CA18 Trip: Pasadena/LA Part 1

November 26, 2018 | 4 Comments

I had a little over a week in the LA area after Sketchkon and I decided to stay in Pasadena as my base.

I had a similar week-long stay in Lisbon after the Urban Sketchers Symposium at the end of my big European trip earlier in the year. The Lisbon visit was insanely busy with non-stop sketching, hanging out with lots of different people and a few late nights – it was fun but way too much. So this trip I tried to have a relaxed pace and didn’t put any pressure on myself to tick things off my ‘must see’ list. There is a lot to see and sketch in the greater LA area so I will have to come back some other time, won’t I?

Monday 5 November

I moved hotels on Monday, so naturally I had to do a final sketch (or three) of City Hall before I checked out of my room in the Westin. I will share a larger version of these sketches in a separate article next week,  but this spread shows the three together as that is how they were done.

The Admins of Urban Sketchers Los Angeles had organised a Monday sketching day for Lapin and me. The morning session was at Los Angeles Plaza Park/Olvera St. It was fantastic location with so much to sketch and there was a great turnup.

And I got to have some sketching time with these three incredible artists!
L to R: Brenda Swenson, Me, Virginia Hein, Lapin.

With the amount of animated chat happening it is amazing that I got anything on my page, but here is my ‘distracted sketch’ of the La Plaza church.

And on the other side of the spread I did a few smaller sketches and swatches (due to a conversation with Virginia about DS vs WN paints).

It was hard to take a good photo of the sketchbook throwdown but this the end of the row – with my sketchbook next to Brenda’s and Virginia’s.

It was such a fun morning and I loved meeting some of the local sketchers. A group of us went for a lovely Mexican lunch and then it was time to regroup for the afternoon session at the nearby Union Station.

Ah! I love a full day sketching programme.

Heading back to the Station with Brenda and Lapin.

I loved the palm trees in front of the white building so much that after getting an afternoon coffee and roaming the interior of the station for a little while, I headed back outside to sketch it. This was a lot of fun to do, working direct with watercolour and with a lot of wet washes.

The interior of the station was ‘very LA’ and I really wanted to capture some of the eclectic architectural details and the over the top scale. I had planned on doing a few smaller sketches but I didn’t get to do anything other than one interior sketch. That is because I sat down next to Anna Bartlet from Australia (the only other Aussie at Sketchkon) and we started talking about art and work. Although our ‘art businesses’ are different we had a lot to talk about and compare. It was great – who cares about sketching?

Before we knew it, it was time to meet back up with the group and see what everyone had sketched.

It was still a good sized group and I got a chance to meet some more of the local sketchers. I always say that there is something special about sketching past 3pm and this day was a good example of that.

But the sketching event wasn’t over yet!

We went into The Imperial Western in the newly restored Fred Harvey Restaurant adjacent to Union Station. The Harvey House was an iconic restaurant designed by Mary Coulter (an architect who did a lot of work in the National Parks which I visited in my 1999 trip to the western states). I was sitting facing away from the main space so spent my time sketching the food and a few quick line drawings of the group on the next table.

Just as everyone started leaving, I decided to do a quick sketch of the grand space. This isn’t a finished sketch, but somehow it says enough.

What a fun day – thanks Phoebe and co for organising!

Tuesday 6 November

I needed some solo time to do a bit of work and so I had a quiet morning in Old Town Pasadena…

I started with breakfast in Russell’s – an American Diner with fancy lamps and chandeliers. (Hmm, that is not quite the image of ‘American diner’ I had in mind!)

I then headed back to the hotel and worked like crazy sitting in the business centre of my hotel. I wish that I had at least done a quick 2 minute line drawing to record the occasion. But I was ready to get out for lunch and do an Old Pasadena sketch.

I roamed the streets of Old Pasadena for a while trying to find somewhere to eat. The criteria for my choice was more about the view on offer than it was the food! I found an outside table at a Poke Bowl place – yes!!!!

The small Poke bowl was so enormous that I had to stage my consumption of it and doing this sketch of the building opposite is was perfect for achieving that.

And here is another view from the same table.

After lunch it was time for a coffee so I went back to Intelligentsia and had another great conversation with a girl sitting next to me. A bit of a rushed sketch of the cafe view. (note to self, I really need to do more work on cafe scene sketches!)

I then got a message from Phoebe asking me if I wanted to go and sketch a Craftsman House that afternoon. Of course the answer was yes! I did this super quick drawing of a grand corner building with my Sailor Fude pen (my fast tool!)

This is Blacker House by Greene and Greene – who are very famous architects of the Arts and Crafts movement. Their craftsman style houses are very iconic and also extremely hard to sketch – so dark! The afternoon light did not help either, did it?

I knew that painting this house would be super hard (ie. no values just a dark mass) and I over-compensated a little, leaving the wall colour until last. I wasn’t happy with the result, but I enjoyed the process of sketching this house a lot. Plus the company was so good – thanks Phoebe!

Here is a close up of the small study which I did mid-sketch. The idea at the time was to keep the wall colour light even though the lighting at the time was different.

Wednesday 7 November

The next morning while I was eating (and sketching) my breakfast, I was still thinking about that Greene and Greene building and did a few more tests to see if I thought a slightly different technique would work.

Note: If I’m unhappy with a sketch, I normally spend some time thinking about what I would do differently if I had another go. But some subjects are particularly difficult to sketch (especially in my loose and patchy style) and so I can spend a lot of time thinking about alternative approaches. Most of you would have worked out by now that I love thinking about my art!

But on this day, I wasn’t going to get a chance to tackle another craftsman house because I was spending the day with Brenda Swenson.

I’ve been a huge fan of Brenda for many years and this 2012 article of hers about shadow colours is one that has stood out in my memory. So there is no need for me to say that a chance to hang out with her was super special. If you don’t know Brenda: check out this youtube video about her, her art, her husband and the truck

Brenda took me on a little driving tour of ‘her Pasadena’ and then took me to her favourite (secret) spot to sketch – overlooking the Colorado Street Bridge and the grand Court of Appeals building. You won’t be surprised to read that I was a little distracted doing this sketch due to a ‘little’ chatting! What’s the point in spending a day sketching together if we didn’t talk to one another? Anyway, this turned out to be an insanely long sketch – I think we were at the spot for 2 hours.

It was then time for lunch. I put my sketchbook on the table but didn’t open it as I wanted to maximise the time together.

We spent the afternoon in her gorgeous studio talking about a lot of things, but in particular shadow and colour and reflected lights. Wow wow wow, this session was like a private masterclass. If you are interested this video of Brenda painting in Spain shows a little of what we talked about (highly recommended viewing!)

Brenda also went through her fancy fountain pen collection (which I didn’t photograph but you can see some of them here) and then I should her the eight foutain pen I was carrying around everyday.

It was then time to do a little sketch and test some of the ideas Brenda was telling me about.

I was more in talking mode than serious art mode by this point in the day (4pm) so I did a few loose tests rather than trying to produce a masterpiece. If you have done the Sketchbook Skool Seeing course you will know this jug. It was fun to sketch, but not surprisingly, I was happier to sketch one of Brenda’s teacups.

I should have started out with the cup as sketching teacups is my established subject matter when I am experimenting with new things.

I ended up having dinner with Brenda (and her lovely husband).

What an truly incredible day. Thanks Brenda for the fun and inspiration and being so unbelievably generous with your knowledge and love of ‘colour in shadows’.

Another very special few days – with a few more to go. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Click here for the rest of my articles from this trip.



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