Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mt. Rainier

4/30/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
If I take a five-minute walk, I can see this view of Mt. Rainier. Today is the very first time I sketched it. You’d think I’d be sketching it every chance I get.

It’s not a pleasant walk – I have to cross a busy, multi-lane, four-way-stop intersection that should have gotten a signal light many years ago. No matter the time of day, everyone’s crabby at that intersection because people don’t seem to know how to use a four-way, so a lot of honking and cussing goes on. Grumpy drivers never watch for pedestrians, so crossing means taking my life into my hands. (Driving there doesn’t help, as there’s no parking.) Once I get past that intersection, I have to stand on a heavily trafficked street overlooking Interstate 5, so it’s noisy, smelly and altogether not a wonderful place to sketch.

But none of this is why it’s taken me this long to finally sketch Mt. Rainier. The reason is that on most days of the year, a thick cloud cover obstructs it.

Not today.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Richard Blanco at the Library

4/29/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
It was standing room only in the Seattle Public Library Northeast Branch’s community room, so I was happy I arrived early enough for a front-row seat. We were all there to hear Richard Blanco, who was the inaugural poet for President Obama last year. In his inaugural poem, “One Today,” Blanco speaks elegantly and movingly about what it means to be an American.

At 44, he’s the youngest inaugural poet. Blanco is also the first immigrant, Latino and gay writer to hold the honor. With humor and eloquence, he talked about his experience as a Cuban who immigrated to the U.S. in utero, the balance between the left and right sides of his brain (he’s an engineer as well as a poet) and his struggles with identity. Hearing him read that now-famous poem in the intimate setting of a neighborhood library somehow seemed even more powerful and uplifting than at the occasion for which he wrote it.

I knew he had seen me sketching, so I showed him the sketch after the reading, and he autographed it and asked me to e-mail it to him!

If you are not familiar with the poem, you can read the full text or view the video of his inaugural reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Shadows

4/28/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Sailor pen, brown ink
mix, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

With only a short time to spare between errands and appointments, I made a quick stop at Roosevelt Square, where the rooftop-level Starbucks has nice outdoor seating when it’s sunny. It made for an interesting shadow study of a chair at the next table.

The three young people made a more challenging study. The girl facing me was half in shade from the awning, which also made an interesting shadow – if her hair hadn’t dissolved quite so much!

But having shadows means there was sunshine, and it was warm enough to sit outdoors – who am I to complain about anything? 







4/28/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Sailor pen


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tacoma Antique District

4/27/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Uniball opaque pen, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Sunshine, clouds, wind, rain, sleet, hail – whatever kind of weather we wanted, we got it today, several times over. Hardy Seattle Urban Sketchers who opted to sketch outdoors had an exciting morning dodging rain in Tacoma’s antique district, but I chose the dry and comfy corner window table inside Tully’s.

My warm-up sketch was a man seated in a wheelchair just outside the window. Fortunately, an overhang above him kept him dry, because right about the time I finished that sketch it started to pour.

4/27/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Diamine
Grey inks, Sailor pen, Canson XL paper
Across the street was the grand old Rialto Theater, home of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rialto originally opened in 1918. Unfortunately for me, it stands on a steep incline, which made my perspective wonkier than usual. But fortunately for me, the sun came out for about five minutes – just long enough to put in some shadows.

After sharing sketchbooks and meeting a number of new members (a surprisingly large turnout for a day of iffy weather), several of us walked a few blocks to B Sharp Coffee House for lunch. After enjoying one of the best grilled caprese sandwiches I’ve had in a long time, I snuck in a sketch of some of the other sketchers. Left to right are Nilda, Jane, Gail and David. (When Jane saw that I was sketching her, she sketched me on a napkin!) (Halfway through my sketch, I dropped my favorite Metropolitan pen, and the poor nib bent in half! I’m going to either fix it myself or see if it can be replaced.) Also at lunch were Frank and Frances, but I ran out of space on my paper, so they were spared.

Before heading back home, I stopped in briefly at King’s Books, where the Wayzgoose Letterpress and Book Arts Extravaganza was going on. Many local printmakers and book artists were selling their work and demo-ing presses. I enjoyed thumbing through a stack of beautiful reproductions of Chandler O’Leary’s sketches, made a tiny print from an old platen press and bought a small notebook from Orange House Press. The funniest moment was at the table of an artist who had an old manual typewriter. She was showing a boy how to type, advising him to strike each key firmly, one at a time. A second boy came up to him, stared at the contraption and said, “What’s that?” Another (also gray-haired) observer and I looked at each other and laughed ruefully, feeling really old.

4/27/14 Diamine Sargasso Sea and Chocolate Brown inks, Zig markers, Pitt Artists Brush Pen

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lightfastness is a Philosophical Issue (and a Longevity Test of Zig Markers)

My "urban palette" of Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers.
A blog reader who enjoys using Zig Clean Color Real Brush Markers and who knows that I also use them contacted me recently. She had read on another blog that these markers had proven not to be lightfast, fading away in direct sunlight after only a couple of weeks. Because she prefers the convenience of Zig markers over other materials, she has not been sketching as much as she used to because of concern over the Zigs’ fugitive quality. She asked me what my experience with these markers has been and whether I knew of similar markers that had greater longevity.

Original sketch scanned on 11/30/12 (Platinum Carbon
ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Epsilon)
I’ve always assumed that Zig markers are not necessarily lightfast or considered archival (the Kuretake website makes no claims that they are), but that issue has not been of primary concern to me as far as sketching goes. If I ever decide to frame a sketch and hang it on an exhibit wall, I will not use Zig markers (or other fugitive materials) in that sketch. But for my daily sketching, I resolve the lightfastness issue by scanning every sketch the same day I make it, and all the sketches stay in closed sketchbooks that stand on a bookshelf, rarely seeing the light of day. (I do use acid-free paper, because I’ve seen acidic paper deteriorate regardless of how it is stored.) I’m fine with my sketchbooks not lasting much longer than I do. But I can understand that people who want their sketches to last longer than their own lifetime (the woman who contacted me hoped to leave her sketchbooks to her family) would be concerned about the longevity of the materials they use.

Since she asked the question and it had never occurred to me to check, I decided to do a test of my own. I started using Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers around the end of 2012, so I pulled out a sketchbook from back then and found a sketch dated Nov. 30, 2012: Santa and his helper at the mall, with their red clothing colored with a Zig marker (at left). That Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook has been closed and stored on a bookshelf since I filled it.

Zig marker swatches at lower left made on 4/24/14.
After a year and a half, with my naked eye, I could not see any difference between the original sketchbook page and the digital image from the scan I made the same day that I sketched it. To double-check, I took the same red Zig marker and made a swatch mark in the lower left corner on the same sketchbook page (actually, I wasn’t sure which of two red Zig markers I used, so I made two marks, and I think the correct one is on the right). (See new scan at right.)

I still can’t see a difference. Perhaps in five or 10 or 100 years, the color would change even without being exposed to light. But for my purposes, I’m OK with that. Other sketchers need to make their own decision based on their purposes.

So that’s my answer to her question as far as material longevity of Zig markers goes. But there’s a philosophical side to this issue that I think is more important. When she mentioned that she hasn’t been sketching as much lately due to her concerns about the Zig markers fading, I felt alarmed. “When your kids are adults and are showing their own kids the sketches that grandma made, none of them will care that the ink has faded,” I wrote to her. “They will only marvel at the wonderful scenes and objects and feelings you captured in your sketchbook.”

If concern about an art material prevents sketching, then that is the single-most important reason to stop using it and find a replacement. Because the only thing that really matters is to keep on sketching

Friday, April 25, 2014

Debacle and Recovery at UW Campus

4/25/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
More than a year ago, the Seattle Urban Sketchers got together at Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus. I didn’t have the courage to take on its spectacular Gothic architecture, so I settled for one of its many ornate windows. Then I had to sketch in the library coffee shop to recover.

I had a form of déjà vu today when a very small group of Friday ad hoc sketchers met at Suzzallo again. This time I was feeling somewhat cocky – after all, I “passed” Stephanie Bower’s Good Bones workshop only last month! – so I went straight up to the quiet study room, which is as vast and tall as any cathedral. I searched for and thought I found my vanishing point, but just then, right before my eyes, the arched ceiling and walls deteriorated into Dali surrealism. A sketching debacle ensued (see bottom of page). Fortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about sketching, it’s that if a sketch is going badly, abandon it immediately.

