watercolor sketch

Tenino

Last week the South Sound Urban Sketchers met up in the small town of Tenino, and this California girl got a taste of on location sketching in a northern clime. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you bring lots of clothing options in the trunk of your car. We all went back to bundle up. Time to get out the fingerless gloves too!

Tenino town is about three blocks long and is home to a sandstone rock quarry, rock carving artisans, a historic stagecoach and later railroad museum. But my favorite thing is the signs: like the sign for “Aunt Kate’s Chocolates /Tenino Denture Center Creating Smiles. . .  Another favorite is the one with arrows to the right “Booze + Fun” and pointing to the left “Reality”.  I guess the one you would choose might depend on the kind of day you were having.

And then there was a new one in front of the tavern that day. . .

The stone carver is only open on Saturdays during this season, but there was a good spot of sun in front of the old barn, so I gave it a try.

There’s also a fabulous antique/resale/garden shop on the corner, where I finally gave in and purchased a wonderful rusted weather vane for the garden.

And we warmed ourselves with the chef’s special chicken pot pie soup at the Sandstone Cafe in a room all to ourselves where we could spread out! I can certainly deal with this kind of sketch meet up

Arts Walk

I went downtown last weekend for the opening of Olympia Arts Walk, a semi annual event that was attended by thousands in pre-Covid days. Wandering around I came upon an impressive hip hop dancing performance of a group of teens in front of the Performing Art Center. Not being at the time in possession of my sketch gear, I took pictures and later did sketches of some colorful bystanders.

I keep trying to understand the style in Olympia, but have decided there is none, except maybe tattoos on all the younger generation, and in abundance. Instead there is an abundant show of individuality that is quirky and colorful from head to toe, and often purchased at thrift stores and combined in intriguing ways.

The lady in the red was participating in the Silent Disco, where the disc jockey sets you up with headphones, and you get to shake your bootie alongside other silent dancers shaking theirs!

Meanwhile we had a bit of excitement last week in finding a contractor to build our studios-in-the-garage! When he submitted the drawings for a permit, our project was promptly put in the pile where there will be an 8-week wait for a permit to start. Phooey, especially since the temperature in the garage is dropping with the fall weather.

So I have moved my studio into the house in a carpeted room where messes must stay on the table (meaning watercolor and gouache) and out to the backyard where the fall color begs to be painted!

Not to mention the mushrooms of various varieties that have scattered themselves through the grasses in familial processions.

Salmon, Squirrel, Bird

I bring all my visitors to Tumwater Falls for its Wow factor. Last week when Laura and Liane were here we really lucked out. One of the more anticipated events was going on – the salmon run! The fish swim from the salt water of the Puget Sound up the rivers, navigating turbulent waters and fish ladders to spawn and lay their eggs in the same rivers where they were “born”. 

Chinook and I

Here I am greedily snapping pictures as the salmon swim by in the tanks on their way up the fish ladder and through the viewing portal.

while below in the Deschutes River the hundreds line up for their turn

And down below the falls here the Chinook Salmon are waiting their turn, either to try to leap the falls (which many did!) or make their way up the “ladder” maze. The mind boggling part is that they find their way from the ocean back to their natal river and there they spawn and end their lives. An epic drama.

Another day I headed out to Woodard Bay with Gals Go Birding, a very friendly group of “bird nerds” (my son Andrew’s words, not mine. He’s actually impressed.) If you’ve been following here, you’ll remember that Woodard Bay is where we got our kayak stuck in the muck after seeing the Cormorant rookery. 

There was a light drizzle going on as we headed out to the viewing spots. Since I’m a neophyte wannabe bird watcher whose only gear is tiny binoculars that I bought for my boys when they were little, ahem, I relied heavily on the company of these veteran bird watchers. They would stop and go silent, scanning the trees and ground cover, listening intently, while their world filled up with birds and their stories, and mine waited to see and hear what I was missing.

The Douglas squirrel was pointed out to me – an adorable cousin to the gray squirrel with whom I’m better acquainted. Later I added him to my sketchbook.

I don’t remember what they spotted here. In the background you see the bare trees where the Cormorant rookery has denuded the trees in the past years. Bald eagles are sort of ho hum here where they are so plentiful, but oh, seen through a powerful scope they are breathtaking.

I’m not sure how I’m going to add a sketch kit to my gear, which must already grow to include rain gear and better binoculars! but I’ve been going back to the lessons of John Muir Laws and his nature journaling school. In his book on drawing birds he describes how to sit so you hold steady your binoculars with your non-dominant hand/elbow by bracing it on your bent leg, while drawing/painting with your dominant hand on the sketchbook on your lap, keeping your eye steady on the bird that’s moving and. . .haha! The fun of it is in trying. And this is nothing compared to my friend Chris Carter who has tried sketching while hang gliding and even while under water!

