Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New Recipe: Secondary Triad Seasoned with Garlic

 

9/24/20 Caran d'Ache Luminance colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook

Secondary triad plus yellow.
Last winter I made a series of still life studies to explore primary triads, usually with apples and pears. I’m already thinking about what to study this fall and winter, and how. Observing still lives others have been doing, I was thinking about how challenging it is to develop shadow hues on light-colored (especially white) objects. I enjoyed using the garlic and the lemon in my Boku-Undo ink studies, but I needed a third object. An egg was my first choice, but then I’d have to remember to put it back in the fridge after each sketch. I dug through a sack of tiny yellow potatoes and pulled out the one with the weirdest shape. All three should last for a few still lives!

In addition to light-colored shadows, I’ve also been thinking about secondary triads – my favorite palette around the house but one I don’t get to use much in sketches (except in Italy). Unlike primary triads, the secondaries aren’t as much fun to mix, but some interesting grays and browns might be discovered – perfect for all those shadows. So light-colored objects and the secondary triad will be my study objectives for the bad-weather months.

For this sketch, I tossed in another wild card – a piece of green paper underneath instead of my usual white. It’s always fun to catch the tiny glimpses of reflected color.

As for my home decor. . . 

Fiestaware in Poppy, Mulberry and Lemongrass


Monday, September 28, 2020

Ambidexterity


I filled the last page of this red notebook – 63 consecutive days of sketches made with my right hand. (I think it’s the only sketchbook I’ve ever filled exclusively with one theme!) I thoroughly enjoyed giving my non-dominant hand a solid workout – much more than I thought I would. The first couple weeks were rocky: The drawings took much longer, and it felt so awkward and unnatural even to hold pencils, let alone draw with them. Yet it took much less time than I expected for my right hand to catch up to my left in sketching time and even skill. That’s when I learned that drawing skills are much less dependent on hand strength, agility and coordination than I realized; the brain is doing almost all the heavy lifting.

After those first couple weeks, I began enjoying the daily practice because I could feel my right hand gaining strength and coordination incrementally but reliably. As I’ve been learning to draw these past nine years, I have often been disappointed that developing drawing skills is not a straight trajectory of improvement – I continually backslide, improve, backslide again, improve again. Using my right hand, however, did feel like continual improvement in terms of physical ability. It was satisfying that way. 

As for my concurrent handwriting tests, some samples were better than others (see end of post), but I see almost no significant improvement over the course of two months. If I had been practicing my writing daily alongside drawing, my results would likely be different. Taken about weekly, however, these samples indicate that drawing practice does not necessarily improve skills in all areas of hand use. 

That said, I think I have become generally more ambidextrous. I find myself spontaneously picking up a lid or a utensil from the table with my right hand, which is a task I normally would do with m
y left automatically. I still need my left hand for full strength, like opening a jar, but both hands can do tasks that don’t require strength. I feel more balanced now. Most important, I know that if I ever injure my left hand, I could still draw! 

It was a fascinating and rewarding experience – and now I’m glad it’s done. It’s good to have my left hand back again. And my right will go back to modeling, which my left has learned is no easy job, either!








Ahh, left hand -- how I've missed you!






Sunday, September 27, 2020

September’s Small Stories


9/7/20 Early morning on Labor Day. No traffic in sight, so I
stood in the middle of the street to sketch.
The weather is changing. The first week of September was beautiful, and then the smoke blew in, ruining what were probably otherwise warm, pleasant weeks. Now we’ve had days of rain, which is normal for this time of year, but it’s always bittersweet to see summer end (and despite the pandemic, it was a beautiful one in which I rediscovered my own neighborhood).

For both fitness and mental health, I have committed to continue walking, rain or shine, as long as it’s not a ridiculous downpour. If there’s one thing I know as a Seattle native, it’s that the precipitation generally referred to as “rain” is usually just a drizzle or shower around here. A hooded slicker was made for that. And to keep myself motivated, the walk/sketch fitness program I put myself on last winter still works: Every walk is rewarded with a sketch.

9/1/20 More utility pole work.

9/23/20 Kendo class at Maple Leaf Park. My waterproof
Field Notes Expedition holds up in any kind of weather!

Its officially autumn . . .

. . . I've switched from my hot pink summer Rickshaw
bag, which repels drizzle . . .

. . . to my waterproof red Rickshaw,
which can take anything Seattle
clouds can dish out! Bring it on!


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Inverted

9/22/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Here’s a type of architecture uncommon in Maple Leaf (this may be the only example I’ve seen on my daily walks). I wonder what keeps rain from collecting in the “valley” and eventually leaking through the roof? The style doesn’t appeal to me much esthetically, especially in this neighborhood of traditional Tudors and Craftsman homes, but it’s fun to draw from this angle.