4/25/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, colored pencils, Canson XL
To lick my wounds, I retreated to a different part of the quiet study room and sketched a student – something firmly planted in my comfort zone. By the time I finished that sketch, sunlight was streaming through the stained glass windows, and I figured it was getting warm enough to sketch outdoors. I knew exactly what I wanted to sketch.

A while back, an organization called Keep Washington Green raised awareness of forest fire risks and prevention, and its name became a marketing slogan. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when I was a UW student, pranksters routinely climbed to the top of the statue of George Washington during the night to pour a bucket of green paint on George’s head, keeping Washington green. That organization has been defunct for a couple of decades, and today’s students probably have never heard the slogan, so the bronze George (sculpted by Lorado Taft) was looking as fit as he probably did the day in 1909 that he was dedicated at the entrance of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition.

Natalie, Peggy and I were the only sketchers who showed up for today’s ad hoc, but we still honored the Urban Sketchers tradition of a sketchbook sharing and a group photo, which in this case was a selfie.

Tina, Peggy and Natalie on the steps of Suzzallo Library.
The quickly abandoned debacle.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vulnerability

4/24/14 ink wash, water-soluble colored pencil
Canson mixed media paper (5-min. pose)
A well-known piece of advice for people who fear public speaking is to imagine that the audience is sitting in their underwear or buck naked. It’s difficult to be intimidated by a disrobed audience: Unclothed people seem vulnerable.

4/24/14 ink wash, water-soluble colored
pencil, Canson mixed media paper
(5-min. pose)
Whenever I go to life drawing sessions, I’m always a little bit in awe of the courage it takes to be naked in front of a roomful of strangers who are there to scrutinize. No matter how much the models are being paid or how much experience they have (and therefore are presumably accustomed to doing it), they are doing something I could never do. To me, it’s the epitome of vulnerability.

Though I don’t think I captured it, this morning’s model had a particularly vulnerable face. At one point, when I was drawing his ribcage, I could see his heart beating under his skin.

4/24/14 ink wash, water-soluble colored pencil,
Canson mixed media paper (5-min. pose)
4/24/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Pilot Iroshizuku
Take-Sumi inks, Canson mixed media paper
(20-min. pose)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Brief Stop at Pilling’s Pond

4/23/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Pilling’s Pond is an urban neighborhood gem – a somewhat secret one. In Seattle’s Licton Springs neighborhood, the property has been a waterfowl reserve since the 1920s. According to Wikipedia, 12-year-old Charles Pilling adopted three injured mallards and dug a small pond for them on the property where he lived. He spent the rest of his life breeding and caring for a wide variety of native and exotic ducks. Now supported by a nonprofit agency (Pilling died in 2001), Pilling’s Pond has grown to take up most of the half-acre lot. Anyone driving by on North 90th Street can see the pond and ducks swimming there. And yet I think of it as a “secret” because whenever I drive by, hardly anyone is there enjoying the wildlife.

Nilda and I have talked about sketching there several times, so after having lunch together this afternoon, we decided to visit Pilling’s Pond. Nothing keeps the waterfowl within the reserve, so presumably they can fly out anytime (certainly freeloading pigeons take advantage of the comfy ambiance by flying in), and also presumably some have already migrated north. But honestly – so well-fed and breeding in a safe sanctuary, why in the world would they ever want to leave?

That’s the question we pondered as we sketched, though not for as long as we might have liked. It started raining shortly after we arrived. (Nilda’s bird book identified this dozing couple I sketched as northern pintails.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

March – April 2014 Sketchbook Bound

March-April handbound sketchbook
With sketches dated from March 3 through April 15, my eighth handbound sketchbook is done. (One book is still in the Museum of History and Industry exhibit, but I count the two separately bound volumes from the Barcelona Urban Sketching symposium and my related travels as one sketchbook, so that’s why you can still see eight books on the shelf [below]. Not that you’re counting, but this blog serves as documentation for myself, so I feel compelled to account for everything accurately.) Featured on the covers this time are sketches of MOHAI’s beautiful clock and a maple finally showing signs of spring.

