Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, when I stop to sketch, it just doesn’t work.  I don’t know why.  What I feel is that I just can’t see in the way an artist sees things.  Everything is a struggle and I can’t engage with the subject.  In particular I have this problem when I try quick-sketching but also, sometimes, when I’m trying to do a more normal sketch.  Anyways, in spite of my embarrassment to do so, I thought I’d share one of these failures with you.

Our main library is closed for renovations right now but there’s a small branch library not far from my house.  I was walking by the other day and decided to stop in for a few minutes of people sketching.  The views aren’t great in this library but, frankly, it didn’t matter because I couldn’t draw a person to save my life.  These were 30-60s sketches and all tentative and horrible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave up in frustration and continued walking.  About 15 minutes later I saw this old guy waiting to cross the street so I tried again.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out.  I suppose the moral of the story is not to give up but I’d sure like to know why my brain won’t engage with my inner artist on occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

Sketching Over Coffee

I was at our farmer’s market the other day and one of the nice things about this place is that on one end of it there is a great coffee shop.  Great to me doesn’t mean the best coffee in the world because as long as it’s brown and hot, coffee is good enough for me.  No, I assess coffee shops based upon the seating arrangement and what is available to sketch when I’m sitting there.  This shop qualifies as great because of the view of the vegetable stands and the stream of people moving through.

This blog post smacks of ‘here’s a way to do it’ and I’m certainly not really qualified to teach art.  In this case I’m particularly not qualified as I’m really bad at sketching people on location.  First, it’s not my favorite subject and second, I draw too slow to keep up with moving targets.  BUT (Warning, warning, warning), I had an opportunity to take a couple photos of one process I’ve used with some success and I thought I’d share it.  It’s not a process that improves my drawing ability but it does provide a bit more time with the subject.

The process starts with me frantically drawing short line segments to capture the shape and position of the moving subject, in this case a mother and son.  The son is excited by the pumpkins and wants to pick up every one.  I had, maybe 15 seconds to do this:

Excuse the poor photos but the lighting was not great and I was in a hurry.  A good artist has great visual memory and can fill in all the details from the scene they’re trying to capture even if the subject has moved on.  I’m not a good artist.  This photo was actually taken after I took this one:

The mother and son continued along the row of pumpkin baskets, the mother doing her best to keep the son from grabbing pumpkins.  While she’d moved to the right from where I drew the lines above, I was able to quickly pick up my phone and snap her picture as she and her son looked at pumpkins.  This, and my quick gesture let me complete this:

Notice that I hadn’t drawn any background info until I’d captured the moving subject.  But having the photo of the two people let me judge their heights relative to the background of the location where I was drawing.  I could see where her purse hung.  I even noticed that I’d drawn her head too large in my gesture.  You can see evidence of that error in the final sketch as I corrected it.

This isn’t a master sketch by any means but I was happy with it.  Sometimes I don’t have to take a photo like this.  Sometimes I don’t even have that chance.  I do lots of quick-sketches that are terrible and others that are incomplete because the subject walks away.  But sometimes the photo trick helps so I thought I’d mention it.

 

Coffee At Chez Temporel

One of my favorite cafes in Quebec City is Chez Temporel.  If you don’t know it’s there, you’ll probably never find it because it sits on a side street in the old city, sharing the street with a tiny grocery store.

My daughter was visiting and we decided to go there for coffee.  I’m a ‘just make it hot and brown’ kind of coffee drinker but she ordered cafe viennois and I thought I’d try it.  It was an opportunity to find out what chantilly cream was.  As it turns out it’s whipped cream made with some extra sugar and a bit of vanilla.

I decided I would draw it when it came. When it did arrive I realized that this was a dessert before coffee drink and I was unsure what to do.  Whipped cream doesn’t sit around long when placed on top of hot coffee so I just did a really quick sketch of my bowl of cafe viennois.  It tasted better than the sketch looks.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5)

I thought I’d add a few of my doodles along with this sketch.  This is where I practice stuff.  In this case I was trying different degrees of “looseness” in my pen lines, trying to match the subject at hand.  I’m not sure I accomplished any of that but I added just a bit to my pen mileage and every bit helps.

Sketching My Stuff

Yvan and Claudette came to visit this week and we spent the afternoon sketching my stuff.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff, mostly obtained at flea markets for purposes of drawing and we put some of it to good use.  As is too often the case, my hand was hurting me but we nevertheless had a great day.

Yvan drew the front of a plaster rabbit so I drew the back and found it hard to make the foreshortened ears sufficient to give the rabbit a real rabbit look.  Some views are better than others I suppose.  Claudette did a really great drawing of a large Japanese woman’s head and it turned out great.

Arches cold press, DeAtramentis Document Black,

We took a break, had coffee and the obligatory talk of drawing and watercolors.  We decided to draw something else.  I have two really nice Japanese figures that I’ve drawn several times and Yvan chose to draw the male figure so I grabbed the female (that didn’t come out right).  I’d never drawn her from behind so I decided to do so, drawing in pencil in a Stillman & Birn Nova.  In the end I wish I’d used ink but this is the result.

Stillman & Birn Nova, mechanical pencil (2B)

Sketching Hands At Yvan’s House

Here in Quebec City we’re still waiting for the opportunity to get out of our igloos so we can sketch outside.  Until the snow starts melting, however, we get together at someone’s house and sketch.

Stillman & Birn Nova

 

Stillman & Birn Nova

A favorite in that regard is Yvan’s place because he has a great studio that’s filled with an artist’s version of a cabinet of curiosities so there’s lots of stuff to draw.  When several of us gathered there I chose to draw plaster casts of hands.  I had a lot of fun with these but I made the mistake of using a water-based felt pen to shade them.  I know lots of people love felt markers but I can’t understand why.  Whenever I use one the results are streaky and splotchy.

 

Sketching An Inukshuk

Inukshuks are common across northern Canada.  Seen principally as a product of the Inuits, other Native American groups also make them.  They are said to have been used as navigation markers, or markers of significant locations.  They commonly represent of Canada itself and some have deemed them a symbol of hope.  You can buy tiny inukshuks as souvenirs, sold right next to the beaver and moose figurines.

In any case their structure is meant to represent a human form and larger ones even have legs and arms.  Most have outward projections that represent arms in some way.  Mostly, though, they are a pile of rocks and I love drawing rocks.

We were at the museum the other day and in the Native American exhibit there is a small inukshuk that sits behind some large display cabinets.  You can see all of it if you’re standing in front of those display cabinets but I had to sit across the aisle from them so I would have light to see my paper.  This meant that I couldn’t see the bottom half of it.  I drew it anyway, direct with ink, and this is the result.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5x.8.5), J. Herbin Lie de Thé ink

I really had fun drawing this inukshuk and I remembered that I’d drawn one before, an inukshuk that resides on the Quebec Parliament grounds.  I decided to see if I could find that sketch.  I rarely look at my old sketches but  I did find it and I learned a couple things.  First is that this older sketch was done in 2012, only a few months after I decided to learn how to draw.  The second thing I learned is that I have actually improved as I’ve accumulated pen miles.  That made me happy.  Maybe inukshuks do represent hope.

Getting My Brain Back Into Sketching

My brain is rusty.  While I’m still having trouble with my drawing hand, it’s my brain that has fallen out of practice and needs some line miles to return my sketching to the miserable quality it once was.  So when Yvan and I made another trip to the hunting an fishing museum I was determined to make a lot of lines.

Instead of trying to create a detailed, well-proportioned drawing, I decided to sketch quickly (for me) so I could cover more ground – make more marks.  No pencil block in, no holding my pencil out to get proportions.  The goal was to make lines – lines that, hopefully, would look something like a duck.  Here’s what I managed to put to paper.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), not sure what pens I used

Errors abound, of course, but they do look like ducks and generally they look like the ones I was looking at.  I label this a success with the caveat that I need to do a lot more of it to get my lines to flow better.  After a short break I decided to do the same thing with a bunch of fishing lures.  The drawing here was pretty “sketchy” (pun intended) so I added some color to add some life to the spread.

We say all the time that it’s the process, not the product.  Getting back into sketching is reward enough for me.

I Went Sketching – Yippee!

As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street.  This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on.  This winter has been a doozy thus far.  We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.

Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them.  Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless.  I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.

But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices.  They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.

My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.”  Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw.  I should have chosen something more simple.  I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained.  Then again, I forget where I put my keys so…  Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Pilot Metropolitan, DeAtramentis Black

I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit.  Then I sat down to draw a duck.  I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much.  We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t.  My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching.  Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene.  We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art.  The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

The Day Queen Victoria Lost Her Head

Quebec is a province full of French-speaking Quebecois, descendents of the explorer Jacques Cartier, Champlain and those who settled this part of Canada before it was Canada.  Yes, the British defeated them on the Plains of Abraham and those “red coats” would have forced Quebecers to speak English if not for a pesky group called Americans who got the idea to invade Canada.  The Brits needed the Quebecois to help them fight off these attacks and so struck a deal that allowed them to retain their language.  Thanks America.  Quebec is the better for it.

But this didn’t end the tensions between the French and English and by the 1940s, the English, using the Church to keep the very religious French in their place, pretty much ran the province of Quebec.  But then came groups like the FLQ who thought this wasn’t such a good idea.

A lot of their actions were political but during the 60s there were over 200 terrorist bombings, including a famous one in Quebec City.  One night, in 1963, dynamite was stuffed into a large bronze statue of Queen Victoria and the resultant explosion blew her head off and sent it flying over 100 yards across Victoria Park.  I won’t bore you with the rest of Quebec history but the Quiet Revolution that took place in the 70s is a remarkable history of a people regaining control of their province.  Instead, I’ll share with you a sketch I did of Vicky’s head, which resides in our Musee de la Civilisation.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

100 People – Day 5

#oneweek100people2018 – I gave it a valiant effort, but starting on day three and having a bit of bad luck resulted in my coming up short for this challenge.  Yesterday afternoon I got a chance to draw some floating heads, which brought my people count to 82.  Since I’d done that in two days, I felt it was be a cinch to get the remaining 18 on Friday.  Silly me.

Today I went to a different mall around lunch time.  Their food court is organized to make it an excellent place to sketch, but not today.  Today was the last day of spring break and the mall was having a bunch of activities for kids.  The place was packed.  There were no seats and even if there were it wouldn’t have mattered because the place was so stressful from all the kids running around that I couldn’t stand to be there.  Chalk that up to me being a grumpy old man.  Anyways, I managed to draw a couple people before I gave, got on the bus, and came home.  Hope I have better luck next year.  Hope Marc and Liz decide to do it again as I love seeing all the people sketches.