Monday, January 31, 2022

Foggy Panorama


1/27/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I usually save panoramic compositions for when I’m outdoors and have a wide landscape ahead of me. On this morning, it was neither situation – just looking through my narrow, east-facing bedroom window. But the part that was interesting to me was mostly above the roofline, so I tried this. It looks a bit truncated, but I like the fringe of foreground trees. Strangely, it’s hard to draw the tops of trees without drawing the trunks.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Big White Sky


1/24/22 Northgate neighborhood

The fog had thinned by 2 p.m., but enough of it remained to give the fringe of trees in the distance a blurry softness. Everything looked about the same tone of gray – a bit of a sketcher’s nightmare, really, with not much standing out. Unless the sky has something interesting in it, I typically don’t include much of it in my compositions. On this wide street in the Northgate area, however, not even wires marred that completely flat whiteness. So this turned out to be a sketch of the sky as much as anything else.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

What Could Be More Important than Pencils?


1/23/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood, Seattle

As you know, I enjoy drawing fog. Happily, I get plenty of opportunities here in winter.

My favorite material for fog is graphite, but last week I tried a black colored pencil, just to see what it would be like. Then I remembered that colored pencil doesn’t smudge nearly as much as graphite. The soft, blurry effect was lost to my visible pencil marks on the subtle paper texture.

On this morning, I went back to graphite. As much attention as I give to my pencils, the most important tool for fog was the blending stump. The eraser was important, too – the chimney’s brickwork.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Pre-Class Portrait Homework


1/26/22 Conte crayon (from photo)

A few days before his workshop that was scheduled for this weekend, instructor Ned Mueller (whose demo at Gage Drawing Jam impressed me thoroughly) invited students to a short Zoom meeting. An important purpose was for him to get a sense of everyone’s experience level, which is all over the map: Some students said they are beginners, while at least one is an art instructor herself with many years of experience. Ned asked us to submit a few recent drawings before the workshop to give him an idea of skill level and to help him target the instruction and feedback appropriately.

After showing a time-lapse video of him making a portrait of the type we will be making in the workshop, he gave the optional homework assignment of submitting one or two portraits in the method he demo’d. Initially, I was a bit taken aback by this pre-class homework – How can I do the thing I’m taking the class to learn? – but the assignment was straightforward: Don’t make a finished drawing; just focus on large shapes, size of the head, and placement of features. OK, I guess I can do that. I picked out one of the photos he sent us to work from and made the portrait above with a sanguine Conte crayon.

A huge challenge for me will be scale: The drawing above is on 7-by-9-inch paper at the same scale as the reference photo, which made it fairly easy to copy. In class, we will be using 18-by-24-inch paper! I’m so used to working in a small sketchbook or paper no larger than 9-by-12 inches (or whatever fits on my desk) that the large size will be quite a stretch (literally in my small studio!). I don’t have a full-size easel, so it will be interesting to see how I manage.

Unfortunately, we just received notice that the full workshop has been postponed a few weeks. I’m still looking forward to it, and in the meantime, I’ll figure out how I’m going to draw on big paper.

Hmmm... I wonder how I'm going to draw on 18"x24" paper...?

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review: Karst Woodless Artist Pencils

Karst Artist Pencils
I hate to admit it, but it happened again: I was seduced by beauty.

Since I’m feeling confessional, I might as well spill it all: The primary reason I was on the Karst site was not for the company’s unusual stone paper sketchbooks (such as the one I reviewed yesterday, which I was genuinely curious about). It was that Facebook’s darn algorithms knew that I would not resist clicking on an image of distinctively beautiful colored pencil packaging.

In addition to notebooks and planners, Karst offers two sets of pencils, one graphite and one colored, both of which are woodless. Since Karst’s stone paper is made without trees, the wood-free aspect of the pencils fits the company’s values. “With no grain direction in our stone paper, and because our pencils are the ideal hardness for our journals and pads, Karst Pencils simply glide across the page making shading effortless and cramp-free,” says the marketing copy for the set of 24 colored Artist Pencils.

