Friday, February 27, 2015

Skagit Valley Landscape

Recently I went birding in the Skagit Valley, and snapped a few landscape photos, including this one of an old barn:

Part of my 2015 "Year of Art" goal is to expand my subject matter, which has been predominantly birds for many years.  I rarely try landscape or buildings, and decided to give this a go.  The first thing I did was crop it down a bit on the right  hand side and bottom, and then I sketched it onto a sheet of 9x12" Arches 140-lb cold press watercolor paper.

Skies are hard, especially with clouds -- it involves doing washes, which I've never been good at no matter how much I practice.  You wet the paper, apply the blue with a flat wide brush, and then as it dries, you lift out the clouds with a paper towel.

I didn't get the same shade of blue, nor is it a dark as in the photo, and the clouds are more scattered, but overall I was fine with this sky -- I figured it was better to keep going than waste a nice sheet of paper and start over.  In any painting, one always gets to experiment with artistic license, after all.

Next, the foreground:

I made it a bit brighter overall, and the grass on the right more interesting.  And now for the buildings:

Here's where I really cut loose with my artistic license -- the original barn was white, but hey, a red barn is so much better!  I didn't want all three buildings to be in the same white/brown color range, and of course, red barns are iconic.  I was very happy with this choice.

Finally, I used a very small brush to draw in the trees, and here is the final painting:

I enjoyed this very much and am looking forward to trying more landscapes.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Urban Sketchers Outing

Today was the February outing for the Seattle Urban Sketchers, and they met at 11am at the Starbucks Roastery on Capitol Hill.  This is a huge building full of coffee roasting equipment and an enormous retail space, and boy howdy, was it packed.  I found several of the folks I'd met last month, including the group's co-leader, and settled in to await the opening introductions and announcements.  Well, it got increasingly more crowded (and those who know me well know how much I dislike crowds), and then more and more sketchers arrived, and by 11am there must have been at least 40 of them.

In January there'd been only 12 sketchers, and intros were easy, but this was madness.  We couldn't hear anyone over the noise of the coffee house.  The co-leader gave up midway through the intros, and just said to disperse, sketch, and return at 1:30 to share.

I immediately escaped to the outside, where I found a restaurant sign that I liked a lot:

Then I wandered farther afield, and found a dog park with benches outside it, where I ate my lunch.  The view on the other side of the dog park (which itself was nothing to write home about) was of several apartment buildings and a tattoo parlor that had intriguing angles, with a nicely positioned tree in front.

I rather suspect a big attraction of both views was the absence of people.

It was nowhere near as warm as predicted, and I noticed my hands were turning unfamiliar colors.  When I checked my watch, it was only 12:30 -- a whole more hour until the meet-up!  I didn't want to go back inside (too crowded), it was too cold to keep sketching outside, and I'd taken the bus, which made for a long trip home.  There was a bus stop right down the street -- so I bailed on the post-sketching get-together and left.  My feeling was that it would be too packed anyway. [UPDATE: the blog report from the co-leader reported 40 attendees, and it was too crowded inside Starbucks to share sketches so they lined them up outside against the building. See:]

This was quite a contrast to the January outing, which was small and pleasant (and warmer!).  And of course, as you can tell from these blog posts, one doesn't need a group to go urban sketching -- I've been doing it on my own in all sorts of places.  And I'm enjoying it a lot.  So I shall keep doing it, and also see where the March outing will be, and if it doesn't sound so overwhelmingly populated, I'll give it another try.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

In Which Truman Is Supremely Bored

Another mild, sunny February day in Seattle -- so of course I went outside to sketch.  Lately I've been trying to sketch on my lunch hours at the UW, but it's not really enough time to find something to draw, find a good place from which to draw it (my goodness, the campus is full of other people who keep insisting on sitting on the benches that have the perfect view), and then draw and color it in, AND return to the office on time.

I've already sketched a lot of the good stuff that's quite close to my building, but I work on the most visually boring end of the campus, and it's a long walk to the fun stuff.  So this afternoon (FREE PARKING after noon on Saturdays and all day Sundays!) I tootled on up to the UW with Truman in tow so I could sketch as long as I liked.

There was a lovely view of the older buildings from a grassy lawn known as Rainier Vista.  I got out my handy camp stool and set to work.  Truman decided this was DULL.  He fussed.  He fussed when I put him in his stroller, and he fussed when I took him out of this stroller.  He fussed when I tried to take him for a walk, and he fussed when I tried to get him to snooze on a blanket.  Urban sketching, in the mind of wiener dog, is the most uninteresting activity that humans ever invented.  Only when I moved a few feet over and he located something gross and smelly that he wanted to roll in, was he happy.

And then a breeze picked up, and I couldn't keep the paper to stay put, and then tourists with small children came over and tried to pet Truman, which made him even grumpier, and then a woman walked by with two Corgis and you'd have thought they were Great Danes, the way he barked at them.  I mean, come on -- Corgis!

