NADA, Tysons Corner, and Old San Juan

Yesterday I attended a fascinating talk about the future of Tysons Corner that gave me a new appreciation of the town I work in.

I had always thought of Tysons as pretty soulless–the land of office buildings and car dealerships, and of course the mall. Only 17,000 people live there, while about 100,000 people, including me, work there. Other than shopping, there are not cultural draws. One can eat outside at restaurants, and view a strip mall parking lot or a traffic jam. All that will change. It is supposed to become Fairfax County’s downtown. It’s pretty exciting. It has also made me more interested in what’s there now. Today, I ate outside at Panera, probably because my Pandora station thinks I am always hungry, and won’t stop telling me to go to Panera or Firehouse Subs. Something about my choice in music says sandwiches. This was my view, the NADA building and the Best Western across the new Silver Line tracks.

I was not too thrilled at first over what I had available to sketch, but once I started that changed. It’s fun to realize how a quick little sketch can help me appreciate a place so much more. I am starting to get a new understanding of the area, and hope to showcase it more through these micro sketches, and probably some bigger ones as well.

On another note, I got some more work done on the Old San Juan painting tonight. Slow going but it’s really coming together. Here it is:



Pattypan Squash

This is the first year we have signed up for a CSA share, and we’ve loved it. The fun part is being forced to try new vegetables. This weekend the vege box included pattypan squash, which I had never heard of. I sliced them, sprinkled them with large salt flakes, and sautéed them in olive oil and butter. Delicious. As the pan warmed I knocked out this quick sketch.


Rapid Micro Sketching Tysons Corner

Occasionally I will get a chance to fit in a quick sketch around work, either while getting gas, going to the post office, or waiting for the shuttle to take me from the car dealer to the office. Here are a few, all drawn in 2 minutes or less in my Moleskine Volant micro sketchbook, with color added later. I need to do these more often. They’re a lot of fun. The purplish spoiled medicine color shown in three of these buildings is more common than it should be in Northern Virginia.






Can a Chop Saw Be Cute?


If it’s drawn this small it can be.


We have done a lot of building projects over the years, and this cheap no-frills chop saw has been involved in pretty much every one. It has even been in high demand by friends and family. My wife is in the midst of a project now, so I sketched the saw today while the kids were playing (inside, not outside near the saw). Not a top of the line chop saw by any means, but it cuts wood, and I have a fondness for it.

As an aside, my 4 year old daughter recently told me that we should build a toy train that we can ride on. She meant it o be a one day project. She said, “We can get the saws out–but don’t worry, you can cut the wood, I will just watch–and the hammers, and build it right up, and then we can put a rope on the front so you can pull it and all our friends can ride it.” She’s learning early that she can build anything, just like her mom. She even told me one day we can make an iPad and put a story inside it.

The sketch above was done with a Lamy Safari medium nib and Noodler’s bulletproof black ink on a Stillman & Birn Alpha series book. It’s been nice drawing with the Safari to paint over. Much better than with felt tip pens. I am glad I finally ordered the bulletproof ink.

Thanks for reading.

Twilight in Old San Juan: Using a Series 7 Brush for the First Time

My dad has a nice collection of Series 7 brushes from years ago. I borrowed a #5 last weekend, and have been excited to use it. This morning I got up early before the kids woke up and put in about an hour or so. It’s been interesting testing it and comparing it to my Escoda Prado synthetic brushes. The Series 7 #5 is about the same size as my Prado #8, which I love, but behaves very differently. It’s softer, more expressive, and holds a lot more water and pigment. The Prado is firm by comparison, and easy to control for a more limited range of strokes and marks. I used both in my further progress on the Old San Juan painting, though I am sure, based on what I used them for, you can’t tell which brush I used where. This painting isn’t really set up for expressive strokes. To paint more like John Singer Sargent, the Series 7, or a similarly expressive brush, would be essential. For this, I have found it to be a little too soft. I am looking forward to putting the brush to a serious test in a new painting soon. I am very excited to be able to work with it.

For now, here is some further progress on the main building. The windows have been an interesting challenge. The wood is worn and of various colors, even within the same window, so getting that down in such a small space has been difficult, but necessary, so the image doesn’t seem flat and the scene retains the feeling of the fantastic and of competing spatial identities I wanted to convey when I started. There’s still a lot of work left in this, even in the woodwork. It was nice to get one of the window air conditioners in to see how that would work out. I am looking forward to putting in the mess of power lines and birds, though I will probably have to wait another session or two before I get there.

Thanks for reading.


The Silver Line

There’s a lot of construction started in and redevelopment planned for Tysons Corner, VA including the new Metro Silver Line. The tracks and stations run over the middle of Leesburg Pike, and create a break in the view that, at least for the shade it provides in summer, is not unwelcome. As I waited and waited and waited for an 8 second light to let me through on my way home, I snapped this photo. I liked the lines and curves framed by my car window. I was also interested in the utility pole on the ground waiting to be put up. Not that it would do anything about the bad timing on the light. I waited 45 minutes with no way to turn around.


Getting Back Into the Old San Juan Painting

Seeing John Singer Sargent’s watercolors in person gave me a strong motivation with both my watercolor and my sketching. He has such confidence in every stroke, and I am a long way from that. I think sketching more frequently will help me. I hope to see that in my full paintings over time.

Maybe because it’s raining here, the kids are still asleep, so I’ve put in some time on the buildings on the left side to get them more or less finished off, except for some detailing and maybe scraping at the end. One of the lessons I took from John Singer Sargent was how much can be handled roughly on buildings and still have a convincing, lively result. This gave more some confidence to handle the middle building on the left, which had been holding me up.

Here it is now. Thanks for reading.


Back from New York


I got back Sunday from a great short trip to New York. My dad was an excellent guide, recounting stories from his childhood up in the Bronx at Gun Hill Road, early life with my mom working at Scholastic and living in Brooklyn, pointing out all the buildings family members worked on as electrical engineers, and educating the other tourists who tried to pretend they weren’t listening to him on the subway. We saw so much, including two shows at MoMA (Bill Brandt and Le Corbusier), and the John Singer Sargent show at the Brooklyn Museum. Seeing those paintings up close in person was remarkable. Well worth a trip. Reproductions don’t even begin to do the work justice. I learned a lot from looking, and will write about it as I continue with my painting.

For now, click here for a Flickr collection of photos I took with my iPhone and edited on the bus ride home.

Getting Ready for an Art and Baseball Vacation

I will be heading up to New York with my dad soon on a brief art and baseball vacation. So far our plan is to see the John Singer Sargent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, see the Rain Room at the MOMA, take a look at various galleries, take in a Yankees-Orioles game (my time in New England for college confirmed me as an anti-Yankees fan, so I will be rooting for the Orioles), and sketch around town.

I haven’t been doing much sketching recently, instead devoting my time to the more formal watercolors, so I spent some time getting reacquainted with my sketching tools, and doing a couple quick pen and wash practices, just to get used to working quickly and using my waterbrushes.

I am planning to work in pencil and pen and wash. I am bringing an assortment of pens and pencils, my folding palette of watercolors, two waterbrushes, and a Strathmore Field Watercolor Sketchbook. It has 15 140lb watercolor pages (for pen and wash) and 15 sketch pages for pencil. I hope to fill it all.

Here are my practice sketches: