Normandy Village in Berkeley

The storm that drenched Sonoma County last week wreaked havoc on the Bay Area with high winds that blew down trees whose roots were already too saturated. Power lines were down and much of the east bay where I was headed next was without electricity. On Friday though, much of the power was restored and I was able to join my Bay Area sketch buddies, Cathy McAuliffe and Laurie Wigham in a “surprise” location by the University in Berkeley selected by Cathy. And what a treat!

When you turn onto Spruce St from Hearst, north of the University you come without warning to a fairy tale replica of a 17th century Normandy village, built in the 1920’s by an enterprising young architect Jack Thornburg. Now it’s home to university students among others. One can only imagine what it would be like to live there! You can read a bit of the history here

As we sat and sketched and wandered around the cobbled lanes we met student residents and a man in the current owner’s family who later took pictures of all our sketches outside his house.

fountain pen and watercolor in hand.book journal 8 X 11″ spread

There was so much texture everywhere, irregular vectors, gargoyles, weathered paint and the chanteclere! A rich diet for a sketcher.

parallel pen and watercolor

When my pens ran dry (arggh!) Laurie loaned me her parallel pen for my next one. All subtlety of line quality was lost, which is not to blame the pen, but my handling!

Myself, Laurie and Cathy enjoying a sunny sketchy day. Check out their sketches on their Instagram links.

And have you heard about the first travel sketchbooks festival in the United States that is coming to beautiful Edmonds, Washington  July 14-16, 2023? Registration just opened today, featuring outdoor sketching workshops with renowned teachers,  a sketchbook fest and art market, and free sketchwalks led by members of the Seattle Urban Sketchers community.

I’ll be there! Let me know if you’re coming and I’ll look for you.

For more information and to register, visit Sketcher Fest.



Back from Soggy Sunny California

My landing in Sonoma County airport. No longer the land of severe draught, the landscape resembled a shamrock-hued Ireland and dotted with countless “puddles” and lakes where there had been only dried up sunburnt grasses a few months ago. It was the familiar countryside I remembered from the wet winters over the many years I called it my home, and so welcome! During my few days staying with friends in Sebastopol and frequenting my old haunts, I got to walk in the biblical downpours, so unlike the gentle rains and drizzles of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the cool early spring sunshine. 

On the day of the this sketch Bettina picked me up and we drove to Doran Beach for a walk with the birds and horses and surfers along the glistening waters. Ahhhh! Then lunch at our favorite Fishetarian deli on the wharf and back to sketch in tranquil Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol.

fountain pen, watercolor in hand.book journal 8 X 11″ spread

Note the mother and child carved into the side of the Chestnut tree and prayer flags. The perfect day ended with a reunion with her family at their home.

Next: A rendezvous with the Muse Group!


Washington State Capital Building

While California has been floating in their, did I hear ninth atmospheric river, this winter (or getting buried under tons of snow!) here in Washington we have had our usual cold drizzles mixed with sunny days and not much blossoming going on yet. Each day is a constantly changing smorsgasbord of sky drama. If you turn around 360 degrees you will see every kind of sky, as in this picture taken on a sunny day!

The legislature was in session at the Capital building. After lunch in town Jane and I walked over to the Capital building to check out the action. She knows the scene well, having worked there in various capacities years ago, so I just tagged along.

fountain pen and watercolor in hand.book w/c journal 8X11″ spread

We were able to sit in the gallery above the grand room and look down on the proceedings which were just beginning. All the rules of the House were being followed. but it was a mock session with the student interns doing a very convincing job of discussing and passing laws!

Meanwhile I was struggling (in a fun way!) to capture bits and pieces of the action to tell a visual story. (The recent cataract operation helped a bit with my sight, but it will be another couple months before I can get my glasses updated!)

You’ll be able to check out Jane Wingfield’s sketches soon on her Instagram account.

crocuses under the trees at the Capital grounds

I’m headed to California tomorrow for a week visiting friends in Sonoma County and the Bay Area. They said to bring a raincoat and rubber boots!! And their temps are only a tad warmer than ours. Topsy turvy weather this year. Can’t wait to see those familiar landscapes and old friends. I’ll be back in a week with some stories!

Lacey Cultural Celebration

Last Saturday I attended the Lacy Cultural Celebration, a free event at St. Martin’s University featuring music and dance presentations by local and regional performing arts groups and more!  This year there were five members of our local urban sketch group, but I’m sure word will spread and that will double by next year. The performances by local people of all ages, with colorful ethnic costumes and musical accompaniment were engaging and occasionally spectacular. 

I put my nose in the little sketchbook I’d brought and hardly moved from my seat for 2 and a half hours while a new group took the stage every half hour.

Olympia Highlander
Haley Prendergast School of Irish Dancing
PNW Ryuel Ryohou Kan Dojo
India South Sound Association

The last one was drawn later from a picture I took. There were several others that are not worth sharing and never received color! 

But now that the  #Oneweek100people annual challenge has started! they can all be counted as part of this week, which is all about practising and repetition as a great way to increase people-drawing skills.  I know some of you are already well into papering your walls with people sketches for this challenge! If not and you’re interested in giving it a try, go to my friend Marc Taro Holmes’ blog to get super inspired. And I’ll be posting more this week. My buddies and I are even planning on hanging out at our local Costco food court to get some interesting subjects. You know, the ones shoveling pizza and hot dogs into their mouths and then racing to line up with their bulging carts, to have their receipts checked as they leave with all that loot! Crazy what one will be willing to do in the service of art!


Lummi Totem Blessing

On a chilly winter afternoon this week Ineke and Jane and I met at the Port Plaza downtown to attend a Lummi Totem Blessing event, and to sketch. The Lummi tribe is centered in the Bellingham area of northern Washington. Representatives from the House of Tears Carvers came to Olympia, welcomed by our local Squaxin Island tribe and Interfaith council and others. They came to gather support for their tour which is headed to Oak Flat Arizona in support of the Apache tribe who is protesting the proposed copper mining which endangers the future of the land and its people.

For us the event was an opportunity to experience our home through the eyes of the indigenous people whose fundamental mission is to be guardians of the health of ancestral lands, not just here but in the wider world.

As I approached the Port from the parking lot I was suddenly overwhelmed by a noisy flock of seagulls circling over the spot where the ceremony was about to start. There was no doubt that the ancestors had been summoned and announced themselves through this avian presence!

fineliner pen and watercolor in a hand.book w/c journal

As the ceremony and program began, reluctantly I took my hands out of warm pockets to open the sketchbook and start drawing.  As I heard bits of the story and introductions of the speakers, I took notes and picked the two Lummi elders who had traveled to Olympia on this mission, bringing a totem.

After I’d dropped my pen a couple times, I gave up and the hands returned to the warm pockets, and full attention to the speakers and message. I never fail to be brought to tears by the indigenous speakers who so naturally communicate their understanding of the oneness of man with the natural elements. Salmon are their relatives, as are the eagles. The earth is the living embodiment of their ancestral identity and cannot be separated from it. As I listen, everything in me responds with a yes, that’s it! I look around and see the same response on the faces of the crowd.

panoramic shot of the folks assembled for the laying on of hands ceremony of offering our prayers

I watched as the totem slowly made its way around the circle of attendees who reverently laid hands on the pole in silent prayer, joining with the hands of the local and Lummi tribal members. Meanwhile the symphony of gulls and the stories and blessings of Freddy and his auntie Mary filled the air and gave me goosebumps.


One more sketch here of this diminutive Lummi elder and great grandmother of 25, her braid almost down to her ankles. Embellished a bit by my experience of her larger than life presence. 

It was one of those times when I didn’t wonder about how/why I am so far from my Sebastopol home of many years.  I believe the move is bringing some kind of new lessons about ways to live in harmony with the natural world. My sincere gratitude goes to the indigenous peoples who have this lesson to teach us.

After the event was over it was dinnertime, and we were all invited to warm ourselves by enjoying delicious salmon chowder prepared, I assume, by the local Squaxin Island folks.

McMenamins Spar Cafe

It was last winter when Jane Wingfield and I sat on the sidewalk across the street from Spar Cafe in toe-numbing cold, sketching the buildings. (See the post here.) This year we made a more comfortable choice and had lunch inside, enjoying a freshly made soup and sandwich. The Cafe’s decor pays homage to a rich history going back to the 1930’s. I would love to do some real time travel in this spot and be a fly on the wall to watch the longshoremen who eagerly bookended their day with drinking and gambling pursuits. Now a days it’s still a great place to imbibe, to eat, and play pool, but has a respectable family feel and is very low key on weekday lunchtimes.

pen and watercolor in hand.book journal

We were both impressed by how much detail one could get lost in sketching there, and meanwhile we had a lot of eating and talking to do. Jane got out her cool Kakimori pen and I watched her demo it. Mine would arrive in the mail later that day and I wanted to be ready. I confess I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on the detail of the back part of the restaurant, being two days away from much needed cataract surgery. But the chandelier and the chairs. . .and this pen with the unusual brass nib that looks like a bullet presented interesting subjects.

To see Jane’s sketch and read more of interest about Spar Cafe, see her Instagram post here!

practice with my new Kakimori pen and ink!

To my delight when I arrived home, my Kakimori had arrived, and I took it for a spin! Lots more practice is needed, but so far it carries lots of ink and has amazing line variability. And now, cataract surgery successfully completed, I can’t wait to get back to it with a bit more vision power.