So I gave up, though I did get one sketch finished!  This is ink with watercolor:

And this is Truman, expressing his profound ennui:

Ah, well.  He's now happily sitting on top of the sofa, his favorite place in all the world, bored no more.  I, on the other hand, kind of wish I were still out there sketching stuff!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Today's sketch

Another warm, sunny, beautiful day in Seattle -- so warm that when I went out to sketch this afternoon, I didn't even need a jacket.

I'd already spent my lunch hour indoors at a restaurant with a coworker, and was only able to get away later in the afternoon for half an hour.  I went to the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club and found a seat in the sunshine by the back side of the building, where a few colorful kayaks were stored.

Instead of watercolor, I used water-soluble colored pencils, and then used a waterbrush to make it look like watercolor.  This technique was a lot easier to do quickly, as I didn't have to mix each color.  It was a good solution for having limited time to work.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Art. Birds. Nature. Maybe a Dachshund photo now and then.

That's the description of my blog, and because I have no sketches to share from the weekend (I sketched both days -- I'm just not willing to share the results -- "bleh" would be a good word for them), today I give you Birds, Nature, and a Dachshund photo.

Birds:  This is a hummingbird that's been coming to my feeder, and which I've been stalking for some time.

And this is a Marsh Wren that posed ever so nicely for me yesterday at the Montlake Fill.

Nature:  here is Mt. Rainier as seen from Magnuson Park.

And here is a lovely view of the southeast pond at the Montlake Fill.

Dachshund:  here is Truman at Golden Gardens Park, with Bonus Dachshund Winston.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Garden sketch

This is from yesterday, when I went over to my neighbors' home to draw part of their lovely back yard, which has a patio, small lawn, a few trees, a stand of bamboo, lots of shrubs, several paths, a small pond, and this rock garden with wooden bridge:

Today I did some sketching at Meadowbrook Pond Park but was not happy with how things turned out -- the first sketch was okay, but kind of boring.  The second one I tried was far too ambitious with way too many elements.  I'm planning to return tomorrow to try again -- stay tuned.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Of birds and buildings

Working at a university should be great for Urban Sketching practice -- lots of buildings from different eras, plenty of gathering spots for those pesky people, and acres of varied landscapes.

So what caught my eye when I wandered out at lunch time earlier this week? You guessed it:  birds.

These Canada Geese were hanging out on a grassy lawn called Rainier Vista, resting, feeding, preening -- how could I resist?  Well, I couldn't:

I did try to find non-birdy things to sketch, such as buildings -- but it turns out that I find buildings boring to draw.  I've tried several times of late, and about halfway through, my interest fizzles out, as you can see from this sketch of a building behind the one I work in.  The viewpoint is from the glassed-in stairway of my building, looking down.

It's really quite a lovely building, but by the time I got to the right-hand side, I was so tired of it that I just scribbled that part in and wandered back outside in search of more interesting material.  Guess what I found?

Maybe some more birds....

These Mallards were snoozing on the edge of Drumheller Fountain.  They were clearly asking to be sketched by being so nice and quiet and motionless.

Guess I wasn't very much of an "urban" sketcher this time.  Although the birds were in an urban environment, which surely counts for something, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sketching at Magnuson Park

I took a day off work today, and luckily it was not raining or windy or too cold to go out sketching, although it was overcast the whole time and never got quite warm enough for an extended outing.

Truman and I headed to Magnuson Park, where I had big plans for sketching all through it, from one end to the other -- but after two hours, I'd only made it a very short way, from the southernmost end by the boat launch to Kite Hill.

I could easily have spent several more hours there if it had been just a little warmer and a lot sunnier.  Still, I got some fun sketching in.

Here is the southern end showing the sculpture "Straight Shot" (by Perri Lynch), which features six-foot-high limestone columns with holes bored in them that line up.

Next, I wandered a short ways down a path to a stand of birch trees with one dying madrone, and sketched that:

Not far away stood a few piles of boulders, so I stopped again to sketch one pile:

Truman was bored by now, so we went back to the car and drove to the Kite Hill parking lot for a quick food and water break.  Then we tootled over to the art installation called "The Fin Project: From Swords to Plowshares" (by John T. Young), which is composed of submarine fins made to resemble a pod of whales.

There is so much more to sketch at the park -- I'll certainly be back!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Heron Day

The sun came out today after a long time of gray rainy skies, so Truman and I headed out to the Montlake Fill  (AKA Union Bay Natural Area) for a little walking, a little birdwatching, and a little sketching.  Great Blue Herons kept turning up, posing nice and close.  We saw them at the slough, and again at the swamp, and even later on a different outing to Golden Gardens Park, we had another one, and I got fabulous photos of them.

The heron in the last photo stood around for such a long time that I took out my sketch pad and did a few pencil sketches while the bird turned and twisted its head around.  Quite a cooperative bird.

