Monday, July 4, 2022



6/27/22 Green Lake neighborhood

Thumbnail for sketch above
The sketch above was the result of an interesting progression: I began with a vertical study (the right side of the thumbnail), which is one of my typical parked-car-with-trees-and-street-shadows compositions. Then I saw a building in the background that I wanted to include. Although it goes against the practice I am learning of making a composition tighter, not larger (and often I regret the change when I do expand a composition), I decided to try making it wider.

By the time I started the color sketch, the foreground truck had driven off. Thankfully, the thumbnail came to my rescue! Who knew that thumbnails could be as helpful and effective as all my instructors and books have been telling me? In any case, I think the part I added actually improved the composition instead of weakening it. Bonus: I got to put in the cute mail truck.

Color note: This sketch uses primary triad No. 3 (Caran d’Ache Ice Blue [185], Purplish Red [350] and Yellow [10]). I’m warming up to this triad (pun intended) – I used a higher ratio of yellow to blue in the trees, and it feels like the right amount of warmth I have been looking for. I’m not finished experimenting, though – I have a couple more ideas to try.

Incidentally, warmth was on my mind in more ways than one when I made this sketch: It was not yet 90 at the time, but eventually it became the hottest day of the year so far. I stayed very still in a cool spot, and the whole process took less than an hour. By early evening, strong breezes blew the heat off, and by bedtime, it was cool enough to sleep. That’s what I call an old-school Seattle heatwave of the type I grew up with. After the longer, more severe heatwaves we’ve had in recent year, this one made me nostalgic.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

30-Day Challenge Finale: Rewarding


6/26/22 same scene from photo

6/24/22 Green Lake (from life)

The final week of my 30-day compositional challenge resulted in a couple of interesting observations. One afternoon at Green Lake, I made two thumbnail studies from life (above left). I noticed and then became fixated on retaining a tiny sliver of light on one side of a tree, which was otherwise silhouetted. I took a few photos before I left the spot.

It’s very rare that I would draw the exact same scene from both life and from a photo, so I wondered how different the experiences would be. A couple days later, I made another thumbnail study, this time from a photo (above right). Each experience had different benefits. From the photo, I was better able to abstract the background because it’s slightly out of focus. But I could barely see that sliver of light in the photo. Since I knew it was there, I suppose I could have faked it. But if I hadn’t first drawn it from life and had only snapped a photo, would I have even noticed that tiny bit of light? (This question is the sketcher’s equivalent of whether a falling tree makes a sound if no one is there to hear it.)

6/28/22 from photo

And speaking of observation, one study I made from a photo seemed to take on a life of its own as a drawing, not just a thumbnail: the one of trash cans (at left). Beyond capturing the shapes and values, I got interested in rendering that slim crescent of light on the wheel and the unexpected reflected light under the part of the trash can that protrudes slightly. I probably would not have noticed those bits if I hadn’t made this composition study. Not everything may be worthy as a drawing subject, but everything is worthy of the close observation that drawing demands.

As you’ve likely gathered from my weekly reports, Ian Roberts’ 30-day challenge has been enormously instructive, illuminating and rewarding, even in ways that I hadn’t expected. I automatically “see” compositions wherever I look now. I don’t expect all my compositions to be great just because I’ve focused on studying the topic for a month. But if a sketch ends up going awry, I think I’m now much better able to identify what went wrong. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that it’s a faulty composition – and perhaps the real fault would be that I didn’t make a thumbnail study first! All those books I read and instructors I heard (but didn’t listen to) were right: Taking a few minutes to make a thumbnail first can save so much time and aggravation later!

Most surprising was something that wasn’t even an objective of the challenge: I gained an appreciation for the value of drawing from photos. I even found a way to enjoy it (though it will never replace drawing from life). I’m ruminating on more thoughts related to drawing from photos, to this challenge specifically, and to art challenges in general . . . coming up in future posts.

6/25/22 Greenwood neighborhood

6/27/22 Green Lake

6/27/22 Green Lake

6/30/22 Gas Works Park

Challenge completed!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Blah Backyard Composition (Plus Mini Sendak’s New Job)


6/26/22 Our backyard view

If you’re a regular reader, you well know that I can sketch almost any mundane subject repeatedly and still entertain myself as well as find something new to explore. I’ve been doing it for most of my 10-plus years as a sketcher, especially since the pandemic. My 30-Day Challenge reinforced that message: Any subject can become a compelling or dynamic composition; it’s up to the artist to find it.

I’m not saying that what I did find in my blah backyard last Sunday was anything compelling or dynamic, but when the temperature climbed to the mid-80s, I was motivated to sketch from my shady back deck, where it was only in the high 70s with a lovely breeze. I noticed that our neighbors had pruned their sour cherry tree, leaving a hole of light surrounded by foliage. It was a compositional challenge, to be sure, but armed with a glass of iced tea, I was up for the task.

An essential thumbnail to find composition
potential. I wish I hadn't lost the window.

An initial thumbnail study was definitely essential – was a composition in there somewhere? I loved the slender strips of light on the tree limbs, and the garage and house beyond had some potential. Unfortunately, in my over-exuberance with scribbling foliage with water-soluble crayons, I managed to obscure the window that I had put in the thumbnail, which was regrettable. It would have been nice to retain that strong, dark rectangle behind the organic foliage.

Sketch kit and color note: In winter and early spring, I used my mini Sendak pencil roll as a convenient way to bring along experimental materials while sketching in the car. Now it has a new summer job: The mini Sendak is an easy way to tote a selection of materials out to the deck. I packed the Sendak with some Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons and Museum Aquarelle pencils in primary triad hues and used them together. The triad I used here is mostly my favorite CMYK, except I swapped out Lemon Yellow (240) for the slightly warmer Yellow (10). The other two colors are Purplish Red (350) and Phthalocyanine Blue (162). I like this triad – not too different from my usual CMYK, but the warmer yellow makes some difference. The triad reflects our cool backyard, but it’s not the warm summer triad I’ve been looking for.

Speaking of the Neocolor II crayons, they are an interesting animal that do not mix with Museum Aquarelle pencils as much as I would expect. Although they are both water-soluble and rich in pigment, and the crayons apply well over pencils, pencils do not apply as well over crayons. The crayons leave behind enough of a waxy surface that pencils seem to slip and slide over it. Using them together requires a bit of planning. In this sketch, I used pencils for the finer lines, and then I could go to town scribbling the foliage with Neocolors heavily but very quickly.

I don’t like taking Neocolors out on location, as they are a bit more fiddly to handle standing up, but they are lots of fun. They are ideal for large areas of color that don’t require fine details, like trees and other foliage. I hope to use them more from the deck this summer.

My back deck studio.

Another primary triad trial.

Hard-pressed for a composition, I persisted.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Shaniqua’s Dress

6/23/22 Shaniqua
The last time I drew model Shaniqua, she was costumed as an elvan character of some sort, complete with pointy ears. Last week for life drawing at Gas Works Park, she was wearing a fabulous period dress that was made of brocade, lace and other gorgeous embellishments. I wish I could have taken a photo of her to show you. Heck, I wish I’d had the patience to spend several more hours making one drawing so that I could have captured more of the dress!

But never mind the dress; I was having enough trouble capturing Shaniqua’s likeness that day. You can tell I didn’t do well in that regard because each sketch looks like a different model. The only one that resembles her is the last one I made (at right). I was getting frustrated because her large, round glasses often obscured her eyes. For that last drawing, I left the glasses out. I was happier being able to draw her eyes without  having to work around the glasses.

As is typical for me, I didn’t have more than 20 minutes of patience per sketch. When I got tired of the single pose, I moved to the back and sketched a couple of the other artists. I admire how these painters diligently work on a single painting for the full three hours, and some pay the model for photos so that they can continue to work in their studios. Portrait painter James Kurihara, who organizes the Gas Works life-drawing group, currently has a show at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center. His portraiture is impressive, and it’s fun to recognize many of the same models I have sketched at Gage. 

6/23/22 Artists painting Shaniqua at Gas Works Park

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Size Matters


6/22/22 Green Lake Park

During my first couple of years of sketching, I often opened up my sketchbook and sketched across the full spread. That wasn’t a choice based on the composition or subject matter; I did it because I had difficulty scaling down to a small page, so I thought it would be easier if I gave myself as much space as possible. It took me a long time to realize I was approaching the solution backwards: I know now that small pages are much easier to compose (not to mention fill in less time).

For years now, I’ve rarely gone larger than an A5-size page. It’s usually only in workshops when the instructor recommends or requires it that I ever go larger. (Since it’s something I avoid, it probably means I need to give myself a 30-day challenge to make myself sketch larger! Did I say that out loud??)

One of many things I’m learning (or reinforcing) during my current 30-day composition challenge is that my typical thumbnail size – usually around 2 ½ or 3 inches – is a wonderful size for finished sketches as well as studies. They are fast to complete, but more important, they are much easier to compose.

Several examples came up last week. With less than 10 minutes to kill while waiting for a friend at Green Lake, I made a thumbnail study from my parking space with a blue pencil (below, left). That was all I was planning to do, but I still had time left. I added magenta and yellow from primary triad 3 to the study (below right), and a few minutes later, my 2 ½-inch sketch was done. Even though it was tiny, it felt like a “real” sketch since I had made the thumbnail first (and the thumbnail had done its job of identifying values and composition)!

Voila -- the study is now a sketch!

6/22/22 study for sketch at right.

Later at Green Lake when I had more time, I decided to walk to a house I have admired and have thought about sketching for years, but its complexity is daunting. Painted blue, green and beige and with a hexagonal turret, round windows and other unusual architectural details, the unique house turns heads on Green Lake Way. (If you follow Steve Reddy, he made a beautiful drawing of it several years ago.)

I first made a thumbnail from a near-elevation view (below), not so much as a composition study but just to learn more about it. I didn’t like that view, so I walked a few yards south, where I found an angle I liked better. Since color is an important part of this house, I added a little. My intention was to make a larger sketch eventually, but by the time I finished these thumbnails, which took a lot of concentration, I was too tired! I think I’ll be ready the next time I go back, though, because it was informative to study the house on a small scale.

Thumbnail 1
Thumbnail 2

Needing a rest after that architectural ordeal, I looked around at Green Lake Park and spotted a couple of picnickers under some trees – a relaxing subject! I could have gone full-A5 page for this one, but I was still in thumbnail mode. I used only the top half of a page, so this is about 4 inches square (top of post).

Size matters, and small is easier.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Greenwood Car Show is Back!


6/25/22 Greenwood Car Show from Herkimer Coffee

Although I probably would not have attended even if it had been on, I’ve sorely missed the Greenwood Car Show, which was obviously cancelled the past two years. I’ve attended nearly every year since I started sketching. It was on this year, and I was excited to be back!

The show officially begins at 8 a.m., but my personal tradition has been to arrive at least by 7:30 a.m. to beat the crowds and catch some of the behind-the-scenes busy-ness. With a little more pressure to get ahead of the crowds, this year I arrived at 7 a.m. when Herkimer Coffee opened. Starting there with coffee and scone for sustenance, I sat outside to sketch whatever was in view, which in this case was a red roadster and its owner. I also caught a couple of pooches who were waiting patiently for their humans to come back out with treats.

Pups waiting outside Herkimer Coffee

Fully caffeinated, I started walking northward on Phinney Avenue through the show, which is billed as “A mile and a half of classic rides.” Although many impressive and unique vehicles would have been fun to sketch, the one that caught my eye first was a Corvette with doors that opened vertically. Not exactly like a DeLorean’s “wings,” these doors simply slide upward. When I Googled for information, it appears that the doors are a modification that can be made with a kit.

Corvette with modified doors

Here it is from the front.

The last one I sketched was a purple vehicle (heavily modified jalopy, perhaps?) and its bearded owner. By that time, it was 9:30 a.m., and the crowds were getting thicker than I felt comfortable with. Regretfully, I left, but it was still good to be back at one of my favorite summertime events.

Part jalopy?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Solstice Celebration


Many cultures have traditions or rituals to acknowledge the summer solstice. Here in Seattle, we have an annual (well, except during the peak pandemic years) Solstice Parade and fair in the Fremont neighborhood. I don’t necessarily have any personal traditions around the solstice, but if it’s actually summer-like that day (typically summer doesn’t begin here until July 5), it’s always cause for celebration.

With the day dawning clear, I took a morning walk with my Field Notes sketchbook and planned to sketch whatever caught my eye. Some turned out to be thumbnail composition studies. The one above started out as a study, but the addition of bits of color at the end made me decide it was actually a “real” sketch. Yes, my labels probably seem arbitrary, but I draw the line between a study and a sketch when I stop paying attention to the composition and just have ordinary fun.

6/21/22 Cloud City patron; Mt. Rainier from Maple Leaf Park

By afternoon we were both in T-shirts, and I could finally take my socks off. At Cloud City Coffee, we made a toast with our first al fresco iced coffees of the year, then paid homage to Her Majesty from Maple Leaf Park. Ahhh, summer at last – both on the calendar and in reality!


Selfie with victim.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Iconic in Fremont

6/24/22 J.P. Patches and Gertrude (sculptor: Kevin Pettelle), Fremont neighborhood

As many times as I have sketched in the Fremont neighborhood, I’m still always torn when I visit. On the one hand, Fremont is full of so many beloved icons (the Troll, the Fremont Bridge, the topiary dinosaurs, to name just a few favorites that I’ve sketched multiple times) that I never tire of sketching. But I also feel like I should branch out once in a while and sketch something less iconic or at least previously unsketched. Last Friday with USk Seattle, I couldn’t resist three icons, but at least I attempted one new subject.

The Saturn Building

First up was the sculpture of J.P. Patches and Gertrude, which I had not sketched since 2012, so I felt that a second sketch was long overdue. Since I had initially sketched it from J.P.’s side, this time I went around and took on Gertrude’s side. Probably only natives and long-time locals are familiar with J.P. as the host of a live-broadcast children’s TV program back in the ‘60s. Gertrude, J.P.’s sidekick and “girlfriend,” was actually a man. (Who knew that a man in drag would host a children’s TV show? Quite progressive for the ‘60s, even in Seattle!)

A water tower I hadn't sketched before

As we both sketched the sculpture, I discovered that Paul is also a Seattle native, so we chatted about all the local children’s TV shows we had grown up with. He went to high school with Stan Boreson’s son! I have had no such brush with fame, although my Brownies troop did appear on J.P.’s show once.

Feeling happy and nostalgic, I made a couple of quick thumbnail studies for my 30-day challenge: the Saturn Building, which I had sketched only last month, and a water tower visible from the J.P. sculpture, which I had not sketched before. There – something previously unsketched and less iconic!

6/24/22 Statue of Lenin

The meetup location was the statue of Lenin, which I have sketched several times. Although I wasn’t planning to sketch him again, I had about 15 minutes to kill before the throwdown – just enough time for a small portrait.

So the icons won again. It’s a losing battle in Fremont.

Just for fun, I’ve included below my first sketches of J.P. (from 2012) and Lenin (from 2013).

4/17/13 My first sketch of Lenin

8/9/12 My first sketch of J.P. and Gertrude

My childhood hero, J.P.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Composition Challenge Observations

6/18/22 Lake Union Park

 My 30-day composition challenge has prompted me to sketch more often from photos than I have in the whole 10 years that I’ve been sketching. Although it will never be the same as drawing from life, I have come to appreciate its value as a learning tool. However, when I start the day by sketching from a photo, I don’t feel like I’ve drawn yet until I’ve made a live sketch. I had a similar observation when I was drawing from memory and imagination during my 100-Day Project: Drawing didn’t feel “real” until I did it from observation. After more than a decade of focusing on observational drawing, maybe I have trained myself to associate “real” drawing only with drawing from life.

6/19/22 Gas Works Park (from photo)
Another thing I’ve observed from this challenge is that the compositions I am most attracted to usually juxtapose the irregular, organic shapes of trees and other plants with the hard, manufactured or built angles and lines of houses, cars and poles. That has been my sketching interest for a long time, yet I don’t think I had articulated it to myself until doing these daily studies made me more aware of it. When I look back at the composition studies I’ve made, they almost all include a contrast of soft and hard lines.
6/19/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

6/20/22 Crown Hill neighborhood (the lower one 
was the initial study for a larger, color sketch)

6/21/22 Maple Leaf

6/21/22 Maple Leaf

6/22/22 Maple Leaf (from photo)

6/23/22 Gas Works Park

6/24/22 Fremont neighborhood

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