Ottawa Sketching??? Adventure

Chantal and I headed off to Ottawa on a five day trip to visit our daughter.  Of course, I hoped to get some sketching done as well but on this trip it wasn’t the high priority.

Nevertheless, I contacted folks in the Ottawa Urban Sketchers via Facebook and one of the members said she’d send me an email to arrange a session.  Sadly, my host server’s spam mail filter decided it was spam so I never received it.  While disappointing, truth was, the rain would have likely scuttled any chance of meet up.  Next time for sure.

While waiting for our daughter to get out of work, Chantal indulged my passion by agreeing to wander around the nature museum while I sketched this guy.  While Fred Flintstone’s pet looked like a baby brontosaurus, I suspect that cavemen might have been happier with this dog-like beast.  The display only had the leg and back armor on one side, I drew it as it sat and thought it pretty cool.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5softcover), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5softcover), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

We had a ball the rest of the week but there wasn’t much sketching involved.  I did a bunch of quick-sketches as people ran up and down the shopping malls while the family shopped.  We visited museums and walked a lot.  We ate too much.   We dodged the rain…lots of rain.

One evening I was sort of antsy about not having done any sketching so while the family was reading, I tried to channel Paul Heaston and drew my daughter’s kitchen.  I’m afraid that Paul and I had a bad connection because I don’t have the hatching/drawing skills that Paul has but I had fun doing it and that’s all that matters.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5x5.5softcover), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5×5.5softcover), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Sadly, it was time to leave but Ottawa hasn’t seen the last of me yet.  Besides, someone was coming for a visit in Quebec City and I had to be there to greet her.  More on that next time.

We Visit The Ste-Foy Historical Society

The Ste-Foy Historical Society was having an exhibition of needlework being done by Quebec residents and it seemed like a plan to go see it and sketch around the society grounds.  The main building is a gorgeous old mansion and it sits beside a very large church that was destroyed by fire.  It has since been partially resurrected and is now the site of evening, partially open-air concerts (the main church walls were stone but the roof succumbed).  The burnt out portion of the church is to the right in my sketch.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x9), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

I’m still trying to get caught up so I’ll let the two sketches I did that day do all the talking.  Next stop…my Ottawa trip 🙂

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x9), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9), Esterbrook J9550, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

2016 Nouvelle France Sketch Fest

The Croquistes de Quebec held their August sketchcrawl in conjunction with Quebec’s Nouvelle France event, a time when people dress in 18th Century garb, some act like pirates, minstrels, swordsmen, etc. and everyone has fun.  This year was no exception.

I apologize for the blog going dark for a while but it seems that the busier I get sketching, the less time I have to write about it.  I’m going to try to make a push to get caught up but this sketchcrawl event took place on August 4th so you can see how far behind I am.

My goal that day was to talk as much as possible, eat a lot, and do a bunch of quick sketches.  No long sit-down sessions for me this day.  They can be placed in two piles.  The first are the people in costume and here are few examples of those:

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5, DeAtramentis Document Black


I didn’t limit myself to people, though.  I did some quick vignettes of scenes surrounding the venue.  Sorry that I haven’t written more but if a picture is worth a thousand words maybe the sketches make up for it. I’ll leave you to peruse these sketches cuz I’ve got a bunch of scanning to do 🙂

2016-08-04-59NouvlleFrance7 2016-08-04-59NouvlleFrance6

S&B Alpha (5.5x8.5)

S&B Alpha (5.5×8.5)

A Whale Of A Time In Tadoussac

Tadoussac is a major whale-watching spot in North America.  It sits at the confluence of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (salt water) and a major river fiord (Saguenay River) that is both deep and rich in nutrients as it flows into the Gulf.  This interesting dynamic results in a place where large whales come into the Gulf just to amuse tourists paying to go out on boats to see them (I think that’s right), while smaller whales wander around in the mouth of the Sagueny, feeding.

This generates lots of tourist trade, boat traffic and a whole bunch of people sitting on rocks on the edge of the Saguenay, yelling “Ooooooo” in unison every time a whale decides to take a breathe.  This is great fun and very relaxing, except for my butt which doesn’t think much of sitting on rocks for long periods.

But I was there, with my family and as we watched for whales (saw pilot and beluga whales), I started making tiny sketches of the stuff I could see around me.  This was the end result.  I do a lot of tiny sketches but I rarely post them but in this case I did them all on one page and it does document the area…well, sort of.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8x10), Esterbrook J9550, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Esterbrook J9550, DeAtramentis Document Black

After some whale watching we went back to the car to get stuff for a picnic and sat in a grassy area and chowed down, enjoying the sea breeze.  When we finished we headed back down the main street.

