Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Change of Hands

The right perspective

I’ve pulled this hand sketch out of the next batch post because it was especially interesting to do: Inspired by a challenge from Urban Sketchers Japan, I drew with my right (non-dominant) hand. Thankfully, seeing the proportions, contours, angles and other basics was no different than usual, maybe because my brain was doing most of that work. I wondered if the hand-brain connection (right hand connected to the left side of the brain and vice versa) would affect those skills, but I didn’t notice much difference. 

Where I noticed the most difference, and it was significant, was with fine motor control. I found that I could hatch at only one angle, so I had to keep rotating the page. And with my left hand, I can vary the pressure easily, but my right hand had an unrecognizably light touch, and it was difficult to press harder and still maintain movement control.

During these strange times when we are all learning to appreciate things we otherwise take for granted, this drawing made me grateful for my left hand.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Zoom Boom

4/1/20 Friendly faces in my Zoom screen.

I’d never heard of the Zoom videoconferencing app until a few weeks ago, when suddenly it was the app of choice. Designed for remote business meetings, lots of people started using it to socialize in the age of social distancing. Workers are finding it essential, families are using it to stay in touch, and sketchers are using it for casual drink-and-draw style meetups.

I was a little skeptical about whether I’d want to participate; I’m not too keen on videoconferences, and the last time I was in one, my previous laptop overheated! But when my favorite Facebook group (in which everyone collects and talks about pencils) initiated a worldwide meetup, I decided it was a good time to find out what the Zoom app was all about.

More than 30 people from North America, Europe and Asia participated. As the self-appointed sketchographer, I tried to capture as many as I could. Initially when all participants were in the room, the images were so small that it was hard to see. Later we broke out into smaller “rooms” of 8 or 9 each, and it was easier to capture faces.

I admit, it was a lot of fun. And like it or not, this is the way socializing will have to occur in the age of COVID-19, so I may as well embrace it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Life of Pie

4/1/20 pie and livingroom, Maple Leaf neighborhood

It may seem odd to bake pumpkin pie, traditionally a fall dessert, in the spring. But the world has been upside-down lately anyway, and it’s Greg’s favorite.

I sketched the pie slice very quickly before it got devoured. Then I looked past the slice on the kitchen counter to the livingroom and kept on sketching.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Pink Canopy

3/31/20 Crown Hill neighborhood

Dibble Avenue Northwest in Crown Hill is on my checklist of places I go cherry blossom peeping each spring. Imagining that the trees were at peak, I was very sad that I might miss them this year. Then last week I saw David Hingtgen’s sketch of them, and I could resist no longer. The next day I had to go pick up a prescription at the pharmacy anyway (that’s considered an “essential” activity; I felt no guilt going out), so I made a roundabout detour in the opposite direction to Crown Hill first. Safely sequestered in my car, I marveled at the pink canopy overhead. The trees shook their blossoms in the wind, oblivious to everything, and for a moment, so was I.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Morning Meditations

Sketching my hand each day has given me a bit of routine and structure during a time when it’s easy to forget what day it is (thank goodness for the trash pickup, which is still every Thursday). Many writers and other creatives start their day by writing “morning pages” in the Julia Cameron tradition. Like writing morning pages, my daily hand sketch clears my mind while also giving me time to reflect if I’m ready to.

On one morning my thoughts were of my parents and how they must have felt when they were hauled away and incarcerated during the second world war. Fear, anxiety, helplessness, not knowing how long it would last (several years, it turned out) – it must have been unbearable. And yet bear it they did and continued on. Sketching in my perfectly comfortable, well-heated home, all my belongings easily accessible, I felt the weight of what they must have endured and realized that my troubles are insignificant by comparison. I’m grateful that they didn’t have to endure this, too.

Another day I started feeling lazy and was tempted to scribble the wrinkles and creases in my hand. Then I remembered Melanie Reim’s advice when I took her workshop a few years ago: “Make every mark meaningful.” It doesn’t take much more time to make marks that are meaningful instead of random, but to do so requires observing more closely – and that’s never a waste. I was grateful to have received and retained that lesson. 

These morning meditations are opportunities to express gratitude. Even for Cheetos.

Sometimes I'm just angry.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Down Low

3/28/20 Our livingroom, Maple Leaf neighborhood
In the mid-century house where I grew up, some door knobs were made of faceted glass. I was intrigued when I stared into these “diamond” door knobs, and once I invited a playmate to come see our “diamond room.” I made her close her eyes until she reached a glass knob, positioned her eyes near the knob, then revealed the diamonds. I’m not sure why she wasn’t as impressed as I thought she should be.

Recently Rob Sketcherman and Liz Steel put out a sketching challenge to “get down low” inside one’s home for a new perspective. I’d planned to sketch the light fixture in the center of our livingroom ceiling, but I wanted something else to put in the composition. I walked all around, trying to find a way to fit something else in. In the early-century house where I live now, we have a few original glass knobs, but they’re not quite as ornate and diamond-y as the ones in my childhood home. The mullioned French doors between the livingroom and Greg’s study have such knobs, and if I sat on the floor up against the doors, I could see the light fixture through it.

It was not the most comfortable sketch I’ve ever made, but I’m thankful for the challenge, because otherwise it never would have occurred to me to look for a composition from that perspective.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Notable Pencils: Polychromos 111th Anniversary Commemorative Set

This commemorative set is 3/4 the size of a standard Polychromos.

In 2019, Faber-Castell celebrated the 111th anniversary of the German company’s flagship colored pencil, Polychromos, by releasing several limited-edition sets. One set immediately caught my eye: The 12 pencils are three-quarters the size of a standard pencil! How adorable is that! Since it’s one of my favorite traditional colored pencil lines, of course I wanted to help Polychromos celebrate its 111th birthday. (Heck, if I were turning 111, I’d want everyone to help me celebrate, too.)

The tin and the pencil barrel design are a close reproduction of a set that originally came out in 1908. Apparently intended for travel sketching, the set fits nicely in the compact tin, which I can easily hold in one hand. According to the insert, to create an appropriate commemorative design, “We found just what we needed in old product catalogues: presented as a new addition, the Polychromos is offered well-sorted in different packaging and advertised with the colourful image of a spectacular sunrise – the symbol for the start of a new era!”
"The start of a new era."
Although the colors in the set are close to existing contemporary colors, the numbers are different. The short pencils do not include color names, but an included color card indicates that the numbers refer to traditional color names that are no longer used, such as Hooker’s green II and Van Dyck brown. While the glossy round barrel and gold stamping are the same, the anniversary set has an unfinished end (the current Polychromos has a rounded end cap with a gold band).

For a colored pencil historian, perhaps the most useful part of the commemorative set is the insert that includes a Polychromos product timeline showing packaging designs from the past 111 years. If I ever decide to collect Faber-Castell colored pencils the way I collect Caran d’Ache, it will be invaluable to my research.

(This is part of my series of occasional posts that are not really reviews but stories about products I find notable for one reason or another.)

Following the color names, the text reads as follows: "Through careful testing and selection of natural pigments I have after much experimentation been able to put together a selection of 12 new colored pencils which is unparalleled in the trueness of their color. It goes without saying that the pencils and their cores are durable and strong. Count Alexander on Faber-Castell" (translation by Tony Messent)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Art or Not?


Seeing my daily hand sketches on social media, a friend who wants to learn to draw has been giving it a shot, too. Discouraged by her own attempts, she would comment that mine looked like “art” while hers – didn’t. Repeating my usual mantra about how it’s all just practice, I said that the only difference between her drawings and mine was that I have been practicing longer.

I realized that a demonstration would be more effective than words, so I dug out my very first sketchbook. The sketch above was made in January 2012 just a few months after I began to draw. I struck the same pose for the sketch I made that day (below) and posted both together for my friend.

Is one “art” and the other “not art”? Nope – the only difference is eight years of practice.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Across the Street

3/26/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Our neighbor across the street has a cherry tree that I watch from our upstairs bedroom window, waiting for it to peak. I think this is it – a bit earlier (March 26) than two years ago when I sketched it on April 6, standing on the sidewalk. This time I sketched through the window, longingly thinking about the cherries at the UW Quad, which must be at peak by now, too.

Monday, March 30, 2020

“Drawing is Bigger than Art”

3/13/20 Appropos to nothing except that it's part of my daily drawing practice.

A while back I mentioned the exchange I had with someone who had questioned the value of drawing if the result isn’t good. “Do you think it’s folly for someone who likes art a great deal but still draws like a kid to keep drawing?” I tried to explain my belief that the act of drawing has value far beyond whatever shows up on the paper.

Two friends on social media recently shared items that address much of what I was trying to express. The first is an excellent TED Talk by Ralph Ammer, an artist, animator, writer and design educator. While most people see drawing as an artistic skill, it’s much larger than that – it is a thinking skill.

The second is an interview with David Gentleman, age 90, a British artist who still draws daily. This bit of wisdom spoke directly to me:

“Drawing is always a challenge. If drawing was easy, it would be boring. What I really like is that it is extremely interesting. It teaches you instantly how to look at something more in depth than anything else would make you look.”

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Daily Hands


After sketching my hand for a few days, I got it in my head that this would make a good personal challenge: Sketch my hand every day until this global disaster is over (or until I get tired of the series, whichever comes first; I always like to leave myself an out). It’s concrete, challenging and achievable – I can do this.

It has occurred to me that the disaster being “over” may not be a solid date. I’ve heard experts say that we are likely to go through several cycles of widespread infection followed by periods of control and back again. I don’t know how I’ll know when it’s “over,” but I must believe that that day will come. I must.

I’m posting my hands daily on my Instagram account, but here on my blog I’ll save them up and post a few at a time.





Saturday, March 28, 2020

Notable Pencils: Utrecht Color

Utrecht Colored Pencils

Not too many years ago, Seattle had several good brick-and-mortar art supply stores. One was Utrecht on Capitol Hill. Catering to art students at nearby Gage Academy and Seattle Central College, it was the first store where I found a full selection of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks when they first came out (maybe around 2012). Just beginning as a sketcher then, I was intimidated by all the painting supplies I saw at Utrecht, but I found the staff pleasant, knowledgeable and helpful, so I kept going there for sketchbooks.

Only a couple of years later, Utrecht was purchased by Blick, and the building occupied by Utrecht eventually opened in 2014 as the brand new Starbucks Roastery and Reserve. I got a good deal on several S&B sketchbooks at Utrecht’s closeout sale, feeling sad for the glum-looking staff who seemed uncertain about their future. Later I learned that Blick had bought the entire chain of 45 Utrecht stores. Eventually Utrecht’s Czech Republic-made products became Blick-branded.

This backstory is the reason I own a used set of Utrecht Color pencils, which I picked up a while back at Tinkertopia. Stopping at the art and craft supply thrift store to drop off my donations of art supplies that I was getting rid of, I was not supposed to buy anything, but I couldn’t resist poking around. Digging through the pencils, I found this barely used set. I knew they couldn’t be considered “vintage,” but I also knew that Utrecht-branded pencils no longer existed. In a moment of nostalgia and desire to preserve a former pencil name, I felt compelled to grab them.

I remembered that in the set of Blick Studio colored pencils I had purchased a few years ago, one of the 24 pencils was branded Utrecht Color, and it looks just like the ones in the Utrecht set. Product information on Blick’s site then said that while some sets may contain a mix of Blick- and Utrecht-branded pencils, the quality was identical (well, the core quality might be the same, but the Blick Studio pencils have unfinished ends, while Utrecht Color pencils have attractively rounded end caps). According to Blick’s site now, Blick Studio colored pencils are still made in the Czech Republic.

(This is part of my series of occasional posts that are not really reviews but stories about products I find notable for one reason or another.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Corona Hours

3/23/20 Maple Leaf Ace Hardware Store

I have a hunch that a full lockdown is close (voluntary social distancing wasn’t working, and even the current severe restrictions might not be enough), so I went out in my car looking for a way to document these crazy times before I lose that freedom. First I drove past my neighborhood Maple Leaf Park for any signs of closure, which the city had begun the day before, but I didn’t see anything from the street. Although a few people still walked around the park’s periphery, the playground was empty (last week we were dismayed to see it full of kids playing together while their parents chatted, just like normal).

A couple blocks north of the park, I passed the Maple Leaf Ace Hardware store (which I sketched from a better angle a few months ago). Its readerboard posted reduced “Corona Hours.” Staying in my parked car across the street, I wasn’t especially pleased with the composition, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Boxy ‘80s

3/20/20 Wedgwood neighborhood

Driving around the Wedgwood neighborhood, determined to find a sketch, I was first attracted to the spindly tree. Then the car caught my eye. I don’t usually include many details of cars that happen to be in my windshield view, but I vaguely recognized the car from the boxy ‘80s era. Frankly, I think it (and most of that era) is ugly, but I’m also fondly nostalgic about that time, maybe because it’s when I got my first “real” job and bought my first new car (a 1983 Mazda GLC). I couldn’t find identifying marks on the car, but after posting the sketch on social media, a Facebook friend identified it as a 1988 Toyota MR2.

It was a heartbreakingly beautiful day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


3/19/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

We’ve been getting notices from the city for weeks, so we knew a disruption was coming to a major intersection in our neighborhood. I put myself into position to sketch an excavator that was moving dirt from a hole in the street to a dump truck. Shortly after I started sketching, a pumper truck came in, completely blocking my view. I abandoned the first sketch and moved to where the action was. I’ll be back – I think this intersection is going to keep me busy for a while! (With the tighter restrictions, I won't be going back to sketch this. So close and tempting, though.)

Editorial comment: I’ve always thought that spitting (repeatedly!) in the street is a disgusting habit, but right now, it’s downright irresponsible.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Notable Pencils: Apsara Dual Combo

Apsara Dual Combos -- mostly graphite, a little color!

As you know, a large part of this blog is about reviewing sketch materials I’ve used, for better or worse. In general, products I review are those I’ve used long enough to form an opinion about whether I (or anyone) would want to continue using them. 

What you might not know (but probably suspect!) is that I also own quite a few art products that were not necessarily purchased or acquired for use. I won’t call them “collectibles,” as that term has connotations of monetary value. Let’s just say they are “notable” for one reason or another. Now that I have so much additional time at home that I used to spend otherwise engaged, I thought I would occasionally bring out notables for your (and my) amusement. 

A friend in the UK who knows I have a thing for bicolor pencils sent me a set of Apsara Dual Combo pencils. Apsara, a brand name of the Indian pencil manufacturer Hindustan, makes excellent, inexpensive graphite pencils (for example, the Absolute Extra Strong is a reliable workhorse that I keep in my car). What’s notable about the Dual Combos is that they are mostly graphite until you get to the inch and a half of colored core on the opposite end!

“Write – flip – colour” says the pencil tagline. “Colour your thoughts” says the package. I’m not sure who the target audience is for these pencils – perhaps editors or teachers who write mostly with graphite but occasionally need a touch of color for underlining or marking? I don’t know, but I’m tickled that they exist.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

3/18/20 Turkey crossing the road

A white chicken was pecking around on the sidewalk. Suddenly she started crossing Eighth Northeast. “Turkey! Come here, Turkey,” called a woman from across the street, rattling a bucket of feed. So that’s why she crossed!

(Seeing this chicken and taking 10 seconds to sketch her made me happy the rest of the day. I hope you are finding moments of joy, no matter how small.)

Sunday, March 22, 2020



Back in 2012 when I first began this blog, as a follow-up to making 100 self-portraits, I had given myself the challenge of sketching my hand 100 times. Over the years, I have continued to use my own hands as drawing models occasionally (you can see all the posts here). While it’s not as difficult or intimidating as the face, the hand is still challenging in terms of form and proportion. It is also “handy,” and lately I’ve been taking advantage of that.

Like everyone, I’ve become more aware of my hands lately than I ever have before. (Why are they constantly wandering up to my face?) As a result of all that regular washing, I’ve also become more aware of their dryness. If you want to learn about every wrinkle or crease on your hands, just draw them.


Speaking of my hands, long before I began sketching, I made art out of various media, including beads and fiber. I had an old website where I used to promote that work, but I recently took down the site. I've put a small selection of the work on the top tab called Legacy Art.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Out Again

3/16/20 Mt. Rainier from 5th Ave. NE overpass

Toward the end of my daily walk around the neighborhood, which has become my regular sanity saver, I took the route across the Fifth Avenue Northeast I-5 overpass. I was counting on The Mountain being out, and it was – a glorious, life-affirming sign that someday all will be well again.

I thought about the similar sketch I had made just about a month earlier from the same spot. At that time, I complained about how the traffic was noisy and unpleasant.

We were so innocent then.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Staedtler Mars Lumochrom

Vintage Staedtler Mars Lumochrom pencils
I used to assume that colored pencils were always intended for making art. But since I began collecting vintage colored pencils, I’ve come to realize that in other eras, they had more industrial purposes. Some copyeditors and teachers, of course, probably still use red pencils to mark copy. But at some point, drafters, engineers and other makers of technical diagrams used colored pencils.

Recently a very generous friend in the pencil community gave me a beautiful set of vintage Staedtler Mars Lumochrom pencils. Instead of the typical colorful artwork on the box, the conservative blue tin shows only the Staedtler logo and an icon that clearly represents a technical diagram. Apparently it wasn’t too long ago that drafters still color-coded their work with pencils like these. Lumochrom pencils were in production from 1973 through about 2004. My set is from before 2000.

After Staedtler stopped making Lumochroms in woodcased form, the German company began using the Lumochrom name for its colored leads for mechanical pencils (though lately colored leads are being sold in packages without the Lumochrom name, so perhaps the name is no more).

As many older pencils had, the Lumochroms have lovely endcaps. I adore the white scallop – such a nice touch that reminds me of some contemporary Japanese pencils.
Lovely endcaps!
My set is printed with branding and color numbers in the right-hand orientation, but my friend included a couple of older Lumochroms with a lefty orientation. I have some vintage Staedtler Mars Polycolor and Stabilo Schwan pencils also with lefty printing, so maybe it was a German thing back then (Staedtler’s modern pencils all have right-handed orientation).
A couple of older Lumochroms with lefty orientation
Although I suspected they would be too hard to draw with easily, I gave them a whirl anyway. Indeed, they are very hard – maybe just a smidge softer than vintage Verithin pencils, which are among my picks for colored pencils that are hard enough to write with. The pigment, however, is smooth and transparent, and of course the hard cores are ideal for drawing small details. I’m sure that technical people enjoyed using these to make diagrams and to write with.

3/7/20 Lumochrom pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
(It may seem frivolous to talk about old colored pencils while a deadly virus attacks the globe. But sequestered at home, I find comfort in being surrounded by color and other things that bring me joy. I hope you are staying well and coping in whatever way makes you happy.)

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