Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Tom Petty: 1950 – 2017

I’m not one to have heros or to worship celebrity.  But I am one who appreciates people who are the best at what they do and Tom Petty was one of those.  As I write this I’m listening to I Won’t Back Down, a tune that was meaningful to me at a time in my life when meaning was important and hard to come by.  I’m not much of a portrait artist but I felt the need to draw this.  Rest in peace Tom.

 

New Field Notes Format – Dime Novel Edition

Some know Field Notes as a company that produces thin, 3.5×5.5 notepads in a series of ‘themes.’  Most of the time these notebooks come with lines, graph or dot-grid paper but once in a while they produce a series with blank pages and these are great for use as small quick-sketch notebooks.  Most famous, thanks to Tina Koyama, is the Sweet Tooth series that had blank pages and came in red, yellow and blue paper books.  Tina has done, by my count, a zillion or so sketches in the red ones.

A recent release by Field Notes may be the most useful notebook yet for sketchers.  No, they won’t replace my Stillman & Birn books but for quick-sketches they’re just dandy.  The release is called the Dime Novel Edition and reflects the format (4.25 x 6.5) of dime novels of the early 1900s.  The paper is blank, except for a small page number in the upper right corner.

Instead of their typical staple-bound 48-page form, this book has three signatures (72pages) that are sewn together and then wrapped with a heavy cardboard cover.  To sweeten the pot, Field Notes uses really nice 70# paper that has just enough tooth to make it nice for drawing pencils and great for fountain pen.  I’ve only done a bit of testing but I saw no evidence of bleedthrough with this paper though there is a bit of ghosting.

I find the size ideal, mostly because it’s very thin – about 1/4″ thick, light and yet large enough that if you draw across the gutter you have a 6,5 x 8.5 page to work on.  Oh…and if you go through it, pressing each page open (the book handles this quite easily), it will also lay flat.

The 70# paper does limit what you can do with water, but if you don’t slop on too much water, you can use watercolor as well.  Watercolor pencils seem to work particularly well, but again, you need to keep the water applications light or you’ll get some buckling of the paper.

The books are sold as a 2-pack for $12.95.  Page count here exceeds the total pages contained in the 3-packs of the 3×5 Moleskine books that many use for this purpose and the paper here is far superior so if you carry such a notebook with you, give these a look.

 

Men Never Know Their Limitations

Clint Eastwood is famous for saying “A man’s gotta know his limitations” but any woman will tell you that men never do.  I am one of those men and, sadly, sometimes I make a fool of myself because of it.  What men are pretty good at doing, however, is hiding the results or so we think, but sometimes it’s cathartic to expose the underbelly and today’s the day.  I’ll start with a story and end with really bad sketches.  I hope you can get a chuckle or two from it.

Tuesday morning I went for a physio treatment.  Right now, going anywhere is exhausting and physio visits even more so.  When I left there all I wanted to do was lie down but instead I went home, grabbed a sandwich, and then headed off to the second meeting of our still life group.  Arriving at the parking lot I realized that I had a “long walk” ahead of me.  It must have been a couple hundred feet to the door and then up a flight of stairs.  With my current hobbled gait, it only took me 10 minutes (grin).

When I got to the room I headed directly to a chair in the corner of the room and flopped into it as though I’d just completed the Boston Marathon.  I sat, looking across the room as everyone else was busy getting out art supplies, organizing their workspaces, and preparing to draw a large flower arrangement.  I just stared across the room.

Then it occurred to me that I was supposed to draw so I got out sketchbook and pen.  I couldn’t really see the flowers from where I was sitting but the thought of moving was unappealing so I started drawing people.  My sketch barely looks like people and my ability to “see like an artist” was lacking that day.  The result I share in the name of humor, not art.

I don’t know how long this took me but I’d guess 10-15 minutes.  It seemed like hours.  When I finished I closed my book, closed my eyes, and started reflecting on what nonsense it was that I was there.  Though we’re slow on the uptake, even we men ‘get it’ sometimes.

