Wednesday, February 26, 2020

After the Funeral

2/22/20 Lake View Cemetery

Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill is well known because Bruce Lee is buried there. The last time I was there years ago, I wasn’t paying respects; I was just looking for something to sketch. On Saturday I was there to say good-bye to a friend’s father, and I found a sketch again as we waited for the family to arrive.

Afterwards, we were all invited to a reception at House of Hong in the International District. A platter of roasted chicken included the hapless bird’s head. I rarely get an opportunity to study a chicken’s head closely – it was too good to pass up.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Solo at Wintergrass

2/21/20 Jammers at Wintergrass

Since 2014, one of USk Seattle’s regular outings has been to Wintergrass, the Puget Sound region’s annual bluegrass music festival. With impromptu jammers playing toe-tappin’ music throughout the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, it’s one of my favorite outings each year. Disappointed when I realized I had an unavoidable conflict for last Saturday’s outing, I decided to go the day before.

It wasn’t quite the same with no other sketchers around, but Greg came along to enjoy the music with me, and the sketching was just as fun. It’s always apparent that the musicians are having the time of their lives sharing music with each other, and their joy is infectious.

A bonus for me: I was sketching the group of jammers above when a woman approached. “Are you Tina. . . ?” It turned out that Serena is a blog reader and a fellow Field Nut (the Facebook group for Field Notes users)! It was great to meet you, Serena! If there’s one thing I love almost as much as sketching, it’s meeting my blog readers in the wild!

Updated 2/25/20: Local radio station KBCS featured some of my sketches of Wintergrass over the years on their blog to promote a program they did on Wintergrass!

Monday, February 24, 2020

First Sunshine of the Decade

2/20/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The media around here like to exaggerate the weather. But last week it was factual, not exaggeration, when a local news station reported that “after 80 straight days of clouds, Seattle FINALLY has first sunny day of the decade.” Hallelujah! We all dashed out for a much-needed dose of vitamin D.

My sketch of Mt. Rainier was done the first day of our short run of sunshine, but it was still cold then. Two days later, we were miraculously still soaking up the D, and the temperature was a balmy 44 degrees. Feeling overdressed in my usual winter coat, I sketched a deflated Starbucks umbrella and then three Jump bikes in the ‘hood. Even the mundane seems special when you can sketch them in the sunshine.

2/20/20 Roosevelt Square Starbucks

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Beets: a Lesson in Looseness

2/17/20 Sketch 1: graphite (class assignment)

Beets are one of those love-‘em-or-hate-‘em vegetables – I’ve never met anyone who said they were neutral about beets. I happen to love ‘em and eat them often, but I admit I had never taken the time to look at them closely, really closely, until last Monday’s botanical drawing class.

The lesson was roots. Usually I’m quick to lop off that hairy “tail” and toss it. This time, of course, it was important to leave it intact so it could be studied as part of the whole root form. It was, in fact, the most fun part to draw, and I came to appreciate its long, crooked taper seeking nutrients from the soil.

2/18/20 Sketch 2: colored pencil
While I thoroughly enjoyed my close study of the beet with graphite, I missed color. The next day, I picked a different beet from the bunch – slightly plumper and with a nicely curved tail – to try with colored pencils. Purple with green is my all-time favorite color combination, and I don’t encounter it in nature nearly as much as I’d like to, so I relished putting the veins in that leaf. But I have to say that the part I’m most proud of is the fading shadow of the aloft root’s tip – I don’t get to practice that often.

These beets were destined for dinner soon, but before I roasted them, I wanted two more shots, each with less detail than the previous ones. No. 3 was with watercolor pencils. This one is probably closest to my general “urban sketching style,” which is to draw the larger shapes, apply as much pigment as possible in one shot, activate with water, and add details last, depending on how much time I have.
2/19/20 Sketch 3: watercolor pencil

For the last one I chose the chunky Art Stix I recently discovered, which are ideal for avoiding detail. My goal was to capture mainly the form and values. In both No. 3 and No. 4, I realized that the details I had observed in my first two drawings helped me choose what to leave out. If I hadn’t done the “tight” versions first, I probably would have been tempted to put all those details into the looser attempts. And the previous close studies also gave me the information I needed to see the forms.
2/19/20 Sketch 4: Prismacolor Art Stix

Interestingly, this is the opposite approach of traditional life-drawing practice. When drawing models, we always warm up with short poses first to “loosen up,” and then move gradually to longer and longer poses so that refinement and detail are possible. (Hmmm, this gives me an idea: another series of beets, this time going from loose to tight.)

More thoughts on “looseness”:

When I had first started out as a sketcher, more experienced artists sometimes encouraged me to “loosen up.” While I truly wanted to draw with the apparent ease and “looseness” I perceived in certain sketchers I admired, I had no idea how to achieve that. With beginning drawing skills, my attempts at looseness simply looked sloppy and scribbly, which was not a style I wanted to work toward.

I had been drawing for quite some time before I finally understood: Artists who have a fluid, expressive style developed that style after years of training and practice. My guess is that many started out with a much “tighter” style that naturally evolved. Unlike dancing, “looseness” is not something you simply shimmy into after you’ve had a few drinks. Ironically, you must work very hard toward looseness if it’s something you aspire to – just like everything else related to drawing. Advising an inexperienced sketcher to “loosen up” is no more helpful than to advise them to “draw better.”

One artist I have admired since I first began sketching is Suhita Shirodkar. She is a master of capturing life, activity and form with a deceptively loose style that makes sketching look easy, yet it’s clear that years of study and practice are behind that apparent ease. Her blog the other day included a video of herself sketching daffodils, and I was surprised by how slowly she works. You can see how much thinking is going on behind each deliberate paint and pencil stroke; she is not splashing around recklessly. I remember a while back she showed some professional drawings she had done years ago before she began urban sketching. They were lovely but very tight renderings – and unrecognizable from the style I associate with Suhita.

Maybe it’s my training at Gage Academy and its foundation in realism that influences my opinion. With that classical approach, everyone starts out learning to draw as accurately and realistically as possible, and the results usually look “tight.” Once that foundation is learned, it’s up to the students to develop and grow in whatever direction they want to. Some stay in the world of realism, some develop “looser” styles, and still others move toward abstraction. With a solid background in realism, however, they have a wider range of skills to use, regardless of the direction they choose.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m saying that looser is somehow better or a style to eventually aspire to; I don’t believe any style is better or worse than any other. I’m just saying that, for myself, I want to be able to draw confidently in whatever style suits me at the moment. At my current stage, I tend toward the tighter end of the scale. My “natural” range is somewhere around sketches Nos. 2 and 3. No. 4 was a much bigger stretch for me than was No. 1.

It takes a long time to grow into “looseness.”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Mountain is Out

2/18/20 Mt. Rainier from 5th Ave. NE overpass

On a brisk but sunny morning, I walked across the Fifth Avenue Northeast freeway overpass, which is noisy, busy and unpleasant. It was worth it, though, because this was my reward.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Prismacolor Art Stix: Crayons for Grownups

2/16/20 Prismacolor Art Stix in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

My friend and fellow urban sketcher Roy DeLeon showed some sketches on Instagram that looked like they had been made with crayons. When I inquired, it turned out he was using Prismacolor Art Stix. The next time I saw him, he let me play with the Art Stix, and my inner five-year-old self jumped up and down! A new toy!

Not just any new toy – one that smells like candy! As soon as I opened the package, I got a delicious whiff of Good & Plenty or some other kind of licorice, which is exactly how vintage Sanford-era Prismacolor pencils smell. I don’t even like licorice candy, but the scent puts me in colored pencil heaven.

The material felt familiar because, in fact, it is identical to the wax-based pigment core in Prismacolor Premier (or vintage Eagle/Berol/Sanford Prismacolor) colored pencils except in a chunky stick form. The color numbers match Prismacolor numbers, and they are available open stock. The unencased stick evokes pastels, but without the nasty smearing or dusty residue. When applied, it feels more like a crayon than a colored pencil, but not as waxy.

I brought my rain-spattered pansies back into the house again. After having fun with the looser watercolor pencil approach the other day, I thought I’d try it with the Art Stix, too. The first thing I did was to pull out my 7½-inch square-format Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook because I thought the extra real estate would be handy with the thick sticks. Since the Art Stix are new, they still have corners, which could be used for some detailing, but overall, they are like well-worn crayons. I avoided the corners and let my inner five-year-old gleefully scribble away!

The Art Stix come in a tedious tray that makes the sticks difficult to
remove. I immediately took them out and put them into a small pink box
that once contained Valentine chocolates. 
This isn’t meant to be a full review since I haven’t used them much, but I am already looking forward to taking Art Stix to life drawing sessions eventually. They encourage broad strokes and large blocks of color. (Perhaps my glee in using Stix is a backlash from my detailed botanical work lately.)

A few comments about the Stix themselves: I got my Mexico-made set at Blick, but the old set Roy had was branded Berol, the US-manufacturing Prismacolor brand from the ‘80s. Poking around on eBay, I found several new and barely used sets of Berol-branded Art Stix for about the same price as contemporary ones, so they are relatively easy to find. Although I look askance at contemporary (Mexico-made) Prismacolor pencils due to breakage and other potential quality issues, these contemporary Art Stix seem fine to me. I put quite a bit of pressure on the Stix to make this sketch, but I didn’t break any.

Better than chocolates?

Crayons for grownups!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Whole Foods Café

2/15/20 Whole Foods cafe

While his mom was engaged in animated conversation with her friend, a young boy sitting in a shopping cart was obsessed with something he wanted in the bag. Mom would feed him a bite, and as soon as he got the food in his mouth, he would return his attention to whatever was in the bag that was obviously better.

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