A Few Landscapes

I've been neglecting my duties as a 'blogger' for a while, so I'm feeling the need to put something up, if only to assuage my sense of guilt. Back in August, I was on a vacation with my family in Wisconsin, and managed to do a couple quick sketches in the Moleskine. It was so hot that day, now that I remember it. It's cold in Moscow at this moment, so looking at these sketches takes me back to the sweat and the sunburn I experienced while sketching - especially during the Boathouse sketch, my exposed right arm and leg got fried.
It's the price you sometimes have to pay when you're committed to Sketching on Location. (btw, I'm currently trying to write a book by that title, which is the primary reason I haven't been posting much lately.) This second sketch was done at the Lawsonia Golf Course ... but I thought it was such a quintessentially "Wisconsin" scene that I omitted any golf-related bric-a-brac.

In late September, I took part in a plein air painting competition. We had three days to get out and about and produce as many as three entries for the competition. I only did two, and neither was recognized in the competition, but I was very happy with my efforts. Landscapes are fun, and these are larger than what I usually do - the largest format I typically use is 9" x 12" and these two are 12" x 16" - so it was a good change of pace. The first is a barn I found out near our little rinky-dink airport. The odd radiant pattern in the sky was unintentional ... it was the result of the paper buckling when I applied the wash ... but I kinda like it.
The other painting was done at the University of Idaho Arboretum, one of my favorite views in this town - and there are lots of beautiful views around here, so that's saying something. This painting was just selected by the Dean of our College to go on the college holiday card ... so even though I came away from the plein air competition empty-handed, I ended up with a nice consolation prize.


Making a Drawing

I know it's been a while since I've posted, but to say I've been busy is an understatement. And I know this isn't necessarily in line with the theme of a "sketch" blog. But I'm starting work on a book project, and part of that project will involve making some drawings. Not sketching, but making drawings. There's a big difference. But I didn't want to dive right in and start making drawings for the book. I have a LOT of writing to do before I know just what drawings I'll need to make.  

So I thought I'd begin with something unrelated, but still useful. Something to break the ice and get me back into making drawings. I'll be leading a field trip to Portland soon, and I've always wanted to put together a map of downtown that works with the walking tours I typically do for our third-year design studio. 

So that's what I'm working on in these pics. It might turn into an underlay for a watercolor drawing ... green for the parks, some sorta blue for the river, and varying greys for the urban fabric. Then I would scan it and add text digitally ... street names and keynotes for important buildings. That's the plan, anyway. For now, it's just really enjoyable to drink a beer or two and get wrapped up in the making of a drawing.


Watercolor Palette

I'm currently on vacation in Wisconsin, but I've been feeling guilty about my lack of blog posts, and it happens to be raining a bit today, so here I am. So much has happened since the last time I posted, and I'd like to get back in the groove. I want to do a few posts to recap my last few weeks in Rome and also the USK Symposium in Lisbon, but I've had so many fantastic sketching-related experiences recently, it's hard to think of a place to start. 

So how about a quick post about my watercolor palette? This is proof that I was busy sketching. I went to Rome with a full palette, and didn't bother to bring my tubes of paint along. Toward the end of the study program, I was running very low on several colors, but especially the blues, and had to buy a small tube just to get through the rest of the summer. I always use M.Graham colors, which are the best I have ever tried, but this brand wasn't readily available in Rome, so I had to settle for a tube of Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine (that's what you can see in the third pan from the left). When I finally got home after the symposium, I cleaned up the palette and put some fresh blobs of color in the pans. I like a clean palette, in case you couldn't tell.

Left to Right, the colors are:
Pyrrol Red
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue
Cerulean Blue
Prussian Blue
Hooker's Green
Cadmium Yellow Light
Yellow Ochre
Raw Sienna
Burnt Sienna



My son, Will, shot this video the other day here in Rome. It was his first time behind the camera, and I think he did a great job. He and his brother, Sam, also shot some video of another sketch, but I haven't had a chance to edit that one yet. The music is from a duo I used to play in - we were "The Jake Brakes" for a while, and then we called ourselves "Broken Homestead" (the other half of the duo passed away quite recently, so this is for Joe!). I'm also planning to upload these clips to the Urban Sketchers Vimeo page, where you can find several of of us in action.


Sketching After Morning Tours

I've tried to get in the habit of sketching after our morning tours. We tend to do lengthy walking tours (usually 3+ hours) in the morning when it's relatively cool and we're all relatively well-rested. At the end of the tours, we're often in some part of town that I might not visit otherwise. And, at the end of the tours, I'm usually very eager to stop walking or standing and just sit somewhere for a little while. All this creates ideal conditions for sketching, and shown here are a couple efforts that came directly from these situations. The first is one of the 13 obelisks currently standing in Rome. This particular one is in the Villa Celimontana, and it's just the top third that's actually a chunk of an obelisk, sitting on a granite shaft below. This one is from the Temple of Isis (one of a pair with the obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda), and is the smallest obelisk in Rome. It was nice to take my time with this sketch ... for some reason I've been shying away from watercolor in favor of pencil sketches, but this one helped to break the ice a little.

This sketch is from a bus stop adjacent to Piazza Venezia. It's a rather chaotic part of town, so it had never really appealed to me as a sketch subject before. But it seemed like a nice spot to sit, rest my feet, and watch Rome swirl around me. Lots going on in this drawing, so it was a struggle to avoid too much detail.

Next up ... a couple watercolors from Ostia Antica.


Sketching with Luc

Last week I was able to meet up and sketch with my friend Luciano Cisi here in Rome. Luc lives a little distance outside the city, so it was very kind of him to fight the traffic and drive into town to meet me at the Campidoglio. We sketched there for a little while, until it seemed that the piazza was being overrun by polizia and carabinieri who were apparently preparing to greet some sort of protest march. There are interesting political changes happening here in Italy at the moment ... party politics in the wake of the ongoing Berlusconi drama, as well as a burgeoning anti-nuke movement and an effort to prevent the privitization of public water supplies. Good reasons to get out into the streets, but Luc and I were more interested in doing some sketching.

After a short break for something to drink at a nice little cafe adjacent to the Tarpeian Rock, we headed over to Santa Maria in Cosmedin for one more drawing before Luc had to drive back to Latina. We were interrupted several times by tourists looking for directions ... often to places that were clear across the city. But we managed to finish up before too long, and said our goodbyes until next time - hopefully just a little later this summer!


Media Experiment

I had to go out to Stazione Tiburtina with one of my students to retrieve his laptop. He had left it on the train when he arrived here in Rome, and we figured it was gone for good when a wonderful rail worker by the name of Francesco Bonelli sent an email to say he had found it. So we met him at Tiburtina, and he wouldn't even consider accepting any money as a reward. Outstanding human being. So I sent my student back on the metro and did a little sketching in a part of town I had never visited before. This is one of my efforts, and I was trying out a technique I hadn't used in many years - a thin black pen (Uni-ball Vision Exact) and a thicker black marker (Pilot Bravo) - in my Moleskine Large Watercolor book. I was having fun building the drawing for a little while when I noticed that the ink from the Pilot wasn't drying very quickly, and I was starting to smudge things up with my sketching hand. I finally got a bit frustrated and stopped drawing, thinking I might add watercolor later to flesh it out somewhat. When I did try to add watercolor, several hours later, the ink from the Pilot immediately started bleeding (you can see a little of this in the trees at far right). I know that many people use soluble inks to get this effect intentionally, but that's not what I was hoping would happen. So I called it quits and left it alone ... a worthwhile experiment.


In Rome Again ...

I've had a few days to get back in the groove here in Rome, the students seem to be settling in nicely, and I've had a couple opportunities to sketch. I don't have a lot of time to write at the moment, but I wanted to get a few drawings up on the blog to break the ice. The first two are drawings I did this morning over Piazza di Sant'Eustachio, and the last sheet is a group of very brief sketches I did while teaching our first sketching class. I was trying to get students to focus on two things - perspective/composition, and light. It's really wonderful to be back in the city I love more than any other!


Google Map of Rome Sketches: UPDATE

View Sketches - Roma in a larger map
I just finished updating my Google Map of Rome Sketches, after uploading dozens of sketches from years past on Flickr over the weekend. There are now more than 150 sketches geotagged on the map. As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, I plan to use this map as a guide this summer, and beyond. It's obvious that I've been neglecting some areas of the city, for whatever reason, so this map has already given me a better sense of what to focus on in the next couple months. I leave in two days, and I look forward to seeing some of you in Rome and Lisbon! 


