Sketching the City, the Flats, and a Race

Sunshine has been abundant in Alaska this summer and I’ve been out sketching like crazy. My sketchbook is with me in the car in case I find interesting scenes to sketch. The image below is near the train station in Anchorage. The metal red salmon swimming up the fence are so cool.

Christensen Drive in Anchorage, Alaska. Notice the metal red salmon on the fence.

Christensen Drive in Anchorage, Alaska.

Between Anchorage and our house I drive past the Palmer Hay Flats where wild iris, also known as Siberian Flag, bloom in profusion. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I sat on my little folding stool in the sunshine sketching in delight.

Iris Sketch

Last week the Fireweed 400 began. It is a bike race beginning at Sheep Mountain Lodge, eighteen miles east of us on the Glenn Highway. This race isn’t for the faint of heart. Contestants in the longest part of the race travel two hundred miles to Valdez at sea level then back to Sheep Mountain Lodge over mountainous roads.  I was sketching in the gravel on the side of the highway while racers zoomed past. One racer yelled, “Suzie, is that you?” It was the owner of the lodge, Anjanette, who has also run the Iditarod- the dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome. She’s one tough lady and only a little over a hundred pounds. This is one of the views the bicyclists see on their route. Fireweed is blooming all over the state right now.

Fireweed sketch

Last year Anjanette commissioned me to paint two images of the racers on the road. These are the paintings.

Sheep Mountain web 1

Glenn Highway heading toward Gunsight Mountain

Glenn Highway just east of Sheep Mountain Lodge. Matanuska Glacier and Lion's Head in the distance.

Glenn Highway just east of Sheep Mountain Lodge. Matanuska Glacier and Lion’s Head in the distance.

Sketching With Twigs and Feathers

I joined an online group of 125 sketchers from around the world. One of the challenges was to look for unique angles so I walked around our house and found this view of our deck and greenhouse.

Deck Sketch

One person in the group made an exquisite sketch using a chop stick and another using a twig. Here is a sketch of King Mountain Lodge near where we live. I used a genuine alder twig dipped in ink. It gives a nice variety of thin and thick lines. Holding an open pot of ink is a little scary and I was sure I would sneeze and have ink everywhere. This was a quick little sketch of about twenty minutes.

King Mountain Lodge

While walking the golf course with my husband, I picked up a Canada goose feather to use as a dip pen too. Because it was Canadian, I thought it would be more cooperative, but it created a scary mixture of blobs and scratches more suitable for an ink blot test than a realistic sketch.

We’ve had record heat in Alaska which makes glaciers melt, causing the rivers to rise. I sat between the Matanuska River and the highway and sketched this tributary flowing from the Chugach Mountains into the river.

Chugach Mts

There are groups who get together to sketch around the world and it looks like so much fun. I’ve been organizing a group called Drawn to Palmer and we are planning to meet every month. It will be exciting to spend time with other sketchers and see different perspectives of other artists. During our last meetup, I sketched the Palmer Visitors Center in Palmer, Alaska. They have such a beautiful garden with Pioneer Peak in the background. I’m envious that they can grow foxgloves with just a bit warmer climate.

Palmer Visitors Center

Sketching Alaskan Shrimp

Over Mother’s Day weekend, my husband and I traveled to Prince William Sound to fish for shrimp and halibut. Once more the halibut won, but we had lots of fun and found some succulent shrimp. The land and sea were fairly colorless. Our boat and gear look so colorful.

May 15 13_2427We saw goats eating on rock cliffs and scores of migrating waterfowl.

pws goat

There was a lot of snow on shore, but we walked along the tide line and I sat on a rock to sketch.

Suzie PWS web

A hummingbird flew inside the cabin the first morning. He loved my red scarf.

Hummingbird pws

He flew by several times that day. My scarf must have been so disappointing to him.

We used three shrimp pots and picked them twice a day and brought home 140 shrimp. The striped one is actually called a Coonstripe Shrimp. Didn’t know that until we got home.

PWS Shrimp sketch

To Paint a Perfect Pear

Yesterday I took part in Palmer, Alaska’s third annual Who Let the Girls Out event. I taught two watercolor classes. Twenty enthusiastic ladies showed up and we had so much fun. The first class was painting geraniums and the second was painting pears. Here are some photos.

April 28 2013_2247

April 28 2013_2249


We had a wonderful time and all the pears turned out so beautifully. Even though we got squeezed out of our reserved class space and into a littler space, these ladies went with it and made the class a great success. Well done!

