Urban sketch workshop

Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher

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For more information and to register visit my website!


Marin County and Sonoma Sketching

I was out scouting for locations for upcoming sketch workshops. A new series of Bay Area Urban Sketch 10 X 10  workshops will be announced soon! And I’ll be teaching one of them, so stay tuned. This spot in Sausalito right on the Bay with a view across to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge was cold and windy, with colorful layers of clouds constantly changing.


fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ spiral Handbook Co. Field Watercolor Journal with the Fluid Watercolor paper I like!

The colors of water and sky and everything, even the values were constantly changing. You have to just decide where to set your sights and stick with it, something I’ve never been particularly adapted to. I get excited by all the changes and want to dip my brush in new colors. It can make for a mess. So I tried to reign myself in on this one.


Then, not so far away in Mill Valley looking toward Tamalpais Valley it was hard to find a spot where the wind was not blowing us to smithereens. Finally we found a building to block the wind and settled down to sketch this lovely scene of creekbed and lagoon beyond. I even managed to get the cyclists in! And then once again the weather changed while we were sketching, and the sun came out, wind died down, and all the colors changed! (Not that I’m complaining.)

Meanwhile my friend Laurie Wigham did a lovely sketch which captured the serenity of the natural scene and illustrated the reflections on the water, a subject she taught in workshops for the Nature Journal Club series last week.


On Saturday Bob and I headed to Sonoma Plaza so that I could scope it out for the May 5 workshop I’m teaching there titled Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher.  I was immediately drawn to the ducks in the pond that were delighting the small children. And then when these geese settled down on the grass, I did a quick standing capture of them since they were relatively still for a few minutes. That is, until a small boy chased them away! Because of the softness of the scene I left out the pen did a quick pencil sketch before the watercolor.


I was looking for simple subjects of interest for students in the workshop. Sonoma is a town where California history is well represented in an historic park bordering right on the Plaza. Not only can you visit the Mission but the Blue Wing Inn, with its Gold Rush era gambling room and saloon, and the adobe barracks built to house General Vallejo’s Mexican troops. So much to sketch, indoors and out!


But it was lunchtime, so we ordered at the Sunflower Cafe and I sketched in pencil til the food came, and later added color from memory (and imagination).

I hope you’ll join me on May 5 for the Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. For more info and to register visit my website.

Happy Valentines Day!

So many ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Eating fresh crab and chocolate cake with my honey tonight. And yesterday roaming Tomales Bay with sketch friends and finding the perfect spot for sitting in the sun and watching small town life, Marin County style.


fountain pen and watercolor in spiral bound Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

These two ladies were talking in that best-friends-overlapping-anticipating-interrupting way that women do, so I figured they might not notice i was sketching them, even though I sat down a mere ten feet in front of them. After all the scene was so sketchable, even without them. As I was setting up my stool the lady on the left looked right at me and called out “Hey Pam!”  I looked behind me and saw no one and realized she meant me. “I’m Susan” I said, and she looked again more closely and said, “you sure look like her” and turned to her friend and kept talking, while I started sketching her. She only made that gesture with her left hand once in her expressive, enthusiastic way and I did my best to capture it! Often you only get that one chance.

In this place everyone talks to everyone without the need for introduction, and soon we had observers asking about our sketches, sketch supplies, and talking about their art, and their friends’ art and more. Everyone here makes art in one form or another. Like the two ladies in the chairs, whose lives are filled with art (I was listening a bit though trying not to evesdrop!)

Next to them in an open area was a group of about seven ladies of all ages and a couple babies, sitting in the sun around a table and knitting. That would have been another great sketch opportunity we didn’t have time for. I don’t ask permission but I always show what I’ve done before I leave, and people don’t seem to mind and are generally delighted.

saloon  I’ve been sketching a lot of people lately and probably losing my touch with buildings, so I did a quick one of the building across the street. . .a real old fashioned saloon/hotel! But no one went in or out of it on this lovely Tuesday afternoon. Doesn’t it look forlorn sitting there without people?

That’s why I wanted to teach the next workshop, Put People in Your Sketches coming up March 24 at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, CA. I’ve learned to either start or end with figures in a sketch to tell a bit more of the story. If you want to join me for this workshop visit my website for more details, but hurry, because there’s only one spot left at this point! Also check out the next one on May 5 in Sonoma, CA, Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher.


Driving back along Tomales Bay in the late afternoon we stopped for two 10-15min. thumbnail landscapes. Putting the pen aside here and drawing with the brush. Great practice!

Character Sketching

You don’t have to look far to find characters to sketch! Your friends will do quite nicely. I borrowed the idea from my Urban Sketcher friend Vivian and her group and got some people together with costumes and attitude to pose for each other for 15 minute timed poses (with wine of course).


We never got around to adding words at the time, but I stuck some in the next day.


Actually I think I might have the wrong era here. More like Dickens era from the waist up, but who cares?! (She left the corset at home because it is after all the 21st century and California casual at that!)


It’s all in the props. . .


Switched to pencil here and more drawing with watercolor for a different look. Also got tired of painting in the clothing!


This character reminded me of the cutest chick contest at the Butter and Eggs day in Petaluma!


Becky’s character from Sweeney Todd. At this point I’d given up trying to get the whole figure into a 15 min sketch with color!

Hopefully these “characters” will be posting their sketches on Instagram and Facebook!

