Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thornton Creek Channel

6/18/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 100 lb. watercolor paper
According to a placard next to the site, the 11.6-square-mile Thornton Creek Watershed is home to 67,000 residents (including me), which means that all the typical urban pollution and runoff I help to generate used to flow directly into Thornton Creek and eventually to Lake Washington. The placard did its job of making me more aware of the creek that runs right under Northgate Mall and the neighboring area, as well as the potential urban impact on the stream. Thanks to citizen activism and a major project that was completed four years ago, the creek has been restored, and parts of it have been “daylighted” above ground. According to a Seattle Times article dated June 19, 2009, “A large, paved lot once devoted to overflow mall traffic and RV parking has been replaced with a landscaped, open space that allows the beginnings of Thornton Creek to flow above ground for the first time in decades.” The channel is now a natural filtration system for stormwater runoff.
Although I drive past this open space regularly when I run errands at Northgate, today was the first time I walked down into and around the wide, green space. First I walked completely around the periphery, and then I walked up and back down each of several long stairways, trying to pin down a sketch composition. I finally settled on a colorful glass sculpture that looks like its parts are floating in an exposed area of water, one of the many walkways, and a staircase with lots of interesting angles.
Making the initial drawing wasn’t too bad, although I still find sketching big, open spaces challenging. But I knew the worse challenge was going to be painting it. Everywhere I looked, I saw mostly dark green – the water, the vast landscaping, everything. Knowing I would make a huge, dark green mess if I started painting all of that, I started to panic. Then I remembered (before I started painting, for a change!) Gail Wong’s advice to let a sketch tell its story by painting selectively. So I selected a few visual elements that I hoped would lead the eye to the focal point I had chosen. Looking at the sketch now, I think it could have used a bit more paint, but I’m happy that I stopped when I did, because I’m sure I would have gone too far if I’d kept that paint brush in my hand.
So that I can squeeze in sketches on days that I have to work, I’ve been trying to find more sketch-worthy locations within a five- or 10-minute drive or walk from my house. I can easily drive to Thornton Creek Channel in minutes. I’m grateful to the concerned citizens who put pressure on the city to create this refreshing urban space, and grateful to the city for making it happen. To express my appreciation, I’m going to enjoy it more often.
(Technical note: This was my second sketch made in a hand-stitched signature carried in my “Stefano” sketchbook cover. One benefit of the thin, pamphlet-stitched signature is that the gutter in the center of a page spread is less visible in the scan than it is when I scan my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. I’m also learning that I need to stitch the signatures together a bit more securely. I had deliberately used a fine thread and fewer holes on this signature because eventually I’ll have to take that temporary stitching off before doing the permanent Coptic binding. But the pages are moving around too much, which is causing the holes to spread. I think I’ll have this all figured out by the time I make all the signatures for my trip next month. Better to work out all the kinks now while they can still be worked out – at home!)


  1. i like how you were selective with your color in this sketch! I think painting the whole thing would have been much too much. Glad you are working out the kinks with your new hand-stitched signature. You are really planning!

  2. Your drawing looks great!
    I'm looking forward to seeing how you will do the Coptic binding. That is new to me.


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