An Urban Sketch Adventure

bird of paradise

Hello there dear readers and a long time no post!  I have been relying on the very quick and simple avenues that are the worlds of instagramming and twittering about with the gentle, fair folk of the book of faces.  But it really is not enough.  And so I come back to this online space with a tale of a trip west.  To a magical land where miraculously, there are lemons and grapefruit and oranges hanging from the trees, and where fog fingers in from the nearby ocean almost daily, when it is not raining.  Where plants that only merely subsist on my winter windowsill in Ohio are in full and happy flowering on the side of the road.

I went to California.

A number of months ago, a good friend of mine who has attended the Taos workshop for a few years now,  suggested I should come to the San Jose area to maybe do some sketching with a few artist friends of hers.  And so we put a weekend together to see how it might work out.

The plan was to sketch in San Jose city proper one day, and attend and sketch at the Campbell city farmer’s market the next day.  Aside from some cool temperatures and a little rain, we pretty much did just that.

sketching on the train

We drew on the light rail on the way into town, where there were funky lines and shapes to doodle, and some funky people as well!

buffalo gal

There were a few experienced sketchers in our group, but a fair number were new to the practice, or rusty at the very least, and so working out our jitters was the first order of business.  While the internet is a wonderful tool for sharing and exploring all the wonderful artistic things in the world, it’s also an easy place to get discouraged when one goes online and enters ‘urban sketching’ in an image search.  The drawings are beautiful and daunting!  But there is no better thing to do than to simply begin.  After a couple of stops on the light rail, we got off at the larger train station to talk about perspective a bit.

I quickly demonstrated a sketch of an amtrak train which faded into the distance on my page.  Sometimes in a complicated environment such as a train station the key is to simplify what you want to draw and then figure out what direction your lines are going.  This can be a challenge even for those of us who draw a lot!!

train sketch

From there, our group walked on a bit further into downtown San Jose.  It’s a lovely city with some cool buildings, and even cooler people.  downtown san jose

In spite of some cold and drizzle, we settled into Ceasar Chavez Park to watch the skateboarding teenagers and do some gesture drawing.  I must say that these kids were one of my favorite parts of the day.  They didn’t mind us drawing them and offered to take a picture of our group on one sketcher’s phone.  Watching them skate was like watching dancers and I enjoyed trying to capture quick sketches of their movements in space.  To the parents of San Jose’s skateboarders, you’re raising some nice kids.  Well done!

san jose people studies

Soon our first day was done and we gathered back at Rosemary’s house to debrief a bit about how the day went, frustrations folks may have had and what we might change next time.  Overall, even the people in our group who were really nervous about the notion of sketching in public, had some really fantastic little drawings in their books.  Some were more painterly, while others more focused on the drawn line.  All were beautiful in their own way.  (I wish I had more pictures of everyone’s sketches!!)

(drawing by Sally Hickerson who is shaping up to be the next Dan Price in the sketching department)
(drawing by Sally Hickerson who is shaping up to be the next Dan Price in the sketching department)

As we headed into day two, the weather was a little more sketchy (for lack of a better word) but we went out anyway.sketching at the parket

The Campbell city farmer’s market is an amazing array of interesting vegetable and food vendors and even some art.  I hear that on pretty days it’s a veritable feast!  Alas, it was cold and a little drizzly again but our sketch group was undaunted!  We watched the people and the dogs and captured what we could.  Faces are difficult, but practicing drawing them is good for our sketching skills!

faces and places

Campbell has a sweet little water tower that is a bit of a land mark for the town and a number of us attempted to sketch it.  At first blush it seems simple, but I know I worked a bit thru some rough sketches first before getting the proper proportions of the tower.  Here is my most presentable doodle of this local icon:

campbell water tower

(ps. my given sir name is Campbell and I found myself flinching pavlovian style as to how often if came up visually in my travels around town!!)

Again we gathered back at Rosemary’s who so graciously hosted this sketch-a-palooza and we worked in our journals at the tables next to her sweet courtyard while warming up with a bit of tea.

Sally works

Suddenly, our group sketch weekend outing was complete.  I wish I had more time with each of these talented women, and more time to work with them to get the sketches they wanted onto their pages.  But alas, tempus fugit, yes?  We already have plans for the next sketch workshop there, and it’s my goal that it be a little less urban and more of the seaside variety, as much as I adore San Jose and surrounds.

I had now, one full day left in California to explore the possibilities of this idea.  And so, we did.

Of course on this day, the sun was out in full force, though the fog would come back later in the afternoon.  monterey aquarium

A long time ago, when I was a little girl, I worshipped an explorer called Jacques Cousteau (as so many of my generation did) and I dreamed of places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and what work I could do there.  cousteau

Alas, the science of art making would be the path I would eventually take, but my little inner explorer still lives on in my heart and she was very happy to pay a visit to the aquarium.

What an amazing place this is.  It is, on the one hand, a zoo of sorts; with creatures great and small educating generations of average citizens on the intricacies of the sea.  But it is also an artistic place of great beauty and history.  The combined effects of the Pacific coast and the old Cannery Row make for a space that is simply a delight to wander.  I could have stayed all day.  Even just at the otter exhibit.

ottersea otter and friends

There was an otter making the rounds in the tank who worried a small bit of kelp on his chest as he came by the window.  It was difficult to pull myself away.  But there is so much to see.

pablo sea quote

The ocean had kicked itself up into quite a lather in the days I was there and we were treated to some spectacular scenery just down the road at Point Lobos State Park (this is where I get a little bitter at what the notion of ‘state park’ means from place to place)


The fog was rolling in and we sat amidst it, quietly, and drew and observed and painted and admired.

point lobos sketches

point lobos

There were seals to be admired on their private beach just below us, and we all know how I do love seals.


But really, the three of us just sketched and were quiet.  My favorite way to commune with other people.  Except for maybe music.

This was a wondrous trip.  I was overwhelmed by it at every turn, and perhaps didn’t take enough photographs to make a proper blog post.  But that also means that I was fully engaged in it.  Drawing when I could, soaking it up, even swiping a few tears away at the aquarium.  Travel, if you can do it, is crucial to growth as a human bean.  Sketching during that travel, will widen the beauty of your experience.  I highly recommend.

Stay warm my friends.