Noisy Day At The Museum

Spring break was still going on when I headed to the museum.  Because of this I expected lots of kids, with parents trailing after them, but since it wasn’t ‘free Tuesday’ I didn’t expect quite the people density we experienced on Tuesday.  That turned out to be true but there were a lot of events going on for the kids, which generated a lot of noise.  The kids were having a great time but it wasn’t an ideal sketching day.


I love this small spigot from the 17th Century. Shove it into a keg and pour yourself a beer.

I decided to set my sights low and did only a couple small sketches.  I can’t wait for spring.  I miss sketching on the street.

What 1950s kid didn't have a Tonka truck?   It was good to see this one.

What 1950s kid didn’t have a Tonka truck? It was good to see this one.

Cancelled Concert – McDonalds Fun

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft-
Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan and I were going to sketch at a musical event in downtown Quebec City on Saturday morning but a blizzard was in progress and it was hard to get around town.  Schools and offices were closed and even the buses were having a hard time.

As I trudged through snow on rue St. Jean I couldn’t help but think about how silly it was for someone, someone I resembled, to be expending this much effort to get somewhere to sketch.  It was ‘free coffee’ week at McDonalds and I met Yvan there.  We got coffee and looked out the window at the storm as we drank it.

Rather than be completely defeated, we both got out our small sketchbooks and did some quick sketches.

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan's last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan’s last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

In many ways the storm and cancelled event could have soured the day.  But we had some great conversations about art, did a bit of sketching and, like most sketching days, it was a good day.  I’ll stop here as otherwise I’d have to start talking about the hours I spent the rest of the day clearing snow.


Kids, Kids, Kids…Kids And Me In Egypt

Yvan and I agreed to go to the museum Tuesday morning.  Both of us knew that it was spring break for the kids of Quebec but neither of us knew that this particular Tuesday was also “free” day.  When I arrived there were hundreds of people in the lobby.  So many, in fact, that I didn’t even wait to check my coat because the line was too long.  I just headed upstairs to the Egypt exhibit.

Realizing that the place would be crowded, I found a place where I had the side of a glass case at my back and a clear view of a statue and set up to sketch.  I spent the next hour or so in that one place, sketching one statue.

But the sketching was the least important activity; I talked to kids.  I love kids when I’m sketching.  It’s hard to concentrate on drawing and my sketches sometimes suffer, but I still love them.  They’re so inquisitive and I never have to listen to them tell me that they wish they had the talent to draw or that they’d love to draw but they just don’t have the time.  Kids are the opposite of adults.  For them, drawing is KOOL.  They do it too.  They’ll tell you what they like to draw.  They’ll tell you that they like your drawing.  They ask about my pen.  A couple asked how long I’d been working on the sketch.   But mostly they just stood around watching, at least until their parents came land hauled them away.  Many of them dragged their parents over to see my drawing.

And on this day there were kids everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many people at the museum.  There were at least half a dozen kids around me at all times and I spent more time chatting than drawing.  It was a lot of fun.  As I packed up to leave I got to see what was really going on behind me.  The exhibit room looked like a rock concert.  People everywhere and as Yvan and I left we found there were lines of people waiting to enter the exhibit.  It was extraordinary, but I had to wonder if I could have found a place to sit if I’d wanted to draw something else.  I’ll never know as we left with smiles on our faces.  Here’s the sketch I did during “free” day.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, watercolor pencils

Review: Sketching People By Lynne Chapman

coverThe golden age of sketching is upon us and books about it are flooding onto the market.  They come in several forms.

Lots of them are about inspiration and motivation.  Seems there are a lot of folks who need to be goaded (the high-minded word is ‘inspired’) into having fun (grin).  These include, however, a lot of great stuff to dismiss the myths that you have to have special genes to draw and have fun drawing.  These books are probably more responsible for the sketching revolution going on than anything else.

Then there are those books that illustrate, quite literally, what it is to be an urban sketcher, nature journalist, etc.  Typically these are compiled by one artist using their sketches and those from a large number of other sketchers so you get a good sampling of the styles, approaches, and subject matter associated with a particular form of sketching.

