#urbansketchers

Crab Season Opens

W headed out to the coast yesterday to see what we could find to sketch of the crab season which started recently. Bodega Bay was a lively spot for recreational and commercial fishermen on this sunny fall day.

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By the time we got there most of the boats had left but we found one where the crew was busy loading crab traps using a crane. We raced out a wobbly dock next to it and started sketching madly. We had about ten minutes to get what we could before they motored out into the bay. And all the while the dock was swaying randomly to the movement of the water as boats motored by. We stayed, enjoying the sunshine and adding color from memory and pictures we’d taken with our iPhones, and then headed over for fresh crabcakes at Spud Point Crab Company, home of the world famous clam chowder (voted best for 14 years now!)

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Nob Hill with the Urban Sketchers

Last Saturday the SF Urban Sketchers met at Nob Hill to sketch Grace Cathedral and top-o-the-city scenes. The icing on the cake was a visit from our Australian friends Liz Steele and Jane Blundell who perched alongside us on the streets sketching and enjoying a near perfect sunny day in San Francisco. The group swelled to 83 sketchers and there was plenty of socializing with old and new sketch friends.

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fountain pen and watercolor in Hand book w/c sketchbook, 8 X 8″

While we perched on our stools across the street from the Cathedral we enjoyed the photo shoots of several brides dressed in the romance of white and bouquets.

nobhill06I might have to sketch this one from the picture! I was too lost in the arches and hangings and intricate architecture of the cathedral to catch on in time for a live sketch of this.

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Sitting next to my friend Cathy McAuliffe, who always finds an elegant way to simplify a scene I thought I’d try her approach for a quick one. Maybe I should have slowed down a bit? But sometimes on the street sketching with friends that accuracy ceases to matter. It’s about the story of the moment I will definitely not forget.

At 3:30 we met in the park across from the Cathedral to share sketches and welcome our guests. I took a bit of video on my phone to capture a sense of the day. (click image to play)

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At this point some of us were a bit fried! Many sketchers would think this rather strange, but my default relax-a-sketch mode is people, especially when it’s people relaxing in parks on a lovely sunny day with their dogs.

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This is what some city folks do when the day is not the usual blustery cold SF summer weather;  hang out on park benches with their newspapers and kids and dogs. Sketching a scene like this ways feels like a fascinating expedition into other peoples’ lifestyles, and with the advantage of no electronic screen in between!

nobhill08We ended the day with a picnic on the hill at Lafayette Park overlooking the bay, with the city spread all around us below and the trees above. At the picnic table I sat next to a sketcher from Russia who’s a scientist living in the city now and doing cancer research. . .and sketching! If I ever get to Russia I’m going to contact their UsK group and sketch with them! Sometimes it feels like we’re a little United Nations of sketchers. Do you think maybe if the Sunnis and Shiites sketched together there would be more peace in the Middle East? What about democrats and republicans here?

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While the urban sketchers (and family members) tackled the landscape of trees and bay and distant hills (they never seem to tire!) I sketched the sketchers and then it got dark and we headed home.

Chicago: Part II

I guess you haven’t really seen Chicago until you’ve visited The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) in Millenium Park on the Lake. At least I don’t think there were any UsK Symposium people who didn’t sketch it. My first sight of it was on our first night in the city. A woman who claimed to be an official greeter offered to take a picture of Bettina and I and did an expert job.

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So the Bean/Cloud Gate is an enormous, reflective kidney bean. But here’s another picture to get a better idea.

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And by the way, the whole city is reflected here, and the sky, and you can’t take your eyes off it!

The next evening I got there a bit late, and by the time I’d sat down next to a charming sketcher from Paris and opened up my sketchbook next to hers, it was dark. Knowing we might not get a second chance Sandrine and I loaded up our brushes and went for it while she smoked her Parisiene cigarettes.

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The caption seemed appropriate for this one.

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The Calder sculpture titled “Flamingo” in a plaza among skyscrapers was another popular sketch sight. I was tempted to sketch the Falun Dafa (like Tai Chi for older people in the park) group who were using the plaza for their morning routine. People are more my comfort zone, but I was in Chicago, a capital of the architecture-universe, to sketch city architecture! But in this spot, the sculpture actually got top billing.

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That afternoon the Urban Sketcher Symposium was launched with a “sketchwalk” in the Art Institute Garden, a magical place of lacy foliage!

chicago34The next morning the workshops began and those of us with Basic Passes participated in sketchwalks around the city. I was grateful to go along at my own speed, thinking I would get more sketching done.

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I had watched Paul Wang, one of my instructors from last year, sketch this very scene the day before and thought I’d try my hand at it. It’s a typical one point perspective scene in Chicago with the train (the El) crossing over the street between tall buildings, many of them with reflective surfaces.

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Let me explain. Not far from The Bean is Crown fountain, consisting of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out. The images are slowing morphing all the time and periodically a spout in the mouth opens and sprays a stream of water out, delighting all the children who engage in delirious water play in the summer.

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That evening a bunch of SF Bay Area sketchers met for dinner, drinks, and the proverbial “drink and draw” at Exchecquer, a nearby restaurant. Luckily the food took a while in coming. Otherwise, hungry as I was at 9pm I would have immediately abandoned the sketch!

