Museum Sketching – A Location Sketcher’s Winter Salvation

Last summer was my first as a location sketcher – actually it was my first summer as any kind of sketcher.  I fell in love with the process and excitement of being out on the street, soaking up the sun and ambiance while sketching.  Quickly the early fears I had about people talking to me became one of the joys of the sketching experience.

And so I faced winter somewhat depressed as it becomes too cold for man nor beast to be on the streets of Quebec and I thought I’d have to do my sketching at home, in my office.  That has never interested me much, but then a couple fellow sketchers said, “We sometimes sketch at the museum – want to come?” and my world changed overnight.

I got a permit to sketch at the art museum.  I became a member of our Musee de la Civilisation, which also gave me access three other, smaller museums.  And I’ve met new people, had new challenges, experimented with new materials and learned a lot about seeing complex objects while drawing same with minimal equipment.  I’m sketching as much this winter as I did during summer.  The subjects have changed, but I feed my desire to sketch real things, in real time, without having to resort to drawing my spatula and coffee cup (grin).

BretonYvan_2013-02-12_Larry-Marshall-at-Civilisation

If that weren’t enough, Yvan Breton has become a good friend who is an architect and long-time artist.  He’s become both a companion when I sketch and my mentor.  His style and mine are quite different but he’s taught me more in the past couple months than I learned in my entire first year of sketching.  I confess that all the information he’s provided has my poor old brain scattered and flailing to keep up with all the ‘gotta try that…’ feelings I’m having right now but hey, that’s part of the fun.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler's Lex Gray.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler’s Lex Gray. Partially sketched while Yvan was sketching me.

The sketch above is of me, by Yvan.  He did this “quick sketch” while I was sketching in the Nigeria exhibit at the museum last Tuesday.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

I’ll complete this post by showing you several of the sketches I’ve had opportunity to do in the last week.  I think you’ll agree that the variety is far greater than my summer sketches, which are mostly buildings – my first love.

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

While we’ve sketched some of the Nigerian exhibit already, we’re starting to spend more time there because the Samurai exhibit is leaving on Sunday.  The funny thing about the Nigerian exhibit is that it’s full of great items to sketch but, it seems, they don’t become ‘great’ until you actually start looking at them as a sketching subject.  One is deceived by a walk-around in the exhibit and you conclude the items are a bunch of very similar, primitive sculptures.  Primitive yes, similar, not so much.  So many shapes, so many surfaces.  Wow!

2013-02-10GenghisKhanWe spent last Sunday at the Musee de Amerique Francais, where I sketched Genghis Khan, or at least a mannequin wearing the Genghis Khan suit used in the movie Night at the Museum.  This was done in a Strathmore 400 “gray” sketchbook using Noodler’s Brown in a Pilot Prera.  Lots of fun, though all those squares drove me nuts.

2013-02-10CirqueSoleilHeadsWhen I was done, I turned my attention to some large paper mache heads used by the Cirque de Soleil in their show.  These were ‘I gotta draw those’ subjects but I approached them with some trepidation.  In the end they were lots of fun.  Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils for this one.

2013-02-13Samourai700I’ll conclude by sharing my full Samurai suit sketch.  I’d promised myself that I’d do one before the exhibit left… just as soon as my skills began to match the amazing subjects.  I didn’t quite make it on the skills end but, before the exhibit leaves on Sunday, I did sketch this one.  I apologize for the absolutely weird positioning of the mannequin.  That’s not me distorting it; that’s how they had it positioned.  All of them were somewhat unnatural in their orientations in my opinion.  This one done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

If you scroll back through the blog you’ll find lots of Samurai helmets, sketches of Joe Fafard sculptures, other Nigerian masks, and other stuff.  Museum sketching is really fun.  If you haven’t already, give it a try.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Back To The Museum – More Samurai Helmets

I was back at the museum this morning and met up with sketching buddies Yvan and Claudette.  In spite of the museum being over-run by several bus loads of kids, we had a good time.  It was just a bit more noisy.

2013-02-06Samurai12-700We decided we should take advantage of the Samurai exhibit as it’s going to be leaving in two weeks.  I love sketching the many amazing helmets in this display and so that’s what I did.  Here are two more.

The first sketch is a bit of a bit different from the other dozen helmet sketches that I’ve done in that I did this one very quickly.  Typically I’ll take an hour or so to do one.  I did this one in 15-20 minutes.  I just wanted to see how my quick-sketching skills had improved.  Done with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  I was happy with the experiment.

