October 25, 2014

Urban Sketchers Badges - Very Smart!

During Sunday's sketch-day, I was given a big bag a badges to distribute to all my Urban Sketchers Yorkshire members. They are cut from acetate and look really smart:

Several members asked me what the relevance of the design is and I had to admit that I had no idea. It was the subject of much debate over lunch, but nobody came up with a particularly good answer. Can anyone put us out of our misery?

Thanks so much to Mike, who is actually part of the Manchester Usk group, but who is also having a bit of a fling-on-the-side with us Yorkshire folk. A mate of his, who has a bit of sheet-cutting machinery, made the badges with a big lump of left-over acetate and so both the Manchester and Yorkshire groups are now properly labelled!

Bet you're all jealous...

Carnets de Voyages in Toulouse

A few months ago, I received an email asking if PeF and I would be interested in showing our sketches of Istanbul and the Occupy Gezi protests in a carnets de voyages group exhibition in Toulouse. It didn't seem real at first, but as time went by, we realised that it was indeed happening, and now we've only got two weeks left until the event!

The exhibition, which centres around the theme of "The Orient", was one of the reasons that led us to take a nearly two-month long road trip through Eastern Turkey with our sketchbooks— the results of which I will share here, after Toulouse— but here's a preview of my sketches:

I am excited to say that our sketches, and some of my large-scale ink drawings, will be on display along with the work of Maya Andersson, Frédéric Rudant, Christophe Pons, and the Atelier multimédia Bellegarde, from November 6th until December 30th. If you happen to be in town on November 6th, please join us for the opening at 19:00.

October 24, 2014

Night out

I have not posted in quite a while due to a rather busy schedule not allowing me to get out much and draw...however, I have been making drawings whenever time allows. Here are two drawings I made while on the NY/NJ PATH train this past Thursday.

Hope to get some others scanned and uploaded soon!

-Greg Betza

October 23, 2014

In which Holmes Creates a Painting in the Rain, or: The Case of the Vanishing Castle


We arrived at Ithaca New York later than we had hoped, due to no greater misadventure than leaving Montreal too late in the day. Ongoing activities being so pressing, Holmes had been up to the wee hours inscribing books - which are even now being dispatched to the far corners of the earth.

10Oct22_Ithaca_Sketchcrawl_0310Oct22_Ithaca_Sketchcrawl_04 copy 

After meeting our group of temporary Ithacans at the strictly functional Trip Hotel, and finding them a most congenial battalion of scribblers, we attempted a late night scouting mission. Despite the pitchest dark, and an unusual density of spiders clinging to the guard rail of the Thurston avenue bridge, we were able to confirm a suitable view of the Triphammer falls.

 Imagine our dismay the following morning, after an insipid packaged breakfast at our inn, to find the day morosely overcast and insistently raining. Worse yet, the subject of our investigation, the ruined foundry, was not found to be artfully crumbling onto the gorge - but in fact - vanished without trace. No doubt spirited away by diligent engineers, myopically choosing public safety over what is eternal in art.

10Oct22_Ithaca_Triphammer Falls_Detail 

Not in the least dispirited by this turn of events, Holmes set to work with a briskly applied will, exclaiming that he had always meant to conduct an experiment watercoloring in the rain, and this vanished castle debacle was to be his opportunity.

10Oct22_Ithaca_Triphammer Falls 

I will leave it to you, dear readers, to determine - is the evidence of continual drizzle visible in the work? Holmes himself feels, even if it could be considered somewhat smeary by critics, the vicissitudes of nature do not detract in this document of the day.

It should also be said, the thorough soaking visited on the genuine cotton rag paper (provided by the Italian, Fabriano), allowed the work to be pressed below a stack of (inscribed) books overnight, granting a perfectly flat sheet by the second morning.


For the remainder of the expedition, Holmes continued to infuriate one and all with his antisocial manner and continual scratchings. Adding tirelessly to his encyclopedic collection of oddities found in leaf-strewn campus courtyards and dusty regional museums.

10Oct22_Ithaca_Sketchcrawl_0510Oct22_Ithaca_Sketchcrawl_06 10Oct22_Ithaca_Museum_00 10Oct22_Ithaca_Museum_03 10Oct22_Ithaca_Museum_02 10Oct22_Ithaca_Museum_01 

For whatever reason this unrelenting chore included a forced march one hour away (and another back) to observe the methods of the glass workers in Corning NY. A task I am unclear as to the value of, but which seemed satisfactory to the artist, for reasons he may disclose in the upcoming weeks.


Hemingway's Cuba

In late May, Patti and I had the opportunity to travel with the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center on a cultural exchange to Cuba.  The theme, fitting for the museum, was "Hemingway's Cuba," and the tour focused on the writer's life from 1939 to 1960, when he made Cuba home to his life and work.  Of course, the sketchbook was my passport and constant companion.  We spent time in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, and traveling the countryside in between.

As an artist and an academic, I've long been interested in the intersection of place and creativity:  the cities, towns, landscapes and experiences that inspire ideas and great works.  Hemingway very purposefully sought out places conducive to his writing—Paris and Key West, among others—but he lived and worked in Cuba longer than in any other setting.  As always, sketching allowed me to more deeply see and experience these locales, and to document a personal response to the places we encountered.  

The heart of Old Havana.  Hemingway knew these streets well, and was a regular for the mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio.

Hemingway wrote parts of many his novels from room 511 in the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana.

Hemingway's writing studio at his home outside Havana, Finca Vigia, was a surprise gift from his fourth wife.  He preferred to write in the bedroom, where his typewriter still waits.

A house in a central Havana neighborhood reflects its original opulence and the day-to-day realities of post-revolution life.

From October 27-November 14, s
ixteen of my watercolor sketches will be on exhibition at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, near the family home of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, whose family essential underwrote Hemingway's career and lifestyle during his most productive years. These watercolor sketches offer my own authentic look at today’s Cuba, where past and present intertwine, and at many of the largely unchanged settings that fueled Hemingway’s imagination and some of his best writing.


Nowadays known as New Zealand crane capital,  Christchurch is a fast changing city, behind this fence will pop out the new central bus station but for now what interested me was this patchwork on the background.

October 22, 2014

Pondering over The Thinker

I sketched this gigantic Thinker by Auguste Rodin at the Cantor Museum on the campus of Stanford University. This little gem of a museum has loads of pieces by Rodin, including many of the small studies for his Gates of Hell sculpture.

Initially I wanted to sketch this piece from a more classic side angle, but the museum guards wouldn’t let me stand there ( I never figured why). But I’m glad I had to stand where I did, sort of in the back: it was quite a dramatic sight with this monumental piece looking down on the museum-goers.

I really enjoyed contrasting the size, solidity and permanence of this sculpture with the relatively small and fleeting viewers.

29 sketch videos

Back when I first started making urban sketches, I decided it would be fun to try to film the process, or at least give some ideas and inspiration. I didn't have anyone to sit over me with a camera, so I started holding a camera with my left hand while sketching with my right. The footage I got out of that was often pretty ridiculous, and most of it had to be deleted. But, with a little editing and some interesting music, the thing would be done, and a few people seemed to enjoy them and get ideas for their own sketching. Over the past few years, I've made 29 sketch videos. My first videos were done in the little Swiss, German, and French villages near our home, then the Bay area where we lived for a year, and now in California's central valley. In between are a few videos on trips, like a sketch video in the snowy Idaho hills, and one on the shore at Laguna Beach, and the most unique video of all, sketching Mount Etna as it was erupting. The sketch wasn't anything spectacular, but the experience was unforgettable, and even ended up on a local TV station once. Most of my videos are pretty short, some barely a minute long, and a few over five minutes. I try to put some type of music to them, usually royalty free stuff, and a couple I even added my own vocals or instrumentals to. I never expected to make so many sketch videos, but now it's like watching old home movies as a kid in my grandfather's house, and maybe some day my grandkids can enjoy them. As if! Anyway, here are some links to the latest 3 videos:   Video One     Video Two    Video Three

Usk Yorkshire Brave the Ghosts of Sheffield!

On Sunday, we had our monthly Urban Sketchers Yorkshire day out. This time we spent it in a slightly spooky building, which was once Sheffield's Victorian Police and Fire Station, although these days it's the National Emergency Services Museum

Apparently it's the largest volunteer-run museum in the UK. Fancy that. I also didn't realise that it has several resident ghosts. 

I'm not surprised, to be honest: those Victorian police cells in particular really looked the part. While I was sitting sketching, I kept waiting for a ghostly tap on the shoulder, but the spirits in question are obviously not art-lovers.

The upstairs rooms of the museum are stuffed with all sorts of paraphernalia, big and small, but I found myself mostly drawn to the vintage vehicles downstairs. I don't know why: I am pretty rubbish at drawing cars. I had two cracks at the American fire engine below, but got frustrated with my inability to judge the various wheel ellipses. My problem is that I don't do pencil prelims. I just want to go for it: I think it's the challenge of that which excites me.  Unfortunately, there are some things which are totally unforgiving of errors - big tyres chief amongst them!

During the first couple of hours at the museum, sketchers arrived from different places in dribs and drabs, until we were about 20. The only drawback being that, as each person arrived, they came to say hello to me, so I ended up doing a lot more talking than sketching before lunch. It was very sociable though. 

I was most pleased with my last sketch of the day: the fire engine near the top of the post. I squeezed it in, right at the end of the afternoon. I braved the outdoors to sit in the yard and finally managed to nail a vehicle, tyres an' all! I only just finished it off in time and had to hold my sketchbook open all the way to the pub, to let the paint dry.

As usual, it was good fun looking through the sketchbooks. Not everyone made it to the pub, but we still had to pull two tables together to fit us all round. Then I stood on a chair to attempt a panorama shot, to fit all the books in. Not 100% successful to coordinate, but the source of much merriment.

Gold star to Andrea Joseph, for being the only person STILL sketching:

The beautiful journey that is drawing...even better with tea and cakes

 Last February or March I took my evening class to Claire's Tearooms in Clarinbridge, Co. Galway, for a bit of peaceful sketching on a Sunday afternoon. I knew, or I hoped, that they would feel the difference between drawing in a tutored situation and drawing, on location, whatever took their fancy. Sure enough, the conversation soon drifted into silence as each became absorbed in their subjects, and they all said sketching on the spot was infinitely easier than being in a class...I'll need to think about that one.

In the eight months since then, I think I myself have travelled further down my personal path as a sketcher. This is the drawing I made that day in early spring, done in the little side room that the staff give to groups:

and below is the drawing I made yesterday, done in the main café itself. I left the pens in my pencil case and took my 3B pencil for a meandering walk around the lines of these old ladies' forms. I know it doesn't have the same "pow!" as a drawing rendered in ink, but it felt really good to not have to think about mistakes (even though I didn't remove any lines). It was the fact that I knew I could have removed lines that made the difference.

The tearoom is a great place. The food is seasonal, really excellent, cooked with care by the tall, patrician Claire and her staff, and the atmosphere is always just right. The staff will accommodate you if you're in a group - memoir-writing class, sketching class, they don't mind - and they don't charge you a penny more than you spend on your tea and coffee (and maybe a nice slice of cake). Other venues will charge the teacher €25 for an hour, to cover electricity and things, but perhaps in Claire's they have confidence that you'll succumb to their goodies. (They're usually right.)

Whatever the reason, there are always lots of punters in Claire's. These two ladies looked so comfortable at their table against the wall, a glass of red for the lady on the left, a glass of white for her friend. They chinked their glasses as they drank a toast to something. 

I'll be back soon, and maybe I'll leave my pen at home next time.

Meanwhile I've been inspired by some of the lovely seasonal sketches posted by other urban sketchers over the last few weeks, and I'm surrounded by glorious autumnal scenery. I don't know when the trees have been so colourful - I think it's something to do with the dry summer. I struggle with painting things without lots of definition: I can do indistinct distant things, and big, bold close things, but the middle distance gives me trouble. At the same time, I've been taunted by the beauty around at the moment and I've been dying to try to capture it. Yesterday I ventured out into the wind and sunshine to try again.

It's the combination of puddles reflecting telegraph poles, the bright sunlight, and all those orange, yellow and brown crispy leaves blowing about, that gets me going. I have unfinished business with puddles and I mean to draw more.

I'm trying to stick with my own rule about drawing - getting each point in the correct place relative to its neighbour. That doesn't work for leaves, really, so I just scribble like mad instead. Doesn't really work either. At least I was okay with the car - there were myriad little points that told me where each next one should be.

This is the road that leads down to Killeenaran Quay, which I've talked about on this forum many times. There are two horses in the field to the right of the car, and they are quite sweet, sticking their noses over the wall, curious about my activity (it was too boring for them, so they went). Two of the horses in the field are really close, forever nuzzling each other and grooming each other, but seem wary of anyone else. I'll draw them.

I was nearly blown away but I had 7 layers on, as well as two hats, and I beat the cold (apart from my fingers, as usual).


Traveling from New York City To Almagro, Spain. Funny how the eye always seeks a window.

Flight 6250 Iberia. Between JFK and Madrid.  The windows of the plane: screens.

It's all a blur.  Renfe train between Madrid and Almagro.

Almagro, Spain. Casa Grande Hotel.  The window of our room has a balcomy.

Sharon Frost. Blog: Day Books

October 21, 2014

sketchcrawl 45: san francisco

Unusually small turnout for the sketchcrawl this time. We met at the Ferry Building on Embarcadero, which I've drawn many times before, so this time I went to check out the nearby sculpture SOMA by Flaming Lotus Girls which is said to represent two neurons firing in communication and apparently glows at night. Later in the evening I stopped by Academy of Art University on Powell Street, where I teach, where the students were well underway in their 24 Hour Comics marathon. Such focus and creativity and enough participants to fill Bradley Hall, our ballroom turned drawing theatre. For sure a better turnout than sketchcrawl!

Rota Vicentina

I have been walking ROTA VICENTINA, a track (GR) along the south atlantic coast of Portugal. The whole trail will need about 15 walking days but, after the first experience, we don't want to spare any of them.

It is a wonderful walk, along the shore, with stunning viewpoints and great beaches.
All the way beautiful views want to jump into my sketchbook and, some of them, finish on my BLOG. The trouble is to select them, keep walking, and arrive on time for dinner and sleeping by the end of the journey.

October 20, 2014

Sketchcrawling in LA...

Saturday was a beautiful fall day in Los Angeles for the LA Sketchcrawl group to meet...and as always, Shiho Nakaza organized a great day!  Shiho and I are posting together on this one.  As you see, we had a good turnout!

The Los Angeles Sketchcrawl group decided to revisit our favorite sketching location: Union Station. This sketchcrawl was also a part of Big Draw LA events (http://thebigdrawla.org/), so I'm glad to meet new people that found out about this event through Big Draw LA event calendar. I could only stay for about an hour and was busy chatting with other sketchers, so I did a quick sketch in about 5 minutes, and added the colors with watercolor later. I chose to focus on the iconic lighting hanging inside the lobby area, and I love how morning light was filtering through the high ceiling and frosted glass. 

Union Station is a real architectural treasure, built in 1939 and is variously described as "Mission Revival" and "Streamline Moderne".  I sketched this view of the clock tower from one of the Spanish-style garden patios that flank the elegant waiting area sketched by Shiho above.  Sketchcrawls are always a great way to meet fellow sketchers--and I find I need to sketch faster than usual...

Many of the group headed next across the street to Olvera Street, at the heart of the original El Pueblo de Los Angeles for lunch and more sketching...here visitors browse the stalls in the afternoon...

Above Olvera Street is another treasure and an important piece of history, "América Tropical".  In 1932, David Alfaro Siqueiros, a founding member of the Mexican Muralist movement, created a mural overlooking Olvera Street.  Those who expected a nostalgic scene were shocked when they saw Siqueiros' passionate political imagery.  Sadly, the mural was whitewashed in 1938, but later on began to show through and has now been conserved.  I sketched the ghostly image from the viewing platform, listening to the very gracious museum guide explain its history to visitors...

My quick sketch doesn't do justice to the mural...here's a photo I took of what it looks like now:
...and a link to more information and a black and white image of what it looked like in 1932:

Two visits to São Paulo: Before and After the Symposium

Just when you thought the Brazil posts were finishing… I am finally about to getting around to sharing a few highlights and reflections. I had nearly three weeks in Brazil and it was a totally unforgettable experience. Not only did I love being in such a vibrant place but I was always in the company of fellow urban sketchers - either visiting like me or locals. I was in Sao Paulo at the start and the beginning of the trip and it is interesting to compare the sketches from the two periods - so that is what I want to do with this post.

There is no better way to start a trip than by two serious sketching days with Marc Taro Holmes. Every symposium we try to have at least one day together (the tradition started in 2011 with our Belem Day) so to have 2 was a special treat. Sketching with Marc is always fun - we have all kinds of fascinating and insightful art chats and he always manages to produce masterpiece after masterpiece - even when he is using a non tested palette of new colours! You can read all about Marc's sketching and the impressive collection of sketches he produced with this limited palette here.

I had not been doing much urban sketching in the lead up to the trip - seriously sketching too many teacups - so it was a total shock to the system to be out on the streets in a mega busy city on my first day after my long haul flight. The first sketch of the Cathedral (above) was done in the most intense situation ever - surrounded by 'interesting' people, a man shouting behind us, a woman shouting at me (and blocking my line of sight),  people coming up to look and chat… and I was worrying at all times about security. But if you sketch regularly somehow your reflex sketching kicks in and I was thankful that Marc was doing most of the chatting to onlookers. You can read the full report of the day on my blog.

I find that it takes me 24 hours to get the feel for a new place - the vibe, the local colours and light - and how to translate it onto my page. In addition, after a long haul flight I need time, to get back into 'the groove' - the state where I am feeling comfortable and my work flows out of me. But even when I am in the goove there is always a number of tensions that are bouncing around in my head. A big scene or a control composition? - how should I use line and colour? are two recurring themes while I sketch. Till I found my feet, I sketched in my traditional way of line first then colour. But on the second day I made a switch after this sketch of Casa das Rosa. It is a beautiful 'coffee mansion' on Ave Paulista… one of the last standing.

These days I find the line first approach can be a little dull - whilst I like the outcome I have more fun when I mix up line and colour. For the rest of my time in Sao Paulo that is what I did.
Sketching the magnificent Estacau de Luz in a looser and quicker style - mixing line and colour and using the variable thickness line of my Sailor pen. It is faster if you add colour first and you are less likely to overdo the linework.

An afternoon spent in the Consolacao cemetery - using a similar approach and with a very limited palette. Read the full report of the day here.

On my return to Sao Paulo after the symposium (and after a week in Rio) there is quite a change in my work. For one thing my colour is stronger and I was really striving to base my sketches on good strong shapes. Doing Behzad Bagheri's workshop was a real catalyst for me to focus even more on shapes and rich watercolour mixtures on the page. There is a  difference in the subject matter too - still architecture but a radical shift in style! Pre:Paraty I was with Marc sketching all the elaborately decorated buildings from early 20th century. Post:Paraty I was with architects (Emma Fitzgerald and local USker Ronaldo) and we were tracking down modern buildings.
I really fell in love with the work of Lina Bo Bardi and her MASP building on Ave Paulista. I was so in awe of its strong architectural form and worrying about doing it justice with my lazy perspective that I decided to throw caution to the wind and paint the red first. I was happy with my decision!

Another strong form was the Auditorio Ibrapuera by Oscar Niemeyer. In a similar approach I drew the sky first. I do find that if you focus on shapes the perspective will try out right (or right-enough!) Full report of the day here

My final day in Brazil was a Lina day - we went to SECA Pompeia in the morning. I know of this building through Eduardo's sketches but the real thing blew me away.

The afternoon was spent doing a tour of Lina's private house - the Glass House. There wasn't any time or opportunity to set aside for a 'decent' sketch but I decided to test out the ideas I had picked up from Richard Alomar's Unfolding Story activity at Paraty.  Here is one page of my quick note taking approach (you can see how my recent Gehry construction site sketches have flowed on from this)

If you want to read all my detailed posts from my trip (lots of photos as well) I have a summary post on my blog.