Sketching At Parc Chauveau

Denis Couture, our fearless leader

Denis Couture, our fearless leader

I don’t know what it is about French but the names of French organizations are impossible.  This includes the Collectif des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec, the name of an artist group in Quebec City.  They were established to facilitate winter life drawing sessions and that is still their principle activity but they are starting to organize outdoor summer activities as well.  This past weekend was the second year that we assembled at Parc Chauveau, a park on the north side of Quebec City.  It’s a beautiful place. The St. Charles River runs through it, providing considerable sketching fodder.

Organized by Denis Couture, a really nice guy who teaches drawing and photography at a local college, it was truly a shame that on this day, there were only three of us in attendance.  The up side is that the day was a bit more laid back as we could do pretty much what we chose to do.

Our first stop was the river, in a place where a large tower of rock, remnants from long-term erosion, juts up from the river.  It seemed fitting that we should draw it.  I decided it might be fun to put it in the background and to make Fernande, one of my sketching buddies, the central focus for the scene.  This was also the first time I got to use my new Namiki (Pilot?) Falcon.  I think I’m in love.  More on that later.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Denis knows the area quite well and he suggested that we climb back up to the road and cross the bridge to the other side of the river where there are rest rooms, picnic tables, and a trailhead for the Parc lineaire trail that runs for 32 km along the St. Charles River.  In fact, if I would have followed it for about 16 of those kilometers I would have arrived home.

As we ate lunch Denis suggested that we walk the trail some and that the views from high above the river were wonderful.  He was right about that but for my next sketch I plunked my tripod stool down in the middle of the forest, off the trail, and started drawing some unknown plant.  For a building guy, I was surprised how much fun this was and how much I wanted to do it.  I used a different approach from my usual pen first, watercolor as an afterthought approach.  I think I’ll talk about this separately as this post is becoming a bit long.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

In spite of the poor turnout for the event, we had a really great time.  The rest of the folks just missed out.

Catching Up On My Walking

Having lost a couple days to rain, I was running a walking deficit for the week.  I walk a lot and do so as my old man way of keeping my body from taking on the shape of an eggplant.  That translates to walking a couple hours every day.  With two days lost and the worldwide sketchcrawl coming up on Saturday, I’ve been living on the streets, hoofing everywhere and anywhere, trying to put in the miles.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

This has gotten in the way of my sketching time.  I just didn’t feel I could stop to sketch if I was going to get caught up.  But I did stop to do this quick sketch.  It’s one of the many gables on our train station.

I can skip a day or two without sketching, but when I do I start to feel like something is missing.  My solution this time was to sit in the backyard and draw some flowers.

I rarely draw flowers but every time I do I think that I should do it more often.  The shapes are endless.

I started this sketch with a rudimentary pencil sketch but most of the shapes were formed directly with watercolors, something I’ve only done once before and, back then, things didn’t go so well.   Once done, I added some ink using a refillable Sharpie pen.  I did this in a Stillman & Birn Delta series sketchbook.  This is my first “ivory” sketchbook.  It was fun and provided me with some much needed sketching/meditation time.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8)

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8)


Transient Subjects

As a street sketcher I’m often faced with “subject leaves” syndrome.  It could be a car that drives away when I’m drawing it.  I can be a truck parking in front of a store front I’m drawing.  But the most common example comes from people, those exasperating objects that just won’t sit still.

This is the result of subject leaves syndrome.  I was sitting in a food court, waiting for my lunch partner.  I decided to draw this guy on his cell phone and his buddy, sitting bored on the other side of the table.  I began by capturing the cell phone arm as that was the most important part.  I’d mostly captured the outline of the guy when the phone descended from his ear, the other guy became animated, and they both got up and walked away.  I sort of faked a chair under the guy and that was all I could do – my subject was gone.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lex Gray

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Sharpie refillable pen


Sketching With Yvan

Every Monday morning I meet Yvan at “Les Collections” at the Unversité Laval.  This is a magical place that houses the university entomological collection, stores all of the animal specimens that used to be part of the natural history museum, and a large collection of plaster casts that used to be of interest to the fine arts department but they were somewhat shoved out of the way when it was determined that you didn’t need to draw to get a fine arts degree.

