The Pub on Solano: A Cozy Spot to Sketch

Cozy Evening at The Pub, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Cozy Evening at The Pub, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

The Pub on Solano near the border of Albany and Berkeley is a hidden-away, cozy place to sketch, play chess, or chat with friends or friendly strangers while sipping espresso, beer or wine and hang out as long as you want.

The Pub’s clientele tend to be colorful people who are interesting to eavesdrop on while sketching. The old guys I sketched above weren’t exactly firecrackers but the 40-something, rough-hewn guy in rainbow tie-dye and long blond hair sitting behind me kept me entertained with daring travel adventure stories of remote and distant lands told to his friend who was soon departing.

A bit of an anachronism, The Pub also sells tobacco and cigarettes from around the world and has an interesting display of old pipes. The indoor areas are smoke-free but they offer a front and back outdoor patio where smokers can enjoy their vice(s).

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.

Airstream Trailer Coffee Kiosk at Flowerland Nursery

Flowerland Cafe, ink & watercolor, 6x8

Flowerland Cafe, ink & watercolor, 6×8

Lately food trucks pop up all over the Bay Area; former roach coaches are the new gourmet dining spots. But this is the first vintage Airstream trailer food truck I’ve seen and it doesn’t travel. It’s set up on blocks inside Flowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany (California–next door to Berkeley) and run by Local 123 Cafe.

I can’t think of a better place to enjoy a good cup of coffee than in a lovely garden. The lovely folks at Flowerland Nursery put interesting chairs and tables throughout the nursery, turning the whole place into a sort of garden café. You can get your coffee and then sit among the palms, the native plants, fruit trees or climbing vines to enjoy it.

And when you finish your coffee, you can take home the chair you sat on or the plant you sat beside (for a price of course).

Sketch Rendezvous at the Rendez-Vous Cafe

Someone else feeling like me, ink & watercolor

Someone else feeling like me, ink & watercolor

I wasn’t feeling well the night we sketched at the newish Rendez-Vous Cafe-Bistro and it looks like I sketched my feelings onto my friend’s face. She was cheery and having fun but my pen gave her an expression reflecting how I felt instead.

Kid's Menu Spaghetti & Meatballs with my legs under table, ink & watercolor

Kid’s Menu Spaghetti & Meatballs with my legs under table, ink & watercolor

There was a guitar jazz duo playing lovely music and the waiter kindly let me order  spaghetti and meatballs from the kids’ menu since I just wanted a small portion. As you can see in the sketch above, after I sketched my food on the table I continued down the page, over the binding, and sketched my legs and feet under the table.

By the end of the evening I was feeling much better, as almost always happens when  I sketch, especially with such good friends.

Hotsy Totsy Club at Sunset, ink & watercolor 5x8"

Hotsy Totsy Club’s Hot Stewsdays

Hotsy Totsy Club at Sunset, ink & watercolor 5x8"

Hotsy Totsy Club at Sunset, ink & watercolor 5×8″

We started our Tuesday evening sketching outside the Hotsy Totsy Club in Albany. I had trouble with my watercolor Moleskine paper kind of pilling up when I tried to put another layer of paint on the shadow side of the funky building. Not sure why but that has happened to several pages so I’m glad to be finishing up the Moleskine and going back to binding my own sketchbooks.

Around sunset it got cold  so we moved inside.

Hotsy Totsy interior, ink & watercolor, 5x5"

Hotsy Totsy interior, ink & watercolor, 5×5″

We heard they had free hot stew on Tuesday nights (S’tewsday) and thought that would be a good way to warm up. It turned out they don’t serve it until 9:00 so Judith and I shared a hot toddy (as opposed to a Hot Totsy which the bartender explained was served on fire). It was pretty dark inside and hard to judge the colors we were painting.

I previously posted some snide comments about the Hotsy Totsy Club here, but it got new owners around that time who transformed it from a 72-year-old sleazy joint mostly populated by old drunks to a fun neighborhood retro saloon. Here’s an article about the club’s transformation.

We hung out and sketched until 9:00 when we were rewarded with the most delicious gumbo ever! Full of fat shrimp and all the other spicy goodness that is gumbo. Yum!

Burger Depot, Ink & watercolor, 5x7"

Evening Outside the Burger Depot

Burger Depot, Ink & watercolor, 5x7"

Burger Depot, Ink & watercolor, 5x7"

Trying to get in one last outdoor evening sketch session of the season, we sketched at the bottom of Solano Avenue in Albany. I stood under a street lamp and by the time I finished drawing it was dark out.

The proprietor of the Burger Depot who has owned the shop for over 30 years saw me trying to paint standing, with my palette and water on the ground, and brought over a plastic chair and a little table for me. The street light and light from inside the shop gave me just enough light to see what I was doing.

I was initially drawn to the scene by two seedy looking guys sitting in a window seat but they left before I could draw them. Fortunately the other two guys eating there were wonderful models who kept returning to the same positions, making it easy-ish to draw them.

The Pub/Sketchcrawl Continues: The Pub, Albany

On Pub Time, ink & watercolor

On Pub Time, ink & watercolor

The Pub in Albany was originally an old house and though long ago it was (minimally) converted to a pub, it is as comfy as hanging out in my living room (except a lot more interesting). People come to drink beer or espresso, play card or board games and sit around in big overstuffed chairs to chat. There are interesting collections of objects in every room.

The Pub: Like a Living Room, ink & watercolor

The Pub: Like a Living Room, ink & watercolor

Until we started sketching in pubs I had no idea that there was so much game playing going on. Beer drinking aside, it just seems so wholesome the way groups of friends meet in person to play games instead of playing digital games alone or with virtual friends online.

A note about the picture above–the white shape above the bottom right chair is the head of the bald guy who was sitting there. I liked how it looked even though you can’t tell what it is.

Sketching at Target (?!)

Ladies Shoes, Target, Ink & watercolor

Ladies Shoes, Target, Ink & watercolor

Yes Target! Although we’ll be so happy when we can go outside for our Tuesday evening Urban sketching again, sketching at Target was a lot more fun than you might think. I had fun sketching the silly high heels and flip-flops on the wall behind them. Nobody seemed to notice or question why I was painting in the shoe department.

Left over Valentine Flowers, ink & watercolor

Left over Valentine Flowers, ink & watercolor

It was the night after Valentine’s day and there was the display of sad, wilting Valentines roses, on clearance, half off.

Remote Controlled Baby Swing, ink & watercolor

Remote Controlled Baby Swing, ink & watercolor

Whatever happened to sitting in a rocking chair holding the baby in your arms? This contraption had a touch pad remote control with 6 speeds and more. Someone told me he bought one of these only to discover it came in a million parts that was a nightmare to assemble.


Santa and Christmas Sleeping Rough in the Park

Santa version 6, oil on panel, 8x6

Merry Christmas Santa (version 6), oil on panel, 8x6

People are living in the park known as the Albany Bulb again. On a walk we saw more than a dozen homemade shelters, tree houses and tents hidden away in the brush, this one (below) complete with Christmas tree.

Christmas at the Bulb

Christmas at the Albany Bulb

Although I no longer celebrate Christmas with trees and gifts myself, I always like to get out my Santa (at top of post) that was given to me by a wonderful former student who died not long after in a motorcycle crash. The funny, cheery Santa always reminds me of the value of generosity and the transitory nature of life.

I hope Santa finds the homeless families living in the park and makes their Christmas bright. It can’t be much fun camping out in the mud, pouring rain and wind we’ve been having.

And I hope all of you are having a wonderful winter holiday too!

Urban Nature: Swimming Rats, Smiling Cats


Sunday Morning Nature Sketch, ink & watercolor

Sunday Morning Nature Sketch, ink & watercolor


It was a rainy Sunday morning and at first glance out my window the world looked gray and bleak. Then a flock of seagulls swirled by in the clouds and I looked a little closer. A dove sat nestled on a wire, a few ants straggled along my windowsill, a bee sniffed around a flower–a rose–beautifully blooming in November! The more I looked the more I saw and sketched. My cat Fiona joined me in looking out the window so I sketched her too.


Swimming Rats and Ducks, Pitt Brush Pens

Swimming Rats and Ducks, Pitt Brush Pens


A couple of days later I drove my car to the Toyota dealer in Albany for an oil change (and free car wash). They offered a ride home but though chilly, it wasn’t raining, so I decided to walk the 3 miles instead. I stopped along the way to watch the egrets and ducks in the creek next door to the Pacific East Mall.

I was stunned to see a big rat swimming across the creek. Then another rat swam by and disappeared under the concrete bridge. I sketched (above) while I waited for another rat sighting to take a photo. And then…

SCREEEEEECH…. KABOOM! I heard tires screeching and looked up as a driver on Pierce Street tried mightily (but unsuccessfully) to swerve and avoid crashing into the car of an old Chinese man who had suddenly turned left in front of him to enter the Asian mall parking lot.


Swimming Rat and Duck, photo

Swimming Rat and Duck, annotated photo

Then an old Chinese woman stopped to talk to the ducks. She told me that she brings them bread every morning. I asked her about the rats and she said, “Oh yes, they live under the bridge” we were standing on; she didn’t mind them eating her bread too.


Cool News (Urban Sketchers) and Albany Hill Sketch

Peet's Coffee El Cerrito and Albany Hill, ink & watercolor

Peet's Coffee El Cerrito and Albany Hill, ink & watercolor

Our Tuesday night sketch group is now an official Urban Sketchers group, known as Urban Sketchers SF Bay Area. If you’d like to visit our Urban Sketchers blog, you’ll get to  meet my fellow Bay Area sketchers and see the different ways we interpret scenes in our sketchbooks, often from the same viewpoint.

The sketch above was done while sitting on the steps of the Pier One across from Peet’s in El Cerrito. It was the first sunny day in ages and it felt so good to enjoy a latte and some sketching in the sun. Albany Hill sticks up right behind Peet’s. It’s an odd bit of geography that resembles a very tall cupcake (sprinkled with trees instead of jimmies) in an otherwise flat landscape.

Albany Hill’s “Dynamite” History

In the late 19th century, the Judson Powder Works used the hill for the manufacture of dynamite. The company was forced to move from San Francisco and then Berkeley because of continuing accidental explosions. They planted the eucalyptus trees on the hill to catch debris and muffle the sound of their explosions. The stop on the transcontinental railroad tracks just to the west was called Nobel Station, after the inventor of dynamite. Read More

Church on the Corner

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

On Solano Avenue in Albany to do an errand I looked up and saw the bell tower of this church against the very blue sky and was sorry I’d accidentally left my sketchbook and paints at home. Fortunately I did have my little camera and took a few photos I could paint from.

The title of the painting is actually the name of the church. According to their website this 100-year old church community changed their name from “First Baptist Church of Albany” to “Church on the Corner” in 2005 because “many people in the community refer to it that way.”

I can’t stop pondering the implications of this: like what if other businesses started dropping their identities and brand names and Apple Computer became “Big Corporation in Cupertino” or Starbucks became “That Coffee Place on Every Corner.”

Golden Open Acrylics and Utrecht Masters Panels

This painting had been nearly finished when I tried glazing over the sky and it failed miserably, lifting off some of the previous layer. So I painted the sky again. Not sure if it was something I did wrong or that the Open Acrylic Gloss Medium doesn’t work well for glazing over layers.

For this painting I used an archival-quality Utrecht Masters panel which is medium-textured canvas on MDF (medium density fiberboard). The surface seemed too absorbent and coarse for the soft Golden Open Acrylics so I applied a first layer of regular acrylic.

That solved the absorbency problem but the texture is still a little too rough for the way I like to paint in thin layers. I have several more of these panels so will continue to experiment with them, using paint more abundantly so the texture isn’t as problematic.

Sketching Dinner at Zaki’s Kabob House

Jerusalem Lemonade and Lentil Soup, ink & watercolor

Jerusalem Lemonade and Lentil Soup, ink & watercolor

Last Tuesday night we met at Zaki’s Kabob House in Albany for some delicious Mediterranean food and sketching. It was a cold rainy night but the restaurant was busy. Sonia had called ahead to confirm it would be OK for us to spend the evening there sketching. We were further encouraged by the bumper sticker on the door that said “Make Art Not War.”

Condiments & Empty Bread Basket

Condiments & Empty Bread Basket

If you wonder why this sketch has a note saying “Paste Menu Here,” it’s because when I said I’d ruined the composition (pre-watercolor) by adding that glass on the right, Cathy said, “Just paste a piece of the menu over that spot.” I solved the problem by just not painting the glass and leaving the note instead.

Sonia and I painted at the table but Cathy didn’t like the dim restaurant lighting for painting so made many more sketches instead. I was happy that my colors turned out well despite not quite being able to see them while  working.

Diners at Zakis

Diners at Zakis

Usually when we’re sketching in cafes we are unable to avoid eavesdropping on nearby conversations, always a source of amusement or amazement at what people say in public. But shortly after we sat down, Ellen, a member of our plein air painting group, arrived to join her realtor for dinner at the next table. After some introductions, and passing around of sketchbooks (including an invitation by the realtor to show them in their office “gallery” which we declined), we returned to sketching while they dined and chatted.

It was odd eavesdropping on someone we knew. Cathy appreciated it though, since they were talking about sofabed shopping, and Cathy is in the market for one too.

Sketching at Albany Bowling Alley, Bar and Cafe

The Bar at Albany Bowl, ink and watercolor

The Bar at Albany Bowl, ink and watercolor

Now that it’s getting dark right after work, we’re having to find indoor spots to sketch and this week we visited another planet known as the Albany Bowl. Since it was early evening on a Tuesday night, the customers were mostly people who like to bowl while drinking pitchers of beer and eating vast quantities of fried food, rather than the gang-types known to hang out there during the later hours.

Their bar, pictured above is the cleanest smelling bar I’ve ever been in. There wasn’t the slightest scent of beer or cigarettes, just fresh air and a whiff of chlorine bleach, oddly enough. It was also nearly empty since most people were doing their drinking while they bowled. Semi-hidden in the sketch above is the bartender who I “erased” with scribbles and paint after I goofed up his nose.

Cathy and I sat in tall comfy barstools along the back wall and sketched, creating a great deal of confusion for the bartender who couldn’t figure us out, though he didn’t seem to mind when we politely said, “No thanks” when he came over to take our orders. We just kept on sketching.

Albany Bowling Alley Cafe, ink & watercolor

Albany Bowling Alley Cafe, ink & watercolor

We had a similar experience in their little cafe, which from the outside appeared to offer retro-diner sketching opportunities, but in fact, had very little going for it besides the stools and miles of formica. When I said we didn’t want food, just wanted to sit and draw pictures, the young waiter didn’t get it until I showed him my sketchbook. Then he said OK and left us alone. The waitress asked to see what we’d done when we were leaving, and she squealed and laughed when we showed her. I pointed out the waiter’s little beard in my sketch and he smiled.

We tried drawing the bowlers in action; I did a page of gesture sketches and then we decided we’d had enough of the noise on this planet (constant music, announcements, bleeps and bloops from video machines, people yelling) and decided it was time to go home.

Condiments at Albany Bowl Cafe, ink & watercolor

Condiments at Albany Bowl Cafe, ink & watercolor

I really miss being able to go outdoors for our Tuesday night sketching. While urban interiors are interesting, and drawing anywhere is fun, I miss gardens and birdsong which I much prefer to neon lights and the annoying sounds of video games.


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