Thursday, August 21, 2014

Paraty, Here I Come!

See ya later!
I’m heading out to Paraty, Brazil, for the Fifth International Urban Sketching Symposium plus a week of exploring Rio de Janeiro! I probably won’t blog while I’m away, but you can keep up with photos and sketches I post in this Flickr album. A full report when I return!

All My Bags Are Packed. . .

8/21/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolor, Stillman & Birn Delta sketchbook
(My faithful Rickshaw finally gets to travel with me.)
Well, not quite all, but my Rickshaw Zero bag is!

During the past two years that my purple Rickshaw has been my faithful everyday carry, I’ve always taken some other bag when I’ve traveled because the Rickshaw just isn’t big enough for all the additional essentials that travel requires. But taking an unfamiliar bag meant feeling disoriented – nothing was where I expected it to be (as if travel isn’t disorienting enough).

Not this time! My beloved Rickshaw is coming with me to Brazil, along with a simple tote for the rest – a sweet solution. As a result, the following are the only sketch-material-related travel prep tasks I had to do this week:

  • I stitched up 10 signatures for the Stefano. Think that’s too many? I filled nine last year in Barcelona and Germany during a trip almost as long. (I’m putting the signatures – along with inconvenient items such as clothes – into my roller bag this afternoon; we’ll see if I have to leave a few of those 10 behind.) (Edited 3:15 p.m.: They all fit! I may have to check a bag on the flight home, though.)

  • To avoid inky messes (like the one I got last month flying to L.A. because I forgot the lesson I learned two years ago), I filled my fountain pens and ink-filled waterbrushes completely. This seems counterintuitive – wouldn’t more ink in the reservoir allow for more leakage? But at high altitudes, air expands, pushing the ink out. If a reservoir is completely filled, there’s no air to expand, reducing the chance of leakage. That’s the theory, anyway. (If that solution happens to fail, I put potentially leaky pens and waterbrushes in a sealed plastic bag.)

  • The supply of watercolor paints, inks and other materials that I carry every day should be sufficient for the duration of my trip, so I’m not taking spares (last year I brought several ink cartridges that I never used). The only exception is one spare cartridge of Platinum Carbon Black, because that’s probably difficult to find in Brazil.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Greenwood Masonic Lodge Mural

8/20/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Pitt Artist Pen, Zig marker, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Last week Gabi Campanario blogged about the experience of “meta-sketching”: depicting the work of another artist in one’s sketch and how that makes him feel. I had a meta-sketching experience myself this afternoon, and I can empathize.

Driving on North 80th in Greenwood the past few weeks, I’ve seen a gorgeous, colorful mural in progress on the wall of the Masonic Lodge building next door to Diva Espresso (which I’ve occasionally sketched from the inside). A cherry picker was parked in the corner of Diva’s lot. I called Diva to find out when the artist would be working, and I was told he was usually there after 3 p.m., so I made time to get over there around 3 today to catch him at work.

James Nielsen of Oakland is the artist (“artist and sorcerer,” says his business card), and he told me today is day 28 of his work (an assistant was also working today) on the Greenwood Masonic Lodge 253’s commissioned mural, which shows the moon shining over Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle and downtown Seattle with a dazzling rainbow of colors in the background. A large Masonic symbol is in the center. I thought of Gabi’s “meta-sketching” blog post as I sketched, feeling like my watercolors were barely a shadow of the painting I was trying to depict. But I had a lot of fun bringing out a full spectrum of hues (done with only a primary triad of paints, no less!), which I rarely get an opportunity to do in typical urban sketches.

James still has the bottom third or so of the mural left to paint, but I’m glad I made the time to catch him today. At the rate he’s going, he might be done by the time I’m back in town.

8/20/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Zig marker
Technical note: I’ve been using a Sailor calligraphy pen (or its uptown brother with an identical nib, the Sailor Profit) almost exclusively the past month or so, and I have not missed my conventional-nib pens at all. I’m always learning how to best use that crazy nib, and I still don’t have full control, but I’m having too much fun to care. One mild frustration has been that to get the absolute finest line with it, I have to tilt the nib at an unnaturally sharp angle that’s awkward to hold for very long. I remembered that some fountain pen sketchers I know turn their nibs upside-down to get a finer line, so I tried that with the Sailor, and voilà! I can get a really line fine while holding it at a natural angle. My Sailor and I still have a lot of dancing to do!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Burgermaster on Aurora

8/19/14 Platinum Carbon, Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa, Diamine Grey and Red Dragon inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

When I was a kid, our neighborhood didn’t have any drive-in restaurants, so when I visited cousins out in the ‘burbs, it was a serious treat to go to places like Triple XXX Root Beer, order from the car and then eat in the car. (Why parents thought this was a good idea is beyond me, but I sure thought it was fun.) I think carhops on rollerskates was a little before my time; I recall waitresses bringing our orders in shoes.

Most drive-in restaurants have been gone for decades, but the Seattle area still has five Burgermaster locations, including one just north of me on 100th and Aurora (only a couple of blocks from where I sketched a tree a few months ago as I got blasted with grit and bus fumes). I’ve been mostly vegetarian for 30 years, so burgers are not on my radar, but driving by the other day, it suddenly occurred to me: It’s still there! According to its website, “A Northwest landmark since 1952, BURGERMASTER offers quality, cooked-to-order food from fresh ingredients, for those who value great taste and excellent service.”

Certainly there are restaurants that have been around as long or longer, but that drive-in part is a rare novelty. It looked like most of the diners this afternoon had parked their cars and eaten inside, but I did see a few cars parked out in the stalls where orders are still brought out for in-car dining. I don’t know how long the “Home of the Baconmaster” and its drive-in booths are going to be around, so I thought today was as good a day as any to sketch them.

(Technical note: I finished a signature of my usual sketchbook paper on Sunday, and I didn’t want to start the next signature before I leave town because I’d like to start a new one in Brazil, so I’ve been using an old Stillman & Birn Beta book this week. I’m still fond of the paper (I’d still be using Betas now if I hadn’t discovered bookbinding), but I was surprised that I felt confined by the page size. I’d gotten used to double-page spreads on 9-by-12-inch paper in my Stefano. The hardbound Beta, which is 8.5-by-10.75 inches opened up, is only an inch or so narrower, but I noticed the difference. It’s funny how you get used to a certain format, and anything smaller seems cramped.)

Monday, August 18, 2014


8/18/14 Platinum Carbon ink, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils,
Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
My hair was on fire today with a bunch of errands and appointments that I had to get done before I leave town at the end of the week. I didn’t really have time for a sketch, nor did I have a subject in mind. Then on my way to an appointment, I spotted this on the sidewalk outside a church I pass frequently in my neighborhood: The sad shell of an old piano missing all of its keys, its cover, its front face and one of its pedals. Strings, hammers and all the rest of its intricate innards were entirely exposed. The finish was almost completely worn away, and parts of its once-ornate legs were broken off.

If I had thought about it for more than two seconds, I would have realized that a piano is a perspective study that requires more than 15 minutes to sketch. I would also have realized that if I had taken the hour or so I needed to sketch it carefully, it would have been a nice way to honor an old piano that had probably given many years of musical service to the church – and was now on its way to the dump. But all that had occurred to me was that the piano might be gone by tomorrow, and 15 minutes was all I had to give it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shilshole Marina

8/17/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Zig marker, Pitt Artist Pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Thick and white with fog, the sky over Shilshole Marina felt a bit chilly this morning for mid-August, but a strong showing of Seattle Urban Sketchers was undaunted. Sure enough, the sun came out within the hour, giving everyone good shadows and warmth.

