Building Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Places Sketchbook Pages Urban Sketchers

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?

Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Landscape Outdoors/Landscape Painting Places Sketchbook Pages Urban Sketchers

Roof Garden Lunch at the Cathedral, Oakland


Lunch in the Cathedral Garden, ink & watercolor
Lunch in the Cathedral Garden, ink & watercolor


Every now and then I manage to get out of the office at lunch time long enough to eat and even sketch for a few minutes. Across the street from our office building is a huge modern cathedral that looks more like a concrete prison with an upside down glass ship on the roof.

Their roof garden follows the concrete theme, with a sort of maze of square concrete planters with benches that force you to sit straight upright on them. But there are trees, shrubbery, and perfectly maintained grass (a delightful treat to pull off sandals and enjoy on bare feet).

I keep wondering why I never see any birds in the roof garden even though it is across the street from Lake Merritt which is a bird refuge, full of pigeons, waterfowl, pelicans, egrets and more. And it is kitty-corner from Snow Park favored by huge flocks of Canadian geese and pigeons (and always covered in big slimy goose turds). Do the guards chase the birds away? Are pigeons Catholic?

Update: I wrote to the Cathedral’s contact person and she explained why there are no birds: “With regard to the birds, I think the main reason for the lack thereof is the cleanliness of the facility. Birds will congregate wherever there is food. Our janitorial staff is always sweeping and keeping the grounds neat and clean.” It’s true, the place is very clean.

Animals Ink and watercolor wash People Photos Places Sketchbook Pages

Lion Door Guard and Cathy’s Bike Guy

The Lion Doorguard & Cathy's Bike Guy
The Lion Door Guard

Here is the lion that guards the door at the hotel beside the chubby cherubs on Harrison Street. I love his big nose and stylized fist. I sketched this from the photo on my monitor from across the room, to simulate drawing from life as best I could. I did a complete pencil sketch with shading and then drew over that with my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and then decided to erase all the pencil shading and paint him with watercolor. Here’s a photo of the building.

Cherubs & Lions on Harrison
Cherubs & Lions on Harrison

A couple weeks ago when I posted my sketches from the library and Peet’s Coffee I mentioned the old man in a weathered, WWII leather aviator cap and his 1940s era bicycle that Cathy sketched. I adored the way she captured this funny old character who was selling bike parts to a young man so I asked her to send me scans. She did, and now I get to post them below.

Cathy's sketch of the bike guy
Cathy's sketch of the bike guy
Cathy's sketch of bike guy's ride
Cathy's sketch of bike guy's ride
Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Sketchbook Pages

Chubby Cherubs on Harrison

Chubby Cherub on Harrison, watercolor
Chubby Cherub on Harrison, watercolor

These angels guard the entry of an old residential hotel at 2332 Harrison Street in Oakland between my office and Whole Foods, along with a pair of vicious, brass lions (coming soon). As I passed by on the way to lunch, the light and shadows on the angels intrigued me.

Angel on Harrison, graphite
Angel on Harrison, graphite

Although I always prefer to draw from life I didn’t have time on this work day so I took a photo. When I looked at the image on my monitor I found the shape and detail so confusing that I decided to sketch in pencil first instead of my usual ink. It felt like sculpting since as I sketched and shaded shapes of dark and light and saw form began to appear.

My initial drawing needed a lot of correcting because I’d given the angel adult proportions instead of a child’s so it looked like a pot-bellied, naked man instead of a cherub. For some reason we think chubby cherubs are cute holding up pots with their heads on buildings, but fat, naked, old men, not so much.

Then I started over on the facing page in my sketchbook, drawing in ink and adding watercolor. I think I got his proportions better in the second one. The graphite angel still looks too old, like a teen angel maybe?

Questioning Cherubs

I wasn’t raised with religion so I am completely ignorant about angels and their tribe. Are there girl cherubs too or are they all boys? Why? Why are cherubs usually depicted as chubby? What happens to cherubs when they grow up? Do they become angels? Or do they not age?

I googled “Chubby Cherub” looking for the answers and found information about “Chubby Cherub, the worst video game of 1987” and this Wikipedia entry that says according to some linguistic and bible scholars, this is what cherubs are really meant to look like:

What Cherubs Really Look Like?
A "Real" Cherub?

and that they were often displayed sitting calmly guarding entrances as in this image:

Guarding angels
Guarding angels?

If you like reading about the source of words, language, and myths, and how they evolve over time, check out the Wikipedia page about cherubs. I found it fascinating.

Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Life in general Painting Shop windows

It’s a Beautiful Life! New Year’s Reflections (Not Resolutions)

Bella Vita Window, Oakland, Ink & Watercolor
Bella Vita Window, Oakland, Ink & Watercolor

Yesterday I was taking a walk from the art supply store (where I bought some bookbinding supplies for my first attempt to bind my own journal) to a tea shop on College Avenue in Oakland, when I saw this window display at a store called Bella Vita, whose tagline begins “Unexpected Inspiration…”

Bella Vita Unexpected Inspiration, ink & watercolor
Bella Vita: Unexpected Inspiration, ink & watercolor

The display carried me away, especially the amazing yellow chiffon dress that inspired thoughts of everything from lemon meringue pie to Marilyn Monroe. I pictured myself in the dress, and wondered what kind of party I might be attending and who I would be if I were wearing that happy frock.

It was New Years eve day but my evening would not include flirting at parties in a heavenly yellow dress. I planned to spend the evening in the studio, reflecting on years coming and going while tearing and folding paper to begin my bookbinding project.

So as I gazed into the window I knew I had to sketch it. When I finished drawing I noticed their other window: equally imagination-inspiring outfits for little girls: a tutu, ruffly-necked tee-shirts, tiny cowboy boots and an embroidered Indian Kurta paired with ruffled leggings. Had to draw that window too.

Oh to be a little girl again! Ruffles and Cowboy Boots!
Oh to be a little girl again! Ruffles and Cowboy Boots!

I looked up Bella Vita to make sure of the translation and landed on this page about the dangers of getting tattoos written in foreign languages:

Exercise caution when it comes to the popular Italian phrase “life is beautiful” which many people, including Lindsay Lohan, have been getting recently. “La vita e bella” is the correct translation, and even though it uses the same words, some people have been getting “la bella vita” which actually translates to “the beautiful life“, and is used in Italy to describe someone who is living a life of wealth, throwing parties and spending extravagant amounts of money. [oops!]

New Years Reflections

I was inspired by my friend Barbara who, in early retirement, has nearly mastered the Zen art of goal-lessness and learned to enjoy each day doing what pleases her, whether it’s making art, reading, gardening, cooking, hiking, or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. So instead of a list of my accomplishments (artistic or otherwise) in 2009 or a list of goals for 2010, here are my New Year’s Reflections from my journal, written at the end of my rather bumpy, grumpy, slumpy holiday vacation (so it’s a bit of a pep talk to myself).

  • When the time is your own, don’t ask “What should I do…” Ask:  “What will make me happy?” It might be art making, playing, watching clouds float by, learning and challenging myself or doing things that aren’t fun but that will make me happy when I can enjoy the results. It’s my life and I get to pick.
  • I’ve moped over not getting done most of what I wanted to do in the studio over this two-week vacation. But the truth is, there will NEVER BE ENOUGH TIME to do it all. So instead of regretting what didn’t get done or worrying about not having enough time tomorrow, enjoy THIS precious moment.
  • Time is just an arbitrary construct. It’s useful. Without time, everything would happen all at once. This moment is fleeting. Live it and love it.
  • Buddhists say that attachment (wanting what you don’t or can’t have) is a cause of suffering. So don’t suffer: look around now at all the abundance and be grateful.
  • Winter is dark, but the days are getting longer. Soon it will be Spring and…. Oops, don’t long for spring, enjoy this precious, wintery day.
  • Are you enjoying NOW? Ask yourself what you need to enjoy it and then go after what you need: Acceptance? Gratitude? Courage? Action? Inaction? Knowledge? Rest? Help? Hugs?
  • Turn off the panel of critics and quit judging and comparing your work to others. The best work you can do is YOURS to do. It’s too late to ever be as good as so-and-so at this and that. Just be as good as YOU at what YOU do and keep getting better…and have fun getting there.
  • It’s a beautiful life!
Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Interiors Life in general People Places Sketchbook Pages

Quickie Dinner at Whole Foods, Oakland

Dinner at Whole Foods, Ink & watercolor, 8x5"
Dinner at Whole Foods, Ink & watercolor, 8x5"

Last night I needed to grab a quickie dinner between work and a 7:00 meeting so I stopped at the nearby Oakland Whole Foods. I looked over the salad bar,  passed up the make your own trail munch bar (?!) and the soul food bar with pulled pork, black-eyed peas and greens, seriously considered the Indian and Chinese bars but settled on some pretty, steamed organic veges and some Mexican items.

The dining area was hopping with activity, filled with a perfect sampling of Oakland’s demographics, with people of all ages, races, preferences, and functionality. I ate quickly so I’d have a few minutes to sketch the view from my table. Then I ran out of time and had to leave, so I added watercolor at home.

And now I’m on vacation! Yay

Drawing Landscape Outdoors/Landscape Places Plein Air Sketchbook Pages Sketchercize

Sketching Lake Merritt, Oakland

Lake Merritt View, Copic Sepia Multiliner
Lake Merritt View, Copic Sepia Multiliner

Last week I took advantage of quick sketchers Martha and Cathy being away to spend an hour working on one image instead of constantly moving from one spot to the next. This was a really complex scene and the more I drew the more details appeared to draw.

By the time I finished, Sonia (who did several sketches of different views from the same spot) and I were so cold we decided to head home. I work right across the street from the lake and doing this drawing helped me to see what an amazing resource I have for sketching right outside my door.

Lunchtime Sketching Lake Merritt Birds
Lunchtime Sketching Lake Merritt Birds

The next day at lunch, instead of eating in the kitchen with my colleagues, I took my sketchbook and went for a walk by the lake. My plan was to sketchercize: walk for 15 minutes, do a sketch, and walk 15 minutes back, getting in a 30 minute walk. But 5 minutes from the office I saw a row of Double-Crested Cormorants all lined up drying their wings in the sun as if they were on clotheslines.

(Cormorants are easily identified because they’re the only waterbirds that sit in the sun with their wings spread, hanging their feathers out to dry.  They lack an oil gland for preening, so their feathers get waterlogged when they swim under water.)

After I sketched a cormorant and walked a few minutes more, a gaggle of goofy geese were all lined up at the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for someone to decide what to do next, and they needed sketching.

Walking back to the office I came across a foot-high rock with a bronze plaque on it that said “Leon Olsen loved to walk here.” What a great way to honor someone. A memorial walk rock!