theTravelsketcher this week – 26 February 2021

This week I delved into a new world of art. One of the challenges of art is the art; or specifically, what to do with the art we produce. Thankfully I sell a few pieces, but the pile of sketchbooks grows, and the canvas collection from acrylic painting takes up a lot of space. Artists often lean toward eccentric, I am no exception, so I cut back on acrylic painting in response to the internal voice, “Where will you store it all?” And, regarding sketching, “Who is ever going to look at your sketchbooks anyway?” I know it’s nuts.

This week I started to do travel sketching on my iPad, something I had resisted as it was “not genuine art.” Quickly I found that many urban sketchers do use their iPad, like Rob Sketcherman, it is all he has sketched on for years. Their blogs pointed out the convenience, the versatility, and the enjoyment of using their iPad – and of course the ease of storage component. So I downloaded Procreate, the apparent leader for urban sketchers, bought a cheap stylus and jumped in. I have since upgraded to an Apple Pencil for good reason. The experience has been a delight, a challenge, a learning curve – BUT it has ended the boredom I was struggling with, and my storage space is a big as the cloud.

So here are the results of this week, along with a couple of ink-watercolor-paper sketches. My first digital was of a junco. Not bad considering the technical learning that was taking place.

The next two are landscapes, one is at Brix Restaurant in Napa, the other is the Upper Klamath National Reserve with Mt McLoughlin in the distance.

Then I did a digital sketch of the Dog & Doublet Inn from last weeks post. The difference the Apple Pencil made is evident.

My sketchbook and fude pen were feeling a bit ignored so I revisited a ghost town farm from a trip we went on a few years back to Yellowstone and Montana.

And then, as is so often the case, I ended up in France. Exactly one year ago today we ate dinner at the Brasserie Bellanger in Paris – so much has happened since then, it is still hard to process at times.

I trust you are well, getting a vaccine soon, and traveling as you can and as is safe. Keep sketching,

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theTravelsketcher This Week – 19 February 2021

The highlight of this week was the delightful snowstorm over the weekend – a bit of snow is a nice diversion yet I am glad that it is not long-term here in the Puget Sound region. Next week I am looking forward to:

Nature Obscura Sketching & Reading Group

Six of us will be reading Kelly Brenner’s wonderful book on urban nature, then sketching whatever the reading inspires. We plan on four Zoom meetings, with one in-person, outside, if it is permissible – a nature workshop.

BTW – it is not too late to join if this sounds interesting, just send me an email for details – it’s free.

The snow inspired the first and second sketches of the week. The first was a view out of our window. I did the dark background of silhouetted trees at sunrise first, after the paint was dry – mostly darkened Perylene Green – I used a Kuretake brush pen for the trees, then a white Uni Posca acrylic pen for the snow and highlights. The second sketch was an imagined mountain snow scene. Every other sketch this week was with my new Fude Fountain pen, they really are my first choice for most sketches.

If art is at all an expression of ourselves, then the mountains must be heavy on my mind these days as the next two sketches are of more mountain scenes, the first is an alpine lake, the second is the kind of trail I used to hike so frequently in the Mt. Hood Wilderness area. These days I fear my knees would protest, but my heart is still in the mountains.

Then of course my thoughts do not stay away from Europe for long. At this stage of life we had plans to visit so many places, starting of course with France, then on to Portugal, back to Spain and Scotland, then on to who know where. We have not given up hope, in the meantime we dream and plan.

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The Dog & Doublet Inn, Sutton Coldfield, UK

Capturing the moment is what travel sketching is all about, I have many travel memories from the time I was not sketching, I know a sketchbook would have made them even better.

The Dog & Doublet Inn was the scenario for one of my most cherished travel memories, stumbled on by chance and fortuitous travel challenges. It is a “Grade 2 Country Pub” in Sutton Coldfield, UK. Grade 2 is a distinction of its historic importance, Grade 1 is highest, Westminster Abbey is a Grade 1, so its distinction as a classic historic pub speaks to its construction not the quality of service, which was perfect. When your stereotype image of a British Pub kicks in, this place is it.

