Thursday, August 6, 2020

Chasing the Shadow

7/30/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Facing the sun (thankfully, I have a wide-brimmed hat), I saw an intriguing shadow shape coming toward me and trees fringed with backlighting. I know by now that I have to move fast in the early morning if I want to catch the light, so I quickly marked out the shapes before I started the cars or the fun trash can. Indeed, the shadow shape had changed completely only a short time later.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Quickly Moving Sun

7/25/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Although I’m generally a morning person, it has not been my routine to go out sketching early in the day – until this summer. My neighborhood streets are sparsely populated most of the time, but especially early, so it’s easier to stay out of other pedestrians’ way the earlier I go out.

It has been fascinating to learn how quickly the sun’s angle changes in the early morning compared to the hours on either side of noon. It’s a no-brainer if I were to think about it, but sketching is what brings the matter to a head. For example, if I find a nice shady spot to stand in, that shade might disappear in a matter of minutes. Cast shadows on a house will be entirely different after only five or 10 minutes. The brilliant light around a tree that I was so attracted to might be gone if I spend too much time on a car. I’ve learned that if the light is what I’m interested in, I must capture that first.

One morning, the light on a row of slender bushes caught my eye (above). Other parts of the landscaping and the house interested me too, but I spent most of my time on those bushes before I lost them.

Another day, I had to walk only to the end of our block to see that the low sun was casting both intriguing shadows on the corner house and bright halos on the trees around it. As you might know by now, I tend to be more interested in landscaping than architecture, so after quickly blocking in the house, I started focusing on all the different layers of trees and other foliage. When I went back to finish the house, I got confused by my unclear marks for the shadows and the roof structure, and by then, the shadows had entirely changed. The first sketch below is the result.
 
7/27/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood (original)

After I got home, I looked again at the roof because something was wrong – and I realized I had forgotten to attach the front section to the rear. I tried to fix it (below), but now the shadow is wrong!
 
Roof corrected -- sort of.

The moral of the story: Understand important shadows and mark them clearly before moving on!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Forsythia Values Study

7/26/20 forsythia in our backyard

You saw this forsythia tree back in April when it was ablaze with yellow blossoms, now long gone. As I mentioned then, our backyard rarely calls to me with sketching inspiration, but what did call to me on this hot afternoon was our shady deck. With a kitchen chair and a small selection of traditional colored pencils I’ve been playing with, I got comfy.

Last time, my sketch was about capturing the forsythia’s color. Without the bright yellow to confuse me (no values were attempted in that sketch), this time I decided to make a values study in color. The lightest value green I chose is nearly yellow, which may be confusing to viewers by resembling blossoms, but I thought it would be the clearest “code” to myself to remember that it’s the sunlit areas of foliage.

The greens I used are Caran dAche Pablo Olive Yellow (015), Caran dAche Luminance Moss Green (225) and Uni Posca 18 (color name not given, but its the darkest green). Sketchbook is Stillman & Birn Zeta.

Stage 1: I drew the sunlit areas first so that I wouldn't inadvertently cover them
with too much of the darker colors. I suddenly noticed my neighbor's feet,
so I put them in immediately to scale them accurately. 
As I sketched, I also recalled a question from an Instagram follower/blog reader who was curious about the process I used for foliage – the sunlit color everywhere, then the shadows added later. . .? So I took a few process photos along the way to help show what I do. (Process notes are in the captions.)

Stage 2: I used the medium and darkest green next to indicate the general
shapes of the areas in shade. Even at this stage, if my objective
is to make the plant realistic and specific, my pencil marks are made in
the general shapes of the leaves. I avoid scribbling generically (which I do
at the bottom where I'm indicating shadows in the grass).
At the same time, I was also thinking about a conversation I had had with another sketcher about how different subject matter seem to call for different media. For example, sometimes when I’m trying to sketch a large area of trees and foliage, I start thinking that colored pencils, even watercolor pencils, are not an ideal medium for that. And whenever I see how beautifully some artists paint foliage with watercolors, I see how well that medium can capture the luminosity of trees partially in sunlight. If I knew how to use watercolors, I might be able to achieve that same quality a lot more easily (and certainly faster) than trying to do the job with colored pencils.

Stage 3: I filled in all the foliage more fully with the 3 greens. Toward the end,
I used the medium green to give the sunlit leaves more definition.
In the finished sketch, the medium green is not even apparent as a third color
and probably wasn't necessary. Instead, I applied the darkest green
more heavily in the deepest areas.
If I had been using watercolors to paint this forsythia, though, I might have gotten the broad shapes, hues and light, but I would have lost the slightly curving shapes of the leaves, which I appreciated observing and trying to capture. This one isn’t a detailed botanical drawing (of the scientifically accurate type that I learned to make last winter), but it falls somewhere between that and the slightly more painterly sketch I made when the blossoms were in bloom. Sometimes I want the general; sometimes I want the specific.

Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses. If I had the time, energy and commitment to master every medium that appealed to me, I could use whichever one best captured whatever subject I’m sketching at the moment. But since I’ve chosen to focus on colored pencils, I enjoy challenging myself to find ways to use this chosen medium in whatever way that best takes advantage of its strengths.

(Did you catch the pair of sandaled feet near the base of the tree? I hadn’t seen my neighbor at first, quietly reading, but I put him in as soon as I noticed, just in case he left before I was done. I may have looked like a backyard sketcher that day, but I’m always an urban sketcher at heart.)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Maybe in a Year

7/29/20 Green Lake neighborhood

“Oh, you’re sketching. . .?”

I was standing in this dead-end street in front of the house where the man had come from. I held up my sketchbook so he could see what I was doing. As he approached the edge of my “safe zone,” I said, “I’m sorry. . .” and started to back away. Normally, I would have enjoyed sharing my sketchbook as I have with countless curious passers-by who have approached me these past nine years.

He stopped immediately and backed off himself. Embarrassed, he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. . . I got so interested that I forgot . . .”

We chatted briefly from a safe distance. As he turned toward his house, I said, “I would have loved to have shown you my sketches.”

Nodding, he smiled and said, “Maybe in a year. . . ?”

It broke my heart.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Red is the New Black


Here’s the change I hinted at when I finished my black sketchbook: Red is the new black. This notebook was given to me by a friend who knows how much I enjoy sketching in red Field Notes Sweet Tooth notebooks. The color is similar, but it’s an A5 size, so I have enough room to make hand drawings at the same scale as the rest of my series. Best of all, I can now take advantage of the same feature that made me fall in love with Sweet Tooth in the first place: Red can be used as a strong mid-tone, so I can use both black for shading and white for highlights.

But the bigger change? Right is the new left! Way back in April when I had done only 23 hand sketches, I drew with my right hand as a novelty, but quickly switched back to my dominant left hand the next day. Since I’m in this series for the long run, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to continue making right-handed drawings daily until this red sketchbook is full.


My brain has gotten a lot of practice in proportion and form from the previous 132 sketches, so using my right hand is about physical training more than skill. Fine motor control and strength are its main weaknesses; it’s more like physical therapy than drawing practice.

I also learned from that April sketch that ballpoint was a poor medium choice because it requires a fair amount of pressure to make strong, dark marks. I’m now using the softest media I could find in my arsenal, such as pastel, charcoal and Conte crayon, which also smudge easily with little pressure.

So far, it’s slow going – literally. My left hand keeps wanting to grab the pencil out of my right hand: “Oh, gimme that – you’re so slow.” But this is exactly the new challenge I needed to keep this series going.


Oh no, I just realized I counted Day 135 twice!


I didn't skip any days... I just caught up on my
incorrect numbering!

A change of hands.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Joe’s Ice Cream

7/26/20 Joe's Ice Cream truck, Maple Leaf neighborhood

The summer before I started my freshman year at the University of Washington, I needed an income quickly. Becoming a Joe’s Ice Cream truck driver seemed like a good (maybe only) idea at the time. My then-boyfriend had to teach me how to drive a stick so that I could operate the little vehicle. It was hardly a “truck”; its engine was more like a golf cart, and I was told I could not exceed 40 m.p.h.

A large part of the training involved keeping the ice cream bars and popsicles from melting. The trucks had no refrigeration – only an ice box (literally) filled with dry ice and some blankets for insulation. One important part of the training was strangely omitted, and being 18 years old, I didn’t think to ask.

I lasted in that job exactly one day, half of which was spent looking for a restroom.

All of those fond memories came rushing back as I heard the music of a Joe’s truck down the block (“Bicycle Built for Two” is the song – same as it was in 1977). Grabbing my sketchbook, I went out on our upstairs deck. The young girl across the street and her masked mom approached the truck, which had stopped in front of our house. Wearing a face shield, the driver stepped out and away from the vehicle so that his customer could “read” the pictorial menu on the door. When she made her selection, he went to the back of the truck, placed her treat on a shelf, and stepped away again so that they could approach safely. I was impressed by the contactless transaction.

I hope that little girl won’t remember much about the pandemic. But I hope she will remember that little taste of summer.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The House on the Corner

7/24/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood
More attitude in the 'hood.

I admire this pretty little Tudor house each time I walk by – the turret-shaped roof detail (I’m sure architects have a proper name for it); the weathervane at its peak; the lush, multi-layered landscaping that all but obscures the entryway. Two details I didn’t notice until I started sketching: That the turret is asymmetrical because of the complicated roofline (most of which I conveniently omitted); and that the flag is upside-down.

If I had a flag to put up, I would be flying it upside-down, too.

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