Because Mother Nature has relentlessly been sending snow, cold, and a recent blizzard our way, I’ve been sketching at some places where you can obtain hot drinks: coffee and tea. Last week I was in Caribou waiting for a friend. I always like their hot chocolates with whipped cream. While I was waiting, I sketched the barista in his black apron helping an older man in a green coat. His back was to me, but that’s okay. I left most of the sketch uncolored because I wanted to highlight the textures on the display and the basket nearby. A few days later I was at Jerry’s and sketched near Starbucks. It must be the hip place for retired people, because I saw many there. One table held two men, one in a blue cap and shirt. His friend joined him and they talked quite some time. I was working on expressions and faces this time.
Finally, I went to Sencha Tea Bar yesterday, over at Seasons. I am in love with their hot Chai tea, which has a perfect blend of ginger, spice, and creamy sweetness (be careful to let it sit a bit, I burned my tongue drinking it too soon). I also like their bubble tea. I sank into a lumpy gray couch, parked my drink and watercolors on a little side table, and got to work sketching people. I wanted to showcase the display area, which held tea pots, tea, honey pots, and other items. I captured one guy standing in line (invisible girlfriend) and two ladies talking. Cold weather attracts hot-drink seekers, which makes for great sketching! Soon it will be warm and I’ll be sketching cold-drink seekers, but I’ll enjoy this for now!
A few years ago I did this plein air oil painting of an orange lift outside a new structure in Woodbury. This is actually the Sur La Table store before it was built. I find I like construction areas and construction machines to draw. They are interesting and out of the ordinary. I haven’t done sketches of very many sites, but decided to do a sketch of the construction on the MN United Stadium.
When driving down 94 towards Minneapolis, I always notice the new Minnesota United Stadium going up near Midway. I marvel at the smooth white curved girders, the array of beams, the colorful cranes and lifts, and the purple siding. Looking a little like a circular roller coaster, it always gets a second look from me. I watched the US Bank stadium going up as I rolled by on 94 towards 35W. That behemoth structure looked very strange, with girders sticking up and out, and giant cranes hovered overhead. I think that’s part of the curiosity: you don’t really know what it’s going to turn out looking like, so you see the skeleton of the thing and know it has to change from there. Each piece that falls in place is like a puzzle. I was in the the neighborhood the other day so decided to sketch a little of the stadium. It will be done a year from now, but they were busy at work. I could see cranes and lifts working, with ant-like people walking around the girders and in the buckets of the lifts. I was in my car parked on a street directly across 94, so there is actually traffic zipping along right past the brown fence line, which you can’t see in the sketch. It was fun to capture a moment in time, and will be fun to go back again and sketch more progress!
When I am in the Highland Park area, I always notice this large tower when driving down Snelling Avenue. I never knew what it was…it looks sorta like a prison watch tower. Today I was very curious, so instead of driving by, I decided to stop and sketch it. I liked the cream-colored bricks, the tile roof, and copper accents. I did the sketch top to bottom and added the trees in last, then added watercolor. It even looked like it had little animal heads sticking out below the roof line. I wondered who would look out of this mystery tower. Around me in the parking lot were huge round light blue water towers. That should have give me a clue! Unfortunately I was still daft and had to rely on my cellphone and Wikipedia to learn more about this tower. It was the Highland Park Water Tower! Designed by Clarence W. Wigington, the nation’s first African-American municipal architect and built in 1928. The tower is 127 feet and has a capacity of 200,000 gallons of water. It looked so ornate, I have a hard time imagining it holding water. I think it would be nice if all our towers looked like that today, brick instead of light blue. Anyway, I had fun, and it’s sometimes interesting to sketch something that is a mystery to you. I learned something today I didn’t know before!
Last week I went searching for warmer weather, so went to somewhere with humid air and green plants: the Como Conservatory. I enjoy going here in late winter and it didn’t let me down. While dodging around school groups and families, I breathed in the humid air of the Fern room, and listened to the trickling water and fountain in the main garden. Large tropical trees and plants stretched their branches to the windowed ceiling above and condensation dripped down the windows to the ground below. I have two favorite areas: the bonsai room and the Sunken Garden. I needed flowers and scents, so headed to the Sunken Garden, aptly named for the steps that take you down to tiled walkways while a long rectangular pond with elevated plants in containers ends in a fountain. The Spring Flower show was in full force with plenty of purple and yellow spring flowers: daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, violets, and more. I always try to find a seat and breathe very deeply. I sketched the flowers and a guy with a huge camera taking pictures. I then moved to one of the main gardens with the tropical plants, orchids, and more water features. Kids drooped over brick walls looking at fish below. I saw a mom and her daughter across the pond, deeply shaded by trees and decided to sketch them. I also got a detailed sketch of a beautiful mauve and cream orchid embedded in moss. It was a lovely place to sketch and cured the winter blues!
This week I did another thing I have never done—attended the Crayola Experience at the Mall of America. While there with my teen daughter and her friend, I sat and sketched one of the themed areas (above). I have never seen a place that was totally focused on crayons. As large as a one-level department store, brightly colored walls, videos, green screens, and play structures over-did my senses. You could take a photo then make it into a coloring page. You could mold your own crayons into shapes. You could melt crayons and do drip paint. You could eat in a crayon-themed cafe. You could dance on a floor of moving objects and they’d be projected on a wall. You could create your own crayon colors and name them. My daughter chose names from The Office— Obnoxious Michael Green, Dundie Yellow, Dwight’s Beet Red, and Ryan Started the Fire Orange. After some time, over-stimulation from the many little kids and parents took its toll, and we departed. But it was truly and interesting experience!
Yesterday it was a balmy 53 degrees F and I went to the Como Conservatory to sketch flowers. On my way, I passed Como Lake and noticed some brightly colored people out on the ice. People were in the water and standing on the ice. Their yellow jackets stood out against the white ice and black water. I had to take a look! I parked and grabbed my sketch stuff and went to check out the action. The St. Paul Fire Department was doing training on how to do ice and water rescues. Yellow-suited men and women took their turns floating in the frigid waters and crawling out on their stomachs on ice to rescue others. As I started to sketch, I talked to a firefighter who was curious about what I was doing. He said they had new recruits in a six-week program and they were training them in ice and water rescues. The suits were warm (for awhile) and could fill with air and float. They had a wide red flotation band that they would inch out to people in the water and wrap around their bodies, then they would pull them up onto the ice. Other fighters stood a ways back on solid ice, pulling the ropes that would ease people out of the water. After a few water sketches, including the seagulls, I went up a sidewalk to go back to my car. I was almost there, but looked behind me. I saw the parked ambulance and fire truck on the bank, and saw another group doing rescues from the shoreline, and knew it would be a good sketch. So back I went. I sat at a picnic table while the wind blew around me, and sketched the sidewalk scene (above). Firefighters in their blue and black uniforms struggled in and out of yellow flotation suits and rescued their colleagues from the water off shore. Some stood talking, others held ropes, still others waited their turns.
I have never seen people doing this type of activity and it was a great opportunity to sketch. Thomas Thorspecken, an Orlando Urban Sketcher, says: “Where there is action, go towards it, instead of away from it.” I followed his advice and got some fun sketches!
Today I went to the “March for our Lives” at the State Capitol. It was a cold cloudy day and the wind picked up the later the event lasted. I went to the rally with another friend and her daughter and as we approached the mall, we saw a sea of humanity weaving its way up the streets, waving signs and posters. We went up the side area and stood on the steps to hear the speakers. I don’t know how many thousands showed up, but it was a lot. The sketches below I did standing while observing the crowds and listening to the speakers. I picked up slogans from signs, quotes, and people themselves. The crowd was very quiet and respectful when students got up and spoke. It was emotional and difficult to hear their stories and pleas at times, yet, very powerful. Further into the speaker line-up, we had the privilege of hearing from the students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, whose hockey team was in our state for a tournament. You could have heard a pin drop, it was so quiet. A dad spoke first, detailing the heartache of the past events on Feb. 14 and the difficulty in coping. But he reminded his own kids that their survival enabled them to make good change in the world and that their friends would not be forgotten. A boy said “Never again should someone have to attend 17 funerals in one week”, another shared how they had to stay in a closet for 2 hours with a teacher, and a choked-up girl was sharing the horror of having to move on after the shootings, without her friend and classmate by her side. They worked on assignments together and turned them in with both their names listed, so she still lists her friend’s name on the assignments. My heart had broken for these people by then and the tears ran from my eyes. You see the news, the stories online, you watch the video clips, but it doesn’t prepare you for the personal stories spoken from kids who knew these other kids. They were there. And they are living as many families after after gun violence of many kinds: broken. My sketches convey a small amount of what I saw and heard, and much more resides in my heart and soul that I couldn’t put on paper if I tried. But I give these sketches as a small offering, that maybe in some way, change can happen.