Sketchbook Skool And Rainy Days

The last couple days have been rainy and windy and I haven’t been able to walk and sketch like I normally do this time of year.  So I thought I’d talk a bit about something new in my sketching life.

It’s called Sketchbook Skool and if you’re part of the social media crowd, you’ve probably heard of it.  Operated by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, it’s a school that’s as much about motivation and ideas as it is about teaching techniques.  This is the second session they’ve held and it’s called “Seeing”, with emphasis on how artists see and communicate what they see in their art.  It brings together Liz Steel, Cathy Johnson, Danny Gregory, Brenda Swenson, Andrea Joseph, and Koosje Koene as instructors.

It seemed ideal for me, and comes at an ideal time.  I’ve been very myopic in my approach to sketching thus far.  When I started sketching, 2 1/2 years ago, I couldn’t draw anything.  So I set out with a single goal – to learn to draw something… anything.  I didn’t worry about watercolors, compositions, or any of the myriad of details that one can be involved with in art.  I just wanted to draw stuff.

While I still have a lot to learn about drawing, I’ve gotten to the point where I can make scratches on paper that people at least recognize as the thing I was looking at so it seems to me that now is the time to start thinking of some of those other things that make an artist actually be an artist.  And I think Sketchbook Skool is going to help me in that.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera

So far we’ve had two assignments from our first teacher, Danny Gregory.  We were to draw a piece of toast, with emphasis on drawing all the details of the surface.   It was an interesting sketch as I nearly went cross-eyed trying to ensure that I got all the little holes and crevices in the right places.  I want to do it again with a small section of grass or some other heavily textured surface.

Our second assignment was an investigation of how we see when drawing quickly vs slowly.  We were supposed to draw something in a minute and then draw right on top of that drawing, but more slowly, trying to do a detailed drawing.  Danny’s example used color for the first, fast rendition and pen for the second, slower version.

I drew our vacuum cleaner using yellow and gray Tombow brush pens.  We were to spend one minute on this.  I then spent 10 minutes drawing the machine using a Pilot Prera.  I really like this idea and hope to do a bunch of them.


Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink

So far, I’m having a ball in Sketchbook Skool.  The video instruction is first class and interactions with other students is providing a bunch of great ideas.  Maybe I will be an artist some day.


Sketching On The Montmorency River

CMontmorencyOne of the tourist spectacles around Quebec City is Montmorency Falls.  The falls themselves are nice but the tourist areas around it are equally nice so it’s fun to go sketching there.  To make it even better, I can hop a bus that will take me there, which is what I did this morning.

Yvan and I met very early  and headed for the Montmorency Falls area.  The falls weren’t our target though.  Our quary was rocks.  I’m tempted to make a quary/quarry joke here but I won’t.

Suffice it to say that when we got to the falls we crossed the bridge above them and headed north, up the river.  It was much cooler than I’d expected and my shorts and t-shirt left me shaking in my boots, almost literally.  Yvan was smarter, wore long pants and even brought a windbreaker.  Even so, he said he was cold.  I was colder.  I win…errr…lose.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

But we’re tough sketchers and had fun anyways.  I got to break in a new Stillman & Birn sketchbook. This one is a 6×8 spiral-bound Delta series book.  It’s the first time I’ve used their ivory paper but I thought I should try it.  I think I like the ivory color.  It’s probably better for some things than for others but this morning’s subjects seemed to like it just fine.  The paper itself goes without saying as it’s one of the best watercolor sketchbook papers in existence.  For those who may wonder, the Delta is the equivalent of S&B’s Beta series which is very popular with the watercolor crowd.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray


We’re Having A Heat Wave

We’re having a heat wave.  In French it’s called a canicule.  Regardless of what language you use, it means hot and humid and we’ve certainly got that.  I blame myself.  I spent so much time whining that I couldn’t go sketching because winter wouldn’t end that, it seems, someone from down south sent us a dose of hot.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink

In spite of the heat, though, this sketcher marches onward.  I was to meet sketching buddy Claudette at Place d’Youville, a busy area just outside the St. Jean Gate into the old city.  While I waited for her I did this sketch of the entrance toan Italian restaurant.

When Claudette arrived we headed into the old city to find something to sketch.  Our goals were a bit atypical because what to sketch took a back seat to finding a shady, cool place to sit.  It wasn’t easy.

Eventually, though, we found ourselves in Carmel Park, a tiny little park (you can easily throw a stone across it) that’s up on a hill within the walled city.  Trees gave us shade and our altitude gave us access to a nice breeze that kept us comfortable.  Claudette sketched church steeples while I fixated on the back porch of an apartment building that was probably 30-40 feet below me.  Mostly I got caught up in the gorgeous flowers, flowers I didn’t do justice to I’m afraid.  Nevertheless, we had fun and stayed cool.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Sketching “Around Back”

I wander my town, sketching the older buildings of our fine city.  They remain my favorite sketching subject.  I try to avoid the touristy buildings; their spirits have been stolen by the gazillion photographs taken of them annually.  I’ve been doing building portraits it for about 2 1/2 years.

It may be, however, that I’ve missed the best subjects because I’ve always drawn the front doors, the facade, the part of the building designed to invite you in.  Here in Quebec, however, some of the older areas of the city present challenging and interesting subjects if you walk “around back” where some of the age and development of the city are more visible.

In these neighborhoods you see porches, old garage areas, tiny apartments and sheds, all scrunched together such that no space is underutilized.  It’s as though the logic was that ‘Here’s a wall.  We only need three more and we can…’   Quebecers refer to it as “rebouter”, which I think translates to “tied together” or something similar.  All I know is that it’s in these rear spaces you can find unrenovated structures that must date back to the 1800s.

Claudette and I were out on a sketching adventure when we came across this opportunity.  Across from this scene is a nice little park area with lots of shade.  Guess where we sat as we drew this scene.

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Lex Gray

Long Walk – Little Sketches

We had a rain day that prevented me from taking my daily walk so when I was greeted with sun the next morning I decided to double my walking efforts.

It was a great day for walking and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.  Rather than spending a long time on a single sketch, I did a couple of small, quicker sketches, just to feed the urban sketcher in me.

Looking down from the bike path into Parc Brebeuf

Looking down from the bike path into Parc Brebeuf

These are both around four inches in size and done with my Pilot Penmanship, a very fine pen.   I don’t think the watercolor was an improvement, but that’s often the case.  I really do need to practice doing watercolors.

Along the St. Charles River

Along the St. Charles River



Pencil Before Ink: Another Approach

In my last blog post I admitted that I often commit the deadly sin of using a pencil in advance of my fountain pens.  This is a sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t thing but I suggested that there are two ways/reasons why I use a pencil.  In that post I showed one of those reasons, where I simply drew some blobs to give me some indication of the location of the various objects tht make up a scene.  The reason is that by doing this I can draw any of the objects while knowing how it relates to the other objects as the preliminary pencil work, that represent my thinking about those relationships, has already been done.

The other reason that causes me to do some basic pencil work before moving on to ink arises when I draw man-made objects, like buildings, cars, etc.  I could just start drawing, of course, but I prefer to analyze these objects separate from the actual drawing.  I want to spend time ‘seeing’ the relative sizes, locations and orientations and I want to do it with a higher level of precision than the example in the previous blog post.

2014-06-21deAuteuilResidencePencilTake a look at this preliminary pencil sketch.  You’ll notice that there is no detail.  It’s mostly about boxes but those boxes represent the windows and door of the building.  While drawing those boxes I paid close attention to their relative alignment and sizes.  I didn’t fuss over whether the lines were straight or the corners square as I was more interested in whether the two windows on the left were the same size (the third window is different) and to ensure that the windows would be lined up with one another when I drew them.  Notice that I also drew a few lines to represent the front of a car.  Here I was only interested in the windshield and hood angles, where the car sat relative to the bottom left window, and where the curb line met the front of the car.

Is this necessary?  Of course not.  In fact, Marc Taro Holmes just did a great blog post on using ink dots to organize a drawing.  I’ve used that method myself.  Still do.  But by using a pencil,  I end up with boxes that I can look at, compare to the building I was sketching, and, for me, it provides better visualization of how the sketch will look when finished.

Regardless of how you do it, the important thing, I think is that you do this sort of organizational step before you start your actual drawing.  Too many sketches are less than they could be simply because the drawing step was started too soon, leaving the sketcher to discover, major misalignments, a lack of space for a particular object, and other dilemmas that are easily avoided.

Another advantage of pencil use it that a pencil is a tool separate from my actual drawing tool.  By using it, it’s easier for my feeble brain to understand that I’m ‘organizing’, and not ‘drawing.’  It causes me to take the time to actually see the organization of my subject and causes me to organize it on the page.  Often, if I work directly with pen, I’m inclined to skip this step or rush through it too quickly.  Give it a try.  It might work for you in the same way.

In any case, here’s the result after I add ink.  Once again, the pencil lines are so light (I increased the contrast for the post) that there was no need for an eraser of any kind.


Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray


Quick Sketching My River

Yesterday was the day before the official beginning of summer and so, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I headed out on a long walk and sketching session.  The sun was shining and I was whistling a happy tune.  Ok…ok… so I wandered into writing the opening for a musical.  Suffice it to say, it was a nice day.

But as I walked I noticed the clouds moving in.  I noticed the winds pick up.  I noticed my happy tune whistling had stopped.  I decided to sit on a fake log chair along my river and sketch a bit.  I also noticed that I was bordering on being cold and that I would need clips to keep the sketchbook paper from rattling in the wind.  So much for a summer day.

I’ve received a couple emails asking me what, exactly, I do with a pencil as a precursor to my ink drawing so I decided to try to illustrate the couple ways I use one.  Here is one of them.

This sketch was to be a large-scale, for me, urban nature sketch so I started with a very lightly drawn bunch of scribbles just to locate the various bushes, river, and building.  I shot a photo of the pencil layout with my cell phone and later manipulated the heck out of it to get the lines dark enough so you can see them….kinda.  This pencil work took 20-30 seconds.

2014-06-20 Pencil

You’ll notice that there’s no detail, not much more than vague lines that locate the various components.  All I’m thinking about is location and size of the various shapes and their relationship to one another.  By identifying these things I’m then free to concentrate on any part of the sketch without having to think about whether that part will connect to other parts.  For instance, because I know where both sides of the river will be in my sketch, I can draw the foreground plants, knowing where they should hide the river.

So out came the pens.  I started drawing the foreground using my TWSBI Mini filled with Platinum Carbon Black.  The rest of the sketch was done with a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  No eraser was abused in the creation of this sketch.  Those light pencil lines just disappear behind ink and color.

I worked quickly and admit this is not my best work as, quite frankly, I was getting cold.  Yes, that’s right – cold – in middle of June.  Who’da thunk it.  Total time for this sketch was 23 minutes.  I kept track so I could report that as well.   I’m sure glad that tomorrow will be summer.  I’m getting tired of the cold.


Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera and TWSBI MIni


While Walking Through The Park One Day

The Plains of Abraham, in Quebec City, is a large area where a guy once had a farm.  Then the Brits climbed the cliffs, shot it out with the French and among other things, they built a large fort to protect the area from those big bad Americans that would soon invade.

They never did but the result is that this large, partially wooded, and well-developed park area is now labelled Battlefield Park on the signs but everyone who lives here calls the area the Plains of Abraham.  It’s our oasis – a place to sit under a tree and have a picnic.  It’s a place to walk through a forest, although it’s really a managed clump of trees by forest standards.  Our art museum is in the middle of the Plains.  When the likes of Paul McCartney comes to town, the Plains are where he sings Let It Be.  Oh, and the Plains plays a significant role in my mystery novel, Her Book of Shadows.

It’s also a place where I go when I’m in the mood to sketch some nature, though more often than not I turn to my favorite subjects, man-made objects.  This sketch is something of a mix but I couldn’t resist this small scene.  After I did the sketch I went to the garden to sketch, but all I did was sit and enjoy the sun on my face and the large array of tulips that were blooming.  Life is sweet.


Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lex Gray

Halloween door sketching

A week or so ago I posted a sketch of a fancy door in Quebec City.  A comment from a long-time friend, Pat Roberson, asking for more door sketches has resulted in this one.

A week ago I saw this door but I was on my way to St. Vallier to sketch with friends and so couldn’t sketch it.  It’s not one of the old, classic Quebec City doors, but Pat is such a fan of Halloween, and apparently doors, that I just had to go back and sketch this aperture into the bright orange house with black trim.  Hope you like it, Pat.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Sketching Rocks In St. Vallier – Part 2

Yesterday I talked about a day-long sketching session in St. Vallier with my buddies.  I mentioned that I did a sketch in the afternoon but didn’t have time to apply color.  I also promised that I would post it once I did add the color.

Here it is.  This wall of rocks  was piled up to support the hill behind it.  Just behind the fence is the walking trail that we used to walk down onto the beach.  It seemed like a fitting challenge since our goal was to practice drawing rocks.  Hope you like it.  I nearly went cross-eyed trying to do this.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 9x6 sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Alpha 9×6 sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray