Sunday, October 21, 2018

Eleanor Doughty Sketches from Afar

10/20/18 Ellie gives a demo at tiny Lynn Street Mini Park.

On a chilly, foggy morning, I went out to what must be Seattle’s tiniest park ever: Lynn Street Mini Park on the east shore of Lake Union. That was the location of Ellie Doughty’s USk 10x10 workshop, From Afar: Rendering Atmospheric Perspective in Watercolor. Stopping by for a quick sketch and a few photos, I couldn’t take the workshop myself, but from all reports, it was an inspiring, well-organized experience for her students. And she couldn’t have picked a better day to focus on atmospheric perspective: Boats and buildings on the near shore were in marked contrast to the foggy landscape on the opposite side of the lake.

A great morning for atmospheric perspective.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Too Late

10/19/18 Greenwood neighborhood

It had been a couple of weeks since I sketched the maples at Metropolitan Market, and they were still at the peak of color when I shopped there last Saturday, so I thought I would have one more opportunity to sketch them before the color was gone. Alas, yesterday afternoon, the brilliant oranges and reds were now more brown, and half the leaves were already on the ground. I was too late.

Suddenly feeling panicky, I drove west to the Greenwood neighborhood to see how my favorite maples on Dayton Street were doing. . . could they be near the end already, too? It had been more than a month since I sketched them when the color was just beginning on the northern tree (on the right). Now that one was well past its prime, and the southern tree had lost some leaves, too. Again, I was too late.

On the upside, it was warm enough that I could sketch from the sidewalk instead of in my car as I usually do, so I was able to get a slightly different angle on the intersection for a change.

Process note: I sketch these trees every fall, almost always at about the same time of day (early afternoon), so presumably the sun is always at about the same angle. Yet yesterday was the first time I saw – really saw – how much of the lower part of the trees was in shade. When I look back now at all the sketches that I made at around the same time in October, I can see that I haven’t captured that shade well. I had always been so dazzled by color – which is easy to see even in shade if you know it’s there – that I unconsciously ignored the lighting. (This is exactly what I’m referring to when I talk about how distracting color can be and how it keeps me from seeing and understanding values.)

Just the other day I had read Shari Blaukopf’s blog post about the challenge of painting trees when they are half in light, half in shade. Having her post in mind, as well as all my recent work in value studies (in formal classes and in self-study), I focused my attention this time on trying to convey the light in the tops of the trees and, by contrast, the shade on the lower half.

It’s amazing to me how much I don’t see until I suddenly see it – and how many years it takes to finally see it. But unlike these trees that I wanted to catch at their peak of color, it’s never too late to see.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils: Eberhard Faber Aquarello

Vintage Eberhard Faber Aquarello

Early in my vintage colored pencils series, I reviewed the Eberhard Faber Mongol (which I also mentioned months later when I experienced my most exciting colored pencil geek moment ever!). At the time, it was the only water-soluble colored pencil in my fledgling vintage collection. Of course, as a subset of the colored pencil universe, water-soluble pencils are of particular interest to me, since they are my current coloring medium of choice. As is true of contemporary materials, historic pencil manufacturers produced many more traditional colored pencils (wax- or oil-based) than watercolor versions, and the latter are more difficult to find.

Since the Mongols, I’ve acquired a few other vintage watercolor pencils, including the Faber-Castell Goldfaber and Venus. Most recently, I found a set from Eberhard Faber that was new to me: Aquarello “water color” pencils, which “inaugurate a new era in the field of art.”

Although the used set I got on eBay was not complete, the cool original box was in better condition than most I’ve purchased from the era.
The hinged trays can be made to stand up on the desktop.

I get a kick out of the marketing copy: “The colors can be ‘SUPERIMPOSED.’” I see that the same “Paint with pencils” tagline that appears on Mongol packaging is being used here, too.

I love the snap tab closure; a similar tab was used in some production years of the Mongol, too. (My Mongol box doesn’t have one, but I saw it on the one that appeared in The Post.) These similarities in packaging make me wonder if one superseded the other in Eberhard Faber’s collection or if they existed side by side.

A snap tab keeps the compact box closed.

The Aquarello has a plain, unfinished end. I miss the lovely metal end cap and equally beautiful typeface on the Mongol. I wish I knew the years they were produced relative to each other.

Unfortunately, this is a brief and mostly pictorial review, as these washable “colored leads” are just as wimpy as those of the Mongol. A bit softer and containing slightly more pigment than the Mongol when dry, the Aquarello takes some scrubbing to activate. Perhaps the Mongol was intended as a harder pencil for details, while the Aquarello is slightly softer for coloring.

The Mongol and Aquarello have similarly pale washes.

As a colored pencil historian, I appreciate seeing these early American predecessors to my favorite art medium. And using them makes me doubly grateful for contemporary water-soluble colored pencils, which are so much softer, contain more pigment and dissolve with greater vibrancy. Honestly, even very inexpensive contemporary watercolor pencils seem better than vintage ones. Of course, I don’t buy vintage pencils with the hope that I’ll find one of better quality than what I can buy easily off the shelf today; I collect them for their historical interest. As I concluded when I compared vintage and contemporary Goldfaber sets, it’s good to know that technology and manufacturing processes have improved over time, making it possible to produce better quality pencils, even at the low end of the price range.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Back for More

10/17/18 Seattle Japanese Garden
When Greg saw my sketches and photos of the Japanese Garden the other day, he decided he needed to see it for himself. So the next day while he photographed all the color, I tagged along for more sketches. I can’t seem to get enough of our fall!

This time I focused on a pair of brilliant yellow trees (I wish I knew what they were. . . I see them often enough in Seattle) behind the pond. Then I tried to capture the twisty motion of the hungry koi gathering near the pond’s surface, hoping for a snack, whenever someone crossed the bridge.

10/17/18 koi

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Colorful Afternoon at Japanese Garden

10/16/18 Heron at Japanese Garden (with a koi swimming by)

Remember all those days in August when smoke from wildfires ruined what should have been the best of our summer? Those lost days are being returned to us now with yet another week of unbelievably beautiful weather. If I’d known then that I’d get those sketching days back in the fall, I never would have complained, because truthfully, I prefer these temperatures in the 60s (even when I have to put on my jacket in the shade).

With the weather forecast predicting yesterday’s sunshine, we took a chance last week and scheduled a sketch outing, even though it was still seven days away, when conditions could easily change. I kept my eye on the forecast, and our optimism was rewarded. I think it may have been USk Seattle’s most colorful outing ever!

As I entered the garden, I overheard people chatting about a gray heron in the pond, and I assumed it would be gone by the time I got there. To my surprise, he was still taking his time preening atop a rock, so I couldn’t resist grabbing him first while I could. Amazingly, he stayed the whole time I sketched.

After that I walked around the whole garden to take in all the color lighted by the low afternoon sun. A weeping willow growing nearly horizontally over the pond was challenging but, again, irresistible.

Expecting to have only my usual 15 or 20 minutes left before the throwdown, I was surprised to see that I still had a half-hour. Plenty of time for a third sketch! A stone lantern by the path was filled with shadows ideal for hatching. I’d already done an InkTober sketch for the day, but what the heck – I could get a head start on tomorrow.

For a short-notice weekday, we had a great turnout!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#InkTober Check-in: The Struggle is Real

10/11/18 (from photo of my own hand)

Week 2 of InkTober was less revealing and insightful than week 1. In fact, it was a bit of a struggle because the weather was lovely, and when I’m sketching outdoors, I want to use color. If I didn’t have time for both a full-color sketch and a ballpoint sketch, then I felt “obligated” to use the time for my InkTober sketch. Sometimes I was hasty, just to “get it over with.” It’s a common dilemma, I think, for participants of any challenge like this.

And yet, despite that tension, I admit I’m still learning from my insistence on hatching with ballpoint. Some part of me appreciates the self-discipline of simply sticking with something every day, even if I’m not really in the mood. Ballpoint is still so new to me that it’s a challenge from start to finish; I feel no sense of comfort or familiarity as I do with all my favorite sketching media. My process-oriented self enjoys observing this discomfort. Victorian work ethic or masochism? Call it what you will.

You already saw my kaput Krups coffeemaker; here are the rest of last week’s InkTober sketches. I’m putting all of them into this Flickr album.

How’s your InkTober going?

10/9/18 Wedgwood neighborhood

10/10/18 Denny Hall, UW campus
10/12/18 koi at Swansons Nursery

10/14/18 our neighbors' pumpkins

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Few Favorites at the Zoo

10/13/18 Humboldt penguins and their keeper

Although we’re Woodland Park Zoo members, it had been ages since we last visited (I was in the zoo’s Rose Garden a few weeks ago with Urban Sketchers, but I didn’t see any animals). On yet another fabulous fall afternoon, we went to see a few of our favorites.

First up were the Humboldt penguins, where their keeper was giving a presentation and feeding them treats. (I remembered the keeper from a couple of years ago, when I sketched him showing off the new Chilean flamingo chicks.)

Next were my personal favorite, the meerkats. I’ve sketched (or attempted to sketch) them every time I’ve visited the zoo, but they move so fast that they are very challenging. I love their curious poses and quizzical expressions as they rise up on their haunches to look around.

A few exhibits over from the meerkats was a two-toed sloth. Hanging upside-down from a rope as he ate lettuce, he looked like a carpet (and moved about as quickly as one). I couldn’t help but recall the scene in Zootopia, in which all the Department of Motor Vehicle employees were sloths!

10/13/18 meerkats and sloth
By late-afternoon, I was getting cold, and we had both optimistically underdressed (seeing sunshine and a blue sky will do that). Before dashing home, though, we had to make a quick stop at the new Assam Rhino Reserve, where a couple of young one-horned rhinos, Taj and Glenn (named for astronaut John Glenn, I learned), were feeding. Some obstructions kept me from seeing most of their leathery bodies, but I got a good look at the head of one of them munching hay. I hope to catch them again sometime when they’re out in their pool so I can sketch more of their substantial girth.

10/13/18 young rhino
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