Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pears on Location

1/15/18 Bartletts in the sun
Compared to urban sketching, drawing still lives in my studio is easy. While capturing the hues and forms of produce has many of its own formidable challenges, the lighting comes from my flexible desk lamp, I point it exactly where I want the highlight to be, and if I’m interrupted, I can come back hours later to finish. As long as the fruit doesn’t go bad (the pear on the right is getting close), nothing will change. It’s sort of the opposite of sketching on location, where the light is constantly moving, changing in temperature and intensity, and other conditions are unpredictable and inconsistent.

An interesting thing happened yesterday morning with a couple of Bartlett pears. As usual, I had polished their skins to get a strong highlight, turned on my lamp, and started sketching. I was about halfway through, leisurely coloring them in, when the sun unexpectedly broke through clouds just as it was passing across a side window. One pear cast a strong shadow against the other, but the spotlight from my lamp still reflected on the rear pear’s shiny skin, causing an unusual circumstance of a highlight inside a shadow that was too good to miss.

Suddenly it was just like drawing on location: I had to immediately draw all the shadow shapes so that they would be consistent with the angle of the sun (I had to fudge one that I missed initially) and color the forms as quickly as possible to avoid missing interesting nuances in the pears’ lumps and bumps that I couldn’t even see before the sun appeared.

Who knew making a still life could be so exhilarating! 

But wait . . . sun passing across a window. . . ? That’s my cue . . .

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Dose of D

1/14/18 Maple Leaf Park

This time of year – the holidays are long over, and spring seems far, far away – could be the dictionary definition of doldrums. Day after day of gray skies and rain – even people who don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder start to feel a bit gloomy. As a native of these parts, I’m used to it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get tired of it.

That’s why yesterday was such a treat – sunshine all day! It seemed like the whole city was outdoors, sucking up their megadose of vitamin D. The forecast for the foreseeable future is gray and rain again, but if we can have an occasional day like yesterday, getting through the winter won’t be so bad. 

Greg and I didn’t do anything special. We just walked up to Maple Leaf Park where I sketched the same old water tower I’ve sketched many times. When it’s so sunny that I have to wear shades, I could sketch a rock on the pavement and be happy.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Autumn Sketchbook Bound

Autumn 2017 sketchbook

My sketchbook from August through December is finally bound. On the covers are the Funko storefront from the October USk outing and the Space Needle under construction in December.

I usually bind six signatures together, but I filled a seventh before switching to a Stillman & Birn Nova for my minimalist challenge, so I decided to squeeze the seventh into the same book to maintain chronological continuity. I’m not sure it was a good bookbinding decision, though – seven signatures is pushing it for paper of this thickness (140 pound). The spine, where the signatures are folded, is always thicker than the fore edge, so the book doesn’t lay as flat as it does with six signatures. Also, I try to avoid knotting the thread in the middle of Coptic stitching, so I had to use an extra-long piece to get through seven signatures, and pulling all that thread through became unwieldy.

My typical rate for filling six signatures is about two to three months, so this book might break a record by including five months of sketches (although I had a similar experience last winter, too). I didn’t feel like I was sketching less than usual, so I tried to figure out why it took me so long to fill – and then I remembered that I had been occupied with my graphite drawing class for most of that period. Lots of days I spent many hours on homework assignments, and the only additional drawings I made were small quick ones in a Field Notes notebook, especially during InkTober. 

Now that I’m working consistently in the S&B Nova (except for the usual occasional Field Notes sketches), I won’t be using handmade signatures for a while. On the one hand, I miss carrying the slim, lightweight signatures. On the other hand, it’s nice to have 92 contiguous pages in a single volume. I haven’t worked this consistently in one store-bought book in years – and while I use several sporadically for certain purposes, this is the longest continuous run I’ve had in any one S&B softcover, ever. I’m not sure it’s going to persuade me to stop bookbinding altogether – there’s still too much to love about binding my own – but it’s reassuring to know that the S&B softcover is holding up well as a daily-carry. If I ever do decide to stop binding, I know that I’d be happy with this line of books long-term.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Still Gabbin’ & Grabbin’

1/12/18 Seattle USk Gab & Grab at the Northeast library branch

For the fifth year, Seattle USk held its annual Gab & Grab yesterday – an opportunity for an informal show-and-tell of our favorite sketch supplies and a place to share books and materials we are no longer using. Our tradition is to do it early in the year to perk up the post-holiday doldrums when it’s too wet and cold to sketch outdoors. Usually held in the meeting room of public libraries, it’s fun and well-attended.

Earlier this week as I was pulling together supplies to give away, I was trying to recall how many times we’ve done it, and I realized I’ve been remiss in documenting this popular event. I don’t have a single blog post about it and apparently took only a few photos. Even more shocking – I’ve never sketched at one! Whaaaat?! 

To correct that omission, I decided I would document this year’s event with sketches. The photos below are from 2014, our very first Gab & Grab.

Nilda and Peggy at Third Place Commons for our very first Gab & Grab.


Friday, January 12, 2018


1/11/18 Zoka Coffee
As other sketchers have discovered, by far the easiest victims to draw in a public place are the ones engrossed in their devices. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people keep one hand on a device even when they are socializing with other humans – live and in person – sitting across from them at a table, especially when there are more than two in the party. So while one person is talking and at least one other is listening, the other(s) will sneak a look at their phone and scroll a bit (certainly something on their Facebook feed is more engaging than the people at their table).


It seems rude to me. Regardless, I take advantage of their rapt attention to their devices by putting them in my sketchbook.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


1/10/18 Feeling blue -- and brown.
In addition to still lives, another thing I don’t particularly enjoy but find myself doing a lot of in winter is self-portraits (when I first started sketching, I made a hundred of them). Of course, sketching any portrait is challenging, but there is something about drawing one’s own face that is especially daunting, and it has nothing to do with drawing.
1/9/18 Channeling my inner Obi-wan Kenobi

It’s vanity.

Looking at myself in the mirror only minutes after my first coffee is bad enough, but then to have to scrutinize every flaw and commit it to paper is humbling indeed. The upside, however, of starting the day with a selfie is that whatever else you draw the rest of the day is bound to be less frightening.

As long as I’m humbling myself, here are a couple of selfies from that hundred I made six years ago.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Warty Noses

1/8/18 Roosevelt Way Northeast
Roosevelt Way Northeast, the main north-south arterial going through the Maple Leaf neighborhood, is lined on both sides with gnarly, knotty old trees. Although their trunks are not as stout or tall as some other trees in the ‘hood, they are covered with moss and massive, distinctive burls. Thin sprouts pop out from the knots like errant hairs that need to be plucked. I always think of wicked witches in storybooks who had long hairs growing out of their warty noses. 

Any time I have need to park near one of those trees, I get the urge to sketch it. Last fall I sketched one during InkTober, and a couple years ago I sketched a few others. Toothy Stillman & Birn Nova paper is just right for capturing the bark’s rough, mossy texture with a soft pencil.
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