My heart-shaped eyes squinted with skepticism: By definition, pencils of all kinds need some kind of friction to adhere to the page. Stone paper is “completely friction-free.” “Designed specifically for use with Karst paper, but suitable for all paper types”? My heart-shaped eyes overruled my skepticism, and I quickly put the pencils into my shopping cart (along with the stone paper journal).

Readers of this blog know that this will not be the first time I have succumbed to visually spectacular packaging and presentation, even while doubting the performance of the pencils. But really, can you blame me? Take a look below – design worthy of a museum gift shop. I’ll stop talking and simply let you ogle these Karst pencils (a few comments in the photo cutlines).

Outer box includes wisdom by Anni Albers.

Even my devil mug has heart eyes for this lovely display box!

I'm guessing that the pencils are made by Koh-i-Noor, as they look identical to Progresso woodless pencils.

Foam inside the lid keeps the pencils protected and in place when stored.

Beautifully rounded ends and simple branding. No color numbers or names.

I probably should have left them on my desk to admire instead of sketching with them. [Insert foreboding soundtrack here.] But why buy pencils if I’m not going to at least try them?

I picked out a triad of Karst colors that matched closely to CMYK – so far, so good. Since the pencils are “designed specifically for use with Karst paper,” I made my first sketch in the Karst notebook (below). The first strange behavior I noticed was in the initial mixing swatch. When I applied yellow first, other colors applied over it seemed to resist the yellow. As comparison, I made another swatch with a Prismacolor yellow first and applied Karst colors over it. In that case, the black and magenta Karst pencils resisted less. Resistance in a colored pencil might make an interesting effect, but not when trying to blend.

1/12/22 Karst woodless pencils in Karst Stone Paper journal

The small sketch above took the better part of an hour as I worked harder and harder to eke out more color. The more I applied, the less appeared. Among the hardest colored pencils I have used, they slip and slide on that “friction-free” stone paper (as I suspected they would). The woodless pencils may offer “5 times more pigment, and no unnecessary wood barrel,” but that pigment was not appearing on the page.

Based on my experience, I would tend to pair a hard colored pencil with a toothy paper, not “friction-free” paper, as a harder core can get into a textured paper’s nooks and crannies better. Since the Karst pencils are “suitable for all paper types,” I pulled out my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, which has a light tooth, and tried again (below). I was able to get a little more color in less time, but with no less frustration. Despite their beauty, the Karst woodless pencils are terrible to use with both smooth and slightly toothy papers.

1/18/22 Karst woodless pencils in Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook

1/18/22 Prismacolors in Karst Stone Paper journal 

To satisfy my curiosity, I tried one more test. With a very smooth paper, I find softer pencils, not harder, to be more pleasant. I already knew from using the two waterproof notebooks,
Field Notes Expedition and Karst Stone Paper, that soft graphite feels great and also makes a rich line on those ultra-smooth papers. Since the Karst woodless pencils are “designed specifically for use with Karst paper” (counter to my intuition), I went to the other extreme and used soft Prismacolors in the Karst notebook (left). As expected, the Prismacolors were much more pleasant, and I was able to get more color on the page in less than half an hour.

My assessment: Not only are Karst pencils unsuitable for Karst paper; they are wretched to use on any paper. While the woodless aspect of the pencils might be appealing, a much softer pencil would be so much better on that friction-free surface.

Regardless of their wretchedness, they are still lovely to behold. Will I learn from this lesson? Unlikely. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Review: Karst Stone Paper Pocket Journal

Karst Stone Paper Pocket Journal

I don’t go out of my way to sketch in the rain, but when it’s drizzly, my only reward to go out fitness walking is that I might be able to sketch. That’s when I grab my Field Notes Expedition (see my review), which contains Yupo, a waterproof paper. A “synthetic paper” made of polypropylene, it feels just like plastic – toothless, tear-proof and nearly indestructible by normal means.

