Just Got Back From Sketching Ottawa… Sort Of

Sometimes things work out.  Sometimes they don’t.  I used the excuse of picking up my daughter so that I could blitz around Ottawa sketching everything in sight – or so thought when I left Quebec City at 4:30AM.

Why so early?  Because I wanted to be at the Nature Museum when it opened at 9:30AM.  And that’s what I did as  I walked in the door at 9:35.  There was only one problem.  I was starting to feel poorly, like I gotta sit down poorly.  I didn’t, but instead I started walking around my favorite museum.  Everything I looked at seemed “so complicated” or boring.  I had absolutely no energy for sketching, or much of anything else.  I sat down and just stared across the lobby.

For the rest of the day I bounced around Ottawa, trying to right the ship and get some sketching done.  I went to the War Museum for the first time.  I’ll need a book light to sketch that place but it’s fantastic and I’ll return, hopefully with more energy.

I continued to mope my way through the day, walking a lot, accomplishing nothing.  I did a bunch of little quick-sketches but little else.  I’m not one to have a hard time finding things to draw or lacking in motivation to do it but there it was, in front of me… ALL DAY.  What a wasted opportunity.

Eventually I picked up my daughter and we went out for a great Korean dinner and I spent that night crashed on her floor.  In the morning we parted ways as she had an afternoon exam and I was determined to get some sketching done.  I was feeling better and like that little train climbing the hill, I was chuffing “I think I can, I think I can.”

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

And I did.  I went back to the Nature Museum, which for some reason was being overrun by huge groups of kids.  Normally I like interacting with the kids but there were so many of them I actually felt like I was in their way.  I drew this sketch of a marsh wren and its nest and then decided to head for less populated pastures.  I had an hour or so before I was to meet my daughter for lunch.

I actually did get some more sketching done but I haven’t scanned them, so they’ll have to wait for another day.  Check back for part II of my Ottawa wanderings ‘real soon.’



Museum Sketching Fatigue

As the internet brings me sketches of cherry blossoms, crocuses popping out of the ground, and various pronouncements of spring, we’re bracing for a foot of snow tonight.  Spring will come to Quebec but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to live long enough to see it.

We were back at the museum again, a place I’m really tiring of this year.  In the past the exhibits have been very interesting and full of variety but the main exhibit this winter has been Egyptian Magic and, well, there are only so many times one can sketch another stone statue of a mummy or the favorite Egyptian god, Bes.  To make matters worse the exhibit is very dark.  You can’t even see many of the display items it’s so dark and after a while it becomes downright depressing.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Yvan and I sketched this guy because he was outside the exhibit and there was decent light.  It’s not a real artifact, however, as you can buy one at the museum store 🙂

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

After that I decided to go to the Australian aboriginal exhibit.  It’s mostly tapestries and such but I found these guys fun.  Meet Mimih, who is something of a jokester god.  They’re tall (8-feet or so), thin and they hide in the cracks between the rocks in Arnhem land.  It took forever to put all those dots on him with a Uniball white pen but at least there was light in the room.

The snow is starting.  Maybe I should trade in my sketchbook for a snowboard (grin).

They Say It’s Spring

They say that this is the first day of spring.  It must be true but from where I stand, it doesn’t seem like it.  It’s currently -15C outside.  It looks like mother nature is going to tease us with a warm up this week, though, and we may actually get above freezing so there is hope.

During our Thursday sketchers gathering at the museum last week, I got in the mood to challenge my abilities to draw stuff and I chose subjects that weren’t all that photogenic but that I thought might be difficult for my brain to get my hand to move in the right direction.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I started with this headrest.  I saw it as a challenge because it was both handmade from wood and also centuries old.  Thus, in addition to having odd, curved surfaces, it was also somewhat asymmetric and the top was a bit askew.  It was a fun subject.

