Unraveling the Complexity of Travel Sketching

Workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Urban sketchers is excited to be holding it’s own series of 10 workshops around the Bay Area: 10 teachers you’ve been wanting to take a workshop with, and workshops geared towards all levels of sketchers!

My Workshop in San Francisco

Title of workshop: Unraveling the Complexity of Travel Sketching

Level of difficulty: Beginning
Instructor: Richard Sheppard
Date/time: May 6 and May 7, 10am-1pm (I have two spots that just opened up for Saturday May 6. My May 7 class is currently full.)
Meeting place: San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts, on the corner of Baker St. and Bay St.

Class description: The best souvenirs are not the things you buy or the photos you take while on vacation, but drawings you create in a sketchbook. Sketching allows the artist to slow down enough to get acquainted with surroundings that are so often overlooked while framing the world through a lens. Yet sketching in public can be a daunting experience for the self-conscious sketcher, or for those that are just unprepared. The first part of this class will cover tips on getting beyond the emotional roadblocks that keep us from sketching. Then we’ll discuss materials, styles, and techniques that are best suited for travel sketching. The final part of the class will cover developing a visual vocabulary as well as choosing subjects that are memorable and meaningful.

To register contact suhita@gmail.com and put “San Francisco Bay Area 10×10” in the subject line of your email. Suhita will let you know if there are still spots open and she will help you through the registration process.

Sketchcrawl in Albany California


Yesterday, the Bay Area Urban Sketchers group met in Albany for Sketchcrawl. The weather was sunny and warm for the month of January, perfect for drawing. I had never visited Albany nor had I ever meet my fellow sketchers from across the bay.

About twenty of us met up at the corner of Masonic and Solano and after some quick introductions, dispersed for drawing. A couple of blocks away, I found a coffee shop fabricated out of an old Streamline RV called Local 1 2 3. It was nestled in a garden store appropriately called Flowerland. A few other sketchers chose the same subject and we sat at bistro tables drinking coffee while immortalizing the unique shop in our books.


Later in the day, when a cold wind picked up, we moved indoors for a sketchbook sharing at the local library. We gathered around our open books, discovered new talents, techniques, and friends. Conversations over cookies and sparkling beverages lasted for over an hour. It was great to get to know other sketch artists in the Bay Area.

The Cheese Factory

Nestled in a valley outside of Petaluma, stands the landmark where the well-loved cheese Rouge et Noir is made. Known locally as The Cheese Factory, its real name is the Marin French Cheese Company, and it has produced hand-crafted, soft-ripened cheeses in this same location since 1865, making it the oldest cheese manufacturer in the USA. I’ve passed it many times on the way to Point Reyes, always promising to stop next time. Last week I finally took the time to visit and I’m glad I did.

The moment I stepped into the cheese shop, I was invited to taste. I delighted in the various aromas, textures and flavors of brie, Camembert, and bleu cheeses, before taking a mini tour of the facility. Through a window I watched as workers poured warm milk into containers with added culture. From here, the natural process of converting milk to cheese only takes a few hours. Once the curds have thickened, the whey is allowed to drain away and the new cheese is formed into molds. Each cheese is aged for a specified period of time depending on its type, and then finally packaged for sale.

As lunch time approached, I headed back to the shop and picked out a Petite Creme Rouge et Noir, a packet of crackers, and a drink. Resting outside by the duck pond, I savored my snack, along with a view that encouraged me to pull out my watercolor paints. This area of northern California, known for its artisan cheeses, is especially beautiful in late autumn, after seasonal rains have begun to fall. Rolling grass-covered hills that were sere and golden just last month are now a brilliant emerald green. The cows that dot these hillsides are no doubt happier of late, eating newly sprouted grasses.

Philip Glass – “Einstein on the Beach”

Waiting in line to hear Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, and others talk about “Einstein on the Beach.”

