#urbansketchers

Christmas Postscript

I suspect that if you want to find the happiest people around Christmastime you might head for the places where people are offering holiday cheer to folks who can use it, like at homeless shelters and such. lrrsantaandjingles_1

Places like The Living Room, a day program that service homeless and at risk women and their children. I’ve been going there for the last month as a volunteer, talking with the participants and volunteers and sketching the stories. I never leave without feeling that I have new friends and feeling a lot better about “human nature” to see the generosity of the community and the friendly welcoming-ness of the women who find solace there.

Of course the Christmas party was putting smiles on everyone’s face, with all the food and singing and treats for the kids and Santa and his elf. Not only did the kids get to sit on Santa’s knee, but the moms and other adults did too, including some luminaries who were visiting, like two young Wine Country beauty queens, tiaras and all!

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Before the hot lunch and the cookies there were Santa hats, bagels and coffee and more.

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And then Christmas carols for the adults and the children.

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The moms and kids all went home with pictures taken with Santa. (and no, I didn’t have time to sketch this one on location, but did it later from a picture!)

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Jingles and Santa Tim insisted on posing with me and surprised me with a (blush) kiss!

For our family’s Christmas card this year I sketched a Santa from about 24 years ago, with Ben on his knee.

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Hope you and your family had a very merry Christmas!

Symphony to Farmer’s Market

Two great ways to spend a weekend, at the symphony and a farmer’s market.

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I’m sitting in the second row, looking up to the stage at the Green Center at the Santa Rosa Symphony conducted by the marvelous Francesco Lecce-Chong. It’s an open rehearsal with various starts and stops and instructions to the orchestra, which I can hear, though the music already sounds perfect to my ears.

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The program is Dancing Across Time and I’m having trouble sitting still enough to sketch when the music demands that I MOVE! From my seat I can see only the conductor and stringed instruments, so at the intermission I move up to the balcony to get a different view.

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I am in awe of the conductor who expresses the emotion of the music with every pore of his body, and the musicians who come in on time and play the complex music and seem so relaxed!

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This morning I’m at the farmer’s market in Sebastopol, on a bench in the shade. I wonder what the Joy Pop is and marvel at the business model of this guy who cycles with his product right up to his spot by the stage.

It’s lunchtime and everyone seems to have a plate of food with something green on top. I recognize the poet (top left) who showed up at my open studio over ten years ago and wanted me to read his little books. “No charge, but you can donate.” And then the bunny shows up. . . That’s Sebastopol for you, every Sunday of the year.

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Reportage with Oliver

On weekends Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a three ring circus, a place I would probably avoid if if were not for the superlative sketching possibilities! Last Saturday I was there for a Reportage sketching workshop with my good friend and fellow flaneur, Oliver Hoeller and a small group of “advanced” students wanting to learn his delightful illustrative style of storytelling journalism.

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Working in a 9 X 12″ spiral bound Canson Mix Media sketchbook I did a warm up here before the workshop started.

You can sit on one bench on the Wharf, as I did here, and turn your head to see all of this (that’s Alcatraz at the top) and catch a performance while watching the tourists and sailboats and being tempted by food. Here I’m going fast and trying to fit the elements together, something which I know Oliver will be teaching.

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First warm up in the workshop was to draw a composite figure using different subjects to complete it. Why? Because in a place like the Wharf everyone is moving, so unless you want to finish the figure from memory (not recommended) you may need to wait for the next subject to come along. I made it easy on myself and sketched what I could see from where I was standing, David’s head (another student) and Oliver’s body. We referred to this sketchy form of laboratory science as the Frankenstein man.

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The next exercise (my favorite!) was like a scavenger hunt! Oliver would tell us what category of subject to add to the drawing and give us five minutes to complete it. Then we would move on. (this only works in a small group!) I added color later and might have overdone it.

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In this one I’m focusing, with more concerted effort and the encouragement of Oliver, on varying and exaggerating the size of the various elements and connecting them in a “designed” way. It’s so liberating to pick and choose the story telling elements based on interest and the needs of the sketch rather than struggling to get perspective and other pictorial aspects to match the scene before you!

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Sketching within cells, graphic novel style – another great way to capture aspects of an otherwise overwhelming scene. I lasted inside the Musee Mecanique arcade for about 15 minutes before the noise drove me back outside!

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At the end of the workshop Oliver led us into the bowels of commercial Fisherman’s Wharf where the stimulation level reached a screaming pitch. But the great thing is that there is so much to choose in a setting like this.

This is not my favorite sketch of the day –  too locked down and closed up with no lost edges. And I was trying out Oliver’s grey felt pen and overdid it. But this is the kind of sketch that teaches the most. . .when you have that if-only-I-had. . . experience, because there’s always a next time, and a next. I can’t wait!

And a big thanks to Oliver!

See more of my Fisherman’s Wharf sketches here.

Golden Gate Bridge times 60!

Big turnout for the S.F. Urban Sketchers this weekend thanks to two big highlights – the always-so-sketchable Golden Gate Bridge and a well loved sketcher/blogger/teacher/author visiting from Australia, Liz Steel. Apparently last time she was in town the fog rolled in and obliterated the bridge show, so she needed to give it another try. And this time the fog and wind and sun all conspired to make for a dazzling display of the bay and bridge in all its orange-gold-red-purple-hazy-clear-appear and disappear glory!

dockofSFBay I found a spot at the end of the pier in front of the Warming Hut where the fishermen were busy and the dock was covered with crab shells and cigarette butts. Some children were screaming Octopus! Octopus! when a small one was pulled up in a crab net. As usual I was excited enough about being there myself that I started putting in all the things I don’t get to see at home, like the S.F. skyline with the Salesforce building and Transamerica Center and the Bay Bridge and sailboats. . .

And then realized I needed a foreground element and started sketching the fisherman who was directly in front of me. When he saw me looking his way he apologized and started to move out of the way. So I had to fess up and tell him that he was my subject. He loved that! So he resumed his position and let me finish. Meanwhile I got to find out he was from Fiji and it was his first time fishing for crab!

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I did eventually join the throngs of familier sketchers in this iconic spot below the bridge and did my obligatory sketch of the bridge, putting in another fisherman and leaving out the scores of tourists standing right in front of me taking their selfies!

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Then my sketches joined the other bridge scenes, each of which expressed a unique viewpoint of our beloved bridge. A memorable day with the best of company in my favorite city.

Redwood Hill Goats

Oh for the love of goats! about twenty sketchers showed up at Redwood Hill Farm in Graton on Saturday. It was the Ready, Set, Sketch (country-style) urban sketchers group which meets once a month on the second Saturday of the month at some location in Sonoma County. We had the added treat of a farm tour led by fellow sketcher and member of the Redwood Hill Farm family, Sharon Bice. redwoodHill2_1

I’ve been wanting to get over there for a long time, but something always came up. The farm is about 7 minutes drive from my home and I have long been a fan of their cheeses.

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But what I really hoped to do was to hold a baby goat or kid, that is. And here is the wish come true. Three days old, this one. And he/she snuggled and suckled and covered me with that velvety goat milky smell. Ever since I’ve been imagining having my own little goat to raise! After all it will be a while (or never) til I get a grandchild of my own to hold!

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But there were chickens there too of course, and I felt rather rusty trying to sketch them as they scratched around and then quickly disappeared into the coop to lay their eggs!

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The adult goats were hanging out in the barn, many different breeds of them. I found a spot standing next to the feeding troughs where they would come up to check me out while I was checking them out. It’s not an easy thing to draw a goat. The proportions of their heads are so very unintuitive. I mean the eyes are way farther up in the head than you would assume, and those horizontal black bands in the eyes? Like an alien. . .

And like most animals, goats are not very cooperative about standing still and posing. Add to that the fact that when they look you in the eye with those fascinating golden eyes, you lose track of what you’re doing and just want to soak up their friendly interest.

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Personality and fecundity seemed to be the dominant traits of this group. It was a bit perilous to open the palette while propping the sketchbook up on the feeding trough bar. It became an instant object of interest to the feeders who stopped by to knock it around a bit. But it was the only way to study this fecund group resting together in dirt and alfalfa.

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Finally, worn out by trying to balance the palette with frequent interruptions, I headed outside to sketch another view of farm life, the last of the day.

