Friday, March 31, 2017

Colored Pencil Review: Derwent Coloursoft

3/27/17 Derwent Coloursoft, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
(If you missed the introduction to the series, please read that first for the methodology, as such, and my objective for these reviews.)

Derwent Coloursoft may have been the first colored pencils I bought, years ago now, specifically for their application qualities rather than because they were “a box full of pretty colors” (it’s OK, we’re all excused from that particular seduction). Up until that point, I had acquired some inexpensive brands that qualified for “pretty” but performed marginally at best (plus the ill-fated box of Prismacolors, which you can read about in the introduction post). I tried a few wax-based Coloursoft pencils, and I was impressed that they were, indeed, very soft – perhaps nearly as soft as the famed (but ill-fated) Prismacolors. I bought a moderate selection open stock from its line of 72 hues (unfortunately choosing the brightest colors, as my palette tended to be back then before I became an urban sketcher).

Derwent is a British company, but I couldn’t find information about where this specific product is manufactured.

Erasing test
I hadn’t used the Coloursofts in a while, and when I pulled them out for this review, I realized they weren’t nearly as soft as several brands I’ve discovered since then. They seem quite average to me now in softness, and they are a bit dustier than others in this review series.

As my apple sketch shows, areas with multiple layers cover the paper’s tooth well, and the three pencils I chose blended slightly better than Blick Studio (which is comparable in softness).

The eraser test was average – about half the pigment was removed – but when I tried to revive a minor highlight at the back of the apple that had gotten away from me, I couldn’t do it by erasing.

I haven’t used these enough recently to fairly evaluate this potential flaw, but several cores broke easily while I was swatching them. Another minor downside is that the pencil bodies are all a dark burgundy color instead of indicating the core color. Only the pencils end cap indicates the hue.

Costing 50 percent more than Blick, and with so many more options, I can’t see any reason to buy more colors to add to my admittedly garish collection. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Colored Pencil Review: Blick Studio

3/27/17 Blick Studio Artists' Colored Pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha
(If you missed the introduction to the series, please read that first for the methodology, as such, and my objective for these reviews.)

Although I had known for a while that Blick had its own line of colored pencils (along with many other art products with its name), I didn’t pay much attention to it, since I tend to find store-labeled brands, in general, of lower quality than other brands. Made in the Czech Republic, Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils are the least expensive of the six I’m reviewing (and even less than Prismacolor). They are labeled “artist grade,” but at that significantly lower price point, I was skeptical. One day I noticed a sale on the Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils as I walked through the Seattle store of this national chain. I couldn’t resist getting a box of 24 pencils in the “landscape” theme, which I figured would be useful both for urban sketching and the landscape-focused class I was taking.

With low expectations, I scribbled a few swatches. Much to my surprise, they are soft yet produce no dust or crumbles (one of my pet colored pencil peeves). In my apple sketch, the areas with multiple layers covered the relatively toothy Stillman & Birn Alpha paper well. The three hues I chose didn’t blend as completely as others reviewed in my series, but in this case, I like that individual pencil strokes remain relatively crisp for such a soft pencil. That’s usually the tradeoff – if a pencil is soft in application, which I prefer, then it can’t hold a point for distinct lines and small details. I used Blick pencils for several class assignments and generally like them.

Erasing test
The erasing test was average for a colored pencil – about half the pigment was removed, and if scrubbed any harder, the paper surface would have been damaged. Nonetheless, I lost one of the minor highlights on the far side of the apple, but I got it back with the eraser. Since I rarely erase when using any medium, including colored pencil, saving a highlight is plenty good enough for me.

I wasn’t able to find out whether Blick Studio pencils are wax- or oil-based. (I sent an e-mail to customer service and will update this post if I get an answer.) In my experience, wax-based pencils seem softer than oil-based and are also more common, so I’m going to guess that these are wax-based. The main reason it’s important to know is that wax-based pigments tend to “bloom” with a whitish cast after they’ve been applied to paper for a while, dulling the colors. (According to several books I’ve read, it’s one of the biggest drawbacks with Prismacolor pencils, which apparently leave behind a significant bloom.)

