Sketching Ocimum basilicum

Today I drew our Ocimum basilicum plant.  Sweet Basil is a one of my favorite herbs.  Did you know that it’s related to mint?  And while it tastes just dandy, it’s those big, puffy leaves that cause sketchers to be drawn to it.

There’s not much to say about this sketch.  I sat on our deck and drew it.  Not a big drawing (about 4″x4″) but I did switch pens.  Instead of my fine nib fountain pens, I chose an old Hero fude pen just for a change.


The Sketches That Don’t Get Posted

I’ve never done a count but I think that I post less than 50% of the sketches that I do.  I know this is true if I include my constant doodling.  Sketching is about learning to see, hand-eye coordination and building a vocabulary to turn 3D images into 2D sketches.  While stated often by experts, I think most want to believe that there’s some way to get past the need to practice, practice, practice.

Because of this constant sketching I generally have sketches to post but, right now, I’m sick.  Mr. Flu came to visit our house and I’ve spent the last few days staring at Olympics and debating whether living or dying was the best course of action.  Such is the nature of Mr. Flu.  Because of this, I haven’t done much sketching.

But this morning I read a great post by Tina Koyama.  She came across a couple of her sketches that she’d forgotten about and decided to share.  They were great and appreciated that she took the time to post them.

Her post made me think of all the sketches that never see the light of day and gave me an idea.   In defiance of Mr. Flu, I offer this little doodle I did while looking out the window at three people who were walking slowly down the sidewalk in front of our house.  No big deal and the middle guy’s head seems too large to me, but heck, it’s not bad given that I had a 102F temperature at the time.

Canson Ingres paper, Hero 578 pen

Canson Ingres paper, Hero 578 pen

The Power of the Hero “bent-nib” Pen

Some sketchers love watercolors.  Others are passionate about line.  And, of course, there are those who do a combination of the two, with varying emphasis on one or the other.

For myself, if I had to do one or the other, line work, particularly that made by fountain pen, would be my choice.  My use of watercolor is similar to what I did with crayons when I was a kid – I “color” inside the lines.

My lines tend to be thin and my favorite pens are those that produce them.  Pens like the Pilot 78G, Pilot Prera, and Platinum Carbon pen are among my favorites.  My TWSBI Mini produces a slightly heavier line but even it is finer than the typical “medium nib” pen.

One intriguing exception in my personal fountain pen mountain (and I swear that I need them all) are my Hero “calligraphy” pens.  Some call them “bent nib” pens.  The “calligraphy” moniker is misleading for western-worlders as they don’t work at all like western calligraphy pens but are, rather, designed for writing Chinese characters.  You affect line width by varying the pen angle rather than pen direction as with a western calligraphy pen.

There are several companies that produce them but Hero is the company that seems to make the largest number of models.  They are available in North America for not much money via eBay but one must be careful to ensure you’re getting a calligraphy pen as Hero makes standard fountain pens as well.

Hero 578 fountain pen.  Note bent tip.

Hero 578 fountain pen. Note bent tip.

I have several of them and I’ve played with them some but have never taken them seriously.  I’ve decided to change that and really learn to use them.  To me, their big advantage is the ability to generate very wide lines as well as fine ones, permitting the creation of larger dark areas in a pen sketch.  Their downside is that I can’t get as fine a line as I can from some of the other pens I’ve mentioned.

I was out the other day and I did this quick sketch from the 2nd floor dining area of our downtown McDonalds.  You can see how even an inexperienced person like myself can generate high contrast sketches using the pen.  Here I’m using a Hero 578, which is a fairly heavy pen but I like how it feels in my hand.

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (4x6), Hero 578, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (4×6), Hero 578, Platinum Carbon Black

Later, while at the Musée d’Amerique Français I sat in a comfy chair, looked out the window and sketched this portion of one of the seminary buildings.

The folks who have the most experience with these pens are the Singapore urban sketchers.  Maybe with some practice I can begin to emulate them.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4x6), Hero 578, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), Hero 578, Platinum Carbon Black


Cool Spring Sketching Isn’t So Cool: It’s Cold!

I’m so excited that it’s finally spring in Quebec City.  I got interested in sketching last fall, just before it started getting cold here, and so I’ve been trying to get out sketching as often as I can.  I may be premature in that because Quebec spring is still pretty cool, and often windy.

A few days ago when I’d made the decision to go sketching.  The temps were just above freezing and it was quite breezy.  But I went anyway.  I headed downtown, looking for something to sketch, my face and ears screaming “Are you nuts?” to my stubborn sketcher brain, as the wind defoliated my skin.

I set up next to a wall that blocked most of the wind. It was across the street from a dental clinic that seemed worthy of sketching.

I start these sketches with pencil and  I have two goals.  I want to get the perspective right and I want to locate all the foreground thingies that determine where the background lines start and stop.  I don’t worry about drawing the details at this point, but I’m slow enough as a newbie sketcher that this takes me longer than it does for most sketchers.  I’d been sitting for about 45 minutes and I was beginning to empathize with popsicles and dream of fireplaces.  I called it a day, packed up, and went home.  This was the state of the sketch at that point.

Later, in the warmth of my home, I inked (Hero Calligraphy pen w/Platinum Carbon Black ink) the sketch, added some details, and used Winsor & Newton Artist watercolors to give it some color.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the more I use it, the more I’m enjoying my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha.  I’ve been using Alpha’s for a while now and love them and spiral format is really convenient for outdoor sketching…even when it’s cold.

I went out this morning to sketch some more.  I headed to the marina, expecting that some of the winterized sailboats would be back in the water.  It was spring, afterall.  Turned out that, once again, I had been overly-optimistic as the marina is still covered by ice.  Spring is here, but not really.