Faces of Recovery: Tony, Alan, Agustin

More Faces of Recovery .

Tony‘s story.Tony_square

And Alan‘s. It’s funny how portrait drawing works: Alan smiles so much, he is funny and optimistic, and yet I couldn’t get past the his blue eyes, they looked so sad.

And, Agustin.

I’m learning as I do these. And I’m using things I’ve learnt before too.
– Sketching on location in public places has taught me to work when being watched, and that’s super helpful.
– More importantly, though, I’ve learnt to stop voicing my anxiety about how a piece is going, or to constantly comment on something that didn’t quite work out: especially with this project, it isn’t about me and my drawing, and it isn’t about how technically correct something is. A portrait will work if I can stay present and capture character, and that means listening to the story I’m being told, not just drawing facial features.

Find every story recorded so far here.

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Faces of Recovery: Izeda, Diana, Rosanna

I’m working on a new project called Faces of Recovery and will be posting about the project here from time to time. I’ll talk a little about what it takes to do reportage drawing like this: the process, the challenges, the craft. I will also collect and share all the stories without the art-making-commentary under the tab Faces of Recovery. This is an ongoing project and the stories, while incredible, are often difficult. I thought I’d mention that before you scroll down.

Here is a short writeup about the project:

Faces of Recovery

These are the faces and stories of recovery. Stories of resilience, hope and dignity. In this ongoing project I sit down with members of Recovery Cafe San Jose. These men and women share stories of their life while I draw them. Through this series of portraits I hope to help put a personal face to homelessness and addiction.
Many of us know of addiction and homelessness through statistics and reports. No names, no faces, no real people: the sort of knowledge that makes empathy, understanding and kinship difficult. Through these individual stories, I hope a different narrative emerges. One in which we feel a connection, one in which we will be astounded by the human spirit and it’s ability to overcome what seems unsurmountable. 
Drawing is my first language and I’ll share what I record in it. And hopefully you and I will learn and grow from the generosity of those sharing their story with us. 

This is Izzy. The very first person to volunteer to sit with me and tell her story. We sat together at the cafe early in the morning, before the doors opened for the day. I didn’t know how this was going to go, she didn’t either. But we just went with the process and talked for almost an hour. I drew, she told me her story. I took copious notes on the side and only wrote a very small fragment of what she told me on her sketch, as soon as it was done. All my notes are on paper, I record nothing electronically. I find that keeping the process low-tech makes it seem more like a conversation.

This is Diana. The stories I hear are beyond what I can wrap my head around. Drawing and taking notes as I go, I just stay with the process. I don’t work large: a quarter size sheet of a thick mix-media paper (Stillman and Birn Beta paper, in sheets, generously donated by them for the project) is what I use along my usual urban sketching kit: a couple of pens and my watercolors. Keeping it small helps us sit down together side b side or across a small table and after a while we both forget I’m drawing, which is a good thing.

This is Rosanna, the most soft-spoken of the three. I rarely ask a lot of questions. I find an open-ended “tell me your story” is all I need to say. 3_Rosanna.jpg

More stories and portraits in the Faces of Recovery series coming up soon. You can find out more about Recovery Cafe San Jose here.

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Channel Islands Sketches, Part 4

This is the last post in the series of posts from the Channel Islands.

An evening sketch of Anacapa Island at sunset. And as the colors deepened, I did a little ‘color-strip’ of the changing colors.

The next morning, we woke up to fog. Our first foggy day and the whole color palette on the islands changed. As the boat sailed I kept capturing little impressions of how the top of the islands disappeared into the fog.
If you look closely at the four pieces above, you’ll see my favorite part of it: the little specks of white created by the spray and mist. I love that about working on location, the bits you could never plan for are sometimes the best parts.

This strange little building, circa 1887 is a double warehouse that belonged to a ranch.
A view of the colorful rocks, the ocean and the land beyond.
And a single vertical sketch in my book of a tree that caught my eye.

And one last sketch, from the island, looking past interesting bushes and scrub at our boat out at sea.

My memories of this amazing trip will always be tied to the tragedy that followed.
But I’m hoping these sketches can hold their own for a beautiful place and a wonderful three days  shared with so many people. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
This piece is the fourth in a series of posts on the Channel Islands. You can find the rest of them here:
Channel Islands Part 1

Channel Islands Part 2
Channel Islands Part 3

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Channel Islands Sketches, Part 3

More from the Channel Islands. I used one book throughout the trip, and it holds everything. It doesn’t make for a pretty flip-through, but I like it this way, a mixed bag, with my sketches, demos, pages that work out and some that don’t….

Here are the next few spreads from that sketchbook.

I really enjoyed swatching colors I saw around me. It’s a great little exercise to start seeing color more clearly.

Some people kayaked, some snorkeled. I sketched them as they got ready to head out. Those kayaks move quickly from when they hit the water to when they move into the distance…

As Nina and Tracey prepared to snorkel-sketch, (you can see the sketches on their instagram streams) I did a lesson on sketching the head quickly. Nothing beats a brushpen for gesture-drawing.