Update: I heard back from Blick: “The Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils are wax based. Since all colored pencils are wax based, we usually only call out those that have oil in their formula – Faber Castell, Lyra Rembrandt, and Koh-i-Noor.” So even oil-based pencils have wax in them. Interesting! 

The only major downside is that I’ve hit rough, scratchy spots in some Blick pencils. It’s definitely a flaw, since those rough spots tend to show up as streaks of unblended pigment. If the color is dark, it doesn’t really show, so it might not matter. But in a lighter hue, it shows as an unintended streak.

Overall, I’d say Blick Studio pencils are a good balance between softness (making them faster and easier to apply) and hardness (point retention for details). The price for the quality is excellent – and tempts me to get the full set of 91 colors. But those scratchy bits bother me.

This may have nothing to do with the pencil brand and everything to do with the fact that it was the first sketch I did for the series, but I like this apple sketch best of the six.

P.S. Happy National Pencil Day!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Colored Pencil Reviews: Intro

Left to right: Caran d'Ache Luminance, Derwent Coloursoft, Blick Studio

When friends and online acquaintances heard that I was taking a 10-week colored pencil class at Gage, naturally a few people were curious about the brand of pencils I preferred. Now that I’ve completed the class and have been reviewing what I learned, I thought it would be a good time to think about that question.

A few years ago when I began exploring water-soluble colored pencils, I tried a number of brands, and fairly quickly my favorite became clear to me – Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle (with Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer running a close second). But with traditional (non-water-soluble) colored pencils, which is what we used in class, no single brand has risen to the top of the heap. I like several brands for different reasons, and each has its share of pros and cons.

While encouraging us to use whatever brand we wanted, our instructor Suzanne favored and recommended the Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor line. I gave her favorite a fair shake by doing the first three or four assignments with the Lyra pencils exclusively. But the more I used them, the more I found them too hard and dry for my liking, so for the rest of the class assignments I tried other brands (often mixing several within the same drawing). Before taking the class, I had already used many brands of colored pencils, so I knew those fairly well. My classmates and I sometimes traded pencils, so I got to try out a few more brands that way. I keep thinking that by now I should have a clear favorite, but I don’t (which is disconcerting to a strong J on the Myers-Briggs like I am!).

I decided to write this review series to clarify the pros and cons of each brand for myself and help narrow down my favorites. In some cases I’ve purchased small sets and might like to have a broader range of colors, if I decide they are worth the investment. It is not my intention to be comprehensive*; so many different brands of colored pencils are on the market (especially now with adult coloring books going gangbusters) that I couldn’t possibly try them all (although, as you might guess from a glimpse of my desktop, I’ve made a valiant effort 😉). I’m also not going to discuss here any pencil I immediately found inferior or problematic (even listing them would be tedious – there are so many).

So my series will cover these six colored pencil lines that I’ve come to like for various reasons, and perhaps by the end I’ll decide on one or two that I really love and want to commit to:

(Most links in this series go to because that site has the most comprehensive collection of colored pencils that can be purchased open stock. As usual, they are not affiliate links; I purchased all pencils myself.)

A notable omission in the list above is the Prismacolor Premier line, which is among the most easily accessible colored pencils in the U.S., one of the least expensive, and certainly one of the most popular. Several years ago I tried the Prismacolor pencils that everyone raved about, including many famous fine artist colored pencil painters. While I had to agree with the popular view that Prismacolors are delightfully soft and creamy to apply, the cores in my pencils kept breaking as I used them, as if they were already broken inside the wood casing. It was incredibly frustrating to find that a single pencil was sharpened down to a nub after only a couple of small drawings because every time I sharpened it and started to use it, the core would break. Eventually I learned that while Prismacolor was a quality brand at one point, it experienced production issues later (obviously before I bought mine), and many people reported such breakage problems. I got so annoyed and frustrated that I tossed the whole box. (I didn’t even give them away – why pass on the annoyance?) Maybe I’ll try them again someday, but not without reassurance that the breakage issue is over.

For the sake of consistency, I used only three pencils for each test sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, and I sketched the same honeycrisp apple each time over the course of three days. (This is what happens when I get too many rainy days in a row. It might be a sign of cabin fever.) I spent roughly the same amount of time on each – about a half-hour – which made it easy to see how much color I could build up in multiple layers during the same length of time. Erasing tests were done with a Tombow Mono Zero.

The first review will be published tomorrow: Blick Studio.

* If you’re interested in a site with coverage of colored pencils that is as comprehensive as I know of, you’ll want to visit Whenever I have difficulty finding product information from the manufacturers’ own sites, I rely on Best Colored Pencils for reviews and especially information such as whether a pencil is wax- or oil-based. This basic product information is surprisingly and frustratingly lacking or difficult to dig up on many manufacturers’ sites!

Left to right: Caran d'Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Spectrum Noir ColourBlend

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Simple Shapes with Sue Heston

3/25/17 Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Pens
My second Urban Sketchers 10x10 workshop was Sue Heston’s “Simple Shapes Stronger Sketches.” Many sketchers, myself included, immediately become ensnarled by the mass of details in any view we might start to draw. Sue’s workshop directly addresses this issue by keeping students focused only on large shapes. On a chilly but dry Saturday morning, 14 sketchers gathered at the downtown ferry terminal to start seeing those shapes.

In most outdoor urban views, the largest shape is the sky. “Unlike many things – cars, trees, people – we don’t have preconceived ideas about the shape of the sky,” Sue says in her handout, which makes it an easier shape to see accurately and objectively.

With that in mind, our first exercise was to choose a composition and use a wide, light-colored marker to draw the sky as a single shape. (Fat markers were recommended because it’s impossible to get fussy with details when you have those in your hand!) The next step was to fill in the “not-sky” shape with a medium gray marker, forming another large shape. We did as many of these as possible to get away from trying to draw individual buildings, windows and rooftops and instead focused on the abstracted shapes. Sue warned us not to try to make nice sketches in these exercises; they were meant to be more like thumbnails that help us see values and compositions.

3/25/17 Pitt Big Brush Pens
The second exercise built on the first by bringing in a dark gray or black marker for the shadow shapes. Starting new compositions or simply adding to the sketches we made in the first exercise, we looked for the darkest areas to fill in.

For the final exercise, Sue encouraged us to use our medium of choice while still following the same principles we’d practiced all morning: Make the sky shape; make the not-sky shape; finish with shadow shapes and finally details.

Although I don’t usually favor fat markers, I was certain that if I picked up my usual pens or colored pencils I’d fall back into my old habits. I decided to keep going and make a few more sketches with markers to reinforce what I’d learned. After drawing the sky shape for one skyline, my intention was to color in the gray and black, but I liked the simple line so much that I left it unshaded. Of course, I couldn’t resist adding a couple of cranes.

3/25/17 Tombow markers
My favorite sketch of the day was of my beloved Smith Tower framed by the interesting sky shape formed by the terminal building’s overhang.

As humans who innately look for shapes we recognize, we don’t naturally “see” the shapes in between or around those recognizable things. We have to train our eyes to see those abstract shapes. Remember those “magic eyes” picture books of the ‘90s? If you crossed your eyes just right, a three-dimensional pictured popped out of the larger picture. I remember it took me a while to see the first one, but once I did, the rest snapped into place almost immediately. By the end of the workshop, I started feeling that way about the sky shapes surrounding the buildings, cranes, rooftops, stadiums and millions of other details in front of me. I think those larger shapes will snap into place easily for me now, helping me make better sketches with any medium.

3/25/17 Tombow markers, colored pencils

3/25/17 brush pen, colored pencils

Sue points out a sky shape.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Roastery Still Dazzles

3/24/16 water-soluble colored pencils, ink
The other day I mentioned places I tend to sketch repeatedly. One of them is apparently the Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room – I think yesterday was my fifth time in two years, all but once with USk Seattle. You’d think by now that I’d be done with it, but it is filled with so many amazing and challenging things to sketch that I remain dazzled. I may do my share of eye-rolling at the marketing copy – “Zesty lime citrus notes and brown spice accents with a chocolaty mouthfeel” is the description of my cup of Costa Rica Bella Vista F.W. Tres Rios – and my rolling eyes may pop out of their sockets when I see how much I paid for that cup, but I can sit just about anywhere and find something interesting to draw.

3/24/17 water-soluble colored pencil, brush pen
For a Friday morning, the place was mobbed and noisy, and I think we lost one or two sketchers because of that. I generally don’t like loud music and crowds either, but once I decide on a view to sketch, I get lost in drawing and hardly notice the buzz around me. The enormous copper vat with the Reserve logo was a popular spot for selfies.

Finished with that sketch, I got up to look around for the next one when something rare and astonishing caught my eye – the sun! I grabbed my coat and dashed outside for the view I was hoping to catch – the domed top of the First Covenant Church just up Pike from the Roastery.

The sun stayed out long enough for us to take a group photo outside the Roastery, but by the time I caught my bus ride home, it was pouring again.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sun Break

3/23/17 colored pencils, ink

I find myself sketching some scenes or locations many times. Often it’s just conveniently located along a regular route, or it might be a certain tree that I like to catch seasonally.

Sometimes, though, an ordinary place calls to me. It’s not particularly beautiful, but it’s where I go when the weather changes unexpectedly for the better. I’ve sketched this spot at Green Lake at least twice before – a little more than a year ago when we had an unseasonably warm streak, and three years ago when summer was unpredictable. It wasn’t exactly warm yesterday, but after so many weeks of record-breaking rain, people streamed by in quiet celebration of not having to wear soggy hats and hoods.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is the Purpose of a Sketch?

3/22/17 colored pencil (photo reference)
For our last session in the colored pencil class I’ve been taking at Gage, the focus was on sketching (Yay! Finally!). Well, it wasn’t exactly sketching as I know it because, as usual, we worked from photos. (You should have seen me twitch at the travesty: The temperature was mild, and the sun came out this morning as we sat in the classroom, sketching from photos! What is wrong with this picture!) I half-heartedly produced a few sketches like the one shown here (a scene I’d love to sketch very soon from life – a cherry tree in full bloom at the Seattle Arboretum).

More than the sketching experience itself, I found Suzanne’s lecture today interesting because she talked about the purpose of sketching – from a fine artist’s perspective. Gage Academy is in the business of training people to become fine artists. Most atelier students go on to become professional studio artists, and even many casual students are there because they have an interest in eventually offering their work for sale. So when Suzanne discussed sketching, it was clear that the sole purpose of producing a sketch is as a preliminary step toward eventually creating a finished work. Unlike the type of sketches I make, the fine artist’s “field sketch” (Suzanne’s term) has no purpose if it doesn’t lead to something bigger and (presumably) better. At the end of the sketch, an artist may decide that a scene doesn’t interest her enough to merit a finished painting, or she doesn’t have enough information about the scene to make a painting, so the sketch goes no further. But in any case, the job of the sketch is to help the artist make that decision. It has no life of its own.

To me, that’s very different from the content of the dozens of sketchbooks I’ve filled during the past five years. My sketches did their job just by being made by me. They do have lives of their own in my sketchbooks – by evoking for me, every time I look at them, whatever captured my attention long enough to make me want to sketch.

Despite this major difference in purpose, the steps she takes to make a field sketch are very similar to the basic steps I take for most of my sketches:

 Look for a point of interest: What attracts or excites me about what I see? What do I want the viewer to see?
 Zoom in and out like a camera to find the composition.
 Once I’ve identified the picture I want to make, think about the best ways to express it – with line, shape, color, form, texture?
 Where is the sun? Think about light and shadow and how I can use them to help describe the scene.
 Deliberately emphasize the light and shadow in the sketch to help define the forms.

After Suzanne (and other fine artists) makes a field sketch, she still has to take it, along with photos, back to her studio and hope that it contains enough information to help her make a painting.

Fortunately for me, after I’ve taken those steps, my work is done. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Seein’ Pink!

3/21/17 ink, colored pencils
Could it be? Yes!

Driving through the Green Lake neighborhood, I spotted the first signs of pink in a cluster of trees. Most of the dark pink buds were still tightly closed, reluctant to admit that Monday was the first day of spring. I’m guessing they’re plums, as the pale pink cherries are still a way’s off. But I’ll take any pink I can get.   

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What Colored Pencils Are Teaching Me

3/18/17 graphite
In the still life I did the other day, I felt like I didn’t do justice to the garlic’s complex, multiple curves (not to mention struggling with capturing its whiteness with colored pencils in four hues). I decided to focus on the garlic alone, this time with graphite. The highlights were much more challenging than a mostly spherical apple.

Working with colored pencils lately has given me ideas about applying what I’ve learned to graphite pencils. In particular, I was thinking about the blending tools I’ve been experimenting with, and I remembered the tortillon I bought a long time ago when a class supply list included it. Just like charcoal, soft graphite can be blended easily with tortillons and stumps (but thankfully, graphite is not nearly as messy as charcoal!). I also used an eraser judiciously when I got heavy-handed with shading in some areas and to clean up smudgy edges after I got done using the tortillon.  

I always think it’s sort of funny that while most beginning sketchers start out drawing with a graphite pencil because they are most comfortable and familiar with it, I went almost immediately to ink. My growing familiarity with colored pencils is, paradoxically, what finally got me interested in trying graphite. Although they are quite different in terms of media, they have similarities in how they can be used, so my learning curve might not be as steep with graphite as it would be if I weren’t immersed in colored pencils right now.

I’d love to take a graphite drawing class someday. When I think of masters like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, there’s nothing quite so exquisite as a well-executed graphite drawing.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sun and Brews in Ballard

3/19/17 inks, colored pencils

Based on what I saw driving past Green Lake on my way home from Ballard this afternoon, I’d say 90 percent of the Seattle population was outdoors today (and the other 10 percent was wishing it was). Never mind that the temps got up to only around the high 40s – this rain-soggy region had been craving sunshine!

3/19/17 brush pen, colored pencils
When I arrived at Hale’s Brewery for the Urban Sketchers Seattle meet-up before 11 a.m., the temperature wasn’t yet 40, but that sun was irresistible. I zipped up my down parka and sketched the scene outside Hale’s, where there were so many utility lines criss-crossing the street that I could hardly keep track of them all. As I sketched, I kept thinking that I probably wouldn’t have attempted a composition spanning this much distance before taking Gabi’s Pocket Urban Sketching workshop last month. Although the concepts he taught about scaling weren’t new to me, I think it was the first time the proverbial light bulb had turned on over my head.

3/19/17 brush pen, colored pencils, ink
Thirty minutes later, my hands were cold, despite that delightful sun at my back, so I ducked inside the brewery to sketch the British telephone booth next to some barrels.

By then I was hungry, so I joined other sketchers for lunch inside the pub. Michele and Sue each had a tasting flight of five brews that I had started to sketch. I didn’t get far on color or details, though, because then my Nightroll Stout (named for the Fremont Troll) and burger arrived (and you know me – I’ve never been one to let my food get cold for a sketch).

Ahhh – a day like this could sustain me for the rest of winter! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Getting Over the Color Barrier

3/17/17 colored pencils
Whenever I see the work of artists who liberally interpret hues in lively ways (and here I’m talking about urban sketches and other realistic work, not abstract art), I’m awe-struck with admiration. Grass and trees don’t have to be green – whaaaat?? My eye is delighted, and my brain accepts it, yet when I try to do it myself, I feel stumped. Ummm, those trees look green. What color would I make them, if not green?

The colored pencil class I’m taking is helping me “see” many more hues in those trees besides green, which is essential for rich shading and modeling, so I’m hoping my exploration of color eventually expands into my urban sketching, and I won’t be such a slave to “actual” hues. Because of the class, I’m also getting a bit braver about using color complements to help with and even direct the hues I choose for shadows. I’ve been doing this a lot in the class exercises I’ve been showing the past few weeks, but it’s not always obvious because so many colors are blended together. It’s not a new concept to me – in every book I’ve read about painting and watercolor, the color wheel is shown, and invariably the author discusses how a palette can be made more complex and yet cohesive by using complements. But understanding it and doing it are very different things!

The limited primary palette I started experimenting with even before taking the class has helped me tiptoe in that area, too. I’m not at the point yet where bananas are blue, but I tried this still life using only three primary pencils plus a complementary purple for shading. I have to admit that the addition of purple makes this simple still life richer.

Frankly, I’m not intending to make blue bananas – that’s moving more into the world of imaginative or abstract work that I’m not ready for! – but color is a wide realm within the range of what the brain accepts as believable and “real.” I want to be bolder about poking around in that range!

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Sunny Recycle Day

3/16/17 ink, colored pencil

It’s not often that I can get a yellow fire hydrant and a row of blue and green recycle bins in the same sketch. And please note the blue sky and shadows! Although the stiff breeze kept me in the car, it still felt good to get out and put my urban palette to work.

I sketched this yesterday but saved it for today so that I’d have a bit of green for St. Patty’s Day! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon (Plus Splender and Paper Experiments)

3/16/17 colored pencil, Strathmore Bristol vellum paper (photo reference)
When we visited Bryce Canyon several years ago, the highlight of our stay was seeing the sun come up behind all those strange hoodoos, which cast amazing, rapidly changing shadows. We woke at 4 a.m., drove to the park, jockeyed for space in the best viewing area (several busloads of tourists were there, as well as dozens of photographers with their cameras on tripods all pointing in the same direction) and waited for the sun, shivering in the sub-freezing temperatures.

For this week’s colored pencil class assignment on sunset or sunrise skies, Suzanne said we could bring our own reference photo, so I chose one (bottom of page) from the many Greg took at Bryce that morning. I recomposed the view a bit liberally; since the lesson was sky colors, I didn’t want to get distracted by silhouettes of too many trees.

Unlike a couple of weeks ago when I kept procrastinating in getting started on the homework, this time I jumped right in and finished it in two sessions (about four hours total for this 6-by-7 inch piece). I felt a bit more inspired and motivated because the photo image was meaningful to me. And of course the color junkie in me was excited to use all those oranges and lavenders that I rarely get to use as an urban sketcher. It took me quite a while to choose a cohesive palette that was bright but not garish.

I’m happy with my pencil choices but not with the paper I used. For the previous class exercises I had been using Canson Bristol smooth paper, which is like hot press watercolor paper or Stillman & Birn’s Zeta series in texture. Although I like the smooth finish that can result, I’ve also been frustrated by how difficult it is to get a really dark value on it. After multiple layers of colored pencil pigment, the Bristol smooth paper’s fine tooth seems to flatten, and it’s almost impossible to apply more pigment.

When I make small still lifes at home, I’ve been happy with Stillman & Birn’s Alpha paper, which has a surface similar to cold press watercolor. I happened to have a pad of Strathmore Bristol vellum, which has a similar tooth, so I thought I’d give it a try. I don’t mind the texture that appears on the sky, which makes the work look a bit like pastel. But it was hell trying to get the dark blue ground to be a solid flat hue. I must have put on something like 10 layers, and I can still see the white specks of the tooth. It reminds me of the crayon drawings I used to do in elementary school! 😕

One new thing I tried for this assignment is a Lyra Splender, a colorless blending stick that Suzanne recommended. On my own, I’ve tried a Caran d’Ache Full Blender Bright, which is a hard plastic tool that intensifies colored pencil when it’s used after all the pigment has been applied. I think the result is that it flattens the remaining paper tooth, because after using it, it’s almost impossible to apply more pigment. So you can’t use it until you are certain you don’t want to apply more.

Bryce Canyon, sunrise, Sept. 2012
The Splender stick, however, looks like it is made of wax or some other binder material similar to what colored pencil cores are made of (but without the pigment). After applying several layers of colored pencil, Suzanne suggested applying the Splender stick with a fair amount of pressure. Counterintuitively, the application of wax (or whatever it is) primes the existing pigment layers so that they can take even more pigment. I ended up going through several cycles of pigment/pigment/pigment/Splender to try to get that ground as dark and flat as possible, but I still wasn’t completely successful.

As with watercolor or any medium that is applied to a paper support, the choice of paper is just as important as the medium, and the relationship between the paper and the pigment makes a huge difference in the result.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Past Due

3/13/17 brush pen, colored pencils
Some people in my ‘hood still have Christmas lights up on their houses, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this ornamented tree in a traffic circle.

