Lilly Pond at Ruth Bancroft Gardens


Water Lilies at Bancroft Gardens, sepia ink and watercolor, 5x8 in

Water Lilies at Bancroft Gardens, sepia ink and watercolor, 5×8 in

It was a gorgeous day at Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek when my plein air group visited. I walked around looking at all the beautiful plants, sculpture exhibit (and buildings in the private area we were given access to, where the 105 year-old Mrs. Bancroft still lives). With less than an hour before our session end I finally settled on sketching at the lily pond.

I painted the old barn the last time I was there and that barn sketch is one of my favorites ever.

Here is my sketch with the scene behind it and artist Catherine Fasciato painting a lily with oil paint. I sat right between her and the sculpture, choosing shade first and subject matter second on this very hot, sunny day.

Change Is…

Stege Marsh, ink and colored pencils in pocket Moleskine

Stege Marsh, ink and colored pencils in pocket Moleskine

I started to title this post “Change is Good” and then I thought, yeah, but change can be difficult too. As I thought of all the things change is (hard, exciting, scary, growth) I realized that if nothing else, change is constant, it just IS; thus the title.

So what about change? Well, the most obvious change is my blog’s appearance. I’ve begun the process of converting it to a website that will host both this blog,, and my art portfolio website, now at It’s a work in progress so please, if you notice any bugs, let me know.

The sketch of Stege Marsh above reflects another change in my life; it’s one of the first sketches I did while out walking my pup. I waited until after we’d walked about 3 miles through the huge off-leash dog park at Pt. Isabel (well I walked 3 miles, she was off leash and probably ran 10 miles running off and coming back). By the time we got to this spot she was happy to rest while I sketched this view along the Bay Trail. I carry a little bag of colored pencils and a small Moleskine sketch book in my bag all the time as it’s lighter than my watercolor kit for long walks so that’s what I used to color in the ink drawing.

Spring! Iris!

Iris, ink & watercolor, 8x5 in

Purple Iris, ink & watercolor, 8×5 in

I put my sketching stool in my front garden to paint the one iris that decided to bloom this year. The past two years none of them bloomed and I think it’s because you’re maybe supposed to dig up the bulbs and separate them and plant them further apart when they get too crowded? Gardeners, your advice welcomed!

I missed sketching the first blooming of my roses, when each rose is so perfect and beautiful it’s just heart breaking. I was “too busy,” putting it off one day too many and then the big rains came and the fresh perfect roses were no more.

I really enjoyed drawing and painting while practicing close observation of the different shapes and structures of this amazing plant.

Sunny Landscapes, Summer, Spring, and Smelly

Briones Park, Sunny Afternoon, oil on panel, 10x8"

Briones Park, Sunny Afternoon, oil on panel, 10×8″

Briones Park Sunny Afternoon available for purchase here

I didn’t realize until I saw these two pictures together, that it was easy to tell that I painted one in summer (above) and the other in the spring (below), just by their color palette, even though they were both painted on warm, sunny days. I started the painting above plein air, but only got halfway done before it was time for the group critique. I finished it from memory and a photo but didn’t touch areas I already loved, like the yummy turquoise color in the background.

Briones Park (above) is gorgeous, but dogs are allowed off-leash there so the grasses along this beginning stretch of the trail are littered with stinky dog poo, thanks to irresponsible dog owners. But like bugs, wind and weather, smells are part of the plein air experience too.

Castle Rock Park and Mt. Diablo, Spring, 8x10"

Castle Rock Park and Mt. Diablo, Spring, 8×10″

I painted this watercolor view of Mt. Diablo in my 8×10 Moleskine. I didn’t have time to set up for oils because although we’d planned a day at Borges Ranch we learned on arrival that a 4-H club had reserved the area and we had to leave. The ranger suggested we go to Castle Rock Park down the road.

I parked at the Borges entrance for a while, catching others as they arrived and directing them to Castle Rock. Finally I left a big note on a brown paper bag taped to the Borges entrance sign, hoping latecomers would see it and know where to find us.

After the drive to Castle Rock and a hike to the top of a hill I only had time for a watercolor sketch. The bright yellow-green grassy field was beautifully spotted with lavender wild flowers. In the summer everything would be pretty much the same color of golden brown. This time it didn’t smell like dog poo; it was the pungent odor of the cows that graze there that accompanied the view.

Spring Into Summer

John Muir Home and Orchard, ink, watercolor & gouache, 8x10"

John Muir Home and Orchard, ink, watercolor & gouache, 8×10″

After I filled the jumbo Moleskine watercolor journal I discovered I forgot to post several pages. From March! So here are a few of those sketches from early spring. Above and below are the John Muir home, with a bit of the fruit tree orchards and redwoods on the property. I sketched and painted these on site, with a little gouache added to the fruit tree blossoms at home.

John Muir Landscape, ink, watercolor & gouache, 10x8"

John Muir Landscape, ink, watercolor & gouache, 10×8″

Spring at Blake Gardens, watercolor, 10x8"

Spring at Blake Gardens, watercolor, 10×8″

Above is another spring sketch, painted directly with watercolor, of  magnolia trees and the pretty little flowers planted around the tree.

Playing Catch Up!

Egret at Miller-Knox Park, Ink & watercolor 5x8"

Egret at Miller-Knox Park, Ink & watercolor 5×8″

Since my end-of-year wrap-up blog post remains unfinished, here are a couple of autumn sketches that were waiting patiently to be posted. I have a good excuse though: my new iMac arrived last week and since then I’ve been immersed in learning the Mac after over a decade on Windows PCs. I’ve been transferring files, talking to both Moron and Genius-level tech support, and installing and learning Mac versions of my applications.

Miller-Knox Park Autumn, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Miller-Knox Park Autumn, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

I’m finding the Mac to be quite delightful in many ways and a bit confounding in others. But little by little I’m getting the hang of it… And..Oh Crud! right after I typed that I made some kind of wrong move and instantly I was popped out of the blog and into an endless loop of…

Computer: “Are you sure you want to leave this page?” I click: “Stay on page.” Computer: “Are you sure you want to leave this page?” over and over until I finally give up, say OK and click “Leave this page.” And of course nothing happens. Had to force quit and restart.

But Yay WordPress; it saved the draft! I wish I knew what I did so I don’t do it again. It has happened a bunch of times and I have no clue why.

It’s quite humbling going from being expert on the PC to being such a beginner that I couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the Mac (finally found the power button hidden behind the screen).

View from the Marsh: 3 Attempts

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #1, ink & watercolor, 6x8"

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #1, ink & watercolor, 6×8″

Very near my home is Pt. Isabel Regional Shoreline, with the world’s largest and most beautiful dog park. It is situated on the San Francisco Bay directly in line with the Golden Gate Bridge. There are views of San Francisco, wetland marshes and the East Bay hills looking east. I love dogs and don’t have one so I often go down there to walk the trails and enjoy other people’s dogs.

In the sketch above, I stood on the wooden bridge over the marsh and tried to capture everything, the marsh, the freeway, the buildings behind it and the hills beyond. Too much, really, for a small 8×6 sketchbook.

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #2, ink & watercolor, 6x8"

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #2, ink & watercolor, 6×8″

On my next visit it was extremely windy and I almost lost my sketchbook and a brush over the top of the wooden bridge rail I was using for a table. The light wasn’t very interesting, very flat with no shadows.

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #3, ink & watercolor, 6x8"

View from Pt. Isabel Bridge #3, ink & watercolor, 6×8″

On the third visit the tide was in and the area in the first two sketches was mostly underwater so I turned to face west with San Francisco and the bridges in the distance.

I don’t feel that I did the scene justice in any of these sketches and hesitated posting them, but will return again and keep trying until I’m happier with the result.

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