 

Latino Community Event

Last night I attended an event for the Latino Community to share experiences of the firestorms last October. KRCB in conjunction with KBBF were the hosts and there was dinner and entertainment. It was a great opportunity to listen to and sketch “Fire Stories”.

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Trio Orion was a perfect way to warm up the crowd. I learned that KBBF radio provided the only translation of fire disaster information to the Spanish speaking community that was experiencing the same terror and uncertainty as the rest of Santa Rosa.

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Patty Ginochio, of Ginochio’s Kitchen in Bodega Bay talked about the throngs of fire evacuees that filled the roads and later the beaches in the wake of the fires. Many of them were Spanish speakers who were afraid to go to the shelters closer to Santa Rosa because they feared deportation. But she also spoke of the overwhelming support provided them by the community in the days that followed.

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Irma Garcia spoke eloquently about the need for government and other agencies to be better prepared to understand and respond to the needs of the Latino community that works so hard and makes such a large contribution to our county.

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Some middle school girls read their poems about the fire. And then individuals shared their anxiety the night of the fires and their difficulty coming to terms with their post-fire lives.

My pen and brush were moving like mad to try to record all this while my heart filled with compassion for these folks. I hope we all do a better job of watching out for all the people in our community whenever the next disaster appears, regardless of citizenship, language or economic status.

If you think you’d like to sketch fire stories like these please join us on Saturday Oct 6 at the Shiloh Park Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. And please sign up at the Meet Up site where there’s more information, and so we know you’re coming.

A Sol 2 Sol talk and Pop up Show

After the climate march I stayed in the city for a couple more days of city wandering/sketching, then went home (to Sebastopol).

A couple days later I returned to S.F. to do some more! The actual Global Climate Action Summit was going on at the Moscone Center, with Governor Brown and Al Gore and 4500 delegates from around the world. I couldn’t get into the actual summit, but wanted to dip my toe in the action. So I met some other sketchers in the Yerba Buena gardens across from Moscone Center. A group of marchers were congregating in front of the Contemporary Jewish Museum across the street.

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I honestly didn’t know what people and climate stories I would find as I walked into a group of people dressed in yellow t-shirts who were chanting and then breaking for lunch. The group was Sol 2 Sol, participating in the “It Takes Roots Solidarity to Solutions Week to spotlight frontline community solutions to the interlinked economic, democratic and climate crises currently threatening humanity.” They were there ” To discuss place-based solutions that serve to simultaneously decarbonize, detoxify, demilitarize and democratize our economy through critical strategies such as Indigenous land rights, food sovereignty, zero waste, public transportation, ecosystem restoration, universal healthcare, worker rights, housing rights, racial and gender justice, and economic relocalization.” That sure covers a lot of ground!

When I approached Loretta I didn’t know any of this, just that she looked like someone I would like to meet and who probably had her own interesting story to tell.

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She had come all the way from Cherokee, N.C. (Geeze I hope they’re OK with Florence still on the rampage!) to support her people. I learned that it is not a reservation but part of the Qualla Boundary, a term I had not heard before which signifies that it was purchased by the tribe in the 1870s and subsequently placed under federal protection.

Loretta of course had concerns about threats to the health of their lands, but was impressed also by wider climate changes. Her group had toured Santa Rosa just the week before to see the devastation wrought by our Tubbs fire! It was moving to hear her reaction as she recounted what she had learned on that tour about the climate-wrought disaster in my own community!

Needless to say I found it difficult to sketch the portrait of this fascinating lady out in the bright sun while also interviewing her and trying to make notes of what she said! Bless her heart for hanging in there with  me!

That evening we hung a pop-up show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of about 200 climate story portrait sketches by urban sketchers.

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What started as just an interesting idea by our fearless leader Laurie Wigham turned in one month into a project of great interest not only to the sketchers in the Bay Area but to so many of the participants in the climate summit-related efforts who were anxious to have their stories heard and and recorded.

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The show has been taken down now, but you can see the sketches on the SketchingClimateStories website! And if you’d like to get involved in this form of story-telling sketching, and you live in the Bay Area, please let me know and I’ll try to get you connected.

