Monday, December 31, 2012

Wrapping Up the Year with Randomness

1/2/12 Copic Multiliner, watercolor
12/31/12 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink
Since I already did my “looking back on the year” post yesterday, I didn’t leave myself anything insightful or introspective to write about today, the last day of 2012. Hoping to dig up a sketch from Jan. 1, 2012, that I could post next to a sketch made today (symbolically showing the passage of the year?), I went through my sketchbook from that period, but I must have been busy with other things on New Year’s Day because I couldn’t find anything until this lemon I sketched on Jan. 2 (I hadn’t yet become an urban sketcher, so most of my sketches from that period are still lifes).
I could mention a few sketching-related resolutions I’ve made (1. Sketch at least one car a week until I see improvement or get bored silly, whichever comes first; 2. Flush out my fountain pens more regularly so they won’t clog; 3. Instead of whining about the weather being too cold and rainy to sketch outdoors, sketch more still lifes at home), but I stopped making resolutions years ago, so that would be contrived.
12/31/12 Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig markers, S & B sketchbook
So, lacking both insight and introspection, I’ll indulge in randomness and simply post three sketches I made today, the last day of 2012, and call it good.
Happy New Year!
12/31/12 Diamine Twilight ink, Stillman & Birn sketchbook

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back on a Year of Sketches

6/4/12 Tombow marker, Hand Book sketchbook
This morning Gabi asked sketchers on the Urban Sketchers Facebook page to post their most memorable sketching experience of 2012. I started going through my scans of sketches from 2012, and each one called up so many vivid memories that I had difficulty choosing one to post. In fact, memories isn’t even an accurate term for the recall I experience when I look at my own sketches. I’m sure neuropsychologists or other people who study the brain could explain this phenomenon: The act of sketching embeds all kinds of sensory data along with the sketch – not just the visual data needed to draw, but also the smells, sounds, textures and everything else going on around me, even if I’m not consciously paying attention to them. So when I see the sketch, all the rest of the sensory data gets replayed along with the sketch. I’ve heard many sketchers describe this phenomenon, so I know it’s common – maybe even universal.
5/20/12 Pitt Artist pen, watercolor

The sketch I finally chose to post on Facebook was this series of gestural sketches of pelicans I made at Marina Del Rey in L.A. last June on a beautiful, sunny, warm morning. Summer hadn’t yet begun in Seattle (and wouldn’t for another month or more), so sketching outdoors wearing a T-shirt and sandals was something I had only dreamed of. This sketch evokes the cool breeze, the smell of brunch still being devoured by the rest of my party at the marina restaurant, the sound of the pelicans’ cries – and the promise of summer sketching!

But I could have just as easily picked this sketch at Magnuson Park – my very first Seattle Urban Sketchers sketchcrawl – in the rain (shivering; wondering where the nearest restroom was). Or this busker at Phinney Farmer’s Market, where I sketched nearly every Friday afternoon (the scent of fruit and pizza; the buzz of bees around the raised flower bed where I liked to set my paint box).

I wonder how I recalled anything I ever did before I began sketching!
7/6/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor, Moleskine sketchbook

Friday, December 28, 2012

What Do Bird-Watching and Car-Sketching Have in Common?

12/28/12 fountain pen, Diamine Eclipse ink, Zig and Pitt markers, Hand Book sketchbook
It’s starting to feel like when I sketched 100 self-portraits or 100 hands. As long as I’ve assigned this task to myself of practicing drawing cars, I’ve got to find ways to make the exercise more interesting.
I have a few sketcher friends who are birdwatchers. Although I’m not a birder, I love sketching birds, and when I listen to the birders talk about small details – the angle of a tail, the shape of a wing, the “eclipse” plumage – that help them identify various species, it reinforces the obvious fact that the more I know and understand about what I’m sketching, the more informed my observation will be, and the better my sketch will turn out. Conversely, the more I observe and sketch birds, the more I’ll probably learn and understand about them, and the more I’m likely to appreciate them.
I don’t give a rat’s ass about this truck I sketched at Green Lake this morning. But I have to admit that I observed some lines and curves on it that I had never noticed before about this type of truck or any other. I don’t know enough about this “species” to identify it, but I think if I were to sketch another one just like it, I would probably remember that I had sketched it before.
Will this close observation of detail eventually lead me to better appreciate cars and trucks? Probably not. But I’ll settle for better sketches of them.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Year-Plus of Sketchbooks

