Train Trip to the California State Railroad Museum

1908 Train #112 Redwood Empire Route, ink & watercolor, 5x10"

1908 Train #112 Redwood Empire Route, ink & watercolor, 5x10"

Our sketch group took a train trip to Sacramento and visited the California State Railroad Museum. The enormous building ( 225,000 square feet) contains many full-sized trains. This one called out to me so after looking around a bit, I sat against a pillar on the hard floor and started drawing.

I used pencil first to get the basic shapes down since it was so complicated. Then I switched to ink and the time flew by. A friendly docent started talking to me and I realized I only had a few minutes left before we had to leave for our train ride home, so I quickly added watercolor, which I touched up a bit when I got home.

Micaela and Susan sketching on the train

Micaela and Susan sketching on the train ride

The museum has a Pullman-style sleeping car, a dining car, and a Railway Post Office, all of which you can walk through, along with many life-size displays demonstrating railroad life in the early years of California. I especially liked the little telegraph office with the lady at her desk with a little dish holding egg shells and a salt shaker from her breakfast. She must have had to work long hours in her lonely outpost. Click here to take a 360 Virtual Tour of the museum (or go in person—it’s fantastic!)

Davis Train Station as it rolled by

Davis Train Station as it rolled by

We walked from the train museum to the train station for our ride back home. When we  stopped at the Davis station I tried to draw it. But it must have been a “whistle stop.” I barely had time to sketch the tree and a bit of the lamp-post when we were rolling again.

Amtrak Conductor, Capitol Corridor: People at Work Series

Capitol Corridor Amtrak Conductor, Oil on stretched canvas, 16x12"

Capitol Corridor Amtrak Conductor, Oil on stretched canvas, 16x12"

When my Urban Sketchers group took the train to Sacramento for some sketching (posted here and here) I made a pest of myself taking pictures of our conductor, chasing him around the train and station. A train conductor for over 40 years, he kindly put up with me.

The painting above is my second attempt at painting the conductor (after working and reworking and eventually abandoning a previous canvas). I painted this in one day, intending to return and finish it after putting in my time at my “day job.” When I returned to the studio I realized that I’d said what I wanted to say with the painting and had nothing more to add. I was done.

This was really thrilling as it helped to reinforce my recent discovery that the path I want to follow in oil painting is to work directly, alla prima (all at once).  I find it so much more fun than fussing around with many layers, for many days, until everything is “perfect” (otherwise known as overworked, over-detailed and ultimately, boring to look at it because there’s nothing for the viewer’s mind to contribute).

Below is my unfinished, abandoned first attempt (scraped and repainted multiple times) from a dim, blurry bad photo shot with poor lighting inside the train.

Incomplete first attempt, oil on canvas 16x12"

Incomplete first attempt, oil on canvas 16x12"

I included way too much of the train in the composition because I was interested in the light and reflections on the ceiling. But painting all those seats was really boring. Eventually I figured out this version just wasn’t going to work and I started over with a better photo, cropped in more closely, for the painting at the top of the post.

I’ve been taking photos of people at work in my neighborhood that will be part of this series. Next up the butcher and the coffee barista.

Urban Sketcher Trip to Sacramento Part II

Tower Bridge over Sacramento River, ink & watercolor

Tower Bridge over Sacramento River, ink & watercolor

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, we left the Crocker and walked a few blocks to Sacramento’s Old Town to meet up with Urban Sketcher Pete Scully who lives nearby in Davis. Then we all stopped to draw this beautiful bridge, which is actually painted with gold metallic paint, unlike the Golden Gate Bridge which is painted a red-orange, and is not gold at all.

Eagle Theater, ink & watercolor

Eagle Theatre, ink & watercolor

Old Town is several square blocks of restored Gold-Rush era buildings with board walks instead of sidewalks, old trains, horse-drawn carriages, and a few people in costume like this woman (who, when I asked if I could sketch her, told me she was just waiting for her husband to come out of the restroom, and indeed left after 5 minutes). It’s very rustic, and while a bit touristy, is not nearly as bad as Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Sacramento Amtrak Station Exterior

Sacramento Amtrak Station Exterior

My last sketch of the day was the exterior of the Amtrak station in Sacramento. The building is very ornate and I would have liked to spend more time accurately capturing some of the details but my eyes were burning from some nearby idling diesel buses so had to go indoors.

There’s a Starbucks at the other end of this block-long building and I ran down there to get a latte for the ride home and then almost missed the train. On the trip back we shared our sketchbooks and relaxed; such a pleasure compared to driving.  I want to plan some more train sketching trips soon!

Be sure to also check out Pete Scully’s sketches of the day on his blog and Cathy and Sonia’s sketches on our Bay Area Urban Sketchers blog.

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