Gold Rush Day 2015

It’s Gold Rush Day today for the 4th graders at Los Alamitos Elementary School in San Jose, California. What an amazing way to make history come alive for the kids. I’m just back from a morning of  sketching. Here are some highlights.

Carol and Bruce and their wagon have been coming to school for 20 years. I could have spent all morning looking at and sketching the contents of their wagon and listening to their stories.

Here are the kids panning for gold. How can you go wrong with mud, water and a chance at finding ‘gold’ nuggets?

Once you’ve weighed and exchanged your nuggets for money, you can use the money to buy yourself a treat at the General Store.

Or you could hop over to the Salon to buy a drink.

While you’re at the salon, you’ve just got to stop by and play a hand or two of poker.

Not behaving? You could get put behind bars by the Sheriff.

Making jam and butter. The jam was easy: strawberries and sugar, mashed together. The butter was harder to make: It took a LOT of vigorous shaking of a jar of cream to turn it into dollops of butter.

And finally, the kids got to learn some knot-tying at the Miner’s Tent.

We’re lucky to be at a school that is teeming with fantastic teachers and volunteers that make events like this possible. Wish I could have stayed and sketched for the afternoon too!

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Reportage: Minimum Wage Protests

Last month I covered one of many minimum wage protests held around New York for the website Here is a link to the piece, which had reports from all over the country. The protest I covered was to be held at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. The first really organized groups that got there are in the sketches below. They wore shirts that read “I can’t breathe” and carried signs with the “Fight for $15″ message on them. IcantBreathe_rally2 IcantBreathe_rally
The main protest, which included lots of speeches, police barriers to control the crowds, and thousands of people, had moved a block over to 6th Avenue. Sketching in the middle of a huge bustling crowd is always exciting. And challenging. You need to be skilled at elbowing your way through a crowd. And then there’s the issue of drawing and painting when you’re being jostled around continually. But most of all, there’s the challenge of seeing over and past a crowd where everyone is taller and bigger than you. With a camera, you can raise your hands above your head for a shot and use a zoom to close in on your subject matter. With sketching, you need to compose your sketch and “zoom in” and catch the action, all with composition, and all in a few minutes.

On the left is a shot I took with my phone, hands raised, zoomed in. On the right is the sketch I made standing where I was, catching glimpses of the action above the heads of the crowd. Like I said, it was very challenging. And exciting.

The three pieces above are the ones that appeared in the final piece. But there were lots more sketches I started on and either abandoned or didn’t send in, because the subjects moved away, the composition didn’t work, or because they just didn’t say enough. Below are a few imcompletes and rejects.


My timeframe to get all this done? About an hour: the rally itself lasted about 45 minutes and the crowds dispersed as soon as it was done. Yes, it’s guerilla sketching. And I loved it.

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Albany and Berkeley

Albany Bowl in Berkeley. Such a bright blue, it made the sky pale in comparison.

And the Art Deco Cerrito Theater, also in Albany.albany_cerrito_theater_vintage

A quick sketch of a couple of cops, on a burrito break. albany_cop

And a change of scene. The Berkeley campus on a sunny Friday afternoon. People lie around watching the frisbee players. if they aren’t playing themselves.

I often do this: one longer sketch, and then a really quick one, from the same vantage point.

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Sheep Shearing

It was Sheep Shearing day at Hidden Villa Farms today. We’ve been excited about going to this ever since our last visit to the farm.

Here are Vicki and Hope, two of the border collies who were herding the sheep. It’s amazing how quietly and efficiently they rounded up the sheep and got them to head in the right direction.

sheep_shearing_3And here is the shearing of the sheep, a much quicker process than I expected.

A couple more quick sketches, each of which was made over the shearing of one sheep, which lasted 5 to 6 minutes. The sheep didn’t want to be brought out to be sheared, but once they were practically carried out, they were pretty docile.


My notes and sketches in a little accordion fold. Tinted paper and white sheep are just made for each other.
sheep_shearing_long_fullCloseups of the accordion fold:

sheep_shearing_long_1of2 sheep_shearing_long_2of2

And one last quick sketch, of the spinning wheels used to turn the wool into thread.sheep_shearing_spinning

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Recent Obsessions. And Brush Pen Reviews.

There are themes I return to all the time, so I guess I have many recent obsessions.
There’s vintage cars that I understand nothing about but love the shapes of.
And there’s vintage signage, like this sign for the Sands Motel on Monterey Highway in San Jose.

And for when I don’t go outdoors to sketch, sketches of stuff I find on my kitchen counter. Like these shallots.

What all these pieces have in common are the tools I’m obsessed with right now.
brushpens_gelpensA Kuretake brush pen that I refill with Platinum Carbon Ink, a Pentel brush pen, and a Uniball white gel pen. Why the two brushpens? I started out with waterproof ink in one and non-waterproof ink in the other. (I use only waterproof ink now. Given how quickly I work and that I often use the pen over wet paint, I can get lines with the feathery, belnded quality of non-waterproof ink with a waterproof ink.)  Also, using the two pens side-by-side really helped compare them.

The verdict? The Pentel is a lovely pen, at a great price. If you’re unsure of whether you’re going to want a brushpen, get a Pentel try it out. At first, my linework and control was the same with the Pentel and the Kuretake. But over time, I’ve come to prefer my Kuretake. I find I have better control of my finer lines with it and it gives me better line modulation when I lift off the page. I also love the feel of the matte body. And since I use a convertor and refill it with ink, I can use my Platinum Carbon ink. (With the Pentel I use cartridges and can’t choose my ink)

Lots more sketches with these pens on my flickr stream right now.

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Mostly notes.

This weekend was a no-color, mostly-notes kind of weekend.

It started with what I thought was a broken toe and a trip to ER. I was lucky: no broken foot. But the lady who was waiting for her X-ray besides me was not so lucky. She had a badly broken wrist.ER_visit_friday27thmarch

Yesterday was a field trip to the Police Headquarters with my daughter’s girl scout troop. 2 hours, 7 girls, lots of information, lots to see. We kept moving. Here are my notes, Sharpie pen on paper.

A view of the 911 room, and a look inside a police car. 

A crime scene setup for the girls to investigate. Blood, broken glass, and fingerprints.
What’s on an officer’s belt? And a look inside the Evidence Room.
Police_station_evidenceGuns and the target practice room.
Police_station_targetThe police uniform form 1848
Police_station_uniformsOne last sketch before I left.
Just last week, the SJPD lost Officer Michael Johnson. An outpouring of letters, flowers and candles form a memorial outside the Police Administration Building.


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Tinted paper, Accordion Folds

I bought a large roll of tinted paper for my weekly figure study session, and I folded some of it into little accordion-folded sheets to carry around in my sketchbook. This was the first one I used last week. Today, I filled another accordion fold with sketches over coffee. I love drawing crowded, busy places. But it’s hard to find a crowd in my quiet suburban neighborhood.

My local grocery store sees a fair amount of foot traffic, though. So I parked myself and my coffee at a table with a good view for about 45 minutes and filled in both sides of my accordion fold. I wish I’d left the sky out on the top piece. It’s too much of a distraction. grey_book_almaden_center1grey_book_almaden_center

I used brushpen and fountain pen with black carbon ink, white crayon and colored pencils. Here are some closeups.


grey_people_closeup2Did I mention I’m teaching a workshop at the 6th Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore this July? Come draw people and crowds in Singapore with me, it will be fun. More details coming very soon… But early registration is now open!

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