First Museum Sketching Session Of 2013

Winter is descending upon us quickly.  It actually snowed yesterday, though it’s still not cold enough to stick around.  That will happen soon enough.  There’s still the occasional day when I can brave the temperatures and sketch outdoors, as long as I don’t do it for very long.

So I’m in the middle of summer-to-winter sketching transition.  I’m warming up my watercolor pencils for visits to museums but, for the moment, the watercolors are close at hand for when its possible to use them.  I’m getting out my heavy coats, hats and gloves, for the walks to those museums and I’ve buffed up my winter boots.

It’s all sort of depressing when I think about it.  I try hard not to but the short day lengths are a constant reminder of what the next five months will bring.  We’re down to ten-hours of daylight and by the time we get to mid-December, we’ll be in the dark for all but eight hours of every day.  I guess it could be worse; I could live in Finland.  Those guys have really short days.

And that reminds me, I had to get new batteries for my museum light.  A light is a requirement for sketching in our museums as while the subjects are lit, the rooms have subdued lighting.  I use a Mighty Bright book light that clips to my sketchbook and it works great.

2013-10-26GillesCharron_72The light and the rest of my materials showed up at the Musee de la Civilisation last Saturday.  I was with them.  I was there to meet three other sketchers and to sketch in the warmth and comfort of a great museum.

When I arrived they were checking in.  Gilles wasn’t yet a member of the museum (a real bargain for a sketcher in a cold place – I went there over 50 times last winter) and he was filling out the form to become one.  I sat down and quickly sketched him.  We all chuckled over the result and headed to the exhibits.

The new big exhibit is Paris, 1889-1914.  At that time, Paris was a hotbed of technical achievement in addition to its famous art and cabaret communities.  Paris hosted the worlds fair in 1889 and in 1900, a time when things like telegraph and electricity generation and uses were still novelties.  This exhibit reflects this, with a mixture of art (eg – Rodin sculptures and a lot of paintings of Paris), lots of material from stage, screen and cinema, early bicycles, steam-powered cars, and a lot of different electrical gizmos and gadgets.  In short, there’s lots of stuff to sketch.

I’d met two of the sketchers at our recent sketchcrawl and as this was the first time to be sketching in a smaller group with them, we (well, I mean I) spent a lot more time talking than I did sketching.  We had a lot of fun talking about materials, what winter sketching in Quebec is like, and just a bunch of general chit-chat.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9), Pilot Prera F, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9), Pilot Prera F, Platinum Carbon Black ink

My plan was to sketch three things on two pages and knit them together into a ‘journal’ page as this is an area I want to experiment with more.  Sadly, I only managed to get two sketches finished so the page isn’t quite what I had planned, but here it is in any case.  Hope you like it.  I hope the four of us can get back to the museum real soon.

Happy Halloween, Everyone

I’m not a big holiday celebration kind of guy but when I was out walking I saw this small cluster of pumpkins, put on a doorstep in honor of Halloween.  So, here’s my attempt at being in the Halloween spirit.


This sketch was fun to do in a Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9) with a Pilot Prera and Platinum Carbon Black.

Pre-hibernation Behavior Of A Quebec Sketcher

I think this may be my last outdoor sketch of the year.  I was out this morning.  The temperature was 3-4 C and it was windy.  I did the basics of this sketch as quickly as my slow hand allowed.  It’s a tiny, old ‘casse-croute’ (typically this means they sell fries and poutine) on Dorchester street.

By the time I had the structure drawn, I was frozen so I headed to the library, which was nearby.  I’d snapped a photo of the building and used it to add details and color.  I think this marks the beginning of indoor season for me.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

Sketchcrawl Sketches And Then Some

We held our fall sketchcrawl last Saturday and I reported on it on Monday.  The post was getting so packed with graphics that I decided not to post the sketches I did during the sketchcrawl.

I did do a couple, however.  Being a fan of mundane urban accessories, I decided to draw one of a dying breed of accessory, the phone booth.  It was convenient as it was situated at the meeting place for the sketchcrawl so I could sketch and still meet people as they arrived.  I learned this trick from my buddy Yvan.  I did it in a Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9) using a Pilot Prera and Platinum Carbon Black ink.  I found that I’d forgotten my watercolors so I did the color with Faber-Castell “Albrecht-Durer watercolor pencils.  I like these as a substitute for watercolors because I can completely eliminate the lines made by the pencil.

