travel sketch

Amsterdam Last days

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures. -Vincent van Gogh

On my last full day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh Museum and emerged two hours later feeling that I’d just encountered the part of myself that knows what it means to be an artist with a pressing need to draw and paint the world. I felt a kinship to this strange man who loved the common people, the miners, the potato eaters, and celebrated that love through his painting. . .kinship with his need to get out of the studio into the beauty and harshness of nature to try to find its “language”.

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Afterwards the trees outside the museum seemed to have stepped right out of his paintings, and I sat to ponder them while eating my sandwich. A bee was flying around my food and I welcomed it, like the birds, as a part of this glorious natural scene! When my attention was distracted I took a bite and felt an electric shock in my mouth. Out popped a dazed and dying bee into the grass. My tongue was on fire! What would Vincent do? Surely not freak out, but start his painting! Which is what I did (and clearly survived).

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Laurie Wigham met me for lunch afterward, and while I talked, she did this cafe portrait piece of me, direct watercolor with touches of after-the-fact water soluble pencil!

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My last morning I had an hour to head out for a last sketch before catching my shuttle to the airport. Ah, if only I had another week, I thought. . . but this will have to do for now.

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The flight back to San Francisco was fully booked. It was delayed and the waiting area was full of people already hot and weary, anticipating the eleven hour flight. My last sketch kept me from grinding my teeth, almost.

On the ride home my seat companions were a couple from Holland making their first trip to the U.S with their three teenagers. They got to practice their English and get some tips from a Californian. The man was a dyke engineer, so I got to ask my questions about how it’s possible that Amsterdam is not under water when it is over four meters below sea level!

The scene I never got to sketch on location!

I want to thank you if you’ve lasted through this rather long story documenting just a week of travel. It would have felt like a dream if I hadn’t put it down in this way. Actually as I look at my sketchbook, I think I’ve painted a dream.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.  – Vincent van Gogh

Exactly, Vincent!

 

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Amsterdam Part III

The International Urban Sketchers Symposium can at times be a humbling experience as one gets to observe some of the most accomplished sketch artists from around the globe. It is tempting to hide one’s imperfect sketches, or even give up! But here’s what Vincent had to say:

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -van Gogh

So I headed out in the relative cool of the morning to tackle canal reflections, boats, buildings and bridge. . . to paint.

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And what I loathed about this sketch at the time with its clumsy inaccuracies, I quite enjoy looking at now. The point of the sketch was obviously the red boat, which I accomplished, and some similitude of a reflection in the water. A bit of cropping would undoubtedly help, but that’s not the point here.

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That particular canal was shaded and serene, so rather than wandering on when I’d finished one sketch, I stayed to do a study of one of the colorful row houses that are so typical, along with other common aspects of canal life. One is always “serenaded” by waterfowl on the waterfront.

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I wandered a bit as the day heated up, staying close to the canals, hoping for a breeze, observing canal houseboat life. It didn’t look like any of the houseboats which lined the canals had air conditioning – not so idyllic a life in the 100 degree heat!  Even the swans looked hot, or perhaps that was my imagination? After all, at least they were in the water!

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I found a table in a busy market square at lunchtime, right next to the hot baked potato booth, which not surprisingly had almost no business in this record breaking heat wave. The potato chef, delighted to have myself and another sketcher to watch, hung out with us, helping me at least to get the mind off physical discomforts.

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During the hottest part of the day I holed up in the air conditioned hotel, feeling boundless gratitude for its welcome comfort. From a relaxed vantage point in the lobby ice cold beer in hand, I sketched my homage to Motel One Waterlooplein!

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Evening was for enjoying beer, dinner and good company again at the Drink and Draw, though no relief in temperature (note the walking shoes are off).

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From my seat I could see the Zuidekerk, also known as the Hub, where the Symposium was meeting.

 

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And before I knew it I was late getting out to join the sketchers on the river. The sun had dipped below the horizon, the city and boats lights cast a spell on the scene, and I was sketching in the dark! Luckily I at least knew the location of my Quinacridone Gold and Payne’s Gray on the palette and just stayed with those.

I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. – V. van Gogh

To be continued. . .

 

Amsterdam Part II

By my third day in the city the heat was steadily ramping up, making it not only uncomfortable to walk around, but even to sit in the shade. I thought the Hortus Botanicus garden would give some respite, but it was more of a steam bath.

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Ah, but the palms! Focusing the eyes on them in concentration helped, though my fingers were slippery with sweat.

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That day an almost cool wind made the early evening pleasant in the park by the canal. People were taking advantage of it, and I enjoyed the constant giggling of the group of stoned teens in front of me, as well as the family of ducks that came begging for crumbs at my feet as I sketched.

