Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Green Lake Street Trees

 

6/17/24 Green Lake

Sketching all the special street trees in Maple Leaf in Taha Ebrahimi’s book was almost too easy. I’ve already moved on to the trees of Green Lake, which will take longer because there are 10 of them scattered over a wider area. Shown above are two that are closest to home – a ginkgo and a southern catalpa.

Scanning a street as I search for a tree’s address (the residence closest to the tree), I can sometimes guess from a block away which tree it will be: Often the widest or with a distinctive trunk. Like the spectacular snow gum eucalyptus I sketched in Maple Leaf, this magnificent catalpa has an extraordinary trunk that I spotted easily from a distance. It is certainly a candidate for a more complete portrait later this summer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“Untethered” Sketches

5/16/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood. On a golden hour walk,
I found the distant downtown buildings to look more silvery than gold.
As I sketched, a bird nearby caught my attention, so I quickly used the
Merlin app to identify it while also trying not to lose the rapidly falling light.
OK, I guess this sketch does have a story!

Although it may seem like all my urban sketches are now taking a comics-like form, I still make some one-off sketches on location that have no sequence or inherent story. (And some one-off sketches do have a full story – at least told in words.) My current focus on the comics approach, however, makes those sketches feel incomplete in some way – like I left the scene without finding one more sketch that would have given the first sketch more context. Regardless, I value all sketches, even the ones that now feel story-less. They are simply part of a different process.

5/17/24 Ducks near Green Lake

6/6/24 Rabbit seen on my walk

I recently read Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage, a sketchbook diary about the comic artist’s travels through Europe. Initially, I thought all of the exquisite brush pen drawings were made on location, but that’s not the case; I think many were done with photo references and from imagination. Nonetheless, they were all done during the trip itself, not afterwards, and are impressively finished drawings that do not look “sketchy” at all.

5/23/24 Roofers at our neighbor's house (On second thought, I think this qualifies as comics.)

This quotation from Thompson’s book resonated with me and helped me identify the difference between a comics sequence and a one-off sketch:

A page of comics has its home – in a story; in a book. But a sketch is untethered, exposing process. The lines themselves aren’t special, but the memory attached to the stillness while making those lines.

Whether a sketch is part of a sequence or “untethered,” it always becomes special from the memory of making it. That has always been the most important part of urban sketching: My sketches are not necessarily about “special” moments; they are moments made special because I sketched them.

5/10/24 Maple Leaf. A walk during the golden hour.

6/10/24 Maple Leaf. A sketch for National
Ballpoint Pen Day.


Monday, June 17, 2024

Northwest Seaport’s 60th Anniversary (Plus Bi-Bim-Bap)

 

6/15/24 Lake Union Park historic ships

Although the weather gods teased us with dire forecasts of rain, hail, lightning and thunder, they took mercy on USk Seattle last Saturday – windy but dry to the end! A good turnout of brave sketchers showed up for the 60th anniversary celebration of Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center, which preserves and restores historic work ships on Lake Union.

To capture a survey of ships, I made small sketches of the historic tug Comanche, the Fremont Tugboat’s Dixie, and the lightship Swiftsure. Painted red, the 120-year-old Swiftsure is always popular among sketchers. In fact, I’ve sketched it myself several times, but this time I wanted a tall, narrow view to fit the space on my page spread, so I focused on the mast. (My current comics-like approach helped me see a composition I might not have chosen otherwise.)

6/15/24 Stone Korean Restaurant

After the outing, I joined a few sketchers for lunch at nearby Stone Korean Restaurant. Although I’ve had traditional bi-bim-bap, in general, I don’t eat Korean food often, so many dishes were new to me, like the delicious veggie pancake that the table shared. For my entrée, I chose a hot pot-style bi-bim-bap with crispy, toasted rice on the bottom – very different from regular bi-bim-bap and so delicious! Served in a dangerously hot cast iron pot, the food stayed hot for the duration of my sketch – an ideal sketch-meal!

I was so ignorant of Korean foods that another sketcher accused me of not being Asian, but now that she has educated me, I’m looking forward to enjoying more Korean meals.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Maple Leaf’s Street Trees

6/13/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood


When I learned about the very special bigleaf maple in the Ravenna neighborhood from Taha Ebrahimi, I also learned that she had recently published a book devoted to many special trees in Seattle – specifically urban trees growing on public rights of way. Street Trees of Seattle is organized by neighborhood, and each tree is described and shown on hand-drawn maps. In addition, the author’s drawings of many of the featured trees, their leaves and other features are also included in the 288-page book. What a gem of a tree guide for someone like me who knows very little about trees but loves drawing them!

I bought a copy right away and was delighted to find that all eight of the trees documented in the Maple Leaf section are right on my various walking routes! In just two days, I sketched seven (I skipped one that was mostly behind a fence). My summer project will be to choose at least a few to make larger, more detailed portraits.

Although Green Lake is technically not my neighborhood, it’s within walking distance, so I plan to sketch as many as possible of the 10 trees documented in that neighborhood, too.

6/14/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Street Trees of Seattle, by Taha Ebrahimi

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Summer is On at Pike Place Market

 

6/12/24 Pike Place Market

Although the Juneuary morning had called for multiple layers, you would certainly have believed it was full-on summer at the Pike Place Market. The fish were noisily flying among the fishmongers, the sun umbrellas were up, and the line outside the “original” Starbucks was a block long. By noon, the welcome sunshine appeared, layers were unlayered, and Roy and I met for sandwiches at Three Girls Bakery (the oldest continuously operating business at the Market and the first business licensed to women in Seattle). I was too hungry to sketch my lox and bagels, but I managed to catch the remains.


Adequately nourished, we sketched the Market “as if there’s no tomorrow,” according to Roy, and because “summer is short,” according to me.


Technical note: In a couple of these sketches, the white I used is a Tempera Paint Stick made by Shuttle Art. I learned about it from a sketcher friend a few weeks ago, and it’s an intriguing opaque medium. Made for kids, it applies like a wax pastel, but instead of being sticky and smudgy, it dries instantly and doesn’t smear or transfer at all! The blunt tip is a bit too chunky for these tiny sketches, but I’m going to try tapering it.

LINK light rail commuters


Friday, June 14, 2024

North Fremont

 

6/9/24 North Fremont

When most people think of Fremont, the troll, Lenin, and the monument to JP and Gertrude probably come to mind. That’s what I think of, anyway, and that southern end of Fremont is the only part I’ve spent any time sketching. On Fremont’s northern edge, though, where the neighborhood butts up against Phinney Ridge, it’s a little less “Center of the Universe-y” and more working class or maybe just more neighborhood-y.

To celebrate a friend’s birthday, we decided to meet at Uneeda Burger, which is housed in a building that must have been a garage at some point. The sunny deck in front was an ideal spot to devour messy, drippy burgers (both animal- and plant-based and taller than they were wide) on a lovely Sunday.

Arriving a little early to make time to sketch (and finished after lunch and a fun visit to the Fremont Sunday Market), I captured a few other buildings visible from the intersection of North 44th and Fremont Avenue North. The oldest was probably the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, a 1914 brick building that was originally St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Process notes: Like my old apartment building, none of these buildings struck me as particularly sketchworthy. The lighting wasn’t great on any of them, and let’s face it, I’m generally not a fan of sketching buildings just for the sake of sketching buildings (unless I’m in Amsterdam, Coimbra or Kyoto, of course). I’ve noticed, though, an interesting change in my attitude about architecture since I began making on-location comics. Because each sketch tends to be no more than thumbnail size to fit several on a comic-style spread, it’s much easier and faster to draw any building, even if it doesn’t interest me much. I look at each as simply a part of the larger story – in this case, an intersection in north Fremont – and it has become much more enjoyable to sketch these sometimes ho-hum structures. I don’t worry about getting angles or perspective right; I just choose a building’s corner and simplify it enough to fit into 2 or 3 inches. And I end up liking these small sketches much more than building portraits that I might fuss over for much longer. That’s a huge, unexpected benefit of embracing comics!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Above Targy’s Tavern

 

6/7/24 Upper Queen Anne neighborhood

Besides a change in view, I had a second reason for choosing the Queen Anne Top Pot to observe National Doughnut Day: It’s located only a half-mile from my very first apartment as an independent adult. Since living there 40 years ago, I’ve driven by a few times when I was in the neighborhood, but it recently occurred to me that I had never sketched the building.

When I arrived, the entire front of the building was in shade, and I was surprised by how tall the street maples had grown (I guess that happens in 40 years!). My apartment near the center of the upper floor had one window that looked out on the street, and back then I could actually see the street. Now all the apartment windows are completely obscured by those maples, at least in summer (though the trees probably also keep the rooms cooler).

Not a single thing about the scene appealed to me in terms of a sketch subject: It was too dark, too blah, and frankly, the part I was interested in – the window to my apartment – wasn’t even visible. Only nostalgia and a desire to document it made me put pencils to paper.

Incidentally, the corner of the main floor is still occupied by Targy’s Tavern, "Queen Anne's Favorite Watering Hole," which was founded in 1937. The building itself was built in 1902. (I didn’t know either of those facts when I lived there; I just Googled.) Whenever I used to tell people I lived above Targy’s Tavern, they expressed sympathy about the assumed noise. Actually, I never had much of a problem with that source of noise; the buses going by on 6th Avenue West were a lot worse, day in and day out. And can you believe I never had a drink at Targy’s?

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Queen Anne Top Pot

 

6/7/24 Top Pot Doughnuts, Queen Anne neighborhood

I typically observe National Doughnut Day at the Top Pot Doughnuts in Wedgwood, mainly because the twin palm trees and giant donut on the building are fun to draw. This year, for a different view, I went to the Top Pot in upper Queen Anne. Although there are no palm trees, big communication and microwave towers are all over the place. (The weird thing that I sketched that I couldn’t identify turned out to be part of an obsolete AT&T microwave system.)

It was such a lovely day last Friday that lots of families were enjoying the outdoor tables at Top Pot and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream next door. I had just as much fun observing and eavesdropping as I did sketching.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

U Village Rewards

6/5/24 University Village
 

If you want to train a dog for good behavior, you have to reward it accordingly.

I had enough boxes and bags of household discards to fill up the Subaru hatchback, so I made a trip to Goodwill. My reward was a stop at U Village, where Molly Moon’s Ice Cream called to me. Although the ice cream hit the spot (and it had been ages since I’d had ice cream), the real reward was sitting under an umbrella on that warm and sunny afternoon, basking in the promise of summer.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Delridge Farmers Market

 

6/8/24 Delridge Farmers Market

Although USk Seattle has met at many community farmers markets over the years, the one in south SeattleDelridge neighborhood was new to us. In fact, it is fairly new; it was started during the pandemic by the African Community Housing and Development organization.

As far as markets go, it’s notable that Delridge gives priority to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) vendors. Long lines formed at a couple of booths that were giving away free produce and basic supplies to low-income neighbors. The market is held every summer Saturday morning in front of the Masjid Al Furquan Mosque (formerly St. James Lutheran Church).

I had the most fun sketching Queen Sugar Baking Company’s resident pug. I think it was in his presentation about sketch reportage that Gabi Campanario said something that has stayed with me: If a dog is mentioned (or sketched) in a story, Gabi said, a good journalist will learn the name of the dog. Check: The pug’s name is Ajax.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

A Moment at Gas Works Park

 

6/6/24 Gas Works Park

Early June’s atmospheric river was a doozy, but we crossed it – and on the other side was summer! When I saw the weather forecast last Thursday – sunny and in the high 60s – I knew where I was headed: Gas Works Park!

While it’s my favorite park any time of the year, it’s really special on a blue-sky day shining on Lake Union. The day called for color (see, this is why I can’t choose between my children); in fact, the always-formidable gas works called for my larger A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook. I still used my basic comics approach, but the larger book gave me more room. Like Sunday color comics!

New restroom and old gas works

Although I’m accustomed to using the small A6-size spreads (exactly half the size of the A5 spread), it felt deliciously spacious to open up the A5 – like moving from a small apartment to a large house. It would be tempting to use that size all the time . . . except I don’t want to carry it everywhere. It’s nice on special occasions, though, and I can’t think of a more special occasion than a warm and sunny June afternoon.

On my way out of the park, I stopped to document its new restroom (at left). It’s rather utilitarian, like something that you might see at a campsite, but it’s a huge improvement over the dark, creepy, nasty restroom it replaces.


Oh, hello, Your Majesty... where have you been?


Saturday, June 8, 2024

Kit Angst: Don’t Make Me Choose My Children

 

All the media I'm currently carrying: Slender, lightweight pencils vs. heavy, bulky markers, especially my favorite Faber-Castell Pitt Dual Marker (near center) and several acrylic markers.

It has probably been a couple of years since I started using my super-slimmed-down pandemic-edition sketch kit as my ongoing daily-carry. With a watercolor pencil-focused kit, my bag was both lightweight and slender. I could easily carry both an A6-size Hahnemühle sketchbook for colored sketches and an Uglybook for quick, tonal sketches and not feel the bulk or weight on my fitness walks. Everything I needed for spontaneous walk-sketches as well as planned destinations like Urban Sketchers outings were with me at all times without constant shuffling of materials from bag to bag. I had finally found my sketch kit/bag sweet spot, and I was extremely satisfied.

Until a couple of months ago – when on-location comics came into my life. Although I tried water-soluble graphite briefly, it just doesn’t have the strong, high-contrast look that I love about markers for the comics format. Black or dark brush pens and markers used with white and a bright contrasting color on a midtone-colored Uglybook: That’s still my favorite look so far. And the issue is that markers and brush pens are bulkier than pencils.

Tight and overstuffed.

I haven’t been using pencils nearly as much as I used to, mainly because when making comics, colored Uglybooks pack so much punch without any additional color. If I remove all my colored and graphite pencils, the markers have plenty of space and even room to grow. But every now and then I still want to use color on white paper in a more traditional way, so if I’m going to continue carrying pencils, I must also continue carrying a white sketchbook.

Arrghhh!! Don’t make me choose among my children!

My bag was getting so stuffed that I could barely push my hand in; something had to be done. For now, I’ve kept all the media, but I’ve replaced the bulkier A6 Hahnemühle with a white Uglybook. It’s slim and light, but as you can see from the photo below, the pages buckle even with light washes, and the sizing isn’t ideal. It certainly can’t take the kind of spritzing I like to do with watercolor pencils, so it’s a big compromise. The bag, however, already feels less bulky and more comfortable to use and carry.

Hahnemuhle and Uglybook

A6 Hahnemuhle (with my own sticker) and
Uglybook (sticker by Draplin Design Co.)

Hahnemuhle at left is much bulkier, but the slim, white
Uglybook (which I've been using for skyscapitos with watercolor pencils) can't take much water.

The new (probably temporary) daily-carry: Two Uglybooks

Quite a while back, I had bought some Hahnemühle 100 percent cotton paper (the same as what’s in my A6 daily-carry) in pad form. My intention was to try stitching some simple signatures (which I did for many years until 2019) in an A6-ish size. Maybe the time has come to finally do it.

The new daily-carry: Lighter and slimmer, but compromised.

Since I’m showing you my daily-carry bag, it’s a good opportunity to show off my latest Rickshaw purchases. No, not more bags – eyeglass Coozy Cases! Rickshaw has long been known in the fountain pen community for its plush-lined Coozies, rolls and other cases for pampered pens. Then at least a year ago, owner Mark Dwight teased on social media a prototype of an eyeglass Coozy. I did my share of shouting my approval in the comments (and also reminded him periodically, in case he forgot).


Rickshaw eyeglass Coozies! Two for my daily-carry bag, plus a third to keep in my car with my spare glasses.

Finally the announcement came a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t order them fast enough! The eyeglass cases I had been using were generic brown fake leather freebies that I had received from my optician. You know the kind I mean – they are about as fashionable as vinyl pocket protectors (and probably from the same era). Now my glasses cases are as stylin’ as my bags!

