Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Charming and Cozy Heidelberg

The view of Heidelberg from our friends’ balcony. Started this sketch on the first day and kept adding little sections every day in between cooking, laughing, eating, and spending the best moments together with these fantastic people. Finally it was time to run and catch the train, so ended up finishing it on the airplane to Estonia.  

Thousands of people and one giant unicorn enjoying the Waidsee lake near Weinheim. 


 Seems like we are the only people in this bar facing away from TV screens. Everyone else is watching the Wold Cup match Russia against Spain. Town of Weinheim is yet another ridiculously charming German town with at least four castles and impossibly romantic hills and river valleys.

Old houses of Heidelberg lining the shores of the mighty Neckar river  

Juicy characters distract me from the beautiful scenery aboard a river boat on the majestic Neckar river valley dotted with medieval castles and small towns. The recorded tour guide voice informs us that Mark Twain travel down this river in a raft and that the trip broke his writer's block allowing him to finish Huckleberry Finn.


The four castles of Neckarsteinach. All built between 1170 and 1260. My favorite one is called Swallow’s Nest (top right) 


The fantastic Heidelberg castle. 30 minute sketch from the Philosopher’s Walk. 
Hotel zum Ritter St. Georg in Heidelburg. Spent a couple of hours sketching and spilling wine on the elaborate facade of the Ritter hotel on the main square in Heidelberg. The sketch even survived a minor thunder storm.


The view of the historic center of Heidelberg and castle from the North side of the Old Bridge. 

Café Schafheutle, Heidelberg. On the terrace of the Schafheutle cafe proper ladies are having tea with fancy deserts. Just as we sit down a big thunder storm opens up the skies making the colors and the smells even more intense. I love watching and sketching the ladies as the combination of chocolate and good gossip never fails to please. I discovered this place thanks to the wife of my childhood friend who also turned out to be an urban sketcher.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tallinn, Estonia


One of the best ways to spend a day in Tallinn is to walk the cobble stone streets without purpose or destination. I counted at least five medieval torture museums or is it always the same one?





My grandmother and my aunt drinking coffee and bickering. My grandmother likes to play with the big stuffed dog while she half-naps in the big leather chair

Tallinn’s pre- and post-soviet architecture in one frame. Sketched this out of the window of our place around midnight early July when twilight lingers until early morning.


Fell in love with this neighborhood in Tallinn because you can get a cross-section of all of the layers in its history in one frame. Modest pre-soviet wooden houses, Soviet style apartment boxes on the left and glassy modern post-soviet period towers in the background.




Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Freight Train Engineer For The Union Pacific Railroad

My short visual reportage about Mark V–single dad by day, freight train operator by night, and tuba player everywhere in between won the second prize in the Sketching Work Design Project put together by the University of Western Australia. I am very honored to be selected, especially after reviewing the exceptional caliber of other entries. 

Check out the online exhibition here.  


Mark's Story 

Mark has worked as a train operator for the last 39 years. He is planning to retire in the next 18 months. He loves railroads and feels like he is a twelve year old boy going on 65 when he climbs into a locomotive. He says that running trains in the Pacific Northwest allows him to enjoy some of the most breath-taking scenery. He even derives simple pleasure from warming his breakfast sandwich on a little metal space heater by his feet, worn and gritty from years of usage.



In order to become a train engineer one has to go through 6 months of intense training, plus some long hours in a simulator. Train operators need to be in tune with multiple forces of physics when they run a giant freight train pulling or pushing multiple cars. A lot of times these trains deliver some of the most poisonous materials known to human kind, and an accident could lead to an ecological destruction and loss of life on a catastrophic scale.

Another aspect of this job that comes up in training is the tragic fact that people use freight trains as tools of suicide without thinking about the consequences for the operator. “In training they tell us that on average you could expect to have up to seven incidents involving suicides or death in the course of your railroad career” says Mark with a heavy sigh. “You have no steering, and the train like this is impossible to stop in time, so you just close your eyes and wait for a thump”


An accident involving a drunk man climbing over the train that Mark operated in July of 2003 lead to Mark’s long struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The man accidentally fell under the train when it started moving and lost his leg. Fortunately, Mark noticed it and was able to save the man’s life.

Otherwise, Mark loves all aspects of his job, including crazy night shifts. He said that working nights allowed him to spend more time with his daughter when she was little. Mark’s wife died when their daughter was only 3 years old. Mark would play tuba gigs in the evenings, take three hour naps before reporting for his night shift at midnight. He would sleep another three and a half hours in the morning after finishing his shift and would help out in his daughter’s school and spend afternoons with her. He says that none of the stay-at-home moms would believe that he was a single dad working two jobs.



Mark is also a full time tuba player, playing with over 20 different orchestras and ensembles around Portland area. He has such a unique combination of occupations that following him around is an adventure in itself. I made a separate concertina about his tuba playing life.

He feels that being a tuba player and a train engineer are semantically connected by a button on his locomotive that sounds the horn alerting people of an approaching train. Tubas are sometimes also called horns and, similar to freight trains, are capable of making low loud sounds.

Mark feels that both of his occupations are perfect for his intensely romantic nature, and he considers himself very lucky to be paid for doing something he would love to do as a hobby.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Short Rendez-vous with the Red Cliffs of Arizona

By the time the month of March rolls into the Pacific Northwest we all feel rusty from the endless rain and moisture in the air, deficient in vitamin D, and depressed from the constant gloom and grey. That's why a trip to a sunny place like Arizona could serve as a much needed psychological bandaid to recover some sanity. 

As we arrive to Sedona and first spot the majestic red cliffs we are greeted by a strong spring storm that is immediately followed by an intense double rainbow. 

15 minute sketch as the rain is starting to fall over the spectacular red rocks. The light is changing minute by minute and rainbows are starting to form

The sweet Polish woman who is hosting us at her Bed and Breakfast outside of Sedona recommends that we go see the sunset from the hill behind the airport. The view doesn't disappoint.



Next day we are off early to accomplish a lot of hiking and sketching. Hike # 1 is an easy mostly flat walk along the Fay's Creek Canyon. There is an option to climb the smooth warm rocks at the end of the walk for an incredible view of the canyon, the valley and the mountains in the distance. 

Fay's Creek Canyon
The second hike for the day turned out to be a lot more serious, nevertheless rewarding us with some amazing views on both sides of the ridge. 

Sitting on a little shelf, smelling Jeffrey pines around us. Unfortunately, the view directly opposite of me is backlit to fully capture all of the details 

Next morning we are up at 3:30am to experience the highlight of the whole trip and something that I have been meaning to do for a while now–sketch from a Hot Air Balloon. I watch and quickly sketch the preparations. Our captain says once you see the flames shoot up in the air–it is your boarding call. We need to quickly climb into the basket and take off. 


The first few seconds of being air born were especially magical as the precise manipulation of laws of physics allowed us to rise up with ease of a feather picked up by a gentle puff of wind.





The fun challenge about sketching from a hot air balloon is the constant rotation, so the drawing ends up being a synthesis of a 360 degree view.



The town of Jerome–Arizona's classic Ghost Town


Jerome became a ghost town after the massive copper mine located here closed in 1950s leaving behind piles of tailings and partially collapsed houses. Fortunately, this town enjoyed some rebirth after a community of artists and hippies moved in attracted by the scenic views of the Verde Valley from the 5000 feet elevation of the town clinging on to one side of the Cleopatra hill. Now the Wild West aesthetic of the town with its former brothels, haunted hospital turned Grand Hotel, and steep winding streets attracts a lot of visitors attention. 

View of Jerome, Arizona from the bottom of the hill

Closeup of the panorama above

Historic photo of Jerome from its copper mining boom days
We climb all the way to the top of the hill to take in the view and enjoy a cup of coffee followed by a glass of wine on the terrace of Wes Andersonesque Grand Hotel. It is sitting like a cherry on top of the cascading rows of houses. What is now a hotel restaurant called Asylum used to serve as a general hospital where all patients with tuberculosis and mental illness were sent away. A very old fashioned waiter greets us “Hello and welcome to the asylum!” 


View of Jerome from the top of the hill

The closeup of the panorama above

More from the streets of Jerome

Arizona cacti collection



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trial by Jury in the United States

Day 3 of the Trial

We have all seen it in movies and on TV–lawyers yelling "Objection!" eccentric judges, stone-faced jurors, tearful witness... The experience of serving as a juror is an experience that changed my perspective on many things, educated and moved me and allowed me to file this visual reportage. Serving as a juror is a front row ticket to a real life theatre, complete with pomp, decor, and tradition, except for the play is real and the outcome depends on you.

Multnomah County Courthouse


Last week I headed to the Multnomah county courthouse where I was summoned to serve as a juror. It is hard to describe the annoyance most of us feel on those occasions. We have to rearrange our whole life, take time away from work, families, and the normal course of activities. The jury selection process needs to be random in order to serve justice, which means that some people end up standing in a long line to pass the court house security, fill out paper work, and sit in a big windowless room with hundreds of other citizens waiting and waiting for many hours. Many of us never end up being called to sit on a trial, just serving our role as part of the random selection pool.

The Voir Dire Process

If you do end up being called you will have to go through something called a voir dire process by which a larger group of about 50 jurors gets paired down to 13 or less. Attorneys observe your non-verbal behavior and ask you questions that help them determine whether you could potentially harbor biases or prejudices against situations or a type of person that they represent. It is a fascinating process and you could be asked to voice your opinion publicly on things like whether you think prostitution should be legal or whether you have anything against Californians.

