Next Sketch Outing

Friday, Dec. 13: Swansons Nursery

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Cat in a Hat

While driving around yesterday, I spotted this small Caterpillar equipment wearing a huge Santa hat! After meeting some friends for coffee, I drove back to the site to sketch it. I just makes me laugh. It's in Tukwila, on West Valley Highway, just east of Southcenter mall. 

With it's non-Santa buddies

Or maybe it's a Santa-pillar?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Southern Textures

A pre-Thanksgiving trip to Atlanta yielded some sketching opportunities in a wooded suburban enclave.  Populated with craftsman style homes and giant deciduous trees, everything looked pretty under a cornflower blue sky.  Many of the houses had screened in porches with overhead fans, useful during the hot and humid summers.  I can almost taste the sweet tea! 
Back porch
Lucky for me, most of the trees still had orange, yellow and rust colored leaves on their branches.  Sitting on a bench in the neighborhood green space, I thought the planners of the community were wise to set aside a piece of land for natural beauty preservation.
Village Green
A long, winding, tree covered road led us to Cheatham Hill Loop at Kennesaw Mountain. Historic markers throughout the park tell the story of a Civil War battle at Kennesaw Mountain.  It was sobering to see battlefield earthworks and cannons as reminders of the war.  I sat behind the cannons and looked over the parapet into the woods.  In my comfortable situation, it was hard to imagine what it must have been like for terrified soldiers in 1864. 
Civil War cannons

Historic Marker at Cheatham Hill

With the weather still perfect, I once again sketched under falling leaves and appreciated the freedom of peace and tranquility in a rustic backyard.
Rustic yard
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 17, 2019


11/17/19 Seattle Art Museum lobby
The Seattle Art Museum’s resident Chinese camels, rams and human figure received plenty of sketcher attention this morning. I was one of many USk Seattle members who were attracted to the iconic marble sculptures. Since I sketched the back end of a camel the last time we met at the museum, this time I gave a ram a try, along with the Chinese figure behind it. Unlike some brave souls, I ignored most of the long lobby stairway and its imposing decorative ceiling.

After that time-consuming exercise in graphite and quite a bit of chatting, I hardly had time to catch a few gestures of sketchers (and a security guard) scattered around the lobby before it was time for the throwdown. We had an excellent turnout again with a few new faces, including a visitor from Austin.

11/17/19 Seattle Art Museum lobby

Friday, November 8, 2019

La Marzocco People

Sue and I nabbed an empty table when we first walked into La Marzocco Cafe Friday morning.  I stayed at the same table the entire time and pivoted for different viewpoints.  A busy place with a constant stream of customers, this coffee shop has lots of options for figure studies.  
Comfortable seating next to KEXP fonts

Located behind a stage at the north end of La Marzocco Cafe is KEXP radio station.  You can watch the DJs through a window and hear the broadcast inside and outside the building.  A woman with a black beret in a leather chair next to the KEXP logo created a fine composition. Large ottomans offer extra acreage for kicking up your heels.
Seating arrangements

 Next, I sketched a young man with a mass of beautiful hair.  His companion sported a top knot, a popular style for both women and men in coffee shops I frequent.   The chair shapes and flowered oil cloth table tops offer some character to the industrial building. Only hinting at the gallery of record covers in the background of my sketch, I later went for a closer look at the colorful designs. 
November at the cafe

Large glass paneled garage door walls form the east side of the cafe.  Two figures provided a perfect counter point to the fall foliage and promenade of trees in the courtyard beyond La Marzocco.   


The KEXP radio station broadcasts from within a glass room inside the "Gathering Space" which is a huge room. In one corner is the La Marzocco Cafe. It's a good place to sketch as, in addition to lots of people, there are interesting things on the walls and around the room.

It was such a beautiful day that several sketchers chose to be outside.

We did the throw down and group photo outside, too.

At least 2 sketchers missing from this photo. 

First, I sketched inside.  We had a long table at the back and this was in view.  I liked the energy of the Owl!

It was rather too warm inside and I went outside to cool off and do another sketch. 

More photos. 

Dick’s on Queen Anne and La Marzocco Café

11/8/19 Dick's on Queen Anne Avenue North

Dick’s Drive-in has been a Seattle-area institution for 65 years. When I think of the family-owned chain of burger joints, I think first of the one on Broadway (which I sketched few years ago) with its classic drive-in shape (though in-car dining is no longer an option). The one in lower Queen Anne has a more modern building, but it’s still a neighborhood icon. On a brisk and still-partly-foggy morning, I started the Seattle USk outing with a sketch of Dick’s.

Chilled after standing for more than an hour in the shade, I went back to the meetup location – La Marzocco Café – to warm up. Housing indie radio station KEXP (DJs are visible through a window, and the station’s broadcast is the café’s soundtrack), the café is also a large public space for town hall meetings and other events. There’s also a vinyl record shop and espresso-making equipment shop inside. I didn’t have much more time than a hasty sketch of café patrons in front of me, but I’d enjoy going back to take advantage of the many seating (and therefore composition) options. The coffee and snacks aren’t bad, either!

11/8/19 La Marzocco Cafe

The Onions of Pine Island, NY

I was back in New York from August through mid-October and had some time to explore the area and learn a little about the local lore. One story that I actually heard on Planet Money podcast last February referred to the small town of Pine Island, NY which is just up the road from my daughter's house in Warwick. Pine Island is sort of unremarkable.  However it sits in the Warwick Valley which is renown for it's black dirt. And what grows best in that black dirt? Onions. Move over Walla Walla.

The Planet Money story told of a Pine Island onion farmer who figured out a way to corner the onion market, first locally, then all over the country. You can hear the 15 minute listen: Episode 657: The Tale of the Onion King

I didn't get a chance to draw the onion fields, which are definitely black. But I saw plenty of onions.

In bags:

In bins:

And corn, tomatoes, peppers etc. etc etc.

You can read more of the story on my blog,

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Macy's Downtown

10/24/19 Macy's at Third & Pine

Macy’s department store isn’t doing well. A few are closing in the Seattle area (along with many more nationwide), including the downtown store that used to be the Bon Marche’s flagship before Macy’s took over.

I’m not especially sad to see it go; I rarely shopped there in its Macy’s form. When it was still the Bon Marche during my youth, I went there a lot more often because it was my mom’s favorite store. After I was old enough to drive, I used to take her there so that we could park in the adjacent ramp and walk across the skybridge to shop without ever getting wet. After all my childhood years of waiting for buses in the rain, it was a sheer decadent luxury. So the skybridge (at far right) is a bit nostalgic.

Although I don’t care much about the retail store, I do love the grand building itself, which opened in 1929, and all of its ornate elevators and interior trim. Amazon offices have occupied some floors for a couple of years now. I hope the rest of the building gets used profitably in some way so that it can remain standing.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Clouds, Rain and Orange at Swansons Nursery

10/25/19 Swansons Nursery
A big reason why USk Seattle meets at Swansons Nursery at least once (and often more than once) a year is that it’s ideal for any kind of weather. And a big reason we like to sketch there in the fall is orange. It was a predominant color in the palettes of many sketchers today, when we had a wide variety of weather conditions.

While it was still dry and not too cold (if one were dressed in down as I was), I found a mandatory pumpkin display and steer skull to sketch outdoors. Near the hay maze, children were invited to plant and water flowers inside pumpkin shells, so I tried to quickly capture one such child . . . though a 10-second “pose” is a challenge even with life-drawing practice.

Inside Swansons' Barn & Field Kitchen cafe 
The eventual rain and wind drove most sketchers indoors to the nursery’s café, which is filled with a lush jungle of greenery and even some pink anthurium. Noshing on my scone as I sketched, it was a relaxing way to warm up and chat with other sketchers.

Several newcomers joined us today at our terrific turnout!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

No Dogs at Third Place Commons

10/20/19 Lake Forest Park parking lot
Somewhere out at the farmers market adjacent to Third Place Commons, dogs were supposed to be participating in a Halloween costume competition. I was hoping to sketch said dogs during the USk Seattle outing this morning, but the cold and drizzle kept me and all the other sketchers indoors.