There’s a new exhibit all about nanotechnology and they’re got a series of microscopes, showing their development history.  I chose this early, somewhat simple microscope as an ellipse/alignment challenge.  It worked out ok but I really should have drawn it larger and taken more time with it.  Baby steps.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black


Universite Laval Collections Sketchcrawl

2016-03-11_Collections_UL_Me_Hubert.jjpgThe Université Laval Collections reopened recently, having been moved and renovated.  This is an extraordinary place that houses the remnants of the natural history museum that used to be in Quebec City as well as an impressive plaster cast collection that the art department abandoned long ago in favor of paint rollers.

We held our March sketchcrawl there, thanks to Madame Wagner, the curator, and Yvan Breton who arranged access for us.  Imagine having a large room, complete with tables, chairs and some spot lights and the ability to place one of the museum objects on that table to draw it.  It was fantastic!

Me, I sat in the hallway.  I wasn’t being anti-social, though.  I wanted to draw that mountain goat that sits in one of the collection display windows.  Hubert joined me, however, and we had a great time sketching together.


Stillman & Birn softcover Delta series (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Those Egyptians Really Liked Bes

Here’s a couple small  vessels (shot glasses?), each different depictions of Bes, the dwarf god.  They’re part of the Egypt exhibition at our Museé de la Civilisation.  Maybe these were intended to ward off evil spirits from their spirits.  I don’t think the top squares on the green one were intended to look like a hat but they sure do, making it quite funny.

2016-03-10EgyptThese were drawn in an 8×10 Stillman & Birn softcover Alphas series book.  I’m just starting to use this size book but I think I’m really going to like it.  Bigger than the typical 6×9 but much easier to scan than a 9×12.  The softcovers are also so much lighter than hardcovers that it actually weighs the same as a 6×9 hardcover.

Sketching A Dwarf Egyptian God

Bes, the dwarf Egyptian god was represented, in both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional form, everywhere in Egyptian society.  Seems he had a way of scaring evil spirits away and the Egyptians were very worried about evil spirits.

This is the second or third Bes statue I’ve sketched at our museum, all showing similarities but each unique in its own way.  I did this one in the 8×10 Stillman & Birn Delta softcover I reviewed not long ago.


Urban Sketcher Boredom As He Awaits Spring

Have you ever wondered if bears open an eye, look out of their den at the snow and wish that spring would arrive because their stomach is growling?  Naw…me neither but that’s how I feel right now.

Our winter has been relatively mild but from the view of this urban sketcher, it’s been very long.  Sure, I’ve been going to the museum to sketch but a good portion of the fun of sketching for me is wandering around, looking for something interesting to sketch.  I’ve got the darn museum memorized; there are no surprises.

It’s times like this that I wish I liked to sketch from photos, but I don’t.  So, for the most part, I’m a bored urban sketcher, doodling just to keep my hand moving.  I thought I’d share a few pages of doodles with you.  These were all done in a 4×6 Stillman & Birn Alpha series softcover.




As you can see, it’s a melange of tiny sketches, some ear practice and some hatching scribbles thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes I’ll fill a whole page with circles or bad ellipses.  I do a lot of this stuff on photocopy paper and when sheets are filled they are wadded up and thrown in the garbage.  Just for giggles, here is one of those sheets.  Sorry for the wrinkles.  It was pulled from my garbage can (grin).  I also apologize that some of the sketching is upside down.  I don’t pay much attention to that when I’m filling these pages since my garbage can isn’t particular.  Do you do this sort of thing or am I the only one?  I bet I’m the only one dumb enough to share them.






Sketching My Pet Fish

Winter persists.  Attempting to maintain a stiff upper lip, this urban sketcher watches TV, reads art books and longs for warmer days.  Yesterday, I was watching a spring training baseball game, an indication that I won’t have to wait much longer.  I grabbed my small S&B softcover Alpha sketchbook (4×6) and looked around for something to draw.

I decided to draw my pet fish, Oscar.  He’s not a real fish; he’s made of plaster.  That means less to feed but he doesn’t wag his tail as much as live fish do.  Nevertheless, he’s great at posing for a sketcher.  Handsome little guy, don’tcha think?

(4x6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

(4×6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

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.


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.