Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 1

As a blogger and sketcher, I have a problem.  It’s an internal problem that generates embarrassment and shame.  You see, when I started sketching I remember always wanting to know what pen was used (and why), what colors were chosen, and what approach was used by every artist I came across on the internet.  I remember grumbling when they didn’t tell me.  So whenever someone asks “what kind of gizmo do you use Larry?” I always write long emails back to the person, BUT I never seem to get around to putting that information into blog posts.

By way of excuse, I have the feeling that I’m not qualified to speak with authority on anything artistic and that my choices are unimportant.  I think that’s true.  But here’s the thing.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that what materials people use aren’t very important, but for people trying to find their way, knowing such stuff matters.  It still matters to me.  Anyways,  this post is the beginning of rectification of those omissions.

Everyone has their way to move tools and materials to a sketching location but, in my view, this is also the most important issue when it comes to materials.  If you have to think about what you’re going to take and/or how you’re going to carry it, you’re not going to do it at all.  And if your stuff isn’t conveniently available when you get on site, you’re going to be too distracted to be effective.  In my case there is an additional caveat.  I have to carry everything when I walk and those walks can be a couple hours long, at least they were before my leg problems of late.

My Sketching Bags

I started out with a single bag.  I’ve had it since I started location sketching and I fear the day when it dies as I haven’t been able to find a look-alike backup.  Into this bag I stuffed pens, paints and sketchbook and carried it everywhere.  That worked pretty well, though I found myself leaving stuff out, adding new stuff, and there was no rhyme or reason to it.  Because I carried it everywhere, I always worried about weight – micro-managing things by adding/subtracting single items.

Then came along a large bag, a bag too large to carry everywhere but the one I used when I want on an organized sketching events.  This caused a shift in my approach because I was spending too much time moving stuff back and forth between the bags and worrying about whether I had everything or not.

A Modular Approach

I tried replicating everything, outfitting each bag with the same stuff.  That didn’t work for me because that was expensive.  More importantly, the maintenance doubled.  Ensuring that two sets of pens were filled with ink, pencils sharpened, etc. was just too much for a lazy guy like me and I didn’t like the fact that I was working in different sketchbooks just because I was carrying a different bag.  So, I went modular.

To facilitate this approach I put identical misc support gear into each bag.  This includes:

  • bulldog clips (some of these have magnets attached to them): I use these to attach palettes to sketchbooks, clip pages down when it’s windy, etc.
  • kneaded eraser:  I don’t erase when I draw but when I use a pencil to layout a sketch I like to remove those layout lines once the drawing is completed.
  • water bottle(s): more on this later but this is the water I use with watercolors.
  • tissues: each bag has a pack of tissues, used when I paint. 
  • tiny paint kit: each bag has a 4-6 color mini-palette “for emergencies”
  • waterbrush:  I don’t like waterbrushes but “for emergencies” one will suffice.  I currently prefer Kuretake/Zig brushes which seem to give me better water control than others.

That’s it.  Everything else is included in these three modules.

From left to right: watercolor kit, pens and such, watercolor pencils

When I head out I simply choose which modules I want, stuff them in my bag, and go.  In practice, most of the time the pens and watercolors are in my small bag already because it’s still my go everywhere bag, but they’re easily moved to the large bag if necessary.  The important thing is that I don’t have to think about it, which matches the amount of brain power I want associated with getting out the door.  Next time I’ll discuss the contents of these modules.

Life Of A Sketchless Sketcher

I made another trip to our museum.  I’m still amazed at how tired I can become just getting there, but got there I did.  It’s the last week of the Hergé exhibition and I hadn’t actually viewed it seriously.  The exhibit emphasizes the process of creating Tin Tin, Herge’s famous comic series and so there’s lots to read and look at.  Not much to draw.

I hobbled around the exhibit, reading everything and studying the artwork.  It’s a really good exhibit in my opinion.  But finally I had to sit down, completely exhausted.  It must be the weight of the cane that’s wearing me out (grin).

After a while I decided that I needed to draw something, so I combined getting a cup of coffee with drawing one of the weather vanes on display in the cafeteria.  It’s not much and like eating a single Gummi bear, not quite enough, but it formed a satisfying end to yet another sketchless sketcher day.

Good Advice: Do Something Different

You hear it all the time.  Try a new medium.  Draw something different.  Use a different approach.  Sometimes this advice is given to help kick start an artist who is struggling to find motivation.  Sometimes it’s give in the name of developing new abilities.

For me, at this time, it’s good advice on both counts.  I’m starting to get back on my feet, though some days are better than others.  Drawing at home is a possibility but I’ve talked about how hard it is for me to be motivated to do that as I’ve spent five years doing most of my drawing on location.  But I have other struggles, one of which is that I tend to use watercolors as crayons and my color applications flatten, rather than enhance the 3D nature of my sketches.

I started with this light pen drawing, done with a Kaweco Lilliput and Kaweco Stormy Grey ink.

So…I give you something different…really different.  There are no such worms in Quebec City, though worms in my head is believable.  This one was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and a steady stream of fantasy characters that emerge from the brain of Daniel Potvin when he picks up a brush.  My goal was to try to use watercolors to generate 3D surfaces and while far from perfect, I was pleased with the result.  While it’s not urban sketching, it is certainly a new kind of fun and I’ll do more of it in my attempt to figure out watercolors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Daniel Smith watercolors

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

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

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

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

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

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

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Drawing From Photos Is Hard

The common view is that drawing from photos is easier than drawing from life.  This view is rationalized by the fact that the photo has already reduced the subject to two dimensions.  Clearly this is true but, in my opinion, it ignores the flip-side of this, i.e. that a photo takes the life out of the subject that three dimensions provide.

