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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A bit of Travelsketcher trivia, and Hobart

Trivia time. First, what country has theTravelsketcher been to more times than any other? (Outside of the USA of course.) Secondly, where do the second and third oldest friends of mine live? The answer to both: Australia.

Australia has been my destination over 20 times. Oddly enough it was not until my last trip there that I ever saw a kangaroo in the wild. On one of those early trips, about 25 years ago, I met MaryAnne and then David, her husband . Oddly enough MaryAnne and I met in Aukland, New Zealand, though they live in Melbourne. We are still in contact all these many years later, Zooming just last week. The only friend of mine who has known me longer is Tim, we met in High School. Tricia and I have been together 33 years.

One of my favorite places in Australia is Hobart, on the southern tip of Tasmania. I still remember that first taxi ride from the airport into town. It was my first time down under, also one of the first times I ever experienced a bit of homesickness. The reality hit me two weeks earlier when I arrived in Sydney that I was a long long way from home; a three hour flight to Los Angeles followed by a seventeen hour flight to Sydney. Hobart was the last stop of a multi-city trip, I was tired and I was missing home. As the taxi crossed the Tasman Bridge over the Derwent River into town I saw the bay, and the dusting of snow on Mount Wellington; I felt like I was home, it reminded me of Puget Sound and the islands, I have loved the place ever since.

This photo was taken from Wrest Point, if you are familiar with Puget Sound and the islands you will see the resemblance.

I have been back to Hobart many times since then, and I always enjoyed the town – watching county cricket at the oval, walking along the harbor, visiting an old church one Sunday morning, and of course some really good food along the way. The best bit though is Salamanca Place, right next to the harbor and the location of a famous Saturday Market. Long before the Saturday Market and the current array of shops, restaurants, and pubs, the sandstone buildings were warehouses for the cargo on and off the sailing ships and whalers in the 19th century. Read Tricia’s blog about her trip to Hobart.

Most often my first stop, after checking in to my hotel, was The Whaler Pub in Salamanca. Established in 1829 by Rev. Robert Knopwood, it is still a vibrant place to grab a pint of James Boags Premium along with a bag of Salt and Vinegar Crisps. Unless the weather is inclement, sitting outside for people watching or sketching is the best. I do miss being there. 

I did this sketch from a photo, it would be nice to get back some day.

As always keep traveling and sketching, even if its just around the block.

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I miss flying!

I miss flying! I never tire of traveling or flying, I got tired while traveling, but never tired of traveling. 

My first real travel began in 1987. Prior to that any trips away from the Portland, Oregon area were few. The first time I was ever on an airplane was in 1969, a Spring Break trip to Chicago to visit my High School Youth pastor, then again that summer back to Chicago to work at a camp. Over the next 18 years I went on one business trip to Los Angeles, and one to Colorado. 

In 1987 I went to work as a Regional Sales Manger for an import food company, eleven western states; that is when my travel kicked in. Hawaii, Idaho, Utah a couple of times a year, Portland quite often, and California infrequently. I left the company a few years later and my travel took a break. In January of 1988 Tricia and I went to Mexico, my first international trip, I was so nervous.

In 1994 I became a seminar speaker and my world changed. For the next 25 years I traveled all internationally, to five continents, for seminars, along with multiple trips with Tricia to Europe thanks to frequent flier miles. 

I miss those wonderful times flying. My rule is, “Never complain about travel, no matter what.” Once you begin being negative it is a slide into the Dark Side which sucks the fun out of travel. Yes, I have had my share of delays and cancelations, but frankly I don’t have the horror stories that others talk about, I honestly believe that our attitude influences the events. Enjoying the trip is contagious and airline staff, as well as hospitality staff, would go out of their way more often than not to make my trip a pleasure.

Often I would do small paintings for fellow travelers, flight attendants, and servers. It was a pleasure for me and earned me a smile in return. Here is one such time:

I was flying from Anchorage to Seattle. The lady sitting next to me was on her way home to New York after visiting her boyfriend in Anchorage. Over time I have learned that they are quite amazing people, they have nurtured a vibrant relationship for a number of years, I see her posts on Instagram along with her three kids. Quite something. So I figured she needed a sketch. She took the photos.

