Sketching Ain’t Easy These Days

It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year.  I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less.  I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.

Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing.  This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo.  My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building.  The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.

Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it.  I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’

Quick-Sketching On The Bounding Main

Sailing, sailing,
Over the bounding main,
For many a stormy wind shall blow
Before Jack comes home again!

I remember this bit of a song from when I was a kid.  I’m not sure why.  I’m less sure how.  But it bounces between my ears every time I get a chance to get on a boat.

Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

I was out walking and ended up near where the ferry docks on the Quebec side of the St. Lawrence River.  I was looking across the river at the new ferry complex on the other side and decided to take a boat ride, but the two ferries had just started swapping places so I’d have to wait a bit.  I sat down and got out my Field Notes book and did this quick sketch of the top of the old post office building.  More a scribble than a sketch but, after all, it was done in my ‘scribbler’ so that was appropriate.

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

I boarded the ferry and wandered around its decks, letting the fresh almost sea breeze blow across my face.  I’m lucky to live in a place where I can be “on the bounding main” with nothing more than a swipe of my bus pass over a card reader.

I’d like to talk about taking a three-hour tour like Gilligan but the truth of the matter is that it takes only about 10-minutes to get to the other side.  I did get a couple quick-sketches done.

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Once on the other side I wandered around, looking at the on-going construction, trying to figure out what the overall plan was for this new place.  I decided that I wasn’t smart enough to understand and took a wait and see attitude.  I went inside.

Once you get through the turnstile to get on the ferry heading north, you climb stairs to a large room with a wall of glass.  What a great view of the Quebec City skyline there is from there.  I’m going to have to go back when I’m in the mood to do larger sketches but on this day, I was in quick-sketch mode.  I got out a larger, but cheap sketchbook (6×9) and did a 5-minute pencil scribble of the skyline.  It’s not much but it will motivate me to get back there to do something better and provide a good excuse for another boat ride.

2015-07-17Ferry4A bell went off and like a bunch of cows we were all herded through large doors and onto the ferry.  I felt inclined to say ‘moo’, though I don’t think that translates well into French.

2015-07-17Ferry5I watched a small tugboat chug by as the ferry was pulling away from the quay and once we started crossing I was amused by a couple sailboats trying to change course and/or stop so the ferry could proceed.  Once that show was over, I got out my Field Notes book again and did a couple more people sketches, this time using my Platinum Carbon pen.  It was a great day to be sailing on the bounding main.  What is a bounding main anyways?

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Sketching At The Zoo Park

My wife, Chantal, took a vacation day and I coerced her into going sketching with me.  She’s quite good at sketching but is convinced otherwise so it’s a special treat when I can get her to go out with me.  I think it was my sneaky approach of suggesting a nice, relaxing time sitting in the shade at the Zoo Park that did it.

I really have no idea what name is currently slapped on this park.  It may be the Parc des Moulins but don’t quote me on that.  What I do know is that it’s a sad reminder of a bad political decision that resulted in our city losing our zoo.  The park that remains is nice but not nearly as nice as when the trees had to share space with monkeys, bears, and eagles.

But we did find that shade, which disappeared half-way through our drawing.  I think the tree we were shaded by moved.  We took a break, ate a nice lunch and then continued to finish our sketches while sitting in the sun.  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x9), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

When we finished up I suggested we stop and get an ice cream cone, knowing this would be get a positive response.  We went to a store that’s in a house that looks exactly like the one the Adams Family inhabited and sat outside, in the shade of course, and enjoyed a slight breeze that kept the high humidity at bay.  There was a nice, tall clock in the courtyard and I did this quick sketch of it in my Field Notes “scribbler.”  I continue to be impressed with the paper in this new Field Notes issue.

Field Notes (3x5), Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Ink

Field Notes (3×5), Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Ink

Field Notes Workman’s Companion Edition

I do a lot of sketching in tiny, inexpensive sketchbooks and ever since Marc Taro Holmes suggested using a Moleskine staple-bound notebook, I’ve been trying different notebooks in this 3×5 format.  I was very displeased by the Moleskines as ink bleeds through their thin paper.  So far, every book I’ve tried has that problem.  I’m not talking about ghosting, where you can see the sketch on the backside but ink that actually shows up on the back of the page.  While ghosting is also a problem in most of the notebooks, I’m more tolerant of that as my goal with these books isn’t high-quality sketches.

But FINALLY, I’ve found what I’ve been looking for and it comes in the form of the new Field Notes Workshop Companion issue.  Field Notes are fun because they’re sold in a variety of cover formats.  The problem with them is that they typically use 50lb, inexpensive paper and they’re just not fountain pen friendly.  If you draw with ballpoint pens, they’re fine and very convenient.  But I’m a fountain pen addict and it’s a no go as a sketching substrate.

