Monday, September 26, 2016

Traces of Orange

9/24/16 colored pencils, ink
On my way out of the library, I stopped to look at the young cherry tree. This is the tree that replaced a huge, old cherry that had to be removed for some sewer work last year. I’ve been sketching the little tree through the seasons – with tight buds last February and in full blossom a month later. On Saturday afternoon, it was the first time I’d sketched it without braces supporting its spindly trunk. It was good to see it standing confidently on its own.

Still mostly green, its leaves are just beginning to show traces of orange at the edges.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sketch Strolls

9/13/16 brush pen, white gel pen
I keep a running list in OneNote (my digital notebook) of things or places I’d like to sketch someday. The ideas on the list can be fairly general – “Thornton Creek Park” – or very specific – “the large angel monument at Evergreen Washelli cemetery; sketch in the afternoon when the light is hitting the front.” If I’m running errands or attending a meeting in a certain neighborhood, I might check the list to see if there’s something nearby that I could stop and sketch. And when I know I have a chunk of time available, I’ll simply decide to visit a particular location and set out for it. I call this approach “destination sketching” – knowing before I arrive that I have a certain subject or location in mind.

In the summer months when I (hopefully) have many days of good weather, I usually do some form of destination sketching whenever I can. This past summer, however, I found myself more often taking a very different approach to sketching – taking casual sketch strolls in my own neighborhood. I simply grab my bag, walk out the door and keep walking until I find something to sketch. I don’t have a particularly interesting neighborhood, but something almost always catches my attention within 10 or 15 minutes of walking. I never know what I might find, but I enjoy the hunt without having a particular goal or destination. Hunt is not even the right term; I don’t aggressively search. I just remain engaged and open to what might be sketchable and see what appears. And if I come home with nothing sketched, that’s OK, too.
7/3/16 brush pen, white gel pen, colored pencil

At the risk of over-analyzing this, I’d probably say at least two things led to this different approach. One is that I had a busy summer of travel, so while I was home, I was tired of planning, organizing and having an itinerary. It felt good to sketch without a plan.

The other is the little Field Notes notebook that’s always in my bag along with my usual sketchbook. When I go out for a destination sketch, the destination or subject usually demands (at least in my own mind) a relatively large composition, a little color and enough of my time and attention that I feel compelled to use my full sketchbook. But with a Field Notes in my bag, I lower both my standards and my expectations. I don’t worry about color, context or story. I feel no pressure to share (although I usually do just because it’s fun).
8/21/16 brush pen, ink, colored pencils

If I take a walk and find nothing but a tire leaning up against a utility pole, it becomes an interesting tonal study on red paper. A toilet (!) abandoned on a sidewalk fits nicely on the Field Notes’ small page format. A couple of crows on a wire or a plastic flamingo? Ideal subjects for small vignettes. These casual sketches are not even a record of my day – indeed, they are nothing more than a record of a moment or two, as ephemeral as the paper they’re sketched on.

Maybe next summer I’ll go back to destination sketching; I certainly still have a long list of ideas at the ready. But sketch strolls have taught me that it’s just as much fun to skip the list and simply follow my notebook.
7/7/16 brush pen, gel pen
9/13/16 ink, gel pen
9/5/16 colored pencils, gel pen

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bergen Place

9/23/16 brush pen, ink, colored pencils
Named for the Norwegian city, Bergen Place is a small but colorful park in the center of Ballard. On Sundays, the park is lively with farmers market shoppers, but on this gusty, drizzly Friday morning, it was quiet except for the regular, startling outcries of a man in flip-flops making erratic hand gestures. (I think the park is his home; I’ve seen him on farmers market days, rummaging through trash cans, shouting at persons unseen by the rest of us.) Despite the questionable weather, four hardy sketchers showed up.

Attracted to the juxtaposition of real trees and art trees, I stood across the street to sketch the park until the drizzle turned to full-on rain. Then I retreated to Starbucks, where a front window gave me a slightly different view of the park, this time with some of the Scandinavian flags visible.
9/23/16 brush pen, colored pencils, ink

We decided to meet at the Ballard public library for our sketchbook throwdown. While I waited a few minutes for the others to show up, I stood near the library’s entrance to catch the sidewalk scene.

I hate to say it, but it feels like fall, and outdoor sketching season is probably over.

9/23/16 brush pen, colored pencils
Kathleen, Kate, Tina and Suzanne: hardy sketchers!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Noisy, Dusty and Gold Cadmium Yellow

9/21/16 inks, colored pencils

Back in May I made my first sketch at the Aegis Living retirement facility construction site behind Maple Leaf Park. After demolition, it was quiet for a while, but now activity is back at full speed. I could hear lots of noise and see clouds of dust, but I couldn’t see the heavy equipment behind the huge mounds of dirt. Fortunately for me, this excavator’s operator was taking a break.

According to a sign, the facility is not scheduled to open until 2018, so I’ve got plenty of action to sketch ahead! I’d better sharpen a few more Gold Cadmium Yellow pencils. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Start Now

9/17/16 colored pencils
Five years ago today, Sept. 21, 2011, I started sketching.

Twenty-eleven was a year of big changes. In May I had eye surgery that enabled me to see without correction for the first time since third grade. In November I cut my waist-length hair (I’d worn it long for decades) to the length it is now and simultaneously quit coloring – at last, liberation from the shackles of my tresses! But the biggest change of all was that my only sister died at the age of 65 – only one month after she had retired.

Nearly 13 years older than I, Linda was practically a second mom to me when I was growing up. She had always been supportive of my creative endeavors. Even when my childhood drawings mocked her, she laughed and seemed to appreciate my humor. In my 40s when I ventured into jewelry making, she always proudly wore my creations. Strangers who happened to compliment a necklace or bracelet inevitably got the full story about how I had made those pieces for her. She was my biggest fan. It makes me sad that she never saw my sketches.

I don’t know if her death in April directly affected my commitment to sketching and learning to draw later that same year. I do know, however, that after she died, I gave a lot of thought to not putting things off. “After retirement,” “after the home repairs are done,” “after the kids are grown and I have more time” – a lot of people put off things that are important to them until after. If it’s really important, then a good time to start is now.

(Once a year on my sketching anniversary, I write a retrospective post. You can read the previous years’ posts here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.)

Linda and me (circa 1959)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Miata

9/11/16 water-soluble colored pencils

Driving a convertible was always in my destiny. Even as young as a kindergartener, I saw my much-older brothers drive various European convertible roadsters, and I knew someday I’d have one of my own.

Fast-forward to 1996, when I was driving a boring but serviceable Mazda GLC sedan. Economical and easy to park, it got me to where I needed to go with no fuss (but also no fun). One morning I walked out to the front of our house where I always parked it, and it was gone. One of several ‘90s-era Japanese models that were known to be easy to steal, it had disappeared into the night.

Around that same time I had just changed jobs and industries – from local government to software. A little premature for a mid-life crisis (I was only in my late-30s), I had nonetheless decided that my stolen sedan was a wake-up call. It was time to get the car of my destiny!

Unlike the leaky, unreliable roadsters of my brothers’ era, Mazda’s relatively new convertible had a reputation for being both fun and reliable. In bright tomato red, a Miata was the car of my dreams. I drove one home on Sept. 20, 1996.

Twenty years later, I am still driving her. The paint’s a bit faded and dull, and she has more than a few dings and scratches. All year she’s economical, easy to park and gets me to where I need to go. But in the summer when her top comes down, the wind in my hair and the sun overhead, even routine errands feel like small adventures.

Happy 20th birthday, little red Miata! You’re still the car of my dreams.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sunny Queen Anne

9/18/16 inks, colored pencils
After Saturday night’s disappointing Otsukimi, it was wonderful to see the sunshine reappear for Urban Sketchers Seattle’s gathering in the Queen Anne neighborhood yesterday.

Since I’d stayed small in my compositions a few months ago when the Friday sketchers met on Queen Anne Hill, I decided to go tall this time. Bethany Presbyterian is one of few Gothic-style churches I know of in Seattle. Much of the church front is obstructed by several trees, but it didn’t matter, because the tall, pointy spire is the only part I like to sketch anyway.

Queen Anne Hill is known for its three huge power towers, and I’ve always wanted to sketch one. Of course, I forgot to bring my landscape sketchbook, so I had to settle for turning my usual sketchbook the long way. I managed to capture only about a third of the tower’s height.

9/18/16 ballpoint pen, colored pencils, ink

In the remaining 15 minutes before the sketchbook sharing (at our two-and-a-half-hour sketch outings, somehow I always seem to do two sketches and then end up with 15 minutes left), I grabbed my brush pen and looked down shady, tree-lined Queen Anne Avenue on a beautiful September morning.

9/18/16 brush pen, colored pencils

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