The Girl On The Beach

I know there are many parts of the US that are in dire straits from COVID and the lack of governmental concern over it.  But that’s not true of many places. In Quebec City, where a mask-wearing mandate, social distancing, and good government response allow us to go and do pretty much as we please (unless you’re a party animal I guess).  And yet Chantal and I are still reluctant to range far and wide.

We’re living a hermit existence, but like everyone else we’re going nuts looking at the same walls day after day.  We decided to succumb to the urge to go somewhere, anywhere, and headed to Ile d’Orleans, a large island just east of Quebec City in the Ste Lawrence River.  There’s 42 miles of road that runs around the perimeter of the island and we figured we couldn’t get in too much trouble as long as we stayed in the car.

And for the most part we did stay in the car.  We wandered around a park that’s sort of a mini-botanical garden on the north side of the island and we stopped at a couple of the small marinas where we walked out to look at the St. Lawrence.  Most of the fruit and vegetable stands were closed and the couple places that were open we too crowded to tempt us.  Because of this, I took a couple photos but sketching wasn’t practical.

At one of the marinas there was a beach with only a couple people on it so we walked around a bit, taking in the fresh air.  A girl was sitting at the edge of the water, creating a wonderful scene.  Here’s my sketch of her enjoying her own form of solitude.

Why I Don’t Do Sketchbook Tours

A couple people have asked why I don’t do sketchbook tours like so many people do.  My first thought is that I’m not set up to shoot video, but I could be if I wanted to do so. No, the real reason is that my sketchbooks are not done to be presented.  Lots of people approach each page as part of the whole, a place where a significant sketch must be completed to fit with the rest.  Others do everything with carefully organized graphic and text presentations.

I’ve tried doing both and, frankly, both approaches seem far too limiting to me.  I want to be able to scribble down whatever I want and however I want.  My sketchbooks are more about trying stuff, having fun, and generally putting in the work to improve my ability to draw.  I don’t feel I can do any of that while trying to produce something for presentation.  If some presentable sketches come from this, so be it but that’s not my goal.

And since I’ve been talking about the Hahnemuhle Cappuccino notebook recently I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and talk about it some more while I show you a couple pages I did this weekend.  They reflect how this paper responds to different media and how miserably disorganized my sketchbook pages are (grin). I’ll discuss these pages in the order in which it occurred.

We were at the Maritime Museum of Charlevoix this past weekend and we were sketching.  At one point I decided that I needed to sit down (my knee still limits my energy/mobility) and so I did.  Chantal took the opportunity to investigate views to a church she wanted to draw.

In front of me were some rocks so I got out the Cap. notebook and drew a small cluster of them.  I used thin watercolor washes to give them some life.  Then I started drawing a woman who was standing far away. This was a signal to her that she should walk behind a ship.  She did and I was left with a scribble.

I sat for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the fact that one of the virtues of the pandemic is that these museums are nearly devoid of people.  But eventually I started doing a quick, scribble of an old tugboat.  The point of view was weird but I was comfortable and didn’t feel like moving.  Besides, I was just going to draw the cabin roof and a few windows.

I didn’t worry about proportions and ended up with a tugboat with a shortened bow.  I also had a tugboat that had bumped into my little rock drawing, so I drew a square around the rocks.  It wasn’t a great sketch, but like all sketches it was fun to do.

Then Chantal came back.  We got into a discussion of faking perspective because she’d been trying to sketch a church.  The little scribble in the top left was my pen brain trying to assist my mouth brain in describing things.  After that lively discussion I put the sketchbook away and we continued our visit.

When we got home I decided to see how the Cappuccino would handle gouache.  So I painted the tugboat.  I didn’t worry much about staying inside the lines or doing careful shading.  I was only looking at how the gouache and paper interacted.  It does quite well, by the way.  For me, one of the advantages of gouache is that you use much less water and the paint sits on the surface so paper quality/type isn’t nearly as important.

Someone on YouTube mentioned using a Tuscan Red Col-Erase pencil and presented a few portraits done with it.  Looked good to me so I hunted down my box of Col-Erase and drew the guy you see here.  The drawing isn’t finished but I’m finished with it.  As a proof of concept this was a winner and I’ll investigate further my Tuscan Red pencil.

So, you see, none of these partial sketches are tour-worthy.  None of them are even finished drawings. They reflect me learning, trying, doing.  I place most of the emphasis on that last word.  Do you have sketchbooks like this?

Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

What’s A Pencil?

When I came to sketching I’d been using fountain pens for all of my writing for decades.  It never occurred to me to use anything different to draw stuff.  So I’ve spent years using fountain pens for sketching and rarely have I tried anything else, though I’ve spent a bunch of time with watercolor pencils in museums when watercolors weren’t allowed.  But with the COVID scurge going on I’m doing more experiments.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with me doing more art in isolation rather than going out with friends to sketch some location.

I was at an Artistes dans les parcs event last week.  Even here I’m mostly by myself because the language barrier prevents a lot of interaction between myself and the rest of the participants.  Anyways, I was out on the shore of the St. Lawrence River sizing up some rocks to draw.  For whatever reason I got the idea to draw them with a pencil.  I dug around in my bag and came up with a short hunk of Blackwing 602.  Here’s the result.  Another result of this experiment is the realization that I’ve never learned how to draw with a simple, graphite pencil.

Strathmore 184lb Toned Tan paper, pencil

Sitting In The Morning Sun… I’ll Be Cooked Before The Sketch Is Done

Apologies to Otis Redding for the title of this post.  But it describes pretty well a morning I had at the latest Artistes dans les parcs event.  It was all my fault.  Sometimes I forsake rational thinking while choosing a sketching subject.

This event took place at a spiritual retreat site that looks like it has its roots as a home for the upper crust.  The grounds are huge and high on a hill that overlooks the St. Lawrence River.  Almost all of the participants set up easels in a shady area so they could paint the coastline.  Those were the smart ones because we were in the middle of a heat wave with pressing heat and humidity.

Me, I took a different approach.  I decided to sketch a bunch of stairs.  My thinking was simply that I needed practice sketching stairs.  I didn’t think about the fact that to do so required that I sit out in the open, in bright sun, and that I would sweat myself to become ill from the process.  I cooked, and cooked, and cooked, more concerned about lilies and concrete than how I was feeling.

When I came out of my sketching fog I realized I wasn’t feeling that great.  Only then did I realize that I was light-headed and dripping with sweat.  I headed for some shade.  Then I realized that I had forgotten to bring a waterbottle.  All I had to drink was my back up water for painting, all 30ml of the stuff.  I drank that and then waited for the little bit of breeze to cool me down.  In the end I was fine, with only a hint of stupid to chew on.  I did go home early, however.  It was just too hot to be out without water.