The Workshop Companion books are different.  They  come with a new, 70lb paper that’s a higher quality than even the couple issues they’ve produced with 70lb paper in the past.   I find I can force ghosting to the point of being annoying but it requires that I really dump a lot of ink on the page.  So far I’ve yet to get any bleedthrough, even with brush pens.  I’ve even applied bits of watercolor to the paper and even that works pretty well.

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My first test was a simple outline image, done with a Platinum Carbon Pen and Platinum Carbon ink.  This was a ‘soft’ test as most of these kinds of notebooks will handle this combination, though in this case there was no ghosting whatever, which was an improvement.

2015-06-24FN01I went out sketching and did these quick sketches.  My goal was to try adding some dark shading to see what happens.  This is where most books in this format fail, with both bleedthrough and ghosting.  Here there still wasn’t any bleedthrough and you had to look hard to see ghosting.  Scanning didn’t pick up any of the ghosting.

2015-06-24FN02No special tests here but I was drawing with my Namiki Falcon and De Atramentis Document Black and again, there was no bleedthrough and ghosting was hard to see.

2015-06-24FN03I was doodling while watching a baseball game and dragged this image up from my imagination.  It’s got enough darks in it to really test for bleedthrough and ghosting.  Ghosting can be seen but again, it’s minimal.

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I thought I’d do the acid test.  I was watching some guys playing soccer and started drawing this building that was at one end of the soccer pitch.  I added some darks with a Kuretake #33 brush pen and then added some color.  Still no bleed through.  Ghosting is a bit worse but everything’s relative as the ghosting doesn’t get picked up when scanning the backside of this sketch.

2015-06-24FN052015-06-24FN05C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, I’m a happy camper and I’ll be ordered some more of these Workshop Companion books.  They’re wonderful.  I can shove them in a shirt pocket if I want but more often I have it in a front pouch in my sketching bag so it’s immediately available.

While I can sketch in these books fine, when sketching a 2-page spread it’s nice to have something to hold the book open and flat without having to fiddle around.  I solved that by cutting a small piece of Fomecore, which weighs nothing and I clip the book to this backing board.  It works surprisingly well and really makes holding the book a lot easier.

BackerComp

 

This is what it looks like when clipped to the board.  It becomes a single unit where you don’t have to worry about keeping the paper flat.

BackerWFN

 

Winter Building Sketching

I’m desperate.  I really am a building sketcher and winter sends me indoors, to museums, concerts, etc.  Not many buildings to be found inside buildings.

This is a view if you sit on the second floor of the McDonalds on St. Jean St. in old Quebec, McCafe in hand.  Stillman & Birn Alpha 4x6), Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon ink

This is a view if you sit on the second floor of the McDonalds on St. Jean St. in old Quebec, McCafe in hand. Stillman & Birn Alpha 4×6), Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon ink

But when there’s a will, there’s a way, at least in a limited fashion.  If one is lucky, one can sit by the window in a coffee shop and sketch the outdoors.  I searched a bit and got lucky.  Here’s a couple small sketches I did while looking out of windows.  I’m ready for spring.  How about you?

This one was hard to do as I had to lean over a bench and a heater so I could look out a small window in the old jail that's now associated with the art museum in Quebec City.  It was to see and balance sketchbook at the same time.  Stillman & Birn Alpha (4x6), Platinum Carbon pen.

This one was hard to do as I had to lean over a bench and a heater so I could look out a small window in the old jail that’s now associated with the art museum in Quebec City. It was to see and balance sketchbook at the same time. Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), Platinum Carbon pen.

How Long Does It Take To Do A Sketch?

One thing that many of us who sketch on location talk about is how much easier it is to fit sketching into a busy schedule.  We contrast it to creating fine art and the need for large blocks of time.  We emphasize the point by quoting the many laments from fine artists about not having time to do their art.
There is truth to our claim but, on some level we exaggerate, as when many of us sketch a complex scene, or simply a sketch with lots of detail, we can burn away a couple hours without problem, and many a fine art piece is created in the same amount of time.

But, nevertheless, what we say is true.  I sketch almost every day, often more than once a day.  Unless you’re making your living as a fine artist, few could make that claim.  As I look at what I do and how I do it, I see that there is a ‘trick’ to fitting sketching into a busy schedule, whether it be by wandering the city as a street sketcher or sitting at home doing sketching at the kitchen table.  For lack of a term for this trick, I’ll call it time-result flexibility.

I learned this concept from Yvan Breton, the guy who has taught me more than anyone else about drawing.  What amazes me about Yvan is his ability to do 30-second sketches, 2-minute sketches, 20-minute sketches, 2-hour sketches, and pieces of fine art requiring multiple sessions and many hours.  I guess, to be more precise, it isn’t being able to draw something over differing periods of time as any drawing book will talk about doing gesture sketches, contour sketches, and various forms of more detailed art.

