I Wish There Were Good Subjects To Sketch Where I Live

2012_07-FireHydrant5_800Raise your hand if you haven’t heard this, or something similar said/written by someone in a sketching/art forum.  In the writing world the questions that authors joke about is “Where do you get your ideas?” and the answers run from horribly snarky to absolutely hilarious – often it’s hard to tell which is which.  But in the end, what authors explain is “Ideas are easy; it’s execution that is the hard part.”

And similarly, this “Where do you find good stuff to draw?” question should get a similar treatment in my view.  I don’t mean the snarky part but the truth is, the best way to find good stuff to draw is to stop looking for good stuff to draw.

2012_04-RailroadSiding800.Just like a writer’s ideas, finding good stuff is the easy part; it’s the execution that is important.  I think people spend so much time looking for the perfect scene because they believe that a ‘perfect scene’ does great art make.  I say that’s not true, though I confess, I’m not much of an artist so maybe I’m wrong.

         

But I do know one thing for sure.  Trying to do a drawing of the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon that doesn’t look like yet another picture of the Taj Mahal or Grand Canyon is MUCH harder than creating a meaningful drawing of something that the viewer hasn’t seen in a gazillion photos before they see your sketch.  Don’tcha want to show people what they’re missing, not what they’ve already seen?

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50Think about the famous painters and what they found worthy of their time.  Monet painted in Paris but instead of a steady stream of Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe paintings, he painted gardens, smoky railroad stations, fishing boats, and water lilies.   Van Gogh painted peasants sitting around a table eating potatoes.  He also painted sunflowers.  Lots of sunflowers.  What made Monet and Van Gogh memorable wasn’t their subject matter; it is what they did with it.

And so it goes with sketching.  Everywhere, anywhere, and at any time, there are things to sketch available to anyone with a set of functioning eyes and a pencil.  Personally, I’m drawn to the mundane, mostly because I never noticed any of this stuff before I became a sketcher.  Once I became one I was amazed at how much personality fire hydrants, telephone poles, and lamp posts have and how, if one looks one can see ‘art’ in everything.

49I’ve scattered several sketches of mundane, readily available subjects from my town.  I never would have seen or sketched any of them if I’d been looking for the proverbial ‘great scene.’  So again I suggest, stop looking and instead sketch what is before you.  If nothing else you’ll be sketching and it’s that process that is the key to the smiles you see on sketcher’s faces.

10 Favorite Sketches of 2012

2012 represents most of my sketching experience to date.  I started trying to draw cubes back in September of 2011 but I didn’t start doing any location sketching until spring of 2012 as the Quebec snow melted.  It’s been a fantastic journey as I’ve climbed the early stages of the sketching learning curve. I thought it might be fun to do a ‘ 10 favorites’ post, where I present what I think are some of my best sketches of the year.  I’m often accused of being ‘down’ on my sketches.  Here’s my chance to show people that I’m actually happy with some of them (grin).

Because 90% or more of my sketches have been done on the street and most have been buildings, I thought I should vary my choices by selecting one sketch from ten different categories, just to increase the variety.   So, here they are.  I hope you like them.

Building

This is, by far, the hardest selection.  I’ve done a LOT of building sketches and none of them really stand out as extraordinary, though many are personal ‘favorites’.  I’ve chosen this one because it, in the extreme, is the brightest (grin).

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Vehicle

2012_09-CarI’ve drawn a number of cars, trucks and even heavy equipment.  I chose this one, however, because the subject was so darn cute when it found it lounging in the old port area of Quebec.

 

Fire hydrant

Pete Scully, by example, caused me to notice and sketch fire hydrants.  I don’t know what it is about them but once you start looking at them you realize they vary considerably and that fire hydrants have oodles of personality.  I chose this one because I like the composition.

