urban sketching

A Lesson in Fire Fighting

On Tuesday my sketch buddies and I headed out to Alliance Redwoods Conference Center  in Camp Meeker, CA. where the fire fighting strike teams from all over the state were being housed between shifts of firefighting. We wanted to try to tell another part of the story of the fire storms that have so far burned over 100,000acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, the deadliest of which has claimed at least 22 lives, burned thousands of homes to the ground, displaced many thousands more in evacuations, and destroyed many of our beautiful parks, vineyards and more.

As we drove out country roads to the camp, there were frequent reminders of the gratitude that this community has for these fire fighters who are the undisputed heros of the day. Signs were posted on many properties with bright Thank You Firefighters messages. We found ourselves in a caravan of fire trucks all the way out.

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When we arrived we signed in and were given Visitor badges. Wanting to stay out of the way, yet have a good vantage point for sketching, we went to the end of the parking lot filled with trucks, and started sketching.

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Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in Canson Mixed Media 9 X 12″ sketchbook

As we were sketching there was a trickle of firefighters walking by. We soon discovered that we were almost as interesting to them as they were to us. For many of them it was rest time and they were at ease enough to chat and seemed happy to answer questions about when and where they’d come from, which fires they’d been on, etc. Many of them were from southern California and had been here all week working 24 hour shifts.

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Other looked quite weary and seemed more anxious to get settled.

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Some were hanging out in groups, enjoying the fresh air of the redwoods, a welcome break from the toxic smoky air they’d been breathing.

firesuitLucky for us a couple of battalion chiefs, the ones who lead the strike teams of 5 trucks that go out together, decided to have some fun with us artists and had us try on the fire  jacket they wear with its thick layer of insulation and fire retardant shell. Where’s the air conditioner? I asked, knowing that sometimes they’re fighting fires in 120 degree heat. The answer “that’s when you take off the jacket and your sweat cools you“.

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Tony came over to us a while after I sketched him lounging in his truck. He was happy to tell his story, which turned into many stories! A 75 year old volunteer firefighter from Quincy, CA he was on his second consecutive fire in other parts of California and wondering if he might be getting too old for this!! especially having gone 60 hours without sleep when they first came. Pushing the body beyond the limits that most of us could tolerate seemed to be standard for these guys.

We took every opportunity we could to voice our gratitude for their service and they always just turned it around to say how grateful they were to all the people of our community who were so full of spirit and good will. Some said they had never seen anything like it in other places.

Later I remembered that night eleven days ago when the Tubbs Fire came roaring over the hills, lighting up the horizon with flames, fueled by 50-70 mph hot winds blowing in our direction, and I knew that our fate was in the hands of Nature and the firefighters who would jump in their trucks and head this way from as far away as Alaska. Yup! This is one grateful community.

 

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Summer of Love at the de Young

I was a high school (almost but not quite college) student in Stockton, Ca that summer of love in 1967. Even though I could drive and had a car I was not allowed to join the hippies in the Haight in S.F. However the music, the fashion, the psychedelic/consciousness expanding (drugs secretly imbibed) were a kind of salvation as I felt boxed in and bored with my suburban existence, etc, etc.

Walking into this Summer of Love exhibition at the de Young museum last week, it all came back. And I was in good company with my sketch buddies of the same era and other museum goers who were ready to share their memories.

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I wanted to record it all – the hippy fashion, the posters and button art/quotes, the lights and lyrics. Most of these were sketched standing with the paint added later.

“What’s scandalous about jeans is how you outrage them.”

Denim -ocracy (We’ve still got this!)

“I’m from Berkeley, but I’m not revolting.”

One little comment here about this exhibition, which I loved! They used the same mannikins from the Oscar de la Renta show and gave them no wigs! We were the hair generation! How could they not put hair on them?! So I added it in the sketches.

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The fashion in the show is flea market finds – artsy, craftsy, hand sewn (we girls all knew how to sew and repurpose clothing back then) cross cultural. . .

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And then there was the protest art, which we are now seeing such a resurgence of. I particularly enjoyed these two pieces. Hmmm. Does this give you an idea of someone else who could be a fine subject for art pants like these?

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In the heart of the exhibit is an empty room with light shows throbbing on every plane and bean bags chairs on the periphery inviting weary museum goers to curl up, watch the show and listen to the music. Now this is my kind of exhibit! I always get tired feet in big art museums so I was one of the grateful ones. After a nice rest I sketched this young couple sharing a bean bag.

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. . .while listening to, who else! Janis. . .

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This is me, grooving for a few minutes. A totally natural high. By this point in the day we were all pretty giddy as years had been shorn off our ages.

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And we weren’t the only ones. Like this fellow who we spoke with. I sketched this later that night from a picture I’d taken. My husband came out to my studio and the walls were pulsating with Jefferson Airplane as I painted. “Remember what the doormouse said”  Or just go see the exhibit.

NYC: Part 5

On my last day in the city I’d planned to sketch in Central Park, but the head cold was in full swing and it was another day of gusty cold winds, so I hibernated in my son’s apartment where I’d spent the week with him and his three roomates, all of whom are PhD candidates in Economics at Columbia. Stealth sketcher that I am, I slyly recorded one of their study sessions.

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And when the other roomate was home, caught him at the refrigerator digging around for dinner ingredients.

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They were so welcoming and seemed comfortable enough having me around, that after a while I forgot my mother-ness and advanced chronological age and was flooded with memories of the joys of communal living in my 20’s. 

NYC45I’ll end this photo/sketch journal of the week with a couple pictures of the skyline from the roof of the building where Andrew works (Diller, Scofidio and Renfro). Looking north here with a slice of view of the Hudson. . .

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.   .and east across a darkening sky toward the Empire State Building, with the High Line crossing just below.

