Tuesday, April 22, 2014

March – April 2014 Sketchbook Bound

March-April handbound sketchbook
With sketches dated from March 3 through April 15, my eighth handbound sketchbook is done. (One book is still in the Museum of History and Industry exhibit, but I count the two separately bound volumes from the Barcelona Urban Sketching symposium and my related travels as one sketchbook, so that’s why you can still see eight books on the shelf [below]. Not that you’re counting, but this blog serves as documentation for myself, so I feel compelled to account for everything accurately.) Featured on the covers this time are sketches of MOHAI’s beautiful clock and a maple finally showing signs of spring.

It’s probably not apparent in the photos, but instead of the black bookbinding thread I used on the previous volumes, I tried an olive green thread this time. I like the way the thread coordinates with the various shades of green in the cover sketches. It’s one of several thread colors I got recently from Oregon Art Supply. Although it’s 3-ply like my black thread, it feels a little thinner, so I wondered if it would make a difference in the binding, but it doesn’t seem to.

Stitching visible in the center of a page spread.
It does, however, bring up an issue I’ve considered occasionally in my bookbinding explorations: how the binding thread looks in the center page spread of each signature. More often than not, I enjoy sketching across the opened page spreads, so the thread ends up marching rather obtrusively down the center of the sketch (see image at left). Of course, I always scan the sketches while they are still in signatures that are temporarily stitched with white thread, so the stitching is less apparent in the digitized images (see the blog post in which this sketch initially appeared). I could do the final Coptic binding with white thread, but then I’d lose most of the visual impact of the exposed thread on the spines, which is the thing that appeals to me most about Coptic binding. I guess it’s an acceptable tradeoff: Slightly obtrusive thread in the center of each signature offset by beautiful spines.

Even after nine (not counting do-overs from errors and books made while learning) Coptic bindings, I still find consistent thread tension to be a challenge. But that, too, is something I’ve come to accept as part of the hand bookbinding process. Most of my sketches are wonky in some way; if the binding is too, then they are made for each other.

My handbound sketchbook collection (with an old fuzzy friend serving as a bookend).

A View from the Throne

4/22/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Sailor pen, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Seated on the throne this morning, looking out the window at the steady rainfall, I started thinking about what I could sketch inside the house. I’m not enrolled in Danny Gregory’s Sketchbook Skool, but I’ve been looking through some of the participants’ homework uploaded to Flickr, and I know that ordinary household items are a common theme (going all the way back to Danny’s Everyday Matters). I also recalled an Urban Sketchers Flickr group weekly theme a year or so ago: “Sketch the bathroom.” Inspired by all of that, I turned my head in the opposite direction from the window and found a tightly angled view of the sink (our bathroom is very small).

(If you look closely at the end of the faucet, you’ll see my reflected self-portrait. This, too, was inspired – by Lapin’s book, Oldies but Goldies, in which his tiny self-portrait appears in the reflections of shiny chrome surfaces of the vintage cars he sketched.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Queen Anne Neighborhood

4/21/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Diamine Sargasso Sea inks, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The weatherman kept saying rain was expected today, but the comfortable temperature and patches of blue between clouds made me bold. I popped the top down and cruised up to Queen Anne Hill for one of my favorite views of the Space Needle and the downtown skyline from Highland Drive.

The sky was getting bluer by the minute, so I took a detour before heading home to sketch Bethany Presbyterian Church on Queen Anne Avenue. It was actually the steeple – somewhat hidden by a tree – that had initially caught my attention, so I drove around the sides and back of the church, trying to find a better view. It turned out that the obstructed view from the front was still the best, so I included the front elevation (and, of course, the tree in the way). Drawing the arches and other Gothic details instantly brought me back to the Köln Cathedral in Germany as well as many buildings in Barcelona. Today, as then, I channeled my inner Inma (Serrano) to try to bring the building to life.

4/21/14 Platinum Carbon, Diamine Chocolate Brown and Diamine Grey inks, Zig markers, Canson 140 lb. paper

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cheerful Traffic Circle

4/20/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Pitt Artists Brush pen, Zig marker,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
When I sketch our neighborhood traffic circles, I usually take a slightly wider view so that I can capture the trees in the center. But today these cheerful tulips deserved a closer look.

Happy Easter, happy spring, and happy outdoor sketching weather (I hope for all of you)!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Product Review: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils

A few years ago, I invested in went hog wild on a fairly substantial collection of colored pencils – wax-based, oil-based and especially water-soluble. I’ve always had a penchant for dry, unmessy, colorful media, and colored pencils filled the bill perfectly. Seeing all those colors lined up in a box (or, as they are in my studio, displayed in large mugs and vases like bouquets) makes me feel the way I imagine some women feel about jewelry. (A box from Tiffany’s? Meh. But a bag from Daniel Smith? That would definitely bring a sparkle to my eye.) 

The 12 colors in the set (applied to Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook).
Unfortunately, after studying a few books on colored pencil techniques and trying my hand at using them for a while, I realized they weren’t my medium of choice. All the small, careful strokes needed to “paint” with colored pencils tried my patience, not to mention my hand and wrist’s ability to withstand repetitive motions. I also realized that, as portable as they are, colored pencils aren’t ideal for urban sketching. Although I know some urban sketchers who do unbelievably beautiful work on location with colored pencils (Alissa Duke springs immediately to mind), the time it takes to do it well just isn’t for me. So although I still like to play with colored pencils on a rainy day like today, use them in museums, and use water-soluble ones in life drawing sessions, I don’t otherwise pick them up much.
Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils applied dry to dry paper, then
washed with water. (Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook)

Yet, like a woman who collects way more jewelry than she could ever wear, I still find colored pencils somehow coming into my possession. Even though watercolor has been my urban sketching color medium of choice since the beginning, I don’t feel at all compelled to collect and accumulate paint tubes. (In fact, I’m always trying to reduce the number of paints I use.) But there’s something about colored pencils. . .

