“Little Italy”

9 September, 2019.

I’ve often cycled through or near the Columbus Park neighborhood on group rides, but the nature of those really doesn’t accommodate stopping for a few minutes to make a sketch. We zoom through the place on the way to the River Market.

But we’re there long enough for me to take in the old Catholic Church, the 19th century and early 20th century architecture, and the various places that comprise what was once referred to as “Little Italy.” I’ve wanted to explore the neighborhood in much more leisurely fashion for a while, and Saturday’s sketch out allowed me the opportunity to do so.

Looking west, down Missouri Avenue, I see how the buildings along the street are being reclaimed and restored, seemingly in harmony with those who’ve lived their entire lives in this neighborhood. I’ve no idea what it’s like to reside in “the family home,” a house where multiple generations of a family have lived, loved, and passed along – but it sounds wonderful, in an achingly, nostalgically romantic sort of way.

Chatting with a woman on the street, I’m told that she’s been to three funerals at the church down the street this year: three residents who were born here and never left, not in ninety-plus years. All three were “spinsters.” All three loved their homes.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and Pitt “Big Brush” marker in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.


Best burgers in town.

4 September, 2019.

“Dogs any good here?”

I’d just parked the Outback in the one available slot outside the Westport Flea Market, a blue SUV among a sea of Corvettes. As far as I could tell all the plates were of California origin. Missouri is a pretty long drive from the West Coast, so I figured they were part of a cross country auto rally.

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

“The hot dogs. Are they any good here. My wife wants to know.” A deeply tanned man was peering at me over the top of a pair of very shiny Ray Bans. A blonde was glued to his side; I assumed she was the aforementioned wife. Two other equally tanned couples wearing matching rally jackets stood behind him waiting expectantly. I pondered my response for a moment.

“Honestly, I’ve been coming here for thirty-five years and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything but a burger. Ever.” I paused. “In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone order anything but a burger here. I drove twenty-five miles tonight just to get one.”

“Pretty good, huh?”

“Be a damn shame to drive all this way, order a hot dog, and miss out on the best burger in town,” I said.

He nodded. She nodded. They followed us in.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and Pitt “Big Brush” marker in Canson 180 sketchbook.

What secrets lurk within?

4 August, 2019.

The entrance to Zuiderkerk was blocked, a sign barring entrance to all except those wonderful behind-the-scenes volunteers who put together so much of the 2019 USk Symposium. But what was going on back there? The promise of secret wonders was tantalizing!

As one of the three international correspondents, my press pass provided me with access, fortunately.

Inside, our crew of local volunteers were checking in the army of workshop instructors. Their bright red shirts were everywhere, darting about, stuffing packets, answering questions.

With only hours to go until general check in begins, there are still many last minute decisions to be made. The instructors gather for their final briefing.

Immediately above and overlooking the gathering of instructors, vendors of art supplies are busy preparing their booths. Theirs is an interesting collective of wares that are specific to Urban Sketchers and plein air painters.

Outside it has begun to heat up. In fact, we will experience the hottest temperatures on Amsterdam record over the coming days. I’ve been told that sketchers will line up to register hours in advance. Right now, people are milling about, hovering in the shade wherever possible. The crowds after lunch began to grow, and with regularity sketchers were entering the courtyard from streets and alleys, filling the brick surface.

Half an hour before registration and I finally began to get an inkling of the size of this event. The crowd was staggeringly large: it looked like they were waiting for a rock concert. I sat just inside the entrance to Zuiderkerk, peering out as I drew the masses patiently standing in line. They came from every corner of the globe, a truly international representation. But even this view didn’t prepare me for the sheer volume of sketchers who would pose in a group photo a few days later.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and Pitt “Big Brush” in Stillman and Birn sketchbook. Color added digitally on my iPad using Procreate.

A taste of things to come.

3 August, 2019.

Leaving Leiden was difficult. It’s an excellent hub for exploring nearby cities via train, and Leiden itself is a pretty wonderful, clean, and very walkable city. I had just gotten to the point where the pathways had become comfortably familiar.

But Amsterdam was the destination, and the Urban Sketchers Symposium the entire point of the journey. It was exciting to be a part of something like – like what? Frankly, I had no idea what to expect.

Along the way I’d run across a couple of other Urban Sketchers during my visits to the various cities and places of interest. Arriving in Amsterdam and settling into a hotel room, the next immediate step was to do a little recon. I followed my map to Zuiderkerk, the historic church that was to be the base of operations for the Symposium.

It was Monday afternoon; registration was still two days away but there were already sketchers milling about. Most were parked on benches, necks craned in order to draw or paint the impressive tower. Knowing I’d be sketching furiously over the coming days, I mostly took the day off from drawing and wandered on in continued exploration.

Tuesday morning dawned, a beautiful day. The courtyard outside of Zuiderkerk was starting to buzz. Groups of two, three, and four, all carrying backpacks or shoulder bags overflowing with art supplies were milling about. Many more sketchers had arrived a day early to chat and draw. I had little idea, however, how the following day would change the face of these quiet groups into a teeming throng.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and Pitt “Big Brush” in Stillman and Birn sketchbook. Color added digitally on an iPad using Procreate.

3rd and Oak

20 June, 2019.

I’m more than a little fascinated by how graphic line and shape becomes when an image is delivered entirely in black and white. So many abstract qualities are revealed!

The exploration of alleys and side streets keeps revealing interestingly overlooked detail.

Bent-nib fountain pen in Moleskin journal.


16 June, 2019.

We got a little wet at first, but the morning dried out nicely by ten. Urban Sketchers Kansas City held a pop up sketchout at the invitation of Liberty Hospital Foundation to sketch the surroundings of The TreeHouse, a place offering amenities to guests, including sleeping quarters and quiet rooms, and the tranquility of trees, walking path, and swaths of wild flowers.

The path is certainly peaceful and calm. At one point a baby bunny hopped right up to my foot as I sketched and seemed not at all taken aback when I exclaimed in surprise, “Well, hello there!”

I struggled to get started this morning, abandoning my first page. Each time I had myself positioned to begin, the rain returned and drops of water dotted my paper making it difficult to use my pen. After two aborted tries, I waited out the rain, turned the page, and began again.

I like the weight of the Stillman and Birn Beta paper, but I’m unsure about the spiral binding. On the one hand, each page lays perfectly flat, and I really like that aspect. On the other, it’s not really possible to draw across the spread as I might do with a perfect bound or stitched book. I’m not sure which outweighs the other. What do you think?

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

The junction of urbanization…and not.

17 April, 2019. This is the edge of town, the place where “rural” begins and the city ends. Beyond this point are farms and two lane blacktop roads, cows, corn, lakes and ponds, rolling hills of trees, and lots and lots of gravel lanes. But here, this is where they meet fast food and gas stations, shopping carts and car washes. Here is where there was a field not long ago, unbulldozed. There was a hill, in fact. And there was not an intersection, so complex and so filled with traffic signals that an instruction manual wouldn’t be out of line. This tree is the only reminder – and a faint one at that! – of what once was. It’s gnarly, and not especially beautiful – even had it a full coat of leaves – and one is left to ponder why, even, did those bulldozers leave this forlorn remnant alone?

Pencil and watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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.


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.