He Rode A Horse Too Long

BowleggedCowboy2When I was a kid, cowboy heros dominated my black and white TV world.  Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Paladin, Maverick and dozens of others.  One of the things that was assumed to be true was that because cowboys spent so much time sitting on a horse, their legs would become bowlegged, like the guy depicted by this woodcarving.

But this post is about another guy who rode a horse too long.  Or more correctly, he rode a horse that was too long, at least when I sketched it without spending enough time working out the dimensions of the statue of Simon Bolivar  that sits near Quebec City’s justice department (grin).

I’m not proud of this sketch but I thought I’d show it to demonstrate the importance of spending time evaluating all the relationships among parts of your subject before you start drawing it.  I’ll do better next time… I hope.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

My New Toy: Pilot Falcon (Soft, Extra-Fine nib)

Have you ever had a dream for a long time and then, when the dream is realized, things aren’t what you dreamed them to be?  That’s just happened to me.  Ever since I started sketching I’ve dreamed of owning a Namiki Falcon.  Now I do, but now it’s called a Pilot Falcon.  So much for dreams (grin).


This is not a review of the Falcon.  There are plenty of those, a very good one is by Brian Goulet of Goulet Pens but there are others on YouTube.  This is also not a post where I’m going to show you a lot of sketches I’ve done with this pen.  I’ve already shown you several here and here.  This is a more simple view of the pen – a sketcher’s view.  Most fountain pen reviews are about how it writes, not how it draws.

nibLet me start with why it’s taken so long for me to get one of these pens.  There are two reasons.  First is that it’s not an inexpensive pen.  The street price is $140-150USD.  Tack on some shipping and the investment is significant.  The second reason is that, until recently, you could not get this pen with an extra-fine nib.  The Pilot Falcon is a flex nib pen and I wanted a pen that would provide very thin lines as well as thicker, more ‘normal’ lines.  The extra-fine Falcon provides this.

Now, to that “sketcher’s view.”  People who evaluate pens for writing generally look at extra fine nibs and react with ‘it’s scratchy’, because their fine tips tend to be during the upstroke while writing cursively.  The Pilot Falcon is no different in regard.  BUT, this is not a problem when drawing as most of our strokes are either descending or lateral.

PenTestAnd, in the spirit of a ‘sketcher’s view’, here is a comparison of the lines you get from this pen compared to something you might know, the Sakura Micron 01 and 05.  This is why I’m thrilled with this pen.  This test was done with Platinum Carbon Black on Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper (cold-pressed).  It borders on being too bumpy for fine nib fountain pens.

A couple secondary things I like about this pen.  The first is that it’s a Pilot pen.  I own a bunch of Pilot pens and all are well-made and reliable.  The screw-on cap has the typical Pilot insert that helps keep the nib wet and evaporation down.  It posts well and the pen is very light and balanced when posted.  At this point I’ve done a dozen sketches with the pen and I like it very much.  Oh…one last thing.  Platinum Carbon Black ink doesn’t stick to the sides of the CON-50 converter in this pen, allowing me to see how much ink is left.  I mention this because the opposite is true with my TWSBI Mini, which is also filled with PCB.  It’s a  small thing but not insignificant.


Quick-Sketching In Malbaie

It was a nice day and my family decided to drive  to Baie St. Paul and Malbaie for the day.  It’s very pretty country and besides, they have good ice cream and there are lots of art galleries in Baie St. Paul.

Moleskine watercolor (3x5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

It’s convenient, if you’re going to both towns, to drive right past Baie St. Paul and on to Malbaie as there’s a convenient ‘loop’ road that brings us back to Baie St. Paul.  It also happens to go by a nice, long, sandy, sunny, and popular beach called Plage Irené.  

Family jaunts aren’t conducive to me doing a lot of sketching as watching me sketch is about as exciting as staring down a rock.  I did manage a couple very quick sketches, one of the beach and another of what appeared to be a gatehouse into Domaine Forget.  I don’t know what this place was used for originally but these days it hosts dinner theatre.  I thought the gatehouse was cool, which is the singular criterion for a sketching subject…right after having a place to sit in the shade to sketch.

Moleskine watercolor (3x5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

A Different Approach To Sketching – For Me

I was a fountain pen driver long before became a sketcher and moving a fountain pen over good paper is still the biggest part of why I enjoy sketching.  I know that for many, it’s watercolor that floats their boat but not me.  When I sketch I draw what I see and when the pen goes back in the pack, my drawing is “complete.”  I only add color as an afterthought.

I don’t advocate this approach.  I think my sketches would improve considerably if I’d “mix” my media mentally as well as physically.  Thinking of the watercolor while doing the drawing would allow me to leave lost edges, minimize the amount of hatching I use, and reduce the sketch’s reliance upon line, while placing more emphasis on form.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  My problem is implementation as, err…did I mention how much I like pen work?  In addition, with a brush in my hand  I am lost.  Sketchbook Skool is helping me see through these problems, at least to the extent that six great teachers can shove me in the right direction but it may be an impossible task.

And so with this sketch I did something different.  In Sketchbook Skool, Danny Gregory had us draw something quickly using a brush, followed by a slower, more precise approach with a pen.   Brenda Swenson, a master of the brush and advocate of pen/watercolor is also someone who uses borders and lost edges very well. She centers her lessons around continuous contour drawing and using negative space when drawing.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

When I started this sketch I was looking at a mass of forest understory and I wanted to capture only a tiny bit of one plant.  I felt the need to visually define what part of it I was going to draw so I drew a couple “corners” to indicate a frame around what would be the sketch, noting where those corners were in my forest floor.  Then, using a light gray watercolor wash, I started drawing the center veins of each leaf, quickly organizing which leaves would be part of the sketch.  These two things worked well together as the ‘corners’ quickly became a frame and thus provided some nice negative spaces to anchor where the outlines of the leaves would go.  The next step was some color.  I quickly painted in the leaves with a very dilute yellowish green mix (Cad Yellow & Pthalo Blue).  I was on a roll, and at the same time figured I’d be rolling right off a cliff ‘real soon’ as without my pen I was definitely working without a net.

When the wash was dry, I got out my pen and drew some lines, returning to paint to add more color to the leaves.  As a first time attempt at this way of doing things, I was pleased with the result.  Thanks to both Danny and Brenda for scaring me a little, and for providing some great ideas and challenges.   If you aren’t in Sketchbook Skool, you should be.  It’s fun.

Sketching At Parc Chauveau

Denis Couture, our fearless leader

Denis Couture, our fearless leader

I don’t know what it is about French but the names of French organizations are impossible.  This includes the Collectif des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec, the name of an artist group in Quebec City.  They were established to facilitate winter life drawing sessions and that is still their principle activity but they are starting to organize outdoor summer activities as well.  This past weekend was the second year that we assembled at Parc Chauveau, a park on the north side of Quebec City.  It’s a beautiful place. The St. Charles River runs through it, providing considerable sketching fodder.

Organized by Denis Couture, a really nice guy who teaches drawing and photography at a local college, it was truly a shame that on this day, there were only three of us in attendance.  The up side is that the day was a bit more laid back as we could do pretty much what we chose to do.

Our first stop was the river, in a place where a large tower of rock, remnants from long-term erosion, juts up from the river.  It seemed fitting that we should draw it.  I decided it might be fun to put it in the background and to make Fernande, one of my sketching buddies, the central focus for the scene.  This was also the first time I got to use my new Namiki (Pilot?) Falcon.  I think I’m in love.  More on that later.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Denis knows the area quite well and he suggested that we climb back up to the road and cross the bridge to the other side of the river where there are rest rooms, picnic tables, and a trailhead for the Parc lineaire trail that runs for 32 km along the St. Charles River.  In fact, if I would have followed it for about 16 of those kilometers I would have arrived home.

As we ate lunch Denis suggested that we walk the trail some and that the views from high above the river were wonderful.  He was right about that but for my next sketch I plunked my tripod stool down in the middle of the forest, off the trail, and started drawing some unknown plant.  For a building guy, I was surprised how much fun this was and how much I wanted to do it.  I used a different approach from my usual pen first, watercolor as an afterthought approach.  I think I’ll talk about this separately as this post is becoming a bit long.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

In spite of the poor turnout for the event, we had a really great time.  The rest of the folks just missed out.