A day in San Francisco

A day in San Francisco is always exciting.

Yesterday we visited the SFMoMA to see the fabulous Edvard Munch exhibit. The emotive power of those faces and figures, it’s truly incredible. If you only know Munch by The Scream, then this exhibit will floor you. Here are some closeups of the faces from his work on display.

I didn’t sketch in the exhibit, but I did sketch outside by the Living Wall.  This is Mark di Suvero’s sculpture, Mahout-Vishnu against the backdrop of the Living Wall. I love when people interact with sculpture and this one just calls for kids (and sometimes adults) to holler at each other down the huge metal tubing.

A couple more pieces, from later in the day in Golden Gate Park.
Very quick, loose and messy, perhaps because I’m working right now on putting together the content for my workshop in Chicago, coming up soon.


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Sketching to Music

More sketches from music performances. When in an auditorium, with the lights dimmed and not too much space, I try to keep my sketch tools simple. That’s one time the waterbrush is handy.  Pick one that works for you. Painting with a waterbrush never feels like painting with a regular brush, but it has it’s uses. It lets you smear and darken watersoluble graphite pencil.  Also really handy is a rainbow pencil: One pencil, so many colors. Need I say more?

Sketching like this is what my friend Liz Steel calls reflex sketching. Unlike her, though, there’s zero planning involved here. I am here to listen to the music. Putting pen to paper actually makes me listen better and hear things I wouldn’t otherwise. Plus, I come home with a book full of memories.

It was a weekend filled with music. From the same day, later in the evening. At Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, this is Alice Smith. Painting in the dark (there’s a few ambient lights that change colors between blue, purple and red) means you’re not only guessing on color but also on your values. When I painted, I thought these looked a lot darker, less defined and more mysterious. The image below left (color corrected in photoshop) is what I thought I painted. The image on the right is what my piece looked like when I stepped outside into the light.

Here’s a second one I liked better. It captured her easy, languid pose. Her powerhouse voice is in sharp contrast to her pose.alicesmith_2a

Here’s a song by her.

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Only a month to go…

It’s only one month until the Annual Urban Sketchers Symposium, happening in Chicago this year. As always, I’m super excited to be going. To meet old friends, make new ones and to learn from all of them. I’m teaching a workshop titled People Tell Tales: Using Action And Interaction To Tell Stories.  A book I reread every once in a while, especially in thinking about quick capture is Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s The Mind’s Eye. Written by a photographer who was constantly on a quest to tell stories with pictures, the book is full of insights for an urban sketcher.

Preparing for my workshop means I am particularly focussed on people sketching right now. This time, we’re going to explore story telling and choosing what to capture to bring that story to life.
Here’s some quick captures from last week. For this first one, I switched from my usual pen to a dip pen, because I wanted to slow down. A less familiar tool, one that made me pause to re-dip and to consider what I wanted to capture next seemed right for this scene.
Here are a few more captures from that morning. A dad and his twin girls take a quick break on the bench outside Starbucks.
Teen (or are they tween?) boys and a phone. They snickered a lot as they watched something on that phone.

Sometimes I like to sit on a bench and sketch a scene without any particular focus. Just the humdrum everyday activity of people passing by, standing and chatting and taking a break on a bench is my story.

But as I sat there, what really caught my attention is those lamps. So I did another sketch from the same vintage point, but this time the lamps are the focus and the coming and going of people under them completes the scene.



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San Jose State University

Last week I had a kid attending music camp at San Jose State University. So what did I do when I dropped her off? You guessed right :). Four sketches. Three of them of the same subject. I really enjoy drawing something over and over. A few sketches in, and you feel you’re hanging around an old friend. This is Tower Hall on the SJSU campus.


This Spanish Revival style tower was built in 1910 to replace an older building damaged in the 1906 earthquake. You can’t draw Tower Hall without drawing the supertall, skinny palm trees around it.

The stuff growing on Tower Hall really is a super bright green. ( I don’t know what it is, but it’s not the common kind of blue-green ivy) For once, I’m happy that Pthalo Blue lives in my palette. I’ve been trying to use this color to mix greens, and usually I have a hard time quieting it down to natural-looking mixes. No need for a quiet green on this building, though.

And here is Take #3 from a different spot, on a different day.

Here’s a shot of what my morning sketch setup looked like. Pretty idyllic, huh?

And here’s the sketch above, closeup. This is the Black Power Statue at the University. The statue commemorates an event from the Olympics held 49 years ago. And while there was a lot of controversy surrounding their Black Power Salute, the intention behind it was to bring attention to the inequalities in our society, particularly towards African Americans. You can read more about the statue and event here.


There’s so much more to sketch at this campus, and it’s a quiet and green oasis in the middle of downtown San Jose. I’m going to have to go back soon.

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Looking back on my week

Some vignettes from my week to wrap it up.

Going to a swim meet with the kids means I do at least one sketch. This one is by the side of the pool. Heats, timings and results are printed and clipped onto these big green boards. Kids and parents come and peer at them. The glare by the pool is something else.

Now that I’ve been drawing signs for a while, I notice them everywhere. While the sign for Rasputin’s isn’t vintage, it’s too fun to not sketch.

We’ve had a heatwave this week. This is my daughter and cat, collapsed on the floor on Monday when San Jose hit 105.

Hope your weekend is lovely. Happy Friday!

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The Other Project

If my posts to this blog are thinner than usual through the summer, it’s because I’m working hard on documenting and blogging vintage signs of San Jose on my other site, VintageSignSanJose. Here are some of the recent signs I’ve sketched, sans the stories that go with them.


If urban sketches and the stories behind vintage signs interest you, then use the red signup button in the bottom right corner to follow that site. I’m working on collecting all the sketches into a book later this year and on an exhibit of them at History San Jose in early 2018. Stay tuned!


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Last week in small sketches

Working on large projects, especially when they’re approaching deadlines means you don’t get much other drawing done. That’s when I am really glad I have a book to sketch small, quick sketches in.

There’s always music practice to sketch. My daughter suspects I insist on 20 minutes of practice a day just so I can sketch her.weekviolin1

This week, she’s doing a fantastic music camp at San Jose State University called Summer in the City.  She’s so lucky to have a music program at her middle school where kids who have never played an instrument before can take it up and spend atleast an hour a day at school learning it and being a part of an orchestra. Isn’t that amazing? These are some quick sketches of the students at the audition this weekend. I wish I could capture the sound of a room full of kids all warming up for their audition, each playing a different piece!

On Saturday evening, a bunch of artists met up at home, to sketch. I mostly drank wine and did very little drawing. Still, it was a really fun evening. I drew some sketchers.
And this skull.
And my daughter who joined us for a bit…

There is a sport I watch but don’t sketch. It’s cricket. I don’t ever end up drawing during a game because I only watch ‘big’ games and then I’m too busy cheering to sketch. But this weekend was different. A really big game: Pakistan versus India, the Champions Trophy final. But Pakistan so totally walked all over India that it was easier to sketch and watch than to just watch.


In ‘other little sketches’: these below, while waiting to pick up my kids from camp. Same scene, but the one on the right is a blind contour, with a couple of peeks to bring my pencil back to where I wanted it to be. Blind contour is really relaxing. It also helps me look at both positive and negative shapes equally.

And finally, I went back to my weekly life drawing after a 2 month break. Taking a 2 month break is never a good idea, it really shows, especially in the fluidity of the work. Hopefully I’ll be back more regularly now. I always work on the quick sketches in charcoal, and just the feel of charcoal smooshing against paper and the blurry edged, dark masses it creates is so wonderful, I’m happy to be back to drawing, even if the drawings don’t work.

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