Reportage Sketching

A Day at the Presidio in S.F.

In the winter it’s always good to have some indoor sketch options. Last week some of us met mid-week at the Officers Club in the Presidio in S.F. on the excellent advice of our East Bay buddy Cathy.  The Presidio is a 1,500-acre park on a former military post known for its scenic overlooks, forested areas, and recreational opportunities. The Officer’s Club houses, among other things like an Andy Goldsworthy installation, a fascinating historical exhibition and restaurant.

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Fountain pen and w/c in Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook, 6 X 8″

The lobby was an inviting place to start, especially with this relaxed lounger, waiting to start his work shift at Arguello, the restaurant which was our next stop.

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Exclusion is the title of a current exhibit in the Heritage Collection gallery which tells the story of the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. As I sketched this desk and chair it was easy to imagine the old black dial phone being used by some officer to give the order to round up innocent Japanese Americans. It’s a story I’ve heard told and read about so many times and the injustice of it stays fresh in mind.

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Listening to the docent tell stories about the history of the Presidio, from Native American Ohlone tribes to Spanish on horseback and so on I also got to contemplate the costumes of WWII service men and women.

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and a hand tooled Spanish calvary saddle.

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At the visitors’ center we stamped our sketches after I sat once again trying (and failing at) a quick sketch of the GG Bridge while the weather and colors changed from moment to moment confounding all my efforts. Another try might have worked better. The bridge needed to dissolve romantically into the Marin hills. One of these days. . .

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Smart Train

Those of us in Sonoma County who have been longing for a rapid transit system to transport us efficiently and economically to San Francisco are now realizing that our cars and the buses are our only bet. The new Smart Train (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transport) is finally up and running and apparently has riders, even though it only goes as far as San Rafael. So it was time to check it out with a bit of on location sketching.

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Derwent Graphik Line Maker pens and w/c in Stillman+Birn Sketchbook, 5.5X8.5″

The Railroad Square station, at the old 4th street Depot in Santa Rosa was rather quiet on a Saturday morning and a lovely spot for sketching in the sun.Trains departed every two hours. This first was a standing sketch behind the gate. To pull this one off I had to take an iPhone photo of the train arriving and add it to the sketch when finished since I don’t know enough about trains to catch it on the fly!

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It’s a bit of a rush to sketch on the platform and people were cold so they kept moving around. I was nervous too, knowing that the train would arrive in moments, and when it did, it stayed only briefly. And then I made the mistake of adding paint to the left side first (I’m left handed so I dipped my sleeve in it , smearing the paint around before realizing my error. (Tip! Always start painting on the side opposite your dominant hand!)

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After the 10:30am train left the station the two attentant/hosts sat down on opposite sides of the waiting area to give their attention to their cell phones and rest their feet.

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It was time for coffee at Flying Goat then and an opportunity to capture the old depot and train crossing posts along with the new.

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At home later I sketched this from a photo to practice design and perspective.

Some day I may try to get to San Francisco via the train. I can drive there in a little over an hour in my car (or get caught in traffic). Or I can drive to the station and look for parking, jump on the Smart Train, get off in San Rafael and take a bus to the ferry which will take me to San Francisco where I can board many different forms of public transportation to get me where I’m going, by which time I will need to turn around and come home. Hmmm.

The Slime Eel

This week we went to Bodega Bay in search of more crabbers to sketch and got lucky! Docked at Lucas Wharf was an unusual commercial craft devoted exclusively to harvesting the slime eel, which gets sent immediately to South Korea where the market for them is robust.

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The crew was friendly and educated us a bit about this fishing specialty. As you might imagine slime eels are not the delectable eel you find in your favorite sushi. No local chef would feature them on their menu and they are palatable to South Korean tastes only when highly spiced or chased with a stiff shot of liquor.

They are also known as Hagfish.

“Hagfish are not often eaten, owing to their repugnant looks and sliminess. However the inshore hagfish, found in the Northwest Pacific,[28] is valued as food in Korea. The hagfish is kept alive and irritated by rattling its container with a stick, prompting it to produce slime in large quantities. This slime is used in a similar manner as egg whites in various forms of cookery in the region.” -Wikipedia

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After that rather busy first sketch and a lunch of fried calamari, I decided to relax a bit and simplify. Get a load of the giant gull on the left! I guess I was feeling a bit intimidated, perched as I was on his dock.

On the way home we stopped in the little town of Bodega and caught the last bit of light of day.

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And by the way, if you’re wondering why Koreans pay the big bucks for such an unappealing fish, it has to do with that whole virility booster business.

 

 

Sketching the Symphony and Street Music

Our Santa Rosa Symphony orchestra has a Discovery Series of concerts where you can sit in on a real rehearsal of an upcoming program. The seats are affordable and you can sit up close if you get there early enough. So if it looks like these sketches are done from close up, you’re right. Second row orchestra seats at the Green Center.

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pen and watercolor in soft cover Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook, 5.5X8.5″

That meant that mostly I saw the front row of violinists (younger and older) and the back of the conductor.

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Wanting to be as discreet as possible I sketched with a pen, then added a bit of paint at home afterwards.

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When they moved the piano on stage for the Ravel Concerto and placed it, yes, that close, well. . .and then Stewart Goodyear came out cool as a cucumber and those fingers rained notes, not like individual ones, but a curtain of music, and so easeful. And well I guess you can see I got a bit wrapped up in the shape of his beautiful shiny head. . .but the fingers – ahh – and conductor Andrew Grams hands – ahh. And Ravel’s romantic music – ahh.

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That was some concert! and ending with Clair de Lune!

Later in the week Bob and I spent a day in Berkeley and Emeryville, our old haunting grounds before we moved to Sonoma County. We stopped for some lunch and window shopping on Fourth Street in Berkeley.

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And while sipping a Pumpkin Latte outdoors at Peet’s I had a few minutes to sketch. The East Bay Urban Sketchers sketched in this location for their meet-up this week. Rather than the bright sunlight, they captured the bright lights of decorations at night. Check out their wonderful sketches from the night scene here!

And for more sketches on Fourth St. in Berkeley go to this one from two years ago when we made the same trip! https://susancornelis.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/in-the-sketchbook/

Sittin on the dock o the bay

Back at Bodega Bay for another effort to catch the crabbers in action. No such luck this time. Finally we just plunked down benches facing the marina boats to contemplate a highly complex scene. Pick something and leave out the rest is a strategy that sometimes works.

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pen and watercolor in 5X8″ Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook, full spread

The Sheriff’s boat certainly gave off the vibe of authority, all black and steely gray. I would want to have my fishing license handy when it drove up alongside. The little boat next to it looked like it might be a nice place to take a nap, or have a drink with friends. The riggings of nearby sailboats were singing in the wind which whipped up a bit in the afternoon, as family throngs celebrated their Thanksgiving togetherness by walking the boardwalk and pausing for endless family pictures.

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A burly fisherman made a wide berth around me while sketching. His dog was equally burly and might have caused a start if I found his nose too close. This was a picture snapped as he walked away and sketched later from my iPhone.

 

 

Coffee Park Apocalypse

We finally made it out to Coffee Park in Santa Rosa to see the scene where 1000 suburban homes burned to the ground in one night when residents had little or no warning beyond neighbors pounding on doors to alert each other to flee.

Our mission, if we could articulate it, was to take in the scene with open eyes and hearts and to report on it through our on-location sketches.

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pen and w/c/gouache in Stillman + Birn grey toned Nova series sketchbook, 9 X 12″

The scene was devastation of the apocalyptic sort as far as the eye could see. It defies belief, not to mention description. The expected blackened trees and burnt wooden siding, yes, but melted glass and mangled cars?

I chose this car with its guts hanging out like a soldier wounded in battle and started to draw, realizing that I could not begin to identify the make or model or to imagine what all the wires must have been connected to. On the one hand it was a powerful piece of abstract art, stunning in its bright orange color (courtesy of the oxidizing effects of fire). On the other, it was a lure to coax the mind down a dark hole of death and destruction. One imagines an alien force with a ray gun.

The intensity of the fire as it hit Coffee Park made it unique in history. Fueled by winds that clocked in at 90 mph, the convection forces were powerful enough to create tornado-like vortices and even flip over cars. From a resident who had lost her home that night in the area where we were standing we learned that temperatures of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit had occurred that night, easily melting the glass of a windshield down onto a car’s dashboard.

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Meanwhile I was not prepared for the level of activity going on in Coffee Park yesterday, about five weeks after the fire struck. Bulldozers and backhoes and cranes were busy everywhere, clearing the lots to ready them for reconstruction. In fact this car was sitting on a piece of plastic on a lot completely cleared of detritus. I sat while the bulldozers roared about me, and the inspectors, encased in white with their bug-like masks and cameras and ribboned markers, surveyed the property next door.

Every little nail and bolt of this former-car called out to be drawn. I might still be there if my knees had held out. Did I think that the drawing would somehow help me to make sense of it all, if only I could get it right?