How great to be in a place where you don’t get interrupted by email or texts, they bring me a glass of wine, then, with music in my headphones, I pass the time painting and chatting with nice people – not bad. 

Over the years I flew on Alaska Air more than any other, that could account for why so many of my experiences with flying were positive, they are the best – I have a Million Miler Card to prove it. There were a few years when I was flying mostly to Montana and Oregon, short flights on those wonderful Dash-8 airplanes, honestly one of my favorite planes. But those short flights don’t rack up the miles like Los Angeles or Anchorage. So as I was retiring from seminar speaking I could see that there was a chance I would not hit a Million Miles so I did what many do, I took round trip flights just for the miles.

One such trip was a morning flight to San Antonio, Texas, where I got off the plane, then re-boarded a few minutes later for the trip back to Seattle. 

Air travel has changed thanks to COVID, I wonder what it will be like when things get back to some semblance of normal? What I do know is that as soon as restrictions are lifted I want to be on a plane, off to someplace, most anyplace would be fine these days. For those who are frequent readers of my blog you know my first choice would be France, I hope it comes true soon.

Happy sketching and traveling, even if your only trip these days is a walk around the neighborhood.

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Granny would have loved Google Earth

When I was young I had a book of black and white photographs from around the world. It was about two inches thick, and no more than A5 in size. Granny and I would spend hours sitting on the couch slowly turning the pages, dreaming of places we wished we could see in person. She never saw much more than Portland, Oregon, thankfully I have been to many of the places we once looked at in that picture book. Granny would have loved Google Earth and Street View, without leaving her couch we could have taken virtual journeys all over the world.

Thanks to Street View I have spent time these last couple of weeks exploring Normandy, still fixed on the idea of living there once this Pandemic eases up a bit, of course sketching as I went.

La Thebaudière is near the town of Domfront in Normandy, it is where we would like to begin our time of living in France. These are sketches of old farms in the area.

This part of Normandy is farm country, wonderful pastures along every road.

I thought that Mont Dol was in Normandy, but a kind follower on Instagram corrected my geography, it is in Brittany, the demarcation between Normandy and Brittany has been a source of debate for many years, yet she lives there so I acquiess to her help. Either way, I can’t wait to visit it.

This park and gardens are on our must see list, Lassay-les-chateaux. How can you go wrong with a chateaux, water, and gardens?

Two more farms and buildings in the area – it is a beautiful place. Even more alluring these days when we have renewed our efforts to stay-in and stay-away. But I never give up hope, one day we will wander these narrow roads, sketching and, in Tricia’s case, taking photos. BTW if you have never visited her site and seen her travel photos you should check it out, Travels Through My Lens.

Reminder, my ebook is available from the Shop Page, or at Apple books. It is a collection of tips I have learned over the years, when you get your copy send me an email and I will send you a free copy of my first book, Let it be Hot.

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Sketch and send a postcard – to yourself

Before Instagram there were postcards – “Don’t forget to send me a postcard.” We still send postcards, shopping for them, in my case sketching them, and then mailing them, is a way to interact with the culture, usually a pleasurable experience. Our friend Mary did have a challenge in Paris, but I chock that up to a rogue event, and not the norm. Of course there is also the observation made by the receptionist at a hotel in Provence, “Parisians do not know how to smile.” Still over the years our experiences have be pleasurable. 

How about a new way for postcards to enhance capturing the moment? This idea was planted by Sky Sherman – Travel writer & Editor. Here is the article: Why You Should Always Mail Yourself a Postcard from Food & Wine Magazine.