It’s probably not apparent in the photos, but instead of the black bookbinding thread I used on the previous volumes, I tried an olive green thread this time. I like the way the thread coordinates with the various shades of green in the cover sketches. It’s one of several thread colors I got recently from Oregon Art Supply. Although it’s 3-ply like my black thread, it feels a little thinner, so I wondered if it would make a difference in the binding, but it doesn’t seem to.

Stitching visible in the center of a page spread.
It does, however, bring up an issue I’ve considered occasionally in my bookbinding explorations: how the binding thread looks in the center page spread of each signature. More often than not, I enjoy sketching across the opened page spreads, so the thread ends up marching rather obtrusively down the center of the sketch (see image at left). Of course, I always scan the sketches while they are still in signatures that are temporarily stitched with white thread, so the stitching is less apparent in the digitized images (see the blog post in which this sketch initially appeared). I could do the final Coptic binding with white thread, but then I’d lose most of the visual impact of the exposed thread on the spines, which is the thing that appeals to me most about Coptic binding. I guess it’s an acceptable tradeoff: Slightly obtrusive thread in the center of each signature offset by beautiful spines.

Even after nine (not counting do-overs from errors and books made while learning) Coptic bindings, I still find consistent thread tension to be a challenge. But that, too, is something I’ve come to accept as part of the hand bookbinding process. Most of my sketches are wonky in some way; if the binding is too, then they are made for each other.


My handbound sketchbook collection (with an old fuzzy friend serving as a bookend).

A View from the Throne

4/22/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Sailor pen, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Seated on the throne this morning, looking out the window at the steady rainfall, I started thinking about what I could sketch inside the house. I’m not enrolled in Danny Gregory’s Sketchbook Skool, but I’ve been looking through some of the participants’ homework uploaded to Flickr, and I know that ordinary household items are a common theme (going all the way back to Danny’s Everyday Matters). I also recalled an Urban Sketchers Flickr group weekly theme a year or so ago: “Sketch the bathroom.” Inspired by all of that, I turned my head in the opposite direction from the window and found a tightly angled view of the sink (our bathroom is very small).

(If you look closely at the end of the faucet, you’ll see my reflected self-portrait. This, too, was inspired – by Lapin’s book, Oldies but Goldies, in which his tiny self-portrait appears in the reflections of shiny chrome surfaces of the vintage cars he sketched.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Queen Anne Neighborhood

4/21/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Diamine Sargasso Sea inks, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The weatherman kept saying rain was expected today, but the comfortable temperature and patches of blue between clouds made me bold. I popped the top down and cruised up to Queen Anne Hill for one of my favorite views of the Space Needle and the downtown skyline from Highland Drive.

The sky was getting bluer by the minute, so I took a detour before heading home to sketch Bethany Presbyterian Church on Queen Anne Avenue. It was actually the steeple – somewhat hidden by a tree – that had initially caught my attention, so I drove around the sides and back of the church, trying to find a better view. It turned out that the obstructed view from the front was still the best, so I included the front elevation (and, of course, the tree in the way). Drawing the arches and other Gothic details instantly brought me back to the Köln Cathedral in Germany as well as many buildings in Barcelona. Today, as then, I channeled my inner Inma (Serrano) to try to bring the building to life.

4/21/14 Platinum Carbon, Diamine Chocolate Brown and Diamine Grey inks, Zig markers, Canson 140 lb. paper

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cheerful Traffic Circle

4/20/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Pitt Artists Brush pen, Zig marker,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When I sketch our neighborhood traffic circles, I usually take a slightly wider view so that I can capture the trees in the center. But today these cheerful tulips deserved a closer look.

Happy Easter, happy spring, and happy outdoor sketching weather (I hope for all of you)!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Product Review: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils

A few years ago, I invested in went hog wild on a fairly substantial collection of colored pencils – wax-based, oil-based and especially water-soluble. I’ve always had a penchant for dry, unmessy, colorful media, and colored pencils filled the bill perfectly. Seeing all those colors lined up in a box (or, as they are in my studio, displayed in large mugs and vases like bouquets) makes me feel the way I imagine some women feel about jewelry. (A box from Tiffany’s? Meh. But a bag from Daniel Smith? That would definitely bring a sparkle to my eye.) 

The 12 colors in the set (applied to Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook).
Unfortunately, after studying a few books on colored pencil techniques and trying my hand at using them for a while, I realized they weren’t my medium of choice. All the small, careful strokes needed to “paint” with colored pencils tried my patience, not to mention my hand and wrist’s ability to withstand repetitive motions. I also realized that, as portable as they are, colored pencils aren’t ideal for urban sketching. Although I know some urban sketchers who do unbelievably beautiful work on location with colored pencils (Alissa Duke springs immediately to mind), the time it takes to do it well just isn’t for me. So although I still like to play with colored pencils on a rainy day like today, use them in museums, and use water-soluble ones in life drawing sessions, I don’t otherwise pick them up much.
Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils applied dry to dry paper, then
washed with water. (Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook)

Yet, like a woman who collects way more jewelry than she could ever wear, I still find colored pencils somehow coming into my possession. Even though watercolor has been my urban sketching color medium of choice since the beginning, I don’t feel at all compelled to collect and accumulate paint tubes. (In fact, I’m always trying to reduce the number of paints I use.) But there’s something about colored pencils. . .

All of that comes as a way to explain how a box of 12 Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle water-soluble pencils came into my home the other day, especially since they are probably the most expensive water-soluble pencils I’ve seen to date. Roz Stendahl mentioned them on her blog a while back, which made me perk up because I hadn’t heard of them before. Anyway, I won’t bother to pretend to have an excuse (but at least I bought the smallest assortment available). Now, on to the product review. . .

Museum pencils applied to wet paper. (Lanaquarelle 140 lb. paper)
The first thing I noticed about the Museum pencils is that, in their dry state, they are definitely the softest, creamiest, most concentrated colored pencils I have ever applied to paper. The marketing brochure that came with them didn’t say much, but my guess is that they contain more pigment and less binder than most other colored pencils. It takes very little water and few brush strokes to activate them on paper, and once wet, they look as much like wet watercolor paint as any initially dry medium I’ve seen.

For comparison, I did some sample swatches of Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer pencils and Caran d’Ache Supracolor II pencils, which are both excellent pencils but less expensive than the Museum line. Once activated with water, all three pencils have strong, rich colors that look a lot like wet watercolor paint. I think the main difference I could find was that the Museum pencils were much softer to apply – almost like oil-based crayons.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer 
Caran d'Ache Supracolor II
I tried applying them dry and then brushing them with water (which made colors blend beautifully). I also tried wetting the paper completely first, then applied the pencil to the wet paper, and that’s when they really seemed to glide effortlessly with vibrant color. But as soon as I hit a spot on the paper that was nearly dry, the pencils skidded to an unpleasant, unpigmented stop (very unlike completely dry paper, where the pencils went on smoothly). I’m not skilled enough to control them on varying degrees of paper wetness, but I’m sure someone else knows how to take advantage of these qualities.

Are they worth the extra cost? Probably not the way I use them. But I’m thrilled to have shiny, new jewels to wear take with me to my next life drawing session. And as their name implies, they will be in my bag the next time I want to sketch in an art museum (and don’t want to be reprimanded by a guard like last time, when I thought I could get away with markers).

My jewelry collection.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fully Leafed

4/18/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, Kuretakebrush pen, watercolor, Zig marker,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper 
This slightly asymmetrical maple growing in a traffic circle has become my favorite seasonal sketching tree – the one I track from season to season to watch it change. A few blocks west of my house, it’s easy to walk to on a comfortable day, and there’s plenty of parking if I need to stay in my car. Though not exactly sunny, today was unexpectedly dry, so I took a short walk to sketch it, now fully in leaf. Since I could stand anywhere instead of staying in the car, I took a slightly different angle this time. Here are the other three times I’ve sketched it:


Technical notes: Today’s tree might be something of a small watercolor milestone: I think I’m finally ready to ditch the sap green paint that has been in my palette for probably a year (preceded by various other greens before that). I used to depend on greens from the tube, at least to get me started in a mix and sometimes entirely. But the longer I sketch, the braver I become in mixing my own greens from various combinations of blues and yellows (with uneven success). I used to think it was the blue that was critical, but now I’m finally learning that it’s the yellow that makes the difference between an OK green, a really muddy one or a vibrant one.

All the greens in today’s sketch were made with varying combinations of nickel azo yellow (which I learned about from Stephanie Bower), Quinacridone Gold, French Ultramarine or Indigo. Not a touch of that sap green was used. It hasn’t been used in quite a while, but I left it in my palette as a security blanket. I’m ditching it – and maybe I’ll replace it with something more useful.

On a similar subject, I’ve been using cobalt blue the past month since Stephanie’s workshop also, but I’m not convinced it’s useful. I like it when I need a clear blue sky, but I could also use Ultramarine for that. (Let’s face it: I’ve had few opportunities to paint clear blue skies!) I might ditch the cobalt, too, and then I’ll have two vacant spaces in my paint box for something else. Or maybe I’ll decide that six paints is all I need! With the two ditched colors, here’s what’s in my palette:

Alizarin Crimson (WN)
Quinacridone Sienna (DS)
French Ultramarine (WN)
Indigo (WN)
Nickel Azo Yellow (WN)
Quinacridone Gold (DS)

Any suggestions on one or two really useful colors to add?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Product Review: Diamine Sargasso Sea

4/17/14 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink, Zig marker, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The ongoing drizzle today drove me to Zoka Coffee for an Americano and to try out a new ink sample: Diamine Sargasso Sea. When I was scribbling with it at home, the intense shade of blue – which looks nearly purple when wet – really appealed to me. But under all the soft natural light streaming in through Zoka’s high windows and against white watercolor paper, it was almost too bright.

I’ve found all Diamine inks to be beautifully wet-flowing, and Sargasso Sea is no exception. Coupled with my smooth Metropolitan, I get a consistently rich, bold line. I do like how easily it shades with just a touch of my waterbrush, but by the same token, it’s more difficult to control the ink’s intensity when I want more subtle shading, like on faces.

4/17/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Zig marker, Sailor pen, Canson XL
For comparison’s sake, I did my second sketch using Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, which is easier to get soft washes with. Still, in looking at the two together, Sargasso Sea’s intensity gives the sketch a morning daylight glow, while Take-Sumi has a late-afternoon look. They definitely suggest different moods. (All the more reason to carry multiple inks at any given time: You never know what mood you want to sketch until you get there.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two Themes in One

4/15/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
With all the trees mashed by power lines that I’ve been sketching lately, and with all the blossoming cherry trees I’ve been trying to catch before they disappear, I kept hoping to find a cherry tree that had been split by power lines so that I could sketch two themes in one.

That tree turned out to be just around the corner on Fifth Avenue Northeast, but I hadn’t noticed earlier because I have to pay attention to cars while I make the turn onto my street at that intersection.

Yesterday I guess I wasn’t paying as much attention to cars, because suddenly there it was – two cherries, in fact. They’re not quite as badly mutilated as some trees I’ve sketched, but it’s impressive that they are wider than they are tall.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Goats!!!

4/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Did my blog post title get your attention? It got mine when I saw it as the subject line of an e-mail I received today.

On a few occasions, I’ve seen goats “mowing” hilly, overgrown properties within the city, but they’ve always been too far from the street to sketch. My friend Tony let me know that a herd of goats was busily at work near I-5 in the Roosevelt neighborhood, in case I was interested in sketching them. Who could resist a lead like that? I dashed right out.

4/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The goats, managed by Rent-a-Ruminant, had quite an audience when I arrived at the property just off the Northeast 65th Street freeway exit. People of all ages were peering through the chain link fencing, snapping pictures of the ruminants as they grazed on long grasses, weeds and blackberry bushes. The land slopes up abruptly there, and I could see how humans with power mowers would have difficulty clearing the area, but it was no problem for these hungry goats. A human team member helped them out with a weed whacker.

