Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Subway Sketches

My last week in New York I ventured into the realm of Subway Sketching.  It’s intimidating, trying to be inconspicuous as you stare intently at people, but I finally decided What the Hey, the worst that can happen is they’ll say something nasty and get up and move away.  Shoes are pretty safe – people don’t move their feet as much as they fidget and toss their heads around, so this was a good starting point.

"Subway Shoes" by Kerry McFall

“Subway Shoes” by Kerry McFall

When I got tired of shoes and was feeling bolder, I moved on to a group of four ladies of a certain age who sat near me.  Just like Aunt Frimi’s knitting group, these Brooklyn Bargain-hunters all talked at once, loudly, and sometimes even about the same topics.  They were apparently en route to Macy’s.

"Subway to Macy's" by Kerry McFall

“Subway to Macy’s” by Kerry McFall

And finally I got brave enough to attempt a portrait of just one person, a woman who was reading the Bible and smiling to herself as her humongous earrings swung with every twist in the subway tunnel.

"Subway Earrings" by Kerry McFall

“Subway Earrings” by Kerry McFall

So now, just when I got it all figured out, here I am back in Corvallis, where there isn’t a subway to be had… Onward and upward.  There may not be any subway characters here, but there are plenty of farmer’s markets and rodeos and country fairs for sketching opportunities.  It’s going to be a fun summer!


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


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.