Only a month to go…

It’s only one month until the Annual Urban Sketchers Symposium, happening in Chicago this year. As always, I’m super excited to be going. To meet old friends, make new ones and to learn from all of them. I’m teaching a workshop titled People Tell Tales: Using Action And Interaction To Tell Stories.  A book I reread every once in a while, especially in thinking about quick capture is Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s The Mind’s Eye. Written by a photographer who was constantly on a quest to tell stories with pictures, the book is full of insights for an urban sketcher.

Preparing for my workshop means I am particularly focussed on people sketching right now. This time, we’re going to explore story telling and choosing what to capture to bring that story to life.
Here’s some quick captures from last week. For this first one, I switched from my usual pen to a dip pen, because I wanted to slow down. A less familiar tool, one that made me pause to re-dip and to consider what I wanted to capture next seemed right for this scene.
Here are a few more captures from that morning. A dad and his twin girls take a quick break on the bench outside Starbucks.
Teen (or are they tween?) boys and a phone. They snickered a lot as they watched something on that phone.

Sometimes I like to sit on a bench and sketch a scene without any particular focus. Just the humdrum everyday activity of people passing by, standing and chatting and taking a break on a bench is my story.

But as I sat there, what really caught my attention is those lamps. So I did another sketch from the same vintage point, but this time the lamps are the focus and the coming and going of people under them completes the scene.



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San Jose State University

Last week I had a kid attending music camp at San Jose State University. So what did I do when I dropped her off? You guessed right :). Four sketches. Three of them of the same subject. I really enjoy drawing something over and over. A few sketches in, and you feel you’re hanging around an old friend. This is Tower Hall on the SJSU campus.


This Spanish Revival style tower was built in 1910 to replace an older building damaged in the 1906 earthquake. You can’t draw Tower Hall without drawing the supertall, skinny palm trees around it.

The stuff growing on Tower Hall really is a super bright green. ( I don’t know what it is, but it’s not the common kind of blue-green ivy) For once, I’m happy that Pthalo Blue lives in my palette. I’ve been trying to use this color to mix greens, and usually I have a hard time quieting it down to natural-looking mixes. No need for a quiet green on this building, though.

And here is Take #3 from a different spot, on a different day.

Here’s a shot of what my morning sketch setup looked like. Pretty idyllic, huh?

And here’s the sketch above, closeup. This is the Black Power Statue at the University. The statue commemorates an event from the Olympics held 49 years ago. And while there was a lot of controversy surrounding their Black Power Salute, the intention behind it was to bring attention to the inequalities in our society, particularly towards African Americans. You can read more about the statue and event here.


There’s so much more to sketch at this campus, and it’s a quiet and green oasis in the middle of downtown San Jose. I’m going to have to go back soon.

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Looking back on my week

Some vignettes from my week to wrap it up.

Going to a swim meet with the kids means I do at least one sketch. This one is by the side of the pool. Heats, timings and results are printed and clipped onto these big green boards. Kids and parents come and peer at them. The glare by the pool is something else.

Now that I’ve been drawing signs for a while, I notice them everywhere. While the sign for Rasputin’s isn’t vintage, it’s too fun to not sketch.

We’ve had a heatwave this week. This is my daughter and cat, collapsed on the floor on Monday when San Jose hit 105.

Hope your weekend is lovely. Happy Friday!

Posted in Animals, california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley, Summer, Vintage Signs | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Other Project

If my posts to this blog are thinner than usual through the summer, it’s because I’m working hard on documenting and blogging vintage signs of San Jose on my other site, VintageSignSanJose. Here are some of the recent signs I’ve sketched, sans the stories that go with them.


If urban sketches and the stories behind vintage signs interest you, then use the red signup button in the bottom right corner to follow that site. I’m working on collecting all the sketches into a book later this year and on an exhibit of them at History San Jose in early 2018. Stay tuned!


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Last week in small sketches

Working on large projects, especially when they’re approaching deadlines means you don’t get much other drawing done. That’s when I am really glad I have a book to sketch small, quick sketches in.

There’s always music practice to sketch. My daughter suspects I insist on 20 minutes of practice a day just so I can sketch her.weekviolin1

This week, she’s doing a fantastic music camp at San Jose State University called Summer in the City.  She’s so lucky to have a music program at her middle school where kids who have never played an instrument before can take it up and spend atleast an hour a day at school learning it and being a part of an orchestra. Isn’t that amazing? These are some quick sketches of the students at the audition this weekend. I wish I could capture the sound of a room full of kids all warming up for their audition, each playing a different piece!

On Saturday evening, a bunch of artists met up at home, to sketch. I mostly drank wine and did very little drawing. Still, it was a really fun evening. I drew some sketchers.
And this skull.
And my daughter who joined us for a bit…

There is a sport I watch but don’t sketch. It’s cricket. I don’t ever end up drawing during a game because I only watch ‘big’ games and then I’m too busy cheering to sketch. But this weekend was different. A really big game: Pakistan versus India, the Champions Trophy final. But Pakistan so totally walked all over India that it was easier to sketch and watch than to just watch.


In ‘other little sketches’: these below, while waiting to pick up my kids from camp. Same scene, but the one on the right is a blind contour, with a couple of peeks to bring my pencil back to where I wanted it to be. Blind contour is really relaxing. It also helps me look at both positive and negative shapes equally.

And finally, I went back to my weekly life drawing after a 2 month break. Taking a 2 month break is never a good idea, it really shows, especially in the fluidity of the work. Hopefully I’ll be back more regularly now. I always work on the quick sketches in charcoal, and just the feel of charcoal smooshing against paper and the blurry edged, dark masses it creates is so wonderful, I’m happy to be back to drawing, even if the drawings don’t work.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, Figure Drawing, Paintings, san jose, Silicon Valley, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Good Reads: Value Studies

Every once in a while I’ll pull an art book off my shelf and re-read it. Last week I flipped through the early chapters of Painting What (You Want) to See by Charles Reid.


Like all good books, re-reading it always bring back something new. I’ve never actually worked through the early exercises of this book, so I decided to do them last week, using old photo references.

The really great thing about vintage photos is that the values are simplified already, so they’re perfect for an exercise where you’re practicing seeing big shapes. (Of course, I had to choose a subject where there’s also a whole lot of detail that overlays those shapes, because I enjoy that bit too.)



Even when I’m doing little studies, I like to use imagery that I am interested in. These old images of Indian Maharajas and Maharanis were the perfect subject for me.

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A week in sketches

The jacarandas are in full bloom right now in San Jose. Everywhere you look, there’s gorgeous purple trees. This is the SoFA district of San Jose, when the streets were empty for the SubZero festival to be setup.

And this is inside SoFA Market on a Saturday night.


One of the oldest restaurants in San Jose just announced it’s closing this month.  I’d sketched the sign at Wing’s  a few months ago, so I popped back in for a last sketch. I guess everyone turned up that day.

And that same morning, I sketched at another San Jose institution, Rollo’s doughnuts.I can’t say I know what their doughnuts taste like because they were all gone when I got there and store managers Karen & Eina were busy making piles of new pink boxes for the next morning.

My cats have taken to sleeping on my work table. Not good for work. But good for a sketch. This is Moshi.

And finally, the first swim-meet sketch of the season. It’s a bit of a zoo as swimmers line up for their races

Posted in Animals, california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Summer, Vintage Signs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments