Pre-hibernation Behavior Of A Quebec Sketcher

I think this may be my last outdoor sketch of the year.  I was out this morning.  The temperature was 3-4 C and it was windy.  I did the basics of this sketch as quickly as my slow hand allowed.  It’s a tiny, old ‘casse-croute’ (typically this means they sell fries and poutine) on Dorchester street.

By the time I had the structure drawn, I was frozen so I headed to the library, which was nearby.  I’d snapped a photo of the building and used it to add details and color.  I think this marks the beginning of indoor season for me.

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

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

A Simple Act Of Kindness

Here in North America our society is becoming more and more coarse.  The rhetoric of our politicians has become downright rude, we all walk around with headphones one, barely acknowledging one and other and, frankly, too many of us are too afraid of too many things.  So it’s hard to continue to believe an axiom that makes life bearable – that people are good.

2013-09-30PatEnvelopeBut then something happens and things snap back into perspective.  That happened to me when I went to my mailbox and pulled this from the box.

It was addressed to me with a flair that one rarely sees.  It came from Singapore.  Singapore???  Who did I know in Singapore?  I immediately thought of the Urban Sketchers of Singapore but I’ve never met any of them.  Who could be sending me something?

And so I opened it in the hopes of gaining some insights.  Indeed, the contents were sketcher-oriented.  There was a nice toned-paper sketchbook, a leatherette cover for that sketchbook, two Uniball Signo UM-120 pens, and a couple refills for those pens.  WOW!  The motherlode.  Being old I don’t think as quickly as I once did and I was still baffled about who might have sent these items.  And then I found the little card, from Patrick Ng.

Patrick is a great guy, who went out of his way to obtain a couple Hero pens for me that I couldn’t have purchased without his help.  And we ‘chat’ on Facebook, where we are ‘friends.’  He had been shopping for materials and remembered me, remembered discussions we’d had about the toned-paper sketchbooks made by a friend of his, and he bought me one, and a cover for it so I could fill the sketchbook, get another one and replace it, reusing the cover.  He’d sent a couple of the pens he uses regularly because he knew that Uniball don’t import them to the US.  People are still good, and Patrick is one of the best.
2013-10-03AndrewBook (1)The first thing I did was to test  bunch of pens on the paper, which must be 200lb tan-color paper.  It’s not heavily sized but it does take watercolors quick nicely.  You notice the lack of sizing when you try to do larger washes.  But being able to use the paper as a mid-tone and working on both sides towards dark (pen) and lights (colored pencil) is lots of fun.

2013-10-04LamppostBirdThe first full sketch I did was this one, done in Parc Brebeuf, a park not far from my house.  The ring-billed gulls like to sit on lamp posts and this one sat around while I drew him…or her.

I decided that since Patrick had been so nice to send me a sketchbook, the least I could do was walk a mile in his shoes, in a sketching sense.  He does a lot of sketches inside restaurants and coffee shops.  Sometimes he does them on toned-brown paper, sometimes not.  They are always wonderful sketches.

So, I took one of my Hero 578 ‘asian calligraphy’ pens (tip is bent upward), my new sketchbook, and headed to a mall.  It was morning and not very busy, which suited me fine.

I actually sketched this while standing up, just outside the restaurant, resting the sketchbook on the wall in the foreground of the sketch.   Me, standing, looking in at the restraurant was likely to be disconcerting so after I’d done a bit of the sketch I walked to the three women featured in it and showed them what I was doing.

Normally I would not do such a thing as typically this causes people to start posing.  But in this case, it was necessary.  The sketch was lots of fun and very much in honor of Patrick Ng.  Thanks, Patrick.  You really made my day, week, month.

2013-10-10Gallerie_color

Fall Is Here; Just Say No To Snow!

Fall officially came to Quebec a couple weeks ago.  Many of the trees, and certainly Mr Weathermaker, didn’t get the memo.  We’ve had very warm temperatures for a last couple weeks and the trees are very confused as daylength tells them to drop their leaves but the temps are saying “not yet.”

But, slowly and as surely as politicians will screw things up, winter is approaching.  For me, a street sketcher, it’s a time of transition.  It’s a time when I start figuring out what/where I’m going to sketch once it gets too cold outside to do what I love – sketch on the streets.

