October 19, 2014

Little beauty

Not the most attractive thing we have in the garden by a long way, but it's a 'little beauty'
nonetheless, happily converting our organic waste (vegetable scraps, egg shells etc,
even paper and cardboard) into liquid fertiliser (worm tea) and solid fertiliser
(worm castings) for the garden. 

Unsurprisingly I don't get a lot of help with this job, but this time our youngest (8)
was very keen to help spread the worm tea around the garden. He even helped out
as a hand model showing off one of the Tiger worms while I tried to sketch it.

"Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along"

The Mississippi River is the river. Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics are from the 1927 Broadway musical Showboat. The River is metaphor for the relentless, unforgiving life that Joe, the main character, lives working as a stevedore on a showboat.

It's the river of Mark Twain's autobiographical Life on the Mississippi and the river that Huckleberry Finn's adventures play out on.

The Mississippi River is the eastern border of Iowa, where I've lived for nearly 30 years. It's a 100 mile drive, due east from my home in Cedar Falls to Dubuque, Iowa--a city half on the bluff above the River and the rest down on river level. Until recently, Dubuque, for us, was the bottleneck before crossing one of the two bridges into Illinois or Wisconsin. Now that my husband and I are retired, we have the time and health to roam.

These drawings are from two excursions taken in the past month to Dubuque. On the drive there, the scenery is mostly flat farmland. Then 15 miles before Dubuque, the terrain changes drastically to deeply cleft hills, with rocky outcroppings, which evolve into limestone palisades on the Mississippi's western shore.
Mines of Spain
Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian pioneer, was the city's founder. In 1788, the Spanish government deeded him the rights to mine lead. Mines of Spain Park, minutes south from downtown, allows breathtaking glimpses of the River and the State of Illinois on the other side.

Julien Dubuque's gravesite commands a view of downtown and the Julien Dubuque Bridge (built in 1943), that connects Iowa and Illinois. Here, with my back to the grave, looking north:
Mississippi River at Dubuque
As I sat on my stool drawing, many--young and old--came to look out from this premier spot. It was a Friday and the weather was gorgeous. Obviously, there was good reason to play hooky from school and work. Below, on the River, a barge moved upstream towards Minneapolis/St. Paul to fetch grain and beans, destined at the end of the return voyage to be unloaded onto freighters in the Gulf of Mexico. The occasional recreational houseboat tootled by and a sightseeing steamboat, paddle-wheeler replica made a U-turn just below the gravesite promontory.

There are 29 locks and dams along the Mississippi. Lock and Dam #11, on the northern side of Dubuque, is seen from Eagle Point Park. Across the River is the State of Wisconsin.

We overnighted at the City of Dubuque's Four Mounds Inn and Conference Center that used to be the early 20th century estate of a prominent local family. In the morning, I painted the view from our second floor room: the River and Wisconsin through the peak-of-autumn-color trees.

October 18, 2014

And The Pink Kept Coming In NYC

I think that I am pretty well known for saying "There is color in black and white." But somedays just call for some color and today was one of them. I was on my way to FIT to the MFA in Illustration Alumni Demo Day and Open House. Just one of about a bizillion happenings in New York today, not to mention the World Wide Sketch crawl. As is my habit, I planned to cross the street to take the bus downtown, waiting alongside Riverside Park- I do this every day. But today was different- I thought that I would see the annual Walk for Breast Cancer in full bloom heading down Riverside Drive.  I was leaving kind of early, and so, was not sure. I sat at the bus stop, when all of a sudden, I saw the roar- yes, I said saw- for all at once, in this gorgeous, powerful bloom of pink- and power- came the throngs of walkers, hand in hand, decked in pink work out gear, hats, scarves, tutus, tiaras, chatting, singing, surviving- or walking for the memory of brave loved ones. One had to be a rock not to feel choked up. I had a few minutes before the bus arrived and so, I went to work, barely capturing the crowd and the soaring sight of all of these sisters, united by a single cause for today. Oh, and they had their mens too!! 
It was a beautiful, emotional sight to behold- and the pink kept coming. 


 Let´s try this time to pick up some random drawing made in different occasions combined them with the theme nature/animals focus. The cactus is gouache and the others are watercolour with pen.

October 17, 2014

Indian summer in Montreal

Maybe it's because of the lack of rain this October, or the unusually warm temperatures, but it seems that this autumn the leaves are sticking around longer than usual and the colours are more vibrant. When I have a break from teaching I've been sitting on campus, sketching the view of the churchyard across the way, or simply the campus grounds. It's hard not to go overboard with the garish colours but I try to temper them a bit.

Today the wind picked up while I was painting on rue Jean Talon. In fact there was a wind tunnel that shook my car and created great swirling piles of leaves. I have a feeling Indian Summer won't last much longer.

My Summer Location Drawing Class at AAU, San Francisco (Pt 10: the Presidio)

The most interesting thing about the Presidio of San Francisco right about now is probably the thing I didn't draw. The site has been a military instalation since 1776 when it was fortified by the Spanish, and it has changed hands to Mexico and then to the United States for whom it was in active service until the 1990s when it was given over to the National Park Service for public use. It's vast too, in fact I almost made two trips out here with my class, one to the Southern end with the Palace of Fine Arts, and one to the Northern end where the Civil War era Fort Point sits underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. But in my hubris I made it all one trip with us meeting in the morning at the Disney Museum (I needed a landmark art students could find) and at the end of the day at the Warming Hut by the Bridge. Which shouldn't have been so bad. I've done it before, it's a pleasant walk through the long green lawn of the former airfield Chrissy Field, or at least it used to be. Now, however, there's a construction site splitting down the length of it like a giant scar, all cranes and demolition, as they dig a new tunnel and replace Doyle Drive. And that is the interesting thing I did not draw. I was too busy hiking my ass around it double-time in order to not be late for the end of day meetup. Too bad too, because, since it's of the moment, it would have been good reporting. The rest of the park is fairly timeless.

What I did draw: The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck in the beaux arts style for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Built of wood and plaster, it was not made to last, but so beloved as a landmark that it was demolished in 1965 and recreated anew in steel and concrete. It's plenty popular among tourists, I can tell you. As I drew, I caught the attention of waves of tourgroups, Chinese and European, expressing appreciation for my sketches in the universal language of ooohs and aaahs.

The Warming Hut is a pleasant cafe at the Northern end of Chrissy Field on a quiet stretch of path popular with joggers and cyclists. Listen to the seagulls and the waves lapping. I watched fireworks from here for the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Date stamps like this are available inside and throughout the park for kids to collect in so-called park passports. They look great in sketchbooks too. Previous sketches of mine from both of these locations are featured in The Art of Urban Sketching. Next up: Civic Center

My daughters wedding

A few weeks ago my daughter Rianne married to her friend Bob.
A happy moment for her, but a bittersweet moment for me and my wife.
It's not that we were not used to the situation, she already flew out years ago. They have been living together for four years already, and had a relationship for 9 years.
Still, it still feels different once the marriage day is there.

It was a day to enjoy, and also a day where they would be the focal point. So I could not bring myself to having my drawing gear with me. And it didn't fit in my nice new slim cut jacket anyway.
But I could not refrain from drawing those little precious moments, at our home, where she had her hair done just before she would get into the wedding dress.
And the moment where they sat in the car to wait for the driver to bring them to the ceremony.
And the wedding bouquet which we found in our house the next morning.

She is in good hands now.

Stan's Studio

stan's studio

Sarah Stanley at the counter

Exhibition space

Drawing in the café

I've been doing a series of drawings from Stan's Studio in the East end of Glasgow. It's Glasgow's first pay what you want café PWYW and as well as serving a fine cup of coffee (Get up Stan up, house blend) the space is host to art shows, a small gallery and music events.

I'm a huge fan of the homemade aesthetic of it all as well as the love of making good art things happen.

October 16, 2014

Sketching Shophouses at Duxton Road

Shophouses @ Duxton Road
 It has been a while since I last posted my sketches. Here is a small quick sketch I made yesterday after my coffee break at The Department of Caffine cafe (yellowish shophouse in the sketch). I always find it difficult to concentrate and sketch when the heat is cooking my brain. So glad the sun had gone down enough for me to find shade and focus on my sketching and having fun. Each individual shophouse is painted a different colour scheme to reflect their past and present use. Of course some colours are off the chart and highly disrespectful for old heritage buildings like these. Sketching @ Duxton Sketching @ Duxton
That yellow funky pencil is one of my favourite sketching tool which I found in Barcelona last year when I attended the symposium.

The Icons of Oxford

I recently had the distinct honor of presenting a paper at Oxford University at 
Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, an interdisciplinary conference.My paper was titled 
Fashion in Illustration, Not as Illustration: Accidental Fashion Illustrators of the 1950's and 1960's. This was an academic paper and while I am proud of being accepted,and found it so very interesting, you know where my heart lies.So, with the little free time that I had,off I went to capture the  little bits of that wonderful townwhere and when I could.
Here's a little taste, the rest can be seen on my blog.
With only one free morning, I set out for a little capture of town and some coffee and found myself in the midst of hundreds of robes and regalia- graduation!

It's fall in Montreal, but we're going to Ithaca

14Oct04_Fall_George Etienne Cartier Monument

These are from a few days back, when the leaves were just turning. This was the last awesome day of the year. 25 degrees, sun and a light breeze. I had no choice but to ditch work and go painting. It's very likely this was the last great painting day of the season.

 14Oct4_Fall_Beaver Lake

This weekend we're headed to Ithaca NY for some more fall colors. There should be sketchers converging from NYC, Toronto, Montreal and Kitchener/Waterloo. If you're anywhere near the area and you'd like to come painting, here's a MAP showing where we will be, when.


This is Triphammer Falls. One of the locations I hope to sketch while we're there.  Watch this space to see what we get!


Painting "The Shire": Killeenaran Quay, Co. Galway

After watching The Lord Of The Rings a few years ago, I was struck by the similarity between The Shire and Killeenaran, in South Galway. The rolling fields, the bucolic landscape, and even the people, all resemble that idyllic, imaginary land. The landscape here is similar to (if a little softer than) the Burren, which JRR Tolkien visited and where he stayed many times around the time he wrote The Lord Of The Rings.

For the last two days I've been painting a house across the water from the quay at Killeenaran. It was sunny but cold and fresh, and yesterday was pretty windy too. I chatted with the people who live in the area as they arrived, out on a walk, or going for a swim. Two ladies arrived in their swimsuits, one on a bike and one in her car, a few minutes between each. There was much shrieking and exclaiming as they hit the water but they both said, as they always do, that the water was marvellous. The second lady told me that once, just once, she chickened out, on holiday in Iceland. At the quay yesterday, we couldn't have been more differently dressed: I had three hats on (baseball cap for the sun, warm hat for the cold and a hoodie for the wind) and as many layers as I figured I could wear while still moving my arms.

I was supposed to paint the house at high tide, which is gone in the blink of an eye: I took my eye off the boat I'd been drawing and when I looked back it had dropped beneath the line of the quay. That's why I had to split it over two days.

A couple of friends came down and we stood at the edge of the quay, peering into the clear green water. Thousands upon thousands of sprats swam in formation, dividing into smaller groups, never quite sure which way was best. We didn't see any bigger fish but there in the bay was a seal with his smooth black head peeking up above the water, and seagulls swirled and called overhead.
"One way or another, it isn't going to end well for the sprats," said one of my friends.

A man who races greyhounds came down with one of his dogs, a sleek, thin creature, who may have wished he had a bit more padding, given what he was about to endure. The man tied a rope to the dog's collar, picked him up and dropped him into the sea, and had him swim up and down parallel to the wall of the quay for a few minutes. When he took the dog out, he rubbed him with a towel and spoke to him lovingly.
"Didn't I tell you you wouldn't get cold," was all I heard.