Historically, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is when Greg and I declutter and clear out small, specific areas of our home. (We just finished tackling a hall cabinet filled past capacity with soap samples, toothpaste and floss samples from the dentist, shoe polish, a dozen bottles of half-used suntan lotion, shampoos and other products we rejected for various reasons but didn’t discard, and on and on. How does this stuff thrive and reproduce in our cabinet?)
I’ve also been decluttering my small studio, and I’m happy to say that I managed to get rid of enough unwanted books and reorganize the keepers to clear off one whole bookshelf just for my sketchbooks. Since that shelf will probably not be this neat again for quite some time, I took a photo of it. Note that I even left space on the shelf for more to come!
These are all the sketchbooks I’ve filled since Sept. 21, 2011, when I began sketching (not counting the seven sketchbooks currently in progress), so a little more than one year.

Tina’s 2012 Top 10

At the risk of succumbing to a blog and media cliché, I couldn’t resist counting down a “best of” list for the year. So here is my list of top 10 art tools and supplies for 2012 (except for No. 1, the numbering does not necessarily indicate a ranking of importance):

10. Stillman & Birn Gamma and Alpha series sketchbooks (not pictured – the solid black covers made the photo too dark). I started my first S&B Alpha in February, and it took me a while to warm up to the paper, which I knew a lot of artists were raving about. Although it held up well to light washes, and I liked the subtle tooth, the show-through when I scanned pages annoyed me. But the more I used it, the more I appreciated its qualities: a hardbound binding that can open almost completely flat; paper with sufficient weight to handle a wash but still thin enough for a book to hold a substantial number of pages; a variety of dimensions and formats. After trying the heavier Delta and Beta series papers, which took care of the show-through issue, I decided that the tradeoff of fewer pages per book (and therefore a higher cost per sketch) wasn’t worth that one annoyance. Although I still also use Moleskine and Hand Book sketchbooks for certain purposes, the Stillman & Birn Gamma and Alpha have become my sketchbooks of choice.

9. Faber-Castell PITT Big Brush Artist Pens. More than a year ago, I was first introduced to these markers by Don Colley, who dazzled Daniel Smith demo participants with his mastery of this medium. Although in the marker world, my preference is still water-soluble markers (see No. 4 below) that blend well with fountain pen ink and watercolors, I’ve come to appreciate PITT’s waterproof attribute, especially for shading, and the wide range of warm and cool grays you can get in this line of markers.

8. Escoda Reserva sable travel brushes. The only paint brushes I’ve used in the field are Kuretake waterbrushes (see No. 2 below). I’m planning to take a watercolor painting class in early 2013, and I know that the instructor would frown on waterbrushes for “real” painting, so I decided to take preemptive action by investing in a few of these Escoda sable brushes. I had gotten the first one as part of a set with a Pentalic watercolor journal (I see that this same set now comes with a nylon brush) and appreciated both the brush quality and the fact that it is very portable (the handle pulls off and serves as a cap, shortening the brush length by almost half). Although I’m sure higher quality, full-length brushes are available, if I’m reluctant to take them with me into the urban landscape because they are too long and cumbersome, then they won’t serve me well.

7. Cretacolor Nero pencil (extrasoft). In general, I’m not a huge fan of pencils for either writing or drawing, preferring the firm, solid line of ink. But this particular pencil has thoroughly warmed me to pencil sketching, especially for figures, which usually demand a medium with subtle shading qualities. I love the range of values this single pencil can produce as well as the softness.

6. Diamine Chocolate Brown ink. After trying about a dozen samples of water-soluble brown fountain pen inks, Diamine Chocolate Brown became my absolute favorite. The rich sepia color washes to an even richer, warm brown that looks especially beautiful on ivory-colored Stillman & Birn Gamma paper and when depicting interior scenes.

5. Platinum Carbon Black ink. When I decided I preferred the variable line of a fountain pen and first started looking for a waterproof black fountain pen ink to replace the Copic Multiliner SP mechanical pen I had used previously with watercolors, the name Noodler’s, an American ink manufacturer, kept coming up in blogs and forums. But when I tried it, I had lots of problems with smudging and smearing. A minority of sketchers preferred Platinum Carbon Black, a pricey Japanese ink. Much faster drying and without the pen-clogging problems that other waterproof inks apparently have, Platinum Carbon Black is definitely my waterproof ink of choice.

4. Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers. This past year, I tried nearly every water-soluble “real brush” marker (as opposed to a compressed fiber tip “brush” marker that isn’t an actual brush) I could get my hands on. I found them all to have a variety of pros offset by cons, and I liked each brand for different reasons. Ultimately, I found the Zig brush marker to have all the right pros for my needs: an excellent brush tip, portability (shorter and lighter), convenience (not exploding at high altitudes), a reasonable price, a wide range of colors (especially grays and browns for shading), and the ability to mix well with water-soluble fountain pen inks and watercolors.

3. Lamy fountain pens. New to fountain pens as a sketching tool, I hadn’t used many types before I tried my first Lamy Safari. Because of its price (a little more than 20 bucks) and ease of maintenance, it’s considered to be a “starter pen” (based on what I’ve read in the Fountain Pen Network forum, it’s the type of pen that starts you down the slippery slope of collecting pens that cost about as much as a mortgage payment for a “starter home”). But I liked the diameter, heft and nib so much that I didn’t feel compelled to try others. Since that first one, I’ve acquired four more resin Safaris, plus two Lamy Al-Stars and one Lamy Vista (which all have the same design as the Safari except that the Al-Stars are made of aluminum and the Vista is transparent).

2. Kuretake waterbrushes. Of all the tools and art supplies I’ve seen or used that are ideal for on-location sketching, I give the waterbrush the prize for innovation and functionality. By containing the water inside the brush, this tool liberates watercolor urban sketchers from the weight and cumbersomeness of a water jar. Carrying nothing more than one of these brushes plus a pen of water-soluble ink and a pocket-sized sketchbook, I’ve been able to sketch an elusive heron on my walk around Green Lake where I’m not inclined to carry my whole bag.

Although I’m not experienced enough as a painter to be very discriminating, even I can tell that the brush itself leaves something to be desired, yet the convenience is hard (if not impossible) to beat. Now that I’ve invested in a few Escoda sable brushes (see No. 8 above), I’m going to give them a try in the field. But every time I have to remember to pack and carry a container of water, I’m going to be thinking fondly of my waterbrush (and in many cases, I may decide to leave the fancy Escodas at home).

1. Self-made mint tin watercolor sketch kit/mixing palette assembly. My portable watercolor kit and its ability to attach to my sketchbook is the one item in my bag that forever changed the way I sketch on location. Liberating me from the need for a table or a chair, I’ve been able to sketch easily with paints at farmer’s markets, shopping malls, a pumpkin farm and the zoo. The whole kit and its assembly parts are so small and light that I can carry them around all the time in my everyday bag without having to think about and decide what to bring for any given sketching situation. The total portability of all my sketching gear has enabled me to fully integrate sketching with the rest of my life. I’d say that, alone, is sufficient reason to make it No. 1 on my 2012 top 10 list.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Tree, 2012

12/24/12 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, Gamma sketchbook
During all my growing up years, my family got our Christmas trees from Chubby & Tubby. A Seattle institution for 56 years, this store offered Christmas trees of the “Charlie Brown” variety for $5 each (that was the price of the most recent tree we bought there; I assume it was even cheaper when I was a child).
While I was single and living alone in an apartment, I didn’t put up a tree. But after Greg and I got married, we bought our trees from C & T every year until it closed in 2003. (Then, as now, I believe a tree’s main purpose is to fill the house with the scent of natural pine and to hold up our ornaments and lights, so the tree itself doesn’t have to be esthetically perfect.) Since then, we’ve been buying our trees from Boy Scout Troop 151, which sets up a lot at the Safeway on 75th and Roosevelt. These trees cost a bit more than $5, but they look better, too.
Still, I miss the Chubby & Tubby ritual of following the stenciled footprints through the store to the crowded back lot, picking out a tree, standing in line to pay $5 for it, and receiving the mysterious aluminum key that could open a treasure chest in the store later (presumably a promotion to get people to continue shopping there after the holidays). In all those years, neither my family (when I was a child) nor I (as an adult) went back to the store after Christmas to see whether the mysterious key would open the chest, and what the chest might contain. Some things are better left to the imagination.
Most of the decorations on our tree have been gifts to me from Greg, one or two per year. A few have been purchased when we’ve traveled. Most are traditional German painted glass ornaments that are actually made in Germany (they are getting more difficult to find in recent years). While teddy bears, rabbits and moons make up the majority, a few ornaments depict more contemporary images, like a giant Hello Kitty and a Space Needle.
The shape of this year’s tree is better than some we’ve had, but as I sketched it, I noticed some uneven spots and “holes” in the branches. I was tempted to add some branches to make the tree more symmetrical. But faithful to the Urban Sketchers manifesto, I wanted to be “truthful to the scenes we witness.” I draws ‘em like I sees ‘em.
Happy holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cars Are the New Architecture

