Monday, January 17, 2022



12/29/21 - 1/11/22 ink and colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

I have never been big on house plants, mainly because they usually drop dead as soon as I walk into the room. However, the amaryllis that a friend gave me has brought me much pleasure in more ways than one. First, it has been growing and changing so quickly that it’s simply fun to watch; it’s almost a pet more than a plant. Now that it has bloomed, it is giving our kitchen a much-needed splash of color during these dismally dark winter days. Most of all, I have so enjoyed documenting its changes in my sketchbook. I filled a spread in my 7 ½-inch square Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook with two weeks of its growth.

From a coloring perspective, these two sketches were my favorite to make.
It was so much fun to make the subtle transition from green to red on the buds.

Now that all five blossoms are fully opened, I think I have only one more sketch I want to do: a portrait of a single blossom.

Speaking of five blossoms, I was curious about why one bud was so far behind her sisters (noted as No. 3 in the sketch). I realized it had been tucked behind another, so I gently pushed the showy sister’s petals away. Exposed to the window directly now, the fifth blossom perked up! See below for a few photos I took whenever I sketched.

Technical note: This line-first-filled-in-with-color style (which I call the “coloring book” method) is the way I started when I first began urban sketching. It’s an efficient, straightforward technique that many sketchers use. I gave it up gradually as I made the transition away from watercolors and toward water-soluble colored pencils; it has been years since I’ve used it on location. Using it again here gave me a lot to think about related to drawing with lines. Stay tuned as I try to clarify those thoughts by mumbling aloud.




1/11/22 Four blooming blossoms, but the fifth is still tight.

1/12/22 I curled a neighboring petal away from the fifth bud to expose it to the window.

1/13/22 The one on the right is the late bloomer -- open by the next day!

Materials used: Mostly Polychromos and few Pablo and Prismacolor pencils. 
Line drawings done with Sailor Naginata fude de Mannen fountain pen. Notes made
with Uni Pin pen.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sketchwalk, Literally


1/12/22 Maple Leaf Park

After weeks of near-freezing temperatures, precipitation of various types and high winds, last Wednesday was a well-deserved treat: My weather app got up to 56 degrees! While not exactly sunny, it still felt wonderful to walk a few laps around Maple Leaf Park without gloves.

As I looked around for something to stop and sketch, it suddenly occurred to me: Why stop? Why not sketch while we walk? It wouldn’t be the first time. Five years ago when I took part in Seattle’s Women’s March, I was well-prepared with easily portable sketch gear, though I wasn’t sure how or whether I would be able to sketch during the event. It turned out that 130,000 people walking together are not especially brisk, so it was easy to sketch as I marched.

I guess I still have the chops to take the term “sketchwalk” literally.

1/14/22 Maple Leaf Park

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Friends on Zoom


1/12/22 Kate, Roy and Tina on Zoom

Last summer I was so optimistic that the pandemic was finally beginning to be under control that I killed my Zoom account. Although I knew I would continue to do some things virtually, I hoped never to initiate social gatherings that way again. Sadly and very frustratingly, I was overly optimistic.

To cheer myself up this winter when I had been looking forward to visiting museums and meeting friends in cafés, I reinstated my Zoom account. At least until the weather warms up and we can meet outdoors again, I’m back to chatting and sketching with friends on Zoom.

Kate, Roy and I had a good catch-up while I made blind contours. We don’t look this wacky in real life, but the world is so askew that maybe we do.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Carrot on the Stick


1/9/22 Mt. Rainier in a rare January appearance at Maple Leaf Park.
Cold but sunny. 

Maintaining our fitness-walking routine during the winter is a constant challenge. We tolerate drizzle, but cold, windy rain is miserable, and snow can be downright hazardous (though with good boots, we did trudge through the white and then slushy stuff on a few days). A potential sketch is always the carrot on the end of my stick.

12/6/21 Cold and cloudy.

12/29/21 The Brothers, Olympic mountain range. Cold with snow on the ground.

1/10/22 Cold and drizzly.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Review: SuckUK CMYK Ballpoint Pen

CMYK 4-color ballpoint
Color-mixing chart

A unique, unusual multi-pen crossed my radar recently. You already know how much
I love multi-pens as well as experimenting with CMYK color mixing. It will come to no surprise, then, to learn that when Nina Johansson showed it, it took me about three seconds to go get one: a CMYK four-color ballpoint pen!

Lightweight plastic body

An unfortunate name.

Made in China for a company with the unfortunate name of SuckUK, the pen came in packaging with a useful color mixing chart.

The very lightweight plastic barrel has three color selectors, and the clip selects black. The ballpoints are equivalent to a Bic medium point. I’ve used quite a few multi-pens, and I must say that the CMYK’s selection mechanism is one of the worst ever. The clip lever feels wobbly. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to get the selectors to engage, and sometimes they get stuck. When changing colors quickly in the middle of a sketch, clumsy mechanisms are annoying. Granted, Bic 4-colors are cheesy, too (one of the best multis mechanically is the Uni Jetstream 4 & 1), but a Bic typically costs a few bucks – not 16.

Clumsy color selectors

I’d forgive a clumsy body, however, if the inks were good (as is the case with Bics). Cyan and magenta are reasonably close to C and M process colors, but the yellow is a bit too cool – or maybe just muddy. Occasional orange or brown streaks appear. Although I expect ballpoint ink to be somewhat blobby (and my favorite oily Bic ink definitely is), the yellow is especially blobby.

