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Scores of sketch artists take Tacoma’s measure, artfully

The Big Draw: Sketches of Tacoma

Sample some of the lovely drawings of downtown Tacoma created by expert and beginning artists participating in the West Coast Sketch Crawl over the weekend. Organized by Tacoma's Urban sketchers, the event welcomed sketchers up and down the coast
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Sample some of the lovely drawings of downtown Tacoma created by expert and beginning artists participating in the West Coast Sketch Crawl over the weekend. Organized by Tacoma's Urban sketchers, the event welcomed sketchers up and down the coast

Across downtown Tacoma and beyond with notebooks in hand, more than 150 people fanned out Saturday to sketch the cityscape in vivid, informal portraits.

There were few rules for the Fourth Annual West Coast Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawl. The event’s ethos, its founder said, is “bring something to draw with and draw on,” and that’s about it.

The result: a kaleidoscope of images of the city’s buildings and people, from pencil sketches to splashy watercolors, that participants displayed across the plaza of the Museum of Glass when they met back up.

“This is a nice little study. I love that subtle color,” Virginia Hein, a participant and art professor from Los Angeles, said while looking down at a notebook page depicting, in tidy bright-hued strokes, the brick Albers Mill building on the Foss Waterway.

Not 20 minutes before, Renata Grillo, 47, a telecommunications analyst from San Diego, had put the finishing touches on the object of Hein’s praise while perched on the concrete steps beside the Museum of Glass.

In a break from her brushwork, Grillo told a visitor that she picked the renovated circa-1904 grain mill because of “the mix of the bricks and the steel” on its reinvigorated exterior.

“I like architecture, and I saw the fire escape stairs first,” she said. “It seemed interesting.”

An array of the city’s revived — and preserved — historic architecture captured the attention of scores of the sketchers. Of the approximately 100 who joined the event’s late-afternoon second rendezvous, a dozen picked Union Station, with about half that number choosing to draw Old City Hall or the Murray Morgan Bridge. The only challenger to Union Station’s popularity: the cone of the Museum of Glass, which appeared in 11 of the sketches in the afternoon’s ephemeral sidewalk assemblage, which lasted for perhaps five minutes.

Hein, who teaches at the Otis College of Art and Design, had herself picked Union Station as her subject for an expressive, brick-toned portrait.

“As soon as I saw that view on the bridge, I said, ‘This is it,’” Hein said. “I just love it.”

She thanked an onlooker for calling it “expansive” and spoke modestly of her result (“looser than I was going for”) but highly of Tacoma, which she was visiting — like several of the event’s participants — for the first time.

“They are so proud of the revitalization here. I completely understand that,” Hein said. “There’s something very special about being part of a city that’s on the upswing.”

Tacoma-area participants mixed with the tourists throughout the event. Jayden Santana, 12, a student at Truman Middle School, pencil-sketched city streetscapes alongside his grandfather, Roy Cutler, 67, who chose the Murray Morgan Bridge for his work.

Jayden said he enjoyed the chance to look at what the other sketchers had come up with.

“When I look at their styles, it gives me different idea of how to draw,” Jayden said.

Jim Baumgarner of the Tri-Cities, founder of the West Coast Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawls, said after the event that the locals and tourists had made for a lively crowd for the event, which previously alighted on larger cities of San Francisco, Portland and San Diego.

“I’m very, very pleased. The local team here under the direction of Frances Buckmaster did a masterful job,” Baumgarner said. “It was just perfectly organized.”

Julio Grillo, 18, who traveled up from San Diego with his mother Renata and drew a diner tableau he saw in a museum, said he was glad the event had come to Tacoma, rather than a more-commonly depicted locale “like Seattle around the Space Needle” or another usual subject.

“It’s nice to have an area to go to that’s not the same,” he said.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally

Staff writer Kenny Ocker contributed to this report.

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