Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sketches from British Columbia

Scraggily hemlock against the muted hues of the Tonquin beach. 30 minutes.

A photo posted by Rita Sabler (@ritasabler) on

12 Hours on Grand Canal

Complete book (now with the West side) of sketches created over 12 hours of sketching the Grand canal between Ca'Rezzonico and Ponte di Rialto. On the last day of my visit to Venezia I gave myself a fun challenge to fill the entire Laloran accordion sketchbook with the facades of the beautiful palazzos lining the canal. With roughly 15 minutes per panel the entire project took 12 hours of pretty much non-stop sketching.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Biking and sketching the Pacific Coast from Coos Bay to Arcata in 5 days (with one morning of unintentional cyclocross)

Here is a day by day map of the biking tour along with the food we consumed to power us up the coastal hills.

Day 1: North Bend, OR to Port Orford, OR

The Pacific coast cycling and sketching adventure started at this sleepy Southwest Oregon regional airport. As I am sketching the airport building and the bridge behind it the gusts of wind are so strong I let the wind move my hand and watch it draw lines on paper.

Of course I could not help myself and not a do a super quick sketch of my neighbor on the airplane–flying from Portland to North Bend, OR–the whole 40 minutes in the air!

Loading on raw fish protein in Coos Bay before 60 miles of riding. This is a cyclist equivalent of pouring premium fuel in the tank.

Only about 3 miles away from our final destination for Day 1, when the anticipation of food, rest, hot bath, and other creature's comforts grew all the more incessant I get my first (and luckily last) flat of the trip. Here is a "Fixing a flat tire in 7 easy steps tutorial". Biking along highway 101 one has to ride over tons of shattered glass, gravel, truck parts, animal corpses, and nails. Getting a flat is pretty inevitable.

Redfish Marine Reserve

This view and a glass of wine is a fantastic reward after 60 miles of biking the coastal hills.

Day 2: Port Orford to Harris Beach Camp Ground

First time trying tayberries (from the local Co-op)—more tart and softer than marionberries. I used their own juice to draw them.

Off to bike another 57 miles but first we are grabbing some lunch and doing a quick sketch of this couple from Mendocino–both retired public school teachers–who are here for some kite surfing.

Day 3: Harris Beach to Crescent City, CA

Clifford Kamph Memorial Park, CA

Cycling Pacific coast adventure continues. Some "helpful" people at this camp site decided we were carrying way too much weight on our bikes and decided to take our tire pump to make our load lighter.

Staying with Patree in Crescent City, CA

She made us a raisin pizza for dinner and fed us lots of home made bread for breakfast Patree is a tattooed 50 something year old liberal leaning retiree in predominantly conservative Crescent city, California. The main employers here is Pelican Bay State Prison and a giant Wallmart. Patree rents out a room in her house, listens to NPR, commands Alexa (the Amazon voice robot), and collects giant red lips and other brick a bracks.

Day 4: Crescent City to Prairie Creek Redwood Park

Tallest, some of the oldest, and most graceful living beings on earth–the majestic redwoods. Biking through these beauties made biking up the highest hill of the trip (1250 feet) almost pleasant.

Prairie Creek Redwood/Murrelet State Parks

Camping surrounded by elk, mosquito swarms, and bears, drinking water out of the creek, and eating half raw noodles with a knife because we didn't pack any utensils.

Day 5: Prairie Creek to Arcata

The day started out with some unintentional cyclocross–the path that was supposed to get us in and out of the coastal edge of the Prarie Creek park was really not that bike friendly. We had to carry our bikes over the giant fallen trees had blocked the path in 4-5 places. Additionally, crossing multiple creeks, steep and dusty gravel roads that had to be shared with giant SUVs all made for a long and tiresome trip out of the beautiful wilderness area where we spent the night.

Fortunately, the rest of the trip that day was incredibly scenic–passing Humboldt lagoons, sweeping vistas of the ocean and the cliffs, and finally the last 11 miles of mostly off road trail (Hammond trail) that took us straight to Arcata.

