Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chris in Ink and Pencil


10/16/20 Chris, 2-min. poses

Although I prefer dry media for life-drawing poses of five minutes or longer, my recent explorations with sumi ink put me in the mood to use ink on some longer poses last week. Instead of sumi, though, I used waterbrushes filled with a variety of fountain pen inks. Sometimes I did the initial contour drawings in water-soluble pencil, then accented the shadows quickly with ink. It’s fun to mix dry and wet this way, getting the best qualities of each.

10/16/20 5-min. poses

10/16/20 10-min. pose

10/16/20 5-min. pose

When I had a full 20 minutes for a pose, I pulled out my slow but beloved Derwent colored pencils and Prismacolor Art Stix.

10/16/20 20-min. pose 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020



10/16/20 Friends on Zoom (to be fair, I included myself, too!)

I still get together several times a year with a small group of former co-workers from a job I left in 1996. It used to be leisurely lunches at restaurants halfway between Seattle and south King County where all of us are now spread. With most of this year taken up with the pandemic, the last time we had lunch together was around the holidays. It became clear that if we wanted to see each other, we would have to do the Zoom thing. Despite the shortcomings of technology compared to real life, it was still fun and reassuring to catch up with friends who go back decades.

While I would never dream of sketching non-sketcher friends during an actual meal together, something about Zoom is just too tempting to pass up. I knew that if I asked permission or announced my intention, everyone would stiffen and become self-conscious. I simply opened my sketchbook surreptitiously. No one noticed. At the end, I ‘fessed up and revealed my sketch, and they were all delighted! Whew! (Soon enough, all my friends will know that if they Zoom with me, they can expect to be sketched. Fair warning.)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Short Stories in Field Notes


10/8/20 The colors of fall
As fall gets under way in earnest, days have been cool, windy, rainy or all three (plus occasional happy windows of sunshine). Recent neighborhood sketches have been short stories made in various small Field Notes notebooks, depending on the weather. If it’s dry, I take a Signature or a red Sweet Tooth. If I put on my raincoat, then I grab a waterproof Expedition.

9/26/20 a cute Smart Car
10/5/20 houses with sunroofs

10/7/20 a tiny, pink bike

10/12/20 cell tower from Maple Leaf Park

Speaking of the waterproof Expedition, the sketch I made of the cell tower from drizzly Maple Leaf Park (at right) brought to light a serious omission in my sketch kit! A red maple was at the base of the tower. Sketching the scene with a Gekkoso 8B pencil (extremely soft graphite is my favorite medium on the Expedition’s plastic Yupo pages), I started to reach for a red pencil to draw the maple when I realized that all of the colored pencils in my bag are water-soluble! Not useful in the rain. I immediately went home to remedy that omission for next time.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Crush on Sumi

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

I’m more than halfway through my month of exploring inks. As has happened almost every time I’ve participated in InkTober, I started the month with an intended direction, but I took an interesting detour. I had in mind becoming reacquainted with several fountain pens that I hadn’t used in a while. What I thought was going to be a minor flirtation with Boku-Undo sumi inks has turned into a full-blown crush! I’m quite enamored with how fast it is to make tonal studies using the inks with a white Posca brush pen. Fast, but not easy – not by any means. Watercolor sketchers probably wouldn’t find sumi inks to be much of a stretch, but for me, sumi is one of the most challenging media I’ve tried in a long time. It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed both for my hand series and for my annual ink explorations.

I am bringing out other pens occasionally, though, just to mix it up. This week I inked up my beloved Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen. On the other end of the price and exoticism spectrum, I pulled out an underrated Bic ballpoint (which I fully explored and came to appreciate during InkTober 2018). So similar to pencil, it was comforting and reassuring to fall back into the comfort zone of slow, meditative strokes.

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Incidentally, while I was drawing my hand in ballpoint yesterday, I was listening to an interview with Chicago artist and urban sketcher Don Colley on the Sneaky Artist podcast. I’ve taken workshops from Don a couple of times when he has visited Seattle (most recently in 2017), and he has long been one of my urban sketching heroes, so I was already somewhat familiar with his philosophy of drawing on location. The interview, however, was full of insights about how drawing from life engages us with the activity of life.

“A pen is an extension of your hand,” Don says, and drawing is “an inquiry” about what we are seeing. For him, every drawing made on location – whether it’s a homeless man riding a bus, a Jeep parked at a friend’s house, or the faces of a defendant’s family member during a trial – is social commentary. Telling a story with every sketch, Don is an urban sketcher in every way that I admire most (not to mention an incredible draftsman). If you are interested in urban sketching, give it a listen – it’s well worth your time.

Sailor fude fountain pen and Sailor Doyou ink

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Bic ballpoint and Sakura Gelly Roll
(Like the rest of the images on this page, this
one was scanned, but something weird 
happened to the Bic's fine ink lines, and they
appear reddish on the orange paper. At right,
I show the image I took with my phone, which
makes the ink appear black. Strange.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

In Mid-Air

10/13/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Probably my longest-standing series of sketches has been trees that have been hacked, dismembered and otherwise poorly pruned to accommodate utility wires. Some have been humorous, while others have been ironic. This one must be among the most bizarre.

You can see its trunk at far right just behind the nearest car. But the branches shading the street have now grown their own pointy leader! From a block away, I thought the tree was floating in mid-air!

I could see that several wires were passing through the tree, so it’s likely that it will receive another hack job one of these days.

Friday, October 16, 2020

What Came After the Before Times


Back in July, I had talked about the first on-location sketchbook I filled during the pandemic. A few days ago, I filled the last page in my small, not-quite-daily-carry Field Notes Signature sketchbook. I don’t usually blog about sketchbooks just because I filled them, but like the one I finished in July, this Signature feels worth noting.

I started it on Dec. 26, 2019, to motivate my walk/sketch fitness program: The “carrot on the end of the stick” for fitness walking during inclement weather would be the opportunity to sketch. When I flip through its early pages, the book served this need well: I see several sketches made near Green Lake where I often walked in the winter, stopping at Starbucks along the way to warm my hands and grab a sketch before walking the rest of the way home.

Randomly, it also contains a sketch I had made during “half time,” as my friend jokingly called it, at an opera we attended in January. (She and I both know nothing about opera, but she had won free tickets and had invited me along.) Imagine attending an opera at McCaw Hall! That seems so far away now, both in time and in concept. We were all so innocent then.

2/25/20 Green Lake
1/22/20 Mc Caw Hall refreshment bar

On March 3, 2020, the small sketchbook was in my bag when we shopped at Costco for what turned out to be the last time. When I see the sketch I had made of a few people walking out with their shopping carts, I recall vividly that the toilet paper hoarding had just begun. The store had sold out of one brand, so we had waited with several other customers for a staff member to bring out another brand – and the pile had rapidly disappeared before our eyes.

3/3/20 Costco shoppers

3/11/20 My last sketch at Green Lake

Eight days later I made my last sketch at Green Lake (after that, I felt it was too crowded for comfort). The rest of the book is filled with sketches made no more than a mile from home in any direction – my current walking route. By June 4, I was utterly thrilled to capture a few gestures of a gardener trimming a hedge – I had so missed sketching people (and still do)! 

6/4/20 How I miss sketching people.

Before putting away the completed sketchbook, I did what I did in July: I slapped a masked Weather Bunny sticker on the cover. It’s now my ritual for marking sketchbooks I finish during the pandemic. This one, especially, is a poignant documentation of how the “Before Times” changed to the “during.”

Thursday, October 15, 2020


10/9/20 Gloria, 20-min. poses

During life drawing on Zoom, participants want the model to be close enough to the camera to see details, but if the model is too close, distortion is likely. In some of the seated poses, Gloria’s feet (closer to the camera) appeared huge while her head was tiny. In live life drawing, the same kind of foreshortening can happen, and it’s often the most challenging (and fun) kind of poses. But when the camera distorts the view even further, it can be frustrating.

10/9/20 10-min. pose
In the drawing at upper right, I realized halfway through the 20-minute pose that my proportions of the lower half of her figure were way off. Annoyed, I started thinking about whether I had time to fix it, but then I decided to exaggerate the distortion further, and then it became fun.

Video life drawing is never ideal, and yet I still prefer it to drawing from photos. On a two-dimensional screen, looking at a live pose shouldn’t be very different from a photo, but somehow it is. I can’t articulate why, though. I haven’t talked to anyone else who is doing this kind of life drawing, but it would be interesting to discuss this. If you’ve done both kinds of life drawing – in a studio and on a screen – what do you think? Is drawing from a live video pose different from a still photo?

10/9/20 5-min. poses

10/9/20 2-min. poses

10/9/20 10-min. pose

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Egg-citing Edition of Plumbago

An egg-cellent edition of Plumbago
Who knew that some of my sketches – long ago composted – would live a second life in Plumbago Magazine?

An occasional ‘zine published by Andy Welfle (co-host of the Erasable podcast about pencils), Plumbago includes poetry, short fiction, essays, and comics – and sometimes sketches and writing by yours truly. The theme of the latest issue is “Tiny,” and it includes images of what may be my tiniest sketches – made on colored, hard-boiled eggs. Shortly after I made the sketches a couple of years ago, I ate most of the eggs (Roy, appearing on one of them, ate his own) and tossed the shells, so they were probably also the most ephemeral of all my sketches. The perfect-bound zine itself is also tiny – the same size as a pocket notebook.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Metro Market Maples

10/6/20 Metro Market parking lot, Wedgwood neighborhood

Metropolitan Market was one of our favorite food stores in the Before Time. Though pricey, it offers good produce, a great takeout/deli area, and locally made products that we can’t get anywhere else. Sadly, it doesn’t offer delivery or pickup services, so we haven’t shopped there since March 10 (feeling extremely uneasy, I remember that shopping trip vividly; it was the last time I shopped inside any store).   

Besides the food, another reason I enjoyed shopping there in the fall is that several slender maples are planted in the parking lot – a regular stop on my personal leaf-peeping tour. The color this season is much later than it has been in previous years. The sketch above was made on Oct. 6. Three years ago, I sketched the same trees, probably from the same street parking spot, on Oct. 16 (shown below; here’s the full blog post), and they all had much more red and hardly any green. I’ll go back in a few weeks to see if I can catch them in their full glory as I did in 2017.


Monday, October 12, 2020



10/4/20 Natalie on Zoom (Her hair wasn't blue at the time, but it has been in the past, so my choice
of color wasn't completely unrealistic.)

When I proposed that we sketch each other while we chatted on Zoom, Natalie seemed reluctant, but when she saw my headgear, she couldn’t resist. I didn’t think I had captured her with as much resemblance as I have some of my other friends, but she thought I had, so that’s good enough for me.

I do find chatting on Zoom to be a surprisingly good platform for practicing portraits. In real life, people tend to become self-conscious when they know they are being sketched – even some sketchers. On video, however, the screen seems to put just enough distance between people that all self-consciousness drops away. In any case, I’m having a lot of fun catching up with friends as I get a little portrait practice.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Unexpected Education


dip pen

Usually before beginning InkTober each year, I come up with one or more learning goals for the month. I seem to try to improve my hatching nearly every year. Sometimes I unintentionally learn to appreciate a medium like the Bic ballpoint. And an especially memorable year was 2016, when I made it my goal to sketch from imagination – and Weather Bunny was born.

This year I went easy on myself because I already have the ongoing project of drawing my hand every day, and I wanted the challenge to stay fun, not be a burden. So instead of making a goal to learn something specific, I decided to simply use October as an opportunity to draw my hand using inks and pens that are new to me or that I haven’t used in a long time.

It turns out that I am already learning something significant that I hadn’t planned. Making broad strokes with Boku-Undo sumi ink or a brush pen takes only minutes to execute, but I have to spend a lot of time thinking before I ever hit the paper with the brush. It’s the exact opposite of a pencil or fine point pen, which takes much longer to execute, but I can do my thinking along the way instead of ahead. Using all different kinds of media on the same subject is teaching my brain to think in different ways.

Brush pen
I’m also having unexpected fun with this multi-colored Plum & Punch notebook. (I was asked where I got it; it was a gift, so I don’t know where it was purchased, but it’s a Hallmark product. I suspect it came out a while ago and may not be available any longer.) I didn’t test any inks on the paper ahead of time, so each day is a potential surprise. The coated paper stock is not intended for wet media; it makes juicy washes bead up. I am delighted by the effects this combo produces! If you read Roz Stendahl’s blog, you know that she believes there’s no such thing as the “best” or “ideal” paper. She often deliberately uses papers that are “inappropriate” for paint because she enjoys the effects and even the challenges of working with such papers. This month is a great time to experiment, find out what unfamiliar papers and inks can do, and especially have fun. Maybe even learn.

sumi ink

sumi ink

sumi ink

sumi ink

brush pen

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Two-Cement-Mixer Kind of Day

10/2/20 In front of Alice and Tom's house, Maple Leaf neighborhood

Another one!

Our friends and neighbors, Alice and Tom (who treat us to beautiful produce from their garden all summer), were repaving their driveway. I couldn’t make it the day the backhoe was digging up the old concrete, but you can bet I made sure I was there for the cement mixer a few days later. I know from previous attempts that cement mixers don’t stick around long, so it’s a bonus when I learn about sketch opportunities from friends.

Walking home, I took a different street, and I spotted another cement mixer! This one was attached to a huge pumper. I caught it in the nick of time: Just as I finished this quick sketch, the mixer left, and the pump folded up.

Two cement mixers in one day: How lucky can a sketcher get?

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Fly Won

10/7/20 Sen. Kamala Harris (live video)

Although I will not subject myself to any more presidential debates, I had been looking forward to the one between Senator Harris and Vice President Pence. Even if nothing new was revealed by the content of their comments, I expected they would at least behave like grownups, and for the most part, they did. 

The winner of the debate was clear and conclusive: The fly that spent more than two minutes on Pence’s head. It certainly received more media attention and memes than did the comments made by either candidate.

10/7/20 VP Pence (and the debate winner on his head)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Graphite Mornings


10/3/20 from the bedroom window

Although the smoke has cleared, we’ve been waking to dense fog in the mornings – typical of this time of year. I love seeing the soft, white blur through our front windows. The ideal medium for capturing it is a simple graphite pencil.

10/2/20 from the livingroom window

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