Out and About

Summer is such a great time to get out and sketch. I’ve had several short trips in the area plus every Tuesday our local sketching group gets together to draw around the island.   I thought you might like to see what I’ve been up to.

Island sketching at Fort Ward –


At Waterfront Park


Along Erickson Street


And from an all too short trip to Port Townsend –  I ‘m captivated by the marvelous details of the Victorian buildings.


I had some fun with color on this boat drawing from the Port Townsend marina.


Next week I’m heading off to the Olympic Peninsula to participate in Paint the Peninsula, a plein air painting competition based in Port Angeles, Washington.  I’m excited about this. It’s a juried group of 22 exceptional artists from the United States and Canada and I’m thrilled to be a part of them.   And, I’m going to be drawing.  I don’t know if any drawing artist has ever been accepted into a plein air painting competition, so these may be ground-breaking works I’m about to do.  Each day for five days we bring our work into Port Angeles Fine Arts Center to add to a growing exhibition.  My goal is to do two masterpieces a day that represent the variety and beauty of the landscape.  Hopefully I’ll have time to do a blog post next week and show you some samples. Stay tuned!

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Weekend Workshop Part 2

Ch’ng Kiah Kiean , known as KK, exposed us to a completely approach than Melanie Riem.  Where  Melanie focuses on line, KK uses value and texture. Melanie prefers top quality fountain pens, KK likes pens he makes from the jasmine tree outside his home in Malaysia.

We started by  learning about the materials he likes.  He uses a Chinese ink, which we unfortunately do not have access to, but he was generous in sharing from the extra bottles he brought with him.  He likes to soak a piece of gauze with ink in a small jar. In the supply list for the class he asked us to bring twigs and he would show us how to make our own pens.  I brought douglas fir, dogwood and madrona twigs.  I was pleased to discover that the dogwood worked quite well.  KK also gave us each a twig from his jasmine tree (the peeled pen in the photo).



We practiced making different kinds of lines with these twigs.  He also likes to dip a stencil brush into an ink soaked sponge to get a grayed texture.  This takes a little practice to get just right.   Here’s a drawing I did the first day using some of his ideas.


For the first hour of the second day, KK did a demo and we watched in awe as he did a panorama of Elliott Bay on two 12 x 16 sheets of paper.    Just a few touches of watercolor added depth and atmosphere.   Here’s what he came up with after just one hour!




Then he sent us out to draw.  I loved the color of the umbrellas along Western Avenue with the market buildings and brick apartments behind them.  It’s one thing to watch an experienced artist create a drawing.  I found it difficult to emulate his style with a completely different subject.


With a short time remaining I decided to try the same subject as KK’s demo.  This was much easier.


Workshops are great because they give us insight into the way other artists work.  It can be useful to try other styles.  I’m looking forward to adding some of these new techniques in my work.

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Weekend Workshop

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a wonderful workshop through Urban Sketchers.  It’s been a while since I’ve been a student and I was so ready for this intensive two day session.  Artists need to keep learning, growing and pushing themselves.  There are many ways to do this, of course.  For me, spending time with two excellent teachers who have very different styles was exactly the inspiration I’ve been needing.

Our instructors were Melanie Riem from New York City and Ch’ng Kiah Kiean (KK) from Penang, Malaysia.  With two teachers, we spent half of each day with each one.  Since both offered terrific insights into two very different styles, I’ll focus on Melanie’s class today.   She is known for her strong and expressive figure drawings.  When she’s not teaching at Fashion Institute of Technology she travels the world sketching.  Her illustrations have been featured in numerous books and magazines.  Her work expertly captures the vibrancy of life;  the viewer feels what it’s like to be in the scene.  Take a look at her blog post about disco dancing in New York.  Here’s a drawing she did at Pike Place Market:


On Saturday we sketched people at the Seattle Center fountain, looking for descriptive form and line.  I found it very challenging.  I like to start tentatively with pencil and work up to ink.  No time for that here. I’d start drawing a group of people and then they’d leave. I ended up drawing the workshop students because they were sitting still.


I soon learned that drawing people sitting around the fountain was easy.  On Sunday we drew people moving through Pike Place Market.  Our job was to capture the essence of movement both individually and as a crowd.  Wow, that was tough! I’d see a group of people to draw and as soon as I’d put down one line, they’d be gone.  The trick was to see the repetitive movement of walking, then add accessories to create individuals..  Since you have to draw fast, I attempted several drawings.  I was grateful to see that it got a little easier the more drawings I did.

Musicians performing near the pig, (complete with a Melanie Riem original sketch in the top left) –


The crowd across the street –


And walking through the market


Melanie Riem is a fabulous teacher.  Learning to look quickly to capture the essence of a scene is such a valuable skill.   Using bolder pens than my extra fine microns was good for me – she likes fountain pens and brush pens.  Her enthusiasm for life spills into her drawing and is contagious and inspirational.  What a great weekend!

