Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone?

Oh how I hate that phrase.  It’s used in various ways to suggest something, but I never know exactly what, at least when it’s directed towards me or my sketches.

But maybe it’s a soft way of talking about something very basic to learning art.  I’ve noticed that amateur artists in particular don’t progress because they conflate learning with simple doing.  We believe we will improve by going out with our sketching group once a week, doing sketches just as we’ve done every other week.

Sure, you’ll improve, slowly, by this approach.  The problem is that when you go out with your sketching group, you want to produce something that you can proudly display when everyone says “what did you draw?”  Because of this, you sketch in the way you know.  There is no experimentation.  You choose subjects that are similar to ones you’ve drawn in the past.  So, you get better and better at what you know, avoiding anything that you don’t know.

I’ve always thought about my drawing as a two-part thing.  One part is the execution/performance part.  I use what I know to produce the best sketch I know how to make.  I do learn a bit from this process but mostly it’s about producing sketches that day.

It’s the second part, the learning part, that improves all of my sketching and I feel that progress has come more quickly than would be the case if I’d simply concentrated one that first part.  This learning part burns through paper a lot faster than the first part of my sketching life.  In this time I’ll create pages full of elllipses and hatching of all kinds.  It’s really fun to just draw a random amoeba-like shape and then contour it with hatching.  I’ll also draw lines between dots drawn in advance.  I’ll try to draw over a single line repeatedly trying to do so without widening the line.

I’ll draw parts of other people’s sketches, trying to get a feel for how they’ve made the lines they’ve drawn.  I’ll quickly sketch stuff, mostly from commercials on TV.  I’ll draw lines and divide them into thirds, fourths and fifths, followed up by measuring how good I was at it and correcting the errors.    I’ve filled a bunch of cheap sketchbooks with this stuff and it’s rare that any of it sees the light of day, but it’s the most important “art” I produce.  Now that I’m thinking about it, I should post some of those pages so you can see how disjointed, loose, and how little thought is given to producing “art” of any kind.  It’s all about training my visual cortex to gather the right information and disseminate it onto the page. Hmm.. maybe I’ll do that.

Anyway, while I’m very much in love with making lines with fountain pens, I also draw with ballpoint pens, brush pens, and watercolor pencils.  Sometimes I’ll draw in pencil.  Most of this is done while I watch movies or TV shows but sometimes I’ll just sit down and draw with the notion of improving on things I don’t feel I know.  This gives me a lot of things to choose from and on this day I decided that drawing with pencil was the order of the day.  Sadly, I didn’t think well enough and just started drawing on a piece of Fabriano Artistico CP paper, which is not an ideal paper for pencil.  There are numerous errors here but I learned a lot in the process and am now motivated to do it again but on a more suitable paper.

Drawn with a 0.5 mechanical pencil

I Don’t Do Portraits

Oops…I guess I do.

One thing the art world has taught me is that I don’t have the “people are interesting to look at” gene.  While everyone else attends life drawing classes and draws portrait after portrait, I prefer to draw fire hydrants, buildings and telephone poles.  I don’t know why but if I were to rank sketching subjects, people would be at the bottom of my list.

BUT, sketching a person walking by a fire hydrant, that’s an interesting idea and so I spend a fair amount of time doing quick, loose sketches of people.

Yet another BUT is that I’ve come to realize that being able to draw a likeness can get you into places.  My buddy, Yvan, is always drawing people and because of it people in groups immediately understand him and what he does.  It’s harder to comprehend a fire hydrant sketcher.

Canson Mi-Teintes (5x7) using a Col-Erase pencil. Very hard to get darks

Also, to me, there are several “core” skills that make up drawing.  These are 1) the ability to measure/estimate angles and proportions, 2) achieve accuracy of line and form, and 3) mastery over whatever materials you’re using.  I’ve spent the last 3 1/2 years, starting out trying to draw cubes, with a rather myopic “gotta learn those things” approach.  I’m getting so that my ability to assess angles and proportions is becoming a feature, not a liability in my sketching, and I’m ok with pushing my fountain pen around (watercolor is another matter).

Canson Mi-Teintes (5x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black - This is tough with pen but I barely know which end of a pencil to put to paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes (5×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black – This is tough with pen but I barely know which end of a pencil to put to paper.

It seems, however, that fire hydrant drawing can only take you so far when trying to learn form and accuracy and so I’ve spent a lot of time in museums, drawing all sorts of stuff that I would never “choose” to draw, all in the name of improving my accuracy, ability to see half-tones, and the rest.  I figure I only have another 40-50 years of doing it and I’ll have it figured out.  By the age of 115, I might be able to call myself “artist.”

All of that is to say that I’m even drawing portraits… kinda.  I head to a local park every Thursday night, where a small group sits on the porch of a small chapel and we sketch one another, during 20-minute poses.  I’ve never mentioned it before because… well, I’m pretty bad at it.  I thought, however, I would share a couple of the sketches I’ve done recently, just to change things up here just a bit.  It’s ok to laugh.

Canson Mi-Teintes (5x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black - I'm really lost when it comes to hatching really light shades that are the form of the face.

Canson Mi-Teintes (5×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black – I’m really lost when it comes to hatching really light shades that are the form of the face.

Alfred Pellan: Quebec Artist

Alfred Pellan is well-known to the Quebec art crowd as a guy who produced surreal imagery, kinda-sorta Picasso-like (I’ll probably be stoned for saying so).  Born in Quebec City, he became closely associated with École des Beaux-Arts de Québec.  Like many Quebec artists, he also studied at  École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  He died in 1988.

There’s a bust in honor of him in the Jardin de St. Roch and I drew it.  I struggle with pencil shading.  I’m sure this is in no small part because I do it so rarely but to make matters worse I decided to try to do it with red pencil.  My buddy Yvan does it so smoothly so I know it’s not the tool, but the guy I see in the mirror every morning that is at fault.

Nevertheless, here is my attempt.  It was drawn on 8 1/2 x 11 Strathmore Bristol (vellum) using a 2mm lead holder and Turquoise red lead.  There was also a couple hours involved.



We Continue The Statue Quest

We gathered at Quebec’s Place d’Armes to sketch the large fountain, or at least the statue that stands atop it.  For some reason I just wasn’t in the mood.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the subject or my new obsession of sketching in these small, mustache notebooks and their toned paper.

In either case, I decided to continue experimentation with that book, trying different approaches.  I turned my attention to one of the buildings.  I had luck adding a bit of color previously so I thought I’d see if I could use my waterbrush with dilute ink in it.  It worked better than I thought and I’ll use this technique again.  No ghosting or bleedthrough on the back side.



2015-06-04PlaceDArmes02At this point the sun left us and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  I’ve been amazed at how much being cold has a similar effect on my desire to sketch.  What happens is that my attention span goes to near zero so I cope by doing a lot of really quick-sketches, just trying to grab proportions of the people walking around.  I won’t bore you with a bunch of scribbles but here’s an example of people walking across a street.

2015-06-04PlaceDArmes03I’ll include this one too as it’s an example of what happens when you decide to draw a guy standing, while talking to a couple people sitting on a bench. I was a minute into this sketch when the people stood up and the three of them walked away (grin).  It was time to turn the page and I did.

Once the statue sketchers had finished, it was decided that we’d head to another location to sketch the bust of another guy.  At least the sun had returned.

2015-06-04Dauteui01lI still wasn’t excited about sculpture sketching and I continued to work in tiny format.  It was an opportunity to try red lead in a Pentel Kerry 0.5mm pencil.  I did the sculpture sketch quicker than I should have and I generated a head that was too tall, but it gave me time to do a second sketch of a hotel entry on the other side of the street.  It was fun and, once again we had a great time.




Did ya miss me?  I’ve been roadtripping and so haven’t been posting.  Got back late last night and I’ll be posting a short series of posts about my trip, at least as it relates to sketching.


DrawWithMePointIn the meantime, here’s a pencil I found in Toronto.  I paid a ridiculous price for it ($3) but heck, who can resist a pencil that says Draw With Me?  As it turns out, it’s a good quality pencil and looks to be hand-sharpened rather than ground to a point by a machine.  I will accommodate its request.

People In Motion by Marc Taro Holmes

I’m a big fan of Marc Taro Holmes.  His precise and yet loose (how does he do that?) building drawings are a wonder to behold, at least for this street sketcher.  Marc works larger than I do, looser than I do, and a whole lot better than I do but I can’t get enough of his work.

His recent book, Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location rests next to my butt location when I watch TV and while I’ve read it twice, I find myself flipping through it, studying the drawings, as my wife and I watch…yawn…American Idol.


But what I’m not, however, is a sketcher who searches out people to draw, attends life drawing classes, and the rest.  Sorry folks, but I find people boring.  Buildings are just cooler.  That said, when Marc, in conjunction with Craftsy, offered a course titled People in Motion I immediately signed up.  I was going to get to see Marc draw…yippee!

I’m really glad I did.  Marc is not only a great artist/sketcher, he’s a well-organized, articulate teacher with a willingness to provide lots of information in high-density form, showing you every step of his approach to drawing people.  People or xylophones, what Marc teaches in this class will help you draw them quicker and better.

He provides several ways of doing it but his primary method is a four-part approach.  I suspect that more often than not, Marc himself smushes the four parts together when he’s on the street sketching, but for learning what he’s thinking as he captures people dividing up the thought processes and results of them on paper, is an ideal way to get the points across.  And you know what?  Marc has even got me, yeah…go figure, ME interested in drawing people.

I encourage anyone who would like to capture ANYTHING quickly onto paper, to at least view the intro video of this course.  Better, just take the course.  It’ll be money well spent.

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.



Sketching The Heads Of Olympus

I found myself chuckling at myself as I struggled to use pencil to draw this plaster head of what may or may not be one of the Greek gods of old.  Besides an uncertainty about the subject, the placard said that it was created in 50AD and was once part of a full statue.  I thought it nice and besides, there was a seat available.

I was chuckling because I couldn’t help but think of how people talk about moving from pencil to pen.  It’s said to be “scary” or “really hard.”  I’ve done almost all my sketching with fountain pens and I find sketching with pencil to be “really hard.”  I’m unsure of the marks I make with pencil and certainly skills like graded tones elude me.  But it sure is fun, as is every kind of sketching I’ve done.  Maybe I’m kidding myself but I think the more lines I put on paper the better I will get so that’s my goal.  As I make those marks, I just hope that some of them resemble what I’m trying to draw.  Occasionally they do.

Anyways, this drawing was done on Strathmore Series 300 vellum bristol paper.  I like it for this sort of drawing because it’s stiff enough to stand on its own and seems to like pencil.  I used Mars Lumograph pencils this time.

Asclepius???       50AD


The Best Pencil Is The One In Your Hand

A couple days ago someone on Facebook asked what the best pencil was.  I responded by saying that the best pencil was “the one in your hand” and then went on to talk about the various brands I’d tried.  I don’t know much about pencils so my advise was limited.

I was reminded of this advise when I went to the museum on Sunday.  I’d set up my stool, and realized that I’d forgotten my pencil case.  I grumbled a bit and dug through my bag. I had my Pentel Kerry (.5mm HB) and Pentel 207 (.7mm 2H) pencils and the stub of a Blackwing 602 wooden pencil (a bit softer than HB). Those were the pencils I had in my hand. Great tools for light layout lines for ink drawings but…well, that’s what I had and I wanted to draw a Greek plaster mask that dated from 200AD. So I started to draw.

What drew me to the subject was that it had a chip out of the nose and several from the chin area.  I’m trying to learn to capture these features and I’m very clumsy with a pencil, but I hope that this sort of drawing will help me improve.  Besides, it’s fun to draw in the museum. At one point there were half a dozen people standing behind me, watching me draw. I tried to chat with them, in both my bad French and passable English, but I really have a hard time drawing and talking at the same time. Anyways, this is what I ended up with, using the “one in my hand.”

Greek plaster mask (200AD)

Greek plaster mask (200AD) – Strathmore 300-series Bristol (8.5×11), mechanical pencils

It’s Museum Season In Quebec City

Only the brave would venture outdoors to sketch in Quebec City these days,  and I’m not one of them.   So, it’s museum time for me.  And because our Civilisation Museum is featuring a large exhibition of some remarkable white, plaster statues and busts from the Greeks and Romans, I’ve decided to set aside my fountain pens and try to learn how to push a pencil.  Strange gizmos these are as they produce a substance that is magnetically attracted to the little finger of my drawing hand, allowing automagic smudging of everything I draw.

I did this guy’s head in a Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook and I think pencil would work better on their Epsilon paper.  I’m using Tombow Mono 100 pencils (2H and HB this time).  The pencils are beautiful and seem to work well, though my inexperience doesn’t permit actual evaluation.  Maybe a winter of museum sketching will change that.