Thursday, February 11, 2016

Supercuteness at EMP

2/11/16 ink, colored pencils (Super Space Titan Kitty
sculpture by Colin Christian)
I wasn’t exactly a little girl when I discovered and became enamored with all things Hello Kitty. The Japanese pop culture icon was introduced to the U.S. market in 1975 when I was already in high school, but that didn’t stop me from collecting many red and pink plastic products with the white cat’s likeness. In fact, I was well into adulthood by the time I finally stopped collecting Hello Kitty (and if truth be known, it was only three years ago that I added one more item to that collection).

As it turns out, Hello Kitty isn’t so young herself anymore – she turned 40 last year, and as part of that celebration, Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum brought in the exhibit “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty” (subtitle: “Meet the icon that conquered the world in this supercute exhibition”). To be honest, I wasn’t inclined to pay EMP’s steep admission of $24 to see the show, but a friend with an EMP membership knew I wanted to go, so she generously gave me a free pass. Even if I had paid full price, though, I think I would have felt the show was worthwhile. As I saw case after case of coin purses, notebooks, lunch boxes, back packs and more cuteness – much of which I owned at one point (or still own, somewhere in the attic) – the fun and nostalgia fest were worth the ticket price.

2/11/16 ink, rainbow pencil (time capsule)
More interesting was the large selection of new art that had been created in recent years – either inspired by, mocking or satirizing Hello Kitty. By far the most impressive piece was “Super Space Titan Kitty,” a huge sculpture by Colin Christian, which is prominently displayed near the Guitar Gallery in the main lobby that I sketched a few years ago.

A large transparent time capsule shaped like Hello Kitty is partly filled with notes and cute objects from visitors to the exhibit’s opening. The filled capsule will eventually be sent to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics “to reflect our globe’s cultural diversity and how bringing each of our small universes together can change our view of the world.” The capsule will be opened again in Seattle in 2035.

After those two sketches, I was getting hungry, but I couldn’t get lunch without sketching a spectacular dress made entirely of plush Hello Kitties. The dress was worn by Lady Gaga in 2009 for Kitty’s 35th birthday celebration.

2/11/16 ballpoint pen, ink, colored pencil
(dress made of plush Hello Kitties)

A few artifacts on display (I think I owned most of these at one point or another).
Hello Kitty: Not just for kids.
Ummm... this was not part of my collection.

My nostalgia fest.

Before I end this post, I can’t resist showing two photos from our trip to Japan last November. If you think Hello Kitty is ubiquitous in the U.S., you should see her in her native land. These are only two of the places I found her: On a poster promoting tours to Mt. Fuji and, most amusingly, on Tokyo street barricades. 

Mt. Fuji tour poster
Street barricades in Tokyo

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


2/8/16 Tri-tone colored pencil, Canson all-media book (20-min. pose)
Gage brings in many good models for life-drawing sessions – people of all sizes and shapes and proportions that don’t necessarily fit the standard drawing book “rules” (the number of heads high for an average adult male, etc.). That diversity is good training for drawing people in the real world, with or without clothes.

Some figures are harder for me to draw than others, and I’m not sure why. If I’m looking at all models as abstract shapes and shadows as I should be, then no particular body should be more challenging than any other. In any case, I had to get through the first couple hours of one-to-10-minute poses before I felt like I was finally getting Rosie’s proportions right.

During the last half-hour when we finally worked up to a 20-minute pose (at right), I had a little time leftover, so I put in some facial features. Within those couple of minutes, I had captured enough resemblance that I think her mother or Facebook friends might recognize her. Since I rarely tackle the face during life drawing, I was happy to get Rosies fairly accurately, especially after struggling with her proportions. 

2/8/16 Sailor Nagomi brush pen (10-min. poses)
2/8/16 Tri-tone colored pencil (10-min. pose)
2/8/16 Nagomi brush pen (5-min. pose)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mid-Winter Treat

2/9/16 inks, colored pencils
Sunny and 59 degrees!

I should have been at my desk working, but you can bet I found a way to sneak outside today. After weeks of mostly gray skies and cold rain, I didn’t have to go far – even a rusty nail on the ground or a paper sack in the street would have been fun to sketch, as long as I could be outdoors!

On Green Lake Way, I’ve passed this hacked willow many times, but it can’t be sketched from the car because parking isn’t allowed on the opposite side of the street. This afternoon I happily stood on the sidewalk in the warm sunshine to sketch it.

It felt so good that I wasn’t ready to go home (although I knew I should). Spotting a hydrant, I channeled my inner Pete Scully before going back to my car.

2/9/16 inks, colored pencils

Speaking of hacked trees, a blog reader sent me the photo below of one she spotted in Orrington, Maine. Despite the many trees I’ve seen and sketched, I have to admit I’ve never seen one hacked like this! Thanks for thinking of me, Nancy!

The Donut Tree of Orrington, Maine

Sunday, February 7, 2016

December/January Sketchbook Bound; More Paper Ponderings

December through January sketchbook
My latest sketchbook is complete and bound. On the front cover is my record-breaking fourth Santa sketched during the 2015 holiday season. The back cover shows the little girl I sketched at Top Pot Doughnuts.

I’ve been using a different paper lately – Canson XL 98-pound Mix Media. The paper isn’t new to me – it’s been my paper of choice for my handmade pocket sketchbooklets for a while – but it has only been the past month or so that I’ve been using it regularly in my full-size sketchbook. You can read about all my reasons for the change in last month’s post, but the primary motivation was to be able to bind more pages per book and therefore go longer between bindings (and save storage space on my bookshelves).

The book shown here is made of three signatures of my favorite 140-pound Canson XL watercolor paper and three signatures of the 98-pound paper, which yielded a 96-page book spanning a full two months. If I had used only 98-pound signatures, I could have bound 120 pages, probably spanning about three months. That’s going a lot longer between books than my previous pattern of binding 72 pages every four to six weeks.

Using thinner paper is definitely giving me more bang for my bookbinding buck (which is measured in my time more than money). Despite that significant benefit, I’m still undecided about whether I want to continue using 98-pound paper as my new standard. Two potential issues I had anticipated – ghosting and the paper’s ability to hold up to light washes and spritzes of water – have turned out to be non-issues for the most part. (Granted, the winter months are not a fair test of how well the paper holds up to washes, as I tend not to use watercolor much. When I start sketching outdoors again and therefore use more watercolor, I might not be as willing to tolerate the lighter paper.)

The real issue is one I hadn’t anticipated at all: Even though I’m stitching five sheets of 98-pound paper per signature (compared to three sheets of the 140-pound paper), the signature itself is still floppier than a signature of the heavier paper. It can bend a bit at the holes when I carry it around in my bag without the leather Stefano cover for support. (When I know I won’t be sketching standing up, I often carry around and sketch in a single signature of paper without the Stefano.) Even though the bending isn’t too severe, it put enough stress on a thread once to break it. Without the cover, it also feels a little insubstantial while sketching.

The 140-pound paper is ideal in almost every way (except the thickness that means I have to bind more often); that’s why I’ve been using it happily for nearly three years. I have three more signatures of 98-pound paper stitched up. I’ll use those up and then decide.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cornish College Celebrated at Cascadia Art Museum

2/5/16 ink, colored pencils (marionettes made of kitchen ware by R. Bruce Inverarity)

The Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds has a new exhibit called “Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Centennial Tribute to Nellie Cornish and the Cornish College of the Arts.” Greg had an appointment in Edmonds, so I tagged along and had him drop me off there. It’s a well-organized exhibit of the visual and performance arts school in honor of its 100th anniversary.

Costume sketches
While I enjoyed viewing the paintings of mid-century northwest artists like Mark Tobey who were associated with Cornish, I was especially attracted to the small selection of sketches and sketchbooks that were included in the show. Most of the sketches were made as part of designing costumes for Cornish dance and drama performances. Maybe because I enjoy the creative process more than the finished product, I found it intriguing to view works-in-progress or half-baked concepts being worked out on the page.

Costume sketches by Mark Tobey
Cornish had the first marionette department in the country. My first sketch (top of page) was of an exhibit I was immediately attracted to: a stage set for “Z-739,” a surrealist marionette production by R. Bruce Inverarity in 1928. The marionettes were made of found pieces of kitchen ware – a cheese grater, some funnels, a strainer, a couple of bottle brushes!

My second sketch was of a sculpture made of cedar by George Tsutakawa called “Day Dream.” After that, I went through the museum more slowly and eventually made my way into a room of Ebba Rapp’s work, where I had several sculptures to choose from. Greg came to pick me up before I finished, but I started a sketch of “Rumor,” a humorous, two-sided sculpture of someone passing along some gossip. The photo shows one side, and when you walk around to the other side, the rumor is being passed on again.

It was a fine way to spend another cold winter morning! (If you have a museum membership that includes the North American Reciprocal Museum Association benefit – mine is through the Burke Museum – admission is free.)

2/5/16 colored pencils ("Day Dream" by George Tsutakawa)
"Rumor," a two-sided sculpture by
Ebba Rapp

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Lowly Bic

Example of hatching with a ballpoint from
Matt Rota's book.
I’m reading The Art of Ballpoint - Experimentation, Exploration, and Techniques in Ink, by Matt Rota. My initial interest in the book was for its descriptions and examples of hatching techniques, which can be applied to any medium. Although I’m not much of a fan of writing with ballpoint pens, let alone sketching with them, the more I read the book, the more intrigued I am becoming. In addition to techniques, the book includes short profiles of artists who use ballpoint pen as a primary fine art medium as well as a few examples of their art. Who knew that the inexpensive, ubiquitous Bic (all the ones we own came from hotel rooms) is a favorite among many artists who are using the ballpoint in both their sketchbook and their gallery work!

Always interested in process, I found it fascinating to read about how these artists became interested in ballpoint in the first place. While most trained formally using traditional drawing media such as graphite and dip pens, they were attracted to ballpoint pens because they are so cheap and easy to find anywhere, and the pens never have to be redipped, refilled, sharpened or maintained. Several artists mentioned that they grew up doodling with ballpoints in their school notebooks to entertain themselves during boring classes, so going back to that familiar, comfortable medium felt very natural.

Most interesting of all was seeing the art itself – intricately detailed works that could be mistaken for paintings, all done with the lowly ballpoint.

2/4/16 ballpoint pen
Skeptical that I could ever be happy sketching with a Bic, nonetheless I knew I had to try it myself. I grabbed one (this one came from a Holiday Inn Express) from the kitchen counter on my way to the Whole Foods’ cafĂ©.

My first try was the young man in the baseball cap (at left). Drawing the contour line was similar enough to fountain pen, pencil or other media I’m familiar with – so far, so good. But then I realized where I fall short with ballpoint: I’m used to making a quick swipe of a waterbrush to add shading. With the Bic, I’d have to do some hatching, and quickly (as I’ve come to learn that people tend not to linger much at Whole Foods). While I can probably hatch a flat surface well enough, I haven’t practiced enough to know how to capture subtle facial contours (see example from Rota’s book, above).

2/4/16 fountain pen, colored pencil
The dude in the baseball cap stayed longer – and stayed still longer! – than I had expected, so I sketched him again (at left), this time with my familiar fountain pen and washed-line shading. (By then he had taken off his jacket and turned his cap around, causing his IQ to drop by at least 50, I might add.)

As new victims cycled through at the same table, I tried a couple more times with the Bic. On the woman, I went for a hybrid technique: I made the contour line in ballpoint, then shaded lightly with a water-soluble colored pencil, which washes as easily as fountain pen ink. On the little girl I decided to forego shading completely.

Despite the shading and hatching challenges, I enjoy sketching with ballpoint more than I expected. It’s easy to build up value by layering more and more strokes, similar to graphite, but it has the indelible permanence of ink that I’m used to. I really need to work on my hatching technique, though, if I’m going to keep using ballpoint on location. Heck, I need to work on my hatching technique under any circumstance, but sketching unsuspecting people at Whole Foods is probably the most challenging circumstance of all.
2/4/16 ballpoint pen, water-soluble
colored pencil

The main reason I keep going back to water-soluble fountain pen ink with a washed line when I’m sketching people is that the combo is so fast and efficient; the ballpoint can’t compete. Maybe I chose the wrong subject matter for my first try at ballpoint (all the examples of people in Rota’s book were sketched from photo references, not life). Stay tuned.

2/4/16 ballpoint pen

2/4/16 Zebra brush pen, colored pencils

Thursday, February 4, 2016


2/2/16 ink, Platinum Carbon fountain pen, colored pencils
As much as I would rather be sketching outdoors than in, on rainy days, I do enjoy being at my desk. It gives me an opportunity to work on tedious, detailed drawings like this scaly dude I copied from the label on a bottle of Elysian Dragonstooth Stout. I can color to my heart’s content with colored pencils, which give me the same joyful color fix I used to get from crayons in kindergarten (though a bit more time-consuming). 

Rainy days were made for this.
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