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.

Sketching At The Cafe Au Temps Perdu

Claudette and I decided to meet at the Café au temps perdu to draw people.  Literally translated, the name of this place means Lost Time Cafe, which probably is a subliminal message from those who say that doing anything that doesn’t make money is a waste of time.  But on this day, maybe it was a warning.

We arrived just after 9:30 to find the place closed.  What kind of coffee place doesn’t open until 10AM?  We got lucky and the woman running the place let us in early.  We got coffee and set up with a good view of the place, anticipating the throngs of people who inhabit coffee shops every morning.

But they never came.  Not one.  Nobody.  Besides us, the only person in the place was the woman who let us in and she was running around, placing silverware, placemats and menus on the tables and restocking the bar.

Yes, I did say bar.  As it turns out, Café au temps perdu is a bar/restaurant more than it is a coffee house.  A few people did straggle in about 11:30, as we were getting ready to leave.  They were ready for lunch.

So, what do you do when your subject doesn’t show up?  You switch subjects, of course.  After drinking our coffee and kibbitzing about coffee shops that aren’t, I drew this and we had fun anyway.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Sailor fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook, Sailor fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black

Sketching In A Baron Fig Apprentice Notebook

One of the highlights of this otherwise miserable winter was taking Marc Taro Holme’s People in Motion class.  During the class Marc suggests that you get a small, cheap notebook and sketch in it constantly.  He recommends the Moleskine Cahier (same paper as the Moleskine notebooks but without the hard cover).

I think the idea of a small, cheap notebook that facilitates sketching everywhere and all the time is a great one.  On recommendation from my mentor and buddy, Yvan Breton, I’ve been doing this for a couple years and it’s done more for my ability to draw than anything else I do.

What I hadn’t tried was the Moleskine Cahier so I bought some.  They come in a 3-pack for about $12 around here.  I was very disappointed because of bleed-through and lots of ghosting when I used my fountain pens.  I complained about this here, and included a bunch of sketches to illustrate the problems.

But what I really did like about these little books was how small they were.  My typical small book has a hard cover and 96 cheap-paper pages.  These books are 5.5 x 3.5 x 0.5″ while the Cahiers are only 48 pages with a thick paper cover and are thus about 1/8″ thick.  Very portable, very light in the hand.  If only….

There are alternatives and I’ve been trying them.  Tina Koyama motivated me to try Baron Fig‘s notebooks, and I think I might be falling in love with their little Apprentice notebooks.

While the typical small notebook is 3.5″ x 5.5″, the Baron Fig is 3.5″ x 5″.  When I received them this threw me off a bit as I was more used to the other size but now that I’ve used it a bit I find that I actually prefer it.  It fits my hand better and certainly fits in a pocket more easily.  Size does matter.

Baron Fig

The books are 48-pages of white (an improvement over Moleskine) paper and cardstock cover.  They are stitch-bound rather than stapled like most of their competition.  It’s a nice touch and the stitching is perfect.

While they can be had with lines, grid or blank paper, I bought a pack of their standard gray notebooks (3 per pack) and a pack of their “limited edition” Time Travel series.  They cost only $10 per pack so, $3.33 per notebook.  Not bad even if you do use a lot of them.

All this is great but the proof is in how they handle ink.  For me that means fountain pen ink.  Typically I use fine nib pens in my small notebooks because of the small format and a side benefit is that it places lower demands on the paper when it comes to bleed-through and ghosting.

But what happens if you do use a lot of ink on Baron Fig paper?  The results are better than I thought.  I decided to try Tina Koyama’s favorite pen, the Sailor Fude pen.  This pen can lay down a lot of ink or a little ink depending on the nib angle.  Here’s the result of this experiment.


Baron Fig Apprentice, Sailor Fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black

Of course the “proof in the puddin” is to look at the back of this sketch.  Here it is (on the left):


As you can see, there is some ghosting but not much in the way of bleed-through.  We’re not talking about doing drawings that you’re going to frame so, to me, this is acceptable.  The sketch on the right was done with a Namiki Falcon SEF.  This is my typical nib size for these and the ghosting on the back of this sketch is negligible.

But what if you wanted to use the Sailor pen and also wanted to draw on that ghosted page?  Could you do it?  Sure, the ghosting wouldn’t distract from your sketching.  It might, however, not look as nice as you’d like when you scanned it to send it to your favorite social media group.  But, with the magic of Photoshop (or some other graphics program), you can easily remove this ghosting so that it looks like this:


These results are the same as I’ve gotten from the paper in my cheap hardcover books so I’m thrilled and the paper in the Baron Fig as it looks better and feels better.

My cheap book sketches rarely see any color, simply because I’m generating lots of sketches as I wander through my day and so there’s no time for color.  But, for this post I decided to add a bit of color to see how that worked.  I kept the washes light and didn’t expect to move them around much.  I was surprised at how well it worked.


Baron Fig Apprentice, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

This is definitely not watercolor paper but I was happy with the results.  This does increase the ghosting a little bit but surprisingly little, as long as you wait for the paper to dry.  This definitely opens the door for me to use my gray and brown waterbrushes to shade drawings on the fly.  If you’re looking for a small, very portable, sketchbook solution, the Baron Fig Apprentice might be what you need.