The Trials Of Creating An Urban Sketch

Many artists never do their art on location.  They’re happy sitting in a studio, laying out drawings, tracing the layout onto their watercolor paper, and then painting from a photo, or some such approach.  For me, sketching is all about the chase.  I have to go somewhere.  It might be just down the street or even into my backyard but I’ve got to actually ‘discover’ my subject.

There are compromises in this approach.  Anyone who does it knows them.  Time, weather, interruptions and sitting on a tripod stool balancing your sketchbook are among them.   Some times are better than others, however, and I’d like to share a couple “oops” sketches with you.

The first is a train engine.  I’ve wanted to sketch this small switch engine for a long time.  It’s tied to our large grainery and is responsible for moving the grain cars around.  I saw an opportunity to draw it and sat down to draw.  It was going pretty well until…well…it drove away.  I could follow its tracks (pun intended) and did, which allowed me to complete, sort of, the engine but the mood was broken.  I became disinterested in completing the sketch by including some entourage behind and in front of it.  So here it is, as is.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Last week we were supposed to meet on the Plains of Abraham for a group session.  Only three of us showed up because it was raining.  We ended up huddled under the overhang of a building with only a single subject, the realty business across the street. So we drew it.  It was cold and I had a hard time keeping my mind on drawing and I worked fast – too fast.  Sometimes urban sketching isn’t what it’s cracked up to be 🙂

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

With urban sketching you sometimes win and sometimes lose when it comes to the end product.  When it comes to the fun, however, it’s always more fun than sitting in a studio.

Editor’s note:  I’m getting behind in my posting.  I apologize for that and hope to get a bunch of sketches posted in the upcoming week. 

Tugboats Are Cool

When I was a kid, one of the characters, in books and later in a Disney series, was a tugboat named Little Toot.  I don’t remember anything about the stories and don’t have a clue whether it was as good as the modern maritime character, Sponge Bob, but in some strange way I was touched by that character as I have an undying affinity for tugboats.

This is really odd because I’ve spent most of my life living in places like Phoenix, Arizona and there aren’t any tugboats in the Sonoran Desert.  But there are tugboats in Quebec City and I love to draw them.  They all live in a basin with an opening to the St. Lawrence where they push and pull large ships in and out of port.  Here’s my latest effort.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

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

Sketching At Domaine Cataraqui

It’s clear that Domaine Cataraqui was once the humble abode of some rich folks.  These days, however, there’s a public component to the estate grounds, including a large parking lot, a communal garden and a bunch of picnic tables.  The main building now houses a cooking school.  Still, there seems to be an active staff maintaining the place.

For our regular sketching group, it’s a wonderful place to go sketching because one can sketch nature or architecture and so we headed there on a nice sunny day to burn some ink.

I found a nice spot under a huge elm that had a good view of the greenhouse attached to the mansion and went to work.  For some reason I found it more complex than I thought it would be but I got lost in the sketch and well over an hour had passed before I came out of my haze.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I spent the next few minutes wandering around, mostly taking a break but I found this large pile of equally large rocks with flowers planted in the crevices.   I always find drawing rocks to be lots of fun and these were no exception.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Platinum 3776, PLatinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, PLatinum Carbon Black

Then it was time for a snack and sketcher talk.  Hope you like the sketches as much as I liked doing them.

Ottawa’s Agriculture Museum

I forgot about this sketch yesterday when I was posting building sketches from my Ottawa trip.  My daughter and I spent part of a day at the Agriculture Museum in Ottawa and I drew this beautiful old barn.  It should have been included in the last blog post.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776

Sketching Ottawa’s Buildings

As I was riding the train to Ottawa I was planning where to point my feet for my upcoming sketching adventure.  First stop was to be Parliament, where I wanted to sit directly in front of Parliament’s Peace Tower and draw the entire building in one-point perspective.  It’s classic Ottawa.

There were two problems with that idea.  The first is that every government building in the city seems to be under construction, or if it isn’t, you can’t go there because of some other construction.  The entire Parliament area is full of cranes, fencing and the buildings are shrouded in scaffolding.  All of this, I’m told is being done in anticipation of July 1, 2017, which will be the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation.

Ok…but what’s that huge, can’t see the building stage that’s sprawled out in front of Parliament.  Well, that is for Canada Day 2016.  Sometimes timing is everything and mine wasn’t great this time.

Undaunted, I decided to draw a portion of the Langevin building, which is a very long government building.  I have no idea what they do within it but the south side steps of the East Block building served as a great perch to draw it.  And so, with lots of tourists walking by, I drank coffee and drew a building.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum carbon black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum carbon black

If you walk south on Elgin from Parliament you’ll find an old house (mansion?) that seems to have been converted into a small hotel or B&B.  What’s striking about it is that all around it are modern high-rise buildings.  It was a must-draw but I was unsure what to do with it.  On the one hand I wanted to draw it small with the huge skyscrapers surrounding it.  But this would shrink the building so much that I wouldn’t be able to give it any of the ‘from a different time’ feel that it exuded.  In the end I decided to just draw the building, without any of the large buildings.  Someday I’ll do it the other way I’m sure.

2016-06-24ElginHouse

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

Sketching Ottawa Statues

There are a lot of “old dead guy” statues in Ottawa and while interesting, I was looking for something different when I wandered around evaluating  statues for sketching.  I found two that I liked a lot.  Hope you approve of my choices.

This statue sits in a small triangle of dirt/grass with cars whizzing by on all three sides of it.  It’s near the National Art Gallery and while I’ve been there several times, I’ve never even noticed it because of its location.  But heck, there it was and there was a large tree under which I could sit while I sketched it.  Like the streets surrounding it, the statue is a 3-sided affair, though you can only see two sides of it in my sketch.  It’s Haida, I think and quite beautiful.

