Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Taste of Pine & Crane, Los Angeles

Pine and Crane Los Angeles

LA was a mercurial teenager on our most recent trip. The wedding we attended was absolutely lovely, but we spent hours on the freeway getting from home to Santa Monica (expected), then hours again just getting from Santa Monica to Long Beach (not expected).

Biking in Long Beach from our hotel (the Westin) to the shopping strip in Belmont Heights seemed like a fun jaunt, but the day started off oddly chilly and drizzly, and carrying the bikes down to the beach was a slog. Then there was an incident with a less-than-accurate eyebrow shaper at a nail salon, and a display of after-dark public road rage that seemed truly out of place for a seaside community.

But again, the wedding was delightful, and I did love riding my bike along the Pacific with nothing to worry about other than sand and sea (and a dozen groups of people sporting matching walkathon T-shirts).

On the last day we chose to meander back north via Los Feliz and Silver Lake, two LA neighborhoods we hadn't explored yet. Things were looking up! We stopped to get dessert at House of Pies and wandered through Skylight Books.

The friendly proprietor at Mission Workshop put us on to his fave casual Taiwanese-Chinese eatery just up the road, Pine & Crane.

It was fast, simple and delicious. And I finally got a sketch in! Just what we needed before we got on the road home.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Workshop Recap: Strait Color with Randall Sexton

Was excited to take Randy Sexton's workshop "Strait Color," hosted by Arts Benicia, last month. I've been a big fan of his work, plus it was an excuse to explore a new part of the Bay Area.

Randy began the class with a demo of a building in Benicia.

He asked us to concentrate on simplifying shapes into just two values, to start. Painting outdoors, he noted, is like a shorthand language -- it's important to step back and see what works from a distance.

After his demo, we chose locations around the Benicia waterfront to set up and paint. I decided to try a challenging scene of boats and cranes, with Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oils. This was my first time using them for plein air painting. My Strada easel held up well, though the gusty winds meant I had to clamp or secure everything very carefully.

My verdict? I think I could have brightened my colors a bit. I'm happy with the blending on the clouds, which incidentally chased the sun all afternoon and made it difficult to figure out light and shadow.

Benicia, CA - work in progress

The next day, we visited Randy's studio in Crockett, a few miles away. We painted an urban scene this time, and then gathered for a critique and another demo. It was a hot day, so I found that my paints were getting thick as the hours wore on. (Still figuring out how to handle these water-mixable oils!)

I'm fairly happy with the result, especially the composition. The only part I couldn't do on location was the lettering on the sign; I ended up doing that with an oil-based pencil later when I touched up the painting in the studio.

Downtown Crockett, CA: work in progress

Oddly I find oils/acrylics difficult to paint with outdoors -- they are much more forgiving than watercolors, but it means I have to think backward. With watercolor I think about which parts of the page I need to leave blank, but with oils the darks generally go on first.

I'll just have to keep on practicing with both!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Spreading the (Sketching) Love

Sketches from Google Take Your Children to Work Day

I love to sketch, but I also love to share my passion with other people. Recently I led two activities to help promote art in the local community.

For Google's Take Your Children to Work Day, I facilitated a sketching scavenger hunt. The kids had to solve riddles and then find and draw objects around the campus. I encouraged them to create a visual journal of their visit to Google.

As the kids sketched, I drew the activity around me on a flip chart using the same Scholastic washable markers that everyone was given -- an early morning volleyball game and some people taking a break from work outdoors. The weather was perfect -- bright and sunny. I hope the children had as much fun as I did!


Last weekend, I led an outdoor sketching workshop for Art in Action, a Menlo Park-based nonprofit that provides schools with art education programs. I had donated this "art experience" to their fundraising auction earlier in the spring, and the winning bidders were the participants.

We chose the Mountain View farmers market as our meeting point and muse. I talked a little about the basics of sketching outdoors and then sent the participants off to do several studies describing the story of the market. Our humble materials were:
  • a Bee Paper Pen Sketcher's sketchbook
  • a Sharpie fine point pen
  • Yarka pan watercolors
  • a Pentel Aquash waterbrush
Not the best of tools for watercolor (we were trying to keep costs down), but we still captured some great moments.

Here's what I sketched while everyone was off drawing.