I posted a couple days ago a sketch of a Tadoussac street lamp that I sketched while I waited for wife and daughter near a public toilet, but I was not finished with my sketching day.  I’d seen a house that I thought particularly sketcha-genic so I proposed that we get an ice cream cone and sit on the boardwalk, watching the tour boats come and go.  We got the ice cream and I found a place for us to sit that just happened to let me sit on the end of the bench and see that house.   I managed to do this sketch of it while my family patiently waited.  They seemed amused by the interest shown in my scribbling by those passing by.

Stillman & Birn Beta (5x8), Esterbrook J9550, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (5×8), Esterbrook J9550, DeAtramentis Document Black

We had a great day as tourists and I had a fun time as a sketcher.  It couldn’t have been better.

Stillman & Birn’s New Softcover Sketchbooks

I wrote my first blog post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks at the end of 2011.  Back then I was a newbie sketcher, struggling to find the ‘perfect’ sketchbook.  At the same time, Stillman & Birn had only recently released a small line of high-quality sketchbooks and I was lucky to cross their path as it seemed I was buying a new sketchbook every week, trying to find one I liked.

Since that time Stillman & Birn has expanded their line of great sketchbooks, with their wide range of quality papers and formats.  And except for cheap notebooks I use for quick-sketching, I’ve used Stillman & Birn sketchbooks almost exclusively.  Most of the sketches on this blog were drawn in S&B sketchbooks.

So when Stillman & Birn announced the release of a new line of softcover sketchbooks, I got some immediately.  But there was a problem with the binding.  I called Michael Kallman (President of S&B) about this and I felt so badly for him as his shock could be heard in his voice.  But Stillman & Birn rose to the occasion, withdrew the books from the marketplace, and went to work to solve the problem.

I was both surprised and thrilled when Michael sent me a couple prototype books to test, one with their 150gsm paper and the other with their 270gsm paper.  I was thrilled to find that the binding problems had been solved and wrote about this on February 20th.


So What’s New Larry?

Two things have happened since then.  First, the softcover sketchbooks have been released to those of us who have been chomping at the bit to get our hands on them.  Second, I’ve gotten the chance to fill those two prototypes, allowing me to see how they hold up to my abusive behavior of throwing them into my art bag and carrying them everywhere I go.

I use 5.5×8.5 Alpha, 3.5×5.5 Alpha, and 8×10 Beta books and I love them all.  I’m not going to talk about the paper quality as you can find my comments on their great papers in my other posts and a simple Google search will yield many other artists singing their praises.  What I want to talk about is using them and how they wear because that’s what the prototypes have allowed me to experience that others may not have been able to do at this point in time.

Wear and Tear


When you move from hardcover to softcover you do so mostly because softcover books are lighter (about half the weight of their hardcover counterpart), thinner, and typically a bit smaller because there is no cover overhang.  All of these things are true of the S&B softcovers (they do weigh about half the weight of the hardcovers).

The big fear, however, is that the softcovers won’t hold up under typical urban sketcher “throw them around” abuse.  I’ll be frank.  I didn’t have high hopes because I’m not kind to my sketchbooks, but these books hold up really well.   As you can see in the photo, these books look new in spite of having spent nearly four months being pulled in/out of my sketch bag almost daily.  Even the fact that the prototype books didn’t have their corners rounded as the commercial books are didn’t result in bent corners.

You might also note that the books aren’t swelled up from buckling.  This is a function of those great S&B papers, but  I was concerned that the Alpha book in particular wouldn’t flatten out as well as one with a heavy hardcover.  My fears were unfounded.

Softcovers In Use


In use these books are a dream come true.  They open very flat – more so than the hardcovers.   I don’t work across the fold very much but it’s easy to do with these books, regardless of the weight of the paper.

This, and the fact that there is no cover overhang makes it very easy to scan sketches done in these books too.  I’ve fallen in love with the 8×10 format for this reason.  I have a hard time scanning 9×12 books, regardless of binding because they just don’t fit my scanner well.  The 8×10 books make it very easy and yet provide a nice size for larger sketches.

One thing that might be nice would be the addition of an elastic band to keep the books closed.  I  didn’t find this to be a problem with these larger books but with the 3.5×5.5, once you get into the book a bit I found that it doesn’t want to stay closed.  It’s not a big deal and I just used a rubber band but I thought I’d mention it.


I’ve been a Stillman & Birn fan for most of my short sketching lifespan and these new softcovers do what I didn’t think would ever happen.  It’s likely that I’ll stop using S&B hardcover books for the first time in five years.  I’ve fallen in love with these new softcovers.   Great paper.  Great format.  Light weight.  What more could a street sketcher as for?