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.

Inktense Plein-Air Kit 2.0

DIY Inktense Plein-Air Kit

From the old “Mickey Mouse” Inktense Plein-Air Kit to the new TOBOT!

https://youtu.be/6p0IAkB7rO8

I’ve been working with Derwent’s Inktense ink blocks for years now. They’ve become my go-to medium for painting plein-air and they’ve gone all around the world with me. Since I’m often traveling with a group, I have to paint quickly (when I have time at all), so I need gear that is light and compact, and that takes 60 seconds to set up or pack away again.

I designed the first kit to allow me to use the ink blocks like pan watercolors. The drawback to my first design (encasing each block in clay) was that I found it difficult to get at every last bit of the ink. The little corners were hard to reach with the brush.

Replacing the fully-embedded blocks proved risky, too. I had some trouble surgically removing the nearly-empty section and replacing it with a new one.

The main difference in Version 2.0 is that I am setting the blocks on EDGE, with half of the block exposed. This way, I don’t have to try to clean so many corners in order to use all the ink.

I’ve also eliminated a couple of colors I didn’t use (including White). I’ll keep you posted on how it works for me. Check out the video to watch me put this kit together from scratch.

Huangshan Rocks

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Split-screen image of Tian Du Feng (Celestial Capitol Mountain) and my plein-air Inktense painting. The painting is on the right, in case you were wondering….which you weren’t.

Literally. It rocks! We recently got to spend 2+ days in one of China’s most famous national parks, and we made the most of it, hiking about 36 miles of steep trails, many of which included stone steps carved right into the granite.

We hiked through the famed mists that swirl around the stone crags and jagged summits. Seeing the gnarled pines clinging to cracks in these sheer, jaw-dropping cliffs, I kept saying: “so THIS is why the Chinese paint like they do!”

We had everything from rain to clear blue skies during our visit. At times, the view was completely lost in the fog, but every tantalizing glimpse took my breath away and made my heart pound. I suppose the breathlessness and heart pounding could be attributed to the endless climbing and descending, but either way, it was amazing.

After two days of hiking in the park, I got a chance to paint plein-air with the latest iteration of my #Derwent #Inktense setup. Tian Du Feng (“Celestial Capitol Mountain”) is the second-highest in the park. According to the staff person who chatted with me as I painted, it’s also the most dangerous. No surprise there: the trail starts with a 75º climb up more of those carved-in-stone steps and doesn’t let up much until the summit ridge. The drop-off at the top is precipitous. Then you still have to get down.

We’d done all that already, so I sat with my back against another pinnacle of that amazing granite, enjoying being happy and tired as I painted a small bit of the mountain.

Click here to see the full scan of the painting.

Quick update: the outcrop is called “Squirrel Leaps Over the Celestial Capitol.” (Thanks to my wife, who is a native Mandarin speaker, here it is in Chinese:  中國安徽省黃山國家景區 – 天都峰(松鼠跳天都)

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Lotus Peak (the highest point in the park) from partway up Tian Du Feng (the second highest).