Return To Museum Sketching

I wonder what my dad would think if he knew that the thing I remember most about him was him saying to me (often), “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached.”  The sad thing is that, decades later, he’s still right.

I headed off to meet sketching buddies at the Musee de la civilisation the other day, which amounts to full acknowledgement that outdoor sketching is finished, or nearly so, for the year.  It’s starting to get cold and this Arizona boy doesn’t do cold.  None of us is very excited by the current expositions at the museum but there’s always something to draw, if only to provide practice and opportunity to try different techniques.

Once at the museum and I started thinking of sketching, I realized that I’d forgotten my light and my stool.  Most of the rooms are so dark that without a light clipped to my sketchbook, I can’t see what I’m drawing.  And, oddly when you think of it, most of the displays are low, requiring a stool to get your eyes on level with what you’re drawing.

Lucky for me, my head was attached and I used it to decide to draw something from the main entrance, where the museum seems willing to pay the electric bill and thus there is sufficient light.  I thought about the stairwells, they’d be an interesting drawing challenge.  I thought about the old bones of a boat that’s part of the entrance display.  To do it justice, though, would require a lot of hours.  I thought about drawing the ticket counter, but I’d already done that once.

Instead, I looked out the window to the courtyard associated with the museum and did this sketch.  I forgot a lot that day but because of this sketch I’ll always remember to be grateful that my head is attached.

Quebec City Museum of Civilization courtyard

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Sketching A Hansom Cab


A minute later we were both in a hansom, driving furiously for the Brixton Road. – A Study in Scarlet 

I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.  Not the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock.  Not the TV show Sherlocks.  I’m a fan of the original, as written by Arthur Conan-Doyle.  In those stories, Holmes and Watson were often travelling in hansom cabs.

Sherlock’s carriage equivalent of the taxi was, more precisely, the Hansom safety cab, designed by architect Joseph Hansom in 1834.  It’s interesting to note that “cab” is short for cabriolet, a French word for a 2-wheel, horse-drawn carriage.  It’s also where taxi cab comes from.

I’d never actually seen one until Quebec City’s Musée de la civilisation opened an exhibit of 13 representatives from a large collection of carriages.  I had to draw it.

I did this one in a Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7) sketchbook.  It was the first sketch in my new, “Spring” sketchbook.  I hope you like it.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon w/De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon w/De Atramentis Document Black

Speed Drawing With Colored Pencil

Last Sunday I headed out to our museum.  We were in the midst of a blizzard and the snow was going sideways.  On a couple occasions wind gusts caused me to go sideways as well.  But I was walking through this mess because I’d told some friends I would meet them.  Later I found out that the only reason they didn’t cancel was because they’d promised me.  We humans are funny that way.

Previously I’ve expressed my boredom with drawing the heads of Olympus but there I was again, faced with numerous white, and now very familiar heads.  I decided to try something new.  I’d bought a Pentel 8-color mechanical pencil and decided to give it a try, using it while seeing how quickly I could grab a likeness of the heads.


It was a good plan with a couple flaws.  First, I have little ability to do this but on a more pragmatic level, my sketchbook has too much tooth for soft pencil and the points wear down very quickly and second, I couldn’t find my sharpener.  So a new experiment arose.  Could I draw with a dull pointy device.  The results are these 3″ heads drawn on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper.


Better drawings of marble heads have been drawn but I found this exercise fun and very helpful.  It was fun to work quickly and doing so with these subjects forced me to identify the big features, ignore the details, and to emphasize the dark/light relationships.  The dull point furthered that goal as it was impossible to get lost in detail when the drawing was 2″ square and the lead was rounded over 2mm colored pencil.  I will be repeating this experiment but hopefully on something other than Olympic gods.

Bobbing Around In The Sketching Doldrums

When I was a kid I was infatuated by the notion of pirate ships, the HMS Bounty and other sailing ships portrayed in movies getting caught in ‘the doldrums’, the area along the equator where prevailing winds are often very low.  Without wind power, these ships and their crews could flounder for days, waiting for some weather disruption that would give them enough wind to take them out of the area.

These days we talk about being ‘in the doldrums’ more figuratively but, for me and my sketching right now, my doldrums make me think of those movie scenes where the guys on the ship mournfully looked out at a dead calm sea, waiting for something to happen.

I know that spring is going to come ‘real soon’ and that while truly warm temperatures are still a couple months away, there will be some ‘tolerable’ days when I can get out on the streets and sketch.  But as I’ve become completely bored doing pencil renderings of white heads of Olympic gods, I’m bobbing up and down in my imaginary sketching ocean, anticipating the upcoming exodus from my house and onto the streets.

So I’ve been filling little sketchbooks with doodles, quick gestures of people on the streets and an occasional coffee house session.  They’re fun, they’re probably improving my hand-eye coordination, but they’re not much to look at so I won’t bore you with them.

But it’s been a while since I’ve posted so I’ll show you a sketch I did when I just HAD to go somewhere and sketch.  I was at the museum and decided to try something different.  If the subjects won’t change, change your approach to them, says me.  And so, rather than spending time blocking in proper proportions, I set a time limit of around half an hour, and started scribbling with my Pilot Falcon in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook.  Direct with ink, pedal to the metal.  Would it look anything like Zeus’ head?  It actually took me a few minutes beyond my half-hour limit because I grabbed a waterbrush I had that’s filled with very dilute Lex Gray ink and, shazaam…a mediocre depiction of the head of Zeus, a head that’s had its nose broken off giving is a rather odd look.

Can we just have a bit of spring?  Pretty please.  With sugar on top?  I’ll be good.  Honest.  The doldrums aren’t as much fun as I imagined when I was a kid.Zeus sketch

The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

In my last blog post I talked about how dark it is in the museum exhibit room where the new carriage exhibit is displayed.  I bit the bullet and decided to try to draw one of them.  I took a sketchbook light with me and I needed it.  In fact, if I’d had three of them, I would have used them all.  It was so dark where I was sitting that I couldn’t see what pens I was pulling from my bag without shining the light onto the bag.

Here’s the sketch I generated before I just gave up.  I was sitting no more than 8-10 feet behind the rear wheel and yet I could not see the front of the carriage and had to walk up beside it to figure out what needed to be drawn.  You know how they tell you to spend 80% of your time looking at the subject and 20% at your paper so you can get the proportions correct?  Well, I’m sure I did that but I don’t think the advice assumes you have to walk around the room to see the subject.  What I’m certain of is that this sketch is wonky from all the movement.  In the light or in the dark, those big, thin, spoked wheels made me go cross-eyed.

And so, as I write this, I rely on the axiom, “Any day that includes sketching is better than a day without it.”  But I think our museum is taking photon austerity just a bit too far.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Sailor calligraphy pen , De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Sailor calligraphy pen , De Atramentis Document Black

Drawing Lights In A Dark Room

There’s a new exhibit at Quebec City’s Musée de la civilisation.  It’s thirteen gorgeous carriages and sleighs from a large collection.  They are amazing examples of transportation from times past… all crammed into a room where, apparently, someone forgot to pay the light bill.

I understand the crowding problem.  These things are very large objects and displaying them indoors requires a LOT of space.  It’s also the case that it’s not the museum’s prime directive to provide enough space for artists to get back to a proper viewing angle for drawing.  I get that, and some imagination is going to be required to capture these objects on paper.

But why does it have to be so dark?  It’s so dark that it’s hard to see the details.  I had to get up regularly to look at what I was sketching to see its construction.  The fact that many of them are black makes this even more difficult.  It will be a challenge and doesn’t do justice to the objects.

I spent most of my first sketching session in this exhibit just looking.  The carriages are amazing and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the different ways the undercarriages were designed and built.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

I don’t know if it was because it was so dark or something else but I was drawn to the lights on some of these carriages, which were much more than lights; they were works of art unto themselves.  I drew two of them.  Hope you like them.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Sketching Rendevous At The Musee de la Civilisation

I’m a member of the Collective des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec.  And yes, the name’s too long but they do a great job of organizing life drawing workshops throughout the winter months.  I’m not very interested in drawing people but this group causes me to wish I were.  In the summer there is a great weekly event where we gather in a local park and draw people, mostly portraits.  They’ve also started to organize outdoor, group events with other sketching targets.


These stage masks are part of a very large raised-relief sculpture that is part of the Olympus exhibit. The holes for the eyes and mouth look sort of odd in this context but it is what it is.


So it was last weekend when we all gathered at the Musee de la Civilisation to sketch the Olympus exhibit.  It was a great day as it’s always fun to get together with people who like to do the things you do.  We sketched all morning, broke for lunch and sketching talk, and then some of us returned to sketch some more.

Kerry_OpenI worked in pencil the whole day and I’d forgotten my pencil case so I was using a Pentel Kerry (0.5mm) in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook.  I love this pencil.  It’s pretty spendy but being able to put a cap on the pencil end (the entire red portion on the rear is the cap) is really nice for street sketching.  I do wish I’d bought the 0.7mm though.

Truthfully, while I love the Alpha series for my pen sketching, it’s got more tooth than I like for pencil.  I prefer their Epsilon series for pencil, though I’m not much of a pencil driver regardless of paper.  But I had a lot of fun and the museum was warm, unlike my normal stomping grounds of Quebec streets.


You can’t have Greek Gods without snakes.



Colder Than Mars, They Said

Have you noticed that the news exaggerates everything?  They no longer report.  Rather, they compete with Downton Abbey and football games for viewers and will do everything and anything to make their program entertaining.  I expect that soon, Captain America or Thor will replace Wolf Blitzer as anchor of CNN.

It’s really sad.  The week we were told about how Canada was “colder than Mars” a couple days ago.  While it’s true that, for a period of a few hours, a part of Canada was colder than where NASA’s robot was on Mars, but Canada didn’t get to -200C when the sun went down like it does on Mars.

Heck, we only got down to -40C and it had warmed all the way up to -36C by the time I got the bright idea to walk to the museum to meet my buddies for a sketching session.   For those who are Fahrenheit-challenged, -40C is -40F.  Warmer than Mars on a summer’s eve for sure, but still sort of cold by freeze your skin standards.

So off I went, the intrepid sketcher, walking as fast as I could on a 40-minute walk to the museum.  A smarter sketcher would have just hopped on a bus but no, I “needed the exercise.”

facehurtsBy the time I got there I realized that I’d been crazy.  I could no longer feel my fingers in spite of the heavy gloves I was wearing.  My face was on fire and the I was starting to think in terms of how much further I could walk before I’d fall over.

But I finally arrived…warmth.  Next problem was how to sketch when I couldn’t feel the pen.  I walked around for about 15 minutes before deciding to do a looser sketch than my typical approach, maybe as a result of Liz Steel’s course.  I sat down in front of the largest head in the Olympus display.  It’s at least two-feet tall and very impressive – more impressive than this sketch suggests.  My fountain pens were really cold so I used a Uniball Vision Fine hybrid gel pen, adding a hint of color with Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.  Of course, it was drawn in a Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook (10×7).

We took a break, had some tea, and then did a bit more sketching before calling it a day.  I took the bus home, a nice, warm bus.



Sketching A Door

One of the exercises for this week’s Liz Steel Foundations class was to draw a door.  This was supposed to be our “outdoor” exercise.

There is nothing I’d rather do than draw outdoors but I’m afraid that weather dictates that I won’t be able to do that until at least April and that’s being optimistic.  Not wanting to wait quite that long to do the assignment, I found an alternative.  As I was leaving the museum I noticed that if I sat down just inside the rear entrance, I could see the door across the street.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The door leads into the Hotel Saint Pierre but the door has a far richer history as it served as the main entrance of the “Quebec Assurance Building,” and the interesting thing is that this is carved, in English, in the upper reaches of the building – a remnant of times past as it’s fairly rare to find English written anywhere in Quebec City.

The exercise goal was to ‘set up by measurement’ and thus the principle goal was “ be as accurate as possible.”  I can’t say that I was (sorry Liz) but I did it in my typical cartoony style and in spite of what it looks like, I did measure, with my thumb stuck up in the air and everything.  I really enjoyed sketching something that wasn’t a statue and I think I need to look around for some more doors to look out of.

Quebec Assurance Building door

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Black

Sketching On A Sunday Morning

I went to the museum this morning and decided to draw a short column piece featuring three woman.  I didn’t have my pencil case with me so I decided to do it in my sketchbook (10×7), using my Namiki Falcon.  This is one time when I wished for larger paper as it was hard to capture all the detail in what is roughly an 8″ high sketch.  But it was a bundle of fun to do.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Addendum:  I was playing around last night and added just a hint of color to this sketch.  I think it improved it somewhat, mostly by removing some of the starkness of the black on white.   I didn’t want to turn it into a color sketch but now I’m wondering what it would look like if I increased the tonal variation even more.  What do you think?