Easy People Sketching

If you don’t sketch people often and don’t know where to start, go to a cafe. People sit pretty still, you don’t have to draw full figures, and most people are pretty busy looking at their phones or computers. Which makes it easy to hide at that corner table, to look closely (even stare), and to not worry too much about them disappearing before you finish drawing them.

Since I have two sessions of my People and Places workshop coming up this week, I thought I’d do some easy people sketching today. So I headed to the cafe at my local Barnes & Noble.

I usually start with a page or two of very quick gesture sketches.


And then I played with layering some pastels over my brush pen gesture drawings.

I kinda liked how I could do a very quick gesture capture, then go in with pastel and come back around a second time (if the person was still there) and add in details with the brush pen again. Working pastel over the initial brush pen greyed it out a little bit,so that second pass of the brush pen was quite different in intensity. You can see what I mean in this detail below. First pass of pen with pastel over it on the left, then a second pass of brush pen with detailing added on top.

Can you imagine how long this woman would be if she stood up? That is one super-long figure, about 9 heads tall I think! Still, I really enjoyed drawing her draped over that chair.

Are you joining me for a workshop this in Berkeley or this Saturday in San Francisco? I’m really looking forward to it, and so far, the weather forecast predicts great days!

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Labor Day weekend on Lake Shasta

I guess it’s good to have to work outside your comfort zone every once in a while…That was me on Labor Day Weekend. Given a choice, I’ll always pick a people-packed scene to sketch. I’ll take urban decay, architecture and crowds over a pristine landscape any day.

But that’s not where I found myself on Labor Day weekend. I was on a houseboat on Lake Shasta for 3 days. The setting was spectacular, but so very hard to sketch!

From the top of the boat. Still in harbor, early in the morning. Watching the early risers leave the dock. It’s a tight squeeze, getting out of that narrow space and onto the open lake.

But once you’re out of the dock the scene opens up to large vistas that can be divided into 4 bands. The blue waters at the bottom. A narrow strip of red soil, the embankment around the lake. The conifer-covered mountains. And the sky above. And that never changes, wherever on the vast lake you might be.

I usually want to find a human element to use as a focal point in my sketch. Luckily, there’s enough people on the lake over the long weekend. Here are two kayakers.

Here’s an unfinished sketch (can’t remember why I didn’t finish it) that shows how I worked on some of these. This is my first layer of color, that kinda runs together, but also separates my scene into those bands. If I work like this, my second pass of more vivid color goes over this first pass before it’s totally dry. Mostly because I don’t have the patience to wait for bone-dry paper. But also because I just love wet-in-wet watercolor.shasta2-unfinished

When you’re out on the lake, with a cellphone that doesn’t work, you can’t take step-by-step photos of what you do. So I just worked these 4 little sketches in parallel to record how I built up a piece. Turns out it’s good practice (a tad boring, though) to do things over and over.

Here is our houseboat, docked on a remote shore of the lake.

This one, a quick sketch done in the dark by the bonfire that night. It helps to know where your colors are on your palette if you’re going to sketch in the dark. Almost-blind-contour drawing practice helps too!

I know most of these sketches look really tranquil, (many were done sitting on the top or back of the boat or early in the morning before everyone woke up) but there were 24 of us on the houseboat: 12 adults, 12 kids! My favorite sketch is this one, with some of the kids swimming in the lake. Lake regulations say every kid must wear a life jacket when they swim. The kids weren’t happy about that. But I think jumping from the top of the houseboat into the lake kinda made up for it.

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Monday Morning: Little sketches

Here are some of last week’s little sketches. While my little sketches, mostly done at home, don’t vary much in subject matter, I still enjoy just the act of making them, sometimes trying new stuff, but mostly just doing something over and over again in the hope that it becomes second nature and I start seeing and doing new things with it.

My fascination with my glass dip pen and watercolors continues. Here is a closeup from a sketch selfie done by turning my computer camera on myself. I find it much easier to draw if I have it in video mode and not frozen on one still image.

And this one, using the same medium is a portrait of my niece. Kinda messed up on proportions and gave her a really big forehead, but there’s a slight resemblance to her, which is a good start: she is one of the many people I draw pretty often but really struggle to capture a resemblance of.

A page of random little vignettes made while sitting in a cafe. Warm ups, really, just taking my pencil for a walk, using whatever I see around me.

A recurring motif that’s a recent addition to my everyday sketches: My daughter practicing the violin. It’s only been a few weeks of this new instrument in the house, and I’m fascinated by it’s beautiful curves and by the sense of balance and interplay between the player and the instrument. There will be lots more sketches on the subject for a while, I’m guessing.

Another common subject is my daughter doing Math homework. It takes her a long time to do. She’s not so happy about it, but it makes for good sketching practice. Here’s a first one from one evening.
homework_pencilAnd here’s another one, done soon after. I’ll often do more than one sketch of a subject, but I try to change something up. In the sketch above, I drew in pencil, used watercolor and then came back in with pencil for some dark areas ( The dark pencil is done later. This is a water soluble pencil, hence the dark color over still-wet watercolor). You can see from the step-by-step below that I worked quite differently in this next sketch. I think I overworked it in step 4: should have stopped a bit earlier, somewhere between #3 and #4.  A mistake I make pretty often.

My package of DeAtramentis Document Inks and Iron Gall ink from Goulet Pens arrived this week,and I had lots of fun testing it.

