Urban Sketching During Winter

Winter has been slow in coming to Quebec City, which has been great for those of us who like to sketch on location.  I’ve gotten at least an extra month of sketching my favorite subjects, the buildings of Quebec.

But winter has arrived and as I write this it’s 11F (-12C) outside.  This is just the beginning, as we’ll soon be experiencing much colder temperatures.  So what’s a location sketcher to do?  Common recommendations are to go to libraries, coffee shops, airports, and train stations.  These are all great if the things you want to sketch are people but even then, these places tend to be people in motion, something that’s hard for the best sketchers and impossible for me.  I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet.

But now that winter has set in, I’ve got more places and things to sketch than I ever thought possible.  They’ve come in two forms thus far: museums and free concerts/events.

Museums

There are a bunch of museums in Quebec City.  In addition to the large museums like Musee des Beaux Arts and the Musee de la civilisation there are numerous smaller museums scattered around the city, principally because this is a tourist town.  Each has sketching opportunities and I expect to live in them this winter.

In particular, I’ve become a member of the Musee de la Civilisations as it seems the richest source of things to sketch.  Right now there are displays of Nigerian art, Maori culture, Samouri armor, swords, and helmets, and a wide variety of permanent displays of Canadian and Quebec cultural people, places and things.  And they’re very friendly to sketchers.  There’s a cafe where you can get soup, tea and sandwiches.  And, in a world with snow and cold outside, it’s warm.

My first adventure there was done with my buddy Yvan Breton.  We went on ‘free Tuesdays’ and expected to find the place crowded with people taking advantage of the freebie.  But we went in the morning and it wasn’t really busy so we set up in the Nigeria display and started sketching.  I sketched some of the masks, doing them in a fairly small size and doing them fairly quickly.  I just wanted to get a feel for sketching in the museum and I wanted to save time to walk around to look at all the exhibits.  We had a great day.

Free Concerts/Events

Cities have events going on constantly.  I’m not talking about Justin Beiber coming to town or NASCAR races.  I’m talking about smaller events.  A fashion show at the mall, school plays, an author signing event, club displays, craft shows, holiday events, etc.  All of these provide things to sketch.

Here in Quebec City there are also a bunch of free concerts, many put on by our music conservatory, where advanced students gain stage experience.   I’m new to these and time will tell but they’re a great opportunity to sketch people, the musicians and spectators as they don’t move much for extended periods of time.

A small sketchbook and a pencil are unobtrusive and just the thing.  I initiated my new Stillman & Birn 4×6 Alpha series sketchbook at the last one.  What could be more enjoyable than to listen to great music while you sketch?

I spent a delightful 1 1/2 hours listening to some truly gifted violinists.  I’m going to use these concerts to practice my people quick-sketching skills.  It’s a cinch I need the practice, don’tcha think?  What are some of your favorite winter sketching locations?

Parchemin Du Roy – Sketcher’s Paradise

I was talking to a sketching buddy and he asked “Do you know about Parchemin du Roy?”  I said no and he told me about a place that sold pens, sketchbooks, and pencils that he’d recently discovered.  To say my interest was peaked was an understatement.  That was a Sunday.

And so on Monday I hoofed my way to Parchemin du Roy, about a one-hour walk from my house.  They were closed, so like a kid in front of the toy shop, all I could do was put my nose to the glass and look in.  And what a view.  I left with the resolve to return.

And so I did.  It’s not very manly to jump up and down while giggling so I controlled myself, almost, as my eyes beheld the interior of this store.  Inks, pens, books, papers, sketchbooks, notebooks, maps, pencils, watercolors, brushes, and lots of other wonderful items to look at and touch.

Maybe more important, is that while they have the more typical Paper Blanks, Moleskine, and Rhodia products, they also have some really nice high-end speciality paper products.  Not only do they have J.Herbin and Pilot/Namiki inks, they’ve got walnut inks and specialized calligraphy inks.  In addition to Brause dip pens, they’ve got handmade dip pens turned from hardwoods.  While they stock Lamy pens and all their accessories, they also have the new Shaeffer “Ferrari” pen.  Yes, I admit it.  I did giggle and I jumped up and down a little.  I hope Roy didn’t see me.

They offer workshops in calligraphy and you can learn to create illuminated pages.  I might have to take one of those.  For my first visit I bought a brush, notepad and mechanical pencil.  I talked with Roy about differences between Parker and Waterman ballpoint cartridges and I looked and looked – and then I looked some more.  I’m still a bit giddy from the experience.

As I left I took a couple photos (it was too cold to sketch outdoors) and ran home to do the sketch I’ve shared above.  I hope you like it.  Do you have a specialty store like this in your town?  I’m so lucky.

The Russians Are Coming…

When I came across this house in Quebec City, I had to sketch it.  I wonder if the Russian Czar who must be living there had a pool table under that dome or a ballistic missle.  It didn’t matter; it was just plain KEWL!

