Rainy Weekend Sketching

This past weekend was rainy and windy, so my hopes of outdoor sketching were dashed…or dampened…or blown away.  It depends on your view.  And when it’s a gloomy, rainy day, a philosopher sits on a rock and ponders the universe. A sketcher draws the rock. Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), TWSBI Mini with Lex Gray.

2013-05-24Rock

Sunday was the same – rain and wind. No outdoor sketching today either. So there I was, watching the Bluejays on TV. Since I can’t watch TV without doing something else I started flipping through photos I’ve taken around Quebec and found a photo of Quebec’s “cannonball tree.” This is something that would be hard to sketch on site because, in the winter, it’s covered with snow and in the summer, it’s surrounded by groups of tourists taking photos of it.

Back in the 18th Century the Brits came along and decided they like this “Nouvelle France” place, so they started lobbing cannon shells on the city…I’m sure in an attempt to make it look more British. In any case, they did that for several months, ultimately got the French to surrender, and we’ve all lived happily every after ever since.

2013-05-26CannonballTreeBut somehow, this French tree grabbed a British cannonball and hung onto it, for a couple hundred years. It seems reluctant to give it back and so so the tree has become famous for its persistence, appearing on tourist guide maps of things to see. My sketch is in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) and I used my TWSBI Mini with Lex Gray ink.

Will the rain ever end?

Holiday Weekend Sketching

Last Friday was a crazy day, with trying to fit X hours of work into fewer than X hours of available time.  But I was desperate enough to get it done cuz Saturday was the beginning of three days of good weather and SKETCHING!!!!

2013-05-18MaisonGominSaturday I hopped a bus for the other side of town as I’d convinced my buddy Yvan that we ‘needed’ to sketch Maison Gomin.  This is a castle-like building that used to be a woman’s prison.  It’s now a funeral/crematorium place that drips money inside.  Seems there’s a lot of money in dead people.  Anyway, this sketch represents one end of the building.  The dragon sits on top of the other end, guarding the princess.  It was done in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook.  I used a TWSBI Mini and Platinum Carbon Black.

2013-05-19MoulinDesJesuites_siteSunday morning Yvan and I headed the the north part of the city and we sketched an old mill (17th Century) built and operated by Jesuits.  It’s now a historical landmark.

It was done in the same sketchbook with the same pen.  It suffers a bit from a change of heart on my part.  When I laid out the sketch I thought I’d let the end of the smaller building run off the page to the right.  But later I decided I wanted the end of it in the sketch and thought I could do that by simply shortening it.  I did that but the proportions of the building made it look odd, but then most of my sketches are odd so I guess it fits.

2013-05-19CadranSundialAs we were packing up I decided to do this quick sketch of a sundial which is unlike any I’d seen before.  It’s a tiny sketch, done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6).  I used Lexington Gray in a Noodler’s Creaper to draw it.   Color was quickly applied by waterbrushes filled with very, very dilute ink.

Monday I was going to stay home and work but I got the itch to sketch some more and so I wandered downtown.  I realized that I had never sketched the Musee de la Civilisation, where I spent the winter sketching.  So I took the opportunity and did this sketch of the left end of the museum complex.  Back to the S&B Alpha (10×7) for this one and the TWSBI Mini, though I switched to Noodler’s Lexington Gray for ink.  I prefer the dark gray lines to the stark black of Platinum Carbon Black.

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All and all, it was a great weekend, with good weather, good company, and a great time sketching.  I’m still thinking about it as this week it’s been raining almost constantly 🙁

A Bit of Urban Sketching

Just as spring had sprung and it was starting to be warm enough to sketch outdoors, yours truly decided it was time to get sick.  I spent more than a week feeling pretty bad, made all the worse by coming home one day to find water dripping from our first-floor ceiling.  I still have a hole in the ceiling to fix but the pipes are holding water again.

