And yet…

21 January, 2019. Man, this paper is a pain in the keister! Ink bleeds like crazy. My super compliant Caran D’Ache pastels don’t want to stick, and dragging the nib of my pen across the paper is a lot like driving a Jeep across the surface of the moon. It seems to suck ink right out of my pen reservoir too. Oh, and forget about activating those water soluble pastels with a brush.

And yet…

Drawing on lousy paper is fraught with frustrations. Marks happen by chance. There’s just something about the unpredictability that makes sketching an appealing act of happenstance.

From time to time I’ll cut up a brown bag from the grocery store to draw upon. It’s a bit like butcher paper, but not as nice. The paper in this sketchbook is awful. It seems to have been formulated from some sort of oatmeal/palm frond/sandpaper/asteroid pulp recipe. The surface is irregular and looks hand made (although I doubt it actually is.)

The cover is laughably kitschy, but it does brighten up an otherwise cold and gloomy looking January world. It’s an embarrassingly “touristy” look, quite frankly, and the binding, while functional, is inset so far from the spine that a lot of real estate is lost: the effective useful drawing area is much smaller from side-to-side than it would appear at first glance. And that twig! It’s an entirely decorative accent (as is the cut out fish); it makes me chuckle just a little bit. This is a sketchbook you simply cannot take seriously.

And yet…

It is a fun surface to mark upon. In a way, it reminds me of the crummy manilla paper I used for pen and ink drawings when I was a kid. I’d no idea at the time that “artist paper” was even a thing and so I used dip pens and India ink over terrible paper that was only barely workable. And doing so meant braving the frustrations of the inevitable ink spatter and blobs. As an adolescent, those frustrations led to more than one bottle of ink getting thrown across the room.

I’m also reminded of Renaissance era artist sketches. As I was floundering my way through the world of dip pens, the twelve year old me was gifted art books by my aunt. One book I particularly recall was illustrated with ink sketches by Rembrandt. The lines were spare and at the same time incredibly expressive. The sketches were made with what I imagine was a crude dip pen and represented a very handmade process. The paper never allowed a “perfect” line to be formed. I suspect now that Rembrandt’s paper had discolored over time, but everything about the paper in my sketchbook reminds me of his drawings: the color, the way lines are broken and skitter across the surface. Such paper encourages one very simplistic approach to drawing, a sort of imperfection that I find attractive.

Once upon a time, in a life before I was an art educator, I was a designer and illustrator. It was how I made my living. With the advent of Instagram and various other social medias, I’ve noticed a cascade of younger art makers are labelling themselves as illustrators. I sort of wonder how many of them realize that illustrators, for the most part, make art for someone else – that illustrators are hired to express the ideas of others. Illustrations are assignments generated by others and executed by illustrators. I wonder if that label of “illustrator” is self bestowed as a means of validating their art making. I hope not.

Illustration is a valid form of art making, but I no longer consider myself to be an illustrator, except in the very broadest sense of the word. I draw what I enjoy, when I enjoy, and where I enjoy. Any “assignments” are my own and no apologies are necessary for how crudely my marks are made.

Even when they are made on crummy paper.

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Winter Gloom

18 January, 2019. Boy, am I ever done with this weather! As I write this, the world outside my window is layer upon layer of opaque white, actually quite lovely looking in a very graphic sort of way. But I’m stuck indoors so much that I’m going just a little batty. Snow, cold, frozen fog, drizzle – none of it is particularly conducive to getting outside.

I’ve been staying pretty close to my neighborhood, especially last weekend when a big snow storm hit us. Finally, deciding I really couldn’t wander from one end of the house to the other yet again, I got into the four wheel drive and headed out to explore. The world was, as my sketch above indicates, entirely black and white.

Down the hill from here is a Chinese restaurant that I visit every now and then. With the Subaru already warmed up, the cold was braved and spring rolls helped to assuage the gloom of winter.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Crescent sketchbook, page size is approximately 3.5 x 5 inches.

Snowbound sketches on cruddy paper, and lovin’ every second.

15 January, 2019. So we’re snowed in and cleaning up over the weekend, and come across a forgotten and unused sketchbook filled with seriously crummy paper.

The sketchbook is made from banana leaves or palm fronds or something similar…loads of texture and flecks of crud. I figure it’ll probably be like sandpaper on my fountain pen, but decided what the heck, what’ve I got to lose?

Those of you who know me, know I almost always work from life on location, but we were pretty much snowbound for the most part. Another thing we stumbled upon during cleaning was some vacation photos from 2009. (Yes, we need to clean more often.)

Anyway, I made several quick ink sketches on the banana paper (or whatever) using my photos as reference. It was fun looking through images of Scotland from a decade past; memories of particular places and events suddenly felt like they’d happened just yesterday. Even the terror of finding myself on a trail high up in the mountains that required me to do a bit of rock climbing to get to the other side brought back a chill and cold sweat. (Prudently, I returned the way I came up rather than doing the mountaineering thing.)



The long and short of it is that even though I had to keep cleaning off my constantly clogging pen nib, I had a blast trying something new and artistically “wrong.” It was fun forcing my pen to do something it didn’t really want to do, the paper sucked ink out of the reservoir like a sponge, and the unexpected line quality was exciting to watch unfold.

Visceral Reactions

13 January, 2019. I’m finally getting around to scanning some of the past week’s sketches. This is from my kinda-sorta on-again-off-again sketch series of skies.

To be perfectly clear, these little sketches are not intended to be anything other than a quick impression. I’m making little attempt to be realistic and only barely representational. It’s just a fun way to play around with color – a little playfulness without getting too serious about doing so. Even with my more representational work I always look for the abstract in a scene and this is a fun way to do that.

My sketches are often a narrative response to a place or time or event. These sketches of skies are more visceral. The start and end of a day can be more of an aesthetic experience, and if I really explore my intentions here I’d probably find it’s aesthetics driving me. But frankly, I’m not thinking deeply or analyzing my motivations…I’m simply tossing paint on the page for the pure pleasure of doing so.

Watercolor on Arches rough, 7 x 7 inches.

Baseball History

6 January, 2019. There he is, Satchel Paige, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, looking for the signal from catcher Josh Gibson, one of the greatest power hitters of all time. In the outfield stands Cool Papa Bell, deceptively languid. He is considered by many baseball observers to be one of the fastest men to ever play the game, and he calmly stands waiting for anything to be hit remotely in his direction. 

We’re at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum today. Our January First Saturday sketch walk has us visiting with some of the legends of baseball in a location that almost immediately turned into one of our chapter’s favorite spots to sketch. The museum exhibits are wonderful. Wandering through the space, sketchers seem to be around every corner, in the lobby, outside sketching in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. One particular highlight of our morning is the exhibit in the central part of the museum, a baseball field populated with statues of baseball legends at their positions, ready to play ball. On and around the field USkKC sketchers have positioned themselves and are sketching with intensity.

Uniball in Canson 180 sketchbook, color added digitally after scanning; page size is approximately 8 x 10 inches.

A perfectly good building.

4 January, 2019. My friend Peggy asked me if I’d had a chance to sketch the building at 47th and Pennsylvania yet. I’m still on break between semesters so my brain is set to “Pause” at the moment – I admitted I had no idea which building she was talking about.

“It’s the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the Country Club Plaza, and you better get down there before they tear it down!”

Wednesday morning dawned, bright and cold, the first day of commerce in 2019. I stood in the shadow of McCormick & Schmick’s, studying the scene before me: The fencing and hardhats and construction equipment that surrounded what I think is an iconic Plaza structure was incongruous with the building and all of it’s architectural fellows. My understanding is limited – unless someone comes along to save it, the location is going to be used for a new building. It seems like a terrible waste to me, and – once again – a terrible loss of our own history. I haven’t seen drawings of the new building yet, but I’m fearful of a tall gray box with lots of mirrored glass.

Standing on the sidewalk, I sketch quickly. Although I’ve brought two pair of gloves, I immediately discover that one pair is too thin and my hands are in pain from the cold within minutes. The other pair is much warmer, but so thick that it’s virtually impossible to handle my pen with any dexterity at all. Those are abandoned and I finish the sketch with my fingers numb.

Later, when I archive my sketch onto Flickr, I caption it “yeah, just tear it down you fools.” Small solace, I know.

After freezing my hands to the point of numbness, I collected myself and my sketch kit and retired to the warmth of a favorite restaurant for lunch. To my surprise, I discovered there were some unused pages at the back of this small Crescent sketchbook. That discovery delighted me far more than it should have – like the twelve year old that I am at heart, I find undue glee in trifling happenstance.

Scrambling outside to sketch on one of those empty pages, the world had warmed a little. Gloves were comfortable, but no longer necessary. I quickly sketched the entrance to McCormick and Schmick’s.

And immediately behind the restaurant, construction workers in yellow vests continued to work, unabated.

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Uniball Vision and Pitt “Big Brush.” The top sketch is approximately 8 x 10 inches in a Canson 180 sketchbook; the lower sketch is in a Crescent sketchbook, the page size is about 3 x 5 inches.

Urban Sketchers Symposium Correspondent

1 January, 2019. I’m very excited to finally be able to share the news that I’ll be traveling to Amsterdam this year as a sketcher-correspondent for the 2019 International Urban Sketchers Symposium!

The International Urban Sketchers Symposium is dedicated to fostering and celebrating the practice of on-location sketching in the host city. The event offers valuable field-sketching instruction and opportunities for participants to network and socialize. Following our spirit of “sharing the world, one drawing at a time,” we aim to bring the Symposium to new cities and countries every year. PortlandLisbonSanto DomingoBarcelonaParatySingapore Manchester and Chicago have hosted previous editions of the Symposium.

At the end of a highly competitive, rigorous selection process, three outstanding candidates were chosen to cover the Amsterdam symposium as correspondents: Mark Anderson(Liberty, Missouri, USA), Mariia Ermilova (Tokyo) and Gwen Glotin (Amsterdam). The USk Editorial Team and Executive Board are pleased to have selected a strong, committed team for the important volunteer role of reporting on the 10th annual USk Symposium. (Read more…)

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Click here to learn more about Urban Sketchers