Men Never Know Their Limitations

Clint Eastwood is famous for saying “A man’s gotta know his limitations” but any woman will tell you that men never do.  I am one of those men and, sadly, sometimes I make a fool of myself because of it.  What men are pretty good at doing, however, is hiding the results or so we think, but sometimes it’s cathartic to expose the underbelly and today’s the day.  I’ll start with a story and end with really bad sketches.  I hope you can get a chuckle or two from it.

Tuesday morning I went for a physio treatment.  Right now, going anywhere is exhausting and physio visits even more so.  When I left there all I wanted to do was lie down but instead I went home, grabbed a sandwich, and then headed off to the second meeting of our still life group.  Arriving at the parking lot I realized that I had a “long walk” ahead of me.  It must have been a couple hundred feet to the door and then up a flight of stairs.  With my current hobbled gait, it only took me 10 minutes (grin).

When I got to the room I headed directly to a chair in the corner of the room and flopped into it as though I’d just completed the Boston Marathon.  I sat, looking across the room as everyone else was busy getting out art supplies, organizing their workspaces, and preparing to draw a large flower arrangement.  I just stared across the room.

Then it occurred to me that I was supposed to draw so I got out sketchbook and pen.  I couldn’t really see the flowers from where I was sitting but the thought of moving was unappealing so I started drawing people.  My sketch barely looks like people and my ability to “see like an artist” was lacking that day.  The result I share in the name of humor, not art.

I don’t know how long this took me but I’d guess 10-15 minutes.  It seemed like hours.  When I finished I closed my book, closed my eyes, and started reflecting on what nonsense it was that I was there.  Though we’re slow on the uptake, even we men ‘get it’ sometimes.

But I was there to draw and so I didn’t succumb to rational thought.  Instead, I decided to draw a purse that was sitting on one of the tables.  Again, the sketchbook came out, the pen started scribbling, and this was created.  Another 10 minutes that felt like a couple hours.

At this point I knew the session was near its end so I closed my book and put my pen away.  I looked at my watch.  I’d been there 25 minutes and there was 1 1/2 hours to go.  Not for me.  A man’s gotta know his limitations.  I went home.

Still Life – Urban Sketcher Style

When my knee problem started to limit my walking, I started thinking of alternative ways to feed my penchant for moving pointy devices across paper.  One alternative was to sign up for one of several ateliers offered here by La Collectif, here in Quebec.  These aren’t instructional and mostly about drawing nude models and portraits.  I’m not much interested in that sort of thing but they did have one atelier called Nature Morte (Still Life).

I decided that drawing vegetables and wine bottles would be a lot more fun than sitting on my couch so I signed up.  There are twelve of us in the atelier, which is organized by Celine and Robert Poiré, two of my favorite people in the Collectif so I know it will be fun.  This first week I sort of had to grit my teeth to muddle along because the pain made it hard to concentrate but we had fun nevertheless.  Heck, we were sketching, we couldn’t avoid having fun if we tried.

Here’s my sketch from the session.  I’m not sure that my pen and ink, cartoon style is the best for drawing vegetables and maybe I’ll take some pencils with me next week.

After a short break there was still a few minutes left in the session and others were still finishing up their drawings so I decided to do a quick experiment.  I got a piece of Bristol from my bag and gave myself 2-minutes to capture the same scene I’d just drawn.  I’ll let you assess how I did, but I had a lot of fun doing it.  With the remaining minutes I scribbled out some poor depictions of some of the participants.  Can’t wait for next week.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

St. Charles River Sketching Exposition

I’ve mentioned La Collectif before.  They are a great group of folks who mostly draw portraits and life drawing.  But in recent years they’ve also started holding outdoor sketching events.  These events have gained momentum since Daniel Chagnon took on the job of planning these events.

This year, he scheduled a series of events along the St. Charles River with the goal of having an exposition of those works later in the year.  Sadly, several of them got rained out but persistence paid off and a bunch of sketches were done.  That exposition happened last week at the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the headquarters for the Parc linéaire de la Rivière-Saint-Charles, the group that promotes activities in the 32km long park through which the river flows.

The exhibition runs from Sep 5th through the 17th but the vernissage, where the artists were present, was held last Saturday.  We were all supposed to come and sketch and generally enjoy the day.

