Sunday, July 7, 2019

Station No. 17 and Blessed Sacrament

7/6/19 Fire Station No. 17, University District
7/6/19 Blessed Sacrament Church

Several months ago as I was sketching Fire Station No. 17 in the U-District, I realized that the intersection of 50th and Roosevelt offers an interesting mix of architecture: the Seattle Landmark-designated 1930s station itself, the Carnegie-style public library branch, the (now doomed) Seven Gables Cinema, and the Gothic Blessed Sacrament Church around the corner. It seemed ripe for an Urban Sketchers outing location.

Several other sketchers and I all opted to start with the church before we lost our courage. While churches like this are a dime a dozen in Europe, we have very few in Seattle, so I took advantage of the opportunity for some much-needed practice. The mostly cloudy sky occasionally gave way, a few seconds at a time – just long enough to catch some shadows.

Next I went back to the fire station I sketched in February, but this time I stood at a different corner so that I could capture the tower. The two upper windows include white silhouettes of firefighters (artwork that was added during a 1987 renovation).

Summer historically begins on the day after the 4th of July around here, so the overcast skies the past few days have been disappointing. But with other parts of the country facing high heat and earthquakes, I’ve got nothing to complain about. In fact, it was 65 degrees and cloudy when I made these sketches, which means I needed neither sunhat nor Polartec! Hallelujah, summer is here!

Technical notes: As I gear up for Amsterdam, I am trying hard to avoid leaning on my usual crutch of a gray marker grisaille to establish values. It’s a shortcut that saves time, but I often frown at the streaky effects of the marker, and I think it makes me lazy in learning to depict values using hues. I’ve also been working for a while now to depend less on an ink contour line, especially with architecture. The church sketch was the result of both conscious efforts. It has a vaguely painterly look (as far as colored pencils can be painterly) that I like.

The fire station sketch is another bicolor tonal study – and an ironic one! Back in February when I sketched it the first time, I was confined to my self-restricted minimalist palette of secondary triad colors, so I used only a gray marker for tones (see below). Then I bemoaned the fact that I had no red pencil for the fire doors (I made do with a red ballpoint pen). This time, although my bag contained my full palette, I chose complementary yellow and purple to “codify” light and shadow. But as I felt last time, red fire doors are an important symbol, so I went ahead and made the doors red.

The humorous irony is that six months ago, a secondary triad palette felt like a limitation. Now, using only two colors plus a bit of a third, I think the sketch is stronger, yet not having to work with “real” hues felt liberating rather than limited.

The sketch below is also a good example of what I don’t like about using a marker. It’s a fast and easy way to establish values, but the tip gets mushy quickly, so it’s difficult to get sharp corners and edges.

1/29/19 Feeling limited


  1. The fire station came out really well...and I like that you switched to the red for the fire doors. Nice work on the church. You'll probably get some more practice on churches in Amsterdam. I haven't thought much about what I am bringing, just that I need to squeeze out some different colors for LK BIng's workshop.

    1. Thanks, Joan! Looking forward to getting lots of practice in Amsterdam! And seeing you again!


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