Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Lure of a Sketch

1/14/24 The Brothers, Olympic Mountains

With the deep freeze we had a couple of weeks ago and the more recent “atmospheric rivers,” my daily walking-fitness program in January was miserable-to-spotty. Sometimes when it’s cold, wet and windy, not even the lure of a potential sketch can get me off my duff.

1/10/24 Maple Leaf Park

1/23/24 Green Lake neighborhood

Most days, though, I grumble all the way out the door, but by the time I reach the end of the block, I’m already looking around for something to sketch. And after I’ve sketched, the walk is always worth it.

1/13/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

1/19/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

1/28/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Material notes: I finished filling the half-filled red Uglybook, and now I’m onto finishing the orange one that I started during InkTober. I only used one spread in it then, though, so it’s almost like starting a brand-new book. I think I have only two more partially used books to finish filling, and then I can start my plan of completing each Uglybook from cover to cover before starting a new one. Let’s see how I do with resisting the temptation of switching among all the new colors!

Fed up with fighting the white Posca, I went back to a Sakura Gelly Roll for a while (another white pen that works well – until it doesn’t). Oddly enough, my Facebook “memories” reminded me of my white Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pen (the ink is the same as the bullet tip I reviewed a while back except that this one has a brush tip), so I pulled it out. It’s not opaque enough to use the way I like to, so it won’t be a permanent go-to, but I’m trying it again for a while. In the sketch above of the excavator, I drew the cab’s dark interior with a black Uni Pin, then colored the window glass with the white Pitt. The translucency gave the window an interesting effect.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

One Last Time


1/28/24 The last of my amaryllis. I turned my square Hahnemuhle book diagonally to get as much height as possible. 

I had procrastinated in taking my amaryllis out to the compost bin, and I’m happy I did, because she had one more sketch left in her. Last year I made the last sketch earlier, so the blossoms had more color. This time, they were nearly black, but still showing grace all the way to the end.

Although the view is a bit foreshortened because I was looking down on it, I tried to be accurate in terms of scale, from pot to top. It was a good opportunity to include the leaves, which I had mostly ignored in my previous sketches because they were far below the blossoms.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Dog Days

1/27/24 Charger (reference photo by Kate Gliske)

1/21/24 Granite (reference photo by Samantha Le)
After the spate of cats, I received several dog commissions again – and especially handsome ones they were. Sadly, both Granite (right) and Sophia (below left) had recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and drawing them was especially poignant. It seems that the process or result would be the same whether the subject was living or not. But when I know the animals are gone, I feel different, as if the pets’ last gift was the joy I received in drawing them. In return, I feel a greater responsibility for capturing their spirit and personality well so that the drawings will evoke fond memories for their humans.

Moose (below right), who is still joyfully alive, is the most unusual dog I’ve sketched. His owner wasn’t sure of his breed, though she speculated part German shepherd and part Carolina dog (a breed I had to Google because I was unfamiliar with it). I don’t know anything about dog breeds, so I can’t say, but Moose has such unique facial markings! What made him so much fun to draw, though, was that wide grin. In fact, all the dogs in this post are smiling happily, which makes me smile as I draw.

1/24/24 Sophia (reference photo by Brian Grijalva)

1/25/24 Moose (reference photo by Katie Bryl)

Well, I’m not sure Charger (top of post) is smiling – maybe more like laughing maniacally! This was by far the most difficult pet to render in my series so far: Snout completely foreshortened and distorted by the camera, which was also a bit skewed horizontally; a curled tongue; a view straight down his throat and into his nostrils; one side of his face smashed against the floor, jowl pulled by gravity – holy pup, what a challenge!

At first I was tempted to turn the reference photo 90 degrees to get a more “normal” facial perspective, but then I recalled an exercise in Betty Edwards’ classic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I clearly remember an image of a knight on a horse that we were to draw upside-down. The idea was to trick the brain to get out of the way so that the eyes could do more of the work. I was stunned by how well my drawing then had come out! I thought, perhaps, that the reference photo of Charger on his ear would help me render more accurately.

Nope. My brain didn’t fall for that trick, nor did my eyes step up for the job. It was so out of whack that I had to start over. Halfway through, I did turn the photo 90 degrees to check my work, and I was still quite a bit off. It was simply a very difficult drawing! Despite my struggles, I had to chuckle all the way through at Charger’s expression and attitude – he was probably laughing at me!

Paper notes: For Charger, I used Stonehenge Lenox Cotton paper, which I enjoyed using last year for the graphite portrait of my grand niece. The surface is delicious with colored pencil, but halfway through, I regretted that I hadn’t used watercolor paper so that I could make an underpainting. The darkest areas of his face might have gone a little more quickly that way.

I used Lenox Cotton for the sketch of the kitty named Megan, too. In that case, it was the ideal choice – the gentle tooth picked up pigment easily for all those fine fur details without showing its own grain (which is sometimes a bit strong in Strathmore watercolor paper, my choice for any water-soluble material, like Sophias background in Artgraf).

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Kittens’ Skin


1/26/24 Kittens' recently shed skin and open jaw

It was time for a haircut, and you know what that means: Another opportunity to sketch the resident snake! A mix-up when I made the appointment meant that I had to wait a while, but I didn’t mind at all – I spent the entire half-hour observing Kittens. Very actively slithering around her tank, she occasionally raised her head in my direction. With her tank full of props and toys, I can never see all of her at once, so I sketched various segments separately. At one point, she suddenly opened her jaw to its full extension – maybe yawning? I was so startled that I didn’t get a look at her teeth.

In the bottom sketch, she was resting her head on her tail,
and it made me think of the classic snake-biting-its-own-tail symbol. 

She had recently shed her skin, which made it easier to see and sketch the beautiful network pattern.

My barber told me that Kittens really loves being handled. Non-venomous, she doesn’t bite (I wish I knew what kind of snake she is so that I can learn more about her). When the owner (of the shop and of the snake) is working, some clients will ask to hold Kittens, and she enjoys the attention. When I think of animals to cuddle, snakes do not come instantly to mind, but I’ve also never known one personally. If the owner is ever there when I am, I think I might ask to hold Kittens. Apparently she gently wraps a few times around your arm, then raises her head to look at you. (Maybe I’ll first find out how long it has been since her last meal before asking to hold her.)

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Equal Time for Cats

1/22/24 Boots (reference photo by Samantha Le)
“Do you draw cats, too?”

I had been drawing so many dogs lately in support of Dog Gone Seattle that some people were under the impression that cats were ineligible for portraits. Of course, I draw cats, too – though I admit that they are still harder for me than dogs. With their flatter faces, there’s less form to show, even when the lighting in the reference photo is good (and often it is not). In any case, cats got equal time recently.

Reptar, the black cat shown below, was possibly the most difficult pet sketch I’ve done so far. He was harder than all the black dogs as well as the two black cats I’d drawn previously. I didn’t do an underpainting this time, and maybe that would have helped.

Incising tools

The only part that was easy was the white whiskers, which I made by using an incising stylus before applying colored pencil. I bought a set of incising tools that I had learned about in Crystal Shin’s botanical-drawing workshop. Although she taught us the trick for making light-colored veins in leaves, I’m getting a lot more use out of the trick and the tools now that I’m drawing pets. Even black dogs and cats seem to have white whiskers. (Although I sometimes forgot to include it in the media images below, I incised the whiskers on all cats shown here.) 

1/25/24 Basil (reference photo by Alison Campbell)
1/22/24 Reptar (reference photo by Samantha Le)

1/23/24 Megan (reference photo by Karen Wong)
Another challenge about cats is their marquise-shaped pupils when they’re contracted. Unless the pupils are fully dilated, the all-important tiny catch lights are hard to retain.

Speaking of eyes, you might think I exaggerated Megan’s enormous eyes (right), but I measured several times for accurate proportions. Amazing, aren’t they? She looks like a manga character!

I used to refer to this type of orange-striped cat as "orange tabby," but I learned that the proper term is "ginger" cat. That challenging color required blending several pencils.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Chubby Needle


1/24/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I’m not a fan of blow-up holiday lawn ornaments, especially when it’s the fourth week of January. As a native Seattleite, however, I had to put aside my curmudgeonly attitude when I saw this chubby Space Needle on a recent walk.

Although I’ve sketched the actual Space Needle many, many times, I’m still always challenged by its shapely proportions. It’s an icon; if you get it wrong, even people who have never seen it in person will know something’s off. I chuckled as I sketched this squatty Needle: Finally license to draw it fat.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Handel Apartments


1/23/24 Handel Apartments, Roosevelt neighborhood

Roosevelt Way Northeast is a one-way arterial in the southbound direction, so the only time I see it in the northbound direction is when I’m on foot. That’s to explain how I could have lived only blocks from the Handel Apartments these past several decades yet only learned its name a few days ago: The sign can only be seen from the northbound direction (which seems like a poor choice in terms of function).

The first thing that attracted my eye to this otherwise non-descript, mid-century box were the three palms, but like a good composition, the palms led my eye up toward the fantastic ‘60s typeface in the name sign. It has probably been repainted many times, but I’m glad the vintage look was retained.

If it had been a warm, sunny day, I might have taken my time to sketch more of the building in color, some of which is orange, yellow and pink. Although the day had been a well-earned reprieve from the many consecutive days of cold followed by many consecutive days of rain, it wasn’t quite warm enough for that. But someday when I’m in the mood for colorful architecture, I’ll be back.

Great typeface and a glimpse of the colorful building.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Prime Time for Skyscapitos


12/26/23 Early morning

As I’ve mentioned before, this time of year, as dark and dreary as it can be, is a sweet spot for sketching sky color: I can easily catch both sunrise and sunset times. Most of these were done with my usual skyscapito media: watercolor pencils and a white Uglybook (I hardly ever use a white one otherwise). Based on where I can see the sky colors most easily, I usually use Caran dAche Bicolors for sunrises and Museum Aquarelles for sunsets. In a couple cases I tried dark-colored pages – a convenient shorthand for capturing the predominant sky hues.

And as dark and dreary as it can be, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much color the sky offers even during the worst of winter. All I have to do is remember to look for it.

Recently I grumbled about how little nature sketching I did last year, but I'm fairly consistent about sketching skyscapitos year-round. I guess that counts as nature sketching, doesnt it?

On Jan. 15, I was lucky enough to catch both sunrise and sunset.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Sketch Journal Follow-up


All sketches shown here are from memory.

Since it has been more than month since I started (or re-started) my sketch journal practice, I thought it would be a good time to report in and keep myself honest (not to blog readers but to myself). I’m pleased to say that I have kept it up, and so far, it remains enjoyable and not burdensome. In fact, I’ve found an angle on it that I think will keep me motivated, at least for a while.

As mentioned previously, I am using my daily-carry Uglybook (which used to be mainly for urban sketches during my walks) for sketches from memory or imagination. I am trying to focus on observations or experiences from the day. Pulling imaginative images straight out of my head is still a tough reach, but slightly easier is sketching from memory.

Two years ago when I committed to drawing from memory or imagination for my 100 Day Project, an exercise I devised for myself was to study an object for a certain length of time, then wait variable lengths of time before drawing it. I tried to retain as many details as possible. It was probably the single-most difficult (and often frustration) drawing exercise I had ever done. I learned plenty from it, but I often felt it was simply a mental exercise that would not have practical benefits to my overall drawing practice.

In my sketch journal, I am taking a more direct and possibly more beneficial approach. I simply observe a scene or object during my day with no more than the usual glance, but with a mental note that I will try to draw it later from memory. My focus is not at all on details but on simply capturing the gesture or scene. This works well during my walks or while driving: I don’t have much time to observe, but making the mental note that I will later draw what I see is enough to make me pay closer attention.

One trick I taught myself during my 100 Day exercise was to make observations by describing them to myself with words, which helped me to remember. For example, in my favorite sketch shown here (top of post), I was stopped at a signal light when I saw a man walking a dog. I said to myself, “The white dog has a long tail waving above him as he pees on a bush to the left. The dog’s ears do not stick up; they fold down [a detail I am paying more attention to lately as I draw dogs]. The man is standing to the dog’s right, holding the leash.”

My results have been mixed, but what I like about this exercise is the potential benefit to urban sketching: It would be very useful to retain the gesture of a person or vehicle that has left the scene and still be able to continue drawing. In that situation, I don’t need to recall all the details; I just want to capture the basic gesture.

Bonus benefit: I’m going through Uglybook pages much more quickly now! Surely that’s ample justification for getting some of their newest colors!

We all need more Ugliness in our lives!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Safe and Well-Loved

1/16/24 Pepper (reference photo by Theresa Pulford Doss)

1/17/24 Parker (reference photo by Theresa Pulford Doss)

1/17/24 Maverick (reference photo by Ash Leigh) 

My pet portrait fundraiser is still going strong. It’s fun and often moving to hear pet owners’ stories of their animals. Many are rescues, and while I don’t know the details of their circumstances (and don’t really want to know), I can only assume that if they were adopted from a shelter, they have heart-breaking back stories. It’s wonderful to hear their happy endings, now safe and well-loved in their forever homes.

Some pets, gray around the muzzle, have been around the block; others have terminal illnesses. Even though I know these dogs only through their photos and the stories their owners tell me, somehow it helps me to draw them when I have learned a bit of what they have been through.

In this bunch, Maverick (at right) was my favorite to draw. I received an excellent reference photo (you’d be surprised how many bad ones I get – dark, out of focus, ears partially cropped out), which makes drawing such a pleasure. And what a delightful expression!

1/19/24 Tilly (reference photo by Jackson Maddox)

Well, maybe my favorite was actually Tilly, the white pup with closed eyes (at left). The other two reference photos I was offered were both bad, so this one was my only option. My first thought was that it would be difficult to capture the “life” of an animal without showing its eyes, but the owner said it was his favorite photo of Tilly. Studying it longer, I realized that you know a dog feels happy and safe when she’s dozing on a couch with her little pink tongue sticking out. No wonder it was his favorite.

Speaking of Tilly, her reference photo gave me an interesting lesson. In all of these pet portraits, I ignore any detail that is not the dog’s face; I usually omit collars, backgrounds and accessories (except for Charlie’s mint green kerchief, which I couldn’t resist because it matched his owner’s jacket in the photo). Tilly’s chin was resting on the arm of a couch, which I left undrawn. When I was taking the photo to document the materials used (see bottom of post), I realized how weird her face looked without a clear indication of what she was resting on. It took me about 30 seconds to scribble a few stripes to represent the couch – and suddenly it became clear. Sometimes context is important. It’s funny that I didn’t see that until I took the photo.

1/19/24 Mr. Fuzzy (reference photo by Jackson Maddox)

One more technical note: For Parker, the black dog with the intense look, I wanted just a bit of an underpainting for the darkest areas, so I used a waterbrush to “lick” pigment from a black Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle. I’ve been using an underpainting with black animals because I think it helps to give a more saturated coverage of the paper.

However, I didn’t give Mr. Fuzzy, the other black dog (at right), an underpainting, and I’m not sure it made much difference. So maybe it’s not worth applying an underpainting that requires drying time. There’s no doubt that the most challenging critters to draw are the black ones, and I’m still working out the most effective approach. 

1/19/24 Wiley Coyote (reference photo by Jackson Maddox)

Underpainting for Parker (at right)

I wonder if someone dyed Mr. Fuzzy's
beard pink?

Here's the photo I took that made me realize I needed to define
the couch that Tilly's head was resting on for the composition to make sense.

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