Sketching A Kid’s Puzzle

You know those puzzles we had when we were kids?  They were cut from wood and had no more than half a dozen pieces, which matched with our little hands and puzzle-making abilities when were three.  Well, it seems, I drew one.

Not really.  In reality I was standing at the end of St. Denis street in Quebec City, looking up the hill at the depicted scene.  What was different was that I decided to paint it as a bunch of interlocking shapes.  As a basis for this I drew, in pencil, a very light box around the building and then drew boxes where the windows rested.

Then I grabbed a paint brush, a scary instrument in my hands.  You see, I’m trying to figure out a few things with watercolors.  I’m trying to figure out how to mix paints thicker than the pastel-like colors we beginners often use.  Mostly this has resulted in over-kill in my sketches but I’m making progress.  The other thing I’m investigating is whether I can sketch directly with a brush.  This is definitely putting the cart before the horse but it’s become a nothing ventured, nothing gained sort of thing for me.

Anyhow, I became overwhelmed with painting thoughts as I tried to ‘draw’ this with a brush.  I drew each shape, trying to “build the wash” (Holmes-style), avoid any outline effect, and also trying to keep the shape correct.  I was so consumed with those tasks that the thought of actually trying to draw the scene got lost in the shuffle.  After I’d created my kid’s puzzle, I used a pen to draw window frames and such but nothing was going to help this sketch much.  Interesting exercise.  It’s said that we learn from our mistakes.  I must have learned a lot with this one.

A Little Store Called “Ketto”

The heatwave has driven us into the parks because we can sit in the shade.  But before that happened, I’d drawn a little store on the corner of rue Cremazie and rue Cartier in Quebec City and I’d forgotten about it.  I added some color to it this weekend and thought I’d share it as a change of pace from all the trees I’ve been drawing lately (grin).

Jinhao ‘el cheapo’ pen, R&K SketchInk (Lily) and DS watercolors

Sketching With The Artistes Du Parc

Last week Yvan told me of a group, the Artistes du Parc, who were meeting at a large park, Domain Maizeret, and that he was going there to sketch with them.  They are a watercolor group and I tagged along. We had a great time in spite of the heat wave.

When we arrived there was only one person there.  She was painting the large community building that’s the centerpiece of the park.  It turned out that she was the organizer, Denise Bujold.  Denise is a bubbly, enthusiastic person whose personality says “Join us, we’re about to have fun.”  I now have a brochure with a schedule of another half a dozen events that she has planned.  If you look up the word organizer in a dictionary you might find her picture.  Yippee!

Yvan and I did the sketcher thing, which was to wander around, looking for something to draw and then we proceeded to ignore one another for the next hour or so.  I went to the other side of the large building and decided to draw the scene shown below, mostly because there was a good patch of shade where I could plunk my butt on my stool and draw.  Here, courtesy of Denise, is a photo of my fat self doing just that, or rather faking that I was painting because by then I had finished.  I don’t normally have a big, silly grin on my face when I draw but heck, she was taking my picture.  Ya gotta smile for the camera.

I’ve got to do something about that tiny tripod stool though.  It’s really hard for me to sit down and even harder to get up.  I’m convinced that some day I won’t be able to (grin)

 

I did get to meet another person who came to the event, Nicole.  I suspect that most stayed away because this was in the middle of our heatwave and by then we were all hearing about the people dying because of it.  Still, it was a great day and the beginning, I hope, of a new sketching/painting relationship.

Garden Sketching On A Hot Day

I’ve mentioned the heat wave that’s occurring on planet Quebec City and it still rages on.  Yvan and I thought that maybe we should sketch in my backyard, which is shady and close to a fridge full of ice cold water.  This turned out to be a good idea and we had some fun in spite of the heat.  Here’s a sketch I did of part of the perimeter of our yard.  Too many leaves.

Fabriano Artistico, Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis diluted brown/black

Sketching During The Canicule

I’m still trying to integrate my life as a sketcher with my life as a gimpy old man with a bad wrist but I’m finding the problems managable, which makes me happy as a clam.  An arthritic clam for sure, but a happy one.

I just got back from Montreal.  Went there with a friend and thus I didn’t get to sketch at all, but when I got back I contacted my buddy Yvan about sketching.  We decided to head to what was Quebec City’s zoo.  A small portion of it has been turned into a park and we figured we could find some shade there and something to draw.

Shade was more important than subject because we’re in the middle of canicule, the time when we start feeling foolish for having complained so much about the cold.  Called the ‘dog days of summer’ in English, or on the streets, ‘hotter-than-hell,’ this is the time of people go to hospitals with heat exhaustion.  We went sketching.

Truth is, it hasn’t been horrible for us on planet Quebec City because while temps and humidity are very high, we’ve had a nice breeze which has kept conditions tolerable.  Oh, and we had shade, lots of shade.  We decided to draw the entry gate to the park.  It’s a great subject and I didn’t do it justice.

I have to say that I’m out of practice.  While I include my drawing and seeing skills in this mostly I’m talking about my juggling skills.  I only have two hands and a mouth that can sometimes provide hand-like assistance, so drawing and painting while sitting on a stool is a practiced skill.  On this day I was dropping things constantly.  My paper towel blew away several times.  The water spilled.  I knocked my palette off its perch.  But I got to sketch and that’s what was important.  Not my best sketch ever but sketching isn’t about what you produce, or it shouldn’t be.  Here it is, warts and all.

Sketching With The Collectif In Ste-Foy

I’ve mentioned the Collectif before, whose complete name is Collectif des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec because people here love long, impossible to remember names.  They are mostly a portrait group and like nothing more than to sit around a naked person while they draw in a stuffy room.  In recent years, though, they’ve discovered that sketching outdoors is fun, too, and so have started scheduling outdoor events during the summer.

They scheduled an event at a large garden in Ste-Foy, or rather Quebec City.  Which name you use depends on whether you acknowledge the aggregation of the small cities into what now makes up metro-Quebec City.  For me it will always be Ste-Foy though I realize that people reading this blog might be confused by my using the two names to refer to the same place.  Such is life on planet Quebec City.

The garden is a large one but mostly rows and rows of different species of plants, and thus most of it is not the same as a typical botanical garden.  If I knew more about gardens I’d probably know why this is the case.  In any event, it’s a great place to draw flowers but I didn’t do that on this day.  Instead, I drew a small kiosk and the surrounding vegetation.  It was a nice day and the sketching was relaxing.  When I was done I walked around to talk with everyone and to look at what everyone was drawing.  By the time that was done my knee was screaming at me and so I settled for the one sketch for the day.  I hope you like it.

Fabriano Artistico (7.5×11), Pilot Cavalier, R&K Sketch Ink (Lily)

Sketching The Mundane, The Ugly, The Unseen

When I was first learning about urban sketching my mentor (though she didn’t know it) was Cathy Johnson.  I fell in love with her sketches, many of which appeared to me in books by her about nature, historical reinactment, and art books.  Another thing she showed me how interesting and beautiful an artist can make the mundane and ugly.  She’d paint broken down buildings as seen through rusty chain link fence.  She did a sketch of a bridge being torn apart.  And she did these things in a way that made you want to hang them on your living room wall.

I still aspire to have her abilities but one of the great things about being a sketcher is that with only a dollup of persistence you can try and try again.  I’ve spent more than a little time drawing the alleyways of the older parts of Quebec City.  These are cluttered, ill-maintained places that are mostly out of sight and out of mind.  While I may not have Cathy’s expertise, I do have her zeal and I’ve done another alley sketch.  Here it is, warts and all.  I really enjoyed doing it.

Fabriano Artistico (7.5×11), Pilot Cavalier, R&K Sketch Ink (Lily), Daniel Smith watercolor

Are You Bugged By Bugs?

I’m not, but I am bugged by people who call insects bugs (grin).  I spent a good part of my life studying insects so I’m very comfortable around them and them being around me.  I just don’t see them the way most people do.

That said, it wasn’t always so.  Long before I became a biologist my dad moved our family from Ohio to Arizona.  It was great being away from snow, only having to own one set of clothes and not having to worry about what the weather was going to be like every day.  But when the monsoon season, the time that Arizona gets the majority of its very limited rainfall, something happened that upset this bliss.  Derobrachus hovorei appeared.  These “little” guys feed on the roots of Palo Verde trees as larvae but the adults are beetles (3″ long) and they’re powerful flyers.

I’ll never forget my fist encounter with them.  I was a just-barely-a-teenager, minding my business, when one of these things flew right into me.  It fell to the ground and immediately started buzzing.  It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.  Now, a bunch of years later I know that they are harmless nectar feeders with only one thing on their mind – finding a mate, but at the time…

So what does this have to sketching?  Well, Derobrachus hovorei is a Cerambycid beetle, one of around 40,000 species of the Family Cerambycidae that share our planet.  This makes it the largest beetle family and they exhibit a correspondingly large degree of variability, providing an endless set of opportunities as sketching subjects.

See…you knew I’d get there, didn’t you (grin)?  Not only are their sizes and shapes quite varied, many of them look like tiny Christmas tree ornamets because of their bright, often metallic colors.  I just love them, so I drew one just for you.

Sketching At La Maison Provancher

Several months ago members of our sketching group discovered a new winter sketching spot.  It was the home of a well-known Quebec naturalist, but it has become a place where school groups come to learn about nature.  The place is full of stuffed animals, pinned insects, skulls, shells and other representatives of mother nature.

The best part about it is that the kids can handle all these things rather than the typical hands-off policies of such places.  The downside of this, of course, is that many of the specimens aren’t in pristine condition.  The good thing for sketchers is that we can move any of these specimens to a table, set them up as we like, and draw them.

While others in our group have been to this place several times, I’ve always missed out due to doctor’s appointments and bad arthritis days.  But I got to go this week and it was wonderful.  I spent most of my time wandering around, admiring the collections, sort of taking inventory for future trips, but I did finally sit down and got acquainted with a beaver.  It’s sure good to be drawing on location again.

What Is It That Bugs You?

What bugs me is people using the word “bug” to describe any old insect that crosses their path.  There are bugs in our world so if you’re talking about leaf hoppers or stink bugs as “bugs,” you’re not out of line.  Ants, wasps, beetles and moths, however… not bugs.

Anyway, I went bug insect drawing the other day.  It was at a small exhibition here in Quebec City.  I joined Yvan and Claudette and most of what we were drawing was a display of pinned/boxed specimens.   My first thoughts upon arriving was that this was less than ideal but as it turned out, there was some sort of ying/yang thing going on that created an event that was more than the sum of its parts.

The displays dictated that you draw while looking at the insect from above and pinned specimens are often not oriented in a natural pose.  But insects have such varied morphology that you immediately get sucked into their shapes and colors if you’re a sketcher.  And so it was as we drew these tiny works of functional art.

I started by shunning the boxed insects, drawing instead from huge photographs.  That was fun and challenging because I struggle with drawing from photographs for some reason.  I stood the entire time, which wasn’t good for my gimpy leg but maybe it was good exercise.  I try to convince myself of all sorts of things that may or may not be true (grin).

Eventually, though, I decided to try my hand at a more technical drawing of one of the large Cerambycid beetles on display.  This is when I really got enthused by the process.  Just me and my pen, trying to “keep it clean, precise and accurate.”  What a thrill as my mind buried itself in the task.  Everything except that beetle disappeared and I just drew.  I need to go back and do more of this.  I must.