Sunday, June 23, 2024

Green Lake Street Trees on a Perfect Day


6/19/24 Green Lake neighborhood (This page spread turned out disheveled; the house with the unusual roof doesn't belong here, but when I saw it on my walk, I wanted to sketch it on the spot or I might not find it again later.)

Studying the map in Taha Ebrahimi’s book, Street Trees of Seattle, I’ve been planning my strategy for sketching all 10 trees documented in the Green Lake neighborhood. Five are located toward the southern end of the lake in the Tangletown micro-neighborhood, which is farther than I typically walk, but it was certainly doable. I just needed ideal conditions: Not cold, but also not hot, and definitely sunny. Wednesday morning was perfectly clear, the temperature was in the mid-60s, and by noon, it would be 70: Perfect! I set out with my sun hat.

My favorite in this batch is the impressive bigleaf maple (above) – the sixth widest-diameter maple street tree in the city, according to Taha. It’s on my list as a potential candidate for a portrait later. The ovens wattle acacia is also distinctive for being Seattle’s only acacia street tree.

By the time I sketched the pair of ginkgos (above), I had walked more than 11,000 steps from home – a few more than I had calculated based on Google’s estimated walking times. With an appointment in the early afternoon that I had to go home to get my car for, I decided to take the bus back. I almost hated to do it, though; everything about the day was beautiful, and I wanted to keep on walking.

Although I don't enjoy crossing the freeway to get to Green Lake, I do when I know this will be my reward. . . Her Majesty, Mt. Rainier, to the south . . . 

. . . and a pivot from the same spot gives me The Brothers to the west. Didn't I say it was a perfect day?

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Summer Solstice at Bell Harbor Pier


6/20/24 Seattle waterfront and skyline from Bell Harbor Pier

After a couple of outings with rainy or iffy weather, USk Seattle enjoyed a rare treat: summer weather on the Solstice (our local joke is that summer begins on July 5)! Bell Harbor Pier offers arguably the best views of the downtown skyline and waterfront, but a major drawback is that it has no shelter or shade. We run the risk of scheduling an outing there when the weather is either bad or too good. In fact, it was perfect on Thursday morning – not too hot but clear and with a good breeze.

Anticipating the skyline, I brought along a landscape-format Uglybook (I cut the image in half below so you can see the details). The skyline is changing so quickly that all the familiar profiles are being hidden by newer buildings. I labeled the ones I could still identify.

Next I turned in the opposite direction to grab the Space Needle (also nearly obscured), The Brothers highlighting the Olympic Mountains, and Mike sketching at his easel.

Material notes: For my fresh, green, daily-carry Uglybook, I chose a warm brown Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Dual Tip Marker instead of black as my primary drawing color (these pens have become a favorite for my comics style of urban sketching).

Also of interest is the white acrylic marker I used on these sketches – it’s a Sharpie Creative Marker! Still on my lifelong quest for the perfect white pen, whenever I see another sketcher using white, I ask about it. I learned about the Sharpie from Rob Deane, who makes remarkable urban sketches on toned paper. Since we all know that white acrylic markers are terrific – until they suddenly aren’t, I’m trying not to jump up and down until I’ve used the Sharpie for a while, but I must say, I’m optimistic so far. (I’ve been using a variety of white acrylic pens lately, even more than the ones I showed in my post about a month ago, and I’ll be writing a follow-up review sometime soon. But lately Ive been too darn busy sketching to write reviews!)

Friday, June 21, 2024

One Pole for Another


6/18/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

My spidey sense tingled when I saw the sign: ROAD CLOSED. I walked down the middle of the closed street toward the big action: An old utility pole was being replaced by a new one.

Ten years ago I had a front-and-center view of all the action from our upstairs bedroom window when the pole right outside our house was being replaced. Compared to that view, this one from ground level wasn’t nearly as good, and I had to walk around to the other side of the intersection once because the traffic circle tree was blocking my view. Things were happening and changing fast, but I tried to capture as much of the action as I could.

This is one of many reasons why my favorite form of urban sketching is on my daily walks: I never know where the action will be until I find it.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Loud Retreat


6/17/24 Retreat, Green Lake neighborhood

Sometimes my urban sketches include haiku that I intend to be quiet reflections on my experiences of making those sketches. Other times, I just want to complain.

After finishing a page of sketches, I like to sit quietly afterwards to write the haiku. I like to do it as soon as possible so that my impressions from the experience are still fresh. (My mom, a haiku poet for most of her life, used to say the same thing about her own writing practice: If too much time passed after making an observation, the poem could be lost.) I had just made some sketches of trees at Green Lake, so I stopped for coffee at Retreat to write. Inside, the café was too noisy with loud music and conversation, so I hoped that the outdoor seating would be quieter.

Unfortunately, the only other party seated outside was a group of three women all talking over each other loudly and continually. I wanted to quote some of the dialog, but they interrupted each other so often that it was difficult to capture anything. I managed to write the haiku (not on this page, though), but not without grumbling.

On top of all that, I had been served the sloppiest Cortado ever: The barista had spilled half a shot on the counter instead of in the glass, then poured the milk over with such bad aim that the glass was sitting in a puddle when he handed me the tray. Oh, well – it gave me more to complain about.

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!

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