Their loss – our gain.  It’s not outdoor sketching but drawing single-lit plaster casts is certainly a way to improve your drawing ability and goodness knows mine needs improvement.  Truthfully, I’m not sure it improves your drawing ability or your seeing ability the most as it’s wonderful training for the eye.  In any case, it helps and it’s lots of fun.

I drew this on Monday.  Drew it on smooth Bristol board as I enjoy my new experiences with a pencil.  Beyond knowing which end makes the lines, these devices remain a mystery to me.  The drawing isn’t quite as fuzzy as this scan suggests – thank goodness 🙂


Snow Walking Along The Riviere St. Charles

I’m lucky because it’s only a 10-minute walk to the St. Charles River, a beautiful river that runs through Quebec City.  It provides me with a little bit of urban nature and the ability to walk for several kilometers without having to deal with automobiles.

Yesterday was my first attempt to walk it and while I had to crunch along on top of icy snow, there were some places where the path was clear.  The day was nice in any case and I stopped to sketch this cluster of trees on the other side of the river.  It’s sooooooo… nice to be sketching outdoors.


Winter Plods Along… Forever

Didn’t the weather-makers get the memo?  It was declared spring on March 20th, ten days ago.  Yesterday I was running my snowblower around in response to a snow storm.  Predictions are for another six inches tomorrow.  When is this going to end?

2014-03-28rocksI’m getting mighty frustrated that I can be out sketching.  So much so that I sat in my office yesterday and drew rocks, probably channelling a mix of the many rock photos and paintings I’ve seen (9×6).  Very different for me but it calmed my frustrations a little bit.  A very little bit.  Please make it stop!!!

Shading Quick-Sketches Quickly

Many sketchers enjoy doing quick-sketches as they can be done while waiting in line, sitting in a doctor’s reception room, or in any food court.  You can do them while driving down the highway, though it’s best to have someone else driving.  I fill several sketchbooks a year with these kinds of sketches, each taking 1-3 minutes.

But one thing these simple line drawings lack is any sense of tonal variation – unless you add it.  As a couple people have asked about how I do it I thought I’d talk about my process, though I’m a rank amateur at quick-sketching.  The same technique can be used to color more complete drawings as well.

The most common form of shading quick sketches is to use an ink that isn’t waterproof.  Most fountain pen inks are not so you have a wide range of colors, brands, and pens to choose from.  I believe Goulet Pens say they stock 600 inks, and most of them are water-soluble.


Done in Strathmore “toned gray” sketchbook, using J.Herbin 1670 ink. Click to enlarge.

If you carry a waterbrush (with clear water), shading with water-soluble ink  is easy.  You simply run the pen along one side of the line, pulling color from the line and into a shape to indicate shading.

While this is, by far, the easiest approach there are a couple of potential drawbacks.  First, drawing ink away from the lines diminishs the lines and possibly makes them fuzzy.  This can be good or bad, of course.  The other limitation is that your shading is the same color as the lines.  Again, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

 Shading brushes

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Noodler's Lex Gray and brown & black waterbrushes

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Noodler’s Lex Gray and brown & black waterbrushes. Click to enlarge.

For nearly a year, now, in addition to a clear-water waterbrush I’ve carried a waterbrush where I’ve added a few drops of Noodler’s Lexington Gray and another with a few drops of Noodler’s Polar Brown.  This gives me the flexibility to use both a brown and a gray to shade my drawings and I can do it in seconds.  I keep the shade from the waterbrush very light so that I can apply multiple coats and obtain a range of colors.  I think the very dilute solution helps keep the brushes flowing properly.  I use a waterproof ink (Noodler’s Lexington Gray) for the linework so that it’s unaffected by the shading.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 4x6. Pilot Prera & gray waterbrush. Click to enlarge

Stillman & Birn Alpha 4×6. Pilot Prera & gray waterbrush. Click to enlarge

If you enjoy quick-sketching, give this approach a try.  Easy to carry, easy to apply when there’s no time for a full watercolor treatment.

Some quickies at the coffee shop.  Click to enlarge.

Some quickies at the coffee shop. Click to enlarge.

Using both color sometimes enhances the scene.  Click to enlarge.

Using both color sometimes enhances the scene. Click to enlarge.


Music For Nothing And Your Sketching For Free

Apologies to Dire Straits for the title of this post.  When MTV came along, Dire Straits did an animated video to their award-winning song Money For Nothing (and your chicks for free).  The song was great and the video hilarious.  Almost got me to watch MTV.  Now that I’m in Canada, however, I’m not allowed to see it because the song has a couple words in it that caused it to be banned by a hyper-conservative Canadian media police.

Pilot Prera, Platinum Sepia

Pilot Prera, Platinum Sepia

The title of this post pretty well describes my week.  I’ve heard some pretty spectacular music and I did some sketching at each of the events.  I’ve already reported on the special musical sketching event  last weekend and on Thursday I was at the art museum for a recital that included a bassoon/piano piece and several pieces for bass and piano.

On Saturday I attended what may have been the cello equivalent of a sketchcrawl, as a bunch of very skilled cellists met at the conservatory to play together, pass on trade secrets and enjoy one another’s company.   2014-03-01Cello2Remember the show Fame, where the dancers and musicians would dance/play in the lunch room?  That’s how it was at the cello-fest.  Imagine eating lunch to cello music.  One person or group would finish and another would take their seats.  It was amazing!  Much better than my sketches, by the way.

And then on Sunday I was at Le Grand Theatre to listen to Litania Projekt, a fantastic Montreal jazz quartet (bass, piano, drums and trumpet).

Prismacolor 005, purple, Strathmore 'toned gray' sketchbook

Prismacolor 005, purple, Strathmore ‘toned gray’ sketchbook

2014-03-02Jazz1And the best part is that all of these concerts were FREE!!!  I love Quebec.  Lots of sketching was committed while listening.  I’ll only bore you with a few of them.


Sketching The Past – Episode 3

I have a soft spot in my heart for trolleys.  Most often they were red, with bells that clanged to warn people of their arrival.  What’s not to like.  Unfortunately, by the time I was deposited on this Earth, they were disappearing from the landscape and I never got to see any of them in their native environment.  Maybe I should have gotten to San Francisco.

There used to be a lot of trolleys in Quebec City but the only evidence of them these days are long, low viaduct streets that allowed them climb the steep hill upon which sits “vieux Quebec”, the tourist money-maker and my favorite place.

So, this episode of Sketch the Past is a Quebec City trolley as it ran down rue St. Joseph back in 1947.  Hope you like it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), TWSBI MIni, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), TWSBI MIni, Platinum Carbon Black


Thick Lines and Quick Hands

One of the days that I was waiting for my hard drive to arrive it rained.  I’m not one for sketching from photos but desperation will drive me to such extremes.  My pointy device of choice is a very fine pen and I thought it might be an opportunity to play with pens that produce a heavier line and to use them in a more loose fashion than is my norm.

And so I did some quick sketches in a 3×5 sketchbook. Here are four of them.


Done with a Hero 578 ‘bent nib’ pen


Done with Sharpie ‘fine’ pen (not marker)


TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black


Done with Hero 578 “bent nib” pen in about five minutes.

The next day I went out sketching and continued the experiment.  I stopped to pick up a coffee and drew the car across the street.


Done with Hero 578 “bent nib” pen

I was walking along the St. Charles River and decided to stop and sketch these rudbeckia.  I’m not much of a flower sketcher but this was fun.

There is a large water regulation reservoir along the banks of the river and I decided to draw it as quickly as I could.  I spent less than 15 minutes on it, which is something of a world record for me when it comes to doing buildings.  I found the format too small for a building with all those fiddly bits.

Done with TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black

Done with TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black