Sunday, June 23, 2024

Green Lake Street Trees on a Perfect Day


6/19/24 Green Lake neighborhood (This page spread turned out disheveled; the house with the unusual roof doesn't belong here, but when I saw it on my walk, I wanted to sketch it on the spot or I might not find it again later.)

Studying the map in Taha Ebrahimi’s book, Street Trees of Seattle, I’ve been planning my strategy for sketching all 10 trees documented in the Green Lake neighborhood. Five are located toward the southern end of the lake in the Tangletown micro-neighborhood, which is farther than I typically walk, but it was certainly doable. I just needed ideal conditions: Not cold, but also not hot, and definitely sunny. Wednesday morning was perfectly clear, the temperature was in the mid-60s, and by noon, it would be 70: Perfect! I set out with my sun hat.

My favorite in this batch is the impressive bigleaf maple (above) – the sixth widest-diameter maple street tree in the city, according to Taha. It’s on my list as a potential candidate for a portrait later. The ovens wattle acacia is also distinctive for being Seattle’s only acacia street tree.

By the time I sketched the pair of ginkgos (above), I had walked more than 11,000 steps from home – a few more than I had calculated based on Google’s estimated walking times. With an appointment in the early afternoon that I had to go home to get my car for, I decided to take the bus back. I almost hated to do it, though; everything about the day was beautiful, and I wanted to keep on walking.

Although I don't enjoy crossing the freeway to get to Green Lake, I do when I know this will be my reward. . . Her Majesty, Mt. Rainier, to the south . . . 

. . . and a pivot from the same spot gives me The Brothers to the west. Didn't I say it was a perfect day?

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Summer Solstice at Bell Harbor Pier


6/20/24 Seattle waterfront and skyline from Bell Harbor Pier

After a couple of outings with rainy or iffy weather, USk Seattle enjoyed a rare treat: summer weather on the Solstice (our local joke is that summer begins on July 5)! Bell Harbor Pier offers arguably the best views of the downtown skyline and waterfront, but a major drawback is that it has no shelter or shade. We run the risk of scheduling an outing there when the weather is either bad or too good. In fact, it was perfect on Thursday morning – not too hot but clear and with a good breeze.

Anticipating the skyline, I brought along a landscape-format Uglybook (I cut the image in half below so you can see the details). The skyline is changing so quickly that all the familiar profiles are being hidden by newer buildings. I labeled the ones I could still identify.

Next I turned in the opposite direction to grab the Space Needle (also nearly obscured), The Brothers highlighting the Olympic Mountains, and Mike sketching at his easel.

Material notes: For my fresh, green, daily-carry Uglybook, I chose a warm brown Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Dual Tip Marker instead of black as my primary drawing color (these pens have become a favorite for my comics style of urban sketching).

Also of interest is the white acrylic marker I used on these sketches – it’s a Sharpie Creative Marker! Still on my lifelong quest for the perfect white pen, whenever I see another sketcher using white, I ask about it. I learned about the Sharpie from Rob Deane, who makes remarkable urban sketches on toned paper. Since we all know that white acrylic markers are terrific – until they suddenly aren’t, I’m trying not to jump up and down until I’ve used the Sharpie for a while, but I must say, I’m optimistic so far. (I’ve been using a variety of white acrylic pens lately, even more than the ones I showed in my post about a month ago, and I’ll be writing a follow-up review sometime soon. But lately Ive been too darn busy sketching to write reviews!)

Friday, June 21, 2024

One Pole for Another


6/18/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

My spidey sense tingled when I saw the sign: ROAD CLOSED. I walked down the middle of the closed street toward the big action: An old utility pole was being replaced by a new one.

Ten years ago I had a front-and-center view of all the action from our upstairs bedroom window when the pole right outside our house was being replaced. Compared to that view, this one from ground level wasn’t nearly as good, and I had to walk around to the other side of the intersection once because the traffic circle tree was blocking my view. Things were happening and changing fast, but I tried to capture as much of the action as I could.

This is one of many reasons why my favorite form of urban sketching is on my daily walks: I never know where the action will be until I find it.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Loud Retreat


6/17/24 Retreat, Green Lake neighborhood

Sometimes my urban sketches include haiku that I intend to be quiet reflections on my experiences of making those sketches. Other times, I just want to complain.

After finishing a page of sketches, I like to sit quietly afterwards to write the haiku. I like to do it as soon as possible so that my impressions from the experience are still fresh. (My mom, a haiku poet for most of her life, used to say the same thing about her own writing practice: If too much time passed after making an observation, the poem could be lost.) I had just made some sketches of trees at Green Lake, so I stopped for coffee at Retreat to write. Inside, the café was too noisy with loud music and conversation, so I hoped that the outdoor seating would be quieter.

