Sketching From The Car

Winter has grabbed hold of us in Quebec and right now I’m looking out the window at a foot of new snow, but the snow is going sideways due to 60-70km/h winds.  I can’t see across the street.  I’m praying for the winds to die down this afternoon so I can run my snowblower.  Something to look forward to I suppose.

So I’m writing to you about a short trip I took a few days ago with Yvan out to Miriam’s cottage on Ile d’Orleans.  It was a bright sunny day but also, how do you say it… nippy.  We picked up Miriam and headed to a town called St. Laurent on the island.  We arrived at the boulangerie which is one of my favorite places to visit during summer, because they sell the best pesto pizza and it’s great to sit on the balcony of this huge house, overlooking the St. Lawrence, and sketch.  I’ve drawn the church it faces a number of times.

Today, though, our target was a cute little building from which they sell crafty things to the tourists.  It’s snuggled into the forest edge behind the main building and looks to me like a ginger-bread house.  We parked at the end of the driveway (the place is closed during winter) and sketched the building from the car.  It was a bit cramped with three of us in the car, with our sketching bags close at hand.  We had to start the car several times to defrost the windows but we were out of the wind and plenty warm.

I tried to depict the ‘tucked away’ look of the place by including a bunch of the foreground but I struggled a bit with the snow since I was working on tan paper.  I was happy with my “cute” approach on this sketch, though I’ve got to get better creating snow with gouache.  It was either too white or not white enough 🙂

From there we ended up across the street in the parking lot behind the church.  Miriam and Yvan wanted to draw the big ice blocks that had started to accumulate along the bank of the St. Lawrence.  That didn’t really turn my crank and so I just started sketching random things I could see.  I enjoy doing this because I can just concentrate on the object, foresaking any semblance of scene-building.  Pickings were a bit slim in the parking lot but it was fun nevertheless.

Sketching from a car isn’t ideal, but there’s something cozy about doing it with a couple friends.  Sort of like drive-in movies for sketchers.

Artistes Dans Les Parcs Visits Parc des Fondateurs

It’s turning cold here and our outdoor location sketching season is nearing an end.  The last Artistes dans les parcs outing took place at the Parc des Fondateurs, which is a gorgeous park near Stoneham, Quebec.

The Huron River runs through this park and I was looking forward to drawing some rocks and rapids.  I was disappointed to find that the steep descents to the river kept me and my bad knee from fulfilling that goal so all I could do was look down and imagine it.  Denise did give me some photos she took so maybe I can draw from them this winter.

Instead I decided to draw the barn, which used to be a barn but it now seems to be a building where the nearby church holds banquets and parties.  It’s where we all gathered to eat lunch and to stay warm.  The large door openings are now large viewing windows and several people did their drawing from inside.  I should have because it was cold for a guy who grew up in Arizona.  I have to confess that I rushed this sketch because of this but here it is.  I hope to draw this building again some day, maybe when it’s a bit warmer.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3009

I’d spent so much time wandering the park when we arrived that by the time I finished this sketch it was time for lunch.  We all gathered inside, sat around a big table and chatted.  Eventually, though, it was time to brave the cool, wet day and head back out.  I decided to walk out of the park and set up in a parking lot of some sort of municipal building so I could draw the church.

I was making good progress when it started to rain.  I persisted.  The rain continued, plopping drops of water onto wet ink.  I was using Platinum Carbon Black for this sketch (in a Hero fude pen) and PCB dries more slowly than DeAtramentis Document inks, particularly when it’s cold.  The combined slow-drying and wet water was creating little bomb-craters on my drawing, to say nothing of the discomfort I was beginning to feel while standing there with no protection.

Moleskine 5×8, Platinum Carbon Black, Hero 7 Horses fude pen.

So, I packed up walked to the parking lot and swapped my big sketching bag for a small ‘scribble’ book and a pen and I went wandering, looking for places to stand out of the rain and sketch.

