The Day Queen Victoria Lost Her Head

Quebec is a province full of French-speaking Quebecois, descendents of the explorer Jacques Cartier, Champlain and those who settled this part of Canada before it was Canada.  Yes, the British defeated them on the Plains of Abraham and those “red coats” would have forced Quebecers to speak English if not for a pesky group called Americans who got the idea to invade Canada.  The Brits needed the Quebecois to help them fight off these attacks and so struck a deal that allowed them to retain their language.  Thanks America.  Quebec is the better for it.

But this didn’t end the tensions between the French and English and by the 1940s, the English, using the Church to keep the very religious French in their place, pretty much ran the province of Quebec.  But then came groups like the FLQ who thought this wasn’t such a good idea.

A lot of their actions were political but during the 60s there were over 200 terrorist bombings, including a famous one in Quebec City.  One night, in 1963, dynamite was stuffed into a large bronze statue of Queen Victoria and the resultant explosion blew her head off and sent it flying over 100 yards across Victoria Park.  I won’t bore you with the rest of Quebec history but the Quiet Revolution that took place in the 70s is a remarkable history of a people regaining control of their province.  Instead, I’ll share with you a sketch I did of Vicky’s head, which resides in our Musee de la Civilisation.

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

Sketching At La Maison Provancher

Several months ago members of our sketching group discovered a new winter sketching spot.  It was the home of a well-known Quebec naturalist, but it has become a place where school groups come to learn about nature.  The place is full of stuffed animals, pinned insects, skulls, shells and other representatives of mother nature.

The best part about it is that the kids can handle all these things rather than the typical hands-off policies of such places.  The downside of this, of course, is that many of the specimens aren’t in pristine condition.  The good thing for sketchers is that we can move any of these specimens to a table, set them up as we like, and draw them.

While others in our group have been to this place several times, I’ve always missed out due to doctor’s appointments and bad arthritis days.  But I got to go this week and it was wonderful.  I spent most of my time wandering around, admiring the collections, sort of taking inventory for future trips, but I did finally sit down and got acquainted with a beaver.  It’s sure good to be drawing on location again.

What Is It That Bugs You?

What bugs me is people using the word “bug” to describe any old insect that crosses their path.  There are bugs in our world so if you’re talking about leaf hoppers or stink bugs as “bugs,” you’re not out of line.  Ants, wasps, beetles and moths, however… not bugs.

Anyway, I went bug insect drawing the other day.  It was at a small exhibition here in Quebec City.  I joined Yvan and Claudette and most of what we were drawing was a display of pinned/boxed specimens.   My first thoughts upon arriving was that this was less than ideal but as it turned out, there was some sort of ying/yang thing going on that created an event that was more than the sum of its parts.

The displays dictated that you draw while looking at the insect from above and pinned specimens are often not oriented in a natural pose.  But insects have such varied morphology that you immediately get sucked into their shapes and colors if you’re a sketcher.  And so it was as we drew these tiny works of functional art.

I started by shunning the boxed insects, drawing instead from huge photographs.  That was fun and challenging because I struggle with drawing from photographs for some reason.  I stood the entire time, which wasn’t good for my gimpy leg but maybe it was good exercise.  I try to convince myself of all sorts of things that may or may not be true (grin).

Eventually, though, I decided to try my hand at a more technical drawing of one of the large Cerambycid beetles on display.  This is when I really got enthused by the process.  Just me and my pen, trying to “keep it clean, precise and accurate.”  What a thrill as my mind buried itself in the task.  Everything except that beetle disappeared and I just drew.  I need to go back and do more of this.  I must.

First Outdoor Sketch Of 2018

While many are counting spring flowers, Quebec City lags behind planet Earth as we still have lots of snow.  I’m hopeful it will melt away ‘real soon’ and it was with that optimistic view that I decided to go outside and draw.

It was still too cold.  It was windy and  I had to stand up while drawing, something I’m not good at, but by standing against a wall, out of the wind, it wasn’t too bad.  Here’s my first outdoor sketch of 2018.

Recording What You See

As an urban sketcher, we’re told we should sketch the scenes around us, do reportage, record our life and those around us.  I’m horrible at all of that.  I draw for the pleasure of moving a pen across paper.  I don’t “draw verbs.”  I don’t even think it’s possible to do this popular plea from urban sketchers.  I draw things, stuff, objects, nouns.  My sketches do hold memories of the times and places where they were done but that is not my goal in creating them.

