Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mallow Plant

4/30/16 ink, colored pencils
A neighbor up the street has an amazing jungle of a garden filled with beautiful exotic plants. On my walk this afternoon, I was attracted to some huge plants near the sidewalk with broad leaves that looked like they were covered with frost. As I sketched one, another neighbor taking a walk came by and told me it’s a mallow plant. I tried Googling for images to see if I could determine the variety, but there are lots of them, apparently. I could just barely see a few tiny spots of yellow where the blooms will be one day soon.

A little less exotic was this Kymco scooter parked on the street. With Texas plates, it must have had a long ride to Seattle!

4/30/16 brush pen, white gel pen

Friday, April 29, 2016

Amazon’s Spheres

4/29/16 inks, colored pencils, Zig marker

Spheres, domes, bubbles, fly eyeballs – they’ve been called many things by locals and tourists alike. (Native “of a certain age” that I am, I can’t help but think of the Bubbleator from the Seattle World’s Fair.) They are definitely a head-turning addition to the north downtown area that is otherwise a canyon of mostly boring, glassy highrises. The spheres are part of Amazon’s brand-new campus of buildings. According to GeekWire, “the unusual buildings will be filled with more than 300 plants, including full-grown trees. It’s designed as a place for Amazon workers to meet, hangout and share ideas.”

After seeing the partially constructed domes in photos and David Chamnesss sketches, I figured I’d better get over there if I wanted to catch them still under construction. Strange as they are, they look quite cool compared to all the ordinary buildings around them. I predict they will be among the most-sketched structures around here in the summer months because they sure are fun to draw! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Glass on Creativity

4/28/16 brush pen, gel pen
Ira Glass, producer and host of the radio program This American Life, says something in this one-minute audio clip that explains why I sketch every day (even when I’m not particularly inspired or ambitious).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Heads and Faces

4/27/16 charcoal (10-min. pose)
Today in Bill Evans’ Quick Sketch class, we practiced drawing a model. He gave several 5-minute demos that were especially informative because he described every mark he made, as he made it, and explained what his intention was with each. I am always impressed by instructors who can articulate what they are doing during demos (I can barely mutter my way through casual conversation while I’m drawing).

While I’ve sketched the full figure often enough in life-drawing sessions, I almost never focus only on the head. Today’s lesson included practicing the portrait in five- and 10-minute poses. I enjoyed making these challenging sketches, and I decided I’d try doing more portraits next time I go to life drawing.

Speaking of portraits, Gabi Campanario passed along a very interesting exercise he learned from Gary Faigin during a recent lecture at Gage about portraiture. As practice for life drawing, Faigin recommends drawing heads and faces from imagination – attempting to make them look like actual people, not generic. As soon as I saw Gabi’s imaginary portraits on Facebook and heard about the exercise, I wanted to try it, too. I think my attempts below are OK as far as not looking generic, but some verge on being cartoonish or caricatures. Still, I had so much fun doing these that I’m going to try this exercise more often. 

4/27/16 inks, brush pen (from imagination)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Surprises in Maple Leaf

4/26/16 colored pencils, ink
This afternoon the temperature was just warm enough for a sketchabout in the ‘hood. On the same block of Northeast 85th were two unexpected sights. The first was a small forsythia tree still in blossom – with a slender trunk tied in a knot!

As if that weren’t enough, I walked a few yards east and spotted a bear holding a salmon. I think it may have been a chainsaw-carved sculpture.

Who knew little ol’ Maple Leaf was so full of surprises.

4/26/16 brush pen, gel pen

Monday, April 25, 2016


4/25/16 ink, watercolor
We’re back to our normal spring weather again – a daily rotating mix of clouds, sunshine, rain and blue skies. This morning it was mostly overcast as I made this sketch a few blocks north in the Maple Leaf neighborhood.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Discovering and Losing Edges with Liz

4/21/16 line weight exercise
As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I’ve been taking Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Edges online course the past couple of weeks. A mix of generously illustrated written lessons (on her website and downloadable as PDFs) and video demos, the course is rich in content for all levels of urban sketchers. (For sheer beginners, Liz recommends going through her Foundations course first.) Two concepts she presents are especially of interest to me right now: Using varying line weights to emphasize the visual focal point of a sketch; and “losing” very specific edges in a composition to let the viewer fill in the part that’s unstated (undrawn). Liz herself is very excited about the latter concept, and although I haven’t practiced it much yet, now that I understand it, I find it very exciting, too.

Although I went through all the lessons in the presented sequence, I’m a bad student J, so I skipped some of the exercises and did others out of order. You’ve seen most of these sketches already on the days that I made them, but I’m including them all here again so you can see them as I summarize what I learned from the exercises.

The first sketch shown (above) was an exercise in varying line weights. I used a fine-tip brush pen (with a firm tip, not a hairy brush) for the foreground water bottle and desk, and then I used a very fine point fountain pen for everything else behind them.

4/18/16 line weight exercise
The second sketch (at left) was the one I did at University Village last week. An on-location example of the same lesson in varying line weights, in this case I deliberately made the line weight of the foreground tree much heavier than I normally would to bring it forward. Instead of using a light pen line for background elements (as Liz did in her demos), I used colored pencils very lightly. I’ve been doing this colored pencil trick for quite a while, but not with the intention of pushing those elements into the background. Instead, when I'm not interested in stuff in the background, I scribble them in with colored pencils just to get them done quickly. Perhaps my intentions aren’t the best, but at least those elements get pushed into the background!

4/23/16 line weight and tone exercise
Yesterday at the Pike Place Market, I completed two more Liz assignments. My first was the front entrance of the Market and its iconic clock and sign. As recommended by Liz, I chose the central column supporting the shelter and the right side of the “Public Market Center” sign as my vertical lines to guide the placement of the rest of the compositions components. My initial intention was to use full watercolor as Liz did in her demo, but standing on this busy intersection on a crowded Saturday morning wasn’t ideal for painting (I was frequently jostled by crossing pedestrians, and once I had to pin myself to a lamp pole when a passing truck drove up onto the curb!). I decided to stick with gray and black tones for value instead of color, but I think I was still able to practice Lesson 4’s objective of prioritizing tones even without using color.

I had also intended to use the sunlit building on the right as an example of some “lost” edges, but I became so much more interested in the sign and the shelter that I forgot. As Liz said in her own demos, it’s exactly the sort of thing that happens when you’re sketching on location. J

Of even greater interest to me was being able to incorporate what I learned in Lesson 3 about prioritizing lines. After putting in set-up lines for the composition and drawing secondary elements with my finest-point fountain pen, I then took my heavier Sailor fude nib to sketch the elements I wanted to draw attention to: the central column holding up the free-standing shelter, the “Public Market” sign and its scaffolding that supports the neon letters, and the clock. Finally I used a brush pen to put in the darkest areas (the windows, the dark Market interiors and the underside of the shelter). Although I was pleased that I had darkened the underside of the shelter and column for contrast and to draw the eye, I may have gone overboard with all the windows! (Once I get started doing something to one window, it’s almost impossible not to keep doing it to the rest of the windows.)

Unlike in the first two sketches, which were also an exercise in varying line weights, in the Market sketch I used a heavier line to emphasize the visual focal point, not just the spatial relationship of the foreground to the background elements. I feel like this sketch was sort of my Edges “term paper,” as it solidified many of the main concepts presented in the course!

4/23/16 hard and soft edges exercise
Another assignment was to sketch food because of the variety of textures, colors and shapes that are usually present in a meal. (She did advocate sketching dessert or cold food so that we wouldn’t waste a hot meal!) These varied textures are a useful way to practice both “hard” and “soft” edges. In addition, when you have hunger and rapidly cooling food as motivators, you have to sketch fast, which encourages spontaneity.

As you know, I rarely sketch my meals, hot or cold, because I just cant seem to focus when Im hungry! Yesterday after the sketchcrawl when several of us decided to continue sketching over lunch, it was a prime opportunity to sketch my food. Unfortunately, true to form, I devoured my veggie burger as soon as it arrived, but the remains on my plate left plenty to sketch. The onion slices (a beautiful shade of pinkish-purple) and a few home fries, as well as the knife handle, were good examples of hard edges. By contrast, the lettuce had many challenging folds and ruffled edges – kind of a combination of hard and soft. I forgot to save highlights on the ketchup blob, so its just a red blob. (In the spirit of the assignment, I did finish the sketch in probably 10 minutes, so even though I wasn’t motivated by hunger or cooling food, I’m always motivated by a desire to have a fresh, spontaneous and therefore relatively fast sketch.)

Although Liz recommends using a real paint brush rather than a waterbrush, I still used my waterbrush for convenience (especially at a café table). I didn't have much space on the table for both my mixing tray and paint box, so I didn’t get out the mixing tray until I was almost finished and needed to mix the gray shadows. Consequently, almost all my colors were mixed right on the page or in the paint pans themselves with the waterbrush. I like the intensity of the hues much more than when I try to mix paints in the tray (which usually results in watery, washed-out hues). In fact, I thought it was a good solution for getting more intense color when using a waterbrush (which, for me, is all the time).

I still have a long way to go in mastering all the concepts in Liz’s Edges, especially the whole exciting “lost” edges idea that engages the viewer’s involvement more actively. But I think making these four sketches with those concepts firmly in mind will help me to integrate them into my own sketching process going forward.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pike Place Market for 51st World Wide SketchCrawl

4/23/16 inks, colored pencil

Our five-day “summer” may be over, but the tourist season is just beginning at the Pike Place Market. Urban Sketchers Seattle pushed our way through the crowds with the best of ‘em as we sketched one of our most iconic locations for the 51st quarterly World Wide SketchCrawl.

4/23/16 ink, colored pencils
My first self-assignment of the day was to make a sketch or two for Liz Steel’s online SketchingNow Edges class (more details on those exercises soon). I knew exactly which scene I wanted to do: that famous Seattle postcard, the Public Market Center sign. This sketch is a simplified version of the composition I did a couple of years ago from a slightly different angle.

After that I just wandered around the Market, enjoying the energetic bustle, and stopped for a couple of buskers along the way. While I waited for the others in the Atrium for our sketchbook sharing, I caught a few people having lunch with the Sasquatch.

4/23/16 ink, colored pencils
4/23/16 ink, non-hairy brush pen
Speaking of lunch, several of us decided to continue sketching at Sound View Café, which has a great view of – surprise! – Puget Sound, the Great Wheel and those ubiquitous cranes on the waterfront. In the back of my mind, I was thinking I could knock off another Edges assignment if I sketched my meal, but as soon as the veggie burger appeared, I devoured it. Filled with remorse that I’d lost an opportunity for doing an assignment, I left enough lettuce, onions and home fries (plus lots of ketchup) for a full-color sketch.

4/23/16 non-hairy brush pen, white pencil
4/23/16 ink, watercolor (remains of the meal)
Michele and me
Feather and me

Friday, April 22, 2016

April at the Zoo

4/21/16 colored pencils
Woodland Park Zoo is one place I don’t think to visit during the year until at least May, and last year I didn’t get there until August. But in April?? Unheard of – except this year, when yesterday was Day 5 of our spring summer (which has, sadly, ended).

Despite temperatures in the mild 70s, the animals seemed to be operating on the actual calendar, hiding away in their caves and burrows as they do most of the cold months. Maybe they just weren’t ready to face the hordes of screaming children yesterday (frankly, neither was I).

In any case, I hardly saw any to sketch. I did manage to catch a few meerkats, the comfortingly slow-moving Komodo dragon and Malati, the orangutan, who was lethargically nodding off as I sketched.

On my way out, I stopped to see the South American Humboldt penguins, whom I can always count on for a few quick gestures. They seem to be happy, rain or shine, all seasons of the year.

4/21/16 colored pencils

4/21/16 ink
4/21/16 non-hairy brush pen, white gel pen

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Quick Sketch, But Longer

4/20/16 ink, colored pencil

More than a year ago, I took a half-day class at Gage called The Quick Sketch. It was an introduction to Bill Evans’ longer course of the same title, but I thought 10 weeks was a bit too long, so I didnt take it. This quarter it was offered as a five-week class, and that seemed just right, so I signed up.

4/13/16 ballpoint pen
As I mentioned in my review last year, the instructor has made it his decades-long habit to make a dozen or so “quick sketches” every day (his favorite location for this practice is a neighborhood bar or park). Although he is a practicing studio artist, and some of his sketches might end up as studies for eventual paintings or sculptures, he believes strongly in the value of the sketch in its own right. Evans stresses that the goal of sketching is not to make good drawings; it’s to become good at drawing. The more you sketch, the better you will become at drawing.

4/13/16 charcoal
How long is a “quick” sketch? Usually taking no more than a few minutes each, Evans’ sketches are finished when they “start to go downhill,” he quipped. Because, of course, that’s the tricky part: knowing when to stop before the sketch becomes overworked and loses its spontaneity.

With an emphasis on life drawing (Evans’ favored on-location sketching subject), the course includes perspective, composition and other basic aspects of drawing. Last week after a lecture on head and face anatomy, the students sketched each other in pen or pencil. Yesterday Evans instructed us to use vine charcoal, again to draw each other. I detest using charcoal (I came prepared with nitrile gloves!), but I have to admit I love the result of using charcoal. It’s hard to beat that beautiful subtle shading – especially on the human face or form – that’s possible with charcoal.

Yesterday we also tried something I’d never done before: We drew two faces (once drawing the oval face contour first, then filling in features; the second time starting with features and working outward to the contour) completely from imagination. With as much life drawing I’ve done, it still felt strange to conjure up a generic face from my mind. I think the selfies I worked on over the winter helped more than anything.

4/20/16 charcoal (from imagination)
The best part of yesterday’s class came during the last half-hour: We got to sketch outdoors using the medium of our choice. It was our fourth consecutive record-breaking day of “summer,” and I was getting antsy sitting in a classroom with all that sunshine being wasted! The exercise was to practice a composition indicating depth by overlapping elements, varying the degrees of detail and using other perspective techniques (sketch at top of page). The lesson was all well and good, but the only thing I really cared about was being able to sketch outdoors.

4/13/16 graphite

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Elvis Sighting at West Seattle Junction

4/19/16 inks, watercolor, colored pencil
Just about two years ago I sat outside Easy Street Records and Café to sketch the view of multiple construction cranes on California Avenue Southwest. I hadn’t been to the West Seattle Junction since then, so I was curious about what I could sketch from the same spot this morning. But nothing there caught my eye, so I wandered around the corner to Southwest Alaska Street. A tall fir shot up into the sky like a lopsided rocket, although this time the utilities couldn’t be blamed for the asymmetrical pruning job.

Back on the busy intersection of California and Alaska, I stood in the shade of a bank’s awning to sketch the lively shadow pattern cast by a tree. Looking for one last sketch before Greg was scheduled to pick me up, I glanced across the street and saw – could it be? Yes – Elvis, waiting for a bus!

4/19/16 brush pen

4/19/16 brush pen, white gel pen

Monday, April 18, 2016


4/18/16 inks, brush pen, colored pencils

Due to “a strong ridge of high pressure continuing to strengthen and build into western Washington” (according to KING-5 weather), we are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures this week, breaking all kinds of records. All I know is that I found a shady table at University Village and that life is good, very good, today.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Summer on Capitol Hill

4/17/16 inks, watercolor, colored pencils, brush pen
Some say this is climate change. Others say it’s just another El Niño. Seventy-two degrees and a clear blue sky? I don’t care if it’s April – I call it summer! We couldn’t have picked a better day for Urban Sketchers Seattle to initiate outdoor sketching season!

I started heading for Cal Anderson Park, where I had left behind a few ideas for things to sketch when the Friday sketchers were there last week. But as I crossed Broadway, I looked over my shoulder at the Dick’s Drive-in sign and decided to do that first before the lunch crowd got thick. Parking my stool at the edge of Dick’s lot, I had a great view of that familiar orange sign against the blue sky.

Next I wandered over to Seattle Central Community College’s campus, where Charles Smith’s Park Sculpture caught my eye, along with the long, lean shadows of the trees surrounding it.

4/17/16 inks, colored pencil, brush pen
I had just enough time before the sketchbook sharing for a couple more quick ones of the Broadway Farmers Market. I associate farmers markets with summer, so I was surprised to see that it was open already. Then I remembered that it’s one of few Seattle markets open year-round. Like I said, today it might as well have been summer!

4/17/16 brush pen

4/17/16 brush pen, colored pencils

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Like Antique Shopping

4/16/16 inks, colored pencils, Zig marker

Yesterday when Greg and I caught the light rail at UW Station, we saw some massive parts for the tunnel boring machine (which will eventually dig the light rail tunnel northward toward Roosevelt Station) standing crosswise like giant wheels in front of Husky Stadium. A couple of construction cranes were there, too. I wanted to sketch them then, but the morning was chilly and windy, so I decided to come back today when the weather promised to be warmer.

Indeed, today was warmer (64 and mostly sunny this afternoon!), so I went back. I’m sure you all know the rule about antique shopping: If you see something you like, you’d better get it now, because tomorrow it may be gone. It’s exactly the same for sketching. The massive wheel-like structures had been laid down flat and covered up with a plastic tarp – not very sketchogenic anymore!

But the trip wasn’t a waste – a huge yellow crane was still there (and you know how I am about heavy equipment!). I crossed the pedestrian overpass to place Husky Stadium as a backdrop to the crane. If you look really closely under the crane’s boom, you can spot the bronze statue of the Huskies’ mascot, which I sketched last summer for my niece’s wedding card. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Mostly Commuting

4/15/16 colored pencil
Kehinde Wiley has an extraordinary exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum – a highly thought-provoking collection of portraits. Called “A New Republic,” the paintings depict young African American men and women from Harlem portrayed in various styles of traditional portraits. The content of the oil paintings is certainly provocative, but I was also simply stunned by the beauty of these portraits.

Since the vast majority of the works were huge paintings, they weren’t really conducive to sketching, and most of the exhibit spaces were too crowded to sketch anyway. The exhibit included a few bronze sculptures, though (again portraying contemporary youth as classic bronze busts), so I sketched one called “Cameroon Study,” a bust of a man with an athletic shoe on his head. (No interpretive information was on the placard, unfortunately! I would have liked some.)

Most of my sketching fun today was during our light rail ride downtown and then again on our bus ride home. We stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant at the Pike Place Market, where I spotted the famous Public Market sign through a window.

Painting by Kehinde Wiley at SAM
Painting by Kehinde Wiley at SAM

4/15/16 all sketches done with
non-hairy brush pens and white gel pen

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Quad, This Time in Green

4/14/16 brush pen, watercolor

Leaving my car for servicing, I walked over to the University of Washington campus to look for a sketch or two. A month ago when I was there with Urban Sketchers Seattle, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The blossoms are long gone, but pink or no pink, the Quad is still one of my favorite places to sketch. Almost exactly a year ago I sketched a similar scene on a similar kind of day – a little chilly in the shade but definitely spring.

4/14/16 brush pen, white gel pen
Before I had to go pick up my car, I squeezed in another little sketch, this time in a red Field Notes (I just started my second – these little books sure are fun and easy to fill!): the bell tower at the top of Denny Hall. A few years ago I sketched it from a different angle, along with one of the buildings conical turrets. Someday I’ll get around to sketching the whole building (but probably not in a tiny Field Notes).
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