First a bit of background. Post cards are a product of the 1870’s with photo postcards first introduced in the 1890’s. They became a worldwide sensation; thirty-seven million purchased in Germany in 1875, in 1876 England it was seventy-nine million. In France, after much resistance, postcards were introduced on 15 January 1873, in the first week 7,412,700 were sold.  Postcard albums were ubiquitous in most homes, treasured along with the family Bible. They were criticized and demonized much like Instagram and Texting; people would forget how to write.  Today postcards still have an allure different than selfies or snapshots, if you don’t send them I encourage you to start.

We travelsketchers can make our own postcards, a truly special missive to send to a friend; an actual work of art. Blank postcards on heavy watercolor paper are available from multiple sources. They are blank on one side for sketching, and pre printed for address and message on the reverse. I often just use the pads for sketches I never intend to send as the 4” x 6” size is quite convenient. 

Here is the link for watercolor postcards at Amazon

Sky Sherman sparked an idea. She says that when they travel they always send a postcard to themselves, not just friends and family. She describes the benefits of learning about the postal system, meeting locals, and even ending up with a bit of a stamp collection. 

My new idea is to start sending a postcard sketch to myself. It will be a different memory than a sketchbook since it will have a local stamp, postmark and a bit of the wear that comes from mail-handling. I envision an album, or framed collection in the future. We have found that we usually get home before many of our friends have received the cards we sent them while on the trip, if that holds true for the ones we send ourselves then we will get a souvenir in the mail a few days after we are home.

I think a sketch like this would be a nice memento of a wonderful meal.

Now, if we can just start traveling again… in the meantime I am thinking that some folks who are tired of all this crazy 2020 might appreciate a postcard from Mukilteo, I know I would if someone sent me a sketch, so I might give it a go.

Keep traveling as you can, and always keep sketching.

Reminder that my book is available on the Shop page here.

Or from Apple Books, here is the link

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Tackling a challenging subject – a lizard in a tree

I love it when folks send a challenging subject to sketch. This one comes from my friend Lori. It is a small lizard in a tree, a lot of gray makes it hard to get the lizard to stand out. Here is the photo I worked from.

From the lizard’s perspective she must be glad that we have trouble making her stand out, her camouflage is her protection. To sketch we have to observe closely and use what we can. Two key tools will be the textures and the dark areas, specifically where the body of the lizard is next to the tree.

First I did a light pencil sketch to get the shape of the lizard right, not too detailed and not too fussy, just basic shapes.

Next I used my fountain pen to turn it into an ink sketch. It is important to emphasize the texture of the bark, and not add too much texture to the lizard, the contrast will make her stand out. For my style I kept it loose.

You can see that the lizard is already starting to stand out. For the rest we will use watercolors. Traditional watercolor is to go from light to dark, but in this situation the darks are so important that I painted them in first, not as dark as they would be in the final sketch but I wanted to know where they were.

Next I added the lighter gray for the bark, which from the photo looks quite bleached, so a mixture of Ultramarine Blue, and Sepia worked well. I was careful to leave small white areas as highlights.

The lizard has a bit of green in its coloring, Perylene Green is a favorite gray-green, perfect for this. If you are using sap green gray it down with some Ultramarine Blue

The last thing was to intensify the darks, and shade the tail of the lizard. For this I used the darkest gray I have, being sure it is black along the edge of the lizard and then blended up to the ridge down the back of the lizard. A bit of shading on the tail kept it from being flat.

Thanks Lori for the challenge, I love doing these. If you run into a challenge send it along and I will see what I can do with ide

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Tackle your fears – art and life

In any discipline we have strengths and weaknesses. We also have comfort zones and challenges. Much of life is dealing with both.

The best advice I ever received about strengths and weakness came from a psychologist friend of mine. He said that we are all dealt a hand of cards in life, and as in any hand of cards, there are strong cards and weak cards. He said that what we tend to do is try to turn our weaknesses into strengths, when what we should do is use our strengths to keep our weaknesses from messing us up. If we put all of our energy into trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths will will most likely fail, and mess up our strengths in the process.

