The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location. But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching. This, and the smile on my face, was the result.
Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business. We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities. This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing. I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.
For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions. Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’ The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.
I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski. I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.
The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree. Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw. I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles. Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details. I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.
With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink. It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be. It’s very liberating and fun.
I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less. The ink portion was more like twenty minutes. Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate. Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way. Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it. Besides, it’s fun. Here’s the result. It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.
Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend. While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles. It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools. But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.
This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate. I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school. For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest. Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.
Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching. I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.
Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch. It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.
I’ve been reading a lot about sketching landscapes lately and one idea that pops up regularly is that of assembling a scene based upon what you see and what makes the composition work. Moving a tree, or eliminating some is often the example given. I have a hard time with that concept. It makes perfect sense and I admire those who can do it, but it seems I’m a literalist at heart and so I always end up drawing what I see.
But recently I did assemble a scene from nature, quite literally. During our trip to Rimouski we (mostly Chantal and Jodie because I couldn’t climb around on the rocks very well) collected a whole bunch of crab parts. The whole endeavour was done so I could draw the parts but it got a bit out of control. In the end, we ended up with a whole bag of smelly carapaces, legs and claws.
When we got home the question was what to do with them as they really did smell. Chantal put all the parts in a bunch of pie tins with mesh cloth over them to keep the flies away and put them on our deck. The smell did diminish but it never went away, even after a week or so of loving care.
As I started doing this the biologist in me, or maybe the Dr. Frankenstein, started sticking parts together. Before I knew it I had a nearly complete crab sitting on the table. I did take some photos of my prize and then sat down to draw it. I learned that drawing a crab can make you go cross-eyed trying to follow all the leg parts but it was fun.
When faced with opportunity, a sketcher shouldn’t hesitate and Yvan and I are no exceptions. Miriam invited us to sketch at her place on Ile d’Orleans and we jumped at the chance. The location is beautiful and Miriam is there to sketch with us. What’s not to like?
The day was delightful, though my hands seemed to have a mind of their own. These days, straight lines are becoming hard to make. But we had a lot of fun sketching together and enjoying the day. Here are a couple of my sketches from the day.
We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art. Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.
As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings. I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).
But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide. I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.
At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken. Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing. More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be. My daughter looks huge, as does her hair. I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch. Silly me. I wonder why.
August 26th was our 30th wedding anniversary. Thinking about that, Chantal deserves a medal for living with me that long. We decided to celebrate by getting off planet Quebec City and spending a couple days in Rimouski, a smallish town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, just as it begins to open up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Originally I planned on it being just the two of us but Chantal thought it would be fun to bring Jodie along. Turned out that was a great idea because my bum knee limited my ability to do some things and Jodie gave Chantal some company while she them.
We stayed at a rustic hotel that sits right on the coast, a rocky intertidal area right in front of the place. Excepting that there was no coffee available on site and a 20-30 minute shopping trip to get some, it was an ideal place.
Our first day there wasn’t great because it was very windy and cold. Yep…cold. No heat wave that day. We visited a museum/lighthouse/submarine place and Jodie and Chantal wanted to tour the submarine. We weren’t sure that my knee could manage the bulkhead doors and the requisite steps downward so I went and sat in the car. This allowed me to do this quick sketch of the rocks, etc. in front of me.
Rimouski is a fishing town and on every corner is a poissonerie (fresh fish store) and associated restaurant. We went for Korean food and it was spectacular. If you’re ever in Rimouski, foresake the crab dinner and head to Parfum of Korea, an oddly bilingual named restaurant. We filled up on Bokkeum, grabbed coffee to go and headed back to the hotel, where we spent the evening staring at the river/ocean (you can’t see across at this point and the water is salty).
The next day we drove to Matane, a fishing/university town a couple hours north of Rimouski. We did this mostly just to enjoy the trip and the wonderful coastline scenery along the way but also with a purpose. I wanted to draw a fishing boat and Mr. Google told me they had lots of them. When we got there I was disappointed. Matane itself is nice enough. We discovered a great beach covered with small round rocks and lots of sand. We also discovered a fish ladder, all ready for the salmon run up the river… next week. Oh well, it was cool to see even without the fish.
But we couldn’t find fishing boats anywhere. So we went to the information center which exists in the form of an old lighthouse. Chantal went to discuss the whereabouts of the fishing boats with the information folks. I set up and started drawing the lighthouse.
We learned that the fishing boats are actually a bit south of Matane in their own artificial harbor area so we headed there. It turned out that most of them were off somewhere, probably making a nuisance of themselves in the world of crabs, shrimps, and fish of several species. But there were a few in port and a sketcher only needs one. Here she be. I was frustrated with the hot-press paper I was using and so this one never saw a brush.
What’s Up With Hot Pressed Paper?
We had a great time on that trip but my first use of hot-pressed paper was a disaster. What’s up with it anyway? I was using Fabriano Artistico HP. Unlike the CP I normally use I couldn’t get this stuff to stay wet? I was constantly fighting with lines in my washes. And EVERYTHING just seemed ‘flat.’ It seemed to suck the life out of the paint. What am I doing wrong? Can anyone advise?
Hi everyone. It’s been a while and my only excuse is that I’ve been too tired to do much of anything. The positive news is that I just heard that this is due to something more than my fight with my new overload, my knee. Seems I’m anemic, probably the result of all the drugs I’m taking, some of which can induce anemia. New round of doctor appts coming up.
Today, however, I thought I’d show you examples of some of the little sketching “exercises” I’ve been doing. No claims here of anything significant but it’s been my attempt to keep my hand in the game.
One thing I’ve been doing is playing with how one does nature with watercolor. This includes color and brushstrokes, just some of my weaknesses when it comes to watercolor. Here are a couple examples.
Here I was trying to keep things very simple and yet create some texture in rocks, foliage and sky.
Below are more doodles than anything, but they followed a series of paint blobs that covered several sheets of paper, all with the thoughts of understanding paint thickness, mixing on paper, etc. I’ve got years to go in coming to understanding of this mysterious world. Many more pages of paint blobs ahead.
At one point I started drawing single rocks and mushrooms. Not sure why but I thought I’d throw one of those in just for spice. My mushrooms are clearly influenced by cartoon mushrooms, probably because that’s the way I see them.
And then there is a pile of sheets like this. No rhyme or reason to them at all. Whatever I was thinking at the moment went into whatever blank space remained on the page. I think as much as anything this was service to my visual and motor corteces that feel the need to make marks even if my body isn’t.
I got the chance to hitch a ride with Claudette and Yvan, who were headed to the Ile d’Orleans for a day of sketching. It happened to be on a “good” day for my leg and hand so I was optimistic. The day was ideal. We’re still experiencing high temps and humidities but I’m learning that Quebec City’s “colder than everywhere else” translates into “cooler than everywhere else” when the world is facing heat waves.
We ended up in the town of St. Jean, which is on the northern end of the island and we parked near a large church and strategically positioned to walk across the street for coffee when our session was over. We headed off in the other direction, though, down onto the intertidal zone near the St. Lawrence.
This rock-encrusted area is gorgeous and affords great views across the river as well as back towards the church and other houses along the river front. For me it was slow-going as I walked like a drunken sailor over the uneven surfaces, trying not to upset my new overlord – my knee. It was so nice to be out sketching that I hardly noticed, but people watching must have wondered what was wrong with me.
I decided on a scene and to work in a little 5×7 spiral bound book from Winsor & Newton. The paper is 100% cotton and the size is really convenient. I was only half content with the results but since I’m trying lots of different watercolor techniques I’ve never used before, I expect very little from the results. It was fun, though, to play around with some dry-brushing and wet-n-wet (complete fail on that one).
Then it was time for coffee and we had a great time looking sketchbooks that Claudette had filled while on a recent trip. When we finished we drove to Miriam’s cottage, though she wasn’t on the island this day. It was threatening rain so Claudette and I set up inside a large barn and drew outward from it. I wanted to emphasize the framing of the scene by the barn door but I feel that I let the depth of the scene escape me so I was pretty disappointed with the end result. The doing, as always, was a lot of fun. Funny how it works that way sometimes. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t stick with pen and ink and leave the watercolor to others.
People say that getting “out of your comfort zone” is a good idea. So, I drive twice the speed limit, drink excessively and pick fights with NFL players. Just kidding…maybe that isn’t what they mean, though in the art world these catch-all phrases are ill-defined and hold little real meaning.
But this week seems to be a week where I’m doing things different from my norm and a couple days ago Yvan suggested that we do a ‘real’ sketchcrawl, where we go to a spot, sketch something quickly and then move on to the next spot, repeating until the day got too hot to continue, or until Larry got completely frustrated (grin).
And that’s exactly what we did. We hopped a bus and headed to a neighborhood where we’d never sketched and decided that we’d walk until one of us (took turns at that) decided it was time to stop. There, we would choose a subject and spend only a few minutes capturing the scene. Easy peasy, right?
For Yvan it was. He’s a superb sketcher and with decades of experience, he’s also really quick when he needs to be. Me, not so much. I’m still vying for the “slowest sketcher on the planet” award and I think I’m still in the lead.
When I start sketching quickly all sorts of things go wrong as I lose control of linear perspective, proportions, and relationships. These things cause my sketches to be barely recognizable as the scene before me. But heck, I was out of my comfort zone. That has to be good, right? These are three sketches I came up with during our quick-sketchcrawl session.