2013-02-06Samurai13-700This one did take me about an hour but this helmet deserved the time.  Representing two bamboo/metal pipes, one on each side, the metalwork here is really outstanding.  Much about these helmets is demonstrate status but it was also about identity, as on a Samurai battlefield there were no cell phones; only “There he is.  See his helmet?” recognition of your fellow soldiers.

For me these helmets are incredible pieces of art and an opportunity to develop my drawing skills, which need all the help they can get (grin).  Same tools, same sketchbook for this one.

I’m getting a lot of bang for the buck from my museum membership.  Another three+ months of winter will ensure that it’s the best bang for the buck I’ve ever received.

 

A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

“A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations” is a famous line by Clint Eastwood in one of his Dirty Harry movies.  And yesterday, that quote came to mind.  I was in the Nigeria exhibit of the Musee de la Civilisation and attempting to sketch a complex ceremonial head dress.  If one squints it looks like the caricature of a rocket ship with a head on the front of it.  If you look at it closely, however, you see that it has a head/face on one end, and another, more stylized face, with a couple of tusks on the other.  These two ‘heads’ are separated by a large, half-disk that holds the eyes of the second head.  It’s about 2-feet long and someone wore it on their head.

I just had to sketch it.  I was in the mood to give a pencil another try, though I don’t know why I punish myself like that.  Pencils and I don’t get along and my results are always smeared by the very action of creating them.  Have I mentioned that I’m a pen guy?

Anyways, there isn’t a vertical or horizontal line in this object but I started by drawing a square, somewhat tilted to reflect the main ‘body’ of the object.  This set the angle for the large plate and that back end that looks like a doghouse.

2013-02-05NigeriaRocket700A ball drawn in front of it and a couple sticks out the back and I had the ‘bones’ for this sketch.  I started the actual drawing by doing the measure-with-your-pencil trick to determine what part of this object went through the centerpoint of the drawing and I roughed that in.  Then, he said confidently, the rest was just a matter of filling out/in the bones… and it only took forever and half a dozen Staedtler erasers.  I guess that’s a slight exaggeration – it only felt that way.

2013-02-05NigeriaCombOnce I finished this sketch I decided to do something a bit more tame so I quickly sketched this wooden Nigerian comb.  This one was also done in pencil but in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook and I added a few scribbles of watercolor pencil.

What object(s) show you your limitations as a sketcher?

 

On Nait Tous Artistes!

On nait tous artistes (We are all born as artists) is what is written on the sides of a tiny Fiat car owned by DeSerres, our local art store.  They have just opened a new store within walking distance of my house which was event enough but in the parking lot was this really amazing Fiat, it’s paint scheme that of a young child drawing herself I suppose.

Anyways, I just had to sketch it but it was far too cold to sit in the parking lot to do so.  I took a couple photos, came home and sketched it off my computer monitor.  I guess that disqualifies it as a true ‘urban sketchers’ sketch but this one deserves an exception.

2013-02-03DeSerresFiat700

Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5), Lamy Safari, Noodler’s Lexington Gray. Faber-Castell watercolor pencils provide color.

Strathmore Series 400 “Toned Gray” sketchbooks

I’ve posted a couple examples of sketches I’ve done on Strathmore’s Series 400 gray drawing paper and it’s spawned a couple of questions about the sketchbook in particular but also the paper itself.  I’m really new to the paper and I’m not a paper guru, but I thought it might be useful for me to discuss my limited experience with these products.

Series400DrawingStrathmore’s Series 400 Drawing sketchbooks have been around for a very long time and most commonly found in various sizes of spiral-bound books with “Drawing” on the cover.  According to Strathmore they are and “ideal surface for any dry media, suitable for pen and ink.”  I’m not a pastel guy but I don’t think this paper would be useful for that medium but for pencil and pen and ink, it’s an excellent, inexpensive paper.  It may lack a bit in ‘tooth’ for those wanting to do detailed pencil sketches.

StrathmoreTonedGrayThe recent release of this type of paper in both gray and brown is an important event in the sketching world, I think, and even more so because Strathmore has wisely produced brown-covered sketchbooks containing these papers.  I nearly went off the rails the first time I saw one of these beautiful sketchbooks.  I get bored by the typical black covers and the matt-brown finish of these sketchbook covers speaks to me.

The binding looks good but I don’t have enough experience with it to speak further about it.  I should also add that I have no experience with the brown paper version so my comments are limited to the gray paper.

