I love jacaranda trees. Not only do they signify that it is truly summer, they’re also such a great tree: super color that looks different in every light, and a properly messy tree that spills it’s color all over the ground underneath it. I can paint it over and over in the short season in which it blooms. I painted one a couple of weeks ago.

Then I went back and painted it again:

These trees are outside my local library (which is still shut).

Looking back at my sketches, I also seem to really love boxy trucks and vans. Here is that tree from my neighborhood painted again a couple of days ago.

It is good to be out sketching on location, even if it is just a couple of blocks from my home or from my car. I have missed it so much!

Posted in Close to home, Everyday Sketches, flowers, Silicon Valley, studies, Summer | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

About halfway through the Direct Watercolor Challenge

I have been doing the 30x30directwatercolor challenge, just not everyday. Somedays, something else calls and I follow that direction. On other days, I do a little direct watercolor piece. Here are some recent pieces.

My favorite Indian bird, the Golden Oriole.

A little piece with Walter, a skull that sits on my desk and gets drawn and painted when I’m stuck for a subject.

And this study of a domed tower.

This, below, is how I would usually sketch that same structure.

Some days I’m happy to direct-watercolor. Other days, I miss line too much.

Posted in challenge, studies, watercolor | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Direct Watercolor Challenge

I have been doing the 30x30directwatercolor challenge as often as I can. Nothing big and ambitous: just little pieces, each 5×7 or 6×8 inches in size.

The spirit of the challenge is to paint bold and direct without fussing too much.
Here are some pieces from the challenge:

A plate of tiger prawns. Makes me want to be in Goa.
The Jacarandas are in bloom in San Jose

I never find this challenge easy. There is always a stage in the sketch when I want to revert to what I know well. But like most things slightly outside my comfort zone, the challenge is really good for me. So I’m keeping at it.

Posted in challenge, studies, watercolor | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Sketching as a Question: Connecting the dots

In my USk Talk last weekend I spoke about my favorite subjects to sketch and of two recent sketching projects. The theme of the talk was Asking Questions Through Sketching. Here is the gist of it.

I love drawing. I’ll draw just about anything, but if I have to pick what I love sketching best, I’ll pick drawing the hustle and bustle of a city, drawing people and drawing in markets.

Golden domes, in Singapore and in Mexico City.
Mehendi ceremony, Indian wedding. Cambrian Symphony, Peter and the Wolf.
Farmer’s Market, California. Flower Market, India.

Drawing is a language, one in which you can ask questions, explore and discover. My project documenting the vintage signs of San Jose began as a simple quest to find deeper connection to San Jose, a city I now call home. In the signs I sketched and researched I found fascinating stories leading back beyond Silicon Valley to the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. I discovered architectural movements that are quintessentially American, and I learnt a lot about neon and the fine art of neon-bending.

I ran into more questions than answers: Why does history matter? What do we lose when we lose our small stories: those of a collective of small businesses and mom and pop stores? What happens when all that gets preserved is grand monuments and public buildings? How do we balance preservation and development?

My vintage signs project grew into a website, a book and a show at History San Jose.

One of the most valuable things that came out it were the people whose paths crossed my life like Heather David, a local history expert (among many other things) and an incredibly generous human being I learnt a lot from. Equally important were the men and women I chatted with as I sat on sidewalks and in parking lots, sketching these signs. Often homeless and panhandling near where I was sketching, they told me their stories as I sketched.

The high rate of homelessness and poverty in San Jose is a hugely sad phenomena. I had been reading about it to try and understand it. But facts, figures, reports, and data, while all very useful, didn’t put a face to the issue for me. The articles I was reading broke down poverty by race and region, they looked at addiction, education and rent in the city. But the stories I was hearing on the streets told a different story. One of resilience and of hope, one with a human face.

And that led me to think: What if I drew and shared the faces and stories of homelessness and recovery? Would a different picture emerge from this reportage collection?

And this led me to my next project, Faces of Recovery, a project in progress.

The continuing need for social distancing might have interrupted this project, but I will come back to it as soon as I can.

Through my talk, I hope to inspire more sketchers to think of sketching as a language and to use it to look beyond their own lives. To ask questions and seek out answers and explorations that they can share. Because the language of drawing has the power to tell stories in a universal and very human way.


