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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Meet the correspondent: Alex Hollmann

A friend told me about Urban Sketchers about ten years ago and I immediately thought, "That's sounds like what I am doing" and started following and posting on my flickr site (, but only recently joined the Seattle Urban Sketchers Facebook group, which has led to contacts with other urban sketchers. I was delighted to be invited to become a correspondent.

There is so much that I like about urban sketching, but the main thing is going out into the world and losing myself in something bigger by standing or sitting quietly and observing and being drawn deeper into what is in front of me. Looking at and registering details and getting at the larger structure, whether of a person, building, or landscape, absorbing atmosphere and mood, and thinking about the past and present behind that person or object is a wonderful act of meditation.

I was born and brought up in South Africa and was always drawing as a child. Drawing was a way to create a world around me with things I wanted. One of my earliest creations was a version of Disneyland, based on photographs from an old National Geographic, on sheets of paper glued (to my mother's horror) to the walls. Later on I drew steam locomotives, private trains, research vessels, and planes fitted out with chemical laboratories and divans and armchairs upholstered in red leather and velvet, ready to take me anywhere in the world for the sake of science. (I loved 19th c. illustrations and Jules Verne.) As a teenager I drew less and dropped the science and became obsessed with black-and-white photography and printing my own photographs. I took pictures of people on buses and trains, and portraits when I could get a willing subject. I learned a lot about composition and light and shade, and when in my mid-twenties I began to draw again and started painting in watercolour while in graduate school in the U.S, I think that experience with photography helped me a lot.

Ever since then I have drawn more and more, at first mainly while travelling, but now almost every day. In the last year getting a bike and having more unstructured time due to the Covid pandemic has led to an interest in the waterfront of Seattle and an explosion of drawings of water and boats—the older the better. Below are two of my sketches from this month, both drawn at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Google mail group

 Normally we don't include business items here on the blog but this problem warrants a mention.

Our apologies for those who have tried to join the Urban Sketchers Seattle Google Group recently. See box in right margin. We, the Admins, have just realized the function seems to be broken.  You may email usk.seattle at (making the change to an "@" sign) to request one of us add you directly from our end.  

This Google mail group is how we communicate with our members.  Members may also initiate messages.  Despite the "join" function being broken, the email group still works. 

--Kate Buike

Jane Wingfield

Tina Koyama

Image inserted for interest:  it's not a computer, it's a microfilm reader, but you get the idea. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Holiday Queue

12/7/20 Northgate Post Office

Other than the readerboard at Ace Hardware promoting “Corona Hours” back in March, I haven’t really sketched much that shows what the pandemic looks like – chiefly because I avoid all places and circumstances that might enable me to sketch masked people. I’ve wanted to – partly because I miss sketching people so much, but more because documenting current events is something urban sketching can do well. I won’t risk my own safety, though, for a sketch.

A few days ago when I was dropping off a pre-paid package at the drive-up mail box, I found an opportunity to sketch safely from my car. With two weeks until Christmas, the postal service is overwhelmed more than ever. While long lines at the post office before the holidays are normal, this year they are snaking out the door and around the parking lot so that everyone can stand safely distanced.

This sketch was a huge compositional challenge. As I often am, if I were mainly interested in sketching the gestures of the people in line, I would have drawn them larger, especially to include the important detail of masks. But if I drew the individuals larger, I would have been able to fit only two or three on the page to indicate the appropriate distance between them – another important part of this story. (I’ve seen some sketches of queues or crowds, and the sketchers will note that the people were actually more socially distanced than was being shown in the sketch; they, too, were challenged by this dilemma.) Since my story was about the long line at the P.O., I chose to show more people and make them smaller, but some of the masks got lost.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

three old houses

 Inspired by Suhita's endeavor to sketch hyper-local, I found this view in my neighborhood I had never noticed before. In our recent flush of sunny days, I did a few sketch sessions at this corner and drew these old houses, exaggerating the steepness of the hill to give more space to the skyline and Puget Sound.

