Wednesday, February 21, 2018

More Holiday Cheer

2/20/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a tree in the ‘hood decorated with one Christmas ornament. Just yesterday, only a few blocks away, I spotted another festive tree. Holiday decorations in February are getting a bit old, in my opinion. But on the other hand, it started snowing as I sketched this, and there’s a chance of more snow later this week too, so maybe we’re just getting started with winter.

P.S. Yes, I am happy to have color back in my bag!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

30-Minute Pears


I’ve been busier than usual lately with several volunteer projects with firm deadlines, and it’s been hard to squeeze in time for leisurely sketches. I usually spend an hour or so on a typical still life (a single fruit done with colored pencils), but the past couple of days I’ve given myself the challenge to make one in a half-hour or less and still feel like the sketch is finished. It’s not as satisfying to rush – I prefer the more meditative quality of taking my time – but on the other hand, it’s kind of exhilarating to move quickly the way it feels when sketching on location and the light is changing or the rain is about to start.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Sketch Kit Diet: Lighter, Slimmer, More Essential

Svelte and ready for action.

My minimal sketch kit challenge is done, and it taught me many things – not the least of which is that I appreciate a lighter bag, and I don’t need as many colors or tools as I always think I do. I intended the experiment to be temporary – I didn’t want to be colorless forever – but I also didn’t want to simply shove all the stuff I used to carry back into my bag.

I dumped every minimal item I’ve been carrying the past two months as well as every item I had taken out before the challenge and laid them all out on my desk. Some things were easy to eliminate because I didn’t miss them at all during the past two months – an extra waterbrush, two brush pens, a second Pitt tonal marker. Of course, some things, like the spray bottle and traditional brush for spreading sprayed water, are used only with water-soluble colored pencils, so without the latter, I had no use for them. With all of that in mind, I evaluated each pencil, pen and brush by asking it this question: Will you earn your keep – enough to make me want to carry you every day?

The items you see in the photo above made the final cut. All items that were in my minimal kit remained except the rainbow pencil. To that, I added:
  • A second fountain pen containing waterproof ink (the one with water-soluble ink in my minimal kit served me fine without color, but when I start using water-soluble colored pencils again, I’ll want one with waterproof ink, too)
  • A second waterbrush (the smaller size is handy for details)
  • The spray bottle (for my spritzing technique)
  • A traditional brush (for spreading sprayed water on the page)
  • 14 water-soluble colored pencils. Previously, I carried 25. I chose the 14 colors judiciously based on the current season (the pink one for plum and cherry blossoms is overly optimistic, I know, but I need something to hope for) here at home. When I travel this spring and summer, I’m sure I’ll need to change the palette for the locations. But here’s a bonus: I eliminated enough colored pencils that I now have space in my Tran Portfolio Pencil Case for several other implements (with slots to spare!). This compression enabled me to eliminate one of two Lihit Lab Slim Pen Cases I had been using to organize the other implements. The result is a less bulky bag.
  • Not shown: My usual signature of paper in place of the Stillman & Birn sketchbook.

It’s easily apparent that once I added color back in, the tools that support it (brushes, sprayer, waterproof ink) also had to be included. But I’m pleased to say that several items proved to be excess, and they didn’t make the cut.

With that strict diet, how much weight did my bag lose?

Bag before diet: just under 4 lbs. (1.78 kg)
Bag during minimal challenge: 3 lbs., 4 oz. (1.49 kg)
Bag after diet: 3 lbs., 11 oz. (1.67 kg)
Net weight loss: 4 ounces (0.11 kg)

Even with the addition of watercolor pencils, the tools needed to support them, and the two bag organizers (Tran Portfolio and Lihit Lab), my bag weighs only 7 ounces (0.18 kg) more than it did with my minimal kit. A significant factor is the sketchbook itself: A signature of paper (four folded sheets of 140-pound watercolor paper) is much lighter than the softcover Stillman & Birn. As much as I enjoyed using the S&B Nova, that difference in weight is a worthwhile tradeoff. I’m going to continue rolling my own (that’s the same conclusion I came to when I tried the S&B softcover a couple of years ago).

Here’s how everything looks in the newly arranged organizers:

Trim and tidy.

And here’s the pre-diet kit:

Too many cookies over the holidays.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Minimalism Challenge Completed!

My minimal sketch kit for the past 2 months.

The last page of my Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook has been filled, which means my self-inflicted minimal sketch kit challenge is over!

After years of daily-carrying a full palette of colors and a formidable arsenal of pens, pencils and markers, how did it feel to have only nine implements in my bag for the past two months?

Weight: The first thing I appreciated right away was how lightweight my bag became. As a former sufferer of shoulder issues, I try to be conscious of how much weight I carry in a messenger bag. I never thought my former daily-carry was harmfully heavy, but once I slimmed the bag down, I realized how much easier it is to carry less.  I’m going to be more mindful than ever about what I put back in; I’m motivated to keep the bag as slim as possible.

Color: I thought that going from my usual 25 colors to two (in a single blue/red bicolor pencil) would be an extreme case of withdrawal for my color-junkie system – but I found it easier than I expected. If it had been the middle of summer or while traveling, I probably would have found it intolerable, but I didn’t miss color much during the bleak gray of winter. Certain colors, however, I did miss almost immediately – especially the bright yellow I use often for traffic cones and heavy equipment.

This Spin bike should be bright orange, but all I had was red.
Even more significant, I became more conscious of how much color can be a part of an object’s identity. The best example I encountered during my challenge was Seattle’s multiple shared bike companies. In bright citrus colors, LimeBike (green), Spin (orange) and Ofo (yellow) bikes are littered all over the city, sometimes adding the only spots of color to an otherwise dreary landscape. I would stop to sketch one, delighted to see color – but there I was with nothing but blue and red!

It’s not that the specific color is a big deal – we all use artistic license in choosing colors now and then. But in the case of these shared bikes, their specific colors distinguish them from ordinary bikes owned by individuals. If I couldn’t color them accurately, I was missing a large part of the visual story I was telling. This was an important lesson to learn – one that hadn’t occurred to me in all the years I always had a full palette at my disposal.

Tone: The other part of my colorless strategy was using a tan sketchbook for the duration of my challenge. Although I had used toned paper before, it was only sporadically. This was the first time I tried it for a continual length of time. A toned page automatically makes it easier to focus on values – the page is already the mid-tone, so all I have to do is put in the shadows and highlights. Working for a concentrated time on toned paper was helpful in making me more aware of highlights (which I especially enjoyed when sketching people). I think it will help me stay more focused on values even when I switch back to white paper and a wider color palette.

Tools: Did I stick with the same nine implements for the full two months? In terms of function, yes – though I made a few changes to the specific tools:
A few tools that I swapped in.
  • A few weeks ago I was given a Hester & Cook Midtown pencil, which is a white grease pencil that can be sharpened in an ordinary pencil sharpener (instead of peeling a cord to expose more core, as is typical of most grease pencils). It’s more opaque than white colored pencils, and I like that I can get a relatively sharp point on it, so I swapped out the white colored pencil for it.

    2/15/18 We all need more rainbow-colored excavators
    in our lives, right?
  • The blue/red bicolor pencil was annoying – I missed yellow too much. (I probably could have cheated and added one yellow pencil, but I knew adding even one thing would be a step on the slippery slope, so I resisted.) Fairly late in the game, I swapped out the bicolor for a rainbow pencil containing a mixed core of red, yellow, green and blue. It’s not ideal as a lone coloring implement – if I want only one color, it’s difficult to hold the pencil at just the right angle – but what I lost in accuracy I made up for in fun.
  • The ArtGraf 6B water-soluble graphite pencil was still giving me reliable results, but I also had an ArtGraf water-soluble carbon pencil that I wanted to try, so at some point, I swapped out the graphite for the carbon. Although the carbon smears a bit more than the graphite, I am delighted by how dark it gets when a little water is applied (see below). It became the only pencil I used most of the time, and I probably could have eliminated the Blackwing I was also carrying. (When you carry only nine implements, every item gets scrutinized constantly about whether it is earning its keep. The Blackwing was nearly jettisoned several times.)

ArtGraf water-soluble pencil delivers strong darks.
The experiment is over; what’s next? I enjoyed the toned book so much that for a brief time I pondered continuing with my gray Nova. But people in other neighborhoods keep telling me they are seeing buds, crocuses and other early signs of spring (never mind that the temps have been in the 30s lately), so I’m going to be optimistic and save the gray book for another time (maybe I’ll switch to a toned book each winter as an annual exercise . . .?). I’m going back to my usual self-bound white paper signatures.

The more important change, though, will be my tools and colors. I’m not going to mindlessly put all the usual things back in. Now that I’ve learned how little I can get by with, I’ll be evaluating each item with scrutiny before it makes the cut. Stay tuned for the results.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Paley Exhibit Dazzles at Museum of Glass

2/16/18 Museum of Glass hot shop

Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is a beautiful (and challenging) building to sketch from the outside. The last time I tackled its shining hot shop cone was a couple of years ago with USk Tacoma. Yesterday was too cold and drizzly to sketch outdoors – a good day to stay inside the museum and the toasty hot shop.

I made one sketch of an artist working hot glass at the glory hole, but our real purpose in being at the museum was to see Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley. Several years ago we saw an exhibit of Paley’s stunning metal work, so I was already a fan. This show takes his abstract, sensuous, organic work to a new level, putting glass and steel together in surprising yet fully integrated ways.

Despite the difficulty of resisting the temptation to touch, I was pleased that none of the sculptures were in cases – viewing art is so much better without a barrier. (By comparison, all of Michael Taylor’s work in the same museum was displayed behind glass, and it felt remote.) But I didn’t dare try to sketch these twisting, twining expressions of texture and form – they were better enjoyed and appreciated without attempting to capture them.

Another part of the exhibit that I appreciated was the inclusion of several proposal drawings and sketches Paley produced. It’s fascinating to see his mind at work as he imagines a piece, transfers that vision to a 2-D image, and then transforms that into a 3-D form.

Below are some of my many favorite works in the exhibit.

Proposal drawings


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Striped and Soggy

2/15/18 Wedgwood neighborhood

Although it’s not unheard of, urban couches usually hibernate in winter. People move out of rentals at all times of the year, but “free” furniture doesn’t sell well when its all wet. Which explains why this striped one in the Wedgwood neighborhood has been in the same spot for at least three days – it’s getting soggier every minute. I’ve been wanting to sketch it since the first time I saw it, but to do so would require parking illegally across the street. Today I threw caution to the wind, parked dangerously close to a stop sign for a few minutes, and bagged another trophy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Market Buskers

2/13/18 Pike Place Market
With plans to meet friends for lunch, I arrived at the Pike Place Market a little early so I could sketch. As it has been the past few days, the morning started out bright and sunny but cold.

While the Market can be intolerably crowded on a warm summer day, it’s laid back and almost quiet in February. In one of the busiest spots, where the fishmongers entertain tourists by tossing salmon to each other, two white-bearded guys performed an eclectic mix of tunes from blues to the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When a band’s instruments include ukulele, kazoo and washtub bass, you know the music is going to be interesting! The red bird attached to the can attracts viewers’ attention to their busking funds.

It was getting close to the time I was meeting my friends, so I walked in the direction of The Pink Door. Nearby in Post Alley, a young man sang and played guitar to some tourists who dined outside a cafe, despite temperatures in the 30s. I sketched faster and faster before my fingers went numb while this musician shed his coat after a few songs. Some people are made of heartier material than I am, I guess. After two sketches, I was ready for the warm restaurant. 

Editorial comment: Readers of this blog know that one of my favorite sketch subjects is buskers. Wherever I travel and especially here at home in the summer, I seek out events where I’m likely to encounter musicians entertaining people on the street. To me, they add color, life and character to any urban space. Many people must agree with me, because they all snap photos of these buskers (stepping right in front of me to do so and blocking my view, I might add). And yet after they’ve taken a photo and enjoyed the music, most walk off and don’t contribute to the bucket. My personal policy is that if I sketch a busker, I always give them money afterwards. Even if I haven’t sketched them, if I’ve stopped to enjoy the music, I give them money. It’s a fair exchange either way.
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