To that end I’m thinking about museums, have convinced myself that I should try, again, to sketch from photos, and that I should use Google Maps “pegman” to sketch in exotic places while snow blankets my world.  We’ll see.

toned paper; Pilot Prera and Prismacolor white pencil

toned paper; Pilot Prera and Prismacolor white pencil

In the meantime I’ve been doing some sketching.  I received a handmade tan-paper sketchbook from my buddy Pat Ng in Singapore and did this sketch to sort of break it in.  The gulls love to sit on the lamp posts around here so I had plenty of source material for this sketch.

This sketch was done in celebration of the show the trees put on for us every year.  Fairly simple, I combined a Uniball UM-120 black pen (.5) with a Uniball UM-151 brown-black (.38) pen and did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) sketchbook.  The fence lets me call it an ‘urban sketch’ 🙂

2013-10-07Fall2013-10-07QuickHouseI spent Monday night looking at a bunch of sketches done by Liz Steel, a very talented architect/sketcher.  She talks about how she works very quickly and why.  The next day I was walking down a street and saw this little house.  I decided to try out Liz’s philosophy/approach and while I didn’t produce anything near the quality of her sketches, once I buried the ‘ooooo…that’s not right’ and ‘oops…left that out’ I found the results interesting and I’ll probably do some more like this.  Took less than 10 minutes, including the time to get out my watercolor kit and waterbrush.  It was done in my ‘el cheapo’ 3×5 notebook and my Uniball UM-120 (.5) pen.

Sketching, no matter how it’s done, is fun and after two years of doing it, I can’t imagine a day without it in my life.

 

Sketching On Location – Matthew Brehm

I have few inherent talents.  I can’t throw a ball 100mph.  I can’t devise new laws of physics.  But I’ve got an intense curiosity and my persistence factor is off the charts.  .

I have come to art late in life and my solution to the ‘you’re old; you don’t have much time’ dilemma has been to read everything and anything about drawing, coupled with a whole lot of doing.  Nick Meglin (Drawing From Within) is right when he says that the book that will teach you the most about drawing is your sketchbook.

But there are insights one can glean from books and those ideas and techniques can have small or large effects on how quickly you can progress.  Besides, I’m an ex-scientist and that translates into a view that understanding what smart people think is good for me.

A few things have come from wandering through dozens of ‘drawing books’ written from the 1800s onward.  It’s clear there is a difference between how drawing was once taught and how it’s being taught now.  If one reads 19th Century drawing texts one is taught to draw everything and to do it from observation, probably because most jobs for artists actually required that skill.  Modern texts from the art world all seem to assume that artists draw naked people or draw from their imagination in a studio.  It’s barely acknowledged that anyone goes out and draws planes, trains and automobiles anymore and, if one looks at the art hangs as ‘modern art’ in museums, they don’t.  Deanna Petherbridge suggests, in her Primacy of Drawing, that a renewed interest in representational art is causing a renewed interest in drawing.  I hope she’s correct.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the sketching world is full of very good sketchers, drawing from observation.  They are masters of their craft; they are my heros.  A surprising number of them are graphics illustrators, comic book and animation artists and ARCHITECTS!  Liz Steel, Gerard Michel, Tia Boom, Matthew Brehm, and my buddy Yvan Breton all come from architectural backgrounds.  And when you talk with them it’s easy to see why.  Their schooling required them to carry sketchbooks and draw everything and anything on location.

2013-09-21Brehm1I’ve finally been able to buy a copy of Matthew Brehm’s book Sketching on Location and it is one of the few books on location sketching I’ve seen.  And is it ever good.  I reviewed Freehand Sketching by Paul Laseau (another architect) and  underscored his distinction between location sketching and sketching from photos/imagination.  Brehm makes the distinction and provides an extensive toolkit for those wanting to draw from observation.  He begins his book thus:

2013-09-21Brehm3

The differences between drawing from observation and drawing in a studio are greater than most seem to understand.  The best example of this is “perspective”, a term used by artists for everything having to do with showing depth on a 2D surface, it seems.  A quick scan of art books can yield authors saying they perspective to create perspective.  But mostly the word is associated with a lot of geometry, mind-boggling geometry.  The result are people who say “I can’t draw buildings because I’m not good at perspective” but who can draw gorgeous figures, flowers, etc. where the very same “perspective” exists.

And why does this view exist?  Because nobody ever told artists the Catch-22 of linear perspective when applied to location sketching.  If you’re going to determine the vanishing point for a building wall, you’ve got to ‘see’ the angles, at least the top and bottom horizontals before a vanishing point can be determined.  If you can see the angle, why do you need the vanishing point?  While it’s useful to understand the basics of linear perspective, when doing observational drawing the building is right in front of you.  You don’t have to make up the angles; you just have to see them.

2013-09-21Brehm2

Brehm uses the term ‘composition’ as a way to build connections between objects, determine the observed angles, sizes and to identify convergences that make it much easier to capture a scene that is in front of you.  I know these methods as ‘scaffolding’ but the ‘rose by any other name…’ cliché applies here.  He does discuss linear perspective as well, but from the point of view of its more limited uses in observational drawing.

These sections of Brehm’s book alone are enough to change how you approach observational drawing.  But his approach to other, more typical drawing subjects (eg – value, color) all emphasize, as one might expect, how they are used by the observational sketcher rather than a studio artist.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in drawing real things, in real places.  This book will help you almost as much as your sketchbook.

It’s My Birthday!!!

Have you noticed that as you get older the time between your birthdays gets shorter?  Have you also noticed that you’re not as thrilled by them as you once were?  Maybe it’s just me.  I still act like a kid but I’m old and getting older doesn’t impress me much.

2-year-oldBut I just had a birthday that I liked a lot.  I’m now a two-year-old sketcher.  That’s right, near the end of August 2011, I discovered Danny Gregory’s books and his notion that doing art wasn’t about talent and that it wasn’t about creating great art.

He had the audacity to suggest that anyone could enjoy doing art because the process of doing art, not the end product, is what’s important.   As one who has always tried to be creative, but also one who was told he had no ‘talent’ for art, this came as a revelation to me.  It was a life-changing event.

And so I started drawing cubes.  I’m an analytical type, an ex-scientist, so I felt that if I was going to draw, I needed to start with boxes.  In hindsight, I’m glad I did.  I drew a gazillion of them.  I’d draw one and then try to draw another rotated a bit in one direction of the other from the original.  It seemed I was buying a new watercolor book every other day, determined that I’d learn to paint.

But I learned something very quickly.  Most watercolor books go like this:

1) Start with a sketch…
2) add a wash…..
3) do something else…
4) finish up with details.

And, to me, this is akin to saying “Want to decorate your own house?  Ok, first do all the carpentry and plumbing” but it is the standard way that watercolor books are presented.  If you can’t draw, they’re all pretty useless in my opinion.

So I decided that I would spend the first year “learning to draw”, whatever that meant to me at the time.  I’m still trying to learn to draw and now figure I’m not going to master it anytime soon.  But I do believe that by emphasizing drawing over painting I did myself a great service.  For the past couple years I’ve used watercolors but mostly like crayons, filling in areas in my pen and ink sketches as a 5-year old does in their coloring books.

I wish I could share with you some of my early attempts at drawing, but I cannot.  All my early sketching was done on photocopy paper and ended up in the trash can.  I saw no need to keep any of it, at least until I mentioned this to more seasoned sketchers in an Internet forum.  There seemed to be a collective gasp, followed by “Don’t do that.  You’ll want to look back some day and evaluate your progress.”  They were right and that day was today.  I guess that advice came in October 2011 as from then on, everything is in sketchbooks, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
2011_10-ChezCharlotte_sm
Here was my first attempt at a ‘real’ sketch.  I did it from a photo as in October of 2011 I ‘knew’ I’d be eaten alive by passers-by if I dared sketch on location.  At the time I was pretty happy with it.  I guess I still am given that only a month prior I was struggling to draw cubes (grin).

MySketchbooksBut, since then I’ve filled a sketchbook or three.  I’ve become quite passionate about urban sketching.   I carry sketchbooks with me wherever I go and I sketch constantly, or so it seems.  I can’t seem to get enough.   While I’ve got a lot to learn about art in general, and watercolors in particular, I’m sure having a lot of fun and that’s what art is supposed to be all about.  Just ask Danny Gregory.

2013-08-27House

Thick Lines and Quick Hands

One of the days that I was waiting for my hard drive to arrive it rained.  I’m not one for sketching from photos but desperation will drive me to such extremes.  My pointy device of choice is a very fine pen and I thought it might be an opportunity to play with pens that produce a heavier line and to use them in a more loose fashion than is my norm.

And so I did some quick sketches in a 3×5 sketchbook. Here are four of them.

2013-09-07Photo5

Done with a Hero 578 ‘bent nib’ pen

2013-09-07Photo1

Done with Sharpie ‘fine’ pen (not marker)

2013-09-07Photo3&4

TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black

2013-09-08CarC

Done with Hero 578 “bent nib” pen in about five minutes.

The next day I went out sketching and continued the experiment.  I stopped to pick up a coffee and drew the car across the street.

2013-09-08RubeckiaC

Done with Hero 578 “bent nib” pen

I was walking along the St. Charles River and decided to stop and sketch these rudbeckia.  I’m not much of a flower sketcher but this was fun.

There is a large water regulation reservoir along the banks of the river and I decided to draw it as quickly as I could.  I spent less than 15 minutes on it, which is something of a world record for me when it comes to doing buildings.  I found the format too small for a building with all those fiddly bits.

Done with TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black

Done with TWSBI Mini w/Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Zeta: A Pen Sketcher’s Dream

S&B_ZetaBack in November of 2011 I bought my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook.  It was a 5×8, hardcover Alpha-series book.  I wrote about the Alpha Series here.   In that blog post I said that I liked it very much and I gave several reasons why I felt it outperformed the other sketchbooks I’d tried. I also ran out and bought several more.  But as I’d only had it for a short time I added the caveat that “It’s probably premature to draw conclusions that will stick.”

Well, nearly two years and ten S&B sketchbooks in use or filled, I think I can be a bit more definitive…but with another caveat.  Stillman & Birn just keeps getting better and better so who knows what ‘best’ will look like in the future.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren't absorbed into the paper as much.  Makes lifting easier as well.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren’t absorbed into the paper as much. Makes lifting easier as well.

As I filled sketchbooks, I tried the other Stillman & Birn papers.  For the pen & ink work I do, the Epsilon sketchbooks are wonderful to draw on.  It took me a while to get used to how the smoother paper accepts watercolor as they stay wet longer and sit on the surface more, which is neither good or bad but different from the more absorbent Alpha.  The best equivalency I know is to the differences between cold-press and hot-press watercolor papers. Both of these papers are 100lb papers that, while they outperform any papers of this weight I’ve ever used, they still have a tendency to curl somewhat when lots of water are applied.  You can see a bit of shadowing if you use both sides of the paper.

And then I tried Beta, S&B’s 180lb paper.  This is surfaced very much like a cold-press paper and provides a fantastic surface for watercolors but not as nice as Epsilon for pen use.   By the end of the summer of 2012 I wrote a summary post on these different sketchbooks.  I was completely hooked on Stillman & Birn papers and their amazing double-stitched bindings which are second to none.  But at the time I thought “They need thick “Epsilon” paper.

Notice how flat S&B sketchbooks lay once they've been broken in.

Notice how flat S&B Zeta sketchbooks lay once they’ve been broken in.

And this is the thing about Stillman & Birn.  If you dream it, they magically know you were dreaming and they make it.  The Zeta sketchbooks were release a few months ago in response to my dream.  I’m betting others were dreaming the same thing.

I use several S&B sketchbooks (different sizes and papers) simultaneously and when the Zeta series was released, I immediately started using one.  It quickly became a favorite for my kind of sketching (pen/ink and wash).  It’s a merging of best of Beta and Epsilon into one paper as it’s 180lb Epsilon paper.  I’m working in my second Zeta sketchbook and it’s hard for me to see any reason to use any other, if the size I want is available with this paper.

There lies the rub as I still use Alpha in 4×6 and 10×7 formats.  I will likely buy a 7×10 spiral bound Zeta as a substitute for my 10×7 Alphas but, so far, S&B haven’t produced a truly small sketchbook (thin, 3×5) – my current dream.  I hope that when they do it will contain Zeta paper (grin).

Sketching at Chute Montmorency

CMontmorencyChute Montmorency is a large waterfall just east of Quebec City.  It’s a major tourist attraction, a mini-Niagara Falls I suppose.  It has all the tourist amenities.  Large facility at the base of the falls greets tourists and there’s a large parking lot to accommodate a constant parade of vehicles.

There’s also a tram and a smiling attendant with their hand out.  You can pay the price or you can climb a veritable labyrinth of stairs up to the top of the falls.  We did neither.

Locals, wanting to get to the top take a metro bus that drops them near the top and next to a hotel that sits at the tram terminus.  There’s a wonderful boardwalk that tourists walk along to the falls and it provides spectacular views of the falls as well as the St. Lawrence River.  We took the bus.

I met my sketching buddy, Claudette, on the bus and we walked the short trail down to the west end of a large pedestrian bridge that runs right across the top of the falls.  The views are pretty spectacular from there.  So, what do a couple of urban sketchers do?  We set up at the end of the bridge and drew the bridge.  We’ll draw the trees, beautiful canyon, and the falls themselves some other day.  I guess it truly is a mindset as both of us did this without much thought.

I decided to work in a small format as I’ve been doing a series of smaller sketches.  I got out my little Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and started drawing.  Claudette did likewise with her 5×8 Strathmore 467-series sketchbook.  These are beautiful, brown-covered watercolor sketchbooks, though they are in landscape mode which is not idea in my view.

2013-08-24ClaudetteSketchingCIt seemed that we both finished our linework about the same time as I noticed that she was getting out her watercolors as I reached for mine.  She had hers. I did not.  I’d left my watercolor kit sitting on my desk.

While disappointing, it allowed me to stand up and move around, giving my old knees a stretch.  Then I sat down and did a quick, small sketch of Claudette working on her sketch.  Obviously, I added color to my sketches when I got home.

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyBridgeCClaudette composed an interesting view of the bridge, sort of zooming in on just the entrance area.  I decided to capture more of the entirety of the scene.  I like hers better.  I always do.

ClaudetteBridge

We wandered up Avenue Royale which is a very old street lined with older, though often completely renovated houses.  These are majestic houses with lots of what my dad used to call ‘gingerbread’ trim, large front doors and porch areas.

We only found a few dozen things we wanted to sketch but it was time for lunch.  Feeling recharged by good food and conversation, we returned to the falls area and I sketched this little snack kiosk, again in my 3×5 watercolor book.  Then, we hopped on the bus and came home.  Paraphrasing the Terminator…”we’ll be back.”

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyKioskC

Small Sketch Series Continued

I’m continuing to fill my small Moleskine watercolor book with sketches.  Doing a bit of experimenting, having a lot of fun.  I do enjoy this format, though I wish the Moleskine was in portrait format.  As you’ll see, most of the sketches I’ve done are in portrait format.  Personally, I’m still waiting for Stillman & Birn to do a 3×5, small sketchbook with their great papers, preferably their Beta or Zeta papers.

Until then, here’s a few more small sketches.

2013-07-28MoulinOven

This young woman was stoking the fire of an outdoor oven associated with a historic Jesuit mill in the Quebec area. Most of the time she was chopping wood but I did this quick sketch of her tending the fire.

2013-07-28TraitCarreLibrary

Part of the Charlesbourg library roof is grass covered and you can walk up there. From there you can see another wing of the building which sports this tower. I sat, on a very windy day trying to keep my sketchbook from blowing away as I made this sketch.

2013-07-28TraitCarreLamp

A somewhat different lamp that I found in Charlesbourg. Just a quick ink sketch that took only a few minutes.

2013-07-30QuickBuildings

Part of the Quebec skyline. This was an experiment in quick-sketching using J.Herbin 1670 ink, followed up with a waterbrush to spread the ink a bit. In spite of my typical penchant for straight lines and detail, I liked this one a lot.

2013-07-30FerryPassengers

For some reason, ferry passengers seem in constant motion during the 10 minute trip from one side of the St. Lawrence to the other. These two actually stood still for a couple minutes as I sketched them.

2013-07-31LevisHouseC

The people who get to sit on this terrace are lucky indeed as the house is high on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence.

2013-08-05Chimney

I’m a big fan of the complex chimneys on many of the downtown buildings. I couldn’t resist trying to capture the detail of this one.

2013-08-08BouyC

This is one of three navigational bouys that sit in the Canadian Coast Guard park associated with their Quebec City installation.

2013-08-16EntreeBoisDuCoulonge

This is one of a brace of entry markers at the entrance to one of the local parks.

 

Sketching In A Target-Rich Environment

Every year Quebec City holds the Festivale de Nouvelle France.  It is a celebration of the French landing here and setting up shop.  It’s a celebration of French culture.  It’s a celebration of traditional foods.  And it’s a heck of a good excuse for adults to dress up in costumes and roam the streets of old Quebec.

It’s also a great opportunity for sketchers who want to sketch people dressed as peasants, royalty, pirates, military, indians, and vendors.  I was a peasant myself – a peasant with a pen and a sketchbook.

I’m not very good at this kind of sketching.  Generally your subject is in a crowd of people and you have only a very short time to capture their geometry.  Once done, you’ve got a variable, though always short period of time, to fill in the details from a subject that’s moving constantly, often away from, blending back into the crowd.  Here are a few of my attempts; it sure was fun.

2013-08-10QS2 2013-08-10QS3 2013-08-11QS1 2013-08-11QS3 2013-08-11QS4 2013-08-11QS6 2013-08-11QS7