The Parents Head To Ottawa

Last weekend Chantal and I headed for Ottawa.  It was a holiday weekend and we went to visit our daughter who is in school there, but as I write this I realize that it was more than that.  Because of a lot of good stuff that happened, our daughter wasn’t going to come home for the summer as she normally would so the trip was at least as much an attempt to deal with that disappointment as anything else.

That’s a simple way of explaining that this wasn’t a sketching trip.  In spite of that, I did a bunch of quick sketches throughout the visit and I thought I’d present some of them as an indication of how easy it is to fit urban sketching into a trip that is otherwise occupied with things that make most people say “I was too busy to sketch.”

We arrived on Friday and our daughter was still at school so we got some lunch, went to an art store (more of a crafts store as so many have become) and then headed to one of the parks.   As we walked around I saw this scene and decided that I’d do a very quick, thumbnail-style sketch just to capture the major masses.  I didn’t worry much about proper perspective or drawing accurate lines and the initial sketch took only a few minutes.  Then my daughter called and said she would be there shortly so we stayed put.  I decided to add some more lines to the drawing and, ultimately, I slopped some color on the sketch.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8x5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8×5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

2016-05-20-56cherryblossoms

Field Notes “Sweet Tooth” (3×5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black, Uniball UM_153 white pen

I was sitting under a flowering crab apple tree (I think) and  I decided to sketch of some of the flowers in my red Field Notes “Sweet Tooth” notebook and I thought it came out pretty well for a 3-4 minutes I spent doing it.  I was rewarded by my daughter showing up with an “hic c’est beau.”

We spent the rest of the evening hanging out as a family, eating in market area, buying candy and listening to street musicians.

The next morning, however, was laundry day.  We gathered up ever stitch of clothing, bedding, and towels and hauled them to a laundromat where we commenced to feed an obscene number of dollar coins into the machines.  We drank coffee, ate muffins, and I drew this little scene in the tiny coffee shop associated with the laundromat.  Not much but it was fun to do and made the time pass more quickly.

2016-05-21-48LaundryDay

taned notebook, Platinum 3776,

Then it was off to the grocery store where we bought one of everything and two of some things.  My biggest fear was that there wouldn’t be room for it all in my daughter’s apartment.  Parents do get carried away some times.  And we did, of course.

Once we shoehorned all the groceries into their proper places, we headed off on a quest for shoes.  Understand, this was two women and an old guy.  We went EVERYWHERE looking at shoes.  I knew my life would end while looking for size 9 flats.

But surprise, surprise, we tracked down the illusive ideal shoe, bought two of them then went to a park where geese lived and they had lots of baby goslings running around.  They were fun to watch and I should have sketched them but I was worn out from the shoe chase.  Eventually we got hungry and headed for my daughter’s favorite Korean restaurant.

After dinner we walked to Major Hill Park, a park where the towers around Parliament poke up above the trees.  We drank bubble tea and enjoyed the changing sky as sunset was near.  I did a couple quick sketches in the failing light and probably should have settled for just a silhouette.

Parliament library roofline, FN Sweet Tooth, Platinum 37762016-05-21-56majorhillpark2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did a bunch of park hopping the next day, mostly because we just wanted to be out in the sun.   We sat for a long time in Andrew Haydon Park, looking out at the boats having fun in the Ottawa River.  There wasn’t much close to me to draw so I drew some rocks.  I love drawing rocks, though I’m not particularly good at it.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8x5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8×5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

As it got hotter, though, the desire for shade took hold and we ended up in a park along the Rideau River.  Another place to practice my sloth, I was getting quite good at it, particularly because there were a group of guys in a drum circle providing entertainment.  I did break out the sketchbook to do this quick capture of a few of the players.  It’s not very detailed but it’s the best I can do in a few minutes.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8x5), Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Gamma (8×5), Platinum 3776

2016-05-22-48RideauRiverKidI did several really quick (< 1-min) sketches of people as they wandered by where we were sitting and I’ll share only this one of a small boy who stopped to admire the river.  We had a delightful dinner at the apartment and then headed out to wander some more, ultimately ended up back at Major Hill Park.  It was pretty dark when we got there so sketching anything other than the proverbial black cat in a dark room there were no real sketching opportunities.

That was a last thing on my mind anyway as we had our mitts full of frozen yogourt.  It was the best there is, or so sayeth my daughter.  I think its the first time I’ve ever had any that didn’t come out of a carton.  We’d stopped at Menchies to get it and that was a fun experience unto its own because of the way you put together what you want and then pay by the weight of your concoction.  I drew the spoon in honor of the place.

2016-05-23-54MenchiesSpoonSo there you have it – our trip to Ottawa.  Urban sketching adds so much to trips like this, even if you don’t have time to do it.  Does that make sense?  Hope so.

 

Cartier Monument And More…

French explorer Jacques Cartier made a couple trips to what is now called Quebec.  On his second visit, in 1535, he and his crew wintered only about 10 minutes from my house, at the confluence of the St. Charles River and the Lairet River.  Why he didn’t stop by for coffee is unclear.  Maybe the timing wasn’t right.  Maybe he knew how bad my French was.

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Our group was sketching Limoilou just before I headed to Ottawa last weekend and decided to draw the monument erected in his honor in spite of his snubbing me when he was here.  The monument sits in what is now called Cartier-Brébeuf park in honor of you know who.

Sweet Tooth FIeld Notes, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Sweet Tooth FIeld Notes, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

When I finished the sketch I started wandering around, trying to find the other sketchers.  I came across Lisette and Hubert who were drawing an old Catholic church that has become Quebec’s clown school.

They still needed a few minutes to finish up so I decided to do a quick sketch of the church chimney.  Once they finished up we all met for lunch.  All in all, it was a great day as we’re finally getting to sketch outdoors.

Rainy Day Sketching At The Museum

Golf Shoe - Stillman and Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Golf Shoe – Stillman and Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I’m doing a bit of catch-up this morning.  We just got back from a few days in Ottawa and things have piled up a bit.  I should be able to post some of the sketches I did in Ottawa in the next day or so but until that time, here are a couple I did at the museum on a rainy day before we left.

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Wandering The Alleyways Of Quebec

We’ve finally gotten a couple days where we could sketch outdoors and we’ve taken advantage of it.  A group of us met to wander the alleyways and do some sketching together and we had a lot of fun doing just that.  What alleyways may lack in terms of esthetics, they more than make up for in the form of interesting shape complexes and textures.  If only there were fewer stairs to draw (grin).

Stillman & Birn Delta, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Every gathering of sketchers has periods where we ignore one another because we’re lost in our sketching but eventually we get hungry and we come together.  This day was no exception and we gathered at the local coffee shop for food and to chatter away about pens and paper.  Then it was back on the streets, or alleyways in this case, in search of something else to draw.

I decided to sketch a sketcher.  Yvan was sketching up a storm when I sat down to sketch him and while I don’t do him justice, he was a cooperative model.  All in all, it was a wonderful day.  We were teased by those couple days of good weather and I’m looking forward to more of them.  Yesterday it snowed.

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Spring Has Finally Sprung

A week or so ago I walked to Bassin Louise, which is the part of our port area where private owners keep their boats.  All winter they (the boats) sit on land, wrapped in their cocoons of blue plastic.  When spring does arrive there’s a mad dash to get them in the water so their owners can enjoy them during our all-to-short summer.

During my visit I noticed two things.  There were no boats in the water in spite of it being May.  In fact, in shaded parts of the port there was still ice in the water.  At the time it occurred to me that sailors may be the only people more frustrated with our lack of spring than we sketchers.

It does seem that we’re finally getting hints that winter isn’t going to last forever and I’ve managed a flurry of outdoor sketching activity this week.  I decided to head back to Bassin Louise to see how the sailors were doing.  When I arrived I saw that a few boats had been put in the water – maybe a dozen of the couple hundred that will eventually fill the harbor.  I’m not sure the lock that lets them exit into the St. Lawrence River is functional yet but there were people working on sails, polishing chrome, etc.

While my face is incapable of launching a thousand ships, I thought that maybe my imagination might get one of them moving so I sat down to do a quick sketch of one of the boats moored in the harbor.  It’s seen here, heading out into the St. Lawrence.

Stillman & Birn Gamma (9x6) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Gamma (9×6) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Softcovers: An Exciting Announcement

Via Giphy.com

I am so excited to be writing this post.  As many know, Stillman & Birn, my favorite sketchbook company, released a line of softcover sketchbooks not very long ago.  Sadly, what most also know is that there were manufacturing problems with those books and they had to recall all of them, at great expense, from around the world.  I applauded them for this as it hit their bottom line hard, but they didn’t want we artists to bear the pain of the problem.

Excepting the manufacturing problem, these softcover books looked like a dream come true.  Available in all of Stillman & Birn’s great papers, in a variety of sizes, and with cover colors that reflected the paper type.  The covers had an almost suede-feel to them.  They weighed only 55-65% of the weight of the equivalent hardcover and they were much thinner.  A dream come true for someone like me who carries several sketchbooks and walks a couple hours a day to sketching locations.

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Well, they’re BACK!!!  Or at least almost back.  Stillman & Birn says they should be available ‘real soon’ and they sent me a couple of their prototype books to get my opinion about whether the problems are fixed.

To that I can say, they are fixed and then some.  I’ve gone through both of my prototype books, one page at a time, and the problems we saw with the initial release are gone.  But it’s better than that.  These books lay flatter than their early softcovers and certainly better than the hardcovers.  I didn’t have to bend them backwards as you do with the hardcovers to get them to lay flat.  They just do, though I still recommend going through each page, folding it out flat before using the book.  I do that with any sketchbook, regardless of brand.

As I said, the books they sent me are prototypes.  They came with Delta and Gamma paper so I could check both the 150gsm and 270gsm binding.  The covers are the same material as the production versions but these aren’t color-coded; they’re prototypes.  Still, they are amazing books and I’m downright giddy that I have them to use.  I was planning to get somewhere to do a sketch for this blog post but a snowstorm prevented that.  Truth is, everyone knows how great Stillman & Birn paper is so I decided it was more important to get this announcement into the ether.   So here it is, without a sketch.  Here’s the money shot of the books laying flat. Ain’t they gorgeous?  Coming soon to an art store near you.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.

 

Sketching Over The Holidays

I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that the holiday season is more a disruption than something to celebrate.  I’m an old guy, set in my ways and those ways are for me to go sketching.  But with all the hoopla my routine has gone bonkers and my sketching has become scattered.  I thought I would just post a smattering of the many small, generally incomplete sketches I’ve done over the past week or so leading into New Years.

2015-12-29EgyptHere’s a sketch I did one day at our museum.  Another Egyptian guy, standing stiff against a wall, or so it seems.  I don’t really know who he is but he was fun to draw and that’s good enough for me.

He was done in a Stillman & Birn Gamma book with my Namiki Falcon and DeAtramentis Document ink.  Color was mostly burnt sienna with a bit of ultramarine to produce the grays.  I played with the notion of making him look like stone, which he was.  I’m not sure how successful I was in this.

2015-12-31ornamentsOtherwise sketching has been a bunch of doodles here and there, mostly on photocopy paper.  On New Years Eve, however, I was watching TV with Chantal and I drew these three ornaments that were laying on a table.  Color was done with watercolor pencils but the sketch was done on cheap paper and so I couldn’t use a lot of water or move the color very much.

2015-12-31ornaments2I was still bored by the TV so I picked up my Sailor fude pen and decided to give it a whirl.  I’ve never adapted to the fude pens because I typically want thin lines and there are better tools for that.  But I’m determined to improve my ability to draw heavy-line, quick sketches for some reason.  I started out by drawing the same three ornaments.

As I scanned this for the post I couldn’t help but think of a conversation I’ve been having with Tina Koyama about what or whether the degree of expressiveness in a sketch says about what the artist was feeling, either about the sketch or the subject.  The two sketches above were done within minutes of one another and yet one was done with an “expressive” stroke while the other was done in a more controlled fashion.  I’m pretty sure I was wishing the holidays would be over during both sketches (grin).

I turned my fude pen to my imagination and one thing I drew was a bunch of imaginary carriage lanterns.  I’d talked to Yvan about meeting to draw some at the museum where there’s a carriage exhibition going on so they were probably on my mind.  Anyways, prior to drawing these I looked at a couple sketches I’d done of some a few months ago but these were all done in a very few minutes. While I think they reflect bits and pieces of ‘the real thing’, they’re purely imaginary.

