Assembling A Scene From Nature

I’ve been reading a lot about sketching landscapes lately and one idea that pops up regularly is that of assembling a scene based upon what you see and what makes the composition work.  Moving a tree, or eliminating some is often the example given.   I have a hard time with that concept.  It makes perfect sense and I admire those who can do it, but it seems I’m a literalist at heart and so I always end up drawing what I see.

But recently I did assemble a scene from nature, quite literally.  During our trip to Rimouski we (mostly Chantal and Jodie because I  couldn’t climb around on the rocks very well) collected a whole bunch of crab parts.  The whole endeavour was done so I could draw the parts but it got a bit out of control.  In the end, we ended up with a whole bag of smelly carapaces, legs and claws.

When we got home the question was what to do with them as they really did smell.  Chantal put all the parts in a bunch of pie tins with mesh cloth over them to keep the flies away and put them on our deck.   The smell did diminish but it never went away, even after a week or so of loving care.

So one day I decided that I would pick through them, find good examples and then take photos of them so we could throw everything away.

As I started doing this the biologist in me, or maybe the Dr. Frankenstein, started sticking parts together.  Before I knew it I had a nearly complete crab sitting on the table.  I did take some photos of my prize and then sat down to draw it.  I learned that drawing a crab can make you go cross-eyed trying to follow all the leg parts but it was fun.

Off To Miriam’s Cottage Again

When faced with opportunity, a sketcher shouldn’t hesitate and Yvan and I are no exceptions.  Miriam invited us to sketch at her place on Ile d’Orleans and we jumped at the chance.  The location is beautiful and Miriam is there to sketch with us.  What’s not to like?

The day was delightful, though my hands seemed to have a mind of their own.  These days, straight lines are becoming hard to make.  But we had a lot of fun sketching together and enjoying the day.  Here are a couple of my sketches from the day.

 

 

Different Approach Brings Surprising Results

We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art.   Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.

As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings.  I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).

But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide.  I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.

At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken.  Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing.  More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be.  My daughter looks huge, as does her hair.  I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch.  Silly me.  I wonder why.

Artistes Dans Les Parcs Visit Parc des Moulins

When I can, I’ve been joining the Artistes dans les Parcs, a painting group.  Denise Bujold has created this series of friendly gatherings in Quebec City parks where people show up and create art.  Yvan and I are the odd fellows of the group because most set up easels and paint in oils, acrylics, and watercolors while we scribble away in our sketchbooks.  It’s a fun group, though, and they accept our ‘odd’ ways.

We met at the Parc des Moulins on Saturday and spent the morning drawing/painting.  This place used to be the Quebec City zoo until a political battle over funding caused the whole thing to go belly up.  Now, part of it is a park and it gets its name because of a windmill (moulin) that lives in the park.  On this day, we all clustered around a picnic bench, and I chose this scene to draw.

An Adventure To Rimouski And My Hatred For Hot-Press Paper.

August 26th was our 30th wedding anniversary.  Thinking about that, Chantal deserves a medal for living with me that long.  We decided to celebrate by getting off planet Quebec City and spending a couple days in Rimouski, a smallish town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, just as it begins to open up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Originally I planned on it being just the two of us but Chantal thought it would be fun to bring Jodie along.  Turned out that was a great idea because my bum knee limited my ability to do some things and Jodie gave Chantal some company while she them.

We stayed at a rustic hotel that sits right on the coast, a rocky intertidal area right in front of the place.  Excepting that there was no coffee available on site and a 20-30 minute shopping trip to get some, it was an ideal place.

Our first day there wasn’t great because it was very windy and cold.  Yep…cold.  No heat wave that day.  We visited a museum/lighthouse/submarine place and Jodie and Chantal wanted to tour the submarine.  We weren’t sure that my knee could manage the bulkhead doors and the requisite steps downward so I went and sat in the car.  This allowed me to do this quick sketch of the rocks, etc. in front of me.

Rimouski is a fishing town and on every corner is a poissonerie (fresh fish store) and associated restaurant.  We went for Korean food and it was spectacular.  If you’re ever in Rimouski, foresake the crab dinner and head to Parfum of Korea, an oddly bilingual named restaurant.  We filled up on Bokkeum, grabbed coffee to go and headed back to the hotel, where we spent the evening staring at the river/ocean (you can’t see across at this point and the water is salty).