12/21/12 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Zig and Pitt Big Brush markers
My big sketching bugaboo used to be architecture. Freaked out by the challenge of perspective, I used to avoid sketching buildings whenever possible. Last summer, with many sunny days and no more excuses, I sketched the Green Lake Seattle Public Library, a brick Tudor home I’ve admired, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and several other buildings, and somewhere along the way, I realized I had stopped fearing architecture. Mind you, it’s definitely still a challenge, and probably always will be, but now I actually welcome that challenge.
So now I have a new sketching nemesis: cars. What is it about cars that is so friggin’ difficult? They are neither curved and organic like people and animals, nor are they made of straight parallel or perpendicular lines that follow perspective rules the way buildings do. Plus all those shiny, reflective surfaces and curved trim pieces that look so good in glossy magazine ads are a sketcher’s nightmare. Out in the urban landscape, I find myself composing sketches in ways that allow me to avoid including cars, which are, of course, everywhere. The more I reluctantly include a car or two in my sketches, the more I loathe them. I have ruined many otherwise decent sketches when I put a car in the background.
But I’m running out of excuses, and I’ve concluded that the long winter ahead would be a good time to sit in my parked car sketching other parked cars. So let’s just call this BMW sketched at a Green Lake parking lot my baseline. Bring ‘em on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


12/20/12 watercolor, mixed media sketchbook

This week’s Urban Sketchers theme challenge is sketching the night (for northern hemisphere dwellers) or sketching the day (for southern hemisphere residents). (Hmmm, seems like the southern hemisphere folks got a less challenging challenge!). I was tempted to skip it, especially since it’s been raining buckets all week. Then tonight around 5 p.m., the rain finally let up for a little while, and I glanced out the window to see the last bit of twilight behind a dark blue cloud cover.

Not-So-Still Life

12/20/12 Diamine Twilight ink, Stillman & Birn Gamma

Just yesterday I was saying that people in coffee shops usually move so little that I can sometimes sketch them almost like a still life. But if the person in question is a child, all bets are off.
This tyke sitting in his mom’s lap was squirming a mile a minute, but since I’m not around small kids much, it was a rare opportunity too good to pass up. Young children’s proportions are so different from those of adults that it wasn’t just his constant motion that made the sketches challenging. By the time he got transferred to dad’s lap, he was ready to leave, so I didn’t get to finish him or his dad.

12/20/12 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink

Book Review: Expressive Figure Drawing, by Bill Buchman

10/25/12 Kuretake Brush Writer (2-min. pose)
I’ve taken classes in figure drawing, studied books on anatomy for artists, and practiced on my own in figure drawing open studio sessions, but nothing has excited me as much about drawing the human figure as this book: Expressive Figure Drawing: New Materials, Concepts and Techniques, by Bill Buchman.
This quotation towards the end of the book sums up the author’s dynamic teaching philosophy: “The process of learning to draw the figure and the process of releasing your creativity and expressivity are one.”
11/8/12 Nero pencil (20-min. pose)
He begins with the drawing process, seemingly paradoxical guiding principles (“you have to give up control to get control”) and practical strategies for gauging accurate proportions. Using a variety of media (including some unconventional combinations such as water-soluble wax crayons with diluted acrylic ink) and tools like sumi brushes and reed pens, the author gives an example on every page of the concepts and techniques practiced in the exercises. (These examples are some of the most beautiful figure drawings I’ve seen and are alone worth the price of the book.) These concepts and techniques include gesture, mass, line, structure, shape, volume and color. Several step-by-step process examples are also given, which made me feel like I was looking over his shoulder in the studio. The book closes with ideas on developing what the author calls the “expressive mindset”: learning how to capture the spirit or life of the subject, or the Chi.
Ultimately and ideally, by following the book’s exercises and practicing diligently, the expression conveyed by the human body and the expression conveyed by the artist will come together in a dynamic life drawing that does, indeed, have life.
I can’t wait to get back into a figure drawing studio to practice the innovative exercises in this book!
(This book review also appears on

