Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hanami on the Quad

3/30/13 Zig markers, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
Greg wanted to try out his new camera, and we knew the blossoming cherry trees wouldn’t be around long, so we went over to the Quad on the University of Washington campus. Since it was Saturday, we expected it to be quiet, but it turned out to be an informal cherry blossom viewing event. (In Japan, they even have a term for it – hanami.) Hundreds of people were simply standing around in the Quad, looking up at the huge cherry trees, soaking up sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s. The trees there are unusually white instead of the pale pink I see elsewhere.
3/30/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolor
While he snapped away at the blossoms and crowds, I wandered over to Denny Hall, built in 1894. The entire building was too much for me, but I thought I’d attempt its bell tower and one of its conical turrets. Wearing flip-flops in March, sketching in the sunshine – I can’t think of too many things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon (or anytime).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Upper Queen Anne

3/29/13 Platinum Carbon and Sepia inks, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
Just out of school and on my own for the first time, I lived in a tiny studio apartment in upper Queen Anne, so I have nostalgically fond memories of that neighborhood. Queen Anne Hill symbolized freedom, independence and many meals of rice and beans and ramen so that I could afford to pay the rent. My entertainment in those days was anything that was free, so I took a lot of walks on quiet, tree-lined residential streets.
One of my favorite walks was along Eighth Avenue West where a long row of globe lamps tops a wall on one side of the street for several blocks. About a year ago I was driving around the area looking for something to sketch, so I stopped at nearby Betty Bowen Viewpoint (also known as Marshall Park). I looked at the curving wall and those romantic globe lamps, not knowing how or where to start to get that intimidating perspective right, and I lost my courage. I got back in my car and decided to leave it for another day.
That day was apparently today. A clear blue sky and temperatures in the 60s while driving a convertible tend to give me more optimism than skills, but I cruised over to that beloved spot and sketched.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More Bones

3/28/13 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Greg hadn’t yet seen the fascinating “Plastics Unwrapped” exhibit at the Burke Museum, so we decided to head over there this afternoon. I’d already seen that exhibit, so I went searching for more bones.
3/28/13 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Zig marker, Stillman & Birn
The cast replica of a full stegosaur skeleton is humongous – each plate on its back is “about the size of a stop sign,” said the docent who was talking to a class of enthusiastic third graders behind me. Even if I’d had my largest 9 x 12 sketchbook, I probably couldn’t have fit the whole skeleton into my sketch. As it turned out, I had only my tiny 4 x 6 sketchbook with me, so I had to be selective. Despite its scary plated skeleton, this beast ate only plants 140 million years ago, so its jaws were relatively small.

(Technical note: I’m really starting to like this Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink. I filled my Lamy Nexx with the sample of it that I got from a couple weeks ago. The black ink line washes with a slightly cool gray. But is it worth $28 a bottle? Hmmm. . .)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Brake for Cherry Blossoms

3/27/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Uniball opaque white marker, Stillman & Birn
When Greg and I traveled to Japan in 2007, it was late-March, and the whole country was on high cherry blossom alert. Similar to leaf peepers on the East Coast who track the color of maples as it moves southward, the Japanese media were reporting early sightings of the pale pink sakura blossoms beginning on the southern end of the islands and moving northward. We had to leave before the peak, but we still enjoyed many flowering cherries in Kyoto.
Although I’m generally observant of seasonal changes, I have to say that I’ve become more sensitive to tiny hints of spring since I became a sketcher. It’s been a long, wet winter as usual, and last Friday’s freakish snowstorm was a rude turn. Maybe that’s why it was such a shocking delight to find that so many cherry trees at Green Lake had suddenly blossomed this week. When I spotted this one (only a couple blocks north of the bare trees I sketched a week ago), I was so eager to sketch it that I slammed on the brakes rather abruptly and probably parked a little closer to a stop sign than was legal.
For the Japanese, the brief appearance of cherry blossoms each spring symbolizes the fleeting bittersweetness of life. I’m not quite that poetic or philosophical, but maybe for me, cherry blossoms symbolize the fleeting bittersweetness of outdoor sketching weather.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Early Bird Catches Barcelona

