Friday, July 19, 2024

Brown Bear Grizzly


7/12/24 Brown Bear Car Wash, Lake City

When my Miata was in the repair shop for a ding it received while parked, it came back washed, polished and gleaming – looking better than it had in years (certainly since before the pandemic). Our poor Subaru looked worse than ever by comparison – however long it had been since the Miata got cleaned, I think it’s been even longer for the Outback. Unlike the Miata, which is lucky enough to fit in our tiny garage, the Outback is parked outside all day, every day, and the north side’s windows have moss growing on them. It was time for heavy-duty cleaning.

Although Brown Bear Car Wash, “Washington’s Favorite and Best Car Wash for 65 years,” has locations all over town, I had another errand in Lake City, so I decided to take the Subaru there. After an exhilarating ride through the “tunnel” (Remember how thrilling that was as a kid? It still is), I parked at Starbucks next door, got a chocolate cream cold brew, and walked back to Brown Bear. Beautiful as it is, a rather formidable bronze grizzly sculpture greets customers as they drive in. Elsewhere are smaller sculptures of cubs, but they are too close to the car washing mechanism to sketch. I’ve always liked these realistic sculptures, which were originally designed by Lorenzo Ghiglieri in 2009. (I find it amusing that the grizzly is so incongruous with the car wash’s logo, a cute, Japanese-looking teddy bear.)

As I sketched, I was trying to remember how long ago it was that I had sketched a different Brown Bear sculpture. I found the answer on my blog – 11 years ago! (I hope that wasn’t the last time we got a car washed.) Incidentally, running the Outback through the tunnel was hardly sufficient in removing the moss; I guess I’m going to have to give it some elbow grease.

Hey, good-lookin'. . . you still got what it takes!

Thursday, July 18, 2024

My Colorful Ugly Process


The color process always begins with Uglybooks!

After talking about my favorite materials for my on-location comics, I had more to say about my overall color process, which is one of the most fun parts of this format:

It all begins with Uglybooks – or specifically, the strong, bold paper colors that these unique books offer. When I first discovered them, the first thing I realized was that they force me to choose between colored paper and color media – because trying to use both isn’t easy (or often even desirable). When they first see my sketches on Uglybooks, other sketchers often ask whether the paper will hold up to watercolor and other wet media. With a weight of 80 pounds and decent sizing, it can take a very light wash better than most pocket notebooks. But that’s sort of missing the point, because watercolors will not show up well against most of Uglybooks’ aggressive colors, and any transparent medium will allow the paper color to show through (with interesting but not necessarily desired results).

When using Uglybooks I’ve found that the best results for my approach come from tonal values and vibrant, contrasting, opaque colors. (I first learned about this approach during my Field Notes Sweet Tooth days, which actually lasted several years.) That means the paper color usually serves as the midtone with black and white as the darkest and lightest tones. I usually also use a dark, cool gray Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pen for a fourth tone. Although my eye loves some of the lighter pastel tints that Uglybooks come in, they are much harder to work with as a tone.

Although I love lighter-tinted colors, pale blue,
yellow and other pastels are harder to use as midtones.

The benefit of this tonal approach is that I must think about a hue’s relative value from the get-go, which makes me think about values in a way that I would not think about them when using white paper.

Once the paper color is selected, the fun part is choosing a few acrylic markers and a few Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils or other pencils, the more opaque, the better, and in colors that contrast the paper vividly. Although black is still my favorite, I sometimes choose another dark Faber-Castell Pitt Dual Tip Marker as the darkest value.

A mix of acrylic markers and colored pencils pop against this perfect midtone green paper.

Instead of black, this very warm brown Pitt marker
makes an unusual dark tone on green paper.

So far, I have been filling a 48-page Uglybook about every three weeks, and I really enjoy the turnover process of choosing the paper color and coordinating media colors. Without having a full palette in my daily-carry arsenal anymore, this process gives me a good color fix!

I mentioned in the post about favorite comics media that I’ve been experimenting with techniques to use colored pencils more. Although Luminance are among the most opaque colored pencils I’ve tried, enough of that aggressive paper color still comes through light layers of pencil. Sometimes the result is an interesting optical mix that I enjoy (below).

I used a light layer of orange pencil so that the green paper would show through, resulting in an interesting optical mix.