I kept hearing about another line of notebooks containing waterproof, tearproof paper: Karst Stone Paper. Claiming to be made of “100% sustainably recycled stone,” the paper piqued my curiosity, and I picked up an A6-size pocket journal. Information on the bellyband goes on to say that the paper, made without trees, bleaches or acids, is produced with a 60 percent lower carbon footprint.

Right off the bat, I like the size and format better than Expedition (which is Field Notes’ standard 3 ½ by 5 ½ inches): A6 (105 x 148mm) offers just a bit more page real estate but still fits in my bag pocket.

Also right off the bat, I detected an unpleasant smell to the paper – synthetic-y, plasticky or chemical-y. How’s that for articulate? I can’t describe it, but I don’t like it.

The matte covers are pleasantly smooth without feeling plasticky (which is how the Expedition feels, inside and out). The only branding on the front is a small logo in the corner. The sewn binding allows the pages to open completely flat. I can also easily fold back the side I’m not using while sketching. The latter two are both important features to me.

The Karst's A6 size is a smidge larger than Field Notes Expedition.

Information on the bellyband about environmentally friendly stone paper.

Red thread used for stitched binding.

On the inside back cover is a pocket for storing ephemera.

Although it was not my intention to do a head-to-head comparison between Expedition and Karst, I thought it was important to at least compare the papers in how various media react to them. In general, the media I tested reacted about the same on both paper types. All wet media stay wet much longer than on most papers, so they are prone to smearing (especially for this lefty).

Scribble tests on Karst stone paper

Same media on Expedition. I nearly obliterated the word "Energel" when I inadvertently touched it before the ink had dried, which took a long time.

When I tested the soft Blackwing graphite pencil, I was surprised to see that the Karst paper has a tiny bit of texture, because I certainly can’t feel it as I scribble (it offers “friction-free writing,” says Karst’s marketing copy). When I run my hand on it, though, the Karst does feel more like a matte finish, while Expedition feels more glossy – even less friction than “friction-free.”

Shown below are the reverse sides of the Expedition and Karst scribble test pages. The Expedition is completely opaque, while the Karst has faint ghosting. Of course, neither shows any bleed-through; I don’t think either paper is capable of absorption.

Reverse side of Expedition

Reverse side of Karst

The challenge with either of these papers is finding an acceptable medium to draw with. As you can see, many (though not all) pens will work, but some inks will take so long to dry that smearing is inevitable (probably even for righties). And yes, both papers are completely waterproof, but what’s the point of waterproof paper if you can’t write or draw on it while the page is wet? There’s the rub: The only things I’ve tried that work on a wet page of either Expedition or Karst are graphite and colored pencils – the softer, the better. In the test below, I spritzed a Karst page with water, then immediately tried to scribble with a ballpoint pen and a graphite pencil. The pen stopped writing immediately, but the pencil was fine. (This is exactly the same as what happens with Expedition.)

Soft graphite is the only medium I tried that will work when stone paper is wet.

I’ve been using Expedition for a few years now, and soft graphite is my favorite to use in it. There’s never doubt about whether it will work, and I can count on it to work even if the page is wet. That’s also the case with Karst – I like the way soft graphite feels on it. Graphite does smudge a bit (see the word “Blackwing” above, which I smudged after the page was dry), but no worse than on regular paper.

Instead of frowning the next time it was drizzly, I gleefully took the Karst notebook with me on my walk. You can’t see it in my sketch photo, but the page was misted with rain as I sketched. The cover also withstood moisture nicely (a few drops visible in that photo). When the page and cover dried completely, they showed no trace of ever having been wet. The Karst stone paper notebook makes a fine rainy-day sketchbook.

1/20/22 Gekkoso 8B graphite in Karst Stone Paper journal
Drizzly cover

Is it better than the Expedition, though? That’s probably a matter of personal preference. I like the Karst’s A6 size better, and it’s nice having a completely blank page (Expedition has dot grid ruling). At $9.95, the Karst is double the cost of Expedition (three for $14.95). If the environmental impact (or lack thereof) of production is important, that’s something to consider; I haven’t seen information about what it takes to produce Yupo paper by comparison. For me, the weird smell of stone paper is a deal-breaker. I don’t like it, and I don’t want to smell it every time I sketch.

This is not the last time I’ll be talking about this Karst stone notebook, however, because I have another review coming up: a set of colored pencils that was ostensibly “designed specifically for use with Karst paper”! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Different Beauty


1/20/22 amaryllis

It turns out that I still had more sketches to do of my amaryllis. I have a fondness for flowers at this stage: The colors are fading, but the blossoms now have individuality and character along with a different kind of beauty.

Instead of closely observed studies, this time I pulled out my Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles for looser sketches, which I hoped would express the blossoms’ mature exuberance. Since I didn’t do it previously in my nature journal spread, I also wanted to make an accurately scaled, full-height sketch to show how tall it got relative to its pot. I even included the stick that Greg tied to the stalk, which a friend had recommended to support it.

Technical note: These sketches are a good example of how I selectively activate watercolor pencils to indicate depth. It’s easy to get carried away with watercolor pencils and simply activate every part of the sketch because it’s fun to watch the pigments intensify and become more vibrant. But I prefer to activate only the areas in the foreground to bring them forward. By leaving dry the parts of the composition that are further back or less important, they tend to recede.

Monday, January 24, 2022

My $25 Sketch Kit

Is it possible to build a high-quality sketch kit for $25?

 The Art Supply Posse podcast took on a fun challenge: Build a beginner sketch kit for $25 or less! Although I’ve built myself many types of sketch kits for various purposes – minimalism, wet weather, life drawing, physically tiniest, nocturnes – I’ve never put one together with an eye on whether it could be purchased for $25. Game on!

The important factors would be versatility and value – a kit that could serve as many of my sketching needs as possible for the lowest cost. For me, that would mean the kit would have to meet my urban sketching needs, which might eliminate some specialized needs like sketching at night or life drawing. If you’re considering building your own, it would be key to consider how you would use your kit the majority of the time.

If cost were the only factor, it would be easy enough to assemble a watercolor pencil sketch kit inexpensively. Cheap colored pencils are a dime a dozen. But of course, I’d want it to be a good sketch kit that I would be satisfied using on a daily basis – that’s a bit more challenging, but certainly possible.

Let’s do the fun part first: the watercolor pencils! Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a luxury user in this department since I was spoiled early on by Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles: Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going to make it into this kit. But Caran d’Ache Supracolors would be only a minor compromise (after all, they would be my choice if I absolutely had to choose only one colored pencil – it’s that versatile). The key is to carefully select a basic, open-stock palette ($2.69 each at Blick) instead of buying a pre-packaged set. And that palette would be four CMYK-based hues: Gentian Blue (370), Purplish Red (350), Canary Yellow (250) and Black (009). Yes, it’s challenging to use only these four colors, but my experiments have been lively, informative and fun.

Open-stock Caran d'Ache Supracolors... 

... in a CMYK palette.

An essential partner for watercolor pencils is a waterbrush. My choice would be a Kuretake in the compact, versatile medium size ($5.75 at JetPens). There are cheaper brands, but they lack the plug between the brush and reservoir, which I find important for controlling water flow.

With watercolor pencils as the color medium, a pen is optional. I use one so often, though, for line drawings without color that I consider it an essential sketch kit item. Any of my favorite fountain pens and inks would blow my kit budget big-time, so my choice is a Uni Pin brush pen ($2.45 at JetPens), which is currently the pen I use most for sketching anyway. Containing waterproof, pigment-based black ink, the tip lasts longer than most firm-tipped brush pens under my heavy hand – at least as long as the ink – so it’s a good value.

The clincher is the sketchbook: I’m picky about paper quality, and I don’t think compromising on paper is ever a good idea. My long-time favorite Stillman & Birn Beta softcover or my current Hahnemühle watercolor book would put me way over budget. I have an easy solution, though: Go back to hand binding sketchbooks, which I did for many years (and if I ever travel again, I intend to make a book for each trip as I always used to). My favorite paper for that is Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper in the 9-by-12-inch size (30 sheets for $8.84 at Blick) which folds nicely into 6-by-9-inch signatures. With the same 52-page count as a 5 ½-by-8 ½-inch Stillman & Birn, I could make a book for about $4, including bookbinding thread and cardboard covers.

The final essential piece in this urban sketching kit would be a portable pencil sharpener. Here’s where I am saved by putting Supracolors into the kit instead of slightly girthier Museum Aquarelles: The barrel is a standard size, so any sharpener will fit. (The few handheld sharpeners I own that fit Museum Aquarelles would put me over budget.) The Kum wedge is not the best handheld sharpener in the world, but it gets the job done sufficiently, and for only $1.95 at Blick.

Here’s my tally:  

Supracolors: 4 x $2.69 = 10.76
Waterbrush: 5.75
Brush pen: 2.45
Handbound sketchbook: 4.00
Sharpener: 1.95
            Total: $24.91

High quality, compact and essential for $24.91!

1/22/22 Central District (Caran d'Ache Supracolor pencils 
on Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper)
You’ll note that I haven’t used the term “beginner” for this starter kit as the Posse did; it’s an idiosyncratic kit for myself. But if I were recommending one for a beginning urban sketcher, would it be any different? Not much. I might take out the brush pen and suggest replacing it with any pen or pencil of choice. The best way to start sketching is to use a drawing instrument that is already familiar and comfortable. Everything else, though, is a perfectly good, basic watercolor-pencil-based urban sketching kit – and very compact and portable, too!

It’s easy enough to add up some supplies to equal $25, but I thought it was only right to put my money where my mouth is. I brought the budget kit with me the next time I went out and made the sketch at right. (Part of the house really was cyan blue and so was the sky!) I inadvertently cheated when I grabbed the spritzer from my bag without thinking, but since the spritzer is a reused bottle of hand sanitizer, technically it adds zero cost to the kit. My budget is intact. Indeed, it’s a perfectly good kit that I am happy to use. (Maybe not indefinitely, but I consider it a starter kit.)

(Whew! It’s been a while since Ive had to use a calculator to write a blog post! I need a nap.)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Crown Hill House


1/19/22 Crown Hill neighborhood

When I was working on my series of Maple Leaf architectural styles, I almost always had to stand on the sidewalk across the street to get a good view of the house fronts. I can’t sketch much from my mobile studio unless I turn myself uncomfortably sideways, so I usually leave house sketching for warmer days.

Looking for a sketch in the Crown Hill neighborhood, I discovered a few residential streets that end at the cross street without going through. That means I can face the fronts of some houses while parked on the perpendicular street: Ideal winter sketching from my car. This green house with a blue roof caught my eye. The recessed area at the bottom of the stairway is the front entrance at street level, which is unusual for houses of this style. My guess is that it has been remodeled significantly, maybe to accommodate a resident who wanted easier access to the street. That tall tree at left? In a few months it will conceal most of the house, so I’m glad I caught this sketch now.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Blindingly Fun


1/18/22 Ching, Tina and Natalie

While chatting with friends on Zoom the past two years, I’ve sketched a variety of subject matter. Easiest is a small still life like a pastry on my desk. I recently tried sketching the view through a window while online with USk Seattle. Most commonly, I sketch the people I’m chatting with – whether they know it or not. That’s probably the most challenging, though I thoroughly enjoy it. They’re all fun in different ways.

Last week when I Zoomed with Kate and Roy, I tried blind contours, and that’s possibly the most fun of all – and the results are always amusing. This week I made blind contours of Ching and Natalie. Perhaps I’m starting my Picasso phase.

If you socialize on Zoom, I highly recommend making blind contours! In fact, I recommend it even in a business meeting on Zoom. I guarantee that the meeting will be more fun that way, at least for you (sharing results with business colleagues not recommended 😉).

Friday, January 21, 2022

Like Snow, But Better


1/17/22 Foggy in Maple Leaf

Fog is like snow: It completely changes the way I see ordinary views. With nothing but tones and values, and most details hidden, drawing those ordinary views feels fresh again.

We often get morning fog this time of year, and I enjoy the way it teaches me how far away familiar things are. Even during the half-hour or so that I sketched this, distant trees came in and out of view as the fog’s density changed constantly.

The best thing about fog, though, is that I know how to drive in it, and shoveling is not required.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Through the West Window


1/16/22 West view sketched while Zooming with USk Seattle

USk Seattle is back on Zoom, at least until it warms up enough so that we can meet safely outdoors again. Instead of doing only a “hold up” of previously made sketches, we tried something different: Sketch together while chatting online. Apparently USk Poland, whose members are geographically spread throughout the country, has been sketching together online since before the pandemic. Thanks to Carol for suggesting the idea, we gave it a try, and it was a lot of fun! We had more time to chat than we usually do at real outings. With more than 20 in attendance, we’d never be able to sit at the same café table for wintertime sketching, even during “normal” times. Meeting on Zoom would not be my choice if it were safe to meet in person, but it does have its benefits.

Sunday’s theme was to sketch a room, through a window or whatever we could see from wherever we were. The view through my west-facing window, which I have sketched several times as color temperature or value studies, made a convenient primary triad study this time. The fog gave everything a challenging mid-value tone, but I tried to liven things up with exaggerated hues.

Technical note: Since I started using a Hahnemühle sketchbook last month, I haven’t had many opportunities to use a spritzer to activate watercolor pencil where I’ve drawn trees or other foliage. My favorite spritzing bottle was downstairs in my bag, so during the Zoom, I made do with another one I keep on my desk. This one puts out a heavier spray, so I over-spritzed a bit, but even so, I’m pleased by how well the paper takes the water.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Lights Off


1/15/22 Wedgwood neighborhood

After an errand in Wedgwood, I was planning to stop somewhere, anywhere, for my typical sketch of “nothing.” I had pulled over facing a random traffic circle when I noticed a man putting up a ladder next to a tree. Then I realized that the whole row of tall trees was wound with lots and lots of lights: He was going to take them all down.

No wonder so many procrastinate long after the holidays: Taking down lights is a pain.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Late Bloomer (and Thoughts on Lines)


1/14/22 colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

Here’s the fifth and last amaryllis blossom that I was worried wouldn’t bloom because it was so far behind the others. Obviously, I didn’t need to be concerned!

For this final drawing, I used the methods I have studied in Crystal Shin’s botanical illustration workshops. While the nature journal sketchbook pages were done by making a line drawing first, I made this drawing entirely with colored pencils and with the intention of trying to make the initial contour lines disappear as much as possible. Using both methods back-to-back on the same subject got me thinking about the differences, though they are still mostly muttered musings. Being the process-oriented sketcher that I am, I thought I’d mumble out loud in this post to see if I could clarify and articulate my thinking.

When I first began sketching and for several years after, I used the “coloring book” method of making an initial line drawing, then coloring it with watercolor. Popular with many urban sketchers, it must be one of the most intuitive and natural ways to draw, since we all did it as children. The actual coloring books we used as kids reinforced the method: The line drawing was done for us, and all we had to do was color within the lines. Prehistoric cave artists also seemed to use a similar approach. Drawing a line around a shape is the most straightforward way to distinguish it from whatever is around it.

Around the time I started using colored pencils on location, it no longer made sense to use a pen to make an ink line drawing first: I’m already holding a colored pencil in my hand – why not use it to draw the contour lines? So I did. It then became natural to make the initial contour lines blend in with whatever color filled in the space.

Ultimately, when I started learning to make more formal drawings with graphite and colored pencils, the technique was the same as what I was doing in the field. In classes and books focused on classical realism, we are taught that the line (as in a contour drawing) does not exist in reality. A visible outline tends to flatten a shape into a comic character (such as Charlie Brown, not a highly rendered comic book Batman). Since a goal of classical realism is to render a form as three-dimensionally as possible, eliminating a visible contour line helps to reinforce the illusion of form.

Lines define shapes but flatten the forms.

Although I’ve studied all of this in various ways, it wasn’t until I sketched the amaryllis repeatedly that I started thinking about these concepts more actively. In the nature journal sketches, the ink contour lines help to efficiently define one petal from another, a bud from a leaf, or a change in plane. On the other hand, the outline does seem to flatten the forms, even when I tried to use color and values to help show dimension. I like the style for a nature journal format, so I’m not arguing against it; I just became aware of the effect.

My drawing at the top of the post is closer to the approach painters take, which is to avoid the visible line. Painters may make a pale graphite sketch to guide them, but they use a brush to make the shapes, and the under drawing disappears. Without ink lines, I had to work harder to distinguish one petal from another with subtle color or value changes, but it was somehow easier to create the illusion of form without the lines.

A few more comments about this final amaryllis drawing:

I wanted to make a “portrait” of this one late bloomer without drawing all the other blossoms, but I also wanted to somehow indicate that it was part of a larger plant. I tried ghosting the other blossoms lightly in the background, but now I think the drawing just looks unfinished. I’m not sure I like the effect, but it was something to try.

Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d'Ache Pablo, and vintage and 
contemporary Prismacolor pencils used in this drawing.

I had technical difficulties with lighting. The amaryllis is so tall that I had to put it on a box on the floor to put the blossom at the right height for me to see. It was not at all an ideal placement for either my desk lamp or the window, so it’s actually backlit (but not well). But as I’ve talked about here before, I enjoy approaching botanical drawing in the same way that I make urban sketches: Accepting whatever conditions I have to capture whatever is possible.

Of course, I could have put the blossom under ideal lighting and taken many photos to draw from; I’m sure that’s what a botanical artist would have done. The result would likely have been better, if by “better” you mean something that looks closer to a photo. But I don’t want to replicate a photo; I want to express life. (Maybe I should put that on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker. 😉)

Monday, January 17, 2022



12/29/21 - 1/11/22 ink and colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

I have never been big on house plants, mainly because they usually drop dead as soon as I walk into the room. However, the amaryllis that a friend gave me has brought me much pleasure in more ways than one. First, it has been growing and changing so quickly that it’s simply fun to watch; it’s almost a pet more than a plant. Now that it has bloomed, it is giving our kitchen a much-needed splash of color during these dismally dark winter days. Most of all, I have so enjoyed documenting its changes in my sketchbook. I filled a spread in my 7 ½-inch square Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook with two weeks of its growth.

From a coloring perspective, these two sketches were my favorite to make.
It was so much fun to make the subtle transition from green to red on the buds.

Now that all five blossoms are fully opened, I think I have only one more sketch I want to do: a portrait of a single blossom.

Speaking of five blossoms, I was curious about why one bud was so far behind her sisters (noted as No. 3 in the sketch). I realized it had been tucked behind another, so I gently pushed the showy sister’s petals away. Exposed to the window directly now, the fifth blossom perked up! See below for a few photos I took whenever I sketched.

Technical note: This line-first-filled-in-with-color style (which I call the “coloring book” method) is the way I started when I first began urban sketching. It’s an efficient, straightforward technique that many sketchers use. I gave it up gradually as I made the transition away from watercolors and toward water-soluble colored pencils; it has been years since I’ve used it on location. Using it again here gave me a lot to think about related to drawing with lines. Stay tuned as I try to clarify those thoughts by mumbling aloud.




1/11/22 Four blooming blossoms, but the fifth is still tight.

1/12/22 I curled a neighboring petal away from the fifth bud to expose it to the window.

1/13/22 The one on the right is the late bloomer -- open by the next day!

Materials used: Mostly Polychromos and few Pablo and Prismacolor pencils. 
Line drawings done with Sailor Naginata fude de Mannen fountain pen. Notes made
with Uni Pin pen.

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