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.

Baseball Is Back – A Sketcher’s View

I am Canadian, but unlike every other person living in the frozen north, I don’t like hockey.  I suppose that reveals my American roots but the bottom line is that the only sport I watch is baseball and since coming to Canada, I’ve been a Toronto Blue Jays fan.

It’s that time of the year when spring training starts and a few spring training games (in Dunedin, FL) are broadcast for those of us willing to watch, for the most part, Blue Jays wanna-bes play the game.

The first one was last Friday and I decided to celebrate the event by sketching some baseball faces.  Baseball is a slow sport; how hard could it be?  I learned that a sketcher’s view of baseball is different from a fan’s view.  Indeed, for a fan, the game is slow with lots of time spent watching seven guys stand on a field while two other guys play catch and a tenth guy, from the other team, tries to spoil their fun.  From the view of a sketcher however, this same scene is a frustrating series of camera switches between players, between views, and there’s rarely more than a few seconds on any one player.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d wanted to draw full-body players.  The pitcher stands in one place and is on camera more than anyone else.  The catcher is equally stationary, at least in the sense of returning to the same position regularly.  But I was interested in drawing faces shaded by ball caps and 1) they are rarely shown and 2) they are rarely in repeatable positions.

Sketchers are tough, however, and I managed to get a few, stitching together brief looks at the player and faking it when necessary.  Here’s my meager tribute to Blue Jays spring training opener.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5) hardcover, Platinum 3776

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Draw The Cool Stuff First, Then Stop

I’m the sort that just draws stuff.  My sketching lacks attempts to generate good compositions, to capture large panoramic scenes, or achieve balance and unity.  I simply draw stuff that interests me.  I realize these other things matter but for me, the fun comes from making lines on a page.  What they define is a very low priority for me.  Goofy view of art, I know, but it is mine.  I’m trying hard to learn these other things, to worry about them, and somehow bring them to my sketches, but sometimes I just like to draw the cool thing and then stop.

Along Rue St. Paul, across from the train station, there are some really great old buildings with lots of gables, towers, and, as my dad used to call it, “gingerbread” that makes them special.  I was walking along and decided to draw one of the towers on a corner building.  But this building goes a long way in both directions, with a bunch of windows and cables.  I didn’t want to spend that much time on it, so I just drew the cool part and stopped.  I was happy with that result.

Too Far Away, And The Need To Make It Interesting

I was walking along the river and decided to draw part of the skyline.  From where I was, these buildings were very small, and very far away.  I decided that I could “improve” things by drawing the buildings larger/closer to me so I put on my ZOOM brain and went to work.

There was only one problem with that idea.  If the buildings were close, I should be able to see a bunch of details.  I could not and so I started stumbling around (figuratively) trying to figure out what details I “needed” to imaginate.  This is harder than it sounds and clearly I need to think about this a lot.  I’m used to drawing what I see and I always err on the side of too much detail, which is the opposite of what I should probably doing here.  So much to learn, so little time.

A Quick Look Down The River

No far from my house is Pont Drouin (Drouin Bridge).  There are benches on either side of the roadway where you can sit in the middle of the bridge and ponder your navel, or maybe sketch.  I chose to do the later, quickly trying to capture the scene without much detail.