2013-04-27BeauportHouseBWBefore getting sick, though, I did get out with my buddy Yvan and we rode our bikes on an adventure into Beauport, a suburb of Quebec City.  We sketched this house, which I liked very much.  I used my Pilot Prera for this one.  Same Noodler’s Lexington Gray I normally use.

I did stop in the old city one day as I was returning from French school and I made this sketch in a Stillman & Birn Zeta (5.5×8.5) sketchbook, using a TWSBI Mini and Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

2013-05-07PSsteeple

And so, as the weekend approached, and my energy had come back, I was chomping at the bit to go sketching.  Mother Nature had other ideas and it rained all day Saturday.  Yvan and I went sketching anyway.  We headed to the Musee de la Civilisation and while it’s between major exhibitions, it was at least warm and dry and we figured we could find something to sketch there.

2013-05-11CaberetLeChatWhat we found was a small exhibit of architectural models of classic structures that were part of old Paris.  I chose to sketch Cabaret Le Chat, one of the popular hot spots on the north side of Paris.  The model was about 15″ high and fairly well-done, though the building to the right of it lacked any detail, which is how I drew it.  Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook and TWSBI Mini fountain pen.  I had switched up the ink and was using Platinum Carbon Black.

When we finished there it was still raining and we decided that we should board the ferry that goes between Quebec City and Levis, across the St. Lawrence River.  The ferry has a nice, cozy passenger area with big windows and we figured we could sketch from there.  We hadn’t included the heavy mist/fog in our calculations as you could hardly see the other side of the river, only a few hundred yards away.

2013-05-11LevisStoreSo, we just rode across, got off, and decided to sketch out the windows of the ferry building, catching the next boat (30 minutes) for our return.  I still have problems sketching while holding a sketchbook in one hand, pen in the other.  I generally perch my sketchbook on my knee or on a table if one is available.  I also have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time so maybe it’s just too much for my brain to hold one item (sketchbook) still while moving another (pen) around.  This sketch suffers from a case of the wobbles and the fact that I was working quicker than my normal glacial pace.  I did this it in a small Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) with the same TWSBI Mini and Platinum Carbon Black.  Color comes from some quick swipes with Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

I went sketching.  It was a wet day, but a good day.

Sketching Visualization And How To Miss Your Bus

A very popular form of sports training is mental visualization, where the athlete visualizes himself doing whatever sport it is they are doing.  You can see it in real time by watching a golfer set up for a shot.  They’ll look towards their target, staring intently.  They’re “seeing” (visualizing) the shot.  Seeing the ball travel the ideal trajectory.  Then they take a practice swing, again seeing that trajectory.  Repeated visualization has been shown to produce positive results.  Some suggest that this process is the very basis of positive thinking.  It’s the ultimate in what you see is what you get.

I find myself doing this constantly relative to my sketching.  During any dull moment you’ll find me ‘drawing’ something, anything, but without a pen and without paper.  I envision running the pen around the outline of a house, a sign, a fire hydrant.  At other times I’ll just mentally dissect the angles and relationships between pieces of some object.  I think this constant practice of my ‘seeing’, making those all important eye/mind connections, has helped me quite a bit as a sketcher.

2012-05 Bus

But there’s been one problem.  It causes me to miss my bus.  The first time this happened I was waiting for a bus across the street from a major shopping center.  I was ‘drawing’ a large sign and got involved with noticing the various tones from the various planes that composed the sign.  Only the sound of the bus pulling away brought me out of my trance.

Then there was the day I was waiting for the bus early in the morning.  I was looking at rooftop angles, trying to see how they changed as I looked at a row of buildings along the street.  It was an interesting mental experiment, until the bus went by as I obviously wasn’t interested in the bus.  I was holding my finger up to analyze the angles.

We’ve got a great bus system in Quebec City but if you don’t get on them, they don’t take you anywhere.  Lucky for me I always have something to do when I wait the 10 minutes for the next one to come along.

