Points of View

Once we have decided on the subject for a sketch—a scene, a building, or a fragment of a building—the next step is an important one in which we search for a vantage point from which to view and capture the subject. In so doing, we are in effect organizing the visual elements and focus of the drawing composition. Moving one way or another alters our viewpoint and thus the way the compositional elements relate to each other on the page.

And so, deciding where to stand or sit should be more than a matter of convenience or comfort. Rather, it should be determined by the composition a particular viewpoint offers. To illustrate, here are three different views of the main reading room of Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus, a beautiful example of Collegiate Gothic architecture.

Alaskan Way Viaduct

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, a two-level elevated freeway that is part of State Route 99, was built between 1949 and 1953 to carry traffic along Seattle’s waterfront. When the Nisqually earthquake hit in 2001, the viaduct suffered minor damage but raised concerns that another major earthquake could cause it to collapse. And so, after a lot of civic and political debate, the state and city decided to replace the viaduct. After considering rebuilding another elevated structure, a surface boulevard, or a cut-and-fill tunnel, the decision was made in 2009 to bore a 2-mile-long tunnel deep below downtown Seattle. After years of delays, boring finally began in 2013, and the completed tunnel is scheduled to be open to traffic in three weeks.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct was officially closed to traffic at 10 pm this past Friday, January 11, 2019. What I will miss, along with many others, I’m sure, are the fantastic views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountain Range to the west while traveling on the upper deck traveling north, especially at sunset.

Add-A-Ball Arcade

Just off the alley behind and beneath 315 North 36th Street in Fremont is Add-A-Ball, an old-style arcade filled with rows of pinball machines and other arcade games, including such classics as PacMan and Tetris. Quoting The Stranger, “It’s the basement you wish you could’ve had when you were 14, if you were 14 in 1983.”

Magnuson Act of 1943


On this date 75 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Magnuson Act into law. Proposed by then Washington State Representative Warren G. Magnuson, the act basically repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, permitted limited Chinese immigration, and allowed some Chinese immigrants already residing in the U.S. to become naturalized citizens. But the act still banned ethnic Chinese from owning property and businesses.

This reminds me of my own grandparents on my father’s side, who immigrated to Hawaii as laborers. Above is a copy of my grandfather’s Certificate of Residence, signed in April 1901. There are a few things to note: First is the misspelling of my grandfather’s surname. Second is that this document was required by the provisions of the Act of April 30, 1900. This was the so-called Organic Act, which provided a government for the Territory of Hawaii, after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by mostly U.S. business interests in 1893.

And third, notice that the registration card at the bottom was required by the Alien Registration Act of 1940. While the primary intent of this act was to make it illegal for any resident or citizen in the United States to teach or advocate the overthrow of the government, it also forced non-citizens, such as my grandparents, to register so that the government would be better able to track them and their possibly un-American ideas or activities.

We can sometimes forget how complicated our cultural and political history has been.

Sok Kwu Wan

A drawing done 20 years ago, after arriving on a ferry from Hong Kong Island to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island, and then walking for an hour-and-a-half to Sok Kwu Wan. In contrast to this rather sparse sketch is another drawing I did five years earlier of this skyline as seen from Kowloon, which uses a lot more ink to convey the dense, urban fabric of Hong Kong Central.

“Art does not reproduce the visible; it renders visible.” Paul Klee

Occasionally, I will be reposting items from my Facebook page, which I had used to illustrate my drawing activities from January 2010 to February 2012. This one is from June 2010.

The above quote brings to mind the distinction between the vast richness of our visual perception as we survey a scene and our limited ability to capture that richness in a drawing. So in sketching, rather than attempt to reproduce every detail exactly the way we see it, we should simply try to make what we perceive visible to others. We do this by remembering that all drawing is abstraction, editing what we choose to include in our drawing, and relying upon suggestion rather than replication.

For example, here are a few enlargements of a sketch I did of the Sannenzaka slope in Kyoto. The lines and shapes are barely recognizable as being representative of anything. But in the context of the whole drawing, it is convincing enough to suggest to the mind’s eye a scene that we recognize. The whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts.

Viking Picture Stone

From the collection of the Nordic Museum in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle is this Viking picture stone. The stone’s description reads: “Erected as memorials or commemorative markers, picture stones convey their messages through pictures rather than inscriptions. More than 400 picture stones are known today; most of them are from the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.”

I began the drawing by roughing in the stone’s outline and describing the hewn quality along its edges. Then I worked on the features typical of picture stones—a woman offering a drink to a Viking riding a horse, a ship with checkered sails, and symbols of interlocking triangles called valknuts—followed by the surrounding plaited pattern.

Elliott Bay Bookstore

Now that the weather in Seattle has turned wetter and cooler, it is time again to find comfortable indoor places to draw. One such place is the Elliott Bay Bookstore, where a group of Seattle Urban Sketchers met 10 days ago. Founded by Walter Carr in 1973, Elliott Bay spent over three decades in the Globe Building in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, before moving in 2010 to its current location on Capitol Hill. Within the bookstore is Little Oddfellows, a sister cafe to its older sibling next door. From here, I drew the above view.