Tis The Season…To Be Cold

I’ve just finished my first summer as a “plein air” sketcher.  I so passionately wandered the streets of Quebec City with a sketchbook that I’ve not spent enough time reporting on those activities in this blog.  My productivity as a writer has been excruciatingly close to zero.  But I have had sooooooo much fun this summer.  Sketching has changed my views of everything.

But for five months of the year Quebec City becomes an icebox.  I don’t mean it gets a little bit cool.  That happened when I lived in Arizona.  I mean it gets the kind of cold that causes tires to go clunk, clunk, clunk as you roll down the street as the rubber  stiffens while the tires sit.  I mean the kind of cold where you have to plug your car in at night so it will start in the morning.  I mean the kind of cold that causes polar bears to hibernate.

Like squirrels gathering nuts, we run around this time of year, preparing for our own hibernation in warm, cozy huts and with the exception of a few crazy people who like to ski and skate, we see “outdoors” only when forced to shove a snowblower around the driveway.

But, with my new found hobby, this is unacceptable.  I want to sketch.  Yes, I can draw coffee cups and sofas but that’s not who I am.  I like sketching places.  So, how do I get past the reality that watercolors freeze when subjected to Quebec City winter temperatures?

Clearly the watercolors will have to be left behind,  but a pen and a small sketchbook can be crammed into a coat pocket.  I’ve got small versions of Stillman & Birn’s Alpha series sketchbooks on their way.  I may even move from my favorite fountain pens to a gel pen or…shudder…maybe even a pencil, to simplify the toolkit.

I’m excited.  As the leaves fell from the trees, my stomping grounds have revealed a whole new landscape, just waiting to be sketched, with or without color. 

But, can an Arizona-bred old guy sketch in the cold.  We’ll see, but I’m optimistic.  Is this how a well-dressed sketching fanatic faces temperatures that live around zero degrees Fahrenheit?  Hope so.

I think the sessions will be shorter, and they’ll probably followed by warming myself over a hot cup of tea, but I’m optimistic.  Then again, it’s still “warm” here.  The  following photo was taken last weekend as I sketched on the large island next to Quebec City.  It was 35F.  If nothing else, winter will help me sketch faster (grin).  What do you do to feed your sketching itch when winter rolls around?  Am I nuts?

Photo by Yvan Breton

Brightest Building in Quebec

The leaves are falling from the trees and temperatures are heading in the same direction.  It won’t be long before I won’t be able to stalk the streets of Québec, looking for buildings to sketch.  I guess I’ll have to go inside and stalk Quebecers to sketch.

But I was out today and walking a street I’d walked many times.  Either I’m going blind or this small ‘casse-croute’ (in some places it would be called a chips stand) has just gotten a very bright facelift.  In any case today gave me opportunity to capture its essense, which I did.

Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray, Winsor & Newton watercolors

I did the basic sketch on site but decided to come home to do all the signage as I wanted to try out some different tools.  To that end, the large sign and the plates of food were done with colored pencils, a medium I have yet to conquer.  The ‘Frites maison’ sign was done with some Stabilo felt pens I just bought…and like very much for doing such things.   The building’s kinda cute, don’tcha think?

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com

A Shivering Good Sketchcrawl in Quebec City

Today we had our second sketchcrawl in Quebec City. The best description of what went on may come from the fact that I learned a new French verb – “frissonner.” It means to shiver and that’s exactly what I was doing as I tried to sketch a restaurant at the QC marina. That sketch, in all its “frisonner” wavy lines may get finished up but it will occur in my office.

Bethann and I were the first to bail out, though others were already huddled against a wall that broke the wind. We went into the Marché de vieux port (our farmer’s market), got coffee and Bethann spotted some empty tables and chairs, left behind by summer kiosks, now closed for the winter.

We set up shop and couldn’t have asked for a better place to sketch and talk sketching. There was also eating involved. The rest of the group quickly gathered and we were entrenched for the day. Nobody wanted to go outside.

If this wasn’t luck enough for anyone, the kiosk next to our “meeting hall” was owned by a very nice woman who sold blueberry syrups and some incredible chocolate/blueberry pieces of heaven. AND she brought us a platter of the stuff.

