February Sketches

Here are some watercolor sketches done on location around San Francisco in this past month.


The first was done in Union Square while Julia and I sat prior to our dinner reservation on Valentines day. It was gloriously warm and sunny, with many people out enjoying themselves, and I managed to get a scribbly sketch down, before the pleasant evening swerved and collided with a typically bizarre San Francisco moment, involving an urban wild man and his high-strung pitbull. I finished the rest of the sketch and the watercolor washes later at home.


The next sketch, of a monument to Francis Scott Key, was done in Golden Gate Park, and represents a mini-breakthrough in my lefty sketches, as it was ALL done on location. For the past two years, my location-sketching has had watercolor washes¬†finished at home. Lately, my mobility, dexterity and balance are impaired, and it’s impossible¬†to sketch while holding the sketchbook in one¬†hand while I draw¬†with the other, or balance the watercolours and sketchbook on my knees as I draw while sitting¬†on a park bench. Now that I’m so physically unstable myself, I need a stable drawing surface to work at, even when drawing outside.

sketch_rigLast Christmas, Julia bought me a wonderful new sketching rig, including a tripod and drawing easel, ¬†watercolor supplies and a bag to carry it all in. It was partly inspired by the setups seen in some great location¬†sketching videos posted by Matt Jones, and¬†blog posts by plein aire watercolourist, Mark Taro Holmes. This was my first time using it all, (borrowing Julia’s folding chair) and the rig worked very well, though I realised I need to bring extra supplies next time; paper towels to soak up excess water, clips and elastic bands to secure sketchbooks and loose paper to the drawing board, and fingerless gloves (those Bob Cratchett specials) to keep fingers my warm but still free enough to work. When I get my own¬†lightweight and stable drawing chair, I’ll have the full kit and kaboodle.

Unfortunately, we chose a very blustery day to try this new drawing rig out for the first time. It was very sunny, but the wind was gusting so hard that even heavy obects, such as my jar of water, were blown across my drawing board. When one particularly strong gust lifted the entire drawing rig off the ground, I figured it was time to call it a day. I would have liked more time to finesse¬†the sketch on location, but I’ll post it anyway, as I’d like to get into the habit of posting drawings done as much as possible on site.


To round-off this past weekend of sketching, Julia and I went to the Ferry Building. Julia painted a close-up of the clock Tower on her iPad while I sketched this overview of the entire building. I was using a new watercolour sketchbook that Julia had given me last Christmas, and although it is perhaps a little too small for my current dexterity I really really like the paper. Most watercolour sketches that I post are done on sketchbook drawing paper, which tends to buckle when watercolor is applied, so it was really nice to use proper watercolor paper for a change.

SF_ferry_bldg_collageWe were not assaulted by wind this time, and both had a very productive day. I set up my easel in the open space by the bayside (where the farmer’s market is held) with a good vantage point of the ferry building and skyline, with the aim of¬†drawing¬†the entire scene. It is challenging to cram that much detail into a tiny drawing at the best of times, but especially hard now that I’m using my clumsy left-hand. I’m still getting used to drawing on the easel, with the drawing surface vertical rather than horizontal, but hope to¬†get better in time. I’m aware that I have a lot to learn about working in watercolour, and need to develop the ability to think in terms of blocks of shadow and light, rather than composing with¬†lines,¬†but I enjoy¬†this¬†challenge.

After we’d finished our drawings, we went into the ferry building for an early dinner and sat outside in the warm sun. Just as we were finishing our meal our table fell into shadow and suddenly it became dramatically cooler (the San Francisco air does not hold heat at all) but we were ready to go home anyway after a very satisfying weekend of painting and sketching.

23 thoughts on “February Sketches”

  1. Your description of the blustery weather reminded me of 1964 on my first visit to the Hawaiian Islands where I had just started a watercolor sky when suddenly some rain splashed onto what I thought was an excellent beginning. Not even time to turn the board over. And so it goes!

    • Glad you like them Matt. You and Mr Jones were part of my inspiration here, and those videos of your sketch trips to BODIE and PACIFICA. Watching those was when I first thought I needed such a sweet rig as you lads use.

  2. “There was too much WATER in your water colour, and too much AIR in my plein air!”–Sounds like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial! Your rig is enviable. The pictures are terrific! (I only wish you made one of the urban wild man and his high-strung pitbull…seems like a great Jamie subject! ūüėČ ).


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