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

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Squared Crown Hill Trees (and Triad 3)


6/20/22 Crown Hill neighborhood

Eighth Avenue Northwest in Crown Hill is one of my favorite streets to sketch. A center divide between the two directions of traffic is lined with dense Zelkova trees. I thought that they had been trimmed in a weird, squared-off way to accommodate large trucks and buses, but a friend told me that the trimming has happened naturally as vehicles have hit the lower branches! I tend to sketch there in the fall to catch the color. Here’s a sketch I made in November when the backlighting was lovely. Several years earlier, there was more color by November, and another year the color was just starting in October.

On the day before the solstice, an overcast morning appointment brought me to Ballard, so I drove home by way of Eighth Northwest to see what the trees would be like to sketch in June. Lighting conditions weren’t the best that day, but I liked how each tree showed a fringe of soft light. It was a good test for primary triad 3.

After a few sketches, I had decided that primary triad 2, although slightly warmer than triad 1, was not doing it for me. I’ve swapped out the Caran d’Ache Turquoise Blue (171) for Caran d’Ache Ice Blue (185), which sounds cooler, but it’s closer to the Phthalocyanine Blue (162) that I was using in my original CMYK-based triad. Purplish Red (350) and Yellow (10) remain the same.

Primary triad 3

My choice may sound reasoned, but it’s probably more random than reasoned. I simply pulled out several blues I thought would work, made triad swatches, and picked the combo I liked best. It’s always interesting to make swatches because mixed triad hues never quite look the way I expect them to, which is part of the fun and excitement of using them. But the proof is always in the sketches – not the swatches. The hues in the sketch above might be cooler than I had intended, but ironically, it seems about right for our cooler-than-average June.

Traditionally, primary triads are made by mixing warms with warms or cools with cools. By mixing warms with cools, undesirable mud can sometimes result. That’s the basic concept, anyway, that I learned in a beginning watercolor class during my first year or two of sketching. Color mixing is more complex than that, however, and when I first learned about the primary triad based on CMYK hues, my head exploded: The three hues I think of as primaries are not necessarily red, yellow and blue at all!

Triad 1 is still in the running, but I haven’t used it often enough to decide whether it’s “right.” Ultimately, whether a triad is “right” is just a feeling and not a formula.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Soft Landing: Rickshaw Valet


Rickshaw valet and wallet

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Rickshaw Bags. Ever since my first Zero Messenger Bag (now 10 years old and still looking great), which has traveled with me to four continents, I’ve found reasons (and excuses) to buy more bags in other colors, sizes, fabrics and styles. I also have several stationery and daily-carry accessories (search “Rickshaw” on my blog, and you’ll see most of my collection). Handmade in San Francisco, the products are all well made, durable and – the most addictive part – color-customizable!

Two accessories recently caught my eye. The one that’s art-related is the plush Valet Tray. Traditionally, a valet is used by men as a pocket dump, but it’s meeting a different need of mine. When I’m working on a drawing or other project at my desk, I’m constantly picking up and putting down various pencils, pens, scissors or other tools, and I don’t like the noisy clatter they make on my desktop surface or a hard tray. The rectangular 4-by-8-inch valet is an ideal size for giving my tools a soft, silent place to land – it’s plush-lined! (Yes, my pencils have a more comfy seat than I do. I don’t buy Rickshaw’s gorgeous, plush-lined fountain pen cases or coozies because I refuse to let my pens be better dressed than I am.) (OK, I do have one Clover Pen Sleeve [alas, no longer available], seen in this post, but it has a specific travel purpose beyond keeping my pens warm and stylishly dressed.)

This plush-lined valet is sized just right for pencils! When the corners are unsnapped, it flattens for storage or travel.

The second recent purchase is even more exciting because it’s something for which I have been searching a long, long time. I gave up on women’s wallets and “secretaries” decades ago because they are always too big, too bulky and have too many unessential compartments. I’ve been using a men’s “money clip” for years, but the leather slots have gotten stretched out, and the cards are no longer secure. Although I’ve looked, I haven’t found one as simple as the one I have.

Rickshaw’s newest product is exactly what I need: The small, thin Snap Wallet – just large enough for the few cards I carry and nothing else. Like my favorite Rickshaw bags, the colors and fabrics are customizable. Naturally, I got one in waterproof, purple X-Pac fabric to match my “winter” Zero Messenger.

Thin and small

Just enough room for a few cards, bills, ID and nothing else.

Will I get a wallet to match every bag (unfortunately, they don’t offer pink fabric to match my pink “spring” Zero Messenger)? Don’t even suggest it. But at $19, it’s certainly a good value.

Matchy, matchy.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Cool and Rainy Green Lake


6/17/22 Green Lake Way from Retreat Coffee

While the rest of the country burned, boiled and flooded, we were still “enjoying” June-uary. Don’t get me wrong; I’d choose a rainy 58 degrees over triple digits any day (we got a taste of the latter just about a year ago, and it was hell in more ways than one). At the same time, I was resentful that I was still wearing socks (my personal policy is to avoid socks from Memorial Day through Labor Day).

Last week on a drizzly afternoon, dressed in socks and Polartec, I defiantly went to Green Lake anyway, looking for a sheltered spot to sketch from. Retreat coffee house, situated on a corner, has lots of sheltered outdoor tables and chairs on two sides. I found a good spot facing a curve on Green Lake Way.

Thumbnail study

The thumbnail I started with taught me at least two things: One was that I didn’t want the light pole to be in the middle of the composition, so I cropped it into a square instead of a landscape rectangle. It also showed me that the line I had made for the curving street was more prominent than I wanted, but if I made it less so, then I needed something else in the foreground. I didn’t bother to draw the foreground car in the thumbnail, but I knew what I had to do for the final color sketch.

As for color, this sketch was made with primary triad No.1, and I still have my doubts about it. My intention was to find a primary triad that was warmer than the CMYK-based one I had been using, and this one feels too cool. Or maybe it’s just right for the summer we are having: By the time I finished the thumbnail, I had to move my sketchbook away from the edge of the table, as the drizzle had turned to full-on rain.

Cool palette to match our summer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Lake Union Park with New Friends


6/18/22 Space Needle from Lake Union Park

Urban sketchers and fans of products from Traveler’s Company and Art Toolkit have a lot in common: They all love documenting their days, and they all love fun sketching tools! Seattle urban sketcher and Traveler’s rep April Wu invited USk Seattle to help introduce urban sketching to users of Traveler’s Company art journaling materials. In addition, Maria Coryell-Martin, developer of the Art Toolkit, gave a demo and showed her popular portable watercolor kits at the event last Saturday. It was fun to meet new sketchers, and we hope they’ll continue to join USk at future outings.

The chosen location, Lake Union Park, is one of my favorites, and it was a productive afternoon for me: Several compositional studies, a couple of which made the cut for larger, color sketches. A bonus was the gesture sketches I got of the many critters hanging out near the water.

First on my list of priorities was documenting the Space Needle, which was recently repainted in its original “Galaxy Gold” to commemorate its 60th birthday. I tried a composition with the Needle next to the Museum of History and Industry’s old clock, but I didn’t like it enough to do a full-color sketch. A walk around the park led me to some large purple allium flowers that seemed a perfect contrast to the orange Needle.

As many times as I’ve sketched at Lake Union Park, I don’t think I had captured the Center of Wooden Boats building before. To me, it’s not a very interesting modern building, so I looked for a composition that would frame it. While I sketched, some aggressive Canada geese walked right up to me, honking their demands for food! Anyone who gets in my face like that should know they will be sketched.

Aggressive honkers and prolific poopers... but they did have cute goslings in tow.

Lots of wildlife to sketch that day!

April (at right) and Maria (in cap) introduce urban sketching to
fans of Traveler's products and the Art Toolkit.

Great turnout of many first-time urban sketchers as well as long-timers!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Life Drawing at Gas Works Returns

6/16/22 Amelia at Gas Work Park

One of my biggest post-vaccine joys last year was being able to participate in life drawing again – and at Gas Works Park! (Even without COVID concerns, I’d enjoy life drawing outdoors more than inside any studio.) After a long winter and wet spring hiatus, life drawing at the park is back on again, and it couldn’t have come soon enough, nor on a more beautiful morning.

As before, the group is primarily made up of portrait painters, so a single pose is set for the full three hours. Since the model didn’t move, I moved myself around during Amelia’s breaks to get different views. Each of these sketches was about 20 minutes.

As I always do when I return to life drawing after a long pause, I felt super-rusty. I didn’t do too badly in capturing Amelia’s resemblance in the portrait, but the figure proportions are way off, and the drawings did not feel like they flowed. I hope getting back into a weekly routine will put me back in the groove.

I didn’t stay for the full three hours because I got tired of the pose, but I made use of being at Gas Works to do a few composition studies for the 30-Day Challenge (you saw a couple of them in last Sunday’s post).

It’s funny – because I have never enjoyed drawing from photo references, I am not at all in the habit of taking photos for that purpose, especially when I’d rather be sketching. But this composition challenge has (begrudgingly) shown me that using photo references can be instructive, so I’m trying to make it more of a regular practice to build up my photo reference bank. Gas Works Park has endless potential for intriguing compositions; I took lots of photos with the intention of possibly using some for future studies.

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