All of that comes as a way to explain how a box of 12 Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle water-soluble pencils came into my home the other day, especially since they are probably the most expensive water-soluble pencils I’ve seen to date. Roz Stendahl mentioned them on her blog a while back, which made me perk up because I hadn’t heard of them before. Anyway, I won’t bother to pretend to have an excuse (but at least I bought the smallest assortment available). Now, on to the product review. . .

Museum pencils applied to wet paper. (Lanaquarelle 140 lb. paper)
The first thing I noticed about the Museum pencils is that, in their dry state, they are definitely the softest, creamiest, most concentrated colored pencils I have ever applied to paper. The marketing brochure that came with them didn’t say much, but my guess is that they contain more pigment and less binder than most other colored pencils. It takes very little water and few brush strokes to activate them on paper, and once wet, they look as much like wet watercolor paint as any initially dry medium I’ve seen.

For comparison, I did some sample swatches of Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer pencils and Caran d’Ache Supracolor II pencils, which are both excellent pencils but less expensive than the Museum line. Once activated with water, all three pencils have strong, rich colors that look a lot like wet watercolor paint. I think the main difference I could find was that the Museum pencils were much softer to apply – almost like oil-based crayons.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer 
Caran d'Ache Supracolor II
I tried applying them dry and then brushing them with water (which made colors blend beautifully). I also tried wetting the paper completely first, then applied the pencil to the wet paper, and that’s when they really seemed to glide effortlessly with vibrant color. But as soon as I hit a spot on the paper that was nearly dry, the pencils skidded to an unpleasant, unpigmented stop (very unlike completely dry paper, where the pencils went on smoothly). I’m not skilled enough to control them on varying degrees of paper wetness, but I’m sure someone else knows how to take advantage of these qualities.

Are they worth the extra cost? Probably not the way I use them. But I’m thrilled to have shiny, new jewels to wear take with me to my next life drawing session. And as their name implies, they will be in my bag the next time I want to sketch in an art museum (and don’t want to be reprimanded by a guard like last time, when I thought I could get away with markers).

My jewelry collection.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fully Leafed

4/18/14 Platinum Carbon and Diamine Grey inks, Kuretakebrush pen, watercolor, Zig marker,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper 
This slightly asymmetrical maple growing in a traffic circle has become my favorite seasonal sketching tree – the one I track from season to season to watch it change. A few blocks west of my house, it’s easy to walk to on a comfortable day, and there’s plenty of parking if I need to stay in my car. Though not exactly sunny, today was unexpectedly dry, so I took a short walk to sketch it, now fully in leaf. Since I could stand anywhere instead of staying in the car, I took a slightly different angle this time. Here are the other three times I’ve sketched it:

Technical notes: Today’s tree might be something of a small watercolor milestone: I think I’m finally ready to ditch the sap green paint that has been in my palette for probably a year (preceded by various other greens before that). I used to depend on greens from the tube, at least to get me started in a mix and sometimes entirely. But the longer I sketch, the braver I become in mixing my own greens from various combinations of blues and yellows (with uneven success). I used to think it was the blue that was critical, but now I’m finally learning that it’s the yellow that makes the difference between an OK green, a really muddy one or a vibrant one.

All the greens in today’s sketch were made with varying combinations of nickel azo yellow (which I learned about from Stephanie Bower), Quinacridone Gold, French Ultramarine or Indigo. Not a touch of that sap green was used. It hasn’t been used in quite a while, but I left it in my palette as a security blanket. I’m ditching it – and maybe I’ll replace it with something more useful.

On a similar subject, I’ve been using cobalt blue the past month since Stephanie’s workshop also, but I’m not convinced it’s useful. I like it when I need a clear blue sky, but I could also use Ultramarine for that. (Let’s face it: I’ve had few opportunities to paint clear blue skies!) I might ditch the cobalt, too, and then I’ll have two vacant spaces in my paint box for something else. Or maybe I’ll decide that six paints is all I need! With the two ditched colors, here’s what’s in my palette:

Alizarin Crimson (WN)
Quinacridone Sienna (DS)
French Ultramarine (WN)
Indigo (WN)
Nickel Azo Yellow (WN)
Quinacridone Gold (DS)

Any suggestions on one or two really useful colors to add?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Product Review: Diamine Sargasso Sea

4/17/14 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink, Zig marker, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The ongoing drizzle today drove me to Zoka Coffee for an Americano and to try out a new ink sample: Diamine Sargasso Sea. When I was scribbling with it at home, the intense shade of blue – which looks nearly purple when wet – really appealed to me. But under all the soft natural light streaming in through Zoka’s high windows and against white watercolor paper, it was almost too bright.

I’ve found all Diamine inks to be beautifully wet-flowing, and Sargasso Sea is no exception. Coupled with my smooth Metropolitan, I get a consistently rich, bold line. I do like how easily it shades with just a touch of my waterbrush, but by the same token, it’s more difficult to control the ink’s intensity when I want more subtle shading, like on faces.

4/17/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, Zig marker, Sailor pen, Canson XL
For comparison’s sake, I did my second sketch using Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink, which is easier to get soft washes with. Still, in looking at the two together, Sargasso Sea’s intensity gives the sketch a morning daylight glow, while Take-Sumi has a late-afternoon look. They definitely suggest different moods. (All the more reason to carry multiple inks at any given time: You never know what mood you want to sketch until you get there.)
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