Saturday, February 17, 2018

Paley Exhibit Dazzles at Museum of Glass

2/16/18 Museum of Glass hot shop

Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is a beautiful (and challenging) building to sketch from the outside. The last time I tackled its shining hot shop cone was a couple of years ago with USk Tacoma. Yesterday was too cold and drizzly to sketch outdoors – a good day to stay inside the museum and the toasty hot shop.

I made one sketch of an artist working hot glass at the glory hole, but our real purpose in being at the museum was to see Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley. Several years ago we saw an exhibit of Paley’s stunning metal work, so I was already a fan. This show takes his abstract, sensuous, organic work to a new level, putting glass and steel together in surprising yet fully integrated ways.

Despite the difficulty of resisting the temptation to touch, I was pleased that none of the sculptures were in cases – viewing art is so much better without a barrier. (By comparison, all of Michael Taylor’s work in the same museum was displayed behind glass, and it felt remote.) But I didn’t dare try to sketch these twisting, twining expressions of texture and form – they were better enjoyed and appreciated without attempting to capture them.

Another part of the exhibit that I appreciated was the inclusion of several proposal drawings and sketches Paley produced. It’s fascinating to see his mind at work as he imagines a piece, transfers that vision to a 2-D image, and then transforms that into a 3-D form.

Below are some of my many favorite works in the exhibit.

Proposal drawings


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Striped and Soggy

2/15/18 Wedgwood neighborhood

Although it’s not unheard of, urban couches usually hibernate in winter. People move out of rentals at all times of the year, but “free” furniture doesn’t sell well when its all wet. Which explains why this striped one in the Wedgwood neighborhood has been in the same spot for at least three days – it’s getting soggier every minute. I’ve been wanting to sketch it since the first time I saw it, but to do so would require parking illegally across the street. Today I threw caution to the wind, parked dangerously close to a stop sign for a few minutes, and bagged another trophy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Market Buskers

2/13/18 Pike Place Market
With plans to meet friends for lunch, I arrived at the Pike Place Market a little early so I could sketch. As it has been the past few days, the morning started out bright and sunny but cold.

While the Market can be intolerably crowded on a warm summer day, it’s laid back and almost quiet in February. In one of the busiest spots, where the fishmongers entertain tourists by tossing salmon to each other, two white-bearded guys performed an eclectic mix of tunes from blues to the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When a band’s instruments include ukulele, kazoo and washtub bass, you know the music is going to be interesting! The red bird attached to the can attracts viewers’ attention to their busking funds.

It was getting close to the time I was meeting my friends, so I walked in the direction of The Pink Door. Nearby in Post Alley, a young man sang and played guitar to some tourists who dined outside a cafe, despite temperatures in the 30s. I sketched faster and faster before my fingers went numb while this musician shed his coat after a few songs. Some people are made of heartier material than I am, I guess. After two sketches, I was ready for the warm restaurant. 

Editorial comment: Readers of this blog know that one of my favorite sketch subjects is buskers. Wherever I travel and especially here at home in the summer, I seek out events where I’m likely to encounter musicians entertaining people on the street. To me, they add color, life and character to any urban space. Many people must agree with me, because they all snap photos of these buskers (stepping right in front of me to do so and blocking my view, I might add). And yet after they’ve taken a photo and enjoyed the music, most walk off and don’t contribute to the bucket. My personal policy is that if I sketch a busker, I always give them money afterwards. Even if I haven’t sketched them, if I’ve stopped to enjoy the music, I give them money. It’s a fair exchange either way.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 8: American Venus (Watercolor)

Box front of Venus watercolor pencils

The vintage Venus brand first came to my attention when I found two random Venus Paradise pencils – a light blue and a green – at Seattle ReCreative when I was digging through the well-organized pencil bins. When I swatched them alongside the small handful of old Prismacolors I had found there the same day, I was surprised to find the Venus pencils to be very similar – soft and creamy in texture. They had no identifying maker other than “USA.”

A short time later I was poking around eBay when I spotted an incomplete box of Venus watercolor pencils for a good price, and I was curious if they, too, would be as soft as the two Paradise versions I’d found.

Made by the American Lead Pencil Co. of New York beginning in 1905, Venus pencils were apparently marketed to artists and architects (according to Wikipedia). By 1956, the company had officially changed its name to the Venus Pen and Pencil Corp., which probably accounts for my two random ones having no other name on them. Eventually in 1973, the company was acquired by Faber-Castell. I couldn’t find much more historical information about Venus.

Easel-back box
The small assortment I purchased came in a cardboard box with a hinged easel back that was a popular packaging form for colored pencils back then. The instructions on the inside panel say that the pencils are both indelible and water-soluble, which at first seemed like an oxymoron. The box also says, “Venus (the name and the statue), and the crackled coat as well as the blue band on the caps of the pencils are our exclusive trade marks.”

That “crackeled coat” is a pattern painted onto the round barrel, not a true crackle, but still it’s a distinctive appearance I haven’t seen on any other pencil. The white cap and blue band are also nice touches. By contrast, the two Venus Paradise pencils have an unfinished end similar to Prismacolors.

Modern-day watercolor pencils always sport a tiny paint brush icon next to the logo or color number so that they can be easily distinguished from traditional colored pencils. Interestingly, the Venus pencils lack such an icon. 

The Paradise pencils are obviously newer than the watercolor ones, since they no longer carry the American Lead Pencil name. Usually I go for older typefaces, but in this case, the Venus Paradise logo is quite wonderful.

Trademarked "crackled coat"
Logo on the Venus watercolor pencils reviewed here.
The top two pencils are the newer Venus Paradise pencils with plain, unfinished ends.

I love that Venus Paradise logo!
Unfortunately, the distinctive crackle coat and end cap are probably the best features of the Venus watercolor pencils, which are possibly the hardest colored pencils I have ever used – certainly the hardest water-soluble pencils. To get any pigment, I had to bear down so hard on them that I was afraid I was going to flatten the toothy surface of the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook page where I made test swatches. Applying water was just as disappointing – very wimpy washes. If they were being marketed to architects, though, I could see that their very firm cores might be useful. They would retain a point forever, and they could easily be used for color-coded writing.
Swatches with water washes.
I didn’t bother making a sketch since I knew they would be frustrating to use. I was still curious, though, about the claim that they were indelible as well as water-soluble. That seemed contradictory: If a pencil washes with water, how can it be indelible?

I recalled my recent education in the NoBlot ink pencil, which I also acquired at Seattle ReCreative without knowing what it was. Ana at the Well-Appointed Desk talked about the Sanford version of the NoBlot; mine is branded Eberhard Faber. In any case, the unusual “ink” cores in these old pencils really are indelible in that they can’t be erased. When the marks, which look like graphite, are washed with water, they turn bright blue, and once dry, that “ink” is also indelible. So, to my mind, the NoBlot is, indeed, both indelible and water-soluble. Could these Venus pencils have similar cores?

I scribbled some test swatches on Canson mixed media paper and washed one side of the swatches with water. After the paper dried, I ran my electric Seed Sun Dolphin eraser over the marks. The dry part was erased about as well as any colored pencil, so it’s not exactly indelible. The washed part was slightly less erasable, but not what I would call permanent, by any means. Hmm. So much for indelible.
Indelible? Not so much.
Although these Venus watercolor pencils turned out to be a disappointment functionally, I’m happy to have a few with the original American Lead Pencil Co. branding, fancy crackle and all. Only the green and purple colors seem to have been used much at all by their original owner. . . was that person frustrated by the core’s hardness and wimpy wash, too? Back then, they probably didn’t have fabulous Caran d’Ache Museum or Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils as an alternative as I do now. Learning about history often makes me grateful for what I have in modern times, and these crappy Venus pencils are one example.

As for those two soft and creamy Venus Paradise pencils (which are not water-soluble at all) that I stumbled upon . . . now I’m on the hunt for more. Perhaps the Paradise line was developed to compete with Prismacolor at some point . . . ?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Smooth or Toothy

2/6/18 Polychromos pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
(in progress)

Experimenting with using both hard and soft colored pencils strategically in the same sketch continues to intrigue me. This time I tried a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, which is much smoother than Alpha and can therefore be easier to use with a softer pencil.

Like last time, I started my sketch with harder Polychromos pencils. Although with less tooth to cover, I still worked for about an hour to put on several layers. I could have kept going with the Polychromos to finish
2/7/18 sketch finished with Pablo pencils
the sketch, but since I was experimenting with the hard/soft combo, I finished with the softer Pablos. Within about 20 minutes, I had easily laid on enough pigment to finish (at left). As on the toothier Alpha paper, I could move relatively quickly because the Polychromos had done the harder work of covering the paper’s surface.

As a final experiment, I used the soft Pablos alone to make another sketch on Epsilon paper (below). This time it took about an hour and 10 minutes total – actually a little less time than the Polychromos/Pablo combo, which surprised me. I thought the softer pencils would take longer, but used with smoother paper, the Pablos slammed right through (relatively speaking, of course). I should also consider that I might have worked faster simply because I’d practiced blending the hues of this particular combination of heirloom tomato, apple and banana multiple times by now. (The science of art is still mostly art.)

2/7/18 Pablo pencils in Epsilon sketchbook
What do my experiments teach me? 

1. On toothy paper, it’s more efficient to start with a hard pencil and finish with a softer one. 

2. On smooth paper, using a soft pencil all the way through might be more efficient.

But of course, efficiency isn’t the only factor to consider. There’s also the esthetics of the results and the esthetics of the working process. Sometimes I want the tooth of the paper showing through a bit, even when it requires more time and work. And often I simply enjoy the feel of pencil on toothy paper, even when using a smoother paper might look better or go faster. It’s a bit of a dilemma – results vs. process.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A February Treat

2/10/18 Wedgwood neighborhood

Yesterday was an unusual February treat – blue sky and sunshine all day! Unfortunately for me, it was also chilly – too cold for me to stay outdoors for a sketch as I’d hoped when I’d first heard the sun forecast. But with sharp shadows and brilliant light in the ‘hood, even sketching from my car was a treat.

Most of the forecast for the rest of the week is the usual overcast and chance of rain, but if I can have a day like yesterday once in a while, it’ll help me get through the rest of winter.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Big Bite at the Panama Hotel

2/19/18 Panama Hotel and teahouse

The historic Panama Hotel and teahouse is a wintertime favorite for the Friday sketchers. With two floors of cozy chairs and tables, vintage photos, unusual décor, and tasty teas and pastries, it’s a fun place.

During past outings, I’ve always chosen comfy subjects like my food or other sketchers. I’m not sure what compelled me on this visit, but I decided to sit in one corner of the main café area and take on the whole long counter and room. It was like shoving an entire watermelon into my mouth – the proverbial bite of more than I can chew. Still, it helped to remember the principles I learned in Gabi Campanario’s “Pocket Urban Sketching” workshop that I took almost exactly a year ago. Even though I used a spread twice as large as a pocket sketchbook spread, it was a formidable challenge to get it all in. I usually manage two or three sketches at USk outings, but I worked up such a sweat chewing this watermelon that it was the only one I did! 

We had another great turnout, including a couple of new faces, and even a few hardy souls who sketched outdoors!

Vivian is holding my sketch for me!
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