Friday, December 15, 2017

Orange Bikes

12/13/17 Green Lake Park parking lot

Like other major metropolitan areas, Seattle has several bike-sharing companies, and each uses bikes painted in a bright color – lime green, orange, yellow – to distinguish them. A couple of bright orange bikes left at Green Lake caught my eye when I pulled into the parking lot. In the foreground was a parked Volvo, and I thought the three vehicles together made an interesting composition.

Urban sketchers know the rule: Always sketch first the thing that’s most likely to leave. Hmmm, bikes or car? In all cases, I figured the driver/riders were walking around the lake, so I had some time. But the bikes might take me longer to draw, so I decided to quickly block in the Volvo first. That way I could mark the scale of the bikes, which were in the middle distance, against the car. I started doing that – and that’s when the pickup pulled into the space next to the Volvo, completely blocking my view of the bikes. 

Huh. I forgot the second rule: Never start sketching something if it can be blocked.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Late Start on Santa Season

12/12/17 Two kids stop to chat with Pacific Place's Santa.

My Santa “personal best” was in 2015, when I managed to sketch him four times. Last year I decided I couldn’t break my own record, so I settled for three (and twice it was the same Santa!). This year I’ve been a total slacker: Here we are halfway to Christmas, and I’ve only just begun!

Around noon Tuesday at Pacific Place, Santa didn’t have any customers, and his helper was so bored she was scrolling her phone. I circled the mall a couple of times to find a good angle, and the one I liked best was the one I used last year: from directly above.

I started sketching Santa, thinking that if he got some customers, they would sit next to him on his bench-like chair, and I could put them in. After I was nearly done, a couple of brothers came by, but they were there only to chat with Santa – no lap sitting, no photos. No other kids came by. 

It may have been a slow day for Santa, but at least I got a start on Santa Sketching Season.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Better Than Sliced Bread

12/12/17 Princi bakery's bread slicer and a case filled with croissants.

Starbucks has been in the news lately with its recent opening of a new Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, which is apparently many times larger than the one in Seattle. In addition, the Seattle Roastery recently added the Italian bakery Princi to its store, and from everything I’d heard, the pastries were worth a trip up the hill. So despite the many times I’ve sketched there, I decided it was time to make another visit.

With the addition of the bakery, more seating was also added, including a large community table and some stand-up tables, just like in Europe (where people don’t like to take their coffee “to go,” but they also don’t always take the time to sit). When I first came in, a large group was meeting at the community table, but they left just as I was thinking about starting a sketch from a stand-up table. I zipped in and grabbed a seat at the large table as soon as it opened. Luckily for me, the view I wanted was straight ahead: a bright red bread slicer behind rows and rows of croissants.

Yes, the Nutella-filled croissant I had was worth the trip up the hill. Worth the premium price I paid for it? I scarfed it down so fast that I didnt have time to ponder the price. 

And here’s one more thing I purchased there without much thought: A lovely wooden pencil box with a sliding top, filled with matte black pencils (stamped with silly coffee sayings). Alas, I’m a sucker for more than over-priced pastries.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How Many Ways Can a Sketch Go Bad?

12/11/17 Our Lady of the Lake Church, Wedgwood 
I drive through the Wedgwood neighborhood frequently because I run a lot of errands in that direction, so not much is new to me there. That’s why I was delightfully surprised to turn a corner and spot an unusual steeple I’d never seen before. Contemporary in design, it houses three bells that are exposed on four sides and all the way through. I pulled over for a sketch of Our Lady of the Lake Church.

Drawing the steeple was challenging but fun, and the utility pole and traffic signs in the foreground were straightforward. So far, so good. I wanted to show that you could see all the way through the steeple, so painting the sky in the background would be important (and I always like to show when the sky is bright blue, since it so often isn’t).

That’s when everything started going downhill. As I usually do, I first spritzed the upper half of the page with water – except that I hadn’t given the Platinum Carbon Black ink enough time to dry. I moved quickly into damage-control mode, trying to dab up the ink where it had bled. Meanwhile, I didn’t think about spraying the area inside the steeple that I had wanted to emphasize, so when I hit it with blue water-soluble colored pencil, the color was more intense than the rest of the sky, and I lost the see-through look I was going for.

Annoyed with all of that, I moved on to the utility pole in the foreground. It was almost completely in the shade but had some interesting spots of light on it that I hadn’t finished deciding whether to show or not. The light spots weren’t important to my composition, and might even be distracting . . . while I continued to think about that, I decided that the sky was dry, so I went in with my fountain pen again to draw the power lines – only to find that the paper, in fact, wasn’t quite dry. The nib scudded and skipped across the page.

More and more dismayed, I half-heartedly scribbled in some foliage, lost motivation to work on the utility pole (and forgot that I hadn’t made up my mind about the shading, either), and called it good. Or bad. 

In any case, I still think Our Lady of the Lake’s steeple is worthy of a better sketch, so I’ll go back again sometime.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Product Review: Akashiya Keicho Double-Sided Brush Pen

12/6/17 The Akashiya Keicho's black and gray tones were used for different areas of shading.

In the interest of my ongoing quest to simplify and lighten my sketch kit, I recently got a new brush pen: the Akashiya Keicho double-sided pen. With black ink on one end and gray on the other, it would take care of most of my monochrome shading needs, all in one compact pen. I’ve tried many, many brush pens with the same type of spongy, formed, non-hairy tips, but this one was new to me.
Akashiya Keicho double-sided brush pen

I haven’t been using the Akashiya long enough to mush down the tips – a frequent problem for my heavy hand with most spongy-tipped brush pens – but I’m optimistic because the material looks very similar to those that hold up well. They flex a bit, but in general, the tips are firm.

The gray side is significantly smaller than the black side. Since all brush pen tips can be held vertically to get a narrow stroke and held more horizontally to get a wider stroke – a variable motion I’m accustomed to from using fude fountain pens – I’m not sure why the gray side is smaller. I sometimes need a broad gray stroke, and the smaller tip is a bit narrower than I would like.

 
Black tip
Gray tip


As is true for most brush pens I’ve tried, the Akashiya Keicho contains water-soluble inks. Especially when sketching people, it’s handy to use a water-soluble ink that I can swipe quickly and easily with a waterbrush for soft shading, and I enjoy using the Akashiya this way. I also like to use the black brush to draw, and then use the gray side for shading – another fast and easy approach.

Ink scribbles and waterbrush swipes made on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper.

11/11/17 Black brush used to draw, then washed with
water for shading. The drinking glass was drawn with the
gray brush pen. (detail)
I wish Akashiya made the same type of double-sided pen with waterproof inks for the times when I want to also use watercolor pencils. My current sketch kit contains a couple of gray tones of Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens (I’ve been using them more since I took Don Colley’s workshop) for those times, but one brush pen performing double duty would be even better. 

Unless the tips end up mushing down over time (I’ll amend this review if they do), the double-sided Akashiya Keicho is a keeper in my bag for its compact versatility. 

12/2/17 Black brush washed with water for shading. (Detail)

12/7/17 Black brush used for drawing; gray brush for shading.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Touch and Go

12/6/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Let me tell you: This was a high-risk situation. I could see the workers inside the building they were working on, and I could tell that they were on their lunch break. Every now and then one man or another would come out to use the porta-potty, so their break could end at any moment, and the excavator could move. I sketched furiously. Well trained as I am for touch-and-go operations like this one, I got in and got out, sketch intact. Whew. After that, I had to go home and take a nap.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Friday Anniversary at Gingerbread Village

12/8/17 With an emphasis on Seattle's waterfront, this exhibit includes the Big Wheel and an octopus.

Six years ago this month, five urban sketchers wanted to sketch the Sheraton’s annual Gingerbread Village exhibit, but we knew weekends would be mobbed, so we decided to have an ad hoc outing on a Friday. That was the first of what became the bimonthly ad hoc Friday USk meetups, and the group has been growing ever since. To celebrate our anniversary, we met at the event that initially inspired us: Gingerbread Village.

Kathleen sketches the exhibit featuring Ballard.
For this annual fundraiser, Seattle’s major architectural firms team up with local chefs to design elaborate, theme-based dioramas made of cookies and candies (voluntary donations to the event somewhat ironically benefit type 1 diabetes research). Now in its 25th year, Gingerbread Village moved from the Sheraton to US Bank City Centre – a much better venue. Instead of displaying the exhibits all in one row, the confectionary creations were spread throughout City Centre’s main floor, dispersing the crowds into small clusters instead of a single line, which made the displays easier to see (and sketch).

Although I had a better view, I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed. Unlike previous years that had strong visual themes like Harry Potter, Star Wars (my favorite), Christmas carols, sailing ships, and fairytale castles, this year’s theme was less defined: “25 Years of Cheer: A Celebration of Seattle.” Each exhibit focused on a geographic area of Seattle and included images of the nostalgic past or the imagined future. The most visually fun was a fat sailor riding an orca in an homage to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage. While colorful and sometimes kinetic, most of the exhibits left me scratching my head as I tried to understand the theme’s interpretation.

 
I went up to the second floor to sketch this rotating
exhibit of downtown, including the Smith Tower.

Regardless, I enjoy sketching this event not so much for the elaborate sweet creations as for the people of all ages who come to see them. Although I had space to step up close to the exhibits, I decided to hang back as I usually do and focus on the viewers. 

Ummm. . . a Norwegian sailor in Salmon Bay?
A future Seattle waterfront.

Throwdown from a great turnout of Friday sketchers!
Rotating city!
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