The next day we drove to Matane, a fishing/university town a couple hours north of Rimouski.  We did this mostly just to enjoy the trip and the wonderful coastline scenery along the way but also with a purpose.  I wanted to draw a fishing boat and Mr. Google told me they had lots of them.   When we got there I was disappointed.  Matane itself is nice enough.  We discovered a great beach covered with small round rocks and lots of sand.  We also discovered a fish ladder, all ready for the salmon run up the river… next week.  Oh well, it was cool to see even without the fish.

But we couldn’t find fishing boats anywhere.  So we went to the information center which exists in the form of an old lighthouse.   Chantal went to discuss the whereabouts of the fishing boats with the information folks.  I set up and started drawing the lighthouse.

We learned that the fishing boats are actually a bit south of Matane in their own artificial harbor area so we headed there.  It turned out that most of them were off somewhere, probably making a nuisance of themselves in the world of crabs, shrimps, and fish of several species.  But there were a few in port and a sketcher only needs one.  Here she be.  I was frustrated with the hot-press paper I was using and so this one never saw a brush.

What’s Up With Hot Pressed Paper?

We had a great time on that trip but my first use of hot-pressed paper was a disaster.  What’s up with it anyway?  I was using Fabriano Artistico HP.  Unlike the CP I normally use I couldn’t get this stuff to stay wet?  I was constantly fighting with lines in my washes.  And EVERYTHING just seemed ‘flat.’  It seemed to suck the life out of the paint.  What am I doing wrong?  Can anyone advise?

Just Goofin’ Around

Hi everyone.  It’s been a while and my only excuse is that I’ve been too tired to do much of anything.  The positive news is that I just heard that this is due to something more than my fight with my new overload, my knee.  Seems I’m anemic, probably the result of all the drugs I’m taking, some of which can induce anemia.  New round of doctor appts coming up.

Today, however, I thought I’d show you examples of some of the little sketching “exercises” I’ve been doing.  No claims here of anything significant but it’s been my attempt to keep my hand in the game.

One thing I’ve been doing is playing with how one does nature with watercolor.  This includes color and brushstrokes, just some of my weaknesses when it comes to watercolor.  Here are a couple examples.

Here I was trying to keep things very simple and yet create some texture in rocks, foliage and sky.

Below are more doodles than anything, but they followed a series of paint blobs that covered several sheets of paper, all with the thoughts of understanding paint thickness, mixing on paper, etc.  I’ve got years to go in coming to understanding of this mysterious world.  Many more pages of paint blobs ahead.

At one point I started drawing single rocks and mushrooms.  Not sure why but I thought I’d throw one of those in just for spice.  My mushrooms are clearly influenced by cartoon mushrooms, probably because that’s the way I see them.

I can’t doodle very long without drawing a structure.  Recent doodles have emphasized attempts to be more loose and free with my line work, foresaking precision.  My brain has a hard time with that.

And then there is a pile of sheets like this.  No rhyme or reason to them at all.  Whatever I was thinking at the moment went into whatever blank space remained on the page.  I think as much as anything this was service to my visual and motor corteces that feel the need to make marks even if my body isn’t.

We just got back from a trip to Rimouski where I did get to do some honest-to-goodness urban sketching. I’ll post those in the next couple days, after I get them scanned.

 

Sketching On The Island

I got the chance to hitch a ride with Claudette and Yvan, who were headed to the Ile d’Orleans for a day of sketching.  It happened to be on a “good” day for my leg and hand so I was optimistic.  The day was ideal.  We’re still experiencing high temps and humidities but I’m learning that Quebec City’s “colder than everywhere else” translates into “cooler than everywhere else” when the world is facing heat waves.

We ended up in the town of St. Jean, which is on the northern end of the island and we parked near a large church and strategically positioned to walk across the street for coffee when our session was over.  We headed off in the other direction, though, down onto the intertidal zone near the St. Lawrence.

This rock-encrusted area is gorgeous and affords great views across the river as well as back towards the church and other houses along the river front.  For me it was slow-going as I walked like a drunken sailor over the uneven surfaces, trying not to upset my new overlord – my knee.  It was so nice to be out sketching that I hardly noticed, but people watching must have wondered what was wrong with me.

I decided on a scene and to work in a little 5×7 spiral bound book from Winsor & Newton.  The paper is 100% cotton and the size is really convenient.  I was only half content with the results but since I’m trying lots of different watercolor techniques I’ve never used before, I expect very little from the results.  It was fun, though, to play around with some dry-brushing and wet-n-wet (complete fail on that one).

