Monday, May 23, 2022

Roosevelt Station on My 10th Anniversary


5/20/22 Roosevelt Light Rail Station

On May 20, 2012, a cold and rainy Sunday, I attended my first-ever Urban Sketchers sketch outing. I usually commemorate my USk anniversary at whatever outing I attend during the month of May each year, so I wasn’t necessarily planning an event to fall on May 20. But as it turned out, Friday was forecast to be dry and fair, so I took a chance to see who might be able to show up on short notice on a weekday afternoon. Although it was a small group, there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

Last October right before Roosevelt Light Rail Station opened, I sketched its colorful southern entrance. This time I stood at its northern entrance so that I could still include the yellow sculpture that marks the station. Just like the first time, I found the station daunting, and I wished I hadn’t bitten off such a large piece to chew! (Ironically, back in October, I had found a much less-daunting composition and even made a thumbnail to remind myself of it. I liked it better than the larger sketch I had made first. But I didn’t remember until I looked back at the blog post just now and saw it! It’s a better composition, too. OK, next time.)

5/20/22 Roosevelt neighborhood

Feeling a bit cowed by that, I wandered around the station to look for a second sketch, but nothing grabbed me. On an adjacent street, I saw what I thought would make a good composition study, so I pulled out my Field Notes to make a quick thumbnail. Then I found myself interested enough in it that I kept filling in details, and what the heck – the thumbnail turned into a “real” sketch. I like it a lot more than the color sketch I had made first! Hmmm, I’m detecting a pattern.

In any case, I appreciated having other sketchers to share the fun with. I was feeling a bit shy and trepidatious when I went to my first outing, but joining Urban Sketchers has been one of the most rewarding and inspiring decisions I’ve ever made. It’s been a fantastic 10 years, and I hope to continue for many more to come!

Ching, Paul, Sunny and Tina

Sunday, May 22, 2022



5/16/22 Wedgwood on trash day

I’ve noticed a pattern: Whenever I make a composition study and then try to make a full-size, color sketch afterwards of the same composition, I lose steam. It feels like I’ve already made the sketch, and the freshness is gone. It’s a problem that I need to resolve if I want to learn from the obviously valuable tool of making thumbnail studies.

Seeing a potential sketch in the Wedgwood neighborhood, I dutifully started making a composition study first. I observed the values and put in the prominent lines, but then I stopped without filling in the shapes and values. I wondered if that would keep the process fresh enough for me that I could make the “real” sketch.

Indeed, that did seem to do the trick – I still had enough to do that I hadn’t already done in the thumbnail, and that made the sketch fun (at left). When I had finished, though, I realized I hadn’t paid attention to the much-tighter cropping I had done in the thumbnail – even though that was a significant part of observing the composition.

Cropped to match the thumbnail study at left
Much of what Ian Roberts talks about is cropping – doing it tightly enough that unnecessary details are eliminated, which strengthens the value masses and other shapes that lead the eye through a composition. After I got home, I decided to crop my sketch digitally (at right) to match the thumbnail I had originally made. I hate to lose the top of that tree in the background, but I do like that the trash cans are less centered. Cropping more tightly changes the focal point, though: Now it’s all about the trash cans, and that wasn’t my intention. Maybe what I was missing at the (incomplete) thumbnail stage was knowing where I wanted the focal point to be.

Unfinished study

Saturday, May 21, 2022



5/16/22 Green Lake

On my weekly walks around Green Lake with a friend, I see all kinds of sketchable compositions, but when I go there with the intention of sketching, they seem to elude me. I had to pick my way carefully through the grass to avoid the abundance of goose poop to make this study. By the time I finished, I didn’t like the composition enough to make a full-size sketch. I just wasn’t feeling it that day.

Walking back to my car, I spotted a few of the poop producers. Despite my ambivalence toward Canada geese and what they leave behind, I have none about sketching them. They are beautiful birds that move slowly enough to be sketchable. Poop or no, they made my trip to Green Lake worthwhile.

Productive poop machines at Green Lake

Friday, May 20, 2022

Crinkly Tulips


5/15/22 tulips (Neocolor II in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook)

Imagination, composition, color masses, color temperature – I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I love it all; I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy challenges that require thinking. But sometimes I get tired of thinking.

A week after I had brought home a bouquet of tulips, they had reached my favorite stage: crinkly, curly and fading, but not yet falling apart. All I wanted to do was respond to them with some scribbly color. Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastels were ideal.

Have I really not yet written a review of Neocolor II? Of all the products I currently use, Neocolor II may be one of my oldest. It goes way back to my mixed-media collage days. Although I don’t use them often, I seem to reach for them intuitively when I’m in a loose mood. Maybe one of these days I’ll take them out for some serious play and write that review.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Faces in Clouds


 I’m a huge fan of David Zinn’s whimsical sidewalk chalk art. He takes “urban sketching” to a new level – down on the pavement on hands and knees! Although I don’t have any intention of drawing on the sidewalk myself, I read his how-to book, The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds, just because I was curious about his process.

The rest of us might see only a broken brick or a weed growing through a pavement crack, but Zinn sees rabbits, pigs or other zany imaginary characters – and uses chalk to bring them to life. Zinn describes what he does as pareidolia – the natural human tendency to perceive a meaningful image in a random or ambiguous pattern.


We all see faces or animals in clouds. One of the exercises in Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination encourages readers to take advantage of pareidolia by observing clouds more closely, and then drawing what we see in them. (He recommends taking photos of clouds and drawing from them later, but you know me – I think its more fun to draw from life.) Seattle has no shortage of clouds, so I have been trying to be more observant of them – and drawing the images I see.

The exercise reminds me of the fun technique I learned last year during illustrator Alexandra Gabor’s segment of Sketchbook Revival. She taught us to doodle random, closed shapes, which we then turned into the animals, people or whatever we saw in the shapes. Just recently I learned of another similar technique: Make random blobs with watercolor, then draw the animals that the colored blobs evoke.

These are all fun, low-pressure ways of encouraging imaginative drawing because they rely on something that most human brains do naturally without much effort. The drawing part might not come naturally, but at least the seeing and then imagining part does.


After making the sketch at left, I remembered to snap
a photo of the cloud that inspired it. It was changing quickly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Compositional Dilemma at Greenlake Village

5/13/22 Greenlake Village courtyard (thumbnail)

 Enjoying coffee with a couple of sketcher friends recently, I made a few compositional studies as we chatted. The Greenlake Village courtyard is mostly in shade, which can be a problem (not to mention chilly), but it has enough skinny trees, benches and water features to keep it interesting. I chose the study I was most interested in (at left) to make a larger sketch in color (below). According to what I’ve been studying in Ian Roberts’ book and videos, I had simplified the scene and picked out a few strong lines and value contrasts to focus on.

A major risk in making a thumbnail study before the “real” sketch is that the second time isn’t fresh anymore. Since I had already sketched it, I got bored and started adding more to it. I cluttered up the composition that I had worked so hard to simplify in the thumbnail! When I realized what I was doing, I didn’t feel like finishing.

I like the thumbnail better.

Roberts stresses the importance of small studies to work out values and other compositional elements before beginning a painting because then the painter doesn’t have to worry about potential problems and is free to use color and brushstrokes to fully express the picture. I have trouble seeing values in color, so figuring those out first is definitely helpful.

Maybe my problem is that because I’m not making a painting as a final product, my “real” sketches are too similar to my thumbnails – the addition of color in a slightly larger size feels redundant and unnecessary. In any case, I certainly prefer my thumbnail to the second sketch.

On an earlier walk through the neighborhood, I had made some other small compositional studies (below). These took only about five minutes each, but I felt that they were finished – I had captured the essential lines and value contrasts, and to make them again larger and with color would not have added much.

5/11/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

5/11/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

5/11/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I seem to have stumbled upon another difference between thinking like a painter and thinking like an urban sketcher. Maybe I need to leave more out of the compositional studies so that I still have something to explore in the “real” sketches.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Up on Stilts

5/9/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

We hadn’t walked on this block in a while. The last time we looked, a house was standing on the ground as always. The next time we saw it, the house was high up on stilts, wrapped in Tyvek! Presumably new construction will begin beneath the existing house and eventually connected. I sure wish I had known this was going to happen before it happened so I could have watched (and sketched)!

A few days after I sketched this, I was walking by again when I spotted the owners on the property. I asked what the plan was: The existing house will be completely updated inside. A new basement will be dug, and a new main floor will also be built. Then the old house will be placed over that.

You can bet I’ll be walking on this street more often this summer so I can check on the new construction.

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