Saturday, October 31, 2020

Japanese Maple

10/27/20 Laurelhurst neighborhood

My leaf-peeping tour earlier this week took me through the upscale Laurelhurst neighborhood, where I saw many lovely deciduous trees showing off their colors. While many of the larger-leafed maples are nearing peak, the Japanese maples with tiny leaves are only just beginning. Most are a haze of pale green and golden yellow turning toward orange. I parked alongside a fence bordering the Sand Point Country Club golf course to sketch this one.

Happy Halloween from Weather Bunny and her friend!

Friday, October 30, 2020

New Ideas for My Sketchbook

10/19/20 A fake nature journal spread (scanned in two parts)

Fall and winter are the seasons when I look forward to taking classes, especially at Gage Academy. This year, almost all Gage classes are online, of course. Since I was not sure what the experience would be like, I chose a half-term course (five weeks) – Sketchbook Techniques & Expression – to see if I would enjoy learning on Zoom. The class is about using the sketchbook as an exploration of a variety of techniques and media.

Since the scope of the class is wide open in terms of what students might want to explore, I gave myself the objective of practicing drawing from memory (and maybe eventually from imagination).

For the first class project, I made a page spread that represented the kind of nature journal I might like to have (above), if I were a nature journaler (though as I’ve said, I’m too lazy to be one). In this “fake nature journal,” I sketched a maple tree from imagination, along with a seed pod and some leaves. It wasn’t too ambitious, but it was a start.

The second class began with a brief warmup exercise in drawing negative space – an exercise I have done many times before in books and other classes. Then, for the longer assignment in using collage (below), I had in mind tearing out the shape of Mt. Rainier from paper based on my memory of sketching her back in July. My intention was to use the silhouette I had torn out, but our earlier exercise in negative space gave me the idea to use the negative part of the torn paper instead, which I liked better.

10/26/20 collage

Instructor Edie Everett had suggested including some writing related to the chosen theme. I had only a few minutes left in the hour we had been given for the assignment, but I started Googling, and almost immediately I hit a beautiful poem about Mt. Rainier by Denise Levertov. Originally from the UK, Levertov lived in Seattle for much of her life (and died here in 1997). The lines I quoted on my collage are the first four, but I’ve included the whole poem here:


I was welcomed here—clear gold
of late summer, of opening autumn,
the dawn eagle sunning himself on the highest tree,
the mountain revealing herself unclouded, her snow
tinted apricot as she looked west,
Tolerant, in her steadfastness, of the restless sun
forever rising and setting.
Now I am given
a taste of the grey foretold by all and sundry,
a grey both heavy and chill. I've boasted I would not care,
I'm London-born. And I won't. I'll dig in,
into my days, having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price
of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.

-       Denise Levertov (1992)

I studied Levertov back in college, and I have long enjoyed her work, but I was not familiar with this poem until I stumbled onto it. It was exactly what my collage needed. I’m also pleased by how accurately I captured Her Majesty’s silhouette from my memory of that beautiful morning at Maple Leaf Park when I sketched her from life.

Compared to life drawing from memory, this exercise was so much easier. Certainly, the silhouette of a mountain is much simpler than an unfamiliar model’s figure, but I’m sure it also helped that I had drawn the mountain several times previously. An image in my memory is much stronger when I have drawn it and not just seen it. That’s a duh moment – it should have been obvious – but I didn’t realize it until I tried it.

Thursday, October 29, 2020



10/26/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I’d been jonesin’ for an urban couch for the entire pandemic. The last time I sketched one was back in January after it had snowed. The quiet residential streets on my regular walking route are not heavily trafficked, so it’s probably not productive to put furniture out.

On Monday, though, I got a surprise: A badly torn leather couch right on Second Northeast! The temperature was in the high 30s, so I sketched it small and hastily. And good thing I did, because as soon as I finished, a car parked right in front of it, blocking my view.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Close to Home


10/24/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

It was a day that couldn’t decide if it was sunny or cloudy – shadows one moment, gone the next. It was certain, however, that it was chilly – in the low 40s all day – and breezy. Driving to the post office, I got only a few blocks from home when I spotted this tree bifurcated by utility lines. It’s been that way for years, I’m sure, but it’s only because it’s now brilliantly gold and orange that I noticed it.

Edited 11/1/20: Flickr chose this sketch for Explore on Oct. 29! Thanks, Flickr!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Life Drawing From Memory


10/23/20 Lacey (5-min. poses) 1 minute of observation and 4 minutes of drawing from memory -- but I had to peek a couple of times.

For quite a while now, I have been wanting to learn how to draw from imagination. I made it my goal to try during InkTober 2016, and I was pleased when the outcome was Weather Bunny. I still get a kick out of sketching Weather Bunny when she has something to say, but that’s not the kind of imaginative drawing I have in mind now.

Weather Bunny is a two-dimensional cartoon. What I’d like to be able to do eventually is draw three-dimensional objects or scenes from my mind that are based in realism – objects that have solid form and perspective just like objects I draw from direct observation. Even if I were drawing dragons or fairies (which is unlikely, since beings like that don’t occupy my mind), I would want them to look convincing as if they occupy space. That’s a lofty goal, I know, and I may never get there. But amazing artists like Nina Johansson and David Zinn, who draw whimsical and fantastical yet three-dimensional scenes, are my heroes.

How do they do it? I’m sure it takes many years of experience drawing from direct observation and fully understanding form, perspective, light logic and other aspects of drawing realistically. I’m still working on all of that too, of course. But it also occurred to me that before I can create images straight out of my head, I need to work on drawing from memory – observing something closely in reality, then drawing it without looking at it anymore. The few times I have tried this in the past, I failed miserably! I would think I had a firm image of the object in my mind, but as soon as I looked away and at my paper, the image would vanish.

I’ve seen a few exercises in books for practicing drawing from memory, so based on those, I devised my own plan that would be logistically easy: I attended last week’s Gage life drawing session on Zoom with the intention of practicing drawing from memory.

First I sketched a set of two-minute warm-up poses in the usual way to become familiar with model Lacey’s proportions. Then when she switched to five-minute poses, I began by observing the pose for one minute, then covered up the screen. I used the remaining four minutes to draw. That was a big fail – one minute is not enough time to observe, and I don’t need four minutes to draw if I can’t recall what I saw (I had to peek for a few seconds, and even that didn’t always help). So I started observing for two minutes, then drawing for three, and that was better. That’s the pattern I used for the rest of the five-minute poses.

When I switched to 2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory, I started doing better.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory. If I had a little time left after my mind went blank and I couldn't draw further, I looked at the model and made another quick sketch based on observation.

2 minutes of observation followed by 3 minutes of drawing from memory.

By the end of 10 five-minute sketches, I was exhausted! I had to concentrate so hard that I couldn’t even listen to relaxing music as I usually do during life drawing. Whew! But I also started to get better toward the end of the sets, so I think this is an effective exercise for me.

I drew the remaining 10-minute and longer poses the usual way, and I was never so relieved to get back to drawing from observation! (Plus Lacey was dressed in a striped body suit and colorful kimono, which were so much fun to draw.) After nine years of drawing from life, I have gotten too comfortable simply looking back at my subject whenever I need more information. Retaining that information in my mind for even a few minutes is much more difficult than I realized. Sounds like a good winter project for me!

2-min. poses (from observation only before I began practicing from memory; a set of 10 2-minute poses helped me to become familiar with Lacey's proportions)

10-min. poses (from observation after the grueling memory challenge -- what a relief!)

10-min. poses (from observation only)

12-min. pose (from observation only)

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Dayton Maples are Late

10/22/20 Greenwood neighborhood

These three maples on Dayton Avenue are just a few blocks from the Fred Meyer where I pick up groceries each week, so I’ve been checking on them regularly. When I first started checking at the end of September, barely a leaf had turned. They still aren’t at peak – they seem late this year – but since sunny skies are scarce and undependable these days, I took advantage of a lovely afternoon last week to sketch them.

Because I try to sketch them annually (I missed them last year), it’s fun to look back on my blog and see what they looked like at around the same time of year. In 2016 and 2018, I sketched them in September, even as early as Sept. 10, and at least one of the trio had more color then they did last week (see below).



In 2017, the first week of October showed them with about as much color as now. The latest date in the season that I could find for having sketched them was Oct. 19, 2018, and my post for that sketch laments that I missed their peak of color (both below). So my hunch was right: The sketch I made on Oct. 22 this year is now the latest date in the season, and the maples are nowhere near peak. If the weather holds out, I might still have another chance to sketch them.



Sunday, October 25, 2020

Thick and Thin


US readers, please vote! This could be the most
critical election of our lives! (Flickr chose this sketch
for Explore on Oct. 29!)

Instead of jumping around, I devoted the past week to using the same extra-fine tip Pentel brush pen and white Uni Posca paint marker with brush tip every day. I’ve used a lot of brush pens over the years, and this Pentel has the finest tip I’ve seen. The nylon brush (similar to almost all bristle brush pens of this type) springs back nicely, re-forms a point easily, makes a lovely variation of thick and thin strokes – and look at the tip! I think its a single hair. It contains pigment ink, so it would be fun to use with water-soluble media.

Pentel brush tip -- a single hair!

The Posca brush tip is not quite as responsive or fine, but it’s my favorite of all the Posca paint pens I’ve tried (I reviewed the 1.5mm bullet tips at the Well-Appointed Desk and the white  0.7mm “pin type” pen). Opaque paint pens are a fun novelty to use on dark-colored paper, but in general, I’m not a fan of the paint they contain. It can be gloppy and difficult to control the flow, especially with this brush tip. Still, I enjoy using the two together for shadows and highlights as I brush up (ha) on this type of ink work. No prep and no cleanup, so they’re even faster than Boku-Undo sumi inks.

Meanwhile, Washington State is already seeing the predicted surge in COVID-19 infections as the weather gets colder. Stay safe, everyone – it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

My stamp set includes only four 2s!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Lazy Nature Journaling


8/24/20 This moth stayed on the inside of our kitchen window for half the day,
 giving me plenty of time to sketch it.

Although I enjoy sketching trees, leaves, flowers, birds and other animals, and although I love seeing the nature journals of others, I’m too lazy to be a nature journal keeper. I don’t go for long walks in the woods seeking out specimens to study; I wait for nature to come to me in my urban neighborhood. Im also not very good about remembering the names of species, even if I eventually learn them. But I do keep my eyes open. Here are a couple of critters and an unusual berry I sketched over the past several months that I hadn’t gotten around to posting here.

The birds hadn’t been visiting our feeders as much during the summer when they had tastier options, but just lately the chickadees, juncos and bushtits have come by for snacks, so I hope to be sketching birds again soon.

7/28/20 A friendly neighborhood bunny
10/8/20 A COVIDberry tree! (also known as
Kousa dogwood)

Friday, October 23, 2020

West and East

10/15/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood
This maple, closest to home on my annual leaf-peeping tour, has been slow to get started this year, but now it’s making strides. One sunny morning last week, I stood in the middle of this quiet street and had to move out of the way only once (for a garbage truck). I was facing west on Northeast 81st Street (at left). I’ve noticed that the color pattern on the north-facing side of the tree was quite different, so my intention was to go back another day and sketch that side.

A few days ago, an overcast morning cleared to blue skies and sunshine in the early afternoon, so I went back, but the light wasn’t right (I think I need to go closer to sunset). Sitting in my car this time, I faced east instead – the opposite direction as my first sketch – and there’s more color on this side (below).

When I looked back on my blog at the sketches I made of this tree last year, I noticed that the crooked caution sign was still upright back then! Interestingly, by Oct. 23, nearly all the leaves had already come down.

One of my favorite things about urban sketching is recording the changing trees and seeing how different they might be from year to year.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Corner of 82nd and Latona

10/19/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

From a distance, the blazing red maple popped out among the other trees surrounding it and grabbed my eye. As I began making this small composition, however, I became intrigued by the many different tree shapes and types of foliage on this one residential corner. I walk past this corner nearly every day, but it took a red maple to make me appreciate the rest of the trees around it. 

 Technical note: After filling up the last one, I just started a fresh Field Notes Signature as my mostly-daily-carry sketchbook when I take walks. Its dimensions (4 ¼ by 6 ½ inches), light weight and thinness make it especially attractive for taking along on walks. Its paper is sufficient for spot color, but I was disappointed that my Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles lacked their usual richness in this sketch. And I couldn’t spritz the page in my typical manner because I knew the paper wouldn’t hold up to that much water. As the weather gets colder and wetter, I won’t be making as many full-color sketches during my walks, so I don’t want to bring my 5 ½-by-8 ½-inch Stillman & Birn Beta as a daily-carry, but I sure missed it on this day. I’m going to try the pocket-size (3 ½ by 5 ½ inches) version of a Beta for a while. The Signature’s larger size is nice to have, but it’s always a tradeoff: Better paper or slightly more real estate?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chris in Ink and Pencil


10/16/20 Chris, 2-min. poses

Although I prefer dry media for life-drawing poses of five minutes or longer, my recent explorations with sumi ink put me in the mood to use ink on some longer poses last week. Instead of sumi, though, I used waterbrushes filled with a variety of fountain pen inks. Sometimes I did the initial contour drawings in water-soluble pencil, then accented the shadows quickly with ink. It’s fun to mix dry and wet this way, getting the best qualities of each.

10/16/20 5-min. poses

10/16/20 10-min. pose

10/16/20 5-min. pose

When I had a full 20 minutes for a pose, I pulled out my slow but beloved Derwent colored pencils and Prismacolor Art Stix.

10/16/20 20-min. pose 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020



10/16/20 Friends on Zoom (to be fair, I included myself, too!)

I still get together several times a year with a small group of former co-workers from a job I left in 1996. It used to be leisurely lunches at restaurants halfway between Seattle and south King County where all of us are now spread. With most of this year taken up with the pandemic, the last time we had lunch together was around the holidays. It became clear that if we wanted to see each other, we would have to do the Zoom thing. Despite the shortcomings of technology compared to real life, it was still fun and reassuring to catch up with friends who go back decades.

While I would never dream of sketching non-sketcher friends during an actual meal together, something about Zoom is just too tempting to pass up. I knew that if I asked permission or announced my intention, everyone would stiffen and become self-conscious. I simply opened my sketchbook surreptitiously. No one noticed. At the end, I ‘fessed up and revealed my sketch, and they were all delighted! Whew! (Soon enough, all my friends will know that if they Zoom with me, they can expect to be sketched. Fair warning.)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Short Stories in Field Notes


10/8/20 The colors of fall
As fall gets under way in earnest, days have been cool, windy, rainy or all three (plus occasional happy windows of sunshine). Recent neighborhood sketches have been short stories made in various small Field Notes notebooks, depending on the weather. If it’s dry, I take a Signature or a red Sweet Tooth. If I put on my raincoat, then I grab a waterproof Expedition.

9/26/20 a cute Smart Car
10/5/20 houses with sunroofs

10/7/20 a tiny, pink bike

10/12/20 cell tower from Maple Leaf Park

Speaking of the waterproof Expedition, the sketch I made of the cell tower from drizzly Maple Leaf Park (at right) brought to light a serious omission in my sketch kit! A red maple was at the base of the tower. Sketching the scene with a Gekkoso 8B pencil (extremely soft graphite is my favorite medium on the Expedition’s plastic Yupo pages), I started to reach for a red pencil to draw the maple when I realized that all of the colored pencils in my bag are water-soluble! Not useful in the rain. I immediately went home to remedy that omission for next time.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Crush on Sumi

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

I’m more than halfway through my month of exploring inks. As has happened almost every time I’ve participated in InkTober, I started the month with an intended direction, but I took an interesting detour. I had in mind becoming reacquainted with several fountain pens that I hadn’t used in a while. What I thought was going to be a minor flirtation with Boku-Undo sumi inks has turned into a full-blown crush! I’m quite enamored with how fast it is to make tonal studies using the inks with a white Posca brush pen. Fast, but not easy – not by any means. Watercolor sketchers probably wouldn’t find sumi inks to be much of a stretch, but for me, sumi is one of the most challenging media I’ve tried in a long time. It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed both for my hand series and for my annual ink explorations.

I am bringing out other pens occasionally, though, just to mix it up. This week I inked up my beloved Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen. On the other end of the price and exoticism spectrum, I pulled out an underrated Bic ballpoint (which I fully explored and came to appreciate during InkTober 2018). So similar to pencil, it was comforting and reassuring to fall back into the comfort zone of slow, meditative strokes.

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Incidentally, while I was drawing my hand in ballpoint yesterday, I was listening to an interview with Chicago artist and urban sketcher Don Colley on the Sneaky Artist podcast. I’ve taken workshops from Don a couple of times when he has visited Seattle (most recently in 2017), and he has long been one of my urban sketching heroes, so I was already somewhat familiar with his philosophy of drawing on location. The interview, however, was full of insights about how drawing from life engages us with the activity of life.

“A pen is an extension of your hand,” Don says, and drawing is “an inquiry” about what we are seeing. For him, every drawing made on location – whether it’s a homeless man riding a bus, a Jeep parked at a friend’s house, or the faces of a defendant’s family member during a trial – is social commentary. Telling a story with every sketch, Don is an urban sketcher in every way that I admire most (not to mention an incredible draftsman). If you are interested in urban sketching, give it a listen – it’s well worth your time.

Sailor fude fountain pen and Sailor Doyou ink

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Sumi ink and Posca paint marker

Bic ballpoint and Sakura Gelly Roll
(Like the rest of the images on this page, this
one was scanned, but something weird 
happened to the Bic's fine ink lines, and they
appear reddish on the orange paper. At right,
I show the image I took with my phone, which
makes the ink appear black. Strange.)

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