A Great Day At Trait Carre

Quebec City is a mosaic of small enclaves, one of which is Trait Carre, an area filled with big, beautiful elms and maples that surround beautiful old homes, some of which have become art galleries.  There’s a library with grass on its roof, a large dual-steeple cathedral and an ambiance of a very rural community, though it sits in the middle of the hustle and bustle of our city.

The sketchcrawl was coordinated by Daniel Chagnon and was part of the schedule of activities organized by Le Collectif (http://calvaq.com).  We weren’t a large group this day but, in a way, that’s what made it fun.  I got a chance to chat a bit with Lucien and Diane, who do most of the organizing for the group.  My French is very poor and I get lost when there are a lot of people speaking French simultaneously so the low turnout this day was a bonus for me.

Daniel knows the area well and we got a tour of the area before we each headed off in our own directions to sketch.  I decided to sketch this house and did it in a small format (3×5).


Moleskine watercolor notebook (3×5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

We met for lunch, chatted about upcoming events, fountain pens and ink and we shared the sketches we’d done thus far.  We decided to get back to sketching and I headed to a scene I wanted to sketch.  It called for a larger format and the largest book I had with me was a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8) so I decided to do a two-page spread.  I spent nearly two hours on this one and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent and the conversation I had with a young guy who was interested in my work.  Hope you like it too.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

Spur Of The Moment Road Trip To Ottawa

One of the fundamental skills learned while pursuing a university education is how to dodge and weave through the ever-changing bureaucracy of university administration.  My daughter found herself trying to straighten out a registration problem via email. We decided that a trip to Ottawa would go a long way to cutting through the red tape so we piled into the car and headed west.

Cheap notebook, Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Cheap notebook, Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

First stop was administration, where we were handed a number and told to wait.  Better organized than when I spent many an hour standing in lines waiting for similar things but still, we got to sit around for an hour waiting for our number to be called.  I exercised my mustache notebook and the paper in this $2 sketchbook continues to amaze.  I even got brave and put a bit of color on this quick sketch of a couple people, equally bored, who were watching something on their cell phone.  No show through, not buckling, no nothing.


Surprisingly, once our number came up, everything was resolved in a matter of minutes and we were off to have fun in Ottawa.  We ended up at the natural history museum where this guy posed for me.  He seemed as curious about me as I was about him.

Moleskine watercolor notebook (3x5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Moleskine watercolor notebook (3×5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

I couldn’t pass up the chance to draw some bones and so I chose the head of this monster.  As I was drawing I had a nice conversation with a young girl who had more questions than I had answers.  She was an absolute delight, though, and interactions like this is one of the reasons I love location sketching.

We were sitting in a park just west of the US Embassy, enjoying manga bubble tea.  I decided to quickly capture this view through the trees and I spent a leisurely 15-20 minutes or so doing that.  I generally use these small notebooks for really quick sketches but I really found it fun to do a few more precise sketches in them.  I think I’ll do more of it.

Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black ink


Opportunistic Sketching In Ottawa

I was in Ottawa to pick up my daughter, who was coming home for the summer.  My wife and I decided it would be a good idea to spend a few days there and, I decided it would be a good idea to also drive to Toronto to see a Blue Jays game, though in my defense, it was my daughter’s idea.

And so it was that I found myself as a tourist, with my family, as we wandered the city, mostly just eating, drinking and relaxing.  Many have discussed the difficulties of sketching while on excursions with non-believers, err… non-sketchers and I’m no exception to this struggle.  Still, if one takes advantage of opportunities and is happy with quick-sketching, sketching can become part of the experience.  Here are a few of the small sketches I did while in Ottawa.

2015-05-01Ottawa1We were walking along the Rideau Canal, enjoying the sunshinek and using phrases like “it’s hot today” for the first time in months. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  My wife and I decided to give our daughter a rest (that’s our story and we’re sticking to it) so we sat down on a bench.  I got out my sketchbook (3×5) and did this quick sketch of a couple girls talking on the other side of the canal.

2015-05-01Ottawa2Once my daughter was well-rested we moved on.  We walked and walked and walked.  If you lined up all of our steps in a straight line it would be a very long straight line.  But it was fun even for an old man like myself.

We sat on the grass in front of Parliament, along with a bunch of other like-minded (tired from walking no doubt) folks and, as a group, worked on our sunburns.  After that was accomplished we went across the street to the information center.  I’ve found I can get a lot of sketching done while women are in the bathroom and so I started quick-sketching people walking across the street.  Parliament should be in the background somewhere but there’s only so much bathroom time available and I was pushing it.  Color was added later that evening.


At one point we were in a park not far from the US embassy and the art museum.  I don’t know its name and you probably don’t care anyway.  We were drinking bubble tea.  Lots of other folks were enjoying the day and I decided to quickly sketch a few of them.  Here’s one of those sketches, again done in the 3×5 sketchbook.

