Where The Dogs Run In Quebec City

The keepers of Quebec City have a sense of humor, or so it seems.  On every tourist map there is a pointer to Passage du Chiens, or Dog Passage and people flock to see it.  Well, maybe not flock as it’s down the street from lots of other stuff and they simply see it as they pass by.

But there it is, complete with official street sign – Passage du Chiens.  It is a passageway to a road/parking area for residents who live in the area and whose house fronts on a ‘street’ that is no longer a street but rather a walkway for pedestrians.  And the Passage du Cheins does sit between two art galleries that are quite photogenic and so many photos are taken of the spot.  I suspect dog lovers get a kick out of showing it to their friends.

Towards the end of our outdoor sketching season I was wandering around, trying to get in some last minute plein air sketching, and I decided to sketch this famous landmark.  The sun was bright, which was great because the temps were just above freezing.  Before I finished, though, the sun had moved behind the buildings, shading the entire area.  This, and the fact that I’d been sitting for an hour caused me to be quite cold so I quickly snapped this photo and moved on to find more sunny ground.

And then I completely forgot about the sketch, until today.  I decided it was time to add some color and this was the result.  Hope you like it.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7) and a Pilot Prera pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.

 

 

Urban Sketching During Winter

Winter has been slow in coming to Quebec City, which has been great for those of us who like to sketch on location.  I’ve gotten at least an extra month of sketching my favorite subjects, the buildings of Quebec.

But winter has arrived and as I write this it’s 11F (-12C) outside.  This is just the beginning, as we’ll soon be experiencing much colder temperatures.  So what’s a location sketcher to do?  Common recommendations are to go to libraries, coffee shops, airports, and train stations.  These are all great if the things you want to sketch are people but even then, these places tend to be people in motion, something that’s hard for the best sketchers and impossible for me.  I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet.

But now that winter has set in, I’ve got more places and things to sketch than I ever thought possible.  They’ve come in two forms thus far: museums and free concerts/events.

Museums

There are a bunch of museums in Quebec City.  In addition to the large museums like Musee des Beaux Arts and the Musee de la civilisation there are numerous smaller museums scattered around the city, principally because this is a tourist town.  Each has sketching opportunities and I expect to live in them this winter.

In particular, I’ve become a member of the Musee de la Civilisations as it seems the richest source of things to sketch.  Right now there are displays of Nigerian art, Maori culture, Samouri armor, swords, and helmets, and a wide variety of permanent displays of Canadian and Quebec cultural people, places and things.  And they’re very friendly to sketchers.  There’s a cafe where you can get soup, tea and sandwiches.  And, in a world with snow and cold outside, it’s warm.

My first adventure there was done with my buddy Yvan Breton.  We went on ‘free Tuesdays’ and expected to find the place crowded with people taking advantage of the freebie.  But we went in the morning and it wasn’t really busy so we set up in the Nigeria display and started sketching.  I sketched some of the masks, doing them in a fairly small size and doing them fairly quickly.  I just wanted to get a feel for sketching in the museum and I wanted to save time to walk around to look at all the exhibits.  We had a great day.

Free Concerts/Events

Cities have events going on constantly.  I’m not talking about Justin Beiber coming to town or NASCAR races.  I’m talking about smaller events.  A fashion show at the mall, school plays, an author signing event, club displays, craft shows, holiday events, etc.  All of these provide things to sketch.

Here in Quebec City there are also a bunch of free concerts, many put on by our music conservatory, where advanced students gain stage experience.   I’m new to these and time will tell but they’re a great opportunity to sketch people, the musicians and spectators as they don’t move much for extended periods of time.

A small sketchbook and a pencil are unobtrusive and just the thing.  I initiated my new Stillman & Birn 4×6 Alpha series sketchbook at the last one.  What could be more enjoyable than to listen to great music while you sketch?

I spent a delightful 1 1/2 hours listening to some truly gifted violinists.  I’m going to use these concerts to practice my people quick-sketching skills.  It’s a cinch I need the practice, don’tcha think?  What are some of your favorite winter sketching locations?

