Friday, May 27, 2016

Rocket, But No Saturn

5/27/16 brush pen, inks, colored pencils, watercolor
Despite last night’s downpour and the early morning’s drizzle, Urban Sketchers Seattle’s outing to the Fremont neighborhood stayed dry and downright pleasant! After our initial meetup in front of Lenin’s statue, I didn’t have to go very far for my first sketch: the tiny Kwanjai Thai Cuisine on North 36th Street. You’ll probably guess that it wasn’t the cafĂ©, as cute as it is, that caught my eye – it was those humongous high-tension power line towers behind it. It’s hard to sketch in Fremont without capturing at least a glimpse of them.

By now I’ve sketched many things Fremont is known for – the topiary dinosaurs, the infamous statue of Lenin, the Solstice Parade’s nude bicyclists – but one I hadn’t yet checked off my list is the Rocket, and another is the planet Saturn atop its namesake building across the street. I circled the block twice, often walking backwards, trying to find a way to get both the Rocket and Saturn in the same sketch. Somehow there was always a tree, a building or just a clumsy composition keeping me from what I wanted. I finally settled on the Rocket alone, but I know there must be an angle I missed. Next time I’ll catch them both.

5/27/16 ink, watercolor

We had a great turnout on this weather-iffy day, including four sketchers joining us for the first time!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Still Life with Drizzle

5/26/16 colored pencils
I don’t mind sketching indoors when I’m in the mood for colored pencils, so it’s just as well that this afternoon turned out to be drizzly, breezy and overcast. Grabbing an orange and a banana from the kitchen counter, I wanted a third piece of produce, but we’re getting toward the end of the week when groceries start to dwindle, so I had to settle for scissors instead. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Coffee, Scone and Toned Paper

5/25/16 ink, white charcoal pencil, toned paper
5/25/16 ink, white charcoal pencil
At Zoka Coffee this morning, I hit the first page of occasional toned paper that I had bound into the last batch of signatures I stitched. The sizing on the Strathmore toned paper is different from the Canson XL watercolor paper I’m used to, so the fountain pen ink didn’t wash the way I expected. I practiced a little hatching on one sketch, and by the time I got to the woman with the big bun of hair, I was getting the ink to shade a little better. Then I had to get the hang of using white charcoal pencil, which doesn’t pop the way it does on my red Field Notes. Despite all that, tan toned paper is definitely fun to use now and then.

5/25/16 ink, white charcoal pencil

But the most fun I had with my coffee and scone was sketching the little dog who was waiting for his human to come back out of the donut shop across the street. Ever hopeful, he would turn around to look at the door every time it opened, then flop back down with a sigh.

5/25/16 brush pen, white charcoal pencil, white gel pen,
Field Notes
5/25/16 ink, 140 lb. watercolor paper

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Another Antique Shopping Moment

5/24/16 brush pen, Zig marker, ink, colored pencils
Just last month I was talking about how sketching is like antique shopping: If you see something you like, you’d better get it now, because tomorrow it may be gone. It happened again.

Yesterday I drove past the site of the former Wilson-Pacific School, where a nearly demolished mural had been restored and recently re-installed. (I first learned about the restoration effort last year from The Seattle Sketcher.) Construction of the new school is under way on the site, and when I drove by, I could clearly see the huge, striking mural from the street along with some heavy equipment, mounds of dirt and other construction stuff. I thought it would make a great sketch, but it was raining at the time, so I decided to come back today.

Too late. Now the mural is no longer visible from the street and probably won’t be for a while. I didn’t go home without a sketch, though – I had my choice of lots of machinery, some busy, some not. I picked this little excavator that didn’t have anything to do.

Monday, May 23, 2016


5/23/16 ink, watercolor, colored pencils

Yesterday’s rain had turned into sporadic sprinkles today, so it was back to in-car sketching for me. Here’s another ordinary street in the Maple Leaf ‘hood: Trees and power poles compete for vertical space in the sky while power lines criss-cross the horizontal space.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thicker Signatures

My April - May sketchbook has thicker signatures than usual.
My April – May sketchbook is bound. On the covers are the Vespa in memory of Florian Afflerbach and one of the student cooks in the FareStart program.

A notable difference with this book is the one I mentioned last time: I stitched each signature with four sheets instead of three. A four-sheet signature has the benefit of giving me one additional full-page spread (which I use frequently). It’s also significantly stiffer and therefore stronger. I can carry and sketch in (standing) a signature without my leather Stefano cover for support, and it’s still as stable as a commercial softcover sketchbook. This last point is a huge deal for me because I’ve reduced the bulk in my bag significantly. In fact, a single signature without the cover is so thin and light that I usually just leave it in my bag day to day instead of having to remember to grab it when I’m going out to sketch. My already mostly brainless portable sketch kit requires even less brains now (If, like me, you are “of a certain age,” you know why this is such a benefit)!

I was concerned that the heavier, thicker signatures would make the Coptic binding less stable – a problem I encountered when I tried the same experiment a couple of years ago. But I think my Coptic stitching technique has improved sufficiently that it wasn’t a problem this time. I doubt that I could push it to five sheets per signature, though – the fore edge (parallel to the spine) is already pretty ragged (and my bookbinding process is lengthy enough; I won’t trim the edges!). I think four sheets per signature is an acceptable tradeoff: 96 pages instead of my usual 72 per book; each signature sturdy enough to use on its own; the book is still securely bound.

Sketching in my red Field Notes has renewed my interest
in giving toned paper a try.
In other bookbinding news: I’ve been having so much fun using little red Field Notes in the same way as toned paper would be used – black ink and white ink or pencil for shadows and highlights – that I decided to try using tan toned paper in my full-size sketchbook. At first I thought I’d stitch a whole signature of tan paper to use as determined by whim, but then I’d have to always carry two signatures (one regular, one toned). Instead, in the batch of signatures I just stitched up, I included one sheet of tan paper per signature. I can skip the page if I don’t feel like using toned paper when it comes up, but having it there will remind me to try it.

For the past several sketchbooks, I’d been feeling a bit belabored by my own bookbinding process. I enjoy it, and I want it to remain enjoyable and not become a chore. (I can tell when it’s feeling like a chore: I start fantasizing about finding the ideal store-bought sketchbook again.) But the versatility of being able to use any kind of paper I want, even occasional toned pages, without hauling multiple sketchbooks, is one of the primary benefits of binding my own. It gives me pure joy when I rediscover such a benefit. I felt that same spark of joy last year when I had the need for a single sheet of dark paper, and I was able to simply bind it in along with the regular signatures.

I was thinking about all of this as I stitched my April – May sketchbook, and it gave me renewed enthusiasm for bookbinding. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Sometimes the sketch I like best is the one I wasn’t even aiming for.

5/21/16 brush pen
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