urban sketchers

Nob Hill with the Urban Sketchers

Last Saturday the SF Urban Sketchers met at Nob Hill to sketch Grace Cathedral and top-o-the-city scenes. The icing on the cake was a visit from our Australian friends Liz Steele and Jane Blundell who perched alongside us on the streets sketching and enjoying a near perfect sunny day in San Francisco. The group swelled to 83 sketchers and there was plenty of socializing with old and new sketch friends.

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fountain pen and watercolor in Hand book w/c sketchbook, 8 X 8″

While we perched on our stools across the street from the Cathedral we enjoyed the photo shoots of several brides dressed in the romance of white and bouquets.

nobhill06I might have to sketch this one from the picture! I was too lost in the arches and hangings and intricate architecture of the cathedral to catch on in time for a live sketch of this.

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Sitting next to my friend Cathy McAuliffe, who always finds an elegant way to simplify a scene I thought I’d try her approach for a quick one. Maybe I should have slowed down a bit? But sometimes on the street sketching with friends that accuracy ceases to matter. It’s about the story of the moment I will definitely not forget.

At 3:30 we met in the park across from the Cathedral to share sketches and welcome our guests. I took a bit of video on my phone to capture a sense of the day. (click image to play)

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At this point some of us were a bit fried! Many sketchers would think this rather strange, but my default relax-a-sketch mode is people, especially when it’s people relaxing in parks on a lovely sunny day with their dogs.

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This is what some city folks do when the day is not the usual blustery cold SF summer weather;  hang out on park benches with their newspapers and kids and dogs. Sketching a scene like this ways feels like a fascinating expedition into other peoples’ lifestyles, and with the advantage of no electronic screen in between!

nobhill08We ended the day with a picnic on the hill at Lafayette Park overlooking the bay, with the city spread all around us below and the trees above. At the picnic table I sat next to a sketcher from Russia who’s a scientist living in the city now and doing cancer research. . .and sketching! If I ever get to Russia I’m going to contact their UsK group and sketch with them! Sometimes it feels like we’re a little United Nations of sketchers. Do you think maybe if the Sunnis and Shiites sketched together there would be more peace in the Middle East? What about democrats and republicans here?

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While the urban sketchers (and family members) tackled the landscape of trees and bay and distant hills (they never seem to tire!) I sketched the sketchers and then it got dark and we headed home.

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Travel Sketch Workshop in Occidental

On Saturday the Travel Sketching workshop met up in a shady spot with benches across from the Union Hotel in Occidental, California. My hope was that we could imagine the workshop as a simulated vacation day where you’re enjoying the town with friends and having a heightened awareness of the stories which evolve.

Fine for me to say I know. It’s a bit of a challenge for some students to find a way to get comfortable making art in a public place, not to mention deal with all the materials challenges, like paint that dries out instantly, and where do you put your water anyway while balancing the sketchbook? And last weekend there was also the HEAT, which rose to about 95 degrees some time in the afternoon.

However this fabulous group of artists rose to the challenge and even got into the swing of it. If I hadn’t been so busy I would have thought to photograph their sketches, showing different styles, different approaches to visual story telling that we could all enjoy.

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After warming up with continuous line drawings we turned to the question of what to put in a sketch and what to leave out. I demoed a quick 5 min. watercolor application using the shadow shape on the hardware store to do some modeling. I tend to include the things that tell the story as I see it: the orange Do it Best sign, the 25 mile speed limit in this country town, the lawn furniture on display and the palm tree. It all spells out that colorful corner in this three block long town. And I left out a lot more than I put in!

Hugging the shady spots the class wandered to find and sketch what was of interest to them. The lunchtime assignment was to record the food, table settings or decor of the restaurant or to continue sketching through lunchtime.

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It’s a given that no matter how busy your travel schedule is, there’s usually lots of rest and recuperation time spent in eating and drinking establishments. Especially when traveling with non-sketchers, this becomes the time to actually get out your sketchbook. Gluing the restaurant’s business card onto your sketch helps to fill the picture space and may be the piece of information you most need a year later when you’re trying to remember where you ate that lovely meal!

We all agreed that Occidental is a spot to come back and do lots more sketching! Even on Saturday the atmosphere was so low-key and the dense shade of redwoods was a welcome relief on this hot day.

These are a couple of sketches from my book, done the week before to get ideas for the workshop. The first one is rimmed by an account of an incident that occurred while I was sketching “sitting in a quiet spot in the parking lot by Howard Station Cafe, an ancient woman drives up in a rusted old van and tries to manuever by cane and handholds down from the cab, across a step and to the door of the library to drop off an armload of books. When she seems marooned and unable to resume her car seat, I rush to assist. She accepts help gracefully (gratefully), not realizing she’s a stand-in for my dear mother who passed 3 years ago.”

No matter how much I focus on improving drawing and painting skills, it is always in the service of telling a story.

A Tania Day

My friend Tania and I have a shared passion for encountering people of all stripes. You might say it’s a social anthropological interest (that was my major in college by the way). It’s also a love-of-humanity mixed in ample proportion with a flaneur’s curiosity. Tania channels it with travel, photography and writing. She talks to everyone, often in their native language, as if they were family and they end up feeling that way. I channel this urge more quietly with sketching, blogging and some travel. When I asked if she’d like to collaborate and see what happens, she agreed, even though neither of us knew exactly what that meant.

On Tuesday morning this week I showed up at 10:30am at her San Francisco apartment and we set off to see what would happen with a day in the city. She, traveling light with her iPhone (camera), credit card and keys in her pocket, and me with a small backpack (with stool, water, etc), my over-the-shoulder art materials kit, and a 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media spiral sketch pad which I carried in hand to be ready-on-the-spot. Oh, and a waist belt pocket for my iPhone and credit card. My version of traveling light.

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I requested a look at the Russian orthodox church where Tania and her family were members when she was growing up. When we got out of the car, parked in front of the golden onion domes of the Holy Virgin Cathedral, our eyes went immediately across the street where the colorful cathedral was reflected in the windows of the St. George Pathfinders building where Tania went as a girl scout.

As we crossed the a street a van was unloading this man to spend the day at the Senior Center next door. But instead he sat directly in front of the glass reflection. I signaled to Tania and she engaged happily with the gentleman, the driver and passers-by, providing cover while I shamelessly sat down and started sketching!

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photo by Tania Amochaev

When I got up to leave 30 minutes later, I approached the gentleman in the picture, who had been totally silent, to thank him and show him the sketch. This brought a big, almost toothless grin at which point he rose and went silently into the Senior Center. We realized that he had actually been quietly posing for me!

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Inside the cathedral with its ornate iconography and candlelit gravity I sat wondering how I could capture this scene. A story always seems to emerge. Tania lit candles in blessings for her deceased family members, while a cleaner was noisily scraping wax off the floor, from hundreds of candles burned in prayer. (color added later)

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It was lunchtime so we headed off to the Cliff House. The sun had some out and we had a lovely view of the Sutro Bath ruins in our ocean side seats.

I sketched this one in pencil, a composite of different people who occupied tables as we ate, and then added some color later.

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Next stop at 2:30 was the windmill at Golden Gate Park where I sat on the lawn in the sun and sketched madly with my brush only, knowing that the California sun is too hot to linger very long without shade or movement. Meanwhile I heard Tania’s unmistakable laughter across the lawn and saw that she had befriended a family of tourists and sent the girls over to see my sketch. This resulted in the most delightful conversation about where they had traveled, their impression of the U.S. and more!

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photo by Tania Amochaev

I’m the one without the braid, in case you couldn’t tell.

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Tania was showing me her favorite spots as a kid growing up in S.F. So the next stop was Spreckels Lake, an enchanting body of water filled with model yachts on the weekends. She was so disappointed when we arrived at 3:30 and a couple men were taking the last boats out of the water. All that remained were birds! So the men took pity on us and invited us to the model yacht clubhouse which housed a regatta of handsome, handmade yachts!

Once again while I sketched madly, she got the scoop about this appealing hobby and the personal story of Russ, owner of the Sugarie Bake Shop in Pleasanton, while he cradled a small boat.

What followed was a walk down the street where Tania’s family home still sits, beautifully maintained. And we dropped in on her dear family friend Montie, 90 years old and a gracious and still flirtatious, host. We left with candy and smiles. . .and headed back to the park and the Conservatory of Flowers and Dahlia Garden, where we encountered. . .

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the Summer of Love in all its musical, turned on, tuned in mellowness. As the late afternoon sun warmed and the clouds of marijuana smoke enveloped us, the memories unspooled for these two old girls who were teens in the 60’s.

It’s probably beginning to seem more like a weekend of sketching, but it wasn’t over yet! Hungry again we headed to The Commissary, a restaurant in the Presidio, chosen by Tania for the seats at the bar where you can watch the chefs cook and plate their divine creations.

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As we plowed into our delectable dinners we learned how a chef tests the doneness of meats, saw deserts flamed and sauces stirred and meals plated with delicate mini-veggie gardens. And because it was a Tuesday and not a busy weekend night, we got to visit with the charming executive chef Ragelio.

Thinking about our day I was actually beginning to feel a bit guilty, having this much fun. The old Protestant work ethic had kicked in. (Sketching feels more like play, even though it’s a fair amount of work!) To which Tania replied, “The work ethic ends at 65!” No wonder she’s one of my favorite people in the world to hang out with.

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photo by Tania Amochaev

So I’ll end here. It was 8pm when we left the restaurant and I headed back to Sebastopol. But not before we got this picture. What a fun crew. If I hadn’t just retired from the Protestant Work Ethic I would have applied for a job.

A big thank you to Tania for her amazing ability to engage people of all walks of life, ethicities, and ages, and for sharing her San Francisco with me. And to all the people we met that day, who gave us smiles and the stories we will never forget.

Announcing: New Workshops and Newsletter!

The Imagine With Art Newsletter is now in its 65th issue and I’m happy to offer it to you here. This issue features new workshops for the fall, some Urban Sketcher Symposium news and an Art Play lesson: Powdered Graphite. Hope you’ll take a look!

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And join me for the latest in a series of on location sketching workshops!

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For more information and to register, please email me.

Epilogue to Chicago

The Urban Sketch Symposium was officially over July 30. But of course I’ve left so much out of my story. . .like KK’s (Kiah Kiean Chng) demonstration of his “stick” and ink drawings and Rita Sabler‘s inspiring lecture titled “Urban Sketch as a form of Protest”. And then there were the demonstration tables with all the vendors who filled our “goody bag” with materials to try!

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Bettina and I were staying at Roosevelt University housing on the 21st floor where there is a study lounge with floor to ceiling windows and a 180 degree view of Lake Michigan, Millennial Park, and well, many of the coveted architectural wonders and city views. So we invited a couple teacher friends up to enjoy sketching. And the next morning the room filled up with many of the Symposium teachers, each approaching the scene in his/her trademark way while we watched and did our own.

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Rob Sketcherman here on his iPad. Gail Wong finishing a several foot long accordian fold sketchbook, Virginia Hein doing her color magic, Shari Blaukopf getting it all in with freshness and detail, Uma Kelkar painting those beautiful soft edges.

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My sketchbook was not wide enough for the other side of the room where Marc Taro Holmes was painting the entire scene with brush only, Suhita Shirodhar appeared at some point (check out her blog posts about the Symposium), Laurel Holmes and Joel our treasurer, Bettina and Cathy McAuliff. And to add to the excitement of the morning a helicopter was delivering an air conditioner to the roof of the Art Institute next door! A handy bit of orange accent to include in the sketches!

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After that we took the time to eat an actual full midday meal, which we hadn’t had time for previously in the week! And then headed to one of the other iconic sketch spots, the Chicago Theatre.

And then the for last sketch of the week, one of the lions in front of the Art Institute Chicago, where we indulged in a full day of art viewing. My favorites, Gauguin, Saul Steinberg, and The Paintings of M. F. Husain.

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(The tail was a necessary after thought!)

But I’d missed sketching a scene I saw daily, mostly because it involved sitting under the train with its deafening roar and smelly eructations. So I did the next one from a photo at home.

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And so I’ll end it there, with the very same train that took us to the airport the next morning for only $3. What a bargain!

Chicago: Part IV

On the last official day of the Symposium, there was time for a few more sketches while things were winding up for the big picture taking (of all 570 people from 34 countries and then the evening festivities.

But I thought also to share some of the small sketches/thumbnails I did to get my bearings while in the city, using water soluble graphite in a cake form with my water brush and pen.

 

I often liked these small ones better than the finished pieces. When the visual scene is most complex is the best time to go super small to simplify it.

The soaring green “gargoyles” on the library had been calling out all week to be drawn!

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And then in the afternoon the final sketchwalk with all participants while the city was busy closing down the public areas by the lake in preparation for the big Lollapaloosa music festival.

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The city workers were hanging the sign, piece by piece as many of us dashed off a sketch of the brave native on horseback. My friend Cathy read my mind as she commented, “Is this the Indian they stole Chicago from?”

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Once again here I am trying to prove myself as an authentic urban sketcher (even if a country girl at heart), seeing how many buildings and traffic I can pack into a quick sketch while on the corner of a busy intersection!

Then we were all getting ourselves arranged on a grassy hilltop for the grand Symposium picture, made more fun by a drone that circled around filming us from all angles.

Followed that evening by the closing party and announcement of the location for next year’s Symposium, in Porto, Portugal. Maybe you’ll be there?!

But there’s more! An epilogue, as we stayed a couple more days in Chicago. Stay tuned!

And if you’d like to join me and the Ready, Set, Sketchers! in Sebastopol this Saturday, we’ll be meeting up at 10am and sketching the Gravenstein Apple Fair. All are welcome!

Join us at the 44th Gravenstein Apple Fair for the next “Ready, Set, Sketch” meet-up!

Saturday August 12 from 10:00AM-1:00PM

We’ll meet at the entrance to the park at 10am.

Ragle Ranch Regional Park

500 Ragle Road

Sebastopol, CA 95472

 

 

Urban Sketch Symposium

Just back from Chicago and the 8th International urban Sketchers Symposium. In short, my mind was blown, by the city (my first time), and the event. 570 people attended from 34 different countries on four continents. There were workshops, demonstrations, sketchwalks, lectures, concerts, performances, and loads of socializing with sketchers of all backgrounds: painters, illustrators, architects, reportage artists, graphic artists, and more! Pant, pant! and very little time for resting, eating and such! Who cares. You can do that kind of thing at home.

My first chance to open the sketchbook was on the Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago River where one is immediately confronted with several of the grandest, tallest buildings: the Wrigley, Tribune, and (yes, sorry to say) Trump buildings.  I must admit that I was quite overwhelmed, but dove in as I knew I must, at least to warm up.

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One and a half hours later my camera was full of architectural wonders and my mind with interesting factoids but stomach was empty, so we headed to a restaurant along the river.

chicago02 Still warming up here, doing a quick sketch of my friends Cathy and Laurie.

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Our room was on the 21st floor of the Roosevelt University dorm, a fabulous vantage point with views of the lake on one side and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower on the other (used to be the world’s tallest building). And down below the trains. The geometry of the trains in relation to buildings fascinated me, so I gave it a try. Also I figured if I could appreciate it a bit more perhaps the incessant noise from it would not bother so much! And indeed, at least in the room, I got used to it.

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Michigan Avenue in the way to get most places you want to go in the beginning. It was a good place to start practicing the one point perspective and getting those people in!

This story will proceed in segments because I’m off for the weekend again, so please stay tuned!