Happy First Decade, USK!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Times Square colors, USK Global Sketchwalk Nov 11

Urban Sketchers celebrated its 10th anniversary on November 11 with a 24-hour global sketchwalk. Search for #USkGlobal24hrSketchwalk on social media to see everyone's drawings. It's amazing to be connected to so many people sharing the same mission -- to meet, sketch, and share -- all over the world!

Since I was on the East Coast for work, I hopped on a bus up to New York City for the day. It was extremely cold, and I didn't have a heavy coat with me. After lunch and some museum browsing with a friend, I went to Times Square to try to meet up with the local Urban Sketchers chapter group. Sadly we somehow missed one another, but I got a few sketches in anyway before my toes froze -- 'cause that's what we do. :)

Times Square, USK Global Sketchwalk Nov 11

Thank you to USk founder Gabi Campanario for starting this fantastic movement and giving us this global family of artists!

city view

A Flying Visit to Philadelphia

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cloudy afternoon in Philadelphia

Work took me to the University of Pennsylvania campus last week, so I spent some time wandering places familiar and new. I have alumni access to the Van Pelt Library and took the opportunity to see all the changes on the sixth floor.

It's practically unrecognizable. I appreciate the large glass windows and lounge seating, but I miss the coziness of the old Shakespeare library, with its vintage chandeliers and slightly shabby air.

Still, I admit the views of Center City from the new terrace windows are amazing, even on overcast November afternoons. I stood in a little alcove and sketched the view as the clouds blanketed the buildings.

It's odd to think that during my years there, the skyline's defining shapes were the tops of One and Two Liberty Place, and their construction was controversial because they were higher than the statue of William Penn above City Hall. Now Philadelphia is a veritable forest of skyscrapers, with the forthcoming Comcast Technology Center slated to become the tallest building in the U.S. outside New York and Chicago. Wow.

on the go

Train to San Francisco

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The other day I had to take a train up to our San Francisco office for some meetings. As usual I chose a window seat so I could capture the fleeting landscape.

En route to SF

Interested in how I approach sketching on the go? I walk through my process in my Craftsy class, Urban Sketching in 15 Minutes a Day. Check it out. Right now, you can fave your most-wanted classes on the site to unlock Black Friday pricing -- how fun!

on the go

A Glimpse of Colorado

Saturday, November 04, 2017

I was in Colorado for a day and a half this week, for work. Time only for a few quick sketches from the car as I was being driven from Boulder to the Denver airport.

Flatirons BLD to DEN

The Flatirons looked lovely against the intense sunset colors of the clouds.

The only supplies I had handy were a small Muji notebook and a Sharpie pen. I added watercolor later, but as you can see the thin paper wasn't up to handling washes.

Landscape BLD to DEN

Next time I'll have to bring a proper kit and stay for a while.


How I Choose a Sketchbook

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The other day, M. asked me how I decide what sketchbook to bring when I go out to draw. Great question!

At any given time, I have a dozen or more sketchbooks in various states of completion. I tag each of my sketchbooks on the first page with my name, phone, and date started, so I can tell you that the oldest work-in-progress book dates back to (welp!) 2011.

Most of the older ones either have paper that I'm not too fond of or were acquired for a specific purpose (I'm looking at you, Pacon Art Street Sketchbook from the kids' workshop I led). Of course I also have a large and ever-growing stash of new, untouched sketchbooks, including freebies from various conferences and impulse buys.

So which sketchbook gets to ride along when I'm packing my bag? It depends on what I'm drawing (and how I'm feeling). Obviously if I'm just aiming for the smallest kit possible to shove in a purse, I choose a 3"x5" pocket sketchbook, but I usually prefer 5"x8".

Am I likely to work solely in line, or will I do a more involved drawing, perhaps with watercolor? If the latter, I would take a sketchbook with heavier paper, made for watercolor (e.g., Strathmore Field Watercolor, Hand Book Field Watercolor, Fluid 100 Watercolor Block).

Washington Park, Denver, CO

Will there be other, more accomplished artists around? I may go for the familiar to give me a confidence boost (Stillman & Birn Beta or Zeta, Moleskine watercolor).

