40th Worldwide Sketchcrawl – Quebec Style

Last weekend was the 40th Worldwide Sketchcrawl and a group of sketchers in Quebec City participated.  We were blessed with great weather, had a great turnout,  and we had a great time… except I lost my entire watercolor kit.

DanielVincent

Daniel Potvin (blue shirt) and Vincent (tan shirt), one of his students.

Our numbers increased significantly this time around for the simple reason that Daniel Potvin, an enthusiastic sketcher, who happens to teach animation at Université Laval, brought some of his students – a group of very talented folks.

We met just inside the St. Jean Gate, in Artillery Park.  Both of these are tourist hotspots so there were lots of people around.

Yvan

Yvan did welcoming duties while sketching the St. Jean gate.

Yvan took up station and offered a welcome to everyone as they arrived.  We agreed to meet for lunch at 12:15 and so we each went our own way to hunt down the ideal sketching subject.  I was looking for shade.  (Note to self.  Next time do a formal group photo as the group has gotten too large to cover them all with a snapshot.)

group

CelinePierre

Celine and Pierre sketching the Kent Gate

With lots of sketching behind us, we broke for lunch and gathered under a large shade tree.  Some brought lunches, some went foraging at the many food vendors in the area.  We talked, shared sketchbooks, ate and generally had a mini-sketching party.  It was great!

Natalie

Natalie sketching the Kent Gate tower.

Eventually, we decided that we should sketch some more and so we did.  I was pretty beat by that time and I suspect others were as well but heck, it was a great day and so we sketched.

Claudette

Claudette sketching on Rue d’Auteuil.

In the end, it was a big success, we got to meet and talk with some new sketchers and we all took home great sketches to remind us the day.

One complete failure on my part was that I got no good photos of the spread of sketches, laid out during lunch.  The problem was that they were part in the sun and part in the shade, with leaf shadows all over them.  I’ll have to do better next time.  This time around, you should be able to see (real soon) at least some of those sketches on the Worldwide Sketchcrawl site.

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Couldn’t resist this. It was at least 15-feet high and part of summer festival. S&B Zeta (5×8)

Somewhere, between the old city and home, my entire watercolor kit fell out of my sketching bag and I lost it.  Anyone who finds a green case with a watercolor palette, some Escoda travel brushes, water bottle and misc….it’s mine (grin).  Here are the sketches I did during the event.

This is a Celtic Cross in Artillery Park. 3x5 and done with a Pilot Prera.

This is a Celtic Cross in Artillery Park. 3×5 and done with a Pilot Prera.

 

Church next to Kent Gate.  S&B Zeta (5x8), Pilot Prera.

Church next to Kent Gate. S&B Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera.

 

Sketching Complex Shapes With A Pen

I slogged my way through rain, this morning to meet Claudette at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Only upon arrival both of us realized that it wasn’t supposed to be open – the museum is normally closed on Mondays.  But, because of the long weekend they decided to be open so we got lucky.

We sketched and talked and talked and sketched some more.  Don’t ya just love sketching with someone who goes into a trance while sketching but also needs a chit-chat break every hour or so?  I sure do as my old-man back needs to stretch once in a while.

As I’ve had a couple people ask me how I sketched these shapes with a pen and not have a lot of restated lines, I thought I’d show you a couple of the intermediate steps.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think about this until after the first step was done – the pencil step.  I admit it; I use a pencil.  It’s fashionable to shun a pencil as an indicator of greatness but in my opinion that’s nuts.  Why?  Well, if nothing else, if it was good enough for many of the greats, who used pencil to lay out their drawings/paintings, then it’s good enough for me.  But also, without some ‘scaffolding’ you’re shooting in the dark to get the size/location relationships between the parts and you start working ‘additively’, drawing a piece and then adding things to it to get the whole.  It’s far better to work ‘divisively’, dividing your paper space after defining the whole, repeatedly dividing until you have the smallest details you want to add.

What do I mean by scaffolding?  Well, the first thing I do is lightly draw a rectangle that will hold the entire object/scene.  I also mark the center point of that rectangle and note where the cener is on the actual object.  I use the ‘hold up your pencil’ trick to measure this stuff.

