Sunday, June 30, 2013

Barcelona Symposium Prep, Part 1: Watercolors



Current favorite palette.
In one week, I’ll be in Barcelona! Four days after I arrive, the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium begins!

Am I ready?

That’s a relative question. Compared to two months ago, I am: I have comfortable walking shoes, humid-weather clothes and a high-security hidden wallet that’s only one part of my pickpocket-risk-reduction program (which also includes a small, cross-body bag with a slash-proof strap to contain my passport, cash and credit cards not being stashed in my hidden wallet; a backpack with nothing of value in the outer, accessible pockets; and, most important, mental alertness to watch for potential theft!).

But now it’s time to get serious about the art supplies I’ll pack, and I’m not quite ready. Ever since I signed up for the workshops and looked through the recommended supply lists, I’ve been swinging back and forth on a pendulum of indecision. On one end, I think that the symposium will be my most significant sketching and learning opportunity of my life so far, and I would be a fool not to have as many materials as possible, certainly as many as are recommended, because I might miss out if I didn’t.
Less familiar palette.

For example, one instructor recommends a sketchbook at least 8 ½” x 11” in size, and preferably two so that we won’t waste time waiting for pages to dry. So even though I don’t normally use a sketchbook that large in the field, I pulled out two from my shelves to consider. Another instructor recommended a folding palette, which I’ve never used in the field (I’m very happy with the tiny palette I cribbed from my Sakura Koi set). Another suggested a small can of hairspray to use as a fixative for charcoal!

But then I started swinging in the other direction. I’ve been working so hard to reduce the weight of my bag. . . I’m in love with my “Stefano” sketchbook system, which I’m planning to bring, regardless, because it’s the size I’m most comfortable with. Two large sketchbooks – do I really want to lug those? And even if I brought them, would I want to carry them on my back all day during the workshops? We’re going to receive all kinds of great swag from symposium sponsors, including sketchbooks – perhaps we’ll receive what we need there, so I don’t have to bring them from home. Maybe I’ll borrow a stick of charcoal and hairspray from another participant. . . we all learned to share in kindergarten, right?

Back and forth. At this point, I have been holding steady on the minimalist end of the pendulum swing, so as long as I stay there until Friday when I finish packing, I’ll be fine. With that:

Today’s post focuses on watercolors. Choosing my palette had its own small pendulum swing. One of my workshop instructors, Marion Rivolier, recommends some colors that I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m eager to try them the way she uses them. But on the other hand, with my limited use of them so far, I don’t like some of them. I love the palette I’ve been working with ever since Gail and Frank’s workshop, and I worked hard to get it down to eight colors that will fit into my Trader Joe’s mint tin (I dallied for a short time with 12 colors in a larger tin, but it didn’t balance well when attached to my sketchbook, so I went back to my original small square one). But if I’m not willing to try new colors recommended by a watercolor instructor, what is the point of taking the workshop?

Back and forth. Back and forth.

On this one I’ve decided to take the maximum rather than the minimum because paints in half pans don’t weigh much or take up much space. I’m bringing two Trader Joe’s mint tins: One with my familiar, favorite palette, and one that includes the less familiar colors. By the end of the symposium, I’ll decide whether Marion was able to show me why I should use her favorites, and since the half pans are all temporarily adhered with museum putty, I can pull them out, rearrange (or not), and go back to carrying only one tin for the rest of our trip (a week in Germany). An easy, low-maintenance solution.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dream Cars, or How to Slay a Sketching Nemesis


6/29/13 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
When I was 16 and barely licensed, my dream car was the Datsun 240-Z. I wondered how long I would have to save my part-time, minimum-wage, concession stand income to be able to buy one. I knew it would be a while, but at least it would give me time to learn how to drive a stick.
 
That’s one of the memory lanes I cruised down this morning at the 21st annual Greenwood Car Show which, according to its website, is “a mile and a half of classic rides.” Cars are still one of my sketching nemeses – all those smooth lines that are neither organic nor straight, all those shiny surfaces – so I thought the car show would be good practice while also being a lot of fun. It was definitely both.
6/29/13 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
 
A car that caught my eye first was one of my adult dream cars – in fact, the car I now drive (some dreams are possible to achieve once you start earning a grown-up salary): A red Mazda Miata. Compared to all the other souped-up beauties, this one seemed ordinary, and not even very old. The owner was nowhere in sight, but an admirer walking by told me why this Miata was special: It has a Corvette engine. Right next to it was a gorgeous yellow ’55 Chevy. Its owner, Steve, told me that although he has owned this one for only four years, he previously owned another of the same model that was originally purchased by his grandfather. When asked if he actually drives it, he said he and his wife use it to go get hamburgers.
 
Shortly afterwards I spotted my first dream car, or close to it: A metallic green 260-Z. David, its owner for the past 13 years, told me it is nearly 100 percent original, even the windshield wipers, and the only thing he has changed are the wheels. This baby is pampered – it has “never been in the rain,” he said. Well, except for this morning’s surprise sprinkle.
 
The Greenwood Car Show: I think it could just as well be called The Greenwood Dream Show.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Clallam County Encore


6/28/13 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, 100 lb. watercolor paper
The danger in sketching the same subject twice is that it invites comparison.
 
Last August I sketched the wonderful bluegrass group Clallam County at the Lake City Farmers Market. This afternoon I was delighted to find them performing again, this time on the “center stage” at Phinney Farmer’s Market. With a repertoire of songs of John Denver, Allison Kraus and the Beatles as well as original songs with political attitude, Clallam County kept everyone’s toes tapping.
 
Last year, not wanting to block their audience’s view, I had the disadvantage of standing to the side – an angle that proved to be awkward. Today I grabbed a shady, front row seat, so I don’t have any excuses. But as I was sketching, a woman looked over my shoulder and told me she recognized her husband (in the center), so I guess I did OK.

Red Building from Jack Block Park


6/28/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Pentalic sketchbook
A few weeks ago I sketched the Seattle skyline from Jack Block Park, but I had kicked myself because I didn’t have my landscape-format sketchbook with me. That panoramic view deserves a long, horizontal page. This morning a few Seattle Urban Sketchers got together at the West Seattle park, so I got another chance to sketch the skyline – and this time I remembered the sketchbook.
 
Left side of panorama.
My scanner isn’t wide enough to scan the whole panorama, so I had to split it in half. (The complete panorama at the top of the page was taken with my camera.) Near the center of the composition is a dark red building that I exaggerated with bright red paint. Based on its proximity to the “Darth Vader” (Fourth and Blanchard) Building and other nearby buildings, I’d say it must be in the Belltown neighborhood, but I’m not familiar with it. If you know, please identify it in the comments. (It’s clearly visible as red in this photo.)
 
Right side of panorama.
After the panorama, I moved to a new location with a view of the beach. A man and his son were flying a colorful kite. With only about 15 minutes left before the sketchbook sharing, I used the sketch as an opportunity to practice Gail Wong’s principles of selective painting.

Sketching with friends in the sunshine, the promise of clear skies and temperatures in the 80s this week, driving home with the top down: Life is good. And summer is the best!

6/28/13 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, 100 lb. watercolor paper

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ivar Feeding the Gulls


6/27/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, 100 lb. watercolor paper
After having lunch with a few friends at a waterfront restaurant, the morning’s drizzle had finally stopped. Walking to my bus stop on Alaskan Way, I passed Ivar’s Acres of Clams and the sculpture of “Ivar Feeding the Gulls.” Although I don’t eat many fish and chips anymore, I have fond childhood memories of dining at Ivar’s and tossing French fries to the gulls (which Ivar actually encouraged, much to the chagrin of other restaurants). He was a colorful local businessman and character.
 
“Ivar Feeding the Gulls” was sculpted by local artist Richard Beyer, who also made “Waiting for the Interurban” and other pieces of popular public art. While I sketched, numerous tourists came by to sit in Ivar’s captain’s chair and get their photo taken.
 