If I'm aiming for quantity (ahem, Inktober), I may choose a thinner paper. This month, for instance, my Canson Art Book Universal Sketch is on heavy rotation. Since it's hardbound, it survives being shoved into a backpack or tote on my daily commute.

Here's a quick ink sketch I did last week to plan what I'd carve on a pumpkin:

owl pumpkin sketch

Daily challenges are a great excuse to use up pages in sketchbooks I don't like. Instead of letting those books languish in the drawer forever, I can fill them with quick thumbnails, notes in workshops, draft blog posts, etc. And since sketchbooks with thinner paper are usually cheaper, I don't get anxious about achieving perfection on every page!


How Do You Inktober?

Monday, October 23, 2017

road sketch san jose hills

I'm always curious to see how other artists are participating in the daily ink drawing challenge that is Inktober. Some are purists, only drawing in ink. Others are looser in their interpretation, stretching themselves to work in ink + other media.

bike commuter inktober

I do a bit of everything. I'm also going easy on myself this year -- it's a busy time, so I'm letting myself catch up with multiple drawings if I miss a day.

quick landscape thumbnails inktober

I also don't stick to one type of subject. Some of my drawings are representational. Others represent only what's in my imagination. I also use this challenge to practice mark-making.

mark making thumbnails inktober

How do you Inktober?


Drawing Dance

Sunday, October 15, 2017


After several days of late-night Inktober sketches from my imagination, I was determined to do something different yesterday. So I got front-row seats to SJDanceCo's performance, Roots & Wings, at the Hammer Theatre in downtown San Jose.


There was just enough light from the orchestra pit and stage to see the paper. I sketched this with a Sharpie pen in a Canson Art Book Universal - Sketch. It's a relatively thin paper; this sketchbook is one that I started in Santo Domingo in 2012 and have come back to every so often. It's liberating to draw on this paper, as it keeps me from getting too precious with the lines. If I mess up, I don't feel bad about turning the page and starting over.


Drawing these dancers was incredibly challenging. They moved fast and contorted their bodies in positions that weren't easy to comprehend much less capture on the page. When I added color later, I tried to keep my washes loose and minimal. I made notes on the page to help me remember the colors, as photography wasn't permitted.

The sketch at the top of this post is of a solo performer -- she used a flowing red piece of cloth as her foil in her graceful, emotional piece.

Another act seemed to involve the dancers' fraught relationship with clothing of various kinds. Still another celebrated the joy of childhood, with props including a large balloon and a tricycle.


Have you ever tried sketching a dance performance of any kind? What are your tips for capturing the fluidity of the bodies as they twist and leap around the stage?


One Each Day

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Still going strong with my Inktober sketches. Here's one from Martial Cottle Park, and then a series of late-night quick captures from my imagination (seeded by the official Inktober prompts).

tractor martial cottle park

Inktober - crooked

Inktober - screech

Inktober - gigantic

Inktober - run

Inktober - teeming

Inktober - shattered


More Inktober!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Santa Teresa Park trail inktober

I'm fortunate that I live in front of a large park here in California; I open the backyard gate and find myself faced with miles of trails -- a convenient subject for an Inktober sketch!


Yesterday's installment of Inktober was during dinner at Jang Su Jang, a Korean restaurant in Santa Clara.

Placemat sketch Jang Su Jang

The day before, it was a quick sketch from TV.

inktober tv sketch


Inktober: It's On!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Heading east, Philadelphia, PA

If it's October, it must be Inktober! It's an annual worldwide activity in which artists draw in ink every day of the month and post their work.

I was visiting my parents in their new home in Voorhees, NJ, over the weekend, so I took advantage of a few hours in Philadelphia to draw the scene above -- from the passenger seat of the car.

Given all we were doing to help my parents settle in, I didn't have a lot of time to draw. Here's the usual last-minute sketch of M. sleeping, aka "Oh, no, it's 11 pm and I still haven't done my Inktober drawing!"

Michael sleeping Voorhees house

If you've seen my previous Inktober posts, you know that M. likes to throw random words at me as prompts. Don't ask.

Alien pizza inktober

How about you? Are you participating in this year's Inktober?


Now Live: My Craftsy Class!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

So excited to announce that my Craftsy class, Urban Sketching in 15 Minutes a Day, is live! It's great for beginners. You'll learn simple ways to quickly convey the essence of a place, moment or passing scene – whether you’re walking to lunch or traveling in a car, bus or train.

What you get:

  • 6 Streaming HD video lessons with anytime, anywhere access
  • Class resources, including a printable supply list
  • Detailed instruction, explanation and demonstration
  • Me! I'll be personally answering your questions in the class

Let's get sketching! Sign up today

in motion

Open Streets: Viva Calle SJ 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Viva CalleSJ westbound

Last weekend, San Jose once again hosted Viva CalleSJ, an open streets event to encourage walking and bicycling. Each time, I discover more parts of the city.

This year we started near Alum Rock, and M. brought along his Box Bike. I had the best seat in the house -- I got to sit inside the box bike and sketched while M. pedaled along the route!

Sketching in Box Bike by during Viva CalleSJ

Viva CalleSJ going east

Viva CalleSJ balloon

We stopped in front of Five Wounds Portuguese National Church -- I've wanted to draw it for some time so was glad to get the chance.

Five Wounds San Jose

Someday I'd love to go down to LA to sketch during a CicLAvia event.

horsing around

We Have Polo!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

South Bay Polo Club - Garlic Cup, Gilroy, CA

Yep, we do indeed, just 20 minutes away. Sketched this during the heat wave, at the South Bay Polo Club's Garlic Cup a few weeks ago. (It's in Gilroy, where everything is made of garlic.)

Interestingly, the announcer didn't proclaim "We have polo!" every few minutes as seemed to be the norm in Saratoga. Also unlike at our previous polo experiences in Saratoga and Greenwich, the attendees seemed to be a more diverse and laid-back crowd. Fewer UFO-size hats, more coolers. Plus there were tacos and margaritas - fun!

So far I've sketched golf and polo and yoga and ballroom dancing around the Bay Area. Still on the list to sketch: fencing, cricket. What else?


That Time My Birthday Was Eclipsed by ... the Eclipse

Saturday, September 09, 2017

So the whole country decided to throw a party for me this year. Woot!

Yep, I'm one of the lucky ones who happened to be celebrating a birthday at the same time we all collectively stopped in our tracks to gaze at the sun. For one brief moment we forgot about all the crazy.

I celebrated by hitting not one but two national parks. First stop: Lassen Volcanic National Park. What's that, you say? Oh, only the awesomeness of steam vents and sulfur and bubbling springs without the crush of people at Yellowstone.

We hiked around Manzanita Lake. I stopped to sit on a log and paint.

Manzanita Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Direct to watercolor, no sketching first, in a Hand Book Field Watercolor journal.

Then we trekked to Bumpass Hell. The back way, involving a steep, muddy hike, because the easy trail was still closed. Because of snow. In August!

It was exhausting, but so worth it. This painting doesn't really do the scene justice, but it's the best I could eke out with what little energy I had.

Bumpass Hell at Lassen Volcanic National Park

We drove onward to Crater Lake National Park. Sadly, we could barely see it because of the smoke from all the wildfires. We spent the night in the town of Jacksonville, Oregon, near Ashland. It has a very lovely downtown.

Jacksonville, Oregon downtown

For the main event, we went to Roxy Ann Winery in Medford, which was hosting a viewing party. Yes, we didn't see totality, but ~90% while sipping fresh-from-the-orchard peach mimosas? Yes, please!

Eclipse watching at Roxy Ann Winery, Medford, OR

Austin (or Cleveland?) 2024, here we come!


Sketching at the Zoo

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Took advantage of our office summer picnic a few weeks ago at the San Francisco Zoo to sketch. Because, flamingoes!

flamingos SF Zoo

And parrots (I think?).

parrot SF zoo

So what is this awesome toned paper? It's that Daiso kraft paper scrapbook I'd previously used for gouache.

Here's a roadie I had done a few weeks earlier, in the same sketchbook.

Sketch from the road