New York, I’ll be back! You’ve definitely captured my heart.

A Week in NYC: Part 4

By the second day of the “Puzzling Out the Picture” workshop I had a head cold, which might have something to do with having spent a day in wet clothes during the storm. Our meet up location was Times Square. And it was again cold and windy. So I arrived with every bit of clothing I’d brought piled on me.

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If you’re a film director you want to have lots of options for the scenes you create. If you’re a sketcher wanting to tell a visual story, it’s the same. In this setting we had everything in such abundance, and packaged in such endless distraction, that at one point, I think I blew a creative gasket!

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As a person who loves sketching figures, I was constantly pulled away from the “bones” of city shapes. Some Broadway dancer would dance by or fashion photographer set up his beautiful model posing a few feet away and I would abandon my thumbnails.

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Finally I stuck with one scene long enough to tell a story.

By then it was getting cold enough that we walked to Grand Central Station for an indoor location.

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And now we really got down to the business of directional flow of people in different visual planes.  And actually, because of the movement involved, we were also recording the passage of time in a single drawing as people entered and exited the scene. Quite hypnotizing actually.

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The close-up people were story-worthy. I discovered that having a person walking into the picture from outside the frame helped to see it as a dimensional space.

NYC43 The last exercise was to open up the sketchbook (to 24″ X 9″) and sketch across the scene. This is the left side. (Note the girls on the left pointing at the zodiac ceiling.)

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And this was the right hand side. The little elf on the left was for real, with hair spiked up about 2 feet and bright red clothes, just standing there. But my favorites were the workmen/guards in their uniforms, not going anywhere very fast.

At this point it was actually hard to stop drawing, but the workshop was over. Time to look at all the drawings, say goodbye to new friends and thank our wonderful teacher.

NYC, Part 2, Day 2

Day 2 I was on my own until Andrew got off work at 6, so I took my time walking the High Line, a 1 1/2 mile long linear park built on an elevated section of a disused railroad spur in downtown Manhattan. It’s also an extraordinary botanical garden and architectural delight. I would have been impressed even if my son didn’t work on the High Line design team, honest.

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It took a while to find a spot out of the wind where I could sit to sketch. The Sunken Overlook puts you on a bleacher going down to a window to the street below.

NYC26There are art installations along the way and a constantly changing view of the city and the Hudson River.

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It was so windy that I needed a hat to hold my hair down. And I had to get the High Line pin and a High Line t shirt for my husband. Shameless parental pride.

At six Andrew and I met up to attend the Chelsea art openings, and then went out to dinner. He had a chuckle and eye roll about the hat.

 

A Week in NYC, Part I

This California girl hit the big city last week for a visit with my son Andrew and a whole lot of sketching. I go to San Francisco as often as I can and would have to rank it as my favorite city, but New York is like, well, S.F. on steroids. I spent most of the week agog at its architecture and people and art and neighborhoods and on and on. I haven’t really done any sightseeing in NYC since I was a child living in Connecticut, so I had a lot of catching up to do.

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Lamy Joy fountain pen and w/c in Stillman + Birn, Beta series 5.5X8.5″ sketchbook

First day I met fellow urban sketcher Chris Carter at Washington Square Park. Chris lives in New Jersey but has a familiarity with Manhattan which was reassuring, not to mention her city sketching skills, which I hoped she’d share with me. (Check out her blog for some of her sketches from the day!)

Right away we found a band playing in the park and set to sketching. The Animule Dance plays old-time Jazz, Blues, and country music. OK, so now I was feeling at home!

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Not a bad seat for viewing and listening!

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Actually, while waiting for Chris to arrive I found the chess players. My husband had given me instructions to sketch them. It was a great warm up!

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The band took a break and we strolled around the area, coming to this scene of the old fashioned water tower across from a modern muraled building and we both elected to plop down on stools, hugging the stone wall by the sidewalk and give it a try. I noticed that I have trouble getting the proper scale of the “big buildings” in the city (being such a country girl!) I tend to shrink them down to manageable size. More practice needed.

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After lunch we were planning to walk around Greenwich Village, but the sun was out and we headed back to Washington Square. Just to change things up a bit I started drawing with paint and then worked some pen line in.

The fountain was scintillating, the gardens in blooms, the people joyful, and the scene was so divine that I christened it “The Bliss of Fountain-eity”.

Later Chris had a turn to get a quotable from the day. “When you find your line, then you become able to share your unique experience of the external world”  (or something like that) I realized that I am forever in search of my line. It seems that others can usually see one’s “line” more easily than you yourself can.

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There was soo much going on: gymnastics/break dancing (shirtless guy on the left with blue pants), tourists taking selfies, hot dog and pretzel selling, tulips blooming and musicians in every quadrant. I gave up trying to put anything in perspective and just kept drawing the stories!

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Chris helped me to remember to photograph the sketch in the setting sketched. It helps to have an extra hand to hold the book up while taking the iPhone pic!

Our day ended with dinner at a bistro in Greenwich Village, much philosophizing about the abundant gifts of being an urban sketcher and a vow to meet again for more sketching, in N.Y and other world cities!

Galway bound

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I’m off to Ireland on Sunday for three weeks of sketching with my travel buddies. First stop, an urban sketch workshop in Galway. Then we’ll be touring Ireland by car for nine days with the trip culminating in the UsK (Urban Sketch) International Symposium in Manchester, England and more workshops with teachers from around the world.

The above picture might imply that I am all organized and packed and ready to go. Ahem. Not so. But it’s a start. This is probably overkill, and believe me, I will not be carrying all this around with me in my little day pack. But one must plan for many eventualities and lost and broken and running out of ink/paint eventualities!

As I did last summer in Italy I shall try to post sketches/pics from the trip as time and WiFi allows.It’s definitely a trip I’m anxious to share!