Family and friends rarely visit us in Seattle. Most of them live just too far away, either on the East Coast or Spain. But this summer, we hit the jackpot with a special guest. Our nephew Seth, a 19-year-old journalism student at Ohio University, stayed with us for almost three months. He spent his time here well, working at a deli and doing some freelance writing and photography (Don't miss his blog.) And whenever he had free time and we weren't at work ourselves, we took him to as many places as we could. Below are some of the sketchbook pages I filled recording our time spent together. We miss him already!
I first heard of a "sinking ship" building in reference to a Seattle parking garage built on a sloping street near the iconic Smith Tower.
When you look at it straight on, the building resembles the bow of a ship sinking into the street.
The optical effect is the result of a tricky perspective, the kind I have to think through carefully before putting pen to paper. The key is to realize that the vantage point for the sloping street is high above the horizon line. Then, to understand the positioning of the garage structure, I imagine it as if it was on flat ground. That helps me notice that the windows aren't parallel to the sloping street, but to the base of the building hidden by the inclination of the street.
The experience of sketching that garage by the Smith Tower years ago still comes handy any time I sketch similar perspectives. Most recently, I encountered this other "sinking ship" in the Denny Triangle during a sketch outing with the Seattle Urban Skechers:
It's an amazing feeling when you've been working on a book for a while and the first set of page proofs arrives. The exhilaration soon gives way to worry, though, as you start second guessing the selection of this or that image, the size of the typography or the way a caption reads. But a little anxiety is a very small price to pay to see your work in print.
"Seattle Sketcher" is a 112-page limited-edition coffee table book with a selection of my Seattle Times columns. It will be available in selected Seattle area stores starting in October, but it can be pre-ordered now from most countries around the world through Pediment Books, a Seattle Times publishing partner. Here's a link: seattletimes.com/sketcherbook.
I hardly came up with an original name for my sketching journal.
A reader who recently travelled to Melbourne emailed me a photo of a much, much older instance where the word "Sketcher" featured big in newsprint. It shows a page from an illustrated periodical of the late 1800s called The Australasian Sketcher. (He stumbled upon the tome of archived issues while visiting the Victoria State Library in Melbourne.)
The existance of the publication doesn't surprise me at all. The late 1800s were the golden era of pictorial journalism, a time when publications dispatched "special artists" to document newsworthy events with their sketchpads — newsrooms also employed armies of illustrators who redrew the rough sketches from the specials into beautiful artwork for publication. Still, it's funny to see this masthead with the word Sketcher so proudly displayed in beautiful detail.
According to the Wikipedia entry, the monthly, which circulated between 1873 and 1889, captured "the picturesque phases of our public and social life of notable objects and events in Australia and New Zealand."
If only we could see more pages from this "Sketcher" newspaper paper, right? We actually can! PDF files re just a few clicks away from the digitised archives of the National Library of Australia. Here are a few covers I just downloaded and are making me drool over my keyboard:
As you can see in my "trophy shot," above, the subject of my sketch was a pretty big painting: a "tromp l'oeil" mural that welcomes visitors to a classic cars dealership in the Seattle area. In my drawing, you can see owner Jeri Drager standing in front of the artwork. One of his cars, a 1948 Ford sedan, is parked at the other end of the 40-foot-long painting as if it was about to drive into the scene.
The experience of sketching the work of another artist, Edmonds-based muralist Andy Eccleshall in this case, gave me a little pause. It's something that happens to me every time my subject matter is a piece of art.
What if he doesn't like my sketch?
I know as artists we are supposed to do "our own thing" and not let the opinion of others affect our confidence. But it's hard to turn off that inside "what-will-people-think" voice in a case like this.
I could care less of what a random person thought about my sketch, but I certainly wanted the muralist —a fellow artist!— to be pleased.
Fortunately, he was. "Excellent drawing Gabriel! I love it!" Eccleshall wrote in an email Saturday morning.
Bert Dodson's Keys to Drawing book, which I first borrowed from the library and wrote about in this post, was so enjoyable that I ended up buying my own copy.
This other one, Keys to Drawing with Imagination, prompted an inmediate purchase as soon as I found it online. It's about drawing from your head, not from life, and I think it's going to come in handy for all the conceptual illustrations I do for the Opinion pages.
The exercises Dodson proposes have already piqued my interest. For someone like me who usually sketches from life aiming for accuracy, it's going to be quite liberating to try things like playing with scale, exaggerating proportions or creating distorted reflections.
This afternoon, Pallavi and Dash, of story-co.com, paid me a visit at The Seattle Times. Dash is an entrepreneur based in Singapore and Pallavi works for a nonprofit in Seattle. They are working as a team on an interesting project centered around this question: What makes your life meaningful? Their goal is to interview as many as 500 people from all walks of life, including artists, poets, musicians, politicians, writers and others, and analyze the responses they collect.
I was delighted to be included in the project and I look forward to see how it develops.
The sketch doesn't fit on the page? No worries. That happened to me the other day while I sketched longshore workers at The Port of Seattle. I drew the person quickly first, but I got the proportions wrong. As I continued drawing after she had to get back to work, I realized that the giant forklift was not going to fit, so I pulled another sheet and used it as an extension of my page. You'll notice the two sheets on the photo above, next to the final result, which I colored and taped together later.
My artist and entrepreneur friend Sean has a start-up business in Seattle producing t-shirts, E1north Trading Co., and we've been talking about collaborating. He says not any image you put on a tee works, no matter how artful it may be. It has to be "wearable art."
I looked through my sketchbooks and found a doodle that I redrew into this design. What do you think? Would you wear a t-shirt with this picture?
P.S.: Maybe the art itself doesn't matter. Maybe it's the message that counts. You know, you don't get a t-shirt of Dilbert just because you like the drawings. It's the cartoon character endearing personality that speaks to you. Paul Frank sells creative joy, Coca-Cola sells happiness...