Saturday, July 23, 2016

Off to the UK and the Manchester Symposium!

7/13/16 ink, colored pencils
We’re off on our first trip to the United Kingdom! Our itinerary includes London, Manchester and Bath, England, and several days in northern Wales. I keep hearing that summer in those parts is not very different from summer in these parts – mostly moderate in temperature but possibly wet and cool – so it’ll be just like home (well, except for the Edwardian castles, ancient Roman baths and warm beer).

The main event on my itinerary is, of course, the 7th International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester, where I’ll be serving as one of four correspondents to report on the event. I’m mostly thrilled and excited, but I’m also a bit anxious and nervous. With two symposiums under my belt, I’m familiar with the intensity of being immersed in urban sketching for three-and-a-half solid days. I already know the fun of becoming reacquainted with worldwide sketchers and meeting ones I’ve known only online. The challenge of reporting on all of that, however, will be a very new experience.

I’ve practiced the mechanics of mobile blogging. My correspondents team and I have set up a Whatsapp group on our phones to facilitate communication. Heck, we even have a spreadsheet color-coded to the workshop map so that we can cover as many activities as possible. I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be! Wish me luck!

I won’t be blogging here while I’m gone, but on July 27 – 30, please check out the daily posts of the correspondents team on the Urban Sketchers Symposium blog. We’ll be sharing links to our posts on the Manchester Symposium Facebook page. You can keep up with the rest of my UK adventures on Instagram and Flickr. And you can also search for the hashtag #uskmanchester2016 on social media to find sketches and photos by all participants.

Happy sketching!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Immanuel Lutheran Church

7/22/16 brush pen, colored pencils, watercolor
Two distinctive and strikingly different churches dominate the South Lake Union area’s historic Cascade neighborhood. The most eye-catching is St. Spiridon Russian Orthodox Cathedral, with its deep blue onion domes. Since I’d sketched St. Spiridon about a year ago (and since I should have been home packing my bag instead of sketching with Urban Sketchers Seattle this morning and was short on time), I decided to focus on the second church: Immanuel Lutheran.

Completed in 1912, the church has been on the historic register since 1982. Although it doesn’t look like anything I’ve sketched in Europe, the round and arched windows evoke the same architectural details I saw on Gothic buildings in Spain and Germany. It’s exactly the kind of building that makes me freeze with the deer-in-the-headlights look if I try to go at it with a fine point pen. But with only an hour to sketch, I immediately pulled out my brush pen to hit it as hard and fast as possible. It’s probably a good strategy even when I can be more leisurely.

The rain earlier in the morning may have kept some sketchers away, but the seven of us who showed up shared sketches afterwards at Espresso Vivace. Those blue onion domes captured a lot of attention!

In back, from left: Marvin, Ching, Kathleen and Sue. In front: Tina, Anne and Natalie
(Thanks to John Pound for taking the photo.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Strumming and Grilling at the Market

7/14/16 ink, colored pencils
The Queen Anne neighborhood’s weekly farmers market always brings in terrific food trucks and plenty of community seating. Last week when the weather finally started feeling like summer, we picked up our produce there in the late afternoon and then stayed for dinner.

After strolling past all the food trucks to sniff out my options, I chose Mystery Bay Seafood Catering, where I got the best grilled salmon sandwich I have ever had! As a Pacific Northwest native, I’ve eaten a lot of delicious salmon in my life, so my standards are fairly high, and this sandwich was amazing. The poor guy at the booth was all alone, but he moved briskly and efficiently among the grills and chowder pots to keep his line of hungry patrons happy.

After dinner we stopped for ice cream at another food truck. I found seats directly across from a classical guitarist who gave us delightful music to scarf our ice cream down by.

7/14/16 ink, colored pencils
Ahhhh. I know I say this every year, but it’s the truth: Summer in Seattle doesn’t get any better than this! And its short and precious. I hope you’re enjoying your summer, too.

