30-in-30: Drive-by haiku

While the fiddler drives, I like to paint. Problem is, the car is moving so fast through the landscape that all I capture are fleeting shapes and color. So rather than write a wordy blog post, dear reader, I give you some classic 5-7-5 haiku with my little sketches. Happy Tuesday afternoon!


Traveling, I paint
wet brown hills fading away
from town cloaked in trees.


The yellow grass, wet
but not yet green, dreams like birds
of El Niño rains.


Two rocks rear above
the road. Wet, the big rock’s head
bleeds to meet the rain


The last pass. Fly down
fast past a parked black-and-white.
Play invisible.


Dry furrows cross fields
newly plowed with hopes of rain
that falls on cities



How to paint a tree?
Edges, texture, size and form.
What’s seen disappears.




30-in-30: Plein air watercolor painting at 60 miles-per-hour

Distant water 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Distant water
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

This week I had to make a sojourn to the Bay Area. The fiddler likes to drive, so while the fiddler steered the infernal combustion machine, I painted.

I love passenger-seat painting. Give me a wide enough view and a straight enough road (I suffer from motion sickness), and I can paint for miles.

In the studio, it’s easy to get in that zone of hyper-focus where thought takes a backseat to conscious action. If you’re a painter, you know what I mean. Pick up some color with the brush, dab it on—ooo pretty—dab some more—ooo pretty pretty—dab, dab, dab—pretty pretty pretty—dab, no, wait, dang it, arggh! What have I done? If you don’t pause and move back, pretty soon you’ve created a muddy mess.

Green Hill 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Green Hill
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

Painting landscape studies in the car (while someone else is driving—duh!) is a good way to break that kind of zen-zoned out paint daubing. You can’t focus for very long on one scene, because the scene changes minute-by-minute. So you have to make your decisions rapidly and correctly.

Fallow field 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Fallow field
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

All you have time to do in the car is decide on a quick composition, draw the big shapes, get the right color and value on the palette, and paint the shapes. I start with the sky first usually, the brightest and lightest shape. The jiggling of the car prohibits any attention to detail; it’s all about composition, color and shape.

I love these little watercolors. The challenge is to bring this freshness and life into larger studio paintings.

Winter trees 3" x 6" watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Winter trees
3″ x 6″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

The fox and the chicken


This is from my car sketchbook. I love the flexibility the Niji waterbrsh gives me. Once the black and white drawing is finished, I can add watercolor pencil and then hit spots with water where I want to, all the while waiting for stoplights to turn green, or in the parking lot at work.I don’t have to fuss with my watercolor kit. It’s very convenient for having to squeeze art into a busy day.

I drew the fox first, then thought the drawing should cross over the fold of my sketchook, so I added the chicken. To me it looks like the animals are about to have a whingdinger of a battle.

Waterbrush pen and the smoking man


I recently bought a Niji waterbrush pen. It’s just a small synthetic brush attached to a tube that holds water. Squeeze it and water comes out. It is evidently a Japanese invention—you can read more about them at Russell Stutler’s sketchblog. He’s an American artist living in Japan, and his sketches of places in Japan are beautiful.

The waterbrush pen has added a new dimension to sketching in the car. I can whip out a quick sketch with a cheap felt tip pen and then spend several more stoplights working out the details, adding form, value, and tone.

One day last week while waiting at a particularly long light, I was pleased to look to my right and find  a man wearing a fedora pulled up beside me. And he was smoking! How often do you see that in the Bay Area? The universe couldn’t have presented any better momentary travel companion. I dashed off the initial drawing with a plain old cheap felt tip pen during the 30-second  red light, then I built up the drawing using the pen and waterbrush while I waited at subsequent stoplights. I finished the sketch in the parking lot and felt happy and satisfied as I started my day job.