Thursday, August 21, 2014

Paraty, Here I Come!

See ya later!
I’m heading out to Paraty, Brazil, for the Fifth International Urban Sketching Symposium plus a week of exploring Rio de Janeiro! I probably won’t blog while I’m away, but you can keep up with photos and sketches I post in this Flickr album. A full report when I return!

All My Bags Are Packed. . .

8/21/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolor, Stillman & Birn Delta sketchbook
(My faithful Rickshaw finally gets to travel with me.)
Well, not quite all, but my Rickshaw Zero bag is!

During the past two years that my purple Rickshaw has been my faithful everyday carry, I’ve always taken some other bag when I’ve traveled because the Rickshaw just isn’t big enough for all the additional essentials that travel requires. But taking an unfamiliar bag meant feeling disoriented – nothing was where I expected it to be (as if travel isn’t disorienting enough).

Not this time! My beloved Rickshaw is coming with me to Brazil, along with a simple tote for the rest – a sweet solution. As a result, the following are the only sketch-material-related travel prep tasks I had to do this week:

  • I stitched up 10 signatures for the Stefano. Think that’s too many? I filled nine last year in Barcelona and Germany during a trip almost as long. (I’m putting the signatures – along with inconvenient items such as clothes – into my roller bag this afternoon; we’ll see if I have to leave a few of those 10 behind.) (Edited 3:15 p.m.: They all fit! I may have to check a bag on the flight home, though.)

  • To avoid inky messes (like the one I got last month flying to L.A. because I forgot the lesson I learned two years ago), I filled my fountain pens and ink-filled waterbrushes completely. This seems counterintuitive – wouldn’t more ink in the reservoir allow for more leakage? But at high altitudes, air expands, pushing the ink out. If a reservoir is completely filled, there’s no air to expand, reducing the chance of leakage. That’s the theory, anyway. (If that solution happens to fail, I put potentially leaky pens and waterbrushes in a sealed plastic bag.)

  • The supply of watercolor paints, inks and other materials that I carry every day should be sufficient for the duration of my trip, so I’m not taking spares (last year I brought several ink cartridges that I never used). The only exception is one spare cartridge of Platinum Carbon Black, because that’s probably difficult to find in Brazil.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Greenwood Masonic Lodge Mural

8/20/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Pitt Artist Pen, Zig marker, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Last week Gabi Campanario blogged about the experience of “meta-sketching”: depicting the work of another artist in one’s sketch and how that makes him feel. I had a meta-sketching experience myself this afternoon, and I can empathize.

Driving on North 80th in Greenwood the past few weeks, I’ve seen a gorgeous, colorful mural in progress on the wall of the Masonic Lodge building next door to Diva Espresso (which I’ve occasionally sketched from the inside). A cherry picker was parked in the corner of Diva’s lot. I called Diva to find out when the artist would be working, and I was told he was usually there after 3 p.m., so I made time to get over there around 3 today to catch him at work.

James Nielsen of Oakland is the artist (“artist and sorcerer,” says his business card), and he told me today is day 28 of his work (an assistant was also working today) on the Greenwood Masonic Lodge 253’s commissioned mural, which shows the moon shining over Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle and downtown Seattle with a dazzling rainbow of colors in the background. A large Masonic symbol is in the center. I thought of Gabi’s “meta-sketching” blog post as I sketched, feeling like my watercolors were barely a shadow of the painting I was trying to depict. But I had a lot of fun bringing out a full spectrum of hues (done with only a primary triad of paints, no less!), which I rarely get an opportunity to do in typical urban sketches.

James still has the bottom third or so of the mural left to paint, but I’m glad I made the time to catch him today. At the rate he’s going, he might be done by the time I’m back in town.

8/20/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Zig marker
Technical note: I’ve been using a Sailor calligraphy pen (or its uptown brother with an identical nib, the Sailor Profit) almost exclusively the past month or so, and I have not missed my conventional-nib pens at all. I’m always learning how to best use that crazy nib, and I still don’t have full control, but I’m having too much fun to care. One mild frustration has been that to get the absolute finest line with it, I have to tilt the nib at an unnaturally sharp angle that’s awkward to hold for very long. I remembered that some fountain pen sketchers I know turn their nibs upside-down to get a finer line, so I tried that with the Sailor, and voilĂ ! I can get a really line fine while holding it at a natural angle. My Sailor and I still have a lot of dancing to do!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Burgermaster on Aurora

8/19/14 Platinum Carbon, Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa, Diamine Grey and Red Dragon inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

When I was a kid, our neighborhood didn’t have any drive-in restaurants, so when I visited cousins out in the ‘burbs, it was a serious treat to go to places like Triple XXX Root Beer, order from the car and then eat in the car. (Why parents thought this was a good idea is beyond me, but I sure thought it was fun.) I think carhops on rollerskates was a little before my time; I recall waitresses bringing our orders in shoes.

Most drive-in restaurants have been gone for decades, but the Seattle area still has five Burgermaster locations, including one just north of me on 100th and Aurora (only a couple of blocks from where I sketched a tree a few months ago as I got blasted with grit and bus fumes). I’ve been mostly vegetarian for 30 years, so burgers are not on my radar, but driving by the other day, it suddenly occurred to me: It’s still there! According to its website, “A Northwest landmark since 1952, BURGERMASTER offers quality, cooked-to-order food from fresh ingredients, for those who value great taste and excellent service.”

Certainly there are restaurants that have been around as long or longer, but that drive-in part is a rare novelty. It looked like most of the diners this afternoon had parked their cars and eaten inside, but I did see a few cars parked out in the stalls where orders are still brought out for in-car dining. I don’t know how long the “Home of the Baconmaster” and its drive-in booths are going to be around, so I thought today was as good a day as any to sketch them.

(Technical note: I finished a signature of my usual sketchbook paper on Sunday, and I didn’t want to start the next signature before I leave town because I’d like to start a new one in Brazil, so I’ve been using an old Stillman & Birn Beta book this week. I’m still fond of the paper (I’d still be using Betas now if I hadn’t discovered bookbinding), but I was surprised that I felt confined by the page size. I’d gotten used to double-page spreads on 9-by-12-inch paper in my Stefano. The hardbound Beta, which is 8.5-by-10.75 inches opened up, is only an inch or so narrower, but I noticed the difference. It’s funny how you get used to a certain format, and anything smaller seems cramped.)

Monday, August 18, 2014


8/18/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils,
Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
My hair was on fire today with a bunch of errands and appointments that I had to get done before I leave town at the end of the week. I didn’t really have time for a sketch, nor did I have a subject in mind. Then on my way to an appointment, I spotted this on the sidewalk outside a church I pass frequently in my neighborhood: The sad shell of an old piano missing all of its keys, its cover, its front face and one of its pedals. Strings, hammers and all the rest of its intricate innards were entirely exposed. The finish was almost completely worn away, and parts of its once-ornate legs were broken off.

If I had thought about it for more than two seconds, I would have realized that a piano is a perspective study that requires more than 15 minutes to sketch. I would also have realized that if I had taken the hour or so I needed to sketch it carefully, it would have been a nice way to honor an old piano that had probably given many years of musical service to the church – and was now on its way to the dump. But all that had occurred to me was that the piano might be gone by tomorrow, and 15 minutes was all I had to give it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shilshole Marina

8/17/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Zig marker, Pitt Artist Pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Thick and white with fog, the sky over Shilshole Marina felt a bit chilly this morning for mid-August, but a strong showing of Seattle Urban Sketchers was undaunted. Sure enough, the sun came out within the hour, giving everyone good shadows and warmth.

8/17/14 Platinum Carbon, Pilot Iroshizuku
Tsuyu-kusa and Diamine Grey inks, Zig marker
Before the fog lifted, I started with a sketch of “Son of Iceland, Grandson of Norway” Leif Erikson. The original statue was a gift to Seattle from the Norwegian American community during the 1962 World’s Fair. A new base and tribute were unveiled in 2007. His helmet looked a bit Pope-ish until I corrected its tilt.

By the time the sky cleared, I had procrastinated long enough: It was time to take on the formidable marina with its gazillions of masts. I propped my stool up on top of a picnic table to get a better line of sight. Putting Harris (sketching in the foreground) in first helped to ground me. Then I put in the trawler, and then all the other masts behind it. Piece o’ cake! (Ha-ha.)

I had 10 minutes to kill before the sketchbook sharing, so I sketched Peggy sketching between her bike and a food truck.

8/17/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-sumi and Diamine Grey inks

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Season of Denial

8/16/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor,
Zig marker, Pitt Artist Pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Last year at about this time, I coined a term for the season that comes between summer and fall: Denial. It starts in early August when I first notice the leaves starting to turn. It lasts for as long as possible.

These slender maples growing in a traffic circle in the Greenwood neighborhood are surely a fluke. Actually, the one on the left and the one mostly hidden behind it are still fully green, so I think it’s only the tree on the right that is a fluke. Clearly, it didn’t take enough vitamins or skipped too many yoga classes this summer.
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