I set up across the street and went to work, sketching the bones in pencil and then doing the ink sketch.  I’m pretty slow as a sketcher and so this took me more than an hour but the time passed without notice.  When it came time for color, the waterbrush came out and… I realized that my watercolors were sitting on my desk at home.  So I shot this photo, packed up, and headed home.

Once at home I vowed to make up a second palette of watercolors so that I could keep it in my sketching satchel.  I had a W&N Cotman Sketcher palette that I picked up on sale and so I popped out the Cotman watercolors and filled the pans with Winsor & Newton artist-quality watercolors.  I’m still experimenting with color palettes and mostly working with little knowledge.  This is what I’m using right now, though.

 

I decided to go light on the color for this sketch; it just seemed to call for that approach, with all the emphasis on the building.  I hope you like it.

It was done in my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Hero 578 Calligraphy pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink.

Cool Spring Sketching Isn’t So Cool: It’s Cold!

I’m so excited that it’s finally spring in Quebec City.  I got interested in sketching last fall, just before it started getting cold here, and so I’ve been trying to get out sketching as often as I can.  I may be premature in that because Quebec spring is still pretty cool, and often windy.

A few days ago when I’d made the decision to go sketching.  The temps were just above freezing and it was quite breezy.  But I went anyway.  I headed downtown, looking for something to sketch, my face and ears screaming “Are you nuts?” to my stubborn sketcher brain, as the wind defoliated my skin.

I set up next to a wall that blocked most of the wind. It was across the street from a dental clinic that seemed worthy of sketching.

I start these sketches with pencil and  I have two goals.  I want to get the perspective right and I want to locate all the foreground thingies that determine where the background lines start and stop.  I don’t worry about drawing the details at this point, but I’m slow enough as a newbie sketcher that this takes me longer than it does for most sketchers.  I’d been sitting for about 45 minutes and I was beginning to empathize with popsicles and dream of fireplaces.  I called it a day, packed up, and went home.  This was the state of the sketch at that point.

Later, in the warmth of my home, I inked (Hero Calligraphy pen w/Platinum Carbon Black ink) the sketch, added some details, and used Winsor & Newton Artist watercolors to give it some color.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the more I use it, the more I’m enjoying my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha.  I’ve been using Alpha’s for a while now and love them and spiral format is really convenient for outdoor sketching…even when it’s cold.

I went out this morning to sketch some more.  I headed to the marina, expecting that some of the winterized sailboats would be back in the water.  It was spring, afterall.  Turned out that, once again, I had been overly-optimistic as the marina is still covered by ice.  Spring is here, but not really.

 

 

Adventures Of An Urban Sketcher

Thursday morning I decided to walk south and visit an industrial area near a railroad yard in Quebec City.  I’m something of a train nut and I thought maybe I could sketch some trains.

I was walking to the freight yard when I happened upon this scene.  I liked the yellow wall, juxtapositioned next to the brown train car and the harsh shadow between them, so I decided to sketch it.

I set up to the left of where this photo was taken, on a sidewalk, with the street behind me.  My WalkStool was actually straddling the railroad track.  Those railroad tracks crossed the street and went somewhere.  I didn’t pay much attention.   I remember chuckling to myself that at least this subject wouldn’t drive away like a car I was sketching earlier in the week.

I was having a really nice time as the sun felt good, it was quiet, and the sketching was going well.  I’m a really slow sketcher so I’d been there more than an hour and I was intently adding color to my ink sketch.

I was so concentrated on the work that I didn’t even hear it… until a guy walked up to me and his shadow crossed my paper.  “Qu’est-ce que tu fait, Monsieur?” (What are you doing, Mister?)   I looked up to see a guy in overalls and a baseball cap staring down at me.  And then I saw IT.  It was an EMD SW-1500 switch engine, idling no more than ten feet from where I was sitting – on the railroad tracks.

I told him I was sketching and showed him my sketch.  I stood up as I did and he told I’d have to move.  As I was packing up he walked over to the derail (that yellow thing clamped to the track), disengaged it, and motioned to the engineer to move forward.

By then I was taking photos of the engine.  I did mention that I’m a railroad geek didn’t I?  Once they’d engaged the boxcar, the guy dropped off the engine, walked back to me, and asked if I could show the engineer my sketch.  I was both amazed, excited, and nervous all at once.  The sketch you see below bought me access to the cab of that engine, which for a railroad geek is a really big deal.  And then they hauled my boxcar away.  And that, my friends is what I call a great day of sketching.

Here’s the sketch.  I still have to add the white letters on the boxcar and I’ll probably do that with a colored pencil.  This sketch was done in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), using a Lamy Safari XF and Platinum Carbon Black ink.  Color is W&N artist watercolors.  Has anything like this happened to you while you were sketching?