Washington, DC

I've just returned home after a week in the nation's capital, where I was guiding a group of 17 students on a field trip. We did a lot of walking, museum visits, and stopped by a few architecture offices. The day prior to the start of our touring, I did a quick sketch of Dupont Circle ... one of my favorite places in the city. Long ago, when I lived in DC for about five years, I worked in this part of town. So Dupont was a regular lunch spot for me on nice days. The central fountain was designed and sculpted by the same two people who did the Lincoln Memorial - Architect Henry Bacon and Sculptor Daniel Chester French - and was completed in 1920.

When we had finished our touring, I had a free day to myself, so I got down to the Mall and took on a few more substantial subjects. The wind made sketching a bit of a challenge - I was working in a Moleskine A4 book, and did my best to secure the pages with rubber bands while I was trying to paint ... but it was tricky, and I probably gave up a little earlier on these than I would have on a calm day. The first is the Washington Monument, followed by the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial on the right, and finally the Lincoln Memorial.


Thomas Schaller Watercolor Workshop

I recently attended a fantastic workshop at the Fallbrook School of the Arts, in Fallbrook, California. It was taught by Thomas Schaller, who has long been one of my 'heroes' with regard to architectural illustration, and who for the past several years has turned his attention - and his formidable skills with pencil and brush - toward fine art watercolors. The workshop was titled "The Architecture of Light," which seemed to be right up my alley, so I was eager to participate. We spent four days together, mostly in the studio, watching Tom work and listening to his observations and thought process as he created a series of very instructive demonstrations. We followed each demo with our own attempts to incorporate his techniques.
It would be impossible to describe everything Tom talked about, and demonstrated, in the four full days of the workshop. I'll just summarize a few things that really appealed to my own sensibilities regarding watercolor. First, the workshop really confirmed my growing understanding that value is far more important than color. I don't mean to say that color is unimportant, but it is a secondary consideration, while value contrast is primary. To maintain clear value contrast, the lights must be carefully retained as the white of the paper. As Tom put it, watercolor is a subtractive process - every layer of pigment subtracts light from the image. So it's very important to identify the lights and darks while composing things - which was done in every case with a soft graphite pencil in a separate sketchbook.
Another revelation from the workshop was seeing the sheer volumes of both water and pigment Tom used in applying washes. Most often, he would keep the washes wet (occasionally using a small spray bottle) long enough to drop in additional pigment, or so that one wash might be allowed to bleed into another one (strategically, for the most part). There were often times when water was running off the page, but the wash could be 'recharged' with additional pigment as long as it remained wet.

There were many other techniques that I found very helpful, but I'll just mention one more. Not a 'technique' as much as an approach, I guess. It has to do with knowing when the reference (i.e., the subject or the view) has provided enough visual information, and when to stop being too much a slave to 'reality.' As Tom put it, and I'm paraphrasing here, 'at some point, you need to start listening to the painting ... what started as an interesting view is now a world unto itself in the image you are creating.' He advocated finding a 'story' that you're trying to tell, and developing both the composition and subsequent painting to most effectively tell this story - and if that means editing the components of the view, so be it. This is very different than my typical approach to sketching from observation, where I'm most often trying to be faithful to what I see ... but I found this idea of storytelling and listening to the painting to be both refreshing and challenging at the same time. 

Everything we did in the studio was from photo references. We had just one day of reasonably nice weather, so we headed out to work on-site at The Grand Tradition Estate and Gardens, a beautiful place that seems to be primarily devoted to hosting weddings. Perhaps this doesn't technically qualify as urban sketching - it's leaning more toward rural - but it was certainly sketching on location, unlike the work done in the studio. After Tom did an on-site demo, focused more or less on representing skies and water, I tried the same subject seen here. The goal was to create a clear center of focus at the gazebo by emphasizing the contrast of light and dark in this area of the image. The trees at left needed to be dark enough to create an anchoring frame to the composition, but not so dark as to compete with the focus at right. I was also trying to incorporate a wet-into-wet technique to blur the division between the sky and the trees, and was experimenting with ways to indicate the reflections in the pond. After finishing this sketch, I ventured into the semi-tropical forest in the background. Paved paths wandered among palm trees, flowers, and waterfalls, which I tried to capture in a very quick sketch in my Stillman and Birn Gamma Series sketchbook.

It was a wonderful week of painting and learning, and it will likely take some time to fully process all that I experienced. But many thanks go to the Fallbrook School of the Arts for hosting, and especially to Tom Schaller for being so generous with his time and advice. If he is ever doing a workshop near you, I can't recommend it strongly enough!


"Purple Hayes"

I just finished a commissioned watercolor for some very kind folks who recently had to move away from our little town of Moscow, Idaho. The house is on Hayes Street, and once they had painted it this color several years ago, it became known as "Purple Hayes." They're fans of my work, and asked if I could do a piece for them - in their words, "to document, in a real and personal way, our time in this lovely home." This watercolor wasn't completed in a single sitting, and it wasn't done exclusively on-site, but it's the result of several visits to sketch and experiment with various points of view, and to figure out how to get that purple color, especially because I've effectively reduced my palette to just three colors. It helped to think in layers ... the first pass being more heavy on the alizarin crimson, then adding a light glaze of ultramarine blue. Commissioned drawings like this aren't a regular thing for me, but I could see doing them more often - particularly when it involves a meaningful place like this. Please feel free to let me know if you're interested.


Palouse Plein Air - Quick Draw!

This morning there was a "Quick Draw" competition at the Moscow Saturday Market, part of the week-long Palouse Plein Air event. We had about an hour to sketch before the results were put on display for the public to vote on. I'm happy to report that this drawing was selected as the winner - I received a $20 prize that I needed to spend today at the market, so I brought home a few pounds of delicious local sausage. It was a beautiful morning out there on Main Street, a wonderful reminder of how much I love this little town on the Palouse. 



What to say? Barcelona was an amazing experience on every level. Reconnecting with old friends from previous symposiums and workshops ... making so many new friends ... learning from sketchers I have been admiring for years, in their workshops (Thank you so much, Shari and Eduardo!) and by paging through their stunning sketchbooks ... and enjoying a truly wonderful city ... my head is still spinning more than a week later.
I can't thank the organizers enough. Putting on an event like this, and having it run so smoothly ... it was really an impressive accomplishment! Thanks also to my fellow instructors - my only regret is that I couldn't go to ALL of the other workshops. Based on the many comments I heard from participants, everyone did an outstanding job.
Thanks also, most of all, to the people who signed up to participate (and to those who made the trip even without being able to register!). I was so moved by the positive attitudes, the willingness to try new approaches, the abundant humor, and the general goodwill displayed by so many people from so many locations and walks of life. I can't describe how fortunate I feel to be part of this group, this movement, this crazy extended family!

I was reminded of something Lapin and I talked about at the very first symposium in Portland - that these events are like "the Woodstock of Sketching." I was kidding when I first said it ... sort of ... because it struck me that we were a similar type of group. Obviously we're focused on sketching rather than music, but we certainly do come from a wide variety of locations and backgrounds to meet in one place and share three incredible days of art, laughter, and friendship. Of course, symposiums are better - Woodstock only happened once (and it was really muddy and there were too many people in just one place, hahaha), but we get to do symposiums each year in a new location! I only hope that I'll be able to attend the next one, and the next, and the next ...
In the meantime, I'm going to make a real effort to start doing more regional, smaller-scale events, to keep the energy of the symposium going. I hope everyone involved with Urban Sketchers will do likewise, and contribute however they can to strengthen this movement that was started by our friend Gabi Campanario just six short years ago. Thank you, Gabi, and thanks again to everyone who made this possible. 

Força dibuixants urbans!


39th Worldwide SketchCrawl in Moscow, ID

Crummy weather for outdoor sketching today ... windy, with occasional snow flurries. So the first sketch had to be done from the comfort of a cafe. I always try to depict light (as much as possible), and in cases like this, it's all about capturing the silhouettes with strong dark tones, and trying to catch reflections where I see them. 

The second sketch I started outside, but my hands started to freeze up, so had to finish it back in the cafe again. This alley view is one of my favorites here in Moscow, and some might recognize it from this post ... almost the same perspective, this time done with a Yafa fountain pen and Lexington Gray ink. I hope everyone around the world had a great sketchcrawl day, I look forward to seeing the results!


Sketching and Listening

We have a full-day symposium in our college today, consisting of several alumni giving talks about career, community, and identity.  The information is geared primarily toward current students, rather than  faculty like me ... and the quality of the presentations is quite varied, of course.  Some have been really excellent  (particularly the talk by illustrator Noah Kroese), while others gave me more of a chance to sketch. But this isn't at all the same thing as "not paying attention," because sketching doesn't prevent one from listening, even from listening very intently.
Sketching while listening is one of the few instances I'm aware of that can truly be called "multi-tasking."  Most often, what people call multi-tasking is actually just shifting from one task to another in quick succession.  Sketching and listening, however, can comfortably be done simultaneously. It's  as easy as walking and chewing gum at the same time ... and more worthwhile to boot, because you come out of the experience with a visual record, a touchstone that can tie you back to a particular place at a particular point in time.


Thoughts on Exhibiting Sketches

Last week was the opening reception for our annual College of Art Architecture faculty exhibit at the Prichard Art Gallery here in Moscow, ID. This is the ninth time I have participated, and it's always a lot of fun seeing what everyone has been up to with their individual creative pursuits. I typically take the exhibit as an opportunity to display a group of my sketches from the previous summer I spent in Italy. It's always nice to see these humble, quick drawings in frames and hung on the wall adjacent to all sorts of other artwork. 

It's been great to see so many Urban Sketchers exhibiting their work in galleries over the past few years. As a result, I've been thinking that our Manifesto could be updated slightly. Item #7 states that "We share our drawings online," but perhaps we should amend this to say simply, "We share our drawings." Certainly, our community relies on the internet for the bulk of our interactions, and the connections that we make around the world via online communication are fantastic. But there is really no substitute for the direct interaction that is facilitated through exhibits - after all, it's what we already do at the end of virtually every Sketchcrawl, at least in an informal way.

This is one of the topics I discuss in my new book, Sketching on Location, in the chapter entitled "After Sketching." I strongly encourage everyone to seek out local opportunities to share your sketches. Most municipalities have some sort of arts commission that is tasked with supporting local artists, and group exhibits seem to be getting more common. In my experience, these events have been a fantastic opportunity to connect face-to-face with other local artists - whether they are professional or amateur, focused on plein air painting or urban sketching. Entry into local exhibits is most often open, though occasionally the selection process is juried and awards are presented in various categories.

I understand that the idea of juried exhibits doesn't sit well with everyone, and I agree that the most important objective in sketching is to do so freely, driven by a fundamentally intrinsic motivation. But I sometimes find it inspiring and motivating to draw with some additional purpose or, at the very least, to share sketches I have already made in a new venue. For example, the sketch of the Roman Forum on the front cover of my book was recently selected for the Design Communication Association's Juried Drawing Exhibit, and it received the highest award in its category of "Observational Images - Faculty." The DCA is a group that was founded over twenty years ago, comprised mainly of educators who focus on design graphics at the university level. Many of these folks have been teaching aspects of what we now refer to as "urban sketching" for decades, and the jury for the exhibit consisted of Steve Oles, William Hook, and Anna Loseva - three very highly-accomplished artists - so I was thrilled that this drawing was recognized with an award. But regardless of whether the exhibit is a group show, a solo event, a juried competition, or open to all, I strongly encourage every sketcher to share their work both online AND in bricks-and-mortar galleries at every opportunity!


Palouse Plein Air

I recently took part in the "Palouse Plein Air" exhibit here in Moscow, ID, and was thrilled to receive an award for one of my two watercolors. The exhibit is organized and juried by the Moscow Arts Commission, and asks artists to draw or paint on location in the areas around and/or within the city. Each person first must have their paper stamped by the Commission and then complete the work within about a week's time. I did these two sketches on the same day, starting in the late-afternoon and finishing the landscape watercolor as the sun began to set. I have always been interested in the alley shown here, which is a half-block east of Main Street. It has a fascinating series of wood structures that carry power lines behind the buildings. Further down, there is a swirling pattern of bricks in the pavement, and as a whole it feels less like a gloomy alley and more like a pedestrian street. As the sun starts to go down, as it was just beginning to do in this sketch, the light can become dramatic, so this is what I was trying to capture. This drawing received the "Best Moscow Downtown/Urban Award," which was sponsored by Palouse Commercial - many thanks for their generous support of the arts in Moscow.
After completing the first drawing, I decided to head out to the edge of town and attempt a landscape. The "edge of town" is about a two-minute scooter ride from the very center of town, so I still had plenty of light to work with. This region is known as "The Palouse" and is characterized by its rolling hills - formed by wind-blown glacial silt during the ice ages. Most of these hills are now used for agriculture - wheat, peas, lentils, etc. - and in the late fall the golden colors of the harvested fields are spectacular.

So it was another fun opportunity to get out there and draw in a slightly more deliberate way than my usual quick sketching. This is the second time I've participated (last year's efforts are part of this post), and it was extra satisfying to be recognized with an award. I'm already looking forward to next year's event!


A Small Homage to Mattias Adolfsson

I was in a lecture yesterday, so I started drawing in my notebook. One of the things I enjoy about drawing is that it doesn't prevent you from paying attention to what someone is saying - somehow the brain allows auditory input through a clean channel while a different part of the brain is engaged with the process of drawing. Anyway, I recently received Mattias Adolfsson's new book, Mattias Unfiltered, so his work has been on my mind. I've been amazed by his drawings for years and astounded by his ability to produce so many drawings of such exquisite detail and humor. I've often thought, "I should try something like that" when I see one of his spatial constructions that covers the entire page - like the axonometric on the book's cover - giving the sense that the microcosm being illustrated extends far beyond the limits of the paper. I utterly lack the ability to draw characters like he can - all the people, animals, robots, etc. that populate his worlds are beyond me at this point, but I can learn quite a lot from his way of drawing places. Apart from my fascination with Mattias' drawings, I've also been thinking for a few years about doing some drawing projects of my own that focus on imagined spaces - large scale sections, mainly, that might draw on the tradition of artists like Piranesi and Escher. I've also just discovered Mathew Borrett's work on Lines and Colors, and his stuff has my mind moving in some interesting directions. It was in this context that I made the drawing here. I might still add color to it, and I might extend it onto the left page in the spread ... I don't know. It was just a small experiment that might lead to other things. For now, I just want to say thanks to Mattias for the inspiration.
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