Boca de Tomatlan III

Have I said anything about the climate in Boca de Tomatlan yet? Sunny and around 80 degrees every day with a gentle ocean breeze. Warm ocean. It never seemed to get too hot, even in the sun. I was there for one week with two of the days spent in travel from and back to home. That left 6 full days and so much to see in the area. 

But even trying to pack in the experiences, side trips and more, it was relaxing. . . except for the next day’s bumpy bus ride to Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica. The city was full of tourists and stores and attractions which I realized were more a dis-traction. I couldn’t wait to get back to Boca, the small fishing village which felt a bit like our home by the third day.

The following morning I walked the plank bridge (three boards wide supported by rocks in the rushing river) to the other side where boats were being loaded and unloaded with everything from boxes of produce to bags of trash. 

Sitting in the shade on one of those rectangular benches, I picked a house across the narrow river to sketch. It was the palm thatched roof and the dark interior that drew my eyes, but as I sketched, the thatching disappeared as I got absorbed in the sunlit palms!

A house in the jungle, swallowed up by vegetation. I stopped short of the vines that encased it on either side. Too much green! and added a spectator Snowy Egret and boat landing on the river’s edge.

Our scheduled trip for the day was a drive up the mountain to El Tuito, which translates to beautiful small valley. It’s claim to fame is the artesan cheese, breads, cookies and the restaurant, El Patio de Mario, where we ate lunch in a sunlit courtyard with a parrot, . Here I had my first taste of the real Mole, so good! After walking around the dusty village with not much shade to be had, I returned to the restaurant to watch the open kitchen and sketch the lovely ladies at work.

The best part is always sharing the sketch and getting that picture!

The last day before the long trip home to our northern climes, we all spent time on the beach.

This cheerful shop was our neighbor, three doors down. You could buy a drink and snacks and have access to an umbrella table and chairs on the beach, which we practically had to ourselves on that Friday.

I’m not much for sunbathing, being a redhead (well, gray now) who burns even with sunscreen. So an umbrella and a scene to sketch with the warm ocean breeze . . .well that’s the best.

I had to include the dog because I never sat down to eat at the beach restaurant without at least four dogs of all sizes and shapes encircling the table, cozying up to our legs and imploring us with silent doleful eyes. Otherwise you would find them sound asleep in the sun in the middle of any pathway. 

That’s a tiny bit of the story anyway. I’ll be sketching from a few photos now, hoping to prolong the trip just a bit longer.

Muchas gracias to our hosts, Bob Masla and Monica Levine, who shared their winter home and retreat center of the past 18 years with us. It was a small group that week and we enjoyed their delightful company as they got us settled, joined us at meals, and guided us on all our excursions.  The Casa is filled with Bob Masla and other master artists’ work and the open air studio-with-a-view on the upper levels a tantalizing place to paint. Bob and Monica taught us as much about the local culture as about art so that we could feel at home there. Gracias! also to the cook, Rubi, whose meals were the best of regional cuisine, and to all the other Mexican locals who welcomed us to their small village with open hearts and hands! 

If all this has wetted your appetite for a Mexico art journey, visit the Casa de los Artistas website for more information about workshops coming up.

Boca de Tomatlan II

The next morning I headed down to the riverside just below our house, anxious to sketch the boat life. Bob, our instructor/host had warned us about this. With all the activity on the river in the morning, a peacefully anchored boat will be boarded and motor out to the ocean in moments, aborting your best sketch yet. However, I would be quick with this one, I thought.


A parade of hikers crossed in front of me on the narrow trail which was the only place to roost on my stool. A quick pencil sketch was done, and the boat still lingered. But I discovered I’d forgotten to bring my water brush. I raced upstairs to fetch it and when I returned the boat had disappeared! I borrowed a boatman from another craft and proceeded to paint from memory and the rest of the scene which had luckily not moved.

Then around 11am we piled into a van and were driven along the mountain road above the  river.  We were having lunch and spending the afternoon at the spectacular Vallarta Botanical Garden.

I could happily have spent days in that tropical paradise with my nature journal in hand. I guess it was a good thing that I’d left my iPhone/camera drying out from its quick dunk in the ocean the day before. Because at every turn of the head a new plant or butterfly or bird was screaming Look at me! Take my picture to prove there is really a lily pad that gigantic and a bird with every color of the rainbow! Good thing not to have the camera between me and all that beauty. 

I sat by the fruit feeder and was rewarded after a while by first one, then a flock of Yellow Winged Caciques having a raucus bird party under the cacao tree.  I sat as still as I could as they frolicked mere inches away.

To be continued tomorrow. . . with another trip to the mountains and beach life.

Boca de Tomatlan I

Vacation? Adventure? Painting workshop? Urban Sketcher “assignment”? As I was bumping down the coastal highway south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico in a taxi from the airport heading to a small fishing village on the ocean, the sun was setting over the Pacific. I was traveling alone to a place I’d never been and where I would know no one. But with a magical sunset like that, I felt ready for whatever happened.

