Friday, January 15, 2021



1/13/21 St. John the Evangelist Parish, Greenwood neighborhood
Our weather has been making national news: “Atmospheric river wallops Pacific Northwest with flooding, landslides and power outages” read The Washington Posts headline Jan. 12. With a firehose of rain and 100 mph winds battering the windows and rooftop, I hardly slept the night before. Then the next day we got a reprieve: Blue skies and sunshine nearly all day! After several days of staying in, I wasn’t about to miss it.

After my curbside pick-up of a book at the Greenwood branch library (I’m so grateful that the library offers this easy, contact-free service), I drove through the neighborhood looking for a sketch. The bishop’s hat atop St. John the Evangelist Parish was shining when I started listening to the U.S. House of Representatives vote to impeach the president for the second time in his term. Before I finished the block-in, though, the sun had dipped behind clouds, and I lost most of the light.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Tight, Loose


1/11/21 Derwent Lightfast colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Our record-breaking, 2,700-mile-long “atmospheric river” is the kind of weather event that prompts me to look around on our kitchen counter for colorful produce to sketch. Feeling anxiety and dread about current events, I took my time to make the still life above, calmed by the relaxing, meditative quality of the time-consuming pencil strokes.

Although I sometimes wish it weren’t, my natural tendency is closer to the “tight” (for lack of a better term) end of the style spectrum, and the drawing above is a typical example. The next day, with tightness out of my system, I pushed myself to let loose – as “loose” as I’m capable of, anyway. Using chunky Art Stix, which don’t allow me to get into fussy details, I gave the lemon, tomato and garlic another try (below). Although a greater challenge, expressing this degree of looseness is as enjoyable as my more natural, tighter style, but in a different way.

The first sketch is more about the close study of form and details to be as accurate as possible (without being scientific). The second sketch is less about measured accuracy, but I didn’t want it to look sloppy or unobserved. In fact, I think it helped that I had already observed the produce closely during my first sketch so the forms were somewhat familiar. I could focus more on raw shapes.

Instead of “tight” versus “loose,” I’ve seen the two ends of the spectrum defined as “descriptive” versus “expressive.” I’m not sure I like those terms, because they would imply that a descriptive (tight) drawing lacks expressiveness. I would hope that both styles are capable of being expressive (whatever “expressive” is).

I did a similar tight/loose exercise last winter when I was taking a botanical drawing class at Gage (the most scientifically accurate type of drawing I have ever done). Taking some beets from one end of the range to the other, the drawings differed in many ways, but I enjoyed them all.

Whenever I show comparisons like this on social media, some followers let me know which they favor. Regardless of which way they “vote,” I appreciate that they have engaged with my work enough to have an opinion. In any case, I’ll continue to work in my natural way as well as push myself to try other ways because they all have something to teach me about drawing.

1/12/21 Prismacolor Art Stix in S&B Zeta sketchbook

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Divided Light


1/9/21 Through our livingroom window

Before sunrise, I could see thick fog blanketing our neighborhood. By mid-morning, the sun was trying hard to burn through, and I knew it would probably succeed by noon, so I grabbed my sketchbook and a couple of pencils. At first, I was going to draw a straightforward view that I’ve sketched several times in fog previously, both in darkness and in light. As I was planning the composition, though, I remembered last week’s USk Talks Challenge: Sketch through a window and include the frame as part of the composition. Our livingroom’s divided-light window was exactly what I needed. (It was 35 degrees as I sketched. I was happy to be inside this window and not out.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Sketching Local



A new urban sketching hashtag has appeared lately on Instagram: #sketchinglocal. It’s for sketches done on location within walking distance. 

I had to laugh when I first heard about it: I’ve been “sketching local” almost daily for the past 10 months. Who knew I was a trendsetter?



Monday, January 11, 2021

Select Light


1/7/21 Through my studio window

The sun had been up only a short time. The sky was mostly overcast, yet when I looked out my studio’s west-facing studio window, the low light had picked out a few things to illuminate: two chimneys, a tree, a neighbor’s dormer. I grabbed a sketchbook quickly, and within minutes, the light was gone.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat


The past week has been distressing, to say the least.

When I am agitated and upset, I depend on two things to calm myself: yoga and drawing. To practice yoga, I must inhale and exhale repeatedly, regularly, fully, focusing on making the poses that connect body with mind. To draw, I must focus completely on the form I see and the form I am making, a continual rhythm between body and mind, back and forth, like breathing. They both take my thoughts away from the source of the distress and bring me back to the here and now, my own body and mind.

After reading and viewing too much news, I walked around the neighborhood and made a sketch. Then I came home and unrolled my yoga mat. Inhale, exhale, repeat.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Book Review: Techniques for Beginners

The latest book in the Urban Sketching Handbook

The Urban Sketching Handbook Series (begun by our own founder, Gabi Campanario, with his Architecture and Cityscapes book) has a new volume: Techniques for Beginners: How to Build a Practice for Sketching on Location, by Suhita Shirodkar. Now with 11 titles, the popular series introduces concepts, principles and techniques used for urban sketching in compact, easy-to-grasp capsules.

After an introduction to materials and how to build a compact sketching kit, Suhita dives into three main subject areas: objects, places and (her favorite) people. In the Objects section, she gives basic how-to suggestions on making contour drawings of ordinary things around the house. Beyond the cereal bowl and coffee cup, though, Suhita supports the urban sketching philosophy by showing readers how to include context that will convey “a sense of place.”

Her attitude in the Places section resonates deeply with my own, which is that even the smallest, ordinary scene can still capture a sense of place without being “grand.” Urban sketching is not just for those who travel to exotic lands filled with spectacular architecture and sweeping views; it is for anyone who has a lamp post on their own street. In this section, Suhita offers tips and ideas on composition, perspective, values, shapes, texture and pattern.

Suhita's watercolor palette

Suhita is probably best known for sketches made in the midst of crowded markets and plazas that would be daunting to many but in which she thrives. In addition to practical suggestions on sketching people as silhouettes, human proportions, capturing gestures and capturing those crowds she loves, she also offers help to timid sketchers who shy away from sketching people. Take a baby step by sketching people in your own home, she suggests, and work your way up to drawing small groups in public.

Human proportions

The last instructional chapter, Bringing it All Together, gives a step-by-step process on composing a scene by selecting various elements and deciding how they relate to each other.

The final section is a collection of challenges to nudge sketchers out of the doldrums or just to get us thinking in a new way. Draw the same thing over and over, sketch at an unusual time of day, or try a new material.

Tips on composition

Throughout, concepts are illustrated with examples from Suhita’s own sketchbooks as well as those of 75 other well-known sketchers from around the globe. As is true of the entire Handbook series, the list of artists featured reads like the who’s who of the urban sketching community.

Challenges to keep things fresh

Suhita’s book makes an excellent primer for the rest of the Handbook series: Whenever she introduces a concept that has been covered in greater depth by another book in the series, she refers to it. Any urban sketcher just starting out should begin with Suhita’s volume, then dive in deeper in areas of interest with the other books.

My only complaints about this book are the same as they are for the entire series: The elastic band that holds the book closed may have been clever when the first volume came out because it mimicked a sketchbook, but it has no purpose here and gets in the way. (OK, it had one useful purpose: To hold the cover closed while I took the photo at the top of the post.) And maybe it’s just my aging eyes, but reading the pale, tiny type makes me cranky. It’s also a shame that all these beautiful sketches have been reduced to two or three inches, but I realize that’s the limitation of the compact format. I do like that the books are thin, small and quick to read: They are an easy entry to urban sketching.

Speaking of easy entry, I’m often asked by novices for book recommendations on how to get into sketching on location. In addition to the “bible,” Gabi’s first book, The Art of Urban Sketching, I like to mention James Hobbs’ Sketch Your World and Mike Daikubara’s Sketch Now, Think Later. The first title is an overarching introduction to the world (literally) of urban sketching, and it’s required reading for any urban sketcher. The latter two are favorites for their philosophies and approaches to sketching on location (which align well with mine). And now I’m adding Suhita’s book to my “recommended” list for sketchers who are just getting started.

(This book was provided to me free by the publisher. All opinions expressed here are my own.)

Friday, January 8, 2021



1/5/21 Lauren, 15- and 5-minute poses (I wish I'd done these on black paper!)

Chiaroscuro is the theme this month at Life Drawing +. The scheduled models have all promised to deliver dramatic lighting as they pose. Model Lauren this week stepped it up further with colored lights. In some poses, more of her was in shadow than in light, and it was an enjoyable challenge to try to capture that. It would be difficult enough in an actual life-drawing studio, but on Zoom, it was even more challenging as the unlighted areas quickly dropped away into darkness.

It wasn’t until I was scanning my sketchbook pages for this post that I had my V-8 moment: I should have used black paper for some of these! I’ll be ready next time.

20-min. pose

2-min. pose

5- and 2-min. poses

15-min. pose

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pushing the Envelope


1/4/21 Through our bedroom's French doors.

I’m nothing if not efficient.

To encourage members to keep sketching during these bleakest of weather months ahead, USk Seattle has begun issuing prompts for our monthly “hold-ups” on Zoom. For January, the prompts are to either sketch street furniture (hydrants, lamps, utility poles, mail boxes and such) or use media that are not intended as art materials. (Alternatively, sketchers are always welcome to sketch anything they want as guided by the Urban Sketchers manifesto.)

Scanned image
Thinking about the two prompts for a while, I had intended to sketch the utility pole that dominates our bedroom view using non-art materials: a bright pink envelope that I had pulled out of our recycle bin and grease pencils. (I know that some artists do use them to draw with, but the intended purpose of grease pencils is for writing on glass, metal and other non-porous surfaces, so I decided they would qualify for this challenge.) Then a few days ago, Rob Sketcherman resumed his video series, USk Talks, and featured USk Paris. The group’s challenge to the community was to sketch a window view and include the window’s frame in the composition.

Done: I hit three prompts with one sketch.

(The image above was made with my phone. My scanner [at right] seems to have a problem capturing colors against the bright pink color. The pink is accurate, but the black grease pencil came out weird. I have the same issue when I try to scan the neon orange pages of my colored sketchbook.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Lion and a Fish from Memory


Seen on our morning walk.
For a while, I had been practicing drawing from memory during life-drawing sessions by studying the model intently for half the pose duration and then covering up the screen while I drew. Since then I’ve been practicing in another way: Studying something with the intention of drawing it several hours later.

Shown here is an example that began on a morning walk. We spotted an inflatable lion in someone’s yard. I didn’t spend as much time looking at it as I should have. When I sketched it in my scribble journal that evening, I realized I had only a vague notion of its shape; the lion’s expression was mostly from my imagination because I couldn’t recall details with clarity (below).

12/3/20 Attempt 1 from memory: Not enough observation.

12/5/20 Attempt 2: Better, but still missing prominent details.

12/9/20 Sketched from direct observation.
A couple of days later, I looked at the lion again, this time by observing it more closely and at length (above). I must have spent a couple of minutes studying its details. I did so by describing characteristics to myself with words: “The red Santa hat with white brim and pom-pom is hanging to the right.” That evening I made a larger sketch than I had previously so that I could work on more details. Even with additional observation time, I didn’t get the shape of the lion’s face or mane – and I totally missed the fact that the mane was brown.

Several days later, I finally sketched the lion from direct observation (at left). (I didnt color the mane brown, but that was a conscious choice  not because I didnt observe it.)

Another example was the Seattle Fish Guys logo (below). Since it’s one of the primary places we have been getting takeout foods during the pandemic, I see the Fish Guys logo frequently – at the store, on packaging, on their website and on social media. I would recognize it even from a distance, and yet, when I tried to visualize it, the image was vague.

Seattle Fish Guys logo

12/30/20 Logo sketched from memory.

One day I had a long wait outside the store while my order was being prepared. Prominently displayed above their door, the logo was easy to study for several minutes. Again, I tried to help myself recall details by describing them with words in my mind: “The colors are blue and turquoise. The fish’s body is made of cursive letters spelling ‘fish.’ The fish is facing right. ‘Seattle’ is in block letters above the fish, and ‘Guys’ is below.” I recalled most of the general details when I drew the logo that evening, but I couldn’t recall if it was in a circle or an oval.

Like most things, drawing from memory should become easier and more accurate with regular practice. Let’s see if that’s true.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Shawna at the Speed of Light (and Shadow)


1/2/21 Shawna, 30-second poses (I loved the energy and rhythm expressed by these dance gestures!)

Shawna is one of my favorite life-drawing models. I have drawn her more often than any other model, so perhaps I’ve had more opportunities to learn her proportions and shape, but beyond that, she is surely one of the best. It’s certainly challenging enough to hold any pose for 20 minutes, but in my experience, the true skill of a life-drawing model is revealed by his or her short poses. Drawing 30 unique and expressive 30-second poses without a break is downright exhilarating! Whew – what a workout! And as training for “real” people in the urban landscape, there is no better practice short of doing the real thing. By the time I got to the five-minute poses, they felt too long!

30-second poses

30-second poses

30-second poses

30-second poses

Now that all life-drawing models have been forced to take their business outside of the art school studio and into their own homes, they can’t depend on a monitor to manage their lighting for the benefit of artists. I have drawn enough models on Zoom during the past year to realize that not many understand the importance of lighting. Shawna’s many years of experience have made her an expert at this sometimes subtle but critical part of successful life drawing.

1-min. poses

2-min. poses (My favorites of the session, the 2-minute poses were made next to a window that cast a lovely light.)

2-min. poses

2-min. poses

Creative and always motivated to give artists inspiring, varied poses and moods, Shawna put each set of poses in a different area of her home. At Saturday’s session on Zoom, she posed against a wall, in her bathroom, on a stairway, and next to a window (my favorite lighting that day). Based on prompts developed for improvisational acting, each set of poses expressed a theme, such as “New Year’s Eve party,” “attention getter” and “rainy afternoon.” As much actor as model, she is a joy to sketch. I only hope I am able to capture the expressive energy she puts into each pose.

3- and 2-minute poses

3-min. poses

3-min. poses

Technical notes: Typically I use wet media such as a brush pen for extremely short poses, but I thought I’d give something dry a try this time:
 Prismacolor Art Stix. Soft as crayons, they moved fast enough, and I kept the drawings small so I could keep up with Shawna’s 30-second pace (the pages shown are in a 7-by-10-inch Canson XL 98-pound Mix Media sketchbook). I had an easier time with Art Stix on poses of at least one minute, though. The Kuretake Brush Writer is still one of my favorites when I have to move as quickly as possible.

My daily hand drawings continue to teach me something every day, far beyond the form of my own hand. My primary material for those has been toned paper with drawing tools in a dark color and white. That simplicity has trained me to see forms in terms of shadow and light better than any other practice I’ve tried. I especially notice what I’ve learned during life-drawing sessions when I have to identify and capture the shadow and light immediately with no time for more than a few strokes.

5-min. pose

5-min. poses

Monday, January 4, 2021

Scribble Journal Update


11/14/20 Early pages include more white space.

A couple of months ago I started a trial daily “scribble journal.” In the past, I’ve tried various versions of a daily sketch journal sporadically, but I never sustained the habit for more than a few days. I think one big reason the habit didn’t stick was that the format was redundant of some other habit I already had. If I sketched something from observation in the journal, then how was that different from my “regular” daily-carry sketchbook? If I sketched something merely to record what I did that day, then it was redundant of the text-only log book I’ve kept for years. (The latter is a simple bulleted list of places and things I’ve sketched, books, movies and TV shows I’ve consumed, fitness or health achievements, natural or current events, major purchases, and new foods or beverages I’ve tried.) Those sketch journal attempts didn’t feel like they served a unique purpose.

After a successful sketch journal page created for the Sketchbook Techniques and Expressions class I was taking through Gage, I was encouraged to focus a daily sketch journal practice on sketching from memory and imagination rather than from observation. This would eliminate redundancy with my ongoing sketch practice.

The trial I began in November was to find out if I enjoyed the process enough to sustain it and whether it served a unique purpose. For the remainder of 2020, I continued with my usual log book, which confirmed that the two books recorded mostly redundant information. If the scribble journal were enjoyable and sustainable, however, it could replace the log book in 2021.

That’s where I am now: On Dec. 31, I completed the trial book (an amazing coincidence to have exactly the number of pages I needed to finish it on Dec. 31! How often does that happen?!). On Jan. 1, I stopped keeping my formerly text-only log book and replaced it with a fresh book for my daily scribble journal.

12/4/20 The blow-up Santa and reindeer was an attempt at drawing from memory something I saw during my morning walk.

Keeping my scribble journal has become more enjoyable over time while also being more challenging to keep than a written log book/journal. I’ve been a writer my whole life, professionally and on my own time. Although I won’t say writing is effortless, describing or explaining something with words is probably the one skill I have that is as close to “second nature” as any. But when it comes to describing something visually, that’s a skill I’ve been working on for less than a decade. Drawing from observation has become easier over time, yet it’s never without challenge. And now my scribble journal is pushing me to think more visually and describe things visually.

Bonus: Its already more fun to look through the journal as reference, which is one of its purposes. The way all our pandemic days seem to blend together or repeat like an extended Ground Hogs Day, I find myself using it to answer questions like, Was it two weeks ago that we had that fantastic crab from Fish Guys? Or has it already been three weeks? 

12/10/20 I'm filling up more of the page lately with both sketches and writing.

With more page space than the vertical inch or so of text space I used to devote to each day, I can write more commentary when I want to. When I compare the early pages to the later ones, I see that I’m filling in the page space more effectively with both words and sketches. The drawings are often nothing more than rudimentary stick figures and symbols made from imagination (or lack thereof). But sometimes they are conscious efforts to study something visual during the day and then draw from memory that evening (more on that process in an upcoming post). I enjoy making the crude, cartoon-like sketches with no attempt at shading or modeling in any way (which is something I practice regularly with nearly everything I sketch from life). I’m pushed to think about things in a different way than I’m used to.

Representing my yoga practice has been especially challenging and often humorous! I try to visualize what I look like while I’m doing a pose, but it’s not easy. I can study my instructor’s pose on the screen and try to draw from my memory of that, but I’m not nearly as flexible as she is, so my body doesn’t always form the same shapes!

12/28/20 When I sketch my own little red car, it's a symbol to myself that I made a sketch from inside my car.

Fresh Leuchtturm journal in optimistic yellow.
The materials I use for scribble journaling are intentionally simple: I don’t want to be stymied by having too many art supply choices or being annoyed by having inappropriate paper for the media. I also want to be able to finish a daily page in 15 or 20 minutes. That’s another important aspect that keeps a habit sustainable for me. With that little time commitment, I could maintain the habit even when I travel (thinking optimistically into 2021).

For the trial, I used a spiralbound Stillman & Birn Zeta that I happened to have available. Although I love the heavy paper and surface, I don’t need that level of paper quality for something I call a scribble journal. I also prefer a volume with more pages. Since using wet media wasn’t important to me for this purpose, I decided to use an A5-size, hardcover, unruled Leuchtturm 1917 journal, which was my favorite format for my log books. I like the familiar feel of the book, which reminds me that I haven’t stopped keeping a daily log; it has simply morphed into a more visual form. 

Simple materials close at hand.
So far, my favorite drawing and writing pen is a Uni Pin pen with a brush tip because I like the thick-and-thin line it produces for both. For spot color, I selected a limited number of Prismacolor pencils – only what would fit comfortably in one coffee mug. This limit keeps me away from the distraction of looking for just the right color. 

The mug as art supply holder is also practical: It compactly sits on the side table next to my recliner where I relax in the evening. If I had to go upstairs to my studio to keep this journal, I would be more likely to skip it or, if I did go upstairs, I might get distracted by other projects or art materials. I’ve set myself up for success, not failure.

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