Monday, September 20, 2021

Seattle Central Library


9/19/21 Seattle Central Library from 4th & Spring

Thankfully, Saturday’s squall dried up in time for yesterday’s USk Seattle outing at the Central public library, but the wind remained harsh. Even though it was 60 degrees, I bundled up like it was full-on winter and took on the library’s crazy angles. It was fun to see several other sketchers bravely taking it on, too!

Library from 5th & Madison

Seattle Central Library is a formidable architectural beast
. I’ve sketched inside the library many times, but I’ve sketched its exterior only one other time back in 2017 from the Fourth and Madison corner. This time I walked one block north to Fourth and Spring (top of page). Knowing that I probably wouldn’t get all those angles right, I had only one goal: To scale it proportionally on my sketchbook page. I think I did, but my 2017 sketch is livelier.

In the mood for more torture, I walked up the hill to Fifth and Madison to sketch the library again, this time at thumbnail size. Although this sketch is wonkier, I like it more than the first try.

Tsutakawa fountain

With 20 minutes left until the throwdown, I looked around for something I could finish in that time: George Tsutakawa’s “Fountain of Wisdom” in front of the library’s Fourth Avenue entrance. The wind was so strong that the water was spraying sideways as much as flowing down!

As I write this on late Sunday afternoon, the pouring rain is back, this time punctuated by thunder. USk Seattle leads a charmed life.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

I’m a Pencil of the Week Cover Girl

My cover of Pencil of the Week and a couple of remaining stubs I used to hand-color it!
Now that the issue has released, I can finally reveal a project I worked on all summer! More than six months ago, Ed Kemp contacted me about collaborating on an issue of the unique zine he writes and publishes, Pencil of the Week. Possibly the first-ever zine of pencil reviews, PotW offers Ed’s down-to-earth, bluntly stated, no-bull opinions of the many graphite pencils he uses daily on the job and elsewhere. A happy reader and subscriber for a while, I was thrilled when he proposed working on a project together!

Naturally, being of the colored pencil persuasion, I had suggested a special edition of reviews of red/blue bicolor editing pencils (you know how much I love those), which I knew he used. We went back and forth with ideas, and eventually I developed a cover design for issue No. 15.5. Since zines tend to be of a handmade nature (Ed handwrites all the pages, which he then photocopies, collates, folds and staples to produce each issue), I decided I would hand-color the first 64 covers. For copies he sells after those sell out, I also produced a color digital version that he can print from.

Testing reds and blues

In my excitement, one thing I had not considered until after I made the proposal was that typical copier paper is terrible to color on with colored pencils. It has almost no tooth, and unlike on smooth drawing papers, pigment seems to slide instead of adhering. I went to my local FedEx Office store for some paper samples. I also tested a number of different colored pencils in my collection to see which would be best on the less-than-ideal paper and to find just the right shades of blue and red. Prismacolor was my choice – for the right colors, the right softness with the paper, and ease of replacing singles (since I knew I would burn through several pencils).

Although I still wouldn’t recommend it for drawing with colored pencils, the 32-pound white seemed to have the most accommodating surface. I photocopied the line drawing onto the paper 2-up, and then the fun could begin! I spent many happy summer days out on our shady back deck coloring the covers.

Happy days on our shady deck.

64 hand-colored covers later, my part of the project is complete!

I just received my copies of 15.5, and it’s a blast to read Ed’s ranked reviews of 15 red/blue editing pencils, including the stunning surprise No. 1 – a red/blue I hadn’t tried! But Ed kindly sent me some, and it’s fantastic to use as well as beautiful!

Check out the red and blue staples! Edition numbers handwritten by Ed!

Which pencil is it? Order an issue to find out. 😉 If you hurry, you might still get a hand-colored cover. And each order of No. 15.5 comes with No. 15, too!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The K in CMYK


9/13/21 Crown Hill neighborhood

On an errand in the Crown Hill neighborhood, I thought I’d do some leaf peeping and sketching on the way home, but even without fall color, this stand of big old trees caught my eye.

In compositions like this, the Jeep and other cars are important contextual elements, but I don’t want whatever color I put on them to pull the eye away from the part that caught my eye. I tend to draw them in neutral gray, but sometimes that doesn’t seem strong enough. As I mentioned recently, I have been trying black lately as my neutral dark value color. I go back and forth on whether I like it, and in this case, I do. It occurs to me that the K in CMYK (which is the basis of the primary triad I have been experimenting with) represents black (it actually stands for key color), so maybe black makes sense.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Small Stories


9/3/21 Central Market
A man in a waiting room. A free toilet on the sidewalk (“Works great!” the sign reassures me). A live lobster in a tank at Central Market. The world is full of small stories for those who look for them with a sketchbook.

8/13/21 A doctor's waiting room

8/27/21 Maple Leaf

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Back to the Zoo


9/10/21 Humboldt penguin
Animals have always been a favorite sketching subject. During my first couple years of sketching, I spent a lot of spring and summer days at the Woodland Park Zoo. Even in cold, wet weather, I headed straight for sheltered areas and some happy sketching time. I think the zoo is where I first began gaining experience in life drawing – life that moves quickly and doesn’t pose. Back then, I was still a bit self-conscious sketching on city sidewalks, but I felt relaxed at the zoo, where it seemed natural to spend time observing animals by sketching. As I grew more comfortable sketching in different urban environments, I spent less time at the zoo, but I still love drawing animals.

One day recently, I realized that it had been more than two years since I last sketched at the zoo. Now that school is back on, the weekday crowds are gone. We had let our membership lapse during the pandemic, but last week we renewed it and made our first post-vax visit.

Compared to the Before Times, I didn’t feel I could leisurely linger at exhibits as I used to because most visitors are courteously distancing, and we felt compelled to keep moving. Even so, I managed to grab these gestures quickly. Compared to jays and squirrels, these furry and feathered critters were sloth-like! I hope to make a few more visits before the weather goes bad.

Gray wolf

Great gray owl

Steller's sea eagle

I left most of the photography to Greg, but I did snap this one of a pair of
gray wolves. We saw three that day.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Backyard Diners


9/9/21 Steller's jay

Nearly every day this summer, we’ve been having our lunches out on the back deck. Most days, our neighborhood Steller’s jays join us: When they hear us through the open kitchen door prepping our lunches, they stand on the deck railing, quietly waiting. They know we’ll be out soon, peanuts in hand. We’ve seen as many as four at a time at our makeshift feeder.

Once in a while, our local squirrels try to get in on the action. We don’t make an effort to feed them, but they and the jays seem to coexist in a non-hostile manner, so we don’t mind if they grab a few peanuts for themselves.

9/9/21 Our local squirrel

Meanwhile, Greg and I are busily grabbing, too – I, my pencil; he, his camera. Some cold and rainy day this winter, I’ll probably use one of his photos to draw a squirrel or jay, wistfully remembering these lovely summer days that are likely to end soon.



Sunday, September 12, 2021

Morgan at Gas Works


9/9/21 Morgan (about 15 and 4 minutes)

The plein air painters and I were treated to yet another fabulous morning at Gas Works Park, where model Morgan dressed as a colorful rollerskater. (Bonus for Morgan: She got to skate around the park during her breaks!) Although I usually walk around the model’s single long pose and try various angles, this time I liked her foreshortened leg from the first angle I chose well enough that I stayed there through a few sittings.

About 20 minutes

About 20 minutes

During one of Morgan’s breaks, I faced some of the gas works partially covered with ivy and other plants. With a soft ArtGraf carbon pencil, details are not possible, so the strange gas works take on intriguing abstract shapes. They are so much fun to sketch!

Gas works

My favorite sketch of the morning was this one of Steve, whose strong painting stance was, by that point, more interesting than the model.

Steve painting Morgan (20 minutes)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Late Summer at Green Lake (and Permanent Blue)


9/8/21 Green Lake
Every day now I imagine that our weather will change, and we’ll head straight into fall’s wet, gray, relentless gloom. Looking around at all the parched, yellow grass and singed trees, I would welcome such weather with relief, yet I also can’t help but rejoice whenever the sunshine continues: It’s a Pacific Northwest sketcher’s constant ambivalence.

Last Wednesday morning at Green Lake, it was softly breezy and 71 degrees. I stood in the full sun to make this sketch without breaking a sweat. My walk home was just as comfortable and pleasant. It’s hard to give this up.

Technical note: Even though I was skeptical, I tried yet another blue: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle’s Permanent Blue (670). I haven’t had much use for this blue, which is dark and subdued when dry (the darkest shadows under the trees where I mixed it with Purplish Red), but when activated, it becomes a bright turquoise (though my scanner doesn’t seem able to show it accurately). As I expected, the green I got when I mixed it with Lemon Yellow isn’t right.

