Just Me, The Kids, And The Dinosaurs

When we returned from Toronto we wanted to spend a few more hours in Ottawa, preferably not walking a gazillion steps, before we piled in the car and pointed it towards Quebec City.  Somehow, and I’m still wondering how, it was decided that we should walk, just shy of a gazillion steps, to the Canadian Museum of Nature , where we would ALL sketch.  Yep, you heard that right.  My wife and daughter produced sketchbooks and we all headed to the museum.  Maybe I was dreaming.

I wanted to draw in the dinosaur rooms.  They wanted to draw mammals.  We split up and agreed to meet in a couple hours.  Group sketching is always fun, but amounts to people getting together so they can ignore each other for extended periods of time.  This is punctuated by greeting each other again and the intense kibbitzing that friends do when they haven’t talked in a while.  We sketchers are a crazy lot but we’re having more fun than most people.

And so it was as I headed off to draw more bones.  But I didn’t.  I went into a room where they had a room-sized diorama, with two Tyranosauruses (Tyranosaurusii??)  looking over a walkway, mouths open and looking hungry.  On the other side were two Tricerotops in defensive positions.  I’m no James Gurney but I had to try to draw one of these guys.  I also got to draw in one of the new 9×12 Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbooks.  I think I’m going to like this size, though it does present some scanning issues.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

As I drew I learned that this was a prime stop for school tours.  They bring the kids in and ask them questions like “What do you think these Tyranosauruses eat?” and “Do you think they are hungry?”  And as the kids stand between the participants in this confrontation between predator and prey their eyes get big and they become very quiet.  It’s fun to watch.

And the kids were lots of fun.  They’re always curious.  They can relate to people drawing better than adults can.  But they are reluctant to talk until you look up and say hi.  Then the fun begins.  One kid wanted to buy my sketch.  Another said, “Hey, that looks just like a dinosaur.”  But mostly we talked about how much fun it was to be at the museum.  It was a very good morning.

Best of all, when I met up with family, they’d had fun sketching lions, rabbits, pikas, bats, and owls.  They were smiling.  And we only had “just shy of a gazillion steps” to walk to get back to where the car was parked.

Drawing Some Bones

My family is great.  While I was in Ottawa they understood that I was frustrated by not being able to sit down and sketch for an extended period.  I didn’t have to say it – they knew.  And so, the day before we left for Toronto, they sent me off to sketch by myself.  Hmm…or maybe they were just tired of my presence and wanted to get rid of me.  Either way, I got to go sketching.

I headed immediately for the Canadian Museum of Nature which is spectacular.  We’d spent an evening doing a quick tour of the place and I could spend a lifetime sketching there.  But I was after bones.  Dinosaur bones.

Ever since Tina Koyama started posting her sketches of bones contained in a Seattle museum, I’ve wanted to draw some myself, but bones are sorely lacking in Quebec City, except those holding up the bags of water that march along the streets.

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Once I paid the entry fee, and became a member of the museum, I headed directly for the dinosaur portion of the museum.  It was a great morning as crowds were minimal, the security guard was really nice and we had a great conversation about sketching and photography, and I got to draw bones.  Here are a couple of my efforts.  What fun!  The shapes are interesting, complex and organic.

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Searching For A Quicker Sketching Style

I’ve only been learning to draw for three years.  I have a long way to go but my goal has always been to achieve the ability to sketch in styles similar to those of Pete Scully, Gerard Michel, and others who sketch buildings in a realistic fashion.  My own semi-cartoony attempts lack their skill with line and color but I’m happy with my results because I sketch more for the enjoyment I get from the process than the actual product.

The one downside of my sketching is that I’m slow…really slow, and that limits the situations where I can apply that meditative, let the brain head off into never-never-land approach.  I spend a lot of time quick-sketching (2-minutes or less) everything and anything to help me learn to see proportions and angles more quickly but the results are far too rushed to satisfy me.

I need an intermediate method – a method that allows me to capture a building or scene in less than 20 minutes, sometimes much less.  And so I’ve been playing around with a quicker, looser style.  I study how people like Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel create their magnificent sketches and while my skills are not solid enough to completely mimic their approaches, they are providing me both inspiration and some mental targets for achieving a more loose style.  I’m convinced that I’m only a few thousand sketches away from solving this problem.