We went walking again when we returned from Toronto.  There are numerous places where you can look over the Ottawa River and I decided that I needed to do a small cityscape.  I typically fail at this because I try to put too much detail in too small a space, so I was determined to keep this one spartan, quick, and clean.  I hope I succeeded.  I did this one in a Moleskine watercolor book; the brown came from a waterbrush filled with dilute Noodler’s #41 brown ink.


Last and probably least I’ll share with you a sketch I did of my new favorite hyper-sweet drink.  It’s called bubble tea and is composed of tea, a bit of milk and sugar, a choice of flavoring, and a bunch of huge tapioca balls, called “babba” that are soaked in something that makes them black.  They give you a big diameter straw so you can suck these things up along with the drink.  Great opportunity to play with your food.



Hibernation’s Hidden Costs

It’s currently -13F outside.  This, they say, is a ‘warming trend’ and in reality it is warmer than it was just a few days ago.  But from the perspective of a street sketcher, it matters little whether it’s -13 or -30 outside, I stay inside.

Mid-winter depression is a real phenomenon in places like Quebec, where I live, but for me, it’s more like cabin fever.  I spend too much time looking out the windows, wishing for a place to sketch.  In previous years our Museum of Civilisation has been that place and the displays there have kept me busy throughout our long winters.

But this year, half of the museum is closed due to a fire that occurred just as winter was starting and what’s left are displays of early animation where you can watch endless series of cartoons and the Olympus exhibit which is filled with lots and lots and lots of plaster statues of Zeus, Aphrodite and their kin.
Sketching them was fun at the outset but I truly am a street sketcher that likes drawing buildings.  Yet another plaster head is just not cutting it anymore and so my sketching is floundering somewhat these days.  I doodle a lot but it’s just not the same.  So, I decided to draw a window.  It was just one lowly window, drawn in a 3×5 sketchbook, but it sure felt good (grin).


Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black ink


Writing At The Coffee Shop

It’s been so cold here lately that I’ve been reluctant to go walking.  The other problem, of course, is that ‘walking’ is more like slipping and sliding here right now.  So I’ve been doing some writing, trying to make some progress on that front.

2015-01-21brulerieBut I can only stay at home so long before I start going nuts so I went to a nearby coffee shop to work.  I grabbed a table in the back corner of the place and a café allongé and went to work.  After a couple hours I took a break from editing and decided to give my new Sailor calligraphy pen a test run.  I quickly sketched (3×5) the view I had, which wasn’t great because I purposefully had hid myself from most of the clientele.  This pen is quite different from my Hero calligraphy pens and Tina Royama claims it’s easier to control.  I think she’s right but it will take a bit of getting used to, as this sketch illustrates.


I got another coffee and moved to a place by the window and worked for another hour. I saw this woman working as a crossing guard in the bitter cold.  The sad look on her face got my attention and I devoted a bit of ink to capturing her plight.  I shared those feelings as I’m an Arizona boy and Quebec winters are not something I take to with great fondness.

I looked around and there was a guy sitting with his back to me.  He was wearing a backwards baseball cap.  He’d taken his coat off and was wearing a t-shirt.  For some crazy reason this stuck me as odd, given that everyone else was wearing long sleeves, sweaters or coats.  Internally I chuckled and I drew him as though it weren’t -30 outside.  I drew him in his t-shirt, backwards baseball cap and shorts.  I guess I was hoping it would make me feel warmer.


This sketching adventure involved about three hours of writing/editing and less than ten minutes sketching but it was better than nothing (grin).


Frustrated January Sketcher And Other Stuff

I apologize for not posting much since Christmas.  I’m full of excuses if that will help.  You see, while most folks get to return to normal after January 1st, my holiday season is in full swing.  My daughter was home for the holidays.  Both Chantal and Jodie have birthdays in the first half of January and we just returned from Ottawa.  Oh…and it’s VERY cold, so for a street sketcher it’s a tough time of year.

I looked at my total sketching experiences from my Ottawa trip and two things happened.  First, I sighed and did a mental ‘woe is me.’  Then it occurred to me that it might be worth mentioning a couple things about the result, so here it is.

2015-11-OttawaClearly this isn’t a post about my great art.  Rather, I want to talk about some philosophical and pragmatic things that these two pages represent.  You see, this is a brand-spanking new Moleskine sketchbook.  Now I’m not a fan of these sketchbooks for ‘real’ drawing but I had the opportunity to get one cheap and so it’s going to serve as my daily ‘quick-sketchbook.’  I carry one of these with me at all times and not stuffed away in my man-bag (which holds my regular art stuff) but rather in my pocket, with some sort of quick-sketching pointy device tucked away with it.  It can be brought out in seconds and is often returned a couple minutes later with a new sketch between its covers.  I started doing this about two years ago when my buddy Yvan Breton convinced me of the power of such an approach.

Two things occurred when I started carrying such a sketchbook.  The first, and most important was that I started doing a LOT more sketching.  In the past couple years I’ve filled about 20 of these little 3×5 or 4×6 sketchbooks in addition to my regular sketchbooks.  Most of the pages are filled with quick sketches, though sometimes I’ll do something more complete.  No matter how you slice it, that means a lot more sketching fun and sketching practice and I can do it when no other kind of sketching is possible.  The other thing that has happened is that my ability to see shapes quickly has improved immensely and it allows me to be more loose with my line work than is my typical style.

The sketch on the right is typical.  I was sitting in a restaurant with my family and we were waiting for our food to arrive.  This woman was standing at a bus stop across the street.  I took out my sketchbook and pen, a Uniball Vision, and quickly sketched her.  I doubt that it took two minutes, which included having to wait for a large truck that blocked my view as it waited for a light.  Then the book went back in my pocket and I was ‘back’ with my family.

The left page is also interesting as it shows my lack of respect for the space so many treat as hallowed ground – the pages of a sketchbook.  When you worry about whether every page is worthy of posting on Facebook, you will lose many opportunities.  My small sketchbook is a place where ‘who cares’ rules.

In this case I’d started a sketch while leaning against the wall of my daughter’s apartment.  I was looking out the back window and had started drawing a nearby building.  I was using a Zebra 301A ballpoint.  It was announced by my boss…err..wife, that it was time to go so the book went into my pocket.  We were headed for Ikea.

We hadn’t been in an Ikea in a decade and acted like farmers in a big city for the first time.  We ate meatballs and wanted to buy everything in sight.  Realizing that we had to write numbers of stuff we might want to buy, I pulled out my Moleskine Sketchbook and started writing.  Would you do that with your sketchbook?  It’s to your advantage to be willing to do so as otherwise you won’t start a lot of sketches because you won’t feel you have time to ‘finish’ or ‘do the sketch justice.’  We did buy that kitchen island, by the way, and hauled it back to Quebec.

Now, do you need a Moleskine sketchbook for this?  Heck no, and in fact I’d advise against it.  The paper is ok for pen or pencil but it stinks for watercolor isn’t necessary for pen, and they’re ridiculously expensive.   Most of my small sketchbooks are 3×5 or 4×6 sketchbooks that I’ve bought at our dollar store, though they typically cost me $2.


Sketching At The Mt. Herman Cemetery

Last Saturday our sketching group, Le Collectif, held a sketching event at the Mt. Herman Cemetery.  It’s located just south of Sillery and stretches down to the cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence.  This cemetery is nearly 200 years old, and contains, mostly, the remains of British, Scottish, and Irish people who did much to grow Quebec into what it is today.   And as you wander the rolling hills of the cemetery, below its canopy of old maples, ashes, and elms, you can’t help but be drawn to the names on the headstones, many dating to the middle of the 19th Century.

It must have been the case that marble was a lot cheaper back then than it is now as there’s a lot of it in this cemetery.  Tall, statuesque monuments, requiring a team of people to put in place, have stood for 100 years or more and they provide enduring symbols of what materials and craftsmanship can accomplish.

Our trip coincided with a memorial/commemoration of the retirement of the last of five Treggetts, that have acted as directors of the cemetery.  This was a bonus on the day as I got to meet Mark Brennan, the new director, his right hand, Maureen, and several other fine people who didn’t seem put off by my poor French and even allowed me to speak some English.  Oh…and they gave use cookies and coffee.

Mt Herman cemetery scene

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

But it was sketching we came for so it was sketching we did.  The morning was cold, wet and windy so actually sitting down to sketch was a struggle, and bordering on foolhardy.  Ultimately I came across this scene and set about putting pen to paper.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of scenes like this so I hope to do more sketching here before it becomes too cold for outdoor sketching.

Mt Herman headstone (1871)

Moleskine watercolor book (3×5), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbn Black

The cold morning fatigued me and it was hard to get onto the next sketch so I was slow in doing so.  Besides, the other sketchers were scattered around the grounds and I wanted to say hi and see what others were doing.  I’m nosey that way.  So, I did a lot of walking instead of sketching and it was fun.  I did sketch this headstone, dated 1871.

Mt Herman cemetery headstone

Moleskine watercolor book, Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Fernande, my regularly sketching partner was there and we ate lunch together and chatted about the day.  By then the sun had come out and it sort of revitalized us a bit.  After this late lunch we started looking around for something that plucked at our 2PM sensibilities and I found it in this modest headstone, made of large, cast stones with a Celtic circle and plaque attached to it.  I found three in the cemetery that used similar construction, though each was unique.  I’m doing the ink-sketch-a-day event that’s going on right now so I approached this as an ink-only sketch, including a lot more hatching than I would normally add.  Then I decided to add some color anyway.