8/17/14 Platinum Carbon, Pilot Iroshizuku
Tsuyu-kusa and Diamine Grey inks, Zig marker
Before the fog lifted, I started with a sketch of “Son of Iceland, Grandson of Norway” Leif Erikson. The original statue was a gift to Seattle from the Norwegian American community during the 1962 World’s Fair. A new base and tribute were unveiled in 2007. His helmet looked a bit Pope-ish until I corrected its tilt.

By the time the sky cleared, I had procrastinated long enough: It was time to take on the formidable marina with its gazillions of masts. I propped my stool up on top of a picnic table to get a better line of sight. Putting Harris (sketching in the foreground) in first helped to ground me. Then I put in the trawler, and then all the other masts behind it. Piece o’ cake! (Ha-ha.)

I had 10 minutes to kill before the sketchbook sharing, so I sketched Peggy sketching between her bike and a food truck.

8/17/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-sumi and Diamine Grey inks

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Season of Denial

8/16/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, watercolor,
Zig marker, Pitt Artist Pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Last year at about this time, I coined a term for the season that comes between summer and fall: Denial. It starts in early August when I first notice the leaves starting to turn. It lasts for as long as possible.

These slender maples growing in a traffic circle in the Greenwood neighborhood are surely a fluke. Actually, the one on the left and the one mostly hidden behind it are still fully green, so I think it’s only the tree on the right that is a fluke. Clearly, it didn’t take enough vitamins or skipped too many yoga classes this summer.

My Mini Sketchbooklets Hit the Big Time

No, that's not my bag shown in the photo. If I had known they wanted to show the
sketchbooklets in a bag, I would have offered to send a photo of my beloved
Rickshaw Bagworks bag!
The instructions for making my pocket-sized sketchbooklets have been published in the Fall 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine! Here’s how the article begins:

As an urban sketcher, I never know where I will be when the urge to draw hits: running an errand, riding public transportation, or waiting between appointments. To prepare for those times, I wanted to have a small, lightweight sketchbook with me. I tried using premade pocket-sized notebooks, but most couldn’t hold up to wet media. I realized that if I wanted a wet-media sketchbooklet, I would have to make it myself.

Here are the steps for making them (the published article shortened the steps somewhat; appearing here are the director’s cut, unabridged edition):

  1. Note: The dimensions of my sketchbooklet were based on the 8 ½" x 11" cardstock I had on hand. If you are using paper or cardstock of a different size, you may want to change the dimensions of your booklet to avoid waste. Cut one sheet of cardstock, 8 ½" x 5 ½", to make the cover. Fold it in half to 4 ¼" x 5 ½".
  2. Decorate the cover as desired.
  3. Cut five sheets of sketching paper, 8" x 5 ¼" each. Fold each in half to 4" x 5 ¼".
  4. Optional: Use a corner rounder punch to round all corners on the sheets and cover. (Rounded corners are not purely esthetic; they also keep the sketchbooklet from becoming dog-eared and ragged.)
  5. Place one folded sheet of paper on a catalog, and open the folded sheet. Make three marks for holes along the crease about 1 ¼", 2 5/8" and 4" from one edge. (Tip: I never measure – I just eyeball it.) Using the awl, punch a hole at each mark.
  6. Use the paper you punched in the previous step as a template: Place the template sheet over one sheet, align the sheets carefully at the folds, and punch through the template holes to the sheet underneath. Repeat with each remaining sheet. (Tip: You can punch all the sheets at one time, but it’s harder to keep them aligned at the fold.)
  7. The cover is slightly larger than the pages. Align your template sheet over the cover at the folds so that the margin of exposed cover is the same on either side of the sheet (again, I just eyeball this rather than measure). Punch the cover holes.
  8. Stack all sheets together at the folds. Be sure to keep all the sheets in the same orientation as when you punched them so that the holes align. Place the cover around the sheets.
  9. Cut a 10" length of bookbinding thread, and thread the needle.
  10. From the inside of the stack, sew through the center hole of all sheets and the cover to the outside, and pull the thread until about 2" remain inside the book (you will tie this tail later).
  11. The needle is now outside the book cover. Sew into either of the remaining holes through the cover and all sheets. Pull until there’s no slack in the thread, and then sew back through the center hole from inside to outside. Pull the thread taut.
  12. The needle is now outside the book cover again. Sew into the last hole that has no thread in it yet. Pull taut. Tie a square knot with the thread and the tail you left in Step 10. Trim the threads.
The Fall 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine

Friday, August 15, 2014

Soggy Morning at Gas Works Park

8/15/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey ink, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

After all those consecutive days of beautiful sunshine, I had deluded myself into thinking it was the new normal. I woke to drizzle, but had predicted that the rain would stop by mid-morning, when the ad hoc Friday sketchers were meeting at Gas Works Park.

Perched on my stool under a tree for my first sketch of some of the gas works, I was still in denial as increasingly frequent raindrops blurred my Platinum Carbon Black lines. By 11 it was barely spitting, so a few of us walked over to the marina on the east side of the park to sketch the houseboats, and I insisted that the rain would be stopping soon. I looked out over Lake Union and immediately saw a challenging Shari Blaukopf assignment for myself: the reflections of the moored houseboats and dappled water. The rain did let up as I was drawing the houseboat on the right, but within minutes I had to pull my hood on again, and my sketch was starting to take on that dreamy look (or perhaps nightmare, depending on your perspective). The wet-on-wet-on-wet approach isn’t one of my favorite watercolor techniques.

8/15/14 Platinum Carbon, Diamine Grey, Diamine Chocolate Brown and Pilot Iroshizuku Chiku-rin inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils

Thursday, August 14, 2014


My DIY Moo-like cards printed on my inkjet printer.
I first learned about Moo last year when bloggers preparing for the Urban Sketching Symposium in Barcelona were showing off the cards they had printed by the online company. Especially popular were the double-sided, 2.75-by-1.10-inch Moo MiniCards. I was tempted to do the same, but I never got around to it. Instead, I simply printed a stack of conventional-size business cards with my self-portrait, contact information and Urban Sketchers info (the same cards I hand out when I’m sketching and someone asks me about Urban Sketchers). They didn’t have sketches printed on them, so they weren’t as cool as MiniCards, but it was still fun to exchange them at the symposium.

This year I recently started seeing Moo cards again on blogs I read, and I felt tempted again. Why not order a stack of Moo MiniCards, too? I picked out several sketches that I thought would reproduce relatively well in a tiny format and started going through the Moo site. Then it struck me: Why don’t I print them myself the same way I print my usual cards?

Shown at lower right is the front of the cards (I have both portrait and landscape formats) printed with my Bitstrips-like self-portrait (done without the app, of course) and contact info. The backs are printed with several sketches that best represent my hometown and the kind of sketching I like to do. It took me only a few minutes to print them on my inkjet printer (although cutting them apart with my paper trimmer took quite a few more minutes). I used matte-finish card stock that I bought at Office Depot.

A friend (you know who you are) once affectionately called me “the Martha Stewart of urban sketching.” I wanted to deny it. But I guess I can’t.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


8/13/14 Platinum Carbon, Diamine Chocolate Brown, Red Dragon and Grey, Pilot Iroshizuku Asa-gao and Fuyu-syogun inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

The yellow Komatsu was my original sketch subject. When I started, the operator wasn’t even inside, so I figured I had some time to get it. Before I knew what was happening, the Komatsu turned around and moved a short distance away, and the red machine, which had an auger on its business end, moved into place. Meanwhile another yellow Komatsu was in the background (you can see part of its shovel behind the STOP sign).

I was feeling frustrated because I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish any of the machines before they moved. But I’ve learned from sketching people and zoo animals that they tend to eventually go back to the same positions. And so it was with this intricate, noisy ballet of heavy equipment, each doing its job for a few minutes, then moving away to make room for the next one, then returning. Instead of turning the page each time, I decided to turn this into a “sketchbombed” composite.

Speaking of sketchbombs, the worker holding the STOP sign had come by to see what I was doing. “Hey, how come I’m not in it?” he quipped. So I put him in. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tiny Hints

8/12/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Grey, Private Reserve Avacado, DeAtramentis Moss Green and Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi inks, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

The off and on rain we’d been having today looked like it was finally off for a while. After working most of the day and then spending too much time loading music onto my smartphone and managing other first-world problems, I took a short walk to Maple Leaf Park. The two maples, the poplar, the iconic water tower, the playground – I’ve sketched them all before, but they all seemed fresh and lively compared to anything I do on the computer.

I hate to say it – dare I say it? – but I’ve been seeing tiny hints of orange and yellow in the topmost leaves of the maples and aspens.

Back to my first-world problems.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Joe and Heidi’s Windmill Palm

8/11/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown, DeAtramentis Moss Green
and Private Reserve Avocado inks, Caran D'Ache Museum
water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When the previous owner lived in the house across the street, the small Chinese windmill palm in their front yard wasn’t doing well. Brown and shriveled, it looked like it was at death’s door. But after Joe and Heidi moved in, the tree perked up and has looked green and beautiful ever since. When a slight wind makes its fan-like fronds shiver, it’s fascinating and a bit hypnotic to watch.

Unlike the tall, mop-headed ones I’ve sketched in L.A. and Las Vegas, these palms don’t mind the cool, wet weather we get around here most of the year, so they aren’t as tropical as they seem. Still, fanning slowly in the high heat (it’s been in the 80s and now 90s daily for the past few weeks – very unusual for Seattle), they make me feel like I’ve traveled somewhere a little exotic. The first time I sketched a windmill palm, it was last year in front of a defunct restaurant nearby that had had a tropical theme. A few months later I sketched another one in my neighborhood. (These trees are especially fun to sketch with a Sailor calligraphy pen!)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

New Poles

8/9/14 Platinum Carbon and Fuyu-syogun inks, watercolor, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

The “No Parking” signs up and down the block were a clue. So were the two new utility poles lying on the ground in front of the houses across the street. I skipped my Jazzercise class because I had a feeling some interesting action was going to take place this morning. I was not disappointed.

8/9/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Fuyu-syogun inks, Zig marker
Shortly after 9 a.m., two large yellow vehicles showed up from Seattle City Light (my favorite bright yellow Zig marker has been getting quite a workout these days; it’s the ideal shade of heavy-equipment yellow). I went out on our tiny front deck outside our bedroom and looked down, where one of the yellow vehicles was sucking all the dirt from the hole that workers had dug next to the existing utility pole. Meanwhile another worker poured something – water? – into the hole from a hose (above).

The next part happened so fast that I couldn’t sketch much of it: an amazing choreography as the second yellow vehicle (I wish I knew the name of it. . . is it a type of crane?) lifted the new pole off the ground and turned it around – without knocking into the tangle of utility lines, trees or our house! 

Mesmerized watching all the smooth, well-practiced movements, I cringed when the pole got really close to those wires. The pole was very quickly put into place right next to the existing pole (at right), the hole refilled with dirt, and they were done – at least with that pole.

8/9/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku
Fuyu-syogun inks, Zig marker, Museum
water-soluble colored pencil
Next they moved down the block a few yards, where they used a slightly different process to dig. This time they used a huge auger on the end of the same yellow vehicle (at left). (Greg found out later that they had to dig the hole manually for the pole in front of our house because it was too close to a gas main to use the auger.) The dirt that came up from the auger was dumped out onto a tarp that was laid out beside the hole.

As they moved the second new pole into place, again right next to the old pole, I sketched the equipment operator (below left), because I think he was the hero of the whole operation. I was so impressed by his skill in maneuvering the long business end of that machine.

