#watercolorsketch

Papaver Orientale

Papaver Orientale with a bee visitor in my garden

I was shocked! Double shocked. I’d forgotten how blue the sky is, for one. And three monster poppies emerged in our garden. Since we didn’t plant any of the flowers, bushes, and trees on our property, having just moved here a year ago and having lots of other things to keep us busy, we have been in a constant state of discovery this spring as colorful plants emerge from bare soil. The red poppies were like an anniversary present to celebrate our first year here. 

So I got busy studying the unfolding of petals. 

The first bloom popped before the others opened, and the sheer weight of it, combined with a steady drizzle that toppled it, made it an early casualty. The seed pod on the bottom here was the “final” stage in the cycle. I was ready to stake the other two so they would live a bit longer, and the rains finally stopped, giving a few more days to study the full expansion of beauty.

And then this morning, of all things! another casualty after a combination of direct water spray from the irrigation and sudden scorching sun.

But can’t you just imagine the most ravishing outfit on a Flamenco dancer? It put my sketches to shame as nature always does, and rightly so!

watercolor, white gel pen, brown ink fountain pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

Experimentation and Discovery!

fountain pen, w/c, gouache, white gel pen on toned paper

I thought it might be interesting to contemplate and document my loopy and sometimes treacherous path of art discovery in the area of portraiture and figura-ture over the past month. Discovery as in experimentation.

Starting with this one a month ago. I remember starting out with the idea that this would be a quick and expressive sketch. An hour later I was still correcting and laying in more layers of paint, which wasn’t at all what I had in mind when I started. I think I was distracted by the handsome fellow in the picture. Reminder to self: whether it’s a landscape or building or figure, don’t become too enamored with the visual subject matter. 

Sailor fude fountain pen, colored pencil on white paper

After a break traveling and sketching scenery I resumed sketching portraits, mainly with the aim of discovering the personality of my own line making. I found that this is a lot more fun than trying to make a pleasing picture. I’ve never been partial to colored pencils, since watercolor is so much more fluid and immediately saturated. But since I’m not used to colored pencils there was more freedom expressed without the need to “get it right”.

Sailor fude pen and pencils on loose white paper

So I turned the former sketch over, a loose sheet of unidentified paper I found in my drawer, and told myself I could just throw it away, so anything goes. And plunged in. Again, fun. I’d tapped into the secret I’d known and taught for years.

Reminds me of the paperweight I was given years ago on which is written “What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?” In this case, I could not fail because I wouldn’t ever have to show it to anyone. Then I realized that showing it to others would never result in failing either, because who cares!

Sailor fude pen, w/c, white gel pen on toned paper

So I go back to my toned paper sketchbook with more confidence in my ink line making, which is crude and scratchy in a way I am liking, and I realize that the shadow shapes in this subject are so fabulous that I can play with watercolor, running one color into another wetly. Soon I can’t stop painting, but at least I don’t hang out too long trying to make it “right”, so maybe I’m learning something.

Sailor fude fountain pen, diluted black ink, white gouache on gray toned paper

So what the heck, now I figure I’m ready for a selfie, to celebrate my allowing the gray/white hair I’ve been coloring to emerge and help define the freedom of my senior status. Those of you who know me will say, oh that doesn’t look like you Susan, and in a way you’re right, but she’s there somewhere. . .and not least of all in the scratchy lines.

Next day I did this one of another older lady. Same materials and half the time. If I were smart and not so distractible, I’d do 10 more.

just black ink on gray toned paper

Instead I did just one more in the 15 minutes I had before the call to dinner. I think I used the Lamy Joy pen. Why in heaven’s name I sketched the pipe first I don’t know, except that I liked the shape and wanted to make sure to fit it in. But as you can see, the nose fit into it better than the mouth. So, big deal, I drew another pipe stem and made it darker. Problem solved. There was no time to add the white value with the gouache. and I don’t miss it at all in this one.

All of the portraits above, except for the selfie, were drawn from the excellent photos available for this purpose on the SktchyMuseum app I’ve been using. Gratitude for all these fine poses! Can’t imagine a better resource for us portrait artists. Check it out!

Pentel brush pen on computer paper

I’ll finish this post with some practice drawings, copied from the Spanish illustrator Inma Serrano, whose workshop I’m taking: Capture Your City in Motion.

And here I’m sketching from picture of figures in motion on internet sites like Pinterest. All warmups for the real thing of capturing the action live. Gulp. 

Whidbey

brown fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue sketchbook

A tiny lake on an island in the northwest, the kind of place we all dream about for summer sunshine, boating, hiking, fishing and sitting on the dock for hours listening to birdsong! I was on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington for a few days last week, staying in this rustic but magical setting which had all the above delights minus the sun and warmth.