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 Samurai helmet

2012_12-Samouri3_700I’ve tried drawing from photos and it’s ‘ok’ but sketching, for me, is about going places and seeing things.  But winter in Quebec City is just too cold to be outdoors so we’re all driven indoors.  At first I found that depressing but once I saw the Samurai exhibit at our museum of civilization, I was hooked on indoor sketching.  I started sketching Samurai helmets, which are amazing, serving to protect heads as well as indicate status, identity, and even to serve in ceremonial roles.  It’s hard to choose a single helmet sketch as I love these amazing pieces of hardware.  I chose this one as it nearly drove me nuts drawing all those flame thingies.

Human

52This was hard as I haven’t drawn many people.  It’s on my ‘to do’ list for 2013.  But I chose this one, a very simple sketch, because I liked the way I was lucky enough to capture the movement of this guy’s coat as he walked along.

Ship

2012_07-CHJColor800Quebec City has an active port so I’ve sketched several ships.  I chose this one because I remember struggling with all the decks and railings.  I also have memories of how much fun I had that day as I sketched with my buddy Pierre.

Steeple/Dome

Quebec City is heavily populated by domes and steeples projecting upward from their supporting structures.  I love sketching them and have done a bunch of them.  I chose this particular sketch because it features both domes and steeples in a single sketch.

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Telephone pole

Maybe you have to be an urban sketcher to appreciate them, but I like telephone poles and all the wires, transformers and connectors that hang from them.  I did this sketch on blue paper and liked the way it turned out.

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Tree

I’ve drawn a bunch of trees but mostly they’ve been ‘studies’ where it was just the tree and nothing for supporting material.  This one, however, was done one day when Pierre and I headed out one Sunday morning looking for things to sketch.  It was a crisp autumn day and the maples had started to change colors.  I decided to make the tree the main attraction, putting the building in the background.

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Vignette

To fulfill my promise of ten sketches, I’ve added this vignette to complete the set.  I was sketching with my friend Nicolas and we were sitting in a church yard, a church that has become a library.  I looked over my shoulder and could see part of this restaurant, liked the red umbrellas and so I drew it.  Again, it brings back memories of a good day.

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I’m looking forward to 2013 sketching.  For a while I’m going to have to work indoors but sometime around April we’ll start having a day or three where it’s tolerable to sketch outside and you’ll find me on the streets all summer.  Happy New Year, everyone.

 

Indoor Sketching At Its Best

Today was a new sketching experience for me.  Most of my sketching has been directed at buildings; mostly on the streets of Quebec City.  But as I’ve reported, winter has driven me into museums and so I’ve been boring you with sketches of Samurai helmets and Nigerian masks.

My sketching buddies, who are all better sketchers than I am, are similarly afflicted with the ‘It’s Too Cold To Be Outdoors Sketching Blues’ and Celine decided to do something about it.  She invited Pierre, Yvan, and myself to her house for a sketching session in her studio.

Her studio is a wonderful place, with lots of spot lights, tables and shelves full of “stuff” to sketch.  It was hard for me to turn my back on her great art library, but we were there to sketch so we did.

Pierre pointed at a bowl of artificial fruit and said, “I want to sketch that” and just as though following orders from Capt. Picard on Star Trek, we followed his orders and ‘made it so.’

Celine set up a spot light over the fruit and we sat in a circle around the fruit bowl, and sketched…and sketched.  It took me forever as I’d never done a still life of any kind.  Does a building count as a still life?

I’m still getting used to using watercolor pencils and this sketch taught me a few things, including some “gonna have to figure out how to…” sorts of things.  One thing I found interesting is that they didn’t seem to work as well in my S&B Beta sketchbook as they do in my S&B Epsilon sketchbook.  I guess the smoother paper of the Epsilon keeps the pigment higher on the paper, making it easier to wash them out evenly.  With regular watercolors I really prefer the Beta paper as it’s so much thicker.

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Here’s my completed sketch, done in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8), using a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  Don’t tell the urban sketchers I did this one.  They might drum me out of the corps, though it was done ‘on location’ so I guess it qualifies.  I’m still reading the fine print on such things.

Sketching fruit works up an appetite and Celine and Pierre had prepared a feast for us.  My usual sketching lunch is a granola bar and an apple so I was completely unprepared for a heavenly soup, fine cheeses, crackers, and fruit.  This was followed by dessert and a yummy oolong tea.  Let it be written that Larry ate too much.

2012_12-BlueJayStatue700And then it was back to sketching.  Well, I indicated some reluctance as I was once again buried up to my nose in Celine’s art library.  So many books…so little time.  Eventually I found myself sketching a small ceramic statue of a blue jay.  It’s the first bird I’ve ever sketched.  It’s also the first bird that’s ever stood still long enough for my slow sketching pace to capture it.  Thanks, bird.  Here it is, done in the same sketchbook, same pen, same ink, same limited abilities.

We finished up with discussions of sketching and Yvan, as usual, provided some great insights.  His skill is enormous, and exceeded only by his patience for my silly questions.  I write this as the end to a perfect day.  Thanks again, Celine.

 

 

 

Quick Sketching: Trying Out The Platinum Carbon Pen

I just bought a Platinum Carbon Pen from Jet Pens.  I’m a fan of Platinum Carbon Black ink and this pen is supposed to have a feed sized specifically for this pigmented ink.  Most people say that it has a very fine nib.  Giving away the punch line, I think both of these things are true.

The pen comes from Jet Pens looking like this.  I carry my pens everywhere and this one is just way too long.  It’s designed to look and feel like a dip pen.PCarbonPenAnd so I “fixed” mine.  I cut it off long enough to allow the ink cartridge but short enough that I could post the cap while it was in use.  For anyone wanting to follow this approach, that’s 6cm from the gold ring around the pen body.

Once cut, I mixed up some epoxy and dabbed the pen up and down in the puddle of epoxy, filling the hole in the end of the pen.  Once dry I simply sanded everything smooth and the result looks like this:

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Cut down like this, it makes a very comfortable sketching pen.  When capped it’s nearly as short as a Kaweco Classic Sport and when posted it’s nearly the length of my Pilot Prera.  The balance works out well also.

The pen really shines, though, because of its fine line, which is actually finer than my Pilot Prera (F), which is already finer than a Lamy (XF).  The Platinum Carbon lays down a line nearly as fine as a Gillot 303, if you’re familiar with dip pen nibs.  Hatching is a dream with this pen.2012_12-quick_sketch0

The Platinum Carbon Black ink cartridge that comes with it is nothing short of spectacular.  This ink is the definition of a true black and it’s absolutely waterproof.  You can buy this ink in cartridges or in a bottle.  I’ve always been a fan of Platinum cartridges because they have a small metal ball that keeps the ink mixed and so I just fill them from a bottle using a pen syringe.

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So I sat down and took the pen for a test drive.  I did some tonal hatching practice and several small sketches, just to get used to the feel of it.  I’ve included a few of those sketches here, all done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6).

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I like this pen a lot.  It’s a great compliment to my Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens and may become my ‘go to’ pen for quick sketching due to its super-fine nib.2012_12-quick_sketch5

 

 

 

I’ve Become A Samurai Sketcher

Winter has turned me into a Samurai sketcher.  By that I mean I’m spending more time sketching the Samurai exhibit at our Musee de la Civilisation than anything else.  I need to spend time in the Nigeria exhibit too as it has a lot of great masks and statues worthy of a sketcher’s eye, but the Samurai display is only here until Feb 17 so I’m trying to get as much done there as possible, which isn’t a lot as slow as I sketch (grin).

2012_12-Samurai4_700Yesterday I went with Celine, Pierre and Yvan to the museum.  We had a great time.  I sketched a couple more Samurai helmets, bringing my total to five.  There’s only another 40 or so to go 🙂

Both were done in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) with a Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink, and my Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.  The more I use these watercolor pencils the more I like them.