Radical Radishes

When we first started exploring a move to the Pacific Northwest I contacted Jane Wingfield, a friend I’d made years before at an Urban Sketcher symposium in Chicago. I remembered her Instagram name as Olysketcher and realized that meant Olympia! When I planned my first exploratory trip north, Jane invited me to meet her at the Farmer’s Market, which is by the harbor in Olympia. As it turned out Jane was the one person I knew in Olympia when we moved here in June.

Fast forward to Saturday when I met Jane and another urban sketcher Eleanor Doughty at the Market for sketching, and afterward for that favorite activity of sketchers – sharing our sketchbooks, materials, workshops we’ve taken/taught, travel sketch itineraries and more. That usually involves trying out each other’s pens and paints too, much like siblings trying on each other’s clothes.

Higgens Black India ink applied with a bamboo pen and watercolor

It was morning and I was uncharacteristically willing to stand and sketch while balancing the open ink bottle – the only way to capture these radical radishes as seen from the back. They were radically red, radically fresh, radically regal on their throne of green. And they were screaming out “We are the queens (kings?) of the harvest fair!” which is saying alot, because oh my the apples and pears and corn and. . .

The owners of Skipping Stone Garden, Sarah and Gabriel Baisan, parents of the rad radishes, caught me in the act, and posed with their bounteous beauties. Not only is their produce artistic inspiration, but they grow a variety of produce as well as soil-grown microgreens on less than one-quarter acre!

There was time for more, so I headed over to the picnic tables and grabbed one right in front of the jazz band that was playing. I regret to say I got distracted and forgot to ask their name! A shame since I really liked their music.

variety of pen work and watercolor

. .. or actually, probably a good thing, since I confess I made a mess of the drawing when I got home, trying something “interesting” with color

Ashley Creek Farm

What is it about pumpkins and autumn? Is it the pie? or the color orange which we experience as sun saturation that warms the belly and the soul? Is it orange’s tendency to make a blue sky electric?

I think I’ve probably painted pumpkins every year since my beginning in watercolor in 1992 and possibly even longer. So when the local sketchers got permission for a private access to what I’m guessing is the primo pumpkin harvest farm in the county, Ashley Creek Farm, I couldn’t wait!

The farm was getting ready for the hoards of pumpkin-loving families to arrive for their season opener, when their field fills up with carloads and they sell pumpkins so fast that they are constantly replenishing them from the fields nearby. It’s not just the pumpkins that draw folks, but the idyllic and beautifully cultivated farm by a creek with hundred year old trees and house.

I was drawn to the contrast of blue-green to orange and red pumpkins and orange tractor! and anxious to practice with my new bamboo pen and India ink, followed by the Derwent Line and Wash palette.

And while I was sitting there painting I kept glancing over to the farmer who was feeding the cows and driving the tractor. He was a much older gentleman who walked with a cane and moved through his farm chores slowly and with great care. I was delighted when he came over to see the art makers and show interest and gratitude for our efforts. 

And so I got to hear Robert Sand’s story of moving in the 1950’s to Tumwater, Washington  from eastern Nebraska where he grew up on a farm. He raised 6 (or 7) children on this farm, teaching them the work ethic of farming.

He wanted to join us for our “critique” time after sketching and shared specific appreciation for each of our sketches, charming us all!

But Robert was not the only art lover. His black kitty stole the show by making a big deal of the art, particularly Ineke’s lovely sketch of the house!

Monarch Sculpture Park

Turn right at the end of my street and suburban neighborhoods give way to more open countryside with woods and fields and barns and gardens. Cross a railroad track, turn onto Old Highway 99. One more turn and you’re there.

Or take your bike on the Chehalis Trail and stop when you see large sculptures. The Monarch Sculpture Park is a contemparary outdoor sculpture park and center for the arts, open daily. Walk right in. There’s no gate, but signs to welcome you. You hear distant voices of a handful of small children and moms, but otherwise you have the place to yourself. Is it a spiritual retreat or a magical mystery tour, or a stunning nature retreat? It’s all three! And a fabulous place to sketch. In fact I’d like to go every day for a week and fill a sketchbook with paintings and musings.

bamboo pen and India ink, Derwent line and wash paints, 9X12″

Our local sketch group met there last Thursday. I was immediately drawn into this scene and compelled to draw the bamboo with my bamboo pen, which has become my favorite drawing implement! so capable of boldness and subtlety. When the tip runs out of ink, which happens quickly, you can dip the pen tip in water and keep drawing for a bit with the lines quality so subtle.

I paired it with the Derwent Line and Wash Paints with their strange colors and granulating pigments. It’s hard to go dark with these paints so the black ink takes over when more depth is needed.

watercolor and pen

Sitting in a big open meadow, viewing these collossal white humanoid sculptures, I was struck with a delicious memory of papier mache sculptures from childhood! The layers of drippy paper smelling of wet newsprint. At the kitchen table with mom.

The red and the white with the green backdrop. I couldn’t resist. Sculptures by artist/owner Myrna Orsini, a creative and generous soul to whom I offer my gratitude! I’ll be back again and again.

