On Saturday I gave a talk at the IDSA (Industrial Designer Society of America) Western Conference with the intention of adding some levity and honesty to the expectations of what a career should be. I am thankful for the positive response I received. I really enjoyed myself and met a ton of great people. My plan is to do more of this. (At least enjoying myself and meeting great people, but also hopefully more public speaking.)
The conference was at Bell Harbor slightly north of Pier 66 in Seattle. I decided on Sunday to return to the venue to draw one of the Grove Cranes that were sitting on the pier. It’s rare that I find a good vantage point above a crane since I’m usually at street level. At Bell Harbor there were a number of them on the pier and from the 3rd floor conference space I could sit out on the balcony on a sunny day and draw to my hearts content.
There is an interesting dimension to event spaces. They are by definition places that exist for the gathering of different organizations, groups, and individuals. The IDSA conference was made up of a mix of design students and professionals networking, seeking work, and communicating about the design profession. Conversations naturally turn towards the topic of design and design work and are informed by a particular thought process if not personality type. In marked contrast to this is the group of individuals that were attending the Seattle Chocolate Salon convention that held the space on Sunday. Drawing in public requires a high degree of active observation and by proxy an equally high degree of passive listening. I never try to hide the fact I’m drawing or disappear into a space, but I can sit quietly for hours as groups of people come an go around me bringing and taking their ideas and conversations. It turns out that a Chocolate convention draws a diverse crowd. Between the table of aging sorority sisters who placated their bleach blonde leader’s relentless tales of beer keg tribulations, and the conversation of an aspiring geek writer who’s fantasy novel focused on the intrigue and innuendo of a society that he referred to as Darwin’s Fist, I was never bored. In all truth I can only sit passively for a short time and I did turn to the writer to reward him with the complement that he had the most interesting idea of the afternoon. He was wearing a camouflage surplus outfit and smiled at the acknowledgment of his genius and then thanked me by offering a formal hand to forehead salute.
Seeing that I was at a chocolate convention it would have been highly inappropriate for me to have not sampled the goods. I did just that and have three favorites.
Pacari Chocolates out of Ecuador. I meant to buy their Raw 70% Cacao bar which was so smooth I almost slipped into a chocolatey coma but I accidentally bought their Raw 70% Sea Salt chocolate bar. Also very tasty, I was still slightly disappointed that I came home with the wrong treat. Worth the checking out.
Intrigue Chocolates from Seattle. They had a Saint Basil Chocolate Truffle that I thought was just about perfect. I would have purchased this as well but I’d already spent my allotted weekly chocolate budget on the Pacari bar.
Monterey Chocolate Company. Olallieberry Chocolate bar. What’s an Olallieberry? I don’t know, but it’s a tasty treat when mixed with dark chocolate.
So there you have it, Dynamic Cranes, Public Speaking, Decaying Sororities Sisters, and the Power of Chocolate. A good weekend indeed and LONG LIVE DARWIN’S FIST!
Posted in location drawing, Seattle, urban sketch
Tagged bell harbor, construction machines, cranes, darwin's fist, grove cranes, idsa, industrial design, intrigue chocolate, monterey chocolate, Olallieberry, pacari chocolate, painting, public speaking, seattle, sketching, urban sketch, watercolor
I went out Sunday with the Seattle Urban Sketchers group to Kenmore Air in Bothel. Kenmore is a seaplane air harbor, repair, and fabrication facility. Seattle of course is dotted with seaplanes flying overhead, more than likely if you look up, it’s a Kenmore plane. I spent most of the morning in the main hangar drawing a plane that was being refurbished (which is not the plane I’m showing here, although this plane is going through a repair to the pontoon during the drawing). The highlight of the morning was a tour of the shop space in the second hanger where a couple of planes are going through significant upgrades. I was very fortunate to get the tour from one of Kenmore’s pilots and main mechanics – Sam – who is passionate about these aircraft. He loves the industry and is really excited to talk about the construction and technology that went into the design of these machines. There are a number aircraft that Kenmore flies, but primarily they use the Dehavilland Beaver (seen in this image), and the Dehavilland Otter. Both the Beaver and Otter are older model planes that have been the long time standards of float plane travel. The Beaver is a smaller plane with a radial engine making for a squat workhorse look. The Otters are slightly larger with longer turboprop engines which give them a very sleek look. These aircraft are from the 60’s with modern upgrades, but the fact they are from a pre computer era, really means they are quite mechanically straightforward. The see them with their outer skin removed is a fascinating look into a visually complex but ultimately understandable set of mechanical interactions, cables connect directly from the throttle all the way up to the control surfaces on the wings and tail. It’s kind of like a bicycle, pull the cable to move the derailleur, to shift the gear. The magic is both in the elegance and organization. I like seeing things for what they are, and beyond the fascination with flight, I’ve come to realize it’s the purposeful combination of form and functional components wrapped in a package of both aerodynamics and visual complexity that make aircraft so compelling to look at and draw. Expect more in the future.
