Watercolor sketches

A Lively City and Peaceful Garden

Seems like ages since I’ve taken an online painting course. But when I saw The Lively City advertised on Sketchbook Skool I thought it seemed like an exciting new approach to reportage sketching that I could try. The teacher, Jedidiah Dore, an urban sketcher and reportage illustrator in New York City, uses a bamboo reed pen and ink, bright watercolor washes, and other techniques to create uniquely expressive and highly energetic scenes of the city.

Gathering up the materials I have in my studio, I took myself out to the East Bay Waterfront in Olympia to try it out with one of my favorite views here of the bay and marina with a backdrop of the Olympic range. 

In my rush to get out of the house I moved my materials into a larger bag. When I pulled them out on location I realized that I’d forgotten the bottle of India ink to use with the reed pen and dip pen. Phooey! I had my fountain pen, a more controllable tool, which however robbed me of some of the initial spontaneity and line texture which Jedidiah achieves at the get go with big expressive lines. But I enjoyed the process, which abandoned my usual approach of matching colors, and establishing atmospheric perspective. The result was purely an invention of my own of how it felt to be there on that glorious day. Thanks to Jedidiah for encouraging the play with pen and ink and spontaneity which makes painting feel more like play.

The Thursday sketch group met at the Yashiro Japanese Garden, a tiny garden enclosed in bamboo with fountain, koi pond and temple structures. Normally a peaceful, quiet spot where you can download and listen to the local symphony orchestra while enjoying the Zen-like setting. On this day we were greeted by a crew of gardeners weeding in the bushes and clearing the grasses from the path using a noisy torch to singe them. I guess that’s a way to avoid using Roundup?

Not being able to tune out the noise of the gardening ruckus so that I could settle into the peaceful fountain and pond scene, I got interested in the gardeners. And when they left, settled into the pond scene, equal parts stationary lily pads and gently flowing koi. 

As I left I passed a gardener who was thinning out the bamboo and I asked for some fresh bamboo stalks to use as dip pens, perhaps for the new Lively City works that have yet to emerge!

In the winter garden

There’s so much going on now in the winter garden. I keep poking my head outside my studio door to see how the Gulf Fritillary chrysalid is coming along with its metamorphosis. Moments ago it was wiggling its wing and two shiny eyes looked back at me from within its leaf-like encasing. Want to see?

I’m hoping it gets on with it before nightfall. It’s not something one wants to miss!

And then those fuzzy little knobs all over the pipevine are starting to plump out into the orchid-like red Dutchmen’s pipes I have sketched so many times. And that means that some time this month the butterflies will also arrive and lay their eggs and. . .well you know the cycle.

And then, since it’s been raining off and on, we have a new crop of ‘shrooms that are particularly lovely as they progress through the stages of their own life cycle.

All this to be enjoyed even without a vaccine!

Pomegranates and Hummingbirds

I had just picked the miniature pomegranates and found a place in the sun to arrange them, a concrete bench in front of the house, where I could also sit to sketch them. The wee red fruits and even my paints and brush were just an excuse to sit there in the winter sun, next to all the bird feeding activity – mostly goldfinches and chickadees.

But my back was to the hummingbird feeder where a noisy drama was taking place. It sounded like a noisy helicopter propeller, only faster and close enough to cause a breeze on my face and a shiver of danger down my spine. Could these two aggressive hummingbirds actually have in mind attacking me instead of each other? As I turned around, the feeder with its red cap was dancing and a full scale battle was raging over a spot at the feeder. My bucolic setting had turned savage and I hurried to finish up.

Out sketching again!

The smoke from the fires cleared out mid week, blown cross country and out to sea. Time to get out with a small group of friends and enjoy some on location sketching.

Four of us met up at Presidio Pond in San Francisco, a gorgeous landscaped garden which draws ducks, pigeons, geese and more as well as lots of tiny human ducklings with their nannies and moms. We moved over to the small bubbling brook/falls/stream and I plunged recklessly in, immediately realizing I was in over my head!

When in doubt draw a figure and when you’re with sketchers, there’s always at least one. Later I saw that Laurie had put me in her masterful sketch of the same water feature.

We adjourned over at the Warming Hut on the Marina for lunch and found it closed. No problem since we had bag lunches, and there were any number of views to sketch, from a sunlit city skyline and Presidio buildings, to the fishing dock and the bay with massive container ships and the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded as it usually is in fog.

Back at Pat’s Garden on Friday my friends and I spread out in the various gardens filled with antique farm implements and tools, sculptures and blooms.

I’d been wanting to sketch the rusty windmill, and when I saw the chairs, I decided to define the objects with negative painting and do it quickly since I always seem to overwork my sketches. It got quite complicated and messy, but at least I stopped in time!

With just a few minutes left I found this cement toad on the porch and he was just too cute to pass up. And yes, I know now that I misspelled cozy. It goes with the territory of trying to draw your letters. The right hemisphere (of the brain) rears up and invents new spellings.

Fire Evacuations: Donkeys, Goats and Us

Before the fire season got off to a roaring start with lightning strikes and wildland fires all over California, I had been occasionally enjoying the company of the donkeys and goats that live at the bottom of our road. After my dinner I would take a bucket of apples down in the cool of the early evening. They would see me approaching and come running. Did me a world of good to suddenly be so popular.

I’ve tried many times before to sketch them at the fence where they are so adorable and engaging, but it’s impossible with all the movement. So one time I kept them waiting for their apples, while I took pictures.

The donkeys are not that much bigger than the biggest goats and I had to distract the goats who are more aggressive at the fence.

Then last week, as we were packing for a fire evacuation I noticed that the field was empty and the donkeys and goats had beat us to evacuation.

Perhaps they were taken to the county fairgrounds, or perhaps a friend’s pasture, but I hope to see them home soon. It would do my nerves a world of good to have my animal friends gobbling apples from my hands again.

It’s been an exhausting and stressful week of evacuation to three different places in the Bay Area, to friends’ homes and a hotel. But our area was saved, thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, police, prison inmate crews, pilots, local authorities, rescuers from far away, and so many more.

We came home yesterday to a yellow ribbon on our mailbox “crime scene” which we figured was placed there when the police made their rounds of mandatory evacuation areas. Otherwise there is a dusting of ash, a lot of fallen apples, neighbors with their own stories to tell, and Sylvester the cat who no longer lives here, but hangs out here all day.

We still have a friend who is waiting for news of whether her house will be saved. And of course there are all the families who have already lost their homes, and that rests heavily on my heart. I’d like to say I’ll get right out and do more fire story sketches as I did in 2017 and 2018, but I haven’t had the extra energy to sketch through this crisis. One spends so much time just making it through the day, calling and texting friends and family, moving possessions in and out of the car.

And now I just want to enjoy home again. After all, that is the greatest gift when you almost lose yours and then don’t.

A Simple Cure for What Ails you

About 15 years ago I renamed my art business IMAGINE WITH ART when I wanted to change my emphasis to be more about creative process than about product. I wrote the word Imagine in the wet concrete outside my studio door and added the name to this antique brush which has hung outside my door since then.

I recently got around to sketching the brush, when I saw the flowers in the planter below, showing off in the late afternoon sun.

ImagineWithArt

And then, joy of joys, my current Muse group “sisters” were all invited to Pat and Lee Davis’ stunning home gardens (definitely plural gardens!) for a morning of sketching, which turned into a (kind of urban sketchers’ type) on location event with space for social distancing.

DavisSt.

Oh, to have that kind of sitting-separately-but-together-serenity-in-a-garden-with-friends experience again (after all the Covid-shut-down-fear-and-alienation, and even while it’s still going on everywhere)!

It’s a simple cure for what ails us. Pick up a pen or pencil: draw what you see: put some paint on: notice how you feel now.

The Changing Scene at The Living Room

As the pandemic continues to cause a make over at The Living Room, I’m looking for ways to document it in sketches. In a recent visit I was allowed inside the gate to see how the program keeps changing to meet the constantly evolving needs of a community in medical, social, and economic crisis.

In March, when they were ordered to close the doors on the day shelter with its rich offering of services, they morphed quickly into a program with a new mandate to offer food and housing, including referrals for men and women. When I spoke with them recently, their outreach program had placed 60 people in 6 weeks and the numbers of people they were serving hot meals was growing exponentially.

handwash station

Not only did the services change, but the “campus” also has undergone changes. One of the first was an outdoor plumbed hand washing station.

TLRrefridge

And more recently refrigeration units were installed outside the offices. TLR now is opening a pantry program so they will be functioning like a free grocery store with the items people need to make nutritious meals at home. In this way they are responding to an anticipated increase in unemployment by the end of July and a lot more hunger in the general population.

They also have plans to convert portions of the campus to housing for women, since it doesn’t seem likely the day shelter aspect of the program is likely to return for some time.

Masks-1 copy

Meanwhile the participants I knew, like Silvia here, are seen only occasionally at TLR and always masked of course.

Masks-3

I’m learning to read the welcoming look in their eyes on my rare visits when I run into people I know.

Masks-2

If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, I invite you to look at my exhibition of portrait stories of these women, titled This is My Story: Women and Homelessness, on the Santa Rosa Public Arts website.

And to learn more about The Living Room and how you could help, visit their website.

Trees and tombstones

Some sketches from last week. Late afternoon is a magical time in the garden, and one day I enjoyed some time before dinner, sketching the entrance to our home which is on a private road.mailboxwelcome

Mr. Frog used to spout fountain water, but later was retired to the garden. I found him under some plants which were towering over him, and invited him to pose for the sketch, which needed an accent at the bottom.

tombstones

Another day I met Cathy and Bettina at the rural cemetery in Santa Rosa. My first sketch was a study of the various shapes of the old tombstones from the 1800’s. I put them close together to make a single shape, since none of the them were particularly interesting in themselves.

cemeterytree

Then I became mesmerized trying to sketch this tree. Nothing like a beautiful tree to lose oneself while painting!

More on location sketching, yay!

The agapanthas, those tall lacy clusters along our walkway, are just starting to bloom. They’ve been here for longer than our 20 years in this home. And this afternoon I sat down to try and figure out how to sketch them, and the rest of the scene. . .agapanthas1

As I was sketching the birds and the bees were checking me out, or so I thought. I like to think I’m accepted by the plant and animal kingdoms even though I spend the majority of my time in my house/studio with frequent and all too brief forays into the outdoors. The hummingbirds, whose feeder is to my right, did that suspension in mid air thing as if to say, what are you doing here? And Sylvester the cat, who has never let me pet him, talked to me in that soft kitty way that I wish I understood.

agapanthas2

It ended up being more about the red geranium because, of course, it’s a scene stealer.

farmersmarket

Yesterday I made another trip to the farmer’s market and had a different vantage point than last week. Turning my head in a 180 degree arc I found enough subjects of interest and just piled them up to make a single scene. The conversation I overheard was yet another typically local one which included the remark “I can’t believe my brother is a Trump supporter!”

Sketch Stories in Pandemic Times

Have you been wondering how to get your hair cut in these perplexing times? Well I took things into my own hands and at least got some of it out of my eyes. The scissors I grabbed were not so sharp and I had to get my glasses to see well enough, but it more or less worked.

haircuts

So how did I sketch this when both hands were occupied with the hair? The iPhone is good for so many things, like the timed selfie picture. So I leaned it up against the wall below the mirror.  etc etc.

plantshopping

Another day I ventured out to buy some plants for my spring garden. My local nursery, Harmony Farms was mobbed with people anxious to plant their vegetable gardens, so I stopped by Ace hardware and found some plants. They were all set up with the plexi window and masks to protect the cashiers, but it became a comedy act as I was asked to shove my plant under the window and lost a bit of soil and flowers in the process. (The sketch is from memory.)

cemetery

My friend Bettina lives next to the old, historic part of the Santa Rosa cemetery. The back gate of her garden leads directly into this wonderland of historic oaks and vines and every shade of green. Nature has aggressively moved to reclaim this final resting place. A dense sprinkling of rain started just as I set up my stool to sketch this story, so I collected some pictures and later put it together in this.

kindness

Yesterday I went to town and sat in the plaza to see what action I could capture. Sebastopol is a small town where as far as I can tell people are taking the Shelter in Place and social distancing order pretty seriously. The main event that Friday morning was a helicopter circling noisily overhead. I wonder why? After sitting for a while in an empty plaza finally at noon there were a handful of folks in family groups eating lunch.

The sign on the road made my day though.

Kindness is also contagious

Spread it around!