Spud Sketching In The Afternoon

Winter is tough on people who like to sketch on location.  We can go to museums, sketch people in coffee shops, and maybe even visit a mall, but there are days when the weather is so bad that we can’t even do that.  What to do, what to do.

Those of you who follow Tina Koyama might have an answer.  You draw fruits and vegetables and since Seattle agreed to take some of the snow headed to Quebec, that’s what she’s been doing.  Recently she ventured beyond bananas, apples and garlic and drew a potato.

I’ve drawn apples, bananas, garlic, pumpkins, peppers, etc. (we get lots of snow), but I’ve never drawn a potato.  Following in Tina’s footsteps, today I drew a potato, or rather two potatoes since that was the road less traveled.

Stillman & Birn Beta (10×7), Pilot Kakuna, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching In A Garden Center

In Quebec City we have to use our imagination to identify places where we can sketch on location.  I don’t have any of that imagination stuff but I have friends who do and they came up with the idea of sketching in garden centers.  We’ve done it a number of times and it’s lots of fun.

Sadly, even as we entered May it was still too cold to sketch outdoors so we headed to the garden center.  I didn’t create any masterpieces this day (never do) but I sure had fun.  It was the first time I’d sat on my tripod stool in a long time.  That was something of a challenge as my knee becomes very unstable when I try to get my butt low enough to find the seat.  Getting up is a similar challenge.  I’ll have to do something about that.  I did get to try a taller stool (20″ WalkStool) and I may buy one as that made this simple task much easier.

Anyways, I started with a simple, and quick sketch of a garden gargoyle.  He (she?) was about a foot tall and without much detail but very proud.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center, looking at the plants, the bright flashes of color and I even spent time looking at garden tools, bird feeders, etc.  The koi pond required that I watch the fish going round and round too.  Eventually, though, I got back to drawing and I immersed myself in a cloud of leaves that most would call a bonsai.  If I were a real artist I would have gotten out a brush and just indicated all those leaves but I’m in love with fountain pens and the lines they make so there I was, drawing leaves… lots of leaves.  I love the feeling of coming out of the meditative stupor induced by this sort of drawing.  It makes me want to do it again.

Is It New If It’s New To Me?

I don’t do a lot of discussion of products here, but I was in the local COOP run by university art students (their way of getting quality stuff since our artcraft store doesn’t stock it) and I came across this little sketchbook.

Unlike the Cotman pads I’m used to seeing from Winsor & Newton, this one had 5×7 sheets of 100% cotton paper.  I bought one and emailed W&N to ask if this was a new or old product.  The response I got suggested that the guy writing to me didn’t know the product at all, though it is listed on their website.  Wandering around the internet, however, suggested that somewhere around a year ago, W&N stopped making the Cotman books and started making “craftsman” and “professional” papers.  This little gray book is part of their professional series.  All of this is anecdotal but what I can say is that this is completely new to me.

I haven’t had much chance to try it out but the paper does seem very nice. In the hands of someone who understands watercolor, probably even more so (grin)

Stillman & Birn’s New Softcover Sketchbooks

I wrote my first blog post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks at the end of 2011.  Back then I was a newbie sketcher, struggling to find the ‘perfect’ sketchbook.  At the same time, Stillman & Birn had only recently released a small line of high-quality sketchbooks and I was lucky to cross their path as it seemed I was buying a new sketchbook every week, trying to find one I liked.

Since that time Stillman & Birn has expanded their line of great sketchbooks, with their wide range of quality papers and formats.  And except for cheap notebooks I use for quick-sketching, I’ve used Stillman & Birn sketchbooks almost exclusively.  Most of the sketches on this blog were drawn in S&B sketchbooks.

So when Stillman & Birn announced the release of a new line of softcover sketchbooks, I got some immediately.  But there was a problem with the binding.  I called Michael Kallman (President of S&B) about this and I felt so badly for him as his shock could be heard in his voice.  But Stillman & Birn rose to the occasion, withdrew the books from the marketplace, and went to work to solve the problem.

I was both surprised and thrilled when Michael sent me a couple prototype books to test, one with their 150gsm paper and the other with their 270gsm paper.  I was thrilled to find that the binding problems had been solved and wrote about this on February 20th.


So What’s New Larry?

Two things have happened since then.  First, the softcover sketchbooks have been released to those of us who have been chomping at the bit to get our hands on them.  Second, I’ve gotten the chance to fill those two prototypes, allowing me to see how they hold up to my abusive behavior of throwing them into my art bag and carrying them everywhere I go.

I use 5.5×8.5 Alpha, 3.5×5.5 Alpha, and 8×10 Beta books and I love them all.  I’m not going to talk about the paper quality as you can find my comments on their great papers in my other posts and a simple Google search will yield many other artists singing their praises.  What I want to talk about is using them and how they wear because that’s what the prototypes have allowed me to experience that others may not have been able to do at this point in time.

Wear and Tear


When you move from hardcover to softcover you do so mostly because softcover books are lighter (about half the weight of their hardcover counterpart), thinner, and typically a bit smaller because there is no cover overhang.  All of these things are true of the S&B softcovers (they do weigh about half the weight of the hardcovers).

The big fear, however, is that the softcovers won’t hold up under typical urban sketcher “throw them around” abuse.  I’ll be frank.  I didn’t have high hopes because I’m not kind to my sketchbooks, but these books hold up really well.   As you can see in the photo, these books look new in spite of having spent nearly four months being pulled in/out of my sketch bag almost daily.  Even the fact that the prototype books didn’t have their corners rounded as the commercial books are didn’t result in bent corners.

You might also note that the books aren’t swelled up from buckling.  This is a function of those great S&B papers, but  I was concerned that the Alpha book in particular wouldn’t flatten out as well as one with a heavy hardcover.  My fears were unfounded.

Softcovers In Use


In use these books are a dream come true.  They open very flat – more so than the hardcovers.   I don’t work across the fold very much but it’s easy to do with these books, regardless of the weight of the paper.

This, and the fact that there is no cover overhang makes it very easy to scan sketches done in these books too.  I’ve fallen in love with the 8×10 format for this reason.  I have a hard time scanning 9×12 books, regardless of binding because they just don’t fit my scanner well.  The 8×10 books make it very easy and yet provide a nice size for larger sketches.

One thing that might be nice would be the addition of an elastic band to keep the books closed.  I  didn’t find this to be a problem with these larger books but with the 3.5×5.5, once you get into the book a bit I found that it doesn’t want to stay closed.  It’s not a big deal and I just used a rubber band but I thought I’d mention it.


I’ve been a Stillman & Birn fan for most of my short sketching lifespan and these new softcovers do what I didn’t think would ever happen.  It’s likely that I’ll stop using S&B hardcover books for the first time in five years.  I’ve fallen in love with these new softcovers.   Great paper.  Great format.  Light weight.  What more could a street sketcher as for?

Nouvelle France People Sketches

2016-07-09-57TraitCarre2Yvan and I went to Galleria Margelis-Paradis in Trait Carre because the Charlesbourg Watercolorists were having an event to promote the gallery, their group, and their upcoming participation in Quebec’s annual Fete de Nouvelle France celebration.

2016-07-09-57TraitCarre1I’m not much of a people sketcher, particularly when the targets are moving, which was the case as the watercolorists were talking with visitors, showing them period items and paintings.  But, practice makes perfect and I’m sure I only need to draw a couple thousand more before I figure it out.  Anyways, here’s a few of the sketches I did that day.  All were done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover sketchbook with my Platinum 3776 pointy device.