Gardening Book For Sketchers

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for examples of OPS (other people’s sketches).  It’s how I learn.  How did they depict foliage?  How are they shading?  What colors are they using?  What are they doing to simplify complex objects?  For me, this part of the quest to be a good sketcher is a considerable chunk of the fun.

Town & Country GardeningAnd so, as I wandered a huge, ‘buy by the kilogram’ book sale yesterday, I was flipping through books on all kinds of subjects, looking for sketching examples.  It’s at such sales that I can justify paying a buck for a big book full of sketches about subjects that aren’t of particular interest to me otherwise.  And while all this page-flipping doesn’t often yield results, it’s sort of a treasure hunt for me and what young boy (I’m only in my 60s afterall), doesn’t like a treasure hunt.

And so it was, yesterday, when I came across the motherlode in the form of Town and City Gardening by Michael Miller, and more importantly, illustrated by Anne Ormerod.  the cover caught my eye immediately.  The book presents a lot of ideas for hanging gardens, gardens in very small spaces, and a lot of architectural things associated with small gardens.  And while there are photos, the book is heavily populated with gorgeous sketches of plants, gardens, windows, doors, and planters.  These are split about 50:50 between black and white and color sketches but all are magnificently done in ink, with watercolor washes when done in color.  I paid about a buck for my copy.  From what I can tell it’s out of print but the link above does take you to a copy for sale via Abebooks, for a buck.

Esthetics Vs Cheap: What We Are Missing

One of the things I’ve noticed since since I became a sketcher is that most man-made objects have short lifespans, and getting shorter in our disposable economy.  We really need to do something about that.

But architecture is the big exception, largely because buildings built before the 50s and 60s were built to last a loooooong time.  Construction was brick, with thick walls and roofs covered with metal.  And oh do they last…and last.  There are hundreds of buildings in Quebec City that were built in the late 19th Century and hundreds more built during the first quarter of the 20th.  Many remain have not been torn down to make room for the square box buildings we build today for one simple reason.  These old buildings were built to be as attractive as they were functional.  As I compare the beauty of these old buildings and compare them to the more modern parts of our city, it’s not hard to conclude that we’re sacrificing a lot in the name of build it cheap.

The Fire House Example

As in every city, in Quebec City things occasionally catch on fire.  And like other cities, we have a fire department and their facilities scattered around the city.  And if you look at the fire engines that arrived at fires in the early part of the 20th Century they looked like this.  Very cool and people now visit museums to see them.

But today modern fire equipment are marvels of engineering, far more capable at quenching the flames.  Far more expensive too but we spend the money because they do a better job.  As a fire hydrant sketcher, I know there are some fire engine sketches in my future but it’s the fire houses that have caught my eye.  I’ve seen several here that can only be described with a single word – KEWL!

And so this past weekend I sat on the sidewalk across the street from this majestic building and sketched it.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Pilot Prera (fine) pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Aren’t I right?  Isn’t it KEWL!  Why don’t we build buildings like this anymore?

 

 

The Day It Rained On My Parade

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Into each life some rain must fall – Henry Longfellow

I wonder if Longfellow was thinking of plein air sketching when he wrote that famous line.  Probably not.  But as spring came to Quebec City it came in couplets, a a day of sunshine followed by a cold, rainy day.  And I was poised with sketchbook, wanting to hit the streets to do some sketching.

And so it was when I woke to a ‘to do’ list that said, ‘go sketching’, but the day greeted me with cloudy skies and cool temps.  I’d made that appointment with myself and I wasn’t going to let a few clouds prevent it, no matter how ominous they looked.  And so I headed out, hopping a bus for the downtown area.

Though it was a bit cool, I was having a great sketching session as I sat on my Walk Stool, capturing one of the many interesting buildings within my habitat.  As the Urban Sketchers say…show the world one sketch at a time.  I’d gotten the sketch to the point of adding details when it started to rain.  In atypical fashion, I’d actually anticipated the need for an umbrella and I got it out, opened it, and decided that I should take the proverbial ‘location shot’ before I left for the day.

Aside from the fact that the umbrella was one of those small things that are too small to truly protect humans my size, I bumped against another problem; I didn’t have enough hands.  If evolution was so smart, we’d have three.  I only have two.

I needed to hold the sketchbook up so the photo would include both the sketch and the actual building and, of course, I needed to hold the camera.  I could put the umbrella down but then the sketch would get wet.  And so it was that I was trying to hold umbrella AND camera in one hand, the sketchbook in the other.

I had looked relaxed and confident while I was sketching.  Now I looked like some sort of contortionist.  Trying to hold camera and umbrella while looking through the viewfinder, while holding the sketchbook out in front of me was, well, trying.  And then there was the problem of having a free finger to push the button.  I gave up on trying to look through the camera.  I shot several quick photos, hoping that one of them actually included sketch and building.

Somewhere along the line my oldsheimers caused me to forget this sketch and a couple weeks has gone by.  I ‘discovered’ it as I was flipping through my sketchbook and I decided it was overdue for completion.  This is the result.  Hope you like it.  Have you ever been caught in the rain while sketching?

Like all of my sketches, this one was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook.  I used a Lamy Al-Star and Platinum Carbon Black ink to finish it.  I may have used the same pen when I started the sketch too but oldsheimers strikes again.  Color is Winsor & Newton Artist Watercolor.

What Makes A Sketching Day Fun For You?

Spring is still struggling to show its head here in Quebec.  It’s raining here today,  but yesterday was gorgeous.  Heck, we got all the way up to 68F!  So I grabbed my sketchbook and headed out to wander the back streets, looking for something new to sketch.  I went to an area I hadn’t been before.

It was a residential area, constructed during the early 20th Century.  Many of the buildings had a lot of peeling paint and some even had molding pieces missing or damaged.  But there were some gems too.

But I was drawn to a fairly small, simple house, mostly because of its bright colors and absolutely immaculate condition.  I think someone must dust the exterior regularly.  Obviously its residents cared about their home.

I set up across the street and started drawing it.  Here’s what my finished sketch looked like.  I hadn’t carried my painting gear with me so I added color at home, after dinner.  The sketch was done in my 10×7 Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook using a Lamy Al-Star and Platinum Carbon Black ink.   Here it is with color added.

One difference you’ll see between the finished drawing and the actual house is that the shade is pulled in the window on the right.  During my session, that shade went up and a little, round-faced old lady looked out at me.  I envisioned the dialog.  “Hey Clarence, there’s a guy out there staring at our house.  Looks like he’s making something in his lap.  Should I shoot him?”

Alas, there were no shots.  this is Canada, after all (grin).

 

 

Urban Sketcher’s Kit Bag

This is a quick post in response to questions asked in the Artist Journal Workshop forum on Facebook that resulted from a photo I posted of my field gear.  They wanted to know about my field bag so here it is.

I bought it from Mountain Equipment CO-OP for $21CDN.  Before we get started, I should say that this bag is with me everywhere I go and thus it’s used as a general service bag as well as my art bag.  I’ve always got sketching materials with me but when I go out for a ‘serious’ sketching session I add the paints, water, brushes and larger sketchbooks.

The bag has five main areas as well as a small pen compartment.  All but the back compartment can be zippered shut but I rarely do this as the cover flap closes things up enough for me.

I use compartment A to hold several pens.  Which ones I carry changes at my whim but generally I’ve got half a dozen or so and I think I could clip at least 10 of them into this pocket.  If you look closely behind this compartment you’ll see a small, open pocket.  This is handy for carrying shopping lists and notes.  For instance, I’ve got lists of all the Tombow brush pen, colored pencils, etc. I own so when I’m in an art store, I have those lists with me.

Compartment B is large enough to hold a pencil box, a small writing notebook, watercolors (W&N artist watercolors in a Cotman sketcher box),and other stuff if need be.

Compartment C is the largest and the workhorse of the bag.  You can put a 9×12 sketchbook in it but you can’t zipper it as the sketchbook sticks out just a bit.  My Stillman & Birn 10x7s fit nicely, though.  Sometimes it also holds a 5.5×8 book.  This is where I put my camera, paper towels and a collapsible umbrella if I need it.  If I carry only one sketchbook and the camera, I can stick binoculars in here.

Compartment D is in the cover.  I’ve carried a small Moleskine there in the past but I haven’t used it much simply because I haven’t needed the space.  While there’s lots of room here, it’s best for light things as otherwise it makes the cover hard to flip up when you need access to the other compartments.