I guess a lot of construction equipment is painted quite similarly to school buses. I certainly would have rather gone to school in this Motograder. It’s probably air conditioned too which is more than I can say for those old buses.
Some cities have fairs, some have rodeos, some like Seattle have pagan festivals where naked bike riders decorated in bad body paint like to parade themselves around town during the longest day of the year. Fortunately there are other options for community festivities, and in the state of Washington the greatest one is hands down the annual Lind Washington Combine Demolition Derby. For those not in the know, a combine is a large tractor used for harvesting wheat. Over time they get old, and destined for the scrap heap as new models and technologies become standardized. This is not the case in Lind where they are resurrected year after year and then smashed together until they can’t smash any more. Last one moving wins and takes home bushels of glory (if not gold).
Lind is an agricultural community about 3 and a half hours east of Seattle. The landscape is cross between rolling fields and rocky gullies and decidedly beautiful. For me part of the experience is the drive there and the drive back especially during sunset as the fields resolve into a set of cascading shadows and colors. We got there the night before the event and camped at Potholes State Park so that we could make it in time for the pre-derby parade. This is lead by the 20 some combines that will be competing, followed by marching bands, waving county beauty queens, and hot rods (like these amazing low-brow rat-rods (I prefer the term Ratalac) built by Rich from Pascoe.
Rich’s personal ride is diesel Tow Truck named Camel Toe-ing (check out the head badge), and he built the Buck’n Fitch for his sister Peggy. So cool.)
The parade is followed by a community barbecue before everyone heads up the road to the arena for the main event. 5 heats of full mechanical destruction interspersed with pickup truck speed trials and grain truck races. The top finishers from the first three heats make it to the main event, plus the survivors from a deadman’s heat. The amazing thing is that these things are torn up in each heat, axles and wheels ripped apart, bodies mangled, and then in a couple of hours they are rebuilt and ready to go for the final match. Pictured here is Jaws being rebuilt in the pits.
This combine has won the event on multiple occasions, though not this year. From an outside perspective it’s fun and games and mayhem, but two things are true. The guys (and one woman) who drive these vehicles and their crews take it very seriously; they put their all into it and their mechanical prowess is impressive. The other is that the event is really a community effort, from the drivers to the people working the concession carts and ticket booths. There is a lot of pride here and they put on a good show that brings in a lot of support for their town, with about 5000 spectators showing up (Lind’s population is around 400). I will return next year and you should too. It is better than whatever is going on in Seattle that weekend I promise.
Posted in location drawing, Uncategorized, urban sketch
Tagged combine, combine demolition derby, demo derby, demolition derby, eastern washington, harvester, jaws, keystalope, lind, low brow, prison break, rat rod, ratalac, watercolor
This was drawn at Touch-a-Truck, an event where about 15 machines were on display for the public to interact with at Magnussen Park. The event was big draw for families; (an estimated 2500 people showed up throughout the day). And why wouldn’t you go. If you are kid you could climb on a fire truck, a bulldozer, or get into an excavator, and honk the horn (over and over) while pretending to dig up pavement. For me it was perfect opportunity to capture another truck for my collection, the Concrete Pumper, which in the wild is unlikely to stay in this position for an hour and a half. This one is owned and operated by Ralph’s Concrete, and I must say thank you to Josh who very patiently waited for me to draw and paint this machine even long after most of the other vehicles had been loaded up and hauled out.
There are two things I want to say about this painting, no..three things. The first is that this isn’t the first time I’ve tried painting this scene. I drive by this site constantly and the scale of the project and the revisions to traffic and occasional long wait times to get onto the freeway can’t be ignored. Normally I might find myself getting impatient, but since I get a view of this site with it’s armada of construction equipment I always look forward to it (this is the second thing I wanted to say). Back in April when I last had been here, I recall it was a very nice and sunny day. I decided to actually stop into the site during lunch hours when it appeared to be less busy than usual. A few workers and machines were moving around, but it was fairly tame. I asked one of the workers if it would be alright if I stopped there for an hour. He was ok with it, so I parked my Honda Element on some gravel and did my best to make sure my car wouldn’t be in the way of any movement. I started to draw and everything was going fine, my drawing was coming together and I was about ready to put down some paint. At this point some of the construction work started to increase, there were dump trucks moving around and a few of the loaders were shuttling back and forth. I’m always sort of hyper aware of my presence in a place and the last thing I ever want to be is “in the way”, especially if people are working. I felt like it was time for me to move my car, even though I hadn’t finished the painting. I put the key in the ignition, turned it, and….nothing, just a gasping cough of my engine as it attempted to turn over. A sick feeling came over me. I moved my hand towards the headlight switch and realized it was in the “On” position. Again I tried the ignition, “No no no no!, Not now, PLEASE turn over!” I begged my car as the construction traffic began to increase. This went on for about a minute, and then as anybody who has ever killed their battery can tell you, I realized I had to get outside help. Let me put this in a little more context. I have the greatest respect for people that do physical labor for a living. In truth I look up to them. For work I draw, and I use a computer, and sometimes I talk. This can be very draining, challenging, difficult, and of course rewarding. It’s work and a working day is a working day, but sometimes, I question this. Lifting heavy objects, working out in the sun, (or rain), toiling, this is work. I’ve always viewed it as somehow purely valid as labor and demanding of respect. So here I am in my Honda Element stuck in the middle of a major construction site with a dead battery, a pile of paint brushes, and a drawing of a Bulldozer in my lap as worker dudes are driving massive machines around me lifting loads of gravel from pile to pile.
1.) Call AAA and ask for assistance. Could be an hour at least.
2.) Flag down a worker on the site, “Hey uh..sorry to bother you man, but uh…does that bulldozer by any chance have any jumper cables?”
3.) Call my friend Alex who works down the street.
I call Alex. He’s as reliable as they come, and of course he has cables in his car. In 5 minutes he’s there…driving a Honda Element. So even as I cringe at the embarrassment of killing my battery – while painting – in a Honda Element – on a site where the vehicle of choice is a muddy white Ford F-150 or a dirt embedded yellow 25 Ton Caterpillar D7, he drives up into the lot with his “Galapagos Green Metallic” Honda Element, and faces my “Eternal Blue Pearl” Honda Element. We go through the magical ritual of automotive resuscitation, the engine breathes again, and after talking for a few minutes in our “Rigs” he heads back to his office and I decide half heartedly to finish my painting. It was one of those things where I had lost energy and just wanted to get out of there. It’s certainly not worth showing here, but I knew I had to go back to the same spot.
So here’s the third thing I wanted to say. On Sunday, I finally made it out to a Seattle Urban Sketching Sketchcrawl. The group meets once a month, and this month everyone got together at Vivace across from REI. After pre-sketching niceties, everyone disperses to go draw for 2 hours and then makes plans to meet back up and share the work. I had no doubt what I would draw. I beelined (sort of) to the construction site on Mercer, but this time just had my backpack, and a folding stool. On a Sunday morning the site was active, so again I asked permission and was given the go ahead to draw. I spent about an hour and a half there and probably talked to 5 guys from the site that came up to see what I was doing. Everyone was supremely cool and friendly, even as I was again painting while they were in the middle of pouring cement and shoveling gravel. I got the lowdown on the project (much needed road widening and traffic revision from Dexter up to the freeway on ramp, and construction along 9th as it flows into Mercer). I sincerely hope this does help solve part of the traffic congestion in the area.
Now with all this said, I will continue to draw and paint construction machines, continue to meet-up with the fine folks I met at the Sketchcrawl, and no doubt continue to drive my blue Honda Element into and around industrial sites, and since this wasn’t the first time I’ve killed my battery in an inopportune location (yah), it will probably happen again. Maybe I should go draw some tow trucks.
