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

Playing Through The Pain

In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain.  I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching.  I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp.  Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.

At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it.  The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal.  It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.

A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching.  I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.

Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused.  But eventually I did finish the sketch.  I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned.  I guess I’ll get used to those in time.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching.  They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee.  I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines.  Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day.  I think it’s going to be a long summer.  I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings.  The result is really boring.  But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.

Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it.  It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched.  It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap.  Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants.  Life of a sketcher.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

Back On St Vallier St.

We went back to St. Vallier with intent to sketch the Pignon Bleu, a building that I’ve always loved.  Only problem was that someone, some horrible someone, took a gorgeous building and “renovated” it into something they obviously thought to be an improvement.  Me, not so much.  Claudette and Yvan agreed so we ended up sketching a very unique building across the street.

My hand was not cooperating on this day.  Arthritis is an unpredictable thing but one thing is certain.  Having it in your drawing hand is frustrating.  Because of this I decided that I’d just draw the fancy balcony facade.  I still had some fun but I do wish you could buy replacement parts for old bodies.

Sketching Day In Levis, Quebec

Quebec City and Levis are separated from one another by the St. Lawrence River, which is a mighty river for sure, serving as the shipping highway between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.  It seems to be a considerable barrier for our sketching group as we rarely go to Levis in spite of it being a great place to sketch.  I could leave this description just the way it is, fully justifying our avoidance of that city, but the truth is, it’s only a 10-minute ferry boat ride so we really have no excuse.

We did go last Saturday, though, thanks to an invitation by Marie Gauthier, who owns/runs an atelier in Levis.  And we had a great time, though I spent way too much time talking to the new acquaintances.  It was a cold day and I was underdressed so there was a bit of shivering going on as I drew this scene.  I guess it’s my Arizona roots but I’m always underdressed for the cold.

Outdoor Sketching Has Finally Come To Quebec City

It’s the middle of May.  A couple days ago we had frost warnings and right now our kitchen table is covered with annuals (plants) because it’s too cold to put them outdoors.  But outdoor sketching season has started, though in fits and starts.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) softcover, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

We met on rue St. Vallier in front of an old house Claudette wanted to sketch.  I’d always thought it was a great subject myself.  So there we were, three of us in a line along the street, drawing this house.  I wonder if bears feel out of practice as they wander through the forest following exit from hibernation.  After a long winter and a string of health problems, I sure feel clumsy sitting on a stool, doing the sketcher up/down bobble-head motion that identifies sketchers.

Oops, I Did It Again

I’m hopeless when it comes to watercolor.  Partly this is because I don’t care enough about color but a heavy dose of ignorance about them adds to my problems with watercolor.  So, it’s not likely that I’ll be telling anyone how to do watercolors anytime soon, but I have lots of experience messing up a drawing with the addition of color, so I thought I’d show you an example and let you cast some stones in my direction.  Feel free to laugh.

Here is a sketch I did as we launched our “outdoor season.”  In fairness to me, it was a considerable struggle for me to get to the site and by the time I did my knee was throbbing and all I wanted to do was lay down (grin).  I did a simple drawing of a wooden statue resembling the front end of a ship.  Then, just for background, I did a really spartan outline of the building behind it for composition’s sake.  Then I proceeded to make a mess of the whole thing.

Note that there is no life in those colors.  Note also that I’ve covered the entire drawing with those lifeless colors.  This sketch would have been much better if I’d just left the background building white.  The principle subject wouldn’t have sunk so far into oblivion.  What a mess.  At least it’s an example of what NOT to do.

By the time I finished that sketch I was exhausted, but from the same location one could see the spire of what was a downtown fire station so we decided to draw it.  I was still in blah-color mode but I like this sketch anyways.  Most exciting of all is that we’re finally sketching outdoors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) softcover, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

 

Going To See The Vampire Lady

I’ve mentioned the frequent relationship I’ve had with the medical profession over the past few months and one of those associations has been with the vampire lady at the hospital who insists on poking me to suck blood from my arm. She then hands me some vials in which to pee, a situation wrought with performance anxiety.

And so it was on Monday morning.  I had an appointment but that typically means that I end up sitting in a waiting room for 20 minutes or so before being called.  This is called sketching time.  I sat down to wait, got out my Emilio Braga (4×6) notebook and started scribbling poor facsimiles of the people doing the same thing I was… waiting.

But just as I was getting into it they called my name.  My response to this is something only a sketcher can know.  Most would be thrilled that they didn’t have to wait and I was too, sort of.  But a part of me was also saying “Hey, I’m sketching here” and I had to abandon my sketching almost before I started.  This was all I could accomplished so I wrote some words to fill up the holes (grin).

Sketching In A Garden Center

In Quebec City we have to use our imagination to identify places where we can sketch on location.  I don’t have any of that imagination stuff but I have friends who do and they came up with the idea of sketching in garden centers.  We’ve done it a number of times and it’s lots of fun.

Sadly, even as we entered May it was still too cold to sketch outdoors so we headed to the garden center.  I didn’t create any masterpieces this day (never do) but I sure had fun.  It was the first time I’d sat on my tripod stool in a long time.  That was something of a challenge as my knee becomes very unstable when I try to get my butt low enough to find the seat.  Getting up is a similar challenge.  I’ll have to do something about that.  I did get to try a taller stool (20″ WalkStool) and I may buy one as that made this simple task much easier.

Anyways, I started with a simple, and quick sketch of a garden gargoyle.  He (she?) was about a foot tall and without much detail but very proud.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center, looking at the plants, the bright flashes of color and I even spent time looking at garden tools, bird feeders, etc.  The koi pond required that I watch the fish going round and round too.  Eventually, though, I got back to drawing and I immersed myself in a cloud of leaves that most would call a bonsai.  If I were a real artist I would have gotten out a brush and just indicated all those leaves but I’m in love with fountain pens and the lines they make so there I was, drawing leaves… lots of leaves.  I love the feeling of coming out of the meditative stupor induced by this sort of drawing.  It makes me want to do it again.

A Montreal Sketching Adventure

Spring has finally come to Quebec and the timing couldn’t have been better for a scheduled trip to Montreal to see my daughter and to attend the USk Montreal’s monthly sketchcrawl.  We’ve had a sudden shift from 0C (or worse) to 15C and when I arrived by bus in Montreal there was nothing but pleasantness in the air.

After morning coffee with my daughter, she headed off to study (exam week at McGill) and I headed to the Redpath Museum, the site of the sketchcrawl.

Oh, a few posts back (see here) I lamented about what a bad documentarian I was when it came to recording sketching events.  I’m afraid I haven’t improved much but I did take a couple photos this time.

I arrived quite early and was one of the first through the door.  That was a good thing because the museum is three stories tall and my bad leg mad for a very slow climb to the main floor, which is the second floor.

I love this museum. It’s structured like an old-time natural history museum and has all the mahogany it needs to pull it off.  I was standing here (photo above) when Marc called to tell me he’d arrived and very shortly, we were catching up, had arranged lunch, and then we decided to draw, which was the raison d’etre of the event after all.  Notice that Marc isn’t properly armed with watercolors, pencils and pen. He’s drawing on an iPad.

I don’t know how many sketchers were in attendance but the museum couldn’t have held many more; they were everywhere.  This museum is very sketcher-friendly, allowing watercolors and pens to be used and they provide a bunch of chairs that can be carried to where you want to sit.  It is true, however, that a lot of the exhibits are better viewed from a standing position.

Here’s a couple practitioners of the standing mode.  It’s the approach I took as well, though my leg didn’t appreciated that decision very much.  Sigh…what’s a guy to do.

Oops…almost forgot.  Here’s a Kingfisher I drew.

Marc and I had a great lunch and, as always, I went away with my head full of ideas to ponder and plans to make.  But by then I was scheduled to meet up with my daughter so I said goodbye and headed off to meet her.  We had a great dinner at Restaurant Manana, a place that’s become a regular stop when I come to Montreal.  I grew up in Arizona and miss Mexican food, something that’s not popular in Quebec City.

The next morning my daughter had an exam and I had time to kill before Notabene, my favorite store in Montreal opened.  I also needed breakfast and so I went to Cafe Noir, a little coffee place near one of the Metro stations.  Killing an hour, alone, in a coffee shop almost requires a pen be scraped across paper and so I started making some notes about my visit.  This led to drawing street lights and the top of the building across the street.  I didn’t make it to the bottom because with bagel and coffee consumed, it was time to head off to Notabene.

Notabene was busier than I’d ever seen it.  The reason was their 20% off everything sale.  I wanted to buy one of their old typewriters but I was being a good boy that morning.  Instead I picked up several notebooks but then put all but one back.  It was another Emilio Braga notebook, a book I talked about here the last time I went to Montreal.  I also bought one of the “new” (re-released) white Lamy Joy fountain pens and was quite proud of myself for not spending too much money.  Then I headed to the bus station and back to Quebec City.