September 30, 2014

Eyewitness sketches of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests

Urban sketchers are capturing the increasing wave of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. These are some sketches from Monday, a day after the police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to break up protesters demanding democratic elections. You can follow the Hong Kong urban sketching community in the Urban Sketchers Hong Kong Facebook Group, and Sketching Occupy Central.

Alvin Wong

"Organisers announced the KICKOFF of OCCUPY CENTRAL. thousands of people came in to Central to show support,and the people blocked the main road which link the West to East. We were right at the spot, and at around 5:30pm, police began to push people away and throwing tear gas to the people with no weapon but only an umbrella and goggles. But the people went back and continue to occupy at the location and spread to other locations as well."

Terry Lai

"The day after tear gas bomb attack by barbarian police on citizens handing up, it makes Hong Kong people even more unity. At Chater road, it was already filled up by many citizens. Here, with the backgroung of HSBC Main Buliding, Standard Charter HQ, Citibank Tower, the development of Hong Kong is actually based on the core values - Democracy, Freedom, n Justice. For those already at the highest position, dun u forget?"

May Chiu
"I drew from a restaurant of one of the high risese, seeing that the people come from different corner and the group is getting bigger and bigger. All have the same urge : "We want Democracy!""

Gary Yeung

"I was standing on top of the city's Mass Transit Railway Entrance roof with a group of protestors. By the time I finished the sketch, the sky had darkened and the streets around me were all packed with people, showing their support for those who suffered yesterday."

Luis Simoes

New Life breathed into Old Ireland in Galway

While out and about sketching a few weeks ago, I was asked to paint a thatched cottage in my local village by its new owner. I was delighted, as I've watched the restoration take place since last winter, and I'd even done a quick sketch while my kids were doing sport nearby once. That sketch didn't get very far. This time, I'd have carte blanche to indulge myself as much as I liked, and as much time as I needed. That red. Those chimneys. Everything. I couldn't wait to start.

Eventually the decks were cleared and off I went to do the job. It was really hot, unseasonably so, and I thought conditions would be perfect. But the sun blazed right in my eyes and I'd forgotten my cap. I tried to balance my spare sketchbook on my head, and tie it on with the bag from my stool, but even though I've more or less given up on the dignity front, it was too much to sit in my very own village looking like a lunatic. Besides, it kept falling off, my head not being flat on top. I kept trying to get the drawing right, and it kept being wrong. I was easily distracted, as I always am when the drawing isn't working, and painted this little shield bug, which wanted to climb to the top of my shoulder, and was probably most unimpressed at being thwarted in its progress and parked on my forearm a few times to be drawn.

Why couldn't I throw the lines of the cottage down as easily as I drew the shield bug? Pressure, I guess - one had a client waiting for it, the other didn't. I tried twice more to get the lines of the cottage right, and twice more they were totally wrong. Then I remembered a technique that I read in Felix Scheinberger's book Urban Watercolor Sketching, where you tell yourself the sketch isn't the "real" thing but only for fun. Just like the shield bug. Lo and behold - the new drawing went swimmingly. I went back the next day to paint the drawing, in my baseball cap, and had a wonderful time. I might point out that thatched roofs can be very hard to do because if you draw all those cut ends of reeds, it's going to look overworked and heavy. So once again I took inspiration from Felix's book, and used a combination of splattering and salt to get a nice texture. Sadly I splattered the sky too but never mind.

Michael, the new owner, has done a spectacular job on the restoration. Everything has been done with the greatest care and attention. The furniture has been picked up from various auctions, windows have been enlarged and it is simply immaculate inside. He's delighted with his new painting, and I loved doing it. Better again, he's asked me to paint the fireplace with a roaring fire in it, along with its magnificent stone arch (like everything else in the cottage, salvaged and lovingly rebuilt from the original fireplace) and the beautiful dresser (hutch), full of blue and white china. I really can't wait, and the fine mugs of tea and plentiful biscuits provided by Michael have nothing to do with it - honest.

September 29, 2014

Rescued Tree

This yellow tree is a Kentucky Coffee. It’s on the boulevard along our house in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on the 11th Street side of our corner lot. We planted it 6 years ago to replace a large maple that had been toppled by a violent windstorm. My husband is passionate and opinionated about trees. He was set on a Kentucky Coffee and not just a spindly sapling. Even though it is a native species, nurseries didn’t have any. “Just not in demand”, we were told. My husband tracked this one down: a local arborist (with an interest in obscure trees) had rescued it (dug it up) from the University of Northern Iowa campus when a building project would have otherwise necessitated cutting it down. My husband swooned with tree love from the moment he spotted it growing on the arborist’s orphanage-for-rescued-trees acreage.

Fertilized, deep-root watered through dry spells, and pruned of lower branches so the snowplow and garbage truck wouldn’t swipe it: it’s been pampered. We see it from our kitchen table window. It’s grown straight and tall and bushy, obviously happy in its new spot.

In autumn, it is the first deciduous tree in the neighborhood to change color and lose its leaves. From first hint of yellow to all the leaves falling is a matter of just a few days.  There was no time to procrastinate to get this painting done. I chose this angle because of how the much larger maple, beyond, framed it. I did a preliminary sketch in my pocket-size Moleskine before launching onto a 12” X 18” Fabriano Artistico cold press watercolor block. I did a quick under-drawing with Derwent brown ochre pencil, then just watercolor. By the time I started to paint, the vehicles, recorded in the sketch, had moved. I chose to leave out the stop sign, wanting to highlight the sidewalk, the shadows and the trees further down the street.

The People of Clyde Common, Portland

While I most often draw subjects that are architectural, or urban, or even landscape-oriented, and I go to figure drawing sessions as often as time permits ... I don't often draw people in public places - buses, cafes, bars and the like.
 However, after my recent trip to Brasil for the 5th International Urban Sketchers Symposium, where I found myself surrounded by artists who are more or less constantly drawing the people around them ... I've been inspired to follow suit more often.

So here are several of my efforts from my recent visit to Portland, completed in a few evenings of having drinks at Clyde Common. This is an award-winning bar that has been managed for the past several years by an old friend of mine, Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Unfortunately, he was out of town during this visit, but that just left me with more time to sketch.

Drawing in bars and cafes like this is obviously a time-honored tradition among urban sketchers, but it's relatively new to me. I must say, though, that it's a fantastic conversation-starter. Of course people are curious about what you're doing and why you keep glancing briefly in their direction, and when they see even a halfway decent representation of themselves, it seems to really pique their interest. 
 I also did a fair amount of journal-writing, occasionally having some fun with the formatting of the page. In this case, the people were basically a composite image - I sketched various individuals and people in the background as though the bar was much longer and more crowded than it was in reality. A fun exercise, just like all the people-sketching I did over the weekend.

[All drawings were done using either a Pentel Slicci or a Super 5 Fountain Pen in a Stillman & Birn Gamma Series Sketchbook.]

A Few Architectural Moments in Portland

I spent a few days in Portland guiding a field trip, and managed to do a fair amount of sketching while there. It's always nice to go back to this city, because each time I seem to discover new places or to see familiar places in a new light. The city is also full of memories for me from the 1st International Urban Sketchers Symposium back in 2010 ... I still almost can't believe that so many sketchers from around the world descended on this city and started a phenomenon that has only continued to grow. Anyway, here are a few of the drawings form my visit - this first post will focus on buildings, and will be followed by a post about drawing people. [All these drawings were done in a Stillman & Birn Gamma Series 9" x 6" Landscape sketchbook.]

  This is the Federal Reserve Bank Building by Pietro Belluschi, 1949. A very sleek facade and selective use of stone cladding ... one of my favorite buildings in the city.
 The Governor Hotel, East Wing, designed by William C. Knighton in 1909. A very curious building, with highly unusual details at the cornice - anthropomorphic and/or robot-like 'sentinels' in glazed terra-cotta.
 Converted railway loading docks at NW 11th Avenue between Hoyt and Irving. I stopped to sketch here with my students, who are currently studying various housing typologies. This little stretch of street shows what can be done with existing industrial infrastructure - it's a very pleasant space, and I imagine the interiors are nice as well.

 A simple courtyard on NW 19th, immediately adjacent to The Commissary Cafe, a beautiful little space where I got my morning coffee.
And finally, "The Indigo" ... this is a building we visit each year for a tour of ZGF Architects, who designed the building and have their office here. I've always loved the way this building reflects the sky, and that's the main point I was trying to get across in this sketch. It was a struggle, as I'm still getting used to the paper in the Gamma Series sketchbook (watercolor behaves quite differently on this paper as compared to the Moleskine I've been using most recently), but I'm glad I made the effort.

September 28, 2014


In  all my years of going to Cal Berkeley for undergraduate school and University of Washington for graduate school, I had never heard the term “convocation” until my first son  started at Western Washington University. Convocation means "to call/come together" the convocation at the start of a school year is the calling of students (particularly the freshman students) to come together for an assembly to celebrate the start of their academic years at the University. 

My son Matthew is in his freshman year at University of Washington. He and we as his parents were invited to the 2014 Convocation Ceremonies and President’s Picnic.
At least 400+ incoming students and  their proud parents and families attended the event filling the Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Ed.

We then went to Drumheller Fountain and Rainier Vista for the President’s Picnic greeted by the sounds of the Huskies Marching band as we waited to get into a huge tent for the picnic lunch. It was a great way to celebrate the beginning of the school year.

