Seattle, Part 2 of 2

Workshop demos are hard to do! Catching the action while talking through the process means they’re never my best works, but still, it really helps participants understand what I’m thinking and seeing as I sketch. Here are two demos from Steinbrueck Park near Pike Place Market. In the distance is one of two totem poles, designed by Victor Steinbrueck himself.



I’ve been to Seattle a couple of times before. What really struck me this time is how the tech industry is totally taking over the city: there’s construction everywhere! In the background of the famous Elephant Car Wash rises Amazon City.

Once I was done with my workshop, I had a few hours in the afternoon to sketch with my friends Gail and Stephanie. Post-workshop sketches are a great way to wind down from a day of teaching.

Here is Post Alley.

I had to do atleast a quick sketch of the Public Market Sign.

And just before I left for the airport, a quick sketch of the fountain and Space Needle at Seattle Center.

I wish I could’ve stayed on and sketched a few more days, Seattle in god weather is a sketcher’s dream city.  But it was time to head back to San Jose…


Missed Part 1 of my post form Seattle? It’s here.

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Seattle, Part 1 of 2

I was in Seattle over the weekend to teach two workshops. And what a weekend it was! Spectacular sunny days that made me suspect that all that Payne’s Grey weather Seattle is said to have is just a rumor Seattleites spread to keep the rest of us away! I started my Friday morning with some location scouting and warm-up sketching at my workshop location, Pike Place Market.

The Gum Wall was slightly gross, but fun to draw. It’s a long, dark alleyway with a lot of cat drawings and huge amounts of gum. I had to wait a long time before I saw someone stick a piece of gum up on the wall. Most people just come through and take photographs.

How could I not draw the famous Fish Stand? That’s the great thing about being in a new place: you can be unabashedly touristy.

And a few brush-pen drawings from around the market. This man selling balloons: I could swear he was in this very same spot when I visited almost 8 years ago. And the Pike Place Pig is never without a bunch of people posing for photos.

The quickest of sketches from an afternoon with Gabi Campanario after we got a quick little tour of the Steamer, the Virginia V.
boats.jpg.And a few photos from my workshop. I never remember to take any, so thank you Gail Wong for taking some and sending them my way. I am always amazed when people come out and enthusiastically draw in the super-crowded locations. I love that they just plop onto sidewalks anywhere and squeeze into little corners and even the shyest of them throws caution to the winds and sketches people up close.
seattle_class_photo10Can you spot the sketcher sketching the musicians?
And a little bit of quiet as we review our sketches in the atrium, “under the squid”.

I’m leaving you with a quick brush pen sketch of that squid sculpture hanging in the atrium
And the demo piece I did in the market.

More from Seattle soon…


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Loads of People

It was a people-filled day yesterday, which is great because I really did need to pull out my pens and do some quick gesture drawing: I’m teaching a workshop in Seattle this weekend called Capturing Chaos:Drawing a Crowd. It’s a part of Seattle’s 10×10 workshop series, which is a part of a much bigger worldwide series of classes to celebrate 10 years of Urban Sketchers. Did you attend any workshops through the series in a city near you?

It has been HOT for the last couple of days (92 degrees today). Ice cream time.

What do you do when the cats wake you up super early? My daughter drew the cat (top left corner in graphite). I drew her drawing the cat.

Violin practice followed.

One of the best places near home to people-watch/sketch is the local Whole Foods at lunch hour. When you draw, you notice what people have in their carts, whether they’re far-sighted (from how they read their phones), what tattoos they have…
groceries1Same day, later in the evening: At our Elementary School’s Art Show. I set up a little table with my tiny watercolor kits, and some paper. No instructions. The kids just come and paint. They love the fun tools: little Altoids tins and pillboxes as palettes, waterbrush, rainbow pencils…


I get some sketching done too…To my left is the ever-popular spin-art table.

And to my right, Kathy paints just about anything on cookies!

But the evening doesn’t end there. Our middle school orchestra comes and plays an outdoor concert for us every year. It’s a real treat to hear these kids, many of whom have only studied music for a year or two, play so beautifully. I feel like I hear best when I’m painting the music.

Waiting for the concert to begin…

And the concert in session.

I’m in Seattle today, scouting locations for the weekend’s workshops… So there will be sketches from Seattle here on my blog next week. Until then, happy sketching!

Posted in Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Good questions: Studies versus Scenes

Another good question from someone in my Figure Sketching Made Simple class on Craftsy. (I do these Good Questions posts every once in a while.) This person visited a skating rink, and sketched a whole scene, skaters, ice rink and setting, and wasn’t really happy with it. And that made me think of a part of the process I almost always follow: of doing little studies before attempting to build a whole scene.

This is especially true if the action I plan to capture isn’t something I am familiar with. Like baseball. I’m new to the sport and didn’t even know the rules before now. (My son just started playing Little League) So I’m drawing pages and pages of studies at his games.


