watercolor sketch

Between Riverside and Crazy

When I was in elementary school I loved to stage little plays with neighborhood kids. In junior high I played one of the red headed twins in Elmer and the Lovebug. Never heard of it? Oh well. And that was the end of my career as a thespian. But the wonder and delight of the stage never left. And now I may have found a way to get closer to that backstage experience, by going to some rehearsals. . .

This is our second year now of having seasons tickets to Left Edge Theatre, featuring left leaning, edgy theatrical productions. So I asked if I could come and draw at their rehearsals. The director said sure! I knew it would also be a great way to sharpen up my reportage sketching skills.

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fountain pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media spiral book

My first try was in the second week of rehearsals for Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis, which by the way opened last night.

I wasn’t yet sure how I was going to approach drawing a theatrical production. As the actors started drifting in, I introduced myself and started to learn their names and parts played. Meanwhile I had time to sketch the set before they started rehearsing.

I guess I thought there would be long pauses where the actors got more direction and I could do a quick freeze-frame captures. But this cast was already so far along that there were almost no pauses, and to my delight and dismay, the action kept moving! How to jump in with the pen and brush? It was like trying to catch a train as it’s leaving the station by running alongside until you get enough speed to grab a door handle and hop! So forgive me if I omit the rest of my scribbles from that evening.

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Before I went back a couple weeks later I thought I’d practice a bit using their PR photos from the website. In their glamor PR shots here they bear only a slight resemblance to the characters they play , but it was a good warmup with no pressure.

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Two night ago I was back to watch the dress rehearsal. [Let me interject here that I do not recommend sketching at performances like this unless you have already seen them or will be seeing them without sketching.]

This play gets off to a rip-roaring start and never lets go of your attention until the very end. So as soon as it started, I had an overwhelming urge to put down my sketchbook and say “this is impossible!”

But I had a sort of strategy, to start with the main character Pops, who hopefully would stay put in his wheelchair for a few minutes, and then just add other characters willy nilly as they appeared. I put a bit of watercolor on during the intermission and the rest the next day.

Leftedge8 I’m no theatre critic, but this is my blog, so I get to give my opinion. This play is outrageous, hilarious, touching, and full of surprises, with a cast of seasoned professional actors. It runs through Nov 10. I’ve already got my tickets for November 3, but you may want to hurry and get yours.

And there’s a whole season of plays coming up. Hopefully by season’s end I will have figured out how to sketch-a-play!

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Preston Farm and Winery

The Ready, Set, Sketchers had a meet up at Preston Farm and Winery on Saturday. It was a perfect day to drive out in to (wine) country in Sonoma County. Some of the sketchers situated themselves in the garden by the house and others outside the chicken coop. Some managed to fit in time for some wine tasting. (I was tempted but knew it would be hard to go back to sketching afterward!) And I found a rather peaceful spot by the country “store”. I can never resist the colorful pumpkins and gourds!

It also turned out to be precisely the place where people come for the photo ops. Bring your 2 year-old grandchild named Andrew. Plunk him down in front of the display, and put a bright orange pumpkin between his legs, and then make all kinds of ridiculous sounds to get his attention as you take the picture that will immediately go out on social media to the rest of the adoring clan.

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There were lots of Andrews and Annas getting their pictures taken, calling back my memories of taking our little Andy and Ben to the country to experience the delights of pumpkins and autumn bounty!

And there was the friendly gray cat who refused to pose for me, but occasionally tried to jump up in my lap.

The Ready, Set Sketchers meet up on the second Saturday of every month at a different location in Sonoma County. If that sound good to you, you will find the announcements on their/our Facebook page. Or contact me and I’ll get you on the email notification list!

 

Ferry Building with Oliver

My friend and fellow urban sketcher and teacher extraordinaire Oliver Hoeller is moving from SF to Austria, so I took the opportunity to join him in yet another urban sketcher workshop last weekend, in the area around the Ferry Building in S.F.

The morning was “Sketching 101”. I was interested in learning how he builds his playful and entertaining urban scenes with pen and then pimps them out with various media. (The afternoon was titled “Pimp Your Watercolors”!)

 

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We were coached through the steps of growing a sketch out from the center, using added line weight to add form, textural lines and gray value pens for contrast. A musician was crooning Frank Sinatra and similar era songs with amplification all morning.

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Four days later I’m still trying to get those songs out of my head! But they did find a place in the sketch. The idea with building out the sketch like this is not that you put in what you see, like a camera that you hold still. There were hundreds of people passing across this picture plane as I sat there. I would have had a nervous breakdown trying to draw them and all the palm trees!

So you pick what you like – the muscle man on his taxi bike (who disappeared after 5 min) – a couple of palm trees – a bit of obelisk and bike rentals. Enough. Next exercise.

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After lunch we moved down the pier toward the Bay Bridge and started pimping. Here I’m trying out all kinds of stuff, sampler style: gray pen shading, splatter, textural marks, watercolors gone overboard!

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2″X4″ two-color quick-y looking out at the bay.

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And finally this view looking out at a (wonky) Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and trying to incorporate as many of the tools as possible.

The workshop ended at 6pm, and most of the workshop students continued for another day. Now comes the digestion phase! Practicing, integrating, making it my own.

Although Oliver is moving, he’s promising to return to do more workshops in the Bay Area and in other locations where he’ll be traveling. If you’re interested contact him and get on his email list.

 

S.F. Botanical Garden

On Sunday I spent the day at Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden with over 40 nature journalers and John Muir Laws.  If you don’t already know, Jack is a Bay Area treasure; a naturalist, artist, author-illustrator of numerous nature guides, and entertaining guy who helps people to wake up and interact with the natural world by journaling about it.

 

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You can’t help but fall in love with the massive tree that greets you inside the gate. While Jack was talking, my eyes were tracing the curves, like a warm up doodle. I must admit, the tree got compacted to fit on my paper, but it didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I.

 

Next there were docent-led tours of the park to get us started thinking about what we might want to sketch.

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With such a multitude of exotic species to choose from, it was particularly hard to pick a subject to examine and sketch. I decided to try some of the more exotic varieties that would never be found growing in Sebastopol.

And started with a close up of this Snakebark Maple, which was labeled RARE. When you take the time to look closely, not only do you start to see so many different patterns and green mixes, but bright pinks and reds as well.

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The Ancient Plant Garden gives the opportunity to go waaay back in time and trace the evolution of plant life. Admittedly I used a bit of artistic license in the coloring here, but this giant fern was mostly in the shade.

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The leaves on this Gunnera plant from the Jurassic era were about four feet across, but I was drawn in by the reddish “fruit” cones, and the fact that there was a bench with a good view of this. There was also a lady from the sketch group who was drawing there. We engaged in lively conversation, which made it difficult for my eyes to follow the lacy folds . . .and I got quite lost and had to make stuff up. Once again lots of red in all that green.

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With just a few minutes to spare and no time to draw, I took a different approach, sketching a familiar plant, Anemones, from a distance and with watercolor. As my eyes began to focus better I caught sight of the familiar figure of St. Francis in the background.

An Afternoon at Point Reyes

I used to think of Point Reyes Station, CA as a sleepy little town on the way to the spectacular north coast park trails, beaches and Tule Elk, not to mention Tomales Bay. But that couple blocks of the town is a busy, happening place on the weekend, especially in fine weather. Bob and I were there for the opening of our good friend Todd Pickering‘s exhibit: This Sacred Land: Images and Words from Point Reyes at Toby’s Feed Barn.

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I had a few minutes before to sit at a picnic table in the sun outside Toby’s Feed Barn and the farmer’s market and enjoy some music and a bit of sketching. Jerome’s tunes were sweet and folksy. Later he shared with me that he spends his days at the parks nearby, enjoying the nature scene and contemplating making it a more permanent residence.

Todd’s exhibit of black-and-white photography of land and nature worked evocatively with written words by locals about their experience of the sacred in the land there. One has to feel awe at his ability to capture Raven and Moon, the secret poses of Owls, the mystical ocean, and more. If you’re in the area you should stop by and see it. It’s open til September 30.

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Sitting down on one of Todd’s custom made wooden benches, I was compelled to capture this musician, whose solo act was music played with hands on this unusual metal drum. I got a bit carried away with his head piece, which perfectly matched the extra terrestrial vibes of the sound and instrument!

Good Friends at TLR

There’s a lovely courtyard area at The Living Room, Santa Rosa’s day shelter for women. With landscaping, picnic tables, chairs and shade it’s an inviting space to eat, visit with friends, counselors, and have a moment’s peace. It’s become my favorite place to sit and sketch visual stories about what happens here.

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Dogs are as welcome here as the women (only accompanied of course). And these dogs are a select population. Some of them live in houses and apartments, but many live in cars or camp out with their mistresses, and they rarely appear down-on their-luck. In fact I venture to guess that they are blessed with an extra dose of loving care in that they are devoted companions.

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Some are lap sized and cared for as a child. They all seem to have the effect of calming nerves and dispensing love when its most needed. No wonder the bottom line for finding housing is a place that accepts your best canine friend!

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Sometimes they are curled up together napping or resting on a comfortable couch.

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Recently the community suffered the sudden loss of a friend who was loved by everyone. The memorial was attended by women in the community who shared their memories, prayers, and their tears. These pets seemed happy to offer their doggie prayers, and as always to help make this place feel like home.

Dominican U. and Peacetown Concert

Occasionally it’s quite pleasant to hang out on a university campus many decades after one has graduated. You can still enjoy the vibe of learning, and even imagine that it would be fun to be a college student again, (sans writing papers and taking tests of course). Dominican University in San Rafael, CA has a lovely combination of grand buildings and exotic gardens and the serenity of its connection to the church.

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This campus is sooo different from U.C. Berkeley, which is just across the bay with its throngs of students, myriad posters and causes and academicians with deadly serious countenances. We enjoyed this quiet spot at the back of the school and bordering a vegetable garden.

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In fact there is such diverse vegetation that the campus grounds resemble a botanical garden. In this sketch I reversed the order and painted first and then defined with pen line.

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Back in Sebastopol, AKA Peacetown, later in the day The Love Choir members were singing their hearts out with Mr. Music and Moon Puppy on keyboard. It was (almost) the last of the summer concerts in Ives Park. I caught a bit of it before heading home, sad that I’d not made it to any of the other Sebastopol concerts this summer. And now the summer is over, sigh! Well, not entirely yet. . .