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Coffee Shop as Still Life

12/19/12 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Zig marker, Hand Book sketchbook
For the third time, I’m re-reading Judy Martin’s Mastering Sketching, and in one paragraph that I was reading over breakfast, she mentioned the types of subject matter most popular with painters and sketchers: landscapes, portraits, figures, still lifes, nature, interiors, etc. When I sketch in coffee shops, I tend to think of the subject matter as a combination of life drawing (figures and portraits) and interiors. But this afternoon at Zoka, fueled by a particularly delicious eggnog latte, it suddenly occurred to me that what I’m really sketching is a large still life.
People are more interesting to me than apples, flowers or water pitchers, but the people in coffee shops move so little that I can sketch them almost like still life compositions. And like sketching a still life, the challenge is in showing the varying light values, expressing the relationships among the objects and giving the objects life.
The main difference with my large still life is that the flowers are already arranged for me, and sometimes the apples get up and leave.

Sketchbook Project: Done

11/5/12, 11/23/12 fountain pen
Last month I reported that I had filled my Sketchbook Project sketchbook, but so much white space was left on many of the pages that I felt compelled to continue sketching. I still have time before the Jan. 15, 2013, deadline, but most pages are now crowded with “strangers” (my chosen theme), so it’s time to call it done.
What have I learned from participating?
As I noted in my first blog post about the project, I knew before I began that it was going to be important for me to think of the project sketchbook casually, as nothing special, almost as a throwaway to avoid being intimidated. (Indeed, the paper in the book is so thin and crappy that I often did feel like throwing it away!) Instead of trying to put only my “best” sketches in this sketchbook (a most certain way to keep the book empty), I often used it for my warm-up sketch – the first one of the day, just to get the ink and right side of the brain flowing. My what-the-heck attitude kept me from stalling and kept the sketches fresh.
9/12/12, 12/10/12 fountain pen, marker
Once I decided to fill in the blank spaces with more sketches, I discovered that an interesting dialog sometimes developed between some strangers on the page without my conscious direction. The man sketched in blue ink on Dec. 10 looks like he’s having a conversation with himself, sketched with a brown marker on Sept. 12.
Several years ago when I had first heard about the project, I shuddered at the thought of putting my drawings out into the world. That’s what kept me from participating. But in the past year since I began sketching, I’ve come to realize that the sketch on the page isn’t nearly as important as the process that put it there. And now that I’ve been blogging almost a year and posting my sketches regularly, I’ve discovered that sharing my sketches is a large part of the joy of sketching. I am happy to share this little book of sketches with whoever wants to see it. And now that I’ve scanned all the pages, I’m going to put the sketchbook in an envelope and send it on its way.
Learn more about the Sketchbook Project on its website. See all 17 page spreads in my Sketchbook Project sketchbook in a Flickr slideshow, or view the images one at a time in my Flickr photostream.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Northgate Mall Food Court

12/18/12 DeAtramentis Black-Brown ink, Zig markers, Hand Book sketchbook
A week before Christmas, I expected Northgate Mall to be a madhouse, but the parking lot was no worse than a typical Saturday, so I braved it. I have a long list of places I’d rather sketch than a food court, but for the amount of time I had (less than half an hour) and the weather (37 degrees and threatening snow), it would have to do.
3/9/12 Copic Multiliner pen
Like the one at Green Lake, it’s not the most exciting sketch, but one thing about it makes me happy: I attempted it. Recalling how I had felt trying to sketch the same food court last March, I dug out a pocket-sized sketchbook from that period and found this small sketch of a couple of diners. On the facing page my journal notes express how overwhelmed I was by the open space. “Too spread out, too many big TVs,” I wrote (I’m not sure how the size of the TVs affected my ability to sketch that day, but maybe I was simply overcome by the scale of everything).
This is not to say that sketching in large interior spaces like food courts is no longer challenging; it is. The big difference is that, in March, I scribbled a couple of heads, fretted about the space and then went home. Today, I simply sat down and sketched the space.

