watercolor sketch

Ahh, summer!

Ahhh, hot! So we scrapped the idea of getting our shed cleaned out today, which would have been suicide in this heat, and packed up the umbrella and beach chairs for a morning at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay. It was heavenly.

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I enjoyed watching the little boy play in the sand while the pelicans swooped and the harbor seals barked from their island off the coast. I couldn’t help remembering with bittersweet yearning those days when we would take our rambunctious little boys to the ocean and get to see it all fresh again through their eyes.

As I’m enjoying my musings one of them, 6’2″ of him, lay engrossed in his book by my side under the umbrella. Well, that part is fun too. Always nice to have that fresh 26 year old energy to liven up our home!

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Challenging myself here for a few minutes of painting those distant shapes that my eyes can’t quite get in focus. Then it was time to hit the Fishetarian Fish Market for dripping, finger licking fish tacos.

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Last weekend I met up with the monthly Ready, Set, Sketchers! gang in Geyserville, in the heart of Sonoma County wine country. About one block of historic buildings, housing gourmet restaurants like Catelli’s, wine tasting, and other assorted stores.

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. . .like Gin’gilli’s Vintage Home, with a little bit of everything you might want in your home. I found a chair in the shade outside and just kept adding on to my nutty picture.

 

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Amsterdam Last days

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures. -Vincent van Gogh

On my last full day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh Museum and emerged two hours later feeling that I’d just encountered the part of myself that knows what it means to be an artist with a pressing need to draw and paint the world. I felt a kinship to this strange man who loved the common people, the miners, the potato eaters, and celebrated that love through his painting. . .kinship with his need to get out of the studio into the beauty and harshness of nature to try to find its “language”.

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Afterwards the trees outside the museum seemed to have stepped right out of his paintings, and I sat to ponder them while eating my sandwich. A bee was flying around my food and I welcomed it, like the birds, as a part of this glorious natural scene! When my attention was distracted I took a bite and felt an electric shock in my mouth. Out popped a dazed and dying bee into the grass. My tongue was on fire! What would Vincent do? Surely not freak out, but start his painting! Which is what I did (and clearly survived).

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Laurie Wigham met me for lunch afterward, and while I talked, she did this cafe portrait piece of me, direct watercolor with touches of after-the-fact water soluble pencil!

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My last morning I had an hour to head out for a last sketch before catching my shuttle to the airport. Ah, if only I had another week, I thought. . . but this will have to do for now.

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The flight back to San Francisco was fully booked. It was delayed and the waiting area was full of people already hot and weary, anticipating the eleven hour flight. My last sketch kept me from grinding my teeth, almost.

On the ride home my seat companions were a couple from Holland making their first trip to the U.S with their three teenagers. They got to practice their English and get some tips from a Californian. The man was a dyke engineer, so I got to ask my questions about how it’s possible that Amsterdam is not under water when it is over four meters below sea level!

The scene I never got to sketch on location!

I want to thank you if you’ve lasted through this rather long story documenting just a week of travel. It would have felt like a dream if I hadn’t put it down in this way. Actually as I look at my sketchbook, I think I’ve painted a dream.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.  – Vincent van Gogh

Exactly, Vincent!

 

Amsterdam Part III

The International Urban Sketchers Symposium can at times be a humbling experience as one gets to observe some of the most accomplished sketch artists from around the globe. It is tempting to hide one’s imperfect sketches, or even give up! But here’s what Vincent had to say:

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -van Gogh

So I headed out in the relative cool of the morning to tackle canal reflections, boats, buildings and bridge. . . to paint.

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And what I loathed about this sketch at the time with its clumsy inaccuracies, I quite enjoy looking at now. The point of the sketch was obviously the red boat, which I accomplished, and some similitude of a reflection in the water. A bit of cropping would undoubtedly help, but that’s not the point here.

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That particular canal was shaded and serene, so rather than wandering on when I’d finished one sketch, I stayed to do a study of one of the colorful row houses that are so typical, along with other common aspects of canal life. One is always “serenaded” by waterfowl on the waterfront.

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I wandered a bit as the day heated up, staying close to the canals, hoping for a breeze, observing canal houseboat life. It didn’t look like any of the houseboats which lined the canals had air conditioning – not so idyllic a life in the 100 degree heat!  Even the swans looked hot, or perhaps that was my imagination? After all, at least they were in the water!

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I found a table in a busy market square at lunchtime, right next to the hot baked potato booth, which not surprisingly had almost no business in this record breaking heat wave. The potato chef, delighted to have myself and another sketcher to watch, hung out with us, helping me at least to get the mind off physical discomforts.

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During the hottest part of the day I holed up in the air conditioned hotel, feeling boundless gratitude for its welcome comfort. From a relaxed vantage point in the lobby ice cold beer in hand, I sketched my homage to Motel One Waterlooplein!

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Evening was for enjoying beer, dinner and good company again at the Drink and Draw, though no relief in temperature (note the walking shoes are off).

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From my seat I could see the Zuidekerk, also known as the Hub, where the Symposium was meeting.

 

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And before I knew it I was late getting out to join the sketchers on the river. The sun had dipped below the horizon, the city and boats lights cast a spell on the scene, and I was sketching in the dark! Luckily I at least knew the location of my Quinacridone Gold and Payne’s Gray on the palette and just stayed with those.

I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. – V. van Gogh

To be continued. . .

 

Amsterdam Part II

By my third day in the city the heat was steadily ramping up, making it not only uncomfortable to walk around, but even to sit in the shade. I thought the Hortus Botanicus garden would give some respite, but it was more of a steam bath.

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Ah, but the palms! Focusing the eyes on them in concentration helped, though my fingers were slippery with sweat.

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That day an almost cool wind made the early evening pleasant in the park by the canal. People were taking advantage of it, and I enjoyed the constant giggling of the group of stoned teens in front of me, as well as the family of ducks that came begging for crumbs at my feet as I sketched.

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The Urban Sketchers Symposium was officially launched, though I had chosen to be more of a free agent, sketching on my own or with others around the city and participating in an abridged fashion. That night I met up with Agnes, an old friend I see now only at Symposiums, and we dined canal side across from the “Drink and Draw” location, where I would meet urban sketchers the next two nights. As we sat drinking our beer we were flanked by sketchers from Germany and Spain and the UK.

The next morning I attended talks by three urban sketchers I revere: Laurie Wigham, Lapin and Mario Linhares. Laurie’s talk was titled Connect with the world, one drawing at a time, a variation on the urban sketcher motto. We had worked together on her brainchild project of Sketching Climate Stories which had led to my work with Sketching Fire Stories. I hope someone recorded her inspirational talk about the impact we can have on the world with our practice of going out and sketching stories and meeting and interacting with people as a result.

 

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Umbrella over head and loaded with an extra water bottle, I left the cool of my hotel around 5pm and was hit by a blast of heat that took my breath away. Vincent knew about the discomforts of on location painting. He wrote:

As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed. -van Gogh

In other words I thought, bring it on! I’m not going to melt, (though I might pass out!)

At a snail’s pace and on the shady side I proceeded to the organized sketchwalk area and found a spot on a dock in the shade. What caught my eye was the wonderful square geometry of the buildings across the canal, so Mondrian-like. Normally I get quite bored doing windows, but these somehow relaxed me.

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Meanwhile there was a great deal of splashing and screaming behind me as young people plunged into the brown water to cool off. Pretty eye catching colors on this drawbridge! Mondrian again!

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That evening I got in some socializing at the Drink and Draw and joined sketchers from all over the world at the edge of the river to do a quick atmospheric rendering of the spectacular night scene. After wetting the whole page I started painting like mad, unable even so to keep up with the light that was rapidly changing everything, and the excited people blocking my view!

To be continued. . .

 

 

 

Amsterdam Bound

The bag is packed. All the decisions are made about what sketch supplies to bring. And I’m Amsterdam-bound today for a little over a week of joining people from around the world at the 10th Urban Sketchers Symposium. It will be my fourth year attending and first time in Amsterdam, so I know I’m in for a wild and wonderful ride. After all, I can sleep when I get back home!

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So this sketch does not qualify as an “urban sketch” because it was not done on location, but in my studio, from a tourist pic on line. It’s a practice run, since I’ve never sketched a canal and they are everywhere in Amsterdam. This one was a study of what happens with reflections in the water, and how much of the bicycle you need to put into a sketch to make it read “bikes” which are as omnipresent as the canals.

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Another bicycle practice. It’s sort of like studying the anatomy of the human body which one does in figure studios. Getting those circles and ellipses is a challenge.

Also I dove right into this one and later thought about the perspective of the buildings. I think I’ll start with pencil lines mapping that out before the painting, rather than after.

And then the reflections in the canal. Why not just bring the paint loaded brush down into the water after painting the trees and buildings? That could save time and integrate the painting.

I added some Naples Yellow to my palette, a pigment that might help to create a warm subdued glow on the city surfaces. Also I’m bringing an extra teeny palette with some white and colored gouache to add highlights.

Now how does one sketch from these bridges which are everywhere and frequented by fast moving bicycles at the very least? Hmmm. Well, soon I’ll find out! I’ll be posting on Instagram and Facebook while gone and back here on the blog by August 1st.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer!

Duncans Mills with the Ready, Set, Sketchers

Duncans Mills is a “tiny hamlet” along the Russian River one encounters on the way to the beach at Jenner. It’s colorful in an historic and commercial way and immensely sketchable. The Ready, Set, Sketchers were meeting up there on Saturday and I happily joined them.

Years ago I did several “watercolor paintings” of the area, but wanted to do some quicker sketches in my book that told some part of the story of the place this time.

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For some reason it’s always easier for me to sketch a building if I can put a figure in front of it. Luckily I could see this fellow in our group from my spot in the shade!

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Duncans Mills is really all about the shops and gardens in between. I was fascinated by the rusty filagree of this gazebo and the fact that you could see through it to the garden and seats behind.

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This was a quicky I got in just before we shared our sketches. Sitting under a tree across the street I thought I’d be less likely to make my usual mistake of overdoing the details. What happened was a reliving of the happy memories of the times we were invited to join the camping club on the river when the boys were young!

If you’re in the Sonoma County or northern San Francisco Bay area you may want to join us on one of these regular monthly sketch meet ups on the second Saturday of each month. Check it out on Facebook here. You would be most welcome!

 

Afrolicious

Another summer concert at the plaza in Healdsburg this Tuesday. Afrolicious, as described on their website features:  inspiring lyrics, funky bass lines, and a powerful horn section while retaining the soul and feel of classic funk, disco, Latin, and Afrobeat melodies.

Carole and I immediately spotted the visuals and scoped out the possibilities of positioning ourselves so that we could have an unobstructed view. It’s the age old problem of getting close enough to see, let alone draw, without getting trampled by the dancers or blasted by the amplifiers. The volume was turned up to ear splitting levels that even our sound dampening ear plugs couldn’t handle.

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But the side and back view sometimes works well enough. And the group was engaging with their music and audience appeal. They invited the little kids on stage to “help” them drum and the grown ups to sing along on the chorus. Another warm summer night of music and community spirit.

I finished it up at home with a bold glaze of underpainting and a few accents of color to finish.