 

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Sketchcrawl Through A Car Museum

It’s rare that I’ll re-post something I see on someone else’s blog but this video is too good not to pass it foreward.  Lapin, an illustrator with a great blog, recently posted this video of their sketchcrawl through the Caramulo Car Museum that gave the sketchers extraordinary access.  The video was professionally done by Patricia Pedrosa and any sketcher will appreciate it.

Be sure to read all of the subtitles as there are some great insights there.  I’ve watched it three times 🙂

Samurai – The Continuing Saga Of The Urban Sketcher

The last few days have been stormy here.  High winds, snow, and general ugliness.  No big deal except that I haven’t been able to follow my normal walking regime.  With mild desperation to right that wrong, I trudged off today, or rather I was slipping and sliding down the sidewalks.  I was jumping mounds of snow, walking on water…well, really just in it.  After an hour of this joyous adventure I found myself at the Musee de la Civilisations, my winter haunt.

I sketched only one Samurai helmet today, though.  This one was a bit more challenging, with all its fire ornamentation and besides, I had another hour of slipping and sliding to get home.  It was fun anyways and while I’m beat from the walk, it was a very satisfying day.  I think, though, that I’m going to sit and sketch for a while.

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The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), which is becoming my museum sketchbook.  I used a Pilot Prera and Lex Gray.  The color comes from Faber-Castell “Albrecht Durer” watercolor pencils, mushed around with a waterbrush.  This is an approach that fits the museum world and works for me, though I’m still learning how and what to do with them.

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.

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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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Samourai Sketching in Quebec – Urban Sketching?

The Urban Sketcher’s ‘manifesto’ is quite clear: “We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.”  I’m a diehard location sketcher.  I do sometimes sketch from photos or just doodle from things my two functional neurons cough up.  But I can’t really get into that sort of thing very much.

I like to draw buildings, fire hydrants, telephone poles, trashcans and vehicles, but this time of year, outdoors is inhospitable in Quebec City, at least for an Arizona cowboy like myself.  For example, it’s currently 24F (-5C) with 35kmh winds just for good measure.  So, the things I have available to sketch for the next few months are going to be indoors.

One of my favorite places is the Musee de la Civilisation here in Quebec.  Nice ambiance, lots of things to sketch, and it’s warm.  The people are also very friendly towards sketchers, which puts one at ease.  So, you’ll see lots of museum sketches from me this winter.

And here are a couple more.  I went to the museum last Sunday with three of my sketching buddies and we had a great time.  As we were there in the morning I decided to give the Samourai exhibit my attention.  Often it’s just too busy to sketch there as it’s the current ‘feature’ display, but on Sunday mornings there aren’t a lot of visitors.

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Koshozan sujibachi kabuto (1588) – This is a very rare piece, constructed with 120, riveted plates. It bears the crest of the Inabi family, a very influential family of the 16th Century.

It is a dark room, with most of the Samourai armor in lighted glass cases.  Sketching in the dark is an interesting challenge and more than once I had to walk to a light to see if I was doing ok with the sketch.  I’ve got to get a little clip-on light I guess.  These little excursions became more frequent when I was trying to figure out whether the watercolor pencil was red, orange or brown (grin).

Nagaeboshinari kabuto (Edo 17th Century) - This appears to be hammered bronze.  It features the Big Dipper constellation inset into the metalwork.

Nagaeboshinari kabuto (Edo 17th Century) – This appears to be hammered bronze. It features the Big Dipper constellation inset into the metalwork.

These helmets were done in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon series sketchbook (5.5×8.5) using a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lex Gray ink.  I have a handful of Faber-Castell watercolor pencils that I used to color them.  I’m guessing but I think I only have 30 or so more helmets to sketch.  Then I can move on to the rest of the armor, the weapons, the guys on horses.  It’s going to be a fun, long winter.  Where do you find your sketching inspiration during winter?