Final point on the Pacific coast cycling and sketching tour—the funky and sweet town of Arcata, CA with its hippy feel and old houses like this one.

Windy sketching conditions

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Another Fantastic International Womens' Day in Hood River

Friends have gathered in the famous Pooley house kitchen to chat and make pasta.

Michael Vincera strumming away...
Chris Perkins playing Tchaikovsky and a game of Balderdash follows.

Jeff is starting on a batch of fresh home made scones for the high tea ceremony.

Bonus addition to the weekend–impromptu theatrical performances and Caitlyn as an evil step-mother Harriet Cotton.

Manda in one of her spectacular vintage dresses.

The Art and Habit of Travel Sketching Lecture in Manchester

I am preparing some great travel-sketching tips, inspiration, and tool ideas for my lecture in Manchester. Happy to report that I will be pulling from the experiences from yet one more amazing sketching expedition of 2016. In a few weeks I will be heading to Cuba. These last few months the US government has been gradually easing the restrictions on travel to the forbidden island. I have been extremely curious about the country and can't wait to draw the Trinidad's colonial architecture, street musicians of Old Havana, and all of the colorful characters that I would meet there.

As usual, when going on a sketching adventure I am making a new sketchbook. I typically use colorful fabric prints or old maps for my covers and commercial book cloth for the spines. For this book about a very special place I decided to try out new material– leather. A friend of mine is a shoe maker and I am heading to his shop to rummage through a pile of leather scraps that might work.

A new sketchbook is in progress. The signatures are sewn together and ready for the next step
My time-tested DIY sketching gadget is an elastic pen and watercolor holder that fits snugly around my sketchbook and keeps everything organized. It has an added benefit of protecting the pages of my sketchbook by keeping the book tightly shut. The holder is super easy to make out of an extra wide elastic.

Elastic holder/organizer is easy to make on your own fitting precisely the size of your book and the shape of your tools
I am also taking a make-up artist tool-belt with me. Designed for use by makeup artists is clips around the waist and allows for easy access to your water colors, pens and pencils while your hands are busy holding a sketchbook. It is especially useful for those of us who do a lot of sketching standing up. Not having to hold your pen in your mouth while you are switching between that and your brush frees you up for conversations with the locals.

Makeup artists use this belt for painting faces–I think it makes for a perfect sketcher's belt

I am only hoping this would not look too much like a dreadful fanny pack when I travel
Happy sketching and see you in Manchester!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Pick your poison: Presidential Candidates as Pharmaceutical Products

After the unbearably long and absurd circus that has become the US presidential elections the first votes are finally being cast in Iowa today. With only a few days before the first presidential primary I started working on a series called "Pick your Poison" looking at each presidential candidate as a pharmaceutical product with his or her own set of active ingredients and side effects. Here are the results of this investigation.

Donald Trump

Bernie Sanders

Jeb Bush

Ben Carson

Hillary Clinton

Ted Cruz

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

End of the Summer 2015 Highlights

Beach sketch
Scenic protected beach, South of Battle Rock

Haunted House
The house that looked a bit haunted and deserted

Dave, the Kayaking Guide
Sandwiches and beer with our sweet kayaking guide Dave on his Birthday

Moon Eclipse
Waiting for the lunar eclipse from the overlook of University of Portland campus

St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Sketchcrawl near the Immaculate Heart Catholic Church on N.Williams
King Farmer's Market
Portland Parks and Farmer Market Characters

Adrian Jost
Adrian Jost and his bandoneon

Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club Adios Tour at the Arlene Schnitzer Hall 

Mio Sushi
Dinner at Mio Sushi

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bangkok: Capturing Chaos and Looking for Peace

Bangkok greets one with strong smells, traffic jams, extravagant bling of royal palaces and temples juxtaposed against the dark suffocating allies lined with dilapidated shanty houses, burning hot woks of street vendors, mice scurrying around its sidewalk-less streets, militarized police with threatening whistles and frowns, and buddhist monks in bright orange ropes. I really tried to cozy it up to but we never did end up making friends.

Soi Tha klang Street

Drawing this shrine in Saranrom park was probably the closest as I came to finding peace in this chaotic city. Elderly Chinese woman sat almost motionless next to me for a long time meditating over some writings. The lush vegetation was buffering the sounds of the busy city around us just enough to provide temporary reprieve.

Saranrom Park Shrine

Next morning I headed to Bangkok's #1 attraction–the Royal palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. I found the Royal palace to be impenetrable. After being yelled at for sitting in the wrong place, not being dressed decently enough to be on the royal premises, and having dodged at least a dozen selfie sticks I decided to stay on the sidelines and sketch outside of its thick walls.

Royal Palace

Traveling Thailand during monsoon creates the element of suspense of when you will be next drenched in the thick wall of a tropical rain storm. Both times I came to visit What Pho, which is truly spectacular,  I was caught in the rain. The angry indigo clouds created an amazing backdrop against the bright red roofs of the temple. The sketch of the gate below was done while waiting out another powerful storm under the roof of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Wat Pho

Bangkok panorama from the top of Wat Saket (Golden mount)
I drew this to the soundscape of Buddhist chanting, bells, endless, camera shutters, and a Spanish tour guide giving incorrect information about the Democracy monument below. The monument to Thai democracy is a bit ironic since Thailand is currently a military dictatorship, and giant portraits of the queen flanked by various generals are literally wall papered all around Bangkok. Apparently, families, living on the site of the current monument were evicted with a 60 day notice to make room for the construction.

Bangkok aerial from Wat Saket

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Koh Yao Noi

Getting there and First Impressions

In my search for a perfect Thai island, or, at least, the less over-run and developed place in this mecca of international tourism I came across the sleepy island of Koh Yao Noi (Small Long Island) in Phang Nga Bay. There are no industries, structures or resorts on the island. Population's main occupation is fishing with limited farming of rice and coconut.

The route to Koh Yao was pretty enjoyable–short flight from Singapore to Phuket, a fun taxi ride to the Phuket boat pier with the gentle Ninie (see below), a scenic crossing of the bay in a motor boat from Phuket to Koh Yao pier. I sketched these two Thai men next to me on the boat. They seemed to enjoy being drawn.

Boat Ride

Ninie is a sweet muslim woman who picked me up in Phuket's airport and brought me to the pier. Her voice is so gentle–when she talked I felt she was singing a baby to sleep. She told me about her dream–to go to Bangkok with her brother and sister. She is afraid her brother would just want to eat in food courts and her sister would only want to go shopping. Ninie wants to have adventurous friends who would go hiking with her.

Ninie's Taxi

The villagers of the island are very warm and hospitable. As I was making my first attempts to explore the island by bike I would inevitably turn and try to ride on the wrong (right) side of the street. They would just give me the warmest smile and wave every time they saw me.
My clunky mountain bike loaner

You can circle around the island in about 3-4 hours on a bicycle. The scenery is mostly lush tropical forest, small houses, and cement piers going far into the sea–the tides are pretty fierce here.

As far as wild life, the island is home to many water buffalos, peacefully grazing on its lush pastures. The most exotic creature I saw was the motor lizard, a large black prehistoric looking creature. At low tide the beach is alive with millions of creatures–crabs, birds, and insects.

Wild Life

From the first day I became addicted to getting up with the first rays of light, running to the beach to greet the sunset. Sweet lapping of warm water, bright orange sand, and the gentle blue contours of the little islands in various whimsical shapes rising above the calm mirror of the water on the horizon were all worth a few hours of lost sleep. This place was pure magic.

Sunrise over the Phang Nga Bay
Exposed to a large variety of Thai restaurants in Portland I was very anxious to try some authentic Thai food. My first Thai meal was immediately my favorite–banana flower salad–the perfection of flavor and presentation lovingly prepared by a Thai woman named Kai.

