The Rock at Morro Bay

Morro Rock is pretty amazing. It’s a gigantic volcanic plug in Morro Bay. This big monolith dominates the town of Morro Bay and is just referred to as “The Rock”, which prompted my kids to call it Dwayne Johnson. I had to look him up.

One morning, I painted that rock over and over and over. Here’s what I ended up with.

My first sketch is often the kitchen sink version.

Here are more, but I’m not sure anymore what order I painted them in.





It’s always fun to do multiple takes on a subject. As you see it more and more clearly, you fuss around less. I think I could spend a few days at Morro Bay, switching angles and media and drawing and redrawing Dwayne Johnson.

Posted in california, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

(More) Accordion Fold Samplers

You might remember this post from earlier this summer of little accordion-fold samplers I made to test all of Stillman&Birn’s range of paper. I made another one this weekend for yet another demo at University Art in Redwood City.

Here are some process shots and notes.
1) Stick together all the papers in a sample packet together. (Where do you get one? Link at the end of this post).

2) Pick a simple subject that you feel you can paint a few times over and experiment with in different media. I picked a red and green pear, because, why not?

3) Keep drawing and painting across the different papers, trying different media to see how they work on different papers. Try to keep pets off your project.

4) Keep going until you reach the end of the accordion fold.

I forgot to take more process shots so here are some collaged-together shots of the project. The whole accordion fold is at the top and then some favorites, close-up.

Every time I make one of these, I have a blast and I learn something. This time my biggest takeaway was: I really like gouache. I should play with it more.

If you want to make your own accordion book and try out the paper, write to and find out how you can get a sample packet.

Answers to FAQs
– The demos I do with these papers are always free to the public, and are paid for by Stillman & Birn.
– No, I’m not a spokesperson for the brand and am not paid to use or promote the sketchbooks.
– Yes, I love the books and use them a lot, but they’re not the only sketchbooks I use.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Posted in Collage, Food, How to, supplies, Supplies and Materials, teaching, tools, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sketching Trio workshops & adventures, 2019

Announcing some very exciting workshops and adventures for 2019, from the Sketching Trio. (That’s Gay Krager, Nina Khaschina and me, Suhita Shirodkar)

Magical Santa Cruz Mountains: A 2-Day Workshop


We offered a one-day version of this workshop last year and loved it. So we’re back now with an expanded two-day version, and you have the ability to take the whole workshop or take just one day. This workshop is in a truly magical location in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You will learn lots of different facets of journaling in two content-packed, but well-paced days, all the time looking out at the redwoods, or wandering through gardens in bloom with bubbling fountains. Workshop includes all materials and a gourmet lunch each day.

Date: May 25 and 26, 2019
Details, Registration and Early Bird Pricing here.


Sketching the Channel Islands: A 3-Day Adventure


Imagine three days and nights of drawing and painting, hiking, cruising (and if you wish, kayaking and snorkeling) around the rugged Channel Islands.

We are chartering the boat Conception for a three-day journey around Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Cost includes three night’s stay aboard with freshly-cooked meals. Gay, Nina and Suhita will teach classes aboard the boat every morning. We will cover quick sketch, nature journaling, gouache and watercolor, journal layout and other techniques. We will have a naturalist on board to escort us onto parts of the island that very few people ever see with plenty of time to sketch and paint images of our journey.

Excited? I am! Join us? Limited space on this one, and special non-sketcher pricing if you want to bring someone along.

Date: August 25-28, 2019
Details, Registration and Early Bird Pricing here.

To see all workshops announced so far, see the Workshops page.


Posted in california, Close to home, Silicon Valley, Sketch Journal, Travel, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Keeping at it through the holidays

You’re probably sick of hearing by now how much it’s helped me to be working in a smaller book, on these messy journal pages. Well, here’s another post kinda to the same tune.

Drawing through December is tough because I do a fair bit of commissioned illustration and well, it all ends up working it’s way right upto the holiday deadline. Little breaks in my day to work in my journal help me feel like I did some drawing just for myself. Also, mostly drawing on my birthday, that one I love !

This first spread is birthday sketch #1, done with Srivani of TeaAndMarmalade over a long coffee. Good chatting, and some good book recommendations too.

Sketch Session #2 of the day with the inimitable Uma Kelkar. Beer flights and chocolate mousse at our local Whole Foods. This is Art Graf water-soluble graphite in a tin.

More pages from this month. Sometimes they all start to resemble each other ( same coffee shop, same neighborhood, same people), and while that may not be so interesting to you viewing them on this blog, they serve their purpose in being a my record of my everyday life and b) my daily-ish practice.


This is my local post office on Dent Avenue in San Jose. I was in to send off my packages and then I hung out an extra half hour and did this sketch. 2 employees at the counter. 100% polite, patient, helpful and cheerful. And that’s with 57 people coming through that door in a half hour. I don’t know how they do it.

More note-taking than drawing in these two spreads done around my family and eating…

One last sketch for this post, this one done with Iva, who our local sketchers know well as the resident fountain pen expert.

That’s it in my sketch journal in December (so far). How has your sketching been going in the middle of this holiday frenzy?


Posted in california, Close to home, Drink, Everyday Sketches, Food, people, san jose, Sketch Journal, Vintage Signs, watercolor, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Drawing the Music

A couple of weeks ago I was back at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay for their closing gig of the season: The Ari Hoenig Trio. It’s always a bit tricky for me to talk about music, because I’m tone deaf, can’t sing, don’t play an instrument and don’t know any musical terminology.

But here is what I do know: to successfully draw a live performance, you don’t just draw the musicians, you draw the music. You can see from these sketches, that some were more successful than others at catching the spirit of the sound.

Here’s sketch #1, on tinted grey paper with  pencil, pen and white gouache. A pretty basic and compact kit, since I use a waterbrush for the gouache and pull it straight out of a tube. jazz_bach_halfmoon1.jpg

Sketch #2. I abandoned this one pretty quickly, mostly because I thought that I wasn’t doing anything different from #1 with it. Looking back, I think the music translated better into the line quality than in #1.

Sketch #3 is all about the drummer’s energy. He makes those drums speak.

Finally, I pulled out my watercolors for Sketch #4. A bit of a juggling act when you’re sitting in the first row in a pretty intimate performance space.

I love drawing on location and I love drawing action. But the best part of drawing live music is that I have a better feel for the music when I’m translating it to marks and color on paper.

Posted in california, Close to home, people, reportage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Why do you Journal?

Cathy Johnson‘s Artist’s Journal Workshop makes you think about why you journal and what you hope for through this practice. It also presents the work of many inspiring journalers.
cathy_johnosn_book.jpgI totally agree with this quote from Cathy: Seeing and capturing things on the pages of a journal rescues them from the mundane.

When there’s cold rain and grey skies and most of all when the days are short, I’m happy with yet another warm coffee and a sketch. I’ll sometimes sketch at Creama on the Alameda while I wait for my Etsy prints to be done.


Or I’ll draw Babe the Muffler Man at 808, The Alameda.

This sketch is my only one from Thanksgiving weekend. And no, they’re not holding phones, they’re playing a card game called Crazy Eights. I used two water brushes for this piece: One with black ink, and the other with a dilute version of that same ink. Pack along a small sketchbook and this minimal kit can go almost anywhere.

Coming back to Cathy’s question, what do I hope to get from my sketch journals? Here are the first few things that come to mind:

I’d like my sketch journal to be
• Imperfect and freeing.
• A record of little bits of my day.
• A way to draw even on the busiest of days: I may not fill a page, but I can chip away at it over the day.
• A place to experiment with techniques and media and to find new and fresh ways to look at the same thing over and over.
• And always, a place to use observation and study to improve my drawing skills.

I’m teaching an 8-week journaling workshop starting in January 2019, and we will focus on a strong foundation in observation and drawing. The rest, style and content, you have that bit down already!

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Sketch Journal, Vintage Signs, watercolor, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Urban Fall

In San Jose California, where I live, it’s always like this: warm, almost hot, at the start of November. And then just like that one day, the trees are gorgeous colors and the air is crisp. A couple of days later the cold rain and wind arrive and all the leaves fall off the trees. From summer to rainy winter with the barest hint of glorious fall colors.

I didn’t get out on a hike during that brief colorful period, so all my sketches are urban fall colors. This one is in the parking lot outside Trader Joe’s. Color first, and then some line work in water-soluble graphite pencil.


I started out wanting to do some people-sketching at my local coffee shop, but when I looked up and all I saw were these colors.

What followed is a bunch of quick little color vignettes until the light faded.


Fresh, wet, delicious colors at full intensity on paper.
I can never resist that.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Silicon Valley, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments