Sketching Visualization And How To Miss Your Bus

A very popular form of sports training is mental visualization, where the athlete visualizes himself doing whatever sport it is they are doing.  You can see it in real time by watching a golfer set up for a shot.  They’ll look towards their target, staring intently.  They’re “seeing” (visualizing) the shot.  Seeing the ball travel the ideal trajectory.  Then they take a practice swing, again seeing that trajectory.  Repeated visualization has been shown to produce positive results.  Some suggest that this process is the very basis of positive thinking.  It’s the ultimate in what you see is what you get.

I find myself doing this constantly relative to my sketching.  During any dull moment you’ll find me ‘drawing’ something, anything, but without a pen and without paper.  I envision running the pen around the outline of a house, a sign, a fire hydrant.  At other times I’ll just mentally dissect the angles and relationships between pieces of some object.  I think this constant practice of my ‘seeing’, making those all important eye/mind connections, has helped me quite a bit as a sketcher.

2012-05 Bus

But there’s been one problem.  It causes me to miss my bus.  The first time this happened I was waiting for a bus across the street from a major shopping center.  I was ‘drawing’ a large sign and got involved with noticing the various tones from the various planes that composed the sign.  Only the sound of the bus pulling away brought me out of my trance.

Then there was the day I was waiting for the bus early in the morning.  I was looking at rooftop angles, trying to see how they changed as I looked at a row of buildings along the street.  It was an interesting mental experiment, until the bus went by as I obviously wasn’t interested in the bus.  I was holding my finger up to analyze the angles.

We’ve got a great bus system in Quebec City but if you don’t get on them, they don’t take you anywhere.  Lucky for me I always have something to do when I wait the 10 minutes for the next one to come along.

Newsflash: Weather Responds To Blog Post

Last Thursday I wrote a blog post titled “Waiting for Spring.”  I moaned and groaned that in spite of spring being a month old, it was still too cold to sketch outdoors.

Well guess what happened?  On Friday our temperatures increased significantly.  We had sun…LOTS of sun.  Even the wind died down.  So I tucked my sketchbook under my arm and headed out for a weekend of sketching.  It was wonderful.

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Here’s the first sketch I did.  I was out with my buddy Yvan and we’d previously talked about sketching on Rue de la Remparts, which skirts the upper portion of our ‘old’ (founded in 1608) city.  So, our first stop was there.  I did this sketch in a Stillman & Birn 7×10 Alpha spiral sketchbook.  Though I really dislike spiral-bound for storage, I love it for this larger format because I can fold the book back on itself , making it manageable while the book rests on my knees.  I used a TWSBI Mini filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

While “warm” by comparison to the previous day, it was still cool and we both ran out of body heat about the same time.  So, I snapped the photo above and we headed for something warm to drink.  I applied some color later and this was the result.

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I suppose some might suggest that the weather changing had nothing to do with my blog post – that it was only a coincidence.   I’ll continue to believe otherwise… I think.

The Future Of Sketching Is Good In Quebec City

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Every year, Le Soleil, the premier newspaper in Quebec, conducts a writing and drawing contest for young, creative citizens.  The Musee de la Civilisation just set up a display of the art entries and it is truly inspiring.  As I looked at all the great drawings I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Danny Gregory’s The Creative License:

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked one day what I did at work.  I told her that I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw.  She stared at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?” – Howard Ikewoko

1Kids do know how to draw.  And we adults do seem to forget, both how to do it and how much fun it can be.  We in Quebec City are lucky that Le Soleil puts so much effort and resources behind fostering creative activity from our youth.  Thanks, Le Soleil.

Here’s a few photos to give you some idea of the variety and quality of these drawings.  These kids are good.0.75

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Have You Ever Gone Sketch Floating?

Saturday was 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl day and we held ours here in Quebec City.  Unlike most parts of the world we’re still cold this time of year.  In fact, we just got six inches of snow.  But we were fortunate to have anticipated an unfriendly weather and scheduled our sketchcrawl so that we could be inside or out and still have fun.

This is a model of the ferry boat we were on all day.

This is a model of the ferry boat we were on all day.

We all met at the ferry boat dock and then spent the day going back and forth across the St. Lawrence River (takes about 10 minutes) between Quebec City and Levis, the town on the other side.  There are actually two ferries and they change places from their respective sides of the St. Lawrence every 30 minutes.

