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A Cold Walk by Macaroni Grill, El Cerrito

Macaroni Grill on a cold day, ink & watercolor
Macaroni Grill on a cold day, ink & watercolor

On the last dayof vacation before returning to work, the world outside my windows looked raw, blustery and wet after a frost-covered morning. Hibernating sounded good, but I was feeling uninspired and blah and could tell if I stayed home I was just going to mope around. Since I needed to pick up my my sunglasses from the optometrist, I decided to walk up there.

I almost turned back after the first couple of blocks. My ears were cold and my feet were complaining. But I kept going and eventually began to perk up and enjoy myself. By the time I got to Peets Coffee (a mile later and across the street from my eye doctor’s office in El Cerrito Plaza) I was feeling enthusiastic and cheerful.  With a hot latte in my hand, I sat at a cafe table outside Peets and sketched this odd chain restaurant across the street.

I ate there once when it first opened (I was curious about the new restaurant in my neighborhood) and enjoyed it, but have never been able to get anyone to go back there with me. With so many unique and trendy restaurants in the Berkeley area, I suppose there’s really no reason to go to a “big box” version of an Italian restaurant, though people do seem to pack the place on weekends.

But I’ve always had an aversion to stupid business names, and the name “Macaroni Grill” irks me. I keep picturing the chef trying to grill slippery macaroni and cheese, with all the noodles falling through the grill grates. When I was a kid I remember being annoyed by a hair salon named “Lipstick Beauty Parlor,” which I thought made no sense.

New Sunglasses
New Sunglasses

While I was waiting at the optometris’ts office, I started sketching a stand that holds many pairs of eye glasses. There were too many tiny, overlapping details and I wasn’t really interested. Fortunately the optician arrived with my glasses so I stopped. When I got home, instead of leaving a partially messed up page I turned the page 90 degrees and added a quick sketch of my sunglasses (from memory) and then stuck myself in them.

Drawing Flower Art Gouache Painting Still Life

Playing with my flowers


White ink, gouache on black Canford paper 10″x8″ (larger)

I got home from work just as my painting group was arriving for our weekly painting session in my studio. I grabbed a quick bowl of shredded wheat for dinner, fed the cats and plopped this little vase of white flowers on my drawing table.

I looked at the dainty, delicate white flowers, and feeling a little rebellious decided to draw them with white ink (using my favorite white ink pen, a Uni-ball Signo) on black paper, with no idea what I’d do after that. This was a “let’s try this and that and see what happens” sort of thing.

Once I had the drawing I decided to fool around with adding a little gouache. Just for fun I stopped before I’d covered all the petals, leaving some random black spots.

What I discovered is how much fun it is to paint with gouache on a dark background, which I’d never done before. It reminded me of those cool coloring books I always wanted (but rarely got) when I was a kid where you painted with water and the painting appeared magically.

It might have been a “better” painting if I’d paid attention to value, composition, light, etc. but tonight I just felt like playing like a kid, not trying to make a good painting.

Here’s the drawing without the gouache:

Which do you like better?

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Organic Bananas, The FURminator & Blindness

Organic Bananas

Watercolor on Arches Cold-Pressed paper in 5.5 x 7.5 sketchbook

After working half the day I decided to finally vacuum my house since I was feeling sleepy and not particular creative and the house and studio sorely needed cleaning. I’ve been contentedly choosing painting over housecleaning for too long, and the cat hair was piling up. So I dusted, vacuumed, washed the throw rugs, brushed the kitties with a great new cat and dog brush, the FURminator, that thoroughly removes the undercoat and ends shedding for weeks (the pictures on their website don’t lie–it’s amazing how much fur comes off the first time).

After dinner I was still sleepy but knew I’d be sad if I just turned on the TV and had no fun in the studio at all today. So I grabbed the only produce left in the kitchen (I’ve also been putting off the grocery shopping) and painted these bananas.

While I painted I was listening to a fascinating book, Crashing Through, about a man who was blinded at the age of 3, became a downhill speed skier, an entrepeneur, married, had kids, and a great life. Then he was given the historical opportunity to try an experimental surgery and become one of only 20 people in the history of the world who, after a lifetime of total blindness, had his sight restored, via a stem cell and corneal transplant. The book provides really interesting information about vision and how we make sense of what we see, from distance perception, to 3-dimensionality, to recognizing faces and expressions. It turns out it actually has to do with parts of the brain rather than the eyes and is learned in infancy.

A lot of that information is useful for painting. When the author explains how the brain uses visual clues to judge distance, these are the same things artists use to create the illusion of depth and distance in paintings. These include objects getting smaller the further away they are, closeness to the horizon (the further away or taller something is, the closer to the horizon it is), aerial perspective (the effect of moisture and particles in the air between the distant object and the viewer that causes distant objects to appear grayer, cooler, paler than closer objects), linear perspective, and occlusion (one thing in front of another).

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More Last Tomatoes

The Last Tomatoes in a Bowl

Watercolor on Arches 140 lb hot press paper drawn first in blue Micron Pigma pen, 5.5″ 7.5″

Yesterday I cleaned up my four tomato plants, removing all the dead leaves and icky, gooshy tomatoes (without screaming once — squooshy, slimey things scare me) and was delighted to discover an abundance of still quite lovely tomatoes, ripe and ready to be picked. I was sure when I painted the last bunch of tomatoes that they were truly the last, but we’ve had some wonderful summer weather all over again and the tomatoes just keep on doing their thing.

I piled them in this old stoneware bowl and stuck them in the fridge. I’ve been working on an oil painting family portrait (more about that tomorrow) and have been neglecting my blog. So I decided to stop working on the oil painting, and loosen up with the tomatoes and some watercolor in my sketchbook.

Now back to the portrait. If I don’t finish it tomorrow I’ll post the work in progress. The painting was inspired by looking through some baby pictures of my son with his father and grandfather that we wanted to bring on a visit to my father-in-law. He’s been very ill and on Thursday night he thoroughly enjoyed seeing the pictures (and us). I was hoping to finish the painting before he died and to share it with him but sadly/blessedly he passed away this morning. If the painting turns out well enough, I’ll bring it to his memorial. In the meantime it’s been a blessing for me to lovingly paint his smiling face, knowing it would not be visible much longer.

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Subway Drawings & Mom Visit

Subway Drawing -bart41

Chubby cyclist. He was so stuffed into his clothes it must have been uncomfortable — but I give him lots of credit for riding his bike to and from the BART station instead of driving there like I do.
All drawings Micron Pigma pen in small Moleskine notebook

Subway Drawing -bart39

Sound asleep and resting comfortably after a long day.

Subway Drawing - bart40

She figured out I was drawing her and gave me a big smile as she got off. I didn’t have time to finish her bearded partner though I wished I did. He had a lovely gentle face.

It’s been a crazy week at work leaving me no energy to draw or paint in the evening. My mother ( see her artwork from the 50s here) arrives tonight for a nearly weeklong visit. I’m hoping to do some drawing while she’s here and I start a plein air painting workshop on Sunday with Elio Camacho.