We’re Having A Heat Wave

They say it’s not going to last but right now it’s warm, or rather what those of us who have been freezing for the last five months call warm.  Heck, it was 14C (57F) when I went out sketching on Monday.  Most important, though, there was no wind, which makes all the difference in the world.

It seems I”m out of fighting form, however.  I walked a lot and ended up with blisters on both feet.  Too much couch potato time this winter, I guess.  Anyways, I found myself downtown and when I saw this little convenience market (we call them depanneurs here) I had to sit down and sketch it.  What a thrill.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder even if you’re talking about street sketching.

At one point the guy who owned the store came across the street to see what I was up to and I was somewhat embarrassed as I wasn’t far enough along to give him much indication of the final result.  He didn’t seem to mind though, and the encounter underscored that I was back – sketching on the street.  Yippee!!!!

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10x7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black


Speed Drawing With Colored Pencil

Last Sunday I headed out to our museum.  We were in the midst of a blizzard and the snow was going sideways.  On a couple occasions wind gusts caused me to go sideways as well.  But I was walking through this mess because I’d told some friends I would meet them.  Later I found out that the only reason they didn’t cancel was because they’d promised me.  We humans are funny that way.

Previously I’ve expressed my boredom with drawing the heads of Olympus but there I was again, faced with numerous white, and now very familiar heads.  I decided to try something new.  I’d bought a Pentel 8-color mechanical pencil and decided to give it a try, using it while seeing how quickly I could grab a likeness of the heads.


It was a good plan with a couple flaws.  First, I have little ability to do this but on a more pragmatic level, my sketchbook has too much tooth for soft pencil and the points wear down very quickly and second, I couldn’t find my sharpener.  So a new experiment arose.  Could I draw with a dull pointy device.  The results are these 3″ heads drawn on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper.


Better drawings of marble heads have been drawn but I found this exercise fun and very helpful.  It was fun to work quickly and doing so with these subjects forced me to identify the big features, ignore the details, and to emphasize the dark/light relationships.  The dull point furthered that goal as it was impossible to get lost in detail when the drawing was 2″ square and the lead was rounded over 2mm colored pencil.  I will be repeating this experiment but hopefully on something other than Olympic gods.

Back To The Winter Sketching Sanctuary

I was back at the museum, trying to stay warm and looking for something to sketch.  I decided that I should try to sketch a plaster statue of a headless goddess, or more precisely, her heavily pleated dress.

For me, pencil sketching requires a smooth paper, like a Bristol paper, or maybe Stillman & Birn Epsilon series paper.  But what I had with me was my ‘standard’ Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook (10×7).  I almost decided to switch to pen but I started blocking in the drawing with pencil and just kept going.  This sketch was done with a 0.7mm mechanical pencil.  I think it was HB.  Regardless, it was fun and relaxing.


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Pen Review: Zebra 301A

This is the time of year where bloggers feel obligated to talk about New Year’s resolutions, emulate David Letterman’s Top 10 lists, and maybe reflect on 2014 in some other way.  I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because Jan 1 is just a day between Dec 31 and Jan 2 for me, but I’ll probably do a bit of reflecting in the next couple days just so I can be one of the cool kids.  But to quote Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), “It is not this day.”

Today I want to confess to being a complete sloth for the past few days.  Not only did I not do much, I believe I even started to move slowly.  In reflection the only things I recall doing was watching TV and eating…and eating…and eating.  But I did my annual obligatory penance and watched Miracle on 34th St, Elf and the Polar Express, though I confess to falling asleep during the Polar Express.  The upside is that I won’t have to endure them for another 360 days or so.

Zebra 301A ballpoint pen

Zebra 301A ballpoint pen

And, sadly, I didn’t do much on the sketching front.  This is not to say that I didn’t have a pen in my hand; I did.  It was a Zebra 301A, a pen I’ve been trying out as a potential quick-sketching tool that I can shove in a coat pocket.  In my opinion, this pen is special for a few reasons.  They are:

1) It’s cheap!!!  I bought them in a 2-pack for $2.50 at the local dollar store.  You can buy a fancy version of it (Zebra 701) which is shiny silver and a bit heavier (about $8)  but the 301 comes in silver, gray or blue anodized aluminum and I really prefer the feel of it in my hand.

2) It lays down a very fine line, finer than most fine ballpoint pens.

3) The ‘black’ is a dark grey, similar to Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

4) It’s a click pen so you can hide the tip and there’s no cap to lose.

5) Replacement cartridges are available from Jet Pens for a whopping $1 each.  Good for environment and wallet alike.

6) As it’s a ballpoint, the ink is oil-based and thus waterproof.  You can wash over it to your heart’s content.

7)  I suppose it’s due to the fine nature of the cartridge but this pen NEVER blobs, a problem that exists with most ballpoints.

8)  Did I mention that it’s cheap?  No worries over losing this one and you can ‘station’ them around your house, in purses, backpacks, or pockets so that there’s always one available.

My daughter, hiding herself under a blanket while watching movies.

My daughter, hiding herself under a blanket while watching movies.

Anyways, I’ve been playing with one over the past week, mostly just doodling while we watched movies and consumed the equivalent of a month’s food in a few days.  As I said, I didn’t do much sketching.  Here are a few smallish, quick sketches I did with this pen.  Twas not the fault of the pen that the sketches were, well, so sketchy 🙂


Just feeding my penchant for drawing buildings


Ya gotta draw a tree during Christmas, right?

Ya gotta draw a tree during Christmas, right?

This is the house across the street as seen from my window

This is the house across the street as seen from my window

I was out walking and tried to draw skaters on the rink in Place d’Youville in the old city.  Too cold for me.  I’m a sissy.  Not even the furious nature of quick-sketching could keep me warm.

2014-12-29Zebra301_skater1 2014-12-29Zebra301_skater2 2014-12-29Zebra301_skater3

That’s enough to give you an idea of how the Zebra pen looks in the hands of a sloth and maybe give you an indication of what I do when I’m not sketching.   These doodles were done in a small, 3×5 sketchbook.

**** Happy New Year everyone. ****



Sketching A Door

One of the exercises for this week’s Liz Steel Foundations class was to draw a door.  This was supposed to be our “outdoor” exercise.

There is nothing I’d rather do than draw outdoors but I’m afraid that weather dictates that I won’t be able to do that until at least April and that’s being optimistic.  Not wanting to wait quite that long to do the assignment, I found an alternative.  As I was leaving the museum I noticed that if I sat down just inside the rear entrance, I could see the door across the street.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The door leads into the Hotel Saint Pierre but the door has a far richer history as it served as the main entrance of the “Quebec Assurance Building,” and the interesting thing is that this is carved, in English, in the upper reaches of the building – a remnant of times past as it’s fairly rare to find English written anywhere in Quebec City.

The exercise goal was to ‘set up by measurement’ and thus the principle goal was “..to be as accurate as possible.”  I can’t say that I was (sorry Liz) but I did it in my typical cartoony style and in spite of what it looks like, I did measure, with my thumb stuck up in the air and everything.  I really enjoyed sketching something that wasn’t a statue and I think I need to look around for some more doors to look out of.

Quebec Assurance Building door

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Black

Doing Stand Up, Sketcher Style

What does a street sketcher do when it’s snowing and there are 80 km/hr gusts blowing it around?  Cry in some beer?  Sketch lemons?  Sketch a recipe for lemonade?  I was at a loss.

Normal art people just head to their studio and draw or paint to their heart’s content, but I really have a hard time sketching without going somewhere first.  I know…I should take a pill to get over it, but I’m old and already taking too many of those.

So, I decided, why not do something that might help me when I do get to go onto the street to sketch.  One of my big problems is that while I’m very comfortable sitting on my tripod stool and can sketch up a storm there, I struggle when I try to sketch standing up.  I’m not sure why.  My belly is sufficiently large to hold a sketchbook, afterall.

Anyways, that’s what I decided to do – sketch while standing.  I went into my office, picked up sketchbook and pen, looked around and decided to draw the three principle books that stand on my desk.  I added a bit of the surroundings for context.  And yes, there is lots of stuff on those shelves but you think I’m going to let you see what a mess my office is?  Not a chance.

I still find sketching while standing up a struggle.  I lose not only some of my control over the pen but also some of my ability to concentrate.  The later is the bigger loss and I’m not sure why it occurs at all.  Maybe I need to stand around sketching more often.  Any tips for a stand-up-challenged sketcher?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

How Did Apollo Carry His Water?

