Monday, March 31, 2014

Maple Leaf Park

3/31/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Spring has definitely sprung! The blue sky and temperatures in the low 50s invited Greg and me to walk a few blocks north to the Maple Leaf Park, which opened last fall after much anticipation. I’ve sketched the lower playground area a few times, but hadn’t yet climbed the stairs to the upper level, which has a playfield, walking path and, on a clear day, a view of Mt. Rainier.

With so much to choose from, I dithered a bit about what to sketch. Then I spotted the public art – Confluent Boulders by Patrick Marold. The sculpture is made from two sliced-up boulders taken from the Cedar River and Tolt River watersheds, which both feed the Maple Leaf reservoir (which is now hidden beneath the park). I composed the sketch so that our neighborhood icon, the (now defunct) Maple Leaf water tower, would be behind the sculpture. I’ve sketched the water tower several times – all by itself from across the street, while standing practically under it, and from a distance partially obscured by a tree. I think I like it in today’s composition best with the sculpture in the foreground and looking out over our fresh park.

I have a feeling I’m going to be sketching at this park often!

Photo by Greg Mullin

Paraty, Here I Come


Compared to last year, when the registration time was 6 a.m. PDT, this one was a piece of cake – registration for me was 9 a.m. I started clicking the refresh button at 8:59 a.m., got into the site at 9 a.m. sharp, actually remembered my password from last year, and five minutes later, I was done. It was almost anti-climactic! But I know the fun is just beginning. Paraty, here I come!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sketcher in Residence, Part 2

3/29/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Today was my second of three times that I’m participating in the Museum of History and Industry’s Urban Sketcher in Residence program. Today was also Drawn to Seattle Family Day in celebration of Gabi Campanario’s “Drawn to Seattle” exhibition. Kids had an opportunity to make their own sketchbooks, get their caricatures drawn and, of course, sketch with me in the gallery sketching area.

3/29/14 Platinum Carbon and Iroshizuku Kiri-Same inks, watercolor,
Zig marker, opaque white pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
I was hoping the day would be dry and warm enough to sketch outdoors, but it was wet and windy as usual. But I got to the museum early anyway, wanting to get in as much sketching time as possible. My first sketch was of Slo-mo-shun 2, the hydroplane suspended from the ceiling over the main floor gallery. During an early lunch at MOHAI’s Compass CafĂ©, I sketched the Virginia V moored on Lake Union right outside my window. (I couldn’t have asked for a better view, even if I’d been outdoors!) Just as I was about to put away my paints, she belched a big cloud of dark smoke!

3/29/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
My favorite sketch of the day was of Dexter Rothchild, AKA Dexterius, a young man who was doing free caricatures of kids. It was impressive to watch him use a bold black marker (from the smell, I’m guessing it was a Copic) to identify each child’s distinguishing features – usually hair, eyes and facial shape – and exaggerate them to create a fun caricature. He was entertaining and quick enough to keep the kids from getting bored as he drew them. I’m not as good as he is at capturing a likeness, but I’m just as fast: I sketched both him and his subject in almost the time it took him to finish one caricature. (But I gotta hand it to him – I wouldn’t want to have to sketch on demand the way he did, with a long line of kids all waiting their turn!)
3/29/14 Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Strathmore 400 140 lb. paper
3/29/14 Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Strathmore 400 140 lb. paper

3/29/14 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink
During my gig in the sketching area while interacting with visitors, I sketched the Space Needle in pen and ink. I’ve sketched numerous views of the Needle, but this may be one of my favorites. I like the simplicity of monochrome ink (and I think I finally got the Needle’s proportions right). I also sketched a couple of the many kids who came by to participate. The girl on the bench, about seven years old, came to show me all of her excellent drawings. I’m always inspired by the lack of inhibition and pride of young artists!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gates Foundation Visitor Center

3/28/14 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s goal is to battle “extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system.” I got a small glimpse of the immensity of those challenges when I visited the foundation’s visitor center today with the Friday sketchers. I saw many interactive multimedia exhibits of the programs and innovative ideas that the foundation is helping to fund toward meeting its goal.

The center engages visitors by making them aware of life in other parts of the world where people don’t have easy access to basic life essentials like clean drinking water. Even a trip to the restroom made me aware (through a sign in my stall and images on the walls) that I can’t take for granted the luxury of a flushing toilet.

I got so distracted by the exhibits that I hardly got around to sketching. When I finally did, I first sketched a chlorine dispenser, which is used in Kenya, Haiti, Somalia and other countries to disinfect the drinking water. More than 8,000 of these dispensers are currently in use worldwide.

3/28/14 Private Reserve Velvet Black and
Diamine Grey inks
My second sketch was of a foot-operated water pump, similar in mechanism to a treadmill, that is used by farmers.

Another distraction, though a good one, was discovering that my cousin Shaun works at the visitor center! I hadn’t seen him in ages. We had fun taking our photo together and putting it into a digital display in one of the exhibit rooms.

My cousin Shaun silhoutted against the photo of us on a digital display.

The sloppy-wet day kept a lot of sketchers away! Ann, Tina and Nancy sharing sketches.
(Not pictured are Natalie and Chris, who left early)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Product Review: Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi Ink

3/27/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Strathmore 400 140 lb. paper
Not unlike some human relationships, I have complicated, ambivalent feelings about Pilot Iroshizuku inks. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a love/hate relationship – I definitely love most of them. The colors are rich and vibrant, and they flow beautifully wet in every pen I’ve used them with. Their price – $28 a bottle at GouletPens.com and JetPens.com, a little less at Amazon.com – causes some of my ambivalence (though when purchased as $2.50 samples from GouletPens, I’m quite happy).

Most of my ambivalence comes from wimpy washes I’ve seen with some colors. A couple months ago I complained about Kiri-Same, and last December I was disappointed with Take-Sumi. But maybe it was my line work that was wimpy and not the ink wash, because I’ve definitely had a change of heart about Take-Sumi (Bamboo Charcoal).

To write and draw with, Take-Sumi is a nice, solid black, but nothing special; with the pens I use, I’ve not seen any shading. It’s the application of water, though, that makes it sing. If I lay down a fairly heavy line, the wash I get with Take-Sumi is a complex mix of blue, gray and even some brown. (With the right pen, I suppose you’d see this in the shading; let me know if you do.) It’s become one of my favorite inks to use when sketching people because I can achieve delicate shading on faces.

I’ve previously admitted to a blind love for Iroshizuku inks. But right now I have my eyes wide open, and I’m back in love with Take-Sumi. (I may have to re-evaluate other colors, in case I’ve misjudged them also.)

11/6/13 Take-Sumi ink, Sketchbook Project sketchbok

4/2/13 Take-Sumi ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha
sketchbook

Big Earrings

3/27/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen,
Strathmore 400 140 lb. paper
I don’t think much about earrings, but if I did, these would weigh heavily on my mind.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My No-Big-Deal Philosophy

3/26/14 pencil, Van Gogh watercolors,
Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
The other day a blog reader who wanted to be an urban sketcher e-mailed me asking for tips on how to get started with drawing. Here’s an expanded version of my response:

  • Sketch every day. In addition to having the obvious benefit of regular practice – improvement sketching every day is what creates a habit. You don’t have to dither and hem and haw: Should I draw now? Well, maybe I’ll wait until tomorrow when I have more time, etc. Sketching every day also has the benefit of turning a potential confrontation with the Inner Critic into no big deal. If you don’t like the sketch you just did, so what – do another one tomorrow.

  • Carry a small sketchbook and pen or pencil with you at all times, no matter what, always. No exceptions. Even if you’re just running out to do an errand or fitness walking in your neighborhood – because you never know when a sketch opportunity will present itself. Case in point: A few weeks ago I had to go pick up our Chinese food takeout order. I was only going out to do that one errand, so all I grabbed was my wallet. When I got there, the restaurant was much busier than expected, so I ended up waiting for 15 minutes. They seated me at a small bar facing the kitchen, where the harried, bustling staff were stir-frying and chopping like mad men. You can imagine my regret that I didn’t have my sketchbook.
    3/4/14 Pentel brush pen, Stillman
    & Birn Alpha sketchbook

    That last point is also part of my “no big deal” philosophy: You don’t have to look for a block of time to “make art” – you can sketch while waiting for something else to happen (our days are full of that). Make it as easy as possible to sketch daily.

1/28/14 Tombow markers
  • Lower your standards about what is sketch-worthy. As an urban sketcher, I always want to get outdoors or just out of my house to find something to sketch. But the weather or other circumstances sometimes make that difficult. So if the day is almost done, and I haven’t sketched yet, I’ll randomly select a pen or vacuum cleaner or Pez dispenser in my range of view. Nothing beautiful or inspiring – just stuff. Again, it reduces opportunities for excuses and makes sketching no big deal.

    No big deal – but it all counts.
What do you do to support your sketching habit?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Product Review: Pilot Prera

The Pilot Prera: just as good as its cousin, the Metropolitan, but much lighter.
For the past few months, my Pilot Metropolitans have become my sketching pens of choice (unless I want a variable line effect, in which case, I reach for my Sailors). Their consistently and reliably smooth nibs and stellar performance even after being idle for weeks at a time have made them replace most of the Lamys in my sketch bag. Their $15 price tag certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

The only characteristic of the Metropolitan that doesn’t appeal to me is its significantly heavier weight. At 26 grams (according to GouletPens.com), the brass-bodied Metro is 9 grams heavier than the resin Lamy Safari that I find so comfortable to sketch with (though I’ve become disenchanted with the Lamy’s unreliable nib). I started poking around at other inexpensive Pilot pens, and I saw that the resin Prera weighs in at 15 grams – even less than the Safari. I decided it would be worth a try.

Goulet doesn’t carry the chartreuse green one I’d seen elsewhere, so I kept looking and found one on Amazon through vendor Santa Trading Japan for less than $30. (With free shipping, it arrived from Japan in less than two weeks.) I’ve been sketching with it for a couple of weeks, and the nib is performing exactly like the Metro’s (though it looks a little different): very smooth and consistently reliable. What’s more, it’s a perfectly comfortable light weight – both for sketching with and carrying around in my bag.

Nib comparison: Lamy F and Prera M
Since I’ve been using Metropolitans with an M nib (the only size available, apparently), I’ve gotten used to the size, which I find sufficiently fine. so although the Prera is available with an F nib, I opted for an M. Japanese nib sizing is so much smaller than European sizing that I’d say the Pilot M is equivalent to (or even slightly finer than) a Lamy F. 

One quality about the Prera that simple delights me is extremely idiosyncratic: the tactile snap when replacing the cap. One reviewer described this feeling/sound as similar to the experience of closing the door of an expensive car, and I have to say I agree. It’s as if it glides into place rather than snaps. (Whoooaa, that’s a lot to say about a less-than-$30 pen! I’ll try not to get giddy.)
3/25/14 Hello Kitty Pez dispenser sketched
with Pilot Prera using Pilot Iroshizuku
Tsuki-yo ink.

I haven’t yet tested the Prera for idle time, but given how well both the Metro and the Petit1 tested on this aspect, I’m confident that the Prera will perform just as well.

With performance as excellent as the Metropolitan yet with a lighter weight (and a high-end-car-door cap snap to boot), what’s not to love about the Prera? (Hmmm. . . I might have to get another one, like a brown one, which is a difficult color to find in inexpensive fountain pens.)

Sorry, Lamy . . . these Pilot bad boys are going to kick the rest of you out of my bag. But it’s not as if I’ve rejected Lamys completely from my life. They are still very good writing pens – I keep several inked up in a rainbow of (nearly) color-coded ink colors (see below) for use at my desk – it’s just that sketching demands a more rigorous set of performance criteria than writing, at least for me. For example, at home, when all I’m doing is jotting in my journal or making a shopping list, it’s OK if I have to scribble several loops to get the ink flowing. But out in the field, I like to be able to begin a sketch with the first pen stroke. And for that, I’m happily counting on the Pilots.
My rainbow of Lamy pens containing color-coded inks,
now relegated to staying home.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Portrait of a Blossoming Cherry

3/24/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumo inks, Kuretake brush pen, watercolor, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When I posted my first blossoming tree sketch of the year on Facebook a few weeks ago, my friend Laura told me about a particular block in the Sunset Hill neighborhood, which has become famous for its spectacular cherry trees. After yesterday’s peak experience at the UW Quad, I figured the trees Laura referred me to might be near their peak, too. Plus I was looking for an excuse to take a drive with the top down (yes, it’s finally that warm!), so I headed over to Sunset Hill.

3/24/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu and Diamine
Chocolate Brown inks, Sailor pen, Zig marker
The complete opposite of yesterday’s mob scene, the block between Northwest 77th and Northwest 78th on 33rd Northwest was so serene that the only sound I heard was the drone of a distant mower. After I parked and got out, no other cars came by the whole time I was sketching. Strollers and dog walkers took their time on this block, stopping to snap a photo or simply gaze up at the canopy of delicate pink. Cherry after cherry lined both sides of the street at varying stages of blossoming. Most were at their peak, but others still had tight buds. Many had the stout, gnarled trunks and thick branches of trees that had been around the block a few times (so to speak).

I walked slowly up the middle of the street, considering whether to try to capture as many trees as possible in one sketch, a small cluster, or an individual tree. That’s when one stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know if it’s the oldest on the block, but it must certainly be among the oldest. Five huge branches broke out from a trunk so thick it looked like a throne. It deserved a portrait.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

At Their Peak

3/23/14 Platinum Carbon, Iroshizuku Kosumo and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor,
Zig markers, Kuretake brush pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When we went to the UW Quad last Monday, the cherry blossoms weren’t at their peak yet. The cold and imminent rain kept most people away except students who had to be there anyway. Today – a sunny Sunday with clear skies and nearly 50 degrees – it was different.

I went to sketch the cherry trees, now at their peak, but I ended up being more interested in trying to capture the massive crowd – the kind you normally see only at Bumbershoot, Folklife or other summertime “events” that get promoted for weeks ahead. We decided it was more crowded than last year, which was even warmer. But after weeks of mostly rain and overcast skies, I guess a sunny Sunday with the cherries at their peak is an event – and I was happy to join the masses at this unofficial celebration of spring.

University of Washington Quad

Tina among the masses. (Photo by Greg Mullin)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lots of Action, Not Much to Sketch

3/22/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
There’s a lot going on in the Roosevelt neighborhood where the new Sound Transit light rail station is being built, but it’s difficult to see any of the action. You can certainly hear it, and traffic around there is being disrupted enough that you certainly experience it, but you can only see the tops of the huge cranes and other heavy equipment moving around in the distance. Nearly a year ago, I sketched the very beginning of construction, intending to continue sketching as progress was made, but they’ve since blocked the site off with fencing. I’ve been driving around that area for the past couple weeks trying to figure out a place from which to sketch, but it’s not easy.

Since it’s Saturday, I parked at Roosevelt High School and found a good angle on several pieces of equipment* that were quiet today (although something smaller was definitely moving around behind the fencing, making noise). I wish I knew someone who lived in one of the tall apartment buildings nearby – I would get up on the roof for a better view.

Still, I can’t complain. Despite the overcast sky, it was warm enough to get out of my car for this sketch, the sounds of RHS cheerleaders and the soccer team practicing behind me. Outdoor urban sketching at last: I could be happy drawing a potato bug.

* And since I cant intelligently speak of what any of these pieces of equipment do, this sketch qualifies for this weeks Urban Sketchers Flickr theme, "What is this thing?"

Friday, March 21, 2014

It Could Have Been a Christmas Tree

3/21/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor Canson XL 140 lb. paper
In the Maple Leaf neighborhood on Fifth Avenue Northeast, this fir could be a Christmas tree – it’s so stately and nearly perfectly symmetrical. Well, except for that bite taken out of the middle.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Natalie’s En Plein Air Studio

3/20/14 Cloud study. Watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Natalie had asked me to show her how I make collage covers for my sketchbooks, so after a couple of hours of tearing and gluing paper (which is all collage is, as far as I’m concerned), she invited me out on her sundeck for lunch. Although the cars were frosted this morning, by lunchtime the sun was out – not exactly warm, but mercifully sunny. The delicious lentil salad and chocolate chip cookies she fed me were made even more delightful with fresh air and a breathtaking view of Lake Washington near Matthews Beach.

Lake Washington behind Natalie and Tina.
The clouds, in particular, were an amazing, ever-changing display. We both realized we had a great opportunity to practice painting clouds en plein air – with comfortable chairs and a table, to boot. As we pushed lunch aside and got out our sketch supplies, I said, “Natalie, you didn’t tell me you had an outdoor studio with a view of Lake Washington!”

At various points during our sketching, it sprinkled off and on, but the clear glass awning overhead kept us dry. Now that’s what I call en plein air painting at its best.

Natalie's en plein air studio.
Not a bad way to celebrate the first day of spring!



3/20/14 Watercolor, Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Comedy of Frustrations

3/19/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo inks, Sailor pen, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Some days are like this.

The strong wind, predicted rain and solid, gray sky didn’t bode well for outdoor sketching, so I headed out for Zoka Coffee as I often do on days like this – except it was so crowded that I couldn’t find a single empty seat.

Annoyed but undaunted, I left and decided to look for a cherry tree or something else I could sketch from my car. Driving through a few familiar neighborhoods, I spotted one or two power line-mutilated trees I could have sketched, but the available parking near those trees wouldn’t give me the angle I needed.

I’ve been wanting to sketch the ongoing construction at the new light rail station, and I remembered that Roosevelt High School’s parking lot looked like it might give me a partial view. I was hoping I’d get there around the time school let out, but I was too early, so the lot was still full. Thwarted again.

Finally, only a few blocks from home, I spotted massive twin trees that had both been chopped away through the center, and the whole block was empty – at last, something to sketch and somewhere to park!

I hadn’t even gotten a pen out yet when I heard a plunk and then a plunk-plunk. Hail stones were bouncing on my windshield! If it was like most hailstorms around here, it would stop in a few minutes, so I started to sketch. The hail, mixed with rain, started falling faster, so I had to keep turning on the wipers. Sketching the trees as quickly as possible, I was filling in the darker areas when my trusty Sailor ran out of ink. I made do by washing the lines with a waterbrush.

By then the rain/hail was coming down so hard and fast that I felt a splash on my shoulder (I drive an 18-year-old convertible with a soft top that doesn’t seal completely), so I had to lean slightly away from the side window to keep my sketch dry. The wipers couldn’t keep up. I got out my light gray Zig marker, thinking I would simply show the rain – and that marker was practically dry, too! The sketch was done, whether I wanted it to be or not.

Despite my series of frustrations, I’ll end this post on a hopeful note: Even mutilated, those trees were covered with tiny buds. Spring is near.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Second Year of Blogging

11/5/12
As a city girl, documenting flowers and leaves is not really my thing, but I still find the hand-illustrated nature journals of others delightful. Published nature journals such as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden and the contemporary A Life In Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal by Hannah Hinchman were inspiring to me even before I began sketching.

4/1/13
My urban sketchbook is not what I would call a nature journal in any way, nor do I use it to systematically record natural events. But because I sketch something every day, over the course of time, my sketchbook does tend to document the patterns of nature by default. Now that I’ve been sketching for two-and-a-half years, I’m already seeing the cyclical repetitions. If I’m curious about when the cherry trees were in full bloom last year, all it takes is a quick scan through my sketchbook of that period (or, even easier, through my blog). When I compare the sketches of the same stand of maples at Green Lake in the fall, I see that they lost their leaves much earlier in the season last year compared to 2012. Sketches of
4/29/13
neighborhood trees in all seasons,
the returning mergansers, a brood of young geese, beachcombers during the year’s lowest low tide – they’re all things I’ll likely sketch again and again, year after year.

