Road Trip

“Napa Purple House – sketchbook entry – 4″ x 6” – watercolor and felt tip pen – orig. not for sale – print available

This weekend we made the trek to the SF Bay area to visit with our daughter before she heads back to business school in the fall. We had a great time brunching in the Marina district, visiting Mt. Tamalpais and hiking in the woods, dining on tapas, seeing some Shakespeare, more brunching in Napa and visiting a winery. I sketched and painted along the way, so here’s a quick page from my sketchbook, done at brunch on Sunday. Yes, this house really was painted bright purple with blue accents. It was across the street from a charming cafe, and I was fortunate to get a window seat to sketch this souvenir while chatting and munching.

Seriously addicted

Yes, I am seriously addicted to sketching. These are the sketchbooks I’ve used since March 03, when I returned to art after a 20 year hiatus and essentially started over from sketch, I mean, scratch.
The stack on the left is completed books. The stack on the right is books that are partially full – a little bit or a lot. Every one of these is precious to me for one reason or another. Like any place where practice is done, they are full of false starts, errors, bad perspective, wobbly lines, strange anatomy, half-baked ideas and more. But that’s what my creative journey is all about. The way I figure, the more mistakes I make the better chance I have of doing something right. So I try to make a lot of mistakes every day. The more the better, really.

I’ll be posting new Mandu drawings later today if you want to check back. She’s drinking her half and half with enthusiasm again, and that’s a good sign. Yesterday I did a whole series of “cat part” drawings – ears, eyes, tail, etc. But I need time to scan them and it’s midnight now.

Thank you everyone for your supportive comments during this emotionally stressful time. Some people might say “get over it, it’s just a cat,” but animal lovers know it’s not that simple at all and that relationships come in all shapes, sizes and species. Feeling your kindness helps ease the impending loss, whether it comes in days, weeks or longer. My husband reads your comments, too, and I know that it means a lot to him as well.

Zoo Story – Part 1

On our LA Zoo sketchcrawl on Saturday, I took along a bagful of different art supplies because I wanted to experiment drawing the animals using different tools that seemed appropriate for their textures and coloration. I’m going to be scanning them and posting them throughout the week, so please check back if you’re interested in seeing more. The smooth graphic lines of the zebra seemed to lend themself to ink, and our model posed quietly in the shade for quite a long time. Thank you, zebra – you were the most cooperative subject of the day! I scanned and painted it later in Photoshop – my drawing paper doesn’t lend itself to wash.

Next subject: A mother kangaroo who had recently given birth to a little girl “joey.” Following some of the advice given in David Rankin’s Fast Sketching Techniques I used a dark, soft pencil and brought a stomp to smudge the lines. I think this captures some of the feeling of the soft fur of the mother roo who was taking a much needed rest. That big lump under her tail is where her daughter is napping! After scanning the sketch I added a little Photoshop color from a reference photo so you can see the before and after. Rankin is certainly right, drawing with a smudgeable pencil does allow you to get a faster impression with volume – good for drawing animals that won’t hold still.

If you’re in the So. California area (from Santa Barbara to San Diego to San Bernardino) and you’d like the experience of drawing with a group of friendly art-loving people, drop me a note and I’ll put you on our list so you can find out about upcoming get-togethers.

Sketchcrawl at the Huntington

It was a spectacular spring day, not too warm, not too cool and all five of us (me, Nancy, Robin, Diann and Wendee) enjoyed the natural beauty of the Huntington for another memorable sketchcrawl. Our first stop was the Shakespeare garden (I’ll be scanning my sketch and posting it tomorrow or the next day) … second was the Japanese garden (this one), which was my favorite location of the day. We wrapped it up in the desert garden where we were joined by Diann’s husband and daughter.

As usual, many people stopped by to see what we were doing throughout the “crawl” and one journal keeper from Orlando showed us some of his watercolors as we compared notes about Niji waterbrushes and other traveling paint brushes.

This sketch was painted in about 45 minutes, give or take a bit. I stopped before painting the tree in the lower right hand corner or the water under the bridge so this is a “not quite finished” work in progress. So if you’re wondering why it looks like I just sort of stopped, it’s because I did. (smile)

I look forward to going back again soon and painting this garden from another vantage point, and to visit several other highlights as well. There’s just too much to take in all in a day. And then there’s the arboretum, too. We really do have a wealth of botanical gardens within a 20 minute drive. And I understand that the Getty’s gardens are overflowing with color, too.

Arty bits: painted in my super aquabee sketchbook with portable palette of tube paints and a Niji waterbrush.

Sketchcrawl Downtown #3 – Olvera Street

Click picture to enlarge
Here’s the third and last of my drawings I did last week on the sketchcrawl in downtown LA, and another response to the “draw a local landmark” challenge. With limited time for drawing I opted to spend the time drawing rather than doing washes or painting on location. Today I took some time to figure out how I wanted to handle those washes. As an experiment, I printed out the line drawing on watercolor paper rather than use the flimsier paper in my sketchbook. That also gave me a backup in case my ideas didn’t work – I could just toss the printed version out and print another one. In fact, I might paint one using bright colors instead of this monochrome/sepia scheme which is primarily based on tonal values.

Unlike the Union Station fountain painting, in this experiment I decided I would draw it as it actually was, because I liked the angle and the bustling activity following the morning’s rain. Also, unlike the courtyard painting, I opted for Rapidoliner and wash because I wanted to draw the small details of the shops instead of suggesting dabs of color with the brush. I did take a picture before I left, so I might still try an impressionistic watercolor sketch for comparison. Below is the drawing before painting, if you’re curious. Click to enlarge.

