Adventures Of An Urban Sketcher

Thursday morning I decided to walk south and visit an industrial area near a railroad yard in Quebec City.  I’m something of a train nut and I thought maybe I could sketch some trains.

I was walking to the freight yard when I happened upon this scene.  I liked the yellow wall, juxtapositioned next to the brown train car and the harsh shadow between them, so I decided to sketch it.

I set up to the left of where this photo was taken, on a sidewalk, with the street behind me.  My WalkStool was actually straddling the railroad track.  Those railroad tracks crossed the street and went somewhere.  I didn’t pay much attention.   I remember chuckling to myself that at least this subject wouldn’t drive away like a car I was sketching earlier in the week.

I was having a really nice time as the sun felt good, it was quiet, and the sketching was going well.  I’m a really slow sketcher so I’d been there more than an hour and I was intently adding color to my ink sketch.

I was so concentrated on the work that I didn’t even hear it… until a guy walked up to me and his shadow crossed my paper.  “Qu’est-ce que tu fait, Monsieur?” (What are you doing, Mister?)   I looked up to see a guy in overalls and a baseball cap staring down at me.  And then I saw IT.  It was an EMD SW-1500 switch engine, idling no more than ten feet from where I was sitting – on the railroad tracks.

I told him I was sketching and showed him my sketch.  I stood up as I did and he told I’d have to move.  As I was packing up he walked over to the derail (that yellow thing clamped to the track), disengaged it, and motioned to the engineer to move forward.

By then I was taking photos of the engine.  I did mention that I’m a railroad geek didn’t I?  Once they’d engaged the boxcar, the guy dropped off the engine, walked back to me, and asked if I could show the engineer my sketch.  I was both amazed, excited, and nervous all at once.  The sketch you see below bought me access to the cab of that engine, which for a railroad geek is a really big deal.  And then they hauled my boxcar away.  And that, my friends is what I call a great day of sketching.

Here’s the sketch.  I still have to add the white letters on the boxcar and I’ll probably do that with a colored pencil.  This sketch was done in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), using a Lamy Safari XF and Platinum Carbon Black ink.  Color is W&N artist watercolors.  Has anything like this happened to you while you were sketching?

 

Sketching Quebec City, One Building At A Time

A couple things have happened recently that are causing me to rethink what I post on this blog.  The first was an email I got asking me why I wasn’t posting more of my sketches here.  The other thing is that Facebook is continuing to march out its horrible Timeline format, which makes posting sketches on Facebook very difficult unless you’re happy with postage-stamp size postings.

I started this blog to promote my mystery novels and I’ll continue to use it for that.  But, because I love fountain pens and because I’m learning to sketch, I’ve started doing posts about those topics as well.  As the email suggested, though, I have not posted most of my sketches here.  That’s going to change and while I’m not a prolific as a lot of sketchers, I hope I’ll be posting sketches regularly.  I’d like to hear any comments regarding my art, or what you’d like me to talk about as we head through spring and into summer sketching season.

To start that off, here are a couple of my latest building sketches.   Both were done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook.  I’ve been using these sketchbooks for a while and I love them.  These sketches were done in my new 10×7 (landscape format) spiral-bound sketchbook, though I generally prefer hardbound journals and S&B make some of the best.  But for outdoor sketching I really like the spiral-bound approach as I can fold it back, plunk it on my lap and draw.

Chez Madame Charlotte’s Restaurant

This has got to be one of the cutest restaurants in Quebec City.  Everytime I walk by it I think of Gary Larson cartoons.  The stairway of this sketch was the real challenge and having done one, if I’m made king I will ban them from my kingdom.

Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha; Lamy Safari w/Platinum Carbon Black; W&N watercolors

Les Colocs Restaurant

This is another restaurant in Limoilu, one of the older parts of Quebec City.  You can’t help but notice its colorful facade and this is the second time I’ve sketched it.  I was trying out a new pen, a Hero Calligraphy pen.  Works great but I used Noodler’s Black ink which, in spite of its ‘bulletproof’ label, is not waterproof enough to apply watercolor washes on top of it.

Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha; Hero Calligraphy pen w/Noodler’s Black; W&N watercolors

I hope you enjoy these and those I’ll be posting in the future.  Are you as excited as I am that the snow is gone and we can get out sketching again?

 

Buskers Have It Tough During Carnaval Du Quebec

Some of my fellow urban sketchers have chided me for being a sissy because I won’t go out sketching this time of year.  “Cold…I remember the time when the water froze on my palette and we were still….”  Well, you get the picture.  After I heard that enough times I actually put my palette out on my porch with a wash mixed up on it.  It took all of two minutes for ice crystals to start forming and within ten minutes it was frozen nearly solid.  I brought it back in for fear the cold would damage the paints.  I was right; they were wrong.  It’s just too darn cold to paint in Quebec in February.

But yesterday, it “warmed up”, a term I put in quotes because only someone who live here would think of the word “warm” and yesterday’s temperatures together.  And it was Carnaval du Quebec; the time of year where god awful horn sounds are blown to the tribute of the many people selling these sinister souvenirs (remember the soccer horn sounds that made news?).  It’s a time of snow sculpture competitions and spreading maple syrup on snow, rolling it onto a stick.  It’s a time for crazy guys to race in large canoes across a partially frozen St. Lawrence Seaway and for people to brave the cold by drinking Screech (a horrible concoction similar to backwoods corn whiskey) to keep warm.  And, of course, it’s a time when parents wear themselves out hauling their kids up the hill for another ride down …just once more dad.

And even I got up from my hibernation and went outdoors.  I was “warm”, all the way up to 6F for goodness sake.   And it wasn’t too windy.  I bundled up with the required 20 lbs of clothing and pointed my walking shoes towards the old city.  I spent the next couple hours walking fast enough that I didn’t get cold.  It was a good day to be me.  Did I mention how warm it was?

Anyways, I came across this busker, who demonstrates the resilence of Quebecers when it comes to cold.  It far exceeds my own.  I’m an Arizona boy, after all.  Bundled up and wearing big heavy boots, this busker stood outside the information center in the old city (a walled city officially founded in 1608 and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  As anyone attempting to play a saxophone in these temperatures would freeze their fingers in minutes and possibly permanently attach them to their metal saxophone, he had an interesting solution… don’tcha think?

And no, I didn’t sketch him.  It was too cold.

 

Writing Is A Group Activity

As long as I’ve been a writer I’ve heard that writers are loners, that what we do requires solitude.  And, for me, that’s true.  I need to be alone to write effectively.  I’m not even one who writes to music that so many seem to enjoy.

But I also remember the days when I was involved in the production of magazines.  I remember wanting some quiet from the hustle and bustle of my editor demands so I could write.  Mixed with it, though, were the “let’s get some coffee” parts of that business.  Those of us in the throws of creating the monthly 128 pages that would hit newstands “real soon” interacted often, and the comraderie was as fulfilling as it was electric.

Those days, though, are behind me and I’m back to being alone as a writer, at least until NaNoWriMo came along.  Last year I did it mostly in isolation.  This year I was in the throes of doing the same thing when my NaNo regional ML suggested that I come to one of their evening coffee meetings.

I did.  Then I went again.  And again.  Last week NaNoWriMo 2011 came to an end and we had a celebration dinner together.  I had a bunch of new friends, all of them excited about writing.  It was great… it was over.  I was sad about that fact but then they said, “I hope we see you at our Thursday meetings.”

Huh?  “Yeah, we meet most Thursday nights at the place where you first met us.  You should come by.”  It looks like I’ll have some people to talk to about writing afterall.  Here’s a sketch I did of one of OUR meeting places.

Beautiful Quebec And Family Visits

It’s been a week since I’ve posted but finally I have a good excuse.  All those other times I was just goofing off.  My brother and his lovely wife came to town.

This might not seem like much to those of you who actually get to see their families on a regular basis but for me, it was a special treat.  As much as I love Quebec City, it’s roughly 3000 miles from my “home”, which is (was?) in Arizona.  Most of my family still resides there and it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen my brother.  While I won’t waste your time with details of our visit, I thought I’d share a few of the snapshots I took as we wandered parts of Quebec City.

We started on the Plains of Abraham.  This is a very large park that used to be a farmer’s field, Mr. Abraham’s field to be precise.  But then the British climbed the cliffs, the French came out of the walled city.  They both brought guns.  Now, Mr. Abraham’s field commemorates the battle that saw the British take control of Quebec City.  Unless you’re a historian, all of the battles that preceded this 22 minute interaction, and the months of bombardment, are lost in the pages of history books.

What is not lost is the beauty of the place.  Not only are there rolling hills and tall trees, there is an extraordinary garden, called…wait for it…the Battlefield Park Garden. For reasons unknown to me, a statue of Jean d’Arc looks down upon it.  It’s a copper statue much like the Statue of Liberty so I’m guessing it was a gift from France at some point.  Ignorance am me.

From there we headed to Rue Cartier, a wonderful street filled with small shops and restaurants.  We were foraging.  The photo is of my brother, his wife and my daughter.  They’re smiling because the food is on its way and hopeful that this will be the last time I have them pose for a photo.

After lunch we visited the Citadel. Quebec City is, or was a very strategic location, the walled city sits on a point, high above the St. Lawrence and this is the place where the Gulf of St. Lawrence shrinks down into what is to become the St. Lawrence Seaway.  This access point is very narrow and so anyone with a pop-gun could defend it against invading ships, which is one of the reasons it was so hard for the British to invade in the first place.

But invade they did and when those rebels in the US started shooting at Red Coats and dumping tea in Boston Harbor, the British in Canada got worried.  When those same infidels tried to invade Canada, they were even more convinced.  They used a French fort design and constructed a great fort to defend against American invasion. 

This fort is now the home of a French-Canadian regiment, the 22nd, which has a long and illustrious history.  The fort has never been attacked, at least not by a military.  Annually, however, tourists invade to tour the place, see the museum displays and to buy pieces of wood, plastic and paper.  These “souvenirs” are smuggled from the country, to rot in closests around the world.  It’s really amazing but very good for the Quebec economy.  Last weekend, we were part of the invasion force.

No visit to Quebec is complete without enjoying the fabulous architecture.  The “castle” as most call it is actually the Chateau Frontenac, a huge luxury hotel built long ago.

It’s currently having the upper roof replaced and not wanting the view disrupted too badly, they wrapped the area with large canvases painted to resemble the hotel behind them.  From a distance, it was surprisingly effective.

We saw statues…lots of statues.  This one is of Sam Champlain.  While French folks were living in the Quebec City area long before he showed up, he was an organizer… a doer.  He is considered the founder of the city so he gets a big statue.

In front of the Chateau Frontenac is a long promenade that is absolutely delightful.  There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that you can buy ice cream cones there.  I guess, though, that most people go there to look down on the St. Lawrence which is a couple hundred feet below.  It’s quite a sight.

This is a photo of my wife and I, in our go-to-market clothes.  You’d think we could get dressed up to show family around but we’re a casual lot here in Quebec.

I’m sad to say that while we went other places, I seemed to run out of motivation to take photos so there are no more.  I’ll try to take others before the snow flies.

Cheers — Larry

Blooming Quebec, Why Doesn’t Everyone Live Here?

Winters are hard in Quebec City.  It sits at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the wind blows and the snow falls sideways.  During winter we have only eight hours of daylight.  Many of my friends wonder why anyone would want to live here and, along with fellow Quebecers, so do I when February rolls around.

But when summer arrives, we get the answer.  Sometimes it’s unbearably hot with high temperatures (winter temps by the standards of this Arizona-raised boy) and humidity readings that match them.  But most of summer is idyllic.  It’s time to sit outdoors, stand outdoors, and for the adventurous, move around outdoors.

I’m a walker, myself and this is the time I enjoy my river, the Riviere St. Charles.  The province has created what they refer to as a linear park along some 32 kilometers of the river.  There are walking trails that wind their way along the river, sometimes through forests, sometimes along more urban trails, skirted with well-maintained gardens.  And there are the flowers….oh my goodness, what flowers.

 

Baseball – Quebec Style

One of my favorite things about living in Quebec City are the Quebec Capitales games I attend.  Baseball and Quebec don’t seem natural, though when I looked into it there is a long history of Quebec baseball teams.  But kids here play soccer more than baseball.  And, for goodness sake, hockey is front page news, and followed with a passion that borders on the fanatical.  The provincial Premier has a hard time getting a word in edgewise during hockey season.

Nevertheless, Quebec has a thriving team – part of a CAN/AM pro baseball league.  While it may be a step down from the Toronto Blue Jays, the game experience is just as satisfying, maybe even more so.  The team ownership understands well that it is providing entertainment and it treats ticket buyers as though we are all friends and most certainly that we are valued.  Humor plays a big part and so foul balls that leave the stadium are followed by sound effects of glass breaking as though some car in the parking lot was taking part in the proceedings.

Kids are also a big deal to the Capitales and every game I’ve attended have short events for the kids between innings.  They also honor kids who are part of the small contingent of young baseball players in Quebec City.

For me, as an American living in this French-speaking city, there are special feelings.  I sit, with 4000+ other people.  They all speak French, though crys of “bad call, ref” do crack the air on occasion.  The umpire calls balles and prises.  Home runs cause the announcer to yell a drawn out “CIRCUIT.” Vendors sell biere froide and players don’t have RBIs, they have PPs.  I still don’t know what PP stands for but does it really matter?

The French creates a different ambiance, though the rhythms of baseball seem the same the world over.  But the most striking thing comes during the 7th inning stretch, when all of these French souls stand, and reading from the big screen behind the right-field wall, they raise their voices in unison and sing “Take me out to the ball game…Take me out to the crowd…Buy me some peanuts….”  It’s AMAZING!!

Oh…one last thing.  The Quebec Capitales, MY team, is in first place by a considerable margin.  At 26 and 18, they’re 5 games ahead of their nearest rival.  And that’s better than the Blue Jays.

 

Spring Has Sprung In Quebec

Our winters are long here in Quebec but normally, by the end of April spring will let us exit from our burrows and enjoy the sunshine.  This year was different.  It rained, and rained, and rained.  The trees were even grumbling.

But finally, at least a month late, spring has sprung.  I was out walking and snapped a few photos of my favorite place, Riviere St.-Charles.  I thought I’d share a few of those photos with you.

Along the river are apple trees in full flower as well as some ash trees.  The yellow dandelions help round out the blaze of color.

If you’ve read Her Book of Shadows, my new mystery novel, this is the location in Parc Brebeuf where a rather intense scene takes place.

And I couldn’t resist quickly snapping this photo.  The dog was happy to have his picture taken but the little girl was less thrilled so I apologize that it’s not a sharper image.