Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sunshine, Watercolors and Comics at U Village


4/19/24 University Village

The requested sunshine was delivered for USk Seattle at U Village last Friday, and we all agreed the temperature and conditions were nearly ideal: 66 degrees with a clear blue sky!

Arriving a little early, I found a sunny spot and started sketching immediately to stay warm. The rest of the morning continued apace – one small sketch after another until I filled a spread in my bright yellow Uglybook that seemed to reflect the day’s sunshine (top of post).

4/19/24 Why do I keep torturing myself?

I was having so much fun that I could have immediately started another spread, but I thought I “should” do a watercolor. Since I knew that comfy benches and tables were plentiful at U Village, I felt compelled to bring along my watercolor palette and A5-size Hahnemühle sketchbook. I found a suitable composition and even dutifully made a thumbnail first in my Field Notes, but I admit I didn’t enjoy using watercolors nor the result (at left) nearly as much as I do comic-style urban sketching with markers. I should stop torturing myself with watercolors and just embrace me doing me!

With that over with, I sighed with relief and happily pulled out my smaller A6 Hahnemühle for another comic-like spread (below). White paper enables me to use a little color – I’d be happy with that if I could just let watercolors go.

After the meetup, I stayed to have lunch with Natalie and Oralea. (U Village is great for that because everyone can choose what they want from the many food venues and meet later at the community tables.) The busy ramen shop I chose required a bit of a wait, so that got me started on another page (below). Then when I unwrapped my takeout, it turned out to be a “kit” that I wish had come with assembly instructions. The toppings, the noodles and the broth each came in its own plastic layer, and then all the layers snapped together into a covered bowl. Whew! I was already starving before I started, but I certainly worked up an even bigger appetite by the time I got all the parts together.

Sketchwaiting at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka and illustration of my takeout ramen "kit"

I realized too late that I should have taken photos of the elaborate packaging. To make up for it, I sketched an “exploded view” of the kit.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Evolution of a Comic Diary


2/5/24 Most of my early sketch journal/comic diary entries were simple observations I had made that day, usually on my walks.

Late last year I quietly (that is, by not sharing the results on social media) restarted the sketch journal habit that I had previously let fall to the wayside several times. Keeping it up daily, I reported on my progress in January.

3/6/24 I still find it especially challenging to imagine and 
then draw myself in various scenarios.
Around the same time, Drewscape’s YouTube videos and his comic book approach to urban sketching opened my mind to telling stories with multiple small scenes on a page. As often happens on the YouTube rabbit trail, I then became intrigued by the comic diaries of Drewscape and others. In fact, I revisited my own exploration of Lynda Barry’s books on comic diaries a few years ago. With all of these fascinating methods and ideas for telling personal, visual stories crashing around in my brain, my daily sketch journal habit began to morph organically (without my pushing consciously in one direction or the other). To reinforce the habit and encourage more organic morphing, I challenged myself (again, quietly) to make a comic diary entry daily for 30 days beginning April 1.

Since I’m more than halfway through the month, it’s a good time to share some of my progress and process (which actually interest me more than whatever results I may end up with).

As with other self-challenges, my objective is to avoid naval-gazing (which I do enough of in my written journal) and stick as much as possible to sensory-based observations and related thoughts. Although internal monologs are unavoidable when one considers the diary format, which by definition is writing for oneself, I try to minimize that.

4/2/24 More observations

With travel planned for the first week of April, I was afraid I’d have difficulty keeping up with my self-challenge while I was away from my usual routines. Instead, travel turned out to be
 an ideal opportunity for a comic diary. With ongoing family activities, I couldn’t always sketch when I wanted to or spend as much time as I might if I were alone, but I made mental notes to sketch from memory later. The small sketches were easy to make during moments of downtime. I also used my photos as memory prompts and sometimes for reference.

4/8/24 A comic diary page I made from photo references and memory.

As you can see from the examples shown in this post, some entries are nothing more than crudely illustrated notations similar to my original pandemic scribble journal. They hardly resemble “comics,” even the single-panel type. Although I’ve made some attempts at using a theme (“Things I Missed/Didn’t Miss While Traveling,” below), I still have difficulty with developing a story arc visually. (As a lifelong writer, I find it ironic and frustrating that it’s much easier for me to do that with words.) That’s my goal for the rest of the month.

4/11/24 A "theme" comic from imagination

The closest I’ve come to any kind of “narrative” is the page I made after I met a friend for brunch in West Seattle’s Admiral District (below). You already saw the sketches I made on location the same day; it was an additional challenge not to duplicate what I had already sketched from life. The comic diary page (made from memory and photos) has a behind-the-scenes feeling to it – editorializing about the sketches from life. I didn’t plan to do this, but it was another organic outcome: Making the urban sketches first helped to give narrative to the diary page.

4/14/24 Based on memory and photo references, this comic diary page
is "behind-the-scenes" of the urban sketches made earlier that day.

I recently had a V-8 moment which would probably amuse others: For most of my urban sketching life (which began in 2011), I’ve been very strict with myself about keeping the sketches I make from direct observation “pure.” For example, I would never start a sketch on location, then finish it at home by embellishing it with imaginative details or polishing it up by using photo references. Unlike many urban sketchers, I don’t even add color later. It’s just my personal policy: A sketch begun onsite is finished onsite.

In the same vein, making a comic diary that includes sketches done from life alongside those made from memory or imagination was unacceptable to me. I seemed to have an unconscious desire to protect the Urban Sketchers philosophy from getting muddied (as an admin for USk Seattle, I have enough work trying to explain that philosophy to new members regularly). To avoid potential confusion, I simply kept memory/imagination sketches segregated from urban sketches.

Suddenly one day, it hit me: This is my diary, for cryin’ out loud! Most pages will not be seen by others, let alone judged for mixing urban sketches with imaginative ones. Heck, I could put sketches made from photo references right there on the same page as an urban sketch! Lightning will not strike me down!

4/13/24 The statue of James W. Washington, The Brothers and the magnolia blossom were sketched from life. The donut and poke bowl were sketched from memory -- and all of it on the same page! Lightning did not strike me!

You’re laughing, I know. I’m sure most people never think twice about mixing sketches made from a variety of sources. But after being a dyed-in-the-wool urban sketcher exclusively for most of my sketching life, evolution comes slowly.

As for materials, I am staying simple: a brush pen or other black marker in whatever is my current daily-carry Uglybook sketchbook.

Using one Uglybook as a chronological sketchbook/comic diary
makes it easy to complete in two or three weeks.

Speaking of that, I am keeping up my personal pledge to completely fill each Uglybook before switching to a new color. Although I sometimes miss the fun of jumping from color to color, the much larger benefit is that I am maintaining chronological continuity in that one book.

I still use my daily-carry A6 Hahnemühle sketchbook when I want to use color, and I also occasionally use an A5 Hahnemühle when I want a larger page, especially with watercolor or chunky Derwent Inktense Blocks. With multiple sketchbooks, I can’t keep all sketches in chronological order, but I enjoy filling the Uglybook every day with something – a sketch on location; a sketch from memory, imagination or photo reference; a comic diary entry. (Another benefit is that I complete each 48-page Uglybook much faster now – in only two or three weeks.) It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t figure out a way to make it work. That makes it especially satisfying now.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Admiral District

4/14/24 Admiral District, West Seattle

Before meeting a friend for brunch, I took a walk through West Seattle’s Admiral District. This neighborhood’s gem is the 1942 Admiral Theatre. While this type of historic theater is dwindling away in many neighborhoods (or being reused for other purposes), this one is still in operation, showing first- and second-run films.

Cheesy eggs and Croffle at the Bebop Waffle Shop. My friend had
a Monte Cristo sandwich made from waffles. You can also get waffles
made from Cocoa Pebbles or Fruity Pebbles! 

Walking on a quiet residential street filled with well-kept, older homes that I think of as quintessential Seattle architecture, I happened upon the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which looks like an ordinary house if it weren’t for the sign.

Eventually I made my way to the Bebop Waffle Shop, where I had a Croffle: a croissant baked on a waffle grill! Sorry, no sketch of it (at least not from life; you’ll see it from memory later) – I scarfed it down so fast I barely got a photo of it. But I did get a sketch of the Bebops logo, which is apparently a two-headed wiener dog.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

New Bag, Old Bag, Big Bag


Lilac is the new pink!

Bags, bags, bags – how I love ‘em. I seem to acquire them the way some women acquire shoes. Here’s my latest (at right): Lilac for spring and summer! (It looks larger in the photo, but it’s the same favorite mini-size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag style that I’ve been using for years.)

I hadn’t planned to get a new bag – I wanted to keep using the neon pink one (below) that I had gotten to brighten up the early months of the pandemic. When I pulled it out last month, though, it was so faded and dingy that it didn’t evoke the freshness of spring. Laundering didn’t help. After three years of spring and summer use, the sun had really taken its toll on this known fugitive color. It may be the type of fabric that exacerbated fading. Last fall’s neon orange bag, made of waterproof X-Pac fabric, is still as bright as ever.

I always carry bags with the flap facing out. You can see how badly
it has faded compared to the back, which was consistently away from sunlight.

Yarn and knitting needles instead of guns and ammo.

While on the subject of bags, here’s another: I snapped the photo at left a couple of months ago right before a trip to Goodwill. It’s my “Jack Bauer” bag, named for the main character of the TV series, “24.” (We loved the series so much that we watched all nine seasons twice. The series began in 2001, which tells you how old the bag was.) Jack used this basic, utilitarian, canvas bag to haul various firearms, ropes, hacksaws, cigar guillotines, hand grenades, flashlights, ski masks and other devices necessary for fighting off terrorists. I used mine to store and haul my knitting projects. I had to laugh at the scale: Somehow it fit Jack better than it did me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Dallas, Part 3: Travel Comic Diaries

4/5/24 On my flight to Dallas, I ruminated on my lunch, my flight entertainment, and my flight discomforts.

Just as Drewscape has inspired me to take a comic book approach to urban sketching, he has also prompted me to try my hand at making comic diaries. I have another post planned soon about how my latest sketch journal process has been morphing gradually into a comic diary, so I won’t get into the nitty-gritty here. However, I was surprised to find that my trip to Dallas turned out to be an excellent opportunity to explore comic diary approaches. Shown here are two page spreads I made on a flight and during a layover in Phoenix.

4/9/24 During a long layover and on the flight, I again ruminated on my lunch, a girl I had overheard on the walkway, and other observations.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Dallas, Part 2: Eclipse


4/8/24 Viewing the eclipse in Grand Prairie, TX

Who knew that a few clouds could cause so much tension?

As a Seattle native, I consider overcast skies my natural habitat and certainly not a cause for consternation. In the days leading up to April 8, 2024, however, the weather was a primary topic in my family’s ongoing chat thread.

When we got together in Oregon for the 2017 eclipse, clear summer skies were the forecast, and we enjoyed a perfectly unobscured viewing. In Texas, though, conditions were iffy.

The eclipse was to begin in the early afternoon. Over breakfast, we yay’d when it was sunny; when clouds reappeared, we boo’d. All morning, the sun dipped in and out of clouds over Grand Prairie, where my family had found an ideal house to rent for the long weekend. In addition to having exactly the number of beds we needed, it was also in the center of the path of totality, ensuring maximum viewing time – nearly four minutes – of the event’s climactic phase. Ensured, of course, as long as the sun was unobscured.

Donning our ISO-approved safety glasses (made of cardboard and in two styles) and matching T-shirts, we gathered on the back lawn. My brother had staked out an ideal location to set up his high-end camera gear. I came prepared with a white Prismacolor pencil and an Uglybook containing dark blue paper, which I thought would be the most efficient way to document the moon’s path.

At 12:52 p.m., I made my first sketch of the partial occlusion. Clouds continued to drift past sporadically; when the coverage was thick, the sun could not be seen at all.

As totality inched closer, the tension and anticipation increased. By 1:30 p.m., it had become perceptibly cooler and darker.

At 1:40 p.m., the clouds parted. Birds we had heard earlier stopped singing, and an eerie darkness, very different from night, fell. The totality phase had begun! Finally able to view the sun without protection, we screamed and cheered, awed by the spectacular experience for nearly four minutes – completely unmarred by clouds.

At 1:44 p.m., the “diamond ring” appeared (a moment sought by photographers), signaling the end of totality. Scrambling to put on our protective glasses again, we sighed collectively and applauded.

Although I would have been disappointed if clouds had kept us from seeing the moon’s alignment with the sun, that long weekend would not have been less special. For me, reuniting with my family is the part I cherish.

(I held off on publishing this post until after the slightly shorter version appeared in On the Spot, Gabi Campanario's zine of sketch reportage. You can read that version here. I'm thrilled to be published there again!)

Kaila napped through the whole eclipse, but I wanted to include a photo of her, too.

The "diamond ring" signals that the total eclipse phase had begun. (photo by Frank Koyama)

Monday, April 15, 2024

Pink and Not

4/12/24 Evergreen Washelli cemetery, north Seattle

An errand nearby gave me an opportunity to take a morning walk through Evergreen Washelli cemetery. I was hoping to find some pink trees to sketch as I did last year, but the cherries were now long past their blossoms. This old cherry tree (above) had only a few petals remaining, but its elegant shape still deserved to be sketched.

The next day I walked through the ‘hood to see how the Kwanzans were doing. This street is one I watch each year for this small cluster of trees, now at peak.

4/13/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Years ago, I made most sketches with a wide variety of inks, colored pencils, watercolors and markers. Then I gradually became a watercolor pencil purist, a period that lasted several years. Now I seem to be swinging back in the mixed-media direction again. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Product Review: Omiowl White Acrylic Marker


Omiowl white acrylic paint markers

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had been given a nameless white acrylic marker that was new to me. Having tried more than my share of white pens and markers, none of which are ideal, I was naturally skeptical and even downright jaded. Although I liked what I saw in Allan’s sketch, I knew that the pen was likely on its best behavior while it was new. As soon as I got complacent, it could blob, clog, explode or who knows what. I decided I would wait a good while before reviewing it.

The pen, by the way, does have a name; the box says it’s Omiowl. On Amazon, it’s listed with Zosxi as the brand name, but that name appears nowhere on the packaging. I guess branding isn’t important, since no name appears on the pen itself, either. Regardless, it’s a dual-tip marker with a brush tip on one end and a dot-making bullet point on the other.

Brush tip

Bullet tip

The package indicates that it can write on concrete, leather, metal, canvas, stone, wood, glass, fabric, plastic and paper. That’s an impressive list of surfaces (but I’ll leave it to someone else to test its effectiveness on anything besides paper, since I’m unlikely to use it on any other surface).

Good opacity but with a relatively wide tip.

Taking the marker with me to Dallas,
I used it in several sketches, very happy with both its opacity and instant-on operation – no shaking, rattling or priming needed. Just pull the cap off, and it’s ready.

Good coverage on colored papers.

Detail from the last sketch I made with the pen before it died.

Fair warning, but I didn't have the package at the time.

Somewhere during my sketch around the cul de sac where we were staying, I lost the cap to the brush end. At least, I assume that’s where it happened, because I didn’t notice it was gone until a couple of hours later when I pulled the pen out capless. I emptied my bag, hoping it had fallen off somewhere inside, but it was gone. What startled me was that the brush tip was completely, solidly dried – solid as a piece of hard plastic. The package (which I didn’t have at the time) warns: “Cover the cap immediately after using or it will dry quickly.” No kidding.

Since the opposite end was still capped, I kept the pen in my bag, assuming that the bullet tip would still be useable. A couple of hours later, I opened the bullet end to use, and it had completely dried, too. Apparently exposing one end of the pen is enough to dry out the entire contents of acrylic paint and the second tip! I tossed it.

Even while I was still in Texas, I had already ordered a bulk package of eight Omiowl white acrylic markers. I was going to resist a bulk buy until further testing, but since my tester was gone, it had to happen. At a little more than a buck each, the pack is a good value (unless it turns out to be a dud).

For now, I can only say that the marker performs well, and I’ll update this review in the future if I discover its dark side. Impressively opaque and well-behaved, its only downside is that the brush tip is fairly hefty, even when held vertically, so it can’t make fine lines the way the Posca 0.7 “pin type” or Sakura Gelly Roll can. Still, with the solid coverage it can make, that’s an acceptable tradeoff.

If you decide to try it yourself, whatever you do, replace the cap immediately and never lose it!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Plenty of Pink Left


4/11/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

On my return flight from Dallas, I wondered what the flowering trees would look like at home. I saw that Seattle had gotten rain and wind while I was gone – would there be any pink left for me to sketch?

Happily, I found that there was still plenty: The Kwanzan cherry trees are just hitting their stride. I found this pair on my walk – both rather inelegantly pruned with awkward stumps on one side.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Dallas, Part 1: Family Reunion

4/5/24 Light rail commuters

Something about a total solar eclipse seems to bring the Koyama family together. That’s what happened on Aug. 21, 2017, in Oregon, and last week it happened again, this time in Texas. Ten of us from Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and College Park, Maryland, met in Dallas for the major astronomical event of the year: a total solar eclipse that would be visible through much of North America.

4/5/24 Waiting at Sea-Tac airport

I had not seen a couple of family members since before the pandemic, so this gathering was especially precious to me. We even got matching T-shirts commemorating the eclipse, including one for our newest family member, my one-and-a-half-year-old grand-niece, Kaila. She has already grown so much since I last saw her in August, and it was fun to spend time with her. I didn’t capture her likeness as well as I did in the drawings I’ve done from photos, but I finally got to sketch her from life – twice!

4/6/24 The view from the back patio of the house we rented in Grand Prairie.

I’ll get to the actual eclipse in a future post. Today I’m showing all the airport sketches, scenes from Grand Prairie, the Dallas suburb where we rented an Airbnb, and from Dallas itself. Details are in the captions.

4/6/24 A few snippets from the front of our rented house in a typical suburban cul de sac.

4/6/24 The family carnivores insisted that it was not possible to visit Texas without eating authentic barbecue, so we got takeout from the highly acclaimed Hurtado in nearby Arlington. 

4/6/24 One evening my nephew-in-law Mark taught everyone to play the Texas Hold 'Em version of poker that he favors. I'm not big on card games, so I opted to sketch everyone instead. I messed up Seila's face so badly that I covered him up with poker chips and re-drew him at lower right (much better).

4/7/24 One evening we went into the city to hang out in Klyde Warren Park, which had nice water features for kids to splash in. 

4/7/24 A few buildings seen from Klyde Warren Park, my beer at Doc B's restaurant, and Kaila eating.

4/7/24 Mark made blueberry pancakes for all of us one morning. Getting the shape of his shaved head right was apparently beyond me! Great-tailed grackles, a bird previously unfamiliar to me, were the most commonly sighted bird in Grand Prairie. Larger than crows and with elegantly long tails, they have a variety of calls ID'd by the Merlin app. 

4/8/24 I caught Kaila coloring, which meant she was 
somewhat stationery for a few seconds.

4/8/24 A small lizard on a window screen

4/9/24 Waiting at Dallas-Ft. Worth

4/9/24 Waiting in Phoenix. It's the first airport where I've seen an "animal relief station." No one was inside, neither human nor canine, so I could sketch easily. The hydrant was a whimsical touch.

4/7/24 This is my favorite sketch of the trip.

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