watercolor sketch

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.

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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.

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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.

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Practice, practice

Like most of us I like to think that one day I’ll just “get it” and then painting will be effortless self expression. This is very short sighted thinking of course, because it’s the drive to evolve as a painter which motivates me to practice, practice, practice, even when things are not going particularly well. Practice, as in effort. My friends who participate in challenges, like the #30X30directwatercolor2018 challenge which is going on this month, understand this. Paint something every day and you can’t help but evolve, even though on any particular day it may feel like you’re sliding backward.

Suhita suggested doing more than one of the same subject. So after two tries at the pagoda on Stowe Lake, I tried a third, this time from a tiny picture on my phone, direct watercolor. Taking the advise of Marc, to get farther away or work from a less detailed pictures.

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A quick and dirty direct watercolor with fewer specifics yet more fresh and appealing. Here’s the first two:

In the first I got mesmerized by the up close detail. In the second I was far enough away that I had to make up details, when I should have left them out!

Another day I was sketching in Sebastopol with a view of Gravenstein Station. My first try, in direct watercolor was highly frustrating! Not having the pen line to rely on, my watercolor application got too tight and descriptive, choking out the light.

gravstation It certainly represents the scene relatively accurately, but I think I pretty much killed it dead. With 10 minutes left til I had to go, I did this less ambitious sketch and liked it much better.

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Direct watercolor with white pen line added at the end

Another day I decided to practice figures with no preplanning, just drawing/painting directly, from another phone photo.

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I was testing my ability to paint shapes with no drawn or painted line. Great practice but clumsy outcome. And definitely missing the spirit of the music.

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Determined to do a first-thing-in-the-morning direct watercolor I did this selfie in my pajamas while sipping chai (from my computer monitor). It bears little resemblance to me (which haunts me! how to fix it!) but again, great practice.

 

Stowe Lake, G.G. Park Meet up

Temperatures soared in Sebastopol yesterday, and I headed for S.F. to enjoy the perfect weather there with other SF urban sketchers at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. There were nesting great blue herons and red tailed hawks to view, turtles sunbathing on every floating log, ducks and ducklings of many varieties, paddle boaters, cyclists, hikers and more. I went for subjects I rarely see in Sonoma County and in my fevered state immediately jumped in for more than I could manage. When will I learn?!

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Direct watercolor, day 2.

 I should have aborted early on, but hey, I learned a lot and later added more detail and killed it dead (learning even more!) Meanwhile, since my back was to the path where people were walking, and they were drawn to the color, I kept hearing all the compliments behind me. People just love it when you do art in public, like you’re a hero or something. So I guess this little sketch served some purpose aside from teaching me a lesson, and satisfying my direct watercolor challenge.

The lesson? – when attempting something this complex, do a thumbnail first, simplify, plan, before jumping in. Well, that’s one of the lessons anyway.

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Next I sat down very close to the Golden Gate Pavilion and was so beguiled by the intricate designs that I totally lost myself in them. Not a bad thing. If I hadn’t come to my senses though, I might also have added the paddle boats on the lake behind, the Canadian geese, and the soaring hawk!

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Direct watercolor

Several people in the meet up found this vantage point across the lake from the Pagoda  – a much better angle, which I found later after we’d done the sharing. And then I got to put the birds in too!

Botanical Garden and Bouquets to Art!

The day after the skyscrapers the weather turned sunny and we headed over to the S.F. Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park to see the last week of the “Magnificent Magnolias” and other spring bloomings.

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watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue Watercolor Book

Who could resist the red of these flowers, which I assumed were poppies, but my friends declared were ranunculus? To get the red in watercolor requires a great deal of red pigment, all the reds and some of the blue!

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Along came two year old Axel with his mom. He unleashed a steady stream of unintelligible commentary on the flowers, no doubt pointing out attributes which I had missed. His fingers were making little squeezing movements while his mother warned “we don’t touch the flowers”. She then handed him a soft ball which he squeezed happily while continuing his monologue, and the flowers were saved! That’s Bob in the background enjoying the show.

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The daffodils blooming under pink budding trees provoked my own kind of frenzy, one of splattering. The result looked best lain on the daisy studded lawn where I was sitting.

Next day was my birthday and our last day in San Francisco. What a treat to celebrate my birthday with a trip to the de Young Art Museum for the annual Bouquets to Art! For one week only, 120 floral designers have displayed arrangements that are inspired by the artworks in the museum. Here are some that I sketched in the museum, and later painted. (Some were sketched with the painting which inspired them.)

