Oakland’s Lake Chalet Plus Drawing Rocks and Milk Cartons

Lake Chalet on Lake Merritt, Oakland. Ink & watercolor, 5x7.5"

Lake Chalet (and Plumbing) on Lake Merritt, Oakland. Ink & watercolor, 5×7.5″

Lake Chalet was originally built over 100 years ago as a high-pressure salt water pumping station for the Oakland Fire Department. In 1913, two wings were added to serve as boathouses. In 2009 the building was transformed into a lively restaurant and bar with outdoor seating on the docks behind it on the lake.

What attracted me to draw this scene wasn’t the lovely building; it was the multiple plumbing features on the grass that slopes down to the restaurant from the sidewalk where I sat to draw. And of course the antique street lights that circle the lake.

Milk at Picante, ink & watercolor, 5x5"

Milk Carton at Picante, ink & watercolor, 5×5″

I struggled trying to draw these two milk cartons so issued a challenge to the other sketchers at my table to draw them too. We all had different views of the cartons set in the middle of the table so it was fun to see the variety of approaches and points of view.

Drawing Rocks Practice on Sculpture at Oakland Museum, ink & watercolor, 5x7x5"

Drawing Rocks Practice on Sculpture at Oakland Museum, ink & watercolor, 5x7x5″

After a workshop on drawing rocks (part of John Muir Laws’ Bay Area Nature Journal Club) Susan and I walked down to the Oakland Museum’s sculpture garden, looking for rocks to practice on. The only rock-like object we could find was this clay sculpture. It’s so helpful to practice new concepts before they slip from my mind, as most things do these days.

The Exotic Loring Cafe and On a Starbucks Bag

Loring Cafe, Oakland, ink & watercolor, 8x10"

Loring Cafe, Oakland, ink & watercolor, 8×10″

Oakland’s Loring Cafe has the most eclectic decor and architecture I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. In addition to the arches, pillars, sculptures, palms and vibrant lighting, the restroom is like a brick-covered Hobbit house with no sink. To wash your hands you step out of the restroom where there is a large, round, stainless steel, multi-user industrial sink with little signs explaining how to turn on the faucets and get soap. Quite a unique washroom experience!

I’m glad I had my jumbo Moleskine watercolor journal with me since there was so much to capture in one drawing (above).

Sketched at Starbucks on Starbucks Pastry Bag

Sketched at Starbucks on Starbucks Pastry Bag

As my note in the sketch above says, I was just recovering from a bad cold and was so tired after my walk to return movies to the video store I had to stop at Starbucks to sit before I could walk back home.  I’m always grateful there are still video stores to provide entertainment during an illness. The only good thing about being sick is the opportunity to catch up on movies. Fortunately I don’t get sick often, and this sketch was done back in April. I think I’m caught up now on old sketches.

Oakland Museum: View From Sculpture Garden

View from Oakland Museum Sculpture Garden, ink & watercolor, 8x10"

View from Oakland Museum Sculpture Garden, ink & watercolor, 8×10″

After my monthly workshop at the Oakland Museum, with John Muir Laws and his Bay Area Nature Journal Club, I stayed to sketch in the beautiful sculpture garden. There are lovely trees and plantings, colorful sculptures and interesting urban views. The building with the flag atop it is the County Courthouse on the next block.

I also visited the fabulous “Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Lui exhibit.” The show features several rooms of her very large paintings plus early sketchbooks and painting studies completed in China before she came to the U.S. in 1984. The film of her painting with luscious juicy paint (and her signature drips) made me want to run to the studio and pick up a brush.

Oakland Chinatown Sketch and Group Photo (Plus One)

Oakland Chinatown, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Oakland Chinatown, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

Early on the morning after Thanksgiving our Urban Sketchers group went to Oakland’s Chinatown for some sketching. It was business as usual in the busy produce markets, herb shops, meat and seafood stalls, and Chinese restaurants, with no sign of Black Friday.

I found a spot to sit in front of a bank and had fun drawing all the details in the architecture. I started in pencil because the scene seemed so complicated. It’s easier to get it “right” with an eraser but it takes so much longer to draw it twice, in pencil and then in ink. I had to add the watercolor at home from a photo because by the time I chose my spot and did the drawing, it was time to meetup with the group.

While I drew, local people stopped to watch and give me encouragement, whether in excellent or broken English. My favorite was the plump, elderly lady who said something in Chinese, grinned, and gave me a big thumbs up. The amazing thing about sketching in public is that no matter how good or bad you’re doing, people always say nice, encouraging things.


Chinatown-some of the Urban Sketchers plus-1 (that’s me, second to right)

Since many of us were there, we took photos for our group blog. I used the timer on my camera, setting it on the edge of a defunct fountain in the center of this plaza. I didn’t realize I was including the lady on the end. She must have been really tired as she nodded off and slept through our photo session. The photo we ultimately used on the USK blog masthead here was kindly taken by a guy who watched me repeatedly duck under the yellow warning tape around the fountain, set up the camera, and dash back to sit with my friends.

The Actual Cafe and Neighborhood

Around the Corner from Actual Cafe, ink & watercolor 6x8"

Around the Corner from Actual Cafe, ink & watercolor 6×8″

When we arrived at the Actual Cafe in Oakland to sketch, the sun was just starting to set. It seemed a shame to go indoors while it was still nice out so we sketched around the corner from the cafe first. Even though it’s in a rundown neighborhood, this house had some charm, with its pillars and rounded porch roof.

Susan Ford's Sketch of Me Sketching

Susan Ford’s Sketch of Me Sketching

While I was sketching the house, Susan was sketching me sketching the house (above). She also got the house next door and the cute car as well.

