Memorial Day

28 May, 2018. I encountered a group of American Legionnaires preparing for a Memorial Day recognition this morning. White haired and white bearded, and wearing starched white uniforms, the sight of these guys brought back memories – especially seeing the bugler. My last two years of high school I was the American Legion/VFW bugler. My job was to play taps at military funerals as well as any event where taps was required. It got me out of school on a regular basis, and I got to travel around the state with a raucous and grizzled group of men, burping and pissing and drinking beer – but always deadly serious about why they were in attendance.

It’s ridiculously hot today, especially for May. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I made a line drawing of one Legionnaire from the comfort of my air conditioned car, then added color a while later from the comfort of my air conditioned home. As much as I like to sketch in situ, on this day I was a big sissy. And there’s a real irony to this, considering my subject matter: white haired old men who toughed out unimaginable conditions and circumstances, guys who were shrugging off the heat to recognize their comrades who never made it home. Yeah, I’m a big sissy, and I’m pretty confident that anyone who never served, anyone who never experienced what these guys have – well, I’m pretty sure the rest of us are sissies too. Be sure to thank a veteran today. And tomorrow too, while you’re at it.

So I’ve been playing around with the combination of two medias in the tiny little grey-toned Stillman & Birn sketchbook. First, I’ve made a loose contour drawing using a Uni-Ball Deluxe pen.

Then, I’ve added color using gouache. It sounds similar to the somewhat standard technique of adding watercolor over line, but the results are different. For one thing, the opaque paint hides any lines one wishes to disappear, allowing a bit of brush carving and correction to shapes that aren’t as flattering as they might otherwise be.

I continue to explore the possibilities of very limited color palettes, this time combining Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Geranium, and white. I wasn’t sure if they’d work well, particularly because there’s little in the way of deep color for shadows. But I was surprised at the high key look that is achievable, not to mention the vivid warm color that comes from the yellow and magenta. The range of greens is limited, but harmonious.

A day and a half.

27 May, 2018. A day and a half is all. One full day of classes, a morning of same, and a hour or two of lunch and announcements before teachers all break for summer. A day and a half until my summer of sketching and painting begins in earnest. I plan to fill many sketchbook pages between now and the end of July.

This is Memorial Day weekend and my personal unofficial kick off to summer. Heading down to the City Market, I wandered in search of mushrooms. Other than two vendors offering up Morels at the obscene price of $35 per pint, none were to be had. I’d heard there was a mushroom farm about an hour from here and that they sometimes had a stand at the market, but alas! Not this weekend.

The market is always a treasury of people though, and pen in hand I wandered from stall to stall, inhaling the cornucopia of scents and aromas, with an ever watchful eye out for interesting people, patterns, and clothing. An already hot day, perspiration rolled down my forehead and into my eyes; the back of my shirt was soaked through in minutes. And yet, the woman in the sketch (above) wore a long sleeve wool cardigan, shawl, and head wrap – and seemed none the worse for it.

Realizing I was only five blocks away from the place I’d discovered a few days earlier – the one that makes authentic Aussie sausage rolls, I strolled across a highway overpass and meandered purposefully toward 9th and Wyandotte.

Last weekend I visited an artist supply store merely to see what sketchbooks they kept in stock. Not only do they have a good range of different products, serendipitously the sketchbooks were on sale at half off. Thus emboldened, I made a selection of several pocket size (3.5 x 5.5 inch) versions. One was this Stillman & Birn Nova Series grey toned sketchbook. Now contrary to the experiences of many excellent sketchers, my own experience with Stillman & Birn sketchbooks has been, to put it charitably, kind of “meh.” But the grey paper felt good to the touch, and it’s got weight and heft to it that I found appealing. And, as it turned out, seems to take ink well.

I’m still unhappy with the opaque white pens I ordered a month or two back. The ink simply doesn’t flow as readily as my Uni-Ball does, and that means marks must be made very deliberately. I hate that those white marks cannot be made with the same degree of looseness without clogging.

This paper is heavy enough that I think it should take gouache nicely. I haven’t tried it yet, but may yet do so today or tomorrow. I want to take advantage of the paint opacity on the toned sheet and will be very happy if they combine well.

The size of this pocket sketchbook makes it easy to carry, and it’s approximately the same size as the small gouache painting series I’ve been working on recently. For sketching, however, I prefer a size or two larger. It’s tough to have a fluid line in a small format, whereas the larger real estate of an A4 or A5 works perfectly for me.

Wet, wet, wet!

21 May, 2018. I should probably write about drawing – this is, after all, my sketching journal. But the fact of the matter is that I really don’t want to, the better part of the story isn’t about drawing.

Yesterday morning dawned cool and gray. Dark clouds loomed overhead and distant thunder grumbled; it sounded like Mother Nature’s tummy was rumbling, which is a weird thing to say. Nevertheless, it’s so. I look forward to this particular morning every year because it’s the date of a cycling event that I enjoy, the Tour de Bier.

My bike was stowed in the back of the car and I grew a little apprehensive as I drove south to the event meet up location: fat rain drops began to fall, and soon I needed the windshield wipers. As I pulled up and parked my car under a low hanging tree, thunder clapped and lightning flashed. The sky opened up and rain began to pour down. The large building to my left, Knuckleheads Garage, was at times barely visible. No way the ride was starting on time, if at all this morning.

I might have been glum, but the rain is somehow refreshing. I love thunderstorms. The air is charged and the world is fresh. A couple of sketchbooks lie on the passenger seat, along with a couple of pens. While the maelstrom crashed around me, I sat behind the wheel of the car and sketched out what I could see of Knuckleheads and the surrounding area. I could just make out a few cyclists braving the weather to run from their parked cars to the relative dryness of event awnings. I remained where I’d parked, making a few sketches until the hosts of the event Tweeted out the all clear.

In truth, the rain didn’t abate for hours. I eventually put my sketchbook down, and wheeled my bike toward the start line, through puddles and a steady downpour. I was drenched before ever getting the bike out of the car. Strange as it may sound, I was ok with the situation. Being out in the elements, hiking through snow or pedaling through a shower, perspiration somehow still welling up on my forehead and mingling with the rivulets of falling water cascading from under my helmet – well, it really makes me feel truly alive.

I think that’s part of what draws me toward sketching on location, especially outdoors. The world is an unpredictable place, very imperfect in fact. It’s wonderful to be experiencing it for real, rather than virtually on television, or via the internet. It’s real.

It’s real, and it makes me feel alive and in touch. Drawing the stories I encounter… well, that’s merely a byproduct.

The sketch above was made with a Uni-Ball Deluxe pen in a Canson 180 sketchbook. Being a captive of my car for forty minutes led me to making several versions of the sketch. Naturally, I liked the original one best of all.


19 May, 2018. I worked at a design firm located at 9th and Baltimore in Downtown Kansas City for several years – long enough that I really feel like I know the place. But time passes, and it turns out that I left that job and the downtown area over twenty-eight years ago. The place I know doesn’t really exist any more, and that became very clear to me this afternoon as I set myself up to sketch the corner I once knew intimately.

Once upon a time, our block was populated with designers and illustrators and architects. The Savoy Grill was half a block away, and a barbecue shack (barely) stood across the street in one of the many parking lots. The world’s shittiest bar was across the street from the studio; bare wires and a bulb hung from the ceiling over a pool table with cigarette scars all over the wood, and you simply didn’t ask why the bathroom sink was the color it was.

Fast forward to this afternoon, and I find myself seeing a place that is familiar but quite unknown. For one thing, there are people walking all over the place. In 1990, you could shoot a canon down 9th Street after five on weekdays and all weekend long without fear of hurting a single living soul.

The shitty bar is gone. Was it the Baltimore Inn? Honestly, I know longer remember with any certainty. In it’s stead are the signs of gentrification: a delicatessen and to my surprise, a neat little eatery that serves authentic Aussie sausage rolls. I buy two, and a mushroom hand pie, stand outside the place and stare across the street at the New England Building, once populated with the revolving door of designers and illustrators and writers and advertising executives who were my steady stream of colleagues. Now the building is residential. I glance over to the unique architectural detail that was my office three decades earlier and wonder if it’s part of someone’s bedroom these days.

A block in the other direction is a structure we referred to as the “Eagle Building.” An imposing statue of an eagle stands guard over all who enter. I think the AIA used to have offices there. Maybe. Today I notice it’s The Catholic Center, and there’s no shortage of priests and nuns exiting through the double doors in groups of three and four. Maybe they are in search of authentic Australian sausage rolls. I hope so – they’re quite good.

I’m trying out a new tool today. A few months ago, one of my fellow sketchers showed me a nifty little gizmo that is part art satchel and part drawing support. The bag is slung over one’s shoulder like a courier bag until it’s time to sketch. One then rotates the bag to the front, opens the case and snaps the lid out of the way with a strap made for that purpose. With the case open, the shoulder strap still in place, and the surface of the case propped against one’s waist, one now has a very stable surface on which to draw or paint while standing. I only saw the bag in use for a short time, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I’m not sure what brand or model she was using. I know there are at least one or two similar artist bags on the market, but the one I researched and wound up ordering is made by a company named Etchr. They’ve developed a couple of different products; the one I ordered and was putting to use this afternoon is the Slate Mini Satchel. It worked very well for the sketches I made today, but ninety minutes of drawing isn’t adequate time for a thorough review – I’ll write in detail about this product after a few weeks of use.

Blocks of flat color

13 May, 2018. It’s been a week of sporadic and very limited opportunity to sketch. In fact, I really felt more drawn to painting than sketching. But that simply wasn’t to be, so thank goodness for the clarity, peace of mind, and purely simple convenience of a pen and sketchbook!

Standing on 20th in the Crossroads Arts District yesterday afternoon, the wind played havoc with the flippy-floppy paper of the larger-than-my-usual sketchbook I’m currently working in. It was, in fact, a pain in the ass and I wound up with all sorts of unintentional marks on the paper as the sheet unexpectedly met with the point of the pen. I wish I’d remembered to bring the hair tie I use to secure the page while I draw. Next time!

One of my Instagram followers likened the sketch above to Frank Miller’s work. High praise indeed! I love the stylistic rendering of the art in Miller’s graphic novels. Emulating his work was not what I had set out to do; it’s just a thing that happened along the way.

Enjoying small plates and a glass of wine is a distinctly European thing to do, a thing I truly enjoy. It’s nice that this custom is beginning to be introduced into my local community.

I sometimes get questions about my occasional choice to add simple blocks of flat color to my sketches. It’s a distinctly mechanical addition, and one that profoundly changes the mood of a black and white sketch. I elect to take this action to emphasize what I see as the most important elements of my drawing. The blocks of color, in my mind, help to communicate the narrative of the moment by pushing some details into the background and pulling others to the fore.

It’s been a while since I could legitimately claim the title of “The Early Morning Cyclist,” so I sought to remedy that injustice on a still, dawn morning that flashed a bit of sunlight just long enough to get a sketch made before evolving into a murky rain.

This drawing illustrates how a simple block of color not only tells the story of a particular time of day, but also contrasts background from foreground and middle ground. It reminds me of the simple children’s book illustrations I recall from my youth – not doubt done so because it was the simplest, cheapest, and most expedient production method at the time. I just like the way it looks. The blocks of color are intentionally loose and imprecise… I’ve tried tight precision and I don’t like how “precious” it all seems with my scrawled linework.

I love scribbling people at the farmer’s market. This lady was busy setting plants out for shoppers to peruse. The strategy of separating the main subject from the other scribbled lines of the subordinate setting helps create a sense of motion. The dynamic of her leaning over her work, glancing up, is better realized.

(Uni-Ball Deluxe pen with some additional thicker lines from a Fude-tipped fountain pen; color is added mechanically in Photoshop or Illustrator after the sketches are scanned.)

#usk #urbansketchers #urbansketcherskc

Wedding Ritual

8 May, 2018. We attended a wedding this weekend in an Eastern Orthodox Church. This was an interesting experience for me: many women were wearing some sort of robes or shawls, along with head covering; many men wore beards, some quite lengthy. The people of the congregation were genuine, the environment is clearly influenced by Byzantine structural and pattern designs, and iconography. The reverend father sang in chant throughout, and the small choir depicted here provided a choral response.

I’m not a religious person myself, but this was a fascinating reflection of the experiences in the Catholic Church of my youth. The liturgy – if I’m using the term correctly – interested me in the sort of call and response effect that was present. Ritual creates an atmosphere of reverence and inclusion.

I’m especially interested in the people and their choices of facial hair and garb. There’s a backstory here, one that I wish I’d made greater effort to uncover. I love history, and experiencing this ceremony, so unlike any other I’ve experienced, and which seemed entrenched in antiquity – as well as a culture entirely unknown to me – was an unexpected discovery in the heart of the Ozarks.

(Uni-Ball Deluxe in Canton 180 sketchbook.)

Where Catfish Meet Their End.


5 May 2018.  I’m in the Ozarks this weekend, on Table Rock Lake.  I don’t know how many times I’ve bought my fishing license at this place over the years. It’s pretty much the last option for beer and gas before reaching the lake house, and it’s become a sort of tradition for me, a coming of age thing for the kids, and then their kids after that. There are four generations of family that gather here.


Immediately across the road is this diner  –  it’s closed now and up for sale at the moment – but we’ve always stopped and gotten hamburgers and ice cream cones in the past.  It seems to me that there are few spots more nostalgic than a good old-fashioned drive inn or diner. And as a rule of nature I find that burgers are tastier there, fries are crispier, and malts are definitely much, much thicker.


I really love the houses in these parts.  In Stone County, as they are throughout this part of Missouri and Arkansas, the structures are simple and functional.  Crazy as it sounds, some of the roofs are tin. I’ve been in these during a hailstorm and it sounds like one is staying inside a snare drum! Sleep, should a storm take place at night, is impossible. With the electricity out and candles dimly illuminating the interior, one has taken more than a few steps back in time.


The hub of activity is the boat dock. Always. Everyone seems to gather round for beer and cocktails, to swim, to gab, to fish. This is where catfish meet their end, and dinner begins.


Unlike today it was a pretty lazy day yesterday, cloudy and just a little cool. It’s now almost 6 PM and the sky is blue, the sun warm. Catfish is in the fryer, and we are lounging on the deck again. A bottle of Pinot Noir is open, vegetables grill, all is right in the world.

All sketches in this post were made directly with a Uni-Ball Deluxe pen in a fresh Carson 180 sketchbook. I’m awkwardly working on a larger page size than usual.

Stone Entryway

Wheatley Hospital East Entryway

4 May 2018. Well, this was a challenge! I didn’t want to trespass, especially on a property that looked like it might fall on me. But there’s an enormous pile of dirt and stone obstructing the street view of this portion of the elevation. What to do, what to do? Walk to the north, sketch what you can see around the dirt pile; walk to the south and repeat… then hope that the guess work (which was substantial) makes sense when the color gets added at home. (approximately 8 x 10 inches on some kind of index paper I found at the office; Uni-Ball Deluxe pen, pencil, gouache) #usk #urbansketchers #urbansketcherskc #kansascityhistory

Street Sketching.

4 May, 2018. I thought I’d share a few of the really quick street sketches I made a couple of days ago. Sketching people on the move is challenging and fun. People walk past and seldom hold anything resembling a pose, musician move and sway, shoppers flit from one market stall to the next. It forces me to hold their likeness in the back of my mind and, often, to sort of “collage” a couple of passers by together into a single sketch.

The concept of a sketch as “collage” holds true even when my subjects are thoughtful enough to stick around for a few extra seconds. As I finish one person, another enters my line of sight and they get added to the page.

Oftentimes I will consciously try to work out some way to indicate a sense of space. I’m actually kind of pleased with how the compositional structure accomplished that goal in this street sketch.

Limited Potential

3 May, 2018. My 100 day tiny gouache painting challenge continues, evolving a little as I progress. My first deviation was to veer toward the limited colors of the Zorn Palette. By extension, the two example here are a variation on the limited palette theme, again using only three colors plus white, in this instance Perylene Violet, Yellow Ochre, and Ultramarine Blue to form a loose color triad.

Now to be completely transparent, I’m not at all certain I like this combination of colors. It’s pretty restrictive and seems to slant toward interiors (perhaps). But the beach scene works, and I do like that pink hue that emerges from the mix of Perylene Violet, Ultramarine Blue, and White. The blue and yellow are almost compliments of each other, and that’s visually interesting to me as well.

Next step in this color palette experiment is to try it out en plein air when I visit the Ozarks this weekend. How will it do with fresh spring foliage, I wonder?