Here’s my shivering sketch, a view from across the marina:

A New Sketching Adventure – Drawing Trees

I was walking back from a sketching session last week and I took a slightly different route.  I found a new house I want to sketch and a nifty little restaurant that may become a future sketch.  But the real discovery was a small “bouquinerie.”  In French, a “bouquinerie” is a bookstore that sells used books and I decided to go in to see if they had any cheap books on Quebec architecture or history.

They did, but what really caught my eye was a small art section.  Among the offerings, mostly in French, was a copy of Henry Pitz’s How to Draw Trees. This book was first published in 1956 and redone several times since then.  It does appear to be out of print, though you can still buy used copies of it via Amazon, Abebooks and probably elsewhere  but the prices run from $30-100.  The one I was looking at cost five bucks.  I snapped it up and it has launched a new sketching chapter for me, and I haven’t even read the darn thing yet.  The sketches are cool, though.

I’m not sure how long that chapter will be or what story it will tell, but right now I’m having fun discovering trees.  I’ve drawn trees in many of my sketches but I’ve never featured a tree in a sketch.  I still have much to learn from this book as I’m still looking at the pictures, but I thought I’d share some of my meager attempts that have sprung from my new-found interest.

Small Vignettes

I started by doing some small sketches in a really cheap, blank notebook I picked up at the dollar store.  Until Stillman & Birn decide to produce a small sketchbook, I’m stuck with this less than optimal paper as I really don’t like Moleskine sketchbook paper.  Anyways, here’s a sample of my efforts.

Plains of Abraham Trees

 

The Plains of Abraham is a natural place to sketch trees – the park has a lot of them representing many, many species.  I went there with the idea of capturing a couple ‘likenesses’ of these tall neighbors on our planet.

I started in a handmade sketchbook, with Canson Mi-Teintes tan paper.  I think this sketch may be improved with a splash of color but for now, this is the result.  Proud, but lonely, this tree stands in a very open area of the park.  Click on this image for a larger image.

I got out my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8) and moved to a comfy bench in the shade and I sketched this tree.  Again, you can get a larger image by clicking on ths small one.

Some Misc Doodles

I thought that while I had my dollar store notebook out I’d show you a few examples of the doodles I do, often while watching TV.  There’s not much to them but I thought some might find them interesting.

An old, plugged window in old Quebec

Attempt at a classic pen & ink roof corner

Simple pencil sketch

Fence post and its reason to be

Anyone have a recommendation for a decent 3×5 sketchbook that isn’t made by Moleskine and is available (without paying as much for shipping as for the sketchbook) to those of us in Canada?

Cheers — Larry (larry@larrydmarshall.com)

 

Stepping Through My Sketching Process

Patrick Ng presented one of his sketches by showing us all the stages of development in a series of posts in the Facebook group, Artist Journal Workshop.  I thought that was a great idea and so I’m going to do that here.  Click on the photo to get a larger image.

On Location PhotoFirst stage occurred on a hot day, in front of the Quebec City train station.  I decided to draw a building that sits at 363 Rue St. Paul, partly because it was a great subject and partly because there was a shady spot where I could sit.  I didn’t quite get the drawing done in that first session as it still lacked the foliage, though that had been penciled in early in the process so I’d know what parts of the building would be covered by leaves.

B&W sketch

Once I finished adding the foliage and touching up a few of the details it looked like this.  I did this at home.

I decided to add shading with early morning sun as I thought it would be better than the mid-day sun I had when I did the sketch.  So, I went back to the site, plunked myself on my Walkstool and went to work.

Toned sketchI now use a small chunk of 8B Derwent Graphitone pencil, stuck in a half-pan, for my basic shading.  This has some interesting virtues.  First, I can use it just like a cake of watercolor, using a brush to pick up pigment and mix up washes of any density I need.  Second, it’s much smaller and lighter than the dilute india ink solutions I was carrying for this purpose.  AND, the important thing is that once Graphitone been exposed to water and then dries, it won’t mix with watercolors I put over it.   The end result of this stage sometimes causes me to wonder whether I need color at all.  This may be because I’m not all that versed in or experienced with watercolor (grin).

I like color, though, so I broke out my W&N watercolors and applied a moderate amount of color to the sketch.

I used a Pilot Prera fountain pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink to do this sketch.  In my opinion, the techniques are made possible, or at least easier, because of the fantastic, double-sized papers of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks I use.  I can’t say enough good things about them.   If you find these sorts of posts useful, let me know and I’ll do more of them.

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com