Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Navigating by the Roses

Ladd's Addition is a delightful neighborhood in Portland that has a complicated arrangement of streets and alley-ways. A colleague recently described the neighborhood as a "cluster-f**k," which seems a bit harsh. Sure, there are a lot of one-way streets and it's tricky to drive around in your car, but that means that it's a low-traffic neighborhood that is really safe for walking your dog or letting your kids bike to school.  I like it.
I will admit that, even as a slow-moving pedestrian with all the time in the world, I still do get disoriented in the neighborhood. One of the joyful things about summer, however, is that the four diamond-shaped rose gardens on the cardinal axis that radiates out from the central circle are in full and glorious bloom. If I find myself disoriented, I just need to look for a brilliant swath of pink petals, and it won't be long until I've figured out what corner of the neighborhood I've wandered into!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thoughts on Waterfalls

I went on an Urban Sketchers adventure to the Ira Keller Fountain yesterday. This hidden park in the heart of downtown Portland has an astonishing set of fountains that mimic a rugged, rocky waterfall--it's really astonishing to behold.

As I sat there, trying to capture the movement of the water with my pen and watercolors, I could clearly remember a field trip I took when I was in junior high school. We were at some natural monument with a very tall waterfall, and it was impressive to stand at the base of it and look up towards the top of the falls. The roaring noise, the dynamic and shifting patterns of water and gravity, the fresh spray on your skin, the distinct temperature difference in this misty place. I had my little tourist-camera, but it was patently clear to me that there was very little point in trying to take pictures of a waterfall--how could a still picture even come close to capturing the amazement of being there, the overwhelming multi-sensory feel of it all?

With that memory in mind, I entered into this sketch wondering if I'd be totally thwarted at trying to capture the astonishing sound, motion, and texture of this monument to falling water. I tried studying the patterns of how the water behaved at different moments in its fall, and was amazed to see how different the dynamic was on all of these surfaces. Sometimes it flows smoothly and quietly over an edge and then gradually gets more turbulent (and therefore more white and frothy) as it falls. Sometimes it makes a graceful arc that's very regular. Sometimes it dives over the edge in distinct writhing ribbons of water that meld together further down.  Sometimes it's a crazy diagonal splatter, volleys of water-blotches fired out of a machine-gun. The variety was mind-boggling.

I look at this sketch now and I know that I didn't capture it perfectly, that it's just a shadow of the multi-sensory experience of being there in person. But, sitting there and doing the sketch gave me a chance to really look, to really think, about the shapes and patterns and angles and motion. I think that my junior-high self would agree with my current self that it was well worth the time to draw the picture. I may not have been able to capture it as gloriously as I wanted, but I got to spend time really looking at the scene, and that was well worth the adventure.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Recently wrapped up a commission to illustrate some fossilized jaws of Smilodon gracilis. Sample of a preliminary sketch above, and detail from one of the finished plates below.

The preliminary sketches were done on the computer, but I inked the final drawing by hand with a steel-nib dip pen. It feels much more satisfying, and (though it seems counter-intuitive) I also feel like I have much better control with a tangible pen.

I did use the computer to do the final edits and touch-ups after the scientists gave their feedback, so the final product really is a hybrid of digital and traditional work.

While I was doing the ink work, I actually experimented with filming the process if stippling. I'll warn you that it's a very slow and undramatic way to work...but if you're curious, here's about a minute of dots falling into place. (And this is part of the reason that I respect well-done stippling so can be so beautiful in its own right, and it sure takes a lot of patience and commitment to make the work happen!)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Two-Volcano Day

This weekend I went bike-camping! Toted tent, bedding, food, clothes, and all the other gear on my trusty old bike. Depending on your route, it's around 33 or 36 miles from Portland to Champoeg State Park. On the way down, I was pretty focused on the road; but on the way home today I gave myself some spare time to sketch the landscapes I was biking through.

Amazingly clear weather allowed for beautiful views of Mount Hood.

Another view of this lovely mountain from the back roads of Canby. It would be such fun to do a series of prints in the style of Hokusai's "36 views of Mount Fuji." (The two volcanoes share a distinctive stratovolcano shape, so it's not surprising that I make that connection when I look at Mount Hood.)

We had found a delightful historic path up on the bluffs above Oregon City that let us bypass some really nasty stretches of the highway, as well as getting a great view of the river and the city below. Paused to eat carrots and sketch the Willamette Falls on my way back as well.

Facing the other direction on the same bench, I realized I could see Mount Saint Helens as well! A two-volcano day, now that's fancy.
Notice that Mount St. Helens has an entirely different shape--one that is the result of having gone "boom" just a few decades ago! Interesting gallery of before and after pictures. Notice how the mountain used to be kinda pointy?

It was really nice to get out exploring. Hope I can do more of that as the summer progresses.