I’ve mentioned the heat wave that’s occurring on planet Quebec City and it still rages on. Yvan and I thought that maybe we should sketch in my backyard, which is shady and close to a fridge full of ice cold water. This turned out to be a good idea and we had some fun in spite of the heat. Here’s a sketch I did of part of the perimeter of our yard. Too many leaves.
I’ve mentioned the Collectif before, whose complete name is Collectif des ateliers libres en arts visuels de Québec because people here love long, impossible to remember names. They are mostly a portrait group and like nothing more than to sit around a naked person while they draw in a stuffy room. In recent years, though, they’ve discovered that sketching outdoors is fun, too, and so have started scheduling outdoor events during the summer.
They scheduled an event at a large garden in Ste-Foy, or rather Quebec City. Which name you use depends on whether you acknowledge the aggregation of the small cities into what now makes up metro-Quebec City. For me it will always be Ste-Foy though I realize that people reading this blog might be confused by my using the two names to refer to the same place. Such is life on planet Quebec City.
The garden is a large one but mostly rows and rows of different species of plants, and thus most of it is not the same as a typical botanical garden. If I knew more about gardens I’d probably know why this is the case. In any event, it’s a great place to draw flowers but I didn’t do that on this day. Instead, I drew a small kiosk and the surrounding vegetation. It was a nice day and the sketching was relaxing. When I was done I walked around to talk with everyone and to look at what everyone was drawing. By the time that was done my knee was screaming at me and so I settled for the one sketch for the day. I hope you like it.
When I was first learning about urban sketching my mentor (though she didn’t know it) was Cathy Johnson. I fell in love with her sketches, many of which appeared to me in books by her about nature, historical reinactment, and art books. Another thing she showed me how interesting and beautiful an artist can make the mundane and ugly. She’d paint broken down buildings as seen through rusty chain link fence. She did a sketch of a bridge being torn apart. And she did these things in a way that made you want to hang them on your living room wall.
I still aspire to have her abilities but one of the great things about being a sketcher is that with only a dollup of persistence you can try and try again. I’ve spent more than a little time drawing the alleyways of the older parts of Quebec City. These are cluttered, ill-maintained places that are mostly out of sight and out of mind. While I may not have Cathy’s expertise, I do have her zeal and I’ve done another alley sketch. Here it is, warts and all. I really enjoyed doing it.
In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain. I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching. I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp. Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.
At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it. The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal. It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.
A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching. I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.
Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused. But eventually I did finish the sketch. I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned. I guess I’ll get used to those in time.
When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching. They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee. I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines. Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day. I think it’s going to be a long summer. I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.
When I started sketching, there were two reasonable candidates if you wanted to use heavily sized watercolor paper and wanted to use watercolor over your pen sketches. You could use Platinum Carbon Black ink, a pigmented ink, and Noodler’s Lexington Gray, which relied upon bonding to cellulose for its water resistance. Lex Gray was only passable because it was a gray and when it smeared it didn’t create really bad smears. I used both of them – a lot.
When DeAtramentis Document inks came to market, the stampede could be heard worldwide as we all rushed to our ink store to buy these waterproof inks. They’ve made a lot of us very happy, though these inks are a bit on the pricey side ($20/35ml).
The story could end right there except that I’m like a bass in the weeds, lunging out at every shiny object trolled in front of my nose by the pen/ink manufacturers. When the Jet Pens newsletter featured Rohrer & Klingner Sketch Inks, my credit card warmed up, some buttons were pushed and I had three bottles of ink winging their way to chez moi.
There are actually 10 different colors in this ink line. Each ink carries a female name and the bottle features a sketch of a woman. Maybe I’m supposed to know who these women are but I don’t. What I do know is that they are INK SKETCHES of women. Did I mention that the inks are called Sketch Inks? How cool is that?
More important, these inks are nano-pigmented inks that are suitable for fountain pens and they’re a lot cheaper than the DeAtramentis inks I use. For $12 you get 50ml which works out to 24 cents/ml vs 57 cents/ml for DeAtramentis inks. And the sketches on the bottle are really nice. Did I mention that the inks are called Sketch Inks? Very cool.
I bought bottles of Frieda (dark blue), Lily (dull brown), and Thea (dark grey). The dark grey is the most exciting to me because it’s a gray like Lexington Gray but absolutely waterproof even on Fabriano Artistico. The dull brown is very close to a color I’ve mixed using DeAtramentis Document Brown with a bit of black thrown in to neutralize it a bit.