A collage of perspectives on the market:
Sketching on the Go1

A sketcher drawing a vegetable stand:
Sketching on the Go3

The parrot guy:
Sketching on the Go2

A quickly drawn tableau of a mom and her kid:
Sketching on the Go4

Hope everyone (kids and adults alike) fills up the remaining pages in their sketchbooks over the summer!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Studio

I said last fall that I would post pics of my studio soon ... aaaand now it's May of the following year. (Oops.) Well, better late than never!

The studio is 8'x10' and is right next to the house. It was built by The Shed Shop in Fremont, California. They were great to work with from beginning to end. We opted to have it built unfinished, so we did the interior walls, flooring and exterior painting.

Come on in!

I've reused much of the shelving and organizing solutions I had in our Connecticut house.

Two windows let in a lot of light, and I can even see the hills in the distance when I'm sitting at the desk.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Trip to 5th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo - Tucson, Arizona

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Wow, can't believe that PACE16 is just a memory! It was three intense days of learning, watching, sketching, painting, networking, and shopping.

We flew into Phoenix the evening of Friday, April 15, and drove down to Tucson that night. Saturday morning's lineup included Matt Smith's demonstration. He showed us how to use the palette knife to scratch out branches in the foreground, and how to use a bit of red with white for the highlights on saguaro cacti.

At lunch, I met Heather Goldstein, a vice president at Jerry's Artarama. We talked about how rare it is to find people who are both art- and business-savvy.

As I relaxed on the patio at the Hilton El Conquistador I sketched Pusch Ridge in my Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook, with a tiny set of watercolors and a waterbrush.

Pusch Ridge, Oro Valley/Tucson, Arizona

While I was browsing the paintings displayed for sale in the hall, I met Randall Sexton and we chatted about the painting workshop he's offering at Carquinez Strait, through Arts Benicia. I've been thinking about signing up.

I skipped the afternoon's paintout on the grounds of the hotel; M. and I went to Saguaro National Park instead and then went out for a delicious dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa in downtown Tucson. The park was otherworldly -- so many towering cacti! Now I see why cartoons of cacti look the way they do.

In addition to my Stillman & Birn, I also took along the Bee Pen Sketcher's sketchbook I've been playing with. While it does OK with ink and wash, it didn't really love a combination of Crayola Twistable colored pencils and watercolor. This was a quick sketch I did of the desert plantlife behind the Hilton.

Behind the Hilton El Conquistador, Tucson, Arizona

I did a lot of thumbnails during the trip, working out compositions for potential acrylic studies.

Studies, Tucson, Arizona

Sunday's convention highlight was easily the portrait demo by Jove Wang. With seemingly random strokes he dashed off a likeness of the sitter that was full of life. I challenged myself to do a quick sketch of him painting with just a waterbrush and watercolors -- no pencil or pen first.

Sketch of Jove Wang demo at Plein Air Convention, Tucson, Arizona

From the resort, you can see quite far into the distance -- tried to capture it with ink and wash between conference sessions.

Oro Valley landscape from Hilton El Conquistador

The evening's paintout was at Catalina State Park. I had only about an hour to paint, since I wanted to get back to the hotel for the urban sketching demo by Tim Oliver and Richard Sneary.

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

It was challenging to keep the acrylics workable even though I was in the shade of the car. The tiny canvas size meant I couldn't use huge brushes, so that made everything fiddly.

Monday I did another watercolor sketch of the view of Oro Valley from the Hilton.

View of Oro Valley from Hilton El Conquistador

I spent quite a bit of time at the expo, figuring out what I would buy. As I mentioned in the last post, I'd had my eye on a Strada easel, so I decided to spring for the Mini version. I also got an Easyl tripod to go with it, and picked up various odds and ends at other vendors: the RayMar panels and wet panel carrier, a Rosemary & Co. travel sable watercolor brush, some brushes from Trekell and Judson's, an Easel Brush Clip, etc. Golden Artist Colors kindly gave me a few free tubes of their OPEN acrylic paint to supplement the ones I'd brought.

While everyone else went off to paint Old Tucson, M. and I went to Picacho State Park, where I set up my new easel and tripod. I used the Golden OPEN acrylics on a RayMar panel. (The painting I did there is at the top of this blog post.)

