Sketch Crawl!

This past weekend was the Urban Sketchers West Coast Sketch Crawl in Tacoma, Washington.  What a blast! More than 150 lovers of drawing gathered to sketch and share their work. We had three designated drawing sessions, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning.  After each session, sketchers came together to show their work.  I don’t know if other Urban Sketcher groups use this term, but this group calls sharing the drawings, the “Throw Down” because the drawings are usually lined up on the ground, but not actually thrown down.  Once on the ground, the group tours around them, admiring each and every one.


It’s so much fun to see the drawings.  With a group that included children to seniors, beginners to experts, there was a wide variety of subjects, styles and techniques.

A note about the photos that follow:  We all snapped pictures indiscriminately of drawings that generally weren’t signed or identified.  While it would be ideal to give credit to each of the artists, in nearly all cases below I don’t know who the artists are. The pictures that are shared here are simply a sampling of hundreds of wonderful drawings that resulted from the weekend.  For more information see the Urban Sketchers Tacoma website.


There were line drawings to value studies,




and panoramas to details.




I was intrigued by several artists who used accordion fold sketchbooks.  Doing a drawing that large in the two and a half hours allotted for each session was impressive. All of the results were spectacular.  One of the reasons I enjoy doing Urban Sketcher outings is that I always come away inspired.



I can’t finish this post without expressing my appreciation to the many selfless people who organized this event. It was a friendly and casual gathering that flowed well through the weekend.  I just wish it would have lasted longer.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sketching at the Marina

This week our sketching group went to a nearby marina.  Boats are such interesting subjects.   Putting curved hulls in perspective, adding masts, pilot houses and all sorts of marine gear,  drawing each boat to look like they’re floating on moving water, all adds up to a worthy challenge.   Everyone did a great job.



What I love is that everyone has their own unique approach.  John works carefully in pencil,


Allison enjoys ink and and wash,


And Susan likes to work in watercolor.


With a variety of styles and mediums we always have a great time seeing what everyone has done at our show and tell at the end of the session.  It’s inspiring to see everyone’s vision as well as the progress they are making by drawing weekly.

This weekend I’m off to the Urban Sketchers’ West Coast Sketchcrawl in Tacoma.  Fun. Fun Fun!!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Olympic Perseverence

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign myself ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”

Hokusai, The Drawings of Hokusai


I love this quote!  Hokusai didn’t make it to 110, but he did live a good long life and his art is legendary.  With the Olympics going on in Rio right now, we are inspired by the effort and determination of the  world’s best athletes.  Great artists have worked equally hard.  Those who excel do so because they dedicate hours, months, years to their craft.   I find this motivating when I struggle to achieve the results I’m striving for.

To be sure drawing is a skill that takes a lifetime to perfect.  Yet  the wonderful thing about drawing is that you don’t have to be a Hokusai or a Rembrandt to enjoy it.  Simply putting pencil or pen to paper is a joy that everyone can experience.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Serendipitous Scraps

When it comes to art supplies I admit to being a bit of a hoarder.  You never know when something will come in handy.  So when a printer offered me 500 small scraps of leftover watercolor paper, I gladly took them.   They sat on a shelf for a while until it dawned on me that the small sheets could  be a good way to introduce simple ink and watercolor techniques to one of my classes.   Because the pieces are quite small, 4 x 6 inches, it’s pretty hard to get carried away with detail.   We did some floral arrangements and I rather enjoyed the simplicity of the basic outline and wash.  Here’s a couple of my demos.












Recently I was invited to do an art demonstration. The goal was to do something easy that others could try themselves.  I thought it might be fun to do more with these flowers. Using a colorful bouquet of various types of flowers as my inspiration, I drew individual stems as well as arrangements.   Because I rarely draw flowers or still life, this was a nice change of pace.













Now I have a pile of mini watercolors, what should I do with them?  Make cards!  Selecting some brightly colored paper,  I glued the watercolors on top, and presto!  Lovely, one of a kind cards.  No more last minute runs to the card shop, I now have a supply of cards for any occasion.  You just never know what will come of a few scraps of paper.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Summer Sketching Group

This summer I organized a weekly sketching group.   It’s easy to do.  Simply make a list of places to draw in  your local area and invite your drawing friends to join you once a week.  There are about ten of us who meet each Tuesday from 10 to 12.  We draw until 11:45, then come together to share our drawings and talk about the successes and challenges of our work.  Everyone’s approach is unique and it’s fun to see the results.  The best part is sharing the joy of drawing with others who love it too.

Sometimes we all draw the same thing, sometimes we split up and find very unique items. Last week we drew at  an interesting urban area of Tudor style buildings, outdoor eating areas, eclectic sculptures and lovely plantings.  We had everything from a drawing of one of the store windows, to people sitting at the umbrella tables, to a drawing of a boat parked in the parking lot.  It’s  fascinating to see a familiar area through another’s eyes.   I did a little perspective of the old theater and shop buildings.

108 lynwood

This week we went to a small park.  It’s a lovely spot on the edge of the forest with water views, boats, docks, houses and boat sheds in all directions.   Most everyone sat together and drew the same view – looking down the cove to the open water beyond.  I started with  this view too.

108 port mad

Then, because I knew the view from the end of the dock was interesting, I climbed down the rickety stairs and sat on the dock to draw.  I didn’t have time to finish this one, but was at least able to get the main composition and perspective roughed in.  I added the details later then sloshed a bit of watercolor on each drawing.  There’s a plan to replace this old dock with a modern, and safer, new one.  I’m glad I have a record of  this one.

108 dock

Tuesdays have become my favorite day of the week.  I get so excited about seeing everyone’s drawings that I forget to take pictures of their work.  I’m going to try to remember that next week.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Quick Draw in Bannack

I’m walking down a dusty road early one morning.   On either side are  rough hewn buildings leaning this way and that.  Blank  windows dare me to step back in time.   I can imagine that the townsfolk have run for cover and at any moment  Marshall Dillon will burst through the swinging saloon doors for a show down with a notorious outlaw. I’m in Bannack, Montana  where vigilantes and road agents once ruled the day.  Now, the only quick draw that will take place is my desire to sketch as much as possible in a day.

106 bannack2

Bannack is a true ghost town.  It’s been deserted for nearly 50 years.     After flourishing briefly during the gold rush of the 1860’s, it gradually faded away, leaving 60 buildings as a testament to its colorful past.   Now a state park, on this sunny Saturday only a handful of visitors have come to explore.  It was, quite simply, a perfect place to draw.  Here’s a few samples.

106 bannack5

106 bannack4


106 bannack3

I would have loved to stay for several days.  Maybe another time.  I took a lot of photographs and am looking forward to using them to develop some larger drawings with color.   Even my dog enjoyed our day there.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Grand Views

After Yellowstone I drove down to Grand Teton National Park for a week of painting with friends.  The mountains played peek a boo with the clouds for much of the week, but there was still plenty to paint, and draw.  When the mountains are shining in the sun, they’re nothing short of spectacular, cloudy days offer drama and mystery.   On days when it was too rainy and windy for oils, I retreated to my van to draw out the windows.

One day we were working along Mormon Row, a road that connected several families who farmed the valley before it became a National Park.  A few abandoned houses, barns and out buildings remain, weathered and stark against the rugged landscape.  I set up in one location, started with a painting looking east, then rain sent me undercover to draw the views to the  south, north and west.  The weather became increasingly volatile and by mid afternoon there was simply too much rain to even see out the windows so I gave up and drove in to town to visit galleries.   What a great day!

105 Fence line up

105pink house


105 Grand View


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Thumbnails in Yellowstone

The main purpose of my trip to Yellowstone was to paint.   With all the drawing I’ve been doing, I was really looking forward to having some time to focus on oil painting.  But when I sat down to do my first painting in Yellowstone, I felt like I had to relearn painting techniques.   It took a few attempts to establish a comfort level.  What really helped me were my thumbnail sketches.  Even thought they are hastily done, they enable me to understand my subject better, find the large shapes and consider the value patterns.

Sometimes when I find a subject I like, I’m not sure how much of the scene I should include.  One of the things that caught my attention in Yellowstone were the little creeks that meander through the meadows.  They’re charming.   Initially I thought this subject would be all about the creek and just suggest trees in the background.   But with the help of the thumbnails, I decided it would make more sense to show more of the trees and the distant hills.   From the two sketches below, you can also see that I tried slightly different shapes and treatments for the creek.



Of course, once I jump into the painting things change a bit more.


Another way  to zero in on what to include in a painting is to draw the whole scene, then  add lines to consider various crop  possibilities.  This one is admittedly messy. But then at the time I had no thought I’d be sharing these with the world.  Now you know the truth.  I do REALLY fast thumbnails because I want to get painting before the light changes.  Even though these sketches are fast and messy, they are hugely beneficial.  By taking a few minutes to consider shapes and values, the paintings are off to a good start.

