Egyptian Burial Urns

I was introduced to Egyptian burial practices in the usual place – a romantic comedy called The Mummy.  The bad guy was dead, but his lover was determined to bring him back to life.  They entered the place where the mummy was buried and next to it were several urns and we were told they contained the organs of the guy in the sarcophagus.  Getting the romantic adventure comedy yet?  I guess you had to be there.

Anyways, some of the most artifacts in our museum’s Egyptian exhibit is a set of these urns.  I’d been avoiding them because I knew that when I did them I’d have to draw all four at once and because I draw at a rate slower than glaciers and snails, I knew it would take me a while.  But the time came and the deed is done.

I shaded them with light blue, which seems a mistake as my scanner isn’t subtle in its treatment of light blue and so some of the shading was lost in translation.  Doesn’t matter, though, these were fun to draw.

Egyptian burial urns

Stillman & Birn Delta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Drawing From Photos

A lot of people draw from photos.  In fact, a lot of people think the very idea of drawing on location to be too scary to consider.  Some say that drawing from photos is easier than drawing from life because the camera has reduced the image to two dimensions.

So what’s wrong with me?  I love sketching on the street, drawing from life, and interacting with those very people that scare others.  I sort of understand this part because mostly it’s a fear of the unknown that causes others to avoid this form of sketching.  But what about photos?  Why do I find it soooooooo hard to draw from photos.

Not only does drawing photos seem hard for me, it’s also not very much fun.  Instead of drawing and enjoying the process, I feel as though I’m just copying someone else’s vision of the universe, even if I took the photo.  I almost feel numb while doing it, as opposed to the fully-engaged feeling I have when sketching from life.

So I repeat, what’s wrong with me and how do I fix it?  I spend five months of the year where it’s hard (impossible?) to work outdoors.  Drawing from photographs would go a long way towards making the long dark winters of Quebec more bearable.  Is there a pill I can take?

Anyway, I felt the need to draw a building and it’s too cold to do so on location.  I turned to photos, in this case a photo I took this summer of Le Petit Hotel, one of the cutest little hotels in Quebec City.  Done on Stillman & Birn Beta paper with a Namiki Falcon and DeAtramentis Document Black ink.  Then I added some dabs of Daniel Smith watercolors.  I didn’t do it justice.


It’s Winter – Gone Fishing

I knew it couldn’t last. I was forever hopeful but our balmy low 40s (F) December has come to an end with freezing rain.  Oh well, I’m way behind in my blogging anyway.

Last week I met the gang at the museum but I decided to give the Egypt exhibit a break from me and sat down instead in front of a fishing exhibit.  Seems there was a prominent Canadian ethnologist by the name of Richard Gauthier who a day job in the field, but his hobby was fishing and the study of fishing practices in Canada. To that end he amassed a large collection of old fishing equipment.  We’ve been blessed with a small exhibit of some of these fishing artifacts and they’re great sketching subjects.

I started with Richard’s hat.  I have much to learn about the use of watercolor pencils to achieve tonal gradation but here’s my rendition of his hat.

Stillman & Birn Delta (5.5x8.5), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (5.5×8.5), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

When I finished with the hat I got up and wandered around the museum.  Half of it has been closed due to a fire that took place in early summer (construction guys seem prone to burn things down as they try to build them up) and I wanted to have a look at what it looked like now that that wing of the building was open again.

I spent so much time doing my walkabout that by the time I got back the other sketchers were nearly finished for the day.  I did this quick sketch of a fishing scale as they finished up.  You know what they say, “A bad day fishing is better than most other days.”  I think that applies to sketching as well.

fishing scale

Stillman & Birn Delta (5.5×8.5), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Another Sketch From Egypt

This time of year is always tough for me on the sketching front.  Besides it being a busy time of year, I always get lethargic while getting used to living in the dark (we’ve only got about 9 hours of daylight these days).  To top it off, this year I’ve had the flu and now seem to be have some intestinal thing.  This has been very disappointing because our weather has been very atypical (ie low 40s F) and I should be out walking/sketching.

Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that while I continue to draw (scribble?) at home, I haven’t gotten out sketching much.  Here’s a sketch I did the last time I was at the museum.  The model for it is a leg from a ‘bier’, the low table upon which a sarcophagus was placed.

This guy is Bes, a dwarf god.  He must be popular as there are several versions of him in the museum’s Egyptian exhibit.  He was hard to draw because it’s so darn dark in the exhibit that it’s hard to see the shapes.  On several occasions I had to swing my booklight around and shine it on him so I could see the statue.

Bes, the dwarf Egyptian god

Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Review: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

When I got into sketching, about four years ago, I found it pretty easy to find quality pens, pencils, brushes and watercolors.  What was harder was to find a sketchbook that could accommodate pen, ink and watercolor.  It seemed that I was buying a new sketchbook every week in an attempt to ‘try another’ in my quest for the perfect sketchbook.

My first post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks was in December of 2011.  A few other artists had discovered them and were really excited by them.  I’d just gotten one and was very new to sketching so it was hard for me to evaluate it except to say that I liked it.

My first real discussion of S&B came in March of 2013, after I’d had some time to fall in love with their products.  At that point I’d done a lot of sketching on their Alpha series paper and had just bought one of the Epsilon series sketchbooks.  If you read that post you’ll get the impression that I worked as a sales rep for S&B but I do not.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does this, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I've filled in the past 3 years.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I’ve filled in the past 3 years.  Several others are ‘in progress’.

Since then I’ve been filling S&B sketchbooks at an alarming rate.  I’ve tried not only Alpha and Epsilon papers but also their Beta, Zeta and Gamma sketchbooks.  You can find reviews of these sketchbooks if you search for those words here.  I have a lot of experience with Stillman & Birn products, and I can’t imagine using anything else.

But there’s been one sketchbook format that S&B hadn’t provided me, until now.  I’ve whined to them about it enough that you’d think they would have made some just to shut me up.  It’s a small (3×5) portrait format book that has paper good enough (interpretation = Alpha paper) to accept my scribbles and watercolor smears.  Because this has not been forthcoming from S&B, I’ve been making do with crappy books from the dollar store, Field Notes, small (?) Visual Journals, Moleskines, etc.  At this point I’ve filled 27 of the darned things.  You’d think I’d know how to draw by now with all that scribbling.  Maybe in another 20 years.


Anyways, Stillman & Birn has just released the solution to my small sketchbook needs, and then some.  The photo above shows just a few of the many format/paper combinations available in this new series.  All of the S&B’s paper types are available and each has its cover color-coded for that paper type (Alpha = burnt sienna (red?), Beta = blue, Epsilon = gray, Delta = green, Gamma = brown, Zeta = black).  They’re available as 3.5×5.5 and 5.5×8.5 portrait or landscape format and in 8×10 portrait format.

I like the cover material.  It feels almost like leather, though it is obviously not.  It’s stiffer than the Strathmore softcover books, a plus for a street sketcher like me.  The papers are the same great papers you can find in their hardcover books so I’m not going to talk about them.  You can find my opinions by searching for the reviews on this blog but so far I haven’t found any that I don’t like.  I use Alpha and Beta almost exclusively though.

Stillman and Birn have obviously tried to provide lighter and thinner sketchbooks compared to their hardcover books and in that they have succeeded in a big way.  Here are a few comparison numbers:

Hardcover        Softcover

Alpha 5×8       419gm              232gm
Beta 5×8          354gm             267gm

The thickness of a 5×8 Alpha hardcover is 18mm while the Alpha softcover is a svelte 10mm.  In short, these new books are much lighter and thinner than their hardcover counterparts.


Here is my favorite.  I’m showing it before I took the shrinkwrap off because now that I’ve opened it there is some drool on the front cover.  It’s a small, Alpha-series portrait-format book.   Many who use the Moleskine watercolor books have complained that Moleskine doesn’t produce it in a portrait format.  I used to be one of them, but no more.  I now have my small sketchbook need satiated, or at least it will be when I place an order for a bunch more of these little guys.

Do you need/want the softcover versions of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks?  It depends.  It depends upon whether weight matters to you.  If you carry a single sketchbook and not very far, then giving up those nice hardcover bindings might not make sense.  I carry several sketchbooks and regularly carry them during two-hour walks so cutting the weight nearly in half is a big deal for me.

Are you ever bothered by the thickness of your sketchbook, say when you’re trying to draw along the edge where you have no support for your hand?  Do you wish the book were thinner when trying to draw across the gutter during early or late sections of the book, where one page is bent downward to reach the table due to the thickness of the book?  If these things bother you, maybe having a book that’s half as thick would make you happy.  Beware, though, this comes at a cost.  While the covers reduce the thickness, the softcovers are also made thinner by a reduction of page count (in Alpha the hardcovers have 62 sheets while the softcovers have 48).  I find this a small price to pay to get what I want in the small-size book.

There is one downside to these softcover books.  They use the same double-stitched, glued bindings of their hardcover counterparts and the glue sometimes wicks between the signatures (the small groups of sheets that are folded and sewn together) and they tend to stick the base of the two pages between two signatures together.   I don’t find this to be a problem with Alpha, and probably not with the other 150gsm paper books.  Their pages fold open just fine.  But with the Beta (270gsm) and probably Delta and Zeta books, the paper tends to separate slightly at the gutter when you fold open a section where two signatures come together (6 places in a Beta series book).  This separation is very tight in the gutter of the two-page spread and if you’re working on either side of the gutter, it’s not a problem at all.  But if you want to do a two-page spread, it can create an ugly gutter seam.

I’m thrilled with these new softcovers.  I’ve only drawn a couple things in them thus far but I know the papers well and have documented their use in pretty much all the drawings presented on this blog.  The softcovers, like Stillman & Birn’s hardcover and spiral-bound books, are great options for the urban sketcher or nature journalist.  I feel lucky to live in a time when we sketchers have so many great choices, and all from one company – Stillman & Birn.