Museum Sketching – A Location Sketcher’s Winter Salvation

Last summer was my first as a location sketcher – actually it was my first summer as any kind of sketcher.  I fell in love with the process and excitement of being out on the street, soaking up the sun and ambiance while sketching.  Quickly the early fears I had about people talking to me became one of the joys of the sketching experience.

And so I faced winter somewhat depressed as it becomes too cold for man nor beast to be on the streets of Quebec and I thought I’d have to do my sketching at home, in my office.  That has never interested me much, but then a couple fellow sketchers said, “We sometimes sketch at the museum – want to come?” and my world changed overnight.

I got a permit to sketch at the art museum.  I became a member of our Musee de la Civilisation, which also gave me access three other, smaller museums.  And I’ve met new people, had new challenges, experimented with new materials and learned a lot about seeing complex objects while drawing same with minimal equipment.  I’m sketching as much this winter as I did during summer.  The subjects have changed, but I feed my desire to sketch real things, in real time, without having to resort to drawing my spatula and coffee cup (grin).

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If that weren’t enough, Yvan Breton has become a good friend who is an architect and long-time artist.  He’s become both a companion when I sketch and my mentor.  His style and mine are quite different but he’s taught me more in the past couple months than I learned in my entire first year of sketching.  I confess that all the information he’s provided has my poor old brain scattered and flailing to keep up with all the ‘gotta try that…’ feelings I’m having right now but hey, that’s part of the fun.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler's Lex Gray.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler’s Lex Gray. Partially sketched while Yvan was sketching me.

The sketch above is of me, by Yvan.  He did this “quick sketch” while I was sketching in the Nigeria exhibit at the museum last Tuesday.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

I’ll complete this post by showing you several of the sketches I’ve had opportunity to do in the last week.  I think you’ll agree that the variety is far greater than my summer sketches, which are mostly buildings – my first love.

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

While we’ve sketched some of the Nigerian exhibit already, we’re starting to spend more time there because the Samurai exhibit is leaving on Sunday.  The funny thing about the Nigerian exhibit is that it’s full of great items to sketch but, it seems, they don’t become ‘great’ until you actually start looking at them as a sketching subject.  One is deceived by a walk-around in the exhibit and you conclude the items are a bunch of very similar, primitive sculptures.  Primitive yes, similar, not so much.  So many shapes, so many surfaces.  Wow!

2013-02-10GenghisKhanWe spent last Sunday at the Musee de Amerique Francais, where I sketched Genghis Khan, or at least a mannequin wearing the Genghis Khan suit used in the movie Night at the Museum.  This was done in a Strathmore 400 “gray” sketchbook using Noodler’s Brown in a Pilot Prera.  Lots of fun, though all those squares drove me nuts.

2013-02-10CirqueSoleilHeadsWhen I was done, I turned my attention to some large paper mache heads used by the Cirque de Soleil in their show.  These were ‘I gotta draw those’ subjects but I approached them with some trepidation.  In the end they were lots of fun.  Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils for this one.

2013-02-13Samourai700I’ll conclude by sharing my full Samurai suit sketch.  I’d promised myself that I’d do one before the exhibit left… just as soon as my skills began to match the amazing subjects.  I didn’t quite make it on the skills end but, before the exhibit leaves on Sunday, I did sketch this one.  I apologize for the absolutely weird positioning of the mannequin.  That’s not me distorting it; that’s how they had it positioned.  All of them were somewhat unnatural in their orientations in my opinion.  This one done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

If you scroll back through the blog you’ll find lots of Samurai helmets, sketches of Joe Fafard sculptures, other Nigerian masks, and other stuff.  Museum sketching is really fun.  If you haven’t already, give it a try.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Why Am I Such A Loyal Goulet Pens Customer?

I tell everyone who will listen how great Goulet Pens is as a company.  They’re great people.  They have a fantastic website with more info about pens than any other site.  They stock a huge array of inks, pens and papers.  And they ship everything at reasonable prices, wrapped as though they were sending it into a war zone.  What more could you ask for in a company.

But there’s another reason and you can see it here:

This video hit my inbox as part of the Goulet Pens newsletter and five minutes later I was in my shop, my Prera disassembled, and the ink cleaned out of the cap. I love my Preras but the one problem was with ink in the cap of my demonstrator. Problem gone. Thanks Brian… again.

Cheers — Larry

Pilot Metropolitan from Goulet Pens

GouletPkgIs there a better online company than Goulet Pens?  Their service is simply amazing.  No, it’s unbelievable.  I ordered a $15 pen from them.  This is what I got in the mail today.

The Pilot Metropolitan came in the typical (as in nice) Pilot box.  They also sent me a business card, a bookmark, and a lollipop.  A lollipop… can you believe it?  And Alex wrote a nice note, in impeccable handwriting, and he used Noodlers 54th Massachusetts ink, the new bulletproof ink that Nathan Tardiff has brewed up.  All this and I only bought a $15 pen.  Thanks Goulet Pens.  You are the online seller to which all others are compared.

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Comparison between Lamy Al-Star (top), Pilot Metropolitan, and Pilot Prera (bottom)

So, with lollipop in mouth, I opened up my Pilot Metropolitan.  It came with a Pilot CON-20 “squeeze” converter and a cartridge.  I’m not a fan of these rubber converters and didn’t have a CON-50 on hand but I did have some empty cartridges so I filled one with Noodler’s Lexington Gray, my favorite sketching ink, and the pen was ready to go.

Everyone is talking about these pens, saying they’re a lot of bang for the buck.  My go to sketching pen is a Pilot Prera (F) because I love its fine line and great features.  Sometimes, though, I need a slightly thicker line in some sketches and I thought the Metropolitan might serve that purpose as it is a Pilot medium nib which is similar to a Lamy fine nib.  I was right.

Metro

Posted it’s just slightly longer than my posted Pilot Prera.

The pen balances well even when posted and it’s comfortable in my hand.  Before now, I’ve used Lamy Safaris when I needed a thicker line.  They’re fine but they’re sufficiently different from the Prera in balance and size that I don’t like switching between them.  The Metropolitan makes this switch much easier.

In my opinion, this pen lives up to all the laudatory things that have been said about it.  It looks good and it’s smooth, at least on Rhodia notepad paper and my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  I don’t know how Pilot can produce such quality for $15 but I’m sure glad they did.  I drew this little sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (4×6) to let you see how the Metropolitan pen lines look in a simple sketch.

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My New Favorite Sketching Pen: The Pilot Prera

I’ve been married for 23 years.  Aside from my winning personality and my wife’s infinite patience and tolerance, there is one reason why this is so.  I’m not nearly as fickle about women as I am about fountain pens.  Once I found a wife that would tolerate me, even my cooking, I held on for dear life.  Not so my choice of fountain pens.

I’m new to journal sketching but not to fountain pens.  I’ve been using the later since high school, long enough ago that events of the time are showing up in history books.  But I’ve only been sketching for three months.  When I started my favorite pen for sketching was the Lamy Safari.  Inexpensive, more reliable than any other, and you can get it in a variety of colors for color-coding the inks you’re using.

Since October, however, I’ve purchased a Kaweco All-Sport, a really fine, tiny (short word for great portable sketch kit pen) reliable line-producer.  Not quite as fine a line as the Lamy but still a great pen.

Then I chased the notion of a “flex pen.”  I had nothing but trouble with my standard Noodler’s flex and while I’ve also had a few glitches with my Noodler’s Ahab, it’s a pretty nice sketching pen as well.  I have a hard time getting as thin a line as I’d like, however.

And so my quest continued.  At each of these junctures I returned to my Lamy but I was determined to find a fountain pen that would draw as fine a line as a Pigma Micron 01.  I avoid disposable pens; there are simply too many billions of them floating in the Atlantic for me to want to add to the pile.

And so it was when I sent off a paltry sum for a Pilot 78G.  In fact, I bought two of them because they were so cheap.  When they arrived I was impressed.  The 78G  produces a very fine line – just what I was after.  Using either Noodler’s Lexington Gray (my favorite waterproof sketching ink) or Platinum Carbon Black, the Pilot 78G writes very dry.  I wouldn’t say it skips on me as that wouldn’t be true, but it sure feels like it’s about to when I use it, particularly if I start cross-hatching.  The 78G is also an opaque body pen so I can’t see how much ink you’ve got which is a problem for me as I want to take itto do field sketching.  It doesn’t come with a converter so you have to add $6-7 to the price to get one (The Con-50 fits it).  I found the cap threads to be sloppy and some have reported the cap coming off.  Mine have certainly loosened on their own.

And so it was that I decided to bite the bullet and send my $50+ to Goulet Pens for a Pilot Prelude.  Of the pens I’ve mentioned, this is the most expensive.  And now that I’ve had it for a couple days I feel it’s worth the price.  Most say that the nib on the 78G and the Prera are the same.  I sure can’t see a visible difference except that the 78G is gold-plated.  But when I put them to paper, my Prera is much smoother than my 78Gs.  I leave it to pen experts to debate such things, though.

The Prera is much more solid in my hand than the 78G, which feels like the ultra-cheap pen that it is.  Some say the Prera is ‘too small’ but I’m a pretty big guy and find that with the cap posted, it feels very good in my hands.  I bought one of the “demonstrator” models to get a clear pen body, though Pilot is wise in coloring both ends of these pens so some ability to color-code multiple pens is still a possibility.  The Prera comes with a converter so there’s no extra purchase necessary.  At this point I’ve only put Noodler’s Lexington Gray through it and the Prera likes it just fine, whether I’m writing on Clairfontaine paper or drawing on watercolor paper.  It’s my new favorite pen.

