Relaxing In St. Simeon

Late in August most of the lockdown stuff was over.  We’re still wearing masks because we’re not idiots, but back then we were like bears poking our head out of the cave, unsure if we wanted to come out.  Being a bit apprehensive about traveling anywhere, but also feeling like most and wanting a change from being sequestered at home, we decided to take a trip.

We didn’t need or want a big “see the sites” trip and most tourist things were shut down anyway, so we decided to go somewhere and sit, without our computers, without TV, and without an agenda.  I even made the decision to limit my sketching during the trip.

We chose St. Simeon, Quebec because there isn’t ANYTHING in St. Simeon except a coastline along the beginnings of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  When I say there isn’t anything I really mean it.  No good restaurants, no coffee shops, no nothing.  But we did have a hotel that looked out on the water and it was quiet enough.  We drove up a valley that holds the Black River and did a bit of sitting by the river.  I spent half an hour making a sketch of the tree-lined roadway.  I had a lot of fun doing it but I can’t show it to you.  I’d forgotten what a spiral-bound sketchbook can do to a pencil drawing and the sketch has become a cloud of smeared graphite.

On another day, however, we went to “Port au Persil,” which is a small town with a gorgeous cove area and a pier where you can sit and watch whales.  I got to see my first beluga whale which was exciting.  Actually, we saw lots of them during our trip.  By whale standards they’re quite small but they’re snow white and gorgeous.  My sketchbook came out around the cove though.  The cove is full of rounded sandstone rocks and I couldn’t resist.  This reflects those formations.

Mostly, though, we sat on the balcony of our hotel, or walked along the beach.  This involved a lot of whale watching, some beer drinking and a lot of salsa and chips.  It was delightful.  I decided that I should try to paint the coastline and I’m afraid I let the paint get away from me a bit but I’ll share it anyway.

The trip was a big success.  It seems that doing nothing appeals to both of us and we felt great as we headed for home.  I need to spend more time doing nothing.

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.

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.