8/9/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks, Zig marker, Museum
water-soluble colored pencil
Finally the workers shoveled the dirt that came out of the hole back in (bottom), and they were done. In a little more than two hours, they had installed two new power poles, and I had the most sketching fun I’ve ever had while still wearing my slippers.
8/9/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks,
Zig marker, Museum 
water-soluble colored pencil

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Plants Can Wait: “Rock, People, Chisels” at Kubota Garden

8/8/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown, Red Dragon, Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Tsuyu-kusa inks, Zig markers, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Scheduling today’s Friday ad hoc sketch outing at Kubota Garden was prompted by an event Kate saw on the garden’s website: “Rock, People, Chisels,” an Ishigaki (stone wall) workshop. I didn’t pay much attention to that event because I knew from a previous visit years ago that the garden itself would be a delight to sketch, and any additional event would be frosting on the cake. As it turned out, I spent the whole time on the “frosting” and decided that the “cake” – the 20 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens – could wait for a future visit.

As soon as we walked onto the property, I realized something big was going on: A huge yellow crane no different from the kind I’ve been sketching at construction sites rose ominously above the gardens. I soon understood that the “rocks” these people were chiseling were actually huge boulders – 500 tons of granite that would be cut and turned into an 8-foot wall built with a 10,000-year-old dry-stone stacking method. Fifteen stonemasons had traveled from all over the country and Japan to work on the project with Junji and Suminori Awata, 14th and 15th generation stonemasons and masters of their craft. They use the same techniques that were used to build Japanese castles before the 16th century. The wall they are building will become Kubota Garden’s Terrace Overlook.

All of that is very interesting, but as soon as I saw the stonemason team at work, I took a “sketch-first,-ask-questions-later” approach. (I learned what they were doing afterwards during a break.) Despite the constant clink-clink-clinking of chisel on stone and the swirls of dust set off by masons blowing excess debris through a straw, I was sucked in immediately by their activity. As their painstaking work continued, a master would occasionally come by to make suggestions or demonstrate a technique.

8/8/14 Platinum Carbon, Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa and Fuyu-syogun inks,
watercolor, Zig markers, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils
Eventually the crane started rotating into action, moving boulders around, so for my second sketch, I walked around the pond to the opposite side of the site. My sketch viewpoint is just a short distance from the view in the architect’s conceptual image below, which shows what the completed terrace will look like next spring.

We had a great turnout of sketchers on this gorgeous day, including several new faces!

Architectural rendering of the completed terrace.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cloudless Sky

8/7/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencil, Lanaquarelle 140 lb. paper

The last time Natalie and I sketched together from her deck (I call it her en plein air studio), it was the spring equinox, and the sky was full of luscious, dramatic clouds that were so much fun to paint.

8/7/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi, Fuyu-syogun,
De Atramentis Moss Green inks, Museum pencil,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Not so today – the sky was mostly cloudless, at least facing east over Lake Washington, so I had to settle for sketching a tree with the placid water behind it. On the other hand, today I could sit out there for hours in a T-shirt; in March, I wore Polartec. No complaints here! Especially when Natalie pointed out the bald eagle flying by and when I spotted a hummingbird lighting on a nearby bush several times.

Technical note: A potted snapdragon plant slightly past its prime was an excellent subject for sketching with my trusty Sailor pen filled with DeAtramentis Moss Green ink. That pen was made for drawing the thick and thin lines of leaves.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SLOW at Roosevelt Station (Sketch No. 6)

8/6/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks,
watercolor, Pitt Artist Pen, Zig marker, Strathmore 400 140 lb. paper
Maybe my expectations are too high; I keep thinking that with all the noise, dust and movement at the Roosevelt Station site, I’m going to see the beginnings of actual buildings or something. I moved to a slightly different location this time to see something new, but as the traffic controller’s sign says, progress is SLOW. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Art of Gaman

8/5/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Fuyu-syogun inks, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
My oldest brother was a toddler, and our mom was pregnant with my second brother when they and our dad were taken away to spend the duration of World War II in internment camps. Born quite a few years after their experience, I didn’t hear much about that period of their lives from my parents, who preferred not to dwell on the past. Most of what I know about that sad, dark part of U.S. history was learned the way everyone now learns about it – from books, recorded oral histories, documentaries and art exhibits like the one currently showing at the Bellevue Arts Museum: The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942 – 1946.

Imprisoned behind barbed wire in desolate locations, living in horse stalls or drafty, unplumbed barracks, more than 100,000 Americans had to learn to endure (the word gaman means “to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”). Many found that creating art or building functional pieces helped them endure, and this exhibit showcases 120 such artifacts. Toys, chairs, jewelry, paintings – the objects ranged from simple objects of utility to exquisite works of art. My favorite was a collection of letter envelopes, each with a small watercolor sketch that someone had made to decorate it. I also enjoyed peeking at a page in a sketchbook of someone who was learning the craft of bonsai – tiny sketches of tiny trees with neatly written notes. Sadly, many of the artifacts were attributed to “unknown.” (A cherished artifact in my own home is a wood tray my grandfather had made during that time.)

8/5/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink
I didn’t spend much time sketching at the exhibit because I was too busy reading all the placards and viewing the objects. I did sketch a small ironwood sculpture of a lion carved by Shigeo Naito, who was interned in Poston, Arizona. An informative documentary was playing on a video screen, so I also sketched a couple viewing it.

Updated 8/15/14: A similar exhibit in Portland, Art Behind Barbed Wire, includes a few pieces my grandfather and father made. My brother Richard is interviewed about the exhibit on the Oregon Public Broadcast's blog.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Green Lake Piano in the Park

8/4/14 Platinum Carbon and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun inks, Pitt Artist Pen,
Zig markers, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL
140 lb. paper
During my walk around Green Lake today, I spotted another Piano in the Park! This one looked like an old-fashioned robot with metallic arms and big blue hands made of utility gloves. (I’m not sure why, but the sides of the piano were painted with things like an ostrich and other birds. I suspect that more than one artist had a vision for this piano.)

A number of people stopped by to play it briefly. Heart and Soul seems to be the runaway favorite among casual piano players. Often it was kids banging around for a minute or two, like the girl in my sketch who was still draped in a towel from her swim like a caped superhero.

8/4/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Asa-Gao and Fuyu-syogun inks, Caran d'Ache
Museum water-soluble colored pencils
A young man was hovering around the piano as I finished that sketch, a bit hesitant. I walked a short distance away, and he sat down to play. I had the feeling he had played well at some point, but work or other obligations had kept him away from the keys, and he was rusty. He reminded me of all the people I’ve chatted with while out sketching – people who watch me sketch wistfully for a while and then tell me they “used to draw” at some time in their lives but haven’t in years or decades. It’s never too late, I tell them. Maybe this piano at Green Lake will inspire the young man to find a way to make time for playing again.

Maybe sketchbooks should be left in public places to inspire former sketchers, too.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

CD Tree

8/2/14 Platinum Carbon and various inks, Pitt Artist Pen,
Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Last week I sketched a Little Free Library a few blocks north in my neighborhood, and I knew about a second one within walking distance. I grabbed a couple of unneeded books to contribute from my over-bulging bookshelves and walked a couple blocks east.

The simple library box near the intersection of Northeast 80th and Roosevelt Way Northeast was the intended focus of my sketch, but what really caught my eye was the “tree” growing up behind it. A tall cylinder of CDs sprouted several wire branches of CD “leaves.” 

My Sketching Goals, Frustrations and Fears

7/30/14 various inks, Zig markers, Caran d'Ache
Museum water-soluble colored pencil, Canson
XL 140 lb. paper
(Balloon man at Maple Leaf Park)
Recently Larry Marshall blogged about his sketching goals – the things that motivate him as a sketcher – and he asked readers what motivates them. I realized I have done a lot of thinking about this subject myself, but I had never consolidated and articulated my thoughts into a blog post. His post prompted me to do that.

These are my sketching goals, in general order of priority:

1. Have fun. If it stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it. Life is way too short to have a hobby that doesn’t fill me with joy. That said, I’m not unwilling to challenge myself and work hard while having that fun. For example, when I’m struggling with a difficult perspective study, I don’t necessarily think of that as “fun,” but some forms of intellectual challenge are, indeed, enjoyable (in a masochistic sort of way).

2. Document my life by sketching the life around me. This is essentially my interpretation of the parts of the Urban Sketchers manifesto that mean the most to me: capturing what I see from direct observation; telling the stories of where I live and travel; being truthful to the scenes I witness.

3. In the interest of No. 2 above, speed and efficiency trump accuracy and beauty. I would love to develop my watercolor skills to the point where every sketch looked like a mini-painting. But if that were my focus, I think I would miss a lot of the world going on around me that requires greater speed and efficiency to keep up with. Capturing the moment is more important to me than making a “good” sketch. While buildings and trees make good painting models, people, animals and vehicles move and go away. In addition, I rarely travel alone, and I want the people I travel with not to be burdened by my sketching. I’d rather capture the moment quickly so that we can move on rather than feel frustrated that my companions won’t give me time to sketch.

7/31/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku ink
(Taekwondo demo at Queen Anne Farmers Market)
4. In the interest of both Nos. 2 and 3 above, sketch quickly without rushing. There’s a big difference between fast and hurried. I sometimes feel hurried and rushed, so I do both, and I rarely like the sketch that results. But if I relax, focus and work quickly, the sketch comes out much better. Sketching quickly takes no more time than rushing.

5. Improve my skills – both my ability to render accurately and my overall compositions. I have some conflict putting this goal after Nos. 3 and 4 above. I realize that when I slow down, I’m more likely to improve my skills than when I speed up. If I believe speed trumps accuracy, then I’m unlikely to learn to draw more accurately. But I do care about becoming a more accurate renderer. And I’ve heard from more than one source that a strong composition is 90% of a successful sketch. So I do think about accuracy and composition, study the sketches of others, take occasional workshops and read many books to gain skills. But not all of the time.

I have one more goal, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, while I’m in this introspective mood, I’ll add a couple more thoughts.

What frustrates me most about sketching:

My growth is sporadic and not continual. During my first month as a blogger in March 2012, I mused about this very subject. “I want a straight upward trajectory, not a horizon of gently rolling hills,” I whined. Now, more than two years later, my whine hasn’t changed. I might make my best sketch ever, and then later that same day, make a total dud. I can see gradual progress over time, but then I’ll make a sketch that sets me back several months. I feel like I learn from each sketch I make; why, then, doesn’t that learning get applied directly to the next one, every time?

My greatest sketching fear:

Obviously I don’t fear revealing sketches I find fault with; I do it regularly on this blog. I don’t fear criticism, either (my years as a writer, both creative and commercial, toughened my skin). My greatest (perhaps only) sketching fear is that I will eventually hit a plateau and stop seeing any change or progress. Perhaps realistically, I can’t expect to improve forever. But that fear is there.

Which brings me to my final goal, which has no numerical priority because it’s more like an over-riding philosophy:

Sketch every day. If speed is in direct conflict with accuracy, then just make more sketches, because accuracy is bound to improve with practice. If today’s sketch is a total dud, then make another one tomorrow, which might (probably will) be better. If I haven’t seen improvement in weeks or months and I fear I’m hitting a plateau, then go into denial by sketching some more. If something is fun, do it every day. I’m convinced that quantity trumps quality.
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