Green Lake from the Car

12/18/12 Platinum Carbon Black ink, watercolor, Hand Book sketchbook
After driving around with the heater on full blast, my small car will stay comfortably warm for about a half-hour after I’ve turned off the engine, which is just about the length of time I need to make a sketch like this. Like many Seattle urban sketchers at this time of year, I’ve resorted to sketching from my car. Fortunately at Green Lake, it’s relatively easy to find a parking spot right near the path and facing the water.
It’s not the most exciting sketch I’ve ever done at Green Lake, but it’s worth using as a progress report: The guy taking a walk looks like he might actually be walking (OK, I’m still working on figure proportions). Last spring, I sat on a bench at Green Lake attempting to sketch the walkers, and I realized how difficult it is to capture the motion of walking – something we see every day. I’ve sketched a lot of walkers since then, and I think the practice is finally paying off.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Swansons’ Reindeer

12/17/12 Black Velvet ink, Zig, Hand Book sketchbook

What’s up with “eight tiny reindeer”?
Any time I’ve seen Santa’s reindeer on TV or in books, they look like dainty Bambis gracefully hoofing the air. If the resident reindeer at Swansons Nursery are any indication, the team would look more like a small herd of stampeding cattle than Bambis. Dasher and Blitzen are huge, and so are their antlers. I started sketching Blitzen five times at the wrong scale, unable to fit his antlers on the page. Fortunately for me, he spent most of my visit chewing hay and dozing, not flying, so on my sixth try I finally got the scale right.

12/17/12 Black Velvet ink

12/17/12 Private Reserve Black Velvet ink, Zig markers

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Seattle Center Skating Rink and Armory

12/16/12 Platinum Carbon Black ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma
The Seattle Urban Sketchers enthusiastically turned out for a sketchcrawl at the Experience Music Project and other Seattle Center attractions. The EMP’s spacey interior would have been an interesting challenge, which I considered briefly. But I had heard that the Fisher Pavilion had been turned into an ice skating rink for the holidays, which seemed like a good (and also challenging) opportunity for some gestural sketches. I decided to head down there instead.
12/16/12 Diamine Twilight, Eclipse inks, Zig markers
It turned out that the skating rink wasn’t open for another 20 minutes, so despite the temperature being in the high 30s and the fact that I had forgotten my gloves, I decided to kill time by sketching a nearby ice sculpture. I don’t know how long the sculpture had been standing, but it was melting rapidly. At one time it probably depicted skaters or dancers, but now it was mostly abstract figures with Venus de Milo-like arms. I was still filling in the background when suddenly there was a loud crack, and the remains came crashing down.
Thoroughly chilled, I spent the next hour at the skating rink, which unfortunately wasn’t much warmer than the outdoors. But as I’d hoped, it was an excellent way to practice fast gestural sketches of figures in motion.
My fingers nearly numb, it was time to find some heated indoors. I grabbed a hot drink at Starbucks inside the Armory and then quickly sketched a little girl mesmerized by the model train circling a turn-of-the-century village.
12/16/12 Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook

12/16/12 Nero pencil

City Cantabile Choir

12/15/12 Platinum Carbon Black ink, Hand Book sketchbook
In the mood for holiday music, we attended the City Cantabile Choir’s Celtic Christmas Concert at the Green Lake United Methodist Church (which, despite being in my neighborhood, I was not familiar with. I made a mental note to come back in warmer weather to sketch the church itself, which looks like it’s made of stone). I had not yet attempted sketching during a musical concert (unless you count bluegrass bands and buskers at farmer’s markets), which undoubtedly would be semi-dark, so I wanted to give that challenge a try.
Sketching the choir was manageable as long as I didn’t try to include individual faces or other details. More in my comfort zone was sketching Tom Creegan playing the uilleann pipes. Similar to bagpipes in sound, the instrument is played by pumping bellows held under his arms.
12/15/12 Diamine Eclipse ink, Hand Book sketchbook
Now that I’ve sketched my first concert, I’m happy to report that sketching does not in any way detract from the experience of enjoying the music, which was a lively, festive arrangement of traditional Celtic tunes. I’ll be bringing my sketchbook along to future concerts!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Volunteer Park Conservatory

12/14/12 Black Velvet ink, water-soluble pencil, Zig marker, S&B Alpha

Celebrating its centennial this year, the Volunteer Park Conservatory was dressed up for the holidays with the Seasonal House filled with poinsettias, nutcrackers and a Lionel vintage replica train (the grand prize for a raffle benefitting the conservatory).
Each display house, which has its own climate control, is crowded with thousands of species. My favorite today was the Cacti and Succulent House, where the serrated and spiny leaves of exotic succulents give them a somewhat monstrous look. Names like Euphorbia ingens monstrose reinforce the look.
12/14/12 Black Velvet ink, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook

(Technical note: A while back I was given a Stillman & Birn Alpha hardbound sketchbook in the 4” x 6” size. I generally use the 5½” x 8½” size, which is a convenient tradeoff between size and portability. But knowing that the conservatory is crowded and thinking that I would be focusing on individual plants rather than larger views, I decided to give the smaller book a try. It reduced the bulk and weight in my bag considerably. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about it that I liked. The full page spread is half the size of the spreads I’ve grown accustomed to, so it felt teeny-weeny. It cramped my style. Maybe someday I’ll be invited to a soiree where I’ll need to tuck a tiny sketchbook into a tiny evening bag. Until then, I’m shelving it.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Third Place Commons

12/13/12 Private Reserve Black Velvet ink, Zig markers, Stillman & Birn Gamma
Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park is a rare find in an urban community: A large, indoor, public gathering space with lots of seating and tables, several food venues, a kids’ play area, and even a giant chess set. It’s like a mall food court with significantly better ambiance. A friend had suggested that it might make a good winter sketching venue, so I decided to check it out. 
12/13/12 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Zig markers
With a mug of coffee from Honey Bear Bakery ($2 with free self-serve refills! Sshhh… it’s probably the best-kept-secret coffee deal in town), I walked slowly around the huge facility to stake out the right table. The scale is much larger than the coffee shops I’m used to, so the tables are farther apart. I couldn’t get the usual close-up view to sketch people, so I decided it was a good opportunity to take a more challenging (for me), wider view. First I used a fountain pen to focus on small clusters of people in the foreground. Then I filled in Third Place Books in the background with Zig brush markers. Finally, I put in some reflections on the polished floors with washed Zig markers. (This is a slightly different application of the ink/Zig combo I’ve been using lately.)
That sketch done, I refilled my mug (did I mention free refills?? Is this place for real?) and took another walk around the floor. I found a table right next to the large windows overlooking the parking lot, where I spotted a completely bare tree flanked by maples still stubbornly hanging onto quite a few of their leaves.

Inks: My Final Answers

The past couple of months I’ve been trying out a variety of fountain pen inks, both waterproof and water-soluble, with a plan to select a black, a brown and a blue ink with each of those properties. The trials didn’t take long because in most cases, I knew fairly quickly if I didn’t like an ink or had other reasons not to use it, so I moved on to the next sample before using up the supply in the pen. Here are my final answers (at least for now):
(If you’re wondering why some of the ink names on my color sample card look like they were scrawled by a kindergartener, it’s because I used an old dip pen with a horribly scratchy nib. I need to replace that.)
Waterproof inks:

Platinum Pigmented Sepia
Sailor Sei-Boku Blue Black

Water-soluble inks:

Private Reserve Ultra Black (fast dry)
Diamine Chocolate Brown
Diamine Twilight
Diamine Grey

A couple of close contenders in the brown and blue categories that didn't make the final cut: Caran d’Ache Grand Canyon and Diamine Eclipse.

Some comments and explanations:

Yes, I’ve selected two water-soluble blacks instead of one. I really like the complex wash that Private Reserve Velvet Black makes. But I also like the bold, true black of Private Reserve Ultra Black (and its fast-dry quality, though minor, is a bonus to this leftie). So despite my rule about choosing only one water-soluble black, I chose two (flexibility is a virtue).

Although Sailor Sei-Boku Blue Black is my waterproof blue of choice, I’m still undecided as to whether to invest in a bottle of this expensive ink. All of the waterproof blues I tried were more assertive when used with watercolors compared to black or brown, which are neutral. (If I were looking for a waterproof blue writing ink, this would definitely be my choice – it’s smooth, “wet,” and a lovely color. But choosing writing inks would be a whole different test!) I’m not sure I would use blue with watercolors much, but I’m still using the sample and keeping this option open.

You’ll note that Diamine Grey – neither black, brown nor blue – is on the list. Evoking flannel, winter skies and the soft underbellies of small birds and animals, it’s a calm, elegant, versatile color that some sketches simply call for.

OK, so I set out to choose six inks, ended up with eight (possibly seven, if I eliminate the Sailor Sei-Boku), and I’m happy. I haven’t met a sketch yet that couldn’t be tackled by something in this solid set of inks, and it's not too many to carry.

