Monday, October 25, 2021



10/21/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood (on trash day)


Last week I showed you the maple in my neighborhood with the interesting coloring pattern (at right). Although it had lost some leaves on top, it was still mostly green on the bottom half. Nine days later, I walked by again, and it was nearly bald! Some parts of the green areas were now yellow, and all the rest of the leaves were scattered all over the pavement. On a gray, blustery day threatening rain (which came a short time later), I knew it was now or never if I wanted to sketch it again: Surely our impending “bomb cyclone” would take down the rest of the leaves.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Few Comments on Tinted Graphite


10/20/21 Cretacolor AquaGraph in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Now that our beloved Daniel Smith store is closing, our brick-and-mortar options are few. Artist & Craftsman Supply is a decent and convenient choice (one of my first stops after I got vaccinated), but the selection is somewhat limited. A much better selection can be found at Blick, but that store has always been inconvenient to me: scarce, expensive parking or a lengthy bus ride, despite being only a few miles away. However, with the opening of two new light rail stations, both extremely convenient to me, Blick is suddenly much more accessible: an easy, 10-minute train ride away.

"Tinted graphite" pencils, from top: Cretacolor AquaGraph, Caran d'Ache Technalo RGB, Derwent Graphitint, Spectrum Noir ColourTint

All of that is a long-winded way of explaining how I found myself in possession of a new Cretacolor AquaGraph pencil last week when Greg and I took the light rail to Capitol Hill. (Our destination was lunch, but Blick was only a couple of blocks away – what a coincidence!) I know Blick’s online catalog fairly well, so I didn’t expect to find anything new, but there it was – a water-soluble pencil that had managed to escape my radar (clearly, I’m off my game). I came home with a green one. It’s also available in red and blue. 

Cretacolor AquaGraph is an interesting hybrid of graphite and “color” (pigment or dye; information on specific product content is usually scarce from manufacturers). I have three other such “tinted graphite” pencils: Caran d’Ache Technalo RGB, Derwent Graphitint and Spectrum Noir ColourTint.

All four swatches are subtle shades of green.

Although I’m not a huge fan of Cretacolor’s color products, I love the Austrian company’s Nero pencils, and its Graphite Aquarell pencils have strong washes. Similarly, the AquaGraph has a surprisingly rich wash with a subtle green tint that only appears when activated with water. Although the barrel is labeled HB, the 4mm (unfortunately off-center) core feels much softer.

In terms of wash quality, AquaGraph seems most similar to Caran d’Ache’s RGB pencils but with a higher ratio of color to graphite. It’s also similar to Caran d’Ache in appearing much like ordinary graphite when dry. Both Derwent Graphitint and Spectrum Noir Colourtint are disappointing by comparison: Although they exhibit slightly more color in their dry states and come in a much wider range of colors, both have weak washes when activated. (In my sample swatches, I chose Derwent and Spectrum Noir greens that came closest to the AquaGraph’s green.)

“Neither here nor there” but somewhere between water-soluble graphite and watercolor pencils, tinted graphite pencils are typically not what I reach for. On this day last week, however, portentous of the “bomb cyclone” of wind and rain headed our way, the subtle tint seemed just right for the wet, gray, toneless scene outside my studio window. The green tint hardly registers visually as a hue, but I like the contrast between the activated areas (houses) and the dry marks (foliage).

The eraser shown in the image is only to keep the round pencil from rolling. I did not test the pencil for erasability. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Inktober, Week 3: Still Mostly Blind

10/20/21 attitude

My Inktober intention is to continue with blind contours. The only exception on Week 3 was the day that I was so excited to be sketching people on public transportation again that I forgot.

The most fun was making a couple of partial blind contour selfies – what a hoot! I liked one so much that I used it as my Facebook profile image. If you have never tried one, I recommend it highly. Not only is it super fun, but it may also reveal attitude you didn’t know you had! 😉

10/15/21 pencil sharpener

10/16/21 slightly less attitude

10/17/21 light rail passenger (the only non-blind contour this week)

10/18/21 parked cars in Maple Leaf

10/19/21 light rail passenger

10/21/21 excavator

Friday, October 22, 2021

Elementary Maple

10/18/21 Olympic View Elementary School, Maple Leaf neighborhood

Although Olympic View Elementary School is easily within walking distance, we usually don’t go in that direction on our daily walks. I have been determined to peep as many leaves as possible while the peeping is good, however, so we have been taking different routes lately. This maple in front will be a keeper on my annual tour!

As many trees as I sketch, each is still a challenge in different ways. This one had relatively loose foliage compared to some densely packed trees. I can’t recall which artist said this, but he had recommended that painters leave “holes for the birds to fly through” when painting trees. I tried to leave some sky holes, but I inadvertently filled in more than I had intended. I also lost some of the light because I got a bit carried away with those colors I love so much. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges of working with a primary triad: Sometimes I have to choose between the local colors and the values. The answer is to always choose values – but it’s hard not to be dazzled by a brilliant maple.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Local Color

10/16/21 NE 83rd facing west

A leaf on the trees in the sketch above

Just a couple blocks from home, I had spotted a short row of brilliant yellow and red-orange trees that lit up the whole block (above). After sketching them, I pulled into a driveway to turn around – when I saw what had been behind me while I was sketching: An even more colorful mix (below)! I reparked in the opposite direction to catch that wall of color, too. It always pays to look around, even if you think you’re done sketching! (I’ve now added this very nearby block to my regular leaf-peeping tour.)

I snapped a photo of the leaves of the trees in the top sketch to try to identify them. My plant app suggested that it’s an Acer tataricum, or Tatarian maple. Although the leaf looks slightly different, I thought it could also be an Acer Ginnala, whose leaf I sketched last fall. It’s clearly a variety of maple, but the leaves are elongated rather than hand shaped as most maples are. Anyone know for sure?

10/16/21 NE 83rd facing east

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

St. James Cathedral

10/14/21 St. James Cathedral

Completed in 1907, St. James Cathedral is one of my favorite old buildings in Seattle. I admire its twin towers from Interstate 5 whenever I’m downtown. An appointment brought me to First Hill last week, so I used the opportunity to sketch one of its bell towers from Ninth Avenue. At 8:59 a.m., a half-hour after I began this sketch, the bells started chiming. By that point, I was dang cold on that gray, drizzly morning, so the bells cheered me up until I finished a short time later.

Despite the Roman Catholic cathedral’s architectural complexity, which continues to challenge me, I have attempted it many times over the years. My favorite sketch might still be my very first brave attempt in 2013 (shown below) when I had been sketching for only a little more than a year. Sometimes I think I had more courage then than I do now!


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pike Place Market People


10/17/21 Pike Place Market

Sunday was the international Urban Sketchers 24-hour event, USk Sketch Together, with sketchers around the globe taking part with live videos and images from their respective sketch outings. USk Seattle chose iconic Pike Place Market for our event. The forecast all week was for rain that day, but once again, the weather gods were with us: Not a drop!

Before the pandemic, I used to happily sketch people on buses and light rail trains whenever I had somewhere to go. Throughout the wet-weather months, I had taken for granted being able to draw people in coffee shops. The thing I missed most during the worst of the pandemic was sketching people in public. For Sunday’s outing, I decided it was time to get back on public transportation. As a personal celebration during the Sketch Together event, I dedicated the outing to sketching nothing but people. In fact, I used the “observational cartooning” technique I learned from Taylor Dow in his workshop a couple of weeks ago to help tell the story of people at the Market: drawings made from life combined with written commentary.

On the level below the Market Commons, I could look up at a corner of the pedestrian area with one of the best waterfront views (above). It turned out to be a popular corner to take selfies and other photos. I started there but realized quickly that my view was limited.

Next I got up on the upper level myself so that I could see and sketch more people, especially their various photo stances – both taking and posing. Many were selfies, but others were couples and families who asked a passing stranger to snap a photo for them. When I wasn’t sketching, I timed a few: On average, I have about six seconds to capture a selfie. If someone else is taking the photo, I have a bit longer. The typical pose for couples is for one to put an arm around the other. When couples take a selfie together, they snap one, then usually one person is more interested than the other in the result and often needs a retake. I had as much fun people-observing as people-sketching.

It feels good to sketch people again!

To see what the rest of the world sketched that day, search the hashtag #usksketchtogether.

Many snoozers on the light rail train, a.m.
and p.m.

I seem to be the only one awake
on this train. It was my first public
transportation ride in 19 months.

USk Seattle knows how to Sketch Together!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Review: Derwent Chromaflow Colored Pencils

I like the parrot.

It’s always fun and exciting to open a fresh set of colored pencils and use them for the first time. I try to adjust my expectations based on a variety of factors – where they were manufactured, their price, the maker’s reputation, reviews by others, how they smell, how they look. Sometimes I have learned an intriguing fact about them – for example, a European manufacturer is distributing the set only in the US and not within its own country. How interesting! Bring ‘em on.

Although the basic set of 12 doesn’t include hues I would choose according to the CMYK-based primary triad I have been experimenting with, I still like using a primary triad to make initial sketches because it’s a good test of blending capability.

The basic set of 12 colors

For the USA market only

Attractive, asymmetrical end caps that are Derwent's trademark

Two out of three of my triad pencils have off-center cores.

10/13/21 Derwent Chromaflow pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook 

The new pencils are on the harder side, but as a big fan of
Faber-Castell Polychromos, I don’t hold anything against a hard colored pencil if it is richly pigmented. Unfortunately, these pencils do not seem to be, but I keep going with my sketch. 

Using light pressure, I apply a few layers of pigment. I start to notice that it’s becoming more and more difficult to see that additional pigment is transferring from pencil to paper. I remain patient as long as possible, trying to apply more layers. Now I’m getting frustrated, so I start to press harder, which doesn’t help. I’m using my favorite Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, whose smooth surface typically takes hard colored pencils beautifully, but now I’m getting angry because I feel like I’m drawing on waxed paper.

Three-quarters of an hour later, I stop – I’ve had enough. I admit, sometimes I enjoy the challenge of fighting with a difficult pencil, but this wasn’t one of those times. Now you might look at this sketch and think, “Well, she eked out some decent color there . . . maybe those pencils aren’t so bad.” But I had to work dang hard to get even what you see there.

That is what it’s like to use a low-quality colored pencil with low pigment content.

Whoa, Tina – that’s harsh! And this made-in-Britain Chromaflow set is from Derwent, a highly reputable UK colored pencil maker!

But that’s just it: These are not Crayola or Rose Art pencils (and they certainly aren’t priced like those kids’ pencils: My set of 12 Chromaflow was $14.99 at Blick). I know that Derwent makes some very fine colored pencils. In fact, I am currently having a love fest with Derwent’s artist-quality Lightfast line, and I have long appreciated the company’s Drawing Pencil collection for life drawing, so I know they make high quality products. (Derwent’s low-end Artist and Studio pencils are more in line with Chromaflow’s quality, and those I do not love.)

That brings up another matter: How many low-end, low-quality colored pencil lines does one manufacturer need? And now a new one just for the US market!

I try to find one positive thing to say about any product I review. In this case, I love the drawing of the parrot on the tin. But I’m certain it wasn’t made with Chromaflow pencils.

Save your money.

Sunday, October 17, 2021



10/12/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

10/12/16 The caution sign was still standing tall then.
I bet that's the same pickup!
Although this maple is not always on my leaf-peeping tour, I like to watch it every year because it turns in an interesting way. The top half will go yellow and red far ahead of the bottom half, which takes much longer to turn. I went back through my sketches to find one of this same tree from a previous year. Wouldn’t you know it – I had sketched it exactly five years ago on Oct. 12, 2016. (Interestingly, the blog post showing the sketch is about how I was just discovering the use of a spritzer to activate water-soluble pencils in foliage – a technique I now use routinely.) I’ve included the 2016 sketch at right to show how different the color pattern is this year – a lot more green still shows, but the top is already balding.

Incidentally, the traffic circle is a bit worse for wear: The caution sign somehow got pushed sideways a long time ago, and it’s still that way. The blue rectangle in front is a local political sign.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Inktober, Week 2: The Fun Begins


10/8/21 Blind contour with details added in black.
Not wonky enough.

Maybe I wasn’t choosing the right subjects, but my early blind contours didn’t look or even feel wonky enough. I needed something to kick it up a gear – and someone who practices non-dominant-hand sketching regularly put the light bulb over my head. (Thanks, Anne!) I hadnt practiced drawing with my non-dominant hand since my pandemic hand series more than a year ago. Now I’m doing partial blind contours with my right hand! After a ho-hum start, I’m finally hitting my Inktober stride.

Technical note: I love the flexy but springy brush tip on the Pilot Shunpitsu pocket brush pen (I reviewed it at the Well-Appointed Desk), but that ink sure does bleed. I’ve been using a Field Notes Harvest notebook that can hold up to my Sailor fude fire hose without bleeding, yet this Shunpitsu bleeds all the way through to the next page. For Inktober, I don’t care if the pages are spotty, but the ink’s behavior is surprising – most of my brush pens don’t bleed at all. According to JetPens, the water-based ink is “quick drying” – maybe that quality accounts for the bleeding.

10/9/21 The only non-blind sketch of the week.

10/9/21 This is my favorite so far! I love the disconnected wheel!




10/14/21 First blind contour done with my right hand. Now we're having fun!

Friday, October 15, 2021


10/11/21 Wedgwood neighborhood

Although it’s easier to sketch a standalone tree, my eyes love lush layers of colors. This dead end in the Wedgwood neighborhood displayed an amazing variety of foliage. The CMYK primary triad I am currently using (Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles Phthalocyanine Blue 162, Yellow 010, Purplish Red 350 and Black 009) gave me a good workout! It’s such a fun challenge to figure out which hues to deepen to capture both the values and the local colors.

Although I sometimes show the pencils I've used for still lives, I almost
never remember to include them in my trophy shots on the street. Here's a rare exception. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Square Frame


10/9/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

On our walk one morning, this square composition caught my eye: A frame of foliage and poles around the bright yellow tree in the next block’s traffic circle. I went back later that day in my car. The intersection didn’t have as much color as I was hoping to find, but on this cold, windy afternoon, I was looking for anything I could sketch from inside my mobile studio.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Vintage Colored Pencils: Alco Coloring Pencils


Vintage Japanese!

When I spotted this eBay listing a while back, the image on the 1968 package was priceless – but not quite worth the $12.95 asking price. I kept watching it, though, and the price was marked down a few times. Still no takers? I offered three bucks, and my offer was accepted. (I’ve certainly paid more for colored pencils purchased almost entirely for their packaging!)

The best part was when I received the pencils and looked at them closely: Made in Japan! If I’d known I was buying vintage Japanese pencils, I would have offered $4! 😉

Check out the masterpiece in progress... I think it's a golfer.

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