Banana Flower Salad

Snorkeling and Sketching 

As I was enjoying my newly discovered paradise my only worry was that I was in this magical place all by myself–no company for sketching or swimming or sharing a meal. To my huge surprise the owner of the place where I was staying introduced me to another sketcher, a french woman named Delphine who, like me, was enjoying some quiet after the Symposium in Singapore. We discovered a lot of things we shares besides both ending up in this remote paradise–sketching, playing piano, love of snorkeling and the ocean.

Delphine Priollaud-Stoclet
Delphine on a boat

Next day we headed out to a snorkeling and sketching excursion into the gorgeous conglomeration of islands called Pa Koh Archipelago. We would take turns snorkeling and sketching all day.

Snorkeling and sketching–I am in heaven!
Traditional boats in Pa Koh Archipelago

The famous Karst geology of the Andaman sea
Out sweet and shy guide Nan would guide his longtail boat to the most scenic reefs. He would kill the motor and hang a little metal ladder over the side of the boat–our sign for getting our snorkels on and jumping in the water.


Nan invited me to climb the steep and slippery cliff that required a lot of pulling one's weight by hanging onto ropes and trees. The view from the top was well worth the risk. Delphine stayed on the beach to sketch the boats. You can see her as the red dot on the sand below.

Spectacular view from the top of the cliff 

Village life

There are two mosques on the island–the majority of population is Muslim in this part of Thailand. A call to prayer could be heard very distinctly, as the island is pretty quiet, and the most sounds you hear are birds and insects.

Koyao Mosque

This is the smaller of the two island's mosques on the island. As I was making this quick sketch two little boys came up to me. One became quite insistent asking for something specific in Thai. At first I thought he wanted to see my drawing or my sketching supplies but he kept saying a word that sounded like "money" again and again, soon trying to reach and search inside of my backpack.

Fishing village on stilts at low tide

Women in head scarfs zip about their business on motor bikes, often carrying their kids in front and in the back. Motor bikes are the main mode of transportation, as most places are reached by dirt roads. There is a village market that mostly consists of a few fruit and clothing stalls.I picked up some exotic fruit at the village market. I brought some samples to my room to sketch and taste–prickly salacca, subdued mangosteen, the splendid dragon fruit.

Thai Fruit

At first I thought I was looking at canisters of bright juice being frequently sold along the busier roads. Then I realized that those were village gas stations selling benzine. Fuel would typically sit in metal barrels, then hand cranked to the top transparent container with liter marks, from which customers would be able to flow it into their motor bikes and canisters.

Gas Station
Gas Station Koyao style
Fortunately, I didn't need any benzine juice as I was getting around on a clunky loaner mountain bike from my hotel. Biking around the island I came across a place where a bunch of American youth were painting sarongs while listening to Western rock hits. They told me that they were traveling the Thai islands and painting sarongs for charity.

Western youth painting sarongs

Fabiana, the beautiful Thai woman from my hotel recommended that I stop by this place on the beach where they build traditional longtail boats. These boats are quite beautiful–smooth dark wood and bright scarfs tied to the bow for good luck. I did in fact find one man who was busy spray painting the name of his boat. We chatted as much as his three words of English and my 0 words of Thai allowed us to do.

Boat Building

Traditional longtail boat

For our last evening on the island Delphine and I decided to have an impromptu picnic consisting of red wine, rambutan and dragon fruit. We stayed chatting in English and French and sketching each other defending ourselves form mosquitos and other bugs well into the sunset.

Picnic of tropical fruit

It was time to say good-bye to the island and fly off to Bangkok but I asked Ninie to make one last stop at the Gibbon Rehabilitation project on the way to the airport. Hearing their songs and watching the acrobatics of these agile primates was amazing. Each one comes here with a tragic story of past abuse, but under the care of the staff at the center most of them would make it back into the wild as soon as they are ready to fend for themselves.

Gibbon Rehabilitation Center