The views were beautiful and it would have been great to stay longer, but we had to get to Phoenix for dinner with M.'s cousin and to check into our airport hotel. But -- one last putting of pen to paper: on the way to Phoenix, I sketched some quick studies of the highway.

Driving from Tucson to Phoenix, Arizona

It's amazing that these desert landscapes are just a short plane ride away now. I still haven't seen (or painted) the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Scottsdale -- so many more places to explore on our next AZ adventure!

Prepping for PACE16

Palm tree, from the backyard

You might recall that the last time I attended the Plein Air Convention & Expo it was in Monterey, California. Last year we were in the middle of moving, so even though it was an hour away I couldn't attend. This year it's being held in Tucson, Arizona -- a state I've never been to! So I'm very excited to be going to the land of ... um, jumping cacti and scorpions and javelinas, oh my!

OK, I need to stop frightening myself by reading the posts from locals on the convention Facebook group. Focus on the painting. I've reread my notes from Monterey and made a checklist for myself.

My goals for the event?

Network. Meet potential Urban Sketchers symposium sponsors at the expo. Meet Randall Sexton, whose workshop I'm thinking of taking next month. Meet Tim Oliver and Richard Sneary, who are giving a talk on urban sketching.

Paint and sketch. Try plein air painting with Golden Open acrylics (will they work in the desert??).

Buy useful stuff. Possibly purchase a Strada easel, which I've had my eye on. Also some lightweight panels and a wet panel carrier.

See the town. I want to check out Saguaro National Park. Eat yummy food in downtown Tucson. Avoid the jumping cacti. And the scorpions, and javelinas....

Let's see how I do! (Oh, and the palm tree sketch at the top of this post was done from my backyard -- wanted to see how easily my existing easel setup would work for acrylics outdoors. It does the job, but it's a little clunky. Hence my desire for that Strada....)

Better Sketch Than Sorry

Found this massive specimen in our backyard. Was it edible? Who knows -- but I wasn't going to take the chance.

Mushroom backyard

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Norris

M.'s grandmother, Lib Norris, was an institution at UConn. She was an avid gardener, maker of hatboxes, lover of birds, host of numerous family gatherings. She will be greatly missed. We had Hershey's Nuggets and UConn Dairy Bar ice cream in her honor.

In Memory Lib Norris

Sunday, March 27, 2016

More Experiments with the Pen Sketcher's Paper

I'm still working with the Bee Pen Sketcher's sketchbook, as we'll be using it for the Art in Action workshop I'm leading in a few months.

At a conference for work in Anaheim, California, I sketched some entertainers: a poet with a typewriter slung around his neck and a temporary tattoo artist. I colored it with the inexpensive Yarka semi-moist watercolors and Pentel Aquash waterbrush that we'll be using in the workshop.

Poet and tattoo artist at a conference, Anaheim, CA

Last weekend, I went to San Francisco and sketched David Best's temple in Hayes Valley. Again, I used the Yarka watercolors.

Patricia's Green, Hayes Valley, San Francisco, CA

Hike and Sketch: Fortini Trail, San Jose

Several weeks ago, M. and I enjoyed a hike, picnic, and sketch excursion with artist Suhita Shirodkar and her family. It was fun to see the other part of the park that is right behind our back yard. At certain times we couldn't see anything except trees, the trail, and green hills all around us (and power lines, of course). It was nearly like being in Ireland.

On the Fortini Trail, Santa Teresa County Park, San Jose, CA

Bonus: M. found a deer skull as we were hiking back to the parking lot. Will have to clean it up a bit before we decide whether to display it.

Here's Suhita's account of the day.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bike and Sketch: Bay Trail / Baylands

Along the Bay Trail, Baylands, Palo Alto, California

Just a few minutes from my office is a haven for birds -- Baylands in Palo Alto, connected via the Bay Trail to Shoreline at Mountain View. We biked along the trail, and I stopped to sketch. We saw stilts, ducks, egrets, and even two pelicans.

I was testing out Bee Paper's Pen Sketcher's pad, as I'll be using that in an upcoming workshop I'm running for Art in Action. I was pleased to see that it worked fairly well with a Sharpie pen, watercolors, and a waterbrush.

Egret, Baylands, Palo Alto, California