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.

Nigerian Statues And Museum Sketching

I continue to use our Musee de la Civilisation as though it were closing soon.  That’s not the case, thank goodness, but I need need my daily fixes of sketching, now, don’t I?

I’ve switched my attention from Nigerian masks to Nigerian statues, of which there are many in the exhibit.  Before sharing them with you, however, I thought I’d talk a bit about sketching in museums.

Museum Sketching

I’m no expert about anything related to sketching but I play the role of an urban sketcher almost daily.  Because it’s cold in Quebec, my urban sketching for the past few months has been in museums and here are a few things I’ve learned.

1) Know the rules

Every museum has rules and the best way to get on the good side of the administration and security is to follow them.  Even inquiring about rules is seen as a good thing.

2) Talk to the people who work there

This is particularly important.  Show them your sketches.  Tell them how great it is that you can sketch in ‘their’ museum.  Make a point of asking if your location is ok, and try to choose locations that will be out of the way of people wandering the museum.  There’s no need to hide but often a bit of thought leads to a good compromise.

3) Adjust your materials to a museum milieu

My outdoor sketching kit includes watercolors, collapsible brushes and small bottles of water.  My museum kit includes watercolor pencils and a waterbrush.  If you use a pencil, consider switching from an eraser that drops debris all over the floor to a kneaded eraser.  And keep your working footprint as small as possible.  I have a tripod stool and my small art bag leans against it behind my feet while I’m sketching.

4) Buy a light

MuseumKitMuseums often keep light levels low in their exhibit rooms because many of the artifacts can be damaged by light.  Buy a clip on light to illuminate your work.  These are inexpensive – mine cost me $13.

I also carry a small piece of masonite, cut to the size of an open sketchbook.  I clip the sketchbook to this, making this unit easy to hold while walking around.  It serves two purposes.  One is to support the sketchbook while you sketch but the other is to keep it open when you’re not as open sketchbooks stimulate more interest from museum-goers.

5) Talk to patrons

Museum goers are curious folks and they’ll be curious about your sketching.  Talk to them; particularly the kids, who are often more bold than their parents.  Engage them in conversations.  Not only is this fun, if done regularly, the museum staff will notice and come to understand that you are an asset as well as a dumb cluck who sits in their museum day after day sketching.

About Them Nigerian Statues

2013-03-02Nigeria1I promised some Nigerian statue sketches.  Here are a few that I’ve done recently.  All are done with Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink, in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.

While the masks seem to be made of wood, the statues are made from a variety of materials.  This one is carved from a gray rock that looks like granite.  It is truly gorgeous, much more so than my sketch indicates.

2013-03-03Nigeria1I fell in love with this bird which isn’t, strictly speaking, a statue.  Rather, it’s a stopper for a large jug of some kind (thus the pointy thing at the bottom)  It’s made from wood and, as tradition seem prone to dictate, covered in a very thin mud of some kind.

2013-03-03Nigeria2This next one isn’t a statue either.  The large hollowed out area on its belly serves as a cup and, somehow, it’s used during funeral ceremonies.  The sign says it allows two people to drink simultaneously.  All I can say is that they’d better be very good friends.

2013-03-03Nigeria3This is a wonderful statue of a person carrying a child on their back.  Very stylistic in its elongated proportions, I just love it.  It’s made of wood with a sculpted clay covering and is more sophisticated than many of the other wood statues.

I’m hoping spring will be sprung from its hiding place ‘real soon’ and I can get back on the street.  Until that time, I’ve got lots of great statues to sketch.  Hope you’ve got a museum too.

 

The Hidden Fun Of Urban Sketching

2013-02-23Hockey1We’re lucky in Quebec City.  Every year we host the International PeeWee Hockey Tournament.  Kids come from around the world to spend 10 days playing hockey and walking around saying “Bonjour” to everyone because it’s the only French word they know.  I know the feeling.

2013-02-23Hockey2We live down the street from one of the two venues where the tournament takes place and I was shoveling snow when one such group walked by my house.  Several of them used their one French word but one kid said, “We really like your snow.”  They were from Maryland.  When I said, in English, “You can have all and I’ll help you load it,” I swear a couple of them jumped off the ground.    2013-02-23Hockey3

2013-02-23Hockey6But this post isn’t about hockey, Pee Wee or otherwise.  It’s about sketching.  But it’s not about the sketches I’m presenting either.  Rather, it’s a post about the evening I spent with my family and thousands of hockey fans.