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part III!

Ferry Boats

On Saturdays the Ferry Building and environs in San Francisco is host to a confluence of attractions, from the wonders of the bay with ferry boats and sail boats and ocean going vessels to world class farmer’s market, eating and of course sketching! The SF Urban Sketchers Ferry Boats and Piers Meet Up was the perfect opportunity to enjoy the day.

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We met up at a quieter spot away from the Ferry Building crowds between Piers 3 and 5. The day was that rare (in S.F.) combination of sunny weather with little wind and mild temperatures that made it possible to even sit in the sun for a while without roasting.

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Here I am practicing urban architecture to try to prepare for the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago later this month. One thinks that a sunny warm day will be best for seeing the light and shadow shapes on buildings, but honestly when the million watt sun is beating down on the white paper and your eyes are blinded by all the reflections, one can almost long for the overcast weather in the U.K.! And then there’s the constant looking up at the skyscrapers and down at the paper, back and forth. . .

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Ah, but the shapes and angles – the geometry of architecture. It is quite mesmerizing. It does help me to put some folks in the foreground to humanize the scene, or just out of habit.

I’ll be taking the art up to the mountains for the rest of the week and will try to post some pictures on Facebook and Instagram. So please connect with me there!

4th of July postscript

My boys are grown up now and there’s no grandchildren, (yet anyway) but I do enjoy a bit of the chaos and color of children’s events and have the perfect excuse to go – sketching! So July 4th’s sketch-venture at the Healdsburg Plaza was the Annual  Rotary Duck Dash and Kids Parade. Oh, and there were plenty of canine characters too, some of them upstaging the kids and yes, ducks.

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The Russian River Ramblers were playing Dixieland Jazz. There was free ice cream, fishing in duck shaped kiddy pools, and lots of prizes for not only costumes but if your rubber ducky won the duck dash.

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It was all a bit dizzying to try to sketch all the frenetic activity which could be seen sitting almost anywhere. So we picked some shade and plunged in.

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I got out my red and blue Inktense watercolor pencils to color things in. It really was a sea of red, white and blue. But I ended up painting over it in watercolor. Next time I think I’ll use colored brush pens or markers or just stick to watercolor.

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These beautiful girls had some function related to the Duck Dash. Everybody who wasn’t a parent or kid had a role to play in this community event.

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Uncle Sam was there too of course. This is a sketch I did of him 3 years ago, but thought I’d revisit it here.

We’ve got a lot of politics going on every single day, if you know what I mean, so it was nice to take a break and just be with other people celebrating our families and our living-togetherness, not our us-versus-them-ness. Now back to work finding a way to include everyone beyond as well.

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.

Palace of Fine Arts

I was hankering for some sketching of “grand” architecture, like what one finds in Europe or other places in the world where a historic building is older than 100 years (ah, Italy!) A visit to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco last week was a great way to satisfy that longing and only 1 1/4 hour drive from my house.

As I recall, when I started taking watercolor painting lessons after my second son was born, I started with a day-long workshop where we camped out on the lawn opposite the Palace and I struggled with drawing, perspective, design, color, and watercolor technique all at once. What was I thinking?! Twenty three years later it’s still a formidable task, but oh what fun my sketch buddy and I had!

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The Palace was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition but has been rebuilt and retrofited and landscaped in more recent years, so it can hardly claim antiquity. But who cares, since it is hard to imagine a lovelier place to spend a summer day (and get away from the heat of north county!) especially if you like tourists.

We knew better than to launch in on a sketch of the whole palace with infinite colonnades, the lake with swans and reflections, etc. Even a small portion of a colonnade has a fair amount of detail. I mainly wanted to get the graceful forms of the Greco-Roman Amazons that seems to be holding things up. Since I’m so much more accustomed to sketching people, if helps me to put a human form in a sketch before I tackle the more knotty angles of the architecture. (many people would say the opposite)

We soon learned that we were considered one of the tourist attractions. Especially the Asian tourists, of whom there were many, became the audience and photographers of our event. But then there were the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were set up nearby. They were so interested in our sketches and in getting our cards that they forgot to offer us their literature.

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I’m going to skip over my second sketch which was enough of a disaster that it will not be allowed on this blog! We watched many romantic bride-and-groom pairs posing for pictures before the Palace backdrop. It is June after all and the solstice at that!

The wind picked up quite a bit in the afternoon, but we found a bit of respite from it in the sun and next to the water where the ducks and gulls were bathing and wildly flapping their wings. And here at least (I suppose I shouldn’t be on this side of this cord) I couldn’t see the tourists watching and photographing my artistic efforts.

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The question of the day seemed to be, “how did you learn to do that?” referring to sketching, and with the conviction that I know how to do it. The way I heard the question was, “gee it looks like fun, how might I do that?” And the answer to that is . . .still learning (even though I’ve been teaching for many years now).

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Carole still sketching, at the end of our day, with the fog rolling into the Bay. . .

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At home later I analyzed the scene I’d screwed up. Still feeling a bit flummoxed but at least the scale and perspective is a bit closer. I’ll keep at it. It’s a learning chore I enjoy, always have. Carole said, “Let’s go back and do it again.” I guess that’s how it works, over and over until it’s a bit more second nature.