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

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.

 

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