Test swatches in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

1/7/22 CMYK ballpoint in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

In my mixing test swatch, the purple, red and red-orange mixes aren’t too bad, but the green is off, and I blame the faulty yellow. Wanting to mix the secondary triad in a test sketch, I quickly gathered a bright green mug, orange scissors and a purple Nemosine fountain pen. The purple was easiest to mix; the green the most difficult. The biggest challenge, though, was the ink quality, which flows unevenly with lots of blobby bits. It also doesn’t have the pencil-like, pressure-sensitive quality that makes it enjoyable to build layers with Bic ink. So it turns out that the company name is appropriate.

Too bad – such a cool, innovative concept! If only Bic would steal it and put its fabulous, unique ink formula into its cheesy but reliably cheap body.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Willow Down

1/8/22 Fallen willow at NE 85th and 4th NE, Maple Leaf neighborhood

On our first walk after several days of heavy rain and wind, we discovered that the huge, old, magnificent willow on this corner had come down, taking part of a fence with it. By the time we saw it, the tree had already been cut into pieces.

This is the willow I had sketched last July (below) when I was sketching each corner of the intersection of Northeast 85th Street and Fourth Avenue Northeast. Difficult to sketch because the tree had always kept the whole corner in deep shade, it was a scene that confounded me for a long time. The house was barely visible behind it. Despite the challenge, I’m happy that I finally did sketch it, because now it’s gone. You never know when a sketch will end up being your last opportunity.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Book Review: Mike Daikubara’s Color First, Ink Later


The latest volume in the Urban Sketching Handbook series 

Four years ago, Mike Daikubara put out Sketch Now, Think Later: Jumping Right into Sketching with Limited Time, Tools, and Techniques, a popular volume in the Urban Sketching Handbook series. Now the Charlotte, North Carolina, sketcher has published a sequel: Color First, Ink Later: A Dynamic Approach to Drawing and Painting on Location.

While the first volume has a strong emphasis on Mike’s philosophy and approach toward urban sketching – the why in addition to the howColor First, Ink Later is intended as a follow-up that dives directly into the how. Novices who are new to urban sketching would probably want to start with Sketch Now first to fully understand the principles behind his “color first” approach.

The difference in steps and time between his ink-first approach and his color-first approach.

Although his approach is different, his philosophy remains the same: Mike is always looking for ways to sketch whatever he wants by choosing the tools and methods that best accommodate the available time or circumstance. His watercolor-first method, which takes a bit longer, is more conducive to stationary, outdoor subjects than the line-first method, which he prefers for rapidly changing scenes or when he is sketching restaurant meals (while his hungry and ever-patient wife waits). Since I have developed my own varying sketching approaches based on similar variables, I appreciate how thoroughly and clearly Mike has analyzed his processes to present them in this book.

Mike's color first, ink later process: An optional pencil rough-in is followed by paint washes, dripping/drying, ink, more color, then final touches of black, gray or white ink.

After a detailed explanation of his five-step approach, the book presents several demonstrations based on subject matter or complexity. Using still images taken from videos he made while completing the demo sketches, he was able to show various stages of his process without having to interrupt his flow by stopping to take photos. In addition, his use of video enabled him to document exactly how long each step took. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an urban sketching book that analyzed a process minute by minute! He’s remarkably consistent from demo to demo, regardless of subject matter – a sure sign of an experienced urban sketcher.

Step-by-step demo

Since the “color” part of his color-first approach is watercolor, one section is devoted to describing his “color bucket families,” which he uses to organize his 20-color palette. This color strategy and arrangement enable him to choose colors efficiently. Rarely mixing on the palette, Mike prefers to let watercolors mix dynamically on the page. This choice not only creates more lively hues and avoids mud; it also saves him the time of trying to achieve the right hue on the palette.

Mike organizes his watercolors by "color bucket families."

Another watercolor step has both a practical purpose and a “magical” result: After the initial wash of color is applied, he allows the excess water to drip down the page, becoming a dynamic part of the composition. These unpredictable drips, which have become Mike’s signature, also have the benefit of making the wet paper dry more quickly for succeeding steps.

Washes followed by dynamic dripping

Every step he takes is economical and efficient without sacrificing artistic expression. When faced with a busy, cluttered foreground, Mike suggests simply skipping areas “that may be too complex or just not fun to sketch. Stay focused on why you wanted to sketch the subject in the first place.” Excellent advice for simplifying a scene!

Don't like the clutter you see? Skip it!

Consistent with the Urban Sketching Handbook series format, the final section is devoted to a gallery of Mike’s spectacular work made with the color-first-ink-later approach.

Color First, Ink Later is another winner in the series. I recommend it to sketchers who have already read and used Mike’s first book and have some urban sketching experience under their belts.

One more thing: This volume in the Urban Sketching Handbook series is an improvement in regard to a gripe I have had about most of the previous books. The typeface is slightly darker and, in some areas, larger, making the text much easier for these aging eyes to read.

(Quarto Publishing provided me with a  copy of this book. Opinions are my own.)

I adore this photo of Mike sitting on his teeny-tiny sketch stool! He is showing his video setup that enabled him to capture images used in the demos.

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