A little more sketching and our intrepid snorkel-sketchers were back.

An afternoon of on-deck lessons. Gay offered tips on translating a landscape from life to paper. I did small demo on atmospheric perspective. This is Platt’s Harbor.

The afternoon sun got hotter, the light hit the cliffs and the colors changed. This is watercolor, used thick, almost like gouache. I dragged my pencil through the wet paint to create texture.

When I’m tired and still want to draw I default to sketching people. (If there are any around) This page in colored pencil is just that.

I’d told our deckhands I wanted to watch them pull the anchor up: it’s high-action and happens super quickly, and it’s windy on deck and the boat rocks while it happens. Just the sort of challenge I need.
To my surprise, they pulled up two anchors, one after the other, and this is what they explained: When a boat is set up for diving or kayaking, two anchors are dropped to keep it steady. This keeps it from rotating in the water when it is anchored. The sketch on the top is the first anchor being pulled up, the bow anchor.  And then a second anchor, the stern anchor was pulled up, followed by a big float. 


One last set of sketches, coming up tomorrow.

Channel Islands Part 1
Channel Islands Part 2


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Channel Islands Sketches, Part 2

This is part 2 in a series of posts from the Channel Islands. Part 1 is here.

Back on the boat after a blustery afternoon, and ready for workshops on board. This is a page of notes as Nina and Gay share ideas on creating vignettes. Page7LR_vignettes

Notes on the colors of the sky in the evening. As the sun set, the sky changed color so quickly, all I managed were the two columns of a slice-of-sky, recording the deepening colors. (The bits of this page are not painted in order from left to right, so it’s a bit of a puzzle to figure what followed what… not intentional, I just filled in the gaps as I went along.)

The next morning we sailed by the craggy cliffs of Santa Cruz island and into a beautiful sea cave called Painted Cave. The waters were not calm but the sights were spectacular. I wasn’t sure I could draw on the choppy sea, but then Tracey Thompson brought out her sketchbook and started drawing little vignettes, and I wanted to give it the try. There’s something beautiful about a boatful of artists drawing. No words spoken, but in each others company, we’re inspired to try something we wouldn’t usually do.
These vignettes are made quickly as the boat passes close to the cliffs. I looked up more than I looked down in an attempt to keep from getting seasick. Waterbrush, Art Graf graphite and ink.

Either I got more ambitious, or the ocean got calmer, I can’t remember which one. So this next spread uses some color with the watersoluble graphite.

The afternoon was filled with people-sketching. Coming up in my next post.

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Channel Islands Sketches, Part 1

This one is a difficult post to write. From August 25th to 29th, Nina, Gay and I lead a group of sketchers and their friends on a truly wonderful adventure through the Channel Islands, sketching on the islands and aboard the dive boat, The Conception. It was an amazing trip, full of friendships, experiences and memories. Sadly, it was the last trip the Conception came back from. On their next trip out, that awful tragedy we see all over the news occurred. 

I’ve debated posting these sketches but decided that anyone who knows the Channel Islands would agree that their beauty should be shared. I won’t post photographs from the trip, and some names have been removed from my sketches. The Divers Alert Network is collecting funds to be divided equally among all families who lost members in the tragedy.

This and the next few posts are my sketches from that adventure.

The following sketches are all pages from my sketchbook in chronological order. I used a small Hahnemühle watercolor sketchbook and I’m posting all the spreads in it here in chronological order.

That wide-bottomed mug with the narrow mouth kept my drink from sloshing around as I filled it up with warm tea and drank it all the time I was on board. And a map of the four main Channel Islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa.

We visited Santa Rosa island on our first full day. But first, a safety meeting with our super-friendly crew. And a map of Santa Rosa island.

Waiting to be ferried ashore in the zodiac, this was my view of Bechers Bay.

Painted from the pier where we landed. I swatched those colors on the left first. Just putting them on the page helped me see the colors in the scene better when I painted it.

A spread of vignettes made on a super-windy day.

And a close-up of my favorite one from the page, the deer antler and horseshoe.

One last spread in the late afternoon on the island. As we sat sketching, an island fox ran across that path. This lovely little animal was once on the brink of extinction but a recovery program is bringing the fox and bald eagles back.

More from the beautiful Channel Islands tomorrow.



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Colored Pencils

Besides that little set of Sennelier watercolors, I have a new set of pencils I’m loving. They are Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle colored pencils. I love that they’re watersoluble, but the original line you put down stays in it’s place. The colors are really vibrant, and the lead is strong enough to hold up to my handling it (which isn’t very gently).

Here are some sketches using the pencils and paints. All done in a small SM.ALT Art #Authenticbook sketchbook.coloredpencil_nish.jpg







There’s something about colored pencils that keeps it casual and fun for me, and I like that. Do you find you do more casual and fun work when you mix media? And what are some media you carry in your urban sketching kit?


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