Looking at the bag from the back, there is a large, thin compartment with no zipper.  I have a couple thin, 5×8 homemade sketchbooks, made from toned paper, that live here.  I also have a fomecore backing board for these sketchbooks in this compartment.  Because this compartment is up against my side as I walk, I don’t put anything in here that’s lumpy but the sketchbooks seem happy there.

Here’s a photo of the typical contents of my bag when I’m out on a sketching session.  I stuff all the ‘wet’ things (marked D) in a large ziplock bag before dropping them into compartment C.

When I head out, the back looks like this, with my Walk Stool clipped under the cover.  It makes a compact rig and I’ve been very happy with it.

 

Stillman & Birn “Beta” Sketchbook

When I got interested in sketching I found it pretty easy to find good watercolors, brushes, pencils, and pens.  What was harder was finding sketchbooks that served my purposes as a pen/ink/watercolor sketcher.  I spent a lot of money and now own a bunch of sketchbooks with 2-3 sketches done in each before I rejected them.

Then a couple artists started talking about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  I bought one.  Then another.  Then another.  And I’ve never looked back.  They are simply the best I’ve found.  Mostly I’ve been using sketchbooks, both bound and spiral, from their Alpha series, which have nice, smooth, 100lb paper.  I’ve also tried the Epsilon series and while a bit smoother, I don’t really see much difference between the two but I’m a rookie so what do I know.

And over my few months of using them, lots of other sketchers have started using them too.  We’ve all reported to Stillman & Birn that their Alpha (white) and Gamma (ivory) sketchbooks can handle a lot more water/washes than their advertising suggests.  Many of us are as surprised as S&B are about this, as 100lb paper is about the minimum for doing washes in my experience.  But there’s something about the sizing of the paper that causes it to act ‘heavier’ than it is when accepting watercolor.

It’s not that you can’t buy heavier paper from Stillman & Birn.  They have a Beta (white) and Delta (ivory) series that contain 180lb paper.  But Stillman & Birn advertise these series as being “rough” paper and that’s the last thing one wants if you’re going to be pushing an ink pen over the surface.  So I’ve avoided them…until now.

I’m a curious kind of guy so I’ve now got 6×8 spiral sketchbooks from the Beta and Delta series and…shazaam…the paper isn’t rough at all.  In fact, it’s smoother than some cold-press watercolor papers I’ve tried.  These papers do have a bit more tooth than my Alphas but I got quite excited when I received them because the paper is very heavy, smooth, and inviting.

A quick test demonstrated that my fountain pens like these papers.  I tried a Kaweco Al-Sport, Lamy Safari, Noodler’s Ahab, Pilot Prera, and Hero calligraphy pens.  I tried Platinum Carbon Black, Noodler’s Lexington Gray, and Noodler’s Bernanke Black ink.  All the lines were clean and crisp.  It might be my imagination but I feel that watercolor washes are easier to do with these papers too but I can present no data other than ‘seems like’ to support that view.

And so this morning I got up, looked outside and saw the sun.  I headed out with my new Beta sketchbook in search of something to sketch.  This lasted about 15 minutes.  It was sunny, but ugh; it was cold… cold… cold.  Temps were only a couple degrees below freezing but the winds were howling and so being the sissy that I am, I hustled myself back home.

Not to be defeated by Mother Nature, I went through my photo library and came up with a photo of a sign I’ve been wanting to sketch.  It hangs high over an intersection in our downtown area and I love the flourescent pink lighting around its periphery.  I started sketching, not fully realizing that I had no clue how to draw flourescent lighting.

I’m going to really like this Beta sketchbook.  At 6×8 it’s a good size for portable sketching, though I’ve become quite attached to my 10×7 Alpha sketchbooks.  Here’s the end result.  I did this sketch with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink.

When Sketchers Look Up

Once I made a couple of sketchbooks with toned paper, I started looking for something to sketch in them.  This search coincided with my looking up as I walked and the result were these two sketches.  Both were made on Canson Mi-Teinte colored papers.  Not as nice for washes as the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks I’m used to but I still had a lot of fun creating these sketches.  Hope you like them.

One of the many turrets that grace buildings here in Quebec City. Canson Mi-Teintes paper (5x7), Hero calligraphy pen w/Platinum Carbon Black ink. W&N artist colors

One of the things I learned from doing these sketches is that looking up to sketch is difficult.  Not only is there an extra perspective dimension to deal with, but just the head bobbing up and down seemed to make it harder for me to create the sketch.

