CA18 Trip: San Francisco/Bay Area Part 2

November 19, 2018 | 6 Comments

After our sketching of San Jose Victorians (refer to the end of this article) Suhita organised a few friends over for an evening of catching up and sketching. I had hoped to sketch some pumpkins this trip but these gourds were the closest I got to doing a seasonal still life. (Note: it’s spring in Australia and we don’t have the big pumpkin/harvest/fall thing that happens in the States.)

The rest of the double page spread… I was trying to get into a ‘sketching people mode’ as Sketchkon was just around the corner.

A great evening and a few of us stayed up late talking about our art and our goals.

Thursday: Santa Cruz Mountains Day trip

The next morning we met up with Nina Khashchina (Apple-pine) and we followed her up some winding roads into the Santa Cruz mountains to visit Gay Kraeger’s gorgeous place. (Meeting these two – old Flickr friends – was a highlight of my trip last year, so it was great to hang out with them again!)

We started with morning tea and I choose one of the ‘hardest to sketch’ teacups from Gay’s collection.

Note. My palette was getting very moist from constant use and I realised that I picked up too much paint while doing this sketch. So as a result, that night I had to leave my palette open to let it dry out a little. I also adjusted my normal ‘paint pick up’ to be a little lighter in touch so that I got back to my usual pigment to water ratio in my washes.

Gay took us out for a short hike to visit the old tree in the forest. Here is my warmup sketch.

And then I did a second one of the base of the trunk.

Here is Nina’s photo of her wonderful gouache sketches and the three of us finishing off our sketches.

Gay (and her daughter who lives nearby) have some persimmon orchards. We found a ripe one for me to taste (I’ve never eaten one before!)

And then we sketched a few.

Note: I almost went an entire day without sketching any architecture… but couldn’t resist this simple line drawing of Gay’s daughter’s house.

We ended our day sitting on the back porch sketching the view along with Gay’s grand children.

A lovely day but it went too quickly!

Back in San Jose, Suhita’s husband wanted to take us out for Persian icecream. I forgot about American sizing and my single serve was enormous.

The next morning I sketched one of Suhita’s sister’s mugs while sipping my chai tea.


Saturday: San Jose and South Bay Sketchers meetup

Suhita’s daughter was performing in a concert, so I was dropped off at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum for some quiet sketching for an hour or so.

It was a little surreal to be surrounded by Egyptian buildings in this part of the world, but they were a lot of fun to sketch and the solo time was just what I needed.

Especially as the afternoon was going to be crazy!

The South Bay Sketchers admin team organised a sketchmeet at the San Jose History Park. It’s a great spot for a sketching event, but the highlight for me was seeing Suhita’s ‘Sign of the Times’ exhibition and getting a copy of her book.

Wow! it’s an outstanding exhibition/book/collection of sketches and although I got updates on the project over the last year or so, I had no idea of how many vintage signs from the area she actually sketched. It’s so inspiring!

Sadly I forgot to take any photos of the exhibition (talking to people!) but there are some here on Suhita’s website.

It was also very inspiring to think about how urban sketching can create important historical documentation of a local area and can lead to a meaningful connection with the community.

Congrats Suhita for this incredible achievement. The book is gorgeous and can be purchased here.

As for the sketching part of the meet – I tried to move around and sketch alongside three different groups of people.

The results were a little scattered – not surprising – but I had a lot of fun!

I don’t like rotating my sketchbook to work vertical, but there are occasions when I need to work a little larger. This was one of those times.

Here is the rotated version of the old firehouse.

It was a little hard to get a good photo of the sketches and sketchers (we didn’t take a group photo) but hopefully this gives you an idea of how big the group was.

I did one final sketch of the back of the firehouse tower and then got a lift back to San Francisco – thanks Joy! I had a quiet evening (what!? really!) and a lovely dinner at Vega in Bernal Heights sketching in the dark.

On the Sunday (Lord’s Day) I spent another truly wonderful day in a SF (Reformed) Presbyterian church! I feel such of a part of this church now (after two visits last year and two visits this year) and it was definitely a highlight of my trip.

Monday: Another SF sketching day

On Monday morning I met up with Laurie Wigham again. She had had an open studio over the weekend, so our day started with viewing her gorgeous tree paintings on display.

Next stop was the Diego Rivieria’s ‘Pan America Unity’ mural – very impressive!

And then we headed to SFMOMA to check out an exhibition which included a few of Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings. Laurie is a big fan of his work, and I can now see why. His colours, composition and abstraction (particularly of SF’s steep streets) is very inspiring.

We spent lunch comparing notes on pigments.

Here is my sketchbook spread from the morning which also includes a coffee sketch from earlier in the day. I got into a fascinating conversation with Greg (from Charlottesville) on the table next to me comparing learning art to starting fly fishing!

After SFMOMA we headed to the new Moleskine store where I bought one of the new-ish portrait A5 watercolour sketchbooks. Yes! many of us have wanted this book in this format and Moleskine have finally started making them.

Two stores along, is a Lamy store (one of only two dedicated Lamy stores outside of Germany).

I walked in the door and the guy behind the counter asked “Are you Liz Steel?” What?!? really, you know me?!?

It was lovely to chat to Oliveri and Sam (Store Manager) and buy a new fancy pen (more about that later).

Time for some more sketching… we headed to the old VC Morris Gift Store designed by Frank LLyod Wright and now owned by Isaia – a fancy Italian menswear brand. Laurie and I had an incredible sketching adventure here but that deserves a separate article. So stay tuned for that.

Laurie was still sketching on the BART ride home, but my lap was full of purchases and it was too hard to get my sketching gear out.

Thanks Laurie for a great day!

Tuesday: Back in San Jose area

On Tuesday morning I caught the train back down to San Jose and met up with Suhita and Iva in a local cafe.

Messy table with empty cups and plates and scattered art supplies.

Then we met up with Nina Khashchina and Susan Wilson to sketch another Victorian – well technically this is a Queen Anne building. The lighting wasn’t great, but that didn’t stop me from trying out a new approach…

… sketching the structure (main decorations) in paint only using Buff Titanium. Here is the first pass.

The final sketch – a little overworked. If I had had more time, I would have liked to have done another version, a more looser one.

We had time to squeeze in one more sketch before Nina and Suhita needed to hit the road for school pickup. And so we stopped to sketch the latest Google campus under construction. We only had 30 minutes so this was a fun challenge.

Susan continued sketching, but the three of us had to get going. I’m not a fan of selfies… but here is one I took just as we got into our cars.

Wednesday: Heading South

The next day it was time to catch a plane to Burbank as I was heading to Pasadena for Sketchkon.

What a great time I had in SF/ Bay Area. A huge thanks to Laurie and Suhita for looking after me both in terms of accommodation and sketching outings, and for everyone who helped my 1.5 weeks in the area to beso special.

As I write this report of my time in NorCal, I am very aware of what has happened since my visit. I’m very sad to hear about the horrendous wildfires, loss of life and properties and smoked filled air affecting many people. I hope all my readers are safe!

I certainly don’t take for granted the wonderful time (and weather) I had in San Francisco and the Bay Area!



  • pbass wil says:

    Holy smokes! This wasn’t a post, it was a feast! Sometimes I get impatient waiting for your next post, but this one is worth a dozen. When we next miss you, we can just savour this one for quite a while. :^} Your descriptions are fun, and always positive & enthusiastic. Really, you bring us along, which is appreciated. – pbass

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Pbass – it is a rather long blogpost… but it kinda makes sense to put it all together as it gives a better feel for what my trip was like. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • I agree with pbass, this blog was a feast. and priceless to see California through your eyes. I work two blocks from the Lamy and Moleskin store in San Francisco and was thrilled to read how they recognized you!! : -) — Vivian

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Vivian – it was lovely to see you again and have a short chat. It’s never long enough but at least longer than we had in Porto! 🙂

  • I really enjoyed reading about your sketching adventures in northern California. Looks like you all had a great time.

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