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Friday, May 29, 2020

Theme of the Week: Thumbnails!

I use thumbnails is several different ways.

Most often I use them to help me figure out exactly what I want to focus on in a scene. So often in urban sketching we are confronted with a busy urban scene and it can be hard to hone in on something specific. So I like to play around with different aspects of the location to determine what would make a good larger sketch as in this series of thumbnails I did while in Oaxaca Mexico. I did the smaller thumbnails first then the larger drawing of the church.

Another situation where I use thumbnails is to understand value in a scene. Often I see color before I see value. If I do a black and white thumbnail, especially if I use pencil or gray marker to fill in value, I can end up with a stronger sketch.

A third, and less common, way I use thumbnails is just to understand the layers of a scene – foreground, middle ground, background. Where do things in the scene fall? What is closer? What is farther away? This gives me a pathway as I set up a sketch or painting so I’m familiar with what goes where. I use this more in planting a larger painting.

Sometimes I use thumbnails to try out different color combinations.

The four situations above are ways to familiarize myself with the scene. They warm me up and help me find my bearings on the page.

The fifth way is thumbnails as minis, finished sketches, just small.

Try it out! It's easy, quick and low risk. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

We’re All Still Together

Maple Leaf water tower sketched from my car on my way home
from an errand.
By far, the best part about Urban Sketchers is that it brings together people who share a common passion. Those of us who attend outings regularly have come to rely on the ongoing infusion of camaraderie, creativity and fun. It’s been very hard the past 12 weeks since our last sketch outing.

Missing my tribe, I was thinking about how our founder Gabi first began what eventually became the global Urban Sketchers organization. Long before there were sketch outings, this blog or the international symposium, Gabi had noticed that people around the world were doing something he enjoyed doing himself: sketching their surroundings from life. He knew this because he had seen them posting sketches on Flickr, the image-sharing website. Initially, Gabi created the Urban Sketchers Flickr group so that sketchers could easily find and view the work of like-minded people. That’s how it all began – individuals sketching in their own parts of the world and sharing online. That’s why sharing online became an important part of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto.

It’s going to be a while yet before we can meet again. Until then, Kate, Jane and I encourage you to keep sketching your surroundings from life and share your sketches online. We waited all winter and spring for the best sketching weather that’s just ahead! Let’s not waste it. Take a walk, stop wherever you feel safe, and sketch whatever you see. Go out in your car and sketch through the windshield. Step out into your own backyard, or simply look out your window. Show us your part of the world. We’re all still together, even if it’s only virtually.

Share your work and participate by viewing the work of others:
  • On Facebook in the USk Seattle group
  • On Instagram by using the hashtag #uskseattle
  • On Flickr in the USk Seattle group

These thumbnails took less than 5 minutes each to make while on one of my daily walks through my neighborhood. Try it!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Weekly Theme

Are you looking for a source of drawing prompts? While we can't yet meet up for a sketch outing, we can still draw together. Gabi Campanario started Urban Sketchers on Flickr and there still is a global USk group there. Each Monday a weekly theme is posted. I've done this, on and off, since 2012. It is found in the discussions section of the group: 

Even if you aren't on Flickr, you can share your sketch of the weekly theme on our Instagram at #uskseattle or Facebook groups.  There's also no reason why you can't explore past weekly themes and post your sketches. 

Here is my very first weekly theme sketch, which was boats.  I hadn't done any drawing in about 40 years at that point! (Throw back to Stephanie Bower's challenge from USk Talks!)

This week's theme is "your nearest public transport stop ". I did a dashboard sketch (thank you, @steve_reddy for the term) from the safety of my car.  The parking lot behind the bus stop is for a gas station, coffee stand, and a food truck.  It was just a little too busy for me to want to sit outside to draw.  

Monday, May 25, 2020

Urban Sketchers are Alive and Well!

How do you arrange a meeting that can accommodate people from all over the world? You do your best. And that's how I "attended" the second ever Urban Sketcher's admin meeting at 6:00 AM on Sunday May 24 on Zoom. I did my best.

