The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location. But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching. This, and the smile on my face, was the result.
People say that getting “out of your comfort zone” is a good idea. So, I drive twice the speed limit, drink excessively and pick fights with NFL players. Just kidding…maybe that isn’t what they mean, though in the art world these catch-all phrases are ill-defined and hold little real meaning.
But this week seems to be a week where I’m doing things different from my norm and a couple days ago Yvan suggested that we do a ‘real’ sketchcrawl, where we go to a spot, sketch something quickly and then move on to the next spot, repeating until the day got too hot to continue, or until Larry got completely frustrated (grin).
And that’s exactly what we did. We hopped a bus and headed to a neighborhood where we’d never sketched and decided that we’d walk until one of us (took turns at that) decided it was time to stop. There, we would choose a subject and spend only a few minutes capturing the scene. Easy peasy, right?
For Yvan it was. He’s a superb sketcher and with decades of experience, he’s also really quick when he needs to be. Me, not so much. I’m still vying for the “slowest sketcher on the planet” award and I think I’m still in the lead.
When I start sketching quickly all sorts of things go wrong as I lose control of linear perspective, proportions, and relationships. These things cause my sketches to be barely recognizable as the scene before me. But heck, I was out of my comfort zone. That has to be good, right? These are three sketches I came up with during our quick-sketchcrawl session.
You know those puzzles we had when we were kids? They were cut from wood and had no more than half a dozen pieces, which matched with our little hands and puzzle-making abilities when were three. Well, it seems, I drew one.
Not really. In reality I was standing at the end of St. Denis street in Quebec City, looking up the hill at the depicted scene. What was different was that I decided to paint it as a bunch of interlocking shapes. As a basis for this I drew, in pencil, a very light box around the building and then drew boxes where the windows rested.
Then I grabbed a paint brush, a scary instrument in my hands. You see, I’m trying to figure out a few things with watercolors. I’m trying to figure out how to mix paints thicker than the pastel-like colors we beginners often use. Mostly this has resulted in over-kill in my sketches but I’m making progress. The other thing I’m investigating is whether I can sketch directly with a brush. This is definitely putting the cart before the horse but it’s become a nothing ventured, nothing gained sort of thing for me.
Anyhow, I became overwhelmed with painting thoughts as I tried to ‘draw’ this with a brush. I drew each shape, trying to “build the wash” (Holmes-style), avoid any outline effect, and also trying to keep the shape correct. I was so consumed with those tasks that the thought of actually trying to draw the scene got lost in the shuffle. After I’d created my kid’s puzzle, I used a pen to draw window frames and such but nothing was going to help this sketch much. Interesting exercise. It’s said that we learn from our mistakes. I must have learned a lot with this one.
The heatwave has driven us into the parks because we can sit in the shade. But before that happened, I’d drawn a little store on the corner of rue Cremazie and rue Cartier in Quebec City and I’d forgotten about it. I added some color to it this weekend and thought I’d share it as a change of pace from all the trees I’ve been drawing lately (grin).
I’ve mentioned the heat wave that’s occurring on planet Quebec City and it still rages on. Yvan and I thought that maybe we should sketch in my backyard, which is shady and close to a fridge full of ice cold water. This turned out to be a good idea and we had some fun in spite of the heat. Here’s a sketch I did of part of the perimeter of our yard. Too many leaves.
I’ve mentioned the Collectif before, whose complete name is Collectif des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec because people here love long, impossible to remember names. They are mostly a portrait group and like nothing more than to sit around a naked person while they draw in a stuffy room. In recent years, though, they’ve discovered that sketching outdoors is fun, too, and so have started scheduling outdoor events during the summer.
They scheduled an event at a large garden in Ste-Foy, or rather Quebec City. Which name you use depends on whether you acknowledge the aggregation of the small cities into what now makes up metro-Quebec City. For me it will always be Ste-Foy though I realize that people reading this blog might be confused by my using the two names to refer to the same place. Such is life on planet Quebec City.
The garden is a large one but mostly rows and rows of different species of plants, and thus most of it is not the same as a typical botanical garden. If I knew more about gardens I’d probably know why this is the case. In any event, it’s a great place to draw flowers but I didn’t do that on this day. Instead, I drew a small kiosk and the surrounding vegetation. It was a nice day and the sketching was relaxing. When I was done I walked around to talk with everyone and to look at what everyone was drawing. By the time that was done my knee was screaming at me and so I settled for the one sketch for the day. I hope you like it.
When I was first learning about urban sketching my mentor (though she didn’t know it) was Cathy Johnson. I fell in love with her sketches, many of which appeared to me in books by her about nature, historical reinactment, and art books. Another thing she showed me how interesting and beautiful an artist can make the mundane and ugly. She’d paint broken down buildings as seen through rusty chain link fence. She did a sketch of a bridge being torn apart. And she did these things in a way that made you want to hang them on your living room wall.
I still aspire to have her abilities but one of the great things about being a sketcher is that with only a dollup of persistence you can try and try again. I’ve spent more than a little time drawing the alleyways of the older parts of Quebec City. These are cluttered, ill-maintained places that are mostly out of sight and out of mind. While I may not have Cathy’s expertise, I do have her zeal and I’ve done another alley sketch. Here it is, warts and all. I really enjoyed doing it.
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.
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.
There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings. The result is really boring. But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.
Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it. It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched. It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap. Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants. Life of a sketcher.
We went back to St. Vallier with intent to sketch the Pignon Bleu, a building that I’ve always loved. Only problem was that someone, some horrible someone, took a gorgeous building and “renovated” it into something they obviously thought to be an improvement. Me, not so much. Claudette and Yvan agreed so we ended up sketching a very unique building across the street.
My hand was not cooperating on this day. Arthritis is an unpredictable thing but one thing is certain. Having it in your drawing hand is frustrating. Because of this I decided that I’d just draw the fancy balcony facade. I still had some fun but I do wish you could buy replacement parts for old bodies.