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.

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!

LuluLemon, Corner of Ashby & College, Berkeley, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Turning Corners, Looking Back (plus Lightroom, LuluLemon and Dynamite)

LuluLemon, Corner of Ashby & College, Berkeley, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

LuluLemon, Corner of Ashby & College, Berkeley, ink & watercolor, 5×8″ (I don’t know what that huge loudspeaker thing is on the roof–maybe for the neighborhood’s emergency alert warning signal? There’s one in my neighborhood that runs a test every Wednesday at noon)

I’ve spent the past couple of days looking back over my artwork from the past decade while sorting and labeling it in the process of learning to use Lightroom* for managing my digital files. It’s been interesting to see what has changed (mostly for the better), and what has stayed consistent.

Along with turning a major corner in my life (more about that next week), I’ve also been looking back (and forth) through my current journal to find the pages I haven’t posted yet.  So I thought it would be appropriate to post sketches of two corners I pass often. The sketch above shows LuluLemon where I bought my periwinkle runner’s hat (photo, sketch) that I wear whenever I go out sketch or walking.

Peet's Coffee and Albany Hill, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Peet’s Coffee and Albany Hill, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5×8″ (shape on right near bottom is the roof of the Old West Gunroom)

Peet’s Coffee in El Cerrito is a one mile walk from my house, a pilgrimage that I make often. Albany Hill is immediately behind it: an odd uprising in an otherwise flat area. The hill is forested with eucalyptus trees.

In the late 19th century Judson Powder Works manufactured dynamite at the foot of the hill and planted the trees to catch debris and muffle the sound of their many accidental explosions. The stop on the transcontinental railroad tracks just to the west was called Nobel Station, after the inventor of dynamite.

*If you’d like more information about Adobe Lightroom, leave a comment and I’ll either write about it here or send you the information directly. I discovered some great free resources for learning why and how to use it and set up a solid workflow for editing and managing digital image files.

4th Street Berkeley Sketches during New Apple Store Grand Opening

This Old Band on 4th Street, 7x5", ink & watercolor

This Old Band performing on 4th Street, 7x5", ink & watercolor

Waiting in Line at Apple, Waiting to Play in Front of Peets, 2 page spread

Waiting in Line at Apple, Waiting to Play in Front of Peet's, 2 page spread

When the new Apple Store opened in Berkeley, I played hooky from my plein air group’s scheduled paint out and went down to 4th Street in pursuit of sketching opportunities and one of the free t-shirts Apple was giving out to the first 1,000 customers.

When I arrived an hour after the grand opening, the line was barely one block long and moving quickly. By the time I sketched a few people and balloons (above) I was in the store. I got my shirt, bought a gizmo for my gadget and went across the street to Peet’s Coffee.

This Old Band

This Old Band playing on 4th Street

I enjoyed an iced coffee at a sunny table on their front patio as “This Old Band” set up to play. The music was wonderful, with a sweet, sensitive, gentle feel to it including some Otis Redding, The Drifters and other great oldies played by talented musicians.

There were some interesting (?) conversations going on around me.

Peet's Patio People, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

Peet's Patio People, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

This guy was actually sitting at a table with another woman beside him on his right blabbing away, but he seemed more interested in this one.

A chubby, balding, dorky-looking, baby-boomer guy sitting behind me pompously talked non-stop about his life as a rock star and the book he was writing about it. His wife never said a word, and the guy he was talking to was obviously someone he was paying to help him with the book, though he barely got a word in either.

After dropping dozens of famous stars’ names who he supposedly shared a life with, he admitted it was “Better to be a Has Been than a Never Been.”

Boring? Not!

Peet's Coffee Corner, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

View north from Peet's Coffee, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

At first glance, the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Carlson in El Cerrito is boring, boring, boring: a wide busy avenue with boxy buildings. But when viewed on a lovely summer day from a cafe table outside Peet’s Coffee with pen in hand, it transforms itself into a sketching delight full of fun details and color.

