Monday, June 26, 2017

Back to the Center of the Universe

6/25/17 water-soluble colored pencils, Tombow marker

I worried that news reports of dire traffic conditions from freeway lane closures and Pride events would keep sketchers away from the Center of the Universe, but I needn’t have. Even predicted temperatures in the mid-90s yesterday brought a good turnout of USk Seattle to the statue of Lenin and the rest of the Fremont neighborhood’s funky environment.
 
6/25/17 ink, colored pencils
Although I knew I had sketched Lenin before, I didn’t realize until I checked my blog that it had been as long as four years ago at my first outing to Fremont (a month later I sketched him again during Gail and Frank’s USk workshop). It was high time to sketch him again, and I did it first thing while the morning heat was still tolerable.

For the high noon sun, I knew exactly where I wanted to sketch: In the cool shade of the Aurora Bridge, where the Fremont Troll waits quietly. Although a troll under a bridge is supposed to be malevolent, the only other time I sketched him, also four years ago, he struck me as more curious than scary. Yesterday I thought I saw some surprise and endless patience in his single eye (now shiny silver, though in 2013 it was apparently red) as tourists climb all over him, day in, day out. 


Speaking of patience, I was losing mine as every five minutes or so, a tour bus would come by and disgorge a pile of said tourists so they could photograph each other. The sketch took me much longer than usual because I had to keep waiting for the view to clear. Still, I was in the shade with a cool breeze blowing through. Even on the hottest day of the year, I’d rather be sketching than not.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunny Street of Dreams: The Greenwood Car Show

6/24/17 ink, water-soluble colored pencils

Yesterday was my fifth year at the Greenwood Car Show, probably my favorite summertime event. Subtitled “A mile and a half of classic rides,” the annual show brings together car enthusiasts and their shiny, souped-up vehicles from all over the region.

I’ve sketched at this event under the threat of rain and in actual rain, but yesterday precipitation was nowhere in sight as cars of all makes lined 20 blocks of Seattles Greenwood Avenue. The show officially opens at 8 a.m., but as has been my habit, I arrived before 7:30 a.m. to beat both the expected heat and the crowds.

6/24/17 ink, water-soluble colored pencils, Tombow marker

In previous years, I’ve usually sketched portraits of individual cars that caught my fancy, and sometimes I overheard fun stories from the owners that way. This year I took a different approach by stepping back a bit to sketch groups of cars and the general ambiance. 

All around me buzzed the language of gearheads comparing notes on the years of work they’ve lovingly put into their vehicles. Although I couldn’t comprehend their camshafts and manifolds and customized whatnots, I understood their labor of love. For one day a year, they get together on this street of dreams to share their common passion.

6/24/17 It's a long day at the Greenwood Car Show.

6/24/17 Busker entertaining the crowd.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Highland Drive, Kerry Park and Pure Sunshine

 
6/23/27 Gekkoso 8B graphite pencil

Parsons Garden and the gardens area of upper Queen Anne Hill have been a favorite of USk Seattle for several years; they’ve become a summer staple. I think the first time we met there was on the 4th of July in 2014. Looking back at that post, I see that I sketched two of the same scenes yesterday as I did then – Highland Drive’s romantic curving wall of globe lamps, and the spectacular viewpoint at Kerry Park.

I’ve sketched Highland Drive with a twig, and ink and watercolor more than once, but I’d never used graphite at that location, so I pulled out my Gekkoso 8B. Kate was sketching a short distance up the drive. She started in the shade, but by the time I put her into the sketch, her bright yellow blouse was blazing as bright as the sun.
6/23/17 colored pencils, ink

Kerry Park and its dazzling Space Needle-centered skyline is another view I’ve sketched several times, but it’s never been as crowded as it was yesterday. Entire buses and cars periodically disgorged tourists, who rushed up to snap photos of each other in front of the Needle and Mt. Rainier. Instead of working around people blocking my view, I moved to a particularly popular spot for group photos. As mothers ordered their kids into neat rows and couples pulled out selfie sticks, I felt a bit snarky and wanted to shout, “Sure, it’s lovely today, but you should have been here the prior 10 months like the rest of us! We didn’t get this free – we earned it!” 

But I was in such a good mood that I didn’t care. Really, who could blame them when this is what they were looking at:


Friday, June 23, 2017

Brush Pen and Brush Pencil at Gas Works

6/22/17 Sailor brush pen, Gekkoso 8B pencil, ink

There’s something about those weird, industrial, almost abstract structures at Gas Works Park that invites me to be bolder and more experimental.

6/22/17 brush pen, ink
Yesterday I was in a brush pen mood, so I started with my “hairy” Sailor Profit brush pen to sketch the fully backlit gas works (above). When it was time to put in the strong shadows, I wanted to distinguish them from the silhouetted gas works themselves, so I grabbed the next darkest, boldest implement in my bag: a super-soft (8B grade) Gekkoso graphite pencil. Finally, I used my usual Sailor fude fountain pen to put in a few details.

For my second sketch of some different gas works (at right), I used the brush pen and fountain pen only.

I was also in the mood to sketch a tree portrait (which I enjoy doing, though I don’t do it often). Unlike some Seattle parks, Gas Works is ringed by large masses of trees but without isolated trees within the park that are easy to see individually. On my way out of the park, I finally found one near the parking lot that seemed like a good portrait exercise. I’ve been rather enamored lately with that Gekkoso pencil (I used it for the first time the other day on the unexpected lion fountain in my neighborhood), so I pulled it out again for the tree. 

I’ll probably write a full review of the Gekkoso one of these days. . . it’s a very interesting pencil. Although it’s not called a “brush pencil” as the Uni Mitsubishi 10B is, I would put it in the same category of very soft, extra-thick cores.