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-PhoneBooth_72In front of the Farmer’s Market was a large pile of pumpkins, stacked on hay bales.  I drew a portion of those in my Singapore special toned-brown sketchbook that was sent to me by Patrick Ng.  I’m still learning how to work with this paper but I’m really enjoying it.  I used the Pilot Prera and watercolor pencils on this one as well.

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-Pumpkins_72I thought I’d throw in a couple other sketches I’ve done recently.  The garage sits at the end of a little park I sit in while waiting for a study group I run to convene.  I don’t think I ever posted it.  It was done in a 3×5 Moleskine watercolor book.

2013-10-09GarageWhen I was doing that sketch, they were tearing up the street in front of the park.  By the next week they were ready to re-pave it and they’d just finished laying new curbing along its length.  To do that, it seems, they had to remove the fire hydrant, which was hanging from a mechanized shovel.  I’m a fire hydrant afficionado and this was akin to a bird-watcher seeing a rare bird.  I had to sketch this and so I did, in my Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9) with my Pilot Prera.  This was the tenth fire hydrant sketch I’ve done and certainly the most unique.

2013-10-02HangingHydrant_72Hope you enjoy these.  I sure had fun creating them. — Larry

Tea Time In Quebec City

I became officially old last Sunday.  The significance of this is that my bus pass is now less expensive and I’ll pay $2 less for a ticket to a Capitales baseball game.

But, we had a wild celebration of the event anyway.  I was served a nice brunch, prepared by my wife and daughter.  We talked about lots of stuff, most of it not too important.  And then my wife suggested we go for a walk.  Maybe 65 steps, she said, in celebration.  We concluded that 6500 steps might be a somewhat more reasonable length for a celebratory walk.

And so we set out for our 6500 step walk.  We had a great time, though it was a bit windy and one hat nearly ran away on us.  But we passed by the art store, where I bought a tube of Quin. Gold and we continued onward…step…step…step.

We decided to stop and have a pot of tea at Camelia Sinensis, our favorite tea house.  The life of a sketcher’s wife is hard.  As the tea arrived I said, “I should draw that”, pointing at the tea service.  She patiently agreed and spent the next ten minutes watching me quickly sketch the service.  The pot only left the tray once as I sketched it and as she refilled her cup.  I’m sure she was thinking “what I put up with…sheez” and at the same time I was thinking, “I’d better hurry up before she thinks I’m ignoring her.”    Such is wedded bliss.

2013-10-20TeaService_72So here it is, my more than a little bit wonky sketch of a Camelia Sinensis tea service.  My first day of being old was a good one and, by the way, we made 9300 steps during that walk.

41st Worldwide Sketchcrawl – Quebec City

This is the second year that we’ve done the October worldwide sketchcrawl.  It’s a challenge for us because, by this time of year, it’s generally pretty darn cold.  Last year I learned a new French word – frissoner – which means to shiver.  So, only the intrepid among us are up for outdoor sketching in October.

This year was a bit different and our weather on Saturday was really pretty nice… for us.  You can see that we’re not wearing shorts and t-shirts,

Coatsbut Robert and Celine are merrily sketching a large building that sits high on a cliff above the Farmer’s Market, the site of our sketchcrawl.  Celine even manages to sketch while wearing these,

Gloveswhich is something I’ve never managed to do.  We made up for a lack of temperature with an abundance of laughter, talking, and sketching.  It was a great day and by my count, we had 14-15 people in attendance.  I remember, during the planning of our first sketchcrawl (June 2012), we wondered whether anyone would show up at all.  We’ve come a long way.

I did get to do some sketching and had great fun doing it but the most fun was talking with several of the newcomers to our ranks who were interested in my use of watercolor pencils (Faber-Castell Albrecht-Durer) and wondered what sketchbooks I used (Stillman & Birn).  We chatted about sketching in general, about having sketchcrawls more regularly, where to sketch during the Quebec winter, and a lot of other things.  This was a sharp contrast to my more typical loner stalking of sketching subjects in Quebec City.

Gilles Charron was one of the guys at his first sketchcrawl.  He’s been a watercolorist for a while and lamented that he should have been drawing more.  He made up for lost time, though, doing these two sketches during the event.  Aren’t they great?

Croquis 1_Gilles Charron Croquis 2_Gilles Charron





Yvan Breton and Celine Poulin organized the event and a big thank you is launched in their direction.  I don’t have a photo of Yvan at this event but his art speaks volumes about his talent.  I do have a photo of both Celine and her artistic talent.









I think I’ll skip posting my own sketches from the day as this post is filling up fast.  Maybe I’ll post them tomorrow.  For now, I leave you with a look at the art and faces of some of my friends

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-41stSketchcrawland some of the sketches they did during our sketchcrawl.  Thanks to all the participants; you made the day very special.

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-LucienSketch Bethann Claudette Legumes poirief Robert_piments Robert_Seminaire

Art Deco Period Houses in Quebec City

One of the things I love about Quebec City is that there is an obvious location of the founding period of the city.  Our “old city” is a UNESCO Heritage site, as it is the oldest walled city in North America, officially founded in 1608.  The history is rich and evident.

And as Quebec City grew, people moved beyond the walls and the city spread outward as lava flows from a volcano.  This outward movement was limited by the St. Lawrence River to western and northwestern expansion.  The result of this slow expansion is a “map” of how architectural trends changed over the years from 1600 to the present and, as a sketcher, it can be examined much as an archeologist examines layers of rock.

I’ve spent most of my time sketching inside the old city, as the architecture there is both early and a combination of French and British influences.  But, if one wanders away from the walls of old Quebec by just a few kilometers, one hits the motherlode of Art Deco architecture.  Bay windows and corner towers give way to rounded walls, flat roofs, and frosted glass decorations – a completely different world from the French architecture of our Chateau Frontenac, the architectural symbol of Quebec City.

Here’s my first art deco house sketch but it won’t be my last.  I love the cobblestone-like rounded wall and the door.  I’m looking forward to mining the art deco layer of our architectural history.  Sketching in Quebec City is exciting and fun.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6 landscape) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6 landscape) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Quebec City Street Scenes

Quebec City, particularly the older parts of the city, has many street scenes that are worthy of a sketcher’s time.  Often the streets are narrow and the buildings are connected to one another.

These form great urban scenes and the only thing that limits a sketcher is time and the place to sit while doing the sketch.  Time, scene and place to sit came together and I sketched this autumn scene.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9); Pilot Prera w/Platinum Carbon Black ink

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9); Pilot Prera w/Platinum Carbon Black ink

Location Sketching On Ile d’Orleans

“In 1814 we took a little trip,
along with Colonel Jackson
down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon,
and we took a little beans,
and we fought the bloody British
in a town called New Orleans.”

These lyrics, sung long ago by Johnny Horton, tell of the final battle of the War of 1812 where Americans defeated a British invasion force.  The song was a big hit when I was a kid and every time I head to Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans that song rattles around in my brain.  Truth is, the French had their own battle against a British invasion and Wolfe, the leader of that invasion force, nearly died when his ship ran aground just off the coast of the island, and within cannon distance of the French forces.

But war is not the topic of today’s post.  Rather, it is about a trip I took recently to Ile d’Orleans to sketch.  I use ‘trip’ loosely as it takes all of fifteen minutes to get there as you can see Ile d’Orleans from Quebec City and vice versa.  Going to the mall takes longer.

Ile d’Orleans is a big island in the St. Lawrence River, just as it widens from its narrowest point, at Quebec City, on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.  There are six municipalities on the island, though I have a hard time determining where one begins and another ends.  What I know is that the island is gorgeous and I love my time there.  A lot of vegetable and fruit growing goes on, and it’s a very popular tourist location.

I’ve sketched on the island but I’ve never gone there alone, with the singular goal of sketching.  This day, I was on a mission.  The sun was out, I had sketchbooks a plenty, and I’d arranged to have our car for the day.  I arrived on the island about 8:45 and drove to the backside of the island to a pier that juts out into the St. Lawrence.  I discovered it when I was with my buddy Nicolas and we were like a couple kids, chasing the Queen Elizabeth II as she passed along the southern coast of the island on her approach to Quebec City.


Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

I walked out onto the pier, set up my stool and began sketching.  You know what?  Sun doesn’t help much when there’s a 20-30km/h wind blowing across a large body of water and its hyper-cooled air is cutting you in half.  I was COLD!!!  At one point I went back and sat in the car for a while to warm up but, finally I finished the sketch.  I was a bit too much in a hurry, do you blame me, and ended up with some paint blooms in the foliage because my previous wash wasn’t yet dry, but them’s the breaks.

I was really cold when I finished and so headed for a place I knew that serves wonderful brioche and good, hot coffee.  Unfortunately, the winds had blown out their electricity – no coffee.  So, I bought a brioche and sat in the car, with the heater running, to warm up.


Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

Across the street from the café is a church and a cemetery.  I keep telling myself that I should draw more in cemeteries as I love the shapes of the grave stones and their helter-skelter orientations, probably caused by the annual freezing and thawing of the ground.  I found a view I liked, went back to the car to get my stuff and I was soon sitting in the cemetery sketching.  This was a little better as there was a stone wall around the area that broke some of the wind.  I was only semi-frozen when I finished this one.

I was getting ready to leave.  Actually I was turning around in the church parking lot when my eye caught a “Privé” sign and a lamp post.  I love to have such things in my sketches and so I decided to sketch this scene.  Once again, however, I would be fully-exposed to that darn wind coming off the St. Lawrence.  I am old but even I can learn new tricks.  I positioned the car so I could sketch while sitting inside.  About halfway through I was wishing I had a hacksaw to eliminate the steering wheel but it worked out ok once I got the hang of it.


Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

There’s so much to sketch on the island that I could go there every day and not get bored.   In another couple weeks the trees should be putting on their annual ‘fall colors’ light show and I’m going back ‘real soon.’

Le Carnet Des Escaliers De Quebec

Sometimes it seems there is a gap between the art world and the exploding popularity occurring in the sketching world.  Regularly we hear people define ‘sketch’ as an ‘unfinished work’, a definition that might have been fine when Monet was noodling his ideas about lily pads.  But this is not what modern nature sketchers, urban sketchers, travel journalists, etc. are doing.  Our sketches are finished works and they’re ending up on stamps and in books.  They’re being sold, either as originals or as prints.

Sketching has become a representational art form unto itself.  There are new books on sketching or containing sketches being released so regularly that it’s hard to keep up with them.  Typically modern sketches are done in sketchbooks, in limited periods of time.  Often the artist is sitting on a tripod stool, on location, possibly chatting with passers-by.  For most sketchers, their emphasis has shifted from the creation of art to hang on walls to simply enjoying the process of art.  Some sketch with precision.  Others sketch in very loose fashion.  Some border on doing caricatures of their world.  Somehow, in spite of these different approaches, there is a unity in what sketchers do, mostly related to the process of doing.

While different from studio art, sketching nevertheless shares many aspects with it and I sometimes lament the fact that so many artists don’t understand, or even know of in this growing part of the art world.  But something happened in Quebec City last week that was one of those “we’ve come a long way baby” moments.

CarnetEscaliersQuebecIt came in the form of a book launch for a wonderful book titled Le Carnet Des Escaliers De Québec.  The book was a collaborative effort organized by Natalie St-Pierre.  It contains 180 pages of great sketches that represent the majority of the staircases that exist in Quebec City.  As an aside, we have a LOT of them because of the nature of the city, including several containing hundreds of steps.  The artists involved were, Natalie, Hugette Asselin, Guylaine Côté, Louise Denault, Magelline Gagnon, Louise Grenier, Sylvie Riverin, Monique Rousseau and Pierre Toupin, the token male in the group.  Marie Dagenais wrote the text for the book.

The book is not just a great compilation of sketches, however.  It’s truly a tourist guide to the stairways.  Maps, beautiful sketches themselves, locate all of the stairways ane descriptions and histories of each stairway provide insights into Quebec and its development.

The quality of the book is sufficient reason to write this post but the book launch says something about just how far the sketching world has come.  This launch was held at City Hall.  It was an invitation only event and was hosted by the mayor.  Now if you live in a small town, you might expect a mayor to host a book launch by a group of locals.  But Quebec City has 700,000 people in it; our mayor is a busy guy and yet he spent an hour at the book launch.  Roughly 100 people were in attendance and we were served amazing hors d’ouevres and wine, along with great conversations.  It was truly an inspired and inspiring gathering.