Thursday, November 20, 2014

I’m on the Urban Sketchers Blog!

My guest post is live on the international Urban Sketchers blog! My thanks to Suhita Shirodkar on the editorial team for inviting me to blog about my urban tree sketches!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


11/19/14 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
You know I’m not the kind of sketcher who shies away from ugly or unpleasant subject matter. It’s not that I seek out things like cell towers or dead bunnies, but sometimes the unappealing still has a story to tell.

At the Wedgwood Starbucks this afternoon, I was enjoying sketching a young man’s hand, which he repeatedly put back in the same place against his face after taking sips of coffee. His overgrown hair was a good shading opportunity, as was his T-shirt. Overall, he was an ideal model – seated in good light, close enough that I could see him well yet unaware of me sketching him, and staying stock-still most of the time.

I was fully into the sketch when I saw that a good two or three inches of his butt crack were exposed above his jeans. Repulsed and yet somehow compelled, I couldn’t resist. What I was really tempted to do was take a picture with my phone and show it to him as I walked by to leave. Instead, I’m just posting this sketch of him on my blog.

On the upside, I’d forgotten how much I like using icy Diamine Sargasso Sea ink, especially during the cold months. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

So Ugly It’s Ugly

11/18/14 various inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble
colored pencils, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
A while back the Urban Sketchers Flickr group theme was “So Ugly It’s Beautiful.” Several candidates had come to mind besides the one I ended up sketching then – an electrical substation in my neighborhood. This morning after an errand in north Seattle, I took the opportunity to sketch another candidate high on my list – these twin cell towers on Aurora Avenue North. A nearby Home Depot parking lot gave me a suitable view of these ubiquitous towers that are somehow even more unattractive than standard utility poles.

Cutting the Fat Again

IN: essential materials in my newly slimmed-down daily-carry bag.
In preparation for my trip to Europe last summer, I put my daily-carry Rickshaw bag on a diet. After much careful consideration, I jettisoned all art materials and tools except what I considered to be the bare essentials for sketching in Spain and Germany.

After I returned home, and in the year and a half since that time, things kept creeping back in. I pared it down again shortly before I went to Brazil this year, but now I find my bag overweight again (we all know how that happens!).

Actually, it’s not so much the weight (which is still tolerable) but the bulk that made me realize it was time to cut the fat. The bag’s inner compartments were so stuffed that it was getting difficult to dig things out, and when my “Stefano” sketchbook was also in it, I could barely get my hands in.

Another motivator was that we’re moving rapidly toward winter when I sketch mostly indoors and tend to prefer the monochrome simplicity of pen and ink (with just a marker or two for color). Even the brightly colored trees that I delighted in painting last month are now mostly brown or bare, so I won’t miss color there.

OUT: the "fat" nonessentials!
The fat I cut was ruthless (shown at left): my watercolor paint box, four fountain pens with various ink colors, two waterbrushes filled with more inks, seven colored pencils, three Zig markers and a few other assorted writing instruments I consider “nice to have” but not essential.

What stayed in my now lean-mean-sketching-machine of a bag (see top of page)? Three fountain pens (waterproof black plus water-soluble black and brown), two waterbrushes, Kuretake fountain brush pen (for bare trees), three Zig markers, three waterbrushes filled with ink (bright blue for sky, dark blue and gray for shadows), two colored pencils and – a new essential combo – a twig and small jar of India ink. (Not shown is my still-essential Stefano sketchbook, which doesn’t stay in my daily-carry bag if I’m only going shopping or to yoga; I grab it as I’m going out the door toward any potential sketch opportunity. Also not shown is my tiny DIY sketchbooklet, which does always stay in the bag.)

A small belt pouch now holds the "fat."
Of course, every dieter cheats, and I’m no exception. All of the jettisoned supplies went directly into a belt pouch (shown at right) I bought this past summer when I was experimenting with the“quiver” concept: A small holster-like bag that would contain my essential supplies at my side while larger items stayed in a backpack.

My current thought is that when I’m on my way to a full-on sketch outing (defined by me as at least a couple of hours dedicated to sketching, with or without other sketchers), I could easily grab the quiver – now full of my second-tier “fat” supplies – and throw it into my car or over my shoulder. It would be a good test of which, if any, of those jettisoned supplies are actually essential. For day-to-day quick sketches (such as trees I capture on my way home from errands or meetings), the lean kit would certainly suffice.

Of course, my color needs are seasonal. I’ll probably add a couple of red and green markers for the holidays. And come spring, I’ll certainly want my watercolors back in my everyday-carry. We’ll see if I stick to this “diet” until then.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wider Than Tall

11/17/14 India ink, twig, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Driving through my neighborhood, I spotted a black locust tree with an asymmetrical shape that might have been natural but was more likely due to the nearby power lines. Still, it isnt nearly as haphazardly chopped as most trees I’ve been sketching. It still retains its gracefully wide reach.

11/17/14 India ink, twig, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Its reach, in fact, is so wide that my first attempt (at left) wouldn’t fit properly on the sketchbook page. Somewhere in my brain is the incorrect “knowledge” that trees are taller than they are wide. After I saw that my sketch wasn’t proportioned correctly, I sight-sized closely and realized that this tree is, in fact, a little wider than it is tall. I tried again, this time using a full sketchbook spread. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pioneer Square Station

11/16/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks, Kuretake brush pen, watercolor, Zig marker, Canson XL

Our outdoor thermometer read 33 degrees when I left the house this morning to head for Pioneer Square Station. Despite the chill, the bright sunshine brought out a good showing of Urban Sketchers Seattle to sketch in and around the Metro tunnel station.

I decided to get the hard one out of the way first – the view from the mezzanine level out toward the tunnel, plus a few sketchers.

The tunnel station turned out to be colder than I thought it would be. By the time I finished that sketch, I was so chilled that I had to go outdoors to seek sunshine! I set my stool down on Second and Yesler facing west. Just as I was finishing up, I ran into Michele, so we ducked inside Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill and Irish Pub to warm up with coffee and a quick sketch of the bar. 

11/16/14 India ink, twig
11/16/14 India ink, twig

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In the Zone at Third Place Commons

11/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Canson XL
After attending a meeting at Third Place Commons this morning, I stayed for lunch and a little sketching. I wish this place were a little closer to me – it’s ideal for practicing sketches of people of all ages. The huge space with lots of tables is congenial for small, informal meetings, chatting over coffee or just staring into one’s laptop screen. Although I’ve sketched there several times (most recently last summer when I sketched Ciscoe Morris), it had been a couple of years since I was there without a specific event as the focus.

Today I didn’t even try to give these “floating heads” a story or context as I often try to do when sketching people in the urban landscape. I had my choice of so many faces that I just sketched whoever sat in front of me. (I probably could have paid a little more attention to proportion when drawing the woman reaching for her daughter’s salad – her arm looks about 10 feet long!)

This type of sketching is, for me, what Liz Steel refers to as “reflex sketching” (which, for her, is usually of teacups): being mostly on autopilot and in “the zone.” I think it’s the only subject matter that can kick me into the zone immediately, and I find it completely relaxing and meditative. I really lose all sense of time and space. I could have stayed there sketching people all day! (Unfortunately, I couldn’t.)

I wish I could move that quickly and easily into the zone with any subject matter. I usually do get there eventually, regardless of the subject, but with architecture or complex scenes, it takes me a while to get past the technical processing (where is the vanishing point?) or internal arguments (Don’t sketch that! That’s too hard!) before I can get into the pure pleasure of the eye-brain-hand connection.

What kind of subject matter puts you in the zone immediately?
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