Our cold and drizzly spring continues so far here in the northwest. So this sketch was twice aborted by sprinkles. And of course the light changed so many times that I gave up trying to get it “right”, and now I realize i forgot to put in the osprey who was circling overhead for the best part of an hour and the four bald eagles at play later in the day. But this is why we sit and sketch and don’t just rely on photos, because forever after those elements will dwell in our sketches and be released even years after when we open our books!

Barista Training

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

The people at Batdorf and Bronson’s (Dancing Goat) roastery and tasting room have been gracious enough to let me be the fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes again; this time inside their training lab on S. Capitol Way in Olympia. When I arrived they were tasting a long row of freshly roasted cups in one of their rigorous methods to ensure top quality coffee. On the other side of the room Ben was training and testing Rowan in the fine barista art of making a variety of espresso drinks.

Ben timed and measured and tasted and took temperatures and gave scores, encouragement and corrections at every step of the process. Meanwhile Rowan concentrated with full attention, welcomed corrections and performed admirably. I was dumbfounded that so much science and precision could go into brewing an espresso drink!

And meanwhile I sketched like crazy, first with warm-up gesture sketches to discharge some of the excitement of the moment, and then with more careful pencil and finally ink lines. The color was added at home. Oh, and did I say that all the while I sipped an intoxicatingly fresh cup of French Roast coffee from the tasting room to keep my wits about me. Sort of.

If you’re in Olympia any time Wed – Sat 9am-4pm you must stop by the tasting room to sample different coffee brews, while peaking in the windows for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at roasting and maybe even training! And direct all your coffee questions to the knowledgable staff. Reminds me a lot of the fun of wine tasting that’s so popular in Sonoma County!

More San Franciso and back to Sebastopol!

pen and watercolor in 5X8″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

Another busy day in San Francisco started out with meeting my urban sketch friends for a ride across the Bay on BART to the Ferry Building, where I have sketched several times before.  (see previous sketches here) It was a Saturday and it felt like a good portion of city was out to enjoy the culinary delights and bayside views. It reminded me a lot of Pike Place market in Seattle with its crush of humanity! Multiple live music, horns, screeching brakes, every type of public and private transportation converging in this one block area of one of the most fascinating cities in the world. And all under beautiful sunny skies. 

I planted myself in the traffic island, listening to the crooner nearby with his medley of S.F. love songs, enjoying conversation with my sketch friends whom I’ve missed, and then tried to settle down for some sketching. The Jesus Saves guy was just one of the many colorful characters in view!

And there she was again! The young violinist from the deYoung parking lot again (in the center with the yellow hat), and this time with her fellow musicians. I quickly set up my sketch stool and got ready to sketch, just as they played their last notes and packed up to leave. Aargh! This may be another one to do from a picture, though it’s always more engaging to absorb the live music experience in the sketch.

The Chinese New Year parade was next on the day’s schedule. I’ve attended other urban sketcher meet ups for this event over the years, and it’s one of my favorite with unbeatable color and human vitality. (see past year sketches here and here The groups of adults and children of all ages assemble colorfully on Market Street in preparation for the parade. 

By the time I got there my energy reserves had depleted, so this was done later from a picture I took!

Kay’s garden in Monte Rio on the Russian River

The next four days I was on my old familiar turf in Sebastopol and the Russian River, which is always a bit of heaven in the early spring. A long lunch in the garden of Kay’s home on the River, watching her flock of “designer” chickens that produce a rainbow of different colored eggs.

marveling all over again at the bountiful lemons and the pottery studio overflowing with treasures. There was too much to catch up on with kay and Liz and lots of eating, so no sketching happened that day!

The temperatures were plunging, but not so much that a walk on the beach wasn’t possible, with a little bundling up against the wind. Bodega Bay is often windy and a bit chilly. Not your southern California year round beach, though there was a surfer out that day enjoying the waves. But a long clean stretch of beach with abundant birdlife and radiant sun. Ahhh!

It sometimes feels redundant to sketch on the beach, like I’m copying the art that is already so abundant there in the form of seaweed and shells and undulating sands. So I just gathered up some dried seaweed in an expression of how I felt about this part of our planet and about my week of revisiting.

Next, one last thing to share from my week in California – a Muse Group reunion with inspired artmaking which I will post soon!

Around town

Sometimes lately the weather has actually been warm enough to invite a bit of outside sketching. On Sunday I met two of my sketch buddies to tackle the Swantown Marina waterfront. 

fountain pen, watercolor, white gel pen in Travelogue w/c sketchbook

It was the flaming red bare branches on these bushes in contrast with the cool marine colors that invited the sketch. Those showy ducks were paddling around in the waters of Bud Inlet. The Olympic range was glowing in the distance, and I hoped that I could make sense of the complex marina scene, at least enough to get a bit of it in. As I started drawing, the sailboats appeared and I dashed them in. The man got added at the end, after the landscape was painted. There were lots of folks out enjoying the winter sunshine and warm (ahem!) temps of mid to high 50’s. It was one of those days when the heart and mind skips over the remaining weeks of winter and early spring and dives headlong into anticipation of spring blooming!

