Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Change of Hands

The right perspective

I’ve pulled this hand sketch out of the next batch post because it was especially interesting to do: Inspired by a challenge from Urban Sketchers Japan, I drew with my right (non-dominant) hand. Thankfully, seeing the proportions, contours, angles and other basics was no different than usual, maybe because my brain was doing most of that work. I wondered if the hand-brain connection (right hand connected to the left side of the brain and vice versa) would affect those skills, but I didn’t notice much difference. 

Where I noticed the most difference, and it was significant, was with fine motor control. I found that I could hatch at only one angle, so I had to keep rotating the page. And with my left hand, I can vary the pressure easily, but my right hand had an unrecognizably light touch, and it was difficult to press harder and still maintain movement control.

During these strange times when we are all learning to appreciate things we otherwise take for granted, this drawing made me grateful for my left hand.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Zoom Boom

4/1/20 Friendly faces in my Zoom screen.

I’d never heard of the Zoom videoconferencing app until a few weeks ago, when suddenly it was the app of choice. Designed for remote business meetings, lots of people started using it to socialize in the age of social distancing. Workers are finding it essential, families are using it to stay in touch, and sketchers are using it for casual drink-and-draw style meetups.

I was a little skeptical about whether I’d want to participate; I’m not too keen on videoconferences, and the last time I was in one, my previous laptop overheated! But when my favorite Facebook group (in which everyone collects and talks about pencils) initiated a worldwide meetup, I decided it was a good time to find out what the Zoom app was all about.

More than 30 people from North America, Europe and Asia participated. As the self-appointed sketchographer, I tried to capture as many as I could. Initially when all participants were in the room, the images were so small that it was hard to see. Later we broke out into smaller “rooms” of 8 or 9 each, and it was easier to capture faces.

I admit, it was a lot of fun. And like it or not, this is the way socializing will have to occur in the age of COVID-19, so I may as well embrace it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Life of Pie

4/1/20 pie and livingroom, Maple Leaf neighborhood

It may seem odd to bake pumpkin pie, traditionally a fall dessert, in the spring. But the world has been upside-down lately anyway, and it’s Greg’s favorite.

I sketched the pie slice very quickly before it got devoured. Then I looked past the slice on the kitchen counter to the livingroom and kept on sketching.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Pink Canopy

3/31/20 Crown Hill neighborhood

Dibble Avenue Northwest in Crown Hill is on my checklist of places I go cherry blossom peeping each spring. Imagining that the trees were at peak, I was very sad that I might miss them this year. Then last week I saw David Hingtgen’s sketch of them, and I could resist no longer. The next day I had to go pick up a prescription at the pharmacy anyway (that’s considered an “essential” activity; I felt no guilt going out), so I made a roundabout detour in the opposite direction to Crown Hill first. Safely sequestered in my car, I marveled at the pink canopy overhead. The trees shook their blossoms in the wind, oblivious to everything, and for a moment, so was I.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Morning Meditations

Sketching my hand each day has given me a bit of routine and structure during a time when it’s easy to forget what day it is (thank goodness for the trash pickup, which is still every Thursday). Many writers and other creatives start their day by writing “morning pages” in the Julia Cameron tradition. Like writing morning pages, my daily hand sketch clears my mind while also giving me time to reflect if I’m ready to.

On one morning my thoughts were of my parents and how they must have felt when they were hauled away and incarcerated during the second world war. Fear, anxiety, helplessness, not knowing how long it would last (several years, it turned out) – it must have been unbearable. And yet bear it they did and continued on. Sketching in my perfectly comfortable, well-heated home, all my belongings easily accessible, I felt the weight of what they must have endured and realized that my troubles are insignificant by comparison. I’m grateful that they didn’t have to endure this, too.

Another day I started feeling lazy and was tempted to scribble the wrinkles and creases in my hand. Then I remembered Melanie Reim’s advice when I took her workshop a few years ago: “Make every mark meaningful.” It doesn’t take much more time to make marks that are meaningful instead of random, but to do so requires observing more closely – and that’s never a waste. I was grateful to have received and retained that lesson. 

These morning meditations are opportunities to express gratitude. Even for Cheetos.

Sometimes I'm just angry.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Down Low

3/28/20 Our livingroom, Maple Leaf neighborhood
In the mid-century house where I grew up, some door knobs were made of faceted glass. I was intrigued when I stared into these “diamond” door knobs, and once I invited a playmate to come see our “diamond room.” I made her close her eyes until she reached a glass knob, positioned her eyes near the knob, then revealed the diamonds. I’m not sure why she wasn’t as impressed as I thought she should be.

Recently Rob Sketcherman and Liz Steel put out a sketching challenge to “get down low” inside one’s home for a new perspective. I’d planned to sketch the light fixture in the center of our livingroom ceiling, but I wanted something else to put in the composition. I walked all around, trying to find a way to fit something else in. In the early-century house where I live now, we have a few original glass knobs, but they’re not quite as ornate and diamond-y as the ones in my childhood home. The mullioned French doors between the livingroom and Greg’s study have such knobs, and if I sat on the floor up against the doors, I could see the light fixture through it.

It was not the most comfortable sketch I’ve ever made, but I’m thankful for the challenge, because otherwise it never would have occurred to me to look for a composition from that perspective.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Notable Pencils: Polychromos 111th Anniversary Commemorative Set

This commemorative set is 3/4 the size of a standard Polychromos.

In 2019, Faber-Castell celebrated the 111th anniversary of the German company’s flagship colored pencil, Polychromos, by releasing several limited-edition sets. One set immediately caught my eye: The 12 pencils are three-quarters the size of a standard pencil! How adorable is that! Since it’s one of my favorite traditional colored pencil lines, of course I wanted to help Polychromos celebrate its 111th birthday. (Heck, if I were turning 111, I’d want everyone to help me celebrate, too.)

The tin and the pencil barrel design are a close reproduction of a set that originally came out in 1908. Apparently intended for travel sketching, the set fits nicely in the compact tin, which I can easily hold in one hand. According to the insert, to create an appropriate commemorative design, “We found just what we needed in old product catalogues: presented as a new addition, the Polychromos is offered well-sorted in different packaging and advertised with the colourful image of a spectacular sunrise – the symbol for the start of a new era!”
"The start of a new era."
Although the colors in the set are close to existing contemporary colors, the numbers are different. The short pencils do not include color names, but an included color card indicates that the numbers refer to traditional color names that are no longer used, such as Hooker’s green II and Van Dyck brown. While the glossy round barrel and gold stamping are the same, the anniversary set has an unfinished end (the current Polychromos has a rounded end cap with a gold band).

For a colored pencil historian, perhaps the most useful part of the commemorative set is the insert that includes a Polychromos product timeline showing packaging designs from the past 111 years. If I ever decide to collect Faber-Castell colored pencils the way I collect Caran d’Ache, it will be invaluable to my research.

(This is part of my series of occasional posts that are not really reviews but stories about products I find notable for one reason or another.)

Following the color names, the text reads as follows: "Through careful testing and selection of natural pigments I have after much experimentation been able to put together a selection of 12 new colored pencils which is unparalleled in the trueness of their color. It goes without saying that the pencils and their cores are durable and strong. Count Alexander on Faber-Castell" (translation by Tony Messent)

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