Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review and Field Test: Expedition

2/18/17 graphite, Field Notes Expedition notebook
Winter weather curtails my sketching, but not completely. Since it typically doesn’t get deadly cold here, I can sketch quite a bit from my car. The only weather that really stops me is rain: Turning the windshield wipers off and on repeatedly is annoying, and it’s not pleasant standing in the rain. In addition, even watercolor sketchbooks don’t hold up well if you can’t decide where you want the water to go.

But what if there were a sketchbook that could withstand rain?

Last month in my post about the sketching materials I used during the Women’s March, I mentioned being prepared for rain by bringing a Field Notes Expedition notebook. Made of Yupo, a synthetic paper, the notebook is completely waterproof, inside and out, and very difficult to tear. It’s designed to be used by people who need to make notes while working outdoors in various weather conditions.

I did a lot of Internet research and my own tests to see what kinds of drawing materials would work on the slick, plastic-y surface that cannot absorb liquids. Although a variety of pens can be used, some inks take a long time to dry on it. Many pens with waterproof ink like Sharpies and brush pens will draw well on it while the paper is dry, and once the ink has dried, it will be waterproof if the paper gets wet afterwards. But if you try to write on wet paper with these waterproof pens, the ink won’t stick – it just floats away.

On the left side of my test spread below, I used a Sharpie, a Copic Multiliner, a Plumchester brush pen and a Kuretake brush pen containing Platinum Carbon Black ink (all waterproof inks) to make some scribbles on dry paper. I waited a bit to allow the inks to dry, and when I thought they were, I sprayed the page with a water spritzer. The Sharpie and Plumchester were dry, so the water didn’t affect them. The Copic Multiliner must not have been completely dry, as it smeared a bit. The brush pen with PCB ink looked dry but must have been quite wet, because it made a beautiful bloom.

On the right, I sprayed the clean page with water first, then tried to write on it with the same four waterproof inks. As you can see, none was successful.
 
Waterproof ink tests

Most reviews I’d read said that graphite pencil and ballpoint pen fared well on Expedition paper, and my own test results partly concur. On dry paper (below), I used a couple of soft grade graphite pencils and a Uni-Jetstream ballpoint pen to scribble on the left side. On the right I used a few different types of traditional colored pencils.

Then I sprayed the page spread. As expected, water did no harm to the pencil or ballpoint scribbles. While the pages were still wet, I went back in with the same instruments to try scribbling again (those marks are labeled “wet”). While the graphite and colored pencils all did well, the ballpoint pen didn’t.

Dry media tests

I don’t really care for the way colored pencil looks on Expedition paper, and without any tooth, it’s hard to build up color. But strangely enough, I do like the way graphite goes on the paper, especially the softer grades – rich and dark – and it feels surprisingly pleasant. Despite the lack of tooth, it goes on well, stays on when wet and – most important – draws on a wet surface.

With laboratory testing done, it was time for a field test. You’d think I’d have plenty of opportunities in Seattle for field testing (and you’d be correct), but I was waiting for just the right rain conditions. I didn’t want to get drenched, so forget about the many downpours we’ve had recently. And I didn’t want to freeze, either, so I skipped the cold, wet days, too.

Then a few days ago it was just right – mild temperature but drizzly. On my way home from the post office, I stopped in the View Ridge neighborhood, pulled up my hood, and got out of the car. Using a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 6B pencil, I scribbled the street scene, watching the drizzly drops cover my page. The pencil did beautifully, both while the page was relatively dry as well as toward the end of the sketch when it was dripping. When the page spread completely dried, it was as good as new – you cant tell that it was ever wet (see scan at top of page). 

Using watercolors, artists like Joan Tavolott make paintings with gorgeous effects on dry Yupo paper. And now sketchers like me have no excuse on rainy days – Yupo paper is great for drawing on wet, too! 

Note the rain dripping down my pencil and on the page surface!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Life Drawing on Steroids

2/19/17 ink, marker, colored pencils

One-minute poses at Gage life-drawing sessions seem like pure extravagance compared to the real-life drawing practice we got today at Seattle Bouldering Project. Urban Sketchers Seattle discovered it was more like one-second poses as people attempted to scale the vertical walls of the practice facility for rock climbers.

2/19/17 brush pen
A recreational venue as well as a training facility, Seattle Bouldering is a huge place with multiple artificial mountains for climbers of all ages and skill levels. Scaling the walls like spiders or hanging upside-down like chickadees, most of the climbers fell eventually, too. “Climbing is 90 percent falling,” we were told by Bouldering staff, and I was very happy to be sketching and not participating.

Almost exactly three years ago, USk Seattle visited Seattle Bouldering, and I remember clearly that I didn’t spend enough time warming up with gestural sketches. This time I heeded my own advice and used several pages of my sketchbook doing nothing but small gesture studies with a brush pen. Always looking for Suhita Shirodkar’s “line of action,” I just kept the brush pen moving. The upstairs balcony offered the best view of the high walls where the more experienced climbers were practicing. It was impressive to see these strong, agile people plan and execute each foothold and handhold.

Once I had loosened up a bit, I decided to make a few slightly larger figures and pay attention to shadows. They turned out to be just as challenging as the figures casting them because the light seemed to be coming from all directions.

From the lower level where I could stand nearly at the same level as the climbers’ thickly padded floor, I finally felt ready to take a larger view of both the people and the strangely shaped interior space.

2/19/17 ink, colored pencils

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pocket Vignettes at Volunteer Park

2/16/17 brush pen, colored pencil
On Thursday we went to see the exhibit Tabaimo at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Although I enjoyed the show, the sun’s unexpected appearance called to me. Before we got back into the car, I took a few minutes to put into practice the exercise we learned last week in Gabi’s Pocket Urban Sketching workshop. The concept is to use a pocket-size page spread to compose a montage of three small vignettes related in some way. To be visually pleasing and more cohesive, Gabi suggests varying the three elements in size.

While I was still viewing the exhibit, I sketched a dragonfly motif from one of the pieces. Then outside the museum, I started sketching Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun sculpture when a tour bus of teenagers suddenly climbed all around and inside the sculpture’s hole for a photo opp. I quickly scribbled them into the sketch. Finally I looked out over Volunteer Park toward the Space Needle on the horizon and made a tiny skyline at the bottom of the page. As Gabi had suggested, I wrote a few notes about the visit in the white spaces around the vignettes.

The page spread, which is 5 ½-by-7 inches, took no more than 10 minutes to complete (by that point, I was too cold to stay out longer, since the sun had dipped behind clouds). Individually, each sketch doesn’t show much, but the three together tell a more complete story about my visit to the museum and the park. I don’t usually journal much as part of my sketch page, but the spaces between images asked to be filled in with brief notes. It’s really an ideal format for travel sketching on the go – very little time consumed, yet a lot of information and memories captured. 

Although I know many sketchers use this type of montage format, I’ve never put it into practice myself. Now I can easily see how to use it to my advantage in some situations. It’s an art journal technique (writing that supplements sketches) colliding with urban sketching in a way that fits some of my needs well. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Color Mixing Chart

Color-mixing chart with colored pencils
If you’ve done anything with watercolor at all, or even if you haven’t but you hang out on watercolor-related websites, then surely you know of Jane Blundell, queen of all watercolor mixing. Her blog is an unbelievable wealth of information on everything related to watercolors, especially paint pigments and what they look like when they’ve been mixed with other paints. Sometimes I go there just for the eye candy.

Several years ago when I took a brief watercolor class, I made a color wheel and small mixing chart for the primary palette we were using. I found the exercise interesting, but I didn’t understand enough about color temperature and other color properties to go beyond what we learned in class. And as much of a junkie as I am in terms of craving color in my immediate surroundings, I haven’t felt particularly compelled to make color-mixing charts for my vast quantities of colored pencils.

This week in the colored pencil class I’m taking, we focused on color mixing, and part of our homework is to make several color-mixing charts of the type Jane would be pleased by. Now that I’ve read a few art technique books and have some years past that brief watercolor class, I think I finally understand enough about color to learn from making color wheels and mixing charts.

An interesting aspect of colored pencils that we talked about in class is that their hues are mixed optically rather than physically. Unlike yellow and blue watercolor paints that are literally mixed together to make green, pencils are layered and remain independent hues, but our eyes experience them as a new color. The effect is closer to layering transparent glazes of watercolor rather than mixing liquid paints.

Shown above is my basic mixing chart (if you were expecting a neatly ruled grid, sorry – that would be Jane’s blog! 😀). I selected a warm and a cool shade in each of the three primaries plus green and then mixed them into the various permutations. The next chart I make will combine three primaries to achieve various grays, and mix each primary with its complement to make additional grays or browns.

If today’s sunshine continues into the weekend, I’m going to have a problem staying indoors to finish my homework! (But this part of the homework is so much easier than the second part – drawing a partly cloudy sky!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Luna Park Café

2/14/17 brush pen, ink, water-soluble colored pencils
A few weeks ago after sketching at the Nucor Steel Plant, a few of us ended up at Luna Park CafĂ© for lunch. It’s a funky old place in West Seattle full of fun dĂ©cor from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s named for an amusement park that operated for a short time at the turn of the previous century (and the parks name was apparently inspired by Coney Island’s Luna Park). Vintage photos of the park and area hang throughout the cafĂ©.


Greg had an appointment in West Seattle yesterday morning, so he dropped me off at the cafĂ© first. While I nibbled on a cinnamon roll, I sketched a booth with a huge blue guitar above it. I was thinking about sketching the tiny juke box at my table (each booth has one) when Greg finished his appointment and joined me for brunch. I left the juke box for next time – I’m sure I’ll be returning to the fun.

A tiny juke box at every booth.
Vintage posters and lunch boxes are part of the fun decor.

Yeah, I ordered a whole breakfast after scarfing down half a cinnamon roll! Uff.
Look at Greg's egg and hash brown concoction smothered in Hollandaise!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Small Page, Big Picture

2/13/17 ink, brush pen, graphite, Field Notes notebook
The sun came out today, and I was eager to try one of the exercises we did in Gabi’s “Pocket Urban Sketching” workshop to firmly cement the concept in my brain. I took a 3 ½-by-5 ½-inch Field Notes notebook (same size as the Stillman & Birn we used in class) and hit the streets.

When I sketch a neighborhood street scene from my car, I usually choose an intersection and include a parked car and some trees – and that’s typically the horizontal scope of my view (using a 6-by-9-inch page). I found such an intersection today in the Bryant neighborhood, but instead of focusing on the usual view, I looked as far to the right and left as I could see easily through my windshield. Holding up my pen against the height of the house on the right plus the tall tree behind it to determine my measuring unit, I roughly measured out all the other elements that I intended to include in the composition – the other trees in the background and foreground, the parked vehicles, the utility poles and the house on the left. Imagine that – they all fit!

Mind you, that concept is not new to me; in fact, I use it all the time to gauge the relative size of one side of a building compared to its height, the size of a car compared to the tree next to it, or the length of a guy’s arm compared to his torso. But I never really pushed myself to use the same technique to make any scene fit onto any paper space – it just seemed easier to choose a narrower scope. Now I realize it’s not difficult at all!

While I don’t always want to squeeze this large a view into such a small page, it’s nice to know how to do it when I want to. Sometimes I want to include more detail, so a smaller scope is appropriate. But there are many times when I do want to capture a fuller sense of the type of neighborhood or general area by showing more context. It happens frequently when I’m traveling. Being able to do this easily and quickly will be a helpful sketching tool.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pocket Urban Sketching with Gabi

Three small vignettes 
Gabi Campanario kicked off Seattle’s series of Urban Sketchers 10x10 workshops with “Pocket Urban Sketching” – an introduction to using the small sketchbook format. Going back to his roots, Gabi showed us some of the many small books he filled before he ever conceived of Urban Sketchers. The portable format enabled him to sketch whenever he found a moment to capture an image, and he encouraged us to do the same.

“A small, easy-to-carry notebook makes sketching less intimidating and is ideal to create fast drawings on the go,” he said in his class handout, and he spent this morning showing 14 sketchers how to put a large picture onto a tiny page.

Three small vignettes 
Amazon campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood was our workshop site. On this cold morning (I sure was glad I wore my down jacket and fingerless gloves!), our first exercise was to create a spread of three vignettes in varying sizes. Making a small-, a medium- and a large-sized image on the same spread gives visual variety and interest to the composition. White spaces can be filled with the date, journal writing and other notations.

Our second exercise was to make a single wide cityscape across the page spread. (This is my personal sketching challenge and the reason I took the workshop: I always feel like I need a large page to capture a large scene, and yet I know it’s just a matter of scaling. I wanted to learn how to fit it all in!) Standing on a street corner facing the Amazon spheres, Gabi demonstrated how he first decides the scope of his composition, then chooses a building to be the relative measuring gauge for everything else that will appear in the sketch.

7" x 5 1/2" page spread
As we started the exercise, my first inclination was to walk across the street to get as far away as possible from the spheres so they would become “smaller” in my eyes. But I wanted the challenge of the full, in-your-face view, so I stood close to the spot Gabi stood for the demo. I was pleased by how much I got into the spread (at left)!

I think both exercises – the three small vignettes and the wide cityscape across a spread – are ideal for travel sketching, because I’d be able to capture more small images in shorter periods of time. We were given 3 ½-by-5 ½-inch softcover sketchbooks (donated by Stillman & Birn) for the workshop, and I think I might use the rest of mine to practice these concepts before the next time I travel.

It was a fun and informative morning learning from Gabi, and it was also a privilege to take a workshop from the Seattle Sketcher!

Gabi demos how he fits a huge scene into a small sketchbook spread.

Gabi discusses the three vignettes exercise.
Chilly workshop participants listen attentively!

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