Just killing time before a meeting.

31 March, 2019. I was at the state capital for a couple of days earlier this week to meet with other fine arts directors and curriculum coordinators. Meetings involve sitting – usually lots and lots of sitting. And sitting is something I’m ill suited for, quite frankly. I tend to be in motion most of the time.

So to offset the hours of inactivity I arrived in Jefferson City early enough to wander the streets and take in some of the buildings. One thing I’d never noticed before was the number of pointed roof tops. Although East High Street is clearly a typical Midwestern street, if you look around some of the architectural features take on a decidedly central-European flair.

This surprising discovery in the midst of that which is otherwise quite familiar made me ridiculously happy for some reason. Maybe it’s because I may not have noticed these little details had I not been killing a little time, enjoying the quiet of an early morning street.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and Caran D’Ache crayon wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

On the beach.

30 March, 2019. Gesture studies are fun and a bit terrifying all at the same time. Fun, because, well, I enjoy drawing people. This is a fast way to draw, and frankly you have to be pretty darned fast because people seldom hold still long enough for a detailed pose. And terrifying? Sure – when a gesture goes wrong, it looks really, really bad. Those are the times when I sheepishly glance around to make sure no one is looking over my shoulder.

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

Galveston people.

29 March, 2019. Gumbo for dinner! I understood that Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar made great stuff, and wasn’t disappointed. The roux was chocolate in color – way beyond “peanut butter” roux. The aromatic and richly colored concoction was hypnotic in a way: what would be revealed under the inky pool? Well, chunks of chicken and andouille sausage, of course, along with okra. But no corn bread side, sadly. Sigh.

Our server was hip and cool and patient and just a little bit wacky. And everyone at the counter was called “babe.” I felt right at home.

The “Pleasure Pier” – what, I wondered, could this place be with a name like that? Having passed dozens of adult stores along the Interstate on the long drive south, it occurred to me that there would be a red light at the entrance. Happily, it turned out to be an amusement park.

Closer to my hotel, people staked out a warm spot on the beach, sheltering from the wind in huddled groups.

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


28 March, 2019. Yes, I’m thinking I’ve found what was once a pretty swanky neighborhood. The house is called Bishop Palace.

For over a century, this place has been a landmark in Galveston. One of the few buildings to emerge from the devastating early 20th century hurricane, the house was mostly intact – but not unscathed. In fact, the back of the house was ripped off entirely, forcing later renovations.

For only a few dollars, one is allowed to wander about the first and second floor, taking in 19th century ideas of opulence. Indeed the carvings and woodwork are amazing.

Not many blocks away, ships and boats and industry and commerce are evident.

Walking several blocks from Bishop Palace, once encounters more dilapidated, but intact and in use buildings. I wondered if there was a seedier side of town and eventually I found it. There’s history present here as well, and I love it as much as I do the elegant woodwork and corinthian columns.

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

Beach houses.

26 March, 2019. I’ve made up my mind that this visit will not be punctuated by tours or anything at all resembling a need to meet anything at all resembling a schedule. Indeed, I will simply wander, my only purpose: explore at a slow pace, and stop where I may.

I enjoy looking at the beach houses. They look like the kind of place one can cozy up next to a fire or laze about on a porch overlooking the water. I enjoy the variety of silhouettes each outline creates, and the oddness of a complete house resting upon stilts. I enjoy the many windows and imagine the light bathing each interior.

Diagonals contrast with horizontals: the horizontal nature of an island, of the ocean; the diagonals of roof lines and the wonky shadows created by the early morning sun.

Grays permeate the landscape, but are themselves polluted with a bath of pink, a wash of cerulean blue, violets, periwinkles, Terre verte.

In the afternoon, as the day warms, I head out on two wheels to enjoy a few hours of bike sketching: rolling along until something strikes my fancy, then stopping to sketch for a bit before once again rolling down the road.

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

Pure dumb luck.

25 March, 2019. Pure dumb luck.


I visited Galveston Island over Spring Break, cringing at the thought of sharing Paradise with drunken college students, only to discover that Texas had scheduled their break for a week earlier. Yes, the Spring Break madness ended a week ago, and on my visit the beaches are empty. Only a handful of hungover frat rat stragglers crawl from their rooms in the afternoon to clog the hot tubs.

The timing of my visit is pure dumb luck.

But I’ll take it.

Uni-Ball Vision in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

A beach kind of morning.

24 March, 2019. We’d arrived in Galveston the night before. Our first morning dawned cool and breezy. Stepping out of the hotel and down a wood plank walkway, I was immediately surrounded by sand and dunes and ocean. Just past sunrise, the beach was mine entirely and I was able to walk and sketch for miles in either direction.

The houses along my stretch of sand are charming, some appearing to be under repair, while towels dangling from railings reveal the presence of habitants in other structures. In spite of brightly colored facades, the overwhelming sense is of grays and neutral colors on this day. The cloud cover is thick; the water and even the sand a reflection of those overcast hues.

There are warning signs to stay off the dunes. I assume this is to keep the fragile ecosystems from being trampled by picnickers and drunks, and then I’m startled to read that the warning pertains to the presence of rattlesnakes! I make note to stay far away from those places.

As morning wanes, I continue to wander and sketch as the moment takes me. People begin to emerge and populate the beach – not hordes, but a few here and there. Some, like me, are wearing a hoodie or a jacket. But others are enticed into shorts by the lure of the sea, and thus also the brisk ocean waters.

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

“Do I know you?”

23 March, 2019. “Do I know you? You look very familiar…“

I put my pen down, momentarily confused. The lady at the next table was staring at me intently. At first I thought it was because I was surreptitiously trying to sketch her and her companions without obviously doing so. It was our second or third day on Galveston Island and I was making every effort to sketch my surroundings wherever I happened to be.

“I know I know you.” She waited for me to reply.

“Only from television and the movies.“ My response was glib, and I smiled. In fact we all smiled, and everyone chuckled.

But as lunch progressed, her continued gaze made it more and more apparent that she wasn’t going to let her curiosity go further unremarked upon. Where, oh where did she know me from? My admirer made no secret about studying me closely, reversing the voyeuristic role that artists more normally assume.

Suddenly her body language changed entirely. She straightened, sat upright and brightened, exclaiming, “Oh! I know! You’re James Patterson!”

Clearly, I am not. And just as clearly, I don’t look anything like James Patterson. (More like Bill Bryson if I had to pick an author as my doppelgänger. And even that is an awfully long stretch.)

Nevertheless, I replied, “You got me. Be sure to buy my next book.“

Uni-Ball Vision and watercolor washes in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Spring Break (and not a minute too soon.)

15 March, 2019. As classes end today, Spring Break will officially be in full force.

I am soooooooo ready. I’ve got my travel kit pulled together and it will get stuffed into my backpack this evening, along with a Stillman and Birn sketchbook, a paperback, and a couple changes of clothes.

(Warm weather clothes!)

In twelve hours drive time, I’ll be wearing shorts and sandals and enjoying Galveston – far from the endless winter the Midwest has experienced this year.

To do justice to a place that isn’t black, white, and gray – the view I have at the moment – I adjusted the colors in my travel kit slightly (those pigments with yellow dots are more appropriate replacements.

I may or may not update the Just Sketching blog this coming week. But I’ll definitely be filling out the sketchbook, and eventually those sketches and stories will get posted.

My old old neighborhood.

14 March, 2019. I once owned a house in this neighborhood. I’m standing at the corner of Lightburne and Doniphan in Liberty, Missouri. It’s a blind intersection atop a tall, rather steep hill. Cars have to inch forward and take a leap of faith before venturing across the road to glide past an early 20th Century home. I’ve pedaled up that hill, and even though I’m a strong cyclist, it really is a lung-buster to climb.

These are the streets where, for the most part, the oldest houses in Liberty are located. Lightburne Hall is a couple of blocks to the west and dates back before the Civil War. I understand that tunnels were found there several years ago, and attributed to being associated with the Underground Railroad. The house I owned is only a block away, and was built in the 1880’s. At one time it was the mayor’s home; electricity and plumbing both were retrofitted into the structure decades after it was constructed. At some point a breezeway was built, connecting the garage to the kitchen – when we had some remodeling done, we discovered that there was a boarded up well under the breezeway floor.

Another house that has always intrigued me is this one, built out of red brick with a Missouri stone porch and steps. I love the tall, narrow windows with semi-circular caps, and what I believe is a Mansard roof. Now in disrepair, I’m convinced it must have been quite the place a century and a half ago. The silhouette is striking, and though the grounds are overgrown, its unique character is still visible from the road.

Uni-ball Vision pen in Canton 180 sketchbook.