That is good advice for artists as well. We have strengths and weaknesses, it is good to challenge those weaknesses for sure, but not to the extent of frustration. Recently I read a long biography of Van Gogh, many have pointed out that he was not good at painting people, yet he was obsessed with painting from live models, spending his limited money just to have them. He never did become known as a portrait painter, now his other works, oh my.

I can relate, portraits are not my strength. Now and then I dabble, just as a challenge, yet people buy my landscapes and sketches, not sure that would happen with a portrait.

As far as comfort and challenges. As artists we all have subject matter that we find extra challenging, even frustrating. For me it is cats and boats. My poor cat Neville has many roundish-looking-blob sketches of him in my past, glad he does not notice. Boats always ended up being to long, too short, odd shapes.

A few weeks ago I decided it was nuts that I could not do boats. I love boats and live in an area with plenty of boats. So I went on line where I picked up a couple of tips – though the whole figure-eight thing (look it up) eludes me still. Then I had a bit of self-talk and realized that the problem I was having is the problem we all have, I was thinking and defining instead of drawing what was there – “Terry, take the advice you give everyone else!” Draw what you see, not what you think you see.

The only way to get good at anything is to do it, you never improve at music, sports, or art without practice. So I decided to sketch boats.

The pandemic has loosened up a bit, Tricia as an essential employee, spends a few hours at her office each week, which conveniently is at South Lake Union in Seattle; lots of boats. So I offered to drive her in, then spent time at the Seattle Center for Wooden Boats, sketching boats.

The good news is that I am no longer afraid of them, and making good progress. The sketches that follow are in chronological order, and I am comfortable with the progress. As far as Neville the cat goes, wellllll… maybe one day it will get better. All I can offer as advice is that you take a shot at sketching the scenes that challenge you, you just might find you enjoy it. As always let me know how it goes.

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Capturing the moment – Dubai and Genoa

When I look back at my sketches from the past a few evoke more vivid memories than others. The sketch triggers a sense of the moment almost as if I was right there. Here is an excerpt from my new book of one such time on a whirlwind trip to Dubai and Genoa.

Early one September Saturday morning I boarded Emirates at SeaTac airport for a fourteen hour flight, arriving in Dubai on Sunday. Monday I did a seminar in Dubai, on Tuesday I flew to Genoa, did another seminar on Thursday, then back to Seattle on Friday. This was one of the most memorable trips from my 25 years as a seminar speaker.

In my bag I carried a 3.5” x 5.5” Moleskin sketchpad, Windsor & Newton Cotman Travel Pallet, a water-brush, and a couple of Micron pens – my kit. it was rare for me to go anyplace without my kit, sketching was, and still is, a critical component of my travel.

Dubai was quite a surprise. Photos prepared me for the ultramodern buildings, they are dazzling to see in person. I expected to see men dressed in thobes and ghutras, women in hajibs. I figured that my western attire would stand out, but no. Dubai is 80% foreigners who dress western. Men in business suits and women dressed like they just stepped out of Nordstrom. It is a bit overwhelming there.

That evening, after bangers and mash at an Irish pub, I took my sketchpad up to the rooftop swimming-pool-bar of the Raddison. Dubai is actually prettier after dark with the lights of the buildings and the stars in the sky.  I ordered a beer and sketched; a night I will always remember.

Tuesday afternoon I landed in Milan, rented a car and drove 118 miles to Genoa. After finally finding parking and my hotel it was already dark; I was hungry so I headed out in search of a restaurant. 

The Osteria Marinara A Lanterna da Don Gallo was just a few blocks down the way. I sat at a table on the sidewalk, al fresco is always best, ordered wine and food, then got out my sketchpad.

The next day there was no seminar, just a free day to wander into town. Italy is famous for the squares in the city, and of course coffee. 

This trip was one of the most memorable of the hundreds of trips I have taken, I savored the moments by lingering over a sketchpad instead of snapping a selfie. And today as I write and look at these sketches I sense just a bit of what it was like those days five years ago.

The book is available on the Shop page, or at Apple Books

Posted in Tips for the Travel Sketcher | 1 Comment