#urbansketchers

Cherry Blossom storm

w/c, gouache in Travelogue sketchbook

There was not a soul at the Capitol building gardens in Olympia last weekend without a phone or elaborate photographic equipment to record the much anticipated Japanese Cherry Blossom extravaganza. It’s irresistible, this feeling of urgency to capture the moment of fleeting storybook beauty, trudging through fresh piles of exquisite pink blossoms, knowing that one good rain storm and it would be gone. So I took some pictures that day – there was no time for more – so that I could practice at home, away from the heady smell of spring. 

But truly all I could do later in the week when on site with sketch friends was to keep my brush in a frenzy of motion caused by the lure of blossoms in such abundance that the mind went off line! Watercolor led to gouache and more layers until finally a part of me screamed STOP already! 

Rainy Day at the Library

fountain pen and watercolor in Travelogue w/c journal

It was a rainy day, so we sought out the cozy comfort of the Tumwater Timberland Library.

 

Only a handful of library users on that day, but lots of subjects for drawing! The geometric domed skylight let in lots of light and the marvelous clock seemed to dominate, so i took the Alice in Wonderland approach to design!

Lacey Cultural Celebration

My address is Olympia, WA, but we live right near the border of Lacey, another city rich with natural beauty, known by me for its parks, Amtrak station, suburban neighborhoods, grocery and big box stores. But last weekend I got to enjoy some of it’s rich cultural diversity at the Lacey Cultural Celebration 2022 with Taiko drummers, Irish dancers, bagpipers, dancers and musicians from Thailand and Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers!

 

ink and watercolor in 5X8″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

Since I never got around to joining the #oneweek100people challenge this year, I was happy to at least get some practice sketching the moving performers! 

pencil, w/c pencil, w/c. Thai drummer

In general the musicians were a bit easier to capture. I added dashes of color at home at home to finish some of them, still trying to keep the energy of the quick sketch.  

 

pencils and w/c

This dancer was sketched later from a picture. Can you tell?

direct watercolor and w/c pencil after

I had to stop sketching when this tribe came on stage and the elders invoked prayers and blessings for the land and its people, so many of whom were lost to Covid. When I later painted these two elders I hoped to convey my experience of this moving event.

Jane Wingfield was there also, finishing up her week of 100 people sketches – You can see her sketches from this event and earlier in the week on Instagram

Barista Training

fountain pen and watercolor in Canson Mix Media sketchbook 9 X 12″

The people at Batdorf and Bronson’s (Dancing Goat) roastery and tasting room have been gracious enough to let me be the fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes again; this time inside their training lab on S. Capitol Way in Olympia. When I arrived they were tasting a long row of freshly roasted cups in one of their rigorous methods to ensure top quality coffee. On the other side of the room Ben was training and testing Rowan in the fine barista art of making a variety of espresso drinks.

Ben timed and measured and tasted and took temperatures and gave scores, encouragement and corrections at every step of the process. Meanwhile Rowan concentrated with full attention, welcomed corrections and performed admirably. I was dumbfounded that so much science and precision could go into brewing an espresso drink!

And meanwhile I sketched like crazy, first with warm-up gesture sketches to discharge some of the excitement of the moment, and then with more careful pencil and finally ink lines. The color was added at home. Oh, and did I say that all the while I sipped an intoxicatingly fresh cup of French Roast coffee from the tasting room to keep my wits about me. Sort of.

If you’re in Olympia any time Wed – Sat 9am-4pm you must stop by the tasting room to sample different coffee brews, while peaking in the windows for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at roasting and maybe even training! And direct all your coffee questions to the knowledgable staff. Reminds me a lot of the fun of wine tasting that’s so popular in Sonoma County!

More San Franciso and back to Sebastopol!

pen and watercolor in 5X8″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

Another busy day in San Francisco started out with meeting my urban sketch friends for a ride across the Bay on BART to the Ferry Building, where I have sketched several times before.  (see previous sketches here) It was a Saturday and it felt like a good portion of city was out to enjoy the culinary delights and bayside views. It reminded me a lot of Pike Place market in Seattle with its crush of humanity! Multiple live music, horns, screeching brakes, every type of public and private transportation converging in this one block area of one of the most fascinating cities in the world. And all under beautiful sunny skies. 

I planted myself in the traffic island, listening to the crooner nearby with his medley of S.F. love songs, enjoying conversation with my sketch friends whom I’ve missed, and then tried to settle down for some sketching. The Jesus Saves guy was just one of the many colorful characters in view!

And there she was again! The young violinist from the deYoung parking lot again (in the center with the yellow hat), and this time with her fellow musicians. I quickly set up my sketch stool and got ready to sketch, just as they played their last notes and packed up to leave. Aargh! This may be another one to do from a picture, though it’s always more engaging to absorb the live music experience in the sketch.

The Chinese New Year parade was next on the day’s schedule. I’ve attended other urban sketcher meet ups for this event over the years, and it’s one of my favorite with unbeatable color and human vitality. (see past year sketches here and here The groups of adults and children of all ages assemble colorfully on Market Street in preparation for the parade. 

By the time I got there my energy reserves had depleted, so this was done later from a picture I took!

Kay’s garden in Monte Rio on the Russian River

The next four days I was on my old familiar turf in Sebastopol and the Russian River, which is always a bit of heaven in the early spring. A long lunch in the garden of Kay’s home on the River, watching her flock of “designer” chickens that produce a rainbow of different colored eggs.

marveling all over again at the bountiful lemons and the pottery studio overflowing with treasures. There was too much to catch up on with kay and Liz and lots of eating, so no sketching happened that day!

The temperatures were plunging, but not so much that a walk on the beach wasn’t possible, with a little bundling up against the wind. Bodega Bay is often windy and a bit chilly. Not your southern California year round beach, though there was a surfer out that day enjoying the waves. But a long clean stretch of beach with abundant birdlife and radiant sun. Ahhh!

It sometimes feels redundant to sketch on the beach, like I’m copying the art that is already so abundant there in the form of seaweed and shells and undulating sands. So I just gathered up some dried seaweed in an expression of how I felt about this part of our planet and about my week of revisiting.

Next, one last thing to share from my week in California – a Muse Group reunion with inspired artmaking which I will post soon!

Around town

Sometimes lately the weather has actually been warm enough to invite a bit of outside sketching. On Sunday I met two of my sketch buddies to tackle the Swantown Marina waterfront. 

fountain pen, watercolor, white gel pen in Travelogue w/c sketchbook

It was the flaming red bare branches on these bushes in contrast with the cool marine colors that invited the sketch. Those showy ducks were paddling around in the waters of Bud Inlet. The Olympic range was glowing in the distance, and I hoped that I could make sense of the complex marina scene, at least enough to get a bit of it in. As I started drawing, the sailboats appeared and I dashed them in. The man got added at the end, after the landscape was painted. There were lots of folks out enjoying the winter sunshine and warm (ahem!) temps of mid to high 50’s. It was one of those days when the heart and mind skips over the remaining weeks of winter and early spring and dives headlong into anticipation of spring blooming!

Another day I was driving home from errands and came to a stop sign at the lake, tarrying long enough to catch the rainbow with my phone. . .and later sketched it. Imagine more ducks out there on the lake, which is connected to the Sound. The trumpeter swans are still out there now.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to California for a week of visiting my buddies in the Bay Area and old home town of Sebastopol; taking my sketchbook, which has become my surrogate memory-catcher and blog-feeder! So I’ll catch you on the other side. Or maybe I’ll see you in person!

Virtual Travel

dip pen and ink and watercolor in Travelogue watercolor sketchbook

Virtual travel at your computer/iPad. It’s become a real thing in the Urban Sketcher world as we are less able to gather to on location spots because of Covid, and for some of us, because of winter weather. So when Cathy McAuliff and Bettina Armstrong and I got a peek at Patti Grogan Richards Facebook posts of New Orleans we made a date.

You see we were in NOLA for a week at the very beginning of the pandemic – last chance for travel for a while! – and we were thoroughly enchanted. So what a treat to spend an evening with each other reminiscing while sketching from Patti’s pictures.

I find that when I’m chatting/listening, my left brain is quite off line with the drawing, so lines and perspective are felt rather than measured. The marlin hanging over the entrance grew large as I showed it interest! After a few minutes I believe I started to feel the texture and scents on the humid air and a flood of memories came back.

I wholeheartedly recommend this form of virtual travel, even as the news tells us we are soon in for a lifting of restrictions. Comforting to know it’s possible and even without some virtual reality headset!

To see more NOLA sketches and get ideas for your own either virtual or real travel to New Orleans, you can visit some of my on location blog posts from March 2020 here and here.

From Armory to Arts Center

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue W/C sketchbook

A sunny day at last and it lured Jan and I out to attempt some on location sketching. Sunny but too cold for on the street sketching, so we sheltered in our respective cars for a cramped, but warmer experience!