Last Sunday afternoon, my wife Marilyn and I attended “Einstein on the Beach” at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Scored by Philip Glass and directed by Robert Wilson, this modern opera first premiered in France in 1976, and after a short European tour, closed in New York City. Since then, millions have heard and embraced the work. And this year, the originators mounted a limited-release revival tour, including the first and only west coast performance.

The Zellerbach Playhouse pre-talk included Glass and Wilson, along with choreographer Lucinda Childs. Childs, who performed in the original production along with Glass and Wilson, joined to reflect on the show’s inspiration, as well as how audience perception has changed since its debut. The opera is famous for both its intermission-less 4-1/2 hour length and lack of a storyline. While the conversation provided background information, the speakers steered clear of explanation and detail to allow the show to be rediscovered and deciphered by today’s audience.

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson Talking about “Einstein on the Beach.”

As we entered the theater, I heard barely perceptible keyboard tones, followed by multiple voices repeating numbers. Though the show had not yet started, these sounds continued as we found our seats, ululating in volume and intensity, blurring the distinction between the worlds outside and inside the auditorium. The pace of the music slowed my busy mind, preparing me for the meditative, minimalist music of Philip Glass.

The lights dimmed and onstage action began at a glacial pace. The stage was awash in blueish grey, highlighted here and there by the occasional splash of red or golden yellow. Musical patterns gradually shifted, unfolding over extended periods of time, though by the second scene, the repetitive nature of the music had me trapped. Waves of musical notes washed over me, and I felt a brief panic, as if drowning in a sea of music. As I let go of fear, my mind and body relaxed and a contemplative state began to build. It was then that I was able to enjoy the performance, by giving into it, and letting go.

Due to the show’s length, the audience was permitted to enter and exit the theater at will, knowing that “Einstein” would be there upon return. Around midpoint, I meandered into the lobby to grab a snack but was struck by the oddness of doing so. I was not alone. Many people sat at bistro tables drinking coffee, tea, and wine as the performance resonated through the theater walls. It felt more like a cafe at a museum where visitors could relax and then reenter the gallery.

My wife Marilyn enjoying a cup of tea and looking through the program in the lobby.

Feeling hungrier than a cookie could satisfy, I walked the half-block to Blondie’s Pizza. I felt in a trance, the music echoing in my mind while I mingled with the people on the street.

Sketches in near darkness during Einstein on the Beach and a Blondies Pizza sign sketch.

When I returned to my seat twenty minutes later, ballet dancers criss-crossed the stage in flowing beauty, providing a feminine balance to an otherwise masculine production. This new energy invigorated me to reach for my sketchbook. Drawing in near-dark conditions, I realized how visual the music was. The cascading notes formed a rich, solid mass like a tonal landscape on canvas.

At four hours of performance time, the show culminated with a whirlwind of sound, flashing visuals, and a rocket ship moving through space. But at the end, the show finished as quietly as it started. I felt exhausted but enlivened emotionally, creatively, and spiritually.

Sketch in near darkness during “Einstein on the Beach.”

Game Time! The San Francisco Giants

Yesterday, my family (Marilyn my wife, my dad, and I) went to see the San Francisco Giants play in AT&T Park for the first time in a while. Attending a live game is so much better than watching it on TV and it’s nice to get a reminder of the incredible energy that accompanies the live action game.

For this trip, I set out to change my usual sketching routine by creating smaller, looser sketches so I could complete as many as I could. I often feel like I don’t have time to do a sketch and so I set out to prove myself wrong.