4/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
Capturing a large number of goats grazing on the slope in
one composition was difficult. After a while, I gave up on that and moved over to a flatter part of the property, where nearly half the herd (I counted a total of 38) was chewing their cud or simply dozing. These resting ruminants gave this city girl a rare opportunity to sketch details of their strange horizontally slotted eyes and wispy beards. Sure, I’ve sketched goats at the Puyallup Fair and Woodland Park Zoo, but somehow these urban goats seemed more laid back. After all, they get hired to eat, rest and repeat – not a bad way to earn a living. 
4/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink

4/15/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
Rent-a-Ruminant employees on duty.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Past Prime

4/14/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Kuretake brush pen, Pitt Artists Brush pen, watercolor,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
A little past its prime, this beautifully asymmetrical cherry tree near Green Lake was nonetheless giving its all. The fat, round clusters of pink blossoms were still as exuberant as I was, dressed in T-shirt and sandals as I sketched.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Value Sketch at the Park

4/13/14 Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
We seem to be skipping over spring and going straight to summer! The temperature was up to the mid-60s this afternoon, and wherever I looked at Maple Leaf Park, people were dressed in shorts and flip-flops. (Although I wasn’t quite ready for shorts, I regretted the socks I was wearing.)

As I settled down on a bench and pulled out my usual pen and watercolors, something about the playground scene reminded me that I still hadn’t done a sketch for this week’s Urban Sketchers Flickr group theme, Value Drawing – “Don’t draw lines, only tones.” And then I remembered that I had done a monochrome ink sketch of the same scene about a year ago. The busy-ness of the playground and the two trees and their shadows must lend themselves to tonal sketching.

When I’m using watercolors, I feel compelled to create hues that match reality as much as possible. I know I don’t have to, but I can’t seem to help myself. When I’m focusing on value, though, I feel liberated to use any color. And so it was today when I pulled out the only two pencils in my bag: Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencils, one with shades of green and a second with an odd mix of reds and pale blue. The fact that they were both somewhat unsharp also saved me from the temptation to draw in details. I don’t use graphite pencils much, but these multi-hued pencils are a fun kick in the pants!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Up Close and Personal

4/12/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Zig marker, Pitt Artists Brush Pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When the “no parking” signboards started going up on our block a week or two ago, we knew something was up. Sure enough, a couple days ago the heavy equipment, noise and dust arrived. The next day the letter from Seattle Public Utilities finally came: A sewer line repair would be taking place during the next four weeks.

I waited until today, Saturday, when I knew they wouldn’t be working so I could get up close and personal with the bright yellow digger. Cars, planes, boats, construction machinery – sketching vehicles of any kind intimidates me. But I have been looking at and thinking about all the delightful vintage cars in Lapin’s book and how he makes them come alive. I have also been thinking about Inma Serrano’s Urban Sketching workshop in Barcelona last year, during which she urged us to sketch buildings as living, breathing monsters instead of inanimate architecture.

It doesn’t take much imagination to view a crawler excavator as a monster, so I pulled up my little stool a few feet away from the big guy and channeled my inner Lapin and inner Inma.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Danny Woo Gardens and Panama Hotel

4/11/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Canson XL
140 lb. paper
The Friday ad hoc sketchers were meeting at the historic Panama Hotel and teahouse, but I think everyone had it in the back of their minds to sketch outdoors if we lucked out on weather. Indeed, despite a bit of a chill, the sun was out, so most of us opted to walk across the street to sketch at the Danny Woo International District Community Gardens.

Rich with trees, vegetable and flower gardens and even a chicken coop, the multi-tiered space is a tangle of crooked stairways and surprising peek-a-boo views of many downtown landmarks. After a quick sketch of a couple of garden residents clucking and scratching in their coop, I settled in to sketch a tree that had been cut down with Safeco Field behind it. Like several other sketchers, I decided this community garden is worth several return visits, especially as the weather improves.

I explored the gardens a bit more, then went back to the Panama Hotel to warm up with a cup of genmaicha and a matcha green tea shortbread cookie. Now used as a bed and breakfast and teahouse, the Panama Hotel (which figured prominently in the popular novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford) is full of comfy furniture and fun décor to sketch.

4/11/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, Zig marker

4/11/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Grey inks, Zig markers

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