Unfortunately, the only other party seated outside was a group of three women all talking over each other loudly and continually. I wanted to quote some of the dialog, but they interrupted each other so often that it was difficult to capture anything. I managed to write the haiku (not on this page, though), but not without grumbling.

On top of all that, I had been served the sloppiest Cortado ever: The barista had spilled half a shot on the counter instead of in the glass, then poured the milk over with such bad aim that the glass was sitting in a puddle when he handed me the tray. Oh, well – it gave me more to complain about.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Green Lake Street Trees


6/17/24 Green Lake

Sketching all the special street trees in Maple Leaf in Taha Ebrahimi’s book was almost too easy. I’ve already moved on to the trees of Green Lake, which will take longer because there are 10 of them scattered over a wider area. Shown above are two that are closest to home – a ginkgo and a southern catalpa.

Scanning a street as I search for a tree’s address (the residence closest to the tree), I can sometimes guess from a block away which tree it will be: Often the widest or with a distinctive trunk. Like the spectacular snow gum eucalyptus I sketched in Maple Leaf, this magnificent catalpa has an extraordinary trunk that I spotted easily from a distance. It is certainly a candidate for a more complete portrait later this summer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“Untethered” Sketches

5/16/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood. On a golden hour walk,
I found the distant downtown buildings to look more silvery than gold.
As I sketched, a bird nearby caught my attention, so I quickly used the
Merlin app to identify it while also trying not to lose the rapidly falling light.
OK, I guess this sketch does have a story!

Although it may seem like all my urban sketches are now taking a comics-like form, I still make some one-off sketches on location that have no sequence or inherent story. (And some one-off sketches do have a full story – at least told in words.) My current focus on the comics approach, however, makes those sketches feel incomplete in some way – like I left the scene without finding one more sketch that would have given the first sketch more context. Regardless, I value all sketches, even the ones that now feel story-less. They are simply part of a different process.

5/17/24 Ducks near Green Lake

6/6/24 Rabbit seen on my walk

I recently read Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage, a sketchbook diary about the comic artist’s travels through Europe. Initially, I thought all of the exquisite brush pen drawings were made on location, but that’s not the case; I think many were done with photo references and from imagination. Nonetheless, they were all done during the trip itself, not afterwards, and are impressively finished drawings that do not look “sketchy” at all.

5/23/24 Roofers at our neighbor's house (On second thought, I think this qualifies as comics.)

This quotation from Thompson’s book resonated with me and helped me identify the difference between a comics sequence and a one-off sketch:

A page of comics has its home – in a story; in a book. But a sketch is untethered, exposing process. The lines themselves aren’t special, but the memory attached to the stillness while making those lines.

Whether a sketch is part of a sequence or “untethered,” it always becomes special from the memory of making it. That has always been the most important part of urban sketching: My sketches are not necessarily about “special” moments; they are moments made special because I sketched them.

5/10/24 Maple Leaf. A walk during the golden hour.

6/10/24 Maple Leaf. A sketch for National
Ballpoint Pen Day.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Northwest Seaport’s 60th Anniversary (Plus Bi-Bim-Bap)


6/15/24 Lake Union Park historic ships

Although the weather gods teased us with dire forecasts of rain, hail, lightning and thunder, they took mercy on USk Seattle last Saturday – windy but dry to the end! A good turnout of brave sketchers showed up for the 60th anniversary celebration of Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center, which preserves and restores historic work ships on Lake Union.

To capture a survey of ships, I made small sketches of the historic tug Comanche, the Fremont Tugboat’s Dixie, and the lightship Swiftsure. Painted red, the 120-year-old Swiftsure is always popular among sketchers. In fact, I’ve sketched it myself several times, but this time I wanted a tall, narrow view to fit the space on my page spread, so I focused on the mast. (My current comics-like approach helped me see a composition I might not have chosen otherwise.)

6/15/24 Stone Korean Restaurant

After the outing, I joined a few sketchers for lunch at nearby Stone Korean Restaurant. Although I’ve had traditional bi-bim-bap, in general, I don’t eat Korean food often, so many dishes were new to me, like the delicious veggie pancake that the table shared. For my entrée, I chose a hot pot-style bi-bim-bap with crispy, toasted rice on the bottom – very different from regular bi-bim-bap and so delicious! Served in a dangerously hot cast iron pot, the food stayed hot for the duration of my sketch – an ideal sketch-meal!

I was so ignorant of Korean foods that another sketcher accused me of not being Asian, but now that she has educated me, I’m looking forward to enjoying more Korean meals.

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