Edited 12/10/13: See how many of these inks I'm still using in December 2013  and which have dropped off the list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


12/12/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, Tombow markers
According to an interpretation of the Mayan Calendar, whose last date is 12/12/12, the world ends today. 
A few days ago, some sketcher friends and I were pondering what we might sketch on the last day of the world or how we would sketch the world as it is ending. I didn’t give it much thought then, but today when I remembered that it is the fateful date, I started thinking about time.
The concept of linear time and how we keep track of it – calendars, clocks, sundials, hourglasses – are all creations of humans trying to make order of our lives. Dates and times are important to us so that we can wish each other Happy Birthday, return library books by their due date, and clock out at 5 p.m. Apparently some cultures have no use for such constructs, seeing time as a continual flow, like air or water.
I’m not philosophical enough to give any of this much thought – say, more than three minutes. But during those three minutes, I decided I wanted to sketch something today to commemorate this date, which is numerologically interesting, if nothing else. Then it hit me: If keeping track of time is an artificial construct, then depicting time abstractly is no better or worse than depicting it accurately.
I decided to make a modified blind contour sketch of the small clock on my desk. Happy 12/12/12!
Please note: I sketched the clock in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, which is made of archival, acid-free paper that is supposed to last for many decades. Just in case.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lamys in a Screen-Centric World

12/11/12 Private Reserve Black Velvet ink, S& B Gamma sketchbook
I nearly jumped out of my skin when he started speaking to me (when I’m engaged in a sketch, I startle easily). The young man sitting at the next table noticed the pen I was using and spoke with animation. He told me that he was relatively new to fountain pens, but now he can’t imagine going back to “ordinary” pens. He had an apple green Lamy Safari like mine, as well as a few others, which he pulled out to show me. Not to be outdone, I showed him mine. We chatted about our favorite inks and being hooked on samples from the Goulet Pen Company. He even opened his pocket notebook to show me some inks he had been trying.
“I like hand-writing so much that I sort of resent having to write on the computer,” he said, gesturing dismissively at his laptop.
His comment warmed my heart. There’s still hope in this screen-centric world.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gingerbread Village

12/7/12 Sailor Sei-Boku ink, watercolor, S&B Gamma sketchbook
As an auxiliary weekday sketchcrawl, Seattle Urban Sketchers Kate, Peggy, Carleen, Nilda and I met downtown to sketch a couple of festive holiday events. Our first stop was the Teddy Bear Suite, a benefit for Seattle Children’s Hospital, at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Overrun with toddlers getting their photos taken, the venue was fun to see but too crowded for sketching. While we chatted in the lobby, I managed a quick sketch of a chandelier.
We walked a few blocks to the Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel. Designed by local architects teaming up with the Sheraton’s bakers, these gingerbread castles are extravagantly detailed creations with themes like Narnia’s Snow Queen Castle and Ariel’s Underwater Castle. I spotted a chair and table where I could comfortably sketch the back side of Alice in Wonderland’s heart-studded castle.
Over lunch, we decided this was so much fun that we’d plan more auxiliary sketchcrawls in the new year.
12/7/12 Caran d'Ache Grand Canyon ink
(Technical note: The gingerbread sketch was my first try at using waterproof Sailor Sei-Boku Pigmented Nano blue/black ink with watercolors. It’s one of several blue inks I’m trying out. While I enjoy using water-soluble blue ink with a wash, I’m not sure using waterproof blue ink with watercolors makes sense. Unlike neutral black or brown, the blue comes on a bit strong. Or maybe it was just the wrong choice today: it was too cool against all the warm cookie and holiday hues. In hindsight, I wish I had used Platinum Pigmented Sepia.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Surprise in the Penguin Exhibit

12/5/12 Black Velvet ink, Hand Book sketchbook
Walking briskly through the zoo to stay warm, I was surprised to find an unexpected visitor in the penguin exhibit: a gray heron. It looked a lot like the one I’ve seen at Green Lake occasionally. Although on a warmer day I would have lingered to sketch it in a more leisurely manner, especially since it was taking its time preening, I sketched it quickly and moved on to my destination of choice in December: the Tropical Rainforest.
12/5/12 Black Velvet ink, Hand Book sketchbook
After wiping off my glasses, which had instantly fogged up inside the warm, humid enclosure (ahhh – a moment on a distant continent closer to the equator!), I sketched a golden lion tamarin and its strangely human face.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...