Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Personal Leaf-Peeping Tour

10/16/17 Wedgwood neighborhood

Strong winds and rain are in the forecast for the rest of the week, so I figured yesterday may have been my last chance to sketch the spectacular color we are having. In a few days all the leaves may fall off or turn brown and soggy, so it was now or possibly never.

10/16/17 Green Lake
First I went to Green Lake to sketch my favorite stand of maples that I sketch every year, but I was surprised to find that they weren’t yet at peak. (I’m going to take my chances and give them a couple more weeks.) Instead, I was fully dazzled by all the many yellow-green trees around the lake that are trying to steal the show from the maples. I didn’t know what these trees are called, so I put out the question on Instagram, and one of my friends thought it might be a honey locust. I think that could be correct – when I Googled for images, the leaves looked right, and it’s common in the Pacific Northwest.

After that, I went back to the Metropolitan Market where I keep sketching the same flaming maples (top of page). This time I parked on the street instead of in the lot so I could get all three of the brightest, boldest, most showy trees. (The right-most tree in the sketch above is shown in the photo, below, that I took Sunday afternoon when I was there to shop and didn’t have time to sketch.) 

I hope my readers in the northern hemisphere are enjoying as much seasonal color as I am! 

10/16/17 honey locust leaf
On fire at Metro Market!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sun, Fun and Funko

10/15/17 Funko storefront
The intersection of California and Wetmore in Everett was a lively place Sunday morning, and I’m not talking about the line of people waiting outside the Funko store door. It was lively because sketchers were on every corner and even on the rooftop of the parking garage across the street, sketching the most colorful residents of downtown Everett.

I was there a month ago scoping out the location for Urban Sketchers Seattle, but I stayed on the street level that time. On Sunday I went up to the garage rooftop with several others, where we got a fantastic view of the storefront (and the bright sun at our backs kept us warm). I’m not familiar with this lavender-colored monkey, but I was told he’s a video game character. I never found out why a line of people began forming an hour before the store’s opening, but I was told by employees that it’s been like that every day since the store opened in August. They obviously know something I don’t.

Stickers and a pencil case!
By the time I finished my first sketch, the store opened, so I went inside to warm up. If you saw the photos on my post last month, you know I was tempted by a lot of cool but overpriced Star Wars trinkets. This time I couldn’t resist.

My haul purchased, I went back out to the sidewalk on Wetmore Avenue to catch Anne and Vivian sketching the storefront (plus Batgirl and the same monkey overhead). 

Although Everett is a little further north than we typically go for a Sunday outing, we got a great turnout on this chilly but sunny morning. What a fun place!

10/15/17 Wetmore Avenue

Suzanne on the rooftop
Michelle sketching the storefront

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Green Lake Resonance

10/12/17 Green Lake (in progress)

My latest graphite class assignment is shown above (still in progress; there’s a bush in the left foreground that’s especially challenging, so I’m going to ask my instructor for help before I tackle it). I must say I enjoy drawing trees much more than clouds or rocky shorelines. And I’m enjoying this week’s homework a lot more than the past weeks’ assignments for other reasons: I’m very familiar with the location (Green Lake), and I took the reference photo myself.

Even though making the drawing is no less challenging with a familiar landscape, it somehow makes a difference to know and understand which way the shoreline is curving, how far away those trees are from the shore where I stood when I took the photo, the time of day and year – things like that. 

I think it has to do with resonance – how meaningful the subject matter of a drawing is and how that affects its outcome. I talked about resonance a few years ago and how discovering urban sketching finally made drawing “stick” as a habit. Of course, sometimes a trash bin is just a trash bin, and the subject matter doesn’t have to resonate meaningfully to turn into a sketch. (If you read my blog regularly, then you know that my standards for what makes an object sketch-worthy are certainly low.) But a photo of a landscape is already once-removed from the actual location, and a photo of a place I’ve never seen with my own eyes is even further removed. No wonder there’s no resonance at all.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Farewell Scone

10/13/17 I delayed sketching until my scone was half gone.
Nothing keeps me from a warm pastry -- not even sketching.
The Stone House Bakery on the south end of Lake Washington has been a sketcher-friendly venue the past couple of years. The first time was almost exactly two years ago when, after warming up first with a scone and coffee, I was able to go outdoors long enough to sketch the Stone House itself. When we went in July last year, we all went outside to sketch the colorful décor, including the blue truck parked there permanently. The owner, Patrick Choy, is moving his popular bakery to a new location, so Urban Sketchers Seattle met at the old Stone House location yesterday for the last time.

Again fortifying myself first with a scone (cream cheese pumpkin!) and coffee, I intended to eventually sketch outside if the morning warmed up. Almost all of us began the same way – sketching our scones. I decided I needed to stay warm a little longer, so I sketched the view out the window (including a bit of the lovely stonework around the window).

10/13/17 Looking out the stone window
With only a half-hour left, I zipped up my jacket, pulled on my hoods (yes, plural), and went out to the café’s haunted house. I gave the fellow below 15 hasty minutes before I scurried back inside, rubbing my hands together. I guess there’s no denying that fall is here. 

Many thanks to Patrick for being a gracious host to us the past couple of years. I’ll certainly get to his new location for more scones, if not sketching.

10/13/17 A slender patron

Check out Sue's sketch of me! I think it's the first time I've recognized myself in someone's sketchbook!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Graphite Grade Comparison: Four Pencil Brands

My current graphite picks.
A few weeks ago when I talked about what I’m learning in my graphite drawing class, I mentioned that I had discovered immediately how much pencil grades can vary from brand to brand. Later I mentioned that while I’ve always loved Mitsubishi Hi-Uni pencils in the softer grades, I was finding out that they are not as smooth as I want them to be in the harder grades. Since then, I’ve been using a mix of Hi-Uni, Tombow Mono, Staedtler Mars Lumograph and Faber-Castell 9000 rather haphazardly, trying to figure out which I like best.

Now that I’m five weeks into the class, I’m getting to know my materials better and how they perform. I upgraded my paper from student-grade Canson XL Bristol smooth to Strathmore 300 Bristol smooth, which is a slightly better quality. It’s noticeably smoother and without any visible grain. (To see what Canson’s Bristol surface looks like, see my demo showing the difference between using a single grade to achieve a certain value and building up to that value with a wide range of grades used sequentially.)

Instead of continuing to randomly use the various pencil grades among the four brands, I finally decided to make myself a comparison chart of the six grades I use most often. (You’ll notice that I’m missing my Hi-Uni in 2H. It bothers me no end that I can’t find it! . . . did I leave it in Suzanne’s studio? I’m also missing the Tombow Mono in F, but I think I never owned that grade.) The chart was made on Strathmore Bristol smooth.



In every grade, Mitsubishi is softer than the other brands, and Tombow Mono is harder than the others up through B (though it feels surprisingly smoother than the German brands in those harder grades). While my hands-down favorite of the four is Mitsubishi in the softer grades (B and softer), I prefer Tombow and Staedtler in the harder grades, which are noticeably smoother than the Hi-Unis. Faber-Castell is scratchier in every grade and therefore feels harder in application. I find myself avoiding them because of that roughness.

I’ve heard graphite artists say that it’s not necessary to have every grade because there’s so little variation from one step to the next. Once I made this chart, I could see that clearly. I’m hard-pressed to see much difference between 2H and H or between HB and B, although again, that seems to vary among the brands. There’s a larger jump in Hi-Uni between F and HB compared to the other brands. Ultimately, though, one could easily skip every other grade and probably not miss the ones in between.

Another observation to note is that going up through the softer grades (my chart only goes to 2B, but I have grades up through at least 5B in the four brands), there’s less and less difference among the brands in terms of darkness – but the larger difference is in the subjective characteristic that I’ll call “hand feel.” The Hi-Unis feel smoother and seem to glide across the paper compared to the others. (And the Faber-Castell feels rougher even at 5B.)

My last observation is that the specific pairing with paper is an important factor in evaluating how pencils perform. With the lower quality Canson paper, I often had difficulty achieving a uniform value over a large area, and I often switched around pencils in the same grade to see if that would make a difference. It did make some difference, but the larger difference came from upgrading my paper to Strathmore, which makes it much easier to get a uniform value from any pencil. (It’s also possible I’m getting better at applying graphite more uniformly.) 

As is usually the case when choosing among products of comparable quality, there’s no such thing as the “best” pencil. It’s really a matter of identifying the qualities that will do what I want (as well as the more subjective qualities like “hand feel”). My favorites at the moment are shown in the photo at the top.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hatch Job (#InkTober2017 First Trimester Review)

10/11/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood
I’m so fickle.

I just got through saying you wouldn’t see my toned book again until our autumn weather turned gray. Although we’ve had showers this week, we have also been getting sunshine – if you catch it quickly before it darts behind clouds again. I saw my chance this afternoon, so I was on my way out the door to look for an InkTober sketch. That’s when I had a “duh” moment: If all I’m doing is hatching with dark ink, why not used toned paper? I had been doing all my InkTober sketches in a yellow Field Notes, but I think I like toned paper better for this. And 11 days into it, I’m finally starting to get into the hatching groove.

Since today is the 11th, we’re one-third of the way through InkTober, so it’s a good day for a trimester review. My goal was to work on my hatching skills, and I chose ballpoint ink because it’s a medium I’ve been fascinated with when I’ve seen the work of others, and I wanted to give it a solid try. A few days into it, though, I was already in trouble. The Uni Jetstream 4 & 1 four-color ballpoint that I’d been using has very fine points, and they looked so pale on the page. In addition, I’ve gotten so used to fountain pens and brush pens – both of which require very little pressure – that I’d forgotten how much pressure ballpoint requires. By the end of week one, I was so annoyed that I didn’t think I’d make it through InkTober if I stayed with ballpoint.

I didn’t quit, though – I just switched to fountain pen, and I kept my goal of working on hatching, which I can do with any medium. It feels much better to have a familiar fude back in my hand. I realized that using a new medium while also trying a new sketching technique was probably biting off too much for one InkTober.

Shown below are days 2 – 10. I’m putting all my InkTober sketches in this Flickr album. 

How’s your InkTober going?

10/2/17

10/3/17

10/4/17

10/5/17

10/6/17

10/7/17

10/8/17

10/9/17

10/10/17

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Market Color

10/9/17 Metropolitan Market, Wedgwood neighborhood
When I arrived at Metropolitan Market, it was early enough that I could choose nearly any parking spot I wanted. Several maples are planted there, so I picked a couple of the most colorful ones, then found the ideal spot across from them. I had a clear view when I started sketching, but of course, two cars pulled in shortly thereafter. (It’s the Murphy’s Law of urban sketching!) Even so, Metro Market is one of my favorite retail spots for fall color. Coincidentally, I sketched a few different trees in the same lot exactly a year ago. 

Technical note:  My tried-and-true method of using water-soluble colored pencils to sketch trees is to apply pencil pigment dry, and then spray lightly with water. I like the texture that method imparts. Most of the turning maples I’ve sketched this season were done that way. For the one above, I tried something different – more of a traditional watercolor technique. First I sprayed the paper lightly. Then I used a waterbrush to “lick” pigment from the pencil tips and apply it directly to the wet paper. This technique with pencils is just as tricky and difficult to control as it is with wet-in-wet watercolor paints. But in the case of trees, I love the uncontrolled effect.
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