urban sketchers

Flaneurs a Trois

Wednesday this week was #4 of my “flaneur” days rambling through the streets of San Francisco, taking it all in with sketchbook in hand. The flaneur(m), flaneuse (f) (French for loafer, stroller, loiterer, dawdler) apparently has nothing better to do with their time, though in this case I would agree that I can think of nothing better to do with my time than this!

Two of my urban sketch friends agreed with me and asked to join, hence Flaneurs a Trois – the esteemed Oliver Hoeller (from whom I stole the idea) and the esteemed Cathy McAuliffe of urban sketching and other fame.

We met on Mission St. in S.F.and started out at Grand Mission Donuts and Bakery, an unassuming neighborhood bakery, where we set the ground rules. Oliver had the idea of a throw of dice to introduce randomness into our expedition, but more importantly to avoid long discussions (aka disagreements) about which direction to walk in. We all agreed.

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Cathy called the first stop (she’s sooo good at seeing sketch opps!), and we plunked right down on the sidewalk to do our first 20 min sketch. I tried not to panic.

It helped that, as I was putting color on my messy sketch, a very hip young couple with their kid in the stroller and their designer dog came along. Luis asked if he could take my picture. “Of course!” I said. After all, I shamelessly sketch everyone in sight without ever asking permission.

“You are so cool!” he said enthusiastically. Of course I’m thinking, you think I’M cool?! This old lady on the sidewalk doing this messy sketch?

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Cathy and Oliver

It wasn’t long before it happened again! We were sketching across from the colorful Women’s Building when another person said, “You guys are so cool!” You get the picture here, right? Sketching on the street is the new uber-cool thing to do. And look at these cool dudes here.

Mission2 Well I think it was at this point that I was getting a little tired of Oliver’s dice running my day (even though I’d been enthusiastic about it in theory). And the dice was sending us down a street I didn’t want to sketch and I started whining. They noticed and were both very sweet about it, asking me what I wanted.

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Turns out I didn’t want to sketch buildings (which take too long for me to figure out) so when I saw the workmen, we stopped. Notice how I got out of doing much building sketching even though that’s what they were building? We’re talking 20 minutes after all!

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And then my wish came true and we went inside Paxton Gate a shop with endless curiosities from the natural world and a wall full of taxidermy. Around the time I’d sketched the last of these animals I started to think about the exploitation of wild animals and felt uncomfortable about sketching them.

It was time to put on paint so I went out to the back where there was space to sit and was soon joined by a young woman who was also sketching. Turns out she’s a Vietnamese born college student at U.C. Berkeley who has just started to sketch and was excited to hear about Urban Sketchers. What are the chances. . .?

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Walking down Mission St. again the wind was kicking up. I was learning that you don’t want to walk down the sidewalk in this part of the Mission without keeping your eyes on the ground where your feet are stepping – a difficult thing when you’re being constantly distracted by the life on the street.

This guy on the corner selling fruit drinks and corn, Latin American style was a magnet for us. It started to feel like my memories of Mexico, which is what I love about the Mission.

Next stop was for coffee and to get out of the wind. An interesting discussion of how we approached the day and what it all means transpired then. Cathy filled us in on the history she’d collected at our various sketch sites. Oliver approached it with his scientifically trained mind, asking lots of questions. He promises to shed light on this flaneur business with his thoughts, soon to be written out and shared!

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And then it was time for me to hit the road for the long drive home. But not before a last sketch on the corner of 16th and Mission.

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and a selfie of the trois flaneurs.

Look for Oliver and Cathy’s sketches on Instagram and other media!

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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!

10 X 10 Urban Sketch Workshops Return!

The popular 10X10 Urban Sketch workshop series is returning this spring, and here is the line up with ten different teachers at locations all over the Bay Area. I hope you’ll join me for Sketch the Vignette May 26 in Petaluma!

Don’t wait too long to sign up. They sold out last year.

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For more workshop details and registration information visit this page.

 

Oakland Museum

The S.F. Urban Sketchers met at the Oakland Museum yesterday. It’s a bit of a schlep to get there from Sebastopol, but so worth it! Since I lived in the East Bay for sixteen years, I know how to navigate the crazy knots of freeway pretzels to get there.

Once at the museum you are treated to three levels of engaging exhibitions and interactive installations. It was free admission day and well attended by families with strollers and children of all ages. And the sketchers turned out in numbers.

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This installation is hard to describe – like one of those bouncy houses for kids’ birthday parties, only not for bouncing. The colors were gradually changing and you could walk through the big spheres. (No paints allowed in the museum exhibits, so the watercolors were added later.)

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It was hard to capture in a sketch, so I did this one when I got home and it seemed a bit more accurate.

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Level 1 downstairs was a goldmine of taxidermy animals! I believe I could have stayed there for hours and maybe days! While in a trance trying to get the raccoon’s hands right, I heard a small child say something to his father about the drawing and felt him breathing down my neck. The father said “Sure! When we get home let’s get out your marking pens and you can do your own drawing of the raccoon!”  I thought, yeah, that’s one of the reasons we sketch in public.

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The dioramas were so dramatic! You’re not likely to run into this kind of animal action outside of National Geographic TV.

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Going for the snarl here.

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This haunting installation in recognition and remembrance of the people who lost their lives in Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire of a year ago was linked with the Day of the Dead and butterfly migration/metamorphosis exhibits. After sketching this I met a boy at the origami butterfly table and we helped each other fold paper butterflies.

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The meet ups always end with sharing our sketches. A large enthusiastic group of old and new sketchers assembled in the cafe to meet, see each others’ sketches and share ideas. What a fun way to spend a Sunday!

Big Daddy’s Antiques

The San Francisco Urban Sketchers had a meet up at Big Daddy’s Antique emporium last Saturday followed by a party at Arch Art Supply Store, the sponsor of the the urban sketchers.

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Big Daddy’s is no hodgepodge antique store. It’s carefully curated with arrangements that suggest living spaces. I liked this one that reminded me of a sitting room where one might smoke a pipe, read a leather bound book of poetry while stroking the head of a hunting dog.

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Was it really possible that women once had waists like this one? and the rest of the curves to go with it? Certainly they would look good in the gowns on Masterpiece Theatre.

Arch Art had the most amazing array of sketchbooks, palettes, pens and more! Truly the place to shop for sketch supplies, even if you already have everything you need.

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Afterwards we still had daylight and wanted to take advantage of the city scenes which we don’t get here in Sonoma County (well endowed as we are with countrified beauty!) So we parked up on Potrero Hill and I sat down on a street corner and did what I could with the last half hour. I wanted to get a foreground object to anchor the sketch and got a bit carried away. Does it look like this motorcycle is rearing up and ready to roar up the impossibly steep street?

Beauty among the ashes

Exploring yet another burned out neighborhood in the path of the October 8 Tubbs fire I drove out Mark West Springs road. While walking down a street of flattened homes this antique car rose out of the ashes and stared at me like a giant beetle. The squashed garbage cans seemed to be having a dialogue with it, so I sat down to listen to what they had to say about the event.

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pen, watercolor and gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn toned Nova series sketchbook

The constant drone and thunking of the bulldozer down the street and conversation of workers kept me company while I followed the lines with my eyes, unencumbered by knowledge of familiar shapes I’d drawn before. Squashed circles and wavy/sharp edges and broken pieces set the brain free to engage in a pure effort of drawing as it should be, without distractions of the mind.

A couple of workman stopped by to ask me if I had lost my house here. People are always ready to offer condolences. A supervisor with a company on contract with FEMA or OSHA or, I wasn’t quite clear, engaged me in conversation. He had come from Miami, where he lives.

“I was there in the middle of the hurricane destruction,” he said, “and it looked a lot like this does” waving his hand over the flattened neighborhood they were clearing.

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Continuing up Mark West Springs way and out Reibli road and other country lanes, I traced more of the fire destruction and found a peaceful spot by the side of the road. It was a typical scene with layered colors of alternating lush vibrancy and dark, burned areas with debris, like the trees above, still green at the tops with browned scorched leaves and black charred trunk. The human habitation was leveled and peppered with white and black ashes, and the grasses were surging back encouraged by recent rains. Even here the cranes and bulldozers droned on in their clearing jobs around every corner in the road.

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.