2013-01-08Seminaire38thSketchcrawl

Done with Pilot Prera and Prismacolor white pencil

But I’m getting ahead of myself as I first discovered this paper in a spiral-bound 9×12 sketchbook.  These come with finely perforated pages so you can remove the papers cleanly.  I did exactly that and use this paper as individual sheets.  I found it very nice for pencil sketching, though I admit to know almost nothing about pencil sketching.  What I can tell you is that my buddy Yvan is a long-time and certainly excellent pencil driver and he said that “it’s great for ‘sketching’ (in quotes because his sketches are framing quality) but for portrait work the paper lacks tooth.”  Those of you who understand this can do your own interpretation.  Me, I’m still trying to figure out how to do basic shading with pencils.  I’m a pen and ink guy and so I provide the ink sketch on the left, done with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.

Series 400, done with Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lexington Gray ink

Series 400, done with Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink

My understanding is that the hardbound sketchbooks are available in 5.5×8.5″ and 8.5×11.5″ sizes.   As I was in the market for a pen-only sketchbook that I could dedicate to learning how to draw people, I bought the smaller size.  I admit that I much prefer drawing buildings, cars and even fire hydrants rather than sketch people but it’s winter and there are more people indoors than there are buildings, so what’s a sketcher to do?

My new Strathmore sketchbook has become my “people” sketchbook.  Its 128 pages of gray, 80lb paper works well with the pens I use regularly (i.e. fine nib fountain pens).  I did find that if I use a medium nib and lay down a significant amount of ink there is slight feathering with my typical sketching ink (Noodler’s Lexington Gray) but it wasn’t objectionable.

Series 400, done with Pilot G-TEC-C3 hybrid ink pen

Series 400, done with Pilot G-TEC-C3 hybrid ink pen

As I haven’t done much with the sketchbook yet I don’t have much to show in the way of examples so I’ll include the only two pages of my book that have ink on them.  The first is a set of scribbles I did of people parts.  There was no intention of anyone but me seeing this and no rhyme or reason to it so I apologize for its scattered nature.  The second sketch is my first attempt at sketching clothing folds with pen and ink.  Need to work on my darks a lot and proportions even more, but again, here it is.  This is a post about the paper, not this sketcher’s limited abilities (grin).  In any event, I hope this answers some of the questions about this paper and the new sketchbooks.

Oh…I should add, this paper contains too little sizing and is too light for use as a watercolor surface in my opinion.  I have done some experiments and I can get away with adding some shading using a Derwent Graphitone pencil and color with Faber-Castell watercolor pencils, moving both around with a small Sakura Koi waterbrush.  Trying to add a graded wash down the side of a building wall, however, is 1) very difficult as the paper is so absorptive and 2) the paper starts to pucker.  For myself, I’ll stick to my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks for all my color work.  They’re simply the best there is, though I wish I could buy them with brown covers.

Museum Sketching With Claudette

What’s going on?  Last week it was so cold that it was fashionable to run outside with a bucket of hot water, throw it up in the air and watch it turn instantly to snow.  Those -30C temps are tough so mostly we just stay indoors.  But this week, we’re 40-degrees warmer than that and it’s RAINING!   This doesn’t happen in Quebec, in February.  These temps, however, are much easier to take.

And so it was, yesterday, when I walked in the rain to the Musee de l’Amerique francais to meet up with a new sketching buddy, Claudette Gauvreau, a very talented sketcher.  I met her at our last sketchcrawl and we agreed meet at the museum for a sketching session.

2013_01-30ChapelOrgan700I got there about half an hour or so before our scheduled meet time and decided to sketch an organ that sits high above the floor of a chapel associated with the museum.  I always struggle with perspective when I have to look up this much and this case was no exception.  I started with pencil, drawing and redrawing the basic columns and the ceiling curves.  I even drew a big cube where the organ sits before turning to pen to do the actual sketch.

When Claudette arrived she needed to do some work in the chapel as well so I continued working and finished up the pen work.  I did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook using Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Shading was done with a Derwent Graphitone 8B pencil.  These pencils are great because once you hit them with a waterbrush they ‘set’ and you can put watercolor washes over it.

ClaudetteBalastradeClaudette finished up this great sketch of part of the railing around the main seating area, which holds a bunch of round banquet tables these days.  I can’t speak to materials used but isn’t it great?  The small bit at the bottom is an example of the flooring.

We headed into the museum where we sat in comfy sofas and sketched mannequins dressed in costumes used in movies and created by French costume designers.  She started sketching the cowboy character that Owen Wilson played in Night at the Museum, while I decided to do something I’d never done.  I sketched a Victorian dress using only a pen.  I’m fascinated by clothing folds and want to learn to draw them in ink.