The purple Iron Gall ink is a truly gorgeous color and quite water resistant. I wouldn’t fill it in a fountain pen, though, since iron gall ink can damage a pen if left in too long. all the purples in the sketch below are made by running a wet brush over still-wet ink. The other colors are watercolor.

And in pears this week, playing with more dipping nibs.

And playing with all the fun new inks.
Now to load one of these into a pen: can’t figure what to start with- something unexpected, perhaps the fuschia or the yellow?


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Sitar Recital

sitar7These sketches are from a sitar recital by 12 year old Kailash Ranganathan. His guru, Habib Khan is on his left, and Satish Tare accompanies him on the tabla.

It was amazing to see such a young kid perform onstage for a couple of hours. If you’ve ever had a child that played a 2-minute music piece for a performance, you know how much practice that takes, so a performance like this is mind-boggling just in time, practice and dedication it must take to get so far at such a young age. I wish I had more to say, but since I’m no Hindustani music expert, here are my sketches, sketched in the semi-darkness of the audotorium while watching and listening.


Posted in california, Close to home, people, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Impressions of Italy: Last sketches

As a tourist, I’m always struck by and want to sketch all the stuff everyone sees and photographs. Like the Coliseum.


But the stuff that I keep coming back to is the littler stuff, the quick sketches and little observations. Even this half finished one, which reminds me of a great coffee that went with it…

Or this one I didn’t have the patience to finish: whatever made me think I’d sit and draw every window in a row of buildings?

This barely decipherable sketch reminds me of being jostled through the Sistine Chapel, sketchbook in hand.

And this one was made standing at our apartment door in Venice, wondering how long it would take the kids to get their sandals on and get out for the day.

Street sign sketches are a favorite of mine.

And doorways. This one came with a tired tourist, checking her smartphone.

And this sketch reminds me of very hot it was everywhere we went.

This is a quick sketch to remember that the thing that fascinated me the most at the Uffizi in Florence were the endless ornately painted ceilings in every room and hallway.

Pattern is everywhere. Sometimes it’s fun  to switch from drawing gigantic and amazing architecture to just looking at surface decoration. Like these floor tile patterns inside St. Mark’s in Venice.

That story about Galileo’s middle finger (bottom right of the spread) is probably not true. But it makes for a great story. You may not be able to read my handwriting so here’s how the more colorful version of the story goes: When the decision was made to excommunicate Galileo from the church, he gave them the finger. The less interesting version of the story? Galileo’s finger is significant because it points up to the skies. Either way, it’s kinda strange to see a finger encased in a glass dome.

This last series of sketches was all made one day during a group tour through the Forum in Rome. One double-colored (red/blue) pencil, and a pen and a pencil, tucked into my pocket. And a small book. Perfect for recording impressions as we walked.

That’s about it from Italy, and until my next trip to who knows where, I”l be blogging adventures closer to home.

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Impressions of Italy: Back Streets, Little Bits

Some of my favorite things to do is wander through little streets without a map. Every once in a while, you walk into amazing places. Like the ironwork workshop of Giacomo Giachetti in the artisan quarter of Florence. We didn’t speak a common language but he invited me in to watch him work and I sketched while I watched ofcourse.artist_metalwork

Or the restorer’s workshop down the street. It was 10 minutes to lunch and siesta time,a really important break in the day, but he let me come in and watch him work on what he described as a not-very-old instrument (“Only 200 years old”).

Il Canovaccio is a beautiful mask shop in venice. Stepping into it is like stepping into another world.

Sometimes even the most ordinary things make for a fun capture. On the Spanish Steps in Rome I spotted this guy selling very colorful sunglasses.rome-steps_goggles

A quick sketch at an outdoor market I came across when I was lost in the back lanes of Rome…vege_market

And the fish market in Venice, early one morning, as it opened up for business.

One of the loveliest things about wandering the little lanes of Rome is that you never know when they will suddenly open up into a vast plaza. Like this one with the Basilica de Santa Croce.basilica_santa-croce

Sketches of a city just aren’t complete without sketching vehicles. The police car in Rome caught my eye.

And there’s no way to miss all the Vespas in Italy.


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Daily Sketching and Inspiration

With sketching everyday, I’m not looking so much for inspiration on what to sketch. Just anything that is in my daily life that catches my eye will do-it’s only a little sketch after all.  But last week was especially challenging because I was sick and didn’t get out much and I so like to sketch outside.

Looking back at some of what I drew, it’s interesting how many things I’m working on and thinking about come together even in the littlest sketch. The photograph I worked from for the sketch below is taken by a friend in Goa, India. It’s the monsoon season in Goa and I very much miss being there, so this Goan house was perfect to draw. besides, I was really inspired to draw a building after watching the first ( just released!) lesson in Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Buildings class. And a lot of the process I used- painting in the sky first as a shape, working on the building as volume before moving to line- are totally inspired by the lesson.
Also in ‘drawn during a sick week’, figures  and flowers, both from magazines. I’ll take drawing form life over a photograph any day, but a photo sketch is better than no sketch!

My daughter working at her homework. Nib pen and watercolor. I’m posting a bunch of in-progress shots this week since some of you asked how I work with watercolor and a nib pen. The bit you can’t see here is that I hold a brush in my left hand, dip it into the color I want in my watercolor palette and brush it onto my dip pen as I go along.pen_ink

The cats. Sleeping.

And a bright hand painted mug with chai.

That’s it for last week in small sketches. Hoping to get out and sketch this week, while it still sunny summer-like weather.


Posted in Animals, Drink, Everyday Sketches, Figure Drawing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments