Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Ultimate Sketchers Destination & A Fabulous Cantina

The walls are bursting with sketchbooks!  That you can touch!  And no one scolds you, they just give you more!

Friday (4/26) we made it to the Brooklyn Art Library, aka the Sketchbook Project, and it was literally worth the price of this entire trip to New York state just to see that place.  It’s not big, it’s all about being on a human scale.  It’s a little store front tucked in to the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, which apparently is the current hipster hotspot of New York City.  A staffer welcomes you and explains a bit, then hands you some sketchbooks… and off you go, down into the Rabbit Hole.  You make yourself at home at a big table and get lost in other people’s worlds.  Each book is small but mighty.  It’s like a Tapas feast for the mind.  Beautiful, intriguing, weird – and then some.  As we say in our family to indicate the ultimate Thumbs Up review, “I laughed.  I cried.  It moved me, Bob.”  (a quote from a talking cucumber about a favorite episode of Veggie Tales.)  So if you can get to New York, go.  If you can’t get to New York, click on the link and join the project that way, or watch for their “bookmobile” to come to a city near you – they tour!  I signed up for the 2014 tour, can’t wait to get started on my little sketchbook!


"The Sketchbook Project", mixed media but mostly ink by Kerry McFall

“The Sketchbook Project”, mixed media but mostly ink by Kerry McFall

This sketch includes their business card in the middle of the page, and the smiles of the other folks sharing our table!

And speaking of Tapas – after our visit at the sketch project, we strolled around the waterfront for a bit, then went back up the street to Cantina Royale – perfection on a plate!  The wine was very good, the food was divine, the wait staff were fun.  When I ordered the Camarones Something-I’ve-Forgotten but sort of like Lubinsky, the handsome waiter said, in his gorgeous Mallorcan (sp) accent, “That will make a good small plate, but not enough for a meal.”  Wrong.  He brought a not-so-small plate of three rich plump shrimp, stuffed with some kind of cheese that is now my favorite if I only knew the name, wrapped in bacon, and broiled… displayed on a bed of carefully-sliced crisp greens, with a hint of some rosy-colored sauce.  Pretty sure I had died and gone to Heaven…  completelely made up for the abysmal dining experience of a few days before in Midwood.  Griff ordered what he thought would be a bowl of soup, which turned out to be a huge cauldron of the best chicken tortilla soup ever.  The Cantina was uniquely decorated also, lots of wine reds and rich browns, funky touches like the old red phone and a chandelier worthy of a Phantom of the Opera stage, although my sketch didn’t capture the glass-encased electrical meters and pipes and ducting that made up both of the side walls.  If you’re ever in the Williamsburg area, don’t miss these two treats!

sketch of interior of Cantina

“Cantina Royale”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


Sketching Skylines

sketch of Empire State building

“Empire State”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’ve never given much thought to skylines before, unless they involved volcanic peaks, or more recently, dragons.  But being in New York, the skylines simply demand to be sketched.  From up close, like here, it makes my neck hurt.  I sat for an hour in the window of Starbucks, just a few blocks from the Empire State Building, and tried really hard to show that feeling of touching the sky.  I wouldn’t have found this perspective if not for the Very Nice Doorman at the Hotel Metro down the street, who heard me talking about sketches and sent me down the block to the coffee shop, “Second or third table in the window if you can get it!”  One of precious few coffee shops in this city, I might add… apart from two other Starbucks, I think these people are caffeine-deprived.   Or maybe the shops are just hidden on the 20th floors.  But they sure aren’t on street level.

sketch of Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Promenade

“Renewal”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This perspective is much easier, from the Brooklyn Promenade you can see Forever.  Also known as Manahattan.  The Very Tall building-in-progress at the center is the replacement for the ill-fated Twin Towers.  It struck me as odd that docked directly below this new monumental edifice were two “Tall Ships” bobbing up and down – we seem to be re-defining “tall”.  The leaf buds are just beginning to add a little spring green to the palette, and the armillary sun dial added that “circle of life” air to the place.  I could spend every day for the next several months moving from bench to bench down this promenade, sketching a different skyline each time, past the old docks that are being transformed into ballparks and lawns, past the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor, until I finally reached the new docks, and the end of the iron fence.   Maybe by then I would be quick enough with my pen to capture the characters who appear and disappear, with their goofy little dogs or wide-eyed babies or fruits on a stick.



When I was making space for my laptop, I came across an old snapshot laying on the desk in Uncle Gerry’s office, just another scrap of life’s flotsam and jetsam in a room full of shoe polishing brushes and parking tokens and vintage office supplies.  A couple of debonair guys grin from the 4×6 glossy, towels cinched around their waists, mischief in their pose.  The photo has changed over time,what it has lost in colors it has gained in contrast.  I made the mistake of stopping after I finished drawing the first boy, which I really liked, and convincing myself I couldn’t possibly manage to capture Uncle Gerry’s likeness.  Will he recognize himself if I show it to him?  I left it for a day or two, doing other things and working up my nerve, and I think that was enough to make a noticeable difference in my technique.  Whether it was pencil pressure or nerves, I struggled to get it “right”, going over the original pencil lines several times, so Uncle Gerry’s lines are darker, not as intuitive, he is less Devil-May-Care.  Note to self: don’t over-analyze, finish in one sitting if I can …. but then again, in the photo does he look just a little less comfortable in that towel than his friend?  Maybe it’s an accurate distinction after all.

Cherry Blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

sketch of cherry blossoms

“Cherry Blossoms” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I got to spend another Saturday with the Urban Sketchers NYC  group, this time in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens – lucky me!!  What a glorious place, and a glorious day!  I’m told that next weekend is The Time to go for the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Japanese Garden, but I’m not sure that their festival could be any more wonderful.  There were hundreds of people getting the jump on the blossoms, so many that I could barely see the pond from where I sat at times.  Why aren’t they in the drawing?  Because I’m not fast enough yet to draw so many moving bodies… for now, the trees are the stars of my sketch.  Given that we were in the Japanese garden, and given that the graceful limbs of this weeping cherry seemed to arch perfectly over each other, this became something of an abstract.  I tried repeating the curved fan shapes here and there in the clouds and other foliage… I like it.

I feel like I have some catching up to do to reach the skill levels of the other sketchers, especially with capturing the gestures and movements of random people that walk through my line of vision.  I also needed to have my long underwear and a folding chair – it was beautiful, but after sitting for a while I noticed that my hands were going numb… brr.  There were two parts to the sketch event scheduled, so after lunch I moved on to part 2 a little ahead of the group, at the Brooklyn Art Museum across the street where it was warm.  What a jewel!  There was an exhibition of sketches there – I kept wanting to “turn on the lights”, it was so very dark, but the sketches were wonderful.  There has to be a better way to display sketches… I want to go to the Sketchbook Project Library before I leave Brooklyn to see how they do it.  And oh yeah, there were a million watercolors by John Singer Sargent…. total overload on Awesome…

sketch of seated woman

“Nude Woman after Albert Sterner” pencil by Kerry McFall

I chose this sketch to copy because a) the artist made it dark enough that it was visible even in the very low light, and b) because I love it.  A simple pose, simple lines, no fuss and bother.  The blue tag up in the corner is what they give you when you pay admission.  I’ve begun to paste/tape little tokens like this into my sketchbooks, they add a bit of – what? – flair maybe… just another graphic representation of being in the moment at the place.


Bklyn = Brooklyn

sketch of window and eagle

“Brooklyn Library Entrance”

This is one of those surreal times, when I keep saying to myself, “I’m really here!  I’m in New York!”  Not just New York, but Brooklyn, NY.  In Midwood, an Orthodox Jewish enclave, right next to a Russian enclave, right next to a Turkish enclave… ad infinitum.  The taxi driver who dropped us off here from the airport was from Guyana.  The lady who helped us figure out where to get off the bus for the “Big Library” (as she put it) was from Jamaica.  Yesterday at a picnic table in Coney Island, we met a couple from Paris and another from Austria.  Everywhere we go, we hear English as a very small slice of what is spoken, and that is mostly limited to when we’re at cash registers.

This feels like a foreign country, surprisingly more foreign than Peru did in January.  I love “foreign”!   I love different.  I love unexpected.  I love shy smiles from children who have no clue that I just said how much I wish I had shiny shoes like theirs.  I love smiles from people who didn’t expect to have a door held open for them today.  I love it when the man behind the counter at Meal Mart hands me my little container of pasta and says to me with a big grin, “Where are you from?  You LOOK like a tourist!”

"Pigeons on Angel Wings", Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, by Kerry McFall

“Pigeons on Angel Wings”, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, by Kerry McFall

sketch of Lincoln Center

“Lincoln Center with Urban Sketchers” by Kerry McFall

I grew up hearing that New York was a concrete mess, a horrible place.  I grew up hearing that New Yorkers were rude and unfriendly.  As my Dad would say, “I never lost a thing there, no reason to go.”  Either New York has changed, or my family was looking for ways to justify isolating themselves out West.  Yeah, it can be dirty.  They could use a plastic bag ban.  But knock on wood, so far it is filled with people who are simply, wonderfully, human.   On Saturday, I was so pleased to be able to connect with Urban Sketchers NY — it was like meeting friends at Central Park (and when I went to their site just now to copy the link, who did I see a photo of but Me!  Not particularly glamourous, but what the Hey!). They are a small group of artists who like to sketch, total strangers to me, but it felt like I had known them all for a long time.  So welcoming, and SO TALENTED!   We started at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, where it was cold but gorgeous, with spring just creeping in.  And it was like being at the opera – a tile tunnel leading into the fountain area has acoustics that are fabulous, and as we sketched we heard an opera singer and a spiritual group – I would have paid hundreds of dollars for that, but it was free.  Free.  Imagine.  And indeed, as we walked out of Central Park, we passed the John Lennon memorial mosaic, “Imagine.”  Wow.

"Acoustics," by kerry McFall

“Acoustics,” by kerry McFall

After lunch we went to Lincoln Center, where I sat inside at the theater cafe and sketched the impossible architectural angles of the courtyard leading to the Juilliard School.  Seriously, whoever designed the odd little lawn above the fountain must have been smoking something very strange… And all the while, I was pinching myself and saying that yes, I am really here.  And that next Saturday I can join these same good people/artists at the Botanic Gardens to sketch the Cherry Blossoms.

I was giddy after the weekend, but brought back to earth with a jolt by Monday’s events in Boston.  I am so sorry that so many people had their “pinch me I’m really here” moment destroyed, their lives forever changed, if not taken entirely.  It makes the friendly smiles here, the welcomes, the little kindnesses, all the more precious.



sketch of red flowers and green leaves

…”Wild Currants”, mixed media copyright by Kerry McFall

Hummingbirds allegedly love these wild currant blossoms, and birds enjoy the tiny fruits come late summer… but honestly, the best part is that they’re just so pretty, and they take such little care.    You plant ’em, they’re happy!  They are in full bloom today, dripping with lipstick pink clusters, a welcome relief from grey skies.  I took a couple of photos along the way as I made this piece – the process is usually as much fun as the result.  Since I’ve been trying to get to an “Art Nouveau” style, mostly by using black lines, that’s where I started.  As usual, I got distracted by experimenting with 1/4″ line tape, too many colors and my white china marker, so the Art Nouveau kind of went out the window…

The process happened over a couple of afternoons, so although it doesn’t count as a “daily sketch”, a piece of it happened on a daily basis.  And since I leave tomorrow for a month in Brooklyn, leaving behind all the fuss and bother of daily life at home, I’m hoping sketching can once again become a daily event!



sketch of asparagus

“Asparagus by the Bunch”, colored pencil by Kerry McFall

Easter dinner: ham, twice-baked potatoes, and roasted asparagus, followed by coconut creme tart.  The asparagus was so very green, with such very lavender leafy bits – what would you call those bits?  leaflets? – that dinner was delayed while I finished this sketch.  I thought about adding a watercolor wash at several points, but decided it was okay the way it was, and anyway, it’s just meant to be a Dailly Sketch, not a MasterWork.  Not to mention, I was hungry.   In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t have any fresh garlic, and sadly, garlic powder on roasted asparagus just doesn’t cut it.  Besides which, the spears were too skinny and therefore tough.  The ham, in the immortal words of Garrison Keillor, was pretty good.  And, no, I didn’t make the coconut tart, Market of Choice did, and my mother could certainly teach them a thing or two about tender flaky crust.  But you can’t go wrong with twice-baked potatoes!