If you’re wondering what the gull is reaching for under the chair, it’s a clamshell running away.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catching Up with the Catch-All Sketchbook


5/24/13 Sailor pen, 100 lb. watercolor paper
For the better part of a year, I’ve been carrying a self-made Greeting Card Sketchbook in my bag at all times. The purpose of this small, thin, lightweight catch-all sketchbook is to provide something to sketch in at unexpected opportunities when I’m not necessarily carrying my preferred-size sketchbook or when the situation requires something smaller and therefore more discreet. I filled the first Greeting Card Sketchbook in only two months last fall, so it weathered daily wear and tear very well (for something made of nothing more than paper bound into a greeting card).

I replaced it with the next Greeting Card Sketchbook, which took me nearly six months to fill. I don’t think I was sketching any less during that period; maybe I simply had my larger sketchbook with me more often, so I didn’t need it as much. In any case, it didn’t fare as well as the first one. Although the pamphlet-stitched single signature held together fine, its cardstock cover is tattered and so worn at the spine that it is barely attached. I never intended it for long-term use, and it looks like its lifespan is a few months shorter than I used it.
4/26/13 fountain pen, 100 lb. watercolor paper

Before I put it away on a bookshelf where I store all my filled sketchbooks, I scanned all the sketches, most of which I haven’t blogged about because they tend to be storyless floating heads that I capture on short bus rides or while waiting for restaurant food to come. What makes me happy about these tiny sketches are two things: One is that they represent otherwise-idle moments that I instead filled with observations.

The other is that they remind me that for most of my life, I used to see sketches similar to these – nothing more than doodles, perhaps from imagination – in other people’s sketchbooks and marvel at them because I was so certain I could never do sketches like that myself. They seemed impossibly beyond my scope. It turned out they aren’t.
5/9/13 fountain pen, 100 lb. watercolor paper

I’m now working on a more durable catch-all sketchbook solution. (More on that later.)

Edited 10/5/13: See my follow-up, "Rounded Corners," for the solution.


Greeting Card Sketchbooks, in their better days.



Monday, June 24, 2013

In the Nick of Time


6/24/13 Sailor pen, Private Reserve Black Magic Blue, Diamine Grey and
Diamine Chocolate Brown inks, Zig markers, 100 lb. paper
Frustrated by the ongoing rain (weather.com’s headline today: “Rare June Atmospheric River Heading for West Coast”), I pretended it was winter and headed out for Zoka Coffee to sketch. But when I got there, I realized that, despite the rain, the outdoor temperature was pleasant. After getting my coffee, I sat on one of the benches outside, where an overhang protected my sketch from the drizzle.
 
In the back of my mind was this week’s Urban Sketchers Flickr group theme, “Dogs,” and when I looked across the street, a tiny Pomeranian was barely visible at its human’s feet (you might have to enlarge the sketch just to see it). Although I knew it was dangerous to start a composition with such a small part of it, I also knew that the dog wouldn’t be there long, so I quickly framed the composition in my mind, and sketched the dog. Sure enough, as soon as I finished drawing it and its human, they both got up and left. (Whew.)
 
Not much else across the street interested me, but I hadn’t sketched any cars, my wintertime sketching arch-nemesis, in a while, so I decided to fill in all that space around the tiny dog with a few. Again, I finished one car in the nick of time before it pulled away. The one closest to me changed several times, but the way I draw cars, they all look the same anyway.
 
Technical notes: Stefano Bramato, maker of my new leather sketchbook cover, is also the author of an inspiring and entertaining blog. He recently blogged about his bare-essentials sketch kit, which includes a waterbrush filled with undiluted Diamine Grey ink. Although I’ve found Diamine Grey to be a little too pale for drawing, its an ideal mid-gray tone for shading, so I filled up a waterbrush and gave it a try with this sketch. I like the way it can be layered like watercolors (similar to my favorite Zig markers).
 
In hindsight, I wish I’d used black water-soluble ink instead of blue for this drawing, which might have coordinated better with the gray washes. But in my most recent bag weight-reduction attempt, I took the pen with black ink out! It's the Murphys Law of sketching: The thing I want is always the thing I most recently took out. Well, very soon I’m going to strip out all non-essentials again for traveling, so we’ll see what makes the final final cut.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Low Tide Again, This Time in Edmonds

6/23/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
If you saw my sketch yesterday at Richmond Beach, this sketch may give you déjà vu. The Seattle Urban Sketchers met in downtown Edmonds, and despite the forecast of rain, dozens of sketchers turned out. Several of us walked a few blocks west near the ferry terminal. Unlike yesterday, the sky was completely overcast, and it started spitting shortly after I began this sketch.
 
Hoping the rain would stop, I started a second sketch of a sculpture a short distance from the beach. The bronze sculpture, which shows three children playing in a boat, is just behind the pedestrian entrance to the ferry terminal. Unfortunately, it started drizzling even harder. I couldn’t find a placard nearby, nor could I find any information about the sculpture on Google, so I can’t attribute the artist.
 
6/23/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, 100 lb. paper
 
Annoyed by the rain and getting hungry, I retreated to the Café Louvre for a snack and this sketch (below) while waiting for the others to show up for the sketchbook sharing. There were so many sketchbooks that they didn’t all fit on the large table we had gathered around!
6/23/13 Sailor pen, Private Reserve Black Magic Blue ink, 100 lb. paper

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Low Tide


6/22/13 Platinum Carbon, watercolor, 100 lb. paper
Low tide was around 10:30 a.m., so Greg grabbed his camera and I my sketchbook, and we headed out for Richmond Beach in Shoreline. Only 15 minutes north of us, this saltwater park includes a gem of a beach in a suburban neighborhood. Because you have to hike quite a ways down from the parking lots and across a pedestrian bridge over industrial railroad tracks to reach the beach, it feels remote and secluded. It’s not even visible from the parking area.
 
Technically the water out there is not the ocean; it’s Puget Sound, so you don’t see big waves breaking. Instead, you see gentle ripples washing up as a small cruise ship glides across the horizon, and even a kayaker paddles by. When the ship got closer, I tried another sketch of it. The dark blue horizon is the Kitsap Peninsula (or maybe Bainbridge Island; they’re kind of layered there, so I’m not sure).
 
As a Seattle native, I take all of this for granted most of the time. But today I didn’t, and I remembered why I live here.

6/22/13 Sailor pen, Private Reserve Black Magic Blue ink

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thornton Creek Channel


6/18/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 100 lb. watercolor paper
According to a placard next to the site, the 11.6-square-mile Thornton Creek Watershed is home to 67,000 residents (including me), which means that all the typical urban pollution and runoff I help to generate used to flow directly into Thornton Creek and eventually to Lake Washington. The placard did its job of making me more aware of the creek that runs right under Northgate Mall and the neighboring area, as well as the potential urban impact on the stream. Thanks to citizen activism and a major project that was completed four years ago, the creek has been restored, and parts of it have been “daylighted” above ground. According to a Seattle Times article dated June 19, 2009, “A large, paved lot once devoted to overflow mall traffic and RV parking has been replaced with a landscaped, open space that allows the beginnings of Thornton Creek to flow above ground for the first time in decades.” The channel is now a natural filtration system for stormwater runoff.
 
Although I drive past this open space regularly when I run errands at Northgate, today was the first time I walked down into and around the wide, green space. First I walked completely around the periphery, and then I walked up and back down each of several long stairways, trying to pin down a sketch composition. I finally settled on a colorful glass sculpture that looks like its parts are floating in an exposed area of water, one of the many walkways, and a staircase with lots of interesting angles.
 
Making the initial drawing wasn’t too bad, although I still find sketching big, open spaces challenging. But I knew the worse challenge was going to be painting it. Everywhere I looked, I saw mostly dark green – the water, the vast landscaping, everything. Knowing I would make a huge, dark green mess if I started painting all of that, I started to panic. Then I remembered (before I started painting, for a change!) Gail Wong’s advice to let a sketch tell its story by painting selectively. So I selected a few visual elements that I hoped would lead the eye to the focal point I had chosen. Looking at the sketch now, I think it could have used a bit more paint, but I’m happy that I stopped when I did, because I’m sure I would have gone too far if I’d kept that paint brush in my hand.
 
So that I can squeeze in sketches on days that I have to work, I’ve been trying to find more sketch-worthy locations within a five- or 10-minute drive or walk from my house. I can easily drive to Thornton Creek Channel in minutes. I’m grateful to the concerned citizens who put pressure on the city to create this refreshing urban space, and grateful to the city for making it happen. To express my appreciation, I’m going to enjoy it more often.
 
(Technical note: This was my second sketch made in a hand-stitched signature carried in my “Stefano” sketchbook cover. One benefit of the thin, pamphlet-stitched signature is that the gutter in the center of a page spread is less visible in the scan than it is when I scan my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. I’m also learning that I need to stitch the signatures together a bit more securely. I had deliberately used a fine thread and fewer holes on this signature because eventually I’ll have to take that temporary stitching off before doing the permanent Coptic binding. But the pages are moving around too much, which is causing the holes to spread. I think I’ll have this all figured out by the time I make all the signatures for my trip next month. Better to work out all the kinks now while they can still be worked out – at home!)
 

Poplar at the Playground


6/17/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 100 lb. paper
At 5 p.m., the usual crowd at the Maple Leaf playground was getting sparse, as kids and their parents were probably returning home to get ready for dinner. I didn’t have much time myself, but I was eager to do a field test with my new sketchbook cover, so I chose the single tall poplar at the edge of the playground, a tiny pale blue bicycle and its rider nearby.

Unpacking “the Stefano” and First Field Test

Handwritten note and sketch by Stefano.
It looked like a gift!
Before I talk about the results of my first field test of “the Stefano” (see the previous post to learn about how and why I came to acquire this new sketchbook cover), I have to show you how it arrived after its long journey from Italy (twice!) and more of its details. When I opened the padded envelope, inside was a package that looked like a gift – rice paper tied with raffia and a button (made by Stefano) that reads, “Listen to the waves!” When I opened the wrapping paper, the beautiful leather cover was inside, and inside that was a kraft-cover notebook with an original sketch by Stefano. Tucked into a pocket was a handwritten note. It felt like my birthday!
Closed sketchbook cover fastened with bands.


For my custom-made sketchbook cover, I chose black leather, which has a rustic matte finish that looks like it will take on a nice patina over time. The cover closes with two elastic bands, and I chose red for those – Stefano and I agreed that red would look sharp against the black leather. Two more elastic bands inside along the spine hold up to two signatures in place. The cover has two hand-stitched pockets, one on each side, to hold spare signatures or ephemera. The back cover has a small “bro” stamp (I couldn’t photograph it well), signifying that it was handmade by BroLeatherWorks. A bookmark made of a matching red elastic cord is embellished with red buttons that match the one on the spine (the bookmark got a little in the way as I sketched, so I might remove it, since only a small knot through a hole in the spine secures it).
Two hand-stitched pockets inside.

Sketchbook cover with single signature in place.
I stitched up an eight-page single signature (below) made from one 18” x 24” sheet of 100-pound watercolor paper (that I happen to have a huge stack of), which yields a 6” x 9” page (12” x 9” spread). This page size is slightly larger than the 5 ½” x 8 ½” Stillman & Birn sketchbook I usually use, but I specified these dimensions to Stefano for three important reasons:
 1. I don’t waste any of the 18” x 24” paper, and all I have to do is fold and tear it – no measuring necessary (my experience with bookbinding indicates that measuring accurately isn’t one of my assets)!
The sketchbook fits perfectly in my Rickshaw Bagworks bag.

2. The sketchbook fits perfectly in my Rickshaw Bagworks sketch bag (below).

3. The 12” x 9” page spread fits on my scanner.
For my first field test on this gorgeous day, I walked a few blocks to the Maple Leaf playground where I sketched last week. I attached my watercolor kit – the essential element to my outdoor sketching – to the left side of the cover, and as I had hoped and expected, the leather is sufficiently thick and sturdy that it supports the kit well. It was breezy, and the right-side page kept flapping, so on a whim, I pulled the upper closure band around the corner of the page, and voila! It serves double-duty! And “the Stefano” works exactly as I had hoped!


Watercolor kit attached to left side of leather cover. Elastic band keeps page from flapping in the wind.

With this first sketch, I already got a little paint on the inside cover, which I’m sure Stefano will be pleased about. After all, it was made to get painty and well-used.

Travel Sketchbook Issue – Resolved!


BroLeatherWorks sketchbook cover
For a while now I’ve been on a mission to reduce the weight and bulk of my sketch bag. Specifically, I’m trying to reduce the strain on my shoulder when I sketch standing up, and more generally, I want to minimize everything I carry in preparation for travel to Europe next month.

I’ve pulled out a lot of pens and other art materials over time, although my acceptable “bare essentials” keeps changing. The one thing that’s the most difficult to make smaller and lighter is my favorite sketchbook – an 8½” x 5½” Stillman & Birn – which is always the heaviest part of my sketching supplies. I’ve tried S & B’s 4” x 6” size, which is definitely lighter and less bulky, but the small page size leaves me feeling cramped.

A couple months ago while reading Mary Ann Moss’s blog, I had a light bulb moment. To prep for a trip to Italy, Mary Ann had stitched a stack of signatures in advance, and she was planning to pop one into her bag each day. Upon her return home, she would bind them all together into a single volume. Carry a series of thin, lightweight signatures on the go, then bind them all later at home: Sheer genius!
"The Stefano" sketchbook in the field.

I quickly realized that Mary Ann’s elegantly simple yet ingenious idea could be my solution, too – I’ve handbound books using the Coptic stitch, and I also know how to stitch single signatures. There was just one snag: Any sketchbook I use has to be stiff enough to support my attachable watercolor kit. A single signature wouldn’t cut it, so it would need some kind of cover. . . and that’s when I remembered Stefano!

Shortly before I saw Mary Ann’s blog post, I had read on Stefano Bramato’s blog that he was selling his handmade leather products on Etsy. Styled after the ever-popular Midori Traveler’s Notebook, which has an almost cult-like following of devotees, Stefano’s leather notebooks fasten with simple elastic bands, making them flexible and easily customizable. At this point, the light bulb in my head was a wildly flashing beacon: Get a sketchbook cover large enough to accommodate a signature of my favorite size pages! The leather cover would protect the pages and would also be stiff enough to support my clip-on watercolor box.

I immediately contacted Stefano, a sketcher in Italy whose delightful blog I read regularly. After a brief exchange of Etsy convos about the dimensions I needed and, specifically, how I would be using it, Stefano designed a custom sketchbook cover that would exactly accommodate my needs – at a very reasonable price. The Midori Traveler’s Notebook has always appealed to me in concept – it’s hard to resist something so simple, straightforward and therefore easily customizable – but the sizes that it comes in are too small for my sketching needs. Now I have one designed especially for my needs, handmade in Italy. He named the design after me, J but I like to call it “the Stefano.”

By the way, the Stefano has already done its share of traveling. Due to a U.S. Postal Service delivery mishap (not Stefano’s fault), my sketchbook cover came all the way from Italy and made it as far as my neighbor’s house – then got returned all the way back to Italy, where Stefano had to ship it to me again. I think it just means it was meant to travel. The next time it goes back to Europe, it will be in my bag!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Arboretum Footbridge


6/15/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
Whenever I drive on Lake Washington Boulevard near the Washington Park Arboretum, I pass under an old footbridge with a clearance so low that some large vehicles never make it through. (Several years ago, a charter bus full of high school athletes scraped off its top trying to pass under it. The driver, who was following GPS directions, missed the height restriction warning.) Built in 1911, the mossy Wilcox Footbridge is on the Seattle historic register.
 
On a recent visit to the arboretum with a visitor, I found the footbridge, so today I returned to sketch it. I’m such a masochist. I knew those lovely lamp posts would be a perspective challenge, and all those dark trees in the background would add to the challenge. Maybe this is one of those scenes I return to in a year to see whether my sketch improves.
 
Although the sketch may have been masochistic, at least sketching in the shade on a warm afternoon was a pleasure. It must be one of the city’s best-kept secrets: On a sunny Saturday, you’d think the bridge would be well traveled. But as I sketched, only a few strollers and bike riders came by.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another One-Man Band


6/14/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha
Seems like the buskers at Phinney Farmer’s Market have raised the bar this year. Last year it was sufficient to play one instrument at a time – like a ukulele or a saxophone. (Of course, P. K.Dwyer was multi-tasking even last year.) But last week I discovered a musician named The Gin Jars who played a kazoo, a banjo and a horn-type thing all at once. Today it was Nick Moyer, who played a combo that was new to me: a trumpet with an accordion.
 