Parchemin Du Roy – Sketcher’s Paradise

I was talking to a sketching buddy and he asked “Do you know about Parchemin du Roy?”  I said no and he told me about a place that sold pens, sketchbooks, and pencils that he’d recently discovered.  To say my interest was peaked was an understatement.  That was a Sunday.

And so on Monday I hoofed my way to Parchemin du Roy, about a one-hour walk from my house.  They were closed, so like a kid in front of the toy shop, all I could do was put my nose to the glass and look in.  And what a view.  I left with the resolve to return.

And so I did.  It’s not very manly to jump up and down while giggling so I controlled myself, almost, as my eyes beheld the interior of this store.  Inks, pens, books, papers, sketchbooks, notebooks, maps, pencils, watercolors, brushes, and lots of other wonderful items to look at and touch.

Maybe more important, is that while they have the more typical Paper Blanks, Moleskine, and Rhodia products, they also have some really nice high-end speciality paper products.  Not only do they have J.Herbin and Pilot/Namiki inks, they’ve got walnut inks and specialized calligraphy inks.  In addition to Brause dip pens, they’ve got handmade dip pens turned from hardwoods.  While they stock Lamy pens and all their accessories, they also have the new Shaeffer “Ferrari” pen.  Yes, I admit it.  I did giggle and I jumped up and down a little.  I hope Roy didn’t see me.

They offer workshops in calligraphy and you can learn to create illuminated pages.  I might have to take one of those.  For my first visit I bought a brush, notepad and mechanical pencil.  I talked with Roy about differences between Parker and Waterman ballpoint cartridges and I looked and looked – and then I looked some more.  I’m still a bit giddy from the experience.

As I left I took a couple photos (it was too cold to sketch outdoors) and ran home to do the sketch I’ve shared above.  I hope you like it.  Do you have a specialty store like this in your town?  I’m so lucky.

Tis The Season…To Be Cold

I’ve just finished my first summer as a “plein air” sketcher.  I so passionately wandered the streets of Quebec City with a sketchbook that I’ve not spent enough time reporting on those activities in this blog.  My productivity as a writer has been excruciatingly close to zero.  But I have had sooooooo much fun this summer.  Sketching has changed my views of everything.

But for five months of the year Quebec City becomes an icebox.  I don’t mean it gets a little bit cool.  That happened when I lived in Arizona.  I mean it gets the kind of cold that causes tires to go clunk, clunk, clunk as you roll down the street as the rubber  stiffens while the tires sit.  I mean the kind of cold where you have to plug your car in at night so it will start in the morning.  I mean the kind of cold that causes polar bears to hibernate.

Like squirrels gathering nuts, we run around this time of year, preparing for our own hibernation in warm, cozy huts and with the exception of a few crazy people who like to ski and skate, we see “outdoors” only when forced to shove a snowblower around the driveway.

But, with my new found hobby, this is unacceptable.  I want to sketch.  Yes, I can draw coffee cups and sofas but that’s not who I am.  I like sketching places.  So, how do I get past the reality that watercolors freeze when subjected to Quebec City winter temperatures?

Clearly the watercolors will have to be left behind,  but a pen and a small sketchbook can be crammed into a coat pocket.  I’ve got small versions of Stillman & Birn’s Alpha series sketchbooks on their way.  I may even move from my favorite fountain pens to a gel pen or…shudder…maybe even a pencil, to simplify the toolkit.

I’m excited.  As the leaves fell from the trees, my stomping grounds have revealed a whole new landscape, just waiting to be sketched, with or without color. 

But, can an Arizona-bred old guy sketch in the cold.  We’ll see, but I’m optimistic.  Is this how a well-dressed sketching fanatic faces temperatures that live around zero degrees Fahrenheit?  Hope so.