One thing that’s great about the colors I got, and I presume the rest of the line, is their matte quality. One thing I’ve never liked about Platinum Carbon Black is the shiny line quality. They should blend well with watercolor. Also, at least on the Emilio Braga paper I used for a quick test (below) these inks dry fast, really fast. (ed note: just tested on Fabriano and the ink didn’t smear after 5 seconds, maybe less).
I haven’t had a lot of time with them (just arrived last night) but I stuffed Frieda into a Pilot Cavalier (fine), Lily into a Lamy Safari (Xfine) and Thea in to a Pilot Falcon (SFine). I scribbled a bit on photocopy paper and went to bed. Figuring I needed something to show you beyond a picture of the bottles, I stopped while I was out and drew a lamp post and trashcan. I drew this same thing with each ink, spending a few seconds more than 5 minutes on this scribbly page. I apologize for them being different sizes; I didn’t plan as well as I might have. Ultimately, you’ll be seeing a lot of sketches from my use of these inks; particularly the grey and brown. I think I love my new lady friends.
I’ve watched Marc Taro Holmes smoosh color onto paper, shifting colors as he “built washes.” I’ve heard Shari Blaukopf talk about creating mosaics of shifting colors on a surface. And I’ve stared at hundreds of Liz Steel sketches (relevance later). Apparently, I’ve got a pretty thick head because in spite of all this exposure to the concept, I didn’t get it.
No, it took a single comment in Liz Steel’s watercolour course (highly recommended) to get me to rethink watercolors. I know little of watercolor use but the first thing shown in every watercolor book I’ve read is how to do a flat wash. That’s how I’ve been applying watercolor…in flat, boring washes. Apparently I learned that lesson well. But in a single statement, as Liz was discussing mixing on paper vs mixing on the palette, Liz said (paraphrasing), “I rarely use flat washes; I prefer adding texture in my washes.” This simple statement somehow connected both of my neurons together and there was a flash of light, at least that’s how I remember it.
So, I started looking more closely and practicing the addition of variability into washes. I still struggle with its application but I was pretty happy with this sketch. It was an experiment to see if I could put a very textured, high contrast “wash” behind the focal point and sort of gradate both the texture and the color (lightening it) as I moved away from that focal point. My table light was just an excuse for a background.
There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings. The result is really boring. But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.
Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it. It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched. It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap. Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants. Life of a sketcher.
We went back to St. Vallier with intent to sketch the Pignon Bleu, a building that I’ve always loved. Only problem was that someone, some horrible someone, took a gorgeous building and “renovated” it into something they obviously thought to be an improvement. Me, not so much. Claudette and Yvan agreed so we ended up sketching a very unique building across the street.
My hand was not cooperating on this day. Arthritis is an unpredictable thing but one thing is certain. Having it in your drawing hand is frustrating. Because of this I decided that I’d just draw the fancy balcony facade. I still had some fun but I do wish you could buy replacement parts for old bodies.
Quebec City and Levis are separated from one another by the St. Lawrence River, which is a mighty river for sure, serving as the shipping highway between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. It seems to be a considerable barrier for our sketching group as we rarely go to Levis in spite of it being a great place to sketch. I could leave this description just the way it is, fully justifying our avoidance of that city, but the truth is, it’s only a 10-minute ferry boat ride so we really have no excuse.
We did go last Saturday, though, thanks to an invitation by Marie Gauthier, who owns/runs an atelier in Levis. And we had a great time, though I spent way too much time talking to the new acquaintances. It was a cold day and I was underdressed so there was a bit of shivering going on as I drew this scene. I guess it’s my Arizona roots but I’m always underdressed for the cold.
It’s the middle of May. A couple days ago we had frost warnings and right now our kitchen table is covered with annuals (plants) because it’s too cold to put them outdoors. But outdoor sketching season has started, though in fits and starts.
We met on rue St. Vallier in front of an old house Claudette wanted to sketch. I’d always thought it was a great subject myself. So there we were, three of us in a line along the street, drawing this house. I wonder if bears feel out of practice as they wander through the forest following exit from hibernation. After a long winter and a string of health problems, I sure feel clumsy sitting on a stool, doing the sketcher up/down bobble-head motion that identifies sketchers.