Ink and watercolor wash Landscape Life in general New York Sketchbook Pages

NYC Part 7 Finale: Bethesda Fountain, Yoko Ono, Verdi Monument, and Library Lion

Bethesda Fountain Angel, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x5.5 in
Bethesda Fountain Angel, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x 5.5 in

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Walking back to Central Park on Sunday, Micaela and I stopped at The Dakota, a spectacular architectural landmark where Beatle John Lennon was killed and Yoko Ono still lives. The building was so well-guarded we were afraid to stop and draw.

But later, while sketching Bethesda Fountain (above), I looked up and saw Yoko Ono walking by a few feet away, on the arm of a tall, distinguished gentleman, apparently on her way home to the Dakota. Micaela didn’t see her and maybe didn’t believe me…you might not either…but I do.

Here are some images from nearby the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park:

Carol had shown us the tunnel by the fountain and pointed out the restrooms that are the best (or at least have the most stalls) in the park. Inside the tunnel we stopped to watch and listen to this amazing performance:

After our Central Park visit Micaela wanted to sketch another Upper West Side architectural landmark, The Ansonia. We sat in the Giuseppe Verdi Square where she had a view of the building and I sketched the monument (below).

Guiseppe Verdi Statue, NY, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x 5.5 in
Guiseppe Verdi Statue, NY, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x 5.5 in

As you can see from my comments on the sketch, I got really lost when it came to the sizes of the other figures on the monument. The guy in front looked like a baker to me but according to Wikipedia, the monument “depicts Verdi flanked by four of his most popular characters: Falstaff, Leonora, Aida, and Otello.” So I guess my chubby little baker is actually Falstaff in costume.

That’s a live pigeon on Verdi’s foot, not part of the statue. I wonder if statue sculptors ever think about the pigeons that will eventually sit on their subjects?

NY Public Library Lion, ink and watercolor, 5.5 x 7.5 in
NY Public Library Lion and Whole Foods Heads, ink and watercolor, 5.5 x 7.5 in

Soon it was time to meet Micaela’s daughter for dinner in Union Square. Along the way the bus stopped at the NYC Public Library so we hopped off to sketch the lions and then hopped back on the next bus.

We sat in the café upstairs at Whole Foods Union Square to wait for Juliette, where I had an odd experience. I was sketching a guy (second from the right above) and got his face totally wrong: no likeness at all. He left and another man sat down in his place. The new guy had the exact face I’d just drawn: perfect likeness. All I had to do was add hair because the first guy was bald.

After a late dinner in an Italian restaurant, we returned home to our cozy apartment.

The next morning, my last one in NYC, we went back to the Metropolitan Museum where we visited the “Balthus: Cats and Girls” exhibition. My favorite part of the show were the 40 small ink drawings he made when he was 11 of his adventures with his cat Mitsou. His mentor, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who at the time was his mother’s lover, wrote the preface and got the little book, Mitsou, published.

Then we explored the rest of the second floor, “European Paintings from 1250 to 1800.” It was exciting to see the Dutch and Flemish paintings since I’d spent my summer studying Flemish painting technique. But the biggest thrill of all was rediscovering Rembrandt portraits. Despite period clothing, the people in the paintings, even Rembrandt in his self-portrait below, looked so contemporary and authentic, like people you might see on the street.

Rembrandt self-portrait
Rembrandt self-portrait (detail)

After a week of visiting museums and seeing modern art that while ground-breaking when it created, often seems intentionally unskillfully rendered, it was so inspiring to see work full of passion and beautifully painted.

Then it was back to the apartment to pack and my trip home. A much more confident transit rider than when I arrived, I took the subway to Penn Station, transferred to the Long Island Railroad, then caught the Airtrain which was partially shut down for repairs, and then a shuttle bus to JFK. My Jet Blue flight home was very comfortable and went smoothly, so much better than the Southwest nightmare flight to New York.

Building Ink and watercolor wash Landscape Life in general New York Sketchbook Pages

NYC Part 6: Jana’s Ganja Guy and the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge and Ice Cream Shop, ink and watercolor, 7.5x5.5 in
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, ink and watercolor, 7.5×5.5 in

Carol, Micaela and I got on the subway, heading to the Brooklyn Bridge. On the subway you get treated to exciting musical performances by buskers or you are subjected to rants by lunatics or pleas for money. Or all of the above, as they often take turns, getting on and off at each stop.

This time an extremely loud and annoying guy told a too long tale of his hardships, throwing in everything from the Iraq war to Hurricane Sandy. The man standing next to me had the sweetest face and long dredlocks. He gave the guy a dollar.

Here’s New Yorker Carol telling the rest of the story, from her funny blog post:

We got on the Lexington Ave. express. It was packed, but Micaela and I were lucky enough to get a seat. Jana was standing. As the doors closed we heard the familiar sound of someone asking for money. The man standing next to Jana gave the guy a dollar.

And then the unthinkable happened…Jana talked to the dollar-giving guy.

I was astounded.  Jana asked him if he always gives money to people begging on the subway or does he evaluate the story first and then give. The man told Jana he gives out of love and because he always gives money, he gets money back. Now he has a lot of money. Jana then asked what he did for money?  His reply? He sold da ganja.

Yep,  He sold marijuana.

Weed, Mary Jane, Waccy tobaccy. Chronic. Grass. He said he was from Trinidad and asked Jana what month she was born in. She told him and he said that according to the bible she was part of the tribe of Joshua. What tribe is that?  Where is that in the bible?  Mr. Chronic said it was in the LOST BOOKS of the Bible. Oh. We finally got to the Brooklyn Bridge stop where Micaela, Jana and I got off and Jana’s new best friend hoped that God blessed her and continued on.

Yep! I just get so curious I can’t help talking to strangers.

After the fascinating ride to Brooklyn the three of us walked across the bridge, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with Carol pointing out the landmarks. Then she headed home to attend a birthday party and Micaela and I went in search of a spot where we could draw the bridge. Below are some views from the bridge:

The area of Brooklyn at the end of the bridge is called DUMBO, for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge.” The two bridges are just a few blocks apart and the area under and between them is packed with interesting shops and a variety of mostly renovated old brick apartment buildings and art galleries.

The annual DUMBO Art Festival was going on and the streets were filled with thousands of partiers, artists and bands. We skipped the crowds and found our way down to a new waterfront park by the “Famous Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory” right next to the bridge. (That’s the sketch at the top of the post and here’s a photo of it):

Famous Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
Famous Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

The sign in front of the lighthouse-looking building says “Famous Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory” in case you weren’t sure it was the “famous” one. We didn’t try the ice cream; the line was way too long.

When we finished our sketches it was early evening. Micaela and I wandered around the area, looking for the right subway station. I wanted to preview where I would need to go after dinner at my friends’ apartment nearby. She got on the train and went back to the Metropolitan Museum for the 8:00 p.m. John Zorn concert. I made my way through the DUMBO Art Festival chaos to Nora and Kevin’s beautiful, new apartment.

After fantastic home-cooked vegetarian dinner Nora, an art director, showed me her website (scroll down the page to see some of her recent work). I told her I’d seen Cutie and the Boxer and she said that they live a block away in a funky old apartment building full of artists and that most of the movie was filmed in DUMBO.

When it was time to leave they took me up to the roof to see their spectacular view first:

Rooftop View of the Manhattan Bridge
Rooftop View of the Manhattan Bridge with park in foreground

Nora pointed out the building next door and told me actor Ann Hathaway lives there. I wish I did!

Ink and watercolor wash New York Outdoors/Landscape Sketchbook Pages

NYC Part 5: Central Park Conservatory Water, John Zorn at the Met, NYC Food Oddities

Central Park Conservatory Water, NY, ink and watercolor, 5x5"x7.5"
Central Park Conservatory Water, NY, ink and watercolor, 5×5″x7.5″

Saturday mid-day we met Brooklyn art blogger (and funny lady) Carol King by the Conservatory Water (above) in Central Park, named for the Conservatory of Flowers building it was meant to reflect but that was never constructed.

In the sketch above, I abused the rules of perspective, enlarging the boathouse and model boats but not the distance to the front of the pond, making the water look more like a kids pool than the small lake you can see in the photo below. Oops.

Photo of Central Park's Conservatory water from where we were sketching in the park
Photo of Central Park’s Conservatory water from where we were sketching in the park

Before Central Park, we went to the Metropolitan Museum where they were presenting hourly performances of John Zorn music to celebrate the avant-garde composer’s 60th birthday. I’d heard him interviewed on Fresh Air and was blown away by his dedication to a life of creativity, stripping almost everything else out of his life. You can read the full transcript here. This (slightly edited by me) quote really got me:

GROSS: What does turning 60 mean to you?

ZORN: There are no more doubts...That little guy that sits on my shoulder…that used to whisper in [my] ear, you know, “you could be really wrong about this,” that guy’s not around anymore. I brushed him off.

Everything is very clear: what I need to do, why I’m on the planet, the best way to accomplish it, what is a distraction, what helps me focus. Everything is really there. And…I work very hard, I work all the time, I’m not really interested in vacations or getting away from my work….

Now there are no more solutions because there are no more problems. I just turn the tap, and the music comes pouring out.

We chose the 11:00 a.m. performance Volac – Masada; Book of Angels with Erik Friedlander, cello, held in the Assyrian Gallery.

Assyrian Lamassi at Met during John Zorn Cello Concert, ink, 7.5 x 5'
Assyrian Lamassi at Met during John Zorn  Concert, ink, 7.5 x 5′
Assyrian Lamassi
Assyrian Lamassi protective being, after the concert and the crowd left

The sketch above left started out quite nicely, despite drawing standing in a crowd. But later, forgetting I’d used a water-soluble pen, I added watercolor. The ink spread and smeared all over. I tried restating the lines with a brush pen but don’t like the results.

I filmed the clip below holding my iPhone over my head; I couldn’t see what I was recording since my actual view was the crowd in front me as in the sketch above, but at least it is a snippet of the sights and sounds:

Next Carol was taking us to Brooklyn. We followed her down 5th Avenue to the subway, stopping quickly along the way for her to pick up a new-to-me food item. Pronounced as one word, “butterroll,” according to internet sources a “buttered roll is a big, pre-buttered, pre-wrapped roll, soft in the inside, chewy on the outside. Usually eaten in the morning with a cup of coffee, regular.”

And that’s another New York food oddity: when you order coffee most places you’re supposed to say “regular” if you want it with a “normal” amount of milk and sugar, or specify dark, light, sweet, or no sugar if you want something different because they put the stuff in there for you. I’m glad we had a coffee grinder filled with dark, rich beans and a French Press pot in our apartment. It was the best coffee I had in New York, with just the right amount of modifiers, added visually not verbally.

Building Ink and watercolor wash Landscape New York Sketchbook Pages

NYC Part 4: Micaela Arrives, We Walk the Highline, Get Lost, Greenwich Village

Washington Square Park Arch and Fountain, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x 5"
Washington Square Park Arch and Fountain, ink and watercolor, 7.5 x 5″

On Friday morning Micaela arrived after an all-night flight from Berkeley. We were both tired but excited to plan our first day exploring the city together. After coffee and bagels at Irving Farm Coffee we made our way by foot and subway to the High Line, a 1.5 mile long park built on railroad tracks up above the street. The rail line operated from 1934 to 1980 to carry mail, meat and produce to the meatpacking district.

Views from the High Line

We’d planned to sketch there but the High Line is so narrow we couldn’t find a spot with a view that wasn’t blocking the path so I took photos instead. (Click in a photo to enlarge.)

Next we began a long, crazy, circuitous walk to Greenwich Village, first trying to use Google map directions on my phone (FAIL), then print maps, and finally just asking people on every corner. Sometimes we were told to turn around and go the other direction; once someone told us it was too far to walk, to take a taxi. Often the people I asked were from other countries (some really cute guys from Norway tried to help) or were just as lost as we were.

On the Walk to the Village

I wanted to see if the funky Village tenement on MacDougal Street where I lived when I was 19 (I moved to Manhattan from San Diego with big dreams) and my old hangouts, Kettle of Fish bar across the street and Cafe Figaro on Bleecker  were still there. The funky tenement looks unchanged, but according to this New York Times article the Figaro and original Kettle of Fish are long gone.

Me and my sketch of Washington Square, Greenwich Village
Me and my sketch of Washington Square, Greenwich Village

We finally arrived around 3:00, explored the area a bit and then sat and sketched in Washington Square Park. It was a cloudy, breezy day and we kept getting sprinkled with spray from the fountain.

Cutie and the Boxer

At 5:00 we decided to try to make it to the 5:20 showing of the documentary Cutie and the Boxer about the art and lives of married, now elderly, artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, who came to New York from Japan when they were young (FYI the only boxing is with sponges on boxing gloves dipped in paint).

One of "Cutie's" drawings with the Washington Square Arch in the background
One of Noriko Shinohara’s “Cutie” drawings with the Washington Square Arch in the background

it was nearly 5:00. There were people trying to get taxis on each corner so we walked a block, waved down a cab and arrived at the theater in time to grab a couple of fish soft tacos next door before the movie started. (They were a mess to eat in the dark but delicious). Getting around most of NYC is so much easier and cheaper than the SF Bay Area!

We both liked the thought-provoking film; I especially enjoyed seeing Noriko drawing the Washington Square Arch (above) in a sketch that looked a lot like my sketch of the arch. There’s a great video trailer on this NY Times review that shows many of the best parts of the film.

But wait there’s more….

Taking the subway home afterward we had to change trains and walk through Union Square. There was a group of Hare Krishnas playing music, singing and dancing, but with added NYC flair: the saffron-robed guys were doing occasional break-dance and Bollywood moves!

Across the street we at spotted a Whole Foods and went in to shop for supplies. We were way tired and overstimulated and Whole Foods was packed with shoppers who knew their way around. We finally figured out the two-story layout, got the basics and stumbled to the long check out lines. Like the subways, there was a complicated system of numbers and colors and electronics meant to guide you to your destination, in this case one of 35 or so cash registers in five lines from the queues of shoppers standing under different colored banners.

I thought I had the system figured out so when the person in front of me didn’t go when it was her turn, I tapped her and told her to go. She and others in the lines gave me a pitying look. Apparently I got it wrong.

Finally, heads spinning, shopping bags and hearts full, we got back on the subway and found our way home. We plugged in and inflated the airbed our Airbnb host had left for Micaela (having to hold it up on its side in order to reach the one visible outlet) and soon we were sound asleep in our own semi-comfortable beds.

To be continued…

Figure Drawing Ink and watercolor wash New York Painting People Sketchbook Pages

NYC Part 3: Society of Illustrators and Hopper, Magritte, Calder at The Whitney and MoMA

Model and Artists at Society of Illustrators, NY, ink and watercolor 5.5x7.5"
Model and Artists at Society of Illustrators, NY, ink and watercolor 5.5×7.5″

My second day in New York started with visiting art museums (more about that in a minute) and ended upstairs at the Society of Illustrators for costumed figure drawing from 6:30 to 9:30.

Society of Illustrators Staircase
Society of Illustrators Staircase

Just walking through the red door, up the stairs and seeing the portraits of all the famous illustrator/members was awe-inspiring.

Models at Society of Illustrators, NY Figure Drawing, 7.5"x5.5"
Models at Society of Illustrators, NY Figure Drawing, 7.5″x5.5″

I didn’t find the models to be very inspiring; they repeated the same few poses and the thin one wore a strange headdress with a little floral jumpsuit; the voluptuous model wore painful looking bondage gear. Or maybe it was just me: I’d started getting a migraine before dinner and had taken migraine meds so was a little off kilter.

Upstairs Bar at the Society of Illustrators
Upstairs Bar at the Society of Illustrators

I would have been intimidated going to the Society of Illustrators by myself but Shirley is a regular, which helped newcomers Pat and I feel comfortable. According to Shirley there was a world-famous fashion illustrator at the bar (above) that evening. We sketched to a soundtrack of loud rock music from the 70s, including favorites from Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and John Lennon.

Model at Society of Illustrators, NY Figure Drawing, 7.5"x5.5"
Model at Society of Illustrators, NY Figure Drawing, 7.5″x5.5″

Please see Pat’s iPad drawings and her amusing story about the day and Shirley’s sketches here.

Hopper, Magritte, Calder

Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists so I was excited to start NYC day 2  at the Whitney with Pat visiting the show of Hopper paintings and his preliminary drawings for them. What really struck me was how his drawings showed great skill in drawing and perspective and yet many of his paintings have awkward angles, wrong perspective and bodies in unnatural positions.

A avorite Hopper painting on his homemade easel

I thought this note beside a painting might help to explain that dichotomy:

Hopper was a lifelong realist, committed to deriving his pictorial ideas from observed reality. His aim, however, was not to record outward appearances but to use his observations…as vehicles…to portray his inner life. Asked once what he was trying to achieve in a painting, he answered, “I’m after ME.”

Some favorite Hopper sketches in the show (click to enlarge):










While at the Whitney we also visited American Legends: From Calder to O’Keefe (more Hopper…Yay! and some wonderfully whimsical Calder circus sculptures made of wire and miscellaneous detritus), then we went quickly through Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE (meh).

Next we walked to MoMA where we met Shirley and went to the member’s preview day for Magritte: Mystery of the Ordinary.  None of us loved the Magritte. My favorite work in the show referenced painters painting, especially Clairvoyance where the artist’s still life setup is an egg but he’s painting a bird. While Shirley and Pat went off to sketch from paintings in the shows they’d already seen, I enjoyed American Modern: Hopper to O’Keefe show (Yay! even more Hopper!)

Sleeping Guy at MoMa, NY, pencil and watercolor, 7x5.5"
Sleeping Guy at MoMa, NY, pencil and watercolor, 7×5.5″

Finally, exhausted, I found Shirley sketching in a comfy chair beside the man above who was sound asleep. I drew him while she finished her sketch. Then we had dinner at a diner and walked to the Society of Illustrators for figure drawing.

Figure Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Landscape New York Outdoors/Landscape People Sketchbook Pages Urban Sketchers

New York City Part 2: Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Figures al Fresco

Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, ink and watercolor, 5.5x7.5"
View from Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, ink and watercolor, 5.5×7.5″

My first morning in Manhattan I woke to sun streaming through the trees and hurried to get ready for a day of sketching in Battery Park with Shirley Levine and Pat Gaignat. Above is my first sketch of the day: the view from Battery Park of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where my grandfathers first arrived in the U.S. from Russia. It seemed like a perfect way to mark my arrival too.

Pat had created a multi-media iBook titled “Way to Go, Jana!” with directions for finding my way to the park at the other end of Manhattan. I downloaded it to my iPhone and headed out the door.

At my first intersection I stepped off the curb at a green light and BAM! a truck hit a motorcycle right in front of me. The bike went down but the rider didn’t seem injured. The drivers began their negotiations and I scurried across the street.

Below are a couple of screenshots from Pat’s e-book that I literally would have been lost without!

Pat's guide map page
Pat’s guide map page
Pat's guide  featuring Shirley with video and audio instructions
Pat’s guide starring Shirley

In the afternoon we joined a dozen artists on benches around a small plaza for the start of “Figures al Fresco,” a weekly, free, clothed figure-drawing session sponsored by the city, complete with teacher. She drove up in an electric cart filled with art supplies to use during the session, including drawing boards, paper pads, watercolors, charcoal and pencils. I did most of my figure drawings on a newsprint pad from the cart. The last one (below) I did in my journal with my new Pentel Tradio Stylo water-soluble pen and a water brush.

Battery Park Figure Sketching, ink, 7.5x5.5"
Battery Park Figure Sketching, ink, 7.5×5.5″

John, the model was excellent, with many interesting poses that simulated working in fields and other kinds of manual labor. The teacher requested he remove his shoes so we could draw his feet. He took off the shoes, but wouldn’t remove his socks.

Me sketching in Battery Park
Pat’s photo of me sketching in Battery Park

When the session ended at 4:30,  in a hurry I returned my drawing pad to the cart, forgetting to remove my sketches. Then I joined Pat to walk the High Line, a public park built on a former elevated railroad line, as part of our journey back uptown.

You can see Shirley’s drawings here and Pat’s here. Shirley’s figure drawings show such sensitivity for the human form and Pat’s work is strong and unique. She draws on an iPad using a digital tool meant for drawing and filling shapes, not making lines. It seems extra challenging to me, but gives her line work a really dynamic look.

One funny thing about Pat who I only knew through our blogs…I didn’t realize until I saw her gentle face that I had pictured her looking the way she draws people, with thick, edgy, sharp, black outlines!

To be continued….