2015-12-31imaginarylanternsNow that the holidays are over, I should return to a more normal schedule.  I’m still a couple sketches/days behind on the blog but I’ll get caught up “real soon.”

Thursday Museum Sketching Group

Some of us in Quebec City have met at our Musee de la Civilisation for a while now, sometimes on Tuesday, sometimes Thursday, and sometimes both days, but we seem to be making the Thursday morning meetings a regular event, mostly due to emails sent out by Claudette to let us know what day we’re supposed to show up.

These sessions are really fun and quite different from a typical sketchcrawl.  Rather than an all day affair, these are only two to three hours.  We sketch for most of that time but then meet in the cafe for coffee/tea and to talk about drawing.  If we’re lucky we can get Yvan talking as he always teaches us something interesting about drawing.  Mostly, though, it’s just a regular, fun get together that keeps us all in touch and yet doesn’t require the commitment of an entire day.

At the last session I drew this Egyptian musical instrument called a sistrum, or at least that’s what the sign said it was.  I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work or what sounds it makes but I suspect it’s sort of like a tamborine and that you shake it.  I suspect there are supposed to be wires running through the other sets of holes.  In any case, it’s a paradox of simple, rusted strap-metal with small, carved characters stuck onto it.  Very interesting shapes to draw.

Egyptian musical instrument

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

I wandered around, had a conversation with Claudette and knew I was running out of time.  Claudette had shown me her sketch of this little guy so I sat down and did this quick drawing of him, or her.  Hard to tell with otters.

Egyptian river otter statue

Stillman & Birn Gamma, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Right now, there are eight of us who are regulars at Thursday Sketching Group.  We won’t be meeting Christmas Eve day and probably not New Years Eve day, but otherwise, why don’t you come out and join us.  You’ll have fun.  I guarantee it.

Egyptian Burial Urns

I was introduced to Egyptian burial practices in the usual place – a romantic comedy called The Mummy.  The bad guy was dead, but his lover was determined to bring him back to life.  They entered the place where the mummy was buried and next to it were several urns and we were told they contained the organs of the guy in the sarcophagus.  Getting the romantic adventure comedy yet?  I guess you had to be there.

Anyways, some of the most artifacts in our museum’s Egyptian exhibit is a set of these urns.  I’d been avoiding them because I knew that when I did them I’d have to draw all four at once and because I draw at a rate slower than glaciers and snails, I knew it would take me a while.  But the time came and the deed is done.

I shaded them with light blue, which seems a mistake as my scanner isn’t subtle in its treatment of light blue and so some of the shading was lost in translation.  Doesn’t matter, though, these were fun to draw.

Egyptian burial urns

Stillman & Birn Delta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Review: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

When I got into sketching, about four years ago, I found it pretty easy to find quality pens, pencils, brushes and watercolors.  What was harder was to find a sketchbook that could accommodate pen, ink and watercolor.  It seemed that I was buying a new sketchbook every week in an attempt to ‘try another’ in my quest for the perfect sketchbook.

My first post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks was in December of 2011.  A few other artists had discovered them and were really excited by them.  I’d just gotten one and was very new to sketching so it was hard for me to evaluate it except to say that I liked it.

My first real discussion of S&B came in March of 2013, after I’d had some time to fall in love with their products.  At that point I’d done a lot of sketching on their Alpha series paper and had just bought one of the Epsilon series sketchbooks.  If you read that post you’ll get the impression that I worked as a sales rep for S&B but I do not.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does this, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I've filled in the past 3 years.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I’ve filled in the past 3 years.  Several others are ‘in progress’.

Since then I’ve been filling S&B sketchbooks at an alarming rate.  I’ve tried not only Alpha and Epsilon papers but also their Beta, Zeta and Gamma sketchbooks.  You can find reviews of these sketchbooks if you search for those words here.  I have a lot of experience with Stillman & Birn products, and I can’t imagine using anything else.

But there’s been one sketchbook format that S&B hadn’t provided me, until now.  I’ve whined to them about it enough that you’d think they would have made some just to shut me up.  It’s a small (3×5) portrait format book that has paper good enough (interpretation = Alpha paper) to accept my scribbles and watercolor smears.  Because this has not been forthcoming from S&B, I’ve been making do with crappy books from the dollar store, Field Notes, small (?) Visual Journals, Moleskines, etc.  At this point I’ve filled 27 of the darned things.  You’d think I’d know how to draw by now with all that scribbling.  Maybe in another 20 years.

S&Bsoftcovers

Anyways, Stillman & Birn has just released the solution to my small sketchbook needs, and then some.  The photo above shows just a few of the many format/paper combinations available in this new series.  All of the S&B’s paper types are available and each has its cover color-coded for that paper type (Alpha = burnt sienna (red?), Beta = blue, Epsilon = gray, Delta = green, Gamma = brown, Zeta = black).  They’re available as 3.5×5.5 and 5.5×8.5 portrait or landscape format and in 8×10 portrait format.

I like the cover material.  It feels almost like leather, though it is obviously not.  It’s stiffer than the Strathmore softcover books, a plus for a street sketcher like me.  The papers are the same great papers you can find in their hardcover books so I’m not going to talk about them.  You can find my opinions by searching for the reviews on this blog but so far I haven’t found any that I don’t like.  I use Alpha and Beta almost exclusively though.

Stillman and Birn have obviously tried to provide lighter and thinner sketchbooks compared to their hardcover books and in that they have succeeded in a big way.  Here are a few comparison numbers:

Hardcover        Softcover

Alpha 5×8       419gm              232gm
Beta 5×8          354gm             267gm

The thickness of a 5×8 Alpha hardcover is 18mm while the Alpha softcover is a svelte 10mm.  In short, these new books are much lighter and thinner than their hardcover counterparts.

3x5portrait

Here is my favorite.  I’m showing it before I took the shrinkwrap off because now that I’ve opened it there is some drool on the front cover.  It’s a small, Alpha-series portrait-format book.   Many who use the Moleskine watercolor books have complained that Moleskine doesn’t produce it in a portrait format.  I used to be one of them, but no more.  I now have my small sketchbook need satiated, or at least it will be when I place an order for a bunch more of these little guys.

Do you need/want the softcover versions of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks?  It depends.  It depends upon whether weight matters to you.  If you carry a single sketchbook and not very far, then giving up those nice hardcover bindings might not make sense.  I carry several sketchbooks and regularly carry them during two-hour walks so cutting the weight nearly in half is a big deal for me.

Are you ever bothered by the thickness of your sketchbook, say when you’re trying to draw along the edge where you have no support for your hand?  Do you wish the book were thinner when trying to draw across the gutter during early or late sections of the book, where one page is bent downward to reach the table due to the thickness of the book?  If these things bother you, maybe having a book that’s half as thick would make you happy.  Beware, though, this comes at a cost.  While the covers reduce the thickness, the softcovers are also made thinner by a reduction of page count (in Alpha the hardcovers have 62 sheets while the softcovers have 48).  I find this a small price to pay to get what I want in the small-size book.

There is one downside to these softcover books.  They use the same double-stitched, glued bindings of their hardcover counterparts and the glue sometimes wicks between the signatures (the small groups of sheets that are folded and sewn together) and they tend to stick the base of the two pages between two signatures together.   I don’t find this to be a problem with Alpha, and probably not with the other 150gsm paper books.  Their pages fold open just fine.  But with the Beta (270gsm) and probably Delta and Zeta books, the paper tends to separate slightly at the gutter when you fold open a section where two signatures come together (6 places in a Beta series book).  This separation is very tight in the gutter of the two-page spread and if you’re working on either side of the gutter, it’s not a problem at all.  But if you want to do a two-page spread, it can create an ugly gutter seam.

I’m thrilled with these new softcovers.  I’ve only drawn a couple things in them thus far but I know the papers well and have documented their use in pretty much all the drawings presented on this blog.  The softcovers, like Stillman & Birn’s hardcover and spiral-bound books, are great options for the urban sketcher or nature journalist.  I feel lucky to live in a time when we sketchers have so many great choices, and all from one company – Stillman & Birn.