Friday, December 20, 2019

Rincon Point Beach Sketches & More!

During my recent Santa Barbara workshop, I took the class on a sketching field trip to Rincon Point Beach, which was just down the hill from the barn where our class was held. Rincon Point is a world-famous surfing spot, but we settled in on the quieter side of the point where a long, crescent-shaped beach stretches for a half mile or more. It's a beautiful stretch of coastline, and we had the place to ourselves that afternoon.

Ink, watercolor, & gouache, 10" x 7", Handboook Field Watercolor Journal, 140 lb. paper

For this demo sketch, I first taped off a border on the page using 1/4" painter's tape and roughed in a pencil drawing. Next, I painted a watery wet-in-wet base wash over the entire page with Cobalt Blue and Permanent Rose, letting it dry thoroughly before painting the actual image. The light base wash served as the lightest value in the painting, so all I had to do was add the midtones and darks to finish it.

Click for larger image

I have mixed feelings about this sketch. There's a lot I like about it: the glow from the underwash, the figure of my friend Monica walking along the beach, the birds, the misty mountain in the background, and the lettering style. But I think the criss-crossed border looks too busy on the page and detracts from the scene, and the underwash dulled the highlights on the wood, so it doesn't look as sunlit as it was in real life.

My takeaway from this is that not every sketch is going to be one I love. I tried a new kind of border, and on this sketch, I ended up not liking it. But I still had the experience of being on a gorgeous California beach on a perfect sunny day with friends and companions, doing what we love. And that's what's important, not whether I made a perfect sketch.

Would you like to see some of the other sketches that were created that day? Check out the work of my talented students....

I taught a lesson on using thumbnail sketches to narrow your focus and choose a composition, and one student turned her thumbnails into a very nice gridded page...

We did another exercise the next day where we created composite sketches from our beach finds...

Other sketches from the workshop featured views around the barn...

I love seeing the wide range of compositions, page layouts, and lettering styles that my students dream up during our time together.

They work so hard to absorb all I'm teaching and invariably come up with ways to expand on what I've shared and make it their own.

They're enthusiastic, fun, inspiring, and unfailingly supportive of my efforts. I'm so thankful for each one of them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Santa Barbara Mission Sketches

It's the week before Christmas, and I've been busy shopping, wrapping, and making my signature Dark Chocolate Pecan English Toffee, but I thought I'd take a break from Christmas preparations to share a few more sketches from Santa Barbara that I hadn't gotten around to posting earlier.

This one is my favorite painting from the trip. It started out as a demo for the class when we visited Old Mission Santa Barbara for a plein air sketching session. I started with a quick ink sketch using a black pen with extra-fine point, then splashed on some loose watercolor for the foreground flowers, allowing the paint to blend and merge a bit .

After the initial wash dried, I painted the background bushes and trees, then returned to the flowers to define some of the rose petals and add darker values. The mission itself was painted with very little detail - I wanted the focus to be on the roses, the title lettering, and the beautiful corner designs.

Click for a larger view

The A.C. Postel Rose Garden, adjacent to the mission, is phenomenal. It's maintained by the local rose society and contains over 1500 plants. Even in November, there were more than enough blooms to be impressive. I can't imagine how gorgeous it must be at peak bloom.

After a couple of hours of sketching, we took a self-guided tour of the mission.

I snapped pictures of the decorative motifs I saw on walls, furniture, doors, and altarpieces, thinking I might use them some day for sketchbook page borders. Inspiration is everywhere.

I could have sketched there all day...

This amazing tree filled the courtyard.

I gave my students suggestions for page layouts that they could use both during our plein air session and afterwards, back in the classroom, when we created additional sketches from reference photos we had taken onsite. Here are some of the sketches from this creative bunch...

Isn't it interesting to see how everyone's unique style shows through in their sketches, even though we all painted the same scene?

In the next blog post, I'll share my sketch from Rincon Point plus more student sketches.

Now I'm off to mix up another batch of that English toffee!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

California Road Trip - Part 2

In my last post (California Road Trip - Part I), I gave some insights into how I create a "flow sketch", a page design loosely based on a flowchart. What's a flowchart? It's defined as "a diagram of the sequence of movements or actions of people or things involved in a complex system or activity." In other words, it visually breaks down a complex process into smaller steps.

My California Road Trip flow sketch takes the complexity of a ten-day vacation and condenses it into four small pages filled with 20 little sketches. Pretty efficient, right? :)

Ink & watercolor in a Khadi 6-1/2" x 5" hardcover sketchbook with 140 lb. watercolor paper

So, let's see what Days 6-8 held for our intrepid travelers (me, my mother Saundra, and friend Candy)....

Click for a larger view of the sketch

Day 6 dawned clear and sunny, perfect for a visit to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

We took the shuttle bus from the visitor's center and drove up a windy road to where the estate sits perched high atop a hill. In fact, the formal name of the castle is La Cuesta Encantada, The Enchanted Hill.

Can you see the castle way off in the distance?

The house was impressive, and it was fun hearing about its history and the famous visitors who came as guests of William Randolph Hearst during the 1920s and '30s.

Can't you just imagine big-name stars like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, and Jean Harlow lounging around the Neptune pool?

The architectural detailing was incredible!

After the tour, we continued north on Route 1, stopping to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.

We were marveling at the size of the seals - they looked like giant slugs piled up on the beach! - when we overheard a tour guide telling a group of children that what we were seeing were elephant seal PUPS. These were just babies. The adults can grow to 20 feet long and weigh as much as 8800 pounds. Just imagine!

I was so excited about the next part of our journey. After waiting for decades to see Big Sur, today was the day! We were about to embark on that classic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel and Monterey. We expected to see spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, crashing waves, soaring mountains, and a deep blue sky overhead.

Instead, we got this...

We occasionally caught a glimpse of the water, but most of the time the sea fog was so thick and impenetrable that we couldn't see anything but a drifting mass of white, and all we heard was the muffled swooshing of the waves far below.

Our lovely view of one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world!

Ninety miles of driving in the fog wasn't exactly what I had expected. We were disappointed, but it actually started to seem like a bad joke that the universe was playing on us. Every few miles we would pull off at a scenic overlook, thinking, "Maybe this time we'll be able to see something!" We'd hurry to the edge of the cliff, only to see....a big wet white cloud. Laughing, we'd return to the car and drive some more, hoping the fog would clear somewhere up ahead. We consoled ourselves with the fact that at least we didn't encounter any rock slides, wildfires, mud slides, or earthquakes along the way. (Although we did experience three small quakes when we were in Santa Barbara earlier in the trip!)

We took a much-needed lunch break along the way at the Ragged Point Inn.

This was the extent of our view from the cliffs...

It was warm and cozy in the solarium of the restaurant, and I enjoyed having a break from driving in the fog. Lunch was yummy, but the coffee was so memorably awful that I felt it deserved a spot in my sketch.

I debated about how to portray our Big Sur experience in my flow sketch. I should have just left a big white patch of fog in the middle of the page! But I decided to show the cloud of sea fog with the water below and the mountains above...

The three of us were somewhere in there in the cloud. (Because the Khadi sketchbook has cream-colored paper, I used white gouache to paint the fog, even brushing it over the lettering, so it would be hazy and less distinct.)

As we neared Carmel, we finally drove out of the fog. The mountains were lit up by the setting sun.

We checked into our hotel, then went out to find some dinner. We were tired and hungry and couldn't settle on where to eat, when we suddenly spied a Trader Joe's. We popped in to pick up dinner, snacks, and wine then went back to the Hampton to settle in for the night. It had been a long day.

A well-balanced meal: summer rolls, kettle corn, wine, and dark chocolate sea salt caramels. Yummm!

The next morning the sun was shining, and we headed out to cruise the famous 17-Mile Drive that skirts around the Monterey peninsula and Pebble Beach golf course. I could only squeeze in one narrow drawing of the drive on my flow sketch...

and that certainly didn't convey how beautiful the coastline was, so I started another page in my sketchbook that would feature my favorite stops along the scenic route. (I'll share that sketch in another post.)

The sunshine didn't last long that morning. See the bank of fog on the horizon in the photo above? Soon, the blue sky had turned gloomy and gray, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the expansive vistas, crashing waves, wind-blown trees, and thousands (millions?) of birds. I tried to appreciate the fact that we were getting the total Monterey experience, fog and all!

The pot of gold at the end of 17-Mile Drive was the storybook village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Its tree-lined streets and fairytale cottages were a delight.

We spent a few hours meandering around town, browsing in the shops and just soaking up the ambience. I'd love to return there sometime to spend a few days sketching - it was so cute!

Candy shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Our last day in California was a leisurely affair.

In the morning we drove south to Point Lobos natural area to see what we could see.

China Cove

We ended up hiking to Bird Island where we saw masses of pelicans, gulls, cormorants, and even a heron or two.

Bird Island

One thing that shocked me about California was the amount of unspoiled public land there is along the coast. From Santa Barbara to Monterey, we visited one park after another (most of them free) and had opportunities to see an amazing array of wildlife everywhere we went. It's simply not that way on the east coast. It must be wonderful to live where it's so easy to access wild places.

Pacific Grove coast

We spent the afternoon in Pacific Grove where we cruised along Ocean View Boulevard, stopped for a walk along the water, warmed up in a cozy coffee shop with a hot mocha, then moseyed around Lovers Point. We watched a wedding from afar, and my mom shared a rocky waterfront perch with some of the local wildlife.

We really enjoyed the laid-back feel of the town, where the main street is lined with pretty Victorian-style buildings, and colorful neighborhoods lead down to the sea.


I wish I had had more room on my sketchbook page to add a drawing of Pacific Grove, but the page was full, so I concluded by simply listing what we did that day. 

We saw a lot during our whirlwind tour of the central coast of California, and my sketches will help me remember some of my favorite places. I just hope I make it back some day when I can actually see Big Sur!

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