So if you’re looking for a truly ‘fine’ line you could do worse than to look at Pilot pens.  A price comparison between the Prera and 78G favors the 78G  but the price you pay for cheap is significant in my opinion.

78G:  $14 + $7 for converter = $21 from Jet Pens

Prera:   $55 (clear models) from Goulet Pens and doing business with Rachel and Brian is priceless.

 

 

Why I’m A Loyal Goulet Pens Customer

Are you loyal to ANY store?  I don’t mean that it’s the first place you go to buy something because they have a large selection.  I mean, are you loyal enough to a store that you go out of your way to buy from them because you want them to grow and be successful?

I’ve watched as the retail industry has become more and more nonchalant about customer service.  I’m regularly frustrated by stores with clerks who know nothing of the products they sell, online sellers who charge outrageous amounts for shipping and won’t answer emails.  I had a local bookstore owner tell me he had to let one of his favorite (among customers) clerks go because ‘she spent too much time talking with customers.’

And that’s why I’m so loyal to Brian and Rachel Goulet of Goulet Pens.  They’re SO different in this regard.  I thought I’d tell you about an email dialog I just had with Brian as just one example of how different they are from the rest.

I wanted a bottle of Platinum Carbon Black ink.  Goulet Pens indicates on their website that they are out of stock and so I wrote to Brian (who doesn’t know me at all) and asked, “Will you be getting any PCB in stock anytime soon?”

He wrote back, knowing it would not make him a sale because he had to say, “Our order has been back ordered for a loooonng time….”  He went on to say “You should buy it wherever you can find it as PCB is in short supply right now.”  I thanked him for his quick response, which had come within an hour or two of my email.

He wrote back later telling me that they had one “sample” left in stock.  One of the great things GP does is make samples of all their inks available.   Now you could interpret this as him taking an opportunity to sell me something.  This sample sells for the vast sum of $1.75 and I’m sure most of that goes into the labor of creating the sample.  No, he was just trying to be helpful.

But, that’s not all.  Even later he wrote back to me and said, “I just got notice that our order has been back-ordered yet again.  I thought you should know.”  Again, no potential for a sale of any kind but he took the time to write and tell me that.  Do you know any other business who would do this sort of thing?  I sure don’t.

So, what did I do.   I ordered that sample, and two pens.  Thanks Brian and Rachel.  You’re the best.  Oh…before I go I should mention that all this occurred one day before Rachel gave birth to the cutest little girl you’d ever want to meet.  Her name is Ellie.  Visit her here.

 

What’s an Eye-dropper Pen?

Several people have asked, in response to my post titled My Ideal Idea Book: What’s Yours post, what an eye-dropper pen was and how to make one.  I dropped the reference into that post without realizing that I was talking to people who don’t hang out in the fountain pen world and I apologize for not providing a more complete explanation.

The typical, modern fountain pen uses an ink cartridge.  These are convenient, but they do have a few drawbacks.  They contain very little ink, typically half a milliliter or less.  You are also limited by the colors and kinds of ink available in cartridge form.  Cartridges are also the most expensive way to feed a fountain pen.

So, many people replace the cartridge with a converter that allows you to suck up ink from a bottle and so your choices improve and your costs drop considerably.

What is not solved by this approach is the amount of ink stored in the pen.  But, what if you could fill up the entire barrel of the pen with ink?  A $3-4 Preppy pen barrel will hold 4-4.5 milliliters, or about nine times as much ink as is contained in a cartridge.

And so the “eyedropper pen” is born, taking its name from the way you fill the barrel of the pen – with an eyedropper.  Here is my editing pen.  Everyone knows that editors use a lot of red ink so it’s a natural for eyedropper pen conversion.

To do the conversion you need several things:

1) A pen that has no holes in its barrel.

The popular Lamy Safari is an example of a pen that won’t work without modification as there are large holes so you can see how much ink is left in your cartridge.

2) small rubber washers

You can buy these at Home Depot but what they have available are thicker than is generally desireable.  While they will work, they create an unsightly lump along the body of the pen.  I bought a bunch of proper-size washers from Goulet Pens for a buck.  These are very thin and don’t protrude once you close up the pen.

3) silicone grease

Some say you don’t need this.  When it comes to ink I want everything I can get  between it and my fingers.  This grease comes from Goulet Pens as well.  Might cost $1.50 for a lifetime supply of the stuff.

4) a few seconds of your time

I mention this only to emphasize how easy it is.  Here’s what you do:

1) open up the pen, discarding the cartridge

2) slide a washer onto the threaded portion of the pen, seating it where the barrel and pen head come together.

3) coat the threads with a small amount of silicone grease.  Less is more in this case.

4) fill the barrel with your favorite ink.

5) Put the pen down so you don’t poke yourself when you pat yourself on the back.

It’s quite likely that you’ll have to wait a bit for the ink to find its way up the feed and to the nib.  If you need to write immediately you can just dip the nib into the ink bottle to get things started.