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July 29, 2014

Sketch artist Mike Sheehan brings new perspectives to Southern California Public Radio

Editor's note: Sketch artist Mike Sheehan is a regular contributor in Off Ramp, a radio show that broadcasts on 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio. In this guest post, he shares some of his work and talks about his sketching process. The sketches are excerpted from his recent story: Immigration news: Sketches of Murrieta and the undocumented migrants debate.

By Mike Sheehan

When I go to cover one of these events I bring a big toolbag with wheels, like luggage, a small bag of acrylics and my everyday sketch bag that has a small watercolor set. I never know what the conditions will be and what I'll need. The immigration protests were a good example. The first sketch of the people on the corner is basically right when I got out of the car. It was a good opportunity to sit and warm up my hands and eyes. Sitting there I realized this would call for one of my smallest set-ups: a Moleskine folio sized sketchbook with an elastic caddy that fits over it. I would not get a chance to sit down the rest of the day.

I sketched the dancer when I got to the crowd. I had to balance my pen, sketchbook and waterbrush in the middle of a loud angry crowd while standing up. No shade anywhere so the pages really blind you. But I like this kind of dynamic situation. You get people unvarnished and I love sketching so it's a blast for me. The drawing on the opposite page is one of the corner protesters. He kept hitting these great poses with his flag, waiting to engage someone in debate.

The two with police tape in them are a good example of when you get a lucky gift, something that helps tell your story. In this case literally a dividing line between two schools of thought. I sketched it from one side, crossed over and sketched it from the other. Also got to overhear a lot of conversations that way.

The rest are of various people I saw throughout the day. The little notes next to them are what I heard or just observations.

A sneak peek inside Mike's sketching bag.

I use a lot of different techniques to speed up the process depending on where I am. In this case I used a water soluble pen and a waterbrush. I can get tone quickly and not have to waste a lot of time with as much line. Speed is so important doing this type of work. No one is posing. That man yelling and holding up the sign behind police tape only did that for maybe a minute. I want that moment, in the moment.

The last part of my process is scanning and putting the sketches together in a clean format. I have a blank image of all the sketchbooks I use so the final presentation is clear and uniform. Most of the time I just transfer the page as is onto a scan of the blank pages to show it as it looks in my sketchbook. It's much easier than color correcting and fixing every scan. It would be hard to keep the presentation consistent that way. When I'm in the middle of sketching a story I'm constantly moving between images. I'm never precious about a drawing. If it doesn't feel right I abandon it and start a new one. Also I never know what the story is going to be until I get there. I like the story to "present" itself. But as soon as it does I'm also starting to think about design.

Sheehan sketching the Los Angeles Opera rehearsing "Tosca" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The actors were rehearsing on the scaffold.

When you sketch a lot you develop a sixth sense about what people are going to do. I know when someone is probably going to return to certain poses. I'll capture a flash of it, then move on to another person or part of the scene. I'll keep the first person in my peripheral vision and jump back and forth to capture things as they are moving. Sometimes I juggle three or four at a time.

At the end I'm editing the images out that didn't work, don't serve the story etc. That's what I keep my sketchbook templates for, editing. The sketches that take a whole page are designed on the spot and don't need anything but color correction. I don't edit the drawings themselves.

At the immigration protests it was hot so there are a lot of ink smudges. I like those, they are an artifact of the process. Something that digital images don't have. I miss the artifacts in film photography. I like that mark of the hand.

I don't use photo reference. If I don't get it there I don't get it. It always feels like a tightrope walk. I think I'm not going to get anything and I'm going to blow it. Then something catches my eye and leads me in and I'm off and running. It feels like a dance. If you can catch the rhythm of the place, you've got it.

I usually stop to eat on my way home and hit lines or add a splash of color here and there while it's still in my memory. I can never sleep after all this. I get too revved up.

Then I start the writing.

Listen to a radio interview with Mike Sheehan: Off-Ramp, the only radio show with a sketch artist: Mike Sheehan

Visit Sheehan's website at

July 28, 2014

Praying for peace

A house for 3 Religions:

In Berlin at the site, where once stand the Petri Church, a house for 3 religions will be built. Christians, Jews and Muslims will share a space. In the frame of this interreligious dialog project representatives of this 3 religions met last Sunday under the shadow of a tree at the Petri Square to pray for peace in Israel & Palestine. Other religions groups like the Sikhs, Bahai & Sufis joined. It was also a nice gesture to remember the suffering of people in other conflict areas like Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Mali, Ukraine, etc.

Direct to Watercolor Part 2 of 4 : Field Studies

After my recent breakthrough pages from last Friday’s post. I went out and did some messing around. Stuff that I won't show you. About five pages of throw-away studies. Enough to confirm that I actually had a process locked down.

Then I went out and did two days of sketching on the mountain, up in Parc du Mont-Royal.

I was taking it easy, yet still doing  three or four sketches a day. There were a few false starts I didn't keep (the backs of those sheets get used for figure drawing class). One thing for sure, working direct-to-watercolor is faster that drawing-then-painting. It takes almost exactly half the time to do one of these. Go figure! Almost if it's true, that a line drawing is just as much work as a painting.

[Maison Smith, Parc du Mont-Royal]

[Maison Smith Montreal, Back Yard]

[Panorama from the Chalet du Montreal]

14June01_Beaver Lake_Dyptich
[View of Beaver Lake]

So, I feel I've gone from a fairly tentative sketchbook exercise in brush drawing, to some paintings that I’m pretty proud of. So, how is this jump possible? Lets see....

Switching to natural sable brushes: 
I don’t like to talk a lot about tools. (Though you’d never know it reading this blog). I feel that asking ‘what brush did you use’ is a distraction from more significant questions. BUT – that being said – a nice fat sable with a belly full of paint and a needle fine point makes a real difference.
I am mostly using a #14 Escoda, #10 DaVinci, and #7 Winsor and Newton Artist Watercolor Sable (in the long hair version - similar to a rigger).

Doing Tea, Milk and Honey in smaller areas:
I’m still using the three step process I call ‘Tea, Milk, Honey’, but instead of systematically working the entire surface, I’m working sub-sections of the painting each on its own clock. Working in logical chunks like the silhouette of a tree or the ‘box’ of a building. I'm doing this so that I can get down to the darks sooner. While a patch is still wet.

More pigment!
I’m mixing the paint richer, wetter and with more pigment than I used to. My previous paintings, built out of layered series of stains, actually use very little paint in comparison to these more aggressive mixes. I'm using a mix of Winsor and Newton, Holbein, and Daniel Smith tubes. There's a list of colors in this post.

Investing in ‘direct’ drawing skills:
I've been talking a lot about this thing I call ‘The Dot Plot Method’ recently.  That approach evolved naturally out of drawing directly in pen and ink. I started working exclusively in washable ink a few months back, in order to wean myself off the pencil. The ability to erase an under drawing, to make multiple stages of corrections, was allowing me to make very detailed, delicate, (dare I say, finicky) paintings. Drawing, and then tinting over top, was a crucial phase in my development, but I have known for a while I wanted to be more spontaneous than that.

By working my way through a few sketchbooks of water-soluble direct-to-ink drawings, first by melting my drawings,  then later by washing color right into the water-soluble line, I've been training my ability to visualize space, and my brush handling, to the point where I can draw directly in color without the preparation of a pencil drawing.

Working medium size:
These odd compositions – 11x30" diptychs – are a thing I settled on so I can work a bit larger than sketchbook size, but not so big that packing the gear becomes a problem. I went through a phase where I was working way bigger. Up to 24x36”. But that’s simply unwieldy for urban sketching. A gust of wind and suddenly you’re Mary Poppins. Plus everything scales up. The weight of a bigger tripod, the unwieldy panel under your arm, the size of the brushes required, and the time it takes to cover all that paper. It wasn't something I could expect to take with me on a trip – such as the upcoming Urban Sketchers conference in Brazil.

Next post - a step-by-step process example!

The routine of difficult times

I hate politics and don't like to listen to the news. I always joke that if the news will be important enough, they will find their way to me. Unfortunately, now the news found me and I found myself surfing at the news sites all over the web, desperate to find the answer. Actually, I'm tired to think and speak about it. I just hope so much that this war will end as soon as possible, that both sides will find another language except the language of force to talk to each other, I do believe there is a way to live together side by side.
You can say that sketching is a kind of escapism, but we all need to go on, so here they are, pieces of my routine.
this weekend -  cease-fire on the beach

playing games at home  
everyday alarms get us everywhere and they are part of our routine...

July 27, 2014

Sketch done while less equipped

I sketched Ginza street, one of the most prestigious area in Tokyo. I brought better and bigger paper for watercolor and an easel too. Then I noticed I forgot to bring some of my favorite brushes and palette for larger piece. Well, I needed to do with my usual small sketch tool then. Luckily I had a few Pentel waterbrushes and a custom made small palette in my bag.


Ginza Chuo street

I did this straight to watercolor manner. It took me just an hour, same period of time I will give demonstration in Paraty. Here this is some tips I wrote on the 5th Urban Sketching Symposium blog. Enjoy.
Greetings from Japan

Sun, wind, warm Atlantic water off the Galway coast - and a vivid imagination

Last evening I took the two younger kids to Killeenaran Pier for a dip. The tide was nearly high when we arrived, and the water was a beautiful greeny blue. When it's a spring tide, it rises right up over the pier, and when you wade to the edge you don't know when the ground is going to suddenly disappear beneath your feet, which is a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed the freedom of making a sketch without bothering to put things in the right place. Well, I would have, had they stayed still. But I still like the result - drawing like this is very good for control freaks. The lady in the blue top was the only person to stay still, so I drew her twice. The suntanned lad in the foreground is my son: I reminded myself once again that even if the subject moves before you've caught him, chances are he will resume the position and you'll get another chance, and he did.

I've always jumped off the pier without a care. But last Monday I called down for a brief minute, to orient my newly-arrived guests - my sister and her boyfriend - as to the whereabouts of the sea in relation to my house. There were a few dripping teenagers standing around, who had just finished their swim. As I looked at the mirror-calm water, I noticed something funny.

"Guys..." I said. "Are those dorsal fins I see? The ones going round and round in circles?"
We went to a better vantage spot a few feet away. My gut lurched and my heart sank as I realised that the fish weren't mackerel, and that the yokes sticking up out of the water were indeed dorsal fins.
"They're dogfish," I said.
"Basically tiny sharks," said my sister.
"Are they dangerous?" asked the lady looking after the teenagers.
"Not at all!" I said, with no idea whether they were or not. "Completely harmless!"
I didn't want anyone to think that our lovely pier was anything other than perfect.
"I'm going back in," said one of the girls, who was about fifteen or so. "I want to swim with them."
Her friend went with her. In they hopped, and swam towards the fish - I'd never seen anything like it for bravery. The dogfish swam away - very slowly - and I suddenly wondered if the girls were indeed safe, having basically been assured by me that they were.
"Can you eat dogfish?" asked a brother of one of the girls.
"Always thinking of your stomach!" laughed his mother.

Later, my brother, who doesn't trust anything in the sea, quickly Googled something he'd heard about a dogfish attack.
"This guy lost five toes in shallow surf off Northern Spain," he said. "Back in 1994. He was a doctor so he was able to make a tourniquet."
So now I'm nervous swimming off the pier. But I think numbers are on my side: there must be fifty people before me there every day - that's a lot of toes.

I joined my kids in the water there this evening.

Herring gull lunch

Sometimes sketching in a city can involve a whole lot of nature and wildlife experiences, and a sketching meetup in Stockholm yesterday turned into a little nature adventure. First, even before we started drawing, we had to wait under an awning for a surprise thunder storm with heavy showers to pass by. It was over pretty quickly, though, and we went down to sketch by the water at Bergsunds strand.

Right after drawing the boats above, I and my five fellow sketchers had to seek shelter again under a roof, to escape from another roaring thunder storm for about half an hour. It was quite spectacular, and we weren´t the only ones who were watching it in awe. I didn´t manage to sketch the weather, but the phone captured a quick proof:

I heard later that the heavy rain flooded a few underground stations and part of a department store in Stockholm.

Anyway, the rain and thunder subsided eventually, the sun came out, and we got back to sketching again.

See that little bird to the right in the sketch? It´s a herring gull chick, and was not at all the main focus of my drawing. He was just walking around on that tree trunk, chirping a little. But here´s what suddenly happened, right in front of our feet, while sketching. A very everyday scene in a bird´s life, I guess, but I´ve never seen it so up close, and didn´t expect to either, in the middle of the city.

The Case of the Cervical Spine in Sanford Florida

Jillian O'Connor and her daughters hired me to sketch Dennis O'Connor, their father and husband as a gift for his birthday. On the evening before the court date, Jill sent me an e-mail to let me know that the trial would be in courtroom G of the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford. Unfortunately I didn't read the e-mail until 1:30pm after I had written several articles. Court had started at 9am. Jill decided to sit in on the trial. This was the first time she had watched Dennis in a courtroom in 30 years. I called her in a panic and asked if the trial was still underway. She whispered that it was. I rushed to get dressed and quickly drove up to Sanford. I knew I was up against the clock since the trial would likely shut down for the day at 5pm.

I had to take my shoes off for security when I got to the courthouse but all my art supplies slipped through without a hitch.  Courtroom G is rather small with just 2 pews for spectators. There was a full jury but I knew better than to try and sketch them. Jill sat in the back pew wearing a red dress. I had seen Dennis in one photo and I spotted him as the lawyer on the far right with the yellow legal pad. I quickly sketched him in and then focused on everyone else. Judge Alan A. Dickey presided. For much of the time he seemed to focus on his computer the same was true of the court officer and the woman seated next to her. The most active person in the courtroom was the stenographer who often moved to get closed to anyone who was speaking.

The case involved a cervical spine injury of Samantha Stringer Bobbitt. Blame was implied again and again in the cross examination of a medical expert named Dr. Jones, who was paid $4000 for his time in court. Earlier in the day Dr. Scharfman had been examined as a medical expert. I actually used to go to Dr. Scharfman to try and handle constant headaches I suffer from due to a pinched nerve in my neck. The doctor prescribed a series of drugs, three of which I still take today so that I can function. Over time the drug cocktail seems to have lost it's effectiveness and I have stoically resigned myself to the fact that living is painful. However whenever I sketch, I forget about the pain as I wrestle with the creative process. So, I identified with Samantha's plight as they outlined six years in which she went to numerous specialists to try and control her pain. The human body is a frail and delicate structure with a nerve filled tent pole of a spine to defy gravity. Age and trauma either from daily chores or an accident can  cause those nerves if pinched to constantly send a signal of pain to the brain. It seems odd that so much expense went into finding a blame for the pain.

No expense was spared to create graphics to sway the juries opinions. Dennis's team of lawyers had a large dry mounted poster made up of a view of someone's back with hundreds of acupuncture needles protruding out of it. The opposing lawyer said that he didn't even object at the use of the image because of how creative Dennis's argument had been. Dennis knew Dr. Jones socially but on the stand he had to try and sway and challenge the doctors opposing opinion.

At 5pm the judge called for a recess. Dennis introduced his wife to the judge and he explained that this was her first time ever in the courtroom. After the jury left, the judge chastised the lawyers, saying the trial was taking much too long. He said if they didn't pick up the pace, then he would call a mistrial. After the judge left the lawyers justified their days work reassuring each other that it was hard to cover six years of medical treatment in a single day. The court officer noticed I was still sketching and she asked if I was actively involved with the defendant or the prosecution. I paused, not sure what to say, it was obvious she planned to kick me out of the courtroom. Dennis's assistant council covered for me saying I was involved in the presentation materials. If Dennis wasn't suspicious about what I was doing, he must have suspected after that little power play. In the end, I'm not sure of the outcome of the case of Samantha's spine, the backbone of truth was lost in a mountain of detail and grey innuendo. I do know a lot of money is involved. I was never paid for this assignment.

- Analog Artist Digital World

Rooftops of Valparaiso from Cerro Bellavista. (Tejados de Valparaiso.)

Valparaiso is a spectacular city. Our view is from near the top of Cerro Bellavista, down (way down) to the harbor. I'm not much of an architectural artist, but the varied and seemingly random spread of the rooftops here is very visually exciting: it's staccato.

Cohesive chaos is part of the fascination for me.
Lines of perspective seem irrelevant, giving way to lines of expedience.
We look down on the Open Sky Museum -- the graffiti is wonderful; here is Pancitos (bread rolls) by Ralmes.
The urban landscape is like a prism, a broken mirror.
And my husband, on his birthday, reads through it all, in his Lionel Messi t-shirt.
Sharon Frost, blog: DayBooks

Being Merrie in England: summer in Tenterden, Kent

I had the great fortune to spend a few days in Southeast England a couple of weeks ago. This is an illustrated account of my break and I hope it gives a flavour of a corner of England in the summer.

My extended family live in near Tenterden in Kent, so I've got to know it quite well. It is a very pretty town, full of red brick and cream-painted buildings in classical architecture from the Tudor period onwards, although I won't say more as I'm not an architect and I don't really know my periods. But I do know it is a town with an older-than-average age profile, an assumption I have made by looking around. You have to be careful not to be mown down by very frail flat-capped gentlemen in motorised scooters travelling quite speedily along the pavement. The first time we visited, my husband and I were enjoying an evening stroll on the outskirts of the village, making jokes about the demographic, having survived just such an encounter, and were finding ourselves hilarious. Then we passed two young ladies sharing a passionate embrace - that shut us up.

This time, my husband and I stayed in a sweet little bed and breakfast in the centre of Tenterden called Little Dane Court. Rod, the owner, is a lover of all things Japanese, and his guesthouse reflects that. The garden has an elegant Japanese garden and is generally a delight. I was inspired to sketch the bathroom of our bedroom, which is accessed via a few steep steps from the bedroom. Through the little doorway into the dressing room, two blue kimonos are ready for you, should you need one.

I started drawing the same scene in pen, as I am addicted to strong, indelible lines - but the latter came back to bite me, as I made so many mistakes with the sink that it was a total mess. Wrong lines can make a drawing lively - to a point. Too many, and you can kill it stone dead. So I turned to pencil, which always seems a bit feeble to me, but I enjoyed it all the same.

We were in England to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday. The first night of our stay kicked off nicely. My sister-in-law's lovely house dates back to the eighteenth century and was extended upstairs using the oak beams from a dismantled ship following the Napoleonic Wars.

Here's her house: the windows look like they've been smashed, but that's just my attempt at dappled sunlight. This was done two summers ago when I was a brand-new sketcher, and I'd approach it very differently now.

I immortalised Bluebell the chicken strutting in front of the house, which is just as well as the fox got her later that day.

The weird thing about Tenterden is that although it's many miles from the sea now, it used to be right on the coast. Then a massive storm altered the entire south coast about five hundred years ago, and you can still find smuggler's dens and stuff in the town today.

The floors in my sister-in-law's house are all uneven and you take your life in your hands walking across the room, especially after a convivial night in our hosts' company. In fact lots of old buildings in Tenterden are like that, having settled unevenly over the centuries.

I did this sketch of my husband, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law enjoying a glass or two after dinner on our first evening. No one looks particularly like themselves, but so what? It will always remind me of a pleasant night with the family.

Two days later, I drew the party as it was in progress.

Here's the same party close-up, in case you can't see the detail:

It's my idea of a classical English garden party: lots of fruit punch made with Pimm's, meringues with strawberries and cream, a fine side of beef barbequeued to perfection were served to about a hundred guests; leaves cast dappled shadows on white awnings and the sun got hotter, so children ran in and out of the spray from a hose. You can see a sweet little boy wrapped in a giant orange towel sitting on a bench after he'd had enough. I drew the figures on the right before the crowds arrived to block my view, so it looks a bit quieter than it was. As usual there were hordes of little girls watching me as I drew. One of them, my 9-year-old niece, remained silent, and surprised me with some very accomplished paintings of her own a few days later, done from life with the tiny sketch kit I had just given her for her birthday. It's so exciting when you come across a brand new sketcher, and she has the support of her mum, who is also keen to learn the secrets of sketching.

The generous hosts had hired a pair of sumo costumes, which you could slip over your head and "fat" your opponent to the ground. I'm sure there is a special Japanese verb for it that doesn't translate as "fatting". My two older children popped them on - the suits were made of a bizarre sandy-coloured PVC stuff, and came complete with man-boobs, black loincloth and topknot, and were highly padded. Almost immediately my son (12) turned a deep puce colour, as it was evidently very hot inside the suit. His older sister (14) sensed weakness - as she has since the day he was born - and although she is a sylph-like creature (unlike her sturdy brother) she had the psychological advantage, and time and again she knocked him to the mat.
This is why, when he took on his younger sister (9), my son couldn't wipe the smile off his face: his little sister was a pushover compared to his more brutal older sister, and weighs about half of what he does. Here they are. My son is the one who is smiling.

The afternoon shadows grew longer, and although the World Cup Final was due to begin at 8pm, the party showed no sign of slowing down. In the end my son and a few others turned on the match. I don't have any interest in football but - like lots of other sketchers - I've discovered that football matches provide an ideal opportunity to draw men keeping still. I did make a half-hearted attempt at watching the match, but my boy kept forgetting to keep his head to one side so that I could see (we were a bit tight for space) so I gave up and drew him instead. He looks about 17 in this but he's only a young fella of 12 - I got something badly wrong. That's his dad on the right. You'd swear my family was interested in football - but we're not, unless it's the World Cup.

There aren't many other sketches to record my visit to Kent. I had decided to leave the paints aside unless I could do it without notice, as the family does get a bit annoyed when I disappear into the sketchbook. So there are no sketches of Leeds Castle, which we visited the day after the party, and which was spectacular, and none of picturesque Tenterden or its little nineteenth-century steam train that trundles up and down ten miles of track every day. I'm sure to get a another chance some time.

But I did insist on whipping out the sketchbook on the flight home. I figured it would take my mind off the flight, and the mechanics of flying, which always make me tremendously nervous. My husband and son love all aspects of flying, and my eldest is nonchalant, but the youngest shouts things like, "Wow, it's so far down!"
I find that sketching works a lot better than reading when it comes to distracting me.

Any of you determined sketchers will know that a 100ml bottle of water is perfectly acceptable on a flight, as are paints and pens. So even as we were parked on the runway at Gatwick, I had my sketch kit out and was scribbling away.

As I started to paint, my husband was bemused. "Why are you doing the same painting as last time?" he said. "It's boring." "It's about the process, not the result," I said. Then a stunning white-blonde air steward started her safety routine. I realised far too late that she'd make a great subject, and I had just drawn her lifejacket when she packed up. You can still see the blow-up tube on the right of her chest, which I changed into the blue jacket of her dark-haired colleague.  I had to morph her into another girl, because Melissa (as the blonde girl turned out to be called)  had disappeared into the back of the plane. She was disappointed when I told her that she was nearly in my sketch, and said that she would have drawn out her safety procedure if she had known, which is a very Irish response.

Now that's service.

July 26, 2014

Taiko Drummers perform at the Obon Festival

The Obon Festival at the Vista Buddhist Temple had Jodaiko, a collegiate taiko group perform as part of the festival's entertainment. What great practice for gesture drawing! This is my page of sketches done during their 30 minute performance.

An Experiment with Coloured Line on the Streets of Sheffield

I was walking home yesterday afternoon, when I was struck by this view. You mostly don't get such a broad vista in Sheffield. It's not the sort of thing I would normally choose to sketch, but I was in the mood for experimentation, so I sat down on the pavement.

I decided to try out a technique I want to use for part of my workshop at the Symposium. I am trying to find unusual ways of using colour, so thought coloured line might be interesting. It's always a good idea to do the exercise yourself first though, to check how well it works. I allowed myself 3 coloured pencils to interpret the view and applied the sky in watercolour, at the end.

It's typical of me that I managed to draw everything just slightly too big, so I cropped off the top of the building and made it way too tight at the bottom too. Hey ho.That's the price of not planning anything out first!

July 25, 2014

My Summer Location Drawing Class at AAU, San Francisco (Pt 4: the de Young Museum)

We met in the morning at the bandshell in Golden Gate Park, between the de Young Museum and the California Academy of the Sciences, with San Francisco's usual summer fog shrouding the tall cypress and eucalyptus trees and the twisting angular mass of the de Young's observation tower, seen in my sketch above. Plenty to see outside including lots of public sculpture such as these sphinxes - some of the last remains of the original Egyptian revival structure - and a good occasion to practice drawing trees as there are so many different kinds around. Many of my students did. Some of the class also went to the nearby Japanese Tea Garden which is free to enter until a certain hour. I went into the de Young and saw the exhibit, "Modernism: from the National Gallery of Art" before paying a quick visit to some of my favorite paintings from the permanent  collection and then heading for the anthropological holdings. I could come back again and again and draw all day from the African and Oceanic collections. Friends of mine have. As a special note, for those of you keeping track, for the first time so far this semester, no one asked me to move along while sketching, although I was told I could use pencil but not pen when drawing in the collections. I did not get up to the observation tower this time, though it affords a great view of the park and the city beyond. Back outside for our end of day meeting, the bandshell was filled with a sprawling youth choral group, singing to an audience of pretty much us. Wonders and delights abound. Next: the Filbert Steps and Coit Tower.

Direct to Watercolor Part 1 of 4 : First Breakthrough

At the moment I’m out of town visiting the old stomping grounds in Alberta. The next four posts are going to be about a recent three week watercolor sketching project.


The other day I had an abrupt breakthrough. I feel like I’ve changed the way I draw ‘overnight’.

Not truly overnight of course. I know in reality it’s been a very gradual change, two steps forward, one 
back, taking about five years. But it still feels like a light bulb suddenly went on.


These sketches are something I almost never do. Drawing directly with the brush, with no preparation.
Simply starting with a silhouette in watercolor, and working into the simple shape.  You can clearly see the 'big shape' of the unfinished neighboring building in this second sketch.

If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ll know I’m all about my under drawing. So this is sort of a big thing for me! I have always felt (and still do) that a painting never gets better than the drawing it’s based on. If the drawing isn't strong, adding value and tone isn't going to save it. Quite the contrary – it’s the silk purse and sow’s ear all over again.

Looking at these older sketches from the 2011 USK symposium in Lisbon, I think you can clearly see my love of drawing, and the way I’m using it as a scaffold for the paint.

When I teach, I’m always telling people, ‘Spend as much time on the drawing, as you do on the painting’.
The drawing is the planning phase. Where you establish correct proportions, and plan the big blocks of color. The painting itself is the reward. The brushwork can be light and lively, because there’s no more thinking required.

But somehow today, after (about) five years of drawing followed by ‘coloring in’, I've reached a point where I’m willing to draw directly with the brush.

My breakthrough sketches might not seem like a significant improvement. They might even look like a step backwards at the moment. But, in the next three posts I’ll show what I did from here.

July 24, 2014

Beach logs kill

Of all the places on my Pacific Northwest itinerary I think Kalaloch was the one I was the most curious about. On the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula, it seemed so remote and wild, so unlike anything I had ever seen. A few nights before arriving there a friend sent me a link to the webcam from the Kalaloch Lodge (cloudy and rainy all the time!) with a view that is something like my sketch below. (Keep in mind that if you have a look at the webcam when it’s nighttime in Washington State, the view will be dark.)

From 40 feet above, the distant beach and the weather-beaten driftwood logs created an interesting and somewhat benign view to sketch but it was only later when I took a walk near the shoreline that I truly understood the meaning of the slogan “Beach Logs Kill” that is boldly printed on all the souvenirs in the gift shop. I’ve never been to a wilder place where you truly feel the power of open ocean, wind, waves and… the logs that come tumbling out of those waves. They’re piled up on the sand like toothpicks, except they’re two feet across and 20 or 30 feet long. My stay there wasn’t long, in fact only one night, but it was enough to know that will go back there one day to paint that wild scene again.