Recently, I've taken to carrying a bag of peanuts around with me on walks to feed to crows. This sketching spot happened to be right in the territory of a pair of western scrub-jays, who would dart out as soon as I tossed a peanut to grab it off the sidewalk and go bury it in the neighbor's yard. Bird feeding and sketchwalking go hand in hand, though it definitely makes me a lot slower at drawing.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Early Riser

Across the street in Maple Leaf

Inspired by others who have been sketching at night, I wanted to give it a try. I’m more of a morning person, though, so I’ve been looking out the front windows of our house before the sun comes up.

When I first open the shades in the dark livingroom around 6 a.m., it seems like there’s not much to see across the street. But once my pupils have finished dilating, I am surprised by how much light there is.

Of course, now all our neighbors are putting holiday lights up, which are even more fun to sketch.

By 7 a.m., the southern sky (the direction our house faces) starts to get a bit coral-pinkish around the edges. I had been up for a while, anticipating the sky’s color on this rare clear morning, but I was waiting for my husband to get up so that I could open the blinds on our bedroom’s French doors, which offer the best view of The Mountain. When he was finally out of bed, Her Majesty’s silhouette was clearly visible (less so in summer when the trees are leafed out). As wispy clouds the same dark blue as Rainier floated by, I sketched like a madwoman trying to capture the sky’s hues before they disappeared.

Less than an hour later, the clouds had turned white, and Rainier had disappeared behind her shroud of mist as she so often does after the sun comes up.

The only thing to look forward to about these long nights (still growing longer for a few more weeks) is that I’ll have more opportunities to sketch in the dark.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Double Double-takes


I found two oddball subjects to sketch today. After a rainy and blustery night and morning, it cleared for the afternoon. It's perfect sketching-from-the-car weather.

My first subject was going to be a new sculpture in central Renton. However, there is still so much street construction that I couldn't get a good place to park for a view of it.

As I drove back out of the central part of town, I spotted this odd little vehicle. I turned right back around to park to sketch it. The label on the back said . And there was a symbol on a round door at the back that indicated it was electric.

When I went to the website, it resolved to a different URL which is a mobility scooter company. This little guy is called a "mini-car mobility scooter".

Next I drove to a neighborhood near my home where, while on my way to an earlier errand, I did a double take on this little tree. It's a highly pruned stubby little tree or bush that's desperately trying to lend some holiday cheer with these large bulbs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Glowing FFT


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Space Shuttle". The Museum of Flight's Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer has a glowing red nose. When I read about it on their social media, I just had to scoot right over to see and sketch it.

They wrote, "Santa's asked us for a little help delivering presents this year, so like magic, our Space Shuttle Trainer became
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Shuttle
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows!”
You can spot his shiny red nose through the window of our Space Gallery from 4PM-7AM daiy!"

I parked across the street to sketch from the car.  I started to rain hard enough that it was difficult to see in the growing darkness. 

Due to new WA state coronavirus restrictions, the Museum is again closed to the public.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Another loss

My destination yesterday was a location close to the Museum of Flight. The Boeing and Museum communities have suffered a loss. Long the only nearby eatery  Randy's will close for good on November 15. The Seattle Times has an article about it.

I drove by every time I came and went from my shift as a Museum volunteer and I'd always thought I would stop at some point to check out the inside. I had no idea it was full of memorabilia and would have been such a good sketching venue. The big lesson during the pandemic is not to wait to do something. This is not the only, and probably won't be the last, opportunity I've missed due to my rigorous self isolation during COVID-19. 

Today there was a long line outside and I suspect that will be the case until it closes. The pandemic is not the entire reason it's closing as the lay offs at Boeing have had a negative effect.  Plus the owners are in their 70's. 

I parked across the street to do my sketch.

Thursday, November 5, 2020



Every year, I look forward to sketching the vibrant colors of autumn. It’s a bittersweet time of year because I know our too-few outdoor-sketching days of summer are over, and we’ll soon have months and months of clouds and rain. In the same way that the Japanese are said to appreciate the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms, I feel the same about fall foliage: Its appearance is brief, and a strong windstorm could take down most of the leaves overnight.

Although I always go leaf-peeping by car through other neighborhoods, for this post, I chose only sketches I made within walking distance of my Maple Leaf home during the last two weeks of October. I haven’t traveled outside Seattle in more than a year, but I don’t have to walk far to appreciate this fleeting beauty.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

1000 mile drive

 one of my great goals for this year was to go on a long scooter ride/camping trip with my friends in the Snack Pack Scooter Club. Although I wanted to go out for like 3 weeks, we settled on 7 nights, which was actually plenty. the plan was to go east into the desert and we had a wonderful route planned out. but unfortunately the week we had blocked to ride was the beginning of the horrible fires that blew smoke all over Washington in mid-September. the poor air quality was one thing, but many roads were closed and the wildfires too close for comfort. so halfway through we changed our plan to be entirely on the west side of the mountains. however we still made the most of it!

we really limited our stops and spent as much time as we could outdoors & ate grocery store meals to avoid coronavirus contact, but we still found ourselves inside a few times. we didn't go in places that were too crowded, and obviously wore masks whenever we were around people, but we were aware there was a risk anyway. all of us got tested and quarantined once we were back in Seattle.

Day 1: I planned the first two days of the route & took the pack to City Hall Saloon, a dive in a tiny town north of Enumclaw. there are a lot of fun things to draw in the saloon's outside patio, like weird tiny motorcycles! the fires had by then reached the east side of Mt Rainier, so we discovered that many places in this area had lost power and people were panic-buying supplies. 

Day 5: many days later, the next thing I got a chance to draw was this beautiful rocky river by Verlot, in Mt. Baker National forest. the smoke was all over us by this point but it made everything look very soft and hazy. This was my favorite camping spot. it was so mossy and peaceful. My friend Alexander also took some time to sketch here (he's in the picture).


Day 6: we were freezing on this route (the sun being blocked by smoke makes everything much colder) so we stopped at Toby's in Coupeville while waiting for the Port Townsend ferry. Lots of stuff to sketch. in drawing this I fell back in love with my fude nib pen. 

Day 7: Timothy planning how to get us to Hama Hama in the most scenic possible way, using a motocycle riding app that takes you on curvy roads. We were breakfasting in a cafe by a small airport in Jefferson County, which was full of hanging little model planes.

Day 7: the main goal for the rerouted journey on the west side was to eat oysters. I finally got to see the famed white Hama Hama oyster hills. a million shells create mounds as tall as a small house It was only $1 more to get 3 dozen oysters than 2 dozen oysters, so we had a feast, and added to the piles.

Day 8:  Signs warn about fire danger in the Olympic National Forest. it rained on us that night, which was a chaotic camping experience, but allowed some relief from the smoky air quality for the last bit of riding back to Seattle. 

bonus: here is our route, with camping spots numbered. There were so many stunning roads, I can't even believe I live here. looking forward to go out next year and hopefully make it to the wild east this time. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Scootering to Portland

In August, I was dying to get out of Seattle while the weather was warm enough for me to ride anywhere. Over 5 days drove down to Portland on my scooter, camping one night each way, and slept in a hammock in my friend's garden while in the city. My scooter friend accompanied me for one night.

Because I was avoiding the interstate highway, I took the long scenic route around Mount Rainier, over Mt. Saint Helens, and southwest through southern Washington into Oregon. And on the way back I went due north on the pretty side roads parallel to I-5 and the Columbia River. We stopped for a roadside burger at Scaleburger in Elbe off Route 7.

Before finding our first camping spot, we stopped in Morton for an outdoor beer and talked to an old timer at the pub about his Burning Man days ("not this year") and how the town has changed.

I didn't get much time to sketch because there was so much driving. On my last day, my phone died while I was camping in the forest, leaving me sans map in the middle of nowhere. I pulled into the first drive through espresso stand I found and the barista let me charge. While I waited, I drank a cappuccino and sketched their rusty pickup truck/sign. As thanks, I did a quick watercolor of the espresso shack and gave it to them.  

 It was a great and challenging ride!

Monday, October 19, 2020

daily drawing 2

The second chunk of my daily sketch endeavor. I'll keep this going until at least the end of October. 

10/4: Pono Ranch in Ballard. nice sketching spot close to the bridge - big patio with industrial stuff scattered around, fun to draw! it was incredibly empty while we were there despite being a weekend.

10/5: Neon Boots in Belltown. quick pint with studiomates to do an inktober sketch. the shirtless guy at the table behind was playing magic the gathering.

10/6: Hellbent Brewery in Lake City. I went up here to work on a commission (to draw the brewery) and felt super content with life over the fact that people pay me to do stuff like this sometimes. My friend Dan met me there after I was done working. 

10/7: breakfast outdoors at Bounty Kitchen in Queen Anne, after errands.  

10/8: at the studio, friend Eric gave his MFA lecture presentation from inside the storefront window as we sit outside on the sidewalk. it was so great to attend an event like this, it's been so long!

10/9: Citizen Coffee in Lower Queen Anne. I'm going to all the outdoor cafes I can before winter starts. Seems like this place is better during bar hours, but they close early now. 

10/10: first date with a guy from Hinge - we got coffee and then took a long walk around Central. it was nice. / view of the South Park Bridge, where I ended up because I was dying to ride my scooter somewhere. 

10/11: my apartment. it poured rain all day long and I had a zoom call with my friends from the East Coast in the evening. 

10/12: Pike Place Market. I was craving a doughnut, but all the places close before 3pm now :( at least I got to sketch this part of the market, which I haven't done before. 

10/13: another work meeting on The Lotus in SLU. Jonathan tells me about his family dog who was just "sent to the farm".

10/14: it was super nice outside, so I biked over to the park on 12th Ave by Ba Bar to do work on the picnic tables. I sketched this group of people having lunch together. 

10/15: met a couple friends at Chuck's Hop Shop, but they wouldn't let us sit outside without a reservation (despite 80% of tables being vacant), so we bought beers and sat at a sidewalk table across the street & sketched. I'm really enjoying painting trees all sorts of non-green colors lately. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

daily drawing

I've been making a point to do one solid sketch every day. It's an answer to my desire for a bit more structure in my life. I live alone & am self employed & single so I have to account for all my time by myself. day in day out. No more regular events anchoring the months. With all the wildly scary and depressing news out there, it’s important to fall back on something positive and immediate. 

I’ve been daring to go out for coffee again (outdoor seating only) while the weather is still nice. It’s been comforting to sit in places where I can overhear conversations and watch the world go by as I sketch, as all urban sketchers can appreciate. And making sure I do something every day that grounds me and consistently makes me happy is therapy.

Here are the first 12 days of my project, September 22 - October 3.

9/22: morning coffee at Broadcast on 20th Ave, listening to two guys chat in Arabic (?).

9/23: work meeting with my writing partner Jonathan. he's working as the caretaker of the Lotus, a 1909 floating lodge moored by Mohai. great views of Lake Union from the cabin!

9/24: dinner at my friends' place in Capitol Hill. we drew Sara while she participated in a distanced performance, which took place over an hour long phone call. it involved a 3 way call between her, a stranger, and a robot prompting conversation & narrative.

9/25: grocery run to Lam's Seafood Market on King St, my favorite food store in the neighborhood. I've wanted to draw this place for a while. Sketching it made me notice how the awnings were attached to the original part with lots of different materials.

9/26: A Saturday where I forced myself to not work on client projects. I ended up at Ada's Technical Books on 15th Ave, where they now have street parking partitioned into distanced tables & chairs. REALLY hoping all this outdoor seating stays a thing forever.

9/27: Sunday plein air club meetup. We ended up at a picnic table on Seattle University campus. drawing those boring buildings in the background was surprisingly fun. 

9/28: Feeling lonely, I went up to Bhy Kracke park to take in some sunlight and eat a bag of Dick's. the way a guy was encouraging his dog to fetch made me laugh. 

9/29: we watched the presidential debate in the studio, everyone was on edge and I dissociated by drawing this.

9/30: I landed at this cafe i've never been to before, London Plane. It's a really nice, very distanced place to sit and sketch in Occidental Square. 

10/1: my scooter friends and I took a little ride down to Burien to eat donuts and sit in Seahurst Park and do the first day of Inktober (clearly I got a head start). it was a smoky day, and the bluffs came in & out of view.

10/2: my sketch friend Alexander has wanted to draw this tower on Swedish Hospital on Jefferson St so we met up and sat in the parking lot across the street. I've discovered my side-hobby of feeding crows peanuts goes really well with my outdoor sketching. 

10/3: biked to London Plane again, where I ate a massive cinnamon bun all by myself and drew trees turning fall colors. Pioneer Square has really changed in the last few months.