Monday, February 26, 2024

The Gab & Grab is Back On!

 

Natalie recites limericks she wrote to honor the USk Seattle admins.
After a four-year pandemic pause, USk Seattle’s formerly annual Gab & Grab is back on! If I counted right, this was the seventh edition of our popular winter event. On Saturday we met in the Greenwood branch library to swap unneeded art supplies, chat over lunch, and talk about sketching or materials.

I filled a huge bag that was so heavy, I could hardly carry it out to my car! I swore I would only give at this G&G – the intention was to clean out my studio, not refill it – but I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of things, including a nearly full box of premium grade Tombow Mono pencils!

Score: Tombow Monos!
I had intended to take photos of our five full tables piled with loot before the grabbing began, but I forgot. The photo shown here was taken after we were nearly done. Unclaimed materials were donated to nearby Seattle ReCreative, an art community center and thrift store specifically for art and craft supplies.



We were a lot more excited at the beginning of the Grabbin' than shown in this photo, which was taken toward the end.

A member brought along Clementine, a sweet dog she was sitting.

The highlight of the brown bag lunch was when Natalie concluded the event with limericks that she had written to honor each of the Seattle USk admins. In the style of the NPR program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, members participated by filling in the name of the appropriate admin based on the clues in the limerick:

Simplicity, no frills or drama
diplomatic as Barak Obama
when she sketches she stands
pencils neatly at hand
cuz she’s short and on point, Ms. Koyama.

We have never once heard her complain,
she gives workshops in snow, heat and rain
with whatever’s nearby
she is cheerful, that’s why
students soak up superb tips from Jane.

At McMenamins most of us ate
while Tina first sketched her plate
then this admin explained
(wearing outfit handmade)
what to do, when and how, thank you Kate.

An expert on nose, cheek and chin,
perfecting the tones of the skin
she’d rather sketch people
than some famous steeple
which also does well, dearest Kim.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Southcenter Dragon

 

2/23/24 Southcenter Mall

For Lunar New Year, Southcenter Mall put up a spectacular 25-foot dragon, moon gate and other festive decorations. Disappointed that I had to miss the USk outing there earlier in the week, I went on Friday morning. Kate and Roy met me there for colorful dragon fun.

The challenge with a subject like this is showing a sense of scale. If I had sketched the dragon without context that indicated its size, it could look like a 3-inch figurine. Walking around the dragon numerous times to find a good angle not blocked by the central court’s many support beams, I spotted Kate sketching at the dragon’s base – and there was my scale. My usual A6-size Hahnemühle sketchbook serves me well for most urban sketching, but even with a full spread, this huge dragon did make me feel a bit constrained by the page size. It was the most colorful sketch in a long time, though!

 

Photo by Roy Deleon

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Macrina Vignettes

 



While good conversation and laughter ensued with Janet, MaryJean and Roy, I used Macrina Bakery as an opportunity to try the comic-like approach I had learned from Drewscape. I started the first page (above) with my orange hazelnut pinwheel (very hastily sketched so that I could get on with the business of eating it), but I didn’t plan at all, so the random heads didn’t fit well around the pastry.

I started a new page with a better plan about how to fit the various vignettes together. It’s not exactly a narrative comic, but the series of small sketches tells more than any single sketch would. Although the approach would work with any scene, it is especially effective with “nothing” scenes that apparently don’t have much going on, yet the sum is greater than the parts.

Good friends, good pastries, good times!

Friday, February 23, 2024

It’s Happening!

 

2/21/24 Plum tree in the Maple Leaf neighborhood

A few days ago on my walk, I was shocked to see a short, spindly plum tree on Roosevelt full of pink blossoms! In February! Making note of the street, I’d planned to come back on the next dry day to sketch it. Although it was still raining the next day, I started having second thoughts: What if it had been a mirage? Or a hallucination? Or what if a hurricane blows in and takes the blossoms (or entire tree) down before I can sketch them? I couldn’t risk it – even mirages and hallucinations can be sketched as long as they remain. I went out in my car to sketch.

It’s happening! All my efforts to help Kill Winter with Orange are working!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Urban Sketches as Comics

 

2/20/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

During my 100 Day Project two years ago, my exercises in imaginative drawing eventually led me to cartooning. I’ve taken a workshop in observational cartooning, and I’ve also tried cartooning in a more editorial style as part of a different workshop. Some part of me obviously wants to be a cartoonist, but I haven’t found an expressive form for it yet that pushes me beyond one-off single panels.

Known as Drewscape on his blog and YouTube channel, Andrew Tan is both a published cartoonist and an urban sketcher. As such, he brings his comic book narrative style to his urban sketching in a way that doubly appeals to me. In a recent video, his focus was on how he sketches in small snippets of time, but he briefly touched on a subject that I found more interesting: He often captures scenes on location by making multiple small panels using varying viewpoints. All on one page, he will draw one wide-angle view, one view in the middle ground, and one closeup. He uses a similar format for comic books to add visual variety as well as to create more dramatic tension in the action – like watching a film. He explained all of this in a few seconds by showing examples (the whole video is only 6 minutes), and it opened my eyes to a new way of approaching urban sketching.

The adventures of Faucet Handle, Soap Dispenser and Scissors gave my cartooning
imagination a workout during my 100 Day Project in 2022.

I was thinking about all this on my walk one day when a fire engine’s siren came blaring from behind me, stopping a few blocks ahead of me. I knew there was no fire by the pace of the firefighters as they approached a condo. I started at the upper-right box to draw the fire engine’s rear (because I’m a lefty, I tend to start sketches from the right). Knowing that I probably had only a short time, I walked around to the side of the engine (upper-left box). Right about then, the EMTs showed up in the white ambulance and pulled into the alley (lower left). I wasn’t sure what else to draw in the remaining space, but as I walked around to the front of the fire engine, I spotted its big, bold number 40.

The story – a medical emergency in the ‘hood – would have been the same in my head, but if I hadn’t seen Drewscape’s video, I probably would have sketched only one of these scenes. His comic book approach pushed me to think in a more narrative way. In addition, I had to think fast about how to arrange multiple small images on a small page (4-by-6 inches). That part was aided significantly by my ongoing practice of making thumbnail-like compositional studies, which require drawing a box first to define the proposed frame. The layout that resulted isn’t the most visually interesting, but I was happy with the way I filled the page, especially considering that I had no time to plan the layout.

"Get Off the Stage" - a 2020 attempt at editorial cartooning.

In this case, the narrative didn’t require a time sequence to make sense, but if I see a story that is important to capture in a chronological way, I would probably draw it from left to right in the normal reading sequence.

I’m going to keep this approach in mind, especially for my relatively static walk-sketches that usually give me more time to think about and plan the page.

If you have any interest in making comics, I recommend this excellent Drewscape video on the topic. It’s only about 12 minutes long, yet he manages to succinctly explain many basic principles of cartooning with good examples. (The more I view [or rather, stop viewing] way-overlong YouTubes, the more I admire – and will subscribe to  people who can explain concepts succinctly!)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bark & Brew

 

2/18/24 Bark & Brew event at Old Stove Brewing Co., Fremont neighborhood

After all the pet portraits I’ve been making to raise funds for Dog Gone Seattle, it was so much fun to sketch some of their pooches waiting to find forever families! Hosted by kid- and dog-friendly Old Stove Brewing Company on Fremont’s Ship Canal, Bark & Brew is a monthly event for potential adopters to meet dogs.

Humans sipped brews and chatted about their current and potential dogs, pups sniffed each other, and I (sadly allergic) was the only one not petting or cuddling a furry face. The rain made me leave sooner than I wanted to, but I’ll be back at another Bark & Brew for more sketching.

(Whew – is my live sketching of both humans and canines flabby! I better get in shape pronto for next month’s One Week 100 People challenge, or I’ll be stepping in deep doggie doo-doo!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Eyes Have It

2/11/24 Kooper (reference photo by Chris Green)
2/15/24 Miss Maybelle (reference photo by Kate Eckhoff)

The kitties have been outnumbering the dogs lately, and I’m happy to get more feline practice. On the one hand, cats can be harder to render because their faces have more subtle forms than dogs. On the other hand, I won’t say “all cats look alike,” but in a general way, they do. Once I learned the characteristics that are common in all cat faces, it became much easier to draw them. Dogs, by contrast, seem more distinctly unique – not just from breed to breed but even within one breed.

This batch of pet portraits includes two firsts for me: a young kitten (Miss Maybelle) and a puppy (Kooper, both above). In the same way that human baby faces are not simply miniature adult faces, puppies and kittens have different proportions than their adult counterparts. The most challenging part was surviving the cuteness overload! And both have blue eyes!

2/11/24 Sherlock (reference photo by 
Sarah Kaltsounis)

2/12/24 Tabitha (reference photo by Jill Bartos)

When I show the portraits to the pet owners, I am often complimented on how well I captured their pets’ eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, I usually concentrate more than half the drawing time on the eyes. I know that the owner and the pet often have eye contact, so the eyes are the most recognizable and expressive feature. Even if the fur gets sloppy or my proportions are a little off on the ears, if I get the eyes right, the drawing will usually capture the expression well.

2/15/24 Hemi (reference photo by Holly Thurston)

When I was practicing all those human portraits from Earthsworld’s photos, I didn’t always get much practice on eyes because they were often too small or obscured by shadow to see well. With the pet portraits, I have been asking specifically (though I don’t always get them) for reference photos showing the animals’ eyes in good light, so it’s been fun and rewarding to be able to practice drawing so many eyes. When the lighting is good, a subtle shadow will be apparent at the eye’s top edge across the iris. Something I learned from France Van Stone when we drew human portraits, the shadow is cast by the eyelid. It’s hard to see in dark-eyed dogs, but it’s a little easier to see in cats’ eyes (like Olivia and Hemi, at right and below). If I can observe and capture that kind of detail, the eyes look more natural and realistic.

2/16/24 Olivia (reference photo by Joey Guido)





The most challenging portrait in this group was Olivia (at left). Given two bad reference photos (dark, low contrast, low resolution), I had to make some educated guesses about features or contours I could barely see. One thing, however, was clear in both photos: Olivia was slightly walleyed. This was an unusual and unique feature that I thought was important to capture accurately. When making portraits of humans as well as pets, it’s sometimes tempting to make asymmetrical features more symmetrical, straighten crooked noses, or otherwise make faces more generic. (With human faces, I have sometimes caught myself doing it unconsciously.) But the beauty of individuals is in those lopsided ears, off-center markings and even charming walleyes.



Some portraits take very few materials...

... and others take lots of colors to capture fur details.


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