Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Arboretum Without Color


5/18/22 Washington Park Arboretum

At this time of year, the Washington Park Arboretum is ablaze with brilliant color from the rhododendrons and azaleas. We chose a balmy afternoon to take our fitness walk through the park, which meant that I didn’t have my full sketch kit and colors with me. Ironically, the last two times I drew at the arboretum were with Kristin Frost’s class last summer, when we used only graphite! No color? The horror!

It was actually nice to enjoy all that color without the pressure of trying to capture it as brilliantly (with usually disappointing results). I was happy to sketch nothing more than a composition study and the tortoise we spotted in a pond.

Despite the lack of color in my sketches, I won’t deprive you of the eye candy.

That yellow tree is a type of oak. I might use this photo as a composition study sometime.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Whew! 100 Days Done!

Soap Dispenser fantasizes about operating heavy machinery.

I’ve done quite a few drawing challenges during the past decade. Other than my pandemic hand series, which I did not know was going to last 407 days when I began, most have lasted no more than InkTober’s 31 days. A hundred days – more than three months – is substantial, but I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was! Now I know that 100 days is a dang long time, and if I ever do it again, I’m going to think more carefully before I commit to it!

Faucet Handle thought the vintage rain bonnet would be cool,
but now she realizes that it would help if she had a chin.

Despite my moaning and groaning throughout, I am now very happy and pleased that I completed the 100 Day Project. Although developing my imaginative and memory-based drawing skills has been a desire for more than a year, I know I would not have committed to serious practice of those skills without this project. It is satisfying to have grown my confidence in my ability to draw from my head.

During the first month or so when I was focusing on developing my visual memory, it was frustrating and discouraging not to see more progress day to day. But on Day 45 when I made a significant breakthrough, I realized I had been making progress all along, even if it wasn’t always apparent. That’s when I made the switch to pure imaginative drawing instead of memory, and it became fun.

Perhaps “fun” is an overstatement: On many, many days, I nearly quit simply because I couldn’t think of an idea, or if I had an idea, it was too complicated to draw. And yet somehow I managed to pull something out of my head each day. My respect and admiration for daily cartoonists grew immensely as I understood the relentless pressure of coming up with a creative idea every single day.

When she's bored, Scissors experiments with makeup.
She especially likes lash extensions

Just as important, while I have always appreciated drawing from observation, I feel that way more than ever now. No matter how challenging a subject might be, it’s still easier to draw it from sight than from my head!

In a recent post, Art vs. Entropy busts the myth that “true” artists can simply imagine anything they want to in their minds and then plop that image onto paper or canvas. There may be some artists who can make it look as if they are doing that, but I have no doubt that many, many years of practice and experience are behind that so-called “natural talent.” The past 100 days have certainly shown me that it takes a lot longer than 100 days!

Thanks for coming along on my (overlong) journey! To see all my 100-Day sketches with one click, see this Flickr album.

When Faucet Handle is feeling blue, she puts on '80s dance music.
Nothing like shakin' your booty to put you in a better mood.

Soap Dispenser can't imagine what life was like before public libraries were invented.

Faucet Handle really gets into mashing down her over-stuffed recycle bin.

When her bike goes too slowly, Faucet Handle gives a tire a swift kick because that seems to work with cars.

When she's feeling stressed, Scissors
finds a quiet place to hang out and meditate.

This was the only time I tried writing the caption directly
on the image.

Party time! Soap Dispenser, Faucet Handle and Scissors are celebrating the last day of The100 Day Project so that they can go back to living their normal lives without being Instagrammed every day!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Roosevelt Station on My 10th Anniversary


5/20/22 Roosevelt Light Rail Station

On May 20, 2012, a cold and rainy Sunday, I attended my first-ever Urban Sketchers sketch outing. I usually commemorate my USk anniversary at whatever outing I attend during the month of May each year, so I wasn’t necessarily planning an event to fall on May 20. But as it turned out, Friday was forecast to be dry and fair, so I took a chance to see who might be able to show up on short notice on a weekday afternoon. Although it was a small group, there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

Last October right before Roosevelt Light Rail Station opened, I sketched its colorful southern entrance. This time I stood at its northern entrance so that I could still include the yellow sculpture that marks the station. Just like the first time, I found the station daunting, and I wished I hadn’t bitten off such a large piece to chew! (Ironically, back in October, I had found a much less-daunting composition and even made a thumbnail to remind myself of it. I liked it better than the larger sketch I had made first. But I didn’t remember until I looked back at the blog post just now and saw it! It’s a better composition, too. OK, next time.)

5/20/22 Roosevelt neighborhood

Feeling a bit cowed by that, I wandered around the station to look for a second sketch, but nothing grabbed me. On an adjacent street, I saw what I thought would make a good composition study, so I pulled out my Field Notes to make a quick thumbnail. Then I found myself interested enough in it that I kept filling in details, and what the heck – the thumbnail turned into a “real” sketch. I like it a lot more than the color sketch I had made first! Hmmm, I’m detecting a pattern.

In any case, I appreciated having other sketchers to share the fun with. I was feeling a bit shy and trepidatious when I went to my first outing, but joining Urban Sketchers has been one of the most rewarding and inspiring decisions I’ve ever made. It’s been a fantastic 10 years, and I hope to continue for many more to come!

Ching, Paul, Sunny and Tina

Sunday, May 22, 2022



5/16/22 Wedgwood on trash day

I’ve noticed a pattern: Whenever I make a composition study and then try to make a full-size, color sketch afterwards of the same composition, I lose steam. It feels like I’ve already made the sketch, and the freshness is gone. It’s a problem that I need to resolve if I want to learn from the obviously valuable tool of making thumbnail studies.

Seeing a potential sketch in the Wedgwood neighborhood, I dutifully started making a composition study first. I observed the values and put in the prominent lines, but then I stopped without filling in the shapes and values. I wondered if that would keep the process fresh enough for me that I could make the “real” sketch.

Indeed, that did seem to do the trick – I still had enough to do that I hadn’t already done in the thumbnail, and that made the sketch fun (at left). When I had finished, though, I realized I hadn’t paid attention to the much-tighter cropping I had done in the thumbnail – even though that was a significant part of observing the composition.

Cropped to match the thumbnail study at left
Much of what Ian Roberts talks about is cropping – doing it tightly enough that unnecessary details are eliminated, which strengthens the value masses and other shapes that lead the eye through a composition. After I got home, I decided to crop my sketch digitally (at right) to match the thumbnail I had originally made. I hate to lose the top of that tree in the background, but I do like that the trash cans are less centered. Cropping more tightly changes the focal point, though: Now it’s all about the trash cans, and that wasn’t my intention. Maybe what I was missing at the (incomplete) thumbnail stage was knowing where I wanted the focal point to be.

Unfinished study

Saturday, May 21, 2022



5/16/22 Green Lake

On my weekly walks around Green Lake with a friend, I see all kinds of sketchable compositions, but when I go there with the intention of sketching, they seem to elude me. I had to pick my way carefully through the grass to avoid the abundance of goose poop to make this study. By the time I finished, I didn’t like the composition enough to make a full-size sketch. I just wasn’t feeling it that day.

Walking back to my car, I spotted a few of the poop producers. Despite my ambivalence toward Canada geese and what they leave behind, I have none about sketching them. They are beautiful birds that move slowly enough to be sketchable. Poop or no, they made my trip to Green Lake worthwhile.

Productive poop machines at Green Lake

Friday, May 20, 2022

Crinkly Tulips


5/15/22 tulips (Neocolor II in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook)

Imagination, composition, color masses, color temperature – I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I love it all; I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy challenges that require thinking. But sometimes I get tired of thinking.

A week after I had brought home a bouquet of tulips, they had reached my favorite stage: crinkly, curly and fading, but not yet falling apart. All I wanted to do was respond to them with some scribbly color. Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastels were ideal.

Have I really not yet written a review of Neocolor II? Of all the products I currently use, Neocolor II may be one of my oldest. It goes way back to my mixed-media collage days. Although I don’t use them often, I seem to reach for them intuitively when I’m in a loose mood. Maybe one of these days I’ll take them out for some serious play and write that review.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Faces in Clouds


 I’m a huge fan of David Zinn’s whimsical sidewalk chalk art. He takes “urban sketching” to a new level – down on the pavement on hands and knees! Although I don’t have any intention of drawing on the sidewalk myself, I read his how-to book, The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds, just because I was curious about his process.

The rest of us might see only a broken brick or a weed growing through a pavement crack, but Zinn sees rabbits, pigs or other zany imaginary characters – and uses chalk to bring them to life. Zinn describes what he does as pareidolia – the natural human tendency to perceive a meaningful image in a random or ambiguous pattern.


We all see faces or animals in clouds. One of the exercises in Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination encourages readers to take advantage of pareidolia by observing clouds more closely, and then drawing what we see in them. (He recommends taking photos of clouds and drawing from them later, but you know me – I think its more fun to draw from life.) Seattle has no shortage of clouds, so I have been trying to be more observant of them – and drawing the images I see.

The exercise reminds me of the fun technique I learned last year during illustrator Alexandra Gabor’s segment of Sketchbook Revival. She taught us to doodle random, closed shapes, which we then turned into the animals, people or whatever we saw in the shapes. Just recently I learned of another similar technique: Make random blobs with watercolor, then draw the animals that the colored blobs evoke.

These are all fun, low-pressure ways of encouraging imaginative drawing because they rely on something that most human brains do naturally without much effort. The drawing part might not come naturally, but at least the seeing and then imagining part does.


After making the sketch at left, I remembered to snap
a photo of the cloud that inspired it. It was changing quickly.

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