Was It Really There?

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We got up to have coffee, like we do pretty much every morning. On this day, though, everything was different. We weren’t in our usual house in Beitou. We found ourselves looking out the large, east-facing glass windows of a double door. A heavy overcast hung low overhead, obscuring even the foothills.

But that is not what made us gasp in wonder.

The sun was breaking through a hole in the cloud cover, somewhere to the northeast on this early summer day. It cast a beam through the mist, lighting up the edges of the trees, tracing the rise of the far ridges that climbed up into the gloom overhead.

A vision emerged momentarily from the mist, then faded from view as the clouds began to roil. We stared. The shaft of light grew stronger, glancing off of this and that, though we could not easily tell what we saw. As the light shifted again, we seemed to be gazing at a castle whose walls and towers were only just visible in the hazy dawn. A castle? No, a whole city, perhaps!

The sun continued to rise, widening the hole in the clouds, illuminating the mists in the vales between the ridgelines. The entire fairy city came into focus for a few brief moments: great walls and towers, a cluster of houses, a massive gate, perhaps. It was all there. Still, at this distance, we questioned whether we were seeing clearly.

The overcast began to lift, too light now to obscure the view. When we looked again, the fairy city had vanished.

Was it ever there? We think so.

Later in the day, I did my best to paint it from memory.

Thwackenheimer Luminescence Converter

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Just finished a small sketch this morning. Made me wonder what this thing does–besides float, of course.

Back in the late 2100s, Beryl Thwackenheimer devised a means by which to levitate a solid object by harnessing the energy shifts caused by variances in luminescence. Subtle changes in cloud formations, or even the appearance of a meteor in the night sky could actually cause the object to counteract gravity. The technique proved so effective that her first successful prototype got away from her before she had completed building it. These days, virtually every appliance and vehicle uses some version of the Thwackenheimer luminescence converter.

A flaw in Thwackenheimer’s system design causes the unit to repel any approaching object (like the ground, an ornithopter, or even a net). The extreme efficiency of this function has rendered impossible any attempts at recovery. It’s been a hundred and fifty years now, and fortunately, no one’s transporter has been damaged by the rogue prototype.

It’s still up there somewhere. No one can catch it and bring it down.

Poplar Beach

PoplarBayLiveShotFour of us went for a walk on Poplar Beach, south of Half Moon Bay. All told, we had 10 legs. I saw this gully and went over there to do some painting. That left 8 legs to keep going. Sometime later, Ping turned around, leaving 6 legs to continue onward. Shya has 2 legs and Ellie has 4. Guess who went the farthest?

In any case, I was happy to sit on the sand and paint the crumbling cliffs. The coastal pines rimmed the skyline. A little breeze shifted the sand. I got lost in the painting, and suddenly it was time to get back before the parking meter expired.

As is so often the case, I had to run back to where everyone else would be waiting for me. This time, I was barefoot, though, holding my sandals.

When I caught up with my wife, we realized we were still 6 legs short. Plus, two of those legs had the key to the four wheels. Okay, yes: technically it’s five, if you include the steering wheel.

But who’s counting?

Anyway, here’s the informal picture of the finished painting. I did some details after we got home.

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Time for a New Hat

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The old Scala hat had gone from one side of the world to the other and back again. I bought it in California, and it had shaded me from the sun at sea level in Taipei, Taiwan, on the battlements of India’s Amer Fort, up Platteklip Gorge to the top of South Africa’s Table Mountain, and all the way to 4,500 meters at the foot of Yangmaiyong in Yading, China. It had been to the icy summit of Germany’s Zugspitze and on the storied hills of Toledo, Spain.

In the middle of some Turkish ruins, I had this exchange with a Korean tourist.

Him (pointing at my hat): Where’s your horse?
Me (looking around frantically): I lost my horse??!

I was always glad the hat was crushable. Stuffed in a backpack countless times, it still kept its shape–for the most part, anyway. Over the years, it had lost its little split leather adornment. The metal rivet that used to hold that piece had rusted beyond recognition. The liner of the inner hat band had disintegrated.

About a year ago, I cleaned it rather badly, so the crown was now skewed, and the brim dipped too low over my eyes. It had lost some stiffness so it flopped around when the wind was strong. Maybe it was time to replace it. I checked online. Nothing. It wasn’t even mentioned on the company website.

Back in California, the San Francisco REI still had a few. I browsed the rack, hoping for the best. They were all the wrong size. I asked the staff to see if they had back stock. No such luck, but while they were looking I  spied the hat on a mannequin. It fit me! “Take it!” they said.

I did. It was the only one my size in the whole store. Apparently, the company stopped making this model. We went online and found another one in black. Only one. We ordered that one, too.

It was such a good hat,
And it’s still a good hat.
Well, I guess that’s that:
It’s time for a new hat.

Coit Tower

CoitLiveShot_20170623The others had gone for a walk while I had to wrap up some other business, but I still had an hour and a half before lunch. I left the apartment where we’re staying in San Francisco, and headed out to the waterfront again. I wanted to see the Coit Tower again. When my wife Ping and I first visited San Francisco several years ago, we hiked up to the tower, and, just a couple of days ago, our friend Shya took us up there for a view of the city.

You can see the tower from several places on the waterfront, but it’s not particularly close. I found a decent spot by the Exploratorium where I had a clear view of it. The wind blew strongly enough that I wondered if I would lose one of the water brush covers! The ink dried very fast, but I was able to get a pretty good likeness of the tower in about half an hour.

Then I had to run back, so I wouldn’t be late for lunch!

 

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The final image.

 

 

 

Under the Bridge

Bay Bridge From Pier 24 SFO Inktense 22x15cmWe’re spending some time in San Francisco with a good friend. The first day, we walked along the waterfront. I noticed a nice spot with a particular view of the Bay Bridge. When I had a chance, I went back down there with the newest iteration of my Inktense plein-air kit and found a seat on a big block of concrete, just to one side of Pier 24.

I was just starting to sketch in the basic layout on my Taiwanese “Fuang” watercolor paper when an Indian gentleman took an interest and sat down beside me to watch. I said hello, and we chatted while I was sketching.

“They just took your picture,” he told me, indicating a couple that had just passed by. “You’re world famous now!”

He was still with me when the sketch was done. As I brought out the Inktense kit and started painting with it, he told me proudly that his son does design work on computers. I enjoyed our chat.

“Okay, sir,” he said, as he stood up. “You have a good day.”

I definitely did. I hope he did, too.

 

New Clipboard Sketching Setup

SketchbookNew1Sketchbooks keep everything together in a book form, but I found them to be generally too thick and heavy. For a firm surface, I wanted a stiff backing sheet and cover (more weight). When the pages shifted, the graphite rubbed off. To save weight and preserve the artwork, I tore out completed drawings as soon as I got home. Then I had to trim off the ragged bits before scanning. If I was going to be on the road awhile, I might start a new sketchbook because the one I’m not-quite-finished-with may not have enough pages for the trip.  I sometimes reused the covers of an empty sketchbook, but more often I just recycled them.

SketchbookNew2After using up dozens of sketchbooks, I decided to try something a bit more “green”: a covered clipboard. This one is A5 size (half a sheet of letter-size paper), so it’s easily portable. I fold the cover all the way around to the back, so it’s no bigger than a normal sketchbook, and it’s plenty stiff. To keep the pencil digging into the paper below, I clip a thin, firm sheet of plastic under the current work-in-progress.

I’ve been using this setup for about a year now. The clipboard turned out to be even easier to hold than the old sketchbook, in either landscape or portrait orientation. It’s light, comfortable and unobtrusive. My 2mm/6B drafting pencil and .5mm/2B mechanical pencil work for everything from rough textures and dark shading to fine details. I use a small kneaded eraser to clean up smudges and pull out highlights. Sometimes I’ll use white charcoal for duotones. I’m considering ditching my retractable eraser, since I rarely use it. Maybe I can find a smaller pencil case.

SketchbookNew3Finished drawings are now put away inside a folded sheet of copy paper clipped in behind the paper stash. When I get home, I take them out, ready to scan. The clip holds everything firmly, so there is less shifting during transport. Very little graphite or white charcoal rubs off. These days, I carry a mix of loose sheets in a variety of colors and textures–just enough to give me options, and only as much as I need for the day. If I’m heading out on a longer trip, I keep an extra assortment in the suitcase. Finished work is removed from the clipboard and stored with the extra stash, and new sheets are added to the clipboard to replace the used ones.

This setup allows for more flexibility and it’s turned out to be less expensive (since I can buy loose sheets), thinner, lighter, and easier to use than a sketchbook. What about longevity? Well, back in 1995, I bought a covered clipboard for my legal pad at work. The “hinge” has split a few inches, but I still use it for writing. That’s a pretty good track record, I think.