By the time we finished it was time to head up for the memorial.  Sadly, the time we were given for this was 3PM but by 2:40, when we arrived, the service was over.  We were, however, in time for coffee, cookies, and comraderie with some very fine folks.  Thanks, Mark and Maureen.  We had a great day.

A Street Sketcher Selfie

Digital cameras brought about the phenomenon of the selfie.  I think it’s relevant that it required ‘free film’ and social media for this narcissistic portrayal of oneself to become so popular but that’s probably the grumpy old man in my talking.

When I was enrolled in the Sketchbook Skool’s “Seeing” semester I did at least one example of each homework assignment except one…the selfie.  I didn’t know how to do it.  I’m a street sketcher, not a studio artist.  The only time I draw at home is when I’m watching TV and that’s mostly doodling, with no specific goals in mind.

I thought about finding a reflective store window and doing one but felt that public selfie drawing was beyond anything I could endure.  So, I just passed on the assignment…until a couple days ago.  I was on a long walk, enjoying one of the last sunny, warm days we’re likely to have this year and I looked down.  The sun was creating  a negative of my image – most would call it a shadow.

So I got this bright idea to take a photo of it and then draw from my cell phone screen.  Great idea in principle, not so great in execution as the sun made the screen image barely visible.  I started this way but, ultimately, I “posed” myself a couple times, trying to capture pieces of ‘me’ from memory of those poses.  The result is definitely a ‘close enough’ image and in the end I was happy with it.  You can see my art bag (right side) and I even added my hand (sort of) holding my phone up to take the photo.  I mean, what’s a selfie without a cell phone?  Better, I think 🙂

Street sketcher's selfie

Moleskine watercolor sketchbook (3×5), Pilot Falcon, PCB ink

The Value Of Sitting

I’m a street sketcher.  I wander my city looking for things to sketch.  I’m not too picky and actually shun the things tourists photograph.  I guess I’m more of a “mundane sketcher” as I like the challenge of creating something that looks good from something most wouldn’t even notice.

But there are times when I “can’t find anything to sketch.”  I put that in quotes as it’s a common phrase among sketchers that really makes little sense, but the person saying it knows exactly what they mean.  Yes, there are trees, planes, trains and automobiles to sketch but nothing is speaking to them.

When I find myself in that situation I sit down.  Yep, it’s that simple.  If I sit, pretty much anywhere, I start to see things I don’t see when I’m walking.  I’ll sit and start looking around.  Rather quickly, I’ll find something interesting to sketch.  Remember, I’m not searching for Mona Lisa.  I just want something that motivates me to get out my sketchbook and pen.

This sketch is the result of sitting down in a tiny park along the St. Charles River.  I sat on a rock as it was dryer than the benches because it had been raining as I walked.  Before I got to add color to this sketch, it started raining again so I had to add the color when I got home.

park near St. Charles River

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

I was returning from a long walk and I sat on a bench in Parc Brebeuf, along my river (the St. Charles) and decided to sketch this small scene of a part of the river bank.  Done quickly, I added color to this one when I got home as well.

Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, Pilot Falcon, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, Pilot Falcon, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

So, the next time you’re out and looking for something to sketch, sit down.  It may help.

Can’t a City Horse Get A Drink Around Here?

It seems that with all of the issues that face us these days that New York’s Mayor de Blasio could pick something more pressing than elimination of horses from Central Park.  Then again, that is consistent with a lot of the weirdness we see from our politicians these days.

But indeed, this anti-equine maybe claims he wants to replace the horse carriages of Central Park with electric cars.  Progress?  Throwing tourist dollars down the drain?  Eliminating one of the few ways for city kids to see animals?  Are horses just too much nature for New Yorkers, or just for Mayor de Blasio?

I bring this up because here in Quebec City we have horse-drawn carriages.  Tourists pay way too much money to be transported around the old city and parts of the Plains of Abraham, behind one of the many beautiful horses who work for… well, I’m not sure who signs their checks.

But the horse union, long ago, must have lobbied long and hard for proper facilities.  Behind each horse is a ‘waste capture device’ which prevents horses from being embarrassed by things they might drop along the way.  And when the tourists are paying large fees, horses have a ready supply of oats to snack on.

But horses are no fools.  They also got the city to install several horse-sized drinking fountains around the city.  They didn’t settle for plain old metal or concrete troughs either.  No…they wanted something with class, fountains with running water.  None of that stagnant stuff for them.

And so, thanks to horses, we’re blessed with several beautiful drinking fountains, big enough for horses.  I realized, after walking by them a gazillion times, that I’d never drawn one.  I have rectified that omission and present the results here.

horse drinking fountain

Moleskine watercolor sketchbook (5×3), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black