Saturday, October 31, 2020

Japanese Maple

10/27/20 Laurelhurst neighborhood

My leaf-peeping tour earlier this week took me through the upscale Laurelhurst neighborhood, where I saw many lovely deciduous trees showing off their colors. While many of the larger-leafed maples are nearing peak, the Japanese maples with tiny leaves are only just beginning. Most are a haze of pale green and golden yellow turning toward orange. I parked alongside a fence bordering the Sand Point Country Club golf course to sketch this one.

Happy Halloween from Weather Bunny and her friend!

Friday, October 30, 2020

New Ideas for My Sketchbook

10/19/20 A fake nature journal spread (scanned in two parts)

Fall and winter are the seasons when I look forward to taking classes, especially at Gage Academy. This year, almost all Gage classes are online, of course. Since I was not sure what the experience would be like, I chose a half-term course (five weeks) – Sketchbook Techniques & Expression – to see if I would enjoy learning on Zoom. The class is about using the sketchbook as an exploration of a variety of techniques and media.

Since the scope of the class is wide open in terms of what students might want to explore, I gave myself the objective of practicing drawing from memory (and maybe eventually from imagination).

For the first class project, I made a page spread that represented the kind of nature journal I might like to have (above), if I were a nature journaler (though as I’ve said, I’m too lazy to be one). In this “fake nature journal,” I sketched a maple tree from imagination, along with a seed pod and some leaves. It wasn’t too ambitious, but it was a start.

The second class began with a brief warmup exercise in drawing negative space – an exercise I have done many times before in books and other classes. Then, for the longer assignment in using collage (below), I had in mind tearing out the shape of Mt. Rainier from paper based on my memory of sketching her back in July. My intention was to use the silhouette I had torn out, but our earlier exercise in negative space gave me the idea to use the negative part of the torn paper instead, which I liked better.

10/26/20 collage

Instructor Edie Everett had suggested including some writing related to the chosen theme. I had only a few minutes left in the hour we had been given for the assignment, but I started Googling, and almost immediately I hit a beautiful poem about Mt. Rainier by Denise Levertov. Originally from the UK, Levertov lived in Seattle for much of her life (and died here in 1997). The lines I quoted on my collage are the first four, but I’ve included the whole poem here:


I was welcomed here—clear gold
of late summer, of opening autumn,
the dawn eagle sunning himself on the highest tree,
the mountain revealing herself unclouded, her snow
tinted apricot as she looked west,
Tolerant, in her steadfastness, of the restless sun
forever rising and setting.
Now I am given
a taste of the grey foretold by all and sundry,
a grey both heavy and chill. I've boasted I would not care,
I'm London-born. And I won't. I'll dig in,
into my days, having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price
of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.

-       Denise Levertov (1992)

I studied Levertov back in college, and I have long enjoyed her work, but I was not familiar with this poem until I stumbled onto it. It was exactly what my collage needed. I’m also pleased by how accurately I captured Her Majesty’s silhouette from my memory of that beautiful morning at Maple Leaf Park when I sketched her from life.

Compared to life drawing from memory, this exercise was so much easier. Certainly, the silhouette of a mountain is much simpler than an unfamiliar model’s figure, but I’m sure it also helped that I had drawn the mountain several times previously. An image in my memory is much stronger when I have drawn it and not just seen it. That’s a duh moment – it should have been obvious – but I didn’t realize it until I tried it.

Thursday, October 29, 2020



10/26/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I’d been jonesin’ for an urban couch for the entire pandemic. The last time I sketched one was back in January after it had snowed. The quiet residential streets on my regular walking route are not heavily trafficked, so it’s probably not productive to put furniture out.

On Monday, though, I got a surprise: A badly torn leather couch right on Second Northeast! The temperature was in the high 30s, so I sketched it small and hastily. And good thing I did, because as soon as I finished, a car parked right in front of it, blocking my view.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Close to Home


10/24/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

It was a day that couldn’t decide if it was sunny or cloudy – shadows one moment, gone the next. It was certain, however, that it was chilly – in the low 40s all day – and breezy. Driving to the post office, I got only a few blocks from home when I spotted this tree bifurcated by utility lines. It’s been that way for years, I’m sure, but it’s only because it’s now brilliantly gold and orange that I noticed it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Life Drawing From Memory


10/23/20 Lacey (5-min. poses) 1 minute of observation and 4 minutes of drawing from memory -- but I had to peek a couple of times.

For quite a while now, I have been wanting to learn how to draw from imagination. I made it my goal to try during InkTober 2016, and I was pleased when the outcome was Weather Bunny. I still get a kick out of sketching Weather Bunny when she has something to say, but that’s not the kind of imaginative drawing I have in mind now.

