I walk by this house frequently as it is one of the first houses on the street leading into the fancy neighborhood. The roof is aluminum and the shutters and windows are blue. It stands out on a street of extravagant craftsmans and tudors.
On Saturday morning, I loaded up my bike basket with art supplies and rode over the Tilikum Crossing down to the South Waterfront. There, I met the Portland Urban Sketchers for this month’s sketchcrawl. The intention was to draw everyone’s favorite new bridge, the shiny white Tilikum, but a very short ride from our meeting place was a sunny viewpoint showing the full expanse of the Ross Island Bridge- Portland’s most underrated of bridges. From the top, the RIB is not very fancy. Pedestrian traffic is not allowed or is at least dangerous and, while car passengers can enjoy striking views of the city, drivers best keep their eyes on the road to avoid head-on collisions or a lengthy drop down to the Willamette. Below the road, though, the bridge is as pretty as any of the other bridges in town. The steel supports are going to be repainted this year. In real life, the bridge is a much lighter faded color, but this here is me urging the city to go for a nice bright green.
As I finished up the ink of this painting, the sun shone and the air got warm enough for me to take off my coat. A sailboat floated by with 4 pirates on deck singing, “What will we do with a drunken sailor? What will we do with a drunken sailor? What will we do with a drunken sailor, early in the morning?” It was a bit late to be considered early in the morning, but by the sounds of it they had the drunken sailor part just right.
It turned out better than I expected, but I won’t say I’m happy with this. What makes me really dislike this sketch is that I drove all the way up to St. John’s bridge to paint it and realized I forgot my water jar just when I got settled into a great parking spot. All I had was a little tiny crappy water brush. So, I painted angrily.
I love Urban Sketching. Whether with an official group or on my own, I love spending 2-3 hours out of my house drawing from life. I leave a place with a much more complete sense of it. Not only do I have the visual ‘snapshot’ I’ve captured on my page, but looking at the complete sketch conjures the whole experience: the day’s weather, music or radio shows I listened to while sketching, people I saw walking by, and conversations I overheard.
For example, with this sketch, I recall an episode of Car Talk and an OPB show discussing David Bowie’s death. Which makes me sad. And I remember that buses came and went while I sketched, blocking and freeing my view. A man walked by wearing official-looking clothes, who I thought might tell me I needed to pay for parking if I was going to sit there all day (but didn’t). Which makes me feel a little anxious. Bus drivers took cigarette breaks and a woman wearing a coat over a very short skirt ran through the rain looking very cold.
The everyday moments of life are not usually interesting enough for people to document. A group of women returning to their car after getting off a train isn’t unusual or funny or touching. It’s nothing. But it’s a moment in time like a million others. Each Urban Sketch contains these moments like an invisible catalogue.
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