But I was there to draw and so I didn’t succumb to rational thought.  Instead, I decided to draw a purse that was sitting on one of the tables.  Again, the sketchbook came out, the pen started scribbling, and this was created.  Another 10 minutes that felt like a couple hours.

At this point I knew the session was near its end so I closed my book and put my pen away.  I looked at my watch.  I’d been there 25 minutes and there was 1 1/2 hours to go.  Not for me.  A man’s gotta know his limitations.  I went home.

The Loss Behind The Loss Is The Problem

Ha…sometimes my misplaced optimism goes on display and it’s embarrassing.  In the last couple posts I talked about “my loss” as in an inability to walk to sketching sites like I normally do.  I rambled about how this would be an opportunity to try new things, do experiments, etc.  Ha!

In the past week or so I’ve learned that my real loss has been any interest in doing anything, and to some degree a lack of ability to do anything.  When you’re in constant pain, constantly worried about your health, and losing sleep because of both, it’s hard to muster either ability or interest in doing things, even things you love.  Such has been my situation recently.

So…I haven’t done any grand sketching experiments.  I haven’t experimented with gouache as I said I might.  I haven’t done much of anything in fact except talk to doctors.  Things are improving, however.  Now I can walk all the way to the kitchen (grin).

So, all I have to show you are some small doodles that I’ve done while watching TV ad nauseam.  I apologize for the lack of blog posts.  One thing, though, is that these doodles are more loose than my typical street sketch and while I’m sure they’re inspired from somewhere, the subjects just fell out of my head when I took pen in hand.  Maybe I can call these “experiments.”

Still Life – Urban Sketcher Style

When my knee problem started to limit my walking, I started thinking of alternative ways to feed my penchant for moving pointy devices across paper.  One alternative was to sign up for one of several ateliers offered here by La Collectif, here in Quebec.  These aren’t instructional and mostly about drawing nude models and portraits.  I’m not much interested in that sort of thing but they did have one atelier called Nature Morte (Still Life).

I decided that drawing vegetables and wine bottles would be a lot more fun than sitting on my couch so I signed up.  There are twelve of us in the atelier, which is organized by Celine and Robert Poiré, two of my favorite people in the Collectif so I know it will be fun.  This first week I sort of had to grit my teeth to muddle along because the pain made it hard to concentrate but we had fun nevertheless.  Heck, we were sketching, we couldn’t avoid having fun if we tried.

Here’s my sketch from the session.  I’m not sure that my pen and ink, cartoon style is the best for drawing vegetables and maybe I’ll take some pencils with me next week.

After a short break there was still a few minutes left in the session and others were still finishing up their drawings so I decided to do a quick experiment.  I got a piece of Bristol from my bag and gave myself 2-minutes to capture the same scene I’d just drawn.  I’ll let you assess how I did, but I had a lot of fun doing it.  With the remaining minutes I scribbled out some poor depictions of some of the participants.  Can’t wait for next week.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

St. Charles River Sketching Exposition

I’ve mentioned La Collectif before.  They are a great group of folks who mostly draw portraits and life drawing.  But in recent years they’ve also started holding outdoor sketching events.  These events have gained momentum since Daniel Chagnon took on the job of planning these events.

This year, he scheduled a series of events along the St. Charles River with the goal of having an exposition of those works later in the year.  Sadly, several of them got rained out but persistence paid off and a bunch of sketches were done.  That exposition happened last week at the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the headquarters for the Parc linéaire de la Rivière-Saint-Charles, the group that promotes activities in the 32km long park through which the river flows.

The exhibition runs from Sep 5th through the 17th but the vernissage, where the artists were present, was held last Saturday.  We were all supposed to come and sketch and generally enjoy the day.

