CA18 Trip: San Francisco/Bay Area Part 3 - Isaia adventure

November 21, 2018 | 18 Comments

One of the highlights of my half day in San Francisco in 1999 (my first trip to USA) was visiting a little building by Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) – originally the VC Morris Gift Store – which was a prototype for the Guggenheim in NYC. So I was pretty happy when Laurie Wigham suggested we visit it as part of our day in SF downtown.

The visit turned out to be a very special sketching adventure – worthy of a separate article.

If you missed it, I have shared my full adventures from my trip in San Francisco (and the Bay Area) here and here.

The building is now owned by Isaia – a fancy Napoli menswear store.

We asked the security guard at the entrance if we could sketch inside. “Sure, but you can’t go upstairs” was the reply.

It was a very hard space to sketch, especially as I was working quickly direct in ink. I added a little colour using my waterbrush. But regardless of how the sketch turned out I was extremely happy to be recording it in my sketchbook. I’m a big FLW fan and this interior is incredible. Sketching it gave me a very special connection with the design.

It didn’t take long before the Isaia staff members noticed what we were doing and came to look and we got comments like “hmm, that is quite good!” The big important meeting upstairs finished and so more people walked down the ramp and checked out our progress.

Laurie included the security guy – Temoc – in her sketch. He was chuffed!

Then we went outside and sat at one of the Isaia red table and chairs on the street. How convenient was that?


Being an architect (and not to mention a big FLW fan) I ignored the carefully placed white scooter in front of the building as I was focusing on the beautiful design and brickwork. I was thankful that Laurie included it in hers as it was an important Isaia design feature.

While we were finishing off our exterior sketches (and thinking what a fun and special sketching adventure this had been) Sean, the Isaia brand ambassador came out to meet us. We got talking and he offered us a tour (at some time). Laurie said “Liz is leaving tomorrow, could we do a tour now?” The answer was yes!

Sean gave us a great tour of the building, pointing out a lot of original features and how much was involved in their renovation of the place. It is stunning!

Not surprisingly I sketched non-stop during the tour. So much fun!

I really 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. Plus I also needed to listen and chat with our tour guide.

There were interesting compositions in every direction and I really love the way in which Isaia have used the space. Thanks to Laurie for taking some photos.

When we finished the tour we met Ric, the store manager, and then Sean gave us both a fancy Isaia writing pad. Ric said that this was a rare gift and then after seeing our sketches commented that it was Temoc’s second day on the job. We then (naturally) offered to sketch them – the important guys. Both Sean and Ric didn’t mind posing for us at all!


My sketch of Ric…

and of Sean. You can see Laurie’s sketch of Sean done in the Isaia pad here.

Note: I’m not super confident sketching portraits on demand like this but when I’m caught up in the midst of a special sketching adventure I just have to go for it.

Group photo time! We had a blast – can you tell?

And just before we left I had to do a quick version of Temoc!


I can’t tell you how much we were both buzzing after this adventure – it was just so much fun. Thanks to Sean and Ric and the whole Isaia gang for making our afternoon so special!

I couldn’t help thinking how much this experience demonstrates what is so wonderful about Urban Sketching.

I know that a lot of people are afraid to sketch out on location, or afraid to sketch when strangers can look over their shoulder. Others say that urban sketching is too hard and not worth attempting, arguing that it’s much easier to sketch from photos.

Whilst it might be more controllable to sketch from photos it is not as fun. Honestly interacting with people is the BEST part of urban sketching. Yes, sometimes it is hard to achieve the best ‘quality’ of work when you are around people, but the conversations you have with others add a certain energy and excitement to your sketches.

Don’t worry about what other people will think about you – sketching on location is always cool! Being brave and sketching in unusual places can lead to one-off experiences – which is certainly what Laurie and I had on this occasion.



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