Another sketchcrawl page

My workbook is evolving, and so am I. Sometimes the mood strikes me to do compositional and value sketches; other times I might be captivated by the texture of a rock, carefully observing the nature of reflections. On Saturday, while hiding out from the sprinkling of rain under the teahouse roof, I settled in to do a long, slow drawing of a California Live Oak. The biggest challenge was trying to describe the volume of the limbs when the light kept changing (like the camellia painting I posted two days ago.) Still, it was a satisfying sketching session and I felt like I got to know this tree a little better.

Too big to fit under my scanner, this 9 x 12 Watson Guptill sketchbook is a good size for trees and big objects.

Camellias Sketchcrawl style

Saturday, four hardy artists braved the cold temperatures and sallied forth to Descanso Gardens for a sketchcrawl. Because it was sprinkling, our first stop was the Japanese teahouse with its sheltering roof, which protected us from the morning drizzle. We sketched there for an hour or more and then, seeing that the sun was peeking occasionally through the clouds, we ventured out into another part of the garden.

I stopped at a camellia bush where I painted this cluster for a little while. I used a page in my Canson watercolor journal that I had previously started at the Chinatown parade, then rapidly gave up on. (Digression warning) The only scribble on said page was a stiltwalker in drag wearing a slinky Chinese dress. Think “Al” from ToolTime (the flannel-shirted, bearded one) wearing a dress from The World of Suzie Wong, only imagine him 10 feet tall. Got the picture? There simply wasn’t time to capture him/her in all his/her glory, so I gave up somewhere between the mandarin collar and the flash of beefy thigh. However, being of a frugal nature, I painted over the page with a few coats of Liquitex acryllic gesso (white) figuring I’d do something else in that space.

The else moment arrived on Saturday. I painted these using my portable w/c palette (which I have since misplaced, unfortunately.) The first challenge was trying to figure out the values of the colors when the light conditions went from full sun to dark stormy clouds, minute by minute. The next challenge was painting directly without doing any drawing or sketching underneath. Usually shadows provide positive and negative spaces to get ones bearings with. But everytime the sun went away the image “flattened out” and the shadows disappeared.

The final challenge involved the medium itself. The watercolor flowed smoothly over the gessoed surface and was surprisingly malleable until it dried. I’m guessing that the gesso prevented it from sinking into the paper, so the pigment was simply a dry layer on the surface. When raindrops started falling, it created dissolved water drop marks. Before I panicked, I realized that it looked somewhat like raindrops clinging to the petals. Hmmm. An accident becomes a technique. “Why yes, um, er, I did plan it exactly that way, timing my painting so the waterdrops would fall just so at the appropriate moment.” Sorry, Karen, not very convincing. At any rate, I stopped painting before the droplets turned the whole thing into a runny splotchy mess.

I had a nice moment when some camellia watchers came by and asked if they could see what I was doing, which I happily shared with them.

So that’s my sketchcrawl story. I am now in pursuit of the missing palette which I surmise may be proof positive of poltergeist activity in my house. When I find it, I suspect a lost shaker of salt will be nearby. Wasted away again in Watercolorville.

My artworkbooks

As you can see, I use my journals for a lot of different purposes, not only for sketching pleasure. As I’ve committed myself to doing more painting this year, I find that I’m reaching for it more and more as a practical workbook, not a chronological diary of my days. In fact, I have numerous workbooks with different paper in different sizes. I keep notes of ideas for paintings, I try out color mixtures. I paste in swatches of different kinds of paper and practice different drawing techniques. I work out designs for soft block carving. I carry it with me to museums and make notes about the artists. I even print out and paste in my sketches and paintings done in Photoshop or Painter.

This is my portable personal encyclopedia free of rules and concern about outcomes. The disastrous pages are as valuable as the “good” ones but none of them gets torn out and thrown away. It’s not an artists book destined to look pretty on its own. It’s a workbook – raw, spontaneous and full of scribbles and wrong turns. It’s where I map my “Creative Journey.”

Do you keep an art workbook for experiments and testing paint and such? Write and tell me about it.

More sketchcrawling

Saturday night, after an afternoon at Descanso Gardens we had a quick sushi stop (yesterday’s scan), had a latte at Starbucks and went to see Memoirs of a Geisha. These are some of the people I saw along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, by the way. I had read the book earlier this year and although much detail had to be left out, it was essentially the way I visualized it. In fact, the author was so descriptive in his prose, and the director so faithful to the book that the scenes were exactly as I had “seen” them when I was reading.

Next to last stop of the Saturday sketchcrawl

Here’s one of my late in the day drawings from my Saturday sketchcrawl. I’ll be posting the other ones later but I have been tussling with ImageReady CS to learn how to do a rollover and then how to embed it in a blog post. So I think I’ve got it working now.
I’m not going to take the time to do this with all of the sketches … it’s too much extra effort. But the figuring out part was fun.
What can I say … I’m a born geekette. Wait, make that a born sushi-loving geekette. By the way, I did not eat any octopus tentacles that evening. I had California roll, spicy tuna handroll and a specialty of the house roll whose name I can’t recall.
The tentacle was just casually lying in the refrigerator case and was the closest thing to draw. Ditto the slab of tuna. Want to see me purr? Show me some hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi. Mmmmmm.

Now I’ll see about getting some of the other sketchcrawl pictures up.

Here’s one page: More sketchcrawling
And another: Sketchcrawling cont.