2013_01-30VictorianDress700Anyways, in the time it took me to do this sketch, Claudette finished drawing her cowboy, then drew a security guard and an indian from the same movie.  Then she wandered off to look at the exhibits while I finished up my single figure.  Have I mentioned that I’m slow at sketching (grin)?  This sketch was done with a Pilot G-TEC-C3, hybrid ink pen on Strathmore Series 400 toned gray paper (5.5×8.5).  I wish I could show you Claudette’s sketches but I didn’t think to take a photo.

Next Wednesday, we’re meeting at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Want to join us?

Music, Friends and Sketching – A Very Good Day

One of the great things about Quebec City is that there are a lot of free concerts.  Many are associated with the conservatory here and are mostly students – really good students.

Another source of free concerts are the ‘mid-day’ concerts associated with the Grand Théâtre de Québec.  This venue is the site of operatic and symphonic programs, musical plays, and a bunch of big name but not big venue performers.  I saw B.B. King there.

The mid-day concerts are held on the second floor foyer, however, and once they’ve set up a stage and a bunch of chairs, it’s about the size of a decent sit-down night club without the booze, though you can get coffee and danish.

And that’s where I was today, to listen to a fantastic group of six jazz singers, all people too young to have so much talent.  2013_01-27TheatreTreeI arrived a little after ten AM and the concert didn’t start until eleven, though I got a mini-concert as the group went through a couple numbers, getting warmed up and checking equipment, I suppose.  With little to do besides look out the window, that’s what I did.  I got together with this pine tree, which also didn’t seem to have much to do, and we made this sketch together.  We had a good time together.

But when Yvan arrived, the fickle friend that I am completely ignored my pine tree friend.  Yvan and I talked about sketching, his new sketchbook, the Series 400 toned paper that Strathmore is selling and some other stuff.  When we could, we went up and staked out some primo sketching seats, saving one for Celine.

Celine and Yvan are quite comfortable doing really great sketches of singers and musicians.  Myself, I still struggle with people who are moving around a lot.  Heck, who am I kidding.  I still have trouble sketching people who are comatose.  Yvan has explained, in his patient manner that ALL I have to do is choose a position the person returns to frequently and sketch that position.  So far my brain hasn’t gotten the message as it can’t quite sift through all the movement.  Practice, practice, practice…

2013_01-27Spectator1While I tried to sketch the singers, I didn’t do so well.  So, I sketched people who were in the audience.  These were all very quick sketches – another problem my brain has when in a crowd of people moving around.  My brain goes into “you’ve only got a minute, dummy, go fast…blindingly fast.”  So, while these spectators were going to stay put for me for the duration of the concert, I was doing 1-2 minute quick sketches.  Darn brain.

2013_01-27Spectator2All of these sketches were done in a 3×5 sketchbook using a Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen, filled with PCB ink.  I’ve come to like this pen a lot for detail sketching as it’s really fine, like a .005 Micron.  I’m not so sure about it as a people sketching pen for the same reason – the lines are just too fine.

The music was fantastic, being with my sketching buddies always a good time, and there’s no such thing as a bad sketch if you view sketching fun as coming from the process, not the result.  I do.

2013-01-26GuyReadingAs long as I’m talking about people sketching, here’s a slightly better sketch I did the day before, of a cooperative guy who sat reading.  He changed his position only once in the 10 minutes or so I spent sketching him which I thought quite considerate.  This sketch was done with my Hero 578 “Chinese calligraphy” (tip bent upward) pen, Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, and a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  You can see that I can get variable line thickness from this pen and I think it adds something to the sketch.

Museum Time Again

It’s been really cold here in Quebec.  So cold, in fact that I couldn’t bring myself to go out at all, let alone walk the hour to the museums.  I hadn’t sketched in several days because of this, so when the high temp hit -17C I jumped at this ‘warm’ day to head out.

I decided to go to the Musee de l’Amerique francais, the site of our recent sketchcrawl.  As I was there on a Thursday morning, I think I was alone in the museum, except for the staff.  It was quiet.  It was comfortable.  In fact, I sat in a nice, comfy sofa and sketched a mannikin who was dressed in a 16th Century gown worn in the movie The Fountain.

2013_01-16thCenturyWoman700Still trying to figure out pencil sketching, that’s what I was using.  I decided early on that the subject might be too ‘grand’ for my Stillman & Birn 5.5×8.5 Epsilon sketchbook as the dress has a very bold pattern that I simply couldn’t capture in a 6″ tall sketch but I persisted doing the best I could.  Sadly, the sketch shows my biggest problem – I constantly smear the pencil work.  I can’t seem to avoid it.  It got worse, of course, when I sketched on the page opposite this one.  So, the sketch is more than a little bit ‘muddy’ but I sure had fun doing it.  The mannikin didn’t have much of a face and neither does my sketch.  Don’t hold it against her 🙂  I’m going to have to carry a sheet of paper to cover these sketches while I work, or maybe just go back to using a pen.

2013_01-25_19thCenturyWinterwear600I moved to another room and was taken by a pair of 19th Century snowshoes.  These are the widest shoes I’ve seen and if horses made John Wayne bowlegged, these would surely do the same to their wearer.  I also sketched a boot that was associated with this display.  Here I used a Pilot Prera and some watercolor pencils.

Sketching On Toned Paper

I’m no expert to artist materials.  Most of the time when I talk about using them the discourse begins with me saying “This is the first time that…”  This is almost true of my use of toned paper in my sketching activities.  During last summer I made a small sketchbook from toned paper (Canson Mi-Teintes) and I did a few pen sketches in it.  Unfortunately, the sketchbook itself wasn’t stiff enough (thin covers) to work well as a sketchbook to use on location while I held it in my hand.

Now that it’s winter and very cold here, I’ve been working a lot in museums.  This shift in location and subject matter has been coupled by me doing some experimenting with different tools and materials and recently I’ve done a couple sketches on single sheets of gray, toned paper and I thought I’d share them here.

2013-01-15Nigeria6_700The first was done at the Musée de la Civilisation, in a large Nigeria exhibit that features lots of masks and headdresses used in ceremonies.  This one was done in Canson Mi-Teintes paper.  As I am also trying to learn how to use a pencil as a sketching medium, I used the smooth side of this paper and it worked well.  Not being a pencil guru, I started layout with a 3H pencil and ultimately ended up with an HB mechanical pencil.  Nothing special here and, I’m sure, most pencil experts will probably cringe that I didn’t use softer pencils.  I added a bit of highlight using a Prismacolor white pencil but I was fairly tentative in this as I’ve never done that before at all.  Still, the results ended up better than I expected.

The next sketch I did was done during our 38th Worldwide Sketchcrawl, which we did at the Musée de Francais and its associated chapel.  The chapel has been ‘secularized’ and is rented out for meetings and banquets.  Still, its walls are still adorned with statues of saints, the windows are stained glass, and a huge alter remains.

2013-01-08Seminaire38thSketchcrawl700But I love to sketch buildings and being driven indoors by snow and cold is frustrating.  I took advantage of the sketchcrawl to set my tripod stool in front of a huge window that looked out on a courtyard that was bordered by a very long, probably 150+ feet long building.  Rather than capture the entire structure, I decided to concentrate on a slice of it and I came up with this sketch.

This sketch was done on Strathmore Series 400 “toned gray” paper.  I bought a 9×12 spiral sketchbook of this stuff.  The sheets are perforated and can be easily separated from the sketchbook.  I did the linework with a Pilot Prera filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  The suggestion of snow was added using the same Prismacolor pencil I used in the first sketch.  I like this paper a lot.  It’s much cheaper than the Canson paper and it’s a great pencil paper.  I felt that it was a bit too absorptive for ink, though.  A heavy line tends to feather a bit.

I really like drawing on toned paper.  I’m less wild about using single sheets of paper for my sketching and wish Stillman & Birn would create a gray version of its Epsilon sketchbooks.  A sketcher has to have a dream (grin).

Do Nigerians Have Thick Necks?

Goofy question, right?  Well, I’m convinced there is evidence to support the notion that Nigerians have thick necks.  It comes in the form of the Nigeria exhibit at our Musée de la Civilisation.

That evidence comes in the form of large, and I mean large ‘crests’ worn by Nigerian dancers.  Some of these are huge and, supposedly, they wear them while doing ceremonial dances.  I wouldn’t want to balance one on my head while watching TV, let alone while dancing.

2013-01-08Nigeria4_700Here’s just one example.  This ‘little’ guy is roughly half a meter tall.  The straw band at its base is where your head goes.  I assume there’s a strap that goes through the lower hole and runs around under the chin.  Thick necks… gotta be.

This next one isn’t quite as large and I’m not exactly sure how it’s even worn.  It’s obviously an elephant who likes to play frisbee but other than that I know nothing about it other than that it too is labelled as a ‘crest’ and is part of a long line of them along one wall of the exhibit.

2013-01-15Nigeria5_700

Both sketches were done in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.  The first was drawn with a Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.  The elephant sketch was done with a mechanical pencil.  Thank goodness for museums when it’s cold outside.