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.


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.)


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.


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.

Kamurrah By SusanCornelis

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


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


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.


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!


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!)


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


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.

What I Love About the Gravenstein Apple Fair

The Gravenstein Apple Fair was this past weekend. The Gravenstein apples aka “gravs” are our main claim to agricultural fame here in Sebastopol, at least in the old timey way that the fair celebrates. (We won’t talk here about how the grapes have taken over. . .)

What I love about this fair is that people are having fun enjoying our roots in country life; the apple pies and animals and handicrafts and free fresh pressed apple juice and local musicians and hay bales and children’s games and more.


And the llamas


and a big ole bull.


and, under a colorful canopy in the oak grove, the Blues Broads, four women (and back up band) who could belt it out like the best of them and get a crowd of all ages grooving on the dance floor. I mean all ages too, starting with the toddlers and up to the great grannies with their canes. I got as far as the line work for this sketch, which involved dancing up front with my sketchbook so I could see beyond the dancers. Finally I gave up and just got out there with the toddlers and everybody else strutting my stuff. (Paint added later.)

Porto: Last days

Saturday July 21st was the last day of the whirlwind Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018. After the morning workshop with Marion Rivolier (yesterday’s post) the 800 attendees were invited to the “Big Sketch” final sketchwalk and group photo in a long central promenade area up on the hill which ended in the grand city hall.


This young woman with her sketch board and symposium pass was perfect to tell the story.

But first I started with a warm up sketch in direct watercolor to overcome my nervousness about the busy open space with so many curious onlookers and experienced artists. I was happy with the girl with no face, painted in only shadow shapes, before I got all involved with the cherub statue and decided I better move on!

It was time then for the group photo on the steps of the City Hall. Can you see me waving? Ha ha!

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 3.38.03 PM

Next we walked back to the river to the Alfondega or symposium Hub for the Silent Auction of the spectacular work done by Urban Sketchers in Porto. This was followed by the raffle drawing of prizes from generous sponsors. Then the buildup to the big announcement that next year’s Symposium (drum roll here) in Amsterdam!

With all the socializing activities and workshops during the event I was starved to just wander and sketch with no time limit. So the following morning I set off alone.


The tourists don’t get up early, so it was possible for a while to wander without the crowds and sip coffee with the excellent views of the river.


Walking to the other side of the bridge on the lower level I found a spot in the shade with my back to the bridge wall. It was midday and the day’s activity was beginning in earnest. A young man was donning a wet suit, and later returned to strip it off with an appreciative audience of girls. So I wrote this tidbit on my sketch (never write until later!) He and his friends then expressed some interest in what I was doing and I was able to ask

Q: Why the wetsuit?

A: To jump off the lower bridge span into the river! (the upper span is for suicides I learned)

When the group came over to look closer, I covered my writing with my hand and had to keep it there while one of the girls, an art student sat beside me to watch me paint!

Then a street musician/artist stopped by and chatted with me for a while and explained that the deafening roar of motorcycles which was increasing with each moment was related to another kind of symposium happening that weekend, a motorcycle rally!


Back across the bridge again I caught sight of this edifice sheltered in the armpit of the upper bridge span.

Oh how I will miss the urban character of Porto! I heard that someone suggested we have the annual symposium in Porto every year!

On the last Porto day exhaustion finally took over. But we agreed we couldn’t go home without seeing the Atlantic ocean beach. A short cab ride got us there and exhaustion lifted as we breathed the sea air and found a lovely resort to dine and enjoy sun and cool breezes.


I got out my Inktense pencils, pens and marker for the top sketch, though I always end up wondering why I didn’t use watercolor.


The young wait staff were not so busy they couldn’t visit with us and answer questions and enjoy being sketched.


And that’s about it.Well, that’s not quite it. I’m still doing a bit of sketching from my pictures of scenes I had no time to do while there.


The Porto sign was right around the corner from our Yellow House and perfect to stage our farewell (along with a line of tourists from other countries.

Thanks for joining me on the trip! If you came in late, you can scroll down for more sketches of two weeks in Portugal.

Part III Porto

My first Symposium workshop was one that I knew would blow my sketcher’s mind wide open, and gratefully it did! Inma Serrano‘s workshop titled Porto: Calm and Wild! She got us going right away by giving us India ink and sticks and accordian folded paper to do quick drawings which played with textures, open and dynamic lines and overlapping shapes.  You see the results here.inma serrano

Then looking out at the busy Ribeira area by the river we did a sketch making a clear pathway into the focal point and leaving out any other detail.


Here’s my exercise. It was so liberating to get to leave out so much of the colorful scene and just focus on a particular story with large shapes leading into smaller shapes in the background. And no watercolor here, because I had to use my water container to put the ink in. So this is the India ink, drawn with a stick and brush, marker, brush pen, and colored pencil.

inma serrano2

Here’s Inma pointing at the scene we walked to next. We were in the labyrinthine walkways leading up from the river near the bridge.

Inma is saying, “First paint only the shadow shapes (luckily there were some!) in black, and then finish the sketch with detail in any medium you want.”

When some of us winced she said, “Trust me. Just do it.”


Here’s mine. And I’m sure you can imagine what happened in my mind when I finished with just the back ink. . . but in the end I thought, “Hey this is so cool!”

When she looked at mine her comment was, “This is out of your comfort zone, right? (I nodded vigorously) Very good.”

Funny thing about that comfort zone. Hard to let go of it, but always a good idea if you want to move ahead. You’ll see some influence this workshop had on my later sketches!

In the afternoon, after lunch and more up and down climbing and a wee rest, I joined Jim Richards‘ workshop, Drawing as Discovery: Revealing Porto’s Rich Sense of Place. Jim invited us to first explore the area, walking around doing thumbnails or small sketches to find elements that conveyed the life and energy of the place. We were at the foot of the statue of Henry the explorer, in a garden ringed by a palace, cathedral with solid gold interior, another church with decorative tiled facade, openings with river views, hillside views of more cathedrals and battlements and on and on.


Here’s my “discovery tour”, and I would happily have sketched any of these scenes. The final exercise was to create a large composition to express this city’s energy and life, adding in many objects to enrich the concept. I chose the scene on the lower left.

But first, knowing that this endeavor would require more energy than I had, I bought myself a gelato!


There’s Henry the explorer reaching out to explore and conquer the world, and the angel with her foot on the planet and arm in the air holding a cross. Definitely a story right there. And always the lovebirds oblivious of all but each other. And me enjoying my gelato on a blue sky day.

The Drink and Draw followed. A time more for urban sketchers socializing than drawing. I made some interesting new friends and took a break from sketching!

My last workshop was the next day. Capturing People and Space in the Same Gesture with Marion Rivolier. Marion is a stage and set designer and fine artist living in Paris. The urban sketcher community is in awe of her ability to sketch big scenes with direct watercolor painting in vibrant color, often with figures that are moving and complex urban scenes.

She started out by getting us to practicing mixing our warm and cool dark mixes of color. porto9

To be able to emphasize light against dark and warm against cool colors, we needed to be ready to produce these quickly, because. . .the next part was to capture figures with a gestural brush mark, and then to negative paint the figure while simultaneously building the background scene in dark warm and cool brush strokes. Are you still following?


The “models” were the folks waiting for the tram or sitting at the restaurant tables, or each other.


The last exercise was to put it all together and do the big scene (no drawing first) and we had 40 minutes, the first 10 of which I sat freaking out and thinking this is impossible. (There it is again, no comfort zone here.) Then I plunged in and painted like crazy. And if you stand back far enough, it actually looks like a scene you might see in Porto! Warm and cool and dark and light. It’s all there, barely. Whew!

Next: Symposium finale and last days in Porto

“Sketch Artists Capture Coffey Park!”

We made it to the front page of the paper! A treat to wake up to this:


The online version here is easier to read and features lots of sketches, Carole Flaherty’s, Bettina Armstrong’s and mine.

Many thanks to the members of the award winning (a Pulitzer prize no less!) Press Democrat team of reporter Robert Digitale and photographer Beth Schlanker for adding this story to their ongoing series about the recovery of Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood destroyed by the Tubbs fire.

And here’s page two:


Carole, Bettina and I agree that this kind of on location sketching is always heart opening and healing for us as much as any people we meet along the way.

“When there’s something that touches our hearts like this, there’s just more in it.” -Carole Flaherty

Charlie Musselwhite in Healdsburg

The Healdsburg Plaza was packed to the gills on Tuesday evening to see and hear Charlie Musselwhite and his band. The loudspeakers were turned up loud enough to make your ears bleed. Fortunately we’d brought ear plugs, which barely muted the sound. I did my crowd sketching and dinner eating during the first hour.


That’s Uncle Sam there, collecting for the July 4th fireworks, and Paul Mahder the art gallerist over there on the right and others stacked up overlapping which is how it goes down on the paper when you just keep the pen moving. One of these Tuesdays I’ll try to sketch Davy Crocket, the guy who always shows up in skins with fringe, coon tail cap and wooden rifle and seems to know everyone.


It’s a bit of a conundrum where to sit and sketch the band. I certainly couldn’t sit in front like last week with the speakers cranked up all the way but the side view is not bad. Of course there were competitors for that real estate, as there always are – people grooving to the music and bumping up against me. I had 30 minutes there and held my ground! The paint came in when I got home. Oh and did I say? Charlie’s still amazing and that blues vibe goes right through to the bone marrow.

