Here’s a drawing shaping up in one of my sketchbooks: an imaginary cityscape, something of which I have been drawing quite a lot of lately. After a year spent sketching buildings here in Washington, DC, I started doodling little imaginary buildings while on phone calls, coffee breaks, and waiting for large graphic files to save. I soon progressed to doodling a few more of these buildings into imaginary cityscapes, with details culled from my local urban sketches. I decided that I wanted to do a more polished version of these doodles, and finding a 6″ x 8″ sketchbook laying around in a freecycle area was my inventive to give it a go. I’ve since been working on this drawing little by little, completing sections during various drawing Meetup groups here in DC.
New York City-based artists past and present suffered a shock recently with the sudden and unexpected closing of Pearl Paint, the landmark art supply store, which was as integral to every facet of commercial and fine art in New York as was any museum, gallery, studio, or agency in the city. Dating back to 1933, the iconic store was housed in an equally iconic six-floor structure with a trademark red-and-white facade, and was located on the bustling Canal street in the somewhat sketchy Chinatown district.
In the world of art supply stores, Pearl Paint was the equivalent of Macy’s meets the local hardware store. Pearl Paint didn’t glisten; it was raw, worn, and rustic. Packed to the gills with every last art supply imaginable, it simply said “buy this stuff, and go create”. Frequented by everybody from students, crafters, and novices, to top professional artists, designers, and even celebrities, anybody whom stepped foot into the front door became something of an artist, and artists stepping into the store became kings and queens of the art world.
Shopping at Pearl Paint was an ordeal, though. To explore all six floors, you had to climb the imposing, steep, long, and somewhat slanted stairs between floors. You had to pay for each item before you left a particular floor, so if you purchased your airbrush on the fifth floor, went down the third floor for sketchbooks, and then to the second floor for paint brushes, then realized you totally forgot to pick up rapidographs on the sixth floor, well then, too bad. You built legs of steel shopping at Pearl Paint, even if you came out with lungs full of oil paint vapors and design marker fumes.
I shopped at Pearl Paint extensively as a student and as a professional. I also worked there, in the fine writing and fountain pen department. I worked with artists, illustrators, designers, painters, sculpters, crafters, cartoonists, dreamers, wanderers, punks, hippies, skaters, musicians, missionaries, and relatively normal and abnormal people alike, but at Pearl Paint, we all fit in and belonged. We were coworkers in front of the customers, and community in between them.
Sadly, like many iconic landmarks in New York City, change was inevitable. Just as the legendary music venue CBGB’s – the birthplace of punk rock – is now a John Varvatos luxury shoe store, so too came Pearl’s day to fade into NYC’s history books. Art students shop at the Apple store instead of art supply stores nowadays. Much of the analog work gaining notice is done with Pigma Micron pens into Moleskine sketchbooks instead of epic oil paintings on large canvases. Online shopping eliminates the time and much of the expense of obtaining new art supplies. In this digital age, Pearl Paint increasingly became a dinosaur, but in its day, it was a wonderful place where anybody could become part of the creative world.
There’s no moral to this story, just memories of a truly great place. I would advise artists of all stripes, though, to take some time to appreciate their local art supply stores. Here in Washington, DC, there’s Plaza Artist Supplies on K Street, where, upon entering the store, I leave behind the world of DC’s high-pressure political battlefield, and enter the inviting world of art and artists, and get lost in the shelves and aisles of pens, pencils, sketchbooks, brushes, paints, markers, colors, and all of those wonderful and fascinating supplies that allow us to do what we love to do: make art!
A while back, I added a new sketchbook to my collection; a 3″ x 5″ Clairfontaine Graf-It 909. The smallest and cheapest sketchbook in the art supply store, intended for quick cheap, drawings, I dubbed it the “ugly sketchbook”. I keep it next to my computer to doodle in while saving large files, or for when I just need a quick analog break from all things digital. Pocket-sized, I also keep it on hand for trips to the café or pub. This sketchbook is all about “bad drawing”; no pre-pencil sketching, no tearing-out pages, and no apologies or excuses for whatever ended up in it. However, as a direct “head to page” sketchbook, it also serves as an incubator for drawings and ideas that may end up being refined and developed in my larger sketchbooks.
Here’s the first page, done with a scratchy ballpoint pen:
I drew the same truck I drew obsessively decades ago as a little child, and hadn’t drawn since:
Glassware, barware, bottles, etc…
I listen to Pandora a lot, primarily punk rock. Every now and then, a band’s image or song sparks a thought that needs to quickly be drawn. One day, the infamous and absolutely uninhibited GG Allin came on, and I quickly drew GG’s iconic tattoos onto a seemingly normal person.
Every Washingtonian riding the Metro commuter train on a daily basis is quite familiar with the drab interior colors of the older model cars. I did this sketch less as a life drawing subject, and more of a color study of the train itself. The carpets on the train are a mauve color, but lacking a mauve marker, I worked with the nearest color marker I had, which was purple. On the adjoining page, you can see where I took color notes, both of the lady and the train itself, as I colored this at home later that evening.
About seven years ago, we took a trip out west to California, visiting San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. Far removed from the practice of sketching at the time, I none the less toted along a small sketchbook, some pens, and a few colored pencils. Here are two sketches I did in Yosemite, which barely begin to capture the awe-inspiring visual grandeur and mind-blowing dimensions of the place.
I will be taking a break from posting this week while I stuff my face and over-fill my belly during the one-two celebratory punch that will be Thanksgiving and Chanuka. Though the two holidays don’t share anything in common – one being a major American holiday and the other a minor Israeli festival – the convergence of the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars last brought the two events together 153 years ago, and mathematically will not do so again for roughly 70,000 years, so I plan to take full advantage of this once in a lifetime event to feast on copious amounts of oil-fried turkey, cranberry sufganiot, and of course, some fine craft beers!
I took these visual tasting notes during a wine tasting back in 2006, before I even knew about a discipline called sketchnoting. The tasting itself featured five vintages of Hagafen’s Napa Valley Merlot. While others took more “proper” notes on index cards, I broke out the pocket-sized sketchbook, a Pigma Micron pen, and used dabs of the different wines to add some color. And yes; there are some phenomenal kosher wines out there, hailing everywhere from California’s finest vineyards to the world-class growing regions of Israel.
Here are two pages drawn on two different days, but I liked how they came together on the spread. For the sketch on the left, I used a felt-tipped pen to capture the individual, whom was holding onto a pole on the train, and I ended up sketching the line for the pole into the crease of the spine down the middle of the spread. Later in the day, I quickly sketched some cars behind him while I was sitting at a cafe. The individual on the right was sketched with a fountain pen. Overall, it looks like the both of them could have been on the same train, on the same day.
Here is the final post about my broken foot saga from 2006, captured with a small sketchbook, a Pigma Micron pen, lots of painkillers, and nothing but time on my hands. After my second round of emergency surgery, all that was left to do was lay on my back with my foot elevated, read, draw, and watch television. After two grueling months, the bone mended, and an additional two months of intensive physical therapy followed. Everything healed up fine, and I slowly got back to walking and cycling. I also stopped my massive dosage of painkillers, but the scar on my foot pretty much ended my dreams of being a foot model. Oh well, there’s always art. Thanks to everybody for checking out this series of Retro Sketches and thanks for the comments, and please, please, please; watch your step when walking down those seemingly benign ramps!