Plush lining to keep my glasses fashionable as well as cozy.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Too Many Words

 

5/11/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Here are a couple of walk-comics that I had made in early May before I discovered haiku comics. Looking at them now, they seem wordy compared to haiku: Could I have said the same thing with fewer words? The one below might have been a haiku . . . if expressed with a bit more verbal grace.

Funny how discovering one new thing makes me see everything I did before that in a different light.

5/12/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Thursday, June 6, 2024

A Pause in the River

6/3/24 Wedgwood neighborhood

After several days of hard rain and wind (enough to cause power outages, flooding and fallen trees in some areas), we got a break on Monday. Still, it was windy enough that when I got out of my car to sketch, a gust nearly took my little sketchbook out of my hand! I decided to sketch from inside my car instead. All of these were made from the same parking spot, one after the other.

Comparing the comics-like page above to the one-off sketch below, I’m pleased with the way the comics tell a more complete story of a sunny but blustery morning in the Wedgwood neighborhood, especially with the addition of the haiku. The one-off sketch is really no different in terms of content or style, but its story feels lacking.

5/20/24 Green Lake neighborhood

It’s much harder now to go back to making the one-offs that I used to do so regularly before – I feel compelled to look around and find one or two more sketches that could complete the story better. I think one definition of a creative breakthrough is when it’s no longer possible to go back to an old way of doing something because my thinking has changed in some fundamental way. I think the last time that happened was during Ian Roberts’ 30-day composition challenge a couple of years ago, which changed the way I see. The overall goal of my creative life is for things like this to happen, so I’m thrilled when it finally does!

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Pandemic Nostalgia

6/1/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

During the pre-vax pandemic era, Greg and I walked almost daily within and around a four-by-ten-block neighborhood area. Because we rarely saw anyone walking those blocks, and even car traffic was light to nonexistent, it seemed like the safest route. A bonus were the traffic circles, where I could stand to sketch a safe distance from both pedestrians and cars. (In retrospect, our over-abundance of pandemic caution was ridiculous; many other areas would have been perfectly safe to walk, and passing other pedestrians on the sidewalk was hardly a risk in any case, but it was a reflection of my anxiety back then.)

After we were vaccinated, we widened our walking route, and my walk/sketch fitness program has widened it further. For quite a while, I avoided walking that overly familiar four-by-ten-block area just because I had felt I had literally sketched “everything” there.

Now when I occasionally walk that route again, it feels nostalgic. I’ll pass the same blossoming dogwood trees that delighted us in 2020, and I remember where kids had decorated the sidewalk with rocks painted with affirmations and greetings. There’s the lawn where we had seen a gopher’s movements near its hole (but not the gopher itself, though we waited quite a while for it to pop out). Although these memories are not related to the pandemic itself, I will forever associate them with 2020. Dogwoods, painted rocks and gophers were our daily touchstones of reality in a world that seemed unreal. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Drink & Draw: It’s a Thing!

 

5/31/24 Project 9 Brewing Co. drink & draw with USk Seattle

Unlike other Urban Sketchers communities, especially in Europe and Asia, USk Seattle has never embraced the evening drink-and-draw as a sketching and socializing opportunity. Although we occasionally have lunch together after an outing (though usually we just chat and don’t sketch – a tradition I tried to change a while back, but I seemed to be the only one sketching!), and small groups often sketch together over coffee, evening pub gatherings just aren’t our thing. Or at least they haven’t been – but maybe they are, and we just haven’t tried it! Last week I decided to correct that, just to see how it would go.

Although I can drink and draw, I apparently can't drink and write haiku -- I had to do that part later in the evening after I got home!

Meeting at Project 9, the brew pub in my neighborhood where I’ve sketched with friends several times, we had a blast! With huge seating spaces, both indoors and out, and two food trucks on busy weekend nights, it’s an ideal, informal venue for groups when we don’t know how many will show up, and everyone drifts in at various times. On a warmish, sunny, Friday evening, the place was lively, yet it never felt over-crowded.

Who says drink & draws aren’t our thing? With all the encouraging comments I received afterwards, it definitely won’t be the last USk Seattle drink & draw, especially on the warm summer nights ahead. And we’ve encouraged all sketchers, not just the admins, to initiate drink & draws in their own neighborhoods by simply posting invitations in the Facebook group.


As someone commented on my Instagram post, there's nothing quite as happy as the sight of a bunch of sketchers with all their art supplies spread out, chatting and sketching together!



Monday, June 3, 2024

Bigleaf Maple and its Guests

 

5/31/24 Ravenna neighborhood

Last summer when I reported on Luma, the endangered cedar tree, I started learning about many other endangered trees in Seattle. In addition, by following several tree-related accounts on Instagram, I’ve learned about old trees that are not necessarily endangered but are fascinating in many ways. One that recently caught my attention was shown in a video by treeswithtaha (Taha Ebrahimi): a bigleaf maple that is one of the city’s widest street maples. Growing in the Ravenna neighborhood, it is distinctive for “hosting” at least two other trees growing from it!

What?? Trees growing from within another tree? I had to see (and sketch) them for myself. An easy mile-and-a-half walk from home, the residential area of 17th Northeast and Northeast Ravenna Boulevard has many other mature trees, too. Last Friday morning the temperature was ideal for both walking and sketching, so I head out to see this very special bigleaf.

My daily-carry sketchbooks for a long time now have been only an Uglybook and an A6-size Hahnemühle. Instead of a comics page that fits so well on an A6-size spread, I intended to do more of a “portrait” of this special tree. I brought along an A5-size Hahnemühle sketchbook that would give me enough space to capture this grand old tree properly.

Indeed, even the A5-page spread was barely wide enough to show its huge trunk and the lower part of its canopy. Although this isn’t intended as a comics page, I guess I have had comics so much in my mind lately that I found myself making callouts for details in small boxes similar to my comics style.

Sketching this magnificent tree had multiple challenges. The biggest was that the entire trunk was in shade, so it was difficult to visually separate all those branches and mini trunks: Which belonged to which tree? I kept having to follow a single branch with my eyes to spots way over my head to see what kind of leaves were attached to it. Even as I sketched, I interrupted myself many times to walk around the bigleaf’s trunk to understand what was going on (which attracted the attention of a neighbor who asked if I was a tree surveyor).

Since everything was in darkness, and all the entwined trees were basically the same color, how could I draw them to show the “guests” apart from their “host”? Using my favorite secondary triad mixes, I made the guest trunks slightly warmer than their host (even though in reality they were all the same color) to separate them visually.

I saw what looked like two smaller maples growing out from the bigleaf’s trunk, one on each side, but Taha said they are one maple growing through the large maple’s trunk! Another attached tree had entirely different leaves, which Taha speculated was some kind of cherry plum. That one was so close to one of the guest maples that I couldn’t show it well as a separate tree, so that’s where the callouts became essential.

Barely fitting everything I wanted to show on the A5 spread, I could have used a much larger sketchbook – though I wouldn’t have, as it would have been too heavy and cumbersome to hold standing (and walking around) for more than an hour – much longer than I typically spend on any sketch.

Walking home, I felt such appreciation for marvelous legacy trees like this bigleaf and gratitude that it’s still standing on a residential street.

P.S. As much fun as I am having with comics in my Uglybooks, I have been missing my watercolor pencils dearly. This sketch gave me a good fix.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Trash Day

 

5/30/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

My attempts at haiku comics so far have been loose interpretations of the poetic form, which I’m fine with. But because I’m also trying to draw the comics spontaneously on location, I had been frustrated with the difficulty of relating each haiku line with an image, which I saw as an ideal integration of the two forms.

Seeing the haiku comics exhibit at Push/Pull Gallery, I was liberated by the many different ways artists are integrating haiku with their comics. As with all comics, with or without haiku, the most effective writing avoids simply repeating with words what is already being expressed by the visual image. Without being redundant, words and images should support and augment each other. In addition, the haiku lines do not have to align directly with images (though I saw many examples in which this was done masterfully).

My brain still buzzing with inspiration the day after seeing the exhibit, I took a walk and captured the essence of trash day in Maple Leaf.

So far, my method is to sketch first, then write later. I am neither illustrating haiku, nor writing captions for sketches. It feels more like reflecting on the sketches Ive made and then commenting on them – with as few words as possible.

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