Friday, January 19, 2018


1/18/18 1-minute poses
I recently read the book, Undressed Art – Why We Draw, by Peter Steinhart. While it is mainly about art and the human compulsion to draw, it is also about the relationship between the artist and the life drawing model. Although it’s mostly unspoken, a certain level of communication goes on between the model, who is willing to take off his or her clothes for a roomful of people, and the artists who show up to draw this naked person. 

Unless you count Drawing Jam in December, yesterday was the first time I had been to a life-drawing session at Gage in more than six months. Feeling very stiff and rusty, I thought about what I’d read in Steinhart’s book and was very grateful for Shauna, our model that day. One of my favorite Gage models, she has an open expressiveness with her poses that somehow makes it easier to engage with her with my pen or pencil. She has a delightful spontaneity – or makes it seem she does – even as she must be completely in control to hold dynamic poses for up to 20 minutes. During the one-minute poses, the music we were listening to changed to the theme song from “Rocky,” and she put up her dukes! Perhaps it was a well-rehearsed pose that she’d done before, but I felt entertained. She also moved with such fluidity that it helped me past my own creakiness.

1/18/18 2-minute poses
1/18/18 5-minute poses

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 1: My New Year’s Resolution

Happiness is a bouquet of vintage colored pencils.
My one and only resolution this year is to remove unwanted and unneeded stuff from my studio. I’m relatively good about regularly getting rid of clothing, kitchen goods and even books, but my biggest hurdle has been my studio: all the fabric, yarn, rubberstamps, beads, paper and what-all from the many crafts I was heavily into at various time but haven’t touched in years. I guess some part of me always thinks I might get back to them someday, but I decided it was time for them to go.

During the first half of January, I packed carton after carton and hauled them over to Seattle ReCreative, a nonprofit store I discovered only recently. It’s like a thrift store, except it carries only art and craft supplies, and it gives those supplies to local schools. In addition, it offers a variety of art classes to children, and all the class materials are supplied free from donations by people like me who want to get rid of their stuff. Win-win! I was very happy to discover this store only a mile from my house.  

When I made an initial visit to find out whether my intended donations would be welcome, I couldn’t resist walking through the store. I told myself over and over that I was there to move stuff out of my house – not bring stuff back in! I did just fine past the fabric, yarn, rubberstamps, beads and paper – but then I spied a neatly sorted tray of colored pencils.

Now, I’ve been in many thrift stores where the only pencils for sale are part of a huge plastic bag of miscellaneous writing utensils, and you must buy the whole bag. Or there’s a bucket of crayons and pencils that look like they have been chewed by kids or dogs, and I’m not inclined to dig through them for possible gems. At Seattle ReCreative, there was such a bucket of the usual Crayola colored pencils, but in addition, some volunteers had picked out a small selection and even sorted them by color. These looked worth going through!
The logos and typefaces alone are worth the price of admission.
And go through them I did, one by one. Most were older, art-quality pencils, some never sharpened or nearly full length. I left the store with a modest fistful of old Berol and Eagle Prismacolors, Verithins, Eberhard-Faber Mongols and various others. The nostalgia-inducing logos and lovely typefaces alone were worth the twenty-five cents I paid per pencil.

As I sharpened them up and made a sketch, I recalled a post on the Well-Appointed Desk in which Ana had talked about vintage colored pencils and how the older Prismacolors were superior in quality to contemporary ones. As someone who had tossed a box of modern Prismacolors years ago because the cores kept breaking (as if they were already broken inside the wood), I had made a mental note when I’d initially read the post: Old is better.

My finds at Seattle ReCreative and re-reading Ana’s post piqued my curiosity. I started searching the Internet for information about colored pencil history. And as anyone who “collects” anything does, I went to eBay, where I picked up a modest assortment of vintage pencils for about the same price as the thrift store. (May I just pause here to say that I’m annoyed that products manufactured in the ‘90s are considered “vintage”? Why does “vintage” keep getting more and more recent! End of old fart’s rant.)

One day, Ana and I were chatting about vintage colored pencils, and the next thing I knew, she kindly sent me a bunch of unsharpened Eberhard Faber Colorbrites and others! Suddenly it seemed I had a collection! (Yes, I’m well aware that I’m still moving stuff out, not in. But it’s just a few pencils. 😉) 

Stay tuned – I’m going to review specific pencil brands in upcoming posts. 

Here's all the stuff I got rid of. Surely a few pencils will take up less space than this!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Expensive and Unpleasant

1/15/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The other day when the sun crossing a window unexpectedly cast shadows on some pears I was sketching, it suddenly added urgency to a normally leisurely still life. But it also signaled another urgency: The sun’s out – what am I doing inside? Time’s a-wastin’! 

I dashed outside and walked a couple of blocks, where I’d earlier seen a red and white excavator. It was still, but the lawn and soil around it was already ripped to shreds. As I sketched, the owner of the house came out to chat with her neighbor, describing the expensive and unpleasant project under way. Sewers are involved.  

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.

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