“What’s Wrong With It,” Cheryl asked.

I tend to be fairly pragmatic about my successes and failures when I sketch.  I don’t make a big deal out of succeeding and it doesn’t bother me if I fail.  In fact, failure is an opportunity to learn.  It’s this last thing that gets me in trouble as I also don’t mind saying I’ve failed because I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Stillman & Birn Beta (7×7 spiral), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

And so it was when I posted this sketch on my blog and on Instagram. I voiced the opinion that it wasn’t my best and this caused Cheryl Wright to ask, “What’s wrong with it?”

Rather than give her a brief answer it seemed her question presented an opportunity to talk about the analysis I do when sketches don’t meet even my low standards.

Composition & Esthetics

I tend to do building portraits so composition generally takes a backseat to showing off whatever it is that causes me to draw the building in the first place.  But if I did this one again, I’d move my point of view so that the streetlight wasn’t directly in line with the ductwork on the side of the building and I’d ensure that the globe of the light wasn’t hidden within the crown of the tree.  These things completely negated the raison d’etre for including the light in the sketch in the first place.

Also, the window treatments are sloppy in this sketch.  I wanted to keep them simple but I hatched them carelessly.  Generally I’m still very clumsy with color but clumsy is where I’m at right now with color so I hardly ever assess it.  Maybe some day.

Tonal Obfuscation

This building is little more than a box.  What makes it interesting is that the entrance and display windows cut across a diagonal of the building, but the building itself is square, creating a ceiling over the entrance and windows.
I completely obfuscated that reality by painting the signs and entrance a dark black, completely flattening this feature of the building.  I’ve tried to play with it in Photoshop to indicate a better way, lightening the signs but I’d messed up the sketch so badly that it was hard to make it look good.  I hope the graphic demonstrates what I am talking about, however.

Keeping Things In Perspective

This is where things really went south, though.  It seems I let my horizon line wander.  I’m not a stickler for perspective and don’t generally think in terms of vanishing points and such.  But it should be the case that the farther one gets from the horizon line, the more steep should be the angle downward or upward towards a horizon line – AND the horizon line needs to be kept constant.  If you are consistent in this way, it won’t matter much whether  each is accurate.  Here, I wasn’t consistent and you can see that the angles go all over the place, crossing in places and being parallel in others.  Shouldn’t be like that and the sketch suffered.

So this is why I said what I said about this sketch.  I agree with what Cheryl said in the rest of her message, “I love its quiet simplicity.”  I only wish I’d done a better job of depicting it.  Thanks to Cheryl for asking a great question.

 

A Sad Tale Of A Great Success

I got up yesterday morning full of enthusiasm.  I was going to drive to Montreal and sketch with some Montreal urban sketchers and I was going to get to meet Koosje Koene of Sketchbook Skool fame.  My trusty weather app reassured me that I would be greeted in Montreal with 15-17C and sunny skies.  So off I went, listening to CBC radio and doing my normal “Oh, that would be great to sketch” dialog with myself as I sped through the countryside.

I was going to arrive a couple hours before everyone else but Jane Hannah said she’d meet me, but a bit later.  I parked in a very convenient parking dungeon (seven stories below ground) that Jane gave me coordinates to and walked out into the beautiful sunshine ugly rain.  Hmm…not so good.  But I was confident the rain would stop and I’d never been to old Montreal before so I just started walking around, taking photos of the amazing architecture and statues. Tourist am me.

Eventually I wandered back to the meeting place and there was Jane.  And the rain had stopped.  We talked for a bit but eventually sat down to draw.   Not being versed in the rules of Montreal, I didn’t realize that this was the cue for the rain to begin.  It did.

This was the extent of my sketching. I increased the contrast so you could see my mental discussion with shapes and proportions in anticipation of actually drawing this structure.

Jane suggested we walk to a restaurant she wanted to show me.  We did but it was closed so we walked a bit more.

The rain stopped.  Of course it had; we weren’t sketching.  We decided to draw part of an amazing building so we set up, sat down and I started block in the basic shapes I wanted to capture and, you guessed it – it started to rain again.

It was getting near time to meet Koosje so we headed back to the meet location, stood with a few urban sketchers and along came Koosje.  It was not going to be much of a sketching day so we went to a restaurant and spent the next three hours talking, eating, and some sketched people.  I’m not much for sketching in restaurants so mostly I watched and kibbitzed.  There were a dozen of us so there was lots of potential for kibbitzing.

In the end, the day was a big success because of the people.  I’ll do sketching some other time.  It did seem that I needed a souvenir of the day, however, so this morning I did this quick drawing of part of city hall, depicting the dreary nature of the day, I hope.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

A Little Bit Of Blue

Once upon a time the Field Notes company released an edition of their small sketchbooks called Sweet Tooth and it contained a red, a yellow and a blue notebook as a three pack.  Several of us started drawing in the red ones because it creates a bright mid-tone between our black and white pens.  Tina Koyama has become queen of the Sweet Tooth, using mostly red but sometimes blue notebooks.

vignette from imagination while watching baseball

Me, while I did some “serious” sketches in a couple red books, I’ve mostly relegated these books to really quick-n-dirty sketches, done while waiting for someone or small sketches from my imagination while I watch baseball.  I don’t scan these sketches as there’s just too many of them, none worthy of consideration but they help train my brain to draw, which is the reason I do them.

I feel I’ve plagiarized this from somewhere but I don’t know from where. Done from “imagination” while watching baseball

Real quick sketch of part of our skyline

I’m posting a couple of them here so I’ll have an excuse to post a nod to Tina’s ‘abandoned couch’ series.  I was waiting for our gang to show up to draw and across the street was an abandoned couch with a couple matching chairs piled up on top of it.  I thought immediately of Tina.

In honor of Tina Koyama’s abandoned couch series

 

Aukey Wireless Headphones: A Sketcher’s Friend

I walk a lot and most of my sketching takes place during those walks.  I  listen to podcasts while walking, lots of podcasts.  I follow pencil podcasts, pen podcasts, news podcasts, science podcasts, and even a fishing podcast.

I suspect I’m not alone in “needing” headphones, earbuds, or whatever you want to call them as a part of my sketching gear, though nobody really talks about them, and I’ve become a devotee of wireless headphones for sketching.  Not having a cord connecting my phone and ears is really nice.  I don’t think I could go back using wired earbuds.

Here’s one of the sets of Aukey headphones that I own. Once you go wireless, you never go back.

I’m writing about mine because the Aukey company, who make a range of headphones and other audio electronics has just gone above and beyond and I want to acknowledge them.

I mentioned that I lost a set of headphones during my run in (almost literally) with the Chateau Frontenac (Sketching Is Dangerous – Expensive Too!) and so I ordered my fourth set of these headphones to replace them.

One set, though, will not take a charge, so I decided to write to the company to see if they could give me insight into what I might do to fix them.  I got an almost immediate reply and with it an offer to replace them.  I couldn’t believe it but I am most grateful that there are companies like this still in existence.

Sketching Along The Riviere St. Charles

We are starting to get some outdoor sketching days and so you’ll start hearing me talk about my river as it’s one of my favorite places to be.  Its real name is Riviere St. Charles and it’s only minutes from my house, though the river is at least 50 kilometers long, running from Lac Beauport down to the St. Lawrence River.

Yvan and I were there on Saturday, at a spot that’s no more than a 15 minute walk from my house.  I was practicing sketching standing up.  This probably sounds crazy to many of you but I really struggle with it, though I may be getting closer to wrestling this bugaboo to its knees.  The thing is, I enjoy sketching while standing up.  It’s a more natural point of view than sitting low on a stool.

It’s also the case, because I hold the sketchbook relatively high and shoved into my chest,  I do a lot less head-bobbing than when I sit on a stool with the book resting on my legs.  I think this improves my accuracy because the sketchbook is easier to compare to the subject because the sight line is nearly the same for both.  I also find this approach easier on my back, though my legs get tired.  Win some, lose some.

Some other benefits to sketching standing up is that I don’t have to carry around that stool, cutting the weight I’m carrying in half.  I also feel more free to choose sketching positions.

You’ll think this next reason silly but people say it’s good to take a break every 15-20 minutes, just to remain fresh while sketching.  This is easier to do if all you have to do is start walking.  If I’ve got to get up from a stool, walk around and then sit back down, both my brain and my knees are reluctant to take a break.  I told you that you’d think it was silly.

I was also practicing the idea of drawing landscapes.  I don’t do it enough and I need a lot of practice with forest textures and such.  Anyways, this is what I did and I was generally happy with the results.  It’s sort of looking down on the river and up at the building, which made for an interesting scene.  I may add color but generally, once a sketch is a couple days old, I rarely go back to it.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), 0.5 mechanical pencil, Pilot Falcon

Limoilou Firehouse Remodeling

There’s a superb piece of architecture in Limoilou that used to be a firehouse.  While I’ve lived in Quebec it’s been used as a daycare center, some sort of base for a charitable organization and has probably had other uses as well.  Right now, it’s undergoing some exterior restoration and interior remodeling.  I drew the top portion of one end of it because below this view are all sorts of machines, dumpsters and debris.

Stillman & Birn Beta (7×7 spiral), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

“Don’t Sit On Your Stool,” She Said

Chantal: “Where are you going?
Me: “I’m meeting Yvan and Claudette on 3rd Avenue.”
Chantal: “Ok.  Don’t sit on your stool.”

That’s the conversation that took place following my “banging head against the wall” day on Tuesday.  She needn’t worry.  My Walkstool has worked flawlessly for years and excepting the need to replace the rubber feet that just wore out, it has been a reliable companion.  The calamity was all on me; I screwed up… again.

Anyways, I did meet “the guys” and drew this little scene.  Not my best but I am trying to recoup my blood supply after all.  I did another sketch, a more complete one, but I didn’t get to put color on it so I’ll post that one tomorrow.  Great day but REALLY cold.

Stillman & Birn Beta (7×7 spiral), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Sketching Is Dangerous – Expensive Too!

WARNING: Graphic Results of Violence Follows

Tuesday I was the organizer of our Tuesday sketching session.  We were to meet in front of the Chateau Frontenac, on the Terrace Dufferin at 10AM.  I like to get on site before anyone arrives so I can say hi when they do.

I started setting up to sketch a large statue, but one of the tubes on my WalkStool came apart from the lower portion.  I didn’t think much of this and just pounded it back in place.  I should have thought a bit more.  This disrupted my normal cycle of ensuring that all three legs were locked in place.  One was not.

I sat down on the stool, a leg gave way and my head smacked against the granite block wall of the hotel.  The crack to my head wasn’t as extreme as if I’d fallen from a standing position but…  I put my hand to the back of my head and it came away full of blood.

I scurried to my feet.  Well, I sort of scurried.  My knees don’t allow me to pop to my feet as I once could so it was more of an old-man process of getting to my feet.  I picked up my bag and stool, grabbed a paper towel to block the wound, and I headed into the Starbucks that’s part of the hotel.

I asked a guy there where I had to go for first aid, he said “Quoi?” and I showed him my handful of blood.  He got the message and immedately called the hotel medic, telling me to go stand by the doors outside and that the medic would be there.  I did.

A guy walked up to me and asked if I was ok.  I told him the medic was coming and he offered to take me to the hospital or at least stay with me until the medic came.  A woman ran over, carrying a wad of Starbucks napkins, which were gratefully received.  Then the Starbucks guy came out to check on me and we all stood around until a guy with a great big red first aid kit came through the door.

This is what my head looked like by the time I got home. The red on my neck is not a sunburn.

I know a real urban sketcher would have been sketching all this activity but, well, my hands were somewhat tied up trying to keep blood from running down my neck.  I went with the medic into a bathroom and he did a bang up job of  cleaning me up.  He concluded that I probably didn’t need stitches and did his best to bandage the tiny wound that was the source of the blood.

By this time, it was well after 10AM so I grabbed a coffee, thanked the Starbucks guy and went looking for my buddies.  They were all sketching away when I arrived.  The wound had stopped bleeding but, it started to drip so rather than sketching I was holding kleenex over the wound, applying some pressure.  It didn’t take long to realize that going home was a better plan than hanging out with my friends.

The wound did stop bleeding by about 1PM but I sat around the rest of the day watching Netflix and trying not to move my head too much.  Oh, the title mentions how expensive sketching can be as well as dangerous.  Somehow, during this fiasco, I lost my wireless headphones.  It was not a good day.

Finally…Some Outdoor Sketching

Here it is, the middle of May, and we’re still having a hard time getting outdoors in Quebec City because of cool weather and a lot of rain.  But it happened.  In fact, we had a bright, hot summer day on the 16th and our little sketching group took advantage of it.  We headed to an older part of the city where they have alleyways.

Alleyways provide sort of grungy views but views with lots of shapes that make for great sketching subjects.  I just love them.  In this scene you’ll find two large “towers.”  These are actually enclosed stairways, loosely constructed but effective in keeping the snow off the stairs.  They are very common in these neighborhoods.  I had a lot of fun doing this one.

Alley scene in Limoilu

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black