6/22/17 Gekkoso 8B pencil

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Morning Still Lives

6/21/17 colored pencils
For many years, I wrote daily “morning pages” as recommended by Julia Cameron in her well-known book, The Artist’s Way. The concept is to write a few journal pages shortly after waking to release whatever mental baggage you might have and make room for creative energy so you can move on to a productive day. The direct focus of stream-of-consciousness writing for those few minutes quiets your mind. Eventually I figured out that this release of potentially negative energy through writing works better for me if I do it in the evening before bed, because it helps me sleep better. That’s still my journal-writing time now.

I’ve come to realize that drawing a small, simple still life first thing in the morning serves a similar purpose as morning pages. The focused concentration relaxes me even as I’m challenged by the exercise, and the repetitive quality feels like a ritual rather than a boring habit.

6/20/17 colored pencils
In past years, sketching an apple or a banana from the kitchen used to be my way of getting through the bad-weather months when I couldn’t sketch outdoors. Back then I didn’t necessarily enjoy it – it was just something to do while I waited for the weather to improve. But the more I did them, the more I appreciated what I can learn from still lives, especially this past winter when I spent several months studying the use of colored pencils. In recent weeks as the weather has warmed up, and I’ve been able to sketch outdoors again, I found that I still wanted to sketch cherries or tomatoes, even though I have plenty of other subject matter now.

Mind you, I don’t prefer still lives over urban sketching; drawing on location is still the most fun and engaging type of drawing I do. But urban sketching requires a very different type of focus and energy than anything I can do at my desk. Sketching on location is about looking for appealing subject matter and keeping up with the challenges of constantly changing light and other outdoor conditions and restrictions (those challenges are half the fun!), but it isn’t exactly relaxing.
6/18/17 colored pencils 

Drawing a small still life, on the other hand, is relaxing in a quiet, meditative way. It prepares my hand, eye and brain for a creative day – hopefully filled with more sketching. The exercise gives a ritualistic quality to my morning, and when I don’t do it, I miss it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lions in the ‘Hood

6/19/17 Gekkoso 8B pencil
I often cruise around my neighborhood – on foot when the weather is favorable, by car when it’s not – looking for a sketch. Most of what I see is predictable and commonplace. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon a large, ornate, three-tiered fountain surrounded by lion heads on each tier. The house was set back a bit from the sidewalk, and the fountain was in front, water pouring from each lion’s mouth. I saw these often in Italy and France, but rarely in Seattle, and never in little ol’ Maple Leaf. 

Once I got over my shock, I pulled out a pencil. Maybe one of these days I’ll bring my stool, settle in for an hour or two and sketch the whole thing – all 12 lion heads.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Painting the Livingroom Walls

Pre-Tran Portfolio: The Kutsuwa Dr. Ion
with all my pencils bunched up.
Are sketchers ever completely happy with their bag or sketch kit-carry system?

For years, I almost was – all my tools and materials fit comfortably and compactly in my everyday-carry Rickshaw messenger bag. My only issue was finding a way to keep all my implements standing upright (which is an absolute requirement for the way I like to sketch) and instantly accessible. A big improvement a couple of years ago was the Kutsuwa Dr. Ion bag organizer that I found in Tokyo. At last, I was completely happy and satisfied – all my bag organization needs were met.

Then just a couple months ago, shortly before I went to Italy, I discovered the Tran Portfolio Pencil Case – an elegant, streamlined way to keep all my colored pencils accessible and visible at all times – and something happened. It’s similar to what happens when you paint the livingroom walls, and suddenly the carpeting looks dingy, so you have to get new carpeting, too. And then the furniture looks terrible. (This is why we haven’t painted the walls in 25 years.)
The Tran Portfolio: like painting the livingroom walls.

The Tran Portfolio made me realize how much I prefer having all my colored pencils in a single row, and I no longer liked the way the rest of my tools bunched up in the Dr. Ion’s roomy pockets (the largest of which was now unused, since the colored pencils were now in the Tran). I didn’t need a second Tran Portfolio, which would have been overkill for the remaining tools, but I wanted something else like it.

Lihit Lab Slim Pen Case, opened
First I found the Lihit Lab Slim Pen Case, which has a couple of slender pockets. The whole thing is meant to fold in half like a billfold, but I leave it open in my bag, and it keeps nine or 10 implements standing upright in a single flat row. There’s no room for them to bunch up as in the Dr. Ion, and the pockets are too narrow for short pencils to fall down and get lost – perfect! The only problem was that I still had about eight more implements that wouldn’t fit in the Lihit Lab, but I felt like I was on the right track.

The extra-small Grid-it
Next I found the Cocoon Grid-it Organizer in the extra-small size. A bunch of elastic strips criss-crossing over a stiff board, the Grid-it is designed to hold and organize whatever random gadgets you carry. I’ve known about these Grid-its for a while, but the ones I’d seen were as large as laptops and would never fit in my bag – until the 5-by-7-inch size caught my attention. I put my remaining implements into the Grid-it, and like the Lihit Lab Slim Pen Case and Tran Portfolio, it’s slim, compact and allows everything to stand upright in single file, just as I want them to, and they also feel very secure – too secure. The only thing I don’t like about the Grid-it is that the elastic strips are very tight, which means I sometimes struggle to get tools back into the loops. I think they might loosen up after some use, but maybe not, since the system is designed to hold everything in place securely.

I do like the way all three components fit together nicely in my bag with minimal bulk (compared to the Dr. Ion, which is a bit bulkier). I’ll give these a try for a while and see how they go.

Bird's eye view of my Rickshaw bag: All three components keep my tools upright and fully accessible.
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