Urban Sketcher

Documenting urban life in Vancouver and beyond.

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One of my beach volleyball photos was published!

Posted on Aug 30, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

Beach volleyball rec league at Spanish Banks

My photo of the Beach volleyball rec league at Spanish Banks was printed on the contents page of the Georgia Straight weekly. The original photo can be viewed large on my Flickr.

The Georgia Straight is Vancouver’s weekly events newspaper. I had uploaded some of my best beach volleyball shots to their Flickr group, and they asked me if they could buy one of them for their contents page. It was published in the Aug 8-15 edition.

Peter, the owner of New Leaf Editions printmaking studio, where I’ve been etching, said I should draw one of those volleyball scenes as an etching. But there’s no poem about beach volleyball. I must speak with the poet and see if he can come up with one ;-).

The beautiful summer I caught in my late July photo seems like a distant memory today: it’s August 30 and it’s pouring rain. But I am hopeful that September and October will still bring some good hiking and sketching weather.

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I’ve been etching up a storm

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Copper plates for etchings

Some copper plates are ready to be etched.

Of course, “storm” is exaggerated, when talking about my progress on creating copper etchings for a poetry book. My pace is rather glacial, especially if you talk to Peter Braune, the printmaker and owner of New Leaf Editions on Granville Island. He’s teasing me about popping in and out of the studio whenever I feel like it, and of not getting anything done. But I know he doesn’t mean it, I see right through him: he’s a grumpy renegade printer with a good heart. So I am not feeling guilty, progress is happening. And as Peter himself says: “You can’t really screw up an etching.” I have started to believe that this is true.

I am also designing the book, the layout is in good shape. It will contain 18 poems and 9 etchings. Since mid-May, I’ve completed 3 of the etchings and am working on a 4th one. My rate of etching is one per month, based on about 3 – 4 days per etching, and devoting about one day a week to etching. At this rate, the book should be printed by the end of the year, which is our goal.

All of the etchings use my favourite vertical format, but an even more narrow version of it. I can’t show any of the completed etchings yet, lest I steal the printmaker’s thunder. If one can call it thunder; it’s more like a politely suppressed sneeze into a handkerchief. But I have to wait until they roll out their own announcement about the book and then I will link to it here.

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At the Burnaby Village Museum

Posted on Aug 27, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Burnaby Village Museum, antique car

This is one of many reasons why I like being part of the Vancouver Urban Sketchers meetup group: other people suggest places to draw that I would not think of, or that I’ve never been to. It’s a great way to discover my own city. And in turn, I get to introduce others to my favourite spots in Vancouver.

Today we sketched at the Burnaby Village Museum, a session which was suggested and set up by another sketcher, Dawn. I had never been there, I did not even know this place existed in the next municipality over (Burnaby is a city bordering on Vancouver, and is one of several municipalities that make up Greater Vancouver).

We arrived half an hour before opening and sat on the curb in the parking lot, sketching a beautiful antique car. Sketchers can always find something to draw.

Burnaby Village Museum, street scene

The Burnaby Village Museum is a historic town with a general store, a blacksmith, a movie theatre, a fabric store, a carousel, an ice cream parlour, a print shop, and various other businesses.

I don’t think it has the traditional frontier-town brothel though — this is the tidied-up, family-friendly version of a historic Canadian settlement.

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Habitat Island in False Creek, Vancouver

Posted on Aug 26, 2013 in Vancouver | 1 comment

Bird Island in False Creek

The bird island’s tip is shown on the left side of the sketch, I was sitting near the rocky path that leads to the island, which is really a peninsula.

We had yet another meeting of the Vancouver Urban Sketchers, this time at the Olympic Village in False Creek.

I sketched the bird island, or “Habitat Island” as it’s called.

From the City of Vancouver website: “Habitat Island is an urban sanctuary along Southeast False Creek. Deep layers of soil have been added to the area to provide nourishment for new trees to grow. Boulders and logs commonly found along the coastlines in this region of British Columbia provide a home for plants, small animals, insects, crabs, starfish, barnacles and other creatures. Surrounded by water at high tide, the island is also a sanctuary for birds. More than 200 native trees, as well as shrubs, flowers, and grasses that grow naturally in this region have been planted along the waterfront path and on the island.”

I was happy with my sketching speed, it took a bit over an hour, and most of the detail and colour went into the top third of the drawing, the rest was really quick.

Inspirations for my favourite format are Asian scrolls, which are typically vertical. And my compositions may be inspired by Gustav Klimt’s work (see below).

"Poppy Field" by Gustav Klimt

“Poppy Field” by Gustav Klimt, 1907. 110 x 110 cm, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria. See how he’s squished the sky and the most interesting shapes into a tiny area at the top of his painting? The rest of the painting is flat and filled with flower or leaf patterns. All the tension happens in a small area, but it needs that vast, relatively uneventful space to complement it. When I first noticed these compositional devices employed by Klimt, it was very exciting to me.

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Sketching in a disposal bin is underrated

Posted on Aug 25, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Park-a-Park: Sketching in a disposal bin 2

About 10 of us sat in and around this nicely furnished disposal bin and sketched each other, the bin and the scenery.

There are things that I am firmly convinced are overrated, like wicker and cupcakes, while our recent sketching location should move up the popularity ladder.

I needn’t have worried, our urban sketching session in a refurbished disposal bin called Park-a-Park, conceived and created by Julien Thomas, social artist/interventionist/facilitator was a hit. Conversation flowed easily in this temporary space we occupied, and we felt fully socially facilitated.

My friend and fellow designer Eman, whose passion is street photography, came by and took photos of us, I hope to get some copies.

We decided that we will try to follow the bin when it moves to a new location, and sketch in it again. As Dave pointed out, all we need is someone to bring us refreshments.

Here are renderings of the scene by Dave and Dino.

Sketchers in the bin 1

Sketchers in the bin 1. Photo: Emmanuel Buenviaje.

Sketchers in the bin 2

Sketchers in the bin 2. Photo: Emmanuel Buenviaje.

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The public piano in Robson Park

Posted on Aug 23, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

The public piano in Robson Park

I decided to visit the public piano in my neighbourhood and draw it before it gets taken away. There are a total of three pianos set up in the city. After August 24, they will be removed and donated to community groups.

The three public pianos are an initiative called “Keys to the Streets” by a group called CityStudio, in collaboration with the City of Vancouver.

A young man was playing when I arrived, and I plonked myself down in the grass and started drawing. He played for quite a while, some showtunes like “Over the Rainbow” and some classics like Edvard Grieg, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

The tree seemed to grow out of the piano along with the music. I posted my drawing of one of the other pianos here. I don’t think I will manage to draw the third one before Saturday — it is near the Roundhouse Community Centre at the False Creek seawall.

I complimented him when he was done, he really was good. I didn’t tell him that I was also very pleased with his choice of a bright yellow shirt — it complimented the baby blue piano very well and added colour to my drawing.

Then after he left, I played a bit myself in order to fully participate, even though I am rusty and don’t have many piano pieces committed to memory.

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We are all performance artists

Posted on Aug 22, 2013 in Vancouver | 1 comment

I decided I was an existentialist when I was 15, after reading Hesse and Beauvoir, and at heart, I still am. I don’t usually question or second-guess myself. Yes, I have indecisive days. But in general, I make decisions, even big ones, quite easily and don’t look back. It’s almost as if I believe that there are no right or wrong decisions or at least, that the point of decision-making is not to agonize over missing the “right” answer, but to decide on a direction to the best of your ability, then go ahead with conviction. Life is full-colour, not black and white. You follow one decision to the next as if you are going through a maze, each step made brings you to a myriad of new pathways to decide on, so the best thing is to just fully explore the path you happen to be on. And to have fun while doing it.

But over the last couple of days I’ve been wondering, uncharacteristically: “Is it nonsense to sit in a disposal bin, be on display, while drawing? What is the purpose? Why am I excited about that?” At the same time, I knew I was excited about this and wanted to do it. That alone is reason enough for me.

Beyond that though, through the process of sitting in this bin and sketching as a group, we are really engaging in performance art. The whole thing is a bit contrived, but sometimes you need to create an artificial construct in order to push people (like me) out of their comfort zone. I’ve always liked performance art. The idea that art is a process or a performance that exists only in the moment, not something overly precious that needs to be placed in a museum to be worshipped like a deity, appeals to me.

I believe that one moment in performance art has the same worth as 500 years of preserving the Mona Lisa — does it really matter how long the art exists in the giant scope of the universe’s time frame? As soon as you start holding on to art and preserving it for posterity, resell value, bragging rights, it loses some of its purity, its essence. Back in my Emily Carr student days, I even created and performed a piece of performance art and enjoyed the experience. The whole thing felt experiential and experimental. You never know what will happen. For this reason I also like attending improv theatre. The Friday midnight show at Vancouver Theatre Sports League on Granville Island is when they test out new material, nothing is censored, anything can be said, there is no judgment. Some jokes don’t go anywhere, but a lot of them do.

Performance art can also involve nature. Some of my favourite artists are Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Smithson of Spiral Jetty fame, and the Canadian artist Peter von Tiesenhausen. And I discovered Olafur Eliasson when I was in Berlin, he works from there and creates the most amazing installations around the world, often involving light. He’s also spun his art off into a charity project to help bring safe, affordable lighting to off-grid communities, usually in developing countries. I also like Spencer Tunick’s photographs of large gatherings of nude people, and Christo and Jeanne Claude‘s giant installations in either natural or urban settings. These artists show that making art can be about putting something out there and then letting it go, allowing it to interact with its environment and thereby gain its own life.

