Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Music for Yoga in the Park


8/26/21 Fran Gallo leads her class in the tree pose as Third Harbour plays traditional Celtic music.

My yoga instructor Fran Gallo has offered a Yoga in the Park class series every summer for 21 years. In recent years, it became my tradition to sketch her class annually. I skipped it last summer, but this year I felt comfortable resuming my tradition. Even more convenient for me, she moved her class from Wallingford to Green Lake in a nice shady spot with trees.

We didn’t need the shade last Thursday, when the wind and cloud cover made it downright chilly by early evening, but it was a class I couldn’t miss: Third Harbour, a trio playing Irish/Celtic music, performed lovely, traditional music for her students. As I sketched, I could feel my own and everyone’s blood pressure dropping as stresses of the day fell away. Fran begins every class with a dedication, and on that day it was “walking on sacred ground.” The music was ideal for connecting the mind, body and spirit with the earth.

It looks like all her students are doing different poses, but that's because as soon as I sketched one, the pose would change!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Alice’s Bounty

8/25/21 heirloom tomatoes and plums from Alice's garden

Once again, our friend and neighbor Alice gave us some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and plums. She has shared much from her garden over the years, and I am more than happy to sketch and eat her generous gifts. I know she shares with all her lucky friends, but she seems to save the prettiest, most colorful tomatoes for me, like the Black Krim heirloom variety in front. I don’t get to use those colors together often!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

South Park Initiation


8/28/21 South Park Bridge facing north

As a native and lifelong resident, I thought I had visited, however briefly, every Seattle neighborhood. When we started planning a USk Seattle outing to South Park, though, I realized it was one that I had somehow missed. I’d never even driven through this working-class neighborhood (not a “park” at all) on the west bank of the Duwamish Waterway.

Like Georgetown across the Duwamish, South Park has a funky vibe with the added bonus of the modern new bridge across the waterway (I say “new,” but it opened in 2014). Replacing the hundred-year-old original bridge due to safety issues, the new bridge has intriguing design elements. Gears and other parts from the old bridge were retained as decorative elements around the neighborhood.

As a first-timer to South Park, I had to start with the bridge facing north toward downtown (barely visible at left). Standing on the slight incline of the pedestrian/bike lane as continual traffic whizzed by, I was happy that my sketch kit always includes ear plugs.

Next, as I wandered past restaurants and bars, I looked down an alley in the residential area. I am always attracted to the fun shapes of shadows I usually find in alleys.

South Park alley

With the half-hour remaining before the throwdown, I made small sketches of a couple of South Park icons: a gearwork at the south foot of the bridge and the pink elephant (sadly monochromatic in my sketch because I ran out of time for color) promoting the Big Top Curiosity Shop (it was closed when I had walked by, but a huge bear was being hauled out to the sidewalk to greet customers, so I’m guessing it opened shortly thereafter).  South Park is full of inspiring surprises even for this native.

Gear at the foot of the bridge and the Big Top elephant

Can you tell we're smiling behind those masks?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Bittersweet Shopping at Daniel Smith


8/26/21 Daniel Smith store and First Avenue South ramp

When Daniel Smith’s Seattle store announced that it was finally reopening after its 18-month pandemic closure, we sketchers were overjoyed to have our favorite art supply store again. Our joy was short-lived, however, when that announcement was followed by another that the reopening was only temporary: The store would be closing permanently in November. Unrelated to the pandemic, the closure supports expansion of Daniel Smith’s paint manufacturing and wholesale business, which is the company’s bread and butter. Although I was relieved to know that DS wasn’t going out of business, that didn’t soften the blow of the store’s closure.  

Much more than just a retail store, Daniel Smith offered workshops, demos, vendor days, book signings, presentations and other events that had brought the art community together for 45 years. It was also very supportive of Urban Sketchers Seattle. I will miss the knowledgeable, helpful staff. We have other art supply stores here, but they will not fill the hole left behind when DS closes its doors.

By Day 2 of the reopening, the Stillman & Birn Beta books were all gone, but I grabbed
 most of the remaining Zeta books and an Epsilon. I also grabbed all the remaining
Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelles in the primary triad hues I have been having so much fun with!

Through my various casual art forays over the years, I wandered many times up and down the aisles, both dazzled and bewildered by all the possibilities those art materials represented. When I began urban sketching and learning to draw in earnest a decade ago, I started attending demos and workshops. The last few years, I even had ambitions of someday offering demos or classes there myself.

The day after it reopened, I did my best to help DS clear remaining inventory (the 20 percent discount didn’t hurt) by stocking up on favorites, but as my final shopping trip there, it was probably the saddest art supply shopping I’ve ever done.

Technical note: I’ve sketched outside the Daniel Smith store a few times before, usually from the dark parking area under the First Avenue South ramp adjacent to the store. Neither the storefront nor that dismal parking area is especially visually appealing, so I tend to stick with monochrome tones. This time, however, the vibrant primary triad I’ve been using inspired me to get away from “real” colors and just look at the composition from the end of the street.

(Incidentally, Daniel Smith’s logo and signage include a saguaro, which I’ve always thought was strange for a Seattle-based store. I’m sure there’s a story there, but I’ve never heard it.)

Friday, August 27, 2021

Yellow Birds on the U-District Skyline


8/24/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

When Rip Van Winkle awoke in the U-District last week, it was disorienting to see all the new buildings going up where familiar landmarks used to be. Walking through the ‘hood this week, I found a spot on heavily trafficked Banner Way Northeast that looks straight down toward the U-District a couple of miles to the south. I counted five big yellow birds on the horizon.

For reference, I labeled UW Tower (formerly Safeco Tower and formerly the tallest building in the U-District) and the spire of Blessed Sacrament Church, which I’ve sketched a few times. Also for reference are the triple radio towers on Capitol Hill another few miles to the south.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Quantity vs. Quality


7/9/21 concrete mixer
Although I always enjoy spending a half-hour or more on a carefully observed sketch of a composition or subject that engages me, sometimes I don’t have either the time or the inclination. Often I’m just in the mood to spend no more than five or ten minutes on a quick notation. They are satisfying in a different way.

Each sketch individually is nothing special, either in content or execution, but I believe I have gained skills from the sheer number of sketches that accumulate over the years. Chief among them is the ability to sketch quickly when I want to. Another is the appreciation for process over product; quantity over quality. Each few minutes seems like nothing, but after a while, they add up to something.

Field Notes Brand seems to agree. .  . the maker of my favorite pocket-size sketchbooks recently featured my sketches on Instagram!

7/13/21 Maple Leaf alley

7/19/21 kendo and tai chi practice at Maple Leaf Park

7/31/21 Actual raindrops on my sketchbook!

8/6/21 Maple Leaf Park playground

8/12/21 Skid steerer at work on a landscaping project

8/23/21 construction worker

8/23/21 Mini Cooper

8/23/21 tree trimmer

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Solace of Plums

8/21/21 plum on our neighbors' tree

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. Between our yards, our neighbors to the west have a plum tree now heavy with ripe fruit. For a while, the purple plums were too high for me to sketch, but I’ve spotted a few next to the fence that I can see easily. As I sketch, a Steller’s jay quietly watches from our nearby lilac tree, waiting for me to put out peanuts.

To the north, another neighbor is out on his deck painting a birdhouse. To the east, four children chatter and giggle on the patio, all masked (one is a visitor).

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, terrified people fear starvation, chaos and death every day, while in our own country, another kind of senseless, easily preventable death occurs regularly. Here in Maple Leaf, though, my only problem is trying to render the bloom on the plum’s surface that dulls the deep purple-red underneath. Or at least I can pretend it is for the duration of the sketch.