What is impressive about Yvan is that he does this seamlessly, magically fitting a true, realistic sketch into each of these time frames.  He has developed the ability to assess his available time and approach and develop his sketch such that, as the wizard Gandalf said in Lord of the Rings, “arrives exactly when he means to” and his sketches are complete.  Short time periods, of course, have less detail.  Maybe one could argue that they are less precise, but it’s really hard to tell and, to me, that is downright magical.

And while some sketchers fit sketching into their busy schedules by always sketching quickly, I encourage those interested in fine art to consider this alternative approach – adjusting the result of your sketch to the time available for it.  This does require adjusting your expectations to time frame but it goes deeper than that.  It means being able to identify and prioritize the various aspects of what you’re drawing and organizing your approach to capture the high priority things, in a quick sketch, adding a few more if you have a longer time and only capturing everything when you have an unlimited amount of time.

I know..I know…this is simply restating “just simplify” but that’s not what I’m talking about.  We can talk about ‘keep it loose’ til the cows come home but loose is a different debate entirely.  Yvan can do this time-result trick with portraits and each of them will look LIKE the person he’s drawing.

I wish I could better describe his thoughts and actions as if I could understand and do it well myself, I might better use words to explain it.  I cannot, but it is something that we can all think about and with practice implement in your own work.  The first step is to think about the time-result equation as you sketch.

The next step, I’m convinced, is to start drawing in radically different time frames.  I was resistant to this idea, mostly because I couldn’t do it.  The thought of drawing anything in 30 seconds was beyond my abilities.  Heck, the thought of drawing anything in 20 minutes was beyond my abilities until I’d drawn a few hundred things that took 1-2 hours.  But you’re all more experienced than I am, right?  So give it a try.

Pilot Prera and Lex Gray in a waterbrush

Pilot Prera and Lex Gray in a waterbrush

Here are my attempts at this sort of thing, all done within the last week or so.  The first is a very quick sketch of a friend.  I spent about 30-seconds capturing his shape, and little more, as he was talking to someone.

Is it great art?  Nope, but I can look at it and remember that day.  I also got some practice capturing a shape quickly.  I got to do art while I waited for him.  I had fun.  I’m just guessing but if I do another 120 of these I bet my ability to do it will improve.  What do you think?  And how long will that take to do 120 sketches like this?  In real sketching time, ONE HOUR, and it will be one hour spent drawing instead of just standing around.  Everyone has ‘dead time’ in their life.

Platinum Carbon pen, 3x5 notebook

Platinum Carbon pen, 3×5 notebook

I was out to lunch with a friend and afterwards he had to stop at a store, run in, and pick something up.  I sat in the car for 3-4 minutes.  As I sat I realized there was a building before me so I got out my small sketchbook and started drawing.  I spent 2-3 minutes on this sketch before my buddy returned and I quickly slapped on some color before scanning it.  I could have just sat and watched cars drive by but what fun would that be?  Doing 100 of these sketches would require seven hours of waiting for people, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for lunch to be served.  Sadly, we all spend lots of time doing nothing.  And again, the result is fun and I get more experience “seeing” things and recording them.  If you did one of them a day, you’d have 365 sketches like this at the end of the year.

2013-10-28Lamp_72

Pilot Prera, 3×5 notebook

I was in a mall, again… waiting.  I looked up and noticed the large light fixtures that light the mall corridors.  I’d been in the mall a gazillion times but never noticed them before.  Again, I got out my sketchbook and spent 10-12 minutes drawing one of those lights.  I found it something of a challenge as I always have trouble with angles when I have to look up a lot.  In the end, though, the waiting became fun and productive.

When I have more time, but not enough for a complex scene, I’ll do something like this:

Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Ink, Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9)

Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Ink, Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9)

Which one do you like best?  Yeah…me too, but those quicker, more spartan sketches allow me to build the ability to do the sketch above in about half an hour.

And when I have a lot of time, I’ll do something like this:

2013-08-27HouseI can’t tell you how long this sketch took me except to say that I need a significant block of time to do a sketch like this.  If I only did sketches like this I would have a lot less fun, a lot less often, and I’d have a lot less experience in laying line to paper than I currently have.  The time-result ‘trick’ is working for me.  My results are not up to what Yvan can produce in a few minutes but if I’m convinced that working in different time frames, fitting in as much drawing as I possibly can into my life, I will improve.  Maybe it can help you as well.

Music, Friends and Sketching – A Very Good Day

One of the great things about Quebec City is that there are a lot of free concerts.  Many are associated with the conservatory here and are mostly students – really good students.

Another source of free concerts are the ‘mid-day’ concerts associated with the Grand Théâtre de Québec.  This venue is the site of operatic and symphonic programs, musical plays, and a bunch of big name but not big venue performers.  I saw B.B. King there.