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The Urban Sketchers Symposium was officially launched, though I had chosen to be more of a free agent, sketching on my own or with others around the city and participating in an abridged fashion. That night I met up with Agnes, an old friend I see now only at Symposiums, and we dined canal side across from the “Drink and Draw” location, where I would meet urban sketchers the next two nights. As we sat drinking our beer we were flanked by sketchers from Germany and Spain and the UK.

The next morning I attended talks by three urban sketchers I revere: Laurie Wigham, Lapin and Mario Linhares. Laurie’s talk was titled Connect with the world, one drawing at a time, a variation on the urban sketcher motto. We had worked together on her brainchild project of Sketching Climate Stories which had led to my work with Sketching Fire Stories. I hope someone recorded her inspirational talk about the impact we can have on the world with our practice of going out and sketching stories and meeting and interacting with people as a result.

 

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Umbrella over head and loaded with an extra water bottle, I left the cool of my hotel around 5pm and was hit by a blast of heat that took my breath away. Vincent knew about the discomforts of on location painting. He wrote:

As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed. -van Gogh

In other words I thought, bring it on! I’m not going to melt, (though I might pass out!)

At a snail’s pace and on the shady side I proceeded to the organized sketchwalk area and found a spot on a dock in the shade. What caught my eye was the wonderful square geometry of the buildings across the canal, so Mondrian-like. Normally I get quite bored doing windows, but these somehow relaxed me.

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Meanwhile there was a great deal of splashing and screaming behind me as young people plunged into the brown water to cool off. Pretty eye catching colors on this drawbridge! Mondrian again!

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That evening I got in some socializing at the Drink and Draw and joined sketchers from all over the world at the edge of the river to do a quick atmospheric rendering of the spectacular night scene. After wetting the whole page I started painting like mad, unable even so to keep up with the light that was rapidly changing everything, and the excited people blocking my view!

To be continued. . .

 

 

 

Sierra adventure continued:

Laurie had done some pretty good scouting in the area and found a spot with one of those barns with the gorgeous weathered wood, and nearby a dried up bog with clay the color of the barn! Apparently it was an old Basque sheep herders’ camp.

So we followed her out to the spot where she dug up the clay, and adding gum arabic and glycerine (which she had brought along), proceeded to make watercolor pigment for us to paint with! Gotta love that enthusiasm for connecting with nature in our art.

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I took my little sketchbook out to the field to get a quick sketch of the barn and the wonderful cement? oven in another small building – kiln or bread over, we couldn’t tell. It would have made a great pizza oven too!

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Practicing sky, weathered barn, distant hills and grasses here. Greener and lighter blues on the horizon and warmer/darker ones higher up.

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The last morning we drove out to the wide open expanse of grasslands with the backdrop of mountains and constantly changing cloud formations. The lesson was to go BIG! BIG brushes and paper. So that we wouldn’t get all attached to getting it right, but rather feel free to be more expressive with our brush strokes without fear of screwing it up, we played the pass-the-painting game.  With each new step of the painting a new person added their personal touch! Skies, distant mountains, nearer mountain, trees on the near mountain, grasses, fence, etc. Here are our creations all laid out before we said goodbye to our wonderful teacher and new friends.

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Before Bettina and Anni and I headed over to Sierra Hot Springs for an afternoon soak, I added this one to my travel sketchbook.

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Next day Bettina and I went to Salmon Lake for a bit of hiking and sketching. Sometimes even on a gorgeous day, there are times when it is almost impossible to get comfortable enough to focus on sketching a scene. Can you relate?  For some reasons the mosquitos were quite hungry – for me, not Bettina! – and the sun was so bright I couldn’t see my colors, and when I finally got enough bug spray on I could still see the mosquitos circling over my head as they cast moving shadows across my paper! And then I got numb-butt while sitting on granite. But hey, it was great.

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Later we headed up to Frazier Falls and took the trail out to the overlook. The sign read that the falls is at 6500′ and has a 248′ cascade. Here’s Bettina tackling the falls while standing. I found a little spot for my stool in the shade next to her. Meanwhile groups of sightseers looked over our shoulders as they arrived.

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As we left our spot we passed 2 or 3 groups of men who asked “Did you put me in your painting?” Unbeknownst to us they had been watching us from the other side at the top of the falls.

So we headed to the spot at the top, where you can’t see the falls, unless you bend over the granite edge (no thank you). A fellow sits down at the edge for just long enough for me to sketch him and later build the scene around him.

He noticed me and came over to take a look and was delighted that I’d sketched him. (It’s interesting that it never seems to matter to people that it doesn’t look like them.) Soon we’re talking and I find out he’s a local physician who is writing a book about the mind/brain/spirituality or something and dictating it into a microphone while walking, as well as doing video for his vlog.

FrazierFalls_Paul So the caption here is Vlog meets Blog.