Fortunately, I found a large window looking out at the lower level parking lot, which was blazing with red maples. As I was finishing up this sketch, I started hearing bluegrass music from the stage. Four men – the Milner Family Fiddles, according to their CD cover – played guitars and violin, and their lively, toe-tapping tunes made me feel like I was sketching at Wintergrass. The middle guitarist had an interesting way of elevating one knee to support his guitar.

10/20/19 Performing on the stage at Third Place Commons
10/20/19 On a table or on the floor? Who knows...

My sketch of the chess pieces has, unfortunately, no sense of scale. A toddler was occasionally running onto the chess board, so my plan was to block in a few pieces, and as soon as she ran onto the scene, I could put her in and show that the knight was only a bit smaller than she was. But of course, she never returned.

I made the last sketch while eating lunch after the outing and chatting with other sketchers. It’s the type of sketch that Liz Steel calls a “reflex” sketch – made without paying much attention because the conversation is more interesting than the scene.

10/20/19 diners at Third Place Commons

A good turnout on this chilly fall morning that might as well have been winter!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Out of the rain

What a great place to be on a wet and rainy northwest day. A few sketchers from Tacoma and four of us from Vashon spent the morning sketching amidst an amazing display of taxidermy set in very realistic dioramas at the Bass Pro Shop south of Tacoma. After reviewing our sketches we enjoyed lunch in the on site restaurant. A wonderful lodge-like atmosphere, helpful staff, good food and always great urban sketcher companionship made this another wonderful outing. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ground Level at Columbia Center

10/11/19 Smith Tower

Around the time when the USk Friday group was still fairly small, we met a couple of times at Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper, mainly to sketch from the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor. Back then, the admission was nominal, and apparently it was the city’s best-kept secret because we had the place to ourselves. Now it’s a “destination,” the price has gone up to $22, and even on this off-season day, tourists were queued up for tickets by noon.

USk Seattle members opted not to pay the sky-high price, though several chose the Starbucks on the 40th floor. It’s not the 360-degree view of the observatory, but for the price of a latte, you can sketch through numerous huge windows facing west and north.

Though the Starbucks view was tempting, I wanted to face south to sketch the Smith Tower, my favorite Seattle building. Near ground level, Columbia Center has three atrium floors that have been improved significantly since the last time we sketchers met there in 2014 – many more well-lighted public areas with lots of tables and other seating. I found one that allowed a great view of Smith Tower without going out in the chilly but sunny day.

The rest of the morning, I wandered around the three atrium levels hunting victims. I chose two hapless guys who only wanted to eat their lunch in peace without getting sketched. The one I sketched from above was irresistible: He was only a few feet below me but separated by a glass partition. Columbia Center is all about views that are difficult to get anywhere else in the city.

10/11/19 Columbia Center Atrium

Paul, a visiting sketcher from New Zealand, knew he would have to leave before the throwdown, so we took a photo at the
initial meetup. Great to have you sketch with us, Paul!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Seattle Welcome at the Roastery

10/10/19 Main roaster at Starbucks Roastery and Reserve
When Florida sketcher Lee Kline told us he was in town this week and wanted to sketch with USk Seattle, we decided to give him an appropriate Seattle welcome – at the Starbucks Roastery and Reserve, of course. It makes for a convenient indoor/outdoor venue: Its Capitol Hill neighborhood is sketch-worthy if the weather is amenable, and if it isn’t, there’s always the fascinating copper tanks and pneumatic tubing that “usher the beans through the building.”

Although the sunshine was inviting, the temperature was only in the low 40s, so I opted to stay indoors. Sharing a table with Lee, David and Natali on the Roastery’s lower level, I had a good view of the main roaster. Nearly five years ago on my second visit there, I attempted this same roaster from a different angle and got lost in all that crazy tubing. This time I bit off a simpler composition that I thought would be easier to chew, but it’s still a complicated mess. Oh, well – the company was fun, and the overpriced coffee and pastry were delicious.

Thanks for coming all the way to Seattle to sketch with us, Lee (in the center)! (Not pictured: April and Ellie, who bravely
sketched outdoors.)