Sketching A Porcupine Fish In The Dark

For sketchers in Quebec City, the beginning of winter is marked with our migration from outdoors to the museums.  We’re now at the museum, a place that doesn’t seem able to pay its electric bill.  At least it seems that way as they decided a year or so ago to start “lighting” their exhibits with lots of dark.

Currently there are two exhibits in our Museum of Civilisation that are dark, one being a really nice exhibit on poisonous animals and plants, at least the parts of it you can actually see are nice.  There are some things where even putting your nose to the case glass isn’t sufficient to see the details of the object on display.  It’s said that museum clients spend mere seconds looking at any object.  Maybe this is how the museum is trying to slow them down.  I don’t think it’s working.

I decided to draw this porcupine fish.  I took the photo from a position that provided some backlighting of the fish so you could actually see it…almost.  While drawing it I had to make several forays up close to find out where the fins were.  Unlike many porcupine fish, this one didn’t have a lot of spines.  There were some short ones on his belly but otherwise his skin was smooth.  One thing was certain, however, I had to draw this sketch in a somewhat comical fashion.  This guy just deserved that treatment.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Wing Sung 3009, DeAtramentis Document Black

Quick biological fact of the day:  Porcupine fish (aka blowfish) are popular with suishi eaters with a death wish because blowfish contain a very toxic compound called tetrodotoxin.  This stuff is 1000 times more toxic than cyanide.  I’ve seen references to how poisonous the spines of a blowfish are but that’s not true.  The toxin is in the internal organs, specifically the liver and gut.  I think I’ll stick with salads myself.

Winter Sketching Has Arrived

“And so it begins…” has become a repeated phrase in modern parlance.  Some attribute it to Lord of the Rings and King Theodon commenting on the beginning of the war for Middle Earth.  The most popular meme seems to be references to Star Wars.  For me, though, it was when Kosh, an alien ambassador said it in Babylon 5, a 5 year TV saga that is still, in my view, the best scripted TV series ever.  It’s scope was huge for TV and I’ve watched it several times.

And so it begins, Quebec’s winter sketching season.  It’s a loooong season too.  We’ll come out of it sometime in May, six months from now [sigh].  That means I’ll be spending my “urban sketching” time in museums, sitting in the dark, drawing with the use of a book light.  I’ll spend time scribbling my way through coffee shops, trying to capture the people there just to break the monotony.

But today we’re having a heat wave.  Our temperature hit 1C today (grin).  We went to the museum for the first time in months and drew a new, small display of fire fighting paraphenalia.  It was nice because it was in a hallway and not in the two major exhibits, where many of the exhibits are too darn dark to see, let alone draw.  At least it’s practice and goodness knows I need that.

Moleskine watercolor book (5.5×8.5)

 

Sketching From Photos Is Hard

I really don’t understand those who suggest that sketching from photos is easier than sketching on location.  They say that the photo has already flattened the image to two dimensions and thus it’s easier.  I wonder if that’s because those advocates aren’t concerned about that missing third dimension.

If you do want to add depth to your sketch, the lack of information in a photograph is frustrating.  There’s a reason we have two eyes and I always have difficulty drawing from photos.  Unfortunately, if I’m going to draw outdoor things during Quebec winters, I’m forced to draw from photos.  Here’s a sketch I did of an odd-shaped apartment building at the convergence of two streets merging to one.

Winter Has Come To Quebec City

More than anything, this post is an X on the calendar to indicate when it got too cold to sketch outdoors in Quebec City.  It’s snowing these days and not very friendly to street sketchers, particularly an Arizona-bred sketcher who hates being cold.

I take the bus everywhere and our system is great because I can sit at home and know exactly when the bus will get to my stop which means I don’t have to stand in the cold.  But, for reasons I can’t explain, the other day I headed to the bus stop without checking my app and sure enough, just as I arrived, the bus was pulling away.

That meant I had ten minutes of standing around.  As luck would have it there was a small bulldozer sitting on the corner of the street so I decided to draw it.  I did this quick sketch of it and nearly finished when the bus came along.

This was done in a cheap 4×6 notebook and so wasn’t suitable for color but I added some anyway.  The end result looked like this.. my last outdoor sketch of the year.  It’s museum time for me.

Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, when I stop to sketch, it just doesn’t work.  I don’t know why.  What I feel is that I just can’t see in the way an artist sees things.  Everything is a struggle and I can’t engage with the subject.  In particular I have this problem when I try quick-sketching but also, sometimes, when I’m trying to do a more normal sketch.  Anyways, in spite of my embarrassment to do so, I thought I’d share one of these failures with you.

Our main library is closed for renovations right now but there’s a small branch library not far from my house.  I was walking by the other day and decided to stop in for a few minutes of people sketching.  The views aren’t great in this library but, frankly, it didn’t matter because I couldn’t draw a person to save my life.  These were 30-60s sketches and all tentative and horrible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave up in frustration and continued walking.  About 15 minutes later I saw this old guy waiting to cross the street so I tried again.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out.  I suppose the moral of the story is not to give up but I’d sure like to know why my brain won’t engage with my inner artist on occasion.