Another day I was driving home from errands and came to a stop sign at the lake, tarrying long enough to catch the rainbow with my phone. . .and later sketched it. Imagine more ducks out there on the lake, which is connected to the Sound. The trumpeter swans are still out there now.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to California for a week of visiting my buddies in the Bay Area and old home town of Sebastopol; taking my sketchbook, which has become my surrogate memory-catcher and blog-feeder! So I’ll catch you on the other side. Or maybe I’ll see you in person!

From Armory to Arts Center

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue W/C sketchbook

A sunny day at last and it lured Jan and I out to attempt some on location sketching. Sunny but too cold for on the street sketching, so we sheltered in our respective cars for a cramped, but warmer experience!

I picked this spot at the Olympia Armory in town for its art deco era design and historical impact. It is in the process of transitioning from a military installation to a creative campus owned by the City of Olympia. 

This iconic Art Deco style building was constructed by noted architects Joseph Wohleb of Olympia and Roland Borhek of Tacoma in the late 1930s.  It has been an integral part of the community’s history and  the Army National Guard presence in Olympia. Guard members from the armory deployed to the Pacific Theater during World War II, and the Middle East during Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, while continuing to serve our state during countless disasters. The Armory has been used not only by the National Guard, but by the community as a venue and gathering place for events such as basketball games, car exhibitions, festivals, inaugural balls, and more.

As the army vehicles leave, the arts community is gearing up with ideas for using the quite generous space. The 41,160 square foot Armory building and adjacent 9,700 square foot outbuilding offer key spaces adaptable to a range of uses, including a 10,000 sf multi-use space, commercial kitchen, industrial loading dock and storage, and ample offices readily convertible to classrooms. 

For now I enjoy passing the building on my way into town. Maybe I’ll even have a space to teach again there! 

First Christmas (in our new home)

Merry Christmas to all of you! I hope you are able to be with the ones you most care about this year, one way or another. Last year we were able to be with our son Ben on Zoom, a blessing but a rather pale one compared to having him with us this year after not seeing him for two pandemic years. He had never seen our new home, his family home now, and has quickly settled in to enjoy some days with us before returning to North Carolina. 

Ben works hard as a software engineer, and also knows how to chill, and often with guitar, and often after occupying the most comfortable spot in the house – in this case our new Stressless recliner. I don’t know how many times now I have sketched him in this position in previous years. A lot.

Andrew will be joining us soon. The 1000 piece crossword puzzle is out on the coffee table and will need all of us to tackle its complexity. But first I got an interior scene sketched, to be able to pass along the holiday cheer. We must all snuggle in a bit more now, for a while at any rate, as this pandemic rages on.

Sending love and blessings and heaps of gratitude to all of you who have been joining me here. May you experience all warmth and good cheer on this holiday!

Downtown Oly: Spar Cafe

Another cold and damp day, but this time with sun, dazzling sun. That day there was nothing for it but to bundle up and brave the icy wind to sit on the sidewalk, with fingerless gloves and an intrepid spirit! And the blue sky lasted all the way until sunset, which arrived with a ferocious downpour as if to say “don’t get used to it!”

While sketching I couldn’t help but envy the fellow inside, imagining a warm bowl of soup and shelter from the wind. . .as the trucks and cars rumbled and screeched by. I made it through the ink sketch and did the rest of the paint and detail later in the comfort of my warm home. I guess that counts as only partial intrepid spirit.

Here I am, huddled and counting the minutes until I can have lunch with my friend in warmth! But oh how good it felt to have showed up.

Harmony Springs

A member of our small sketch group got permission for us to meet at Black Lake Bible Camp and retreat center. The idea was that we could stay warm in the dining hall while looking out the window and sketching the view.

But just on the other side of the parking lot is a western themed campground. Harmony Springs is staged like a western movie set with a frontier town, calistoga wagons, a circle of teepees, archery range, etc. I took advantage of the scene to practice my weakest skill – buildings and perspective.

What was I thinking?! So many vanishing points and and details distracted from the task of putting the 3-D experience onto the 2-D surface of my sketchbook. I got the drawing done and painting begun in the hour until the tips of my fingers went numb and legs got stiff.

But what if I had done it from another angle with a more compressed perspective of the buildings? I had some time at home and tried it again. After all, the harder you work on something, the greater the payoff, right? Quantity and repetition often beats out striving for perfection in the end. But by this point I was getting pretty bored with the scene and ready to move on!

The weather has grown colder lately and the cold along with damp makes sitting outside, even while bundled up, seem masochistic! So I walked around downtown and took some pictures and did this practice sketch at home.

Meanwhile things are moving along slendidly on our garage studio construction! 

The first wall went up yesterday, and the pounding and sawing is going on all day. Music to our ears! (sort of) I can’t wait to unpack the acrylics and collage materials and get back to some Muse painting again by next month some time.