travel sketching

Sketching in Portugal: Arrival Lisbon

Back now from two weeks in Portugal, sightseeing and sketching and participating in the annual International Symposium of Urban Sketchers in Porto. Carole and I arrived in Lisbon after 15 hours of travel with a whole day ahead of us to try and stay awake so that we could go to sleep at the “right” time. Since we couldn’t get into our AirBnB apartment yet, we had the taxi drop us off at a cafe.


A lucky break for us, the waiter was a friendly young man who enthusiastically started our education right away, with a focus on food and drink. Another barrista suggested I try a mouth watering pastry made by his mother.


He handed me a gift of a chocolate truffle, also mother-made as we left to trudge up the street with our luggage and drop it off while the apartment was being cleaned.


And then more wandering in our zombied state. The sketching seemed to help to keep the eyes open!


And later, after we’d moved into our lovely apartment we discovered that the street behind ours was lined with intriguing tiny restaurants and shops such as this and even


a Museum of Marionettes, which we vowed to visit. (more on this later)


We chose this restaurant and were unfashionably early at 7pm, so once again we had three young waiters all to ourselves, and a fabulous dinner served with flair. This vacation was after all not just about sketching.


Next morning we took the bus to an area along the river called Belem.


The Museum of Arts, Architecture and Technology is an architectural wonder that we explored, on the outside at any rate, since we were anxious to start sketching while also seeing as much as possible.


We had not really done our homework of reading the guidebooks in any detail and I assumed I’d found the famed Tower of Belem, only to have sketched a more modern monument to the Explorers, which I loved for its simplicity.

Lisbon23I just couldn’t bring myself to tackle sketching the infinitely intricate Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, also in Belem!

Well, that’s day one and two. Jet lag has set in at the moment, but please stay with me. There’s lot more coming up!



Breakfast at the residence

I realize now that I’ve already written about the breakfasts so I’ll try not to repeat myself.  But. . .breakfast in the sunny country kitchen at 8:30 every morning was an exceptional way to start the day.


First there was the food, which I’ve already written about, and then there was the conversation.


Once I’d gotten to know the other resident artists I took the liberty to sketch “the breakfast club”.  Nancy is a fiber artist from Colorado, who was weaving on a hand loom and dying silks.  Deb is a watercolor artist and photographer from Michigan.  Reinout and Nel are a Dutch couple who live in Australia but spend months every year in Europe.  She is a mixed media painter and he, a Mathematics professor accompanying his wife on this trip. Maria is a best selling author from N.Y. who was finishing work on a book.  To say we got along would be an understatement. We are all parents of 20-somethings, for one.


Morning was a good time for a walk up the mountain.  I became enamored of the stones and rock of the road, the ancient walls, the church edifices, the farm houses.  The golds and siennas and pinks and pure whites.  The cypress trees with their flame-like shape planted in cemeteries like this and at homes to remind one of the flame of eternal life.  Small wonder I ditched my black ink pen in favor of golden brown in an attempt to honor the glow of these scenes.


Packed. . .almost


I’m driving myself a bit crazy trying to make decisions about what to take.   Tomorrow I leave for Italy and a month’s artist residency in Assisi.

I’ve been trying out various bags and pens and books for months now, and here is what got juried in:  an Eagle Creek day pack that even has room for a water bottle and my tiny collapsible stool and secret compartments for money, etc. The sketchbook is handmade by my husband with the hot press watercolor paper.


These are the basic art supplies which will go in the checked luggage.  With clothes for the month and more, it’s getting a bit heavy.  I picture myself dragging two (they’re small, but. . .) suitcases through the chaotic Rome train station. . .but they are on wheels!

There’s some last minute looking through a phrase book to get some basic Italian phrases, Google translate app, podcasts downloaded for listening while traveling.  If you are one of the many friends who have offered advise for the trip, thank you!  I think I’m ready.

Please join me on this trip – next post will be from Assisi.

San Diego Urban Sketch Crawl: Part II


Zig Millenium and Pelican fountain pens and w/c in 8X8″ Hand Book w/c sketchbook

Sunday morning the west coast urban sketchers met at Old Town for a morning of sketching and sharing together.  My first two sketches were of things I would not normally have access to, a covered wagon and. . .


. . .a shoppe selling “Fancy Goods, Haberdashery, and Millinery”.

I had about 25 minutes til the meet up at the flag pole and headed over to another part of town where live performances of Folklorico dancing were going on.


The girls were so colorful, with their bright costumes and swirling skirts that I decided to just plunge right in, with a quick pencil gesture sketch, some pen, and then swoops of color.  This actually was my favorite sketch of all!


Lamy fountain pen with water soluble cartridge ink “melted” with water brush

We said hasta luego and gracias to the urban sketchers and headed to the Fiesta de Reyes restaurant for lunch.  Margarita in hand, surrounded by palms and tropical plants and colorfully dressed waitresses I thought, “Mission accomplished.  The event is over.  My books are full of sketches.  Time now to celebrate and relax.”

But the thing about sketching is that it becomes an addiction and it’s very hard to stop!  At the table directly beside us was an extended family speaking Italian, smiling and laughing and enjoying each others’ company thoroughly. The patriarch (easy to see) had a particularly interesting face.  Surreptitiously and trying not to be discovered, I starting sketching him on my lap under the table.

But we were very close and their little toddler got up and walked in front of me with his mother and I started flirting with him and talking to her.  Soon I had the whole story of who was who at the table and how they’d come together from different countries to be together on vacation. I showed them my sketches and wished I could sit and visit with them all afternoon.

This is one of the reasons I LOVE sketching in public. . .the people you meet. More on this later.


After lunch, instead of resting, we were attracted to these women who are the greeters at the gate. There was a bench directly in front of them. At least every other group that enters asks to pose with them for a picture, so they are busy, with beautiful smiles on their faces in a welcoming gesture. The one on the right asked to take a picture of us with sketches on her cell phone.


Here’s her Selfie plus.

So I made two more friends. Then. . .


I met Izzy and her sister at the airport.  And then we flew home.

And I pondered what it means to live in the country, yet think of yourself as an “Urban Sketcher”.  I love the serenity of my life away from the throngs of people and incessant activity of cities.  But as a sketcher, I not only get to do some serious people-watching, but I consistently meet people I would never have access to.  I’m not a grandmother yet, but I can do a sketch and have children gathering around with sweet interest on their faces and have conversations with them. The same with adults of all ages and nationalities.  All of the usual barriers come down with the creation and sharing of these simple art pieces. Each time I do a sketch moments take on a weightiness and importance in my life and the smallest details are remembered.



Japanese brush pen, fountain pen and watercolor in Strathmore w/c journal, 5.5 X 8″

With no trips planned for a while now, everyday sketches must suffice.  It’s an art to live ones life as if on vacation, and sketching makes that possible for me.  I was trying out my newly purchased Lamy Safari fountain pen, which I love, not so much for the quick sketching.  For that my preference is the brush pen. The fountain pen works better for me as a more deliberate mark, definitely good for writing words.


Oh, the joys of people watching and making the stories unfold as you sketch – not the “real” ones but the imagined ones that are suggested by posture and gesture.


Ben has become a master of coffee matters.  Did you know there is a world championship of coffee making, at least the Aeropress style?!!  After this meal and sketch I was treated to a lesson in how to make Aeropress coffee in the inverted style, which I also sketched.  The morning was half gone and lots left yet to accomplish, but such a great way to start it off!

Bob and Susan’s Vacation: San Francisco


More samplings of my vacation sketching.  Sometimes I can grab a business card, but this time a napkin sufficed.  We didn’t get the usual cold-windy-foggy weather in San Francisco.  It was three days of blue, blue skies.  Dreamy!  Labor  Day weekend and the line was too long for a cable car ride.


Union Square. . .what a scene!  And Old Man Time sleeping through it all – that beard! Who could resist?!


Next stationary figure I found was a mannikin in Uniqlo, a trendy clothing store that had a comfortable bench for me. (I poop out very quickly when “shopping”) I had gotten the rough sketch done before I realized I was looking at my son Andrew – the style I mean. He goes to UC Berkeley across the Bay, so it makes sense.  When I start to write down everything we did in one afternoon I realize why I get worn out in the city.  Fun though!


Skipping over the dinner with friends, next day shopping at Flax art store for specialty papers, the rejuvenating body scrub and oil massage at Imperial Day Spa and lunch at Japantown, and ending the day at Ghiradelli Square, where there were precious moments to draw.


By 2pm the next day our vacation was over, but not before coffee with our hostess with her 14th floor views of the bay and two bridges!  Then a pedicab ride provided by a UC grad who majored in math and physics.  Lunch with friends at the bustling Ferry Building, and a pre-arranged viewing of the new photography show at Pier 24.  This was the last page of the sketchbook, just notes and cut outs to help me remember.

There’s never enough to time to do decent sketches of it all, unless you move very slowly through your day.  I’ve learned over the years to be satisfied with what I can throw my net around as it comes my way.

Bob and Susan’s Vacation

We are often characterized as the city lover (Bob, my husband) and the nature/country lover (me).  So when we go on vacation together we try to cover both interests.  This year was our 25th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with a week split between the Monterey Bay area and San Francisco.

I had treated myself to a new set of gouache paints which I put in the travel palette with my usual watercolors and brought my Handbook brand watercolor sketchbook, which I love for it’s cloth-bound cover and built in elastic to keep it closed.  It’s full now and I love that it has that “real” book look (even if it’s pretty grimy now)!  However  I found it awkward to have two pages to deal with and the wind would “rattle” one side while I tried to paint on the other.   I think I’ll switch back to the spiral bound style sketchbook now.

It’s funny how memory works.  I tend to fix an experience in my memory when I sketch it and forget it quickly if I just take a picture.  While we were driving up Hwy 1 we got caught in a traffic back up at dinner time while approaching Moss Landing.  When I saw the twin towers of the power plant which is the outstanding landmark there, I remembered a sketch I’d done 6 years ago on vacation with my family.  On the page were the two towers and the name of a fish restaurant we enjoyed.  (I’m the only one in the family who remembers this!)  So I turned down the road to the fishing marina, and there it was!! as remembered in my sketch.

Here’s a sampling of a few of my pages from the week.


We stayed at a rented cabin in the redwoods up the bumpy road from The Mystery Spot (which we never visited)


Bob is not a sketcher, but he is willing to put up with my sketching in restaurants while we wait for food.


I spent a glorious morning on the pier with this handsome gull who kept moving closer to me as others walked by, and such a good model he was.


Can you get more chill than these dudes?!!  There were over 100 sea lions lounging under the pier, and I got more and more relaxed just watching them.



Next leg of the trip.  .  . stay tuned for San Francisco