Google Map of Rome Sketches

Sketches - Roma in a larger map

I've been tinkering with Google Maps as a way to document the locations of my sketches, and this is my map of Rome. It shows the sketches that I currently have on my Flickr site, which is only about half of the drawings I've done there over the past four years. I'd like to get all of them online at some point ... but that might take a while. It will be useful for me to see where I have sketched and where I haven't, so I can focus in the coming years on places that I've been neglecting for whatever reason. Anyway, take a look and let me know what you think!


Recent Trip to Washington, DC

I was in Washington for a field trip with a few students recently, and I extended the trip to include some time there with my wife. We met in DC in the early 1990s, and neither of us had been back since. So it wasn't much of a sketching trip, but I still managed a few drawings. The first is from the National Building Museum, the second from Dupont Circle, and the last is a sketch of a sculpture in the National Portrait Gallery.


Portland Urban Sketchers Workshop

Just got home after a great visit to Portland, where I led a day-long workshop for the Urban Sketchers group there. It was a fantastic bunch of folks, 38 of us in all! I started with a 2-hour talk that mixed techniques on observation, composition, perspective, and media with short sketching exercises. After a lunch break, we met again in Pioneer Courthouse Square for three hours of location drawing. As we were wrapping up the morning session, the sun was breaking through and it looked to be a promising afternoon - there was a 70% chance of rain in the forecast. Unfortunately, just as we were getting started with the afternoon session, the rain came down. I was very impressed with everyone's willingness to fight through it and do some sketching. Thankfully there were some breaks in the rain, and we ended up at the Multnomah County Library (beautiful building!) for some indoor sketching and a look at each other's sketchbooks. I really enjoy doing workshops like this - getting around to everyone and sharing tips and techniques ... it's such a rewarding experience as a teacher. The only problem is that I don't get to sketch a whole lot! I always try to blast out at least one drawing to use as an example, and that's what I've posted here. Thanks to People's Food Co-Op for the use of their Community Room, and huge thanks to Alanna Randall for working so hard on organizing the event!


Montreal with Marc Holmes!

I was in Montreal over the weekend for a conference, and managed to spend a great day sketching with fellow urban sketcher Marc Taro Holmes. The weather was really awful ... rain on top of snow, just about as nasty as it can get ... but that didn't stop us from visiting several spots around the city. We went first to the Canadian Center for Architecture, to see a small exhibit of drawings by Andrea Palladio. We arrived a little before they opened, and so did a quick sketch of what was across the street from the entrance.

Next up was the Cathedrale Marie Reine du Monde ... which is a scaled-down version of St. Peter's in Rome. I guessed that it was about 1/3 scale, and apparently I guessed correctly (according to this site, anyway). It was nice to get out of the rain for a little while, and a little disorienting to be in such a familiar, albeit smaller, space. After this sketch we took a lunch break and ate giant, awesome smoked meat sandwiches at Reuben's Deli.

After a cab ride out of the city center, we arrived at the Jardin Botanique, and then the Biodome, which contains plants and animals from several different climate zones. It was a dramatic change to step into a tropical climate after being out in the rain and slush ... but lots of fun to sketch the lush vegetation with squawking birds and monkeys (and children) all around.

We found our way back to the Jardin Botanique, and each did a quick sketch of the bonsai in one of the greenhouses. Later, back in the city center, we added some watercolor and had dinner at a little pub. It was a fun day, despite the ugly weather, with lots of entertaining conversation. Big thanks to Marc for showing me around a fantastic city!


Air Travel

 On the way to and from Chicago for a visit with my family, I passed a little time by sketching on the plane. It's not the first time I've engaged in this exercise, and it won't be the last. A couple previous attempts are here and here. Although being stuck in a long steel tube for several hours doesn't present the best opportunity to sketch an interesting perspective, there's something calming about drawing in this situation. Some of my fellow Urban Sketchers have taken up this subject recently, and it's fun to compare the results - they show how a similar subject can be handled in a variety of ways. Here are in-flight sketches from Pete Scully, Gabi Campanario, Tommy Kane, Sharon Frost, Kumi Matsukawa, Lapin ... and Lapin again ... just to name a few!
This second sketch was the first time I drew with my new Namiki Falcon fountain pen. It was a Christmas gift from my parents, and I love it so far. Nice soft nib with a relatively fine line. I'm currently using the blue ink cartridge that came with the pen, but it also has a converter, so I'm looking forward to loading it with some Noodler's Lexington Gray.

Happy New Year, everyone!
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.