Urban Sketcher

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I am not a cellarer

Posted on May 31, 2013 in Kelowna | 0 comments

Kelowna, BC — view near Okanagan Mountain Park

My father is on the far right, playing with his camera. His head didn’t fit into the drawing. I couldn’t convince him to draw with me, even though he does sometimes.

I visited my parents in Kelowna for an extended weekend.

I went sketching and my father accompanied me. We drove to the end of Lakeshore Road in Okanagan Mountain Park, past Bertram Creek Provincial Park, one of our favourite spots, to the end of the road. I sketched an old wooden fence and the lake view there. Weather was coming from the left. So many complexities in the trees and shrubs; buildings are more straightforward. It’s not obvious from the drawing, but I tried to channel one of my BC artist heroes, Gordon Smith. He paints shrubs, grasses and undergrowth beautifully.

This area south of Kelowna saw huge forest fires in 2003; more than 200 homes were destroyed. There are still the remains of many burnt trees which makes it an interesting landscape.

On the way out there we stopped at Cedar Creek Estate Winery, where I wanted to stock up on some wines I’d tried there last summer. I knew what I wanted already, but of course we still did a wine tasting first. It’s part of the fun of going to buy wine at a winery. I was able to say hi to “Richard Riesling”, a nice man with a silly name tag who poured a wine tasting for my German cousin and me last summer. I just remembered she and I had an inordinately good time at that tasting and that somehow Richard Riesling was the one to thank for it.

I don’t usually buy wines over $25, but thought I’d compare a $25 Pinot Noir to a $40 Pinot Noir, curious whether I could even tell the pricier wine but already suspecting that I couldn’t. (For my European and American blog visitors; yes, a decent bottle of wine in Canada starts at around $15. It is just sad how much we pay.)

Sure enough, the $40 bottle did not taste any better to me, in fact I preferred the $25 bottle. The woman conducting this tasting told me that the more expensive bottle should really be “cellared” for 5 to 6 years to develop its full flavor. I considered this for a second but seriously did not get why I should wait 5 years for a more expensive bottle to mature when I can enjoy a cheaper bottle right now.

So I told her my big realization of the day: “I guess I’m not a cellarer.”

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The petering out magic of Las Vegas

Posted on May 28, 2013 in Las Vegas | 0 comments

The humble end of Las Vegas Boulevard

Villa Inn Motel, a law firm, and “Wee Kirk o’ the Heather” wedding chapel in downtown Las Vegas. Maybe these businesses cross-promote each other? Opportunities exist. And by the way, I wasn’t drawing in the hot sun, but under a shady tree across the street.

While we had great fun visiting Vegas again with friends over the May long weekend, we decided we’ve now explored it enough and don’t have to go back anytime soon. But to anyone who hasn’t been there: go experience it if you get the chance.

I find Las Vegas fascinating which was a surprise to me the first time I went. I fully expected not to like it. But it may be as simple as this: I really do like drinking and gambling at the same time. I allow myself to play with $50 a day. I like talking and laughing with the dealer, friends, and strangers at the Black Jack table. I like observing my own and others’ strange superstitions about luck which seem to surface there. I dive into an immersive cultural experience. I enjoy the temporary suspension of critical thinking, or any thinking at all.

Plus, where else could I have done the following things, some stupid, some stupendous:

  • visit weird versions of Paris, New York, and Venice in the same day;
  • gaze at a giant ceiling of thousands of back-lit Chihuly glass flowers;
  • ride a waterslide through a shark tank;
  • marvel at both excess and elegance;
  • see a woman slide down a volcano and land in a giant margarita pitcher;
  • encounter the very rich and the very poor;
  • get free drinks brought to me while I gamble;
  • go bowling with drag queens;
  • be suspended from a 900 ft tower in a spinning chair;
  • have a bartender pour a drink into my mouth straight from the cocktail shaker;
  • eat some of the best Italian food outside of Italy;
  • explore the backside of casinos;
  • spend some glorious hours photographing old neon signs rusting in the desert;
  • and do a sketch of the humble part of Las Vegas Boulevard.
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Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe patio

Posted on May 22, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

Vancouver Art Gallery patio

Vancouver Art Gallery patio. That’s the rooftop of the Hotel Vancouver in the background. As usual, I had not looked at all those different gargoyles closely before.

One of my favourite patios in town is the Gallery Cafe at the Vancouver Art Gallery. You don’t have to be a ticket-holding gallery visitor to access this cafe. It’s got a cafeteria-style counter with reasonably-priced food and drinks, and a large outdoor patio with lots of green plants, flowers, and umbrellas.

I held an impromptu Meetup sketching session here on May 16, and two lively women joined me: Marie-Pierre and Cindy. These two are full of personality, they both like to ham it up. We had a great time and spent about 2 1/2 hours there. The sun came out right on time, and we coasted from the lunch rush through to some people’s early stages of Happy Hour. Cindy furtively sketched an English tourist who caught on to her and asked to see his picture, then got his wife to photograph him, Cindy, and the drawing. Turns out his wife is an urban sketcher too! I should have asked for her blog or flickr — it seems all of us have them.

Mom, dad — I’m going into urban sketching

Right after this sketching session, I had a meeting with the Dean of Continuing Studies at VCC to discuss having me teach some courses related to graphic design. I showed her my sketchbook and she got all excited about having me teach a course in urban sketching! Who knows if that will happen, but just the idea of it is more than I had ever imagined would result from this hobby of mine. And so much has already happened.

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Will occasionally stop sketching to enable food intake

Posted on May 20, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments


At the end of a good day, we had this paella dinner at friends, one of whom is an amazing cook. It tasted as good as it looks. Saffron is a key ingredient. Whenever I have saffron, I think, “I should eat saffron more often.”

This would have been worth a drawing too, but not at the expense of my social life. Most dishes are best eaten while warm and at the same time as one’s friends.

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Drawing the Vancouver Public Library with other urban sketchers

Posted on May 20, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

I set up an urban sketching meetup at the Public Library downtown on May 11.

It turned out to be warm enough to draw outside, and a group of us actually stayed close together and talked as we sketched. The rest of the group came to join us at the end and I felt a really good vibe of people enjoying themselves, which made me very happy.

Vancouver Public Library exterior

Vancouver Public Library exterior. One of the other sketchers, Manish, sat down after I had done most of the sketch, but it’s fun to deal with additions. Constant changes in people and cars and weather is what you have to count on when you sketch on location.

Vancouver Public Library atrium

I came back alone a few days later to also sketch the Vancouver Public Library atrium. I didn’t like this building years ago when it was first presented to the public in a preview. I thought the Colosseum-like structure was too derivative. But now I really like this building, the huge, covered interior atrium is perfect for our rainy climate, and it adds variety to the uniform glass-and-steel look that is typical for Vancouver.

Vancouver Public Library outside view.

Vancouver Public Library outside view.

Vancouver Public Library interior view.

Vancouver Public Library atrium view.

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Full plastic hazmat at Dr. Sketchy Vancouver

Posted on May 14, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Model in hazmat suit

Dr. Sketchy Vancouver featured a fun model wearing a hazmat suit to go with a “Breaking Bad” theme — a TV show I am not familiar with. But since I am not big on crime shows, I think I like the burlesque version better.

This was fun! On May 5, one of the urban sketchers, Dino, from the Meetup group joined me at Dr. Sketchy and we sketched up a storm in order to keep up with this model. I animated some of my 1-minute sketches here. Check out Dino’s lively drawings which don’t need animation.

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Spring fever at Kits Beach, Vancouver

Posted on May 9, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

It's spring fever at Kits Beach park

Actually, “spring” is a lie. Look at the date on the sketch. I started drawing this in August 2011, and I finally went back there on May 4, 2013 to finish this drawing. It was a summer-like weekend, this past May 4/5. I rode my bike to Kits Beach, on a mission to finish this one thing.

These people in the foreground were there 2 years ago, but they must have left in the meantime to work or live or something, because they were no longer there. But what is time anyway? Does it really matter whether a sketch is completed in 20 minutes or in 2 years?

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Vancouver SeaBus terminal and train tracks

Posted on May 8, 2013 in Vancouver | 1 comment

Vancouver SeaBus terminal and train tracks

Another successful outing with the Vancouver Urban Sketchers Meetup group that I run. About 7 or 8 of us sketched around the SeaBus terminal/Waterfront Station on a gorgeous, summer-like May 5.

I even waited around until the SeaBus arrived at its dock (far left) to add it to the drawing. The long bridge and passage way shows people walking from downtown across the rail tracks to the SeaBus.

I have worked in the downtown core of Vancouver for about 7 years of my life, in 4 different offices, and have looked at this view many times before, but never saw it as I did now. Funny, how once you really start looking at something, almost everything turns out to be interesting.

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Conducting an urban sketching workshop

Posted on May 7, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Conducting an urban sketching workshop at the BC Society of Landscape Architects AGM

The weather was cold and wet, so our workshop had a low turnout. But we went outside as planned, and about half of us quickly retreated to Moonpennies, an ironically named cafe at the corner of Thurlow and Pender Street. It is a great place for sketching with lots of windowfront seating looking over the urban landscape. I only had about 30 minutes to do this sketch and didn’t think much of it at the time, but I quite like it now. And sans colour on this gray day felt about right.

My fellow sketchers Matthew and Dave joined me in presenting a workshop on urban sketching at the Annual General Meeting of the BC Society of Landscape Architects on April 27. We highlighted the global organization we belong to, urbansketchers.org.

We were also asked to present a PechaKucha on urban sketching at the conference the day before. I took it on, and had fun preparing a presentation of 20 slides x 20 seconds of talking = 6:40 minutes. Not too stressful, although I was nervous as I was sitting there waiting for my turn. But I was encouraged by the fact that all the other presenters seemed nervous too, and then it wasn’t all that bad. And how hard can it be to talk about something you enjoy doing so much?

Reconnecting with Julien Thomas, social artist

The first presenter up was Julien F. Thomas. As soon as he started, I recognized him as the nice young guy that I had coffee with about a year ago on a traffic island that he had occupied on the E. 10th Avenue bike route. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in late May. I had been teaching in the VCC design program for 4 months last spring, and was cycling home from mounting the design student graduation show at a downtown gallery. It was the very last thing on my list of full-time teaching duties I had taken on in addition to working in my business in 2012. I had been working 60–80 hour weeks for almost the last three months. I was exhausted. But I was done. I had a euphoric sense of sudden freedom from a huge burden, a feeling of time and space generously opening up in front of me, so I was up for almost anything. A nice-looking young man sitting in the middle of a traffic island called out to me “want a coffee?” as I rode my bike around him. I hit the brakes.

We had a good conversation over coffee, brewed with water from an electric kettle on an extension cord on the sidewalk, with organic cream that Julien produced from somewhere in the bushes.

But back to the conference. As he got going on his PechaKucha, I realized why he was chosen to go first. He did an amazing, passionate job presenting on his various social art projects.

Pechakucha this

Oh, and I think PechaKucha should be a verb. As in, “has anyone pechakucha’d that yet?” or “I’ll have to pechakucha you on why you should chop garlic by hand rather than in a food processor”. It probably already is. If only I had a globalized, easily accessible search function at my fingertips, I could find out.

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