A little morning music.

21 May, 2019.

Saturday morning, and a bluegrass band is joyfully plucking and singing, five guys who call themselves the Flyin Buzzards Bluegrass Band, the omitted “g” an intentional thing. They all hail from different counties in this corner of the Missouri/Arkansas Ozarks. Sporting matching caps, t-shirts, and red suspenders, they work their way through familiar old standards, along the way tossing in a few less well known tunes. Stage jokes feel refreshingly unrehearsed and they clearly enjoy playing together, jostling one another in good natured way.

A flat bed trailer serves as a stage, the better to quickly move each act in and out with as little fanfare as possible at the Reeds Spring Cajun Days festival. Aside from a crawdad boil and bowls of red beans and rice, there’s little to identify this festival as “Cajun” – in fact, there’s nothing at all to distinguish this festival from any other small town weekend festival. But it’s a good excuse for the hard working locals to have a good time. And that is reason enough to lounge around a folding table under a tent to enjoy this morning of gumbo, crawdads, and blue grass.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.


It’s a dog’s life, sometimes.

20 May, 2019.

What a life! It’s tough to be a dog, especially after getting dragged down to the lake house for two days of sun and cool breeze. Someone has to keep the patio warm, am I right? The sun deck on the boat dock clearly needs guarded from invading geese and turtles and the occasional innocent water snake. And what’s the deal with people? Indoors? Sleeping? All night? There is, after all, a magnificent full moon shimmering across the cove. What better time to bark? It’s a real dog’s life.

Sleepily sketched with a Uni-Ball Vision pen in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Ride Night.

18 May, 2019.

It was “ride night.” Taco Tuesday. As the group pedaled out of downtown and into the West Bottoms, the weather was perfect and the skies were absolutely free of clouds of any kind.

Further west, Mother Nature was stirring, and even as we were cycling along on our merry way, conditions were changing on the horizon. We rode through the Bottoms and the West Side neighborhoods, eventually gasping our way up the long, steep climb to the Liberty Memorial, pausing for our traditional photo opp and then heading out once again toward the River Market. It’s one of our standard routes, and gets us back in time for sunset and tacos.

On this ride night, Mother Nature turned performance artist. Rain and thunderstorms loomed and the day ended with dramatic clouds stretching from top to bottom of the view from the downtown bluffs.

This view is what made me pause. I love Ride Night.

Watercolor in small Stillman and Birn sketchbook, 5.5 x 3.5 inches.

Don’t throw stones. Please.

17 May, 2019.

I woke a few days ago with an idea for a house, a product of that strange and gauzy place between wakefulness and sleep. For my entire career I’ve been a designer, illustrator, and teacher – but never an architect. I’m very interested in the character of architecture, but would be guessing about engineering or structural aspects. In all likelihood, any building I designed would probably collapse. 

So, it was unusual, to say the least, that I could picture this (not quite so) tiny house with such clarity. I can say with confidence that a couple of relevant things were on my mind in the preceding days though: For one thing, every time I see one of those stories about tiny houses on social media I can’t help but click on the link to read and see more. The concept just fascinates me – and while there’s no way I’d find myself attempting to squeeze my life into one of these shoe box sized domiciles, the whole academic exercise of designing the thing intrigues me. I’d also seen another article about similarly small houses offered on Amazon. For about $7500, a kit is delivered to your door. With luck and a friend one could (supposedly) have a building constructed in its entirety in a single day. (Clearly, there had to be some Rubbermaid-esque modularity to these buildings, but I liked what I saw in the photos – as had many others, apparently: They were immediately sold out.)

Be that as it may, I had this idea in my head and I felt a need to get it onto paper, so here it is.

Uni-Ball Vision pen on copy paper. I used a perspective grid to introduce the extreme wide angle view.

13 May, 2019.

If I’d ventured a guess, I’d certainly have said there was no way I’d order a thick slice of prime rib at this small town restaurant. I’m a snob about such things as meat, and I confess to a belief that the only place on earth that serves excellent cuts of beef is Kansas City. I’ve made the mistake of ordering what ultimately turned out to be some kind of prepackaged and microwaved slice of grey meat-like substance in the past and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

But guess what? I wandered past a table and got a glimpse of a mouth watering slab, and my mind was changed. Dinner turned out to be a very happy surprise.

But the place was hopping. (Apparently the locals were much more aware of the fare than I had been.) And it took forever to get seated, to get served, and to get food on the table.

We chatted about our day, our week, and the coming weekend. And I studied the people around me.

One table over, several people chatted and enjoyed a meal that for us was only a name on the menu. We munched on bread, sipped drinks, and I made note of their character.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Friday Evening Stroll

12 May, 2019.

I’ve been meaning to visit the nearby town of Excelsior Springs for a while, and their “Second Saturday Weekends” celebration happened to coincide with an evening when my schedule was magically open.

This is an architecturally quaint small town with lots of homes and commercial buildings that have some interesting design aspects to them. But many of them have fallen into disrepair over the years as the town seemed more and more distant from the surrounding communities for some reason. I believe this is because those surrounding towns have slowly become subsumed into the Metropolitan Kansas City geography. Meanwhile, Excelsior Springs has maintained it’s independence and is currently redefining its identity.

It’s encouraging to see how much restoration and renovation is taking place. Signs of life are evident beyond the scaffolding; boutiques, breweries, and restaurants are bustling, which is very apparent as we stroll the streets on a pleasant Friday evening.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Sloppy brushstrokes

11 May, 2019.

I don’t paint in gouache a lot. In fact, I tend to go “in batches,” it seems… I’ll indulge myself for a couple of days, make several sketches, then put my kit away until I get the itch again.

I’ve learned one thing about myself in the process: I’m not terribly interested in painting hyper-realistic images, nor do I find it appealing to spend a lot of time “crafting” the brush strokes. In fact, I much prefer to strive for a bit of sloppiness so that the energy of an image isn’t lost in the technique.

This little painting came out of a quick and very loose sketch I made a week ago at the Guadalupe Center. A lot of liberties were taken here, mainly because the sketch was very loose and my memory of clothes and colors are limited to a few margin notes in the sketchbook.

I do enjoy contrasting warm and cool colors, and this was no exception.

Gouache on Bristol board.

A bit of polish.

10 May, 2019.

A few days ago I made a quick sketch of this scene. The weird kite-like shape of the umbrella when viewed from this angle has stayed with me, so I decided to make a second, slightly more polished version of the sketch using gouache. The application of paint was intentionally a little sloppy and the shapes left mostly flat with minimal modeling. And I’ve taken quite a few liberties with what little I recall of the original colors.

I do remember that the umbrella was a bright lime green. I also know that I couldn’t get to that hue using my limited color palette. I debated changing it altogether, perhaps to a red or orange, but a five minute experiment with the scan in Photoshop convinced me neither option worked as well as the yellow does.

Gouache on white index card.

The Zen of a Park Bench

9 May, 2019.

I find it difficult to walk past a park bench without stopping. Benches call out, “Sit down. Relax. Meditate.”

There, looking out on the world, observing, calmly attentive, the act of sitting is also the act of becoming one with the surroundings, absorbing and engaging with rhythms of the everyday.


Uni-Ball Vision pen in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Street food.

8 May, 2019.

Hot and ready to go. Street food is part of a global journey that spans every culture. Is it finger food? Fast food? Cheap stuff – or good quality? I’ve eaten street food in every country I’ve ever visited: it’s like dipping one toe in, one step toward immersion.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.