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.

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