skip to Main Content

sketching on toned paper

Here are some sketches on tan paper, from several years ago. Using black ink and a white Prismacolor pencil (or white gel pen) works well to create highlights and shiny bits. I apologize to my students for the symmetry of the sketch with a fountain! I keep telling them that “symmetry is for sissies!”








I prefer to omit color and stick with black and white. The color of the paper provides the mid-tones. I added the Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook 5.5 x 8.5 inches to my materials list for workshop students.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel

Another fine day for sketching outdoors. Just two blocks away from our workshop HQ at Rileystreet Art Supply is the magnificent Mission San Rafael Arcangel.  I encouraged students to divide their sketchbook page into two or three sections and to zoom in on interesting elements of the main church or adjunct structures.



Student work shown here is by Michael, Nathalie and Kimberly. We also see Victoria working on a sketch of the bronze bells with their wooden support.






Fruit and Vegetables

The first session of the November series of sketching workshops in Napa began, as usual, with a visit to the produce section of Whole Foods. Shoppers are beginning to recognize me or ask about what we are doing. One fellow suggested we sketch at the Bale Grist Mill near St. Helena….it has a fully restored and functioning water powered mill. Sounds like an excellent day trip.


San Miguel de Allende sketches

black-catrinaJust returned from my week-long sketching workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. So many fascinating people, places and things to draw! This was the week of Dia de los Muertos, so we got to see a wide array of displays associated with this holiday. Decorated skulls, Catrina figures (those glamorous skeletons, with the wide-brimmed hats) and more.sma-parroquiabistro-mi-casa


Sketching people in a scene

Oxbow Public Market in Napa, CA
Oxbow Public Market, Napa, CA

This sketch was created as part of my demonstration of techniques for improvising a scene by combining elements that are not necessarily visible at the same moment.

The blue wash is the result of my dissolving a couple of tiny figures at the bottom of the page. Then I began again, with two people who were seated in different areas of the market. The whimsical sheep and goat are papier mache creatures hanging from the high ceiling. Signage, a striped awning motif and light fixtures were added, to represent several similar items scattered throughout the market scene.

Drawing people from behind is often advisable, in order to be sneaky, and to avoid having to depict the face.

On the Street….developing a sketch

There is interesting architecture on B Street in San Rafael, around the corner from Rileystreet Art Supplies, where my Thursday drop-in sketching workshop meets. Here are the stages in my sketch of part of a building.

The first “pass” is done with a dark red aquarelle pencil, to put the basics down as quickly as possible. Then I used a Micron .08 pen to add some line work. Next I added turquoise pencil strokes  and used water to blend color. The final version includes some dark accents made with a Faber-Castell B (brush) pen.

B street stages


Accuracy? Fuggedaboudit!

At a recent demonstration of quick sketching techniques I was asked how I handle the challenges of accurately drawing such things as complex architecture. My reply was that I do not concern myself much with being accurate. I freely change the relative sizes and positions of items in the sketch, to simplify a scene or create a focal point. I usually sacrifice accuracy for speed.

In this recent sketch at a market day I included a tall tower and really messed up the geometry at the top. Not a problem, as the center of attention is much lower.


Colorful Market Sketching


It was a lovely day for outdoor sketching, and I took advantage of the Wednesday Farmers Market in Corte Madera Town Center. The bright orange tent and the magenta table cloth of the gourmet Indian foods attracted my attention. Photo shows my view.

first stage: water-soluble pencil layout
first stage: water-soluble pencil layout

I squeezed the scene a bit to accommodate a nearly square format. Dark purple aquarelle (water-soluble) pencil established the layout and some of the darkest areas.

second stage: quick color and tone added with side of pencil point
stage 2: quick color and tone added with side of pencil point

Using the side grip on each pencil, I filled shapes with color quickly. Notice the direction of the  strokes

stage 3: water appliled to pencil strokes. Intensify some areas and dissolve others.
stage 3: water applied to pencil strokes.

The water brush was used to intensify some areas and blend others. I left some areas dry for a variety of textures.

Final: thicker black strokes added with Brush-tip pen.
Final: thicker black strokes added with Brush-tip pen.

A few details are added with fine line ink strokes. The darkest edges and shadows are accented with a brush-tip (B) pen.

The fellow doing business under the orange tent came over while I was working…that rarely happens when I am doing “stealth sketching!” After I showed him the finished result, he gave me a dollar off on a package of spinach besan pura.




Quick Sketching workshop schedule

Schedule for my next Quick Sketch sessions at
Riley Street Art Supplies,
1138 4th Street, San Rafael:

Saturday, January 26 
Saturday, February 2
Saturday, March 23
     from 2 to 5 pm
 Fee: $50 per session
Quick sketch techniques help you develop more confidence in drawing, and enable you to “loosen up”. We’ll do some warm-ups, then go out as a group and sketch in nearby locations. Continuing and first-time students are welcome. In cold or wet weather, we’ll sketch in local cafes or other indoor venues. To sign up and get materials list, please contact me.

Quick Sketching and improvising

Thanks to those who attended our workshop on Sunday, November 18th. It was a lively session. We began at Riley Street Art with some demos, a slide show and exploration of materials, focusing on water-soluble pencils used with a water brush.

Our first location, as usual, was at the Mission San Rafael Archangel. Shortly after our arrival about 100 people spilled out of the church and gathered for socializing and snacks provided by vendors. This was a delightful bonus! We had a chance to include some “generic people” in a crowd scene as part of our sketches of the church building and grounds.

Next, we headed for City Plaza, and by then a chill was in the air. We went into the Lighthouse cafe for some hot coffee and decided to stay there for sketching. Several choices there, including shelves full of various liquor bottles, people at the bar, tables and chairs.

The next workshop: Saturday December 22, from 2 to 5pm. Fee: $50.
Ongoing and returning students: you will be given challenges for developing skills at your own pace.

Back To Top