After I finish, I put out peanuts for the jays.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Quick Look: Blackwing Non-Photo Blue Pencil


Blackwing's latest very limited edition is a surprising non-photo blue pencil.

A few weeks ago, Blackwing put out a new edition in its ultra-limited Lab series – a non-photo blue pencil. With other limited editions being new paint jobs on the four standard graphite cores, I was surprised and delighted to see something as different and specialized as a non-photo blue core. Even more surprising was how quickly the 2,500 boxes sold out – in less than a day! I don’t use non-photo blues enough to spring for a whole dozen, but I was curious enough to split a box with a friend.

Soft core, lovely barrel

Although this is not a full review of the newest Blackwing (see my post of how I use non-photo blue pencils and my review of five at the Well-Appointed Desk), I did a quick comparison to see how it stacks up next to some other notable blue pencils.

When I first saw the promotion, my immediate speculation was that the pale blue core would be identical to that of the same hue in Blackwing’s colored pencil set, Colors. I was wrong; the non-photo Lab is slightly warmer. However, in terms of softness, pigment content and “feel,” the two cores seem identical and probably have the same formulation. (And they obviously look to be made of the same beautiful cedar.)

Next, I compared the Blackwing to two of my favorite non-photo blue pencils: the Caran d’Ache Sketcher and the Staedtler. It’s close in hue to Caran d’Ache’s NPB and about the same in softness.

From top: Blackwing Lab, Blackwing Colors, Caran d'Ache Sketcher, Staedtler (Hmmm, I hadn't noticed before that Colors and Staedtler might have been separated at birth.)

Finally, I took a Tombow Mono Zero eraser to all four samples, and I must say that the Blackwing didn’t do too well. Both the Caran d’Ache and the Staedtler erased more easily and completely. Erasing draft lines made with a non-photo blue pencil is not a high priority for me, since I usually draw and color right over the lines and leave them be, but it’s probably important to some.

I do, however, like the softness of the Blackwing as well as the hue, so I will happily use Lab edition 07.29.21.

Incidentally, the non-photo blue Blackwing’s lovely barrel is a natural wood finish half-painted with matte light blue. I have recently seen several pencils, both graphite and colored, with the same basic design, and I find it fresh and modern. I think I have more examples in my collection, but here are a few I pulled out.

A fresh, modern look that I love!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Shaniqua’s Ears


8/19/21 Shaniqua

Model Shaniqua showed up in a fun armored costume last week at Gas Works Park, complete with chainmaille, swords and . . . elvan ears? I wasn’t familiar with her character. In any case, we all had a wonderful time drawing her on a breezy, sunny morning.

I tried a portrait so that I could include her ears, but from a distance, it was difficult to see them. I got a glimpse from other angles, though.

As usual, when I tired of the model’s pose, I moved around behind her so that I could include some of the artists. (All sketches were about 20 minutes each.)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Rip Visits the U-District


8/18/21 Cross & Crown Church, U-District

Other than driving through, I haven’t spent much time in the University District since before the pandemic began. After dropping my car off for servicing, I had a good couple of hours to wander and see what had changed in a year and a half. Rip Van Winkle had another awakening: The sites of old buildings that were being torn down were now big holes or turning into new buildings in various stages of construction. Looking around at the many cranes, I could have stopped anywhere to juxtapose the old and the new, but I chose the corner of 12th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 47th Street to sketch the Gothic Cross & Crown Church with a big yellow bird beyond it (above).

Community seating area at 43rd and University Way

Sadly, many small businesses that were the bread and butter of the U-District closed during the pandemic, but others seemed to have survived. I was delighted to see that Sweet Alchemy Ice Creamery at 43rd and University was still open. I got a double scoop in a dish and sat down in the large area of shared outdoor seating. My sketch turned out sloppy because I was trying to eat before the ice cream melted while sketching at the same time!

As I walked past nearby Ugly Mug Café and Coffee Roasters, I noticed several grimacing gargoyles on the building. I was too full of ice cream for more refreshments, but next time I sketch in the U-District, I’ll remember it.

Gargoyle at Ugly Mug Cafe

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Northgate Light Rail Station


8/17/21 Northgate Light Rail Station

Two new light rail stations are going up, each about a mile from my house – Roosevelt to the south and Northgate to the north. When we first started seeing construction activity in 2013, their completion seemed so far off in future – we used to joke that we might not be around to use them! – yet both are scheduled to open in a couple of months. The first time I sketched the Roosevelt site was in 2013, and I sketched it periodically after that, but eventually fencing around the site made it difficult to see what was going on. I think the last time I sketched any action there was in 2017.

Northgate was even harder to get close to early on, but I always had it in the back of my mind to sketch its progress. I thought about it several times last year when the action was getting big, but the pandemic made me feel uncomfortable being onsite. Tuesday morning I realized that if I didn’t hurry and sketch it soon, it would no longer be a “progress” sketch – it would be done! So sketch it I did.

Behind the chain link fence, the station looked complete, and a lone worker was maintaining the small trees and other plantings. At one point, an empty train rolled slowly toward the station.

I have yet to ride public transportation since the pandemic began, but maybe the opening of these brand new stations will give me the shove I need to hop aboard. Someday when we travel again, either station will certainly make it easier for us to get to the airport.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Just For Me


8/16/21 Wedgwood neighborhood

On my way to errands in the Wedgwood neighborhood, I couldn’t resist pulling over when I spotted an urban couch. And not just any couch, but one near a few trash cans, a hydrant, a parked car and a couple of trees. You’d think someone had staged this just for me!

I was suddenly in the mood for ballpoint pen that day. Instead of my favorite Bic, I had only my Uni Jetstream 4 & 1. Although I love the Jetstream’s design and ink for writing, there’s nothing like a Bic for drawing.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Review: Kokuyo Dual Color Pencils


This set of 20 Kokuyo Dual Color Pencils came in a plastic case.
You all know of my love for rainbow pencils. I’ve tried many, and while I love them all in principle, some are mostly a colorful novelty and not recommended for use. A long-time favorite has been the seven-color one made by Camel that is sold under various brand names (CW Pencils carries a custom version of it). Soft and richly pigmented, it is also unique in being a true rainbow arranged in a wheel so that each hue could be used independently (sort of, in theory; I wouldn’t bother, though). I reach for it most often when I want a rainbow pencil to use and not just ogle with heart-shaped eyes.

I may now have a new favorite – not necessarily to replace the Camel but to use in a different way: Kokuyo Dual Color Pencils. Made in Japan, the Kokuyo set includes 20 pencils (an alternate set includes 20 mini-size pencils). Each core is made of two hues mixed in a checkerboard fashion revealed by the unfinished end. (I’m not ashamed to admit that I squealed with delight when I discovered the ends!).

Thick, soft cores

Checkerboard cores!

The attractive barrel is also unique: Half the unvarnished cedar (wood type unstated, but my nose says it’s cedar) is painted with a geometric pattern. I have lately seen more pencils, both colored and graphite, with a half-painted natural barrel that I find fresh and modern.

A half-painted, natural wood barrel.

The Dual Colors call to mind two other rainbow pencils in my collection, both Czech-made by Koh-i-Noor: the Tri-Tone and the Magic. With three hues in the Tri-Tones and two or more hues in the Magic pencils, each core swirls the colors together. The Kokuyo Dual Colors, however, are much softer than either.

Kokuyo Dual Color, Koh-i-Noor Tri-Tone and Koh-i-Noor Magic pencils

In making my scribbled swatches (made in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook), it was easy to reveal the two tones by rotating the pencil as I scribbled. I wouldn’t bother trying to isolate the individual hues; these are meant to be used together. Pencils containing analogous hues or two shades of the same hue work best; complementary pairs are less appealing. And I don’t have much need for the one containing two shades of similar grays.

Swatches made in S&B Epsilon sketchbook

Although these pencils are fun to use in the typical unicorn-rainbowy fashion (by that I mean gleefully and without regard for precise color application), they can also be used in another way: allowing the dual tones to work together harmoniously to add richness. When I saw this potential, I picked out three pencils that came closest to the CMYK primary triad that I have been exploring lately – a yellow/orange, a magenta/yellow, and a blue/violet – and sketched a peach. I’m not sure the triadic part of the experiment worked as it typically might, but if I were choosing colors in a more conventional manner, I could easily see using six or seven pencils to capture this peach with a range from yellow to violet. Here, I’ve done it with three; I probably could have done it without the yellow/orange. The soft cores layered beautifully in a Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook. And somehow it’s more fun to use two colors in one stick that mix without effort.

8/7/21 Kokuyo Dual Color in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

I repeat: I love rainbow pencils. And I especially love these.

8/14/21 The hand is baaaack!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Busy Street Corner


8/10/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

My mother loved all birds, and her favorite was the Anna’s hummingbird. She kept a feeder for many years outside the kitchen window so that she could enjoy watching them as she had meals. Some cultures believe that when people die, their spirits return to earth as birds. Whenever I’m out sketching and a hummingbird shows up, I always say, “Hi, Mom!”

Sketching this sunlit scene one early morning, I noticed a lot of action: A bunch of hummingbirds were busily dining at the dark pink Neptune’s Beard growing on the corner. (I didn’t know the name of this familiar flower, but a passing dog walker kindly informed me of it because he thought that was the subject of my sketch.) The bees were busy, too. I’m not sure which hummer was my mom, but I was happy to see that she was having breakfast with many friends.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Trying to Feel Normal


8/10/21 Fellow shopper at north Seattle Costco

Last week we shopped inside a Costco store for the first time in 17 months. We have been getting Instacart and shipped deliveries from Costco all along, but we had not gone inside a store since early March 2020 (I remember that shopping trip vividly, filled with anxiety). Friends have encouraged me to take advantage of the early “senior hours,” but I had decided that if I stayed out of stores, I was making it easier and safer for others who may not have the luxury of isolation. The Costco where we shop was comfortably uncrowded at the general opening time, and I was relieved to see that most shoppers and all staff were masked.

8/11/21 Awful Knofel performing at Maple Leaf Ice Cream Social

The next day we attended the Maple Leaf Ice Cream Social, an annual neighborhood event that we have always enjoyed when we’ve been in town for it (unfortunately, we missed some years because we so often travel during the summer, and of course, it was cancelled last year). It was the most crowded event we’ve attended in more than two years. Since Maple Leaf is within one of the most highly vaccinated zip codes in the state, I felt relatively safe, especially outdoors. As I scarfed down my Dove ice cream bar before it melted, I looked around at my mostly mask-free neighbors, no one socially distanced, and I marveled at the difference the vaccine has made in all our lives. I was not without some residual anxiety, however, given that infections from the Delta variant are skyrocketing in King County and worldwide. I tried not to think about that, though, as we enjoyed the music of the band Awful Knofel.

These two sketches may not look like much, but they are important documentation of my ongoing transition through the various phases of the pandemic. I call this phase, “trying to feel normal.”

Monday, August 16, 2021

Clean Air at Ballard Locks

8/15/21 Salmon Bay Bridge

Prompting much relief from all of us, the smoke from the past few days blew off, and we could breathe easily for the USk Seattle sketch outing at the Ballard Locks. I knew I hadn’t been there in a while, and my records show that the last time was nearly four years agothe last time USk Seattle met there.

As I often am, I was again attracted to the Salmon Bay Bridge. When I began the sketch, the sky was overcast, but by the time I finished, I was standing in full sun.

Looking for some shade on the garden side of the park, I found a big banana plant, and I was happy to see that the primary triad I’ve been using gave my sketch a summery, tropical look. It was terrific to see that clean, clear blue sky again.

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