104 creek

The scribbles turned into this:


I know I’ve talked about thumbnails before but I thought you might like to see how they relate to paintings.   For a large complicated drawing, I might do a series of thumbnails to plan the composition.  For general sketching, I usually jump in and develop the design as I go.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Sketching the Old West

I mentioned to a friend I was going to draw in Virginia City.  “Virginia City, Nevada?” she asked.   “No,” I replied, “Virginia City, Montana.”   A search for Montana ghost towns showed this one to be on my way to Yellowstone.  I had to check it out.

It’s not really a ghost town.  People still live there.    Weathered wood buildings from the late 1800’s  line the main street.  For ten years after the discovery of gold in nearby Alder Creek in 1865,  Virginia City was a thriving community, in fact the capital of the Montana territory.  When the gold ran out in 1875 the town languished and the capital moved to Helena.   Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and a fascinating peak into Old West.

I started with a walk around town to become familiar with the details and viewpoints.  I loved the weathered wood, the leaning storefronts and the sense of history in the simple architecture.  There was so much to draw!   Where to begin?   Since it was a hot day, I looked for a shady spot.  I found a nice bench under a roof overhang and jumped into the first drawing.   I decided to do a series of quick sketches to capture the feel of the place.  Later I would have time to do more detailed drawings and watercolors from my reference sketches and the many photographs I took.

103 Virginia City

Yes, the light post leaned, which worked nicely with the swaying roofs and loosening boards of the storefronts. One of the things I did not include in my drawings is tourists.  Somehow modern folks in their sunglasses and shorts didn’t seem to fit. Someone else might want to do a drawing contrasting the modern with the old.  There are many ways to approach these subjects.

103 Virginia C

Although this is a popular tourist attraction, it was not overly crowded and I found many places to sit out of the way with good views of the buildings. I really enjoyed my day in Virginia City and would love to go back and spend more time there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sketching Supplies

I’m about to head off on a trip and I thought this would be a good time to review my favorite supplies.


I take a few light pencils with me – usually an HB and a 2B – plus a kneaded eraser and a pencil sharpener for light sketching and preliminary work.

My pen of choice is an pigma micron 005, the finest line they make.  I’ve tried other types, even some fountain pens and I just don’t like them.  It’s important to be comfortable with your pen.  You have to know it so well that you can get the type of line that best supports your style.  Then you can put your effort into the subject rather than technique.  Admittedly it takes a while to achieve this.  Don’t worry, it’s a rewarding journey.

Way back in the dark ages when I started drawing with ink, I used a fine  crow quill pen that I dipped in India ink.  This still works well and I occasionally use it for larger drawings. The varied line width can be kinda fun.  The problem is that I have been known to spill the ink and made a BIG mess.  Not good.  Pens are safer.

My sketchbook is a 7″ x 10″ Stillman and Birn Epsilon.  It’s spiral bound because I like having it open only to the drawing I’m working on.  I’m not one to draw across pages as many artists do so successfully.   In addition to the sketchbook, I bring a supply of 140 pound hot press Arches watercolor paper cut to approximately 7″ x 10.”   I tend to do quick, casual sketches in the sketchbook and use the wc paper for drawings I want to take more time on.

My watercolor supplies include a one inch flat and a couple sizes of round sable brushes, along with a water container, blotter paper and a small folding palette.   I use Windsor Newton watercolors – New gamboge yellow, hooker’s green, prussian blue, cerulean blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, paynes gray, windsor violet, alizarin crimson, scarlet lake and permanent rose.  I also use yellow ochre, burnt sienna and van dyke brown.   The colors on my palette were added so long ago I don’t know why they’re in such a random order.   The main thing is, don’t move colors around once you add them to the palette.   Watercolor happens fast and you need to go instinctively to the right hue.

Blotter paper may be the only unusual item in this list.  It’s a wonderful tool that I discovered in college.  The sturdy blotter paper that people used to have on their desks  back in the day is still made and makes a fabulous watercolor eraser.  I cut it in pieces about two inches square.  Use the edge or a  whole side to blot up excess water.   If applied when the color is damp but not dry, you can actually blot up crisp edges to get fence posts, house siding and individual grasses.

If you have any questions about supplies, just let me know.   There will be drawings from my travels in the next post.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment