Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Showbox Theater and Pike Place

4/20/19 Showbox Theater, downtown Seattle

Last year, the historic Showbox Theater near the Pike Place Market was in the news when its owner announced that it was selling the property. The theater, opened in 1939, would be demolished and replaced by a (yet another, most likely boring and boxy) 44-story apartment building. (It’s the story of Seattle these days.) After that, nostalgic venue fans, historic preservationists and even high-profile musicians like Eddie Vedder stepped forward to try to save the Showbox. The debate rages and is still unresolved. Meanwhile, the venue continues to operate.

I wasn’t even aware of that last part until I arrived Saturday to sketch the theater and saw that the marquee was current. Although I’ve never seen a concert there, the marquee and Showbox sign are downtown icons, and I wanted to document them, since it’s likely that they’ll eventually come down. Others must have felt the same way, as we got a good turnout of Showbox sketchers.

4/20/19 buskers at Pike Place Market
It probably helped that the morning was dry and mostly sunny (though not warm). After the Showbox, I swam upstream through the throngs (what is this, July or something?) at the Pike Place Market to my favorite busker spot near Rachel the Pig. Performing were a ukulele player and a tuba player – a colorful duo that I’ve sketched before.

Swimming further upstream, I spotted the usual long line of people waiting their turn to buy coffee at the “original” Starbucks location on First and Pike. As I captured the storefront and P. K. Dwyer (another busker I have sketched many times) playing guitar and harmonica outside, I overheard a couple of young men (visiting from the UK, based on their accents). Taking photos of each other with upheld Starbucks cups, it was clear that this was an important stop on their tour. Reviewing the photos, one man was especially delighted to finally be photographed in front of his mecca. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the actual first Starbucks on Western no longer exists (though natives like me remember it), and this second store on First somehow became the “original.”

Times change, old buildings get torn down, history gets rewritten. Meh. I may be a grumpy, overcrowded native, but at least I’m sketching it all.

4/20/19 One-man band P.K. Dwyer busks in front of the "original" Starbucks on First and Pike.

A good turnout at the Showbox!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Victoria, Part 3: Chilly but Charming

4/12/19 Yates & Douglas, Victoria, B.C.

Despite the less-than-comfy weather, Victoria had too many architectural and other charms to keep us indoors the whole visit. On my first afternoon, I found a quintessential (to me) urban street scene on the same block as our apartment (above).

As you might guess by now, I have a fondness for sketching historic churches, and Victoria is full of them. Within a few blocks of each other, I found several. I also sketched one that turned out to be a music conservatory (formerly a church).
4/16/19 Anglican Church of St. John the Divine

4/15/19 Christ Church Cathedral
4/15/19 Victoria Conservatory of Music
(formerly a Methodist church)

The downtown Victoria area is entirely walkable – if you don’t mind clocking 15,000 Fitbit steps a day! One morning we gave our feet a rest and caught a city bus to picturesque Fishermen’s Wharf. (Yes, the sky was blue, but don’t let that fool you – it was windy and cold.)
4/15/19 Fishermen's Wharf

As in most urban areas, construction sites were easy to find, but we spotted one of a type that we would never see in Seattle. On the harbor front, the facades of several old buildings were being preserved, and new construction was being built behind them. This seemed to be an ideal compromise between preservation and new construction.

4/17/19 construction around facades near harbor front

4/17/19 cement pumper
Butt receptacles -- a great idea!

Hanging out with the locals.

The blossoms are gone in Seattle, but they were still at peak in the north.

Fishermen's Wharf

4/17/19 Farewell, Victoria! We'll be back!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Victoria, Part 2: Strategic Windows

4/13/19 Yates Street, Victoria

As Part 1 indicated, Victoria, B.C., was chilly and sometimes wet and bitterly windy on the days we were there. Strategically placed windows were my best friends.

After Gabi’s Architecture workshop on Saturday morning, my plan was to follow his afternoon People workshop students to wherever the workshop location was, but my teeth were still chattering! I went back to the Airbnb apartment that I was sharing with Cathy McAuliffe and spent a leisurely afternoon sipping hot tea as I sketched the spectacular street view (above). Within the scope of our huge picture windows on the seventh floor, an interesting mix of historic, modern and funky architecture shared the block.

When the sky was partially clear, we could see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to the west. Although the Olympics are visible from various spots in Seattle, including our own street, the portion I see from there is different, so it was cool to see a new view.
4/16/19 Olympic Mountains

Another apartment window offered a view straight down into a courtyard. This mind-bending perspective gave me a fun challenge!
4/17/19 From the 7th floor

An especially strategic window was the one I learned about from Cathy: a perfect view of the Chinatown gate from Starbucks.  
4/15/19 Chinatown from Starbucks

On Sunday morning, Greg joined us, and we spent a few more days exploring Victoria. One of our favorite spots to escape the chill was the Royal British Columbia Museum, an excellent natural and human history museum. Our Burke Museum reciprocal membership allowed us free admission, so we visited twice. I found a number of skeletal and stuffed critters to sketch and even a couple of live ones.

4/16/19 taxidermy falcon and grizzly
4/16/19 bison skull, ammonite and weather symbols
as part of an excellent exhibit on climate change.

4/17/19 more skulls

4/16/19 These critters were sketched from life in a tank.

Finally, on the top floor of the BC Museum, I found my most treasured window sketch: the crowned dome of the Legislative Assembly Building. This is the kind of detailed sketch I thoroughly enjoy making, but the distance, cold and a sore neck would have made it difficult from any other location.

4/17/19 Dome of the BC Legislative Assembly Building

Of course, Victoria has plenty of other indoor attractions
during inhospitable weather, such as shopping at Bulk
Barn. . . I was so tempted to plunge my arm in.

It's never too cold for ice cream!

Sampling macarons!

I wanted the full Canadian experience... breakfast at Tim Horton's.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Victoria, Part 1: Urban Sketching with Gabi

4/14/19 BC Legislative Assembly Building

Although I have been to Victoria, British Columbia, several times, all those visits had been before I began sketching. A few months ago, Gabi Campanario announced that he was offering urban sketching workshops in the charming Canadian city. Recalling the historic architecture and lovely harbor, I jumped at the opportunity to visit again – this time with sketchbook in hand.

4/12/19 Gabi and I met up on the Clipper ferry to Victoria. Here
he is finishing up his presentation.
Co-sponsored by Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, the workshop weekend began last Friday afternoon with a free presentation by Gabi about urban sketching. Although I’ve heard Gabi give similar talks at other workshops I’ve taken with him, I always find it helpful to be reminded of his tips, basic practices and principles to get the most out of urban sketching. For example, here’s the order of priority that Gabi places on the elements of a sketch:
  1. Composition (more than 60 percent of the success of a sketch depends on a strong composition)
  2. Tones and values (“squint hard to see them”)
  3. Color (might not be necessary if other elements are strong)

Other words of wisdom:
  • For the sake of speed, keep drawings small (he favors pocket-size sketchbooks; workshop participants received a small Stillman & Birn free) and stay on your feet (you’re less likely to spend a long time on a single sketch if you don’t get too comfy)
  • “Keep your eye on your subject, not on your paper.”
  • “Don’t be intimidated by all the gear. . . all you need is a pencil or a ballpoint pen.” Keep materials simple.
  •  “My sketchbook is a laboratory, not a portfolio.” Gabi encouraged us to experiment and take chances with our sketches instead of trying to make them perfect and precious.
  • “I have nothing against erasers.”

4/12/19 My notes while Gabi gave his presentation.
4/12/19 St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
After Gabi’s presentation, members of Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, “a group of Greater Victoria residents dedicated to improving our region’s shared places,” took participants on a short walk around the neighborhood to experience public urban spaces. They encouraged us to use all our senses to observe without judging. Since urban sketchers naturally observe their surroundings closely as part of sketching, the group’s values – “we focus on what happens in ‘the public realm’” – complement urban sketching well.

Although making a sketch was not necessarily part of the brief exercise, sketching is the easiest way for me to efficiently observe and focus on any space, so I chose to make a quick one (at left) of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church that I could see in the distance. (Little did I know then that it would be a dry run for the next day’s workshop!)

Gabi offered three workshops over two days: Architecture, People, and Nature. I opted for Architecture, which continues to be my biggest challenge. Saturday dawned wet, cold and windy (much colder than Seattle only a hundred miles south as the crow flies). We were originally supposed to sketch the stately and formidable BC Legislative Assembly Building, but without nearby shelter, it was untenable. Gabi decided to change the workshop location to the same church I had hastily sketched the day before, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, because a building with a deep overhang was conveniently available directly across the street. The overhang kept us all dry and somewhat sheltered (though not warm! We were all frozen by the end of the workshop). All weekend as he had to change plans according to the weather, Gabi noted that being flexible is an important part of urban sketching!

Gabi demo's composition options.
I look cold, don't I?
Thumbnail of the composition I chose.
The street light fixtures had an unusual curved shape that was different from the ones I’m used to sketching back home, so I wanted to include them in my sketch. As we talked about composition, Gabi noted that it might be a better choice to move slightly down the sidewalk so that the light poles wouldn’t be planted firmly in front of the church. Although the rain had slowed by then, I admit that I was reluctant to leave the overhang’s shelter. I stayed put and made my thumbnail. When I told him I had chosen to stick with the original composition, he said that it was still possible to make a successful sketch if the poles were given prominence so that their lines didn’t get mushed together with the lines of the church.

My final sketch is below. In retrospect, I think that Gabi’s idea of moving down the street would have made a stronger composition. But I tried to use color (on the church) and heavier lines on the light poles to distinguish them from the church.
4/13/19 St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

Gabi wrapped up the architecture workshop inside a nearby coffee shop so that we could warm up and share our sketches. He demo’d watercolor techniques and showed us his favorite sketch materials there.

Architecture workshop participants

The next day, the rain had stopped, but the temperature was still not amenable. Instead of following the Nature workshop students to a nearby park as I had planned, I decided to explore the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel. Thinking I would find an interesting interior to sketch there, I was delighted to find something much better: a fantastic view of the Legislative Assembly Building that we had to forego the previous day! And a cozy, comfy couch to sketch it from, to boot (sketch at top of page)!

Normally I would fill the entire composition with a huge building like this, but as I scoped out the scene, I heeded Gabi’s suggestion during the workshop: “Leave extra room in front of the building so people can ‘walk’ into your sketch as if they were walking into the real building.” A bus, a vendor’s umbrella and pedestrians in the foreground seemed like a handy way to give the composition the space that Gabi had advised.

The park in front of the legislative building was the location for the final event of the weekend – a sketchcrawl open to the public. Since I had already sketched the domed building from the comfort of the Empress, everything else seemed like icing. I chose the statue of Queen Victoria prominently placed in the park (you can also see a tiny version of her in my sketch at the top of the page).
4/14/19 Queen Victoria's statue

Despite the rain and cold, I had a very enjoyable weekend meeting sketchers from Victoria, Vancouver and other parts of British Columbia. I learned new tips to apply to future sketches, and as always, I was inspired by Gabi’s enthusiasm for and commitment to urban sketching.

Cathy sketching a totem.

Gabi sketching the legislative building.

Sketchers at Queen Victoria's feet.

Final sketchcrawl participants

Friday, April 19, 2019

Two Cats

4/18/19 Roosevelt neighborhood

On my way to a haircut appointment, I was annoyed to discover that the whole block where I usually park had been closed due to construction work (what else is new?). Of course, my mood improved immediately when I saw that I had my choice of numerous earth movers and other heavy equipment to choose from!

As soon as my appointment was over, I dashed back to the construction site and started on an excavator I could see most easily from the sidewalk where pedestrians were allowed. It was an easy target because it wasn’t moving. But a short distance away, another machine sprang to life, moving things around with its claw. I managed to get both of these done just before it started raining again.

The curious worker who came by told me that yet another condo will be built on the property. He assured me that they still have plenty of digging and earth-moving to do, so I’ll be back for more.

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