Downtown San Jose

These three pieces are from last week when I painted with Nina KhashchinaThis one is at San Jose State University, such a beautiful, green oasis in the middle of the city!


We moved on to the San Jose Museum of Art. I’ve always wanted to capture that bold lettering on red. Glad I finally got to do it. And, I got to draw some palm trees to boot.

Here’s another take on the museum, seen through the trees at Plaza de César Chávez. Art Graf watersoluble graphite, watercolor and pen.

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Negative Thinking

A few months ago I did a wonderful negative painting workshop with Brenda Swenson. It was fantastic to paint in a style so different from my own. I came home inspired by the luminous quality of Brenda’s watercolors. But I was most intrigued by how much she works like a sculptor, carving an image out in negative shapes.

I find it takes a long time for concepts like that to really seep in and start to show up, even in small ways, in my work. Breaking from my usual urban sketches last week, to do small mostly black and white studies at home has been good for me. I’m back to putting brush to paper more and I was pleased to find some thinking in negative shapes showing up in these studies.succulent

I can see bits of it here too, in how my son’s uncut hair becomes a big black helmet-like shape that forms his face.

And more subtly in this portrait of Bethlehem, who I noticed because she and I were the only two people in my local cafe with sketchbooks, not phones.

And here’s yesterday’s life drawing piece, in ink and watercolor.

A workshop with a good teacher is a gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, once again, Brenda. I’m betting this won’t be the last time I’ll say that.


Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, How to, san jose, Workshop | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Storytelling Sketches

I like to think of every sketch as a story. Not always a big one, with a grand plot and story arc. Stories can be quiet little everyday things tucked into bigger pieces.  Like this Saturday morning sketch at Social Policy in downtown San Jose. Just another cafe sketch…socila_policy2

Or maybe you can imagine the conversation they’re having as they buy their coffee?

Or what’s brewing in this guy’s mind as he sits here?

And then there’s more active, action-packed stories. Middle school orchestra and band performances at a concert called ‘Megafestival of Awesomeness’. (That’s what you get when you let middle schoolers come up with a name for their concert.)concert2


I love people-stories, but they’re not all I’m interested in. I’ve sketched vintage signs around San Jose for a while now. Here’s a recent one. I’m a sucker for a great vintage arrow, and while this one has very few working bulbs left, it still has quite a presence. The signs in San Jose tell a quiet story: they’re the last remnants (and disappearing fast), of a different place than the city is now. They have a stoicism and a beauty, and they hold stories and changes I’ll never know of.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley, Vintage Signs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mostly black and white

My daily sketching practice has gotten a bit, shall we say, sketchy lately. So to try and get back to little studies last week, I decided to try and draw everyday: not big ambitious pieces, but with some focus: working mostly in black and white with a focus on value.

Here are some sketches from last week.

A couple of wet months has meant that there’s flowers everywhere. Even my never-pruned roses are blooming. I’m not a big fan of the sort of classic rose you see on greeting cards, but there’s something I enjoy about these large cabbage-shaped blooms. They’re not elegant, but they smell heavenly. This is sumi ink. I love it’s transparency but don’t know it well enough to know how much lighter it dries, so I kept thinking I’d gotten my darks in and then they faded to a midt-tone and I needed yet another layer on ink…


When in doubt, draw your morning chai. Here are a few small studies in my Stillman & Birn Alpha book. My grey is a classic mix: Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. You can see I don’t quite mix the colors fully: sometimes the mix runs cooler, sometimes warmer…



On the subject of value sketches, the (cropped) sketch of my chai cup on the left is a much truer capture of the actual values than the one on the bottom right. But the drama of higher contrast is always more exciting to me. Art Graf watersoluble graphite. There’s a pearlescent quality to it that I love (that doesn’t show up in photos or scans).cups2

Not much people sketching in this week full of project deadlines. But here is one quick sketch from my local coffee shop.

And finally, my cats, sprawled on the dark wood floor. The tabby in the front was easier to define. She hit a classic cat pose and her two-toned coloring is similar in value. But the calico in the back didn’t make it easy: her odd, upside down stretched pose plus her random black patches made for a more challenging shape to paint.


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Capitola Beach

From where I live it’s easy to jump in the car and be at a fantastic beach in just over a half hour. Capitola Beach is where we headed today. I thought I packed my kit, but once I settled down at the beach I found I had no pens or pencils. All I could muster is a ballpoint pen borrowed from the reception desk of a nearby hotel. I missed the juicy line of my fountain pen, but still I’m glad I had something to draw with!

I settled down in the sand and then didn’t move until we left. This is Hari reading. See that Trader Joe’s bag by his feet? We prepared well for our lazy afternoon (well, except for that pencil case I left at home).

This view of the beach? You never really get to see it like this: Capitola is always packed, especially so if the sun is out.

One last spread before I took a nap. Beach people. So fun to draw.

Hope you got some warm weather this weekend, and if you didn’t, I hope it’s heading your way very soon!

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(More) Heading South

The first part of our trip was wonderful. To make a very bad pun, it literally went South from there on. One really fun day in San Diego,and then both kids got sick and we mostly spent the next 3 days sleeping in our hotel room. I did try to take them out for a short outing some days, but it didn’t work so well. Some days I drew in Old Town as they slept in the room. Here are some sketches from those days.

This gorgeous building in Balboa Park houses the Museum of Man. I will have to go back to San Diego to see it!

And a few sketches from Old Town, San Diego: The brightly colored trolleys and the brilliant cobalt skies.oldtown2

A pretty grand tree.oldtown3

Terracotta roofs, whitewashed walls and cactus work so well together.oldtown4

Did I say I am obsessed with palm trees in SoCal? We have palm trees here in the Bay Area but they never look as happy as SoCal trees. (Speaking of SoCal and palm trees, you do know Virginia Hein‘s beautiful work don’t you?)

Here are some trees I drew.palmtree2


SoCal is lovely, but most of our time on this trip was spent like this:

I guess that means we will have to go back.

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Heading South

Last week, the kids and I jumped in the car and headed south. The week began well, with fish tacos at Splash Cafe, Pismo Beach.

And Pismo is always beautiful.

I asked my son to take a picture of me sketching at the beach. This is what he took. Not quite what I meant for him to do, but oh well…

Driving south means I want to draw every palm tree I see. It takes me a while to actually feel like I can see a tree simply and not get obsessed with every frond in it.

We drove to San Diego the next day. The Safari Park is among my favorite places to visit. No sit-down-and-sketch possibilities when you have 2 excited kids that want to see everything, so it’s walk-and-draw time: I used a waterbrush, my paint palette, a small Stillman & Birn Alpha book and a blackwing pencil for the most part. Sometimes I pulled out my Sailor pen.


Sketchnoting like this isn’t about painting. It’s about seeing. I see the birds and animals better if I draw them, even if it is very quickly and loosely.

I’m still working on a good minimal kit for occasions like this, so if you have a pared-down, minimal setup that you feel you can draw with on the go, I’d love to know about it.

Posted in Animals, california, supplies, Supplies and Materials, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments