Fine Dining Drawings in 30 Seconds or Less

hours to prepare, minutes to eat, and seconds to sketch

I turned 30 two weeks ago and we celebrated with a surprise dinner at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant located in Yountville, CA.

My birthday dress had pockets, so I impulsively stashed my sketchbook and a pen (just in case). The amuse bouche and first course passed, and it felt wrong not to take home a souvenir, so I sent for my sketchpad (which was stowed at that moment in my jacket, hanging heavenknowswhere.) I’m so glad that I drew at dinner.

Sketching each dish meant that it lasted longer, that I had more time to observe, and soak in all the expertly prepared details. My memory of the evening is better because of it, and I have a fun keepsake from what was undoubtedly one of the finest meals I’ve had.

Are you curious? Would you like to see what 12+ courses looks like? Well then, let’s start with the menu.


amuse bouche

The meal began with an amuse bouche. The first bite looked like a miniature ice cream cone. I can’t remember what it was now, but the center was salty, crunchy, and meaty.


butters

After we ordered, picking between the Chef’s Menu or the Vegetable tasting, the staff offered bread service. The sourdough, pretzel, or other bread options were presented to us alongside a sweet butter and a salty butter. This butter was the jam. (pun intended)


oysters and pearls

The first course included tapioca, oysters, and caviar.


polenta

I knew immediately that I wanted some M*F truffle during dinner, so I opted for the “Polenta” for the second course. It included poulard (aka chicken) rillette, shallots, “Sauce Perigourdine”, and generous shavings of preserved black winter truffle.


sturgeon

Next was the the applewood-smoked sturgeon with tomato confit, celery, pickles, watercress, and mustard.


lobster

The most identifiable food in sketch might be the lobster. It came with eggplant, fennel, satsuma mandarin, a black olive purée, and basil.


duck

Then I ate Peking duck, with spinach, beets, and hazelnuts, and red wine-shallot purée.


veal

Prettier than a picture, the next plate included veal tenderloin, asparagus, ramps, lettuce, corn, and a “Bearnaise Mousseline” sauce.


cheese

This cheese course was rather unexpected. It had more in common with a cheesecake than a slice of cheddar, but I ate it up anyways. The dish was “Tomme de Brebis Gâteau” along with rhubarb, pistachios, mint, and pea blossoms.


strawberry

Simply lumped together under the “Assortment of Desserts” title came another 4 or 5 (or 6?) courses, each more decadent than the last. My favorite thing of the whole night came in the form of their take on a Silverado strawberry. What the drawing doesn’t capture is the cream exterior of the dessert, and the bright pink center that oozed after I attacked it with my spoon.


strawberry

Like I said, I ate it up.


spoon

The next delight was their take on a Rice Crispy treat—toasted rice ice cream and a dollop of marshmallow fluff.


rice crispy

My enjoyed the smallest slice of birthday cake ever, chocolaty and rich.


cake

They offered us a treasure chest of chocolates with flavors like s’mores, passion fruit, and salted caramel. I ate two.


chocolate

We would’ve enjoyed at least one more course, but collectively couldn’t eat another bite. The French Laundry graciously boxed it up for us. In our stash, we got to nibble the next morning on a tin of shortbread cookies, cocoa-dusted and candy-coated macadamia nuts (omg wow), passion fruit macarons, and banana macarons.

C’est magnifique!

Jury Doodles: My Month-Long Adventure in San Francisco Jury Duty


City Hall Pastel

It happened. I finally got a jury summons in the mail. I postponed it once and eventually showed up to the San Francisco Superior Court on a Wednesday.


Summoned

I sat next to a stern older woman in the jury selection room. My ears buzzed when they later called her name. I sat next to a nun! It wouldn’t be my last brush with the courts and clergy.


Nun #1Nun #2

Eventually a city worker shambled across the murmuring room, pushing a VHS tape into the player on a pair of TV carts. Which would be fine except for the four giant LCD televisions that hung from the ceiling unused—a perfectly sound analogy for what I was about to experience.


Jury Room

I’m not sure if it was the preachy civil duties video or the three seasons of Law and Order I consumed in the previous months, but I wanted a taste. I longed to get through enough of the selection process to glimpse the familiar procedural exhibition. I didn’t love the idea of getting dragged away from my regularly schedule life, but secretly thrilled, I imagined getting picked.


Courtroom Doors

The selection process took three days. On the first, we filled out a long survey, turned it in, and left. I imagine that the plaintiff and defense lawyers read my answers, looked up at each other, shrugged, and said “Yeah! She’s ok by us!!”

Halfway into the second day, the courtroom clerk called specific people into the jury box for the first time. I heard “Walters, Juror #1” and I remained there for the rest of the trial. The attorneys made it through the entire bunch of eighty randomly summoned people. The last two humans in the room ended up as our alternate jurors.

As teeth-grindingly boring and slow as those following two full jury selection days were, I realized that I had it pretty good. I observed the plaintiff and defendant from behind my sketch book, then from the pages of my novel, and even glanced up at them from my iPhone. They sat silent and unmoving, enduring the proceedings with what I imagine to be a rich, fulfilling inner monologue.


Courtroom Statues

The court finally confirmed what we suspected—that’s it, we’re jurors for Room 510. Fourteen previously distant and closed-off humans blossomed into a jokey, doomsday team, making the best of our state-mandated future together. We endured elevator rides, lengthy courthouse hall waits, and the tediousness of not being able to talk about the one thing we had in common. The court promised us a 10-15 day trial. It lasted 21 days over the following six weeks.


Conversation

I grew accustomed to the rhythm of court. We enjoyed a morning break and an afternoon break, with lunch punctuating the day’s half-way point. On average, we spent only five hours in trial every day.

How much time does a typical person take for lunch nowadays? Probably thirty minutes. Maybe an hour if you’ve got errands to run. Or do most people eat hunched over their desks, taking equal bites of sandwich and email? The court adjourned for an hour and a half every day. Those courtroom doors closed and we were on our own. What can someone do around the Civic Center for that long and not lose her mind?

Well, I’ll tell you how I did it—I made up some rules.

Don’t eat lunch sitting in the sample place twice. Walk around with your eyes open. And when you’re feeling curious, go after it. Record the things that you see, hear, and observe. I sketched, painted, and wrote down the little things that showed up, sometimes mid-stride. Added together, these weird little boredom-fighting tricks taught me about this lively corner of the city.


Bird Statue

I immediately felt self-conscious because people watched me. They’d looked at me sideways while I worked but would usually go on their way.


Those Buildings

Then I disappeared into the background and went unnoticed as I observed the people around me. I emerged from the Muni Station every day and walked through UN Plaza, past City Hall, and into the courthouse. While the buildings don’t change, everything else does when you’re not there. There’s a constant shuffling of people which transforms those city blocks over and over. You see homeless people, the employed, one-time visitors, begrudging return citizens, and bicycled legal couriers in any combination.


Bird Statue

I recognized weekly patterns. UN Plaza holds its own schedule, with gift vendors on most days and a farmer’s market on another. Tuesday and Thursday hosts a collection of food trucks called Off the Grid which lures workers into it’s arena of folding chairs and pigeons.


Farmers Market Veggies

I realized that I didn’t see certain typical San Francisco things. No one camped out during the day. The homeless community congregated in certain parts of UN Plaza, or by the Library entrance, or the Asian Art Museum, but would never be in the same spot at the end of my day. I didn’t see police officers patrolling the area, or security telling people to keep moving—not once, not ever.


Do Not Tuch

I saw classic San Francisco left and right. I witnessed City Hall demonstrations for the Lee Family eviction and political speeches. There was a sculpture art showcase on the plaza where I overheard two artists talk. “It’s like writing. If you want to wait for inspiration, it’s one day of three. You have to pick up the tools.” Preach it, ladies.


Building Heads

The brides, grooms, family, and photographers are a constant presence, but so is the San Francisco history. There are statues, informational plaques, and the ornate City Hall itself—boasting enough pomp and gilding to indicate that when you’re here, it’s important.


Wedding Creep

I observed what a profound effect simple changes make. One lunchtime I sketched people lounging across the City Hall plaza. This grass quadrant, cut up the middle with a wide gravel path, is where homeless people, city workers, lawyers, and dog owners alike come to sit, talk, nap, eat, do drugs, and poop. The day after I captured their mingling, someone erected chain link fence, tore out all the grass with bulldozers, and erected billboards notifying us of “Mayor Ed Lee’s Grass Beautification Project, due 2014.” The area is like that—one day you take something for granted, and the next you realize that yes, even the lawn is important.


People Plaza

On another afternoon I stumbled across a group of lunching construction workers. They relaxed in a circle of camping chairs, perfectly spotlighted by the sunshine. Their loud jokes seemed at odds, and yet perfectly welcome, among the manicured grasses, ornate fence and light posts, and cold, looming Opera House.


Construction Lunchers

Because lunchtime was an ample hour-and-a-half, I ate my lunch along with a bonus treat. Snacks metered the time. On a bright day, the sun warms the chocolate chip cookies on display at Slow City, a coffee tent outside City Hall. I’d buy an oversized, melty cookie and sit at their tables, tracing the building lines surrounding me. There’s a small cafeteria downstairs in the courthouse. I can’t say definitively what sour cream and onion tastes like, but thanks to its chip supply, I can say what it doesn’t taste like. A nearby coffee shop supplied me with a terrible brownie.


Brownie


Cookie


Chips

I once happened upon interspecies street justice. A pigeon swoop attacked a bike frame-wielding man who walked in front of me one morning. He got an unexpected peck him in the ear. He could not believe it. (I could, bike thief!)


Bike Thief

The forces inside the courthouse are another reminder that you’re dealing with people, so many people. The elevators occasionally served as a five-second confessional. “My tenant hasn’t payed rent in seven months and I have to pay HIM?! And he doesn’t even show up to court!”

And then there are the courthouse lawyers. I had plenty of time to check them out. They’re identifiable 50 feet away but could easily be mistaken with a title wave of real estate agents. The trademark bland dress, suits, modest skirts, muted colors (if any), and tidy hair are a giveaway. Perhaps the only thing that lawyers love more than winning a case is buying another pair of sensible black shoes.


Lawyer Shoes

I adored the dog owners (and a cat on a leash) who trot their creatures to poop and pee on any and all grass in the area. I thought I might catch someone tsk-ing at the practice, but no, they never did. I later came across a dozen skateboarding teenagers outside the Opera House. The security officers stood around, puffing their chests and waving, tag-teaming duties until the kids got a move-on. Which is all to say, you may bring your animals to use the city hall grass as their personal rest room but NO SKATEBOARDING.

Although 21 days (roughly 30+ hours) feels like plenty of time to get to know City Hall and its brother and sister buildings, it’s not. There remains a list of places I’d like to explore.

  • There’s a children’s waiting room on the courthouse’s main floor. What’s it for?
  • I learned the hard way that the Asian Art Museum is not open the 2nd Tuesday of the month. I still need to visit.
  • There’s a special collections room on top of the library—what wonders await?

Maybe next time.

Donuts of the Bay Area 2014 – I Made a Calendar!

Once upon a time I decided that I’d make a donut calendar for my first event. I painted the donuts, and readied them for printing. But then I ran out of time. Oh no!

And then I found the time. Until I didn’t have it any more. Six weeks of jury duty gobbled up my energy and the vision for this donut calendar grew dim.

But then I had time! And the end of the year, oh god, the end of the year was drawing nigh. Push, work, push, work, PRINT.

I am pleased to introduce you to my little enduring idea—the Donuts of the Bay Area 2014 Calendar.

If you love the donuts from San Francisco and Oakland, or just love pretty donuts, THIS IS FOR YOU! Or maybe for YOUR MOM! Or your BEST FRIEND!! Or at least tell them about it. Forward it, text it, Facebook it, or Tweet it. (Because you are awesome.)

Want to know what went into making a calendar? You got it. I’ll be sharing my experience in the coming weeks.

THANK YOU for your support, readers! Have a wonderful holiday.

Live local? You can pick up the calendar at Super7 in the Haight.

My First Retail Event (Part 2) – What I Learned

Yesterday I shared the story of how I organized and prepared for my first retail event. Today I’ll give all the tools that I found helpful. This includes a Google Doc of my actual plan and checklist-timeline, and a cleaned-up simplified PDF version that you can download. I hope you’ll find what I share to be useful for the next time you are eyeball-to-eyeball with your new business and first-ever event.

In addition to all my planning and brain reorganizing, I did quite a bit of research and online sleuthing for event prep and display tips. I’ve listed the useful blog posts I read at the bottom of this post. Thank you to those people for putting their own experience out there!

Tools I Used

*I stripped off my own particular items and made a version of The Plan outline for you. Download the Retail Event Setup Worksheets. If you use it, let me know what you think.

Thoughts for Creating a Display

  • Does your business have brand keywords? Pick 2-3 words or a phrase that describes your esthetic, style, mission, or approach. When you need to narrow your choices, it’s much easier to think, “Does this jive with my keywords?” (I learned about this in Craft, Inc., which I recommend!)
  • Build your table display UP so that it meets the eye.
  • If you want to raise the table so that people don’t have to bend over, there’s an easy fix. Buy bed risers! Put them under the four corners of your table and just make sure your table cloth accounts for the extra height.
  • Don’t make people hunt for the prices. They might be too shy to ask or assume something is expensive.
  • Make sure you have a table dress rehearsal. You never know how things will look until you get them all laid out. Also it’ll provide some peace of mind and practice so the actual set-up won’t take as long.

Thoughts for the Event

  • Consider the flow of the event around your table. Will people enter from the right or left? What should they first see?
  • Think about the wind and weather, if there is any, and make sure your display won’t tumble over, get knocked down, or be blown away.
  • Bring a notebook so you can write down observations, trends, and things you hear from people.
  • Create a Just-In-Case supply of weird and useful tools. My bag included clamps, zip-ties, safety pins, tape (masking, double-sided, packaging, and scotch), scissors, a sewing kit, a sharpie.
  • Don’t forget to bring plenty of cash and change for cash purchases.
  • Don’t be shy—make friendly with your neighboring booths. Fellow makers are a great resource of ideas, experience, and collaboration. And sometimes it’s just nice to talk with someone in the same boat.

Craft Show Tips from Around the Internet

My First Retail Event (Part 1) – How I Prepared

Some projects seem small and manageable until you start. You’re at the bottom of the hill looking up thinking, “Sure, I can totally do this.” So you start marching up that hill. It looks like you’re almost to the top but then another incline appears. “Oh god, not another step!” but then, glory, the tippy top of that hill appears. And hey, there’s a sunset happening so get ready bask in your achievement. Hello, I’m April and I just finished this sort of project.

When I said yes to Brit + Co.’s Artisan Showcase at Re:Make 2013, I knew that I had a lot to do before my Donut Galleria was ready. And woah nelly, I split apart and reorganized my brain a few times in the process, but I did it. And now I can get ready for another event again without the fuss. Not only that but my Etsy shop is packed with prints and art. That tastes good, like a spoonful of ice cream after work.

Would you like to know how I went about tackling such a project? Good, because I’m going to tell my story. In tomorrow’s Part 2, I’ll give bite-sized takeaways and some templates to help first-timers so that your hill isn’t quite so steep. But today? Today you get the madness behind my method.

The Beginning

The first step is sometimes the hardest—how did I get started? After a bout of procrastination, I talked it over with my life coach and she challenged me to make a plan. It was two months beforehand so I had time to get it down on paper and suss out the details along the way.

I started by organizing all the questions swimming in my head.

  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • How will I display the donuts?
  • Do I have enough things to sell?
  • What will the table look and feel like?
  • What kind of signage should I use?
  • I need business cards! Or do I?
  • What about some promotional materials? A newsletter?

I kept writing down topics, questions, and concerns until several themes emerged. I grouped each thought under a general heading—event goals, products, the table, signage, packaging, and general operations. This rough outline became The Plan. What started as an unmanageable lump how had a definite shape.

After I made The Plan, I drafted a hybrid checklist/timeline. This held the individual tasks that would need to be done in a logical order, whether or not I had a each concept developed. And I added dates, turning into a timeline, so that I had some structure relative to days remaining.

Shout-out to my companions in perfectionism: My task completion tendencies lean toward perfectionist so it was helpful have my life coach challenge me to getting things 93% done. Isn’t that done enough? Things don’t have to be perfect for us to love you.

The Kinda Annoying Work

With The Plan and The Checklist finished, I started digging into the muck—the time-intensive, not-fun, very important work. I made little decision after little decisions and problem-solved the big items. I did product research. I tested art scanning methods. I looked for the right printer both online and off. I hammered out my own brand keywords. This part was more than just setting up for one event. I was laying the foundation of my business. (Which I like to think of as scaling and distribution. Uh-oh, is my B.A. in Marketing showing?)

Even with The Plan and Checklist living in a Google doc, I had a hard time feeling like I had much control with everything behind a screen. I needed some sort of method for breaking the main project into real bites. So one morning I started scribbling each thing that came to mind on a Post-it. After a minute I had a pile of Post-its. I then grouped and organized on a freestanding door in the hall. I also went through The Plan and made more Post-its to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Ahh, much better.

Mercy! A Breakthrough

Figuring out the main command center proved invaluable—my progress sped up, I stopped worrying, and had clear, decisive actions that needed my attention every day. I had a way to organize, move, and manage all the parts. I could see the progress! And I used color coding to indicate what needed to be done next, what was important, tasks that were blocked behind another task, and what was the lowest priority. I loved moving the finished Post-its off onto the wall next to the door. Those Post-its represented a great amount of work to me and it was encouraging to see how far I came even when it felt like I had a long way to go.

After I teased out my business logistics and project organization, I moved on to the actual event prep. Specifically, I focused on the display and branding. This turned out to be a tangle that I had to gingerly pick apart one thread at a time.

The Fun Stuff

I not only did I need branding for the Donut Galleria, I also needed it for myself. I already decided that my brand keywords for my life, art, and in-general style: Snazzy, Charming, and a Bit Odd. I wanted a business card specific to moi, because even though the donuts are a part of me, that’s not the only thing I do. My good friend Laura and I bounced ideas back and forth until there was a winning logo and biz card design.

I moved to the Donut Galleria branding and signage. In a flash of inspiration, I imagined a simple postcard with some alluring language and a URL. I made a donut pattern for the front. But what to use for the font? I remembered seeing a list of fonts on a wedding blog so I cruised over and found Snippet and Ink’s 50 Free Fonts | Best Free Fonts for Wedding Invitations. I browsed the post, opened interesting fonts in new tab, and narrowed it down to six fonts. Exhilarated at the breakthrough, hit a decision making snag, and hung it up for the night.

I picked up the next morning remembering that this is where my predetermined keywords could be helpful. The selected font should be snazzy, charming and a bit odd. And yes, I even made a chart. This narrowed the list down to three top fonts, which went to two and finally the winner. I didn’t intend to pick a font for all my marketing stuff, but by doing this one thing, I made those other decisions. (The best part? Grand Hotel is free for commercial use. MAGICAL HOORAYS.)

Pulling it All Together

Once I had the print materials sorted, the next challenge was the display. I needed a table cloth. I farted away shopping online until there wasn’t enough time for shipping. Instead, I visited a fabric store the day before the event. Three important things happened here. One: there was a 40%-off sale. Two: I took a moment to look around and came across a selection of pom pom trim. And three: A clerk popped by while I was looking at cotton canvas and asked if I had any questions. I said, “Actually, yes.” My irritating pride and know-it-all self-sufficientness took a backseat and I asked the fellow for fabric that wound’t wrinkle. He dragged me away from the canvas (no, no, no, no) toward the polyester. There is a reason that every single restaurant and hotel tablecloth is made from this stuff! There were 10 colors to pick from and one jumped out at me immediately. Charcoal! Of course. And it looked great with the white pom pom trim. BINGO. Done, NEXT.

Newsletter design, price tags, a sign—finished Post-its covered the wall. I asked for and bought donut boxes from shops nearby, and made an inventory and finance spreadsheet. A trip to Michaels with a friend turned into a clever donut art display. I held a table dress rehearsal the day before the event. I could’ve cried because it looked so nice and so real.

Made It!

During the event I took down notes so that I’d have a record of what happened that day. It was wonderful to hear some of the comments, even from people who didn’t stop. It turns out that donut art is niche, and hey, that’s ok. I know that people tend to be passionate about donuts or know someone who is passionate about donuts. I also took notes about what sold so that I’d have a record for my own inventory spreadsheet.

One of the things I thought about while planning for this event was what my customer’s experience would be like. That was the inspiration for my postcards (big type, simple message), and also lead me to my favorite event idea. Imagine it—you’re shopping and see the person next to you pop a donut hole in their mouth. “Where did you get that? I want one!” I offered a free gift with purchase—three chubby donut holes in a french fry bag. Besides delighting people with a sugar surprise, it was a great way to meet other sellers. Everyone loves donut holes!

Introspection

I felt happy and proud to have been a part of Re:Make 2013 because it got my shop into shape and introduced me to a collection of great people. Because of the event, I’m now prepared to say YES at a moment’s notice for other events.

But Wait, There’s More

In tomorrow’s Part 2, What I Learned, I’m offering up some nicely organized bullet points of tips and what I learned. I also put together a hopefully helpful worksheets for you when facing your first retail event. If you ever think you’ll sell something at an arts & craft event, come back and get a leg-up. Thanks for following along with my experience on this donut adventure.

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