Thursday, February 29, 2024

Venti-Size Pink Drinks


2/27/24 Cafe Javasti

When I was in middle school back in the Dark Ages (when it was still called “junior high”), kids did not really have anywhere to hang out after school. Unless we were in sports, we all just got on the buses and went home. (At least, I did – maybe others had places to go that I never knew about.) Now it’s a common sight to see preteen and teenage kids hanging out after school at Starbucks and other coffee shops, sipping foamy pink or green, venti-size beverages with dome-top cups that keep the cloud of whipped cream aloft.

When I first walked into Café Javasti in Maple Leaf, I was a bit disappointed to see that I hardly had any victims to sketch. But even as I was paying for my coffee, a gaggle of young teens suddenly burst through the door, laughing and giggling. As they took a while to get settled with their various beverages and treats, I surreptitiously found a seat facing some of them against the window.

They socialized by looking at their phones at length, then took turns showing each other videos or whatever, usually followed by bursts of laughter or whispers. I also overheard amusing bits of conversation.

I guess they aren’t too different from my friends and me at their age. Well, except for the phones. And the $7 beverages. And hanging out at coffee shops.

Technical note: To work as a comic book-like page spread, I think at least one box should extend across the gutter – otherwise, the individual pages don’t look like they are supposed to go together. Even on a single page, the boxes should vary in size and format so that the group looks cohesive. This spread at Javasti doesn’t work well that way; I did a better job on the pages I made at Macrina. (The second Macrina example, especially, has a better flow.) I also want to find a better way to write text and dialog . . . this page looks a little messy.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Winter Sky Colors


Even as the University of Washington Quad’s cherry trees are predicted to blossom in a couple of weeks, we woke to a dusting of snow on the ground yesterday morning with sub-freezing temperatures. Our overlong winter has become tiresome.

Still, regardless of temperature, the setting and rising sun occasionally treats us to fabulous color shows. I am lately missing sunsets more often because they clash with dinner prep, and I have to hustle if I want to catch sunrise. Those are both good signs, though, as we creep toward the equinox.

On this morning, I got two sketches at sunrise, minutes apart.
The top one was facing east, and the lower one was slightly south.

Inky blue clouds after dusk gave me an ideal opportunity to use a dark blue Uglybook.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Give Astra a Chance


2/24/24 Astra, a 100-year-old western red cedar, Wedgwood neighborhood

Astra, an ancient western red cedar, first came to my attention last fall when the organization The Last 6000 put out a call: The 100-year-old tree was in danger. Although architects had shown ways in which the development could be built while still allowing the tree to live, the developer of the property where Astra stood had applied to have the healthy tree cut down.

A Gratitude Gathering had been scheduled for Feb. 24 to raise awareness of the tree’s imminent danger. Two days before that, the tree was vandalized (suspected by the developer) and injured so that it would be at risk of falling, giving the developer legitimate grounds to cut it down.

Unlike many major US cities, Seattle allows trees to be managed by the same department responsible for development. That seems like a direct conflict of interest. The result is that laws are in place to protect old trees, but the laws are not always enforced. Even when they are enforced, developers simply pay the penalty and go forward with their plans with no consequences.

I joined the substantial group at the Gratitude Gathering in the Wedgewood neighborhood, where the block in front of the property had been closed so the event could take place. Police cars blocked either end of the street. Neighbors and other concerned citizens listened to speakers describe the challenges and answer questions. At the close of the ceremony, people sang a variation of the John Lennon refrain: “All we are saying is give trees a chance.”

Greenwood Vignettes


2/24/24 Greenwood neighborhood

After the Gab & Grab and lunch (mine was a grilled cheese sandwich from Valhalla, shown here), USk Seattle had a sketch outing in the Greenwood neighborhood around the library. I had to leave early so I had only a short time, but once again, the comic book approach to urban sketching worked in my favor: three tiny vignettes on a small page are better than one.

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Gab & Grab is Back On!


Natalie recites limericks she wrote to honor the USk Seattle admins.
After a four-year pandemic pause, USk Seattle’s formerly annual Gab & Grab is back on! If I counted right, this was the seventh edition of our popular winter event. On Saturday we met in the Greenwood branch library to swap unneeded art supplies, chat over lunch, and talk about sketching or materials.

