Impressions, Lake Tahoe

My friend Katy put it well: If I was looking for a ‘first impressions’ trip to Lake Tahoe, this was NOT the weekend to pick. Tahoe’s winter economy is powered by snow and snow sports. But right now, it’s really hard to find snow anywhere in the area.
On my first day there, the temperature in the middle of the day was 68 degrees on the ski slopes. There were people skiing in tanktops. The snow machines ran all day at Boreal Ski Resort. The light on the snow was blinding. I absolutely HATE sketching with sunglasses on, but this one time, there was no taking them off. tahoe_ski1

A sketch of the lunchroom. What a zoo! Snowboards, skis, beanies, bright ski jackets, and loads of junk food.tahoe_ski2

The upside of warm weather? Hiking. The lake was beautiful, the water and sky were ultramarine blue (no mixing, no diluting, straight out of my palette!).
This first sketch is at a little cove in the town of King’s Beach. My kids are far in the distance, on the rocks. Loving using a blue pencil to sketch with.
tahoe_kings_beachTwo impressions of Emerald Bay, on the Western side of the lake. This sketch is from Inspiration Point, high above the bay. tahoe_emeraldbay1And this one is at the end of a steep hike down to the shores of the bay. Looking past the pier towards Fannette Island, with a dilapidated little structure on it.
tahoe_emeraldbay2The downside of no snow? I spend winter oogling at Shari Blaukopf’s wonderful sketches of snow. And I take her book, “Mostly Montreal” along with me for inspiration. But aside from one blinding, flat, white ski slope? No snow.

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Documenting the process

I’ve been trying to take photographs of a piece as I work on it. Trouble is, I work very quickly and wet-in-wet, usually without a pause. So it’s easy to forget to stop and take a photograph. Still, I managed to get a few in-between shots this week. They’re really useful to me, to look at and see what I did, and often, when I should have stopped. I thought I’d share these process shots.

This is the front of the newly restored Los Gatos Theater. Originally the Strand Theater, it burnt down in a fire in 1929 and was rebuilt as the art deco Los Gatos Theater.

Sketch 1: brushpen and watercolor.
Sketch 2: watercolor over blue colored pencil



And a sketch of my kids. Pencil sketch under watercolor and Brushpen.

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Car Sketching

Here in California, it’s rare to have a day when it’s not possible to sketch outdoors. Last week, we had a couple of those days, so to keep out of the rain, I tried some car sketching. Here is Lincoln Liquor in Willow Glen. Sketched on Saturday morning on a grey day. I had to run the windshield wipers every few minutes to see what I was sketching.
vintage_willow_liquorsI’m enjoying switching up what I usually do when I sketch. This piece is sketched very loosely in pencil, and then worked in watercolors for the most part, with very little line added just at the end. It creates quite a different effect form when I work in line first: More atmospheric, but definitely a slower process.

This is the Garden Theater, also in Willow Glen, named for when San Jose used to be  “The Garden City”. Built in 1949, it now houses offices and retail spaces, and only the neon sign on the facade remains.

vintage_garden_1Note to self: If you’re car sketching again, remember, TURN OFF YOUR HEADLIGHTS when you park your car and settle down to  sketch.  I didn’t, which meant I needed a jump-start to get my car running again. The upside? After a really grey morning,the sun broke out of the clouds for just a bit, so while I waited for a jump on my car, I got in one more super-quick sunny-sky sketch  in.

Adding these to my growing collection of vintage sign sketches here on Flickr.

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A beginner’s watercolor lesson. Painting with my daughter.

My daughter Kavya and I sometimes sketch together. Most often that means we sit next to each other and draw. But this weekend I thought I’d do a little ‘lesson’ with her and talk her through how I look at things when I draw.

I simplified what I look for and think of as I paint, but essentially this is how I work . I wanted her to work from observation, not just copy what I painted. So we made a simple setup. I made notes of what I told her as we drew and painted. Here is what I recorded of her painting (all the images except the last one are her work) and what I remember telling her. I thought I’d share it: a beginner’s lesson in drawing and painting from direct observation.

Here is our setup. Simple enough. 2 pears in contrasting colors. ( Don’t have pears? Use anything simple-shaped without too much surface decoration.)

The trickiest part of drawing is learning to see. (And unlearning to draw all the symbols we use as stand-ins for real observation) No pear is truly ‘pear-shaped’. Nor is it truly symmetrical. Stems are attached to fruit in really interesting ways that are fascinating to draw.
Below is her contour drawing with highlight and shadow lightly marked in. The other bit I had her notice and draw in is the relative heights of the 2 pears on the paper, and how they overlapped.
2lineNow for color. The trick with watercolor is to fuss with it as little as possible. To let the medium do the mixing instead of ‘forcing’ a mix. And to enjoy the accidents. (You’ll see Kavya had a few blooms and mixes that she may not have planned for.)
Plain water wets the surface . 2 shades are mixed: one for the lighter side of the pear, one for the darker side. Paint in the lighter side of the fruit (Notice it has a shape, it’s not straight down the middle of the fruit in a line.), leaving out the highlight . The slightly wet paper will diffuse the edges of your highlight. Now start from the opposite side of the fruit and paint in the dark side. Let the light and dark shades mix themselves on the wet page. Don’t go back over your strokes, or rub the paint in. Load your brush generously and glide the paint on. The brush should barely touch the surface of the paper.


