Experimentation is the key to growth. The last couple days I have been experimenting with some other materials and formats, as I have explored the theme of “Closed” at Lake Elmo preserve. Yesterday I braved the chilly wind to sketch at a closed and deserted playground. I stayed in the car and worked with Inktense watercolor pencils. I don’t really like them as a medium, I like pen and watercolor much better. I sketched a play structure and a picnic area, first in the watercolor pencils, then a second table using just a red gel pen. Not my best sketching, but oh well. I learned some things….


I next switched to red and blue pens, and decided to sketch a plastic pirate’s ship play structure. This playground is huge, with many structures, and I used to bring my kids here when they were young. The place was closed and deserted, until late in the sketch, when some women and a small boy came up a trail toward their cars. He was on roller blades, so I captured him in my sketch as he whizzed by.



After sketching the playground, I was ready to try something else. There is an enormous man-made swimming area near the playground. Years ago, someone drowned there. But each summer, it’s packed with eager swimmers and parents who make a day or afternoon of hanging out at the “beach”. There are usually big striped umbrellas around the area, and I noticed their skeletons of white metal without the fabric. Set against a dark color, I knew they’d be striking. They slowly rotated around in the wind and opened and closed lazily in the breeze, much like a sitting butterfly that slowly opens and closes its wings…


I scribbled some watercolor pencil on a page and wet it, and spread the color around, and let it dry. Then I sat on a bench and used a white gel pen to draw the umbrellas. As I was sketching the umbrellas, I noticed the abandoned life guard chair, so I added that to the sketch of already garish colors. Not a great sketch, but I had fun!


After coming home last night and looking back over the sketches, I realized I had a story to tell. A story of empty and unused areas this summer due to COVID-19. I wanted to pull many of these same elements into one cohesive sketch, so I went back today in slightly warmer weather to do a larger sketch. I started with another play structure, and sat and sketched at a picnic table. The sun was shining and bluebirds were singing in a tree near me. It was great fun!


This is how the sketch started, and I began to fill in other elements from there…. I went back to the swim beach and sketched in the lifeguard chair, and a family that was playing in the sand of the empty lake. I sketched the umbrellas, then went back to the play area to capture the “closed” sign and fountain. I sat at the edge of the parking lot to sketch the dandelions, and wanted a couple more elements to fill in some space. I liked the red Coca-cola machine by the concession stand, so I parked in a different lot and sketched that across the empty sand. Finally, I added a blue Porta-Potty to round out the sketch. I added dialogue, and later, added more, and did some spatter paint.


This was a very fun and rewarding sketch to do today. I saw several things I had not seen yesterday, and in doing the smaller sketches yesterday, I discovered a theme to pursue. I like how all the elements came together, and I’d love to tell another story again!

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