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.


Practice Makes Perfect… and Fun

I’m not a sports guy.  I don’t watch football, basketball or hockey.  Heck, I don’t even know the rules of hockey.  But baseball…ah…baseball.  I’m a sucker for baseball.  I do limit my watching to one team – the Toronto Blue Jays, but that’s 162 x 3 hours of TV watching from April thru September.  Lots of potential sketching practice time.

While I watch these games I use my laptop to keep up with email, write blog posts, and read other people’s blogs.  I also sketch, and sketch, and sketch.  Often I’ll just practice cross-hatching, drawing long, straight parallel lines, or testing pens.  I draw countless ellipses, draw odd shapes, shading them into 3-dimensional existence, and anything else I can think of.  Not only is it fun, it’s how I’m learning to draw.  I don’t think one can learn to draw by drawing final, formal sketches any more than a person learns to play piano by playing piano concertos.  You’ve got to practice the various parts of art, the movements of the hand, the proportions of things.

I’ve always done this sort of practice on photocopy paper, ultimately throwing the results away.  But I’ve bought a cheap Strathmore, 400 series “Drawing” book for this practice.  The other night I put my laptop next to me on the sofa, did an image Google search on “people” and started quick-sketching people from the images.  I thought I’d share the results.  Certainly nothing special and evidence that I need the practice, but it might be something you want to try as it’s lots of fun and certainly good practice.

Done with a Tombow 2558  HB pencil

Done with a Tombow 2558 HB pencil

Get The Point

I most of my sketching with fountain pens so talking about pencil sharpeners isn’t what you’d call my strong suit.  At home I have an old, wall-mounted Apsco sharpener that still works well.  Still, when I’m out sketching, I do use watercolor pencils, regular colored pencils and, when I’m sketching statues in the museum I often use wooden drawing pencils.  So, while I don’t know much about sharpeners, I still have the need to generate sharp points on these pointy devices.

And for a street sketcher, who has to carry everything on his back, size and weight matters.  I also need to be able to sharpen very soft colored pencils (need short tip) and my drawing pencils (like long tip).  When I’m in a museum I need a sharpener that not only captures the shavings, but also keeps them inside.  All this adds up to a tough set of criteria – until I wandered into a Quebec “dollar store.”


I found this little device.  The blister pack says it is made in China and packaged by a company called Selectum in Montreal.  I’ve always been disappointed by these inexpensive sharpeners because they always yield short points.  KUM long-point sharpeners are an exception and I’ve been carrying one of those and a short-point sharpener but this single sharpener replaces both of them.


Each of the inlets, for the short and long sharpeners, has a slide cover so the shavings don’t fall out.  The top is spring-loaded and pops open when you slide the main latch to the right.  It’s small.  It works.  The long point isn’t as long as the KUM sharpener but it’s sufficient for my needs and best of all, this little guy only cost me $1.49.  I wish I could provide a place to buy one but other than driving to Quebec City, I can’t really point you to a source.  Anyone know of an online source?


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


Pentel Kerry Mechanical Pencil: A Sketcher’s Review

If you hang out on Facebook sketching groups you get the impression that if  you use a pencil as a precursor to a pen drawing you will be struck down by the art gods, or at least chastised by them.  The fact that most of the great artists used them is not pertinent to the case made by Facebook artists.

But I use one… sometimes.  I enjoy being able to quickly sketch in some organizational lines, locating major objects, and their relative sizes.  It’s during this time that I actually think about what I’m seeing.  I evaluate angles.  I look at the relationship of one object to another.  Where do they intersect, how do three points on the drawing create a locating triangle, curve, or box.  These light marks help me to engage my brain.  Necessary?  The marks, maybe not.  The brain engagement, most certainly.

I use 2H lead for this so the lines are very light but they’re enough for me to ‘see’ whether I’ve got the proportions right, or at least close.  If necessary, and it generally isn’t, I’ll use a kneaded eraser after I’ve done the ink sketch to remove these guidelines.  I don’t carry a regular eraser as I don’t seem to need one.  If I did, I’d use it proudly.

Today, though, I’m not here to discuss technique but rather to talk about a truly wonderful mechanical pencil, the Pentel Kerry mechanical pencil.  This isn’t your average $3-5 mechanical pencil.  The Pentel Kerry is a high-dollar ($20) pencil.  You can get one, in a variety of colors, from Jet Pens, one of the best suppliers of pointy devices on the planet.


Why buy an expensive mechanical pencil when there are so many cheap ones?  I could get all philosophical about this but, for me, it was to solve a problem.  In addition to enjoying my sketching more when I use quality tools, I am a street sketcher and that means I carry my pens clipped inside a bag.  This means that two things happen.  Sometimes the lead guard, that thin tube that sticks out of mechanical pencils, snags in the bag fabric.  It can poke into waterbrushes I have in the same pocket where I clip my pens/pencil.  I’ve even had one guard bend.


So, I went looking for a solution and found one.  The Pentel Kerry is a beauty.  It caps and posts just like a fountain pen and so the lead and its guard are covered.  When posted, there is a mechanism in the cap that advances the lead.  If you use a pencil’s eraser regularly, however, you may not like this pencil as it’s hard to get the cap off to use it.  Until writing this review and doing a detailed search, I just assumed it didn’t have an eraser but it’s there if you can grab the cap with very strong and pointy fingers, or your teeth, to expose the eraser.  Not only is there not much to grab but you have to work against the spring action associated with the lead advance mechanism.  As I don’t use it, that doesn’t bother me.

So, problem solved… my lead guard is now covered with its cap.  Beyond that, this pencil is just a joy to use and to behold.  Spending a bit more on a pencil gains more than improved function.  It just looks cool.  I do find the grip and balance to be comfortable which means that posting its metal cap makes it slightly tail-heavy, allowing for a light touch.  It can be bought for .5 or .7mm leads and in half a dozen colors.  I chose red as it’s easy to find in my bag as I don’t use any red fountain pens.

Is $20 too much to spend for a pencil?  I don’t think so, but then I don’t buy my coffee at Starbucks so maybe I have more money than some to spend on my art supplies (grin).



Baseball Doodling

My Blue Jays are in FIRST PLACE in the AL East.  I have to say that now for two reasons.  The first is that they’ve been on the other end of the scale for the past couple years.  The second is that they’re in a slump right now so I thought it important to say it before things change.  I guess that makes me a pessimist.  Cubs fans will understand.

But one thing is certain.  Baseball season brings the TV into my life – the couch potato existence that is modern life for so many.  I only watch Blue Jays games but still, it’s a big time committment.  And so I compensate, some.  Instead of beer and chips, I sit  armed with pointy devices and sketchbooks.  I doodle.  Maybe this is why I don’t like hockey.  You can’t doodle while watching a hockey game.

Anyways, it occurs to me regularly that the internet is great for budding artists as we get to see all the great art done by our betters.  But the downside is that this sets the bar a bit high.  I sometimes feel more sketchers should post their doodles, failed sketches, etc. to indicate the real world rather than the internet world.

So, for your amusement, and my embarrassment, here are some of my baseball doodles.  All are done either from something that flashes by on the TV screen or from memory of someone’s style I’ve seen on the internet.  You’ll notice that I play with a lot of techniques and approaches, just to see how it feels to draw in different ways.  No high art was committed in the creation of this blog post.

2014-06-04BaseballDoodles1<- Here I was playing with my Kuretake #13 brush pen.  I love it but I still struggle to control line width with it.  The smudges were some tests of a couple gel pens, looking at how ‘waterproof’ they were (weren’t).

What's not to like about little stuffed animals?

What’s not to like about little stuffed animals?

A look at minimalist building sketching

A look at minimalist building sketching

Looking here at quick-sketching approaches

Looking here at quick-sketching approaches

I was trying out a new mechanical pencil, quickly creating these fictitious pieces of architecture

I was trying out a new mechanical pencil, quickly creating these fictitious pieces of architecture

Here I was playing with my new refillable Sharpie pen

Here I was playing with my new refillable Sharpie pen

Playing with a little 4-color palette

Playing with a little 4-color palette


Felt like drawing some ellipses in pencil

I hope you enjoyed sitting on the sofa with me.  Go Blue Jays!

Trial By Pencil: A Sketcher’s Tale

I’ve mentioned that I’m trying to figure out how to use a pencil and I’ve posted a couple drawings that I’ve attempted with them at our Musée de la Civilisation.  I’m using rainy days to continue that practice.

2014-05-14Gorgon_72I decided to attempt to draw one of the gorgon heads that were found in Pergamen.  Guestimated to have been made prior to 129AD, they’re one of the few things older than I am so I thought it fitting that I should draw one.  Gorgons, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are minions from the underworld.  They have large eyes and are said to have snakes for hair.  The one I drew also has a large chip out of its chin.

2014-05-13TowelThis was a lot of fun but also took me a long time.  Mark me down as the slowest pencil driver on the planet.  Done on bristol paper I enjoyed the smooth surface.  It reminds me of my beloved Stillman & Birn Zeta paper.  I used a mechanical pencil and some Faber-Castell 9000 pencils.

While I’m at it I’ll post this little sketch of a hanging towel.  I do a lot of these little doodles while I watch my Blue Jays lose.  Pencils are fun.  Pens are more my style.