CA18 Trip: Pasadena/LA Part 2

November 28, 2018 | 2 Comments

Thursday 8 November

After my amazing day with Brenda Swenson I wanted to have a little solo sketching time to absorb it all. So I headed into the downtown and visited one of my biggest must-see’: Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I think that it’s really important to spend time processing new ideas and inspiration because if I don’t, I know it will be lost. Often the sketches from this ‘processing time’ are not necessarily much different than normal, but their importance is in the thoughts that become encoded in the lines and shapes as I work. This was certainly the case with my sketches of this building.

It’s a fun but challenging building to sketch. Fun because the shapes are so interesting, and challenging because the light changes so dramatically every time you look at it.

As soon as I had finished the sun had come out and the light and dark areas of this scene were completely opposite from what I had been recording.

I did one more quick black and white sketch before going inside.

I could have spend another hour or so painting different scenes but I heard from Phoebe and I was going to meet some local guides for lunch and an afternoon sketching session. Perfect! As much as I enjoyed my solo sketching morning it was time to be social again. It’s so special to have local USKers to hang out with!

While waiting for Phoebe (and Debbie) to arrive I went inside and did a very quick sketch of the interior.

They took me to Grand Central Markets which is in an undercroft space of an ordinary downtown building – how LA! It once contained local market stalls but now almost totally contains hipster eating places. I loved all the neon signs and the big orange fans. I hope that I can revisit this place on another occasion as I really want to sketch it.

We found a seat outside a BBQ place with a good view of Angel’s Flight – is it the world’s shortest funicular? I loved the colour, the extreme foreshortening and trying to work out which position of the cars told the best story. Yes! I’m always thinking hard when I’m sketching.

In terms of story: I decided on the moment when they entered the 45 degree section of the track. But then I realised that the stationary positions (at top and bottom) showed the track more clearly and perhaps that would have been the clearer story. So I added a little diagram of the track layout on the side.

After lunch (some American style BBQ) we went to the Bradbury Building which has lots of gorgeous iron work.

We each did a quick sketch – of course I decided to tackle as much of the atrium as I could, starting with the front face of the staircase and adding details around it. My approach to a complex scene like this in a limited amount of time is to find the most important/prominent plane, draw that and then work out from it. I find this is much easier that trying to set up any perspective.

It was then mid-afternoon and the traffic was starting to get bad, so we decided to return to Pasadena. I might have said “I don’t mind sketching City Hall again!” After all I hadn’t sketched it for a few days and was suffering mild withdrawal symptoms. The ochre line drawing on the above page is my second sketch l did that afternoon. You will have to wait for the Pasadena City Hall article to see my main sketch (which is sitting on the hedge in the next photo).

My sketching buddies for the day – Debbie Thornhill and Phoebe Wilson.

Friday 9 November

My time in Pasadena was rapidly coming to an end, so on Friday morning I just had to make it out to Green and Green’s most famous craftsman house – The Gamble House. Phoebe took me there so we got to sketch together once again. (Note: it’s hard to get around LA without a car, so it was lovely to hang out with her all week)

A nice sunny morning made this much easier to sketch (in terms of light) than the Blacker House (click here for more details) but the volumes and details of this building were much more complicated. And, I only had one hour before my guided tour of the interior started.

I set a timer as I wanted to sketch this house from two locations. The first spot was sitting straight on to the building and I wanted to sketch the main volumes of the building and understand its design. To do this I worked directly in ink and added some tone with my warm grey Ecoline marker. The lighting was changing really quickly so it was important to capture the shadow shapes.

BTW if you have done my SketchingNow Buildings course you will know what I mean by volumes and you will understand the term ‘working structurally’. This approach is the key to sketching complex architecture quickly. I hope that it is a concept which you have been able to implement into your own way of sketching (whether you work fast or slow).

Next I did a simple little colour study just focusing on hue and value and it was great to see how much lighter the wall colour and the main timber detailing were in the direct sunlight.

At this stage my 30 minute alarm went off and I had to move locations and start my main sketch.

So this is what I managed to achieve in 30 minutes.

It was a very rushed sketch and in hindsight I would have been happier if I tried to do a more abstract version of the building. The ‘design study’ and the ‘colour study’ helped a lot and they enabled me to just sketch this version freely.

As I mentioned in my last article, these dark craftsman houses are very challenging to sketch and particularly in my loose style. Lighter buildings where I can leave more white space are much easier.

It was then time to go inside for the one hour guided tour. The inside of the building was extremely dark but unbelievably beautiful.

Everywhere I looked there was incredible detailing – superbly designed and crafted. Wow!

Naturally I sketched during the tour and I was happy to fill four pages of my A4 moleskine.

Last week, I shared a few thought about sketching during tours when we had our grand adventure in the Isaia Store in SF.

To quote:

I love doing these types of sketches as they really test my observation and eye-hand coordination skills. I had to make snap decisions about what I wanted to sketch and what were the important edges of the scene. I then had to go for it, trusting my hand to move in sync with my eye.

To add to those thoughts:

  • On this occasion I had to keep up with the tour leader and the group so I needed to decide whether I was going to be the first person to move on to the next room or the last. It varied from room to room depending on what I was sketching.
  • I tried not to over think what I sketched – there was way too much to sketch in each room so I had to rely on snap judgements. I tried not to be too ambitious with my sketches – trying to record a whole room was often too hard especially as I didn’t know how long the guide would stop at each spot. Sometimes I actually got the chance to do multiple attempts at the one detail (refer to the stepping detail of the staircase in the page below.)
  • The biggest win for me with this tour was remembering to pull out three different pens at the start: my Lamy Joy, my Ecoline marker and my ochre fountain pen. So I was able to add tone and coloured notes throughout.

I was very happy with what I achieved but naturally I took no photos.

So many complicated details to try and draw quickly! A great challenge for me.

Upstairs in the bedrooms I decided to focus on the small details and so I sketched a number of light fittings.

The last page – I did add a few additional notes at the end of the tour.

Phoebe (who had been sketching outside during the tour) then took me to the Huntington Library and Gardens for the rest of the afternoon. What a gorgeous place.

I went and visited the Gutenberg Bible on display in the library. Wow!

There was a very detailed sign about the size of sketchbooks allowed inside the library and mine was too big. I didn’t want to risk it so a bad photo is what it had to be.

Phoebe had to head off (reviewing the plan for the Sketchmeet on the next day due to the smoke caused by the terrible wildfires in SoCal) and I wandered around the gardens for a while before deciding that I wanted to sketch the Library.

As it was Fall and we were back to Pacific Standard Time, the days were getting short and the light starting to fade at 4pm. It wasn’t dark until 5pm but there was little sun to create interesting subject matter.

Being in California, I thought I would roam the Desert garden and draw some cacti – to fill a page with drawings which I would paint later that evening. So this is what I managed to do before it was time to leave the garden.

And this is the final version completed that night as a way to end a (mostly) great day. On the way back to my hotel, my iphone slipped out of my pocket and I got out of my Uber ride without it. Thankfully I was able to get it back and so painting this spread was a good way to chill after my phone drama!

I’m not sure you need to know that, but I just thought it is worth saying that even though my trips seem as if they are totally smooth and ‘disaster’ free, they all have some drama at some stage. I try not make a big deal out of things that go wrong (eg. I also had an Airbnb cancel on me at last minute this trip) but just want to make sure that you know that I have my fair share of travel mishaps.

Another wonderful few days in LA with a great mix of subject matters and nice balance between sketching with friends and solo time. Do you prefer to sketch with a group (or a few other sketchers) or on your own?



  • I do love to sketch with other people, and since I exhibit my art at weekend fairs, I can’t attend some sketchwalks.. I created my own Sketch Gang, of friends who I love to sketch that I can call last minute and arrange to meet. I also go off on my own during the week if I can carve out a few hours to go sketch by myself. I live in San Francisco, so there is plenty to draw, as you know..

  • Melissa G says:

    Wow Liz! Thank you for your sketches of Pasadena’s sights and most especially Gamble House! I visited it New Year’s Eve last year and your sketches capture the exquisite detail found throughout. I would have loved to be a guest on Aunt Julia’s porch overlooking the back garden (and Rose Bowl)! Like you, I had to decide which lovely details to capture as each room was a gem.
    The garage/ticket sales/gift shop was the professor’s workshop in the first Back to the Future movie!

Leave a Reply