San Pablo Ave. Wells Fargo, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5x7"

View South down San Pablo Ave. Wells Fargo, El Cerrito, ink & watercolor, 5x7"

Looking the other way down San Pablo, the Wells Fargo Bank building holds little hope for drawing inspiration. But start sketching and it too transforms itself. There are trees of all kinds and colors. A cerulean sky with only a hint of clouds, a pink apartment building and a gold dentist office. Sun, shadows, banners.

Not boring! I don’t think I’ve ever felt bored when I was sketching. Years ago a friend told me that when I was sketching I looked like I was roller-skating. Whee! Let’s skate!

Boxed Coffee Scoop (A Silly Purchase)

Boxed Coffee Scoop and Cork, oil on panel, 5x7"

Scoop and Cork, oil on panel, 5x7"

Peet’s Coffee is selling coffee scoops in three sizes that measure exactly the right amount of coffee for their French press coffee makers. Although I was happy with my French press pot and coffee scoop, I couldn’t resist the promise of the perfect cup of coffee.

Haha. It holds exactly the same amount that I already use. And it’s too wide to dump the coffee into my little French press pot without some of it landing on the counter and the handle is too short to comfortably scoop out of the bag or canister. So, while useless in the kitchen it is earning its keep as a model in the studio.

Value study/under-painting for Scoop and Cork, oil, 5x7"

Value study/under-painting for Scoop and Cork, oil, 5x7"

This week’s Daily Paintworks challenge is to do a value study using only burnt umber, and to vary the amount of dark, medium and light so that there is a majority of one, some of the other, and a smidgen of the other. This is done by applying a thin layer of burnt umber, wiping it down for mid value, painting in the darks using only burnt umber, and wiping with paper towel or q-tips dipped in mineral spirits for the highlights.

I was going for a majority of dark, some middle, and smidgen of light. Not sure if I accomplished that. It seems like there’s almost as much middle as there is dark. I’ve done plenty of value studies and monochrome paintings, but I’d never done it this way before and enjoyed it. I like the way the finished study kind of glows but used it as a the under-painting for the painting at the top of this post.

When Being Behind Is a Good Thing

Slowing Down With a Latte and Mini-Scone at Peets

Slowing Down With a Latte and Mini-Scone at Peets

Falling behind and worrying about catching up can be stressful when it’s about work not accomplished, tasks not completed. But in the case of my blog, being behind on posting is a good thing. It just means I’ve been doing lots of painting and sketching with less time for the computer (a goal for this year).

I did the sketch above on the day I was preparing to leave for a weekend painting workshop. I reminded myself that I was officially on vacation, which allowed me to slow down enough to stop and sketch while out walking to do errands instead of rushing back home to get packed.

This sketch came in handy last week at work, when I wrote and illustrated a blog post for our literacy organization’s blog. My post’s subtitle was: “Two birds with one stone” (intentionally leaving off  “kill”). Our clever editor suggested changing it to “Feed two birds with one scone.”  So then I needed a sketch of a scone to accompany my two birds. Since I always have my sketchbook with me I was able to scan the scone sketch. You can see the result on our Reading Apprenticeship blog here.

And I will get that backlog of artwork posted soon!

Sketching People Close Up at Peet’s

Handsome Guy at Peets, Lamy Safari pen with Carbon Platinum Ink in Moleskine

Handsome Guy at Peet's; Lamy Safari pen, Carbon Platinum Ink in Med. Watercolor Moleskine

I could have reached out and touched his face. But he was so absorbed in his computer he didn’t notice me drawing him at the next table, our knees almost touching. The lady at the table on my other side was watching me and said I captured his likeness perfectly and should show him. I didn’t though, just in case he might not find it flattering. Our own ideas of our appearance often don’t match others’.

Older Guy at Peets, same tools as above

Older Guy at Peet's, same tools as above

This gentleman was sitting at the table after the guy above. I think he might have noticed me sketching but didn’t seem to mind. I think he needed the coffee as he dozed off reading his newspaper at one point. I missed on the shape of his head and just redrew it taller. And then in drawing his large ear lobes I’m afraid my shading there might have made it look like a big hole.

