Friday, September 20, 2019

Vintage Colored Pencils: Sanford Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils

Vintage Sanford Prismacolor watercolor pencils

A while back, I was digging through a box of art materials I had had for a long time, looking for something, when I came across a few random Sanford-branded Prismacolor watercolor pencils. I don’t know why I had only a few or when I had acquired them, but I’m guessing I’ve had them since the early 2000s or possibly even the ‘90s.

Curious, I gave them a scribble. They are nearly as soft as traditional (wax-based) Prismacolor pencils, and the cores are equally thick. In application, they feel very similar to traditional Prismacolors, too – a bit waxy, almost like crayons. The big surprise, however, came when I gave the swatches a swipe with a waterbrush: Their pigment quality is very high. My interest piqued, I started looking for more on eBay and fairly quickly found a nearly new set of 24 at an excellent price (half the price of a contemporary set).

Gold end cap and an unfinished end.
Based on the Sanford branding, these USA-made Prismacolor watercolor pencils first came out in the ‘90s. Like traditional Prismacolor pencils, the lacquer on the round barrel indicates the core color, and the end is unfinished. Branding, color name and color number are printed in gold. To set them apart as watercolor pencils, they also have a gold end cap.

Although the set gives me a good color selection, I had so much fun using only primary colors when I reviewed Cretacolor Marino pencils recently that I decided to do it again with the Prismacolors: I chose Crimson Red, Sunburst Yellow and Copenhagen to make the apple sketch. Compared to the Marinos, the Prismacolors are so highly pigmented that I didn’t need to apply many layers. They blend beautifully and easily. I left the cast shadow unactivated so that the dry application could be seen. Since they are very soft, the Stillman & Birn Beta paper’s tooth is apparent (I like the optical blending that occurs with dry pencils).
9/10/19 vintage Prismacolor watercolor pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Many vintage pencils are not comparable to contemporary pencils, either due to lack of pigment or some other factor. However, I had such a good experience making the apple sketch that I did something I rarely do in reviews of vintage pencils: I made comparison swatches with my most-often used contemporary water-soluble colored pencils. The swatches below show heavy applications of Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle next to the vintage Prismacolor. The Prismacolor competes very favorably in pigment content and solubility with all of them. In softness, it is probably closest to Supracolor but waxier in application.
Left to right: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d'Ache Supracolor, Cd'A Museum Aquarelle, vintage Prismacolor (Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook)

I wonder if these old Prismacolors ever came in sets larger than 24. . . ? Looking at Mexican-made contemporary sets on Blick and Amazon, the largest seems to be 36 – a far cry from the staggering 150 colors available in Prismacolor Premier’s traditional line. Prismacolor is obviously not making the same investment in water-soluble colors, so perhaps that was always true.

Regardless of the number of colors available, I’d be leery of the quality of any contemporary Prismacolors (I’ve ranted about them previously . . . I had to toss a set after the cores continually broke as if already broken inside the barrel). But I’m going to keep poking around on eBay to see if a larger vintage set ever shows up (based on the price I paid, I don’t seem to have much competition from other buyers!). In the meantime, I’m delighted that I grabbed these pencils and will happily use them.

When I reviewed my Holland sketch kit, I mentioned that I was unhappy with the brick red I had been using and wanted to find a replacement. The Prismacolor set includes a Terra Cotta that might be what I’m looking for – I’m eager to give it a try in the field.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Last Gasp of Summer

9/12/19 Lake Union Park

After days of cool temps that forced me to put socks on for the first time since June, we had a few afternoons of partly sunny skies, and I was out in a T-shirt again! The day we saw the MOHAI fashion exhibit was one of those days, so we took advantage of being at Lake Union Park to enjoy the sunshine.

I made a small sketch of the park’s footbridge, which enables pedestrians to take a shortcut across Lake Union to MOHAI, and the interesting shadows it cast under the early afternoon sun. Then I walked halfway across the footbridge to sketch the Tordenskjold, a halibut schooner built in the Ballard neighborhood in 1911. It’s one of several historic wooden boats moored on Lake Union at the Center for Wooden Boats.

The whole time we were at the park, I kept wondering where all the Canada geese were. . . usually the park is full of them, and walking requires stepping carefully to avoid what they leave behind. I needn’t have worried; walking back to the car, we found a bunch of them doing what they do best.

9/12/19 Poop machines busily at work.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Seattle Style: Fashion/Function

9/12/19 REI's ZipAll suit

I don’t think of Seattle as a city known for fashion; if anything, we are the height of Grunge anti-fashion. Yet it turns out that many designers either began here or somehow put Seattle on the fashion map, and I learned all about it at the Museum of History and Industry’s current exhibit, Seattle Style: Fashion/Function (through Oct. 14).  

It was fun to see a range of clothing from evening gowns to Doc Martens spanning the past century or so. Although I saw a number of pieces I wanted to sketch, including a ‘60s dress decorated with the Space Needle and other Century 21 World’s Fair motifs, I chose the bright green ZipAll suit. Made by local outdoor clothing manufacturer REI, the suit was an April Fool’s Day spoof last year. The suit, which zips apart into multiple pieces, features a blue cape that “not only helps you look like a badass, but also doubles as a bib for those messy campfire meals.” The best part about the spoof was the accompanying video!

Dress with Space Needle and other World's Fair icons
Kurt Cobain's sweater and cap --
Grunge fashion at its best.

I love this outfit... such timeless elegance.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Mystery Machine

9/5/19 Roosevelt neighborhood

New construction is popping up all over the neighborhood where I get my hair cut. It’s annoying because parking is always difficult to find, even during normal times, and now it’s harder to find than ever. The upside, though, is that I see plenty of heavy equipment.

This machine, which inconveniently occupied several parking spots, is something I had never sketched before. I have no idea what it does or how its parts move, which made it especially challenging to draw. I wish I could have seen it in action, because the motion would have helped me understand what I was looking at. Anyone have an idea how it works?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ellie’s Scooter Plus Symposium Sharing

9/14/19 Ellie's Aprilia Scarabeo (with Kate's Prius behind it)

Ellie Doughty rides an adorable Aprilia Scarabeo scooter. When USk Seattle met in the Queen Anne neighborhood Saturday, I didn’t get farther than the meetup point because I wanted to sketch the scooter right there where she had parked it. Bonus: I knew she wasn’t going to move it anytime soon.

Our sketch outing was in a slightly different format than usual. After sketching, we had our throwdown in the Queen Anne branch library conference room. We then stayed on for a brown bag lunch and informal presentations by those who attended the Amsterdam symposium. In addition to sharing information about their workshops and other symposium experiences, several participants passed around their Amsterdam sketchbooks. Since I had very little opportunity to see Seattle sketchers while there, it was especially fun to hear about everyone’s experiences and see their sketches.

Sharing symposium experiences

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Life-Drawing Weather

9/9/19 10-min. pose

It had been nearly four months since I went to a life drawing session at Gage. (I can’t bring myself to sit in a dark studio during the sunny summer months.) Feeling creaky and rusty, I bought a fresh punch card and went on the first day of fall quarter.

9/9/19 5-min. poses
Fortunately for me, the model was Shawna, whose fluid, dynamic poses make me feel more warmed up than I really am. It’ll take me a few more weekly sessions to get back in the groove, but it feels good to be back at Gage.

I’m wearing a hoodie and socks again. Even as I type this, our furnace is being tuned up for the winter. As a friend posted on Facebook, “Summer didn’t even say ‘bye. Bitch just packed her shit and left.” My only solace is that life-drawing weather is back.

9/9/19 5-min. pose
9/9/19 20-min. pose

9/9/19 10-min. pose

9/9/19 10-min. pose

9/9/19 5-min. poses

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Good-Bye, Viaduct; Hello, Fresh View

9/6/19 The last stump of the viaduct coming down.

It seems like we’ve been saying good-bye to the viaduct for a long, long time. Kate recalled a sketch outing at the waterfront in 2013 when we first started hearing news about the viaduct’s impending doom. I missed that one, but I began my own good-byes last December, when a few other sketchers and I got together to sketch the viaduct. Then there was the official farewell party and closure in February, when I walked on the viaduct for the first and only time.

Once the action got under way, I went back to sketch various parts of the viaduct in March, April, May and June. Last week I went back yet again to sketch the last remaining stump (top of post), which is slowly being demolished even as I type this (viaduct demolition, it turns out, is not a bang but a whimper).

Enough already. I’ve said my good-byes, the viaduct is (mostly) gone, and it’s time to greet the bright view that is now visible after being hidden for decades behind that dark gray mass. Seattle USk did just that yesterday, and it was refreshing to see familiar things in a new light – literally.

First I walked to the edge of a parking lot east of Alaskan Way to face west and sketch the Pier 55 building and some cranes behind it. Although this building is not particularly special to me, it’s the first time I’d seen it from that spot. Note the green Starbucks umbrellas in front of it . . .
9/13/19 Pier 55, Alaskan Way
9/13/19 Facing downtown from the waterfront

For my second sketch, I went to that Starbucks and faced east to sketch whatever buildings I could see from the outdoor table I shared with a couple of other sketchers (at right). It’s the same vantage point I had last December (below) – except now I could see the buildings. (And the same HUGE sale is going on next door.)

It’s a bright, new waterfront.

12/21/18 Here's how the same view looked last

Friday, September 13, 2019

Holland Sketchbook Finally Bound

Sketchbook from my travels in the Netherlands

I finally had some time over a couple of rainy days to make the covers for my Holland sketchbook and bind it. You might recall that I used to hand-bind all my sketchbooks, but I stopped last spring when I started using Stillman & Birn softcovers as my daily-carry. It’s been a relief not to maintain that task anymore, which had become burdensome instead of fun. Going forward, I decided I would hand-bind only my travel sketchbooks. As I’d hoped, putting together this book of my trip to the Netherlands was fun and felt special again instead of routine.

As is my custom for travel sketchbooks, I drew a map of the country on the first page, along with the flag. (The flag of the Netherlands sure was easy compared to Portugal’s last year!) I got the idea for drawing a map as part of a travel sketchbook years ago when I saw that Joel Winstead does that. Adding the flag came from my own embarrassment when I went to Germany in 2013. Seeing several flags flying in front of a building, I realized I didn’t know which was the German flag. From then on, I always research it before traveling (and make sure I take the appropriate colors so I can sketch it when I see it).
I sketched the map and flag of the Netherlands on the first page before my trip began.

Another thing I do whenever my travels include an Urban Sketchers Symposium is to bind the symposium program right into the sketchbook. Coptic stitch is ideal for incorporating any folded stack of paper, such as a brochure.
The symposium program is bound right into the book.

Wherever I had spaces left on sketchbook pages, I filled them with postcards or other ephemera I picked up along the way. The covers are also made of a collage of maps, postcards and brochures.

This is probably the thinnest of all my travel sketchbooks from trips of about the same duration (the Amsterdam heatwave took its toll; I made smaller and fewer sketches), but it’s still thick with fond memories.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sept. 11 (Plus Mumblings About Color and Paper)

9/11/19 Fire Station 38 in the Wedgwood neighborhood

On my way to the grocery store, I always pass Fire Station 38 in the Wedgwood neighborhood. Yesterday its flag was at half-staff.

Technical note: Ever since I stopped using a gray marker as a grisaille to tone colored pencils, I’ve been trying different techniques to achieve varying values in hues, some more successful than others.

Red is such a tricky color. It seems bright, but its value is relatively dark. This fire station has vivid red accents on some parts of the building. I thought that if I had colored all the red parts fully with red pigment, then it would be difficult to make the few shaded parts darker (the areas under the two awnings – a triangle on the upper level and a horizontal stripe above the front doors). This corner of the building was mostly in light, so I left the lighter side of the gray building areas paper white, and used dark gray pigment to indicate shadows on the gray building areas. I fully activated red pigment only to convey the red areas that were in shade. For the red areas in full sun, I barely activated some red lines to suggest red. And then I used dry pencil to lightly shade the walls that were slightly away from the sun, just to give the building some dimension. This sketch is a less successful attempt, and I’m not happy with most of it.

Occasionally, I’ve tried adding green or dark gray to red to indicate the darker value, but sometimes I can’t get enough contrast if the red is intense.

Back when I was still using watercolors, I battled all these same value issues (though I don’t think I understood values then as much as I do now), and it was even more difficult. At least with pencils, I’m less likely to get five different shades of mud. Color is challenging in any medium!

Second technical note: I’m really loving the richer hues and better sky washes I’m able to get on Stillman & Birn Beta compared to Zeta. But Beta’s tooth, which eats colored pencil pigment for lunch and dinner, is making me sharpen all the more frequently. When I’m trying to draw small details, I can’t seem to get super-soft Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles sharp enough. (This is not really a complaint; I don’t want to encourage myself to make tiny details.) I recall that this was also the case with cold press Canson XL, which I used for years, but Zeta’s smooth surface made me forget.

Every paper choice is a compromise.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Excellent Condition, You Haul

9/4/19 Lake City

As soon as I posted on Facebook the sketch of the urban couch I showed you yesterday, a friend commented with a map indicating a couch she had spotted in her neighborhood. Sweet! Another brown leather sofa, this one was in much better condition than the first – much better, in fact, than the couch in my own livingroom. If I drove a pickup instead of a Miata, I might have thought about it a little longer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A Slow Season for Urban Couches

9/3/19 University District

It’s been a slow summer for urban couches; the last time I sketched one was in early June. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been out of town frequently, or maybe I just haven’t been in the right neighborhoods. In any case, I’ve been jonesin’ for one.

Historically, Labor Day weekend is a big one for moving, so I went out hunting. Sure enough, I spotted this brown leather one in the U-District. Upholstery torn in several places, its owner didn’t even bother with a “free” sign; it was destined for the next trash pickup.

Across the street, another pile of furnishings had been abandoned. I left those for the next sketcher, though.

I only do couches.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Elvis Sighting at Edmonds Car Show

9/8/19 '50s Chevy at the Edmonds Car Show
9/8/19 Elvis sighting!

Driving up I-5 as my intermittent windshield wipers took care of the drizzle, I was afraid I might be the only sketcher at the Edmonds Classic Car & Motorcycle Show. I was very wrong! Undeterred by the “chance of showers,” a good size group of USk Seattle showed up, and we were even rewarded with a little sunshine in time for the throwdown.

Although a bit smaller than the Greenwood Car Show (which I’ve sketched many times), Edmonds’ show was no less enthusiastic, and oldies music matched the vintage of many classic cars on exhibit. Even Elvis was there, dressed in a bright pink shirt and Hawaiian lei!

I felt a bit wistful sketching the bright red 50s-era Chevy (top of post), not because of the car but because of the maples behind it – just beginning to turn. It’s always hard to let summer go.

Since I don’t sketch in Edmonds often, I took advantage of the opportunity to include some local architecture behind a mint green ’68 Chevy Biscayne – the Edmonds Theater. Built in 1923, this single-screen theater has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 30 years.
9/8/19 Edmonds Theater and '68 Chevy Biscayne
After the throwdown, a few of us went to lunch at Las Brisas Mexican restaurant, which conveniently seated us on its patio facing the street. While splitting my burrito with Natalie, I had a great view of a ’71 AMC Javelin. (All of us concurred that even if you’ve had practice sketching contemporary cars, the proportions of vintage cars are especially challenging! They are somehow always longer than they could possibly be.)
9/8/19 '71 AMC Javelin
Just as I got back into my car, it started pouring and continued raining all the way home. Impeccable timing, USk Seattle!

Undeterred by a little drizzle!

Lunch with a view at Las Brisas

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Bird Watching at the Arboretum

9/7/19 belted kingfisher

Our local Audubon Society offers free neighborhood bird walks through city parks and other urban areas with bird-friendly habitats. Yesterday we took advantage of ideal weather conditions (dry, not too hot or cold, overcast sky, which makes viewing easier) to take part in a walk at the Washington Park Arboretum. Larry Hubbell, who writes an excellent birder’s blog, led a dozen or more participants through the arboretum, telling us many stories of birds he has encountered in the park and nearby. In anticipation of possibly seeing certain species, he would stop occasionally to pull out a huge binder of astounding photos he has taken. Pointing out small details in his photos, he helped us learn to identify species and to differentiate between male, female and young birds.

9/7/19 green herons
Although I love watching and sketching the backyard birds at our feeders every winter, I’m not a serious birder. I don’t think I have the patience to scan quietly through a scope until I spot something hiding among the lilypads or trees. But I do enjoy the challenge of trying to sketch whatever I do manage to see.

For the first time, I tried sketching while viewing birds through binoculars, which was somewhat frustrating. I had to keep putting down the binoculars to draw, and when I looked back up again, it would take me a while to find the bird again. A spotting scope would make that a bit easier, I’m sure. Drawing through binoculars, though, is probably an excellent way to strengthen my visual memory: Each time I looked through the lenses, I tried to memorize as much detail as I could so that I wouldn’t have to look back again so frequently. I managed to make a few gesture sketches of a couple of green herons, which I’d never seen before (they look very different from and are much smaller than all the other types of herons I’ve seen), and a belted kingfisher high up in a tree.

We plan to participate in more of these fun and informative guided walks.

Larry Hubbell uses his own photos to show us different
bird species and details to help identify them.

Lake Washington's Montlake Cut, which borders one side of the arboretum, is where we spotted green herons.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Another One Bites the Dust

9/2/19 former University Christian Church

The day before I left for the Twin Cities, I was driving through the University District when I saw that bulldozers and excavators were busily gutting the former University Christian Church. Built at the turn of the 20th century, it was an active church until last year, when its congregation apparently moved to Lake City. More recently, some social service organizations have used the building, but that was just temporary. I started seeing the writing on the wall – literally. When graffiti appears and people start using alcoves as their bedrooms, it’s clear that a building’s days are numbered.

I didn’t have time to sketch it then, but I saw that the ‘dozing was going fast, so I was afraid it would be flattened by the time I returned home. On Labor Day I took advantage of free street parking in the area to take a look. Relieved to see that at least some of the Gothic structure still remains (the part I like to sketch most anyway), I regret that I never sketched it when it was still whole.

Most likely it will be replaced by yet another box like these across the street.

More boring boxes.
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