Two years ago today, Fueled by Clouds & Coffee went live. I could hardly say that my blog is in any way similar to the diary of an Edwardian lady. But like Edith Holden’s journal, my blog has become a record of happenings in a tiny part of the world as observed by one person. I thoroughly enjoy sharing those observations, and if you enjoy them too, then that’s a bonus.
8/27/13

Thanks for reading! And onward to another year of blogging.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Early Sakura

3/17/14 Kuretake brush pen, watercolor, Diamine Grey ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
So many blossoming cherry trees have been spotted around town the past week that I started wondering if the amazing trees in the University of Washington’s Quad were at their peak yet. On March 30 last year, the Quad looked like a fairyland of trees as white as clouds. Thousands of people were on campus enjoying the unseasonably warm and sunny day, and unbelievably, I wore flip-flops as I sketched those trees.

It was a couple weeks earlier than last year, but Greg wanted to try out his macro lens, and the sun breaks in the clouds looked promising, so we head out for the Quad. Apparently two weeks makes a huge difference, because the trees today were definitely not at their peak yet.

Flip-flops? Not a chance: I was shivering before I even finished this quick sketch, and we both decided to bag it long before our parking meter time ran out. It’s a good thing, too – as we walked across campus, it started raining, and then the rain turned quickly to hail! 

Photo by Greg Mullin

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Final Exam

3/16/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Diamine Grey ink wash, Zig marker, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Whenever I take a sketching workshop, I feel like whatever results from the exercises aren’t my “real” sketches because the compositions are either contrived (by being directed by the instructor) or I received so much help that I can hardly tell which lines are mine. Did I really learn, or do I just feel like I learned because I nodded whenever a concept was explained, and I thought I understood? For me, the “final exam” for such workshops is always whatever happens after the class is over.

This morning Stephanie’s Good Bones workshop participants joined the Seattle Urban Sketchers in the Chinatown-International District. While others ducked out of the pouring rain into cafes or shivered under awnings to sketch iconic ID buildings, I headed straight for the King Street Station. I’ve sketched there twice before – once last May, and again in December – and both times I avoided (perhaps evaded is more accurate) any views that would have required exercising the dreaded P word: Perspective. But today I knew that if I wanted to say I had passed the workshop, I would have to give myself the final exam.

With that in mind, I plunked myself down on one end of the station’s main floor looking out at the grand columns near the front entrance and up at one of the curved corner balconies. As instructed, I began by drawing in a reference rectangle in the distance as well as my horizon line and vanishing point. I started to draw in the converging guidelines with pencil, but as I did, my brain was fighting me every step of the way: Those lines can’t be right! Look with your eyes! How could they be right?! So I fought back in the only way I knew how: I switched to indelible ink!

I didn’t show the sketch to Stephanie to hear her tell me I had passed; I knew I had. But I did show it to her to let her know that I couldn’t have made this sketch before taking her workshop.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding the Bones

3/15/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
“Good bones” is what award-winning architect and urban sketcher Stephanie Bower calls the foundational structure of a strong architectural sketch. Learning to find those good bones and put them on paper with color is how I spent the last two days as a participant in Stephanie’s “Good Bones” workshop, sponsored by Urban Sketchers.

Unlike Gabi Campanario’s USk workshop in 2012, Gail Wong and Frank Ching’s workshop last year and all the workshops I took at the USk symposium in Barcelona, “Good Bones” included working in an actual classroom for more than half the class time. After hearing presentations and seeing demos on perspective the first day and watercolor the second, we completed several exercises each day at our desks working from photos to practice the concepts learned. I had gotten so used to “learning on the street” – literally – in the other urban sketching workshops that the traditional classroom format seemed unusual and surprising to me. But I definitely realized the significant advantage of being seated indoors at a comfortable desk while learning and practicing basic concepts.
3/14/14 This is the perspective exercise sketch that resulted in my
"Holy shit!" moment.

Although none of the concepts related to perspective, such as finding the horizon line and vanishing point, were new to me, I still had an “A-ha!” moment (actually, in my case, it was, as I exclaimed, a “Holy shit!” moment) when I realized that lines converging toward me pass through the same vanishing point as the lines converging away from me. Now it seems like a “Duh!” moment, but it obviously took me several workshops and books to really get it. And Stephanie’s explanations really helped solidify this critical concept.

Alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and nickel azo make up the triad of watercolor paints that Stephanie recommended for the workshop. Resisting the urge to throw in my more familiar ultramarine or cheat by using sap green, I got to know and appreciate working with one triad for the whole day today. Alizarin crimson is already a part of my everyday palette, but nickel azo was completely new to me, and I was starting to like it by the end of the day. I’m going to replace the lemon yellow I’ve been using with nickel azo for a while and see if it continues to grow on me. I’m less enamored of cobalt, which is much more difficult to get an essential gray with compared to ultramarine (mixing the latter with quinacridone sienna for warm and cool grays has been my staple ever since I learned about it from Gail Wong last year).

3/15/14 Pencil, watercolor. (Painting exercise done from a photo.)
In the afternoon of both days we hit the streets of the Pike Place Market as a group and on our own to put the lessons we learned into practice in an urban sketching environment. The Market on any Saturday afternoon is about as urban a sketching environment as can be found in Seattle – lots of lines converging on a multitude of vanishing points while thousands of people walk by – so we got a good workout putting our theoretical good bones into practice. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Attitude

3/13/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Kuretake brush pen, watercolor, Zig marker, Canson
XL 140 lb. paper
Driving home from the dentist yesterday morning, I spotted this wildly gnarled and mutilated tree about a mile or so west of the neighborhood where I sketched on Tuesday. Like many trees, it’s still completely bare, but I appreciated its expressive attitude.

Although I wanted the star of the sketch to be the large tree, I couldn’t help including the small maple growing in the nearby traffic circle. Unlike the other, this little tree is full of tight buds getting ready for their spring debut. Any day now. . .

(Yesterday was officially the first day of outdoor urban sketching season: It was warm enough to get out of the car to sketch this!)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wistful Redux

3/13/14 Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone pencils, Stillman & Birn
Alpha sketchbook
I’ve tried many times to sketch this photo of my mother when she was a teenager, and even when I sort of manage to capture a likeness, what eludes me is the innocent, wistful expression. In this version, she does look somewhat like my mom, but somehow older.

As I did yesterday, I used Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone pencils, and I again tried to shade in the shapes of the tones first before refining the details. I resisted the urge to define the shape of her face with a contour line and instead put the green background in behind it.

I’m really liking the subtle changes in colors these pencils make. Since the three hues are mixed together in the lead, you can’t really control which color you get at any particular time. I like the continual surprise.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Product Review: Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone Pencils

3/12/14 Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencils, Stillman &
Birn Alpha sketchbook
This sketch was done from a photo of myself at the only time in my life that my hair was shorter than it is now.

I’m experimenting with Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencils – three colors together in one lead – which I first learned about from Roz Stendahl’s blog. The queen of experimentation, Roz has done gazillions of remarkable drawings in just about every medium in existence. I got the pencils several months ago, thinking they would be interesting to try at life drawing sessions, then promptly forgot about them. As often happens, I was digging around for something else when I found the Tri-Tone pencils.

Before I forgot about them again, I quickly pulled up an old black-and-white photo, circa 1959, that unfortunately is very washed out and has little contrast or tone. I used the same tactic I tried at last week’s life drawing session: Instead of drawing a contour line first, I shaded in dark areas with the side of the pencil, then used the point later to shape details afterwards. I used the “Rainforest” pencil first, in tones of green. Since the dress is so white and washed out, I decided to darken up the background using the complementary “Sunset” pencil, which has tones of red and yellow.

The pencils are fun. Like sketching with brightly colored gel pens, which helped me see that emulating realistic colors is over-rated, using Tri-Tone pencils keeps me focused on tone and value instead of hue (which is hard to speculate when sketching from a black-and-white photo anyway). I’m definitely taking them to life drawing – and maybe I’ll even take them out in the field for urban sketching, too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two-for-One

3/11/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Today’s sketch is a twofer. You can see the bare trunk near the top of the leftmost tree where all the limbs had been cut away. Beyond it (to its right), you can see what looks like two more bare trunks. I couldn’t really see it from where I sketched, but after I finished, I drove closer and realized that the second tree had a wide base that divided into two parallel trunks rising upward, giving the impression of being two trees. It, too, had been cut away in the same shape. I found these unfortunate, misshapen trees in the Wedgwood neighborhood.

Note one other unusual feature of this sketch: blue sky!
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