Pilot HiTec V5 (05) Cartridge Pen

This pen, the Pilot HiTec V5 cartridge pen, showed up at our local pen store recently.  I’m a fountain pen guy and wouldn’t have even noticed it if not for the display right next to it that held Pilot fountain pen cartridges.  For those who like nylon/felt-tip pens for sketching, but who also would like access to the range of colors available to fountain pen folk, may want to give this pen a try.

PilotV5CartridgePen

It’s available with either a .5 mm or .7 mm tip.  I bought the .5 mm and its line does compare to a Sakura Micron 05.  The ink density and color is similar too but with one very large difference.  Pilot inks are not waterproof.  This can be good or bad depending on what you’re going to do with the pen.

It made no difference to me as I bought it with the thought of seeing if I could use it with other inks, specifically, Noodler’s Lexington Gray which is my main sketching ink.  I emptied the cartridge and used an ear syringe to pressure a bunch of water through the feed/point to clean out the ink contained within.  This is a slightly bigger job than it would be with a fountain pen as the feed on these pens seems to hold a lot more ink.  Nevertheless, it only took a minute of two.

I filled the cartridge with Lexington Gray and once attached to the pen I squeezed the heck out of the cartridge to pump ink into the feed/point.  This would be easier if one were to use a Con-50 converter, which has a plunger that would pressure ink into the pen.  Nevertheless, in another minute or so I had Lex Gray coming out of the pen.  Refilling, of course, is quick as I just pull the cartridge and use a pen syringe to refill it.

2013-04-27Trashcan

My concern was that the pen would dry/plug up so I waited to write this until I’d had the Lex Gray in the pen for a week or so.  While walking through a local park, I made this little sketch of one of my favorite subjects, a park trashcan.  Done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6),I was impressed by how the pen performed.

I paid $3 for mine so this pen isn’t a bank breaker and it does open up interesting possibilities for those who prefer felt-tip pens

 

Newsflash: Weather Responds To Blog Post

Last Thursday I wrote a blog post titled “Waiting for Spring.”  I moaned and groaned that in spite of spring being a month old, it was still too cold to sketch outdoors.

Well guess what happened?  On Friday our temperatures increased significantly.  We had sun…LOTS of sun.  Even the wind died down.  So I tucked my sketchbook under my arm and headed out for a weekend of sketching.  It was wonderful.

2013-04-26RueRemparts_onsite

Here’s the first sketch I did.  I was out with my buddy Yvan and we’d previously talked about sketching on Rue de la Remparts, which skirts the upper portion of our ‘old’ (founded in 1608) city.  So, our first stop was there.  I did this sketch in a Stillman & Birn 7×10 Alpha spiral sketchbook.  Though I really dislike spiral-bound for storage, I love it for this larger format because I can fold the book back on itself , making it manageable while the book rests on my knees.  I used a TWSBI Mini filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

While “warm” by comparison to the previous day, it was still cool and we both ran out of body heat about the same time.  So, I snapped the photo above and we headed for something warm to drink.  I applied some color later and this was the result.

2013-04-26RueRemparts

I suppose some might suggest that the weather changing had nothing to do with my blog post – that it was only a coincidence.   I’ll continue to believe otherwise… I think.

Waiting for Spring

I feel like one of the guys in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot.  Every day they show up to meet with Godot.  Every day he doesn’t come.  He never does.  I’m beginning to think spring in Quebec is like Godot as while it’s officially been spring for a month, we’ve yet to see anything resembling spring.

I thought I’d share a few sketches I’ve done while waiting for a decent sketching day.  First, here are the last two sketches I did of the Nigeria exhibit at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Both were done in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.

2013-04-17Nigeria

Lexington Gray in TWSBI mini. Watercolor pencils.

2013-04-21Nigeria

Lexington Gray in Noodler’s Creaper. Waterbrush with a few drops of Noodler’s Polar Brown in it.

