Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#InkTober2019 Check-in: Fun at Life Drawing

10/7/19 Timothy (2-min. poses)

A big surprise so far this InkTober is the fun I had with a fountain pen at a life-drawing session. Years ago when I sketched regularly with fountain pens, I often used them at life drawing (here’s an example from 2014), sometimes raising eyebrows in the studio because it was apparently an unusual choice where most participants are using more traditional media like charcoal or Conte. I didn’t know any better, so when my choice was questioned, I always responded with, “Why not?”

Although I didn’t care about other participants’ reactions to my choice, over time, I used fountain pens less because even my broadest nibs felt too fine for large and fast drawings where detail wasn’t important compared to capturing the gesture. I eventually switched to broader and wetter brush pens, which I still enjoy using for shorter poses.

Since my main goal for InkTober this year is simply to reacquaint myself with my beloved fountain pens, I said to myself once again, “Why not?” I chose my Platinum 3776 pen with a very broad music nib, which flows fluidly. Filled with Diamine Autumn Oak ink in homage to the season, the Platinum was even more nimble than I expected it to be. It kept up with me on all the two-minute poses. I even like the look of the restated lines. I’m going to bring it again next time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Background Question

Background pencil left dry

The other day I showed you the sketch I had made at the Starbucks Roastery. I don’t usually color in a dark background, but maybe sitting by David Hingtgen, who often uses dark colors effectively in his sketches, influenced me by osmosis, and I decided to try it. I had just finished coloring the background with a dark watercolor pencil, but I hadn’t yet decided whether to activate that color. Just then, our visiting sketcher Lee had to go, so we quickly gathered for a throwdown and group photo. By the time all that was done, I decided to leave, too.

Background color water-activated
When I got home and was about to put my sketch on the scanner, I remembered that I still hadn’t decided whether the color needed to be activated. I scanned it with the watercolor pencil left dry (at left). Then I activated the dark background and scanned it again (at right). I like it better activated because the higher contrast brings the roaster and other foreground elements forward. And though it’s messier than I like, I’m happy that I colored in the background in the first place. I usually avoid doing this because I prefer a simpler look, but often my sketches seem unfinished when I leave the background paper-white. I’m going to think about the background more consciously in future sketches and make a choice to darken or not instead of letting paper-white be the default.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Smith Tower


Thirty years ago today, Greg and I got married at the top of the Smith Tower. The tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was built in 1914, it has long been surpassed by Seattle’s many skyscrapers, but the Smith Tower is still my favorite. I’m not sure about now, but back in 1989, human operators still took people up and down the historic Otis elevators. I came out of one of those elevators to enter the Chinese Room (now a “speakeasy” bar) for our marriage ceremony. (I know I have at least one blog reader who was there that day. . . Tony, I hope you’re reading! 😉) The Chinese Room is on the level at the base of the pyramid.

That’s all the mushiness I’ll indulge in for today, but after I sketched the Smith Tower a few days ago from the Columbia Center, I looked for all the other times I’ve sketched my favorite building. For a few years, I sketched it annually on my birthday as a personal tradition. Here’s the entire collection.






Sunday, October 13, 2019

One Tree Two Ways

10/9/19 Maple Leaf neighborhood

My personal leaf-peeping tour continues, and once again, I didn’t have to go far to find this maple in the ‘hood. On a brisk but brilliant day, I first made a small fountain pen sketch in my pocket-size Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook (the one I’ve been carrying the past few weeks for times when I want to use graphite or ink) for InkTober. Of course, immediately after that, I sketched it again in full color in my larger S&B Beta.

Books and instructors often recommend making thumbnail value studies before tackling a larger work in full color, but I almost never do. I should, though, because the smaller ink sketch served that very purpose and made the values easier to see when I went in with color.

How’s this for a coincidence: Almost exactly two years ago, I sketched this same tree for InkTober, probably from the same parking spot.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ground Level at Columbia Center

10/11/19 Smith Tower
Around the time when the USk Friday group was still fairly small, we met a couple of times at Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper, mainly to sketch from the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor. Back then, the admission was nominal, and apparently it was the city’s best-kept secret because we had the place to ourselves. Now it’s a “destination,” the price has gone up to $22, and even on this off-season day, tourists were queued up for tickets by noon.

USk Seattle members opted not to pay the sky-high price, though several chose the Starbucks on the 40th floor. It’s not the 360-degree view of the observatory, but for the price of a latte, you can sketch through numerous huge windows facing west and north.

Though the Starbucks view was tempting, I wanted to face south to sketch the Smith Tower, my favorite Seattle building. Near ground level, Columbia Center has three atrium floors that have been improved significantly since the last time we sketchers met there in 2014 – many more well-lighted public areas with lots of tables and other seating. I found one that allowed a great view of Smith Tower without going out in the chilly but sunny day.

The rest of the morning, I wandered around the three atrium levels hunting victims. I chose two hapless guys who only wanted to eat their lunch in peace without getting sketched. The one I sketched from above was irresistible: He was only a few feet below me but separated by a glass partition. Columbia Center is all about views that are difficult to get anywhere else in the city.

10/11/19 Columbia Center Atrium
Technical notes: Because I had it in mind to sketch the Smith Tower for InkTober, I brought my Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook instead of Beta. Although I’ve decided that Zeta is not my favorite with wet media, I still love it with any form of ink – fountain pens, markers, brush pens. I used all three in these sketches, and they all glide beautifully on the smooth surface.

Speaking of Stillman & Birn, here’s a newsflash that was just released yesterday: The European stationery company Clairfontaine has acquired Stillman & Birn. My initial impulse was to view this as bad news; we’ve all seen quality decline when small, independent companies are bought out by larger ones. On the other hand, Clairfontaine (which also own Rhodia, known for its fountain-pen-friendly notebooks and journals, including my favorite travel journal) has a wide international reach. I’ve heard it’s difficult and expensive to buy S&B sketchbooks outside North America. Maybe this acquisition will mean that S&B sketchbooks will be easier to buy in other countries. Let’s all hope that the quality remains the same. (Fighting the urge to hoard a lifetime supply now, just in case.)

10/11/19 Columbia Center Atrium
Unprecedented views at Columbia Center.

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Seattle Welcome at the Roastery

10/10/19 Main roaster at Starbucks Roastery and Reserve

When Florida sketcher Lee Kline told us he was in town this week and wanted to sketch with USk Seattle, we decided to give him an appropriate Seattle welcome – at the Starbucks Roastery and Reserve, of course. It makes for a convenient indoor/outdoor venue: Its Capitol Hill neighborhood is sketch-worthy if the weather is amenable, and if it isn’t, there’s always the fascinating copper tanks and pneumatic tubing that “usher the beans through the building.”

Although the sunshine was inviting, the temperature was only in the low 40s, so I opted to stay indoors. Sharing a table with Lee, David and Natali on the Roastery’s lower level, I had a good view of the main roaster. Nearly five years ago on my second visit there, I attempted this same roaster from a different angle and got lost in all that crazy tubing. This time I bit off a simpler composition that I thought would be easier to chew, but it’s still a complicated mess. Oh, well – the company was fun, and the overpriced coffee and pastry were delicious.

(You’re going to see this sketch again in a few days. . . I have more to say about it.)

Thanks for joining us, Lee (in the center)!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Gesture is Life and Movement

10/7/19 Timothy (20-min. pose)

I’m reading The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing: A Contemporary Perspective on the Classical Tradition, by Anthony Ryder. An instructor at Gage Academy, Ryder works with many media and subject matter, but his figure drawings in graphite have captured my attention like no other. I am working through the book slowly, trying to grasp his intriguing methods and concepts.

So often I have looked back at my sketchbook pages and seen that I have drawn mannequins. Even if they are relatively well-formed and well-proportioned, many appear lifeless. More often than not lately, I see some life in the figures, but capturing that essential life (however it is expressed with ink or pencil) is a constant challenge. The following passage resonated through my mind while I sketched Timothy at Monday’s life-drawing session:

Gesture is life and movement. It is the energy inherent in the form of the model, a living energy coursing through his or her whole body. This isn’t called life drawing for nothing. We must literally and figuratively draw upon our own living energy, and that of the model, when we draw the figure. The people in our drawings should appear as if they are breathing, as if their hearts are beating. . . . Even if a model is posing very quietly, and is keeping very still, she’s still sitting in a particular way – this is the manifestation of her body language and tells us a lot about what she’s like as a person. And beyond that, the model isn’t just sitting. She’s actively living. Life is expressing itself in every part of her body, visible in each part’s unique shape. All living forms have this quality. . . . The form of the body is like visual music. It ‘moves’ even when it’s perfectly still.
– Anthony Ryder
10/719 10-min. pose
10/7/19 10-min. pose

10/7/19 10-min. pose
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