Tinted paper, Accordion Folds

I bought a large roll of tinted paper for my weekly figure study session, and I folded some of it into little accordion-folded sheets to carry around in my sketchbook. This was the first one I used last week. Today, I filled another accordion fold with sketches over coffee. I love drawing crowded, busy places. But it’s hard to find a crowd in my quiet suburban neighborhood.

My local grocery store sees a fair amount of foot traffic, though. So I parked myself and my coffee at a table with a good view for about 45 minutes and filled in both sides of my accordion fold. I wish I’d left the sky out on the top piece. It’s too much of a distraction. grey_book_almaden_center1grey_book_almaden_center

I used brushpen and fountain pen with black carbon ink, white crayon and colored pencils. Here are some closeups.


grey_people_closeup2Did I mention I’m teaching a workshop at the 6th Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore this July? Come draw people and crowds in Singapore with me, it will be fun. More details coming very soon… But early registration is now open!

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Would you walk into this store?

Look at this really welcoming, friendly guy, wouldn’t you walk into a store if he towered above it?

store_closing_closeup I guess ‘welcoming’ isn’t the point of the green gorilla. He certainly did make for an eye-catching ‘STORE CLOSING’ sign. I stopped and sketched the drama. Lots of people pulled over and went in while I sketched. store_closing_signEmpirical evidence shows that gigantic inflatable green gorillas make for great sale signs.

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Watertowers and Continental Cuisine

This is the Mariani Fruit Packing Company Water Tower in San Jose.  The Fruit Packing Plant has long since been torn down, and in its place is a huge housing complex called, what else, Mariana Square Townhomes.

I hit a double jackpot with this next sketch: two signs, both for now-defunct institutions: the faded sign is for an Italian restaurant called Guido’s. Instead of taking it down , the next restaurant that came up on it’s site just built a super-bright, overpoweringly yellow and red sign next to it and left it up. And the bright yellow one? The restaurant?  Zorba the Greek. Serving Greek, Armenian, Italian and Continental cuisine.
guidos_myplace_estd1963More sketches form my vintage sketch collection here on flickr.


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Surprise Sketches are the Best

Sometimes the unplanned stuff is the best. Early at school to pickup my kids today (that almost NEVER happens) and what do I see? Our local middle school Chamber Orchestra playing under the redwood trees.

I dug out a piece of taupe-colored, accordion-folded paper and sketched on it. Since I didn’t know how long they’d play (they ended up being around a good 15 minutes) I added things as I went along: Black ink in a brushpen went in first. Then some white gel pen. They hung around and played some more, out came a few colored pencils and a white wax crayon. Stuff I haven’t used in a long time. So much fun. Here are a couple of closeups from the image.


Wish I’d asked the teacher his name (he’s the conductor in the sketch). he was fantastic and animated and the kids obviously loved him.

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Thoughts on Figure Drawing

I don’t post a lot of my life drawings from a weekly figure drawing session.  But today I thought I’d post a few and try to explain why life drawing is so important to me.

15891161684_468e0ea3c7_o10 minutes. Charcoal and watercolor on charcoal paper.

I’m often asked, as an Urban Sketcher who draws a lot of people, if figure study is necessary to drawing people into your sketches. The short answer? No. Just like technical architectural drawing is not essential to drawing buildings.

figurez-sketch_5_minutes5 minute pose. Charcoal on Newsprint.

But does it help? Immensely. Of all the things I draw, people are the hardest for me.  So I draw a lot of them. Because practicing drawing what is most outside my comfort zone means I have the confidence to draw anything.

Figure Study in a group session almost always means working alongside some pretty amazing artists, being inspired by them, and learning from them. Just seeing how a room full of people handles the same subject in so many different ways is an education. And artists are really generous sharers of all they know.

figrure_sketch15 minute pose. Soft charcoal and white charcoal on paper.

Another question I often hear: “Why draw the nude figure when most of your urban sketches will never contain a nude figure?”
I enjoy drawing nude and clothed models. To draw the nude figure is to understand structure and muscle, and the flow and mass of the human body in ways that are often complicated by clothes. Going back to my architectural analogy, it is like studying perspective, structure, plans and layouts. While they might not be WHAT you draw when you draw a building, understanding them informs and enhances your drawing.

figure_deadWatercolor, charcoal and blue colored pencil on paper. 40 minutes. 

When I draw in cafes and on the street, I most often draw people sitting, or standing, walking or bending over, and every once in a while, jogging or running. Models at figure drawing sessions offer really dynamic poses, especially for the short pose sessions. I find contrappostol poses especially amazing to learn to draw weight, balance and the ‘line of action’ of the human body.

15226196314_ea9ea63990_o15 minute pose. Ink on watercolor paper.

I draw loads and loads in 2 hours of figure study. Most of it will never make it to this blog. A lot of it makes to to my recycling bin. But it is all really valuable practice and learning towards my 10,000 hours. And that counts for a lot.

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Sketching wildflowers

Drawing outside my comfort zone today. I like to draw fast and loose. To capture an impression, often without much detail. So it was quite a challenge to walk around Guadalupe Oak Grove Park and draw some really tiny wildflowers that I wanted to identify. I managed to come home and I.D. everything but #4: little pink-lilac flowers, feathery foliage and some strange grass-like structures attached. The flowers were a half centimenter across. I’m based in San Jose, California. If you think you know what I might have drawn, let me know.
Update: They’ve been identified! The amazing Nature Journal Club members got it right within minutes of my posting this. It is a non-native called Erodium cicutarium or pinweed,

wildflowers_ID-Sketched in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series book, which has a much smoother paper than my usual book.

When I came across this big clump of poppies, though, out came my large Beta sketchbook. Blue pencil and watercolor with a wee bit of white gouache.


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The morning the tree trimmers came

The tree trimmers arrived at 8am. They turned off the electricity and cut down a couple of large branches from the tree outside my home. That big white vehicle is a branch-muncher, it can grind up huge tree limbs in seconds.pge_1The blue Pacific Gas and Electric truck joined the branch-munching van.pge_2
More trucks arrived, lots of discussion, lots of setting out orange cones on the street…
Finally this guy got down on the ground, opened up a manhole and peered into it. Things were just hotting up.pge_4

And I was clean out of sketching time and had to leave for work.

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