Reportage Sketching

A Week of Sketches

Catching up a bit with sketches from the past week, first a day in San Rafael enjoying the bucolic campus of Dominican University.

AnneHathaway

light pencil and watercolor in spiral Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

I was setting up my stool in the sun, planning to catch the bright morning light on the bench with the English country style building behind, when the lady in the red slippers sat down and started texting/talking. I was happy to include her and had just started drawing her in when she looked up and saw me. She immediately jumped up, thinking she was in my way, and came over to apologize and see what I was doing.

“No, no” I said. “Please make yourself at home on the bench and ignore me.” So she sat back down for a few minutes, then came back over to look again and tell me her story. . .her peaceful memories of that bench going back to when she was a young student there. . .losing her glasses. . .something about those wonderful red pom pommed slippers . .. . her own fascinating art life. Anyway, you get the picture. A delightful encounter for both of us, which would not have happened without the sketchbook.

GuzmanHall

Found a quiet spot in the sun to practice architecture, or a small piece anyway. Sitting in the direct sun with light bouncing off the white paper and sun-blind eyes is a challenge. Best to sit in the shade while sketching the sunny scene, but this is not an option on a chilly winter day.

FlatIron

We headed to lunch at the Flat Iron pub in San Rafael. Pork sliders and fried calamari. Yum!

ogre

Another day of sketching closer to home, at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. I wanted to catch the passengers on the train but missed the schedule.  Good thing because a costume shop down 4th St., Disguise the Limit, is a sketcher’s paradise with mannikins, masks and displays of every kind of costume for theatre and festival, including steam punk attire.

Disguise2

I guess I was in a Halloweeny mood with my macabre choice of subject, but I left in a much better mood than when I’d entered! Go figure.

 

 

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.

Presidio1

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.

Presidio3

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.

ggbridge

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. . .

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.

smarttrain04

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.

LukasWharf

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

LukasWharf2

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.

Bodegachurch

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.

concert1

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.

4thStreet

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.

sheriffsboat

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.

dogwalker

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.

carmelt

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.

carmeltpic

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?

A Walk Down Polk St.

Last Tuesday I met my friend Tania at her apartment next to Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco to launch a day-long exploration of the city with a meandering walk down Polk Street from the Bay (at the top) to Market Street (at the bottom). I was armed with my sketcher’s gear and ready to plunk down and start moving the pen at any opportunity. She travels light with her iPhone in her pocket with its camera and built-in photo and voice editing, etc. We were both after stories and people to inhabit them and had no agenda beyond that.

PolkSt1

ink and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook (spiral bound)

The day was perfect for this kind of strolling with sunny sweater weather and no wind, a rare treat in S.F.  A lifelong resident of S.F., Tania was already sharing her stories of the various neighborhoods we passed through. Of course she knew where to get the perfect cup of coffee to start our day at Saint Frank Coffee in “Polk Gulch” right below Russian Hill.We sat in the window so I could capture some of the city scene along with the coffee drinkers and their dogs.

While I sketched, Tania read me one of the spell binding autobiographical stories/travel sagas she’s working on. Check out her blog where she publishes some of her stories. Her book Mother Tongue  a Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Woman, will be coming out in March.

As we were leaving Tania noticed that there were only men in the coffee shop all lined up in every seat and at work on their computers. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask them what they did to scare away all the women. Smiles broke out on all the faces as we left, something that tends to happen a lot on these excursions with Tania.

PolkSt2

Our walk continued with brief stops to check out the kind of unusual storefront and businesses one finds on S.F. streets. Some of them left us scratching out heads. I couldn’t resist the road crew with their colorful orange vests and plopped down on the sidewalk to sketch the work-people (that’s a woman holding the sign) while they ate their lunch. Behind me was MCC, a community center for “Diverse Beliefs, Common Values. A Home for Queer Spirituality”. Five inches in front of me was rushing midday traffic which vibrated the ground and caused me to blink madly to see the construction scene. That’s urban sketching for you!

After lunch we proceeded through the Tenderloin where homelessness and drug addiction is abundantly visible. It wasn’t an area where either of us was prepared to stop.

Arriving at the magnificent Civic Center Plaza and City Hall, Tania said “Let’s go inside.”

proposalsketch

I would have been happy to sketch the magnificent interior of City Hall with its classical, ornate elegance for days! But it also turned out to be a feast of elegance of the human sort with a steady stream of wedding couples, photographers capturing romantic poses while bridesmaids arranged the gauzy white trains.

As I sat down against the wall, this elegant couple in matching attire were posing for their engagement photo shoot (hence not white). I can only imagine what the wedding attire will be! (Note Tania with her iPhone camera)

The photographer told us that on any weekday you would find 25-50 weddings at City Hall and over 100 on weekends. But we found that number to be low because we saw at least 20 couples in the hour or so we were there!

Proposal

By the time the couple had changed outfits and come back for more pictures on the marble staircase, Tania had met them and urged me to show the sketch which had a bit of color on it. Aman held it up and wanted their picture taken with it.

We left City Hall with a bit of the glamor and romance and definitely sweetness of that day still clinging to us. You can’t help but feel hopeful for this couple as they launch into married life!

giraffe

It was time to soak up some sun in the Plaza and we were delighted by the knitted giraffes encasing some of the trees. Directly ahead where the orange cones were pointing was Market Street and a building with the word TRUTH drawing us toward it next.

As we neared Market Street we met some friendly “neighborhood embassadors”, people from the Hunter’s Point project who we gathered were there to help out with the homeless population as well as to help keep the public areas properly maintained. They had great pride in the fact that within moments a mobile soup kitchen would be set up and they would be helping to serve hot meals to those in need.

We watched as a van drove up and a nun was helped to unload deliscious smelling pots of food and boxes of bagels and salad. A tent and tables were quickly erected and people started lining up. The “embassadors” told us it would be OK for me to sit and sketch.

feedinghomeless

And so, sitting on the cement wall with people eating steaming hot food on either side, I sketched as Tania listened to a woman with a heart breaking tale and the pigeons and gulls swooped in and out, scavenging what they could.

There’s a kind of alchemy that happens sometimes with this kind of sketching where you can begin to simultaneously experience not just the inside of your own space but that of others. I could feel the caring and enthusiasm of the servers, the relief and satisfaction of the diners all mixed in with my own gratitude for being there in those moments.

tram

Tania suggested a tram to get us back uptown where we could have dinner near her apartment. We could have taken a regular city bus or trolley or cable car, but the trams in S.F. have a special charm and claim to fame. As other cities in the U.S. were discontinuing electric cable methods of transportation in favor of buses, S.F. decided to continue, and to this day has a fleet of historic trams from cities all over the country. So we hopped on the Kansas City Tram for our rush hour ride and I got in my last sketches of the day.

Bijan Stefan writes In Praise of the Flaneur in the Paris Review, “The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. ”  I think it’s safe to say that we were . . .last Tuesday. . . walking Polk St. . . for that day at least . . .embodying a modern version of the  “flaneur”. Perhaps you have a bit of flaneur in you too?

Rescue and Now Restoration Beginnings

Our Sonoma County fires have reached nearly total containment now I think (hope!) and most of the neighborhoods that burned have been opened up for the owners to begin the process of sifting through the rubble for salvageable belongings. The air is clear and we have begun to venture out into Santa Rosa to see the damage and try to get our minds and hearts around the loss of property and so much more. Last week we walked the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where the evacuation center and fire rescue headquarters have completely taken over the grounds.

firerescueheadquarters2We walked through Grace Pavilion where evacuees were resting on cots and talking to counselors and FEMA and insurance reps and other volunteer helpers.  We sketched the soldiers and the tables with free towels and flip flops and mobile TV center and mobile laundry and mobile cafe.  We looked through the fence to see the fire trucks and a vast tent city erected for first responders,  an astonishing command center for fire rescue in Sonoma County.

And today we ventured out to familiar settings in Santa Rosa, now less familiar except as seen in news articles for the past two weeks as charred remains.

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At Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Restoration Services vans and crews were everywhere restoring landscape around the performing arts center.  The building next door on the east side is now a burned out shell which had housed the Anova Center for Education. A hazmat team was cleaning and removing loose debris, and we spoke to two of the school staff in the parking lot. Anova Center for Education is a K-12 school and services for children with autism and learning differences. School is temporarily suspended while they await portable classrooms which will be erected in the parking lot until their building can be rebuilt.

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There’s a cruel irony to the pure white fire hydrant right outside the burnt out shell of a building. If it had feelings it would surely be unhappy that it couldn’t fulfill its one mission in life. Or perhaps I’m just projecting my survivor’s guilt onto it.