Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Diva Espresso

1/30/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
On my way home from Golden Gardens, I ducked into Diva Espresso to take the chill off. It’s a long, narrow space with the tables parallel to several windows, which proved to be an unusual perspective challenge viewed sidelong. Today I wasn’t in the mood for something that difficult, so I took the easy way out and sketched fellow patrons. But I’ll come back another day and take on those windows.

Golden Gardens

1/30/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
It was drizzly and foggy all day. I had to keep turning on the windshield wipers to clear the mist as I sketched Golden Gardens. On the far west end of Seattle, this beach can look like Malibu on a sunny summer day. But today, even the gulls seemed melancholy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Honey Bear Bakery

1/29/13 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Hand Book Journal
Back in the ‘90s, when I was still running on the 8-to-5 hamster wheel, the Honey Bear Bakery was located near Green Lake (just a block or so from Zoka Coffee where I now spend so much of my winter sketching time). On my days off (possibly days when I had called in for a mental health day, were I to do such a thing), I would hide away at the Honey Bear to write in my journal and indulge in an oversized, soft and sticky cinnamon roll dotted with sliced almonds. That’s the kind of place it was – warm, cozy and full of good smells and neighborhood “regulars.”
At some point it moved to the Ravenna neighborhood, but by then I had switched to a different hamster wheel, this time in the software industry that didn’t accommodate mental health days (though it certainly required more). So I didn’t patronize the Honey Bear in that location.
1/29/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig marker, Hand Book Journal
Eventually the Honey Bear moved to Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Commons, its current location. A couple weeks ago when Seattle Urban Sketchers met there for the 38th Worldwide SketchCrawl, I had hoped to get around to sketching the bakery for old time’s sake, but I got too busy with dancers and other people there. So when the Urban Sketchers Flickr group’s weekly theme came around to “bakeries,” it was my opportunity to go back to the Commons, this time for breakfast at the Honey Bear.
Although the spacious retail complex isn’t the same as the old neighborhood spot I loved, the cinnamon roll was just as gooey. I had eaten almost half of it when I thought of the work of urban sketcher Matthew Midgley, whose blog and Flickr stream are full of food! Inspired by his mouth-watering sketches, I put my fork down long enough to sketch my cinnamon roll’s remains (and quickly devoured the still life after I finished the sketch).

Monday, January 28, 2013

It’s Never Too Late to Start

Mixed-media magazine Cloth Paper Scissors has published an article I wrote called “It’s Never Too Late to Start” in the January/February 2013 issue. It’s a short chronicle of how I changed from someone who actually feared drawing into an urban sketcher who finds nothing but joy in drawing. The article includes 24 of my 100 self-portraits!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tossing Out My Coloring Book

1/26/13 Winsor & Newton watercolor, Strathmore 140 lb. paper
Although I’ve been dabbling in watercolors since I first started sketching and went to a few drop-in classes back then, I hadn’t taken any formal lessons. After more than a year of winging it, I’m now taking a six-week course at North Seattle Community College with Susan Schneider to learn the (correct) basics of watercolor painting.
My uneducated watercolor “technique” (so to speak) so far has been the coloring book method: sketching an outline with waterproof ink and then coloring (mostly) inside the lines with paint. While other sketchers use this popular method to beautiful effect, my results have been mixed and generally mediocre.
In taking Susan’s class, my objective is to skip the pen or pencil outline and sketch directly with paint, going more for shapes and expression than for “coloring” as has been my habit. Happily, Susan has been very supportive of whatever style students want to pursue.
1/26/13 watercolor, Stillman & Birn Delta sketchbook
With my previous method in the field, I’d used 16 Daniel Smith watercolor sticks in my portable mint tin sketch kit, which served me well. But Susan’s class supply list recommended Winsor & Newton artist-quality tube paints in only eight colors,* so I decided that this class is my opportunity to give time-honored WN paints a try as well as step up to the challenge of a limited palette.
Mint tin sketch kit with WN paints.
Of course, my ultimate goal is to be able to make paint-only sketches out in the urban landscape. I’ve done a little of this kind of painting in my studio, but not in the field. Let’s call these two sketches from yesterday’s class my baseline. Maybe with indoor practice between now and June, I’ll be ready to take my paints outside by summer. (I’ve already made a second version of the mint tin kit with Winsor & Newton paints, so I’m ready to go! Hear that, Summer?)

* Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Sap Green, Viridian Green, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue.

Tina’s Bottom 10

The other day on the Wet Canvas forum, Jan mentioned a product she had tried and decided she really hated. I was curious about why, and it was interesting to hear her perspective. In the forum thread, I jokingly proposed that we should all list our “Bottom 10” most-despised products. 
I was kidding at the time, but then I started thinking about it some more. Learning about why someone particularly dislikes a specific product they’ve tried can be just as informative as learning about why they love another product. Idiosyncratic prejudices – hating all dark blue inks because they remind someone too much of parochial school, for example (yes, I’ve heard that one) – are perhaps less helpful (though often entertaining). But if a product is bad or doesn’t perform as well as a competing brand, that’s useful to know.
At the risk of offending people who love these products, I present here Tina’s Bottom 10, in no particular ranking order. (Some products are not pictured because I’ve already given them away to people who love them. This is what’s wonderful about the wide variety of products available and an even wider variety of artists: There’s always someone who likes something I don’t.) There are other products I hate even more than these and will not use, but they don’t appear on this list because I think my reasons would fall in the “idiosyncratic prejudice” category (pens that don’t uncap easily or any dusty medium, like pastels and charcoal).

1. Moleskine Sketchbook: Boy, do I have a love/hate relationship with the paper in this sketchbook. First of all, I should say that I otherwise love all things Moleskine. I use a Moleskine planner every year, and I like their watercolor sketchbooks (though I wish they’d come out with a portrait format to go along with their landscape format. It’s not as if all watercolor painters paint nothing but landscapes). The thick, smooth paper is ideal for markers and pen and ink and can also support collage. But that nasty manila color makes many inks and markers look terrible. Even worse, it cannot take a wash worth beans! It actually repels water. For a long time, I kept using water-soluble markers and watercolors, hoping that one day they would miraculously stop beading up when I washed them, as if the paper were coated with wax. I finally quit banging my head against the brick wall and started using it only with permanent markers (so I wouldn’t be tempted to try yet again to make it wash).

2. Cretacolor AquaStics: I started using these shortly after I began my adventures in mixed media art journaling, and even as a beginner I could tell these water-soluble crayons weren’t the best. They apply dry and chalky, and it takes a lot of water to make their water-soluble properties wake up. The color range is also strange – so many similar yellows and light blues, for example, and hardly any good greens. A short time later I discovered Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water-soluble crayons, which are exactly the opposite: creamy, rich, easily washed and available in a huge range of colors. Buh-bye, AquaStics.

3. Copic Markers: Favored by manga cartoonists and graphic designers, these alcohol-based markers are also being used skillfully by some urban sketchers (Liz Steel comes to mind) to interesting effect, especially when blended with a blender pen. I bought a small assortment, pulled the cap off the first one and nearly keeled over from the incredibly strong smell. Because they are alcohol-based, they also seep all the way through most papers, so you either have to use only one side of the sketchbook page or use special paper. Forget it. (These are up for grabs if anyone wants them.)

4. Sakura Pigma Micron Pen: I used Pigma Micron mechanical pens as my default waterproof drawing pen for quite a while, but I was never completely happy with the tip that had to be held just right or it would feel scratchy. I replaced them with Copic Multiliner SP pens, which have the added benefit of being refillable.

5. Niji Flat Waterbrush: Although the rest of the waterbrushes in the Niji/Kuretake line (same brand, marketed under different names) are on my Top 10 list – they are probably my single, most-often-used art tools in the field – this so-called flat waterbrush is useless. I’ve tried it in many ways, and it’s impossible to get a decent watercolor wash with it. Plus the cap is too hard to get back on without risking bending the hairs.

6. Prismacolor Colored Pencils: These wax-based colored pencils are many colored pencil artists’ favorite, including nearly every colored pencil technique book author I’ve read. They do apply with a soft and creamy texture, which is probably why they are so highly favored. But the leads break so easily that more of the pencil ends up in my pencil sharpener than on my paper. After trying several brands, I settled on oil-based Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils (and eventually the more versatile water-soluble Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, which have become my colored pencil of choice).

7. Noodler’s Ahab Flex Nib King Philip fountain pen: When I first started experimenting with fountain pens as a sketching tool, I did a lot of research to find out what others liked, and the Noodler’s Ahab pen with its flexible nib was mentioned over and over. For 20 bucks, it was easy to buy one to try. But the regret came later when it kept clogging, skipping and blobbing, and being new to fountain pens for sketching, I thought that was just the way all fountain pens were. Soon I was doing research just to find out how to vigilantly maintain and even modify the Ahab to improve performance. I never got around to learning to use its famed Flex Nib because I was too busy trying to make it write! I almost gave up on fountain pens completely, assuming I just didn’t have the patience to maintain one. Then someone mentioned the carefree ease of (equally inexpensive) Lamy pens. Eight Lamy pens later, I hardly use anything else to draw with anymore.

8. Noodler’s Black Bulletproof ink: At the same time that I was researching fountain pens, I also read about inks, and once again, the name Noodler’s kept coming up. I knew I wanted a black waterproof ink to start with, so I chose Noodler’s Black Bulletproof ink (among several waterproof black inks Noodler’s offers). I filled that infamous Ahab pen with it and discovered nothing but misery – all that clogging, skipping and blobbing! Was it the pen, the ink, or me? When I gave up on the Ahab for my first Lamy, Noodler’s Black Bulletproof was the first bottled ink I filled it with. At least the pen wasn’t clogging and skipping anymore, so I could blame those traits on the Ahab. But the Noodler’s took so long to dry that I was constantly smudging and smearing it. Further research brought me to Platinum Carbon Black ink, which easily placed on my Top 10 list for its fast-drying, non-blobbing, perfectly waterproof qualities.

9. Copic Multiliner SP pen, Sepia: After deciding that my black Copic Multiliner SP was my favorite mechanical drawing pen, I got one in Sepia for times when I want a warmer line. I think of sepia as a rich, dark brown; this pen’s color turned out to be “tan” at best. I don’t know if I got a defective one, or if this is just the way sepia looks in the Copic world. Never mind; I got a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen in sepia, and it does the job just fine.

10. J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen: Using a dip pen is the most efficient way to test a variety of fountain pen ink samples (such as the ones I’ve been getting from, but I’m not very good with a traditional metal nib dip pen, so I thought this glass pen would be a fun alternative. Is there a trick to this that I haven’t figured out yet? I couldn’t get it to hold sufficient ink, and the tip is so scratchy that it’s more esthetically pleasing to write with a toothpick!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Early Morning Coffee

1/25/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig marker, Hand Book journal
Depending on the time of day I go to Zoka, its patrons’ activities vary greatly. In the late morning and afternoon, it’s full of people busily working on their laptops or checking messages on their phones. I went earlier than usual this morning, and I caught a meeting in progress – a rare opportunity to sketch people interacting with each other instead of their electronics. Although the group was more difficult to sketch because they moved around more than gadget users, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture their dynamics.
1/25/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
Today I spotted an even rarer sight: a man simply relaxing and drinking his morning coffee! (Who does that in a coffee shop?!)
When I was about to leave, the regular Go tournament that I've sketched previously was just getting started, so I couldn’t resist a quick profile of one of the players. I looked at my watch and made a mental note to get there around 9 o’clock next time with the hope that I’ll be able to sketch more of a match.
1/25/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown
(By the way, this guy really did wear his glasses with the earpiece and temple way above his ear. Drawing the temple of glasses is usually the way I figure out where to put the ear, so this one surprised me.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Prius at Frye

1/24/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig markers, Hand Book sketchbook
Now that the temperatures are in the balmy 40s instead of icy 30s, sitting in my car was still comfortable after finishing my sketch of St. James Cathedral from the Frye parking lot. Since I began my car-sketching exercises, I hadn’t yet tackled a Prius’ arched roof and broad back end, so the one parked in front of me was a good opportunity. (Reflected in the backseat window is the top of one of St. James’ towers.)

St. James Cathedral

1/24/13 Platinum Sepia, Diamine Chocolate Brown inks, watercolor
I dashed into the Frye Art Museum to catch a small exhibition of fascinating works by Helmi Juvonen that I knew was ending soon. Unfortunately, the rest of the museum was in transition between shows, so there wasn’t much else to see.
Wanting to make better use of my trip downtown, I strategically parked my car in Frye’s lot so that I had a clear view of St. James Cathedral, or at least its towers, down the street. I heard that the Seattle Urban Sketchers would be sketching inside St. James next month, but I’m probably going to miss that ‘crawl, so I’m happy that I got to sketch at least part of its exterior.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Invisible at Starbucks

1/21/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
Starbucks has never been one of my favorite sketching places. Something about the way the tables and chairs are arranged makes it hard to get a good angle on people while also remaining discreet. With all of their corporate consistency, I find this to be true at almost all Starbuckses. But I was on my way to a haircut appointment in the Roosevelt neighborhood, and the nearby Starbucks was convenient, so I gave it a try.

I do like all the natural light from the high windows in this particular Starbucks. In the late afternoon, it’s often filled with students from Roosevelt High School, and gray-haired people like me are known to be invisible to teenagers, so despite the difficult angles, I managed to sketch a few students undetected.

Gray hair: It’s the new super power!

1/21/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Eclipse inks, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

Monday, January 21, 2013

Foggy Morning

1/21/13 watercolor, 140 lb. paper

The past couple weeks we’ve had deep fog every day, and it lasts most of the day and night. It’s nearly noon, and I still can’t see past the house across the street. The tall pine tree behind the house casts a blurry silhouette against the white sky. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Suzzallo Library

1/20/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolor
Heading out for the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library to meet the Seattle Urban Sketchers, I grabbed my 8 ½” x 11” sketchbook, twice as big as my usual format, because I figured the library’s grand Gothic architecture demanded a larger page. I was glad I did. I needed the space to allow this spectacular window to more fully kick my butt.

1/20/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

After that, I was so exhausted that I needed a nap. Instead, I retreated to the library’s café and got a cup of coffee so that I could sketch in my comfort zone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

38th Worldwide SketchCrawl: Third Place Commons

1/19/13 Kuretake fountain brush pen, Zig marker
Seattle Urban Sketchers made a bigger-than-expected showing at the 38th Worldwide SketchCrawl today at Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Commons. I had suggested this location because a free community tango lesson was promised at the center stage, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for gestural sketches of lots of figures in motion. Unfortunately, only one community member came forward for a lesson, so there weren’t as many figures or as much motion as I’d hoped for. I had to settle for a few scribbles of one of the instructors during the demo.
1/19/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

Tango dancers notwithstanding, there were plenty of other people to sketch throughout the complex.

To see all the sketches from today’s worldwide event, see the forum.
1/19/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

Friday, January 18, 2013


1/18/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma

This Zoka patron was busily alternating between texting on his tablet and working on his laptop. Eventually his thumbs must have gotten tired because he put all of his electronics aside and switched to a hard copy book. (For some reason, I felt relieved. I have to stop identifying with my sketch victims.)

Leather Jacket

1/18/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

Yesterday at Gage’s life drawing open studio, one of the participants was saying he rarely gets practice drawing clothed people because most of his figure-drawing experience comes from the nude model. Drawing bare skin is so much easier, he said, than drawing all the folds and creases of clothing.

I’m the other way around – I have more experience sketching clothed coffee shop patrons than nude models. Still, I agree with him that capturing the folds and creases in clothing is one of the many challenges of drawing people (though maybe not necessarily harder than bare skin, which I find dang difficult). A young man at Zoka wearing a leather jacket gave me an ideal opportunity to practice.

Book Review: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

12/28/12 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma
I’m a sketcher who enjoys sketching birds, I’m not a bird watcher, but The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds makes me want to become one. Published by Audubon and written by a naturalist, the book offers many excellent step-by-step instructions on drawing and painting birds in their natural environment.

Unless we are trained artists, we all have a template or code in our brains about what a bird is supposed to look like. Getting past the template and drawing what we actually see is one of the difficulties of learning to draw, so I particularly appreciate the author’s many tips on avoiding common pitfalls. For example, an inexperienced sketcher might draw a duck as if its body is skimming the surface of the water, but in reality, quite a bit of the lower portion of the body is underwater and isn’t visible.

In addition to stepped-out drawing instructions for common species, the earlier chapters focus on bird anatomy. With no previous interest in zoology, I didn’t think I’d find this interesting. Yet as I read, I found myself completely fascinated by the arrangement and types of feathers, and the varying structures of wings that help different species soar or flap. With a few paragraphs of text and many beautiful illustrations, the book debunked a myth I have always carried in my head: Birds’ legs look like they are bending “backward” at the knee. It turns out that what I have always thought of as the knee is actually the ankle, and birds essentially walk on their toes. Written in lay language, the text points out clear – and surprising – analogies between bird and human anatomy.
12/28/12 Diamine Chocolate Brown, Velvet Black, Zig markers

In later advanced chapters, Laws shows how to make a flight model from cardboard to help you visualize the foreshortening of wings as a hawk circles. A chapter is also devoted to sketching in the field with useful tips on using a spotting scope while drawing, how to draw a bird in constant motion, or visually memorizing a bird when you think it is about to take flight so that you will still be able to sketch it when it’s gone.

Finally, Laws gives a brief but excellent guide to using color, especially watercolor and colored pencils. I have read numerous books on watercolor technique that have been spotty in their explanation of color mixing. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds has one of the most straightforward explanations for this potentially frustrating (and expensive, if you end up buying a lot of paints you don’t use) aspect of watercolor painting.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in nature sketching, even if you aren’t particularly interested in birds (because by the time you finish it, you will be!).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Big Spoiler

1/17/13 Diamine Eclipse, Diamine Chocolate Brown, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma

Frustrated that I couldn’t find a single empty seat at either of the two University Village Starbuckses (how many Starbuckses does one retail complex need? Apparently more than two), I decided to go elsewhere for my coffee and sketch and got into my car. But just as I was about to turn on the ignition, the Subaru Impreza with a huge spoiler parked in front of me seemed to demand a sketch. From that perspective, it had a comical alien look. I hadn’t done my self-inflicted car-sketch-of-the-week yet, so why not. (This is starting to sound more like penance than a sketching exercise.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top Pot Doughnuts – Then and Now

1/15/13 Lamy cartridge ink, Zig marker, Stillman & Birn Gamma
The Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Sunday section had an interesting article about renovated buildings, including one that now houses Top Pot Doughnuts in the Wedgwood neighborhood. I try to avoid the temptation of donuts, so I don’t go there often, but the article made me recall that I had been there more than a year ago.

I flipped through a few sketchbooks from that period and found the pocket-sized Moleskine with two pages dated Oct. 24, 2011, only a month after I had started sketching, with sketches I had made at Top Pot. The Times article had included “then” and “now” photos of the renovated buildings. I thought it would be fun to do my own version, so I stopped for a sketch and coffee at Top Pot today (no donut).

It’s not exactly a renovation, but I do see the changes that come with the passage of time.

10/24/11 pencil, Pitt Artists Pen, Moleskine sketchbook

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Product Review: Freehands Gloves

Photos by Greg Mullin.
Our thermometer read 33 degrees when we decided to take a walk in our neighborhood this afternoon. It was the ideal opportunity to field test my new Freehands gloves. Promoted to outdoor photographers who want access to camera buttons and controls without having to remove their gloves, the marketing copy reads, “these gloves have been made flexible by adding reinforced fold-back thumb and index finger tips that will permit you to use your phone or text. The magnetically secured fold-back tips will give you easy access to using your phone's functions.” They sounded like outdoor sketching gloves to me, so I grabbed a pair when they went on sale at B&H Photo shortly after Christmas.
1/13/13 Kaweco cartridge ink, Moleskine watercolor sketchbook

When I first got them, I saw right away that the opening to the index finger needed to be made longer so that my finger would make better contact with the pen. It was easy to cut a few seam stitches and then sew them back up to keep the Thinsulate lining from being exposed. Today as I tried to sketch the Maple Leaf water tower, I realized that the thumb opening would have to be cut down further, too. Other than my exposed thumb and forefinger, the rest of my hands stayed warm in the well-insulated gloves. But even in my down jacket, I got cold quickly. With fond memories of sketching the tower last May on a sunny morning while sipping a joe outside Cloud City Coffee, I didn’t feel bad abandoning this sloppy sketch after five chilly minutes.
I’m going to cut down that thumb opening, and then the gloves will work out great. But I think I’ll wait for the temperature to get up into the balmy 40s before I take them out for another field test.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Northgate Branch Library and Northgate Mall

1/11/13 Lamy black cartridge ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma
Many of The Seattle Public Library’s neighborhood branches are the classic, stately Carnegie type from the turn of the 20th century, like the Green Lake branch that I think of as “my” library. Unfortunately, the Northgate branch isn’t one of those. Built in 2006, it looks like a modern box, which I suppose is appropriate for that neighborhood of Target, T. J. Maxx and other square-box stores. For that reason, I don’t go there often as a library patron.
1/11/13 Lamy black cartridge ink, Zig marker

As a sketcher, however, I find the Northgate branch to be a serviceable venue. Its wide open spaces with chairs and tables scattered throughout make it easy to find victims, who are busily using the library’s PCs or their own laptops. (Doesn’t anyone go to the library to read books anymore?)

On the way home, I stopped by at Northgate Mall and found a table behind a vendor selling half-price calendars.
1/11/13 Lamy black cartridge ink, Zig markers, S & B Gamma

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Bra and a Feather Boa

1/10/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig marker, Hand Book sketchbook
I’m reading The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, by John Muir Laws. I think it’s going to make me a better sketcher of birds as well as more knowledgeable about birds in general. (I had no idea bird anatomy could be so fascinating!) One thing that I read over breakfast this morning stayed with me all day and will probably remain one of those basic rules of drawing, similar to “draw what you see.”

The author points out that when drawing from nature, birds are often too far away to see clearly or partly obstructed by shrubs or leaves. While it’s tempting to try to guess what you can’t see and draw it anyway, you’re likely to be sorry if you don’t really know from memory what you aren’t seeing. His advice: If you can’t see it, don’t draw it.
1/10/13 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Zig, Hand Book 

This afternoon at Revolutions Espresso, I ignored this advice, even though it was still in my head. Trying to sketch three people in a business meeting, I noted that a couple people each had pulled a spare chair beside him or her to hold bags and coats. I wasn’t sitting close enough to see the tangle of chair legs clearly, and other tables and chairs were between them and me, so I couldn’t see much of anything easily. I was also somewhat distracted by the unusual artwork on the walls, including a bra and a feather boa, and was starting to think my sketch would have been better if I’d focused on the art instead of all the chairs. But I tried to fake it and see if I could figure out where the chair legs should be.

After a while I gave up and focused on a single chair and table, which were close enough to see clearly and without confusion.

Mr. Laws was right: If I can’t see it, I shouldn’t draw it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


1/9/13 Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Pitt Big Brush marker, Moleskine 
My mother was 14 when she and some of her siblings returned to Yakima, Washington, to help their father farm. (She was born in Yakima but grew up in Japan. Although her family’s intention was to eventually go back, they ended up settling here.) I think this studio portrait was taken around that time. While her father and older sisters farmed, my mom’s mother stayed behind in Japan with their younger children for much of my mother’s teen years. I know this because she used to tell me how much she missed her mom back then.

She is sitting somewhat awkwardly in a wicker chair that would probably have fit a larger person better. I have tried several times to sketch this photograph “accurately,” but my attempts never captured the sadness or wistfulness I see.

(Technical note: This time, I tried using a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, which is similar to the Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen I used previously, on a Moleskine sketchbook. The paper has a plate finish almost as smooth as the Stillman & Birn Epsilon’s, except the paper is quite a bit heavier, so there’s very little see-through. I like the way these portraits from photos look on the Moleskine’s cream-colored pages.)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Four Sketches, Free Coffee

1/7/13 Diamine Twilight

Today my frequent-sipper card at Zoka Coffee earned a free drink, so I got four sketches out of a free mocha topped by the barista’s beautiful flourish. Does winter sketching get any better than this?

(Technical note: Each sketch was done with a different fountain pen ink, sometimes shaded with a Zig brush pen in a coordinating color.)

1/7/13 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Zig marker, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
1/7/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig marker, S & B Gamma
1/7/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig marker, S & B Gamma

Pensive, Exuberant

1/7/13 Kuretake fountain brush pen, Tombow, S & B Epsilon
In a formal studio portrait of my father taken in the late 1930s, he looks serious and pensive. Once again, he is dressed remarkably stylishly (I’m obviously having difficulty imagining my dad dressed stylishly).

My mom is laughing exuberantly as someone snapped her picture in the late 1940s. A huge corsage is pinned to her shiny dress, which means the occasion may have been a wedding. Her naturally straight hair is done in what she always called a “permanent wave.”

1/7/13 Kuretake Brush Writer, Tombow

(Technical note: The sketch of my dad was done with a Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink and some Tombow marker for shading. I sketched my mom with a Kuretake Brush Writer. Although with watercolors I prefer a toothier surface, the smooth plate finish of my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook takes these brush markers beautifully. I can’t wait for the heavier S & B Zeta to come out, which will prevent the see-through from the other side of the page.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Volunteer Park Conservatory, This Time with Watercolors

1/4/13 Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
When I last visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory in mid-December, the poinsettias and model train in the Seasonal House were the stars of the show. It had been crowded with holiday visitors, so I felt constrained to stick with markers and colored pencils instead of paint. Today, that room and the Cacti House were closed for renovation, so Kate, Peggy and I were limited to the Bromeliad, Fern and Palm Houses. Luckily, we had the place nearly to ourselves, and those three houses kept us plenty busy (as we said, we could visit the conservatory every day and never run out of new things to sketch).
1/4/13 watercolor, S&B Beta sketchbook

I started out with a huge cycas revolute, or Sago Palm, above, using Zig markers to stay loose. Then I busted out the watercolors to take on some of the exotic flowers as I had wanted to do last month. The one at right is a Guzmania “Neon,” with fronds of Tillandsia in the background. 

Below is a ginormous leaf of the Tacca Chantrieri behind a blossom with a phallic-like stamen. I looked all over for the tag identifying the species but never found it. Anyone know what this is?

1/4/13 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
The only philodendrons I’m familiar with are house plants that live in small pots. But the one below right, a “lacy tree” Philodendron Selloum, is, indeed, the size of a tree – so large that I decided to sketch only its trunk, which has an intriguing pattern of “eyes” similar to that on a peacock’s feathers.

To fill the last few minutes of time before we had to go, I sketched a carnivorous Nepenthes Truncata, or “Tropical Pitcher Plant,” below left. With a seductive sheen and beautiful striped pattern, it could easily lure hapless bugs into its deep Christmas stocking of a mouth. (I made sure I kept my distance.)
1/4/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink

We vowed to return in the spring to sketch a new season of plants and the building’s exterior, too. (Last August when Nilda and I visited the park, I chickened out on the conservatory and sketched William Henry Seward’s statue instead. But I’ll be ready to take on the building next time.)
1/4/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
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