What’s In My Sketchbag

So many people have asked what I use to sketch and what I took on my trip to Italy. It just seems best to show you and I’ll try to list everything below. This is what works for me. It is sort of like trying to choose your wardrobe, though. You might want different things and that is fine. Go with what works for you. Here is what I like:


The bag is a Franklin Covey organizer bag. I bought it to get organized and found a better use for it. I took a larger bag to Italy, but this one would have been a better choice. Some people like backpacks, but I don’t like to stop and take off the backpack to begin sketching.

Two palettes, but I mostly use the little one. It is a tin that came with water-soluble wax pastels. I filled empty plastic pans with watercolor paint from tubes and let them dry, then used double-sided tape to stick them in. I painted the inside of the lid with gesso then acrylic white paint. Spray paint would have been better, but I didn’t have any at the time. The nicest thing about this little guy is that it sits happily on one page while I paint on the other. The larger palette is a Heritage Palette. It has a rubber gasket to keep it from leaking. I use it if I’m planning on larger sketches.  I use the sponge to dab water out of the brush. Lots of time I use only the blue Ninji, large water brush. It isn’t great for details, but works really good for quick, small studies.

Sketchbooks. Well, this is interesting. I loved using the Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook for the trip to Italy. Excellent paper and the pages lie flat when it is open. The one below it is my favorite square format, made by HandBook. The paper buckles more than I would like and it is only five inches square. I’m planning on making a seven-inch square book using Strathmore’s Aquarius 2 paper. I just love that paper! I’ve taken some sheets and cut them to 6×9 , then had the UPS Store in the Valley spiral bind them for less than $5. I’m just not too fond of spiral bindings.

The blue blob is blue tack for hanging posters. I put a little water container on it and it keeps it from tipping over.

The little folding stool is 17″ high and I love it! It went to Italy. When I sketch in the wilderness I usually just take a piece of packing foam and sit on it. Not the kind with the bubbles. The pops would scare off all the wildlife. I use the kind that is about 1/4 inch thick and has tiny bubbles running through it.

The gray square is a viewfinder and the gray blob is a kneaded eraser. My go-to pen is the .01 or .02 Pigma Micron pen in black. They have a nice sepia, too. My favorite pen is the Carbon with Carbon Black ink. The nib just sings on paper. I use a cheap mechanical pencil, the kind that comes in sets of about eight. .5mm or .7mm. Just don’t use the eraser. I take an 8″ ruler my kind husband cut from a 12″ ruler. There is a rubber band around it holding my paint brushes. They are Escoda #10 Perla and the #2 with short handles. The long handles are for oil, I think. They aren’t very expensive, but they don’t keep a point for very long. That way I don’t mind if I lose one or allow someone to use it and they use it to scrub paint. I do have a little scrub brush that I forgot to put in the photo. It is just an old #2 flat oil or acrylic brush cut down to about six inches long. The hairs are stiff and splayed like the hair on a mad cat. Works great for splatters too.  The short, red brush is fairly new to me, but I really like it. It is a daVinci series 5080 #20. I get both brands of brushes from Dick Blick.

The miscellaneous stuff is a little spray bottle, Viva paper towels, a Neocolor 2 water-soluble wax pastel in white, pencil sharpener (if I happen to take a blue or sepia watercolor pencil with me)

The camera is a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS.  It has a 20X zoom. Very nice.

In the summer I add a can of pepper spray for bears. A harmonica might be more useful.

I’ll do a post on the why and how I sketch too, but this will answer some of the questions in the comments.

Sketching in Italy


Italy 2

I was in Italy last week. Can’t believe I just typed that! I ate lots of gelato, ate real Italian pasta, learned to order coffee speaking Italian and sketched and sketched. It was delightful. I won’t bore you to death with all the details, but I will share some of the sketches.

Italy 5

Tuscany was just beginning to turn green.

Italy 3

A little stream with an old bridge.

Italy 4

On a cold, cloudy day we sat in the car and I sketched three little views. I pretended the sun was shining!

Italy 1

Everything is so old in Italy. The colors are warm, rich and softened with age.

Italy 6

This is a little piece of the town, Manarola, in Cinque Terre. So many buildings clinging to the rocks, stacked upon each other.

On another note, I finished the collage and I’ll varnish it tomorrow and send if off to Fairbanks Pioneer Home on Friday. Next post will have a picture of the finished piece.

A New Project

My husband and I took a short trip to Oregon to visit family. So wonderful to laugh and cry with my clan. Oregon is in early spring with crocus and daffodils blooming.



The sketch below is what it looks like in the town near where I live. I refuse to compare.


I’ve been waiting to tell you about a 1% for Art project I was chosen to paint for a retirement home in Fairbanks. Just in case you might not know what that is, we have a law that any building using tax money must use 1% for art on the building. It can be just about any form of art that will last the life of the building. I submitted a sketch for this building and they told me that mine was the only sketch that was positive and affirming of growing old. Could be that I’m closer to that group of people than they know…

Here is what I was looking at today. Three canvases make up the image that will be 32″x11′ long(81cm x 335cm).


See that tiny little sketch in the middle? That is what I have in mind for this piece. I’ll post when I get to another step. Since I took this photo this morning I’ve painted the sky. This is going to be so much fun…stay tuned!

Humpback Whales Have it Right

We just returned to Alaska from sixteen sun-filled days on Maui.  Humpback Whales, who spend their summers in Alaska were there, leaping out of the water with abandon. Seems they eat until they are fat and full in our cold, but food-rich water, then turn around and head to Hawaii for a winter of birthing and mating. With all the celebrating, it is no wonder they are leaping and splashing about. We talked to a man on the beach who had watched a cow that morning (that would be the female whale for you who might not know. I’d hate to have you imagining an Angus leaping about in the water). The cow was holding her calf (yes, that would be the youngin’) out of the water after just giving birth.  Aren’t they clever to spend the winter in Hawaii? I think we should follow their lead. I’m so willing.  I just learned that they don’t eat much in Hawaii so I won’t follow their lead on that score.

On the last day of our visit, a turtle waved its flipper at us as we swam though the surf to shower and go catch the plane back to Alaska.

Here are some sketches of our trip. Have you been to Hawaii? What island did you visit and what did you love?

Charley-Young-Beach Kihei-church Kihei-on-tan little-sketches-Kihei

Sketching an Alaska Winter Moon

Winter in Alaska is so unique. It isn’t dark all the time, just most of the time. For a few hours the sun drags itself from southeast to southwest and we see a glow, but not direct sunshine. It isn’t awful and it isn’t miserable; it’s just a little pathetic. I noticed at noon right now it is as light as it is at midnight in June. That’s pretty pathetic.

I stopped to sketch this at about four o’clock in the afternoon facing southeast from Eureka Summit, Alaska. It was -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of blues and purples with an orange glow in the sky.

Winter Eureka Moon at Four O'Clock

Alaska Winter Moon at Four O’Clock/Eureka

Along with many other people, I’ve been thinking about goals and direction at this beginning of a new year. My favorite thing to do is to teach in a way that encourages students. I love to see people “get it”. I want to get some watercolor demonstrations on this blog and I’ll get around to it. I also want to teach more workshops.

I want to use art to help you to encourage others and this is what I have in mind: I’m going to give twenty-five of my art prints away to your friends!  The only charge will be for shipping: $5.00 in the USA./$7.00 everywhere else. (I also had to charge 1% to make it show up as an item)

Here are the rules:

1) I will ship one print to your friend and charge you only shipping, but remember, it is a gift to your friend. You only get one (one print, not one friend). The site will allow you to order more than one, but I’ll only give one print for this offer.

2) You have to tell me something encouraging to write on your choice of print (ie: “To my amazing Cindy from your ever-loving Tom”, “Thank you for being a friend”,  etc)

3) I’m offering this to my blog readers first(that would be you), then over to my Facebook page in a couple of days, but I’m limiting it to twenty-five of my thirteen prints.

Here is the link.  At checkout, use the code: MyFriend for this offer. You will see where to apply it on the right, near the credit card icons in a blue font. Let me know if you can’t find it by making a comment.

Sketching and Purring

Last year I took a break from “producing” paintings and picked up my sketchbook to record life around me. This decision was in response to an online class I took from Cathy Johnson.  I painted a few watercolor paintings, but I spent most of the year capturing pieces of my life and surroundings in my sketchbooks. It was like taking a vacation not to  frame pieces or consider their “sale-ability”.  After spending time away from creating larger paintings, I’ve decided what I really like is painting smaller watercolors and large collage and large fabric paintings. I’ll post images of them on this blog and sell them at my online store.

Heather's cat

Heather’s cat/Strathmore Aquarius II paper/watercolor/white watercolor pencil and Sakuru white gel pen for the whiskers

During the summer I visited my friend, Heather, and I tried to photograph one of her beautiful cats while we visited in her garden. He was behaving like a cat and wouldn’t sit still for a minute or would only give me his backside or tail to look at.

A few weeks ago Heather posted a photo of one of the cats and I couldn’t resist those eyes and whiskers. I thoroughly enjoyed painting on this for several hours. This would be considered more of a study than a sketch, I guess, because I consider a sketch as taking less than an hour. That is only my definition so don’t quote me.

I wonder if you have stepped back from something to refocus or regroup this year? Please share in the comments.