A Little Piece Of Nature

My wife has been way too nice to me as I’ve hobbled through life for the past few weeks.  I feel guilty about the burden I’ve placed upon her, but I’m grateful that she’s been there for me.  She’s very special.

A couple days ago she came home with a wad of nature in her hand.  She put it on the table and said, “I thought you might like to draw this.”  She is a sly one.  She knows I’ve been fighting motivation and energy levels but she also knows that when she gives me something I feel a compulsion to draw it.  She also knew that it would only remain draw-worthy for a couple days.

And so, I drew it.  I decided to skip pen hatching, one of my favorite things, and rely upon watercolor for shading and once again I demonstrated how little understanding of watercolor.  I should stick with pen (grin).

Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Last Trip To Ottawa For A While

We made our final trip to Ottawa for a while.  Our daughter just graduated from University of Ottawa and we moved her to Montreal where she’s entering law school at McGill.  I gotta tell ya, I’m too old to be moving from school to school.  Been there, done that, even have souvenir t-shirts.

But since we were there, it seemed only appropriate that I should do some sketching.  The first chance came when we agreed to meet our daughter in Rideau River Park.  I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called but it runs along the Rideau River and Chantal and I had parked our butts on a bench while we waited, so its Rideau River park to me.

I got out a Stillman & Birn 6×6 Beta spiral book and just started quick-sketching everything and anything.  No rhyme or reason to it, which is fun sometimes.  Find a white space on the paper and fill it – easy peasy.  Here’s a couple of the pages I did.

I drew stuff; I drew people, and I even drew some of the birds on the river.  But then my daughter showed up and there were other things to do.  We hadn’t seen her in a while.

A couple days later, Chantal and I went down to the Parliament area and sat on a picnic bench in the shade.  I’m showing this next sketch to make a point to those who feel “I’m not good enough” to sketch around other people.  I was scribbling this teeny, tiny sketch (3×4) in the tiny sketchbook I mentioned in a previous blog post.  I’ve been having fun doing these really tiny sketches but they’re really crude and mostly just warm up sketches. Even that gives them too much credential.

Anyways, a really nice lady from Italy asked if she could sit because she was waiting to take the Parliament tour.  Chantal started talking with her, she saw my sketch and got genuinely excited about it.  She took a photo of it to show to her friends.  My point is, people are amazed that anyone can draw anything.  You don’t have to be good to sketch in public.  You just have to sketch in public for people to think you’re good (grin).

I started drawing this next sketch because we were sitting right near the corner of a building called East Block on the Parliament grounds and we  were on a hill, affording an interesting view where I wasn’t having to look up a lot to see the top of the building.

While I was working, a Chinese family from Manitoba came to sit.  They were waiting for a tour too.  Their son, a young teenager was excited to see someone drawing and showed us a couple of the sketches he’d done.  He wanted to be an animator and was making a good start at it.  They watched as I did this sketch and I confess that half a dozen people asking questions was a bit distracting, but Chantal fielded many of them so we sort of formed a temporary clan as I sketched and they waited for their tour.

Chantal and I were both getting hungry so we headed off to forage.  Once sustained we decided to go sit in the center of the busiest intersection in Ottawa.  Well, sorta.  There is a triangular piece of land near Parliament with a lot of traffic passing on all sides.  This place is filled with statues, including a memorial to Canadian military actions complete with honor guard.

I drew the Laura Secord statue, the famous candy lady.  Some defend her statue status with stories of her running for kilometers to warn the British of an impending attack by Americans during the war of 1812 but I know its the chain of chocolate stores that brought her fame.  It just had to be, though most deny she had anything to do with the candy business.

When I finished that sketch I was getting pretty tired but I quickly draw this part of Chateau Laurier, a posh hotel that’s nearby.  All sorts of errors in this one but it was a fitting end to the sketching day.  When I was done we headed off to meet our daughter for dinner.

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get

I shouldn’t write titles like that.  Some of my Francophone buddies will be saying, “Ca va dire quoi?” and file it away as further evidence that I’m a crazy person.  Apologies.

It’s been a week since I’ve posted.  The reason, in part, is because I’ve been gone for a week, to Ottawa and Montreal.  While I had to share my sketching time with other activities, I’ve got scanning to do before I can post my sketches from that trip.  I’ve also got sketches from before the trip.  I’m so disorganized at this point.

In the meantime, here’s a sketch I did before I left.  It’s a small shed and basement access to the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the home of the St. Charles River park association.  Everyone draws the front of this beautiful, multi-gabled house from the front, including me, but I thought it fitting to give a bit of love to the lesser portions of the building.  Besides, I could sit in the shade.  Back soon, with more.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×6 spiral)

Montreal Day 1: Drawing With Paint

I’m a lucky guy because I’ve had the opportunity to sketch with Marc Taro Holmes on occasion.  Not only is he one of the best sketchers in the world, he’s also a really nice guy and it’s really fun to sketch with him.  But this past weekend was really special because I was sketching with him and I was going to meet Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart because they were visiting Marc and Shari in Montreal.

On Thursday, though, it was just Marc and I and we headed towards Mont Royal Cemetery to draw statues.  Along the way we stopped, set up shop on the sidewalk, and drew a wonderful house, undoubtedly built just so we could sketch it.  I’m afraid I got a bit clumsy and heavy-handed with the paint on this one but I present the results anyways.  That’s just the kind of guy I am (grin).

Fabriano Artistico 140CP, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Marc has started skipping the pen stuff and he’s drawing directly with paint and we started talking about that as we walked along.  Marc’s not a guy who does a hard-sell on anything but he has a way of making you want to try new things.  And so I did.  This is the first time I’ve ever done anything with paint that wasn’t coloring inside the lines and, well, I have a lot to learn.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5), Daniel Smith watercolors

Undaunted by all the things I didn’t understand about this process, I continued, doing this second statue.

This was definitely one of those experiences that taught me more about what I didn’t know than how to do it.  I’ve been wanting to integrate paint more directly in my thought process, as in include it in the thought process rather than considering it only as an afterthought.  This drawing with paint idea might generate a bunch of bad drawings, but I think it’s going to get me doing what I should be doing with paint if I’m going to learn how to use it properly.  These are some of the things/ideas that spilled from the process and things I need to work on:

  1. Work in both negative and positive space to define shapes.
  2. Paint must be mixed thicker than wash consistency to be an effective drawing tool.
  3. To achieve light colors that are sufficiently thick for drawing requires mixing light neutral colors into the mix.  Marc uses DS Buff Titanium and Holbein’s Davey’s Gray for this.
  4. Large contrasts between foreground and background pay large dividends.
  5. Oh…and this is probably the most important thing I’ve learned.  Larry needs a LOT more brush time cuz he can’t draw a straight line with a brush to save his soul.

At this point it was looking like rain and we were both hungry so we hopped on the metro and headed for lunch.  I guess we’re not dedicated sketchers because we sat eating sandwiches and talked about the future of urban sketching the rest of the afternoon, not lifting pen nor brush the rest of the day.  But, as Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day,” and we had a big day planned.

A Proud Building In Limoilou

When I came to Quebec I was struck by how people would completely change their schedules if the sun shined, cancelling meetings so they could go on a picnic, taking the day off from work so they could go get a tan, or maybe just to do a happy dance.  Coming from Arizona, it never crossed my mind that sunshine was something to be savoured when it was around.

I’ve learned, though, that rare things have that affect on behavior and it couldn’t be more true this year.  Three of us skipped off to Limoilou to sketch on Tuesday because it wasn’t raining – the sun was shining.  It was a rather short adventure but sketch we did.

I’m working on doing my sketching more quickly than my norm and chose to apply those efforts towards this stately building along 4th Avenue.  It almost looks out of place as it’s far more elegant than those around it and I suspect it once served some special purpose.  I even got to work on my tan while I drew it.

Stillman & BIrn Beta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Diluted DeAtramentis Document Black, Kuretake #13 w/Platinum Carbon Black

Sketching In The Flowerless Flower Garden

It seems as though we won’t be having a summer this year.  Lots of rain and temps cool enough that we’re back to wearing jackets to go sketching.  Pretty odd for July, even in Quebec City.

We headed to a large garden in Ste-Foy last week for a sketching session.  Reports said the rain wouldn’t start until late afternoon, though it looked as though it could rain at any minute.  We’re getting used to the dull days, though, so we didn’t think much of it.  The garden brought reality home to roost.  There were so few flowers, so little growth.  The trees and grass were all very green, probably because of the rain, but the garden plants looked like it was April.

Everyone cast around for something to draw and I started by drawing on of my fellow sketchers.  I admit my heart wasn’t into it but a quick sketch was done quickly.  After this I got up and started wandering the grounds, around and around I went.  Nothing inspired.

There were some people weeding some large beds and they had a small garden vehicle in support.  I decided “why not” and sat down to draw it.  A woman came over and asked if I wanted her to move the vehicle, thinking I wanted to draw the garden, but I explained that I was going to draw the vehicle.  She laughed, probably thought I was nuts, and I set to work.  Here’s what I came up with.  Not a Rembrandt but it sure was fun to draw.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5×8), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Looking Up To Draw

I do almost all of my sketching on location so I’m very comfortable doing so.  There is one circumstance, however, that I find challenging.  Looking up at the subject to be sketched always seems harder than it should be.  I don’t know if there’s something about the upward-looking angle or the fact that I have to bob my head through a much larger angle between subject and paper.  In any case, getting the proportions and perspective correct is always harder.

We were sketching at the train station, though, and I drew this portion of one of the buildings.  Quebec is blessed with these sorts of rooftops and so looking up is is worth the effort.

New “Sketchbook” From Ottawa

When I was in Ottawa I visited a stationary/card store because, well, that’s what I do.  It was a delightful store, though their pricing on fountain pens was really high ($68 for a Lamy Safari) but it costs nothing to look.  There were several things I wanted to buy but I guess I was in a “do I REALLY need that” mood and I didn’t buy most of them.  The one exception was this tiny notebook made by Clairfontaine.  It contains really smooth, thin paper that’s not idea for drawing but gosh it’s cute.  I had to have one.

I’ve only done a couple sketches in it but it’s fun to draw this small on occasion.  I think I’ll get $4.00 worth of fun from it.