The Vikings Showed Up In Quebec

Some 500 years before Columbus, the Vikings were wandering around what is now the east coast of Canada.  They came by ship of course and some of their descendents decided to make the trip again.  Thirty-six days crossing the Atlantic resulted in them showing up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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They decided to visit Quebec City and they showed up last Friday.  I thought it might be fun to draw the ship so I headed down to the harbor area.  Unfortunately, a lot of other people decided they should go to the harbor area too, armed with cameras, bicycles, strollers, and there was a guy with a wagon.  There were enough people to make it difficult to stick your cell phone in the air to get a shot of the ship without a dozen heads in the picture.  Sitting down to draw the ship caused one to get a great view of a lot of…well, let’s just say the view of the people was lower than those heads.  The best I could do was to stand, actually having to move around to get a glimpse of the nose of the boat as I did this quick sketch of the dragon figurehead.

Field Notes, Platinum 3776

Field Notes, Platinum 3776

Canada’s Population Increases By One

The other day I was annoying at least one person for not being an Facebook because I was out doing other things.  This is what I was doing.  I am now, officially, Canadian.  They gave me a cute little maple leaf pin, taught me the secret handshake and told me that though I was Canadian I wasn’t responsible for Justin Beiber.   We splurged in celebration and had nachos and beer for dinner.

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March Sketchcrawl at Les Collections de l’Université Laval

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Yippee!!!  The Collections de l’Université Laval has reopened following renovations and we’re going to have a sketchcrawl there on Friday, March 11th, starting at 9:30AM.  Don’t miss this one.  Notice that this is a Friday rather than a Sunday.  The collection is not open on Sundays.

Yvan Breton has arranged for us to start the day with a tour of the facility so it’s important for you to be there at 9:30.  If you’re unfamiliar with this collection, it contains the contents of the abandoned Natural History Museum of Quebec and thus contains a large number of stuffed animals and many cultural and anthropological artifacts.  In addition, there is a large plaster cast collection, another wonderful collection that was abandoned by the university fine arts department when they decided that drawing wasn’t nearly as important as being able to use a paint roller (grin).

There will be a LOT to draw so bring a bunch of paper.  You’ll need to bring a lunch as well.  I’m excited.  How about you?  For a complete schedule and directions, go to the Croquistes de Québec website.

 

Stillman & Birn Softcovers: An Exciting Announcement

Via Giphy.com

I am so excited to be writing this post.  As many know, Stillman & Birn, my favorite sketchbook company, released a line of softcover sketchbooks not very long ago.  Sadly, what most also know is that there were manufacturing problems with those books and they had to recall all of them, at great expense, from around the world.  I applauded them for this as it hit their bottom line hard, but they didn’t want we artists to bear the pain of the problem.

Excepting the manufacturing problem, these softcover books looked like a dream come true.  Available in all of Stillman & Birn’s great papers, in a variety of sizes, and with cover colors that reflected the paper type.  The covers had an almost suede-feel to them.  They weighed only 55-65% of the weight of the equivalent hardcover and they were much thinner.  A dream come true for someone like me who carries several sketchbooks and walks a couple hours a day to sketching locations.

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Well, they’re BACK!!!  Or at least almost back.  Stillman & Birn says they should be available ‘real soon’ and they sent me a couple of their prototype books to get my opinion about whether the problems are fixed.

To that I can say, they are fixed and then some.  I’ve gone through both of my prototype books, one page at a time, and the problems we saw with the initial release are gone.  But it’s better than that.  These books lay flatter than their early softcovers and certainly better than the hardcovers.  I didn’t have to bend them backwards as you do with the hardcovers to get them to lay flat.  They just do, though I still recommend going through each page, folding it out flat before using the book.  I do that with any sketchbook, regardless of brand.

As I said, the books they sent me are prototypes.  They came with Delta and Gamma paper so I could check both the 150gsm and 270gsm binding.  The covers are the same material as the production versions but these aren’t color-coded; they’re prototypes.  Still, they are amazing books and I’m downright giddy that I have them to use.  I was planning to get somewhere to do a sketch for this blog post but a snowstorm prevented that.  Truth is, everyone knows how great Stillman & Birn paper is so I decided it was more important to get this announcement into the ether.   So here it is, without a sketch.  Here’s the money shot of the books laying flat. Ain’t they gorgeous?  Coming soon to an art store near you.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.

 

February Croquistes De Quebec Sketchcrawl

It’s hard to find places to hold winter sketchcrawls in Quebec City.  We don’t have an array of museums to choose from so we’ve got to get inventive.  So far, those inventions have been quite successful, mostly because of the participants are so fun to be around.  I think the February event will be even better.

We’re going to meet at Maison Dorion-Coulombe, which is the home of the Riviere St. Charles Society, a group that helps to maintain the 32km long Parc Lineare that runs along the river.  They do great work, including the maintenance of Dorion-Coulombe and the small museum contained within its walls.

We’re fortunate to be invited to hold a sketchcrawl there on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, February 14th.  We’ll meet at 9:30 and get to draw the stuffed animals, plants, and the views of the river and bridge beyond.  We’ll be in the company of a large turtle who smiles a lot as he swims in a large aquarium.  While you can buy coffee and water on site, you need to bring a lunch as there are no restaurants nearby.

One thing we’re going to do a bit different, to add a bit of spice to the event, is to bring along an item or three that people can sketch if they choose to do so.  This is a lot of fun and we encourage you to drop an item into your own bag to bring along.

The last time we did a sketchcrawl at Maison Dorion-Coulombe it was raining and yet it was a fantastic as a sketchcrawl site.  The cold of winter should make drawing in a nice warm environment even more fun.

A Sketcher’s Resolutions

Happy New Year, Everyone

Every year, on January 1st, we’re supposed to make resolutions so that we can break them before the end of the month.  I’ve generally taken issue with this nonsense and last year announced that I wouldn’t be making resolutions.  I’m taking a different approach this year.  Here are my resolutions for 2016.

  • I will sketch almost every day, just like I have for the past four years.
  • I will do as much sketching on location as I possibly can, just like I have for the past four years (at least 90% of my sketching is on location).
  • I will sketch with friends as often as I can coerce them to sketch with me, just as I have for the past four years.
  • I will stubbornly cling to my fountain pens as my principal sketching tools, just as I have for the past four years.
  • I will work hard towards the goal of staying alive for the entire year, just as I have for the last four years.
  • I will look forward to saying that I’ve been sketching for five years, just as I have for the last four years.

Ok…that should be enough.  I am now properly resolved for 2016.  How about you?

Review: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

When I got into sketching, about four years ago, I found it pretty easy to find quality pens, pencils, brushes and watercolors.  What was harder was to find a sketchbook that could accommodate pen, ink and watercolor.  It seemed that I was buying a new sketchbook every week in an attempt to ‘try another’ in my quest for the perfect sketchbook.

My first post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks was in December of 2011.  A few other artists had discovered them and were really excited by them.  I’d just gotten one and was very new to sketching so it was hard for me to evaluate it except to say that I liked it.

My first real discussion of S&B came in March of 2013, after I’d had some time to fall in love with their products.  At that point I’d done a lot of sketching on their Alpha series paper and had just bought one of the Epsilon series sketchbooks.  If you read that post you’ll get the impression that I worked as a sales rep for S&B but I do not.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does this, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I've filled in the past 3 years.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I’ve filled in the past 3 years.  Several others are ‘in progress’.

Since then I’ve been filling S&B sketchbooks at an alarming rate.  I’ve tried not only Alpha and Epsilon papers but also their Beta, Zeta and Gamma sketchbooks.  You can find reviews of these sketchbooks if you search for those words here.  I have a lot of experience with Stillman & Birn products, and I can’t imagine using anything else.

But there’s been one sketchbook format that S&B hadn’t provided me, until now.  I’ve whined to them about it enough that you’d think they would have made some just to shut me up.  It’s a small (3×5) portrait format book that has paper good enough (interpretation = Alpha paper) to accept my scribbles and watercolor smears.  Because this has not been forthcoming from S&B, I’ve been making do with crappy books from the dollar store, Field Notes, small (?) Visual Journals, Moleskines, etc.  At this point I’ve filled 27 of the darned things.  You’d think I’d know how to draw by now with all that scribbling.  Maybe in another 20 years.

S&Bsoftcovers

Anyways, Stillman & Birn has just released the solution to my small sketchbook needs, and then some.  The photo above shows just a few of the many format/paper combinations available in this new series.  All of the S&B’s paper types are available and each has its cover color-coded for that paper type (Alpha = burnt sienna (red?), Beta = blue, Epsilon = gray, Delta = green, Gamma = brown, Zeta = black).  They’re available as 3.5×5.5 and 5.5×8.5 portrait or landscape format and in 8×10 portrait format.

I like the cover material.  It feels almost like leather, though it is obviously not.  It’s stiffer than the Strathmore softcover books, a plus for a street sketcher like me.  The papers are the same great papers you can find in their hardcover books so I’m not going to talk about them.  You can find my opinions by searching for the reviews on this blog but so far I haven’t found any that I don’t like.  I use Alpha and Beta almost exclusively though.

Stillman and Birn have obviously tried to provide lighter and thinner sketchbooks compared to their hardcover books and in that they have succeeded in a big way.  Here are a few comparison numbers:

Hardcover        Softcover

Alpha 5×8       419gm              232gm
Beta 5×8          354gm             267gm

The thickness of a 5×8 Alpha hardcover is 18mm while the Alpha softcover is a svelte 10mm.  In short, these new books are much lighter and thinner than their hardcover counterparts.

3x5portrait

Here is my favorite.  I’m showing it before I took the shrinkwrap off because now that I’ve opened it there is some drool on the front cover.  It’s a small, Alpha-series portrait-format book.   Many who use the Moleskine watercolor books have complained that Moleskine doesn’t produce it in a portrait format.  I used to be one of them, but no more.  I now have my small sketchbook need satiated, or at least it will be when I place an order for a bunch more of these little guys.

Do you need/want the softcover versions of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks?  It depends.  It depends upon whether weight matters to you.  If you carry a single sketchbook and not very far, then giving up those nice hardcover bindings might not make sense.  I carry several sketchbooks and regularly carry them during two-hour walks so cutting the weight nearly in half is a big deal for me.

Are you ever bothered by the thickness of your sketchbook, say when you’re trying to draw along the edge where you have no support for your hand?  Do you wish the book were thinner when trying to draw across the gutter during early or late sections of the book, where one page is bent downward to reach the table due to the thickness of the book?  If these things bother you, maybe having a book that’s half as thick would make you happy.  Beware, though, this comes at a cost.  While the covers reduce the thickness, the softcovers are also made thinner by a reduction of page count (in Alpha the hardcovers have 62 sheets while the softcovers have 48).  I find this a small price to pay to get what I want in the small-size book.

There is one downside to these softcover books.  They use the same double-stitched, glued bindings of their hardcover counterparts and the glue sometimes wicks between the signatures (the small groups of sheets that are folded and sewn together) and they tend to stick the base of the two pages between two signatures together.   I don’t find this to be a problem with Alpha, and probably not with the other 150gsm paper books.  Their pages fold open just fine.  But with the Beta (270gsm) and probably Delta and Zeta books, the paper tends to separate slightly at the gutter when you fold open a section where two signatures come together (6 places in a Beta series book).  This separation is very tight in the gutter of the two-page spread and if you’re working on either side of the gutter, it’s not a problem at all.  But if you want to do a two-page spread, it can create an ugly gutter seam.

I’m thrilled with these new softcovers.  I’ve only drawn a couple things in them thus far but I know the papers well and have documented their use in pretty much all the drawings presented on this blog.  The softcovers, like Stillman & Birn’s hardcover and spiral-bound books, are great options for the urban sketcher or nature journalist.  I feel lucky to live in a time when we sketchers have so many great choices, and all from one company – Stillman & Birn.

New Workshops From Marc Taro Holmes

coverI’ve been a fan of Marc Taro Holmes and his art nearly as long as I’ve been trying to learn how to sketch.  His style is more loose and painterly than most sketching styles and reflects the fact that he’s a formally trained artist.  But as much as I’m a fan of his art, I’ve become more a fan of his teaching abilities.  This came first to me in the form of his The Urban Sketcher, which remains my favorite urban sketching book.

More recently, Marc’s two Craftsy courses, People in Motion and Travel Sketching in Mixed Media exceeded all my expectations for online courses.  Sadly, I find online courses mostly lacking, primarily because they typically assume the student knows nothing and they are filled with yet another description of red/yellow/blue color wheel discussions, what a contour drawing is, and how to hold your pencil in the air to measure things… that I’ve seen over, and over, and over.

Not so when Marc steps onto my computer stage.  He explains his materials and then launches into discussions of drawing and painting that assumes you know that the pointy end goes on the paper.  He does so with clarity that must be experienced.  He assumes you want to draw stuff.  He assumes you want to paint stuff.  And he provides multi-step processes to do both.  There are plenty of other places to learn about the color wheel; you’ll not find such discussions in Marc’s workshops.

Maybe most important is that he not only describes the process but he explains why he does what he does and what he’s thinking as he does it.  He makes it crystal clear what you’re supposed to be learning and why it’s important.  Each time I listen to one of Marc’s workshops I learn something more.

So, I was thrilled to find that Marc, in association with ArtistsNetwork.tv, have released four new workshops:

My understanding is that if you are a paid subscriber to ArtistsNetwork.tv you have access to all four of these workshops as part of your subscription.  They are also available directly from North Light as DVDs or you can buy them as downloads.  I bought two of them via downloads as I’m an instant gratification kind of guy and besides, there’re cheaper that way.

I expected that the concepts Marc teaches in his book and via the Craftsy courses would be the same in these workshops and I was correct.  Any thought that this suggests that they are repetitious, however, would be wrong.  One fundamental difference is that these workshops are done on location, so Marc discusses his urban sketching tactics as well as discussing his 3-step drawing and 3-step painting processes.  Also, because you’re spending so much time with him there are numerous little tips presented as he draws and paints.

Marc's Cemetery paintingThe Drawing and Painting in a Travel Journal workshop takes place in a Cincinnati cemetery/botanical garden and he begins with the major work of the workshop, an old gothic cathedral/mousoleum.  Marc walks us through his three-step drawing process, discussing his motivations and thoughts along the way.  The videography is outstanding with just the right amount of close ups of the drawing while allowing us to see the subject as well.

I particularly liked the painting portion of this as while I’ve seen his tea/milk/honey approach described, here I got to see his actual mixes, what brushes he uses, and how he worked around the painting.  I have a bunch of new things to try and practice.

Once done with this painting, Marc begins to walk the grounds, stopping to do some quicker sketches in an attempt to capture the essence of the place.  At each stop he discusses location sketching, what’s important, and what may be less so.  He sketches statues, monuments, and even the busts of a couple of Cincinnati’s founders.  While his fluency with a pen is humbling, it’s also inspiring.

This workshop runs 100 minutes and in spite of its nearly two-hour length, it seemed to be over too soon.  It’s a workshop that, like his Craftsy videos, I’ll watch several times.

15oct17_artnet_tv_birds_03bI’m one who believes that ‘urban sketching’ isn’t limited to drawing buildings, cars and people, and Marc seems to agree as his Urban Sketching: Bird Drawing takes place at a raptor rehabilitation center.  Marc describes his process of drawing and painting birds using similar techniques to his building and people sketches but here he emphasizes the unique nature of drawing animals, creating textures, capturing moving objects, etc.  Here I feel I got a lot out of Marc’s early pencil organization stages as he indicates not only the shape of the animal but also some of the major shadow shapes.  He draws several poses simultaneously as the bird is in near constant motion and he shows you how to work back and forth between them, ultimately generating a group of poses.  Marc makes this look easy but I find it difficult to shift my brain/eye between poses as the subject moves between them.  But Marc’s workshop should help when I try it again.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to learn from Marc Taro Holmes, do yourself a favor and pay the little bit of money required to gain access to these online workshops.  I’ll leave you with that thought as I’ve got to go buy the other two workshops.

October Croquistes de Quebec Sketchcrawl

I’ve talked about walking along my river, sketching on my river, and seeing ducks and flowers on my river.  It’s not really my river but the St. Charles River passes within a few minute walk of my house and the paths along its banks are a handy way for me to walk downtown, so I spend a lot of time on it.

Where Riviere Lairet exits into Parc Brebeuf

Where Riviere Lairet exits into Parc Brebeuf

The Croquistes de Québec will hold their October sketchcrawl on my river, or rather, at Parc Cartier-Brébeuf, on Sunday, October 11.  Parc Brebeuf is the confluence of the St. Charles and Lariat rivers; the Lariat runs mostly underground these days but is exposed to daylight just before it dumps into the St. Charles.  The park is a famous place as Cartier, explorer extraordinaire for the French government, overwintered (1535) in his ship, back when the St. Charles River was more open to ship traffic.  Now only kayaks and canoes ply its waters.

1st Avenue Bridge, just downstream from Parc Brebeuf

1st Avenue Bridge, just downstream from Parc Brebeuf

The sketchcrawl should be lots of fun so don’t be discouraged by our cooler weather.  Forecasts are for decent sketching weather and Yvan has arranged for us to use the Maison Dorion-Coulombe, which is a beautiful and large house along the banks of the river if you decide it is too cold.

We’ll meet at the usual time (9:30AM) and sketch all day so bring a lunch, a sketchbook, and your favorite pointy device.  Expect to be greeted with smiles.  For more details, head over to the Croquistes de Québec web page.   See you there.

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Monument in Parc Brebeuf