I filled a huge bag that was so heavy, I could hardly carry it out to my car! I swore I would only give at this G&G – the intention was to clean out my studio, not refill it – but I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of things, including a nearly full box of premium grade Tombow Mono pencils!

Score: Tombow Monos!
I had intended to take photos of our five full tables piled with loot before the grabbing began, but I forgot. The photo shown here was taken after we were nearly done. Unclaimed materials were donated to nearby Seattle ReCreative, an art community center and thrift store specifically for art and craft supplies.

We were a lot more excited at the beginning of the Grabbin' than shown in this photo, which was taken toward the end.

A member brought along Clementine, a sweet dog she was sitting.

The highlight of the brown bag lunch was when Natalie concluded the event with limericks that she had written to honor each of the Seattle USk admins. In the style of the NPR program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, members participated by filling in the name of the appropriate admin based on the clues in the limerick:

Simplicity, no frills or drama
diplomatic as Barak Obama
when she sketches she stands
pencils neatly at hand
cuz she’s short and on point, Ms. Koyama.

We have never once heard her complain,
she gives workshops in snow, heat and rain
with whatever’s nearby
she is cheerful, that’s why
students soak up superb tips from Jane.

At McMenamins most of us ate
while Tina first sketched her plate
then this admin explained
(wearing outfit handmade)
what to do, when and how, thank you Kate.

An expert on nose, cheek and chin,
perfecting the tones of the skin
she’d rather sketch people
than some famous steeple
which also does well, dearest Kim.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Southcenter Dragon


2/23/24 Southcenter Mall

For Lunar New Year, Southcenter Mall put up a spectacular 25-foot dragon, moon gate and other festive decorations. Disappointed that I had to miss the USk outing there earlier in the week, I went on Friday morning. Kate and Roy met me there for colorful dragon fun.

The challenge with a subject like this is showing a sense of scale. If I had sketched the dragon without context that indicated its size, it could look like a 3-inch figurine. Walking around the dragon numerous times to find a good angle not blocked by the central court’s many support beams, I spotted Kate sketching at the dragon’s base – and there was my scale. My usual A6-size Hahnemühle sketchbook serves me well for most urban sketching, but even with a full spread, this huge dragon did make me feel a bit constrained by the page size. It was the most colorful sketch in a long time, though!


Photo by Roy Deleon

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Macrina Vignettes


While good conversation and laughter ensued with Janet, MaryJean and Roy, I used Macrina Bakery as an opportunity to try the comic-like approach I had learned from Drewscape. I started the first page (above) with my orange hazelnut pinwheel (very hastily sketched so that I could get on with the business of eating it), but I didn’t plan at all, so the random heads didn’t fit well around the pastry.

I started a new page with a better plan about how to fit the various vignettes together. It’s not exactly a narrative comic, but the series of small sketches tells more than any single sketch would. Although the approach would work with any scene, it is especially effective with “nothing” scenes that apparently don’t have much going on, yet the sum is greater than the parts.

Good friends, good pastries, good times!

Friday, February 23, 2024

It’s Happening!


2/21/24 Plum tree in the Maple Leaf neighborhood

A few days ago on my walk, I was shocked to see a short, spindly plum tree on Roosevelt full of pink blossoms! In February! Making note of the street, I’d planned to come back on the next dry day to sketch it. Although it was still raining the next day, I started having second thoughts: What if it had been a mirage? Or a hallucination? Or what if a hurricane blows in and takes the blossoms (or entire tree) down before I can sketch them? I couldn’t risk it – even mirages and hallucinations can be sketched as long as they remain. I went out in my car to sketch.

It’s happening! All my efforts to help Kill Winter with Orange are working!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Urban Sketches as Comics


2/20/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

During my 100 Day Project two years ago, my exercises in imaginative drawing eventually led me to cartooning. I’ve taken a workshop in observational cartooning, and I’ve also tried cartooning in a more editorial style as part of a different workshop. Some part of me obviously wants to be a cartoonist, but I haven’t found an expressive form for it yet that pushes me beyond one-off single panels.

Known as Drewscape on his blog and YouTube channel, Andrew Tan is both a published cartoonist and an urban sketcher. As such, he brings his comic book narrative style to his urban sketching in a way that doubly appeals to me. In a recent video, his focus was on how he sketches in small snippets of time, but he briefly touched on a subject that I found more interesting: He often captures scenes on location by making multiple small panels using varying viewpoints. All on one page, he will draw one wide-angle view, one view in the middle ground, and one closeup. He uses a similar format for comic books to add visual variety as well as to create more dramatic tension in the action – like watching a film. He explained all of this in a few seconds by showing examples (the whole video is only 6 minutes), and it opened my eyes to a new way of approaching urban sketching.

The adventures of Faucet Handle, Soap Dispenser and Scissors gave my cartooning
imagination a workout during my 100 Day Project in 2022.

I was thinking about all this on my walk one day when a fire engine’s siren came blaring from behind me, stopping a few blocks ahead of me. I knew there was no fire by the pace of the firefighters as they approached a condo. I started at the upper-right box to draw the fire engine’s rear (because I’m a lefty, I tend to start sketches from the right). Knowing that I probably had only a short time, I walked around to the side of the engine (upper-left box). Right about then, the EMTs showed up in the white ambulance and pulled into the alley (lower left). I wasn’t sure what else to draw in the remaining space, but as I walked around to the front of the fire engine, I spotted its big, bold number 40.

The story – a medical emergency in the ‘hood – would have been the same in my head, but if I hadn’t seen Drewscape’s video, I probably would have sketched only one of these scenes. His comic book approach pushed me to think in a more narrative way. In addition, I had to think fast about how to arrange multiple small images on a small page (4-by-6 inches). That part was aided significantly by my ongoing practice of making thumbnail-like compositional studies, which require drawing a box first to define the proposed frame. The layout that resulted isn’t the most visually interesting, but I was happy with the way I filled the page, especially considering that I had no time to plan the layout.

"Get Off the Stage" - a 2020 attempt at editorial cartooning.

In this case, the narrative didn’t require a time sequence to make sense, but if I see a story that is important to capture in a chronological way, I would probably draw it from left to right in the normal reading sequence.

I’m going to keep this approach in mind, especially for my relatively static walk-sketches that usually give me more time to think about and plan the page.

If you have any interest in making comics, I recommend this excellent Drewscape video on the topic. It’s only about 12 minutes long, yet he manages to succinctly explain many basic principles of cartooning with good examples. (The more I view [or rather, stop viewing] way-overlong YouTubes, the more I admire – and will subscribe to  people who can explain concepts succinctly!)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bark & Brew


2/18/24 Bark & Brew event at Old Stove Brewing Co., Fremont neighborhood

After all the pet portraits I’ve been making to raise funds for Dog Gone Seattle, it was so much fun to sketch some of their pooches waiting to find forever families! Hosted by kid- and dog-friendly Old Stove Brewing Company on Fremont’s Ship Canal, Bark & Brew is a monthly event for potential adopters to meet dogs.

Humans sipped brews and chatted about their current and potential dogs, pups sniffed each other, and I (sadly allergic) was the only one not petting or cuddling a furry face. The rain made me leave sooner than I wanted to, but I’ll be back at another Bark & Brew for more sketching.

(Whew – is my live sketching of both humans and canines flabby! I better get in shape pronto for next month’s One Week 100 People challenge, or I’ll be stepping in deep doggie doo-doo!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Eyes Have It

2/11/24 Kooper (reference photo by Chris Green)
2/15/24 Miss Maybelle (reference photo by Kate Eckhoff)

The kitties have been outnumbering the dogs lately, and I’m happy to get more feline practice. On the one hand, cats can be harder to render because their faces have more subtle forms than dogs. On the other hand, I won’t say “all cats look alike,” but in a general way, they do. Once I learned the characteristics that are common in all cat faces, it became much easier to draw them. Dogs, by contrast, seem more distinctly unique – not just from breed to breed but even within one breed.

This batch of pet portraits includes two firsts for me: a young kitten (Miss Maybelle) and a puppy (Kooper, both above). In the same way that human baby faces are not simply miniature adult faces, puppies and kittens have different proportions than their adult counterparts. The most challenging part was surviving the cuteness overload! And both have blue eyes!

2/11/24 Sherlock (reference photo by 
Sarah Kaltsounis)

2/12/24 Tabitha (reference photo by Jill Bartos)

When I show the portraits to the pet owners, I am often complimented on how well I captured their pets’ eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, I usually concentrate more than half the drawing time on the eyes. I know that the owner and the pet often have eye contact, so the eyes are the most recognizable and expressive feature. Even if the fur gets sloppy or my proportions are a little off on the ears, if I get the eyes right, the drawing will usually capture the expression well.

2/15/24 Hemi (reference photo by Holly Thurston)

When I was practicing all those human portraits from Earthsworld’s photos, I didn’t always get much practice on eyes because they were often too small or obscured by shadow to see well. With the pet portraits, I have been asking specifically (though I don’t always get them) for reference photos showing the animals’ eyes in good light, so it’s been fun and rewarding to be able to practice drawing so many eyes. When the lighting is good, a subtle shadow will be apparent at the eye’s top edge across the iris. Something I learned from France Van Stone when we drew human portraits, the shadow is cast by the eyelid. It’s hard to see in dark-eyed dogs, but it’s a little easier to see in cats’ eyes (like Olivia and Hemi, at right and below). If I can observe and capture that kind of detail, the eyes look more natural and realistic.

2/16/24 Olivia (reference photo by Joey Guido)

The most challenging portrait in this group was Olivia (at left). Given two bad reference photos (dark, low contrast, low resolution), I had to make some educated guesses about features or contours I could barely see. One thing, however, was clear in both photos: Olivia was slightly walleyed. This was an unusual and unique feature that I thought was important to capture accurately. When making portraits of humans as well as pets, it’s sometimes tempting to make asymmetrical features more symmetrical, straighten crooked noses, or otherwise make faces more generic. (With human faces, I have sometimes caught myself doing it unconsciously.) But the beauty of individuals is in those lopsided ears, off-center markings and even charming walleyes.

Some portraits take very few materials...

... and others take lots of colors to capture fur details.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Salt & Straw


2/16/24 The view from Salt & Straw, Ballard neighborhood

An errand brought me to a part of Ballard that I rarely visit because parking is such a pain. Once I found a spot, I put extra time on the meter to find a coffee shop nearby. Walking up and down a few blocks, I passed a couple of coffee shops . . . but inexplicably, I found myself dragged into Salt & Straw Ice Cream instead. With bar seating facing the street, I had a good view of classic, old Ballard architecture.

The scooper had offered me tastes of various flavors, but I didn’t need one: I got a hefty “small” scoop of Fran’s Almond Gold Bar, which is one of my favorite chocolates from Fran’s. (Fortunately for my arteries, Salt & Straw is inconvenient.)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Mud Truck


2/16/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Outside Macrina Bakery near the outdoor seating area, I sensed a quiet presence as I sketched the action across the street. A young boy who had been dining with his family nearby was watching me. I showed him my sketch, and he turned to look at the mud truck and flagman. Shy at first, he eventually asked my name, and I learned his. Mika told me he likes to draw, too.

He pointed out that my sign was the wrong shape – the one he saw then showed the hexagonal stop sign. I told him to wait a moment, and the flagman would turn the sign around to let the cars pass. He waited patiently until the flagman turned the sign around.

“Thank you for indulging him,” his dad said as I turned to leave.

No, I thought to myself, thank you, Mika, for giving me a smile as I sketched. “Nice to meet you, Mika!”

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Project 9 Brewing Company

2/13/24 Project 9 Brewing Co.

First we got Macrina, a premium bakery. Now Maple Leaf has a brewery that opened just a few months ago and is already a nominee for USA Today’s best new brewery of the year. Maple Leaf is finally on the culinary map!

Originally a gas station, the property now occupied by Project 9 Brewing Company has been at least a couple of other auto service businesses (including one that installed the security system on my Miata years ago). From the exterior, it still very much looks like it should be pumping gas (I plan to sketch it when the weather warms up), but the interior is spacious and probably has good natural light in the daytime.

Meeting a friend there in the evening, I didn’t get to see the light, but I caught this quick sketch of other patrons and one of several TVs on the wall (Kraken hockey was on). I don’t care for sports bars, but the spacious interior didn’t make me feel forced to view the screens. A grilled cheese sandwich from the Sammich food truck parked outside was a great accompaniment to my brew. An upstairs level separated from the taproom makes it a family-friendly venue. The sign on the door said it was also dog-friendly, and a couple of pooches had accompanied their humans.

Maple Leaf has been in need of more casual places like this, and I’m looking forward to patronizing and sketching Project 9 again.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Burke Nearly to Ourselves


2/14/24 Mastodon replica, Burke Museum

2/14/24 Columbian Mammoth

The last time USk Seattle met at the Burke Museum was right before the pandemic hit, so it was high time for us to visit again. I started on the top floor where all the paleontology labs are and some of the museum’s best specimens, like the Columbian Mammoth. I’ve sketched it from the other side before, so this time I focused on the skull and those incredibly long tusks (at left).

Next I looked through one of the lab windows to sketch a grizzly bear skull (below). A former Woodland Park Zoo resident, the bear was being cleaned and preserved.

2/14/24 Grizzly bear skull

My last stop was the Mastodon replica. The first time I sketched it was from the staircase above. Spotting Janet in a corner, I went to the opposite side of the gallery so that I could capture her in the composition and show the scale of the enormous beast (top of post).

On most visits, the museum has been filled with young students on field trips. On this Wednesday afternoon, we sketchers had the place nearly to ourselves, which was an unusual treat. The Burke is back on our list as a winter-weather standby!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Orange Jeep

2/13/24 Maple Leif neighborhood

I live in the kind of neighborhood where black Priuses and silver Subaru Outbacks predominate (perhaps that’s not a useful description; it probably fits most Seattle neighborhoods). You can imagine my delight, then, to run across this bright orange Jeep – especially when I’m busily trying to help my friend Keith “Kill Winter with Orange” this month.

That reminds me: Although I shared them on Instagram where Keith’s campaign is ongoing, I forgot to show these images here on my blog. For Keith’s 10th consecutive year of killing winter with all things orange, we collaborated on a sticker design featuring Weather Bunny. It’s a little hard to see here, but the image on WB’s coffee mug is Keith’s hand-drawn avatar. Also shown are some of his own sticker designs. A Lego fan, he also designed and 3-D printed some of the orange figurines. 

Weather Bunny is doing her part to hurry spring along!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Southern Fantasies

2/12/24 Wedgwood neighborhood

I think of February as the deadest part of the dead of winter: The holidays are long over, the fresh promise of a new year is already going stale, and spring is still such a distant hope that we haven’t even gotten a false one. (A friend feels so strongly about winter needing to end that he has been running a “Kill Winter with Orange” campaign every February for 10 years! Follow randomthinks on Instagram and the hashtag #killwinterwithorange to see how his followers are helping him kill it!)

2/12/24 Green Lake neighborhood

Around this time of year, I like to sketch palm trees to help me dream of warmer climes south of here. On my way home from an errand in Wedgwood, I first spotted a house with no fewer than five Chinese pinwheel palms on the small property (above). Walking in the Green Lake neighborhood later that same day, I spotted a small palm that I had never noticed before. That’s what happens when I start thinking about something: I suddenly see them everywhere.

Speaking of things Deadest, Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Co. (and Field Notes founding partner) recently released another limited edition of Field Notes notebooks with covers made from poster dead prints – the Deadest edition. (Deader print books were sold in 2020, and the original Dead prints a few years prior to that.) His timing was ideal: The bright colors and shiny silver foiling are doing their best to help kill winter.

Orange, silver foiling, neon: I'm doing my part to kill it!

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ink-Hatched Dogs

2/10/24 Kelly (both reference photos by Matt Francev)

2/8/24 Alfred

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my series of pet portraits, it’s the significant challenge of trying to make good drawings from bad reference photos. The ones I received for Alfred and Kelly were both less than ideal: one was out of focus, both were poorly lighted, and the contrast was so dim that I could barely see the forms of their heads. Sadly, they had long ago crossed the Rainbow Bridge; taking better reference photos was not possible.

I have been enjoying using colored pencils for most of the series, but since both of these pups were black and white, they were a good opportunity to try something different: messy hatching with black Uni Pin technical pens (and a little colored pencil for details). Just like human heads, dogs have eye sockets that give the face a predictable form, even if it’s nearly impossible to see. I gave educated guesses (from all my other dog drawings) to do what I could with Kelly.

I couldn’t seem to do that with Alfred – the photo gave me so little information (except that delightful expression) – so I decided to push the cartoony effect that ink hatching invites. Even though the drawing came out flat, I was thrilled to capture his broad smile, which also fits the cartoony effect.

I used colored pencil on Alfred's nose.
3 sizes of Uni Pin pens for Kelly.

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