Artists’ Hangout Near the Deli Counter

Both aspiring and some evidently already accomplished artists meet up occasionally in public spaces to work on individual projects in the company of others. Commercial spaces designed for (simulated or quasi-) public use, such as this bar area of a Whole Foods grocery store, sometimes end up being a suitably casual venue for sketchers.  (This is perhaps the suburban version of the traditional cafe). Sketchers arrive often straight from the office, while area residents move in and out of the scene, meeting friends, having a drink, and picking up some groceries.  One doesn’t usually expect it..but such a relaxed vibe runs through the place that you’d never know it was a Monday evening, let alone the biggest holiday season of the year.

Illustration:  Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink in Stillman & Birn "Beta Series" sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: “Lining Up for Lagers and Lattes”, Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink in Stillman & Birn “Beta Series” sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

All in all, it ends up being a rich couple of hours inevitably making great new contacts and learning new things.  This evening those who attended were heading off to various destinations–Thailand, Mexico, and California–for the holidays, so it will be two weeks before this group , or one like it, of grocery store sketchers reconvenes.


Deck the Decks with Boughs Sketch

During this often hectic “click and collect” period of rushing and wrapping,  subtle decorative notes acknowledging the season, such as a deck adorned with wreaths, can be a welcome sight!

Lake Side 2

Illustration: Pen and ink bistre sketch by Black Elephant Blog author


Happy Holidays to readers passing by this blog and best wishes for a peaceful New Year!




Urban Renewal Sketch

Lots of renovation and renewal are underway in many cities most of the time–so much so that we often walk by it without noticing it. Even on the Mall grounds of the nation’s capital, there is an enormous renovation project underway involving replacing acres of  turf and creating more water-efficient subterranean systems.  This is necessary due to the flood-prone nature of this low-lying land.  It’s nearly impossible to miss the construction going on in every direction.

Carousel Study 3

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, and Kuretake brush pen with black ink by Black Elephant Blog author

But even piles of dirt, fences, back hoes, and tractors cannot detract from the beauty of the scenery of this open space lined with majestic museums and capped off with the Capitol Building.

Innovation, Surprise, Uncategorized

Sketch Experiment with Bistre Ink

If you know about Rembrandt, you probably know about bistre ink. This ink was the go-to ink of the masters so when my bottle of it arrived in the mail all the way from Germany the other day–the same day I looked again at the John Singer Sargent oil paintings on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.–of course I had to test it out almost immediately. (The figure in my sketch, which I did first in pencil at the museum, is looking at the viewer–which is NOT what she is doing in the John Singer Sargent painting–there, she is looking away, as if ill or disconsolate.)

The ink is delightful, as I discovered when  combining a wash with using a pen and nib to try to recreate–inevitably way imperfectly but what is life without a challenge!–the feeling the Sargent created in his oil painting of “Repose”–reportedly done at a time when he viewed portraiture as a “pimp’s profession”–so this was his rebellion against formal portraiture.

Anyway, imagine traveling without all the acoutrement of a watercolor kit–just a bottle of this ink. The possibilities are really amazing!

Illustration:  Bistre ink wash and pen (Rohrers Ausziehrusche Bister) sketch of John Singer Sargent's oil painting known as "Repose" in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Illustration: Bistre ink wash and pen (Rohrer & Klingner “Rohrers Ausziehtusche Bister”) sketch of John Singer Sargent’s oil painting known as “Repose” in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. by Black Elephant Blog author


Anniversary Sketch

Lake Neighborhood

Illustration:  Terracotta pencil sketch of a neighborhood lake scene in the early fall, 2015 by Black Elephant Blog author

This week marks the one-year anniversary of this blog, and so–some 80 posts later–it’s been nice to know there’s been some readership (several thousand different visitors from more than 40 countries, in fact.)  The blog’s proven a great opportunity to see and connect with extraordinary talent out there in the blogging, twitter, and urban sketching world.

Also thanks to the blogging connections, it’s been possible to locate great people with many of the same interests I’ve had regarding the quality of paints, papers, pens, and pastels, and other such questions.  (Indeed, there is a whole world out there of pure ‘materialists’ when it comes to art supplies–some with stashes of sketchbooks and inks and paints that would put most bricks-and-mortar art supply stores to shame.)  Everyone is eager to share their experiences–and ideas of great bargains.  Full-fledged engineers have even offered their comparative and very detailed analyses of paints, inks, and pens on their blogs.  Whatever your question on whatever subject, clearly someone has likely already addressed it by now.

In addition, it’s been a year of exploring “adjacent possibles”–spaces where creativity and innovation occur despite the pressures of everyday life.  The coming year on this blog will be devoted to the concept of experimental syntheses–putting experiments together to create new possibilities, and even different futures.

Surprise, Uncategorized

Zoo Animals Enjoying the December Sun

All kinds of animals–from lemurs from Madagascar to turtles; and from elephants to the orangutans clambering on the thick cables overhead, and also, of course, the flamingos–were out basking in the warm sunshine on this first Sunday in December at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  It was a lazy bright day, perfect for showing off to the few humans who were touring the zoo on a day which annually is usually quite a bit colder.

Flamingo Park

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon waterproof ink with Lamy Safari fountain pen in Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook


Creativity Climes

Now back in the northern climes, enveloped in the incessant din of an army of leaf blowers, the memory of recent tranquil moments in the south, with its warm temperatures and Gulf breezes, fades with time…

Dining Out

Illustration: Watercolor and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

In a few days, this blog will get back on a track of sorts with a look at a fairly new book and New York Times bestseller, Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.  What are the forces that stand in the way of creativity and innovation, and why does it matter that we identify them?

Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Urban Sketching In Mississippi and Louisiana

On this long Thanksgiving holiday weekend some of the biggest birds are not on the table but are actually flying overhead and putting on quite a show.

Pass Christian MS

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Pelicans, for instance, and hawks gracefully surf upon the ocean breezes along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Here light bounces off of trees and tall marsh reeds in a way that challenges an”urban sketcher” or anyone else who wants to pick up a pencil and sketch.

Seagulls fly in huge formations along the shoreline around the picturesque shrimping boats and over the beautiful old town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Bay St Louis MS

Illustration: Watercolor, white Jelly Roll pen, and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

deck scene

Illustration: Photo of a sketching scene in the French Quarter of New Orleans, LA


In New Orleans, itself, of course, there are “sketchable” scenes everywhere, and from every angle!!  And artists are everywhere, and of all kinds.  It will take quite a while to absorb all this…



It turns out that there is almost no better imaginable spot to paint than on a spacious deck above the endlessly fascinating streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

With family and friends around and time to enjoy the sights together and catch up on everyone’s news, it has been a time of great thanksgiving indeed!


NOLA deck view

Illustration: Watercolor and Kuretake brush pen with black ink by Black Elephant Blog author