It’s a good thing I went out in my mobile studio yesterday when I could still see between the raindrops on the windshield to sketch this (I stuck my finished sketch out the window for a second to catch a bit of local DNA). Today the rain is pouring down in sheets, not drops.

But I know those of you in the East and Midwest are shoveling again, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. Stay safe, everyone!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Preparing My (Optimistic) Urban Palette

My optimistic palette
Shown below is the five-day forecast, and it looks very similar to the previous five (or more) days. I’m still sketching from my car, but continually turning the wipers on and off gets tiresome. Sigh.

In the meantime, I’ve been shuffling around the water-soluble colored pencils I carry in my everyday bag. Shown here is my freshened “urban palette” – a fairly standard range, plus the more unusual “construction zone yellow” and “recycle bin green.” I was about to take out the pink pencil, which has been in my bag since the Women’s March, but then I thought about the cherry trees. Exactly one year ago today, Urban Sketchers Seattle met at the University of Washington’s Quad to sketch the blossoming sakura. What a difference this year is! The leafless, budless trees are nowhere near blossoming. Sigh.

Trying to be optimistic, I left the pink pencil in.

Any signs of spring in your neck of the woods? Send some my way!


Friday, March 10, 2017

104 Total for #oneweek100people2017 and Learnings

3/6/17 brush pen
Yesterday I asked whether you were sad or relieved that the #oneweek100people2017 initiative was almost over. Now that it is over (I hit 104 today!), I have to say I’m a little of both. I really did have so much fun that I felt like I could continue making 20+ sketches of people every day indefinitely and enjoy it. But a smaller part of me was relieved to be done because I enjoy sketching many different subjects, not just people, and it’s hard to make time for anything else if I’m counting heads all day! I’m happy I participated, and I look forward to next year’s One Week 100 People. (Based on the inspiring worldwide participation I saw by viewing the hashtag, I told Marc Holmes it’s going to have to become an annual event!)

3/6/17 brush pen
In his introductory blog post, Marc said that if you make 100 sketches “over a whole week, at least ONE will be amazing.” I don’t know if I ever achieved “amazing,” but I definitely had a few favorites out of the 104, specifically those that best met my personal goal of evoking an individual – not a generic symbol – with as few marks as possible. I’ve shown those favorites here. (A collage of all of today’s sketches are in my Flickr photostream and on Instagram.)

One of my favorite viewpoints today also turned out to be my most challenging: looking down on the curving line of people at the Assembly Hall Juice & Coffee counter (below). Such perspectival trickery! But it’s the sketch that got me to 104.

3/10/17 ink

Here’s what I learned from taking part in the challenge:

Even if the sketches are fast and gestural, it really helps to be able to see the subject well. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I didn’t really think about it until I started looking over my sketches from days 1 and 2 and compared them to today’s. I had much better lighting at Zoka Coffee and the Northgate food court, and it shows in my sketches. Today it was much darker at the Via6 apartment/retail complex in South Lake Union, which was an outing with Urban Sketchers Seattle. Except for the few I did on the bus, I sketched most of my subjects looking down on them from the complex’s upper level, so they were quite a distance away and usually backlit. I found myself trying to guess at lines I couldn’t really see, and that usually yields mediocre results.

3/7/17 brush pen

Liz Steel mentioned on her blog that taking part in One Week 100 People has made her much more confident about sketching people. While I can always benefit from the practice of sketching 100 people in a week, it occurred to me that it’s not a challenge I really need because I sketch people regularly anyway (at least in the winter months). What I really should be doing, I commented to Liz, is sketching 100 buildings in a week! OK, that might be too aggressive. But maybe 10 buildings in a week, or at least one a day for a full week? That kind of concentrated, regular effort might make me more confident about sketching architecture in the same way that this challenge has benefitted Liz. I am going to think about that for the summer!

After I finished my 104, I had only about 15 minutes before the group sketchbook sharing, so I wandered around the Via6’s main floor, looking for a subject that wasn’t people. But wouldn’t you know it – people were everywhere, so I resigned myself to one more peopled sketch, this time in front of the fireplace near the entrance.

3/10/17 brush pen, ink, colored pencil
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