For the really dark contour on the dark edge of the fruit and along the bottom, mix in a dark color: mix your dark green with a little red or blue, depending on what color the deep color looks like to you. Before the color dries, just dab on a dark outline or a spot wherever you see it. Remember: dab lightly, don’t mix, don’t fuss.


Look at the shadows for color: they’re not ‘just grey’, they might be a purplish grey, a reddish grey, a yellowish grey (Kavya saw hers as a bluish grey): mix up a color, draw in a shadow shape. Then clean out your brush, wet it, and come in from the outside of your shadow and melt away the edge of the shape. Just a bit, don’t scrub.  Paint in the stems.

5shadowsIt’s all details from here. Spray on some dots with a brush and then switch to colored pencil for that last bit of detail and definition: (I find switching away from watercolors after a single wet-in-wet wash is the best way for a beginner to avoid overworking a piece: who says you have to strictly stick to one medium?) Some more dots, a little more definition on the stem and the shadows.
6DEetailsAll done! I think she was pretty happy with her piece, and we had fun.

doneHere’s my piece. I painted along as I talked her through seeing and painting, and I tried making notes as I went along.
8_suhitaHope this is helpful: drop me a line , ask me a question about anything isn’t quite clearly explained ,I’d love to hear from you.

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A short visit to the San Jose Museum of Art

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at my favorite local museum, the San Jose Museum of Art. Here are my some bits and pieces from my visit.


My favorite piece from the show “POSTDATE: Photography and Inherited History in India” was a piece by  Jitish Kallat. It consisted of an everyday street scene from Bombay (?) printed as a series of large lenticulars, creating this fascinating effect where, as you walked past it, different pieces of the scene were in view and hidden. Almost like walking down a street seeing just one little bit of a panorama as you walk past it. Except, disconcertingly, the part of the view right in front of you is obscured by a a vividly colored lenticular effect.

sjmuseum_noteOkay, I lied. My favorite piece from that show is this note a little kid posted about the show.

If you have little kids and live anywhere near San Jose, take them to the Museum. They have this amazing Art Kit for anyone to grab : you can sketch or take notes as you walk around. And there’s a space in the basement to make art. There are tons of kids at the museum and they always seem totally engrossed and happy. They’re the only ones not checking their phones.


This is Calder’s Big Red, 1959. From the museum’s permanent collection. I love Calder’s red. Apparently, Calder loved it too :) The piece twirled slowly as I stood by it and sketched. I tried capturing it’s motion and changing shapes with different colors.

sjMuseum_chihulyThere’s one view I’m always drawn to at the museum: looking down from the second floor, past the red, yellow and blue Chihuly pieces suspended from the ceiling above. It’s quite a dramatic scene. And, I can sketch it from a common area outside the exhibit space which means I can pull out my watercolor kit!

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What I drew this week

Not very much. And a little bit of everything.

One quick , almost abstract watercolor sketch on a hike in the hills around San Jose.

One vintage sign for Cambrian Park Plaza which was built in the 1950s.

And two donuts (doughnuts?) with sprinkles and a coffee. It’s hard to tell with this image, but I am loving two new(ish) additions to my sketching kit: a white china marker I’m using to add back some of the finer highlights I miss when I sketch this loose. And a blue Stabilo pencil that adds just that last bit of definition and depth I need. I’d love to be able to work in my darkest darks in my wash, but when I don’t, I find that having the pencil to add them in with keeps me from overworking my piece. And the blue is fun and alive.

It’s a very rainy week ahead, so I’m going to be drawing a lot indoors.
If you’re stuck inside like I am, it’s a great week to take an online class on Craftsy called ‘Sketching People in Motion’ with Marc Taro Holmes. Marc is a great teacher, and he shares lots of tips and tricks to get you sketching people. If you’re interested in the class, use this link and you’ll get $15 off the class.

Happy Sketching!

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Super Quick sketches

It’s been a week of super quick captures, most under 10 minutes. When they’re this quick, it’s very hit-or-miss: a well-captured single line gesture makes a sketch work, and one that goes awry… you get how that goes. Still, the quick ones are always fun, and I’m glad I do them.

Here they are, captures from last week. The ones that worked, and the ones that didn’t.
fireengineFire Engine, Sunnyvale

hike_hillsHills, Santa Teresa County

scouts_derby2Pinewood Derby Races, Boy Scouts

parkinglotParking Lot with cars, San Jose

vintage_best_furniture“BEST” Furniture, San Jose


Kavya working on her poster.

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