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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
#oneweek100people2018 – It occurs to me that my attempts to ‘catch up’ after missing the first two days of this five day challenge is becoming a “how can Larry embarrass himself further?” affair. So be it. I’m scrambling for numbers and it seems almost comical how I’m stumbling to the finish line of this challenge.
I woke this morning determined to get from 42 (done yesterday) to 70 or so to give myself a chance to complete the challenge on Friday. I started today’s activities by ‘experimenting’ with the notion of doing a bunch of people direct with watercolor. These were done on a 5×7 piece of watercolor paper. What I learned is that I don’t know how but I’m going to count the eight little people I did during this experiment. Once this challenge is over I’ll continue this experiment and maybe, after a few hundred of them, I’ll figure out how to paint people.
Since that wasn’t going to work for me I grabbed a sketchbook, a Pilot parallel pen, and a Pilot Metropolitan and I headed to the coffee shop. There is a bus stop across the street so I figured I could sit in the coffee shop window and have lots of ‘targets.’ A couple things were wrong with that idea.
The first problem is that I was reminded that if a large truck gets between me and my subject, I have a hard time drawing that subject. And, it seemed, every time the street light changed, a large truck had to stop – right in front of the people waiting at the bus stop. This slowed progress considerably, but I was enjoying a nice coffee so my patience, while challenged, was sufficient.
I was sketching along with the parallel pen when it ran out of ink. No big deal; I just switched to the Metropolitan. I like the Metropolitan and don’t use it enough. I was sketching along, though visibility was becoming reduced by a blizzard and the fact that people waiting for the bus started huddling inside the bus stop cubicle. Then my Metropolitan ran out of ink. This pen sits on my desk at home and I realized that it had been a long time since I’d checked its ink load. My sketching session was over for the day.
The 25 people I had scribbled brought my total for the week to 75 so I do have a chance to make it to 100 if I can get out an about tomorrow. Sorry for the sad lot of kinda-sorta-maybe people on display here.
It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year. I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less. I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.
Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing. This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo. My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building. The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.
Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it. I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’
I’ve talked about how I carry my stuff and what pointy devices I use. What remains to be discussed are the substrates and supports for them, or more simply paper. My early thought was to discuss how I make my choices, but quickly that idea became more book-size than blog-size and so I’m limiting this to a more simple presentation of what I use. Maybe, in the future, discussions of why can take place.
I like to have several sizes of sketchbooks available to me but this conflicts with my desire to not have too many of them ‘in progress’ at the same time so sketchbook management is a constant struggle.
This photo represents the size variation I like. The large one in the back is a Stillman & Birn 8×10 Beta, the small red one is a Field Notes notebook, the landscape 9×6 is Stillman & Birn Alpha, and the other one is a 4×6 book, also from Field Notes.
When it comes to convenience at the drawing stage, there is nothing better than working with single sheets as it allows me to switch paper types and sizes, work without the constraints of sketchbook covers, and single sheets are very light. This approach is less useful when you want to hand a sketchbook to someone who comes up to you on the street and is interested in what you do.
My approach to using single sheets takes two forms. The first is to use a magnet board. The base of mine is very thin plywood and the metal surface came from a small magnetic board sold at the dollar store. All I did was remove the frame from the dollar store board and glue the metal sheet, with contact cement, to the wood. I rounded the corners to make it easier to slide in/out of my bag. The magnets are rare earth magnets. This approach allows me to quickly attach any paper and, because it’s very light, it’s easier to hold than any sketchbook. It has the added advantage that I can attach my palette to it with magnets too.
The other way I use single sheets is an idea from Marc Taro Holmes and one I use when I want to use first-class watercolor paper (Fabriano Artistico). I take sheets and tape them to Coroplast, sometimes on both sides. Coroplast is so light that I can carry 3-4 sheets without any appreciable weight added to my bag and they’re a dream to work on because they are so light.
This brings me to the end of this series. I do have a sense that I’ve left a lot out of the discussion by not spending time talking about why I use what I use so if you have questions, feel free to ask. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into location sketching – Larry style.