The mid-day concerts are held on the second floor foyer, however, and once they’ve set up a stage and a bunch of chairs, it’s about the size of a decent sit-down night club without the booze, though you can get coffee and danish.

And that’s where I was today, to listen to a fantastic group of six jazz singers, all people too young to have so much talent.  2013_01-27TheatreTreeI arrived a little after ten AM and the concert didn’t start until eleven, though I got a mini-concert as the group went through a couple numbers, getting warmed up and checking equipment, I suppose.  With little to do besides look out the window, that’s what I did.  I got together with this pine tree, which also didn’t seem to have much to do, and we made this sketch together.  We had a good time together.

But when Yvan arrived, the fickle friend that I am completely ignored my pine tree friend.  Yvan and I talked about sketching, his new sketchbook, the Series 400 toned paper that Strathmore is selling and some other stuff.  When we could, we went up and staked out some primo sketching seats, saving one for Celine.

Celine and Yvan are quite comfortable doing really great sketches of singers and musicians.  Myself, I still struggle with people who are moving around a lot.  Heck, who am I kidding.  I still have trouble sketching people who are comatose.  Yvan has explained, in his patient manner that ALL I have to do is choose a position the person returns to frequently and sketch that position.  So far my brain hasn’t gotten the message as it can’t quite sift through all the movement.  Practice, practice, practice…

2013_01-27Spectator1While I tried to sketch the singers, I didn’t do so well.  So, I sketched people who were in the audience.  These were all very quick sketches – another problem my brain has when in a crowd of people moving around.  My brain goes into “you’ve only got a minute, dummy, go fast…blindingly fast.”  So, while these spectators were going to stay put for me for the duration of the concert, I was doing 1-2 minute quick sketches.  Darn brain.

2013_01-27Spectator2All of these sketches were done in a 3×5 sketchbook using a Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen, filled with PCB ink.  I’ve come to like this pen a lot for detail sketching as it’s really fine, like a .005 Micron.  I’m not so sure about it as a people sketching pen for the same reason – the lines are just too fine.

The music was fantastic, being with my sketching buddies always a good time, and there’s no such thing as a bad sketch if you view sketching fun as coming from the process, not the result.  I do.

2013-01-26GuyReadingAs long as I’m talking about people sketching, here’s a slightly better sketch I did the day before, of a cooperative guy who sat reading.  He changed his position only once in the 10 minutes or so I spent sketching him which I thought quite considerate.  This sketch was done with my Hero 578 “Chinese calligraphy” (tip bent upward) pen, Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, and a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  You can see that I can get variable line thickness from this pen and I think it adds something to the sketch.

Quick Sketching: Trying Out The Platinum Carbon Pen

I just bought a Platinum Carbon Pen from Jet Pens.  I’m a fan of Platinum Carbon Black ink and this pen is supposed to have a feed sized specifically for this pigmented ink.  Most people say that it has a very fine nib.  Giving away the punch line, I think both of these things are true.

The pen comes from Jet Pens looking like this.  I carry my pens everywhere and this one is just way too long.  It’s designed to look and feel like a dip pen.PCarbonPenAnd so I “fixed” mine.  I cut it off long enough to allow the ink cartridge but short enough that I could post the cap while it was in use.  For anyone wanting to follow this approach, that’s 6cm from the gold ring around the pen body.

Once cut, I mixed up some epoxy and dabbed the pen up and down in the puddle of epoxy, filling the hole in the end of the pen.  Once dry I simply sanded everything smooth and the result looks like this:

PCPclosedPCPopen

 

 

 

 

Cut down like this, it makes a very comfortable sketching pen.  When capped it’s nearly as short as a Kaweco Classic Sport and when posted it’s nearly the length of my Pilot Prera.  The balance works out well also.

The pen really shines, though, because of its fine line, which is actually finer than my Pilot Prera (F), which is already finer than a Lamy (XF).  The Platinum Carbon lays down a line nearly as fine as a Gillot 303, if you’re familiar with dip pen nibs.  Hatching is a dream with this pen.2012_12-quick_sketch0

The Platinum Carbon Black ink cartridge that comes with it is nothing short of spectacular.  This ink is the definition of a true black and it’s absolutely waterproof.  You can buy this ink in cartridges or in a bottle.  I’ve always been a fan of Platinum cartridges because they have a small metal ball that keeps the ink mixed and so I just fill them from a bottle using a pen syringe.

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So I sat down and took the pen for a test drive.  I did some tonal hatching practice and several small sketches, just to get used to the feel of it.  I’ve included a few of those sketches here, all done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6).

2012_12-quick_sketch4

 

 

I like this pen a lot.  It’s a great compliment to my Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens and may become my ‘go to’ pen for quick sketching due to its super-fine nib.2012_12-quick_sketch5