I found this cluster of transformers and their associated wires interesting. Canson Mi-Teinte (5x7), Hero pen with PCB ink.

A Sign Of Spring In Quebec

The Internet has affected our views of the world and for the past month or so I’ve ‘experienced’ spring in many locations on our fair planet as people talk about flowers popping out of the ground, birds chirping, etc.  In Quebec spring is a bit different.  It’s a time when temperatures fluctuate a lot.  One day we’ll be in shirt-sleeves and the next we’re back in our heavy coats.  Spring is when the snow melts, though, and we’re left with a bunch of brown, matted grass and no green on the trees.  When the trees finally flush, it seems they do it overnight and summer begins.

So, while we “know” it’s spring, the birds haven’t shown up yet and there aren’t those flower indicators of it.  Instead, our indicators are big blue trucks.  All winter the city’s efforts to keep us moving involves regular gravel/dirt treatments of our roads and sidewalks.  Spring snow melt leaves a coating of the stuff everywhere and so the big blue trucks come along, with nice guys in orange coats who wash the sidewalks with power hoses.  later, other big blue trucks (actually streetsweepers) come along and suck up the gravel from the streets.

A couple days ago they came and while they weren’t in one place long enough to sketch, I took a couple photos and did this quick, for me, sketch of the activity.  We like it clean in Quebec City.

Stillman & Birn 5.5×8.5 Alpha; Lamy All Star w/Platinum Carbon Black ink; W&N artist watercolors

 

The Russians Are Coming…

When I came across this house in Quebec City, I had to sketch it.  I wonder if the Russian Czar who must be living there had a pool table under that dome or a ballistic missle.  It didn’t matter; it was just plain KEWL!

I set up across the street and went to work, sketching the bones in pencil and then doing the ink sketch.  I’m pretty slow as a sketcher and so this took me more than an hour but the time passed without notice.  When it came time for color, the waterbrush came out and… I realized that my watercolors were sitting on my desk at home.  So I shot this photo, packed up, and headed home.

Once at home I vowed to make up a second palette of watercolors so that I could keep it in my sketching satchel.  I had a W&N Cotman Sketcher palette that I picked up on sale and so I popped out the Cotman watercolors and filled the pans with Winsor & Newton artist-quality watercolors.  I’m still experimenting with color palettes and mostly working with little knowledge.  This is what I’m using right now, though.

 

I decided to go light on the color for this sketch; it just seemed to call for that approach, with all the emphasis on the building.  I hope you like it.

It was done in my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Hero 578 Calligraphy pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink.

Cool Spring Sketching Isn’t So Cool: It’s Cold!

I’m so excited that it’s finally spring in Quebec City.  I got interested in sketching last fall, just before it started getting cold here, and so I’ve been trying to get out sketching as often as I can.  I may be premature in that because Quebec spring is still pretty cool, and often windy.

A few days ago when I’d made the decision to go sketching.  The temps were just above freezing and it was quite breezy.  But I went anyway.  I headed downtown, looking for something to sketch, my face and ears screaming “Are you nuts?” to my stubborn sketcher brain, as the wind defoliated my skin.

I set up next to a wall that blocked most of the wind. It was across the street from a dental clinic that seemed worthy of sketching.

I start these sketches with pencil and  I have two goals.  I want to get the perspective right and I want to locate all the foreground thingies that determine where the background lines start and stop.  I don’t worry about drawing the details at this point, but I’m slow enough as a newbie sketcher that this takes me longer than it does for most sketchers.  I’d been sitting for about 45 minutes and I was beginning to empathize with popsicles and dream of fireplaces.  I called it a day, packed up, and went home.  This was the state of the sketch at that point.

Later, in the warmth of my home, I inked (Hero Calligraphy pen w/Platinum Carbon Black ink) the sketch, added some details, and used Winsor & Newton Artist watercolors to give it some color.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the more I use it, the more I’m enjoying my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha.  I’ve been using Alpha’s for a while now and love them and spiral format is really convenient for outdoor sketching…even when it’s cold.

I went out this morning to sketch some more.  I headed to the marina, expecting that some of the winterized sailboats would be back in the water.  It was spring, afterall.  Turned out that, once again, I had been overly-optimistic as the marina is still covered by ice.  Spring is here, but not really.