My habit of sketching every time I stop moving found me sitting among cheering fans, watching hockey and sketching, trying to create quick hockey player sketches by jumping from one player to another to grab a complete outline.  I’d never done that before and the results show my lack of experience with the technique.  But it was a LOT of fun and when the dust settled, I’d done eleven pages (5.5×8.5) of the darn things.2013-02-23Hockey7

Ok…so if the post isn’t about hockey, and it isn’t about sketches, why are you reading this, you ask.  I want to tell you a couple short stories about my interactions with some of the spectators.  Too often I hear people say they are too shy or not good enough to sketch in public.  These two stories, I hope, will convince you that none of that matters and that people LOVE sketchers.

2013-02-23Hockey8The first story begins between periods during the second game.  The players has just returned to the ice and I was sketching, as I had been for the past couple hours.  There was a very gentle tap on my left shoulder.  I turned to find it had come from the finger of a young girl, probably no more than 12-13 years old.  She very shyly said, “Do you speak French?”  I guess she’d heard me speaking English.  I told her yes and she immediately looked up a couple rows and waved. Another young girl jumped up and ran down to us.  “Hic c’est beau!  J’aime beaucoup vos esquisses,” (I think) immediately came from her and she asked if she could see all of my sketches.  Of course I complied, sheepishly showing her these crude sketches as she went on and on about how great they were.  I showed her my pens, my waterbrush, and how I used the waterbrush to shade the sketches.  They were thrilled; I was chuffed.  Nothing like an appreciative audience (grin).

At the end of the second game I got a cup of tea.  The food vendor lady ‘made’ me a tea, stuffing a tea bag in a styrofoam cup full of hot water.  I guess she was more used to people ordering coffee as she said, “I don’t know how to make tea.  If it’s no good I’ll give you your money back.”  I just smiled.  Quebecers are so nice.

2013-02-23Hockey9As there were no skaters on the ice I did a quick sketch of the Zamboni (ice cleaning machine) and then decided to sketch a guy who was sitting a couple rows below me.  Again, it was just a quick sketch, but at least he wasn’t in constant motion.  I was nearly finished when I got a tap on my shoulder.  This time it was a great big guy who was sitting behind me.  He asked “Are you drawing that guy down there?” and he pointed at the guy I was sketching.  My immediate thought was “Oh crap, I’m in trouble now”, but I admitted that I was.   I didn’t dare let on that I didn’t think it was even close to a likeness as he obviously saw something I didn’t.  He said, “That’s what I thought.  He’s my friend,” and he stood up and yelled, “Marcel, viens ici”  Marcel turned around, got up and came up to where we were sitting.  I showed him the sketch, he told me it was nice, the two friends kibbitzed a bit and he returned to his seat, and I did a quick shading of the sketch.

Sketching on location is special, even if nobody talks to you.  But when they do, it’s really special.  I’m convinced that there are people in the world who think my sketches are horrible and a waste of time…but they never talk to me.

 

Urban Sketching, Nigeria Style

2013-02-17Nigeria2Now that the Samurai exhibit has left our museum I’ve been concentrating more on the Nigerian exhibit.  The more I sketch it the more I gain insights into life as an urban Nigerian of the past.  While many (most?) of the masks, crests and statues that make up the exhibit were ceremonial in nature, the early Nigerians used carvings to grace everything.  If they needed to stopper a bottle, they made a plug with a head or statue on top of it.  Combs were carved from wood and had ornate handles.  Even spoons and ladles were handsomely carved.  Because of this, there’s a lot to sketch and because of the complexity of these objects, it’s the best sketching practice an urban sketcher could want.

2013-02-19Nigeria1Here are some examples of what I’ve done recently.  All were done in an Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook (5.5×8.5) and all with a Pilot Prera pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

2013-02-17Nigeria1Color comes from watercolor pencils as they’re just more convenient in museum setting than are my actual watercolors.

Have you done any sketching in museums?  If so, do you find it fun?

2013-02-19Nigeria2

 

Lamy Safari vs Pilot Metropolitan for Sketching

Since I posted my review of the Pilot Metropolitan and talked about its use in recent posts, I’ve had several people ask me questions that all relate to the same thing: how does it compare to the Lamy Safari?  I make no claims to doing exhaustive reviews of pens but I thought it might help some if I talked a bit about how I see the differences.  Obviously I can’t do that objectively; every word of such a discussion is steeped with personal opinion.  But maybe I can isolate some concepts and let you evaluate my biased analysis.

Esthetics and Feel

Metro-Safari-closedWhile esthetics and feel are mostly personal parameters, it is safe to say that the Metropolitan is a cleaner, more traditional design.  Some people complain about the triangular nature of the grip on the Lamy and while that’s not a problem for me, the Metropolitan grip is smooth and round.  Both pens are quite tail heavy when posted and both long enough to write with comfortably without posting.

