Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sketching with Non-Sketchers

8/26/16 brush pen, colored pencil
While my arteries recover from all the deep-fried foods I ate at the Minnesota State Fair, I’ll tell you about my adventures in the Twin Cities the past several days!

Before I get to the bulk of my fair sketches, however, I thought I’d follow up on my post from last week that was prompted by a reader’s question about how I sketch while traveling with my spouse. As you learned from that post, Greg and I have a system that works well for our independent interests. When I’m with other non-sketchers, though, I don’t want to keep them waiting, but of course I always want to sketch anyway. How do I manage that? Our trip to the Twin Cities, with the primary purpose of visiting with family, was filled with examples of how I’ve learned to balance my own desire to sketch with socializing as a group participant.

Our first full day in the Cities was spent with three family members at the famous Minnesota State Fair, one of the largest and best fairs in the country. It helped to know that I would be back again the next day, so I used that first day as a “teaser” to survey all that the fair had to offer and set priorities for my focus later. Still, I hadn’t been to this fair in nearly a decade, and I’d never been there with a sketchbook, so it was impossible to resist sneaking in a few sketches.
8/26/16 brush pen

How? I was always on the lookout for moments (and I mean literally moments of one to five minutes) when the others were occupied. My sisters-in-law want foot-long corn dogs? Plenty of time to sketch polka dancers. Others are still in the restroom? A quick sketch showing the variety of sizes and stances of fair-goers. Strolling through the poultry barn? That’s easy – I just focus on one hen while the others go down the aisle, and I catch up with them a few minutes later. And while the rest of the group goes through a fair history exhibit at a leisurely pace, I go through quickly, then wait outside the exhibit hall to capture more activities in my sketchbook.

It’s a matter of choosing subject matter appropriately – perhaps a single object rather than a scene – making it small, and adjusting expectations to the time available. And sketching fast! I usually use a brush pen for quick gestures, no details and colored pencil scribbles.

8/26/16 brush pen, colored pencil
I even had plenty of time to scarf down foods on sticks, just like everyone else! For the record, the best thing I ate was the deep-fried pumpkin pie served with vanilla ice cream – to die for! Healthiest and a runner-up for best taste was the roasted corn on the cob dipped in butter. Most surprisingly tasty was the deep-fried pickles! I could have passed on the Australian battered potato, although smothering it in sour cream and sweet chili sauce certainly helped. What’s Australian about it? asked a Facebook friend. The answer: the booth was playing “Waltzing Matilda,” and a tiny Aussie flag pierced the top of my potato. Meh!

Stay tuned for the rest of my state fair sketches!

8/26/16 brush pen, colored pencil
The healthiest thing I consumed all day: roasted corn on the cob!

Nitro ice cream!
Australian battered potato
Tom Thumb mini donuts

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Out of Space

8/23/16 brush pen, colored pencils, Zig marker
Last week on a morning sketchabout, I spotted a cute Vespa in the ‘hood. I sketched it in my red Field Notes. Even on a full-page spread (which, granted, is only 5 ½ by 7 inches), I managed to run out of space for the front wheel.

The very next day, driving through the Green Lake neighborhood, I spotted an orange Stella scooter. I pulled over immediately to sketch it, this time in my Stillman & Birn. I don’t know why, but I started drawing the rearview mirrors near the middle of the page – so I nearly ran out of space again when I got to the wheels! It’s one of my ongoing sketching challenges – I don’t always plan the composition carefully on the page.

8/22/16 LePen brush pen, white Gelly Roll

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Not Turning

8/14/16 ink, colored pencils, Zig marker
A couple weeks ago when I first started noticing that the trees are starting to turn, I spotted this one in a traffic circle and wondered if it had already turned completely – but on closer inspection, I saw that it was dead. A block north of the one I sketched the other day, it was apparently hit by a careless driver who ran right over the circle. The plants at the tree’s base are crushed and also dead. Someday the tree will probably fall over.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Sketcher’s Spouse

Greg doing his thing in a train in Japan.
After seeing my posts about our travels in the UK, a reader asked me what my husband Greg is doing all that time that I’m sketching. That’s a question that I get asked frequently by friends who know how much I love to sketch and how much we both love to travel. Specifically, Jean is interested because she’s planning to attend the USk symposium next year and wondered how to manage such a trip with a non-sketching spouse.

“How and when do you meet up with your spouse during the Symposium? What parts of the Symposium can your non-registered, non-sketching spouse attend and not attend? How is your spouse received by other sketchers? And how do you plan a trip that pleases both of you, so he isn't just wafting about waiting for you to be finished with the Symposium so you can move on to the rest of the trip?” All great questions, Jean!

The easy and short answer is that Greg is a photographer, so our interests are highly compatible. Although certainly we enjoy spending time together while traveling, we also want to go our separate ways and meet later at a designated time and place. “Done, where u?” is a text message we exchange frequently.

If he didn’t have photography as a hobby, it might be more difficult to manage traveling together so that I still have time for myself to sketch. But I’ve also traveled or day-toured quite a bit with non-sketching friends and family members and have still managed to get in sketching time without being annoying (at least, no one has told me I am ).

Greg doing his thing in Bath.
There’s a reason for that: I can be very fast. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sketching on location regularly, it’s the ability to manage my sketches based on how much time is available to me. (My correspondent role in Manchester certainly helped me hone that skill.) I wouldn’t want to make people wait 30 to 60 minutes for me to do a typical sketch. But no one seems to mind waiting 10 minutes, and often they welcome the opportunity to sit on a bench and rest while I do a quick one. If I know I have only 10 minutes, then 10 minutes is all I need.

Attending the symposium with a non-sketching partner need not be an issue, either. I talk to other symposium participants who are traveling with partners and keep my ears open. During the Barcelona symposium, Greg met another sketcher’s husband, and the two of them decided to do some touring together one day. (I regret to this day that I missed out on a visit to Parc G├╝ell, but I had workshops to attend!) A similar opportunity came up in Manchester, so I let Greg know about it.

In Paraty, a small town that’s easy to navigate, I always left him a copy of my workshop map and timetable so that he would know where I would be each day, and we sometimes met up for lunch between workshops. In Manchester he joined me for lunch at the Manchester Museum where I had just done some sketch reportage, and afterwards he enjoyed the exhibits while I moved on to the next event.

Greg doing his thing in Rio de Janeiro.
At all the symposiums, Greg joined me at dinners and drink-and-draws with other sketchers, who enjoyed having another “victim” to draw (Greg got used to appearing in lots of sketchbooks!). And sometimes I skipped social events because after a long day of non-stop activities, it was nice to have a quiet dinner for just the two of us.

In regard to Jean’s specific questions about which activities spouses might be allowed to participate in, that’s something that has improved over time. In Barcelona, a number of spouses wanted to attend the closing reception, but there was no formal process in place for them, which led to people feeling like they had to sneak in the back door. In Manchester, however, the symposium staff anticipated this issue and simply sold reception tickets at the door to cover refreshments.

In Paraty, which didn’t sell out and therefore had attendee passes to spare, I bought Greg a low-cost “Sketcher” level pass, which allowed him access to the central facility where attendees hung out between workshops, used the restrooms, grabbed a snack and used Wi-Fi. That pass also allowed him to attend the receptions.

Achieving the right sketcher/non-sketcher balance during travel is not as easy as when you and your partner are always together. But having separate experiences gives each of you a different perspective and often enhances the travel experience as a whole. And balance is the operative word – just like all the other parts of a relationship.

If you have a non-sketching partner, what kinds of things do you do to achieve balance during travel?

Like Jean, if you’re thinking of attending a symposium for the first time, you might want to check out the post I wrote after Barcelona. After that first symposium, I learned a lot of practical matters as well as how to manage expectations.

We always eat ice cream together!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


8/24/16 watercolor, colored pencils, ink, Zig marker
Ever since I got back from the UK, I’ve been seeing trees all over town that are starting to show hints of turning. They’re all still mostly green, yet leaves near the top are definitely going yellow-orange. I sketch this aspen a few blocks from my house every fall, and I know that in a few weeks it will be completely gold. Today it’s still got a lot of green left, but I was surprised to see how quickly it’s changing.

I daresay fall is coming. 

Technical note: Normally I would start a sketch like this with ink to give me some guidelines – the base of the traffic circle, the caution sign, the tree trunk and the general shape of the tree. This morning, on a whim, I decided to paint the tree first. Then I went in afterwards with colored pencils to draw the trunk, lower plants and other details. I like the effect of having fewer guidelines. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Old Pole Finally Goes

7/21/16 brush pen, ink, Zig marker, colored pencil

For the past couple years I’ve been telling the story about the utility pole in front of our house that needed to be replaced. It started two years ago, when workers came to install the new pole but left the old one in place. Six months later, workers returned to do some repair work. Finally in January this year, I thought I’d seen the last of them when they came to chainsaw the old pole down, though they left about half of it still standing.

It turns out that the saga wasn’t over. A day or two before we left for the UK last month, workers returned yet again, this time to fully extract the remains of the old pole from the ground. I saw how fast they worked when they removed the pole standing in front of the house a few doors down, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time. I was still sketching the crane operator when the pole came out – yanked right up out of the ground like a rotten tooth! A second worker filled the hole that the pole had left behind. By the time I got to sketch “our” old pole, it was already lying in the truck’s bed right next to the one they pulled from down the street.

Maybe this time the story finally concludes!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tacoma Sizzles with West Coast Sketch Crawl

8/20/16 brush pen, watercolor, colored pencil (Union Station)

That headline isn’t really metaphorical. We’re having a heatwave this weekend in Northwest Washington that warrants an “excessive heat warning,” according to the National Weather Service. But that didn’t stop well over a hundred sketchers from showing up for the Fourth Annual West Coast Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawl in Tacoma!

8/19/16 brush pen (Portrait Party)
Festivities began Friday night at the opening reception, which included a portrait party (a few minutes to sketch someone you don’t know, then move on to another person). The highlight of the evening was, of course, the huge door prize giveaway of literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of gifts from generous art supply stores and other vendors. Many thanks and kudos to Frances Buckmaster and the Tacoma team for procuring a gold mine of donations! I don’t know which city will be hosting next year’s WC sketch crawl, but I’d say they have a pretty high bar to meet!

The weekend’s main event was an all-day sketch crawl Saturday and a half-day on Sunday around Tacoma’s highly sketchable museum district. Although the event didn’t officially begin until 9 a.m. Saturday, I was already on the sidewalk by 7:30 a.m. to get ahead of the heat. By mid-day, I had captured two sketches in the still-comfortable shade – one of the majestically domed Union Station building (which I sketched about a year ago from a different angle) and the second of the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus stairway.

8/20/16 brush pen, watercolor (UW Tacoma campus)

I don’t know if anyone officially counted heads, but here’s the photo of the Saturday mid-day sketchbook sharing!

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