Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

Sketching With The Pilot Kakuno

For the past couple years, my sketching tools of choice have been the Platinum 3776 and a Pilot/Namiki Falcon.  Both are excellent sketching pens but a bit on the pricey side.  I’m a pen nerd so such expense was “justified” simply cuz I wanted one but the reality is that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on a fountain pen to get good results.

Evidence for this comes in how many sing the praises of the Platinum Preppy that may not win any beauty contests but it only costs $4 and works really well.  I remember a time when everyone recommended a Lamy Safari to newcomers because it was the only game in town when it came to inexpensive pens but since then we’ve seen the release of the Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Eco, Platinum Plaisir among others.  Each of these is less expensive and at least the equal to the Safari so choices abound.

I want to talk about the Pilot Kakuno, specifically about the recent release of the completely transparent version, though it comes in a couple of colors as well.  There were two things that caused me to investigate this pen.   I love transparent pens because, as a street sketcher, it’s nice to be able to quickly check the amount of ink in a pen before I go out the door.

Mostly, however, this pen interested me because it was from Pilot and I love Pilot steel nibs.  They are smooth line makers, even when you use fine nibs like I do.  Second, they can typically provide lines that are very fine or a couple times that width with a little bit of pressure.   The low price point ($14) made it easy for me to scratch my curiosity itch and so I ordered a fine nib version of the pen.

I loved it from the start.  This pen may be the lightest pen I’ve used and it fits my hand beautifully when posted.  Like all of the dozen or so Pilot pens I own, this one works flawlessly with the DeAtramentis or Platinum pigmented inks I feed my sketching pens.  I was a happy camper but I was about to get happier.

I decided to order a medium nib version because I had a medium nib Metropolitan that I enjoyed a lot for quick-sketching.  The reason is that the medium nibs provide width variation from a Micron 01 with light pressure to a Micron 03 with a bit of pressure.  In addition to that, if you flip the pen upside down you can get hairline lines from the same nib.  Since I’ve received this pen I’ve used almost nothing else.

I got happier still when I solved the one problem I had with the Kakuno.  It has no clip and I need a clip on my pens.  Happiness came, however, when I discovered that the inexpensive clip sold by Kaweco for their pens fits beautifully on the Kakuno cap.  I immediately ordered a silver one for my fine nib pen and a gold one for my medium pen.  I now have a color-coded set of these pens and I’m thrilled.

Struggling With Pencil And Other Laments

Pat Roberson wrote to me asking if she was somehow missing my posts.  I was glad she was missing my posts, but had to confess that they were being missed because I wasn’t writing them.  If I could write about CT scans, doctor visits, constant blood and urine testing, and a bit of depression, I’d have lots to write about.  As it is, however, writing about urban sketching would leave me empty-handed right now.

So, I’m going to talk about the little bit of sketching I’ve been trying to do, even though it’s sketching I’m unfamiliar with and even more problematic it’s being done with a tool I don’t understand at all … a pencil.

As the weather turned cold and my leg didn’t get any better I realized that this winter I was not going to be able to be an urban sketcher.  I decided to view this as an opportunity (I brainwash myself regularly).  I told myself that this would be a great time to set my pens aside and pick up a pencil in an attempt to master the tool.  Everyone else starts with pencil but I was a pen-driver when I came to sketching and so all of my art baby steps were done with pen.

Further I decided that I would learn my pencil skills by drawing portraits, either from photos or from plaster casts.  This was (is?) probably foolhardy because my least favorite sketching subject is people, but I need practice in this area too, so while the wind, rain and snow keeps me indoors, I might as well “get out of my comfort zone” and learn something new.

I started by drawing a bust of Mozart, a cast I picked up at a flea market in a small town east of Quebec City.  Only an artist drives along a road to a sketching location and has to turn around to visit the flea market because they saw a white head sticking up from one of the tables.

Anyway, it seems I got off to a bad start.  I made a rank beginner mistake.  “I was just learning so I don’t need good materials” was my thought and so I grabbed a pad of cheap watercolor paper that I’d rejected for use long ago and started drawing.  It was too grainy for a pencil drawing but it didn’t matter; I was “just learning” after all.  I struggled to get an even tone, partly because of my lack of skill but also because of that paper.  And then I realized that I’d drawn Mozart’s eye too large so I tried to erase it.  The paper immediately pilled and I had a REALLY rough spot where the eye used to be.  I tried to fix it but was a fool’s errand.

This frustrated me to the point of giving up, realizing that I was fighting the paper more than the pencil.  So, here is my partially drawn Mozart, shown here with a black eye caused when he told Haydn that major-minor theme variations were silly.  I’ll have to draw him again.

 

Sketching The Alleyways Again

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.

A Bit Of Eye Training

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.

 

 

 

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

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.

Assembling A Scene From Nature

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.

So one day I decided that I would pick through them, find good examples and then take photos of them so we could throw everything away.

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.

Off To Miriam’s Cottage Again

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.

 

 

Different Approach Brings Surprising Results

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.

An Adventure To Rimouski And My Hatred For Hot-Press Paper.

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?