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

Drawing Lights In A Dark Room

There’s a new exhibit at Quebec City’s Musée de la civilisation.  It’s thirteen gorgeous carriages and sleighs from a large collection.  They are amazing examples of transportation from times past… all crammed into a room where, apparently, someone forgot to pay the light bill.

I understand the crowding problem.  These things are very large objects and displaying them indoors requires a LOT of space.  It’s also the case that it’s not the museum’s prime directive to provide enough space for artists to get back to a proper viewing angle for drawing.  I get that, and some imagination is going to be required to capture these objects on paper.

But why does it have to be so dark?  It’s so dark that it’s hard to see the details.  I had to get up regularly to look at what I was sketching to see its construction.  The fact that many of them are black makes this even more difficult.  It will be a challenge and doesn’t do justice to the objects.

I spent most of my first sketching session in this exhibit just looking.  The carriages are amazing and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the different ways the undercarriages were designed and built.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

I don’t know if it was because it was so dark or something else but I was drawn to the lights on some of these carriages, which were much more than lights; they were works of art unto themselves.  I drew two of them.  Hope you like them.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Even The Plants Stay Indoors

In Quebec City, if you want to see growing, green, happy plants at this time of year, you’ve got to look for them inside and that’s exactly what Claudette, Yvan and I did on Tuesday.  Claudette had a connection at one of the largest plant stores in the city and arranged for us to spend a couple hours sketching there.


So I don’t get caught up in the “was he really there?” disease that has hit Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly recently, here’s a photo, taken by Yvan, of me sketching up a storm.  Well, not really – I was actually sketching cactus but a guy’s got to exaggerate occasionally or he wouldn’t be a guy.  Note that, even indoors, I had my coat on.  And here’s the result of that old man scrubbing an Escoda travel brush over some Stillman & Birn paper.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

After a short break I went hunting for something else to sketch.  Lots of targets but eventually I chose this guy… wouldn’t you?  I really wanted to buy him and take him home to our garden but as it’s under a mountain of snow, and I don’t really like gardens much, I decided the sketch would suffice.

Stillman & BIrn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & BIrn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

In spite of the bitter cold outside, we had a great sketching day.  I think the plants enjoyed the attention we gave them too.




Sketchcrawl With Le Collectif

Quebec’s Collectif mostly organizes life drawing and portraiture workshops,  but it does, occasionally organize sketchcrawls.  One such event took place last weekend when we all showed up at the Place Royale Information Center to sketch in its small museum.

This museum is mostly full of artifacts dug up during archeological exploration of Quebec’s old port area but the basement contains a couple rooms containing kitchen and bedroom furniture, as well as a large collection of traditional clothing.  I’m a sucker for old wood and so I ended up there, where I sketched an old kitchen cabinet and a butter churn.

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

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

I took a short break and then turned my attention to a pre-digital age way of having fun, when imagination was the currency.  I’d suggest I’m old enough to remember these but this one has wheels, which were invented about the time I was finishing up high school so that would be a lie.

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

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

We finished up the day comparing sketches over a nice lunch.  It was a great day.