Until then, here is a sketch I did while out walking.  It was too cold and windy to sit still for very long and so I quickly sketched this monument that sits in the park near my river.   I did it in a cheap, 5×7 sketchbook of unknown origin.  It’s one that normally sits on my desk and I use it to scribble ideas.  I used my Sailor Profit calligraphy pen and De Atramentis Document Black ink.


Making Room For Carriage Wheels

Our weather is marginal for sketching outdoors but the long winter has me pressing the limits of my cold tolerance.  I’m also motivated by the knowledge that at this time of year, there are areas in the old city that are more conducive to sketching (ie – you can see what you want to sketch) than they are later in the year when the tourists are here.

So, I put on a couple layers and headed downtown, to an area near the port area called Place Royale.  The most important feature there is a gorgeous church but I was after smaller game.

I was going to draw the corner of a wall – a special corner of a wall.  Streets in Quebec City during the 18th Century were narrow.  Carriage wheels, on the other hand, were very large and protruded out from the carriage, making it difficult to negotiate a carriage around the corners.

The solution was to inset the corners of the buildings for the first eight feet of so, creating an odd-shaped corner with no explanation if you wander the streets in the 21st Century.  But now, when you come to Quebec, you’ll know why some of the corners look like this:


Stillman & BIrn Beta (6×8), Sailor Profit calligraphy pen, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors


Sketching The Musee De La Francophonie

I’m just giddy with excitement that I’m getting some days that are warm enough for me to get out sketching on the street.  It’s a good time too as tourists aren’t yet filling the old city streets so I’m able to sketch some things in that area that are normally difficult because of all the people.

One such place is the Musée de l’Amérique francophonie.  It’s part of a complex of structures that used to be a seminary and Université Laval.  The university moved, long ago,  from the downtown area but its Department of Architecture still resides in one of the buildings.  These buildings have a rich history and I’ve sketched several of them but never the Museum entrance because it faces the town square and is next to a huge cathedral that is a tourist attraction.

But tourists won’t show up until it’s a bit warmer so I sat and sketched this grand structure.  Nothing better than sitting in the sun, coat zipped up, and sketching.  Hmm…no, it’s better without needing the coat zipped up.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10x7), Sailor Fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Sailor Profit calligraphy  pen, De Atramentis Document Black


We’re Having A Heat Wave

They say it’s not going to last but right now it’s warm, or rather what those of us who have been freezing for the last five months call warm.  Heck, it was 14C (57F) when I went out sketching on Monday.  Most important, though, there was no wind, which makes all the difference in the world.

It seems I”m out of fighting form, however.  I walked a lot and ended up with blisters on both feet.  Too much couch potato time this winter, I guess.  Anyways, I found myself downtown and when I saw this little convenience market (we call them depanneurs here) I had to sit down and sketch it.  What a thrill.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder even if you’re talking about street sketching.

At one point the guy who owned the store came across the street to see what I was up to and I was somewhat embarrassed as I wasn’t far enough along to give him much indication of the final result.  He didn’t seem to mind though, and the encounter underscored that I was back – sketching on the street.  Yippee!!!!

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10x7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black


Spring Has Sprung – Almost

It’s been rainy and windy for the past couple days but it was sunny today, though we still had 30 km/h winds.  It had reached 5C as I headed out for a walk, but the wind made it feel much colder.  As I walked I talked to the trees, asking them why they hadn’t started to bud since it was already mid-April.  They just shook their heads in the wind and said, “Are you kidding me?”

But I was determined to do some walking and, the optimist in me thought about sketching.  I walked for over an hour and was on my way home when I saw a possibility.  I tucked myself into the entrance of a building and out of the wind.  I was still in the sun though giving me the best shot at not freezing to death.  I started sketching a church steeple that’s associated with the hospital near my house.  I worked as quickly as I could and this is the result.  Hope you like it.  Hope it gets warmer sometime soon.

Stillman & Birn Gamma  (10x7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Pilot Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

A Caffeine Dose At Dose

I’ve started going to a tiny coffee shop that’s in the high-rise district of Quebec City.  The shop is called Dose, for reasons known only to them. The view is horrible for sketching but they have the best Café americano in the city.

Being an opportunistic sketcher, I thought I’d pull a Liz Steel and draw my cup.  “Spring is slowly coming to Quebec City and I hope to be on the streets sketching in a week or so, ” he said optimistically.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Pilot Falcon SEF, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Pilot Falcon SEF, De Atramentis Document Black

Sitting Tall While Drawing Baby Buddah

I love my Walking Stool.  I’ve been using it for two years and it still looks like new, in spite of use nearly every day.  They’re more expensive than most tripod stools but so much more comfortable and I need my butt to be comfortable when I draw.  Mine is the 18″ tall seat and I had the opportunity to try out the 22″ seat and wanted to see if I preferred it.

The first problem I had to over come was what to sketch and where.  It’s still too cold to sketch outside so I set up a statue on my kitchen table and, sitting in the middle of the room, started sketching.  The first thing I noticed was that my drawing support was gone.  The taller stool unbent my legs to a point where I no longer had a lap upon which to rest my sketchbook.  Bummer…I like my lap.  I need that support.  Or do I?

A problem I have as a sketcher is bending over too much to sketch.  This causes two problems.  The first is that it hurts my back to be bent over for extended period.  I’m old and back pain makes me grumpy.  The other thing is that I have to move my head a lot more from a bent over drawing position to an upright viewing position, in an extreme form of the typical bobbing-head sketcher behavior.

The taller stool forced me to figure out how to hold my sketchbook against my body.  Lots of people do it.  I struggle with this but I really should learn how.  I’ve been drawing for three years and should have figured it out by now.

In the end, this taller stool weighs a bit more than my shorter one, is a bit harder to carry, and the only thing I “gain” is being forced to learn to sketch like a big person.  I guess I’ll stick with my 18″ version (I’m 6-feet tall by the way).

Here’s the sketch I did during this experiment.  I used my Pilot Falcon and De Atramentis Document Black ink.  Watercolors are Daniel Smith.  Sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8).  Hope you like it.


A Quick Trip To Ottawa

My daughter was coming home from Ottawa during her Easter break from school.  In a brilliant bit of planning we decided to go get her rather than have her take the train to get home.  In this way we could spend a day and a half in Ottawa, visit museums, and I could sketch.

The plan was perfect.  We got up early Thursday morning and drove to Ottawa.  Skipping the details of the day, our plan was to visit the Natural History museum starting at 5PM because on Thursday nights the Ottawa museums are free.  And so, with sketching gear on my hip, we headed inside.

To be honest, I was overwhelmed, both by the five floors of great stuff to sketch and by the fact that I was with wife and daughter and we wanted to see as much of the museum as possible.  I managed one tiny quick-sketch of a sandhill crane while we were resting our feet.  But we had lots of fun and besides, I’d be at the art museum all day tomorrow.  Plenty of time for sketching.

And so it was that the next morning we headed to the art museum, arriving at opening time.  This is where the flaw in my plan became evident.  It was Good Friday.  All the museums were closed.  In fact, most of Ottawa was closed.

But it was a nice day.  It was sunny, 8C and no wind.  Given Quebec City’s winter, this was nothing short of a miracle so we sat down in front of the art museum.  My family said, “Why don’t you sketch?”  I felt guilty about leaving them doing nothing while I sketched but they talked me into it.

Sketching quicker than I normally draw, I drew the top of the Parliament library that was peaking up above the trees.  When I finished I realized that I HAD SKETCHED OUTDOORS.  Finally!!!  It was April 3rd…a day to remember.

It only took 20 minutes or so but did I mention that I got to SKETCH OUTDOORS?  Does this mean spring has finally come to my world?  Well, not really.  We drove back to Quebec City yesterday and woke this morning to look outside at the snow that was falling.  Instead of sketching, I wandered aimlessly behind a snowblower.  Will it ever end?

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black