It Was a Wet and Stormy Night and Day

This past month has been a stormy one. Hurricanes and tropical storms seemed to be barely missing O‘ahu on a weekly basis. While we have escaped a direct hit so far (knock on wood), we still see torrential downpours after thunderstorms or very muggy, wind-still days, like today. Cycling home through one of these heavy rains last week, I noticed that the water level in the stream nearby was licking the underside of the bridge. As this clearly warranted sketching, AJ and I quickly headed out again with our sketch equipment and rain gear. However, by the time we arrived, almost an hour later, the water level had dropped by at least 4 feet, and the clouds had begun to part. In my sketch, I marked the water level where it was when I had seen it running up the banks, just a few feet from flooding the street.

A Humid Morning of Sketching at Kewalo Basin Harbor

Despite former Tropical Storm Ela passing the islands this weekend, we lucked out this morning with good weather at Kewalo Basin Harbor. Not that we were totally unaffected: we know of at least one person who was unable to make it because of poor weather elsewhere. The setting at the harbor was pleasant though, with moderate tourist activity, generally involving diving, parasailing, and pirate-ship tours.

We struggled again with attendance this weekend and had only six participants. Despite the low numbers we spent a productive 1.5 hours sketching a variety of scenes in the harbor and then shared our work with each other. Even with a small group, the post-sketch discussion always offers great opportunities to compare our various drawing styles, backgrounds, and equipment (micron pens, different pencil leads, and paper thicknesses).

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Having experienced active and vibrant Urban Sketchers communities on the mainland and elsewhere, we remain committed to our goal of developing a similar group here. We hope former participants will keep coming and new / curious artists will check us out! Our next event will be on Saturday, August 8, so save the date on your calendar.

Barge Shipment

Last week I was at Honolulu Harbor helping ship two pallets to the Big Island on a Young Brothers barge. I intended to provide support, but ended up sketching at the main gate. This was my first time at the port to see the loading process and all the heavy equipment (forklifts, reach stackers … had to look that one up, and trailer trucks). I met very nice people – even made a friend of a security guard who requested a sketch of himself. He offered me a seat under a tent in front of the guard house – a welcome relief from the scorching heat of the day. Fortunately I had come prepared with a liter-sized water bottle… his was twice or three times the size.

Since I was unable to help, the multiple-hour visit meant I had many sketching opportunities. I used a set of liquid-ink pens and later applied crayons, watercolor, or charcoal with conté pencil. These different media/styles were spurred by a full sketchbook… I drew on spare loose paper, as well as the cardboard backing and other surfaces of my sketchbook.

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Evening Shopping Rush

It seemed as though I joined every valley resident at the Manoa Marketplace last Wednesday. 5:00 p.m. is the magic hour – everyone is getting home from work and is either shopping for dinner or dining there.

For this session I decided to sit down in front of Safeway to do quick drawings of people passing by, walking in and out of stores, and dining. My two sketches are time-lapses of everyone I saw over the course of an hour. I made an attempt at a fisheye view of the entire strip but found it to be a more challenging perspective to draw than I expected, due to the strongly curving lines. Instead, I settled for two standard, undistorted views in opposite directions. In terms of composition, I wanted the focus to be on people so I decided to leave the color out of objects I did not want to draw attention to.


I have always found that old cars have more character than what leaves the factories today. Over the past three days I went around the neighborhood to sketch a few I have noticed on my commute. It took me a little while to get the proportions right – I always struggle with perspective when my sketch subject has essentially no straight lines. Wanting to take a break from my standard pen sketches, I also had to re-familiarize myself with pencil. After about three hours of sketching these were my results.

Following a little online investigation my guesses as to what I sketched are a 1980s Buick Riviera, 1990s Jaguar XJR-S coupe, 1990s VW Vanagon, and possibly a 1990s Suzuki Jimny.

Of course, just when I was finishing, a truly old car passed me – a beautifully kept 1960s Mercedes convertible. Got to track that one down…

AIA Architecture Walking Tour

Last Saturday we (AJ, Harald, and I) attended the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) Architecture Walking Tour “Downtown Honolulu – 20th Century Architectural Styles”. Although AIA regularly offers tours throughout the year this one was only offered once in 2015 as part of Architecture Month.

For two hours I learned about the history and styles of buildings in the business district – a place I have spent little time in and have not cared for much before. By the end of the tour I no longer saw downtown as just a jumble of high-rises. Each building has its own story. For example, the No.1 Capitol District Building was originally the site of the first Royal Hawaiian Hotel commissioned under King Kamehameha V and opened in 1872 to host foreign dignitaries and friends of the royal family. The hotel was then converted to a YMCA in 1917 and used by the military in World War I and II. In 1926, while in military use, the hotel was demolished and a Spanish mission revival style building was erected which has housed the Hawaii State Art Museum since 2000.  An art museum in Honolulu that I was aware of, but had not been to. Will have to pay it a visit soon… It is located on the aptly-named South Hotel Street.

The final historically significant structure we visited was the Aloha Tower. Built in 1926 it originally served as a lighthouse but was decommissioned in the late 1960s and is now being revitalized by Hawaii Pacific University. The view from the observation deck is outstanding. In order not to be in the way (and view) of other visitors to the deck, we decided to sketch the tower and its surroundings from the marketplace.

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.