The human habitation was leveled and peppered with white and black ashes, and the grasses were surging back encouraged by recent rains. Even here the cranes and bulldozers droned on in their clearing jobs around every corner in the road.


ARCH Art Supply Poster

Arch Art Supply store in San Francisco made blk/white posters of the sketches done by all ten of the Urban Sketch teachers who will be offering workshops in the Bay Area this spring! For more information about the workshops, check out the 10 X 10 workshop schedule. My workshop is June 10, “Sketch Vignettes to Share the Story That Interests YOU!”

Here’s the Arch poster with my sketches from the Occidental Fool’s Day Parade, which will be coming up again this year.Yes, on April first. Maybe I’ll see you there?


Garden magic

It’s raining again now, but Buddha and I were reveling in the sunshine this week, I with my pen and watercolors while he basked in meditative bliss right outside my studio.


Pigma Sensei pen (fine) and Lamy Joy fountain, w/c in sketchbook, 8 X 8″


Years ago I planted daffodil bulbs all in a row along the driveway only to find that by bloom-time they had mysteriously migrated to other places. Every year now a big clump of daffodils emerges on the steep hillside above my studio. I had a few more moments to catch the last light of day standing downhill from the blooms on rain softened ground for a shaky scribble of a bloom capture on paper. And then the miraculous baby Pipevine pipes appeared just by my feet so I leaned over to sketch them as well.


These Dutchmen’s pipes will soon open, then be quickly replaced with green leaves and eggs and then my favorite black and orange polka dotted caterpillars. Now if that isn’t garden magic, I don’t know what is.

Cirque de Boheme


fountain pen and w/c in 7 X 10″ Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

I don’t know if they still have tickets, but you don’t want to miss Cirque de Boheme at Cornerstone in Sonoma, CA. It’s a 1920’s era French style circus show in an intimate tent setting.

Not being skilled at sketching action in the dark (or maybe even light for that matter) I took a few pics with my iPhone and did these later at home. I’m trying out my new brown deAtramentis document ink, which is waterproof.


One act superimposed on the other here. The show incorporates marvelous circus acts like trapeze, acrobatics, juggling, unicycle, and clowning all woven into an engaging and at times downright hilarious story thread.


My plan was to sketch whatever aspects of a busy Thanksgiving day and aftermath I could manage in between hosting, cooking, serving. It started with my friend’s arrival and a sketch-chat with her. No food was on the table yet, but there was a pumpkin at least.

fountain pen and watercolor in 7 X 10″ Beta series Stillman + Birn sketchbook

We picked up Andrew and his girlfriend Maura and discovered that both of them were stealing every possible moment to work on portfolios for grad school applications.

No sketching was possible at dinner. I guess I’m not as dedicated an Urban sketcher as some I know. Being a slow eater and not willing to let my food get cold, I found that by the time I was finished, everyone else was ready for desert, which meant I must whip the cream for the caramel hazelnut pumpkin tart, oh yeah!

After the dishes were done we were not a lively crew as the tryptophan kicked in. Andrew fell asleep on the couch with his nose in his computer.


This one I did later from a picture I took with my Iphone. I’m experimenting with how much I can leave out and still tell the story. The white of the paper is always so lively and skipping the color in clothes certainly saves time.


Next day my two young architects were still at it in our dining room with their backs to the window and view. Such discipline! and they’re so used to me lurking across the room with my pen and paints that they pay no notice.

Only problem is that the sketches here don’t tell the whole story of all the fun and food we had during their visit, and enjoying my two good friends who joined us and Bob who made much of the magnificent food. Once again this year Thanksgiving lived up to its reputation as the favorite holiday of the year.

Coming Soon, Reunification


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

A lovely day for another sketch of the tractors and earth-moving at Old Courthouse Square where they are busy with a Santa Rosa city “reunification” project. Unfortunately there was little visibility of the work since the entire area is encompassed by green covered fencing and busy traffic.

So we situated ourselves at the corner across 4th Street, where the view was generous with urban “entourage” (as the urban sketchers call it). Meaning lights and signs and umbrellas and bikes and more. As usual I did not plan to be so detailed, but the day was lovely and there was time, so why not put it all in? Do you see Becky on her stool at the end of the columns? I thought I’d try out some more designed text as well.


It wasn’t quite lunchtime yet so I had time for a more abbreviated sketch of the “green wall” obscuring the construction. The restaurants and stores in the area really need people to know that they remain open in spite of the construction. We got hungrier and hungrier smelling the mouth watering aromas emanating from Flavors’ open door.

#OldCourthouseSquareReunification, #FlavorsRestaurant

Home Land Security

Yesterday I joined the San Francisco Urban Sketchers at the Presidio to see the exhibition titled Home Land Security which is housed in five former military structures at Fort Winfield Scott. It also happens to be at one of the prime viewing spots of the Golden Gate Bridge, so there was lots to sketch.


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

There’s something about viewing the Golden Gate bridge from any angle that makes one whip out a camera or sketchbook. Yesterday there was this amazing shadow cast on the bay and Marin hills that made it even more of an imperative. In the first five minutes I realized this was not the warm up sketch I should have tackled, so I gave myself 30 minutes before moving on. Thirty minutes of sitting on the roof of an old bunker above the bay, feeling my good fortune to be there enjoying such a day, mixed with the frustration of trying to put it down on paper!


This is one of the bunkers where the art was exhibited. The Sacred Land refers to the Ohlone tribe which preexisted the bunker and the celebrated and maligned city of San Francisco. One low ceilinged bunker room was hung with missile shaped spindles made from secondhand clothing representing the stories of individual journeys.


The Chapel where we met at the end housed an installation of metal sculptures suspended in space that simultaneously elicited the fearful nature of war and the enduring beauty of the culture and art tradition that glorifies it.

I would highly recommend a visit to the art exhibit which “brings together works by 18 contemporary artists and collectives from around the globe to reflect on the human dimensions and increasing complexity of national security, including the physical and psychological borders we create, protect, and cross in its name.”