The Safari offers more color choices, and availability of colors changes regularly.  Lamy is about to release a flourescent yellow version which has me saying “WHAT are they thinking?” but some might like it.  The Metropolitan comes in black, silver and gold, with some subtle trim choices.

The Lamy can be converted from cartridges using Lamy’s Z26 converter while the Pilot pen uses the CON-50.  In my opinion, The Z26 is a bit nicer but as I fill all my pens using a pen syringe it doesn’t really matter to me.  Any tube in a storm, to muck up a metaphor.

Metro-Safari-openThe Safari is a fatter pen which may make a difference for those with small hands.  The Metropolitan is made of brass while the Safari is plastic, though you can by Lamy’s All-Star if you want an aluminum pen.

One thing that might affect sketcher choices is that we like to turn our pens upside down to get a thinner line.  Doing this with the Safari completely changes the feel of the pen, but not at all for the Metro.

I own three Lamy pens and only on Metropolitan but the Pilot nib seems smoother on papers I use.

Operation/Internals

Safari can be bought with a variety of nibs and it’s easy to buy and replace nibs so you can have one pen and swap out the nibs if you like.  Metropolitans come in only medium, though from what I can see, Pilot also sells a Cocoon pen that seems identical to the Metropolitan but it’s available with a fine nib at more than twice the price of the Metropolitan.  I don’t know why.

A quick word about nibs is in order.  Lamy is a European manufacturer and uses a European sizing scale for its nibs.  Pilot is an Asian company and uses an Asian scale.  For any particular nib ‘name’ (eg – F), the Asian system will be finer than the European system.  When comparing my XF Safari nibs to the M nib of the Metropolitan, I find that the Metropolitan M lays down a line just a tiny bit THINNER than my Safari XF pens.  That said, my Lamys have been used a lot while the Metropolitan is fairly new.  The Metropolitan is very near that of a Sakura Micron 02 if you’re familiar with those.

It’s a small thing but I find Lamy pens to be a bit more ‘sloppy’ when filling them by dipping into an ink bottle.  They must be plunged deeper than Pilot pens.  As I don’t do this at all I simply avoid the problem.

Misc

Lastly, the Pilot Metropolitan ($20) is cheaper than the Lamy Safari ($25).  Thos prices are from Goulet Pens.  Converters for them are about the same price.  Safari has ubiquitous support; it’s every seller’s ‘beginner pen’.  While Pilot pens are readily available, the sheer numbers of Lamy users gives ‘support’ to the Lamy pen.

If you have any questions about either of these pens, or any pen for that matter, I’d be happy to discuss it with you.  I was a pen junky long before I became a sketcher.  You can also see how these pens write (in the nib nook) and even buy them at Goulet Pens.

Conclusion

In the end, choosing a pen comes down to a bunch of personal preferences.  For myself, I use a Pilot Prera (F) as my every day sketching pen.  I like its fine line, smooth and flawless operation, and I like the fact that I can post the pen and, being short, the balance works out ‘just right.’  This is a bonus to me as a street sketcher as I don’t have to worry about losing the cap.

But lately the Pilot Metropolitan has become my pen of choice for quick-sketching people, something I’m doing a lot of lately because it’s so cold outside.  Its slightly thicker line works better for this purpose and the fact that it’s inexpensive makes it a happy replacement for my Lamys, which remain in my arsenal but, by comparison, they’ve lost a bit of their charm for me.  Well, except for my lime green Lamy which is the greatest color ever (grin).

 

Urban Sketchers Always Have Things To Draw

If your interests lie in drawing naked people, you need a model.  If you paint landscapes, you need to go to pretty places.  If you’re into aviation art, you need to hang out at airports or aviation museums.  But if you’re an urban sketcher, all you have to do is live your life with a sketchbook in your hand.  There’s always something to sketch.   I’m an urban sketcher.

2013-02-20BloodTests1I went for some blood tests yesterday and, of course, I had my sketching stuff with me.  From past experience I knew I’d have 10-15 minutes to wait before Dracula called me to be poked and so I checked in, sat down, and got out my sketchbook.  I thought about sketching a wheelchair that was sitting in the corner, or the receptionist’s area.  But I noticed a steady flow of people walking up to the receptionist, where you have to shove our paperwork through a slot; they confirm who you are, and then the receptionist provides instructions which mostly amount to ‘go sit down and we’ll call you.’

2013-02-20BloodTests3So I started quick-sketching these people.  It was a study in quickly grabbing the outlines of coats, purses and legs because you couldn’t see their heads, which were behind partitions that divided the 3 reception windows.  And it was fun.  My waiting time went by too quickly.

2013-02-20BloodTests2Here are three examples of those sketches.  Simple, good practice, and fun.  Done in a Strathmore ‘toned’ paper sketchbook with a Pilot Metropolitan and Waterman Absolute Brown ink.  A bit of it was quickly washed into a form of shading using a waterbrush.

Sketching At The Library

One of my many struggles as a sketcher is that I am slow, very slow.  I love to get into a subject and spent an hour or two sketching something.  But many times, I just don’t have that much time, or the scene I want to sketch is just too transient, or I’m with other people who don’t want to wait around for me to spend an hour sketching.

So, one of the things I vowed to do this winter was to work on my quick sketching abilities.  Quick sketching people is a good way to improve (develop?) those skills, of course, and it fits well with our harsh winters because I can be do it inside.  I went with Yvan, an amazing quick-sketcher, to our main library and we sat for a couple hours doing quick sketches, or in my case attempting to quick sketch people who were sitting/standing in the library.

2013-02-15QS1

Here is one of two spreads of these sketches that I did.  You can see some abject failures.  You can see evidence of where I started to sketch someone just as they got up and walked away.  You may also see a sketch or two that actually looks, kinda-sorta like a person.  At least I hope you do (grin).

Of course, being the building guy that I am, I couldn’t resist doing a quick sketch of a piece of the building across the street too.  Very quick and about as loose as I’ve ever tried to sketch a building.

2013-02-15QS2_1

All of the sketches were done in a Strathmore Series 400 ‘gray’ sketchbook using a Pilot Metropolitan (M) with Waterman Absolute Brown or a Lamy Safari (XF) with Private Reserve Velvet Black.  Both of these are washable inks and I used a waterbrush to create a bit of shading here and there.

It’s interesting to compare the Pilot Metropolitan, with its “medium” nib to my Lamy Safari “extra fine” nib.  The Metropolitan is finer, illustrating clearly the differences between Asian and European sizing nomenclature.  Between the museums and the library I continue to be a busy location sketcher in spite of the wind and cold outside.

Museum Sketching – A Location Sketcher’s Winter Salvation

Last summer was my first as a location sketcher – actually it was my first summer as any kind of sketcher.  I fell in love with the process and excitement of being out on the street, soaking up the sun and ambiance while sketching.  Quickly the early fears I had about people talking to me became one of the joys of the sketching experience.

And so I faced winter somewhat depressed as it becomes too cold for man nor beast to be on the streets of Quebec and I thought I’d have to do my sketching at home, in my office.  That has never interested me much, but then a couple fellow sketchers said, “We sometimes sketch at the museum – want to come?” and my world changed overnight.

I got a permit to sketch at the art museum.  I became a member of our Musee de la Civilisation, which also gave me access three other, smaller museums.  And I’ve met new people, had new challenges, experimented with new materials and learned a lot about seeing complex objects while drawing same with minimal equipment.  I’m sketching as much this winter as I did during summer.  The subjects have changed, but I feed my desire to sketch real things, in real time, without having to resort to drawing my spatula and coffee cup (grin).

BretonYvan_2013-02-12_Larry-Marshall-at-Civilisation

If that weren’t enough, Yvan Breton has become a good friend who is an architect and long-time artist.  He’s become both a companion when I sketch and my mentor.  His style and mine are quite different but he’s taught me more in the past couple months than I learned in my entire first year of sketching.  I confess that all the information he’s provided has my poor old brain scattered and flailing to keep up with all the ‘gotta try that…’ feelings I’m having right now but hey, that’s part of the fun.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler's Lex Gray.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler’s Lex Gray. Partially sketched while Yvan was sketching me.

The sketch above is of me, by Yvan.  He did this “quick sketch” while I was sketching in the Nigeria exhibit at the museum last Tuesday.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

I’ll complete this post by showing you several of the sketches I’ve had opportunity to do in the last week.  I think you’ll agree that the variety is far greater than my summer sketches, which are mostly buildings – my first love.

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

While we’ve sketched some of the Nigerian exhibit already, we’re starting to spend more time there because the Samurai exhibit is leaving on Sunday.  The funny thing about the Nigerian exhibit is that it’s full of great items to sketch but, it seems, they don’t become ‘great’ until you actually start looking at them as a sketching subject.  One is deceived by a walk-around in the exhibit and you conclude the items are a bunch of very similar, primitive sculptures.  Primitive yes, similar, not so much.  So many shapes, so many surfaces.  Wow!