And that completes the bird’s eye view of a week in the Sierras.

Hope you’re enjoying your July 4th celebration! I’m delighted to be home, eating fresh picked plums off the tree, and leaving the roads to other people.

Exploring Hip Brooklyn

I’ll skip over the day spent at The Met and Met Breuer because otherwise this post will get too long. But it’s worth checking out (online) the exhibits I saw  – Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the dance performance of Gallim: (C)arbon, and my absolute favorite Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body. There are videos to watch and so much of the exhibits shared on The Met’s website.

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This is a scene I don’t get to sketch at home in Sebastopol! I was given a tour of Williamsburg, a hip Brooklyn scene, by Andrew and his partner Maura. Here the view of Manhattan across the river with its skyscrapers and brownstones. They even joined me for some sketching here!

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There was a bit of thrift shopping to do (by Maura) and time for a quick standing sketch of Andrew while we waited.

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and then a stop in the Levi’s store for Andrew to find some shorts. I was intrigued by 1) the new “logo” on t-shirts Button Your Fly and 2) the mannikin wearing high heals with cutoff shorts. ? ? A girl was machine embroidering patches to sew on jackets, another “latest” or is it “throwback”?

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I begged off the next shopping stop, and they left me happily sketching in an empty dog park which had a bench facing this church with the onion domes. My direct watercolor was not working out very well, when along came a woman with her dog and sat directly opposite me.grover2

I instantly abandoned my unfortunate domes and tilted the sketchbook up out of her sight of vision and drew like mad. A real authentic Brooklyn hipster, sitting still before me! I tried putting Grover in the sketch, but he was so ecstatic to be running free that he was just a blur that my model kept calling to. . .”Grover!” or was it Rover?

I must say I found the style in Brooklyn to be wonderfully free and creative. Not at all a scene where everyone was trying to look alike, but the outfits came across as artistic in that idiosyncratic way.

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Looking out through the front window of And/Or Coffee here. (I forgot to ask what the and and or referred to). We needed to linger a bit, rest weary feet, and cool off.

The sketch strategy here was a fun one. Pick the things that catch your fancy and leave out the rest. Then add selective color. There were hardly any people to distract, just a colorful slice of a city corner. I never found out what the sign “You’ve Got Nail” referred to or explored the exotic “Dilruba Grocery”.

And that’s the last of the Brooklyn sketches. Next day I hugged Andrew and Maura goodbye and was off in an Uber to Newark airport. My driver was a friendly smiling young man Andrew’s age from the mountains of Ecuador with a fascinating story I would tell if this weren’t a sketch blog!

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Back to airport sketching. Two characters sitting on the same row of seats, both on cell phones, of course. The older gentleman on the left took off his hat on the plane to reveal a yarmulka.

Well, that’s the end. Please forgive the uneven coloration on these pics. My scanner is temporarily not working. I put 95% of my sketches from the trip in this story so you might understand that travel sketching is not about making perfect little paintings but about capturing the moment in the time you have. The sketch installs the memory with all the sensory data, so you never forget. Not sure how that works, but it does! Thanks for coming along with me.

Watercolor Simplified in Sonoma

On Saturday I met with 13 sketchers at the historic Barracks in Sonoma to teach the day- long Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. The weather was warm and lovely and the sun kept dipping behind clouds and then re-emerging. I figured I better get in the demonstration of the “one-two-punch” sketch while the sun was casting lovely shadows.

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fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal 7 X 10″

It was also a chance to put in a “sky dash”, which is a juicy blue sky wash that leaves a bit of white for occasional clouds and doesn’t get all fussy when there’s not time to get the particular sky “right”. The one-two-punch goes in layers of darkening values, the last one of which pops out the sketch, rescuing it from ho-hum.

Of course by the time I’d finished my demo, the sun ducked behind a light cloud obliterating the shadows for my poor students, who were then supposed to paint the shadow shapes!

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When you’re learning watercolor it’s important to find a way to have fun with it so you don’t get bogged down in trying to get realism in your application. So I demonstrated the spritz-splatter method of creating a colorful sketchbook page and then drawing/painting some detail on it to tell a bit of the story. Since it is spring and the Sonoma Plaza was filled with blooming flowers, this was a good bet. And it turned out to be the most popular technique of the day.

Sonomafountain This fountain went into/behind many of the spritz-splatter floral displays!

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Some of the sketchers were putting people in, and this fellow sitting around the fountain was so still as to be an ideal model! He seemed in fact to have perfected the art of doing nothing! I used this as an example of anchoring your subject to the context and leaving out unnecessary detail.

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Then the ducks in the pond became a favorite subject! Honestly I could sit all day and watch them and the children shreeking with delight at their antics.

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I managed to work them into my spritz-splatter floral!

And then suddenly it was time to call it a day, and such a good one it was!

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. . .