A Bit Of Eye Training

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.

 

 

 

Sketching At A Winery

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.

I decided to draw this scene, not part of the winery but across a field from it.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get more depth into this sketch.

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.

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

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.

Off To Miriam’s Cottage Again

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.

 

 

Different Approach Brings Surprising Results

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.

Artistes Dans Les Parcs Visit Parc des Moulins

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.

An Adventure To Rimouski And My Hatred For Hot-Press Paper.

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?

Sketching On The Island

I got the chance to hitch a ride with Claudette and Yvan, who were headed to the Ile d’Orleans for a day of sketching.  It happened to be on a “good” day for my leg and hand so I was optimistic.  The day was ideal.  We’re still experiencing high temps and humidities but I’m learning that Quebec City’s “colder than everywhere else” translates into “cooler than everywhere else” when the world is facing heat waves.

We ended up in the town of St. Jean, which is on the northern end of the island and we parked near a large church and strategically positioned to walk across the street for coffee when our session was over.  We headed off in the other direction, though, down onto the intertidal zone near the St. Lawrence.

This rock-encrusted area is gorgeous and affords great views across the river as well as back towards the church and other houses along the river front.  For me it was slow-going as I walked like a drunken sailor over the uneven surfaces, trying not to upset my new overlord – my knee.  It was so nice to be out sketching that I hardly noticed, but people watching must have wondered what was wrong with me.

I decided on a scene and to work in a little 5×7 spiral bound book from Winsor & Newton.  The paper is 100% cotton and the size is really convenient.  I was only half content with the results but since I’m trying lots of different watercolor techniques I’ve never used before, I expect very little from the results.  It was fun, though, to play around with some dry-brushing and wet-n-wet (complete fail on that one).

Then it was time for coffee and we had a great time looking sketchbooks that Claudette had filled while on a recent trip.  When we finished we drove to Miriam’s cottage, though she wasn’t on the island this day.  It was threatening rain so Claudette and I set up inside a large barn and drew outward from it.  I wanted to emphasize the framing of the scene by the barn door but I feel that I let the depth of the scene escape me so I was pretty disappointed with the end result.  The doing, as always, was a lot of fun.  Funny how it works that way sometimes.  I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t stick with pen and ink and leave the watercolor to others.

 

Sketching During The Canicule

I’m still trying to integrate my life as a sketcher with my life as a gimpy old man with a bad wrist but I’m finding the problems managable, which makes me happy as a clam.  An arthritic clam for sure, but a happy one.

I just got back from Montreal.  Went there with a friend and thus I didn’t get to sketch at all, but when I got back I contacted my buddy Yvan about sketching.  We decided to head to what was Quebec City’s zoo.  A small portion of it has been turned into a park and we figured we could find some shade there and something to draw.

Shade was more important than subject because we’re in the middle of canicule, the time when we start feeling foolish for having complained so much about the cold.  Called the ‘dog days of summer’ in English, or on the streets, ‘hotter-than-hell,’ this is the time of people go to hospitals with heat exhaustion.  We went sketching.

Truth is, it hasn’t been horrible for us on planet Quebec City because while temps and humidity are very high, we’ve had a nice breeze which has kept conditions tolerable.  Oh, and we had shade, lots of shade.  We decided to draw the entry gate to the park.  It’s a great subject and I didn’t do it justice.

I have to say that I’m out of practice.  While I include my drawing and seeing skills in this mostly I’m talking about my juggling skills.  I only have two hands and a mouth that can sometimes provide hand-like assistance, so drawing and painting while sitting on a stool is a practiced skill.  On this day I was dropping things constantly.  My paper towel blew away several times.  The water spilled.  I knocked my palette off its perch.  But I got to sketch and that’s what was important.  Not my best sketch ever but sketching isn’t about what you produce, or it shouldn’t be.  Here it is, warts and all.

Playing Through The Pain

In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain.  I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching.  I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp.  Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.

At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it.  The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal.  It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.

A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching.  I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.

Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused.  But eventually I did finish the sketch.  I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned.  I guess I’ll get used to those in time.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching.  They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee.  I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines.  Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day.  I think it’s going to be a long summer.  I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.