If you want to get some figure sketching practice and can’t get to a group set up, try these two free online resources:  the Sktchy phone app and Quick Poses

And then if you want to Put People in Your Sketches on location, join me on March 24 for my day-long workshop of that name, in Santa Rosa, CA. You’ll learn strategies for drawing people “in the act”, mixing believable skin tones, dealing with clothing, and connecting the figure with context. For more information visit my website!

Apple Press and Petaluma Sketching

If you live in Sebastopol there’s still time to bring your apples over to the free apple press and enjoy the nectarian pleasure of your own fresh apple juice. The volunteer crew will help you out and even clean the press after you and all with enthusiastic smiles. I guess I was too busy with art and such this season to bring my own apple harvest in, so instead I harvested some sketches last Saturday morning.


The sponsor of this is the Slow Food Russian River group. For those of you who don’t know, the term Slow Food refers to “an alternative to fast food and strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.” Slow however is not how I would refer to the folks doing the apple press procedure. So my pen was moving pretty fast!

And then I got totally distracted by a little girl who was washing apples and then feeding them into the press. When she came over to check out my paints I couldn’t resist loading up a brushload and handing it to her. She knew what to do with it of course. Here’s Adeline’s version of the activity.


Then last week we were checking out the scene for the upcoming Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop in Petaluma on October 14. We were delighted to find the most appealing spots for sketching, not to mention eating, easy parking etc. So I’m quite looking forward to offering this workshop. For instance there’s the Great Petaluma Mill and the backdrop of those, are they grain shoots?


and the cutest bistros, bakeries etc to go for the lunch sketch which is always assigned.


Check out the meal I had. And yet even so I was tortured by the men sitting across from us who ordered a spectacular gluten free chocolate cake and only ate a bite or two! They were so friendly that I know they would have given me the rest, but truly I was already full. I’m quite impressed with these urban sketchers who draw and paint their food when it comes. I’m always too ready to dig in.

There’s still one spot left in the workshop. If you’re interested, visit my website for more info and to contact me.

Expressive Figure Drawing With Oliver Hoeller

On May 13 I took one of the 10 X 10 Urban Sketch workshops taught by one of my favorite urban sketch artist/illustrators, Oliver Hoeller.  I originally ran across him through his blog, the Visual Flanuer and have loved his zany depictions of festival life in San Francisco.

We met for the three hour workshop in Dolores Park in the Mission. It was a blustery, cool day and I still had my runny nose and cold left over from the cold week in N. Y. Nevertheless I was determined to learn his secrets for lively sketching of busy city scenes in pen and watercolor.

dolorespark2 After some contour sketch warm ups we moved on to sketching heads of the people in the park, drawing the shadow shapes rather than specific features.


Then we went on to draw shadow shapes on full figures of people sitting relatively still.

Next we sketched parts of people, heads, torsos and legs/feet. When sketching people who are moving you often need to complete your sketch with the parts of another person who steps into your field of vision. So we also practiced putting tops and bottoms of different people together into one!

The next step was to form an opinion of what you’re interested in and then be ready to exaggerate it.


This was more challenging as we switched to people who were moving. It helped me to write down what I was initially interested in so I wouldn’t lose my focus.

Lastly we were to add some detail and context to the picture. (By this point I was too cold, so I took myself off to the Dolores Cafe where I nursed a latte while adding color and waiting for my friends to finish the workshop.)

I definitely think the workshop helped me loosen up and get more playful. Drawing the shadow shape first definitely helps. The white of the paper is always more lively than when you color in shapes with blocks of color.

Thank you Oliver!

New York: Part 3

The next day was a gully washer. Andrew and I arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, saturated after fording the street in ankle deep water, and then waited in line with the other umbrellas to enter.

The museum easily held all of us soggy souls, and we soon forgot about the sloshy shoes when we saw the Irving Penn Centennial and Rei Kawakubo’s “Art of the In-Between” , my favorites. The opportunity to sketch didn’t arise til evening.


. . .on the Balcony Bar where Veronica Lawlor’s workshop “Puzzling Out the Picture” was meeting up. The JP Jofre Hard Tango Chamber Band was playing the most passionate music! Can you tell by the way my line changed? I could barely contain myself. I mean this was soul-bared tango music.


Next Morning the workshop met at Brookfield Palm Plaza/the Winter Garden.


Another glorious sketching spot because it opens onto the World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial Pools and Oculus on one side, and the Hudson River on the other.



Ink and colored pencil in 9 X 12″ Canson mixed media sketchbook

Our exercise was to do lots of thumbnail sketches, composed in dimensional space, as a film director would do.


The Oculus is like a gigantic white raptor crouching at the base of the World Trade Center and inside it’s a transport hub. You really have to be there to even conceive of it.

Next to it is the 9/11 Memorial pools, and that’s where we went next to sketch.


. . .to sketch and ponder and pray for all those who lost lives and loved ones.


Veronica was circling around to all of us to give helpful comments. After struggling mightily with these BIG scenes, I was relieved with her instruction to “Just draw the heck out of it now!” So I did, surrounded by so many different languages I couldn’t even identify.

Then we entered the belly of the Oculus. . .


. . .a setting which made our thumbnail exercise suddenly so easy. Look anywhere for those shapes that enter and exit the picture boundary and capture the energy of that.


And yes! I even found a spot to enjoy a much needed latte while doing my lesson.


Here is the Oculus from the other angle, and that celestial form of the World Trade Center merging with the sky. And me, the little figure in the bottom left hand corner, at the end of a long and wondrous day, crossing with the light to find the subway stop.