In my early years as a seminar speaker I went to the UK frequently; this trip was at least my third. On this particular trip I arrived in London on Saturday to allow for some time-zone adjustment before a Monday seminar for Fred Pryor Seminars. Their travel department contacted me on Monday to tell me she was having trouble finding a hotel for me in Birmingham, where I would be later that week. Birmingham is a big convention center for the UK and there was some huge event going on that week. One thing I learned a long time ago is not to panic over such things, they have a way of working out, this one worked out better than imagined.

Most often over the years when there are shortages of hotel rooms it just means you end up staying at a more dumpy place, or a place further away. My call the next day, remember this was before international cell phones were the norm, informed me that she had found me a place, with multiple apologies for its location, twelve miles out of town. Not a worry, that is why they have taxis.

When I arrived at the Marston Farm Hotel, on Bodymoor Heath, I was already thrilled. The place lived up to its name, it is actually in the middle of a huge farm. This was quite a few steps up in quality, not down, Marston Farm is listed in Johansens, only premier inns make the cut. 

After checking in it was time for food. There is a white-tablecloth restaurant on premises but I am usually a pub sort of guy so I inquired as to what was nearby. He told me, “Just go across this path about a 100 yards and you will come to a canal, turn right and walk about a quarter of a mile and you will come to a pub – The Dog & Doublet. It was a delightful ramble on the pathway beside the canal passing narrow canalboats tied up to the side of the canal.

There were plenty of locals, a good sign, with quite a group of us international travelers mixed in. I ended up with some wonderful folks in a small anteroom next to the bar, we talked, drank, and ate all evening. The room was cozy so we took turns moving to the edge of the bar to eat. I remember Germans, French, Brits, and Americans laughing and talking – a night I will never forget, I must get back one day. 

Why do we travel? Jimmy Buffet said, “We do it for the stories we can tell.” My experience is that most of the best stories are serendipitous, they defy planning. Over-planning a trip diminishes the spontaneity that is necessary for wonderful surprises to happen. So travel light, plan just enough to get you by, and always carry a sketchpad.

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theTravelsketcher this week – 12 February 2021

What a week – Tampa Bay/Brady win the Super Bowl and another impeachment trial is underway. BUT the really big news is that I got a new fude pen and travel brush set, now that is newsworthy.

Started off the week remembering that last year at this time we were in final preparations for a trip to France. The purpose of the trip was to find a place to live when we moved there in July of 2020, well… we all know how that worked out. Bien sur! we still had a wonderful time. A sketch of cherry trees and the Loire River seemed right.

Sunday watched the Super Bowl, ate nachos, black-bean dip, and Tricia’s guacamole – her guac is so good, almost as good as her photos. My new fude pen arrived that morning so a quick try was in order. Then a few flowers to test both the pen and the brush.

Friday we took a drive up north, we stopped for a quick (outside, COVID style) visit with my mother, then headed up to Chuckanut Drive and the Oyster Bar, one of our favorite places in the world. Here is a view from there on a foggy day, done with a limited pallet of only ultramarine blue and sepia.

My current read is The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley, full of amazing info about our world – I now know about “roche moutonée” and “thigmomorphogenesis.”

Finished the week with John Muir and dreaming of mountains.

Hope you are well, and sketching. Looking forward to the virtual workshop and book club that is starting on 24 February. Stay safe,

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theTravelsketcher this week – 5 February 2021

This week Kris at Nature Together and I put a combination workshop – book group together starting at the end of February. We will be reading Nature Obscura by Kelly Brenner and then doing sketches inspired from the book. We will have three Zoom meetings, then finish off with an outdoor workshop. There is still room for a couple more people, email me for info. Kris has the books at her shop.

My first sketch of the week was more flowers, then a virtual travel sketch from Cité de Carcassone in the South of France.

Neville of course spent a lot of time sleeping as usual, me, I am dreaming of crocuses and spring.

Then a sketch of Japanese Gulch, where the workshop will take place. I finished the week with a few fleur d’iris in a clay pot. I hope you are all well, and sketching.