2013-02-10GenghisKhanWe spent last Sunday at the Musee de Amerique Francais, where I sketched Genghis Khan, or at least a mannequin wearing the Genghis Khan suit used in the movie Night at the Museum.  This was done in a Strathmore 400 “gray” sketchbook using Noodler’s Brown in a Pilot Prera.  Lots of fun, though all those squares drove me nuts.

2013-02-10CirqueSoleilHeadsWhen I was done, I turned my attention to some large paper mache heads used by the Cirque de Soleil in their show.  These were ‘I gotta draw those’ subjects but I approached them with some trepidation.  In the end they were lots of fun.  Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils for this one.

2013-02-13Samourai700I’ll conclude by sharing my full Samurai suit sketch.  I’d promised myself that I’d do one before the exhibit left… just as soon as my skills began to match the amazing subjects.  I didn’t quite make it on the skills end but, before the exhibit leaves on Sunday, I did sketch this one.  I apologize for the absolutely weird positioning of the mannequin.  That’s not me distorting it; that’s how they had it positioned.  All of them were somewhat unnatural in their orientations in my opinion.  This one done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

If you scroll back through the blog you’ll find lots of Samurai helmets, sketches of Joe Fafard sculptures, other Nigerian masks, and other stuff.  Museum sketching is really fun.  If you haven’t already, give it a try.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Back To The Museum – More Samurai Helmets

I was back at the museum this morning and met up with sketching buddies Yvan and Claudette.  In spite of the museum being over-run by several bus loads of kids, we had a good time.  It was just a bit more noisy.

2013-02-06Samurai12-700We decided we should take advantage of the Samurai exhibit as it’s going to be leaving in two weeks.  I love sketching the many amazing helmets in this display and so that’s what I did.  Here are two more.

The first sketch is a bit of a bit different from the other dozen helmet sketches that I’ve done in that I did this one very quickly.  Typically I’ll take an hour or so to do one.  I did this one in 15-20 minutes.  I just wanted to see how my quick-sketching skills had improved.  Done with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  I was happy with the experiment.

2013-02-06Samurai13-700This one did take me about an hour but this helmet deserved the time.  Representing two bamboo/metal pipes, one on each side, the metalwork here is really outstanding.  Much about these helmets is demonstrate status but it was also about identity, as on a Samurai battlefield there were no cell phones; only “There he is.  See his helmet?” recognition of your fellow soldiers.

For me these helmets are incredible pieces of art and an opportunity to develop my drawing skills, which need all the help they can get (grin).  Same tools, same sketchbook for this one.

I’m getting a lot of bang for the buck from my museum membership.  Another three+ months of winter will ensure that it’s the best bang for the buck I’ve ever received.

 

A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

“A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations” is a famous line by Clint Eastwood in one of his Dirty Harry movies.  And yesterday, that quote came to mind.  I was in the Nigeria exhibit of the Musee de la Civilisation and attempting to sketch a complex ceremonial head dress.  If one squints it looks like the caricature of a rocket ship with a head on the front of it.  If you look at it closely, however, you see that it has a head/face on one end, and another, more stylized face, with a couple of tusks on the other.  These two ‘heads’ are separated by a large, half-disk that holds the eyes of the second head.  It’s about 2-feet long and someone wore it on their head.

I just had to sketch it.  I was in the mood to give a pencil another try, though I don’t know why I punish myself like that.  Pencils and I don’t get along and my results are always smeared by the very action of creating them.  Have I mentioned that I’m a pen guy?

Anyways, there isn’t a vertical or horizontal line in this object but I started by drawing a square, somewhat tilted to reflect the main ‘body’ of the object.  This set the angle for the large plate and that back end that looks like a doghouse.

2013-02-05NigeriaRocket700A ball drawn in front of it and a couple sticks out the back and I had the ‘bones’ for this sketch.  I started the actual drawing by doing the measure-with-your-pencil trick to determine what part of this object went through the centerpoint of the drawing and I roughed that in.  Then, he said confidently, the rest was just a matter of filling out/in the bones… and it only took forever and half a dozen Staedtler erasers.  I guess that’s a slight exaggeration – it only felt that way.

2013-02-05NigeriaCombOnce I finished this sketch I decided to do something a bit more tame so I quickly sketched this wooden Nigerian comb.  This one was also done in pencil but in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook and I added a few scribbles of watercolor pencil.

What object(s) show you your limitations as a sketcher?