I mentioned last month that I was disappointed not to be able to easily continue the Maple Leaf architecture series that I had started a couple of summers ago. Although I don’t feel comfortable now making leisurely portraits of houses from the sidewalk as I used to, this small 10-minute sketch was easy to do and almost as fun. In some ways, it’s a better challenge: How much can I capture with one pencil and a few lines? 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Early Leaf Peeping

9/21/20 Northgate strip mall

My annual leaf-peeping tour has begun! The smoky air had kept me from walking in the neighborhood or even driving around much for nearly two weeks. When it finally cleared, I was surprised to find that many trees I see regularly had begun turning. Before the predicted rain settled in for the week, I thought I’d go see what else had turned. 

My first stop was the Greenwood neighborhood and my favorite traffic circle maples, which, two years ago, were already showing off color by mid-September. They were hardly showing any this week. (I must have missed them completely last year. . . I can’t find a sketch of them.) 

I decided to head up to Northgate instead, which has many lovely maples on the sidewalks and arterial divides, but they were all still mostly green. Then I remembered that they tend to turn much later in the season. A bit of color caught my eye in a strip mall parking lot, which I typically avoid as a sketch location – all those boring, boxy buildings and rows of cars that drive away as soon as I start sketching them! But as my friend Roy DeLeon has taught by example time and time again, it is the job of the sketcher, not the location, to make the sketch interesting. 

The season is young. I’m looking forward to mobile-studio sketching of fall color in the coming weeks. Since it’s something I do every year, not because of the pandemic, it will feel very normal. It’s important to seek normalcy wherever we can find it.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In Praise of Clouds and Rain

 

9/19/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

After last Friday’s rain finally washed the smoke away, we woke Saturday to ordinary clouds and overcast. By afternoon, I could see a blur of rain on the horizon, but from where I stood on our upstairs deck, some blue and sunshine were still visible between clouds. I could see UW Tower two-and-a-half miles away. For the 10 days prior, I couldn’t see more than a few blocks.

Shortly after I made this sketch, the sky opened up and poured harder than it had in months. I never thought I could be so happy to see rain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Rise Up


If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I don’t generally use it as my political platform (and I admit I’ve been disappointed when artists I follow for their art begin sharing more political opinions than art). Although I have more recently expressed my views occasionally without being strident or explicit (OK, I was a bit explicit in this post), I have always seen my blog as a place to share and think about art – not political views. 

I still believe that. The closer we get to November, however, the more I realize that I can’t compartmentalize myself about something as important as the upcoming presidential election, which will be the most critical in my life so far. My beliefs and values are who I am, just like my sketches are. 

A few days ago, I found out about Rise Up, Show Up, Unite – a group of American artists who have united in support of Biden and Harris. I joined by putting together this image to post on social media, and I’m stating my view explicitly here: I’m voting for Biden and Harris because I want my country to have a leader again – one with integrity, decency and values I share. I want to be proud to be an American again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Almost Live


9/18/20 Shawna, 10-min. pose
Ouch. It had been more than four months since I last tried life drawing, and I was stiff. (It felt like the first time I started doing yoga again after a five-month absence. Ooof.) I typically don’t practice studio life drawing during the good-weather months anyway, and being limited to live video had put an additional damper on my practice.

When the many days of smoke had kept me imprisoned at home, I was feeling restless, so I decided to try a Zoom life drawing session sponsored by Gage Academy. As I’d hoped (and fully expected), Gage’s live video life drawing experience was excellent: The model was well lighted and fully visible, and the camera was far enough away that distortion was minimized. It still wasn’t the same as real life drawing, but it was probably the best experience possible, given the limitations. It took me a while to get the creak out of my life-drawing muscles, but it felt great to stretch again.

The smoke has cleared, but our days of good weather are numbered. I’m looking forward to more (almost) life drawing at Gage this fall and winter.

9/18/20 13-min. pose

9/18/20 10-min. pose



9/18/20 10-min. pose


9/18/20 2-min. poses

9/18/20 5-min. poses

Monday, September 21, 2020

Nine Years of Sketching (and Why I Keep Going)

 

11/15/11 Such courage -- straight to ink!

Writer and artist Austin Kleon is the author of several books, including the most recent Keep Going and the popular Steal Like an Artist. If you are not familiar with him, I especially recommend Keep Going, which inspires creative people to continue doing whatever they do. (Although I enjoyed the book, it acted more as confirmation than inspiration for me: I realized that I am already doing much of what he recommends. Since I’m easily old enough to be the author’s mother or even grandmother, this pleased me greatly.)

Kleon recently commemorated the 15th anniversary of his blog (which I also recommend) with a post called “15 years of blogging (and 3 reasons I keep going).” The post resonated with me strongly – his reasons for blogging all these years and why he continues:

“One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work.”

“Every time I start a new post, I never know for sure where it’s going to go. This is what writing and making art is all about: not having something to say, but finding out what you have to say.”

As a writer my entire life, I’ve always felt the same way about my personal writing: I do it not to record what I’m thinking or feeling but to understand what I’m thinking or feeling.

When I started this blog, I didn’t know where it would lead or even how long it would last (I gave myself permission to quit whenever it ceased to interest me). I just wanted a place to share my sketches and document my creative process.

Over time, though, I realized that my blog is no different from my journal, my poetry or anything else I’ve written for myself: The writing process itself helps me understand what I am thinking. And because the blog is about sketching, I pay more attention to my sketching process so that I’ll be able to articulate it on the blog. Both processes have become integral to each other – a surprising outcome for blogging, which is something I didn’t know anything about when I began.

9/18/20

Today is the ninth anniversary of the day I committed to learn to draw. About six months later, I began this blog. It turns out that drawing is just like writing: Every time I sketch, I learn something about what I am thinking – except I’m thinking with images instead of words.

Thank you, readers, for continuing to follow me on this journey. Most of the time, I’m just talking to myself, but I’m always delighted if you’re listening, too.

(Given the retrospective and introspective mood of this post, I thought it would be appropriate to show a few more selfies – two made in November 2011 and one made a few days ago. The ones from 2011, made only a couple of months after I began sketching, are especially bold and brave: straight to ink! I applaud my own what-the-heck-nothing-to-lose attitude. I’d like to believe I’m just as fearless now, but lately I’m more likely to equivocate with a forgiving pencil. In the spirit of my 2011 self, however, I picked up a brush pen.)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fresh Air


The wildfire smoke that choked us for 10 days was finally washed away by rain.
 We apparently broke a local record for the worst air quality documented here. Oppressive and disturbing, the toxic air started feeling like a visible manifestation of COVID-19: The simple act of breathing might be dangerous. In the same way that we’ve had to change routine habits to protect ourselves from a deadly virus, we had to do the same for the smoky air: We avoided using the clothes dryer and fans in the bathrooms and kitchen that would pull in air from outdoors. In one way, it was worse than the pandemic: We couldn’t even take walks through the neighborhood. I felt trapped in my own house.

I will never again take breathing fresh air for granted.








Saturday, September 19, 2020

Reflection

9/17/20

Living through a pandemic seems to make some people introspective and reflective. I’ve read a number of articles and essays to that effect. My own journal has been somewhat introspective, but I haven’t been big on naval-gazing since my 20s and 30s. Perhaps where I’ve expressed reflection more directly (and literally) is through self-portraits.

You saw one of them (plus a couple of modified blind contours) a few months ago. Here are some more. I’m not sure any of these captures my likeness or even my essence, but they are drawing exercises just like any other. 

One thing I did enjoy about these was using toned paper (a beige Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook) with a white pencil for highlights and a dark pencil for shading. I’ve taken this simple yet continually challenging approach with many of my hand drawings, and it has taught me to observe form more keenly.

5/17/20
6/9/20


Friday, September 18, 2020

Boku-Undo Fun

9/16/20 Boku-Undo sumi ink on Canson XL 140 lb. paper

I’m still not over the shock of using a wet medium again after several years of sketching mainly with dry ones, but it didn’t take long to see the fun in Boku-Undo tinted sumi inks (see yesterday’s post for my initial shock). A blend of traditional sumi inks and dyes, they come in a lovely range of “shadow black” colors that granulate beautifully. I love these intense off-blacks. (My full review of Boku-Undo will be published at the Well-Appointed Desk, but I’ll be playing with them for a while, so you can consider these sneak previews.)

In yesterday’s post, I played with purplish-black and brownish-black. The value studies shown here were made with bluish-black and greenish-black. I haven’t tried mixing them with a full palette of traditional watercolors, but I bet they would all make interesting shadow colors to complement them.
 
Boku-Undo's "shadow black" colors

Yesterday’s tomato got eaten, but I needed a third thing in my still life for the darkest value, so I grabbed an avocado from the counter. Aside from the basic challenges of using watercolors again (it’s not like riding a bike; I did forget!), I realized after I’d been working a while that I was unconsciously going direct-to-paint without drawing first! What??! I didn’t intend to make it so hard on myself, but once I got my brushes wet, I guess I lost my mind.

That’s what made these exercises so much fun, though! These tonal studies are diametrically different from the much slower renderings of form that I have focused on for several years now. It’s good for me to shake up my brain now and then with something entirely different.


If you’re curious about my brushes, I’m enjoying using my Escoda travel set that I purchased shortly after I began urban sketching. Fairly soon afterwards, though, I was seduced by the convenience of waterbrushes and never looked back, so I’ve only ever used these at my desk.

(The ongoing thick wildfire smoke is distressing and oppressive, but it is keeping me in the house with an opportunity to try new things. A tiny glass of sweet lemonade made from horribly bitter lemons.)

It's been a long time since I've made this kind of mess!


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