Museum Aquarelle Permanent Blue (670) mixed with Purplish Red and Lemon Yellow

Friday, September 10, 2021

15 Minutes

9/7/21 Ravenna neighborhood

USk Japan comes up with interesting and fun challenges to keep its members motivated and engaged. The admins also encourage members to talk about their processes when they complete a challenge. A recent prompt was to make a sketch in 15 minutes. In my little pocket-size Field Notes, I often make sketches that take no more than five or 10 minutes, but I never use color; they are always simple line drawings. However, I doubt I had ever made a sketch in that short a time using my usual A5-sized page. I looked for the timer on my phone’s clock. Game on!

For my first attempt (at left), I used the primary triad I have been using frequently, so neither the colors nor the composition was particularly challenging. The subjects I chose were the usual trees and parked car in a typical composition, so they required little thinking. With only 15 minutes, I did minimize details, and I skipped painting the sky, which would have required drying time. It felt too easy.

I decided to try another one – this time without color and with unfamiliar subjects that would require more thinking (below). My strategy was similar to how I approach life drawing: I started with big shapes, then continued to add more and more detail all over the composition simultaneously so that at any moment, when time was up, all parts of the sketch would have the same degree of being finished. (In life-drawing terms, I can’t start putting in eyelashes if the model’s limbs are not yet drawn!) All that life-drawing practice has taught me how to pace myself for whatever the time period is. This one was more challenging but also doable. It was a fun challenge!

9/7/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Anyone else game for a 15-minute sketch? Turn on your phone’s timer and give it a shot! 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Yellow: Warm or Cool?


9/6/21 Triadic study 1: cooler yellow

When I was studying many different primary triads (mostly at random and definitely not with the guidance of the CMYK principle) a while back, I felt that yellow usually played well with others. As long as the blue and red were in harmony, any chosen yellow probably wouldn’t ruin the song. Red and blue can be aggressive, while yellow is an easy-going player. My test sketches, though, were almost always mostly-red apples or tomatoes, so the influence of yellow was mostly on the red and rarely on blue.

Now that I’m making my triadic studies in the field, I’m learning different things. Now the influence of yellow on blue is all-important because trees and foliage usually play a key part in my compositions. And now that trees are turning, the yellow/red combo will become more important.

Prismacolor CMYK model

With all of that in mind, I started thinking more about yellow, especially its temperature. Using the Prismacolor CMYK model – Process Red (994), Canary Yellow (916), True Blue (903) – as a guide, I started out with Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle’s Yellow (010) because it looked closest to Prismacolor’s Canary. Fairly quickly, however, I switched to the cooler Lemon Yellow (240), which I preferred when mixed with the very warm, intense Phthalocyanine Blue (162), resulting in a cooler green. In the previous sketch that I made of the row of Japanese maples, though, I didn’t think the mix with red was warm enough.

I thought it would be both fun and informative to make an empirical study with only one variable: yellow. I went out looking for a scene in which I could put both green foliage and a turning maple in the same composition. I rarely sketch exactly the same scene twice, one right after the other, but in this case, I wanted to eliminate other variables.

In both sketches, the blue is Caran d’Ache Supracolor Gentian Blue (370), and the red is Museum Aquarelle Purplish Red (350). In the first sketch, the yellow is the one I have been using most lately, Museum Aquarelle Lemon (240). In the second sketch, the yellow is the warmer Museum Aquarelle Yellow (10).

Now that the trees are turning, I prefer the warmer yellow, although I still prefer the cooler one if the foliage is green. More experiments are needed, of course, and I’m happy to make them if September continues to be as beautiful as it has been.

I’m sure painters have written entire dissertations on this topic, and I could understand why: It’s endlessly fascinating. Although I still believe that yellow plays well with others, I think it has a lot more influence on the result than I was giving it credit for. Anyone else experimenting with triads and have thoughts on yellow?

9/6/21 Triadic study 2: warmer yellow

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A Street of Maples (and Another Blue)


9/5/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

These are the variety of Japanese maples that are dark reddish most of the year, then turn brighter in the fall. Their challenging summer color prompted me to give them a try when I first began studying the CMYK-based triad in Kathleen Moore’s class in June. Now that these trees are turning, I gave them another try with a different triad, which I’m still having fun tweaking.

Although I liked the green I mixed from the slightly cooler Middle Cobalt Blue (660) last week, I’m still intrigued by how different the mixes look with the warmer but extremely intense Phthalocyanine Blue (162) (both Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles). This time I tried Supracolor’s Gentian Blue (370), which is much closer in warmth to Phthalocyanine but slightly less intense. This sketch was not a good test for mixing greens, so I’ll save that for later, but the straight Gentian Blue I used for street shadows makes a striking contrast with the warm trees.

These maples offer a challenging range of hues: The foliage is mostly dark red-orange, but their shaded underbelly has a muddy greenish cast. When I use my full range of pencils, trying to capture the colors “accurately” usually frustrates me. A huge benefit of staying with a primary triad is that it keeps me from trying to be too realistic. The sky, too, was a challenge on this day: It was cloudy when I put in the background, but then the sun came out just long enough to cast those ground shadows!

Supracolor's Gentian Blue (370) compared with Museum Aquarelle's Phthalocyanine Blue (162)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021



9/4/21 Lake City neighborhood

Looking like it had been clawed by several cats daily for many years, this couch on Lake City Way had seen better days – a long time ago. Nearby was also a rickety office chair. My guess is that these were only the beginning of a collection of furniture that would be put out on Labor Day weekend, which I’ve heard is one of the most popular weekends to move.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Mercedes Convertible


8/3/21 Mercedes convertible spotted in Maple Leaf

This ‘80s vintage Mercedes is one of my favorite convertibles. I think it belongs to a visitor in our neighborhood, not a resident, as I’d never seen it before. I tried to mix verdigris with lime to capture that particular vintage shade of cool green, but I didn’t quite get it.

Halfway through the sketch, the owner came out, and I was afraid he was going to drive off, but all he did was get something out of the trunk. It’s funny – I was standing just across the narrow street, yet he never noticed me. Maybe it’s like when I’m feeding the jays: If I stand very still, I become invisible.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Model-less at Gas Works Park (and Strike Three for Inktense)


9/2/21 Gas Works Park (Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils)

9/2/21 Derwent Inktense pencils
Ching, Natalie and I met up at Gas Works Park for life drawing last week. When the model was significantly delayed, however, we decided to turn it into an impromptu urban sketching outing instead. Sunny but not hot, September mornings like that make up for the relatively un-summery last half of August we had. Even with touches of turning leaves in sight, if the rest of the month looks like that, I could let go of summer graciously.

Technical note: In the mood to try a primary triad with a different colored pencil line, I brought along three Derwent Inktense water-soluble pencils. Although I know it is popular with many sketchers, the Inktense collection has never gotten love from me. The unpredictable hue shift when activated plus the unnatural palette itself are two factors that keep me from using these much (I haven’t written a full review, but this post has more comments on Inktense behavior). Now I can add a third unpleasant factor:

9/2/21 Sketchwaiting for the model

In the vertical sketch of the gas works (at right), I used my usual Caran d’Ache Middle Cobalt Blue (660) for the sky, but for the rest of the sketch, I used Inktense. The CMYK-based triad I chose worked out OK in terms of hues. Despite the garishness I’ve sometimes encountered with Inktense, these three pencils – Iris Blue (900), Sun Yellow (200) and Fuchsia (700) – made a vibrant green, and I also like the violet of the darkest shadows. But what a struggle to layer those pigments! Instead of blending, successive layers seemed to skid and slide on the previous layers. These pencils might be OK for coloring-book-style spot colors that don’t require blending, but I sure had to work hard to get the darkest value as dark as I wanted when the layers wouldn’t apply evenly. I admit I’m spoiled by the soft, creamy application of Museum Aquarelles, but even so, Inktense pencils feel downright scratchy and dry by comparison.

That’s it. I’ve given Inktense as many chances as I’m going to. It was such a relief to go back to my beloved Museum Aquarelles for the second color sketch.

When the model doesn't show up for life drawing, the solution is easy!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Sweet Alchemy


9/1/21 Sweet Alchemy at 43rd and University

A few weeks ago when I wandered through the U-District, I was delighted to see that Sweet Alchemy Ice Creamery was still there. Warm that day, I couldn't sketch my ice cream before it melted. I brought Natalie with me this time on a slightly cooler afternoon – cool enough, anyway, that I could quickly sketch enough of my ice cream to finish from memory. I was a bit torn about the flavors I chose – Capitol Coffee and Dark Side – because other flavors like the ones she chose would have been more colorful. But my tongue won out over my esthetic sensibility.

It was sunny and pleasant while we sketched, but that morning I had awakened to our furnace turning on – it was 49 degrees outside! Every day, I see more signs of fall.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Green Lake Sweet Gums (and New Blue)


8/31/21 Green Lake

A regular stop on my annual leaf-peeping tour is a stand of trees at Green Lake that I had been generically referring to as maples, but I learned that they are actually sweet gums (at right in my sketch; the stand at left are a different kind of tree). During my first year as a sketcher, dazzled by their color, I bravely sketched these trees, but I remember having much difficulty with perspective, scope and scale. Since then, I have sketched them every few years (here’s 2013 and 2016), yet it’s still a challenging composition.

A few days ago, I stood in my usual spot to sketch them, when it occurred to me: Why do I make it so hard on myself? If I just step back a ways, the perspective would be easier, and the composition would probably be better, too.

In the sketch above, I tried Middle Cobalt Blue (660)
instead of Phthalocyanine Blue (162).

Technical note: Although I’ve been enjoying the intensity of the primary triad I’ve been using lately (Caran d’Ache Purplish Red 350, Lemon Yellow 240, Phthalocyanine Blue 162), sometimes that warm cyan seems a bit too intense. For this sketch, I swapped out 162 for Middle Cobalt Blue 660, which is my favorite blue for Seattle skies (when it’s actually blue and not Payne’s Grey, that is). It’s a bit cooler than Phthalocyanine and also less intense. I think I prefer the green it makes with Lemon Yellow compared to Phthalocyanine. I added a bit of black under the trees to keep those distant areas both cool and dark.

An interesting challenge about using a triad with such an intense Purplish Red is finding the right balance in the dark shaded areas of the trees so that they read as shade and not as red leaves (trees on the left). If you’ve never tried sketching with a primary triad, I recommend it. It’s a fun challenge!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Last Call for Peaches


8/30/21 Wedgwood neighborhood Metropolitan Market

Metropolitan Market always has the best peaches in town. During its annual Peach-o-Rama promotion, it’s a big deal to see how high the sugar content is on the “sucrometer.” “Our peach experts check the peaches daily to make sure we offer only the ripest peaches, bursting with sweetness. The higher the brix score, the more flavorful, aromatic, and sweet the peach.” The daily brix score is posted next to the peach display. Maybe it’s just marketing, but I don’t care – they really are the best.

In the Before-Vax Times, we didn’t shop at Metro Market at all, and we sorely missed Peach-o-Rama last year. We certainly made up for it this summer, though, and the peaches have been as good as ever.

Knowing that peach season would end soon, I was happy to still get some when I stopped in on Monday, but I was told it was probably the last week for Peach-o-Rama. The maples in the parking lot (which are on my annual leaf-peeping tour), already with more color than I expected, seemed to confirm that summer was over.

Technical note: In yesterday’s post, I talked about how I was nervous about putting my primary triad hues together for the darkest value, so I used black instead. For this sketch, I wanted the store interior under the awning to be as dark as possible without the bright hues overpowering the trees. Using only cyan and magenta worked OK, and avoiding water activation helped to keep the hues subdued. I’d like to get the tone darker, though.

This triad is going to be fun to use during my leaf-peeping tour this year! It’s a bit challenging to mix the right balance of cyan and yellow, but I love the cohesiveness of the simple palette.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Harbinger of Fall


8/29/21 from our upstairs deck

A maple behind a house across the street has become my early harbinger of fall. It’s one of the first to start turning, usually in late August. Last year I sketched it with just a touch of color on Aug. 23. This year, I noticed the color around then, but I didn’t get around to sketching it until Aug. 29.

Despite being overly dry, it’s been a delightful summer for sketching, and we’ve been lucky to have only one bout of smoke so far (knock on wood). I’m always wistful when the first trees start to turn, but I feel that way even more so this year: It’s been a joy for USk Seattle to meet up again, but once the weather gets wet and then cold, it’s going to be hard to find sheltered, outdoor areas. Our usual indoor mainstays that we depend on every winter may not be safe options as the Delta variant continues to rage. It’s a difficult dilemma.

Technical note: When I want a neutral dark, I tend to fall back on Payne’s Grey. With the primary triad I have been using lately, though, Payne’s Grey sometimes can’t to hold its own against those extremely vivid hues. I’ve lately been trying a black Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle when I want a really strong shadow. In this case, I even used it for the background trees behind the maple. In reality, they were a very dark green, much darker than the maple, and I was afraid that if I had mixed the three primaries to get the value as dark as I wanted, the result would compete with the maple.

Using black pigment is often frowned upon by painters who enjoy mixing their darks, and I can understand the fun in that challenge. Maybe next time I’ll resist black and see if I can achieve a mixed dark from this triad that doesn’t come off as downright garish.  

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