Monday, December 31, 2018

Foundations and Moments Made Special

On the last day of the year, I usually reflect on my sketching habit (today marks my fifth consecutive year of drawing daily), drawing as a mindful act, or some other self-indulgent musing. Last year I simply offered two practical tips.

This year I’m going to refer you to the blogs of two artists I admire deeply for different reasons. First up is Roz Stendahl, whose long-running blog is nearly legendary for its wisdom about developing an artistic practice. She recently wrote a post that especially resonated with me because she clearly articulated some thoughts I’ve been having about learning to draw and developing a style. I started to touch on those thoughts last year when I talked about how I believe we don’t choose a style; our style chooses us. But Roz has been thinking about these issues for much longer than I have, and when I read her words, I realized that this is what I have been trying to get at:

One of the chief things I noticed with students at SketchKon was the desire of so many of them to have a style of drawing rather than to learn to draw. And when people focus on style before they have an ability to draw this slows the learning process down.
Throughout my time at SketchKon I had scheduled meetings and informal meetings with students who asked for a review of their work. All of them expressed a variation of the “what’s my style?” question. Yet all of them also had other drawing skills to learn. Each of them, with their comments, expressed the thought that the way through their current situation was to find a style, not work on foundational stuff.

In the limited time I had with them it wasn’t possible to stress that the first order of business is to learn to see accurately and get things down on paper, and that style comes after that is achieved. It’s not just my opinion. Hundreds of years of art and art education have shown this to be the case. 

The more I take classes at Gage Academy, which was founded on the principle of art education with a foundational basis, the more committed I become to learning and practicing those foundational skills. Go read Roz’s post – she offers practical ideas on how we can apply that principle on a daily basis.

And while you’re on Roz’s blog, you might also appreciate a post she wrote in response to a comment I had made on another post about people who no longer find joy in drawing. As always, her well-articulated post is full of wisdom and good advice.

The second blog that I recommend visiting regularly is that of Suhita Shirodkar, a beloved member of the Urban Sketchers community. To keep herself sketching daily even when she is busy raising teens, working her day job and otherwise doing life, she has been keeping what she calls her “messy journal” – small sketches and bits of writing that describe her day-to-day life. Quoting Cathy Johnson (another artist with a near-legendary blog and related book), Suhita says, “Seeing and capturing things on the pages of a journal rescues them from the mundane.” In a recent post, she said she wants her journal to be:

Imperfect and freeing.
• A record of little bits of my day.
• A way to draw even on the busiest of days: I may not fill a page, but I can chip away at it over the day.
• A place to experiment with techniques and media and to find new and fresh ways to look at the same thing over and over.
• And always, a place to use observation and study to improve my drawing skills.

Although I haven’t enjoyed my own brief attempts at keeping a sketch-and-writing journal like Suhita’s, I appreciate the principles behind such a journal. Whenever I sketch a car I happen to be parked behind, the shoes or face of a fellow commuter, or a common neighborhood street, it feels very mundane or even boring – yet it’s a part of my ordinary day. My format may be different, but I’m still capturing things on the page, rescuing them from the mundane and, perhaps most important, simultaneously sharpening my observation and drawing skills.

The amazing part is that as soon as I start sketching that boring scene, it suddenly becomes interesting, even fascinating, because I’m observing it closely and fully. My sketches are not necessarily about “special” moments; they are moments made special because I sketched them.

Happy New Year, and the best to you in 2019!


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Simple Tools


My favorite gift from Santa this year was a vintage bottle of ink. Sketched with nothing but a pencil and an eraser, it reminds me that even though I love multitudes of colored pencils and exotic fountain pens, I also love simple tools.

Speaking of multitudes of colored pencils, another favorite came from a friend who knows me well: the gift bag below. Who cares what’s inside when it comes in a bag like this?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dapper Bunny


Before we take down our tree and put away the ornaments, here’s one more favorite: a dapper bunny wearing a red vest. Less glittery and shiny than the Space Needle, it has a satiny finish that was, again, very difficult to capture.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Tina’s 2018 Top Products (Plus Fails)

Top product of the year: My custom-made sketch tool organizer!

Looking back at my Top Products lists from the past 6 years, it’s interesting to see the gradual shift I’ve made from almost all liquid media (watercolor, ink, markers, brush pens) to almost all dry media (colored pencil, graphite, ballpoint). The changes were not what I had planned or thought about, but they happened organically as I continually practiced and explored. I’m sure the products I discover, experiment with, use most and eventually reject will continue to change over time, and I look forward to seeing how this list evolves. It’s one reason I publish this annual post – it gives me an opportunity to look back and see how I’ve changed.

