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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Geese and Cranes at Lake Union Park

6/17/17 inks, colored pencils

USk Seattle’s 10x10 workshop series culminated yesterday morning with a group reportage activity at Lake Union Park. While I didn’t take part in the workshop, I joined the general sketchcrawl that followed in the same location, which is one of my favorite Seattle parks.

6/17/17 Sailor brush pen, gel pen
I’ve sketched parts of the skyline from the park a few times, most recently last summer, but I’ve never had my panoramic Stillman & Birn sketchbook there. The landscape book was still in my bag from Friday’s outing in Tacoma, so I took advantage of it to capture as many as possible of the 14 cranes visible from that spot (I only got 11, and then I ran out of space). 

As for the Canada geese, I couldn’t have sketched them all even if I had wanted to. There must have been hundreds, including some very sweet goslings and adolescents with fuzzy heads. (Adorable as they may be, there’s no leash law for geese. Watch where you step.)
Panorama detail

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Festival of Sail

6/16/17 inks, water-soluble colored pencils

The day dawned with typical mid-June wishy-washiness: It could end up with “sun breaks” just as easily as it could rain. I took a chance on the former to join Urban Sketchers Tacoma at Foss Waterway, which was the site of this weekend’s Festival of Sail.

6/16/17 gel pen, brush pen, colored pencils
With my landscape-format Stillman & Birn sketchbook on the panorama setting, I tried to squeeze in as many as I could of the dozen or more tall ships across the waterway. It was the first time I’d seen Tacoma’s skyline from that direction, so even though my focus was on the ships, I couldn’t resist putting in Old City Hall (left of center).

My next plan was to make a detailed sketch of one of the ships – the only one that had some of its sails up (it’s near the center of the panorama). Since white rigging is always a bother to save out in a sketch on white paper, I took the easy way out and sketched it on red paper.

I always seem to have five or 10 minutes left to kill before the sketchbook throwdown, so I used them to capture the row of snags (one of them was home to a family of flickers) next to the waterway where Natalie and Beverly were sketching.

The morning’s gamble was a good one: Not a drop of rain all day, and despite the chilly wind and thick cloud cover, we had a good turnout of enthusiastic sketchers.

6/16/17 brush pen

Panorama detail

Friday, June 16, 2017

Free Life Drawing

6/15/17 brush pen (5-min. pose)
Gage Academy recently initiated a new membership program. For $75 a year, you get a stack of benefits, the best of which are eight free life-drawing sessions, discounts on more sessions and a free ticket to Drawing Jam. Those benefits alone more than pay for membership. With all the excellent classes I’ve taken the past few years in colored pencil drawing, sketching quickly, life drawing and pen and inknot to mention all the fun at Drawing Jam each year, I signed up immediately – both to support a terrific art school and to take advantage of the great bennies. 

I typically go to life drawing only during the winter, but now that I have this membership pass, I’m going to try to go more regularly all year long. Well, OK, maybe only when it rains, but it still rains plenty year-round. Like last Thursday. And yesterday.



6/15/17 brush pen (2-min. poses)
6/15/17 water-soluble pencil (15-min. pose)

6/8/17 brush pen (1-min. pose)

6/8/17 brush pen (2-min. poses)
6/8/17 brush pen (2-min. poses)

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