Monday, September 30, 2013

More Speed Sketching at Whole Foods

9/30/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Sailor pen, Canson Montval 140 lb. paper
Last winter I decided to get away from the portrait type of people sketches that I had grown comfortable with during my first year of sketching and challenged myself to sketch more complete bodies and the people’s context and environment. In other words, sketch more peopled urban sketches rather than collections of “floating heads.”

For the upcoming indoor-sketching season, I’m still going to do more of the same – complete figures in context – but I’m adding two new challenges: speed and movement. Last week at Whole Foods, I discovered that, because there’s no wi-fi, people don’t linger over their snacks and lunches as they do over coffee at most coffee shops. Instead of staring into their laptops like statues, Whole Foods’ patrons tend to come in small groups and actually have conversations as they eat – which means they move and turn their heads more.

9/30/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, 100 lb. paper
The top sketch took me nearly an hour to complete, but except for the young man in the foreground, all the other patrons changed several times. I had barely finished the guy on the right when he flipped his hood up and walked out. I’d just completed the face of the guy next to him when he, too, finished his lunch, so I had to borrow the details of the body of a different guy. But that’s the way it is with sketching people – it’s like playing Mr. Potato Head.

At 12 noon nearby Roosevelt High School must have dismissed for lunch, because suddenly Whole Foods’ café filled with teenagers. I knew these girls would be quick with their simultaneous eating, talking and texting. (Not only did the girl on the left have impossibly straight hair – she was wearing a skirt that was impossibly short.) I checked the time when they came in and when they left – they were done in 15 minutes flat! But I was up for the challenge – 15 minutes were all I needed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quintessential Morning at the Market

9/28/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor,  140 lb. Canson Montval paper
Pouring rain at the Pike Place Market: What else can you ask for when you visit Seattle? Vancouver, B.C., urban sketcher and blogger Sigrid Albert is in town this weekend, so Kate organized an ad hoc gathering at the Market to sketch with her this morning. Only three of us – Kate, Lynne and I – had the hardcore Seattle chutzpah to slog through the rivers and lakes forming in the streets to meet up with Sigrid at Rachel the Pig, but it was fun anyway.

9/28/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, water-soluble colored pencil,
140 lb. Canson XL paper
A view window at Sound View Café was the ideal location to sketch the Ferris wheel (barely visible through the weather) on the waterfront, which I have been wanting to do for a while. Then Kate, Sigrid and I decided to sketch each other as we chatted about our respective sketching communities. Sigrid recently organized a growing Urban Sketchers group in the Vancouver area. Maybe the Seattle sketchers should make a field trip across the border for a joint sketchout! Thanks for sketching with us, Sigrid!

See Sigrid's sketch from today on her blog. And Kate's blog includes sketches and photos of the day.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Two More Dead Animals and One Sleepy One

9/27/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Sailor pen, 140 lb. Canson XL
After we split up at the Botany Greenhouse, I went to grab some lunch and then walked over to the Burke Museum. My goal is to sketch every dead head in there – and there are lots of them.  

The skull that caught my eye today belonged to an orangutan, and the placard said the skull was a gift of the Woodland Park Zoo. As I sketched, I couldn’t help but think of Towan, the zoo’s very living orangutan, whom I had sketched last year. I tried to place Towan’s gentle, contemplative features over this nightmarish skull, and it made me happy to know I can still see Towan at the zoo, swinging in his hammock.

Speaking of nightmarish, a caged Triceratops skull– found 65 million years ago in Montana – was my next sketch. Now there’s a puppy I’m happy I won’t have to meet live – although he was herbivorous, so I guess I wouldn’t need to worry.

9/27/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Sailor pen, 140 lb. Canson Montval
As I waited for my bus ride home, I got my last very quick sketch of the day: a napping dog who was also waiting for the bus. 

