Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cornish College Celebrated at Cascadia Art Museum

2/5/16 ink, colored pencils (marionettes made of kitchen ware by R. Bruce Inverarity)

The Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds has a new exhibit called “Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Centennial Tribute to Nellie Cornish and the Cornish College of the Arts.” Greg had an appointment in Edmonds, so I tagged along and had him drop me off there. It’s a well-organized exhibit of the visual and performance arts school in honor of its 100th anniversary.

Costume sketches
While I enjoyed viewing the paintings of mid-century northwest artists like Mark Tobey who were associated with Cornish, I was especially attracted to the small selection of sketches and sketchbooks that were included in the show. Most of the sketches were made as part of designing costumes for Cornish dance and drama performances. Maybe because I enjoy the creative process more than the finished product, I found it intriguing to view works-in-progress or half-baked concepts being worked out on the page.

Costume sketches by Mark Tobey
Cornish had the first marionette department in the country. My first sketch (top of page) was of an exhibit I was immediately attracted to: a stage set for “Z-739,” a surrealist marionette production by R. Bruce Inverarity in 1928. The marionettes were made of found pieces of kitchen ware – a cheese grater, some funnels, a strainer, a couple of bottle brushes!

My second sketch was of a sculpture made of cedar by George Tsutakawa called “Day Dream.” After that, I went through the museum more slowly and eventually made my way into a room of Ebba Rapp’s work, where I had several sculptures to choose from. Greg came to pick me up before I finished, but I started a sketch of “Rumor,” a humorous, two-sided sculpture of someone passing along some gossip. The photo shows one side, and when you walk around to the other side, the rumor is being passed on again.

It was a fine way to spend another cold winter morning! (If you have a museum membership that includes the North American Reciprocal Museum Association benefit – mine is through the Burke Museum – admission is free.)

2/5/16 colored pencils ("Day Dream" by George Tsutakawa)
"Rumor," a two-sided sculpture by
Ebba Rapp

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Lowly Bic

Example of hatching with a ballpoint from
Matt Rota's book.
I’m reading The Art of Ballpoint - Experimentation, Exploration, and Techniques in Ink, by Matt Rota. My initial interest in the book was for its descriptions and examples of hatching techniques, which can be applied to any medium. Although I’m not much of a fan of writing with ballpoint pens, let alone sketching with them, the more I read the book, the more intrigued I am becoming. In addition to techniques, the book includes short profiles of artists who use ballpoint pen as a primary fine art medium as well as a few examples of their art. Who knew that the inexpensive, ubiquitous Bic (all the ones we own came from hotel rooms) is a favorite among many artists who are using the ballpoint in both their sketchbook and their gallery work!

Always interested in process, I found it fascinating to read about how these artists became interested in ballpoint in the first place. While most trained formally using traditional drawing media such as graphite and dip pens, they were attracted to ballpoint pens because they are so cheap and easy to find anywhere, and the pens never have to be redipped, refilled, sharpened or maintained. Several artists mentioned that they grew up doodling with ballpoints in their school notebooks to entertain themselves during boring classes, so going back to that familiar, comfortable medium felt very natural.

Most interesting of all was seeing the art itself – intricately detailed works that could be mistaken for paintings, all done with the lowly ballpoint.

2/4/16 ballpoint pen
Skeptical that I could ever be happy sketching with a Bic, nonetheless I knew I had to try it myself. I grabbed one (this one came from a Holiday Inn Express) from the kitchen counter on my way to the Whole Foods’ café.

My first try was the young man in the baseball cap (at left). Drawing the contour line was similar enough to fountain pen, pencil or other media I’m familiar with – so far, so good. But then I realized where I fall short with ballpoint: I’m used to making a quick swipe of a waterbrush to add shading. With the Bic, I’d have to do some hatching, and quickly (as I’ve come to learn that people tend not to linger much at Whole Foods). While I can probably hatch a flat surface well enough, I haven’t practiced enough to know how to capture subtle facial contours (see example from Rota’s book, above).

2/4/16 fountain pen, colored pencil
The dude in the baseball cap stayed longer – and stayed still longer! – than I had expected, so I sketched him again (at left), this time with my familiar fountain pen and washed-line shading. (By then he had taken off his jacket and turned his cap around, causing his IQ to drop by at least 50, I might add.)

As new victims cycled through at the same table, I tried a couple more times with the Bic. On the woman, I went for a hybrid technique: I made the contour line in ballpoint, then shaded lightly with a water-soluble colored pencil, which washes as easily as fountain pen ink. On the little girl I decided to forego shading completely.

Despite the shading and hatching challenges, I enjoy sketching with ballpoint more than I expected. It’s easy to build up value by layering more and more strokes, similar to graphite, but it has the indelible permanence of ink that I’m used to. I really need to work on my hatching technique, though, if I’m going to keep using ballpoint on location. Heck, I need to work on my hatching technique under any circumstance, but sketching unsuspecting people at Whole Foods is probably the most challenging circumstance of all.
2/4/16 ballpoint pen, water-soluble
colored pencil

The main reason I keep going back to water-soluble fountain pen ink with a washed line when I’m sketching people is that the combo is so fast and efficient; the ballpoint can’t compete. Maybe I chose the wrong subject matter for my first try at ballpoint (all the examples of people in Rota’s book were sketched from photo references, not life). Stay tuned.

2/4/16 ballpoint pen

2/4/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencils

Thursday, February 4, 2016


2/2/16 ink, Platinum Carbon fountain pen, colored pencils
As much as I would rather be sketching outdoors than in, on rainy days, I do enjoy being at my desk. It gives me an opportunity to work on tedious, detailed drawings like this scaly dude I copied from the label on a bottle of Elysian Dragonstooth Stout. I can color to my heart’s content with colored pencils, which give me the same joyful color fix I used to get from crayons in kindergarten (though a bit more time-consuming). 

Rainy days were made for this.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It’s Urban Couch Season Again

2/2/16 ink, colored pencils, Zig marker
Usually I can spot abandoned couches during the last or first few days of the month when tenants are moving out. Right on cue, this one was left out on a street corner on Feb. 1, but by the time I saw it, the light was fading. The broken, cushionless chair was still there yesterday, so I dashed off a quick sketch. Despite the chill, the sun made a welcome appearance on Ground Hog’s Day, so I suppose I could have gone looking for more attractive subject matter. But at this time of year on the rare days when I can go outdoors to sketch at all, I’m not very picky.

Monday, February 1, 2016


2/1/16 Sailor Nagomi brush pen, ink (1-min. pose)
Shaunna was our model today, and her poses were particularly expressive and beautiful – like a dancer or an actor. One pose actually had us all chuckling! Life drawing is always challenging and fun, but it takes a special model to inspire me to try to render not only her body but also her expression.

I sometimes get bored toward the end of a 20-minute pose because I know if I keep working on it, it’ll get worse, but it’s hard to stop. To entertain myself during the last 20-minute pose, I used a rainbow pencil. It slowed me down enough that I used the full 20 minutes, and I sure had fun.

2/1/16 Nagomi brush pen (10-min. pose)

2/1/16 Nagomi brush pen (5-min. pose)
2/1/16 Nagomi brush pen (10-min. pose)

2/1/16 Nagomi brush pen (2-min. pose)
2/1/16 Nagomi brush pen (2-min. pose)

2/1/16 Zebra brush pen (1-min. pose)
2/1/16 Zebra brush pen (1-min. pose)

2/1/16 rainbow pencil (20-min. pose)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

So 2015

1/29/16 ink, colored pencil, Zig marker
A friend on Facebook recently posted a photo of his empty dinner plate: “Posting pictures of meals before you eat them is so 2015.”

You already know that I don’t have much of a track record for sketching my food (though I’m often well-intentioned). On Friday night we went out for sushi, and I would have loved to have shown you the delicious, colorful and beautifully arranged meal I scarfed down. But that would have been so 2015.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Warm and Dry at Whole Foods

1/28/16 ink, colored pencils
After sketching the utility work on the pole outside our house, I was told that the power would still be out for a couple more hours. Getting chilly and hungry, I dashed over to Whole Foods, which has the added benefit of underground parking: I can go from my own garage to theirs without getting wet. 

As soon as I found a table at Whole Foods’ café, I spotted my first “victims” right in front of me: two women conversing in sign language. For me, hands are always one of the most difficult body parts to sketch, but that day it was easy – I could draw a blur of rapid movements and call it good. 

1/28/16 ink, colored pencil
The Roosevelt neighborhood Whole Foods café has an interesting mix of patrons – lots of parents with kids stopping for a snack after shopping; retirees having coffee with their newspapers; students from the nearby high school; neighborhood workers on their lunch break. Unlike most coffee shops and fast-food eateries I’ve tried sketching in, people tend not to linger at Whole Foods; they have to get back to their offices, classes or errands. I still spot the occasional phone gazer or texter who stays put for a while, but most are there to eat and run. (The man at left was in such a hurry that he didn’t even pull up a high stool to sit at the bar – he remained standing!)

Having less time to sketch a particular victim adds to the usual challenges of sketching people in public. But other than that, Whole Foods’ café meets all of my criteria for an ideal sketching location (as far as cafés and coffee shops go): Plenty of victims (despite the high turnover rate); good interior lighting, most of it natural; a large space with varied levels; tables at various angles. A bonus: a full range of foods and beverages. And I never have to get wet! I don’t know why I haven’t been sketching there more regularly, but I’m sure to return.

1/28/16 Zebra brush pen
1/28/16 ink, colored pencil
1/28/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencils

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