My New Toy: The Pilot Cavalier

First it was arthritis.  Then it was atrial fibrillation.  Then my leg blew up to the size of a telephone pole (slight exaggeration for effect).  That turned out to be osteoarthritis in my knee and a long set of physio treatments.  Then it became a steady stream of doctor’s appointments.  This torture just would not end, but it has, sort of.

As long as I fill my gut with pills twice a day, my heart is under control, my arthritis is only problem on really “bad” days, and I’m getting used to not walking as far as I’d like and doing so with a limp.  Things are looking up.

It got better when my doctor informed me that I have type 2 diabetes.  I guess that was the dessert after my months of dining on medical treatments.  But you know what?  That’s good news.  For the past half a year I’ve been very fatigued, having less and less energy.  Initially I attributed it to all those doctor visits but eventually concluded that it was just cuz this was what “old” felt like.  It wasn’t an encouraging prognosis.  But, eliminating the cookies (my favorite thing) and adding a couple more pills to my diet and I’ve gotten my energy back.  I call that a win.

So enough about health, let’s talk about my new toy, the Pilot Cavalier fountain pen.  When I got mine I couldn’t find one in North America so I bought through a third-party vendor via Amazon.  But Jet Pens now stocks them in several colours.

I bought this pen because I enjoy quick-sketching with my Kaweco Lilliput but find the screwing and unscrewing its cap to be sort of annoying when I’m wanting to quickly sketch someone in the food court.  One thing I like a lot about the Lilliput, however, is that it’s got a pencil-size diameter and it’s very light.

The Cavalier has both of those attributes associated with a standard length pen.  The cap snaps in place nicely and seals well.  It also posts well, something I have to have in a sketching pen or I’d lose the cap.  Because it’s a Pilot pen, the steel nib provides a smooth feel.

This pen accepts Pilot cartridges but one problem is that the barrel of the pen is just narrow enough that you can’t use Pilot’s CON-50 converter so I have use a syringe to get waterproof ink into empty Pilot cartridges.  It’s said that you can use the CON-20 converter (the rubber bulb-style converter in it but I like syringe filling so I haven’t tried that.  This pen has found a place in my pen quiver, mostly for quick-sketching food court people.  Here’s a sketch I did while test-driving it.  This was also the beginning of a new Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover (5.5×8.5).  I haven’t used this format in quite some time and thought it might be a good idea.

Cotton Paper Is Cellulose Too

It’s a fairly regular occurrence on the internet to hear well-meaning artists comparing “cellulose” watercolor paper to “cotton” watercolor paper.  They’re using “cellulose” to refer to paper made from trees.

The differences, however, between paper made from trees and that made from cotton have little to do with cellulose.  Why?  Because cotton is 99% cellulose.

Watercolor paper made from trees is also mostly cellulose.  To make it archival, they extract from wood pulp a protein call lignin that trees use to hold their cellulose fibers together.  It’s the lignin that causes cheap papers to yellow as it is acidic.  This extraction is almost complete, but to get the paper completely pH neutral, a base is added to neutralize the small amount of remaining lignin.  The result leaves watercolor paper made from trees mostly cellulose.

It is the case that cotton cellulose fibers are longer than wood cellulose.  Cellulose itself is nothing more than glucose molecules stuck together into a long string so its length can vary.  We’re talking here about the same cellulose you find in celery.  It’s a basic structural component of most plants and certainly not unique to trees.

So, the next time you want to compare papers made from trees vs papers made from cotton, a more accurate nomenclature would be to talk about wood-based vs cotton paper.  Better living through chemistry.

In The Tunnel But There’s Light Ahead…

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… I just hope it’s not a train.

 

Hi guys, it’s me, Larry.  Really, I’m not dead.  I know it’s been forever since I’ve written a blog post but gosh a lot has happened since my last post.  I’ve been dealing with so many doctors I have a hard time remembering their names but the results have been really positive.

Except for all the snow and cold I’m, as they say in the military, good to go.  I can even walk up/down stairs again.  More importantly, except for really bad arthritis days, my drawing hand is cooperative, though it’s very out of practice which is frustrating.  I even think the steady drone of doctor visits is coming to an end (I had six of them in the last eight days).

I’m way behind in Liz Steel’s watercolour class but it’s fantastic.  I just have a LOT of homework to make up.

I wanted to post this update, though, to let you know that I’m still alive.  Here’s a quick sketch I did to see if I could “loosen up” as everyone seems to hold as the highest form of art.  I have a hard time looking at “loose” coming from my hand.

I’ll leave you with this sketch of an old window.  It shows my out of tune hand all too clearly but I’m getting back into the swing of things so maybe I can call myself a sketcher again.

Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook, Pilot Cavalier pen

The Struggling Artist

Hi everyone.  Seems like forever since I’ve done a blog post.  Maybe I should start writing about doctor visits.  That would give me more than enough to talk about (grin).

In the movies, a struggling artist is one who is destitute, often a drunk, or worse.  In the fine arts world the poverty remains but these struggling artists all remain pure to their art, not compromising anything for commercial success.  In the sketching world, more often than not a struggling artist is one who has a hard time remaining motivated.  I’ve never understood why that is.  Anyways, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not a struggling artist of a different sort, one beaten down by health issues.

I was supposed to go sketching on Tuesday morning.  I was excited because we were going to sketch in the Christmas store in old Quebec City.  This building used to be a multi-floor bookstore in the 40s and 50s, a gathering place for those who cherished the written word.  Sometime along the way, however, it became a year-round Christmas store that is filled to the brim with decorations.  With Christmas behind us, or well ahead of us depending upon your view, we were granted access to sketch within its walls on Tuesday.

On Sunday I decided to do a quick sketch of its exterior from a photo I had of the place.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on it and kept the sketch both simple and without a lot of contrast because I envisioned it receding into the background of a two-page spread of brightly colored ornament sketches.  Unfortunately, when Tuesday rolled around I was having what is now referred to at our house as a “bad” day and my knee limited my mobility and my left hand and wrist were nearly locked up and quite painful.  I couldn’t go.  I was a struggling artist.  I share with you the sad result.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5)

On the upside, I’m enjoying Liz Steel’s Watercolour Course which has just started.  Thus far I’m covering paper with blotches of color, spending time trying to create more texture in my washes, and even doing some small, horrible sketches using paint only.  I really do love Liz’s courses.  Her Foundations course is the course I wish existed when I started trying to sketch and this new watercolor course is causing me to investigate watercolors in a new light, and I definitely need some new light when it comes to watercolors.

Sketching Ain’t Easy These Days

It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year.  I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less.  I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.

Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing.  This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo.  My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building.  The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.

Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it.  I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’

Sketchy Reflections Of 2017

When I thought about writing about my 2017 as a sketcher, all I could think of was how bad the last four months have been as health problems have kept me from doing much sketching at all.  This resulted in me filling only a paltry seven sketchbooks this year, though I did do more sketching on single sheets than every before.

But then I thought about the rest of the year and not only was it eventful, it was pretty darn special.  I got to meet a LOT of people and this is something I don’t normally have in my sketching world.

I have my ‘best buddy’ and mentor, Yvan Breton, who keeps me on track and patiently tries to teach me how to draw, and I am fortunate enough to have a small group of people that I get to sketch with regularly, but I’m not a traveler, so I don’t attend the growing number of sketcher events around the world.

But this year some of that world came to me and serendipity allowed me to become more involved with the Montreal sketchers.  In February I spent the day at the Red Path Museum in Montreal with Marc Taro Holmes.  I love sketching with Marc because not only is he one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, you always learn stuff when you hang out with Marc.  I got to spend the day with him later in the year where he talked me into trying to paint statues directly rather than drawing them first.  If I can get my failing hands to cooperate, this is going to open a lot of possibilities for me.

Koosje Koene, of Sketchbook Skool fame, came to Montreal for a visit and couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet her as I love her “Draw Tip Tuesday” series.  I confess that I rarely do the things she shows but she has a way of making me smile with her imagination and presentation of these short videos.  Sadly the day she was in Montreal, it was raining so sketching was limited.  Instead, we went to a restaurant and spent the time talking about art, sketching, and I got to know her a bit better as well as some of the Montreal sketchers.  It was a good day in spite of the rain, maybe because of it.

It’s been hard for me to participate in Montreal urban sketchers events because it’s a long five hour round trip between Quebec City and there.  It’s possible to get up really early, drive to Montreal, sketch for a few hours, and then drive back but it doesn’t make for a comfortable day.  So, I was thrilled when my daughter finished up her degree at the University of Ottawa and decided that she was going to go to law school at McGill University, in Montreal.  I would have a floor to sleep on when I decided to attend Montreal sketching events.  She moved there in August, the same weekend that Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart came to visit so I got to spend several days sketching in Montreal that weekend.

I spent the first day with Marc, the highlight being the statue drawing I mentioned above.  The next day I spent the day with Marc, Liz, and Anne-Laure in a whirlwind sketchcrawl through the city.  It was the best sketching day of my life in spite of the fact that I was always woefully out-classed, frantic to keep up, and my results less than stellar.  What an experience.  I’m a slow sketcher by nature so juxtaposed next to these three, I was really slow.  Their ability to sketch complex street scenes in almost no time has to be seen to be believed.  I was in awe.  Lucky for me, they are also very nice people, who didn’t laugh at me.

The next day a bunch of the urban sketchers came out to sketch with Liz and Anne-Laure.  The day started with rain but eventually we got some sketching time.  To be honest, I was pretty worn out by then as the moving of my daughter and previous day’s sketching had taken a lot out of me.  It was also the first day that my leg started limiting my movements.  Definitely a day to remember.  2017 was a good year for me because of the people.

I also got to attend a couple USK Montreal events in 2017.  I was hoping for more but by September I was having a hard enough time getting around my house so going out sketching was out of the question.  I’m hopeful that too many doctors and I are getting some of this under control, at least enough that I’ll be able to hobble my way to a sketching location and, on good days, my hand will cooperate enough to let me draw.  Getting old is awful, but it still beats the alternative.  Onward to 2018.

 

 

Merry Christmas From Quebec City

Hi everyone.  Once again I have to apologize for not posting regularly.  Problems with my hands have prevented me from drawing much, which is my only excuse.  I did want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, though, so I’m using a past sketch to justify this short acknowledgement of the holidays.  I hope all is well with you and yours and that it’s warmer where you are than it is here (grin).

A Sketch Of A Statue Of A Statue

Qin Shi Huangdi, who proclaimed himself the first emperor of China, built one of the wonders of the world when he ordered the creation of a veritable army of clay soldiers, horses, armaments, and a whole lot of other stuff.  And since these treasures were excavated from his tomb, statues of them have been created and sold to those of us fascinated by these relics.  I own one such statue, albeit it’s a small one.

It’s been a while since I’ve drawn in my slower-than-molasses style and I was feeling the need for it.  I didn’t really take as much time as I probably should have but it was nice to sit, comfortably, and draw with some Miles Davis in the background.  This sort of thing reminds me of the compromises we street sketchers make by sitting on tripod stools while juggling our materials in our laps (grin).

I start this sort of drawing with a mechanical pencil.  I started by locating key parts of the figure, thinking only of lengths, angles and locations.  Once I’m convinced that I’ve got the pieces and their locations on paper, I move on to fountain pen for the real drawing.

Some say “never use pencil..just go for it.”  That’s fine, and I often do that myself.  But it’s really liberating to know that the parts and their locations are defined because I can concentrate on drawing the arm without having to think about its relation to the head.

There’s another reason I like this approach.  The pencil step I outlined above requires cognitive functions as elements are compared, sized, and located.  Once done, however, I can let go, relying upon my visual cortex (that I work desperately to train) feed my motor cortex with info that guides my hand.  No thought is necessary; I just do.

Once I did the basic drawing I made a decision not to hatch the shading but rather to use watercolor for the darks and colored pencil for the highlights.  I was pretty happy with that decision.  The Stillman & Birn Nova paper handled both well.

Weathervane Sketching Is Fun

I should be writing blog posts about how life would be for a snail trying to do location sketching.  Movement from point A to point B is so slow and energy-draining for me these days that I have to make decisions based on how long it will take me to get there.  I suppose that’s true for everyone but I’m talking about how far I have to walk in a museum.  Distances measured in feet have become important (grin).  Weird that.

But I am starting to get out and about and it feels really good.  I went to the museum on Tuesday.  I used to walk there (about 45min).  Now I take two buses and when I get there I’m exhausted.  Once I’ve hobbled up a couple flights of stairs I have to sit down and rest before I try to sketch.

The significant thing about all this is that the majority of my sketching time isn’t spent sketching so I have to keep the subjects simple and just try to get as much enjoyment from the short sketching fix as possible.  There’s a row of weathervanes on display right now and they fit a snail-sketcher’s approach really well.  Hope you like this one.  The original is made of sheet metal.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot/Namiki Falcon

Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 3

I’ve talked about how I carry my stuff and what pointy devices I use.   What remains to be discussed are the substrates and supports for them, or more simply paper.  My early thought was to discuss how I make my choices, but quickly that idea became more book-size than blog-size and so I’m limiting this to a more simple presentation of what I use.  Maybe, in the future, discussions of why can take place.

Sketchbooks

I like to have several sizes of sketchbooks available to me but this conflicts with my desire to not have too many of them ‘in progress’ at the same time so sketchbook management is a constant struggle.

This photo represents the size variation I like.  The large one in the back is a Stillman & Birn 8×10 Beta, the small red one is a Field Notes notebook, the landscape 9×6 is Stillman & Birn Alpha, and the other one is a 4×6 book, also from Field Notes.

Single Sheets

When it comes to convenience at the drawing stage, there is nothing better than working with single sheets as it allows me to switch paper types and sizes, work without the constraints of sketchbook covers, and single sheets are very light.  This approach is less useful when you want to hand a sketchbook to someone who comes up to you on the street and is interested in what you do.

My approach to using single sheets takes two forms.  The first is to use a magnet board.  The base of mine is very thin plywood and the metal surface came from a small magnetic board sold at the dollar store.  All I did was remove the frame from the dollar store board and glue the metal sheet, with contact cement, to the wood.  I rounded the corners to make it easier to slide in/out of my bag.  The magnets are rare earth magnets.  This approach allows me to quickly attach any paper and, because it’s very light, it’s easier to hold than any sketchbook.  It has the added advantage that I can attach my palette to it with magnets too.

The other way I use single sheets is an idea from Marc Taro Holmes and one I use when I want to use first-class watercolor paper (Fabriano Artistico).  I take sheets and tape them to Coroplast, sometimes on both sides.  Coroplast is so light that I can carry 3-4 sheets without any appreciable weight added to my bag and they’re a dream to work on because they are so light.

Both of these approaches are great for sketching while standing because there’s no weight involved or pages to have to clip to keep them from blowing in the wind.

This brings me to the end of this series.  I do have a sense that I’ve left a lot out of the discussion by not spending time talking about why I use what I use so if you have questions, feel free to ask.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into location sketching – Larry style.