The “Olympus” exhibition at Quebec’s Museé de la civilisation includes a series of art-laden pots and pitchers that make ideal drawing subjects, as long as you’re not easily frustrated by a bunch of design details.  This particular jug is about a foot in diameter and a bit taller.  My view of it, from sitting on my stool, only exposes the bottoms of some of the characters and trees that wrap around the top of it but the placard explains that these folks are Apollo and his buddies and that the jug was used to carry water.  I mostly take a ‘who cares’ attitude towards such things as the important thing to me is that it’s a stunning piece and something fun to draw.

I started with a pencil to organize basic shapes and to lay out the detailed banding – banding that drove me nuts as I tried to draw it.  I used Strathmore Series 300 (vellum) bristol for this drawing.  Once I was happy with the proportions I switched to a Pilot Prera (F) filled with De Atramentis Brown ink, one of the new permanent fountain pen inks made available by the company.

I can’t recommend these inks enough.  They’re a dream come true.  If you haven’t seen them, go to Jane Blundell’s blog where she’s mixed up a series of colors using them.  Then you’ll want to head to Goulet Pens to buy some (grin).  To me these are the ink equvalent of Stillman & Birn’s great sketchbooks entered my life.  Both provide ideal solutions to my sketching material needs.

Apollo water jug

Apollo water jug

I’m a ‘line’ kind of guy.  I’m not a watercolor guy who happens to do his drawing with a pen.  And so when the drawing is done, I feel that I’m done.  If I add color it’s mostly done as an afterthought.  In this case, however, I decided to try adding some color.  Rather than using the original, I scanned it and printed to Canson Montval Watercolor paper.  This is my first time using this paper and it may be my last.  I much prefer the paper in my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks when it comes to using watercolors.  Anyways, this is what it looked like when I was done abusing the paper, or it me.


Michaud Service – A Limoilu Landmark

One of the fun things about sketching in Quebec City is being able to sketch buildings that have been repurposed and, sometimes, being able to see photos of what the building used to look like.  There are a couple photos of Michaud Service from the 50s but they’re copyrighted and so I’m not going to post them here.

Michaud Service used to be an auto service location, with two large bays and an office area, all accessible from the street side of the building.  There were also several bays whose doors faced north, on the other side of the building.  These days it seems that the north access bays are used for storage while the front of the building houses a couple social service organizations.  My sketch was done as I sat in a small park area on the south side of the building, an area that used to be a parking lot associated with Michaud Service.

In a way, this is a fairly plain building but the huge sign that still resides atop the building, and the somewhat organized graffiti along the south wall just spoke to me.  There was also the matter that I could sit in the sun which kept me from completely freezing as I sketched.  I did high-tail it for home and tea to do the color once I warmed up.

Michaud Service

Michaud Service: Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot/Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black


Sketching For You Or For Me?


“Remember, you’re not doing the painting for you, you’re doing it for us.” – Tom Lynch


I was watching a video by Tom Lynch, a great video by the way, and you can see it here.  He’s talking about painting mood and atmosphere rather than objects and he made the statement I’ve quoted.

2014-03-02Jazz2It got me to thinking about why I do what I do with pointy devices.  It seems I’m different from Tom Lynch in that I don’t do my sketches for anyone but me.  If others enjoy them, fine, but that’s not why I do them.  I don’t enter contests.  I don’t present them anywhere.  I don’t even have a single sketch that I’ve done framed and hanging in my own house.  The only ‘for someone else’ sketches I’ve ever done have been Valentine’s day cards and tags for Christmas presents.

It’s clear that different artists are motivated by different things and goals are whatever you want them to be.  But have you thought about your own motivations and goals and how these things affect the choices you make with your art?

I decided to do just that and made a list of things that motivate me and that guide my decisions.  I found it interesting to do this and then prioritize them.  Here’s the first five things on that prioritized list:

1) Have fun with the process of sketching.
2) Sketch on location.
3) Draw mostly with fountain pens.
4) Color is secondary to line.
5) Enjoy learning about techniques and tools and try to improve.

Here’s how these things affect what tools I use, when I use them, how I use them, and what ends up on paper:

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9), Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Emphasis on process

For me it’s all about the process.  Sketching is my meditation, my connection with my city, my therapy.  The end result is irrelevant, or nearly so.  What’s important is that I’m having fun when I do it.  Sure, I want to improve like anyone else but this priority on process rather than product  affects everything I do, from the subjects I choose and how I approach them.  It also spawns the second and third things on my list.  It’s everything.

Emphasis on the process of sketching opens a lot of subjects to me.  I’ll draw pretty much anything if it’s in front of me and I’m comfortable.  Likewise, if I can’t get comfortable, no subject is suitable.  I won’t go out of my way to find subjects either.  I’m never looking for the ‘perfect scene.’  Such things are simply too low a priority for me.  Our local castle, the Chateau Frontenac is one of the most photographed buildings on the planet but I’ve yet to draw it.  It doesn’t interest me as much as it does the tourists.  Go figure.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9), TWSBI Mini, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9), TWSBI Mini, Platinum Carbon Black

Sketching on Location

To maximize my first priority, I have to sketch on location.  Now, location can be a city street, a park, a forest, or a museum.  It can even be someone else’s house.  It just can’t be mine.  I don’t know why.

How does this affect my art?

1) Methods and materials must be a) light, b) easy to carry, c) easy to manage while sitting on a tripod stool.

I carry one pencil and several fountain pens with me.  Color comes from either a tiny palette of watercolors or a few watercolor pencils.  My art is done in sketchbooks.  I own no easel, have no studio, and no desire for either.  Further, my sketching is a day time activity.  While I’ll doodle while watching TV, I never do a ‘real’ sketch in the evening.

2) Weather plays a big factor in my art.

I can’t look out the window at snow and rain and head for the studio.  I’ve actually tried and thus far I’ve been unsuccessful at drawing at home, from photos, or any of the methods used by normal artists to have fun.  I have to go somewhere.  So, my art has become “museums all winter” and “streets all summer.”  You can see, though, that my _decision_ in this regard is a big determiner in what I do and don’t do in art.

TWSBIOpenComparisonDraw mostly with fountain pens

I’ve used fountain pens for decades so it was natural for me to use them when I started sketching.  I enjoy them.  I’ve mentioned on the blog that I’m starting to play with pencils.  I’ve been sketching for about 2 1/2 years and have never learned to draw with a pencil.  That’s how wed my sketching is to fountain pens, which are actually a separate passion of mine.   Fountain pens result in an emphasis on line which, in turn, affects choice of subject, approach, and probably the importance of color.  It’s resulted in the cartoon style I enjoy so much.  And while I enjoy chasing half-tones with a pencil, I don’t enjoy it as much as I do drawing lines with my fountain pens.

2013-08-27HouseColor is secondary to line

I am mostly ignorant when it comes to watercolors.  I use them like crayons to add color to my ink sketches.  The more I draw the less often I add color to the sketch.  I admit that I go back and forth in my own mind about this and I’m sure I’ll continue to use color… sometimes.  Clearly, if I were doing sketches for other people, or at least because I was more concerned about product than process, I’d be more interested in color.  But, by the time I’ve completed a sketch in ink, it’s done from my perspective, the fun gleaned from it.  Adding color is is simply a job to be done quickly, haphazardly.  Ironically, I get more involved in applying watercolor if I use my watercolor pencils.  Not sure why that is.

2013-01-02Samurai11_700Enjoy learning about techniques and tools and try to improve

I very nearly put this higher up in the list.  I love the toys.  I own more pens and pencils than any human ought to own and many more than I’ll ever use.  I buy them “just to try them out.”  I attribute this at least in part because I’m weird but also because compared to other hobbies I’ve been involved with, art materials are dirt cheap.  And so I buy…and buy…and buy.  If comments around the Internet are any indication, I’m not alone 🙂


How we view our art affects, in a big way, how we practice it.  If shows and such are important to you, then you have to worry about what judges and the general audience views your work.  I feel lucky that I don’t carry that burden.  It allows me to draw and draw and draw without ever worrying about what anyone else says about the results.  That continues to be the case.  I guess this is the end of the spectrum that Danny Gregory was talking about.  He got me sketching after all.  But in any case, it seems a useful task to take an inventory of your own motivations and goals as they can tell you not only something about what drives you but also how those motivations and goals limit or unleash you to do what makes you happy.  I’d love to hear from anyone who has done this sort of soul-searching.  What did you find?