Shapes Are Everything In Sketching

I continue to sketch at the Musée de la Civilisation here in Quebec City because it’s turned cold again.  Mother Nature seems to be reminding us that it’s too soon for spring.  We’re supposed to have a big snow storm at the beginning of next week 🙁

2013-03-12Nigeria1But the practice I’m getting at seeing and depicting shape couldn’t be better as the Nigerian artifacts are truly extraordinary when it comes to shape.  I’m starting to experiment a bit with technique, trying to do some more quickly than others, some less/more detailed.  This is fun to do, though it takes a certain amount of gymnastics on the part of my brain to break out of my penchant for detail and a slow pace.  I thought I’d share a few more with you.

2013-03-12Nigeria2I did these first two by creating a rough outline in pencil.  I followed this by the addition of color using a waterbrush with a few drops of J. Herbin Lie de thé.  Then I added the ink outlines and hatching.  These were also done more quickly than my normal snail pace and while not as precise, I like the results of this process.

2013-03-12Nigeria3This one was done in the same quick style but I did it in ink and then added the color, again from the waterbrush/ink pen.  It’s a large pestle used for smashing grain, or unruly husbands I suspect.

Finally, I’ve been waiting to do this helmet for a while.  It’s something 0f an anomaly in this exhibit as most of the items are created in wood and covered with mud of varying textures.  It seems cast in metal and is very detailed.  It called out for a detailed sketch and so I went back to my more typical approach.  I used a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink.  I added some shading using Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.  The more I use these the more I love them for adding color as you can get the lines to completely disappear with a waterbrush.  Very handy for shading.

2013-03-13Nigeria1_800

All four of these sketches were done in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) and I realized that I’ve never filled this one with just museum sketches this winter.  But I’m ready for spring…aren’t you?

Sketching Other People’s Art

Last Sunday Yvan, Pierre, Celine and I headed to the Musee de L’Amerique Francais because they were launching a new display of art done in Quebec long ago and donated to the Catholic church who kept the collection in their museum.  We didn’t know what to expect but since it’s still too cold for outdoor sketching, what the heck, we were going sketch art.

Much of the art in this collection is religious art, not my favorite way to use display space.  I find most of it too gawdy and repetitious.  But one room was filled with some amazing Quebecois pieces, many that would be considered ‘urban’ art today.  I was looking for a new challenge, something different… at least for me.

2013-03-10BronzeStatueAfter looking around, I settled down to sketch a bronze statue of a woman carrying a heavy bucket.  I was struck by how well the sculpture captured the physical effort and body/arm positioning to maintain balance with a heavy bucket in one hand.

This was a considerable leap for me as I’m not good at drawing human forms and I had no idea how to make one look like a bronze statue.  Still, it was fun.  I drew it in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.  I used watercolor pencils to fake the bronze look.

There were many paintings that seemed worthy of turning them into a Larry sketch but one in particular caught my eye.  It was a painting of a 19th Century seminary courtyard, a courtyard that was actually just next door to the museum.  I went outside to look at the real thing and found what a hundred years can do.  The basic building layout remained.  In fact, on one edge of the courtyard, the end where the artist stood, there exists the remains of an old wall, clearly a very old wall.

Aside from that, everything had been remodeled and updated.  The two main buildings had an extra story added to them and all the windows had been modernized.  The stairway was gone adn the entries had modern doors.  It definitely looked cooler in the 19th Century so I went back indoors where it was warm.

2013-03-10SeminaryCourtyard800
I’d never sketched an oil painting before and converting it to my cartoon sketching style did present some challenges, but it was fun, too.  Done in the same S&B sketchbook but with a Lamy Safari as my Prera ran out of ink .   I’m not sure I’ll add color to it as I like it au natural.

We’ve vowed to return to sketch some other pieces, particularly some of the sculptures.   A great day was had by all, but every sketching day is a great day, isn’t it?

Learn Sketching By Playing

I’ve been very lucky.  When I became interested in sketching last September I had the Internet.  I could surf from site to site; I got lots of great information and saw the work of lots of other sketchers.  I spent time looking at Monet’s sketchbooks too.

If you compare Monet’s sketchbooks to what you see modern sketchers posting on the Internet you see a big difference.  Monet’s not as good as those modern artists.

Well, that could be one interpretation.  Another is that modern sketchers use the Internet to post their good sketches and not posting the numerous sketches done in the act of learning, practicing, or investigating ideas.  I concluded this explanation was more likely, mostly because I’m a fan of Monet’s work.

After a year and a half of experience as a sketcher, I realize my own behavior validates that explanation.  I post sketches regularly, but only a small fraction of the sketches I actually do and none of the many scribbled pages where I learn and develop pretty much everything I can do with a pointy device.  It’s too bad the learning process isn’t more evident on the Internet and this post is an attempt to correct that biased view of at least one sketcher’s output.  Here’s your chance to see that ‘dark side’.  Clicking on the photos will let you see how I play to learn.

I confess that it’s hard to show my, shall we call them, lesser sketches.  The pages shown here belong to a pile of similar sketches that have one goal.  My urban sketches are typically done with constant-width lines and I’m trying to learn to vary the pressure on the pen to allow me to take advantage of variable line width.

2013-03-06FlexPenI begin with this one, mostly because of the right-hand page.  This is one of several that look like this.  As an aside, to those who don’t want to use good sketchbooks because you’re afraid to muck them up, this is one of my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks (4×6).  I don’t use cheap paper even when doodling.  All I was trying to do was to get used to how hard I needed to press on a Noodler’s Creaper flex pen to get lines of different shapes and densities.  The sketch on the left was done from an existing sketch drawn by my buddy Yvan.  He was kind enough to give me a series of sketches he’d done from sketches of the masters.  Mine are less masterful than his but I’m learning a lot by copying these sketches.

2013-03-07FlexPenHere’s another spread of sketches copied from sketches.  Nothing much more to say about the technique of copying other people’s work except to say that it allows me to concentrate on the lines and let’s me ‘feel’ what it’s like to make them.

2013-03-05FlexPen_PolarBrownBut there are other ways of learning/practicing techniques.  I’m a building sketcher.  Here’s a quick sketch of one of the towers in old Quebec.  I did this one by copying a quick sketch I did of the area.  Copying my own work, but with a new look/technique, helps me see the difference in a special way because I know the original so well.

2013-03-05FlexPenI’ve also been doing a lot of museum sketching, sketching Nigerian masks and statues.  While there on Tuesday, I also did this quick sketch of a praying mantis on top of a pole with some gizmos supporting it.  Not anything like my typical cartoon style but I actually like how this one turned out.

I wondered how this varied line width stuff would affect quick sketching and so while waiting at to see my rheumatologist I started scribbling.  The page on the right are just pieces of people who were either sitting or standing, doing the same thing I was.

2013-03-05FlexPenDoctorOfficeThe left page was when I started thinking I’d be called any second so I was looking for tiny things to sketch.  The first thing I sketched was a McDonald’s burger box.  Then I sketched the backpack and then scribbled that poor excuse for a building sketch.  As I still hadn’t been called, and the guy had finished his hamburger, I sketched him, his head becoming the burger box.  Is this how Picasso’s cubist period started?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my dirty laundry.  I have a lot of it.  Much more, in fact, than the cleaner stuff  I post regularly here and in Facebook groups.  It’s fun.  It’s how I learn..  How about you?  Do you have sketchbooks full of stuff like this?  Monet does.

 

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?

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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.