Weather Bunny is a two-dimensional cartoon. What I’d like to be able to do eventually is draw three-dimensional objects or scenes from my mind that are based in realism – objects that have solid form and perspective just like objects I draw from direct observation. Even if I were drawing dragons or fairies (which is unlikely, since beings like that don’t occupy my mind), I would want them to look convincing as if they occupy space. That’s a lofty goal, I know, and I may never get there. But amazing artists like Nina Johansson and David Zinn, who draw whimsical and fantastical yet three-dimensional scenes, are my heroes.

How do they do it? I’m sure it takes many years of experience drawing from direct observation and fully understanding form, perspective, light logic and other aspects of drawing realistically. I’m still working on all of that too, of course. But it also occurred to me that before I can create images straight out of my head, I need to work on drawing from memory – observing something closely in reality, then drawing it without looking at it anymore. The few times I have tried this in the past, I failed miserably! I would think I had a firm image of the object in my mind, but as soon as I looked away and at my paper, the image would vanish.

I’ve seen a few exercises in books for practicing drawing from memory, so based on those, I devised my own plan that would be logistically easy: I attended last week’s Gage life drawing session on Zoom with the intention of practicing drawing from memory.

First I sketched a set of two-minute warm-up poses in the usual way to become familiar with model Lacey’s proportions. Then when she switched to five-minute poses, I began by observing the pose for one minute, then covered up the screen. I used the remaining four minutes to draw. That was a big fail – one minute is not enough time to observe, and I don’t need four minutes to draw if I can’t recall what I saw (I had to peek for a few seconds, and even that didn’t always help). So I started observing for two minutes, then drawing for three, and that was better. That’s the pattern I used for the rest of the five-minute poses.

When I switched to 2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory, I started doing better.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory. If I had a little time left after my mind went blank and I couldn't draw further, I looked at the model and made another quick sketch based on observation.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory.

By the end of 10 five-minute sketches, I was exhausted! I had to concentrate so hard that I couldn’t even listen to relaxing music as I usually do during life drawing. Whew! But I also started to get better toward the end of the sets, so I think this is an effective exercise for me.

I drew the remaining 10-minute and longer poses the usual way, and I was never so relieved to get back to drawing from observation! (Plus Lacey was dressed in a striped body suit and colorful kimono, which were so much fun to draw.) After nine years of drawing from life, I have gotten too comfortable simply looking back at my subject whenever I need more information. Retaining that information in my mind for even a few minutes is much more difficult than I realized. Sounds like a good winter project for me!

2-min. poses (from observation only before I began practicing from memory; a set of 10 2-minute poses helped me to become familiar with Lacey's proportions)

10-min. poses (from observation after the grueling memory challenge -- what a relief!)

10-min. poses (from observation only)

12-min. pose (from observation only)

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Dayton Maples are Late

10/22/20 Greenwood neighborhood

These three maples on Dayton Avenue are just a few blocks from the Fred Meyer where I pick up groceries each week, so I’ve been checking on them regularly. When I first started checking at the end of September, barely a leaf had turned. They still aren’t at peak – they seem late this year – but since sunny skies are scarce and undependable these days, I took advantage of a lovely afternoon last week to sketch them.

Because I try to sketch them annually (I missed them last year), it’s fun to look back on my blog and see what they looked like at around the same time of year. In 2016 and 2018, I sketched them in September, even as early as Sept. 10, and at least one of the trio had more color then they did last week (see below).



In 2017, the first week of October showed them with about as much color as now. The latest date in the season that I could find for having sketched them was Oct. 19, 2018, and my post for that sketch laments that I missed their peak of color (both below). So my hunch was right: The sketch I made on Oct. 22 this year is now the latest date in the season, and the maples are nowhere near peak. If the weather holds out, I might still have another chance to sketch them.



Sunday, October 25, 2020

Thick and Thin


US readers, please vote! This could be the most
critical election of our lives!

Instead of jumping around, I devoted the past week to using the same extra-fine tip Pentel brush pen and white Uni Posca paint marker with brush tip every day. I’ve used a lot of brush pens over the years, and this Pentel has the finest tip I’ve seen. The nylon brush (similar to almost all bristle brush pens of this type) springs back nicely, re-forms a point easily, makes a lovely variation of thick and thin strokes – and look at the tip! I think its a single hair. It contains pigment ink, so it would be fun to use with water-soluble media.

Pentel brush tip -- a single hair!

The Posca brush tip is not quite as responsive or fine, but it’s my favorite of all the Posca paint pens I’ve tried (I reviewed the 1.5mm bullet tips at the Well-Appointed Desk and the white  0.7mm “pin type” pen). Opaque paint pens are a fun novelty to use on dark-colored paper, but in general, I’m not a fan of the paint they contain. It can be gloppy and difficult to control the flow, especially with this brush tip. Still, I enjoy using the two together for shadows and highlights as I brush up (ha) on this type of ink work. No prep and no cleanup, so they’re even faster than Boku-Undo sumi inks.

Meanwhile, Washington State is already seeing the predicted surge in COVID-19 infections as the weather gets colder. Stay safe, everyone – it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

My stamp set includes only four 2s!

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