So for us sketchers, and for anybody who wants to get out there and draw or paint or sculpt, but is not currently doing it, this is a good lesson. Do not worry about the outcome, follow the urge to create something and see what happens. Allow “accidents”. Be curious. Have fun. Trust yourself as an artist. At the same time, don’t overthink it or aim for brilliance.

And remember, it’s just a piece of paper and some crayons you are messing with, not a nuclear reactor.

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Mykonos artist Karolina

Posted on Aug 21, 2013 in Mykonos | 3 comments

Karolina's painting 1

Karolina’s painting 1

I liked the original paintings in our room in our Mykonos hotel, Villa Pinelopi. At least they looked like originals, but maybe they were facsimiles. In any case, their simplicity and bright colours were appealing, even seemed quite brilliant to me. They also remind me of urban sketches, except they are paintings. They were signed only “Karolina” in the Greek alphabet, and there is a little bit of information about her online when I googled “Karolina Mykonos artist”. Born in 1939 in Boston as Carol Wells, she would be 74 now.

These paintings inspire me to pick up a paint brush and a canvas, start painting, and not make a big deal of it.

Karolina's painting 2

Karolina’s painting 2

Karolina's painting 3

Karolina’s painting 3

Karolina's painting 4

Karolina’s painting 4

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Urban sketching now coming to a disposal bin near you

Posted on Aug 20, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

park_a_park_SpectrumTowerI just had the pleasure of setting up a highly unusual sketching session for our Vancouver Urban Sketchers group. The idea came from Julien Thomas, social artist. I ran into him when he was occupying a traffic circle in my neighbourhood bike route over a year ago, inviting people for a coffee. His social art is to reclaim or create public spaces.

We’ve stayed in touch, and he told me he has a new project on the go: “Park-a-Park is a pilot initiative to transform a roll-off disposal bin into a mobile community space. The bin will be dropped at various locations throughout Vancouver over the summer of 2013, acting as an open space to convene and catalyze community initiatives. Park-a-Park is an open invitation to reimagine our relationship to streets and the public sphere.”

The bin is the “park”. It has been sitting in the Commercial Drive area for a week or two, but has just been dropped at its new location beside Spectrum Tower 2, 668 Citadel Parade, located above the Costco downtown, between the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. It is outfitted with seats and even an umbrella. Julien invited us to be one of the community groups who can organize an event in the bin. But I understand that the bin is available for spontaneous gatherings by passersby as well. Hopefully that, rather than spontaneous garbage disposal.

About a dozen of us will sit inside the bin and sketch on Friday morning from 10 until noon. For once we will be the attraction. I think many of us will want to sketch this sight from the outside. I think this will be a fun experience for us sketchers, and will help get the word out about urban sketching.

The funny thing is, Julien’s Park-A-Park is similar to a concept I sketched out about 6 weeks ago. I call it “public furniture to facilitate urban sketching, social interaction and contemplation”. And now it turns out he has created something in real life that is designed to do just that.

And of course, I will post sketches afterwards.

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Auf Wiedersehen to an amazing teenager

Posted on Aug 18, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Our German teenage visitor on the ferry

Thank you for sitting still for me for this sketch even though that wasn’t your idea of fun.

The oldest son of my best friend from elementary school in Germany has been wonderful to have around for four weeks this summer. He and I spent a lot of time together. Fortunately we connected really well. I will miss him a lot. I think he will miss us a bit too, and he will remember his first Canada experience for a long time.

Besides flying for the first time in his life (and it was a 10-hour flight), so many firsts for this 6 ft. 2, almost-17-year-old, that we were able to introduce him to: kayaking (and capsizing), backpacking, beach volleyball, pitch and putt golf, attending a baseball game, a CFL football game, an MLS soccer game, discovering sushi and other non-western foods, and how good a burger can be that does not come crawling out from under some golden arches. He learned how to do laundry, how to clean a complete bathroom, and what the different cleaning agents do. He learned how to cook pasta on his own (I talked him through the steps over the phone one night when Jeff and I were out and he was home alone and hungry — it felt like landing an airplane remotely). He learned about big city problems as well as advantages and saw a bit of the diversity that makes up Vancouver.

Goodbye T. Your youth, energy and enthusiasm made my summer a lot of fun. You are a great person, and I am glad I got to know you.

On the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Vancouver Island, BC

A bit blurry, but I like this shot of 5 of our group of 6 hikers above a waterfall, close to our destination of Sombrio Beach on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on Vancouver Island. L to R: Me, Jeff (my husband), our teenage visitor, my sister, a friend.

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