Unfocused.

10 June, 2017. After teaching a three-day workshop with a singular subject focus last weekend, my sketching this week was sporadic and decidedly UN-focused. And a bit of randomness felt good after having stayed on target for the entirety of my workshop, as well as the Urban Sketchers International Day in the Life event that followed me.

Keeping things loose, trying diligently to represent only what is necessary, and making sure that there’s no question my images are drawn by hand – those are my goals.

Although these are two opposite pages in the sketchbook, and of two different subjects and locations, I like they way they seem to be a single composition.

(Top sketch: Kuretake No. 40 brush pen; middle sketch: Omni-Ball Deluxe roller ball pen; bottom sketch: LAMY Safari medium nib fountain pen loaded with Noodler’s Beaver color ink.)

Illustrating the Edible

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4 June, 2017. I had a great time leading this weekend’s Kansas City Art Institute graduate sketching workshop, “Illustrating the Edible.” Working with art teachers is always a powerfully positive experience, and this group was no exception. I have a pretty loyal following of workshop participants, and I usually know the majority of attendees. However, this weekend I had a group of art teachers who were nearly all new to me.

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The first stop on our three day workshop was at The Cellar Rat, where my group enthusiastically embraced sketching (and sampling!) during a wine tasting. Located in the Crossroads Arts District, the wine shop and the surrounding neighborhood was packed for our monthly First Fridays art walk. So, the opportunity for sketching subject matter was rich, no matter where each artist positioned his or herself. Our focus this weekend was on food: dining, socializing, preparation, shopping, and growing – and the wine tasting was an excellent way to kick things off. Drawing people who are in constant motion can be challenging, and sipping a glass of wine while attempting to do so might have helped to calm the nerves of those made nervous at stepping outside their comfort zone!

Our Friday evening visit to The Cellar Rat was intentionally leisurely and fun, providing those who wished to do so the freedom of an enjoyable romp through the Crossroads District. Saturday’s schedule was considerably busier, beginning at The Missing Ingredient. The Missing Ingredient is an subsidiary of the restaurant development company, Bread n Butter. Using hydroponics and specialized grow lights, they are local producers of greens, herbs, and even edible flowers for local restaurants.

I always find my mark making is pretty rigid and tight when I first start sketching, so to warm up I arrived at the warehouse a little early. Moving around the page very quickly, I roughed in the main shapes without any penciled construction lines. My goal was to loosen up and emphasize the key shapes…zero in on the important stuff, and restrain myself from adding unnecessary details.


Once my group arrived, we descended upon the place. Inside, and beyond the initial office area, there is a large open area which is filled with row after row of plants. Our hosts welcomed us to set up and sketch anywhere that was convenient. I was impressed with the sheer number of lettuces, not even to mention the variety of other greens on hand. The vertical grow spaces had just been harvested of edible flowers.

Our next location was an upscale restaurant named Stock Hill. Elegant and sophisticated, the interior architecture is both impressive and comfortable. Although we were supposed to be with Chef during our visit, some wires got crossed and we missed out on the opportunity to document the processes he goes through in preparing the kitchen and staff for the day. Instead, my sketchers focused in on the environment: lights, stairs, table settings, and so forth. I felt fortunate to have been able to capture a small kitchen prep scene earlier during breakfast before the workshop day schedule had begun.

Fate is a cruel mistress – even though we were touring various food venues of the city, I wound up inhaling a McDonald’s cheeseburger on my way to our next location of the day. Rushed as I was, I couldn’t resist adding small touches of color to my breakfast sketch while I chewed on my rubberized burger.

And while the event had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my workshop, I pulled over for three or four minutes to sketch a demonstration. The ladies in front, seeing me pull up and look, did me the favor of posing and shaking their sign and flag!




The final location for our day was the City Market, a place I’ve visited many times for both shopping and sketching. It’s a place where people of all types find themselves shoulder to shoulder in search of grown foods, a happy hunting ground for mimes and street musicians, where the air is rife with the aroma of meat grilling. In some respects, I expect it’s somewhat divine.

A Day in the Life of an Urban Sketcher

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2 June, 2017. Urban Sketchers turns 10 this November! We are celebrating this achievement with a series of events happening all over the world throughout 2017!

A Day in the Life of an Urban Sketcher celebrates the lives of sketchers around the world and how they share work online. This social media event will feature a different sketcher each month in an Instagram and Twitter takeover. The featured sketcher will show their world, one drawing, one tweet, and one Instagram post at a time. …And tomorrow, Saturday, June 3, find out just how little I know about Twitter when the USk social media follows me!


I’ll also be teaching a graduate level sketching workshop through the Kansas City Art Institute tonight through Sunday afternoon. “Illustrating the Edible” should be a fun and interesting way to tell the stories of our community through the various ways we experience food. From community farms to the City Market, from locally sourced restaurant fare to the City Union Mission, my students will be artist-storytellers, communicating the variety of ways that food connects us all. If you’re in Kansas City, look for us at The Cellar Rat this evening, Stock Hill tomorrow morning, the City Market tomorrow afternoon, and the City Union Mission on Sunday afternoon. I’ll share highlights of this weekend in a future blog post, and Saturday will be thoroughly documented on the Urban Sketchers Twitter and Instagram accounts. (Follow @urbansketchers on Instagram and Twitter and check out the hashtag #uskdayinthelife.)

School’s out for summer…

31 May, 2017. Yes, school is out, and this art teacher is ready to relax with a pen in hand! A four-day weekend allowed ample time to simply scribble, much of that while I lounged on a boat dock nestled in amongst a grove of trees.

Time passes along at a completely different pace at the lake. I played around with cross contour lines to develop branches that had volume and exhibited a degree of foreshortening.

Watercolor might get added in a rather haphazard way. I made no promises to myself about what a sketch might turn out like, set no goals and predicted no outcomes. With no expectations in mind, I found my hours with the sketchbook refreshing.

My model was kind enough to sit without moving, turning a page from time to time. Alas! She eventually got up, walked up to the house, and began to rummage through the refrigerator for some cold, refreshing, and liquid libation. I stayed in my lounge chair and added color.

Taking a break from the lake one afternoon, we went out to explore some of the small Ozark towns to the south of us, across the border in Arkansas.

This act of exploration had me comparing one locale to another, and my sketchbook seemed like a good way to record my impressions along the way.

While far from convenient, from time to time I experiment with a dip pen. I saved an uninked sketch so I could test out a new ink I’m curious about. While it’s not permanent, it’s also not as readily reactivated with brush and wash as a Pilot Varsity pen is. (Unfortunately, that is sort of what I was hoping for.)

I’m not sure why, but I feel compelled to create some sort of whimsical cover design for each of my sketchbooks. Annabelle was conveniently at hand to act as a model for this cover.

Catch as Catch Can.

22 May, 2017. Signs, signs – everywhere the signs! Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. So, it’s been catch as catch can this week, grabbing sketches wherever and whenever, and not really getting a chance to do any sort of sitting around absorbing the place. It’s not my favorite approach, but sometimes it yields a bit of gold. This tightly cropped scene of signage captured my attention almost immediately. But of course I only had a couple minutes to scribble. It was sprinkling, I sketched, I made a quick snapshot to reference for color later. Then I scooted.

A convivial pub often offers a rich assortment of subjects to draw. It was a Friday night, immediately after work and the local brew pub was hoppin’! A pint of Riley Porter for me, a glass of Vignoles for her, and a game of scrabble at the bar. I sketched while I waited (and waited) for my turn. This particular week was done, and it really couldn’t have ended much sooner.

It was a wet day in an older part of the city. Sitting in the front seat of my car, making a really fast sketch, I found myself impatient to “git ‘r done.” Suddenly, I realized what I’d at first thought to be a rather pedestrian subject had captured my artistic interests. I focused on creating a silhouette of the structures via line, and got pretty loosey-goosey with the interior details. After working with the Uni-Ball to draft the main (and rather sparse) details, I went back in with a Pilot Varsity and a water brush to add some depth and tonality.

So strange to ride through what was once simple countryside, only to discover a new multi-lane thoroughfare going in, connecting the town proper to – what? Another highway? The hand of mankind rips another swath of trees from the planet. (Uni-Ball Vision Micro on Strathmore Aquarius II, approximately 7 x 7 inches.)

Sketching Pamphlets

21 May, 2017. This is a pretty simple folded pamphlet – avoid the temptation to overthink things if you try it out for yourself!

So rather than buying sketch books, I make my own sketching “pamphlets.” These are lightweight, hand-constructed booklets that allow me to carry a thin, high quality, easy to carry sketching surface.

I begin with a standard 22 x 30 sheet of good quality watercolor paper. My favorite sheet for this purpose is Strathmore Aquarius II, which is very lightweight, relatively speaking, but doesn’t wrinkle or bow when you add washes of water and paint.

I’ll divide the sheet into four equal horizontal strips that measure approximately 7.5 x 22 inches. To keep from bulking up, I will only use three strips of paper for each booklet. Folding each in half to a 7.5 x 11 size, I’ll carefully crease the pages with a printer’s folding bone or a brayer. Sandwiching the three sheets together, I’ll then carefully stitch the centers together. At this point I will have an 11 x 7.5 inch book fold pamphlet. By carefully folding each 11 inch panel toward the center gutter, I will wind up with a double gatefold pamphlet. Although I refer to these as 5 x 7 booklets, it will actually measure closer to 5.5 x 7.5 inches.

Fold your own.

15 May, 2017. Who needs sketchbooks? I make my own double gatefold sketching “pamphlets” out of my favorite watercolor paper.

Ever since I began experimenting with my own sketching media, I’ve toyed around with folding sequences and sizes. I want the size to be easily carried without being a burden or inconvenient. And I knew I wanted to have the flexibility to draw on a single panel, two panels, or to expand out into a truly panoramic motif. After several promising attempts, I’ve begun to use a double gatefold, which is easy to cut and fold, and provides me with the flexibility I hoped for.

Notice how the sketching pamphlet in the center (above) is unfolded to reveal a very long and horizontal canvas on which to scribble. My pamphlets are small enough that I can simply tuck one into a pocket or – in a pinch – between my back and the waist band of my hiking shorts. Yet there is enough paper to provide adequate thickness so that I can draw without the whole shebang seeming floppy-floppy.

A single panel works perfectly for a simple, direct observational sketch.

Meanwhile, I can unfold the pages if I wish, and use the entire width as a drawing surface.

For the sake of simplicity.

6 May, 2017. Our local group of likeminded sketching, plein air, and doodling artists met to draw at the City Market this weekend. The place, normally bustling on a Saturday morning, was especially so on this day. The crowds of shoppers were teeming, the birds were in song, a light breeze played over the pavement and stalls of fruits and vegetables. Even the normally vacant spaces were occupied by additional sellers and street performers.

I was drawn to a quartet of older gentlemen playing stringed instruments and performing American folk music – Woody Guthrie, Pete Segar, and many others. From what I gathered, they’re not a “group,” per se. Individually, they play with other, more organized groups of musicians but thought it would be a hoot to play together on this morning. And what a treat it was that they decided to do so – they were wonderful! After standing and sketching them for a while, I eventually wandered over to a nearby park bench and claimed my stake so that I could draw and listen to their set.

My objective was to keep it simple, keep it loose, and really shoot for the “less is more” approach. Sometimes it takes me several pages to loosen up and shake the tight-ass scrawls, and this was to be the case today as well. In fact, the sketch above was my last of the morning. After having drawn the same guys several times, I finally got to the point that I “knew” my subject and could design the sketch. I really like how the black and white turned out, and I’m especially pleased to have remembered to get a good image of it before adding loose patches of watercolor wash. In almost every way, the color is there to create a more holistic image: there’s a bit of “push/pull” taking place in the interaction between cools and warms, and the placement of color and value helps to direct the eye in a circular motion, reinforcing what was begun with the linear composition.

Really. Is there anything more joyful sounding than the plucking of a banjo? And is there any musical instrument that can go from such joy to such intense melancholy in but the briefest of moments?

From my park bench seat, my view took in outside dining, architecture and a variety of architectural details, people shopping, performers performing, and sellers selling. In keeping with the idea of simplicity, I began this outdoor dining sketch by focusing on the silhouette “line” of people and objects that cuts through the bottom center horizon. Notice that it’s (mostly) a single, uninterrupted line. This is a great architectural exercise that I find works to tease out the most important elements of a skyline, or even a landscape. Turns out that it works well for people too – at least in this case. I really love it when a sketch gets distilled down into the barest minimum of essential elements, and for that reason alone I find myself incredibly happy with where this one wound up – not to mention the enjoyment of the process/path I took to get there. Once the sketch began, the rest was intuitive. It’s at such times, when using the pen is like riding a bicycle, that I’m often at my most content.

(Drawn on location in the Kansas City, Missouri City Market using an Omni-Ball Deluxe and watercolor wash on Strathmore Aquarius II paper.)

Waterlogged.

30 April, 2017. Only one word can describe my three day weekend: “AAAAAARGH!”

This was intended to be a long weekend of getting outside, touring through several small towns to explore turn-of-the-century/Fin de siècle architecture. Instead, I was rained in for nearly the entire three days, with only the briefest of respites.

Stuck in Arkansas because flash flooding closed – literally! – all of the roads leading back into Missouri, I managed to get out of my hotel in Eureka Springs with a sketchbook and pens between cloud bursts. Sheltering under a couple of awnings, SOME of what I’d planned to sketch got scribbled on paper. However, I had some pages that got ruined when sudden downpours came out of nowhere, and I was myself drenched to the bone.

The rain was incredible, by the way. At times the middle of the day was as dark as night. In Berryville, Arkansas, what had been a low lying area transformed into a raging river, at least 300 feet across. Roads were entirely submerged, and road block warning signs urging motorists not to proceed any further could be seen hundreds of feet away, barely visible and barely above water. Oh…and my credit card got compromised, so Shazam cut it off Saturday morning. No problem, I thought. I have actual money at the lake house back in Missouri…

Sketching – even as a waterlogged exercise – was my catharsis.

(Uni-Ball Deluxe, Pilot Varsity, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen; each page is approximately 5 x 7 inches; Eureka Springs, Arkansas.)

Buskers

22 April, 2017. The City Market is a rich resource for the urban sketcher in Kansas City. Without moving a step, even the most casually observant sketcher is blessed with a scene rife with the broadest variety of people, booths and stalls, vehicles, and architectural detail. I mean, c’mon! When was the last time you actually saw a one man band? I certainly can’t recall when I have!

This sketch was penciled and partially inked on site – my wife hurried me along because we had freshly cut flowers and vegetables to shop for. Still, the guy was such a neat surprise that I had to give him a couple minutes of “pencil time.” I confess that I had to take a few liberties with the instrumentation because I simply couldn’t figure out how and where all that stuff was hooked up, or what I was even actually seeing. I used a simple yellow Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil for the basic sketch, and a Pilot Varsity for the ink. I like using the Varsity from time to time so that I can reactivate the ink with a water brush and wash in some tones on site or, as I did here, later on.

There were quite a few buskers at the Market on this morning. This fellow was part of a quartet. Although I made a couple of gestural sketches of the group from the front, this rearward point-of-view interested me the most. I particularly like the pipe clenched between his teeth. The Beaver-colored ink remains water-soluble until it cures – which actually takes quite a while – so I’ve got time to scribble with my Lamy fountain pen and decide later if I want to use a water brush to add tones. I was pretty minimal with that effect here.

I was also intrigued to find out we’ve got a busker’s fair coming up in June at the City Market. I hope I’m in town at the time because it sounds like a terrific sketching opportunity!

Here’s another sketch where I took a few liberties. For one thing, she doesn’t actually have gray hair…I just felt like it worked better with the subdued colors I brushed in later. Also, she was moving around a lot. Her customers were lined up and her booth was in demand. So a quick gestural sketch in pencil, then a sort of collage of the components of her stall – and after than, no more sketches at all…because I somehow managed to lose my damn pencil along the way!

This sketch, like the one above it, was inked with a Safari Medium Nib fountain pen using Noodler’s Beaver-colored ink. The season is changing, and so are some of the colors on my watercolor palette. Thus, I’m a bit more tentative with wash at the moment, and will probably remain so until I’m more confident with the color changes.

(Kansas City, Missouri City Market, in the River Market area.)