Color Comes Back to Coffey Park

I was anxious to get back to do another sketch of Coffey Park this week, and managed to make two more trips with my sketch buddies.


direct watercolor in my new handmade sketchbook, 9X15″ Fluid 100 paper

I’m still working with the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge. I wanted to capture the effect of homes going up here and there without much detail and that seems to work well with the direct w/c approach.

While we were sitting there we met 1) the owner of the house I’d sketched last week and got to hear some of his story and 2) a reporter and photographer from our (Pulitizer prize winning!) Press Democrat paper. Exciting stuff, this sitting in the dirt by the side of the road with bulldozers driving by!

So today we were back again for another eventful morning, which started with greeting the carpenters who were having a nutritious breakfast together before working on framing in a house.


I was immediately struck by how colorful the construction scene was. The bright orange ladders and outhouse, the yellow cords and blue helmets and neon striped vests. Moving up closer to be in the tiny bit of shade available, I also got close enough to hear a lesson in construction and the easy banter of the workmen, punctuated by drills and hammers.


Meanwhile I was sketching like mad, because the press had arrived to hear our story. How did we get the idea to sketch the fire stories and to keep doing it for months?


Carole told her story, here with Robert Digitale. . .


And Bettina told hers, and of course I told mine. And as always happens when we’re sitting out in the dirt on our little stools, we met more people who had their own stories. A man holding his granddaughter walked up to take a peek. He was the owner of the home I was sketching. He recognized my name and I recognized him as my son’s 7th grade math teacher, Mr. Borbe. And there it was, the fresh pathos of a respected and loved man who had lost his home in the fire. Sigh. Even so, he was all smiles. This is what is meant by Coffey Strong!

And then speaking with the photographer Beth, I got a peek at what it was like to drive into Coffey Park on the night of the inferno, to drive past the road blocks, showing their press badges, to have their own fire fighter suit to wear as they encountered that red-hot story.

The last bit of pathos came as I showed the sketches to the carpenters and heard what it is like for them to see what they’ve seen and live daily with it. The up side is getting to actually contribute something so tangible as a new home to people who lost theirs. But coming so close to the stories of loss takes its toll. One of the guys had to stop mid-sentence to staunch the flow of feeling coming on so strong.

And as I remember this day I feel the lump in my throat and the burning in the eyes returning. . .and I can’t wait to get back to more sketching. Funny thing, that.


Con Brio

Warm weather loosens one up, and a dose of music on the Plaza (in Healdsburg on Tuesday evenings) helps too. Bob and I often start out in the crowd of people in lawn chairs sipping wine and eating a picnic dinner while the performance starts. Everyone seems so relaxed. Note that in this sketch there’s no one on their cell phone!


I was a bit too relaxed (or maybe excited) at first and managed to spill my dinner and my wine on myself before even getting to the sketching. Then the parade of people was so colorful!

Have you seen these “sippy” cups that you can put a wine glass into, so you don’t risk spilling your wine (as I did, more than once)? I bet you can find them at Costco, since everyone seems to have them now.


The group Con Brio (with verve!) was lighting up the plaza with their music. I put in my loudness-canceling ear plugs and sat right below the stage to sketch. The charismatic lead singer danced up and down the stage, reaching out to the audience, which was going wild.


By the end of the performance half the plaza seemed to be standing and clapping with hands in the air.

Smart Train to Novato Hamilton

After sketching the Smart Train and even teaching a workshop at the Depot at Railroad Square I finally got around to actually riding the train on Saturday! The train runs from the Sonoma County airport to San Rafael. During the week it is used by commuters and on the weekend for pleasure seekers like my friends and I. And last Saturday the train was full of people like us, and whole families taking their first ride. We took it just as far as Novato Hamilton which is where the beautiful Marin MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) with its gallery and artist studios is located.

On the train we met a young woman who commutes to her weekend job in San Francisco using train, bus, ferry, and another bus to arrive at her destination. Seems like a lot, but she has it worked out and enjoys the 2 hour commute which covers some gorgeous scenery and affords her time to relax and read her book as well. We kept her busy answering our questions til we got off.


Direct watercolor on 140 lb CP Arches paper, 9 X 7.5″

The early California white stucco buildings at Hamilton Field’s former air force base are eminently sketchable. I started with a direct watercolor since I’m still working on the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge of this month. Some day I’ll master palm trees, but for now, I just really love trying.


We had lunch at Beso, which is right next to the museum and has incredible food, then visited the museum and the Make Your Mark show, which had just opened. Then we wandered through the halls where the studio artists hang their work.

It was getting really windy and time to take the train back. We’re anxious to ride the train again. It’s especially nice to whiz in comfort by the cars clumped up and crawling along at the Novato and Petaluma “narrows”.


Later I thought I’d give the same scene a try in a more whimsical style. If I’d tried once more I would have exaggerated even more. This version has more of the wind-blown feel.


And then next day I had a few minutes for another direct watercolor quickie.