With all that said, there are times when a bit of reportage is, or should be important, even to me, and I have to confess that I fail at it.  I have a cell phone, like everyone else.  A simple click of a button and I could record these moments.  But I never think about it.  I see the results of other sketchers, who take photos of their fellow sketchers and sketching groups who regularly pose for group photos.  Our local sketchers just don’t think that way and a bit of reflection in the mirror suggests that I don’t either.

A case in point is when people come to Quebec City to sketch with me.  These times are among the highlights of my time as a sketcher and yet I don’t document them well.  Most recently Owen Swain came to visit.  He’s a really good illustrator/sketcher from Winsor, Ontario and he came to visit with his family.  As it turned out, it was just too darn cold for us to sketch the day we met, but our conversations over several cups of good coffee made for a memorable day.  And I don’t have a single photograph of Owen’s visit [sigh].

And it got me to thinking about other visitors I’ve been lucky to have visit.  Marc and Laurel Holmes came to spend a day sketching Quebec City.  I learned a lot from Marc and really enjoyed Laurel’s company.  Not a single photo of the event was taken by yours truly.  Fortunately, Laurel is an excellent photographer and came to the rescue with a single photo of Marc and I walking down Chemin St. Louis.

Karen Casper came to visit from the US.  She’s a first class watercolorist and a lot of fun to be around.  We had two great sketching days together.  Not a single photo was taken during her visit, though I did do this really quick sketch of her while we were sketching.

The one visitor I did take a photo of when she visited was Paula Raudenbush, back in 2015.  We had a ball the day she and her friend visited and for some reason I did take a photo of her as we sat in front of Trinity church and she sketched.  To commemorate my singular act of photo-taking, I made a sketch from that photo.

Clearly I’ve got to get better at this sort of thing.  I feel really bad about not having any physical evidence of Owen’s visit.  Maybe I can get him to come back for another visit.  If any of you would like to visit Quebec City this summer, I promise to take your picture.

Papelarias Emilio Braga Sketchbook

We made a weekend trip to Montreal to visit our daughter, which meant that within a couple hours of arriving we were standing in Notebene, my favorite pen/paper/pencil store.  I was there to talk to Carol about a pen and to pick up some Platinum Carbon Black cartridges.

It was to be a ‘no spend’ visit because I didn’t need much.  But, you know, a guy’s got to look around and, you know, it’s hard to resist, you know, finding stuff I “needed.”  Of course I “needed” a dozen Tombow Mono 2B pencils I found.  Not too bad, though.  We were twenty minutes into the visit and the pencils were all I “needed.”

Then it happened.  My daughter handed me a notebook and said, “This feels so good.”  It was an A6-size book that must have had a couple hundred pages in it, nice cream-colored blank, as in could be used as a sketchbook, pages.  And she was right, it felt right.  It was heavier than I like in a sketchbook but holding it made me feel like I had something important in my hands.  I could tell my daughter wanted it badly.  She did her best to argue that I shouldn’t buy it for her but her heart wasn’t really in it.  By then, my wife was there and she wanted one too.

I now had nearly $60 worth of books in my hands and I was sort of wishing they had a third one for me.  I say sort of because they also had a thinner version of the book that was just as elegant but much lighter and it suited my “needs” better than the thicker book.  One of those ($14 CDN) ended up on the pile.  And with smiles all around, my “no spend” day warmed up the credit card quite a bit.

So what is this sketchbook?  It’s a Paperlarias Emilio Braga notebook with blank, cream-colored  90gsm paper.  These notebooks are handmade and both sewn and glued together.  They lay flat.  The covers are cardboard covered with brown paper and reinforced with a fabric spine and corners.  The blank page books come with a writing guide with lines on one side and a grid on the other.

Because the paper is only 90gsm it’s best used with dry media, or at most light washes as it will buckle if you add a lot of water.  In the one drawing I’ve done, I did get some buckling but no bleedthrough or ghosting.  I’m really happy with it; it feels so good in the hand.  I just might have to get one of the thicker ones the next time I’m in Montreal.

100 People – Day 5

#oneweek100people2018 – I gave it a valiant effort, but starting on day three and having a bit of bad luck resulted in my coming up short for this challenge.  Yesterday afternoon I got a chance to draw some floating heads, which brought my people count to 82.  Since I’d done that in two days, I felt it was be a cinch to get the remaining 18 on Friday.  Silly me.

