Costa Rica, part 4.

One last post from Costa Rica, from the relatively dry (just a couple of thundershowers everyday) Pacific Coast near Manuel Antonio National Park.

We spent lots of time at a quiet little cove called Playa Biesanz where the ocean was as calm as a pool and there were more locals than tourists. At Manuel Antonio the forest comes right down to the beach and the ocean is dotted with little green islands.

One entrepreneurial guy set up a little kayak and life jacket rental on the beach, using a casuarina tree to help set up shop.

Like every other place in Costa Rica, what fascinated me most was the vegetation. The forest is everywhere, and always on the verge of taking over the little patches of man made landscape. This stone statue (of a monkey god? I think that’s a capuchin monkey on it’s head) stood moss-covered by a hiking path.


The garden crew at our hotel spent all day trimming and pruning trees. This guy uses a long stick with two knife edges to cut back palm trees.

More trees I drew: The banana tree.CR_manuel_antonio_banana

And a tree we called the ‘Sloth tree’. Almost every sloth we spotted (and we spotted a lot of them) was in this tree. And yes, this is another sketch that a thundershower played a big part in shaping.CR_manuel_antonio_slothtree

When you live right at the edge of the forest, the iguanas join you for breakfast. This guy waited patiently by us while we ate breakfast on the patio. He was just there for the crumbs. For a black spiny tailed iguana, he was small at about 2 feet long.

My last sketches from Costa Rica: the fruit stands with pineapple and watermelon, mango and mangosteen, loads of bananas, star fruit, papaya, custard apple, malay apples, coconut and fruit I don’t know the name to and didn’t get around to tasting. (That means I’m going to have to come back another time!)

One last sketch, Hari and the kids reading Tintin on our long flight home.CR_going_home

Goodbye Costa Rica, what an adventure that was!

Posts 1, 2 and 3 from this 4-part series here:

Or, all of my Costa Rica sketches with none of the commentary in this flickr set.

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Costa Rica, Part 3

Getting from Arenal to the cloud forest in Monteverde involves a ferry ride across Lake Arenal, a huge manmade lake that once generated 70% of Costa Rica’s electricity.

The cloud forest is like something out of a dream. The mist never clears and it never truly stops raining. There are a million layers and textures of vegetation, and every imaginable shade of green. Trees compete for light, and are covered in bromeliads and mosses and are taken over by strangler figs and fungi.
This is a guide at the Monteverde cloud forest, setting up his scope to look at birds in a nearby tree.

And this is yet another waterfall I attempted to sketch in the rain. I think I’m going to pass this one off as an abstract painting.


There’s nothing like a good hot cocoa at the end of a very wet hike. What’s missing here is a sketch of the hundreds of humming birds just outside the cafe.monteverde_hot_chocolate

A marimba troupe played at dinner that night. CR_monteverde_marimba

I have very few sketches of our time in Monteverde. The beautiful cloud forests? The views of the thick canopies from hanging bridges in the forest? Not one sketch to record them. But they were so beautiful, they’re etched  in my brain. Maybe one day I’ll paint that picture that’s in my head.
Coming up next: Our last 4 days of  sun, sand and some wildlife at Manuel Antonio National Park.

Post 1 and Post 2 from our Costa Rica trip here:

And all my sketches from my trip with none of my commentary in this flickr set.

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Costa Rica, Part 2

Next up on our Costa Rican adventure was a stay at the town of La Fortuna, near Arenal Volcano National Park. Arenal Volcano is a perfectly shaped cinder cone, but you have to be lucky to see it. Of the 4 days we spent staying right by the volcano, there was one day when the clouds disappeared for about 20 minutes and saw the whole volcano. On the other days we knew we were in the shadow of a volcano, but saw nothing but clouds where it stood.

This is a quick sketch at the end of a hike up a lava flow.  Volcano Arenal is currently considered to be ‘resting’ between active phases. But in a land as young as Costa Rica, where 5 tectonic plates meet, you never know when a volcano will get active again- or when a new volcano will be formed.

Our hotel in Arenal had it’s own little organic farm and dairy. If you turned up at the barn at exactly 7am, you got to help milk the cows. This is my sketch of the barn. The rain played a big part in creating this textured sketch.

Here’s my son milking the cow. He got a squirt of milk out in about the time the milkman filled up a whole bucket.

This guy filled a bucket up in a couple of minutes. When he was done, he added some cocoa to a cup and poured in some fresh, still warm (yes, unpasteurized) milk. The kids gulped it up. Apparently it was delicious. I didn’t get to try it.


One day I will learn not to even attempt some things. Like sketching a waterfall while practically standing under it, in a downpour. This is me attempting a sketch. I didn’t last at it for more than a few minutes. The middle piece of the image is as far as I got. The one on the right is what remains of it in my sketchbook now.

A quick sketch of our guide on a coffee and cocoa tour at Don Juan farms. Here he mixes up an ancient Mayan drink that included cocoa nibs, vanilla, tabasco, black pepper, cinnamon and hot water. It was like drinking a sweet and spicy mole sauce.



Here is Don Juan himself, playing checkers with colored bottle caps. I love my bent-nib pen. It draws an organicand somewhat unpredictable line that I find to be so ‘human’.



The little handmade sign points to the soda I was at. Sodas are family-run restaurants all over Costa Rica. They serve what is called a ‘tipical’ (yes, spelt like that) meal: rice, beans, fried plantain, salad, a vegetable, fresh cheese, and a meat dish. Strangely, even the tiniest sodas also have a fast food menu with burgers and fries.