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thetravelsketcher last week – 29 January 2021

Last week I started a new sketchbook sketching flowers on the table, moved on to an Eastern Bluebird from a photo by Eunice Miller at Folsum Mill Studio, then of course something from France, Eglise Notre-Dame-sur-l’eau in Domfront, Normandy

Recently we watched The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns then I read the book Two in the Far North by Margret Murie. Margret and her husband, Olaf Murie, were instrumental in the formation of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. So my mind turned to National Parks and the Arctic. First came an acrylic on canvas of Joshua Tree National Park, then a couple of sketches of the arctic.

I finished the week off having coffee outside at Cafe Louvre in Edmonds. It was a good week, I am looking forward to spring and the chance to get outside more.

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Capturing the Inspiration of Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman stole the show at the inauguration, what an inspiring recitation from an inspiring person. I tried to just capture a bit of the essence of that moment.

After posting this on Instagram many requests for prints came in, I am donating 10% of the proceeds to 826 National, a youth writing project, Amanda Gorman serves on its board. Prints are available from the Shop page at this site, or at my Etsy Shop.

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My Misdirected Youth

In the seventh grade (1962-63), at Dale J. Ickes Junior High, my science teacher was Mr. Hughes, one of those teachers that it is impossible to ascribe enough praise. He opened the door to the wonders of biology and the world around us beyond what anyone could expect of a seventh grade class or of 12 year old students. The projects we took on in the after school science club were beyond what most high school students have ever done.

The classroom project I remember most clearly was when we went outside, crossed the fence into a field behind the school where we each staked out a 12” square piece of land. Our project was to identify the life in that square. We collected plants, mostly grasses, we captured bugs, when it rained and there were puddles we collected water samples in petri dishes and studied the microorganisms under a microscope. Back then that was called “ecology”, the word had not yet been attached to political movements; to this day I am fascinated by flora and fauna.

BUT the science club work I remember the most, that was so far beyond the seventh grade, involved doing lab-prep work on a variety of species. I am sure in this protective culture of today he never would have gained approval for the things us 12 year olds accomplished. 

Mr. Hughs had a connection with the Portland Zoo. If an animal died naturally at the zoo he was often able to get the carcass; I have no idea how, but it was amazing. Then a group of us, about five or six as I remember, would skin the animal and tan its hide. We would clean the skull as a lab or museum would do – we were seldom bothered by anyone, especially the principal, as the aroma of a monkey’s skull boiling to soften the tissue so we could then spend hours cleaning the skull drove most folks away. We cleaned skeletons, did measurements, and journaled. I worked on: a monkey, an African lion, a bobcat, and a small bear. When I moved on to high school a lifetime in science was all I wanted. (Mr Hughes contacted me and one other friend of mine asking if we would come back to help him with a project: sadly a young elephant had died at the zoo, he had the opportunity to have it, but after we had left the school few interested or experienced budding biologists filled our place. Sadly I had to say no.)

All it took was one year of a 5 hour, 105 Biology for Biology Majors class at Portland State University to stifle that enthusiasm. Most of the class was chemistry, some dissection of dead things (I must admit the feral pig was interesting), yet there was nothing about studying actual plants and animals, the one thing I dreamt of, so I moved on.

It was all good though, I spent 25 years traveling the world, seeing cities, people, and nature that I never dreamed of. Along the way I became a sketcher. What I understand now is that my interest was in being a naturalist not a biologist – John Muir should have been my idol. I wish I had know the difference then.

At my age there is no room for “I should haves.” But there is also nothing that keeps me from my naturalist pursuits today. As theTravelsketcher the destinations that interest me the most are natural sights not iconic tourist traps. Small villages with an environment of their own, mountains, oceans, and lakes all make a trip worth while. Even our passion for eating locally is a form of learning about the environment we are visiting. I have spent many evenings in hotels and B&B’s sketching a leaf or flower I picked up during the day.

So in these late years of my life I find I have returned to that long smoldering ember that Mr Hughes lit, now, with the time of retirement, it burns a bit brighter.

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Travelsketching Nature Obscura

Travelsketching has and is all about discovery and capturing the moment while traveling. Le Confinement has broadened my perception of travel, it has taken me to a number of new destinations for art and sketching, and since new destinations are what travel is all about it has been quite a journey. My last blog theTravelsketcher with clipped-wings explored some of the new sketching voyages I have enjoyed.

