Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

Road Trip To Montreal – Part Two

I met Marc Taro Holmes on day two of my Montreal trip at the Pointe a Calliere.  This is primarily and archeology museum, built on top of a large excavation of early Montreal habitations.  We were there to sketch in a natural history exhibition that’s going on now.

I admit that I was tired from the day before.  Now that I’m officially old I don’t hold up like I used to but I was excited to sketch some animals. We wandered around, looked at everything and then I started drawing this spoonbill.  It was a magnificent specimen.  I tried the ‘draw fast’ approach and that cost me some accuracy but I was pleased by the result.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black

I was getting tired and Marc graciously agreed to walking across the street so I could sit, drink some coffee and have a muffin.  That was fun and I needed it, but eventually we headed back to capture some more of the museum.

I decided to press the ‘draw fast’ method even more and tried to capture a bunch of birds on one page.  I felt I’d went too small and I certainly drew too fast, but I had fun doing these quick captures.  Maybe this will help me sketch pigeons on the street this summer.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black

Unfortunately I was running out of gas and just couldn’t bring myself to start another sketch.  I decided at that point that I was done for the day and so I said goodbye to Marc and headed off to meet my daughter.  I’m not sure that ‘draw fast’ is for me.  Maybe I’m destined to forever be a slow sketcher.

Family Day At Cap Tourmente

The Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area is a great place to get out into nature.  It’s a place with lots of short hiking trails through several habitats and, if you go during the week and outside ‘goose season’ it’s largely devoid of humans so it’s QUIET.  We city-dwellers don’t get quiet anymore and I think it affects us more deeply than we think..if we think about it at all.

I mentioned goose season.  Cap Tourmente is a major stop-over area for migrating geese.  In October/November and thousands of geese aggregate there during their journey south.  It’s pretty cool to see them turn a marsh white with their presence and fill the sky in squadron-like fashion.  But geese bring with them hundreds of humans, filling over-flow parking lots with their pollution devices and that pretty much ruins the experience for me.

But on this day, we were there on a Monday, out of season.  The day was delightful.  We watched a lot of young hummingbirds at feeders, enjoyed the presence of a young porcupine, saw egrets, blue herons, marsh and red-tail hawks, and we even saw the Perigrine Falcons that nest in the cliffs that overlook the refuge.  They told us to beware of bears but the only ones we saw were on the beware of bear signs on the garbage cans.

It wasn’t a sketching day but I couldn’t resist the urge so I did this little landscape while wife and daughter were off investigating the building featured in this sketch.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Esterbrook J9550

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Esterbrook J9550

We stopped for lunch and sat near the information center because there is a gaggle of picnic tables there and we were the only ones using them besides a few tussock moth caterpillars.

Once we were sufficiently nourished we decided to head out in the opposite direction, but I spent 2-3 minutes doing this really quick sketch of a copse of trees.  Not much but it was still good fun.  The washable ink made it even more fun/quick.

Mostly, this day allowed us to fill up on quiet and that’s worth doing.  Give it a try, it’s refreshing, particularly during an election year.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5x5.5)

Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5×5.5), Pilot Metropolitan, J.Herbin Cacao de Brezil washable ink.

Speed Dating – Sketcher Style

I’ve mentioned that I’m in an experiment mood these days and with the Nouvelle France Festival event coming up (the equivalent of duck hunting for a sketcher, with lots of targets that are all moving too fast) I was walking along my river (riviere St. Charles in Quebec City) pondering how “extreme” the sketching is at that event.  I was remembering how last year I had a great time but went home with lots and lots of bad and incomplete sketches, though I think I did post one or two.

2015-08-05-15minutes3Anyways, as I was thinking about this I arrived at the Palais du justice de Quebec, or rather Le parc de l’Amerique-Latine that sits between the court building and the river.  This park is filled with statues and busts of some of the ‘greats’ of Latin America.  I know almost none of them, but as a sketcher, I’d drawn several of them.

It occurred to my aging and weary brain that I could use this cluster of targets for rapid fire target practice, sketcher style.  Sort of training for the Nouvelle France event.  Yeah…I know…you’re right.  But as Steve Martin used to say, “I’m a wild and crazy guy!”

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I decided to give myself fifteen minutes to draw as many of the busts as I could, using only a pointy device and sketchbook.  No arms tied behind my back to make it hard and no need for camouflage to sneak up on the targets.  Nope, just me, my fountain pen and fifteen minutes.  I set a timer on my phone and got to work…frantic work, at least for me as I’m very much a plod along sketcher.  Precious seconds were wasted walking between targets and setting up my tripod stool.  I need more training as a tripod setter-upper.

2015-08-05-15minutes1I finished a third bust at 14 minutes so used the last minute to draw an extra eye, at a more leisurely pace.  It was an interesting and fun exercise.  I hope it’ll help me be successful when Festivale de Nouvelle France rolls around.  Do you do crazy stuff like this?

Sketching At The Mt. Herman Cemetery

Last Saturday our sketching group, Le Collectif, held a sketching event at the Mt. Herman Cemetery.  It’s located just south of Sillery and stretches down to the cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence.  This cemetery is nearly 200 years old, and contains, mostly, the remains of British, Scottish, and Irish people who did much to grow Quebec into what it is today.   And as you wander the rolling hills of the cemetery, below its canopy of old maples, ashes, and elms, you can’t help but be drawn to the names on the headstones, many dating to the middle of the 19th Century.

It must have been the case that marble was a lot cheaper back then than it is now as there’s a lot of it in this cemetery.  Tall, statuesque monuments, requiring a team of people to put in place, have stood for 100 years or more and they provide enduring symbols of what materials and craftsmanship can accomplish.

Our trip coincided with a memorial/commemoration of the retirement of the last of five Treggetts, that have acted as directors of the cemetery.  This was a bonus on the day as I got to meet Mark Brennan, the new director, his right hand, Maureen, and several other fine people who didn’t seem put off by my poor French and even allowed me to speak some English.  Oh…and they gave use cookies and coffee.

Mt Herman cemetery scene

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

But it was sketching we came for so it was sketching we did.  The morning was cold, wet and windy so actually sitting down to sketch was a struggle, and bordering on foolhardy.  Ultimately I came across this scene and set about putting pen to paper.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of scenes like this so I hope to do more sketching here before it becomes too cold for outdoor sketching.

Mt Herman headstone (1871)

Moleskine watercolor book (3×5), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbn Black

The cold morning fatigued me and it was hard to get onto the next sketch so I was slow in doing so.  Besides, the other sketchers were scattered around the grounds and I wanted to say hi and see what others were doing.  I’m nosey that way.  So, I did a lot of walking instead of sketching and it was fun.  I did sketch this headstone, dated 1871.

Mt Herman cemetery headstone

Moleskine watercolor book, Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Fernande, my regularly sketching partner was there and we ate lunch together and chatted about the day.  By then the sun had come out and it sort of revitalized us a bit.  After this late lunch we started looking around for something that plucked at our 2PM sensibilities and I found it in this modest headstone, made of large, cast stones with a Celtic circle and plaque attached to it.  I found three in the cemetery that used similar construction, though each was unique.  I’m doing the ink-sketch-a-day event that’s going on right now so I approached this as an ink-only sketch, including a lot more hatching than I would normally add.  Then I decided to add some color anyway.

By the time we finished it was time to head up for the memorial.  Sadly, the time we were given for this was 3PM but by 2:40, when we arrived, the service was over.  We were, however, in time for coffee, cookies, and comraderie with some very fine folks.  Thanks, Mark and Maureen.  We had a great day.