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.

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

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“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.“

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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.

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Uni-ball Vision pen in Canton 180 sketchbook.

An unexpected companion.

13 March, 2019. Hiking along wet trails with a notion to sketch as I walked, I encountered an unexpected companion emerging from the woods, a curious and talkative soul. And while I made far fewer drawings than originally planned, I learned a lot about the 1834 stop Joseph Smith made over the adjoining hill and the cholera graves near the adjacent gully; about Jolly Wymore, the first victim of Jesse James in the first daylight bank robbery; and the train that had once run across the rail bed on which I now trod. Arrowheads and glaciated boulders, wounded veterans, and a hidden well spring, the depths of which are now cemented over. I saw many interesting trees as we strolled along a muddy path, but none – save this one – found their way into my sketchbook.

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Brush pen loaded with Noodler’s Bulletproof Ink and Uni-ball Deluxe in a Canson 180 sketchbook.

All bluster.

12 March, 2019. One minute past noon, and the winds have suddenly arrived, blustery and fierce, pushing my Volkswagen around with every hard gust. Parked at the side of the road, the car is still moving, rocked back and forth. Out there, branches – really big ones! – dance and sway, leaning toward the ground, sometimes even coming close to touching before bending back toward the sky.

Color invention.

11 March, 2019. Saturday morning emerged from a thick fog, rain pattering softly at the window at first, then pounding for an hour or two or three. All that remained of the snow were the piles left behind from snowblowers and city trucks with snow blades. I realized that the ground and hedge possessed rich earthen colors of Burnt Sienna, along with umber. I don’t carry either hue in my kit and had to invent something close.

Color in the Grays

10 March, 2019. It’s sunrise and the clock says one time, my body disagrees: there’s exactly one hour in dispute. It’s very still outside, and the waking temperature is just above freezing. It is, in fact, much warmer than the past several months of gloom.

Still, the ground is frozen as I crunch around the yard in house slippers, and the gloom is still clear in my mind. In the distance, the water tower is a mixture of Cerulean blue and Quinacidone red, the hues neutralizing each other into a luminous gray. In the ground below I see a favorite, Perylene green; I’ll have to mix in a red and blue to darken it further if I want to do more than paint it in my mind.

The sky changes fast and I notice that the cloud cover is a mixture of periwinkle and violets that contrasts lusciously with the rising sun, a brilliant, if somewhat diffused ball of orange.

Looking down at the sketching pamphlet I began yesterday, I suddenly realize I’ve been unconsciously digging colors out of my gray world.

Sometimes I rely on memory and impressions to sketch out an idea, but memory is a funny thing and subject to vagaries and everything with which one comes into contact between the actual experience and the time one attempts to manifest it in some way. This morning I felt the need to supplement my impression with a quick pencil sketch and notes. It seemed as though getting the placement and ideas of values was important, and little thought was given to the colors of this sunrise.

Realizing this was an error, I ran to the studio to grab my travel kit. Not finding it immediately, I instead picked up the butcher tray I use for studio work and returned to a room full of windows facing east. Two minutes later I had a satisfactory color study.

Not content, I decided to spend a few more minutes making a second color study. The graphic curve was added to create a sense of leading lines that complimented the diagonal bank of clouds.

Even still, the composition seemed unresolved so I played around with various croppings, eventually settling on this. And now, satisfied with the design, perhaps I’ll work on a more “finished” painting this evening.

Right now, the day is beckoning. Hiking boots and jacket won’t be in the closet for much longer, nor my sketchbook on the shelf.

An old sort of yard.

5 March, 2019. I’m sitting there, just stretched out in my arm chair staring out a window overlooking a snow covered backyard and wondering where, oh where Spring is hiding. Violet shadows stretch across an alabaster blanket and there are no middle tones to speak of. I really should be painting this scene: it’s pretty much perfect for watercolor.

But it’s also perfect for a quick pen sketch, scrawly and scribbly and just kind of raw. It’s an old sort of day, and my yard is an old sort of yard. The Cottonwood trees are tall. Even bereft of leaves, the long limbs still wrap themselves around the place. Atop my shed, an otherwise rusted roof is brilliantly white for the moment; it also hides ten thousand fallen branches and vines. Inside, half a cord of wood and a riding mower and two dozen fishing poles – only the wood will see daylight while the snow remains. Behind the shed, weeds twist and tangle, just as scribbly as my pen lines. Somewhere underneath it all my rhubarb sleeps, waiting, like me, for Spring.

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Fude-tip fountain pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.

Wildlife.

4 March, 2019. Saturday was our monthly gathering of Urban Sketchers. We always try for a different location each time, and this month we met up at the large outdoor outfitter Bass Pro. The store sells everything you can imagine relating to outdoor living: hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, camping, etc. Of more interest to us is the environment, which is a lot like a natural history museum. I positioned myself next to a 1951 Chevy pickup truck and sketched this rocky outcrop on which a couple of coyotes and a puma were displayed.


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Uni-Ball Vision Pen and Uni-Ball Signo White pen on Stillman and Birn gray Nova Series paper.