A cardboard cutout of R2-D2 doesn’t provide as much information as a 3D model of R2-D2.  This same information is lost in a photo as well, or so I believe.  And when I try to draw from photos, my brain seems to think so too, because it literally is less interested in the project than when I draw the same subject from life.

I’ve drawn a lot of statues because we’ve got a gazillion of them in Quebec City and I enjoy doing so.  But when I drew a Jacques Cartier statue from a photo, my brain wandered, failed to engage in the process and the results seemed to reflect my lack of interest.  I think I’ll stick with life drawing.

Sketching Without A Net

I’m used to working with the subject in front of me.  I rely upon it to provide me with proportions and relationships.  When I leave that world and rely only upon my imagination, I feel lost, needing something to grab onto that is simply not there.

This morning I sat down with a piece of hot-press watercolor paper.  I’m trying to figure out how to use it so I thought I’d doodle a bit.  This sketch started with an eye.  Then I added some hairs around it.  This led to the addition of a nose and I was off in never-never-land, trying to figure out how to draw a mouse.

I don’t know how to draw a mouse.  I’m sure I got the proportions wrong but my serendipitous road took me to needing a mouse all scrunched up while trying to hold onto something.  Where are a mouse’s feet anyways?  I don’t really know.  I was just doodling.  Anyways, here it is.  Mice, even poorly proportioned mice are cute.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I needed to spend more time drawing from imagination.  According to him, if you do this you will never look at the world the same because you’ll always be building a vocabulary so you can draw from imagination.  I think he’s right.  I need to go look at some mice.

A Little Shed By The Bay

As a street sketcher, I’m used to coming to these blog posts with stories about where I went, what I saw, and why I drew what I drew.  What do studio artists talk about anyways?

Here’s a little sketch from my imagination.  I spent a few minutes trying out some Fabriano Artistico hot-press paper.  Watercolor acts very differently than on cold-press paper and It’ll take a while to figure out how to use it.

A Little Piece Of Nature

My wife has been way too nice to me as I’ve hobbled through life for the past few weeks.  I feel guilty about the burden I’ve placed upon her, but I’m grateful that she’s been there for me.  She’s very special.

A couple days ago she came home with a wad of nature in her hand.  She put it on the table and said, “I thought you might like to draw this.”  She is a sly one.  She knows I’ve been fighting motivation and energy levels but she also knows that when she gives me something I feel a compulsion to draw it.  She also knew that it would only remain draw-worthy for a couple days.

And so, I drew it.  I decided to skip pen hatching, one of my favorite things, and rely upon watercolor for shading and once again I demonstrated how little understanding of watercolor.  I should stick with pen (grin).

An Update From The Walking Dead

Hi guys, I thought I should keep the blog rolling with a brief update on my do-nothing life.  I’ve mentioned my leg problem and associated fatigue and my fight against indifference towards doing much of anything.

I’d linked these two things together in my mind, but I’m beginning to wonder.  My leg is no longer the diameter of a telephone pole and my knee is now improving, thanks to physio treatments and time.  But my constant feelings of fatigue, sour stomach and a desire to sleep all the time remain and I don’t think it is related to the sorry state of daytime TV.

The fact that I can walk around the house without pain is good but it’s this other problem that is the most sinister.  Now that I’m convinced that these problems aren’t because of my leg, maybe the health care system can help me figure out what’s really going on.

Anyways, I haven’t been doing much sketching.  I try, I really do.  It’s just that my attention span between naps is short.  Here’s a typical page from a Stillman & Birn Alpha 9×6 that I’ve been working in though.  I chose this one because it represents the sorts of things I’ve been doing.

Not your typical urban sketches, for sure.  I don’t think I’ve done a sketch in the last few weeks that has taken more than a few minutes.  The one on the right represents a series of experiments I’ve been doing with gouache.  Specifically, I’ve been drawing heads and people directly with gouache (from internet photos) and then adding some ink on top.  I find this a fun way to draw people but I have no idea how I could operationalize it on the street.  The gouache dries quickly but people move too much to allow even gouache to dry before I add the ink.

The cow is, well, just a cow.  I saw a picture of a hyper-realistic painting of this cow and I was struck by the asymmetry of its ears.  I assume it reflects how the cow had its ears rotated when its image was captured but to me it was humorous so I quickly drew it.

Hopefully I can bounce back from whatever ails me and that it happens soon.  I hope all of you are enjoying Inktober.  I’m enjoying all the sketches being posted.

Forgotten But Not Lost

It’s been several weeks since I walked out of my house wearing my larger art bag.  That was the day I met Brigitte, the new sketcher I mentioned in my last post.  We met in the small park along St. Denis street within the walls of the old city of Quebec.

We were to meet at 10AM but Claudette and I arrived earlier, I think it was around 9:30.  We both started sketching and I was well into a drawing when Brigitte arrived.  When she did, we started talking about everything and anything and had a delightful conversation about her, about the sketching world in Quebec City, her house renovations and a bunch of other stuff.  She’s really a delightful person but eventually we decided that maybe we should draw and so got back to it.  By then, though, it was nearing lunch time, or at least coffee break time so we didn’t get much more sketching done.

I was starting to have my leg problems and when I got home my bag went on the shelf and the only thing I’ve done with it since was to remove my pen case, because all other materials are replicated on my desk and/or in my smaller bag.  Yesterday, however, I decided to organize for what I optimistically view as my imminent return to street sketching.

And guess what I found?  That partially complete sketch from weeks ago.  It seems very unlikely that I’ll ever complete it so I thought I’d show you an ‘in progress” photo of it.  Hope you like it.