Sometimes I sketch a street, a building, something from the urban landscape around me. And it just doesn’t look right. Usually what I missing is the people. People passing by, crowds, the lone person making their way down an alley- they are all such an integral part of the urban landscape. And drawing them is hard: they don’t sit still like the buildings, they are more fleeting than the light and it is just plain difficult to draw people!

My solution? Quick 5 second studies. Lots of them. The kind that are drawn almost blind-contour, more watching-the-people than watching-my-line. The kind that I draw so quickly, I have no time to judge. And more often than not, they are truer than my long-studies. Here I sketched people at the mall. It is close to Christmas time. Everyone seems to be on a mission. Loaded bags. See the iconic Macy’s star on a bag? Or the stripes of a Victoria’s secret bag?

Another page of studies, this time a little slower, and I’m noticing things other than the people: the mannequins, the signs, lettering styles (the graphic designer in me loves sketching typography!)

By this time, I’ve loosened up and am ready to dive into what I really want to do:capture the atmosphere of the place. I’ve done my little observation sketches. I’ve gotten to where I have a feel for slightly-anxious-people-on-a-mission-at-the-mall. Now I’m ready for my sketch. It’s still a quick sketch, it just has to be, people don’t stand still. 20 minutes. Some splashes of color to recreate garish mall lighting and loud sale signs. Very little color on the people: they’re fleeting, they walk through my scene… And I’m done.

Notice how the sketch looks busier than the photograph? That’s because a sketch is about capturing how a place feels. It never does match up to a photograph. Which one is a truer representation? Always a debate, I guess. It’s easy to guess which way I lean.

More people sketches, some recent some not:
soccer_quicksketches soccer3
And lots more of them in my flickr set People and Places.

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More kid sketches.

There’s no better place to sketch kids than the Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose.
My favorite exhibits are the simple ones: the floating ball machine that fascinates little kids and the pinscreen full of soft-edged pins you can make handprints or even bodyprints into. The kids really enjoyed the contraption that lets you control traffic lights the old-fashioned way.

The waterplay area at the museum is a big, complex set of tubes and pipes with steaming fountains, jets of water that push up balls, whirling discs and lots of colorful balls. Kid love it.

The Art Loft area is where kids sit ( relatively) still while they make little art projects. A great spot to sketch some kids while my daughter makes a little collage using scraps of paper, cloth and feathers.

More sketches from my day at the museum on my flickr site.



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A little late, but here is the 2013 edition of sketches from my kids’ school halloween parade. I do these every year, as I stand on the sidelines, watching the kids parade by.



And a couple of sketches of my kids, not in costume.

My daughter, Kavya. When she’s not reading or making Rainbow Loom bracelets, she sketches. Here she is, sketching a vase of flowers.

My niece tries to teach the kids how to play “Bluff”. They’re no-good at bluffing. I guess that’s a good thing?

More sketches here on flickr.

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Sketching often

I tend to be a binge-sketcher. I’ll go for a week or two with barely a page in my sketchbook and then binge-sketch over a weekend or when I travel. I’m trying to change that and sketch more of the everyday stuff around me. Which means lots of sketches of the kids, school events, and little corners of my neighborhood that I don’t usually pay attention to.

If you sketch, and sketch regularly, I’d love tips on how you do it: Do you set aside time for a sketch everyday? Or do you mostly sketch on the weekend? Throw in time for a longer piece if you find you’re not doing enough quick little sketches everyday?

Here’s sketches from this week.
The old fashioned water tower in the city of Campbell. Such a rare sight in Northern California. I love the heavy-bellied, slightly ungainly look of this one. For company while I sketched I had a little 4 year old ( that’s her dad at the table in the foreground). She told me she’d been to New Zealand, but I shouldn’t visit, because the plane ride is very long, and they won’t give me a coloring books and crayons, like they gave her, ’cause I’m a grown up.
Campbell Water Tower, Campbell, California

Cub Scout meeting with my son’s troop. That boy-scout-khaki is fun to paint. Sort of greenish.Or is it yellow? Maybe a hint of blue? A little scout came up to me and asked why I draw “like THAT”…. he didn’t explain what “like that” meant, though.
At my son's Cub Scout Meeting

See what I found in my neighborhood- A pay phone! I’ve never noticed it before, and I bet it hasn’t been used in ages. Pay Phone, San Jose, California

And finally, trying to draw regularly means ending up with lots of sketches of my kids. This one is at their favorite Sushi Boat place. Bamboo pens are fun.
Sushi Boat dinner with the kids

That’s it for now. Those ‘how to sketch more often’ tips? I’m waiting for them.

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Here are my sketches from 2 days in Disneyland: my first trip ever. If you are a Disneyland fan, I hope these recall many fun experiences you’ve had. And if you’re like me and never did enjoy rides ( but end up going because the kids love it so much), maybe you can sketch next time? There is no shortage of stuff to draw.

Main Street was all decked up with fall colors and pumpkins. Here’s a giant ‘Mickey Pumpkin’ that everyone wanted photographs in front of.
2 days at Disneyland

And  here is the iconic Castle at the other end of Main Street. It was smaller than I expected it to be. Infact, everything in Disneyland was smaller than I thought it would be, and  perhaps that was a part of it’s charm?

And then there were the rides: Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, and the Astro Orbiter and a quaint-looking treehouse.




My favorite part was people-watching (and people-sketching), and there was so much time to do that as we stood in line after line. Where else do you see grown women wear SUCH an assortment of mouse ears? I don’t know who was more amused though: me at the mouse ears, or them at me shuffling forward in lines, all while sketching furiously.

