Construction Leftovers

AJ: For many months I’ve been walking by a particular construction site daily. What started as a house remodel now seems like a complete rebuild except for part of the carport and a rain gutter! Several roll-off containers have been filled with demolished parts of the house and then carted away to the landfill. Since the project is nearing completion, I wanted to attempt a sketch of the dumpster before it is permanently removed from the site.

Similar to my last sketch session, I decided to begin with a sloppy “planning sketch” to see what would be most problematic … as well as to give myself an added chance to get the perspective in better shape the second time around. I also wanted to test the color palette available to me as I only had four crayons (yellow, red, green, blue) and my usual black TÜL pen. I almost ended my session with just the blue dumpster pictured … and nothing else … but I remembered my improvement goal from last session. That was to practise including background (and foreground) details to anchor the target item in its setting … and on the page. I plan to keep focusing on that goal in the future.

In all, it was a fun morning and I was pleased that the rain stayed away long enough for me to put something on paper!



Harald: I confess to being a dumpster diver at heart. Not of trash cans, mind you, but construction-site roll-off containers. Largish pieces of discarded dimensional lumber are always attractive, and occasionally one finds treasures in the form of hardwood flooring, brand-new pipes, and more. But I digress…

The container I chose to sketch today is one I know well. As the construction is wrapping up, the container is seeing only light use, filling up slowly, mostly with cardboard and small chunks of wood.

Sketching the interior of this rusty and rather banged-up specimen proved to be too much of a challenge for my still budding watercolor skills. Yet again I succumbed to the temptation of going after the details too soon (or at all), rather than using light colors on large areas first and then building depth and contrast selectively and deliberately. Argh.

It was fun though (in a mildly masochistic sense) to realize my mistakes as I made them and to attempt to rescue at least some of my sketch. Needless to say, the whole operation took far too long, forcing me to abandon much of the background. Lesson for next time: bring brushes of different size, focus on water management, clean “palette” every now and then.


Sebastian: Although work on the house was largely complete, there were still indications of an active construction site. A portable toilet and pile of lumber were among some of the signs. This time, I decided to use one medium (pencil) and move away from my standard pen-watercolor combination.

Once again, we had unique interactions with passersby. Most notably, we were asked a new question: “Are you guys OK?”, which diverged from the usual “What’s going on?” or “Is this a school project?”. It was a nice morning to be out sketching.

Next, I may do a series of portable toilets (as shown) or older cars, since there are a few to be found in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Sketch

AJ: As mentioned in my last entry, my goals were to ignore my status as a beginner, avoid getting overwhelmed / frustrated by the detail in front of me, and practise without reservation. On this beautiful morning in Honolulu we scouted out an interesting section of a neighborhood. It was a pleasant mix of natural (vegetation) and unnatural (manmade) elements.

I started a sketch in pen (TÜL GL1 – black, medium on Pentalic 65 lb, 8″ x 5.5″ paper for dry media) and realized that the perspective and scale were wrong; I had a big challenge on my hands. My attitude evolved to one of making lemonade out of lemons though … and I decided to consider my first attempt as a “test sketch” to see how the scene would fit on one landscape-oriented page.

After examining that sketch I moved on to a clean slate. It occurred to me that starting my work by placing a grid on the page in pencil might help me to position the various features more accurately. It felt a bit like I was cheating, but on the other hand this might be a great learning tool. Unfortunately, I took my next photo a little too late in the process, but you can still see a bit of the grid in the background …

As an aside, I was kept in good company during my sketch and made fast friends with a fire hydrant and discarded toilet.

After applying watercolor pencil (Caran d’Ache Fancolor pencils) throughout the work I used a wet brush (Sakura Koi water brush – medium) to blend and spread the colors. At this stage I am least confident about whether I am improving or ruining the picture, but have to admit enjoying the process most at this point.

One area that needs particular attention is how I handle the background of my sketches. Typically, I end up with a lot of bland white-space surrounding the foreground / target elements and consequently a “flat” drawing. In the future I would like to pay more attention to how I can show much more depth in the scene captured.


Harald: Taking up position on a different stretch of the same street, my goal was modest, namely to improve upon my previous foray into watercolors.

Although figuring this out for myself might neither be the fastest nor the most reliable approach, I believe I learned a lot today. For instance, don’t skip the pencil outline. Start with a layer of light colors. Keep your watercolor set clean or you will end up with everything looking like different shades of brown. Add detail with a fine brush in darker colors. All pretty obvious, but in last week’s attempt I still somehow failed to understand (or adhere to) even the most fundamental rules. Today’s result is far from frame-worthy, but I am quite happy with the progress made.

Strategy from here on: practice some more… and then take a class!


Sebastian: It was a nice morning to be outside, and a few people stopped to see what we were up to. We also received a request from a resident of the neighborhood to ask permission beforehand – pointing out that we were sketching on a private road. Our first encounter with a concerned neighbor.

On the sketching side, I felt less satisfied mainly because I ran out of space on my 9x6in. paper. The page was quickly filled with details I wanted to capture and the two media I used. Outlining everything in black pen left little space for color. My pen and watercolor method is something I have perhaps stuck with too closely. Using a different medium or approach may have been more effective, especially when trying to sketch such a large scene. Next time, I want to use one medium (watercolor, pen, or charcoal), focus less on details, and capture more of the atmosphere – something like what Harald did in his sketch above.


Bicycle Repair Shop

A few weeks ago I noticed ominous crunching sounds while cycling and brought my bike to McCully Bicycle to have the bottom bracket replaced. It was interesting to see the axle dismantled, all the specialized tools that were used, and what caused the crunching sounds. I had a good experience and thought I would return to sketch the shop.

As this is a bicycle repair shop, there are many bicycles, tools, boxes, spare parts, and people to sketch. It was challenging to realistically capture the repair shop without going into enormous detail. What do you include in the sketch? It’s definitely a learning process. I look forward to returning to make another attempt.

I used watercolors, crayons, and a black liquid ink pen on dry-media 9x6in. paper.


Sunday Afternoon at Manoa Park

AJ: Today I realized that I haven’t sketched since the first week of January! That’s deadly … especially for a beginner. My hands felt out of control and I got overwhelmed by the detail in front of me. I decided to be practical and focus more on the experience than the art with the hope that future outings would go smoother.

This afternoon, Manoa Park was rather windy and there were even a few episodes of light rain. Two teams were facing off on one of the baseball fields. I wanted to sketch some outfielders with their generous stationary moments … but the teams were finished after we had only observed one inning and I had not even put pen to paper once.

Next, we aimed for a playground structure to capture the action, shapes, and colors there. Again, I mostly observed my surroundings and only placed a few lines (“chicken scratches”) on my paper. It was great to observe my surroundings and I plan on heading out again this coming week to gently get my momentum going.

Harald: Never one to be intimidated by insurmountable challenges, I tried out my brand new mini-watercolor set. First lesson: watercolors need practice. I initially wanted to create a very abstract view of the playground, but a combination of too much attention to detail and profound ignorance of the medium resulted in something that is perhaps better described as naive art. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise though and shall keep trying.

Sebastian: Even though intermittent rain and high wind presented challenges, I managed to at least outline the scene at the baseball game before it wrapped up. With the vibrant colors of the baseball team’s jerseys and the playground nearby, I had the opportunity to use some undiluted, unmixed colors straight from my set.

I used watercolor and pen on dry-media, acid-free, heavyweight 9x6in. paper.

Manoa Marketplace Farmer’s Market

With slightly overcast skies and a pleasant breeze, this morning brought out friendly faces and a small, but vibrant farmer’s market.

Although trying to capture the layout and architecture of the marketplace was a good challenge, I regret not having focused more on the people mingling between the stands. On future excursions I will first take a look at what the most important elements are that I want to show. I will ask myself a few deliberate questions: How much time do I want to spend or have? What is the subject, and what are the key elements that accompany it? What medium or media would best depict this subject? What do I want to challenge myself with?

I used watercolor and pen on dry-media, acid-free, heavyweight 9x6in. paper.

Woolsey Place Fire

The sounds of sirens and horns filled the valley as first responders attended to a two-alarm fire in Manoa last week Wednesday. Thanks to a swift response, nobody was hurt and the fire was quickly contained. The damage to the home’s top floor was still considerable though. Last evening, I tried to sketch the residence and Manoa Fire Station. I used a standard black ballpoint pen and a pack of crayons on 9x6in, heavyweight, dry-media paper.

A New Year

For New Year’s Eve and early January, I was in California. While there, I was able to meet up with San Francisco Bay Area Urban Sketchers for their monthly Sketch Night which was held at Whole Foods in Berkeley.

Flowers, fruit, and vegetables are three products many stores place near their entrance to entice consumers. The variety of colors and textures at Whole Foods was very appealing, and I could not resist sketching a shelf of vegetables.

After finishing the first sketch I realized something could be improved. I was using a pen and pack of crayons – outlining basic shapes with my pen and filling in those shapes with bright waxy crayons, thinking that the crayons would nicely accentuate the produce. Instead of limiting the use of crayon to the vegetables though, I got carried away and started filling in the shelves. This counteracted my original intention of making the vegetables stand out. I decided to do two additional close-ups with the refined method – using crayons for the vegetables and crosshatching the shelves with pen. This created the distinction I was looking for.

Encountering this problem drove me to think about using more than one medium per sketch. Does one medium communicate the character of an object or scene better than another? What combinations are possible? Could you combine crayon and watercolor; pastel and ink; charcoal, pastel, and watercolor? A mixed media sketch is something I have not tried yet.

A big thank you to Cathy and the SF Bay Area Urban Sketchers for their warm welcome and for an enjoyable evening sharing sketchbooks, approaches to sketching, and interesting Bay Area sites!

Happy New Year to all!

Night Sketch

Usually, I sketch during daylight hours and stop when it gets dark. However, there are also great scenes at night. This was my first attempt at a night sketch. I found it challenging to capture the intensity of the darkness in the valley, the contrasting bright streetlights, and the subtle colors of the surrounding residences with my watercolor set. Although the watercolors allowed me to meld scenes and colors together to create a somewhat abstract atmosphere, I would like to try a different medium too – perhaps pastels – to express a different quality of these nighttime scenes. A series of night sketches using different media would be interesting. How would a different medium communicate the mood or subjects in the same scene?



Winter solstice was last Sunday. The temperatures have dropped into the high 70’s during the day and high 60’s at night, and strong winds and rains are hitting us; it is winter.

Harald and I tried to sketch through the torrential downpours in Manoa yesterday from a sheltered spot. We had a nice vantage point from which we could see (or not see) the valley and downtown Honolulu. At times, the rain was so heavy it would almost have been more accurate to leave the page blank.

Harald: Being stubborn, I stuck to pen, although this might not be the best choice if the task is to capture a scene that is barely visible through layers of mist, clouds, and rain.  I tried to convey the limited and variable depth of the view by adding detail and value solely to foreground objects, while trying to only hint at the expanse of houses along the bottom of the valley and the hills in the distance.  I think it worked partly, but I am again unhappy with my inability to reduce a scene to the utterly essential.  Not that this was crucial, but it is something I would like to be able to do.  Resolution: sketch more!

Sebastian: I started off with a geometric pen sketch, using different crosshatching techniques and line consistencies, hoping it would impart depth and a feel for the weather. After recently trying crosshatching with watercolor pencils, I wanted to continue exploring the same technique with a traditional medium – pen. However, I found that watercolor depicted this windy and rainy scene best.

Challenges Embraced

In an attempt to capture the subject and challenge ourselves to use a different medium or technique, we visited the same residential house in Manoa Valley twice. Our sketches, although all of the same house, look quite different.

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AJ: Last time we sketched this house I felt very overwhelmed by the challenge of capturing the perspective, presenting the depth / value, and even sizing the various sections of the house properly in relation to one another. This time I decided to focus on one area (front entrance) to see if I could turn that into a productive learning experience. I chose to use pencil because I feel like it is the biggest challenge for me and something I have tended to avoid. I am not as satisfied with the result as when I use ink / watercolour, but I feel like I should try to work on the fundamental aspects of drawing a bit more!
Harald: I managed to ruin several previous sketching efforts (mostly pencil) by not knowing when to stop.  I tried to do better this time by using pen and deliberately starting with only crude outlines of the most basic elements of our target house.  Ultimately I committed the same sin again though and did more damage than good with ill-conceived cross-hatching.  To end on a positive note, I quickly jotted down another very rough sketch in order to return to that earliest phase that I felt best about.  None of the results are satisfying in their own right, but I was happy to have learned more about what I need to focus on in the future.  Progress of sorts!
Sebastian: For my first sketch, I used my standard supplies – a pen and watercolor set. It is a combination I am familiar with and am trying to improve. I decided to go out of my comfort zone for the second sketch. I had, unsuccessfully, used watercolor pencils before and decided to give it another try. My sketch (initially flat and geometric) progressed toward a more three-dimensional depiction with cross hatching and watercolor washes. Instead of an hour-long sketch, it turned into a two hour project. I struggled with it and ended up with something very different from what I normally do.