Every collection must begin with a first and this teddy bear was the first of what would become a huge collection of stuffed animals that my daughter acquired (cuz her dad liked to buy them so much). There’s nothing special about this teddy bear except that it was her first. I guess that’s enough.
We’re finally experiencing outdoor temperatures. Normally this would mean that I’d be wandering the streets every day, drawing my old-man heart out. That behavior has been derailed by my bad knee. Just this morning I started out with the idea of taking the bus downtown to sketch, but I quickly realized that, today, my knee wasn’t going to allow that to happen. So, instead, I’m writing this blog post and thinking that maybe I’ll sketch a pepper plant we bought last weekend.
Last week I got to go to our Musee de la civilisation to see the new Curiosities du monde naturelle. This exhibit is reminiscent of the old natural history museums, before all the fancy displays and such intruded on a simpler time when museum managers thought people were more interested in seeing actual items than they were pictures and videos of them.
Our museum seems to have a new to this. They put everything in the dark. I’m not sure what that’s about but we have to draw with a light on our paper and half the items are too hard to see to draw at all. This is supposed to be good? We have two exhibits that are like that currently and it seems to be a trend. Anyone else seeing this in their museums?
Part of this exhibit is the head of a young giraffe and I decided to draw it. Where I had to sit was too close and I was looking upward at the head such that I couldn’t see things like its left ear so the sketch is a bit odd. Still, I had fun finally being out sketching and I enjoyed drawing this guy, or girl.
As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street. This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on. This winter has been a doozy thus far. We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.
Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them. Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless. I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.
But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices. They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.
My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.” Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw. I should have chosen something more simple. I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained. Then again, I forget where I put my keys so… Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.
I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit. Then I sat down to draw a duck. I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much. We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.
We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t. My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching. Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene. We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art. The day couldn’t have been more perfect.
Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business. We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities. This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing. I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.
For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions. Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’ The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.
I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski. I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.
The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree. Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw. I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles. Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details. I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.
With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink. It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be. It’s very liberating and fun.
I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less. The ink portion was more like twenty minutes. Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate. Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way. Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it. Besides, it’s fun. Here’s the result. It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.
The Artistes dans les Parcs leader, Denise Bujold arranged for us to spend a Thursday sketching at a winery on the Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City. She surprised us by using her superpowers to give us ideal weather as well. There were sixteen of us scattered around the winery, drawing, painting or enjoying each other’s company. It was quite a day.
We all took a break for lunch, sitting at some picnic benches available for visitors to the winery. The sun was so inviting that I wanted to lay down in the grass and fall asleep. Ah…to be a kid again where that wouldn’t be seen as rude (grin).
Rejean had done a small vignette of a cluster of grapes and I decided I needed to do one too. I have a tough time walking down hills right now but I found I could walk along a road that wound its way around some buildings and served as a way for tractors to get to the lower level. Eventually I got to the head of one of the fields and found a cluster of grapes near an end post, creating an ideal subject. I was pretty happy with the result and the entire day.
Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend. While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles. It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools. But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.
This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate. I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school. For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest. Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.
Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching. I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.
Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch. It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.
When faced with opportunity, a sketcher shouldn’t hesitate and Yvan and I are no exceptions. Miriam invited us to sketch at her place on Ile d’Orleans and we jumped at the chance. The location is beautiful and Miriam is there to sketch with us. What’s not to like?
The day was delightful, though my hands seemed to have a mind of their own. These days, straight lines are becoming hard to make. But we had a lot of fun sketching together and enjoying the day. Here are a couple of my sketches from the day.
We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art. Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.
As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings. I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).
But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide. I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.
At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken. Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing. More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be. My daughter looks huge, as does her hair. I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch. Silly me. I wonder why.
When I can, I’ve been joining the Artistes dans les Parcs, a painting group. Denise Bujold has created this series of friendly gatherings in Quebec City parks where people show up and create art. Yvan and I are the odd fellows of the group because most set up easels and paint in oils, acrylics, and watercolors while we scribble away in our sketchbooks. It’s a fun group, though, and they accept our ‘odd’ ways.
We met at the Parc des Moulins on Saturday and spent the morning drawing/painting. This place used to be the Quebec City zoo until a political battle over funding caused the whole thing to go belly up. Now, part of it is a park and it gets its name because of a windmill (moulin) that lives in the park. On this day, we all clustered around a picnic bench, and I chose this scene to draw.
August 26th was our 30th wedding anniversary. Thinking about that, Chantal deserves a medal for living with me that long. We decided to celebrate by getting off planet Quebec City and spending a couple days in Rimouski, a smallish town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, just as it begins to open up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Originally I planned on it being just the two of us but Chantal thought it would be fun to bring Jodie along. Turned out that was a great idea because my bum knee limited my ability to do some things and Jodie gave Chantal some company while she them.
We stayed at a rustic hotel that sits right on the coast, a rocky intertidal area right in front of the place. Excepting that there was no coffee available on site and a 20-30 minute shopping trip to get some, it was an ideal place.
Our first day there wasn’t great because it was very windy and cold. Yep…cold. No heat wave that day. We visited a museum/lighthouse/submarine place and Jodie and Chantal wanted to tour the submarine. We weren’t sure that my knee could manage the bulkhead doors and the requisite steps downward so I went and sat in the car. This allowed me to do this quick sketch of the rocks, etc. in front of me.
Rimouski is a fishing town and on every corner is a poissonerie (fresh fish store) and associated restaurant. We went for Korean food and it was spectacular. If you’re ever in Rimouski, foresake the crab dinner and head to Parfum of Korea, an oddly bilingual named restaurant. We filled up on Bokkeum, grabbed coffee to go and headed back to the hotel, where we spent the evening staring at the river/ocean (you can’t see across at this point and the water is salty).
The next day we drove to Matane, a fishing/university town a couple hours north of Rimouski. We did this mostly just to enjoy the trip and the wonderful coastline scenery along the way but also with a purpose. I wanted to draw a fishing boat and Mr. Google told me they had lots of them. When we got there I was disappointed. Matane itself is nice enough. We discovered a great beach covered with small round rocks and lots of sand. We also discovered a fish ladder, all ready for the salmon run up the river… next week. Oh well, it was cool to see even without the fish.
But we couldn’t find fishing boats anywhere. So we went to the information center which exists in the form of an old lighthouse. Chantal went to discuss the whereabouts of the fishing boats with the information folks. I set up and started drawing the lighthouse.
We learned that the fishing boats are actually a bit south of Matane in their own artificial harbor area so we headed there. It turned out that most of them were off somewhere, probably making a nuisance of themselves in the world of crabs, shrimps, and fish of several species. But there were a few in port and a sketcher only needs one. Here she be. I was frustrated with the hot-press paper I was using and so this one never saw a brush.
What’s Up With Hot Pressed Paper?
We had a great time on that trip but my first use of hot-pressed paper was a disaster. What’s up with it anyway? I was using Fabriano Artistico HP. Unlike the CP I normally use I couldn’t get this stuff to stay wet? I was constantly fighting with lines in my washes. And EVERYTHING just seemed ‘flat.’ It seemed to suck the life out of the paint. What am I doing wrong? Can anyone advise?