I also did a pen and watercolor sketch of the slough:

Such a lovely day.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In which I sketch people who are not sitting down!

This morning I went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, sketch supplies in hand.  I got there shortly after the Honey Bear Bakery opened, and got a great seat from which to watch the folks coming up to admire the pastries, order, and pick up their food.

However, after half an hour, the place got really crowded, the line was 10-15 people long, and so I went into the bookstore proper in search of new material.  I found a comfy chair, and considered sketching the bookshelves, but the sound of coughing drove me away.  It's winter cold season -- everybody in Seattle has a cough (including me!).  Not one, not two -- three people nearby were coughing away, so I hightailed it on out of there

In the lower part of Lake Forest Town Center I found a bench facing a stand of gumball machines.  Okay, so I couldn't get more people-drawing practice in, but those machines were ever so cool, and I just had to sketch them.  Two children turned up to study the gumballs, though they ran off too quickly to make it into the drawing.

At this point I glanced at the time, and was startled to discover I'd spent nearly two hours there!  Well, not all of that was spent sketching -- I read a newspaper and worked the crossword -- but I was still amazed at how fast time flew by while focused on drawing.  I'm eager to find new places where I can keep trying this out.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

You couldn't do this with watercolor

This week I worked on an acrylic painting of a Barn Swallow.  Here is the photo I took last summer that I used as a reference:

It's a lovely photo, and probably would make a lovely painting if I could depict foliage with anything approaching competence.  Somehow, no matter how I mixed up the paints, every green came out too dark, and I utterly failed to achieve the dark-light contrasts that make the bird and foreground foliage stand out.  And so I wound up spending two days creating a complete mess:

Too dark, no distinction between background and foreground, unrealistic foliage, sloppy -- well, I could go on, but you get the idea.  The one thing I did like was the bird!

I decided the painting was worth salvaging for the bird.  But how?  I popped the photo of the painting into Photoshop and played around with the foliage, and just made it worse.  Then I had a lightbulb moment -- you don't often see swallows like this, against dense grass.  They are more commonly seen perched on tree branches in open areas, or on telephone wires.  What if I just painted out the background entirely and replaced it with nothing but sky?

That is exactly what I did, and while it may be a whole lot plainer, at least it's not quite so messy!

As the post title says, I am very glad I didn't paint this with watercolor.    Whew.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Surreptitious Sketching

I enjoyed my outing with the Seattle Urban Sketchers last month and want to go again, though I couldn't help noticing that there are usually lots of people hanging out in the areas where they tend to sketch, and that Urban Sketchers like to put people in their drawings.  While I've had plenty of figure and portrait drawing classes, they were ages ago, and my subjects have been birds and nature for a long, long time.

So I decided to freshen up my stale people-sketching skills this week by taking my To Go sketch kit to a spot near where I work -- a large building full of lounge areas where students tend to meet or study.  The Urban Sketchers suggest sketching people in public as unobtrusively as possible, so I searched for some stealth sketching opportunities.  The first group of likely students I found got up and left as soon as I sat down nearby.  Rats.  Next, I found a guy sleeping -- perfect subject, no worries about being detected!

But then I realized that this wasn't great practice, as most of the people I'd wind up sketching during our meet-ups would not be sleeping.  So I tried again to find a quiet spot where no one would notice what I was doing, with subjects not too far away.  This can be difficult!

I found these two people in a small eating/studying spot -- and everything went well at first....

...and then I made a tactical error by deploying my watercolors in order to capture the woman's big purse.  I wound up sticking my thumb in the red paint and couldn't get it off easily.  Not exactly incognito anymore, I gave up for the day.

Today I went back to the lounge in search of more victims, and had much better luck.  I snagged a comfy chair in an open area with no one near me to see what I was doing, but with people across the way who stayed put long enough for quick sketches.  And I steered clear of the watercolors.

I made notes in pencil on the colors, in case I wanted to add watercolor later.

Next I need to practice on people who aren't sitting.  There's a cafeteria at my work place with an espresso stand, so next week I hope to find a good spot from which to sketch the people standing in line there.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What Not To Do

Here is what not to do (or "what I learned while trying to paint a pair of wigeons in watercolor this weekend"):

1.  Pay attention to what paper you picked out -- I just grabbed a sheet from my pile of watercolor papers, assuming that it was, like 95% of them, cold-pressed.  It was not.  It was rough-pressed.  Which I realized about halfway through the painting.  This messed up the log, especially in the shadows.

2.  Don't work from bad photos!  The photo I took of the wigeons had a great pose, but poor lighting, as it was overexposed.  I tried to compensate for this by looking at other, non-overexposed photos, but could still not get the colors/shadows right.

3.  Less is more -- don't overwork it.

It does have its good points -- overall, I like how the heads turned out.

I'm now thinking that watercolor may work best (at least for me) in field/urban sketching, while acrylics may work better for more finished paintings done in my studio.  We shall see -- the Year of Art is a work-in-progress!