Next blog post I’ll tell you more about KK’s instruction.


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Day is Done, Gone the Sun

From the southern end of the Oregon Coast, I drove up to Manzanita in one day.  I enjoyed passing so many places that have became special friends because I have drawn there.   There was one more subject I wanted to get in before leaving for home.   I drove out to Neahkanie Beach at dusk and parked in a perfect spot to watch the sun drop down behind the ocean.

I had this idea that it would be fun to do a watercolor of the sunset.  Since it’s all about the color of the sky and water, I didn’t consider using a pen or pencil.  My intention was to capture the change of colors as the sun dropped below the horizon in a series of small 4 x 6 paintings.  I thought this would be a worthwhile endeavor,  Well . . . not so much.  It turns out painting a setting sun is just about impossible!  I paint quite wet and things were moving so fast all the colors pretty much ran into each other.   Then there’s the fact that you can’t really look at the sun because it’s blindingly bright, so trying to figure out the colors in the sky and water was hopeless.  I ended up scribbling notes about what I thought I was seeing.  Once I arrived home, I used my runny watercolors, notes and photos to do a new series of paintings:




What I did learn is that when the sun is a short ways above the horizon, the light on the water is wide and yellow.  As it drops lower, that shaft of light on the water becomes narrower and whiter.  All the while, where the water meets the sand, there is a brilliant line of light (hard to make it glow with watercolor).  Once the sun is barely above the edge of the sea, all that remains is that bright line of light along the waters edge.  Pretty cool.

While I may never do finished pieces of a sunset, watching the sun go down is a great experience.  A lot of other people thought so too.  As I arrived, folks were congregating on the beach with their blankets and chairs to watch the show.  What a peaceful way to end the day and the trip.


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End of the Line

I am sad to reach mile 363 of Oregon’s Pacific Coast Highway.  It means my adventure is coming to an end. California is just around the bend and this is my turn around point.  What a wonderful trip this has been.


My last few days I camped at Harris Beach State Park, just north of Brookings, where there’s a lovely beach.  It’s not a large, but there are some wonderful rock arrangements there.   I particularly love the colors of these rocks:


I drew this sitting on a rock about 30 feet from the edge of the surf.  It was sunny and warm with only a slight breeze.  I paused often simply to watch the waves come in and be grateful for the opportunity to sit there and draw.    It was totally blissful.


Later in the day the wind came up and I sought the refuge of my van for easier drawing. I don’t know if the wind is a constant afternoon thing or  particularly strong because of the warm temperatures.   My next visit I will plan to draw earlier in the morning and later in the day when the wind settles down.  Weather and light are important factors.


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Wow Factor

One of the reasons I embarked on this journey along the Oregon Coast was because I knew the whole coast was exceptionally beautiful and I would have plenty of things to draw.  I have not been disappointed.  In fact, I have realized that the four weeks I allotted, is not nearly enough.  I have barely scratched the surface of what’s here.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  If I could get it all, then I’d have no reason to come back.  One of the places I know I will want to return is Shore Acres State Park. The sharply angled rocks here are like nothing else along the coast.

Carved by the sea and wind, the sandstone that meets the sea takes on jagged shapes which lean sharply to the east.  Deep fractures cut through these rough layers to create dramatic views.  I walked the trail along the bluff in awe.  It was hard to choose a spot to draw when there were so many incredible viewpoints.  I would have loved to spend several days there; unfortunately, Shore Acres State Park is the only place along the coast I found that does not allow dogs.  Not wanting to leave my buddy in the van all day, I did one quick drawing.

Shore Acres

But wait, there’s more!  Exploring the park, I found more unique features.  Originally the estate of a wealthy lumber baron, there is an exquisite garden set back from the bluff.  In contrast with the wild and rugged rocks, the garden is peaceful and lovely.  Beyond the garden is a small protected sand beach where the water comes in gently.  Several families were on their way there as I left.  What a lovely place that would be to spend the day.  More visits to Shore Acres State Park are definitely on my agenda.

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Guiding Lights

Making my way down the coast I visited most of the lighthouses along the route.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some in towns, some on remote cliffs, one is even on a rock in the sea.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to think lighthouses are a little cliché.  Go to any sea port and the primary design element on mugs, placemats and towels is a lighthouse.  I didn’t intend to draw them but as I saw the individuality of each of them, I decided to add them to my list of coastal subjects.


The first lighthouse I visited is Cape Meares, the shortest of them all.   Perched on a high rocky point, it doesn’t need to be taller to be seen from a great distance.   The most memorable aspect of my time there was seeing two orcas swim past just below the lighthouse. There’s a fenced walkway between the lighthouse and bluff , from which you can look straight down to the water below.  The orcas were beautiful.