My favorite part of a Costa Rican meal is fruit. It’s amazing how good a pineapple or a watermelon can taste when it’s sun-ripened. Here’s yet another rain-splattered sketch. This one of a fruit cart. CR_arenal-fruit

And my favorite Costa Rican fruit is actually Asian in origin. The mamón chino or rambutan.CR_mamon_chino

Our next stop? The cloud forests of Monteverde.

Part1 of my Costa Rica blog posts is here. Or, all my sketches form the trip, and none of the long commentary here on flickr.

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Costa Rica, Part 1

Of all my recent travels, Costa Rica has been the hardest place to capture in sketches. For one, we visited in the rainy season. It rarely ever stopped pouring for more than a few minutes. And, we hiked, river rafted, ziplined and were generally on the move. Add that to the rain and it’s hard to whip out a book and sketch. And then there was the extra challenge of being bitten by bugs. No amount of bug spray and long pants kept the bugs and mosquitoes from eating me alive if I stood still for more than a few seconds.

So did I sketch? Yes, but there’s not one sketch of the incredible cloud forests or of the layer upon layer of vegetation of the tropical rainforests. Instead, I drew the little stuff. The plants, the ducks, a single coconut, things that captured my eye, things I could sketch between cloudbursts.

Like these strange looking Muscovy ducks that inhabit every pond in Costa Rica. With their red, bubbly, plastic-looking face markings, they are quite a sight. And like many creatures that live too close to humans, they are pretty aggressive in their demand for food.


All those ornamental plants you might struggle to grow in your home? They grow and thrive all around the place in Costa Rica. I guess anything can grow in a place where the average annual rainfall is 250 inches!


Tortuguero is a long, thin strip of land off the North-East Coast of Costa Rica, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. We reached it after a few hours of a very bumpy bus ride (all rides in Costa Rica are bumpy) followed by an hour long boatride through narrow waterways surrounded by the jungle. We spotted sloths, caiman, black vultures ( about as common in Costa Rica as crows are in India) and countless other birds and animals. My favorite? A tiny lizard called the Jesus Lizard. Why? Because it walks on water.

These coconut sellers wore strangely shaped hats made of coir. I was drawing the guy on the right at his cart, but this other guy really wanted to be in my sketch. He made his way into my ‘frame’ and stood and smiled. How could  not draw him?


More little sketches done in breaks between thundershowers. A Malay Apple tree that the spider monkeys inhabited.


And a coconut on the black sand of Tortuguero beach. The red spindly thing? Probably a washed up ficus rootlet.


Speaking of ficus, Costa Rican forests are full of ficus, some with giant roots. If you look carefully, you’ll spy my son Nishant sitting among the roots of this tree, reading a book. He didn’t sit there long, though. A couple of minutes in one spot, and an army of leaf-cutting ants marched right over his feet.


More sketches and stories from our travels soon. Can’t wait? All my sketches ( sans stories) here on Flickr.

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Babbage Engines, Google Cars and Scratch

An afternoon at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is like swapping between the past, present and future all within a few feet of each other.

My hands-down favorite bit of my afternoon was a demonstration of the Babbage Engine at work. This 5-ton machine is reproduced from drawings done by Charles Babbage. He started these original drawings in 1821, but never got to building a complete machine. This machine, the Difference Engine #2, is built with almost no changes from the original drawings. How amazing that is, to design on paper something that has never been conceived of before and to get it so right without ever getting to build a complete prototype!

Another really popular exhibit was the self-driven Google car. People posed by it and sat in the front seat and had their pictures taken. I made little notes from the exhibit on how it worked, and like everything google does, they just made it sound do simple! If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and drive on I 280 between Palo Alto and San Francisco, you can often spot one of these driverless cars zipping along, with someone sitting in the passenger seat.

And here is my final sketch from the afternoon: This is my kids playing a game where you program frogs to jump around lilypads and eat insects. It uses the popular kids programming language, Scratch. ( if you know little kids, this is a fun language to introduce them to. Even I can build in it, it’s that simple!)  They had a ton of fun getting their frogs to zoot around , eat bugs and even multiply.

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Beach Day

At Capitola beach on what turned out to be a super hot Saturday. Perfect people sketching weather with lots of sunbathers.

Little people studies are my warm-up. It’s amazing how many of these sunbathers were on their phones.capitola_0_beach

Its not always possible to start with a page of people studies, but when I can, I do: I don’t always draw the same people or poses into my sketches, so I’m not sure what it is: maybe it just takes a little while to ‘see’ well enough to compose a sketch?

This next sketch is done standing at the water’s edge, looking down the beach. Feet in cold water, and the sun on my back. A good place to draw.


On the pier, where people spend hours casting their lines. These guys caught a couple of small mackerel.


And this guy caught a really big halibut but didn’t know how to clean it…


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More from the Farmers’ Market

This might just turn into a summer of sketching the Farmers’ Market every Sunday.
Here are this week’s sketches. Usually I choose what to focus on: is it the produce that’s the focus of the sketch? Or is it the people? But today it was both those and more. It was color and texture, rhythm and pattern.

With this first sketch, I wanted to capture the alternating layers of produce and people without losing the different textures of all the vegetable. Or the individual people in the sketch. I started by drawing at the bottom of the paper, at the bin of produce nearest me. One of the keys to capturing depth and perspective is realizing HOW MUCH LARGER things  in the foreground look than those far away: those foreground bins of vegetable are about half the height of this composition. All the activity that is layered in behind them only occupies the top half of the page.


































This second sketch is a simpler composition. As my fellow sketcher Virginia said ( if you’ve never seen her sketches, they are gorgeous and you can see them here ), I “get right in” with my composition. I do this by literally standing right at the stall , probably in the way of the shoppers. It helped me capture that figure I needed right in the foreground to make this piece work. Luckily for me, the guy wanted 16 ears of corn, so it took a couple of minutes to select them all and I had time to capture him.


















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