I confess that I’ve been a bit antisocial lately because my knee is providing me with a steady dose of pain that puts me in a bad mood generally.  I even thought about not going, but I did and I’m glad I did.

I don’t have much in the way of sketches to show you.  I sat on the porch and drew the sign in front of the house.  By then, most of the group were circled around a willing model and they were drawing his portrait.

The closest I got to that exercise (my least favorite subject) was to draw one of the sketchers, who was slumped down in her chair, perfectly relaxed and doing her thing.

As always, when I’m around sketchers, I spent more time talking than I should have if sketching was the goal, but sometimes it isn’t.

 

Fresh Air On Ile d’Orleans

This time of year the temperatures cool (most of our days don’t get above 20C) and day length is shorter.  We become aware that soon we’ll be cooped up in our houses except for when we have to go out to shovel snow.

And so we take advantage of any good weather day and play outdoors.  For Chantal and I that generally means a couple trips to Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City which is largely inhabited by farmers and cows.  Specifically, head to a cafe on the south side of the island where we can eat brioche, drink good coffee, and breath clean air as we look out over the St. Lawrence River.

And that’s what we did last weekend.  Coffee and brioche were fantastic as always and, just as ‘as always’, after we’d sat for a while we decided to drive around the island.  We headed east and ended up in St. Francois, one of six small towns on the island.  The highlight there is a little candy store, though on this trip we avoided it.  Instead we parked in a parking lot next to the church, sat on a bench, and drew what was in front of us.  This is what it looked like.

We drove on, stopped at a park on the east end of the island.  There’s a very tall tower here that, if you climb to the top, provides a fantastic view eastward along the St. Lawrence.  We didn’t climb it because, right now, my right knee and ankle aren’t being very cooperative.  Instead, we got back in the car and headed for a place with the name Maison des nos Aieux.  There is a large cathedral in front of this place but the “maison” refers to a large house that sits on a bunch of land that’s been turned into a park and flower garden.  The “aieux” refers to the fact that the place is to honor the original inhabitants of the island and there’s a large monument with their names on it.  We like to stop there because it’s so peaceful to just sit on one of the many benches and breathe some more clean air.  I’ve sketches several things here but today I got fascinated by a simple water spigot, which suited the short time frame we were there.  Sometimes simple is just right and this was one of those cases.  A fitting end to a great day.

Rubbing Shoulders With Poets

Sketching is better
When you are with good people
Poets are the best

As you can see, my haiku skills are not the best.  The same cannot be said for the very talented haikuistes I met recently when they came together with sketchers for a wonderful, mixed-media creative day.

The idea for this venture came from Mark Brennan, the cemetery director of Mt Herman cemetery.  He contacted me and the haiku group leaders and began to pull together the details of a truly unique event.  The basic idea was that we sketchers would start sketching and the haikuistes would draw inspiration from our sketching the subjects of our sketching or some combination of the two.

We arrived at the cemetery in the morning, said hi and chatted as we waited for everyone to get there.  Then Mark explained what we were going to do, enticed us with the promise of soup for lunch, and in the photo he’s showing us where the bathroom was (grin).  Once fully informed, off we went, a bunch of creative people enjoying the day and each other.

  There we twenty of us involved.  I believe the haikuistes outnumbered sketchers, but it didn’t seem to matter.

I guess I was feeling lazy this day, or maybe the pain in my knee was talking, but I decided to draw only paces away from the site of the photo.  I decided to draw the cemetery admin building.

I was happy with my sketch but the time passed too quickly.  It really needs shadows to bring it to life.  But it was time for lunch and sharing.

We gathered inside where Mark had provided chairs and soup and we couldn’t have been be more content.   This was where the unique nature of the event took place.  We’d show a sketch and pass it around the room.  While that was happening, haikuistes read poems they’d written.  Bringing these two creative forms together was really special and I hope we can do it again sometime.  Thanks to Mark for his hard work bringing together and to all the participants who made it such a great day.

 

Sketching During A Perfect Storm

I bet you think I was calling Irma a perfect storm.  Naw…it was a large storm.  People use the term “perfect storm” to refer to several things coming together to create more than the sum of the parts.

What I’m referring to is a storm like that.  My right knee was frozen up so that going out sketching was out of the question yesterday.  At the same time, Irma, the great liberal hoax, was raising havoc on the people of Florida.  Add to that my wife’s fascination with watching people stand in the rain while saying the same things over and over and over… and you have my personal perfect storm.

