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

Accordion Museum Sketching

museum logoWhen winter won’t stop, sketchers innovate.  There’s a small accordion museum, the Musee de l’accordéon, about half an hour east of Quebec City and I was there, along with my buddies Claudette and Louise.  It was a very blustery February day – at the end of March.

I know nothing of accordions but their definition revolves around a series of reeds, some way to pump air over them, and a set of keys to control which ones vibrate.  But growing up in the US, “accordion” meant polka music and Myron Floren on the Lawrence Welk show.  I didn’t like it much.  But when I came to Quebec, my eyes were opened by the smaller squeeze box accordions used by traditional Eastern Canadian musicians.  It’s probably not the official vocabulary for such music but it’s a hoot!

Our day was a typical urban sketching session, consisting of a lot of laughter and comaraderie, punctuated by silent periods while we ignored each other and drew the objects that surrounded us.  We drew in the morning but had to relocate to a local food dispensary because the museum closes from 12 to 1.  It was a welcome break and we returned somewhat refreshed and drew for a while longer before heading back to Quebec.  It was a great day.


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


The Best Way To Fish


Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. – Henry David Thoreau

There was a time in my life when I was an avid fly fisherman.  I have to disagree with Thoreau.  Most of us fished knew exactly why we were doing it and that catching fish was way down the list of reasons we did it.  I certainly knew why I’d gone “fishing” today and without catching a single one, I got exactly what I was after.

I woke to falling snow.  Yep…the end of March and it was snowing. So I whined a bit into my morning coffee and made a decision.  I would go sketching at Quebec City’s aquarium.  As it turned out, it snowed all day but I didn’t care.  I spent the entire morning at the aquarium and it was wonderful because aside from the people who worked there, the place was nearly empty and I wandered around watching the fish and doing some sketching of them.

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

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

Still Looking At Snow…Lots Of Snow

There are hints that we may be starting to slide towards warmer temperatures but unless 34F is warm to you, they’re not here yet.  And I’m getting desperate.  I sit at home, trying to get a mental picture of what I might see if I were looking out windows from various places I can access around town.

And so it was as I hopped a bus and headed to rue Cartier, a classic shopping/restaurant street.   At the end of a small indoor shopping complex is one of the best burger restaurants in town.  They make real burgers with lots of imaginative toppings.  And they have tables, next to windows, that look out on what is a large garden area associated with a historic house.  I knew I could see something to draw from one of those windows, though the garden itself would be completely covered in snow.

Here’s what I came up with.  Lots of snow, which is the common state of all scenes in Quebec City right now, but I was in a warm building, sitting in the sun, and I was sketching.  What more could a guy want.

2015-03-27houseThis was done in a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9) sketchbook using a Namiki Falcon (alias Pilot Falcon, which some are now calling a Pilot Elabo), and De Atramentis Document Black ink.   With any luck at all, spring may arrive before the summer solstice.

Sketching A Hansom Cab


A minute later we were both in a hansom, driving furiously for the Brixton Road. – A Study in Scarlet 

I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.  Not the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock.  Not the TV show Sherlocks.  I’m a fan of the original, as written by Arthur Conan-Doyle.  In those stories, Holmes and Watson were often travelling in hansom cabs.

Sherlock’s carriage equivalent of the taxi was, more precisely, the Hansom safety cab, designed by architect Joseph Hansom in 1834.  It’s interesting to note that “cab” is short for cabriolet, a French word for a 2-wheel, horse-drawn carriage.  It’s also where taxi cab comes from.

I’d never actually seen one until Quebec City’s Musée de la civilisation opened an exhibit of 13 representatives from a large collection of carriages.  I had to draw it.

I did this one in a Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7) sketchbook.  It was the first sketch in my new, “Spring” sketchbook.  I hope you like it.

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

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

Making A Small Sketching Binder

This is actually a follow up post from my last about sketching in small notebooks.  It’s the case that I kinda-sorta glossed over how to construct the binder I talked about.  Maybe I should do it more often as I got emails from a few nice people asking me questions about it.

So here is an explanation of how to make that small binder.  Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.  While the binder I showed was made from thin mahogany sheet, I’m going to illustrated the method using a couple matboard scraps.

gaffer's tape & materialsThe most popular question I got was “what is gaffer’s tape?”  If, as Red Green says, duct tape is the handyman’s secret weapon, gaffer’s tape is a modelbuilder’s friend.  My bet is that gaffers use it too.

It’s black.  It’s a fabric tape that comes in several widths.  It’s about as sticky as duct tape and it cuts cleanly.  Here it is, with two, notepad-sized pieces of mat board ready to be taped together.

The key to a successful binder is placing the two cover pieces up against one another as in the photo.  The outside surfaces should be facing downward.  In this way, when the book is opened, the two cover edges will butt up against one another, providing a built-in limit for the hinge and a stiff, single surface, just as when you open a game board.

inner binding

Cut a strip of tape that’s longer than the height of your covers.  I actually attach the tape to the table top just above the covers.  This allows me to hold the two covers together as I pull the tape down across their interface.  Use a razor blade to cut the ends of this tape flush with the cover surface.  DO NOT wrap the tape around to the other side or the hinge won’t work.


Insert one of your notebooks between the covers and squeeze this sandwich together.  Place a piece of tape along the face of one cover and, maintaining pressure on your sandwich, roll the tape over the hinge point to the other cover, smoothing out the tape on the back cover.


Voila, you’ve got a binder. You’re on your own for rounding the outer corners.  I just used a disk sander on my wooden one but it would be easy enough to cut them.

Now all you’ve got to do is find a notebook that is happy with whatever pointy device you use.  I mentioned last time that neither the Baron Fig or Field Notes notebooks are happy with fountain pen inks, though if you use Microns, Sharpie pens (not markers) or ballpoints, you’ll have good luck, with the potential for a bit of ghosting.  With fountain pens, however, or even using Micron/Sharpies to fill in an area with a dark field of ink, you’ll experience bleed through, potentially ruining the backside of the page.  I thought I’d share some of the tests I’ve done.  Keep in mind these are 3×5 sketches.


Here are two quick sketches I did of people waiting for the bus.  The one on the left wasn’t too bad.  There was a tiny amount of bleedthrough from one of the dark heads.  For the second one, however, you see that I filled in some areas using the Sharpie Pen and most of those areas showed significant bleedthrough that would prevent drawing on the backside of the page.


2015-03-21skaterThe last example I’ll show you is this skater.  He was on a poster advertising a crazy event they have here called Crashed Ice, where skaters race down a curvy downhill course, complete with jumps and, well..more than a little bit of crashed ice.  You can see a bit of ghosting from the previous page but I don’t find that objectionable for this purpose.  This experiment is interesting because there was no bleed through.  All of the pen work was done using my Pilot Falcon (fine) and De Atramentis Document Black ink.  I expected some bleed through in the cross-hatched areas but I didn’t get any, probably because I didn’t let the pen stop moving.  So I went one step further.  I did some shading with a Tombow water-based brush pen.  I’ve found that water-based brush pens (the brands I’ve used) don’t penetrate the way most solvent-based brush pens do (the brands I’ve used) and I was pleasantly surprised that the Tombow worked just fine in the Field Notes book.

In the end, I’d sure like to find a 70-80# paper staple-bound notebook that would eliminate the bleedthrough problem.  I’m still on the hunt.  In any case, I hope I’ve answered the questions about creating the binder.




Sketching at Le Renard Et La Chouette

There’s a small, fun coffee/wine restaurant, Le Renard et La Chouette (the fox and the owl), on rue St. Vallier in Quebec City and I was there sketching on Thursday.  I was immediately attracted to a set of water bottles and glasses sitting on a very thick countertop and decided to draw it.  I was using my cheap tan paper sketchbook, which is not very happy to receive watercolors so I refrained from adding much color to these sketches.

tan paper sketchbook, Sailor calligraphy pen, De Atramentis Document Black

tan paper sketchbook, Sailor calligraphy pen, De Atramentis Document Black

I drank my now cold coffee and looked around for my next target.  I found it in a girl that was sort of twisted around so she could look at what her friend was showing her on her laptop.

Sailor calligraphy pen, De Atramentis Document Black.

Sailor calligraphy pen, De Atramentis Document Black.

I was nearly ready to leave but decided to do this really quick sketch of this watering can that was used to hold utensils.  Only spent five minutes on this one, and it shows (grin).


It was a fun sketching session but I really need to figure out how to drink my coffee while it’s warm.

When Sketchers Go For A Walk

We sketchers talk a lot about how sketching causes us to see and experience the world differently and we imply strongly that we do this better than non-sketchers.  Here’s an example from my Tuesday:

I met three friends, one of whom had just returned from an extended vacation.  Disappointed by a problem at the ferry we went and had coffee together.  Then we went to McDonalds for a burger.  It was a good day.

Exciting, right?  Makes you wish you were there I bet.  Maybe not.  Maybe you’re saying “Geez Larry, get a life.”  But what if I include the sketching aspect:

2015-03-03FerryI met up with three friends at the ferry on Tuesday morning.  We were all excited as one of us had just returned from an extended vacation and the anticipation of seeing her drove me to the ferry dock.  We had to take the ferry to meet our friend on the other side but the plan was to go back and forth on the ferry, sketching both sides of the St. Lawrence from the warm confines of the boat.  Only the rules had changed and stopped our plans in their tracks.  So, when we met up with our friend on the other side, we decided to head to a cafe instead.  All I managed to sketch from the ferry were some tiny few-second sketches in a Baron Fig (3×5) sketchbook.

Cheap tan paper & Namiki Falcon

Cheap tan paper & Namiki Falcon

We went to a cafe/restaurant called Paillard.  We got coffee and started chatting up a storm as we broke out our sketchbooks and pen.  Then the group went silent and our coffee cooled.  It’s true that sketchers regularly ignore their friends when they get together, but we do it in unison so it’s ok.  It was fun drawing something and then sneaking looks at everyone’s sketchbooks to see what everyone else was drawing.  We had a great time.

I’m trying to finish up a cheap, tan paper sketchbook, which is perfect for this type of quick-sketching.  The red people were done with a Pentel 8-color multi-pencil.  The tooth of this paper was too much for colored pencil, however, so I struggled with it going dull on me the second I put it to paper.

same tan paper & Pentel Multi-pencil

same tan paper & Pentel Multi-pencil

Between the chatting, coffee drinking and sketching, I guess we spent 1 to 1 1/2 hours at the café and then decided that we were a bit hungry and that maybe we could get seats looking out from the second story windows at McDonalds, which was just down the street.

Have you noticed that when sketchers draw for a while the number of pens, pencils, paints, and other stuff accumulates all over the tables?  And when the group decides to move, there’s a lot of activity as all that stuff gets put away.  Only then could we start the Quebec City ritual of donning the three layers of clothing, hats and gloves that allow us to go outside.  All that to move a hundred yards down the street.

As it turned out, we did get lucky and did get those seats at McDonalds.  To be honest, I was more interested in the burger and fries than I was sketching.  While there Yvan gave me a great lesson in using line width variation.  I hope that this, and a bunch of practice will help me improve.

When the eating was done, though, I decided to see how much of the street scene I could draw in a few minutes.  No planning, no angle measurement, no nothing.  Just a Zebra 301 ballpoint pen scribbling as fast as I could move it.  The result is certainly not as precise as my typical, molasses-paced drawing style but it was a lot of fun and was a great end to a great day.

See…it’s true that we sketchers do it better.  Don’t you wish you’d been there?

Quick-sketch (about 10 minutes) in a Baron Fig (3x5) notebook with a Zebra 301 ballpoint.

Quick-sketch (about 10 minutes) in a Baron Fig (3×5) notebook with a Zebra 301 ballpoint.

The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

In my last blog post I talked about how dark it is in the museum exhibit room where the new carriage exhibit is displayed.  I bit the bullet and decided to try to draw one of them.  I took a sketchbook light with me and I needed it.  In fact, if I’d had three of them, I would have used them all.  It was so dark where I was sitting that I couldn’t see what pens I was pulling from my bag without shining the light onto the bag.

Here’s the sketch I generated before I just gave up.  I was sitting no more than 8-10 feet behind the rear wheel and yet I could not see the front of the carriage and had to walk up beside it to figure out what needed to be drawn.  You know how they tell you to spend 80% of your time looking at the subject and 20% at your paper so you can get the proportions correct?  Well, I’m sure I did that but I don’t think the advice assumes you have to walk around the room to see the subject.  What I’m certain of is that this sketch is wonky from all the movement.  In the light or in the dark, those big, thin, spoked wheels made me go cross-eyed.

And so, as I write this, I rely on the axiom, “Any day that includes sketching is better than a day without it.”  But I think our museum is taking photon austerity just a bit too far.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Sailor calligraphy pen , De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Sailor calligraphy pen , De Atramentis Document Black