Then it was time for coffee and we had a great time looking sketchbooks that Claudette had filled while on a recent trip.  When we finished we drove to Miriam’s cottage, though she wasn’t on the island this day.  It was threatening rain so Claudette and I set up inside a large barn and drew outward from it.  I wanted to emphasize the framing of the scene by the barn door but I feel that I let the depth of the scene escape me so I was pretty disappointed with the end result.  The doing, as always, was a lot of fun.  Funny how it works that way sometimes.  I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t stick with pen and ink and leave the watercolor to others.

 

House-bound Street Sketcher

or the last six years, my summers have been daily jaunts here and there to sketch.  It was a routine as consistent as brushing my teeth.  Last summer I walked 50+ kilometers a week for the sake of my sketching.  As much as anything it became my identity.  I’m sure other sketchers can relate to this.

Then it happened.  I became old and frail.  I seem to be literally falling apart.  One day it’ll be my left wrist and hand hurts so much I can’t draw, or my leg won’t let me walk without pain across the room.  And, of course, there are some days that are lost simply because I’m feeling sorry for myself.  It’s been an “interesting” experience and definitely a new challenge, but the end result is that I’m losing my sketching summer and this blog has been neglected.  I apologize.

While this blog is about street sketching I’m going to show you a sketch I did from a photo of a hotel we’re going to visit in two weeks.  It resides on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, just as the river begins to widen into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a hotbed for whale-watchers.  I drew it from a photo of the place on their website.  Hope you like it.

A Bit Of Quick Sketchcrawling

People say that getting “out of your comfort zone” is a good idea.  So, I drive twice the speed limit, drink excessively and pick fights with NFL players.  Just kidding…maybe that isn’t what they mean, though in the art world these catch-all phrases are ill-defined and hold little real meaning.

But this week seems to be a week where I’m doing things different from my norm and a couple days ago Yvan suggested that we do a ‘real’ sketchcrawl, where we go to a spot, sketch something quickly and then move on to the next spot, repeating until the day got too hot to continue, or until Larry got completely frustrated (grin).

And that’s exactly what we did.  We hopped a bus and headed to a neighborhood where we’d never sketched and decided that we’d walk until one of us (took turns at that) decided it was time to stop.  There, we would choose a subject and spend only a few minutes capturing the scene.  Easy peasy, right?

For Yvan it was.  He’s a superb sketcher and with decades of experience, he’s also really quick when he needs to be.  Me, not so much.  I’m still vying for the “slowest sketcher on the planet” award and I think I’m still in the lead.

When I start sketching quickly all sorts of things go wrong as I lose control of linear perspective, proportions, and relationships.  These things cause my sketches to be barely recognizable as the scene before me.  But heck, I was out of my comfort zone.  That has to be good, right?  These are three sketches I came up with during our quick-sketchcrawl session.

A Sketching Adventure To Miriam’s Cottage

One of the nicest people in the world has a cottage and a large tract of land on the south side of Ile d’Orleans, which itself resides in the middle of the Ste Lawrence River.  Her name is Miriam and she invited Yvan and I to sketch with her and we jumped at the chance.

We started the day with tea on the deck, watching for boats going by.  Miriam has decided to draw the large ships as they go by, not a small feat since the view of the river is little more than an opening in the tree canopy and these ships, big as they are in reality, are pretty small when seen from her cottage.  But binoculars and a sketcher’s will surmounts these minor problems.

After tea we hiked up the hill to sketch a small barn sitting at the top of a hill.  It’s a beautiful scene but I confess that I got overwhelmed by the sea of green which, we concluded, was a field of bok choy.  Throw in a forest on the other side of the road and I didn’t know what to do with all that green.  I didn’t really need to tell you that; it is evident in the sketch.  Still, the weather was wonderful and the shade plentiful so I was a happy camper.

Jinhao ‘el cheapo’ pen, R&K SketchInk (Lily), DS watercolors.

As we were walking back to the house we were blessed by a conga line of four young racoons as they made their way up a creek bed.  That was quite fun.  Eventually they entered a culvert under the road and we never saw them again.

Lunch required a return to the deck, more ship watching and a session of “let’s get our palettes out and start making blotches of color  and mixing them together.”  Everyone plays that game… don’t they?  Well we did and had a ball for at least an hour.

When it was time to return to sketching, Yvan and Miriam wanted to draw the large rocks in the forest next to her cottage.  We walked in to the forest and all I could see was green, green, and more green.  This wasn’t reality but my PTSD from the morning’s greenery wouldn’t let me see anything else.  So I started wandering until I found this lonely shovel leaning against the barn wall.  It needed to be sketched.

We gathered for another cup of tea and discussed future plans.  Miriam agreed that if we’d leave, she’d let us return ‘real soon’ so we did.  I can’t wait to get back there.