I tried drawing at the parade, but with the mad mix of crowds, semi-darkness, floats and dancers passing by so quickly and the over-the-top costumes, all I ended up with this assortment of squiggles that captures the energy of the parade, but none of the actual stuff. Still, here it is:

A whole bunch of little kids gathered around this man blowing bubbles. He stood right in front of the entrance to the super-popular Space Mountain ride. I loved what he said: “Right behind me is a $10 million ride. And what do these kids want? Bubbles!”

This marching band started playing just as I was wondering what I would sketch next. A 20 minute session was perfect for a quick little sketch, and then another study thrown in…And yes, more ladies in mouse ears. You can never tire of those.

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A watercolor portrait in steps: Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Come fall, and the requests for watercolor portraits start pouring in. I am always amazed at how organized people are about getting their holiday shopping done so early in the year. I just worked on this piece of a pair of really fun Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I took some photographs of the piece in progress, and thought I’d share how I created it.

Step 1: Blocking in with pencil. 
I worked with a fixed size for this piece, so it was important to compose for the size. I always work on a much larger sheet than I need, as it allows me to move the boundaries of my image up or down, to the left or the right, even after I’ve drawn it in. See the line here on the left side of the image? That was supposed to be my left boundary. I eventually moved it out further to give the image some space to “breathe” on that side.

Step 2: Drawing in the details
I draw in a few more details: Some lines to indicate mass and details on the face. But I let the rest of the composition remain loose.

Step 3: Pen and Ink
I use an extra fine sharpie for my line. The trick is to NOT draw in every detail with pen. The line and the color, which comes next, need to complement each other and create a complete picture, and too much information with either line or color would leave no room for the other…
step3Step 4: The first watercolor wash
King Cavalier Spaniels are tricky to paint since they are black and white. An all-light-colored or all-dark-colored dog would be easier in terms of choosing a background. With this piece, I take inspiration for this breeds name: This is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Party Colored. With a fabulous name like that, I had no choice but to go bright, happy and fun on the background :). I work wet-in-wet, with no base wash, just bold colors.

Step 5: A second wash, adding depth
My next wash: More saturated colors. I work on both the foreground and background together, leaving out the darkest darks and lightest lights. Working on the background and foreground together keeps them related, in color and in how I handle them. I’m still working wet-in-wet, and with a big, round brush.

Step 6: Details and splatter
Time to switch to a smaller brush for details: eyes, noses, light tones in the whites of the fur. I use colors from the puddles I end up with in my palette. That way I there are no surprising and distracting new colors in my painting. Instead they’re more complex colors related to the brights I’ve been using so far. And then it’s time for splatter: I love splatter. I load saturated color in a brush and splash away. The tough part is stopping.

Step 7: Final details and I’m done!I don’t always add pencil, but it felt right here: white pencil for whiskers and fur. And a little bit of a dark blue-grey pencil in the darks of the ears and eyes. All done.

Happy Painting! If there’s steps here in the process that don’t make sense, just ask, I lve talking watercolors!

And if you’re looking for a custom portrait (yes, I do people portraits too), you can email me or order through the ‘Custom Portraits’ section of my Etsy site, where you can see a few more examples of pieces I’ve worked on.

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Art Box San Jose. A Public Art project

When I first saw beautiful artwork popping up on utility boxes all over the city of San Jose, I knew I wanted to paint a box myself . So I got in touch with Cherri of ArtBox San Jose, and she paired me up with the Hanchett Park neighborhood to work on a pair of boxes at the intersection of Race and Park street.

The neighborhood wanted to incorporate the historical Hanchett Park pillars into the design, and sent me photographs of what the neighborhood looked like a long time ago. And they sent me the location of the utility boxes to paint.hanchett_history

I designed a piece that surrounded the pillars with flourishing local  flora, fauna and animal life to represent the revitalization of this historical neighborhood. First came a quick little sketch followed by research into the bird, animal and plant species of the area. And finally, a pretty detailed line drawing of the piece.
Day 1: A good, thick coat of white primer, some rough pencil guidelines and I got down to drawing in my piece with an extra thick permanent Sharpie. I use a sharpie and watercolor for my sketches, but what was so different about this piece was the scale. This is a big utility box, about 5 feet tall. ( My sketches are rarely larger than 10 inches tall)

The line all done, it was time to add a first coat of flat color, coloring-book style. What made it so much fun at this point was all the volunteers I had to come paint with me. My niece Mohini, who I’ve partnered with on so many projects. And Jen, Giang and Pallavi all dropped in to help out. Acrylics are fun to paint with. And so forgiving compared to watercolors. They make the perfect medium for a bright, happy piece. These are images of the piece slowly evolving over Day 2 and Day 3.

day3_WIP_meAnd here is the final piece on day 4. Fur and leaves are fun to paint with bold strokes. Then it was shadow for depth and a second round of sharpie lines, this time looser and freer, to finish up the piece.


When I started out, I thought I was going to do a neat, “color within the lines” piece. But that was not to be. I couldn’t resist freeform wiggly lines and the box ended up looking so much more like my sketches than I expected.

If you’re interested in the local species of birds, animals and plants in this piece, I marked them here:

And finally, a big thank you to everyone that came out and painted with me. You made it so much fun!

If you’re in San Jose, this box is on the corner of Race and Park Street. And there are so many more beautiful boxes areound San Jose. You can see them all on this this map. And you can see all my photos from this project here on flickr.

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