I think the sessions will be shorter, and they’ll probably followed by warming myself over a hot cup of tea, but I’m optimistic.  Then again, it’s still “warm” here.  The  following photo was taken last weekend as I sketched on the large island next to Quebec City.  It was 35F.  If nothing else, winter will help me sketch faster (grin).  What do you do to feed your sketching itch when winter rolls around?  Am I nuts?

Photo by Yvan Breton

Halloween – Urban Sketching Style

This is the time of year that sketchers post beautiful sketches of pumpkins.  I love them all.  I figure this to be my first Halloween as a sketcher.  Last October I’d just started try to move pointy objects across paper and I wasn’t up to the task of sketching pumpkins.  So, a year later, here’s my first set, done with a black ballpoint pen that blobbed on me more than a few times, adding “character” to my sketch.

Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8), Pentel RSVP ballpoint, W&N watercolors

But I’m an urban sketcher.  I sketch buildings, lamposts and fire hydrants.  I guess a group of pumpkins sitting on my kitchen table is ‘urban’ but you have to mentally squint to see it.  So I thought I should do something else and I found the ideal subject as I walked the main street that runs through our port area.   What could be better than an orange building with some black Halloween decorations on it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), Pilot Prera w/Noodler’s Lexington Gray, W&N watercolors

When I sat across the street to sketch it, though, I had an immediate problem.  There is considerable vehicle traffic on this street and when sitting low on my tripod stool, it was hard to see the lower front of the building.  I’m not good enough to sketch moving vehicles so I sat, looked and pondered.  Then I sat, looked and pondered some more.  What to do.

I got out a 3H pencil and started laying out where the building and stairwell would sit on the paper and marked out the door location.  Then I picked up my stool and walked down the street and found a place where I could sit the ‘right’ distance from a car.  I sketched it as though it was moving in front of my, as yet to be drawn, building.  Then I moved back to the building and sketched it.  I’m not sure I got car and building sized properly relative to one another but it’s close enough for me.  Hope you like it.  Happy Halloween.

Cheers — Larry

Brightest Building in Quebec

The leaves are falling from the trees and temperatures are heading in the same direction.  It won’t be long before I won’t be able to stalk the streets of Québec, looking for buildings to sketch.  I guess I’ll have to go inside and stalk Quebecers to sketch.

But I was out today and walking a street I’d walked many times.  Either I’m going blind or this small ‘casse-croute’ (in some places it would be called a chips stand) has just gotten a very bright facelift.  In any case today gave me opportunity to capture its essense, which I did.

Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray, Winsor & Newton watercolors

I did the basic sketch on site but decided to come home to do all the signage as I wanted to try out some different tools.  To that end, the large sign and the plates of food were done with colored pencils, a medium I have yet to conquer.  The ‘Frites maison’ sign was done with some Stabilo felt pens I just bought…and like very much for doing such things.   The building’s kinda cute, don’tcha think?

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com

A Shivering Good Sketchcrawl in Quebec City

Today we had our second sketchcrawl in Quebec City. The best description of what went on may come from the fact that I learned a new French verb – “frissonner.” It means to shiver and that’s exactly what I was doing as I tried to sketch a restaurant at the QC marina. That sketch, in all its “frisonner” wavy lines may get finished up but it will occur in my office.

Bethann and I were the first to bail out, though others were already huddled against a wall that broke the wind. We went into the Marché de vieux port (our farmer’s market), got coffee and Bethann spotted some empty tables and chairs, left behind by summer kiosks, now closed for the winter.

We set up shop and couldn’t have asked for a better place to sketch and talk sketching. There was also eating involved. The rest of the group quickly gathered and we were entrenched for the day. Nobody wanted to go outside.

If this wasn’t luck enough for anyone, the kiosk next to our “meeting hall” was owned by a very nice woman who sold blueberry syrups and some incredible chocolate/blueberry pieces of heaven. AND she brought us a platter of the stuff.

