urban sketchers

Amsterdam: Part I

Back home again and resting up from an eight-day trip to Amsterdam to attend the annual Urban Sketchers Symposium. It was not exactly the best week to plan a trip to Amsterdam. Peak tourist season. Record breaking heat wave. But I had booked my trip months before and was looking forward to all the activities and seeing my friends from around the world and in the process seeing the city.

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Sketching is a great way to look closer at a city, to notice the details and get interested in knowing more. Many of you have probably been to Amsterdam, since it’s one of the most agreeable cities for tourists to visit. So I will share my very own impressions here as a way to also remember and consolidate reflections about a remarkable visit.

This first sketch was all about the the crowns on the bridge. There are crowns everywhere. The Dutch must have loved their royalty.

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But actually this was my first sketch, a piece which illustrates the madness of arriving at 10am in Europe after a 10.5 hour flight and needing to stay awake til the local bedtime in order to begin to acclimate. This syndrome is affectionately known as brain-deadness. So you soldier on and if you’re a sketcher, you sit and scribble out your first. I was at a canal-side table, elbow to elbow with people drinking cold drinks and facing one of the iconic bridges. These two guys at the next table touching mine were filming something for Mexican TV to be shown in the U.S. (?) and oblivious to my taking advantage of their process.

On the plane ride to Amsterdam I watched the movie about Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate which explores his emotional/mystical inner life as an artist and struggles with insanity. Amsterdam is the home of the van Gogh Museum, which I will share about later. This trip came to be imbued with his presense. His words resonate so deeply with my own experience of life and art and my time in Amsterdam, such as. . .

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

-Vincent van Gogh

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After a morning’s canal cruise with my sketch buddy Cathy McAuliffe, we had lunch at a garden restaurant and sketched in the park to try to stay cool. There’s practically nowhere big enough to park much more than a bicycle in Amsterdam, so they have adapted by shrinking vehicles to the size of miniatures so they fit on sidewalks! The above is an Amsterdam delivery “truck”!

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Cathy here is demonstrating the ease to which a passerby could steal a car by lifting it off the curb. (Note the chain around the lightpost!)

By my second day the heat wave had kicked in big time and I was seeking the shade of a nearby park. This elderly lady (probably not much older than me!) looked like a local who had discovered a way to keep a bit cooler. She was doing a crossword in the paper and drinking her coffee and seemed quite content. Nearby was a group of Surinamese men speaking animatedly in a language I didn’t recognize.

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Rembrandt is a big deal here. I mean he is everywhere, and especially in Rembrandt Square where we were waiting to meet other Bay Area sketchers for an Indonesian rijsttafel or feast. I couldn’t help the comparison of the two highly adept artists! (Rembrandt and modern day Cathy)

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This restaurant on the canal (by the way, everything is on a canal in Amsterdam) was right around the corner from the hotel where I was staying. Earlier we had taken a morning walk through the Red Light District which looked like the morning after a Fraternity party. amsnosexworkerpics

There were no sex workers to be seen. The shutters were drawn, but the signs pointed to a world that we needed to at least acknowledge with our cameras! Interestingly the Amsterdam flag which flies everywhere around the city, has three red X’s on it. We never found out what they stand for. Do you know?

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So back to the serene canal scene I was trying to capture. It was heating up once again and life was active on the water. I was beginning to wish I was in the murky canal water.

Stay tuned for Part II Amsterdam!

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Beatles Night in Sebastopol

It was the first time back in the Sebastopol Community Center after the flood that put it out of commission. I arrived after the performance had begun and was greeted by a wall of sound. Joyous voices singing – not hymns – but hippie anthems written by our beloved Beatles!

The Love Choir was belting out the tunes accompanied by Mr. Music and Moon Puppy (aka David Klotz) and others. They seemed to take up at least a quarter of the space in the hall, dressed in exaggerated hippy attire. It was a spectacular Baby Boomer convention.

At first I was seeing it all through the eyes of my teenaged self who vowed to never get old! But these folks were old (chronologically)  – oh yeah, like me. But like me, young at heart. So I guess maybe some of us actually were sort of able to keep that promise made 40-50 years ago?

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Soon a good portion of the audience was dancing, while I just kept sketching like mad. You know, that oneweek100people2019 sketch challenge still ringing in my ears! And I kept running into friends . It was the kind of event that, although you maybe know about 1% of the people, the remaining 99% are ready to act as if they’d known you for years. That’s Sebastopol for you – “All you need is love. . .oowaoowaoooooo!” A bunch of flower children still. Gotta love it!

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As I left that night, listening to the music pouring out of the hall, it felt like I was going home from a high school dance. I mean really, do we ever totally outgrow high school?

 

New Season of Urban Sketch Workshops!

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The San Francisco Bay Area Urban Sketchers will once again be offering the popular 10X10 series of 10 on-location workshops with 10 teachers and 10 different topics! I’m excited to be offering a new workshop in the series again this year.

Watercolor Painting Tips for the Urban Sketcher 

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Learn watercolor techniques to make your sketches come alive in minutes! In this workshop solutions will be explored for everything from palette selection and managing your watercolors on location to getting vibrant color, rich shadows and more. Structured practice in this lovely garden setting will include other aspects of quick-capture watercolor painting such as drawing with a brush, edge blending and splatter technique.

Date: May 11

Time: 10am-1pm

Location: Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma, CA

Cost: $55

Click here to register for this workshop

Last year these workshops sold out pretty quickly because people took the opportunity to sign up for more than one. Here’s the list of workshops and teachers you might want to consider, and you can see the whole flyer here.

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Need more information? Feel free to contact me. Hope to sketch with you this spring!

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!

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!