The products that make it onto my list are those that I found to be indispensable this year in supporting the way I prefer to sketch – on location, often outdoors, often standing, in a limited time. They are high quality, versatile, convenient, compact or otherwise have qualities that earn their keep in my bag.

Here are links to all my past Top Products lists:

And these are my Top Products for 2018:

  • My custom-made sketch tool organizer easily tops my list this year (see top of page). Handmade for me by Etsy vendor Brynn James, the organizer makes pens, pencils, waterbrushes and other items easily accessible and upright in my bag (colored pencils have their own case, which was at the top of my list last year). Although Brynn used my pattern, she improved the design, and I appreciate its utility every day.
The Palomino Blackwing: It's (almost) all I need.
  • Palomino Blackwing graphite pencil with the original “soft” (ungraded) core. This pencil was mentioned in my list last year as one of several graphite pencils in rotation. Although it’s always nice to have at least a couple of pencil grades for both details and dark shading, in a pinch, this is the only pencil I need. Often I finish a whole sketch with nothing but a Blackwing, even if I have other grades at hand. Unlike most pencils in my bag, it’s hard enough to write with, so I often grab it for quick notes, too. The Blackwing is so versatile that I’d take it to Gilligan’s Island.
No, it's not a slug. . . it's a kneadable eraser in a crayon box.
A kneadable eraser. This has become an essential tool with graphite – not so much for erasing mistakes as for “drawing” the lightest value. I haven’t been using one long enough to have a favorite brand, but the one from Faber-Castell that I’ve had in my bag since the Porto symposium is serving me well. It took me a while to figure out the best way to store this in my bag without it picking up lint, pencil shavings and other debris. Putting it in a small plastic ziplock bag was a bad idea (it sticks firmly inside), and most boxes are too bulky. My ideal solution turned out to be the slender hinged box that Daniel Smith watercolor crayons come in. Its long, skinny shape fits perfectly in a slot in my sketch tool organizer (above).

The ubiquitous (and essential) Bic.
  • Bic Stic ballpoint pen. This year’s InkTober changed my whole attitude about the modest, ubiquitous Bic. Something about that sticky, oily ink makes it draw almost like a pencil, and by the end of October, I loved its sketching potential enough to make it a permanent part of my sketch kit. The link above goes to Amazon, but I’ve never purchased one – I just get them from hotel rooms. The Zebra F-301 ballpoint has a retractable point and better body than the Bic with the same type of ink (not all ballpoints are the same; in fact, most do not have inks with the subtle shading properties of the Bic).

That’s it – a short and sweet list. In fact, the list is so short that I’m adding a bonus: Products I tried this year that I eventually stopped using because they didn’t earn their keep or otherwise failed me:

  • Spectrafix fixative. My growing interest in drawing with graphite led me to explore fixatives to prevent the transfer and, to a lesser extent, smudging I was experiencing. Spectrafix, a nontoxic, alcohol-based product that spritzes rather than sprays (thus reducing the overspray in the air) worked well in terms of keeping the graphite from transferring and smudging. But spritzing applies so much liquid to the page that it was making the paper buckle irreparably. Lately, I’ve been simply skipping pages so that graphite transfer is no longer an issue. Smudging is still a potential issue, but in my hand-stitched signatures, the pages don’t shift around much, so the problem is minimal.
  • Tombow Fudenosuke Gray/Black Brush Pen. With black ink on one end, gray on the other, both waterproof, this compact pen came so close to being perfect that it broke my heart to take it out of my bag. But the way I use gray ink for shading, the brush needs to be wider than the Fudenosuke offers. I switched back to my trusty Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Artist Pens.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blog Tidying

This photo has nothing to do with this post... just some eye candy I found as I was going through photos!

Whenever I look at my blog’s page view statistics, it’s clear that the posts receiving the highest readership are always the product reviews. Although the Blogger search tool isn’t bad if you know the right key words to use, it isn’t perfect. For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to make it easier for readers to find reviews easily. (And I use my blog for my own reference, so it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for myself, too.) Since the end of the year is when I historically clear out and organize physical stuff in my house, I thought it would be a good time to do some reorganizing on my blog, too.

You’ll notice that the row of tabs across the top now offers easy access to reviews and other references by product category. I also put other popular pages, like my list of favorite art materials, on tabs also.

I apologize that product names are not in alphabetical (or any other) order that would make it even easier to find what you are looking for; maybe I’ll get around to that on another rainy day. But perhaps you’ll have fun on your own rainy day poking around at reviews and other informative posts that you might have missed previously. Thanks for reading!

More gratuitous eye candy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tina’s Top 10 Memorable Sketches of 2018

3/27/18 Amazon Spheres

I have a few year-end traditions on this blog, and one is to review my most memorable sketches of the year. As always, these are not necessarily my “best” or “favorite” sketches; they are ones that evoke the strongest memories and remind me of what I love so much about sketching. (Click the title of the sketch to go to the original post and full-size images.)

Here are links to my most memorable sketches from past years: 2017201620152014 and 2013.

Exploring and sketching inside Amazon’s remarkable Spheres was certainly one of my most memorable experiences this year. It lived up to all the curiosity and wonderment it aroused during the years that the facility was being built.

5/3/18 Dutch Colonial

This sketch is one of my favorites in the neighborhood architecture series that I started this year. While sketching, a contractor working inside spotted me, came out and chatted me up, making it also one of the most memorable.

5/15/18 Aaron Draplin
At the risk of revealing my fangirldom, I went to meet designer Aaron Draplin (co-founder of Field Notes) when he was in town giving a workshop. In addition to getting his autograph, of course I had to sketch him.

El Capitan was the first of many wondrous sights I saw when I first entered Yosemite National Park, and I couldn’t resist making a couple of quick thumbnails. I intended to eventually get back to El Cap for a full-size sketch, but I never did. The thumbnails, however, are enough to evoke the memories of seeing that spectacular monolith.
5/22/18 Thumbnails of El Capitan

7/19/18 Bajzek workshop, Porto
I’ve mentioned his name often enough since July that you won’t be surprised to hear that Eduardo Bajzek’s workshop at the Porto symposium had a significant influence on my sketching. He changed both the way I understand values and the way I use graphite.

7/25/18 Coimbra

A few days after Eduardo’s workshop, I was relaxing in the small college town of Coimbra and got to practice what I had learned. After all the excitement of the symposium, this quiet sketch turned out to be my most memorable and evocative of my time in Portugal.

8/18/18 Mammoth at Bell Museum
During a very short trip to St. Paul, I squeezed in a visit to the brand new Bell Museum and met up with a few sketcher friends there. Chatting with hilarious Roz Stendahl as I sketched this humongous mammoth (which was made of the same fur as Chewbacca!) made the morning very memorable, indeed.

10/5/18 Zoka Coffee

Although there is usually nothing particularly memorable about sketching at Zoka Coffee, my usual neighborhood coffee shop, this was the first time I attempted this type of scene in ballpoint. Sketched on the fifth day of InkTober, it made me realize that I could love ballpoint after all, despite my doubts – and I ended the month with a whole new respect for the lowly Bic.

I walk around Green Lake at least weekly year-round and, during the good-weather months, I also sketch there frequently, so it’s easy to take for granted the sights I see so regularly. On this fall day, I felt like I was seeing its beauty with fresh eyes, and I was grateful to live so close to such a treasure.

10/11/18 Green Lake

Whenever we visit Cannon Beach, Oregon, we stay right on the beach in front of monolithic Haystack Rock. From Ecola State Park a mile or two north, that ancient boulder looks like a tiny pebble in the context of the mighty Pacific, and if I had seen myself standing next to Haystack, I would have been smaller than a grain of sand. That trip to Cannon Beach was a celebration of my 60th birthday, and sketching this scene made me feel both whole and utterly insignificant in the larger picture. Life is good.

11/13/18 Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Glittery Needle


This is one of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments. With the Space Needle’s recent renovation, it’s no longer anatomically correct, and it’s the first Needle I’ve ever seen with trees growing at its base, but everyone is allowed to have artistic license – even this ornament designer. I wasn’t successful in conveying how glittery this ornament is, but I’m sure you can imagine.

Happy holidays!

Weather Bunny wishes you a warm holiday, too!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Chilly Farewell

12/21/18 Farewell, ugly viaduct!

We’ve all known for years that the viaduct would be demolished in early 2019. I could have chosen any warm fall day to do it, but instead, I waited until it was 39 degrees to make my farewell sketches.

12/21/18 After being chilled to the bone making the
first sketch, I retreated to Starbucks for this window sketch.
Most locals have a love/hate relationship with the viaduct. Quite often it takes the strain off of I-5, our only other major north-south thoroughfare, and many people depend on it for their commute. (We are all bracing for the traffic havoc when the viaduct closes.) When you drive on it, the view of Elliott Bay and some parts of Seattle is unmatched. Whenever we pick up visitors at the airport, we drive home on the viaduct because we know they will enjoy that view. But the viaduct itself is a dark eyesore, not to mention a potentially devastating seismic risk. However we might feel about it, it’s coming down in February.

Walking under the viaduct toward the Pier 55 Starbucks where I was meeting Sue and Antonella on that chilly morning, I passed many people in small tents or nothing but sleeping bags; they use that viaduct as their rooftop each night. Feeling my fingertips go numb as I sketched, I wondered where they would go when their “home” disappears in a couple of months.

