Coffee Shop Sketching With Friends

Sometimes it’s fun to meet with friends and at this time of year it’s fairly common for me to have coffee with a friend to wish them a Merry Christmas and to chat.  But there’s something special about doing that with sketcher friends and that’s just what we did Monday.  Fernande, Claudette and I met at a large coffee shop, thinking it would give us more sketching opportunities than some of the smaller shops.

I think our plan would have been sound at other times of the year but this is the Christmas season and the shop was packed to the gills with people, decorations, stuff for sale and, well, it too crowded for relaxed sketching.  Still, we had lots of fun chatting about sketchbooks, brush pens and life in general.  And we sketched.  Fernande and Claudette were more productive than I was; they always are.  I get wrapped up in whatever sketch I’m doing and spend too much time on it, I fear.  My way of saving paper, I guess.

Here is my Christmas sketch for 2014 – I’ve never been much for drawing Christmas ornaments for some reason, but a huge poinsettia and balloons?  Yeah…that’s more my style.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

A Few Of My Favorite Things

I love trains and I was lucky to be a kid when trains were a very important part of our landscape.  I’m also lucky enough to have lived long enough that we’re now wishing we had those trains we discarded because our ‘modern’ mechanisms for moving people and goods are becoming economically and environmentally untenable.

I also love my daughter, but she rudely grew taller and taller until, one day, she ran away to college.  But it’s the holidays and she was coming home – on a train.  Trains, daughter and me, all in the same place.  What more could an old man want?


I arrived at the train station about 15 minutes before the train was to arrive and found that her train was going to be about 10 minutes late.  Figuring I’d have about 20 minutes before I had to move to the arrival gate, I sat down in the main hall to draw.

I love our train station.  It’s something of a shell of its original footprint, with only a few trains and far fewer passengers moving through it’s cavernous insides.  Fewer passengers means more room available and in recent years they’ve built a couple smallish restaurants along one wall of the main hall.

I drew one of them (resto can be seen in the interior photo above) in a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8) with De Atramentis Docu Black.   Not having a lot of time, the sketch is a bit on the wonky side but it was fun and I finished up in time to watch the train arrive.  Did I mention that I like trains?  Oh…and my daughter too.

Happy holidays everyone! — Larry

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

I’m A Little Teapot, Short And Stout…

I’m a little teapot, short and stout,
here is my handle and here is my spout.

That’s what sketching is all about.  You find a subject and you put the pieces in their proper locations.  Then you’re done.  Easy peasy, so what’s the big deal?

I’m having a ball in Liz Steel’s Foundations class.  She’s showing us different ways of organizing drawings and the various ways of getting those parts in the right places.  This week was “climb out on a thin limb and draw without measuring anything, no set up, no nothing.”  This is where eraser users do a lot of scrubbing as “oops…it should be just a bit to the right” or “eek…that’s too long” start being uttered in less than muffled tones.

And so I was at the museum, wandering around looking for something to draw.  I’m sort of getting tired of drawing statues of Greek gods and so I found myself in the Quebec history exhibit.  It’s an exhibit where you’d think Quebecers lived in caves in the past was the exhibit exists in near darkness, making it hard to sketch anything.  Heck, some of the stuff is downright hard to see.  Not sure what’s going on there.

But as I was in Liz’s course (she being the patron saint of teacup sketching), and as I was staring at some tea cups, saucers and teapots, I figured I’d found my subject for the class.  The only problem was that these items were scattered around a case, not clustered together as in a still life.

But with a bit of mental sliding items around, and a few pen marks to indicate location, I created the arrangement depicted here and went to town with my Namiki Falcon.  Here is my handle, here is my spout.  I’m really enjoying the De Atramentis document inks and sure hope that Goulet Pens gets some of the other colors back in stock real soon.  This sketch took me about 20 minutes, maybe a couple more.  It was fun.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, watercolor pencils

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, watercolor pencils

Sketching A Door

One of the exercises for this week’s Liz Steel Foundations class was to draw a door.  This was supposed to be our “outdoor” exercise.

There is nothing I’d rather do than draw outdoors but I’m afraid that weather dictates that I won’t be able to do that until at least April and that’s being optimistic.  Not wanting to wait quite that long to do the assignment, I found an alternative.  As I was leaving the museum I noticed that if I sat down just inside the rear entrance, I could see the door across the street.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The door leads into the Hotel Saint Pierre but the door has a far richer history as it served as the main entrance of the “Quebec Assurance Building,” and the interesting thing is that this is carved, in English, in the upper reaches of the building – a remnant of times past as it’s fairly rare to find English written anywhere in Quebec City.

The exercise goal was to ‘set up by measurement’ and thus the principle goal was “ be as accurate as possible.”  I can’t say that I was (sorry Liz) but I did it in my typical cartoony style and in spite of what it looks like, I did measure, with my thumb stuck up in the air and everything.  I really enjoyed sketching something that wasn’t a statue and I think I need to look around for some more doors to look out of.

Quebec Assurance Building door

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

Sketching On A Sunday Morning

I went to the museum this morning and decided to draw a short column piece featuring three woman.  I didn’t have my pencil case with me so I decided to do it in my sketchbook (10×7), using my Namiki Falcon.  This is one time when I wished for larger paper as it was hard to capture all the detail in what is roughly an 8″ high sketch.  But it was a bundle of fun to do.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Addendum:  I was playing around last night and added just a hint of color to this sketch.  I think it improved it somewhat, mostly by removing some of the starkness of the black on white.   I didn’t want to turn it into a color sketch but now I’m wondering what it would look like if I increased the tonal variation even more.  What do you think?


Doing Stand Up, Sketcher Style

What does a street sketcher do when it’s snowing and there are 80 km/hr gusts blowing it around?  Cry in some beer?  Sketch lemons?  Sketch a recipe for lemonade?  I was at a loss.

Normal art people just head to their studio and draw or paint to their heart’s content, but I really have a hard time sketching without going somewhere first.  I know…I should take a pill to get over it, but I’m old and already taking too many of those.

So, I decided, why not do something that might help me when I do get to go onto the street to sketch.  One of my big problems is that while I’m very comfortable sitting on my tripod stool and can sketch up a storm there, I struggle when I try to sketch standing up.  I’m not sure why.  My belly is sufficiently large to hold a sketchbook, afterall.

Anyways, that’s what I decided to do – sketch while standing.  I went into my office, picked up sketchbook and pen, looked around and decided to draw the three principle books that stand on my desk.  I added a bit of the surroundings for context.  And yes, there is lots of stuff on those shelves but you think I’m going to let you see what a mess my office is?  Not a chance.

I still find sketching while standing up a struggle.  I lose not only some of my control over the pen but also some of my ability to concentrate.  The later is the bigger loss and I’m not sure why it occurs at all.  Maybe I need to stand around sketching more often.  Any tips for a stand-up-challenged sketcher?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

Roman Pitcher: What A Few Construction Lines Can Do

I was at the museum yesterday and drew a Roman pitcher.  Wednesday mornings are when Liz Steel releases a new lesson of her Foundations Now drawing course.  If you’re not already taking it, sign up.  We an amazing instructor.

What do those two things have in common?  Today’s lesson was about measuring and sketch “setup” to use her terminology.  I call it scaffolding but any way you talk about it, the goal is to look at your subject/scene and determine the relative sizes and locations of the objects, making some lines to indicate those relationships.  People seem reluctant to think about doing anything before they start drawing the “things” in their drawing but a few minutes spent before you draw actual “stuff” can improve both your accuracy and speed, the later more than compensating for the short time spent in analysis.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Once I got comfortable on my stool I just looked at the subject, trying to get a sense of shapes and sizes.  What follows is typically done using a 2H pencils producing lines so faint they won’t scan properly.  So, I took some tracing paper and drew them with a red pencil so you can see them.  Often I don’t even worry about erasing these lines as most just disappear.   Here’s what I did to draw this pitcher and why:

1) I realized that the bulk of the pitcher could fit inside a square.  Since I was working in a 10×7 sketchbook, I drew a couple vertical lines about 4″ apart to set the boundary of my drawing on the 7″ dimension of the paper.  I completed a square with appropriate horizontal lines.  Not only did this determine size but it determined location of the vase on the paper and ensured that I would have enough room and white space to make me happy.

2) I drew a vertical line at the halfway point of the square.  Centerlines for objects are generally helpful but in this case it was doubly so because the main pitcher was symmetrical and thus, having a centerline becomes a big help in the symmetrical curvatures of the pitcher sides.

scaffolding prior to drawing

scaffolding prior to drawing

3) I used dimension A to measure how high the pitcher mouth protruded above the main pitcher body and found it to be equal to A.  A quick line to identify that limit was all that was necessary, though I could have easily determined the width of the top of the pitcher at this time.  I just didn’t think of it.

4) At this point I’d taken a couple measurements using the ‘hold the pen up’ approach and drawn five lines.  I’d spent enough time looking at the pitcher to know there were three dips in the top edge of the mouth, that the handle attached between the back two and that the handle was turned a bit towards me and the pitcher spout turned slightly away from me.  I’m sure I also noticed other, more subtle things but these were the pertinent things.  It’s important to note that this is important information for drawing this pitcher and it’s best to know about it BEFORE you start drawing it rather than after you make an error because you didn’t.

5) At this point I switched to pen, but there was still more analysis work to be done along the way.  I felt the first thing I needed to do was locate the handle as it crossed in front of the top of the main pitcher body as I needed to know where that line would be hidden.  I thought about picking up the pencil again as it would have been easier to drop a couple angled lines to indicate the hand.  But I persevered and looked at 1) what was the distance between the left-most part of the hand from an imaginary vertical running upward from the body square.  At the same time I looked at the angle of an imaginary line that would run from the top of the pitcher body and that left-most part of the handle.  I put a dot there and another dot across from it to indicate the handle width at that point.  I did a similar analysis to determine how high the handle went above the ‘top’ of the pitcher mouth.  I don’t remember doing it but I also decided where the handle attached to the side of the pitcher body.  Then I drew the outer edges of the handle.

6) I was off to the races at that point.  I decided how wide the ‘cylinder’ that protruded to become the mouth was and put marks on either side of the centerline to indicate where it would intersect the pitcher body.  Then I drew the entire outline of the pitcher body, stopping briefly to do a similar determination about the base widths.

7) When I draw something more complex, like the convolutions of the mouth top edge, I do a lot of dynamic comparisons.  If I were really concerned with absolute accuracy I’d draw pencil lines to indicate the shapes but sometimes I just use my experience to compare a couple angles or locations to determine start/stop points for the various curves.  If you’re less experienced it might be a good idea to draw a box around this portion of the pitcher and then remove everything that doesn’t look like a pitcher mouth from that ‘block of clay.’  This is often very powerful as this forces you to look at it as the three dimensional volume that it is.

8) The painted details were pretty straight forward so I just freehanded those directly.  This was made easier because my basic drawing was accurate so I could rely upon it to locate the details.

Too often I see people talking about going “direct to ink” as some sort of badge of honor.  My goal may be more accuracy than some others but even if you like to draw with a loose style, just a few simple lines can give you the confidence that you’re laying down your loose lines in the right places.   You’ll also never be caught saying “I ran out of room for his feet.”

Looking Out My Window

After I finished with the snowblower this morning I looked out on a sunny, but cold day.  I allowed sloth to overtake me and I decided not to walk to the museum as I normally would.  Sketching statues is ok but I confess they don’t call to me as many other subjects might.

I looked out the window and saw this scene and decided to do a quick rendition of it.  A few light pencil lines in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook to define rooflines, building edge and a couple lines to indicate where the main tree trunks were done before I turned to my Namiki Falcon with De Atramentis Document ink.  According to my wife it looks better than the real thing.  I hope she’s right.  One thing is certain.  This is a good example of how trying to do something quickly and drawing all the bricks is a bad combination (grin).

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

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


Odd Little Guy From Greek Theatre

When I think of “Greek theatre” what comes to mind are large, outdoor stages with row after row of seats carved from rock, creating an amphitheatre of sorts.  I don’t know if this is because of something I was told in high school or something I’ve seen at some point in my life.  Truth is, I know nothing of Greek theatre.

Votive, head about 6" tall

Votive, head about 6″ tall

The big exhibit at our civilisation museum is all about Greek gods and statues, but there’s one section dedicated to Greek theatre.  What I find odd about it is that most of the “masks” are referred to as ‘votives’ and they’re all far too small for anyone to wear.  They have eye holes and the mouths are a gaping hole in the face, just as a mask might be.  I assume they may have actually held a candle and that’s why they’re labelled as votives.

Interspersed amount the theatre objects are a bunch of small statues that I can’t even imagine a use for in live theatre and no explanation is provided.  They’re all just a few inches tall and their mouths are, like the votives, hollowed out.  Maybe they were popcorn butter dispensers.

Each is mounted on a brass rod for display, but whether this is the way they were originally displayed is unclear.

In any case, I drew this one.  I used Strathmore “toned gray” paper and drew it with a Pilot Falcon filled with De Atramentis Document Black ink.  As the statue was made from a tan clay, I used watercolor pencil to generate some brown tones.  That was probably a mistake as this paper didn’t take kindly to my use of a waterbrush to spread the watercolor.

Little theatre guy (Strathmore toned gray paper, De Atramentis Document Black ink)

Little theatre guy (Strathmore toned gray paper, De Atramentis Document Black ink)

Sketching At The Canadian Aviation And Space Museum

20141201_AirMuseum_smWhen I was in science I used to visit the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum regularly.  It wasn’t because I was in science but rather because I’m an airplane fanatic airplanes and I worked at a research lab that was only a 90-minute drive to the museum.

I mention this because I’ve been sketching for three years and until Dec 01, 2014, I had never drawn a single airplane, in spite of my passion for them.  Why?  Cuz I can’t get excited about drawing from photos and there isn’t much airplane activity in Quebec City.

But now that my daughter is living in Ottawa, I have an excuse to go there so I finally got to sketch at this museum.  It’s a museum of significant size… airplanes are big and they have dozens of them under their roofs.  The main building (photo) is quite large and there’s an equal-sized building just to the right of the photo.  Both are packed to the gills with airplanes.  It’s a wonderful place, at least I think so.  Besides, if you’re old like me you can get in for $10 and they let you sketch to your hearts content.

I showed up shortly after opening time – at 10:30 and I quickly found a spot and started sketching.  I was in ‘detail’ mode that day, which meant I was concentrating hard on proper shape and proportion as, well, you know – airplanes are just supposed to be drawn “right”, don’tcha think?  You would if you were an airplane fanatic like I am.  Anyways, I used a pencil to draw the large shapes and then moved to my Pilot Falcon filled with DeAtramentis Black.  I was working in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook – my favorite working surface.

Curtiss Seagull

Curtiss Seagull (in Stillman & Birn Alpha 10×7 sketchbook, Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Black ink)

I spent about one and a half hours getting the ink done and then took a break to have some coffee and relax.  While I was in the restaurant I added the color (Daniel Smith) to the sketch.  I was pretty pleased with the results but also a bit fatigued so I kicked back, enjoyed the coffee, which was no longer hot, and then spent a few minutes wandering around the museum.

It was almost 12:30 by the time I decided to draw this T-33.  It’s always been a favorite and I could sit in an out of the way place and draw.  I needed to get on the road back to Quebec City by 1:30 so I quickly laid out some shapes and guidelines and went to work with my pen.  By 1:30 I had created this sketch and decided I’d better add color when I got home so I snapped a couple photos for reference.

T33 sketch with inspiration

T33 sketch with inspiration

I’m really bad about adding color to sketches and have a lot of them that ‘I’ll color it later’ never happened.  This was, almost, one of those sketches as I forgot all about it until I started to do this blog post.  Here’s the sketch with some color added.  I can’t wait to return to that museum.  Did I mention that I like airplanes (grin)?

T-33 (Stillman & Birn Alpha 10x7, Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Black ink)

T-33 (Stillman & Birn Alpha 10×7, Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Black ink)