23 January, 2020.

I stopped the car to make some quick sketches in a fin de siècle neighborhood that I’ve always felt had a sort of abandoned charm. A friend asked me how I managed this, given how ridiculously cold that morning happened to be. I told her that I draw really, really, really fast … and that heated leather seats were the best automotive decision I’ve ever made.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Where's my taste?

22 January, 2020.

Once again we’ve come to the end of Restaurant Week, and once again we’ve sampled some of the best fare the city has to offer: delicately prepared Ahi that cut like butter, exquisite creme brûlée, artistically considered seasonings. How then to explain a nicely plated Ribeye that was as bland and tasteless as I’ve ever experienced anywhere? In a city that boasts of the best barbecue and the best steaks on the planet, this is surely some sort of crime!

Uni-Ball Vision and Pitt Big Brush pens in Canson 180 sketchbook; shading created with Procreate 5.

It's just a waiting game.

21 January, 2020.

The tables are filled, and a family of three patiently waits to be seated. I’ve never understood the mentality that came up with the majority of restaurant designs that herds diners into small spaces like cattle, there to wait for their name to be called or for a deliberately grating pager to flash a warning light and insistently, angrily vibrate. Or those other places, like this one, that forces customers to stand and wait just outside the entrance, there to pace and hover.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Canson 180 sketchbook; textural shading added later using Procreate 5.

Variations on a theme.

20 January, 2020.

Most of my sketches are like the one illustrated at the top of this post: black lines drawn directly with a pen, embracing the simplicity and imperfection that is inherent in such an approach. Typically, the only embellishment I’ll allow myself is to identify areas to be filled with solid black. Not only does this tend to emphasize the overall brevity, it also helps to focus in on those things that caught my eye in the first place: Which elements create a sense of story?

I’ve recently begun to scan in my line drawings and experiment with the possibilities of adding color or texture or shading using an Apple Pencil and Procreate. There’s a loss of simplicity that takes place, but interestingly they begin to be flavored with a sense of editorial illustration. In fact, I wondered after the fact if in this sketch I had subconsciously channeled my inner Brad Holland, for many years a favorite of mine.

Exploring yet another variation, watercolor gets applied directly to the page of the original sketch. The character of the sketch is – again – different. What was once characterized by simplicity, instead takes on greater complexity. I’m reminded of Paul Cadmus in some ways, and whether that is because of how busy the composition has become, or the subject matter, or something else entirely, I’m a little intrigued by the sheer variety that can be achieved from simply playing and experimenting with a sketch.

Top: Uni-Ball Vision and Pitt Big Brush pens in Stillman and Birn sketchbook. Next: Scanned in and shading added using Apple Pencil and Procreate 5. Last: Watercolor washes added over original illustration.

Streetcar Sketching

19 January, 2020.

January USkKC Sketch Out. It’s miserably cold, so our group is predictably small this month – perhaps only a dozen or so sketchers meet up at Union Station on Saturday morning. We’ve arranged to ride the street cars, back and forth between Crown Center and the River Market. The opportunity to sketch a variety of people is a welcome distraction from the more stationary architectural subjects I’ve sketched over the past month.

Sketching on the street car is a fun challenge. The subject is dynamic and constantly in flux as people fill, then empty the car: Faces and bodies change at every stop.

There’s the occasional whiff of body odor and urine, but the cars themselves are very clean and the people are simply enjoying a warm commute. A cop leans against the glass, everything is orderly and friendly. Outside it’s sunny and brisk, and the cars make short work of the jog between River Market and Crown Center.

Uni-Ball Vision and Pitt Big Brush pens in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

A Casino

18 January, 2020.

Casinos are weird places. There are, of course, the floors of gambling, lights flashing and a constant, unending cacophony of bells bellowing forth from row upon row of slot machines. Those machines themselves, do one thing – gobble down one’s money – but are decorated in a wide array of colors and graphics and themes. Beyond the domain of the gamblers are halls of eateries, theaters, day care centers, park benches, and a strange environmental sense of not being entirely indoors, yet not being outdoors either. In fact, there’s little evidence of day or night – an effect, I suspect, that is intentional design.

Sketched with a Uni-Ball Vision pen, then scanned in and shading added in Procreate 5 with an Apple Pencil.

Snow dog

14 January, 2020.

Annabelle, out in the snow, waiting by the back door, looks at me with a quizzical glance: “Hey! Open the back door and let me in!”

Fude-nib fountain pen and watercolor.

Familiar places

13 January, 2020.

As exciting as it is to sketch in an exotic locale, there’s much to be said about drawing what you know well. I live in a small town where homes have a definitively “small town” flavor; the architecture is familiar and exploring their character by simplifying structures into their most basic shapes is a fun challenge: How far can I go and still wind up with a convincing and believable subject?

Watercolor and pencil on Canson watercolor paper.


7 January, 2020.

Four by six inches. What else can I say? That almost automatically makes it a postcard.

Watercolor on Canson Watercolor Postcard.


6 January, 2020.

They huddle around an eatery table, slouched, these elderly veterans. Garrison caps casually perched above each brow, their laughter is quiet, a knowing glance from one to another seems to communicate much. I’m reminded of my dad and his brothers, of old men sipping cans of Hamms in the VFW Hall, of cold winter high school days standing around an old pickup truck on a country road, self-consciously wearing the stiff uniform of an honorary American Legion bugler, in a circle with old men who earned theirs; they smoke cigarettes and cough hackingly and pee on the tires of the truck less than half an hour after they finish a twenty-one gun salute and I play Taps at a Legion funeral.