My Lack Of Imagination

I’ve been sketching for about six years.  During all of that time I’ve been a dedicated urban sketcher.  Nearly everything I’ve drawn has been from life, mostly from my perch upon a tripod stool.  Those of us who work this way are fond of extolling the virtues of drawing from life.  If drawbacks are mentioned they generally relate to how weather and/or material limitations affect the actual drawing process.

One thing we always ignore when talking about location sketching is that there is no exercise of the imagination when you’re trying to depict some object or scene that lies before you.  We may simplify, or even modify the scene but nevertheless, the scene provides the subject of our work.

Because of this, I’ve developed very little imagination when it comes to generating my own scenes.  Yes, I can draw a dinosaur creature and maybe even a funny-faced character, but drawing a citiscape or landscape from my imagination – no way.  And while I can draw cars, statues, and airplanes when I’m looking at them, I can’t draw one from my imagination to save my soul.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I should spend time drawing from my imagination, because if I did I would look at the world differently, generating a different kind of knowledge about my world.  I know he’s right but I’ve found it difficult.

These days, however, I’m sort of stuck at home a lot and often my hands don’t function as well as I would like.  Yvan showed me a lot of the small vignettes he draws (which are amazing) to develop his imagination and I decided to give hem a try.  His approach is pretty simple:

  1. Paint a block of color(s).  Not too big (the ones here are only 3″ to 4″ wide).  Add some blotches of color (low contrast is best as it doesn’t force you in one direction).
  2. Let them dry (or not) and imagine what sort of scene can be made from the blotches of color contained within each block.

That’s all there is to it.  While the ones presented here are the first two pages of these things I’ve created, they don’t have to be landscape/citiscapes.  Yvan likes to invent candlesticks, fancy bowels, statues, or groups of people.

I’ve found this hard, mostly because I have no imagination, no “vocabulary” for making stuff up.  But Yvan is correct, I’m looking at everything differently, asking things like “what are the typical shapes of citiscapes”; “what are the features of vases that one could use to create a new type?”, and a million other similar questions.  There’s lot of fun to be had here and I’m convinced that it will help me with my “normal” drawing.

 

Sketching The Alleyways Again

The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location.  But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching.  This, and the smile on my face, was the result.

A Bit Of Eye Training

Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business.  We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities.  This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing.  I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.

For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions.  Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’  The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.

I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski.  I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.

The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree.  Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw.  I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles.  Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details.  I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.

With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink.   It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be.  It’s very liberating and fun.

I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less.  The ink portion was more like twenty minutes.   Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate.  Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way.  Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it.  Besides, it’s fun.  Here’s the result.  It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.

 

 

 

Sketching At A Winery

The Artistes dans les Parcs leader, Denise Bujold arranged for us to spend a Thursday sketching at a winery on the Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City.  She surprised us by using her superpowers to give us ideal weather as well.   There were sixteen of us scattered around the winery, drawing, painting or enjoying each other’s company.  It was quite a day.

I decided to draw this scene, not part of the winery but across a field from it.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get more depth into this sketch.

We all took a break for lunch, sitting at some picnic benches available for visitors to the winery.  The sun was so inviting that I wanted to lay down in the grass and fall asleep.  Ah…to be a kid again where that wouldn’t be seen as rude (grin).

Rejean had done a small vignette of a cluster of grapes and I decided I needed to do one too.  I have a tough time walking down hills right now but I found I could walk along a road that wound its way around some buildings and served as a way for tractors to get to the lower level.  Eventually I got to the head of one of the fields and found  a cluster of grapes near an end post, creating an ideal subject.  I was pretty happy with the result and the entire day.

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend.  While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles.  It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools.  But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.

This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate.  I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school.  For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest.  Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.

Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching.  I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.

Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch.  It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.

Assembling A Scene From Nature

I’ve been reading a lot about sketching landscapes lately and one idea that pops up regularly is that of assembling a scene based upon what you see and what makes the composition work.  Moving a tree, or eliminating some is often the example given.   I have a hard time with that concept.  It makes perfect sense and I admire those who can do it, but it seems I’m a literalist at heart and so I always end up drawing what I see.

But recently I did assemble a scene from nature, quite literally.  During our trip to Rimouski we (mostly Chantal and Jodie because I  couldn’t climb around on the rocks very well) collected a whole bunch of crab parts.  The whole endeavour was done so I could draw the parts but it got a bit out of control.  In the end, we ended up with a whole bag of smelly carapaces, legs and claws.

When we got home the question was what to do with them as they really did smell.  Chantal put all the parts in a bunch of pie tins with mesh cloth over them to keep the flies away and put them on our deck.   The smell did diminish but it never went away, even after a week or so of loving care.

So one day I decided that I would pick through them, find good examples and then take photos of them so we could throw everything away.

As I started doing this the biologist in me, or maybe the Dr. Frankenstein, started sticking parts together.  Before I knew it I had a nearly complete crab sitting on the table.  I did take some photos of my prize and then sat down to draw it.  I learned that drawing a crab can make you go cross-eyed trying to follow all the leg parts but it was fun.

Off To Miriam’s Cottage Again

When faced with opportunity, a sketcher shouldn’t hesitate and Yvan and I are no exceptions.  Miriam invited us to sketch at her place on Ile d’Orleans and we jumped at the chance.  The location is beautiful and Miriam is there to sketch with us.  What’s not to like?

The day was delightful, though my hands seemed to have a mind of their own.  These days, straight lines are becoming hard to make.  But we had a lot of fun sketching together and enjoying the day.  Here are a couple of my sketches from the day.

 

 

Different Approach Brings Surprising Results

We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art.   Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.

As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings.  I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).

But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide.  I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.

At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken.  Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing.  More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be.  My daughter looks huge, as does her hair.  I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch.  Silly me.  I wonder why.

Artistes Dans Les Parcs Visit Parc des Moulins

When I can, I’ve been joining the Artistes dans les Parcs, a painting group.  Denise Bujold has created this series of friendly gatherings in Quebec City parks where people show up and create art.  Yvan and I are the odd fellows of the group because most set up easels and paint in oils, acrylics, and watercolors while we scribble away in our sketchbooks.  It’s a fun group, though, and they accept our ‘odd’ ways.

We met at the Parc des Moulins on Saturday and spent the morning drawing/painting.  This place used to be the Quebec City zoo until a political battle over funding caused the whole thing to go belly up.  Now, part of it is a park and it gets its name because of a windmill (moulin) that lives in the park.  On this day, we all clustered around a picnic bench, and I chose this scene to draw.

An Adventure To Rimouski And My Hatred For Hot-Press Paper.

August 26th was our 30th wedding anniversary.  Thinking about that, Chantal deserves a medal for living with me that long.  We decided to celebrate by getting off planet Quebec City and spending a couple days in Rimouski, a smallish town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, just as it begins to open up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Originally I planned on it being just the two of us but Chantal thought it would be fun to bring Jodie along.  Turned out that was a great idea because my bum knee limited my ability to do some things and Jodie gave Chantal some company while she them.

We stayed at a rustic hotel that sits right on the coast, a rocky intertidal area right in front of the place.  Excepting that there was no coffee available on site and a 20-30 minute shopping trip to get some, it was an ideal place.

Our first day there wasn’t great because it was very windy and cold.  Yep…cold.  No heat wave that day.  We visited a museum/lighthouse/submarine place and Jodie and Chantal wanted to tour the submarine.  We weren’t sure that my knee could manage the bulkhead doors and the requisite steps downward so I went and sat in the car.  This allowed me to do this quick sketch of the rocks, etc. in front of me.

Rimouski is a fishing town and on every corner is a poissonerie (fresh fish store) and associated restaurant.  We went for Korean food and it was spectacular.  If you’re ever in Rimouski, foresake the crab dinner and head to Parfum of Korea, an oddly bilingual named restaurant.  We filled up on Bokkeum, grabbed coffee to go and headed back to the hotel, where we spent the evening staring at the river/ocean (you can’t see across at this point and the water is salty).

The next day we drove to Matane, a fishing/university town a couple hours north of Rimouski.  We did this mostly just to enjoy the trip and the wonderful coastline scenery along the way but also with a purpose.  I wanted to draw a fishing boat and Mr. Google told me they had lots of them.   When we got there I was disappointed.  Matane itself is nice enough.  We discovered a great beach covered with small round rocks and lots of sand.  We also discovered a fish ladder, all ready for the salmon run up the river… next week.  Oh well, it was cool to see even without the fish.

But we couldn’t find fishing boats anywhere.  So we went to the information center which exists in the form of an old lighthouse.   Chantal went to discuss the whereabouts of the fishing boats with the information folks.  I set up and started drawing the lighthouse.

We learned that the fishing boats are actually a bit south of Matane in their own artificial harbor area so we headed there.  It turned out that most of them were off somewhere, probably making a nuisance of themselves in the world of crabs, shrimps, and fish of several species.  But there were a few in port and a sketcher only needs one.  Here she be.  I was frustrated with the hot-press paper I was using and so this one never saw a brush.

What’s Up With Hot Pressed Paper?

We had a great time on that trip but my first use of hot-pressed paper was a disaster.  What’s up with it anyway?  I was using Fabriano Artistico HP.  Unlike the CP I normally use I couldn’t get this stuff to stay wet?  I was constantly fighting with lines in my washes.  And EVERYTHING just seemed ‘flat.’  It seemed to suck the life out of the paint.  What am I doing wrong?  Can anyone advise?