I think the only other sketch I have of the viaduct is one I made from the ferry terminal walkway three years ago.

Technical notes: The scope of the top sketch is very ambitious for me, and I was quietly freaking out as I blocked in the composition. But I remembered what I learned in Gabi Campanario’s “Pocket Urban Sketching” workshop a couple of years ago, which helped immensely.

I’m happy that I brought my gray Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook and a white Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen. Although I enjoy using toned paper, gray paper is somehow harder to use than the beige that I prefer, but for the viaduct, it was exactly what I needed.

Sue and Antonella braved the cold to sketch with me.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Weather Bunny


If you don’t follow me on social media, then it’s likely that you haven’t seen much of Weather Bunny, who came on the scene during InkTober 2016. Although she doesn’t report the weather or other events as often as she did the first year, she continues to make occasional appearances on Instagram and Facebook. Here are a few of my favorites from 2018.




Friday, December 21, 2018

Product Review: Staedtler Karat Aquarell Colored Pencils

Staedtler Karat Aquarell water-soluble colored pencils

At least a couple of times recently (in the post about sketching birds and the one about using a complement of hard and soft watercolor pencils together), I’ve alluded to the Staedtler Karat Aquarell as being the hardest artist-grade water-soluble colored pencil I have tried. (Some student-grade and vintage pencils are harder, but they are also low in pigment.) As I’m becoming more aware of how varying degrees of core hardness affect the usage (and usefulness) of colored pencils, it seemed like a good time to review the Karat Aquarell.

The silver-colored hexagonal barrel has a glossy end cap indicating the core’s hue. Its standard diameter sharpens well in any sharpener.

I first became aware of this pencil brand in the class I took at Gage last year, when I saw my instructor using it. I knew that she favored harder pencils in general, and I tend to favor softer ones, so I wasn’t sure if I would like the Karat Aquarell, but of course I wanted to try it. The set I bought confirmed that it has a hard core – much harder than the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, Supracolors and Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürers that I was familiar with. In hardness, it might be comparable to Faber-Castell’s oil-based Polychromos line (which is not water-soluble). In class, I used it for a few assignments but eventually switched to my tried-and-true (and softer) favorites.

The strong pigments dissolve easily and completely in my swipe test. However, when making my sketch samples, the red pencil had some gritty bits that I associate with novelty and other low-quality pencils. I was surprised to encounter this in an artist-grade pencil. It could be a fluke, as I haven’t experienced it with other colors.
Swatches made in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

12/19/18 Staedtler Karat Aquarell pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
In my wet sample sketch of the pear (at left), I applied multiple dry/wet cycles, and I was pleased that each additional layer was as easy to apply as previous ones. The relatively hard core enables points to stay sharp, which came in handy for small details like the stem’s shadow.

12/18/18 Karat Aquarells in S&B Epsilon sketchbook (no water used)
As mentioned in my recent review of Albrecht Dürer pencils, I now think it’s important to test water-soluble pencils when used without water activation as well as with, so here is the same pear again (below), this time sketched with dry Karat Aquarells. Although the hard core covered Stillman & Birn’s Epsilon surface well, and I enjoyed the mostly smooth application (except for the red’s gritty bits, which reappeared sporadically), the final colors don’t look as rich as softer pencils left dry. This is always a tradeoff: It can be easier to apply heavy color with softer pencils, but harder pencils cover the surface more thoroughly and are better for details.

Since taking the watercolor pencil class, I’ve come to appreciate harder cores for what they do well, and when I need a hard watercolor pencil, this is the one I’ll use. It’s not one I would choose, though, for general purposes.

Thursday, December 20, 2018


12/17/18 Go players at Zoka Coffee

Zoka Coffee is apparently a meeting place for a club of go players. The same guys show up regularly (I’ve sketched them before), and I happened to be at the table with the best profile view of some players. The games are relatively brief, and they change opponents at the end of each, so I have a rotating series of models. They are so focused on their games that they never notice me sketching them.

Ever since I began focusing on colored and graphite pencils, I haven’t done many ink-line-and-wash sketches, which used to be my favorite technique for a long time. Although I’m currently in love with pencil, I can’t completely give up fountain pens, my first sketching love. I still routinely carry my all-time favorite Sailor Naginata fude. Using it recently at Drawing Jam refreshed my memory of its simplicity and elegance.

Then I noticed the strong cheek bone and jaw line of one of the players, and they were crying out for the soft highlights of a white pencil. There’s no point in being slavishly loyal to one medium; each is ideal for certain effects or subject matter, and I enjoy being able to choose which suits me best at the moment.

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