An old-fashioned grist mill

If you are up in wine country near St.Helena, stop by Bale Grist Mill, a fascinating water powered mill built in 1846.mill1

Mario was our miller and tour-guide for the day and he told the most fascinating stories of the history of the area. He also ran the mill and ground up a few bags of flour that we could buy. It was fabulous to see all this old wooden equipment come alive, powered by a giant water wheel.



So now I’m home with fresh bags of whole wheat flour and of polenta, and if the old-timers are right, I’m going to be baking amazing bread. ‘Cause here’s what they said ( quoted right from the Bale Grist Mill Historic Park site):

“When meal comes to you that way, like the heated underside of a settin’ hen, it bakes bread that makes city bread taste like cardboard.”

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3 days with Tom Hoffman: Day 3

Day 3. Back to the Dogpatch. I found that when a pencil study doesn’t help me solve much,hoffman_suhita_6a

A watercolor study in monotone is much better. hoffman_suhita_6b

Followed by this. The hardest part of this was adding that vertical drybrush shadow I added in last. You can see my first sketch covered with ‘practice strokes’…


I started on another study but didn’t get further than the monotone watercolor.


And after a bunch of (for me) calm studies in the morning, this one below is jumping right in with color  and flat shapes and having a ball. hoffman_suhita_8a

I had so much fun I started on a new one, but then decided to leave it unfinished to move to our last location of the workshop…hoffman_suhita_8b

Painted from inside the yellow cab taxi shed, looking out.  We sat far back in the shed and painted it’s huge, cavernous structure


And with that the workshop was done- too soon.
Day 1 of the workshop is here. Day 2 is here. Wish you’d been there? Well, until you can take a workshop with Tom, here’s his book.


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3 days with Tom Hoffman: Day 2

No rain today, so we painted outside all day starting with these skyscrapers.

This was the toughest subject for me. Give me the broken windows of the warehouses in the Dogpatch, or the madness of Chinatown and I’m at home. But straight-lined orderly buildings are hard to paint! Still, it was great to try so many new and different studies, even if they didn’t go far. Here they are, all of them:


I could’ve gone somewhere with this one but I gave up on it too soon…hoffman_suhita_4b

And the trouble with doing that, just dumping one study without figuring exactly what went wrong and moving to another, is that you end up with the same problems all over again. Brighter colors, same issues.

That afternoon we painted in Chinatown. Again, two studies for the exact same spot. I did study #1, thought it was too fussy and jumped into study #2…



And that was Day 2.
Day 1 is here, and our final day is coming up next.

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3 days with Tom Hoffman: Day 1

I’m just back from a 3-day workshop in San Francisco with Tom Hoffman. To say it was fabulous and inspiring is an understatement. But to be more articulate than that is impossible. I’ve come back full of ideas and things to explore, but they’re too new and half-baked to put into words.

This was so new for me:
I work almost exclusively in sketchbooks, which is pretty different from plein air painting: in the workshop I worked at a easel most of the time, on quarter sheets of watercolor paper, and from a much larger palette than my usual little kit. But the biggest difference was that so much of my own work depends so heavily on line. Tom’s workshop was a whole new way of thinking and seeing: in shape and form with no pen lines to fall back on!

Below, without much more than a couple of comments are my studies from Day 1.

It rained all morning, so instead of working plein air, we worked from photos in the morning. (Another totally new one to me, I work almost exclusively from life)




And then it stopped raining and we stepped out and painted cloud studies. I could not resist adding in the buildings and wires and cranes…




If you ever have the chance to attend a workshop with Tom, jump at it. I’ve never heard anyone articulate the process of seeing and painting as clearly as Tom does. And if you don’t have a chance to attend a workshop anytime soon, get the book: It is wonderful, I’m re-reading it now.

Day 2, coming up next…

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Concert Time

Matt Volkar is a genius. He’s the music teacher at our elementary school, and last night he got about a hundred and twenty 3rd graders to play the recorder on stage, all together. And you could totally recognize the tunes they played. If you’ve ever tried getting a bunch of third grader to do anything, you know how amazing that is.

A half hour performance. Two quick sketches.



I wasn’t sure I liked the paper at first (it’s a little slick to the touch) but now I’m really taking to my Strathmore Toned Tan Sketchbook. Sketched mostly with a brushpen, with little bits added in with a bent nib pen, graphite pencil,  and white and grey colored pencils.

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Magical Leg Splints


For a while now, my daughter has been wearing leg splints, which means they’ll turn up in my sketches, just like all the ‘doing homework’ sketches make a regular appearance. I’ve been sketching her of course, but I wasn’t sure she was okay with my drawing her splints (she didn’t see why not when I asked).

Here is Brian making casts for her splints. I expected a long process with Plaster of Paris and a long casting time involved. But this was quick: fiber glass wrapped around her leg like gauze that hardened into shape in under 2 minutes… too quick for anything but the quickest capture.


Those splints are quite a work of art: the more I draw them the better I understand them. They fit her whole foot, toe to calf, like a glove (but made from a hard plastic), and she wears them everywhere.k_splint1

Sometimes without socks, like below, but mostly with really colorful patterned socks that I need to draw sometime.k_splint2

One day the splints will be gone (and we’ll all be so happy when her foot issue is fixed) but there will be these sketches to remember the splints phase. Which made me think of how much sketching means to me: a way to record the everyday and to understand complex things. That understanding takes looking very closely. And when you look closely, even seemingly mundane stuff is pretty amazing. Like the magic of how Brian made those splint casts and how those splints ( with a lot of physical therapy, and hard work from my daughter and the team that works with her) are going to fix those legs, pretty soon.

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Tiny Home

One day I’d love to live in a tiny home. Okay, maybe a tiny home with a tiny studio next to it… But until then I try and search out tiny homes to stay in once in a while. Like this small mushroom dome home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fits 3, superbly designed inside, and right by a redwood grove. I started this first sketch and abandoned it because I didn’t think it was working out. Wish I stayed with it, I think it was going someplace different from sketch #2, which is more predictably what I would do.


This is the beautiful but highly invasive pampas grass you see all over California.It was challenging to try and leave the whites to be paper on something so feathery, and yet paint loosely around it. You can see I went back in with white gouache on tiny bits of it.

Happy Friday!

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