Finally there are instruction books.  These books try to teach you how to sketch or how to do some particular type of sketching.  As has always been the case in art book land, the majority of instruction books assume you don’t know anything about art or drawing and so spend a lot of their time telling you about color wheels, which end of the brush is the good end, and stuff like that.

Fortunately, we’re starting to see a few instructional books that assume you know something about putting pen/pencil to paper and they concentrate on particular techniques and approaches to sketching.  As someone who has been sketching for a while, I welcome these books the most and Lynne Chapman’s Sketching People: An Urban Sketcher’s Guide to Drawing Figures and Faces fits into this category and I can’t recommend it enough to those wanting to improve your ability to sketch people on location.  I’d even go further and recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their ability to sketch on location regardless of subject.

Production Excellence

This is not something most reviews would say much about, though more and more we’re seeing reviewers talk about the number of typos they find in books.  The publishing world has been shedding editors like crazy and the impacts have become evident to anyone who is a fan of the written word.  So, I want to talk about, and applaud, how Lynne Chapman and her publisher, Search Press have produced a book that is considerably better than the norm in several ways.

First, there are no typos, at least none that I saw.  There are no captions on the wrong graphics.  There are no grammatical errors.  One caveat here is that I ordered my book from Book Depository in the UK because Amazon Canada claims that the book is not available yet.   So mine is the British version of the book.  In any case, this book is spotless as a result of good copy editing and proofing processes.

The book layout is simply amazing.  This book is packed with information and yet all of it is readily accessible.  The number of graphics they’ve managed to pack into the book, when compared to most others is wonderful, but more importantly it allowed Lynne to include a ton of information associated with those graphics in the form of paragraph-size captions.

Lastly, the overall book organization is superb.  Each chapter, or set of sections leads well into the next and the knowledge gained from one chapter is built upon in subsequent sections.  There’s one tiny exception…I had to find at least something to grouse about.  Lynne uses a limited number of colored pencils in many of the example sketches and it’s impossible not to be asking “what colors are those” throughout the book.  The answer to that question comes near the end of the book, in a section about using a limited palette.   I would have liked to have known those colors sooner.  This is a tiny thing, however, as the book should be a model for what other publishers should be doing.

Getting Started

The first section, Getting Started, introduces the idea of sketching people with discussions of urban sketching, why sketching people is not only fun but possible and Lynne throws in a dash of ‘don’t be afraid…people like it when you sketch.’  This last point is always a hard thing to sell to anyone who hasn’t done it and one of those ‘yep, she’s right’ for anyone who has.


The book then launches into a series of short sections on how to draw ears, eyes, noses, hair, clothing, etc. and I love these sections because they’re presented by a sketcher for a sketcher.  Most books on drawing body parts come from people who do portraits and while a fully rendered nose is a sight to behold, it’s hard to translate those techniques to a much quicker line drawing done on location.  Lynne bridges that gap with these sections, showing different methods of drawing human parts in a short period of time.

At this point I should say that I think this book is about two things.  It sort of says so in the title, Sketching People:  An Urban Sketcher’s Guide to Drawing Figures and Faces, and while it is about figures and faces, it’s also about drawing quickly and drawing when you have more time.  When Lynne is on a train she’s got 15-20 minutes to draw faces.  When she’s in a farmer’s market, she’s got no more than a minute or so to capture a human, trying to incorporation the action of the moment.

These different circumstances require different approaches, different emphasis on some parts while letting others take a back seat.  All that follows the Getting Started section tries to navigate these shifts in approach and Lynne does a great job of providing tools to accomplish it and examples where she has done it.

Sketching Out in the Big Wide World

musiciansFor me this is a fun section.  At its core it’s a section that suggests different places where you can sketch people on location and it presents examples of just that.  Lynne adds much more.  She talks about the challenges of each venue, vantage points, choosing subjects, particular actions and attributes of people in that venue, and how to capture them on paper.   I just had to include a photo of the page below as the pretty lady with a bunch of green pads on her head is Lynne herself, a selfie she drew from a mirror as she waited for her highlighting to take.


Different Styles and Approaches


ln this section Lynne puts the heart of the location sketcher, or maybe their brain.  She talks about different styles, like Creative Color, Fluid Lines, and Less is More and other sections on how to quickly plan a sketch, how to paint first, draw later, and even how to place people in their environment.  If you haven’t done a lot of street sketching, you’ll find this section valuable whether you draw people or not.

creative_coloring quick_planningPeople Move!

The achilles heel of people sketchers – those darn humans move when you’re trying to draw them.  But consider the alternative.  Better yet, experience it.  Ask someone if you can sketch them.  If they agree, they’ll stop moving.  They’ll also stop being human as they sit up straight, look off into the distance and try to look regal.  And then you’ll know – moving people aren’t so bad afterall.

Learning to work quickly is the answer to sketching moving humans and Lynne provides some tricks of the trade to help you do just that.  She provides some basics about drawing quickly, talks about capturing poses that repeat and even about how to build composite characters as streams of humans move past you, all doing similar things.


This book is powerful and should be part of every location sketcher’s library.  I confess that as a fountain pen guy, I admire Lynne’s multi-color style for sketching people and I ran out yesterday and picked up some Derwent Inktense pencils to give it a try.  Maybe I’ll read her book again, copy a few of her sketches, and then hit the streets.


Quantity Your Way To Success In Sketching

You don’t have to look far to find some experienced artist telling you that the way to become good at sketching is to carry a sketchbook with you at all times and sketch whenever you have a few minutes.  It’s a message that, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears for most people.

I think I know why.  We’ve all grown up thinking that “art” is something you hang on a wall.  We’ve been taught that “do your best” is a good thing and when it comes to art this translates to “gotta do something significant” or some such sentiment.  Whatever it is, this view causes most sketchers to sketch only “when they have time”, which translates directly into “not very darn often.”

And here’s the secret behind all the advice that experienced artist give about sketching constantly.  That’s how they got good!!!  Like it or not, you learn to draw by drawing.  No class will make you good.  No instructor can make you good.  No fancy tools will make you good.  The most these things can do is provide you with is help you get the most from that associate piece of advice – practice, practice, practice.

I thought I’d share a couple incidental sketches I did, where I was, and what I was doing as a practical example of how to fit sketching into a busy schedule.  You see, I had an appointment to be interviewed as part of the Canadian citizenship process.  Yep, I’m becoming Canadian (yippee!).  Anyways, I arrived at the site of the interview about 15 minutes early.  With nothing to do, I went into a coffee shop and ordered a cup.  I could have just sat and drunk my coffee.  I could have paged through innane Facebook posts on my cell phone.  Or I could sketch.

Because I was traveling light, I had only the pen (Pilot Prera), a waterbrush with dilute brown ink, and small sketchbook I carry in my coat pocket.  I got it out and started a quick sketch of the barista area of the coffee shop.  I had less than 10 minutes before my interview which was on the 2nd floor of the building next door, and I had to drink my coffee too.  Nevertheless, I did this small sketch of the area.

2016-02-25interviewdayI had to stop sketching so I could get to the interview.  When I arrived I found 50 or so people there ahead of me.  Oh no…maybe an 8 AM appointment didn’t mean what I thought it meant.  I sat down at the back of the room, a bit glum and expecting a long wait.  Oh well, there were a bunch of sketching targets available so I got out my sketchbook.  I started sketching a woman in the row in front of me.  I was, maybe, a minute into this sketch…

2016-02-25interviewday2…when a guy came out of a room.  He read off a few names, including mine, and told everyone else to head into the “examination room.”  All my potential sketching subjects got up and filed into the room to take an examination to see if they knew who the first Prime Minister was, who the current Prime Minister was, and whether they knew what the heck a constitutional monarchy was.  You see, if you’re old, and filing for citizenship, they realize you’re not smart enough to be taking exams so I was exempted from that exercise.

I added a few lines to the sketch before a woman came out and called my name.  I was being called for my interview.   So, two sketches, done during time frames that most wouldn’t consider as a ‘sketching session.’  You’re right; these sketches are not great.  But they were both fun and good practice.  This is what all those experienced artists are talking about.  Fill your hurry up and wait time with little sketching sessions and when you do get more time to sketch, you’ll be better at it because you did those little sketches.

And what have you got to lose – that you’ll never be bored waiting for an interview?  Oh, and the interview went well. The only thing between me and citizenship is the swearing in ceremony.  I even got to tell them that I was a sketcher (grin).