Then I note where the object touches that rectangle as I lightly draw blobs and lines to represent the basic component parts.  As I do this I compare this scaffolding to the object itself, correcting as I go.  Once you’ve got this stuff on paper, all that’s left is to sketch, very lightly, the actual object parts inside their corresponding blobs.

Fig1

Fig 1. – Outlines drawn lightly with ink.

With some practice, you can do the sketch without an eraser so doing it with pen is no problem.  I do this light as I can, though, with lots of broken and/or thin lines.  This allows some small changes if necessary.  The result looks like Fig 1, which was done ina Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) sketchbook with a Pilot Prera (F) with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

Fig2

Fig 2. – Lines darkened and emphasized. Some ink shading added.

Then I start darkening the lines, emphasizing some by varying the line thickness.  I also start adding some shading and how much depends upon how much I want to depend upon ink and how much on color to generate shading.  The results looks like Fig 2.  I used the Prera for most of it but occasionally used a Lamy Safari (EF) when I wanted a thicker line.

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Then I’ll some color, or at least some grays.  In this case I used a black and a couple brown watercolor pencils (Faber-Castell) and a waterbrush to finish up with this sketch (Fig 3).

2013-04-01Nigeria2With some time left I decided to do this mask.  I’m not sure what the tall horns are all about as they say it’s worn during marriage celebrations.  Maybe Nigerians know more about marriage than we do (grin)

Camellia Senensis – Gateway To Good Tea

One of the best places to buy teas in Quebec City is Camellia Senensis.  They import teas from around the world and their selection is huge.  This is a serious tea-drinker’s store and one of my favorites.

I had bought tea and had left the store when I got the crazy idea that it wasn’t cold and that I should sketch the store.  It’s been a long time since I’ve sketched outdoors and the time was right.  Heck, it was only 32F.  And so I did.

I did a quick layout with a pencil and then started working with a Noodler’s Creaper flex pen.  I’m trying this as a somewhat different approach to my outdoor sketching, trying to loosen up the lines a bit relative to my typical consistent line width approach.  I think I’ll know better whether I like it when I can sketch without my fingers screaming at me because of the cold.

2013-03-07CamelliaSenensis

I finished the sketch (no color), stuffed my displeased fingers back in their gloves and headed home, quite smug with myself for having sketched outdoors.  I added some color when I got home.

This was done on the new Zeta-series paper that Stillman & Birn are about to release.   And it’s a dream come true, but then I’ve said that about all of the Stillman & Birn papers/sketchbooks.

The Zeta paper is an 180lb version of their Epsilon (100lb) paper and for pen/wash I can think of nothing better.  Very thick, no curl paper that’s smooth like a hot-press paper.  I’ve been using an Epsilon for all my museum sketching this winter and it looks like the Zeta will become my go-to sketchbooks for outdoor sketching.  Stillman & Birn continue to amaze.

Sketching On The Run

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment so I couldn’t go to the museum to sketch. This, however, didn’t prevent me from sketching, but it did force me to mentally shift gears a bit.

I’m a sketcher who enjoys sketching precisely, or I try to achieve some precision in my sketches. I like my sketches to reflect what I’m sketching, without a lot of loose and/or restated lines, casual approach to outline, etc. Depending on your view this is a good or bad thing and I’m not here to defend my approach; it’s just how my brain works. In point of fact, I’d like to do both loose and precise sketching but as a relatively new sketcher, sketching slowly fits my limited ability to truly ‘see’ and depict what I see.

Anyways, yesterday I got to the doctor’s office (he works out of a clinic) and I had to wait. Those of us waiting sit, while others stand in a short line, waiting to tell the receptionist about their own appointments. There’s not much to sketch, at least that sits still for any period of time.

There is, however, a 20-30 second period of time where each of the patients is standing in front of the receptionist and I had a clear view of them. So, I took out my S&B 4×6 sketchbook, my Pilot Prera, and I started quick sketching the people as they took their turn at the receptionist’s window. I did several of them before the doctor, all too soon, called my name. It was fun.