3/25/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
Fully tanked with coffee and my finger twitching on the mouse button, I impatiently waited for my laptop clock to read 6:00 a.m. PDT, when registration for the Fourth International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Barcelona would open worldwide. I knew that at previous symposia, registration filled within hours of opening, and hundreds of disappointed sketchers weren’t able to nab the 150 available seats, so I was ready.
After an initial “browser cookie issue” nearly caused panic at the virtual door, I shoved my way in. A few mouse clicks later, I was one of 150 happy symposium registrants who made it in – I’m going to Barcelona! I even got all my first-choice workshops! (Sure enough, about two hours later, the symposium was full.)
3/25/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
As if that weren’t enough to make my day, the sun came out, and this time it wasn’t preceded by snow flurries. With afternoon temperatures in the 60s, it actually felt like spring! With so many things to celebrate, MiataGrrl took the top down and headed for the zoo.
I wasn’t the only one eager to get out in the sunshine. The African Savannah was crowded with zebras, water fowl and two giraffes grazing at a large tree. Wanting to stay in the sun, I almost bypassed the Komodo dragon, but the big guy is hard to resist – he hardly moves. In fact, it had been nearly a year since I last sketched him, so he was worth a quick pen sketch. He was in particularly fine form today, drooling profusely, which caused no end of delight among the kids watching him.
3/25/13 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Zig markers
Taking a break outside the Rain Forest Food Pavilion, I sketched a family and yet another Chinese windmill palm tree – my third in two months. My last sketch at the zoo was of a man who was happy to catch a few Z’s while waiting for his grandkids to find him.
3/25/13 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink
Today my sister would have turned 67 years old if she had survived the heart failure that took her life a few weeks after her 65th birthday. All day, I thought of her and everything I’m grateful for, every day, with every sketch I make. I don’t take any of them for granted.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Emerald City Trapeze Arts

3/24/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook
My heart was racing and my palms were sweating so much that I could hardly hold a pen. Safety net and harnesses notwithstanding, it was a thrill to see the students of Emerald City Trapeze Arts practicing their moves on the flying trapeze. Maybe some of them will perform under the big top someday, and it was fun to think I might have seen their first flights today.
As for my own aspirations, I had hoped that my life drawing sessions at Gage would have been somewhat helpful, but. . . not so much. I was happy to get a few gestural sketches from the balcony, where the students seemed to fly right past my face.
Many thanks to Gail and Jane for organizing a unique Seattle Urban Sketchers sketching opportunity!
3/24/13 Platinum Carbon ink
3/24/13 Zig brush markers

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Art Journal Abstractions

Spring 2013 issue of Art Journaling magazine
About 11 years ago I began exploring visual art as a form of personal expression. My lifelong journal, which had been purely written text up to that point, gradually made a transition to incorporate more visual aspects along with the writing. When I began experimenting with collage, my journal pages included some collage elements – photos, torn papers and ephemera from my life. When I started making abstract paintings, I splashed my journal pages with watercolor, acrylics and ink in the same manner.
A page from my journal
Now that I’m sketching, my journal has made another transition. I still include collage elements in the form of photos and ephemera, and I sketch in it now and then, especially if I happen to be writing in my journal in a coffee shop, or traveling. But for the most part, I keep my sketches in a separate sketchbook, for two reasons: I want to share the sketches freely without feeling self-conscious about writing that I consider private; and the paper I like to sketch on is different from the paper I like to write on.
A page from my journal
Every now and then I get in the mood to splash abstract shapes and colors on the page, and my journal is still good for that. But the more I explore the world by sketching on location, the less need I have for abstract expression which, I think, is more internally focused. As it should, my journal continues to grow and change as I do.
A journal cover
The Spring 2013 issue of Art Journaling magazine features an article about my abstract art journaling style and includes images of pages from one of my journals. Shown here are some journal pages incorporating collage, painting and writing.

Friday, March 22, 2013


3/22/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolor, Hand Book journal
I was planning to meet a few friends to sketch at Sky Nursery this morning, but the snow flurries kept me out of the hockey puck I drive. Instead, I got a cup of tea and stayed warm at home. By afternoon, the sun came out and said that this morning’s snowstorm was just a joke.
I can take a joke! I jumped into my car and drove in the direction of the Wedgwood neighborhood, where I spotted this house surrounded by a rockery and lots of cheerful daffodils leaning toward the street.
(Technical note: I’m getting more and more disgruntled with the paper in Hand Book journals, which I have been using happily as writing and collage journals for years. Even fountain pen ink with a wash isn’t bad, but it can’t take watercolor the way I want it to. I have only a couple of pages left in this volume. When it’s full, I’m going to stick with Stillman & Birn sketchbooks exclusively, regardless of media.)

An Urban Palette

Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers
I love markers.

Who can resist the eye candy and creative potential of a huge palette of colors, like that of Pitt Artist Pens (48 colors), Tombow Dual-Brush Pens (96) or Copic markers (a whopping 214!)? (Actually, I have no problem resisting Copic markers, for a couple of reasons.) It’s like being a kid with a brand new box of Crayola crayons (64 was the biggest box in my day, but now it’s up to 133), but better, because markers don’t break or melt.
12/16/12 Platinum Carbon ink, Zigs, S & B Gamma

Unlike paints, markers are harder to blend, so I end up wanting more colors than I can realistically carry in my bag, which I’m always trying to lighten.  So as difficult as it is, I do try to resist collecting the entire available set of any marker I’m in love with, including the Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush marker (60 colors), my current favorite.
2/26/13 Zigs, S & B Gamma

My bag now contains a careful selection of Zigs, which I think of as an urban palette that will take care of grass, trees, cars, buildings and people. The colors are (shown left to right in photo): Geranium Red, Bright Yellow, Yellow, Olive Green, Deep Green, Blue Gray, Gray, Mid-Gray, Oatmeal, Light Gray. (Ten markers – not bad for a girl who usually picks out purple, pink and lime green first from any retail marker display!)
12/28/12 Eclipse ink, Zigs, Pitt Artist Pen, Hand Book

I get a decent range of values from the shades of gray (the pickup truck and the interior value study are examples), which I consider essential, especially when paired with fountain pen inks. The Light Gray alone, which seems too light to be useful, is surprisingly versatile for shading and ghosting in background objects (the musicians and mom and kid scene). Oatmeal gives me a warmer shading color with brown inks, and Blue Gray pairs well with blue-black inks.
11/30/12 Black Velvet ink, Zig, S & B Epsilon

The five optional colors are mostly for convenience: Sometimes I don’t want to get out my watercolors just to put two small spots of red and amber on a car’s tail lights or to indicate a tuft of grass or a few flowers. I’ll probably pare these down over time and replace them with more essential tools.

Edited 4/26/14: See the results of a longevity test I did on these markers and some philosophical comments about lightfastness and sketching.

No (Pocari) Sweat

Two small water bottles shown with my Lamy Nexx pen.
In my ongoing quest to lighten the bulk and weight of my bag, I found that the single heaviest object was my filled water bottle. The primary benefit of using a waterbrush with watercolors is that no additional water source is needed, so I don’t carry a water bottle for painting purposes. I carry one for a more conventional purpose: to wet my whistle.
For the past year I’ve been carrying the smallest I’ve found, which I got from a Japanese vending machine (while in the U.S. we super-size everything, the Japanese survive on their tiny island country by mini-sizing everything). Its 100-milliliter (about 3.4 ounces) capacity is sufficiently small, but it’s still bulkier than I’d like. (It is good as a conversation starter, though: Pocari Sweat?) (Shown on the left in the photo.)
Recently I was in the travel section of my neighborhood Bartell Drugs and found a 3-ounce, TSA-approved bottle in my choice of several colors (at right in the photo). Much slimmer than the Pocari Sweat bottle, it still holds enough to get me through an hour or two of sketching.    

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Tangle of Trees

3/21/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Zig markers, opaque white pen, Hand Book journal
Most of the trees haven’t gotten the memo that spring is officially here. If you squint very closely at their branches, you can see the tiny lighter-colored tips of their buds, but not many leaves are out. Of course, a few plums have been blossoming for weeks, but they’re just showing off.
Parked on a side street facing Green Lake, I could see clouds and small bright spots of blue through the tangle of bare branches. One day soon I won’t be able to see much of the lake or sky from this point because the trees will be dense with foliage. One day soon I might not have to sit in my car to sketch this view.
Unfortunately, not soon enough.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Metasketching Weather

It’s the first day of spring, and it’s coming in like a lion. Here’s what it looks like on    à
Despite the blue sky I see, it feels like our windows could implode, and the clouds look like time-lapse photography.
I decided it was a good day to stay in and do some metasketching – sketching sketching materials with sketching materials. Traditional still lifes don’t excite me much, although I see the value in learning from them, and I’ve done a few. But sketching the art materials I love and use every day means more to me than the random fruits and flowers that appear in my house.
3/20/13 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolors, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook
Ironically, it’s technically not possible to sketch sketching materials with the actual sketching materials being sketched. I’m trying not to think about that too much, or I’ll have a woo-woo moment, not unlike standing in the restroom of a fancy hotel or restaurant where mirrors face more mirrors, and you can see your reflection reflected infinitely.
This is what happens to my brain when snow is threatened on the first day of spring.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


3/19/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolors, Zig marker, Hand Book journal
Palm trees are about as indigenous to the Pacific Northwest as pineapples, tiki huts and toucans. Yet I’ve sketched two palms in as many months – one in February at the Wedgwood Top Pot, and another this morning at a small Northgate strip mall. Given that it was 40 degrees, I stayed in my car to sketch the palm, which I think is leftover from the tropical-themed restaurant that used to be where Green Lake Jewelry Works now stands. On the back side of the building facing the parking lot is another remnant: a sign that reads “Thank Y’all for Coming.”
I do my share of complaining about the long, dark winters here, but imagine how those palm trees must feel. Thank y’all for tolerating the cold.

Edited 3/20/13: I was told by a landscape gardener friend, after he saw the sketch, that this is a Chinese windmill palm, which actually does well in Seattle.

Winter’s End

3/19/13 watercolor, 140 lb. paper
Driving home from my Jazzercise class, the car clock read 7:06 a.m. As I headed due east, the sky was a pale periwinkle streaked with pink. I stepped on the gas a little harder, knowing my time was short.
A few minutes later, I continued my aerobic workout by racing upstairs to our east-facing bedroom window, where the pink was already fading. I took a shower while my wash of paint for the sky was drying, and when I returned to the window, most of the color was gone. I finished the sketch with a silhouette of trees and ubiquitous utility poles on this last day of winter.

Library Parking Only

3/18/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig markers, Hand Book journal
Between other errands and appointments, I made a quick stop at the Green Lake library to return a few books and pick up a few others that were on hold. I got back into my car and was about to turn on the engine when I looked up and saw a huge tree on the far side of two fences. The tree was so tall that I couldn’t see its top through the awkward angle of the windshield. I considered taking the Miata’s top down to get a full view, but just then it began to rain.
I decided to sketch the tree anyway from the view I had. It took me longer than 10 minutes to finish the sketch, but no tow truck or library police appeared. I drove home with a stiff neck.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Year of Blogging

12/5/12 Velvet Black ink, Hand Book journal
For several years before I began sketching, I occasionally considered whether blogging would be a productive pastime. As someone who took pleasure in writing as well as made my primary income from writing, I figured that coming up with post ideas would be relatively easy for me. But would it be fun, engaging and creative? Or would I eventually become bored and find blogging to be a tedious obligation?
11/16/12 Zig markers, Stillman & Birn sketchbook

As a professional writer, the first question I always ask when I’m about to begin an assignment is: Who is the audience? If I blogged, who, indeed, would be my audience? I had seen many blogs that read like personal diaries – incessant naval-gazing, whining or hand-wringing that had me running quickly from the page. I assumed that the primary (perhaps sole) audience of such blogs is the writer himself/herself. I have kept a private journal most of my life that I had no need to share, and the last thing I wanted was a blog like that.
10/23/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor

There was also the question of purpose. Again, if I were writing for, say, a magazine, I would ask: Is my article trying to inform, persuade, engage? Would I have enough informative, persuasive or engaging blog content to maintain on a regular basis? (Hmmm, that was beginning to sound like a lot of unpaid work.)

With these questions of audience, purpose and motivation running through my head, I never found a compelling reason to answer them, so I stayed out. No need to clog the blogosphere with yet another pointless blog.
8/11/12 Pitt Artists Pen, Hand Book

But throughout that time, I was also looking at many inspiring blogs – mainly those of urban sketchers who were sharing their unique views of the world. Seeing those sketches on blogs, in books and in Gabriel Campanario's weekly Seattle Sketcher column was like a sharp poke in the psyche: Why can’t I do that, too? Why can’t I just open a sketchbook and draw?

When I finally decided to poke back by developing a drawing habit, I kept my sketches to myself for several months. But I kept thinking about how inspiring it was to peek into other people’s sketchbooks and what a lonely sketching world it would be without the Internet. I took to heart the seventh part of the Urban Sketchers’ manifesto, “We share our drawings online,” and began posting a few sketches here and there in art and sketching forums, which seemed safe enough.
7/16/12 Kuretake Brush Writer

Eventually, those questions related to blogging popped up again. Who would be my audience? I decided that an audience of one – myself – was sufficient, because the primary purpose I identified was documentation. I didn’t feel a need to inform, persuade or engage so much as to track my own progress and process as a sketcher. And if even one reader gained inspiration or encouragement to begin sketching, then that would be a bonus. 

A blog would keep me honest, mainly with myself. That meant that I would post any sketch that I had something to say about, whether or not I deemed it to be “good enough” for public consumption. Posting a sketch I really hated or that showed no progress (in fact, regression!) in my skills would take some courage. But if my blog is intended as documentation of a process, it would be pointless to exhibit only “good” sketches.
6/21/12 Pitt Artists Pen

A year ago today, Fueled by Clouds & Coffee went live. What have I learned from a year of blogging?

     1.   It’s immensely rewarding to see progress over time. At the age of 54, I’m not proud to say that I can hardly think of examples of skills I’ve learned where progress was the result of regular practice (I can think of examples of the reverse). Certainly, I’ve become more proficient at some skills over time, but I don’t have documentation that tracked my progress or the process on how I got from one place to another. Now I do.

11/29/12 Platinum Sepia ink, Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
       2.  Blogging is an opportunity to learn and tell the story. The second part of the Urban Sketchers’ manifesto is, “Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.” Whether the subject is a water tower, an orangutan or a poet, every sketch has a story, no matter how brief, and my job is to find and tell it. If I’m sketching an historic structure, a memorial or a work of public art, I’m forced to do research so that I’ll have something to write about, even if that research consists of nothing more than a Google search or reading a placard. When I think of how many times I’d driven past the Maple Leaf Water Tower or Ballard Centennial Bell Tower without knowing anything about them, that tiny bit of research and the time it takes to make the sketches open up my world a little more. I used to worry that I wouldn’t have enough to say about a sketch, but I’ve decided that the stories don’t have to be long or profound. They just have to be honest.

11/27/12 Diamine Grey ink, Stillman & Birn Epsilon
   3.   I enjoy writing blog posts almost as much as I enjoy sharing sketches. One motivates the other. Writing personal reflections (as opposed to for a paycheck) has always been a pleasure (accounting for the motivation behind my lifelong journal-keeping), so the joy I derive from blog writing doesn’t surprise me. What I hadn’t expected is that writing has almost become an integral part of sketching. While I’m sketching, I’m not thinking about anything except the sketch. But immediately thereafter – driving home from an Urban Sketchers sketchcrawl, or walking through Woodland Park Zoo back to my car – I’m already composing the blog post in my head. I’m already thinking about what I learned from the sketch or the experience that I can write about. The sketch motivates the writing. By the time I sit down at my laptop, the post practically writes itself. And related to that…

2/7/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown, Stillman & Birn Gamma
    4.  Apart from its support of my sketching, blogging reminds me of why I write. Decades ago, I wrote fiction and poetry, earned degrees in creative writing and, like probably everyone else in my creative writing program, had a fantasy about supporting myself with such writing. I continued to write creatively for several years after leaving school and entering the “real” (that is, “work”) world. But the truth is, creative writing is too hard to also be fun if you have to do it while earning a living some other way. I eventually stopped. I was fortunate that I was able to find a career using my writing skills, but then writing became my bread-and-butter, not a vehicle for self-expression.

3/12/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Hand Book journal
Then I started blogging. Without realizing I had even missed that form of self-expression, blogging tapped into and satisfied whatever need drove me to become a writer in the first place.

Thank you for reading my blog so far! There’s a lot more ahead in my sketching adventure, and I hope you’ll continue to join me for it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Calvary Christian Assembly

3/15/13 Platinum Sepia, watercolor, Hand Book journal
They say three’s a charm.
I’m not sure this sketch is exactly charmed, but I’ve said before that I can be stubborn even as I’m intimidated, so I decided to tackle the Calvary Christian Assembly yet a third time (at right).
It helps that it was a balmy 55 degrees today, so I could get out of the car and view it from a different angle. The first time I tried sketching the tower was last November on a cold day (below left), and no matter where I parked, the cross looked like a straight line, and the tower was overpowered by a tall fir tree. The second time, from a better parking spot, I could at least see the cross (below right), but let’s just say I was having a bad sketching day. I gave up quickly.
Note that today's sketch includes all three of my current and previous sketching nemeses: architecture, cars and trees.
Can I go home now?
11/10/12 Omas Sepia, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma

2/19/13 Platinum Carbon ink, S&B Gamma

Metropolitan Market Produce Section

3/15/13 Platinum Sepia ink, watercolor, Zig markers, Hand Book
Eager to try out my latest watercolor mixing palette, I went to a place where I knew I could get a big dose of color. The mezzanine level of the Sand Point Metropolitan Market looks down over the produce section. Color, indeed! And the new mixing palette works perfectly as I had hoped.
All is right with the sketching world.


Book Review: An Illustrated Journey

7/2/12 water-soluble ink, Hand Book journal
Danny Gregory’s eagerly awaited book, An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers, came out a few weeks ago, and after all the anticipation, it does not disappoint. The book is a rich treasury of travel sketches and personal profiles of many inspiring artists.
Very similar in format to Gregory’s 2008 book, An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers, his latest book profiles 43 travel journal keepers from many countries. Each artist has written a first-person account of his or her background in art and travel, how travel sketching is inspired, and techniques and tools used. Photos of some artists are included, showing them sketching on location. It is particularly illuminating to see the common threads among nearly all the artists – that drawing what they see while traveling enriches their travel experiences, bridges gaps in understanding about other cultures, and evokes memories like no photographs can. It’s clear that sketching and traveling have become integrated creative processes for these artists: Seeing new places motivates drawing, and drawing motivates observing more carefully the new places they experience.
The meat of the book is a beautiful collection of large, full-color reproductions of art from the artists’ travel sketchbooks. These unique, spontaneous views of the world make me want to hop on a plane right now to fill my own sketchbook with the places I visit.
Most of the artists included – Miguel “Freekhand” Herranz, Nina Johansson, Cathy Johnson, Tommy Kane, Lapin, Veronica Lawlor and Liz Steel, to name a few – are well-known in the blogosphere of the urban sketching/on-location drawing community. A few are less-known discoveries with fresh, surprising perspectives.
In fact, if I have any complaints about this beautiful book, it is a tiny one: I wish it had included more travelers who are not professional artists, illustrators or designers, and who are perhaps less well-known. Almost every participant either has an art degree or makes a living using their artistic skills. I have seen online the amazing on-location sketches of so many people who work at “regular” jobs and do not have any kind of art background. I would have loved to see more of them included. Better yet, a whole volume devoted to the on-location work of non-professional artists would be equally inspiring as this one. How about it, Danny?
(The sketch above, made at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, is from my own travel journal during a trip to the Boston area last July.)
(This book review also appears on

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Foreshortened Nose and Other Random Thoughts About Figure Drawing

3/14/13 Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen, drawing pad (2 min.)
Now that I have filled one Gage life-drawing punch card and begun a second, I’m figuring out my favorite media to use, depending on the length of the pose. For two- and five-minute poses, I like to use brush markers or my favorite Kuretake fountain brush pen, which makes a fast, strong, bold mark (especially when filled with Platinum Carbon ink).

For 10-minute poses, which always seem downright leisurely after a series of much shorter poses, I’ve been using an extra-soft Cretacolor Nero pencil and white pencil on toned paper. Unfortunately, the only white pencil I had in my bag today was a water-soluble pencil, which didn’t make an opaque enough mark over the tan Strathmore paper. Next time I’m bringing my Primo Bianco charcoal pencil, which makes a solid, opaque mark. I might try this combo next time for longer poses, too.

My favorite media for 15- and 20-minute poses are water-soluble pencils combined with a diluted ink in a waterbrush as the wash. Today I used a Derwent watercolor pencil in indigo and diluted Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku ink. At $28 a bottle (or $2.50 for a sample, which is what I have), my choice of ink, I admit, was somewhat extravagant. But it tickles me to use an overly bright, unexpected color to do something as traditional as figure drawing.
3/14/13 Derwent water-soluble pencil, diluted ink, mixed-media paper (20 min.)

Incidentally, the first couple times I went to Gage for life drawing open studio sessions, everyone else used easels and large pads of paper with charcoal. As I got comfy in my chair and pulled out my 9” x 12” sketchbook, the monitor asked me, with a doubtful expression, “You don’t want an easel. . . ?” I was already feeling a bit intimidated at Gage – I knew of its reputation for teaching in the traditional European atelier method – and I figured everyone else in the room was a painter or practitioner of some other form of “serious” art, not a sketcher like I am. So the monitor looking askance at my setup (or lack thereof) intimidated me even more – but not enough to make me change my ways (OK, so I’m stubborn even as I’m cowed).

Over time, I noticed that more open studio participants were using sketchbooks instead easels – some sketchbooks were even as small as the ones I use for location sketching. Today, I saw at least three artists using sketchbooks instead of easels. Maybe I’ve started a trend! (Ha-ha.)
3/14/13 Nero pencil, white water-soluble pencil, toned Strathmore paper (10 min)

Now about that foreshortened nose. I was digging around in my bag for my white pencil while the model got into position. The timer beeped to signal the start of the 10-minute pose, and when I looked up, I realized I would have to sketch straight up the model’s nostrils. Life-drawing studio: You gotta love it.
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