Once I got into the meeting, I could see there were a lot of folks online. I scrolled through the five screens of participants—that’s five screens with 20 participants each screen—and saw many I knew. There were sketchers from Brazil, Spain, Indonesia, Hong Kong, England, New York, Florida, and everywhere in between. It felt like a family reunion!

The goal was to share ideas and challenges and to inspire chapters to stay active during the pandemic. Several admins shared activities and ideas they have done in their groups.

USk Singapore, for example organized a “Circuit Sketch Break” for 28 days from April 7 through May 4. They posted 28 prompts for sketching from home, had sketchers submit their work and had a drawing for a prize at the end. They have since extended the submission deadline so people can continue to be inspired to sketch.

USk Dubai launched a “sketch at home campaign” with weekly prompts and submission instructions. They plan to publish the sketches in a journal. Here is a sample of their prompts:
Week one: Food
Week two: Through the window
Week three: My partner in lockdown

Several others shared what their group has been doing or not doing. They shared their successes and frustrations, asked questions of others and basically just hung out sopping in the vibe of being among so many active sketchers again.

At the end we had the traditional throw-down, or in this case a hold-up, where sketchers held their work up to their camera so we could see. Many had sketched the meeting; some just held up a sketch they had done recently. It was all quite fun and made me realize how much I miss the USk family.  

I have felt pretty sluggish about sketching during this lockdown period. The USk Talks have been fun. (Thank you Stephanie Bower, for your talk and challenge last month). And the USkTalk challenges have been interesting, although I’ve only done a few of them. But this meeting was like a good cup of coffee. Time to wake up! In Thurston County where I live we will be able to gather in groups up to 5 people beginning in June. Hopefully King County will be able to do the same pretty soon. Until then, I hope you are all safe. And keep sketching!

Hold-up of our zoom call sketches. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eight Years with My Tribe

5/20/12 Magnuson Park

When I set out to go to my very first Urban Sketchers outing exactly eight years ago today, I was kind of nervous. I had known about the Seattle group for several months, but as an introvert, I wasn’t very keen on the idea of doing anything with a group where I didn’t know anyone. I’m not a “joiner”; I’m more of a stay-at-home-doing-my-own-thing kind of person. But I also knew that sketching with others was a part of the Urban Sketchers manifesto. And I was also curious: Were there really lots of other people in Seattle who like to do the same thing I do?

Indeed, there were. The first sketcher I met at Magnuson Park that day was Kate Buike, who immediately welcomed me. Later that day I met Jane Wingfield (the three of us have been co-admins for USk Seattle for several years now). Eventually I met many other sketchers who have become friends, not just fellow sketchers. Seeing each other regularly and doing together what we all enjoy most, we have become more than a “group.” We are a tribe – people “with a common culture.”

During those eight years, it never occurred to me to stop participating in sketch outings. (I think the only ones I have ever missed were when I was out of town or indisposed.) It also never occurred to me that the outings themselves might someday stop.

6/16/12 Habitat for Humanity at Seattle Center
I’ve gotten used to a lot of things about living in the coronavirus age; after all, I’m naturally a stay-at-home person. What I miss most, though, is Seattle USk outings. I’m still sketching as much as ever. But I miss my friends, our camaraderie, and our shared passion for urban sketching.

Shown here are sketches from some of my favorite USk outings in 2012.

7/21/12 Tacoma Museum of Glass

8/19/12 Georgetown

9/2/12 Fish ladders, Ballard Locks

10/21/12 Columbia City

11/18/12 Seattle Art Museum

12/7/12 Gingerbread Village

Thursday, May 7, 2020

My World is Smaller, But the Joy Remains

4th Ave. NE and NE 85th St., Maple Leaf neighborhood, facing south

As I’m sure every other urban sketcher has found, sheltering at home is frustrating. Being outdoors for exercise and fresh air is approved of and even encouraged, so we’ve been walking daily around the neighborhood. That’s a pleasure in itself – we are discovering beautiful houses and gardens we otherwise never would have noticed – but I can’t stop for a sketch the way I easily could in my pre-pandemic life. The sidewalks are narrow in Maple Leaf, so if a pedestrian came by, I would need to step into the street to allow them space.