President's Picnic Tent and UW Marching Band
Inside the Big Tent for Lunch the sketch doesn't do justice to how large and how many people where in there!

Sketching around Circular Road in September

Below's the video I shot for this month's sketchwalk at Circular Road, Singapore, with Urban Sketchers Singapore.

Circular Road is near Singapore River which is one of the oldest areas in Singapore. The place has undergone significant redevelopment over the years. Shophouses here are preserved but many have been turned into pubs and restaurants. If you look above the roofs of the shophouses that line the streets, you'll see many commercial tall buildings behind, mostly owned by banks, around the area.

It's relatively deserted in the morning during weekends but during evening time when the pubs are open, it will be crowded with drinkers, party goers and tourists. If you head over to the next street by the riverside, there are restaurants serving seafood --- be careful not to get ripped off so always ask for the price in advance.

Sketchers from overseas, to get to this place, the nearest MRT stations is Raffles Place and Clarke Quay.

- Parka

Little favorites from Brazil

Funny how the sketches that stick with you after a big sketching trip aren't always your grandest ones. Or even your most successful ones. It's the little stuff, the surprising stuff, the things you never expect that are the "stickiest". So at the risk of leaving you with no real narrative, and a real bits-and-pieces post, here are some of my favorite sketch-memories from Brazil.

The cartless horse. Sketched on the last day of the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Paraty when I walked past yet another horse and cart and thought "How come I haven't sketched one yet?"

The flooded streets of Paraty. What a fabulous surprise that was, when the tide came in and flooded the streets of the town. It's like a double treat: you get to draw a picturesque town and then you get to sketch in it's reflection.

I know you don't have to account for every windowpane and pillar in a really complex building, but I am amazed I missed sketching the two prominent windows in the facade of this really simple church. In fact, it wasn't until I took the shot on the right that I thought "wait a minute, something's missing". Too late. Now this will always be my church with the missing windows. Paraty, Rio de Janeiro.

This is the demo piece I did during my workshop at the Symposium "Never Fear the People". It was a challenge to sketch and talk through my sketching process at the same time, but I really enjoyed it. This piece was auctioned off at the end of the Symposium. It reminds me of teaching and of the sketches the participants produced during the workshop. (I was most amused by how many people declared they 'never draw people' and then produced fantastic people-filled sketches of busy Chafariz Square.

Women on the streets of Rio holding signs reading "We buy gold". Seeing those signs made me think of all the stories that might be behind the gold they buy, of families having to sell their heirlooms and memories, of intricately carved pieces being melted down into just a of gold. As I was finishing this up, it rained, all over my sketch. Nothing like a little rain to add character to a sketch.

And these last sketches made in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio. No grand buildings, no famous ones either, but their dilapidated grandeur described the spirit of the neighborhood perfectly.

That's it from Brazil. Back to sketching the San Francisco Bay Area now. If you're up to it, all my Brazil sketches are here on flickr, or blogged in many posts here on my blog.

September 26, 2014

Face to face with "Echo" at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle

At the last sketch outing with the Seattle Urban Sketchers I saw new and familiar faces of group members who gathered to draw in the Olympic Sculpture Park. But the face I really wanted to draw was this one: Jaume Plensa's "Echo" sculpture. Although I first sketched it for my Seattle Times column when it was being installed in May, this is my first sketch of the finished masterpiece. And, hopefully, it won't be the last. A passerby told me to come back when the sun shines on Echo's face.

USK Flickr Digest 9.25.14

Their is an intense intimacy in looking at sketchbooks, the book itself is part of the experience of looking at the art within. I am always impressed by those individuals that seem to take into consideration the physical book as part of the sketching and posting process.   With an increase in USK Flickr daily submissions their has also been a significant increase in the number of sketches that utilize a two page spread for one image. This week I found myself contemplating the way some seem to consider the crease or binding between pages as an active part of the composition or image concept.

Christine Deschamps, vue sur le j4 et le Fort st jean depuis le Bord Demer, Marseille

Stephane Feray, Rues Litteraires, France

Anders Mohlin, Sketches from Stockholm Central Station, Sweden

See more, and submit your own here

September 25, 2014

One Adventure Ends, as Another Begins...

Sadly, the wonderfully inspiring 5th Usk symposium had to come to an end eventually (sigh).

So many goodbyes! On Sunday, I felt quite melancholy as I sat alone, painting this picture:

But, I needn't have worried: it was only a pause in the action. 

The next morning, I packed up my gear and left Paraty (although those stones did their level best to stop me):

But I wasn't headed home just yet. I got a bus (an extremely comfortable bus, as it happens) bound for Rio, with my sketch-buddies Liz, Esther and Suhita. It took over 4 hours, but we chatted the time away to nothing.

