New Sketching Hat

During much of the year I wear a leather hat that has big furry flaps.  It’s a reflection of Quebec temperatures.  But when late spring and summer roll around, I need some shade, particularly while I’m sketching.

For that I’ve used an old Tilley hat.  It’s one of the original designs and I bought it in the mid-90s.  It’s still fine but I like the looks of the newer style Tilley hats and so I plunked down my argent, as we call it here, and brought one home.  I love it as its lighter than my original and fits better on my semi-square head.

It seemed only fitting that I sketch my sketching hat so enlisted Winnie the Pooh to model it while I that.  He liked it too but had one criticism.  He thinks it needs a couple holes for ears because he wasn’t able to pull it down onto his head properly.


Sketching A Memory Of 1759

There’s a hospital a mere half hour walk from my house that has a small cemetery associated with it.  It’s somewhat special because there is a sculpture that honors French soldiers who died during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) as well as a series of plaques listing their names, by year.  It’s also the case that Montcalm, the Commander of French forces is interred there.   Montcalm was killed during a battle on the Plains of Abraham, the battle that was the turning point of the war in favor of the British, though the British commander, Wolfe was killed as well.

My Sketch with the sculpture in the background.  Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

My Sketch with the sculpture in the background. Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

I mention all this because I met with Claudette, Louise and Fernande to draw the sculpture on a day that was too cold and windy for reasonable people to be outside, but we’re tired of waiting for spring.  So, bundled up and huddled against the wind, we drew, we laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company.  I had the presence of mind (an odd thing for me) to take a photo of the group so you can finally meet some of my friends.  I also had the opportunity to take quick photos of their sketches so I can share those with you as well.  Hope you enjoy them.  They’re very talented sketchers.


LtoR: Louise, Claudette and Fernande

Claudette's sketch

Claudette’s sketch

Fernande's sketch

Fernande’s sketch

Louise's sketch

Louise’s sketch

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