A day without color.

24 February, 2019. The day is black and white – no exaggeration at all. I look around me in search of any glimpse of color, but there’s none at all. The snow is over for now, replaced by rain and a little wind and a dense fog. Whatever hues are out there, they’ve all been subject to a gauze-like filter. Shapes are indistinct; objects simply disappear beyond a hundred yards or so. In between, everything else is a graphic halftone: this tree is closer to me and I can make out 60% of the monochromatic values, that tree is a bit further off and perhaps only a quarter of the tones are visible. Beyond that is a milky nothingness.

I know there are houses and more trees. A muffled bark, soft in the distance… from what direction? And close or far? It’s impossible to tell.

The top layer of snow is melting in the rain. Tomorrow brings sun, so maybe I’ll pull on my winter cycling gear, stuff a small sketchbook into my jacket, and wheel down the road for twenty or thirty miles.

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Fude-tip fountain pen, Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, Stillman and Birn gray Nova Series sketchbook; approximately 5 x 7 inch page size.

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Over and over again.

28 November, 2018. I think I could just keep on working with this subject over and over again, and continue to find new ways to look at the same view I’ve been sketching for the past couple of days.
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Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels on Stillman and Birn Nova Series paper, approximately 5 x 7 inches.

December Sketch Out

3 December, 2017. Yesterday was our monthly Urban Sketchers meet up, and what is really exciting for our group is how much things have evolved and grown in the ten months since we first decided to organize. Case in point: Our group simultaneously met in two locations Saturday morning – the Family Tree Nursery in the north part of the metropolitan area, and the Family Tree Nursery many miles to the south, on the Kansas side of the border.

I think it’s remarkable that USkKC has the interest, motivation, and numbers to support a split event in this manner. Much of the credit for that goes out to a couple of caring group administrators, Peggy Wilson and Liz Vargas.

The nursery in Liberty is literally just down the street from my home and studio, so that’s where I found myself sketching. While many of the others were indoors, developing sketches of the various flowering plants and vines I took advantage of a rare warm December morning to focus on the exterior.

As I thumbed through my sketchbook to the next blank page, I came across this drawing from the previous day and realized I’d neglected to scan and include it with yesterday’s post. Whoops!

(Sailor Fude De Mannen fountain pen with Noodler’s ink and Faber-Castell “Big Brush” Pitt Pen for the large fills. Page size is approximately 5 x 8 inches in a Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Wet, Rainy Swamp

28 October, 2017. We’d been cyclo-touring through Northwest Arkansas and the weather turned to crap during the night – winds, rain, thunder. Arriving the next day at a very large art and craft festival in War Eagle, we discovered the grounds had turned to swamp. Meanwhile, the rain returned and everyone and everything was wet and cold.

Inside the mill there is a restaurant on one of the upper floors and a sort of mercantile operation on the lower level. A small kitchen to one side was baking a cake using the mill’s flour, and near the back a group of five or six men were plucking various stringed instruments. I gravitated toward them as they interested me the most on this miserable day. Jockeying for a good view, I was stymied by the fact that they were circled up – no matter how I positioned myself I found I would have been drawing a whole lot of backs if I tried to draw the group in its entirety. I considered this for a moment, the idea of using two backs as a framing device with the main subject smaller, due to foreshortening. It’s still an idea that appeals to me so I may eventually do just that. But it was more than music that pulled me over to the group in the first place: I’ve always been fascinated by banjo picking. The fellow on the chair was nonchalantly plucking away on his, with little extraneous movement. And thus, he became my subject of the moment.

Outside, the rain waned, diminishing briefly and then coming down again, seemingly unabated. The exhibitors west of the mill bridge were fortunate to have covered tents and a long wooden barn for protection from the elements. Those on the mill side of the bridge had only the exhibition tents they’d brought with them for the show, and in many cases that was barely adequate. In any event, most structures and canopies were surrounded by slimy mud and large pools of water. Outside the barn, one exhibitor stood  close to the doors, sheltered by the overhang of the roof, smoking a cigarette and bracing himself for a cold, wet day of hawking his product.

This type of event and this type of weather reminds me why my choice of kit works well for me. A moderately sized sketchbook fits comfortably into the waist of my trousers and my two pens into a shirt pocket, or even the front pocket of my jeans. I am reminded – not for the first time! – that I really need to check my brush pen for adequate ink before wandering outdoors. Once again, I only discovered that I was virtually empty after starting to do the black fill (above). Unable to continue much beyond a sort of scumbled gray to the mid-ground, I gave up and filled those areas with a brush and India ink after returning home a few days later. (Uni-Ball Deluxe, Pentel Pocket brush pen, Crayola brush, India ink in Canton 180 sketchbook; page size is approximately 5 x 7 inches.)

Close to Home


22 July, 2017. I’ve been on the road so much this month that there’s been little opportunity to update this blog. There has, however, been ample opportunity for sketching, both close to home and while traveling. Thus, after neglecting the blog for the past few weeks I will be adding two posts in a single day.

Let’s begin with sketching in and around the small town I call home. Liberty is a community of something like 25,000 residents with a quaint town square and older neighborhoods and lots of green space. It’s really livable, and I bicycle the streets nearly every single day. People say hello to one another on the street and the square tends to attract interesting shops and eateries, one of which is Morning Day Cafe. If prompted, I would describe the place as a quasi-hippy/new age/Earth Mother/whole grain eatery and mixology center, and perhaps my sketch (above) hints at that just a little bit. It is a fun, friendly place to eat and chat, and the food is great.

The neighborhood streets in the older part of town are lined with large shade trees and houses dating from the fifties to antebellum, with the assorted range of architectural styles one might imagine that diversity to encompass.

I feel as though half the town is undergoing some sort of renovation at the moment.

The road, sidewalk, and street parking, along with some adornment on the square have been part of a massive restoration and improvement. The side streets are getting repaved and re-striped, and one is certain to see construction equipment throughout the town.

I enjoy the variety of architectural styles in evidence. I take particular joy in closely examining structures and discovering some neat little detail or ornamentation. It’s fun to keep my bike sketches a little bit loose and scribbly looking, to capture more of an impression rather than to draw as a true documentarian.

As many times as I’ve wandered down the street in search of an afternoon’s subject matter, I know if I look closely enough I’ll find plenty to draw close to home.

Sweatin’ some small stuff.

There’s a Blick art supply store right next door to the residence hall at MIAD, and right there in the window are racks and stands filled with sketchbooks. One that caught my eye was a sketchbook produced by Crescent, it’s claim being that the pages are bleed-proof. I was intrigued because I sketch on both sides of the page in my sketchbooks, and here, right in front of me, was a book designed to do exactly that. So I bought a small one to try out.

It’s a convenient size to carry around – not very thick at 60 or so pages, and easy to fit into a hip pocket at 3.5 x 5.5 inches. But despite their claim that the pages lay “flat,” it’s simply not the case. My usual commercial sketchbook, the Canson 180 is designed to lay flat, and does. The Crescent book loses real estate at the gutter, so useable width is actually more like 3.25 inches.

And the size, while convenient to carry, is a bit inconvenient to actually use. Drawing in a book that is only appreciably larger than a credit card requires a lot of awkward gyrations. Frankly, this smaller size makes me work too hard to work out a sketch. Thus, I’d recommend the next size up, which is in that middle ground of around 5 x 7-ish inches. I like that size for sketching. It is still small enough to fit onto a sidewalk café table or lap. I can tuck it into my waistband at my back. And I feel more comfortable working in the slightly larger size.

On the positive side, the small proportions forced me to work simpler, to focus on shapes and use of space, and to regard color as a graphic element – something I appreciate in the work of others, but don’t always do myself.

It’s not bad to work in, but watercolor absorbs into the paper very quickly and you must work fast if you wish to move it around on the sheet. Pause for a second and it’s already begun to dry, and your painted surface develops very obvious streaks. If that’s what you’re going for, it’s a great sheet. Me, I found that at first I felt safer keeping color to small spots.

As I began to treat the page and the color more graphically, I found simplifying the color and treating it as one of the primary graphic elements to be a satisfying strategy.

That approach also tended to change the composition pretty dramatically. I began to look for ways to leave a negative spaces that could be filled with color, and which would serve to focus a viewer’s attention.

When I was sketching the image of the woman and her dog (above), the emphasis was much broader than it is with color used to create a clear focal point. While still in black and white, the background was more of a tapestry of detail. Now it’s a unifying element.

Here’s another example of an image where the simplicity of black and white clearly works. But the addition of color (below) changes the complexity entirely.

When all is said and done, this is an interesting experiment as well as an intriguing experience. But I don’t anticipate forgoing my preferred sketchbook, sketching pamphlets, and – especially! – sketchbook size.

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.

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.

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.)