Saturday, April 10, 2021

Petal Peeping at its Peak


4//6/21 Sunset Hill neighborhood

My favorite petal-peeping neighborhood is Sunset Hill. The aged, ornamental cherries not only have spectacularly pink blossoms in spring; they also have trunks and roots with so much character that I drew them in my graphite class. My annual petal-peeping tour would not be complete without a stop there.

A few days ago they were at peak. I knew I had sketched the same tree and resident car a year ago (exactly to the day, in fact) – and three years ago, too! Although there are other places to park, this composition seems to call to me.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Many Moods of Shawna


4/3/21 Shawna, bullfighter, 30-sec. poses

Shawna was at it again – this time as a bullfighter, pixie, carpenter, petting zoo visitor, cook and bowler – and all while dressed in a bikini! I wasn’t feeling my usual groove this time, but Shawna’s imaginative poses are always fun to sketch.

Bullfighter, 30-sec. poses

Pixie, 1-min. poses

Pixie, 1-min. poses

Pixie, 1-min. poses

Carpenter, 2-min. poses

Carpenter, 2-min. poses

Cook, 3-min. poses

At the petting zoo, 5-min. poses

Bowler, 7-min. poses

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Spring is in the Air


3/23/21 daffodil
I always know spring is in the air when I can’t take a walk without stopping several times to sneeze. It’s a small price to pay, though, to see fresh buds giving trees a haze of pale yellow-green and to smell flowers just beginning to open.

This time last year, the pandemic was fresh, the enormity difficult to grasp, nearly unfathomable. At the height of my anxiety, I found solace in trees continuing to blossom, the birds going about their mating business as if nothing were amiss – as if the whole world hadn’t changed overnight.

A year later, the vaccine has changed everything again, but this time toward hope instead of horror. And the trees and birds still carry on as they always do. I still find solace in that.

4/1/21 plum tree, Maple Leaf neighborhood

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Where’s the Form in Airy Trees?


4/1/21 Ornamental plums next door

After my observations of ornamental plum trees last summer for their unique foliage color, I realized that our next-door neighbors’ trees are exactly that type of plum. Last week on one of our days of lovely spring weather, I went out on our upstairs deck to see how their blossoms are doing, and they are not as far along as other plums I’ve been sketching. Much of the color was from their usual dark maroon leaves, not their pale pink blossoms. But in their current state, they presented an especially difficult challenge:

Trees, in general, are challenging to draw because their forms are often hard to see. If they have big, round, solid crowns, though, it’s a bit easier. Airy trees like these plums are much worse, and worst of all is when they are observed at a close distance. I really couldn’t see their forms at all. Their shadows, however, were fun to draw – a perk of sketching from the deck.

About the color: Since I take only watercolor pencils out on location, sketching from our deck gives me a rare opportunity to use other materials “on location” (as such). The Crimson Alizarin and Dark Indigo are Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, and the Pink is a vintage Prismacolor. Without the option of quick shortcuts like spritzing to bring out vibrant hues, I have to apply color more slowly and gradually, but these soft pencils make it a joy to work that way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Jab at Last

4/5/21 Microsoft Conference Center, Redmond

A couple of acquaintances on Facebook said they burst into tears after receiving their first vaccine. One, immunocompromised, has been housebound for more than a year, so the thought of feeling safer outside his own home was especially emotional. Even those who didn’t mention tears at least announced their vaccinations with joy and relief.

No sticker at this facility, but I wear my bandaid with hope and relief.
After a year of anxiety and then much anticipation since the vaccine became available, I wondered how I would feel when I finally got my turn for a jab. Driving through Microsoft’s Redmond campus toward its conference center, I was feeling more nostalgic than emotional. This was the same campus where I worked for many years a couple of decades ago. Some parts of it had changed, but some had not. I thought about co-workers and teams I had worked with as I passed certain buildings. The Azteca that we frequented for margaritas and nachos after work was gone, but in its place were excavators getting ready for new buildings.

Inside the conference center, a well-oiled machine of friendly staff kept me moving in the right direction. Roped stanchions were ready for a Disneyland crowd, but yesterday afternoon, I had the place nearly to myself. It all happened so quickly and efficiently that I barely had time to feel emotional.

Filling my 15-minute wait time, I felt rusty . . . it’s been more than a year since I last sketched people in the same room. The result looks blah for such an important event.

Driving back home on 520, the sky was a brilliant blue and wide open. I felt nothing but immense gratitude.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Imaginary Characters


I’ve mentioned occasionally that one of my current goals is to learn to draw more from my head – from memory and imagination. My ultimate purpose in strengthening this skill is not so much about making imaginary works in the sense of fanciful or fantastical stories. It’s more about drawing realistically without as much reliance on the subject being in front of me. I’d like to be able to see something and then be able to draw it later to show someone else what it looked like. The ability to draw from memory would be useful even when drawing from life – to capture the stance or movement of a person after they have left, for example.

Perhaps drawing from memory and drawing from imagination are two different skills that need to be practiced in different ways – I’m not sure. I sort of lump them together in my mind because they seem similar: If I see something and try to draw it later but I can’t recall details, I could fill in with imagined details. And certainly drawing a realistic but imaginary object has basis in things I recall seeing in reality.

A yoga pose from memory (seeing my instructor) and from
imagination (myself doing it)

I’m practicing memory drawing in my scribble journal by making simple cartoons of my daily life. These sketches are still challenging for me, but I find I am making a greater effort to “memorize” things I see during the day so that I can sketch them later. For example, I often draw a yoga pose I practiced or something I saw while out for a walk (that I didn’t sketch on location).

For truly imaginary drawing, however, I have difficulty even coming up with ways to practice. How is it that I drew from my imagination so freely and easily as a child, yet now it’s an ongoing struggle? In my 20s and 30s, I was a fiction writer, so I must have had some form of imagination then. . . where did it go? Whenever I sit down to draw in this way, I feel like my mind goes blank.

I recently learned an interesting and enjoyable technique that has helped me tap into my visual imagination. Karen Abend’s Sketchbook Revival series of free creativity workshops included a segment by illustrator Alexandra Gabor (you can still see it until April 18). The method that Alexandra taught in “Quick Character Design” was simple yet effective:

First, make random but controlled curved and straight marks that end with a closed shape. She suggested making five strokes. Color in the enclosed areas that result so that all you see are solid shapes. Choose one to work with.

Duplicate the outline of a solid shape several times. Turn the shape into animals, people or whatever you see in the shape. That’s it!

I was surprised and delighted by how easily these “characters” came to me just by turning my paper around and looking at the shapes from various directions. These are fun to draw and more engaging than abstract patterns (which I also enjoy for relaxation in a mindless way).

I don’t have plans to push these fanciful sketches beyond my sketchbook, and I don’t know if this exercise will improve my visual memory, but I’m going to keep making them. I think anything that engages my mind in a playful, novel way will have benefits in other ways. And these are fun! That’s always a benefit, period.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Sitting on My Hands


After all the teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling frustration we went through to find Greg a vaccine appointment a month ago, my process seemed almost anti-climactic: I put myself on every available waiting list on the day I became eligible and then forced myself to sit on my hands. Two days later, I was invited to make an appointment. Dose No. 1 is tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my right hand continues its workout, now with a brush, relieved that it won’t be much longer than three weeks: As soon as I schedule the second dose, this series will have an end date.

April Foot's Day!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Holding Its Own


3/31/21 Green Lake neighborhood
Petal peeping in the Green Lake neighborhood, I almost missed this little tree. Without many blossoms, it would have been easy to pass up for some showier pink trees nearby. But I applauded it for holding its own, despite the formidable pole behind it and wires crossing through it.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Plum in the Pink

3/30/21 Bryant neighborhood
Last summer I went through a short stage when I was obsessed with finding the right shade of nearly-black red to capture the foliage of ornamental plum trees. (I eventually found it – Caran d’Ache Dark Plum, of course!) When I started sketching them, I didn’t even know what these trees were, but friends on social media quickly helped me identify them, and that’s how I learned that they also have tiny pink blossoms in spring.

Studying them so closely then helped me get better acquainted with their branching structure as well as their foliage. Now the same plums (also called thundercloud plums) are bursting with pink blossoms that might be mistaken for cherry (which are usually a paler pink), but I can tell them apart because of the way their branches grow.

I spotted this one in the Bryant neighborhood. Although I was nervous that the ArtGraf water-soluble carbon pencil would be too dark and heavy as a shading color for delicate pink, I used it sparingly, and I like the result. 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Early Petal Peeping


3/29/21 Dibble Ave. NW, Crown Hill neighborhood

Dibble Avenue Northwest in the Greenwood/Crown Hill neighborhood is a regular stop on my annual petal-peeping tour. Sometimes the cherries are in full bloom by mid-March; other years I’ve had to wait until early April. Last year, they were at peak by late-March.

They’re late this year. Most trees were still full of tightly closed buds, but a couple had arrived early to the party. I was nearly done with the sketch when a black kitty appeared and took a seat by the basketball hoop for a few seconds – not long, but long enough.

Technical note: Capturing the form of a white apple tree was no problem with the solid blackness of water-soluble carbon, but pale pink blossoms are another matter. I can hardly see the shadows, and I don’t want the shading to be too dark with such delicate pink clouds. Finding the right shadow color for sunlit pink is always a challenge, too. As I mutter this to myself, I can already hear Kathleen Moore’s voice in my head from the graphite tree class: Make thumbnail value studies first to find the form. Yes, teacher. (I was so eager to go out and play that I obviously didn’t do my homework.)

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