After a couple of hours at the quay, I was so cold, I could feel my organs shivering - I don't know, my heart, or whatever else is in there. The hands had long since gone numb so I did that American Air Force trick I read once (on their website) where you windmill your arms until the blood goes back into your fingers. It works but you have to be really careful not to hit anything, and you look a bit odd doing it (especially in the supermarket). Plus your fingers go black before they go the right shade again.

This house, the far right of which you can just about make out in the above image (it's the hill just behind the house) is often referred to as the "Hobbit House" by locals.

There's one big difference between our area and The Shire, though - the wind and rain. But for now, it's a land of sunshine, blue sky and fluffy clouds, and there may be a few more outdoor drawing sessions to come.


October 15, 2014

cooling off in Clovis

I know, I just drew this same building twice the other day. But something drew me back. I think it was the cars parked out back this time. The mechanics are going to get suspicious. "There's that guy over there taking notes again. I think he's casing the joint. Better lock the place up tight and hide the best torque wrenches." The other sketch I did out in our back yard. It's just starting to get too cool to swim, but not yet. Clovis and Fresno are still in the middle of a 4-year drought, and I just heard that the folks over in Fresno won't be allowed to water their grass from November to March to save water. We'll see what happens. My guess is that everyone's back yards will be a different color than their front yards. And then I start to wonder about all of the swimming pools. How long will it be before they have everyone empty their pools? We're all hoping for a lot of rain this fall and winter.

October 14, 2014

A Gehry Construction Site

I had a very special sketching adventure yesterday. I was offered a private tour of the new Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS in Sydney which is still under construction. It is the design of the 'Starchitect' Frank Gehry and there is much interest here in having our very 'own Gehry' (especially in the architecture community). Some people say it will rival the Opera House - but I am not one of them. This opportunity to visit the site, came about purely as a result of sharing my work online and connections that are formed by that. Needless to say I was thrilled by the invitation - both as an architect and an urban sketcher!

It was a very challenging sketching experience - being shown through a very complex building with a group of people meant I had to be be fast and focused so as not to delay the others. At the same time I needed an increased awareness of my surroundings - it is a very active construction site with cables, workmen, bits and pieces everywhere. In addition I was wearing a hard hat and safety gloves (though I took them off after the first few sketches)

I just had to go for it - trusting my hard eye coordination and hoping that I picked the right pencil/pen out of my kit. (some people would say that I should have only used one tool but I love colour and variety!)

It is an amazing building and to be able to record these sketches has given me a real understanding of the spaces and how it is put together. These sketches are not necessarily pretty or complete but they are very important to me - triggering the memory of the space and details that I responded to. Here is a combined image showing the full collection of sketches I did in the 1 hour tour around the site.

There is no doubt that a few ideas as to how to respond to sketching challenges like this one have been prompted by Richard Alomar's activity in Paraty and hanging out in Rio with the unstoppable Lynne Chapman. (BTW I hope to finally start sharing some highlights and takeaways from my Brazil trip soon!)

Looking forward to sketching more of the exterior  - the shapes and patterns of the brickwork are breathtaking and highly sketchable - especially with some late afternoon Sydney sun on them.

More sketches, photos and impressions on my blog.

October 13, 2014

Quick impression of São Paulo

Unlike in Rio, where I documented my 35-hour stay over three sketchbook spreads, in São Paulo I only managed to fill one over a similar window of time —I landed Monday night and left Wednesday morning. The city doesn't come with the sweeping panoramas and colorful beaches of its northern neighbor, but my impression of it was just as fulfilling. The time I spent sketching in the median of Avenida Paulista probably has something to do with that. A passerby took some photos while I sketched and emailed them to me within hours. How nice is that! That gesture from a complete stranger left me with a great memory of my short passing through São Paulo.

Photo by Gustavo daRosa