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

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Edgar Payne's Ford, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Edgar Payne’s Paintings and His Plein Air Ford

Edgar Payne's Ford, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Edgar Payne's Ford, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

On our sketching trip to Sacramento we visited theEdgar Payne painting exhibit at the Crocker Museum. Above is my sketch of the beautiful old Ford he used to get to plein air painting sites. According to the brief video they showed he also frequently traveled by mule. I only had a few minutes to sketch the car so I painted it when I got home.

You can see the photo of the car and some of my favorite paintings from the show below. His compositions (he wrote the book  Composition of Outdoor Painting) and his use of warm and cool colors to create a sense of light and depth are fantastic to see in person.

My New Remodeled Art Studio Tour (at last!)

Looking out to the deck

View from inside looking out to the deck

Hi! Come on in and let me show you around my new studio. The concept for the studio began in 2000 when I bought my cottage, a 1940s duplex. I planned to use the front unit as my home and the rear unit as my studio while still working at my “day job.” When the time came that I could leave to paint full time, I planned to rent out the back apartment for extra income and convert the 400 square foot garage to my studio.

The rear unit studio was wonderful and I spent many happy hours painting and teaching there. But the new studio is even better! Even though it’s near my house, it’s completely separate so the distractions of laundry, dishes and computer; the nagging of cats for dinner; email and phone calls disappear and painting time flows uninterrupted.

Before the tour, here are “before” pictures of its former life as a grease-monkey garage where my son worked on cars.

The 1970 Firebird Cody was restoring in my garage

The garage before it was transformed and the 1970 Firebird Cody was (still is) restoring

The bare garage walls had 40 years of grease and grime and Bondo dust and the concrete floor was badly stained and cracked. The only electricity came in from an extension cord.

Huge Chevy engine and garage full of tools (and grease)

Huge engine under construction

Backyard before door and deck

Backyard before door and deck

The only entrance was the heavy and awkward sliding barn doors on the driveway side of the garage. Now I’ve transformed the old garage from a place for pursuing a passion for pistons to a passion for paint.

Deck and door to studio

Deck and door to studio

I added the doors and deck (though the contractor’s mistakes led to it not being a two-steps up raised deck as planned–but it is level unlike how it seems in the photo). The high-maintenance funky grass is gone, replaced by gold fines which makes it feel like a beach. Now it’s a great place to set up a still life and paint outdoors and I love eating lunch and reading out here too.

Here is a 6 minute video tour, and below that, pictures with more detail.

In the video and photos below, you can see that I love good art tools. I have collected this studio equipment and supplies over many years of painting. Much of it I bought secondhand or long ago.  Read More

Port Costa Post Office and Bikers

Port Costa Post Office, ink and watercolor, 5x7"

Port Costa Post Office, ink and watercolor, 5x7"

Port Costa is a strange, tiny, rundown town and a popular destination for motorcyclists out riding the winding roads in herds on noisy Harleys. At the end of  town, by the railroad tracks and behind their cracked and crumbling Post Office I sketched above, is the Warehouse Cafe, a seedy bar in a ramshackle warehouse with cheap, stiff drinks, a funky outdoor deck, and a surly female bartender (perfectly described in this collection of hilarious Yelp reviews).

Port Costa Bikers Saddling Up

Port Costa Bikers Saddling Up in Front of Post Office

The bikers roar into town, have themselves a breakfast beer or two and ride out. While they seemed like a bunch of  tough, old burn-out guys with beer guts and women who looked “rode hard and put away wet,” they were very polite when I asked them questions about their (very expensive) bikes.

Bikers Lining up to Leave (Arrow is where I was sitting to sketch)

Bikers Lining up to Leave (Arrow is where I was sitting to sketch)

It turned out that the corner where I was sketching (red arrow in photo) is where they line up before tearing out of town in a caravan of ear-splitting noise, leaving behind a cloud of flying dust and gravel from the barely paved road. I had to pull my sweatshirt over my face and plug my ears every time a group tore off. My friend Beth Bourland posted some great pics of the day here including one of me so focused sketching I didn’t even know she took the picture.

Besides the bikers, it’s a fun place to paint so my plein air group meets there once a year. And then same thing always happens: we set up for our critique on the patio at the Warehouse Bar and just as we start to talk about the day’s work, they crank up the music on the outdoor speakers so loud that we can’t hear a thing and have to move all our stuff down the street to a quieter spot. Is it a coincidence? Does their music always go full blast at 1:15? Or are they trying to keep away the wrong sort of customers (us)?

Golden Gate Live Steamers Train Meet at Tilden Park

Steam Train Medley from multiple sketches

Steam Train Meet Medley from multiple sketches

A few weeks ago Cathy and I were sketching guests at the Spring Meet of the Golden Gate Live Steamers Club in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. The train people were as curious about us as we were about them, and they wanted to see what we were doing. I usually don’t care when people look at my sketches, but I was drawing their trains that they had lovingly built from scratch, designing and engineering everything from the wood-burning boilers to the screws that held them together. It was like drawing their children—one thing out of place and they would know it.

Train guys

Train guys

Many of their members maintain and operate trains that their fathers or grandfathers built and they are now apprenticing their sons in the craft. Over the years the club has built a complete course of tracks with trestles, tunnels, and small buildings to match the 1.5″-to-the-foot scale of the trains. You can see photos and videos on their website including this one below of me sketching at the meet (much to my surprise!) Read More

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