Mt. Vernon Workshop


I did this sketch to help publicize a one-day workshop Gail Wong and I will be offering in Mt. Vernon on Saturday, April 20th. Mt. Vernon is an enchanting small town in Skagit County north of Seattle and the Mt. Vernon Downtown Association is hosting the event.

Full disclosure: Due to constraints of time and weather I drew this scene from a digital photograph that was sent to me. I soon realized that drawing from a photo can actually be more difficult than drawing on location. In a 3D environment, we are able to perceive much more than in a 2D photograph. We can shift our gaze, if necessary, to uncover certain details or to see more clearly things that might be hidden or obscured. And we are free to interpret the 3-dimensional information before us. But in a photograph, everything is frozen, including ambiguities that have to be resolved.

Another note: The Namiki Falcon fountain pen is known for its flexible nib. While it is a joy to draw with, I rarely carry the pen for fear of losing it. But since I was in my home office, I took the opportunity to use it for this sketch. The Namiki Falcon is not inexpensive but still it is a reasonably priced introduction to fine quality fountain pens. Highly recommended.


Even though it’s a typically chilly and rainy winter in Seattle, what better time to study the branch structure of trees. For these stark, black-and-white images, I used a Tombow brush pen.


While I could have relied on my memory or imagination to draw these, I find that the raw material provided by real-life patterns have a specificity that is more compelling than the stereotypical views that we store in our memory bank, and they are much easier to compose and interpret.

Serial Vision

The converging lines and foreshortened shapes of a perspective drawing give it a dynamic quality. Yet, it remains a static view—a moment in time—as seen from a single point in space. To better convey movement through space, we can use a series of changing perspective views, as English architect and urban designer Gordon Cullen did when he coined the phrase Serial Vision to describe what one might see and experience as one walks through a sequence of spaces.

This is what I intended to depict when the Seattle Urban Sketchers met yesterday at Suzzallo Library on the UW campus. These drawings chronicle how one approaches the library from across Red Square, enters one of its portals, moves through the lobby and up the main staircase, and arrives in the main reading room.







Nine drawings done in two hours and twenty-five minutes.


A Delicate Balance


As we decide how we are going to compose a scene and lay it out on a page, we are juggling drawing elements to maintain a delicate balance between a static state and one of dynamic disarray. The elements that we balance are points of interest that draw the eye—an area of contrasting tone or increased line weights, a level of enhanced detail, even a field of emptiness. Here are a few examples of different ways of maintaining a delicate balance in a drawing composition.


When we want to emphasize the stability or serenity of the subject matter, we can use a symmetrical layout and still introduce visual tension through contrast.


For more dynamic compositions, we can offset one or more points of interest in an asymmetrical composition that leads the eye. We can emphasize height by raising the composition on the page or lead the eye by placing the central point of interest to the left or the right.


In the end, what we should strive for is a delicate balance that engages the eye and never lets it stray off the page.




A caricature is a pictorial or literary description of a person or thing that exaggerates certain distinctive characteristics to create an easily identifiable likeness. The result can be insulting or complimentary; I certainly hope these caricatures of me are the latter! These were done and graciously given to me by various individuals during presentations and workshops that I have given.


While these are definitely not intended to be caricatures, they still represent my attempt to capture the likeness of individuals, which is always an enjoyable and constant challenge. I used my iPad to draw these prospective jurors in the King County courthouse. It helped that these people were sedentary, lost in their own thoughts while waiting to be called for jury duty.


To draw people who are moving is much more difficult, as in this view of a rainy morning in Shibuya, Tokyo. These commuters and their umbrellas provide a sense of scale to the composition and lead the eye across the overpass while the automobile traffic flows below.

Seeing Little Things Largely


This study of the uniquely shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree, considered to be a living fossil, requires careful observation of shapes, details, and most importantly, the relationships between the two. In Lingua Franca, a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Geoffrey Pullum ends his essay with a quote from Otto Jespersen, a Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language:

“To anyone who finds that linguistic study is a worthless finicking with trifles, I would reply that life consists of little things; the important matter is to see them largely.”