Thursday, September 30, 2021

Gage Life Drawing is Back!


9/25/21 artist at work at Gage Academy

Will (20-min. pose)

At long last, life drawing is back at Gage Academy! I mean real life drawing, not on Zoom, which I appreciated throughout the pandemic but just wasn’t the same. Last Saturday, more than a dozen artists turned out for the much-anticipated return. A group that large would not have fit comfortably (or safely) in any of Gage’s studios, but out on the lawn in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral next door to Gage, we could spread out as much as we wanted in the brilliant, 70-degree sunshine.

As has been my habit at the informal life-drawing sessions at Gas Works Park, I moved around after each 20-minute sitting to get a different view of model Will’s single pose. Eventually I backed up behind the group and sketched a couple of the artists at work. Although long poses are not my favorite, it just felt good to know that life drawing at Gage was an option again.

Will (20-min. pose)

Of course, I don’t know how many more outdoor sessions the school will be able to offer, and I’m not sure whether I’ll be comfortable participating indoors, so my joy may be short-lived. But I’m grateful to Gage for whatever drawing opportunities there might be.

The last time I attended in-person life drawing at Gage was in November 2019. Reading my blog post from that time and remembering the session, it’s strange to think that I would not be able to participate again for nearly two years. Back then I thought this luxury would always be an option. Now I know better, and I do not take it for granted.

Artist painting Will

More than a dozen artists enjoyed sunny drawing on the lawn outside Gage and St. Mark's.

I would have attended even without the free donut!

St. Mark's Cathedral next door to Gage

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Seward Park Notes

9/24/21 thumbnails at Seward Park

While the weather has been good, we’ve been exploring city parks occasionally for our fitness walks. Seward Park is one we don’t get to often because it’s on the other end of town, but it’s a unique peninsula on Lake Washington. The 2.4-mile walking loop surrounds a dense forest of old trees. On a clear day, the park boasts a stunning view of Mt. Rainier.

We hadn’t been there in years, and the last time was in the dead of winter. My ulterior motive in suggesting that we walk there was to see its potential for leaf peeping and future sketching. In that regard, I was disappointed; despite many old trees, most were evergreen. Still, it’s a lovely park that was surprisingly uncrowded on a beautiful, sunny morning compared to Green Lake any day.

I stopped twice to make some scribbled, two-minute thumbnails. They’re really just visual notations for more lengthy sketching another time to remember the direction of the light while walking the loop counter-clockwise.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Preview: Hahnemühle Sketchbook and Postcards


Hahnemühle A5 sketchbook and postcard set

A few weeks ago when I shopped at Daniel Smith for the last time, one thing I had really hoped to stock up on was my daily-carry Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. Alas, by Day 2 of the sale when I made it there, the Beta edition books were all gone. The Beta I’m filling now is the last of my stash, but before shopping for more Betas elsewhere, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try something new.

Whaaat??! If you keep up with my blog, you know that no art supply sends me into a tizzy as much as choosing a sketchbook does. Paper is all-important, and if you use a variety of media as I do, then the choice is always a compromise in one way or another, making the decision even more difficult. Once I find an urban sketching sketchbook that works for me most of the time with most materials, I tend to stick with it. I don’t change sketchbooks impulsively or without plenty of hand-wringing and naval-gazing.

You will be shocked, then, to hear that I will be trying something new – and somewhat impulsively! I was shocked, too, as I found myself viewing a Hahnemühle A5 watercolor sketchbook and clicking “add to cart.” I know that Hahnemühle has a lot of fans among wet media urban sketchers, and I had been curious for a while, so maybe the choice wasn’t so impulsive after all.

As I continued searching for Hahnemühle products, I remembered that the German company also makes watercolor postcards. I haven’t been making as many postcard sketches to give away as I’d like to, and one reason is that I don’t like the strong tooth of the Strathmore postcard pad I have been using. I thought I’d try a tin of Hahnemühle’s cold press postcards, too.

I still have a way to go before my current Beta is full, so it will be a while before I start using the Hahnemühle sketchbook, but I made a couple of important preliminary tests right away.

First, I spritzed a page and a postcard heavily, spread the water, “licked” pigment from a watercolor pencil with a waterbrush, and applied it to the wet papers. After those dried, on the reverse side of each, I doodled a tree and spritzed it lightly. I also made a patch of watercolor pencil and left it dry. Although I’m not as fussy as watercolor painters are about how long paint floats on the sizing, these tests enable me to see how long I have before wet-in-wet pigment sinks in. I also like to see how well paper holds up to spritzing and what the surface texture looks like under dry pencil. Finally, it’s important to me to be able to sketch on both sides of the page.





Both the sketchbook and the postcard performed well in these tests, which are typically my heaviest uses of water. Although the 200 g/m2 (sketchbook) and 230 g/m2 (postcard) papers are significantly lighter than S&B Beta (270 gsm), they warped less. I thought both papers’ cold-press textures would be the same, but the sketchbook is a bit coarser, and both are slightly coarser than Beta’s texture.