Yaquina Head lighthouse is just north of Newport.  It’s the tallest lighthouse of the eleven on the Oregon coast and the most classic in appearance.  I like the simplicity of shape coming up from the grasses and bushes on this windswept point.


My favorite is the Coquille lighthouse near Bandon.  It’s a small, fairly unassuming building with a relatively short tower.  The warm color and terracotta and aqua accents along with the simple Italianate details give it a distinctive personality.  Situated on the north bank of the Coquille River it is no longer in use but is lovingly cared for by volunteers and open for visitors during the summer.

I’m glad to say my view of lighthouses has changed.  Like everything else, the more you get to know them, the more beautiful they become.


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Oregon Dunes

I was in search of dunes.  There is a large expanse of incredible sand dunes mid-way down the Oregon Coast.  They stretch for more than 40 miles from Florence to south of Reedsport.  I wanted a good vantage point from which to draw this unique landscape.   And you’d think there would be plenty of viewpoints, but a few roads were closed because of flooding from the recent rains, and others were too rough for my low-clearance van to navigate.   Finally, on my last day in the area I found a large parking lot with excellent views of the mountains of sand.

This is the largest area of sand dunes in North America.  Millions of years of erosion from wind and rain have formed hills up to 500 feet above sea level.     I think hot and dry when I think of sand dunes, but here they exist in a cool and wet climate.  What fascinates me are the trees and shrubs that grow in the midst of the dunes, forming islands in the sand.


Drawing the trees and grasses is familiar territory.  For the dunes themselves, I had to rely on watercolor to depict the smoothness and simplicity of the terrain.  It was a cloudy day where the sky was darker than the land – something that doesn’t happen often.


As you might imagine the dunes are hugely popular with ATV lovers.  Next time I come, maybe I’ll rent an ATV and go off to find even better vantage points. Wouldn’t that be fun!

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Photo or Drawing?

I found the perfect spot!  The sun was shining, the weather was warm and there was only a slight breeze.  There was even a picnic table so I had a surface on which to draw.  What luxury!  I was happily inking away when a man came near me and snapped a picture of my subject.  As he turned to go he said, “It’s faster to take a photo.”   I replied with a smile, “This is more fun.”

It’s the first answer that came to mind and of course it’s true, I was having a marvelous time.   But there’s so much more.   He spent a total of one minute there.  I spent two hours looking, feeling, absorbing the light, the colors, the atmosphere of the place.  I wasn’t after a perfect representation the view, I was drawing what I feel when I see such a beautiful spot.  It’s all about impressions, thoughts and expression. You make a personal connection with the landscape.  That’s what makes drawing meaningful to me.   Drawings work because they come from the heart and soul, not because they’re precise reproductions of a subject.


This isn’t a great drawing.  Perhaps the photo will be a wonderful way to show friends and family the beauty of the Oregon coast.  We all respond to beauty in different ways and certainly photography is a wonderful art.  For me, I’ll stick with drawing.

The next time you’re at a place that inspires you, try taking out a pencil or pen to draw what you see.  The first thing you’ll notice is that you see so much more than you ever knew was there.  The next thing you’ll find is that you’ll connect with that spot in a personal way.  And finally, you’ll have a wonderful memory of quality time spent in a beautiful place. I will always remember the wonderful day I had at Bob’s Creek.  One more happy place on my ever-growing list.




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Trying New Subjects

Driving down the coast I came to the little town of Yachats.  As I so often do I took some side roads to see what there is to see.  I was delighted to discover their town park on the water’s edge.  There were wonderful rocky outcroppings stretching into the sea and this day, fairly good sized waves  crashing over the rocks creating a pulsing spectacle of energy.  Watching how the waves would surge, cover and drain from the rocks was enthralling.   I wanted to draw it.

But honestly, this is the kind of subject that I usually shy away from.  Moving water? With an ink pen?  Recognizing that I’ll never learn unless I try it, I pulled out a small piece of watercolor paper, a pencil and a pen.  I knew I could draw the rocks so I started on them.  As I drew the rock formations I considered how I would tackle the water.  Watercolor seemed the best solution to capture that wild movement.  The rocks took quite a long time and I wish I would have taken a photo before the color went on, but perhaps you can imagine rocks surrounded by white paper.   I used a little maskoid to preserve some white areas.  Once I added the color I wanted it to look like splashes going every which way.  My finishing touch was some white gouache sprinkled on with a toothbrush.



I’m not unhappy with this first attempt.  Watercolor is perfect for the fluidity of the waves and I’m glad I did not try to use ink in the water.   A first attempt can be daunting, but I’m so glad I jumped into this.   The next one was easier. Here’s another drawing from a quieter beach.


It’s so easy to stick with things that you know you can do well.  I’m so glad I tried this.  Now I have some ideas brewing for larger versions.  And, when I come across more scenes of crashing waves on my journey, I’ll have the confidence to give them a try.

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