The junction of urbanization…and not.

17 April, 2019. This is the edge of town, the place where “rural” begins and the city ends. Beyond this point are farms and two lane blacktop roads, cows, corn, lakes and ponds, rolling hills of trees, and lots and lots of gravel lanes. But here, this is where they meet fast food and gas stations, shopping carts and car washes. Here is where there was a field not long ago, unbulldozed. There was a hill, in fact. And there was not an intersection, so complex and so filled with traffic signals that an instruction manual wouldn’t be out of line. This tree is the only reminder – and a faint one at that! – of what once was. It’s gnarly, and not especially beautiful – even had it a full coat of leaves – and one is left to ponder why, even, did those bulldozers leave this forlorn remnant alone?

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Pencil and watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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Even Creepier.

16 April, 2019. I shared the black, gray, and white version of this a couple of days ago. That iteration had a distinctly “comic book” sort of vibe to it, but I missed the vintage colors and beat up paint… those were part of what drew me in to this object in the first place. And to be honest, I’d planned to add spots of color all along. The highlights where what interested me most of all, and that’s where I’d left the drawing originally. However, now that the color has been incorporated it all feels much more complete.

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Fude tip fountain pen, Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, and gouache in Stillman and Birn gray sketchbook.

So impatient.

4 April, 2019. Everyone was impatient and wanted to eat the stuff. I understood: I hadn’t made it to be the subject of a sketch. Nevertheless, the fresh colors of green and salmon and rose and violet were captivating, and as always, I had a pen and sketchbook close at hand.

Yet still, everyone was impatient to eat. And thus, I only had a very limited time to sketch. I suppose enough extra should be prepared and then set aside to allow for both nibbling and sketching…

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and splashes of watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Hum-dinger.

3 April, 2019. I love period architecture. Really nice examples of Art Deco and Art Nouveau style designs and decoration are simply wonderful. I love the moodiness of Gothic structures, and Gothic Revival is always what I picture when I think of a haunted house. But there’s one thing I will nearly always pull over to see: an old school diner or burger joint. The more of a dive, the better I like it.

Gaudy stripes, overkill on signage, lots of custom neon, cheesy graphics? Love, love, LOVE it!

And if it’s got a great big sign and a uniquely crazy name, all the better. This place is in a run down neighborhood near downtown Kansas City, Missouri. I thought I’d explored most of that area, so I was really taken aback as I drove along 9th Street and saw this place through my windshield. I had to stop to check it out.

“Hum-Dinger.” Now that’s a great name for a total dive. It’s a small place inside, and one you have to stand in line to get in. I read that there are 14 different kinds of burgers, not to mention tacos and barbecue and Italian steak sandwiches, malts and fries and onion rings. If you want vegetables, you’re out of luck unless you are good with them being deep fried.

I love how weathered the exterior has become over the past half-century of operation. The red paint has flecks of white showing through, and the neon on the sign is out in places. And that sign! Faded patches of paint surround the neon graphic of a mid-century carhop that adorns the top of the sign.

Thus far, I’ve only made a sketch of this most perfect of places. Next step: a burger and onion rings.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Wandering.

28 March, 2019. Yes, I’m thinking I’ve found what was once a pretty swanky neighborhood. The house is called Bishop Palace.

For over a century, this place has been a landmark in Galveston. One of the few buildings to emerge from the devastating early 20th century hurricane, the house was mostly intact – but not unscathed. In fact, the back of the house was ripped off entirely, forcing later renovations.

For only a few dollars, one is allowed to wander about the first and second floor, taking in 19th century ideas of opulence. Indeed the carvings and woodwork are amazing.

Not many blocks away, ships and boats and industry and commerce are evident.

Walking several blocks from Bishop Palace, once encounters more dilapidated, but intact and in use buildings. I wondered if there was a seedier side of town and eventually I found it. There’s history present here as well, and I love it as much as I do the elegant woodwork and corinthian columns.

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Uni-Ball Vision Pen and watercolor wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Beach houses.

26 March, 2019. I’ve made up my mind that this visit will not be punctuated by tours or anything at all resembling a need to meet anything at all resembling a schedule. Indeed, I will simply wander, my only purpose: explore at a slow pace, and stop where I may.

I enjoy looking at the beach houses. They look like the kind of place one can cozy up next to a fire or laze about on a porch overlooking the water. I enjoy the variety of silhouettes each outline creates, and the oddness of a complete house resting upon stilts. I enjoy the many windows and imagine the light bathing each interior.

Diagonals contrast with horizontals: the horizontal nature of an island, of the ocean; the diagonals of roof lines and the wonky shadows created by the early morning sun.

Grays permeate the landscape, but are themselves polluted with a bath of pink, a wash of cerulean blue, violets, periwinkles, Terre verte.

In the afternoon, as the day warms, I head out on two wheels to enjoy a few hours of bike sketching: rolling along until something strikes my fancy, then stopping to sketch for a bit before once again rolling down the road.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor wash on Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

A beach kind of morning.

24 March, 2019. We’d arrived in Galveston the night before. Our first morning dawned cool and breezy. Stepping out of the hotel and down a wood plank walkway, I was immediately surrounded by sand and dunes and ocean. Just past sunrise, the beach was mine entirely and I was able to walk and sketch for miles in either direction.

The houses along my stretch of sand are charming, some appearing to be under repair, while towels dangling from railings reveal the presence of habitants in other structures. In spite of brightly colored facades, the overwhelming sense is of grays and neutral colors on this day. The cloud cover is thick; the water and even the sand a reflection of those overcast hues.

There are warning signs to stay off the dunes. I assume this is to keep the fragile ecosystems from being trampled by picnickers and drunks, and then I’m startled to read that the warning pertains to the presence of rattlesnakes! I make note to stay far away from those places.

As morning wanes, I continue to wander and sketch as the moment takes me. People begin to emerge and populate the beach – not hordes, but a few here and there. Some, like me, are wearing a hoodie or a jacket. But others are enticed into shorts by the lure of the sea, and thus also the brisk ocean waters.

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Uni-Ball Vision and watercolor wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

“Do I know you?”

23 March, 2019. “Do I know you? You look very familiar…“

I put my pen down, momentarily confused. The lady at the next table was staring at me intently. At first I thought it was because I was surreptitiously trying to sketch her and her companions without obviously doing so. It was our second or third day on Galveston Island and I was making every effort to sketch my surroundings wherever I happened to be.

“I know I know you.” She waited for me to reply.

“Only from television and the movies.“ My response was glib, and I smiled. In fact we all smiled, and everyone chuckled.

But as lunch progressed, her continued gaze made it more and more apparent that she wasn’t going to let her curiosity go further unremarked upon. Where, oh where did she know me from? My admirer made no secret about studying me closely, reversing the voyeuristic role that artists more normally assume.

Suddenly her body language changed entirely. She straightened, sat upright and brightened, exclaiming, “Oh! I know! You’re James Patterson!”

Clearly, I am not. And just as clearly, I don’t look anything like James Patterson. (More like Bill Bryson if I had to pick an author as my doppelgänger. And even that is an awfully long stretch.)

Nevertheless, I replied, “You got me. Be sure to buy my next book.“

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Uni-Ball Vision and watercolor washes in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Color in the Grays

10 March, 2019. It’s sunrise and the clock says one time, my body disagrees: there’s exactly one hour in dispute. It’s very still outside, and the waking temperature is just above freezing. It is, in fact, much warmer than the past several months of gloom.

Still, the ground is frozen as I crunch around the yard in house slippers, and the gloom is still clear in my mind. In the distance, the water tower is a mixture of Cerulean blue and Quinacidone red, the hues neutralizing each other into a luminous gray. In the ground below I see a favorite, Perylene green; I’ll have to mix in a red and blue to darken it further if I want to do more than paint it in my mind.

The sky changes fast and I notice that the cloud cover is a mixture of periwinkle and violets that contrasts lusciously with the rising sun, a brilliant, if somewhat diffused ball of orange.

Looking down at the sketching pamphlet I began yesterday, I suddenly realize I’ve been unconsciously digging colors out of my gray world.

Sometimes I rely on memory and impressions to sketch out an idea, but memory is a funny thing and subject to vagaries and everything with which one comes into contact between the actual experience and the time one attempts to manifest it in some way. This morning I felt the need to supplement my impression with a quick pencil sketch and notes. It seemed as though getting the placement and ideas of values was important, and little thought was given to the colors of this sunrise.

Realizing this was an error, I ran to the studio to grab my travel kit. Not finding it immediately, I instead picked up the butcher tray I use for studio work and returned to a room full of windows facing east. Two minutes later I had a satisfactory color study.

Not content, I decided to spend a few more minutes making a second color study. The graphic curve was added to create a sense of leading lines that complimented the diagonal bank of clouds.

Even still, the composition seemed unresolved so I played around with various croppings, eventually settling on this. And now, satisfied with the design, perhaps I’ll work on a more “finished” painting this evening.

Right now, the day is beckoning. Hiking boots and jacket won’t be in the closet for much longer, nor my sketchbook on the shelf.

Neutral colors.

3 March, 2019. My mom was having car problems and since I was overdue for a visit anyway, I drove south this weekend to see her and fix her old Ford Taurus. The problem was an easy one: the battery needed to be replaced, so after pulling it and purchasing a replacement I wandered around her neighborhood while I waited for the new one to get fully charged. She lives in a suburb of Kansas City, a small town that has exploded on the outskirts but which remains a small town at the core. The downtown is charming, as are the surrounding neighborhoods of homes built in the 20’s and 30’s.

I hadn’t planned to have the opportunity to sketch, assuming I’d be elbow deep under the hood of her car. But having come from our monthly sketch crawl my backpack was filled with sketching tools and a couple of sketchbooks. To keep things simple I chose a pencil and began to make quick thumbnails of the buildings that caught my eye. The happy thing about small pencil studies is that things don’t get overworked if I focus on the contrast of lights and darks. My tastes sometimes run toward the nostalgic, and those roomy houses with large front porches struck me as the sort of comfy place I’d love to find myself on a summer evening. 

With no plan in mind I simply sketched. It’s easier for me to maintain believable proportions if I focus on the overall shapes and how they relate to the negative spaces. In fact, I love those unoccupied spaces! By studying the empty areas my sketches aren’t bogged down with unnecessary detail: simplicity is much more pleasing to my eye.  

The day is overcast and I make note of the lack of vibrant color. I want to remember the sense of drabness later when I dab some of these studies with a variety of grays and neutral hues.