Sketching in India? Take this along…

A few months ago, a friend wrote to me saying he’d been told by the guard on duty at an old monument outside Bangalore that he wasn’t allowed to sketch there. That surprised me, ( i’ve never been stopped from sketching myself) but apparently it wasn’t an isolated incident. The controversy began when artists were not allowed to sit with sketchbooks near monuments at Mamallapuram. That led to a successful campaign petitioning for permission to sketch at monuments. ( Thank you, Ganapathy Subramaniam)
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So here’s the simple verdict: You CAN sketch at monuments, just keep it simple: a sketchbook and your supplies are totally fine, but an easel and a more elaborate setup may not be okay. ( Here is a link to an article that explains it in more detail)

If you know you’re going to sketch at an old monument, it’s best to print and carry around a copy of this document with you. ( Thank you Kishan Dev of the newly formed Usk group in Mumbai for sending me a copy of this letter) If someone were to tell you  you can’t sketch, show them the letter.

Happy Sketching…There aren’t many places in the world as exciting to sketch in as India!


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One coffee shop, two views.

This is Big Basin Cafe, in Saratoga, California on a busy Friday evening. Sketched from two different tables in the same cafe, because I can’t sit still very long …

I’m enjoying making these people-and-places sketches and working through thoughts and ideas for my workshop titled People and Places: Life in Contrast that I will teach at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester this year.

Sketch 1 uses two pretty similar tools, for a low-contrast piece: A Sailor bent-nib pen for most of the figures in the sketch, and then the quieter Carbon Platinum pen for the thinner line that I use to capture the setting.


In sketch 2, I went for more contrast between my tools, using a thick graphite pencil for loosely drawn figures and the sailor bent Nib pen for everything else.

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Drawing the familiar

Do you ever feel like you know something so well, it’s a bit intimidating to try and capture it? I live in Almaden at the very southern tip of San Jose. And right behind home is a range of hills with a building atop the most distant one, called Umunhum Conservancy. For something that looks like a concrete box, and a tiny one at that, I’m strangely fond of it: it’s kinda iconic and it’s visible from many miles away. And, at the end of a long drive in Bay Area traffic, seeing it means home is not far away.

The trouble is, feeling I know it so well makes it hard to draw. So I gave it a shot today: That very small square in the distance is the said Umunhum Conservancy. I can only say I’m going to have to go out and give it another shot again, another day, because these just don’t capture what the scene looks like in my mind’s eye.



Still, it was good to get those first two sketches, both for the same location, done.

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Jose Theater and Zanotto’s

Jose Theater is now the home of San Jose Improv. The original theater was built in 1904, but I have no idea how old this neon sign is…sj_improv_street

And step away, down the same street is the sign for Zanotto’s Family Markets.

I photographed this piece as I worked on it. Initially, I wanted to go right to  watercolor with this one, but decided it was wise to add in a quick pencil underdrawing to make sure I didn’t misspell Zanotto’s as I painted in the shapes. With light colored lettering, I like working this way: as negative shapes and shadows that come together to form the letters.


Zanotto’s no longer operates at this location, and as I sketched, a lady passing by told me it was going to be gone soon, so I decided to do a super-quick piece that captured where this sign is located. It’s pretty amazing when you get two beautiful old signs in one sketch right at the heart of downtown San Jose.


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Pierre Bonnard at the Legion of Honor

There’s a Pierre Bonnard exhibit showing at the Legion of Honor is San Francisco just now. I’m posting everything I sketched in the order I sketched in. You can see I start out kinda tentative. That never seems to change, so my solution is just to always make that first sketch. Then I’m past that.

These are two panels from Bonnard’s japonaise period, the one on the left full of life, with a woman and a dog. On the right,a much quieter composition with a cat.

Here are more sketches from the show. Bonnard pretty much breaks the rule of ‘using the full range of values’: so much of his work is pastel colored and very light in value. Sometimes with true whites, often not, and rarely do even his darks go beyond middle grey.bonnard_4

Well, there are exceptions, like the piece with the two brothers on the left, which had (for him) some pretty bold darks. But his self-portrait, on the right, was probably the quietest piece in the show.bonnard_3

And after that show: This is Jonathan Dimmock playing the seemingly bewildering pipe organ.
bonnard_2One last sketch before the museum shut for the day. I think I was in the gallery with Flemish artists, but I’m just guessing by the ruffled collar and cuffs in the painting on the wall. I love sketching that classic lean-back posture of the photographer: isn’t it funny, however far we are from our subject, we still hold that posture when we take photographs?

The sketchbook I’m using is new. It’s the Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook. And I’m using my greys and browns pencil collection that travels around in a tin Camlin compass box I love.

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Caffe Frascati on a Friday Night

Friday was Community Showcase at Caffe Frascati in downtown San Jose. Musicians amble in and play new songs they’ve written and a few crowd-favorites. It’s fun to draw musicians, especially in an intimate setting where you’re guaranteed front row seats. And good coffee.




Sketched with these supplies. The Burt’s Bees lip shimmer does the lovely, smudgy color sienna you see in the first few sketches.


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A common surprise

It’s becoming more and more common: someone will email me telling me about an interesting sign in San Jose that I haven’t sketched. I’ll go out to sketch it only to find something quite different from what was described to me.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I added this sign for the Bold Knight (photo by Dave on flickr) to my list. But when I went there today, I found a huge green tarp around the perimeter of the lot, meaning something was being demolished. And this. A big hole where the quite-flamboyant lettering should have been.



I wonder how long it will be before the sign is gone. Glad I got there, even if it was a bit late. So many hidden and almost forgotten landmarks in the city, so many stories, all disappearing quicker than I can get to them…

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