Here’s my shivering sketch, a view from across the marina:

A New Sketching Adventure – Drawing Trees

I was walking back from a sketching session last week and I took a slightly different route.  I found a new house I want to sketch and a nifty little restaurant that may become a future sketch.  But the real discovery was a small “bouquinerie.”  In French, a “bouquinerie” is a bookstore that sells used books and I decided to go in to see if they had any cheap books on Quebec architecture or history.

They did, but what really caught my eye was a small art section.  Among the offerings, mostly in French, was a copy of Henry Pitz’s How to Draw Trees. This book was first published in 1956 and redone several times since then.  It does appear to be out of print, though you can still buy used copies of it via Amazon, Abebooks and probably elsewhere  but the prices run from $30-100.  The one I was looking at cost five bucks.  I snapped it up and it has launched a new sketching chapter for me, and I haven’t even read the darn thing yet.  The sketches are cool, though.

I’m not sure how long that chapter will be or what story it will tell, but right now I’m having fun discovering trees.  I’ve drawn trees in many of my sketches but I’ve never featured a tree in a sketch.  I still have much to learn from this book as I’m still looking at the pictures, but I thought I’d share some of my meager attempts that have sprung from my new-found interest.

Small Vignettes

I started by doing some small sketches in a really cheap, blank notebook I picked up at the dollar store.  Until Stillman & Birn decide to produce a small sketchbook, I’m stuck with this less than optimal paper as I really don’t like Moleskine sketchbook paper.  Anyways, here’s a sample of my efforts.

Plains of Abraham Trees

 

The Plains of Abraham is a natural place to sketch trees – the park has a lot of them representing many, many species.  I went there with the idea of capturing a couple ‘likenesses’ of these tall neighbors on our planet.

I started in a handmade sketchbook, with Canson Mi-Teintes tan paper.  I think this sketch may be improved with a splash of color but for now, this is the result.  Proud, but lonely, this tree stands in a very open area of the park.  Click on this image for a larger image.

I got out my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8) and moved to a comfy bench in the shade and I sketched this tree.  Again, you can get a larger image by clicking on ths small one.

Some Misc Doodles

I thought that while I had my dollar store notebook out I’d show you a few examples of the doodles I do, often while watching TV.  There’s not much to them but I thought some might find them interesting.

An old, plugged window in old Quebec

Attempt at a classic pen & ink roof corner

Simple pencil sketch

Fence post and its reason to be

Anyone have a recommendation for a decent 3×5 sketchbook that isn’t made by Moleskine and is available (without paying as much for shipping as for the sketchbook) to those of us in Canada?

Cheers — Larry (larry@larrydmarshall.com)

 

Sketching A Car

A couple weeks ago I was down at the Quebec City port and parked near the Louis Jolliet excursion boat dock sat a great little car, painted up as a race car.  I don’t know if it was really a race car or why it was parked there.  But I plucked my camera from my sketching bag and took a photo of it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Yesterday I couldn’t go out sketching and I remembered that car.  I brought the photo of it up on my computer and I sketched it.  Though I’m not an accomplished sketcher, I have to say that I like the sketch better than the photo.  Just a bit more personal I suppose, and now I know this car better than my own.  Ain’t she cute?  Are cars the ultimate ‘urban sketch’?

larry@larrydmarshall.com

Junk Journals, Trying Stuff, And Sketching Fun

I’m a lucky guy.  Laure Ferlita reads my blog.  If you don’t know Laure, she is a VERY talented artist/sketcher whose work I admire a lot.  She has her own blog and left a comment on my recent post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks where she advocates the use of what she calls a ‘junk journal.’  You can, and should, read her blog post, titled “Pen Practice In My Junk Journal” on this subject.

In that post Laure advocates the use of a ‘junk journal’, a sketchbook that may be a cast off from buying an inadequate sketchbook, or maybe even bought as a ‘junk journal.’  While the name Laure gives to these sketchbooks comes from the notion that they might be otherwise thrown away, they are anything but junk, but rather a liberating and fun tool.  A junk journal, in my view, is a crucial part of a newbie’s arsenal.  While Laure, an accomplished artist, uses it to gain unfettered creativity in planning, playing, and enjoying her skills.  I think we newbies have an additional use for it, which is that we’re trying to figure out how to do stuff and a junk journal is the best place to do it in my view.

