Summer Mornings are the Best

I love the long days of summer. The middle of the day is really hot but the mornings are glorious. I’ve taken to having my first cup of chai on the front steps of the house which face west and are still cool and shady in the morning.

This spread is done in my Hahnemühle Toned Watercolor book, but uses no watercolor. It’s in ink (with lots of finger-smudging involved) and Neocolor I wax crayons.

Here are closeups of the pages.

The giant leaves of the Acanthus at my doorstep. You can never kill this plant.
Mystery Tree on my curb. It pulls up the sidewalk but I love it’s shape.
Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Summer | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Van Life

I’m seeing vans and Rvs all over my neighborhood. Were they always there and I didn’t notice them?

This one is parked right around the corner from home, with a shady tree across the street, making it the target of two sketches last week, both from the same spot.

I really enjoy painting the boxiness of vans and trucks, and I love finding color in things I paint. If you sit and stare at something long enough, you see it.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, san jose, Summer | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Wax Crayon and Oil Pastels

These sketches were done in a little park in Berkeley where I hung out with my family, snacking, chatting and sketching. Everyone in the park enjoyed the sunshine and was well distanced. it felt almost normal and I was so happy to sit in the sunshine and (finally!) draw people. I used this toned watercolor book with these wax crayons, pen and ink. If the only wax crayons you have ever used are kid’s crayons, these are a world apart and a joy to use.

This next sketch is at the school yard, while I wait for my daughter. Same sketchbook and pen and ink, but with oil pastels this time, and with a lot of finger-smooshing involved.

I grew up using wax crayons and oil pastels a lot, so going back to them makes me paint and mess around like a child, and that’s always a good thing.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, Summer, tools | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Scratching the Surface

Some days I draw just for the joy of mark-making, to pull a mark across paper, to feel the drag, the resistance, the imperfection of the line. Drawing with less familiar tools is a little frustrating: they don’t work like I think they will, they don’t hold ink, they bend and snap… But it also makes me really aware of the marks I make.

This first piece is sketched with a feather on a rough toothed paper. I added a posca marker and colored pencil to the mix, but all the linework is with a feather or with smudgy marks made with my fingers.

And here I substituted the feather with a bamboo pen.

Sketching the redwood trees, I use a twig (see it in the photo?) I find on the ground nearby. It feels more connected to the trees than my plastic pen. Most of the color is added with a small metal palette knife.

Do you use any tools besides pencils and pens? I’d love to hear about them.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, Summer, tools | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Experiments, Play and Art-Making

For the past couple of weeks, Sketching Play/Lab has been playing with making art with unconventional drawing tools. We’ve used everything but pens, pencils and brushes. My table is littered with forks, knives, sponges, cut up plastic cards, old toothbrushes, twigs, and feathers…

Here are some vignettes from those experiments.

We’re taking a break from our usual sessions this week to create to create some new play sessions. These next pieces might give you a clue to what’s coming next.

Happy Experimenting and Happy Art Making!

If you’d like to join us in next week’s sessions email us at and let us know.

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Sand in my Palette

Empty beaches aren’t great for people sketching, that’s for sure. But I’ll take a safe, well-distanced beach over drawing people for now.

Late in the evening last week, we drove to a deserted beach north of Davenport on the California Coast. Thank goodness for the long days: we got there as people left but there was still lots of light.

Can you tell I was a little over-eager in pulling up the masking tape I used to divide up this page?

Just one little page in a Hahnemühle watercolor book and then we headed back. But I was happy to be out, have the wind in my face and sand on my page. And in my palette. It doesn’t feel like summer without sand in my palette.

ps: No beachtime this week here in California. Our numbers have spiked and beaches are closed. Stay home, stay safe.

Posted in california, Close to home, san jose, Silicon Valley, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Venturing Out

I have been a few places lately, some close, some further out. They all feel like an adventure. Like going to the post office.

Or further afield into the Santa Cruz mountains to paint with friends.

When I am out on location, I am really happy, feeling every mark I make . With covid cases all over the country going up, being super cautious and staying distanced will be in place for a long time, but I will try to be outside when possible, masked, distanced and drawing.

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There’s been a lot of trees and plants in my sketches lately, all sorts of them. There’s this one above of a plant I now know as pothos but grew up calling a money plant. (It has so many names in different parts of the world) I have a few of these plans around because they are indestructible.

And then there’s this tree just outside our middle school building that I’ve seen every school morning for a few years now, admired, and never sketched, until last week.

And this familiar view is my front drive, sketched so many times in the last few months. Here, I tried stylizing it and making some fun marks to capture the trees and bushes.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches | 3 Comments

Daytrip to Yosemite

After more than 90 days at home, we got out, and drove 4.5 hours to Yosemite National Park for the day. Yosemite just opened up and issues day passes so they can limit how many visitors they have everyday.

Here are some sketches from when the car stopped for construction or to pick up lunch on the way.

El Capitan, and the always-present line of cars stopped to take in the view.
Lower Yosemite Falls.

When you drive that much in a day, and drive back, all you have time for is a couple of short hikes, lunch and quick sketches. Still, it was really amazing to be in Yosemite, even for a very short time.

And just that day, while I was away trying to capture waterfalls in quick sketches, look what arrived in my inbox: a new course from Shari Blaukopf on sketching and painting water in all it’s forms.

I just finished watching it and I love that she breaks water down into painting techniques that you can use to see and capture all sorts of water effects and reflections. I guess I am just going to have to Yosemite and paint those waterfalls again this summer.

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Back to Urban Sketching

I am slowly making my way back to urban sketching. And I don’t mean the sort of urban sketching where I only draw at home or from my car. And I’ve been surprised by how hard it is to get back to it after such a long break. From someone who doesn’t think twice about standing anywhere and drawing, I’ve become tentative about it. I love it, but it’s strange how much a break has put me out of practice.

The only way back to being comfortable for me is to just go sketch a few times I suppose. This is outside Greenlee’s Bakery on the Alameda in downtown San Jose. I had my coffee and masked cookie and sketched people at outdoor tables enjoying some time in the sun.

These next sets of vignettes are outside Whole Foods watching people do their groceries and Uber and Lyft drivers pick up carts full of online orders for delivery.

I’ll be trying to get out more and sketch on location in the next few weeks, always masked and socially distanced, of course. It’s important to me to record life in these times in my sketches.

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, reportage, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged | 7 Comments