Facing east

Nonetheless, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I realized I could stand on a traffic circle to sketch and easily stay farther than 6 feet from any passing pedestrian, and I’m also safe from cars. I made these four sketches from the same traffic circle over the course of a month at about the same time of day.

Facing north

My world has gotten very small. Except for four sketches I made from my car, this intersection a few blocks from home is the farthest I’ve traveled for a sketch in two months. Staying close to home requires more work; it’s not as easy to find a composition that grabs me. On the other hand, when my expectations and standards are low, the shimmer of sunlight on a slender maple is enough to keep me happy. The joy of “showing the world, one drawing at a time” is the same, even when the world is a four-block radius.

Facing west

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Old Silo

Off SW 167 in Auburn, WA is an old barn and silo that I've wanted to sketch for a long time and never got around to it. It's at the exit for Emerald Downs racetrack. One of the most interesting buildings has already fallen down during the period that I've thought about stopping to sketch.

My car hasn't been driven much and the battery has suffered for it, so I took a long drive on the freeway to charge it up. I thought this could be a good day to get off at this spot to do a dashboard sketch of the silo from the car. There was no one around so I could have gotten out of the car to sketch but it was raining quite steadily.

I finally remembered to take a hero photo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Learning to see

11/2/11 Maple Leaf neighborhood

When I first started sketching, I spent a lot of time looking at the work of other sketchers online, and one thing struck me right away. While I was naturally dazzled by the sketches of glorious cathedrals, monuments and other world-famous structures, what caught my attention were all the equally marvelous sketches of ordinary residential scenes. How are these people able to sketch an alley or parking lot and make it look fresh and exciting? What magical power do they possess that makes this possible? As a brand-new sketcher, I knew it would be a long time before I learned that magic, but I was eager to begin.

The sketch at the top of this post is one of my earliest urban sketches; it’s dated Nov. 11, 2011. Still too self-conscious to sketch from the sidewalk, I took my baby steps by sketching out the windows of our house. It would still be several months before I had the nerve to show up at my first Urban Sketchers outing, but my spirit was willing: I was driven to show my world, one sketch at a time.

Nearly nine years and more than 7,000 sketches later, I have sketched on four continents. My subject matter has included a few world-famous scenes, and it has also included many, many mundane, ordinary scenes.

During those years, I’ve learned techniques and approaches from excellent teachers, many at Urban Sketchers symposiums, that helped me refine and shape the style I use today. As grateful as I am to all of them, none handed me the super power I kept thinking I would eventually find.

It turns out that there is no magic, at least in terms of techniques or tricks. Any sketch I have ever admired – whether it’s of the Eiffel Tower or a fire hydrant; the pyramids of Egypt or a utility pole – was made by a sketcher who had observed so closely and fully that I couldn’t help but see what they saw. That was the “magic.” And it turns out that all those teachers did try to give me the super power I was looking for: Every one of them told me that drawing was about seeing. But I didn’t always understand.

Below is a sketch I made a few days ago. I still have a lot to learn, but now I realize that the most important skill I have to learn is to see. In fact, I now understand that as a sketcher, I have only one job: To observe so closely and fully that I can make anything look interesting, even the mundane. And by observing that closely and fully, even those things I see every day become fresh again.

(This post was inspired by Stephanie Bower’s #USkThenAndNowChallenge to look back at our own old drawings, share them and reflect on what we’ve learned since then.)

4/25/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Stephanie's Challenge

During her wonderful appearance on the Instagram live USk Talks show with Rob Sketcherman, Stephanie Bower issued a challenge: "Post any early sketch paired with any recent sketch (doesn’t have to be the same location), and talk about what you’ve learned along the way. Any Ah-ha moments? Be sure to pat yourself on the back for all your hard (but fun) work!! So rewarding, isn’t it? Why do you sketch?"
(FYI, USk Talks is Sundays at 9am PDT live on the USk Instagram account, linked above)

I drew constantly as a child, teen and young adult. I stopped after college when I got my first good camera, which then became my medium. Thus it was over 35 years since I'd last drawn regularly.

I discovered Urban Sketchers in early 2012 after retiring in August 2011. I went out sketching a couple times before I attended my first outing on 26 February 2012.  I'd had some colored pencils from a class I'd just taken.

Very first sketch upon returning to drawing, 23 Feb 2012
Sketched during my first sketch outing at the Stinson Mansion, 26 Feb 2012

This isn't very recent but I considered it one of the better perspective sketches I'd done (though I can see some issues with it now).  It was done during the open sketch outing which was on the last day of Stephanie's "Good Bones" workshop.  When I put it down, a couple of the students asked how I learned to do that.  My response:  Stephanie's workshop 2 years ago! 

I think in my early training and practice I didn't do many perspective scenes.  I've learned so much from other Urban Sketchers... in workshops, online and in everyday sketch outings.  

I learned to take on a complex building like this bit by bit. I never would have attempted this in 2012.  I started with a big shape and built it out from there, so to speak!  

For another comparison, here's a sketch of my local water tower, done for the USk Flickr group weekly theme. 8 March 2012  By then I had a set of Koi watercolors (which I later ditched as quite unsatisfactory).

That theme came around again in 2017

I've belonged to only 2 or 3 groups in my life where I've felt I'm among "my people". So much about Urban Sketchers is wonderful. It's welcoming, accepting, encouraging, nonjudgmental and willingness to share attitudes are its good characteristics.

Urban Sketching has made my life better. I've met wonderful people.  It's provided so much enjoyment in my retirement. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

inside views

Some little vignettes from inside my little apartment. It's a 257 sq ft loft studio in a new building that feels really lovingly designed, unlike many microstudios I looked at in Seattle. I really adore the layout; it's perfect for one single person who (normally) works in a coworking area (keeping many belongings there as well). I moved here after breaking up with my longtime partner last fall, so honestly it has been a struggle to feel comfortable here sometimes. The lockdown has forced me to confront a lot of those feelings and also invest more of myself in the space.

The ceilings are about 20' tall with an enormous window, which really cuts down on the claustrophobia the space might otherwise induce. my bed is upstairs, so there's a clear separation between my living/working area and sleeping area. And no temptation to roll into bed once I'm up. In fact, the lower floor feels like a little office with its desk, microwave, mini fridge, bathroom, and sink. There are three full kitchens in the building but lately I've been using my hot pot & rice cooker to make almost all my meals, so I don't have to worry so much about sanitizing shared areas. I built a folding desk and shelves for this little nook. This is where I sit and spend most of my days (folding desk is down in this sketch):

One night I stood up on my loft and drew the view below: my two seater sofa, the shade pulled down over the window, plants and shelves attached to the wall. The drawing might not make any sense to you with its weird perspective, I just kind of went for it:

I kind of really miss drawing inside other spaces! Even though the weather is insanely nice now and perfect for outdoors socially distant sketching, I miss being indoors with other people and drawing corners of rooms and strangers' faces.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


It's been a beautiful day, sunny and 60 degrees f. (15 c).  I've been meaning to sketch my out of control forsythia so I thought today would be good as it was warm and the bright yellow blossoms won't last much longer.  In front of it is a pot of Oregon grape with it's reddish leaves.

That forsythia reaches nearly to the second story of the house and it has damaged the screens on the window.  I'd meant to have a professional hack it back this year before it bloomed but they're not coming out to work in private homes.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Down Low

In the mid-century house where I grew up, some door knobs were made of faceted glass. I was intrigued when I stared into these “diamond” door knobs, and sometimes I would invite playmates to come see our “diamond room.” I would blindfold them until they reached a glass knob, position their eyes near the knob, then reveal the diamonds. I’m not sure why they were never as impressed as I thought they should be.

Recently Rob Sketcherman and Liz Steel put out a sketching challenge to “get down low” inside one’s home for a new perspective. I’d planned to sketch the light fixture in the center of our livingroom ceiling, but I wanted something else to put in the composition. I walked all around, trying to find a way to fit something else in. In the early-century house where I live now, we have a few original glass knobs, but they’re not quite as ornate and diamond-y as the ones in my childhood home. The mullioned French doors between the livingroom and Greg’s study have such knobs, and if I sat on the floor up against the doors, I could see the light fixture through it.

It was not the most comfortable sketch I’ve ever made, but I’m thankful for the challenge, because otherwise it never would have occurred to me to look for a composition from that perspective.

Stay home, stay safe, and keep sketching, everyone!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Hours

3/23/20 Maple Leaf Ace Hardware Store

I have a hunch that a full lockdown is close (voluntary social distancing wasn’t working, and even the current severe restrictions might not be enough), so I went out in my car looking for a way to document these crazy times before I lose that freedom. First I drove past my neighborhood Maple Leaf Park for any signs of closure, which the city had begun the day before, but I didn’t see anything from the street. Although a few people still walked around the park’s periphery, the playground was empty (last week we were dismayed to see it full of kids playing together while their parents chatted, just like normal).

A couple blocks north of the park, I passed the Maple Leaf Ace Hardware store (which I sketched from a better angle a few months ago). Its readerboard posted reduced “Corona Hours.” Staying in my parked car across the street, I wasn’t especially pleased with the composition, but tough times call for tough measures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

pre-social distance

I keep flipping through my sketchbook of the last couple weeks, feeling nostalgia for my carefree, out&about pre-coronavirus lifestyle. it's going to be an important document for my future self, and my present self to record this moment. This sketch of the arch was the final time I went out, to Fort St George in the I.D, which had a nice view of Hing Hay Park and a miserable cold & rainy day with very little foot traffic.

a couple weeks ago, I was drawing at the Athenian's happy hour with friends to celebrate the purchase of T's new live-aboard sailboat. it was just the beginning of the gradual shut down and social distancing. I remember we went to a live punk music thing at another bar later that night and the band had cancelled because of the virus... "that's not very punk of them" we thought.

By the way, the gray ink in these sketches is Diamine Earl Gray, which does lovely things when water is applied over top of it – it softens & separates into pink & blue splotches at random.

An uneasy composition at the Square Knot in Georgetown, one of my favorite breakfast spots. Things were still fairly normal back then. A week and a half later, I drove past this place and it's totally shut down, like 90% of all the other restaurants in the city.

I feel certain that soon even leisurely walks are going to be restricted, so I'm trying my best to enjoy them while I can, especially when the weather is so nice. I met a fellow freelancer friend yesterday in the neighborhood between our home bases because we were both getting extremely restless working from home. We spent some time sketching in the grass 6 feet apart, naturally. 
The person who runs (?) and lives next to the Konko church came out with her tiny son and looked at our drawings. She was really touched that we "found the building interesting" and that interaction was one of the highlights of my day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Out Again

3/16/20 Mt. Rainier from 5th Ave. NE overpass

Toward the end of my daily walk around the neighborhood, which has become my regular sanity saver, I took the route across the Fifth Avenue Northeast I-5 overpass. I was counting on The Mountain being out, and it was – a glorious, life-affirming sign that someday all will be well again.

I thought about the similar sketch I had made just about a month earlier from the same spot. At that time, I complained to myself about how the traffic was noisy and unpleasant.

We were so innocent then.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

All Alone, Together

Urban Sketchers Milan promoted an event for yesterday.   I think it would be a good idea to continue to sketch our view from home and use the hashtag.

Both USk Seattle and USk Tacoma have cancelled all sketch outing through the end of April.  Due to my and husband's risk factors, I've decided I won't be attending any of the demos at Daniel Smith.  All of this makes me sad and I miss my friends.

The bright spot is that I can still make as much art as I want.  I can go out on my own, maintaining social distance or just sketch from inside my car.  I can stay somewhat connected with other artists via all of the USk social media platforms.

What I see out my windows is not all that interesting to me.  I live in a modern suburb of homes that look very much alike.  A couple Urban Sketchers have shared sketches of similar views and made them look interesting and artful.  That's the challenge I may take up soon.  For now, though, I sketched the view out my patio.