Posted in location drawing, urban sketch
Tagged bulldozer, caterpillar, construction, construction equipment, construction machines, dead battery, drawing, element, honda, honda element, location drawing, mercer street, mercer street corridor, seattle, sketchcrawl, traffic, urban sketchers, water color, work, worker
Much of the day has been spent in the Old Quarter which is…it’s a lot of stuff for sale and a lot of motorbikes. More motorbikes than I could imagine, literally hundreds ride by every minute. It’s a tremendous place to draw and to dodge traffic. I’ll spend a few days in the city and get outside of this district later on, but as far as an ideal urban Southeast Asian City experience, you know the kind you see in anime movies, endless vendors, and power lines, and street carts, and people, this is it. I am really enjoying it, even as I dodge the very heavy rain. I’m finding that my drawing allows me to interact with people that I would never meet otherwise. Just drawing will draw onlookers, usually one or two that stick around for the whole image, and a few others that come and go. Once I pull out watercolor, a lot more will show up. Without speaking the language I’m not sure what other opportunity I would get to run into locals that didn’t involve the shopping experience or a tour experience. I’m not implying that people aren’t friendly, they are really wonderful, but at least on the street they have money to make and I’m a prime target. In some cases my drawing leads to more people coming up and trying to sell, or if somebody has spent some time talking I might get a bit of a hard sell that I should now purchase from them, but the flip side is true as well. I will get helpful advice and locals that speak english well who are very willing to give me information about how much things should cost or how to get to someplace. Hmmm, my post makes it sound like commerce is the order of the day and I guess that so far it has been the dominating experience. I’m essentially drawing commercial moments, shops, vendors, and restaurants. Last night I came across a stage where something was going on. A cultural even partly and somethign else I couldn’t make out, but I did get a sketch and enjoyed watching something not aimed at me, but welcoming nonetheless. I think I’ll end this post by saying that I really enjoy the Vietnamese. They are engaging, friendly, and energetic. Three too simple words, but I as I continue on I will think and write more about my experiences in this culture.
I’ve been out and about looking for good machines to draw and paint. It turns out that although construction machines are just about everywhere, finding one suitable to draw can be quite tricky. I will drive for miles and miles (excessive distances really) just to get the right machine at the correct vantage point. Right now with the weather as it is, the correct vantage point means some where I don’t have to get out of my car to create the image. That means I need to find a place I can park with a relatively unobstructed view out my front windshield, and somewhere where I am not in the way of actual construction (Like the other day, where I killed my battery, right in the middle of a construction site between two berms of earth with machines driving around. Good times.). What that really means is that I will find a machine that might meet my criteria and if the view is right I’ll drive around in circles, until I find a good spot, then I’ll pull a 20 point turn nudging my car into a picture perfect position. It’s like a dog bedding down for the night. Countless circles walking on their beds until it’s just right (and what is it that they are actually doing to make it just right?). That I think is the question I ask myself. What am I looking for, a good 3/4 view of the machine, with just a hint of the far side tires showing underneath? A particularly interesting mechanism? Maybe the correct lighting? Who knows. Once I’ve started however, I try and stick with it. With all of the time invested looking for the drawing, the actual creation is relatively straight forward, except for the part with every image I do where I am sorely tempted to crumple it up and throw it away. That’s for another post.
Posted in Uncategorized, urban sketch
Tagged aurora, ballard, cement mixer, construction machine sketch, construction machines, excavator, highway 99, location drawing, machines, roller, urban sketch, vacuum truck
Here is a sketch from this afternoon, a different view of one of the Ness Cranes that I drew a few weeks ago. Some days you just need to draw the thing that makes you happy. This sketch is from a lot down on E. Marginal way just south of the Museum of Flight. I was driving around this morning looking for something/anything to draw and saw the gravel lot full of these cranes. It’s kind of like eating mashed potatoes and pot roast. Nothing fancy, just protein and starch. Steel and yellow paint.
The gantry cranes are just about the coolest thing on the planet. This sketch is from Harbor Island Sunday morning. The weather was perfect and there was none of the weekday truck traffic. A perfect spot for a study. I would have really enjoyed having a blue pigment to work with because the sun faded orange of the cranes against the blue sky makes for such an epic image.