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Sunday, November 26, 2017


Hollywood was originally dubbed Hollywoodland, by a real estate mogul's wife who just "liked the sound of it." Later the "land" was dropped, a sign was built and the moniker "Tinseltown" emerged as movie industry took over the neighborhood in early part of the twentieth century.  It's really the kind of place I would hate if I wasn't a sketcher. As a sketcher, it's a bonanza.

Last year around this time I sketched the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  It left me hungry to go back, so I was delighted when the Los Angeles Urban Sketchers chose Hollywood and Highland Complex as the location for the 24-hour global sketch crawl.

My first stop was Babylon Courtyard with it's majestic elephants, and hieroglyphic wall amid an outdoor shopping mall.  These elephants are so awesome I drew them several times. They were first used on the set of the film Intolerance in 1916.

Wandering out to the street I found a mass of tourists, surging on the Avenue of the Stars amidst street sellers, performers and costumed characters.

I saw signs of the movie industry everywhere I looked- theaters surrounded me, human-sized Oscar mannequins offered photo ops; glitz and glamour flashed incessantly.

I quickly sketched another landmark, the Roosevelt Hotel, the oldest continually operating hotel in Los Angeles. In its heyday it was the favorite for many celebrities. Marilyn Monroe had a poolside room. Some have reported seeing her ghost in the mirror of that room. The Roosevelt has also appeared in many movies -- Wall Street and Maid in Manhattan being two. New York? LA? Whatever.

We met for group photos and lunch to cap off our sketching for the day. 

I had started a sketch of the street but didn't finish it on the spot, so when I had another opportunity, I returned to Hollywood. This time at night. Again the elephants were a strong pull first in black and white then watercolor.


And so were the gawkers.

And the showmen.

It's a mirage of lights and flashy glamour and the main challenge is to tune out all the distractions and focus on the essentials. I think I'm still being distracted. Guess I'll have to go back. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

There but for Fortune

Note: The Choir organizer just contacted me and asked that I share this link to the upcoming documentary film by award winning visionary Susan Polis Schutz (Blue Mountain Arts). 

 Definitely one of the coolest things I've witnessed while I've been in Los Angeles. The Voices of our City choir from San Diego performed at the Santa Monica Public Library. The choir is literally the voice of the non-profit with the same name whose mission statement reads: 
Voices of Our City Choir is committed to transforming the perception and experience of homelessness through the healing power of the arts. We are building bridges connecting diverse communities in positive ways through musical performance, advocacy, and education. 
This was not a Christmas choir, but an ongoing performance group/support group for the members. What sets this choir apart from other choirs with people experiencing homelessness, is that they are also activists. They organize.They show up at city council meetings. They advocate for change. They push for justice. They have helped 20 people get into housing this past month. And they are a bonded group. 

The set ranged from Stevie Wonder, to Louie Armstrong to Sister Sledge to one of their own songs. There was a mix with two guitarists, a pianist and a drummer accompanying some awesome vocalists. 

One woman who was seated most of the time had a solo. "I can't stay in my chair for this one." as she stood with her cane and let her soul come through her voice. They invited audience participation for some songs, so naturally I sang and danced along, unsuccessfully trying to blink away tears. It was all very emotional to see folks we think of as desperate, just ROCKIN'.

After the performance they had a question/answer time. They sat on the edge of the stage and shared their stories. One man, a former tech engineer who had lost everything, fell into depression and ended up sleeping on the street across from city hall in his "button-down polo shirt".

"When you get to that place, there is nothing there to help you. Nothing. No one."

Towards the end of the discussion a woman called from the audience lauding the choir for their bravery and their spirit. "I couldn't come earlier because I didn't have anyone to watch my stuff".

Another audience member self-identified as a very privileged person reported that she had done a lot of research and worked with homeless people for many years. She repeatedly affirmed them saying their voice was the most important thing they could do to help the problem of homelessness. Letting people know how you are just like them..."there but for fortune..."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Dia De Los Muertos - LA style

Halloween takes on a whole new dimension in Los Angeles. Everywhere I look I see signs advertising for Dia De Los Muertos with multiple celebrations around the Greater Los Angeles area. We went first on Saturday Oct 28 to Pasadena's tour of altars which turned out to be a way for the business community to draw customers into the different shops that hosted altars. Cute but very commercial.

Sunday, Los Angeles' Olvera street in downtown LA hosts a big bash. And even thought the souvenir-lined alley is one of the biggest tourist traps in LA, especially for Mexican goods, it put on a real party.

The permanent stalls selling a myriad of colorful goods empties out on Los Angeles Plaza, a zocolo, or city square. The big guys built their altars here. That's altars that were on average 10 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

The place was packed and the music enlivened the atmosphere even more. Food carts, oversized skeletons, and Aztec dancers all added their flavors to the colorful pot.

While I was sketching a woman came up and asked if I was with a group. When I mentioned Urban Sketchers, she nodded in recognition. It was Stephanie Lowe, a long time urban sketcher who was there with her high school photography class.

Just after sunset the plaza bandstand became the stage for an extravagant performance featuring skeletons telling elaborate tales and singing ballads which I can only guess (because it was in Spanish) were lamentations for fellow deadheads.

As we enjoyed our mole and enchilada dinner back on Olvera street, the nightly procession marched within inches of our table. 

And that was just the beginning. Today at the public library I picked up another brochure advertising at least eight more Dia de Los Muertos events around the city. I guess I'll be carting around my watercolors for a few more days.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Falling in love with the world, one sketch at a time

I was reading a fellow-sketcher’s blog a while back and she posed the question, why do you sketch? It’s a question I ask myself often. It can be a nagging question – why?

“Why are you doing this?”  I hear my monkey-mind say. “You’re not getting paid. You’ll never be a great artist—why waste your time? You should developing your own business or working for peace or delivering blankets to the homeless- or at least making soup for shut-ins. But sketching?”

I've always had a rebellious streak, so I keep going. I snub my nose at my monkey, grab my pen and have at it.  

I've come up with plenty of rationales: 

It keeps me from missing my grown kids, and now grandkids, who live thousands of miles in different directions.

 It helps me remember where I've been. While sketching we experience it all -- the sounds, sights, smells...exhaust fumes, french-fry grease, perspiration dripping down your back…

Not to mention the smell of nail polish remover as I sit at the local nail spa.

I've sketched since I was a kid. That's a good reason - I've always done it. I may still have a sketch of my feet done when I was 12 while sitting on the front stoop of our apartment on the south side of Chicago. 

 To keep from getting bored. Work meetings are perfect opportunities to study slouching body-shapes. 

Waiting in long lines are perfect for analyzing which hip rises and which falls with a bent knee.

It also steers me away from judgments and frustrations. Instead of wondering how anyone could actually choose to wear that outfit in public, I notice how the orange shape of the top contrasts so vividly with the purple hippie skirt. Add a blue sky for background and the colors are operatic. 

My daughter says I notice the strangest things. 

The other day, however, it came to me. I SKETCH BECAUSE IT MAKES ME FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD again and again and again. A pop of color here; a rusty texture there; the orange, yellow and green fence in front of the blue store; the way the sun paints an ephemeral shadow-shape on the side of a building. Or the shape of the truck as it blocks my perfect view.

So I sketch. I take it all in. I get excited about the variegated pink of easter egg radishes, I love the bulbous shape of the vendor’s belly as he reaches to pick out the best apple a our local farmer's market. 

I constantly search for a good angle and analyze the shape of the a building as I both flatten it out in my mind and try to add depth on my paper.

I wake up in a new city excited . . . no, chomping at the bit . . . to discover new neighborhoods, new storefronts, another red door, an abandoned streetcar, countless new people on subways – each shape unique and each story lending worlds of depth to what I see. 

You could say I’m obsessive. Or captivated. Or a rebel. All apply. One thing’s for sure. I just can't won't stop falling in love with the world and sketching whatever I can. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Los Angeles Museum of Natural History

I've been in Santa Monica since mid-June getting acquainted with my second grandchild, I've had a couple opportunities to emerge from Babyland into LaLaLand. Today I met up with a few of the Los Angeles Urban Sketchers at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. It's an old building that has been expanded; the contrast between old and new is striking.

Virginia Hein and Heather Evans Davis and I headed across the street to the lovely rose garden where we could have a bit more distant view of the original building. Check out their sketches here.

As I was waiting for the group I started a quick sketch of one of the old guys - triceritops maybe? And on the way in to the museum, I quickly sketched some fellow "subway" riders. This may be the only "subway" in the world that has to stop for street traffic.

More Brooklyn and Manhattan - Summer 2016

These sketches were done in Red Hook Brooklyn during the summer of 2016. 

Cacao Prieto, "beans to bar" chocolate maker with a retail shop--where you can buy $10 dollar chocolate bars - yes they are that good. Widow Jane Distillery and Botanica cocktail bar are in the same building. 

Side view of the Cacao Prieto building.

And around the corner . . . the legendary Sunny's Bar

Heading across the East River and uptown you'll find the Queensboro bridge around 60th, just about due east of the Museum of Modern Art. I was waiting for my daughter as she finished her doctor appointment and came across this under-the-bridge view.

And of course, the Cloisters overlooking the Hudson River on the far north side of the city. While I was sketching this, my husband saw another man sketching and struck up a conversation. The man was visiting from France and got his card. I wrote to him after I got back to the Northwest and told him about Urban sketchers and pointed him to the closest groups I could find. He was very excited to learn about Urban sketchers and I got an invitation to visit and sketch in France!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rural New York

For the past couple of months I've been visiting New York. Since I have family here, I've gotten to know a bit more about the city, but more recently, I've had the chance to explore a bit of the Hudson Valley.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

From the Best Coast to the East Coast

I originally started this post last summer, in September 2016. Finally getting around to finishing it.
Since retiring a little over 2 months ago, life has been a whirlwind of travel, sunshine, reorganizing, weeding, pruning and sketching.

We had promised our daughter a visit to see their new house in upstate NY, so knowing I could also spend a few days in their Brooklyn place, I decided to arrive a few days before the rest of the family so I could have time to sketch to my heart's content and also meet up with Urban sketchers NYC.

I left Seattle August 25, a beautiful sunny Thursday.
Passengers queuing up for Southwest flight
Mt Rainier from the airplane (color added later)

My first day in Brooklyn I decided to get a 24-hr pass for a cite-bike (will never recommend - they charged me $200 for 1 day of riding). I rode along the Columbia Waterfront up to DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). I found the Shake Shack,  got a lemonade and scribbled out these two drawings under the umbrellas. 

Way too much detail for my liking

So I tried a simple version

Next I spent the day in DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) where you have a good view of the Brooklyn Bridge. I made a couple of passes at the scene, spending more time on the second one. 

Still Brooklyn side - Red Hook Specifically, I met up with the NYC urban sketchers. 
This first sketch is the Red Hook Yacht Club - pretty much a junk shop, although the proprieters might take offense with my description. It's quite fitting for Red Hook, though, which used to be the major industrial port before the evolution of container shipping and the New Jersey port won out. 

Behind the biggest grocery store in Brooklyn, Fairway Market, sits an abandoned streetcar. Rusted and gutted it is reminiscent of earlier times. As everything else in Brooklyn, it has a colorful history. 

The Red Hook Ball fields just may be the home of the first food trucks in the country. The Red Hook food vendors have been around since 1974. Serving mainly Latin American cuisine, they put out some great pupusas among other delicacies. Business was booming on this warm September Sunday.