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.

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.