All together now

ALL TOGETHER NOW — A group of sketchers come together to survey each other’s work.


Ready, Set, Sketch! group meets monthly at various locations across the county

Once a month, a group of people travel from around the county and beyond to sit and admire their surroundings. Ready, Set, Sketch! is in its seventh year and has amassed over 100 members.

Most recently, the group set up in downtown Geyserville. Before that, they were in Duncans Mills.

“We meet all over the place,” said Cloverdale resident Richard Sheppard, the founder of Ready, Set, Sketch! “It’s primarily Sonoma County, but we’ve gone up to Hopland once and sometimes we go south of Sonoma County. I try and get interesting locations, some are just like downtown Geyserville, but we go to farms and sometimes people’s estates that are interesting.”

Sheppard is an artist by trade and has been sketching Sonoma County for 10 years. He teaches art classes, has two published books of sketches and at one time had a column where he told stories of county locations through his sketches. It was while writing the column that he decided to create the sketch group.

“I was sketching and writing stories,” he said. “I just thought it would be nice to have some of the people who were reading my stories about being out and sketching come and join me and participate.”

What resulted is a community of artists who travel around the county and sketch together — some are locals, some come from the East Bay or San Francisco, some come every month while others pop in and out.

Overall, Sheppard estimates that between the group’s Facebook page and mailing list, there are hundreds of people who get his meeting notices. However, only 12 to 24 show up per session.

Sheppard isn’t concerned with the numbers, though. He wants to focus on the community, and the joy that he gets from sketching.

“I want to be out there and anyone else who wants to be out there is welcome to come,” he said. “It’s a great way to spend a Saturday.”

The group meets on the second Saturday of every month at a location of Sheppard’s choosing. He tends to look for places that lend themselves to multiple focal points, he said. He wants those in attendance to have subjects to choose from — places where people can draw other people, buildings, scenery, you name it.

A few days before the second Saturday of the month he posts the details. Planning too far out, especially in winter when there’s a high chance that a location may be rained out, has been detrimental to meetings.

While creating art can be a solitary activity, Ready, Set, Sketch! finds a way to orient sketching in a way that taps into community.

then we disburse around whatever area I choose we’re going to go,” Sheppard said. “We sketch for three hours and then we come back and we spread out all of our sketches and look at them. We talk about whatever we came across that may be interesting.”

Though it’s not required, Sheppard said that group members are encouraged to get lunch or patronize wherever they’ve been situated while drawing. It doesn’t cost money to be in the group, he said, but he does want to support local businesses.

While the community aspect of Ready, Set, Sketch! shows another side of creating art, Sheppard emphasized the joy that he gets from simply taking time to observe the world around him.

“Being outdoors, you feel part of the place,” he said. “If you go someplace and you just take a picture and then you go on, you don’t remember it very well, you remember the picture. When you actually spend time and sit at a place — you hear the birds, you feel the weather, you know how cold the rock is that you’re sitting on, the types of people that are passing by — you just feel a little more a part of it.”

“Whenever I look back at my sketches, I feel like I’m back there and I remember all those sketches,” he added. “If I take a picture, I may not remember. It’s about capturing memories as much as a visual image.”

In some cases, like when the group traveled to a historic home in Preston, the sketches lead to a stronger understanding of local history. Sheppard has a sketch of the property’s caretaker, which was painted while she was telling the sketchers about the history of the property and those who lived on it. It’s these encounters that encourage artists to look beyond the surface of what they’re creating.

“It’s a different kind of exploring — instead of going into stores shopping and stuff‚ you’re there for the day or half a day and you start actually looking at the buildings and the trees and the park benches, and you start actually exploring in different ways than you would otherwise,” Sheppard said.

The people who participate in the group primarily work in watercolor, he said. However, the different media that people work in run the gamut. Some participants work in the more classic pen and ink style, while others bring oil paints.

Those interested in participating can find out more information at or at the Ready, Set, Sketch! Facebook group, both will be updated with a new meeting location prior to the second Saturday of each month. Sheppard recommends that people interested in attending one of the sketching sessions bring something to sketch on, something to sketch with, as well as water, sunscreen, a chair and a hat.

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