Olympia Harbor Day

With the Puget Sound running right through the center of it, Olympia is among other things (like the state capital) a seafaring town of the recreational sort. So each year there’s three days of tug boat races and all kinds of showing off of the boat arts. Last year Covid put the cabash on it, but this year became this very low key one day event with music and model tugs on dry land and non stop live music, fully masked though outside, and no food or drink served. 

This suited my friend Shambhavi, fellow urban sketcher who lives in Seattle, and I just fine. No crowds to worry about. Tuneful folk music as a back drop and the sunny harbor scene to sketch.

While I waged war with the water reflections on a tugboat in the distance, Shambhavi chose a colorful model tugboat, and did a lovely sketch that the owner of the boat asked to photograph. He then climbed in his boat to show that it is indeed seaworthy for an adult human! and a race winner!

Then we became the front row audience for a folk singing group, Cosmo’s Dream, singing a medley their own songs, sea shanties and favorite folk songs.

All in all a pretty fine afternoon, and next year I’ll be here for the three day harbor extravaganza!

Bumblehummer

I’ve been perplexed ever since hanging the hummingbird feeder outside the dining room window. There’s a fair amount of activity of the frenetic Hummer sort literally all day long. The part I don’t understand is the absense of male activity. I thought it was my poor eyesight, that with the backdrop of greenery I was unable to catch the flashier colors of irridescent red or purple under the chin.

Then I recently solved that problem by placing my small binoculars permanently on the table, ready to grab mid-bite. But persistently the little birds at the feeder have been green with white undersides and not a trace of other color which I can see. No guys. How can that be? I’ve read about female hummingbirds disguising themselves as males, but the other way around?

But a couple days ago a pair of tiny, roundish, golden colored birds appeared and sent me running for my phone to try to ID them. Could it be? Bumblebee Hummingbirds, native to, gulp, Mexico? Rufous Hummingbirds, (more likely in Washington)? The pictures matched but in any case it’s still only the female I’ve seen!

I’ve started to get in trouble with Bob, interrupting him mid-sentence to grab the binoculars to get a better look, and I don’t think I’m chewing my food properly. There’s simply no time when you have to keep a look out for the movement of creatures whose hearts beat 1,260 beats per minute!

Sitting on the Dock

The local sketchers met up at the Farmer’s Market and I headed over to the boardwalk at the harbor nearby because the weather was cool enough to sit comfortably in the sun! There were groups of children led by teen counselors in activities that must have been a summer camp.

I instantly fell in love with two sailboats sitting peacefully in the water casting colorful reflections on the water. I figured I’d have time for one of them before the scene changed. Sure enough a group of campers loaded onto the sailboats and sailed away! but not til I’d gotten enough of a start.

I still had some time before rejoining the group, and wanted to try a different approach.

From where I was sitting I could see blocks of color and lines that added up to a ship(s), trucks and cranes with containers or logs. I couldn’t see enough detail to be convincing, so opted for shapes in the abstract, finishing off with my favorite white gel pen. So much fun!

And a nice group of enthusiastic sketchers to have lunch with, and they go out weekly, at least in the summer.

More Exploring

I’m still new enough here that every time I leave the house I think of it as an exploratory mission. There are different driving routes to learn and places along the way to commit to memory. . .the bank I will need at some point. . .that cute lunch place I’d like to try out, that walk along the lake. . .the UPS store, etc. And if I have the presence of mind and time to spend, the sketchbook gives me a chance to focus in on the particulars of shape and color, atmosphere, human activity and flora and fauna.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

My friend Janet was visiting for a few days and I knew she’d enjoy beach combing at Priests Point Park above the Olympia harbor.  Not wanting to gaze into the glare on the water for a landscape sketch, I sat down and focused on the busy shore textures of shell and rock, leaves and wood. The wonderful stick with the hole in it that looked like a bird’s eye came home with me!

Another day we drove to Seattle for a day in the city. It started with a disappointing tour boat ride, followed by a long harbor side walk to see many of the tourist spots. Our favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What I could see was the sculpture of the man with hands out, and a challenge to try to quickly sketch the water. Challenge indeed! But after I’d finished, the fountain switched in its cycle to reveal the son, a little boy on the left side and the father had vanished in the water. So clever of Louise Bourgeois!

But the real show stopper was Echo, a collossal stone sculpture facing the water and Mt. Olympus in the distance. I sketched this with my scruffy waterbrush only, just to see what would happen. 

But here you get some of the effect of this 46 foot sculpture.

The short version of the Greek myth that inspired this sculpture:

Echo, in Greek mythology, a mountain nymph, or oread. … To punish Echo, Hera deprived her of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another. Echo’s hopeless love for Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, made her fade away until all that was left of her was her voice.

The Gum Wall

But Janet wouldn’t let us end our day in Seattle without a visit to the notorious Gum Wall. Does it kind of make you feel like you could get Covid just by looking at it?

Nevertheless people were reverently chewing gum and having their friends photograph them as they said their prayer? made their wish? and added it to the wall. Maybe I missed the boat not getting my wish out to the Gum Genii!