This is why sketching at farmer’s markets is my favorite summertime activity: Even when it’s the same, there’s always something new.

P. K. Dwyer Encore


6/14/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Last summer I sketched blues singer P. K. Dwyer at the Phinney Farmer’s Market, and I was delighted to see that he was back on the “center stage” at the same market today. Just like last week when I was sketching Tinker’s Dram, it was a tough choice between keeping my lines straight and tapping my toe. “I’ve fallen on hard times, and I can’t get up,” he sang, one of his all-original songs.
 
After putting a dollar in his guitar case, I was slipping out when he stopped me in the middle of a song. He thanked me for the sketch I had done last year, which his wife had been delighted to find online. “Whatever makes my wife happy makes me happy,” he said.

Volunteer Park


6/14/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
A few months ago I sketched the view of the Space Needle from Volunteer Park. Today I met a few other Seattle Urban Sketchers at the park for an ad hoc gathering, and I decided to sketch again from the same vantage point. This time I included the Isamu Noguchi sculpture Black Sun, a popular frame for the Space Needle in many a tourist photograph. A boy hopped into the donut hole at just the right moment for me to include him, too.
 
6/14/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink
Chilled after the half-hour I spent on that sketch, I popped into the Seattle Asian Art Museum to warm up. The current exhibit, “Legends, Tales, Poetry: Visual Narrative in Japanese Art,” includes this sculpture of a Buddha, circa second or third century.
 
With only 15 minutes left before the appointed sketchbook sharing time, I looked around at the large grassy area near the Conservatory, and every elementary-age kid in the city seemed to be celebrating the last day of school. (It was probably actually only a few classes, but it was more kids than I’ve seen in one place in a long time.) I really enjoyed using my Sailor fountain pen (with the funky ski-jump nib) on the sketch of the Buddha, so I pulled it out again for this park scene. Although I’ve used it many times, it was the first sketch I’ve done with that pen that made me feel like I was finally taking advantage of its variable line widths. It was fun tilting the pen to scribble the trees.
6/14/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Maple Leaf Swingers


Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Located a few blocks from my house, the new Maple Leaf playground just opened in May. The renovation has been going on for more than a year, and I drive by nearly every day, so it was high time to visit on foot to see if the kids got their parents’ taxes’ worth.
 
It’s a beautiful, colorful space with plenty of fun things to climb on, swing from and run around. More important, it has several benches and even a shady shelter to sketch from.
 
As happens during most of my visits to playgrounds, all the activity and movement attracts me, especially the interactions between parents and kids at the swings, but then I freak out about the perspective challenges that the swing set presents, and I run out of steam when I get around to sketching the people that interested me in the first place. This time I didn’t bother with the swing set; I went straight for this dad who was talking on his phone the whole time he was pushing his little girl on the swing. I guess I’ve learned this photographer’s lesson before – why not improve the composition by zooming in close to the action? – but the summer is new, and it takes me a while to remember things I learned last summer.
6/13/13 Take-Sumi ink
With those swingers under my belt, I moved to the back of the playground and took a wide-angle view.
 
By the way, yes – I did refill my Lamy with Platinum Carbon ink, so I could have used watercolor today. The brand new jungle gyms and kids’ clothes would have been fun to paint. But the more I paint, the more I learn from not painting if I pay attention to what monochrome ink has to teach. I’ll be back there another day soon with my watercolors, but for today, I decided to listen to the inks.


6/13/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dry Pen and a Lesson in Composition


6/12/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Iroshizuku Take-Sumi inks, S & B Alpha
Several of my watercolor pans were nearly empty, so I was pleased with myself that I remembered to fill them before going out this afternoon for a quick sketch. Unfortunately, as I sat down to sketch at a sunny Lakeside Plaza table near Green Lake, I realized that the fountain pen that is usually filled with waterproof Platinum Carbon ink was bone dry. And since I’ve been trying so hard to keep only the bare essentials in my bag, I didn’t have a spare waterproof pen! Curses! (See – there are good reasons to carry just-in-case supplies! Not that it helps to say told-ya-so to myself.)
 
Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use color, especially since one of my chosen sketch subjects was wearing a bright red dress that would have been fun to paint, I did have two other fountain pens filled with brown and black water-soluble inks, so I decided to make do.
 
Ever since Gail and Frank’s workshop, I’ve been a lot more aware of composition. My sketch compositions are not always better than they used to be, but I’ve discovered that learning to abandon a bad composition is almost as important as being able to identify a good one.
 
6/12/13 Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
At left is the composition I started with. The woman on the right who was interacting with her baby in a stroller caught my attention first. Then I realized the stroller was nearly obstructed from my view by a chair, so I flitted over to a second woman – but didn’t leave enough space for her companion. Instead of continuing to struggle with this crappy composition for another half-hour, I stopped right away and turned the page.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Missing Child


6/10/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Foreground, middle ground, distance: A composition should include all three to give a sketch depth and context. That’s what we learned from Frank and Gail last month in their Urban Sketchers workshop, “Line to Color.”
 
Today at the Green Lake playground, I thought I had a good idea for a composition that would include a swing set in the middle ground and picnic tables and trees in the distance, but I would need to find something for the foreground. Just as I was thinking about this, a toddler appeared close to a nearby bench, but I wasn’t quick enough, so I put the bench in as a placeholder for the foreground. I figured the next time a toddler toddled past the bench, I could try to at least get the child’s scale right, and then I could fake in the details later. I left a nice open space near the bench to put in the kid, but in the hour that I waited, none appeared again.
 
That’s the trouble with urban sketching: People are either in your way or not there when you need them.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ted Houk Regatta, Green Lake


6/8/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
Heading for Green Lake on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon can be an exercise in frustration if you’re not into competitive parking or walking as a contact sport. I knew it would be crowded, but I hadn’t anticipated all the shelters and folding chairs lined up on the lake’s south shore. The additional crowds today were rooting for their favorite paddlers competing in the Ted Houk Regatta, sponsored by the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club.
 
I didn’t sketch any actual races – the kayaks went by too fast for me then – but I managed to capture a few paddlers who were going by at a more leisurely rate.
 
The crane on the right side of the horizon is the same one I sketched a few weeks ago on the north side of the lake.

A Fourth Season of Maples


6/8/13 watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
The Japanese are very much into the four seasons of the year – philosophically, poetically and commercially. If you go to Hiroshima in March or April, you will see nothing but cherry blossom icons. In the humidity of August, refreshing motifs of the natsu mikan (summer oranges) will help you forget how much you’re sweating (not). Visit Kyoto in autumn, and everywhere you look, both in reality and in merchandise packaging, maple leaves will be turning.
 
I don’t think of myself as being very Japanese in most ways (as I get older, I keep seeing myself turn more and more into my mother, but that’s not the same thing), but the symbolism of the changing seasons appeals to me.
 
Now that it’s June, I was finally able to sketch this stand of Green Lake maple trees in full leaf. In the past year, I’ve sketched them five times – twice in the fall when they were blazing for months – so I’ve now completed the cycle: Four seasons of maple trees. Like Hokusai’s 36 views of Mt. Fuji or other artists who have depicted the same scene multiple times, maybe this stand of maples at Green Lake will become the one thing I sketch over and over, never tiring of it, its seasonal cycles giving me a sense of completion.
 
See the other seasons:

Autumn: Oct. 11, 2012, and Nov. 5, 2012

Free Car Wash


6/8/13 Sailor pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
My car was so filthy that I would have been happy to give a donation to a good cause like a school band or a Girl Scout troop. So when I saw a bunch of teenagers holding up signs promoting a car wash near the Fairview Christian School, I eagerly turned off of Roosevelt Way Northeast toward the school. “No Donation! FREE Car Wash!” read the sign. Really? Free?
 
Hmmm. I couldn’t imagine that anyone there would try to sell me a timeshare condo, so I continued into the lot. It turned out to be exactly as advertised: a free car wash! I sat in the car while they hosed and scrubbed it clean. I was in the middle of this sketch when I remembered that the seal between my side window and the rag top on my convertible doesn’t quite seal, and suddenly my sketch was sprayed a bit. Through the windshield, the view of the car ahead of me was similar to a very rainy day.
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