Friday, November 17, 2017

Wyeth Retrospective at SAM

11/17/17 The Hammering Man's boot at SAM
The Seattle Art Museum’s current show is Andrew Wyeth in Retrospect, which covers the span of this American painter’s remarkable 75-year career. In the two hours that I was there today, I saw only about half of it, so I’m going to go back sometime soon to see the rest. My friend Anne and I agreed that it’s an intense exhibit; you can’t breeze through because each work requires – demands – your full attention and scrutiny. And whenever you observe a detail – each hair and its shadow; a complex skintone created with egg tempera; the sharp light slanting on a building at night that must be coming from the moon – you are rewarded for your attention.

The 110 works in the show are mostly tempera and “dry brush” watercolor paintings, but several pencil drawings are also included. As always when I see an exhibit that includes studies, I was as intrigued by these preliminary works as I was by the finished paintings – perhaps more so. I love seeing the fresh, incomplete marks and wondering what the artist was thinking about as he restated a line. Of course, they hardly looked like sketches or studies to me; most were as exquisitely rendered as the finished works. Maybe it’s just that I, as a sketcher, can somewhat identify with making the drawings in a way that I can’t identify with making the paintings (which would require about 500 years of practice for me!).

And speaking of practice, here’s a thought by Wyeth about his studies that served as a reminder of why sketching and practice are important:

“I never consider these studies as drawings. All I’m doing is thinking with my pencil and brush. . . There would have been a time when I would have made hundreds of close, methodical, even oddly dull drawings of an object when I was learning to catch a subject off balance. And slowly, one learns to know anatomy, to know structure, proportion, perspective, when to modify, when not to, when to exaggerate, when to thin down. These are all things an artist should train himself to do so that at the right moment, the decisive moment, one is there to catch it, whether it’s imaginary or graphically right there in front of you.”

Having just completed 10 weeks of a graphite drawing class, I found that this quotation spoke to me of the potential expressiveness of this medium that I have only barely touched (and I imagine what I might do with 75 more years of practice): 

“To me, pencil drawing is a very emotional, very quick, very abrupt medium. . . . I will perhaps put in a terrific black and press down on the pencil so strongly that perhaps the lead will break, in order to emphasize my emotional impact with the object. . . . Sometimes my hand, almost my fingertips, begin to shiver and this affects the quality of the lead pencil on the paper. It becomes dark and light, dark and light. The thing begins to move. The drawing begins to pull itself out of the blank piece of paper. You can’t concoct that.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Graphite Weather

11/1/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Every year around this time, I start sketching more with graphite. The subtle tones of gray that are so easy to impart with a pencil seem to fit well with the flat light, overcast skies threatening rain, and the mostly colorless trees.

11/7/17 Montlake neighborhood

11/14/17 Montlake neighborhood
Yet just when I become wistful that most of the color in my neighborhood has blown away, I turn a corner, and I see a sudden spark of fire again.

11/15/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: Mike Daikubara’s Sketch Now, Think Later

Mike Daikubara's new book (and the little workshop
handbook that inspired it)
Boston urban sketcher Mike Daikubara has done it again – published another fantastic book. Self-published, his other books are collections of his work by topic or travel location, such as the one I reviewed a few years ago about his journey along Boston’s Freedom Trail. This time, his book has been commercially published by Quarry in the same format as the popular Urban Sketching Handbook series. (In that series, I’ve reviewed Architecture & Cityscapes and People & Motion by Gabi Campanario, and Understanding Perspective by Stephanie Bower.)

Sketch NOW Think Later is Mike’s first instruction book. Subtitled Jumping Right into Sketching with Limited Time, Tools, and Techniques, the book is based on principles of urban sketching that he introduced to his workshop participants at the Manchester Urban Sketchers symposium last year. I got a brief sneak peek at that workshop, which I covered as one of my duties as a symposium correspondent, but I wished I could have stayed for the whole thing to learn more. His new book is a much-expanded version of the pocket-sized booklet he gave out to his workshop participants (I was lucky enough to snag one).

It’s no wonder I’m a huge fan of his new book: Mike’s approach toward sketching on location aligns exactly with mine. A travel lover like I am, he would sketch all the time if he could, but he’s realistic enough to know that the weather, the needs of travel companions, or other constraints can keep him from taking as much time as he’d like on a sketch. Mike believes firmly that a sketch can be done – no matter how little time you have – as long as you keep your tools and methods simple and adjust your expectations to the conditions.

To help explain his principles, he has developed a unique quadrant graph to help sketchers evaluate their own energy level (and therefore ability to concentrate) balanced with how much time is available. Ideally, we’d all like to have plenty of time and energy to make all of our sketches, but if either is short, a good sketch can still be made – if you follow Mike’s approach.

Fully illustrated step-by-step instructions
Sketch NOW Think Later begins with an overview of his compact, portable sketch materials, tools and bag that all help him work as quickly and simply as possible. Unique to the book is his emphasis on his favorite fountain pen, and – surprise! It’s a Sailor with a fude nib – my favorite fountain pen, too! (Full disclosure: Mike’s the one who got me started on my epic search for my grail fountain pen that led back to the same kind of pen he loves.) One reason he favors the Sailor fude is that its ability to impart a wide range of line widths enables him to carry only one pen instead of several (which keeps his kit slim).

Also like me, Mike prefers to stand while he sketches because it gives him greater flexibility in finding a good angle. And since standing is not as comfy as sitting, he’s more likely to sketch faster and get the sketch done – something that motivates me, too. He does, however, occasionally take a seat – on the world’s tiniest stool! In his Manchester workshop, he demo’d how the stool fits in his back pocket. (If you thought my little Daiso stool is ridiculously tiny, you’d love the photo of him on his even tinier stool!)

Other chapters focus on line, color, composition, and other sketching elements, all with an emphasis on working efficiently to capture the moment with spontaneity and energy. For example, if time is short, don’t color the entire drawing, Mike suggests. Instead, choose the parts that caught your attention first, and color what you want your viewer to focus on. Or a symmetrical subject, like a building or a car, could be colored only on one side, since the opposite side is the same. Mike’s step-by-step instructions are fully illustrated with his precise yet whimsical diagrams.

Throughout, the text is beautifully illustrated with many full-color examples from this prolific artist’s sketchbooks.

Targeted toward beginning and busy sketchers who want to learn how to make the best use of their limited time, Sketch NOW Think Later also has practical ideas for more experienced sketchers. We can all use tips on how to streamline our sketch kits and optimize time so we can do more of what we love most – sketch NOW!





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Grail Tote

Rickshaw Zero on one shoulder; new musette on the other.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I’m a big fan of Rickshaw Bagworks of San Francisco. (I swear I have no affiliation with them, and I certainly receive no perks – I just love all their products.) Within my first year of sketching, I discovered Rickshaw’s Folio, which, at the time, met my needs perfectly. Back then I was still a little self-conscious about pulling out all my sketch gear at a coffee shop, but the Folio was an ideal discreet way to carry a sketchbook and a few pens. I looked like I was just writing in my journal, I figured, so no one would notice. (Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that I could pull out a full easel and oil paints, and all those people staring at their phones and laptops probably wouldn’t notice.)

Shortly thereafter I got my first Zero Messenger Bag – the very same purple one that has traveled with me to three continents. Last year I got a second one in an identical design but made with waterproof fabric for the wet season (here, that’s October through May). Rain, gray or shine, a Zero messenger has been my daily-carry bag for more than five years.

One of my Rickshaw vanity totes.
While those are all products I’ve gotten specifically to meet sketching needs, I’ve also gotten several non-sketch-related items: a larger Zero for road trips, a smaller one for air travel, a backpack, and tote bags purely for vanity (large and small).

And that brings me to the subject of totes. I sometimes carry one as a supplement to my Zero messenger bag, especially when I travel or go on sketch outings in town. Water, snacks, jacket, maps, stool, sunscreen – all the stuff I don’t carry day-to-day but that I might need when I’m out for a while go in a tote. I have been using a variety of inexpensive muslin giveaway totes, including ones I’ve received at each USk symposium. One problem with such totes is that as soon as I wash them (they tend to get dirty quickly on the street), they shrink to about half their original size. A second issue is that the handles on most totes (including the two Rickshaw vanity totes) are only long enough to slip over one shoulder, and I prefer to carry bags cross-body. Although I must have a couple dozen tote bags hanging in my closet, none is ideal.

One of several totes that shrank. 

Even my beloved Paraty
symposium tote shrank.
On a whim, I got a new tote that happened to be on sale a couple weeks ago as part of Rickshaw’s Fountain Pen Day promotion: a musette with “the pen is mightier than the sword” emblem. I saw that it had a strap long enough to be worn cross-body like my messenger bag, so I was optimistic. I tried it out Saturday at our extra-long outing for USk’s 10th anniversary, and I was pleased by how easy it was to haul around. A bag on each shoulder, both carried cross-body, distributed the weight more evenly. With a somewhat squarish shape rather than the traditional lengthy rectangle, the musette is proportioned perfectly for me. Bonus: It’s made of the same fabric as my purple Zero messenger, which machine-launders beautifully without any shrinkage or fading, so I know I can toss the musette into the washer when it gets dirty, too.

I wasn’t even looking for my grail tote bag, but I think I found it! 

It gets better: The musette can be custom printed with any design – like a sketch!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ten Years of Community

11/11/17 King Street Station's tower sketched over my
Global 24-Hour Sketchwalk badge
Urban sketching – the act of going out to sketch in my neighborhood or wherever I travel – tends to be a solo activity for me. It’s become such an integral part of my day-to-day life that, more often than not, I sketch whenever I’m out on an errand or commuting. It’s like writing in my diary – a reminder of my day with a sketch instead of words. But Urban Sketchers, the worldwide community, is about much more than that. Yesterday afternoon at King Street Station and online during the prior 20+ hours, I was once again reminded of what it means to me to be part of that community.

Ten years ago this month, Gabi Campanario tapped an icon on Flickr to create a new image group and started inviting sketchers around the globe to add their sketches to the group. That was how Urban Sketchers began – an online community. Very soon it evolved into local groups meeting in person to sketch together, and eventually sketchers began gathering annually in one place for an international symposium. But the heart and soul of Urban Sketchers has always been local groups and individuals sharing in person and online. The 24 hours of Nov. 11 were a visual representation of that worldwide heart and soul, and I was thrilled to be part of it.

11/11/17 One of King Street Station's globe lamps and Smith Tower.
Beginning in New Zealand and ending in Hawaii, local groups in each time zone began posting photos of their part of the Urban Sketchers Global 24-Hour Sketchwalk on Instagram. Volunteer social media organizers in each time zone uploaded those images to the global Urban Sketchers Instagram account, and anyone following the account or searching the event’s hashtag saw a continual stream of sketchers and their work throughout the day.

I started viewing Instagram on Friday around the time New Zealand began posting, and then Asia, and it really felt like I was attending a worldwide party! In fact, I was restless to get the party started in Seattle – but I’d have to wait until Saturday afternoon for that!

It was worth the wait. We all agreed that Seattle USk had a record-breaking turnout, including some new members and several members who hadn’t attended in quite a while but wanted to be part of this special event. With sketchers sitting quietly on the benches of King Street Station’s waiting area, looking down on the waiting area from the upper level, or braving the cold drizzle outdoors, it didn’t look like a party, but it felt like one in the best possible way: people with a common passion coming together to enjoy their favorite activity.
11/11/17 Passengers waiting for their train.

When I first joined Urban Sketchers in May 2012, I was a nervous introvert who had feelings of doubt and unease as I left the house for my first outing to Magnuson Park. The group I found there was so friendly and happy that I got over my doubts immediately. I had found my community, my tribe.

Happy 10th anniversary, Urban Sketchers! I’m honored and proud to be a member.


To see images from around the globe, search the hashtag #USkGlobal24hrSketchwalk. USk Seattle’s images can be found with the hashtag #uskseattle.

Initial meet-up: Blank sketchbook pages ready!

Thank you, Gabi, for clicking that Flickr icon!
I got a sore neck sketching the tower!

Halfway through the sketchwalk, we took a group photo to catch as many participants as possible.

Gabi
Suzanne

Sue in a precarious position.

Michele

April, our Instagram manager, finally gets to sit for a sketch!

Swagatika

Michele, Gabi, Tina and Kate

Final end-of-sketchwalk photo

11/11/17 Post-sketchwalk drink & draw at Elysian Fields brew pub

Ujjwal and her husband, Mel and Gabi

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Muppets, Monsters and More at MoPOP

11/10/17 Jim Henson's puppet from Beautiful Day
The last time I visited Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) nearly two years ago, it was still called EMP, and I was there on my own for the thoroughly enjoyable Hello Kitty exhibition. Yesterday the Friday USk sketchers got a special treat: MoPOP member Kate generously gave us complimentary guest passes so that we could visit as a group.

I opted to upgrade my ticket so that I could see the visiting exhibition about Jim Henson, Imagination Unlimited. Many of Henson’s most popular Muppet creations were on display, as well as other artifacts from lesser-known parts of his career. Of course, young kids had a ball seeing familiar characters, but here’s what made me gulp: Adults half my age were taking selfies with Sesame Street characters because they were nostalgic about growing up with the TV show. Once I got over feeling ancient about that, I settled down for several fun sketches.

My first was of a Muppet unfamiliar to me but who apparently claimed fame on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 when it ruined someone’s Beautiful Day. I enjoyed seeing and sketching the monster itself, but even more interesting was seeing Henson’s hand-drawn sketches from when he was developing the design. The exhibit included several such sketchbook pages and related handwritten notes that gave a glimpse into his creative mind.

 
Designs for Beautiful Day character
Early designs for Rowlf

Next I chose a pair of my personal favorites – Bert & Ernie. As I sketched, a nearby video loop played an old Sesame Street segment of the pair. Their exhibit was a particularly popular spot for selfies.


11/10/17 Bert & Ernie

Before I left the exhibit, I sketched a station where visitors could design their own Muppet by rearranging facial parts and hair and then view how their creation would look on a TV screen.

Selfie opp
11/10/17 Design a Muppet station

 I spent the most time in the Henson exhibit, but before the meetup, I had time for a quick run through a couple of other exhibits. One was Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds, which showed a number of set pieces, costumes and spaceship models. From the mezzanine above, I sketched one of the costume displays and snapped a photo of Kate sketching nearby.

11/10/17 Star Trek costumes
Kate sketching a Star Trek exhibit

11/10/17 Ever heard of this movie?
With only about 10 minutes left before the meetup, I dashed into Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film. Although I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time in this exhibit, as some of the monsters would have been fun to draw, especially the Alien from the 1979 film. But the problem was that this exhibit was necessarily dark and spooky, which made sketching nearly impossible. I found one exhibit of a monster from the 2001 movie Jeepers Creepers (I’d never heard of it) that was well-lighted enough to spend 5 minutes sketching. 

My last sketch of the day had nothing to do with MoPOP except vicinity. Waiting at the bus stop, I looked up at the Space Needle and remembered that I have been meaning to sketch its top, which is currently under renovation. The caged observation deck is being replaced with a slanted glass wall and glass floor so that tourists can get a bigger (and more expensive) thrill than they can now (yawn). 

11/10/17 The Space Needle is wearing a messy hat lately.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Reflecting on Water-Soluble Graphite

11/9/17 water-soluble graphite, Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper
Last spring when my colored pencil class made the transition from traditional colored pencils to water-soluble, I had some eye-opening revelations immediately. This week in my graphite class, we made a similar transition: Our lesson was in using water-soluble graphite. With the learnings still under my belt from watercolor pencils, I didn’t have quite as big a leap to make this time with graphite. Nonetheless, as soon as water is introduced as part of the mix, everything is more unpredictable, and when I make the paper wet, I have to think and act faster.

Like their colored counterparts, water-soluble graphite pencils become more intense as soon as water is applied, so it’s easier to achieve a rich, dark value. Also similar to watercolor pencils, water-soluble graphite can be erased while it’s dry, but when water is applied and then dried, the graphite becomes permanent. That means I can continue to apply more graphite over the dried layer beneath.

In working on this week’s homework assignment based on Suzanne’s photo, I confirmed the same thing I learned with watercolor pencils: The graphite can be applied much more quickly and with less care where I know water will be applied because most of the pencil strokes will not show in the final work. As I’d expect, the brushwork becomes more critical than the pencil strokes. I also realized that while water can melt away messy pencil strokes, it also takes away any intended texture, so if I want texture, I have to add it afterwards and leave it dry.

Reference photo by Suzanne Brooker
Although I’m not completely happy with the way this assignment turned out – I lost a lot of the mid-range values, and those lower trees are less defined than I had intended – I’m looking forward to adding water-soluble graphite to my sketch bag. I can tell already that it’s got a lot of potential for sketching on location – fast, rich and expressive. I like it! 

As you might guess, I didn’t have to buy anything new when Suzanne told us we would be needing a water-soluble pencil this week; I already owned several. In class I experimented with a Cretacolor, a Faber-Castell and a Caran d’Ache, but my hands-down favorite is a Viarco ArtGraf. I used both a 2B and 6B for this assignment, but I have to say that I don’t see much difference between the grades. I think the 6B alone provides a full range of values with soft, rich graphite, and a dab of water can make it come to life. You’ll be seeing more of this pencil when the gloomy grays take over this winter.
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