Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Japan, Part 2: Urban Sketchers Tokyo

11/7/15 Yanaka neighborhood
A highlight of our Japan trip was meeting up with Urban Sketchers Tokyo for an afternoon of sketching that turned into an evening visit to Tokyo Tower and an izakaya dinner. (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: One of the very best things about being part of Urban Sketchers is being able to connect easily with other sketchers anywhere on the globe!)

Our initial meet-up spot was the Yanaka neighborhood and its historic cemetery. Escaping destruction by war and earthquakes, this part of Tokyo still retains older styles of architecture and narrow, winding alleys (as well as souvenir shops and food vendors for the tourists). Seemingly centuries away from the rest of Tokyo, the huge, quiet cemetery displays ancient gravestones and cherry trees that look almost as old. As I’ve often found at home, cemeteries can be a quiet, peaceful oasis in the middle of urban noise, and this was certainly the case in Yanaka.

11/7/15 Yanaka cemetery
After sketching together in the cemetery, we stepped into a Yanaka tea shop for refreshments and more sketching – of each other, of course! Unlike the typical isolated head sketches I usually do when sketching other sketchers around a table, this time I tried putting together more of a coordinated montage of sketches on the page spread – with one of the pink and green sakura matcha parfaits that we were all devouring as the centerpiece.

From left: Kumi, Tina, Maki, Junel and Atsuko in Yanaka cemetery.
Fortified with tea and ice cream, we moved on to Tokyo Tower a short subway ride away. Once Tokyo’s Eiffel-inspired tallest structure, Tokyo Tower is now overshadowed by the three-year-old Tokyo Skytree as the city’s dominant skyline punctuation. Built in 1958, Tokyo Tower nonetheless has a classic, stately look that I knew would be both fun and challenging to sketch. Although I was invited to climb the tower, I opted to stay at ground level and sketch it instead. Drawing its illuminated, symmetrical structure, I did find myself having Eiffel déjà vu. (Unfortunately, by this time, the battery in my phone had died, so I don’t have any photos of the tower or the rest of the evening.)

11/7/15 Tokyo sketchers sketching and eating.
Our last stop was for dinner in an izakaya pub-style bar, where Greg and I were introduced to a variety of foods on skewers and in bowls (some familiar, some not; most delicious, some not!) washed down with plenty of beer. I think Kumi Matsukawa was the only one still sketching by then! See her sketches and report of the day in her post on the Urban Sketchers blog.

My thanks to Kumi for organizing our fun day of sketching and to all the Tokyo sketchers for the warm welcome and USk camaraderie!
From left: Tina, Maki, Junel, Atsuko, Kumi, Chris
Yanaka is a cat town!

11/7/15 Tokyo Tower at night.

Japan, Part 1: Tokyo

11/5/15 Shinjuku Gyoen Garden with the NTT DoCoMo
Tower behind it.
When we left Seattle on Nov. 3, it still looked and felt like fall here. When we landed at SeaTac airport Sunday morning, the temperature was in the high 30s, and the weatherman was talking about snow – suddenly it’s winter. In between, we spent 19 days in Japan – filled with both sunshine and rain; amazing sights as well as disappointments; spectacular food and head colds for both of is. It’s been an unforgettable journey, and I have an epic series of blog posts planned (hopefully two per day so I can get up to the present quickly)!

The first leg of our trip was spent in Tokyo, Japan’s largest city and the place most first-time visitors see when they go to Japan. Ironically, although we’ve been to Japan four times, we’d hardly spent any time in Tokyo previously, so this was our first opportunity to become better acquainted with this world-class city.

Splitting our Tokyo week into two parts (with a night at Mt. Fuji in between), the first half we stayed in the Shinjuku neighborhood – filled with skyscrapers and the busiest train station in the world. Although it’s often pictured as a dazzling, dizzying over-stimulation of neon and an overwhelming crush of people, Shinjuku didn’t strike me that way. It was definitely crowded and bright, but the sidewalks are wide, and streets are laid out in orderly grids. This is not to say we didn’t get lost – Google’s pedestrian directions sometimes spun us around multiple times per trip – but the efficient subway system and the kindness of passers-by kept us going in the directions we wanted to go.

11/6/15 Shinjuku Station's southern entrance and its multiple escalators
and stairways.
The second half of our Tokyo stay was in the older Asakusa neighborhood. We spent a whole day at nearby Ueno Park, where I made some of my favorite sketches of the trip, but I’m saving those for a separate post. I’ll also have a separate post about my day with Urban Sketchers Tokyo, a highlight of our visit. So as an introduction to my series, here are a few sketches from Shinjuku and Asakusa.

11/10/15 power pole in Asakusa
11/11/15 Tokyo Sky Tree Tower behind statue at
Sensoji Temple

11/5/15 Part of the Shinjuku skyline as seen from our hotel window.
Mandatory selfie at Sensoji Temple.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Japan, This Time with Sketchbook

10/25/15 ink, colored pencils
We’re on our way to our fourth visit to Japan! Our very first trip was in 2001 (in a fit of sentimental nostalgia last year, I blogged about that visit), and most recently it was in 2010 – all trips that occurred before I began sketching. Although Japan is relatively familiar to me, in some ways, this trip will feel like a first because I will be looking at everything with a sketchbook in hand. As a sketcher, I observe everything more closely even when I’m not sketching, and when I am, I see and remember so much more. Indeed, it will all seem new, and I can’t wait to fill my sketchbook with the country of my ancestors.

I won’t be blogging while I’m gone, but please join me on my adventures on Flickr and Instagram!

Ja mata (see you again) and happy sketching!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mad Mod for the Pilot Parallel

10/31/15 Pilot cartridge ink and modified 3.8mm
Pilot Parallel pen, Stillman & Birn Alpha
 (young Arctic fox sketched from photo)
Several months ago I kept hearing about “folded nib pens” in the blogosphere. It’s not a new concept – I made one out of a cut-up Coke can years ago as part of an experimental ink-drawing class – but it seemed to be getting renewed attention, especially among sketchers in Singapore.

Seeing those cool sketches online made with huge, splashy marks, I was tempted to dig up my old folded nib pen (though I recall it being very clumsily made) or make a new one, but one thing stopped me: No matter how much fun it was, it would still require a bottle of ink to dip into, and that’s always a messy prospect for sketching on location. (Just carrying the ink in my bag is a risky endeavor.) I decided to forget about it.

Fast-forward to last week, when a link on Parka Blogs led me to instructions on Andrew Tan’s blog for modifying a Pilot Parallel’s nib to mimic the shape of a folded nib. In his first attempts, documented on video by Parka, Andrew used a Dremel to grind away at his nib, with mixed results. He used that experience, though, to find another solution – one that turned out to be much simpler and easier.

The top green pen is the 3.8mm Parallel
in its unmodified state.
All it takes is sandpaper – a fairly coarse grit for the initial shaping and then a fine micromesh (used by nibmeisters to finesse fountain pen nibs) to polish the edge to smoothness. I raided Greg’s workbench and found a sheet of 220-grit for the coarse phase and put some elbow grease to my 3.8mm Parallel. Surprisingly, the shaping took a lot less time than I would have expected (and I don’t have much patience for stuff like this) – maybe 15 minutes. As Andrew recommended, I spritzed the sandpaper with water as I sanded. I didn’t have any micromesh at that time, so I used 400-grit to polish it.

After flossing out debris from between the nib’s parallel blades
My newly modified 3.8mm Parallel nib.
(using the “flosser” that came with the pen), I inked it up. Though it felt rougher than most pens, I was amazed that his trick worked beautifully. While an unmodified Parallel has interesting wide and narrow strokes, there’s nothing in between. The modified nib now has a somewhat unpredictable, wide-ranging line variation very similar to a folded nib pen (though not as wide, of course), with all the portability and convenience of a fountain pen!
Line variation in the modified 3.8mm Parallel nib.

I took the mod Parallel out for a spin Friday at the Grand Central Arcade and was stunned by how much ink that fire hose puts out now! If I had inked it with Platinum Carbon Black or some other waterproof ink, I would have been frustrated waiting for all that ink to dry sufficiently for adding watercolors, but I deliberately inked it with a water-soluble Pilot cartridge that came with the pen. All that ink made for really dark, rich washes – exactly the effect I like when using water-soluble inks (see sketch at bottom of page of the Arcade).

10/31/15 Pilot cartridge ink and modified 3.8mm
Pilot Parallel pen, Stillman & Birn Epsilon
 (northern saw whet owl sketched from photo)
The nib’s scratchiness annoyed me, though (I could see the scratched-up surface of my 140-pound paper in places), so I knew it needed more polishing. I got a sheet of micromesh (12000 grit), again with water as Andrew suggests, and this time it took quite a bit more elbow grease to get it to a degree of smoothness that I liked. I have no idea if this is correct, but I sanded the nib against the micromesh in all the directions that I would be likely to move the nib while sketching – both up and down as well as side to side. That seemed to get rid of the roughness the most efficiently.

Getting more practice by using it to sketch animals from photographs (sorry that youve seen these critters before! I need a new source of animal photos), I realized that the modified Parallel nib operates similar to a fude nib: When I tilt it nearly upright, using its remaining corner, the line is finer; when I tilt the pen flatter toward the paper, the line gets broader. I’m accustomed to that up-and-down angling, so using it is almost intuitive.

The sketch of the owl and the young Arctic fox probably show the best range of line variation. My favorite use of the pen is laying down areas of heavy, solid ink very quickly, which results in nearly a wood-cut print look (see the fox).

Thanks to Andrew Tan’s ingenuity and experimentation, I made a fun pen even more fun with just a little sandpaper and determined elbow grease! I like it so much that I’m taking it with me to Japan. And when I get back, I’m going to try it with my 6mm Parallel, which should make an even wider stroke.

(If you try this yourself, be sure to read Andrew’s tips – he learned important things from his previous attempts.)

10/30/15 modified Parallel, Field Notes notebook
10/30/15 modified Parallel, Field Notes notebook
10/30/15 modified Parallel, 140 lb. paper

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Travel Prep (or Lack Thereof)

In my bag for Japan!

Last May when I was getting ready to go to France, I wrote a relatively ho-hum blog post indicating that my bag would contain very few differences from its regular, day-to-day configuration of supplies. In a few days I’ll be on my way to Japan. As I scrutinized my bag contents to consider what to jettison and what to bring, I did review that post, as well as my follow-up post about things I learned in France, and again had very few modifications. I guess that means that I’ve finally got my everyday-carry bag ideally packed for wherever I might go, whether it’s Maple Leaf Park in my ‘hood or Tokyo! (I almost considered not writing this travel prep post, since I had so little news, but personal traditions are hard to break.)

The photo above shows the bag dump. To see the bag itself and related compartments, see the France-prep post. Here are the contents:

  1. Colored pencils, including a few water-soluble colors, a couple of Koh-i-Noor Tri-Tones and a rainbow pencil.
  2. Waterbrushes filled with a dark and a light gray, Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa for blue sky and a new mix: Diamine Poppy and Diamine Red Dragon. I don’t usually carry a bold red in a waterbrush, but I’m going to Kyoto in November. Being able to make a quick splash of this red without opening my paint box might come in handy! (Stay tuned for my return follow-up to see if it did.)
  3. My trusty Stefano sketchbook, of course (it has been with me on four continents so far).
  4. My usual clip-on watercolor tin – no changes at all.
  5. My usual mixing palette (taken from an old Koi watercolor box) and water spritzer.
  6. A Kum pencil sharpener (see comments below).
  7. Three waterbrushes (two large, one small) and a cheap conventional brush for spreading water that I’ve spritzed onto paper.
  8. Pens (from left): Pilot with Waverly nib (filled with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black), Platinum Preppy and Platinum Carbon Black cartridge (see comments below), Sailor Naginata Fude filled with water-soluble Sailor Doyou, Kuretake brush pen, Zebra double-sided brush pen (I love it for making quick gesture sketches of people, but it might not make the final cut), and two Pilot Parallel pens, one filled with Sailor Tokiwa-matsu and one with a mix of Diamine Autumn Oak and Iroshizuku Yu-yake. (I’ll probably add one more – stay tuned tomorrow for details.)

Here are the changes I made and the reasons behind them:

  • The biggest change is that I am allowing more colored pencils, ink-filled waterbrushes and pens containing non-neutral colors to remain in my bag for this trip. Normally I would remove all but the basics for the sake of weight and bulk reduction (after all, I always have my watercolors if I want to add color). But if there’s one thing I learned from participating in Inktober, it’s that inks applied with waterbrushes like paint or even directly with fat-nibbed pens can be more intense than watercolor – and faster. I don’t have the versatility of mixing any hue I want as I would with watercolors, but mixing particular colors with my limited palette can be time-consuming. When I’m traveling and have limited time to see and experience all that a place like Japan offers, I don’t mind taking short cuts to capture only the essentials in a sketch. I’m thinking that all these inky waterbrushes and pens will help me do that. (Stay tuned for the follow-up when I return.)
  • Before France, I had been traveling with a spare fountain pen containing my mission-critical waterproof ink, Platinum Carbon Black, because if my primary pen ran dry, the ink would be difficult to replace on the road. (I can’t bring proprietary Platinum cartridges, which seems like the obvious solution, because my primary sketching pens are all Sailors or Pilots.) Then I started hunting for waterproof ink cartridges that would fit into my Sailor pens, which would certainly be the easiest solution. I found and tested Sailor Nano Kiwa-Guro, which at first seemed like an acceptable substitute for PCB. On further use, however, I found that it’s just not as waterproof as Platinum; if my brush happened to scrub a line a little hard, the ink would smear – something that never happens with PCB.
    So I’ve gone back to my previous backup pen plan. This time I’ll carry an unpunched Platinum Carbon Black cartridge in the barrel of an inexpensive Platinum Preppy. If I don’t need it, then the cartridge seal remains unbroken, and I can save it for the next trip. If I
    do need it, I’ll know it’s my usual reliable ink – no annoying surprises.
  • When outdoors, I always try to catch my pencil shavings in a tissue for later disposal, but on windy days it’s difficult (and sometimes inconvenient). Japan is such a clean country that I wouldn’t want to litter even pencil shavings! So I swapped out my old pencil sharpener with one that has a cover to catch the shavings. The new sharpener still isn’t ideal for use with my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, but it will have to do. The perfect pencil sharpener for those Museum pencils seems to be a grail.
  • And speaking of colored pencils, I always choose one or two unusual or hard-to-mix colors that are specific to the areas I will be seeing. For Japan I chose vermillion, the exact hue of torii gates seen all over Kyoto, plus a basic red for the flag.

I took these items out:

  • The Molotow white opaque acrylic marker (the cap is aggravatingly difficult to remove, sometimes opening with such violence that ink spatters, and I hardly use it anyway. This is probably a permanent removal).
  • A number of other colored pencils and fountain pens that will inevitably creep back in when I return.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Going Batty Over Ink

10/27/15 ink (sketched from photo)
It’s Halloween – know what that means? That we have to go back to the store because we’ve already eaten all the Snickers bars? Yes! I mean, no! It means it’s the last day of Inktober!

In general, I’m not a huge fan of the types of sketching/art journaling challenges that require making sketches based on subject matter or themes. But I do like the kinds that are based on quantity, such as NaNoDrawMo (at least 50 sketches during the month of November), which I participated in last year and the year before, too.

I also enjoy a challenge based on regular daily practice, such as Inktober. As a first-time participant, I didn’t think Inktober would be too challenging for me, since I sketch daily anyway and use ink in almost every sketch. Giving myself the additional challenge of using ink only upped the ante a bit. I did break my own rule by adding colored pencils a couple of times, but that was before I smacked myself upside the head during a proverbial V-8 moment when I realized I could be using all the many, many pens and colored inks I own! Then Inktober really got fun.

10/28/15 ink
I’ve probably learned more from this challenge than most I’ve participated in. The occasion prompted me to express appreciation for my favorite art tool, the fountain pen, and how it has helped me be more expressive with drawing. Inktober also gave me an opportunity to try my hand at hatching again (the bat, the bananas and the frogs I posted in my Pilot Waverly review) – something I’ve been wanting to get back to ever since my ink-drawing class at Gage last spring.

If I want to emphasize ink over other media while in the field, it means carrying around more pens and ink-filled waterbrushes than I usually do, but I actually sketch faster when I don’t have to take out and mix watercolors. Inktober reinforced the thought I’ve had for quite a while that when I use a variety of media that are expeditious on the fly, sketching is easier and faster – probably the single-most important factor for travel sketching.  

10/11/15 inks
I have Inktober to thank for all of that.

How about you? If you participated in Inktober, how did you like it?

You can see all 31 of my daily Inktober sketches in my Flickr album and in my Instagram feed.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Grand Central Arcade

10/30/15 inks

Grand Central Bakery and its home in the historic Grand Central Arcade in Pioneer Square hold nostalgic memories for me. When I worked downtown in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I spent a lot of lunch hours and coffee breaks there. If I wanted to hide from co-workers, or a friend and I wanted a private conversation, the quiet, upper-level tables were good for that. If I needed a quick cup of coffee with no time to rest, I could breeze through and still enjoy the brick interior, the archways and those domed lights that I’ve always loved.

10/30/15 ink
Today while the morning was still blustery, the Friday sketchers stayed in the cozy interior, but eventually the sun occasionally peeked out, and a few ventured outdoors. I was a bit torn – the sun was tempting – but the Grand Central’s unique interior captured my attention for more than one sketch.

(Another thing that captured my attention? My recently modified 3.8mm Pilot Parallel! What a lot of ink that baby puts out now – and with remarkable line variation! Stay tuned for the full report!)

10/30/15 inks

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