Thursday, 21 September 2017

Festival in the Mission: Fiesta de las Américas


After a month-long hiatus (definitely not by choice, somehow work and travel needs squeezed out all my painting outings, unfortunately) I finally had a chance to head into the city on a nice and sunny day. This time is to join the SF sketchers on sketching the Fiesta de las Americas happening in the Mission district. I didn't even need to head into the festival to get distracted. I miss the sun and back alleys and dry weather so much that I immediately got to work after dispersing from the meeting point. The back alley - Lilac Street is actually famous for its murals and graffitis, but I was so excited just to see nice quaint buildings set against the sun that I hadn't time to study them in depth. Maybe next visit!


This time the interesting shadow on the canopy caught my attention, also the clothes for sale that were dancing in the wind. There was actually a huge mural behind the canopy on the building behind, but scared of directing the focus away from the shadow I dared not touch that surface (also from a bad experience painting murals in Chicago still left me reluctant to try again) I brought the new blue and red I bought in Japan earlier along, but I did not expect the red ("Scarlet Red" from Schmincke) to be so over-powering... the weakness of the blue ("Cobalt Azure" from Schmincke also) was expected because the swatch shows a very light blue. So I had to layer on the Phthalo Blue to balance out the scene.


After getting comfortable with the colours again I switched to the full-size Arches... and again found a shadow to work on. This time an orange building set against a long row of trees. After getting the Olive Green again on my palette, the greens finally feel full-bodied again!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Chicago! At last! (warning: long post)


Going to Chicago is like a special pilgrimage for me, since my favourite movie (the Fugitive, 1993) takes place almost exclusively in this city. It also happens that it is not that kind of movie that the setting is anonymous throughout (like in I, Robot, cough* cough*, Vancouver), but you are constantly reminded that the story is set in Chicago from beginning to end. Before I even set foot in the US for the first time, I already know the L, Cook County Hospital, Hilton Chicago, the Picasso, and the St. Patrick's Day parade by heart. So it feels super weird to stand on Wells Street Bridge and not see the Illinois Bell pay phone...like, it is supposed to be there, am I even in the correct Chicago? 

Anyways, meeting fellow sketchers and admiring other's works aside, just being able to walk freely around the Chicago downtown and linger on the bridges as long as I wanted already felt like a privilege. My first trip to Chicago, unfortunately, was a whirlwind 2.5 day stay almost entirely spent in McCormick Center attending a trade show. There was a mandatory pizza shop visit, but the majority was either spent stuck in traffic, or in doors in the convention center. Heck we didn't even get to stay at a downtown hotel because the travel plan was so last minute. The Uber driver this time rightfully laughed at me when I admit I didn't even get to see Lake Michigan last time, granted the convention center literally sits on its shores. 

That horrible trip (okay, in terms of work it was highly productive) behind me, I started anew in the city proper... with a sleepless night. Honestly it is one of the rare occasions that I actually have trouble falling asleep without the influence of jet lag. Maybe it was the unfamiliar ventilation noise of the building? or the lights from the building next door? or the excitement of finally being able to come face-to-face with the familiar city that I've been watching again and again since high school? Whichever reason, it was a sleepless night for me and a shaky start to a 3-day sketching marathon.

Day 1

Started the day right in the middle of the financial quarter. I was pleasantly surprised to see many available places to sit in front of buildings, unlike the cramped SF downtown. What's best, the streets are almost spotlessly clean!


From the 2nd sketch, I was already distracted by bridges. This just so happened to be the first I ran into (at this point, I had absolutely no idea that Chicago downtown is surrounded by bridges!) This particular one is I-290, not in the Loop per se, but very close.


After an unsuccessful nap after lunch back at the Airbnb (still couldn't properly fall asleep), I struggled to stay alert in the blazing afternoon sun. Whilst walking to the designated point at DuSable Bridge, I was distracted by the strange buildings in the distance. Turns out they are the Wrigley Building (pointy one on the left) and Tribune Tower (one w/ arches on the right) They'd fit right into a historical neighbourhood, yet somehow they are here among the sky-scrappers...and they themselves looked like ancient buildings on pedestals lol. The 3 statues are in fact on this side of the river.


Then comes the classic, DuSable Bridge (Michigan Avenue Bridge) The afternoon sun was so bright I hid in the shadows of the overpass. The variety of bridges is a nice change from the SF Bay Area. Both are surrounded by bodies of water, but the bay is too wide to have more than a handful bridges built across it...

After deciding that I have not had enough of the bridges (even though it is already nearing dinner time), I went ahead to sketch two more towards the edge of town (top picture). I really cannot convince myself to walk away from a nicely casted shadow (like the one on the Sheraton). In the front, North Columbus Drive Bridge. In the back, North Lake Shore Drive Bridge.

Day 2

The USk listed Printer's Row as the morning drawing destination. Having had a fully loaded day before (probably my most prolific drawing day to date), I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow... and of course, refuse to get up when awoken by my morning alarm. It is a historical, but tidy and quiet neighborhood surrounded by impressive brick buildings. I really cannot stop admiring brick structures because they're just so rare on the west coast! Plus the strong shadows they cast on one another is right up my alley!


In the afternoon I went back to Wells Street Bridge wanting to sketch some movie-related scene. Unfortunately I couldn't find any to my liking so I decided to stand on Wells Street Bridge and draw the bridge next door instead. This way at least I can put my drawing supplies on the handrail of the bridge. (Did I mention I had no stool so almost all my sketches this time were done standing up?)  The forest of skyscrapers were a little distracting, so I smudged up the paints a bit to put the focus back on the bridge... judging by the result, I may need to sharpen up my smudging skills a bit lol.

Day 3 - nothing because I spent my precious morning (1 hr total) at the Art Institute of Chicago... before stumbling my way onto the plane (probably as the 2nd last passenger) 


All in all a productive trip! Really even I, coming from Vancouver, don't have any complaints about the weather that weekend. Long sunlight hours, mild breeze, gentle sun, and blazing sunset (which I am already used to) make a wonderful sketching destination. I missed the announcement that next year's location would be in Portugal (because I wanted to have dinner in peace and rest my overworked legs in the apartment), but man that would be a even loooonger journey. Hopefully this time I can actually attend the full event, and not jump in on the 3rd day all the while pretending I'm working from home. Also, note to self, stay away from the silent auction because it is for instructors to sell demo pieces lol. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Weekend of Shrines! Tsubaki Grand Shrine & Ise Grand Shrine

Never thought I would say this Japan, but I wish I had a car this time. The shrine that I wanted to visit is at most 40 min drive from Nagoya, but by public transit and it took at least 2:30 hrs on way. Not to mention that bus departs from the shrine only once every 2 hours. (And yes, I was running for that returning bus without having time to screw on my water jar or put away my brushes) 

Tsubaki Grand Shrine (Tsubaki Ookami Yashiro)
Location: Suzuka, Mie Prefecture


The was already a guy sitting in front of the main shrine and painting when I arrived by bus at ~11am. I sort of camped myself behind the Torii gate to get away from the sun and to draw in the huge trees leading the way to the shrine. I think everyone who passed by assumed that the other guy and I know each other (one even went as far as to ask the other guy if he knows me lol, I think he might be a little creeped out seeing that he's being secretly observed from behind) For a long weekend, the shrine did not have as many visitors as I would imagined (meaning I don't need to fight for a place to stand unlike in most Kyoto shrines haha) The staffs also said hi to us on their way in and out.


The stone stairs and statues were interesting against the light, so I did a full piece on the side shrine.

There was a small shrine on top of the hill behind the main shrine, but unfortunately I did not find a good view on it (most of the overlook was covered by foliages...) I also lost my Suica card of 10 years while hiking up the stairs to the shrine... (I was probably taking out my phone while it slipped out of my back pocket) Attempting search for the card, I also hiked up the stairs up and down a second time. The consequence was my limping on my way to work for the next week while my muscles recuperate from the unexpected hard labour. Aaanway, I found the above nice scene while strolling around the small town next to the shrine. It was a small tea plant at the foot of the mountain. You could see how rushed I was from the messed up perspective on the right ;A; And to be honest, I finished up most of the painting after getting back to Nagoya because I had to run for the bus half way through it... Priorities, lol

Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingu)
Location: Ise, Mie Prefecture

I went on to visit Ise Shrine the last day (Monday) of the long weekend. Unfortunately I only had time to swing by the outer shrine before I need to go back to work in the afternoon... Anyhow, it was enough time to squeeze two drawings in and get a decent lunch!

After hearing about the horror stories of the crowds at Ise Shrine, I was pleasantly surprised by the general lack of people in the outer shrine (granted it was still much more crowded than Tsubaki) The most interesting thing was definitely the white curtain that hangs in the centre of the shrines, so that when the wind blows through it, people could catch a quick glimpse of the inside (where the deities reside) But more over, the motion of the curtain gives an impression that there is some unseen force behind it.

A close-up of one the shrines in the outer area. More the scenery itself, I clearly remember the cicadas screaming in the woods behind me. Until now I didn't know that they could start and stop in waves. Usually one or two starts, then the chorus builds up in a matter of seconds, completely drowning any surrounding sounds. I couldn't remember how long each waves lasted, but when they fade out in a matter of seconds, it also felt like an awkward silence has befallen the shrine lol

Anyhow, after seeing the unique style of the Ise Shrine buildings on Begin Japanology, I definitely wanted to capture at least one of those unique rooftops. So, mission accomplished!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Worth it for the redeye: Pier 3 + Hornblower

In order to attend this SF sketcher meetup at Pier 3, I negotiated at length on the phone with the travel agent to book a redeye flight to Japan. The dilemma was (1) I really want to attend the meetup on Saturday (2) My boss wants me in Japan Saturday morning. As it turns out, all the flights to Japan depart around noon in the bay area, meeting the 2nd requirement but invariable crushing my sketching plans. In the end, I convinced the travel agent to book me on a midnight flight out of Los Angeles, arriving in Japan 5am in the morning on Monday... god knows why the redeye is only available in LA, but it certainly saved my day (or weekend rather) Onwards to enjoy the nice and sunny day at the Piers!!


The tiny yellow boat caught my attention as I was walking to the meeting point. (It almost killed me, however, when halfway through the painting, the boat sailed away with a group of passengers...it did come back after 15 minutes lol)


Onto the Hornblower boat. I was originally only planning to draw the buildings lining the Pier (between Pier 3 and 5), but there still was a bit of time left when I finished and it looked like the painting could naturally extend itself to the Hornblower moored next to it. I thus quickly proceeded to block in the sky, hoping that the blues match~

Verdict: definitely worth enduring the redeye!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The lecturing continues: Fort Funston National Park

Honestly I was a bit skeptical when the SF meetup group posted "Fort Funston National Park" as the next sketching location. A national park in SF is the last thing I would expect, given the population density and limited space. But...it turns out this tiny national park still managed to squeeze itself along the west coastline of the peninsula, and also offers quite a unique landscape. I really had no idea what to expect when I parked my car and walked towards where everyone else was. The grassy field drops down to a sheer cliff with patches of sand and grass all the way until the shoreline at the bottom. You could barely make out the people down there or the distant horizon.


Access to the beach is through the stairs (completely overrun by sand) in the middle of the painting. It really wasn't as scary as it looks once I got down there, but boy was uphill a battle trying to find traction in all the loose sand!

After sitting near the cliff finishing up my first painting, I nudged inland a little bit to focus on the resting hang-gliders. As I was about to put on the finishing touches though, I noticed from the corner of my eye, someone waving furiously at my direction and trying to mouth something. Through his body language, I could sort of grasp that he wanted me to move out of that location. Since there was another sketcher nearby who was still painting, I decided to finish this one up and then move out of the grass. But there were indeed orange cones behind where I was sitting, so I moved a few inches so that I'm behind them. Unfortunately a few minutes later, the same man walked up to me and started to voice anger that I still haven't cleared the area and that it's a hazard for landing gliders. A bit confused at this point, I explained that I though the orange cones are the boundaries, and since I'm now already out of the circled zone, where exactly is the forbidden area? The man quickly lost his patience, taking my questions as defiance to safety. After being thrown questions to the likes of "it's like drawing on the highway, will you draw on the highway?" merely because I asked why people walking through the area is okay but sitting is not okay, I quickly concluded the ineffective conversation and announced my intention to depart. As I was slowly packing up my stuff, another man walked up and apologized for the previous guy's attitude and this time politely explained why I couldn't stay where I was. However, at this stage the anger had really rubbed off on me and I just threw him an impatient "Yes! I AM packing!". (You see, anger and impatience are indeed the worst communication tools, even creating a domino effect on me)


The second person eventually came back again when I started doing the first panorama on my sketch book and explained that the hang gliders just weren't used to having sketchers in their territory, given that most people just walk through and walk downhill. Even though he was nice and considerate, there was still this uneasy feeling as I left the park. It is reminiscent of the various unfriendly encounters w/ authority I had when sketching in Japan (unfortunately most are confrontation from the start too...)


Looking across the parking lot, there's also a nice view of the TV tower in the distant.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Picking a shadow to hide: Los Gatos Creek Trail

On one scorching afternoon (Back in early June), I headed straight for the shades of Los Gatos Creek Trail on my bike (and hid there until the sun was down) 


I rarely draw on near square paper size, but it was a nice change!



Monday, 28 August 2017

Braving the heat: again in the Philippines

Catching up on a trip to Manila in mid-June. Since I was staying in Makati (downtown / financial area) this time, I decided to stroll around instead of attempting to uber to farther destinations (my previous traumatic experience was still fresh in my memory) Besides the heat and humidity, there was really nothing to complain about (or be afraid of) in the few blocks around the hotel. There was a decently-sized supermarket, in which I was dismayed to find that no Asian, aka Japanese / Korean, snacks were in stock. Given the all-too-obvious abundance of Japanese cars on the street, I really thought that the snack industry would have an equal influence. There were, however, digestive biscuits on sale, an excellent item for the long commute back. I was definitely the odd one in the queue with only the biscuits and a bag of mango slices, where everyone else looked like they're preparing for an imminent typhoon... Seriously, everyone in queue had at least one full shopping cart, and the couple before me had almost 20 cardboard boxes full of groceries (heck there were 4 people helping them process, 1 load the conveyor belt, 1 scan the items, and 2 stuff the boxes)

The view is through the arched breezeway of the Philippine Exchange Plaza, a cool refuge from the scorching sun outside. The park in the foreground (Ayala Triangle Gardens) was also very nice and quiet, too bad that I ran out of green paint so the leaves looked more subdued than they really were... It really didn't come to me that I could just mix blue and yellow to make green, until a week after I returned...missed opportunities haha