Thursday, June 21, 2018

Panorama Retrospective

5/16/17 Venice

Nearly two years ago I took a retrospective look at the landscape-format Pentalic Aqua Journal sketchbook that I had taken more than four years to fill. That was mainly because it was one of the first sketchbooks I had started, and I jumped around a lot among various sketchbooks back then. I also didn’t take advantage much of the double-wide page spreads until a few years later. Even then, I used a long-page format only sporadically, usually when I was traveling and wanting to capture a panoramic view.

7/7/17 Pike Place Market view of the waterfront

When I finally did fill it, however, I immediately got a new landscape-format book – this time a Stillman & Birn Beta softcover – and christened it with the Seattle skyline from Jack Block Park. I realized from reviewing the first book that I tend to forget about the format except when traveling, but Seattle offers opportunities for panoramic views, too. Starting the book at Jack Block Park was my way of reminding myself that I didn’t have to wait until I was traveling to use the book.
9/9/16 Seattle skyline from Jack Block Park, West Seattle

A little less than two years later, I filled the last page spread of that S&B Beta with another Seattle skyline – this time from the Bell Street Pier. I have a nice sense of closure starting and finishing the book with sketches of home.

7/29/17 Chicago
5/23/18 Yosemite Falls
In between, I have sketches of Joshua Tree National Park (where I memorably used colored pencil as my sole coloring medium for the first time), skyscrapers of downtown Chicago, long, narrow alleyways and canals of Italy (where I used the panorama format more often than on any other trip), and the falls of Yosemite. And as I promised myself, I took the book with me around town, too – like to Pike Place Market’s new waterfront view.

Since I make almost all of the rest of my sketches in my DIY sketchbooks and bind them chronologically, the landscape-format book is the only volume that covers a significant span of time (in this case, almost two years). While I generally prefer to keep my sketches stored chronologically, I do enjoy seeing the passage of time and especially my travels represented in one volume.

I just bought a new landscape-format Stillman & Birn Beta softcover that I’m looking forward to filling.

11/16/16 Joshua Tree National Park

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


6/17/18 Kousa dogwood, Maple Leaf neighborhood

All my local friends concur: The dogwood blossoms this year are extraordinary! Unlike cherry blossoms, which I actively seek each spring, dogwoods aren’t really on my radar. Some years I barely noticed them; other years, I have noticed them blooming, but their pale yellow-green blossoms are so close to white that I shied away from trying to sketch them (sketching anything that’s mostly white is daunting).

A couple of weeks ago, however, I started noticing several dogwoods right on my own street, and they seemed to be more fully in blossom than I have ever seen them. I made a point of looking for more dogwoods around town, and they are like that everywhere – heavy with yellow-white quatrefoils. Though still stumped about how I would sketch them, I could resist no longer.

First, I went out to sketch a single blossom to see if I could at least get the hue right. (I don’t think I did; the actual flowers are paler still, but I was afraid they’d barely show up on the page or in a scanned image if I made them any lighter.) A few days later, I returned to the same tree to sketch it from across the street. As expected, I found it very challenging to capture the huge, dense clusters of blossoms, and even harder to indicate the shadowed undersides of those white clusters. But I’m glad I gave it a shot, because now the dogwoods are on my radar for another seasonal sketching attraction to look for each year.

6/14/18 Kousa dogwood blossom
The variety I am seeing in my ‘hood is the Kousa dogwood.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Product Review: Derwent Drawing Pencils (Plus Bonus Fire Drill)

6/5/18 Derwent Drawing Pencil on Strathmore toned paper (Melissa; left: 20 min. pose; right: 10 min. pose)

Initially this post was going to be about nothing more than the fire drill that occurred at Gage Academy during the life drawing session where I made the sketches above of our model, Melissa. But then I started thinking about my favorite colored pencil for life drawing, and I realized I take it for granted. I’ve been using it happily and reliably for years, but I’ve rarely talked about it here. It doesn’t come in a bajillion dazzling hues like so many other colored pencil lines, and the colors it does come in are muted. Even its name is understated. But for certain purposes – currently and chiefly, life drawing – there’s none better. I decided to use these sketches as an opportunity to review Derwent Drawing Pencils.

Derwent Drawing Pencils
According to Blick, Derwent introduced the Drawing Pencil line in 1986 with only six colors, which eventually expanded to 24. Intended for landscapes and portraiture, the 24 hues are all earthy and natural browns, grays and sepias. Since there was no complete set of 120 colors to be dazzled and seduced by, I started buying them individually at my local Artist and Craftsman Supply years ago. By now, I probably have all the colors. In particular, I discovered that the Chinese White is the softest, most opaque white colored pencil I’ve found to date, and I’ve gone through several working on toned and red papers.

With a similar design to most other contemporary Derwent collections, the Drawing Pencil has an 8mm round barrel, which is larger than average. Like my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, its size is troublesome for most sharpeners, but at least when I’m home, I can use my trusty Bostitch Quiet Sharp 6. The glossy sepia barrel has a colored, diagonally striped end cap identifying its core hue. The color number and name are stamped in white.

This image exhibits one of my few complaints about all contemporary
Derwent pencils with this design: The paint on the end caps
chips off after only a short time of use.

Look at these thick, luscious cores!

In addition to its limited, muted palette, the Drawing Pencil line is distinctive and unique for its whopping 5mm core – probably the thickest of all the colored pencils I’ve used. It’s definitely the softest colored pencil core I own, which makes it ideal for life drawing. Since the point goes dull quickly, I can’t get fiddly with details, and I can use the broad side of the core to color large areas quickly. It’s like a charcoal or sanguine pencil in its ability to impart subtle gradations of shading – but without the messy smearing.

Preferring to use a faster liquid medium like a brush pen for shorter poses, I used to save pencil for 20-minute poses when I had more time for shading and details. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten more comfortable with colored pencil in general or because I’ve gotten faster at life drawing, but this year I’ve been using Drawing Pencils even for 10-minute poses. It’s not the same as liquid, but it moves more smoothly and fluidly than any dry pencil I’ve used.

It’s a delightful pencil that I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well, just one thing: I don’t need the Drawing Pencil color collection to include all the bright hues that are easily covered by many other pencil lines. But since it is intended for landscapes and does include some shadowy and smoky blues, I wonder why it doesn’t include a few greens, too? The one Olive Earth is closer to brown than green. With the addition of a few tree and grass greens, Drawing Pencils’ palette would be ideal for urban sketching.

Oh, about that fire drill. It was a sunny, pleasant morning to be out in Gage’s driveway for a few minutes. But I felt sorry for the models standing out there in their robes.

5/1/18 Nadine; 10-min. pose
6/5/18 Melissa; 10-min. pose

3/15/18 Randy; 20-min. pose

Monday, June 18, 2018

More Shadow Play

6/12/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

About a month ago I showed you the brick Tudor across the street. Last week from our upstairs bedroom window, I noticed that it was casting an interesting shadow on the house just to its west. I've been meaning to sketch this Craftsman-style house in an unusual color combination, and the shadow gave me an ideal opportunity.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Anderson School, This Time with Sunshine

6/16/18 Anderson School

More than two years ago, USk Seattle visited the then-brand-new Anderson School in Bothell, an historic property that had been renovated by the McMenamins into a unique hotel and brew pub venue. What I remember most about that sketch outing was that it was cold, wet and mostly miserable. With unique d├ęcor and the nicely renovated building, the location was worth visiting again – though on a warmer day, we all agreed. That day was yesterday, and though the morning began overcast, it didn’t take long for the sun to come out and bring the temperature up to 70!

Last time I didn’t have the courage to take on the whole Anderson School building, which was built in 1931 (Bothell’s first junior high). This time I was still a bit trepidation, but I marched across the street anyway so that I could see the whole thing.

With that one under my belt, I strolled around the rest of the property, which is made of a variety of smaller unique buildings, each housing a place to get a bite or a brew. I wandered for quite a while before I settled on a sunny seat outside the tiny brick Shed, whose main feature is a large chimney. As soon as I started sketching it, I remembered that I had sketched it last time, too. I guess those chess rooks atop the chimney called to me again.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Special Order of Sunshine for Milan Visitor

6/15/18 Seattle skyline from Bell Harbor Pier

When Milan urban sketcher Riccardo Pastore contacted Urban Sketchers Seattle to say that he would be in town and wanted to sketch with us, we didn’t just organize a sketch outing for him – we also ordered up some summer weather!

Riccardo said he wanted to sketch the Space Needle (among many other things), so we met at the Olympic Sculpture Park, where I knew there’d be a great view of the Needle. Since I’ve sketched at the park numerous times, I decided to walk a few blocks south to Bell Harbor Pier, where I had sketched briefly last month on my way to an event. I’d made a mental note to go back someday when I had more time to sketch the fantastic view of the skyline and waterfront. That day was yesterday – 70 degrees and sunny! – and like last time, I had the pier nearly to myself. 

6/15/18 Needle (sans ugly hat) from Bell Harbor Pier
Although I had sketched the top of the Needle from the Pier last time, I couldn’t resist another sketch: It has finally ditched the ugly hat it wore for months! Renovation of the viewing deck is complete at last. 

After the outing at the Sculpture Park, Antonella, Sue and I took Riccardo to the Pike Place Market to grab some lunch and so that he could do more iconic Seattle sketching. We’re all invited to sketch with him and USk Milano! I hope to take him up on that someday.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I Should Have Bailed Out

6/11/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

It had interesting shadows under the eaves and an asymmetrical porch with both an archway and a small window shaped like a miter – all of which caught my eye. (What architectural style could this possibly be?) But I was doomed by the cluttered composition: Two cars, one on each side of the street, partially blocked my view. And although I have a thing for utility poles and lines, they weren’t doing much for this composition, and I should have left them out. On top of all that, I was a bit troubled by the house’s dark gray color. I told myself all of this before I began, and yet I proceeded.

I had recently read Marc Holmes say, “the sooner you can sense the need to bail-out, the better. Save your energy for the re-do!” I’ve even heard myself give that advice to others: As soon as you know it’s going badly, it’s easier to just stop and start over. The hard part is listening to my own sage advice.

On the other hand, I can think of a million worse ways to spend my time than making a sorry sketch on a sunny June afternoon.

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