Why so many studies and why do so many of them look like the same action? 
Lots of studies, to help me see and understand the action. And to let me look for parts of that continuous flow of action I find most worth capturing: when you’re using a still medium to capture action, it’s important to choose your moment well. I look for parts of the action that are really dynamic and that best capture the spirit of the scene for me.

You can already see from these few studies that I am partial to some phases of the action, they interest me more than others: the sense of anticipation of the batter, the moment in the thrower’s action just before the ball leaves his hands… that’s just a personal bias, you might find that other things interest you more. Just draw. A lot.

So far, I’ve sketched a lot of little studies but have only once attempted a more complete scene.

Here are some tips (They’re not rules, pick and choose what works for you.) that might help with sketching complex action scenes.

Pick a focus for your sketch: Here, I chose the batter. He is the center of focus. I draw him first, if he works then the rest of the scene works. If he doesn’t I turn the page and start a new sketch.
• Not everyone in the scene is equally important: The batter and the catcher are in the foreground and drawn in more detail than the other figures. That makes them the most important unit of figures in the scene. Next comes the thrower, whose action counterbalances this foreground grouping. The rest of the players are indicated very roughly. They make the scene believable and define the space, but don’t compete for your attention.
Leave a lot to the imagination: If you know even a little bit about baseball, you understand this scene. I don’t need to draw out everything in great detail for you: the diamond is very loosely indicated , as is the setting with hills in the background. Drawing it all in detail would have detracted from the main action. Besides, we’re all really good at filling in the gaps with what we know to make the picture believable.

Whether you’re enrolled in the class or not, I hope those tips help. Feel free to ask more questions on the class platform. I answer them there whenever possible. But sometimes they’re worth a longer post here on my blog.


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Painting with Tom Hoffmann, again: 3 of 3

Day 3, Bernal Heights. We’re back in the city, and the challenges today aren’t just with distance and depth, they’re vertical too: the streets in this neighborhood seem to rise straight into the sky.

We start the day understanding how a study can help problem-solve a complex subject. Knowing you will be writing notes all over a piece means you make a true study, and don’t attempt a painting.

Here’s the piece based on the study above. Both done on-location.

More from this fascinating neighborhood. Steeper Streets. One going up, the other, down. Attempt #1.

Yes, a bit of a mess, but I do like one little bit. Maybe I’ll crop this and throw the rest of it out. I love drawing and painting cars. I think it’s because I understand so little about them, they’re just shapes and shadows to me. Best of all I like that dark, dark shadow that sits under them. And the bright pops of color on the brake lights.

Here’s attempt #2, which I think I’m calling unfinished. It feels like it needs some more work on it, though I don’t know what…


Here are my posts from Day 1 and Day 2 of the workshop.

And this is the link to the upcoming workshops page on Tom Hoffmann’s site.

Don’t think you can make it to a workshop? Well, there’s always this fantastic book, which I am rereading right now.

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Painting with Tom Hoffmann, again: 2 of 3

The Marin Headlands were a challenge to paint: at once both simple in shape yet so atmospheric… and then, there was the wind!

I painted #1 and #2 in parallel.


Attempt #3 (below) was painted because I wasn’t so happy with the cliff faces in the two above. I wanted them to read more vertical, more distinct in feel from the green tops.


I promised myself I’d attempt to work in atleast one person into a piece, so I did one more very quick little study on hot press paper. Note to self: If you’re trying to work wet-in-wet, stick with cold press paper, hot press paper dries out way quicker.

Here’s my post about Day 1 of the workshop.
Tom’s website is here.

Day 3, coming up soon!


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Painting with Tom Hoffmann, again: 1 of 3

I started to write a post about my experience over the weekend at Tom Hoffmann’s workshop in San Francisco. And then, I searched for my post from last year’s workshop and amazingly, I had almost the same things to say. Here is a link to that post.

But I’ll repeat this bit: A workshop with Tom is an amazing experience and you will learn a lot. Tom is a most generous teacher, especially in how much he shares of his process and his thinking through a piece. If you love watercolors, if you wish you painted fearlessly and in a way that really showcases the medium, then check out where Tom teaches and register for first workshop you can go to.
TomHoffman_2017_photo1The waterfront at Mission Bay was a great place to start. What you see lends itself to what will become a mantra for the next few days: Seeing Big Shapes. We started out with a scene that’s relatively easy to paint. Only relatively, because seeing big shapes and working wet-in-wet are always challenges.

I did this first piece on a quarter sheet as a study, but I liked it better than the half sheet painting that followed it.



And if I was thinking “hmm, I can do this” that morning, then the afternoon was another story. A much more complex subject, a lovely tree in the background, and boats in the foreground and things got much more challenging. I did what I often do: one piece followed by a second one.


Sometimes, you look at a scene, and painting it is like putting together a puzzle. And when you try solving it, a whole other set of puzzles (which is a nice way of saying problems, perhaps?) show up in your painting, and then you try to solve those in a second piece, and then more puzzles turn up…

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