Thanks to the book Nature Obscura by Kelly Brenner a  wonderful new sketching venue opened up this last week. My parents suffered through my interest in science from an early age, smelly chemistry experiments, and collections of all kinds of critters, with their own fragrances. This book delightfully stimulated my still active curiosity about the nature that is all around us, even in the city.

Half way through the first chapter Kelly’s description of Anna’s Hummingbird moved me to grab my iPad to search for a photo of the only hummingbird that is a resident here all year, not migrating. Next I opened my sketchbook and started sketching Anna’s Hummingbird. As I read on I learned about moss, muskrats, mountain beavers (not beavers), moths, and more. Frequently I sketched something that related to what I was reading.  My new sketching venue – read a book on some interesting topic – nature, travel, food. Then sketch your way through it. 

What do you think of doing combination virtual workshop and book reading group in January, based on Nature Obscura? We spread it over 4-5 weeks, read a bit, do a sketch, and then a one hour virtual workshop each week. If there is enough interest I will work on details.

I still have a couple of chapters to go, but here are the sketches so far.

This is Marsh Island near the Seattle Arboretum, home to many muskrats, truly fascinating critters.

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theTravelsketcher with clipped-wings

My Alaska Airlines Million-miler Boeing 737 model sits on the mantel. Just a few days over a year ago I was with Tricia (Travels Through My Lens) in Japan and Korea. Ten months ago we were in France. Our last flights were on March 12, 2020, one day before travel came to a screeching halt thanks to something named COVD-19. For over 25 years most of my sketching was of what was right in front of me, be it while at a cafe, sitting in a park, or pausing on a ramble – often in some distant land. Now what is in front of me is Neville the cat sleeping on the couch, or in front of the fire. For most of us who sketch the thought of not sketching is incomprehensible so what is one to do? 

As the time of  le confinement began I set out on a 30 day journey of past excursions – sketching from photos. I re-visited Belgium, Scotland, Montana, Barrow, Death Valley, France, Japan, and Dubai. Each sketch brought back a bit of the feeling of actually being there, a mini-voyage in my mind.

Next I journeyed close to home by mapping and sketching some of our neighborhood, walks were one of the few times I ventured outside. There is wisdom in the 1928 song, recorded by so many folks, “You’ll find your happiness lies/ right under your eyes/ back in your own backyard.” 

The first thing I did was sketched a map, my criteria being no more than one mile from where I lived, an easy walking distance. I discovered there are plenty of sketching opportunities, so I snapped photos of restaurants, the golf course, a church, and plants; then sketched at my leisure back home.

Missing France, where we would be living if a recalcitrant virus had not upended the world, I set off virtually exploring France by way of Google Street View. I spent many happy hours wandering down streets and pathways in search of new areas and of views to sketch. My Virtual Voyage took me to places I had never even heard of, a real delight.

Le Confinement motivated me to explore painting with gouache, sumi-e sketching with a Kuretake Brush pen. Often the scene was something manufactured in my mind, another sort of freeing voyage unhindered by staying in.

During the summer I would venture out for brief periods, most frequently to South Lake Union, Tricia, considered an essential employee had to spend a few hours a week at her office, so I would be chauffeur, then spend the time away from people, but near boats at the Seattle Center for Wooden Boats, sitting on docks with sketchpad.

Then missing France and still longing to move there I did some Google Map touring of Normandy, sketching along the way. Then I took a leap all the way to Australia.

My current source of material is a book. Many years ago I planned to be a biologist, never happened and it is a long story, yet the interest in nature never left. I stumbled on to Kelly Brenner’s fascinating book, “Nature Obscura.” She describes some of the wonders of the natural world right in the neighborhood. So I have been sketching nature, using virtual map view, photographs, and observations while walking.

For those who find this idea interesting I am contemplating a combination  virtual workshop/ bookclub in January. Keep posted for details, let me know if it sounds lit you might want to join.

How have you been coping with sketching in the pandemic? I would love to hear your stories.

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