CA18 Trip: San Francisco/Bay Area Part 1

October 26, 2018 | 15 Comments

It’s been nearly a week since I arrived here in the SF/Bay Area and it’s been pretty busy (that is a little bit of an understatement). I have been with friends the whole time so I haven’t had a chance to share anything here. But today, I’ve got a few hours spare as I’ve joined the homework session in Suhita’s house.

Here is a quick summary of my adventures so far.

My double Friday

I started my first trip sketchbook with my morning coffee at my local cafe!

My flight was delayed by 2 hours so this gave me time to paint my kit – I have a lot of fountain pens this trip. My palette is the same as it has been for a few years now.

The 13.5 hour flight went so quickly (I slept for 6 hours) that I didn’t get around to sketching my view of the plane cabin.

I arrived in San Francisco on Friday noon and got to live my day again. I was staying with Laurie Wigham (a wonderful SF artist and the organiser of the SF Sketchers group) and we walked down to the Mission and ended up at a great Indian street food place – Curry Upnow.

I then had a few hours on my own and did a quick B&W sketch of Mission Dolores Park and a small half-sketch of a Victorian house across the street. The Victorian buildings of SF are really challenging to sketch in my usual style, so I wanted to start thinking about strategies straight away.

Saturday: SF Sketchers Meetup sketching the Golden Gate Bridge

Laurie organised a sketchmeet with the local sketchers at Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. We arrived an hour early and I did this quick sketch in very cold and windy conditions.

There were about 35 sketchers at the meet and we tried to find some sun to sit in. It was nice that the fog lifted for a bit.

I did three sketches during the sketchmeet – in between a lot of talking!

Here is my third version up close – very loose sketch which I enjoyed doing a lot!

A few of us headed to the Warming Hut for a late lunch and then continued sketching from 4pm to 5.30. The air was getting very moist and I really struggled with my paint not drying.

Thanks Laurie for organising a great day! It was really good to spend my first full day with the local gang and sketching all day.

Monday: Painted Ladies and Arch talk

I started my week with a quiet coffee at a Bernal Heights cafe – Pinhole. Coffees are larger and more expensive in the US!

My mission for the morning was to paint the famous painted ladies of San Francisco of Alamo Square since I was so disappointed with my attempts last year.

They are super hard to sketch quickly in ink and wash. No matter what I do they always come out looking too heavy unless I zoom in and only do one building.

Why are they so tricky? They contain so much fine detail which is normally painted white and this is very hard to achieve with transparent watercolour.

I used grey ink this time but that didn’t help much especially in this first version where I was trying to sketch the whole row in my usual quick style. It didn’t help that the lighting changed dramatically during my stay.

If I slowed down and worked neat then I know the results would be better. But I want to work loosely!

It would also help if I zoomed in and only drew one or two of the houses.

I decided to do a few experiments to try some different approaches.

What about starting with the shadow shapes? Here I was adjusting the shadow colour slightly for each house.

In the end I ran out of time and couldn’t do another version which I was really wanting to do. I will have to leave it for my next visit.

I ended the day doing a lecture at Arch – a wonderful art store in SF. It was a lot of fun to share my story and some tips for sketching quickly.

Tuesday: South Bay Area Adventures begin

The next morning I caught the train down to San Jose. It was packed with tech people and at Mountain View (the stop closest to Google Campus) the train practically emptied.

After a quick coffee (where we were talking about painting white buildings) Suhita took me to a local mission church at Santa Clara University. It was cream not white, but still fun to sketch.

Our non-stop art-chats and sketching had begun!

If you are new around here – Suhita is one of my great sketching buddies. We hung out together a lot in Porto and Lisbon during my recent European trip. She has a fantastic blog – Sketchaway – and also posts a lot to her Instagram feed. I suggest you follow her!

She then took me to a great local place for lunch – Falafel’s Drive In – with a great vintage sign. So we had to sketch it, didn’t we? We were standing up and looking into the sun so I just did a quick black and white sketch using my Lamy Joy (med nib), Sailor 55 degree fude pen and a Ecoline marker.

Time for a coffee at a cafe with a lot of old coffee grinders and pots, before deciding where to go for our last sketch of the day.

We ended up in Los Gatos – a row of buildings which I did last year.

During my 2017 trip I was using varying sizes of Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks (my everyday sketchbook rather than my usual travel sketchbook – Moleskine watercolour). So it was fun to revisit the same scene again, and I look forward to comparing the two versions when I get home.


Wednesday: San Juan Bautista

I started the day with a chai tea in one of Suhita’s lovely cups.

We then headed to San Juan Bautista – a small historic town built around one of the early missions. It also is adjacent to the San Andreas Fault. I didn’t get a chance to do a sketch of it, but here is a photo showing the change in level between two tectonic plates.

It was time to tackle a white (white-ish) mission church… here are the results at the end of our sketching session.

The first sketch was exploratory, testing out various ways of painting the shade/shadow areas of the white building – what I call my kitchen sink version.

I then did a very quick paint only second sketch.

Here are the two side by side.

I did a few more small sketches including this fun one of a prickly pear cactus.

We ended our day with a street view in the town. This was my first pass – ‘shadow shapes first’ is such a great way to sketch!

And here is my finished sketch.

I was really starting to feel in the groove – something special happens when I’m sketching after 3pm in the afternoon.

Thursday: San Jose

Todaywe both had to do some work, so we had a cafe session first – which included some pigment testing. This is Suhita’s photo of the table.

After lunch (and once we had completed our work) Suhita took me to sketch some San Jose Victorians. This was a 30 minute conservative sketch of a restrained pink and white building. (Ink: De Atramentis Urban Grey Document Ink).

Then I did this crazy loose sketch of another one in less than 10 minutes (with an additional 2 minutes of extra painted lines once the first pass was dry).

This sketch flowed so easily for me as it was a dark painted building and I was drawing the main volumes in paint rather than trying to preserve white areas. It’s incredible what a difference the colour scheme made on my confidence to sketch this house quickly and loosely.

So it’s been a fun few days. I’m buzzing with all the sketching and sketch-chats I have had. And this is just the warmup period of the trip as I head to Pasadena next week for Sketchkon.

If you want to keep up with me (including lots of fun videos) please follow my Instagram account and especially keep an eye out for my Instagram stories Mon-Sat.



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