Here is the final scan of a drawing I just completed in a 5″ x 8″ sketchbook. After spending a year sketching buildings in the West End neighborhood of Washington, DC, I found myself increasingly doodling small buildings while on the phone or waiting for large files to save. These little doodles led to small compositions of little buildings, and soon I was increasingly drawing little imaginary cityscapes. Eventually, I decided to produce a larger, polished version of one of these cityscapes. The initial layout was penciled at home, then refined and inked at various Meetup drawing groups in the city, as well as during occasional coffee breaks at cafés all over the DC area.
There’s a Trader Joe’s supermarket near our office, and I often see this Gitane fixie locked to the bike rack outside. Far from Gitane’s heyday as one of the premier French brands, which included providing the bikes to French cycling legends Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon (the 1988 Systeme U team bikes are one of my all time favorites!), this old, battered, and very characteristic Gitane still always caught my eye. One day, out to pick up my supply of frozen lunches, ground coffee, and craft beer, I spotted the Gitane, and finally decided to sketch it.
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.
Recently, my wife and I stole away for a relaxing weekend – sans children – to the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania, where we spent the time sleeping, sleeping, reading, sleeping, napping, and sleeping. We stayed at the lovely Swiss Woods Inn, just north of the very charming town of Lititz. If you’re looking for an incredible and relaxing bed and breakfast in the Lancaster area, look no further than Swiss Woods. The grounds are absolutely lovely, the amenities cozy and clean, the people warm and friendly, and for us hyper-busy Washingtonians, secluded and peaceful.
While I didn’t plan to do any sketching for the that weekend, I did tote along two small sketchbooks and some supplies, and I managed to do two quick sketches. Below was a 20 minute study of an authentic Swiss cowbell, part of a nice little collection of cowbells in our room (we cyclocrossers love cowbells!), and underneath that, and even faster two-minute sketch of an Amish horse and buggy, which was quite fun because how often does an urban sketcher get to sketch horses?
Some more sketches of people on the Washington, DC Metro, and just in case you were wondering, no; people really don’t smile too much on the Metro (followers and guests of Sketchbook Warrior have actually asked me about this…) Without waxing anthropologically, I can tell you that the masses commuting into DC in the morning are usually vey tired, somewhat defeated, and stare blankly into space as they contemplate another day in the DC political battlefield. They may be virtually catatonic, but they sure do make for some great life drawing practice.
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!
I spent the past year sketching buildings and street details all over the West End neighborhood of Washington, DC, during my lunchtime strolls. While this skill – “urban sketching” – eventually became relatively well-practiced over time, I still had some days where I was still very much in the experimental stages. Such is the case below, where I did a quick 20-minute sketch with ink and markers of a scene based on a construction crane. Not as well-developed as the sketches that I did after this one, but the goal was simple; sketch enough of a capture of the scene that whenever I look at it, my memories of the moment fill in the missing details.
Why do I choose to sketch certain buildings here in Washington, DC? Amongst several factors is whether the building can be sketched in small increments over several days, as I do these while out for quick strolls during my lunch breaks . This one particular building presented such an opportunity. Very modular, with a nice balance of symmetric and subtle asymmetric details, it was an easy building to draw to a certain identifiable point one day, and pick up from there the next day, as seen in the process shots below.
I had free afternoon in downtown Silver Spring, just north of Washington, DC, so I decided to take my DC-honed urban sketching skills on the road. Since I like sketching buildings with lots of roof tiles, I decided to draw this house, which doubles as an office building. I’m not happy with it, though, because the chimney, which was very tall and didn’t actually fit onto the page, has been “chopped” to fit. I really wanted to get those little details atop the chimney,and the whole structure itself, but in hindsight, I would have been happier with keeping the sketch as honest and real as possible.
Note: I’m taking next week off from all things digital (including blogging) to dedicate the week to sleep. As a family guy, working professional, and cyclist, I’ve heard about this “sleep” thing, but have only dabbled in it slightly, so next week, I plan to indulge fully in slumber. As always, thanks for visiting Sketchbook Warrior, and I’ll see you all when I wake up.
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.