Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Year Five at Gingerbread Village

11/29/16 brush pen, rainbow pencil, colored pencils
Having read only the first book and having seen only a couple of the films, I can hardly call myself a Harry Potter fan. (I cant tell Gandalf from Dumbledore to save my life.) But I am a fan of sketching at Gingerbread Village, the annual holiday fundraising event hosted by the Seattle Sheraton. Local architectural firms team up with the Sheraton’s chef to create truly marvelous edible confections. The term “gingerbread house” hardly describes the colorfully lighted, kinetic, three-dimensional depictions of the Harry Potter books.

Last year the theme was Star Wars, and since I’m definitely a fan of that franchise, I spent a lot of detailed time sketching the candy-and-cookie depictions of my two favorite films. Since I didn’t have much personal connection with the theme this year, I decided to focus more on the visitors. My favorite was the young child (gender uncertain to me) wearing a teddy bear hoodie and pulling a bright green wagon. His mom, obviously a huge Potter fan, was snapping as many photos as she could while also explaining to her kid, who apparently hadn’t seen the films yet, what was going on in the scenes. Mom was running back and forth too much for me to capture, but the kid was all I needed in the sketch.

11/29/16 brush pen
Early enough in the season, I didn’t get mobbed this morning, so it was relatively easy to make gestural sketches of people of all ages (including the chef himself, who came out to greet visitors).

This was my fifth consecutive year sketching Gingerbread Village, a tradition that began in 2012 as the first outing of Urban Sketchers Seattle’s Friday group. It started getting too crowded for us to sketch comfortably, so after a couple more years, we stopped, but I miss that festive gathering. I think we just have to go earlier in the season as I did today (and Kate did last week).

Here are my posts from 2013 and 2014

11/29/16 brush pen, colored pencils

11/29/16 brush pen, colored pencils

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chilly Blue Sky at Volunteer Park

11/25/16 brush pen
Blue sky! After several continuous days of rain, it was good to see the sun yesterday morning at Volunteer Park. Several hardy Friday sketchers took advantage of it to sketch outdoors, but despite wearing two layers of Polartec, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I did, however, have a great view of William Henry Seward from my parking spot. Nostalgically I remembered the last time I had sketched the monument more than four years ago on a warm August day – warm enough that I had to seek shade instead of my car’s heater.

After that I ducked inside Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will be closing soon for major expansion and restoration. First I went to the rear of the museum where I knew the tall windows look out on some of Volunteer Park’s old trees – a good opportunity for a value study. Then I walked through the sculptures in the museum’s permanent collection and found one of a Buddhist monk “at the moment of enlightenment,” whose expression was nothing less than joyful. Or so I thought. The placard, however, said, “it is a moment of intense mental struggle and often associated with actual physical pain.” Well, he looked happy to me.
11/25/16 water-soluble colored pencils

By the time of the sketchbook throw-down, it was warm enough to stand outdoors for the few minutes it took me to capture one of the museum’s stone camels, who also looked happy to be in the sun.

11/25/16 graphite, water-soluble graphite
11/25/16 brush pen

Friday, November 25, 2016

Brush Pencil: WTF?

11/23/16 graphite
If you’ve kept up with my blog for a while, you know that I have a mild obsession with all things fude (perhaps it was even here that you learned that fude is the Japanese word for brush). From my favorite fountain pen nib of all time to its various knock-offs and wannabes to all the many, many brush pens I have used, writing instruments of the fude kind interest me for one primary reason: They are designed to mimic the tapered and variable lines that can be made with an actual bristle calligraphy brush – and I simply can’t resist the beauty of those lines.

Given this obsession, I occasionally visit JetPens.com (the largest American source of Japanese brush pens) and put “brush” in the search line just to see what new products come up. After scrolling past all the pens I was already familiar with, imagine my surprise one day when I came upon the Uni Mitsubishi brush pencil.

Say again? How can a dry instrument like a pencil mimic the fluid line of paint or ink? And almost as curious, why in the world does one pencil cost $7.50? My curiosity got the better of my pocketbook; I clicked “add to cart.”

(Incidentally, I wondered if the name “brush pencil” was nothing more than JetPens’ marketing description. When I received the pencil, I used my kindergarten-level Japanese reading skills to decipher the characters stamped on the pencil, and I found that it says, fude enpitsu, which means, literally, “brush pencil.”)

Straight out of the package with its pre-sharpened point, the graphite brush pencil has an extremely soft and dark 10B core. Admittedly, I’m not much of a graphite user, but I had never seen a pencil graded 10B (the highest grade I’ve seen in other brands is 8B). What really caught my attention, though, was how thick that core is – much thicker than average writing pencils and even most colored pencils.

The marketing copy says, “Adjusting your writing pressure allows for exquisite variation in darkness and line width, mimicking the elegant sweeps and tapers of a traditional Japanese calligraphy brush.” I wasn’t quite getting those elegant sweeps and tapers yet, but I could see that with some practice, one could get a lot of line variation. My interest was piqued!

I sharpened first with a sharpener to take the wood down, then
cut the chisel tip with a knife.
Over coffee one day, I showed the pencil to a friend, and she mentioned that she had once seen a YouTube video in which an artist had sharpened the point of a pencil into a chisel shape. Light bulb moment! I didn’t even bother to search for the video – I just got out my knife and cut that extra-wide core’s point flat!

With that cut, I can use the corners to make fine lines and the flat, broad end to make wide, dark strokes – and moving it around gives me everything in between. What’s more, the core is so soft that a line can be smudged easily with a fingertip for shading. You may recall that I hate using charcoal (I won’t touch it without gloves), so smudging with a finger is not my favorite sketching technique. But I have to admit that I love the look that results.
Side view

Although the brush pencil smudges as any soft graphite core will, thankfully, very unlike charcoal, it doesn’t transfer too much to the opposite sketchbook page (at least in the signatures of paper I carry, which don’t allow the pages to rub together much). (Edited 12/12/16: Never mind. . . it transfers quite a bit. I've begun skipping pages in my sketchbook to avoid the mess.)

10/23/16 graphite, colored pencil
Of course, because the core is so soft, it wears down pretty quickly. After making several sketches with it at Zoka Coffee (the man working on his laptop is one), the sharp corners and edge were well rounded by the time I left. Stopping on the way home to sketch the street scene (top of page), I realized I didn’t have a knife to recut the chisel shape, so I used my usual pencil sharpener instead. The sharpening exposed a big wedge of graphite on the side, which I then used to make heavy shadows very quickly. So either cut with a knife or sharpened traditionally, the thickness of the core can take as much credit as its softness for producing fude results.

Like I said, I haven’t been much of a graphite user, but with this “brush pencil,” I may be!

Now – about that $7.50 price? I cruised through all of Uni Mitsubishi’s pencils on JetPens, and I spotted one in its Hi-Uni line that also has a 10B core. (According to JetPens, “Hi-Uni is Uni Mitsubishi's best-selling highest-level wooden pencil line with an incredible selection of 22 hardness grades.”) While not inexpensive, this pencil is $2.50. Hmmm. It’s not a “brush pencil,” but its core is the same grade and made by the same manufacturer. The next time I placed an order, I put one of those Hi-Uni 10Bs in my shopping cart.

Spoiler alert: As far as I can tell, the two pencil cores are exactly the same. The gold-body brush pencil is prettier, and the beautiful finish feels like lacquer, but I’m good with a regular Hi-Uni for $2.50 instead.
Top: Mitsubishi "brush pencil"; bottom: Mitsubishi Hi-Uni pencil

While I was searching for that Hi-Uni 10B, I spotted a Staedtler Mars Lumograph with an 8B core, and from the photo, its core looked plenty thick, so I put one of those ($1.80) in my shopping cart, too. I just gave it a chisel cut. I haven’t sketched with it yet, but its initial scribble test is just as dark and feels slightly waxier than the Uni-Mitsubishis. I’ll probably report back on that someday, too.

The Staedtler Mars Lumograph 8B with a chisel cut.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Joshua Tree: Sketch Kit Follow-Up

The fistful of colored pencils that went with me to Joshua
Tree -- and that go with me everywhere.

Given the brevity (five days) of my recent trip to southern California, I made no changes at all to my sketch kit and hardly gave it a thought. I carried everything I always carry day to day, nothing more. One notable omission, however, was watercolors: This was the first time I traveled since I took up sketching that I brought no watercolors at all.

Ever since I returned from the UK in August, I’ve been committed to giving colored pencils a try as my only coloring medium (except for a couple of waterbrushes filled with inks), so I took the watercolors completely out of my bag. I haven’t missed them at all, and I’ve been enjoying experimenting with colored pencils in various ways to become faster at using them. Whenever I travel, though, I start second-guessing major sketch kit decisions (looking for watercolors in the Mojave Desert would be time-consuming at best). But after all, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not as if the lack of watercolors would keep me from sketching. So I resisted the urge to put the watercolors back in.

A couple of times when I was using my landscape-format sketchbook, I missed the speed of making a swish of color across the page spread, but since I always carry a waterbrush of blue ink, I could at least take care of the sky with liquid ease.

The really significant benefit of colored pencils over watercolors is how easy they are to use while standing, which was almost the entire time I was in the desert. (Given the warnings about scorpions and snakes, I wasn’t interested in sitting on the ground or on rocks!) Whether I was using my regular sketchbook signatures or my Stillman & Birn landscape Beta, I felt completely unencumbered using colored pencils. Later in the car, I sometimes used a waterbrush to activate colors or darken shadows with a few more layers of pencil, but often I finished while still standing. While watercolors can be faster, colored pencils are giving me more mobility and options, such as staying on my feet. (I did wonder how watercolor painters manage painting in the desert; every time I used a sprayer or waterbrush, every drop of moisture evaporated immediately!)

11/16/16 Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park
I’m still not happy with the wimpiness of some of my colored pencil applications; I need to work on getting the intensity I want, especially in the field. (I have a much easier time applying sufficient layers of intense color when I’m sitting at my desk.) Still, I’ve not often achieved the level of color intensity I want with watercolors, either, so it’s not a medium-specific issue. I’m sticking with colored pencils, because the only way to improve my use of any medium is to stay with it for a while. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Stimson-Green Mansion

11/20/16 ink, colored pencils (Ching sketching on
the main floor)
Only a month or two before I joined Urban Sketchers in 2012, the group had met at Stimson-Green Mansion, a beautifully restored and maintained building on the National Register of Historic Places. On Sunday I finally had an opportunity to sketch there myself. Although the mansion is available to the public for special events and tours, that day it was generously opened just for Urban Sketchers Seattle, so we had the entire house to ourselves. 

And what a house it is! Although dimly lit in some rooms, enough natural light exposed the details in many areas. The architecture is “primarily of Tudor and Gothic revival, but its eclectic styles also range through Moorish, Romanesque, Neoclassical, and Renaissance influences.” I spent a while simply wandering from room to room and floor to floor, taking photos and trying to imagine what it must have been like for the Stimson family to live there in 1901, and later the Green family (who resided there for 60 years). Seattle doesn’t have many houses from the turn of the previous century, so it was a treat to be able to walk through it, sit on the furniture and sketch whatever we pleased.

11/20/16 Tombow brush pen (window seat)

I was somewhat overwhelmed by the large interior views, so I chose a few details that I thought would hint at some of the house’s grandeur. Light coming in above a window seat, a wall lamp, and two beasts decorating one of several fireplaces all caught my attention. My favorite sketch of the day was of Ching when I captured her from above on the stairway landing. 

11/20/16 brush pen, colored pencil (fireplace details)

11/20/16 brush pen (light fixture)

Helen and Terrie in one of the bedrooms

Ching downstairs

Sketchers everywhere!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Joshua Tree, Part 2: Flora and Fauna


In addition to all the breathtaking rock formations that make Joshua Tree National Park unique, there are also the park’s namesake trees. Although I know any tree is unique, where I live many trees look similar enough that one would be very difficult to distinguish from another. Each Joshua tree, however, really is distinctive, growing with a strange and beautiful pattern of branches with bristles of short, palm-like fronds on the ends. Unlike trees in dense, dark forests that keep sunlight from reaching the ground, the sparse branches on these relatively short trees allow plenty of the desert’s scorching sun through. If you think of trees offering shade, you won’t find it in the Mojave!

Another remarkable type of vegetation we saw was the Cholla (also known as jumping cactus). With plenty of alarming signs warning us of the dangers, we treaded carefully through the Cholla Cactus Garden. The sharp, pointy spikes covering the Cholla have barbs like fish hooks, so once they get into your clothes or skin, they are very difficult to remove. A small piece got stuck to Greg’s shoe, and he had to do a little jig in the parking lot to get it off!

11/15/16 roadrunner
Unfortunately, we didn’t see nearly as much wildlife as I had hoped. I saw a small lizard, a coyote and some large ravens; Greg saw a jack rabbit, too. The most wildlife fun we had was when we spotted a relatively friendly roadrunner in the park visitors center’s parking lot. Familiar to the center’s staff, this particular roadrunner had occasionally wandered indoors and was apparently used to being around humans. I followed him quietly around the parking lot, sketching as I went.

11/17/16 Pee Wee's dinosaur!
Leaving this remarkable national park, we had one more stop to make before heading home: Cabazon, Calif. What could possibly be the attraction in this town just off the I-10? Pee Wee Herman’s dinosaurs!

 Actually part of a creationist museum, the dinosaurs appeared in the 1985 movie, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” Like all the other tourists who made the same stop to take selfies, we pulled into the parking lot and took our own.

11/15/16 Cholla cactus

11/14/16 small Joshua trees

Joshua tree


Jumping cactus tenaciously stuck to Greg's shoe!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Joshua Tree, Part 1: A Country of Rocks

11/16/16 Cap Rock

In the book I read to prepare for our visit to Joshua Tree National Park, I found a description of one observer’s impression of the geologic formations there: “It looks like God vomited rocks.” That description stayed with me during our trip as the most apt for the truly amazing landscapes we observed in this harsh desert.

11/16/16 Sunset near Arch Rock
Compared to some national parks we’ve visited that require quite a bit of hiking to see the best parts, Joshua Tree is much more accessible. After driving for a half-hour into the park, you can easily pull off the main road at numerous places to observe, photograph and sketch. We spent much of our two-and-a-half days doing exactly that. The park also offers many well-kept, easy-to-hike nature trails and loops if you want to get closer to the crazy rock formations, and we did several of those, too.

Some rocks seem to take on personalities. Skull Rock, Cap Rock and the Trojan have all been named for their appearance. Others are like a Rorschach test that probably say something about their observers – Greg and I kept pointing out faces, profiles, whales, dolphins and other creatures that appeared on the horizon. The difficulty in sketching these rocks was that I was always looking for nearby people to use for scale. Otherwise it’s hard to show just how huge these piles of “vomit” are.
11/15/16 Skull Rock

Sketching climbers trying to conquer these formidable walls was also challenging, if only because I could hardly watch them. Whether they were tiny dots at the very top or still scaling the rocks like bugs, I could feel my own adrenaline pumping, fearing for them. 

11/15/16 student climber
11/15/16 This climber had just reached the top.

11/15/16 "The Trojan" near Hidden Valley

Friday, November 18, 2016

Urban Sketchers L.A. in Santa Monica

11/13/16 Copic brush pen, colored pencils, ink

Back from the scorching desert, I’ve returned to winter! BRRRR!

While visiting family in L.A. last weekend, I had the fun and good fortune of sketching with soon-to-be-official Urban Sketchers Los Angeles. On a gorgeous, blue-sky day that was a welcome respite to Seattle’s drizzle, we met at Santa Monica Pier, a popular attraction that draws both locals and tourists alike. I had my pick of lots of fun sketching subjects – crowds of people, colorful tents and food stands, a Ferris wheel and historic merry-go-round – but I knew I couldn’t leave L.A. without sketching lots of palm trees.

11/13/16 brush pen, colored pencils
I found myself spending quite a bit of time just soaking up the sun and the festive atmosphere of the beach and pier. When I finally settled down to sketch the carousel, it was almost time for the meetup, so I didn’t get to finish, but I still enjoyed seeing the details of the colorful vintage horses.

I know I say this every time I have this kind of opportunity, but I think the single best thing about Urban Sketchers is that this worldwide network makes it so easy to sketch with others, no matter where I travel.

Stay tuned for my report on the main part of our itinerary – Joshua Tree National Park! 

In other news: While I was out of town, my first guest product review went live on the Well-Appointed Desk, the very popular stationery blog by Ana Reinert. I’ll be contributing more guest posts in the future, so take a look at this classy blog for pen, pencil, paper and art supply geeks!

My thanks to Shiho Nakaza (center) and Virginia Hein (right) for organizing
a fun sketch outing with USk LA!

Urban Sketchers Los Angeles (not quite official, but soon!)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Chocolate Therapy

11/11/16 water-soluble graphite

The other sketchers I chatted with this morning all agreed: There’s nothing like chocolate to improve one’s mood. Our outing to Fran’s Chocolates in Georgetown was timely.

When the Friday sketchers visited Fran’s nearly two years ago, I spent most of that time sketching the workers handcrafting elegant chocolate truffles through the viewing window. Today I couldn’t resist one sketch from the same window (the scent in that spot is heavenly!), but I also had another mission.
11/11/16 brush pen

I wanted to find an interior view to use as a tonal study in graphite. It helped that most of the décor at Fran’s is dark brown, which kept me from being tempted to put in color. Facing the main retail counter, I spotted a vintage post with an interesting bumpy texture next to a stairway handrail – a fun and challenging exercise.

With the morning warming up, I wandered across the street to sketch an iconic Georgetown smokestack attached to the brick brewery next to Fran’s.

11/11/16 brush pen, colored pencils
Chocolate therapy works. I, for one, certainly felt better afterwards. I brought home a box of truffles in anticipation of future needs.

Chocolate therapy works.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...