2013_01-10DocOfficeQuick1This is what those 30 second sketches look like. Not much to speak of but satisfying in some strange way. The second sketch is one in which I spent an extra 30 seconds, after the patient had left, adding some rough shading and darkening some outlines. More fun.

I should add that I’ve been critical of the many books and drawing courses that advocate students begin sketching by doing ‘gesture sketches’, which these most certainly are.  A year ago, as a new sketcher, there is no way I could have done even these crude sketches in this short time frame.  If you’re a newbie sketcher you know what I mean.  Thus, while this was/is fun, I remain skeptical that it’s where you want to start as a sketcher.

I’m reminded of something my buddy Yvan has said to me several times.  “You must draw slowly before you can draw quickly.”  I think he’s right and the how-to-draw books could learn much from Yvan.  I still can’t draw people well, whether I draw slowly or quickly.  But because I’ve drawn a bunch of them slowly, and because I’ve studied (watched a lot) people, I’ve got a better idea of what I’ve got to capture when I’ve only got a few seconds to do so.

I have to say that I had a lot of fun in those few minutes in the doctor’s office and I hope I can improve my abilities to capture people quickly.  I still like my slow, and I do mean REALLY slow, sketching approach, but sketching quickly is fun too.  I feel there’s room for both in my life.   What do you think about quick sketching?

Cheers — Larry

 

Pilot Metropolitan from Goulet Pens

GouletPkgIs there a better online company than Goulet Pens?  Their service is simply amazing.  No, it’s unbelievable.  I ordered a $15 pen from them.  This is what I got in the mail today.

The Pilot Metropolitan came in the typical (as in nice) Pilot box.  They also sent me a business card, a bookmark, and a lollipop.  A lollipop… can you believe it?  And Alex wrote a nice note, in impeccable handwriting, and he used Noodlers 54th Massachusetts ink, the new bulletproof ink that Nathan Tardiff has brewed up.  All this and I only bought a $15 pen.  Thanks Goulet Pens.  You are the online seller to which all others are compared.

CompareMetro

Comparison between Lamy Al-Star (top), Pilot Metropolitan, and Pilot Prera (bottom)

So, with lollipop in mouth, I opened up my Pilot Metropolitan.  It came with a Pilot CON-20 “squeeze” converter and a cartridge.  I’m not a fan of these rubber converters and didn’t have a CON-50 on hand but I did have some empty cartridges so I filled one with Noodler’s Lexington Gray, my favorite sketching ink, and the pen was ready to go.

Everyone is talking about these pens, saying they’re a lot of bang for the buck.  My go to sketching pen is a Pilot Prera (F) because I love its fine line and great features.  Sometimes, though, I need a slightly thicker line in some sketches and I thought the Metropolitan might serve that purpose as it is a Pilot medium nib which is similar to a Lamy fine nib.  I was right.

Metro

Posted it’s just slightly longer than my posted Pilot Prera.

The pen balances well even when posted and it’s comfortable in my hand.  Before now, I’ve used Lamy Safaris when I needed a thicker line.  They’re fine but they’re sufficiently different from the Prera in balance and size that I don’t like switching between them.  The Metropolitan makes this switch much easier.

In my opinion, this pen lives up to all the laudatory things that have been said about it.  It looks good and it’s smooth, at least on Rhodia notepad paper and my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  I don’t know how Pilot can produce such quality for $15 but I’m sure glad they did.  I drew this little sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (4×6) to let you see how the Metropolitan pen lines look in a simple sketch.

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Junk Journals, Trying Stuff, And Sketching Fun

I’m a lucky guy.  Laure Ferlita reads my blog.  If you don’t know Laure, she is a VERY talented artist/sketcher whose work I admire a lot.  She has her own blog and left a comment on my recent post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks where she advocates the use of what she calls a ‘junk journal.’  You can, and should, read her blog post, titled “Pen Practice In My Junk Journal” on this subject.

In that post Laure advocates the use of a ‘junk journal’, a sketchbook that may be a cast off from buying an inadequate sketchbook, or maybe even bought as a ‘junk journal.’  While the name Laure gives to these sketchbooks comes from the notion that they might be otherwise thrown away, they are anything but junk, but rather a liberating and fun tool.  A junk journal, in my view, is a crucial part of a newbie’s arsenal.  While Laure, an accomplished artist, uses it to gain unfettered creativity in planning, playing, and enjoying her skills.  I think we newbies have an additional use for it, which is that we’re trying to figure out how to do stuff and a junk journal is the best place to do it in my view.

For myself, I have a ‘junk journal’, though it isn’t one of my rejects.  Instead, it’s a 9×12 Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook that sits, open on my desk, all the time.  It’s where I do tests of new materials.  It’s where I try to replicate a technique or idea I’ve gleaned from the many bright folks that inhabit the Internet.  It’s where I try to improve my drawing and painting techniques.  This sketchbook is crucial to my learning process as I feel the notion of learning by doing is a good one, there are different kinds of doing and separating my ‘learning’ (junk journal) from my ‘doing’ (creating the best sketch I can) helps me a lot.

Here I was trying to figure out how to draw cylinders, with a bit of 'quick building' thrown in for good measure.

When one tries to learn piano one doesn’t just try to play a Chopin sonata over and over again.  One plays scales, plays Chopsticks, Twinkle-Twinkle-Little-Star or whatever.  In short, if sketching buildings (my thing) is what you like, you don’t want to mess up a nice sketch of a building trying to figure out how to indicate snow against its wall.  You need a ‘junk journal’ to figure out that 1) drawing a line to indicate snow is a bad idea, 2) that negative painting that snow line is far superior and 3) get some practice doing it in small, insignificant vignette sketches.

I’ve made it pretty clear in my S&B post that I’m an advocate of using first class paper all the time.  I tried to indicate how little more it costs to do so in that post.  But I think Laure’s views on a junk journal and mine are not so different.  Rather, I think there are two components to ‘junk journal’ and they should be addressed separately.  They are:

1) You need a sketchbook where you can play, with no expectations of drawing anything you’re going to frame or post on the Internet – the junk journal that Laure advocates.

2) You need to decide whether you need cheap paper to be liberated as in 1) or not.

I think, without a doubt, Laure is right about the first thing for all the reasons she argues on her blog AND as I’ve just argued, it’s probably more important for new sketchers to have such a sketchbook.

Here I was responding to ideas from Artist's Journal Workshop on how to paint kitchen wall tiles and bricks, with some paint smears and smudges that I can't explain.

For the second thing, however, I think it’s not so clear.  While Laure’s idea of using an existing, and rejected sketchbook seems very logical, and certainly frugal, it was afterall, a rejected sketchbook.  You’ve said, “Yuck!” for a reason.  And if your junk journal is to be used to try new techniques, experiment with ideas, and generally aid in your learning the craft, wouldn’t it be better if the paper in that sketchbook be of a quality similar to what you use when you actually do a so-called ‘serious’ sketch or journal entry?

Of course this is true so the big problem is whether you can get past the notion that paying an extra few cents for a blank page on which to scribble is a good idea.

I find that by using a first class sketchbook is worth it to me because I’m testing techniques, not just ideas.  Further by using much larger journal than my carry-everywhere sketchbooks I cut the cost of the play even more.  I scatter experiments and sketches over a 8 1/2 x 11 page, done in the size I’d do in my normal sketchbooks, and I can fit 4-6 ideas on a page, sometimes more.  I’m not trying to produce a ‘real’ sketch, remember.  And so, while my large S&B Epsilon costs $22, there are 100 pages on which I can doodle/test/sketch and even at four ideas per page it’s only costing me a nickel per idea.   Pretty cheap to have the knowledge that the paper won’t bleed, buckle and that anything learned will translate well to my ‘real’ sketchbooks.

In summary, following Laure’s recommendation is probably the most important thing a newbie sketcher can do to help develop technique and style.  Whether it is ideally done on cheap paper, is, however, more a function of getting past the notion that you’re worth a few nickles (grin).

And now I’ve done something I thought I’d never do – show people pages from my junk journal.  I feel like Hagrid, in the Philosopher’s Stone movie when he kept giving privileged info to the kids, followed with “I shouldn’t have told you that.”