Voir Dire Process during a Civil Trial


The first trial I got called for was a civil trial involving a tenant-landlord dispute. The issue at heart revolved around some pet damage to a rental home. United States is unique in that civil trials could also be decided by jurors. I started feeling the annoyance creeping in at the fact that I had to spend my time potentially listening to hours of details about what someone’s dog did to a carpet. So when during the voir-dire one of the lawyers asked whether anyone in the room felt the US system was too litigious my hand enthusiastically went up in the air. I could see the counsel representing the plaintiff circle my name as a “problem” juror to my delight, as I fumbled through the answer explaining my feelings.


Aiko Ramen House


Having been kicked out of the civil trial that I deemed not worthy of my time I headed to the nearest ramen joint to celebrate.

Human trafficking case

Immediately after lunch I got called once again. This time I felt like I knew the ropes of the selection process. My only hope that it would be some fascinating criminal trial. I got more than I asked for as a trial was about human trafficking and involved lots of gruesome detail, emotional drain and took up an entire week.

Voir Dire Process during the Criminal Case


The Judge

The judge on the case has presided over 500 trials and commanded a lot of respect, but also some fear. During the selection process if a potential juror was trying to wiggle herself out of sitting on the case under various excuses the judge would turn to them with an angry face of a school principle addressing a group of hooligans and raise his voice: “I am not asking you if it is convenient. Can you  follow my instructions and fulfill your duty as a juror?”  The excuses ranged from "I do not believe that prostitution should be illegal" to "I had nothing but negative experiences with the law enforcement" to "I have two kids and just and just do not feel comfortable sitting through days of explicit sex details. To the latter the judge would reply with a stern face: "You are not here to be comfortable!”

Day of 4 of the Proceedings



He inspired us with a history lesson about the trial by jury in the United States. Under the colonial rule Americans were not allowed to practice juried trials, causing great distress among the citizenry. The judge also mentioned that jury duty is the only duty we have as citizens of this county, since the military draft was eliminated in 1973. We were moved, inspired, scared, and curious, and not allowed to talk to anyone or each other about what went on until we reached the verdict.

The Trial

The trial took five days–lasting one more day than anticipated. The State of Oregon has presented its charges against the accused and called on 6 witnesses. The accused represented by two of his public defenders had no witnesses and was himself briefly called to the witness stand.  The jury was subjected to a lot of gruesome and emotional testimony as the trial unfolded. The hardest part was the inability to process it by discussing it with the fellow juror or anyone else outside of the courtroom. 

Cross Examination of Expert Witnesses on Day 3
At some point when an expert witness was testifying in terrifying details about the world of sex trafficking including the particular language that traffickers use, the menu of services, the specific tattoos, and the rules–all of which were incredibly demeaning to women. Just then a whole group of middle school students walked in. They were probably on a field trip to the court house. Needless to say, the timing was very unfortunate, but we were unable to stop the barrage of offensive details coming out during the testimony. 

Day 2 of the Trial

Jury Deliberation Process

After a whole week of listening and observing we were finally allowed to talk about the case in a stuffy room with very basic furnishings. We huddled up together around an old wooden table with a pile of evidence. It was 1 pm on Friday–we weren't sure what would happen if we hadn't reached our verdict by the end of the day, as at least two of the jurors needed to leave town. We had four hours and 21 charges ahead of us.

Jurors 1-5

At least ten out of twelve jurors had to agree on every single charge. Only in Oregon and Louisiana it is sufficient to have ten jurors agree, all other states require all twelve. On at least five charges we barely had ten, although all of us agreed that the accused should go to jail for what he did.


Jurors 6-10

We finished our deliberations with 15 minutes to spare and called the judicial clerk–a charismatic guy Joe with his colorful collection of ties. We walked back into the courtroom. I carried the verdict and got to reply "Yes, your honor" when the judge asked me: "Miss Sabler, has the jury reached its verdict?" It felt epic at the time. The emotions quickly changed as the judge started reading our conclusion on all 21 charges, finding the accused guilty on all but one charge. With every count read we sank lower and lower into our chair with the full understanding of the implications.

Jurors 11-12 and the Clerk

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween 2017!

Last Saturday Andrea Matthews and I went in search of costumed people to sketch. We got a little more than we asked for when we happened upon the Crystal Ballroom Halloween Erotic Ball. I guess it has been happening in Portland for over 15 years. Who knew, although the line of people waiting to get their inner freak on outside of the Crystal ballroom is an iconic Portland’s sight. We ended up sketching for three hours mostly from the Ringlers pub quickly capturing a colorful character or a group swimming up to he window like some bizarre tropical fish. We also did some sketching from the sidewalk looking at people in line to enter.

"I am transgender, trans-species, trans-everything and I will pose with you for a drink...."
A line of costumed people waiting to get in


The glorious hostess of the Ball–Sasha Scarlett 
A cop, a fallen angel, and a unicorn were some of the most common costumes. The bar tender Craig has seen it all over the years 

People coming out for a smoke and a breath of fresh air

Some people have had enough erotica by midnight


"This is the best kept secret in Portland!" This group was very enthusiastic. They told us they have been coming and sitting at this table for many years taking photos and meeting the attendees of the ball.