Based on these tests, I’m optimistic about Hahnemühle. I especially like the sketchbook’s true A5 size, which I’ve always preferred to S&B’s 5 ½-by-8 ½-inch size.

It’ll be a month or two before I can give the sketchbook a full road test and review, so this is just a preview of my wild and crazy impulse. (Whats next – take up skydiving?) Stay tuned.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Zoo with Friends


9/23/21 Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo
When I saw that the weather forecast was for sunshine last Thursday, I decided to go back to the zoo, and this time I invited a few sketcher friends to join me. We all know that our outdoor-sketching days are numbered, and I, for one, am trying to grab any opportunity I can.

Since I was there just a couple of weeks ago, I went out looking for animals that I missed last time. One of my favorite exhibits is the African Savanna, where giraffes, zebras and ostriches roam around. They aren’t always close enough to see easily, but I try to treat zoo sketching like studio life drawing and focus on the gestures more than the details.


Female lion

Ostrich and zebra


I love the Visayan warty pig. With a long snout ringed by a white stripe, it’s adorable (for a wild pig).

Visayan warty pig

Napping peacock

In addition to an ostrich, I sketched a couple of other large, showy birds: a peacock and a flamingo (top of page). I couldn’t get the peacock to display for me; in fact, he was dozing off near some bushes, but that made for easy sketching. The flamingo was more challenging, and I was annoyed that I had removed my pink pencil from my sketch kit shortly after cherry blossom season ended. The color isn’t right, but I made do with a mix of magenta and red.

I wonder if I can squeeze in one more trip to the zoo before the weather goes bad. . .

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Review: ShinHan Touch Graphite Drawing Set

Set of 12 ShinHan Touch graphite pencils
The name ShinHan has crossed my radar only a few times (such as the Touch Liner brush pens and other markers), and I didn’t know anything about the Korean company’s products. Then one day when I was poking around the Blick site, I came across a set of ShinHan Touch Drawing Pencils. It seemed like the right opportunity to learn about ShinHan.

I must admit right up front that I am biased toward Japanese graphite pencils, and if I hadn’t seen that the Touch set was “made in Japan,” I might have hesitated (though unlikely longer than three seconds). The set was in my shopping cart as quickly as you can say “premium, pure cedar wood,” which the pencils are made of, according to the label.

As you’d fully expect from Japanese pencils, the cores are centered within that nicely lacquered cedar, though at $2 per pencil, I’m surprised they don’t have finished ends. Disappointingly, opening the tin did not send me into a sweet, cedar-scented reverie as other pencils have; their scent barely hints at cedar.

Perfectly centered cores

At first I was put off by the odd grade selection: 4H through 2B step through the usual sequential grades, but the softer grades skip odd numbers: 4B, 6B, 8B and 10B. Since I rarely need grades harder than 2H or even H, I would have preferred the full set of Bs while skipping some Hs. On further thought, however, especially after swatching the pencils, I realized it’s a sensible set. I tend to skip grades anyway, since the difference between a 7B and an 8B or between a 9B and a 10B is barely discernible. In fact, the swatches show that differences between the steps in the H grades are much larger, so it makes sense that all increments are included.

At first, the grade selection seemed puzzling, but it's sensible.

After making the swatches on Strathmore Bristol Smooth and slightly toothy Stonehenge White, I couldn’t resist grabbing my Mitsubishi Hi-Unis as the “control” for this test (yes, I’m annoyed that my 8B has gone missing). Although the grades are similar enough in terms of darkness, they are a mile apart in smoothness. I realize Hi-Unis are hard to beat, but they are also my most familiar drawing pencils, so they do work as a control. (If that doesn’t make sense, it’s a good thing I’m not a scientist.)

Finally, I picked out a clamshell from Ocean Shores for a test sketch. Using a relatively smooth Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, I started with a ShinHan 3H for the contour and first shading, then continued adding grades H, HB and 2B. I tried to forget about the feel and evaluate the graphite results only, and from that perspective, the Touch pencils are competent. You could certainly do worse. For those who prefer “feedback” from pencils, ShinHan Touch might be a winner.

9/20/21 ShinHan Touch graphite pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

For my money, though, I’d go for the Kitaboshi Art Set (the same price as ShinHan), which smells better, looks better and is very close to Hi-Uni in smoothness. Heck, for less money per pencil, you can get Hi-Uni! Which are the only pencils I know of that are as smooth as Hi-Uni. ‘Nuff said. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

First Stop: Metro Market


9/22/21 Wedgwood neighborhood

My personal leaf-peeping tour has begun in earnest! It seems early this year, but maybe I say that every year . . . it’s probably more a reflection on my reluctance to let summer go than nature’s actual timetable.

First stop: the maples in the Wedgwood neighborhood’s Metropolitan Market parking lot. These are not the same trees I sketched at the end of August (sadly, those are half-bald already). I looked back through my sketches to see if I had captured these same maples another year. Sketched from a different angle, the trees in this post from 2018 are likely the same ones, as they are in front of the fire station. That was two weeks later in the year, so I suppose they are turning at about the same rate this year.

Technical note: When I pick a focal point for a composition, I usually do a decent job of staying focused. I admit I was a bit distracted on this one, however. Obviously, I wanted to sketch the trees, but the ever-changing pattern of cars was fun to chase, too. Maybe some dreary winter day when the trees are bare, I’ll park in the same spot and sketch the layers and layers of diagonally parked cars instead.

Friday, September 24, 2021



9/21/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Every fall, I see this type of tree go from its usual lime green to a brilliant lemon yellow. They’re all around Green Lake and on my neighborhood walking route, too. I couldn’t get close enough to this one to photograph its leaves, so I am still trying to identify it.

(Sketched on Sept. 21, 2021, my 10th drawing anniversary. See? Still telling the same old stories. 😉)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ocean Shores, Part 2: Shells


9/15/21 crab parts sketched in situ

Nothing like a strong, single source of light!
Ocean Shores beaches are full of washed-up shells. This was new to us compared to Oregon’s Cannon Beach, where we more commonly see lots of kelp but not many shells. Crabs, clams, oysters and scallops were among the many shellfish remains we saw in all sizes. Some shells had been without their original owners for so long that they were encrusted with barnacles.

On one very sunny afternoon, I looked for good specimens that I could draw in situ. There’s nothing like a strong, single source of light to make still life drawing easier! When I walked on the beach, I took with me only my minimal-palette “pandemic” sketch kit (which now has even fewer colors than what’s shown in last year’s post), so I had the fun challenge of mixing hues I normally use in the urban environment – like stop sign red and heavy-equipment yellow  to sketch organic critters.

Although I had picked up a few shells, Greg was the big collector. Back at our cottage, I went through all the pretty specimens he had found and drew my favorites at the kitchen table (I had to draw the Dungeness crab leg right away and then toss it, as it was not smelling great; it was obviously only recently separated from its owner). Kitchen lights coming from all directions made it difficult to find the forms and cast shadows, but I had fun trying to capture the shell patterns and details. Now I have a whole box of shells to choose from when I need a still life to sketch this winter.

Sketched at the kitchen table

Too many lights in the kitchen, but more colors in my palette.

This was one of the tiniest crabs I spotted.

Many more to choose from when I sketch still lives this winter!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Ocean Shores, Part 1: The Beach


9/14/21 North Bay from our cottage deck

Ocean Shores on the Washington coast is one of the most easily accessible beach towns from Seattle, and yet we had never explored it before last week. Our first trip out of town in two years, it was a much-needed getaway.

Our Airbnb cottage

The sweet cottage we found on Airbnb was exactly what we were looking for: A water view, a quick walk to the shore, and a kitchen so that we could eat all our meals in. It was also extremely clean, comfortable and quiet (which we always hope for but don’t always get).

When we weren’t on the beach, I spent happy time sketching from our deck facing North Bay. The panorama at the top of the page was from our first morning. I took advantage of both morning and afternoon light, which created intriguing shadows and silhouettes.

9/15/21 morning

9/15/21 afternoon

9/17/21 Through the sliding-glass door during a squall right before we came home.
Our only agenda for Ocean Shores was hiking and exploring its beaches. Our FitBits showed that it’s easy to put in 10,000-plus steps a day when your reward is miles of fresh air and the sound of the surf. Although it lacks mammoth stone formations like Haystack at Cannon Beach, Oregon, Ocean Shores has its own charms. For example, many more shellfish seem to wash up there compared to Cannon Beach, so we had as much fun exploring the sand as the surf. (Tomorrow’s post will show some shells I sketched.) A major downside to Washington beaches is that cars are allowed to drive on them – one reason we favor Oregon. We knew, however, that the area in Ocean Shores where we stayed prohibited beach driving, so the traffic was people, dogs and shore birds only. (Apparently deer also hang out near the shore, but we didn’t see any. We did see plenty near the roads, though.)


Although I made one full-size color sketch from the beach (above), one thing I’ve learned from my travels is the value of thumbnails – and not just as a compositional tool. Perhaps thumbnails isn’t even the right term: All I mean is small, simple line drawings that take no more than a few minutes. Whenever I’m in a new place, I want to sketch everything I see, which, of course, is impossible. Instead of spending time on a few large drawings and feeling frustrated that I can’t do more, I opt for many smaller sketches. Each of the sketches below is 2 to 3 inches wide. Collectively, they tell a more complete story of my first trip to Ocean Shores.






9/16/21 The cormorants in the top sketch were sketched from our deck -- the first time I tried sketching through binoculars.

Other than to pick up takeout one evening, we made only one trip into town. On a drizzly afternoon, we stopped at Sharky’s gift shop, which is listed as an attraction on Roadside America. While I sketched the well-known storefront from the car, Greg took a brief look inside and reported many, many T-shirts and other souvenir items festooned with sharks. He resisted. I’ll save shopping for next time; I think the best part of the store is outside of it.

9/14/21 Sharky's

Since I can't fit the whole panorama (partially shown at top of page) on my scan bed, here's a photo of it. (Someday I'll learn to stitch together images.)

Nothing rejuvenates the pandemic-weary soul like the ocean!

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