Kevin’s house

It all started with the article in the Press Democrat showing Bettina and Carole and I sketching out on the streets of Coffey Park, that famously unfortunate neighborhood of fleeing souls that lost 1200 homes in one night in last October’s firestorm in Santa Rosa, CA.

Sasha saw the article and contacted us to see if we could do a similar “fire story sketch” of  Kevin’s (her fiance) home that burned that night.  The idea was to try to do something showing the passage of time.


I started by sketching what was the present moment of the new home coming up on a street which was busy with construction.

Of all the neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that burned in that fire, Coffey Park is way ahead in efforts to rebuild. You can see the Coffey Strong signs everywhere that express a kind of neighborhood “united we stand” sentiment that has proved to be so vital to the spirit of healing and renewal.


Sasha wanted another sketch showing the possession that Kevin was the most distressed to lose in the fire – his shiny new red motorcycle! Luckily she had a photo of the motorcycle before and after, as well as a before the fire photo of the house. I was able to combine all three in this rendering.


Sasha invited me to come after work to see how the house was coming along, meet Kevin, give them the sketches, and watch the Coffey Strong neighbors greeting each other for their “walk the neighborhood” and potluck gathering.  There were smiles and hugs and picture taking and exchanges of information about how the construction is going, decisions that are being made, etc. It felt like the kind of survivor’s club I’d want to be a member of.


Kevin and Sasha are told the house will be finished by Christmas. I sure hope Kevin has a motorcycle under the tree!


Beauty School to Financial District

Every reportage sketcher’s dream is to become a fly on the wall observing and sketching some common human activity not generally open to observation. . . like sketching the action in a beauty school. Last week I was invited to accompany Bettina while her daughter Julia styled her hair at Cinta Aveda beauty school in the financial district of San Francisco.


Looking through the eyes of a sketcher one notices hundreds of interesting facets in the visual field: certainly the bottles of products and carts of rollers and towels, hair dryers and curlers. Reflections in the mirror are the most intriguing. From where I was sitting the poster of the male model on the wall behind dominated the mirror. Looking around I noticed the other posters of “hot” guys ringing the room, imagining that not only were there guys getting their hair cut, but women enjoying the thought that their new “do” might attract such a guy.


Applying color here, while somebody’s son amuses himself on his phone. I never saw the final hairdo.


After lunch at an overpriced Financial District restaurant we headed to the Embarcadero Center to sketch. Embarcadero Center is a commercial complex of five office towers, two hotels, an underground shopping center with more than 125 stores, bars and restaurants, two movie theaters, and fitness center on three levels. But stringing it all together is a beautifully landscaped open area with stellar views of skyscrapers and other urban geometry. It’s always fascinating to me to view the tallest building in a city, here the Salesforce tower, from a vantage point that dwarfs it.


I was focusing here on the geometry without thinking “things” and using a dip pen and ink bottle for a change. I’d like to try again with a thicker nib. It didn’t look that different from my usual fountain pen. I liked the way the ink flowed onto my watercolor paper though.


Then it was rush hour and we decided to wait it out to avoid a long commute back to Sonoma County. We’re across the street from the Ferry Building here and right below the Bay Bridge, one of those places that feels like a crossroads of humanity.

Not everyone was rushing however. This fellow was catching up on sleep on the sun-warmed pavement, one of the thousands of homeless people in this city and others around our wealthy but neglectful country. Summer in San Francisco is cold and windy and often not hospitable to outdoor relaxation. He was bundled up and the wind was blowing and the public toilet had a steady stream of visitors and the bridge was jammed with commuters. And this became my last story of the day.

If you had been there, no doubt your story would have been a completely different one!

Porto Part I

Porto is a visual feast. Like Lisbon it climbs a steep hill with views from every narrow, cobblestoned street, each of which is decorated with bright flags and colorful laundry in drooping strings across painted balconies. You can wear yourself out trying to capture even a thimbleful of the kaleidoscopic images that greet you with every turn.

So it really helped to just sit down and compose whatever sketch time allowed.


And then there’s the Douro River at the base and not so wide across that you can’t enjoy the other side as well. And six glorious bridges, each an architectural marvel.


We took a river cruise to get oriented. The Ponte de D. Luis I bridge here with a lower and upper span dominated our view for the duration of our stay.


Here’s the view from the river of the “boardwalk” area, which was a favorite of the urban sketchers.

portoriver Even the river boats had a unique style.


We settled into the Yellow House on the hill, a three story house we rented through AirBnb and it became home for a week. . .a home we shared with the raucous gulls whose wingspan was that of an Albatross I think, because they seemed to span the width of the narrow street down which they soared in noisy drafts. Then they perched on the roofs and commenced heated discourse which ended in brawls (or that’s what it sounded like).


The view from my bedroom window balcony on the third floor in the morning. . .That’s the river down there and the monastery across the river.  .


And the view lit up at night. . .and yes, that’s a cathedral next door.


Stay tuned for Porto: Part II


Alice in BlakeGardensLand

Last week I met up with a few of my urban sketch buddies for a day at Blake Gardens in Kensington. The property is owned by the University of California and the garden managed by the school of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. To say it’s a spectacular setting is an understatement. Indeed I felt like Alice in Wonderland walking through the gardens, and then there was the panoramic view of the S.F. Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Sigh. Choosing one place to start sketching was a challenge.


fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal, 7 X 10″

I anchored myself with the “scarecrow” figure, a girl I think?


I think I was overawed by these violet beauties towering over. Some of the other sketchers managed to capture their essence better than I could.


I expected a Lepracaun or other enchanted character to jump out at any moment!

Have a look at Cathy McAuliffe’s sketches from the day.

A Weekend at S.F. Bay

Catching up a bit here! Two weekends ago I was footloose in SF while Bob was taking a workshop at the Center for the Book. One morning I planted myself on the cement bleachers below Ghirardelli Square to watch and listen to the endless parade of tourists, bay swimmers, summer camp groups (the list is so long!) I was trying out my natural hair ( floppy) paintbrush. For many years I’ve used a springy one, so my accuracy with this one, a Rosemary Co. round travel brush, is not great. . .yet.


But as I painted there were innumerable distractions. The lady resting quietly in the foreground suddenly woke up and started screaming accusations at the group beyond, and their fear was visible on their faces. Later she left and another similar group came to stand close enough to me that I heard their leader giving instructions or something. It was puzzling. They were dressed in ordinary pedestrian clothing with small backpacks and seemed like tourists, except they were being invited to search for armed terrorists or something and were consulting their maps and phone apps. OK, so it must have been some kind of game, like a terror scavenger hunt?!


My fellow urban sketcher Cathy McAuliffe met up with me bringing colored paper which we tore up and glued onto some pages before we went off exploring Fort Mason. This was a fun technique she learned in the Urban Sketch Symposium from Lynne Chapman. I abandoned paints for the afternoon and just used pen and colored pencils. There’s a white Uniball Signo pen in there too (for those of you who notice everything). It was an extremely complicated scene with the GG Bridge, Fort Mason buildings, SF Bay with boats of all kinds including a wind surfing regatta, Marin headlands across the bay, etc. But somehow the construction paper made it more necessary to pick and choose and get a better design going.


To get out of the wind we went to the other side of a building on the Bay and this view is looking across to the East Bay and Fisherman’s Wharf. There was no point getting everything in perspective, with those bright colored papers, so I had more fun just putting in what I wanted for the story.


We ended our day at the Interval at the Long Now coffee shop/bar/museum where I’ve always wanted to sketch but never gotten the right seat. This time the couch in the corner was available and once again, I’m not exactly sure why, the colored paper helped! Thanks to my friend Cathy and Lynne Chapman for sharing this fun approach.


All my sketches are done from real life, but something possessed me to do one from memory of real life. I mean there are moments when you see something so impossibly wonderful and you can’t get your phone camera out quick enough and you have to rely on memory, which fades too quickly. There was this bright blue city bus and a string of schoolbus yellow Go Cars right behind it on North Point St. So when I was home I got it down in my book. More inspiration from the colored paper do you think?