Back to painting

I cannot be happier about the daylight savings time. It used to be dark by the time I leave work, and everything would be dreary and sadness-inducing. But now, the weather is warm and there is a good two hours of daylight left if I leave work at 5:00PM (well, this rarely happens, but I am hoping to make it a habit to leave early so I can paint. Fingers-crossed.)

Today I went out to Alviso, which is just a mile or two from home. My intention was to paint the marsh at sunset, but I got distracted by this beautifully lit Mexican restaurant on the way. I parked the car, set myself up on the sidewalk and went to work. 

Taco de oro in watercolor

Tomorrow, I will take a picture of my new sketch kit and setup. The new setup worked out beautifully and it was very compact (well, compact in comparison to my watercolor easel that is, not in comparison to my sketch kit).

Today's highlight was interacting with a lady who only spoke Thai and communicating with her in made up sign language about my painting. She told me that my painting was good :-)

Well that is all I will say for now. Tomorrow I will do a better job of taking pictures of the process and also the setup.

Happy birthday, SF Sketchers!

Today we had a party at Arch Art Supply Store celebrating the fifth anniversary of the group and the launch of the 10x10 workshop series. We had a sketchcrawl to kick of the day at Mission Bay complex, followed by events at the Arch store with speeches, toasts and while bunch of mingling with fellow sketchers.

What a great day! 

My intention was to capture the painting process on GoPro but I completely forgot about it. It was so exciting meeting everyone that it completely slipped out of my mind.  here are the two sketches I worked on.

Mission Bay waterfront

Mission Bay waterfront

Mission Bay waterfront

Mission Bay waterfront

We only had little over an hour at the sketchcrawl today but I would love to go back there another day and spend the day painting. 

Trying out GoPro

I had a fun lunch break today, with a quick sketch, and a quick capture using a friend's GoPro. I quite like the little device. I am quite new to GoPro and video editing and sharing, and there is a lot to learn here. It is always fun to learn to do something new, isn't it?

Enjoy this quick 10 min sketch from my lunch break.

Santana Row

It was quite challenging because of the crowd, not having a comfortable place to setup and paint and nervousness :-) Also, the subjects were intimidating and complex. I am glad I did it though, and even though the sketches didn't turn out as good as I would have liked, it is a start and I like to believe that they will get better.

I did a quick pencil sketch first for each of these paintings, and that helped me get to know all the elements and map out the big shapes. I am happy that I am making this a habit now, to do a value sketch before jumping into the painting.

"Anything under the Sun

... is beautiful if you have the vision - it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so" - Charles Hawthorne

I am always drawn to little bits of machinery. plumbing etc. with lots of interconnected parts that have interesting shapes and shadows. Even though I went out today to draw the buildings around my neighborhood (for Liz Steel's class), I was drawn to the fire hydrant and spent my time drawing it with different media. 

In this version I used a combination of watercolor pencils and watercolors applied loosely with a waterbrush. I like the surprise combination of Indian Yellow and Transparent Red Oxide to be especially efficient in depicting the hot afternoon glow on the hydrant.

It may not be great art but it was very satisfying :-)


I have been tempted by Liz Steel's Sketching Now course, Buildings for a couple of weeks now, but I tried to put it off because I had told myself I am going to focus on flowers this month and that I shouldn't be so easily distracted. However, when I saw Suhita's post, her beautiful sketches and her mention of the class, it was too much to resist. So I finally broke down and bought the class and I am so glad I did. 

I did all the exercises from lesson 1, and yet to do the exercises from lesson 2. On first look it all felt fairly abstract, and honestly a bit dry ... heavy on technique and less on inspiration. Also, the concepts seemed too simple (line, shape, volume ... duh!). I told myself to give it a chance and do the exercises anyway, and I AM SO GLAD THAT I ATTEMPTED THE EXERCISE. It is only when I tried to do the continuous like drawing, the abstracting shapes exercise for the horizontal and vertical blue striped boxes that I realized how tricky it all was and why I needed the technique before I could make beautiful, inspiring paintings. All the lesson 1 exercises were trippy, and they all taught me something about myself, the mistakes I tend to make and issues I need to work on. Gosh, so much packed into that one lesson, and yet you will not realize it unless you work through the exercises. 

The other wonderful thing that happened is that I started "seeing" buildings everywhere. I know that they exist everywhere, and I didn't need a course to tell me that ... but I started noticing the buildings now with enhanced interest. Before I used to find drawing buildings boring, they are mainly just blocky shapes, what is there to draw after a few lines etc. etc. But now I see possibilities! I am really glad that Liz chose some very simple buildings in her exercises because it gave me the idea that any building can be explored and made to look interesting! What a revelation! I am surrounded by apartment buildings with very interesting architecture. I cannot wait to get out there and draw more of them!

Anyway, all that said ... today I went to Murphy Ave in Sunnyvale to sketch with the friendliest group of painters I have ever seen, Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society Thursday paintout group. I set myself up right next to Thai basil, I sat right on the sidewalk (just like Liz) and got to work. I did some continuous line drawings to explore the scene in front of me, and that helped me resolve the elements i want to capture in my paintings. Then I moved to doing a graphite sketch, and that helped me further identify the interesting elements and how they relate to each other. Armed with all that knowledge I set about painting. 

My first painting was a little tight ... I wonder if it is because of all the expectation ... Also, I started with a little sketch in watercolor pencil, so that may have contributed to the tightness too.

I was almost out of time, and had just a few minutes ... so I decided to see if I can do something with the second scene. The lack of time meant that I had to go straight to watercolor and that resulted in a much looser and more interesting painting.

As I was painting, the owner of the Thai Basil restaurant came out to check out my sketches. He said that he saw me painting from inside the restaurant and wanted to know more about what I was doing. We had a nice chat about art, and it was so kind to offer me a very refreshing Thai iced tea :-) These lovely encounters are so memorable and add so much to the act of drawing and painting. 

I had a really good morning painting, and will definitely be back to this location soon.

Picchetti Ranch with South Bay Urban Sketchers

The South Bay Urban Sketchers met at the Historic Picchetti Ranch today for a few hours of sketching and sharing. I always enjoy the opportunity to sketch with fellow sketching enthusiasts, and this one was no different. 

I packed a ton of supplies, including my new easel, because I couldn't make up my mind as to what I wanted to focus on today. While I didn't get a chance to open my easel today, I am glad I packed a bunch of supplies because I did do a whole bunch of sketches in a variety of styles.

I got started for the day drawing this piece of old machinery at the winery. I did the first sketch in pencil, with the idea that I will get a good sense of the shapes, the composition etc. I have been trying to make it a practice to do some graphite sketches before doing the watercolor sketches. I hope that this becomes a habit eventually, but I have to make a start somewhere in order for it to become a habit :-)

I was watching Liz Steel's Edges videos recently, and I was so inspired by the juicy, melting sketches that she makes. I loved her use of watercolor pencils to do soft edges and also add texture. I tried to do something similar here.

Then I wanted to switch styles and go direct to watercolor. I still didn't have my full watercolor kit out, but I had my tiny watercolor box and waterbrush out, so I used those to do this quick sketch of the trash cans. I have to admit, I don't like using a waterbrush. I like a real brush, despite the hassel of having to carry a water container, water etc.

It was a good day of sketching, and I have enough material to attempt a few more sketches and paintings. 

World Watercolor Month #16

This is a little sketch of my view from the pokestop in our neighborhood. I did a very loose pencil outline of the cars and the trees, and started off with my brush. It was a warm, arid morning so there was not that much time to work wet-in-wet. However, this meant that I could work in layers, so that is what I did. I am happy with the strong light and shadow on the car and the ground.

Also, I collected around 20 pokeballs! Win!

World Watercolor Month #10

After a long time I had the opportunity to sketch with Iva. It was a lovely day for it too, and we all spent the afternoon chatting and sketching at Santana Row. 

Here is a sketch of the men planning an epic trip :-)

Thanks to Hazel Soan's books, I am beginning to focus more on making expressive marks with the brush and not so much on drawing contours and filling in color. I am happy with the results I got today. 

Cafe Frascati

Dear hubby and I decided to spend this lovely summer day out and about. We are currently enjoying a nice cup of tea and some sketching time together at Cafe Frascati.

cafe frascati sketch

cafe frascati sketch

I did a pen drawing first with my Duke bent nib pen, and followed it up with some watercolor done with water brush. I am quite happy with how this sketch turned out. 

People sketching and coffee-shop hopping

We spent the evening with good friends over coffee/tea at a couple of coffee shops, and I enjoyed chatting and sketching the people.

At the second coffee shop I spotted this man at the next table who was fast asleep, so he was a PERFECT subject. I worked directly with watercolor, and I am especially happy that I stopped before I overworked the thing. I really enjoyed painting this.

man at peet's 

And just to show that not everything quite works out the way you want it to, and that it is okay to fail ... I am posting the other sketch I did that I am not happy with. Everything feels like a win if we remember that, if nothing else, it is a learning experience.

Starbucks tonight

I had a big sketching adventure planned today. I had my sketch bag packed, my pens filled, my sketchbooks ready ... but it just didn't happen. To make up I went to the neighborhood starbucks for a quick sketch. 

I drew this scene once before almost 2 years ago, and I remember obsessing over all the little details and it took me almost 2 hours just to do the drawing. This time I got the main lines down in 10 mins and set about with the paint. I am quite happy with the drawing, but I don't like how uninteresting the painting is.

Well, everything is a learning experience if nothing else :-)

starbucks urbans ketching in watercolor

New brushes!

My package of Rosemary & CO dagger brushes arrived today from UK and of course I had to try them out immediately!

Rosemary & CO dagger brushes

Rosemary & CO dagger brushes

I always wanted to do these super sketchy paintings that make powerful use of what watercolor does best, and give an impression of things without painting the scene realistically. For the first I am able to achieve that! It is partly because the brush does its own thing. I cannot possibly control everything, so I just let go and paint freely and loosely. I am so proud of this loose sketch I did of an alleyway. 

alleyway in watercolor

alleyway in watercolor

Sketch meetup at Barnes & Noble

A group of us met at the Barnes & Noble today to sketch. The forecast was rain for this weekend, so an indoor location was preferable. It was convenient too because this one has a Star bucks inside, so we could all sit and sketch. 

I REALLY love drawing people, so that's pretty much what I did. I am thankful to my group for letting me sketch them. 

In terms of material, today I experimented with diluted ink in my Duke 209 pen. I quite like the light lines, it allowed me to be more gestural without overloading the sketch with unwanted lines. I also tried out the waterbrush today. I usually use a regular watercolor brush, but I was not sure if B&N would allow me to carry my water around the store, so I packed the waterbrush. One immediate difference, and this might just be me, is that the I tend to use less paint with a waterbrush and so it ends up having very low contrast. 

I turned around in my seat and sketched the view of the bookshelves and the people browsing the books. There was a lot of detail in the scene, so the main challenge was deciding what to keep and what to leave out. I spent more time on this sketch than I usually do on sketches, but I am happy with the results.

Overall it was a productive meeting, and we all went back home with lots of lovely sketches.

Fresh oranges from the grove

There is always something interesting going on in our neighborhood that is worth sketching. As my friend Iva and I were out on our weekly therapy a.k.a sketch outing today, some passers by, having noticed our interest in the grove, tipped us off about the oranges from the grove being sold at the other corner.

We made our way to the other end to grab a bag, $3.50 for a big bag of those delicious oranges that I now feel we know so well, having spent all those afternoons sketching them. Inspiration struck, and we decided to stop and sketch the lady selling the oranges. We asked for her permission to sketch, Iva worked her charm in Spanish, and the lady was enthusiastic. She even posed for us! 

The lady selling oranges at the grove

Never a dull day in San Jose, especially if you have your sketchbook with you.

At the orange grove

My friend Iva and I went on a "tiny adventure", as suggested by the SBS fakulty Michael Nobbs of the Sustainably Creative fame. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the orange grove, a pocket of nature and sanity right in the heart of Silicon Valley. 

Instead of attempting to cover a large scene, today I decided to focus on a small detail and try to capture that. 

I decided to let one orange be the star of the show, with the background, the leaf shapes and the stems be the entourage that makes the star look good. I used negative painting to carve out the shapes, and added some really dark darks for the details as well as to clarify the shapes further. 

As we were looking for the next subject to sketch, we spotted a whole set of old farm equipment of which we chose to sketch this water pump. The strong shadows was what attracted me to it. The play of light and dark and the texture of rust helps pull the focus to the water pump, but I am also proud of the tiny bit of perspective among the trees and the shadows that I captured in the background. 

That was a rather fun "tiny adventure" and we vowed to go on more such! 

Materials used

Paper : Arches cold press 140lb for the orange and Arches hot press 140lb for the water pump.
Colors : Raw sienna, burnt sienna, indanthrene blue, new gamboge, perylene maroon
Pen : Duke 209 bent nib pen with noodler's ink

Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco

This was my very first time attending one of SF Sketchers meetups! They are a fantastic group of artists and I have always enjoyed looking at their sketches on the meetup group. It was one of my resolutions this year to make it to the city for some urban sketching on a regular basis and I am so happy to have gotten started on it. 

We all met at the Workshop Cafe at around 3:00PM, said hello to each other and spent a little while chatting and drawing at the cafe. 

Fellow sketchers make perfect subjects because they are captive subjects and they don't mind being sketched. 

Fellow sketchers make perfect subjects because they are captive subjects and they don't mind being sketched. 

A quick portrait of a fellow sketcher in pen and water-soluble crayons.

A quick portrait of a fellow sketcher in pen and water-soluble crayons.

By about 3:20PM everyone setoff in different directions to find sights of interest at the parade staging area. Everything was still relatively quiet at the point. The floats were setting up, the bands were lining up and practicing their bits, the dragons and lions were being readied etc. etc. The parade goers started to show up in earnest by 4:00PM and I took that opportunity to do a quick sketch of a large group of teenagers hanging around and waiting for the parade to start.

There is a lot to capture in a scene like this but it is best to keep things gestural and simple and not be bogged down in details.

There is a lot to capture in a scene like this but it is best to keep things gestural and simple and not be bogged down in details.

I was walking and sketching most of the time, but toward the end I was incredibly lucky to find a spot along Market st, right alongside the parade, where I could stand and sketch with my sketching supplies spread out in front of me on a little platform. I welcomed the opportunity to add a bit of color to my sketches and pulled out my watercolor palette. 

The crowd in front of me was blocking my view of the parade. I turned it into an opportunity and sketched the parade goers instead.

The crowd in front of me was blocking my view of the parade. I turned it into an opportunity and sketched the parade goers instead.

There was a toddler, in her father's arms, right in front of me who was so thrilled with the parade that I just had to sketch her. She noticed me and also acknowledged that yes the sketch is of her indeed. It was very gratifying.

My favorite part of the parade was being able to see it and enjoy it through the eyes of this little one. She was absolutely thrilled by the crowds, the colors and the music. 

My favorite part of the parade was being able to see it and enjoy it through the eyes of this little one. She was absolutely thrilled by the crowds, the colors and the music. 

There were many people milling about with their large cameras, and a bunch of them took a picture of me while I was sketching. It is interesting to be featuring in another person's narrative about the parade while I was there capturing my own. Full circle!