Since we live in the North Bay, we decided to take the Larkspur Ferry that goes from Larkspur directly to the Giant’s ball park. (10 minutes sketch while waiting for the ferry to depart)


We purchased tickets to and from the ball park at Larkspur Landing. (5 minute sketch)



The Ferry arrived and after a twenty minute wait, we departed. (3-4minute sketch)



We sailed past San Quintin Penitentiary. I sketched the buildings as we moved passed so the angles were changing as I drew but somehow it still came together, however inaccurate. Famous inmates include Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, and Stanley “Tookie” Williams. (5-7 minute sketch)


Off in the distance, sail boats floated around the bay with fog rolling in behind them. (2 minute sketch, wind blowing through my hair)



Bouys used as markers help ship captains navigate the San Francisco Bay. (2 minute sketch)



The island of Alcatraz was barely visible through the fog (2 minute sketch)


We cruised under the Bay Bridge shrouded in fog. (4-5 minute sketch)

We arrived at AT&T Park and validated out tickets and asked an usher to help us locate our seats. I commented that they were in the nose bleed section. He replied, “oh no, we don’t have Nose Bleed seats in this ball park, we have View Reserved seats.” And he was right, we walked around the ball park and climbed the stairs to the tippy top of the park and had a great view of the Bay beyond the stadium. (30 minute sketch)



We enjoyed watching the game even though we lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-2. It was great to see Posey, Lincecum, Panda, and the rest of the gang play ball. Since the Giants had already clinched the National League Title, they were probably taking it easy since this game wasn’t going to help them advance. I can’t wait till the playoffs begin! (Drawn over the course of the game, sometimes with greasy chicken and french fry coated fingers.)

So I proved myself wrong and now I’ve learned that I almost always have time for a quick sketch.

Graduation U C Davis, School of Medicine

Our good friend Alyn graduated with honors today from UC Davis with a Doctor of Medicine Degree. My wife Marilyn and I couldn’t be more proud of her! We first met Alyn while planting flowers in a community garden back when we lived in San Francisco in the mid 1990’s and we’ve been friends ever since. Up until about 5 years ago, Alyn had an upwardly mobile job in Silicon Valley doing management work at a high profile software company. So why would she quit a terrific job to go back to school? To follow her dream of becoming a Doctor, of course!

Congratulations Alyn on making your dream come true!

(I sketched this during the ceremony at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts using one of my old hand stitched sketchbooks and a Pigma Micron #.3 pen)

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Over the weekend my wife Marilyn and I headed to a birthday party in the coastal town of Inverness. After a beautiful drive through the Sonoma countryside, we met with company on the patio of Priscilla’s Cafe. After greetings and birthday wishes, lunch began with a round of raw oysters, pints of ale and fresh squeezed lemonade. Afterward, I dove into fish tacos made with fresh local snapper and stacked high with avocado, salsa fresca and crunchy lettuce. What a treat.

After lunch, we drove out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse on the tip of the nearby peninsula. On a previous drive some years ago, Marilyn and I had almost made it to the lighthouse at sunset, only to end up turning back to make our dinner reservations.

This time we were determined to see the lighthouse. After a forty-five minute drive and one wrong turn, we arrived at the gate. From here, a foot path led to the visitor’s center located a half mile away. Stoically, we decided to hoof it.

Unlike the sunny skies of Inverness, here a cold wind blew thick fog that dampened my glasses, limiting vision to about 20 feet. I wondered if we would see the lighthouse or just bump into it. The wind whistled through twisted, windblown cypress trees lining the path.

At the visitor’s center we learned to get to the lighthouse itself, we had to descend a 308 step staircase, and that closing time was 10 minutes away. Racing down the first 200 steps, we finally saw the lighthouse come into view. Marilyn stopped, saying she’d rather wait for another time to go on, another day when we’d have time to explore. I felt disappointed, but had to agree. This turn of events gives us a great excuse to continue the adventure soon.

With only a few minutes to spare, I decided to do a quick sketch from my place on the stairs. Since the lighthouse was partially covered in fog, I chose not to use pen and ink, reasoning that the softness of watercolor would better represent this moody weather.

Running out of time, I walked back up the stairs and found Marilyn at the visitor’s center looking at guidebooks. Together, we headed home where I put the finishing touches on the painting.