This next sketch was my attempt to defy the elements.  I went out one morning because it was all the way up to 4C and it wasn’t windy.  As I sketched it got windy.  Then it started raining lightly.  I was driven from the street by hail and thought I was going to freeze to death (grin).  Done in a Stillman & Birn Zeta (5.5×8.5) sketchbook with a TWSBI mini filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

2013-04-20StJeanSt

Lastly, I took my new Wahl-Eversharp Symphony 913 pen for a test drive.  This is an old 14k gold flex nib pen and while it’s old technology, the nib is wonderful.  I was playing with ‘quick-sketching’ some buildings.  That term is relative and as I’m a slow sketcher, what I mean by this is that I only spent about 20 minutes doing this sketch on S&B Epsilon paper.  Watercolors applied in my typical, inept fashion.  I’ve got to devote some time to learning watercolors.

2013-04-25RearRueStPaul

Book Review: Freehand Sketching: An Introduction

“While perspective is a handy device to construct imagined spaces, it is not useful, and possibly detrimental, to sketching existing environments.” — Paul Laseau

A while ago, in a Facebook group, Liz Steel posted the quote above.  To be completely honest I can’t remember what the thread was that it was in reference to but she said that Paul Laseau’s book, Freehand Sketching: An Introduction, was one of her favorites.

2013-04-24LaseauFreehandSketching

I listen closely when Liz speaks but in this case her words were overshadowed by the Paul Laseau quote.  Every book on drawing is filled with ‘explanations’ on how to do proper perspective, complete with mind-boggling graphics with lines going in all directions, vanishing points, etc.  I’ve often joked that I’m afraid to read a book on perspective for fear that I’ll get too confused to do my building sketches.

I’ve long felt the sentiment that Paul Laseau’s comment is true and, for myself, I never do all that perspective “stuff” beyond noticing where my “horizon line” (eye line) is when I do a sketch.  So, I just had to buy Freehand Sketching to see why Paul Laseau’s view was so different from the art world’s descriptions of structure drawing.

I did buy it and, if you’re a location sketcher, I highly recommend you put aside your traditional drawing books and read this one – a couple times.  You’ll be the better for it.  In a mere 112 pages, Laseau will first convince you that drawing ‘existing environments’ is different from making stuff up in a studio environment and he teaches, in simple terms, how to see and organize a scene than most modern approaches to drawing ever will.

Why?  What could he say that others do not?  Well, not much, really.  Mostly he leaves out a lot of stuff that you don’t need to worry about if you’ve got the thing you’re trying to draw right in front of you.

His introductory chapters include some traditional stuff about doing contour drawings, learning how to hatch, etc. and, for me, that part is mostly ho-hum.  But the heart of this book is contained in the middle sections titled Environment: Sketch Construction and Environment: Sketch Tone and Detail.   Here, Laseau shows you how to identify/organize/and lay out with a few lines, the basic shapes of a scene.  This stuff is gold for a street sketcher and demonstrates that no fancy geometry is required but rather it’s a simple matter of ‘seeing’ angles, locations, and edge dimensions.  Once he convinces you of the method, he provides several stepwise examples.

Once a scene is established, Laseau provides an approach to tone and detail and is also directed towards the location sketcher.  This perspective, to me, is important as most drawing books assume a studio atmosphere and an interest in spending hours developing drawings.  Laseau is an architect, who has spent 30 years teaching architect students to develop their sketching skills, who have different approaches and goals from the typical artist approach to such things and very useful, in my opinion, far more useful.  If you’d like to read more about this approach, Liz Steel has just provided some great insights into the mind of an architect.

On a personal note, Laseau’s book explained something else to me.  I’ve often wondered why the urban sketching world is so dominated by architects.  I’ve mostly dismissed it as simply a function of an architect’s interest in buildings but it’s much more than that.  It’s their training.  They’re taught to sketch.  They’re taught to maintain sketchbooks.  They’re taught to think in terms of sketches that can be ends in themselves…what urban sketchers do.

2013-04-24LaseauWatercolorSketching

When I bought Freehand Sketching I also bought Watercolor Sketching: An Introduction, Paul Laseau’s sequel.  This second book is more about watercolors than it is about constructing sketches, though there is some of that contained within its pages.  Very valuable information contained within but more a companion book to Freehand Sketching than a substitute for it.

Liz is right; Freehand Sketching is a good and potent book that any location sketcher can benefit from and well worth its small price.  It’s become one of my favorite books too.

The Future Of Sketching Is Good In Quebec City

Logo

Every year, Le Soleil, the premier newspaper in Quebec, conducts a writing and drawing contest for young, creative citizens.  The Musee de la Civilisation just set up a display of the art entries and it is truly inspiring.  As I looked at all the great drawings I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Danny Gregory’s The Creative License:

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked one day what I did at work.  I told her that I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw.  She stared at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?” – Howard Ikewoko

1Kids do know how to draw.  And we adults do seem to forget, both how to do it and how much fun it can be.  We in Quebec City are lucky that Le Soleil puts so much effort and resources behind fostering creative activity from our youth.  Thanks, Le Soleil.

Here’s a few photos to give you some idea of the variety and quality of these drawings.  These kids are good.0.75

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Have You Ever Gone Sketch Floating?

Saturday was 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl day and we held ours here in Quebec City.  Unlike most parts of the world we’re still cold this time of year.  In fact, we just got six inches of snow.  But we were fortunate to have anticipated an unfriendly weather and scheduled our sketchcrawl so that we could be inside or out and still have fun.

This is a model of the ferry boat we were on all day.

This is a model of the ferry boat we were on all day.

We all met at the ferry boat dock and then spent the day going back and forth across the St. Lawrence River (takes about 10 minutes) between Quebec City and Levis, the town on the other side.  There are actually two ferries and they change places from their respective sides of the St. Lawrence every 30 minutes.

Claudette, talking with one of the passengers

Claudette, talking with one of the passengers

And the situation couldn’t have been better for sketching.  It was too cold to go out onto the decks, at least for me, but inside the first-class passenger area it was warm and accommodating.  The area is complete with toilette facilities, drink and snack vending machines, and comfy chairs.  We were surrounded by large windows, complete with slightly sloped ‘shelves’ for us to rest our sketchbooks as we sketched outdoor scenes.  Both sides of the St. Lawrence present great views of interesting architecture and there were things nautical all around us.

Susanne, showing proper use of the window "studios" we were provided.

Susanne, showing proper use of the window “studios” we were provided.

The line up: Pierre, Celine, and Katherine

The line up: Pierre, Celine, and Catherine

Yvan, taking a break while talking with Peter.

Yvan, taking a break while talking with Jean-Marc.

We had ten people show up for the sketchcrawl and a lot of sketching got done.  The one sad thing, for me, is that some didn’t seem to ‘get’ the notion that group sketching is a social event that should include a sharing of sketches as well as conversations about them. Some left without even saying goodbye.  So, unfortunately, I don’t have the typical group-sketch photos and I don’t have sketches from other people to share.

ClaudetteSketches

Here’s a photo I took over Claudette’s shoulder.  The quality of her sketches is surpassed only by her bubbly personality.

2013-04-13TugBoatOf course, I do have my own sketches.  This first one is a small sketch I did as an experiment, which demonstrated that I didn’t know what I was doing (grin).  I tried to ‘draw’ the sketch using watercolors, adding some ink lines afterwards.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) sketchbook.  I have much to learn about using watercolors.

2013-04-13FromFerryI did two other sketches, one from the front and the other from the back of the boat.  Both were done with my new TWSBI Mini and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  I really enjoyed working in my new Stillman & Birn Zeta (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.  I hope these sketches reflect the cold, dreary day you see in the accompanying photo.DrearyDay2013-04-13FromFerry2