Some fashion victims actually do have big holes in their ear lobes that they intentionally create by inserting devices that gradually stretch them so they look like this. What a weird fad. There are many websites like this one that sell such devices. Why would anyone want to do that?

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

Where Did the Day Go?

Where did the day go? Ink & watercolor pencil

Where did the day go? Ink & watercolor pencil

Does this ever happen to you? You start off the morning feeling optimistic about everything you’ll get done today and then suddenly it’s evening and the To-Do list has only grown? Not only the day flew by, but given the date on this sketch, so has a week or two.

I sketched this sign while sipping an afternoon latte at Peet’s Coffee. Two women at the next table seemed so intrigued by my watercolor pencils and water brush that I said, “Here, try it!” and let them color and paint (on their napkins).

I’ve been so busy with working, teaching watercolor, and squeezing in a little time for painting and sketching that I’ve gotten behind on posting. But my number one priority today is finishing binding a new journal as I’m down to the last two pages in my current one and they’re reserved for my end-of-sketchbook self portraits.

Peet’s Coffee after Manet’s Bar at Folies Bergère

Peet's Coffee after Manet, Ink & watercolor

Peet's Coffee after Manet, Graphite, ink & watercolor

When I walked up to the woman at the counter at Peet’s to order my coffee I started babbling that she looked just like someone in an Impressionist painting. She humored me and asked for my order. I ordered my latte, went back to my table, and Googled  “Impressionist Bar Painting” on my iPhone. It didn’t take long before I found it.

Manet, Folies Bergere

Manet, Bar at Folies Bergère

I showed her the image on my phone and asked if she’d pose for me like the woman in the painting and she agreed. I don’t have permission to post her photo so all I can show you is my sketch, which is a study for a larger painting.

Needless to say, I left a good tip for my coffee (and modeling services). And fortunately there wasn’t a line of people waiting for their coffees.

I can see that I need to go back to Peet’s to sketch and take more photos so that I can replace the computer monitor on her left with something more beautiful. Or maybe it’s appropriate to be there? But it sure isn’t as pretty as Manet’s oranges and flowers in crystal.

Antidotes to Bad Moods and Rude Cell Phone Users

Bad Mood! Ink, watercolor, collage

Bad Mood! Ink, watercolor, marked up kitty handout from pastel demo

Sometimes I get grouchy. For no reason. Or for good reason. I don’t like to be grumpy so I try to do things to cheer up: take a walk, go dance it off at Jazzercize, write and sketch in my journal over a latte at Peet’s Coffee or all of the above. Today, after trying all, it was the surprise of seeing my sister walk into my neighborhood Peet’s (surprise because she lives 5 towns away) that did the trick.

Before she arrived, while I was sipping and sketching, I was horribly annoyed by the woman sitting beside me at her computer who made dozens of phone calls. She was trying to reach “important” people like “Mr. Spike Lee” about his New Orleans film because she had “ideas” he would be interested in. She left message after message for others about her trip to Ireland, various parties and meetings, and how she was working out in preparation for her trip to Ireland next week…”so call me…kiss, kiss…ciao.”

SHHH - cards to handout to rude cell phone users

SHHH - cards to handout to rude cell phone users

My sister told me about a funny little card she’d seen for handing to loud or rude cell phone users. I looked for one online and found that designers Aaron Draplin and Jim Coudal created the hilarious “Society for Handheld Hushing” page where you can download and print this 3-page pdf file containing a variety of cards and little handouts like the one above.

I’m not sure I’d have the nerve but perhaps if it could be done surreptitiously…

Pinole and Pen, Paper, Ink Tests

Pretty Pinole from Peets, Ink and Watercolor

Pretty Pinole from Peets, Ink and Watercolor

Warm sun, green hills, blossoming trees and a great Peet’s cappuccino to sip at an outdoor table while sketching was made even better by a pen that actually worked in my sketchbook. After struggling to find a pen that would not skip, scratch, smear, show through or bleed on the Arches 90 lb cold press paper I’d bound in my journal, I discovered that my Lamy Safari fountain pen was just right.


