Friday, January 30, 2015

Empty Nest in Greenwood

1/30/15 various inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble
colored pencils, Zig marker, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
I haven’t been finding as many empty nests as I thought I would when I first started this series of sketches, so when I spotted this one on my way through Greenwood, I made a quick stop. 

December – January Sketchbook (and a Cover Secret Revealed)

On the covers of my December – January sketchbook are sketches of the Haller Lake Baptist Church and one of the ladies making delectable chocolates at Fran’s Chocolates. You can see that the first signature is made of black paper containing my sketch of the Christmas ship at Ballard Locks and a few others. I didn’t fill the signature, so I have a few blank pages in there, too.

Jan. 23 was National Handwriting Day, and I had intended to say something about it but didn’t have a story in mind. I’m a week late, but I finally thought of a relevant hook. I’ve mentioned previously that I use bits of torn-up letters, school work and other old papers with handwriting on them as the collage background for my sketchbook covers. In this close-up below, you can see the Japanese writing of a letter my uncle had written to my mother years ago.

The Japanese writing in the background is a letter my uncle
wrote to my mother.
She had saved everything, especially handwritten letters, and I found all of it when I cleaned out my parents’ house after she died. I was left with this dilemma: Store it all for the next several decades, just as she had? I didn’t want that burden; it turns out that I had inherited her penchant for saving handwritten letters, so I had my own stash of stuff to store. And yet I didn’t have the heart to throw it all out, either.

I eventually made a body of work of collages incorporating old handwritten papers (the artist statement is on my website), so that took care of my dilemma. I could get rid of the stash (hers and my own), but the handwritten papers would be reused in a creative way. I now use the same process for the sketchbook covers.

So here’s the “secret” about the covers: After I had moved out on my own, my mom had written me many letters, and I store them all in a box separate from the rest of the stash. Sometimes when I miss her, I randomly pick one from the box to read. She was also famous for sending out very brief postcards even to local friends – almost like texting! – when she had only a bit of information to convey, because she didn’t like making phone calls. I have a number of postcards like this also, containing nothing more than a confirmation of an appointment or an address I had asked for.

Above the sketch is a fragment of a postcard from my mom.
Although anything with her handwriting feels precious to me, these brief, perfunctory postcards seem more dispensable than actual letters. Lately I’ve been scanning their contents and then tearing them up for use only in my sketchbook cover collages – one piece per cover (close-up at left). I like the thought of a tiny piece of my mom’s handwriting being a part of each sketchbook. A pragmatic woman, she would have applauded my reuse of the paper.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ghosts of Patrons Past

1/29/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencil, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

I could have gone to life drawing at Gage, but instead I went to real-life drawing at Zoka Coffee. Unlike paid models, my unwitting models at Zoka tend to come and go as they please. If I expect to complete a whole sketch of an individual, it’s likely that I’ll be frustrated. So I learned long ago that it’s fine to leave their ghost on the page and carry on with the sketch.

Technical note: I’ve been using Canson XL 140-pound paper consistently in my handbound sketchbooks for well over a year because it gives me the best balance between the weight and the degree of tooth, and the price is reasonable. I recently bought a new package of it, and the paper has changed! One side is much toothier than the other, and I really noticed the difference with my fountain pens today – its texture was rough enough that my nibs were snagging at times. Dangit! As many other sketchers and artists have discovered, as soon as we find a product we like, it changes! Aauuggghhh!

1/29/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Museum pencil

1/29/15 Diamine Sapphire and Chocolate Brown inks

1/29/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink,
Museum pencil

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Early in Shoreline

1/28/15 India and Platinum Carbon inks, twig, watercolor,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
In Shoreline early this morning to drop something off at a client’s office, I saw that a faint hint of peachy-pink still tinted the clouds. I quickly chose a tree to silhouette against that sublime sky.

This may be one of my favorite chopped-tree-with-power-lines sketches due mainly to that bird that appeared briefly on the wire. Usually if I sketch a distant bird, I make the mistake of showing it in profile, inevitably making the beak disproportionately large. With a blunt twig in my hand, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a fine enough mark to draw the beak, so with quick stroke, I sketched it from the back instead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Calm and Strong

1/26/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Sargasso
Sea inks, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Yesterday I was given a unique opportunity: My yoga instructor, Fran Gallo, invited me to sketch during one of her classes. When I’m taking Fran’s class myself, I have often thought that sketching the other students would be an interesting life drawing exercise, so I was thrilled when Fran suggested it.

It seemed like the short-pose life drawing sessions I attend at Gage would have been good training for sketching at yoga, and they were – to some extent. But the shortest pose the models hold at life drawing is one minute. In Fran’s class, the students hold some strenuous, challenging poses for a lot less than a minute – perhaps 30 seconds or less. Yesterday’s class gave me a workout in speed sketching! I thought it might help that I practice yoga myself: If I had to visually memorize a pose to finish drawing it, my own body’s memory of the pose should remind me. That’s a good theory, but in reality, it was no less challenging than if I didn’t practice yoga!

In the past, I’ve used yoga as a metaphor for drawing. I’ll do it again: As I filled 13 pages in my sketchbook during the 75-minute class, I needed the first few pages to warm up and find my flow. Eventually I did, and the sketches came more fluidly, just as the poses seemed to flow more easily for the students. After a while, I got tired, and the sketches weren’t as good, but in exchange I had gained a different kind of energy that comes from close observation and recording what I observe. During the final shavasana, I rested along with the students, feeling calm and strong.

Thank you, Fran, for a different type of yoga experience!

1/26/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Sargasso Sea inks

1/26/15 Winsor Newton watercolor marker, Diamine Sargasso Sea ink

1/26/15 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink

1/26/15 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink

1/26/15 Diamine Sargasso Sea ink

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Answer

1/25/15 Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencil, watercolor, Canson XL 140 lb. paper

Sometimes people who live in other parts of the country ask how we can stand to live in a climate that is rainy, drizzly, cloudy or overcast for much of the year.

Today, Jan. 25, the temperature is 63 degrees, and the only clouds I see are as thin as a whisper.

Today, this is the answer.

Technical note: This sketch seemed to demand watercolor only, but I didn’t have quite enough confidence to paint Mt. Rainier’s shape without some kind of line first. A dark blue water-soluble pencil makes an ideal line – it just dissolves once the paint is applied.

Epic Pen Search and Discovery, Part 1: MikeD’s Pen

Spoiler alert: These are some of the nibs you'll meet in this epic blog
post series.
Impulse buying is not something I’m known for. (The last time I made a totally impulsive purchase, I came home with a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser collector’s box to hold my then-small ink collection – but who could resist that?). Whether it’s a clothes washer or a can of soup, I tend to read reviews and labels carefully. I do my research.

At the same time, I always come out strong as a J on the Myers-Briggs type indicator, which means I’m not comfortable with lots of options, and I prefer to seek closure and resolution rather than keep things open. In terms of shopping, that means I like to make the purchase as soon as I’ve made the decision to buy something. Once I decide, I don’t like continuing to look for more options.

All of this is preamble to documenting the epic search-and-discovery mission I have been on since last August that I’m finally ready to begin describing. (It’s going to take me a while, though – I’ve written seven parts so far, which will appear weekly on Sundays.) Six months may not seem epic to you, but for me it is, mainly because of my discomfort with unresolved searches. And as of this writing, the search continues.

The object of my search? The grail of variable-line-width fountain pen nibs.

Before I get to the search itself, I should explain why such a nib has become so interesting (OK, obsessive) to me. What’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a plain ol’ conventional, single-width pen nib?

For my first couple of years as a sketcher, I used mainly single-width writing instruments of various types – first a variety of technical pens (such as one favorite, the Copic Multiliner SP), which are designed to produce a consistent line width, and eventually Lamy and Pilot fountain pens. I was happy with each at the time.
The Sailor fude nib.

Somewhere in 2013, variable-width writing instruments moved into my radar range, and after trying a few, the first to really grab my attention was the cheap Sailor “calligraphy” pen (with what I now know is the fude nib). Not overnight, but slowly and gradually that pen changed the way I drew by making me more aware of the expressive line – and how a varying line width can be a large part of that expression.

1/20/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black and Fuyu-syogun inks, Pilot
Petit1 pen, Zig marker, Baron Fig Confidant notebook
Shown at right are two sketches I made of the same tree in Shoreline as examples. Although I would probably typically add color to the sky and maybe more shading, I deliberately left these sketches minimal to emphasize the line work in the tree.

The one on top was made with a Pilot Petit1 fine nib fountain pen – a perfectly serviceable, extremely inexpensive and highly reliable pen with a firm, conventional nib that makes a clean, consistent line. The one below it was made with my trusty Sailor fude.

1/20/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi and Fuyu-syogun inks, Sailor fude pen, Zig marker,
Baron Fig Confidant notebook
Which one seems to describe more about the tree and, I hope, tells more about how I was feeling about this tree? To me, its the one sketched with the Sailor fude.

Perhaps the difference between the two sketches is subtle, but it’s a huge difference to me – in the way I feel while Im sketching. And so the search began.

(To be comprehensive in my documentation, before I get to the nib search itself, I’ll mention here two other contenders among variable-line width drawing instruments that I’ve discussed previously: the twig (surely able to produce the most variable – if also unpredictable – line width) and western calligraphy nibs. I’m happy with the twigs I currently use, and if I’m not, I can always go out to the backyard and pick up a few new ones, so I’m not including twigs in this epic search. Likewise, I currently own as many calligraphy nibs as I’ll probably ever consider for sketching, and I’m not fond of them for that purpose anyway, so I’m not searching for more.)
Two other variable-line-width sketching tools I've tried:
Above, a Lamy Vista fitted with a 1.5mm calligraphy nib;
below, a twig from my backyard -- the most variable (and
unpredictable) line width I've used.

My search started innocently enough in August 2014 when I saw a photo of urban sketcher Mike Daikubara’s (MikeD) sketch kit on Flickr. I spotted a cool-looking fountain pen and asked what it was. When he responded that it was his “trusty Sailor pen,” the Sailor Transparent Profit 21 Naginata Fude De Mannen, my heart skipped a beat – the Fude de Mannen is the same type of “bent” nib as on my own Sailor pen!

Readers of this blog have heard me refer to “my trusty Sailor pen,” which has appeared on my Top 10 list both this year and last year. I absolutely love the variable line width that crazy nib can make with just a front-to-back tilt, and I’ve been amazed that its price is under $20 (under $10, including shipping, when purchased online at J-Subculture) for such a fantastic pen. My only complaint is related to its plastic body, which, though comfortably lightweight, is a bit too slender, looks cheesy and insubstantial, and posting its cap causes the trim ring on the end to fall off. Even the slightly higher-priced Sailor Profit model, which has the identical fude nib, isn’t much better. I had resigned myself to putting up with the less-than-satisfactory pen body to use this favorite of nibs.
The Sailor "calligraphy" fude pen (top) and the Sailor Profit
model with the identical fude nib.

It had never occurred to me that the same type of nib could be acquired on a better quality body. Seeing that photo of Mike’s much more handsome and higher-quality Sailor with a fude nib turned on the proverbial light bulb over my head.

I immediately e-mailed Mike for more information, and that’s when I discovered that the fude is only one of many different types of specialty nibs that Sailor makes. The fude nib itself could be purchased in a 21kt gold version that Mike said is a whole different experience from that of the steel nib I have – the same, but better. It would be the Mother of All Fude Nibs! What’s more, it turns out that Sailor sells outside of Japan only through a few authorized dealers, and the pens with specialty nibs can only be purchased through a third-party vendor. Further research led me to one such vendor,, which stocks a dazzling array of Sailors, including several models that could be custom-made with a fude nib and finessed by nibmaster Nagahara himself – a process that could take up to six months. My grail was still far away but in sight! All I had to do was order.

But a funny thing happened on my way to the checkout button. . . (stay tuned next week).
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