For myself, I have a ‘junk journal’, though it isn’t one of my rejects.  Instead, it’s a 9×12 Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook that sits, open on my desk, all the time.  It’s where I do tests of new materials.  It’s where I try to replicate a technique or idea I’ve gleaned from the many bright folks that inhabit the Internet.  It’s where I try to improve my drawing and painting techniques.  This sketchbook is crucial to my learning process as I feel the notion of learning by doing is a good one, there are different kinds of doing and separating my ‘learning’ (junk journal) from my ‘doing’ (creating the best sketch I can) helps me a lot.

Here I was trying to figure out how to draw cylinders, with a bit of 'quick building' thrown in for good measure.

When one tries to learn piano one doesn’t just try to play a Chopin sonata over and over again.  One plays scales, plays Chopsticks, Twinkle-Twinkle-Little-Star or whatever.  In short, if sketching buildings (my thing) is what you like, you don’t want to mess up a nice sketch of a building trying to figure out how to indicate snow against its wall.  You need a ‘junk journal’ to figure out that 1) drawing a line to indicate snow is a bad idea, 2) that negative painting that snow line is far superior and 3) get some practice doing it in small, insignificant vignette sketches.

I’ve made it pretty clear in my S&B post that I’m an advocate of using first class paper all the time.  I tried to indicate how little more it costs to do so in that post.  But I think Laure’s views on a junk journal and mine are not so different.  Rather, I think there are two components to ‘junk journal’ and they should be addressed separately.  They are:

1) You need a sketchbook where you can play, with no expectations of drawing anything you’re going to frame or post on the Internet – the junk journal that Laure advocates.

2) You need to decide whether you need cheap paper to be liberated as in 1) or not.

I think, without a doubt, Laure is right about the first thing for all the reasons she argues on her blog AND as I’ve just argued, it’s probably more important for new sketchers to have such a sketchbook.

Here I was responding to ideas from Artist's Journal Workshop on how to paint kitchen wall tiles and bricks, with some paint smears and smudges that I can't explain.

For the second thing, however, I think it’s not so clear.  While Laure’s idea of using an existing, and rejected sketchbook seems very logical, and certainly frugal, it was afterall, a rejected sketchbook.  You’ve said, “Yuck!” for a reason.  And if your junk journal is to be used to try new techniques, experiment with ideas, and generally aid in your learning the craft, wouldn’t it be better if the paper in that sketchbook be of a quality similar to what you use when you actually do a so-called ‘serious’ sketch or journal entry?

Of course this is true so the big problem is whether you can get past the notion that paying an extra few cents for a blank page on which to scribble is a good idea.

I find that by using a first class sketchbook is worth it to me because I’m testing techniques, not just ideas.  Further by using much larger journal than my carry-everywhere sketchbooks I cut the cost of the play even more.  I scatter experiments and sketches over a 8 1/2 x 11 page, done in the size I’d do in my normal sketchbooks, and I can fit 4-6 ideas on a page, sometimes more.  I’m not trying to produce a ‘real’ sketch, remember.  And so, while my large S&B Epsilon costs $22, there are 100 pages on which I can doodle/test/sketch and even at four ideas per page it’s only costing me a nickel per idea.   Pretty cheap to have the knowledge that the paper won’t bleed, buckle and that anything learned will translate well to my ‘real’ sketchbooks.

In summary, following Laure’s recommendation is probably the most important thing a newbie sketcher can do to help develop technique and style.  Whether it is ideally done on cheap paper, is, however, more a function of getting past the notion that you’re worth a few nickles (grin).

And now I’ve done something I thought I’d never do – show people pages from my junk journal.  I feel like Hagrid, in the Philosopher’s Stone movie when he kept giving privileged info to the kids, followed with “I shouldn’t have told you that.”