Monday, 16 October 2017

Another fine afternoon in Campbell - Heritage Village Offices

I accidentally biked past this building on my way home a few weeks ago and remembered to come back this time for a sketch. It is right next to the Campbell Heritage Theatre I drew last time, except that this one does not show up in google searches for nearby points of interest... (maybe it doesn't serve any cultural functions anymore?) 

Anyway, save for a few people gathering at the entrance of the building (mostly looking down at their phones, so I assume it might be Pokemon Go related activities?), I had the sunset to myself. The tree in front of the roundabout was also quite formidable and had some nice textures.

On to discover more neighbourhood oddities!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

California's Sunset Coast, Pismo Beach

This is the fruit of begging my boss to re-arrange my travel so I can meet up with my primary school buddy in Pismo Beach. We had no particular reason in meeting up in this particular location (and I certainly haven't heard about this town before). But since neither of us have 7 hr to spare to drive (me from the Bay Area, my buddy from LA) we decided that meeting somewhere in the middle would be the most time-efficient way. Unfortunately all the places I know are clustered towards either one of the regions, like Monterey, Carmel, Santa Barbara, etc. So I just went ahead and google-searched "Where best to meet between SF and LA" and there were definitely people who shared the same dilemma. The answer they received included Pismo Beach, situated ~3.5 hrs away from both cities. The southmost I've been on the Californian coastline was Hearst Castle (other than flying directly into LA) and driving to Pismo definitely set another record! We then promptly booked a seaside hotel (most of them in town are!)

The drive South for me was relatively smooth save for some congestion merging into 101. Unfortunately my buddy ran into traffic in Santa Barbara, so while waiting for her to come I got some snacks and settled down to do some sketches. The hotel offers a semi-private courtyard that extends a bit into the sea (apparently it is designed to be used as a wedding venue). The pavilion at the end of it offers good views to both sides of the coast and some good shade!

I threw in a quick one since there were so many pelicans resting on that particular rock face (maybe because it was warm?)

After being told the sunset time no less than three times during check-in, we presumed that it would be impolite to miss it. So we lounged around at the hotel room (despite starving for a few hours) and waited for sunset. This is the said pavilion (top) from which I sketched the previous two pieces. Now I've observed this in great detail, I realized that I have never closely watch a sun completely set into the ocean... it really does appear that the sun is sinking beneath the waves! (as in the horizon seems to be behind the sun!)

Friday, 13 October 2017

Follow up visit: Ise Grand Shrine - Inner Shrine

With only half a day to spare last trip, I was only able to loiter around the outer shrine (the inner shrine is a bit farther from public transportation). After working 8 days straight, I was granted a precious day off to recuperate. Since I usually have overly optimistic shopping goals for my day flying out of NRT (which is usually in the afternoon, but after sleeping in a bit, I only have max 1 hr to shop at Tokyo station...), I decided to venture away from the big city and complete the Ise Shrine tour. Plus I really wanted to see the sacred Isuzu River and Uji-Bridge that separates the 2 worlds.

The day started off great with brilliant sunshine. But alas, I spent those precious sunny hours rolling around in bed, refusing to get up. By the time I finished breakfast, the sky has already turned into an ominous grey. Unfortunately the all-too-chirpy me was oblivious to the change and bounced my way to the train station (finally heading to a different direction this time!) Since I was already staying in the suburbs in Mie Prefecture, Ise Shrine itself is within 1 hr traveling time (the hotel I was staying at also hosts plenty of Shrine-goers on the weekend) This time I skipped Ise-city and got off at Isuzugawa station. The sacred river follows the pathway to the Shrine (about 30-min walk away)

I bumped into this classical looking house against the backdrop of a green misty mountain. As I started working on it though, raindrops started falling unmercifully. I had to quickly scribble while the rain eases slightly, but most of the time I was just dodging rain drops by angling my sketchbook upright. I was not caught by the owner of the house...but I did anger some passing motorists, because I was taking space away from an already narrow road.

As I was walking aside Isuzu-River towards the Shrine ground, the rain started picking up so I decided to rest under the bridge (Thank you, bridge) to dry myself up a bit. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately) the rain went on for a long time, so I expanded my drawing from just a few buildings, to more buildings on the right, and finally the bridge also. (while I observe families running for cover and dads scrambling to drive the cars around to pick up their families under the bridge) By the time I was putting on finishing touches, the rain still hasn't let up, so I ended up just walking in the rain with no umbrella or hood (not a wise idea since my throat started itching by the evening even after soaking in the hot spring)

The bridge looked impressive even in the dreadful weather. I really hoped that I had time to dot in the details, but with the uncertainty of the weather I went ahead full speed getting the picture together as fast as I could. I'm glad the Shrine cut open a viewing spot for the bridge, because the lower grounds on the other sides were all off limits. When I walked into the area there was just a tourist group heading in for a group photo and one gentleman promptly handed me the camera. I was glad to help out, but as I held up the camera I came to the horrific realization that I have no idea what the Japanese usually say when taking pictures!!? I remember it is something to do with "Cheese", but had no idea how the rhythm works... so I awkwardly started counting down with "Three, Two, One" Fortunately everyone just went with the flow and nobody questioned my weird countdown. It was also super awkward when I say I'd go for a second take and the digital camera took a long time to load up again. The point-and-shoot camera is truly a relic only available in Japan nowadays.

At long last (at least a 15 min walk from the bridge) I arrived at the Main Shrine of the Inner Shrine of the Ise Grand Shrine (believe me it sounded simpler in Japanese). The long flight of stone stairs leading up the Shrine was truly impressive. Most of the people are crowding on top of stairs so it is still possible to enjoy the view from down below. By this time the rain has (strangely) let up, so I did another quick piece while taking a rest from all the walking.

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, 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 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!