When we got there, we quickly checked into our hotel and then immediately got ourselves back out, on a mission to meet up with a Marc Holmes, Laurel and Shiho, who'd arrived the day before.

There was just enough light left for one street sketch, right in the city centre, surrounded by bustle and noise and cars and buses and traffic police... and mosquitoes, who immediately set about my exposed ankles. You can just spot me in the photo below, doing the drawing above, if you look carefully:

Then we hit a very posh cafe lined with MASSIVE mirrors. I copped out a little, by not attempting to capture the reflections of reflections of reflections:

We ate and sketched, until finally even I began to wilt.

But after a night's sleep, we were ready to start all over again. We met up with even more sketchers and embarked on an extraordinary day of sketching high up in the air, on Sugarloaf Mountain. But that's another story...

September 24, 2014

Udvar-Hazy Center

curtiss vought f4u 1d corsair
The National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall is great, but tends to be a bit too crowded and filled with toddlers sprinting around.  The NASM Udvar-Hazy Center out in Virginia on the other hand is a huge facility with some incredibly awesome aircraft on display, and a much calmer space to sketch about.
curtiss p40e warhawk
You could return there a dozen times and never be lacking for a new interesting, fascinating, and awe-inspiring subjects to sketch, from the Discovery shuttle, WWII planes, aircraft from the birth of flight and every era of flight you can imagine.
And the conservation facility shows a bit of the process involved in restoring and maintaining the amazing pieces at the museum.

September 23, 2014

Italian Head Turner

As exciting as any stilettoed Sophia Loren, a Cinquecento turns my head in Italy every time. The adorable little car seems to have that effect on a lot of people. 

Debuting on July 4,1957, the Fiat 500 [“Cinquecento" means "500.”] was born of humble origins. The car was introduced around the same time as the Volkswagen Beetle and Britain's Mini as a vehicle for the common man—a practical and affordable way to get around. It is said, also, that the Cinquecento was the first car designed especially for city life. Measuring just ten feet in length when it was introduced, this car could navigate the tiny passages of medieval roads. 

In a country where glamour and first impressions matter so much—there's a term for it: "bella figura”— it's fun to see that this pudgy veteran workhorse has become a beloved symbol of the country and something to whistle at in its old age.

Masks of Korea

The Mingei International Museum, in San Diego has an exhibit of masks created with wood, paper mache, fiber, metal and paper from the Museum’s permanent collection from numerous countries, including Mexico, Japan, Indonesia and Nigeria.

When I visited today, I drew 2 paper-mache Korean masks.

Sketching Paraty : Silhouette and Subdivide


I suppose Urban Sketchers readers are seeing a lot of Paraty these days! Well, here's a small collection of my personal sketches from the workshop. 

Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (2)Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (3)

Each morning of the workshop some of the keener painters would be up early. We had about a hour between breakfast and first classes to get a sketch in.  Some of the extraordinarily keen would get up before breakfast and paint, then stop back for those Brazilan cheesey puff ball things that the hotel puts out every morning.

Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (9)Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (10)

The first day many of the international instructors ended up sketching right outside the hotel, just sitting in the street and catching new people as they got up and out. Eventually we had half of the symposium sitting in the street, getting right down to why we were there - obsessive sketching!

14Sept17_Parati_08Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (4)Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (5)

One of the fun stories from Paraty. Local people passing by on the way to work would naturally ask what was going on. This day we could say we had sketchers on the bridge from India, Scotland, Iran, Sweden, Australia, the USA, the UK, and Canada - painting together, learning from each other and having fun.

14Sept17_Parati_0714Sept17_Parati_05Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (6)Paraty_Sketching_Snaps (8)

Sketching out in the world, you are always seeing something unexpected. The streets flooding with sea water at high tide was fairly unexpected. But so was this horse strolling through the flood. What happened next was less unexpected. What would be the worst thing a horse could do while splashing by you in a muddy street? Yes, that happened. 


This is my first sketch done in Paraty, in the courtyard of our hotel.  I think regular readers of my blog will see what I mean by the phrase Silhouette and Subdivide. It's all encapsulated in this image here.

(For the history of this thought process, go back to my Direct to Watercolor series of posts).

The common strategy behind all of these rapid sketches is to look for the largest silhouette shapes in front of you - such as the broad leaf palms or the egg shapes of the clay pots. Place them down in a single brush stroke. Once you have the composition (it only takes moments to make a few big shapes), you can then look at each shape and see how it can be subdivided with the darker tones of shadows.

This is the logical followup to the 'colored sketching' exercise Tea, Milk and Honey that I teach beginners. After you TMH over a few dozen (well, maybe more) sketches, you'll find you don't really need the drawing any longer (if you don't want). My how-to book on Urban Sketching goes back further, to the very beginning of this learning curve, starting with how to see silhouettes and shadows when drawing.