Sketching From The Car

Winter has grabbed hold of us in Quebec and right now I’m looking out the window at a foot of new snow, but the snow is going sideways due to 60-70km/h winds.  I can’t see across the street.  I’m praying for the winds to die down this afternoon so I can run my snowblower.  Something to look forward to I suppose.

So I’m writing to you about a short trip I took a few days ago with Yvan out to Miriam’s cottage on Ile d’Orleans.  It was a bright sunny day but also, how do you say it… nippy.  We picked up Miriam and headed to a town called St. Laurent on the island.  We arrived at the boulangerie which is one of my favorite places to visit during summer, because they sell the best pesto pizza and it’s great to sit on the balcony of this huge house, overlooking the St. Lawrence, and sketch.  I’ve drawn the church it faces a number of times.

Today, though, our target was a cute little building from which they sell crafty things to the tourists.  It’s snuggled into the forest edge behind the main building and looks to me like a ginger-bread house.  We parked at the end of the driveway (the place is closed during winter) and sketched the building from the car.  It was a bit cramped with three of us in the car, with our sketching bags close at hand.  We had to start the car several times to defrost the windows but we were out of the wind and plenty warm.

I tried to depict the ‘tucked away’ look of the place by including a bunch of the foreground but I struggled a bit with the snow since I was working on tan paper.  I was happy with my “cute” approach on this sketch, though I’ve got to get better creating snow with gouache.  It was either too white or not white enough 🙂

From there we ended up across the street in the parking lot behind the church.  Miriam and Yvan wanted to draw the big ice blocks that had started to accumulate along the bank of the St. Lawrence.  That didn’t really turn my crank and so I just started sketching random things I could see.  I enjoy doing this because I can just concentrate on the object, foresaking any semblance of scene-building.  Pickings were a bit slim in the parking lot but it was fun nevertheless.

Sketching from a car isn’t ideal, but there’s something cozy about doing it with a couple friends.  Sort of like drive-in movies for sketchers.

Quick-sketching At The Grande Marche

Finally, maybe, kinda-sorta, the holiday season is behind us.  Every year it’s the same.  There’s the build-up to Christmas, with Christmas bringing the thought that the holidays are finally over.

But at our house it starts all over again because my daughter, my wife, and my wife’s mother all have birthdays during January.  This year was extra-busy because it was my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday so Chantal’s been running around, buying out the stores in preparation for the party.  That party was supposed to be going on RIGHT NOW, but lo and behold, the hospice facility where my mother-in-law is living right now just quarantined itself due to an outbreak of flu. The 100th anniversary party cancelled.

Otherwise things are returning to normal and I’m starting to do some sketching outside the house.  I spent a couple sessions at the Grande Marche, quick-sketching people and its kiosks.  Boy, do I need practice with quick-sketching.  I’ve lost my knack for it almost completely.  One has to do it regularly to be successful and my health problems got me out of sync with street sketching.

This scene was created by drawing people as they arrived at this kiosk, followed by drawing some of the kiosk clutter for background.

For this one the approach was a bit different because my goal was to draw the end of a long coffee shop so I started with the big shapes of the counters.  A guy came along and stood while he poured milk and sugar into his coffee (from counter on the left) so I drew him and then went back to drawing all the “stuff” that was coffee shop.

I moved to a different location and found a condiment cart sitting next to a wall and decided to draw it.  I always find it hard to “draw” all the little bits, trying to generate instead a series of textures to represent them.  In the end I think the sketch was too small to worry about it.  It was fun to get out with pen in hand.  Did I mention that I need practice…lots of practice.

Fishing In The Dark

As a kid I remember fishing from a dock in front of a motel we stayed at on a lake in Michigan.  This was great excitement for a little six or seven year old kid.  Stars above, lily pads and the occasional plop of a fish jumping.  Those were the days, when catching a small catfish meant the world to me.

Now I’m fishing in the dark again, at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City.  There, we wander through dark rooms, filled with horribly lit exhibits, forever wondering what idiot decided that museum-goers wanted to experience a haunted house atmosphere while trying to see the displays.

But on a day in December, there I was, with a couple of my sketching buddies, sitting in the dark with book lights on our sketchbooks, trying to draw the few objects that were lighted well enough that we could kinda-sorta see them.

I was drawing an extinct sea bass that must have been 12-15 feet long.  It was massive.  It was less than eight feet away from me and yet I couldn’t see it.  Repeatedly I had to get up, walk over to the fish and look hard to find where the belly of the fish was and to find the pectoral fin.  And, of course, the most pressing question of all required another walk – what did the tail look like?  After all, it was only three feet tall so how could I expect to be able to see it from eight feet away (grin)

I tell you all this because I’m going to show you my sketch of this giant fish but I can’t vouch for accuracy whatsoever.  But I did capture a fish, in the dark, on that December day.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3008

Sketching A Porcupine Fish In The Dark

For sketchers in Quebec City, the beginning of winter is marked with our migration from outdoors to the museums.  We’re now at the museum, a place that doesn’t seem able to pay its electric bill.  At least it seems that way as they decided a year or so ago to start “lighting” their exhibits with lots of dark.

Currently there are two exhibits in our Museum of Civilisation that are dark, one being a really nice exhibit on poisonous animals and plants, at least the parts of it you can actually see are nice.  There are some things where even putting your nose to the case glass isn’t sufficient to see the details of the object on display.  It’s said that museum clients spend mere seconds looking at any object.  Maybe this is how the museum is trying to slow them down.  I don’t think it’s working.

I decided to draw this porcupine fish.  I took the photo from a position that provided some backlighting of the fish so you could actually see it…almost.  While drawing it I had to make several forays up close to find out where the fins were.  Unlike many porcupine fish, this one didn’t have a lot of spines.  There were some short ones on his belly but otherwise his skin was smooth.  One thing was certain, however, I had to draw this sketch in a somewhat comical fashion.  This guy just deserved that treatment.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Wing Sung 3009, DeAtramentis Document Black

Quick biological fact of the day:  Porcupine fish (aka blowfish) are popular with suishi eaters with a death wish because blowfish contain a very toxic compound called tetrodotoxin.  This stuff is 1000 times more toxic than cyanide.  I’ve seen references to how poisonous the spines of a blowfish are but that’s not true.  The toxin is in the internal organs, specifically the liver and gut.  I think I’ll stick with salads myself.

Winter Sketching Has Arrived

“And so it begins…” has become a repeated phrase in modern parlance.  Some attribute it to Lord of the Rings and King Theodon commenting on the beginning of the war for Middle Earth.  The most popular meme seems to be references to Star Wars.  For me, though, it was when Kosh, an alien ambassador said it in Babylon 5, a 5 year TV saga that is still, in my view, the best scripted TV series ever.  It’s scope was huge for TV and I’ve watched it several times.

And so it begins, Quebec’s winter sketching season.  It’s a loooong season too.  We’ll come out of it sometime in May, six months from now [sigh].  That means I’ll be spending my “urban sketching” time in museums, sitting in the dark, drawing with the use of a book light.  I’ll spend time scribbling my way through coffee shops, trying to capture the people there just to break the monotony.

But today we’re having a heat wave.  Our temperature hit 1C today (grin).  We went to the museum for the first time in months and drew a new, small display of fire fighting paraphenalia.  It was nice because it was in a hallway and not in the two major exhibits, where many of the exhibits are too darn dark to see, let alone draw.  At least it’s practice and goodness knows I need that.

Moleskine watercolor book (5.5×8.5)