Saturday, July 4, 2020


6/30/20 backhoe waiting for the landscaping to begin

Clouds and drizzle in the morning, some clearing in the afternoon: That’s been our typical weather pattern lately. As a Seattle native, I know that summer doesn’t begin around here until after July 4 (many of my childhood 4th of July memories are of watching fireworks while wearing a parka or a raincoat), so we’ll see what tomorrow brings. In the meantime, I still take my daily walks through the ‘hood, rain or shine, and sketching is my reward.

A few days ago I filled the last page of this Field Notes Expedition notebook, which I began in early 2017. The first several pages were tested heavily with a variety of media to see what would work best on its waterproof Yupo paper, which is made of slick, toothless plastic. While some pens will write on its dry pages, not many will work on wet pages. Pencils work best, wet or dry, and I especially enjoy using soft graphite – it’s as rich and dark as a marker!

Anticipating rain, I took this Expedition with me to the Women’s March that first year (but luckily, I didn’t have to use it). It was perfect on a misty day at Cannon Beach. I’ve even used it in the snow.
6/30/20 weeping cypress
Although it has taken me three-and-a-half years to fill this little book, I’ve used it more the past few months than I did during the three years prior. As soon as I filled it, I immediately got out a fresh Expedition, ready for the next drizzle.

6/30/20 a Maple Leaf alley

Friday, July 3, 2020

More Big Ones

6/29/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

In March when we first began our daily walking routine, we noticed that a new house was going up in the ‘hood. It turned out that two houses are being built on a property that used to hold only one. We could tell early on that they were going to be humongous – and yet extremely close together. (I quipped that the two neighbors could easily use tin cans tied together with string to talk to each other through the windows. Heck, they could hold hands.) The framing of the first one is nearly done; the second is just beginning.

On this morning, I made two small sketches of the first one – once from directly across the street (at left) and once from a side street (below). It’s three full stories in a neighborhood where most second floors are not much more than a dormer.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

What Motivates a Sketch?

6/29/20 squirrel dining at a bird feeder (motivated by
subject matter)

If you spend any time observing the work of urban sketchers who share their work regularly, you’ll start to see what motivates their sketching. (Aside: The term inspires is often used as a synonym for motivates, but in this context, I avoid inspires because it seems to evoke an external intervention – a fickle Muse or a bolt of lightning from the heavens. I think of motivation as coming from within, not the sky.)

For many, it’s obviously color – the multi-hued flower garden; a red house with a yellow door; the elusive hue of a near-black, reddish-purple tree. For others, it’s subject matter: distinctive architecture; an ancient pickup rusting in a field; an iconic landmark. Sometimes an intriguing play of light against shadow is enough to motivate a sketch. Or perhaps seeking an interesting composition in an otherwise dull scene can be motivating because of its inherent challenge. And most of us, at some point, are motivated by nothing more than art materials themselves: Having a new pen, pencil, sketchbook or even a new sketch bag is enough to get us out the door.

6/12/20 cement mixer (motivated by this super-soft pencil)
At various times, I’ve been motivated by all of the above. Perhaps the most enjoyable sketching of all is when more than one element is a motivating factor, like a beautiful old building with dramatic light and shadows; or an exciting composition of trees bursting with pink blossoms. Who could resist a quirky landmark that is also colorful?

Now that feeling safe while sketching on location can be a formidable challenge, I’ve noticed that some sketchers have stopped altogether. I think the sketchers who have adapted the best to these challenging times are the ones who are motivated by a wide variety of elements and are even exploring new territory. For example, I’m impressed by Virginia Hein’s recent experiments with Brusho (as described in her USk Talk), which keep her motivated even when she’s still sketching mostly around her home. And I’ve been motivated myself several times by creative prompts that USk Japan has come up with to help its members keep sketching, even if the familiar scenes they see every day are not necessarily “inspiring.”
6/16/20 Motivated by an interesting composition and a prompt to draw
with a single, unbroken line.
I see myself as an adaptive sketcher with many motivators. What motivates you – especially during our corona times? Please share your ideas in the comments.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Zoom Celebration

6/27/20 Zoom fun

My brother and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary – on Zoom, of course. Compared to the big celebration party their son and daughter had been planning for this summer, when we were all to meet up in L.A. for a family reunion, it was a bit sad. Now it will likely be a long time before I visit again. But it was still fun to see everyone happy and healthy (and sketchable).

As part of the festivities, we all played something similar to the Newlywed Game TV show. Of course, I sketched while we played, which explains the rustic sketch paper I used! These are possibly among the least flattering portraits I have ever sketched, but I knew they would forgive me. That's what family is for.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

White Party, Part 2: Water-Soluble Colored Pencils

White water-soluble colored pencils

A while back when I was asked my opinion on the most opaque white colored pencil, I compared the best examples from among my traditional (wax- or oil-based) colored pencils. I’ve lately been fascinated with using white pencil on black paper for my daily hand drawings, so I started pulling out every white pencil in my stash, including watercolor pencils, just to give them a try. It seemed worthwhile to compare some of the artist-quality white pencils from among my water-soluble collection.

To no surprise, my two favorite Caran d’Ache watercolor pencils – Museum Aquarelle and Supracolor – came out on top for opacity. Next would be vintage Sanford Prismacolor watercolor pencil and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer. Staedtler Karat Aquarell, the hardest artist-quality water-soluble colored pencil I’ve used, is the least opaque. (All swatches were made with three layers of pigment.) In fact, in the hand sketch I made with it, I had to use a Supracolor to bring out the brightest highlights (below).
Water-activated swatches (Typo alert: The third sample should be labeled Albrecht Durer)
6/11/20 Karat Aquarell wasn't opaque enough
so I used Supracolor for the highlights. 
When activated with water, white water-soluble pencils don’t get me overly excited. Instead of intensifying the pigment as it does with most watercolor pencils, water applied to white dilutes the pigment (see samples above). In the hand sketch at the bottom of the page, I used a white Supracolor and applied water sparingly to fade the highlights into the shadows. The whole drawing looked a bit too gray, so I had to go back in with the dry pencil to reinforce highlights and also add more light where the water had faded the pigment too much. Since it was my first time using water-soluble white, I’m not sure I took best advantage of this quality, but it’s worth exploring further.

6/24/20 Supracolor pencil used dry and wet in Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook

Monday, June 29, 2020

Plum for Plums

6/25/20 Green Lake neighborhood

A few days ago I showed you a sketch of some ornamental plum trees. I had a used a russet pencil for the trees’ intensely dark purplish-red foliage because it was the only dark red I had with me at the time, but I wasn’t happy with it. I’ve been digging through my pencils to see if I had something closer to the right hue, and wouldn’t you know it, the best color I could find was a Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Dark Plum (106). I went back to the same dead-end street a few days later and made the sketch above.

A tricky hue to capture!
I’m happy with the color this time in addressing the question that my previous sketch might have raised: Are those red-orangy trees supposed to be maples in November…? Even if a viewer weren’t necessarily able to identify these trees as plums, I hope they would still see from the unusual color that these aren’t maples.

The big challenge with a hue this dark is conveying enough contrast between the highlighted parts and the shaded parts. My intention was for the paper’s texture showing through to impart some of the sparkle of the leaves reflecting light, but I’m still missing more contrast. A painter would probably leave most of the highlights paper-white and paint only the shadows. I’ve occasionally tried that technique, but it doesn’t seem to translate well to colored pencils.

6/28/20 color study of ornamental plum
A comment from a reader on that earlier post prompted me to try Prismacolors in Black Cherry (1078) and Black Grape (996). Sue had also suggested Black Raspberry, which I don’t have, but I substituted a Faber-Castell Polychromos in Dark Red (225). I have become so reliant on the fast, easy richness of both hue and texture possible with watercolor pencils that I don’t typically use traditional (non-water-soluble) colored pencils in the field because they take longer to achieve those effects with layers. But I was curious enough about finding the elusive color for this tree that I grabbed those three pencils and took them out on our upstairs deck to make the color study at right. (Usually I curse this rather unkempt tree next door because it blocks so much of the view down the street, but on this day, it came in handy.) At a much closer distance to the tree than when I made the sketch above, I noticed that some of the top-most leaves have a brighter red tone, where the Polychromos was just right. I would have to spend more time on it to get the same richness of tone that I obtained with a spurt from my spritzer on the sketch at the top, but the colors are a good choice.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Things I Miss

The good news is that Dr. Fauci is “cautiously optimistic” about a coronavirus vaccine being available by the end of this year or early next year. That’s the best news I’ve heard in months.

The very bad news is that he is also seeing a “disturbing surge” in infections since states have begun to “open.” In fact, the US hit an all-time high a few days ago. No surprise there. While some people behave as if everything is normal again, I continue to behave the same as I have since early March. If anything, it’s probably more important to remain vigilant now, since others may be more careless.

On Day 100 of this series (an arbitrary milestone, since I don’t know what I’m counting), I took stock of things I’ve missed and haven’t missed during the past three months. The obvious big miss is travel – we forfeited one trip that was planned for April and will not be traveling anywhere this year. (It’s probably the first year in more than three decades that we won’t be getting on a plane.)

Socially, I miss Urban Sketchers the most. I miss the friend I had been walking around Green Lake with every Wednesday for the past decade. I miss my family, too: A funeral and a 50th anniversary party – events we would have traveled to L.A. for – both got Zoomed instead.

Compared to some sketchers who have home-quarantined more strictly, I don’t miss sketching outdoors as much as they have. My neighborhood sidewalks are so sparsely used, especially in the early morning, that I’ve been sketching safely and easily all along. But I do miss sketching at parks, downtown, farmers markets, Seattle Center and so many other populated places. I miss sketching people in coffee shops and on the bus. I miss life drawing at Gage.

I miss summer treats that I look forward to all year, like getting fresh local berries at the farmers markets. (I went to the U-District market last week, masked and ready; when I saw the length of the entry lines wrapping around the block, I lost my courage and went home.) I don’t miss the crowded summer events that I tend to avoid even during normal circumstances, but I very much missed the Greenwood Car Show.

I don’t miss shopping, dining out or getting my hair cut. But I miss the simplicity of running ordinary errands like the post office without having to arm myself with mask, gloves and sanitizer.

I miss feeling safe.

What do you miss most?

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