A Look Back Through Sketching

I’m an old man and part of being an old man is that my daughter is now a grown, confident woman who is off beating law school into submission.  I’m extremely proud of her and because of her age and maturity we now have conversations to solve the world’s problems and maybe a few of our own.  That’s pretty neat.

But there is a part of being an old man that causes me to miss the days when she would giggle as I’d bounce her on my knee or carry her on my shoulders.  Back then drawing meant scribbling with crayons and she was far better at it than me.  That was also a time when we shared a common interest in stuffed animals.  She was my excuse to buy them and she loved every one.  The result is that we now have a literal mountain of them, each with memories attached to them.

I’ve started drawing some of them because, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it rains here all the time so I need stuff to draw indoors and I’m tired of tomatoes.  But what really drives me with this project is that as I draw these puddles of fluff and fur, memories of those early days fill me with joy.  Here’s one I did of a little poupée (doll), one of many in the collection.  For some reason she lacks a nose or mouth and I saw no reason to add them.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document brown/black

Confused Weather Makes For Confused Sketchers

“April showers bring May flowers.” – Thomas Tusser (1557)

I have a question.  If you get showers in April, and they continue through May, will there be LOTS of flowers in June?  I sure hope so because Quebecers’ moods, will need a boost.

By date and temperature, we have finally gotten to spring and we sketchers are chomping at the bit to get out sketching.  In fact I witnessed a bunch of them, including myself, wandering around in the rain, looking for stuff to draw.  It was quite a sight.

We were attending the first of a series of plein air painting gatherings organized by the great Denise Bujold – great because she’s done this and because she’s so darn good at it.  There are 16 events scheduled, one a week, throughout the summer and fall.  But for this first one, surprise, surprise, it rained.

It was held at an apple/vegetable farm on Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City.  When Yvan and I arrived we found a gaggle of sketchers huddled in a large space that houses an art gallery during summer tourist season.  Eventually this group spilled out into the garden adjacent to the building and we literally wandered in the rain, pointing at things we could sketch if the rain would stop.

Eventually we made our way to a place where there was an overhang and a few picnic benches and everyone set up shop to sketch.  Across a field there was this scene and I confess that I didn’t have my heart in it and it shows.  But I did get to sketch, outdoors, and with other people.  That has to count for something.  There was supposed to be another event today but it’s pouring rain so it was cancelled.  I’m in desperate need of some flowers.

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

 

Is It Spring Or Is It Summer?

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the US and all day I heard the US press saying that this day, unofficially, marks the beginning of summer.  Here in Quebec City we had a frost advisory and the trees are just now deciding that they might as well put out their leaves.  It’s sunny today and feels very much like spring.  So, is it summer or spring?  Weather this year has been hard to take for many parts of North America.  I’m hoping we have a really long summer, or is it still spring?

In any case, the squirrels are out and about and I even saw a bumble bee this morning.  In honor of this change of weather, I drew a squirrel with a smile on his face. Like me, he’s happy that things are warming up.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document Brn/blk

Memories From Old Toys

We’re still waiting for spring to come to Quebec City.  It’s quite unbelievable that it’s mid-May and the best we can hope for is a rainy, dreary day.  But until things warm up a bit (we had a frost warning last week) we’re sort of stuck going to indoor venues to draw.

We were provided with a new one, though, as the Quebec Historial Society opened a small exhibit of old, mostly tin toys from the 40s to the 60s.  As a kid, I was playing with those produced in the 50s so some were quite familiar to me and brought back memories.  I love tin toys, mostly for this nostalgia I suppose, but they were always so brightly painted to mask their simplistic nature.

I spent much of our session viewing the exhibit and reading all the description cards.  It’s not every day that you get to see and Easy-Bake Oven after all.  But eventually I sat down to draw and I did a poor job of sketching an old wind-up race car from the 40s.  I really need to slow down as the quality of my sketches is directly correlated with the speed in which I do them.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), DeAtramentis Document Brn/Blk ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

Hopping Down The Bunny Trail

I’ve been experimenting with using paint before I do any ink, using a brush and paint to do the actual drawing.  This is mostly as a way of getting my brain to realize that there’s value in color.  That’s probably an odd statement to most artists, but I’ve always been more enamoured with using a fountain pens/inks than I have been with “art.”

Anyways, I’ve decided to do more of this paint-first approach and as I also got a dose of drawing my daughter’s collection of stuffed animals with my recent sketch of Dudley the Dragon I grabbed a large rabbit with oversized feet and ears as my subject for the day.

To provide some guidance with respect to proportions and relationships I penciled in the locations/sizes of all the major masses and then started with paint.  Any self-respecting artist would chuckle to watch me sneaking up on the shapes and color patterns.  I started very light, improving the shapes as I went.  In this process I also started identifying tonal variations, trying to figure out how to create them in color.  I’m woefully ill-equipped to do this but I plowed ahead as if I were.  Eventually I added some ink lines just cuz my drawings need ink lines.  Hope you like the result.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching Session At My House

We’re on the verge of actual spring and I can’t wait for it to happen.  My excitement is tempered only by the fact that my bad knee is getting really bad, as in I can’t walk at all some days.  Anyways, my buddy Yvan felt sorry for me and agreed to come over so we could sketch together.  He’s got the best studio a guy could want but I’ve got some stuff to sketch that he doesn’t.  Even the king can get bored in his castle.

On the morning of his arrival I realized I didn’t have a cookie or cake in the house.  One must have sketching snacks.  A few days earlier we’d discussed me making biscuits and we realized that we didn’t know what you call them in French.  You see, ‘biscuits’ in French are cookies.  A day later, Yvan came up with biscuits à la poudre à pâte.   The word galette could also be used but this is a very broad term that includes a lot of sweet biscuits/scones/cakes.

All that is the lead up to me quickly whipping together some biscuits as a snack and so he could actually see what I was talking about.  While the idea was to eat them (we did), we took advantage of them as sketching material too.

Yvan got the bright idea to start with paint rather than my typical ink first approach.  Talk about walking out on a thin limb.  I admit that I struggled with this, a lot, but I also had a lot of fun and think it may be the way to get my brain to believe that watercolor is as important as line work.  Here’s my result:

We took a break and he showed me a copy of the classic book Nature Drawing by Claire Leslie Walker that he picked up for only $5.  What a gorgeous, but out of print book [face turning green with envy] this is.  So, I showed him my copy of Living History by Cathy Johnson, one of the gems of the book world.  And we ate another biscuit and admired the great drawings in both books.

Conversation led to me cutting up some sheets of paper for Yvan while he grabbed a stuffed animal (Dudley the Dragon) and started drawing it.  When I finished I decided to quickly sketch the same animal but he had the good view so I drew the side view.  Apologies to Dudley as I didn’t spend enough time organizing and blocking in the drawing.  This was done ink first with watercolor as an afterthought, my typical way of working.

At the end of this fun day, I’d experienced a new way of sketching and I plan to do a lot more of this paint-first approach.  It’s confusing as can be to think of outline, tone, form and color simultaneously but I like a challenge.  Thanks to Yvan for a great day.

Careful What You Wish For…

 

…you just might get it.

It’s all my fault.  For weeks I’ve been wishing that the snow would melt in Quebec.  Until a week ago, we Quebec City was still having below freezing temperatures so, I guess, my wish was more a dream than a real wish.

And then it came…the rain..the temps that got downright near reasonable and our record levels of snow started melting – QUICKLY.  Too quickly it seems because now we’ve got people in western Quebec being evacuated from their houses due to flooding.  The military has been called in to supply manpower.  I’m not proud of my selfish wish and I never wished it would all melt at once, but in a matter of days the 10-foot high snow banks that have surrounded my house have all but disappeared.  Today it’s 12C outside and the bright yellow ball has returned to our sky.

My task this weekend was to draw something “nature,” a task handed out by the Sketch With Me Facebook group.  I guess dirty snow banks are nature but the truth is, in the middle of a city just coming out of winter, there’s not a lot of nature to be found.  So I got the bright idea of drawing a small stick from a maple tree.  The maples are waiting for spring too.

So, I crunched up the snow hill in my backyard (major improvement over the mountain that used to be there) and clipped a branch.  Being a street sketcher, I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I was ill-prepared.  I found two problems.  First is that I was drawing too small, which caused the second problem, my tools were too big.  The smallest brush I own is a #6 and even my fine fountain pens were a struggle because my ‘stick’ was being drawn too small.  Nevertheless, it was fun and I’m going to do more of this, just as soon as I get a smaller brush.  With spring on my doorstep, I should have lots of subject matter available.

Fisherman Wood Carving

Canson XL Multi-media (7×10), Wing Sung 8008, DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, DS watercolors.

My hands were working Friday night so I decided to sketch a small wood carving we have.  The actual carving is of a grumpy old man like myself but decided to draw him younger.  In the end, it made me smile.

I was sketching while watching the Blue Jays so I was drawing in a Canson XL multimedia book that I use for scribbling during TV time.  This is not watercolor paper but if you go easy on the water, you can add some color.  I used a Portable Painter filled with Daniel Smith watercolors that I keep available for these purposes.

It Ain’t Happening This Year

Once upon a time I really enjoyed the #100PeopleInAWeek challenge so it just seemed natural to say that I was up for the challenge this year.  To be completely honest, I don’t know what I was thinking as I’m struggling to draw anything right now and am grateful for the occasional day when arthritis takes a break and I can hold a pen.

When April 8th rolled around, we citizens of Quebec were blessed with a raging blizzard.  Such storms raise havoc with my arthritis, but I gave people drawing an effort.  I got a few drawn but I just couldn’t concentrate because my hand hurt so much.  Seems after 10-15 minutes the pain increases.  So I had to stop.

Later that evening I decided to try again, this time drawing people as I watched TV.  Same situation this time; my hand gave me about 15 minutes before it became unbearable 🙁

So…after day one I was 11 people behind schedule.  The next morning we were facing blizzard conditions again and the barometric pressures were bouncing up and down.  I was supposed to sketch with friends and so I went to the rendevous, though I was having difficulty walking and my left hand (the important one) was throbbing.  We were drawing windows in the mall and I got halfway through a shaky drawing before I gave up in frustration.  And today…I can hardly hold my pen.  So… on day three I’m 41 people behind.  I’m a slow learner but even I have figured out that attempting this challenge, this year, is a fool’s errand.  Next year.

 

Why I Like DeAtramentis Document Inks So Much

When I started sketching, like most people, I gravitated towards using Noodlers bulletproof inks.  They promised a waterproof ink but that promise isn’t fulfilled if you’re using them on papers with a significant amount of sizing (i.e. – watercolor paper).  Like so many others, I found that Noodlers’ Lexington Gray was best, mostly because the gray didn’t make such bold marks when it smeared.  Nevertheless, I eventually moved to Platinum Carbon Black, a pigmented ink that worked in fountain pens and provided completely waterproof performance.

When DeAtramentis released their Document inks the sketching world went nuts for them, as did I.  Finally there was a line of colored inks that was waterproof.  I took out a second mortgage on my house and bought a bottle of each and a bottle of the dilution fluid.  I think that was about three years ago and I’ve learned a bit about my needs and the inks so I thought I’d share a few heavily biased points of view.

First, I should say something about why I’m not using other pigmented fountain pen inks (e.g. – Sailor, Platinum Carbon, Roher & Klingnor SketchInks):

Sailor: I’ve never had access to them so I’ve never tried the “nano” inks they produce.

Platinum: This ink works great.  It’s VERY black and dries somewhat shiny.  I’ve never been a fan of either of these attributes.  Also, when it’s cold this ink takes a long time to dry, leading to smearing while sketching on the streets of Quebec in October.

Rohrer & Klingnor SketchInks:  I like these inks..a lot and they’re less expensive than other pigmented inks for fountain pens.  They come in several toned down colors and dry quickly.  When it hits the paper it’s great that it dries quickly.  When its on a pen nib and the pen doesn’t seal perfectly, it can be annoying.  If I use these inks my Pilot or Platinum pens everything works great.  Put them in a Lamy, Noodlers or other lesser pen and you’ll have starting problems.  This can be resolved by dipping the nib in water but I don’t like to mess with reluctant writers.  I do still use these inks, however.

DeAtramentis brought to my sketch bag something the others do not – the ability to mix and dilute without changing the viscosity of the resultant ink.  I used to thin Noodlers inks too but there was always a compromise between getting the color I wanted and changing the flow characteristics of the ink because of the water being added.  But DeAtramentis sells pint-size bottles of their ink without pigment in it so you can add this “dilution solution” to any of their inks, thinning them with respect to pigment load without making them actually thinner, if you get my meaning.

This allows me to mix grays by adding dilution solution to black and so my  go to ink is a black/dilution mix (1:3).  It’s still a very dark gray but not the hard black line of a true black ink.  Of course I’ve always got full strength black available too if I need it.  Having the two values is handy at times.

Another problem is getting a good brown.  Noodlers bullet proof browns all seem to dry in the nib, though you can add water to solve most of that problem.  But most brown inks are too red for my taste, even DeAtramentis Document Brown.  But, I can add some Document Black to the Brown and get a really nice brown/black that serves me well.

So that’s my ink story.  I’ve gone through several bottles of these inks so I feel confident in saying that they work well in all the pens I own (at least a dozen brands).  I’ve used these inks mostly on Arches, Fabriano Artistico, Stillman & Birn papers but also on all sorts of cheap papers with success. These inks work in my pens in spite of the fact that I rarely clean a pen (only if I’m changing colors or putting it away).  Give them a try if you haven’t already.