Winter Wildcat Canyon Walk Remains

Wildcat Canyon Walk Remains, ink and watercolor sketch, 7.5 x 11 in

Wildcat Canyon Walk Remains, ink and watercolor sketch, 7.5 x 11 in

I’ve started collecting items on my daily hikes with my pup to sketch in the studio since I haven’t quite worked out sketching while dog walking yet. Sometimes Millie helps me by carrying the items for me. Once they’re sketched she’s quite happy to shred them into compost for me.

I continue to enjoy spending a lot more time outdoors walking than indoors sitting in front of the computer (hence the gaps between posts!). It’s finally started raining in the SF Bay Area but I got some good rain gear so I can even walk in the rain.

One of our favorite spots to hike starts at the Alvarado staging area of the Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. It’s so beautiful and quiet up there in the Richmond hills and there are many friendly people and dogs out walking off leash.

Urban Avians and the Highway

Birdwatching at Albany Bulb 1, ink and watercolor, 5x7 in

Birdwatching at Albany Bulb 1, ink and watercolor, 5×7 in

While I was having my car’s oil changed at Toyota Albany I took a hike down to the SF Bay Trail to sketch. I followed a confusing bike and walking path that goes up onto an overpass and then down under the freeway. It leads to the marsh on the way out to Albany Bulb, a spit of land homesteaded by the homeless that the city is constantly trying to reclaim. There were birds everywhere, including the beautiful, delicate white Snowy Egrets that always delight me (above).

Pigeons on the Freeway, ink and watercolor, 5x7 in

Pigeons on the Freeway, ink and watercolor, 5×7 in

I even spotted birds living right on the freeway walls; the family of pigeons above didn’t seem disturbed by the constant roar of cars. The hike was a bit isolated, and it felt spooky walking under the freeways, even on a sunny weekday morning. Fortunately the few people I saw along the way were polite bicyclists. No trolls living under these bridges like the Brothers Grimm fairytale I remember with horror from my childhood.

Birdwatching at Albany Bulb, ink, 5x7 in

Birdwatching at Albany Bulb, ink, 5×7 in

While I was sketching, a man was photographing birds nearby and he told me the names of the birds we were seeing, and how to differentiate them. I made notes on my sketch as I tried to figure out the basic shape of the birds.

Seeing Is Believing or Drawing Is Seeing? Zach’s Snacks on Berkeley’s North Side

Zach's Snacks on Berkeley's Northside, ink & watercolor sketch, 5x7"

Zach’s Snacks on Berkeley’s North Side, ink & watercolor, 5×7″

They say, “Seeing is believing.” I say, “Going through life without drawing is like being nearly blind. Only when I stop to look in order to draw, do I really see!”

Berkeley’s Euclid Avenue ends at the north side of University of California’s Berkeley campus (the greenery on the right, above). This block has everything you’d expect for a street abutting a college: shops with pizza, beer, coffee, burgers, snacks, and oh yeah, books.

There is some great architecture in this neighborhood too, including this apartment building with a snack shop tucked away in a little basement room. I’ve probably walked past here a hundred times and never noticed the interesting features of this building, with porches, pillars, carved wood decorations, fancy brickwork, and cool old lanterns.

Only when I stopped to draw and started really looking did I see what was there all along.

Loads ‘o Lillies and Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor review

"Lily White on White," oil on Gessobord panel, 8x8"

“Lily White on White,” oil on Gessobord panel, 8×8″
(AVAILABLE on DailyPaintworks Auction: CLICK IMAGE to visit auction)

I spent some time sketching and painting a calla lily that sprouted in my garden and while I was at it, tested a palette of Winsor Newton Cotman paints. Several of my friends have this clever, inexpensive Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Palette and I thought it was worth a try so I ordered one.

I started by testing the colors, listing the pigments to match them to artists’ quality pigments I normally use (click to see larger with pigment numbers) and making notes about which ones to swap out (at that point assuming I’d continue using the others).

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

I was very frustrated with the results I was getting when painting and in the end, took ALL the Cotman pans out of the palette and replaced them with pans filled with artist quality paints from tubes. I put the Cotman pans in a large jar of water to soak so that I could empty and reuse the empty pans. After dumping and refilling the jar many times I ended up with a jar of tinted water with a lot of white sandy junk at the bottom: the nasty fillers and binders added to the pigments to make it cheap.

I know that for the same $17 that this palette AND crappy paint costs, you can only buy one or two tubes of full strength, high quality paint. But I’d rather have only a few colors than use junk. Most of the following sketches lack vibrancy, richness in color, and paint application was difficult and unattractive. Here they are in reverse order of completion:

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the drawing above, but not the grayed colors.

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the shape of the leaf above.

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8x10"

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8×10″

I painted over an awful sketch with gouache (above), just loosely trying to get the shape of the flower.

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8×10″

Two previous attempts at the leaf, on 2 other kinds of paper I taped into the 8×10″ Moleskine.

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8×10″

The first sketch. I like the composition but the colors and application were yuck.

I’m still using the Cotman Palette. I think it’s a great for sketching because it’s light,  compact and holds enough colors (12). And at $17 I don’t mind the price, even after throwing away the colors it cane with. It’s handy to have the now-empty, extra half-pans which usually cost about 50 cents each. So really, I got the palette for $11, and 12 empty pans for $6. Not too bad.

Something That Scares Me (My Back) & First Aid Kit: Timely EDiM Topics

EDiM 16-17, Something that Scares You (Back Pain) and Something from First Aid Kit, ink & watercolor 8x10"

EDiM 16-17, Something that Scares You (Back Pain) and Something from First Aid Kit, ink & watercolor 8×10″

The Every Day in May cue #16 was “Draw something that scares you.” And I was mighty scared when I drew this because my back was in terrible pain. A couple times a year an old back injury flares up and I get really scared the pain will never go away. Fortunately it does, with good care and treatment. The funny crosses on my back above are special tape that my physical therapist put on my back to keep me from moving in directions that would make the pain worse. It really helped.

After a week of using the items in the drawing, “Something from the first aid kit” (pain relievers, ice packs including good old frozen peas) plus two appointments with my brilliant physical therapist Christine at Physical Therapy Innovations, my back was nearly back to normal.  I was able to go to my holiday weekend getaway in Santa Cruz and return home in good shape, even with two 2-hour drives.

Yay! Life is good again and now I can get caught up on the Every Day in May project and back to painting in the studio and plein air.

Something(s) For Free and a Coffee Pot: Every Day in May 7-8

EDiM 7-8: Something(s) You Got For Free and Draw a Coffee Pot, ink & watercolor, 8x11"

EDiM 7-8: Something(s) You Got For Free and Draw a Coffee Pot, ink & watercolor, 8×11″

“Draw Something You Got For Free” was May 7th’s cue and May 8 was “Draw A Coffee Pot.” Above is the black lacquer cabinet with carvings and gold decorations I found on the sidewalk in front of a brightly painted house in my neighborhood with a “Free” sign on it. On top of the cabinet is a microwave I got for free (my son left it behind along with the car parts featured here when I took back my garage to convert it to my studio.

And on top of the microwave are more freebies: a set of Russian stacking dolls a friend brought back from Sitka, a tiny bowl a friend made and inside the bowl is some lip balm from my dentist (he applies it before working in your mouth then hands it to you) and a packet of cut flower preservative free from Trader Joe’s floral department.

On the right above is the way I make my coffee, with a ceramic filter holder from Peet’s Coffee that drips the coffee directly into my cup.

End of Journal Self-Portraits

End of Journal Self-Portrait, ink & watercolor

End of Journal Self-Portrait in Stillman & Birn journal, ink & watercolor

OK, let’s just get this over with. At the end of each journal I sketch a self-portrait. In the one above from the end of 2012, I had new glasses but was in need of a haircut.  I put on some lipstick and mascara to get in the spirit. Even though it’s not very complimentary (or maybe it is? Yikes) I think it looks like me.

End of Journal Self-Portrait, February 2013, Pitt brown Brush Pen and watercolor, 8x5"

End of Journal Self-Portrait, February 2013, Pitt brown Brush Pen and watercolor, 8×5″

This one was done quickly last month in a Moleskine watercolor notebook with a brown brush pen (still wearing the same old grey hoodie plus a down vest to stay warm). My hair and clothes look right but NOT my face. Oh well.

I’m now using a giant Moleskine watercolor notebook, A4 size I think. and I’m really loving it. I have a whole bunch more sketches and some oil paintings to post…. but since I feel the need to go somewhat in order I had to get these posted first. Done. Moving on.

Tickle Your Tastebuds: Gaumenkitzel

Sketching German Cookies, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Sketching German Cookies, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

When we visited Berkeley’s very colorful Gaumenkitzel Restaurant, they offered us a large “community” table where we could sketch and snack all evening. After most of the other customers had left, one sketcher pulled her chair right up to the pastry case to get a better look. Gaumenkitzel means “Tickle Your Taste Buds.” Just saying the name feels tickly on the tongue.


I sketched the back of Susan’s beer while she drew the more decorative front. Click their names to see more sketches from the evening by Ceiny and Cathy.

My January and February have been swallowed up by a ton of organizing and business chores which I’m hoping to declare completed tomorrow (YAY!). Then I can finally get back to a life centered around art instead of on spreadsheets, file folders, computers, and tax forms.

Waiting and Watching (and Sketching)

Waiting and Watching at Peets, ink, 5x8"

Waiting and Watching at Peets, ink, 5×8″

I love the way the big guy seems to be looking at the pretty girl’s butt in her shiny black tights. In reality they got in line at different times, but my drawing took on a life of its own.

One of the things I love about living in the Bay area is the wide variety of people you see, dressed however they please, with either no concern about fashion or a style all their own. I fit right in!

Shadelands Ranch Museum Sketches

Shadelands Ranch Museum, Penniman House, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Shadelands Ranch Museum, Penniman House, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

While I was in Walnut Creek to take photos of an industrial park for a painting commission I stopped at the Shadelands Ranch Museum to sketch. They were hosting a ladies’ tea that afternoon in the downstairs drawing rooms that looked quite charming. I explored the rest of the house but sadly they told me I couldn’t sketch inside.

I would have loved to draw the Walnut Creek Historical Society volunteers serving in white aprons, the fancy table settings, and most especially the gang of Red Hat Society ladies seated in one of the rooms. I waited outside and sketched the building, hoping to capture them coming out after the tea but they dawdled so long I had to leave or get stuck in rush hour traffic.

Shadelands Ranch water fountain, ink & watercolor 8×5″

I drew this water fountain on the property to warm up before tackling the massive Penniman home. Then I did the three sideways thumbnails on the left to try to figure out how much of the house I wanted to draw and how I’d fit it in on the paper.

Sketchcrawl 38 and Urban Sketchers Show

Masonic & Solano, Albany, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Masonic & Solano, Albany, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

We had a fantastic time hosting sketchers from around the Bay Area at our sketching event last Saturday. There were at least 30 sketchers and a total of around 100 people who joined us at the reception for the show afterwards. It was great seeing so many local scenes captured in many different styles. You can see photos of the exhibit, the reception and tables of sketchbooks on the library’s blog here.

In the sketch above I enjoyed seeing and drawing all the details that normally go unnoticed. Then I  disregarded my plan to put the paint down and leave it alone. Instead I repainted the right side of the building several times and even removed the paint with a wet paper towel (in the restroom of the Sophia Cafe above, left) and then painted it again, finally getting the “right” color but ultimately ruining the paper surface.

Bart Tracks on Masonic, ink, 5x8"

Bart Tracks on Masonic, ink, 5×8″

I got in one last quick sketch of Masonic Ave. with the BART tracks and train before I had to zip down to the Albany library/community center at the end of the block for the reception. We made lots of new sketching friends and some will be joining us for our Tuesday night sketch outings we will be hosting the first Tuesday evening of each month.

If you’re interested in sketching with us, please visit our Urban Sketchers blog’s Event page or join our Urban Sketcher’s Facebook Events page.

Sketchcrawl 38: Sketch With Us or See Our Show

Toilet seat display, ink & watercolor

Toilet seat display, ink & watercolor

The East Bay Express published a fun article about my Urban Sketchers group and the sketch event and show/reception we’re hosting today. In the article they mentioned my sketching toilet seats in the hardware store so I thought I’d bring that sketch back from the past.

Here’s a link to the newspaper article: “Sketching the Extra-Ordinary” (PDF).

And here’s a link to the Events Page on our Urban Sketchers blog with information about the show and sketching event. We’re sketching from 12-3 on Solano Avenue in Berkeley/Albany starting at the corner of Masonic. The reception is at the Albany Library on Marin from 3-4. The exhibit of our sketches and sketching gear and journals is up all month at the library.

We just sketched at the hardware store again this week but I haven’t had a chance to prepare that sketch for posting yet. Coming soon. Meanwhile gotta get ready to go. I’m so glad the weather warmed up a bit!

Jingle Bells and Other Good Tidings

Jingle Bells, digital sketch done on iPad in ArtStudio app

Jingle Bells, digital sketch done on iPad in ArtStudio app

Happy Holidays to everyone! I made the digital sketch above in a new-to-me iPad app called ArtStudio. I’ve tried all the others and like this one the best. It has all the features of the other programs and more but just works more intuitively for me.

I did the nighttime digital sketch below in SketchbookPro, my previous favorite program. Several of us tried sketching in the dark on iPads on this sketch outing since it lights from within so you can see what you’re drawing.

Tilden Carousel and Christmas Lights, sketched on iPad in Sketchbook Pro

Tilden Carousel and Christmas Lights, sketched on iPad in Sketchbook Pro

The carousel in Tilden Park is beautiful and they have a special Tilden Christmas Fantasy holiday lights and decorations event every year. But every time I try to sketch there I get overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds and have trouble sketching anything I like. My sketch buddies posted some great results: Cathy’s colorful merry-go-round here, Ceiny’s coverage of it all here, Cristina’s bold drawings here, and Micaela’s lifelike digital sketches here.

Photo of Tilden Christmas Fantasy

My photo of Tilden Christmas Fantasy

Not only is the giant tree and field in front of the carousel covered in lights and decorations, but the interior is filled with a hundred or so trees, animals and other items, all decorated with different themes (e.g. there was a Hello Kitty tree and a 49′ers  tree). Plus all the historic carved animals on the Merry-go-Round and the kids riding them whirling around. And Santa and the Elves taking wishes. Plus the merry-go-round music and Christmas soundtrack music being played over loudspeakers, and the smell of popcorn and cocoa from the refreshment stand.

It’s no wonder I get overwhelmed and have trouble settling down when I draw in there! Outdoors I sat on my stool by the restrooms way across the parking lot. It was quiet there.

Best wishes for love, joy and peace (and hopefully a little art)!

Oakland Chinatown Sketch and Group Photo (Plus One)

Oakland Chinatown, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Oakland Chinatown, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

Early on the morning after Thanksgiving our Urban Sketchers group went to Oakland’s Chinatown for some sketching. It was business as usual in the busy produce markets, herb shops, meat and seafood stalls, and Chinese restaurants, with no sign of Black Friday.

I found a spot to sit in front of a bank and had fun drawing all the details in the architecture. I started in pencil because the scene seemed so complicated. It’s easier to get it “right” with an eraser but it takes so much longer to draw it twice, in pencil and then in ink. I had to add the watercolor at home from a photo because by the time I chose my spot and did the drawing, it was time to meetup with the group.

While I drew, local people stopped to watch and give me encouragement, whether in excellent or broken English. My favorite was the plump, elderly lady who said something in Chinese, grinned, and gave me a big thumbs up. The amazing thing about sketching in public is that no matter how good or bad you’re doing, people always say nice, encouraging things.


Chinatown-some of the Urban Sketchers plus-1 (that’s me, second to right)

Since many of us were there, we took photos for our group blog. I used the timer on my camera, setting it on the edge of a defunct fountain in the center of this plaza. I didn’t realize I was including the lady on the end. She must have been really tired as she nodded off and slept through our photo session. The photo we ultimately used on the USK blog masthead here was kindly taken by a guy who watched me repeatedly duck under the yellow warning tape around the fountain, set up the camera, and dash back to sit with my friends.


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