Actual Cafe Espresso machine and counter, ink & watercolor, 6x8"

Actual Cafe Espresso machine and counter, ink & watercolor, 6×8″

And then we went inside. I had a delicious cappuccino (decaf these days) and sketched their snazzy Italian espresso machine. As you may have noticed, these are from September; I’m still trying to get caught up on posting sketches and paintings but I just keep making more. That’s a good thing, right?

Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Day of the Dead) Oakland

Aztec Dancer wearing animal head, fur and feathers

Aztec Dancer waiting; wearing animal head (coyote? wolf?),  fur and feathers, ink & watercolor, 8×5″ (drawn from Micaela’s photo, not on site)

LOUD DRUMMING! Brilliant Colors! Aztec Dancers! Smoke from sage (and other “herbs”) and grilling meat! LOUD Bands! Dancers! LOUD Spanish radio stations broadcasting live! Sugar skulls! Costumes and painted faces! Marigolds everywhere!

I followed the man in the sketch above after he finished dancing, trying to get a photo or a sketch of him and failed, meanwhile losing my fellow sketchers in the crowd. Micaela managed to get a photo which she let me use for this sketch.

Blessing with sage smoke and feathers, ink & watercolor, 8x5"

People of all descriptions lined up to be blessed with sage smoke and feathers, (drawn from my photo, not onsite) ink & watercolor, 8×5″

It was the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in East Oakland and I felt like I was in Mexico. Spanish was the  language heard everywhere. Families came to celebrate and honor their loved ones who had passed on with beautiful altars filled with marigolds, fruit, religious imagery and mementos of loved ones.

1948 Chevy Decoto Fleetline,  ink & watercolor, 5x8" (drawn on site, painted at home)

1948 Chevy Fleetline, drawn in ink on site, painted at home (5×8″)

I was finding it difficult to sketch at the festival since it was so LOUD my ears hurt and so crowded we kept losing each other. Being tall, I didn’t want to stand in front of someone’s booth or altar and block the view. Then I found the wonderful old low rider car show at the edge of the event which was much quieter and less crowded. I set up my stool and started sketching directly with a Micron Pigma pen.

People stood behind me and watched me draw. They said nice things about my sketch, including the owners of the car, Jose and Denise, even though my sketch turned their meticulously restored, beautiful work of art into a jalopy.

My first car when I was in high school was a ’49 Plymouth (it was already an antique) and looked a lot like this sketch. To get to school in the morning my sister would have to push it until I could “pop the clutch” to start it. Then she’d run after me and hop in. I was afraid to tell my dad that it wouldn’t start on its own—I thought I’d broken something but it just needed a new battery. I was sad when the motor died.

Boy who likes to draw cartoons watched me sketch

Boy who likes to draw cartoons watched me (in blue hat) sketch

This young man stood behind me and watched me draw so I offered him a notebook to try his hand at sketching the car but he declined. He said he didn’t know how to draw cars but liked to draw cartoons. I said I didn’t know how to draw cars either, but just did it anyway.

There were booths selling decorated skulls made of sugar, beautiful little skeletons in fancy dress, paper cut-outs, hats, jewelry and even paintings on black velvet of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis as skeletons.

Aztec Dancers, brush pen ink

Aztec Dancers, brush pen ink

Sugar skulls, little skeleton ladies and a view looking down from BART tracks when we were departing

Sugar skulls, little skeleton ladies and a view looking down from BART tracks when we were departing

Painted faces everywhere

Painted faces everywhere

Sugar candy skulls

Sugar candy skulls; they added your name on top for free

Pretty skeleton dolls

Pretty skeleton dolls

Aztec Dancer

Aztec Dancer

One of the amazing altars at the festival

One of the many amazing altars at the festival

Taco Bike at Fairyland and Japanese Garden at Lake Merritt

Taco Bike at Fairyland, ink & watercolor, 8x6"

Taco Bike at Fairyland, ink & watercolor, 8×6″

The $2.00 taco was delicious, made to order from the box mounted to Taco Bike. As I look at my sketch above I am wondering: there must have been a third wheel on the other side of the cart. Otherwise it would be impossible to ride and balance, no? And they did ride it in to the park.

My plein air group was meeting at Oakland’s Lakeside Garden Center, but when I parked at Fairyland across the from the garden I decided to start there. It is a small amusement park where children create their own amusement in storybook-themed play areas/structures.

Fairyland Parade and Sliding Hill, ink & watercolor 8x6"

Fairyland Parade and Sliding Hill, ink & watercolor 8×6″

I hadn’t been there since my kids were little; adults aren’t usually allowed in without kids but this day Fairyland was hosting the Childrens’ Hospital Anniversary celebration and everyone was allowed in. I tried to sketch a parade (above) as it zipped by. Behind the parade are children sliding on cardboard down a little grassy hill and balloons everywhere.

At the other end of Fairyland a radio station was emceeing the event over loudspeakers. They introduced a guy who performed annoying kids’ songs who was followed by blasting Latin music and someone shrieking “TURN, TURN, SHIMMY, WHOOEEE!!! WHOOP WHOOP! TURN, TURN!…” I later learned this was a Zumba demo.

Japanese Garden at Lake Merritt, ink & watercolor, 6x8"

Japanese Garden at Lake Merritt, ink & watercolor and white gel pen, 6×8″

All morning I’d felt a migraine coming on and the Zumba shouting was the last straw. I headed over to the Japanese garden in the Lakeside Garden Center. The peaceful setting and sound of the waterfall soothed my achey head long enough to sketch and paint the scene.

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