A Wonderful Summer With Less Art

Summer is struggling to hang on here in Quebec City and I’m grateful.  Very few leaves have dropped and the trees are still mostly green.   So we’re continuing to do our walking regime, while talking about what we’ll do when it finally does snow.

My summer has been less “sketch filled” than ever before and you know, I don’t feel bad about that.  I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t been posting here but I’ll try to catch up “real soon” because a number of things have occurred with my art over the past few weeks and it’ll be fun to share those with you.

I promised not to bore you with my stream of 4-5 minute sketches but I think sharing a few of them might give me a chance to mention what I actually have been sketching while out on our walks.  First are the people.  I’ve drawn a bunch of them, mostly as we sit, taking a break in one of the local parks.  These are typical of those efforts.  Nothing to write home about but I really like the little girl, with her large head and big hair, perched on her frail body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t do portraits but who could resist sketching this guy, who sat down across from me in the park.  I did take advantage of my wife’s patience as this one took more than five minutes, but not more than ten.

If you do quick drawings in parks, you draw plants.  I did and this is one of them.  I think it’s some sort of hibiscus and I added the color while sitting at home.

Then there are the rocks.  Our parks are full of them, placed around as little statues.. or something.  I’ve documented a bunch of them.

I’ll throw this one in as my “teaching moment.”  Chantal started bring her sketchbook with her and found the 5-minute routine as frustrating as I do.  At one point we were discussing how to grab a scene quickly and so I showed her how I would grab a scene in a minute or two.  As I’ve said, I’m not good at this but then ability has never prevented artists from giving advice to someone else (grin).

Those are some examples of the sorts of things I’ve been doing while out on my daily walks.  All were done in 3×5 or 4×6, dollar store sketchbooks.  My new knee is serving me well.  It’s the best joint in my body and the others are straining to keep up.  I’m afraid getting old isn’t pretty and it’s beginning to limit my overall ability to urban sketch but as time marches on, so do I.

Again, I apologize for my lack of blogging activity and hopefully you’ll see more from me “real soon.”  Hope everyone is doing well.

Can Shari Teach Me To Paint?

While the COVID pandemic generated a bunch of negatives, there have also been positives.  For instance, because Shari Blaukopf couldn’t travel or do her in-person workshops, she decided to produce a series of video watercolor workshops and made them available on her website.

I bought several of them and will probably buy more because the pricing makes them irresistable.  There’s only one problem.  Buying them didn’t make me a better painter.  And while watching the videos taught me a bunch of stuff, this didn’t improve my painting abilities much either.  Surprise, surprise.

Seems I’ve actually got to move a fuzzy stick around… a lot, if I’m going to improve and I’m not good with fuzzy sticks.  My approach to “painting” has been to do a complete pen and ink drawing and then to quickly add local color, being sure to stay “inside the lines.”  Most of the time, my paint detracts rather than enhances the original drawing. Painting Shari style isn’t like that at all (grin).

Shari starts each of her workshop studies with a pencil, drawing outlines of the major components.  I’m not much of a pencil-driver either, but a pointy stick is a pointy stick and so I have no trouble with this step.  Here’s my first attempt at painting a Victorian window:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not horrible, but it’s not even close to Shari quality.  My brushwork is sloppy.  I expected that (see above about my fuzzy stick management), but it’s the other stuff that suggests I wasn’t paying attention.

  1. Shari explains how to mix paint to the right consistency.  I was anything but consistent.
  2. Shari showed me how to create the dark red shadow color.  Mine isn’t dark enough cuz I got caught by the watercolor “drying up.”
  3. And oh my goodness.  Shari talks about painting linework with a rigger brush.  I couldn’t get a paint mix that was dark enough and yet wet enough to do it at all so I resorted to a fude pen instead.

I love how she presents these workshops, though, and with more time with my fuzzy sticks, I just might figure out how to do it.  Hope so.  Thanks to Shari for making these workshops available.  With my help I bet Shari CAN teach me to paint.

The Sketching Path We Travel

I’ve been pondering where I want to go with my art and thus, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the path I’ve taken to get where I am.  It’s funny, and maybe a bit odd, that I’ve been trying to get better at sketching and I haven’t done much of this kind of reflection.  Instead, I’ve plodded along as a guy “who draws stuff” and most of that drawing has been as a pen and ink guy who uses color to tint sketches, as so many urban sketchers do.

When I look back, though, I recall the early stages, where I was trying to draw things.  I would choose those things based upon what I was capable of drawing.  This is the stage where new sketchers say things like:

“I can’t draw buildings because I don’t understand perspective.”

“How do you draw a car?”

“Gardens are hard because they are complicated.”

“How do you draw trees?”

Eventually, sketchers learn that what they’ve been told over and over is true.  Everything is just a shape.  This changes things forever once we adopt this view.  It takes some time (for me it was counted in years), but you shift from looking at things and start seeing and drawing shapes.

The draw shapes path causes a change in what you try to draw because now, anything is a good subject, not just things you know how to draw.  A nose is no different from a can of soup to a shape sketcher.  For me, this didn’t come easy (maybe I haven’t even completed this shift) but it’s so liberating.

When it does occur, however, you need a new criterion for choosing a subject.  We all like to believe that we choose subjects based upon some high-art goal but in my experience that’s rarely the case.  In fact, I’d say that most sketchers, once they work with shapes, more often choose a subject based upon how much time they have, can I see it from a shady spot, and with a dose of “what’s my style?” mixed into the analysis.

And this is where we come back to me.  I’ve always been a guy who loves fountain pens and who worries a lot about proportions and relative sizes.  Translate that to mean, I’m not good at “loose” or “simplification.”  Marc Holmes has chided me into trying to draw loose and quickly a number of times.  I’ve tried.  Maybe I’ll get there some day but my sense is that I  simply like the process of capturing proper proportions, angles, etc.  All of this in spite of the fact that I’d love to be able to draw in the loose, “painterly” (his word) style he uses.

And so when I choose my subject, largely according to how much time I have, I have to choose a smaller, more simple subject than Marc would for the same amount of time.  I’m just not good enough to do it any other way.  Not a bad thing and to quote Clint Eastwood, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Here’s an example where I didn’t choose well.  Heck, I didn’t choose at all.  We were out on a walk, wanted to sit in the shade and I found myself looking at the butt end of a large statue of Simon Bolivar on his horse.  At most I’d have five minutes to draw it as we rested.  In reality, given my sloth-like approach to sketching, it would have taken an hour to do a decent sketch.  BTW, this will be the last of my 5-min sketches that you’ll see.  This one was a good example of what I am talking about here but I won’t abuse your sense with any more of them (grin).

How do you make your subject choices?  Are you lucky enough to have moved beyond all this and so can draw anything in no time?

Getting Back To Normal?

Before COVID, and before all my leg problems, my life was simple and thus, returning to it should be equally simple.  I’m finding it hard, however.

My daughter did return to Montreal last week so we’re back to being empty nesters.  Chantal is still working from home, which I hope is a prelude to her retirement.  And I’m getting so that walking is actually fun again.  So it should be easy, right?

But my head isn’t in the “old” place right now.  I used to get up, eat breakfast and head out the door to sketch.  I’ve yet to do that simple behavior once.  Instead, Chantal and I are walking… a lot.  We’re getting in 6-8 kilometers a day and when we get back from that, exhaustion is near at hand.  So, we generally fix some lunch and I watch a recorded Blue Jays game or the Olympics.  Also, there are endless home maintenance tasks that were postponed because of all the limping I was doing.

So I haven’t been doing much sketching.  I have started carrying a small sketchbook when we walk and sometimes there’s time for a quick, 5-min sketch while we sit and take a break.  It’s good practice and it’s getting me back in the mood, but it’s like eating a single potato chip – not very satisfying.  Here’s a couple that I have done recently.

 

Hiking The Parks Of Chicoutimi

The prime directive for our family these days is walk, walk, and then walk some more.  Chantal has decided she needs to get more exercise and when she decides something, the actions are never small.  Me, I’m trying to learn to walk again.  I’ve spent nearly four years with knee pain and a limp that just got progressively worse.  Now that my operation is behind me, and COVID is being fought off by a successful vaccination program in Quebec, it’s walk, walk and then walk some more.

While stomping around the local neighborhoods provides the required steps, it lacks variety.  So, we decided to “go somewhere.”  I put that in quotes because we’ve forgotten how to decide things like where to go when you want to go somewhere.  But I got the bright idea for us to head to Chicoutimi, Quebec, a smallish town northeast of Quebec City by a couple hours.  I did the obligatory query to Mr. Google, found several parks there that would generate some steps and allow for a picnic and off we went.

As it turns out, Chicoutimi is a pretty nice place.  They have a boardwalk/park system that runs along the Saguenay fiord that is simply marvelous.  I could have spent several days sketching in this one place alone, but all we did was walk, walk, and then walk some more.

We late lunch at an idyllic park associated with a Chicoutimi landmark.  It sits below “La Maison Blanche,”  no relationship to another White House you might know.  This one is more akin to the Little Engine That Could.  You see, part of Chicoutimi history is a 1996 flood caused by lots of rain, a dam failed and mountains of water flooded into the city, literally removing the core of the town.  The recent floods in Germany are probably a good comparison.

Anyways, for some reason, a tiny house that had sat in the same place for generations remained, by itself, in the middle of the town.  It was damaged but it had survived.

It was decided to restore it as a memorial to the flood and the people who had lived there.  It now sits in its original place, with artificially induced waterfalls on both sides and with water being pumped from the doorway as though it were still being flooded.  Inside is a small museum and overall the place is a delight.

This is another place where one could draw forever but I only had time to do one sketch while we ate lunch in the park below the site.  Hope you like it.