Claudette, talking with one of the passengers

Claudette, talking with one of the passengers

And the situation couldn’t have been better for sketching.  It was too cold to go out onto the decks, at least for me, but inside the first-class passenger area it was warm and accommodating.  The area is complete with toilette facilities, drink and snack vending machines, and comfy chairs.  We were surrounded by large windows, complete with slightly sloped ‘shelves’ for us to rest our sketchbooks as we sketched outdoor scenes.  Both sides of the St. Lawrence present great views of interesting architecture and there were things nautical all around us.

Susanne, showing proper use of the window "studios" we were provided.

Susanne, showing proper use of the window “studios” we were provided.

The line up: Pierre, Celine, and Katherine

The line up: Pierre, Celine, and Catherine

Yvan, taking a break while talking with Peter.

Yvan, taking a break while talking with Jean-Marc.

We had ten people show up for the sketchcrawl and a lot of sketching got done.  The one sad thing, for me, is that some didn’t seem to ‘get’ the notion that group sketching is a social event that should include a sharing of sketches as well as conversations about them. Some left without even saying goodbye.  So, unfortunately, I don’t have the typical group-sketch photos and I don’t have sketches from other people to share.

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Here’s a photo I took over Claudette’s shoulder.  The quality of her sketches is surpassed only by her bubbly personality.

2013-04-13TugBoatOf course, I do have my own sketches.  This first one is a small sketch I did as an experiment, which demonstrated that I didn’t know what I was doing (grin).  I tried to ‘draw’ the sketch using watercolors, adding some ink lines afterwards.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) sketchbook.  I have much to learn about using watercolors.

2013-04-13FromFerryI did two other sketches, one from the front and the other from the back of the boat.  Both were done with my new TWSBI Mini and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  I really enjoyed working in my new Stillman & Birn Zeta (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.  I hope these sketches reflect the cold, dreary day you see in the accompanying photo.DrearyDay2013-04-13FromFerry2

 

Sketching Other People’s Art

Last Sunday Yvan, Pierre, Celine and I headed to the Musee de L’Amerique Francais because they were launching a new display of art done in Quebec long ago and donated to the Catholic church who kept the collection in their museum.  We didn’t know what to expect but since it’s still too cold for outdoor sketching, what the heck, we were going sketch art.

Much of the art in this collection is religious art, not my favorite way to use display space.  I find most of it too gawdy and repetitious.  But one room was filled with some amazing Quebecois pieces, many that would be considered ‘urban’ art today.  I was looking for a new challenge, something different… at least for me.

2013-03-10BronzeStatueAfter looking around, I settled down to sketch a bronze statue of a woman carrying a heavy bucket.  I was struck by how well the sculpture captured the physical effort and body/arm positioning to maintain balance with a heavy bucket in one hand.

This was a considerable leap for me as I’m not good at drawing human forms and I had no idea how to make one look like a bronze statue.  Still, it was fun.  I drew it in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.  I used watercolor pencils to fake the bronze look.

There were many paintings that seemed worthy of turning them into a Larry sketch but one in particular caught my eye.  It was a painting of a 19th Century seminary courtyard, a courtyard that was actually just next door to the museum.  I went outside to look at the real thing and found what a hundred years can do.  The basic building layout remained.  In fact, on one edge of the courtyard, the end where the artist stood, there exists the remains of an old wall, clearly a very old wall.

Aside from that, everything had been remodeled and updated.  The two main buildings had an extra story added to them and all the windows had been modernized.  The stairway was gone adn the entries had modern doors.  It definitely looked cooler in the 19th Century so I went back indoors where it was warm.

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I’d never sketched an oil painting before and converting it to my cartoon sketching style did present some challenges, but it was fun, too.  Done in the same S&B sketchbook but with a Lamy Safari as my Prera ran out of ink .   I’m not sure I’ll add color to it as I like it au natural.

We’ve vowed to return to sketch some other pieces, particularly some of the sculptures.   A great day was had by all, but every sketching day is a great day, isn’t it?

The Hidden Fun Of Urban Sketching

2013-02-23Hockey1We’re lucky in Quebec City.  Every year we host the International PeeWee Hockey Tournament.  Kids come from around the world to spend 10 days playing hockey and walking around saying “Bonjour” to everyone because it’s the only French word they know.  I know the feeling.

2013-02-23Hockey2We live down the street from one of the two venues where the tournament takes place and I was shoveling snow when one such group walked by my house.  Several of them used their one French word but one kid said, “We really like your snow.”  They were from Maryland.  When I said, in English, “You can have all and I’ll help you load it,” I swear a couple of them jumped off the ground.    2013-02-23Hockey3

2013-02-23Hockey6But this post isn’t about hockey, Pee Wee or otherwise.  It’s about sketching.  But it’s not about the sketches I’m presenting either.  Rather, it’s a post about the evening I spent with my family and thousands of hockey fans.

My habit of sketching every time I stop moving found me sitting among cheering fans, watching hockey and sketching, trying to create quick hockey player sketches by jumping from one player to another to grab a complete outline.  I’d never done that before and the results show my lack of experience with the technique.  But it was a LOT of fun and when the dust settled, I’d done eleven pages (5.5×8.5) of the darn things.2013-02-23Hockey7

Ok…so if the post isn’t about hockey, and it isn’t about sketches, why are you reading this, you ask.  I want to tell you a couple short stories about my interactions with some of the spectators.  Too often I hear people say they are too shy or not good enough to sketch in public.  These two stories, I hope, will convince you that none of that matters and that people LOVE sketchers.

2013-02-23Hockey8The first story begins between periods during the second game.  The players has just returned to the ice and I was sketching, as I had been for the past couple hours.  There was a very gentle tap on my left shoulder.  I turned to find it had come from the finger of a young girl, probably no more than 12-13 years old.  She very shyly said, “Do you speak French?”  I guess she’d heard me speaking English.  I told her yes and she immediately looked up a couple rows and waved. Another young girl jumped up and ran down to us.  “Hic c’est beau!  J’aime beaucoup vos esquisses,” (I think) immediately came from her and she asked if she could see all of my sketches.  Of course I complied, sheepishly showing her these crude sketches as she went on and on about how great they were.  I showed her my pens, my waterbrush, and how I used the waterbrush to shade the sketches.  They were thrilled; I was chuffed.  Nothing like an appreciative audience (grin).

At the end of the second game I got a cup of tea.  The food vendor lady ‘made’ me a tea, stuffing a tea bag in a styrofoam cup full of hot water.  I guess she was more used to people ordering coffee as she said, “I don’t know how to make tea.  If it’s no good I’ll give you your money back.”  I just smiled.  Quebecers are so nice.

2013-02-23Hockey9As there were no skaters on the ice I did a quick sketch of the Zamboni (ice cleaning machine) and then decided to sketch a guy who was sitting a couple rows below me.  Again, it was just a quick sketch, but at least he wasn’t in constant motion.  I was nearly finished when I got a tap on my shoulder.  This time it was a great big guy who was sitting behind me.  He asked “Are you drawing that guy down there?” and he pointed at the guy I was sketching.  My immediate thought was “Oh crap, I’m in trouble now”, but I admitted that I was.   I didn’t dare let on that I didn’t think it was even close to a likeness as he obviously saw something I didn’t.  He said, “That’s what I thought.  He’s my friend,” and he stood up and yelled, “Marcel, viens ici”  Marcel turned around, got up and came up to where we were sitting.  I showed him the sketch, he told me it was nice, the two friends kibbitzed a bit and he returned to his seat, and I did a quick shading of the sketch.

Sketching on location is special, even if nobody talks to you.  But when they do, it’s really special.  I’m convinced that there are people in the world who think my sketches are horrible and a waste of time…but they never talk to me.

 

Sketching At The Library

One of my many struggles as a sketcher is that I am slow, very slow.  I love to get into a subject and spent an hour or two sketching something.  But many times, I just don’t have that much time, or the scene I want to sketch is just too transient, or I’m with other people who don’t want to wait around for me to spend an hour sketching.

So, one of the things I vowed to do this winter was to work on my quick sketching abilities.  Quick sketching people is a good way to improve (develop?) those skills, of course, and it fits well with our harsh winters because I can be do it inside.  I went with Yvan, an amazing quick-sketcher, to our main library and we sat for a couple hours doing quick sketches, or in my case attempting to quick sketch people who were sitting/standing in the library.

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Here is one of two spreads of these sketches that I did.  You can see some abject failures.  You can see evidence of where I started to sketch someone just as they got up and walked away.  You may also see a sketch or two that actually looks, kinda-sorta like a person.  At least I hope you do (grin).

Of course, being the building guy that I am, I couldn’t resist doing a quick sketch of a piece of the building across the street too.  Very quick and about as loose as I’ve ever tried to sketch a building.

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All of the sketches were done in a Strathmore Series 400 ‘gray’ sketchbook using a Pilot Metropolitan (M) with Waterman Absolute Brown or a Lamy Safari (XF) with Private Reserve Velvet Black.  Both of these are washable inks and I used a waterbrush to create a bit of shading here and there.

It’s interesting to compare the Pilot Metropolitan, with its “medium” nib to my Lamy Safari “extra fine” nib.  The Metropolitan is finer, illustrating clearly the differences between Asian and European sizing nomenclature.  Between the museums and the library I continue to be a busy location sketcher in spite of the wind and cold outside.

Museum Sketching – A Location Sketcher’s Winter Salvation

Last summer was my first as a location sketcher – actually it was my first summer as any kind of sketcher.  I fell in love with the process and excitement of being out on the street, soaking up the sun and ambiance while sketching.  Quickly the early fears I had about people talking to me became one of the joys of the sketching experience.

And so I faced winter somewhat depressed as it becomes too cold for man nor beast to be on the streets of Quebec and I thought I’d have to do my sketching at home, in my office.  That has never interested me much, but then a couple fellow sketchers said, “We sometimes sketch at the museum – want to come?” and my world changed overnight.

I got a permit to sketch at the art museum.  I became a member of our Musee de la Civilisation, which also gave me access three other, smaller museums.  And I’ve met new people, had new challenges, experimented with new materials and learned a lot about seeing complex objects while drawing same with minimal equipment.  I’m sketching as much this winter as I did during summer.  The subjects have changed, but I feed my desire to sketch real things, in real time, without having to resort to drawing my spatula and coffee cup (grin).

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If that weren’t enough, Yvan Breton has become a good friend who is an architect and long-time artist.  He’s become both a companion when I sketch and my mentor.  His style and mine are quite different but he’s taught me more in the past couple months than I learned in my entire first year of sketching.  I confess that all the information he’s provided has my poor old brain scattered and flailing to keep up with all the ‘gotta try that…’ feelings I’m having right now but hey, that’s part of the fun.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler's Lex Gray.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler’s Lex Gray. Partially sketched while Yvan was sketching me.

The sketch above is of me, by Yvan.  He did this “quick sketch” while I was sketching in the Nigeria exhibit at the museum last Tuesday.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

I’ll complete this post by showing you several of the sketches I’ve had opportunity to do in the last week.  I think you’ll agree that the variety is far greater than my summer sketches, which are mostly buildings – my first love.

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

While we’ve sketched some of the Nigerian exhibit already, we’re starting to spend more time there because the Samurai exhibit is leaving on Sunday.  The funny thing about the Nigerian exhibit is that it’s full of great items to sketch but, it seems, they don’t become ‘great’ until you actually start looking at them as a sketching subject.  One is deceived by a walk-around in the exhibit and you conclude the items are a bunch of very similar, primitive sculptures.  Primitive yes, similar, not so much.  So many shapes, so many surfaces.  Wow!

2013-02-10GenghisKhanWe spent last Sunday at the Musee de Amerique Francais, where I sketched Genghis Khan, or at least a mannequin wearing the Genghis Khan suit used in the movie Night at the Museum.  This was done in a Strathmore 400 “gray” sketchbook using Noodler’s Brown in a Pilot Prera.  Lots of fun, though all those squares drove me nuts.

2013-02-10CirqueSoleilHeadsWhen I was done, I turned my attention to some large paper mache heads used by the Cirque de Soleil in their show.  These were ‘I gotta draw those’ subjects but I approached them with some trepidation.  In the end they were lots of fun.  Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils for this one.

2013-02-13Samourai700I’ll conclude by sharing my full Samurai suit sketch.  I’d promised myself that I’d do one before the exhibit left… just as soon as my skills began to match the amazing subjects.  I didn’t quite make it on the skills end but, before the exhibit leaves on Sunday, I did sketch this one.  I apologize for the absolutely weird positioning of the mannequin.  That’s not me distorting it; that’s how they had it positioned.  All of them were somewhat unnatural in their orientations in my opinion.  This one done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

If you scroll back through the blog you’ll find lots of Samurai helmets, sketches of Joe Fafard sculptures, other Nigerian masks, and other stuff.  Museum sketching is really fun.  If you haven’t already, give it a try.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Museum Sketching With Claudette

What’s going on?  Last week it was so cold that it was fashionable to run outside with a bucket of hot water, throw it up in the air and watch it turn instantly to snow.  Those -30C temps are tough so mostly we just stay indoors.  But this week, we’re 40-degrees warmer than that and it’s RAINING!   This doesn’t happen in Quebec, in February.  These temps, however, are much easier to take.

And so it was, yesterday, when I walked in the rain to the Musee de l’Amerique francais to meet up with a new sketching buddy, Claudette Gauvreau, a very talented sketcher.  I met her at our last sketchcrawl and we agreed meet at the museum for a sketching session.

2013_01-30ChapelOrgan700I got there about half an hour or so before our scheduled meet time and decided to sketch an organ that sits high above the floor of a chapel associated with the museum.  I always struggle with perspective when I have to look up this much and this case was no exception.  I started with pencil, drawing and redrawing the basic columns and the ceiling curves.  I even drew a big cube where the organ sits before turning to pen to do the actual sketch.

When Claudette arrived she needed to do some work in the chapel as well so I continued working and finished up the pen work.  I did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook using Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Shading was done with a Derwent Graphitone 8B pencil.  These pencils are great because once you hit them with a waterbrush they ‘set’ and you can put watercolor washes over it.

ClaudetteBalastradeClaudette finished up this great sketch of part of the railing around the main seating area, which holds a bunch of round banquet tables these days.  I can’t speak to materials used but isn’t it great?  The small bit at the bottom is an example of the flooring.

We headed into the museum where we sat in comfy sofas and sketched mannequins dressed in costumes used in movies and created by French costume designers.  She started sketching the cowboy character that Owen Wilson played in Night at the Museum, while I decided to do something I’d never done.  I sketched a Victorian dress using only a pen.  I’m fascinated by clothing folds and want to learn to draw them in ink.

2013_01-30VictorianDress700Anyways, in the time it took me to do this sketch, Claudette finished drawing her cowboy, then drew a security guard and an indian from the same movie.  Then she wandered off to look at the exhibits while I finished up my single figure.  Have I mentioned that I’m slow at sketching (grin)?  This sketch was done with a Pilot G-TEC-C3, hybrid ink pen on Strathmore Series 400 toned gray paper (5.5×8.5).  I wish I could show you Claudette’s sketches but I didn’t think to take a photo.

Next Wednesday, we’re meeting at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Want to join us?

Sketching On Toned Paper

I’m no expert to artist materials.  Most of the time when I talk about using them the discourse begins with me saying “This is the first time that…”  This is almost true of my use of toned paper in my sketching activities.  During last summer I made a small sketchbook from toned paper (Canson Mi-Teintes) and I did a few pen sketches in it.  Unfortunately, the sketchbook itself wasn’t stiff enough (thin covers) to work well as a sketchbook to use on location while I held it in my hand.

Now that it’s winter and very cold here, I’ve been working a lot in museums.  This shift in location and subject matter has been coupled by me doing some experimenting with different tools and materials and recently I’ve done a couple sketches on single sheets of gray, toned paper and I thought I’d share them here.

2013-01-15Nigeria6_700The first was done at the Musée de la Civilisation, in a large Nigeria exhibit that features lots of masks and headdresses used in ceremonies.  This one was done in Canson Mi-Teintes paper.  As I am also trying to learn how to use a pencil as a sketching medium, I used the smooth side of this paper and it worked well.  Not being a pencil guru, I started layout with a 3H pencil and ultimately ended up with an HB mechanical pencil.  Nothing special here and, I’m sure, most pencil experts will probably cringe that I didn’t use softer pencils.  I added a bit of highlight using a Prismacolor white pencil but I was fairly tentative in this as I’ve never done that before at all.  Still, the results ended up better than I expected.

The next sketch I did was done during our 38th Worldwide Sketchcrawl, which we did at the Musée de Francais and its associated chapel.  The chapel has been ‘secularized’ and is rented out for meetings and banquets.  Still, its walls are still adorned with statues of saints, the windows are stained glass, and a huge alter remains.

2013-01-08Seminaire38thSketchcrawl700But I love to sketch buildings and being driven indoors by snow and cold is frustrating.  I took advantage of the sketchcrawl to set my tripod stool in front of a huge window that looked out on a courtyard that was bordered by a very long, probably 150+ feet long building.  Rather than capture the entire structure, I decided to concentrate on a slice of it and I came up with this sketch.

This sketch was done on Strathmore Series 400 “toned gray” paper.  I bought a 9×12 spiral sketchbook of this stuff.  The sheets are perforated and can be easily separated from the sketchbook.  I did the linework with a Pilot Prera filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  The suggestion of snow was added using the same Prismacolor pencil I used in the first sketch.  I like this paper a lot.  It’s much cheaper than the Canson paper and it’s a great pencil paper.  I felt that it was a bit too absorptive for ink, though.  A heavy line tends to feather a bit.

I really like drawing on toned paper.  I’m less wild about using single sheets of paper for my sketching and wish Stillman & Birn would create a gray version of its Epsilon sketchbooks.  A sketcher has to have a dream (grin).