San Jose

Morning in the Park

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Yes, I'm pretty lucky to be able to go out our back gate, walk along the trail in Santa Teresa County Park, and see this.

171216_Santa Teresa Cty Park 1

It feels simultaneously urban and rural up there. Those agave blooms are so striking against the sky.

As I was going back home, I did a few rapid captures with a Sharpie pen while walking.

171216_Santa Teresa Cty Park 2

No animal sightings at that hour, other than birds and a few deer in the distance. Where do you like to hike and sketch?


Messiah Singalong

Monday, December 11, 2017

Every year, the San Jose Symphonic Choir hosts a You-Sing-It Handel's Messiah at the California Theatre. As I was getting over a cold, I wasn't quite up to singing this time but I followed along on the score. I also sketched various members of the San Jose Baroque Orchestra with the fountain pen I got at the art supply swap. It's red because the pen happened to have red ink in it.

171204_You Sing It Messiah

This group always does the entire Messiah instead of just Part I (the Christmas section) so it runs very long. Both last year and this year we've left at intermission. So I've never actually stuck around to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Which is sad, because that's the best part!

art supplies

Art Supply Swap + Owls!

Monday, December 11, 2017

171202_Art Swap at Suhita house

Urban sketcher Suhita Shirodkar had the bright idea of hosting an art supply swap the other week. It was a great excuse to clean out my studio and part ways with superfluous sketchbooks, pencils, and paints.

Of course, I didn't come home empty-handed! My haul from the art swap? The composite sketch above, plus a Platinum fountain pen, a bottle of ink, a set of Kuretake pan watercolors ... you get the picture.

After the art swap, M. and I drove south into Morgan Hill (it gets rural very quickly just a few miles from my home) in search of barn owls. Squee! I do believe they were just hanging out on fence posts waiting to be drawn. They sat posing for their portraits, turning their heads this way and that in the glare of the car headlights.

171202_Barn owls

171202_Barn owls 2

road trip

Thanksgiving in Death Valley

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Instead of spending Thanksgiving in L.A. again this year, we decided to take a road trip to Death Valley National Park, on the California-Nevada border. Started off with the usual Pacheco Pass sketches on the way to the I-5.

171122_Pacheco Pass

171122_Pacheco Pass 2

I brought a mix of random paper along on this trip -- my Strathmore sketchbook with very thin paper, a Hand Book journal, a Fluid 100 watercolor block, even a Canson mixed media paper sample from the USk Symposium.

Contrary to popular belief, Death Valley is much more than extreme summertime heat and vast salt flats well below sea level. Our first stop was the Mesquite Sand Dunes. They are exactly what you envision dunes to be if your frame of reference is, say, Lawrence of Arabia.

171123_Death Valley Mesquite Sand Dunes

We also went on several canyon hikes. Here's a sketch of Grotto Canyon. We couldn't go too far in because of a sheer, high wall of rock beyond that cavelike area. Apparently there's a way to go around it, but we didn't know it at the time.

171123_Death Valley Grotto Canyon

I tried to paint the view of the pigmented hillsides from the parking area at Devil's Golf Course (a field of otherworldly salt formations), but the Fluid 100 watercolor block I was using was acting more like hot pressed than cold pressed paper. I couldn't get the paint to sit on the paper and move around.

171124_Death Valley Artist Drive

We hiked Golden Canyon in the early morning, before everyone else mobbed the parking lot. The payoff was Red Cathedral, its sienna-colored formations contrasting with the ochre of the surrounding rock.

171124_Death Valley Red Cathedral

And this is a sketch of Natural Bridge Canyon. The trail was overrun with tourists posing for Instagram shots.

171124_Death Valley Natural Bridge

A highlight of our trip was the natural hot springs in Tecopa, outside the park. It was quite an experience to walk out on the flats in the moonlight and sit in the warm water in perfect silence, toes in the squishy mud, looking up at Milky Way.

On our way home, I rapidly sketched the Salt Creek Hills as we passed them on the highway.

171125_Salt Creek Hills

I'm surprised that so many of my colleagues and friends here in the Bay Area have never been to Death Valley. They don't know what they're missing!


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