Harmon’s Peak

Tombow brushpen and waterbrush
I drew this while Harmon's Peak sang Buffalo Gals, a song from the 19th century that's still a terrific song in the 21st century.

The best part of the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival was the jamming that took place after the amplified music stopped. There was music all night long—of course bluegrass, but also old time, blues, jazz, and a group of folks having a dance party while they played bluegrass tinged Beatles, R&B, and disco. By 1 am I was exhausted, and I drifted off to sleep under a nearly full moon, hearing banjos, fiddles, guitars, and stand-up bass in the campsite 3 spaces over. Sheer heaven.

The amount of talented folks in everyday life astounds me. People go crazy for superstars, but there’s a lot of people out there who are top-notch musicians. They might even be living next door to you!

The next morning my husband’s band, Harmon’s Peak played. They’re an old time string band, which is a different style of music, but it’s part of the roots of bluegrass. As you can see, they’re the best dressed old time band in the Bay Area.

Harmon's Peak
Harmon's Peak

Good old fashioned sketchbooking

Guitar playerWell, whattaya know! The Great Bluegrass Festival Drawing Expedition was a blast. Despite my fears at venturing into public drawing, I sketched unscathed at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. Musicians didn’t take offense at my sketching: bass players didn’t mow me down with their gigantic instruments; fiddlers didn’t skewer me on their bows, nor did banjo players strangle me with their twangy metal strings. And the people who looked at me (yes, they did. They actually looked at me with my little journal and bag of pencils) while I drew, why, they were delighted! One woman saw me drawing, grinned widely and said, “what fun is that!”

And darn it, it is fun. Normally I dislike listening to music while I work. I find it distracting—one of the uncomfortable things about being a musician is that there is no background music. My musical brain always stands at attention for anything resembling music, and disallows any action by the other thinking parts of my brain. I am not a good multi-tasker when music is playing.

The Barefoot Nellies singing harmony
The Barefoot Nellies singing harmony

But this was different. For one thing, I was prepared for music.  I knew there would be lots of it. Besides, I wanted to sketch musicians while they played.

One thing I learned. Bluegrass really sets your toes tapping and makes your drawing arm swing.

It was really hard to sketch people as they played. Those musicians are moving all the time, and each drawing was an exercise in fast gesture poses—good practice for me. You can see that the drawings weren’t entirely successful, especially around the hands. And even less successful around the instruments.

One of the Winton boys playing dobro and a small sketch of the dad playing guitar.
One of the Winton boys playing dobro and a small sketch of the dad playing guitar.

I point out the unsuccessful parts because drawing at this festival really made me see the areas in which I have smaller knowledge, the parts of the world that I need to really look at and understand. That means concentrated study.

To draw a form rapidly, and draw it well, I think you need study it. It needs to be in your head already. You have to study forms so hard that you can trot out a hand, a foot, a face, a fiddle, and draw it perfectly from memory. Once you’ve internalized it, then I think you can really accomplish something.

Again, it’s the analogy of musical scales. You’ve got to get those major and minor keys down so you can shift between them at any turn of the tune. Then you can really start to have fun when you play with other people.