How to sketch in 5 minutes

Have I mentioned I love sketching people? People are walking, breathing, texting stories, and I love drawing them. The trouble is you never know when they will get up and go. 

So this is how I work when I don’t know how long I’ll have for a capture.  I try to start by atleast thinking of why I want to capture a scene, and what it is about it that interests me. Because that’s the bit I must get down on the page, even in a quick sketch.

This group of high schoolers sat around a table at Starbucks, doing their homework (and occasionally checking their phones) and I was struck by the sense of quiet focus at the table. No chatting, heads down, each looking at their own computer. This is what I captured in the first 5 minutes. You can see the sketch is pretty bare bones and uses just an ink pen and one tone of grey ink that I fill in a waterbrush. I often end up getting no further than this. And that’s okay.

But these kids stayed on at that table and I kept at the sketch. Here’s where it ended up a good 20 minutes later. More layers of ink, and some watersoluble pencil is what I used to get here. A really basic sketchkit.

You can see I quite enjoyed working on the details: See the mouse-ears on this girl’s phone? And the hint of plaid on her shirt?

I also enjoyed building up the play of light and dark  in the different elements of this scene.

It isn’t often that a big group like this stays where it is long enough for me to draw them all, but when it happens, it’s fun.

Posted in california, Close to home, Drink, Everyday Sketches, Food, How to, people, san jose | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Back at the San Jose Museum of Art

I was back at SJMA last week to sketch, to view the new show “Other Walks, Other Lines” and to discuss a workshop for early 2019 (more on that as soon as I have details to share).

I started my afternoon at the cafe downstairs. It was early afternoon but the November shadows were already long…

Here’s the finished spread with bits and pieces from the show that caught my eye. I particularly loved the gorgeous sketchbooks of artist Brad Kahlhamer. There’s no sketch of them on this page, but the lovely thing about journaling is that you can draw some things and take notes about others .

To sketch this view of St. Joseph’s Basilica, I used the windows as a grid to place bits of the view into. This piece uses Inktense pencils and a watersoluble graphite pencil only, since you can only work with dry media inside the museum. I figured that this way I leave open the option to create watercolor effects later if I wanted…

We’ll probably work with this among other techniques at our workshop.

2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year with atleast 4 workshops lined up to announce soon… To hear about them as soon as they’re announced, join the mailing list and follow this blog.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Silicon Valley, Sketch Journal, teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

State of the Journal

Journal pages are perfect for a bit of ‘social sketching’: chatting, testing and taking notes all get recorded as an experience. Through this spread, I’m testing different color palettes, discussing pigments and mixes, drinking my coffee and drawing patrons.testing_jurnal

After that first spread, I did this one, an unfinished one. And though the words are missing, this is enough for me to remember what was discussed and some color mixes I want to try  and pigments I might swap out in my palette.

More social journaling and pen-testing. In my notes: pens I tried, books that were recommended. And coffee. I love Chromatic’s Keynote blend and bought some to take home for my Life Drawing group to enjoy.

Sketching in a group again, this one at the South Bay Sketchers meetup that happens once a month. If you live in the Bay Area join us for our next one by signing up at Meetup.

Some pages, like the two above, are done in one sitting. But many, like this one below are done through my day. I start with the apples and get halfway through painting them when I need to break to do other stuff. But the journal and my sketchkit remain on my breakfast table, and I come back, add my cup of chai that I drink after my kids are off to school and before I start my workday. The apples get finished later in the day. And that evening, my son comes home from school and makes it to a corner of the spread. I love going back and reading all the random writings on the page: things he tells me about China and about starlings…

At some point that evening, I call the spread done.

That’s how it goes for most journal pages for me. How does your daily sketch practice usually go? Is there an assigned time for it? Or do you just fit it in when you can? How often do you end up sketching this way?


Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Sketch Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Redwoods and Persimmon

I’m lucky to have some pretty amazing artists live nearby. And every once in a while, we get together for a day of sketching, talking art, eating and drinking tea. I always come home refreshed and inspired.

Here are some snapshots of a day in the redwoods with Gay Kraeger, Nina Khashchina and Liz Steel (who doesn’t live closeby).

Starting the day with tea. I spilt water all over my journal, can you tell?

We then hiked into the forest to look at a large old growth redwood tree.

Back for lunch and a bit of a chat before we headed out to find persimmon, which were not quite ripe just then. That just means we will have to go back.

Fall is late this year. It was only just starting to turn color up in the mountains when we were there.

And just like that, it was the end of the day, time to head back home.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, Food, Silicon Valley, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Elections 2018: My day in sketches

Two years ago, I volunteered for the very first time at an election booth. I might have been sad about the way that election went, but it was heartening to see democracy in action. (Sketches from that day here).

