Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Questions to Ponder While Sharpening Colored Pencils

6/19/19 Wedgwood neighborhood

It pains me to say this: As much as I thrive on color – seeing it, using it, collecting it – I have come to realize that when I limit my palette to one or two hues, I tend to make better drawings. I started to feel an inkling of this last year when I began sketching with graphite more. And during the past couple of months when I’ve used only two colors, I’ve noticed the same thing.

When I’m not preoccupied with which hues to use and whether they match or adequately express reality, I observe tone and values more closely – and the sketch ends up looking better. Maybe “better” isn’t the right term. In most cases, I prefer the full-color sketches I make because they more fully capture the moment as I saw it – the brick red building, the yellow excavator, the lime green bike. But when I limit my colors to one or two, I find that the results are often better rendered drawings.

In classical art training centuries ago, masters required their students to make monochrome studies for years before they ever began to consider color. Even in contemporary ateliers, students work with charcoal, graphite and other monochrome media for a long time before they touch paint. (I once heard Gage Academy atelier instructor Juliette Aristides say that during her own classical training, she worked with graphite for seven years before moving on to other media.)

6/17/19 Convention Center
Shortly after I began sketching, I read a book in which the author advised beginning sketchers to stick with pencil for a while and work on basics like composition, proportions, tone and value before introducing the complications of color. “No color? HA! Forget it,” I said to myself, slamming that book shut and pulling out my watercolors. Over the years, I continued to hear that same general advice occasionally from other authors and instructors – advice that I immediately dismissed.

Sometimes I wonder where my work would be now if I had heeded that advice. What if I had sketched with nothing but graphite for seven years and only just now, in my eighth year, started using color? Would I be ahead of my own game in terms of rendering accurately? If I’d done my homework in monochrome for all those years first, would it be easy now to simply add color, since all the basics would have been covered?

I suppose there’s little benefit in pondering questions asked in hindsight, but sometimes I do – while sharpening my many colored pencils.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Crest Cinema

6/23/19 Crest Cinema

When David Chamness announced that he had an art show at the Ridgecrest Public House in Shoreline, I knew I wanted to see it – he’s one of my favorite urban sketchers. I thought it would be fun to organize an ad hoc sketch outing in the neighborhood before the show’s opening reception. In fact, the historic Crest Cinema neighborhood theater, which opened in 1949, is right across the street, and I had been meaning to sketch it for a while.

Afterwards the other sketchers and I went over to see the show, which includes many of his vibrant, boldly colorful urban sketches. The show is up through July 12. 


Tim, Alex, Carol and Tina

Monday, June 24, 2019

Field Notes Releases Huskies Edition

Seeing double?

I’ve been a fan of Field Notes Brand pocket-size notebooks for years. The three-packs of paper-covered, stapled notebooks are available in standard editions that can be purchased any time as well as limited editions that are released quarterly. The company uses a variety of paper types, so I’ve found only a few editions that I like to sketch in, but I also use the other types for general notetaking. I carry one in my bag for memos and keep others around the house to track projects. They’re very handy.

When I first heard that Field Notes had collaborated with Graduate Hotels on a new edition, it didn’t mean much to me. It wasn’t until I saw images of the three notebook covers on Field Notes’ site that my eyes widened: Wasn’t that the interior of Suzzallo Library (parts of which I’ve sketched numerous times) on one of the covers? And hey . . . the building shown on a second book looked familiar, too! Then I read that the photographer had apparently shot the cover photos for this national chain in Seattle and Berkeley. . . it had to be Suzzallo! Indeed, two of the three cover images are of Suzzallo (the third shows a messy office piled with books – that one must be from Berkeley. I don’t know anything about the University of California, but surely the photographer could have found something more inspiring on that campus!).
A second book cover shows Suzzallo Library's exterior.

I ran right over to the University District, where a Graduate Hotel had opened last fall in the former Hotel Deca building. Although the Graduate chain renovated the interior, it retained many of the 1930s Art Deco details. It’s still a beautiful building.

After first explaining to the desk clerks what Field Notes were and that I was certain they had some for me to purchase (it took a while to find them in the storage room, and then another little while to figure out how to sell them to me), I was tickled to walk out with several packs. It’s not every day that Field Notes makes notebooks emblazoned with my alma mater!
The middle book's photo is the one apparently taken at
Berkeley... I'm ignoring that one.

Inside Suzzallo, I watched a young Asian woman in cap and gown with her proud immigrant parents posing for a professional photographer. Other grads in small groups took photos of themselves and each other. Although now I think of Suzzallo as the place where I struggle to capture its Gothic arches, I also always feel a wave of nostalgia for all the years I walked through its quiet, imposing hallways (I actually spent more time studying in the modern undergraduate library). Seeing the happy grads, I remembered fondly the slightly scary yet exhilarating feeling of leaving those hallowed halls for the last time as a student and marching into my future.

Officially this Field Notes edition is known as Graduate Hotels, but I’ll always think of it as the Huskies Edition. Go Dawgs!

Graduate Hotels has retained many of the 1931
building's original decor.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

More Action at the Burke Museum

6/18/19 New Burke Museum building

A few months ago, I inadvertently stumbled upon demolition of the old Burke Museum when I was on the University of Washington campus to sketch cherry blossoms. Passing through campus earlier this week, I went to see what the site looked like now. Most traces of the old building are gone, but lots of excavators and other heavy equipment were everywhere, and the grounds (a new parking lot?) still looked rough and nowhere near completion.

In the background stands the new Burke getting ready for its grand reopening this fall. As excited as I am to visit the new, much larger natural history museum – the old one gave me many hours of sketching fun, and I’m sure the new one will, too – its new building is the type that I don’t enjoy drawing much. Clean and modern, the roofline is very subtly curved, so it ends up looking either like it was meant to be straight but my lines were crooked, or I curved it too much. In this case, it’s the latter – the roofline’s curve is more subtle than that. I hope to sketch the construction site again before it opens, so maybe I’ll do a more accurate job next time.

6/18/19 Construction worker taking a lunch break on a pile of debris.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ban Roll-on Building Redux

6/21/19 Safeco Center

Officially named Safeco Center, one of my favorite downtown buildings is better known as the Ban Roll-on building or the R2-D2 building (and formerly named the Second & Seneca Building). I wish I knew someone who worked there so I could go up to the glassy dome on top. The last time I sketched it was nearly five years ago from an angle that didn’t show its roll-on ball much, so I’ve always wanted to try again. In the area yesterday with USk Seattle, I sat next to a spitting fountain to make this sketch.

Thoroughly chilled after that, I retreated to the inside of the building I had just sketched because I knew it had a Starbucks that faced the street. Luckily for me, a lot of work was going on across the street involving cherry pickers in blue and orange.

6/21/19 Goings-on at Second and Seneca

Although it’s officially summer now, I still wore the hood on my Polartec jacket all morning. As is often the case, the sun finally came out in time for the throwdown. (I suppose if we were smart, we would meet in the afternoon!)

Sketchers finally warming up!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Sunny or Overcast, Part 2

6/14/19 Maple Leaf neighborhood

As per normal, June is serving up a mix of clouds and sunshine, often in the same day (heck, often in the same hour). When I plan the sketching part of my day, my usual habit is to look out the window, check the outdoor thermometer, and finally scan the hourly forecast on Usually I want the benefit of the full sun, but lately I’ve been in the mood to go out on overcast days just for the challenge.

6/16/19 Maple Leaf neighborhood
Last month I showed some values studies made on both sunny and cloudy days. Here are two more. The one above was on a thickly overcast afternoon – the kind that forces me to squint hard to distinguish the values. I couldn’t fake the shadows even if I wanted to because I could hardly see where the sun was. And yet values are always relative, so even in that flat gray light, some things appear darker than others.

A couple of days later, the mid-afternoon sun was brilliant, and the temperature was 70 with a soft breeze . . . sketchers heaven. I went out to sketch the last (I think) of the alleys I’ve found on the same block of Eighth Northeast. The strong light made it easy to see the values, and using two colors to indicate them was a snap.

Although sketching in sunshine is almost always easier and more fun, I also enjoy practicing when the sun is hiding. Today is the solstice, and I’m looking forward to a summer of sketching, but I’m also arming myself for the vast majority of months when the sun is an elusive friend.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Another Alley on 8th

6/13/19 Maple Leaf neighborhood alley

After spotting the rare (in my ‘hood) alley on Eighth Northeast a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking for them more actively, and I found another. Walking in the early morning, I was immediately attracted to the backlighting that made the trees shimmer on top and around the edges. An admirer of Virginia Hein’s sketches of backlit objects (heck, I admire all of her sketches!), I have been studying the way she captures that luminosity, so I thought this alley would be a good subject for practicing this.

The first day I made a bicolor study (below) – using yellow/purple this time instead of vermilion/blue – to pay attention to the tonal contrasts. A couple of days later, I went back at about the same time so that the lighting would be the same (at right). This time I used natural colors, and if I started getting distracted by local hues (like those blue and green trash bins), I glanced back at my bicolor study to remind myself of the values. Initially I had made the trash bins much brighter, but the study reminded me that were still in shade, so I toned them down. I think I lost a bit of the luminosity that I had exaggerated with that bright yellow in the study, but overall, I like the way the sketch turned out. I think making the yellow/purple study first was very helpful. (I wish the garbage truck had appeared again, but it was the wrong day.)

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