I confess that I’ve been a bit antisocial lately because my knee is providing me with a steady dose of pain that puts me in a bad mood generally.  I even thought about not going, but I did and I’m glad I did.

I don’t have much in the way of sketches to show you.  I sat on the porch and drew the sign in front of the house.  By then, most of the group were circled around a willing model and they were drawing his portrait.

The closest I got to that exercise (my least favorite subject) was to draw one of the sketchers, who was slumped down in her chair, perfectly relaxed and doing her thing.

As always, when I’m around sketchers, I spent more time talking than I should have if sketching was the goal, but sometimes it isn’t.

 

Fresh Air On Ile d’Orleans

This time of year the temperatures cool (most of our days don’t get above 20C) and day length is shorter.  We become aware that soon we’ll be cooped up in our houses except for when we have to go out to shovel snow.

And so we take advantage of any good weather day and play outdoors.  For Chantal and I that generally means a couple trips to Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City which is largely inhabited by farmers and cows.  Specifically, head to a cafe on the south side of the island where we can eat brioche, drink good coffee, and breath clean air as we look out over the St. Lawrence River.

And that’s what we did last weekend.  Coffee and brioche were fantastic as always and, just as ‘as always’, after we’d sat for a while we decided to drive around the island.  We headed east and ended up in St. Francois, one of six small towns on the island.  The highlight there is a little candy store, though on this trip we avoided it.  Instead we parked in a parking lot next to the church, sat on a bench, and drew what was in front of us.  This is what it looked like.

We drove on, stopped at a park on the east end of the island.  There’s a very tall tower here that, if you climb to the top, provides a fantastic view eastward along the St. Lawrence.  We didn’t climb it because, right now, my right knee and ankle aren’t being very cooperative.  Instead, we got back in the car and headed for a place with the name Maison des nos Aieux.  There is a large cathedral in front of this place but the “maison” refers to a large house that sits on a bunch of land that’s been turned into a park and flower garden.  The “aieux” refers to the fact that the place is to honor the original inhabitants of the island and there’s a large monument with their names on it.  We like to stop there because it’s so peaceful to just sit on one of the many benches and breathe some more clean air.  I’ve sketches several things here but today I got fascinated by a simple water spigot, which suited the short time frame we were there.  Sometimes simple is just right and this was one of those cases.  A fitting end to a great day.

Rubbing Shoulders With Poets

Sketching is better
When you are with good people
Poets are the best

As you can see, my haiku skills are not the best.  The same cannot be said for the very talented haikuistes I met recently when they came together with sketchers for a wonderful, mixed-media creative day.

The idea for this venture came from Mark Brennan, the cemetery director of Mt Herman cemetery.  He contacted me and the haiku group leaders and began to pull together the details of a truly unique event.  The basic idea was that we sketchers would start sketching and the haikuistes would draw inspiration from our sketching the subjects of our sketching or some combination of the two.

We arrived at the cemetery in the morning, said hi and chatted as we waited for everyone to get there.  Then Mark explained what we were going to do, enticed us with the promise of soup for lunch, and in the photo he’s showing us where the bathroom was (grin).  Once fully informed, off we went, a bunch of creative people enjoying the day and each other.

  There we twenty of us involved.  I believe the haikuistes outnumbered sketchers, but it didn’t seem to matter.

I guess I was feeling lazy this day, or maybe the pain in my knee was talking, but I decided to draw only paces away from the site of the photo.  I decided to draw the cemetery admin building.

I was happy with my sketch but the time passed too quickly.  It really needs shadows to bring it to life.  But it was time for lunch and sharing.

We gathered inside where Mark had provided chairs and soup and we couldn’t have been be more content.   This was where the unique nature of the event took place.  We’d show a sketch and pass it around the room.  While that was happening, haikuistes read poems they’d written.  Bringing these two creative forms together was really special and I hope we can do it again sometime.  Thanks to Mark for his hard work bringing together and to all the participants who made it such a great day.