ImpactofClimateChangeCA2_SusanCornelisThe next morning I attended another event about “The Impact of Climate Change on California” at City College, which was another opportunity for people to share their experiences. I had pictured a town hall meeting type event where I would sit discreetly on the side, but it was a small classroom with several organizers and a handful of participants seated in a circle including us four sketchers.

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With respect for those who do not speak English, everything was translated into Spanish. The meeting was led in by a facilitator from the group Sustaining All Life, an international grassroots organization working to end climate change within the context of ending all divisions among people.

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I enjoyed participating in the personal sharing exercises, which gave me the opportunity to talk about our community’s trauma with the firestorms. It also made the reportage efforts more challenging as I crossed the line from reporter to participant.

Seated to my right was Ruying, an electrical engineer/climate scientist and Summit delegate from Beijing, China, who was hoping to gain some insight into the experience of Californians. She spoke with enthusiasm about the joint efforts of China and California in dealing with climate change. I suspect that this meeting was eye opener for her!

More Climate Stories

I just got home from S.F. last night after a pretty exciting week of activities around the Global Climate Action Summit. Time to get caught up with some posting.

Back to last Saturday’s Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march to Civic Center Plaza. My first sketch when I arrived was a hurried one of Berkeley students painting design outlines for the colorful circles on the streets in front of City Hall.

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And here’s some more of my climate story sketches, this one done from the table under the tents, where interested marchers were pulled in by the colorful sketches they saw and a chance to tell their own story.

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Lia is from Hawaii and a student of environmental studies in San Francisco. She spoke of the fragility of the eco system in Hawaii and her feeling that S.F. was a great place to get involved because of its progressiveness.

The hardest thing in a quick 10 minute portrait is to get the age right. It seems I’m always making younger people look older (as in this one), and older people younger.

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This lovely environmentalist is starting young. Kallan is 14 and had come from her home in Annapolis (I assume she meant Maryland) because she feels so strongly about the issues of climate change. She has already been involved in MotherEarthProject, Parachutes For The Planet, circular works of art that are a metaphor for bringing the world back to a safe place, and are used to get communities to commit to implement sustainable activities.

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She was dressed as a butterfly! A gentleman who was watching me sketch was very disconcerted that I’d made her look older and told me I should fix it! Since that was impossible, I ignored him and told Kallan that I’d made her look more mature because she is clearly an “old soul”, which is what I believe. I mean to have such a clear purpose at the age of 14. . .! Inspiring.

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I was on a run of young women! Gail Gallagher is a brand new teacher of 9th grade biology. “It’s a big moment,” she said, “and I want to be a part of it. We need to get the momentum back.”

That’s the rest of the sketches I was able to do at the march event. I didn’t actually march myself but was at the Civic Center Plaza before and after. There were tree people on stilts and native dancers that rattled as they walked and and tossed their magnificent feather headresses. There were songs and other music and around 4 pm I just walked around enjoying the circle designs.

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See more Climate Story Sketches on our website.

Next: More climate activities, sketches and a pop up art show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum!

Global Climate: Protect the Sacred

When I arrived at the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco last Saturday morning the streets were blocked off for the Rise For Climate, Jobs, and Justice march and groups of people were painting the streets in colorful designs illustrating our need to protect our precious planet and its people.

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I started right away sketching the liveliest group, and found myself wishing I could pick up one of the big paintbrushes and join in. (Of course they were using earth-friendly non-toxic paints that would wear away quickly when traffic resumed.)

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Agana here seemed to be everywhere and directing the show, so I talked to her and found out that she was/is the designer of this circle piece and a member of Few and Far Women . She offers her considerable artistic talent in murals, film, jewelry and more!

I got the feeling right away that this day was no procession of gloom about global warming (although lord knows there’s plenty of that!) but a celebration of our planet and people and the desire to make us all wake up to the threat of global warming and figure out how we can help protect all that is sacred.

Our group of urban sketchers Sketching Climate Stories had a table under the tents along with all the other groups represented at the event. Our mission was to sketch and listen to the stories of people who had gathered for this event; to ask them how global warming was effecting them in their home community; and to find out what they are working on. No sooner did I show up at the table, then I was connected with my first story sketch.

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I sketched Kamurra while while Cathy interviewed her. Kamurra introduced herself as a 75 year old who had been marching for 50 years and would continue to show up for these causes as long as she lived.

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I barely got some of her words written down before the next person showed up, ready to be sketched.

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Barbara Chan from El Cerrito had fashioned a hat with recycled materials including the plastics her group is working to ban: “Skip the Straw”.

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Our Sketching Climate Stories table was getting really busy at this point with the marchers arriving and more sketchers on hand. The finished sketches were immediately placed in clear protective sheets in binders so that passersby could see them. And many of them stayed to be sketched.

At this point a polar bear arrived. She had clearly lost her way or maybe given up trying to find any ice! Another lifelong champion of environmental causes, Sharon had driven down from Laytonville for the march.

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At this point things were moving pretty fast and I didn’t get much of the interview points down. Unable to draw with the right side of my brain and at the same time, write with the left side I guess!

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(note the bear nose/mouth around her neck!)

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Just to give a flavor of the day. . .these circles on several blocks around the Civic Center were 50 feet across. This one says “Immigration is a Right!” and behind it you see the music amplifiers and City Hall.

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Later in the day, when the crowds had cleared, you could get a better look at the art! I have more sketch stories to share, so stay tuned.

Tomorrow evening the Contemporary Jewish Museum is hosting a pop up exhibition of the climate story sketches. The Museum is located on the opposite side of Yerba Buena gardens from the Moscone Center, where the Global Climate Action Summit is happening today through Friday. I’ll be there doing some more Climate Story Sketching!

The SF Chronicle did a great article on the project. See it here.

A Gouache Day with Maru!

Gouache is the strangest word. It always sends me to spellcheck because it couldn’t possibly be an English word. Yesterday at least, it had a Spanish feel, or maybe Catalan. Maru Godas was here (in San Francisco) from her home in Barcelona, teaching her popular Urban Sketcher workshop titled Gouache Like a Child

Being more of a transparent watercolorist myself, I’ve always had a mixed reaction to gouache, which is a creamy, opaque watercolor, because it is so often used by watercolorists to correct their painting errors. In the “wrong” hands it can have a deadening quality. But in Maru’s hands it is so appealing!

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She started us out with some exercises to get used to the consistency, mixing black with white to get a five step gray scale. To paint with the creamy consistency of opaque gouache, you have to have just enough water on your brush, but not dilute it. It takes practice for an old watercolorist like myself. We also did a black to almost white scale with black gouache only, adding water to show that you can actually use gouache in a watercolor-y way too. And with dry paint on the brush you get great textures which you need to enliven the surface of your paintings.

We also got to practice painting three minute thumbnails with black and white.

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Maru is showing her signature palette here. It’s totally brilliant. All these wonderful colors from just five pigments. We practiced mixing paints, keeping them creamy consistency with just the right amount of water, and then went outside to try it all out at Mission Bay.

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The row of houseboats along the canal seems to beg to be sketched! Here I’m trying to channel the “like a child” part of the instructions while wrestling with this much thicker and unfamiliar medium in a timed exercise. Unlike regular watercolor paint you can paint light colors on top of dark ones in gouache, though you can also leave the white paper untouched to preserve your whites. It’s very freeing (though I kept forgetting!)

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I enjoyed being able to come back in at the end with a white paint pen and pencils to spice up some areas.

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The final sketch was a panorama using line as well as the gouache. As I was painting in the colorful scene of Pac Bell stadium I could hear the roar of appreciative Giants fans.

So the verdict? If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with Maru. . .you may have to go to Europe. . .jump for it. And gouache? It’s so delectable, especially fresh from the tube, as to be practically irresistible. Paired with other media to add line to the blocks of color shapes, it can’t fail to activate the child painter within. My own child is drooling in anticipation of more chances to dive into those colors.

Only drawback. . .it’s definitely messier than watercolor and requires more water changes, more paper towels, a big sponge, brushes that are springier and a brush case to carry them in. That and another pouch for a variety of dry media like colored pencils. I don’t think I’d take it along on a protest march, for instance. But for a sunny afternoon at Mission Bay, it couldn’t be finer.