Eventually the rain stopped and I sat down to quickly sketch this odd structure.  It was small and part of a children’s playground.  Its total height couldn’t have been more than eight feet and all it had available for kids were two shallow tables.  I assume that there are some toys to play with on those tables during the summer but none were in evidence when I was there.  Still, it was cute as could be so I did this quick sketch.

  All in all, it was a great day in spite of the cold and rain.  We talked about trying to do a couple indoor events this winter but since a lot of the members of this group are oil painters with easels and such it’s unclear what will happen.   I’m just thankful that Denise Bujold is such a nice person and willing to organize these events.

Sketching At Vinoble De Bacchus

The Artistes dans les parcs went to Iles d’Orleans to visit Vinoble de Bacchus for a day of painting en plein air.  Bacchus is the god of wine so it was only fitting that his vineyard was beautiful.  All of the buildings are painted white with blue roofs and the vineyards overlook the St. Lawrence River.  We had a great time.

I wandered around a while, just enjoying the place.  There was a lot to see and I took it all in.  The last time we came I couldn’t walk up/down the hills to the vineyards and so I was enjoying the freedom my rheumatologist has given me.

Eventually, though, I sat down to sketch this building.  I just liked the door.  Do we need more reason than that?  I don’t think so.

Stillman & BIrn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis black, Daniel Smith watercolors

Then it was time for lunch, a very long lunch.  A big part of the raison d’etre of the Artistes dans les parcs are its social aspects and the vineyard’s ambience and services emphasized this on this day.  They sell yummy cheese plates, serve wine and we could sit outside on a perfect day and talk, and talk, and talk.

While that was happening I did this small sketch of a planter that sat nearby.  Not much of a sketch but I thought I’d throw it in as a remembrance of that fine afternoon.  Thanks Bacchus, for letting us visit your vineyard.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document Black

Where Have The Alligators Gone?

The Artistes dans les parcs went back to what is now called Parc des Moulins, but the area used to be the Quebec zoo.  Oh how I wish we still had animals to draw but politics brought the zoo to an end, a needless end.

Anyway, it was a hot day but I set up in the sun at one end of a large impound that used to house the alligators. It’s a pond with small islands for alligator basking and a building at one end so people could look down on the critters.  The islands are now overgrown so while this sketch doesn’t have any alligators, it does have lots of plants.  The mandatory alligator-proof wall is still in place around it and it seemed only fitting that it be included in the scene.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, Wing Sung 8009, Daniel Smith watercolors

The Urban Sketcher View

I’ve only been an urban sketcher.  Yes, I’ve drawn stuffed animals and a few flowers but mostly I go out somewhere, sit down and draw what’s in front of me, on location.  I like this because I don’t have to make stuff up.  I can see the objects ‘in the flesh’ and from all angles.  Drawing from photos is boring and, somehow incomplete.

But there’s a downside to urban sketching.  You’re always faced with cluttered, complex landscapes.  Drawn verbatim, you end up with confused, messy sketches.  Everyone says “simplify,” but in my opinion, this is the hardest thing to do in art.  What to leave out, what to leave in.  Where should the border of the sketch be>  How do you treat those edges?  Do you zoom in or out to capture a subject?  Too many decisions… too many choices.

I went with Yvan to draw boats.  Specifically we wanted to draw some of the tugboats that are moored in the Quebec City harbor.  I found a place out of the wind and set up to draw a tugboat on the other side of the harbor.  I had this view.

I’m not a master of composition but even I know this is a cluttered view and that having a big rope cutting across a drawing with no reason isn’t a good idea.  So, “simplify” is what I’m told so that’s what I do.

Even so, it was going to be hard to make that tugboat the star of my sketch if I drew it from that far away.  So, the solution was to zoom in, forcing the tugboat onto center stage.  I also decided to greatly simplify the background.  And I started to draw my tugboat.

I was happy with this result but zooming in did present a new problem.  If the boat is drawn that large, don’tcha want to see a lot of detail?  Of course, but because the boat is actually so far away, you can’t see the details.  Some details are faked as a set of textural marks.  Others are left out completely.  It’s a balance I guess.  A balance that makes me realize just how much I still need to learn about sketching.