Listen to the whole USk Talk here. It includes a fantastic first half with USk founder Gabi Campanario, who shares stories of his methodology and explorations as a reporter for the Seattle Times.

Posted in Close to home, Education, Faces Of Recovery, people, Portrait, reportage, san jose, Silicon Valley, teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sketching as a Question: USk Talks

This weekend I had the huge honor not only of being on a USk Talks session, but also on sharing the hour with one of the most inspiring sketchers, USk founder Gabi Campanario. If you missed the session, it is here:

I’ll write a longer post tomorrow on the subjects we spoke on, but today I just wanted to say thank you:
To Gabi for creating an incredible community that has been the backbone of my sketching practice for over a decade.
To Rob Sketcherman for being such a gracious host.
To Rita Sabler, USk Education Director for all the work she puts into each show and for encouraging me to keep searching until I found a subject I felt passionately about and wanted to share about.

And to the huge team of volunteers who helps make every show look as effortless as it does. I hope they do a “Behind the Scenes” episode so all of us who enjoy these talks can see what it takes to make them happen.

Posted in Education, Everyday Sketches, teaching | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Neighborhood Rally

At a neighborhood rally today. It was heartening to see so many people at a peaceful protest lead by young people.

If you join a rally, take a little sketchbook and marker along. You can record the event while you join in. I used a big binder clip to clip my poster onto my shirt so I could sketch while I stood at the rally. (The photo is taken when I came home, since I forgot to take my phone along. Everyone at the rally wore a mask, and we were standing much further apart than my sketches show.)

Posted in Activism, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, reportage, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miyazaki Marathon

Over the last week, we’ve begun a Miyazaki movie marathon at home. Since I’ve watched the movies so many times, I often settle down to watching them with my sketchbook and sneak in a quick little sketch while we watch.

This first one is while watching The Secret World of Arrietty. Just watching the trailer will give you an idea of the gorgeous colors and compositions Miyazaki plays with. It’s a strange juxraposition for me, these movies so full of color and the sketches in monochrome, but it makes it simple to work like this while I watch.

I didn’t sketch our next movie, Princess Mononoke, which was followed by what is probably my favorite of of his movies, Spirited Away. I combined a bit of imagery from the screen with a sketch of my son. (And no, he wasn’t frightened like he looks in my sketch, just engrossed…)

If one movie has come to represent Miyazaki, it is Totoro.

We’ll be continuing and watching through a 20-movie collection over the next few weeks , so you might see more Miyazaki-viewing sketches here.


On a separate note, this Sunday, I have the huge honor not only to be a part of the USk Talks series (see them all here) but also to share the hour with Gabi Campanario, as we both chat about Urban Sketching as a Question. You can join us live at 9pm Pacific Time of Saturday June 6th on the USk Instagram page.

Posted in Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 80 at Home: Trying Again

Day 3 of the 30x30directwatercolor challenge.

This little thumbnail line gesture drawing in my diary came first. It’s small, you can tell from the dots on the page that I drew it in my planner as I figured my day out.

I followed that up with 2 attempts to capture that in direct watercolor. I was looking for a painting with gesture, not just a gesture drawing with brush and no background.

It will need more tries to get to where I want to, but I’m posting these here and calling it a day for Day 3 of #30x30directwatercolor

Posted in Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Day 79 at Home: Stringing together the Day

Yesterday morning started with a Sketching Play/Lab session where we played with water and color. I painted these little pieces during the session.

And then, because it’s so much fun to play like color, I kept going and did this next one as a part of the 30x30DirectWatercolor Challenge.

I still couldn’t stop so I decided to do a monoprint with watercolor, an “Indirect Watercolor“, perhaps? I grabbed a plastic sheet I use as a backing board and painted with thick watercolor onto it and transferred with the back of a spoon onto a wet watercolor sheet. If you do this super quickly, it works decently.

It was fun. Just what I needed. Some days I can sink into and think about difficult stuff. Some days, I just need to play.

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

Day 78 at Home: June is Here

June is here. I have participated in the 30x30directwatercolor challenge for a few years now. This year, with so much going on (outside of art-making) my game plan is simpler: to do as many days as I can and be happy with it.

So here is my piece from Day 1 of the challenge. Lying down, looking up at the sky past the trees, this is what I see. I small piece of calm in my day.

Posted in Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , | 5 Comments