While I always like watching journalists make fools of themselves in these storms, I can only handle so much and eventually I got bored.  I decided to quick-sketch the crazies, standing in the wind and rain while talking about how hurricanes work.

So I started doodling.  I was using my new Kaweco Lilliput pen.  I loved the young woman in the red coat.  She was standing in heavy rain and 100 mph winds.  She held one hand up against her face to keep the rain from stripping the skin off her face and her shoulders were scrunched up tight around her neck.  Of all the people (mostly guys) who were doing this gig during the day, she was the more sane of the bunch.

I kept doodling.  The guy in the orange jacket had his arm wrapped around a railing to keep himself from being blown away.  I started being bored by weather people, or maybe I was always bored with weather people, so I drew a couple pine trees.

I continued to doodle but lost interest in the hurricane coverage as a subject.  I started drawing steeples and such from memory/imagination.  Here’s a few of them. I really am enjoying this pen for small pen and ink drawings.

I then turned my attention to a small (about 6″ tall) statue of a sitting Samurai warrior.  I had fun drawing pieces of him.  He was more fun than weather people.  Probably smarter too.

Sketching With A Brush

A few weeks ago I spent some time with Marc Taro Holmes and we talked a lot about sketching directly with brush, skipping pointy devices completely and jumping directly to a fuzzy stick.  I even tried it that day and only moderately failed at it (grin).

Those small experiments told me several things.  The first was that I had little control over a paint brush.  After some analysis I think the problem is that I’m trying to draw with it like a pen, at too low an angle, and I lose control over line width.  I also learned that I had no feel for paint thickness and when drawing you can’t rely upon thin washes to get the job done.

So I went away intrigued but also a little frustrated.  I also felt challenged to gain better control over my watercolors, something I’ve been wanting to do anyway.  I’ve spent some time mixing, drawing lines, experimenting with brush angles, etc. and it’s been a fun adventure.  That’s a good thing because I’ve got to do a lot more of it before I’ll be able to draw directly with paint.

I was out for a walk, though, and decided to give the method a try with one of my favorite steeples in downtown Quebec City.  Accomplished artists won’t think much of this as it lacks crispness and precision.  But I was pleased with this simple sketch as it suggests I’m making progress.  I have to confess, however, that I doubt this will become my way of working for the simple reason that I love drawing with my pens and don’t want to give it up.  It is a wonderful way of getting me closer to watercolors and forcing me to stop viewing them like crayons.

USK Montreal Sketchcrawl

Sometimes timing is perfect and we were moving our daughter to Montreal on the same weekend as the USK Montreal sketchcrawl at the Maison des Éclusiers.  So, between the back and forth between Ottawa and Montreal, the up/down elevators with countless boxes, and exciting activities like unboxing, cleaning and hanging drapes, I got to go to the event.

The venue was great.  During the introduction Jane Hannah provided a long list of places and things to sketch in the area and then we all dispersed, like a bunch of young kids, excited to find the “best” spot.  Turned out, the head count revealed 60 participants.

The Maison des Éclusiers, or as others call it the Marché des Éclusiers is a place along the harbor where boats enter the Lachine Canal (an éclusier is a guy who manages the locks on the canal).  Where they go I do not know as I was busy meeting people, sketching, and generally just wandering around, gathering information for future trips to the area.  The place is set up as a tourist/local eatery/relax area, complete with restaurants, coffee house, and lots of benches and grassy areas.

I chose to draw a large house (castle?) from one end of it, mostly because there was a nice picnic bench in the shade that afforded a good view.  In hindsight, I don’t feel I ever completed this sketch as I just sort of quit near the bottom of it.  I guess I got bored or wanted to talk to some more people.

From there I just started wandering around.  I wanted to meet some of the sketchers and see what they were up to.  Lots of talent in this group and, because I hope to be returning regularly, I wanted to start establishing some relationships, though I struggle with trying to remember everyone’s name.  Eventually I sat down with Diane Gauthier and her friend Lyse (sp?).  I’d met Diane when I was in Montreal to meet Koosje Koene of Sketchbook Skool, who was visiting.  It was almost time for lunch and they let me share their picnic bench.

I decided I wanted to draw the crane on the other side of the river.  It was a goofy subject, if only because it was so far away and it didn’t provide a nice scene.  Undaunted, I decided to draw a street lamp in the foreground to improve things a bit.  I was only partially successful but here are the results.

We chatted for a while, I ate sloppy tacos, but by then it was time for me to leave.  There were still things to do back at the apartment so I had to leave before the group meeting at the end of the sketchcrawl.  Nevertheless, it was a fantastic day and, to quote Arnold, “I’ll be back!”

Kaweco Lilliput – A Sketching Pen?

My new favorite store is Notabene, in Montreal.  I’ve talked about it before but today I want to show you a pen I bought there back when Liz Steel came to Montreal.  It’s the Kaweco Lilliput in aluminum.  You can buy it in brass and, I think, copper but the aluminum one is so light that I just had to go down that road as it suits my arthritic hands better.

To look at it though, you have to wonder whether such a tiny pen could be useful for sketching.  I’m here to suggest that it has both advantages and disadvantages as a sketching pen, but I’ll sort of give away the punch line by saying that I’ll probably be using this one a lot this winter.

Size

When it’s closed up, it’s really tiny, measuring only 95mm long and about 7mm in diameter.  Drop it in your pocket and you won’t even know it’s there, which can be good or bad depending on your view.

When open, however, it’s every bit as long as a Lamy Safari so you feel like you’re holding a real pen, which you are.

While the Safari weights 18g, the Lilliput weighs only half that (9g).  A feature I like as a street sketcher is the ability to post the cap and the Lilliput allows that like a champ since there are threads that let you screw the cap to the end of the pen.  Works great every time.

Ink storage

This is an area where pros and cons are dependent upon a person’s needs.  The Lilliput takes standard pen cartridges.  This translates directly to having a large number of inks available from a number of manufacturers.  Kaweco themselves make a bunch of them, including a really nice black and an equally nice gray that I’ve tried so far.  The downside of standard cartridges is that they hold less ink than, say Platinum or Pilot cartridges. Another downside of standard cartridges is that none of the truly waterproof inks come in that size cartridge, though aside from Platinum, that’s true for all of the cartridge formats on the market.

Kaweco makes a converter for this pen but by all accounts it’s a miserable design that doesn’t work well and actually holds less ink than do the cartridges.  I don’t find any of this a drawback as I can fill standard cartridges with any ink using a pen syringe, which is how I fill all of my pens anyway.

So how does it perform?

I bought the fine nib.  Kaweco also sells it with heavier nibs and even an extra-fine nib that is so fine that I didn’t see it as practical.  Here’s a quick comparison of Kaweco fine and a Lamy Safari extra-fine.  I tried hard to get this graphic to display in the size/contrast of the actual linework but I suspect it will display on most computer screens larger than it exists on paper.  Performance while inverted is excellent, by the way, and it doesn’t seem to dry up like many pens when used in this way.  You can see that Kaweco Fine nibs are fine, like most Asian fine nibs.

I started using this pen with a Kaweco Stormy Grey cartridge.  I decided that it wasn’t dark enough to make me happy so I switched to Kaweco Pearl Black.  Both of these inks performed well in the pen, though I noticed that the pen writes a bit drier than my Platinum and Pilot pens.

Then I filled a cartridge with Platinum Carbon Black.  This worked ok for a while but fairly quickly, the dry-writing fine nib and pigmented ink combination created some starting problems, though once started it seemed to work ok.  I really hate that, though, so I don’t find PCB a suitable ink for this pen.

I’ve tried my diluted version of DeAtramentis Document Black ink and that works great.  Just for this review, I ran some Noodlers Black through the pen.  This works fine too for those of you who find that ink suitable for sketching.

What I really like about the pen is the ability to start a sketch with very light, sometimes intermittent lines if I use a very light touch, and then, as the sketch develops, I can add emphasis and contrast by applying a bit of pressure.  Coupled with its light feel, it’s ideal for quick-sketching people.

So, is it a good sketching pen?  If you love big, heavy pens, absolutely not.  If you absolutely need to use Platinum Carbon Black rather than alternatives, I don’t think so.  If it’s going to be your only pen, probably not.  But this pen is now part of my arsenal because of its light weight and small size and because it opens into a full-size pen that feels good in my hand.  Here is a doodle page from my testing.