All of the pens I normally use were giving me problems. The Sakura Pigma Micron skipped, scratched over the textured paper when drawing, and was even worse for writing in the journal, whether I used my favorite .01 or a fatter-tipped .05.

Pitt Artist Pen and Sharpie tests

Pitt Artist Pen and Sharpie tests

I tried using an Ultra-Fine Point Sharpie since it would at least produce a strong line (above). But I found that the ink flowed too quickly, bleeding and spreading if held in one spot and worse, showed through to the other side.  I also tried the Pitt Artist Brush Pen on this page, which worked OK but was a thicker line than I like for general sketching. The black ink in the finer-point Pitts seemed paler than the Microns, but it might also be that they resist the sizing on the paper more.

Testing Prismacolor .05 Pen

Testing Prismacolor .05 Pen

Prismacolor Illustration pens are similar to the Sakura Pigma Micron and Pitt Artist Pens and are very nice and comfortable to hold. But they too performed poorly on the Arches CP. In the sketch above I was trying to do a contour drawing of what I saw on the BART train but my lines were barely visible until I redrew them with a Sharpie.

Testing Noodlers & Carbon Platinum Ink

Testing Noodlers & Carbon Platinum Ink

Then I tested my Lamy Safari F-point fountain pen and was delighted to see that it was a pleasure to write and draw with on the Arches CP paper.


I’d last filled the Safari with Noodlers Black Bulletproof ink, which is supposed to be waterproof but actually bleeds a fair amount when a wash is applied after it’s dry. I used a dip pen to test Platinum Carbon Ink and it held up better, barely bleeding at all.

So I squirted out the remaining Noodlers in my Lamy and refilled it with the Carbon Platinum ink. I’ve been a happy sketcher ever since. The ink is a rich black, doesn’t bleed, is great to write with on this bumpy paper, and is comfy to hold. Yay!


Now that I’m halfway through my journal it’s time to prepare for binding the next one. I’ve been testing papers and I think I’ve found the one. When I finish my tests I’ll post them. I have a feeling I might have found the perfect paper for ink and watercolor journaling.

Signs of Spring

Blossoms, blue ink & watercolor

Blossoms, blue ink & watercolor

Signs of spring were sprouting everywhere on my walk and I couldn’t resist stopping to sketch and paint. But I stopped so many times that before I’d gone half a mile I was so hungry I had to return home for lunch before heading out again.

The sketch above graces the first page of my new sketchbook, bound with Arches 90lb cold press watercolor paper. It’s quite different from the Fabriano Venezia sketchbooks I’ve been using the past year.

Princess flower bush blossoms, ink & watercolor

Princess flower bush blossoms, ink & watercolor

I’m really enjoying the way the book opens flat, it’s size (7.5″ tall x 5.5″ wide) and weight, how comfortable it is to hold and to hold open for working across the spread, the texture of the paper for painting and the way the pages don’t ripple, pill, or show through to the other side. The paper takes a lot of abuse and layering, which is both a good and a bad thing. Good because it holds up, but bad because it allows endless diddling around which isn’t really the point of sketching (but is a bad habit of mine).

Peets people, ink & watercolor

Peets people, ink & watercolor

And what’s a nice walk on a spring-like day without a stop at Peets for a Cappuccino at a sidewalk table and a bit of sketching/painting.  I’m still finding my way with this paper, trying to get a sense of how much paint to use, and which pens work best with it.

One thing I’ve determined for sure is that I prefer painting on site when I go out sketching, as I did with these, and not just drawing on site and adding paint later as I did last week with my sketching group. I just spent the evening painting the drawings from last week’s outing and it just didn’t have the zing that painting from life on site does.

You can make many more sketches and have more control of the paint when you save the painting for later, but then you either have to work from memory (of which I have too little) or photos (which never capture what you really see in person) or by using a pencil to softly write “Y” in areas that are yellow, “B” for blue, etc.) While I loved those “paint by number” kits when I was a kid, I’m not crazy about painting by letter now.


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