Yesterday I went back. Volunteering to work at the polls requires a 3 hour training, followed by a few hours of setup the night before the election and atleast a 16 hour day on Election Day. Super hectic, with many different tasks to keep in mind and lots of procedures to follow. Here are sketches done in snatched bits of my day. I just kept my book and kit by me through the day, (sometimes on the floor under the table I worked at) open on the current spread I was working on, pen, waterbrush and palette on top of the open spread. And I added bits to the spread when I could.

6:00am Starting setup, scrambling to be ready to open the polls at 7am. There were people waiting outside, ready to vote.

9:25am Bit of a lull as the pre-workday crowd is gone. A steady stream of voters remains, just no lines for a while.

11:00am My lunch break. Yup, In-N-Out Burger. A double-double with grilled onions. Extra sauce on the side. And a sketch.election_2018_lunch2.jpg
Noon Back at the polling station. So many people come in with their mail-in ballots. They joke about coming in for their “I VOTED” sticker. Everyone loves stickers.

2-3:00 pm Pre-evening lull again. It means people feel like they can take their time filling in that long ballot. 3 pages, 2 sided. Exhausting. This guy spent a long time pondering stuff. You could see it in his body language.

4:00pm ish? People start coming in with their kids. This is the point in my sketchbook where you can see I’m tiring.


Close to 8:00pm Almost poll closing time. Too exhausted to sketch anymore. Once we close polls at 8:00p, there’s till atleast 2 hours of work left to be done to make sure everything is secured and handed over.

I get home after 10pm. One bit stands out from the day:
People bring their best selves to the polls. Everyone is so nice, even when waiting in line on a workday. I hear more thank yous today than I do in the rest of my year.

Posted in Activism, california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, reportage, san jose, Silicon Valley, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments


More sketching adventures with Liz Steel.

One of the things I like about sketching with other sketchers is that I get to sketch different stuff from what I’d usually gravitate towards. I knew Liz had been sketching the Painted Ladies in San Francisco a few days earlier, so I thought we’d visit some local Victorians on 6th street in San Jose.

Like this relatively sedately painted one. It’s color scheme might have been simple, but it more than made up for it with a maddeningly complex structure. I find that if I manage to convey the whimsical nature of these homes, it makes up for some structural issues in my sketch. Or so I like to think.

Right across the street was yet another great home. Easier to draw, and with a much more flamboyant color scheme. This one was painted in under 15 minutes, because, it was almost school pick-up time. I’ve said this often to people who ask how I learnt to work fast: there’s nothing like working around small kids to make you work quickly. My kids aren’t little anymore, but old habits die hard.

I thought we were done with painting Victorians, but later that week, Nina suggested we sketch this lovely Queen Anne Victorian in Palo Alto, so we were back at it again.



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Missions: Santa Clara de Asís and San Juan Bautista

If I’d looked at pictures of Mission Santa Clara de Asís online, maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised? But I was, because I went there for the first time last week and was surprised the church was pink. If you’re not familiar with California Missions, then you might not know they’re usually whitewash over adobe walls.

This piece is in a Hahnemuehle watercolor book. I like the paper, but it might be a wee bit on the thin side for me, given how much water I put on the page.mission_santa_clara.jpg

I wasn’t terribly disappointed by the pink church because I knew I’d have a go at a white mission building later that week. Liz Steel was visiting on her way to Sketchkon, and we did quite a bit of sketching all over the South Bay. San Juan Bautista is my favorite Bay Area mission. (technically, it’s outside the Bay Area, but it’s only a 45 minute drive south of where I live). It lies right on the San Andreas fault and standing in the square with the hotel and stables around it, you can imagine yourself transported back in time.

Here is my first sketch of the Mission and bell tower. This one is in my usual book, a 9×12 inch wirebound Beta Sketchbook.

I then did a quick little sketch of the bell tower in my other Stillman and Birn book, a 7×10 inch softcover Alpha. This is the book I’ve been doing my sketch journal pages in. You can see I planned to put more on the page from how I crossed over my sketch just a little bit over the fold.
On the left is Liz’ book, and on the right are my two. You can see a closeup of Liz’ sketches on her instagram feed.

Here is my Alpha sketchbook spread, finished later that afternoon over lunch. Even though sketch #2 is wonkier than #1, it does a better job of conveying that the building is white, something I worked on through the week.

Later that day, we sketched a really fun Prickly Pear cactus.

And then this Masonic Lodge on Second Street.

After that it was time to head home to head home for the day.



Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Silicon Valley, Sketch Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments