Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Study in Contrasts

7/2/15 inks, colored pencil, Molotow acrylic marker
I drive by this tree in Shoreline often, and I’ve wondered why a large area of branches in the middle is exposed like a bald spot in the leaves. Even as I was sketching it, I was mainly thinking that it and the tall fir behind it make an interesting study of contrasting values, textures and shapes. It wasn’t until I drew the power lines that I had my “duh” moment: If I could see this tree from a different angle, the part that had been cut away for the power lines would be apparent as a V shape. 

Technical note: I used the Molotow white acrylic marker that I bought at Sennelier to draw the exposed tree limbs. This pen is a keeper – it’s the best opaque white marker I’ve ever tried and shows up well over both ink and watercolor.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Stars and Stripes in Ballard

Ink, colored pencils

Although I sketched this yesterday at the Ballard Locks, I saved it out from yesterday’s post so that I could post it today.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Salmon Bay Bridge

7/3/15 Ink, watercolor, colored pencil

Although I’ve sketched at the Ballard Locks a few times on my own, and although I think Urban Sketchers Seattle has gone as a group at least a couple of times, it had been nearly three years since I had joined them there. I vividly recall that sketch outing in September 2012 for at least a couple of reasons. For one, I had joined USk Seattle only a few months before, and I was dazzled and stunned by all the amazing sketches I saw at the outings being casually tossed down at the sharing time alongside the likes of mine! (Not much has changed; I still feel this way.)

Secondly, Tommy Kane had been visiting Seattle, and Gabi had organized the Locks outing for him. I had long admired Tommy’s quirky blog and unique take on urban sketching, so I was looking forward to meeting him, but I figured anything he chose to sketch would be way beyond me. Indeed, Tommy had sketched the Salmon Bay Bridge, a view that I had found so utterly intimidating that it was easy to dismiss it for another time. Way later. Maybe years.

During my visits to the Locks since then, including as recently as May, I somehow managed to evade the more challenging scenes and subjects. It’s easy to do because there are always people, birds and other smaller subjects hanging out at the Locks.

This morning as I greeted the other sketchers, I didn’t give myself any particular challenge as I sometimes do. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. The year-round breeze that makes the Locks chilly much of the year was a welcome relief in the soon-to-be blazing sun (the temperature is 89 now at 3 p.m.). It was summer sketching at its best. Walking a few feet from our meeting location, I spotted a great view of the Salmon Bay Bridge. I knew it would be challenging – indeed, intimidating – but I was feeling too good to care.

Like I said: Summer sketching at its best.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sketched in the Act!

7/1/15 ink, watercolor, colored pencils, Zig marker
After all those trees I’ve sketched that have been unattractively pruned to accommodate power lines, a fantastic opportunity appeared conveniently in my neighborhood: A utility truck showed up, and I caught sketched them in the act!

Only a couple of blocks from our house, I spotted a cherry picker high up in a tree on Roosevelt Way Northeast. Standing across the street to sketch this scene, I could barely see the guy cutting the tree (except for his bright yellow hardhat). Leaves, limbs and dust were flying everywhere, and the wood chipper was making quite a racket. To top it off, a gardener with a power mower started mowing right next to me, raising more clouds of dust from the dry parking strip grass. You’d think they were all conspiring to make my sketching as unpleasant as possible, and they succeeded! But it would take a lot more than noise and dust to keep me from getting this sketch!

Based on the cones in the street and all the temporary “no parking” signs, it looks like all the trees on that side of the block are destined for bad haircuts. I’ll go back there when they’re all done and sketch the result.

(By the way, the crane looks like it’s twisted at a weird angle because by the time I finished drawing the bottom of it, it had swiveled around, so the top was in a different position. Isn’t that what urban sketching is all about – as soon as you start sketching, the scene changes!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Looking West

7/1/15 ink, water-soluble colored pencils, Molotow white acrylic marker

Greg wanted to scope out some potential spots for fireworks viewing this Saturday. It was still early – this afternoon is supposed to be another scorcher – so I tagged along for a sketch. We headed over to the north end of Capitol Hill and walked along Harvard Avenue East, which parallels Interstate 5. Looking west over the freeway, I saw a lovely blue and green view of Lake Union, Queen Anne Hill and the Olympic Mountains. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to bring my landscape-format book, so I had to limit my sketch to the Lake Union section (visible once again are no less than four construction cranes!).

Just after I finished sketching, I remembered that this week’s theme in the Urban Sketchers Flickr group is skylines!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Little Library, Lots of Shadows

6/30/15 inks, colored pencils

This is the same street in Shoreline where I’ve sketched multiple trees hacked down the middle. Today, though, something else caught my eye: a Little Free Library on the corner. I got out of the car to sketch it, but on closer inspection, it wasn’t very interesting – a plain “architectural” style, no embellishments or character. I backed off a little and crossed the street, and from there, I saw a more engaging view of the whole block. Even the very ordinary hedge behind the library was casting interesting shadows.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Chandler on Urban Sketching

6/27/15 ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
A long-time fan of the work of Chandler O’Leary, I was thrilled when I heard she was offering an urban sketching workshop in Seattle! I especially admire the Tacoma book artist, printmaker and avid urban sketcher for her dynamic compositions (not to mention quirky sense of humor that is apparent in her sketches as well as her blog writing). The past year or more I have been trying to focus on improving my sketch compositions, so I hoped this workshop would have something for me.

I wasn’t disappointed! Offered through the School of Visual Concepts, Saturday’s all-day workshop included useful lessons and tips on improving compositions as well as on understanding perspective, achieving a sense of depth and watercolor painting.

The day began with an overview of the Urban Sketchers manifesto and its emphasis on sketching from life. I’ve taken several urban sketching workshops the past few years, and I think some instructors may take for granted that anyone signing up for a class with “urban sketching” in the name must understand its principles, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. About half of the participants in Chandler’s workshop yesterday said that they had never sketched at all before, so I think it was important to mention why sketching from life is different from sketching from a photo. Her presentation included an inspiring slideshow of examples from global urban sketchers who have a wide variety of styles – illustrating that we each have a unique sketching perspective to share.

With the basic principles covered, we all headed out for Lake Union Park a short walk away (although that walk seemed a lot longer on the way back when the afternoon had seriously heated up!). Chandler began with a demo on perspective and simplifying a potentially complicated city view. She showed how to use the addition of color to attract the viewer’s eye and at the same time de-emphasize areas like a busy background.

Thumbnail for the sketch above.
To make better compositions, she recommended thumbnailing a number of options before beginning the sketch. Hmmm . . . where have I heard that advice before? Just about every urban sketching class I’ve taken – and yet I never seem to heed that advice. Yesterday’s first exercise, however, drove home the value of making thumbnails. Outlined in red (at left) was my original thumbnail, which did not include the smokestack on the ship on the right side. I immediately realized that the composition would be stronger if I included the smokestack, so I shifted the view slightly to the right. I think the sketch that resulted (above) is better for it.

My second sketch (below) of the downtown Seattle skyline punctuated by no less than five construction cranes was an attempt to push the buildings further into the background by painting them a uniform grayish-blue so that the bright yellow-orange cranes would pop out in contrast.

6/27/15 ink, watercolor, colored pencils
After lunch Chandler gave another demo, this time showing how varying the sketching line width could be used to bring the foreground forward (with a heavier line) and push things behind it further back (with a finer line). This technique is commonly used by cartoonists, Chandler said, and I had déjà vu of the ink-drawing class I finished recently at Gage. Instructor Eric Elliott often talked about this technique when making contour lines. Although I had practiced the technique in his class, I had forgotten about it when sketching in “real life,” so my third sketch was a quick attempt at practicing that technique in an urban sketching context. Chandler also demo’d how to paint Lake Unions water – in multiple glazes that fortunately dried very quickly in the hot mid-day sun.

6/27/15 ink (varying line-width exercise)
The last hour of the workshop was spent back in the (thankfully) air-conditioned SVC classroom sharing sketches from the day and exchanging ideas about portable sketch kits. It was a day well spent and packed full of everything I went there for. Chandler says that there’s a good chance she will offer the workshop again next summer. I recommend it!
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