 

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fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn Beta spiral sketchbook, 6 X 8″

Arrangement by IM Chan Designs/ painting by Gottardo Piazzioni

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Water Lily Pond Floral Design/ painting by Salvador Dali not shown here

bouquetstoart3‘Arrangement by Orinda Garden Club/ painting by Joe Light

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Arrangement by Donnel Vicente Designs/ painting by Louisiana Bendolph

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Arrangement by Poppie’s Petalworks/ painting by Kara Walker

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Arrangement by Katherine Stuart Floral Art/ painting by John Koch

There are lots of differing opinions about how to enjoy art like this. Some would complain about all the picture taking. And I had to be careful to stay out of the way of the iPhone cameras when I was sketching. I totally understood the need to take the images home and enjoy them for a long time afterward! I probably took 50 pictures and would love to sketch every one of them! When I close my eyes I still see flowers and can imagine their sweetness.

Ah, dear Spring, you are only two days away!

Wine Country Fire Evacuees

Our wine country fire evacuees are plentiful just now, 10% of the population of Sonoma County I heard this morning! I am not one of them. I am also not one of those heroic first responders. My lungs cannot tolerate smoke and I’ve been spending a great deal of time fretting and checking on friends and neighbors and just sharing stories and of course fears as the fires rage on.

I was happy to see that someone in our rural neighbor of a shared water company had found an old fire hose to attach to the simple fire hydrant which sits next to my driveway.

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We’ve all been watering around our homes in hopes of preventing fires here if the wind changes directions and blows the embers our way. I could go years and not have so many conversations with my nice neighbors as I’ve had this week. I learned for instance that you can plant native plants that burn up and out quickly and then sprout again the next year! And then there’s the Scotch broom which makes for a more deadly fire.

Today I visited my friend Liz who has welcomed evacuees in her home (inside and out) so that I could meet and then sketch them. The air was more clear today thanks to winds from the north overnight so I climbed inside the pig pen with Madeline and Liam while Barbara enjoyed the sun and serene country setting.

pigs5You can also see Zoey in the picture to the left. She’s the only one who actually lives here ongoing. Barbara, in the chair, was evacuated from a senior living center which luckily did not burn (although her son’s home in Santa Rosa did) and the miniature pigs are the beloved pets of other people who needed a temporary place to house them. Normally they are actually indoor pig-pets, so these accommodations were a bit of a come down for them. But they were adapting admirably. They were not however the best models for sketching.

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I spent my first few minutes trying to understand their various parts as they were in constant movement. These little pigs look more like miniature warthogs without the tusks.

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They had the annoying habit of burying the parts of their body I was sketching in the straw where they were finding something delectable to eat. Nevertheless I was rapidly becoming enamored of them, particularly their gross lip smacking snorting sounds and gorgeous curly tail swishing. They really are the epitome of bad table manners when eating, which seems to be non stop and it’s hilarious! Madeline has these long white eyelashes and bright pink halter (for if you would want to take her for a walk), and Liam is small and dark and they’re both so friendly. Here’s a picture of Liam when he got interested in painting and gave my palette a good wet snort-sniff.

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I wasn’t feeling particularly successful with the sketching, but thought I’d give it one more try. And after a while they actually stopped eating and got kind of mellow.

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and I had more time to observe.

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But once home I had try one more from a photo. My heart goes out to all the fire evacuees, but these little piggies totally stole my heart.

A Tania Day

My friend Tania and I have a shared passion for encountering people of all stripes. You might say it’s a social anthropological interest (that was my major in college by the way). It’s also a love-of-humanity mixed in ample proportion with a flaneur’s curiosity. Tania channels it with travel, photography and writing. She talks to everyone, often in their native language, as if they were family and they end up feeling that way. I channel this urge more quietly with sketching, blogging and some travel. When I asked if she’d like to collaborate and see what happens, she agreed, even though neither of us knew exactly what that meant.

On Tuesday morning this week I showed up at 10:30am at her San Francisco apartment and we set off to see what would happen with a day in the city. She, traveling light with her iPhone (camera), credit card and keys in her pocket, and me with a small backpack (with stool, water, etc), my over-the-shoulder art materials kit, and a 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media spiral sketch pad which I carried in hand to be ready-on-the-spot. Oh, and a waist belt pocket for my iPhone and credit card. My version of traveling light.

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I requested a look at the Russian orthodox church where Tania and her family were members when she was growing up. When we got out of the car, parked in front of the golden onion domes of the Holy Virgin Cathedral, our eyes went immediately across the street where the colorful cathedral was reflected in the windows of the St. George Pathfinders building where Tania went as a girl scout.

As we crossed the a street a van was unloading this man to spend the day at the Senior Center next door. But instead he sat directly in front of the glass reflection. I signaled to Tania and she engaged happily with the gentleman, the driver and passers-by, providing cover while I shamelessly sat down and started sketching!

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photo by Tania Amochaev

When I got up to leave 30 minutes later, I approached the gentleman in the picture, who had been totally silent, to thank him and show him the sketch. This brought a big, almost toothless grin at which point he rose and went silently into the Senior Center. We realized that he had actually been quietly posing for me!

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Inside the cathedral with its ornate iconography and candlelit gravity I sat wondering how I could capture this scene. A story always seems to emerge. Tania lit candles in blessings for her deceased family members, while a cleaner was noisily scraping wax off the floor, from hundreds of candles burned in prayer. (color added later)

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It was lunchtime so we headed off to the Cliff House. The sun had some out and we had a lovely view of the Sutro Bath ruins in our ocean side seats.

I sketched this one in pencil, a composite of different people who occupied tables as we ate, and then added some color later.

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Next stop at 2:30 was the windmill at Golden Gate Park where I sat on the lawn in the sun and sketched madly with my brush only, knowing that the California sun is too hot to linger very long without shade or movement. Meanwhile I heard Tania’s unmistakable laughter across the lawn and saw that she had befriended a family of tourists and sent the girls over to see my sketch. This resulted in the most delightful conversation about where they had traveled, their impression of the U.S. and more!

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photo by Tania Amochaev

I’m the one without the braid, in case you couldn’t tell.

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Tania was showing me her favorite spots as a kid growing up in S.F. So the next stop was Spreckels Lake, an enchanting body of water filled with model yachts on the weekends. She was so disappointed when we arrived at 3:30 and a couple men were taking the last boats out of the water. All that remained were birds! So the men took pity on us and invited us to the model yacht clubhouse which housed a regatta of handsome, handmade yachts!

Once again while I sketched madly, she got the scoop about this appealing hobby and the personal story of Russ, owner of the Sugarie Bake Shop in Pleasanton, while he cradled a small boat.

What followed was a walk down the street where Tania’s family home still sits, beautifully maintained. And we dropped in on her dear family friend Montie, 90 years old and a gracious and still flirtatious, host. We left with candy and smiles. . .and headed back to the park and the Conservatory of Flowers and Dahlia Garden, where we encountered. . .

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the Summer of Love in all its musical, turned on, tuned in mellowness. As the late afternoon sun warmed and the clouds of marijuana smoke enveloped us, the memories unspooled for these two old girls who were teens in the 60’s.

It’s probably beginning to seem more like a weekend of sketching, but it wasn’t over yet! Hungry again we headed to The Commissary, a restaurant in the Presidio, chosen by Tania for the seats at the bar where you can watch the chefs cook and plate their divine creations.

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As we plowed into our delectable dinners we learned how a chef tests the doneness of meats, saw deserts flamed and sauces stirred and meals plated with delicate mini-veggie gardens. And because it was a Tuesday and not a busy weekend night, we got to visit with the charming executive chef Ragelio.

Thinking about our day I was actually beginning to feel a bit guilty, having this much fun. The old Protestant work ethic had kicked in. (Sketching feels more like play, even though it’s a fair amount of work!) To which Tania replied, “The work ethic ends at 65!” No wonder she’s one of my favorite people in the world to hang out with.

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photo by Tania Amochaev

So I’ll end here. It was 8pm when we left the restaurant and I headed back to Sebastopol. But not before we got this picture. What a fun crew. If I hadn’t just retired from the Protestant Work Ethic I would have applied for a job.

A big thank you to Tania for her amazing ability to engage people of all walks of life, ethicities, and ages, and for sharing her San Francisco with me. And to all the people we met that day, who gave us smiles and the stories we will never forget.

Searching for a Story to Sketch

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nib pen and ink, Japanese brush pen, watercolor on 140 HP paper in handmade sketchbook 8X10″(spread)

On a recent sunny afternoon I went looking for some sketch stories in the park.  It wasn’t hard to capture individual people, but more difficult to get the family groups that were more active.

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Sketching the line of people ordering at the bakery (while sipping coffee and eating butterscotch yum! pudding)

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And then moving to the bench out front.

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This older gentleman had a very heavy lumbering gait which I wanted to capture

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Finally a story to record!  There was something in the posturing and weight shifting of the man and the way the woman was clutching the ice cream cup to her heart which suggested flirtation.  They seemed to be enjoying it enough that I actually had at least 5 min. to sketch it!

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Noodlers Golden Brown ink with nib pen, sketched from a photo I took

Another day, visiting my mother in law at the nursing home.  I had picked her a rose in the garden and she was enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Later I sketched from the picture I took with my iPhone.