Summer at last!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Product Review: Caran d’Ache Fancolor Pencils

7/18/16 Caran d'Ache Fancolor water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha paper

For the past couple of years, my favorite water-soluble colored pencils have been Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils. Probably the Mercedes of colored pencils, they cost a pretty penny, but I take advantage of open stock suppliers to buy only the colors I use. Although the Museum color range isn’t as wide as Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer or Caran d’Ache’s mid-range pencil, Supracolor, that range includes an irresistible variety of earthy tones handy for urban sketching and other hues that closely align with watercolor paint pigments. The main reason I like the Museum line, however, is that they are the softest colored pencils I’ve ever used. They can be applied effortlessly and dissolve completely when activated with a little water and without scrubbing.

An assortment of 18 Fancolor pencils.
Just recently, a new (to me; I don’t think the product is new) line from Caran d’Ache came to my attention: Fancolor water-soluble colored pencils. Unlike the Museum and Supracolor lines, which are in the “professional and artist” collection, the Fancolor pencils are in the “hobby” section, which is probably the same as other manufacturers’ “student” lines.

When I’ve tried “student” grade colored pencils, especially inexpensive ones, I’ve found most to be dry, hard and scratchy in application, and water only partially dissolves the pigment. (One example is Faber-Castell’s Art Grip Aquarelle line.) I figured that the Fancolors might be like this, but colored pencil junkie that I am, I couldn’t resist getting a box of 18, just to see what they’re like. I kept my expectations low.

To my surprise, when applied, the Fancolors feel almost as soft and creamy as Museum pencils (if you blindfolded me, I’d probably have a hard time knowing the difference). When activated with water, the hues aren’t quite as rich as Museum pencils (which undoubtedly have more pigment), but they still dissolve as fully and quickly. And the colors blend just as easily.

6/21/16 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, S&B Alpha
In the sketches shown here, the one of the banana and cherries (top) was done on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper, which has a good tooth to it. I’ve found it to be an ideal surface for water-soluble colored pencils, because the tooth grabs the pigment easily when applied in gradual layers, and it holds up well if water is applied. For comparison, I’m showing a still life of three heirloom tomatoes that you saw last month (at right), which was done with Museum pencils, also on S&B Alpha.

The sketch of the single heirloom (bottom of page) was done in a yellow Field Notes notebook. (Granted, that paper is probably not intended for water-soluble colored pencils, but it held up well to both the bright colors and water.) The Field Notes paper is a lot smoother than S&B Alpha, and I think colored pencils really need a little more tooth for better coverage. Still, the Fancolors didn’t do bad at all, and the white pencil included in the box of 18 helped bring out the highlights that didn’t quite pop on yellow paper as they did on white Alpha.

Although its water-activated pigment isn't quite as rich,
Fancolor dissolves as fully and easily as Museum
Despite how much I love Museum pencils, a pet peeve of mine is that their diameter is just slightly larger than conventional pencils, and I’ve had a heck of a time finding a portable sharpener that can accommodate them. (I took my search all the way to Paris and Tokyo with mediocre results. Right now, the smaller hole of this KUM sharpener seems to be working best.) So I was delighted to find that Fancolor pencils are the same diameter as conventional pencils. I can stick them into my electric pencil sharpener, and they come out with deadly sharp points, just as I like them. And yet they don’t crumble!

On the downside: If you care about archival materials, I’m assuming that the Fancolors are not. That’s typically a distinguishing trait between “professional/artist” and “hobby/student,” and Caran d’Ache tells me that Museum pencils’ lightfast colors will last longer than I will. (However, I couldn’t find anything about whether Fancolors are archival in Caran d’Ache’s product information.) In addition, the Fancolor range is relatively narrow (the largest assortment comes with 40), and the hues tend toward crayon-bright.

7/19/16 Fancolor pencils; Field Notes notebook
But how’s this for a colored pencil strategy: Get a budget-priced box of 18 or 40 Fancolors for the basics, then fill in with individual colors of high-priced Museums or mid-range Albrecht Durers or Supracolors for the more subtle or rich, earthy hues. At less than half the price of Museums (and a third less than Supracolors), the Fancolors offer a lot of bang for the buck. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bag Dump: (Almost) Nothing New

My UK and Manchester Symposium sketch kit bag dump!

Every time we travel internationally, the time and attention I have to give to preparing depends on the country we’re visiting, the time of year, how long we’ll be there, and many other factors. For example, Brazil required a visa with a tedious and lengthy application process, but packing clothes was easy because I knew the weather would be mostly warm. I’ve been to Japan four times now, so familiarity makes packing for that country relatively fast. But boning up on my rusty Japanese reading skills with a deck of flash cards always takes longer than I think it should! It took us more time than expected to plan our itinerary for France, despite being a small country geographically, simply because there were so many places we wanted to see.

Instead of my purple daily-carry Rickshaw bag, this waterproof version is
coming with me to the UK.
Although prepping for our upcoming trip to the UK seems like it should be a snap – after all, for the first time, we don’t have to worry about language issues – logistically, it’s not the easiest country to visit, at least without a car. But one part of my prep has been the easiest ever, and that’s my sketch kit!

Three years ago when I was getting ready for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium in Barcelona, I had to write two blog posts just on my kit prep – one for watercolors, and one for everything else. As a newbie to both symposiums and sketching in general (I’d been at it for less than two years at that point), I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t have enough experience to have a solid kit in place. I spent many hours wringing my hands over what to bring, how much, putting things into my bag, taking them out, and putting them back in again.

With each successive travel experience my sketch kit prep got easier. By 2014 as I prepped for the Paraty symposium, the contents of my bag weren’t an issue so much as the bag itself. By the following spring, I yawned through my France kit prep – just business as usual. For Japan in the fall, I almost didn’t blog about the prep at all because I had very little news to report.
The view from the top.

Again, not much is new about my kit for this upcoming trip. Because rain is a distinct possibility, especially in London and Manchester, I’m switching to my waterproof Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag (which I decided to purchase after my fabric Rickshaw got drenched in Kyoto). I really love the fact that its design is identical to my usual purple Rickshaw Zero; I won’t have to learn a new pocket arrangement.

My Kutsuwa Dr. Ion accessory organizer that keeps all my tools upright in my
bag. (I have at least one blog reader who loves this, so I put this photo in just
for her! :-) I bought this in Tokyo, but I hope that JetPens will someday carry it.)
I’ve looked at photos of the areas I’ll be visiting and picked out a couple of colored pencils that might come in handy (like the pale turquoise blue of oxidized copper trim on old buildings), and I may ultimately change out a few others. Overall, though, the bag’s contents are all the same tools and materials I use every day (numbers refer to photo at top):

1. Two hairy and two non-hairy brush pens (waterproof and water-soluble inks); a white Gelly Roll gel pen
2. A couple of Sailor fude fountain pens (one with waterproof ink; one with water-soluble ink); a couple other fountain pens that serve as spares as well as for writing
3. A few Kuretake Zig markers for quick swipes of color; a careful selection of water-soluble colored pencils
4. Waterbrushes filled with warm and cool gray inks for shadows; sky-blue Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa; and Iroshizuku Chiku-rin for foliage
6. Watercolors and a mixing tray
7. A hand-stitched signature of 140-pound Canson XL paper (I’ve stitched up seven signatures for the trip, which is the number I typically fill on a trip of this length)
8. Pencil sharpener
9. Water spritzer

Included in the photo is (10) the Rhodia Rhodiarama pocket notebook that I’ll use as my travel writing/collage/photo journal. Also shown is (11) a red Field Notes Sweet Tooth notebook. That’s one part of my everyday bag that the jury’s still out on; it might get jettisoned at the last minute. Since I’m bringing the little Rhodia as my pocket notebook, I don’t really need the Sweet Tooth, but I’ve had so much fun with it lately that I almost can’t bear to leave it behind. (We’ll see how stuffed the bag feels on the night before I leave.)

Notable for its absence is the single biggest change from all my previous trips: My “Stefano” won’t be coming along. (And you know how sad I am about that, so I won’t dwell on it.)

I do have a couple of new additions: Although I’ll still be using my usual hand-stitched sketchbook signatures for my “normal” sketches, I’m bringing a spiral-bound, hardcover Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook in the 10-by-7-inch size specifically for symposium sketches. I’ll be one of four correspondents commissioned to report on symposium activities for the three days. I wanted to keep those reportage sketches separate from my personal travel sketches so that I could easily detach any that I want to donate to the annual Urban Sketchers silent auction at the symposium’s closing. Unfortunately, that book doesn’t fit in my Rickshaw, so it’s going to have to go in my supplemental tote bag for the few days of the symposium.
Poloroid Zip printer for travel journal photos.