I picked this spot at the Olympia Armory in town for its art deco era design and historical impact. It is in the process of transitioning from a military installation to a creative campus owned by the City of Olympia. 

This iconic Art Deco style building was constructed by noted architects Joseph Wohleb of Olympia and Roland Borhek of Tacoma in the late 1930s.  It has been an integral part of the community’s history and  the Army National Guard presence in Olympia. Guard members from the armory deployed to the Pacific Theater during World War II, and the Middle East during Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, while continuing to serve our state during countless disasters. The Armory has been used not only by the National Guard, but by the community as a venue and gathering place for events such as basketball games, car exhibitions, festivals, inaugural balls, and more.

As the army vehicles leave, the arts community is gearing up with ideas for using the quite generous space. The 41,160 square foot Armory building and adjacent 9,700 square foot outbuilding offer key spaces adaptable to a range of uses, including a 10,000 sf multi-use space, commercial kitchen, industrial loading dock and storage, and ample offices readily convertible to classrooms. 

For now I enjoy passing the building on my way into town. Maybe I’ll even have a space to teach again there! 

Roasting Coffee

Olympia is definitely on the map for gourmet coffee lovers. My family might fit that category. We buy the freshest beans, grind them fresh for each cup, and each have our own different preferred method of brewing. Just as when we lived in wine country we never considered making our own, preferring to leave that to the experts, here in Olympia we defer to the roasteries.

So in my pursuit of a warm indoor place to sketch on location I approached Batdorf and Bronson (aka Dancing Goats) for permission to sketch inside the roastery during roasting hours. They have a beautiful facility housing a coffee tasting bar, which is free and open to the public several days a week, as well as a state of the art roastery and kitchen for training barristas. My eyes got very big thinking of the sketching opportunities, with the tantalizing aromas of coffee!   

dip pen and black ink and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media

The roastery, in a warehouse filled with bags of unroasted beans from countries around the world, was humming with activity orchestrated by “the roaster”, who I learned is the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. All the roasting that day was to order, meaning the various beans were going directly from the roaster to coffee shops and customers, fresh and aromatic. Various shoots and ladders ushered the beans through various phases of the process, releasing heat and fragrance, cracking the beans open, cooling them etc. etc. I lost track at some point and just sat entranced by the maestro, drawing the wonderful shapes as fast as possible, trying to keep the lines decisive even when not accurate. The three of us sketchers were mesmerized for at least an hour, until finally the machines were shut down, the staff got to see our sketches and invited us back! We did our tasting in the tasting room, bought some beans and plotted about coming back soon.

Capital Building Grandeur

Like all creatures that seek warmth in the coldest part of winter, urban sketchers seek out interiors of buildings with something inspiring to draw. We are fortunate here in Olympia, even though otherwise a small city, to have the state capital which is open to the public, and actually quite grand and stately.

But (speaking as a sketcher) something happens to the doors of perception when you are suddenly faced with the interior of a cavernous rotunda. The thought – where do I look first? and – what is my perspective/point of view? and lastly, what does my small and insignificant sketchbook page, all blank and flat, want from all these angles and lights and a thousand points of light? It took a while to calm myself down enough to begin to draw a piece of it.

For want of a better idea, I decided that somewhere in the middle was a good place to start, and found a spot on the 4th floor balcony, with as much of the rotunda soaring above me as spread out dizzyingly below. I pealed off the winter coat and hat and gloves I’d worn for the temperature outside, which was in the 30’s,  and settled down to draw. 

fountain pen, marker, watercolor, white gel pen in w/c sketchbook

. . .a series of curved lines meeting up with straight lines and then taking off in another direction and back again until I was quite dizzy, but happy with the effort . In the end I caught some of the “bling” of the Capital moment.

With the little bit of time left before sharing sketches with my friends, I found a quiet inner corridor with a visual story I could tell. The Senate gallery with a bright red protective STOP! sign at the door. Although the sign was related to Covid regulations, it conjured up visions of the January 6 insurrection and aftermath of National Guardsmen sleeping in the hallways in the capital buildings to prevent another breach of security.

That quiet weekday between sessions there was little activity to cause concern for safety, just couriers delivering mail and supplies to whatever government business was going on behind closed doors. I made note to come back again and tackle another bit of grandness, and definitely in the spring to catch the explosion of blossoms on the grounds. Is it too soon to be fantasizing about spring before we’ve even reached the solstice?