Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ground Level at Columbia Center

10/11/19 Smith Tower
Around the time when the USk Friday group was still fairly small, we met a couple of times at Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper, mainly to sketch from the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor. Back then, the admission was nominal, and apparently it was the city’s best-kept secret because we had the place to ourselves. Now it’s a “destination,” the price has gone up to $22, and even on this off-season day, tourists were queued up for tickets by noon.

USk Seattle members opted not to pay the sky-high price, though several chose the Starbucks on the 40th floor. It’s not the 360-degree view of the observatory, but for the price of a latte, you can sketch through numerous huge windows facing west and north.

Though the Starbucks view was tempting, I wanted to face south to sketch the Smith Tower, my favorite Seattle building. Near ground level, Columbia Center has three atrium floors that have been improved significantly since the last time we sketchers met there in 2014 – many more well-lighted public areas with lots of tables and other seating. I found one that allowed a great view of Smith Tower without going out in the chilly but sunny day.

The rest of the morning, I wandered around the three atrium levels hunting victims. I chose two hapless guys who only wanted to eat their lunch in peace without getting sketched. The one I sketched from above was irresistible: He was only a few feet below me but separated by a glass partition. Columbia Center is all about views that are difficult to get anywhere else in the city.

10/11/19 Columbia Center Atrium
Technical notes: Because I had it in mind to sketch the Smith Tower for InkTober, I brought my Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook instead of Beta. Although I’ve decided that Zeta is not my favorite with wet media, I still love it with any form of ink – fountain pens, markers, brush pens. I used all three in these sketches, and they all glide beautifully on the smooth surface.

Speaking of Stillman & Birn, here’s a newsflash that was just released yesterday: The European stationery company Clairefontaine has acquired Stillman & Birn. My initial impulse was to view this as bad news; we’ve all seen quality decline when small, independent companies are bought out by larger ones. On the other hand, Clairefontaine (which also own Rhodia, known for its fountain-pen-friendly notebooks and journals, including my favorite travel journal) has a wide international reach. I’ve heard it’s difficult and expensive to buy S&B sketchbooks outside North America. Maybe this acquisition will mean that S&B sketchbooks will be easier to buy in other countries. Let’s all hope that the quality remains the same. (Fighting the urge to hoard a lifetime supply now, just in case.)

10/11/19 Columbia Center Atrium
Unprecedented views at Columbia Center.


  1. Glad you found locations to sketch from that didn't have a high priced admission. Once a spot becomes popular things change. I saw the announcement about Stillman & Birn too. I hope the quality stays the same, but I thought the same thing about how they hadn't been easy to get outside the USA...a win for them, but I hope not a loss for us.

    1. Let's keep our fingers crossed about S&B! I have to resist stocking up! ;-)


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