9/27/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink,
100 lb. paper

UW Botany Greenhouse

9/27/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. Canson XL
The rainy morning didn’t start out promising for sketching at the University of Washington’s Medicinal Herb Garden. Since Kate, Peggy and I were the only ones who showed up for the ad hoc Friday gathering, we decided to walk across the street and sketch inside the UW Botany Greenhouse instead.

I started out in the “Desert” room, where the succulents and other strange plants looked downright other-worldly, including a huge aloe from South Africa and a Mammillaria Spinossima from Mexico. The latter looked like a Slinky trying to walk out of its pot.

Out in the central work area, I sketched a bright yellow Malvaceae blossom and a Bird of Paradise, both past their prime but still adding color to an otherwise gray day.

9/27/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen,
140 lb. Canson XL
Greenhouse manager Douglas Ewing was very hospitable to us as we sketched, answering our questions and looking at our sketchbooks. In fact, he invited the entire Seattle Urban Sketchers group to sketch there sometime!
9/27/13 Platinum Carbon, watercolor,
Canson XL

9/27/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor,
140 lb. Canson Montval

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chinese Pinwheel Palm

9/26/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor,
Canson Montval 140 lb. paper
I used to think that palm trees were strange, out of place and probably chilly in Seattle. After blogging about one that I had spotted last spring in a Northgate strip mall, a friend pointed out that the type of palm I had sketched was a Chinese pinwheel palm, a hardy variety that actually survives well in Seattle’s decidedly non-tropical climate.

As often happens when I learn something like this, I started seeing Chinese pinwheel palms everywhere I looked. This one is growing a block east of my house. As exotic and foreign as these trees still seem, I’ve grown fond of their wide, fan-like fronds optimistically waving in the cold, damp air.

(This is my first test of Canson Montval 140-pound paper.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


9/25/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. Strathmore paper
Freelancing from home is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because of the freedom and flexibility. It’s a curse because of the freedom and flexibility.

I had hit a mid-afternoon slump and was hoping for a distraction. Right on cue, movement in my peripheral vision made me look out the window. My 84-year-old neighbor was standing on his rooftop, peering down into the chimney! He looks fit and healthy, and I know he does a lot of handiwork, but it makes me nervous to see anyone walking around on the slanted rooftop of a two-story home. His awkward stance, one foot on each side of the roofline, was just asking to be sketched. I tore my eyes away just long enough to go get my sketchbook. Unfortunately, he was done peering into his chimney, and I got back just in time to see him walk down and start to slide slowly down the slope! He managed to stay in control of his footing, and all I could sketch was him squatting by the gutter.

9/25/13 Chocolate Brown ink, 100 lb. paper
I was both disappointed and relieved when he got off the roof a moment later – disappointed because I wanted to keep sketching him, and relieved that I didn’t have to call 911.

But watching him from that angle somehow reminded me of the black locust tree that my friend Alice, who lives 10 blocks north, had suggested I sketch several months ago. (Isn’t the mind a wonderful thing? I had completely forgotten about her suggestion until that moment.) At the time, the tree was just coming into leaf, and she had said that its intriguing shape, which she saw regularly from her front porch, would probably interest me.

I had work to do and shouldn’t really go out. But if I don’t take my car, it doesn’t really count as going out, right? So I grabbed my bag and decided to take a walk 10 blocks north. The tree was easy to spot: Even fully leafed, it still had an interesting shape. I made a mental note to come back this winter to catch the bare branch shape that had originally attracted Alice’s attention. (Edited 1/4/14: I went back today to sketch it; all the leaves are gone, but now it's full of "winter buds.")

Oh, look – it’s almost dinnertime. I guess I’ll call it a day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Three Papers and a Pen

Three types of 140-pound cold press papers that I'm stitching up into signatures.
On my trip to Yellowstone, I finished up a couple more signatures of 100-pound and 140-pound papers in “the Stefano” and started a third, leaving me only one to spare, so it’s time to stitch up a new supply of signatures.

Now that I’ve been using the 140-pound Strathmore Series 400 paper for about a month, I’m really liking the way it takes washes. I thought it held up especially well when I painted Old Faithful and other geysers wet-on-wet. The strong wind kept drying my paper before I could apply the paint, so I had to rewet it several times. I’m still not quite used to the rough texture that tends to snag my pen nib, but it’s getting better. I started thinking that if I found a 140-pound watercolor paper that was smooth enough to use with pen and ink but still had some texture and also performed well with watercolor, I could eliminate the smoother 100-pound paper that I still prefer when I’m not using watercolor. (I’m staying away from hot press for now, although I may eventually try it.)

(I have to thank my friend Peggy Haug for convincing me to explore heavier papers. I got so used to using pen and ink on the 100-pound paper in my beloved Stillman & Birn Alpha and Gamma sketchbooks that I didn’t realize how poorly it was performing when I added watercolor. I assumed my mediocre painting skills were at fault, and I didnt think heavier paper would help. My painting skills haven’t improved dramatically recently, but some of my painted sketches are definitely better – and I think the 140-pound paper gets the credit! Thanks, Peggy!)

I found myself wandering around at Artists & Craftsmen yesterday. (Do you ever find yourself inexplicably wandering through art supply stores with no apparent purpose – and you’re not even sure how you got there? It’s a very specific type of amnesia suffered only by art supply hoarders.) Rifling through the stacks of watercolor paper pads, I found two I had not yet tried: Canson’s Montval Artist Series and Canson XL (I couldnt find it at A&C online). They’re both 140-pound cold press, but I’m guessing that the XL is student grade, since it was less than half the price of the Montval. Both are cheaper than the Strathmore 400 I’m currently using, but they both also feel less rough. I’m not necessarily looking for top quality – my only requirement is that it be acid-free – so I’m giving them both a try. Maybe I’ll carry a signature of each of the three 140-pound papers I have and compare them side by side. (Another hoorah for the Stefano that enables me to do this!)

As for the pen. . . A couple weeks ago I was talking about the Sailor fountain pen with the funky ski-jump nib and how it was growing on me. Toward the end of the Sketching Forum discussion thread I referred to, right after I wrote that post, Zoe mentioned the Hero 501-1 pen at, which she prefers to the Sailor. What’s hilariously ironic is that my frustrating, unsuccessful search for that Hero, which I had heard several other sketchers raving about a while back, is what eventually led me to buy the Sailor! But since the Hero link had been dropped into my lap, and the pen was only $15, I couldn’t resist getting one, if only on principle.

I’ve been using the Hero only a short time, but so far, I’m not impressed. Yesterday I used it on a couple of sketches at Whole Foods (the man on the left in the middle sketch and the man on the right in the lower sketch), but I had to give it up and switch to the Sailor after a bit because the ink kept skipping. The “ski jump” is shorter than on the Sailor, which makes it harder for me to control. And most annoying of all is that the metal-cased Hero is significantly heavier than the plastic-cased Sailor, and I do tend to favor lighter-weight pens.

I’m sticking with my Sailors.

(And this just goes to show that preferences for things like pens are almost entirely a personal matter. Reading reviews or comments by users can be interesting and sometimes revealing, but most of the time, the only good pens are the ones you like and keep on using. Now if I can just remember that the next time I read a rave review about yet another pen. . .)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rusty People-Sketching Chops at Whole Foods

9/23/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen
After finishing a few errands this morning, it was still raining hard. I considered stopping by at Zoka Coffee for some sketching, but it was so sloppy-wet outside that I didn’t feel like getting out of the car. . . and then I remembered: Whole Foods on Roosevelt has an underground parking garage as well as a spacious café area. Score!

I can’t really complain about the rain – I had a great summer with plenty of outdoor sketching – but that means I haven’t spent much concentrated time sketching people since last spring. Sure, I sketched quite a few vendors and buskers at farmers markets, but its at coffee shops that people busy on their laptops might as well be paid models  they hardly move at all. Thats how I work on my people-sketching chops. 

I had settled in at a well-positioned table with coffee and sketchbook, and that’s when I noticed that people come and go much more quickly at Whole Foods. The reason? No wi-fi. My rusty people-sketching chops definitely got a workout trying to keep up with hungry patrons scarfing down quick meals.
9/23/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Private Reserve  Ebony Brown inks, 100 lb. paper
9/23/13 Chocolate Brown and Ebony Brown inks, 100 lb. paper

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two Dead Animals and One Lively One

9/18/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen, 100 lb. paper
In addition to geysers, a major attraction of Yellowstone is the wildlife. Although we never saw any bears, we did see plenty of bison and some elk. Sketching them, however, was another matter. I did attempt to sketch one bison, but it’s not easy through binoculars. (I’m more impressed than ever by birders and naturalists like John Muir Laws who do much of their sketching through scopes.)

9/19/13 Bison sketched through binoculars.

Easier to sketch were the many dead animals mounted on the walls at Shoshone Lodge and Guest Ranch a few miles outside of Yellowstone. I counted 22 of them in the lobby – elk, deer, bears, moose, bobcats and even a jackalope.

9/19/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
One lively animal kept us entertained in the car: Zia, a Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix. 
9/19/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, 100 lb. paper

9/19/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, 100 lb. paper

Speed Sketching at Yellowstone

9/19/13 Liberty Cap at Mammoth
(Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, 100 lb. paper)
For the kind of sketching I do, I usually have better results if I spend less time rather than more. The few times I have spent more than an hour on a sketch (such as my first sketch of Germany’s Köln Cathedral, which took two hours), whatever I gained in detail and accuracy, I lost in freshness and spontaneity.

At no time is it more important to sketch quickly than it is when traveling with other people. I don’t count Greg among those “other people,” because if there’s something worth sketching, there’s certainly something worth photographing, so he’s always busy with his camera. But we were visiting Yellowstone with three family members, and I wasn’t sure how patient they would be. As it turned out, they were all very tolerant of my sketching, for which I was happy and grateful.
9/18/13 Yellowstone Lower Falls, Artist's Point
(Diamine Chocolate Brown, Grey inks, 100 lb. paper)

9/19/13 Dead, gnarly tree
(Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig marker, water-soluble pencil)

9/18/13 Statue of Buffalo Bill Cody in Cody, Wyoming
(Diamine Eclipse ink, Sailor pen, 100 lb. paper)
Nonetheless, not wanting to stretch their limits, I always tried to sketch as quickly as possible. These four sketches from our second and third days at the park were all done in 10 to 15 minutes each. It helped that the weather was dreadful – very cold, rainy, sleety and windy.

Yellowstone’s Geysers

9/17/13 Old Faithful. (Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor)
Yellowstone National Park is best known for the world’s largest collection of geysers and other hydrothermal features, and the most famous of all is Old Faithful. We arrived at Old Faithful’s location shortly after it had just blown, so we had more than an hour to wait for the next one. While the others in my party took photos or killed time inside the information center, I went straight to the bleachers surrounding Old Faithful’s blow hole to stake out a seat, front and center.

I killed the hour by sketching the growing crowd and getting my paints ready for Old Faithful’s eventual eruption. A few times while we waited, a ranger shouted to the crowd that a huge storm was expected, and we were all at risk of being struck by lightning. She urged us to seek shelter immediately. Although the sky was definitely ominous, no one budged. (After waiting an hour, are you kidding?)

When Old Faithful blew at 4:12 p.m. (only three minutes later than the time predicted by the information center), my paints and I were ready.

Luckily for us, the electrical storm didn’t begin until we were back in the car.

9/17/13 Crowd waiting for Old Faithful. (Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor)
9/17/13 Geyser field. (Platinum Carbon ink, Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, watercolor)

Bozeman and on to Yellowstone

9/16/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
In the summer of 1955, the rest of my family – my parents, my sister and my two brothers – went on a “big” road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone National Park. To give you an indication of just how big this trip was for them, my dad bought a brand new Ford station wagon to get there, and – for the first time ever – they used color film.

I know all of this because I’ve seen the photos (all 12 of them! Color film and processing were expensive) many times, and I’ve heard the stories – the many bears they saw, Old Faithful, the Liberty Cap at Mammoth. Since I was not to be born for another three years, this big road trip would always be the one that I missed.
My dad with his new Ford, 1955

This week, 58 years later, I finally caught up with the rest of my family and took a trip to Yellowstone. It wasn’t exactly a road trip – we flew to Bozeman and got into a car from there – but since we met up with three of Greg’s relatives for the visit, I sat in the back seat for three days while “dad” did the driving through the park.

These two sketches were done in Bozeman before and after Yellowstone. The top one is the view from Brad and Dee’s home surrounded by mountains. The one below was the view from our room at the Bozeman Holiday Inn Express, also surrounded by mountains. They don’t call it Montana for nothing.

9/20/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper

My Second Year of Sketching

Two years ago today I started drawing. (My first day of drawing was actually determined by the second day and the third day and every day after that that I kept on drawing instead of quitting as I had in previous years, all the way up to today.) A year ago when I wrote a retrospective post about my first year as a sketcher, I focused on the path that brought me to that first day. Today I ask: Where have the past two years taken me?

One way to look back is to review my progress, so I did something that I haven’t done in a long time: I pulled my first couple of sketchbooks off the shelf and thumbed through them. The sketches in today’s post are all from my first few months of sketching. (If you ever feel discouraged, I highly recommend looking through your old sketchbooks!)

It’s gratifying to see that regular practice leads to progress. But even if I continue practicing at the same rate that I am now, I know that I can’t expect the same degree of progress going forward as I experienced during the past two years; I think at some point everyone levels off, and then the changes are usually more subtle.

But a more important difference isn’t apparent from my sketchbooks. I think the single-most significant change since September 2011 is in my confidence in my own ability to learn. I’m certainly not confident that I can draw anything I want to – I still get cowed by plenty of subjects (a complex building, vast landscape, trees, cars, fountains – my list of sketching nemeses continues to grow) – but I’m confident that I can try. I’m confident that if I keep trying, I’ll probably get better. Two years ago, when I saw a challenging subject (in other words, everything), I probably would have avoided it, or hemmed and hawed for a while and then given up. But most of the time now, I study any subject for a few seconds or minutes, and then I just sketch.

After filling more than 20 sketchbooks and posting well over a thousand sketches on my blog, I guess by now I’ve learned that the worst thing that can happen after making a sketch is that I turn the page.

The best thing that can happen? I turn the page and make another sketch.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates

9/15/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
I don’t need much motivation to visit a chocolate factory, and today I had a second motivation: to sketch! What an amazing location for a Seattle Urban Sketchers sketchout – the scent alone was intoxicating!

Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates has a long, eclectic history centering on the life of its founder, Julius Boehm. The Olympic athlete, candy maker and art collector built an Alpine chalet in Issaquah because the foothills reminded him of his Austrian homeland. The whole property – which includes the chalet, a chapel, the candy manufacturing plant and what used to be Boehm’s residence – is stuffed to the gills with art he collected or had commissioned. Many of the pieces are replicas of well-known art, such as the Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” and “David.” (As soon as I saw all the rooms filled – filled! – with art, I thought of Steve Reddy’s penchant for sketching spaces filled with many, many objects. Steve, you should have been there!)

With so many choices, I was a bit dazed, but I finally settled on a sculpture of Christ bearing his cross, which is just outside the chapel that Boehm built as a shrine to mountain climbers. There were also at least two weathervanes on the buildings, so I sketched them both.

As for the chocolate. . . I was the one still licking my lips as I sketched. 

9/15/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
9/15/13 Chocolate Brown ink, Sailor pen

Saturday, September 14, 2013

15 Seconds of Fame

One of my sketches just got its 15 seconds of fame!

A board member and newsletter editor for Lakeside North Condominium in the Maple Leaf neighborhood contacted me recently, asking permission to use this image in the condo’s newsletter. He learned I was a Maple Leaf resident when he found this sketch of the Maple Leaf water tower, which I sketched more than a year ago, on this blog.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Doin’ the Pu. . .I Mean, the Washington

9/13/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
The Seattle Urban Sketchers and the Tacoma Urban Sketchers stormed the gates this morning at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup for a joint ad hoc sketch gathering. (As a Seattle native who grew up “doin’ the Puyallup” every year, I can’t quite get used to calling it the “Washington State Fair.” It will always be “the Puyallup” to me.)

Last year at the fair, I did most of my sketching inside the animal barns. Today I still sketched several chicks, a goat, a couple of alpacas and, oddly enough, a tiny white pony that had been painted partially pink (the tint I have on my sketch below is probably the most accurate color I captured today). But on this visit, I also wanted to spend some time sketching larger views of the fair.

9/13/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor
My first stop was SillyVille, where the kiddie rides hadn’t yet opened – score! Being able to sketch the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel while they weren’t moving was an excellent coup on my part! Once the rides opened, I could easily toss a kid on a horse.

After lunch with Kate and Peggy (during which we shared the biggest, greasiest pile of curly fries any of us had ever seen; my arteries clogged just looking at them), I wandered over to the new Luminasia attraction, a “larger-than-life lantern festival” produced by a Chinese company. At an additional cost of $12, it didn’t interest me much, especially since it’s best seen at night. But what attracted my attention was the fake Space Needle hovering in the background and the Alice-in-Wonderland-sized daffodils greeting the people lined up to get in.

9/13/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig marker, 100 lb. paper
I’ll tell you what struck me as the most unusual thing about the fair: The number of people whose attention I attracted! I’m so used to sketching in the middle of public scenes and getting ignored by everyone. Today all my sketches took longer because so many people stopped to look and chat. I guess the fair is where you go to see something new.
9/13/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink

9/13/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
9/13/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink

Young Cellist

9/12/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
After Boyd left with his saxophone, the next busker quickly took his space. He was unusual by two counts: He was young (maybe 13 or 14?), and his instrument was a cello.

I was half-expecting his repertoire to be classical, but that shows how much I know. Much to the delight of several young audience members, his first tune was the Indiana Jones theme. While I sketched, he played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” followed by the theme to “Star Wars.” I have to say, it was the first time I’d heard Star Wars played as a cello solo.

That’s one of many reasons I like hanging out at farmers markets.

(The sketch of the cellist fills the last page in the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook I was working on when I got my “Stefano” sketchbook. I finished off my last Alpha last week. Although I’ve been using the Stefano sporadically since I returned home from Europe, I wanted to finish off these last two sketchbooks before using the Stefano full-time. Now the true test begins: Does the Stefano work long-term as my everyday sketchbook?)

Sax Attack

9/12/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Stillman & Birn Beta
Jazz saxophone music drifted lazily around the Queen Anne Farmers Market. I was sitting in the shade at a comfortable communal table, finishing up my butter toffee crunch ice cream from Parfait and wishing that the table faced something a bit more sketchworthy than the backs of the vendors’ tents. I licked up the last of my scoop and went looking for the source of the music.

He looked familiar, and I realized I had sketched him last year at Phinney Farmers Market, but he had worn a hat then. I was enjoying the music and still wanted to add more details to my sketch, but I could see that he was packing up to leave. I didn’t want him to go before I’d had a chance to drop money into his case, so I went over to him and learned his story. Boyd Phelps had had a stroke a while back, and he had to re-learn all of his musical skills. He now plays with the jazz band Sax Attack. According to his website, “Boyd was the first person to earn a doctorate in music with emphasis in saxophone performance and literature at the University of Washington.”
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