Sketching In A Garden Center

In Quebec City we have to use our imagination to identify places where we can sketch on location.  I don’t have any of that imagination stuff but I have friends who do and they came up with the idea of sketching in garden centers.  We’ve done it a number of times and it’s lots of fun.

Sadly, even as we entered May it was still too cold to sketch outdoors so we headed to the garden center.  I didn’t create any masterpieces this day (never do) but I sure had fun.  It was the first time I’d sat on my tripod stool in a long time.  That was something of a challenge as my knee becomes very unstable when I try to get my butt low enough to find the seat.  Getting up is a similar challenge.  I’ll have to do something about that.  I did get to try a taller stool (20″ WalkStool) and I may buy one as that made this simple task much easier.

Anyways, I started with a simple, and quick sketch of a garden gargoyle.  He (she?) was about a foot tall and without much detail but very proud.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center, looking at the plants, the bright flashes of color and I even spent time looking at garden tools, bird feeders, etc.  The koi pond required that I watch the fish going round and round too.  Eventually, though, I got back to drawing and I immersed myself in a cloud of leaves that most would call a bonsai.  If I were a real artist I would have gotten out a brush and just indicated all those leaves but I’m in love with fountain pens and the lines they make so there I was, drawing leaves… lots of leaves.  I love the feeling of coming out of the meditative stupor induced by this sort of drawing.  It makes me want to do it again.

Are You Bugged By Bugs?

I’m not, but I am bugged by people who call insects bugs (grin).  I spent a good part of my life studying insects so I’m very comfortable around them and them being around me.  I just don’t see them the way most people do.

That said, it wasn’t always so.  Long before I became a biologist my dad moved our family from Ohio to Arizona.  It was great being away from snow, only having to own one set of clothes and not having to worry about what the weather was going to be like every day.  But when the monsoon season, the time that Arizona gets the majority of its very limited rainfall, something happened that upset this bliss.  Derobrachus hovorei appeared.  These “little” guys feed on the roots of Palo Verde trees as larvae but the adults are beetles (3″ long) and they’re powerful flyers.

I’ll never forget my fist encounter with them.  I was a just-barely-a-teenager, minding my business, when one of these things flew right into me.  It fell to the ground and immediately started buzzing.  It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.  Now, a bunch of years later I know that they are harmless nectar feeders with only one thing on their mind – finding a mate, but at the time…

So what does this have to sketching?  Well, Derobrachus hovorei is a Cerambycid beetle, one of around 40,000 species of the Family Cerambycidae that share our planet.  This makes it the largest beetle family and they exhibit a correspondingly large degree of variability, providing an endless set of opportunities as sketching subjects.

See…you knew I’d get there, didn’t you (grin)?  Not only are their sizes and shapes quite varied, many of them look like tiny Christmas tree ornamets because of their bright, often metallic colors.  I just love them, so I drew one just for you.

Is It New If It’s New To Me?

I don’t do a lot of discussion of products here, but I was in the local COOP run by university art students (their way of getting quality stuff since our artcraft store doesn’t stock it) and I came across this little sketchbook.

Unlike the Cotman pads I’m used to seeing from Winsor & Newton, this one had 5×7 sheets of 100% cotton paper.  I bought one and emailed W&N to ask if this was a new or old product.  The response I got suggested that the guy writing to me didn’t know the product at all, though it is listed on their website.  Wandering around the internet, however, suggested that somewhere around a year ago, W&N stopped making the Cotman books and started making “craftsman” and “professional” papers.  This little gray book is part of their professional series.  All of this is anecdotal but what I can say is that this is completely new to me.

I haven’t had much chance to try it out but the paper does seem very nice. In the hands of someone who understands watercolor, probably even more so (grin)

A Montreal Sketching Adventure

Spring has finally come to Quebec and the timing couldn’t have been better for a scheduled trip to Montreal to see my daughter and to attend the USk Montreal’s monthly sketchcrawl.  We’ve had a sudden shift from 0C (or worse) to 15C and when I arrived by bus in Montreal there was nothing but pleasantness in the air.

After morning coffee with my daughter, she headed off to study (exam week at McGill) and I headed to the Redpath Museum, the site of the sketchcrawl.

Oh, a few posts back (see here) I lamented about what a bad documentarian I was when it came to recording sketching events.  I’m afraid I haven’t improved much but I did take a couple photos this time.

I arrived quite early and was one of the first through the door.  That was a good thing because the museum is three stories tall and my bad leg mad for a very slow climb to the main floor, which is the second floor.

I love this museum. It’s structured like an old-time natural history museum and has all the mahogany it needs to pull it off.  I was standing here (photo above) when Marc called to tell me he’d arrived and very shortly, we were catching up, had arranged lunch, and then we decided to draw, which was the raison d’etre of the event after all.  Notice that Marc isn’t properly armed with watercolors, pencils and pen. He’s drawing on an iPad.

I don’t know how many sketchers were in attendance but the museum couldn’t have held many more; they were everywhere.  This museum is very sketcher-friendly, allowing watercolors and pens to be used and they provide a bunch of chairs that can be carried to where you want to sit.  It is true, however, that a lot of the exhibits are better viewed from a standing position.

Here’s a couple practitioners of the standing mode.  It’s the approach I took as well, though my leg didn’t appreciated that decision very much.  Sigh…what’s a guy to do.

Oops…almost forgot.  Here’s a Kingfisher I drew.

Marc and I had a great lunch and, as always, I went away with my head full of ideas to ponder and plans to make.  But by then I was scheduled to meet up with my daughter so I said goodbye and headed off to meet her.  We had a great dinner at Restaurant Manana, a place that’s become a regular stop when I come to Montreal.  I grew up in Arizona and miss Mexican food, something that’s not popular in Quebec City.

The next morning my daughter had an exam and I had time to kill before Notabene, my favorite store in Montreal opened.  I also needed breakfast and so I went to Cafe Noir, a little coffee place near one of the Metro stations.  Killing an hour, alone, in a coffee shop almost requires a pen be scraped across paper and so I started making some notes about my visit.  This led to drawing street lights and the top of the building across the street.  I didn’t make it to the bottom because with bagel and coffee consumed, it was time to head off to Notabene.

Notabene was busier than I’d ever seen it.  The reason was their 20% off everything sale.  I wanted to buy one of their old typewriters but I was being a good boy that morning.  Instead I picked up several notebooks but then put all but one back.  It was another Emilio Braga notebook, a book I talked about here the last time I went to Montreal.  I also bought one of the “new” (re-released) white Lamy Joy fountain pens and was quite proud of myself for not spending too much money.  Then I headed to the bus station and back to Quebec City.

Will It Be Worth The Wait?

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
into the future — Steve Miller Band

It’s the middle of April and I’m still waiting for spring to begin.  Baseball games all over the east coast have been cancelled due to snow, rain and worse. We’ve had a freezing-rain storm that finally blew out of town this morning.  I’m tire of it, aren’t you?  Sketching time just seems to be slipping away.

It’s hard knowing what to write in this blog because, well, the sketching opportunities are few and far between right now.  I’m heading to Montreal this weekend for the USK Montreal monthly sketchcrawl.  That’ll be fun.  In the meantime I thought I’d share with you the latest ten pages from my “scribbler.” This is Marc Taro Holmes’ term for the little sketchbook that every sketcher has (right?), where we doodle constantly.  My current scribbler is nicer than my habit as I’m using the Emilio Braga notebook that I talked about not long ago and I love it.  Scribbler sketches don’t generally see the light of day but maybe they should.  What do you think?  I guess that’s a subject for another blog.

 

 

The Day Queen Victoria Lost Her Head

Quebec is a province full of French-speaking Quebecois, descendents of the explorer Jacques Cartier, Champlain and those who settled this part of Canada before it was Canada.  Yes, the British defeated them on the Plains of Abraham and those “red coats” would have forced Quebecers to speak English if not for a pesky group called Americans who got the idea to invade Canada.  The Brits needed the Quebecois to help them fight off these attacks and so struck a deal that allowed them to retain their language.  Thanks America.  Quebec is the better for it.

But this didn’t end the tensions between the French and English and by the 1940s, the English, using the Church to keep the very religious French in their place, pretty much ran the province of Quebec.  But then came groups like the FLQ who thought this wasn’t such a good idea.

A lot of their actions were political but during the 60s there were over 200 terrorist bombings, including a famous one in Quebec City.  One night, in 1963, dynamite was stuffed into a large bronze statue of Queen Victoria and the resultant explosion blew her head off and sent it flying over 100 yards across Victoria Park.  I won’t bore you with the rest of Quebec history but the Quiet Revolution that took place in the 70s is a remarkable history of a people regaining control of their province.  Instead, I’ll share with you a sketch I did of Vicky’s head, which resides in our Musee de la Civilisation.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

Sketching At La Maison Provancher

Several months ago members of our sketching group discovered a new winter sketching spot.  It was the home of a well-known Quebec naturalist, but it has become a place where school groups come to learn about nature.  The place is full of stuffed animals, pinned insects, skulls, shells and other representatives of mother nature.

The best part about it is that the kids can handle all these things rather than the typical hands-off policies of such places.  The downside of this, of course, is that many of the specimens aren’t in pristine condition.  The good thing for sketchers is that we can move any of these specimens to a table, set them up as we like, and draw them.

While others in our group have been to this place several times, I’ve always missed out due to doctor’s appointments and bad arthritis days.  But I got to go this week and it was wonderful.  I spent most of my time wandering around, admiring the collections, sort of taking inventory for future trips, but I did finally sit down and got acquainted with a beaver.  It’s sure good to be drawing on location again.

What Is It That Bugs You?

What bugs me is people using the word “bug” to describe any old insect that crosses their path.  There are bugs in our world so if you’re talking about leaf hoppers or stink bugs as “bugs,” you’re not out of line.  Ants, wasps, beetles and moths, however… not bugs.

Anyway, I went bug insect drawing the other day.  It was at a small exhibition here in Quebec City.  I joined Yvan and Claudette and most of what we were drawing was a display of pinned/boxed specimens.   My first thoughts upon arriving was that this was less than ideal but as it turned out, there was some sort of ying/yang thing going on that created an event that was more than the sum of its parts.

The displays dictated that you draw while looking at the insect from above and pinned specimens are often not oriented in a natural pose.  But insects have such varied morphology that you immediately get sucked into their shapes and colors if you’re a sketcher.  And so it was as we drew these tiny works of functional art.

I started by shunning the boxed insects, drawing instead from huge photographs.  That was fun and challenging because I struggle with drawing from photographs for some reason.  I stood the entire time, which wasn’t good for my gimpy leg but maybe it was good exercise.  I try to convince myself of all sorts of things that may or may not be true (grin).

Eventually, though, I decided to try my hand at a more technical drawing of one of the large Cerambycid beetles on display.  This is when I really got enthused by the process.  Just me and my pen, trying to “keep it clean, precise and accurate.”  What a thrill as my mind buried itself in the task.  Everything except that beetle disappeared and I just drew.  I need to go back and do more of this.  I must.

First Outdoor Sketch Of 2018

While many are counting spring flowers, Quebec City lags behind planet Earth as we still have lots of snow.  I’m hopeful it will melt away ‘real soon’ and it was with that optimistic view that I decided to go outside and draw.

It was still too cold.  It was windy and  I had to stand up while drawing, something I’m not good at, but by standing against a wall, out of the wind, it wasn’t too bad.  Here’s my first outdoor sketch of 2018.

Recording What You See

As an urban sketcher, we’re told we should sketch the scenes around us, do reportage, record our life and those around us.  I’m horrible at all of that.  I draw for the pleasure of moving a pen across paper.  I don’t “draw verbs.”  I don’t even think it’s possible to do this popular plea from urban sketchers.  I draw things, stuff, objects, nouns.  My sketches do hold memories of the times and places where they were done but that is not my goal in creating them.

With all that said, there are times when a bit of reportage is, or should be important, even to me, and I have to confess that I fail at it.  I have a cell phone, like everyone else.  A simple click of a button and I could record these moments.  But I never think about it.  I see the results of other sketchers, who take photos of their fellow sketchers and sketching groups who regularly pose for group photos.  Our local sketchers just don’t think that way and a bit of reflection in the mirror suggests that I don’t either.

A case in point is when people come to Quebec City to sketch with me.  These times are among the highlights of my time as a sketcher and yet I don’t document them well.  Most recently Owen Swain came to visit.  He’s a really good illustrator/sketcher from Winsor, Ontario and he came to visit with his family.  As it turned out, it was just too darn cold for us to sketch the day we met, but our conversations over several cups of good coffee made for a memorable day.  And I don’t have a single photograph of Owen’s visit [sigh].

And it got me to thinking about other visitors I’ve been lucky to have visit.  Marc and Laurel Holmes came to spend a day sketching Quebec City.  I learned a lot from Marc and really enjoyed Laurel’s company.  Not a single photo of the event was taken by yours truly.  Fortunately, Laurel is an excellent photographer and came to the rescue with a single photo of Marc and I walking down Chemin St. Louis.

Karen Casper came to visit from the US.  She’s a first class watercolorist and a lot of fun to be around.  We had two great sketching days together.  Not a single photo was taken during her visit, though I did do this really quick sketch of her while we were sketching.

The one visitor I did take a photo of when she visited was Paula Raudenbush, back in 2015.  We had a ball the day she and her friend visited and for some reason I did take a photo of her as we sat in front of Trinity church and she sketched.  To commemorate my singular act of photo-taking, I made a sketch from that photo.

Clearly I’ve got to get better at this sort of thing.  I feel really bad about not having any physical evidence of Owen’s visit.  Maybe I can get him to come back for another visit.  If any of you would like to visit Quebec City this summer, I promise to take your picture.