Friday, September 28, 2012

Blind Contour Redux

9/27/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen

I’m taking an eight-week drawing class from Seattle architect and artist Anita Lehmann, whose urban sketches appear on the Seattle Urban Sketchers blog. At our first class, we did a few drawing exercises made popular by Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. A favorite of mine is modified blind contour, a technique I used for these self-portraits. To learn what a modified blind contour is, see another self-portrait I did back in January.
Although these self-portraits are not exactly flattering, the bald-faced honesty and integrity of the line are strangely appealing.

9/28/12 Pigma Micron pens

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

9/27/12 fountain pen, watercolor, Hand Book sketchbook
On a midday break today, I sketched the second of the two churches I see regularly from I-5. This one is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at Northeast 57th and Eighth Avenue Northeast. I couldn’t find a website for this particular church, so I don’t know anything about it. However, compared to the Blessed Sacrament Church that I sketched Tuesday, it has a much simpler steeple and elevation view, and I had more time today than on Tuesday, so I decided to bite off a bit more to chew. That’s not to say the sketch wasn’t challenging – it was, and I suppose architecture will never stop being challenging for me. But I think I’m starting to “get” the perspective thing more often than not!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blessed Sacrament Church

9/25/12 Lamy fountain pen, watercolor, Hand Book sketchbook
Whenever I drive south on I-5 from my house, I see two church steeples just east of the freeway near the University District. On my way home from an errand yesterday, I took a quick detour to sketch one – the Blessed Sacrament Church, a Seattle historic landmark on Northeast 50th and Eighth Avenue Northeast.
According to the church’s website, it is undergoing extensive restoration after severe earthquake damage in 2001. I knew the whole building would be too big a bite for me to chew in my short time between errands, so I decided to sketch only the part that I see so often from the freeway. As it turned out, that was too big a bite for me, too. All those buttresses, niches, parapet copings and medallions were overwhelming.
But two good things came of attempting this sketch:

1.      I learned a bunch of architectural terms like buttress, niche, parapet coping and medallion.

2.      A couple of months ago, I not only would not have stopped to sketch this church – I would have run, screaming, in the opposite direction.
HA! Take that, former Fear of Sketching Architecture!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spectacled Owl

9/24/12 Lamy fountain pen, water-soluble ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
The only bird I sketched yesterday at the zoo (other than a crow hanging out with the brown bears) was a spectacled owl in the Raptor Center. Named Coba, this male perched on a keeper’s heavily gloved hand weighs only 1.75 pounds – a lot less than he looks. Designed for flight, his hollow bones keep him lightweight. His species is native to southern Mexico, the keeper told me as I sketched, but Coba is a native of the Woodland Park Zoo.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Few Mammals

9/24/12 Lamy fountain pen, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
On many visits to the zoo, I end up sketching birds – flamingoes, a toucan, a Nicobar pigeon, a southern screamer, cockatiels and several others – not necessarily because they are my favorites, but because their cages are relatively small, so the birds are closer to viewers and therefore easier to see.
9/24/12 Lamy fountain pen
But on this sunny autumn afternoon, more mammals seemed to be out and about where I could see them. The porcupines were a special treat because I have rarely seen them on my frequent visits (I encounter them so infrequently, in fact, that I had no idea how bad they smell!). Two were busily and rapidly chewing leaves that they seemed to hold with their hands the way raccoons do. Surprisingly, the tips of their quills were a bright chartreuse.
The brown bears were also awake and active, swimming and sunning themselves. The meerkats, my favorites, were as busy and curious as ever. Fortunately, the Woodland Park Zoo has a relatively large mob (yes, that’s what a group is called) of meerkats, so when one I was sketching skittered away, another easily took its place in a similar pose.
9/24/12 Lamy fountain pen, water-soluble ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
9/24/12 Lamy fountain pen, water-soluble ink

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Audience Participation

9/21/12 fountain pen, Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor
Fall hit Seattle overnight, literally. Thursday was sunny and warm as it had been for an unbelievable, nearly-record-breaking number of consecutive days in August and September. Then Friday was overcast and drizzly all day, and I knew the end had finally come. I headed out for Phinney Farmer’s Market anyway, not wanting to miss my last couple of opportunities before the markets closed for the year.
9/21/12 fountain pen
The usually abundant colorful produce was looking sparse, but singer Katy Webber added a bright note to the otherwise gray day. An early childhood music teacher, Katy offers ukulele lessons as well as birthday party entertainment. To encourage young audience participation, she put out a box of tambourines and maracas, which were used with glee. The kids moved too fast for my pen to keep up with, but I enjoyed the lively percussion just the same.
Summertime, I’ll miss you!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chihuly Garden and Glass

9/20/12 Lamy fountain pen, watercolor, Stillman & Birn

I could have spent the entire day at Chihuly Garden and Glass absorbing and sketching the fantastical expressions of color and form that define Dale Chihuly’s work. It would have been a day for house-painting brushes, buckets of paint, paper the size of the walls and a soundtrack by Dream Theater played at full volume. But in the limited time I had with nothing but my sketchbook and a few watercolors, I simply chose a couple of works and tried to capture their essence.
My sketches seem way too modest to reflect the flamboyance and exuberance exhibited there. But wait till next time when I bring a few buckets of paint.

9/20/12 Lamy fountain pen, Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn sketchbook

Happy Birthday, Sketcher

9/21/11, pen, water-soluble colored pencils

A year ago today, I started drawing.

Of course, that’s not entirely true – I probably started drawing when I had developed enough motor skills to hold a crayon and move it across paper. I certainly drew plenty – and even relatively well – up until I became a teenager. But in the 40 years that followed, I had somehow convinced myself that I couldn’t draw, and therefore, I didn’t.

The “I can’t draw” voice took on different forms. As a young adult, I told myself and others, “I’m a verbal – not a visual – person,” and I channeled my creative energy and skills toward writing (not a bad thing – it’s how I found my livelihood).
9/24/11 pen

In my mid-40s when I became an artist (“Huh – maybe I’m a visual person after all”), I focused on organic forms that took shape and grew as part of the material process and abstract collages and paintings. When asked if I sketched preliminary ideas before setting out on these works, I always dismissed the question quickly with a snort, “Are you kidding? I can’t draw a straight line.”

Yet every time I saw the sketchbooks of other people (artists as well as people who would never call themselves artists), every time I read and reread books like Danny Gregory’s The Creative License, and especially every time I saw sketches done on location – urban sketches – that reflected a fresh, on-the-spot view of the world, it was like an elbow in the ribs from my psyche: “Why can’t I do that? What’s the big deal? Just pick up a pencil and draw.”

I’m not sure what happened on Sept. 21, 2011, that changed everything for me. Maybe I just got tired of getting elbowed in the ribs and decided to poke back. These are a few of the sketches I made that day and in the days that followed. I haven’t stopped since.

Happy birthday, sketcher!
9/25/11 pen, watercolor

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Dreamtime

9/19/12 Lamy fountain pen, Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
Port Townsend has a friendly little farmer’s market. I let the others shop for fresh blueberries and strawberries (still! In September!) while I sketched The Dreamtime, two ladies with beautiful voices singing all original songs about life, love, hardship and strength.


9/19/12 Lamy fountain pen
Last night I was guilty of DUI – drawing under the influence. One of these days I want to participate in Dr. Sketchy’s, so I decided to start training now. Dining at Fins in Port Townsend, I finished off the last of my wine while sketching these diners out on the deck (sketched in my Sketchbook Project sketchbook). Unfortunately, it got a little too chilly for them, and they came inside before I could finish. But then our desserts came, so I couldn’t finish them anyway.

Alexander’s Castle

9/19/12 Lamy fountain pen, Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
One of our favorite state parks is historic Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Although Port Townsend is full of painted ladies and other Victorian homes, one of the most romantic buildings is Alexander’s Castle. Built in 1883 but restored in 2005 after significant earthquake damage, the castle is now available as accommodations on the fort. Here’s the castle’s story, according to the fort’s website:  
"Reverend John Alexander built the castle for a prospective Scottish bride in a style reminiscent of his native country. In 1883, he acquired 10 acres of land near Point Wilson and constructed the building known as Alexander's Castle. Alexander intended the building to serve as a home for him and his bride. Traveling to Scotland to get his bride, Alexander found that his bride-to-be had married another."
While I was sketching the castle, a deer wandered by to sniff the bushes but didn’t linger long enough for me to add him to the sketch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

St. Catherine of Siena Parish

9/18/12 Lamy fountain pen, Platinum Carbon ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
Yesterday I found myself with another one of those awkward gaps of freelance time (too early to leave for the next appointment but not enough time to start the next work project), so I hurried over to the St. Catherine of Siena Parish just a few blocks from my house. I walk or drive past this church and school several times a week, yet I had never noticed before the pale verdigris-green stains coming down from the “grating” at the top of the tower (I’m probably making architects cringe – sorry, I don’t know the correct term for those things). I didn’t have time to put in as many details as I wanted to, but I made an attempt to capture that subtle color.
(Hey, something happened on my way to filling in these awkward gaps of time with architectural sketches that I usually dread: I don’t dread them anymore! Do I daresay I’m starting to enjoy them? On a technical note, I’ve been using Platinum Carbon in my Lamy the past few days, and so far, it is living up to its many rave reviews – it dries quickly enough that it keeps up with my left hand most of the time, so I only got one smudge in this sketch, and I love the velvet-black blackness.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Playing Tourist

9/17/12 Lamy fountain pen, watercolor

There’s nothing quite like showing around an out-of-town visitor to make one appreciate home. So today while we played tourist with our guest at Pike Place Market, I took in the ferries drifting by on Puget Sound, sniffed the fragrant flowers sold at the low stalls, applauded the fishmongers tossing salmon, sampled pepper jellies and experienced Seattle’s best with fresh eyes. Buskers, my favorite market sketching subject, were numerous this morning, where a “stage” could be found on every corner or open space.

9/17/12 Fountain pen

On the guitar was Bruce in the main arcade, while Frank fiddled across the street. Later, Frank’s space was taken by the piano player. As many farmer’s markets as I visited this summer, Pike Place is the only one where I could find a busker on piano.
Long live Pike Place Market!
9/17/12 Fountain pen, water-soluble ink

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Elusive Green Lake Heron – Captured!

9/15/12 Lamy fountain pen, Moleskine sketchbook
Unless the weather is truly dreadful, I walk around Green Lake two to three times a week year-round. During the past four months or so, I’ve spotted a gray heron a few times, but because I usually don’t carry my sketch kit when I’m fitness-walking, I’ve always been unprepared to sketch him. But ever since last month when I caught a brief glimpse of him close to shore, I’ve been taking my ultra-minimalist sketch kit (consisting of a fountain pen filled with water-soluble ink, a water brush, a 3.5” x 5.5” Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, and yes, the all-important glasses, all carried in a very compact Travelon Convertible Travel Wallet) every time I’ve headed for the lake, just in case.
At last, my persistence paid off! I hadn’t even planned to go to the lake this morning, but a commitment was cancelled at the last moment, so I filled the unexpected gift of time with a walk – and serendipitously, the sketch I’d been waiting for. The heron spent quite a bit of time hunkered down motionlessly and occasionally preening, which left his head feathers ruffled. He let me sketch him for a full 18 minutes. Then he opened his majestic wings and was gone.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Lovely Whidbey Island Garden

9/14/12 Pitt Artists Pen, watercolor, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
Nilda and I decided to crash the Whidbey Island Urban Sketchers’ sketchcrawl on this amazingly beautiful Friday. I was on “island time” as soon as we drove off the ferry. We met at a private garden where the owner generously allowed us to sketch all afternoon. Many thanks to Pat and the other Whidbey sketchers for their warm welcome!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mid-September Melancholy

9/13/12 fountain pen, Copic Multiliner SP pen, Hand Book sketchbook
Despite the mostly cloudless sky and warm sunshine, so rare by mid-September, the Lake City Farmer’s Market had a distinct note of melancholy. Except for the woman with a megaphone encouraging shoppers to come around the corner where the information booths were hiding, the market was unusually quiet: By 4:15, the scheduled musician still hadn’t shown up for his 4 o’clock gig. Maybe it was just me who was melancholy.
Savoring a scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream from Half Pint Ice Cream, I sat in the shade to sketch the young woman I had just bought the cup of decadence from. I had resisted that ice cream all summer, not for the usual reasons but because I knew it would be difficult to hold and eat it while also sketching. But I felt so bittersweet about the market and the end of summer that I saw no point in resisting today. I had originally planned to add watercolors to the sketch as I usually do, but then I noticed my ice cream was getting soft.
Life is short, and so is summer. Sometimes eating ice cream is more important than painting.
(Technical note: Once again, I started this sketch with Noodler’s Bulletproof ink in my Lamy, but switched to a Copic Multiliner SP because the Bulletproof was smearing all over the place. My bottle of Platinum Carbon – the champagne of inks! – is on its way!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Sketchbook Project

9/12/12 Kuretake Brush Writer
When I first learned of The Sketchbook Project years ago, I longed to participate. It seemed like such an interesting concept to put sketchbooks – traditionally a private medium – on exhibit. But then I tried imagining what that would be like – having to commit to sending drawings in a book for the public to view. What if my drawings turned out bad? What if one drawing ruined the whole book? It couldn’t be torn out – what would I do? Submit it anyway? The very thought made my hair stand on end. So it was just as well that I “knew” I couldn’t draw and therefore disqualified myself from being eligible.

A few years ago the Art House Coop initiated A Million Little Pictures Project in the same spirit, so I thought that at last there was a medium even I could use. Participants were sent an old-fashioned disposable film camera. When all frames were exposed, we were to send in the photos that became part of the project.
I can’t even remember what theme I chose, and it obviously wasn’t inspiring, because I hardly remember what I photographed. It was a less than satisfying project for me, and I decided the whole concept really wasn’t for me.
Until now. This year I’m participating in the classic Sketchbook Project with a classic sketchbook – a little booklet of paper that I sketch on and send in when full. I chose the theme “Strangers,” since most of my cold-weather sketchbooks are filled with sketches of strangers in coffee shops, and the long fall and winter months are about to begin.
I actually registered and received my project sketchbook a couple of months ago, but I didn’t want to waste any summer sketching weather inside coffee shops, so today was the first time I made a sketch in it. (Ironically, I sat on Starbucks’ rooftop patio to make these sketches, since the summer has leisurely stretched out into September this year.)
9/12/12 Kuretake Brush Writer
As fearful as I was about participating several years ago, I’m equally fearless now. I simply carried my iced coffee up to the patio, opened the sketchbook up to the first page, and sketched the guy wearing headphones. Done. Turned the page, and did the second one.
Life is easier without fear, especially of something as harmless (and joyful) as drawing.
(On a technical note, I can see that I'm going to have to use dry media on this thin paper that can't take a wash. It wrinkled like a used Kleenex.)

Edited 12/19/12: I finished the sketchbook on Dec. 19, 2012. See all 17 page spreads in my Sketchbook Project sketchbook in a Flickr slideshow, or view the images one at a time in my Flickr photostream.

Green Lake Public Library

9/12/12 Lamy fountain pen, waterproof ink, Copic Multiliner SP, watercolor
Some days my freelance calendar is chopped up in such a way that I find myself with an awkward gap of time between commitments. I like to fill such gaps with a challenging sketch that I might otherwise try to avoid because it’s “hard.” The time is limited, so I don’t have to torture myself overlong. A few weeks ago I sketched a car during that kind of gap of time. Today I tackled dreaded architecture, but it’s a building I’m fond of and visit often, so it didn’t seem torturous: The Seattle Public Library Green Lake Branch, or “my” library, as I like to think of it.

I don’t know much about architecture, but I think it’s in the classic Carnegie library style that is slowly being replaced by more “modern” styles in some neighborhoods. The Green Lake Branch was closed for extensive improvements a while back, so I hope that means it’s around to stay.

I started this sketch with my Lamy Safari fountain pen filled with waterproof Noodler’s ink, but halfway through, I switched to my trusty Copic Multiliner SP because the Noodler’s was smudging to high heaven under my left hand holding the pen. I really like how waterproof the Noodler’s is on both Stillman & Birn and Hand Book sketchbook papers – but it apparently isn’t drying fast enough to keep up with my hand passing over it (the lifelong curse of the south paw).

But now I’m fantasizing about springing for an extravagant bottle of Platinum Carbon ink, which so many sketchers drool over. Any lefties out there who have tried it? Does it dry any faster than Noodler’s?

Captive Audience

9/8/12 Lamy fountain pen
9/8/12 Lamy fountain pen
Over the weekend, I helped staff a booth at Aki Matsuri, and directly across from our booth was the performance stage. I whiled away the time by sketching, and a continual stream of audience members kept blocking my view of the stage, giving me a perfect sketching view of the audience.

9/8/12 Lamy fountain pen

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Overheard in the Conservation Aviary

9/11/12 Lamy fountain pen, waterproof ink, watercolor
“Kinda looks like a guinea, Bubba – a souped-up guinea.”
Souped up, indeed. The bird that this visitor was referring to is the Nicobar pigeon cautiously pecking near our feet in the Woodland Park Zoo’s Conservation Aviary. Unfortunately, my painting skills couldn’t touch the bird’s iridescent green, blue and violet feathers fanning around it like an extravagant cape. (My paint swatch at right was another attempt to capture those colors.) The northern helmeted curassow, also found in the aviary, wasn’t much easier to paint, although I think I got at least the shape of the distinctive casque on its head right.
In the Tropical Rainforest exhibit, I did a slightly better paint job on the keel-billed toucan’s bright hues.
9/11/12 Lamy fountain pen, watercolor
9/11/12 Lamy fountain pen, watercolor

Friday, September 7, 2012

Does it Still Count as Urban Sketching?

9/7/12 Kuretake Brush Writer, Hand Book sketchbook
9/7/12 Lamy fountain pen, Hand Book sketchbook

9/7/12 fountain pen

As a lifelong city girl, the closest I usually get to rural is our annual trip to Puyallup for the Western Washington Fair. The chickens were on competitive display, so we got our share of amazing bouffant hairdos, high-struttin’ bantams and piles of chicks clambering over each other. The children’s petting barn has always been one of my favorite areas, and it turned out to be a great place to sketch an angora goat and more chicks.
9/7/12 Lamy fountain pen
9/7/12 Lamy fountain pen

Long Shadows

9/5/12 Pitt Big Brush Markers, Moleskine sketchbook
Authors and instructors of drawing often advise beginners to stick with monochrome drawing media and avoid color, which can distract one from learning to understand values – the lights and darks in a subject. Intellectually, I understand this advice, but I’m such a color junkie that I usually can’t resist adding color. My color habit also makes me want all the available colors in, say, a type of marker.
Lately, though, I’ve been having fun experimenting with markers as a sketching medium more than as a coloring agent. I started out using markers as a way to distill a complex or vast scene. Now I am also using them to help me study values. I’ve been forcing myself to select only a few to take with me at a time, even if I own a huge palette. The limited palette enables me to see and study lights and darks better. And the variable-tipped markers – my favorite water-soluble Japanese brush markers as well as non-water-soluble Pitt Artist Pens Big Brush Markers – make me focus on the large shapes rather than details.
Standing on our southern-facing sundeck, I saw a utility pole and our neighbors’ trees casting interesting shadows in the early morning sunlight.
9/5/12 Pitt Big Brush Markers
9/5/12 Pitt Big Brush Markers

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day, Green Lake

9/3/12 Kuretake Brush Writers, Zig and Akashiya Thin Line markers, Hand Book sketchbook


“Your Green Lake neighbors Marguerite and Bob Martin suggest you sit, chat, and rest.”
- inscription on a park bench


9/3/12 Kuretake Brush Writers

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ballard Locks

9-2-12 Akashiya Sai, Thin Line, Kuretake Brush Writers, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
When Gabi announced that an extra sketchcrawl would be organized this month so that visiting urban sketcher extraordinaire Tommy Kane could join us, I looked forward to meeting the man behind the blog I had long admired for its amazing yet quirky sketches.

Years before I had become a sketcher myself (though longed to become one), I had read (and read and read a total of four times) An Illustrated Life, Danny Gregory’s popular collection of sketches by many talented artists. In his profile describing his art background and how he came to become the urban sketcher he is now known for, Tommy said of the sketching habit, “It’s better than crack.” On my most recent re-reading of the book, after I had actually started sketching myself, I highlighted that quotation and wrote it in my journal, because I finally understood what he meant.
Crack aside, I was eager to meet Tommy, but when I heard where the sketchcrawl would be, I felt a bit intimidated. The last time I sketched at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (better known locally as the Ballard Locks), it was with Jane Richlovsky’s “Drawing on Location” class in June. Back then, I found myself overwhelmed by all that water, all those mechanical structures, all those boats, and all that all – too much of everything.
But since then, I’ve garnered the secret to sketching wide-open spaces: Japanese brush markers! Whenever I find myself dazed and befuddled by too much, I pull out those babies, and they instantly do the job for me of distilling all the detail down to the essence.
I also spent some time inside the fish ladder viewing area, where I knew the scale would be more within my comfort zone. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how dark it would be in there. It’s a good thing I know my watercolors by their positions in my paint box, because I could barely see them. It turned out to be a good values study.
As for Tommy, seeing in person one of his sketches – done not in a sketchbook but on what looked like illustration board – was worth a trip to the Locks.
9/2/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor
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