#pressdemocrat

Kevin’s house

It all started with the article in the Press Democrat showing Bettina and Carole and I sketching out on the streets of Coffey Park, that famously unfortunate neighborhood of fleeing souls that lost 1200 homes in one night in last October’s firestorm in Santa Rosa, CA.

Sasha saw the article and contacted us to see if we could do a similar “fire story sketch” of  Kevin’s (her fiance) home that burned that night.  The idea was to try to do something showing the passage of time.

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I started by sketching what was the present moment of the new home coming up on a street which was busy with construction.

Of all the neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that burned in that fire, Coffey Park is way ahead in efforts to rebuild. You can see the Coffey Strong signs everywhere that express a kind of neighborhood “united we stand” sentiment that has proved to be so vital to the spirit of healing and renewal.

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Sasha wanted another sketch showing the possession that Kevin was the most distressed to lose in the fire – his shiny new red motorcycle! Luckily she had a photo of the motorcycle before and after, as well as a before the fire photo of the house. I was able to combine all three in this rendering.

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Sasha invited me to come after work to see how the house was coming along, meet Kevin, give them the sketches, and watch the Coffey Strong neighbors greeting each other for their “walk the neighborhood” and potluck gathering.  There were smiles and hugs and picture taking and exchanges of information about how the construction is going, decisions that are being made, etc. It felt like the kind of survivor’s club I’d want to be a member of.

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Kevin and Sasha are told the house will be finished by Christmas. I sure hope Kevin has a motorcycle under the tree!

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“Sketch Artists Capture Coffey Park!”

We made it to the front page of the paper! A treat to wake up to this:

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The online version here is easier to read and features lots of sketches, Carole Flaherty’s, Bettina Armstrong’s and mine.

Many thanks to the members of the award winning (a Pulitzer prize no less!) Press Democrat team of reporter Robert Digitale and photographer Beth Schlanker for adding this story to their ongoing series about the recovery of Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood destroyed by the Tubbs fire.

And here’s page two:

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Carole, Bettina and I agree that this kind of on location sketching is always heart opening and healing for us as much as any people we meet along the way.

“When there’s something that touches our hearts like this, there’s just more in it.” -Carole Flaherty

Color Comes Back to Coffey Park

I was anxious to get back to do another sketch of Coffey Park this week, and managed to make two more trips with my sketch buddies.

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direct watercolor in my new handmade sketchbook, 9X15″ Fluid 100 paper

I’m still working with the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge. I wanted to capture the effect of homes going up here and there without much detail and that seems to work well with the direct w/c approach.

While we were sitting there we met 1) the owner of the house I’d sketched last week and got to hear some of his story and 2) a reporter and photographer from our (Pulitizer prize winning!) Press Democrat paper. Exciting stuff, this sitting in the dirt by the side of the road with bulldozers driving by!

So today we were back again for another eventful morning, which started with greeting the carpenters who were having a nutritious breakfast together before working on framing in a house.

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I was immediately struck by how colorful the construction scene was. The bright orange ladders and outhouse, the yellow cords and blue helmets and neon striped vests. Moving up closer to be in the tiny bit of shade available, I also got close enough to hear a lesson in construction and the easy banter of the workmen, punctuated by drills and hammers.

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Meanwhile I was sketching like mad, because the press had arrived to hear our story. How did we get the idea to sketch the fire stories and to keep doing it for months?

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Carole told her story, here with Robert Digitale. . .

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And Bettina told hers, and of course I told mine. And as always happens when we’re sitting out in the dirt on our little stools, we met more people who had their own stories. A man holding his granddaughter walked up to take a peek. He was the owner of the home I was sketching. He recognized my name and I recognized him as my son’s 7th grade math teacher, Mr. Borbe. And there it was, the fresh pathos of a respected and loved man who had lost his home in the fire. Sigh. Even so, he was all smiles. This is what is meant by Coffey Strong!

And then speaking with the photographer Beth, I got a peek at what it was like to drive into Coffey Park on the night of the inferno, to drive past the road blocks, showing their press badges, to have their own fire fighter suit to wear as they encountered that red-hot story.

The last bit of pathos came as I showed the sketches to the carpenters and heard what it is like for them to see what they’ve seen and live daily with it. The up side is getting to actually contribute something so tangible as a new home to people who lost theirs. But coming so close to the stories of loss takes its toll. One of the guys had to stop mid-sentence to staunch the flow of feeling coming on so strong.

And as I remember this day I feel the lump in my throat and the burning in the eyes returning. . .and I can’t wait to get back to more sketching. Funny thing, that.