The second new addition doesn’t have anything to do with sketching, but it’s more about my general travel journal. Before I started sketching, I used to bring along a small Polaroid PoGo printer. At the end of the day when we were relaxing in our hotel room, I’d print a few of my favorite photos on the self-adhesive Zink paper and stick them right into the pages of my journal where I wrote about experiences, observations and other travel thoughts. When I first began sketching, I left the PoGo behind because I was a little worried that I’d get lazy and go back to sticking in photos instead of sketching. By the time I realized that risk was nil (although I may have my share of issues, it’s probably apparent that getting lazy about sketching is not one of them!), the PoGo had died.

The last couple of trips, however, I’ve missed my PoGo. When I thought about the types of photos I’d glue into my journal, I realized they wouldn’t replace sketches; they were more like selfies or strange signage I didn’t want to forget. There’s a place for an instant printer even in a sketcher’s journal.

On Amazon Prime day, a friend let me know that the Polaroid Zip printer was almost half price; I jumped on it! It’s even smaller and lighter than my old PoGo.

So that’s it; nothing very exciting to report. But don’t you like that photo of my bag dump? 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Seattle Obon

7/16/16 Zebra brush pen, Zig markers

I look forward to Seattle’s Obon festival each July. A Buddhist event to honor ancestors and loved ones who have died, Obon (also called Bon Odori) is a time of celebration that includes dancing in the street, literally. 

Here’s the back story: Long ago, a man was grieving his mother’s death (forgive me if this story lacks detail; Sunday school was a long time ago). He was informed that his dead mother had reached Nirvana, and his grief turned to joy. So happy was he that he began dancing in the street (well, I’m sure it was a dirt road back then).

7/16/16 Kuretake brush pen, Zig marker
I don’t know if I got all of that story right, but I do know that the Obon tradition has managed to survive in many Japanese American communities. This fact astounds my Japanese friends and relatives, who see the tradition rapidly dying away in their own country. They find it hard to imagine that such an archaic, quaint festival is being kept alive in places like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

When I was a kid, Obon was all about socializing with friends as we dressed up in traditional garb, participated in the choreographed folk dances and ate shaved ice. Back then, shorts and T-shirts were strictly forbidden; after all, it is a religious event at its core. In recent decades, though, rules have loosened to be more inclusive, and people of all races and religions join the fun. Baseball caps and jeans dance right alongside brightly colored kimono. A local taiko drumming group always performs, a highlight of the evening. You can still eat shaved ice and noodles, but you can also sit in the beer garden and listen to reggae or jazz.
7/16/16 Kuretake brush pen, Zig marker

As an adult, I still enjoy Obon as an occasion to see old friends and sometimes even join in the dancing. This year I enjoyed it even more because I brought my sketchbook to try to capture the color and energy. 

7/16/16 Zebra brush pen, Zig markers

Saturday, July 16, 2016

May – July Sketchbook

My May - July sketchbook is bound.
Often it seems that my favorite sketches are those that I’ve done when I’m out sketching on my own instead of with Urban Sketchers. Maybe it’s that I’ve chosen the locations myself, so I already have more interest in the subject matter. Or maybe it’s just that at group outings I spend more time socializing and less time focusing on a composition.

As I picked out the sketches to put on my newly bound sketchbook’s covers, however, I realized that two of my favorites during this period were both from USk outings. One was done on a drizzly May morning at King Street Station. The other was made at Fishermen’s Terminal when USk Seattle celebrated its seventh anniversary.

In other sketchbook news, I know just last week I said I was going to fill the Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover book that I started that day. I lied. As soon as I put the sketches from that day on my scanner, I remembered that the Alpha paper is less opaque than I like, and I’ve been spoiled by the 140-pound Canson XL I’ve been using the past couple years. I switched immediately to my softcover Beta – and remembered how much I enjoyed that paper back when I was using it more regularly. This one I will definitely fill.
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