And with my arrival at Boca de Tomatlan I found myself. within moments, with bare feet in the warm sand, friendly artists to meet, margarita in hand and a dinner of freshly caught red snapper. . . a few feet from the ocean, in candlelight and Mariachis playing by our side. OK I thought. I can deal with this.

The next morning on my bedroom veranda I was greeted with this view, where the ocean meets the shallow Horcones River. I was spending the week at the Casa de los Artistas where room and board, art mentoring with master artist Robert Masla as well as local excursions were provided and friendships developed.  

My first sketch here after breakfast in the morning, looking through the palms to the river harbor below and the village opposite. My eyes focused on the palm thatched beach restaurant. I was greedy for a big picture, and didn’t care about getting it right! My eyes were able to focus only slightly better than the picture above, the cataract having traveled with me to Mexico. Certainly not a reason to stop sketching and enjoying the daily sunshine and exuberant jungle leaning up against river, beach and ocean! 

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

And such an abundance of activity there was, day and night. With no road on our side of the river, we walked or climbed a narrow dirt path through outdoor courtyards with the dogs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, a friendly parrot, laundry drying, babies nursing, children playing, workers carrying heavy loads, and each morning a parade of tourist hikers headed to the ocean cliff trail. To cross the river we walked a three wooden plank-wide bridge propped on rocks just above the rushing water. When tide was low, we could wade across.

The next day was Sunday and a beach day for families. Hungry to get the joyful activity packed into a sketch, I kept adding people to the sketch. This middle aged couple stood contentedly nn the shallow riverbank holding hands, unaware that they were a prized foreground for this sketch. 

I stood uncertainly on the river’s edge, wondering about the current and depth and presence of rocks, but wanting to cross. These children with the ancient boat saw me pondering and offered a lift. English not needed. Pointing to the boat and smiling at me was enough. They helped me onto a wet seat and ferried me to the other side, two on either side outside the boat. The girl was intent on my safe journey and gestured for me to wait til they got close enough before signaling me to rise and de-boat. After that sweet initiation, I was able to ford the river, at low tide, on my own.

On Monday we were taken on a boat trip down the coast to another beach and the village of Quimixto for a picnic. We pounded the waves in our water taxi and surfed it onto another beach down the coast, with a turbulent and rather wet disembarking amongst flocks of pelicans and snowy egrets. 

,The one sketch I managed. While eating our lunch on the beach, this fellow appeared with his iguana.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone camera, greasy fingers and all. You may see this in a sketch at some point. Who could resist?! Then I watched all the crazy activity of the egrets and pelicans and a few frigate birds, and picked through the colorful rocks on the beach. The surf was too wild and rocky for swimming. And accidentally, because I was so intent on taking pictures, dropped my phone in the ocean. It survived but needed a day to dry out. 

Therefor the next day at the spectacular Botanical Museum I was camera-less. Sigh. But how fortunate to not have that distraction. I guess. 

To be continued. . .

On the Shortest Day

On the shortest day of the year a short drive through snow flurries landed us in the faux tropical setting of  The Bark and Garden Nursery where we found respite in the indoor plant section. In this divine setting the Buddha oversaw the art making with his beatific inner vision and gentle waterfall acoustics. It was warming and restorative!

ink and watercolor in w/c hand.book journal

Normally I don’t think one finds a flamingo statue in a meditative garden with a Buddha, but when I finished the sketch I noticed that bird peeking out behind Buddha, no doubt being drawn in by his compassion. So in the last two minutes there I added him to finish the story of abundant grace!

Since we’d run into lunchtime and were hungry, Jan and I headed over to the nearby Mall’s food court to also practice catching people on the move. I figure it takes at least 30 minutes to warm up for this kind of quick capture sketching, where you’re really taking a rapid mental picture and trying to hold onto it long enough to get your nervous hand to get something human-like down on paper. Often the figure is long gone and you’re half finished and needing to make up the legs or use someone elses. The faces at the tables were more cooperative, but the manikin in the window was the best!  We were just getting warmed up when it was time to head home! 

At home the day before I was practicing a technique I’ve seen on the youtube channel @VanidasMangathilArt. This amazing painter/teacher demos how to paint  imaginary figures from watercolor paint splatters! 


direct watercolor on w/c paper

He makes it look pretty easy, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first line of splash figures was intriguing enough to try again. I did the second line of 12? figures in 5 min with my palette “mud”. You’ve got to paint fast before the paint dries. Now do 10 more lines, I told myself! and was promptly called to dinner. So the challenge is still floating. 

Want to do landscapes in the same way? Vanidas Mangathil also demos imaginary landscapes which look so effortless and realistic that your mind is blown. Give it a try and let me know! He’s also on Instagram of course.