Other times, I want to avoid the color mixing, and the trick I use is to apply a fairly heavy layer of white colored pencil first. That’s what I did for the raspberry croissant below, and both the yellow and red popped against the blue paper better than they would have if I hadn’t applied white first. Incidentally, the shadow color here is a Dusky Purple Derwent Inktense pencil, which looks nearly black here. Part of my daily-carry watercolor pencil secondary triad, it’s a versatile color because of its opacity.

White colored pencil applied first to make other colors pop better.

And speaking of white, my cumulative disasters and dissatisfactions with white acrylic markers have forced me to boycott them (at least until I forget why and start drifting back to those bad boys). Quietly faithful even as I regularly stray, colored pencils have never let me down. I can use them as the lightest tone, and now they also double as a white “underpainting” (how’s that for paradoxical – a white underpainting on colored paper!). Perhaps I should have stayed with them all along.

And speaking of commitment, I’ve kept my vow of using only one Uglybook at a time, that applies to my A6-ish daily-carry only. When I think I have a larger story to tell or know that I will have a table to work on, I like using A5-ish landscape Uglybooks. That gives me an opportunity to change-up the colors without breaking the chronological continuity of using one daily-carry book at a time.

Some of my larger landscape Uglybooks that I like to use occasionally for variety.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

New Gas Mains – Again


6/27 - 7/4/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

A year ago, a huge utility project began in the ‘hood, and it took nearly that long to finish as it moved northward a block at a time. New natural gas mains were going in. This summer, the same utility has begun another project. This one is a bit more intrusive because the work is closer to home. Parking has been restricted, so a lot of my neighbors have to keep moving their cars, making it harder for all of us. It’s noisy, dusty and inconvenient, and sometimes the jackhammering feels like an earthquake, but I’m trying to make the best of it – and you know what that means!

I knew this story would go on for weeks (possibly months? I hope not), so I had plenty of time, but I wasn’t sure how to capture the equipment and action in a comics format. I could have filled up the spread in one day, but I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to work over time. I made these three sketches over the course of a week, keeping in mind different perspectives and overall compositions. It was surprisingly difficult for me to wait between sketches – I always feel compelled to fill up a spread all at once. It must be my natural inclination as a daily journal keeper.

I wish I hadn’t mixed brown and black inks for the frames . . . it was an experiment, but I think the spread looks less cohesive.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Pet Portraits


6/2/24 Gracie (reference photo by Cindy Smith)

The pups I sketched for yesterday’s post reminded me that I’ve made a few other pet portraits recently that I hadn’t shown yet. At left is Gracie, whom I sketched as a surprise gift for a friend I visited in Portland.

Although I had sketched Ernest Theodore (below) previously from a photo, it was really special to be able to sketch him again, this time from life. Both he and Nyx attended a meet-up of Seattle-area members of a couple of Facebook groups I’m in – Field Nuts and the Erasable Podcast Community. Though not as polished as the portraits I have made from photos, these were certainly more fun (I don't have scans of these sketches because I gave them away on the spot).

6/14/24 Ernest Theodore

6/14/24 Nyx

Monday, July 15, 2024

Review: New Uglybooks With Perfect Binding


First six books on the left have Uglybooks' new perfect binding; last three are the original saddle-stitched binding.

A few weeks ago, I received a surprise package from Uglybooks: sample packs of their colorful A6-ish and A5-ish sketchbooks with a startling change – perfect bindings! GASP! As a huge fan of saddle-stitched (stapled) sketchbooks and a very unhappy camper of most perfect-bound sketchbooks I’ve tried, I was shocked, appalled, horrified and dismayed! How could they take a perfectly good sketchbook design and make it – perfect in a bad way!?

Knowing what a dedicated user of Uglybooks I have become, the New York City notebook maker invited me to try its new design. The implication was dire: It seemed unlikely that the company would carry both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound notebooks . . . was it time to hoard all the stapled books in its current stock?

Filled with dread, I ripped off the shrink wrap and examined the books. I had to concede that the perfect binding looked head-and-shoulders better than stapled books. Standing on a shelf, they would look like “real” books with neatly squared-off spines rather than the rounded spines of saddle-stitched books.

Appearance isn’t important to me at all compared to performance, though, and where most perfect-bound books fall short is when the books won’t open fully flat. You know the type I mean – the binding is so stiff that even when opened with force, there’s still a large gutter gap. That’s the first thing I do when I examine a sketchbook that’s new to me – open it to a middle page to see how flat it is – and most get no further in my testing before I reject them.

Opening a pocket-size Uglybook with trepidation, the first thing I noticed was that each page was scored – something I rarely see in a sketchbook. As I turned each page, it folded with a sharp crease at the gutter instead of a rounded gap. Hmmm . . . interesting (and again, visually very attractive).

In addition to the annoying stiffness of most perfect bindings, another issue is the shadow that appears on one side of the gutter when a page is scanned. The gutter gap prevents one side from lying flat against the scan bed, causing the shadow. I made a couple of sketches across the gutter, one in the first spread (where the gap is often the worst) and another toward the middle of the book (where the gap tends to be less pronounced). In both cases, the scans below show very little shadowing. Huh!

Each page is scored (slightly visible here on the right-side page), with the gutter coming together tightly. Almost no shadows is visible from scanning.

No shadow is visible at all near the center of the book where it is usually worst in perfect-bound books.

With stapled books, it’s usually the opposite: A slight shadow may appear in spreads near the covers while no shadows appear closer to the middle. To compare, I scanned sketches made within the first few spreads of stapled Uglybooks, and they show more of a shadow than the perfect-bound book. Double huh! That degree of shadowing hasn’t bothered me in the saddle-stitched books, but I really like that there’s almost no shadowing with the perfect binding. What a surprise!

This saddle-stitched book's second spread shows subtle shadowing on the left.

This saddle-stitched book, also scanned within the first several spreads, shows shadowing on the left.

Sketching these dogs from photo references did call out for me one other issue with perfect bindings: The spines do not lay flat on the desktop, so the page can rock back and forth. That is definitely an issue that stapled books never have. Since I rarely use Uglybooks at a table, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, though I can imagine some Uglybooks customers being annoyed by this.

Of course, the most important test for me is how a sketchbook performs when I’m standing out on a sidewalk. Sometimes when I’m not sketching across the gutter, I will fold the cover and the side that I’m not using backward out of my way. To test that, I folded the cover back, and it got creased against the sharply squared edge of the spine. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t affect the sketching area of the inner pages.

Folding the cover back caused a crease to appear where it hit the hard, squared-off spine edge.

The spine makes a handy "handle"!

Holding the book to sketch, I couldn’t easily fold the unused side back, so I had to keep the spread open. But that was another surprise: The stiff spine formed a “handle” that made the book easier to grip! An unexpected benefit!

Perfect-bound book with sketch made on location

Same sketch scanned... almost no shadow!

Whether or not Uglybooks eventually phases out saddle-stitched books, I’m relieved that I don’t have to hoard them, since the perfect-bound editions are perfectly satisfactory (at least for my needs) – and they look great, too. (They are quite a bit higher-priced than saddle-stitched, though, so maybe that’s one reason to proactively hoard. Not that I’m enabling or anything – just wanted to mention it. See ya at the checkout stand!)

Sunday, July 14, 2024



7/9/24 Inktense Blocks in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

A lovely bouquet from a vendor at the Edmonds Summer Market last week was too tempting to pass up, but my timing wasn’t great: We still had several days left to our heatwave. With the house so hot, these poor flowers started wilting prematurely (and I know the feeling). I was planning to sketch them out on my shady back deck, but even that was too hot last Tuesday (it got up to the mid-90s). The petals might have been all over the table and floor by the next day, so it was now or never.

The bouquet gave me a much-needed color fix, and Inktense Blocks gave me a looseness fix that I didn’t even know I needed until I smooshed those blocks around on wet paper.

As I sketched, I thought of Inma Serrano’s workshop in Barcelona during my first USk Symposium. After sketching the fun part of a Gothic building, I kiddingly griped to her that I didn’t want to draw the rest. She replied, “Then don’t! Draw only what you want to!” In 2013, it was a mind-blowing moment. Still thanking Inma for liberating me 11 years ago, I sketched the flowers and skipped the vase.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Favorite Comics Media


From left: Pentel Pocket Brush pen, F-C Pitt Artist Pen, Pitt Dual Tip marker,
three Sharpie Creative Markers

As I’ve fully embraced my on-location comics approach the past few months, I’ve also experimented with a variety of media to best express this different way of seeing and telling stories. I seem to have settled into a set of favorites, so I thought it would be a good time to document them here.

First of all, there’s Uglybooks. The bold, strong colors of these sketchbooks immediately give my comics a graphical background that suits the form well. I’ve occasionally used white sketchbooks when using color seemed important to the subject. For the most part, though, Uglybooks are ideal. (I’ll be talking more about how my choice of Uglybooks sets the stage for color in a future post.)

For basic contour outlines and panel frames, I alternate between two go-to’s: I adore my original Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, which is probably one of my oldest sketch tools that I’m still using. By contrast, I only began using Faber-Castell Pitt Dual Tip Markers around the time I started making comics, and they also became a fast favorite. The former makes a beautiful, organic line that I especially appreciate when drawing trees, people, animals and other natural subject matter. The Pitt Dual Tip, by contrast, makes a sharp, hard line that imparts the graphical look of comics that I also like. It’s especially suitable for buildings and other human-made structures. The fine tip is relatively bold when drawing on a small, A6-size page, yet fine enough for details and lettering. The brush tip on the other side lays down a heavy block of color easily, which I appreciate. It’s an excellent combo pen.

The Pentel Pocket and the Pitt Dual are opposites, really, and that’s why I need both.

An important member of the monochrome part of the team is a Cold Gray III Pitt Artist Brush Pen, which I find essential for shading.

From left: a secondary triad of water-soluble Derwent Inktense and Caran 
d'Ache Museum Aquarelles; four Cd'A Luminance non-soluble pencils

As for color, that has become a complicated matter. Usually this time of year, I am happily playing with summer primary triads, studying color temperature or even messing with watercolors. This is my least colorful summer ever, and I miss color! Yet small panels of comics aren’t conducive to color mixing, and there’s no room for anything but tiny spot colors. I’ve been using opaque acrylic markers sparingly to fill the bill.

With such a focus on pens, I also miss my pencils! Looking for ways to scratch both my color itch and my pencil itch, I’ve lately been using a small selection of Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils. Among the most opaque in my colored pencil collection, Luminance can stand up to the strong colors of Uglybooks sketchbooks. Even so, they are less aggressive than acrylic markers, and sometimes I want a more subtle bit of color that can be modulated (compared to acrylic markers, which have no volume control other than loud). (In that future post, I’ll be talking more about techniques I’m using with colored pencils on brightly colored pages.)

As for my long-time favorite watercolor pencils, I still keep a basic secondary triad of Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles and Derwent Inktense in my bag for the occasional times when nothing will do except full-on, big color. I took most out, though, because water-soluble media really aren’t compatible with Uglybooks paper. However, I’m not sad about letting most of them go, because this change has enabled me to use more Luminance pencils, which I have long regretted not putting to better use. Now they have a chance to be my daily-carry, which hasn’t ever happened before!

Of course, the most crucial player on this team is the opaque white pen – many of which I have been auditioning the past few months and most of which I have swiftly rejected. The favorite would have been the Sharpie Creative Marker with brush tip, which I like for its pastel colors as well as white – until the all-important white one broke. Loathe to buy a whole ‘nother set of 12 just for the white, I’ve given up on white pens (for now).

In fact, I have gone back to my roots: white colored pencils. Although they aren’t quite as bright and opaque as white acrylic paint or gel ink, they are close. More important, they are consistently reliable, require no shaking or priming, and never blob, skip, clog or explode. Ahh, pencils, you’ve saved me again!

Two of my favorite white colored pencils: Prismacolor and Derwent Drawing

As much as I miss having more and bigger colors to play with, I adore using this simple, slim kit that fits well in my small everyday-carry bag. For now, it suits my comics-focused approach. (Examples of how I like to use my favorite comics media are shown below.)

The brush and medium points on the Pitt Dual Tip Marker are ideal for both blocks of broad background color and spot color.

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for people

Pitt Dual Tip Marker for architecture and other hard-edged, human-made subjects

Elegant, organic marks for trees using the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

Opaque acrylic markers and colored pencils that can hold their own against Uglybooks' strong colors.

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