Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals… whatever one chooses to call these bound collections of pages, they all provide a physical sense of permanence and chronology and, in use, they become a repository of images and writings capable of reminding us of where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have experienced. But even as we acknowledge the pleasure of perusing these collections, we should also appreciate the process by which they are made. No single page in a journal is precious; not all pages must be perfect. In the act of making visible our experiences, reflections, and discoveries, we become more sensitive to and connected with our surroundings, expand our visual memories, and stimulate our imagination.
Back in February of 2012, the Seattle Urban Sketchers group met at the Stimson-Green Mansion for its monthly sketching session. Designed by Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter and completed in 1901 for Seattle industrialist C. D. Stimson and his wife Harriet Stimson, the mansion was subsequently purchased by Joshua Green in 1915—hence the name Stimson-Green. When Green died in 1975, the Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority purchased the property. After working on its restoration, Historic Seattle sold the property in December 1977 to Priscilla Collins, granddaughter of C. D. and Harriet Stimson, with an easement protecting the main house, carriage house, and grounds from demolition, alteration, or remodeling. In 2001 Collins donated the mansion to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which provides continued stewardship.
This past Sunday, the Seattle Urban Sketchers were able to return to the Stimson-Green Mansion, thanks to Julianne of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. After walking through the various rooms on all three floors, I decided to redraw the same view I had done four years ago—looking out from under a Romanesque style arch at the central hall. The space ascends the main stairway to the upper two floors and extends back to a warm, sunny dining room on axis with the front entry foyer.
In comparing the two drawings, one can see how the absorbency of the paper surface matters a lot when drawing with a fountain pen. In the earlier drawing, directly above, the ink lines tended to bleed and so I was discouraged from drawing too finely. In the second drawing, shown first, the paper coating allowed for finer lines and suggestions of details.
I’m continuing to experiment using the Apple Pencil with the Procreate app on my iPad Pro. Here is a view of the Ballard Mini-Pod, a triangular site at 17th Avenue NW and NW 54th Street comprising Garden Sushi, Tripod Coffee, and a rotating series of mobile food trucks. Another realization I came to in doing this sketch is the tiny but perceptible separation I felt between the tip of the stylus and the lines being drawn through the glass. A couple of readers have suggested using a screen protector to better mimic the feel of paper but I’m afraid the extra layer of protection might only increase that sense of separation I feel.
As I mentioned in my last post, I like the ability to export as a movie any drawing or painting created in the Procreate app. Here is a video of the drawing above.
When I purchased my first iPad 5 years ago, I was excited to try out various drawing apps designed for the digital tablet. Disappointed with the lag time and feel of the styli available at the time, I resorted to drawing with my finger instead. At first, it was liberating to sketch so loosely but I soon returned to drawing with a fountain pen on real paper. I missed the feel of a metal nib flowing liquid ink onto a paper surface.
Hearing about the new Apple Pencil, I decided to try it out with the Procreate app. Here are a few examples.
I found that while the Apple Pencil had less lag and better “feel” than other styli I have tired, there was no doubt that I was drawing on a glass surface. Also, while the iPad has good palm rejection technology, I still inadvertently touched certain menus and options while drawing in the Procreate app, causing unintentional effects to occur randomly. Even so, realizing that I am not using all of the drawing app’s capabilities, I’m resolved to continue to experiment with the new media.
In my first teaching job in the School of Architecture at Ohio University, one of my assignments was an architectural graphics course. This was in 1972, a time before personal desktop computers, when the mimeograph machine was being replaced gradually by the photocopier, and letters, memos, and other correspondence were being typed on an IBM Selectric. To prepare for each class, I would hand-letter and hand-draw notes the night before and have the notes photocopied for the students. At the end of the semester, I had compiled over 400 pages of material.
The chair of the department, Forrest Wilson, took the class notes to his publisher in New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, who expressed interest in publishing my class notes. I asked that the price for the book be set at $4.95 and VNR said that would be possible if I were able to edit the material down to 128 pages. After the 1974–75 academic year ended, I was able to produce all 128 camera-ready pages in a three-week period, drawing on plain white bond paper with a Scripto lead pencil, a drafting triangle, and a scale.
I still remember delivering the final, camera-ready pages to VNR’s offices in New York City, and, sitting in a small office with the copyeditor, making corrections to the text on the spot using an eraser and an erasing shield.
Here are a few sample pages from the first edition of Architectural Graphics.
Having filled one sketchbook, I pulled a new one off the shelf to do this drawing. In beginning, I was instantly reminded of how the change from an absorbent surface to one treated with sizing affects the quality of lines from a fountain pen. Where I was used to being more tentative with thicker lines in my last sketchbook, I had to be more insistent with the thinner, lighter lines on the Moleskin paper.
This view is typical of the shipbuilding and related industries fronting the Ship Canal in the area between Fremont and Ballard, which some people are calling Freelard. I decided to begin with the barbed-wire-topped chain link fence and blackberry bushes that separated me on the street from what I was viewing, a ship under construction. The drawing ended up being more of a vignette than I had intended but that is the nature of sketching. Like a conversation, the drawing process can often lead to unexpected results.
Having been given a Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil recently, I wanted to try it out. First produced in the 1930s by Eberhard Faber, the original Blackwing 602 had a firm feel yet the lead also had a softness similar to that of a 6B pencil. The 602 is said to have been favored by several prize-winning writers, musicians, and artists. The line was discontinued in 1998, but Palomino, a California Cedar Products Company with a long history in the pencil industry, re-introduced the Blackwing 602 in 2011 as well as a slightly softer version, which I used to sketch the Lenin Statue in Fremont.
As we can see, graphite pencils are capable of a variety of lines and tones but lack the incisive quality of ink lines. As a light drizzle began to fall as I drew, I also discovered that graphite pencils are capable of drawing even on slightly damp paper. For comparison, I’m reposting an ink drawing of the same subject, which I had done back in 2011.
Pen-and-ink drawings, having only black lines at their disposal, tend to be more abstract and must use hatching, broken lines, and contrast to suggest the gray tones we think we see.
A small group of Seattle Urban Sketchers met yesterday at the Frye Art Museum to participate in the 46th World Wide Sketchcrawl. Because only graphite or colored pencils are allowed in the museum, I brought along an old-fashioned mechanical lead holder equipped with a 4B lead.
Switching from a fountain pen to a graphite pencil forced me to adjust my usual approach. Graphite pencils respond to pressure much more readily than an ink pen and encourage the use of tonal values. So the process I used was to first sketch the structure out lightly and then hatch broad areas of gray. I then wend back and darkened selected portions to achieve the desired gradation and contrast. Each of these sketches took about 30 minutes to complete.
Back in 2010, a number of videos were shot of me drawing scenes on the UW campus. Here is the sketch I did of Red Square with Suzzallo Library in the left background, Gerberding Hall to the right, and a table setting and Barnett Newman’s sculpture, Broken Obelisk, in the foreground. During a break in the rainy weather we’ve been having the last few days, I again went to draw Red Square, this time drawing a slightly different view with my iPad Mini and the Brushes app.
Drawing with my forefinger on a glass surface that is only 6.25 x 4.75 inches in area fosters the use of more gestural strokes and inhibits the drawing of fine details. Even though the strokes are only one pixel wide, I found myself suggesting rather than describing because I wasn’t willing to constantly zoom in and out and painstakingly work pixel by pixel. I’ve tried a number of styli but haven’t found one that is a reasonable substitute for the nib of a fountain pen due to the nature of the capacitive touchscreen display.
Still, the overall process of establishing perspective structure first before adding tones and details remains the same as when drawing with a pen on paper. I hope to show this when I export the data and convert the actions into a Quicktime movie.
I want to thank Gail Wong and all of the participants in our Line to Color workshop for a fun and stimulating weekend. For me, it was inspiring to see and feel the energy emanating from the group as we sped through downtown Fremont Saturday morning, settled into Gasworks Park in the afternoon, and then reconvened down at bustling Pike Place Market on Sunday, all the time being blessed with great weather and company. After a workshop it’s always difficult for me to gauge the impact of what two-and-a-half days of drawing can have but I did see a lot of progress and hope all who attended will continue to pursue and enjoy this creative activity.
Being occupied with working with each of the participants, I didn’t have much time to draw on my own. But here a couple of very quick sketches. The first is one of my teaching sketches that I do to demonstrate how to block out a composition on a page.
The second is a market scene where I dabbled with a waterbrush that I borrowed from Daniel, one of the participants, to see how the it might react with the ink lines. I kind of like the effect even though it’s quite subtle. The ease of creating gray washes with a waterbrush might be the first step toward incorporating color into my drawings.