 

2016-06-23haidastatue

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

I was walking from Parliament towards Confederation Park and as I passed the post office on Spark Street I noticed a couple of large lions protecting the doors.  In truth, they themselves were caged by large fencing put up to protect people like me from construction going on around the facade of the building.  This made it hard to find a place where I could sit to draw.  I walked around the building and found there are actually half a dozen of these guys standing around in the sun.  They’re enlarged heads make them all the more majestic and I had to draw one.  I found a place where I can climb up on some large concrete blocks, set up my stool and draw.  I only fell off once.

2016-06-24Lion

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Dinosaur Hunting In Ottawa

My favorite place in Ottawa is the Museum of Nature.  It’s four floors of sketching heaven.  Museums seem to be turning into videos and photographs but not the Museum of Nature.  It’s all about “stuff” and most of it is worthy of a sketcher’s time.

Right now, the Museum of Nature has a special dinosaur exhibit.  While their permanent collection holds a large exhibit of North American dinosaurs, a new exhibit features dinosaurs from other parts of the world.  The significant thing about this is that while those of us in the US and Canada know the dinosaurs of North America, the breakup of Pangea and resultant dinosaur species radiation on their respective continents produced a diversity we don’t normally get to see.  And there I was, looking up at a whole bunch of them.  All of these sketches were done in a landscape format (5.5×8.5) Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook.

Amargasaurus sp. from Argentina. Huge herbivore (9meters)

Amargasaurus sp. from Argentina. Huge herbivore (9meters)

Suchominus, a bipedal dinosaur with a crocodile-like head. This guy was 11 meters long

Suchominus, a bipedal dinosaur with a crocodile-like head. This guy was 11 meters long

Drawing bones may not be for everyone but for me, there is no better exercise for the visual brain as there’s so many facets, so many overlapping parts, and so many contours that they really require keen observation and some relationship planning if you’re going to get sketches even a little bit correct.  And so I did a bunch of them during my time in Ottawa.  The fact that the museum is air-conditioned and Ottawa was quite toasty while I was there didn’t hurt my motivation either.

Another reason this sketching was fun was the kids.  The museum was full of them everytime I went there and while this meant is was quite loud, there’s nothing better than kids when you’re sketching.  They ask all the right questions and none of the wrong ones.  They don’t ask you why you do it or give you excuses for why they ‘have no talent for drawing’ because all of them draw.  Many fine discussions with the kids.

Carcharodontosaurus from Egypt. This guy is distantly related to the Great White shark and its teeth reflect that relationship. Huge is the operative word. I sketched this from the only skull example of this animal

Carcharodontosaurus from Egypt. This guy is distantly related to the Great White shark and its teeth reflect that relationship. Huge is the operative word. I sketched this from the only skull example of this animal

Carnotaurus from Argentina. I found this on interesting because while it was huge, its head was much smaller than most of the carnivores

Carnotaurus from Argentina. I found this on interesting because while it was huge, its head was much smaller than most of the carnivores

The newest acquisition to the museum is this skull.  It’s called Xenoceratops foremostensis and it lived in Alberta.  Similar to other ‘ceratops’ species in the permanent collection, but with two huge horns above its eyes.  I thought it was gorgeous and had to draw it.

2016-06-26XenoceratopsIf you want to improve your drawing “eye”, give dinosaurs a try.  They’re fun.

Sketching At Jardin botanique Roger-Van den Hende

When I want to draw some plants I head to Jardin botanique Roger-Van den Hende.  It’s a very large garden that is something of a large library of plants rather than a coordinated esthetic garden.  So many textures, so many shapes.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Our sketching group met there on Thursday and the weather couldn’t be better.  Lots of sun, little wind, and it was warm enough that even I was searching for some shade.  I was planning on drawing flowers but didn’t draw a single petal.  Funny how fickle the sketching eye is and I went down a different path.  We’ve scheduled a sketchcrawl in the garden for July so many I’ll get to the flowers then.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5x8), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

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

Sketching Around Bassin Louise

A popular place in Quebec City is Bassin Louise, the sheltered harbor area where people keep their sailboats and mini-yachts.  There’s also a large market complex that is popular with tourists and locals alike.  And that’s where our sketching group was on Tuesday morning.  We’re finally getting decent sketching weather so we’re taking advantage of it.

This is a view I’ve wanted to sketch for a while.  It’s nothing special but the trees frame up a group of building shapes that has always attracted my eye.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Sometimes I’m attracted by a shape, sometimes a texture.  Unlike a lot of artists, I’m not driven to find “great scenes” but rather I like things that look like they’d be fun to draw.  I think this sketch illustrates this point.  I was walking along the harbor and found the sacks that cover furled sails create an interesting draped fabric shape and I thought they’d be fun to draw one… and so I did.  Ain’t sketching fun?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5x8), Platinum 3776

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

While Out For A Walk

Lots of people get their exercise and their dose of mental health by wandering through forests.  I’m more likely to do my walking through our old city, an almost fantasy world from the 18th Century.  Soon it will get really crowded as the tourists start to show up but right now it’s a restful place to walk.

This was a blustery day, putting a chill in my bones as I walked along so I was reluctant to stop to sketch.  I was looking for something I could sketch quickly, before the wind took its toll.  There are a series of large stone sculptures that form a fence near the seminary.  I hid from the wind behind a large statue and did this sketch as quickly as I could.  Hope you like it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8x5), Platinum 3776

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