Today I went to a different mall around lunch time.  Their food court is organized to make it an excellent place to sketch, but not today.  Today was the last day of spring break and the mall was having a bunch of activities for kids.  The place was packed.  There were no seats and even if there were it wouldn’t have mattered because the place was so stressful from all the kids running around that I couldn’t stand to be there.  Chalk that up to me being a grumpy old man.  Anyways, I managed to draw a couple people before I gave, got on the bus, and came home.  Hope I have better luck next year.  Hope Marc and Liz decide to do it again as I love seeing all the people sketches.

100 People – Day 4

#oneweek100people2018 – It occurs to me that my attempts to ‘catch up’ after missing the first two days of this five day challenge is becoming a “how can Larry embarrass himself further?” affair.  So be it.  I’m scrambling for numbers and it seems almost comical how I’m stumbling to the finish line of this challenge.

I woke this morning determined to get from 42 (done yesterday) to 70 or so to give myself a chance to complete the challenge on Friday.  I started today’s activities by ‘experimenting’ with the notion of doing a bunch of people direct with watercolor.  These were done on a 5×7 piece of watercolor paper.  What I learned is that I don’t know how but I’m going to count the eight little people I did during this experiment.  Once this challenge is over I’ll continue this experiment and maybe, after a few hundred of them, I’ll figure out how to paint people.

Since that wasn’t going to work for me I grabbed a sketchbook, a Pilot parallel pen, and a Pilot Metropolitan and I headed to the coffee shop.  There is a bus stop across the street so I figured I could sit in the coffee shop window and have lots of ‘targets.’  A couple things were wrong with that idea.

The first problem is that I was reminded that if a large truck gets between me and my subject, I have a hard time drawing that subject.  And, it seemed, every time the street light changed, a large truck had to stop – right in front of the people waiting at the bus stop.  This slowed progress considerably, but I was enjoying a nice coffee so my patience, while challenged, was sufficient.

I was sketching along with the parallel pen when it ran out of ink.  No big deal; I just switched to the Metropolitan.  I like the Metropolitan and don’t use it enough.  I was sketching along, though visibility was becoming reduced by a blizzard and the fact that people waiting for the bus started huddling inside the bus stop cubicle.  Then my Metropolitan ran out of ink.  This pen sits on my desk at home and I realized that it had been a long time since I’d checked its ink load.  My sketching session was over for the day.

The 25 people I had scribbled brought my total for the week to 75 so I do have a chance to make it to 100 if I can get out an about tomorrow.  Sorry for the sad lot of kinda-sorta-maybe people on display here.

100 People – Day Three

#oneweek100people2018 – When Liz Steel and Marc Taro Holmes announced they were doing the 100 people in five days thing they did last year, I was all in.  It was a lot of fun last year and just the thing to rev the engines a bit, though drawing people is not my favorite thing.  But when Monday, March 5th, rolled around my arthritic hands were locked up tighter than a …err…well, they weren’t functioning very well.  The same was true on Tuesday so I told Marc I would have to pass on the event.

Yesterday, my hands were better, though they seem to have a mind of their own right now, and I headed to the mall to draw people.  I figured that if I was to catch up I would have to go into overdrive, maybe even cheating a bit to get the job done.  So, with a cup of coffee, I sat down in front of a McDonalds in the food court and started quickly sketching people who were waiting for their orders.  Nothing very artistic about the process, I was almost literally scribbling, but one hour later I ended up with 42 kinda-sorta people blobs in my Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.  I then headed off to an appointment.

Once I got home, I applied colors somewhat randomly.  If I’d been true to the actual colors most of the coats would have been black.  Quebecers are not known for their bright colors.  I know I’ll not likely make 100 people given I gave all of you a two day head start but I feel good that I’ve put a dent in the goal.  We’ll see what today brings.

Location Sketching Before It Was Cool

 

“The watercolour technique, on the borderline between drawing and painting, acquired prestige in the nineteenth century, particularly in Britain, where the “Watercolor Society” was founded in 1804.” – from Delacroix: Voyage au Maroc

Long before Gabi Campanario invented urban sketching, artists like Delacroix were doing what we now call travel journaling, nature journaling, and simply drawing stuff when they found a solid rock to sit on.  I thought some might like to see into that world a bit and, I guess, so does the Louvre.

They’ve produced an hour long seminar on early location sketching, presenting a lot of sketches from the 19th century, including a bunch showing sketchers in the sketches themselves.  There is a discussion of Delacroix, including looks at his sketchbooks and another section on Eugene Blery, an amazing nature journalist and artist.  The seminar is in French so it might be hard for some;  I understood about half of what is said, but the sketches are self-explanatory and a joy to see.